Monday, October 3, 2011

October in the Garden

Fall color is showing up in the form of Sedums, Anemones, Buddleias, Hydrangeas, Roses and Many Ornamental Grasses. We can thank the recent rain for this colorful rebound, but it has also caused some havoc as well; causing powdery mildew, leaf spot and various other fungal problems. Often the best control is a thorough raking and cleaning up of leaves to reduce the spread. Other garden chores for October:
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.
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.
Start your Amaryllis bulbs for Holiday blooms, many species of Amaryllis take 8 weeks or so to bloom. When potting up Amaryllis, remember to keep the top 1/3 if the bulb above the soil. If you brought your bulbs indoors in August, it is best to repot the bulbs with new soil.
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.
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.

Monday, August 1, 2011

August Garden Chores

It is hard to talk about gardening without commenting on the over 100’ F heat we recently escaped. And the recent water restrictions imposed by the Dedham Westwood Water District, must make us think responsibly about water use. But don’t despair when looking across dried lawns and crispy perennials, instead keep in mind that long, slow watering, which allows the water to trickle down deep into the soil surrounding your plants roots will provide most plants with the water they need to survive. And as for the plants or new plantings with higher water needs, rain barrels can help, if we continue to have these periodic rain storms then these kinds of barrels are a great way of capturing that rain water and allowing you to use it when you need it most. For larger properties, wells can be a great way of dispensing larger quantities of water.
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. 
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.
Praying Mantis blending in with Hydrangea leaves.
‘Good Bugs’ – I seem to mention a multitude of insects that are attacking your garden plants.  But remember there are insects, which we want in our gardens, they act as pollinators, soil builders and predators of the ‘bad bugs’.  When you consider using pesticides and insecticides in your yard, keep in mind these beneficial bugs and ask for products, which specifically target your problem bugs or consider ‘green solutions’. Beneficial Bugs include: Bees which help pollinate and make our flowers beautiful; Lady Bugs which eat aphids, scale and mites; Praying Mantis which eat a multitude of ‘bad bugs; and Lacewing which eat caterpillars and leaf hoppers.
Reseeding your lawn, late August through September is best time of year, whether you are repairing bare patches or creating a new lawn.  And remember that seed needs a little bit of water every day to germinate effectively, just enough water to moisten not down the seeds. Consider keeping your lawns longer, mow at 2 1/2” to 3”.  The UMass Turf department states that longer blades of grass correlate to deeper roots (and deeper roots need less frequent watering).
And if you haven’t done it yet, don’t forget to move your potted Amaryllis into a cool, dry area. They should be allowed to dry out until repotting time in October.  

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

July in the Garden

Vacation Time!  In July (and certainly in this heat) many of us head out on vacation and leave our gardens unattended.  If you are among this happy crew or even if the humidity is keeping you from many of your gardening activities, here are a few helpful tips to keep your garden growing beautifully through July.
Water, water, water – Supplemental water (not rainfall) is best applied by soaker or other ground level irrigation methods, which quickly gets the water where the plants need it – to the roots. Long infrequent watering, deep soakings once or twice a week are best for most established plants and plantings. While transplants or new installations may require daily watering to compensate for their less extensive root system. Ask a neighbor to check in on your yard if you plan to go away for more than a week, and reciprocate the kindness.  And remember don’t water in the middle of a hot, sunny day; most of the water will evaporate before it reaches the roots of your thirsty plants.  Only your kids will benefit from running the sprinkler at lunchtime. 
Mulching.  If you haven’t mulched your garden yet this year, you can still do so to good effect.  Proper mulching (about 2 to 3” deep) can help reduce water evaporation at the root level where plants need it the most, it helps keep down weed (which compete with your plants for sun, water and other nutrients; and it keeps the soil temperature up to 25’ cooler which promotes better root development.  Remember DO NOT mound mulch around the trunks of trees or shrubs!
Also mow and water your lawn before you leave town for an extended period of time.  When mowing your lawn follow the 1/3 rule.  Cut no more than 1/3 of the grass blade in a single mowing.  This reduces the stress to the remaining blade and ensures the clippings are small enough to be left in place for ‘mulching’ as they quickly decompose.  The best schedule I have found is to water your lawn in the early morning and then mow in the early evening.  This way cut blades are not exposed to the drying heat of the day.
Other garden chores for July:  Prune sucker growths on tomato plants, Apple trees and other fruit bearing trees for the best fruit production. Suckers are additional shoots, which form where a leaf connects to the main stem.
When harvesting blueberries, remember to leave them on the bush for several days after they have turned blue for the sweetest flavor.  Netting your bushes will help prevent the birds from eating your berries before you do.
Deadheading (removing spent blooms) of many annuals and perennials such, as Salvia, Marigolds, Nepeta, Zinnias and others will encourage repeat blooms.
And towards the end of this month, stop watering any Amaryllis you are trying to hold over from last winter (even if it has green leaves), and move them to a cool, dark spot (unfinished basement is what I use).  Leave the bulbs in their pots untended until October. A colleague of mine recommended turn the pots on their side so you don’t accidentally water them. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Check List Survivor

