Monday, December 29, 2014

What Not to Wear for Winter Shrubs -- Burlap Wrap

There's a new fashion trend in the MItten. 2014 was brutal for some marginally tender plants and shrubs.  The unprecedented cold of the great Polar Vortex caused permanent damage to boxwood, hydrangea, white pine and other garden regulars.  Neighbor Ray gave up on his scorched boxwood hedge by June.  Blue hosta plants will now line his driveway in warner months.

Fearing the same chilling prediction for 2015, Michigan yardeners have swaddled their precious perennial bushes in layers of burlap resembling oversized bags of lumpy potatoes. 

Do our plants now require quilted buntings to survive?  Truly not in most cases.  Most structural plants naturally come with coping skills for winter survival.  Spruces turn a smoky blue-grey.  Rhododendron leaves curl up like cigars on especially cold days to avoid transpiration (the loss of water stored during the fall due to icy winds.)

When the rhodos resemble stuffed grape leaves, the down
jacket comes out.

Each fall plants store moisture for the dormant winter months. Unless autumn was especially dry, there's usually enough to last until spring.  We've been blessed with a very wet summer and fall
which has continued into early winter.  Most plants have plenty of moisture reserves to survive drying winter winds.

Buntings do not protect from road salt nor other de-icing sprays, as harmful chemicals
are absorbed via the root system. 

Overzealous commercial maintenance crews, fearful of costly replacement, have swaddled perimeter plantings in ugly armors. \

All probably unnecessary and not worthy of the aesthetic cost. 

One nearby commercial building is now encompassed in a bright green cloth fence for the foreseeable future.

Overprotected plants may not thrive as well as those left to nature's devices.  Scientists have found that staked trees are far less strong compared to those allowed to sway in the wind.  The unfettered grow stronger and more supple in order to survive. Hemlocks respond to the weight of snow by gently curving branches downward. 

Plants which do not die back to the root system still absorb and monitor limited amounts of sunlight in the cold season.

The garden doesn't cease to provide beauty in the cold.

Structural planting  provide form and movement when less hearty growth retreats. 

Soldier-like rows of bandaged shrubs have no aesthetic value.   Removal of covers is messy and lengthens a long task list.

To best prepare the garden for winter, water heavily in the fall if precipitation is light.  Discontinue plant food in late summer to discourage vulnerable late season growth.

Snow collects upon branches in graceful beauty.

Save the wrapping for the presents.

More Chilly Advice:

Avoid Shrubbery Flubbery -- How to Clear Away Snow

No More Bad Haircuts -- How to Trim Bushes

Sunday, November 2, 2014

To Cut Plants Back or Leave Them Be?

The garden adapts to the grower's character unlike any other happenstance of daily life. "Eyes forward" types tend the yard in a different way than those who live in the moment.

Each fall the dilemma presents itself once again.  Should I cut back spent plants or wait until spring?

The answer depends upon the plants, the schedule and personal aesthetics.  Predictions for winter include a very short spring.  Mother nature may have other plans, however.

If weather and time permits, cut back all soft leaf perennials such as hosta.  Tucked below a bed of
snow,  leftovers turn mushy and removal's messy.  Yet there's no preferred method.  If left until spring, spent leaves can simply be pulled away. 

Heavy stemmed daisies are best cut partially back as their overall thickness and growth makes more work once the tops of the plants deteriorate.

Rose blooms should remain untouched until pods are formed.   Then the plants should be trimmed back in the spring to a greened stem at a leaf juncture. 

Hydrangea, on the other hand are best cut back once the Ides of March have passed.  Winter die back is readily apparent and it's easy to cut along the lines.  Enjoy the visual benefit of the lovely dried mop heads as winter interest.

Same goes for shrubs such as spirea which can be "stooled" or cut back hard in fall or spring.

The accumulation of snow on dense branches can be lovely to some. Browned branches add structure to the barren yard. 

There's no singular correct method.  Much depends upon the personality of the gardener.  Those who prefer the yard to be tidy can't abide the presence of browned leaves. 

Others who desire more fullness and structure during the cold months will leave it lie.   

Gardens are like children and pets.  They tend to thrive no matter the method--so long as love's the impetus.

Happy clipping!

Related Blogs: 

Shrubbery Flubbery -- Heavy Snow and Shrubs

Boxwood Burn

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Why Is My Dog Eating Grass?

Ralph's not been feeling at all well lately.  That's when the grass eating started.  Research said that it's not a sign of illness or discomfort, only part of his natural instinct. But once the lawn was the only thing he'd eat, it was time to see the vet.  Many doctor appointments, one emergency pet hospital and a university clinic visit left us with few answers--and a very lethargic puppy. 

