Archive for Garden Maintenance

Springtime Garden Reveal 2017

IMG_4756

Happy Spring- welcome to the garden!

Hi all! I think I am finally ready to show you some of the garden areas I have been working on since last fall. My goal was to open up the areas that had gotten a bit too crowded and simplify the overall design. While we walk through the yard, I’d like to show some tricks and tips that might help solve similar dilemmas that many of us deal with.

Closeup on the front corner of my yard. A row of juniper does double duty shielding the windows from headlights of vehicles rounding the corner, as well as defining the edge.

Closeup on the front corner of my yard. A row of juniper does double duty shielding the windows from headlights of vehicles rounding the corner, as well as defining the edge of the property.

I have never shown a closeup of this garden area on the blog before. It is the front corner of my front yard, where the cul-du-sac meets the street. Here on the corner a low wall of juniper bushes are very strategically placed. As cars round the corner at night into the cul-du-sac, this blocks the headlights, shielding the windows from the bright headlights. All you need is 3 or 4 foot high evergreen bushes in order to protect the house from an oncoming vehicle’s headlights. No one wants to feel like a search light is spraying the inside of your home, and this does the trick! This garden is layered with euonymous and liriope on the street side, and anchored in at the corner with a dogwood tree. We have an up-light that shines at night into the canopy of tree, which right now looks like a cloud of beautiful white blossoms.

Front walk has been opened up by removal of some larger bushes and layering in lower plant material in foreground.

Front walk has been opened up by removal of some larger bushes and layering in lower plant material in foreground.

Here is the updated front walk. I cleared out some of the jungle of large plants on either side of the Nellie Stevens holly and highlighted it by relocating the hostas to either side in a semi circle to add some visual depth  and light to that side of the walk. The liriope on the lawn side of the walk were all divided and will stay low. They will add some seasonal interest in the late summer with their purple flowers. These carry through the front of the other two garden beds on either side of the front door to create a nice flow from one garden to the next.

Here's the walkway from the other direction. You can see how it has a zig zag (not the best layout) I smoothed out the visual flow by running the liriope through all three of the front garden beds.

Here’s the walkway from the front stoop. The zig zag is not the best layout. I smoothed out the visual flow by running the liriope through all three of the front garden beds.

I inherited the layout of the walkway, but if I were to design it myself, I would have brought this odd zig zag section forward to match up with the rest of the walkway and made the whole walkway 4 to 5 feet wide. It’s always nice to be able to walk side by side with someone on a front walk, and being on the north side of the house, it would have been smarter to bring the walk out of the shadow of the house. If I ever win the lottery this is one of the things on my wish list – LOL!

 

 

 

 

Rounding  the corner the azalea is in full bloom right now, underplanted with a sea periwinkle to move your eye around to what's next.

Rounding the corner the azalea is in full bloom right now, underplanted with a sea ofperiwinkle to move your eye around to what’s next in the side garden.

This side of the east garden was opened up a bit removing some of the iris and lambsears and exending a few new waves of color into the existing design. In a couple of weeks this will be teaming in color.

This side of the east garden was opened up a bit removing some of the iris and lamb’s ears and extending a few new waves of color into the existing design. In a couple of weeks this will be teaming in color.

Moving around to the east side of the garden I have done a lot of work. There were many of the older perennials that needed dividing, and some areas requiring removal, like the lamb’s ears which never was happy in that location and the beautiful iris which were overwhelming their area. All is smoothed out, and in a few weeks this area will be teaming with color. I have simplified many of the waves of color on this side, and interspersed some of them with liriope and periwinkle which will provide more year round interest. I also want to suggest to those looking to brighten up an area that placing lighter colors or variegated plants in the dark recesses under trees will draw your eye in and create more dimension. Repeating the plant material, colors and varying the numbers of plants in a group is also helpful to pull your eye through.

One more thing worth mentioning in this region of the country and other drought-prone areas: limit the amount of lawn that is in your yard. For example, in my yard the side and back are fairly hilly, so the lawn is kept to a minimum through there, and treated more like a wide pathway flowing through the yard and the garden beds are much wider. In the front, the yard is flat, so we have kept a larger patch of lawn for activities– perfect for throwing a Frisbee, or a game of croquet. This limits the amount of water, nutrients needed, and even helps with the amount of time you need to spend mowing — bonus!

Moving around into the back garden, I’m really happy to see that all the roses I transplanted are really flourishing in the full sun. This is where I have amped up the flower power, and have sedum, orchids, astilbe, hellebores, ginger, lamb’s ears, yarrow, iris, peonies, lily of the valley and hummingbird vine. Many of these were started from gifts from my gardening friends! The idea was to have something blooming for as much of the year as possible. The only time there is a void is February, and don’t worry, I’m on it. I think I’ll add some crocus bulbs in the fall to make it year round. Will I ever be done? No, but that’s the fun for me!

 

A view of the newly revamped back yard border. It now has flowers blooming almost all year.

A long view of the newly revamped back yard border. It now has flowers blooming almost all year. It is half in full sun, and half in shade under the deck, so I’m able to have a wide variety of plant material.

Don't forget-- April showers bring May flowers! Here's a rainbow from the back deck from our last April shower-

Don’t forget — April showers bring May flowers! Here’s a rainbow from our last April shower – bring on the May flowers! Happy gardening!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

A moment in time – waiting for the cherry tree to bloom!

Anxiously waiting for the cherry tree to bloom.

Anxiously waiting for the cherry tree to bloom.

 

Every year I’m working against the clock to have the yard looking at its peak when the cherry tree blooms. This year we have had an inordinate number of warm days, and I have almost finished — well, at least the front yard. It’s hard work, but the weeding, edging, mulching (90 bags!) and lots and lots of pruning are almost completed. We have lots of people who drive by and a few who take Easter pictures here when the tree blooms coincide with Bunny Day. I think this year I was lucky that this tree is a little behind the Tidal Basin cherry trees in D.C. The cold snap and late ice and snow storm that collided with them didn’t harm mine, just delayed it a few days. For those who are as in love with these trees as I am, this is a Kwansan variety. Its double flowers are magical!

 

The “Charleston pink” phlox that surrounds the tree is at its peak right now, and the tree is hours away from exploding with color, so this is just a teaser and I will post another photo when the tree is blooming — until then, Happy Spring!

 

Update, April 6th -  The tree has started to open. I’ll post a photo each day until it’s fully open. We had an incredible Spring storm that blasted through here just now with intense wind and the darkest clouds I’ve ever seen. Everyone in its path — stay safe!

You can see now how many flowers have opened in just a day. More to come!!!

You can see now how many flowers have opened in just a day. More to come in tomorrow’s update!

 

Update, April 7th – She is now in all her glory! It’s always worth the wait. I feel so happy to have her in my garden.

Full bloom! Always worth the wait! Happy Easter everyone-

Full bloom! Always worth the wait! Happy Easter everyone…

One more close up for posterity! How I love this tree-

One more close up for posterity! How I love this tree!

 

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Making the Most of the Weirdest Weather Ever

Wild weather going from 70's to 20's with thunder, snow and hail, then back to sun- breaking records almost every day.

Wild weather going from 70′s to 20′s with thunder, snow and hail, then back to sun- breaking records almost every day.

We are having some truly crazy weather here in Mount Vernon. Over the last week, we have had a daily high of 74 degrees and a daily high 38 degrees; snow, hail, sun, and rain; and three or four days with 60+ mile an hour winds! It seems like we are having records broken every day. You never know what will be in store from one minute to the next.

I’ve been making the most of the nice days and getting lots done in the garden. There have been some interesting things — and some not so — but it’s been great to just be outside soaking it all in. Here are a few things that I’m doing here that I hope will be a useful reminder to you in your gardens.

An easy fix for mature grasses with a bare center- read all about it here!

An easy fix for mature grasses with a bare center — read all about it here!

When we’ve had a nice afternoon here and there, I managed to get at least one or two ornamental grasses trimmed down. With more than a dozen out in the garden, this is the most time consuming of all of the cutting-back tasks.  Mature grasses always start to die back in the middle after a few years, and it can start to look like a doughnut with all the growth around the edge and bare in the center. I have a tip for working with these: If you have a saws-all you can use a long blade to cut around the inner circle and remove it. This will dull the blade, but just keep it for this duty — makes it so much easier to cut out the fibrous, tough center. The bare center then can be then easily be filled in with a chunk of fresh, new growth from the outer edge, making the plant good as new.

These grasses can grow to be more than three feet in diameter in just a few years, so an alternative would be to divide it in fourths (or more) and turn one plant into many. Gardener’s gold! I have seven of them trimmed down now, so I’m well on my way. And — once you have finished trimming down the tops, don’t forget to clean out the old leaves and debris that settle in to the center during the course of the previous year. It will make the crown of the plant much healthier, and as a bonus it will look much nicer, too.

First Spring flowers are already blooming! Time to scratch up the mulch and enjoy the fresh Earth scent!

First spring flowers are already blooming! Time to scratch up the mulch and enjoy the fresh Earth scent!

Now that we are starting to have warmer days, I like to stir up the mulch. It can become so compacted over the winter when it freezes and thaws. By stirring it up, it is much more porous so the spring rains can more easily soak in. It also makes the mulch look fresh and nice.

