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Some Basics About Fertilizers

At Hyannis Country Garden there’s an entire wall devoted to fertilizers. This selection is wonderful in that our customers are sure to find just the right product for their needs…but it can also be bewildering. We frequently help people who are confused about which product to buy. “Can I use this on all my flowers or just on the roses?” “Do I need a separate fertilizer for my tomatoes?” or “What’s the best one for my shrubs?” are all questions we hear frequently.

Here are a few basic tips to make your fertilizing decisions less daunting.

In general, we recommend organic fertilizers for trees, shrubs, and perennials. Organics feed these plants slowly over time and don’t push fast growth that might also be weak. You can apply an organic fertilizer such as Holly-tone (for acid loving plants and most evergreens) or Flower-tone (for all other shrubs and perennials) anytime except July, August and September. Some people choose to do lighter applications spring and fall, while others want to only spread it once in the spring.

Organic fertilizers take about 6 weeks to become available to plants so don’t expect an “overnight green-up.” With these products, slow and steady wins the race!

This section of our fertilizer department has all the Espoma products. Many of these are organic fertilizers but there are some synthetic products such as a 10-10-10 as well.

This section of our fertilizer department has all the Espoma products. Many of these are organic fertilizers but there are some synthetic products such as a 10-10-10 as well.

Most people choose to also use organic fertilizers on their vegetables. If this is your preference, mixing some Plant-tone in the bed in the spring, and following up with a liquid such as Neptune’s Harvest in the summer. Fish or fish and seaweed is an organic fertilizer that’s available more quickly than other organics, so it makes a good mid-summer feed.

These are great products to use on any of your outdoor plants. Many vegetable gardeners use fish and seaweed as their middle of the summer fertilizer.

These are great products to use on any of your outdoor plants. Many vegetable gardeners use fish and seaweed as their middle of the summer fertilizer.

Annuals tend to do better with at least some synthetic fertilizers. The combination I use is a time-release synthetic such as Osmocote, mixed with an organic such as Plant-tone. Many of the new annuals need a fertilizer that’s higher in nitrogen (the first number on the label) because they flower on new growth and the nitrogen stimulates that development. So mixing equal parts of these two products and mixing them into your containers or annual beds will provide the correct amount of fertilizer all summer long.

This synthetic fertilizer releases over time but the more frequently you water, and the higher the temperature, the faster the product is released.

This synthetic fertilizer releases over time but the more frequently you water, and the higher the temperature, the faster the product is released.

Don’t throw fertilizer in the bottom of a hole when you plant! The roots will grow away from that small deposit fairly quickly. Instead, scatter it over the entire surface of the area where plants are being installed. As you plant some of the product will get mixed into the soil and the rest will feed from the top down as it breaks down into the soil. Bio-tone is a good fertilizer to use when planting.

There are special fertilizers for just about every plant from tomatoes to cacti, but it’s possible for you to use a general product over most of your landscape and indoor plants. Come into the store and we’ll be happy to guide you to what makes most sense for your yard and gardens.

Here are some general recommendations we make for common Cape Cod Plants.
Hydrangeas: use Holly-tone if you want them to stay blue.
Perennials: Flower-tone
Rhododendrons and Holly: Holly-tone
Trees: Flower-tone or Holly-tone
Roses: Rose-tone

Never assume that you know what your soil fertility is! Taking samples and having soil tested every two to three years is always a good idea. The University of Massachusetts Soil Testing Lab is the place to send samples, and full instructions can be found on their website.

Coast of Maine has some excellent organic fertilizers that target specific nutrients.

Coast of Maine has some excellent organic fertilizers that target specific nutrients. Once you have your soil test results you’ll know if one of these is the best for your garden.

We have a wide selection of fertilizers, both organic and synthetic, and we can help you find just the right product for your plants.

We have a wide selection of fertilizers, both organic and synthetic, and we can help you find just the right product for your plants.

Now the answers to those common questions we started out with.

“Can I use this on all my flowers or just on the roses?” You can use Rose-tone or other rose fertilizers for your other perennials and flowering shrubs.

“Do I need a separate fertilizer for my tomatoes?” No, you can use any general fertilizer for all the vegetables in your garden, or you can use Tomato-tone on the entire veggie garden, not just the tomatoes.

“What’s the best one for my shrubs?” In general, you could use Holly-tone for all of the shrubs that keep their leaves all winter, as well as the hydrangeas. And you could use Flower-tone on everything else.

Finally, always read the label on the product you’re using and mix or apply at the recommended rate! Too much fertilizer does more harm than good.

Your Trees Are Being Eaten

From a distance, all looks well as the grass greens up, the perennials emerge and the trees break dormancy. But a close look at the trees and roses on the Cape will show that there is trouble in paradise…winter moth  and gypsy moth larvae have both hatched and are eating away.

