As I sit at my desk, watching the snow come down during our first blizzard, I am daydreaming of spring planting. On my desk, gardening books and catalogs lay open to designs I love and plants I would like to have. Graph paper and color pencils are patiently waiting as ideas begin to form. If you are like me, when one growing season ends, it’s time to start planning the next.
I love design. I love planning for new flower beds and borders. I also love to redesign old gardens with new walkways, trellises, or arbors along with flowers. Fences can also add to the landscape by separating large gardens into smaller spaces.
After settling on the new hardscape (walkways, retaining walls, etc.), it’s time to delve into the joy of picking out the new plantings. It’s fun to pick out new perennials such as roses, delphiniums, peonies, and lilies but don’t forget to include decorative trees, like birch and canadian cherry, and shrubs, like viburnum and lilac. Mixing flowers in with trees and shrubs gives your new garden the thoughtful balanced look every designer craves. This is where planning is really important.
Adding trees and shrubs to the new landscaping will create a vision of beauty in your garden, however, there are some things to consider when doing so. Trees and shrubs are more permanent parts of the landscape than annual and perennial flowers. Annual flowers must be replanted ever year and most perennial flowers that come up every year can be easily moved. This is not the case with trees and shrubs. It is important to take into consideration how large a tree or shrub will get at maturity, how long it takes to reach maturity, and the plant’s long term needs. For example, a small white pine tree may look elegant in the landscaping next to a red brick home but within a few short years it will outgrow the space and it will need to be removed. A better option for such a space would be to plant an aborvaete or juniper that grows vertically and slender. This will still give the homeowner the elegant evergreen appearance and the plant will be able to thrive in that space for many years to come.
Color and bloom time for each plant is also a consideration when planning a new garden or landscape. Some plants, like hostas and coral bells, are grown strickly for their foliage texture and color. However, plants like peonies and lilacs, which are grown for their showy colorful blooms, have a definite bloom time. It is important to plan around the bloom time of each plant to allow your garden to have consistent bloom coverage for the entire growing season. To get the most from your garden, plant a mix of flowers and shrubs in the colors you like that start blooming in early spring, like tulips and forsythia, with summer bloomimg plants, like coneflowers and viburnum, and fall blooming plants, like mums and asters. Then, to make sure there is no time your garden color falls flat, add in some annuals for all season color and a show-stopping look.
Planning your new garden or redesigning an old one is fun way to stay in the gardening spirit even when the snow is falling outside. And, creating a good plan ahead of time will give you a beautiful garden or landscape that is colorful and inviting all season long!
Quote of the Day
A black cat among roses, phlox, lilac-misted under a quarter moon, the sweet smells of heliotrope and night-scented stock. The garden is very still. It is dazed with moonlight, contented with perfume…
― Amy Lowell, American poet
You never know what you are going to find in the garden. I am going to deviate from my normal garden articles to tell you the tale of Francis. Francis, the critter in the picture, is an Eastern Gray Tree Squirrel.
The evening I found Francis, I was outside getting the laundry off my clothesline. That’s when I heard an animal scream. It was a scream the likes of which I’ve never heard before. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It sounded like it was coming from the tree but I couldn’t see what was making this awful noise. It was obviously an animal in distress. I assumed it was a bird until I saw Francis at the bottom of the tree.
Now, before I go on, let me back up a bit and tell you a bit more about myself. Not only am I passionate about gardening, but I have been an indiscriminate animal rescuer literally my whole life. In fact, as a toddler, I used to walk up and down the alley behind our house after it rained to save the worms in the mud puddles because I knew they would die if I left them there. (Funny enough, I just read an article on The Dodo , about a dog that saves worms .) And, as a child, I was known in my small town as “the cat lady” because my rescue cats would follow me wherever I went.
I have rescued everything from cats and dogs, to rabbits, turtles, a turkey, and a blind ferret. People call me in to remove an animal when it’s where it’s not supposed to be. I’ve done everything from removing a feral cat from a commercial greenhouse to blocking traffic on a four-lane highway to remove a wild painted turtle from the road.
