Spring Garden Planning Guide: Maintenance Tips and Questions Answered

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Spring Garden Planning Guide

Have the temperatures been rising and are you yearning to go out into the garden? Spring is here and it is a time to start planning and prepping the garden for a successful start to the planting season. There are some recommended maintenance tips for getting your garden underway. Here is a list of common gardening tasks to be performed in late winter/early spring. (I recently posted this article on my other blog A Guide to Northeastern Gardening, but felt it was also fitting for here.)

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Cleaning Out Garden Beds

True or False? Any dead material remaining from last year should be removed from your garden now. True. It is best practice to remove dead material from the garden in fall to prevent possible pests and disease in your garden. If you have left annuals or perhaps perennials for winter interest, now is the time to tend to them, along with any weeds that might have survived the winter. Pull out any dead remaining annuals and prune perennials back to the ground to encourage new growth. If cold temperatures are still to be expected, push mulch up around the crown of the plants to protect them from temperature fluctuations.
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Mulching Garden Beds

True or False? New mulching should be applied now before the ground thaws.  False. Mulch acts as an insulator and applying mulch before thawing would actually inhibit warming as temperatures rise. Allow the soil to warm, then apply two to four inches of natural pine mulch. When applying, keep mulch several inches away from tree and shrub trunks to prevent oxygen loss and rotting. Mulch benefits plants by reducing water evaporation, preventing weeds, adding organic matter to the soil and also acts as a buffer, preventing drastic changes in soil temperatures. 

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Lawn Care

True or False? Nitrogen based lawn fertilizer can only be applied after April 1st.  True. According to the EPA, the prohibition on application of fertilizer between December 1st and April 1st applies to products that contain nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), or potassium (K). If a product does not contain any of these nutrients, it could be applied during the winter months without violating this law. Explanation: If the ground is frozen, there is a greater danger of runoff and possible contamination of groundwater. Fertilizers applied when the ground is thawed and porous are absorbed and utilized by plant material and go through a natural filtration process before reaching the aquifer system. Please note that there are a variety of organic, natural fertilizers on the market that are more environmentally friendly. Success rate depends on brand and application.

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Pruning Flowering Trees and Shrubs (Photo: Magnolia Royal Star)

True or False? Spring flowering trees and shrubs should be pruned in late winter/early spring. False. General rule of thumb is to prune flowering plants AFTER they flower. Early spring flowering trees and shrubs including rhododendron, azalea, forthysia, magnolia, plum, Eastern Redbud and cherry form their buds from the season before and should be not be pruned until after flowering. Pruning them now will remove flower buds that have already formed, resulting in a loss of blooms.

butterfly bush (dwarf) Buddleia Lo & Behold 'Blue Chip'

Pruning Summer Flowering Shrubs (Photo: Buddleia ‘Lo & Behold Blue Chip’ Dwarf Butterfly Bush)

True or False? Summer blooming shrubs such as Spirea and Buddleia should be pruned in spring. True. Mid and late summer flowering shrubs such as Spirea and Buddleia (butterfly bush) prefer a spring pruning to promote fullness and blooms. Prune Spirea slightly for shaping. If the plant is overgrown to the point it is unsightly, it can be pruned more drastically to rejuvenate it now in spring. Buddleia benefits from an early spring pruning and should be pruned all the way back in late winter/early spring to promote fuller plants and better blooms in late summer. This practice is best performed once you see signs of life on your plants.

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Pruning Evergreens (Photo: Weeping White Pine)

True or False? The best time to prune evergreens is in early spring. True. Evergreens can be pruned anytime when there is no threat of extreme temperature changes that would cause undue stress; however, the best time is either in early spring before they push out new growth, or afterwards once new candles form. When pruning evergreens that form candles, such as white pine, it is best to cut candles in half to keep the plant more compact.

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Pruning Ornamental Grasses and Liriope (Photo: Left-Ornamental Grass ‘Yaku Jima’ and  Right-Variegated Liriope)

True or False?  Liriope and grasses should be cut back and divided now in spring. True. Liriope and ornamental grasses can be cold sensitive. Exposing the crown of the plant could be the reason for snow and cold damage. It is best to leave liriope and grasses alone in fall and to prune them back in early spring to allow for new growth. Spring is also the time to divide and move other perennials that have become overgrown. It is recommended that most perennials be divided every four years for best bloom. Dig up and divide with a sharp clean spade just as new growth appears, replant and add a sprinkle of slow release plant food in with the soil to help root promotion. Water in thoroughly.

