Archive for Garden Tips – Page 2

Native Plants for Small City Landscapes

Native Plants for Drought Tolerant City Landscaping

NW Native plant Sword fern is drought tolerant.

NW native plant Sword fern can be planted in less than ideal soil with good results.

People dream of a landscape that will need no watering.  Sometimes because they think it will be less work but more likely these days they recognize that water or the lack of it is a problem that will continue to grow.  Like the Brits in World War II they want to do their bit to help with a very real problem.

One way to have a no water landscape is to use NW native plants that are drought tolerant.  Here are some tips to help you have more success.

What size of plants to plant

They will establish better with a bigger root ball.  Expect 15 to 20 percent of your plants to fail.  Try not to take it personally.  Natives are a little more particular than other plants.  Use 2 gallon sized plants not 4 inch or 1 gallon for best results with native plants like Salal-Gaultheria shallon, Ocean Spray-Holodiscus discolor, Huckleberry-Vaccinium ovatum, Current-Ribes sanguineum or the favorite native of all, Vine Maple-Acer circinatum.

Sword fern can be smaller

If you are planting Sword fern Polystichum munitum, save your money and buy smaller plants, like a 1 gallon.  Sword fern can also be planted in less than ideal soil with good results.  It’s the only NW native plant that doesn’t need careful soil preparation.  I’ve transplanted it from my woods and had it play dead for over one full year.  It came up the second year and was back to a three foot wide fern by the third year.  Fascinating.  This plant can be killed but one would have to work at it.  It can tolerate summer water and will look more attractive watered when planted in a sunny area.  In shady areas it has looked quite attractive without a drop of summer water by the third year.

Pacific Madrone for drought tolerant landscaping.

Pacific Madrone – Arbutus menziesii
has recently been approved for City of Portland street trees.

Madrone must be smaller

Madrone-Arbutus menziesii is perfect for a no water landscape and is very picky about how and  where it is planted.  This is because unlike most trees it has a tap root so it does not thrive in a pot for long.  In the past I’ve only successfully planted a 6 inch tall plant. Recently friends of trees has found a way to grow them to about 5′ feet tall and plant them in parking strips.  They are a needed plant for hosting rare butterflies so if this succeeds it will be very exciting. Two important tips for success with your new Madrone; water sparingly the first summer, and do not ever fertilize.  After the first summer is over, never water your Madrone again.  Don’t plant anything else within ten feet that needs summer water and don’t prune your Madrone.  It’s a beauty that requires planned neglect for success.  At this time I do not have a retail source for the larger Madrone.  If you want one, buy the 6″ size at a native plant sale.  They grow surprisingly fast.

Native Oregon drought tolerant Vine Maple with Single Trunk.

Vine maple with single trunk fits small city landscapes. Multiple stemmed trees will get too wide.

Vine Maple-Acer Circinatum

The most typical mistake I see in small city landscapes is multi stem Vine maples horribly disfigured with poor pruning because they got too big. Most small city landscapes are not big enough for a multi stem or clump version of Vine maple – Acer circinatum.  Instead I select a single trunk Vine maple from one of my wholesale growers.  A single trunk tree will not get too wide.

When to plant NW native plants

Plant in fall for best results with native plants.  Planting in late winter and early spring works almost as well.  Planting in mid spring or summer will require more summer watering and some natives have an adverse reaction to summer water but their roots are not established well enough to go without water for the first summer so it’s a dilemma.

Avoid this dilemma by planting in the fall or early spring.

Native Huckleberry used in drought tolerant landscaping.

Evergreen Huckleberry used as a screen in SW Portland.

Evergreen Huckleberry comes in two sizes (sort of)

Evergreen Huckleberry-Vaccinium ovatum is almost like two different plants.  Planted in a sunny area it grows slowly to 4’ tall and perhaps 3’ wide.  While it will continue to grow and get a little  bigger each year, it’s very slow growing.  Compare it with the same plant in part shade to heavily dappled shade and it grows faster and is often in  the 6 to 8 foot tall by as wide.  People use the berries in muffins, pancakes and jam.  The flavor is mild from plants in low elevations and more flavorful in higher elevations.  Birds will eat them but don’t tend to use them for baked goods.

Soil Preparation

Most NW Native plants need well prepared soil.  Some need fertile soil, some need a sandy soil but almost all of them need well drained soil.  I find most directions on how to prepare soil for NW natives quite complex.  It is doable.  If you are DIY, here is a web site that might be helpful.  http://plantnative.org/how_siteprep.htm

NW Native Flowering Current for drought tolerant landscaping.

