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

April 10th, 2013 § 3

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

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

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

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

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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Mild Days & Mid-Winter Pruning

February 19th, 2012 Comments Off

Although the Ice and Snow are Beautiful, Winter Damage Must be Cleaned Up Every Year & Now is the Best Time to Tackle Major Structural Tasks (Above: Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’) …

Although the old “prune in June” rule applies to certain woody plants in some situations —-those that blossom in early spring, such as lilacs (click here for how/when to prune lilacs) or the removal of suckers from the base of tree trunks, for example— and of course broken branches can and should always be removed whenever they are noticed, major structural pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs is best tackled during winter dormancy. I love winter pruning tasks, and find that warm, sunny days in late February, March and even early April (depending upon your climate, of course) are perfect for shaking off cabin fever and getting back in the garden! But, before you start cutting, take the time to clean and sharpen your tools, and take a long walk around the garden; examining the skeletal form of your plants while keeping an eye out for winter damage caused by heavy snow-loads, ice and wind. See any cracked branches or snapped limbs on your ornamental trees and shrubs? Any damaged trees or large shrubs located near power lines should be dealt with by a professional landscape contractor or arborist. But small pruning tasks —especially those within easy reach— can be handled by most gardeners at this time of the year.

Red Twig Dogwood Adds a Beautiful Glow to the Winter Landscape. I Thin 1/3 of the Stems Each Year —Cutting Each Shoot All the Way Back to the Ground— in Late Winter or Early Spring to Encourage New Growth with the Beautiful Bright-Red Bark! (Of course, always wait ’til the ice melts before pruning branches and limbs).

Much as I love sculpting trees and shrubs to achieve their finest form for my clients, I get even more excited by the opportunity to teach other gardeners how to correctly prune the woody plants in their home landscapes, all by themselves! And as intimidating as it may seem, there’s nothing complicated about the process of pruning. A good book (such as this favorite by Lee Reich), a sharp pair of bypass pruners, and a broken branch or forgiving/neglected old shrub are all you really need to get started. For an introduction to pruning basics, travel back to a post from 2009 by clicking here.

Crushed Witch Alder (Fothergilla major): What a Mess! Click Here for Tips on How to Prune Out Winter-Damaged Branches

Below are three basic pruning cuts to practice. Remember, always clean and sharpen blades between specimens. For more specific tips, begin by revisiting my previous introductory article, and the cut-specific posts linked below!

Removing a Broken or Damaged Limb: Learn how to correctly make this cut with a Grecian Saw: click back to a detailed, tutorial post by here.

Learn how to properly prune plants with opposite budding patterns, like this Hydrangea, by clicking back to my tutorial post on the subject here.

Shrubs and trees with alternate budding and branching patterns require a slightly angled cut, sloping away from the bud. Learn more about how to prune alternate branches in my previous post here.

Post-pruning clean-up time. All pruning tools are cleaned with rubbing alcohol, sharpened with a whetstone, and oiled before returning to the garden room for storage

Felco 8 bypass pruners are the perfect tool for tending to the small branches of ornamental trees and shrubs as well as fruit-bearing woody-specimens in your landscape. Click here for more pruning tool suggestions.

Lee Reich: The Pruning Book - I Consider This Book an All-Time, Garden-Maintenance Classic!

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/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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Heavenly as October Skies at Sunset: ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ Aromatic Aster Sparkles in My Autumn Garden …

October 12th, 2011 § 2

Raydon’s Favorite aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘Raydon’s Favorite’/ aka Aster oblongifolius) in the front entry garden in mid-October (Shining gold in the background here: Amsonia hubrichtii and Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’)

When it comes to North American native wildflowers, there’s just no way I could ever choose a favorite. My plant infatuations are many; varying by season, weather pattern and even time of day. But in autumn —when beautiful blue and violet flowers are so magnificent paired with gold— I simply can not resist heavenly-hued, ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘Raydon’s Favorite) …

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ (Other plants in this design are listed clockwise from bottom left: Rudbeckia hirta seed pods, Pennisetum alopecuroides, Amsonia hubrichtii, Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Summer Wine’, Solidago, and Betula papyrifera)

Although less well-known than some of the flashier species and cultivars, this North American native, aromatic aster (USDA zones 3-9), is a garden designer’s dream. Unlike many of her gangly cousins, this densely mounded, 16-36″ beauty keeps a neat profile in the border (though they don’t require snipping to promote bushy form, I like to shear the front-row plants back in early summer to create a two-tiered effect in the garden). Drought tolerance, deer resistance and late-season interest are but three of her many charms. Provided her modest requirements are met —full sun and well drained, average to lean garden soil— she’ll bloom her pretty head off from late summer straight through the early frosts. ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ combines so well with autumn colors, I’d be hard-pressed to find an unattractive fall pairing. I love this flower with rich golds, saffron and chartreuse (see photo above), but she’s equally stunning with eye-popping red and orange or deep maroon. Backed up by a dark Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diablo’, fiery Viburnum plicatum (Doublefile Viburnum), lemony Lindera benzoin (Spicebush), or a technicolor explosion like Fothergilla major (Witch alder), she completely steals the show. And have I mentioned the birds, bees and butterflies? Why this is the most popular pollinator pit-stop in the October garden!

The best part of this lovely plant? Passing by ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ aromatic asters on my way to and from the studio is a true-blue mood lifter. Even on the greyest and cloudiest of autumn days, the delightful, lavender-blue flowers always bring a smile to my face!

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/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!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Snip, Snip Here & Snip, Snip There: Mid-Season Container Taming Tips …

August 4th, 2011 § 3

Pots Filled with Vibrant Annual, Tropical & Tender Perennial Plants Accent the South-Facing Stone Terrace. The Sun & Moon Urn is a Long-Time Garden Favorite I picked up in Mexico. Empty Pots Make Great Accents Between Lush Plantings.

Having recently completed a whirl-wind maintenance tour of the Wildflower Walk and Secret Garden, my critical gaze took note of some annual containers in need of deadheading on the stone terrace, and tiny little weeds popping up between the decorative stone mulch in my succulent pots out on the steel balcony. By mid-season many containers and hanging baskets in the garden begin to look a little worse-for-the-wear. A phrase used by my friend Daisy earlier this year —at Walker Farm’s container garden seminar— immediately sprang to mind: “You control your plant, your plant doesn’t control you”. Well, then! Out come the garden scissors, fertilizer, and work tote. It’s time to bring those annuals back in line with their containers!

Calibrachoa ‘Callie Orange’ Tops the Terrace Dining Table

Although I don’t have hanging baskets in my garden this year, I do have cascading Calibrachoa ‘Callie Orange’ spilling from a table-topping pot on my front terrace. Much like a hanging basket, this tightly planted container requires weekly fertilizing, pruning and daily watering to look its best. By mid-summer, dense root systems in pots and baskets can create an impenetrable, water-resistant web. When root-bound, container plants can remain parched while water pours over the top of the plant and down the sides. How to solve this problem?  I picked up another handy tip from Daisy at Walker Farm this spring: use a wooden dowel to punch holes through the root systems of annual baskets. Simply push the dowel in the dense tangle of roots and wiggle it a bit. Do this in several places between plants and water will find access to the center of tangled root ball. Thanks, Daisy!

