Posts Tagged ‘Landscape’

Care of Garden Roses as Cut Flowers

Icon Written by Geoff on May 1, 2004 – 7:39 pm

There is no mystical secret in making your fresh cut garden roses last a long time. All it takes is a little planning and preparation on your part. Commercial growers do it every day and so can you. 

The evening before you plan to cut your roses, water them well. This will give the plant more substance and lasting power. Early morning is the best time to cut roses, while the stems and petals are full of water and sugar. 

New rose plants are especially sensitive to the loss of leaves so try to avoid cutting long stems as this weakens the plant. We always try to cut stems back to a five-leaflet bud joint. If you do not cut back this far, a replacement bloom is often not produced. Cutting short stems is particularly important in Late Summer as the plant is then building up reserves to carry it through the Winter. 

Select flowers with petals that are just starting to unfold, when they are just beyond the bud stage, as these will last the longest. Always make a nice, clean cut with sharp pruners, at a 45 degree angle, to reduce damage to the cane. Carefully strip off any leaves that might be submerged in the vase. Be sure not to peel back the skin as this will prevent water absorption. Try to keep the cut stems in water at all times or they will absorb air. This disrupts the flow of nutrients to the flowers and leads to an early death. 

Make sure that the pitcher or vase is clean. Bacterial growth and fungus will prevent the roses from drawing water up the stem just like air. A 5% solution of household bleach and water should be used to disinfect the container. We always follow this with a hot washing in our dishwasher. 

After you have cut your roses, bring them indoors and place them immediately in a large container of lukewarm water. Make a second cut underwater, about an inch up the stem. This prevents air bubbles from plugging the stem, then move the stem quickly from the cutting bowl to the vase. Allow the cut blooms to stand in room temperature for several hours before arranging them for display. 

Soft or distilled water works best as it has very little salt content. The water temperature should be warm to the touch, between 100 and 110 degrees. For best results add a cut flower preservative to the water in the vase. A good floral preservative serves three functions, it kills bacteria, acidifies the water, and it provides sugar. The most common problems when working with floral preservatives is not using enough. Dissolving aspirin in warm water makes an excellent preservative. You can also fight bacteria by immediately removing any flowers that are past their prime. 

Every morning cut the stem back another inch, change the water, and add new preservative. Your cut roses will keep longer out of direct sunlight, drafts, and hot areas, such as around oven, stoves, televisions, and even computers. Following these steps, your roses should easily last 7-10 days!

Growing Roses in Containers

Icon Written by Geoff on April 1, 2004 – 7:41 pm

In our previous Yard Talk on Old Roses we mentioned that we dug up all of our Hybrid Tea Roses and moved them across the garden. We jokingly said how much easier this would have been if the roses were in containers. Faced with the task once again the joke just may be on us. 

There definitely are some advantages in growing roses in containers. In our case we could have easily moved the plants as the growing conditions changed, namely the trees got bigger and the sunlight less. We could simply pick up the plants and plop them down in a new spot. 

Not everyone has room in their yard for a rose garden, but most gardens have room for at least a few containers, even apartment and condominium dwellers. Container-growing is great for people who love to grow roses, but only have pavement or gravel surrounding their homes. If you need to move to a different apartment or even city, you can simple pack them and bring them along. 

Potted roses can be easily moved about to change the design effect or layout. You can even move the containers around to showcase those which are now blooming or to complement another plant or setting. Roses grown in containers offer gardeners the flexibility of blending roses into their garden landscapes even as the seasons change. 

Container growing simplifies winter protection, where winter cold is a problem, you simply move the plant to the shelter of a porch, garage, or basement. This can greatly simplify Fall maintenance. Just think, no more cutting back, banking or installing those funny white Styrofoam Winter hats! 

When roses are grown in containers, water and food can be delivered to the rose alone, it does not have to compete with other plants or trees. Since the rose is off the ground and can be spun around allowing food and water to be applied more uniformly. You will find spraying easier too! Sickly roses can be moved quickly to another area for doctoring. 

Planting in containers provides us the opportunity to refresh the soil frequently. We can now repot roses as we would any other plant, thus assuring it of having the best possible growing medium. This is particularly important in growing roses which are such heavy feeders. 

Growing roses in containers can be done by gardeners with physical limitations. Pots can be elevated or placed on movable carts to increase accessibility. Where the gardener cannot go to the plant the plant can be brought to the gardener. 

Whether you decide to grow just one rose in a single decorative pot or a garden filled with beautiful container roses it adds a whole new dimension to rose gardening. We strongly suggest you give it a try.

Why Not Try Old Roses?

Icon Written by Geoff on March 1, 2004 – 7:47 pm

After trying to grow Hybrid Tea Roses for over fifteen years we have come to the sad conclusion maybe we should give up. Some years our roses have done very well; but for the most part they have looked pretty sick. One year we even dug them all up and moved them to a different location. 

The next season they did very well. We had finally found the answer to our problems! Well, three years later we are back to the same old up and down pattern. My mother-in-law grows the best Hybrid Tea roses in some of the poorest soil and location we have seen. She uses the same methods (my wife learned from her) that we do. Year after year she has wonderful blooms on strong healthy plants. Ours, for the most part, always looks like Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree. 

