Archive for Fall Gardening

Bad News about Slug Bait and Winter Garden Care Tips

Slugs at NE Portland Landscape Design in a Day

Slugs on a Honeydew Melon Date

Winter is just around the corner here in Portland.   Here are 5 timely tips to help you care for your landscape right now.

Slugs Last chance to knock out slugs! Control your slug population now in late fall.  They lay thousands of eggs that will hatch in spring.  I’ve got bad news about using the so called pet safe slug baits. New science says it kills your earthworms and can sicken your pets and other animals.  Control your slugs with beer traps or even better an instant coffee spray.  Yup coffee! Fill a spray bottle with strong instant coffee or any coffee except de-caf.  Spray the leaves of plants they prefer and any slugs or snails you see.

I grow lots of winter greens here in NW Portland so I’ve been out there spraying down the leaves of my beautiful Dinosaur Kale plants to protect them now.  Spraying coffee once a week in fall and early winter makes a big difference in the spring hatch of slugs.   Read more about why slug bait harms worms.

Coffee bag

Its the caffeine that kills slugs or snails. Instant coffee works well.

Mulch.  If you only do one thing to improve your soil and care for your plants, mulching is the biggie.  Schedule your winter mulch application for the last week of November to mid-December or hire someone to blow in your mulch.  Companies such as Bark Blowers will blow in mulch including the newer “living” mulch products that I prefer.  One company that provides mulch inoculated with beneficial bacteria is Natures Needs, a product called  Recology Compost.  McFarlane Bark, Mt Scott Fuel and Grimms Fuel supply basic mulch products.   Did you mulch just 2 inches deep?  Great!  Now go and unbury the crowns of your plants so they don’t die from rot during our wet winter. Burying plants with mulch might be a good practice in Vermont or Montana but not here.

Iron gate design with snow

Landscape Design in a Day client’s custom gate.

Protect your plants from winter temperatures

The best cold protection for plants in the winter isn’t something that naturally occurs to most people.  Over watering and over fertilizing done in summer can cause plants to not go dormant.  When cold weather comes, they are not prepared.  Read more: Protecting Plants from Winter Cold Starts in Summer 

Pruning knowledge  There are many plants that should not be cut back in the fall and winter.  There are many perennials and grasses that can be cut back to create a more attractive winter landscape. This is a case by case basis which drives new gardeners crazy. Consider consulting with your garden designer who can teach you what to do to your plants and when.  It feels good when you know what to do.

Protect your pottery  The best winter protection for your pottery is proper drainage and location.  Make sure water drains through the pots hole and doesn’t back up.  If water sits in the bottom and it freezes, good bye pot.  I have had Vietnamese high fired pottery outside and intact for over 15 years.  I always put drainage material in the bottom of the pot and a piece of flagstone under the pot or I use those little pottery feet.

If I have expensive pots where they will get east winter wind, the kind of wind that freezes rain to ice on the power line, I would move them into a protected area for winter right now. I hate to even think about that kind of weather but we get our share here in Portland Oregon, especially in January.   Its hard to pay attention to the weather report, and besides who wants to move heavy pots around when its icy cold out?  Not me.

Lawn Do Over for Portland Landscapes

Landscape Design in a Day's newly installed RTF grass.

Landscape Design in a Day’s newly installed RTF grass with dry stream bed.

This is the year for rethinking the lawn. As a Portland landscape designer many of my new clients want to make big changes in their landscapes.  I am recommending clients replace their old lawns with new and improved grass varieties.

My Lake Oswego clients, George and Marcia, contacted me completely discouraged about their front yard. I met them in the fall after our particularly hot and horrid summer of 2015. They had spent their entire summer watering and watering their lawn.  It wasn’t dead on the October day that I came to their home but as you can see it was quite unattractive.

Uplands Neighborhood of Lake Oswego

Damaged Lake Oswego lawn

They decided it was time to hire a designer and start over with their landscape. It is a typical Lake Oswego landscape with heavy clay soil, fir trees nearby with thirsty roots, and drainage problems.

Before we even started the landscape design process, I was able to share information about a new lawn grass that uses less water and is more durable than the grass (perennial rye grass blends) we have been using for the last 30 years.  Working closely with Kevin Schindler of Autumn Leaf Landscaping Inc. we replaced their old lawn with Rhizomatous Tall Fescue (RTF) grass and designed a naturalistic dry stream bed that also solves the drainage problems.  Solving the drainage problems also enhances the health of the grass.  Even RTF grass doesn’t do well in a boggy winter soil.  George and Marcia are very pleased with the appearance and performance of the new grass.  They love their new dry stream bed and how it has pulled together the entire front yard, giving it a dramatic focal point.

They are no longer slaves to watering.

Installation day at George and Marcia’s Lake Oswego home.

