Category Archives: plant care

A 100 Year Old Garden near Quail Hollow

lawn_perennial-bordersVisiting gardens is one of my passions. Wherever I travel I take time to enjoy an arboretum or a historical garden wherever I find them. Local gardens can be just as exciting and recently I was invited to stroll and marvel under majestic oaks in a beautiful garden near Quail Hollow.

This 25 acre property was first developed by an Englishman in the very early 1900's. After building an Italian Mediterranean style house featuring plenty of earthy materials such as terra-cotta paver floors and patios, red clay tile roof, stucco walls, rustic wood beams and enclosed outdoor spaces, he set out to landscape the property.

A spring fed creek provides water to a woodland garden with 40 foot rhododendrons still thriving and in full  bloom during my visit. Western azaleas scented the air and the horsetail, columbine and white calla lily rhodie_bicolor2grew lush in the moist soil. The original owner built Japanese inspired stone bridges over the creek, the remnants still poking through the ferns.

Huge stands of black bamboo and golden bamboo border the creek in another area making me wonder if perhaps he became interested in these exotic plants after the 1915 San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exposition that showcased plants from all over the world. The current owners have installed a 3 foot barrier to keep the bamboo in check. Now towering 25 feet tall, the black bamboo shades the house on the south side with stems 2" thick.

The property passed from the original owner to a concert pianist who lived there until she died. The current owner bought the property in an estate sale in the early 1970's. When he married Nancy 23 years ago the garden again came to life. The front yard which had been a flood-irrigated horse pasture was transformed into the magical place it is now.

Nancy is the perfect steward of the land. Interested in all growing things she has surrounded the lawns with shrubs, perennials, grasses and flowers of every type. Sunny borders bloom with trellised Cecile Brunner roses, pink clematis montana and purple Jackmanii clematis along with lots of bright red climbing roses. By providing support, Nancy has even coaxed Apple Blossom and other carpet roses to bloom off the garden floor.

In addition to her gardening successes, Nancy shared her ongoing nemesis. Every year she said she hand picks at least a hundred white gaura that have self-sown. Seems Siskiyou pink is not as prolific. The crocosmia Lucifer have overtaken one bed and she begged me to take some. I politely declined. Her white Japanese anemocourtyard2ne threaten to march into the lawn but the pink variety is better behaved. Nancy takes it all in stride. You can feel her love of gardening and plants at every turn.

Nancy loves perennials. The chocolate cosmos were just emerging but the double coreopsis, Spanish and English lavender, Moonshine yarrow, Japanese iris, douglas iris and columbine were in full bloom. In a shady spot by the old icehouse daphne, azalea and pieris had just finished their show. The hydrangeas were all budded and ready to take over the spotlight.

We walked through a lovely enclosed courtyard complete with formal fountain and Nancy pointed out containers of gardenias, Evergold carex grass, a deep red Bob Hope camellia and huge woodwardia ferns. She planted the rhododendrons bordering the courtyard over 20 years ago. A gopher did get 3 of the camellias last year but she's now replanted in gopher baskets. Her Japanese maples, started from seedlings, are now 6 ft tall with trunks over an inch thick.

I'll never forget the afternoon Nancy shared her garden with me and Sherman, the springer spaniel I was dog-sitting.  It's an enchanting place and I'm looking forward to visiting again.

What to Do in the Garden in February

Blue Nikko hydrangeaYou know spring is coming when you see daffodils starting to open. You know spring is coming when plum trees begin their glorious show. And you know spring is coming when you begin to think of all those garden tasks that still need your attention.

February is one of those months that ease us into the gardening season. Didn't get the roses pruned at the end of January? There's still time. Didn't dormant spray for fungal diseases and insect control? There's still time. Didn't plant any new berries yet for summer desserts? There's still time – but don't delay much longer.

What is important to do in the garden in February?

Prune fruit trees and smother overwintering eggs and insects by spraying with horticultural oil. Combine your spray with lime-sulfur ( except on apricot trees ) or copper soap to kill fungal disease spores like the ones that cause peach-leaf curl. Spinosad has also been shown to supress fungal diseases. Do this when the buds swell but before they open.

Prune your roses if you haven't already.

Prune repeat flowering roses by removing spindly or diseased shoots and dead wood. Do this before they start leafing out which wastes plant energy. Cut back the remaining stems by about a third, cutting canes at a 45-degree angle just above an outward facing bud. Don't worry whether your pruning job is perfect. Roses are super forgiving and you can trim them up again later. You want to produce lots of roses not just a few of exhibition size. Aim for a vase-shaped  bush with an open center.

