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.

weeping white pine

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

Snow Warnings and Care of Landscape Plants

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March Snowstorm

The seasons have been shifting in the northeast, leaving many homeowners in much dismay when it comes to winter garden maintenance. Winter storms can hit late winter into early spring, causing more distress to plantings once they have experienced warmer than normal temperatures. As we await another winter storm, there are some precautions you can take to ensure the vitality of your landscape plants and protect them from possible damage.

SNOW WEIGHTED TREE BRANCHES: Most evergreen trees and shrubs can handle snow build-up on their branches, but in the instance of a heavy snow, the branches may become weighted down. Certain Arborvitae are susceptible to the weight of snow pulling down on them and may have already experienced sagging branches. Further damage can easily be avoided by wrapping the branches together with arbor tie. The cloth tie cannot be seen from the outside, will prevent future damage from another snow, and the tree will look unscathed.

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Arborvitae and Snow Care

BROKEN OR DAMAGED TREE BRANCHES: Before an approaching storm, try to walk outside and inspect trees and shrubs on your property for any broken or damaged branches. If you do spot a damaged branch, tie the two split halves together by wrapping them tightly together with arbor tie. Start by wrapping the two halves tightly together and continue wrapping above and below the crack for extra support. If caught in time, the cambium (or growing layer) of the plant will repair itself and fuse the two parts of the damaged branch together. I have personally saved split branches on holly, azalea and arborvitae using this technique and the plants have recovered beautifully. Identifying these issues now and tending to them prior to the snow can mean the survival of your plant.

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Arbor Tied Split Branch on Holly

SNOW REMOVAL: While it is tempting to go outside and start removing snow from weighted branches it is also a good time to exercise caution. Under the snow-covered branches could also be a frozen layer of ice.  Any manipulating of the frozen branches could result in easy breakage and permanent damage to your tree.  A helpful tip is to very carefully dig snow from around trapped branches and allow them to spring back up on their own. Never shake branches with ice.  It is best to let nature take its course and allow thawing to occur. The branches will gradually regain their shape as the ice melts preventing any harm to your landscaping.

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Snow Removal From Branches

SPRING BULBS AND SNOW:  Just as your spring bulbs are emerging, a late winter snow storm in March can cause much distress and uncertainty. Besides having to tend with the snow, there is some reassuring news!  While mulch protects dormant bulbs from cold, once they start blooming, a covering of snow will act as an insulator. The snow will help to hold in the natural warmth from the soil and provide protection. Once the snow is gone, you can continue to enjoy your bulbs!

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Spring Bulbs and Snow Cover

As mentioned previously, plants are very resilient, and with a little care can bounce back and recover nicely after a major snow. With a March snow on the way, warmer days may not look promising at the moment, but Spring is right around the corner!

Informational Links:

A Guide to Northeastern Gardening on Facebook
Landscape Design by Lee on Facebook
A Guide to Northeastern Gardening Blog

NEGardening on Twitter

My Published Books: 

A Guide to Northeastern Gardening: Journeys of a Garden Designer

Landscape Design Combinations

Author:  Lee@Landscape Design By Lee 2017. All Rights Reserved.page-divider-autumn

Protecting Broad-leaved Evergreens for Winter: Anti-Desiccant Spray

Broad-leaved Evergreens

The temperatures are dropping rapidly here in the northeast and it is time to apply anti-desiccant spray to your broad-leaved evergreens to protect them from winter damage.

What is desiccation?:   Certain broad-leaved evergreens are susceptible to winter burn and drying from harsh winter winds here on Long Island and anywhere where winter temperatures drop below freezing. Desiccation, or extreme drying is caused by moisture loss from the leaves by transpiration. A precautionary measure for this drying is the use of an anti-desiccant, which can help to prevent damage to your landscape plants.  Anti-desiccant spray is an organic based spray application that lasts for approximately three months throughout the winter, and helps to prevent water loss from your evergreens.

Which plants should be sprayed with an anti-desiccant?: Apply an anti-desiccant spray to your broad-leaved evergreens such as holly, rhododendron, cherry laurel, skip laurel, mountain laurel, Japanese skimmia, leucothoe, aucuba and boxwood when the daytime temperatures start falling below 50 degrees (around Thanksgiving here in zone 7 Long Island). Apply when the temperatures are above freezing and there is no threat of rain or frost within 24 hours. (This tip applies to areas going into their winter season-temperatures dropping below freezing: 0 degrees Celsius or 32 degrees Fahrenheit.)

When to Apply: Apply anti-desiccant when the daytime temperatures start falling below 50 degrees (late fall/early winter). Apply when the temperatures are above freezing and there is no threat of rain or frost within 24 hours.

Dangers: Be sure to read all directions on the label since anti-desiccants can cause photo toxicity on some narrow needled evergreens such as Arborvitae and Spruce that could cause more harm than winter burn.  Spraying in freezing temperatures will do harm to the plant.  Do not spray in freezing temperatures and allow time to dry before temperatures drop below 32oF or 0oC.