We hate to admit it, the problem is entirely our fault. Hybrid Tea Roses require a lot of just plain old fashion loving care, translation; “a Lot of Time.” On those rare years when we have time to spend with them they look great, unfortunately this happens rarely. Thus the performance of our Teas is directly related to how busy we are. 

With our busy schedule and many other gardens we just do not have the time to devote to Hybrid Teas. We are sure many rose gardeners have found themselves confronted with this problem. Fortunately for us, we have discovered Old Roses. 

Old Roses are time tested survivors of our mothers and grandmothers gardens. These are the roses found at abandon homesteads or growing wild along roadsides. Many trace their origins to the Old World Roses and were brought over by early immigrants. These old fellows, come in many forms and can be used in many ways. They climb, they ramble, they trail, and they form bushes large and small. We stick them everywhere and just forget about them. 

Yes, we said forget about them! If these roses can survive years of being on their own in the wilds they surely can survive anyone’s garden. If drought, wild animals, and hoards of insects cannot kill them growing in the landscape garden is a piece of cake for them. 

Old Roses are made for today’s busy homeowner. Sure, if you want to fertilize, prune, and water them, go ahead. While they respond well to a little care, they just do not need it. We try to fertilize ours in the Spring and Early Fall, prune after blooming, and water in dry spells. If we miss these times, so what, they just keeping on growing. 

Many old varieties display handsome foliage, flowers in soft pastel colors, and bare attractive hips in the fall. Most are extremely showy, especially when used as a background planting or on hillsides. They also have that true strong rose fragrance that can be smelled from miles away. 

While we have not entirely given up on Hybrid Teas we are close to it. No matter how busy you are you can grow these old varieties too! Give it a try, you will be surprised at the results.

Fall is for Ornamental Grasses

Icon Written by Geoff on October 1, 2002 – 5:02 pm

Ornamental grasses can become an important addition to your garden. Grasses can add lasting beauty, an air of elegance and character to a yard. In the traditional landscape garden they can be interplanted with flowering perennials, particularly coneflowers and asters. Besides adding beauty to outdoor surroundings, plumes from ornamental grass can be dried for use in flower arrangements. 

They also can be used in the wildflower gardens or meadows, where they have the added benefit of attracting birds. We have found ornamental grasses not only provide shelter but food for the birds. In the Fall large flocks of migrating songbirds often descend on our grasses to feed. 

Other uses of ornamental grasses are: 

1. In containers
2. As background planting
3. Specimen planting
4. Use as a living screen
5. For groundcover 

Most of the grasses thrive in full direct sun, although a few tolerate shade. They mainly like a well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Therefore, we always work organic matter into the soil before planting. Remember too that grasses are deep rooted so really dig deep. Their root system makes moving or dividing extremely difficult. 

Grasses are very hardy, pest resistant plants that require no fertilization and very little watering. We do water them during their first growing season but it is more out of habit than a cultural requirement. Since grasses grow so densely, we have never had to worry about weeds. 

In early spring before new growth begins, remove the previous year’s foliage. Grasses will begin growing earlier if foliage is removed. We have found power hedgetrimmers work very well for this. In the Spring, if the center of the clump shows little or no growth, the plant should be divided if possible. Separate and replant the vigorous growth on the outer edge of the clump. 

Some popular grasses for the home garden are: 


Varieties we recommend are:

Andropogon glomeratus ‘Bushy Blue Stem’ 
This wonderful native with flattened blue-green foliage makes a very structural statement, reaching 6 feet tall, with only a 2-3 foot spread. In early fall the plumes emerge and with the first heavy frost, the plumes take on a billowing cloud-like appearance. 

Sporobolus airoides ‘Alkali Dropseed’
Alkali dropseed qualifies as one of the least-known of the native grasses. Tolerant of drought and alkaline soils, a single plant will quickly produce a 3 feet tall by 6 feet wide clump of grey-green foliage. In Mid-Summer it is topped with graceful tall golden bronze panicles. 

Panicum virgatum ‘Cloud Nine’
We are very fond of Panicums for two reasons, they are native grasses and they are quite beautiful. Cloud Nine tops out at 6-7 feet tall with airy panicles of gold against subtle blue foliage. We tucked this new native selection in the back of the sunny border to offer a vertical grassy form with airy fall panicles. 

Panicum virgatum ‘Shenandoah’
This selection of our native panicum makes a small 3 foot tall clump. The foliage is dark purple on its tips throughout the summer, but when fall hits, nice airy plumes appear. 

Chasmanthium latifolium ‘Northern Sea Oats’
This is one of the few ornamental grasses that thrives in shady conditions. Northern Sea Oats has a short basal tuft of wide grassy leaves that produces 4 foot stalks with dramatic grain-like flowers. Northern Sea Oats grow best in a naturalistic garden, either in the border or by the water. 