Flowering current – Ribes sanguineum is a spring pick me up for people and nectar for hummingbirds.

How to Kill your plants

Plant too deep – Dig the hole several inches deeper than the root ball of the new plant.  Plant them in the lowest area of your property.

Water them every day their first summer.  They might live a few months but will die in their first winter even if you only over watered them in the summer.

Best Practice

Dig the hole twice as wide but only as deep as the root ball of the new plant.  Plant 1” too high and bring soil to the plant.  Water carefully the first summer.  A slow soak rather than daily light sprinkles of water is best.   Mulch the plant in the fall and spring, don’t fertilize.

Drought tolerant native Sword Fern in Sun.

NW Native Sword fern – Polystichum munitum has upright fronds in sun and horizontal low fronds in shade.

Mix of NW Native Plants and Non Native Plants

As a Portland landscape designer, when I have clients who want no water landscapes, I tend to mix other plants with NW native plants.  My list for a full sun area might look like this:  Spanish lavender, dwarf Manzanita groundcovers,  Oat grass, heather, California lilac, true dwarf pines, smoke tree, madrone,  Grama grass, dwarf Fountain grasses, Rosemary, Hebe, stepables like Elfin Pink Thyme.

If you are looking for drought tolerant landscaping, contact Carol for more information on Oregon native plants.

 

Dog Joy – Shady City Backyards with Dogs

Dog joy – Shady city backyards with dogs

Is your shady city backyard with dogs a mud pit? This blog is dedicated to dog joy.  It’s time to stop getting mad at your dog for bringing mud and dirt into your house.  They can tell we are mad even if we try to hide it.  After all, we don’t really expect them to go outside and not get their feet dirty do we?

Roxy laying in the flower bed

Even dogs like to sit outside and enjoy the flowers. Roxy has a synthetic lawn.

Typically the failed lawn is not your fault.  Let me spell out the facts as a Portland residential landscape designer sees them.

Re-sale Lawn

When you  bought this house, there was a thriving lawn.  You cannot get it to look as good as it did when you moved in.  There could be many reasons, but my favorite is what I call the re-sale lawn;  the former home owner had new lawn installed to put the house on the market.  It looked good just long enough to get the house sold.  Your dog has contributed to the demise of the lawn but that was only part of the problem.

Tree Canopies and Roots

Trees grow and provide more and more shade as they mature.  Lawns require sun.  Even 5 years of tree canopy growth is enough to reduce the sunlight.  Sun is the number 1 food for lawns. Your lawn is sun starved.

Tree roots take up an insane volume of water.  Your lawn needs lots of water, which you provide but it is going to the trees.

Over time your lawn has lost the two things it requires to grow and thrive.  You can replace it, reseed the bare spots, fertilize 6 times a year but it won’t work.  Happiness and a mud free yard await your consideration if you can let go of the backyard lawn as you once thought of it.

Your landscape designer can create a solution for a shady city backyard.

I swear I would not bring this up if I didn’t have solutions, and this issue comes up in about half of my landscape designs each year.

Fiber ex cedar chip path

Fiber Ex cedar chips make a great lawn alternative.

No Lawn Dog Friendly Landscape in the Backyard

Playground Cedar Chips

You don’t have to have a lawn in a small shady backyard. Many dogs are perfectly happy with wide paths or areas of cedar chips.  It’s easy to incorporate cedar chips into an attractive Northwest Natural or Asian Style Landscape.

Professional playground cedar chips laid 4 to 6 inches deep is very effective.  My favorite is Fiber Ex by Rexius Forest Products, will last for years and is my most affordable solution.  The chips work well with even with large dogs and you can’t get much bigger than Newfoundland dogs.  My clients Kurt and Jackie are still thrilled with their cedar chip areas for their back yard (going on a decade now). I will note that multiple large active dogs in small yards will kick up mounds or holes in the cedar chip applications which requires raking it back out semi-regularly.

Synthetic Lawn

Other clients are using synthetic lawn quite happily with their pets. It looks good…you don’t need to water, fertilize or mow.    Even large dogs can romp and chase the ball.  It’s easy to clean up dog poo.  I am installing a synthetic lawn this year on my 10’ x 10’ roof garden/balcony.  We (Daizzie and I) are both going to love the convenience and I like the look.

