There are an astonishing number of wildflower species that grow across this country. Every region seems to have a favorite, like the bluebonnets of Texas or California poppies.
Many wildflowers are at their showiest in the spring and summer, visible along roadsides and meadows. But now, during the late summer and early fall, is the best time to sow the seeds. The key to success is to make sure that your plants have enough time to germinate and establish themselves before the first hard frost. That’s usually about 8 weeks. And if you don’t have rain, it’s critical you keep the soil consistently moist. If you run out of time to plant seeds this fall, you can plant them in the very early spring as well.
When sowing wildflower seeds the first thing you want to do is prepare the bed by clearing it of weeds and grass. The quickest way to do this is with a broad-spectrum herbicide, but if you prefer to use an earth-friendly method you can cover the area with a plastic (clear or black will do) for an entire growing season.
Once the existing vegetation is dead the rake away the debris and any remaining foliage. Next lightly till the soil to a depth of about 3 inches. This will ensure good seed to soil contact without bringing up weed seeds that may be lurking deeper underground. If you have especially rocky soil you may want to mix in some compost, but wildflowers aren’t too particular about soil quality. In fact, it’s best to avoid fertilizer because it will just encourage weeds.
The quantity of seeds you’ll need depends on your climate and how much area you want to cover. Wildflowers suffer less from weed competition and excessive moisture in cooler regions so in those areas you get more bang for your buck; one pound of seeds will cover about 3,000 to 4,000 square feet. In warm Southern states, 1 pound usually covers about 2,000 square feet.
Many wildflower seeds are very tiny so to get even distribution when sowing, it’s a good idea to mix the seeds with an inert material like sand. In a bucket combine, 5 parts moistened sand to 1 part seeds. You can hand distribute the seed and sand mixture or use a spreader.
After the seeds are evenly spread over the area you need to press them into the soil. You can do this by simply walking over the ground or use a lawn roller.
Spread a thin layer of wheat straw over the area to protect the seeds from washing away in a hard rain. I like wheat straw because it does not have seeds. Don’t be too heavy-handed in the amount you apply so that light can get to the seeds.
Be prepared to water the area on a regular basis to get the seeds started. If you are lucky you’ll get some of those nice, slow fall rains to help you with this part of the process.
When it comes to choosing varieties you are better off buying specific types of seeds that you know will do well in your region rather than buying a mix. Most wildflowers require full sun, but you can also find varieties that will grow in partial to fully shaded areas.
However, if you do use a wildflower mix, you’ll find that they contain both annuals and perennials. The annuals will bloom the following spring, but many of the perennials will take 2 years to flower, so you have to be patient.
I am hard-pressed to name a shrub that matches the hydrangea for drama, splendor, and elegance in the garden. From the subtle white starry-shaped lacecap flower of ‘Hayes Starburst’ to the dramatic, large white globes of ‘Incrediball’ — one of my favorites — there’s a hydrangea to fit almost any spot in the garden.
And with more advances in plant breeding, hydrangea selection has continued to expand to meet the still-growing demand for new plants. Now gardeners can choose from a wide array of re-blooming mopheads, a variety of new flower color options, and a multitude of dwarf sun- or shade-loving hydrangeas, starting at 12 inches in height.
It’s a great time to discover the versatility of this flexible shrub or reacquaint yourself with a plant that you might have written off as old-fashioned or poor blooming. Make no mistake — today’s hydrangeas are versatile, dynamic, and easy to grow.
While there are thousands of different hydrangeas and cultivated varieties, I’m going to talk about four main species and some of the varieties you may want to be on the lookout for H. arborescens (smooth hydrangea), H. macrophylla (bigleaf hydrangea), H. paniculata (hydrangea paniculata), and H. quercifolia (oakleaf hydrangea).
And while the different hydrangea species vary greatly, they all benefit from being planted in soil that is rich in organic matter and sited in a location with moist but well-drained soil. Adding compost or manure when planting will help with moisture retention, and, ironically, drainage. Despite its water-loving name, you don’t want your hydrangea to sit in soggy soil.
