Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Heavy snow

The combination of snow and rain can be a garden concern for anyone who has lost a beloved tree or seen the damage which can come from big limbs falling down. But even on a small scale many gardeners are concerned about their plants. So to address some of the questions I've had today:

Hemlock branches weighed down by wet snow.
1) Evergreens weighted down - Often the most obvious signs of distress, show here the branches of this Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) are dragged down by the weight of the "wet" snow. I don't normally advocate step ladders in the snow, but if I see branches that are really in trouble I will take my push broom and nudge those branches to knock off the snow. For really large trees this clearly doesn't work. But having your trees pruned, by shortening limbs which may be hanging over your house, will reduce the threat of having them break under heavy snow.  Have an arborist or tree specialist check your trees, if you are concerned.

2) Fruit Trees - The combined weight of fruit and heavy, wet snow can cause quite a bit of breakage; especially those trees, whose fruit is not favored by the birds. The broom trick mentioned above is a quick fix, but thinning your fruit trees each year is the better overall solution. I always suggest starting by removing the sucker growth, which are usually the fastest growing at the worst angles, read into this spindly branches most susceptible to this kind of damage.
These crabapple trees (Malus spp.) could use  some sucker growth pruning,
but the branches are NOT heavily weighed down. And not an immediate concern.

3) Fancy shrubs - Like your best china, somehow the most unique, slowest growing and most expensive shrubs seem to also be those most likely to get damaged. I recommend treating them like your best china, which you probably hand wash and store safely in the china cabinet. Check those shrubs during and after a snow fall, brush them off if needed, wrap them in burlap if they are wind intolerant, whatever it takes. I even have clients who have built "snow shelters" for their shrubs.

And for the rest of your garden, enjoy the look of freshly fallen snow!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Keeping Up with Spring

Thank goodness for the rain! But we are this spring is so much drier than usual keep an eye out for signs of drought stress in your garden. Many broadleaf evergreens (Rhododendrons, Pieris, etc.) have die back, browning or yellowing of flowers or leaves from this drought stress. Also, some perennials or deciduous plants are wilting again from the dry soil. Supplemental watering for these plants is recommended. Here are some tips to get your garden underway:
If you have dense clumps of snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) which did not bloom this spring, gently dig them up while their leaves are still visible, divide and replant giving them more room. Also, take pictures of your clumps of daffodils (Narcissus) and Tulips now so that come fall when they are dormant, you can remember the areas of your garden where you want to add more bulbs or relocate your bulbs.
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.
Start your 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.
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, fertilize and apply limestone every three years. Add some limestone to your Lilacs (Syringa) and Lavendar (Lavandula) too.
Saturday, April 28 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.
Brunnera "Mr. Morse" - very similar to B. "Jack Frost"
Arbor Day is April 27 – Plant a tree this month in honor of Arbor Day! I usually talk about flowering trees but there are lots of wonderful shade trees too.
Perennial Plant of the year is Brunnera “Jack Frost” a great shade plant.
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.

Viburnum x pragense - this genus of shrubs seems largely unaffected by the Wintermoth caterpillar.
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.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Starting Spring Early!

The sudden onset of unseasonably GORGEOUS weather has many gardeners running for their tools. Since the soil is dryer than usual we are not faced with the typical early spring concern of compacting damp soil by walking on and working in our beds. However, the flip side of this is that some moisture lovers (may not perform as well this spring. Since, we don’t have 6’ of melting snow to irrigate our plants as they start growing this spring, keep an eye out for signs of drought stress. Many plants in full sun or high wind areas may need supplemental watering much earlier this season than your normal practices.
Crocus - Mix of cultivars
So keep a look out in your own garden and here are some other things to look for and a few tips to get spring jumping in your garden:
Start by cleaning up the branches and winter debris, and finish raking up those Oak leaves, which were still falling in January. And check your trees for damaged or broken branches still hanging in the canopy.
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. The early bulbs are in bloom such as Crocus, Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) and Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis).
Ticks are active and prevalent, so be sure to check your pets and yourself after working in the garden. They especially like to hide in areas with leaf mold.
Eranthis hyemalis
As temping as it may be to direct sow your veggies, I would continue with normal practices and start your vegetable garden by sowing your veggie seeds indoors. Broccoli, cauliflower, and lettuce are reliable; if you are feeling lucky try starting your peppers, eggplant and tomatoes, several weeks earlier than usual. If you have limited garden space, many varieties of these veggies can be grown in large pots on a sunny Patio or Deck.
Begin removing old mulch from your perennial beds, and gently cut back any remaining perennial husks, you may be surprised at how many new sprouts are starting already. 
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 pre-emergent won’t affect the existing lawn grass. If you have large areas of damage, which you hope to reseed, keep in mind that new lawn grass won’t germinate for another month but crabgrass starts germinating about the same time the Forsythia blooms.
There is some indication that the winter moth eggs may hatch early this year, previous years they have hatched in mid-April. But not everyone agrees. I recommend that if you have trees, which were hard hit last year by this noxious pest with no native predators, I would spray now. For more information on this topic I recommend checking out the UMass Landscape Industry and Urban Forestry website for good break out of differing opinions.
Check your Hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis and Tsuga caroliniana) for the wooly adelgid. This insect has spread quite a bit recently. 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. There is a pretty yellow bush blooming in my neighbor’s yard, and it is NOT Forsythia? What blooms this early in the spring?
Cornus mas
A. Great question! There are several shrubs blooming right now, but you are most likely seeing either a Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas), which is considered a small tree and is not actually a Cherry but a Dogwood, another example of confusing common names. The blooms of Cornus mas look more like the blooms of Maple Trees than of typical Dogwood Trees and there are several blooming around Dedham. Quite lovely to see.

Hamamalis "Arnold Promise"

Or you could be seeing a Witchhazel (Hamamelis x intermedia), a large shrub with a gangly appearance unless it is pruned to a standard or other controlled shape. The blooms of Witchhazel remind me more of a sea anemone than a typical flower, but are quite lovely in their uniqueness. “Pallida” and “Arnold Promise” are both wonderful yellow cultivars of this shrub. Both plants are very hardy and would be lovely additions to your early spring garden.  

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.