2018, June 2018, What to do in the garden

Time to weed

As I wrote the title of this week’s blog entry, I wondered if I should change it to something more “marketable”, like “It’s Game Time”, or “Why Gardeners Drink” – some sort of click-bait. No one really wants to be told to weed when the summer is almost in full swing and there are so many other fun things to do outside.

As for me, I rather like weeding, actually. It’s pretty mindless and the garden always looks better afterwards. I know I’m not alone in these thoughts, but I also know I’m not in the majority. So my advice is this: weed NOW before things get out of control. Grass growing out of mat-forming plants like Phlox can be eradicated now, whereas in a few weeks it will have taken over and set seed. Weeds like crab grass are controllable now, but in a month or so it will have grown so much that it will form a mat that will smother the plants that you want to keep. Check out this picture. There are perennials in there, but the grass has overtaken them to the point where they will likely die.

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Sometimes the reason that we put off weeding is that we don’t really know which plants are weeds and which are not. That’s a valid excuse, if you ask me. But there is help out there. One of my favorite books is a book called Good Weed, Bad Weed by Nancy Gift. (available at Amazon) It has lots of pictures of weeds in their various stages of development and goes into how damaging they can be in the garden. It’s an excellent tool.

Other times the reason we don’t weed is because we are overwhelmed. This is understandable, but it’s only going to get worse, so I suggest this strategy: two or three times a week, do a power hour in the garden. Set yourself an hour – and ONLY an hour, this is important- and focus on weeding and weeding only. Don’t deadhead the daisies, or transplant that Daylily that you have been meaning to move, just weed. you will be amazed by how much you can do.

There is hope! Good luck, and happy weeding. It’s Game Time!

2018, May 2018, What to do in the garden

Planting Perennials

Path 2

Memorial Day Weekend is a great time to plant perennials since, for most of us in the Northeast, the threat of a frost is over. It’s time to go to the garden center and spend a little money. Or a lot of money! Regardless of the amount spent, we all want to protect that investment, and one of the ways to do that is to make sure the plants are planted correctly. The small amount of extra time that it takes to plant a perennial correctly pays off generously in the long-term health of the plant. And it’s very simple, once you know how.

 

Basically, what you are doing is creating an ideal environment for a new plant to grow in. This means making it easy for it to put out root growth, and giving it enough water deep down so that the roots to grow down, not up. Because if you have a good root system, the plant is much more likely to thrive. Here’s how:

 

1)     Dig a hole about twice as wide as the plant, and maybe 1.5 times its depth. The reason for this is that the soil that you put back in will be looser and it will be easier for the plant to grow roots into. Save the soil that you took out. Once upon a time, it was thought that putting back fresh, enriched soil was the thing to do, but studies have found that it makes such a pleasant place for the plants’ roots to be that they don’t venture into the adjacent soil, causing the it to be less stable. So the soil that you took out should go back in again, except for exceptional circumstances.

 

2)     Take the plant out of its pot and inspect the root system. If the roots look like they are densely packed, or are circling the bottom or sides of the pot, then they need to be loosened up. Scratch all the way around the root area, allowing the roots to spring free from the shape of the pot. If they are really stubborn, use your garden clippers or even a knife to slice them.

planting perennials 1

3)     Backfill some of the removed soil into the hole, and check to make sure that the soil level around the plant is the right height. Place the plant in the hole, and backfill around it until it is about halfway up the sides of the root ball. Water deeply. This ensures that there is plenty of water available at the bottom of the plant, and gets rid of any air pockets that may be lurking in the soil.

planting perennials 2

4)     Backfill the rest of the way. If you can, make a shallow ring around the plant with a little bit of soil so that water gets trapped there and can sink in. Water deeply again.

planting perennials 3

And there you have it! Your plants’ roots will have an ideal place in which to grow and be well watered. Mulching will help retain water loss, so that’s a good idea as well. Just keep the mulch away from the place where the plant meets the soil, or moisture could settle in and the plants could rot.

 

So now, you know. Happy planting!

2018, May 2018, What to do in the garden

Peony Hoops

Peony 1

This is more of a reminder than a blog entry. For those of us who grow Peonies, it is time to start paying attention to them and thinking about putting up the Peony hoops. When in full flower, the flowers can be so heavy that the stems flop over, squashing the plants around them and making it impossible to enjoy the flowers. A Peony hoop, a support consisting of two rings held up by three legs, keeps the plants upright and allows you to really enjoy them. They don’t cost very much, and are well worth the investment. Here’s a link to them on Amazon, although they are probably also available from your local garden center.

 

Peony
Young Peonies

 

The downside is remembering to put them up. In the spring, Peony shoots are very straight and  don’t look like they will ever need staking. They tend to be one of the first things up, so you notice them. Then other plants start to grow, and you tend to forget about the peonies, until they are so big that wrestling them into the hoops requires two people and a stiff shot of Whiskey.

 

So although it may seem like too much and too early, put the hoops on when the plants are young. They will soon be hidden by foliage, and it’s SO much easier! Save the Whiskey for congratulating yourself on a job well done.

peony 2

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

 

snowdrop
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:

DSCN3749
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.
DSCN3747
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.
DSCN3746
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.
rose right.jpg
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.