His behavior deteriorated.  Ralphwould dart rather than romp, his hindquarters tucked under as if frightened.  One morsel of food, even his beloved Boursin cheese sent him racing to the yard for a grass chaser. 

Trips to the vet's office only made the poor guy more anxious and depressed.  We were really worried, but the treatment seemed worse than whatever disease was wearing him down.  So we let him show us how to make it right.  Lots of attention and if he felt like eating pesticide free grass, so be it.

Happy to report that Ralph's on the mend.  He's far more interested in his dinner bowl than the backyard--which was developing some serious bald spots. 

Grass didn't cure Ralph, but sometimes we need to take cues from nature when the language barrier gets complex.

I just never thought I'd be thankful for the return of the morning theft of a shoe for a treat!

Even the mailman missed his mad barking.

More Barkticles of Interest:

Poisonous Plants for People and Pets

Urbane Wildlife

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Living Green Roofs

Prairie Grass Roof
Walking Mountain Nature Center
Avon, Colorado
It may not be readily apparent, but road warriors can have a green side.  Topside that is. The Ford Truck Plant in Dearborn, Michigan manufactures large scale, gas loving pick up trucks beneath a roof covered with live sedum plants.  Ford's green roof is a pasture of 10.4 solid acres of sedum which benefits both the environment and the economy.

Ford's green roof was one of the first large-scale commercial projects of its kind and has been benchmarked by an industry leaning towards greener practices. 

Not only industrial facilities can benefit from living roofs overhead.  Residential homes and even garden sheds have incorporated plants into construction design. The primary benefits of a green roof for the site owner are improved insulation against heating and cooling loss and rainwater run off absorption. 

Sedum Roof, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Sedum is the gold standard for green roofing due to the groundcover's ability to absorb rainwater.  The succulent fills in quickly, survives extreme cold and windy temperatures and doesn't require pruning or cutting back.  Prairie grass is sometimes used as an alternative, but in the wrong setting can dry out or overextend.  Visually, sedum generally appeals more to the eye.  Ideally, the roof should incorporate a more diverse collection of plants, but sedum can be a bit pushy.  

Low maintenance sedum sports a shallow root system, tolerates drought, resists disease, adapts easily to environmental challenges, and requires no supplemental nourishment.  Yet, any significant installation design should include an expert's opinion as the vegetation blanket's weight increases as the plants grow, multiply and absorb water.

There are thousands of varieties of the stonecrop species.  The most suitable are short and compact as tall species can suffer breakage.   If aesthetics are part of the equation, available sedum colors range in color from bright yellow, to green to burgundy red.

New York City offered tax abatements for developments sprouting living roofs. 

Grass roof
Avon, Colorado
Are plant based roofs truly beneficial?  There's no solid evidence either way.

One thing's for certain, sedum plants won't limit themselves to the roof.  The spreadability factor which makes stonecrop so attractive for roofs doesn't end at the gutter.

Expect sedum to reseed at ground level.

More Articles of Interest:

Fall Garden Clean Up and Pumpkin Patches

Turtlehead and Other Fall Blooming Plants

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Lafayette Greens--Detroit Grows Up!

There's no place like Detroit.  Where else can so many folks "be" from a place where they've never
lived? Detroit's got lots of citizens, but few inhabitants.

It's tough to visit other cities who seemed to "get it."  Even places like New York, whose existence hasn't always been pristine, have made repurposing neighborhoods nearly an art form.  Abandoned New York Central train tracks now wind through a revitalized warehouse district reborn as a mile-long linear park. 

In Detroit there's always been the desire for a true urban experience, but for most of my lifetime all well intentioned attempts eventually fell flat. There's certainly a deep loyalty, and a conflicted love for the grimy city, but things never seemed to change. What did change was generally not for the better.

Boomers set their sights on the suburbs. 'Detroiters" who never grew up in the city.  Few forayed into the city even during the work week, the main occupants of downtown being barristers and bums.  Some bragged that they hadn't been to Detroit since the Tigers last won the World Series--never specifying which one.

Michigan has a stellar university system, so when the first batch of offspring began graduating with impressive credentials, they found there were no jobs, especially in Detroit.  Thus the exodus of the first half of a generation--to Chicago, New York, Atlanta, and other urban areas that had job vacancies, and a throbbing metropolis.  Meanwhile something was percolating with our offspring that never dawned on their middle aged parents. 

Those young adults who'd spent internships or began starter jobs in neighboring cities came home and created their own urban experience.  Others just stayed put.