This is also the perfect time to check on emerging bulbs and perennials. I like to take the time to clear out the branches and leaves that have blown in, and give the garden beds a good edge for the upcoming growing season. Another tip — use your senses to evaluate your soil. It should have a beautiful fresh earth scent, as you stir it up. If it doesn’t, remember where and return with some nice compost to stir in when the soil has warmed. Ditto that if you see an area where rain ponds up, or there is moss or heavy clay.

The roses are already sprouting leaves in this warm weather- time for a major pruning.

The roses are already sprouting leaves in this warm weather — time for a major pruning.

Right now is the perfect time of the year to trim up rose bushes. Leave five or so main branches, and cut out any that cross. Make your cut about 12-18″ up the branch just above an outward facing leaf bud.

Last year I heard a new tip and really like it: sprinkle cinnamon on the soil surrounding the rosebush about a foot in diameter. It keeps fungus at bay. It really works. I had no black spot at all on the leaves of the bushes where I did this.

On to a reminder about some of the ugly necessities in the garden. After 17 years, we are replacing the A/C system. I wish they lasted longer, but even though we have ours serviced every year, there are only so many years of life in them. Here’s a tip I’ve mentioned before, but bears repeating: make sure to trim any bushes or hedging back so that the unit has at least a couple of feet of breathing room around it. You will have perfect air circulation around the unit and the technicians will have room to service it.  Thank goodness for that invention, makes life so much more enjoyable!

I also made some progress clearing out a space to dedicate for storing my recycling bins and trashcan. It’s a little more visible than I’d like, so I’m still thinking about what I might do differently to improve on it.

On an exceptional day last week, we took a field trip to Mt. Vernon Estate, just down the street. More on that next time!

On an exceptional day last week, we took a field trip to Mt. Vernon Estate, just down the street. More on that next time!

In between some more wild weather, we had a beautiful day to take a field trip to George Washington’s home, Mt. Vernon. I’ll be writing the next blog on some really inventive gardening tips from there that are still valid today!

I hope you’ve been able to get out in the garden on your good days, and may we have many more to come. Enjoy!

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

My Gardening Goals and Dreams for 2017

A new year is starting- time for some new gardening goals!

A new year is starting — time for some new gardening goals!

Hi there! It’s been a hard few months for me, trying to not worry too much about the future, but I’m doing my best to re-focus on what I can do. I urge all to stay aware of clean gardening practices and what we can do for the environment: not using chemicals, recycling/composting, participating in clean-up efforts in our communities, and last but not least, sending your Senators and Representatives a call or an email asking them to keep as many environmental protections in place as they can. You can reach them all at (202) 224-3121. The Capitol operators can help you find your Senators or Representatives, even if you don’t know their names.

We have a lot of work ahead of us! I don’t mean to rant on, but really, who doesn’t want a clean and healthy world? I think we can all agree on that! I think that is my biggest dream. I hope we can curb our losses at the EPA. Climate change is real!

Here in my little corner of the world, I managed to get quite a lot finished up in 2016, but I still have so much to do. This year’s main focus is on improving the areas under and around the deck.

It was time for an edit in this garden. With more shade from a tree, it was out with the sedum and in with a transplanted rhododedron.

It was time for an edit in this garden. With more shade from a tree, it was out with the sedum and in with a transplanted rhododedron.

Here are my goals: I’ll make an designated area to place the trash can and recycling bins that is both out of sight, but still easy to roll out to the curb. This also will improve the area where I store my flower pots, extra hoses, etc.  And, there is one area I couldn’t work on last fall because I ran out of time — I need to lift some of the bricks on the back walkway and level them. After sixteen years, the ground has sunk around the plexi pipe that carries the runoff water from the downspout — should be an easy fix! Third, I will use my brick saw to cleanup the edge of the walkway where it connects to the driveway.

All the cosmetic work will boost the curb appeal, too — always a plus. When spring arrives, the garden around the base of the deck will get some annuals to really fill out the space and give some added color.  Looking at the winter garden, when most everything is bare or died back to the ground for the season, things look bleak, so I will post a  picture when everything has sprung back to beautiful life and show some before and after shots in a few months.

Here's a photo of my re make of the old planters into privacy screens. I removed the rotted supports and replaced with posts I had saved from an old job. These are buried 3 feet into the ground, no cement, so they can be re-positioned later if I want.

Here’s a photo of my re-make of the old planters into privacy screens. I removed the rotted supports and replaced them with posts I had saved. These are buried 3 feet into the ground, with no cement, so they can be re-positioned later if I want. I’ll be sure to post again when everything is in leaf and bloom, but while the bushes are bare you can see the screen more clearly.

When I manage to finish all of that, the upper trim around the house and gutter system needs a complete cleaning and painting. Lots of the basics — weeding, mulching, trimming, mowing and edging — go on pretty much year round. Here’s a winter tip to make quick work of a messy, windswept yard: We find that it is much easier to run the mower over the grassy areas every month or so even in winter to pick up the leaves that blow in and smooth out the clumps of grass than it is to rake the whole yard over and over.

Here is another area that I edited. It had become crowded and one of the bushes had died. I balanced out the azalea bushes on either side of the Holly tree and divided and replanted the hosta in a wave. An edit every few years it helps to keep things fresh.

Here is another area that I edited. It had become crowded and one of the bushes had died. I balanced out the azalea bushes on either side of the Holly tree and divided and replanted the hosta in a wave. An edit every few years it helps to keep things fresh.

Last fall I did manage to finish re-making the planters and arbors and reinstall them. Using the leftover lumber from other jobs that I had stored in the garage, I added extra posts so that the planters could be used as privacy panels (hiding the less-than-pretty necessities that are stored under the deck). Then I planted the rose bushes, which had been in pots before, and divided and replanted the liriope to fill out the garden. Also, five other areas of the garden were edited and simplified. Plants had grown so out of bounds over the years, and it was time to selectively remove and transplant many to new locations. Now there is some breathing room, with nothing crowded. I added another three cubic yards of mulch to spruce up the beds, and then the cold weather set in.

This fun garden ornament has so much personality. It spins and bobs in the wind! I would love to incorporate a few more interesting things throughout the gardens like this.

This fun garden ornament that I was gifted has so much personality. It spins and bobs in the wind! I would love to incorporate a few more interesting things throughout the gardens like this.

On the creative side of things, I’m looking forward to making some stepping stones to access some of the deeper garden beds more easily.

Lastly, I received a really fun garden ornament from my sister, and it adds so much personality to the garden. Thank you, Tracy! It makes me want to incorporate a few more special things to spice things up! More on that later…

What are your goals for 2017 out in the garden? I’d love to hear!

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

A Long Goodbye to Summer Heat

This pretty lemon/lime coleus has done well in the summer heat. Watering at least once a day has been a key!

This pretty lemon/lime coleus has done well in the summer heat — watering it at least once a day has been the key! It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, too!

Here in the mid-Atlantic, this has been a really rough summer, and the climate change has been very pronounced. Officially, it is the second hottest summer on record. With well over 50 days of temps in the mid-90′s and higher, the plants and trees are struggling — so much so that I am rethinking the location of many different plants in my garden. The micro-climate in my yard is hotter than the officially recorded temps by usually around five degrees. I think that is mostly due to the fact that we don’t have many shade trees on the property.

It’s a good time to take inventory of how the plants are faring. I think it’s interesting to compare how the same variety of plants do on various sides of the house, getting sun at different times of the day.

I am concerned about a row of euonymous that I planted along the front walk. Each spring, they start off looking amazing and full but lose their leaves by the end of summer, leaving them looking like bare stalks — not pretty. Those will be removed, and in their place I will add more liriope, and just fill the walkway garden with it, since it has done exceptionally well in that exposure.

The other hits in the front garden are the Hyacinth bean vine that I started from seed from last year’s winner, and also this gorgeous lemon/lime coleus with purple flower stalks. Both of these have been attracting butterflies and hummingbirds!

The purple flowering hyacinth vine has also come into it's prime in this heat.

The purple flowering hyacinth vine started from last year’s seeds has also come into its prime in this heat.

On the other side of the house in the east garden, I have a huge amount of beautiful white iris that are struggling in the intense amount of afternoon sun, as well as lamb’s ears that are always looking bedraggled. They will both be removed as well. The garden on that side is now getting established, and the crepe myrtle trees have grown to a point that they are blocking an unappealing view, so I couldn’t be happier about that! I might not even install anything else in that garden, and leave them some extra space. Deep watering has kept them in good health, so just adding some extra mulch is all that is needed.

The underplanted iris and lamb's ears will be removed, and give the crepe myrtles so more space. They have grown quite a lot this season.

The underplanted iris and lamb’s ears will be removed to give the crepe myrtles more space. They are exceptional trees for hot climate and have grown quite a lot this season.

 

In the back yard, I have some renovating to do. After 20 plus years, and even a move from our old house to this one, the planters we built from pressure treated wood are on borrowed time. I am rethinking how we might rework a privacy screen for under the deck, and then add to the flowering bounty underneath. The knockout roses and beautiful peonies that I currently have in pots, as well as some of the white iris I am removing from the east garden will be planted there. I’ll increase the garden’s size to accommodate them as needed. They’re my “green children” after all!

I have a couple of beautiful photos to share of the Labor Day weekend’s sunset here, and a last photo of this summer’s front door — next time you see it, it will be decked out for autumn, and hopefully a lot cooler! Until then — Happy gardening!

The setting sun on Labor Day weekend from ythe front garden.

The setting sun on Labor Day weekend from the front garden.

And a minute later-

And a minute later-

Pink glow on the front door from the setting sun- goodbye summer!

