Author Archives: Julie

Winter Gardener’s Calendar

A perfect time to plan! Curl up with your gardening books and the gardening magazines and catalogs you’ve received in the mail. Get out the gardening journal and start dreaming…

General Landscape

  • Clean up when you get a break in the weather. Remove fallen branches and downed evergreen clumps. Rake leaves to prevent stains on concrete and dead patches of lawn. If freezing weather is still in the forecast, leave the mulch in place.
  • If your Christmas tree is still around, set it where the dropping needles will provide mulch, use the branches as additional insulation for perennials, or get together with neighbors to rent a chipper and create wood chips for larger mulch.

Houseplants

  • Perk up tired houseplants by removing dead and dying leaves. Wash under a soft shower in the sink or tub.
  • Spider mites love living in warm, dry, winter homes. Check for mites by looking for tiny speckles on leaves.
  • Transplant if roots are growing through the drainage holes or over the pot edge. Pick up some new, larger, trend-setting, colored pots to perk up your décor. Or, if you don’t want a larger pot, untangle the roots and cut back by 1/3, scour the pots and replant with new soil.
  • Remember to turn your plants each week as they begin to grow towards the window light.
  • Plant a terrarium or miniature garden. If you can’t play in the dirt outside, bring the fun indoors!

Vegetables:

  • Plant a short-term cover crop such as Fava beans when soil becomes workable.
  • February: Start vegetable and herb seeds indoors:
Broccoli
Cabbage
Celery
Chard
Eggplant
Kale
Kohlrabi
Leeks
Lettuce
Onions, bulb
Peppers
Radicchio
Scallion
Spinach
Tomatoes
Turnip

General:

If you just need a breath of aromatic fresh garden air, stop by and smell ours! The humidity is perfect and will instantly transport you to spring. If you have any questions or need suggestions, we’re here to help. We’d love to see you!

Ideas for Creating Winter Interest in the Garden

How does your winter landscape look from inside your home? Even if it’s bleak and uninteresting, it can be easy to renovate and redecorate – just treat it like your home! Perk it up by using your indoor decorating skills outdoors.

When you decorate your house, you make it interesting and inviting by hanging pictures on the walls, creating focal points with houseplants or statuary, adding color and displaying collections. A garden is no different. Texture, layers, colors, scents, sounds and movement all combine to create a wonderful space to enjoy when outside in the summer and from inside the house during the winter.

If the temperatures are low and the snow is deep you can’t plant right now, but these plants could go on your wish list in your gardening journal to enhance the view next winter. Here are some suggestions to get your dreaming started…

Colorful Berries

Not only can berries add an easy burst of color to the landscape no matter which direction you view it from, but they can attract winter wildlife as well. Winter berries may be black, white, red, orange, pink, purple, blue or golden. Popular options include…

  • Hollies (Ilex spp.)
  • Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)
  • Florida Dogwood (Cornus florida)
  • Cotoneaster varieties
  • Creeping Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
  • Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica)
  • Winter King Hawthorn (Crataegus viridis ‘Winter King’)
  • Linden Viburnum (Viburnum dilatatum)
  • European Cranberrybush (Viburnum opulus)
  • Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica)
  • Crabapples (Malus spp.)

Ornamental Bark

Exfoliating, or peeling, barks may reveal underlying bark of the same or differing color. Patterned, ridged or furrowed bark offers visual interest, especially against snow. Consider…

  • Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum)
  • Striped Maple (Acer pensylvanicum)
  • Arctic Fire Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera)
  • Redosier Dogwood (Cornus sericea)
  • American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana)
  • Cinnamon Clethra (Clethra acuminata)
  • Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera)
  • Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)

Seed Heads

Although we often deadhead plants as blossoms die, leaving a few to overwinter is a fabulous idea. Not only do they provide uniquely organic winter sculptural interest to the garden, but they also provide feed and protection for birds. Winter seed heads, when backlit by the low winter sun, really add pop in the landscape. Try leaving some seed heads on the following plants…

  • Hydrangeas
  • Roses
  • Sedums such as Autumn Joy
  • Rudbeckias
  • Echinacea
  • Astilbe
  • Caryopteris

Unusual Branching

Especially beautiful when encased in ice, unusual branching patterns create natural focal points pulling the viewer’s vision through the winter garden. These plants prove a winter garden doesn’t need to be boring…

Twisting Growth:

  • Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’)
  • Curly Willow (Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’)
  • Twisty Cryptomeria (Cryptomeria japonica ‘Rasen-Sugi’)
  • Dwarf Twisty Baby Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Lacy Lady’)
  • Contorted White Pine (Pinus strobus ‘Contorta’)

Weeping Shape:

  • Weeping Cherry (Prunus subhirtella varieties)
  • ‘Lavender Twist’ Weeping Redbud (Cersis canadensis ‘Covey’)
  • Weeping Crabapples (Malus spp.)
  • Maples (Acer spp.)