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Pruning Roses (Photo: Double Knock Out Rose Pink)

True or False? Knock Out Roses should be pruned back in early spring. True. Wait until your roses are sprouting new shoots and showing some signs of life. Then, prune off dead wood or overgrown branches back about one third the size of the plant to promote strong growth and blooms. Be careful to watch while pruning so that you achieve a nice rounded shape for your plant. Early spring is also a good time to apply an organic slow release rose fertilizer mixed in with the soil at the base of the plant to ensure a successful start to the growing season. I would also recommend a regular watering schedule from the base of the plant, since roses do not fair well with constant water on their foliage.

Dahlia Garden PLANTING FIELDS

Planting Summer Blooming Bulbs (Photo: Dahlia ‘Snowball’)

True or False? Summer blooming bulbs should be planted in late spring. True. While spring blooming bulbs such as crocus, hyacinths, tulips  and daffodils are planted in fall, late summer blooming bulbs such as  Dahlia, Canna and Gladiolus are planted in spring. Amend the soil with compost or manure to insure them a good start and plant in a well-drained area to prevent rotting. Generally, bulbs are planted at a depth of three times their diameter, and specific instructions are usually supplied on the packaging. Once planted, water your bulbs thoroughly and be sure they get watered regularly. Applying bone meal will give your bulbs energy during the growing season, but do not mix in too closely to the roots.

Hydrangea Endless Summer

Endless Summer Hydrangea

Will the unpredictable weather we have been having across most of the U.S. and other areas harm my garden?  I have been getting asked this question quite a bit over the past couple of years. Generally, plants are pretty resilient. Buds that are forming on the trees early are sparked by the warmer temperatures in daytime but slowed down by the colder nighttime temperatures, which tends to balance out their progress. If there is severe cold for a prolonged period of time, buds could freeze and get damaged, but the tree produces enough buds to still have a bloom. More sensitive plants like old fashioned hydrangea ‘Nikko Blue’ that bloom on old wood are more susceptible to cold and time will tell. If there is die back on your plant, prune out the dead wood and apply a dose of a high phosphorus fertilizer. It could help to boost larger blooms from any undamaged buds. Hydrangea varieties that bloom on new wood, such as ‘Endless Summer’ and ‘Pee Gee’ should winter alright.

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Winter Bronzing of Evergreens

Some of my evergreens are a bronze color. Should I be concerned? Winter bronzing is normal on evergreens near the end of winter while temperatures are cold. Once the temperatures rise and new growth is stimulated, the foliage will turn back to a more vibrant green. Broken or dead branches are different in that they are completely dried out and brown. Those branches should be pruned off the tree in late winter/early springtime to prevent any further damage. Any falling or divided tree leads can be arbor tied to secure them and encourage upright growth. Split branches can also be arbor tied together, and if caught in time the cambium growing layer of the tree can mend. In the photograph above, the center upright Western Arborvitae are displaying bronzing and there are no signs of broken branches. As you can see the trees are healthy.

Have you heard about my new book, Landscape Design Combinations? My first book A Guide to Northeastern Gardening covers recommended plants for zones 3-9 with topics including butterfly gardening, deer resistant plants, shade gardening, perennials, trees and shrubs, evergreens, general maintenance tips and more.

Landscape Design Combinations is a continuation of the previous publication, with greater emphasis on design, including numerous numbered and labeled photographs of successful landscape plans. Topics include elements of landscape design, designing for the seasons, how to build a natural stone patio or walkway, simple container combinations and garden styles throughout the centuries.

Both A Guide to Northeastern Gardening and Landscape Design Combinations were written to provide you with the tools needed to help you to create a successful garden. Click on the links below for more information and previews. I hope to inspire you!

A Guide to Northeastern Gardening

As Always…Happy Gardening!

 Author: Lee@A Guide to Northeastern Gardening, © Copyright 2017. All rights reserved

Perennial Nutsedge Alert: One determined Weed

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Nutsedge Perennial Weed

If you see an unknown plant emerging in your garden or lawn that looks like this…it is known as Nutsedge, also known as nutgrass. Nutsedge is an erect, grass-llke perennial member of the sedge family. It emerges as a pale green spike starting in late May and is similar in appearance to a grass seedling. When a shoot reaches the surface, it forms a basal bulb which grows into a new plant, including roots that develop new tubers at their ends. This process takes approximately three weeks and the plant spreads rapidly throughout the summer months. Nutsedge does die back in winter when frost kills all top growth; however, most of the viable tubers will survive and sprout the following spring.