Exercise your dog at the park

Some clients with very small backyards decide to make the backyard be for people and to hang out with our pets.  They  (the dogs) need a discreet potty place but exercise and leaving liquid social messages for other dogs, happens at the dog park or on walks. The landscape design focuses on entertaining areas, privacy and plantings.

Uchytil dog laying in planting box

A small area of  lawn works well for this client’s dog.

Shade grass seed

There are seed strains out there that say they are shade tolerant but trust me…..it’s not happening.  If the shade is very light there might be some lawns that will be thick enough for small dogs and people to use but  typically shade and dogs means mud without intervention.

Give yourself a break and look at lawn alternatives or contact me for a dog friendly landscape design that will make you happy and give your dog joy.

 

 

 

Coreopsis colorful easy low-water plantings

Tickseed - Coreopsis Bengal Tiger Photo Terra Nova Nurseries

Tickseed – Coreopsis ‘Bengal Tiger’  Photo Terra Nova Nurseries

Coreopsis colorful easy low-water plantings

As a Portland landscape designer I use Coreopsis verticillata and its’ cultivars because it’s a perfect colorful, low maintenance plant for modern landscape designs, bee friendly gardens, cottage gardens, container gardens and low-water plantings.

Clients love it because it flowers for such a long time from summer into fall.  Coreopsis is beloved.

I wrote this blog to help clients understand which Coreopsis will live for years and which ones will not.   Coreopsis verticillata is one of about five species of Coreopsis that are native to the United States.   Many people feel  that Coreopsis verticillata will grow too wide after about five years and will need to be divided.  A lot of my younger clients are so focused on low-maintenance plants that I typically don’t include any plants that need to be divided in their plans.  I still have this old-fashioned idea that I can provide a planting plan where all the plants will last 20 years and the trees forever.   However, if I really stick to that I’m shorting my busy young clients of some plants that are going to do very well for a long enough period of time. Digging up a plant every five years chopping it in half, tossing half of it or giving it away, and then re-planting half of it is less work than having  to buy a new plant.

So if you are still interested in a low maintenance easy plant that has to be divided read on.

Bee friendly flower

Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’ is perfect for a bee friendly garden.

Another asset, Coreopsis verticillata hits its color stride after all the May and June flowers have faded in the heat.  I am still picking flowers for my bathroom posy in late September.  It’s a perfect fit for a bee friendly garden. You could start your bee feeding year with winter flowering heather, then Spanish lavender then English lavender and finish the year with Coreopsis.

I personally use Coreopsis in small bathroom bouquets. I love it’s ferny foliage texture and the strong zap of color.  But it’s a great addition to any flower arrangement.  They are so cheerful.

Here are some trustworthy choices easily available at most nurseries.

Coreopsis verticillata varieties

‘Creme Brule’ versus ‘Moonbeam’

When ‘Moonbeam’ came out in the 1990’s it was possibly the most popular perennial of all times. Nurseries could not keep it in stock. It has dark green ferny foliage while ‘Creme Brule’  has a bright emerald green ferny foliage. ‘Creme Brule’ is taller and has a soft yellow flower which is larger than ‘Moonbeam’.  The stems are stronger as well but while many claim that ‘Creme Brule’ is more mildew resistant, I have not found this to be true.   ‘Creme Brule’ tends to have flowers from the lower stems to the top which I find attractive. ‘Moonbeam’ tends to carry the flowers only at the top of the plant. ‘Moonbeam’ will be a little cheaper as it’s been around longer in the nurseries then ‘Creme Brule’. They are both great plants.

‘Zagreb’: is named for the capital of Croatia.  When you think of the trouble those people have been through and have persevered it makes sense that this plant carries that name. This plant is incredibly yellow and tough. I don’t typically recommend it because I have had problems with it reseeding and making a nuisance of its’ self in some areas.  I use it for incredibly difficult environments where having it spread won’t matter. Obviously, this would not work for small city landscapes except as a low maintenance mass planting.        

Coreopsis verticillate ‘Bengal Tiger’  Photo credit Terra Nova

‘Bengal Tiger’: select this plant for the amazing color contrast of red and gold. It is similar to a plant called ‘Route 66’.  The flowers on ‘Bengal Tiger’ will be more consistent whereas the flowers on ‘Route 66’ will be very different from each other on the same plant which some people feel looks a little muddy.