This year several of my clients have taken out their old grass and installed RTF.   From a distance it looks like any lawn, in fact it looks more uniform because it grows so thickly that it tends to crowd out weed grasses much better than our perennial rye grass does.  My Lake Oswego clients especially appreciate the fact that RTF tolerates more sun and heat and if they did decide to let it go dormant, it will come back beautifully.  RTF can even handle a south facing lawn with reflected heat from a sidewalk.  This is the most difficult place to successfully grow grass so Portland landscape professionals are embracing this new product.

It is available as a roll out turf product (sod) and as seed.  Kuenzi Turf & Nursery

After Landscape Design in a Day Front yard

Rose City Park Neighborhood

No grass lawn

West Portland Park  Neighborhood

Other clients want no lawn designs, thinking it will be lower maintenance.  No lawn will mean lower water usage but replacing a lawn with paths and plants does not promise low maintenance. Even the fairly new minimalist style using 90% round river rock and 10% plants isn’t as low maintenance as you think. Someone has to blow dust and debris out of the river rock frequently to prevent weeds from building up.  Many clients simply don’t want to mow any lawn and are fine with the first two years of extensive weeding that is needed to get a no lawn front yard established.  For a lot of people, however, weeding is the least favorite gardening chore.

Synthetic Lawn Installed in front yard

Newly installed synthetic lawn in Parkrose Heights neighborhood

Other clients are installing synthetic lawn.  Before you sneer at the idea of fake grass (which I did when I first heard about it), check out these photos of my Southeast Portland clients Bob and Norma Bleid.  They gave themselves a retirement gift, front and back synthetic lawn.  No water, no chemicals, no fertilizer; it is the ultimate low maintenance landscape lawn.

Early fall is a particularly good time to install a new lawn or landscape.  With a good irrigation system landscapes can be installed any time of the year.  As a Portland landscape designer I am not fond of July or August installations, I know my clients will be “nervous nellys”  seeing their plants’ leaves droop, scorch and burn in the summer sun.  The fall rains typically do a beautiful job of providing the moisture needed to get plants (including grass) well established.  This eliminates the stress and worry of summer planting.

 

 

 

Summer Heather – Perfect for year round color

'Jimmy Dyce'  Picture from Heath & Heather Nursery

‘Jimmy Dyce’ Picture from Heath & Heather Nursery

Summer flowering heather can be easy care.

I used heather at my vacation house because it’s so easy.  I’m only there once a month, have no irrigation and I have hungry deer.  It’s got to be a tough plant to make it!  I’m sorry to say that with heather you need to know what you are doing.  Lots of people buy heather, plant them and they die quickly.  Once you have proper information these plants are low maintenance.  Without knowledge specific to heathers success is tenuous, with a little knowledge this is a very tough drought tolerant winner of a plant in my book.  It has year-round beauty, is great food for bees and it can be the evergreen plant that holds a summer garden together visually through the winter.

Calluna-vulgaris 'Firefly'  Photo from Great Plant Picks

Calluna Vulgaris ‘Firefly’ Photo from Great Plant Picks

Planting Tips:

Heathers need good drainage but if you have clay soil don’t despair.  Heathers planted on a slightly burmed planting bed or low mound do well.  Heathers are perfect for slopes. Watering well the first year is critical.  If heather plants dry out to the point of wilting, even just a little bit, they will die.  There is no rescuing it with water and having it “perk up” as many other plants will do.   When the tiny fine foliage wilts or dries the plant stops taking in water with its roots.  The best time to plant is fall.  A designer pal plants her heathers in pure barkdust.  I’ve done this and had excellent results as long as it was on a slope.  Don’t try this on a flat landscape.

Pruning Tips:

Pruning is important and easy.  The most important year for pruning is the second spring after you have planted the plant.  Prune before new growth starts.  You must trim to just above the previous years wood; trim too much and you will have ugly holes in your plants that may never fill in.  Avoid pruning late in fall or winter.

Calluna 'Varities'

Calluna Varities

Trim too little or not at all and you will have an okay plant for a few years and then it will be ugly with dead wood in the center of the plant.  When this happens we can’t simply cut it back severely which we can do with many plants to fix the problem.  Trimming every year before new growth starts (February or March for Pacific Northwest) will keep your plants attractive long term.

 

Heather at Harstine

Calluna Vulgaris ‘White Lawn’. Sedum ‘Xenox’ and Sedum ‘Voo Doo’ planted with the heather.

 

Summer heather/Calluna Vulgaris is a great plant for hot sun situations.  This summer for the first time ever, I actually had foliage burn.  They got no water for 45 days in record breaking heat, but since these plants have been there for five years, they are now coming back beautifully.

 

Small Trees for Fall Color

What trees are small enough to mature in the typical yard space, have low water needs and have full season beauty?