Today, over the lunch hour, the typical worker on  the sidewalk of Detroit wears Dre Beats and sports a messenger bag.  Prada pumps seem pretentious and out of place. 

Thus, upon exiting the courthouse on a mild summer mid morning with my resident twenty something barrister daughter, we snuck off to the Coney Island--and upon a sight that made my green heart sing.  A lovely urban garden had sprung up on the long end of a triangular block where a fourteen story abandoned building once crumbled. 

Lafayette Greens is serious urban gardening.  It features rows of raised garden beds made from galvanized steel. The beds are designed as accessible and barrier-free.  The site is beautifully designed in a sustaining style.   Detroit was designed by Augustus B. Woodward in the style of Washington D.C., with the city center as the hub of a wheel, and the streets as spokes.  Makes sense for a Motor City.  The layout of Lafayette Greens makes comparable use of circular shapes and
patterns, interspersed with linear rows of raised gardens, each assigned to a willing sponsor.

The garden is active all year, with the planting of cover crops in off season and the use of "low tunnels" or winter greenhouses. 

Intense and undistracted young people in bright t-shirts huddled together over raised beds as if at a conference table.  Later in the day, they will likely sit indoors with the same look of purpose, fielding overseas calls and customer inquiries.

City dwellers chatted at bright umbrella tables. 

The Greening of Detroit manages the site. 

For a city that has  stared down the abyss, this green means rebirth. The contrast's refreshing and  the feeling's revitalizing.

It's worth the trip to the Greens.  And next door for the coney dog.


Urbane Wildlife -- Look What Roamed In!

New USDA Planting Zones -- The Blog Formerly Known as Zone Five and A Half

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Boxwood Burn

Why are the boxwood bushes brown?  Can the hedge be saved?  Should I cut it back?

He looked perplexed, staring down the curved lines of  brown shrubs along his driveway. Last year lush green boxwoods outlined my neighbor's entryway. Now Ray's trying to decide whether to rip them out or hurriedly deploy a can of green spray paint before the weekend  graduation party. 

The great Polar Vortex of 2014 may be a distant chilly memory, yet many tender hedges are not recovering. The extended deep freeze was just too much.  It wasn't that the temperatures plummeted so low--but for so very long.  Hedges situated in areas with excess wind exposure sustained the most damage.  Unfortunately those locations are often the most prominent.

Mild winters emboldened growers to introduce new varieties of the emerald green beauties, although many had no track record in volatile zones five and
six. Then Mother Nature decided to get brutal in 2014.

Winter burn is desiccation or complete dehydration of plants stripped of all moisture by winter winds and harsh temps. The leaves dry out, turning gold or a pale beige.  This is normal on a small scale every year, but in 2014 the extensive damage was unprecedented.

Those shrubs in sheltered areas or buried beneath snow fared the best.  But most hedges sustained sectional injury.

The hopeful (or those of us in denial) waited six to eight weeks for the plants will shake it off.  By now, if more than half the shrub remains beige to brown, the prospects are not good.

Mild external trimming may clean it up, but if the damage extends inward more than four to six inches, the prognosis is mixed. Separate the branched and peer into the plant. If the burn is isolated on a few branches, cut back to a live "y" junction.  Burned limbs will not bounce back so remove them.  Boxwoods will fill in if the end result resembles Swiss cheese. Nitrogen based plant supplements will stimulate growth. 

Hard cutting back is not a fix.  Boxwoods whacked with deep brush cuts will not regenerate sufficient
thickness to achieve their signature appearance of continuity. 

Learn from this winter.  It's hard to match up replacement shrubs.  When planting a new hedge, purchase a few extra shrubs, tucking them away in a sheltered area of the yard.  Never know when a relief pitcher is needed. Otherwise, the entire hedge may need replacement or consolidation.

Keep the hedgerow shrubs well hydrated late into the fall to avoid drying out.  Discontinue fertilization in mid summer.  Tender new growth is most vulnerable. Shovel snow along hedges, being careful not to overload the flat top with weight.

With a little special care and precaution,  boxwoods will bounce back.

After all, last winter was an aberration.  Right?????!


Green Fences--Boxwood Hedges to Hydrangea Hedgerows

Planting Windowboxes -- No Pane No Gain!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

It's Tulip Time in Holland, Michigan

The 2018 Holland Michigan Tulip Festival is May 5 through 13, 2018. The 5K Tulip Tome Run starts at 8:00 am on May 5, 2018.

The Holland, Michigan Tulip Festival should be on the checklist of every gardener.  My visit was an early Mother's Day gift.