How to care for Coreopsis Verticillata

Plant in a well draining soil or up on a berm.  I’ve seen this plant do well at the edge of a lawn too.  To keep it flowering cut the plant back by half in mid summer. I have cut back ‘Moonbeam’ Coreopsis up to 3 times in one summer to keep it flowering until fall.

How to kill a Coreopsis

To kill this plant, plant it in a low spot with heavy mucky clay and it will die or over water it.  It comes back in the late spring so don’t be fooled and start to dig it up and kill it.  Be patient.  The dark green foliage is lacy and can be hard to see when the tiny shoots first emerge from the soil.

Companion plantings

I like to plant Coreopsis verticillata varieties with low water plants like Yucca ‘Golden Ribbon’, Caryopteris ‘Blue Mist’.  It’s a great texture complement to ornamental grasses like American Switch Grass, ‘Heavy Metal’ or Blue Oat Grass.  A mass planting of Coreopsis in the foreground with dwarf conifers and a  ‘Gilt Edge’ Silverberry shrub in the background is a very simple low maintenance plant composition.  For the cottage garden you can’t beat Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ with Nepeta cat mint and shrub roses like ‘Happy Chappy’ or David Austin rose ‘Graham Thomas’.

There are a lot of different species of Coreopsis out there and it’s buyer beware.  You have to pay attention to the names of the plants because there are some Coreopsis that make a nuisance of themselves and will seed all over your yard.   Many Coreopsis varieties are short lived so I tend to stick with these five. My Portland garden design clients love this plant for low maintenance, low water, and color in the summer landscape.

Ornamental Grass in the Landscape

Ornamental Grass in the Landscape – Bad Grass Good Grass

Xeriscape Planting Landscape Design in a Day

Good grass like Pennisetum Alocuroides ‘Little Bunny’ – Dwarf Fountain Grass is drought tolerant along with Stepable Thymus Pracox ‘Elfin Pink’,  a nearly flat Thyme groundcover.

Designers love to use ornamental grasses to add structure and seasonal interest. They have instant appeal and we designers are suckers for plants that soften pathways and make a dramatic statement.  They are a staple in modern landscape style. However, grasses have a bad reputation.

Hate Weeding?

I’ve had to reassure more than one new client the grasses I use don’t spread or reseed. My years of experience with plants means I’m slow to use the untested new plants, including grasses.  I’ve seen too many new industry introductions (plants) that looked like a good thing turn into thugs after a few years in a garden. Most of my clients say they dislike weeding over all outdoor chores so I shun plants with potential for adding weeding to the maintenance list.

Researching New Plant Material

Edited Salvia-Raspberry-Delight-Bouteloua-Blonde-Ambition-web

Salvia ‘Raspberry Delight’ with Good Grass Bouteloua Gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ Photo credit High Country Gardens

I’m writing this blog during my winter break when I research new plants and prepare for another busy year designing Portland gardens. I confess to being a teeny bit bored with my tried and true grasses.

I was quizzing a couple of my landscape designer buddies about new ornamental grasses.  I discovered they are sticking to the tried and true grasses and not using any new risky plants in their designs either. Here I was thinking they might be experimenting with new plants and that I was getting behind! Nope they are nervous nellies about using an unknown too.  We see what happens when a client buys some new cute plant only to have it take up a forever place all over the property…

Beautiful Bad Grass – Mexican Feather Grass

Edited Mexican Feather Grass

Beautiful bad grass – Mexican Feather Grass Stippa Tenuissima. Photo credit Proven Winners

Designers are concerned about grasses that seed and make weed problems for our clients.  The Mexican Feather (Stippa Tenuissima) Grasses are highly desirable because they are so finely textured the slightest breeze sends them into graceful sway. They are over the top beautiful! They can seed some or a lot and they are the darlings for xeriscape or low water gardens.  This grass is perfect for many dry and hot natural areas in California and (so naturally enough) it is on their noxious weed list.

This Bad Grass is so good in Modern Design

I don’t use Mexican Feather Grass but I have wanted to…they are unique, beautifully blowzy and are a stunner for modern minimalist designs.   I have a local gardener pal who has them in her large Portland modern garden design to fantastic effect. People who are gardeners with a capital G may keep up with weeding out the unwanted grass seedlings. Still, all it would take is a distraction, health problem, or too much over time, and this grass would be seeding into a new planting bed at your property and then your neighbors! Part of hiring an experienced designer is the safety margin we bring to the design process.