I’ll never forget one cold snowy winter night when I was contacted by a local farmer at 9:00 o’clock in the evening. He said there was a greyhound dog on the loose near the farm where he worked. He and other workers had tried for days to catch the dog but were unable to get near it. He was worried about the dog because it was nearly -20 below zero outside that night. I thanked him for calling and told him I would head out to get the dog. I put on my winter gear, jumped in my SUV, and headed out to the last place the dog had been seen. Within a short amount of time, I found the dog. He was curled up in a pile of hay along side a road, trying to stay warm. I approached the dog carefully but in no time at all, I had the dog in my vehicle. As it turned out, he was actually a scottish deerhound and he was physically fine, just a wee bit cold. He now lives happily with his new family in his forever home.
Most of the animals I take in are abandoned, abused, and/or lost. I have dealt with a lot of different health and behavioral issues, as well as disabilities that come with rescue animals. As a rescuer, you generally have no idea what the animal’s background is or how it ended up where it was found. Your job is simply to help. It would be disingenuous for me to say that I simply love these animals when in fact, my life is dedicated to my fur-kids. It’s my life’s purpose.
So now that you know a little more about me, let me continue with the story of Francis, the infant gray squirrel stranded at the base of the tree. When I found Francis, he was frantically rolling about in the shrubbery unable to walk. I quickly looked around for the mother and noticed a squirrel laying dead on the road. It had been hit by a car.
I made my decision very quickly to take in this tiny squirrel. I ran into the house and grabbed a hand towel. I ran back outside, scooped up this little creature, and brought him into my home. He was cold but moving. He was also quiet. I prayed he would be ok. I held him against the skin of my throat at the base of my neck to keep him warm. As I held him, I frantically searched online for any articles referencing “rescue” and “baby squirrel”. I have never rescued an infant squirrel before and I had absolutely no idea how to help.
During my search, I learned how to care for Francis’s immediate needs. I also found a company called Fox Valley that makes the specialized formula Francis would need to survive and thrive. I ordered the Fox Valley formula online and used puppy formula, as recommended, until the specialized formula arrived in the mail.
As my knowledge grew, I quickly realized that rescue squirrels have very specific nutritional needs and require a great deal of care in order to grow healthy and strong in order to be released, usually around the age of 12 weeks. But, it also became clear, that Francis was disabled, likely from the fall from the tree. Francis has a bad hip which restricts his ability to move around, climb, and sit up properly to eat. His balance is off and he is abnormally small for his age, only about half the size he should be.
Due to his disability, it’s likely that I’ll be looking after Francis for the duration of his life, which may be as many as twenty years according to some experts. We are still learning as we go but I think Francis will be ok. His never-ending energy and high spirits, despite his disability, make me pretty certain, he’s an angel that “dropped” into my life to make me smile.
The moral of this short animal tail (animal tail, get it! Ok, it’s not that funny.) The moral of the story is this: Be careful in the garden. You never know what you’re going to find.
P.S. I don’t recommend that you rescue animals, especially wild animals, unless you have the training or experience to do so. Remember, I have been doing this for more than thirty years. Rescuing animals can be very dangerous, not only for the animal, but for you too. There are very real physical dangers as well as health issues to consider before rescuing an animal. Rabies and other diseases are always a consideration in these situations. If you find an animal in distress, please call your local experts or professionals that are trained to deal with these situations. Thank you.
Mixing edibles into the landscape with ornamentals creates a beautiful and interesting landscape that is also productive. However, common synthetic landscape chemicals are not always recommended for use on edibles. Plants absorb the chemicals we put on them through the roots and leaves. The presence of these chemicals in and around the edible plant may make the plant and its produce unsafe for you and your family to eat. So how do you maintain a healthy productive mixed landscape without the use of synthetic chemicals? By using safe organic alternatives to maintain your plants, it is possible to create a beautiful mixed landscape of ornamentals and edibles without introducing unsafe toxins.
Organic fertilizers are very popular now and can be found at most local garden stores or online sites. These fertilizers come in liquid, granular, and pellet forms. Use the fertilizer that is right for your landscape. Some plants, like roses and blueberries, have special nutritional needs. These nutritional needs can be met by simply using specialized organic fertilizers. Generally however a simple all purpose slow release fertilizer spread over your lawn and landscape twice a year is all it takes to keep your plants healthy and productive all summer long.
Compost is always recommended to improve the texture of the soil but it also adds nutritional value and trace elements to the soil that are necessary for proper plant growth and food production. Compost can be purchased at most local garden stores but for those gardeners that wish to create their own compost or for more information about the nutritional value of compost in your landscape, please refer to my article on compost that will explain the ins and outs of compost and compost production. Compost. What’s The Big Deal?