Pink glow on the front door from the setting sun — goodbye summer! Hello Fall!

 

 

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Mid-Summer Check-In

So very hot! Almost 100 outside-

So very hot! Almost 100° outside! Stay hydrated…

It’s summer, all right! With temperatures approaching 100° here, there is no more comfortable place to be than in my basement at the computer, blogging without feeling guilty that I should be out working the garden. We have just passed the 4th of July, and now we move on to the “3H” time of summer: Hazy, Hot and Humid. No matter how long you live in the D.C. area, you never really get used to it. Water of all kinds is your friend — whether it’s the beach, pool, sprinkler or hose! And, please make sure to drink your eight glasses a day; it’s not fun to get dehydrated.

 

When it gets this hot it helps to keep the moisture in by stirring  up and adding some additional mulch in thin spots. Also boost the curb appeal!

When it gets this hot, it helps to keep the weeds down and moisture in by stirring up and adding some additional mulch in thin spots. Your flowers and veggies will love it, and also boosts the curb appeal!

 

 

 

 

With the exception of a couple of weeks in early June, this has been a very rainy season for us, and that has caused not only extreme growth on established bushes and trees, but also annuals and vegetables to rot because of heat and moisture. I had to replace all of mine, but they are looking fantastic now.

I have coleus in the planters this year. I love the bright splash of color-

I have coleus in the planters this year. I love the bright splash of color, and they are very hardy in the heat-

 

 

 

 

 

After losing the first set of annuals at the front door due to too much rain, I put in coleus. Sometimes I see plants in the nursery that seem to be doing so much better than others, so that’s what I bought. I love the huge colorful leaves! I have more of it growing on the back deck and in the window box — love it there, too.

 

Please remember to set out some water in the shade for 4 footed friends- it's greatly appreciated!

Stomper would like me to request that everyone set out some water in the shade for four-pawed friends — it’s greatly appreciated!

 

I  want to put out a reminder in this heat to please keep your bird baths filled with fresh water and a dish or two of water ideally in a shady spot for the wildlife. It’s sometimes hard to find clean water this time of the year for them, and it’s much appreciated!

I find myself just trying to keep up with the weeds when it gets hot like this even though I use a weed preventer in the garden beds. I’ve been adding some extra mulch here and there where it’s become thin and stirred it with a rake in other spots for good airflow to soil. This is a good practice to get into this time of year, and it boosts the curb appeal, too!

Look what I found while weeding and edging!

Look what I found while weeding and edging!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And while I was edging the other day, I found this wonderful heart shaped rock, nature’s gift!

I have a new lawn mystery to solve. Brown spots! I think these have been caused by lawn grubs.

I have a new lawn mystery to solve. Brown spots! I think these have been caused by lawn grubs. More on this soon.

 

 

 

 

I’m noticing about 100 brown spots in the grassy areas. They can be caused by so many things: fungus from too much rain, or a dull mower blade, pet spots or grubs like fire flies. I’m not sure what is causing mine, but I’m leaning towards the grubs idea. I’ll report more on this soon, and have a remedy for you, too, when I do.

 

 

 

Until then, try to stay cool — Happy Summer!

Some 911 for the Rain Soaked Garden

Too much rain!!!!

Enough already — Too much rain!!!!

Soaking as a sponge doesn’t even come close to how damp the garden has been here in the mid-Atlantic region. With more than a month of rainy days and only a few sunny ones mixed in, some extreme measures are needed here. Almost half of the flowers that I planted ended up rotting from it all. On the other hand, it caused a lot of the established plants to grow a ton of wimpy new growth because they were growing so fast. So here’s my 911 to help manage this crazy season’s issues.

 

 

 

Remove the drain saucers from your flower pots when heavy rain is expected so that the pots do not become waterlogged.

Remove the drain saucers from your flower pots when heavy rain is expected so that the pots do not become waterlogged.

First, if you have heavy rain in the forecast and have flower pots or planters go ahead and remove the drain dishes so that the rain will drain through and not become soggy. This is also a good idea in general, with so many mosquito-borne diseases this year. If the flower pots are not too heavy and you have some overhead coverage, like a porch or under a deck, carry the pots underneath before the rain so that the blooms do not get damaged or rot. I did this with my roses, and was very glad I did. Open blooms will be destroyed by the heavy rains. If this happens, deadhead the plants as soon as possible.

 

If possible protect the open blooms from the rain, by putting them undercover. If they do become damaged by the rain, deadhead them ASAP.

If possible protect the open blooms from the rain, by putting them undercover. If they do become damaged by the rain, deadhead them ASAP.

 

 

 

 

 

If your grass is thoroughly soaked, try to stay off of it until it dries. When it’s walked on with standing water, it crushes the soil, compacting it which can then lead to other problems and weeds down the road. Clover is really difficult to get rid of and seems to love compacted soil, as do dandelions, and many of the weeds that we try so hard to keep away.

 

 

If you have standing water in your lawn try not to walk on it, or mow it until it has had time to dry out.

If you have standing water in your lawn, like mine, try to not walk on it or mow it until it has had time to dry out.

It’s also not a good idea to mow when the lawn is wet. That rips the blades of grass, instead of cutting them, so you will get brown tips to your lawn- not a good look! Beware of using the mulching option on your mower when there has been this much rain, it is better to collect and compost the clippings until the soil has had some time to dry out. Mulching the lawn clippings right now can cause fungus and mold issues.

 

 

 

 

I like to keep an extra package of garden stakes on hand. The new growth has grown way too fast, and much of it can use some extra support.

I like to keep an extra package of garden stakes on hand. The new growth has grown way too fast, and much of it can use some extra support.

Where extremely fast growth has occurred on plants you may need to either stake the plants to give them some extra time to strengthen, or trim them up some. This is the time of year when azalea and rhododendron bushes should be trimmed anyway, now that they are done blooming. And with all this rain that we’ve had, a granular slow release fertilizer can be helpful. Keep an eye out for wilting, and trim it out, ASAP. That will hopefully halt any further disease.

One last thing: if you do see wilting and fungus that need to be trimmed out, please have a small container of rubbing alcohol that you can dip the blades of your trimmer into between cuts, so you won’t spread infection from plant to plant.

I hope that you won’t have much damage in your garden, like I did, but it can’t help to know some plant CPR just in case! Happy gardening!

It might even be too damp for my favorite duck family around here- bring on some sun!

It might even be too damp for my favorite duck family around here — bring on some sun!

A Very Busy Second Half of Spring

Our resident fox enjoying a nap and a sunbath.

Our resident fox enjoying a nap and a sunbath.

Here it is — the second half of spring already! The garden here is bursting with activity, both flora and fauna. We recently spent a leisurely morning with our fox friend, our feral kitty, the crazy squirrel, duck family, chipmunks and many songbirds to name a few. It’s always an adventure around here!

With the nice weather warming the soil, the garden is growing quickly now, despite the fluke ice storm that deposited an inch of slushy ice two weekends ago. The trees are blooming all out of sync again. Strangely enough, the dogwood was the first to bloom and has held on to her flowers for almost a month.

This ice/slush storm was winter's last hurrah. Most plants had started to get their new Spring leaves, so this storm was most unwelcome.

This fluke ice/slush storm was winter’s last hurrah. Most plants had started to get their new spring leaves, so this storm was most unwelcome.

We have finally turned the corner on frost and freeze warnings, so I’ve been planting herbs and veggies. It makes me so happy to see how many heirloom varieties are now being offered in the garden centers! I’m trying out many old fashioned varieties this year, so I will have some fun things to report back on.

The flowering trees were a welcome sight, and the dogwood is still blooming!

The flowering trees were a welcome sight, and the dogwood is still blooming!

I’m so glad that the trees came through the winter alright in this region. We had such a strange autumn that many of the National Cherry Blossom trees bloomed around Christmas, about 1/4 of them! The affected trees didn’t rebloom, but thankfully they are all okay.

This patch of lily of the valley has doubled in size this last year. The scent is wonderful!

This patch of lily of the valley has doubled in size this last year. The scent is wonderful!

 

The same happened with many of the bulb flowers. The hyacinths that I have in my garden had sprouted at Christmastime, so they became freezer burned by the cold of winter and their flowers were all deformed this time around. Thankfully the daffodils had not gotten as big and were fine. On a better note, the patch of lily of the valley is looking the best that it ever has, and I’m so glad to report that it is covered in fabulously scented flowers. This is a fantastic ground cover with tons of old fashioned appeal, and will grow nearly anywhere, so keep that in mind if you are looking for something to fill a tough spot.

 

Not in bloom yet, but this area is planted with large masses of flowers. I can't wait to see the alliums in bloom!

Not in bloom yet, but this area is planted with large masses of flowers. I can’t wait to see the allium in bloom!

The allium bulbs are getting so huge as well. They were a gift at Christmas, so this is their first year. I will post some pictures when they start to bloom. I love how interesting the flowers are, and I planted them in a wave, between masses of iris, daylily, lamb’s ear and coreopsis. It’s getting so full that it should look amazing when they are all in bloom. While they are newly emerging, this is the perfect time to round up the edges on hosta, grasses, liriope, and lily to get them in shape for the new growing season. I like to do this now, rather than in autumn because they send out shoots underground over the winter months, and can start to look a bit messy otherwise.

