Archive for Garden Tips

How A Garden Helps Your Family By Helping Bees

Portland Residential Landscape Designer How A Garden Helps Your Family By Helping Bees

As a parent, you work hard to help your family. That means you have to look out for their welfare. And believe it or not, that includes helping bees.

These insects do a lot for your family, but they are disappearing at an alarming rate. Thankfully, your family can support bees by creating a garden. Not only will this help them thrive, it’s fun for you and your children. But first, you need to understand why a dwindling bee population is a problem.

Bees Are Vital To Your Food Supply

The secret to why bees are so important is one word: cross-pollination. This is when pollen from one plant gets to a new plant. Pollination is what creates seeds to grow a new generation.

This is where bees come in. As they fly from flower to flower, they cross-pollinate plants. National Honey Bee Day tells us that 50%-80% of the food supply depends directly or indirectly on pollination by bees. Some of the crops that depend on bees for new seeds each year are apples, watermelons, coffee, strawberries, and even plants used by cattle as food.

That’s why this is a big problem for your family. Without bees and pollination, many foods your family enjoys will either get very expensive or disappear altogether.

Creating A Bee-Friendly Garden

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Lavandula stoeches ‘Winter Bee’

Thankfully, your family can do something to keep those foods on the table. It starts with a garden.

Bees need flowers for food. The more flowers they can find, the healthier they can become. This leads to more bees, helping their numbers get back to where they used to be. That’s why your family can help by creating a garden at home that bees will love.

Beverly Bees has several tips for helping your garden work for this.

  • You can pick flowering herbs (basil, mint, sage), flowering vegetables (broccoli, cucumbers, strawberries), or just flowers.
  • Group the same plants together in the bed to make them more attractive to bees.
  • Pick plants that bloom at different times of the season so bees have a constant food supply.
  • Late winter and early spring plants are harder for most people to plan for.  Here is Carol’s blog about flowers for winter bees.

When you visit your local garden supply store, it might help to know some terms about gardens and landscaping in general. HomeAdvisor.com has a great glossary of these terms so you know what you’re talking about.

Health Benefits Of Gardening

Garden Design Portland Building a garden will help bees stay healthier, but your family will benefit from it as well. Organic Life explains five surprising ways gardening can help your family’s health:

  1. Reducing stress and anxiety.
  2. Decreasing risks of heart disease and diabetes.
  3. It improves happiness.
  4. It cuts the risk of Alzheimer’s by half.
  5. It improves sleep.

Gardening can also improve everyone’s self-esteem. This activity reduces cortisol in the body, which helps you feel better about yourself. In fact, just seeing your garden growing can help people feel like they did something helpful.

A Garden For Bees And Your Family

If too many bees disappear, a lot of food your family enjoys will get more expensive or even vanish. That’s why building a garden to feed bees can help. Plus, just making a garden can do wonderful things for your family. Who’s ready to get dirty?

Trees for Portland Residential Landscape Design in Woodstock neighborhood

Portland residential landscape design

Young Japanese elm in Woodstock neighborhood

Trees for Portland Residential Landscape Design in Woodstock neighborhood

One September afternoon while in Portland’s Woodstock neighborhood I  drove by a former client’s home. My clients had moved, and I was curious to see how the design (installed a dozen years ago) had held up. Once clients move I rarely have continuance with the landscape.  

This drive by is a mixed bag.

Shade Tree for the backyard

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The shade tree for the back yard is absolutely perfect, and exactly what I had envisioned. This is the part of drive bys I like the best. I used a Japanese Elm – Zelkova serrata variety called ‘Wireless’ because it’s one of the few shade trees that is compatible with lawn and ‘Wireless’ is the perfect shape and size to provide shade for city landscapes.

Their leaves are smaller than most shade trees and allow dapples of sunlight through the canopy to the lawn while filtering out the heat. The exaggerated vase shape of the tree also allows light to come in under the tree in the morning and late afternoon.  This tree provides shade to the south facing deck and the back of the house. It will get over 30’ wide at the top. It matures at 25’ tall so it is a tree that will be wider than it is tall.

If you are a discerning shade aficionado you will say hmmm…… the shade tree doesn’t have low branches so how can you sit on the back deck and have dinner without being blinded by the south sun? We kept a mature mixed hedge at the back of the property and it will block those dinner hour sun rays. The shade tree will filter the hottest sun of the day.

Privacy Screen Planting for side yard

Garden Design PortlandLess successful is the privacy screen planting for the side yard.  I used a narrow variety of Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus ‘Franz Fontaine’) to block the view of the neighbor’s driveway and their vehicles and also to create an attractive view from the bedroom Affordable Landscaping Portlandwindows. For the design to be functional, the Hornbeam would need to be pruned once or twice a year to become a 10’ narrow wall of thick leaves. The maintenance did not happen since my clients moved.  Now the side yard privacy screen is wildly out of scale and the charm is gone.