*Hint: In home-made compost, use only yard and grass clippings that have not been treated with synthetic chemicals, especially herbicides. Synthetic chemicals do not break down naturally and may remain in the compost. If herbicides are present in your compost, you could inadvertently kill your entire landscape when the compost is applied.
Herbicides (Weed Killers)
Weeds are the bane of any garden. Keeping up with the weeding takes a lot of time and energy. The CobraHead Garden Tool makes this job a lot easier. See my review of the CobraHead at The CobraHead. An Amazing Garden Tool. But to reduce the time it takes to weed by hand, herbicides can be applied to help control the weed population in your garden and landscape. Although there are a great number of synthetic herbicides on the market, they can be dangerous to humans and animals. Luckily there are a number of natural herbicides available to help control the weeds in your landscape.
Corn Gluten Meal: Corn gluten meal is a byproduct of milling corn. It is a natural fertilizer that also works as a pre-emergent herbicide. A pre-emergent herbicide stops the plant from taking root once the seed begins to grow. Be aware that corn gluten meal will stop all seeds from taking root, including garden and grass seeds. Read the manufacturer’s directions before using this product if you intend to plant seeds in your garden or over-seed your lawn.
Vinegar: An easy and inexpensive herbicide that is common in most households is plain white vinegar. Vinegar contains acetic acid which is deadly to plants. Common household vinegar is safe for humans but manufactured vinegar herbicides may contain a stronger vinegar solution which can be hazardous to humans and pets. If you choose to purchase a manufactured vinegar herbicide, read the manufacturer’s label for instructions prior to use.
Vinegar works as a herbicide by drying up the leaves of the plant. It works best on young plants and annual weeds. It does not kill the root of the plant so several applications may be necessary to kill larger plants or perennial weeds. To use common household vinegar as a herbicide, simply pour full strength vinegar into a spray bottle and spray on the leaves of the undesired plant. Vinegar will kill all plants indiscriminately so it may help to use a piece of cardboard to protect desirable plants while spraying. This will keep them safe from the vinegar spray. Repeat as necessary until weeds are gone.
To prevent outbreaks of fungus in the garden or to treat fungus that is already present, there are several organic solutions. If one of the following solutions does not work, modify the strength of the solution or try another solution as some fungus is more susceptible to certain treatments than others.
Cinnamon: Cinnamon is a natural anti-fungal. It works on many types of fungus but is especially good at preventing damping-off disease on seedlings. To treat new seedlings growing in starter trays, try sprinkling cinnamon on the soil. Cinnamon can also be made into a “tea” by steeping one tablespoon of cinnamon in a gallon of hot water. Leave it overnight to cool. When it has cooled, filter the “tea”, then pour it into a spray bottle. Spray the “tea” directly on the plants and the soil. Spray once a week to prevent an outbreak or to treat a current fungal infection.
Milk: Milk is also naturally anti-fungal. Milk works on current fungal infections but also works as a preventative as well. Mix milk (2% works best) and water in a ratio of 1:4 in a spray bottle. Spray it on the affected plant once a week, making sure to spray the underside of the leaves as well. Milk works best if it is sprayed on the plant in the early morning or in the evening as it needs to stay moist to kill the fungus. Repeat until the fungus is gone.
Cedar Oil: Cedar oil, which can be purchased at most garden stores, has been shown to have both anti-fungal and insecticidal qualities. Cedar oil as an insecticide is discussed below. Cedar oil as an anti-fungal is applied by spraying the affected plant and works similar to the milk treatment. Read the manufacturer’s label for proper mixture strength and application instructions.
Insecticides (Bug killers) and Deterrents
Insecticides kill bugs, while other products act as a deterrent. Attempting to kill all the insects in your garden or landscape is not recommended as beneficial insects, like bees and lady bugs are just that, beneficial. They pollinate your vegetables and eat the destructive insects like aphids. However, killing or deterring detrimental insects will help keep your landscape beautiful, productive, and comfortable to work in.
