Author Archives: admin

Watering: How Much?

Water is critical for a healthy garden and landscape, but how much water is too much, how much isn’t enough and how much is just right? Unfortunately, there isn’t a specific answer that suits every gardener’s needs. All plants have different water requirements, which change depending on the type of soil, amount of sun, temperature, humidity, season, maturity of the plant and overall growing environment.

Initial Watering

All plants, including specimens described as drought tolerant, will require water when first planted. This is because many of the smaller roots responsible for water uptake are usually damaged during shipment and planting. Build a small circular soil wall around the plant to contain water while it percolates into the soil. Watch new plants carefully and keep them well-watered as their roots settle in and they adapt to their new or transplanted location.

Groups Are Good

It’s a good idea to have some knowledge of the plant’s water requirements when determining the location in the garden. It will keep watering simple if you plant a new specimen near other plants with similar water requirements. In this way, there is no need to readjust an irrigation system or watering schedule, since all the plants in the group have similar needs.

Need a Drink?

Because plants’ watering needs can change through the season, how can you tell if a plant needs more water? Most plants will wilt as the soil becomes too dry. The leaves may droop, and if it’s an upright plant, the top ends may become soft and bend over. Glossy plants may begin to look dull, while thick leaves will shrivel. If you notice these signs, it is time to water! Most plants will revive if watered quickly enough, but be sure to water deeply rather than allowing moisture to run off the surface.

How can you tell if you should water? Push your finger into the soil an inch or two from the base of a plant. Perfect soil should feel cool and slightly moist. Some soil should stick to your finger. If none does, it’s too dry. If it’s muddy, don’t water. Overwatering kills plants by depriving the roots of oxygen. Some gardeners use water meters to see the precise amount of moisture. If you’re unsure, this tool can be helpful.

Adjusting Your Watering Schedule

The amount you have to water your plants or landscape can change from day to day. A cool morning will allow more dew to form and drain to the soil, or a sudden afternoon thunderstorm can be enough water to keep your plants hydrated for a few days. An overly hot day, however, can rapidly deplete water resources and extra watering may be required. Check your plants and landscape regularly to be sure they are getting adequate water, and make adjustments as needed to keep them suitably moist without either too much or too little water.

Need help monitoring water? Stop by to see our collection of water gauges, meters and monitors that can help you be sure you are watering your landscape correctly.

watering_1

watering_2

watering_3

Aphids

One of the most common insects, and one of the most potentially plant-threatening, is the aphid. There are actually many types of aphids – more than 4,000 in all. Some feed on specific plants and others are not so choosy. They all attack the newer plant growth and suck sap from a plant’s internal circulation system, the phloem, in stems and leaves. This can decrease the plant’s growth rate, discolor or disfigure leaves, cause galls to form and transmit plant diseases. Strong aphid infestations can lower produce yields and eventually kill plants altogether.

Recognizing Aphids

Aphids – also called plant lice, blackflies and greenflies – are easy to recognize. They’re about one-eighth to one-third of an inch long, usually pale green but can be almost colorless, pink, black or brown. Their pear-shaped bodies have six legs, small tail-like structures and long, jointed antennae. Aphids are soft-bodied and are mainly found in dense groups on the underside of new plant growth, where they leave behind a sticky residue called honeydew. Ants are attracted to aphid honeydew, so a nearby ant infestation or very active ant colonies may also indicate that aphids are present. Aphids are most common in spring, and die off rapidly in the hot temperatures of summer.

Controlling Aphids

Fortunately, controlling aphids is fairly easy. Most full-spectrum chemical insecticides kill aphids. Other, less strenuous products include plant extracts, neem oil, plant oils and insecticidal soap water sprays. A regular spraying with strong blasts of water or hand picking will control many infestations, especially when just a few aphids have been noticed. Many gardeners release ladybugs (lady beetles) to eat the aphids or parasitic wasps to lay their eggs in the aphid, but because these natural predators will quickly spread out, large applications of hundreds of predators may be needed to effectively control an aphid infestation. Another option is to encourage insect-eating birds to visit the yard – chickadees, titmice and warblers all especially love aphids and can provide superior natural pest control. Even hummingbirds will happily munch on aphids.

It’s best to control aphids early. As their numbers increase, the drying leaves begin to roll over them, thus protecting the aphids from controls such as soaps, oil and water sprays, and making it harder to effectively eliminate these pests. If you think you have aphids or you’re not sure what you have, bring in a sample. We’ll take a look and suggest the best way to eliminate the problem and help you protect your plants.

aphids_3

aphids_1

aphids_2

Dianthus ‘Firewitch’

Are you looking for new perennials to add to your landscape but are tired of the same old plants with dull blooms, predictable foliage and raggedy forms? Dianthus ‘Firewitch’ can be the answer that will bring unique texture, brilliant color and clean lines to your flowerbeds.

About the Plant

Dianthus plants – also called sweet williams or pinks – are well known in landscaping, but ‘Firewitch’ is even more spectacular than most of these familiar perennials.

Dianthus ‘Firewitch’ (sometimes called cheddar pink) is a low growing, mat-forming plant with evergreen, narrow, bluish-gray foliage with a spikey texture that adds a bold statement to the landscape. Growing 3-4 inches tall, this perennial forms a mature clump at 6-12 inches wide. Brilliant purplish-pink flowers reach 6-8 inches high and cover the plant at bloom time. The petals are also spiked, which gives this plant an even more stunning, sharp appearance.

Described as hot pink, purple red or magenta, the flowers provide a striking contrast with the foliage during peak bloom in early spring. The flowers perfume the air with a spicy, clove-like fragrance that is even more noticeable in large beds or borders. ‘Firewitch’ is also tops in offering a re-bloom throughout the season, bringing brilliant color to the landscape for far longer than many other cultivars, even into mid-summer.

Growing Dianthus ‘Firewitch’

This perennial does best in full sun in well-drained, slightly alkaline soils, and can even thrive in sandy soils and is tolerant of moderate humidity as well as occasional drought conditions. Dianthus ‘Firewitch’ is excellent as a border edger, in a rock garden, planted in wall crevices or as a ground cover on a sunny slope. It is at home in the herb garden, a formal border or a cottage garden, where butterflies will also welcome the beautiful blooms. Because this plant is deer-resistant, it is also a good option for landscapes that may be visited by unwelcome wildlife. Deadheading the plant after blooms fade will help encourage reblooming, and blooms may be produced up to 4-5 weeks in optimal conditions. ‘Firewitch’ is not typically plagued by pests or diseases, but crown rot can be a problem if the plants are too moist or planted in poorly-drained areas.

Low maintenance, easy-to-grow and brilliantly colorful, what’s not to love about Dianthus ‘Firewitch’? Add some to your landscape today and you’ll love the sparkle it brings to your yard!

Close up of Dianthus Plant Background

Scented Geraniums

Unmatched for fragrance and beauty in the garden, scented geraniums are undoubtedly showstoppers. With many to choose from, each with its own distinctive habit and fragrance, scented geraniums are also great for hanging baskets, window boxes or any type of container. Although the colorful flowers are small, the leaves of the scented geranium are the most spectacular part of this unusual herb.

A Bouquet of Scents

Scented geraniums come in a wide range of distinctive aromas. Some of the most popular varieties include…

  • Rose Geranium: This cultivar has spicy rose-scented foliage with small clusters of pink flowers among the dark green leaves.
  • Peppermint Geranium: This is a fast growing geranium that spreads to a 4-6 foot mound with clusters of white flowers appearing in summer. Leaves are lobed and medium green. This is a particularly good one for hanging baskets.
  • Lime Geranium: This geranium shows off beautiful lavender flowers in summer and its leaves are serrated, round and light green. These can become quite bushy.
  • Apple Geranium: Apple-scented geranium is another good one for a hanging basket. Clusters of white flowers appear on trailing stems and leaves are round and ruffled.
  • Lemon Geranium: This geranium has tiny purplish flowers and small wrinkled leaves. This one features a nice clean lemon scent that freshens a room quickly.
  • Coconut Geranium: This plant has a trailing habit that works nicely as a ground cover or in a hanging basket. Its flowers are in small clusters and its leaves are round and dark green.

Other popular scented geraniums include chocolate, nutmeg, orange, apricot and almond.

Growing Tips

Scented geraniums are not particular about soil, as long as it is drained – they do not tolerate wet roots well. These plants enjoy full sun and cool climates, with partial shade in warm areas. Pinching off end leaves will encourage bushiness to help keep a fuller, more compact form.

The leaves can be harvested any time and used fresh or dried.

Harvesting and Use

One of the real joys of scented geraniums is harvesting the leaves and using their fragrance in a variety of ways. The leaves can be harvested at any time, and they may be used fresh or dried, though the fragrance may change somewhat or its potency may change as it is dried. Experiment with both fresh and dried leaves to find the aromas you like best.

Scented geraniums can be used in some jellies, puddings, stuffing, punches, teas and vinegars. The oils in leaves are often distilled to make perfume, and the leaves make a sweet addition to sachets and potpourris. No matter how you use them, or even if you simply enjoy them in the garden, these lovely plants are sure to be a welcome addition to your garden and landscaping.

citronella leaf on grunge wood

Plants for Wet Soil

More water is always good for plants, right? Wrong! When water stands in the soil, air is displaced, which in turn smothers the plant roots. Once the roots are damaged many symptoms appear on leaves and shoots including wilting, marginal and inter-veinal browning of leaves (scorch), poor color and stunted growth. But the excess water isn’t always coming from overwatering, it may be the result of poor draining soil.

Poor drainage is often produced in disturbed sites when heavy clay soil is compacted by construction machinery or other excessive use, such as yards where several children are often playing. Areas cultivated for plantings, such as flowerbed or borders, then collect water running off the compacted ground – this is called the teacup effect. Wet areas may also be the result of swales, drain spout runoff and low areas even when soil percolation is adequate in most of the site but when general moisture levels are routinely high.

To check for a potential drainage problem, dig a hole at least 2 feet deep, fill it with water and note how long the water remains. If it doesn’t drain completely away within 24 hours a severe drainage problem exists.

Fortunately, you can correct drainage problems in different ways. Easy options include…

  • Divert water past plantings using drainage pipes, splash blocks or rain chains.
  • Plant in mounds or raised beds so water will run off and away from the plants.
  • Install drain tiles in saturated areas or use French drains to contain excess water.
  • Amend the soil with organic matter such as compost to improve its structure.

An even easier solution is to simply select plants that tolerate wet sites. The following trees and shrubs tolerate wet sites and flooding better than most. Few tolerate standing water for long periods (those that grow in truly swampy conditions are marked *), but all will do better in wet areas.

Shade Trees

  • *Acer rubrum/Red Maple
  • *Betula nigra/River Birch
  • Liquidambar styraciflua/Sweet Gum
  • Alyssa sylvatica/Sour Gum
  • Platanus occidentalis/Sycamore
  • Quercus phellos/Willow Oak
  • *Salix spp./Willow
  • *Taxodium distichum/Bald Cypress

Flowering Trees

  • Amelanchier Canadensis/Serviceberry
  • Magnolia virginiana/Sweetbay Magnolia

Evergreen Trees

  • Calocedrus decurrens/Incense Cedar
  • Ilex opaca/American Holly
  • Thuja occidentalis/Pyramidal Arborvitae

Deciduous Shrubs

  • *Aronia arbutifolia/Chokeberry
  • Clethra alnifolia/Summersweet
  • *Cornus spp./Twig Dogwoods
  • Enkianthus campanulatus/Enkianthus
  • Ilex verticillata/Winterberry
  • *ltea virginica/Virginia Sweetspire
  • Lindera benzoin/Spicebush
  • Myrica pennsylvanica/Bayberry
  • *Rhododendron viscosum/Swamp Azalea
  • *Salix spp./Pussy Willow
  • Viburnum spp./Viburnums

Evergreen Shrubs

  • *Andromeda polifolia/Bog Rosemary
  • *Chamaecyparis thyoides/White Atlantic Cedar
  • *llex glabra/Inkberry
  • Kalmia atifolia/Mountain Laurel
  • Leucothoe spp./Leucothoe

Perennials

  • *Arundo donax/Giant Reed Grass
  • Aster nova-angliae/Asters
  • Astilbe spp./Astilbe
  • Chelone/Turtlehead
  • Cimicifuga racemose/Snakeroot
  • Helenium autumnale/Helen’s Flower
  • Hibiscus moscheutos/Hardy Hisbiscus
  • *Iris kaempferi/Japanese Iris
  • Iris siberica/Siberian Iris
  • *Lobelia cardinalis/Cardinal Flower
  • Lobelia syphilitca/Blue Lobelia
  • Monarda didyma/Bee Balm
  • Myosotis scorpiodes/Forget-me-nots
  • Tiarella cordifolia/Foam Flower
  • Trollius europaeus/Globe Flowers
  • Viola spp./Violets

Ground Covers

  • Gallium odoratum/Sweet Woodruff
  • Gaultheria procumbers/Wintergreen
  • Hosta spp./Hosta
  • Mentha spp./Mint
  • Parthenocissus quinquifolia/Virginia Creeper

Annuals

  • Cleome hosslerana/Spider Flower
  • Myosotis sylvatica/Forget-me-nots
  • Torenia fournien/Wishbone Flower
  • Viola wittrockiana/Pansies

Not sure which water-loving plants to choose? We’d be happy to help you evaluate your landscape moisture and other conditions to help you choose the very best plants for your yard!