Here are just two examples from a birch tree and a beach on my property in Sandwich. The larvae are very small right now, and are taking small bites. But as they grow they will do more damage, so treating with Captain Jacks (active ingredient, spinosad) at this point will help prevent greater loss of leaves. I spray smaller trees and roses with a pump sprayer, and larger trees with a hose-end sprayer. Even if you can’t spray the entire large tree, a great number of larvae will be killed by covering the bottom most branches. Using Trubo spreader sticker in either sprayer is a good idea as it helps the spinosad stick on the leaves.

Here are the tiny gypsy moths at work on a birch leaf. They aren't noticeable from a distance, but up close you can see them and the small holes they're making in the leaves.

Here are the tiny gypsy moths at work on a birch leaf. They aren’t noticeable from a distance, but up close you can see them and the small holes they’re making in the leaves.

From a distance this beech tree looks just fine, but when you look closely you'll find tiny holes that show the presence of the winter moth larvae.

From a distance this beech tree looks just fine, but when you look closely you’ll find tiny holes that show the presence of the winter moth larvae.

Look closely at your maple trees, crabapples, pears, birch and roses. Treat the plants before or after they bloom so that you won’t spray wet spinosad onto foraging bees. (Dry spinosad isn’t a problem but avoid spraying when bees are on a plant.)

Captain Jack's Deadbug Brew and Turbo are the products of choice for both winter moth and gypsy moth larvae, and it's most effective when the larvae are small.

Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew and Turbo are the products of choice for both winter moth and gypsy moth larvae, and it’s most effective when the larvae are small.

Terrific Tulips and Tulip Troubles

Recently I sat on my deck and watched the first hummingbird of the season visit my trough of tulips. For the entire month of April the developing tulips have made me smile. Elsewhere in the yard their cheerful flowers bloom red, yellow, pink and purple, complementing the daffodils and other spring flowers. Tulips are terrific.

Some people have trouble with tulips, however, so here are a few tips about possible tulip problems.

  • Our customers ask: “I got some flowering tulips this spring – can I plant them outside?” Yes! Place them in the ground asap. Bury the bulb down about 6″ however – you’ll see that you’ll be burying part of the leaves, but that’s OK. It’s better for the bulb to be at the proper depth. Don’t cut the leaves or stem off – leave these in place, and after watering well apply some liquid fertilizer to help boost the strength in the bulb. Wait to remove the stem and leaves until after they’ve turned yellow.
  • “I planted tulips last fall and the squirrels dug them up!” Squirrels are curious when they sense disturbed soil. They think there might be a tasty nut or some other treasure there, so they dig the bulb up and toss it aside. To prevent this in future years, water the area well after planting bulbs to settle the soil and then apply a layer of animal repellant over the surface after watering.
  • “Something snapped the heads off my tulips!” This is the most frustrating thing! You just begin to enjoy the cheerful tulip colors and something either breaks them or eats the flowers. Deer and woodchucks eat tulip flowers. Occasionally a rabbit will nibble the tulip bloom but they don’t usually eat the entire flower at one sitting. Use a deer and rabbit repellant in the future, spraying the entire plant early as the tulips just come up. If the flowers are left lying on the ground, that’s most likely the work of squirrels. No, they aren’t just being vandals…they are drinking the water that flows up the stem! Sprinkle new tulips with red pepper or spray with a repellant that contains cayenne pepper.
  • “My tulips stopped flowering. I only have foliage now.” Some tulips are more prone to returning for several years, and others might only last two or three seasons. For the longest lasting tulips, look for Darwin hybrids. Even these tend to peter out after four years, however. For the best tulip displays, plant some every fall. Additionally, when the tulips have finished flowering leave the stems and foliage in the garden and fertilize with the liquid fertilizer of your choice. The stem and foliage will be building up strength in the bulb for next year.
  • “I put tulips in my containers in the fall and they rotted.” To have bulbs last over the winter in a container, use a very large pot or box and fresh soil. Be sure that there is at least one drainage hole. Used soil doesn’t drain well because the roots of the plants that formerly grew there prevent the water from moving through the soil quickly.
    Tulips attract hummingbirds to the spring garden. They are good cutting flowers, and are a cheerful sight in the landscape for at least four weeks.

    Tulips attract hummingbirds to the spring garden. They are good cutting flowers, and are a cheerful sight in the landscape for at least four weeks.

    Tulips that grew in pots can be transplanted into the yard and garden. Leave the green foliage on until it turns yellow.

    Tulips that grew in pots can be transplanted into the yard and garden. Leave the green foliage on until it turns yellow.

Plants For More Landscape Color

One of the things that many of our customers request is “More color!” Usually they are talking about flowers, of course. We all want something that’s in bloom in every month of the year. But along with planning for plants that will flower, remember to look at foliage color and texture. If your garden is planted with a range of leaf colors and sizes, your landscape will always have color whether the plants are in bloom or not.

The wonderful thing is, it isn’t hard to find plants that have colorful foliage. I took a quick walk around the garden center today, and here is just a fraction of the plants that I saw that can bring color into Cape Cod landscapes.

Blue Star junipers have lovely blue-gray foliage. They are low growing, and good for sunny areas. Plant these near plants with reddish foliage for a perfect combination.