Calamagrostis arundinacea ‘Karl Forester’
This grass is appreciated not only for its glossy, dark green leaves but also for its graceful flower spikes which appear reddish-green in early summer and change through the growing season to a creamy white. Highly prized for its ability to add subtle texture and color in the perennial border. 

Panicum virgatum ‘Prairie Sky’
This native switchgrass is prized for its powdery blue foliage. In late summer, billowing plumes of amber brown top the clump. 

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’
Morning Light has very narrow foliage with a subtle white stripe that causes this plant to shimmer and glow in the landscape. This choice ornamental grass of 4-5′ sets off any sunny area in the garden. If you need a plant to stop your eye, this grass will do it. Highlights all other plants in its company. 

Pennisetum orientale ‘Tall Tails’
This vigorous, heat-loving plant makes a border-sized upright arching clump to 4.5 feet tall. The early fall plumes of tan, with a hint of pink, tower another above the foliage. 

Panicum virgatum ‘Northwind’
The wide, olive-green foliage makes the strongest vertical accent of any of the switchgrasses. This vigorous grower is topped in September with attractive narrow plumes. 

Miscanthus giganteus ‘Giant Chinese Silver Grass’
This plant quickly grows to 12 feet by early summer. In early fall, plumes rise and add to the drama of this grass. The grassy leaves are long and gracefully sway with the slightest breeze. 

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’
Perennial grass with white stripes on dark green leaves. Feathery flower plumes are an added feature. Excellent as a specimen or in the perennial border. 

Miscanthus sinensis ‘Yaku Jima’
Excellent ornamental discovered on the Japanese island of Yaku Jima. Compact, clumping grass with finely textured silver-striped green foliage. Silver plums appear in late summer and remain attractive into winter. 

Grasses are fun to play with in the garden. They add vertical texture like no other plant. Ornamental grasses really come into their own in the Fall and Winter with their beautiful plumage, all the while providing food and shelter for birds and other wildlife. In the Spring the dead foliage even provides nesting material. There are so many easy to grow varieties you really cannot go wrong.

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Summer Flowering Bulbs

Icon Written by Geoff on April 1, 2002 – 7:00 pm

As we promised in March’s Yard Talk we will be looking at Summer flowering bulbs this month. In March we discussed Spring flowering bulbs, much of the cultural requirements we discussed then, holds true for Summer flowering bulbs. For our discussion, we are going to group bulbs, corm, rhizome, and tuber together. 

Site selection and preparation is very important. Summer bulbs like good drainage and high organic matter. You can never add too much humus to a bulb growing medium. Try to group bulbs together, or plant in masses and groups, in curves and drifts, or clustered close together. A light mulching helps the bulbs retain moisture and reduces the competitive weeds. 

Some commonly used Summer bulbs are: 

1. Liliaceae Lilium ‘Lily’
Lilies are used in borders, perennial gardens, pots, and containers. Lilies are often used for cut flowers. They like a sunny spot, but will tolerate partial shade. A good online source for lilies is B&D Lilies 

2. Compositae Dahlia ‘Union’
From Summer into Fall this bulb produces two to eight foot plants with flowers up to 14 inches across. They are generally planted directly in the garden in Mid-May in a well-drained sunny location. Plants should be staked at planting time because they will require support for the large flowers. Dahlias must be dug and stored each fall. A good source for dahlias is Old House Gardens in Ann Arbor, Michigan. 

3. Iridaceae Gladiolus ‘Sword Lily’ 
The gladiolus is used mainly for cut flowers, although it does have a place in the home garden. Their wide range of colors, sizes and flower types make them particularly useful for flower arrangements. Gladiolus flowers are found on exhibit at flower shows and are a specialty of many amateur growers. Columbia View Gladiolus offer an excellent selection for the home gardener. 

Some lesser known Summer bulbs that we have tried are: 

1. Iridaceae Tigridia ‘Tiger Flower’
This bulbs’ foliage is similar to the daylily, it produces several flowers per stalk and each separate flower blooms for just one day. Like dahlias they bloom from Mid-Summer into Fall in shades of white, cream, yellow, pink, and red. Plant in a sunny location along walks or as borders. Tigridia must be dug and stored each fall. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs offers this unusual bulb. 

2. Amaryllidaceae Sternbergia ‘Autumn Daffodil’
The Autumn Daffodil is a terrific bulb to use in naturalizing. They have bright yellow, crocus-like flowers that pops up out of nowhere. Grow in partial shade for autumn color. These bulbs must be dug and stored each fall. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs also offer this selection. 

3. Liliaceae Eucomis ‘Pineapple Plant’
The flower is a spike of masses of little flowers with a rosette of green leaves on top. Eucomis blooms best in full sun from July through August. It is often used in container gardening. Eucomis must be dug and stored each fall. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs also carry this bulb. 

4. Ranunculaceae Anemone coronaria ‘Windflower’
This blue, red, white, and pink blooming bulb flowers from May to September. It likes a partially shaded location. This bulb must also be dug and stored each fall. Most good online bulb companies such as Brent and Becky’s Bulbs carry this Summer bulb. 