Prune old garden roses that bloom once in the spring after flowering. Climbing roses require little pruning. Cut out extra stems if there are too many and also cut back long established canes to about the place where they are slightly thicker than a pencil. Then cut each side stem down to several inches. This will cause the cane to flower along its complete length for a beautiful spring display.

If any old leaves still cling to the plant, remove them. Rake up any debris beneath the plant and discard to eliminate overwintering fungus spores. It's a good idea to spray both the bare plant and the surrounding soil with a combination organic horticultural oil to smother overwintering insect eggs and a dormant spray like lime-sulfur or copper soap to kill fungus spores. If you usually have a problem only with black spot you can use a mixture of 1 teaspoon baking soda with a few drops of light oil in 1 quart water and spraying every 7 to 10 days.  Thoroughly coat the trunk, branches and twigs.

Cut back woody shrubs. To stimulate lush new growth on plants like Mexican bush sage and artemisia to within a few inches of the ground. Don't use this approach on lavender or ceanothus, though. Lightly prune them after blooming and don't cut back to bare wood inside the plant.  Prune fuchsias back by a third and remove dead, crossing branches and interior twiggy growth. Container fuchsias can be cut back to the pot rim.

Cut back hydrangeas stems that bloomed last year if you haven't already done so and apply a soil acidifier if you want the flowers blue. Although sulfur is the traditional favorite for quickly acidifying soil it is not as kind to many beneficial soil microorganisms. Coffee grounds, pine needles, peat moss and cottonseed meal are kinder to your soil.

Don't cut back grasses yet if you get frost in the area where they grow. Wait until mid-March.

Don't prune spring flowering shrubs and trees like lilacs, flowering cherries, plums and crabapples,  rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, weigela or spirea until after they flower.  You can cut some branches during flowering to bring in cuttings for bouquets.

Wait to prune back perennials that may have their new foliage damaged in a late frost. Same goes for shrubs that got hit by those January frosts. That damaged foliage can protect the plant from further frost damage. Mid-March is the estimated date of hard frost in our area.
 

Christmas Heather, Erica or Calluna?

Any plant that blooms during the shortest and darkest days of the year is a sure bet to get my attention.  Even when the weather is cold and rainy a Christmas heather will brave the elements and keep on blooming. Along with their relatives the true heathers,  they are great additions to the garden. You often see this variety grown as a holiday gift plant because the flowers last for such a long time.

Technically Christmas heather is actually a heath from the family ericacaea  which includes our native Western azalea, gaultheria, madrone and manzanita. Sound confusing? Is there a difference between a heath and a heather?

Heath or erica are mostly native to northern and western Europe. There are a few varieties from South Africa but these are not as hardy for cold temperatures. Christmas heather ( erica canaliculata ) is an evergreen, deer resistant shrub reaching about 6' tall and 4' wide. They tolerate heavy soil with little to occasional irrigation and do best if not over irrigated in the summer. Rosea is a popular winter-flowering pink variety while Rubra blooms with deep pink flowers. They are good on slopes.

Scotch heather (calluna vulgaris ) generally start blooming in mid-summer. The buds never open so remain colorful from August until hard frost. They are often grown close together in rock gardens making a colorful display of patchwork color.  Fields of mauve, pink and rose can be found all over Scotland and England where the shrub grows wild. There are over 700 cultivars now available with foliage colors of chartreuse, yellow, russet or grey being as showy as the flowers. Colors intensify in winter and provide as much visual impact as the summer flowers.

Heathers are not too particular about fertility but need good drainage. They are a good choice for the top of  retaining walls, banks or in raised planters where the soil drains well.  Acidic soils around the edges of a conifer grove would be ideal. They blend nicely with grasses for wild gardens and do well in large pots.

Where heathers grow wild they were used to create brooms and dusters. They were also used to pack crates of whiskey and other breakables for shipping and so were spread around early on and found their way to North America along with traditional brooms.

Flowers of all heaths and heathers make good cut flowers, lasting for weeks, whether or not the stems are immersed in water.

Both of these species have shallow root systems so be careful not to plant them too deeply. Good drainage is important and if your soil is heavy clay amend it with compost and peat moss or create a raised bed. Otherwise they prefer rocky or unamended soils and little fertilizer. Water regularly during the first year until the root zone has become established. Top dress with wood chips or other mulch.

To prevent them from becoming leggy and woody, prune right after they finish blooming be careful not to prune into bare wood but right below the dead blossoms.

By choosing varieties of both heaths and their close relative heather you can have color year round but the sight of the delicate blossoms in the drabbest months of the year is a most welcome addition to any garden.
 