Blue Star junipers have lovely blue-gray foliage. They are low growing, and good for sunny areas. Plant these near plants with reddish foliage for a perfect combination.

You might want that Blue Star Juniper planted in front of a dark-leafed ninebark, for example. There are several varieties of Physocarpus opulifolius with purple, red or almost black leaves. This one is Summer Wine, which grows about four to five feet tall and six feet wide. Not only do they have nice red leaves, but they also produce pinkish-white flowers in June!  Plant ninebark in full sun.

You might want that Blue Star Juniper planted in front of a dark-leafed ninebark, for example. There are several varieties of Physocarpus opulifolius with purple, red or almost black leaves. This one is Summer Wine, which grows about four to five feet tall and six feet wide. Not only do they have nice red leaves, but they also produce pinkish-white flowers in June! Plant ninebark in full sun.

Want even more color in a full sun? Gold Mop Chamaecyparis (aka false cypress) has bright yellow foliage and an interesting, shaggy texture. A word of warning about this plant, however: it does NOT say a low, cute golden mop. It grows into a beautiful, 5 foot tall and wide golden mop, so place it accordingly! People who try to keep this plant small by shearing it annually end up removing the very thing that makes it attractive...that bright, shaggy foliage.

Want even more color in a full sun? Gold Mop Chamaecyparis (aka false cypress) has bright yellow foliage and an interesting, shaggy texture. A word of warning about this plant, however: it does NOT say a low, cute golden mop. It grows into a beautiful, 5 foot tall and wide golden mop, so place it accordingly! People who try to keep this plant small by shearing it annually end up removing the very thing that makes it attractive…that bright, shaggy foliage.

Sempervivum, aka hens-and-chicks, come in a variety of colors. These are great plants to tuck in rock walls, or plant in hot, dry locations. You can even grow them in containers if you want a drought-tolerant windowbox or urn.

Sempervivum, aka hens-and-chicks, come in a variety of colors. These are great plants to tuck in rock walls, or plant in hot, dry locations. You can even grow them in containers if you want a drought-tolerant windowbox or urn.

Dappled willows are especially beautiful in the spring when the new foliage is pink and white. Salix 'Hakuro Nishiki' is available in shrub or tree form.  Note that the shrub should be pruned by taking the oldest branches out near to the ground, which will stimulate growth on the top. if this plant is just sheared every year it has less color since the new growth is the most colorful. Both shrub and tree form should be pruned by removing about 1/4 of the growth every year, selecting the oldest stems.

Dappled willows are especially beautiful in the spring when the new foliage is pink and white. Salix ‘Hakuro Nishiki’ is available in shrub or tree form. Note that the shrub should be pruned by taking the oldest branches out near to the ground, which will stimulate growth on the top. if this plant is just sheared every year it has less color since the new growth is the most colorful. Both shrub and tree form should be pruned by removing about 1/4 of the growth every year, selecting the oldest stems.

You say you've got shade? There are many plants with colorful foliage that prefer part to full shade. This yellow Carex, for example, is just one of the many sedges that will brighten up your shade garden. Pair this with some blue hosta and you've got a stunning combination!

You say you’ve got shade? There are many plants with colorful foliage that prefer part to full shade. This yellow Carex, for example, is just one of the many sedges that will brighten up your shade garden. Pair this with some blue hosta and you’ve got a stunning combination!

No shade garden is complete without a few Heuchera! Coral bells used to come in green, green or green, but now our perennial section is packed with coral, red, purple, lime and golden heucheras.

No shade garden is complete without a few Heuchera! Coral bells used to come in green, green or green, but now our perennial section is packed with coral, red, purple, lime and golden heucheras. Some have white flowers, and others have pink to peach blossoms. 

Bright gold foliage and sweet pink heart flowers. How can you not love Dicentra 'Gold Heart' in the shade garden?

Bright gold foliage and sweet pink heart flowers. How can you not love Dicentra ‘Gold Heart’ in the shade garden?

This time of year is so exciting at the garden center as trucks roll in almost daily. Stop in and see what a rich palette of colorful foliage is available for your garden.

Passionate About Peonies

At this time of year the perennials are arriving at Hyannis Country Garden, and among all the wonderful new cultivars one old-fashioned plant remains a favorite. Many employees and customers alike are passionate for peonies! Here are some tips for success with these plants.

  • Always grow peonies in the full sun. If your plants have stopped flowering, take a hard look at the amount of sun they receive. Many times as surrounding trees and shrubs grow, our flower gardens become more shaded without our noticing. So make sure your peonies are still getting at least 6 hours of dead on sun including the noon hour.
  • Plan for staking large-flowering peonies early, before the blooms get heavy. Come into the store and find the tallest, sturdiest grow-through support and put it in place now.
  • Many worry too much about planting peonies too deeply. Just remember this: you don’t want the top of the root (usually an orange color  and thicker than your fingers) to show on the surface – you want the tops of those thick roots to be about an inch or two under the surface. The depth isn’t as touchy as many people think, but keep it in mind when planting.
  • Amend a really large area with compost before planting peonies, and fertilize lightly once a year with Flower-tone or Rose-tone.
  • When your peonies are placed in the garden, assume that each one will grow at least three feet tall and four feet in diameter.
    Watch as the bud develop. If the weather is cold and wet, spray early in the season with Serenade to help prevent "bud blast." This is a fungal condition that makes the buds turn dark and hard before they are the size of a pea. Spraying the tops of the plants when the buds are tiny helps keep the fungus at bay in cool, wet springs.

