Garden Tips

August in the Garden

Wow, it has been hot!! We are looking for any way to stay cool! But what about our greenspace? What should we be doing there? Well, the good news is our well-established shrubs and trees do not need watering—it is actually difficult to water these plants and watering a little can be worse than not watering at all.

We want our established plants to reach their roots far down into the soil and if we water a little, the roots will tend to stay nearer to the surface where they are likely to dry out. I have a Doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum) that is around seven years old and bloomed amazingly well this year but was quite droopy during the heat spell. Fortunately, the unexpected shower helped.

On the other hand, we need to be watering very well new shrubs and trees planted this season (or even last fall). When the temperature is over 90 degrees with no rain, we should be watering these every other day. The best way is by putting a slowly dripping hose on these new plants for 15 plus minutes. Annuals in pots and baskets need a good soaking every day and when the heat breaks, annuals need a blast of a water-soluble fertilizer with a high phosphorus number on the label. Fertilizers usually show three numbers indicating the amounts of Nitrogen(N), Phosphorus(P), Potassium(K). Right now, I am using Scotts Super Bloom 12-55-6 (N-P-K). For perennial flowers, we usually only water when plants look stressed.

Weeding! I love weeding—I think of it as a practice in slowing down. I weed when the weather is comfortable and I try to set aside a time when I only weed. When I’m only weeding, I don’t run off to find twine to stake a fallen plant or do other tasks; I just weed. While taking time out to just weed is calming, I also weed constantly. That is, whatever else I’m doing, if I see a weed, I pull it. (I pull it even when I have good clothes on and am going out—OK yes, I am a bit compulsive.)

August is also for walking around your yard and thinking about your space -- what works? what doesn’t work? What do I want to do in the yard? What changes can I make this fall in preparation for next year? I can help you with this. Please don’t hesitate to contact me for advice. I would love to come to your place and help you make your greenspace more beautiful and functional.

Off to the Garden Center –Tips for a Successful Adventure

It is that time of year, the weather is fresh and warm and the green surrounds us. It is time to add some interest and color to our landscape, off we go to the plant nursery where blooms envelop and intoxicate us. So, we fill our cart with beautiful flowers and plants envisioning a summer of pleasant blooms. However, when we get home, we have the vexing question of where to put our beautiful flora. Have we thought about what each plant needs, sun, shade, type of soil, drainage? How will the plants we purchase go with our established shrubbery? How much room will a shrub need when it matures?

So, what if we reversed the process? What if we first looked around our yard and decide where we want to focus our attention? Is it where we might eat dinner outside, is it along the path we take from our car to our door every day? Is it a window we look out when we are washing dishes? Focusing on one or two areas that we see or visit often will provide so much more beauty than the same number of plants scattered around our property. Say we decide to focus on our patio where we often sit for our morning coffee and maybe a drink in the evening. What are the conditions in the area—sunny or shading? What would liven up the space? Often a few beautiful pots with annuals can do wonders. Is there a view we would rather block? Would a few well-placed bushes hide it?

Now we may want to take a little time to do some research, So, we google shrubs for the shade, zone 5. (What is zone 5?) The zone we live in gives us an idea of what will grow here and is based on the average lowest temperature in an area. Most of Western Mass is zone 5 although with climate change, Hadley and Northampton may be able to grow zone 6 plants. In general, the lower the zone the hardier the plant.) When we see a plant we like we research it further: I often use the Missouri Botanical Garden site.

Now it is time to go to the nursery. So, we decide we want some pots with annuals. We look around to see what strikes our fancy. We read the tag, if it is beautiful now but it says “cool-weather annual” we know the plant will likely fade away in July. We read the tag of the plants that have not flowered yet. We google a plant we like to see what its requirements are.

We see beautiful annuals and perennials in large pots—wouldn’t those look nice near our patio? But when we see the price, we are a bit stunned. Do we need to have flower power now or can we wait a little while? Because I buy so many plants I almost always go for the smaller, less expensive plants. For example, I buy a six pack of melampodium (see picture below) knowing they will be dinner plate-size plants in July. I buy the quart size perennials instead of the gallon size one because the following year they will both be the same size. I also buy plants that have yet to flower—I buy black and blue salvia (the absolute favorite of hummingbirds) knowing one plant will fill the pot by July and I will be thrilled by watching and hearing my hummingbirds zipping by.