 

On other fronts, I’m continuing to work on the storm window project, and I have a tip for you on fixing discolored brick. Years ago, way before we bought this house, someone had used some crummy paint on the trim work. It left long streaks of ugliness on the brick. I had tried all kinds of things to remove it short of sandblasting, and nothing could clean it off. My solution — more paint! I picked up half a dozen exterior craft paints in different brick colors and blended them. Just dab them into the offending areas and like magic the stained areas look fresh and clean. I have done this before on the front stairs and many other places on the house. If you didn’t know a stain was there, you never would. I won’t tell, if you won’t! Works like a charm. Give it a try!

BEFORE- ugly white streaks on the brick.

BEFORE: ugly white streaks on the brick.

AFTER- Looks like new! Blending a few different brick colors and dabbing it on the stained bricks works great, and east to do!

AFTER: Looks like new! Blending a few different brick colors and dabbing it on the stained bricks works great, and it’s easy to do!

I hope you are having a wonderful springtime and getting time in the garden. Here is one last photo, a bird’s eye view picture from the upper window looking out on the neighborhood trees. I just love how many bloomed all at once again this year!

Bird's eye view of the tapestry of colors of the blooming trees.

Bird’s eye view of the tapestry of colors of the blooming trees.

 

 

Spring Cleaning — Outside, Too!

The curly willow was the first tree to start it's new growth. This year it has doubled in size!

The curly willow was the first tree in my garden to start its new growth. This year, it has doubled in size!

This has been a very strange spring so far, with weather not being able to make up its mind between winter, spring or summer. There have been some really turbulent wind storms as well. Even still, I’m doing my best to get the garden and house in tip-top shape. There are many projects underway and inspections taking place. I will walk you through a few of the big ones that you might find helpful in relation to your own home and garden.

While I’ve been getting the perennials and bushes trimmed up and ready for new growth,  the cleaning outside has started from the top down.

Here's the before picture of our roof. You can really see the black streaks appearing.

Here’s the before picture of our roof taken at the end of summer. You can see the black streaks appearing.

 

It’s been five years  since we had our roof cleaned, and it had developed black streaks from algae and air pollution again. Last time only the north-facing front was grungy, but this time there were streaks on all four sides. The method of cleaning has improved greatly since the last time. Now the technicians spray the roof with a special soaking nozzle using a detergent that makes quick work of cleaning the shingles. This is far better because it does not damage or wear the roof like the machine scrubber of the past.

 

Here's the after photo- all clean and getting some squirrel damage repaired.

Here’s the after photo — all clean now and squirrel damage repaired. Now it’s good as new!

They also did an inspection and discovered 3 spots where squirrels had chewed up the shingles trying to get inside. We quickly had that fixed.  I recommend that everyone have their roof inspected each year. The damage on ours wasn’t visible from below, so we would not have even known until water damage became visible inside. That would have been much more expensive to fix!

 

Here's why I think everyone should get a roof inspection. This is where a squirrel chewed a hole right on the corner. You can't see it from below, so we wouldn't have known it was there.

Here’s why I think everyone should get a roof inspection. This is where a squirrel chewed a hole right on the corner. You can’t see it from below, so we wouldn’t have known it was there.

Many roofing companies will inspect at no cost and take pictures to show you damage that they find. Many thanks to the A Team Roof Cleaners, and Marshall Roofing for the repairs.

These are the 30 year old storm windows. Back then you only had one option where you could place the meeting bar, only in the middle of the window. On these windows that meant looking at it every time you looked outside- not pretty!

BEFORE— The 30 year old storm windows. Back then you only had one option of where you could place the center bar, only in the middle of the window. That meant looking at it every time you looked outside – not pretty!

I am also back on track replacing ten of the storm windows on the main level of the house. I’m always a “bring the outside in” kind of girl, so having proper windows is important to me. The former storm windows didn’t match up with the style of window in the house, so instead of looking out of a pretty wooden window, we had been looking at an ugly metal bar in the middle of our view. The new windows are great, and even come with a new coating that helps them stay clean — YAY!!!! I love that feature.

Anyone who is considering window replacement look at this option first. The new storms provide great R-value, and in our case were 1/10th the cost of a window replacement.

Here are the nice new storm windows- center meeting bar where it should be! And bonus being a special coating to help keep the windows clean!

Here are the nice new storm windows – with the center meeting bar where it should be. And bonus being a special coating to help keep the windows clean!

That’s a fantastic savings! We chose Larsen Gold Series Storm windows — I’m not a paid spokesperson, but I do believe in sharing my sources.

I also still need to scrub down the north steps in front of the house. I like using oxygen bleach and then rinsing it well. Makes the stones and the grout look like new. And this year, I’m determined to actually finish power washing the sidewalk. There’s always some touch up paint needed on the trim work. It all takes time, but in the end, it makes everything so much nicer.

IMG_0833Those of us who live in the Washington, D.C. area are very happily watching our national cherry trees blooming, and that means mine are not far behind. So as I wait on my beautiful cherry tree to start opening up, I’m checking off things on  my to-do list for this spring — hope that yours is on its way, too.  Happy gardening!

 

And Just Like That — SPRING!

Goodbye Ice and snow- we are ready for Spring!

Goodbye Ice and snow- we are ready for spring!

Goodbye ice and snow! Spring is popping! We shattered high temperature records already, and went from heat to A/C in the house on the same day. The groundhog was right — it’s an early spring. I’m ready, or at least I’m try to keep up. This last week I managed to get a lot of grasses, sedum, liriope, iris, rose bushes and some of the straggly nandina trimmed up and ready for the new growth. I’m more than half done, but this year many of them are already showing signs of new growth. Normally that doesn’t happen until much later in March or April around here. Mother Nature has been confused, most definitely.

After just a couple of years, despite lots of maintenance, there was a huge amount of rot in the wisteria arbor. Time for replacing!

After just a couple of years, despite lots of maintenance, there was a huge amount of rot in the wisteria arbor. Time for replacing!

 

We also had some pretty awful rot in the arbors that we built only a few years ago. Before we installed them, I primed them, put on two coats of paint, and then annually gave them another coat of paint, but they completely failed anyway, full of rot — very discouraging! So this time around, we used PVC instead of wood, and there will be no chance of rot again. It looks great! We were rushing to get this project finished because this is one of the arbors that the wisteria is trained on, and we wanted to get it finished before it started to open up for spring. Just made it!

 

The new and improved arbor- this one made with PVC instead of wood- no more rotting!

The new and improved arbor, this one made with PVC instead of wood — no more rotting! This one also has been made a little wider to give more sun protection below, and more room for the wisteria above.

This is really my favorite time to be outside in the garden. I love getting the plants ready for the season. Things grow so fast you can almost see it happening, and it feels so fresh after being couped up during the winter. The robins have been coming through en mass, and I have already seen nests being built, so I know I’m not the only one ready for spring! Here are some of the early blooms already making their debut in garden:

As soon as the snow melted the crocus appeared-

As soon as the snow melted the crocus appeared…

Followed quickly by the daffodils-

Followed quickly by the daffodils…

And now the hellebores are starting to bloom- so pretty!

And now the hellebores are starting to bloom — so pretty!

January 3rd – Is It Winter or Spring?

There is still a lot of new growth on many plants that would normally have gone dormant by now.

There is still a lot of new growth on many plants that would normally have gone dormant by now.

Well, it’s January 3rd and I’m already gardening! You know I can’t stay away from it for more than a few days.

We have had such a warm start to winter. Even when it has gotten cold overnight, the days are pleasant — so pleasant that here in the mid-Atlantic region, we have daffodils sprouting and cherry blossom trees flowering. Although it’s warm now, we will pay for it in February and March, according to the weather people. A classic El Niño with ice storms to come, so until then, I am getting as much done as I can and enjoying every minute in the garden!

I was a lucky gardener and received some fun gardening-oriented gifts for Christmas, too. A really nice gardening seat and tool tote, a pointsettia, a rosemary topiary and some beautiful allium bulbs. These were such thoughtful gifts! I spent this weekend planting the allium bulbs. Normally one would not do that this time of year, but because our temperatures have remained in the range you would expect an October day to be (between 50-70 degrees), I went ahead and got them planted. I just know they will be gorgeous this spring!

The pointsettia doubled in size this last month, and is loving the east exposure.

The pointsettia doubled in size this last month and is loving the east exposure.

I also finished getting the roses ready for winter. They were still blooming until just this week! The last of the leaves dropped, so I scooped them all up. Its a good practice to always do that, as the leaves can harbor diseases which can cause black spot on the next year’s growth if left on the soil below the plant. Better safe than sorry, so I collect them. I had a little bit of it on my older roses this last summer and tried something new: a spray of half water/ half spoiled milk, and much to my surprise, it worked! I removed the affected leaves, sprayed, and within a couple of weeks new growth had sprouted showing no signs of the black spot. Remember this for next year in case you see any. I love it when there are simple home remedies that work! And have no harsh chemicals, either.

Rosemary is a fantastic plant to have inside over winter, the scent is wonderful, it cleans the air and you can cook with it . How great is that!

Rosemary is a fantastic plant to have inside over winter, the scent is wonderful, it cleans the air, and you can cook with it. How great is that!

Inside the house, I re-potted my rosemary topiary and lightly watered the pointsettia. They both really don’t need much water this time of year, and both like bright light. I have the perfect east facing window that I keep the pointsettia next to, and in previous years this has proven to be just the right exposure. It even kept color long into March. I love to have the rosemary in my kitchen, and can’t resist brushing by it to release the wonderful scent. I often use it in cooking, and it is just so pretty, too! These are also natural air fresheners.

