Tuesday, October 5, 2010

October in the Garden

The recent rain has made it hard to get into the garden, but plants are so happy with the recent turn of weather. You can see it in lawn grass, which is greening up all over town and in the renewed vigor of some of our late bloomers like Anemones, Hydrangeas and the lesser known Franklinia alatamaha.

So, when the opportunity presents itself, preparing for next spring is the focus of our garden tasks this month. This means raking leaves, planting garlic, mowing the lawn and planting your spring flowering bulbs! October is still a great time to plant trees and shrubs, the ground typically wont freeze until mid December so plants should have several weeks of root growth before going completely dormant.

Spring Flowering Bulbs, if you haven’t made your selections yet, there are lots of good deals and places to get bulbs. The key to selecting healthy bulbs is to pick ones that have weight to them. Pick your bulbs as you would an onion or clove of garlic – meaty, not mushy or dry. And remember to augment your selection of Daffodils, Crocus and Tulips with other beauties. For easy April blooms try: Chionodoxa, Scilla and Muscari. For May to June blooms try: Alliums, Hyacinthoides, Leucojum and Eremurus.

And if you buy more bulbs than you can finish planting, remember to store them in a cold (not freezing!), dry location for the winter, like an unheated basement or garage. Then in the early spring you can pot them up and force them for indoor bloom.

Pot up Amaryllis bulbs for Holiday blooms. Many species of Amaryllis take 8 weeks or so to bloom, and be careful not to over water those bulbs while waiting for growth to start!

Keep an eye out for the Asian Longhorn Beetle (ALB), not to be confused with the Western Conifer Seedbug who may be trying to over winter in your attic (like Ladybugs). The Asian Longhorn Beetle is about 1” long, a black body with white spots and long antennae. This pest attacks and kills healthy trees such as Maple, Birch, Poplar, Horse Chestnut and others. For more information on how to identify this pest or how to report a sighting go to : http://massnrc.org/pests/alb/

Mildew has been a big problem this year, especially on Monarda, Lilacs, Paeonias, and Phlox treat those infected plants with a fungicide to prevent its return next year.

Lawns are bouncing back from the heat and lack of rain this summer, an application of fertilizer now will help your existing lawn grass to rebuild its stores before the onset of winter. It is still mild enough to seed bare spots in your lawn, especially now that the crabgrass is dying back. Keep mowing your lawn until it stops growing, which can be well into November. Rake leaves early and often before they get matted and moldy, this can save a lot of lawn related headaches.

Clean, repot and bring in your houseplants. Keep an eye out for freezing temperatures, but I leave my Christmas cactus out as long as possible to try to get it to bloom at Christmas (rather than Thanksgiving). The Christmas Cactus needs 12 to 14 hours of dark each day to trigger the set of blooms, and there is some evidence to show that bright outdoor lights may upset this process so be sure your plants are shaded from artificial light to ensure good bud set.

Thank you to everyone who has sent in ‘Questions for Cory’, keep those great questions coming.

Q. There are some very pretty pink flowers growing out of a stand of Pachysandra (see attached), what are they?

A. They are a beautiful cultivar of Colchicum autumanale, probably “Waterlily”. This bulb, often called Fall Crocus, is best planted among ground cover as this bulb has an unusual growth cycle where by the foliage appears in the spring, without the blooms; and the blooms appear in the fall, without the foliage. A good ground cover companion masks this seasonal inconsistency. They tend to perform best in areas of rich, well-drained soil where they don’t get disturbed.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

August Gardening Chores

It may be hard to think of gardening in this heat and humidity, especially when looking across dried lawns and crispy perennials. But as the cooler weather promises to roll in here are some things to keep your garden growing through August.

Weeding is a perennial chore (pun intended) and this year is no exception, so keep at it. Although in some situations it may seem as though weeds are “Shading your perennials or veggies,” remember they are stealing the water and nutrients from them as well, so weed, weed, weed.

Deadhead perennials and Annuals to encourage re-blooming. By pinching off the forming seed heads and seed pods you trick the plant into thinking it has not done its job yet (reproduction) and the plant will channel its energy into putting out more blooms.

Bleeding heart (Dicentra) and Oriental poppies (Papaver) – now is a good time to dig up and divide these plant roots while they are dormant. Cut the root into sections about 2” long, and then plant each section as if it were a new plant, or pot some up to give to friends.

If your lawn is crunchy don’t despair it may just be dormant and with the cooler fall temps (and a little rain) you should see it rebound. Keep on top of the crabgrass, it may look nice and green right now, but if you let it go to seed – you will regret it. Remember the old adage “One year of weed equals seven of seed” Reminding us that those weed seeds can remain viable for years to come.

And if patches of your lawn do not rebound, September is a wonderful time to reseed.