Plant tulips in the fall.  Depending on the variety, the optimal depth is four to eight inches.  Tulips bulbs that don't bloom may be planted too deep.

A scoop of bone meal at planting is optimal as the matter breaks down, and nutrients emerge, just as the plant blooms--providing energy when needed.

After blooming, it's not obligatory to allow spent tulip greenery to die back naturally.  This can be unsightly.  Leave four to six inches exposed above ground when cutting back.

There are only a few spots on earth where the climate is conducive to tip-top tulips.  To thrive in droves, they require cold winters, cool springs and fairly dry summers. 

Ottowa County in Michigan is one of those lucky areas.  Holland is a coastal city on the western shore of Lake Michigan.  Proximity to the lake enshrouds the area in temperate weather.  Winter winds off the lake produce plenty of blanketing know.  Summer breezes keep Holland cool and dry.

Last year we took a daytrip from our home near Detroit.  My family gamely set out early on a drizzly and cool Saturday morning.  Despite the gray skies, Holland was a rainbow of color.  In the downtown area, the common green was awash with dozens of varieties of tulip surrounding gazebos and the bandstand.  Along the residential medians, homeowners had created colorful street borders as far and the eye could see.

City parks throughout Holland plant fields of like tulips which rival Europe's finest displays. Windmill Island Gardens on the edge of town is thirty six acres of manicured gardens, with more than 150,000 tulips, dikes, canals and walking paths.

Seated along the main street for lunch, our timing was perfect.  Sipping local brewed beer we watched and cheered as a thousand young dancers performed the traditional "Dutch Dance" in twice as many wooden shoes.  Surprisingly graceful despite their eight layers of socks.  The sound of tapping wood in unison creates a unique soft sound that lifts the heart.

It's a joyful noise.

So there we were watching a thousand folks dancin' in the street when I looked up...

My heart skipped a beat...

Until I realized he was there to protect.

It made me sad that a sweet parade on a spring day had lost some of its innocence.

Damn those monsters in Boston.

But the innocents below were protected.

So offer one up for those who serve and protect us.

Even when we are blissfully unaware.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bizzy Lizzie Update: Should I Plant Impatiens?

Impatiens are likely not safe to plant in 2017
Are impatiens safe to plant in 2014?  Does the Bizzy Lizzy blight remain?

Chances are impatiens should remain quarantined.  As the hardy fungus known as downy mildew overwinters, several seasons will need to pass in order to eradicate the spores from soggy spring soil. 

Trouble is, if the garden is re-infected, the cleansing process starts over.  Conservative gardeners should resist the temptation to buy Busy Lizzies for a few more years.

Impatiens blight's now lingered for over three seasons, making these former fancies a
fading memory.

Stick with hardier replacements such as begonias and coleus.

Don't be impatiens.

They'll be back!

More Articles of Interest:

Planting Pansies and Violas

Should I Plant Coleus Instead of Impatiens?

Begonias are the New Impatiens

Monday, April 7, 2014

Snow Mold -- What is that White Stuff on my Lawn?

What's that white stuff on my lawn?
It's been four months since I last saw my lawn.  I'd nearly forgotten what grass looked like.  When it
finally appeared under the receding glacier that had surrounded the yard, something was awry. I know it's been awhile, but since when is my grass white, gray, or even pink in patches?

Patches may be an understatement.  Wide sweeping arches of crusty goo's more accurate.

I've heard these blotches referred to as "fairy rings. "  It's doubtful that Tinkerbell had her tiny wand in this mess.

Snow mold is the technical and descriptive term for the most recent byproduct of an exceptionally harsh winter.  Huge piles of snow created and retained moisture.  There was no cyclical thaw this past season.  The moist cold created a breeding ground for mold.  Notice some sneezing and scratchiness lately?  That could be early allergies, not a spring cold.

The frost line is deep and consistent.  Moisture can't wick away in the soil nor soaked up by dormant root system. 

Areas where the lawn was cut shorter or compacted were not as susceptible.

Treatment will have to wait.  Hold off on using the blow-dryer.  Warmer temps are predicted and much of the unsightly areas will improve after some sun and few cuts.

For those patches that remain, rake and remove the infected blades.

Antifungal sprays are preventative and not always effective.  They won't fix the problem once the mold takes hold.

Try to avoid infected areas to avoid further damage and dispersion.

To prevent a reoccurrence, trim the lawn  short in the fall and limit any fertilization, if necessary, to late spring.

Better yet, hope for a mild winter next year !

This one was an aberration?  Right?

More Articles of Interest:

When to Plant Pansies and Violas?

Trimming Rhododendrons -- Snap!

Planting Bulbs -- Pay it Forward