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Nutsedge Perennial Weed

If you see nutsedge in summer the best remedy is to remove it immediately, making sure to get all the roots and tubers. Tubers will be well beneath the soil and white shoots will be visible after pulling out the main plant.  Be sure to get all the new shoots and check regularly to see if any plants re-emerge.  The use of selective herbicides over the past twenty years has reduced competition from other weeds and allowed nutsedge to grow and spread more easily. Once established, this weed can be hard to control because its tubers have high energy reserves, multiple buds, and a long sprouting period. An addition, the tubers are resistant to systemic herbicides because the chemicals travel from the top growth of the plant into the roots and rhizomes but not into the tubers, which multiply. The most effective treatment is application of a pre-emergent in early spring.

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Nutsedge Perennial Weed

When nutsedge matures in the perennial border it develops long shiny leaves that resemble the foliage of daylillies.  It also produces flower spikes in late summer as seen above, which can be misleading.  Keeping on the lookout, along with a little proactive maintenance, will prevent this determined weed from taking over your landscape.

2015 Lee@ A Guide to Landscape Design & Maintenance.

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Care of Landscape Plantings

8 echinacea pow wow 5 After you have invested time and money into your landscape it is important to take proper care of your plantings.  Here is a list that I have compiled over the years that I share with my clients.  I hope you will find it useful!

WATERING:  Water thoroughly after planting and keep well watered throughout the first growing season. Be careful not to over water! Feel down by the roots to determine whether the plant is getting the correct moisture. Soil should appear moist but not wet or overly dry. Consider type of soil, time of year and amount of sun and rain. Make sure fall plantings get enough water until the ground freezes in winter and then when the ground thaws. If you do not have a sprinkler system the use of soaker hoses is recommended. Water should be applied at a rate of 3/4 inch of water every three days or 1 1/2 inches a week. (One inch of water goes down 6 ” into the soil.)

GENERAL:  Drip lines need to be run longer (2-3 hours) versus mist heads (30-40 minutes) Adjust accordingly depending on soil type, sun verses shade, etc.  Water thoroughly and regularly the first growing season until the plant’s root system is established.  Do not rely on rainfall alone.  Do not rely on lawn sprinklers alone, as they may not supply an adequate amount of water.  Watering by hand, two or three times a week to supplement your irrigation system is recommended in summer heat.

EVERGREENS: Most evergreens can be pruned at any time of year except when the weather is too hot or right before temperatures start to drop below freezing. Ideally the best time is believed to be in March before new growth starts. This also eliminates any winter burn that can occur during especially cold weather and gives the evergreen a good start for spring. Most evergreens will not take well to hard pruning.  The only exception is Taxus (Yew) which may rejuvenate over time. No plant is completely maintenance free so keep your evergreens trimmed to their desired size. This will also keep them full and healthy and prevent thinning out. NOTE: Evergreens will shed their needles or foliage in the Fall/Spring to allow for new growth. If any branches appear brown or dead after planting or after winter, trim them off and allow the plant to rejuvenate. When in doubt ask a professional.

WINTER CARE:  BROAD LEAVED EVERGREENS:  Some Broad-Leaved Evergreens such as Cherry, Skip or Mountain Laurel, Japanese Aucuba, Holly and Rhododendron can be subject to winter burn from dehydration due to water loss in the case of a cold and dry winter.   Care should be taken in the usage of an anti-desiccant such as ‘Wilt-Proof” Spray which should be applied around Thanksgiving and again if there is a thaw during the winter months.  Do not apply when the temperatures are freezing.

FLOWERING SHRUBS: Prune flowering shrubs and flowering evergreens after the bloom (late August into fall) Flowering shrubs such as hydrangea bloom on the last year’s growth and will not bloom if cut back in spring. Shrubs such as Spirea improve bloom when cut back in Fall/Winter (March) before they get their leaves in spring. Renovate Lilac in winter and prune for shape after flowering in spring. Prune roses in spring to remove winter damage before new growth starts.

ROSES:  Apply an all in one systemic feed and insect control into the soil around each plant such as Bayer All in One Rose & Flower Care a few times throughout the summer to keep your roses beautiful and insect free.  Follow dosage on label. Deadheading on Knock Out Roses is not essential but doing so will keep your plants full.