Arborescens — Smooth Hydrangea H. arborescens is one of the hydrangea varieties native to North America, which makes it a fairly care-free selection. Hardy in zones 3 to 9, ‘Annabelle’ is probably the most well-known arborescens with large white round mophead flowers. It grows to about 4 feet by 4 feet, but blossoms will flop to the ground when it rains. Lucky for us, plant breeders have introduced an improved ‘Annabelle’ with thicker stems for more support — the ‘Incrediball’ hydrangea.
‘Incrediball’ makes a spectacular hedge, is great for cut flowers, and can be enjoyed as a specimen plant or placed in the back garden where its blooms can even be appreciated from a distance. And the variety just gets better. New this year is the dwarf version of ‘Annabelle’ — the ‘Invincebelle Wee White.’ At just 2-feet by 2-feet, this little powerhouse gives you an abundance of white flowers in a mini form. Also new is a pink/mauve version — ‘Invincibelle Mini Mauvette.’ It stands at about 3-feet tall and wide with strong stems.
This species blooms on new wood or the current season’s growth, so you don’t have to worry about improper pruning, hard winters, or late freezes that might kill off precious flower buds. They are best situated in the morning or dappled sun.
Macrophylla — Bigleaf Hydrangeas Bigleaf hydrangeas, with their intense blue or deep pink round fluffy flowers, are the holy grail of blossoms for many gardeners. The old classic ‘Nikko Blue’ and many others only develop flower buds on old wood, or growth from the previous season, so extremely cold temperatures can result in damaged buds and no flowers. Or as I call it, “hydrangea heartache.”
Plant breeders have come through with new hydrangea varieties that bloom on both old and new wood. The leader in this field is the ‘Endless Summer’ series of hydrangeas, including the original ‘Endless Summer,’ which blooms pink, purple, or blue, depending on your soil pH and measures about 4 feet by 4 feet. It’s hardy in zones 4 to 9. Its sister plant, ‘BloomStruck,’ has similar flowers on dark purple stems. ‘Blushing Bride’ is a white version that is hardy in zones 5 to 9, and ‘Twist-n-Shout’ is a beautiful lacecap variety with red stems, hardy in zones 4 to 9.
And more remontant varieties are coming out every year. I especially like ‘Let’s Dance Rhythmic Blue,’ which is about 3 to 4 feet tall and wide and hardy in zones 5 to 9. But just like Nikko Blue, ‘Rhythmic Blue’ flowers will actually be pink in alkaline soil, so you may have to amend your soil with an acidifier product to create blue flowers.
H. macrophylla perform best when situated in the morning or dappled sun.
Paniculata — Panicle Hydrangea Gardeners with full sunlight should consider the paniculata hydrangeas, so named because of their panicle-shaped flowers, which open a creamy white and age to a dusty rose as the summer progresses. And because they bloom on the current season’s growth, paniculatas are reliable, hardy bloomers.
One of the best-known and hardest working paniculatas is ‘Limelight,’hardy in zones 3 to 9 and reaching up to 8 feet tall. But if that’s too much hydrangea for you, consider ‘Little Lime,’ a dwarf version that you can keep to about 3 feet tall with late winter or early spring pruning.
Other dwarf H. paniculatas worth considering include ‘Bobo’ and ‘Little Quick Fire,’ both hardy in zones 3 to 8.
H. paniculatas are the only hydrangea variety that will perform happily in full sun, but will also take part-sun.
Quercifolia — Oakleaf Hydrangea Oakleaf hydrangeas are the other hydrangea species native to North America, making them low-maintenance, reliable, and outstanding in beauty. They also have the distinction of being a true, four-season shrub, with oak-leaf shaped foliage in spring; large, creamy white panicle flowers in the summer that age to a rosy hue; beautiful fall orange, red, and gold fall foliage; and an ornamental cinnamon-colored pealing bark that is visible in the winter. If you don’t have an oakleaf hydrangea already, then put it on your wish list.
The true oakleaf species can reach 8 feet or taller and just as wide, so it’s not for the faint of heart. But if you’ve got the room, nothing beats the majesty and size of its foliage and flowers.
More manageable oakleaf hydrangeas include ‘Snow Queen’ and ‘Alice,’ both about 5 feet tall and hardy in zones 5 to 9.