Succulents, Tropical Plants and Ornamental Grasses fill Containers on the Steel Balcony Above the Secret Garden

Overall, the succulent containers on my steel deck need little attention, save occasional dead-heading. Still, air-born weed seeds do manage to lodge themselves between the stone mulch and must be gingerly removed to keep things looking tidy. I avoid fertilizing indoor-outdoor succulent pots in order to keep their growth in check. And pots filled with colorful companion plants, such as the Purple Heart (Tradescantia pallida ‘Purpurea’) often need a bit of pruning to keep them in balance with their neighbors. The ornamental grass pictured above, Carex comens ‘Frosted Curls –and many of the other non-succulent plants on this hot steel deck– seems content with little more than good quality potting soil, daily watering and weekly fertilizing.

Regularly Watering, Fertilizing, Cutting Back Foliage and Deadheading Spent Blossoms Keeps Container Plants Looking Their Best. I Fertilize Potted Plants Weekly and Water Daily (looks like I missed a few brown leaves there on the right, didn’t I?).

Some containerized annuals and perennials, like the Angelonia angustifolia and Lysmachia nummularia pictured above, need occasional deadheading or leaf pruning throughout the growing season. Others, such as the neighboring Verbena on the left in this vignette, need less frequent attention. All plants in this grouping were chosen for color, texture and season-spanning bloom. An added bonus? Regular pruning and deadheading promote an extended and generous display of blossoms, attracting all kinds of dinnertime guests …

A Hummingbird Moth Visits a Pot of Annual Verbena on the Terrace 

Callie Orange Makes a Pretty Centerpiece on the Weathered Cedar Table all Season Long

Monarch Butterfly Sampling Nectar from Potted Asclepias curassavica ‘Silky Red’

Looking for more container garden maintenance and design tips? Below are a couple of my favorite resources for container gardeners at all levels. For more design ideas/care information on succulent containers, check out previous posts for ideas from Walker Farm’s spring workshop and books I love on the subject. Enjoy the beauty of annuals, tender perennials, tropicals and succulents up close, all season long with lush, healthy, well-maintained container plantings …

Container Gardening A Great Guide Book with Useful Information & Beautiful Photos from the Editors of Fine Gardening

Pots in the Garden Beautiful & Inspired Design Ideas from Ray Rogers (Timber Press Publishing)

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, 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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Reining in the Tumbling Floral Chaos: Mid-Summer Garden Maintenance …

July 29th, 2011 § 6

Summer’s Wild, Tumbling Jumble (Juniperus squamata ‘Holger’, Hydrangea quercifolia, Amsonia hubrichtii, Adenophora confusa, Rudbeckia hirta, Sedum, Hosta and Adiantum pedatum)

While out enjoying a morning stroll around the garden, taking in a blissfully cool and misty start to my day, a few flower stalks and juniper branches caught my attention by snapping at my ankles and tickling my knees. Ah, the tumbling jumble of summertime garden chaos! I do love a lush and laid-back garden, but every year at about this time, I embark upon a bit of disciplinary activity in my flower beds and shrub borders. After all, there’s a fine line between beauty and beast in the garden!

I begin my annual, mid-season grooming by pulling out a pair of hand-shears and bypass pruners —giving them a quick once-over with a whetstone and oiled rag— and heading out to the garden with my mobile beauty-salon (a basket filled with rags, oil, rubbing alcohol, natural twine and a few bamboo stakes). Like many seasoned hairstylists, after years of experience, most of the tasks I perform are so instinctive to me, that I fall into a state of gardening-zen while giving late July haircuts. But now that I’m doing more teaching and garden coaching, I’ve started to actually think more about the how and why of this horticultural beauty routine, in order to communicate the process to others…

Agastache, a bird, bee and butterfly favorite, always benefits from a mid-summer haircut. Shearing the spent flower heads from this plant now encourages a second wave of bloom later in the summer. Because this is an aromatic plant, it’s quite a pleasant job. But try to do this very early in the day, in order to avoid disrupting foraging bees.

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ is still in full bloom on the Wildflower Walk. As the flowers fade, I will leave most of the seed heads standing for finches and other small birds, as well to enhance the winter-garden. But if flower stalks fall into the path, tripping or whacking passers by, I will cut them for vases to keep the walkway clear.

The ever-narrowing Secret Garden stairs! Time for some haircuts! Heuchera and Adenophora self sow, and cutting them back early will prevent their spread. Spent blossoms spilling into the stairs are snipped off at the base. However, I happen to like the excess, so I allow those flower heads to the sides of the steps to multiply as nature intended. Prickly new juniper growth is cut all the way back to the main branch. Remember to clean pruners with rubbing alcohol between specimens

If you are relatively new to gardening, probably the most important thing to remember is that getting to know the plants you care for —their identities, growth habits and blooming routines— is key to making them look their best in your garden. Think like Edward Scissorhands for a moment and imagine vegetative growth as hair. Ironing curly hair straight may be fun once in awhile, but when it comes to day to day style, the best looks work with nature. What’s true for people is also true for plants. If you need help identifying the plants in your care, a good encyclopedia —like this one from the American Horticultural Society— is a great garden-library investment.

Once you are familiar with your plants, it’s much easier to decide how and when to spruce them up. Some plants need very little tending. In fact, many perennials are best left to do their own thing until they finish blooming, or until they are cut back to the ground in early spring. For example, after Hosta finish blooming, I remove the spent flower stalks to keep the plants looking tidy. However, I leave the seed heads of most Echinacea and Rudbeckia standing, in order to provide food for birds. Actaea simplex is left to do her own thing in the garden, while Asters are Chrysanthemums are pinched back until mid-July in order to encourage fuller, more floriferous plants (but never later, in order to avoid nip by early autumn frost). Nepeta, Veronica, Agastache and Geranium are sheared back after blooming to encourage a second wave of blossoms, while Aruncus dioicus and Valerian are cut back simply to make the plants look tidier. Many annual flowers, particularly those in window boxes and hanging baskets, also look best when given a mid-season haircut (and remember to keep fertilizing weekly for best bloom). Miss any opportunities this season? Remember to make a note of it in your garden journal for next year…

Veronica spicata –a pollinator favorite– is a long-blooming perennial. Because of its front-and-center location in this border (backing up Rudbeckia hirta and dancing with the slender blades of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’) this plant is a very good candidate for mid-season maintenance. Shearing the top blooms off this cultivar, V. spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’, will help keep the plant tidy, and encourage another full wave of bloom in a couple of weeks.

I try to leave flower heads standing as long as possible in the garden, even if they seem a bit faded. Flower nectar and pollen still provides sustenance to garden guests —like this bumble bee— even though blooms may be past their prime. Later, seeds of this Echinacea, and many other flowers, provide late season food for finches and other small birds.

When cut back after flowering, Geranium ‘Brookside’ will look tidier and often produce a second, if slightly less lush, wave of bloom in autumn.

Learning to work with plants and maintain an attractive garden is a life-long process for all gardeners. Most experienced green thumbs are happy to share their knowledge, and many local garden clubs, botanical gardens, greenhouses and nurseries offer free or low-cost workshops and seminars on garden maintenance. When working with perennial gardeners at all experience levels, I often recommend two excellent books for further study and reference. First, The Well-Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust (pictured and linked below) is a classic how-to and when-to manual for every gardener’s bookshelf. And last year, while reviewing gardening titles for Barnes & Noble, I discovered Nancy Ondra’s The Perennial Care Manual (also pictured and linked below) which I now consider the definitive plant-by-plant guide (includes an encyclopedia with many of the more popular perennials) to perennial maintenance. The macro-photos in this book include pruning details, pest ID shots and clear pictorial guides to division, propagation and more. This book would make a great gift for new gardeners, mid-level perennial enthusiasts and experienced horticulturalists alike!