Two feet wearing rain boots standing in the mud

Lilacs

One of the most popular deciduous flowering shrubs, and certainly one of the most nostalgic, lilacs herald the arrival of spring. When we reminisce about this old-fashioned favorite we recall large panicles of sweetly scented, pale purple blossoms. Today, however, lilacs are available in an incredible variety of sizes, growth habits, flowering times, bloom sizes, shapes, colors and fragrances.

About Lilacs

Lilacs belong to the genus Syringa that consists of approximately 20 different species and about 1,000 different varieties. Most species are native to Asia, but Syringa vulgaris, the common lilac, is an Eastern European native. Some of the finest cultivars of this species were bred in France in the early twentieth century, hence the term “French Hybrid.” Lilacs were cultivated in America’s first botanical gardens and grown by both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. They remain a steadfast favorite to this day in public gardens as well as backyards, and many municipalities even host lilac festivals to celebrate these blooms each spring.

Proper Lilac Care

If cared for properly, a lilac bush has the potential to survive for hundreds of years. Planting your lilac in pH neutral, well-drained soil that is high in organic matter will help ensure the longevity of your shrub. Providing at least 6 hours of direct sun each day and deadheading immediately after flowering will guarantee an abundance of lovely scented blooms. Give lilacs adequate growing space so that they may grow to their full potential. Spacing these plants too closely will cause them to grow tall and spindly and only flower at the top; instead, be sure they have plenty of room to grow out as well as up and you’ll be rewarded with copious blooms all over the shrub. Fertilize with a high phosphorus fertilizer in the early spring to ensure the best growth and most luxuriant blooms.

When your lilac reaches a height or shape that is no longer to your liking, you may remove up to 1/3 of the thickest stems. Cut them back to the ground. You may also shorten any unusually tall stems by cutting them back to a strong branch. Open up the crowded base of the shrub by removing a portion of the youngest stems. Remember; prune lilacs immediately after flowering before plants start to form next year’s flower buds.

Beyond the Classics

Syringa vulgaris provides the spring garden with perfumed blooms for up to two weeks. To extend the bloom season for up to 6 weeks, plant an assortment of the uncommon species along with the common lilac. Some excellent choices are hyacinthiflora (which blooms before vulgaris), paired with palibin, prestonia and reticulate (which bloom consecutively after vulgaris).

Want to branch out into even more lilac cultivation in your yard? See the chart below, or come in today to see the latest lilacs to love.

lilac_4

lilac_1

lilac_2

lilac_3

Endless Summer® Hydrangeas

Do you love the look of large, stunning hydrangeas? Do they evoke wistful images of summer and floral nostalgia? Don’t you wish they would last longer in the landscape? Unfortunately, many hydrangeas have relatively short bloom cycles, but there are amazing cultivars you can investigate that provide longer lasting blooms without losing any of their beauty or richness as the season progresses.

Endless Blooms, Color and Summer Luxury

Endless Summer® The Original and Endless Summer® and Blushing Bride® are the first mophead (large, ball-shaped flower) hydrangeas that bloom on both old and new growth, providing you with beautiful flowers and gorgeous color all season long. Young plants produce blooms that are 4-6 inches wide, while mature plants can have blooms as large as 8-10 inches wide, making these massive hydrangeas real show stoppers in your landscape or garden. Flower color for Endless Summer® The Original ranges from shades of blue through shades of pink, depending upon the pH level of your soil. Pink blossoms are the result of alkaline soils (pH 6-7), while more acidic soils (pH 5-5.8) will cause the plant to produce blue flowers. Adding Master Nursery Hydra Blue or other acidifying agents to the soil can help produce the lovely blue colors if your soil is initially alkaline, or you can adjust bloom color throughout the season for a vibrantly changing show. Endless Summer® Blushing Bride, as its name implies, initially offers pure white blossoms that mature to a sweet, pink blush or pale blue tinge, again depending on the soil pH.

Large, deep green leaves provide a lovely background for these spectacular flowers, which are excellent for cutting for fresh arrangements and for drying. Endless Summer® hydrangeas mature at 3-5 feet in height and width and are perfect used as standalone specimens, planted in borders or as hedges, massed under deep-rooted trees or even set in large containers. These plants perform best in partial shade with moist soil. Another big plus for Endless Summer® hydrangeas is the fact that they are cold hardy to Zone 4, giving northern gardeners a beautiful plant that will bloom well year after year.

Perfect for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, weddings and house warming celebrations, potted Endless Summer® hydrangeas make beautiful gifts that will provide years of beauty and enjoyment. If you already have these stunning blooms in your yard, consider cutting a few for a bouquet and share the joy with friends, neighbors, family members, coworkers and acquaintances, and the interest in these amazing hydrangeas will continue to spread until the world is blooming all summer long.

endless-summer-hydrangeas-2

endless-summer-hydrangeas-3

endless-summer-hydrangeas-1

Cool Wave Pansy

Make way for Cool Wave Pansy! New and improved, bigger and brighter, the familiar little monkey-faced pansy is the new garden darling. These flowers are even more versatile and easier than ever, and ideal for so many beautiful landscaping options.

New Pansies

Cool Wave Pansy is a relatively new cultivar that has so much to offer. These flowers are ideal in beds among other plants and shrubs as a colorful vigorous filler, planted en masse as a blooming groundcover or planted to create amazing baskets and container arrangements with 30” of cascading floral beauty. Standing 6-8 inches tall and covered with three times as many blossoms as regular pansies, Cool Wave Pansies have flowers that glow in four new colors.

  • Frost: White with light blue “frost” edging along the petal margins
  • Violet Wing: Front lower petals are white edged with lavender or darker purples, backed with dark burgundy or purple on upper rear petals
  • Yellow: Bright lemony or sunny yellow blooms
  • White: Bright white petals with slight color variations for elegant interest

Growing Tips

Easy to grow, Cool Wave Pansy is much more vigorous than ever. Choose plants with an overall deep green color with plenty of buds for the best results and fastest blooming. Plant in fertile soil where the plant will receive 6 hours of daily sunlight. Use a liquid fertilizer when planting and fertilize every two weeks to maintain vigor and color. Replace with wave petunias in the summer when it becomes too warm for pansies.

Cool Wave Pansy grows well in rain or cold. In fact, it easily overwinters in many areas. This three-season performer may be planted for fall color, overwinter, and then perk up again in early spring providing an early punch of pizzazz. If it becomes too leggy, just cut back the foliage back to 3 inches tall and fertilize. In a couple of weeks, it will be smiling up at you.

When planting in containers, consider the flower and container colors to maximize the visual effect. Interplant with other textures and colors for an eclectic rainbow of vibrance. When planting in fall, add spring blooming bulbs, as they’ll easily grow through the pansies to create a riot of spring color. Spiky grasses provide a tall and contrasting effect to the pansy’s trailing tendrils, especially in larger containers.

With so many stunning options and new colors to embrace, there’s sure to be a Cool Wave Pansy perfect for all your flower planting desires!

pansy_3

pansy_1

Cold-Tolerant Flowering Plants

Cold doesn’t have to kill your dreams for beautiful flowerbeds overflowing with vibrant color and stupendous blooms. While the deepest freezes of winter will put a stop to any flowering plant, there are beautiful plants that can chill out without damage or difficulty. The trick is recognizing which of these cold-tolerant flowering plants will work best in your climate and garden, and we’re here to help with that.

Freeze Tolerant Annuals

These are annuals that can withstand freezing temperatures and hard frosts for short periods with little or no injury. The best options include…

  • Marguerite Daisy (Argyranthemum frutescens)
  • Swan River Daisy (Brachycomb iberidifolia)
  • Million Bells (Calibrachoa x hybrida)
  • Dracaena Spike (Cordyline australis)
  • Dusty Miller (Scenecio cineraria)
  • Gazania (Gazania rigens)
  • Nemesia (Nemesia fruticans)
  • Cape Daisy (Osteospermum spp.)
  • Petunia (Petunia x hybrida)
  • Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odoratus)
  • Verbena (Verbena x hybrida)

Semi-Hardy Annuals

These are annuals that are perennials in warmer zones and can actually overwinter in cooler areas during mild winters of if they are located in a warm, sunny, protected spot. These are very frost and freeze tolerant annuals…

  • Annual Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus)
  • Annual Pinks (Dianthus chinensis)
  • Pansy (Viola x wittrockiana)
  • Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’)
  • Mealycup Sage (Salvia farinacea)
  • Variegated Vinca Vine (Vinca major ‘Variegata’)

Perennials

Perennials are plants with roots that survive through the winter months, sending out new growth each spring. Appearing in your garden year after year, they become old and treasured friends. Perennials come in many sizes, shapes and colors with various bloom times and periods. It is best to plan your garden by the bloom time of the plant along with its cultural needs (sun/shade and drought-tolerant/water-lovers, etc.) to be sure you have a good, healthy balance of plants that will keep your garden and landscaping lush for months. Because these plants have evolved to survive the winter’s cold, they are all cold-tolerant to at least some measure. Popular favorites include…

  • Dicentra ‘Luxuriant’ – No garden is complete without a patch of Bleeding Hearts. This fringed variety is longer blooming than the old-fashioned selections. Rose-pink flowers are borne gracefully above soft green foliage with a slight blue cast that looks fresh all summer. 18-24” tall. Plant in part shade.
  • Bergenia – Spikes of delicate pink blooms soften the bold evergreen foliage of this early blooming perennial in March or April.
  • Armeria (Sea Pink) – Another evergreen perennial, this bloomer sends out masses of papery pink or white flowers above grass-like clumps of foliage.
  • Basket of Gold (Aurinia) – Charming yellow flowers float above dense mats of attractive gray foliage on this old-fashioned favorite. Plant in full sun. Excellent for a rock garden.
  • Candytuft (Iberis) – Flat-topped clusters of white flowers cover this evergreen perennial in early spring. Excellent as an edging in a border or to use in a rock garden.
  • Columbine (Aquilegia) – Beloved by hummingbirds and butterflies, columbine is also a great cut flower. Available in many color shades and bi-color combinations, columbine is perfect in any border or landscape situation.
  • Coralbell (Heuchera) – Tiny bell flowers on 1-2’ slender stems bloom from spring into summer. Shades of foliage vary from green to pink to deep burgundy. Plant in sun or shade.

Not sure which plants are best for the cold in your yard? Stop in and see our landscaping experts today for help choosing just which blooms will heat up even on cold days!

cold_tolerant-3

cold_tolerant

cold_tolerant_1

cold_tolerant-2

Soil 101

How well do you understand your soil? It’s more than just dirt, and the more you learn about soil, the better you’ll be able to care for it to ensure a stunning landscape, healthy lawn and productive garden.

All About Soil

The four elements of soil are minerals, water, air and organic matter. Different combinations of the four elements create the four main categories of soil: sand, silt, clay and loam. Of course, we all want loam – that rich, vibrant soil thriving with beneficial bacteria and with a smooth but crumbly texture ideal for root growth. Unfortunately, true loam soils are rare, especially around homes where topsoil was removed and heavy machines compacted the remaining soil during construction or renovation. Most of us have clay soil, which has finer particles that compact easily into a dense mass. Clay soils also retain more water and can easily become too soggy or waterlogged for healthy plants. But just because your soil may be clay, it doesn’t have to stay that way!

Improving Soil

Improving soil is actually quite easy. All soils are improved by adding minerals and organic material that help balance out the overall components of the soil’s structure.

Before adding minerals, test the soil to determine its pH (acidity or alkalinity) and determine any mineral deficiencies. Lime decreases soil acidity, gypsum adds calcium and helps break up heavy clay and sulfur increases acidity. Other soil amendments to add to a clay soil include sand, cottonseed meal and peat moss, all of which will help improve the drainage and structure.

Organic matter refers to plant or animal materials decomposed into compost or “humus.” This residue comes from leaves and other plant materials, as well as certain animal wastes. Grass clippings, paper and certain types of decomposing food can also be ideal compost. The quality depends on the origin of the original biodegradable matter. Many people make their own compost using bins in which materials are mixed until they decompose. Others purchase finished compost. When compost is added to soil, it releases nutrients that are vital for healthy plants, and healthy bacteria and microbes will thrive in organically-rich soil.

The Magic of Mulch

Mulching is a simple way to add biodegradable materials to the soil. Evergreen needles, tree leaves, lawn clippings, chicken manure, etc., can be worked into the soil to decompose. This process improves the air spaces between the soil particles and rearranges the sand, silt and clay to produce optimum soil structure, improving the water retention and drainage balance and making nutrients available to plants.

When soil has proper structure and sufficient nutrients for healthy plants, optimum health has been achieved, and great soil will lead to great landscaping, turf and gardens. Congratulations and keep on growing!

soil_4

soil_1

soil_2

soil_3

What is “pH?” Why Is It Important?

Devised in 1909, the pH scale measures the concentration of hydrogen ions in a solution. The scale ranges from 0-14. Pure water is “neutral” and has a pH of 7, midway between 0 and 14. If a solution has a low concentration of hydrogen ions, the rating will be a higher number and is considered basic or alkaline. Likewise, a high concentration of hydrogen ions rates a lower number and is considered acidic.

What pH Means to Your Garden

There are four important reasons to monitor your soil’s pH level:

  1. pH affects the availability of other nutrients in the soil. If the nutrients are not available because they are chemically bound to something else, plants can’t use that nutrient.
  2. A high or low pH level in the soil allows some plant diseases to multiply more quickly, infecting an entire landscape or garden.
  3. Most organisms living in the soil have pH preferences. For example, earthworms are not as plentiful in acidic soil.
  4. Most plants have specific pH requirements to flourish. Those specific requirements are what the plants need to absorb nutrients more efficiently and resist pests more effectively.

