Thursday, November 13, 2008

"You're supposed to get tired planting bulbs.

But it's an agreeable tiredness."

Gail Goodwin

Sunday, November 9, 2008

When is it too late to transplant perennials? trees? shrubs? bulbs? Bulb info, too.

Bulbs can be planted until the ground freezes. Most other plants will do better if they have time to spread their roots before the ground freezes. We recommend planting before the end of October.

If you have transplanted late in the season, be sure to water your plants daily until the ground freezes. Then give them three to six inches of mulch. Keep the mulch a few inches away from trunks and stems to discourage pests.

Some not always obvious tips for Bulbs:

  • Remember to plant pointy side up and roots down.
  • Although some bulbs will bloom in the shade, most bulbs will do best in a sunny spot. If you find that some of your bulbs aren’t flowering as well as they did, perhaps they have spindly stems, transplant them to a sunnier spot with a dose of bone meal in the soil around (but not touching) the bottom of the bulb.
  • If you don't have the specific directions handy (say you're transplanting bulbs from a few years past) a general guide is to plant bulbs 2.5 times deeper than the width of the bulb. The bigger the bulb, the deeper your hole.
  • Give your bulbs an extra treat by digging your holes or trenches a little deeper than the bulb needs to be planted, then sprinkle in some Bone Meal topped with a little soil so the bulb doesn't sit directly on the food but will reach it once it spreads its roots. The reason: Bulbs love Bone Meal in their soil, but not touching them. Direct contact with Nitrogen can burn the bulb, which only needs the phosphorus and potash from bone meal.
  • When you begin to see bulb foliage peeking out in early spring, feed them bulb food. The nitrogen builds stronger stems to support the weight of the flowers.
  • Plant crocuses and other early bloomers right in your lawn. They usually finish flowering before you’re ready to get the mower out.

Outsmart squirrels, chipmunks, mice, rabbits (rodents) and deer:

  • Blood meal helps to deter rodents, but too much may burn your plants.
  • Commercial and home-made remedies help to deter deer (Deer Away, Critter Ridder, and especially Plantskyd) and also some rodents.
  • Intersperse a variety of unappetizing bulbs (daffodils/ narcissus, hyacinths, frittilaria, windflower, dwarf iris, early stardrift, glory of the snow, and winter aconite) with the tulips and crocus that are so tasty. Now the potential diners are looking for a needle amongst your haystack of bulbs. They may eat one or two, but will most likely get discouraged before mowing down all your tulips.
  • There are hundreds of herbs and plants which deter rodents and insects including Allium (species include decorative flowers as well as chive, garlic and onion plants).
  • If you’ve had trouble with critters in the past, consider lining your planting hole with ½ inch of sharp sand or gravel or chicken wire to discourage diligent diggers.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

What to do with all those falling leaves...

The autumn leaves, falling, falling, falling....

Wondering whether it's best to rake then compost leaves or to mulch them (so they can feed your lawn as they decompose). While opinions vary, generally if your grass is still growing and there is only a light layer of leaves, you can run your mulching lawn mower over the leaves and let them feed your lawn. Caution: too thick a layer of mulched leaves can smother your lawn.

Some options for your leaves:

  • If you have a bag on your mower, bag them and add them to your compost pile.
  • Pick a crisp fall day (or two or three) and have fun raking huge piles of leaves to jump in...before composting them.
  • Make leafmold mulch by bagging your loads of leaves, making holes in the bags and storing them out-of-sight outside. Next spring mulch your garden beds with the leafmold (alkaline), or save it to use as a winter mulch.
  • Have lots of mighty oaks nearby? Concerned that the tannin (tannic acid) in oak leaves is too acidic to compost or mulch with? It's true that they contain tannin, but some of their acidity is lost in the decay process. If you are composting, sprinkle the leaves with lime or wood ash to further reduce the acid. Add a layer of dirt after each foot or so of leaves will help them breakdown more quickly.
  • While leaf blowers are an option for dry leaves, you need to justify the cost, odor, noise, and environmental impact.
  • Another option is to employ an industrious youth or two to do the dirty work for you...if you're lucky, they'll even bring their own equipment!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Best time for pruning shrubs and trees

It depends what you are pruning. Prune flowering trees and shrubs just after their period of heavy bloom. Wait until winter to prune deciduous trees (maple, oak, etc.).

· Early-flowering shrubs (Rhododendrons, Azaleas) should be pruned immediately after they have finished blooming because that's when they set the buds that will bloom next spring. Unless, of course, if it has grown out of control. You may be sacrificing some of next spring buds, but whatever you haven't cut off will still flower.