Ornamental Grasses

Nothing adds structure to the winter garden like ornamental grasses. Whether blowing in the breeze and adding movement or covered with reflective ice, grasses add texture, volume and the subtle colors of seed heads. Great options include…

  • Silvergrass (Miscanthus spp.)
  • Switchgrass (Panicum spp.)
  • Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium)
  • Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass (Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’)
  • Fountaingrass (Pennisetum alopecuroides or P. setaceum ‘Purpureum’)
  • Tufted Hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa)

Evergreens

No garden is complete without evergreens. Broadleaf evergreens and conifers establish the garden’s foundation. They anchor the beds when the perennials disappear, define boundaries and pathways and soften hard edges. Many broadleaf evergreens also provide summer flowers and fragrance.

Broadleaf Evergreens:

  • Aucuba japonica
  • Azalea and Rhododendron varieties
  • Boxwood varieties
  • Holly varieties
  • Laurels
  • Leucothoe
  • Pieris varieties
  • Skimmia
  • Yucca

Conifers:

  • Spruces such as Dwarf Alberta Spruce (Picea glauca var. albertiana ‘Conica’)
  • Silver Korean Fir (Abies koreana ‘Horstmann’s Silberlocke’)
  • Umbrella Pines such as Japanese Umbrella Pine (Sciadopitys verticillata)
  • Junipers such as Blue Star Juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’)

Bulbs

Several early bulbs emerge in the winter. Planted in the fall near entrances and along walkways, they offer their promise spring is just around the corner and can add a burst of color to the end of winter. Popular options include…

  • Crocus varieties
  • Yellow Danford Iris (Iris dandordiae)
  • Snowdrops
  • Blue Silberian Squills (Scilla)
  • Snow Glories (Chionodoxa)
  • Grape Hyacinth (Muscari)
  • Hyacinths

Even though you can’t begin planting now, you can begin planning, and perhaps even installing, non-plant garden features such as benches, yard art or lighting. LED lighting along pathways may be high on your list and we have the newest products to help your guests navigate to your doorway in any season. A bench, arbor or trellis adds structure and interest to the garden and will make a perfect meditation spot or reading nook when the weather warms up. You might want to plan a pond, the perfect spot for a fountain or even consider adding a sundial, fire pit or other unique feature to the yard. Whatever your garden dreams, we can help you achieve them, and you’ll never look out at your winter garden and wonder what could be again!

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Feeding Birds in Winter

Winter is a crucial time for birds. As temperatures drop, there are no insects to eat and the natural seeds are covered with snow, and as the season lengthens, the berries and crab apples are long gone. Birds need enough food to maintain their body temperatures and must search for food from sun up to dusk. If you provide nutritious options at feeders, birds will flock to your yard all winter long.

Best Foods for Winter Birds

Fatty, high-calorie foods are important for winter birds. Fat is metabolized into energy much quicker and more efficiently than seeds to help them maintain their high body temperature necessary for survival.

A number of backyard foods are excellent sources of quick energy and protein to nourish winter birds, including…

  • Suet
    Suet cakes provide an excellent energy source for birds and are often mixed with seeds, berries, fruit and peanut butter to appeal to a wider range of species. These fatty cakes are easy to add to cage or mesh feeders, or suet balls, plugs, shreds and nuggets are also available.
  • Peanut Butter
    Peanut Butter is also very popular with a large number of birds. To reduce the cost of feeding peanut butter, you can melt it down and mix it with suet or mix in cornmeal so it is not quite so sticky. Smear peanut butter on pine cones and hang them for fast, easy feeders.
  • Seeds
    When native seeds may all be eaten or hidden under snow, seeds at feeders are very important. Seeds contain high levels of carbohydrates that are turned into glucose to help with the bird’s high energy demands. They also are a good source for vitamins and some protein. Make sure the seed you purchase does not have a lot of fillers (milo and wheat seeds) that are not eaten. Mixes with sunflower seeds and millet are preferred.
  • Sunflower Seeds
    If you want to offer just one seed to birds, you can’t beat sunflower seed. Black oil sunflower seeds have a softer shell than the striped seeds and can be eaten by sparrows and juncos, as well as cardinals, finches, jays and many other birds. These seeds have a number of advantages: they are not overly expensive, they appeal to a wider variety of species, and they contain a larger amount of vegetable oil to help supply the energy birds need to maintain their body heat in the winter. They are also a good source of protein.
  • Cracked Corn
    Cracked Corn is a good, inexpensive food that appeals to a large number of birds, including doves, sparrows, juncos, quail and cardinals, as well as starlings and grackles. Sprinkle the corn liberally right on the ground for larger ground-feeding birds to enjoy.
  • Nyjer
    Nyjer (thistle) seeds are small, oil-rich black seeds typically offered in tube feeders or fine mesh feeders small birds can cling to as they feed. These seeds are tiny but they pack a huge punch for oil and calories, ideal for winter feeding. Nyjer is a favorite of goldfinches, pine siskins and redpolls.
  • Nuts
    Nut meats are highly nutritious and provide necessary amino acids and protein a bird’s body cannot produce. They also have oil and are high in energy. Peanuts are the most popular nuts to offer to backyard birds, but walnuts are also a good option. Avoid using any nuts that are salted or seasoned, however, as they are not healthy for birds.

