Archive for Spring Gardening

My Spring Veggie Garden

My Spring Veggie Garden

I’m trying some new things to improve my early spring garden this year.

Carol standing at the entrance to community garden at Rocky Pointe Marina 7 23 2014

Community garden at Rocky Pointe Marina

Early Spring Garden

Overall I’m happy with my edibles  garden experience but I miss out on the early spring garden because I don’t get my plants into the ground soon enough.  My landscape design work is seasonal and by February I’m so busy it’s too late for me to get organized for my personal garden. I’ve been vague about planting start dates.  Is it still too cold?  What is the last frost date?  This year instead of wondering about it, I’m using the Portland Nursery calendar to get out of vague and into organized.

Buying veggie starts

I called my favorite place to buy starts so I’ll know when I can purchase.  Turns out they use the same calendar and will have my starts for mustard greens, kale, collards and more by March.  My grandmother was very thrifty and every penny counted.  Her huge vegetable garden was one of the ways she contributed to her family income.  I’m playing.  The amount of greens I go through in my kitchen is significant but would not break the bank if I bought them.

Carol's winter kale

My garden supplies me with year round greens like kale.

I buy 80 percent of my plants as starts  in 4 and 6 packs.  I don’t have room in my house for setting up seeds and starts provide instant gratification and cover my soil quickly.  My neighbor Betty grows a lot of interesting plants from seed for fun.  I often benefit.  I grow spring greens from seed in my tabletop salad garden and I can start seeds for my favorite smoothie green, arugula in late February.  If it’s too cold I’m out the cost of seeds.  I sow spring greens seeds every two or three weeks until mid June.  I will purchase veggie starts for my summer garden and plant them in May and do starts again in late summer for my fall garden.

Soil Test

I’m doing a soil test this year which I’ve not done before.  My root vegetables don’t do well and I’m curious about lead.  I understand that adding certain nutrients can help lock up some of the lead in the soil.   I hope to dig out one of my beds, lay down a weed barrier and a metal grid.  Why?  One reason is to keep the ground soil which probably does have some lead in it (the garden is below Hwy 30), separate from my nice new clean soil, and the 2nd is to keep the gopher or mole from bringing that soil up into my garden and keep them from moving the soil around and messing up the roots of my plants!!  It’s a lot of physical work so I’m only going to do one bed, probably with help this year.

That’s my plan, we will see what happens!

grafted tomatoes

My husband Bob harvesting tomatoes on our floating home.

My favorite place for vegetable starts is City Farm on N. Lombard.  They grow their veggie starts in a nearby greenhouse. New Seasons often has great veggie starts.  Cornell Farms is serious about their veggie starts so you can expect a good selection.  Portland Nursery, Garden Fever, Livingstone……..lots of choices for every part of town.

Tempting Red Hellebore Flowers for Winter Cheer

Popular Double Hellebore From Englands Ashwood Ashwood Garden Hybrids

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Ashwood Double BiColor Shades’ grown here in the NW by Monrovia.

Tempting Red Hellebore Flowers for Winter Cheer

Red flowered Hellebores are still the holy grail for plant geeks but they are so tough that anyone can covet these and grow them.

‘Peppermint Ice’, ‘Amethyst Gem’ and ‘Ashwood Double Bi Color Shades’ are Hellebore cultivated varieties with red to eggplant hued double flowers.  They wow us in late winter with a long vibrant flower display.

As a Portland landscape designer I like to use Hellebore in my designs.  The Helleborus x hybridus plants (which is what we are focusing on today)  can live for a hundred years, deer don’t like them, they are low water and except for a typically minor problem with aphids, and a little slug activity they are pretty pest free.  The leaves are leathery, attractive and provide interesting contrast with a range of plant material to include feathery fern fronds, ornamental grass or tiny leafed boxwood.

Helleborus x Hybridus 'Peppermint Ice'

Peppermint Ice has a darker outline around each of the petals. Its adds a lighter touch with pink red flowers.

They are shade tolerant although I  tend to use these three in strong morning sun with dappled or full afternoon shade.

