Blog entries categorized under garden practice
My first move on awakening each morning is to open the blind and check the garden outside. It helps that the morning sun shines on my birdbath focal point in the back yard. But this little ritual is important to me; it gives me a sense of the day, the weather--dry or wet, bright or gray--and is my first opportunity to see the state of the garden. It is exciting to see a change—a new blossom or leaf, a plant that has perked up, a bird bathing. It is not unusual to see damage, too, the path of a mole, the remains of the woodchuck’s dinner, a tree limb down.
I’ve been looking out this window for years without considering it as a “view.” But it is precisely that, a perspective from which I see my garden frequently and one that should be appealing. It is a perspective that differs from the view at ground level and lets me assess the scene in a new way.
This idea was brought home to me recently when I visited the Bellamy-Ferriday House in Bethlehem, CT. A lovely historic house surrounded by beautiful formal gardens, the highlight of the tour was seeing the garden from Miss Ferriday’s second floor bedroom window.(My photo through that window doesn't begin to do it justice.)
All this is to say that we should try to enhance the views we actually see most often. In many cases those are what show through our windows. In winter, on rainy days, and now, on days that are too hot and humid to venture out, that is the view we often see.
Page Dickey has written a wonderful book called Inside Out, addressing just this subject. (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2000.) In it, she acknowledges the fact that most of us began planting with no such ideas in mind. But it is never too late to take a look and make adjustments that will improve what is actually in view, rather than areas we pass by briefly.
The Bellamy-Ferriday House is well worth visiting, both for the gardens, the 18th century house and the story of the remarkable owner, Caroline Ferriday. For information, go to http://www.ctlandmarks.org/index.php?page=bellamy-ferriday-house-garden.
Tags: gardening in zone 6, gardening in the Northeast, Gardening in New England, organic gardening, CT gardening, garden design, Bellamy-Ferriday House, Inside Out, Page Dickey, garden view
Part of my spring and fall routine has become the spreading of gypsum over some of my planting beds. I’ve just completed this task beneath my rhododendrons, hydrangeas and a few other moisture loving plants like the winterberry (Ilex verticillata). Since my soil is sandy loam and dries out quickly, I’ve been using the gypsum to improve the soil texture and make it more moisture retentive.
Tags: soil structure, Ilex verticillata, Winterberry, Hydrangea, Rhododendrons, Calcium sulfate, Gypsum
This practice does not seem to be widely mentioned and it is only in the last few seasons that I have found gypsum (calcium sulfate) easily available in garden centers. And it is usually recommended for compacted, clay soil. But my father-in-law, a professional in the landscaping industry for many years, suggested it first thing when he saw my property. (I did not follow his advice at the time.) With the bitter experience of our 2010 drought, I decided that more was needed than just adding organic matter.
Gypsum is very easy to use because it does not need to be worked into the soil. I can just spread it on the surface, and it doesn't affect the pH. Since I have been adding the gypsum (4 or 5 seasons), my moisture-loving plants are happier and I do believe the soil holds water better.
Have you tried gypsum in your garden? If so, for what purpose? And what were the results? I would love to hear about your experience.
Of course one of the first things to sprout in springtime is the weeds. And I know from experience that these are best tackled as soon as they come up. So this month I have been experimenting with horticultural vinegar. This is much more acidic that culinary vinegars—20% as opposed to 7%. I ordered it from A.M. Leonard (www.gardenersedge.com) for $28.99 a gallon!
I filled a household sprayer bottle with the vinegar and toured the yard spritzing the young weeds at the edge of the driveway and in planting beds. I made sure the foliage was wet. By the next day I could see that these weeds had turned tan and dry. The vinegar works!
Tags: gardenersedge.com, AM Leonard, Garlic Mustard, Horticultural Vinegar, weeding, weeds
Spraying weeds meant I didn’t have to get down on my knees and get my hands dirty, but it is necessary to do some bending to aim the spray. And while the small, young weeds died, larger specimens were not thoroughly destroyed. Thicker, fleshier stalks and plants larger than about 3 inches in diameter were not wiped out completely. A second round or a heavier dose of spraying would probably do them in.