Shrubs and trees are an investment so it really pays to do some more research. Find the expert at the plant nursery and get them to give you the rundown; they can be extremely helpful.

I hope this helps you have a vibrant and wonderful garden this summer!

Making it through the Winter: Starting Seeds Indoors

Making it through the Winter: Starting Seeds Indoors

To be honest, my husband and I plant seeds in March and April mainly to have something green growing! We get most of our seeds from Fedco, a cooperative in Maine that sells at very reasonable prices. Even if you don’t buy from Fedco, it is worth getting their catalog, which is illustrated in the manner of the early 1900s and has great information

If you are fortunate to have a sunny south window, you are all set. Otherwise, you need to purchase a grow light. I recommend buying a long LED full spectrum grow light, which has the advantage of producing little heat so that you can place the light close to the plants.

When it comes to growing media you can use seed starting soil, which is more finely textured, but I use regular potting soil and it works fine. I do not like to buy soil with fertilizer already in it because I like to have more control over fertilizing my plants. However, it is getting a bit harder to find potting soil without fertilizer. If you want to keep expenses down you could try soil from outside, although it is much harder to work with and has poorer results. You have a lot of options in the type of containers in which you can plant your seeds. I like seedling flats/cell packs & trays because you can fit a lot of plants into them. Sometimes I buy new ones, but often I wash and reuse those I have gotten when buying small plants or leftover containers from last year. They should be washed well with soap and water and a small amount of bleach. You need to have a tray to hold the water underneath the flat.

You then fill your containers with soil and wet the soil so that it is drenched. After the soil has drained (the bottom of the soil should never be sitting in water) you are ready to plant your seeds.

What should you plant? Some plants are super easy to grow from seed and some are extremely difficult, but the seed companies don’t tell you that. A lot of plants such as impatiens and begonias are much, much easier to grow from cuttings.

For a home enthusiast, generally. annuals that are planted six weeks before the frost date, in mid-April, are a good bet. Marigolds are far and away the most enjoyable seeds to plant especially if you have children. They come up reliably in less than a week. Look through your seed catalogs and do some investigating – does the seed need light to germinate, or will it only germinate if it is covered? What temperature is best for the plants? You can jump-start plants that like heat by having a heating pad below the containers.

If you are using seedling flats, plant two or three seeds for each cup (depending on the size of the seed and germination rate) You can place the light very close to the seeds and prop it up with bricks or other materials, even books, then move the light up as the plants grow.

Overwatering is the most common reason that seedlings don’t make it. I water from the bottom but later check to make sure there is no standing water touching the bottom of the cups.

As the plants grow, you may want to thin them by snipping one of the plants off at the soil level. (This is recommended but I have a bit of a hard time doing this.) As they grow you should transplant them into larger containers. As the weather warms in the middle of May take the plants out during the day and bring them in at night. Plant them in the garden after Memorial Day!

When to cut back perennials -- fall and spring

As we approach winter, the perennial (pun intended) question for gardeners is: should I cut back perennials or leave them to cut back in the spring? For most perennials, it is up to you—they can be cut back in the spring or fall. If plants look ratty, you may want to cut them back in the fall. (It is best to cut them all the way to the ground.) If plants are giving you some early winter interest or may have seed heads that can be food for birds, you can leave them. Another question is: do you want plants to seed themselves so that you have more volunteer plants next year or do you want to keep that in check by cutting off the seed heads or the plant to the ground? Another consideration is your schedule—the spring tends to be a very busy time for us gardeners, while the fall is much slower, so you may want to cut plants back in the fall when you have more time.

An exception is for plants with diseases—because of this summer’s excessive rain, a lot of plants have powdery mildew (white or grayish on top of the leaves) or brown spot fungus (looks like brown patches on the leaves and can turn a whole leaf brown and dead). This plant material should be cut to the ground and picked up and thrown in the garbage—you don’t want the fungus hanging on through the winter. I always dispose of the stems and leaves of my peonies in the garbage, since peonies are very susceptible to botrytis fungus. You want the ground around the peony to be clean of stems or leaves. Plants where the leaves grow close to the ground such as Hostas and Heuchera should be left until the spring.