Where Soil pH Occurs

Acidic soil generally occurs in heavy rainfall areas, as the rain will pull acidic compounds from the air and allow them to leach into the soil. Alkaline soil, then, is more common where there is less rain. However, this is just a generalization and neighbors across the street from each other may have a large pH difference. Reasons could include the origin of topsoil brought in, the tillage done in the area and prior occupants’ gardening habits. Even simple changes like how drain spouts are positioned or a watering schedule can impact pH.

The pH Your Plants Need

Most plants will grow well in the neutral zone of 6.5-7.0. However, some plants grow best in specific soil pH conditions. Interestingly, hydrangeas grow well in both slightly acidic and slightly alkaline soils, but the flowers will be blue in acidic soil or pink in alkaline soil. The colors and flavors of fruits and vegetables may also vary somewhat depending on the soil’s pH, even if the plant will thrive in a wider range.

This chart illustrates how slight pH changes can dramatically impact which plants will thrive in certain soils…

Highly Acidic Conditions

(pH between 5 and 6)

Slightly Acidic Conditions

(pH between 6 and 6.5)

Slightly Alkaline Conditions

(pH between 7 and 7.5)

Rhododendrons Blueberries Arrowwood Viburnum
Azaleas Magnolias Box Elder
Camellias Ferns Locust
Pieris Firs Philadelphus
Astilbe Viburnum davidii Hellebores

As you see, pH can influence your gardening choices. Knowing the pH of your soil is the first step towards understanding your soil and improving your garden. By knowing the pH, you may choose the best plants for your site. You may also decide to amend your soil to increase or decrease the pH to grow a wider variety of plants.

We offer several inexpensive and easy-to-use pH test kits. We also offer amendment advice and can help you choose the best plants for your soil’s condition. Stop in for pH help today and we’ll help you make the most of the natural acidity or alkalinity of your soil, or else help you turn that soil into just the pH you desire!

ph_4

ph_1

ph_2

ph_3

Azaleas – An American Favorite

Azaleas are true garden favorite and are popular in all types of landscape designs. To keep them blooming prolifically and as beautiful as they can be, however, you will need to follow a few special directions for their best care.

Planting Azaleas

Azaleas need a well-drained location, as they will not thrive in an area that stays overly wet. They prefer afternoon shade, and too much sun can harm their leaves and fade the flowers, depleting their beauty. For their best growth, it is important to shelter azaleas from drying winds. The best locations in the landscape will be along the north, northeast or east side of a building or stand of evergreens or in the filtered shade under tall trees.

Azaleas may be planted any time of the year, even when in full bloom. Spring and early fall are ideal planting times so the plants are not stressed by the heaviest summer heat. Before planting, loosen the matted roots with a hand cultivator so they can spread and establish more easily.

To give azaleas the excellent drainage they require, they should be planted high, with half the root ball above the existing ground level in a hole at least twice as wide as the root ball. Amend the planting soil to provide good nutrition for these hungry plants. Once the plant is set in the planting hole, fill in around it with the planting mix, packing firmly to eliminate air pockets. Mound soil up to top of root ball. Water shrubs thoroughly with a diluted plant starter fertilizer to encourage root growth and help them establish more quickly. Mulch 2-3 inches deep over the planting hole, with mulch pulled away from plant stem to avoid insect infestations and rotting.

Watering Azaleas

Spring and summer plantings should be watered 2-3 times per week until fall the year they are planted, then once a week until Christmas. Plants may need to be watered as often as once a day if they are small or the weather is hot. Always check the soil moisture level before watering. It should be lightly moist several inches down, but if it is drying out more frequent watering may be needed. In following years you will need to water your azaleas about once a week unless there is a good soaking rain. Plants will need more water in hot summers and while in flower to keep their growth and form lush.

The Need for Mulch

Mulching around azaleas is always a good idea, and can help them thrive. A 2-4″ layer of mulch should be maintained at all times over the root area of the plant, but pulled away from the stems. This keeps the soil cool and moist, helps control weeds and protects roots in winter.

Pruning Azaleas

Azaleas rarely need to be pruned. When pruning is required it should be done immediately after blooming, since if you wait to prune until summer you may cut off next year’s blooms and miss an entire flowering season. Azaleas may be sheared, as they will send out new shoots anywhere on a branch, or you may choose hand-pruning to create a neater form.

With a bit of considerate care, azaleas can be a showstopper in your landscape. Stop by today for help choosing the best azaleas and learning all you need to know to keep them gorgeous year after year!

azaleas

Nothing Says Welcome Like an Entry Garden

Now is the time to start planning your entry garden. This welcoming patch has the power to set a warm and friendly tone for those who pass through your garden on the way to your front door. It does take some planning to set the proper mood, however, and you need to consider architecture, setting, scale, boundaries and maintenance.

Architecture and Setting

First, it is critical that your garden style suits your architecture and setting to create a cohesive, uniform look. Try to match the hardscaping and plants to the style and feel of your house. A cottage or farmhouse would be accentuated by a friendly, loose informal garden with plants spilling onto the walkway and colors blending together at the edges of beds. A more formal and symmetrical building, however, should be paired with a more structured garden that includes well-groomed shrubbery, stately flowers and a well-defined path.

Plant Scale

Pay attention to the scale of the plants you choose. Plants that will grow too tall or broad can overwhelm the house or crowd the walkway. Plants that are too small can make the house feel too large and unwelcoming. Investigate the mature sizes of plants and be sure they are positioned appropriately within your entry garden so they will not crowd one another or block key features of your home, such as house numbers or security lighting.

Garden Boundaries

Consider setting boundaries for the garden using a fence, wall, hedge or gate. The boundary could encompass just the area around the front door, might include a flowerbed border or could frame the whole yard, but keep in mind the size and style of your home. A white picket fence around the entire yard is a quaint option for a cottage-esque home, but would look out of place with an elegant brick manor, which would be more suited to a wrought iron boundary or classic boxwood hedges.

Maintaining Your Entry Garden

Be realistic about the amount of time you have to maintain your entry garden. If you have limited time, choose native or easy to care for plants that will require little attention. Also consider using containers for some of the plants. They can be easily rearranged throughout the seasons to give a different look to the garden, and plants can be brought in over the winter months. Keep in mind essential tasks such as weeding, pruning and watering, and plan the garden to suit your abilities, time and budget so you can always keep it in perfect condition to welcome visitors.

With a little planning, you can create a welcoming entry garden to beautifully greet guests as they visit your home.

entry_1

entry_2

entry_3

Pruning Forsythia

Forsythia is a true spring favorite and never disappoints with its shocking yellow blooms atop a mass of unruly branches. This early-flowering shrub can thrive for decades on neglect but there will come a time, whether out of want or necessity, that your forsythia will require pruning. But how can you do so without dampening the ferocious spring flame these spring shrubs produce?

Why Prune Forsythia?

When this shrub does so well without detailed care, why is it necessary to prune it at all? In many landscapes, if the shrub is properly sited, it may not need pruning. Unfortunately, many people underestimate the vigorous growth of these beauties, and in just a few years it may seem crowded and overgrown in a corner, narrow bed or border. A large, unruly forsythia may also seem overwhelming in a smaller space or when paired with less vigorous plants. Damage or illness may also create a misshapen or unbalanced plant that is no longer so pleasing to the eye. In these cases, judicious pruning can rejuvenate and refresh the shrub and give new life to its part of the landscape.

Rejuvenating Forsythia

Rejuvenating an old, out of shape and poorly flowering forsythia is simple. After the shrub has finished flowering in late spring, cut all the branches back to within one foot of the ground. When branches put on new growth, reaching two feet from the ground, prune all branch tips to the first set of side shoots. This will help develop a fuller, thicker shrub for a more lush look. Be aware, however, that it will take until the second bloom season for a severely pruned forsythia to return to its former splendor.

A newer forsythia that is just a few years old can be kept in tip-top shape a bit more easily. Each spring, after it flowers, cut up to one-third of the branches back to the ground. Choose dead branches, branches thicker than your thumb and all crossed or inward facing branches. This will help create a good form with healthy air circulation and pleasing growth for years of beauty and enjoyment.

It’s easy to keep forsythia looking stunning for many years. Whether you want to make the most of the forsythia already in your yard or want to add this beauty to your landscape, stop by – our landscaping experts can help you choose the best species for your yard and needs so you can enjoy its beauty for many springs to come.

forsythia-1

Create Successful Shrubs With Proper Pruning

Gorgeous yellow, pink, red, orange, white and purple blooms put on a show in early spring from plants like forsythia, lilac, azaleas, rhododendron, mockorange, weigela and bridal wreath spirea. Summer then greets us with bold blossoms in hues of purple, magenta, blue and red from butterfly bush, hydrangea, crape myrtle and rose-of-sharon. These deciduous shrubs provide a beautiful backdrop for the garden and most of these plants only require basic watering, fertilizing and pruning. Why not add them to your yard today?

More Blooms, Better Blooms

To keep your shrubs healthy and blooming prolifically, it is important to know which plants to prune at what times. Before you go chopping away, do a little research about when your shrub should be pruned. If you don’t do it at the right time, you won’t get many (or any) of those gorgeous flowers to enjoy.

Shrubs to Prune When Dormant

Shrubs that produce flowers on wood grown in the same season should be pruned in late winter or very early spring. This allows time for the wood to grow and the current year’s buds to set to produce more beautiful blooms the next year.

  • Abelia
  • Beautyberry (Callicarpa)
  • Bluebeard (Caryopteris)
  • Butterfly Bush (Buddleia – except Alternifolia)
  • Cinquefoil (Potentilla)
  • Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia)
  • Hydrangea (Paniculata and Arborescens)
  • Rose
  • Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus)
  • Spirea (all species that bloom in summer)

Shrubs to Prune Immediately After Flowering

Shrubs that bloom on year-old wood and need to be pruned just after blooms fade. This allows enough time for the new branches to form next year’s buds.

  • Azalea
  • Barberry (Berberis)
  • Beautybush (Kolkwitzia)
  • Heather (Calluna)
  • Daphne
  • Deutzia
  • Forsythia
  • Honeysuckle (Lonicera)
  • Hydrangea (Macrophylla, Seratta and Quercifolia)
  • Kerria
  • Lilac (Syringa)
  • Mock Orange (Philadelphus)
  • Pieris
  • Rhododendron
  • Scotch Broom (Cytisus)
  • Spirea (spring blooming varieties like bridal wreath)
  • Weigela
  • Witch Hazel (Hamamelis)

Still Not Getting Any or Many Blooms?

Even with proper pruning, it is possible you may not be seeing the blooms you’d hoped for. Some routine maintenance will help keep your plants healthy so they can produce those fantastic flowers.

If you haven’t already done so, fertilize plants this spring with Plant-Tone, Holly-Tone or similar products (for those acid-loving azaleas and rhododendron). Move the mulch and sprinkle the food lightly over the soil at the outer edges of the plant, then water well. Replace the layer of mulch to help conserve moisture and prevent most weed growth.

Though an established shrub can endure a moderate drought, it will flower more reliably if you help it through the dry weather with a weekly watering. Consider a drip system to provide good water and minimize evaporation.

Other reasons your shrub may not be putting on its best flower show might include improper lighting or incorrect soil conditions. Similarly, if a plant does not receive enough sunlight or if the soil pH isn’t suitable for that type of plant, it will not flower as it should.

If you’re having trouble with a particular plant, stop by or call us to help you find out why. And, remember, sometimes it just takes patience. Some plants, like wisteria, can take up to seven years to produce flowers, but will be well worth the wait for the amazing show they produce.

shrub-prune-2

shrub-prune-1

Herbs As Companion Plants

Practiced by organic gardeners for years, companion planting has become very popular for all gardeners. The concept is to plant together species that will benefit each other, to help prevent disease and insect infestation without the use of chemicals. In general, herbs and other aromatic plants like tomatoes, marigolds and onions are helpful in warding off insects. Certain colors, like the orange of nasturtium flowers, are thought to repel flying insects. While these practices have not been scientifically proven, many gardeners have been using them for years with positive results. Try it – and see if it works for you!