Dwarf oakleaf version includes ‘Pee Wee,’‘Sikes Dwarf,’ and the relatively new ‘Ruby Slippers,’ which reaches about 4 feet tall and wide and has flowers that darken to a more ruby color. It’s hardy in zones 5 to 9.
And because oakleaf hydrangeas have woody stems, pruning is not recommended so that the stem’s original character and shape can be appreciated in the winter months. If you need a shorter variety, it’s worth searching for a dwarf form to prevent having to prune for size later. These hydrangeas prefer to be located in the morning or dappled sun.
Hydrangeas are available today in more colors and sizes than ever before, and with advances in plant breeding and growing consumer demand, the future looks bright for even better selections. Heirloom hydrangeas will always have a place in the garden, but I hope you consider one of the newer varieties if a spot opens up in your garden. You’ll be amazed by their performance and ease, which are plant traits that all of us gardeners seek.
I believe that there is a small part within each of us that is delighted each spring to see the first daffodils in bloom.
These certainly are among the bravest of flowers, one of the first to herald the arrival of spring, and often pressing on in the most inhospitable of weather conditions.
A cheerful mainstay at Moss Mountain Farm, each year these little perennial bulbs transform an ordinary farm field into an undulating golden blanket of bloom, all happening during a magical window of time that is mesmerizing. Over the course of their most floriferous month, March, these blooms reach a heightened pitch by mid-month with early and late bloomers extending the season by bookending the March crescendo.
However, I should say we have blooms as early as January and as late as the first week of May. This range of bloom time is less about the zone in which we garden, but more about the varieties or ‘cultivars’ of daffodils we have chosen. I have consciously and purposely stretched the season of bloom to almost five months on our zone 8 farm by choosing specific daffodils.
We always start with the arrival of Rynveld’s Early Sensation, as it’s a notoriously early bloomer. Some years it can be seen blooming the first week of January. We end the season with some unnamed tazetta types that have been at Moss Mountain since time in-memoriam, usually the first week of May. During this range of bloom, I have always tried to plant enough of a single variety for cutting and bringing indoors without making too much of a dent in the display. We use fresh flowers in the house constantly, and the daffodils can be a consistent source of bloom while many flowers are still fast asleep.
I prefer to pick in bundles of the same type and use them in a myriad of vase sizes. Simple and bold is best since this approach delights the eye. While wandering the fields at Moss Mountain Farm, you’ll see a pattern of planting where the bulbs are in natural drifts of like kind. These swaths reflect the notion of simple and bold in the landscape.
Each year we try to plant a few new varieties, including cultivars that are the ‘Johnny-come-latelies’ among narcissus hybridizers. Daffodils mainly come from Holland, but there are also English, Irish, and American breeders. One recent favorite of mine is a double type called Replete. It’s soft salmon and cream corona and cream collar are ideal for certain rooms in the house, and it’s always a delight to visitors when in bloom. In short, it looks like a yummy dessert. It’s worth mentioning that deer will not eat daffodils of any kind, as delectable as they may appear.
For the best selection of these newer varieties, the earlier in the season one can purchase the bulbs the better. The bulb catalogs start showing up just after Labor Day. I try to get my order in by late August or early September, but I’m not always that attentive. When I delay, I just cringe when the sight of ‘sold out’ inevitably appears over the new cultivars I’ve missed. Then it’s another year’s wait, at least, to see them leap off the pages of the catalog and into my garden. I’ve teamed up with Gilbert H. Wild and curated my favorite daffodil bulb collections, Moss Mountain Farm Daffodil Mix at Gilbert H. Wild & Sons, I hope you enjoy them!
However, bulb planting time can be more relaxed, if not forgiving. I’ve planted daffodils as early as October and as late, dare I say, as January. As long as the bulbs have been stored in a cool, dark place and haven’t gone soft, my recommendation is to get them into the ground. Also worth mentioning, while storing bulbs in a refrigerator is a good idea, they can be damaged when stored with produce. Apples seem to be the most egregious of fruits, emitting ethylene gas that will destroy the flower embryo.