Garden looking a bit loose, shabby, blowzy? Pull out the shears and pruners, a tarp or wheelbarrow and channel your inner Edward Scissorhands! Have a quick question? Feel free to drop me a line in comments and I’ll pass along what I’ve learned. Have fun out there…

My top recommended how-to with great pictures: Nancy Ondra’s The Perennial Care Manual

A classic for every gardener’s bookshelf: Tracy DiSabato-Aust The Well-Tended Perennial Garden

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, 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!

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links (including Amazon book links). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Strolling Along the Wildflower Walk …

July 6th, 2011 Comments Off

A Stroll Through the Wildflower Walk in Late Afternoon

The Wildflower Walk may have started as an accidental feature in my garden, but —second only to the Secret Garden— it always generates the most oohs and ahhs. And when the sunny drifts of Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) hit their crescendo in July, it’s easy to see what all the commotion is all about. The softening effect of randomly strewn, bold sweeps of wildflowers is truly magical in a landscape, and although my dog Oli is responsible for coming up with this design, I have not only run with the theme in my own garden, but used the idea in other designs as well (minus the method of installation, see previous post for that story). I’m sure that if he only knew how popular one of his ‘bads’ has become, Oli would be begging for bones every day when he passes through his wondrous Wildflower Walk.

Of course —not to take away from my dog’s true genius— but one of the things that makes all of this unplanned wildness work from a design standpoint, is the underlying structure of the garden. The hardscape and bones of the landscape —which includes the stonewalls, loose stone paths, and structural trees and shrubs— give shape to the space; allowing ever-changing elements to take center stage at any given time, while the constant ‘theater’ holds everything together. And though they stand in the background throughout the summer —steady and central— the structural features always take over the show in late autumn and winter…

Rudbeckia and Nepeta tumble in a colorful jumble along the Wildflower Walk. Bees, butterflies and other pollinators love Nepeta and Rudbeckia. And later in the season, finches will stop by to feast upon Rudbeckia seed (I leave many of the stalks standing for my feathered friends). Meanwhile, in the background: the spilling green Juniperus horizontalis provides bright blue berries for wildlife, as well as a pretty green foil for the wildflowers. And though it’s barely visible in high summer, Dan Snow’s retaining wall holds everything together —both figuratively and literally– throughout the year.

The walkway surface is 1″ natural round stone —slightly larger and more grey-blue than pea stone— which allows wildflower seed to germinate just beneath the surface. The walk does require some weeding, but it isn’t as labor intensive as you might think. Rounded, natural stone makes a great surface for seating areas and walkways; in both formal and informal spaces. I particularly love this look in lawn-less, Mediterranean gardens.

The main walkway —to and from my home/studio— is wider than the Secret Garden path and the rest of the Wildflower Walk. And though the Rudbeckia reigns supreme here in early summer, this wave of bloom is preceded by Lupine and succeeded by Adenophora. Other wildflowers and shrubs play supporting and cameo roles along the way… 

In reality, getting wildflowers to succeed in a garden over the long-haul usually requires a bit more planning than Oli put into his work. Many self-sown bi-annual and meadowy perennial flowers —such as Lupine, Poppies, Asters, Black-eyed Susans and the like— prefer fast-draining, thin soil in full-sun. These flowers thrive on natural, seasonal weather conditions. When it comes to sunny-meadow flowers, sites with poor soil often work better than sites with rich soil (take note of those wildflower drifts along the highway: talk about thriving on neglect!), but there are wildflowers adapted to wet, rich soil as well. Recognizing wildflower seedlings (to avoid accidental weeding or over-mulching) throughout the season, and allowing seed heads to remain standing until they mature, is absolutely critical to the maintenance of wildflower drifts (this is particularly important in true meadows, which must be mown after the flower heads have browned and are ready to release seed). All of these things tend to go against the grain of super-tidy gardeners, so in the beginning at least, a leisurely attitude toward maintenance may work to your advantage when it comes to wildflowers. However in long term, lazy Susans would not be successful here. I am the sole gardener on my property, and as ‘wild’ as this walkway may look, I can assure you that it does demand some weeding time; particularly in the early spring, after rainy periods. Clover, grass and other thin-soil-lovers germinate well between the loose stone, and rise up in competition with the wildflowers along the path. I simply keep them in check (often in the early morning hours while talking on the phone with a client or contractor, or late, late in the afternoon with a glass of cold lemonade or chilled wine).

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ will reach its summertime crescendo this month in the Wildflower Walk

A different perspective: looking down the Secret Garden path from the main walkway. This shot was taken on an overcast morning, when the bright yellow and orange of the just-opening Rudbeckia really stood out.That’s Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’ on the right, backed up by Viburnum trilobum ‘Bailey Compact’ (that dynamic duo really lights up in the autumn, see this post for photos).

Looking Through the Wildflower Walk and Into the Secret Garden Beyond (Foreground: Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning Light’).

Tempted to give wildflower drifts a try in your own garden? Want to replace your front lawn with something less water/chemical dependent and more colorful? Would you like to support pollinator and bird populations with a natural food source? Well, you could ask a rambunctious dog like Oli to install a Wildflower Walk for you, or you could consult some inspirational books on the subject of Meadow Gardens. The one I am currently ogling, and constantly praising, is The American Meadow Garden, pictured and linked below. Beyond its obvious beauty, this book is also genuinely useful; offering meadow/wildflower planting suggestions by region, soil type and exposure. Self-sown wildflower drifts are lovely both in meadows and within designed gardens. Isn’t it amazing what your dog can teach you?

The American Meadow Garden (John Greenlee/Saxon Holt) from Timber Press

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, 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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Maintaining Defined Beds & Borders: English-Style Edging is the Secret to Elegantly Dividing Lawn and Garden

May 18th, 2011 § 4

English_Style_Edging_ in-Cottage_Garden-michaela-medina-harlow-thegardenerseden.com One of my client’s gardens: simple and classic cottage design in springtime with  a crisply edged border and dark, shredded bark mulch

Later in the season: perennials, herbs and annuals spill casually over the edged border. This garden’s edge holds even with no summer maintenance.

I snapped the top photograph above while working at my long-time gardening client’s weekend home here in Vermont, in late May, just after edging. Every spring I design a new combination of annuals to play in concert with the perennials in this country-casual mixed border. By July, the garden is a riot of orange and deep violet —color plays chosen to please my friend’s preference for a bold, exuberant palette— with sunflowers, verbena, dahlia and cleome exploding like fireworks everywhere. So what keeps a border like this looking neat and tidy all season long? The secret is in the English edge, and a thick layer of weed-supressing mulch…

Tightly planted perennials and pockets filled with annuals leave little room for weeds. Meanwhile the English edge keeps a clean line between turf and border all season long.

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 mixed garden border into focus. When designing new gardens in landscapes with sweeping lawns, I often opt for the English 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-thegardenersedenUsing an edging tool to follow curves really brings out the beauty in my client’s one-year-old garden

Notice how the English edge defines the lefthand curve of the pathway, yet blends with the planted borders. This photo was taken in early autumn, yet the edging on the left held throughout the year with no maintenance.

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 edger and my own elbow grease to create and maintain perennial borders in the English style. It’s great exercise!

Here’s a photo of a new gardener’s perennial border —which I helped one of my coaching clients to create— cut with a half moon edger.

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 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 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.

Here’s a close up of the “v” shaped trench and the mounded compost/loam with new perennial plants. This photo was taken before mulching, so you can see both the line and the trench. Nice work on this gardener’s first effort!

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.