Considering the cost of the vinegar, I would say this is a good item to have on hand to quickly dispatch the occasional weed as it pops up. It is ideal for those interlopers that show up in pavement cracks or between stones. But I would not depend on it for large weeds or weed populations. (I was disappointed to see that even modest samples of the invasive Garlic Mustard, about 3 inches high, did not succumb to the vinegar.) Besides, I actually find getting down on the ground to pull weeds is a peaceful, relaxing activity. And mulching can prevent most large concentrations of unwanted vegetation.
Are you like me, longing to get out into the garden again? Especially on the warm, spring-like days we’ve been having, it is hard to resist. But it is only March 1, and we need to be careful about what we do in the garden this early. It is too soon to dig, and we should avoid walking on the soil. Since the temperatures have been above freezing, the soil is soft and wet and susceptible to compaction. But there are a few tasks we can accomplish now.
First, if we haven’t done it already, we can take down the holiday décor. Then cut a few branches to force for a harbinger of spring: forsythia, cherry, quince and pussy willows can be cut and put in water to bloom indoors. Bringing forsythia inside is like capturing sunshine.
Next we can tackle some late winter pruning. This is a fine time to attend to late blooming shrubs before they put out their new growth. We can thin suckering shrubs like lilac (Syringa species) and Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), cleaning out suckers and removing some of the oldest wood back to the ground. This allows light into the plant and encourages vigorous blooming on the newer branches. Along the way we can saw off the oldest stems of the Elderberry (Sambucus). The mild weather has brought leaf buds already, so the future shoots we are boosting by removing the old are already visible. A swelling bud is still a thrilling sight—especially this early in the year.
Smokebush (Cotinus coggygria) is another shrub that can be cut back now. To keep it compact and to enhance the leaves’ color, we can go back as far as two or three buds from the base.
Late winter is also the time to consider renovating our native Mountain Laurels (Kalmia latifolia). Their natural habit is loose and airy. We should take a good look to decide what works best in our landscapes. If all we want to do is tame them slightly, encouraging more compact, dense growth, we can prune conservatively right after they bloom in June.
Another approach is to highlight the mountain laurel’s architecture by allowing it to remain tall and spare, revealing its wonderfully craggy trunks and weathered, finely shredding bark. This is almost an Asian, sculptural look. (A fringe benefit of this taller form is that the foliage grows above the level of deer browsing. Though all parts of the plant are poisonous, deer are known to feed lightly on Kalmias when their options are few.)
Tags: Bllue Mist Spirea, Caryopteris, Buddleia, Butterfly bush, burl, Kalmia latifolia, Mountain Laurel, Cotinus Coggygria, Smokebush, Ilex verticillata, Winterberry, Syringa, Lilac, forsythia, winter pruning
If, however, our mountain laurels have become scraggly or were damaged by last fall’s storms, we can take advantage of a special feature of this shrub. Kalmias have a swollen collar at the base of the trunk, a burl, which allows for drastic renovation. The burl enables even mature mountain laurels to generate new growth from their woody stems. Now is the time, before they put out any new growth, to prune them back to a few inches above the ground, even down to the burl itself. Numerous new stems will emerge to create a fresh, compact shrub in several seasons. Unfortunately, there will be no blossoms this year.*
Finally, once there is new growth on Butterfly bushes (Buddleia) and Blur Mist Spirea (Caryopteris), they can be pruned back to about 18 inches from the ground. These will recover quickly and bloom this summer.
*The mountain laurel’s craggy branches can be saved for building charming arbors, fences, gates and trellises.
As I sit watching the snow, yearning for the time when I can go outside and dig in the ground, it is a good opportunity to visualize my new gardening strategies. A new year always offers a fresh start. This time I think it will be more than just the renewed energy and inspiration of spring. The world of horticulture is entering a new era, and responsible gardeners need to adjust our thinking, habits and practices.
It’s a sea change, or earth change, if you will. Growing awareness of the complex interrelationships in nature demand that we treat Mother Earth with more respect, that we do all we can to protect her delicate balance and reverse what damage humans have already done to the environment.
In his pivotal book, Bringing Nature Home, Douglas Tallamy lays out step by step his case that our very survival depends on protecting the diversity of our native plants and wildlife. Every alien ornamental plant we grow takes the space of a native that would contribute to the ecosystem by providing food and/or shelter for insects, birds and so on up the food chain. He documents the fact that native wildlife tend not to eat or nest in alien plants, so the nutrients, energy and water they take up are not returned to the system. Tallamy demonstrates that many butterflies, moths and insects are specialists, unable to feed or reproduce on plants that are outside their evolutionary experience. The fewer native plants we grow, the fewer insects will be supported, which means less food for birds, animals, and eventually people.