Dish Soap: Dish soap in an excellent insecticide. It is safe and effective for use in the landscape and garden. Insecticidal soaps may be purchased at most garden stores. Always follow the manufacturer’s directions for use. To use regular dish soap as an insecticide on your plants, mix one tablespoon dish soap with one tablespoon olive oil or liquid vegetable oil in a spray bottle and fill the bottle with water. Spray down the affected plant being sure to wet the leaves on the top and bottom. Do not spray plants in direct sunlight as this may cause a condition called sun scald (sun burn) on your plant. Also, some plants may be sensitive to dish soap so if in doubt, test the dish soap mixture on a small portion of the plant first and wait a few days. If the plant remains healthy, it is probably safe to spray down the entire plant.
Dish soap insecticide works on contact with the body of the insect and has no residual effects so a few hours after treating your plant, use a hose or spray bottle with clean water, to wash down your plant and remove any soap residue and dead insects. Repeat this process every three days until all signs of infestation are gone.
Cedar Oil: Cedar wood smells good and has been used for hundreds of years to deter insects. Cedar oil, when sprayed on the lawn, will deter fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and many other pest insects. There is a caveat. Cedar oil will also deter beneficial insects like bees and butterflies so do not use it on plants that are in need of pollination, including garden vegetables and fruit trees, and in butterfly gardens.
Cedar oil is not harmful to plants, animals, or humans. It can be purchased at most garden stores or online. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for proper application.
Diatomaceous Earth: Diatomaceous earth has been used for many years as an effective insecticide. It is silicon dioxide that comes from the fossilized remains of ancient algae that is mined from the ground. It is non-toxic and safe for home and garden use. Diatomaceous earth is generally sold as a powder and remains effective as long as it stays dry. It can be used in the house any place insects hide or it can be used in the garden either on the ground or as a dust to protect plants from harmful insects.
The powder is comprised of sharp microscopic pieces that cut the insect’s underside causing damage leading to dehydration and death. It works best on soft bodied insects like aphids and gastropods like slugs and snails. Even though diatomaceous earth is non-toxic, care should be taken not to breath in the dust or get it in your eyes due to the substance’s sharp microscopic texture. Using gloves and a mask is recommended to apply this product and always read the package instructions for proper use.
Beer or copper for Slugs: Slugs can be a problem for any gardener. They chew holes in leaves and can devastate plants in a short amount of time. As I have already covered this topic thoroughly in a previous post I will simply add the link here: The Trouble With Slugs Mixing edibles into the landscape with your existing ornamentals can be extremely appealing visually as well as a productive use of your landscape space. With careful organic plant maintenance, your plantings will be safe, productive, and very beautiful!
Mock Orange Shrub in bloom
Hemerocallis photo by Wanette Lenling
hosta with slug damage
Cabbage: Photo by Wanette Lenling
Quote of the Day
“You’ve got to out on a limb sometimes because that’s where the fruit is.”
-Will Rogers, American Actor
“The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”
Daily announcements of fall plant sales have been filling up my inbox recently. “Buy now!”, “Huge sale”, these ads say. My advice is, buy now! Here’s why:
Huge savings for you.
You benefit with extremely low prices from the company trying to clear out its inventory. At the nursery where I used to work, we always had huge fall sales with drastic cuts in prices because any plants we had to keep for the winter had to be stored. Storing all those plants required a lot of labor and work hours for which the company received no profit. Then in the spring, we would have to pull all those plants out of storage again which took a lot of labor and work hours. There is no profit in this for the company, therefore they would rather sell off their inventory at drastically reduced prices than store plants for winter. Therefore You benefit! As the consumer, you get really really low prices for plants that would have cost you double or even triple the price in the spring.
If you buy plants at fall sales, it’s still ok to plant them. In fact, fall is the best time for transplanting many flowers including daylilies, irises, and peonies. Some plants may not look the best because they are no longer actively growing on top but there is still plenty of time for the roots to grow down before winter. Water the plant well when you plant it (or transplant it) and keep it moist until such time as evening temperatures are at the freezing point and daytime temperatures are cool. Then stop watering to allow the roots to dry out. Wet roots rot so you only want the roots to remain moist but not wet for the winter.
In the colder climate zones, cover any new plants or transplants with leaves, mulch, or straw for the winter to ensure they stay insulated and warm for the winter. Also, when you plant or transplant in the fall, don’t fertilize your plants. You don’t want to encourage new growth. It may damage or kill your new plant as winter sets in. You want them stop growing and setting in for winter weather.