5. Cannaceae Canna
Canna lilies are native plants in the United States. Flowers come in shades of red, pink, yellow, orange and cream. The planting site should be well drained and in full sun. Once frost has killed the canna tops, cut off the dead tops and dig bulbs. They must be stored in a cool dry place. Aaron’s Amaryllis & Canna Bulb Farm Nursery offers some of the best bulbs we have seen. 

Some additional Summer blooming bulbs worth looking at are:

Achimenes Globba Polianthes
Alocasia Gloriosa Sandersonia
Amaryllis Habranthus Sauromatum
Bletilla Hedychium Scadoxus
Bloomeria Hemerocallis Sparaxis
Caladium Hippeastrum Sprekelia
Canna Hymenocallis Triteleia
Chlidanthus Incarvillea Tritonia
Colocasia Ixia Tropaeolum
Commelina Leucocoryne Tulbaghia
Convallaria Liatris Veltheimia
Crinum Lycoris Zantedeschia
Crocosmia Nerine Zephyranthes
Cyrtanthus Oxalis  
Galtonia Pleione  

We did not discuss daylillies, although a beautiful Summer bulb, as this was covered in a Past Yard Talk. We enjoy growing daylilies and other Summer bulbs in our gardens. Summer bulbs add a lot of interest to the landscape. They offer not only bright flowering blooms but unusual shapes and textures. We encourage you to try them, particularly some of the lessor known bulbs.

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Flowering Bulbs

Icon Written by Geoff on March 1, 2002 – 6:57 pm

This month we are taking a look at flowering bulbs. While this is usually a topic for the Fall, we decided, for several reasons, to discuss them this Spring season. First of all, site selection and preparation is much easier now than when your new bulbs and Winter is just around the corner. Spring is also a time when you can get a good overall look at all your garden plants and how they look together. 

If you are like us, we make our bulb selections in the Spring. When they arrive in the Fall, there is always a few varieties that we cannot remember where we planned on using them. So, we rush out and just stick them in the ground, not always to the best effect. We have even been known to start planting bulbs only to discover the space is already occupied. In the Spring you can also see where you already have bulbs growing. How much easier Fall planting is when you have the site selected, soil prepared, and the design laid out. 

While we are primarily talking about Spring bulbs, much also holds true for Summer flowering bulbs. These often overlooked bulbs that are planted in the Spring, have much the same cultural requirements as their Spring cousins. Unfortunately, many Summer flowering varieties must be dug up in the Fall. For our discussion, we are going to group bulbs, corm, rhizome, and tuber together. Thus, we will treat daffodils, a bulb, the same as crocuses although they actually are a corm. The most important decision you must make is where to plant your bulbs. You want a site with appropriate sunlight. Tulips and narcissi prefer full sunlight or filtered sunlight for optimum coloration and prolonged flowering periods. Since deciduous trees will not be leafed out in the spring when the bulbs are growing, it is usually all right to plant bulbs under them. 

Bulbs will not grow in an area with poor water drainage. You cannot add enough compost or other organic matter to your selected area. For clay soil, add sand or peat moss. For sandy soil, add peat moss or aged leaf compost. Since bulbs prefer neutral pH soil, go easy on the peat moss. While adding “hot” manure such as mushroom compost to your bulb beds in the Fall this is not recommended, it is not a problem for Spring prepared beds. Work the compost in as deep as possible remember many large bulbs such as daffodils and alliums are planted once and enjoyed for many years. 

Design your planting to get the most effect, try to group bulbs together, or planting in masses and groups, in curves and drifts, or clustered close together. At least avoid straight lines and skimpy placement. We never plant less then 12 of any one variety in a group. By all means put the bulbs where you and your neighbors can see them. Consider height and time of bloom. Bulbs are identified in all good catalogues by bloom-time, generally early, mid, and late bloomers. Plant some of each for a continuous color display. Also, match bulb bloom with the early flowering perennials such as pulmonarias, epimedium, and creeping phlox. Foliage plants such as hostas work well with bulbs and serve to fill in once the foliage start to go dormant. 

Naturalizing with bulbs is a popular planting technique used to achieve a natural, as if nature had planted them. Most of the small bulbs such as crocus and snowdrops naturalizing well. Even many larger bulbs like daffodils naturalize well in open areas, at the edge of woodlands, or on the slope of your lawn. Siberian squill, whose foliage matures fast, are the best for naturalizing in lawns. The simplest method of naturalizing is to scatter bulbs across the area and plant them where they fall. 

Bulb selection is important too. Some Spring flowering bulbs to consider are: 

Allium Anemone Arum Bellevalia
Brimeura Bulbocodium Calochortus Camassia
Chionodoxa Colchicum Corydalis Crocus-Fall
Crocus-Spring Dactylorhiza Dichelostemma Eremurus
Erythronium Freesia Fritillaria Galanthus
Geranium Gladiolus Hemerocallis Hermodactylus
Hippeastrum Hyacinthoides Hyacinthus Ipheion
Lachenalia Leucojum Lycoris Muscari
Narcissus Ornithogalum Oxalis Paeonia
Pancratium Puschkinia Rhodophiala Scilla
Sternbergia Triteleia Tulip  

While you might not be familiar with many of these, they all have their special garden uses and are well worth trying. 