In this blog I have written about many of the native plants in my garden as well as decorative alien plants from Asia, Europe and elsewhere. I am not going to rip out all the non-native shrubs and perennials that prosper here. But I will make it a priority to add more natives and protect those that exist.
I already get great pleasure watching the activity of bees, butterflies and birds enjoying the nectar, berries, seeds and shelter of my native trees, shrubs and perennials. Their activity is a major component of a healthy, appealing garden. The more native plants I support, the more I will benefit. And the bonus is that the natives will be easier to grow than exotics from around the world. These plants are already suited to the conditions in my yard; they will need minimal support from me. They will require little in the way of food or soil amendments or chemical remedies.
In a balanced landscape, insect damage should be within tolerable limits. Because most plant disease is a consequence of cultural deficiencies, natives should be largely disease resistant. The most devastating diseases, pests and invasives are those from other parts of the world (Dutch Elm Disease, Asian Longhorn Beetle, Japanese Bittersweet, etc.). Which brings up a whole other aspect to this picture. If we do not import alien plants, we are less likely to introduce alien pests, diseases and invasive plants.
The most cheering aspect of Bringing Nature Home is the author’s belief that we as gardeners can make a real difference. Since “untouched” habitat is rare, our suburban properties can have a significant impact on the future of the wildlife community. If we each make our own properties wildlife-friendly, we can help to preserve the essential diversity and balance of nature. And we can take pride and pleasure in doing so.
Tags: Spring, Winter, Ilex verticillata, Winterberry, environment, diversity, native plants, Dutch Elm Disease, Japanese Bittersweet, Asian Longhorn Beetle, organic gardening, CT gardening, Gardening in New England, gardening in the Northeast, gardening for wildlife, wildlife, bees, butterflies, insects, Bringing Nature Home, Douglas Tallamy
I’ve missed writing here in recent weeks. My holiday preparations expanded to fill the time allowed. And there hasn’t been much activity in the garden lately.
My major project for December was shredding the leaves and spreading them on the garden beds (in addition to having a generator installed following the two full weeks of power outages we suffered this fall). As with any mulch, there never seems to be quite enough to cover everything. At least the leaves are light to transport and spread compared to the springtime loads of manure. And I love the look of the beds with their winter coat of leaf mulch—they look cozy and safe compared to the bare, hard soil in unprotected areas. They are insulated against the heaving caused by the ups and downs on our thermometer. They are prepared for whatever this winter will bring. And with my new generator, I hope I am prepared, too.
We didn’t have our first hard frost until the early morning hours of December 9. Silvered lawn and roof; glazed, crispy groundcovers, followed by unusually mild weather. As I stroll the yard today, January 1, 2012, the thermometer reads 50 degrees. The soil is wet and soft; the rhododendron leaves are expansive and the lawn and mosses are lush. It looks more like spring than winter.
The Hellebores are sending up buds and even new leaves, making their own spring and offering the cheer of new growth for the new year.
Weather seems to have been the big story of 2011. Virtually no region was spared a natural crisis, from severe drought, wildfires, floods, tornadoes, to excessive heat, rain or snow. In my area of Connecticut, 2011 was officially the wettest year on record. What will this year bring? My guess is it will be more extremes.
Tags: Hellebores, moss, The New York Times, weather, climate change, Winter, leaf mulch, Rhododendrons
It’s frightening to see how often weather and climate change make front page news in The New York Times these days. Deforestation, melting permafrost, invading insects. Not only are we in a global economy (and we all know how well that’s going!), gardening has become global too, with alien plants and insects destroying the natural balance. Well, I think I must follow Candide and cultivate my own garden….
When harsh winter winds beat against evergreens, or there is an unseasonably warm, sunny day, moisture evaporates out of the leaves. Because the ground is frozen, water cannot come up from the roots to replace what is lost. This dehydration is a major cause of winter burn, which causes die-back in evergreens, especially the broad-leaved ones. That is why I have become a fan of antidessicants.