Best Companion Herbs

The exact herbs you choose to pair with other plants will depend on what you want to grow and what problems you want to eradicate. The most common herbs and their purported benefits include…

  • Basil – Enhances the growth of tomatoes and peppers. Dislikes rue. Repels flies and mosquitoes.
  • Borage – Companion to tomatoes, squash and strawberries. Deters tomato worm.
  • Chamomile – Companion to cabbages and onions. Improves the growth of all garden plants.
  • Chervil – Companion to radishes.
  • Chives – Companion to carrots. Deters Japanese beetles, blackspot on roses, scab on apples and mildew on cucurbits.
  • Dill – Improves the growth of lettuce, cabbage and onions. Dislikes carrots.
  • Fennel – Most plants dislike it – avoid using it as a companion herb and instead plant it away from the garden.
  • Garlic – Plant near roses and raspberries. Deters Japanese beetles.
  • Horseradish – Plant at the corners of your potato patch; deters potato bug.
  • Hyssop – Companion to cabbage and grapes. Deters flea beetles and cabbage moths. Dislikes radishes.
  • Marigolds – Plant throughout the garden as they discourage nematodes and other insects.
  • Mints (esp. Spearmint and Peppermint) – Companion to cabbages and tomatoes. Deters aphids, flea beetles and many types of cabbage pests.
  • Nasturtium – Companion to radishes, cabbage and cucurbits. Plant under fruit trees. Deters aphids and squash bugs.
  • Onion – Repels cabbage loopers, potato beetles, carrot flies and imported cabbage moths.
  • Oregano – Improves the growth of beans.
  • Parsley – Enhances the growth of roses. Repels asparagus beetles.
  • Pot Marigold – Companion to tomatoes, but plant elsewhere, too. Deters tomato worm, asparagus beetles and other pests.
  • Rosemary – Companion to cabbage, bean, carrots and sage. Deters cabbage moth, bean beetles and carrot fly.
  • Rue – Companion to roses and raspberries, dislikes sweet basil. Deters Japanese beetles.
  • Sage – Plant with rosemary, tomatoes, strawberries, cabbage and carrots. Dislikes cucumbers. Deters cabbage moth and carrot fly.
  • Summer Savory – Companion to beans and onions. Deters bean beetles.
  • Tansy – Plant under fruit trees. Companion to roses and raspberries. Deters flying insects, Japanese beetles, striped cucumber beetles, squash bugs and ants.
  • Tarragon (French) – Enhances the growth of all vegetables.
  • Thyme – Improves the growth of tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant. Repels whiteflies and cabbageworms.
  • Wormwood – Use as a border, keeps animals from the garden.
  • Yarrow – Plant along borders, paths and near aromatic herbs. Enhances production of essential oils. Attracts beneficial insects including ladybugs and predatory wasps.

Exactly how much benefit companion plants give to one another will vary; be sure to choose varieties to group that have similar soil, light, water and fertilization needs. Even if their companion benefits may not pan out, you’re sure to enjoy a more diverse and vibrant garden filled with delicious vegetables and herbs!

herbs_companion_3

herbs_companion_1

herbs_companion_2

Pre-Emergent Control of Crabgrass

Did you have a crabgrass problem last year? Well, chances are, it’s gonna be even worse this year! Crabgrass is an annual lawn weed that dies once a hard frost hits. The main problem with this pest is the tenacious seed that it leaves behind after it blooms.

Early spring is the season to control crabgrass with a pre-emergent herbicide. This chemical works by killing the crabgrass seedlings as they germinate. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Apply the pre-emergent as the forsythia is going out of bloom.
  • For newly seeded lawns, wait until you have mowed your lawn three times before applying the herbicide. This will help to avoid killing the new grass.
  • Use a spreader to apply the herbicide uniformly across your lawn.
  • Apply your pre-emergent before a light rain. This will knock the chemical off the grass blades and down to the soil surface where the crabgrass seed is germinating.
  • Do not de-thatch or aerate the lawn after applying the herbicide, as this disruption will break the chemical barrier.
  • Wait two to four months to re-seed the lawn after applying.
  • Repeat this same procedure year after year.
  • Keep you and your lawn safe. Always follow the manufacturers’ instructions.
crabgrass

Damping Off Disease

Arguably the most common, and certainly the most frustrating, seedling disease has to be damping off. Damping off is a common term used for several fungal diseases that cause sudden seedling death. Seedlings get very thin where the stem meets the soil. Young seedlings will then fall over, shrivel up and die.

The wisdom of Ben Franklin applies here; “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. To prevent damping off you must:

  • Sterilize your containers with a 1:10 bleach solution
  • Use a sterile seed starting mix
  • Plant seeds on the soil surface and top with vermiculite, milled sphagnum peat moss, chicken grit or sand
  • A one time sprinkling of cinnamon or charcoal on the soil surface will act as an anti-fungal agent
  • Water containers from below allowing the surface of the soil to dry slightly between waterings
  • Provide good air circulation around seedlings with a fan
  • Spray seedlings with an ounce of cooled, strongly brewed chamomile tea diluted in a quart of water
iStock_000028335442Medium-200x300

More Than Just Mulch

Not only does mulch add a decorative finish to your flower beds, it also keeps the soil cool and moist and thus reduces the need for watering. By using a pre-emergent herbicide with mulch, weed seeds are discouraged from germinating and growing. But which mulch should you use?

Types of Mulch

There are several types of mulch to choose from, and each type can give your landscaping a different finishing touch.

  • Pine Bark and Nuggets
    These types of mulches release acid when they break down. Pine mulches should be used around plants that need a more acidic soil. Use around azaleas, rhododendron, pieris japonica and holly.
  • Shredded Hardwood
    This is by far the most popular mulch. It has a dark color and knits together well so that it does not wash away. This mulch is often available in different colors, including black, red and brown.
  • Cypress
    This long-lasting mulch has a pleasant fragrance. Cypress mulch also knits together well, and it is thought to repel insects.
  • Artificial Mulch
    Artificial mulches may look like bark, nuggets or hardwood shreds, but they are really shredded rubber or similar materials. They are often dyed in natural tones to mimic organic mulches, but could also be dyed in outrageous colors. These mulches do not break down and will not benefit the soil, but they do not need replacing as often as organic mulches that will eventually decompose.
  • Yard Waste
    Many gardeners use yard waste such as shredded leaves, grass clippings or pine needles as mulch. While these can be effective mulches to conserve moisture and repel weeds, and they are certainly more economical, they do not have the refined look of wood mulches. Yard waste mulches will also decay and discolor much more quickly than wood mulches.

Using Mulch

No matter which mulch you choose, it is important to use it properly. It is recommended that mulch be applied 2-3 inches deep around plants, in flowerbeds and in garden areas – less depth will not be as effective to shield and protect the soil, while deeper mulch may actually protect too much and could restrict water from entering the soil. Take care not to pile mulch directly next to stems and trunks, which could invite insects and rot to invade the plant.

Over time, mulches will decay and compact, at which time they can be removed and added to a compost pile, or simply turned and worked into the soil around the plants they’ve been protecting. To preserve mulch a bit longer, raking and turning it over will refresh its color and reduce compaction.

Not sure which mulch will be best for your plants? Our experts will be happy to help you choose!

mulch_1mulch_2

A Feast for the Eyes

Traditionally, when planning a vegetable garden, the focus has been primarily on function with aesthetics as an afterthought – a productive harvest has usually been more important than any visual appeal. This year, why not try a new approach? Thoughtfully combine beauty and performance to create an edible garden that will explode with a variety of color and an abundance of produce. It can truly be a feast for the eyes as well as the table!

Planning a Beautiful Vegetable Garden

Color, texture and form are characteristics we keep in mind when combining plants in the flower garden. We plan flowerbeds so that plants enhance each other, repeating colors and shapes for continuity and flow. We add a variety of texture and form for diversity and interest. Vegetables, herbs and fruits can be just as vibrant, exciting, diverse and easy to combine as annual and perennial flowering plants are.

To begin, provide structure. Placing a picket fence around your garden offers instant structure and visually sets it apart from the rest of the landscape. If you plan on planting along the outside of the perimeter, you will create the allure of a garden within a garden, with a hint of secret places. Place a straight pathway through the center, starting at the entrance. Divide the larger garden into smaller square planting beds using pathways to separate the beds. This will enhance the structure of, and provide easy access to, the garden beds as well as lead your eye through the garden. If desired, you can also used raised beds for this formal structure.

Next, focus on plant selection. Begin with a plant plan or layout. Initially, base your selections on what is pleasing to your individual tastes. Consider unusual varieties of vegetables and herbs that come in unique colors. Repeat colors, both horizontally and vertically, to add depth and dimension to the garden. Don’t forget to add brightly flowering annuals such as zinnias and marigolds to mingle amongst the edibles. Another consideration is edible flowers like nasturtium and calendula. Contrast colors for a striking, eye-catching effect. Keep in mind, also, texture and form. Bold textures add drama and are often combined with fine-foliaged plants for a softening contrast. Short, stout plants anchor the garden bed while tall, willowy plants raise the eye and lead you farther down the garden path. Take all these characteristics into account when planning and place plants in geometric patterns to create a quilt-like garden tapestry.

Finally, your spring edible garden will emerge invoking a feeling of calm, displaying a variety of cool greens, purples and blues found in peas, lettuce, cabbage and broccoli. Shortly after, the summer edible garden will be completely transformed at harvest time with an explosion of vibrant shades of red, purple, orange and yellow. With so many stunning options to combine, you can truly create a feast for the eyes that will be beautiful in every season!

EdiblePlants-1024x457

Feast-2Feast-3

Feast-1

Hurry Up the Harvest — Ways to Extend the Growing Season

Have a hankering for homegrown tomatoes? Eager to see the signs of ripening in your garden without waiting weeks and weeks? Even though it’s early spring, you can extend the growing season and hurry up your harvest by trying some of these tips and products:

  • Gain three weeks on the growing season by pre-warming the soil with Weed Shield, a black, porous plastic landscape fabric. Weed shield can be laid over your prepared garden soil and secured with landscape pins. Allow at least five days of sunny weather to warm the soil. Once the soil has warmed, cut X’s in the plastic and plant through them, keeping the edges of the fabric over seed holes or against seedlings to continue warming. As the season progresses and the air and the soil temperatures increase, remove Weed Shield and replace it with salt hay. Be mindful that if you plant seedlings, you may need to take additional steps to protect the delicate shoots and leaves above the soil as well.
  • Warm the soil around your plants with floating row covers (Plant & Seed Blanket or remay fabric) or cloches (mini greenhouses). Lay remay fabric over your newly planted seedlings to hold in the heat. Anchor with landscape pins to guard against unwanted chilly breezes. Remember to pin the blanket loosely so the plants have room to grow – or use hoops if preferred. Cloches like the Wall O’ Water store the heat in plastic tubes of water that absorb heat from the sun in the day and radiate it back to plants at night. This will protect plants to temperatures as low as 19 degrees. Hot caps can also be placed over plants to hold in warm air.
  • Cold frames can be used to warm the soil, grow plants as in a mini greenhouse or protect plants like a large cloche. They’re also good for transitioning seedlings you’ve started indoors until they are ready to be planted directly into the garden. This is called ‘hardening off’ seedlings. When using this technique, place your cold frame near the wall of a heated building if possible to take advantage of heat radiation. Manure may be used to warm the soil. If warming the soil, place the cold frame in the garden 10 days before you want to plant. Orient the frame so it runs east to west so more sun will reach the plants. Then, plant directly into the frame. Remove the cold frame when temperatures are no longer a threat to young plants. In all situations, be sure to vent the cold frame to keep it from getting too hot and be sure to water with water that’s at least as warm as the soil.
  • Automator Tomato Trays are 12” square black plastic trays that will warm the soil around your vegetable plants. These trays have attached spikes to anchor them into the ground and holes in the plastic that allow water and oxygen to reach the roots of your plants. Because the Automator Tomato Trays cover such a small area around the plant, they may be left in place all season without difficulty.

With these different options, there are always ways to get a head start on your gardening this spring!

harvest_3

harvest_4

Nurturing Spring Bulbs

Spring bulbs faithfully reappear at the most advantageous time – after a long, cold winter, just when we’re longing for bright colors to relieve the monotony of winter snow and ice. Most spring bulbs are perennial and multiply in number every year, bringing more beauty to the flowerbeds each spring, but some problems can destroy a carefully planted bulb bed. Seemingly carefree, bulbs do require a bit of nurturing to ensure they perform their very best for years to come.

Tips for Bulb Care

  1. Good soil drainage is important to prevent bulbs from rotting so plan your site accordingly. Do not plant bulbs near areas where downspouts let out or large snow piles may build up and spring melt can drown bulbs.
  2. When planting bulbs in the fall, add a high phosphorus fertilizer to the planting hole for the development of strong roots. This will help the bulbs establish well so they can renew themselves each year.
  3. Bulb foliage will often break through the soil after a few warm winter days. This vegetation is hardy and its exposure to the cold will not damage your plants or prevent them from blooming. There is no need to cover, wrap or otherwise protect this initial foliage.
  4. Fertilize bulbs as plants are emerging from the ground. Do not fertilize once flowers appear. Use a 5-10-5 granular fertilizer to assist in foliage and flower development, ideally one that is formulated especially for bulbs.
  5. After blooming, cut back the flower stalk. This will force the plant to put its energy into the bulb for next year’s flowers and not into seed production that would dampen the strength of the bulb.
  6. Allow the leaves to die back naturally. The leaves are vital for producing food that is stored in the bulb for next year’s growth. Cut leaves, never pull, once they have turned yellow – pulling can damage the bulb. Do not tie leaves as this reduces the leaf surface required for adequate food production.
  7. When the foliage has completely died back the bulb is dormant, and this is the proper time to dig and separate bulbs if necessary. Flowering will often be reduced when bulb beds become over-crowded. If division is needed, bulbs should be dug and stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place and replanted in the fall.
  8. Fertilize bulbs again in the fall with a high-phosphorus, granular fertilizer.

With thoughtful care, you can easily help your bulbs reach their full potential and they will thrive for many years.

SONY DSCbulbs_5

 

Tree Peony: The Ancient Empress

From the ancient palace gardens of China comes an elegant empress, the tree peony. Native to China, the tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) has been grown by Chinese herbalists, gardeners and nobility for more than 1,500 years. In 1994, China named this beauty as its national flower, giving it a treasured place in history and sparking more interest in its botanical nature worldwide.