Looking forward to seeing what kind of weather tomorrow brings, but I’m hoping to get back out there in the garden. Hope to see you!

Happy Thanksgiving to All

This was the view of autumn leaves from my deck this year. They were so beautiful, but now a mountain of fallen leaves are in need of raking.

This was the view of autumn leaves from my deck this year. They were so beautiful! Now I have a lot of raking in my future.

Now that the mums have finished blooming, I have filled in the pots with boxwood trimmings from my yard. They make beautiful "plants" all winter long.

Now that the mums have finished blooming, I have filled in the pots with boxwood trimmings from my yard. They make beautiful “plants” all winter long.

I’m finishing the last of the winterizing and want to share a few tips that will add polish to the holiday curb appeal, and make the perfect backdrop for seasonal decorations. These will make a big difference for just a weekend’s worth of effort. And as an added bonus, it’s also a great way to work off some of that turkey with all the trimmings that we love so much!

First up is finishing the leaf raking and weed removal. Reach in and pick out all the leaves that have gotten stuck in the bushes and then do a final pass in the mulched areas of the garden and your lawn. This alone will make a huge difference in the appearance, but we aren’t going to stop there! Next, give the mulch a rake to loosen it up, and add extra if needed. Winter mulch tip: As you are stirring up the mulch, make sure to leave a space of a few inches between the mulch and the wall of your home. This will discourage the unwanted “guests” (mice!) from burrowing there.

Fill in gaps in the garden by creating "instant plants," just push small branches into the soil- simple as that.

Fill in gaps in the garden by creating “instant plants,” just push small branches into the soil. Simple as that!

Here is a row of "instant juniper" plants, where I removed the summer annuals. You'd never know they aren't actually growing!

Here is a row of “instant juniper” plants, where I removed the summer annuals. You’d never know they aren’t actually growing!

Perfect time of the year to give the clay pots a good cleaning before storing them away for the winter months.

Perfect time of the year to give the clay pots a good cleaning before storing them away for the winter months.

Not all of the "instant" plants are used outside- the extra ivy is in a bucket of water and will root over the winter. Ivy is a really good air filter indoors, so I love to have some inside!

Not all of the “instant” plants are used outside. This extra ivy is in a bucket of water and will root over the winter. Ivy is also a good air filter, so I love to have some inside!

Now that you have pulled out the spent summer flowers and have areas that might be looking a bit too spare, here’s one of my favorite tricks of the trade: I trim the bushes in the yard and use those trimmings to create “instant plants.” Just take the branches and push them into the soil about 6 to 8 inches. I use about a dozen small branches to create each “plant.” On either side of the driveway where I grow vinca in the summer, there are now juniper. They look great, you’d never know they weren’t actually growing. I also do this in the pots and window boxes to create small boxwood “plants.” This trick lasts for months, usually into February, and since I trimmed the branches from my own yard, its free!

Speaking of planters and pots, this is the perfect time to give the clay pots a scrub and dry them in the sun before putting them away for the winter months. I like to use a scrub brush or a kitchen scrubbie with regular dish soap for this job. They easily get rid of the grime on the pots and make quick work of the job. Find a good place for winter storage where they won’t freeze. The clay can be very susceptible to cracking apart when it freezes. The same scrub is perfect for all the yard tools as well. A tip for the shovels and rakes: Once they have been cleaned, a light coating of cooking oil or spray will help guard against rust over the winter.

The final crowning jewel to get your home ready is clean windows. Now that your yard looks so nice you will want to have fresh, sparkling windows to view all your hard work!

Enjoy!

Time for a nice hot cider…

A Quick Reminder Before The Freeze

Back to an old school watering can for now. Time to shut off the outside water for the winter months.

Back to an old school watering can for now. Time to shut off the outside water for the winter months.

What a beautiful day it was Friday! It is hard to believe that the weather is going to turn FREEZING in the next few days. Just a quick reminder to turn off your outside water spigots this weekend before the extended winter cold sets in. My Dad used to always call me and remind me to do this, so in his memory I want to send out this reminder.

Here’s how:

Turn the valve off from inside your home, remove the hose, then drain the remainder of the water out of the outside spigot. Remove and drain your watering wand or nozzle from the hose. Drain and coil your hose. This way if you want to use your hose in the winter it won’t be full of ice!

Outdoor shut-off valves are usually located inside the house opposite to where they are on the outside. Remember righty tighty, lefty loosey!

Outdoor shut-off valves are usually located inside the house opposite the spigot outside. Remember righty-tighty, lefty-loosey! While you are at it, if there is space behind the water pipe, slide in some insulation batting (or a section of newspaper or cardboard) to add an extra layer of barrier from the cold and help prevent frozen pipes.

Once you've turned off the valve from the inside, open the outside spigot to drain the last drops of water.

Once you’ve turned off the valve from the inside, open the outside spigot to drain the last drops of water.

Drain the water from your hoses and nozzles so they won't be full of ice if you want to use them this winter.

Lastly, drain the water from your hoses and nozzles so they won’t be full of ice if you want to use them this winter. I like to be able to wash the car after it snows to rinse the road salts from it.

This is also the perfect time to bring in your terracotta pots and drain dishes for the winter- more on this one soon----- Have a great weekend!

This is also the perfect time to bring in your terracotta pots and drain dishes for the winter — more on this one soon…Have a great weekend!

This Heat Is Good for Something — Weeds!

With all the heat and rain, we are getting lots of unsightly weeds.

BEFORE: With all the heat and rain, we are getting lots of unsightly weeds.

With the temperatures in the triple digits these days, I am seeing lots of weeds coming out of the cracks in the pavement, especially along the gap where the curbing meets the asphalt.

I have a super easy, inexpensive and totally earth friendly way of getting rid of them — VINEGAR! In the heat of the day (the hotter and sunnier the better), just spray it on the weeds. The weeds will be dead the next day. (I buy a huge jug from the warehouse store — about $2.99 — which lasts the whole summer.) I prefer to scrape them out with the edge of a shovel, never to see them again. If you choose not to remove them, they will eventually disintegrate on their own.

AFTER: One day after spraying with vinegar- all weeds are dead and gone!

AFTER: One day after spraying with vinegar — all weeds are dead and gone! Much better.

Happy Weeding!

Happy Weeding!

The alternative is expensive weed killer, which is very toxic to wildlife and the waterways, so I urge everyone to give vinegar a try. It works great for me, and I hope it will for you, too.

Now if I could just find a great way to keep the wire grass from growing into my garden without having to dig it out — that would be fantastic!

The Merry Month of May

Pansies at there fullest-

Pansies at their fullest right now – just in time for Mother’s Day!

First of all, I would like to say that I hope all the Moms out there had a very Happy Mother’s Day! Did you know that there are more flowers sent for Mother’s Day than Valentine’s Day — interesting statistic!

The old adage “April showers bring May flowers” is very true this year. Suddenly, the gardens have sprung to life around here. We went from a freeze warning to 90-degree days in less than a week, and that brought on an amazing array of beautiful flowers overnight! The grass is growing about six to seven inches in a week. I hope that you are enjoying the warmer weather, and I have some tips for how to manage some of the spring tasks ahead.

The azalea & periwinkle bloomed at the same time this year-

The azalea and periwinkle bloomed at the same time this year.

This season came on so fast that almost all of my spring blooming plants are flowering all at once, creating fun combinations that almost never happen. Right now, the periwinkle, rhododendron and azalea are blooming together, and before that the Pear, Cherry and Dogwood trees all bloomed at the same time. Normally these are all spaced about two weeks apart, so it has created a magical display. The pollen is out in force, too, but we won’t talk about that… A-choo!

Since the overnight temps were still dipping too low to mulch the grass clippings (the overnight lows need to be above 55 degrees), I want to share a tip that your flowers are going to love. Just take the grass clippings and spread them on your flower beds about 3 to 4 inches thick, then turn them into the soil with a spading fork. This will lighten the soil and nourish the bed.

Spade in excess grass clippings now, for a terrific flower bed in a couple of weeks-

Spade-in excess grass clippings now, for a terrific flower bed in a few weeks.

Let the garden rest for a couple of weeks until the clippings turn brown and it’s warm enough to plant your summer annuals. If you do this, I promise you will be rewarded with flowers that grow twice as big. I like to top dress the beds with a little mulch after the flowers are planted to help keep the moisture in the soil, too. In garden beds that have been established/planted you might stir in some leaf compost around the base of the plants instead.

We had a pretty harsh winter for this region and I lost a few plants, but I’m having fun filling in the spots with some transplants from other areas. Seems there is always change in the air around here, but that is what keeps it interesting.

Hope you enjoy!

The rhododendron are so full of flowers. A welcome sight after a cold winter.

The rhododendron are so full of flowers. A welcome sight after a cold winter.

The white iris is even taller than usual this year- almost 4 feet tall!

The white iris is even taller than usual this year — almost four feet tall!

One more shot of the azaleas-

One more shot of the azaleas — Happy Spring!

A Walk Through the Garden

What a beautiful day it is to take some time to be outside, even if only for a quick trip around the house. I love the colors of the fall! Here’s what’s going on in my garden:

The neon shades of the nandina always make me happy.

The neon shades of the nandina always make me smile.

The trees are really starting to show color-

The whole landscape is shifting to shades of rust and gold…

I finally had the chance to divide all the liriope, and fill in the walkway- done!

I finally had the time to divide all the liriope and fill in the walkway. Done!