An antidessicant (anti-transpirant) is a spray that coats the leaves and prevents or diminishes the loss of moisture. On the other hand, it limits the uptake of carbon dioxide. So this is not something to use indiscriminately. But for plants that are vulnerable to winter burn or are at the edge of their hardiness zone, I have found them to be beneficial.
I apply them in late fall, usually in December, before the extreme cold and dry winds of mid-winter. Wilt-Pruf (www.wiltpruf.com) is a brand you can find at nurseries and garden centers to apply yourself. I currently pay my arborists to spray a large group of shrubs each year. The Care of Trees (www.thecareoftrees.com) is a regional company that offers organic and eco-friendly plant care. I find that their employees do care about trees and plants and work carefully and respectfully when pruning, spraying, etc.
While my many Rhododendrons are technically hardy in this Zone 6 location, they have suffered severe winter burn some years. The west wind that crosses my property can be very destructive in winter and dries out the broad-leaved evergreens. Though they naturally defend themselves by curling their leaves in extreme cold, this is not always enough. Since I began spraying them with the antidessicant, they have come through the winter in much better shape. This is important because the stress of winter burn is an invitation to other ailments.
I have also taken to spraying many of my Hydrangeas—Nikko Blue and Blue Wave (H. macrophylla), Oakleaf (H. quercifolia), and Serrata (H. Serrata). These deciduous shrubs are also rated hardy for my location, but several flowerless (and miserable!) years taught me that the cold, wind and frequent freeze/thaw cycles of our winters can destroy the flower buds which are formed the previous season. I tried several years of surrounding the hydrangeas with burlap enclosures. This worked to ensure good blooming, but what a nuisance and eyesore it was! The antidessicant spray is far easier, invisible, and, so far, equally effective. Preferably, the Hydrangeas should be sprayed after they lose their leaves for better coverage.
At right is the delicate bud on a Hydrangea macrophylla 'Blue Wave.' that has to survive the winter.
I do not need to spray my Limelight Hydrangea (H. paniculata ‘Zwijnenburg’Limelight) because it blooms on new growth from the current year. So it is worth checking whether your hydrangea blooms on new or old growth to see if it is susceptible to winter damage.
Finally, since I have just planted a precious Magnolia grandiflora this season (see earlier post), and it is marginally hardy here, I will have that sprayed, too, for insurance.
Tags: freeze/thaw cycles, The Care of Trees, evergreens, broad-leaved evergreens, burlap, winter damage, Rhododendrons, Nikko Blue, Blue Wave, Hydrangea quercifolia, Hydrangea serrata, Hydrangea paniculata, Hydrangea Limelight, Hydrangea macrophylla, Wilt-Pruf, antidessicant, winter burn, Winter
Think of Fall not as the end of the gardening season, but as the beginning of the next. Proper preparation now will ensure a happy Spring garden.
October is the right time to tend to the organic lawn. Using a thatching rake to clear away dead material supports the success of reseeding. Spreading perennial grass seed now, and keeping it moist for the first week or so to help it sprout, helps the lawn fill in any gaps that may have developed. This fills space that might otherwise allow for weeds. The fall seeding develops strong grass that will green up and be lush in spring--without chemicals.
October is also prime time to spread Bulb Tone to nourish next spring’s blooms. Amending the soil with acidifier or lime, depending on the pH of the soil and the needs of the plants, is another good Fall task. In my slightly acidic soil, I add lime around my Lilac, Peonies and Irises. I increase the acidity around the Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Mountain Laurels, Pieris, blue Hydrangeas, Hollies, Winterberry and Dogwoods. The usual soaking rains of November will help these minerals get absorbed into the soil in anticipation of the upcoming growing season.
Since much of my soil is a sandy loam and doesn’t retain moisture very long, for the last 2 years, I have been adding gypsum, too. Gypsum (Calcium-sulfate-dihydrate) is a soft mineral that loosens compacted soil and enhances its ability to retain moisture. My father-in-law recommended it years ago, but it was not something I ever saw or read about in gardening articles. Recently it has begun to show up in garden centers, and I’ve taken to spreading it Spring and Fall. Based on my observation, I think it is helping to improve the structure of my soil.