Daffodils play well with others and make terrific company with other spring bulbs. On the front of the season they harmonize with crocus, and later it’s the Spanish Bluebells and Snowflakes you’ll find them singing among. Early perennials such as Phlox (Phlox subulata and divaricata), Heuchera, and Virginia Bluebells also play well with daffodils.
Each time you see daffodils this spring think about where you can add some in your garden, as they will bring you joy for years to come. If you get the itch to see lots of daffodils this spring, plan a visit to see us at Moss Mountain Farm in March.
I’m a hopeless collector….of everything; you name it. Books, funky art, even funky friends, chickens, daffodils and lots of other flowers.
So, it’s easy to understand why I’d be be drawn to peonies too…like, in a big way. They are truly the queen of the flowers. You know, those kinds of flowers that evoke that… ‘Oh! Be still my heart’ kind of moments in life when you see them.
I’ve planted peonies in fits and starts my whole life, but mainly for others. Occasionally you’ll find a design client with enough space and passion for the flower to really go all out, but those are fairly uncommon these days. For the most part, many gardeners want a few in the garden integrated among other perennials, and I will be the first to say there is nothing wrong with that. Peonies, any way you want to grow them, get my attention and full support. However, I will say that over the years I’ve learned a few things about harnessing my enthusiasm and succumbing to my weaknesses…peonies being one of them. Perhaps the most important lesson in order to avoid heartache, no matter the scale of your planting, is to get it right the first time. So last year, true to my uncontrollable and unbridled passions, I embarked on a garden of 360 peonies from Gilbert H Wild. Yep… 360 plants ( tubers), 36 varieties, 10 each. The results were spectacular.
Here are some of my notes and takes aways from the field to consider if you’re serious about peonies. Hopefully, you’ll find them helpful:
They don’t like to be disturbed. So plant them in a good place and leave them. So what’s a good place you might asking. Well, full sun or a spot with at least six hours of sunlight. I prefer morning light over hot afternoon. They need good average soil that drains well. Peonies do not like ‘wet feet’, so plant in well-draining soil or else the tubers will surely rot. And don’t scrimp on adding good amendments to the soil, like plenty of humus and well-rotted manure (Yeah, manure. Go make a friend with a farmer).
Let’s face it, these flowers are extremely ephemeral, like most beauty. So plant multiple varieties that bloom early, mid and late in the season. This will extend the blooming season and your joy. And stop complaining about how the flowers don’t last long! Enjoy the moment and be content. Years ago a customer came into our nursery and wanted a landscape that was evergreen, bloomed all year and was low maintenance. I suggested they move to another hemisphere, perhaps near the equator or take up residency on another planet.
Buy nice tubers (as I said, ours all came from Gilbert H Wild and Son) with 4 to 5 eyes and take your time planting them. Don’t skimp on size, or if you do, don’t complain if they don’t bloom the first year. And, don’t plant the tubers too deep. The eyes are red and needn’t be too deep underground. In the North, deeper planting is advised, but here in the South, I’ve only covered the eyes with about 1/2 inch of soil with great success.
Choose varieties suited to your climate. Peonies, by their very nature, prefer a cold winter. So if you live in Minnesota you probably grow amazing Peonies, but not so much in Texas. Sorry, it’s just a fact of life. Look at it this way, you don’t see fields of Texas bluebonnets in St. Paul, Minneapolis, right? So, it’s a trade off, like so much of life. I will say, however, I’ve found that the early bloomers perform the best in my zone 8a garden. Old standbys like ‘Festiva Maxima,’ ‘Sarah Bernhardt,’ as well as ‘Coral Charm,’ ‘Coral Sunset ‘ and many other single bloom types.
Once they have bloomed I remove the seed heads. There’s no reason for the plant to continue to put energy into seed production when I’d rather it pour its resources into making larger tubers, which means… you guessed, it will have larger and more abundant blooms next year.
And, another tip… for the first couple of years refrain from cutting the blooms from the plants with extra long stems (Yes, tempting, I know.) The plants with extra long stems and plenty of foliage left intact are your friends, so don’t get greedy the first few years. You see, these remaining stems and leaves are the workhorses of the plant and continue to help build larger stronger future tubers and thereby more plentiful blooms in seasons to come. Later, once the clumps are established you can cut blooms with long luxurious stems.