I think the variegated grass this year is the best it has ever looked.

The variegated grass this year is the best it has ever looked.

Even the mahonia leaves look splashed with Fall color-

Even the mahonia leaves look splashed with fall color.

And a quick look at the new uplighting in the garden- more on this soon!

The new uplighting in the garden — more on this soon! Enjoy your evening!

It’s the Little Things — Fall Spruce Up

Front and center- adding a seasonal wreath to your front door for a welcoming touch.

Front and center — add a seasonal wreath to your front door for a welcoming touch.

Sometimes it’s the little things that make the greatest impact. This time of the year I like to give some extra attention to some of the detail in the yard and on the house before the holiday season starts. These last few days before the cold weather sets in can be busy, so I want to share a few things you can do for some maximum impact and added curb appeal.

A fresh edging sets the tone for the walkways and gardens.

A fresh edging sets the tone for the walkways and garden beds.

First and foremost: Give your entire yard a good edging. This makes everything look great, and you don’t need to buy anything fancy. I use a scallop edger about every five years – really! Then, I edge by hand a couple of times each summer. No weed-whackers needed! Personally, I like the look of my natural edges better, and weed-whackers can cause so much damage to tree trunks and bushes if not carefully handled.

Give walkways a good sweeping or even a powerwashing to get them ready for holiday visitors.

Give walkways a good sweeping or even a power washing to get them ready for holiday visitors.

 

I like to spruce up the walkways by giving a good sweeping after I edge and pulling the weeds that have grown between sections. Don’t forget to clean up curbs and gutters as well, so all that “stuff” doesn’t wash into the storm drains. If I had time I’d pull out the power washer, but I know that’s going to have to wait.

 

 

 

Next, it’s the time of the year to trim down the spring/summer blooming perennials, and tidy the garden beds for winter. I do just the trimming now and clean out the leaves when the last have fallen. Follow that with a sprinkle of pre-emergent weed control, and you will have very few weeds come spring.

The colors of Autumn- Enjoy!!!!!

The colors of Autumn- Enjoy!!!!!

 

It’s also a good time to bring in house plants before we have a frost. And speaking of frost — don’t forget to turn off the water to your outside spigots, drain the hoses, and buried irrigation lines. So much to get done!!

 

 

Now, sit back and watch the beauty of Autumn unfold!

Summer’s Here!

Lots of rainfall this year has given us a fabulous flower display.

Lots of rainfall this year is giving us a fabulous flower display.

Next week is the summer solstice, which means we now have the longest days of the year. That means more gardening time! The flowers in my garden are looking fabulous this year due to the incredible amount of rain we’ve had so far. We’ve been very lucky — I haven’t even had to water anything yet, except for the transplants and annuals. We are expecting a heatwave though, so that’s about to change.

I want to bring you up to date on some things I’ve been up to lately. First, I’d like to say thank you to Karen, a friend who included me in her office plant swap. It was so good, we had another, just to share some more! I love to see what plants people bring to these events, because it shows what is growing best in our region. I was lucky to swap for some elephant ear, black-eyed Susan and a Jalapeno seedling. Karen also brought some prized delights from her garden — orchid, snow on the mountain, begonias and more! Thankfully all are doing well.

Plant swap tip- If possible try to include a picture of the item, so that people will know what it looks like.

Plant swap tip: If possible, include a picture of the item so your “swapee” will know what it looks like.

I brought lots of white iris and ornamental grass, and have a long list of items I will divide in the fall to share. Plant swaps are truly great ways to try new plants and to give away your extras — and they are always fun. Good tip: It helps to print out a picture of the plants you are giving away if they aren’t in bloom. (I have found that I have forgotten what color something is when I’m back home, so I think others probably have, too.) It also helps to wrap small plants in damp newspaper if they are prone to drying out quickly. I always water everything as soon as I’m home, and try to get everything planted quickly thereafter.

This is also the time of the year that I like to tackle the maintenance of the hardscape around the property. The driveway was in need of a new coat of sealer, the front door needed varnishing, and the front porch needed some repair and new mortar. Those were big jobs, and I’m a little worse for the wear, but what a difference it makes to have them freshened up! I will leave you with some photos of the after-shots, and don’t forget to set your sundials to the correct time on the 21st at Noon!

Happy Summer!

Some earthquake repair and fresh coat of sealer make the driveway look like new!

Some earthquake repair and a fresh coat of sealer make the driveway look like new!

Even the door got a fresh coat of varnish to get ready for Summer.

Even the door got a fresh coat of varnish to get ready for Summer.

Many stones and bricks were reset, and new mortar updates the front steps.

Many stones and bricks were reset, and new mortar updates the front steps.

 

Tips on Mid-Summer Evergreen Pruning

BEFORE picture- holly has overtaken the front garden. Time to reclaim!

BEFORE picture- holly has overtaken the front garden. Time to reclaim!

Wow! What a wet summer we have had this year. I can’t remember a time when everything was so green in July. Pruning in the middle of summer is not something that I would normally recommend for most plants, but some, like the holly bushes, have grown to extremes in the wet season we have been experiencing. I have several in my garden that were planted by the builder 30+ years ago. These were unfortunately planted too close to the house and front porch to let them grow to their natural size, so they require a pruning 4 or 5 times a year to keep them in check. (I had actually cut them down to the ground when we first purchased the house because they were so out of control. They regenerated in about a year!) The good news is that if you know the proper way to prune them, hollies can be terrific foundation plants and showy all year. Here’s how-

Always check for bird's nests before pruning or spraying.

Always check for bird nests before pruning or spraying.

 

First, always inspect the interior closely. I have birds that build nests in mine, and I don’t want to just start trimming away! The birds love evergreen bushes for nests, so always check each bush before pruning or spraying.

I always prune with shears. They create a nice clean cut, and create a more natural look.

Always prune with shears. They create  a more natural look than a hedge trimmer. The new leaves are pretty soft, but wear gloves if you are working with the old growth — it can get very sharp!

 

Next, set the height that you want. In my case, I have a bush on either side of my front door and want them to match, so I use a mortar line in the brick as my guide to determine where to make that first cut. Using sharp pruners, make a cut just above a leaf to establish the height.

 

Then determine how wide the bush should be, and what sort of shape you want.  I like a more natural look, so I chose a cone shape. If you have trouble keeping the shape, a handy tip is to tie a string from top to bottom to use as a cutting guide moving it around the bottom edge as you go. I don’t like the look of anything too crisply trimmed; I prefer a more fringe-like or loose shape. I then trim up the sides to the top being careful not to trim the leaves in half. They will brown and look unhealthy if you do. For that reason, never use a hedge trimmer — EVER! Sharp pruning shears are the right tool for this job.

Always try to leave some "breathing room" behind your foundation plantings for air circulation as well as security.

Always try to leave some “breathing room” behind your foundation plantings for air circulation as well as security.

 

 

 

 

Once you have gotten the basic shape, trim back every third branch several inches inside the bush. This will encourage lots of leaves to grow throughout the plant, not just on the tips. It will also allow air circulation and light to get inside the plant, lessening the chances of disease and insects. One final step is to make sure that you have pruned far enough back from the walls of your house. Try to keep all bushes at least a 12 to 18 inches away from your house to allow some breathing space, and also trimmed away from under windows for views and security.

Here is the "After" picture. Nice fringe-like texture, with branches full of leaves makes for a healthy Holly.

Here is the “After” picture. Nice fringe-like texture, with branches full of leaves makes for a healthy holly.

When shaping boxwood trim out the entire branch all the way to the base. It will encourage healthy new growth from the center of the plant.

When shaping boxwood trim out the entire branch all the way to the base. It will encourage healthy new growth from the center of the plant.

 

 

This is also a good time to give attention to the new growth on boxwoods. Just trimming the really heavy branches, by removing them down to the base of the branch, is all that is needed. This is something I do only about every other year because they are fairly slow growing. For the juniper and euonymus, I only trim the branches that have grown too far out of bounds right now; they will get a more substantial shaping when the weather cools.

 

I hope you are having a wonderful summer in your garden! Let me know what is your favorite plant this growing season — I’d love to hear! I will leave you with my favorite right now: a view of my daylilly garden in full bloom.

Happy Summer! A view of my daylilly garden.

My daylilly garden in bloom right now.

 

Summer Garden Spruce-up Tips!

Welcome Readers – Happy Summer!

 

Hi readers! I’m devoting this segment to some questions that I think a lot of us can relate to and some terrific garden tips I have received.

Let’s get rid of the mushrooms for good…..

First up: Getting rid of those nagging little (and sometimes BIG) mushrooms that crop up in the yard after a rain. Wearing gloves (because some of them can be poisonous!), remove the mushroom cap and discard. Then, with a pointy trowel or weeder, dig out the little stump and roots completely. Lastly, sprinkle some powdered or granulated lime where the mushrooms appear. This will help to make the soil more alkaline and banish the mushrooms for good. This has always worked well for me.

Renewing your Ivy is easy as a few well placed snips!

Next up: I had a friend with a patch of Ivy which had lost all of its leaves and was just a patch of bare stems and not so pretty anymore. This can happen for lots of reasons — someone walking on the ground cover, doggies doing their business, or like in my friend’s case, a tree had fallen on it.

There is a really easy fix for this! Simply take your snippers and cut the stems here and there in the bare areas. That’s it – the Ivy will sprout new leaves quickly and will fill back out in a week or two with lots of fresh new leaves. This works on most of the other “sprawling” types of ground cover, like periwinkle and pachysandra too.