    Watch as the bud develop. If the weather is cold and wet, spray early in the season with Serenade to help prevent “bud blast.” This is a fungal condition that makes the buds turn dark and hard before they are the size of a pea. Spraying the tops of the plants when the buds are tiny helps keep the fungus at bay in cool, wet springs. And by the way…ant’s do not help peony buds to open. The ants are just there to eat the sugary plant sap.

    Double-flowering peonies such as this Festiva Maxima are the most likely to need support. Do it before the flowers are this large if possible.

    Double-flowering peonies such as this ‘Festiva Maxima’ are the most likely to need support. Do it before the flowers are this large if possible. These are also the most fragrant, by the way.

    Single flowering peonies don't usually need staking. They are also lovely, and are just as good in bouquets.

    Single flowering peonies don’t usually need staking. They are also lovely, and are also good in bouquets.

    I don't know about you, but a big bouquet of peonies makes me feel like a wealthy woman. Their fragrance fills the house.

    I don’t know about you, but a big bouquet of peonies makes me feel like a wealthy woman. Their fragrance fills the house.

    So if you have a sunny spot, plant some peonies – be sure to have enough for enjoying them on the plant as well as cutting for in the house.

     

Landscape Consultations ~ Cape Cod

Here’s a question that I hear frequently: “Do you do consultations?” I consider Country Garden’s on-site consultation service to be another way we can live up to our company motto: Large enough to serve you, small enough to know you.

Many of our customers can be helped right in the nursery and store. Most of our employees are happy to look at a photo or two on a phone or iPad and make plant recommendations. We often identify plants from samples brought in, and are frequently asked for disease or insect problem solvers based on an example or a photo. But on many occasions, being on the customer’s property is far more helpful.

Most of the time when I’m on a consultation, I’m there for several reasons. The customer might want a new foundation planting design, but while I’m there they will ask for the identification of a plant they aren’t familiar with and some advice about pruning a tree or shrub.

Designing is easier onsite because we can all clearly see the conditions that will determine which plants will do well. Knowing how the trees in the area are shading the plantings, for example, or seeing that the soil is especially thin and sandy is important when recommending plants and landscaping practices. And being on the property to notice which windows have an important view, or which areas are most in need of privacy, for example, is key since these things aren’t usually conveyed in a photo.

I have found that it’s also important to be on the site with my client so that I can offer two or three suggestions about plants and use of space and learn which of these options best resonates with the homeowners. Often, since I’m looking at the property with “fresh eyes” I can suggest design and plant options that they haven’t thought of.

Before investing money and time in new plantings, many find it useful to “get a second opinion.” Sometimes I even act as an arbitrator between spouses who have opposite opinions about what should be done. (This never surprises me…my husband and I disagree about the gardens all the time!) Rather than have one person feeling like he or she has “given in,” they have me tell them what should be done…and frankly, often it’s a solution that neither of them has thought of.

Here’s a few tips for success if you’re hiring a landscape consultant, whether it’s myself or someone else:

  • If there are a few plants you know you’d love to have, make a list of those before the meeting. That’s not to say that they can always be used, because a good consultant will only recommend plants that they know are likely to live and thrive on your property. But knowing what plants you like helps everyone start out with a good idea of your general sensibility.
  • If there are plants you really don’t like, make a list of those as well.
  • Know that groups of three or more plants usually look better than one or two. So if the designer recommends three, don’t buy two and expect to have the same look.
  • If the designer draws plants as placed in a triangle or staggered planting, don’t place them in a straight line.
  • Plantings might look a little sparse when they are first installed…in fact, it’s better when that’s the case as you know the plants will have space to grow. Fill in with low, understory ground cover or perennials while the taller plants fill in.
  • Like many designers, I often recommend a “named cultivar” which is a specific variety of a plant. If I’ve recommended a ‘Magic Carpet’ spirea instead of other spireas, for example, I do so for a reason. The named variety has particular characteristics that will function or look better in the landscape. Often these are size of growth, color of foliage or flower and overall performance of the plants. In the example given ‘Magic Carpet’ stays shorter, has brightly colored foliage and is a very strong grower…there are many other wonderful spirea shrubs, but where a specific size and color are important, that might be the only one that fits. So pay attention to the names and don’t be quick to substitute any other plant.
    Some need an entire landscape design. These might take two to three hours. Call a designer when the house is finished. I'm frequently asked to come when it's time to settle on the size and shape of patios, placement of walk ways and the choice of trees.