Here’s the garden two years later. You can see how the English-style edge blends in naturally with the overall landscape in this contemporary garden; creating a clean, minimalist line.

Article and photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site (with noted exceptions) is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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A Beautiful Garden & Time to Enjoy It: Low Maintenance Landscape Design… Free Saturday Seminar at Walker Farm

May 17th, 2011 § 2

Maintenance. I’m going to be honest: if you want a beautiful garden, there’s just no way around certain chores. But in spite of the fact that every landscape requires some upkeep, there are an almost endless number of ways to design and plant gardens to reduce labor while enhancing four-season interest. In my fifteen years of professional garden maintenance, I learned a few things about both human and plant nature, and those insights have helped make me a better landscape designer.

Interested in learning a few tricks of the trade? I will be speaking on the subject of Low Maintenance, Four Season Garden Design this Saturday, May 21st –from 10-11am– at a free seminar sponsored by Walker Farm in Southern Vermont. The talk will take place inside the gorgeous, display greenhouse at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont. If you are gardening in the area, please join us (visit Walker Farm’s website –by clicking here– for directions and details on how to reserve your space).

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you know that autumn gardens and winter landscapes are as important to me as those we enjoy in spring and summer. By choosing the right plants for your landscape, you can not only reduce your garden chores, but also extend your seasons of enjoyment. Over the coming months I’ll be covering more landscape design techniques to lower the overall maintenance and enhance the beauty of your garden. In meantime, you may wish to flash back to my past post —“The Zen of Weeding”— for some tools and techniques on the particularly unpopular chore of weeding. And stay tuned for upcoming tips on how to minimize garden labor and maximize your hammock time this season! I also highly recommend the following books, which I have read, reviewed and own…

The New Low-Maintenance Garden by Valerie Easton is a great resource for both homeowners and landscape designers, from favorite publisher, Timber Press.

50 High-Impact, Low-Care Garden Plants by Tracy DiSabato-Aust mentions many of my favorite plants. This book is just one of many fantastic Timber Press titles by this well-known and beloved garden designer and writer.

Spend More Time Relaxing in Your Garden with Smart, Low-Maintenance Landscape Design. Stay tuned for tips and techniques, coming soon!

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Gardening Seminars at Walker Farm are Free and Open to the Public. The Gardener’s Eden received no compensation, of any kind, for editorial mention of businesses or products in this post.

Article and photographs (excepting book links) are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site (with noted exceptions) is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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Un-Flower Pots: Designing & Caring for Spectacular Succulent Container Gardens

May 9th, 2011 § 12

Beautiful Container Gardens are all about Color, Form and Texture. Great Designers Work with both Contrasts and Harmonies to Create Stunning Results. Hanging basket available at Walker Farm.

Saturday morning I spent the better part of an hour and a half listening to enthusiastic oohs and ahhs at Walker Farm’s Succulent Container Gardening & Hanging Basket Design seminar. I had so much fun watching Karen Manix demonstrate how to create a container garden of succulents and listening to Daisy Unsicker talk about how to care for these gorgeous plants, that I just had to share a bit of my experience with all of you here today…

Pretty, dark-violet hued Aeonium arboreum and orange-tipped, chartreuse leaved Sedum nussbaumerianum (opposites in the spectrum of colors) make a stunning color combination

Last week I mentioned how much I’ve come to love succulent container gardening. My new-found obsession started innocently enough a few years ago, while expanding my indoor gardening pursuits during the cold winter months. Because I am so busy with gardening during the growing season, I’ve traditionally kept houseplants to a minimum; with only windowsill herbs, and a few tough ferns to satisfy my horticultural-urges from December through March. Then, after creating a Secret Garden Room, and experiencing much joy and success with my expanded indoor garden pursuits —and a passion for epiphytes and terrariums— I began to develop an interest in succulents…

Click on the photo above to read a previous post on indoor gardening with succulents

I’ve been teaching myself about cold-climate container gardening with succulents as I go along. And much to my delight, this expanding indoor-outdoor collection of tropic, sub-tropic and desert region plants has thrived and grown, thanks to a lot of research and a little help from my friends. I’ve discovered that succulents are remarkably easy, undemanding plants to grow —even for cold-climate gardeners— both indoors and out. But like all living things, succulents and cacti do have specific requirements and preferences all their own. Getting the container, potting mix and combinations right are the first step toward success with succulents. By learning about each plant, and continuing to provide these beauties with what they need —and never more— a gardener can achieve long term success and satisfaction from their investment.

And here are two of the plants pictured from the previous photo, now transferred to a larger pot which I’ve moved outdoors

Lucky gardeners in attendance at Walker Farm’s free seminar last Saturday got a real head-start on the subject by learning how to care for succulent containers from real pros! I’ve mentioned before that local Walker Farm is a world-class horticultural destination for rare plant connoisseurs throughout New England, New York and even further afield. Beyond the fact that their plants are unusual, healthy and beautiful, we hortimaniacs love Walker Farm because their staff is incredibly friendly, unpretentious and truly knowledgable about what they sell. The owners and staff at Walker Farm have a real passion and enthusiasm for what they do and generously share their experience without a trace of the dread ‘high brow’ attitude that so often tuns new gardeners away from horticulture. The excitement and creativity at Walker Farm is downright contagious, and it’s one of the many reasons why their loyal fans keep coming back for more.

Karen Manix began the talk by covering the basic principles of container garden design, with succulents in mind. Quickly covering the five most important aspects of composition —scale and proportion (finding correct sizes and structure for the container), balance (creating a sense of unity and point of view), contrast (using different colors, textures and forms to create interest), rhythm and flow (repeating color, form and texture plays) and fullness (giving a sense of lushness to satisfy the senses)— Karen immediately jumped into a wonderful demonstration from a dynamic display of containers and plants…

Karen Manix, owner of Walker Farm, demonstrates the basics of container garden design, using a variety of succulents in different sizes, shapes, textures and colors. Isn’t that clam-shell container gorgeous? Perfect for topping an outdoor living room table…

Succulent Container Design in Action. Isn’t this a beautiful pot?

While filling a gorgeous, clam-shell inspired planter with growing medium, Karen discussed the importance of proper planting mix for succulents. Because these fleshy, shallow-rooted plants need to dry out between waterings, it’s important to choose a light-weight, fast-draining container medium; such as cactus mix or a home-made equivalent. Regular potting soil is too dense and holds too much moisture to keep succulents and cacti happy. As a general rule, planting medium for succulents must contain 1/3 to 1/2 pumice or coarse sand —such as builders sand or poultry grit— for proper drainage. Some succulents prefer slightly more porous planting medium than others. Always read up on the plants you are growing and know their soil preferences prior to placing them in pots. Before you begin designing your succulent container, Karen recommends filling the pot 3/4 full of growing medium, and adding a small amount of time-release fertilizer (which you can mail order or pick up at most garden centers).

Just a few of the beautifully tempting terra cotta pots available at Walker Farm

And speaking of pots, getting settled in the right home, with a location you love,  is just as important for your plants as it is for you! Although terra cotta is the best choice for succulents and cacti, due to its porous nature, it’s equally important to choose a pot that suits your plant’s style, and satisfies your eye. Try playing the colors and textures of your chosen pot against the colors and textures of foliage, as well as your overall design and composition. Check to be sure that your chosen pot has a good drainage hole (although pots without holes can be modified with a base of pumice, but this is more advanced). Karen mentioned covering the drainage hole in pots with screening, rocks or broken pottery. Although this isn’t always necessary to prevent soil-loss, it can definitely come in handy when you are moving pots in and out of your home, or when you are dealing with large sized drainage holes.

