Posts Tagged ‘Landscaping’

Keeping Trees & Shrubs Healthy

The best winter protection for trees and shrubs, wherever they grow, is proper care during the growing season. The healthier they are before the cold weather arrives, the better their chances of coming through the winter safely. Feed your plants with an all-purpose slow-acting granular fertilizer in late fall to encourage root development and nutrient storage without stimulating unwanted foliage growth.
Mulching the soil and deep watering shrubs and perennial flowering plants very well–usually in October or November–are important protective measures. In this instance a soaker hose or drip irrigation system, run for several hours around every tree and shrub, does the best watering job. With plenty of moisture in their tissues, plants are better able to withstand drying by harsh winter sun and wind.

Dealing with Winter Winds

Cold winter winds threaten plants, especially evergreens, because they pull moisture from leaves and soil. When plant roots can not replace this lost moisture, leaves and twigs shrivel and die. Mulching and deep watering are good preventives.
Loosely wrap natural burlap with openings at the top and bottom for air circulation around plants to protect them from wind. Never cover plants with plastic sheeting.
Erect a simple windbreak to block the wind. Nail lengths of burlap, wind screening fabric or heavy-duty polyspun floating row cover to wooden stakes and drive them into the soil to create a screen on the windward side of the plant.
Make portable folding A-frame shelters out of sheets of plywood, wood slats or snow fencing that can be stored away until next winter.
Spray needled and broadleaf evergreen foliage with an anti-transpirant spray product which reduces evaporative moisture loss by up to 80% while still allowing gas exchange. Follow label instructions.

Dealing with Frost Heaving

Repeated freezing and thawing of the ground sometimes heaves the soil, disturbing plant roots and shallowly planted bulbs. A winter mulch layer of 3 or 4 inches of organic material such as wood chips, pine boughs, bark mulch, or even old newspapers, insulates the soil, moderating temperature fluctuations. For best results, apply the mulch after the first hard freeze.
Winter mulch is not intended to prevent the soil from freezing, but to keep its temperature more uniform, especially during winter mild spells. It also delays soil warming in spring, so shrubs and trees do not bloom so early that their spring blooms are caught by a late frost. Because feeder roots of many trees and shrubs spread some distance from the trunk, spread the mulch in a circle from the trunk to at least their dripline. Keep mulch away from tree trunks to prevent rodent and disease problems.

Dealing with Sudden Freezes

Plants handle very cold winters with lots of snow cover better than milder winters punctuated by sudden or extreme temperature changes. A warm spell in late winter can cause serious damage if it encourages leaf and flower buds to develop. When the temperature drops again, the moisture-filled cells rupture, often killing the plant.
Freezing damage most commonly occurs in the fall or spring, when green wood (new growth) or blossoms are susceptible to sudden frost. The best way to deal with this unpredictable problem is to grow plants, shrubs, and trees known to be cold hardy in your region.

Dealing with Sunscald

Sunscald may sound like something that happens in hot weather, but it is a cold-weather problem, occurring in winter and early spring. It is often evident on young, thin-barked trees planted where daytime temperatures are high, such as beside a wall that reflects the sun’s heat. Tender bark on the south facing side of the trunk or stem warms much more than the north facing side. For this reason, sunscald is sometimes called “southwest disease.”
On a relatively warm day, bright sun is absorbed by dark-colored tree trunks and start the sap flowing. If a severe freeze occurs that night, the bark may split. The wound may extend 1 to 6 feet down the side of the trunk and be an inch or more wide, an obvious invitation to pest insects and fungi. Minimize sunscald by watering thoroughly before the ground freezes, and by wrapping trunks of vulnerable trees with a commercial tree wrap product. Another way to guard against early-spring sunscald is to spray the bark on the south side of young trees with white latex paint in the fall. The light color reflects the sun’s rays and lowers bark surface temperatures by at least 10 degrees.


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We woke up to a spectacular “hoar” frost this morning.  All the weeds, plants, trees and shrubs are coated all over with a sparkly white frost coating.  It is not ice; it is frost and does no harm to the plants as will a coating of ice. It is sometimes called “soft rime” or “white frost”.  Usually it disappears as the day progresses.

Trees Coated With Hoar Frost


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Winter and early spring are ideal times to look for areas in your yard where problems may be brewing.

Rainwater and snowmelt accumulation can spell real trouble for you and the environment. Some low spots where puddling occurs after a heavy rain, like the one that has developed just in front of my perennial garden should be filled in, but others, those located in areas where the land is below grade may be just the spot to plant a rain garden.