In recent years, tree peonies have become increasingly popular and more readily available for landscape use. This plant is distinctly different from the herbaceous peony that we are so familiar with in our American perennial beds. The tree peony is a deciduous woody plant with fern-like foliage that produces larger flowers two weeks earlier than its perennial partner. These blossoms come in a wide range of shapes, colors and fragrances depending on the cultivar, providing great variety to suit any landscape.

Tree Peony Particulars 

Not sure if the tree peony will be best for your landscape? Learning more about these exotic beauties can help you decide if you want to welcome one to your yard.

  • This slow-growing woody shrub grows 4-10 feet tall with distinctive, silken blossoms in a multitude of shapes, colors and fragrances.
  • Flowers best with most vigorous blooms in dappled shade with 3-4 hours of filtered sunlight per day.
  • Tree peonies require a site with good drainage amended with plenty of organic matter. Space plants at least 4 feet apart to provide good air circulation.
  • Prefers a soil pH range of 6.5-7.0. Use organic mulch or added sulfur to lower the pH level if necessary for the best nutrition.
  • Tree Peonies are heavy feeders. Do not fertilize the first year. Foliar feed in the spring of the second year when the leaves emerge with an organic fertilizer. Fertilize again after blooming and again in the fall before dormancy. Spread organic material (compost or manure) around the base of the plant each spring and gently work into the soil for slowly-released nutrition.
  • Virtually pest- and disease-free if planted in a good location with organically-rich soil to feed from.
  • Deadhead after blooming and clean up fallen leaves in autumn to keep the tree looking its best in every season.
  • Prefers to be transplanted in the fall if moving is necessary, or plant new specimens in fall to allow them to establish before winter.

Once your tree peony is established it will reward you each year with an abundance of glorious blooms, bringing exotic flair and distinction to your landscape.

sunny garden

Trees For Small Spaces

There’s something about putting a tree in the ground that just feels right. In many cases, you start with just a bare trunk with a few branches and then, rather quickly, it begins sprouting new growth. You nurture your new acquisition and each year it increases in height and girth. Finally, one day, you look out the window and a magnificent mature tree is there to greet you!

Choosing Your Best Tree

Trees are a permanent addition to the landscape and therefore require a great deal of thought and planning in their selection so you are not regretting your choice as the tree matures. When choosing, not only do you need to keep climate and soil type in mind, but you will also need to consider how much space you have, both above and below the ground, and how large your tree will be at maturity. Large trees should be given the room that they need to grow and thrive. Planted in the wrong location, some large trees have far reaching roots that can damage plumbing, break underground utilities and buckle pavement, not to mention branches that can tower dangerously over your roof. Fortunately, there are many small to medium trees available that look great and cause no damage when planted close to your house, sidewalk or driveway.

Top Trees for Small Spaces

  • Acer ginnala (Amur Maple) – Multi-stemmed, rounded habit, bright red fall color, 15-20’ h x 15-20’ w
  • Acer griseum (Paperbark Maple) – Upright, irregular habit, exfoliating bark, excellent red fall color, 20-30’ h x 15-25’ w
  • Acer palmatum (Japanese Maple) – Numerous varieties, textures, colors and forms and sizes for every taste and situation
  • Aesculus pavia (Red Buckeye) – Native to the southeastern United States, red upright flowers in May to early June, flowers attract hummingbirds, 10-20’ h x 10-20’ w
  • Amelanchier canadensis (Shadblow Serviceberry) – North American native, shrubby, multi-stemmed trunk tree, white flowers in early spring, edible purplish-black fruit, reddish-orange fall color, 6-15’ h x 15-20’ w
  • Betula pendula ‘Youngii’ (Young’s Weeping Birch) – Strong weeping tendency, attractive white bark, yellow fall color, 8-12’ h x 10’ w
  • Carpinus caroliniana (American Hornbeam) – Eastern North American native, multi-stemmed, smooth muscular gray bark, yellow/red/orange fall color, 20-30’ h x 20-30’ w
  • Cercis Canadensis (Eastern Redbud) – Eastern North American native, often multi-stemmed, purple-pink flowers in early spring, 20-30’ h x 20-30’ w
  • Chionanthus viriginicus (Fringe Tree) – North American native, multi-stemmed, rounded habit, fringe-like white flowers in May to early June, golden-yellow fall color, 12-20’ h x 12-20’ w
  • Cornus alternifolia (Pagoda Dogwood) – Eastern North American native, tiered horizontal branching, white flowers late May to early June, blue-black fruit, persistent coral colored fruit stalks, yellow/reddish/purple fall color, 25’ h x 25’ w
  • Cornus florida (Flowering Dogwood) – Eastern North American and northern Mexican native, rounded habit, white or pink flowers in mid-May, reddish-purple fall color, 30’ h x 30’ w
  • Cornus kousa (Korean Dogwood) – Rounded habit, vase-shaped branching habit, flowers white aging to pink in early summer, red to purple fall color, 30’ h x 30’ w
  • Cornus mas (Cornelian Cherry Dogwood) – Multi-stemmed, rounded habit, small yellow flowers in early spring, bright red berries in the summer eaten quickly by birds, 20’ h x 20’ w
  • Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’ (Winter King Hawthorn) – United States native, broad horizontal crown, white flowers in spring, yellow fall color, abundance of small red berries in winter, 15’ h x 20’ w
  • Halesia tetraptera (Carolina Silverbell) – native, irregular to rounded and broad shaped, pendulous white bell-shaped flowers in May, Smooth muscle-like bark, 30 – 40’h x 25 – 35’w
  • Magnolia stellata (Star Magnolia) – Multi-stemmed tree with oval habit, lightly fragrant showy white blooms in early spring, ornamental smooth silver-gray bark, 15-20’ h x 10-15’ w
  • Malus sargentii (Sargent crabapple) – Mounded habit, blooms April through early May, fragrant flowers, pink-red in bud opening to white, very showy deep red fruit held in clusters, 6-8’ h x 9-12’ w
  • Prunus cerasifera ‘Thundercloud’ (Thundercloud Plum) – Rounded habit, deep purple foliage all year around, slightly fragrant pink flowers in the spring, 20’ h x 20’ w
  • Stewartia koreana (Korean Stewartia) – Pyramidal or oval in shape, white flowers in June and July, long bloom time, excellent fall color orange/yellow/red/purple, 25’ h x 12’ w
  • Stewartia ovate (Mountain Stewartia) – Slow grower, dense with spreading branches, white flowers in July, orange to red fall color, 10-15’ h x 10-15’ w
  • Stewartia pseudocamellia (Japanese Stewartia) – Slow grower, pyramidal, solitary white camellia-like flowers June to August, excellent fall color yellow/red/purple, beautiful exfoliating camouflage bark exposed in the winter, 40’ h x 20’ w
  • Styrax japonica (Japanese Snowbell) – Horizontal branching, broad flat top at maturity, hanging white flowers from late May into June, good fall color of yellow with a reddish cast, 20-30’ h x 20-30’ w
  • Syringa reticulate (Japanese Tree Lilac) – Stiff spreading branches, fragrant showy white flowers borne in early summer on panicles up to 12″ long and up to 10” wide, 20’ h x 15’ w

Overwhelmed with small tree varieties and not sure which one is best for your yard? Let our experts help you choose the perfect tree to fit your space!

small_tree_1small_tree_2

Dealing With Winter Damage

It’s early spring – time to survey the damage that winter has produced. In some areas, shrubs may still be hiding under piles of frozen snow, and could be crushed or compacted. Severed tree limbs may lie scattered across the landscape, and bark may be torn and stripped from trunks. It’s difficult to know what to tackle first, but fortunately, much of the damage is easily correctible.

Repairing Winter-Damaged Trees

When surveying and repairing winter damage, start with your trees – they are generally the most valuable additions to your property. As you survey the damage – broken limbs, torn bark, a tilting trunk – ask yourself “Is this tree salvageable or should it be removed?” If the damage is extensive, or you are unsure about how the damage may affect the tree’s overall health or future growth, hire a professional for a consultation. Replacing a severely damaged tree with a younger one, perhaps a type you like even better, may be the best solution.

If a limb is broken somewhere along its length, or damaged beyond repair, employ good pruning practices and saw off the remaining piece at the branch collar, being careful not to cut into the trunk or leave a stub. Sometimes a fallen limb may strip bark off the tree trunk. To repair this damage, cut the ragged edges of the loose bark away from the stripped area to firmly affixed healthy bark. Nature will take care of the rest. Even if the trunk of the tree is split, the tree may still be saved. For large trees, repairing this type of damage usually requires cabling and bracing done by a professional. If the tree is still young, the crotch may be pulled tightly together and tied or taped until the wound eventually heals.

Repairing Winter-Damaged Shrubs

Shrubs can suffer the same damage as trees, including broken limbs and stripped bark. Heavy snowfall can crush smaller shrubs, and larger varieties may have their trunks or centers split from heavy snow or ice accumulation. Most shrubs are resilient, however, and slowly regain their shape as the weather warms. If branches are bent but not broken, you may tie them together to help them along and prevent further damage from late-season storms. Do not tie tightly and remove twine after about a year. Completely broken branches may be pruned away, but take care to maintain the shrub’s form and balance, keeping in mind its growth pattern so it will not look lopsided or ungainly. Again, if the damage is severe, you may need to replace the plant.

The harder the winter is, the more of a beating trees and shrubs will take. With prompt attention in early spring, however, you can easily undo much of the damage and help your landscape recover with ease.

damage_1damage_2

Peach Leaf Curl

If you grow peaches, you have most likely experienced peach leaf curl. Recognizing the symptoms of this infection and understanding what to do about it can help you keep your peach crop peachy keen.

About Peach Leaf Curl

Peach leaf curl (Taphrina deformas) is a fungal disease that infects the immature leaves of peach and nectarine trees and it is often far worse in years with a cool and rainy spring, conditions that allow this fungus to spread more rapidly. The yearly disease cycle begins at bud swell and continues until the young leaves emerge. The infected leaves turn reddish-brown, pucker, shrivel and fall off the tree. With fewer leaves, the fruit crop is not nourished as well and fruit will be smaller and less productive. On rare occasions, the fruit itself may become infected and will show a scabbed, corky surface in patches.

After the initial infection, the velvety spores are carried by the wind and rain, overwintering in the tree bark to infect the tree again the following spring. Repeated infections will lead to branch die back and eventually shorten the life of the entire tree.

Stopping Peach Leaf Curl

If you are considering growing peaches, choose a leaf curl resistant variety of tree. There are both new resistant varieties as well as resistant heirlooms. If you are already growing peaches, keep your tree healthy with proper and regular pruning that will allow adequate air circulation and sunlight between branches to minimize the damp, cool conditions that help this fungus. Proper feeding and watering of your tree will also help it be more disease-resistant.

If the disease presents itself, apply fungicide every year in the fall after the leaves have dropped. In areas with wet winters, it can be helpful to reapply fungicide in early spring before bud swell. Always rake up and destroy the infected fallen leaves. Safer recommended controls include sulfur and copper-based fungicides. Traditional control products include Daconil and Ferbam, and should be used according to the application instructions. If the infection is localized to just a few branches, it may also be possible to prune away those infected branches in late fall to help minimize the spread of the spores.

Peach leaf curl can be devastating to your peach trees, but if you recognize the disease quickly and take proper steps to minimize its effects, you can keep your trees healthy and protect your crop of sweet, delicious peaches.

peach_leaf

Trackable Tools

It’s the beginning of a new gardening season. Hopefully you took out last year’s journal in January or February and reviewed your notes on what you wanted to change, improve, experiment with or eliminate from your garden and landscape. Now is the time to begin implementing some of those great ideas, and it starts with having the right tools.

Where Do Your Tools Go?

One common problem in the garden is misplaced tools. We’ve all found hand tools in the spring that were inadvertently thrown in the compost pile or left under a shrub during fall cleanup. Many of us have spent time we didn’t have to spare walking in circles, looking for the shovel that we just had in our hand. It was laid down for a moment and seemed to disappear. Tools can easily disappear on a crowded workbench or in a cluttered shed, or they may even end up in a brush pile or other unlikely location.

When tools are lost, not only are our gardening chores impacted, but the tools can be damaged by exposure or accidental damage if they’re dropped, run over with a mower or otherwise subjected to inadvertent abuse. This can mean we no longer have the tool we need when we need it most, and we have to make a trip to the garden center to replace a tool – using time and money our gardening budget may not have.

Finding Your Tools

Let’s do things differently this year. Let’s save time, money and our precious tools. Resolve to only buy new hand tools with bright colored handles that are easily seen from afar and stand out to be picked up after a long day in the garden. If you already have a good selection of tools that you love and wish to keep track of, simply cover the handle with a bright colored spray paint on a sunny spring day, or wrap the handles with brightly colored tape or other coverings to make them more visible.

Similarly, take the time to clean out and declutter your garden shed, tool boxes and workbenches, making sure there is a safe, appropriate place to store every tool. If each tool has a place, you’ll be able to see at a glance when a tool may be missing and you can find it quickly before you’ve forgotten where you saw or used it last.

You and your garden will be glad you did!

trackable_tools_1

Mowing. Do It Right

If you have a lawn then you need to mow. If you need to mow then you may as well do it right, or else you risk weak, thin turf that is more susceptible to weeds, insect infestations and diseases. Fortunately, it’s easy to mow your lawn the right way!