Oh, and one last thing, the ANTS. Of all the questions I receive about peonies, those concerned about the tiny ants that congregate on the flower buds outweigh all questions combined. These ants are drawn to the sweet nectar-like sap that the bud produces. They do no harm to the peony, or will they you. Just rinse them off with cool water and let them go about their day…live and let live!
Below are a few photos of our new peony garden after only one year after being planted at Moss Mountain Farm, and some of the resulting blooms.
To learn more about growing peonies, check out the video below!
Inexhaustible beauty can be found in the most ordinary things. Not that I would call any daffodil ordinary, but I feel few people really look at this marvelous flower closely and understand its virtues and beauty.
Too often that which comes easy or familiar to us is often not as revered or appreciated. We see this in our relationships with others and the many things to see and do in our own ‘backyard’, but takes visitors from out of town to see these places. Daffodils, as flowers, fall into this category.
So, as the daffodil season comes to a close here are a few compelling reasons to add more daffodils to your life.
First and Bravest
‘Rynvelds Early Sensation’ is our first variety of daffodil to bloom…often the first week of January….yes January! It’s soon followed by ‘February Gold’. It’s that first flower to say to us ‘Hey, don’t despair spring will be here soon’. Also, the daffodil, just to reassure us, hangs with us until we are well passed the official date of spring and the earliest peonies begin to bloom. Certainly, no single variety can span with consistent bloom from January to May, but a range or early, mid and late bloomers have for us each year.
Daffodils are perennials. It’s a build that comes back every year …often for many decades. But, give them as much sun as possible, let the foliage dieback naturally and after blooming they can benefit from a good organic all purpose fertilizer.
Yes, these are resistant to munching deer and ground burrowing critters. We’ve planted over 450,000 bulbs (and still planting – yes, I know it’s an obsession) at Moss Mountain Farm over the last decade with any issues of overgrazing.
Generous and Good Multipliers
We’ve found some varieties are better ‘increasers’ than others. For instance ‘ Ice Follies’ an early bloomer, ‘Tete e tete’ and ‘Thalia’ are exemptional. We rarely dig and divide existing daffodil clumps. I’m sure some varieties could benefit, but there have been old varieties on the farm potentially since the mid-1800s and they continue to bloom. So, to divide or not to divide? I’d almost rather add more new varieties…see, I said it’s an obsession!
5 Companion Perennials to Consider
These perennials will emerge as the daffodils have finished blooming are declining, eventually these perennials will cover the spent foliage of the daffodils.
Cool season vegetables are chill not just because they like frosty temperatures; they are also super easy to grow. Compared to some of our summer favorites like
tomatoes, these crops are definitely on the mellow end of the maintenance spectrum.
Here are eight cool season vegetables to try that are in my Home Grown Seed Collection. This laid-back lot will provide you with fresh produce during the chilly spring
and fall months. Each variety is simple to start from seed, relatively pest-free and doesn’t require much space.
COOL SEASON VEGETABLE SEED VARIETIES
Baby Broccoli ‘Aspabroc’ (Broccolini®) – You are probably familiar with Broccolini® from the produce aisle at the grocery store. Well, that is the branded name for ‘Aspabroc’. This baby broccoli has a mild flavor and an asparagus-like stem. I planted it in spring and it lasted in the garden until July. July!
75 days to maturity from direct seed
50 – 60 days to maturity from transplant
Broccolini® is a registered trademark of Mann Packing Company, Inc.
‘Aspabroc’ baby broccoli
Baby Broccoli ‘Aspabroc’ is also known as Broccolini®.
Cabbage ‘Stonehead’ – This AAS Award Winner did really well in my spring garden and we sold quite a bit to local restaurants. ‘Stonehead’ matures early
so it’s perfect for regions where spring is short or the first fall freeze comes early. I love the gray-green color paired with purple violas.
60 days to maturity from direct seed 45 days to maturity from transplant.