Some Summer blooming bulbs worth looking at are: 

Achimenes Alocasia Amaryllis Anemone
Bletilla Bloomeria Caladium Canna
Chlidanthus Colocasia Commelina Convallaria
Crinum Crocosmia Cyrtanthus Dahlia
Eucomis Galtonia Gladiolus Globba
Gloriosa Habranthus Hedychium Hemerocallis
Hippeastrum Hymenocallis Incarvillea Ixia
Leucocoryne Liatris Lilium Lycoris
Nerine Oxalis Pleione Polianthes
Sandersonia Sauromatum Scadoxus Schizostylis
Sparaxis Sprekelia Sternbergia Tigridia
Triteleia Tritonia Tropaeolum Tulbaghia
Veltheimia Zantedeschia Zephyranthes  

An excellent source for heirloom or hard to find bulbs is Old House Gardens. While Odyssey Bulbs a new company in Berrien Springs, Michigan claims their mission is to “fill a void in America’s gardens by providing bulbs that have escaped the attention of mainstream horticulture businesses.” While we have not used either company yet, we plan to give them a try this year. 

Plant bulbs with the pointed end up, if you are not sure, plant the bulb on its side. Do not plant bulbs shallow, follow the instructions for planting that came with your bulbs. Generally, planting depth should be roughly three times the width of the bulb. If planting many bulbs, cover each grouping with a light layer compost and apply a bulb fertilizer such as Scott’s Bulb Food. Water in the bulbs thoroughly after planting. This will help you keep track of where you have already planted and get the bulbs off to a good start. Do not apply top mulch until after the ground freezes! Mulch should not be more than about two inches thick. 

Once planted, bulbs are very easy to care for, whether in beds or naturalized. You need only apply bulb fertilizer when the sprouts first poke through the soil, when the flower dies back, and in the fall before the soil freezes. The most critical point in caring for your bulbs is to allow the foliage to mature naturally. The leaves are the bulbs’ principle source of energy for the next year’s bloom, removing them literally starves the bulb. When daffodils become overcrowded, dig them up with a fork, divide them and replant. 

We recently read in McClure & Zimmerman Newsletter of January 9, 2002 an excerpt from the preface of “Bulbs and Tuberous Rooted Plants” written by C. L. Allen, published in 1899 that we would like to pass on to you: 

“The flowering of bulbs is a very simple matter. The bulb, when it comes from the hands of the grower, contains within itself the food for the future flower, and it does not require the gardeners’ skill to develop it. The growing of bulbs has advantages over that of any other class of flowering plants; among others, and a very great one, is that many of them produce their flowers in early spring, at a season when few other plants are in blossom, and yet when flowers are doubly valuable for their rarity. At this season, in a sheltered, sunny spot, a few clumps of Snowdrops, Crocus and Scillas will present a mass of color, in graceful forms, while the snow yet lingers in shaded places; before these are gone, Hyacinths refresh us with their grateful fragrance; these are soon followed by the Narcissus and showy tulips, and all before other vegetation is fairly started. In rapid succession follow the Crown-Imperials, the Iris, and, before these are gone, the Gladiolus and Lilies commence. Another advantage that bulbs possess is their long period of rest, which leaves the ground, half the year, free for other plants…..No other plants are so easy to manage, none more showy, and none succeed as well under all circumstances, as the different classes of bulbs and tuberous-rooted plants.”

How little has changed over the years and how much we continue to enjoy bulbs whether they are Spring or Summer blooming. In future issues of Yard Talk we will discuss in more detail Summer Flowering Bulbs and forcing of bulbs for Winter enjoyment.

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Plants for Winter Landscapes

Icon Written by Geoff on October 1, 2001 – 5:29 pm

Winter is a time when understated details come to the foreground. Dead withered flowers, like the faded blossoms of Autumn Joy linger on the plant, providing a somber beauty inviting one to touch their crisp dry flower heads. Because there are fewer garden chores, we can settle back and appreciate the small things such as the intricate pattern found on cherry bark or the graceful form of a dogwood tree silhouetted against dark winter skies. One can really appreciate the contorted shape of the Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick on a grey Winter day. 

Molly Dean, a frequent contributor to Flower and Garden magazine wrote: 

“The beauties of winter gardens, dictated by uncertain weather conditions, are fragile, fleeting and subtle. Because of these qualities, though, they are to be valued like the rarest jewels. Much is written about planning for winter gardens — and planning is certainly a factor. Chances are, though, many of us are unaware of the “winter gardens already blooming in our back yard. The key to their discovery is to look at gardens with a different perspective and learn to appreciate winter’s more subtle beauties.” 

The most notable plants in the Winter garden are; of course, the trees, their massive form dominates the landscape. The beautiful corkscrew willow provides a kind of elegant contortion, especially when curling, greenish-yellow shoots are highlighted by a calm backdrop such as water. Other trees that have especially graceful branching patterns include the star magnolia, hinoki cypress and Japanese maples. 