8 Simple Steps for a Well-Mowed Lawn

  1. Put Your Mower to Bed in Fall
    Service your lawn mower in the fall, after your last cut, so that you start the next mowing season right. For a gas mower, this means change the oil, drain the gas, replace the spark plug, change the air filter and lubricate the throttle cord. Maintenance is similar for electric and battery-powered mowers – be sure all the moving parts are properly lubricated, batteries are operating efficiently and cords are in good condition without snags, rips or bare wires. All types of mowers should have their blades sharpened in fall so they are ready for swift spring cuts.
  2. Know How High to Cut Your Spring Grass
    Before your first cut of the spring season, fill your tank with gas (or fully charge batteries) and adjust your wheel height. Cool-season grasses should generally be cut at a height of 3 to 3 ½ inches. Never remove more than 1/3 of the plant. This longer height will require that you mow more frequently but it will ensure a stronger root system, help maintain soil moisture and will greatly reduce weed competition.
  3. Only Mow When Dry
    Mowing a wet lawn is a sure way to spread disease and tear grass blades for a ragged look, plus wet clippings will clog blades and make mowers less efficient. The best time of day to mow is in the evening. Early in the morning, after the dew has dried is the second best time. Mowing in the heat of the day will cause your turf grass to go into shock.
  4. Clear the Lawn
    Before you start your mower, clear all objects from the lawn. This includes toys, lawn furniture, trash, fallen branches, stones and anything that would cause you to stop and restart the mower. Keep your eye out for anything that is a hazard, including items that may get jammed in the mower or thrown by the mower.
  5. Keep the Clippings
    Grass clippings are loaded with nitrogen, just what your lawn needs to stay healthy. Leaving the clippings on the lawn can reduce your fertilizer use by as much as 25 percent or more. Spread them out so that they don’t become anaerobic. Using a mulching mower will ensure the clippings are finely chopped and will decay more quickly, releasing their nutrition back into the lawn.
  6. Stay Sharp
    Always keep your mower blades sharp. You may need to resharpen your blades during the growing season. Unsharpened blades rip and tear at the grass. This creates an environment conducive to the spread of turf disease. Dull blades will also cut unevenly, creating a ragged look even on a newly mowed lawn.
  7. Change Directions
    Change directions each time you mow. Mowing causes the grass to lie over. Alternating your direction each time you mow will correct this problem and help strengthen your turf. You might even use multiple directions, including diagonal rows, and rotate through the pattern with each successive mowing.
  8. Clean Up Afterwards
    Dirt and debris are the main causes of lawn mower engine failure. Always take a few moments after mowing for some preventative maintenance. Grab an old rag and wipe down your mower including air vent grates, blades and wheels to be sure your mower is ready to go each time you need it.

With the proper care, preparation and techniques, you can mow your lawn the right way every time, and you’ll be amazed at the different proper mowing can make to the healthy and vigorousness of your turf.

mowing_2mowing_1

Dividing Hybrid Hellebores

Hybrid hellebores bring us all sorts of happiness. These are one of the first plants to bloom in the late winter and early spring and are available in flower colors of chartreuse, cream, white, pink, red and deep purple. Hybrid hellebores are also those rare and treasured perennials that provide year-round interest, giving you the most bang for your buck and brightening your landscape in every season. As evergreens, they never lose their luster, and their flower shapes and textures are quite varied for even more interest, with a cultivar to suit any gardener’s taste. What’s not to be happy about?

A Love Divided

To keep these plants healthy and thriving, and to increase your quantity, division is a necessity. It is important to divide these plants carefully, however, or else you risk sadness with fewer blooms, lopsided plants or even losing these gems. Fortunately, it’s possible for even a novice hellebore lover to divide their plants with confidence.

  1. Divide hybrid hellebores in the spring when it is in bloom. This will also let you see how the blooms are positioned on the plant so you can divide shapes appropriately.
  2. Choose a plant that has at least 5 flower stems. Each one represents a division and will give you great new plants to bloom.
  3. Dig your hellebores up with a garden spade by inserting it deeply into the soil around the perimeter of the plant about 6 inches away from the outer stems of the clump. This will keep the root system largely intact and uninjured.
  4. Lift the clump and shake off loose soil or any trapped rocks or ensnared mulch. You can gently loosen clumps with your fingers, but take care not to damage the roots.
  5. With a garden hose, wash away any additional soil from the clump so the plant roots are exposed. This will help them get established in their new location more quickly.
  6. Divide the clump by cutting through the roots with a heavy-duty serrated knife. Make your root cuts where you see obvious natural divisions between the flower stalks.
  7. Replant your divisions at their original depth, in a shady location. Include plenty of compost in the planting hole for good nourishment. Water well and continue to keep soil from drying out until your new plants are well established.

Before you know it, you’ll have many more hybrid hellebores to enjoy! If you have a few too many, be sure to share the happiness by giving them to family members, friends, neighbors and anyone else who can fall in love with these beauties.

Helleborus orientalis

Putting on Airs: Tillandsias

Looking for something easy to grow? Tillandsias should be on the top of your list. Tillandsia is the largest genus in the Bromeliad family with over 650 species that vary in color, size, texture and shape. In their native habitat, Tillandsias attach themselves to trees and rocks using their roots. They derive the nutrients and water they need from the air, hence the common name “air plant.” And like their name implies, no soil is necessary for a beautiful, thriving specimen! This versatile houseplant is not fussy, and when given minimal care, will adapt to most home and office environments.

About Tillandsias

Tillandsias are evergreen flowering perennials, and their native range spreads from the southeastern United States to Central and South America. While they are often associated with tropical regions, these diverse plants can also be found in deserts, high mountain ranges and rocky habitats.

It is a common misconception that these are rootless plants – in fact, their roots are critical to serve as anchors and keep the plants stable, though the roots do not absorb moisture or nutrition like other plants. Instead, these plants absorb all they need through their foliage.

Caring for Tillandsias

These delicate plants are easy to care for, but there are some tricks necessary to keep them healthy and looking their very best.

  • Light
    Place your Tillandsias where they will receive plenty of light but not direct sunlight. Direct sun will dry out the leaves very quickly and can cause dehydration and wilting. Home or office fluorescent lighting works just fine.
  • Temperature
    Typical indoor temperatures are perfectly suitable for Tillandsias, and a range of 50-90 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal.
  • Water
    Once a month, soak your air plant in water for about 20 minutes. If the plant is flowering, a delicate rinse would be more appropriate so that the bloom is not damaged. When through soaking, shake off the excess water from the plant and place in an area with good air circulation so it can dry easily. In between soaks, spritz your Tillandsias 1-2 times per week with clean water from a spray bottle. Indoor heat and air conditioning rob moisture from the air. If your air plant leaves start to wrinkle or roll, this is a sign of dehydration. Give them a good soak and spritz more frequently.
  • Pruning
    It is not unusual for the outer leaves of an air plant to dry out and turn brown, and these spent leaves can simply be removed. If leaf tips dry a bit and turn brown, cut off the tip and continue with regular care. The plant will grow and look just fine.

One final note, Tillandsias have beautiful brilliant blooms but only bloom once in their lifetime. Depending on the species, the bloom may last several days to several months. Why not try several different Tillandsia varieties so you can experience these amazing blooms?

tillandsias_2tillandsias_1

Geranium ‘Biokovo’

“So many Geraniums, so little time.” If this is your motto, we completely understand. There are so many fantastic varieties to choose from, but geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’ is extraordinary, and is one bloom you should certainly make time for.

Unlike our tender summer annual commonly called geranium (genus: Pelargonium), true geraniums are hardy, low growing, groundcover perennials commonly known as “cranesbill.” They look nothing like the more familiar, misnamed geraniums and they certainly do not behave similarly. The more you learn about these true geraniums, however, the more you will love them.

About ‘Biokovo’

G. ‘Biokovo’, originally found growing in the mountains of Croatia, is cold hardy and semi-evergreen in hardiness zones 5-8. Growing up to a foot tall and 12-18 inches wide, this cranesbill blooms in late spring, generally stretching from May to June with sporadic reblooming. The five-petaled, three-quarter-inch, white flowers show a tinge of pink in the center, surrounding brighter pink pistils topped with golden yellow stamens. The petals have a slightly frilly texture, giving these blooms a romantic delicacy. The leaves are slightly hairy, lobed, medium green, and develop an orange-red tint in the fall to provide beauty and color in different seasons. The foliage is highly aromatic with a pungent, orange-like scent when bruised.

Planting Geranium ‘Biokovo’

Produced on spreading rhizomes that can vigorously cover an area, G. ‘Biokovo’ is easily grown in well-drained soil with average fertility and neutral (7.0) pH. It is relatively drought-tolerant once established and will thrive planted in either full sun or part shade, but the hottest afternoon sun is best avoided. Deep shade will also stunt the plant’s growth and may limit blooming. Moist soil is suitable, but the soil should not be over saturated and only average watering is required. Fertilize in early spring for the best nutrition and most vigorous blooming. Plant divisions may be done in either spring or fall to expand the ‘Biokovo’ in your landscape or share it with other enthusiastic true geranium lovers.

‘Biokovo’ in the Landscape

Use ‘Biokova’ in the front of the perennial border and in rock gardens to add color, texture and softness. It will steal the show as a long-blooming ground cover or edging plant, and can be ideal to add natural, flowing lines to the edge of flowerbeds, driveways or sidewalks. There are no serious pest or disease problems associated with this or any of the many other hardy geraniums. It attracts butterflies and resists deer and rabbits. Why wait to add this beauty to your flowerbeds?

geraniumbiokovo

Growing Under Black Walnut

If you have a black walnut tree on your property, you know how difficult it can be to find anything that will grow anywhere near this plant.

Black walnuts release a substance called juglone into the soil, which is toxic to many ornamental and edible plants and can stunt their growth significantly – in fact, juglone is used as a herbicide in some areas! A mature black walnut tree can have a toxic zone with up to an 80-foot radius, depending on the tree’s size and age. Every part of the walnut tree contains juglone and this substance remains in the soil long after the tree is cut down, continuing to inhibit anything that may be planted in its place.

Fortunately, there is a wide variety of plants that are less affected by juglone and can still thrive in contaminated soil. When choosing to plant in an area where a black walnut is located or where one once stood, it is safe to make your selection from the lists below.

Vegetables

  • Beans
  • Corn
  • Carrots
  • Melons
  • Squash

Fruit

  • Black Raspberry
  • Cherry
  • Nectarine
  • Peach
  • Pear
  • Plum

Annuals

  • Pot-marigold, Calendula officinalis
  • Begonia, fibrous cultivars
  • Morning Glory, Ipomoea
  • Pansy, Viola
  • Zinnia species

Perennials

  • Bugleweed, Ajuga reptans
  • Hollyhock, Alcea rosea
  • European Wild Ginger, Asarum europaeum
  • Astilbe species
  • Bellflower, Campanula latifolia
  • Leopard’s-Bane, Doronicum species
  • Sweet Woodruff, Galium odoratum
  • Cranesbill, Geranium sanguineum
  • Common Daylily, Hemerocallis
  • Coral Bells, Heuchera
  • Plantain-lily, Hosta
  • Siberian Iris, Iris sibirica
  • Balm, Monarda didyma
  • Sundrops, Oenothera fruticosa
  • Summer Phlox, Phlox paniculata
  • Polyanthus Primrose, Primula x polyantha
  • Lungwort, Pulmonaria species
  • Showy Sedum, Sedum spectabile
  • Lamb’s-Ear, Stachys byzantina
  • Spiderwort, Tradescantia virginiana
  • Horned Violet, Viola cornuta

Ferns

  • Crested Wood Fern, Dryopteris cristata
  • Senstitive Fern, Onoclea sensibilis
  • Cinnamon Fern, Osmunda cinnamomea

Bulbs

  • Glory-of-the-Snow, Chionodoxa luciliae
  • Crocus species
  • Winter Aconite, Eranthis hyemalis
  • Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis
  • Spanish Bluebell, Hyacinthoides hispanica
  • Grape Hyacinth, Muscari botryoides
  • Siberian Squill, Scilla sibirica

Trees

  • Japanese Maples, Acer palmatum
  • Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis
  • Canadian Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis

Vines and Shrubs

  • Euonymus species
  • Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus
  • Honeysuckle, Lonicera species
  • Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia
  • Arborvitaes, Thuja species

Black walnut can be a challenging plant to have in your landscape, but if you understand the unique characteristics of this tree you can easily pair it with other plants that don’t mind its toxic effects.

Walnut_2Walnut_1

Heath or Heather

Often mistaken for one another, heath (Erica) and heather (Calluna) look amazingly similar. To confuse things further, heath is frequently referred to as “spring heather” and some landscapers, garden centers and nurseries may use the names interchangeably. Both types of plants belong to the Ericaceae family, and they share many similarities.

Which is Which?

The key difference between these two popular landscaping plants is that heath blooms from winter to early spring while heather blooms from mid-summer to early fall. Heath features slim, needle-like foliage, while heather’s foliage is flatter and more scale-like. Heath generally only grows to 12 inches tall, while different heather cultivars can range from 8-20 inches tall. With their many similarities for location, soil type and sunlight, however, it is easy to grow these two shrubs together for a much longer and more brilliant flowering season.

Heath and Heather in the Landscape

Both heath and heather are low maintenance, low growing, perennial shrubs that love well-drained, acidic soil, but do not plant them too deeply or their shallow root systems may rot or smother. Heath, or spring heather, has tiny, urn shaped flowers in white, rose or fuchsia and is readily available in early spring. Heather will be more popular later in the season and into early summer, and its bell-like mauve, rose or lavender flowers provide lovely color to the landscape later in the season. Depending on the cultivar, heather’s foliage can range from bright green to golden yellow, reddish or even silvery-gray.