Q. My shrubs all look dead or wilted! Do I dig them up and throw them out? Anonymous, Dedham

A. This is a great question, but hard to answer as it will vary from one plant to the next. In general, newer plantings are much more susceptible to death from this heat and low rainfall because they have fewer and shallower roots to support them. That said, healthy plants growing in areas closest to their “Cultural criteria” (soil type, amount of sunlight, level of acidity, etc.) are more likely to pull though. For instance, if you planted a Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla), which wants moist, rich humosy soil into your rock garden, which has dry, sandy, infertile soil, the plant may not bounce back. If instead you planted a Potentilla fruiticosa, which thrives in that rock garden environment: dry, sandy, infertile soil, that shrub may bounce back quite vigorously.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pink Lady-Slippers (Cypripedium acaule)

Walking the dog this morning, I was thrilled to discover that our native Pink Lady-Slippers (Cypripedium acaule) are up and in full bloom all along our woodland walking trails. This delicate beauty is often found in uncultivated woodland areas, preferring the dry, acidic soil and dappled light of a successional forest canopy. And I refer to these perennials as delicate, because they DO NOT transplant easily and their cultural requirements are specific.

When they are not in flower, they are often overlooked,
their basal leaves looking unremarkable before going dormant in September. Because if this, they are often at risk of getting bulldozed or weeded! This danger would be the acceptable time to try digging up and transplanting these beauties, so if you know of such a situation: William Cullina has put together a very comprehensive "Transplanting Guide" http://www.williamcullina.com/files/Download/Transplanting%20Pink%20lady.pdf

Saturday, May 15, 2010

"The Right Plant for The Right Place" = Green Gardening

Come and stop by the Dedham- Westwood Green Fair today at the Dedham Middle School. I'll be there all day, talking about Green Gardening. So, stop by and say Hello!
The best way to have a healthy, sustainable, glorious garden is to keep the following in mind:

1) Site Analysis – Before you plant anything you should assess the garden area. How big is the area (height and width)? How much and what kind of sunlight does it get? Do existing mature trees or a building filter the sunlight? Is it a steep slope or a flat area? Is it exposed to drying winds and pollution? Or is it nestled between a stonewall and larger plants? Is the soil sandy and infertile, or is it moist and boggy? It is better to gather too much data than too little.

2) Right Plant for the Right Place – or choosing sustainable plants. How big and wide will the plant grow? How much sunlight does the plant need? Does it require acid or more neutral soil? Does it want Moist, well-drained, sandy or infertile soils? What diseases and pests is it subject to getting? Is it hardy to zone 5? If you can’t find an exact match, pick the closest you can and understand what you will need to supplement to care for your plant.

3) Correct Planting Procedures – New planting procedures described by UMass of Amherst Landscape, Nursery and Urban Forestry Department: Dig hole 3 times as wide as root ball and no deeper. Cut away burlap, rope and wire from root ball. Backfill with un-amended topsoil from hole. Trunk flare should be level with existing grade. Mulch from organic materials should be 2” deep, applied over the planting area and should be kept away from the trunk (NO VOLCANO MULCHING!).

4) Effective and Efficient Watering – Typically shadier spots retain moisture better than sunny ones, but a slope will drastically effect where the water penetrates the soil. On average, established trees and shrubs need only 1” of water a week so supplemental watering is most effective applied with a slow drip, allowing the water to soak in deeply rather than watering a little bit every day. The exceptions are new plantings, annuals, some perennials, some lawns and vegetable gardens, which typically require more water.

5) Eradicate Invasive Plants – Check out the list of “Prohibited Plants” in Massachusetts as put out by the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. www.mass.gov/agr/farmproducts/proposed_prohibited-plant-list-sciname.htm

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

May Gardening Chores

The blooms of Crabapple Trees (Malus sp) and Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) have been particularly glorious this year, and we have so many beautiful specimen all around Dedham, congratulations to everyone who has worked so hard to keep them looking healthy. Mother’s Day is Sunday, remember Mom with a lovely blooming shrub or tree. Lilac Sunday at the Arnold Arboretum is May 9th, call or visit their website www.arboretum.harvard.edu for more information.