    Some need an entire landscape design. These might take two to three hours. Call a designer when the house is finished. I’m frequently asked to come when it’s time to settle on the size and shape of patios, placement of walk ways and the choice of trees. It’s also helpful for many of my clients to have a priority list. “This year it’s important to do a, b and c,” for example, “and next year you’ll plant d, e, and f. The third summer you might want to think about x, y and z.” 

    Once a foundation planting is over 25 years old it's often time to pull it out and replant. Sometimes the plants have just gotten bare or broken, and other times they are just too big. Fortunately the range of plants that stay shorter has grown every year as more new varieties are introduced. So a foundation planting can be designed that won't require shearing the plants and fighting their size.

    Once a foundation planting is over 25 years old it’s often time to pull it out and replant. Sometimes the plants have just gotten bare or broken, and other times they are just too big. Fortunately the range of plants that stay shorter has grown every year as more new varieties are introduced. So a foundation planting can be designed that won’t require shearing the plants and fighting their size. When I draw up a plant it’s pretty much to scale, on graph paper, and it contains the names of plants that would do well on that particular site, the shape of the beds and other general recommendations for success.

    I frequently do consultations for people who have bought a house with established landscaping and don't know what's growing in their yard or how to take care of it. "This is a beautyberry" I said to this client.

    I frequently do consultations for people who have bought a house with established landscaping and don’t know what’s growing in their yard or how to take care of it. “This is a beautyberry” I said to this client.

    If you’re interested in scheduling a consultation, know that I’m commonly booking two to three weeks in advance during the spring season. You can reach me by leaving a message at the store. Read more about the Hyannis Country Garden consultation and design services here.

Can I Plant My Gift Hydrangea Outside?

Before Easter and Mothers Day our greenhouse is filled with beautiful potted Hydrangea plants. These make lovely gifts but since they are raised in a greenhouse, and are in flower months before their natural blooming time when grown outdoors, many wonder if it’s possible to keep them and plant them in the landscape later.  Here are some tips for success:

Our greenhouse is filled with beautiful flowering plants for the spring holidays. They make great hostess gifts, and color to lift spirits on rainy April days.

Our greenhouse is filled with beautiful flowering plants for the spring holidays. They make great hostess gifts, and color to lift spirits on rainy April days.

  1. Most hydrangeas that are sold as gift plants are hardy on Cape Cod. Like other Hydrangea macrophylla, they will form flower buds in August that will open the following summer. These buds are vulnerable to cold damage if the temperatures drop below 10 degrees in the winter. So like all of our pink and blue hydrangeas, these will have reduced flowering the summer after a cold winter.
  2. Potted Hydrangea plants dry out quickly. This is the most challenging thing about keeping them indoors in April and May. The best thing to do is to immediately transplant your greenhouse Hydrangea into a slightly larger pot. Be sure the pot you use is about an inch larger on all sides and has a drainage hole. Use fresh potting soil to fill the spaces, and don’t cram it in too firmly…pushing the potting soil in a pot squeezes the air out, and those small air spaces are important because that’s where the water flows and the roots grow.
  3. After repotting, keep your Hydrangea in a bright location but not in the sunniest window you have. An Eastern facing window is perfect. Plants will also thrive when near but not directly in a Southern or Western window.
  4. Water your Hydrangea when the soil starts to feel dry – do not let it dry to the point of wilting. Do not have the pot sit in a saucer of water for longer than an hour as this may cause roots to rot.
  5. At the end of May, put your Hydrangea outside in a part-shade location during the day and bring it in at night for a week. After that week, plant your Hydrangea in a place where it will get morning sun and afternoon shade. Keep in mind that most Hydrangea shrubs grow at least four feet high and wide, so don’t let its current small size fool you.
    Red toned Hydrangea flowers will be a dark purple or blue in our naturally acidic soils. If the soil remains alkaline the flowers will stay red or pink.

    Red toned Hydrangea flowers will be a dark purple or blue in our naturally acidic soils. If the soil remains alkaline the flowers will stay red or pink.

    These greenhouse-grown hydrangeas may not produce more flowers this summer but given the right location and winter weather they will grow and flower the following year.

    These greenhouse-grown hydrangeas may not produce more flowers this summer but given the right location and winter weather they will grow and flower the following year.

    Hydrangeas don’t make great houseplants long-term. But if you live in areas where the winter temperatures go below 5 degrees on a regular basis, you can plant these in pots and over-winter them in a garage or other area where they can be dormant but not go much below 30 degrees. They will leaf out in the garage in March – don’t worry – just keep the soil damp but not swampy wet and put the plants outside once all danger of frost is past. They should come into flower in late-June or early July. Fertilize with equal parts Osmocote and Holly-tone or Flower-tone (one tablespoon each per pot) applied when you place the pot outside for the summer.