Gardening Tips for August & IPM

I go out into my garden and look around daily. I pick basil for tonight's bruschetta, parsley for the potatoes and a few Sungold cherry tomatoes that don't make it into the kitchen but are eaten on the spot. I count 10 hummingbirds around my 3 feeders, the Ruby-crowned kinglets are scouring the trees for spiders and other bugs and the Wilson's warblers have found the thistle sock.

But what's this? Some of the fuchsia leaves and buds are curled, there are notches in the impatien balfourii and I see white furry things on the trunk of the crabapple.  The weather is hot one day and foggy the next. Better adjust my watering schedule, too. Whether you're seeing some of these same problems in your garden or have different issues that you don't know how to handle, here are some tips to help you decide what you can live with and what you can't.

Integrated pest management or IPM is a fancy name for common sense. By planting the right plant in the right place you can prevent most pest infestation. Pick your battles.Take action against insects only when they pose a significant threat to your plant.

Plants can usually survive with a little bug damage. Insects that are natural predators often will eventually arrive and handle your bug problem.  Picking them off by hand or spraying them off with water often works, too. Some vegetable plants may need to be protected with insect barriers or row covers. Simple traps for earwigs, slugs and snails are effective, too. Vacuuming is another method of controlling pests. Tilling the soil often disrupts the breeding cycle of insects like the rose slug. Encourage beneficial insects to visit your garden by planting a variety of plants. Use natural biological insecticides like Bt and nematodes that have minimal environmental impact.

If you feel you must spray for soft bodied insects like mites, choose insecticidal soap. This may sound strange but by not killing all the pests there will be some left in the gene pool that are not resistant to the organic or chemical sprays. Those left will dilute any resistant genes that appear.

Regular monitoring is the cornerstone of IPM. This is where that daily walk in your garden with a beverage comes in. You can see if a problem is getting out of control or not.

The fuchsia gall mite is one problem that I keep tabs on or the hummingbirds aren't happy. If your fuchsias aren't blooming and the leaf tips look curled up and deformed, your plants are infested with fuchsia gall mite.  First discovered on the West Coast in 1980 it is often mistaken for a disease because of the way it distorts and twists fuchsia leaves and flower buds.  The damage caused can be debilitating.  The leaves curl and distort so much that normal photosynthesis is disrupted and weakened plants fail to bloom  Infested plants usually recover if further mite damage is controlled.

Prune off all distorted foliage and buds.  This may be the best method of control as petroleum oil or insecticidal sprays need to be made every 4-7 days to disrupt the mite life cycle and will result in the mites becoming resistant. Neem oil is not recommended for use on fuchsia flowers.

There are several gall mite-resistant fuchsias, both hanging and upright, that are every bit as showy as the traditional fuchsia varieties.  if you have been plagued by fuchsia mites, try growing one of these instead. A list from Crescent City Fuchsia growers is available at http://www.ccfuchsia.net/ccfuchsia5.htm.

If you have a problem in your garden and don't know what to do, feel free to email me. I'm always happy to help a fellow gardener.

 

Lake Tahoe vs Santa Cruz Mts

Boy are we spoiled living here like we do. Our climate is just cold enough in the winter to grow delicious fruit that likes a bit of chill but not so cold that we're forced inside during those months. Our summers are warm and long allowing vegetable gardens to thrive as well as people.

Not so at Lake Tahoe where I recently spent some time. Here cold winters make snow sports reign supreme and summer brings a short growing season. Locals told me that their lilacs are just now blooming, the peonies are in tight bud and many gardeners don't bother growing vegetables. Late snow often in June and early snow sometimes in late August make gardening in the Sierra so much more difficult.

I visited a beautiful nursery in Tahoe City, the Tahoe Tree Nursery to get a feel for what's popular in these parts. This destination nursery is landscaped for weddings as well as bringing in perennials, trees and shrubs to sell from their growing grounds in Loomis in the central valley. Quaking aspen grew in lovely stands providing shade for ferns, hostas and ligularia.  Favorite perennials are echinacea or cone flower and were offered in all the hot new colors: Hot Papaya, Raspberry Truffle, Marmalade, Primadonna White as well as the beautiful magenta standard, Magnus. Many varieties of coreopsis, stachys, lonicera, rudbeckia, kniphofia and hardy geranium are also popular. Rugosa roses do well in this climate also.

On a hike to Shirley Lake in the Squaw Valley area the wildflowers were in full splendor. Fields of Indian paintbrush, mules ears, penstemon, lupine, phlox and delphinium and Mariposa lily covered the slopes. Early summer starts off this areas growing season and everything was lush with new growth and color.