Collard ‘Bulldog’ – I’ll never turn down a helping of collard greens so I plant plenty in my garden. ‘Bulldog’ is a workhorse with a high yield. It isn’t quick to bolt, which is good in my zone 7 garden where summer heat comes early.
71 days to maturity from direct seed
Mustard ‘Miz America’ –
One of my absolute favorite cool weather veggies is ‘Miz America’ mustard. The taste is pleasantly mild, without bitter or spicy notes, and it maintains its gorgeous color even at a mature stage!
‘Deep Purple’ mustard has a nice spicy flavor.
Spinach ‘Imperial Green’ – If you are going to grow spinach, ‘Imperial Green’ is a must for your garden. I like that the stems are extra-long and
grow upright; makes harvesting very easy. You can direct sow spinach in the early spring garden before the last frost date and in late summer for a fall crop. ‘Imperial Green’ has been exceptionally heat tolerant for me.
25 – 30 days to baby leaf from direct seed 35 – 40 days to maturity from direct seed
Swiss Chard ‘Peppermint’ – This chard is pretty in pink! The stems are a lovely rose color that stands out in the vegetable garden. I sowed the seeds in spring and ‘Peppermint’ was still going strong in early August when temperatures were 100 degrees. Wowza!
35 – 40 days to baby leaf from direct seed 58 – 63 days to maturity from direct seed
Chard ‘Peppermint’ is extremely heat tolerant.
WHEN TO SOW COOL SEASON VEGETABLES
Many people get nervous about starting plants from seeds, but these cool-season vegetables are pretty straightforward. Timing is everything. Check the maturity date on the back of the seed package and plan your sowing accordingly. For an autumn garden count back from the first frost date and for a spring garden count back from the last frost date if you are starting seeds indoors. You can direct sow collards, mustard greens, and lettuce after the last frost date. Your local garden center will have frost date information for your area.
Root crops that don’t transplant well and fast-growing vegetables like lettuce or spinach can be sown directly in the ground at the appropriate time. To get a jump start on other varieties, start the seeds indoors. This is true for spring and autumn gardens.
You can find these varieties and more in my Home Grown Seed Collection HERE.
CANADIAN SEED SOURCE
If you live in Canada and would like to try these vegetable varieties from my collection, you can purchase them from Halifax Seed Company.
To learn more about planting from seed, check out my YouTube video below and subscribe to my YouTube channel to stay up to date on the happenings and tips from Moss Mountain Farm!
As I look out my study window at the bare trees and brown fields around me, I’m struck by the colors and textures of the landscape. I know that many people think of winter as a gray, dreary season, but I see beauty in the subtle tans and browns of the woods, the contrasting colors of the leaves as they skitter across the grass, and the icy slate sky.
Of course, as I write this there is a blaze in the fireplace and a cup of hot tea at hand, which allow me to be more generous in my praise of the cold scenic view. If you’re one of the folks who find the winter landscape more bleak than beautiful, I’d like to make some suggestions about how you might tweak your garden or yard to add a little dazzle to your day. There are many trees and shrubs that provide a pop of color and look their best when their “bone structure” in winter is on full display.
`A classic winter shrub to brighten the garden is winterberry, a deciduous holly with bright red berries. Ilex verticillata is an Arkansas native that can reach 8 to 10 feet tall, but there are more “user friendly” varieties like ‘Red Sprite’ that grow only 3 to 5 feet tall. In addition to enjoying the profuse red berries in the landscape, you can easily cut branches to bring inside and enjoy — win-win.
Another berry alternative is firethorn, or pyracantha, an evergreen shrub that displays brilliant orange to red berries in winter. You don’t see it as often as winterberry, mainly because of its thorns, but that makes it an excellent selection for a barrier hedge. A healthy specimen is a stunning sight this time of year.
If berries are too subtle for you, then I recommend the bright red tree trunk and matching scarlet branches of the Japanese coral bark maple. The cultivar ‘Sango Kaku’ can reach 15 to 25 feet tall and wide, a very manageable size for a small yard. You’ll see the best color in full sun, but this maple will also take light shade. If you haven’t seen one of these trees in person, then you should track one down. It’s stunning year-round, but it really shines in winter — picture this beauty covered with a light dustig of snow.
