April 2018, What to do in the garden

Fertilizing Roses

rose doodle

I have always had good luck with roses. Perhaps it’s because I’m half English, so it is ingrained in my particular genetic mixture. More likely though, it’s because I really like them, and because of that, I have made a point to learn what makes them happy. One thing that I do, no matter how busy I am, is to give them regular fertilizer once a month from April to September. I try to do it on the first of the month, in order to keep it consistent, and to help me remember to do it. I use Rose-tone, by Espoma, which has a nutritional breakdown of 4-3-2. (Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potassium). I’m sure there are other good brands out there, but I like this one.

The application is simple: Just sprinkle it around the “drip line” of the plant, and either water it in, or let the rain do it. The “drip line” is the outermost circle of leaves of the plant. (See illustration.) By spreading the fertilizer that far out, as opposed to right at the base of the plant, you encourage healthy root growth and spread.

rose drip line

And that’s it! Really, the hardest part is just remembering to do it.

 

Design ideas, January 2018, What to do in the garden

Spring Scavenger Hunt

 

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Snowdrops, one of the earliest spring bulbs.

 

It won’t be long before we will start to see new things popping up in the garden every day, and we will start to reap the rewards of those cold hours in the garden planting bulbs. As well as just being a lovely time to enjoy new life, this is also a great time to analyze the early spring garden, and think about what we might like to have there next year, because, let’s face it; by the time bulb planting time comes around again, we will have forgotten where everything is.

This time of year, the “homework” is simple. Look around. If the snowdrops make you happy, make yourself a note to increase their numbers, or plant some more somewhere else. If there is a place by the door that is bare, make a note of it, so that next spring you can have some color there to welcome you home. Set a reminder on your phone for Late July, when the bulb catalogues tend to come out, and sometime have sales. Then set another reminder for October, when you can buy them at your local garden center, just in time for planting. It’s a simple thing to do, and it pays off just when you want it most.

 

March 2018, What to do in the garden

How to Prune Roses

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I often get asked how and when to prune roses. Roses can be a little daunting, that is true, but once you know the general principles of how to prune them, you should be able to tackle almost anything. And many of the principles of rose pruning apply to pruning other plants, too, although you should read up on what it is you want to prune before diving in. Anyway, the most important thing to know about pruning roses is that it will be fine. Most roses are very forgiving. We all do a butcher job at one time or another, and seldom does it result in death.

The main reasons to prune roses are as follows:

  1. To cut out diseased, crossing and damaged growth
  2. To maintain a pleasing shape
  3. To allow for a healthy amount of air to circulate within the plant.

That’s it, really. You want to get rid of any dead bits or bits that are black or distorted from disease. You also want to get rid of branches that cross so close that they rub against each other. When they rub each other’s bark away, they leave openings for disease to get in. You also want a rose bush that has a pleasing shape. So you might end up cutting off a perfectly healthy branch because it messes up the symmetry. That’s ok. And finally, roses are prone to diseases, so if you can cut out stalks that clog the interior of the plant, you will allow more air to circulate in the middle and that will help keep those diseases away.

That’s WHAT to cut. Now, WHERE to cut.

Remember that every time you make a cut, the plant will react to that cut by sending growth hormones to that spot. So if you cut your rose above a bud that is facing outward, that bud, being the last bud on the stem, will now be told to grow, and it will grow the way it is facing. So it stands to reason that, if you don’t want the branches to grow inward, (see reason to prune #3) you should cut just above an outward facing bud. Are you with me so far?

Next, HOW to cut. For this, it’s easiest to show pictures. It all has to do with the angle of the cut in relation to the bud. Here goes:

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WRONG. This cut points toward the bud, so rain etc will roll right down the cut and onto the bud, making it vulnerable to disease.
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WRONG. This cut slants the right way, but it is too close to the bud, and so doesn’t give it enough support. Thus, it will always be a weak place on the plant.
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WRONG. There isn’t anything horrendously wrong with this cut, but it’s a little too far from the bud and cut straight across. An entire rose bush pruned like this will have a stumpy appearance.
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This cut is just right. It is angled away from the bud, and not too close, yet far enough away to give the new branch support.

And finally, WHEN?

I usually prune my roses in late winter, while they are still dormant. At least, I do the main prune then. I will sometimes shape them in the summer, or cut off a branch here and there. The main thing is not to prune when winter is coming and there is about to be a long period of cold. Since pruning tells the plant to react, you don’t want it to send out a lot of new growth, only to have it killed by a frost.

Hopefully this has demystified things a bit. If you are confused about anything, please post a comment on this blog post and I will try to help make things more clear.