Other Winter Feeding Tips

Just providing food for winter birds isn’t enough to help your feathered friends stay well-nourished during the coldest months of the year. For the best feeding…

  • Position feeders 5-10 feet away from bushes and shrubs that may conceal hungry predators.
  • Use broad baffles to keep squirrels off feeders and to shelter the feeders from snow and freezing rain.
  • Refill feeders frequently so birds do not need to search for a more reliable food source, especially right before and after storms.
  • Use multiple feeders so you can offer a wider variety of different foods and more aggressive birds cannot monopolize the feeder.
  • Provide water in a heated bird bath so thirsty birds do not have to use critical energy to melt ice and snow to drink.

Feeding birds in the backyard can be a wonderful winter activity, and if you offer the best, calorie-rich foods birds need, you’ll be amazed at how many birds come visit the buffet.

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Seed Starting

Starting seeds indoors is a rewarding gardening experience and can help extend your growing season to include more plant varieties than your outdoor season may permit. Furthermore, a larger selection of seed varieties doesn’t limit your opportunities to growing only those transplants that are available at planting time. The key to success in growing seedlings is in creating the proper environment.

What Seeds Need

Seeds are generally hardy, but to start them properly they do need gentle nurturing so they can produce healthy, vibrant plants. In general, seeds should be started 4-6 weeks before the recommended planting time so the seedlings will be large and strong enough to withstand the stresses of transplanting. Use a sterile growing mix which is light enough to encourage rich root growth. Sow the seeds thinly and cover lightly with sphagnum peat moss. Water using a fine spray but do not soak the seeds – they also need oxygen to germinate, and if they are overwatered they will drown. Cover the container with clear plastic to hold the moisture and increase humidity. Place the containers in a warm (70-80 degrees) spot and watch daily for germination. The top of the refrigerator is often an ideal location. When the first seeds germinate, place the seedlings in bright light or under artificial lights (tube lights should be 2-3” from seedling tops) for several hours each day, since late winter sunlight will not usually be sufficient to prevent weak, leggy seedlings. Daytime temperatures should range from 70-75 degrees. Night time temperatures should range from 60-65 degrees.

As Seeds Grow

When the seedlings develop their first true sets of leaves, add half-strength water soluble fertilizer to their water – organic fish emulsion or seaweed fertilizers are great to use. Repeat every second week to provide good nourishment. Thin the seedlings or transplant them to larger containers as they grow. Before planting outdoors, harden-off the plants at least one week before the planting date. Take the transplants outdoors in the daytime and bring them in at night if frost is likely. Gradually expose them to lower temperatures and more sunlight. The use of hotcaps and frost blankets to cover early plantings will also aid in the hardening off process so the seedlings can adjust well to their new outdoor environment.

Transplanting Seeds

Transplant seedlings into the garden after the safe planting date on a calm, overcast day. Pack the soil around the transplant with as little root disturbance as possible. Sprinkle the plants with water, keeping the soil moist until the plants become established.

