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The Great Squirrel Battle for the Bulbs

Autumn is the catalog time of year, when gardeners devour and drool over the spring-blooming bulb catalogs, eagerly fantasizing about next year’s flowerbeds. We picture drifts of crocus and gaily swaying tulips, lush daffodils and glorious hyacinths. Snowdrops, irises, daylilies… Ah, the garden will be great this next spring.

Then we remember last spring – hours of labor and dozens of bulbs meticulously planted, but only one or two emerged to flaunt their blooms. What happened?

Squirrels and Bulbs

Squirrels like flower bulbs just as much as gardeners, but unfortunately not for their beauty. From the looks of the remains – chewed remnants, dug up holes, battered foliage – those bulbs became expensive squirrel food. Fortunately, if you want to plant daffodils, alliums, scilla, hyacinths, squills or fritillaria, your bulbs should be safe. Generally, squirrels don’t eat these. But how can you protect the bulbs that make the tastiest squirrel treats?

Keeping Squirrels Out of the Flowerbeds

Go ahead and order your bulbs. While you’re waiting for delivery, decide which of the three basic methods you will use to prevent the squirrel attacks. A small investment of time and materials will protect your bulbs.

  1. Mesh Barriers
    Wire mesh is the best protection to keep squirrels away from bulbs. Dig the hole for several bulbs, make a “cage” using mesh around the bulbs and fill in the soil. If the squirrels dig, the mesh will prevent them from eating the bulbs. You may also plant the bulbs as usual and place a layer of mesh on the soil. You’ll have to secure it to keep it in place then cover with mulch. Be sure the mesh layer is wide enough so squirrels cannot easily dig around the sides to reach the bulbs.
  1. Repellants
    Garden centers sell many different squirrel repellants, and deer repellants also repel squirrels. Some gardeners swear to the effective use of red pepper flakes mixed in the soil around, and over, the bulbs. Many squirrels don’t like spicy tastes, but pepper flakes may need to be replaced after heavy spring rains to be the most effective.
  1. Sharp Gravel
    Adding sharp gravel to the soil around and over the bulbs also deters squirrels from digging. Not only do they not like the feel of the gravel on their sensitive paws, but the gravel – which is heavier than dirt or mulch – is more difficult to move, so the bulbs stay safer.

There is another option to keep squirrels away from bulbs without completely discouraging their visits. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em – because squirrels look for the easiest food sources, a squirrel feeding station stocked with corn and peanuts may be just the thing to keep the squirrels from looking for your buried treasures!

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Kale, the Super Food

Did you know kale is a super food? Kale belongs to the same family as cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. It is a rich source of vitamins C, A, & B6, and is loaded with manganese, calcium, copper and potassium, with no fat or cholesterol. Add it to your garden for a healthy harvest!

Planting

In the fall, set out transplants or sow kale seeds about 6-8 weeks before first frost in deep rich soil. Kale will need at least 6 hours of sun per day. Enrich your planting soil with plenty of compost. Planting kale in nutritious soil will promote faster plant growth and thus provide a tender, richer crop. Soil pH should be between 6.5 and 6.8. Sow seeds roughly one-half inch deep and thin seedlings to 8-12 inches apart to provide adequate air circulation. When thinning kale shoots, however, bear in mind that larger spacing will produce larger plants, larger plants produce larger leaves and larger leaves are generally tougher. Keep soil moist and mulch to control weeds. Water when planting and during dry spells.

Harvesting

Don’t worry about frost harming your harvest, a light frost will only enhance the sweetness of kale. Harvest the outer leaves of kale as they are needed for salads and recipes. Young tender leaves will grow from the center of the plant. Use the young leaves for salads and keep older leaves for cooking, which will help tenderize those larger leaves. Kale will continue to produce throughout fall in the warmer sections of our area. In low lying areas or where it is colder, use floating row covers or low tunnels to extend the life of your kale. Kale will bolt (elongate) and flower in the spring. This signifies the end, and it is time to pull it up and compost the remaining plant.

Cooking

Kale may be used fresh or frozen. It may be steamed or stir-fried, or used in soups, stews, omelets and casseroles. It is a tasty base for salads or can be added to sandwiches. It may be used in recipes as a replacement for spinach and collard greens. It even makes fantastic chips!

Kale Chips

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Clean Kale and spin dry. Remove all the tough stems.
  • Drizzle about 8 cups of leaves with one tablespoon of olive oil and toss to coat.
  • Place Kale leaves in a single layer on a parchment lined cookie sheet.
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes or until leaves are crisp but not scorched.
  • Remove from oven and immediately sprinkle with generous amount of flaky sea salt.
  • Devour!