Last summer was hot, this winter was tough... even if that were not the case I always seem to find excuses for why a plant didn't survive in my garden. I think a lot of gardeners do that, like a botanical 'don't speak ill of the dead' mantra. But I probably see a lot more plant failure than most, you see the purpose of my garden is to try new plants and to see how they perform before I go designing them into client's gardens. A veritable testing ground for new plant cultivars and varieties, and as with all tests I do expect a certain number of failures.

The hale and hardy performers, with many 'checks' from the list.
But I digress, what I really wanted to tell you about was a success, an unlikely survivor. A clematis with huge blooms set off by unusual stamen, the sort of plant which produces one or two "Wow" blooms rather than relying on volume to attract attention. In essence, not my normal plant. Because I am trying plants for clients, I usually look for plants which provide more than one interesting feature. And actually I have a kind of check list, and the best plants fulfill a few items on my landscape check list - for instance 1) Multi season interest 2) Extended bloom time 3) Insect and disease resistant - and so on. This little treasure just had really cool blossoms, and absolutely nothing else. So, I planted it anyway. That was two years ago. The first year, not much happened. The clematis leafed out, but didn't grow that tall, and no blooms. Last year, remember I mentioned it was hot? Well Clematis don't really like heat, so it didn't do much. I don't even remembering it getting as tall as the previous year, and there were certainly no blooms. At that point, I started to remember why I have the check list, what does this plant do other than bloom? Oh right, nothing.

And then this spring, as I was weeding away along the fence, I looked but didn't see any sign of the bloom-less beauty. Another failure I thought, and made a note to cross it off 'the list'.
So yesterday (You know this is going to have a happy ending - right?), I am weeding away in my Monarda, and see this:
Clematis 'Crystal Fountain'
Out of no-where, no higher than my Monarda and pointing right up to the sky so you had to be in the bed to find it. Look at the color, and the very cool, fluffy stamen. Beautiful, isn't it.  Sometimes I guess that is the only check you need.

Monday, May 9, 2011

May Garden Chores

May means flowers to me, and this May has been rewarding so far. With Lilacs (Syringa sp), Dogwoods (Cornus florida) and Crabapple Trees (Malus sp) in full bloom all over town, winter is just a fuzzy memory. For anyone who can’t get enough of Lilacs, the Arnold Arboretum has an incredible array of different Lilac cultivars and species in bloom right now, from the Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris), to Hybrid Lilacs (Syringa x chinensis) and Meyer Lilacs (Syringa x meyeri) stop by for a sweet sniff or visit their website for more information.
Things grow and change quickly in May so here is a list of gardening chores and tips to help keep you on track:
Malus "Sugar Tyme"
The Wintermoth caterpillar is active again, and munching away at the leaves of Maples, Crabapples, Cherries and other trees. This destructive little green caterpillar, which looks very much like an inchworm, can defoliate your trees in a very short period of time.  If you suspect your trees are infested or you had trouble with them last year, contact your arborist or landscape professional for assistance. There are organic treatments to control this non-native pest.
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.
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.
Prune back the winter damaged leaves and branches allowing for more sunlight and air circulation for the new growth to thrive.  I have seen quite a bit of “Sunburn” damage this year, especially to Rhododendrons, which may have gotten too much sun from the reflective snow cover this past winter. But by now you should see new buds and new growth on the plants, which is a sign that they will bounce back. The exception is of course plants in deep shade, which may need another week or two to show signs of life; and our garden teenagers who “sleep until noon” meaning they may not leaf out until late May (Clethra, Itea and Hostas to name a few).
Be careful to dump out rainwater collecting in accidental places, remember that mosquitoes can develop in standing water that remains for more than 3 days.
Remove stakes, tree wraps and guy wires from trees planted last fall.  They can pose long-term problems for trees if left on too long.
To help in your selection of a new or replacement tree, visit the Arnold Arboretum or Mt. Auburn Cemetery.  Both locations accurately label their plant material and seeing trees, as mature specimens and seeing them ‘off-season’ will help you make an informed decision.
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. Last week I removed the winter mulch from my perennial garden as things were slowly starting to grow. And this week it is full of weeds! What happened?
A. Suddenly spring! In the past 2 weeks our Growing-Degree-Days (GDD – which is the internal clock for many plants) has doubled and triggered a lot of activity in the plant world, seemingly all at once. Unfortunately, this includes weeds. If you can’t get to weeding all areas your garden this week, then I recommend focusing on those which are flowering right now such as Dandelions, creeping Veronica, Chickweed and Garlic-Mustard a biennial plant and prolific seeder. Otherwise, those weed flowers will turn into weed seeds and those weeds will spread. And remember the old garden adage – “One year of weed, equals seven of seed.” Guess I’d better finish this up and get to weeding myself!

