Cutting Edge Garden Maintenance: Sharply Defining Beds & Borders . . .

April 10th, 2013 § 3 comments § permalink

BMAC_Garden_michaela_medina_harlow_thegardenerseden.com Cleanly cutting the edge of a border with a half-moon edger, and mulching the “V”, helps with maintenance throughout the growing year {Pictured: a client’s newly planted garden with English-style edging. Pretty vessel is by Vermont artist, Stephen Procter}

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and every gardener has their own, unique preference in garden style. But well-maintained gardens, be they casually designed or strictly formal, alway seem to elicit the most oohs and ahs. So what keeps a border looking neat and tidy all season long? Well, if your gardens connect to lawn, one of the secrets is an English-style edge, and a thick layer of weed-supressing mulch.

english-style-edging-michaela_medina_harlow_thegardeneresend.com

English_Style_Edging_ in-Cottage_Garden-michaela-medina-harlow-thegardenerseden.com Even the simplest, cottage-style garden design is elevated to elegance by cleanly edging and mulching the border {pictured: three of my clients’ newly installed gardens; edged and mulched}

BMAC_garden_edge_late_summer_michaela_medina_harlow-thegardenerseden.com

A classic English-style edge is a simple and clean-looking way to define the line between lawn and garden. Although the look is quite precise, English-style edging is appropriate in most any garden setting; from formal to country casual. Inexpensive to create and blissfully easy to maintain, I just love the way a sharp edged line brings the bold shapes, colors and textures of a layered perennial border into focus. When designing new gardens in landscapes with sweeping lawns, I often opt for the English-style edge to maintain distinct, weed-free boundaries between grassy pathways and perennial borders. Crisply cut edges help to keep a garden looking great all season long.

Penstemon-digitalis-Huskers-Red-Heuchera-Veronica-Coreopsis-Photo-Copyright-michaela-medina-thegardenersedenJust as neatly trimmed ends make long hair look gorgeous, crisply defined edges in a garden highlight the beauty of a well-maintained perennial border {one of my client’s gardens in late spring}

Large landscaping companies often use mechanical edgers to create deep, sharp-lined trenches between a lawn and garden and then dress these trenches with mulch. Mechanical tools work very well on big projects, but they are quite expensive and consume unnecessary fossil fuels. For home landscapes, I have always used a manual half-moon edger and my own elbow grease to create and maintain perennial borders in style. It’s great exercise!

519JmG5+R5L._SL1500_ Forged, Half-Moon Edger by Truper

The line of the garden is measured and, if new, marked out with chalk dust or string. A straight line is then cut (with the half-moon edger or a straight blade spade) through the sod to a depth of about 4-6 inches. When working a new bed, the sod is then removed from inside the cut line, and compost/loam is added to the planting bed. In a renovation of an older bed, re-establish the line by digging a new trench to a depth of at least 6 inches. I rock the tool back and forth a bit to create a “v” shape. New mulch is mounded up from the center of the “v” and into the garden bed to create a weed barrier. If you are trying this method for the first time, be patient with yourself. With a little practice, your edges will become clean, precise and even. I’ve taught many gardeners how to use a half-moon edger. A little patience goes a long way when you’re learning something new! The border pictured below is the very first effort of a new gardener. Not bad for a first shot!

new-gardener's-first-time-edge_effort-michaela_medina_harlow-thegardenerseden This freshly-cut edge on a new perennial border —the first effort of a new gardener— was cut with a hand held edging tool, like the one pictured above

Although some gardeners like to fill the trench with aluminum or plastic strip to hold border edges, this isn’t really necessary. With with yearly maintenance and mulch, the earthen edge will hold back weeds on its own.  In my own garden I prefer to keep the earthen trench filled with mulch, and maintain it twice a year with touch ups from the half-moon edger. The first round of edging happens along my lawn/garden borders every spring during April clean-up, just before seasonal mulch (I use well rotted compost mulch mixed with just a bit of dark, natural bark). The second round of edging usually happens in early to mid July, when perennials borders begin to look a bit blowzy and need a bit of deadheading and primping. But twice yearly maintenance isn’t always necessary. In the cottage garden atop the article and the minimalist garden pictured above and below, a crisp edge is cut and mulched along the borders once a year in early spring. In landscapes with lawn and perennial borders, I’m  very fond of English-style edging. This clean but natural look works well with many different garden styles and it’s both inexpensive and easy to maintain.