With so many tasty options for kale and so many nutritional benefits from this super food, there’s no excuse not to add this easy-to-grow dietary wonder to your garden!

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Over-Wintering Container Plants Outdoors

All containerized plants that are considered hardy in your zone can spend the winter outdoors, but you do need to take a little special care to keep them safe and comfortable as temperatures drop. Despite their hardiness, winter is still a challenging season, but it is possible to keep your container plants healthy until the days grow longer and warmer again.

Options to Overwinter Your Container Plants

  • In the late summer or fall, removed the plant from its container and plant it in the ground while the soil is still warm. Another method is to bury the pot, with the plant in it, in the garden and remove the pot following spring. Both of these methods will help insulate the root system, preventing it from freezing solid and killing the root system.
  • Place containerized plants in an unheated garage but along a heated wall. This is an excellent method for very large pots or porous pots that tend to break apart from the constant cycle of freezing and thawing, and so would not be very hardy if buried. For extra root protection and insulation, wrap the pots in plastic bubble wrap or wrap an old comforter or quilt around the pots.
  • Group pots together along the sunny side of your house or shed. If this area is windy, create a windscreen with stakes and burlap. Place bales of straw or hay around the perimeter of the grouping up against the pots to further protect plants from cold winds. Fill in areas between pots with mulch, shredded leaves, grass clippings or hay for insulation. Lay evergreen branches or place a layer of mulch on top of the pots for additional protection.
  • Use a cold frame covered with plastic or Reemay fabric to help control temperatures and reduce light as well, helping plants stay dormant in winter. It will still be necessary to use mulch, shredded leaves or hay around and in-between pots for insulation. Rodent control, such as Havahart traps, may be necessary when using this method.

Watering Container Plants in Winter

Make sure that plants go into the winter with moist soil so that there is water available to plant roots. Check soil moisture occasionally, never allowing it to dry completely. It is also a very good idea to spray needled and broadleaf evergreens with an anti-desiccant. This acts as a protective coating for plant foliage and stems as it helps them retain moisture.

With just a little care and forethought, you can easily prepare containers for winter without risking the plants and arrangements you have so carefully cultivated.

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Bringing Your Tropical Plants Indoors for the Winter

As the summer comes to an end and autumn approaches, the days get shorter and cooler temperatures signal the time to ready your plants for winter. How can you protect your treasured tropicals from winter damage?

Overwintering Tropical Plants

Don’t wait until frost warnings or freezes occur to bring tropical plants inside, especially since these plants are more susceptible to dropping temperatures. Try to have all of your plants acclimated to the new indoor environment by the end of October. Avoid the temptation to move your tropicals back outside if it suddenly gets warm, because they will have to re-acclimate when you bring them back inside again. With a little extra care even exotic hibiscus can be over-wintered inside the house.

First, it’s a good idea to prune approximately one-eighth to one-fourth off the total height of the plant’s foliage. This helps reduce the shock that the plant receives with the change of conditions when bringing them indoors. Check the plants for signs of insects and treat them with insecticidal soap or pyrethrin spray as well as a systemic insecticide that will provide protection for up to six weeks.

Position indoor tropical plants in a very bright location that receives no less than 6 hours of light per day. If the winter is very cloudy, supplement your plants with an artificial light source. Be sure the room is warm, but avoid putting the plants too close to a heating vent, which can dry them out drastically.

Because they are tropical plants, they will need good humidity which can be achieved by using a humidity tray. Use a saucer that is at least 3-4 inches larger than the pot and fill it with an inch of stones. Pour water over the stones until they are half covered, then place the pot on top of the stones. The humidity immediately around the plant will be increased, but avoid setting the pot directly in any water, which can lead to fungus and rotting. Grouping several plants close together can also help them preserve humidity for more luxuriant growth.

Fertilizing should be continued throughout the winter, but at a rate of once per week. You will find the plant will not utilize as much water in the winter because its growth has slowed. Generally, plants should be watered every 4-7 days depending on location, pot size, soil type and plant type.

If you have any questions about winter care of your plants, our staff will be glad to help you keep your tropicals in good condition all winter long.

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Freshen Up for Fall

Transform summer garden pots, planters and window boxes into magical displays this fall. The addition of mums, winter pansies and ornamental cabbage and kale are always excellent choices but you can really spice things up with the inclusion of a few of these colorful, cold-hardy selections. Which ones will look best for your autumn landscape?

  • Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’
    This graceful, fan-shaped acorus variety is ideal for adding height to plantings. It keeps its color and shape into the winter for visual interest as other plants lose their vibrancy.
  • Acorus gramineus ‘Variegatus’
    This is the white-variegated version of ‘Ogon’. Its white-green striping is the perfect complement to mixed planting in silver, pink, purple or blue, and its lightness adds freshness to the arrangement.
  • Ajuga reptans ‘Burgundy Glow’
    This ajuga has a trailing habit and pretty, variegated leaves. Its blue flowers are scattered in fall and summer but this plant blooms profusely in springtime.
  • Ajuga reptans ‘Mahogany’
    The rich mahogany color of the shiny, short-stemmed leaves turns darker and more lustrous in the winter, ideal in a frosted or snowy landscape. Pretty bright blue flowers punctuate this creeper, mostly in the spring.
  • Ceratostigma plumbaginoides ‘Leadwort’
    The prolific flowers of this plumbago are an intense gentian-blue and the foliage turns bright red in low temperatures, adding visual heat to the landscape even on cold days.
  • Euphorbia amydaloides ‘Purpurea’
    This pretty perennial is exceptionally frost resistant. ‘Purpurea’ features upright branches with leaves that form a rosette pattern and turn from reddish to purple in the cold.
  • Helichrysum thianschanicum ‘Icicles’
    Here’s an easy, fast-growing helichrysum variety with striking, velvety-silver leaves and a compact growth habit.
  • Lamiastru galeobdolon ‘Herman’s Pride’
    ‘Herman’s Pride’ has serrated, shiny silver leaves with green venation and yellow flowers in the spring. The plant trails as it grows, making it perfect as an accent in hanging baskets, taller containers and window boxes.
  • Lavendula lantata ‘Silver Leaf Lavender’
    This lavender variety has silvery-white leaves that are velvet-like to the touch and hold their color throughout the winter. Dark purple-blue flowers appear by the second year and contrast beautifully with the foliage.
  • Lysimachia nummularia ‘Goldilocks’
    Proven to do equally well in both sun and shade, ‘Goldilocks’ exhibits wonderful versatility. The golden foliage creeps and hangs in lush profusion of round, shiny leaves.
  • Salvia officinalis ‘Icterina’
    This sage has a glowing, golden-yellow variegated leaf. ‘Icterina’ maintains its shape and holds its color long into the winter.
  • Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’
    The eggplant-colored leaves of this sage warm up any planting. Try it as a culinary herb as well and enjoy the subtle taste.
  • Salvia officinalis ‘Tricolor’
    ‘Tricolor’ offers a unique combination of purple leaves with white borders that turn pink when temperatures drop.

No matter which of these plants you opt for, you’ll enjoy the rich colors and variation they bring to your autumn plantings.

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Fall Horticultural Oil Application

Autumn is an excellent time to apply horticultural oil. The oil smothers many soft-bodied insects and hard-shelled scales that are impenetrable to many insecticides, and can therefore help control some of the most stubborn insect populations. But is it right for your plants?

About Horticultural Oil

Horticultural oil, or hort oil, is typically derived from petroleum, and is a type of ecologically-friendly mineral oil. Some cottonseed and soybean oils can also be effective horticultural oils. Emulsifying agents are typically added to these oils so they can be mixed with water and used as a spray, which helps distribute them evenly over plant foliage to be most effective.

Pests That Don’t Like Horticultural Oils

Different types of horticultural oils can be effective against many unwanted garden pests, including…

  • Spider mites
  • Aphids
  • Whiteflies
  • Mealy bugs
  • Psyllids
  • Lace bugs
  • Caterpillars

In addition to smothering the larvae or insects directly, the heavy oil also makes it difficult for many insects to crawl therefore starving them to death and preventing them from spreading diseases from plant to plant. Additionally, the oil repels many insects looking for winter homes. The oils also act as fungicide against powdery mildew, rust and leaf spot on some plants.

Applying Horticultural Oils

Application of horticultural oils is easy, requiring only a simple hose-attached sprayer. Because oil and water do not mix, frequent agitation by shaking is required even if the oils are mixed with other agents to be more sprayable. These products are most effective if applied when plants are dormant, since oil-based products can burn and harm actively growing foliage, buds, flowers and fruit. Some lighter weight, summer-formulated oils are available, but they should be used only sparingly and only if absolutely necessary. Autumn and winter are the best seasons to apply horticultural oils when insects are a problem, though autumn applications can occasionally cause problems with plants dying back and other winter damage. Because the oils can evaporate and dissipate quickly, they should only be used when insects are present, otherwise they will be ineffective. In freezing weather the oil coverage will be inconsistent, so cool but not bitterly cold temperatures are best.

