Once mid-late spring rolls around, you may notice that some of your landscape plants are in need of some tender loving care. After the lack of snow in some parts of the northeast and prolonged frigid temperatures in the single digits this past winter season, certain plants have been more affected than others by the lack of insulation from snow cover and extreme cold. Another factor affecting the vitality of your plants could the abundant rainfall amounts hitting the eastern seaboard.
Birch trees are one species that the winter has especially taken a toll on. By this time in June, Birch trees should have pushed out most of their new foliage, but you may notice some bare branches and empty spots on your tree. If that is the case, gently scrape the bark or cut a tip off bare stems to see if there is any sign of green. If the cambium growing layer underneath the bark is green, give the tree a little more time to see if it will push out any new growth from those branches. If the layer below the bark is brown, remove the dead branch from the tree to help direct growing energy to where it is needed. Give the tree a good feeding (preferably a deep root application) and some time. The tree should gradually show signs of recovery and continue to regain its health.
Boxwood is another plant which has been affected by the recent weather abnormalities. If your boxwood is looking a little paler than usual with some yellowing in the leaves, it could be a sign of iron deficiency. The abundance of rain here in the northeast has literally “washed” away much of the iron in the soil. Iron chlorosis can develop under conditions that reduce the availability of iron to the plant, such as a combination of cooler than normal temperatures and poor root aeration or soil drainage due to constant moisture. To remedy the lack of iron, apply a liquid iron solution to the soil around your plants. Most supplements will work over time to restore the plant back to good health.
Hydrangea are another plant showing signs of winter damage over the past several years here in the northeast and over other parts of the country. If your Hydrangea is still showing bare stalks above new growth now in June, and stems appear dead, simply prune off the damaged wood to beneath the line of new foliage. As with most flowering plants, application of a plant food that is high in phosphorus in mid-late spring will encourage buds.
Routinely checking your garden in springtime can catch early signs of plant distress and help in avoiding more serious issues down the road. During springtime and throughout the ongoing growing season, early detection of plant issues is a worthwhile practice, After all, a little preventive care can go a long way!
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HISTORY: After may years of experimentation, Japanese horticulturist, Dr. Toichi Itoh, successfully created seven peony hybrids from a tree peony in 1948, which were known to became the first Itoh peonies. Itoh Peony are derived from a cross breeding between herbaceous and tree peonies, forming a stronger, longer blooming variety over its predecessors. Similar to tree peonies, members of this cultivar have large, long lasting blooms and strong stems that do not require staking. The deeply lobed dark green foliage on a 3-4 foot high by wide plant lasts all summer and into fall, making an attractive addition to the garden. Itoh peonies are also known to be more disease resistant and are not preferred by deer.
GROWING AND MAINTAINING: Itoh peonies prefer to be placed in full sun to partial shade in a rich, well-drained soil. Feed in spring with a low nitrogen fertilizer to promote blooms. Fertilization is not recommended in late summer to fall when the plant is going into dormancy. Once blooms have completed in late spring, Itoh peony can be deadheaded by removing spent flower stalks, leaving its attractive foliage to remain for the rest of the growing season. In autumn, once the foliage turns brown, cut back plants to about 4-6 inches up from the soil level. It is recommended to mulch around the plant to insulate the roots from freezing temperatures. Once spring comes around, your peony will emerge for another growing season. Itoh peony can also be divided in autumn as you would herbaceous peonies.
I discovered this wonderful peony a few years back and have enjoyed its beautiful, sturdy, and disease resistant blooms in the garden. You may find them to be a nice addition as well!
Alocasia, also known as The Elephant Ear, is a large tropical looking plant displaying large, deep green arrow-shaped leaves, resembling the ears of an elephant. Planted as a tuber, the magnificent foliage of the plant can reach up to 9 feet (3 meters) in height with leaf spans up to three feet long! Alocasia are warm climate plants, cold hardy in USDA hardiness zones 7 through 11, depending on the species. They are commonly grown as annuals in colder climates and make wonderful focal points in the garden, serving nicely as accent pieces, especially when grown in containers.
Growing Elephant Ear plants is simple with very little maintenance necessary. Most of these plants prefer rich, moist soil and can be grown in full sun, but they generally prefer partial shade. The tubers can be placed directly outdoors once there is no threat of frost or freezing temperatures, which occurs around mid-April here in my zone 7a garden. Plant the tubers about 2 to 3 inches deep, blunt end down in a rich, organic potting soil. I use a large container (at least 16-20 inches in diameter) and plant just one plant. It will take several weeks for the first foliage to appear, but once the roots are established, the plant will rapidly grow throughout the summer months.
Your Elephant Ear plant will continue to grow to its maximum size, which will occur around July or August. It is recommended to keep your plants well-watered and to feed them once a month with an organic slow release fertilizer (such as bone meal) to maintain their vigor. As the plant matures and older foliage fades, simply remove any undesirable stalks at the base and new shoots will form. Planting around the perimeter of your large planter will add additional interest. In this planter I used a combination of Sweet Potato Vine and Morning Glory surrounding the large leaves of the Alocasia.
Elephant ears cannot survive winter outdoors. When autumn arrives, along with freezing temperatures, the plants must be dug up and stored indoors. After the first frost, cut the foliage back to about a couple of inches and carefully dig up the plants. Allow the tubers to dry out for about a day or two and then store them in peat moss or shavings in a cool, dark area such as in a garage or basement to overwinter. Repeat planting the following year!
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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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 bookA 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!
The month of April is abundant with blooms as we start off spring, and one of the wonderful aspects of my job as a landscape designer is that I get to be surrounded by them on a daily basis. For early spring color the use of flowering trees and shrubs such as Weeping Cherry, Kwanzan Cherry, Flowering Plum, Eastern Redbud, Magnolia, Viburnum and Ornamental Pear along with spring blooming bulbs such as muscari, hyacinth, crocus, tulips and daffodils bring bursts of color to the landscape. Add some early blooming perennials such as ajuga and phlox to the mix and you have an array of color! Here are some of the more popular flowering species for your early spring garden, followed by information for each individual plant.
Try some of these beauties for spring delight in your landscape. For much more information on flowering trees, shrubs and perennials, check out my book A Guide to Northeastern Gardening, available on Amazon.