Terra Nova Photo of Hellebore Amethyst Gem

Amythest Gem comes from the famous NW Garden Nursery. Double petals with a light edge gives us drama and the constrast needed to appreciate the mass of petals.

Double flowers give us more color than the singles but the singles, with only 5 to 7 petals, are also stunning and low maintenance.  ‘Ashwood Double BiColor Shades’ have a wine red petal with a darker edge which is opposite of ‘Amethyst Gem’.

Using Hellebore as a cut flower

The flowers last a long time in the landscape but not long as a cut flower because the stems wither quickly.  Most people cut the stems off and float them in a bowl.  I’ve picked them from my NW Portland garden, knowing they would only look good for a few days.  There are techniques for making them last which involve picking them at the right time based on the age of the flower and using an alcohol solution in the vase.  Follow this link  to NW Garden Nursery and read the bottom of their culture sheet.   Now that you are bringing the flowers inside please be aware that all parts of the plant are toxic.

All Hellebore flowers tend to nod down rather than face up.  This protects the flowers from cold damage (disfigurement/freezer burn) because water drips off the flower and  is not trapped inside. Nature designed this plant to flower in winter.

What about aphids?

What about aphids?  My only problem with Hellebore is aphids. Some years I don’t have any noticeable aphid activity. When I do it’s so early in the year that handy predators like lacewing and lady bug are still in sleep mode or haven’t hatched yet so I’m  on my own. Dealing with them is easy.  Use a spray bottle filled with water or 1 tsp of dish soap to 1 gallon of water and spray down your plant.  Use your hose or this great gadget called the bug blaster  which you can buy at Portland Nursery. (I’ve got to get one this year to use in my veggie garden too.) Don’t use a pesticide because most of them will harm bees even if they are not present when you spray. Aphids have soft bodies and will be damaged by the force of the water or the soapy solution will invade their bodies and disable them. You will have to knock them down with water or soapy water once or twice a week to prevent the temporary cosmetic damage.   I’ve never lost a hellebore plant to anything let alone a virus but in recent years virus has spread from plant to plant by aphids.  It is only an issue for professional growers or collectors.

Check out this bowlful of hellebore beauties

Check out this bowlful of hellebore beauties

How to care for your Hellebore

How to care for your Hellebore:  I water once or twice a week its first summer and then once a week after that.  Drip irrigation would be best rather than overhead sprinklers because drip can water deep into the soil.  Established Hellebore become quite a low water needs plant and might be content with every ten days or less.  An application of mulch around the plant once or twice a year is a good practice.  If your soil is so good that they make seedlings, be aware they won’t have the same flower as your hybridized plant. I cut the old leaves off the plant in late winter so that the flowers are not visually diminished by the previous years worn foliage.

How to kill a Hellebore

Plant it in a low spot where winter rain will rot the roots. Over water it and fertilize it heavily.

Winter Color provided by Hellebore 'Peppermint Ice'

Helleborus x Hybridus ‘Peppermint Ice’ is another Winter Gem by NW Garden Nursery. It is grown by Terra Nova so is available at local garden nurseries. Photo by Terra Nova.

Helleborus x Hybridus 'Peppermint Ice' photo by Terra Nova

Helleborus x Hybridus ‘Peppermint Ice’ has double flowers that hang down but the overall effecting your winter landscape is very colorful. The flowers last a long time.

Heuchera

Heuchera_Heucherella_Collage_1m

Plethora of Heuchera leaf color and variegation.

Heuchera_Lime_Marmalade_3m

‘Lime Marmalade’ Heuchera

Dan Himes, Portland’s own plant designer,  of  Terra Nova Nurseries took the old fashioned Coral Bell, a simple cottage garden plant that was beloved for pale spring flowers and created the dramatic colorful leaves of the modern coral bell (Heuchera).  He didn’t stop there.  Over the past 30 years he has given designers a whole new color palette to create with:  leaves of peach, orange, russet, burgundy, amethyst, chartreuse and near black.  Many of the leaves are variegated and create the most amazing patterns.  He has also created many different sizes of plants.  I can use a Heuchera in the mid border with the top of the leaves at 10 inches tall and 24 inch flowers  like ‘Lime Marmalade’ or plants a mere 5 inches tall with 10 inch flowers  like ‘Cherry Cola’.   In  recent years he has also created a diverse selection of flower colors.