Our early spring may have thrown your gardening calendar out of whack, so here is a list of May gardening chores and tips to help you out:
Fertilize bulbs blooming right now with 5-10-5 or similar fertilizer if you are planning to perennialize them (get them to bloom next year). Work about a teaspoon into the top of the soil around each clump. And leave the leaves; they are still gathering energy for next year’s blooms. Some bulbs like Tulips are often treated as annuals because of the pests, diseases and level of care needed to effectively perennialize them.
Also I have started to see signs of Winter moth caterpillar this spring, this is the little green insect which looks very much like an inchworm and they may be eating the leaves of your Maple, Oak, Crabapple, Cherry and other trees. If you suspect your trees are infested or you had trouble last year contact your arborist or landscape professional for assistance. There are organic treatments to control this non-native pest.
If you haven’t fertilized your lawn yet, now is a great time (May, September and November are the best times). Use a spring fertilizer or one with a ratio of 4-1-2 or 3-1-2 (nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium). And leaving the lawn clippings on the grass after you mow also helps to return nitrogen to the soil.
Now is also the time to sow your annual flower seeds and vegetable seeds such as eggplants, peppers, potatoes and tomatoes. Plant these seeds directly in the soil. It is also very easy to grow many herbs and veggies in pots on a Deck or in a Patio space. This close proximity to the house can make it easier to monitor their watering and possible attack from bunnies and other pests.
Move your houseplants outside when evenings become reliably warmer. Remember they need to be acclimated; if you move a plant from the house to a full sun area chances are it will burn. Try moving them first to a shady spot in your yard and bring them out gradually. I put my houseplants under a big old Rhododendron, and I leave my Christmas cacti there until October.
And last but not least - Weed, weed, weed your garden. ‘One year of weed equals seven of seed’ if you let those annual weeds grow and set seeds you will be haunted by their offspring for years to come. Many annual weed seeds can remain dormant for years just waiting for the right time to come back and haunt you.

Q. I recall lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) blooming around here about first or second week of May each year. I wonder if late April is unusually early, and if so what could be the cause?
A. Good question, and yes many plants are blooming “earlier” this year, and you may see some non-typical crossovers (plants blooming simultaneously which don’t normally bloom simultaneously). Bloom times are not clock work, estimated bloom times are based on averages, but this spring is “early”. As for “the cause” I won’t speculate on climate change as that is not my area of expertise, but I will say that soil temperature triggers many plants to start growing. More precisely described it is the accumulated warm soil temperature days, commonly referred to as Growing-Degree-Days (GDD), this year we have had 138 GDD since the first of the year. This is very high. UMass Amherst tracks GDD for most of Massachusetts, and I checked their archives and found that at this time last year we had 87 GDD but in 2008 we had 111 GDD. So, what does this mean for your Common Lilacs? They are fine with the variation in bloom schedule, as long as the winters don’t go below -25’ F and the summers don’t turn into southern Florida.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bulb Obsession

Ok, so maybe it is a minor obsession. But I do love bulbs and invariably plant new ones every year trying to squeeze in just a little more spring color, earlier spring growth and I suppose to test the limits of my already packed borders. So here is my soliloquy on early spring naturalizing bulbs, some of my favorites and some helpful tips.

Chionodoxa: So bright and so blue, their upturned faces look like spring smiles to me.

Crocus: I prefer planting them in a single color range rather than mixing the purple yellow and white. And for color "Queen of the Blues" is my favorite.

Eranthus: They are so early, and the foliage is so different from most of the other bulbs.

Fritillaria: The small F. meleagris, typically sold as a mix, although I do like to separate the colors and both purple and white are gorgeous.

Galanthus: The first bulb to bloom in my garden, right through the snow if they need to.

Narcissus: Too many to choose from, and every year I have new favorites. But one of my most reliable bloomers and naturalizers "Jack Snipe".

Tips to Care for and Plant Bulbs

  • If you want to ‘perennialize’ your bulbs (get them to come back next year) then “Leave the Leaves” until they yellow or turn brown. These important leaves are still gathering energy for next year’s blooms.
  • Most common reason that bulbs stop blooming is they get too crowded. Like perennials – dig up and divide in fall for best results.
  • Fertilize bulbs with 5-10-5 or similar fertilizer in the spring, after bulbs finish blooming and/or in the fall at bulb planting time. Work about a teaspoon into the top of the soil around each clump.
  • Photograph garden while bulbs are in bloom, to remind yourself in the fall of where you want to add bulbs, and which clumps you want to divide.
  • Can remove seedpods before they mature (except Scilla) to divert energy into next spring’s flowers.
  • Most bulbs should be planted 2 to 3 times as deep as the bulb height.
  • Plant in October in our area, not so warm that they put out flowers, but warm enough that they develop roots before ground freezes.
  • Most bulbs don’t like too much shade or wet soils. See individual culture descriptions for exceptions.
  • Squirrels, Moles, Voles, Deer, etc. will dig up or eat many bulbs. Planting them under dense ground cover (such as Vinca) or perennials can help. If problem continues focus on Deer and rodent resistant bulbs or use bulb cages.
  • Misshapen leaves often signify virus infections, dig up and discard bulbs – can spread and kill other bulbs.