Both plants should be watered well, and mulching around the shrubs will help inhibit weeds and conserve moisture without overwatering. Pruning should be done just after blooming is finished to maintain and shape the plant mounds and discourage overgrowth and legginess.

Heath and heather look terrific planted en masse on a sunny hillside or in the shrub border with other acid-loving plants like azaleas and rhododendrons. They are a welcome addition to the rock garden and can brighten up a dwarf conifer grouping or container garden. Their mounding habit makes the plants easily spill over edges for a naturalized, graceful organic look ideal for cottage gardens and flowing landscape design.

It is important to note, however, that deer can be very attracted to both heath and heather. If these backyard visitors are a problem in your garden or pester your landscape, you may want to take a variety of steps to keep them away from your beautiful shrubs.

Planted together, heath and heather will provide you with a succession of dainty blooms to take you through the entire growing season.

Heatherheath

Acid-Loving Plants

Soil pH is a critical factor for gardening success. Some plants thrive in neutral soil while other plants prefer soil on the acidic side. The difference lies in the plant’s ability to use nutrients present in the soil. For plants that prefer an acidic soil a critical nutrient is iron. Iron is most easily available in soil with a pH of around 5.5. Without iron, acid-loving plants will turn yellow and suffer stunted growth.

What is pH?

pH stands for “potential hydrogen ions” and is the measure of acidity or alkalinity. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14. pH less than 7 indicates acidity, pH greater than 7 indicates alkalinity and 7 is neutral. Soil pH directly affects nutrient availability. Plants grown in soil with pH above or below their optimum range will be less vigorous, more susceptible to disease, less able to fight off insects and may even be weakened to the point of death.

How pH Affects Plants

Nutrients necessary for healthy plants are divided into three categories: primary nutrients, secondary nutrients and micronutrients. Primary nutrients are (N) nitrogen, (P) phosphorus and (K) potassium. These nutrients requited in the largest amounts for plant growth and health and are represented in numbers found on every fertilizer container (for example, 20-20-20). (Ca) Calcium, (Mg) magnesium and (S) sulfur are secondary nutrients that are also required by plants. These are required in lesser amounts than N-P-K but are also essential for good plant growth. (Zn) zinc and (Mn) manganese are examples of micronutrients. Micronutrients are required by plants in very small amounts. Most secondary and micronutrient deficiencies are easily corrected by keeping the soil at the optimum pH value.

Because pH directly affects nutrient availability, acid-loving plants develop iron chlorosis when grown in soils that are too alkaline. Iron chlorosis is often misdiagnosed as a nitrogen deficiency because both present with a yellowing leaf. Chlorosis of young leaves is the first symptom of iron deficiency, while a magnesium deficiency results in yellowing of older leaves first. Nitrogen-deficient plants will not only have yellow leaves but also weak stems, underdeveloped leaves and reduced root development.

What Causes Soil Acidity

Soil pH is influenced by the kind of parent material from which the soil was formed. Rainfall also affects pH. As water passes through soil it leaches basic nutrients such as calcium and magnesium from the soil, which are replaced with acidic elements such as aluminum and iron. For this reason, soils formed under high rainfall conditions are more acidic than those formed under dry conditions. Caused by pollution, acid rain also has an influence in soil pH. The application of fertilizers containing ammonium or urea speed up the rate at which acidity develops in the soil. The decomposition of organic matter will also add to soil acidity.

Testing and Adjusting Soil pH

Before planting any plant it is best to know the optimum pH range that plant will thrive in and the pH of the soil in which you will be planting. “The right plant in the right place” is always the best policy. Purchase a pH test kit or meter. These are available at most garden centers, or you may also send a soil sample to your county extension service. This will give you a more in-depth soil analysis along with the pH. To correct soil pH it is imperative that you know the soil pH before you attempt to change it.

Adding shredded pine needles, composted oak leaves or peat moss will assist in lowering soil pH over time. A quicker fix is the addition of two materials commonly used for this purpose: aluminum sulfate or garden sulfur. Aluminum sulfate will change the soil pH instantly because the aluminum produces the acidity as soon as it dissolves in the soil. Garden sulfur requires some time for the conversion to sulfuric acid with the aid of soil bacteria. The conversion rate is based on the fineness of the sulfur, the amount of soil moisture, soil temperature and the presence of bacteria. Based on these factors, the conversion rate of sulfur may be very slow and could take several months for a full effect. Acidifiers should be worked into the soil after application to be effective. Do not apply to leaf surface or burn may result. Read and abide by manufacturer instructions when applying.

Keep in mind that it takes time to alter soil pH and your soil will tend to revert to its old pH over time, necessitating repeated treatment. Attempting to change soil pH too quickly may shock and kill a plant. A good rule of thumb is to adjust no more than one point per season. It is also important to note that fertilizers recommended for acid-loving plants do not assist in adjusting the soil pH, but are instead formulated to work well in already acidic soil.

Acid-Loving Trees and Shrubs

Want to add gorgeous plants to your landscape without worrying about acidic soil? These plants thrive in soils with low pH, or come in for an expert consultation on your soil’s pH and what plants will do best in your garden, flowerbeds and landscape.

  • Azalea
  • Bayberry
  • Blueberry
  • Camelia
  • Cranberry
  • Dogwood
  • Fir
  • Fothergilla
  • Gardenia
  • Heath
  • Heather
  • Hemlock
  • Holly
  • Hydrangea
  • Itea
  • Leucothoe
  • Magnolia
  • Mountain Ash
  • Mountain Laurel
  • Oak
  • Pieris
  • Pine
  • Raspberry
  • Rhododendron
  • Spruce
  • White Cedar
acidlovingplant3

acidlovingplant

acidlovingplant2

Pruning Evergreens

When choosing an evergreen for your landscape project, it is always best to select a plant that will not outgrow its designated space, crowding out nearby plants or distorting its own shape without enough room to shine. Proper research can help you choose – you should know the ultimate height, width and growth rate of your selection before committing to what may be one of the more costly additions to your landscape. Always choose naturally slow-growing or dwarf conifers for small spaces, bearing in mind how nearby plants and structures may limit available space over time. Fortunately, just about every genus of evergreen is available in a dwarf variety.

That being said, what if the mistake has already been made? We’ve all made it! It is easy to fall in love with a sweet little plant in the garden center that, within a few years in the ground, looks like it could swallow your house. Fear not, there are ways to rectify the situation with proper pruning.

You will need the right tools to accomplish the job:

  • Loppers
  • Bypass pruners
  • Safety goggles
  • Leather gloves

Pruning should begin in the early spring before the plant’s soft new growth hardens off. Take a close look at your evergreen to determine its branching habit. Pine, spruce and fir trees all have layers of branches that are whorled around the trunk. Arborvitae, juniper, yew and false cypress have limbs that are produced randomly along the trunk.

Conifers with a random branching habit are able to grow new limbs from old, foliage-bearing wood. You may prune this type of evergreen back to this older wood to encourage a more compactly branched habit and keep size down, or to create the desired shape. Whorled branching evergreens are pruned differently, however. They have new growth called “candles” at the tip of their branches, and they really do look like candles with lighter coloration. To promote a more densely branched, compact habit, pinch the candles back by up to half their length before the needles harden off. Never cut into the older wood below the candle, as this type of evergreen does not have dormant buds on the stem that will become new growth. Pruning into old wood will leave a hole in your plant and distort its overall appearance.

As always, we are eager to assist you with selecting the proper plant for any landscape project you undertake and to advise you on proper pruning to keep it healthy and beautiful for many years.

prune2Pine with Cones natural backgroundprune1

Sweet Peas, the “Queen of Annuals”

For many gardeners, it’s not the tulip or daffodil to forward to at the end of winter, it’s the sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus) that declares, “spring is here!” The colors and sweet fragrance of these climbers announce the coming of warmer days like no other.

Choosing Sweet Peas

The hardest part of growing sweet peas is choosing from the riot of colors. From the palest of pastels to the most vivid of hues (including stripes), reds, pinks, white, blues, purples, yellows… the list seems endless. Many gardeners buy mixed packages of seeds to avoid the decision and to add a riot of spring color to the garden and landscape.

Beyond color, it is important to carefully consider different types of sweet peas. If the seed package says “tendril” this means the plants have small green growths to attach to a surface or netting to help the vine grow upright. This is how the taller sweet pea vines support themselves as they grow to 6′ (or even taller!), and they will need an appropriate trellis, arbor, arch or other structure to reach their full beauty. The varieties with no tendrils remain more compact, making them great in containers. Some of these will trail downward, creating a beautiful draping effect. Other dwarf non-vining varieties act as annual fillers in the mixed garden bed or as borders.

Growing Sweet Peas

These beauties are super easy to grow. To improve the germination rate, especially of the darker colors, use nail clippers to gently nick the seed coat and soak overnight before planting. This will allow thin shoots to pierce through the thick seed covering more easily so they can grow effectively. Sow the seeds 2″ deep in rich, well-draining soil in a full to partial sun location. If the soil is heavy, add compost to improve the texture and nutrition. Keep the soil moist, but avoid saturated soil that can drown small seeds or delicate roots. Germination should occur within 10-28 days. Continue even and consistent watering. When seedlings are 4-5″ tall, thin them to create 5-6″ spacing between plants. To encourage bushy and compact plants, pinch the tips when three sets of leaves form. Generally, do not provide additional fertilizer, otherwise the plants may be lush but the flowers will be sparse.

Impatient gardeners or those who may have a shorter growing season may also be able to purchase seedlings from a garden center. This way there will be fragrant sweet pea bouquets a month earlier, and there’s no need to miss out on the sweetness if the ideal seed planting date has passed. Removing flowers when transplanting will encourage stronger root growth to produce larger flowers later if desired.

Seeds for perennial sweet peas are also available. Unlike annual sweet peas, the perennial plant will continue to bloom throughout warm, humid summers. Be aware, however, that annual sweet peas tend to have a gloriously heady scent, but this is a feature sorely lacking in the perennial form.

Enjoy the Beauty

Those long-lasting, colorful and fragrant flowers are so sweet in large loose arrangements. They’ll easily last a week if the water is changed daily and a bit of the stem is snipped off each time to improve water uptake. Remember, the best way to extend the sweet pea blooming season is by daily picking early in the day. Or, simply enjoy these beautiful blooms by walking through the garden each day and relaxing in their delicious scent and colorful blooms.

Fall Flowers – Really!

Gardeners who just can’t get enough of annual sweet peas don’t have to mourn their loss in spring. Instead, grow them again in the autumn! These fast-growing flowers will thrive just as well in the cool autumn as they did in the early days of spring. Just remember to provide enough time for flowering before the first frost hits, and you’ll love using sweet peas to say goodbye to the gardening season in fall just as you said hello to them in spring.

sweatpea_1_250x250
sweetpea_4_250x250sweatpea_2_250x250Lathyrus in little vases

Growing in Flower Pouches

How many of us sit on our decks or patios, stare at a bare fence and think, “there must be something I can do with that.”

There certainly is!

“Plant” your fence with flower pouches. Not just for fences, these flower pouches efficiently provide color and/or small veggies for tiny balconies, deck railings or other small areas. Better yet, they’re inexpensive, colorful and easy to plant.

About Flower Pouches

Available in different sizes, shapes and colors, flower pouches are small, heavy plastic bags with holes that are filled with soil and planted. After planting, they hang from hooks on fences, walls, decks, trees… Almost anywhere. Smaller versions may even be snuggled inside baskets or other containers that hang on the fence and conceal the bag.

Planting in Pouches

Many types of flowers, herbs and vegetables can be planted in pouches with great success. Smaller annuals, strawberries or vegetables are perfect for pouches. Petunias, marigolds, alyssum, lettuce and cucumbers grow famously. Plant early cool season flowers in early spring and replace with them with heat-loving annuals in the summer when they peter out.

It’s easy to plant a flower pouch, especially when inserting smaller plants, seedlings or starts. Use a lightweight soil-less potting mixture. You may either completely fill the bag with the soil and then poke the roots of the plant into the holes or you can fill to the first set of holes, plant the starts, fill to the next level, and so on. Unless you are planting very small starts, most people find the “fill to the next level and plant” system works the best so delicate roots are not damaged. Many gardeners skip planting the lowest slots to provide more root space. Others skip the top slots in order to plant on top of the pouch, but you may experiment, of course.

Tip: when planting the starts through the slots, use a dibble stick or dowel to create a downward sloping hole for the roots. This slant stabilizes the plant sooner as its roots grow and expand.

flowerpouch3flowerpouch1

flowerpouch2

How To Succeed At Seed-Starting

It’s easy to buy seedlings, but there are many reasons why you may wish to start your own plants. By starting your own seeds, you have a much greater selection of flowers, vegetables and herbs to choose from. For example, old favorites like hollyhocks and less common varieties of herbs and perennials as well as heirloom vegetables might not be available as plants, or stocks may be limited. Plants with fine seeds should also be started indoors because they can easily wash away in the rain and they may have a difficult time competing with weeds. Starting your own seeds can also help you extend the growing season so you can enjoy a longer, more productive harvest. So why not get started today?

Containers for Starting Seeds

Traditionally, seeds are started in flats or peat pots. There are various sizes of plastic trays, cedar flats, peat pots and the popular Jiffy-7, a flat, peat-moss wafer, available. When moistened, the Jiffy-7 expands to form a small, self-contained pot of soil into which a seed is sown directly. This is an excellent choice when sowing seed of plants that do not like their roots disturbed during transplanting. You might also use eggshells or folded newspaper pots to start your seeds.