As the leaves begin to fall, we rake and shred them. Years ago I asked for a chipper/shredder for my birthday. People laugh, but this machine is a life-saver on a property like ours. It turns massive piles of leaves or brush into compact mounds of useful material. (The owner’s manual says this 6.5 horsepower unit reduces yard debris to 1/12th its original size.) The shredded leaves can be added to compost, but they make wonderful mulch just as they are. They insulate the plant roots through the seasons, enrich the soil and minimize the need for weeding. The chipped wood can be spread on pathways.
Tags: Azalea, Holly, Hydrangeas, Peony, Iris, Winterberry, Dogwood, Mountain Laurel, Pieris, Rohododendrons, Lilac, shredded leaves, mulch, rodents, fall tasks, organic lawn care, organic gardening, thatch rake, perennial grass seed, reseed, chipper/shredder, Calcium-sulfate-dihydrate, Gypsum, soil structure, lime, acidifier, soil pH, pH, acidic soil, Bulb Tone
I try to wait till after the leaves have fallen and we’ve had a frost to spread the mulch on my planting beds. By that time most of the rodents have found their winter lairs and won’t be nesting in my shredded leaves. Spreading an inch or two of shredded leaves is just like tucking the gardens to bed for the winter night.
My Sedum 'Autumn Joy’ are talking to me. They are splayed flat, saying, “Divide me!” Many perennials behave this way. Every 3 to 5 years, they begin to develop a hole or fall away from the center, signaling that they need to be divided to be reinvigorated.
In the case of Autumn Joy, this would be a terrible time to dig them up. They are in spectacular bloom right now and would be very unwieldy to handle. I will make a note of which plants to divide in spring, when they are compact and will have plenty of time to recover before they bloom again at the end of the summer. Mums and ornamental grasses belong in the same category.
Tags: ornamental grasses, Paeonia, Peonies, soil knife, Hemerocallis, daylilies, transplanting, dividing plants, Lady's Mantle, Alchemilla mollis, chrysanthemum, Mums, Sedum 'Autumn Joy', gardening in the Northeast, CT gardening, shade gardening
Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) and peonies (Paeonia) are good examples of perennials that are better divided now. And this is the ideal time to divide Daylilies (Hemerocallis species). Daylilies respond especially well to dividing and will reward you with multiple vigorous plants. (Peonies may bloom poorly or not at all the year after division, but they will thrive after that.) All of these plants have passed their peak for the season.
On a day that is mild—neither too hot nor too cold—I use a transplanting spade to dig up the chosen plant(s). I dig a ring several inches outside the edges of the plant, digging and lifting until I can feel the root ball is loose. Then I lift with spade or hands and tease the plant out of the soil. This is where my trusty soil knife is indispensable (see go-to gear). It has a serrated edge that helps cut through the root ball. I always try to leave at least 3 buds or stems with each new plant. Sometimes the plant will fall apart easily, forming its own divisions. It is not necessary to treat most perennials gently; they will tolerate fairly rough handling.
Then I dig a hole slightly broader than the root ball of the new plantlet and mix in some compost or manure. I spread out the roots, or in the case of daylilies, tubers, and cover with soil to the same level as the original plant. And water generously. It pays to listen to forecasts and do dividing and transplanting when rainy weather is expected. Nothing gets a plant off to a better start than a good rain to soak it in.
Having said all this, I have learned that most perennials and shrubs can be divided and transplanted any time during the growing season. The key is keeping them moist till they are established. The larger or older the plant, the longer it will take to settle in.
What fun it is to take one plant and make it three—or more. This is a great opportunity to develop large drifts of a particular plant or to share with gardening friends.
October 1 and the cold front has arrived. A real chill in the air after a week of punishing rain and humidity. It feels like Fall. It’s time to fill the birdfeeder again, after leaving the birds to their own devices all summer.
The mild weather makes it a good time for making renovations—to the garden, that is. Vita Sackville-West said, “A true gardener must be brutal, and imaginative for the future.” I take her meaning to justify the changes I am making in the yard.
(I admire her tremendously as a gardener. Her former home at Sissinghurst, in England, is one of the spectacular gardens of the world.)
I’ve just dug up a group of 5 Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) from in front of the hemlocks. They’ve grown there for 4 or 5 years, but they do not get enough moisture to really thrive. Their blooms fade quickly and their foliage browns early in the season. In this condition they are not really enhancing the garden, so I’ll find them another home.
