Saturday, October 31, 2009

A dreary October Day

     Well, it is another dark and dreary October day (written 10/30/2009). These are the falls that I remember from my childhood: trick-or-treating with a down-filled coat on or a poncho covering the handmade costume that my Grandmother made me. I believe that the last few falls were blessings from garden spirits and that Mother Nature is just bringing reality back to us.
     However, Tom Skilling (area meteorologist) is saying something about El NiƱo and a warm patch in the Pacific Ocean that will bring a milder winter. Maybe this winter will be like the year we sold Christmas trees in t-shirts. Maybe it will be like last year where it snowed a little bit at a time. Or maybe we will get a doozy of a blizzard like the winter of 1969. Now, let’s stay optimistic!
     This is the time of year I advise our beloved family, friends and clients who want to better their gardens with the tips and techniques for preparing for those winter months ahead. Alas, as sad as it is, the old sayings like “Do as I say, not as I do” or the “Shoemaker’s children go barefoot” come to mind. I walk past the bags of bulbs (that had good intentions) in my garage begging to be planted and I look at the ‘Blue Billow’ Hydrangeas that would be spectacular if I gave them just a little bit of winter protection. But it just gets too cold and dark and my motivation is limited to do something about it and then I complain bitterly in summer that the area is lacking color. My poor Arborvitaes will suffer from “Flat head” from the cascade of snow that comes flying off the roof with gusto and I know a little bit of proactive tying would have lessened their stress. Fortunately, they grow out of the ugliness every year or maybe my lawn maintenance crew takes pity and cosmetically fixes them with a tuck here and nip there.  (Thanks Guys!)
     My garden, like the Chicago Cubs, abides by the philosophy and spirit that there is always next year.
(edited by Elaine Colon)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Time for bed, Garden! Part 3

We are going to wrap up our series on putting the garden to bed by discussing some winterizing techniques.

Heavy ice or snow on arbor vitae can cause damage by bending or breaking the tops of the shrubs due to excessive weight. It is very sad to see a flat-head arbor vitae, so be sure to tie them up to prevent this. However, if you put it off and get an unexpected snow, they will recover in the spring...eventually.

Evergreens, because they have foliage even in winter, will lose moisture, especially in windy areas. To prevent wind burn, you have several options: you can wrap them, put up barriers and spray them with an anti-desiccant (Wilt-Pruf). An anti-desiccant is a foliage spray that helps prevent summer scald, transplant shock and winter moisture loss, which is also known as desiccation. We recommend spraying while the temps are still above freezing and the plants are dormant. You can then reapply in January/February.

After you are done working on the actual plants, it's a good idea to clean your tools for the winter. Even leaving dirt and grass on blades can cause rusting over the winter. Drain power equipment of fuel or add a fuel stabilizer such as Stabil. Oil any metals with vegetable oil to prevent rusting. And don't forget to sharpen your tools so they are ready for action once spring returns.

While you're at it, might as well check your snow removal equipment (shovels, blowers, snow rake, de-icers). Try as they might, the forecasters don't always get it right. You don't want to wake up to a winter wonderland one morning and not be prepared.

Now that all the hard stuff is done, cozy up with some seed catalogs and make your wish list for next year!

If you have any questions about the topic we've covered the past few posts, or comments/tips you'd like to share, please send us a note. We'd love to hear from you.

Enjoy your outdoors!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Time for bed, Garden! Part 2

It's a gloriously sunny and crisp day up here, just north of Chicago. So, let's put on some flannel and get out in the garden! The rain from the last few days has knocked down a bunch of leaves, which can keep the kids busy raking.

Once you've gathered a pile of leaves (and after everyone's had a chance to jump into the big pile a few times!) you could mulch them up with your lawnmower or leaf blower (if you have one of those blower/mulcher versions). You might also cut down and/or remove annuals and vegetables to add to your compost pile. Be sure to check for diseases and pests before adding anything to the mulch or compost. You certainly don't want to be harboring anything nasty. Once you've got your compost ingredients neatly piled, let them sit for a while until it starts to look more like soil.

It might be a good time to empty out any pots or containers that aren't freeze-proof, to prevent damage over the winter.

Now for some pruning.
Prune any shrubs you've got that don't bloom in the spring (i.e. Spirea, Weigela, Dogwood). Cut 1/3 of the plant out in this order:
1. Diseased branches
2. Branches that rub against each other
3. Branches that are not aesthetically pleasing
4. Trim to shape

A "rejuvenation prune" would involve cutting the whole plant down if the plant has become very woody or barren.