TREES: Prune (or move) deciduous trees in fall after leaves have fallen and tree is dormant. Evergreens can be moved in either spring or fall and must be kept well watered.

GRASSES: Grasses should be cut back in late March before new growth appears. Leaving the grass during the winter provides nice interest to the garden.

PERENNIALS:  Deadhead perennials such as salvia though out summer for continuous repeat blooms.  In fall perennials should be allowed to die back then remove any unwanted foliage.  Pruning back perennials can be done in either late fall or early spring (March) before new growth appears but it is recommended in the Fall in order to prevent disease.  Note:  There are some perennials such as liriope (lillyturf) and coral bells (Heuchera) that can provide nice winter interest and can be pruned back in spring.

FERTILIZING: Feed plants in spring and Late Summer. Do not apply a full dose if feeding in the fall. Apply a half dose for root feeding only. For new plantings allow the plantings to become established then apply a slow release organic fertilizer or apply a “starter” formula when planting. For established plants there are several products on the market. Be careful not to buy a concentrated product that will burn the roots. A slow release or organic fertilizer such as Holly Tone is recommended. Once again when in doubt ask a professional.

INSECT CONTROL: Periodically check your plants for insect or fungal damage and treat if needed. It is advised to use a regular insect control maintenance program to keep your plantings healthy.

LAWN CARE: Ideally sod lawns are best planted in spring and seed best planted in the fall. Core Aeration and over-seeding are best done in the fall to help rejuvenate a lawn and give it a healthy start for the following season. Your lawn should also have a regular maintenance program to keep it at its best ask your professional.

2015 Lee@ A Guide to Landscape Design & Maintenance.

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Guest Post: Top tips for getting your lawn looking just like new

Top tips for getting your lawn looking just like new3One of the most important parts of any gardening plan is to make sure that the lawn is looking at its best. A good-looking lawn means that the main and most visible part of the garden is always looking at its best and that you are doing your utmost to keep everything looking great. The grassed area of the garden is the one which is most visible and one which most people will notice first. For those who are intent on getting your grass looking at its best, there are a number of ways in which you can ensure that your lawn restoration and repair needs are kept to a minimum.

Perhaps the first thing which you should pay attention to when it comes to making sure that your lawn is looking great is to take a hint from all of those signs which are so frequently displayed around parks and public buildings. Keep off the grass. It might sound like a simplistic solution, but people walking across your lawn can have a big impact on the health and the appearance of the grass contained within. If you are looking for the best possible results, limiting the time which people are allowed on the grassy areas can be the best bet. While it may not be possible (or desirable) to always stay away from the lawn, it is also important to remember that it is not a football pitch or a pathway. Keeping the sports to a minimum can keep the grass looking at its best.

A great way in which you can get the lawn which you want to get is to go right back to the beginning of the gardening process. By selecting the right type of grass, you can select everything, right from the shade of green to the amount of care which it will require. While it might not seem to be the case, there can actually be a big difference between the different varieties of grass and the different grasses all bring something different to the table. Some are sturdier and require less watering. Others will provide a very vivid hue and be perfect for showing off your lawn. When it comes to making sure that the lawn is looking just how you want it to, taking the time to carefully select the right type of grass can make a huge difference.

One of the biggest requirements for any plant is water. While it might seem that living in areas such as Britain (or on occasion Long Island) provides a rainy day every week, this can actually be a hindrance when it comes to the best garden design and garden maintenance. Because the rain is so frequent and so expected, the warm weather can lull lawn owners into a false sense of security and mean that they forget to water the grass as it is something which has to be done so infrequently. While overwatering can be equally as damaging, remember your lawn during the height of summer and should the country be blessed with a heat wave, remember to keep your lawn hydrated for the best possible appearance.

When it comes to getting the best possible lawn care, however, the best solution is often to turn towards the experts. Even if it is a very occasional service, having a professional take a once over on the grass which makes up your lawn can help make sure that you are on the right track when it comes to keeping your garden looking at its very best. For those in need of a great bit of grass care, expert help is ideal.

Bio: (About the Guest Author) Christine is a professional blogger who is engaged in organizing her household and raising her 2 kids. She has extensive experience in writing about different matters related to home maintenance. Currently she is sharing useful gardening tips and ideas.