'Cherry Cola' Heuchera is great at the edge of a pot.

‘Cherry Cola’  Heuchera is great at the edge of a pot.

 

The original garden coral bell bloomed in pale pink, today I can have flowers in hot brick red, coral, hot pink, near orange (no true orange yet) varying shades of yellow and even shocking chartreuse.  Some varieties are really all about the leaves and the flowers are a very quiet white or cream with stunning dramatic leaf color and variegation, but the newer varieties can have it all, bold dramatic leaves with the perfect hot flower color to accompany them.

So many choices are exciting to me but can be daunting to a typical home owner.  Twenty different varieties can stop a person in their tracks.

I’m not trying to pick a pretty plant, it would be hard to do as they are all attractive.  I always design for function and select a plant for what I want it to do.  I use ‘Blackberry Crisp’ because the leaves look good even in the winter.  They are perfect for entry pizzazz.   Some Heuchera flower for a long time in summer but have no winter interest so I use those near the patio.

'Blackberry Crisp' Heuchera

‘Blackberry Crisp’ Heuchera

There are many varieties I use for shade and some for near full sun.   I love to use the new 5 to 6 inch tall plants at the edge of containers.  These little guys look great with Spring Heather and Hens & Chicks.   Coral Bell can pull a garden together visually by repeating it along a pathway.  Their shape softens the potentially harsh lines of a modern minimalist garden plan. No matter what your style, old fashioned, naturalistic or modern  they add the dramatic color that every client wants in their landscape.

Dan’s contribution is significant.  There are many plant designers in the world and many of them worship at Dan’s feet.  I was in the Netherlands visiting a famous garden designer and plant designer named Piet O’Doff who designed the 9/11 memorial garden.  After he learned I came from Portland, Oregon he said to me, “why did you come all this way to see me when you live 15 minutes from Dan Himes”?

Heuchera softens the edges of pots beautifully.

Heuchera softens the edges of pots beautifully.

From a designers point of view Dan’s work is very exciting.  His plants give me so many choices  to create the perfect planting plan for my clients.

True confession:  to keep up with Dan Himes, I created a spreadsheet on my  favorite coral bells so I can select them for size, foliage color, flower color,  foliage height, sun exposure and more.  It’s not that easy for me either.

 

Summer Watering Tips

Lawn_Watering_RotationFirst Rule…Do No Harm.  If you are watering every day, this is harmful and as far as you can get from the ideal watering practice for your plants’ health and for growing in your design.  Plus you will be accidentally training your plants to be shallow rooted and water hogs.  One is not good for the plants and the other not good for your wallet.  If this is how you have been watering for years and you want to change, let’s talk.

Newer Plant Material:  I consider any plants that have not been through a summer to Carol_Roger_newsletterbe a first year plant.  Plants 2 or 3 years old are established plants.  I typically have clients start watering first year plants every 2 weeks in April (depending on weather conditions in the Pacific Northwest).  This can continue into mid-May most years but by the end of May new plantings should be getting watered once or twice a week.  When we start having 80 to 90 degree weather, first year plants should be watered 2 to 3 times a week maximum, not every day.  We want to manage the plants water needs with other methods besides over watering.

Don’t wait until you see signs of stress – it can be hard to get moisture back into clay soils once they dry out.  Do you see leaves wilting, scorching, crumpling, or dropping?  Here are some ways to save a stressed plant:

Dead plant water blog

Clogged irrigation emitter equals plant loss – check emitters.

(1)  In the evening, after the sun goes down, hose down the leaves, to cool them off.  Or hose them down very early in the morning (before 8 a.m.).  Never sprinkle leaves after 9 a.m. in sunny weather, this will create scorched (toasted) leaves and flowers.

(2)  Cover your plants’ leaves for 3 days or less.  Covering plants helps them conserve water loss.  When not exposed to the sun, the cells  in the leaves will close.  And when closed, the leaf cells hold in the water which prevents evaporation.  This conserves the existing water in the roots and leaves.