Winter still finds some plants besides conifers, colorful even in Zone 5

  1. Calluna vulgaris – Summer heather is standing erect with foliage in gorgeous hues of bronze, coral and red.
  2. Hellebores niger – Christmas Rose is still green, and there are buds forming under the slightly tattered foliage.
  3. Gallium – Sweet woodruff still looks green and sprightly.
  4. Primula elatior – Red’s foliage is still as crisp as lettuce.
  5. Heuchera micrantha – Purple Palace is a bit battered, but still colorful.

Other plants are no longer green, but they do present an interesting look: 

  1. Salix vitellina – Coral Embers Willow presents strong vertical lines.
  2. Coreopsis verticllata – Moonbeam is an interesting silhouette in bronze.
  3. Sedum – Autumn Joy’s remains are still attractive in late Winter
  4. Fescue – Elijah Blues are still blue beneath their dead tips.
  5. Ulmus parvifolia – Chinese Elm has fascinating bark with small irregular patterns of reddish brown, pale green and silver.
  6. Calamagrostis arundinacea – Karl Foerster has a strong vertical shape that when used in mass is outstanding.
  7. Hydrangea quercifolia – Oakleaf Hydrangea provides beauty with its warm-toned, exfoliating bark.
  8. Cornus sericea – Yellow-twigged dogwood has bright yellow branches.
  9. Kerria japonica – Alba’s green twigs are outstanding in Winter.

These plants really show up against snow or a dark backdrop of conifers. The strong vertical and horizontal manner of growth of many of these bring to mind how important a plants shape becomes, even more important in winter — the design elements line and form. 

There is a wealth of plants that can be used to enhance the Winter landscape. In fact, given the right location, any plant can be used effectively. One needs to look at the lines provided by the hardscape, buildings, fences, rocks, walks, and even roadways that are often only visible in Winter. 

Take time now in Late-Fall to evaluate your garden. Make notes and drawings or, better yet, take pictures so that with the coming of Spring you can take the necessary steps to improve your Winterscape. It is easy to forget how the garden looks in the spring with everything in bloom.

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Landscape Mulches

Icon Written by Geoff on April 1, 2001 – 5:18 pm

In this month’s Yard Talk we will look at mulch and mulching (Cedar Chips, Cypress, Bark, Cocoa Beans, Stone, Straw, and More). First, let’s take a look at why we should mulch in the first place. Applying mulch to your garden is a good conservation practice. Thick mulch helps prevent loss of top soil from wind and water erosion. Mulching reduces soil compaction, decreases water loss from the soil through evaporation, and lessens soil temperature fluctuations. Mulch tempers the effects of heat and cold. In the winter months the soil in a garden heaves between the combined effects of freezing, thawing and then refreezing, which also can damage plants and shrubs. A layer of mulch over soil acts as an insulator by keeping it cool in the summer months and mulch helps eliminate danger to plants from the freeze-thaw cycle. 

Organic mulch decomposes and becomes part of the soil, improving drainage, organic content, and texture. Microbes work by the millions to break down the organic matter and turn it into humus, this buffers the soil pH and improves the soil. A continuous supply of mulch means the bacterial and fungal activity can crowd out the bad stuff. Since pathogenic and pest activities are reduced, your plants should be healthier. Mulching enriches and protects soil thus, helping to provide a better growing environment. 

Organic mulch is also important from the visual perspective. How others see our garden is very important to most gardeners. Mulch keeps our gardens neat and trim. Mulch is useful for weed suppression and control. Mulch comes in a variety of colors and textures to meet your needs. Gone are the days of wood chips and pine bark. Many companies now offer wood and bark chips that have been colorized to match a gardens decor. Colleges and universities now have their landscape areas mulched to match their “school colors.” What true Nebraska “Husker” Fan would be without his or her own perennial bed mulched in red and white. 

Inorganic mulch like stones, black plastic and landscape fabric are also useful tools. Stones and marble chips do the same job as organic mulches. They lend a more formal look to a landscape and help prevent weeds. Most inorganic mulch is used with plastic sheeting to stifle weed growth. Landscaping fabric is an alternative to plastic sheeting that offers a barrier while allowing water to pass through into the soil. They allow the soil to breathe and absorb oxygen unlike plastic sheeting. While inorganic mulches have their place in the garden, they lack the soil improving properties of organic mulches. An inorganic mulch may be difficult to remove if you decide to change your garden plans later. 

Mulching is one of the simplest and most beneficial tools you can use in the garden. Mulching then does the following:

  1. Protects the soil
  2. Reduces compaction
  3. Conserves moisture
  4. Maintains an even soil temperature
  5. Prevents weed growth
  6. Enriches the soil
  7. Makes the garden look good

In choosing a mulch, consider first what is available in your area. The best place to look at different types of mulch is at a garden center. A mulch with course particles remains loose and lasts longer so it’s a better choice. A mulch with fine particles can become compacted and will decompose faster. 