Goatsbeard can be a wonderful shade perennial in reliably moist soil. Their 6-foot height and creamy, fluffy panicles in late spring-early summer are very appealing and useful in the right place. I tried and learned I did not have them in the right place.
Next I managed to unearth the Fothergilla gardenii from the left side of the laurel arbor. It had grown too large for its space there and so was crowding and shading the Clematis ‘Ville de Lyon’ and becoming misshapen itself. This I moved to the far end of the lawn where it will have ample space. And in bloom, it should beckon us across the yard.
I can’t help but wonder if this Fothergilla was mislabeled. Of the two species, F. gardenii is also called “Dwarf Fothergilla,” because it is supposed to stay compact, say 3 feet tall. This is how the shrub I bought was marked. The other species, F. major grows to about 8 feet high. The one I transplanted is easily 7 feet tall.
Whichever one it is, it is still a beautiful plant. It gets white bottlebrush type flowers in the spring, and very soon it will develop its striking fall foliage—reds, yellows and oranges so intense they seem to be backlit. This fall color makes Fothergilla an excellent substitute for the invasive Burning Bush (Euonymus elatus).
Tags: shade gardening, perennials, shrubs, transplanting, Sissinghurst, Vita Sackville-West, Euonymus elatus, Burning Bush, Aruncus dioicus, Fothergilla gardenii, Fothergilla major
Only time will tell if my “brutality” is rewarded in the future!
Fall is here. Where did the Summer go? We say this every year. (As I heard on the weather channel, no one ever says, “Where did the Winter go?”!!!
This Summer was a mixed bag. July was so hot and humid I had to hide inside with the A/C. It might as well have been Winter. August, surprisingly, brought more pleasant, summery days. This seems to be a pattern in recent years. And September brought Tropical Storms Irene and Lee to our area. One problem we didn’t have this season was a lack of rain. And, no matter what else happened, I am grateful for the rain. After the drought of 2010, I’ll never complain about rain again. (As I write, rain is pummeling the skylights. We had more than 3 times our normal rainfall in August, and already twice the average for September.)
With Fall comes clean-up. Besides still clearing storm debris, I’m removing spent flower stalks, tidying up torn leaves and dropped blossoms, pulling the last round of weeds. All this goes into the compost pile except for the woody material. Pruned and broken twigs and branches get stacked separately. As I visit my “utility” area where these piles sit, I invariably see birds and chipmunks darting out of the stack of brush. What looks like a mess to me is a haven for them.
Though we like to keep our homes and yards neat, it is important to remember the critters with whom we share the land. Many of them need the cover of brush piles for nesting, hiding from predators, sleeping and eating. If we clean up too much, we are damaging their habitat. Most of us have a utility area, a corner of our property that’s out of sight where we can afford to have a bit of “mess” for the sake of our yard mates.
The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection says that 4 to 8 brush piles per acre will provide for the needs of most wildlife. And they are best located at the borders, where yard and woodlands meet.
In addition to the smaller material, we should try to preserve a few dead trees or branches on our properties. If they are not threatening the house or the traffic areas, they are valuable shelter for squirrels, woodpeckers and other birds. I have the thrill of watching a pileated woodpecker swooping through my trees occasionally, and hearing his drumming on the dead wood at the fringes of my property. Making him welcome is worth some imperfection.
Tags: squirrels, Woodpeckers, CT gardening, New England gardening, organic gardening, dead wood, CT DEP, Pileated Woodpecker, brush pile, Clean-up, Fall
I’ve just spent 45 minutes creating a new planting bed. Yes, 45 minutes was all it took to cover the unwanted lawn with newspapers, wet them down, and cover them with manure. Now, I just wait a week or two, and it will be easy to plant. Below you can see the bed I wanted to expand into the lawn, covered with manure and waiting for planting. It already looks good!
I’ve read and heard about this method in the past, first from garden author Lee Reich in his lectures and his book, Weedless Gardening (leereich.com). It was only recently that I put it to the test. Thank you, Lee! What a revelation this is! Instead of the strenuous hoeing, cultivating, and yanking of unwanted plants and weeds I used to have to do to start or renovate a planting bed, I can now accomplish the same thing with ease.