Monday, March 1, 2010

First Signs of Spring

Welcome March and the first signs of spring! What, you don't believe me? I promise the signs are there -early bulbs are working their way up through the mud and leaf debris, Witch-hazel (Hamamelis) is blooming, and Pieris buds are swelling. If you haven’t seen the signs yet, here are some things to look for and a few tips to get spring jumping in your garden:

The last month has been very wet and windy, so start by checking your trees, large shrubs and any garden walls or fences for damage. As go about your early spring clean up tasks try to avoid the soggy areas. Excessive traffic on a wet lawn and garden beds can cause poor aeration and root damage.

Check your houseplants for bugs; inspect the underside of leaves and any stalks for outbreaks of aphids, mealy bugs and spider mites. A simple shower with a mild soap can often stop these pests before they flourish and a stronger treatment is needed.Fertilize your emerging bulbs. If you did not get to it last fall, work a few spoonfuls of bulb fertilizer into the top 2” of soil around the emerging bulbs. Be careful not to damage the new growth.

Start your vegetable garden by sowing indoors the seeds of broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce; but wait until late March to start your peppers, eggplant and tomatoes. If you have limited garden space, many varieties of these veggies can be grown in large pots on a sunny Patio or Deck.

Sharpen, oil and replace as necessary your garden tools before you need to use them. Hopefully you are more diligent than I, who in wandering around this morning discovered a trowel and some pruning shears hiding in the beds. The shears are beyond help, but the trowel just needs a little cleaning and it will be fine. And don’t forget to sharpen the blades of your lawnmower too!

Consider increasing your shrub border and reducing lawn area. A well-designed shrub border can provide 4-season interest with less maintenance and less water us than a typical lawn.

Check your Hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis and Tsuga caroliniana) for the wooly adelgid. Look along the underside of branches for fluffy white matter. These are the eggs. If you find some on your trees you can treat with Horticultural oils (which are safe for humans and wildlife) on dry days when the weather is over 45’, or consult a certified arborist.

Thank you to everyone who has sent in ‘Questions for Cory’, keep those great questions coming. I will try my best to answer those questions here.

Q. I found a large beetle in my attic and have heard about the Asian Beetle problem in Western Mass. Is this the same issue?

A. Great question! Most likely the beetle, which found its way into your home is the Western Conifer Seedbug, they often come in through attic vents and small cracks around windows, along with Ladybugs. This beetle (Leptoglossus occidentalis) is large enough to be surprising but is essentially harmless to you, your home and your plants (unless you are trying to harvest your conifer seeds). For more information: http://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/western-conifer-seedbug

The other part of your question has to do with the Asian Longhorn Beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis), which is a threat to many hardwood trees and yes there has been some very interesting and aggressive quarantining happening in Massachusetts west of Rt. 140 in an effort to stop this pests’ progress. The trees, which are most susceptible, include all Maples, Birches, Elms, Horsechestnuts, and Willows. For more information, check out the USDA info site: http://www.beetlebusters.info/

Friday, February 19, 2010

Fun in the Shade

Often clients ask me, “Does anything colorful grow in the shade?” and my response is a litany of shade loving genus: “Leucothoe, Clethra, Epimedium, Acetea (formerly Cimicifuga), Heuchera, Tiarella, Bergenia" and so on. Although, it may be encouraging to hear that the list of available plants is long, pictures are often needed to illustrate the point. And I understand, I too am a VERY visual person.In this Patio garden, we have a tapestry colorful perennials ranging from part shade to full shade. Since the beds are small and human proximity is so close, we have jammed the beds full and rely heavily on texture and colored foliage to keep your eye excited and interested as you view the garden.

A close up in this bed shows the layering of plants, and notice how the dark purple red of the Actaea is picked up in the veining of the Athyrium? A happy accident, which I have since repeated, and repeated. Shown:
Epimedium, Athyriu
m and Actaea (formerly Cimicifuga).

Another close up, this in one of the shadiest areas of this garden, small details are used in this
space, because it is seen from a stationary spot so your eye has time to drink in the details. Shown: Hosta, Asarum, Dicentra, Athyrium and

When viewed from a distance, masses of shrubs and large perennials may be needed, but even in the shade many species have great foliage and blooms to brighten up dark corners.
Shown: Anemone, Itea, Cornus, Nepeta and Clethra.

Small irregularly shaped stepping-stones require
one to look
down, rewarding your eyes with this delicate spring display. Shown: Galium, Stachys and Veronica.

Even in this tough spot, east side of the house, very narrow bed and under the shade of this Cherry Tree (Prunus) these hard working plants put up a great display. Shown: Hakonechloa, Tiarella and Bergenia.

“When your work speaks for itself, don’t interrupt.”
- Henry J. Kaiser