Most of us have grass clippings that can be recycled as mulch when dry and shredded. Vegetables will benefit from dried grass clippings that are rich in nitrogen. Do not use grass clippings that were treated with broad-leaf weed killers. Leaves are a good source of organic mulch if ground up. You can buy wood bark chips and nuggets in bags, which cover roughly 10-12 square feet spread 2-3 inch thick. A better way is to buy bark chips in bulk form. In some communities the local tree services offers bark chips. 

Types of mulch:

  1. Bark chips – biodegradable, apply 2-3 inches. Advantages: Attractive, good for permanent mulch, and reusable. Disadvantages: May hinder water penetration. Decomposes slowly unless composted first.
  2. Brick chips – will not decompose, apply 2-3 inches. Advantages: Cheaper than stone mulch and non-flammable. Disadvantages: Not readily available, high moisture retention, and no organic matter added.
  3. Compost – biodegradable, apply 1-2 inches. Advantages: Contributes nutrients, turns quickly to humus. Disadvantages: Needs heating period to kill off weed seeds and diseases and may have unpleasant odor.
  4. Corncobs and cornstalks – biodegradable, apply 3-4 inches. Advantages: Readily available in most areas and good weed control. Disadvantages: Water cannot penetrate well and may generate heat.
  5. Cottonseed hulls – biodegradable, apply 2-4 inches. Advantages: Fertilizing value similar cottonseed meal. Disadvantages: Very light, wind scatters.
  6. Grass clippings – biodegradable, apply 2-3 inches. Advantages: Improves soil by adding organic matter. Disadvantages: Absorbent, may carry weed seed.
  7. Hay – biodegradable, apply 4-6 inches. Advantages: Legume hays (alfalfa) add nitrogen. Disadvantages: First cut hay full of weed seeds and offers poor weed control.
  8. Leaves – biodegradable, apply 2-3 inches. Advantages: Contain many trace minerals, best food for earthworms. Disadvantages: May become soggy and pack, hindering water penetration.
  9. Paper – biodegradable, apply 5-6 pages or 4-6 inches, shredded. Advantages: May add trace minerals, decomposes readily. Disadvantages: May pack and hinder water penetration.
  10. Peanut hulls – biodegradable, apply 2-3 inches. Advantages: Adds nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and decomposes rapidly. Disadvantages: Not readily available in North.
  11. Peat moss – biodegradable, apply 3-5 inches. Advantages: Clean and free of weed seeds and improves water retention when tilled into sandy soil. Disadvantages: Extremely absorbent, water penetration hindered and expensive.
  12. Pine needles – biodegradable, apply 3-4 inches. Advantages: Light, usually free of weed seeds, absorbs little moisture nor does it pack. Disadvantages: Decomposes very slowly.
  13. Polyethylene – will not decompose, apply one layer. Advantages: Retains but absorbs no moisture, black is effective weed control. Disadvantages: Weeds grow under clear plastic and rain will not go through easily.
  14. Rock – crushed gravel or marble chips, will not decompose, apply 1-2 inches. Advantages: Relatively inexpensive, not absorbent, water penetrates, and non-flammable. Disadvantages: Poor weed control and adds no organic matter to soil.
  15. Salt marsh hay – biodegradable, apply 4-6 inches. Advantages: Usually weed-free; available in marshy areas or along coast, very long lasting. Disadvantages: Not available to everyone. Expensive if purchased.
  16. Straw – biodegradable, apply 4-6 inches. Advantages: Adds nutrients and lightens soil when tilled under. Disadvantages: Can be a fire hazard.
  17. Vermiculite or perlite: will not decompose, apply 1-2 inches. Advantages: Totally sterile, so will not carry disease and no weed seeds. Disadvantages: Expensive, very light; scatters, and hinders water penetration.
  18. Cocoa bean shells – biodegradable, apply 4-6 inches. Advantages: attractive color and smell. Disadvantages: Poor water retention, will float out in heavy rains, and makes you want to eat a chocolate bar.

Agricultural publication G06960 Revised July 31, 1998 has reference charts that will help you select which is best for your application. 

While cypress chips make an excellent long lasting mulch, we prefer to use other materials for environmental reasons. This endangered slow growing tree is being indiscriminately harvested to be ground into chips throughout the south. Our favorite mulch is 100% pure shredded sawmill bark that has been double ground. This has excellent uniform texture, color, and decomposition rate plus we like how it sets off our plants. A shredded double ground hardwood mulch with bark would be our second choice. We try to avoid soft woods and fruit woods because as a rule they contain a lot of resins. 

When to apply mulch depends on what you hope to achieve by mulching. Mulch, by providing an insulating barrier between the soil and the air, moderate the soil temperature. This means that a mulched soil in the summer will be cooler than an unmulched soil. While in the winter, the mulched soil may not freeze as deeply. If you are using mulches in your perennial garden, it is best to apply them after the soil has warmed up in the spring. Wait until the soil has warmed completely if you are adding additional mulch to existing perennial bed. Mulches used to help with winter temperatures can be applied late in the fall after the ground has frozen. Applying mulches before the ground has frozen may attract rodents looking for a warm overwintering site. 