This spiky, ice-blue Senecio serpens would be nice in combination with a terra cotta pot or another plant with peachy toned foliage or flowers. Red-orange and green-blue are opposite on the color wheel, and they make beautiful music together…

Once you have your container and growing medium ready, feel free to play around with individual plants while they are still in their nursery containers, until you find a combination you like. Perhaps you might combine a dramatic upright specimen with a mound shaped plant and a couple of trailers in colors chosen to contrast with your pot. Like a dusky-purple echeveria? Look for a chartreuse colored species to settle in next to it, and make that violet color sing. New to container design? Don’t be afraid to look at photos for ideas or imitate other gardeners until you get the hang of it. The process should be fun and relaxing. And remember, you can always move the plants around and try again if you aren’t quite happy.

Choose pots to bring out the best in your plants. Walker Farm has incredible selection in their potting shed, but if you live far from here, you can find some real beauties online in Etsy shops; such as those made by Vermont artist Virginia Wyoming (click here to visit her lovely shop). And there are plenty of gorgeous containers melting my heart at Terrain as well.

Satisfied with your arrangement? Karen advised us to tuck in all the plants; gently adding potting mix to fill in gaps, and bring soil level approximately 1″ below the container rim. Top dress the container with a decorative mulch to help keep soil stable during watering and conserve moisture. Some designers like to use glass pebbles or marbles, others prefer to use colored gravel or natural stone. Whatever you choose, when you are finished, brush growing medium away from leaves and gently water, rinsing dust and soil from the foliage as you go.

At this point in the seminar, focus shifted to long-term care of succulent containers. Both Karen and Daisy (pictured below) emphasized that over and under watering —particularly in tandem— are a recipe for plant woes. Keeping soil moist —but no wetter than a wrung-out sponge— and allowing the planting medium to dry out a bit between waterings is key to success. Keep in mind that these conditions mimic the natural environment of these semi-tropical and desert region plants. The foliage of plants like succulents and cacti has evolved to hold moisture, in much the same way as a camel stores its water in humps to provide hydration between stops at the oasis!

Daisy, head propagator at Walker Farm, discusses the maintenance and care of succulents and container gardens…

Daisy covered all of the keys to success with container garden maintenance. In addition to balanced watering and regular fertilizing —probably the two most important chores in gardening— one of the major points Daisy covered in her thorough over-view was container size as relative to plant size. It’s always important to educate yourself about the plants you are working with. How big is that cute little button going to get in a year? How long will that enchanting vine trail… Will it visit you in your bed at night? With scissors in hand and orders to clip away at plants for fullness and to promote flowering, Daisy declared: “You control your plant, your plant doesn’t control you”. Now there’s some advice worth taking! Potted plants looking scraggly or leggy? Then it’s time for a haircut. Prune and pinch plants frequently, she advised, to keep them looking great and in proportion with the container. There’s no reason to struggle with an unmanageable plant.

Keep hanging plants attractive and manageable with regular pruning. Manage growth in confined containers, such as wreaths or baskets, by limiting fertilizer.

Of course, Daisy emphasized the importance of knowing both yourself, your location, and the plants you choose. Are you away from home a great deal? Lower maintenance, drought-tolerant succulent species are the best choice for your containers! Sunny spot with six or more hours of direct sunlight? Choose plants that can tolerate such hot, dry conditions. Cacti and many succulents from the American desert regions are a good choice for full sun. Partially sunny location? Most container plants thrive in this situation; including many succulents from the tropics and subtropics. Shade? The vast majority of succulents do not like full shade, and with a few exceptions —such as sansevierias— plants other than succulents will be a better choice for containers in shady situations.

Aphids are sometimes a problem for succulents, particularly when they are brought inside to overwinter. A lack of natural predators allows outside pests to grow un-checked when carried indoors. Here, they cluster and feed on a Kalanchoe in my studio. Click on photo for details on how to deal with succulent garden pests….

Pests aren’t usually a big problem for succulent container plants outdoors, but aphids, scale and mealy bugs can occasionally trouble some plants; particularly during and just after over wintering. Daisy, Karen and I all strongly advise using organic methods to deal with pest problems, and always try the least aggressive method first. During summer, try removing aphids by spraying plants with a strong blast of water from a hose. Often this will knock back pests long enough for natural predators —like ladybug larvae— to take on the battle. For particularly troublesome container pests —like mealy bugs or spider mites— or serious infestations, try insecticidal soap with neem oil or hot pepper in the mix. See my previous post (click here) for more ideas.

The Jewel Box Garden – Thomas Hobbs

Looking for more design ideas and care tips for succulent containers? We’re all big fans of Thomas Hobbs’ gorgeous books. I especially love his colorful Jewel Box Garden (pictured above). And of course, as I recently mentioned, Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Container Gardens is a wonderful resource for the creative container gardener. Walker Farm’s seminars and the regular support of their friendly staff are a great resource for local gardeners here in southern Vermont. I’ll be reporting more from their wonderful gardening seminars in the coming weeks. And if you live in the area, I encourage you to take advantage of these fun and free events for gardeners of all ages and stages…

Succulent Container Gardens – Debra Lee Baldwin

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Gardening Seminars at Walker Farm are Free and Open to the Public. The Gardener’s Eden received no compensation, of any kind, for editorial mention of businesses or products in this post.

Article and all photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here (including Amazon.com book links and Terrain Garden & Home). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Pruning Ornamental Trees & Shrubs: Free Saturday Gardening Seminar Sponsored by Walker Farm in Vermont

April 12th, 2011 Comments Off

Lilacs are best pruned immediately after their flowers fade (or, if you like them as fresh cut blossoms, prune and decorate your house with bouquets at the same time). Learn more about how to prune lilacs in this post, and if your looking to improve your pruning skills…

I’m presenting a free gardening seminar, “Pruning Ornamental Trees & Shrubs”, sponsored by Walker Farm, this Saturday, April 16th at 10 am. The event will take place at beautiful Walker Farm, Rt. 5, Dummerston, Vermont.

There is no charge for these weekend seminars. Classes are limited to 30, and advance reservations are requested. Contact Walker Farm to save your seat by calling 802-254-2051 or emailing: walkerfarmvt (at) gmail (dot) com.

Walker Farm is offering a great selection of free weekend gardening seminars this spring. Check out the listing on their website, there’s something for everyone!

Walker Farm is a wonderful destination for gardeners (they offer farm grown organic vegetable starts, unusual annuals, and rare perennials as well as a beautifully curated collection of conifers, trees, shrubs and vines). If you are gardening in Southern Vermont, New Hampshire or Western Massachusetts, Walker Farm is an easy car ride. I hope to see you there!

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Spring Clean-Up Part One: Pruning Damaged Limbs in Tight Spaces Using The Handy, Folding ‘Grecian’ Saw, Plus… A Special Giveaway!

April 9th, 2011 § 15

A young Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ in my garden. This photo was taken last spring during a passing shower, just as the beautifully vibrant red leaves began to unfold

I love all trees, but I have to admit that in particular, I am a very, very fond of Japanese maples. And in spite of the fact that they can be difficult to grow in cold climates, every year I add a new, hardy specimen to my garden. The first Japanese maple I planted when I bought my land ten years ago was Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’. A lovely tree with dark, oxblood colored leaves and fine structural form, ‘Bloodgood’ is a commonly grown Japanee maple cultivar in the northeast; mainly due to its hardiness. But in spite of this tree’s tolerance for cold, one of the biggest challenges to growing Japanese maples in the northern climates —breakage due to heavy snow and ice accumulation— remains a problem with this and many other ornamental trees with complex branch angles and patterns. Preliminary pruning and training helps to set up a strong framework for ornamental trees —to withstand winter’s weighty precipitation— but some breakage is inevitable during ice storms with heavy accumulation.