Tags: organic gardening, new planting bed, garden renovation, Lee Reich, gardening with newspapers
I cut down the tallest, most substantial plants in the area, then spread newspaper 3-4 pages thick over the future bed. I water the paper well to keep it in place and begin the process of decomposition. Then I cover it all with 1-2 inches of manure (compost is fine, too).
It is possible to plant seeds or seedlings here right away, but the newspaper can block water from seeping below until it begins to break down. I like to wait 2 or more weeks (and hopefully, some rain) to plant. The former weeds will be dead and both the newspaper and the soil beneath it will be softened.
This simple trick makes changing or adding garden beds such light work that I could easily get carried away. I’m already on my third new bed. This may be more than a revelation—it may be a revolution.
To the casual gardener, the Dog Days of August are down time. A bit of watering here, some deadheading there, weeding as needed. The rush of spring growth and summer bloom are done, and fall tasks are yet to come. But this is when serious (read: addicted) gardeners get shopping!
Nurseries don’t attract the crowds of spring and fall, and they need to clear the way for new inventory, so they reduce prices drastically. Sale prices of 30 percent, 50 percent off and more are not hard to find.
Tags: CT gardening, Summer, garden bargains, planting in summer, plant sales
The inventory in August may not be as appealing as it was earlier in the year. Most choices are past their bloom and may be bedraggled from sitting in pots all season. But a careful look will reveal if the plant is still sound. We want to avoid mildew and browned leaves; check for insect damage and choose full, compact shapes over spindly ones. At these prices, we can wait a while to see the flowers.
Of course, spring and fall are the ideal times for planting most trees, shrubs and perennials. But we addicts have learned that planting can be done whenever the ground isn’t frozen. We aim to plant on a cooler, grayer day when the sun isn’t blazing, and don’t use harsh fertilizers. A layer of compost or mulch will help moderate the soil temperature and retain moisture. But the real key is to keep transplants watered. If they are not allowed to dry out during these sultry days, they will survive. (In the rare event that they don’t, you’ve lost a fraction of the usual price.)
So, what better time than a sweltering August day to grab a cold drink and stroll slowly around the garden? Enjoying the successes and noticing the holes…Making a shopping list and digging those bargains!
Now is the time for pruning/deadheading the hydrangeas that bloom on old growth. That’s one thing I learned from Adam Wheeler, who gave a wonderful lecture on Hydrangeas at Broken Arrow Nursery in Hamden, CT, last week. Those mopheads and lacecaps that bloom on last year’s branches (H. macrophylla, H. quercifolia and H. Serrata) have passed their peak by now. If you cut them back, you will encourage a second round of blooms before the end of the season, as well as shaping the bush and keeping it full and compact. Mr. Wheeler says to cut back to the second bud below the current blossom.
Of course, hydrangea flowers age beautifully, changing color as they do. If your plant does not need pruning, you can leave it alone and enjoy the drying blossoms. If you do prune the mopheads, hang the flowers upside down to dry or simply arrange them in a vase without water. They dry beautifully and will be decorative for years. As much as I love my lacecap hydrangeas, they are not worth much as cut flowers—even in water, their fertile flowers (the small ones in the center) drop debris.
Hydrangeas that bloom on new growth can be pruned for shape just about anytime. Late winter/early spring is ideal if you want to leave the flower heads on for winter interest. This is what I do with my beloved Limelight (H. paniculata). The drying blooms look beautiful through the fall and in the winter, especially with snow on them. On the other hand, these make spectacular dried arrangements.
Fresh H. paniculata 'Limelight' blossom at left, with dried arrangement below.
After suffering through several flowerless years with my macrophylla hydrangeas, I tried protecting them by surrounding them with burlap for the winter. This worked—I had generous blooms the next season. But, what a hassle and an eyesore this was! Now I spray these shrubs that flower on last year’s growth with an antidessicant in late fall. This has been just as effective as the burlap, while far easier and better to look at.
Tags: Hydrangeas, Hydrangea macrophylla, Hydrangea paniculata, Hydrangea serrata, Hydrangea "Endless Summer", antidessicant, pruning hydrangeas, deadheading hydrangeas, Hydrangea Limelight, Hydrangea quercifolia, Adam Wheeler, Summer, Broken Arrow Nursery
I have not yet tried one of the newer “Endless Summer” cultivars that are supposed to bloom on both old and new growth. Have you? Please share your experiences with those.