Archive for March, 2010

Early Spring Tips

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Early Spring an Omen of Things to Come?

Early spring like we are experiencing in the Northeast is always just a little bit of a tease to all us garden enthusiasts. The crocuses and daffodils are up early, forsythia coming out, everything seems to be humming along,  and all of a sudden we want to replant the whole garden. The only problem is limited plant availability. Fresh plant material is usually dug around the same time and does not hit the local nurseries until a couple of weeks later. Additionally, the grass still looks ratty and is not greening up fast enough, and nothing else seems to be growing!

Some things we can do while we wait:

1)      Dethatch your lawn; go after is with a rake and rake out all those dead blades that the grass failed to consume for one reason or another.

2)      Give your lane a little nitrogen boost. This can be done with corn gluten which will also inhibit weeds from germinating.

3)      Transplant that tree or bush you have been  wanting to move for the last year. Now is the time to do it and it will make space for  the new plant material your anxious to get this spring.

4)      Hand weed or spot spray weeds before they get going. Hand weeding may be more labor intensive, but it will spare those good microbes in the sol that even a little spot spraying will kill.

5)      Prune out deadwood from hedges and ornamental trees

6)      Give deciduous hedges like privet a hard prune (but leave alone spring bloomers like forsythia)

7)      Go buy a composter and start composting your organic waste for re-use in the garden

8)      Cut back any ornamental grasses from last year, cut back damaged liriope, or dead perennials you may have missed.

9)      Spread some composted topsoil lightly over your lawn if you have poor soil quality

10)   Soil test to find out what the pH and nutrient needs of your lawns and beds are. You cant really feed the soil if you don’t know what’s in it already and if your pH is too high or low, the plants won’t be able to absorb the nutrients anyway.

With any luck, the warmer temperatures will hold and we will have a fabulous garden year!

Go to an Expert to Nurture Your Landscape

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Buyer Beware:

Out making the rounds last weekend, a Pelham resident told me they had a tree company trimming a their shrubs and fertilizing the whole property (including the lawn) organically. The shrub beds had moss growing in them indicating a pH imbalance. Basically anyplace moss grows, most plants are unable to absorb nutrients well (with a few exceptions) and the plants and/or sod fail over time. When I asked if they had ever soil tested the answer was no, but I could, and give him the results to take to them (even though they never noticed the moss or thought of soil testing). Going through the “value shopper” envelope, I found a termite pesticide company who also is applying organic fertilization for landscapes and lawn. The ad never mentions soil testing, just what a great value their organic service is. A fall out of the new economy is that companies that developed in one niche are trying to expand into others. Many of them do this with some success because consumers tend to view services as commodities. This impression is re-enforced by “mow and blow” companies that send out crews with limited knowledge. People fallaciously have the impression that anyone can plant a shrub, prune and/or shear them, and anyone can fertilize plant material. Landscapes are hopefully complex ecosystems with intricate relationships that are all impacted by any kind of change. The basis for plant health is the combination of light, water, soil, air, and human/animal interaction with plants. We cant control sun and air, we can influence soil and water. However, this should not be done lightly or randomly. If a company is fertilizing your property, or amending the soil and they have not assessed the condition of the soil, they are flying blind. Its sort of like adding oil or fuel to your engine without checking to see if you need it first, best case, the extra fuel/oil/fertilizer washes off, worst case it damages the engine or plant material. The best case scenario is not a good one for the environment, in fact, whether your organic or chemical, fertilizing with something that the soil and plants can’t absorb leads to fertilizer in the local water ways and even drinking water depending on the area.

Spring Cleaning in the Garden

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

Spring Cleaning

This week is hanging in the fifties, fine weather for moving the agenda of spring forward. Early bulbs are coming out, and forsythia is getting ready to burst forth once again. This is the ideal time to transplant  that tree or shrub that has gotten too big for its britches or that specimen plant that somehow got buried over the years.

Like many folks who are less planned about the development of their gardens than perhaps they should be, my garden is a collection of plants that have arrived in layers of inspiration. When I first worked this garden, I spent a lot of time opening it up and adding in the occasional weeping white pine or white Birch as accents. A layer of perennials  introduced by my wife Katherine were planted, and a year or two later, the next layer of rose, spirea, and some  barberry GASP -which has made it to the invasive species list. Of course the weeping white pine is now hiding in the back where no one can see it, there are perennials hiding behind shrubs, and shrubs that are edging out more perennials with their formidable development.

In some gardens, this sort of insane layering where smaller plants end up behind larger plants happens all at once due to folks hiring landscapers who have limited knowledge of plant development. This can be easily remedied of course by hiring companies that have a strong background in landscape, or garden design, and horticulture. 

In other cases,  it’s a matter of plans changing over the years, or maybe too many gardeners in one garden,  and the garden taking a new direction, again and again(and again). Regardless of the cause, inevitably many gardens end up with poor layering, and plants playing peek-a-boo out from under massively over grown shrubs.

Fortunately, spring is a terrific time to transplant just about anything and though I would love to tell you the best thing to do is make a plan of where everything will go and have at it, much like re-arranging furniture, it’s a more intuitive process then that. Yes, if you have some key pieces you want to show off, (like a weeping white pine for example), you will want to identify a focal point in the garden for that plant, but for many shrubs and perennials it really is a combination of their needs in terms of light, water, and soil, and where they will look best when layered properly. Some plants may need to go entirely. You have to have guts, Give it away, Use it, Throw it away, Sell it.

Pre- planning involves first identifying plants you want to show off, specimens, or plants that have colors you want to “punch”. Where will they go? What are the focal points, or areas that are seen from key garden entry, windows, and/or seen from multiple locations? Also, what will the proper sequence of plants be in terms of layering or height order? What textures do you want to combine or set off? For example, large leaf plants with fine leaf plants, or blue foliage plants near burgundy leafed ones. What is the bloom order and how do you want to group the plants by bloom time if this is an issue? Last of all, what’s left over and how will you use these plants. These are usually filler plants sort of like angel’s breath in a rose flower arrangement. Pre planning can be fairly loose, and you are allowed to change your mind as you go through the process.

Next, the fun part, dig it all up carefully preserving the root balls. You can leave the root balls loose if  you won’t  be moving them to many times . I like to lay all the plants on a tarp so I can see them separately from the landscape and so that I done trash the lawn in the process. Spend some time placing the plants like you would furniture. Honestly I will do a lot of my “pre” planning while I’m actually digging plants up since this is a time consuming process, and I can reminisce on what the material did last year while I dig. If your soil is not so good, this might be a  good time to mix some cow manure or composted material you have been making( since you are a dedicated reader and do everything suggested in these writings) .

Once you have an idea of where your plants are going, plant away and be sure to take this opportunity to prune back material as disturbing the roots will force the plants to re-focus their energies more on root development this spring. If you want to learn more about soil culture, composting and compost tea, there will be a “Tea Party”   at the Pelham Art Center on March 14th sponsored by Greener by Design promoting education in this area. Call 914 637 9870 if you are interested in attending. Leslie of Lola’s Tea House will also do a presentation on teas and be serving some sample tea’s there.