Happy Pruning!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 2018, What to do in the garden

Time to Force Forsythia!

The season is moving along, and we are getting close to spring. But it’s still rather inhospitable outside, so why not bring some of the garden inside, to be enjoyed where you are warm and comfortable? Like forcing Witch Hazel (see post from Feb 8th), forcing Forsythia is as simple as cutting a few branches and putting them in water in a warm room. In case you forget what Forsythia branches look like, here is a picture:

forsythia

This is a picture of it blooming. Ironically, I don’t have any in my garden (thanks to friends who are willing to share theirs) so I’m not able to run out and take a picture, but this picture gives you a good idea of its shape. Look for clusters of buds, branches that are opposite one another, and  bumpy openings called lenticels on the stems and you can’t go wrong. And once you recognize it, you will recognize it forever. The arching habit of the shrub is a dead giveaway from a distance, too:

forsythia

Once you have identified it, just cut off a few branches, put them in water, and wait! Soon your home will be filled with a great preview of spring.

February 2018, What to do in the garden

Forcing Witch Hazel

One of the great things about some plants is that you can trick them into thinking that it’s time to bloom weeks ahead of their natural blooming schedule. This is called forcing. Nurseries that grow flowers for flower shows do it on a grand scale, even forcing trees so that they will be in blossom early. It’s complicated if you get into it that seriously, but a few plants are so easy to force that anyone can do it.

The timing is important. You can’t cut any old branch at any old time and expect it to do something. Most plants need a certain number of weeks of cold in order to flower. So you need to know approximately when that particular plant will be ready. In the Northeast, the late winter / early spring-blooming Witch Hazels are ready in early February. (See last week’s blog post for descriptions of the various types of Witch Hazels.) By this time the buds have begun to swell, and you can sometimes see the tiniest bit of color showing where the new petals are about to emerge from.

At that time, all you need are some sharp pruners, a vase of water, and a warm room. Cut several branches, put them in the vase of water, and wait. In a few hours to a few days the room will be full of sweetly scented blossoms. Tada!

Life is good.

 

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Cut a branch of Witch Hazel with a slanted cut, like in the picture, and put it in the water.
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A day or two later, the buds will begin to break open.
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A week later, it’s a party!

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Witch Hazel

January 2018, What to do in the garden

What to do with your Christmas tree?

Christmas is over, and by now most of us have taken down our trees. They have served us well, but now what? Some towns have recycling programs, but what if you want to recycle them at home? Here are a few ideas. Let us know what you do with yours!

1.Strip off the branches. Some perennials, like Lavender, for example, like a little protection in the winter. Christmas tree boughs are just the thing. They have enough body to them to hold the snow off the plants a little bit and create a cocoon around them, while allowing air to flow.

2. Use the trunk as support. A stout Christmas tree trunk can be used in all sorts of ways – as a support for beans or clematis or other climbing plant (the little nubs left from where the branches were really help them get started climbing) or cut up and used as a decorative border around a plant. I even knew someone once who had an entire fence made of Christmas trees!

3. Let the trees be a winter home for wildlife. Like plants, many animals and birds need shelter from the harsh winter winds. By laying your tree somewhere protected, you can create a much needed escape for them.

Chickadee

 

IMG_0359Photo by Ben Rowland c. 2017

IMG_0363Photo by Ben Rowland c. 2017

2017, Design ideas, What to do in the garden

The Power of Potential

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Christmas Eve. A magical day, even more so than Christmas, in some ways. Christmas Eve is all about potential. Christmas itself is still ahead, in its entirety, and none of it has been used up yet. It’s rather like the last few hours of work just before you stop and go on vacation. The possibilities are endless, with the thing that you have been looking forward to lying there in the near future, whole and untouched, ready to be enjoyed. if you have done your preparations right, you will soon reap your reward.

The winter ahead is a little like Christmas Eve, in that it is the preamble to celebration that will eventually come. Spring gives us a fresh start in the garden. The weeds we never got around to pulling up, the flowers we never deadheaded, and all the other chores that we put off have been forgiven. The garden can now be anything. Under the snow, the plants are storing up their energy for the season ahead, and while they rest, we can prune and tame them so that they will wake up looking better than ever. We can sharpen our pruners, look through the gardening magazines that we were too busy to open over the summer, and dream. By the time spring starts to stir, we will be poised to act.

Winter, while it can be a trying time for the gardener, can be a gift if you use it to rest and let your mind wander through the garden while it is free from the distractions of jobs that need to be done. Enjoy the blank slate… it is nothing but potential.

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