How often should I apply anti-desiccant?:  Sudden warm spells can trigger your evergreens to open their pores allowing for more water loss. If there is a winter thaw part way through the season it is recommended to re-spray your plants but only if the temperatures are to remain above freezing for at least 24 hours.

Where do I purchase anti-desiccant?:  The most commonly used brands of anti-desiccant are Wilt-Pruf, Vapor Guard and Transfilm that can be found in nurseries and garden centers. There is a new brand of anti-desiccant on the market which requires only one application. Ask your landscape professional for more information.

Informational Links:
A Guide to Northeastern Gardening on Facebook
Landscape Design by Lee on Facebook

NEGardening on Twitter

My Published Book: A Guide to Northeastern Gardening: Journeys of a Garden Designer on Amazon

Author:  Lee@Landscape Design By Lee 2016. All Rights Reserved.page-divider-autumn

Book Announcement! My First Published Book!

FotorCreated BOOK PROMO 2 600 pixAfter two years of working on my book I am excited to announce that it is finally published! A Guide to Northeastern Gardening: Journeys of a Garden Designer is a comprehensive guide to gardening in plant hardiness zones 3-9.  My goal for the book is to share information on a number of gardening topics based on my experiences as a landscape designer over the years.BOOK PHOTO

A Little Bit About the Book:

A Guide to Northeastern Gardening is a comprehensive guide of valuable information on plants hardy in a range of zones from 3-9, and gardening techniques backed up by my own personal experiences as a professional landscape designer, along with answers to frequently asked questions. Learn about landscape design principles, butterfly gardening, deer resistant plants, long blooming perennials, globe and weeping evergreens, flowering trees and shrubs, native plantings, shade gardening and more. Whether you are a novice or experienced gardener, A Guide to Northeastern Gardening will help you to create your own dream garden. Come along on my journey into the world of gardening!

A Little Bit About the Author:

Lee Miller is a professional landscape/garden designer involved in the horticultural industry since 1996. Having started a gardening blog in 2010, she is the author of over 150 articles on general gardening, landscape design principles, gardening tips, planting, pruning, garden maintenance, feature plants and more. Her published book, “A Guide to Northeastern Gardening”, is an accumulation of information touching on a wide variety of gardening topics, all backed up by her own personal experiences.

Previews and further information are available on the following links:

Updated for 2016: Now in Amazon Softcover!

Amazon Kindle

Also here is a link to the full story behind the author and the book. I hope to share my gardening experiences with you!

As Always…Happy Gardening!

2015 Lee@ A Guide to Landscape Design & Maintenance.

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Snowy March Garden Thoughts: The Garden Endures another Harsh Winter

4Spring weather is certainly delayed for a second year in a row here on Long Island and only time will tell how the gardens have endured the long and record cold winter.  Memories come back from last season as I awaited spring to come in full force once the temperatures warmed to find later that the unusually cold and snowy winter had done some short-term damage to the garden.  Of course there was concern and anticipation at the time as to whether or not the plants would survive at all. It did take some patience and tender loving care to undo the damage, but the plants did revive and were pretty much back to normal by mid-summer. Unfortunately I had met several new clients last year that had given up hope and taken their plants for dead when they could have possibly recovered, so I am passing on some information that may be of some value.

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Hydrangea March Stalks and Buds

After the snow thaws and new spring sprouts appear on your hydrangea you may notice that the leaves are only coming from the bottom of the plant.  If this is the case, do not immediately cut the stalks back.  Give them some time to see if new growth will appear.  If the buds on your hydrangea are dried and brown rather than green in late April/ May it means that the flower buds are dead and will produce no blooms for the season.  If by mid-spring the stalks remain brown and dry with so sign of growth, then it is time to cut them all the way down to where new leaves appear.  Your hydrangea will then form new stalks and recover. This is what had occurred on many of my hydrangea last year, both the types that bloom on new wood as well as old. I certainly missed the beautiful blooms they produce, but felt fortunate to have new green growth, and was pleased that the plants were spared.

crape myrtle march

Crape Myrtle March

Crape Myrtle was another plant that suffered the brutal temperatures but did recover nicely with some care.  My arborist and work companion urged me to give the trees time and patience until the first of July to see how much damage was actually done and to see if the branches would slowly recover with new growth.  Some of the branches were definitely dead so I removed them and awaited nature to take its course.  The method to tell if a branch is dead or viable is to flex it or gently scrape the outside.  Generally, if a branch is flexible and appears green inside it is alive.  If the branch is dried, does not flex and appears brown under the bark then likely it is dead. I had my co-worker/arborist deep root feed the suffering plants to give their root systems a boost and by the end of June/beginning of July, my prized Crape Myrtle had recovered and were producing new stalks.   Throughout the months of July through September they formed their buds and bloomed beautifully…which certainly was a relief.

Winter Garden So while waiting for spring to arrive in just a couple short weeks, I am hoping the garden endured and will be showing all its glory in the not too distant future.  One thing for sure…it has been a bit of a learning experience after last winters record snowfall and this years’ record cold.  I am hoping that passing this information along will spare readers from some unwanted stress once back into the garden.

As Always…Happy Gardening!

2015 Lee@ A Guide to Landscape Design & Maintenance.

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