Author Archives: Barbara Rogers

Pruning Evergreens

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

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

You will need the right tools to accomplish the job:

  • Loppers
  • Bypass pruners
  • Safety goggles
  • Leather gloves

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

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

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

prune2Pine with Cones natural backgroundprune1

Early Spring Gardener’s Calendar

* Plan your summer vegetable and herb garden. We offer a wide selection of seeds that include all of your favorite annuals, perennials, vegetables and other novelties as well as many hard-to-find selections. Inventory your pots and flats and discard unusable ones. Make a list of the supplies you will need. Have your garden soil tested for nutrient content. We offer a variety of do-it-yourself soil test kits.

* Prune woody plants while dormant, including fruit trees, summer- and fall-blooming shrubs and vines. Limit pruning of spring-blooming trees and shrubs to the removal of sucker growth and rubbing or broken branches. Spray trees and shrubs with year-round horticultural oil to reduce insect population.

* Sharpen, clean and oil tools and lawn mowers. Begin heavy annual pruning of shrub roses as new leaves appear.

* Plant pansies, English daisies and primrose as soon as the earth is workable. Plant strawberry plants. Sow cool-season vegetables and herbs in the garden.

* Start spring cleanup and begin major lawn work. Remove debris, dethatch your lawn or aerate compacted areas to improve water penetration.

* Spray needles and limbs of Arborvitae, Cryptomeria, false cypress, fir, hemlock, Juniper, pine, yew and spruce (except blue spruce) for spider mites with year-round horticultural oil.

* Apply fertilizer to perennials and roses with. Feed berry bushes, grapevines, rhubarb and asparagus a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer before new growth begins. Fertilize trees and shrubs.

*Apply crabgrass preventer with fertilizer to feed the lawn and control crabgrass. Do not use on newly seeded lawns.

* Continue spring cleanup. Cultivate to remove winter weeds and debris from the planting beds. Apply corn gluten or a pre-emergent herbicide with fertilizer specified for gardens and scratch it in to prevent future weeds. Do not use in gardens where you will be direct seeding.

* Reseed bare spots in established lawns. Keep the area moist until seedlings appear, then mow when the new grass is 3? high.

* Prune forsythia and other spring-flowering trees & shrubs after the flowers fall.

* Dig and divide crowded early spring bulbs after they finish blooming. Enrich the soil with bone meal.

* Plant and transplant trees and shrubs, including roses, ground covers, and perennials.

* Transplant cool-season seedlings into the garden. When the soil temperature reaches 60 degrees, sow warm-season vegetable and herb seeds.

* Place gro-thru sets over peonies, grasses or any other perennials in need of support.

What is “pH?” Why Is It Important?

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

What pH Means to Your Garden

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

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

Where Soil pH Occurs

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

The pH Your Plants Need

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

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

Highly Acidic Conditions

(pH between 5 and 6)

Slightly Acidic Conditions

(pH between 6 and 6.5)

Slightly Alkaline Conditions

(pH between 7 and 7.5)

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

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

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

During our Spring Open house we have a soil expert that can help guide you with all your soil needs.  Bring in a soil samples that he can test for you on site .  

ph_4

ph_1

ph_2

ph_3

Soil 101

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

All About Soil

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

Improving Soil

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

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

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

The Magic of Mulch

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

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

soil_4

soil_1

soil_2

soil_3

Spring Lawn Renovation

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

Seeding

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

Rejuvenating a Weak Lawn

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

Adusting pH 

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

Crabgrass Control

On established lawns that you are not overseeding, apply a fertilizer with crabgrass control in early to mid-April.  Jonathan Green Crabgrass Preventer is ideal.   Reapply  in early to mid-June for the second germination of crabgrass. Remember, crabgrass seeds start to germinate when the soil temperature reaches 50-58 degrees. Use corn gluten as an organic alternative for crabgrass control on an established lawn.

On newly seeded lawns and those seeded in late fall or during the winter months, use a starter fertilizer with crabgrass control, such as Jonathan Green Crabgrass Preventer plus New Seeding Lawn Fertilizer 10-15-10.  You will need to reapply in four weeks or however the manufacturer’s instructions indicate. Proper applications will keep your new lawn crabgrass-free.

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

Insect Controls

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

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

spring_lawn_3

spring_lawn_1

Grass sprinkler

Pre-Emergent Control of Crabgrass

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

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

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

Nurturing Spring Bulbs

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

Tips for Bulb Care

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

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

SONY DSCbulbs_5

 

Dealing With Winter Damage

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

Repairing Winter-Damaged Trees

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

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

Repairing Winter-Damaged Shrubs

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

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

damage_1damage_2

Dividing Hybrid Hellebores

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

A Love Divided

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

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

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

Helleborus orientalis

Heath or Heather

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

Which is Which?

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

Heath and Heather in the Landscape

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

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

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

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

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

Heatherheath