Binder clipsTo cover the plant take a lightweight fabric (a white or light colored sheet is ideal) and attach it to the plant during the most extreme heat.  I like to use black office clips on individual trees or shrubs.  Or use rocks to hold the fabric down if you are covering an entire bed.  Note:  This is also an excellent way to protect a plant from drought stress after transplanting.

(3)  In late summer when heat spikes up to 100 degrees you could add one additional watering per week.  Check your soil a few inches down with your hand.  If it’s still moist, watering is not the solution it’s the problem.

Established Plant Material:  Plants 2 or 3 years old are established plants.  If you have heavy clay soil you may need to water twice a week even in early summer.  Apply the water slow and for a long period of time.  If you have better draining soil, plantings may Cat watering plantonly need once a week watering.  All plants will respond to sudden change in temperature, for instance mild early summer weather interrupted by 3 days of intense heat, you will see leaf droop or slight wilting.  As soon as the intense heat retreats, the plants are fine and the leaves return to normal.  The only way you will know if they need additional watering over and above your typical practice is if you check the soil.  Remember, too much moisture and too much heat equals root rot.  Remember first rule, do no harm.

 

Hydrangea Pruning Made Simple

Spring Hydrangea Pruning

A lot of my clients have asked me to help them with pruning their hydrangeas.

Hydrangea serrata 'Preziosa'

This blog addresses mophead hydrangea pruning.  Hydrangea pruning is simple and easy once you know the rules.  There is a link to a pruning video at the end of this blog produced by Cass Turnball of Plant Amnesty to help you feel more confident.  There are 5 kinds of hydrangeas.  This blog only addresses mophead hydrangea pruning.

 

Hydrangea serrata 'Preziosa'

Why prune hydrangea at all?

Why prune hydrangea plants at all?  Like most plants, pruned hydrangea shrubs will have a better shape so they look good regardless of the flowering aspect.  Many of us buy a hydrangea and think it will be 4’ x 4’.  Over time, many varieties will grow to 7’ tall.  It is very important to plant the right plant in the right place so you don’t have to be frustrated.  There are some varieties that are going to mature at and be easily kept in the 4’ to 5’ range.  We prune to achieve that height as well as a good shape.  If you have a variety that wants to be 7 or even 8 feet tall every year even with proper pruning, the best answer is to remove the plant and buy a variety whose size works for your garden.  Old Arts and Crafts homes with 6’ high foundations are perfect for the hydrangeas that are most cheerful at 7’.  They don’t work as well for homes with a 12” foundation or a small yard.Another reason we prune is to remove stems that no longer flower.

rabbit ears 2

Nicely pruned and open plant

We prune hydrangeas in early to mid March in the Pacific NW.  We start pruning our plants when they are about 3 years old or when you see the oldest stems are developing bark.  Remove the oldest woody canes.  On a young plant this might mean removing only 1 or 2 stems.  We remove dead stems and canes and we deadhead flowers back to the first lateral buds.  I think of these buds as rabbit ears.  I love this task.  I think it’s because I’m close to the ground and my soil smells good.  I typically see 2 colors of buds at this time.  The burgundy buds are just a bump on the stems.  The tiny green buds (the rabbit ears) are such a vivid green.  It says spring to me (and no it doesn’t rain every minute even in March).  These are days when a wool sweater and a down vest are perfect for comfort.

hydrangea 1 heads banner

Joy Creek Nursery Hydrangea Garden

There is more to the story about hydrangea pruning. Occasionally there are individual plants that didn’t read the rule book.  My garden coach client Mary followed the proper pruning techniques and she lost all her flowers for the year!!  AAACK!!  Her plants are 30 plus years old.  Since that debacle Mary only deadheads her plants, again just down to the first buds and she removes old woody stems.  Her plants always flower beautifully and are the focal point of her summer garden.  I’ve never had this happen to me but I’ve heard about it often enough from other professionals to know that some plants are probably genetically different than others.  If you don’t prune at all, your plants will get big and ungainly looking.  A build up of deadwood may diminish their flowering capacity.

For a detailed lesson on pruning mop head hydrangeas, see this video.