And don’t overlook the value of showy evergreens in the landscape. There are several yellow false cypress that absolutely glow in the gray winter months. Chamaecyparis ‘Golden Mop,’ reaches 3 feet tall, and Chamaecyparis ‘Crippsii,’ grows to a more stately 8 to 10 feet tall. Both have bright chartreuse-colored needles that might resemble a spotlight in your yard. In fact, the only thing more brilliant on a dull January day than a ‘Golden Mop’ cypress is a ‘Golden Mop’ cypress growing near a couple of coral bark maples.
If you’re looking for something more understated — because let’s face it, there’s nothing understated about a ‘Golden Mop’ — then consider trees or shrubs that have ornamental bark. Don’t think you can get excited by tree bark? I dare you to look at the trunk of a paperbark maple and not be impressed. It’s beautiful as a maple, yes, but it’s claim to fame is its peeling, cinnamon-colored bark that covers the entire tree. You’ll want to place one near your deck or patio where you can appreciate it close up in every season.
Oakleaf hydrangeas also have a peeling bark and come in a variety of sizes, from the relatively small ‘Ruby Slippers’ at 4 feet tall to the straight species, which can reach up to 12 feet tall. This is one of those hydrangeas that appreciates a little shade in the summer, so I’d site it where it has some protection from the hot afternoon sun.
So don’t feel blah when you look out your window this time of year. There are lots of subtle and not-so-subtle colors and textures to be found in the landscape. You can appreciate the interplay of nature’s browns, tans, and grays, or go wild with red tree bark and yellow evergreens. Either way, enjoy the bone structure of the landscape.
We’ve been in our new house for about a year and I’m ready to start on the garden. We’ve got a blank slate so it is going to be a pretty big job. I received a design from the architecture firm that drew up the house, but am looking for a company to install it. Do you have any tips that will help me make a good choice?
Whether you are establishing a new flowerbed, transplanting a shrub or installing a detailed garden plan the person you choose to handle the job can make or break the results. A mistake may not be noticeable until weeks or months later so it is important to be confident in the help you receive from the start.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when you look for someone to help you in the garden.
Write out exactly what you want the landscape professional to do.
Check with local utility companies to make sure there are no electric, gas or telephone lines running underground in the area.
Clearly mark the area you want prepared.
If sod, rocks or debris are to be removed, give instructions if you want those items hauled away.
Independently investigate what soil amendments your garden requires.
The landscape professional/designer you hire should be:
Insured and properly bonded.
Properly licensed for landscape maintenance work.
Willing to furnish you several current and past references with similar projects.
Knowledgeable about soil preparation and horticulture.
Before you finalize the deal:
Negotiate a clear, detailed agreement in writing. Do not accept verbal agreements.
If a contract is involved read it over carefully. Understand its terms and conditions including payment schedule and guarantees on plants. Ensure all documents are correctly signed and dated by involved parties.
Verify licenses and check with your state’s Contractors Board and the Better Business Bureau for any complaints against the contractors.
Secure payment and performance bonds from the landscape professional.
After the project is complete:
Inspect the work to make sure it was done to specifications.
Schedule a walk through/review with the landscape professional to go over any care instructions or discuss potential problems. I encourage you to check out the P. Allen Smith & Associates website!
At the beginning of October my mid-south, zone 8A garden is still full of blooms but by Halloween, it begins its steady decline toward dormancy. So I start the month in harvest mode and transition into doing a serious fall cleanup by the 15th or so. The to-do list is getting shorter, but the tasks seem to require a little more elbow grease. That’s okay because there is nothing quite like the satisfaction of seeing a garden tidied up for its winter nap.
Here are a few tips to help you get your own garden ready for bed.
Cut back perennial foliage after a killing freeze. For a wildlife-friendly garden, cut back plants that have had disease problems during the growing season but leave stems and seed heads that will provide food and shelter for birds.
Mark areas where hardy volunteers have dropped their seeds so that next spring you can be on the lookout for the seedlings.
When using dried flowers with fuzzy seed heads, spray them with hairspray to keep them from shattering.