Johnson Garden ll - Michaela Medina Harlow - Garden Design - New England - ⓒ 2012 michaela medina - thegardenerseden.comThe edge of this welcoming garden —filled with North American native plants— is looking neat and pretty, even in late summer {pictured: my client’s garden in late summer of 2012}

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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The Perennial Maintenance Question: When Should I Cut Back the Garden?

October 15th, 2012 § 6 comments § permalink

Rainy-Day, Autumn Maintenance in My Wildflower Walk: Cutting Back Withered Perennials & Removing Weeds

Ah, October. One minute it’s freezing cold and you’re pulling on the wooly socks, and the next you’re stripping to your t-shirt and slathering on the sunscreen. I wonder… Do gardeners in other regions talk about the weather as much as the folks here in New England? A few years back, I was enjoying a live Lewis Black rant on meteorological events, when the comedian turned his attention to the peculiar phenomenon known as New England weather. Only in Boston, he fumed, can one experience: “…thunder, lightening and snow— together”. The audience groaned in unison and filled the room with nervous laughter. It’s true: no matter what the season, you just never can tell what’s in store in our unpredictable climate. Mother Nature certainly has a varied bag of tricks reserved for those of us living in the northeast, and last year, she brewed up a nasty Halloween blizzard; knocking out the power for days and canceling trick or treating (visit last year’s post for photos of the beautiful horror). So with all of this zany New England weather, deciding when to put what “to bed” in  the garden can be a bit of a challenge.

In Mid-October, Seed Pods and Dried Flower Heads Add Textural Interest & Contrast in a Garden Filled with Autumn Foliage (Doctor Woo Relishes an Afternoon of Fall Mouse-Hunting while I Spread Mulch and Tidy Up the Garden)

Last year’s early snowfall caught many gardeners —including this one— by complete surprise. Ornamental grasses, textural seed heads and dried flowers were all crushed by a heavy, white blanket. It was the first time in many years that my garden shut down early. Normally, hoar frosts and light, November snow squalls add seasonal beauty to the garden; tracing skeletal forms in delicate, glistening layers of ice crystal and white lace. For this reason, as well as a desire to attract wildlife, I prefer to leave most textural plants —such as Rudbeckia, Coreopsis, Eupatorium, Miscanthus, Echinacea, Rodgersia, and Asters to name a few— standing throughout the winter months, and cut back whatever remains of these perennials in early spring. However there are some perennials I trim back fairly soon; such as the “melter” plants, including Hosta and Ligularia, and the “scraggle dogs”, like Aruncus, Phlox maculata and Heliopsis. After the first hard frost, I try to critically evaluate the landscape and cut back perennials that no longer provide sustenance to wildlife or add structure, texture or color to the overall garden design and composition. And although I clip back certain woody plants to within 4″ of the ground —Hydrangea arborescens, Perovskia atriplicifolia, Lespedeza thunbergii, etc— I leave most structural pruning for late winter and detailing of woody perennials for early spring.

I Prefer to Leave Certain Dried Flowers —Such as Rodgersia (Shown Above) & Astilbe— Standing in the Secret Garden, to Catch Frost, Ice and Snow. These Perennial Plants will be Cut Back in Early Spring

One of the Great Joys of Ornamental Grasses is the Winter Beauty They Provide in the Garden. Shown Here, Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum ‘Heavy Metal’) Coated in a Layer of Ice

Two of My Favorite, Architectural Flowers —Rudbeckia and Echinacea— Provide Sustenance to Overwintering Birds. Seed Producing Flowers are Always Left Standing in My Garden. What Remains will be Cut Back in Late April or Early May

Deciding which perennials to cut back when is often a matter of personal preference and garden style. The seed pods and drooping, dried flowers that one gardener thinks poetic, another might consider a terrible mess! You may like your garden neat and tidy, but in terms of protection, most perennials are quite hardy and need very little TLC. Zone marginal and newly transplanted perennials should always be cut back and mulched for winter protection, but established perennial borders are far less fussy. In my own garden, I leave most plants standing and clean up remnants in early spring. Do you have a specific question about when or what to cut back in your perennial garden? I spent the first 15 years of my professional, horticultural career maintaining gardens, and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned. Please feel free to ask about autumn perennial maintenance in the comments, below!