Be sure to give it good watering if you know it to be a (ahem!) “doggie spot” to neutralize the remains. ‘Nuff said on that, but this brings me to a related tip. If you are a dog owner and have those bright green patches in your grass, I have a tasty way of making sure those spots don’t happen anymore. Give your dog a few ounces of tomato juice a couple of times a week (most dogs LOVE it!), it will change the acidity of their urine so as not to create a spot. So easy!

To get rid of ugly stumps- drill holes and fill them with epsom salts!

As you might remember from a previous blog, I have had several trees that were destroyed in recent storms, leaving unsightly stumps in the front lawn. A couple of weeks ago a friend sent me an email that had a stump rotting remedy which I am going to try (Yay!- and thank you so much!). Drill holes in the stump then fill them with epsom salt. In about a month it rots the stump making removal easy. I will report back on the success of this tip, but several people have said it works well.

This brings me to my last little tip for this segment. A friend just posted a terrific way to keep the bugs away from patios/decks, and said it worked great. Take limes or tangerines, and poke some holes in them with an icepick, and fill the holes with cloves. (Similar to the pomanders many of us make at Christmastime!) Place them in a bowl on your outdoor table, and enjoy your bug free patio. Lasts for a couple of weeks at least!

Don’t forget to refresh your topiaries, and other potted plants with some fresh soil and slow release fertilizer.

I would like to thank Michaelanne, Terri and Laura for their questions and tips. I hope you are enjoying this Spring to Summer transition in your yard. It seems there are always things to be done around mine. I have just finished replacing my Springtime Pansies with Vinca and Geraniums for the hotter Summer days ahead.  I have repotted the Ivy topiaries with fresh soil. (I love to use them along the front walk.) A gentle reminder for those of you with Azaleas, Rhododendron, Hollies, Junipers, or other acid loving plants, that this is the time to feed them. Let me know what you are planning for your gardens this year, I always love to hear!

 

So long for now- next time a segment on refreshing a deck!

Update on the stump–  Epsom salts works! It is now November, and the stump had softened up to the point where it was easily chipped away. Now I will fill in with some soil and sod. Thank you Terri for the tip!

After a few months of the epsom salt treatment this stump was chipped away in about a half an hour.

After a few months of the epsom salt treatment this stump was chipped away in about a half an hour.

 

 

 

 

Full Circle in the Garden

Fall asters come in a range of beautiful colors and have very long bloom times.

I have been so glad that milder air returned this fall. With so many things that need attention in the garden, I’ve been very busy. I have a step-by-step list of what to do when in the garden, and this autumn brings us to the end of the growing season. Lawn renovation is a top priority, but there are also many other needs: cutting back perennials, transplanting and removing bushes, and painting.

First, I found these lovely asters in the garden center. I put them on my front porch front door to inspire me — so vibrant! – and got to work on the front lawn renovation.


This is a terrific thatch rake. I love the adjustable feature - very ergonomic!

 

This year, being intensely hot, wreaked havoc on the grass. It was completely brown and dormant with terrible bare patches. It takes real work to bring back grass that has been that damaged. I am a believer in dethatching with a hand rake – it is less damaging to the roots and gets all the compacted trimmings out. My father gave me his rake a few years ago. It has an adjustable handle which makes the task a little bit easier. Even so, it was several hard days work to finish (wear gloves!).

Next, soak the ground with the sprinkler for a day or so. Using a hand spreader, layer starter fertilizer and an overcast of grass seed. Lightly scratch the surface to bury the seed. Be diligent about watering everyday for a couple of weeks, and you’ll have a gorgeous fall lawn!

In my growing zone (Northern Virginia), I put down new seed by mid-October. That gives the new grass a good chance at developing hardy roots before frost. Check http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/ to find the statistics for your local zone.

I also removed some Japanese hollies which became diseased due to the snow damage of a couple of years ago and am replacing them with some variegated euonymus along the front walk. I like to do all bush transplanting in the fall whenever possible, but no later than Thanksgiving. That is also the magic date for planting bulbs. You want to give them time to spread their roots to anchor themselves against winter winds and heaving from frost.

The sedums are one of the few perennials that I don't trim back in the fall. They provide seeds for the birds during winter.

This is also the time of the year to cut back the perennials after they die. I cut to ground level the daylillies, hostas, coreopsis, and other summer flowering varieties. I also neaten up some of the ones that I don’t cut back until spring, like the butterfly bushes, and rake out the lamb’s ears of the dead undergrowth.

To give a nice backdrop to it all, I gave the trimwork, railings, windows and arbors a scrub and a coat or two of paint. The mild weather helps the paint to cure properly and last a few years.

Well, that takes us full circle in the garden for this 2012 growing season. I hope you all have had a wonderful autumn, filled with the colors of the season.

Mid Summer Garden Rescue

The poor garden this summer! Extreme heat, no rain, blazing sun, then sudden torrential storms with incredible winds. All this and more have left gardens in a sad state. It’s time for a rescue. Here’s my list of fixes and tips to help reclaim their health and beauty.

Trim out all dead and diseased branches on bushes and trees. If left alone this could attract insets and/or further spread the disease.

Start by clipping out dead branches on bushes and trees. Next (depending on how much is affected), trim out the bad parts, or completely cut back perennials as well as annuals. Make sure to collect and recycle your trimmings. In the humidity which comes with late summer, it is easy for fungus and insects to infect large clippings on the ground. Adding them to a compost pile will heat them so this doesn’t happen. In my yard, I am completely cutting back the foliage on all of the daylilly, yarrow, iris, and lamb’s ears, which will resprout fresh new foliage and look terrific until frost.

I will trim out many small branches on the Japanese hollies and junipers, and a significant number of dogwood limbs, too.

I suggest raking through the mulch to make sure that it has not compacted too much, and if you are in a drought area, start watering your foundation bushes with a soaker hose if you haven’t already.

When your lawn goes into a dormant state due to severely high temperatures combined with a drought, it is best to wait until temperatures have receded before resuming watering and/or feeding.

The grass in the yard has gone completely dormant here due to the lack of rain and the heat. Rather than stress it by trying to force it to grow, I will let nature tell me when it’s time to regenerate. I must say that in all the years I’ve been gardening, I don’t remember a year that has stressed the grass so much. I caution against adding any mid-season fertilizer this year. It may help to lightly add a 1/2 inch of compost to the lawn to help protect the roots. Until the temperatures are back below the 90′s I am wary of doing much else. As soon as the temperatures are lower I will start watering unless we receive significant rainfall.

The flowers that I have in pots this year are tried and true. I planted only geraniums, which I know to be more drought tolerant than many other flowers. Tip: plant two pots for every one that you need in an exposed focal area like the front door. Put one pot on the front porch and one in a less exposed area (under the deck in my case). Rotate them back and forth each week. That way they are given a break from the harshness of the weather extremes and are able to stay healthy. Also be sure to turn your pots at least 1/4 rotation each week, so that they don’t grow crookedly towards the sun. This is especially true if you have potted evergreens that you display year round.

This is an example of "sucker" branches. They are ugly and can actually draw the nutrients out of the tree if left alone. It is best to keep them trimmed out.

Many trees will develop “sucker” shoots from the trunks or branches this time of year. They are very unattractive and provide no benefit to the tree, and they can actually harm the tree if left alone. I like to take a sharp pruner and trim them out. You may need to check every month or two for a re-occurrence.

This is also the perfect time to trim back wisteria. (Remember January and July for hard pruning on wisteria.) Mine grows as much as 3 to 4 feet in a week, so I do lots of mini-prunings to keep it in shape. If you are growing chrysanthemum or sedum, this is also the last time for pruning back the height before blooming. I like to take mine down by a third. By doing that you will have many more blooms on a much stronger, more compact plant which will be less prone to splitting open in the rain.

I hope your yards and gardens are surviving this hot, dry summer. If you have any tips you would like to share on this subject, send them along and I’ll be sure to print them. Here’s looking forward to some healthy green color coming back!

Fifty Shades of Mulch

Shredded mulch in bulk. This is the most popular type and the most budget friendly.

OK, so this is not going to make it onto the Best Sellers list like the other “Fifty Shades” read, but the title is accurate! There are many mulches out there, and you can pick and choose your way through a huge selection at almost every garden shop. I’ll describe the main features and differences to help you make your choice.

First, there are many different types of mulch: wood, pine straw, cocoa hulls, rock, glass, shells, even rubber. A nice thing these days is that most of these are recycled, or by-products from another industry. Wood, of all kinds, is the most popular. Shredded or in chips, it lends a natural appearance. It comes in many color shades so you can choose the perfect backdrop for your needs.

This handy chart was printed on the 2 cu.ft. bags of mulch that I used this spring. It shows how many bags you need to cover specific areas at given depths.

In the south-east, many people use pine straw, which is great around acid-loving plants like azaleas. In the desert areas, most people use rocks in many sizes and colors. I have also recently seen the use of recycled crushed glass as mulch, tumbled to remove the sharp edges, and in a variety of colors. This last one seems unusual, but is very striking in the right garden.

Rubber mulch is taking the place of organic mulches in playgrounds these days.  Most of it is made from old tires.  Here in the mid-Atlantic coastal region we have an abundance of oyster shells, so I like to use them as well as an “accent” mulch.  They are heavy, so I use them around flowers to keep the squirrels from digging them up.