Beautiful Good Grass Blue Grama ‘Blonde Ambition’ 

Edited blonde ambition

Bouteloua Gracilis or Blue Grama Grass ‘Blonde Ambition’ moves in the breeze like living art.

Bouteloua Gracilis or Blue Grama Grass ‘Blonde Ambition’ relieves my boredom in a flash and is a great substitute for the wildly popular Mexican Feather Grass. Discovered by David Salman of High Country Gardens, this plant has all the drama of Mexican Feather Grass but won’t seed around.   It’s very dramatic looking with a flower head that juts to one side like an eyebrow.  It’s evergreen and moves beautifully in the breeze so it’s not just a plant, it’s living art.

Low Maintenance

Cut it down in February to two inches tall, scuff the crown of the plant and pull away any loose grass stalks from the crown.  It will thrive in a lighter soil mix with lots of sun.  It prefers no fertilizer, low water and can be fully drought tolerant after established.  To kill Blue Grama Grass, plant it in heavy clay and over water it.  I’m excited about adding this good grass to xeriscaping planting plans in the coming year.

Mental Health Benefits of Gardening

Growing a new Perspective on Mental Health

Tending the land to grow your own vegetables is an exceptional way to improve your diet, but access to unprocessed food at your doorstep isn’t the only reason to dig in the dirt. A recent study published by ScienceDirect clearly outlines the fact gardening has a positive effect on both physical and mental health.  As a Portland landscape designer  I often hear my landscape design clients talk about how good it  feels to engage in growing edibles, putter with plants and relax in their landscapes.  Maria Cannon is my guest blogger today and explains more about the mental health benefits of gardening.

Gardening reduces stress and anxiety

It is well accepted that sunlight is one natural element that can help keep depression at bay. However, gardening offers a double whammy where feel-good chemical production is concerned. Certain studies have found that Mycobacterium, which is found in soil, can actually trigger the brain to release serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter that is largely responsible for mood stabilization.

Tip: A home garden is the perfect place to grow cherry tomatoes, Swiss chard, blue potatoes, and oregano, which are all known to contain compounds that help fight depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

Gardening can decrease a person’s risk of diabetes and heart disease

Gardening is a physical activity that can be enjoyed by people of virtually all fitness levels. A 150-pound woman can burn nearly 300 calories working in the garden for an hour. This type of work offers the body the opportunity to build muscle and sweat, both of which are important for overall health. The combination of eating fresh, organic vegetables and the added physical activity can help decrease the risk of certain health conditions, including heart disease and diabetes. Chronic illness such as these are also linked to mental health issues like stress and depression.

 Working outdoors encourages family time

Working the land is a labor of love that can be instilled in children from an early age. And, since gardening affects the brain, spending time outdoors with the kids is not only good for parents but can help prevent depression in their smallest little landscapers. Another positive side effect of growing a vegetable or flower garden is that it encourages family time which can also help boost mood and ward off signs of depression and other mental health issues.

Tip: Gardening with children promotes positive communication skills which will last through adulthood and improve social function.

Gardening can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease

Depression is one of the least discussed concerns of aging, particularly in those with Alzheimer’s disease. Engaging in horticultural activities can help keep the brain sharp and potentially slow the progression of dementia in elderly patients. A recent study found that physical activities, including gardening, can help cut a person’s risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by nearly 50%.

Low Maintenance Itoh Peony

Itoh Peony variety, ‘Cora Louise’

Tip: Plant a flower garden to create a bright, colorful, and fragrant environment that will help treat the mind, body, and soul.

The act of harvesting releases dopamine

While society today no longer has to rely on hunter/gatherers for food, the brain continues to release dopamine during the harvest. It is hypothesized that this response evolved more than 200,000 years ago when ancient peoples saw large stores of food, which meant the survival of their community. This biologic function lingers on today, even when harvesting small gardens. Additionally, the harvest creates a feeling of self-satisfaction and accomplishment which can go a long way for someone battling depression.

Tip: Engage in a harvest celebration with friends and family to amplify the enjoyment received from the picking process.

According to the American Horticultural Therapy Association, horticultural therapy has been used successfully since Dr. Benjamin Rush first discovered a link between gardening and mental health. Therapeutic gardens are used across the nation to help rehabilitate people suffering cognitive disorders and a host of other physical and mental health concerns.