Seed-Friendly Soil

It is best to use a light, soilless mix when starting seeds. These mixes are sterile, meaning young seeds do not have any weed seeds to compete with, and there are no harmful bacteria, insects or other pests in the soil right away. Good seed mixes also contain adequate nutrients to carry seedlings through until transplanting. Do not use garden soil, as seeds will not germinate well in the heavy soil, and a fungus disease called damping off is common.

Temperatures for Seeds

Most seeds require warm soil in order to germinate. You will need to heat the soil of the seedling flats with a heat mat, heat tray or heating cable. Seed trays can also be placed on top the refrigerator or hot water heater. Do not put seed-starting trays on a windowsill; nighttime temperatures are too cool to allow for good germination. Seeds need consistent warm temperatures of 75 degrees or warmer for optimum germination.

Seed Watering Needs

Seeds need to be kept constantly moist in order to germinate. Moisten the soil thoroughly before planting. Water when the surface is dry with a misting nozzle or plastic spray bottle until the soil is saturated. The medium should be constantly moist, but not soggy. It is important not to overwater, which could drown the seeds and tender seedlings, but also not to permit the flat to dry out.

Sowing Seeds

Seeds should be sown 2-10 weeks before the last spring frost date. Your seed packet will provide this information as sowing dates can vary for different plant varieties or even cultivars of the same plants. Fill your containers almost to the top with moist growing mix. Tamp it down gently and smooth it out. Gently press the seeds into the mix or simply set them on the surface of the soil and place milled sphagnum moss over the top to prevent damping off. Cover the container loosely with plastic wrap or a clear dome, which will help preserve moisture and warmth. Be sure to label your containers with plastic or wood plant stakes and write the plant name and the date sowed. Set trays in a warm spot and check daily to keep evenly moist.

Seedling Care

Once seedlings have grown a half-inch or so, you should water less frequently. Let the soil dry slightly between watering, which will help the seedlings stretch and develop a strong root system. Seedlings will also need light and the best method is to use the traditional fluorescent fixtures or the new energy-saving LEDs. Suspend lights just an inch or two away from the plants. Lights must be on at least 14-16 hours a day. As your seedlings grow, raise the lights accordingly so they do not bump into the lighting fixture. If your seedlings do not get enough light, they will become weak and spindly. Fertilize seedlings weekly with half-strength, balanced, organic fertilizer. A fish and seaweed blend works well. Thin seedlings if they become overcrowded, choosing the healthiest, strongest seedlings to save.

Hardening Off and Planting Out

When the weather is warm, move your seed trays outside gradually over a 5-7 day period. Start by putting them out just for a few hours during the late morning to mid-afternoon, and then gradually increase until they are left out all day and night. Keep them in a lightly shaded, protected spot during the day to prevent sunburn. After a week or two of this transition, gently transplant seedlings into the garden. Try not to handle the root ball too much, as they are quite fragile. Water thoroughly after transplanting and again every day for about a week. Newly set out plants will look sparse at first, but they will grow and fill in quickly, leading to bumper crops and a lush, delicious harvest!

Gardener With Seedling Tray

Seedling Box Tray in Greenhouse

seed_starting_3

Spring Lawn Renovation

Spring is the ideal time to spruce up your lawn. After a long winter, you can easily see where any bald, bare or thin patches exist, as well as where weeds or fungus may be taking over the lawn. Fortunately, there are easy ways to set your lawn to rights!

Seeding

If you are planning to seed a new lawn or overseed an existing lawn, it is best to seed as early as possible. It is important to get seed germinated and growing before trees begin to leaf out, when the trees will be usurping more of the soil’s moisture and nutrition and new leaves will block sunlight from the grass seed. This is especially true in more heavily shaded areas. Keep the area moist at all times until the roots of grass seed become established, then you can gradually decrease the frequency of watering. The new grass can be mowed when it reaches a height of about three inches.

Rejuvenating a Weak Lawn

Your lawn cannot live without air, water and nutrients, but decaying material matted down between grass blades can smother even the healthiest-looking lawn. This decaying material is called thatch, and when a thick layer of thatch builds up, water and fertilizer may run off instead of penetrating the soil. Aerating and dethatching can help rejuvenate a lawn by restoring passageways to the soil. Late spring is an excellent time to dethatch cool-season grasses. Thatching rakes can be used, or you can use a metal rake to remove thatch by hand.

Adusting pH 

The pH of your soil has a direct impact on the health of your lawn. Test your soil to determine the pH (simple kits are available to do this). We recommend a small handful of soil taken from a depth of 3 inches to get the most accurate reading. At a pH of 6.8-7.0 nutrients are most readily available to turf grasses, and beneficial microorganisms are more active to decompose thatch and keep the soil structure healthy. If your pH is too low or too high, consider amending the soil as needed to help bring it to a more desirable level.

Crabgrass Control

On established lawns that you are not overseeding, apply a fertilizer with crabgrass control in early to mid-April. Straight Team products can be applied with separate fertilizers like Espoma Organic 18-8-6 or similar fertilizers. Reapply Team in early to mid-June for the second germination of crabgrass. Remember, crabgrass seeds start to germinate when the soil temperature reaches 50-58 degrees. Use corn gluten as an organic alternative for crabgrass control on an established lawn.

On newly seeded lawns and those seeded in late fall or during the winter months, use a starter fertilizer with crabgrass control. You will need to reapply in four weeks or however the manufacturer’s instructions indicate. Proper applications will keep your new lawn crabgrass-free.

Maintaining your lawn at a higher level, 4 inches, throughout the growing season will allow you to control crabgrass without the use of chemicals. Taller grass will shade out the crabgrass seed preventing it from germinating.

Insect Controls

An early season application of Merit or a similar insecticide will provide effective white grub control for the growing season. This preventative method tends to give better results than applying insecticides when you notice damage as it then may be too late. If you have routinely had problems with other insects, opt for products specifically targeted for those pests to ensure effective control.

A lot goes into having a lush, healthy lawn, but if you take the appropriate steps to rejuvenate your lawn in spring, you’ll be rewarded with thick, healthy, resilient turf to enjoy from early spring until snow flies again.

spring_lawn_3

spring_lawn_1

Grass sprinkler

Protecting Our Pollinators

Every garden requires pollinators, and bees are among the finest. Without them there would be limited flowers and far fewer fruits and vegetables. Did you know that about 30 percent of the food we eat depends on the pollination of bees, including onions, cashews, coffee, carrots, chocolate and vanilla? If we don’t protect these prolific pollinators, our landscapes, gardens and diets will be irrevocably changed.

About Bees

Although there are many bees that are great pollinators, like carpenter, mining, sweat and cellophane bees, some of the most well known and easily identified bees are the honeybee and bumblebee. Both of these bees live in social colonies and are cavity nesters. Because these bees are active all summer long, they require a constant supply of floral nectar close to their hive and they thrive in flower gardens, orchards and other areas with abundant blooms.

Unfortunately, both these types of bees – along with many others – are disappearing rapidly, and two key threats are to blame.

  • Habitat Loss: As more natural habitat is lost to development, there are fewer nesting locations and inadequate food supplies for bees. While meadows developed into resorts and parks disappearing for strip malls are obvious examples of development, other less visible developments that can hurt bees include widespread use of flower cultivars that do not produce adequate nectar, eliminating critical bee food sources.
  • Pesticide Drift: Widespread, abundant spraying of pesticides to protect crops, lawns and parks can inadvertently hurt bees. Stronger pesticides can kill bees directly, while less potent toxins can contaminate nectar and will gradually build up to fatal levels in bees’ systems. Even if pesticides are not sprayed in areas where bees are abundant, high level spraying can easily be spread by wind patterns into critical bee habitats.

Inviting Bees to Your Garden

Fortunately, it is easy to bring more bees to your garden and encourage healthy bee populations. To support local bees…

  • Planting a variety of flowers that will bloom throughout the entire summer to provide ongoing food supplies.
  • Opt for native flower varieties that will be more easily recognized and used by bees, instead of introduced flowers that are less familiar.
  • Eliminate chemical use in your yard, as much as possible, including on your lawn, garden and trees, especially while plants are in flower.
  • Provide bees a safe place for shelter and to lay their eggs. A wood pile is suitable, or you can invest in a specialized bee house.
  • Make sure that there is an available water source for your bees. A bird bath or any simple water basin works just fine.

Want to bring bees to your yard and help them feel at home? Start with this list of native plants bees love, and ask our experts for more tips about keeping your lawn and garden bee-friendly!

Native Plants That Attract Bees

  • Apple (Malus)
  • Aster (Aster)
  • Blackberry & Raspberry (Rubis)
  • Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
  • Blueberries (Vaccinium)
  • Currant (Ribes)
  • Elder (Sambucus)
  • Goldenrod (Solidago)
  • Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum)
  • Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium)
  • Lupine (Lupinus)
  • Penstemon (Penstemon)
  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)
  • Redbud (Cercis)
  • Rhododendron (Rhododendron)
  • Sage (Salvia)
  • Stonecrop (Sedum)
  • Sunflower (Helianthus)
  • Willow (Salix)

bee_2bee_3

bee_1

Damping Off Disease

Arguably the most common, and certainly the most frustrating, seedling disease has to be damping off. Damping off is a common term used for several fungal diseases that cause sudden seedling death. Seedlings get very thin where the stem meets the soil. Young seedlings will then fall over, shrivel up and die. The loss of an entire seedling crop can devastate your gardening plans and set you back several weeks. If the infection is severe enough, you may lose entire types of seedlings because there will not be enough time left in the growing season for new seedlings to reach maturity.

Protecting Seedlings From Damping Off

The wisdom of Ben Franklin applies well to protecting seedlings: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The more steps you take to minimize the risk of damping off, the better you will be able to protect all your delicate seedlings. Popular and effective techniques to prevent damping off include…

  • Sterilizing all seedling containers with a 1:10 bleach solution between every use, and sterilizing them again if they’ve gone unused for a long period of time.
  • Use a sterile seed starting mix so there are no fungal spores or other contaminants in the initial soil.
  • Plant seeds on the soil surface and top with vermiculite, milled sphagnum peat moss, chicken grit or sand to minimize fungal invasions.
  • A one-time sprinkling of cinnamon or charcoal on the soil surface will act as an anti-fungal agent. This should be applied after seeds are planted.
  • Water containers from below allowing the surface of the soil to dry slightly between watering. This prevents moisture on tender leaves and stems that can lead to rot.
  • Provide good air circulation around seedlings with a fan on a low setting. This will help leaves and stems stay dry and firm.
  • Spray seedlings with a cooled ounce of strongly brewed chamomile tea added to a quart of water. This is a mild anti-fungal home remedy.

If you notice seedlings start to succumb to damping off, it may be best to quickly thin them out or sacrifice the infected part of a tray rather than attempt to save the seedlings and risk spreading the disease to more young plants. While this will reduce your crops somewhat, it is better than risking the loss of an entire flat of seedlings. If you catch the symptoms quickly enough, it may be possible to sterilize the planting containers and start again to regrow the seedlings you have lost.

Needled Evergreens for a Shady Space

Evergreens are a very important addition to the winter landscape. During the coldest months of the year, when most other plants have been stripped of their leaves or have died back to the ground, evergreens are the stronghold in the garden that provide stunning texture and color, shelter for winter wildlife and the hope of spring for everyone.

Choosing a broad-leafed evergreen for a shady location in the garden is simple. There are so very many to choose from: Rhododendron, azalea, camellia, aucuba and cherry laurel are just the beginning, and there are many more options for any size or shape of shady space. It’s a different story when it comes to hunting for a needled evergreen for that darker corner of the landscape, but it is not impossible.

Popular needled evergreen options for shady spaces include…

  • Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canandensis) – Broadly conical and gracefully branched, reaching up to 75 feet high.
  • Dragon’s Eye Pine (Pinus densiflora ‘Oculus-draconis’) – Part shade. A very unique, asymmetrically shaped pine with a pale halo on the needles.
  • Dwarf Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtuse ‘Nana Gracillis’) – Slowing growing, compact plant with dark green scale-like leaves.
  • Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) – Light shade. Graceful, pyramidal tree with bluish-green scaly foliage and exfoliating cinnamon-colored bark. Growing to 65 feet tall.
  • Japanese Umbrella Pine (Sciadopitys verticillata) – Light Shade. Needles are thick and succulent, whorled around the branches.
  • Nootka False Cypress (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis) – Light to part shade. Narrowly pyramidal growing up to 60 feet tall.
  • Russian Cypress (Microbiota decussate) – Part shade to full shade. Low to the ground forming a rosette of soft, graceful branches. Great ground cover for a shady location.
  • Spreading English Yew (Taxas bacata repandans) – Part shade to full shade. Three feet high and mounding. Great foundation plant in front of windows or at the back of borders.
  • Upright Japanese Plum Yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Fastigiata’) – Part to full shade. Four foot tall, stiff, linear form.
  • American White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis) – Light to part shade. Scale-like foliage formed into flat plane fans. Grows up to 40 feet tall.
  • False Arborvitae (Thujopsis dolabrata) – Light to part shade. Pale green leaf scales with white undersides. Grow up to 65 feet tall.

Not sure which of these evergreens may do well in your landscape? There are different cultivars to explore, and our experts can help you make the best choice for your landscaping needs.

shady_3

shady_1

shady_2