Acer Circinatum "Pacific Fire" photo from Handy Nursery

Acer circinatum ‘Pacific Fire’ photo from Handy Nursery

Our Native Vine Maple is Tried and True

Select a new variety of native vine maple, Acer circinatum, like Pacific Fire with scarlet red winter twigs.  It is attractive in partial shade to dappled sun but the best effects of color, both twig and fall leaf color occur in half day sun.  It can be grown in full sun but this will probably spoil the foliage with leaf scorch.  Plant it in morning sun with dappled afternoon shade for best results.  Matures at 15′ to 20′.

Seven Sons Flower is Great for a Tough Spot

Seven Son Heptocodium photo courtesy of Treephoria

Heptacodium miconioides ‘Seven Sons’ photo courtesy of Treephoria.com

Here’s a tree for a hell strip! Seven Sons Flower, or Heptacodium miconioides, is great for full sun and less than great soil.  You can buy it as a standard, or single trunk tree, which will fit in your parking strip nicely. Or buy the low multi-branched form (pictured) for placement in the landscape.  It flowers in late summer and holds the color of the flower into late fall so you don’t miss out on fall color either even it if isn’t the leaves that glow red; 20′ at maturity.

Use Phoenix Snake Bark Maple for Something New

Acer Conspcium Phoenix photo courtesy of Treephoria

Acer conspicuum ‘Phoenix’ photo courtesy of  Treephoria.com

Here is the newest darling tree Acer conspicuum ‘Phoenix’, or Snake Bark Maple.  It needs regular watering, less after a few years have gone by but is not drought tolerant.  Amazing twig color and the bark’s dramatic color show just gets better and better as the tree matures.  Like all maples, plant up on a mound if you have heavy clay soil.  Good drainage is the key to longevity.

Use Crape Myrtle for Four-Season Interest

Crepe Myrtle - photo taken at J Stone Garden

Crape Myrtle – Focus here is on bark color.  Photo taken at J Stone Garden

My favorite Crape Myrtle, or Lagerstromia, is ‘Tuskegee’, maturing at 15′.  These trees need to be planted in well drained soil or up on a mound.  Don’t plant this tree with an east wind exposure.  Best in full sun or 3/4 day sun.  Winter bark, wow fall color, hot red orange summer flowers, with low summer water needs. Another great variety that is easier to find is Tuscarora, or Lagerstroemia indica x fauriei ‘Tuscarora’.

Crape Myrtle in NE Portland Landscape Design

This Crape Myrtle putting on an early Fall show in a NE Portland front yard.

Growing Greens in Winter

It’s the first week of October and I just planted veggie greens starts in my raised bed. Yup it’s not too late. I bought two kinds of collard greens, Bok Choy Rosette (a dwarf variety) and  2 butter leaf lettuce (Rhapsody Butterhead  and Little Gem).  Adding pounds of fresh greens  into my diet this summer has been great for my energy and my waistline.

Butter lettuce and bok choy in Carol Lindsay's salad table.

Butter lettuce and bok choy in Carol Lindsay’s salad table.

Each week I pick a mixture of greens.  I wash them in a dab of dish soap and cold water. I spin them dry and stuff them into a large pickle jar. I feel better and  breakfast has been quick and yummy. The smoothies are so tasty! Each morning I scoop out 2 fistfuls of greens, add protein powder, frozen fruit and blend.  It’s so fast, tasty and healthy it’s got to be wrong!  My fav combo is basic greens with basil, frozen peaches, 3 strawberries and 1/2 a banana with coconut milk. The basil and banana are sweet enough I don’t miss adding sugar.  Basic greens could include kale, chard, beet greens or collard greens, romaine lettuce and arugula.

Now that it’s fall, I still have lots of chard and kale left from summer.  My kale is 5’ tall and I have underplanted them with bok choy starts and more kale starts.  I’m not harvesting my kale until after the first frosts hit.  I’m told the kale from this summer will sweeten with the cold and taste even better. Here are the kale varieties I’m growing right now:   Italian heirloom Lacinato, (it’s sometimes called Black Kale) Winterbor, Red Ursa.  I still have lots of rainbow chard and I continue to harvest the largest outside leaves so the plants don’t get huge. They are about 1 foot high at maximum.  If you are a beginner, chard is easy and prolific.

It's amazing how much food you can grow in a 4x8 raised bed.

It’s amazing how much food you can grow in a 4×8 raised bed.

In addition to smoothies, greens are so great in soups.  I use a pressure cooker to make soup quickly and I pick easy recipes because I’m really not the cook in my family.

My brother is the hot shot cook in our family and I was always outside in the garden with my dad. My favorite recipe is Ethiopian – Inspired Red Lentil Soup.  I’m going to grow my greens and use them  for as long as I can this winter.  If I bought the greens each week at a grocery store it would easily cost $100.00 in a month so I’m saving money too.