Designate an area of the yard for sale plants
For sale plants that don’t have a place in your garden yet, designate an out-of-site area in your yard to heel the plants in for winter and make sure to label them if necessary so you don’t forget what you bought. Over the winter, you can plan and map out your new garden arrangement. Then in the spring, move your new plants to their designated spot and watch them grow!
Hint: Heeling plants in simply means temporarily planting plants until their permanent planting area is ready. For a great demonstration of heeling plants in check out this video I found on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZI6Cb_4AOM
Take advantage of those plant sales. It will save you a lot of money in the end and you may even be able to afford that expensive plant you have been coveting but could not afford until now. Besides, in the spring, think of the fun you get to have creating new areas of the garden without spending a dime!
Should I stake my new tree? The short answer is no. Trees grow strong from bending and swaying in the wind like human muscles grow strong from lifting weight. If a person doesn’t move, their muscles atrophy. The same it true of a tree. If a tree is not allowed to sway and bend in the wind, the result is a weak tree that is likely to break in the wind.
How do I spot a strong tree? When you purchase a tree, look for a healthy tree (without a stake) that has a strong sturdy trunk. Look for a tree that is well balanced visually, for example, the top of the tree looks balanced with the size of the trunk. Also, make sure the trunk is larger at the bottom than it is toward the top. If the tree is extraordinarily tall with a thin trunk and appears top heavy (like a pom pom on a stick), pass it up. It’s a weak tree.
So how do I correctly stake my newtree? If you feel it is necessary to stake your tree, you must do it correctly for the tree to grow into a strong stable tree. To correctly stake a tree, drive two or three stakes into the ground a few feet away from the tree trunk, with one stake on each side of the tree. The stakes should be at least half the height of the tree. Make sure the stakes are securely in the ground and that they do not move. Remember, they will need to support the movement of the tree in the wind.
Then, use a soft elastic material, like old panty hose, to tether the tree to each one of the stakes, using one tether per stake. The tethers should be placed at a height not lower than the middle of the tree, slightly higher is best. Beware of the material you use to tether the tree. Never use materials like rope or chain as a tether as it will actually rub against the bark causing injuries to the tree which will lead to disease and rot issues. Next, adjust the tightness or looseness of the tether if necessary to ensure the tether is loose enough so the tree can sway in the wind but tight enough to support the tree. The tether should limit the movement of the tree but not prevent all movement of the tree. The idea of staking is to support the tree as it grows stronger in order for the tree to eventually support itself.
How long should I stake my tree? My rule is one year. In that amount of time, the tree should have expanded its root system into the ground to stabilize itself and if the tree has been staked correctly, the trunk should have become more rigid and sturdy within that year. If the tree is still not strong enough to stand alone after one year, allow the stakes to remain for a second year, adjusting the tether tightness if necessary. If the tree is still not strong enough to support itself without the stakes after two years, I would suggest removing the tree. The tree is likely too weak to ever support itself and in the case of a shade tree which will grow exceptionally tall, the weak tree may cause damage to property or be dangerous to people if it should break.
Helpful hint. If the issue is not the strength of the tree trunk but the wind blowing the tree over, especially bare root trees, simply plant the tree as you normally would and place weights on the ground at the base of the tree, careful not to place rough edges against the tree trunk. This allows the tree to sway in the wind but holds the roots in the ground so it won’t blow over.
My favorite weight to use is old gallon milk jugs full of water as they hold the tree roots down nicely but are gentle on the tree trunk. You can you can also use rocks or decorative landscape blocks. When using rock or landscape block, make sure they don’t weigh too much which could hurt the roots. Also be sure to place a plastic protector on the tree trunk to protect the tree trunk from rubbing against ANY weights placed at the base of the tree.
Remove the weights as soon as the tree has rooted itself down enough to hold itself upright. Again, my rule is no longer than one year. In one year, the tree should have rooted itself into the ground making it safe to remove the weights.
For more information. For more information and visual demonstrations of staking trees, watch the great video on HGTV
The vision of a majestic tree is one of the most beautiful sights to behold. Planted and maintained correctly, your new tree could be the center attraction in your yard for years to come.
Quote of the Day
“It will never rain roses: when we want to have more roses we must plant more trees.”
-George Eliot aka Mary Anne Evans, English novelist/poet