Popular Indoor Seed Start Dates

The exact dates you want to start seeds will vary depending on your local growing season, the varieties of plants you choose and what their needs are. In general, dates for the most popular produce include…

Vegetable Seed Starting Dates

  • February – Asparagus, celery, onion
  • March 1 – Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, lettuce
  • March 15 – Eggplant, peppers, tomatoes
  • April 1 – Summer squash
  • April 15 – Cantaloupes, cucumbers, winter squash

Flower Seed Starting Dates

  • January/February – Begonia, carnation, geranium, impatiens, nicotiana, pansy, rudbeckia, salvia, snapdragon, verbena, vinca
  • March 1 – Ageratum, dahlia, dianthus, petunia
  • April 15 – Aster, calendula, celosia, marigold, zinnia

Use seed starting dates as a general guide to ensure your seeds have plenty of time to reach their full harvest potential before the weather turns in autumn. At the same time, consider staggering seed starting every few days to lengthen your harvest and keep your favorite vegetables and flowers coming even longer during the growing season. As you gain more experience with starting seeds, you’ll be able to carefully plan your seed calendar to ensure a lush, rich, long harvest season.

Helleborus – A Perennial for the Ages

When selecting new additions for the perennial garden it is almost impossible to find one that will provide year round interest. This difficulty is further compounded when you need a shade-loving perennial. Well, what was once considered impossible for a perennial is now possible with the Helleborus!

About Helleborus

Although there are many species of Helleborus, the most popular is the Lenten Rose (H. orientalis). Bred for its unusual range of color, this cultivar is a low maintenance, long blooming, shade loving, evergreen perennial.

  • Habit
    The neatly mounded form of the Lenten Rose grows approximately 12-24” high by 18-24” wide.
  • Flowers
    The nodding flowers of H. orientalis resemble a single rose and are about 2-2.5 inches across. They are available in range of colors that include white, cream, lemon, chartreuse, lime, pink, rose, maroon, plum and almost black. Many varieties can even be speckled. Flowers appear in early to mid-March, while most other perennials are still sleeping, and last well into May. This plant has the unique ability to bloom in freezing temperatures often with snow still on the ground.
  • Leaf
    The Lenten Rose boasts a large, glossy, leathery, evergreen, compound leaf. Each leaf is made up of 7-9 serrated leaflets borne at the end of the leaf stalk, producing an umbrella like effect.

Helleborus in the Landscape

This perennial works well near a walkway so that it can be easily enjoyed before the garden season even begins. Elevate the plant for a better view of the face of the nodding flowers. Use all Helleborus as specimens in a small garden or near a pond, in mass as an evergreen groundcover or to provide textural contrast in the mixed border. At home in a woodland garden, Hellebores work well with hostas, ferns, brunneras, snowdrops, pulmonarias and winter aconites. It can be attractive surrounding a tree, tucked next to a deck or in a rock garden.

Growing Helleborus

Hardy in zones 4-9, Helleborus orientalis grows best in heavy to light shade. It prefers moist, well-drained soil, rich in humus and organic material, and is pH adaptable for a wide soil range. Tolerant of summer heat and humidity, the Lenten Rose is adaptable to drier soils, and competes well with tree roots once it is established. Mulch well to retain moisture and fertilize in early spring before the flower stalks begin to lengthen. By the end of the winter, leaves can often become tattered or scorched. Simply cut off any unsightly leaves and fresh new leaves will soon replace them.

If you wish to divide H. orientalis, do so in the late summer to early fall. Make sure that you dig a generous root ball and provide plenty of water until established. The Hellebores do not like to be disturbed and are slow to recover when moved, so be gentle. Helleborus orientalis may be propagated from seed, however, seeds take six months to germinate and the young plants take three years to bloom so patience is essential – but well worthwhile for the stunning results.

Hellebores are not prone to any pest or disease, and these plants are deer resistant.  

Other Popular Hellebores

While the Lenten Rose may be the most popular of the Helleborus plants, it is not your only option. Other popular Hellebores include:

  • H. foetidus – Stinking Hellebore
    The flowers of this Hellebore are light green, and the evergreen leaves are more deeply lobed and sharply serrated than those of the Lenten Rose. The flowers of the Stinking Hellebore are said to be slightly malodorous.
  • H. niger – Christmas Rose
    Similar in appearance to the Lenten Rose, this Helleborus must be vegetatively propagated and blooms earlier in the season than Lenten Rose. It can be a great option for extending the blooming season in your shade garden.

No matter which Helleborus you would like to try, you’re sure to love the results when you add these shade-loving perennials to your landscape.

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The Urban Jungle

No matter what the size or style of your own personal urban habitat, you can add stunning nature with the right houseplants. Furthermore, when you grow your own urban jungle, you can realize and enjoy all the benefits houseplants bring to your home.