Of course, always follow the instructions for proper application rates, plant sensitivity and ideal weather conditions to ensure the most effective treatment. Because these oils are still pesticides, protective gear such as gloves and goggles should also be worn to avoid accidental irritation or more severe contamination.

Using hort oils can be a great way to control insects on your plants, but only if the oils are used appropriately. Come in for a consultation to see if these products can help end your insect problems.

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Repotting Houseplants

Fall is an excellent time to repot many houseplants. Potted plants that have been growing outdoors during the summer have probably grown quite vigorously due to the high light levels and greater humidity. If the top growth of the plant has increased in size by 20 percent or more, it probably should be transplanted into a larger container so the roots can stretch and settle comfortably.

Before You Repot

Before repotting, check the plant and the soil carefully for insects.  Add systemic granules to the soil and spray the leaves with an insecticidal soap to remove any unwanted pests. If an insect infestation is particularly bad, it may be necessary to remove most of the plant’s soil and replace it with fresh potting soil. Avoid using soil from the garden, however, which will harbor insect larvae and eggs as well as weed seeds and other material you do not want in your houseplants.

Acclimating Plants

Bring your plants indoors well before any danger of frost for proper acclimation to the indoor environment. The change in light levels and humidity could shock more delicate plants, and they may wilt temporarily or drop leaves before they adjust to the new conditions. If possible, bring them in just a few minutes at a time for several days, gradually increasing their indoor time to several hours before keeping them indoors all the time. Flowering tropicals will also benefit from cutting back some of their foliage to avoid shock before being brought indoors.

To help houseplants overcome the transition from outdoors to indoors, position them in a bright, sunny area and consider adjusting indoor temperature and humidity controls to more closely mimic outdoor conditions. Make adjustments slowly and gradually, and the plants will adjust.

Time to Repot

Once your houseplants are adjusted to their indoor fall and winter environment, they can be safely repotted without adding to their stress. Repot the plants early in the day, and move them to a slightly larger pot. Avoid jumping several pot sizes, which could lead to excessive root growth while the foliage is neglected. Be sure to fertilize and water the plants appropriately to provide them proper nourishment as they settle into new pots. Do not expect luxuriant foliage growth right away, however, as it will take some time for the plants to begin growing again, especially in fall and winter when most houseplants are entering a dormant, slow growth period.

By repotting your houseplants in fall, you can help healthy, vigorously growing plants adjust to a new environment and continue their growth with ease in a new, larger, more comfortable pot.

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The Fall Vegetable Garden

Fresh vegetables don’t have to end as the days grow shorter – fall is a great time to plant an autumn garden to extend the growing season. Many vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower are of a higher quality when grown in the fall, while others, like kale, develop better flavor after a frost. Spinach, chard, kale, collards, mustard and rapeseed all grow rapidly and flourish at the end of the season, ideal for autumn gardening. Loose-leaf lettuces do well, too.

To prepare your bed, immediately pull out whatever plants have finished producing. Spade or till the soil to a depth of 6-8 inches, rake the area lightly and work in a light application of composted manure or 5-10-5 fertilizer to provide adequate nutrition for rapid-growing fall veggies.

Broadcast a mixture of seeds like mustard, kale and rapeseed, or combine seeds of several types of lettuce like curly leaf, red leaf and oak leaf to allow you to harvest your salad already mixed. It works best to plant greens in blocks or wide rows, because they’re easier to harvest and you’ll have fewer weeds. If you plant blocks each time a new space opens up, you’ll have staggered plantings that can produce over a long time.

Some autumn vegetable varieties will tolerate cold better than others. Read seed packets before you purchase them to determine what will be best in your area, but don’t be put off by such notations as chard’s taking 60 days to mature. The greens are good when they’re younger, too.

Water seeds after sowing and keep the ground evenly moist until the seedlings are up and growing. Seedlings may also need to be sheltered from extreme heat. Protect them by shading them from the sun with Reemay fabric until they are established.

Although insects tend to be less bothersome in late fall, some vegetables in the cabbage family, including mustard, kale and collards, may attract cabbageworms. Apply Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) sprays for an organic method of control. As the plants begin to fill out, thin them enough to allow air to circulate and dry off moisture. This helps prevent insect problems too.

Harvest your fall vegetables as soon as the plants reach edible size. Even after the first frosts, you’ll be able to keep harvesting to enjoy the yield of your extended-season garden.

Top Fall Vegetables

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Swiss Chard
  • Collards
  • Kale
  • Lettuce, Head
  • Lettuce, Leaf
  • Mustard
  • Rape
  • Spinach
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Redbud Revelry

Gardeners love the Eastern redbud tree (Cercis canadensis). Native to North America, these hardy, slow-growing, small trees richly deserve their places front and center in the landscape. They flower very early in the spring (as early as April), provide beautiful fall color, remain reasonably small, are low maintenance and create quite a display when planted in groupings or as a single specimen. They even grow well in parking lots, sidewalk strips and in containers, making them ultimately versatile for all types of landscaping plans. What else could you ask for?