Rake up and remove any leaves on your lawn. It is important to remove dead leaves because over time they will form a dense mat that smothers your grass.
Clean and oil garden tools before storing for winter.
Protect your water features from fall leaves with netting. Stretch the netting over the water surface and secure the edges. Remove the leaves that land on the netting on a regular basis.
Before you put away your mower, drain gasoline and take it to the shop for any repairs needed. It’s also a good time to have the blade sharpened and balanced.
Use hardware cloth to wrap around the base of small fruit trees and roses. This will protect them from rodents.
Transplant deciduous trees and shrubs after the leaves have fallen.
Pot up amaryllis bulbs now for indoor blooms during the holidays.
Hill soil to a height of 8 to 10 inches around roses for winter protection. Mulch after the ground freezes.
Save packets of half-used seeds in airtight containers in a cool dry place.
In my zone 7 garden and other mild winter climates, it is best to sow larkspur in mid-fall because the seeds need cool soil temperatures to germinate (50 to 60 degrees F).
Plant spring flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and globe alliums.
Good to Know
I garden in zone 8A. Spring usually starts in March and fall extends through November. The summers are long and hot. I write these tips with the idea that they are applicable to all zones during a general period of time. However, given microclimates and weather extremes timing can vary. Observe the conditions in your garden and apply them accordingly.
From September through November (or December if you procrastinate like I do) the most used garden tool is the rake. This simple device, that probably began its life as a twiggy branch, has evolved into all manner of contraptions designed to make clearing out autumn leaves easier. I’ve tried many “new and improved” versions, but it’s hard to beat the good ole fan rake, especially when it’s paired with a leaf blower.
I’m certain some of you are opposed to leaf blowers, but I’d like to make a case for them. I think user error accounts for this useful tool’s negative image. If you select the right model for your garden and use it properly with consideration for your neighbors, a leaf blower can reduce your work considerably without being a nuisance.
Choosing a Leaf Blower
First of all you need to select the right leaf blower for your yard. What size is your yard? How will you use your leaf blower? To gather up heavy, wet leaves or for light jobs like clearing paths or a patio? What is more important to you: portability or power? By answering these questions you can purchase a leaf blower that works with you rather than against you. My favorite is the GreenWorks Cordless Leaf Blower from Gardener’s Edge.
Choose a gas-powered backpack or wheeled machine. A gas engine will provide the power you need to tackle big jobs and a backpack or wheeled design makes toting a leaf blower over a generous amount of space easier. Look at the power and speed ratings: miles per hour (MPH) and cubic feet per minute (CFM). CFM is the volume of air a blower can move in a minute. MPH is the speed at which the unit blows. The higher these two numbers, the more power a blower will have.
Medium Yard A gas-powered backpack or handheld blower with a two or four-cycle engine is ideal for a medium-sized space. You could go electric, but be sure the cord won’t slow you down or, if it’s cordless, the charge will last long enough to complete the job.
Small Yard Unless you have an exceptional amount of clean up to do, an electric, handheld leaf blower is all you need for small spaces. These are lightweight, quieter, don’t require much maintenance and don’t produce emissions.
How to Use a Leaf Blower
Once you have the best model for your purposes it’s important to know how to use a leaf blower properly. This may seem like a no-brainer, but there is a correct way to use this tool. When used correctly leaf blowers are truly helpful to you without being annoying your neighbors.
Be considerate about when you operate your leaf blower. Don’t run it early in the morning or late at night. And be mindful of where you blow your leaves.
Stop trying to blow your leaves into the next world. Instead, use your leaf blower to gather yard debris in a central area where you can then use a rake or broom to dispose of it. Blow leaves onto a tarp that you can dump into a compost bin or create a line of leaves that you can rake up in sections.
You’ll make yourself and your neighbors insane trying to get every last leaf with a leaf blower. Use a rake to collect stragglers.
Work in a single direction to prevent blowing leaves from your pile back into your yard. And get a helping hand from Mother Nature by blowing in the same direction as the wind.
Hold the blower at a shallow angle toward the ground and more across your yard using a sweeping motion. Be careful to not sweep away topsoil with the leaves.
Always wear eye and ear protection to prevent injury and hearing loss.