In our part of the world, our early wildflower season is almost over but perennials and flowering shrubs are at their peak and need a bit of attention about now. Here are some tips of what to do in the garden in July.

Make sure vines have support. Some grow so fast that if you look away for a week they become a tangled mess. A little maintenance goes a long way in this department.

Trim back early flowering perennials to encourage the next flush of blooms.

Turn the compost pile often and keep moist.

Add additional mulch to planting beds to keeps roots cool and preserve moisture.

Check ties on trees to make sure they aren't cutting into the bark.

While your out in the garden, take some cuttings from favorite plants like roses, hydrangeas, geraniums, trumpet vine, blackberries, lavatera and salvia. Softwood cuttings are taken during the growing season from relatively soft flexible growth.  Gather 8-12" cuttings early in the day. Discard flowers, buds and side shoots. Then cut the stem into 3-4" pieces, each with at least 2 nodes. Keep track of which end is the bottom and dip in rooting hormone. Poke holes with a pencil in a rooting medium such as half peat moss or potting soil with half perlite, vermiculite, or sand or use perlite or sand only and insert cuttings. Enclose each container in a plastic bag to maintain humidity, opening the bag for a few minutes each day for ventiliation. Place the containers in bright shade.

Some cuttings take 4-6 weeks to root while others take longer. Once they have taken root and are sending out new leaves, open the bags. When the new plants are acclimated to open air, transplant each to its own pot of light weight potting soil.

Enjoy your garden even more this summer by rooting your own plants for yourself, to give away or trade. This is how early settlers filled their gardens, too.
 

May – Words of Wisdom

With each new season, we start fresh with high expectations for a bountiful harvest of vegetables and mouth-watering fruit,  fragrant flowers to pick for bouquets and healthy plants to attract beneficial insects to the garden. As the months pass it seems one problem after another crops up. Don't get discouraged, though. Most any condition or disease can be corrected with the right information. I get many emails from readers with some of the same problems that you might have. Here are a few recent inquiries.

 

GARDEN HOSES

One reader asked about the safety of her new hose. The label on the hose states not to drink from it and she is wondering if it's safe to use it to water her organic vegetable garden.

Most of us grew up drinking water from the hose and on a hot day we still do. But is it safe? A recent study by the Ecology Center, a nonprofit environmental organization based in Ann Arbor, Mich., that reviews consumer products addressed potentially hazardous chemicals in gardening tools. The group tested nearly 200 gardening products, including hoses and discovered some disturbing findings.

To illustrate how chemicals can migrate from harden hoses into water, the research team left a section of garden hose filled with water out in the sun for several days. When the water was tested it was found to exceed federal standards for safe drinking water for several chemicals- including 4 times the standard considered safe for phthalates, 18 times that for lead, and 20 times that for BPA, an organic compound banned from baby bottles.

Most garden hoses that are sold are still made of PVC which can leach unsafe levels of lead into water. There are safer options available, though. Food grade Ether-based polyurethane or natural rubber hoses are a better choice. Look for hoses with nickel or chrome-plated fittings as brass can also leach lead into water.

Plants don't generally absorb lead, unless there is a high concentration of it in the soil but who wants to take a chance? With any hose, even one labeled "drink-safe' let the water run until it's cold before you drink from it because bacteria can grow in warm standing water.

CITRUS ADVICE

Another reader asked what she should do for her Meyer lemon which has yellow leaves. I told her that the yellowing is due to insufficient nutrients. First, apply a fertilizer containing nitrogen. There is also a chance that iron, sulfur and magnesium could be in short supply. Look for these ingredients on fertilizer bags and apply as directed. Also don't overwater citrus. Let the plant dry 2" below the soil surface between deep waterings.

LAWN CARE

Lawns also need a deep watering to train roots to grow deep. When to water? One easy method is to walk on the lawn and check in an hour after stepping on it. If it hasn't rebounded the lawn needs water. Also leave grass clippings to decompose after mowing. You'll need to mow about once per week so the clippings are short and can decompose quickly.

RHODODENDRONS

When everyone's rhododendrons but yours are blooming what can you do?  This plant sets flower and leaf buds in late August or September so fertilizing regularly for the next few month is important. Also water deeply when the soil is dry 1-2" deep and mulch the soil around your plant to keep the roots cool and moist. Rhododendrons and azaleas are shallow rooted so don't work up the soil underneath.

Feel free to email your questions to me. I'm happy to help.