Monday, May 2, 2011


Volcano mulching is the nic-name for the VERY BAD practice of installing mulch literally up the trunks of trees thereby creating what looks like a “Volcano” of mulch from which the tree trunk is erupting. (see below for a partial list of reasons WHY this is BAD).
An example of "Volcano Mulching" - a VERY BAD practice.

There are many reasons why "Volcano Mulching" is detrimental to the long term health of the tree, here are a few:
  1. Trunk Rot - Bark tissue is different from root tissue and not "designed" to be continually moist or submerged. Covering the trunk with mulch will keep the bark moist and eventually the bark will decay, this will further lead to insects and disease feeding on the decayed tissue and eventually the tree (or shrub) will die.
  2. Suffocate/ Girdle the tree – Tree roots collect oxygen for the tree, the surface roots are now smothered by too much mulch so the distressed tree will send out little capillary roots into the mulch. Unfortunately these little roots are now above the soil line and subject to summer heat and winter frost damage and if they manage to survive these afflictions the roots grow larger encircling the thee trunk and eventually girdling or choking itself.
  3. Thirsty Tree - In the image above the slope is pushing water away from the tree before it has a chance to absorb into the ground. And the mulch is so thick, it is highly unlikely that rainwater could penetrate that mound and reach the tree roots where the water is needed.
  4. Home for pests – Mice, voles, insects etc. now have a comfortable home right next to your tree trunk and they can feast away undetected. Poor tree!

 Did I mention that this is a BAD practice?
Proper application of mulch can be helpful, especially when establishing new plants:
Keep Soil Cooler in heat of summer
Reduce water evaporation
Reduce soil erosion from wind (and water runoff)
Proper application of mulch should not submerge the tree flange let alone cover the bark. And it should not be deeper than 2" to 4" (at the most!).

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spring is Really, Really Here!

The birds are singing, the bulbs are blooming, kids are riding their bikes and my mailbox is full of glossy plant catalogues, it must be spring. If your green thumb is itching, here are some tips to get your garden underway:
Narcissus poeticus and Hyacinthoides "White City"
Start your own vegetable garden with spinach, lettuce, carrots and radish seeds. If you have not grown vegetables before, consider growing your vegetables in containers, which can be more easily monitored and work your way up to an in-ground plot.
Remove old mulch from your perennial beds, as weed seeds are likely to be hding in there. And gently cut back any remaining perennial husks, the snow cover should have acted as a wonderful insulation for most perennials. But there are some late arrivals, like Crocosmia don’t give up yet if you see some bare spots. They may just be sleeping in.
Dedham Civic Pride has started planting annuals in the pots around Dedham, and they look lovely. But keep in mind that it is still early for most annuals other than Pansies. And keep in mind that Saturday, April 30 is Dedham Civic Pride “Clean Up Day” check their website for more details
The best way to keep weeds out of your lawn is to keep your lawn grass healthy. Tune up your mower (sharpen the blades so they don’t tear the grass), rake, lime and fertilize. And if you are looking for an organic way to green your lawn and protect its roots from disease causing fungi I have seen excellent results with Actino-Iron.
Apply pre-emergent crabgrass killers to your existing lawn now.  This stops the annual weed seeds from germinating (starting to grow).  The grass we want in our lawns is a perennial (comes back every year) and the existing lawn grass won’t be affected by the pre-emergent.
Prune the dead areas of your rose canes, start by cutting back to a live bud on the green area (live cane) Apply 10-10-10 fertilizer.
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 transplanted multiple forsythia cuttings from the back of my yard to the front several years ago. They seem fine and healthy but they have never turned yellow. Each year they shoot leaves that simply go directly to green without ever turning yellow. 