· Late-summer blooming shrubs bloom on new growth from that spring (Rose of Sharon, butterfly bush aka buddleia) so prune them anytime after they flower in late summer right up until the following spring without sacrificing any flowers.

· Deciduous trees - Autumn is NOT the ideal season to prune. When deciduous trees are dormant during the winter, it's easier to prune them without the leaves. You can see the structure of the tree more clearly, it's easier to see damage and where corrective pruning is needed. Plus without leaves, it's easier to access the parts you need access to.

· Evergreens and Shrubs should be pruned after flowering. Holly, Winterberry, etc. can be pruned late fall for Christmas decorating. Coniferous plants that put out their entire year's new growth all at once in late spring (pines, spruces, and firs) can be pruned while the new growth is still fresh and pale green. Do not prune them back to old wood because they will not produce new shoots from those sections. Prune Conifers that grow throughout the summer (yews, arborvitae, and junipers) once in early summer and again, if necessary, later in the season. They can also be pruned more heavily, down to old wood if necessary.

· Formal hedges can be pruned at any season, as needed, except at the end of summer (when pruning may encourage new growth that will be susceptible to winter damage).

  • Any time of year you can lop off any damaged, diseased or dead branches before problems spread.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

“The unmulched garden

looks to me like some naked thing

which for one reason or another

would be better off with a few clothes on.”

by Ruth Stout

Winter Mulch

Winter mulch insulates shrubs and flowers from severe temperatures and frost heaves. Repeated cycles of nightly freezing and daily thawing can heave small or shallow rooted plants out of the soil, leaving their root systems exposed. Apply winter mulch after the ground has frozen, but before the coldest temperatures arrive. In the Spring mulched soils will warm up more slowly protecting plants from sprouting before the last frost. If you applying your winter mulch before the ground has frozen:

  • The soil will stay warmer, longer, confusing your plants.
  • The soil may not freeze as deeply preventing some plants from becoming dormant during a mild winter.
  • You may inadvertently attract rodents looking for a warm over-wintering site.

Winter mulch should be loose material such as straw, hay, or pine boughs that will insulate the plants without compacting under the weight of snow and ice. Remember to leave an inch or so of space around plants to help prevent diseases flourishing from excessive humidity. Be sure to remove weeds before spreading mulch

Pine needles are a good mulch for acid-loving plants (Rhododendron, Azalea, Strawberries, Hydrangea if you want more blue). Pine needles last a long time and don’t compact easily under snow and ice. Gloves are recommended to avoid the pointy needles and pine sap.

Lawn clippings should be just 2-3” thick as it can compact and rot (slimy and smelly). Avoid lawn clippings with herbicide. Spread clippings immediately to avoid heating and rotting (more slime and odor).

Leafmold will be written about in an upcoming blog entry about raking

can be spread 3-4” deep. It is excellent material which will enrich your soil.

Leaves can be applied 3-4” deep. Best to chop dry leaves with a lawnmower or shredder in the fall and compost before spreading. Whole leaves will compact if wet or blow away if dry. Chopping will reduce the volume and facilitate composting. Also, see upcoming Blog entry about raking.

Bark chips, wood chips, or composted bark can be spread 2-3” thick. Smaller chips are easier to spread, especially around small plants. Excellent for use around trees, shrubs, and perennial gardens.When spreading mulch around trees, keep the mulch an inch or two away from the trunk.

Bark mulches are usually made from the by-products of pine, cypress, or hardwood logs. Most common are shredded bark and bark chunks. Bark mulches resist compaction, and will not blow away.. Some shredded barks, such as cypress, decompose slowly. Bark chunks (also called nuggets or decorative bark) decompose most slowly but do tend to wash away.

Wood chips can be gathered inexpensively from your town or utility company for little or no cost. They make an excellent mulch that resists compaction, stays put, and weathers to a nice gray. Warning, these can contain seeds from trees and other plants that can sprout and create weed problems, and attract pests.

Straw makes a good winter mulch. It is inexpensive, suppresses weeds, conserves moisture, and insulates well. On the other hand, it is not very attractive, may contain crop seeds, and is extremely flammable. It is important to purchase "straw" rather than "hay," as hay contains many weed seeds. Mulch 6 to 8 inches deep.

Use a Permanent Mulch wherever you want year-round mulch that doesn't have to be disturbed (along paths, around trees and shrubs). Permanent mulches still need to be replenished annually. Keep the depths less than 4 inches.

“A friendship can weather most things and thrive in thin soil;
but it needs a little mulch of letters and phone calls
and small, silly presents every so often
- just to save it from drying out completely.”
by Pam Brown