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.
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:
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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! 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.
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 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. 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.
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.
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…
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…
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. 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.
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.
On Cape Cod we don’t care so much about about “Wind Chill temperatures” – we want reports on “Hydrangea Kill temperatures.” Knowing that our beloved Hydrangea macrophylla form their flower buds the previous summer, we all want those buds to make it through the winter so that our shrubs will come into bloom in the coming season. And since winter temperatures are more variable lately, alternating from unusually warm and then plunging down to frigid, we’re even less sure about Hydrangea flowering than we used to be.
Many of us have hydrangeas that have green buds that have been opening as if spring had arrived. We worry that last weekend’s plunge down to 12 degrees or colder might have ruined the flowering again this summer.
Bottom line? It’s still too early to tell. The fact that the buds might still be green are not a sure sign that they are still OK. Sometimes cold temperatures damage such buds to such an extent that although they look as if they have life, they never continue to open and develop. Only time will tell.
If you did wrap some of your shrubs as I did for the last weekend, be sure to remove those wrappings fairly soon. The warm sun at this time of year might actually accelerate a wrapped shrub’s bud opening, and then when you do remove the coverings the new growth will be even more vulnerable.
I wrapped two of my plants with blankets covered by a tarp. I have no idea if this will have helped or not.
Some plants still have buds that look green but they also have a bit of blackness that wasn’t there before last weekend. Only time will tell if the germ of the flower is still alive here.
Many of my plants have had buds that look like this since the fall. Again, there’s no way of knowing if these are still viable or not. It’s wait and see for these plants…
If you watched Saturday Night Live when it first came on, you will remember Gilda Radner’s character, Roseanne Roseannadanna. She had a favorite phrase: “It’s always something!” That’s how home landscapers and gardeners frequently feel. There are problems and challenges everywhere we turn. Fortunately, there are good solutions to most situations we encounter in our landscapes. Today I walked through the garden center and picked out a few problem-solving products that we want you to be aware of.
“My arborvitae have splayed open with the heavy ice and snow this winter.” Arborvitaes are multi-stemmed plants and they often can get pushed out in all directions. This soft-covered wire is perfect for winding around those multiple stems bringing them upright again. Here’s the key to success: don’t wrap this wire tight around a single stem, but coil it up like a spring around the trunks instead. At either end attach the wire to itself forming a loose ring around the starting stem that won’t become too tight over time.
“I can’t stand to pull out the tiny seedlings in the veggie garden to thin plants.” or “I have a hard time spacing the seeds out well.” Seed tape solves both of these problems. Just dig a shallow trench, lay the seed tape down and cover with soil according to the directions. The seed is already appropriately spaced in the tape. No more thinning or fumbling with fine seed!
“The bunnies are eating my bean plants!” Floating row cover is a great way to protect any vegetable plants from the rabbits. You can either drape it right over the plants or use hoops or sticks to hold it over your crops. This is an especially valuable problem solver in the veggie garden, but it can be use to temporarily protect any plant from critters. This non-woven fabric is also good for putting over seedlings in the early spring for protection from insects and cold temperatures.
“I want to run a separate hose to several areas…” Perhaps you have three or four raised beds and want to run a soaker hose through each one. Or maybe you need a hose stationed next to several groups of containers. There are many times when we wish we had four water spigots, not just one. Here is a handy tool that allows for one water spigot to be turned into four! Note that for good water pressure you’ll only want to have one on at a time.
“My knees get sore when I plant or weed.” These lightweight foam pads are easy to carry from spot to spot and will make even the rockiest ground soft for your joints. Use the large one for sitting or kneeling.
What problem are you having in the landscape or with your indoor greenery? We can help.
After the past two wind/snow/ice storms on the Cape I, like many of you, have found many twigs, branches and leaves on the ground. When walking my dog at Scorton Creek in Sandwich the ground is patterned with the tips of Norway spruce and white pines. Nature has been pruning the plants.
As homeowners and gardeners it’s sometimes easy to view this as litter instead of a “windfall.” The definition of a windfall is “a piece of unexpected good fortune, typically one that involves receiving a large amount of money.” Clearly there is no way the sticks, leaves and branches that cover the ground can be viewed in monetary terms.
We realize that the plants on Cape Cod have dealt with high winds and winter conditions as long as this land has poked out into the ocean. The “sea breeze” that we value in July and August is on hyperdrive during nor’easters and other fall or winter storms. And these winds trim plants.
Although we need to pick up dead branches in the yards in late-winter and spring, Nature has taken them off of the shrubs and trees so we don’t have to do that cleanup. And those green tips that litter the lawns under pines and spruce? Those plants will produce double the foliage next season, creating fuller, thicker plants.
The forest floor at Scorton Creek is carpeted with nature’s pruning job. These high-nitrogen needle tips will provide nutrients for the trees they came off of. And the branches that were “pruned” by Mother Nature will double their growth next year.
Your Rhododendrons might be weighed down by the snow in the winter, but that bending of their limbs does pull them to the ground creating rounder plants. We home landscapers and gardeners need to accept that a great deal of what goes on in our yards and gardens is outside of our control. And that’s not always a bad thing.
At this time of year our greenhouse has a steady supply of spring-flowering bulbs. Everyone enjoys having a pot of the small Tête-à-Tête daffodils, grape hyacinths or other signs of spring on their kitchen table or windowsill in February. But after the flowers have gone by, many wonder if they can save these bulbs for planting outside. The answer is yes. Here are some tips for success:
- Leave the stems from faded flowers on the plant. These stems usually stay green and are photosynthesizing, which creates energy that is stored in the bulb.
- Place the pot of bulbs in a sunny window. This allows the leaves and stems to produce energy. That energy will allow the bulb to grow roots once it’s planted outdoors, and to produce flowers next spring.
- Water the plant regularly and fertilize once a month. Don’t let the bulb stand in a saucer of water, which will cause root and bulb rot – water well once a week and then empty any excess water out of the saucer. Fertilize with a synthetic fertilizer such as Dyna-Gro liquid or Bonide Liquid Plant Food, mixed according to directions.
- Do not allow the pots to dry up. Do not put them in the garage or outdoors. It’s very important that you help the plants to grow and store the energy for next year because this will be their one shot to do so.
- In late-March plant the bulbs outside. Bury the bulbs 3x their height into the soil, even if it means burying part of the foliage. Most bulbs do best if planted where they will get part to full sun and have good drainage.
- Water the bulbs well after you plant them, and fertilize one more time when they are in their “new home.”
- Let the foliage die back naturally when the bulbs/plants are outside…don’t cut off the leaves until they turn yellow or brown.
Grape hyacinths will spread when grown outside, so place them where they can “travel.”
Tete-a-tete daffodils are reliably perennial in the landscape. Since they are shorter than other varieties be sure to place them in the front of flower beds.
Hyacinths are fragrant, so position them where you will pass by in the spring and enjoy their perfume.