New and Exciting Redbud Varieties

As if the classic eastern redbud wasn’t beautiful enough, there are always new varieties that give these stunning trees even more charm and character. Which one will be the centerpiece of your landscape?

Recent introductions include ‘Lavender Twist’, which grows in an elegant weeping form, and the compact ‘Ace of Hearts’, which excels in a small garden or container as a blooming, dome-shaped, focal point. ‘Alba’ flowers in pure white and ‘Appalachian Red’ blooms with deep burgundy pink flowers. The leaves of ‘Hearts of Gold’ open red in the spring and slowly change to gold.

‘Rising Sun’ redbud, another new introduction, stops most people in their tracks. In spring, before leaves appear, lavender-pink pea-like flowers cover the trunk and branches. The show really starts when the leaves open and the heart-shaped, deep-apricot colored leaves transition through orange, yellow and gold to lime-green with all colors showing at the same time. In fall, the tree shimmers in shades of gold. Amazing!

Growing Your Redbud

No matter which type of redbud you choose, you’ll want to take good care of it to be sure it reaches its full beauty. First, be sure to plant your redbud in an area where it can stretch to its full size and show off the unique branching growth habit. You will also want to choose a position where the redbud won’t be crowded or overshadowed by other plants. These trees prefer at least four hours of direct, unfiltered sunlight each day, so full or partial sun positioning is best. These are hardy trees and grow well in most soil types, but adding organic material to the soil and mulching around the tree is always a wise idea to protect and nurture it.

Whether planted as a specimen, en masse, or in a container, we’re sure you’ll agree these little trees deserve consideration for a special place in your garden.

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Entrance Way Evergreens

Cool and classic or chic and contemporary, no matter what your style, you’ll always be proud of an entrance flanked with beautiful containers highlighting just-right evergreens. In this case, “evergreen” doesn’t necessarily mean a conifer, either – many other shrubs remain green in the winter and can be beautiful showpieces welcoming guests to your home.

Planting Your Container

Entrance way evergreens are generally planted in containers and frame a doorway, walkway or arch. If you truly want your evergreens to take center stage, opt for more understated, neutral containers, but select shapes that match the architecture of your home. You can opt for a boldly colored container, but take care that the container’s decorations won’t overwhelm your evergreens.

You will want to use high quality potting soil for the container to provide adequate nutrition for your evergreens to thrive. Also pay careful attention to the moisture levels, watering the plants appropriately – containers often need more frequent watering than plants in your landscape. You can rotate the containers regularly to help the plants get even sun exposure, and regular fertilizing will help keep them healthy.

If you’re not sure how to plant a container, try this simple formula: “Use a thriller, filler and spiller.” Thriller refers to the tallest or showiest plant, the one that immediately catches the eye. The fillers are the plants surrounding the thriller that add more structure and bulk to the arrangement, filling in empty spaces. The spillers are plants to grow over, and soften, the edge of the container, giving it a more natural, organic look.

Here’s a listing of “thriller” plants to consider for your door decor. We can make recommendations of dwarf cultivars of many of these plants. Dwarfs will take longer to out-grow their container. Happy potting!

  • Shade
  • Azalea*
  • Boxwood
  • Camellia*
  • Evergreen Viburnum*
  • Japanese Andromeda*
  • Heavenly Bamboo*
  • Mountain Laurel*
  • Sun
  • Arborvitae
  • False Cypress
  • Juniper
  • Heavenly Bamboo*
  • Holly
  • Pine
  • Spruce
  • Yews
  • Yucca*


* These plants flower!

Accents for Your Entrance Evergreens

In addition to welcoming your visitors with a beautiful entrance, it’s easy to entertain them and show your style when you accessorize your evergreens. Festively dress your plants to coordinate with seasons or holidays. Fun and creative options include…

  • Spring: Small bunnies, silk spring blooms such as daffodils, pastel Easter eggs
  • Summer: Patriotic flags or ribbons for Memorial Day and the Fourth of July
  • Fall: Scarecrows, pumpkins, Indian corn, Halloween decorations
  • Winter: Holly sprigs, tiny twinkling lights, beaded garlands, snowflake ornaments

You can also personalize your entrance evergreens for birthdays, anniversaries or to showcase your favorite teams, colleges, hobbies and more. All are easy to do, fun, and affordable, and make your entrance truly eye-catching.

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