What To Do In The Landscape In Early Spring

Thank goodness the temperatures are starting to rise on Cape Cod because there is so much to be done in the yard and garden. Here is a pictorial to-do list for the first week of April:

1. Rake leaves where they have gathered and cut old perennials that have remained in the garden all winter down to the ground. This goes for ornamental grasses as well. Get them cut this week!

This perennial sedum is starting to break dormancy at the base of the plant - see the green? Many perennials are starting to grow, so it's important to get the leaves out and cut old stems down asap.

This perennial sedum is starting to break dormancy at the base of the plant – see the green? Many perennials are starting to grow, so it’s important to get the leaves out and cut old stems down asap.

Any perennials that have winter damage should be cut back to get rid of those browned leaves. This Epimedium ground cover (one of the best weed-smothering ground covers for shade) is an example. Using hedge trimmers makes the job go quickly.

Any perennials that have winter damage should be cut back to get rid of those browned leaves. This Epimedium ground cover (one of the best weed-smothering ground covers for shade) is an example. Using hedge trimmers makes the job go quickly.

2. Spread a one inch layer of compost on top of the soil around perennials, shrubs and trees. If you normally mulch do this before the mulch goes down. You can use bagged compost such as Quoddy Blend from Coast of Maine, or have bulk compost delivered. Call the store for pricing on bulk compost. This is one of the best things you can do for your garden. Note: if you haven’t spread fertilizer yet, do so before the compost goes down. I use Flower-tone on perennials and deciduous shrubs, and Holly-tone around evergreens and hydrangeas. It’s too early to spread synthetic fertilizer but these organics can be applied now.

Here is a tree we were spreading compost around last week. Note that we didn't pile it against the trunk and were careful to feather it down by the "root flare." We continued to spread it around this tree so that it went beyond the dripline. An inch of mulch will top this compost.

Here is a tree we were spreading compost around last week. Note that we didn’t pile it against the trunk and were careful to feather it down by the “root flare.” We continued to spread it around this tree so that it went beyond the dripline. An inch of mulch will top this compost.

3. Look for invasive shrubs and vines that the birds have “planted” in your landscape. Bittersweet, Rosa multiflora, and honeysuckle are just three of the problem plants that grow from seeds deposited when birds sit in our shrubs and trees. Now is the time to look closely at your plants so that these invasives don’t take over! Use a sharp by-pass lopers to cut them off at ground level. Note that it’s likely that you’ll have to repeat this cutting a few times over the course of the summer to be sure the plants are gone.

Japanese honeysuckle is easy to spot because it breaks dormancy before other plants. If you see stems that look like these among your shrubs, cut them off. They are not part of the shrubs you planted, and they will take over those more desirable plants if you don't get rid of them.

Japanese honeysuckle is easy to spot because it breaks dormancy before other plants. If you see stems that look like these among your shrubs, cut them off. They are not part of the shrubs you planted, and they will take over those more desirable plants if you don’t get rid of them.

4. Prune roses when you can see the red shoots. They will be starting to break dormancy soon. Be sure to remove all deadwood first.

See the gray stems on this rose bush? That's deadwood. Cut it all out.

See the gray stems on this rose bush? That’s deadwood. Cut it all out. And in most cases roses don’t get pruned way down…every red bud on a rose bush will grow into stems with roses at the end, so the shorter you make the plant the fewer flowers you’ll have.

5. Watch for the hatch of the winter moth larvae! Soon they will be hatching and you’ll want to spray maples, roses, cherries, birches and any other plant they ate last year. Make sure you have Captain Jack’s Deadbug Brew on hand.

If you're getting ready to spray trees you'll want the concentrate or hose-end sprayer.

If you’re getting ready to spray trees you’ll want the concentrate or hose-end sprayer.

 

 

Watering 101

Last week we had our employee training day at HCG, which gathers everyone together to jump-start the growing season. One of the things on the list every year to to bring all of our Green Team members up to speed on some of the issues that concern our customers. On the agenda this year, was watering.

Here is what we talked about.

Why should we care about watering?
Watering is the #1 Place where people go wrong with plants – too little or too much: either will kill plants.

What do we all need to know?
Watering too frequently for a short time creates shallow root systems. (Typical for automatic irrigation systems.) Plants with shallow roots are more vulnerable to pests, storms, winter-kill and drought.

Frequent Splashing and Leaf Fungus
Watering too frequently causes leaf spot and other fungal problems on all plants. Every lawn disease in the book lists too much/frequent water as a contributing or causing factor.

Ideal Rainfall
If Mother Nature provides an inch of rain (measured in a rain gauge in a 24 hour period) we wouldn’t have to water established plants. A rain gauge is a must-have tool for every homeowner. An inch of water in a can, bucket or wheelbarrow isn’t the same measurement because the openings are larger. A rain gauge measures a cubic inch of rain as it falls on a square inch of soil and the opening and markings are calibrated for that.

Weekly, Deeply
A deep, longer soaking less often is better than a little every other day. Deep watering makes deeper root systems. How long does it take to get a deep soaking? It depends on how much your your irrigation system or sprinklers deliver…so there’s no one answer to this that will be correct for everyone. Place your rain gauge out under your sprinkler and measure how much your system is delivering in a half hour.