Perhaps you’ll recall this image, of the Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ in my garden, taken during the last of many ice storms in late winter of this year. Fortunately, only one branch cracked beneath the weight of the ice, and it was one I’d considered removing late last summer anyway.

When damage does occur on a Japanese maple, and on many other trees, one of the toughest maintenance tasks is pruning out broken limbs without damaging the bark and healthy wood on the nearby trunk and branches. Making cuts in tight spaces (like the one pictured below) can be difficult unless you have the right tool on hand. Hand-held bypass pruners (like those shown in the last post) are fine for branches and limbs up to 1/2″  in diameter. But when the limb is thicker, it’s best to switch to a pruning saw. When I need to cut a moderately sized limb —several inches thick— particularly  in tight and awkward spaces, I reach for my handy folding saw. Sometimes this pruning tool is referred to as a Grecian or Japanese-blade pruning saw. This type of saw has teeth —arranged in an arc on the inside of a blade— and folds up neatly into a compact size (see photos below). Designed to cut on the pull-stroke, these saws makes quick, clean work of tree limb removal.

This limb is too large to cut with bypass pruners, and the angle is too tight for my bow saw. So, the tool of choice?

The handy folding saw! This type of saw is sometimes called a ‘Grecian’ saw, or a ‘Japanese blade’ pruning saw.

Here’s what it looks like fully extended. When I’m finished using it, I can just close it up an put it in my back pocket (no worries about stabbing myself!)

Sometimes —when a branch is split or badly mangled by a storm, weak or crossing and rubbing a near-by branch—  it’s necessary to completely remove the tree limb. Knowing how to properly make this type of pruning cut is very important to the long term health of trees in your garden. Cut too far from the trunk and you are left with an ugly stub, which invites disease and further breakage. Cut too close to the main trunk, damaging the branch collar, and you risk exposing the entire tree to disease and opportunistic parasites. But, fear not. This cut isn’t difficult to make when you take your time, follow a patient process and use the right tool. To remove the damaged limb on my Japanese maple, first, I made a preliminary cut on the branch, removing the weight and leaving a long stub. Next, I undercut the remaining limb with a short 1/4″ deep cut. This will prevent cracking and tearing of the limb when I make my final cut from the top. Carefully observe where the ridge meets with the main trunk, and look for the wrinkly collar’s edge. Just beyond this spot is where the limb should be cleanly and neatly cut. Find your line and cleanly cut through as shown. Any ragged edges should be cleaned up with a sharp pruning knife. Soon the open area on the Japanese maple trunk will grey up, callus over and blend right in with the rest of the tree. At this time of year in cold climates, a Japanese maple (And other maple trees, and sap running species like birch) will weep when cut. This will not harm the tree. This wounded tree was weeping sap from the jagged break anyway. However, I do try to limit my cuts on trees with actively running sap at this time of year. I only remove what I absolutely need to, in order to prevent disease and speed up the ‘healing’ process.

When removing a long limb, particularly a heavy one, I begin by taking off some of the weight and making room to work with an initial cut farther out on the branch. Reducing the weight also decreases the likelihood of tears in my final cut near the branch collar.

Next, I make an undercut on the branch. This cut will be approximately 1/4 through the branch. This is another insurance cut; preventing a crack in the wood or tear in the bark when I remove the stub branch from the top.

This photo is little bigger, because I want you to really see the wrinkly edge of the branch collar. Do you see the ridge just to the left of the blade, where where the main trunk meets the limb and the wrinkly ‘collar’ just past that? Well, it’s important to get nice and close to that wrinkly collar with a clean, flush cut. But, it’s equally important NOT to saw into the branch collar. The cleaner and straighter the cut, the faster and easier it will be for the cells to quickly cover the open wound and for the callus to protect the tree from insects and disease.

Cut clean and close, this wood will quickly callus over and soon blend in with the surrounding trunk. Sometimes, a limb will break right at that collar margin. If the tree injury is located in this area, carefully cut as straight a line as possible, and clean up any ragged edges of wood with a pruning knife. The more even the wood, the less area will need to be covered by new cells, and the faster the tree will callus.

Felco’s Folding Saw is the right tool for pruning branches and limbs up to 3″ in diameter, particularly in tight places. You can order one from Amazon.com by clicking on the image or text link here. Or….

In honor of this blog’s second anniversary this month, I will be giving away several gifts at random, starting with a pruning saw, like the one pictured above. For your chance to win this handy tool, simply comment on this blog post before 12:00 pm, noon Eastern Time, April 11, 2011. Be sure to leave your email address (will not be visible here, nor will it be shared or sold) so that I can contact you if you win. And, one last thing… Let me know what your favorite thing is about this blog, and what you’d like to see more of this year! I’d love your feedback. Thank you for following The Gardener’s Eden ! xo Michaela

The winner will be chosen at random from comments received prior to noon ET 4/11/2011. One entry per household, per giveaway please. Drawing will take place and winners will be announced here, on Facebook and Twitter, on Tuesday, 4/12/2011. Saw will be shipped to the winning reader at the end of the month. Due to shipping constraints, this giveaway is open to US and Canadian readers of The Gardener’s Eden only. All taxes, tariffs, duties or fees not directly associated with shipping and handling will be the responsibility of the winner.Good luck!

The Winner of the Folding Pruning Saw is: Michelle Kraetschmer! Congratulations, Michelle.

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Article and photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Spring Clean-Up, Part One: Pruning Winter-Damaged Branches Continues With a Tutorial on Cutting to Alternate & Opposite Buds…

April 7th, 2011 Comments Off

Spring Clean Up Begins in My Garden with the Removal of Winter-Damaged Branches and Limbs on Woody Plants

I’ve been tending other people’s gardens for more than a decade, and although I am officially eliminating maintenance from my professional services this year —making more time for design work, teaching and writing— that doesn’t mean I won’t be doing physical work in gardens. Quite the contrary. I love gardening, particularly garden maintenance. The physical part of gardening is exactly what attracted me to horticulture in the first place. Gardening —digging, planting, raking, weeding, pruning, etc— is great fun for me! But as with most things, people tend to enjoy tasks that they are good at doing. So, my new goal is to help other gardeners gain more confidence, and have more fun with maintenance, by sharing some of what I’ve learned in my years of experience as a professional gardener.

Pruning is one of those tasks that tends to intimidate both new and experienced gardeners, and even some seasoned pros. With all of the dos and don’t associated with pruning, it’s easy for me to understand why gardeners avoid this chore. Knowing when and how to prune the trees and shrubs in your garden can be confusing. So, I’m going to start this spring’s tutorial sessions with the absolute basics. In my previous post, I mentioned the importance of using clean, sharp tools when pruning. This point can not be over-stated, so if you haven’t read the first post, stop here and go back to review pruning tools and how to care for them.