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Planning a New Lawn? – Sod verses Seed

Lawn Care -Types of Seed httpccesuffolk.orgassetsHorticulture-LeafletsThe-Homeowners-Lawn-Care-and-Water-Quality-Almanac.pdf

Cornell Lawn Grass Types

Are you looking to plant a new lawn? Here is some useful information to help you decide whether you want to go seed or sod. First of all there are several considerations when deciding.  Successful establishment of a lawn depends on temperature and moisture conditions and can be difficult in some regions.  The best time for seed germination is when the temperatures are cool at night and the daytime temperatures range in the 60’s-70’s.  Here on Long Island the best period for seeding is in early fall. There is a two month span between August 15th and October 15th which is ideal, supplying just the right conditions for germination.  Seeding in the spring can be done but there is the risk of crabgrass invasion before the lawn is able to become established and may result in an unsuccessful lawn or one that needs repair in the fall.  Ideally, a satisfying sod or seed lawn can be achieved by following some basic steps.

Advantages of Sod                                                                 Disadvantages of Sod 

  • provides an instant lawn                                                 . costs more
  • immediate erosion control                                               . some mixtures limited for shade
  • can be installed at any time when ground is not frozen
  • weed-free
  • reduced probability of establishment failure
  • established within 2-3 weeks

Advantages of Seed                                                               Disadvantages of Seed

  • less expensive                                                               . time lag before area is usable
  • wide variety selection                                                    . limited seeding periods
  • less time to install                                                          . erosion potential initially
  • ease of establishment in difficult areas                           . potential weeds & need to re-seed

Sod installation provides a mature lawn with less chance of failing and is established within 2-3 weeks. Seeding should not be considered in areas where erosion is high and will take longer to germinate but is lower in cost.  If it is important for you to have a lawn that can be used and enjoyed within a few weeks, then a sod lawn would be the way to go.  If you are willing to wait for your lawn to germinate and the timing is right (between August – October 15th on Long Island) then seed would be the choice.  In either case be sure to water your lawn frequently at regular intervals to get it established and practice proper lawn care afterwards.  Your developing lawn area should be kept moist but not wet for proper germination and watered deeply after maturity to encourage proper root growth.  A beautiful lawn can be established either way when following the proper procedures. Above is a chart showing the different seed mixtures available to you and their requirements with a link to Cornell’s Lawn Calender.

 As Always…Happy Gardening!

 Author:  Lee@Landscape Design By Lee, 2014, All Rights Reserved

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Planting & Maintaining a Seed Lawn

lawn maintenanceOften my customers will inquire as to when is the best time to start a seed lawn. The ideal time is now-between mid-August and mid-September here on Long Island and anywhere the season is changing from summer to fall.  It is also a good time for core-aeration and overseeding to help enhance the health and vitality of your turf.

CORE AERATION:  a process in which a machine is used to poke holes in the lawn to provide aeration.  In compacted lawns core aeration improves soil drainage and oxygen flow by loosening the soil.   It is best to core-aerate when you are overseeding an existing lawn.

OVER-SEEDING:  Over-seeding fills in the gaps in the lawn that need fixing.  The best way to overseed is to dethatch and aerate the lawn, add new topsoil where needed, then reseed and use a top-dress of pennmulch seed accelerator to help the seed along.   Keep the lawn watered (moist) until the new seed germinates.

STEPS TO SEEDING A LAWN:  First clear the area of existing lawn and debris.  Then bring in a good quality organic topsoil and grade the area being seeded.  Apply a starter fertilizer and lime according to the spreading rate on the bag.  Use a hand tamper or water roller to firm the soil then rake the top layer to loosen the planting layer. Use the appropriate type of seed for your location and conditions of sunlight.  There are many brands on the market and yes…price does matter!  The cheaper brands are not better.  In the case of seed look for a good professional blend of preferably a tall fescue and rye mix.  Also keep in mind that there are varieties of seed for full sun to shade and that seed will not geminate if it is too shady (full shade).  Ask your professional for advice.  Once your area is prepared use a spreader to apply your seed at the recommended rate on the packaging and lightly rake or roll the seed into the soil.  Apply pennmulch topping to keep in moisture and help the seed to germinate.  Water a couple times a day at 10-15 minutes intervals to keep the seed just slightly moist…do not overwater!  The seed will take about a week or so to start germinating.  Mow for the first time when your lawn has grown to a normal mowing height of approximately six to eight inches.

Author: Lee@Landscape Design By Lee, 2013, All Rights Reserved

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