Stop Hand Watering!
Hand watering is fine for newly placed plants and seedlings but is never enough for established plants – if you hand water you’re just wasting your time and the water used. People get bored long before a deep soaking is delivered, and they direct water only to the center of the plant. Roots go out beyond the drip-line on all plants…hand watering never addresses this well.

What about containers?
Watering containers too quickly leaves bottom or interior roots dry. Very dry containers have space between the soil and the container, and water runs out that space. Water a dry pot or box well, then come back in a few minutes and do it again.

More Tips for our customers:
Get a timer so you can set a sprinkler for a long time.

Use a sprinkler under trees and soak deeply once a week, instead of hand-watering at the base of the tree only.

Wrap a soaker hose around newly planted shrubs or trees, and coil it beyond the drip-line so that the soil to the sides of the rootball get soaked too. That way the roots will grow into the area around the rootball.

Apply an inch of compost or composted manure around all plants once a year. Top that with an inch or two of mulch.

Don’t have a rain gauge? Come on into the store and pick one up – then you’ll be in the know and prepared for smart watering!

You might notice that some rain gauges have the One Inch mark higher than an inch. That's because these gauges have larger opening on top. The markings are calibrated to accurately measure one cubic inch of rain that falls on one square inch of soil.

You might notice that some rain gauges have the One Inch mark higher than an inch. That’s because these gauges have larger opening on top. The markings are calibrated to accurately measure one cubic inch of rain that falls on one square inch of soil.

Green Team member Alan Budney knows that container plants need more than a "lick and a promise." A dry container might need two soakings in order to saturate the root ball. He also knows that sometimes it's necessary to stick that watering-wand under the leaves so that he's sure that the water is drenching the soil, not the foliage.

Green Team member Alan Budney knows that container plants need more than a “lick and a promise.” A dry container might need two soakings in order to saturate the root ball. He also knows that sometimes it’s necessary to stick that watering-wand under the leaves so that he’s sure that the water is drenching the soil, not the foliage.

One problem with automatic irrigation is that sometimes it comes on in less-than-optimal conditions. Here you can see that strong winds are carrying the water up into the air and away from the lawn! This homeowner might assume the irrigation watered the turf but in truth the water blew away.

One problem with automatic irrigation is that sometimes it comes on in less-than-optimal conditions. Here you can see that strong winds are carrying the water up into the air and away from the lawn! This homeowner might assume the irrigation watered the turf but in truth the water blew away.

On This Day In History

I have to say that digital photography is wonderful. We can see our photos immediately and don’t have to wait for slides or prints to be processed. We can shoot many more photos than we need and delete those that aren’t good without cost. And we can easily scroll back through our photo libraries to see what was happening in the the same time period in years past.

For today’s post I thought it would be interesting to compare what was happening in the landscape on this day from 2010 on. Is this weather really quite unusual? Are our plants further along than normal because it was so warm in January and February?

I went back into my photos and pulled out a few that were taken between March 12 and 14th from 2010 onward. Here’s what I discovered.

In 2010 the moss and lichens were some of the most beautiful parts of the landscape. These would be catching my eye today too, if they weren't buried by snow!

In 2010 the moss and lichens were some of the most beautiful parts of the landscape. These would be catching my eye today too, if they weren’t buried by snow! Moss is always a vibrant green in March.

In 2010 I was starting seeds. My tomatoes were growing in my basement under lights, and this crate of lettuce greens was started in my solar-heated shed. Today, in 2017, I also have seeds inside under lights (tomatoes and peppers) and lettuce in the shed.

In 2010 I was starting seeds. My tomatoes were growing in my basement under lights, and this crate of lettuce greens was started in my solar-heated shed. Today, in 2017, I also have seeds inside under lights (tomatoes and peppers) and lettuce in the shed.

On March 13 in 2011 my witch hazel ('Arnold's Promise) was quite a bit smaller and in full flower. This year, 2017, it's almost done flowering. In fact, it came into flower 2 weeks earlier this than normal this year.

On March 13 in 2011 my witch hazel (‘Arnold’s Promise) was quite a bit smaller and in full flower. This year, 2017, it’s almost done flowering. In fact, it came into flower 2 weeks earlier this than normal this year.

In 2011 there was no sign of my spring bulbs on March 13th. Today, this garden (under the snow) is filled with daffodil and allium foliage.

In 2011 there was no sign of my spring bulbs on March 13th. Today, this garden (under the snow) is filled with daffodil and allium foliage.

In 2012 the daffodils were about three inches tall on March 12th. Note that there are also several small chickweed plants in this photo. In 2017 the chickweed in my garden is much larger and many plants are already flowering! So our warm weather this winter has been very kind to the weeds.

In 2012 the daffodils were about three inches tall on March 12th. Note that there are also several small chickweed plants in this photo. In 2017 the chickweed in my garden is much larger and many plants are already flowering! So our warm weather this winter has been very kind to the weeds. My daffodils are about 4″ tall as I write this. They aren’t bothered by the snow covering at all.