Success with Crape Myrtle in Portland Landscape Designs

Residential Landscape Design PortlandLandscaping with Crape Myrtle in Portland

I responded to a request for help from clients in Northeast Portland who were concerned their crape myrtle trees planted two years ago were not healthy because they didn’t flower. They had done their research on crape myrtle but unfortunately not from a source familiar with their trees cultural needs or growth patterns here in the Willamette Valley.

Let me knock a few myths out of the way to save you the same unease and help get our crape myrtle trees off to a good start.

  1. Crape myrtle are drought tolerant so don’t ever water them. Not so!

Latest wisdom is to water them deeply with a drip irrigation or soaker hose once every 10 days. Touch the soil with your hands down a few inches to ensure you are not over watering. It should be moist and then as you get closer to the time to water again it should be almost dry. When they have been growing for ten years in your landscape they might become very low water needs.

I like to design plant companions for the crape myrtle that have the same water needs. In this garden I have crape myrtle with Chinese Camellia – Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ and American Switch grass-Panicum virgatum ‘Shenendoah’. The clients added ground cover sedum.  None of the plants near the tree need to be watered more than once a week ever after except perhaps for their first summer. A splash of hose water once a week is not at all what I am talking about, I am talking about slowly applied water and preferably drip system or soaker hose.

  1. Fertilize if you want a lot of flowers, that’s true for all plants, right? Not so!

First off, nothing is true for all plants. There are plenty of plants that are harmed by fertilizer so tuck that behind your ear for a future conversation. We typically have fertile soil here in the Willamette Valley, so I would never fertilize crape myrtle beyond adding garden compost to the soil once a year as a top dressing. Adding fertilizer will work against your goal of having flowers.A  young crape myrtle in SE Portland landscaping.

  1. You must dead head (pinch off) all the spent flowers. No way!!

If I had to deadhead crape myrtle flowers, it would take a bazillion hours and eventually a ladder.  Nope, you don’t need to deadhead. When your tree is young, and you get a heavy crop of flowers you might want to thin out some flowers to prevent the young branches from breaking.

  1.  Flower timing will depend on our summer temperatures. True.

It’s got to be hot enough and stay warm even at night to kick off the flowering of crape myrtle here in the Willamette Valley. If we have a cool June which we do sometimes, the flowers will be delayed until it’s been warm enough for long enough. For a deeper dig into crape myrtle read what Paul Bonine says in Pacific Horticulture magazine.  He’s my expert! 

Sleep-Creep-Leap

These clients came from California, a climate where plants grow fast. They were not familiar with the saying “Sleep-Creep-Leap” which describes typical plant growth for the first three years.

A  crape myrtle in the late Portland summer. Photo by Carol LindsayOnce roots are well established many plants grow fast and then after many years, they slow their growth. Just to be perverse, some plants grow slowly when young and then after they are a decade old, they grow much faster. It depends on the genetic makeup of each plant as to its growth rate.  Generally, it takes 3 years of root growth in a plant to get to leap.

Patience in our culture is a revolutionary idea. Contact me if you have more questions on your landscaping.

More Blueberry Heaven: Never-Fail Varieties for Portland Landscapes

Perfect Plumpness in Blueberry cluster Portland Garden Designer

Never-Fail Blueberry Varieties for Portland Gardens

A few more thoughts on choosing blueberry plants. Last time we discussed some basics for choosing blueberries. I give you a larger selection to consider and continue to encourage the purchase of big plants.

Here’s a list of blueberries we know will do well in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington State—and tickle your taste buds. The listings summarize variety name, maximum height, harvest time and fall color.

Blueberry Varieties for Portland Landscapes

  • Bluecrop, 6 feet, July, red leaf and stems, tall enough for a hedge
  • Spartan, 4 feet, July, hot orange fall color
  • Patriot, 5 feet, early July, hot orange fall color
  • Olympia, 4 feet, late July, light red fall color, tolerates clay
  • Sierra, 8 feet, August, light red winter twigs, great for privacy
  • Sunshine Blue, 3 feet, August, blue-green (evergreen)
  • Bountiful Blue, 3 feet, August, blue-green (evergreen)
  • Liberty, 8 feet, August/September, red-orange, privacy screen
  • Legacy, 6 feet, August/September, hot red-orange

Now that you have information about specific varieties, here are some more hints to help you choose wisely for your garden:

  • Think—and order—ahead. For example, ‘Sierra’ and ‘Liberty’ are still hard to find and might need to be ordered. Contact your favorite nursery in January to inquire about the varieties you want, so they have time to respond or include your request in their orders. Portland Nursery, Farmington Gardens or Cornell Farms will be glad to work with you.
  • Mail order.   One Green World  If you have fallen in love with the flavor of a particular variety of blueberry, be prepared to wait 5 years for a big crop since mail order typically means a small plant.
  • Buy the biggest plants you can afford.   One-gallon plants take too long to yield a decent crop, so splurge if you can and buy bigger plants. I talked with Jim at Portland Nursery about getting big blueberry plants. They get regular shipments of 5-gallon sized plants throughout the year.
  • Blueberry and Dragonfly in Portland Residential Garden - Landscape Design In A Day.Clients wish they had bought bigger plants.  My clients, Jim and Jodi, just bought a home and I completed our second Landscape Design in a Day. Six years ago (at their old house) they bought and planted 1-gallon blueberry plants. Although their then puppy contributed to the stunted growth, by chewing on the canes and peeing on them, he shouldn’t take all the blame. They moved just before they got a great crop. This time they are going to buy big blueberry plants to start with. Remember we are buying time when we buy a bigger plant.
  • Learn basic pruning. Pruning is an important part of being happy with your blueberries (and vice versa). It’s easy, and proper pruning will increase your yield dramatically. There are many good sources for learning the tricks. However, there is no substitute for having someone show you how, putting the pruners in your hands and having you do the pruning. That’s the best way because it sticks in both your mind and muscle-memory.
  • Two Videos.  Here are two videos to help you: OSU Extension Services     University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Yes, getting those berries into your cereal bowl requires time, patience and a bit of training. But, conjure up the fragrance or flavor of a memorable blueberry encounter, and you’ll agree that the effort is worth it. After all, growing blueberries is easy compared to many other fruit plants.

Next time we will look at some of the newest varieties of blueberry. If you are ready to design your Portland garden, contact me to set up an appointment.


Fun in the sun: Keeping your yard safe for kids and pets

Checking for Landscape Safety Hazards

Checking your Residential Landscape Design for Hazards in Portland.

Your kids spend the cold and wet Portland winter months cooped up inside, looking for things to do and ways to burn off a whole lot of pent-up energy. When the weather finally warms up in the spring, it’s a mad rush for bicycles, balls and frisbees. Children know only that it’s finally warm enough to play outside; they’re not thinking about potential yard hazards from winter. If you haven’t examined your home’s exterior carefully, your kids, their friends and your pets may be at risk for a mishap that could turn a long-awaited romp in the yard into a trip to the local ER. While most trips turn into a great story for the kids to tell their pals, it’s hair raising while it is happening.

Checking for safety hazards

You wouldn’t turn your kids loose in your basement or a rumpus room you hadn’t checked for safety hazards. You should approach your yard the same way because children and the family dog are going to spend a lot of time out there.

Trees and shrubs

Clearing away yard debris  (fallen branches and sharp twigs) from winter storms, is easy to think of but looking up into your trees to ensure there are no broken but still hanging branches is a less obvious task.  Loose branches are a danger to children playing under or near a tree and should be cut down and removed. It’s hard to see these loose branches once the trees are fully leafed.  Also, check the ground around trees for unexplained disturbed soil, or excessive limb-drop.  Either of these are a sign to call an ISA certified arborist to check on the health of your trees.

ShrubsIce on Joe Pye Weed in Portland landscape. and small trees can encroach into path and patio areas. Check that branches are not protruding into paths especially at eye level of small children and adults.  While not all shrubs can be pruned in late winter and early spring, a single branch or two can and should be removed even when you are not sure about the proper timing for pruning.

Fall Landscape Hazards

Lichen and moss build up on walkways, patios and decks which makes the area super slick and slimy.  They must be scrubbed, or pressure washed multiple times in winter and spring especially on the north side of the house or in shady areas.  Be sure your lighting for your entry walk is functional especially if you live on a street with no street lights.  The lighting needs to extend to the area where your guests park.

Dog friendly landscape designer PortlandExamine the equipment

Your swing set and other play equipment look especially inviting to eager children throughout the winter. Take a few minutes to check it thoroughly before the kids swarm all over it. Make certain that there are no sharp points or edges, or exposed and rusty nails or screws that could cause a dangerous cut. Chains should be secure, and any stakes or stabilizing devices that keep the frame anchored to the ground should be tightly fastened to the ground.

If your swing set is made of wood, keep it stained and sealed to minimize fragments and prevent weather damage. If you didn’t store away detachable components, such as vinyl connecting parts, make sure they haven’t worn down to the point of breaking. Remember that all play equipment should be surrounded by sand, mulch or soft synthetic material to guard against injury.

Patios and wooden decks

Ice, rain and wind can do a lot of residual damage to a deck during the winter. Wooden planks and railings produce fragments and splinters, a danger to kids and pets. That’s why wooden decks should be stained and sealed at least every two years and they will last longer too. The heavy winter rains can wash away soil and undermine paths, patios and walls or re direct water to your foundation.  Sometimes these changes happen slowly over a few years, but spring is a great time to assess water issues on your property.

Diligence and maintenance

If there’s one place your children and pets should be safe from harm, it’s their own backyard. Keeping them safe as they play and roam outside is a relatively simple task – it just requires diligence and routine cleaning and maintenance. Doing a thorough check of your property in spring is a great time to do this.  It’s well worth it to see your little ones enjoying themselves outdoors after a long winter.

If your Portland area yard is overwhelming you, contact me for help with your residential landscape.