2018, November 2018, What to do in the garden

Take care of tender perennials

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It’s starting to get colder, and soon the snow will start to fall. This is great for the plants, as snow is an excellent insulator. But what if it doesn’t snow? What if it’s just really cold for awhile, first? Straight – up cold can be devastating for perennials, especially tender ones that are at the limit of their cold hardiness, or new ones that got planted late.

What to do? Well, it’s better to hedge your bets and give your most precious plants some protection than just hope that there will be snow. This doesn’t mean anything too complicated – just cover the crowns of the plants with salt-marsh hay, or evergreen tree boughs. (You can supplement these later with boughs cut off your Christmas tree, if you have one.)

Roses can also benefit from a little cover. Plastic fencing or chicken-wire, wrapped around them, and stuffed with leaves works well. You can also buy things made especially for roses, but then you have to figure out where to store them the rest of the year. But in the end, it’s up to you. Anything you can do to help the plants will be greatly appreciated by them, and they will reward you in kind in the summer.

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2018, October 2018, What to do in the garden

Time to plant bulbs!

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It’s time! Over the next two to three weeks, depending on your climate (I’m assuming Zones 4-6 for the purposes of this post) it is time to plant the bulbs that you have chosen for your garden. For the bigger ones, like Tulips or Daffodils, it makes sense to dig a hole for each one. If you have been really ambitious and have a lot of bulbs to plant, you can buy an auger bit that attaches to your drill and will make the “digging” a pleasure as long as your soil isn’t too rocky. (Just be sure you get one that is a little bit wider than your bulbs.) If you are planting a lot of little ones on one place, then its easier to dig an entire area to the depth needed, place the bulbs, and then carefully fill it in with soil. Digging hundreds of tiny holes will make you crazy. Space the holes at the proper distance apart for that type of bulb (usually stated on the packet). For a more natural look, space them in clumps, and don’t make the spacing as even.

The next question is, “How Deep?” This depends on what kind of bulb that you are talking about, but the general rule of thumb is to plant it 2-3 times deeper than the bulb is tall. So a good sized tulip bulb would be buried about 8 inches deep, whereas a small crocus bulb would be more like 4 inches.

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Once you have the hole ready, you may wonder which way is up, especially if there aren’t any root remnants visible. In general, the flat end goes down and the pointy end up, but if you get one that you really aren’t sure about, plant it on its side and let the plant figure it out for itself. Plants are smart that way. (A side note: as a young gardener, I decided that I wanted to plant a row of Peonies. I ordered them through the mail, for some reason, and when they arrived, they were bare root – no soil. All there was to see was what looked like two bunches of worms attached by some fibrous stuff, some red and some white. I had absolutely no clue what to do with them, and after thinking about it for awhile, I planted them with the red “worms” down. I had a 50/50 chance, but had chosen wrongly and so had planted every single one upside down. I am pleased to say, however, that they righted themselves, and now, more than 20 years later, they still bloom every year. So, you see, plants can be very forgiving.)

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Once you have set them in their hole, carefully fill it in, and make sure that they are watered a little over the next few weeks. After that, you can forget about them until they show up in the spring and you pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Have fun!

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2018, Design ideas, October 2018, Plant-of-the-month

Montauk Daisy

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The Montauk Daisy is a plant with the rather regal mouthful of a botanical name, Nipponanthemum nipponicum. As botanical the name suggests, it is native to Japan, but it has done so well in places like Long Island, NY, that its common name is a lot more close to home.

The first time I saw a Montauk Daisy, I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at. First of all, it was October, when most of the plants like Shasta Daisies are about finished flowering. Secondly, the plant was huge, almost 4 feet tall and wide, and the flowers were bigger than your typical Shasta. On closer inspection, I could see that the leaves were  leathery and glossy, nothing like any other daisy that I knew. What was this thing?