Cocoa hulls have lately made an appearance as mulch. They are a beautiful color, and even make your garden smell like chocolate when it’s damp. But — don’t put it in an area where pets or wildlife visit, because it can be toxic if consumed.

Even compost and grass clippings make a terrific mulch in vegetable gardens, because they break down into the soil quicker than most other mulches, providing a nutrient-rich boost.

I like to keep the mulch between 1-2 inches deep. This provides shelter for the roots and allows the rain to percolate through.

There are as many different reasons to use mulch as there are choices. Of course, the obvious reason is that it looks great and provides a uniform backdrop to the plants, but it can also make a huge difference in water retention and protects roots from the sun and harsh elements. I like to keep a two inch layer in my garden beds.  I use shredded mulch which disintegrates fairly quickly, so I reapply each spring. Another benefit of mulch is that it keeps the weeds down, and when it disintegrates it creates a very nice soil amendment. This is the case with all organic mulches.

Especially in open areas, keep the mulch from compacting by scratching it with a rake every few months. This will refresh the appearance as well.

Inorganic mulch, like rock, glass and rubber, will last for many years, since it doesn’t break down. It also saves effort: Once you have applied it, that’s it. There is very little else that needs doing. Organic mulches, like shredded hardwood, will need a little bit of maintenance.  I like to scratch up the surface every few months to keep it from compacting. This will also keep the organic mulch looking fresh. Tip — Don’t mix shredded or chip mulch into the soil before it has completely decomposed. Doing this could result in an unwanted crop of mushrooms.

Depending on the type of mulch, there are many different ways of purchasing it. You can buy most types by the bag, but for large gardens, many producers offer it by the cubic yard or ton in bulk orders. This is usually much more cost effective than the bagged versions, sometimes less than half the price!

So, depending on your specific needs, I hope this will help guide your choice of mulch, and narrow it from 50 down to one. Happy gardening!

 

This is my local Fairfax County mulch pile only 1/2 mile from home! I love being green!

This is my local Fairfax County mulch pile only 1/2 mile from home! I love being green!

Update: For a really budget friendly alternative check with your local government office on recycling to inquire on municipal mulch piles. They are usually free for the taking, and it is one of the best ways to support the green lifestyle!

Spring is Here

My kwansan cherry tree in peak bloom. (For those of you who have asked, this is the tree in the blog page's background.)

Just like magic to me, spring has sprung. With such a mild winter this year the blooms are very early. The flowering trees are magnificent, and the phlox is beyond compare. All of the bulbs have finished, but the masses of foliage were much fuller and greener than usual. I think that this might be one of the more beautiful displays ever. Even the azaleas are opening, in all their glory.

These are two weeding tools I use. The one on the left is an ergo tool, and rocks the weeds out of the soil. The one on the right is a serious tool which can extract even the toughest weeds.

It seems all of the plants that I transplanted last fall had a very easy first winter in which to spread their roots and become acclimated to their new locations. I was very happy to see the first leaves sprouting on the three crepe myrtles, and am even more anxious to see them grow to fill out the side garden where once the purple maple stood. Really the only downside of this spring is dandelions, which always seem to blow in, and they are doing way too well. Thankfully, I have two terrific tools which easily uproot them. If your yard is prone to these weeds, I wholeheartedly recommend getting one. They make the process a lot quicker. They work great on all weeds, whatever size.

I am almost done with trimming back the liriope, euonymus, and junipers. Not a minute too soon either, they are already sprouting new growth. I am hoping to finish this weekend because it is now time to edge, and add some new mulch to keep the weeds down and the moisture in. Lots to do!

Here is a closeup of the pink dogwood this year. The flowers were so huge and perfect that it almost looked artificial.

A good tip to get your garden off to a good start is after you have prepared the soil with some weed preventer, and stirred in a little compost to add nutrients, give your garden a good watering prior to mulching. This will give it a boost, and ensure that all your plants have everything they need for the new growing season.

One more closeup -- these are the creeping phlox. When first planted, these were just a small plug, they are now more than three feet in diameter, and gorgeous. I would recommend them for my top awards honor this spring.

I hope everyone gets a chance to enjoy this incredible time of the year, whether it’s in your own yard, or even the park. Just a reminder — Garden Week is almost here with lots of inspiring places to visit.

Just Say No! Springtime Don’ts and How To Fix Them

An example of a stump cut dormant Crepe Myrtle. When this is done year after year you end up with a deformed looking tree that is prone to wind damage when in bloom.

I don’t usually start off a blog in such a negative way, but there are certain practices out there which need to be stopped, and many of these occur in the spring. I recently have seen many timely articles about the annual ritual of hacking off the top half of Crepe Myrtle trees. One in particular hit the nail on the head, titling it “Crepe Murder.” This practice involves stump cutting the entire tree down to a certain height. It is very unattractive and unnatural-looking when the foliage is gone, namely all winter, and when done year after year, you end up with knobby branches. To me, this sort of looks like the painful joints of an arthritic person. I have seen many pear trees mutilated in the same way. Many people do this because they see paid gardeners do this and unsuspectingly think it’s the right thing to do.

Tip — The proper way to keep a Crepe Myrtle trimmed is to cut the branches at the base of the branch, just like you do for most other plants. This will maintain the proper branching structure and keep it natural.

This is what happens to trees which have had the mulch piled too high, "mulch volcano" style. The roots are struggling to receive water and nutrients growing toward the surface, instead of downward where they are needed for stability.

Another really bad practice that I would like to caution against is the “Mulch Volcano.” This is when the mulch is piled really high around the base of a tree with a dip in the center where the trunk comes out from the dirt. Many so called “professional” gardening crews do this as a standard practice, and so again many gardeners follow suit, thinking it is correct. In fact, it will actually kill the tree, choking off all rain and nutrients from ever reaching the poor root system.  The example to the right shows what happens to them if they don’t die. Notice how the roots will try to grow upwards to the surface in order to reach moisture. This can cause a host of new issues to deal with, such as the roots protruding out of the dirt compromising their stability, and causing them to be easily harmed during mowing. Also, it makes the roots easy to trip over if you are walking under the tree.

Another item that I would like to caution about is spraying weed killer. If it is not a completely windless day, the mist can carry quite a distance killing everything along the way. The best tip I have come across is to dip a sponge in the herbicide and lightly touch it to the weeds you want taken out. For a large area, such as killing the grass for a new garden bed, apply it with a paint roller. Quick and easy!

When daffodils and other bulbs have finished blooming, deadhead the spent blooms but leave the foliage for at least a month before cutting it down. This will ensure a beautiful and healthy display the following Spring.

One more quick don’t- when your daffodils and other bulbs have finished blooming for the season, don’t cut the foliage to the ground just yet. Go ahead and remove the dried up blooms, but leave the foliage until the green color fades. This is how the bulb replenishes itself with nutrients for the following spring, so it’s important to allow the leaves to soak in the rain and sun for an extra month or so.

Getting the Most from Your Late Season Garden

Chrysanthemums have an entire new set of flowers beneath the first set. Deadheading will result in double the flower time!

Perennials, as you know, only bloom for a month or so, and then you are left with an ugly mass of dying flower heads and usually declining  foliage on the remainder of the plant. I am often asked about what to do and when to cutback, as opposed to just deadheading, and when to just tear something out. There are many tips I can share with you on all of these questions.

Many plants benefit from cutting back after they bloom. I regularly cut back the foliage on the hosta, yarrow, daylillies, salvia, lamb’s ears and iris to just above the crown of the plant when the flowers are finished. The foliage will re-sprout, and the plants will look fresh throughout the rest of the growing season. This is true with many perennials and herbs.

Here is an example of the second growth on daylillies and lamb's ears. Once the flowering has stopped, cut back to just above the crown and you will be rewarded with a fresh new crop of foliage to last the rest of the season.

Deadheading is a good way to keep your annuals looking at their peak. I would also recommend this for roses all throughout the summer and fall. Even some perennials like mums and dahlias will have a repeat bloom if deadheaded, giving you a repeat performance in the same season. This is also true of pansies. Budget tip: I prefer to plant pansies in the fall, they will come back into bloom in the spring in all their glory, giving you two seasons for the price of one!

I reserve tearing out only for the annuals, and usually between mid-September and mid-October. When the temperature at night starts falling into the 40′s the flowers decline rapidly, so this is when I like to replace them with pansies, ornamental kale or cabbage, or some other Autumn beauty.

Cutting back Sedums and Mums mid-season will yield fuller, more compact plants which will be less prone to splitting open under the weight of full blooms.

When laying out your garden design make sure to consider the texture of the foliage. Try to group differing kinds, because this will give you visual interest when the plants are not in bloom. I also try to stagger the groups in drifts so that as one is blooming it can mask the decline of another variety. For example: If you plant daylillies and daffodils in the same place, the foliage from the daylillies will hide the daffodil leaves as they decline for the season.

This is also a good time to give the mulch a good scratching up to make it look fresh again, and give it one last application of a weed preventer for the year. Fall weeds are really tough, so I do what I can to prevent them from ever starting.

One last tip to take your garden over the top health and beauty-wise is to apply  a coating of Horticultural oil (Volck oil) to your foundation plants. This will safely keep the spiders off while giving your plants a really beautiful sheen. This will also protect the leaves from winter burn. I find the easiest way to apply this is with a hose end sprayer, but you can also use a pump sprayer for smaller gardens.

With just a little bit of change your garden can be just as striking in the Autumn as it is in the height of the growing season. Enjoy!