Mulches are the gardener’s best friend, they reduce maintenance while adding to the garden’s beauty. The best mulch for you depends on many factors but basically boils down to what works best with your landscape. The cheapest mulch is not always the best you must consider what look you want to achieve. How often we have heard that the appearance of a mulch has no place in the selection process. We feel this is wrong, just look at your landscape areas. The area around the planting is what you focus on. A good mulch, be it cocoa beans or tar paper, is the one that sets off your plants the best.

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Rose Care for Zone 5

Icon Written by Geoff on January 1, 2001 – 7:48 pm

Planting a New Rose

For roses in a box:
if the dirt around the rose is wet enough to stay around the rose remove box. If it is too dry plant the rose with it still in the box. Dig a hole deep enough for the crown of the rose to be about 2 inches below the dirt. Put the rose or the box in the hole and fill halfway with dirt. Compact the dirt, I usually use my foot to do this. Fill the rest of the hole with water. Once the water is gone I put a hand full of Bone Meal around the rose. Put the rest of the dirt around the rose and compact it again. At this point I add a capfull of Systemic and scrape it into the dirt. Add water. Then pile dirt around the plant for a couple of weeks. Carefully remove the dirt that you piled around it after two weeks and it should have some new shoots growing. 

For a bare root rose:
Dig hole the same but at the bottom of the hole add peat and dirt and form a cone and set the rose on that and distribute the roots evenly around the cone. Proceed as with a rose in a box. This is the only time I add bone meal or systemic during the season.

Spring Care

On already established roses, after carefully removing the dirt so that you don’t break off any new shoots, dig three little holes around the roses and add one handful of Bone Meal distributed evenly in the three holes. Cover holes. Add a capful of systemic around the top and scratch into soil. This is after you have removed the dirt and cut off bad stems.

Growing Season Care

I spay them about every 10 days with Orthenex Insect and Disease Control to prevent bugs and black spot. In between the ten days I spay them with Miracle-Gro Fertilizer. There is also a bloom builder that I spray them with. This can be done at the same time as the fertilizer. When you cut off the dead roses they should be cut at a diagonal just above the second five leafed stem. Make sure you put tar on the cut you make or bugs will bore down into the cut and kill the stem.

Fall Care

Somewhere between mid October to end of October, I have been out the first week of November in the snow doing this, cut back all stems to about a foot tall. Pile dirt with peat mixed in around the rose until the dirt is about six to eight inches up the rose. Then forget about them till spring.

The Solomon Seals

Icon Written by Geoff on October 1, 2000 – 7:19 pm

Solomon Seals are graceful shade plants that provide nice form and structure to the garden. These plants have long arching unbranched stems, they have nice clean, veined leaves with clusters of bell like greenish yellow to whitish yellow flowers hanging down from the stems at the leaf axis. In late summer and fall showy berries are produced that are blue to dark blue in color. 

The rhizomes of Solomon seals are white, long, thick and somewhat knobby, they usually grow about 2-4 inches underground in a horizontal angle to the surface. Most Solomon seals grow in spreading colonies that are easy to dig up and divide. 

There are over 60 varieties of Solomon Seals growing native in North America, Europe, Asia, Japan and Siberia. Solomon seals are grown as specimen plants or along walks as they have graceful arching stems. The variegated forms are showy and many Solomon seals make great plants for cutting and even drying. Some excellent Solomon Seals to try are: 

Polygonatum biflorum – The only native American species of Polygonatum makes a handsome stand of erectly nodding, leafy stalks to three feet. in moist shade or partial shade, with very white bells in clusters of two or sometimes three followed by blue berries. 

Polygonatum cirrhifolium – A more easterly form of this species with taller stems, to eight feet and whorls of narrow foliage with curled leaf tips and axillary clusters of very white flowers resulting in beautiful translucent red fruit. Semi-shaded sites and moist, humus-rich but well-drained soil. 

Polygonatum falcatum – An extremely fine plant that has unfortunately had its image tarnished by P. odoratum that travels about commerce using its name. The true P. falcatum is a rare plant in cultivation and produces elegant and robust stems to six feet in height. 

Polygonatum geminiflorum – A very pretty and distinctive species rare in cultivation, with short and broad ovate leaves borne in whorls of three along fifteen inch stems, with axillary clusters of white flowers produced in mid-spring. 

Polygonatum hookeri – This is the smallest of all Solomon’s Seals, rising only to three inches in height, but spreading outward to make substantial colonies over time. In early spring, upturned, star-shaped, pink-lavender flowers are formed, resulting in red fruit. 

Polygonatum humile – This rare and diminutive species produces a thick carpet of four inch stems cloaked in dark green leaves and pairs of axillary white blossoms in spring. A lovely ground cover for the moist, shaded garden. 

Polygonatum multiflorum – Round leaves along arching two foot stems with axillary clusters of two – five white, green-tipped flowers followed by bluish black fruit. Lovely in the woodland in fertile, moist soil. 

Polygonatum odoratum – Polygonatum odoratum is a wide spread species. These represent plants of Asian origin, with decidedly angled stems to three feet, carrying pairs of decidedly upwardly held leaves and axillary pairs of fragrant white, green rimmed, bells produced in late spring, for partial shade in any well-drained soil.

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