Eventually someone told me what it was, and I was able to learn more about it. Although it looks like a daisy, it actually isn’t, and is in a genus (Nipponanthemum) all to itself. It doesn’t really act like a daisy, either, since it is more shrub-like than anything else, given its size and shape. If you have the room, though, it’s well worth having in the garden, as it is deer and rabbit resistant as well as being drought and salt tolerant. So if you live on the water or like a beach-themed garden and, like many of us, have deer around, this plant is for you. Provide it with well drained soil, and full sun, and prune it in summer (see blog post from July 12 on how to best do this) and you will get a really pleasant surprise come fall!

2018, July 2018, What to do in the garden

There are always flowers…

Henri Matisse said, “There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” At this time of year, it’s easy to get so caught up in our lives that we forget to stop and look at the garden and what it has to offer, so this week I thought I’d post some flower pictures from around the virtual garden. I encourage you to stop and spend a few minutes enjoying your own garden, or that of a friend – the summer goes by so quickly…

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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

February 2018, Garden ramblings

Witch Hazel

 

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I hesitate to even post this picture because the fall foliage can be so much more spectacular. I’ll post a better one if I can find one.

 

 

Are you looking for a small tree/large shrub that has pretty fall foliage, interesting, scented flowers, and blooms in winter? Or one that blooms in fall, after most flowering shrubs have finished? Or maybe an interesting native plant? Well, look no further than the Witch Hazel, Hamamelis. Within this group of plants (called a Genus)  all those things are possible.

Hamamelis intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ has yellow, ribbon-like flowers that bloom in late February. You can force them inside as early as late January sometimes, where the warmth of a sunny windowsill will release their delicious scent. (See next week’s blog post for how to force them). If coppery-orange is more your color, try Hamamelis intermedia ‘Diane’. Both will grow to be about 12-15 feet tall (Arnold slightly larger) and approximately 10-15 feet wide, and both have spectacular fall foliage.

Hamamelis mollis, pictured in the drawing above, is similar to Hamamelis intermedia, but has more flowers and brighter fall foliage, if that’s possible.

If a fall blooming tree/shrub is what you’re after, try the native Hamelis virginiana. Growing to be 15-20 feet x 15-20 feet, this plant makes a wonderful shrub border.  Yellow flowers appear in October-November in the Northeast, with yellow fall foliage to follow.

In addition to being a great plant in the garden, Witch Hazel can also be used to make skin care products, some of which you may have seen in your local drugstore. Its attributes go on and on… If there was a downside, I’d say that it doesn’t do much in the summer. But there are plenty of other plants that will appreciate the lack of competition, so that’s barely a bad thing.

If you have the room, and want to stretch the growing season a little farther, give Witch Hazel a try!

Witch Hazel

January 2018

What will you grow?

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Believe it or not, it’s time to start thinking about ordering seeds for the garden. It will soon be time to start things like tomatoes and pansies indoors, and you can put peas and Nasturtiums in  as soon as the frost is out of the ground. So while the time to plant outside is still a little way off, it pays to do a little thinking in advance so that you have the seeds when you need them.

The seed companies may have already filled your mailbox with their catalogues, but in case they haven’t, here are some of my favorites. Your local garden center or Agway will probably have them, too. Have fun choosing!!

Territorial Seeds

Seed Savers Exchange

Harris Seeds

Renee’s Garden Seeds

Johnny’s Seeds

Park Seed

 

If you just can’t wait to have plants in your life, then I recommend an Aerogarden. This is a small hydroponic system, and you will be amazed by what you can grow in just water! I have grown herbs and lettuce, and even started perennials like Lavender. Right now I have Petunias in it, because I have been dying for some color in my studio. They sell a wide range of kits, but if you want to try things on your own, you can also buy seedless starters and use the seeds of your choice. While the Aerogarden system is a bit of an investment, you can use it over and over again, and the mental and physical health benefits are priceless!

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P.S. Neither Aerogarden nor any of the previously mentioned seed companies pay me anything to recommend them; I have just had positive experiences so I want to share their names.

 

P.P.S. You’ll notice that none of the companies that I recommended are represented in the seed photo. That’s because I haven’t ordered my seeds yet and so all I have are some packets left over from a vacation to Alaska, some freebie Cosmos, and a couple of packets left over from last year that I kept because I liked the artwork.

To check out Aerogarden, click here.

What are your favorite things to grow in winter?