A. Great question! And the two most likely culprits are
1) Not enough sun - Even though Forsythia will grow in almost full shade, it does not reliably flower unless it is in full sun. This means they will keep growing every year, getting bigger and looking healthy but without the yellow spring blooms.
2) Pruning (or deer grazing) - Forsythia blooms on old wood not new spring growth, so if pruning shears or hungry deer had their way with your plants either last summer, fall or winter they would have effectively removed this years blooms. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On a slightly different topic...

The downside of owning your own small business is being responsible for the tasks you don’t like to do, for me that is the bookkeeping. But it must be done, so I sat down this morning with a fresh cup of coffee ready to barrel through it. But my brand new computer was running really, really, really slowly. Making what I hate to do, take 10 times longer than it should, anyone sense my frustration yet?

So I immediately saved what I was working on, shut everything down and restarted my computer. My first answer to everything electronic is reboot and try again. Hey, I play with plants for a living my technical knowledge is VERY limited. After shutdown, I noticed that my start up was taking longer than usual, especially for my brand new speedy mac and I immediately thought “Oh no, what did my kids download onto my computer”. This prompted my search, I won’t take you through my lengthy steps, remember my business is landscape design not technology. After this long process I found an application called Growl, BTW this only showed up under System Preferences under ‘Other’. I tried looking for it with finder and other searches, it doesn’t show up. I never installed anything called Growl so my first thought was spyware. I tried to uninstall it, but it wouldn't let me. I couldn’t drag it to the trash either.

Google Time. Turns out, Growl installed itself when I downloaded an application called Dropbox (which a colleague suggested I use to share work documents). Not only that, but Growl set itself to automatically start up with my computer (although it doesn’t show up on my start up list), and it is always running (although it doesn’t show itself as a running application). So what does this sneaky application do? I haven’t the foggiest. One blogger described it as an annoying guy following you around the house telling you “your phone is ringing”, “your dishwasher is done” and so on. Thanks, but not something I need.

So my next google search was “How do you uninstall Growl?”. The software developers of Growl want you to download an uninstall software from their website. Excuse me? That sounds wrong. I’ve accidentally deleted lots of things before, but in this case, I need a special application to delete another application? There must be another way. Growl showed up uninvited on my computer, remains hidden (from most of my search methods) and I am supposed to trust the developers to remove it by voluntarily installing another application. Does anyone else find this odd?

Ok, so more searching finds forums filled with other queries similar to mine “How did Growl get on my computer?”, “Is Growl a Virus?”, “How do I get rid of Growl?” and so on... at least I am not alone. But I can’t find a complete answer. I found out how to stop it from running, how to disable it from Dropbox, and how to stop it from opening at start up. But I still can’t get RID of it. Apparently neither can others, most forum responses follow this line “It isn’t doing anything just leave it.” or “You may want it in the future” but this isn’t enough for me. If someone walked into my house, uninvited, I would want them to leave. Even if they were not eating my food or using my hot water, I would want them OUT of my house.

The good news is that my computer is running MUCH faster now that I turned this application off, and therefore I can get back to my bookkeeping (maybe not so good). But I still want to delete this application from my computer, and I don’t want to install another application to do it. So, thoughts anyone?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Finally, the Application of my dreams!

Truly the Bible of the plant industry, Michael Dirr's "Manual of Woody Landscape Plants", is finally in an App form for your iPhone or iPad called "Dirr's Tree and Shrub Finder". Complete with pictures, cultural characteristics, identification tips, propagation notes and all the other info you have come to expect, nay rely on! This nifty app also allows you to search based on a multitude of criteria.
No longer will I have to schlep around the 20lb hardcover "Hardy Trees and Shrubs" book to show clients pictures! Now what do I do with the well worn text book I've had since college? Yes, it is almost 20 years old and so full of notes, highlights, arrows, paperclips, sketches and so on it is almost a scrapbook of my career. From my initial loathing of Hydrangea macrophylla to my current love affair with the plant (now that new cultivars have made it a reliable
bloomer for 3 full months) all the way to updating the genus on certain plants (Sophora japonica now Styphnolobium japonicum) or crossing them out entirely because they are now prohibited in Massachusetts or a failure like the genetically flawed Bradford Pear (Pyrus calleryana "Bradford").
My only comment is that like my textbook from ages past, I'd like a comment area. A place to add pictures, notes, or comments. I am confident that the app will be updated with all the critical industry updates, great new cultivars, breakthroughs in breeding and hybridizing but I still want to reference and record my own observations. Maybe I'll keep my textbook around a little while longer...