For our first lesson, lets start with the most important pruning a gardener can do: cutting to clean up damaged and diseased wood. This type of pruning can and should take place whenever you notice it. However, at this time of year —late winter and early spring— damage tends to be most evident. Removing damaged wood trumps concerns about when a shrub or tree flowers (we will get to the issue of old and new wood, and timing cuts for flowers and fruit a bit later in this series). When cleaning up broken branches, the key is to make your cut with very sharp pruners, just above a healthy strong bud, or set of buds, aiming in the direction that you want to train the new growth. There are two main types of buds on branches: opposite and alternate. Opposite buds are, exactly as the word sounds, opposite from one another on the branch or stem (see photo below). When you need to cut branches with opposite buds, make your cut as close as possible to a healthy set of buds —without bumping or grazing the tender nibs— cleanly cutting straight across the healthy wood. Never leave a long stub, as this wood will die-back; decaying, rotting and inviting disease. If you cut clean and close to a new set of buds, they will quickly develop strong, healthy new shoots in both directions. If you only want growth in an outward-facing direction —to open up a shrub for example— then gently rub off the inward-facing bud with your finger. Here’s how a simple cut is made on opposite-facing buds…

Cutting to a pair of opposite buds on Hydrangea paniculata. The cut is made as close as possible —leading with the sharpest part of your blade closest to the bud— without touching and damaging the buds themselves. I like to use the line on the thick blade (backside of the pruners) as a spacing guide when making this kind of cut.

After the cut, only a small amount of wood remains above the two untouched buds. The two buds will develop into healthy shoots.

Alternate buds look like rungs on a pole ladder. They alternate from side to side, instead of opposite one another (see photo below). If the branch of a shrub or tree with an alternate bud pattern has been damaged, it should be cut back to an outward-facing bud on solid, healthy wood. With alternate buds, it’s also important to make the cut as close to —but not touching— the bud itself. With this type of growth pattern, gently slope the cut away from the bud, so that water will drain away from the developing shoot (aim for a 20-25° angle).

Alternate buds on Buddleja alternifolia argentea (Fountain Butterfly Bush). Unlike B. davidii, which flowers on new wood, B. alternifolia blossoms on old wood. In spring, I remove damaged wood only, carefully cutting to a healthy bud. After flowering, I will prune this shrub for shape (it can be trained to a standard, or allowed to follow its natural ‘fountain’ form).

Position the sharp part of the blade near the bud —but not touching— and make the cut, sloping gently away from the bud. This will help water shed away from the new shoot, preventing rot. Never leave a stub longer than 1/4″, as it will die back, and invite disease. Again, with this type of cut, I use the line on the thick part of the blade as my guide. By holding the pruners with the thin blade nearest the bud, I can watch the distance and avoid cutting too close.

The way this branch is cut will direct growth outward, away from the shrub. The gentle slope —starting just above the top of the bud— allows for water to shed away from the new shoot, preventing rot. Again, never allow a long stub to remain above the bud, but take care not to injure the delicate new growth when you make your cut. With practice, this will become easier.

When I teach pruning, I always encourage gardeners to build confidence by practicing cuts on undesirable scrub, broken branches or discarded limbs on a brush pile. This way, if your cuts are less-than-acceptable, you can keep cutting until you get it right, without worrying about mutilating your precious garden plants! Look for alternate and opposite bud patterns to practice your cutting skills. Once you feel confident in your ability to make steady cuts, begin working on the broken branches of ornamental shrubs in your garden. Roses and hydrangea are frequently damaged and suffer die-back in winter. Learning these basic cuts will help you to maintain attractive and healthy woody plants.

Stay tuned for more pruning tutorials. Next, we will tackle small tree limbs with a Grecian (folding) saw, and learn about the join between tree trunks, branch-collars and tree limbs! And if you happen to be gardening in New England, and would like to attend my April 16th pruning seminar —a free event sponsored by Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont— please visit Walker Farm’s website for details, and reserve your seat now… Space is limited!

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Article and photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Spring Clean-Up, Part One: Pruning Winter-Damaged Branches…

April 5th, 2011 § 4

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ blooms early in the season. These flower buds were formed on old wood, last year. In general this shrub is only lightly pruned for shape, right after it has finished blooming. Damaged wood can and should be pruned anytime, as soon as it is observed.

After a long, tough winter, it sure is wonderful to see snowbanks finally receding from the garden and to sample the fragrance of a few early spring blossoms. As the weather cleared this afternoon, I spent a couple of hours looking over the emerging landscape, and while it was fun to get back in the garden, I made a few sad discoveries. Those sparkling ice storms were beautiful to behold this past winter, but it seems they left quite a trail of destruction in the garden. I will be spending the next few weeks checking for damage on ornamental trees and shrubs; pruning and cleaning up snapped limbs and branches.

Beautiful But Destructive: The Scene from My Hilltop Earlier in the Year (see more ice photos here and here)

Pruning is a large subject —one I will be discussing throughout the growing season— but I have a few basic tips to share today, which are useful at any time of the year. Winter often takes a toll on woody garden plants, and it’s important to clean up splintered wood and ragged bark as soon as you notice it; before insects and disease move in. Take a close look at your garden now that the snow has (hopefully) melted back, and see how your trees and shrubs are doing. Spot any cracked limbs or branches? Now is the best time to address those problems. Later on in the season, flowers and foliage will hide structural damage, making it difficult to spot and much harder to tackle.

Pruning a young Halesia tetraptera limb at the edge of the branch collar — branch broken by heavy icing— with a pair of sharp, clean bypass pruning shears. I use Felco #8 pruners for most small pruning tasks. Felco #6 pruners are a better model for those with very small hands.

But before you set off to begin cutting, the first —and most important— step, is to start work with clean, sharp pruners of the right type. Small branches and stems are easily tackled with bypass pruners and/or a pruning knife. Larger branches or small limbs —particularly those with tight or awkward angles— usually call for a Grecian saw (sometimes called a folding saw). And for all but the very largest limbs (which may require an arborist’s chainsaw) I recommend use of a bow saw. You can read more about these tools in my previous post (click here). In addition to these basic pruners, I also keep a few supplies for sharpening and sterilizing my tools close at hand. Rubbing alcohol, cotton rags, a can of household oil and a whetstone are the four most important items in my pruning tote. Before the season begins, I clean, sharpen and oil all of my pruning shears. And after pruning each tree and shrub, I carefully wipe down blades with a rubbing-alcohol-soaked rag. This step is key to preventing disease (often invisible to the naked eye) from spreading from plant to plant.

The broken branches on this Fothergilla gardenii invite disease and insect infestation. Snapped in an awkward place along the main framework of the shrub, they are pruned down to the ground. Although it was a tough amputation to make, new growth produced this season will quickly fill in the gap.

Knowing how and where to make a clean cut on damaged wood is often what prevents gardeners from approaching pruning chores with confidence. This is a shame, because the basics of pruning are relatively simple, and once a gardener gets the hang of it, pruning often becomes a favorite —and even meditative— horticultural task. I love the art of pruning, and from a maintenance standpoint, the annual spring clean-up of woody plants is my favorite time of the year. Hands-on training is the best way to learn pruning techniques. If you have the opportunity to work with an good pruner, I highly recommend it. But if an experienced teacher is not on hand, there are several excellent resources available in print. For beginner to mid-level gardeners, I always recommend Lee Reich’s The Pruning Book. Straightforward and simple, but descriptively written and well illustrated, this is really the best title I have found on the subject.

Lee Reich: The Pruning Book

I will be covering a few key pruning cuts in part two of this post (and also presenting a seminar on the subject at Walker Farm in Vermont, April 16th)In the meantime, take a look at the woody plants in your garden. See winter damage? If a limb is particularly large, high or near power lines, call a qualified arbortist for help. But if the damaged limbs and branches are on the small side, and low enough to the ground to be within your comfort zone, there’s no reason you can’t take care of this seasonal maintenance yourself. So pull out your tools and get them ready. We’ll be making some cuts in part two…

Remember, always clean, dry, oil and sharpen tools both before and after each use. Disinfect pruners with rubbing alcohol after pruning is complete on each specimen.