On this day in 2013 my pink hellebores were in full bloom. They are today too, although last Friday's storm has temporarily covered them. These Hellebores are Helleborus niger, aka the Christmas Rose. This particular plant comes into bloom in late February every year, while some other H. niger start flowering in December.

On this day in 2013 my pink hellebores were in full bloom. They are today too, although last Friday’s storm has temporarily covered them. These Hellebores are Helleborus niger, aka the Christmas Rose. This particular plant comes into bloom in late February every year, while some other H. niger start flowering in December. Once the snow melts I’ll enjoy the flowers on these plants until early May.

My Heuchera plants looked pretty winter-weary on March 13, 2013 but the Dendranthema (aka Chrysanthemum) foliage next to it was green and ready to grow. These plants look just the same this year.

My Heuchera plants looked pretty winter-weary on March 13, 2013 but the Dendranthema (aka Chrysanthemum) foliage next to it was green and ready to grow. These plants look just the same this year.

In 2014 I took photos of my Rhododendrons that show how cold the temperatures were. All my rhodys looked the same over the weekend this year as the temps plunged into the single digits again. So this year isn't much different than the past when it comes to temperature swings in early March.

In 2014 I took photos of my Rhododendrons that show how cold the temperatures were. All my rhodys looked the same over the weekend this year as the temps plunged into the single digits again. So this year isn’t much different than the past when it comes to temperature swings in early March.

On March 13th in 2014 the 'Arnold's Promise' witch hazel captured my attention. This year it's faded and almost finished flowering on that day.

On March 13th in 2014 the ‘Arnold’s Promise’ witch hazel captured my attention. This year it’s faded and almost finished flowering on that day.

In 2014 I was guessing about the state of my hydrangea flowers. The buds hadn't started to open yet...

In 2014 I was guessing about the state of my hydrangea flowers. The buds hadn’t started to open yet…

I don't have many photos of the garden from March of 2015 because much of it was covered with snow. I did have seeds started in the shed behind the dog, so that was on track as normal...

I don’t have many photos of the garden from March of 2015 because much of it was covered with snow. I did have seeds started in the shed behind the dog, so that was on track as normal…

In 2016 the Iris reticulata were in flower on March 13th. I have one flower in bloom this year, but the rest have yet to open. Once all that white stuff is gone...

In 2016 the Iris reticulata (bulbs planted in the fall) were in flower on March 13th. I have one flower in bloom this year, but the rest have yet to open. Once all that white stuff is gone…

You can see that the witch hazel was in bloom on March 13, 2016. The neighborhood fox, who we thought was nursing her young at that time, was drawn to the bench to eat the birdseed. We saw her doing the same thing last Friday as the snow fell. When you're feeding babies you are willing to eat whatever you can find I guess...

You can see that the witch hazel was in bloom on March 13, 2016. The neighborhood fox, who we thought was nursing her young at that time, was drawn to the bench to eat the birdseed. We saw her doing the same thing last Friday as the snow fell. When you’re feeding babies you are willing to eat whatever you can find I guess…

Just about every year I have a photo from Country Garden that shows flats of pansies. This year we'll get some in on the 15th, so anyone who needs a "spring fix" can come in and pick up these cheerful flowers. As soon as the soil in my urns out front thaws again, I'll be planting pansies in those containers.

Just about every year I have a photo from Country Garden that shows flats of pansies. This year we’ll get some in on the 15th, so anyone who needs a “spring fix” can come in and pick up these cheerful flowers. As soon as the soil in my urns out front thaws again, I’ll be planting pansies in those containers.

Here is my bird/fragrance garden on Friday March 10th, 2017 - in the early morning before it started to snow.  The birds seemed to know that snow was on its way, because they filled the area as soon as we put the sunflower chips on the feeder and bench.

Here is my bird/fragrance garden on Friday March 10th, 2017 – in the early morning before it started to snow. The birds seemed to know that snow was on its way, because they filled the area as soon as we put the sunflower chips on the feeder and bench. You can see in this photo that the witch hazel is beginning to fade and the bulb foliage is up. if you look closely you’ll also spot small weeds that I’ll be pulling soon.

I have several varieties of willows in my yard, but it's the black pussy willows that are most striking in the snow. I see that in this same time period back to 2010 the pussy willows were also in bloom. So whether the winter has been cold, warm or erratic, the Salix seem to keep to the same clock.

I have several varieties of willows in my yard, but it’s the black pussy willows that are most striking in the snow. I see that in this same time period back to 2010 the pussy willows were also in bloom. So whether the winter has been cold, warm or erratic, the Salix seem to keep to the same clock.

So over the past seven years it seems that although there has been a variety of weather, it hasn’t been so extreme that the plant growth has been substantially different. As we approach the ides of March, spring is moving in.

Photography Project: Begin to take three or more photos of your gardens every month on the same day. The 13th, for example. Then you can chart how your plants grow, develop and bloom over time.