Garden Design & Installation: Michaela Medina Harlow

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Pots in the Garden, Part Two: Tips for Maintaining Hanging Flower Baskets…

July 27th, 2012 § 3 comments § permalink

A Tumbling Cascade of Grape & Cherry Hues: Hanging Basket by Walker Farm

Ah, the seductive power of summertime annuals! With all of the lush foliage, boldly colored flowers and twisting, trailing vines tumbling from covered porches, it’s hard to deny the romance of flowering baskets. And now that we are in late July, those container-grown annuals should be at their vibrant best. But this has been a tough growing season in North America, with long dry spells and scorching heat testing a gardener’s skill and stamina. How are those annual containers looking these days? Things seem a little worse for the wear?

More than any other type of plant, basket-grown annuals truly rely upon the gardener for life-sustaining water and nutrients; and during the hottest part of summer, they are particularly demanding. Left untended during a week-long vacation, a lush hanging basket will quickly shrivel to a crispy, brown mass. But even when hanging baskets are regularly and properly watered, unless they are given regular TLC, they can begin to look a bit straggly by late July; losing some of their early season pizazz. So how does a gardener keep those baskets beautiful all season long? Follow the checklist below for a few helpful tips…

Baskets of Promise: Colorful, Trailing Annuals on Display at Walker Farm

1) Water, water, water: In summer, it’s usually necessary to water hanging baskets daily; particularly when rain is scarce or when pots are hanging beneath covered porches. During hot spells, sometimes plants will need water twice a day. The ideal time to water plants is in early morning. Check moisture levels in the center of the plant and around the side of the container. I like to use a hose with a wand attachment for watering; positioning the rose at soil level in order to avoid wetting foliage. Dry foliage is less susceptible to fungal infection. I use a two-step approach to watering baskets; soaking the pot until water drains from the base —waiting a few minutes— and then soaking again.

2) Assure good drainage: As the season progresses, annuals have a tendency to form dense root balls. Sometimes, root balls become so congested, that water can no longer penetrate and instead rolls off the top of the basket. Last year during her seminar on container gardening at Walker Farm, my friend Daisy shared a great tip for solving this problem. Using a simple wooden dowel or skewer, push down through the root ball in several places to allow the free passage of water. It’s amazing how well this works to revitalize a hanging plant!

To Keep Annual Baskets Flowering All Season Long, It’s Necessary to Fertilize Every 7-10 Days

3) Feed me Seymour: During the growing season, it’s important to fertilize plants once a week.  I like to feed annual plants with a water-soluble plant food, in the early morning, before the heat of the day. I water the basket first, and then water again with the fertilizer-mixture. In addition, I find that a once-monthly application of Epsom Salts solution (see recipe below) makes for a particularly enthusiastic floral display.

4) Right Plant, Right Place: Hanging basket not blooming? Most annuals require full sun to produce flowers, but of course there are some exceptions to this rule. Most fuchsia and begonia plants prefer partial shade, but lobelia and petunias demand full sun. When selecting a hanging basket, it’s best to make a note of how much light the chosen spot will receive, in order to select the right plant for the location. Check the plant’s tag if you are unsure of the species you are growing, and if care instructions aren’t given, Google that plant to find out what it needs!

5) A snip, snip here & a snip, snip there: Pruning and deadheading hanging baskets can do wonders for improving their mid-season appearance. Use a clean, sharp pair of scissors or pruning shears (a rag soaked with rubbing alcohol works well for cleaning garden tools) and cut away any straggly vines, withered, broken or dead stems and spent flowers. Some annual plants will actually go to seed and stop flowering if they aren’t deadheaded, so I like to pinch off withered blossoms daily, just below the pod.

6) Emergency Rx: Even the best gardeners sometimes forget their plants. Unplanned absence from home? Bring your withered basket indoors and set it in a tub of tepid water; letting it soak until it begins to revive. Drain water and bring the plant back outdoors to a shady spot while it continues to recover.