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Article and photographs (excepting book link) are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Dreaming of Springtime’s Sweet Veggies: Planning a Lush, Welcoming Potager…

February 16th, 2011 § 1

A tumbling jumble of nasturtiums creates a warm welcome for people and pollinators alike

Sweet seats! In June, the potager becomes my outdoor living/dining room

Wide pathways and mounded-earth beds give me plenty of room to work and maneuver about with carts and wheelbarrows

Winter is a wonderful season —I’m still having fun snowshoeing and enjoying quiet time indoors— but I have to admit that there’s one thing I’m really starting to miss about summer: leisure time in the vegetable garden. I love hanging out in my pretty little potager, and every morning —spring through fall— I head outside with a big cup of coffee to do a bit of weeding, watering and harvesting before work. My pets usually join me —rolling around in the warm, golden straw pathways— while I garden. Later on in the day, I often return to the potager and settle into my comfy wicker chair with a glass of wine to enjoy the sunset hour. On warm evenings, I sometimes eat my dinner in the garden; surrounded by the fragrance of sun-warmed herbs and the sound of summertime birds. Vegetable plots always grow best when they are frequently visited by the gardener’s shadow, and to me, this is no trouble at all —it’s pure bliss…

I like to try different varieties of vegetables and fruits every year. But some old-favorites make it into the potager every year. My favorite tomatoes include Early Girl, Orange Blossom, Lemon Boy, Brandywine, San Marzanos. I also love cherry tomatoes; particularly Sungold and Sweet 100s

Home grown hot peppers are both beautiful and tasty. I like to experiment with this crop too, but I always grow plenty of jalapeño, ancho and serrano chile peppers.

My diet is mainly vegetarian, and one of my favorite things about summer, is that I can completely avoid the grocery store for months (I buy my eggs and dairy products from a nearby farm stand). Growing basics, like potatoes, makes it easy to create impromptu, garden-fresh meals every day.

Now that I’ve begun sowing some early crops —herbs and onions indoors & arugula, spinach and lettuce in the unheated hoophouses— I’m really starting to get excited about the growing season ahead. I’ve ordered most of my vegetable seed —packages have already begun to arrive— and I just sent in my seed potato orders to Ronnigers and The Maine Potato Lady yesterday afternoon. Mid-late winter is a good time to begin planning and plotting out your vegetable garden on paper (1/4″ square grid paper works great for this purpose, with each standard box equalling one square foot of garden space), and to finish purchasing seed if you haven’t done so yet. Back in December, I mentioned that I enjoy the process of keeping an annual gardening journal and calendar. Not only is it fun to look back on my successes —and important to analyze failures— but my garden calendar & notes also remind me of things I want to plant (more potatoes and berries!), improvements I want to make (more vertical supports for peas, beans, melons and cucumbers, a new set of compost bins, and a garden shed!), and things I need to re-stock (like fish emulsion, twine and other supplies). Keeping a copy of what I planted —and where I planted it last year— is key to crop rotation (and avoiding pests and diseases). Drawing up a plan and listing everything out also prevents over-ordering or forgotten crops!

Building a pretty potager need not be expensive! My garden fence —pictured above— was built from saplings harvested on-site. And the wicker furniture in my garden was found —wearing a “free” sign— on the side of the road.

When laying out your garden, remember to include space for companion flowers and herbs. Although companion planting has become one of the more hotly debated horticultural topics —with some gardeners believing in its value, and others questioning the scientific proof of success— there is no doubt that flowering plants attract and support pollinating insects —like bees and butterflies— to your vegetable garden. And no matter where you stand on the companion planting issue, it’s pretty hard to argue with the horticultural value of pollinating insects and the beauty of flowers in the vegetable garden. Zinnias, sunflowers, cosmos, shasta daisies, calendula (particularly the French marigold) and nasturtiums are easy-to-grow, and all make gorgeous vegetable garden additions. In addition to planting flowers in and around my vegetables, I grow extra blooms in my potager —just for cutting. Climbers are also pretty in the vegetable garden, especially if you have a rustic fence or trellis (vertical supports are particularly useful if you have limited space). Old-time, deliciously fragrant sweet peas are best sown directly outdoors as soon as the ground can be worked, but many flowers —including climbers like morning glories— can be started indoors for earlier bloom. And if you like to decorate with dried flowers in late summer and fall —or want to make wreaths— consider growing globe amaranth (Gomphrena), love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), Bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis), statice (Limonium sinuatum), and other everlasting blooms in your cutting garden.

I love flowers in the vegetable garden, and fresh-cut bouquets in my house. So I grow plenty of beautiful bloomers in my potager.

I can’t imagine life without a vegetable garden. I grew up with horticulture —my family raised and sold organically grown strawberries and other produce— and teaching me how to grow my own food —and more importantly, the joy and value of gardening— is one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me. If you have children of your own, I encourage you to involve them in as much of the gardening process as possible. When planning your spring garden, order a few extra seed packets —both flowers and vegetables if you can make the room— just for your kids. Children will always remember early gardening experiences like sowing seed, and harvesting their first crop of peas. Even the smallest task —like carrying the harvest basket or looking for bugs— teaches children that their contributions matter to the family. With kids, it’s important to focus on the process of gardening —not so much the product— so that the entire experience is rewarding.

Sunflowers are a fun, easy-to-grow crop for children

Here, my friends Myriah and her daughter, Dharma, moisten seed their starting mix together

Make Gardening Come to Life: Sow Seeds, and Watch them Germinate

I plant my vegetable garden in 3′ x 8′, raised, earth-mounded beds. I try to keep enough space between the beds to comfortably maneuver around with a weeding basket and to pass through with a wheelbarrow or garden cart. This system works well for me, but I have seen many other successful vegetable growing methods. Urban gardeners may grow in pots or planters, and some suburban gardeners like to build wooden boxes to contain vegetables in the square-foot garden style, and many country gardeners simply till soil and hoe rows. There is no right or wrong way to set up your vegetable garden: experiment, do what works best for you, and enjoy the process. If you are new to gardening, it is a good idea to start small and grow your space as your confidence increases. Over the years, as I’ve become more interested in cooking and baking, my vegetable garden has doubled in size. It’s such a pleasure to create meals with beautiful, ripe, organic vegetables, grown and harvested fresh in my own backyard. This year, I plan on adding more hard-to-get, gourmet produce in my potager. I’ll be planting crops that store well in winter (like gourmet potatoes and onions, garlic, squash, carrots and beets), as well as seasonal, enjoy-at-the-moment produce like heirloom tomatoes, lemon cucumbers, and other unusual fruits and vegetables from around the world. I love eating fresh food all summer long, and by adding row-covers and unheated hoophouses to the garden, I’ve been able to extend my growing season; harvesting some produce —like root vegetables and leafy greens— year-round. I can’t wait to dig back in! This week, I’ll be posting more details about my spring garden plans, and I look forward to hearing about yours both here, and on Facebook and Twitter!

Remember fresh-from-the-garden tomatoes?

Helianthus annus ‘Autumn Beauty’ – Sunflower in my Potager

Remember the smell of the earth? It’s coming… Soon!

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Special thanks to Tim Geiss for his fantastic seed starting photos. Visit Tim’s site here.

Article and potager photos ⓒ Michaela at TGE

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