Benefits of Urban Houseplants

Houseplants bring a range of benefits into any home with every leaf and bloom. Not only do plants improve oxygen levels by drawing carbon dioxide from the air, they also remove other pollutants and odors, particularly in smaller urban homes where airborne toxins may be more concentrated. Houseplants also lower dust levels and improve humidity indoors, which can help alleviate allergies, respiratory conditions, dry skin, and other health problems. Larger houseplants help dampen unwanted sounds, creating a more tranquil atmosphere. Studies have also shown that houseplants improve mood and relaxation by providing a tangible connection to nature, which can help reduce depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder. With so many benefits, adding even one or two houseplants to your home can help create more positive, enjoyable surroundings, and a full urban jungle can become your sanctuary in the city.

Best Plants for an Urban Home

There are many types of houseplants to choose from, any of which will bring numerous benefits to your home. Before choosing, however, consider the levels of sunlight in your home, as well as changing light levels throughout the year, to be sure you can provide adequate light for a particular plant to flourish. Overall room temperatures can also affect plants, as some thrive in cooler climates while others prefer warmer rooms. Note the available space you have and choose a plant that won’t soon become crowded or cramped, which can inhibit growth. Also be aware of the ongoing care each plant will need and whether your schedule will permit you to maintain the plant well, or if you need a plant that is a bit more forgiving of neglect.

The top houseplants that thrive in urban households include:

  • African violets
  • Cacti
  • Cast iron plant
  • Dracaena species
  • Dumb cane
  • Ferns
  • Golden pothos
  • Lucky bamboo
  • Peace lily
  • Snake plants
  • Spider plants
  • Succulents

Depending on the size of your home and how green your thumb is, you may choose to start with just one or two houseplants, or you could opt for an entire jungle. Ideally, one medium-sized houseplant is best for every 100 square feet of living space to keep the air clean, but you can have as many or as few plants as you wish for your happiness.

Caring for an Urban Jungle

It is easy to keep houseplants lush, but they do need dedicated care to stay healthy.

  • Choose a Proper Pot – The pot should be the right size for your houseplant. A too-small pot will cramp the plant and inhibit growth, while a too-large pot will encourage overgrowth and legginess on different plants. The pot should also have suitable drainage to keep the root system healthy and avoid rot.
  • Use Good Quality Soil – Rather than outdoor soil that may not be as rich and could bring pests into your home, opt for a good quality potting mix formulated for houseplants. These mixes will often have moisture-retention beads or fertilizer pre-mixed into the soil, making houseplant care easier. You can also look for specialty blends for cacti, succulents, flowering plants, and other specific types of houseplants.
  • Water Appropriately – Overwatering or underwatering can be deadly for houseplants. Check your plant’s specific watering needs and adjust watering as needed for different seasons. Choosing self-watering pots or using globe watering stakes can also help keep a houseplant safely watered.
  • Feed Regularly – Houseplants need occasional fertilizer applications to supplement the nutrition they draw from their potting soil. Choose a liquid fertilizer formulated for your specific plants and follow application instructions on the product label. Most houseplants’ nutritional needs are reduced during the winter months.
  • Provide Sufficient Light – Different houseplants have different sunlight needs. Some will do very well in shadier spots, while others need filtered light or even a few hours of bright sunlight. Moving plants to different locations in different seasons can help them get adequate light and rotating the pots will help plants grow straight without stretching to reach the sun.
  • Position Safely – Place houseplants away from hazardous situations such as areas where they may be accidentally tripped or tipped over. Avoid creating your urban jungle near heating or cooling vents and cold winter drafts. Keep houseplants out of reach of pets that may nibble on leaves or dig in pots.
  • Prune as Needed – Keep your urban jungle looking tidy by pruning and trimming plants to maintain their shapes or remove dead leaves. Brown tips can also be trimmed for a neater appearance but avoid vigorous pruning that could stress the plant.
  • Watch for Pests – Fungus gnats, mealybugs, spider mites, and other pests can invade even the most well-protected urban jungle. Stay alert for any pests and take steps immediately if they do appear. Plant-friendly insecticidal soaps, top dressing treatments, neem oil, and other control options are available depending on which pests are present.
  • Clean Your Plants – Refresh houseplants and brighten your urban jungle with regular cleanings. Dust, dirt, and other debris can gather on plants’ foliage, clogging respiratory pores and dulling the plants’ color. A quick rinse in the shower or regular dusting with a moistened cloth and a gentle hand can keep plants looking their best.

Your urban jungle can bring you many benefits, whether you just have one or two houseplants, a simple plant collection, or an elaborate nature sanctuary in your home. By choosing the best plants for urban living and providing them with proper care, they will in turn nurture you and help you reconnect with nature, no matter where you live.