By Mid-Summer, Dense Root Systems and Shallow Containers Make for a Thirsty Basket. Loosen Dense Roots by Pushing a Dowel Through the Plant in Several Places; Allowing Water to Pass Through, Rather than Roll Off the Top of the Basket

Epsom Salts Super-Flower Solution

1/2 cup Epsom Salts

1 Gallon Sun-Warmed Water

Fill a gallon sized watering can with tepid water (or warm a can of water in the sun) and mix in 1/2 cup of Epsom Salts until dissolved. After watering as usual for the first round, return to each basket with the Epsom Salt solution. Avoiding the foliage, pour about a half a quart of solution into each hanging basket. Repeat monthly throughout the growing season.

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Early Season Garden Maintenance … Free Seminar at Walker Farm, Vermont

April 18th, 2012 § Comments Off on Early Season Garden Maintenance … Free Seminar at Walker Farm, Vermont § permalink

English Edging (click here for information on how to create this border line) and Mulch: When a Garden is Properly Prepared, Early in the Season, Maintenance is a Breeze Throughout the Year …

Early-season maintenance —or what I’ve come to call ‘waking up the garden in spring’— is one of the keys to a truly well-tended garden. Although there are a number of  ways to create a lower-maintenance landscape, there really is no such thing as a no-maintenance garden. Much like the interior and exterior of a home, every garden space requires a certain amount of annual upkeep; with larger chores normally completed in spring and fall, followed by monthly tasks and weekly touchups throughout the season. Getting an early start on chores like weeding, edging and mulching will make regular maintenance easier and help to keep things in tip-top-shape from spring to fall.

When to Prune Lilacs? Right After the Blossoms Begin to Fade! Read More by Clicking Here.

I’ll be giving a free, one hour talk this coming Saturday at 10am, sponsored by Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont. During the seminar, I will be covering the basics of how to wake up your garden in spring, and get it ready for the seasons ahead. Wondering when to prune that lilac or what you should divide before the Fourth of July? Curious about weed prevention and mulching? Thinking of shopping for tools, but not sure of what you really need? These are just a few of the subjects I’ll be covering, along with more advanced topics like soil testing/amending and pest management. Call Walker Farm to reserve your spot this Saturday!

Spring is Also the Perfect Time to Divide and Replant Late-Blooming Perennials (Including Daylily Bulbs) and/or Dig and Replant Entire Borders (After Building Soil with Fresh Compost)

The Zen of Weeding? Sure. Once You Learn to Love the Soothing Repetition, Weeding Can Become a Meditative Pursuit. But First, a Few Tips on How to Weed the Garden: Click Here

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina for The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Marching Forward to Springtime …

March 12th, 2012 § Comments Off on Marching Forward to Springtime … § permalink

Cerise-Flushed Bodnant Viburnum Buds, Swollen in Morning Sunshine (Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’)

The sleepy garden is slowly rousing now from her long winter slumber. And as she greets the warmth of each early March morning, I slip on my wellies, grab a few tools and a hot cup of coffee, eager to join in her blushing, dawn reverie. Springtime is coming, and the garden is swollen and glowing with annual anticipation …

Bright & Cheerful at Daybreak: Golden Witch Hazel Blossoms (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise’)

With late winter pruning completed, my eye turns toward autumn garden remnants in need of removal. Ornamental grasses and withered perennial stalks are cut back with manual garden shears or —in the case of large, tough specimens— a power brush cutter. Where snow has receded and the soil has been dried by sun and wind, I lightly remove debris with a flexible rake and clear pathways with a stiff garden broom; dragging a brown tarp behind me and collecting a heap to be dumped and chopped up near the compost pile. Protective wire cages —set into place to thwart greedy rodents— are removed from young trees and shrubs and returned to storage in the Secret Garden Room …

Late Winter/Early Spring Garden Clean-Up Begins!

I Like to Cut Back Ornamental Grass in Late Winter or Early Spring. After Chopping Up the Grass, I Gradually Add It to My Compost Pile

As Snow Recedes, I Remove the Protective Wire Cages Placed Around Ornamental Trees & Shrubs Last Autumn, and Store Them in the Garden Room for Re-Use Next Year

Of course between garden clean-up and indoor-eden chores, there’s always a bit of time for spring dreaming. As I stroll through the melting pathways, I gather a few budding branches for forcing in vases and begin pulling out frost-hardy garden accents  —such as urns and flower pots— placing them here and there, in anticipation of early bulbs and pretty pansies…

An Annual Pleasure and Bi-Product of Late-Winter Pruning: Forced Branches of Fragrant, Bodnant Viburnum

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina for The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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