As for rose bushes, you can cut them down to 12" to 15" tall then mound them up with leaves, mulches, soil...whatever you've got available. This should be done closer to December and should help keep your bushes at a consistent temperature throughout the winter.

Watch your weather forecasts because after the first hard frost you'll want to cut back anything dead or fading from your perennials.

OK. That should be plenty of work for one beautiful Sunday afternoon. Next time we'll discuss more steps to winter-proof the garden and also tool maintenance. As always, questions and/or comments are welcome.

Now, time for some hot chocolate!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Time for bed, Garden!

All of a sudden it's that time of year again; time to put the garden to bed. And just like the kids who want an extra 15 minutes before getting tucked, we've hoped (in vain!) that the warm temps would last just a little longer. Not a chance. So, what should you do to protect your precious garden from the harsh weather around the corner? In the next few days, we'll cover the basics of putting your garden to bed.

First thing to do is evaluate your garden. Ask yourself: Which plants did well? Make note of the environmental conditions (i.e., Oh, bad drainage here! Hmm, it's really windy in that area over there., etc.) Are there any diseases or insects that need attention? Examine the crop rotation. Who ended up where?

You should have stopped fertilizing trees, shrubs and plants by early September. If you haven't, drop the fertilizer now.

This is a good time to think about how you want your garden to look next spring. Plant trees, shrubs and bulbs now. We recommend staking all trees planted in fall to prevent tipping or shifting due to wind and/or snow.

A note about planting tulips and daffodils: You can time their growth based on how you place your bulbs underground. If you plant some of the bulbs sideways and facing down, these will take longer to get above ground and therefore you've extended your blossom time. In addition to tulips and daffodils, you might also consider planting edible bulbs like garlic and shallots.

As always, keep watering if the fall is dry (approximately one inch of water per week).

Next time we'll discuss pruning and mulching. In the meantime, send us your thoughts and have fun out there!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bring your outdoor plants indoors for the winter

Tis the season to bring in those precious plants that have vacationed on your patios and balconies all summer. Granted, this endeavor is always accompanied by a multitude of questions: “Which one(s) are fortunate to make the cut?” “To trim or not to trim?” And my personal favorite, “What freeloaders are lurking within my glorious garden buddies?”

“Which one(s) are fortunate to make the cut?” - The # 1 deciding factor for which plants make the cut to spend the winter in your limited household space should be ease of maintenance: bring in those plants which are conducive to being wintered indoors with little or no issues. Problem plants (mandevilla, passion vine) are just not worth the heartache. Then there are the three other reasons for choosing which plants are spared the harsh reality of the compost heap. You probably want to save those plants that are sentimental, like grandma’s peace lily or the rex begonia you rooted from a friend and/or the plants that you searched high and low for that are rare, like night blooming cyrus, orchids or a coveted citrus plant. Also indoors-worthy are those expensive plants, like topiary rosemary, gardenias, braided hibiscus and bodacious bamboos that you use for screening your neighbors who think garden art is the A/C compressor. These plants and those like them should be welcomed into your home with loving arms.

“To trim or not to trim?” - Most plants enjoy a regular trim. It keeps them full, promotes new growth, eliminates damaged growth and helps maintain the size of the plant. There are those plants that benefit from serious trimmings such as hibiscus, gardenias and oleanders. For the more timid gardener, a light trimming will work too, but not as well. For Geraniums (pelargonium), both scented and large flower varieties, we recommend cutting 50% to 70% back. Sounds drastic, yes, but yields great spring results. Trim to maintain shape for your ivy, herb and Eugenia topiaries. So, periodic trimmings are helpful in keeping these plants happy. However, there are plants with leaves that are generated near the center of the plant or close to the soil such as clivias, gingers and agapanthus that should not be trimmed back because they recover extremely slowly from this.

“What freeloaders are lurking within my glorious garden buddies?” – Finally, what “friends” can you expect on your plants and how do you deal with them? First, we recommend trimming the plant back if it is applicable. This physically removes many insects. Second, we recommend spraying the whole plant while it is lying on its side, so you can get under the leaves, too. Spraying it down with water (outside!) should knock a good portion of its freeloaders off, too. We recommend also spraying the plant down, after it has dried off, with an insecticidal soap or insecticidal oil. Be careful to follow the instructions provided. For instance, soap is usually not good for gardenias and oil does not work well on fuzzy-leafed plants. If you find you have an outbreak of insects, there are certain methods that you can apply while your plant is indoors to deal with them. Personally, I like to seek out the little buggers and squash them with my fingers.

Now that you’re armed with some criteria, go out there and decide which plants will be eliminated from the garden and need to pack up their bags and leave the premises immediately and which are still in the running to become America’s Next Top House-Plant. : )