Rain gardens are designed to direct runoff water into a low, vegetated area, where it can be captured and filtered by Mother Nature. The gardens are planted with attractive flowering plants that tolerate the extremes of wet soils and very dry periods.

Ideally rain gardens are best located near impervious surfaces such as driveways, sidewalks and down spouts to capture the rain as close as possible to the location where it falls. Areas adjacent to ditches that flood when it rains are another option.  Commercial architects are beginning to incorporate these vegetated infiltration strips and into parking lot designs.

Storm water run off is a huge problem in developed areas where natural vegetative growth has been replaced by hardscape such as buildings, roads, sidewalks, driveways and parking lots. Rainwater has no place to go and gushes into sewers and drainage ditches taking the express route, smack into our lakes and streams.

Rainwater picks up pollutants in the air and as it flows over the landscape it picks up the residue of grease, and toxic chemicals from vehicles; viruses and bacteria from failing septic systems, road de-icing salts; heavy metals; and water-soluble fertilizers and pesticides from turf management.

This heavily polluted runoff water becomes a water quality issue when it flows directly into our lakes and streams. The pollutants, harm fish and wildlife populations, kill native vegetation, foul drinking water supplies, and make recreational areas unsafe.

Rain gardens consist of native vegetation plantings strategically located to intercept this runoff.  They are natural biofilters that that have the ability to clean and purify contaminated water and allow it to filter back into the ground water supply the way Mother Nature intended

Building a rain garden in not difficult, but there are some important considerations that should be addressed including watershed hydrology, existing drainage patterns, and aesthetics. The good news is, it’s not rocket science and you don’t need to be a landscape architect to install one.

Plant selection is key to success when making a rain garden. Most perennials need well-drained soil and cannot survive in areas that remain wet for any length of time. So it’s important to choose those that thrive in damp soils and tolerate standing water for short periods of time. Choosing native plants has several advantages, they are adapted to the local climate and, once established, seldom need watering or fertilizing and they tolerate drought. They are also attractive to diverse native butterflies and provide habitats for wildlife, especially birds.

Rain gardens are not intended to detain water for long periods, so mosquitoes should not be a problem. Ideally, runoff will not be detained for longer than four days. It takes 10 to 14 days for a mosquito to go from egg to adult.

African violet tip

Cindy Merritt of Troy e-mailed with valuable advice regarding watering African violets. She’s been growing them for over thirty years and attributes much of her success to her watering techniques.

She fills a clean gallon milk jug with warm tap water. (Cindy lives in Troy, so this is city water.) She then inserts 2 tea bags into the jug, draping the strings over the side and lets the potion sit and brew for two days. This trick acidifies the water.  Merritt then adds liquid African violet fertilizer according to the package directions and waters her plants.

Merritt uses ceramic self-watering pots that are especially designed for growing African violets. The 2 part ceramic pots contain an inner pot onto which the plant is planted and it fits into a second pot that holds the supply of liquid.  The water is wicked through the inner pot to the plant. As long as the container is filled with water the plant will receive the right amount of moisture. That takes the mystery out of when and how much to water.

I have seen these pots, priced between $4 and $12, at Wal-mart, Home Depot and English Gardens.

Merritt keeps one of her beauties blooming on her desk at work because

She has a work light directly overhead. She says she is always

surprised by how many men love gardening and comment

on her plants.

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If you yearn to use spotlights to highlight small trees, yard art, architecture and holiday decorations on the outside of your house but have passed because of the high cost of electrical installations, I’ve got great news. The world’s best Double Ultra Bright Solar Spotlight from Gardener’s Supply catalog (www.gardeners.com (800) 427-3363) priced at only $90 can be installed in less then a minute.  Simply stick the spotlight in the ground and place the connecting  solar panel within 30 feet of the light where it will sit in the sun and you are good to go.  The best news is these lights really work.

Solar power lighting has come a long way in recent years and the Ultra Bright light rivals most low voltage wired models for high light output. Made of weather proof anodized aluminum with impact resistant hand soldered circuitry, this solar light will perform for many years.  The light model fitted with 16 LED produces 18 times more light the competing models.

We use them to light our long dark tree covered drive when entertaining and then move them to other locations when the party’s over.

The Gardeners Supply catalog has all kinds of interesting and artsy solar lightables to light up your winter garden.

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