Archive for Summer Garden Tips

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.

 

 

 

Portland Landscape Designer’s Advice on Watering

Portland Landscape Designer’s Advice on Watering

carol lindsay portland landscape designer with lupe

Portland Landscape Designer Carol Lindsay (with client’s puppy Lupe)

You know how Facebook gives you that reminder about something you were doing a year ago today…………Well! Let me tell you, a year ago today I was sick with worry about my clients’ gardens because of the horrible, everlasting,  record breaking,  summer of hell.  Do you remember?  It was unseasonably and unreasonably  hot early in our spring and it stayed that way all summer.   I grew up here and I was in shock and a kind of grief actually.  I missed our normal summer.

As a Portland landscape designer I’m always trying to teach  my clients about how to water.  Did you know you can train your plants roots to grow more deeply? This has many health benefits and one of them is that the plants will be less stressed in high heat periods, another is they won’t need as much water which is nice for your water bill and for the environment in general.

People who don’t know the tricks of proper watering really struggled with their plants and lawns and had many plant losses.  Most were busy watering every day and either rotting their plants or doing such a light watering that the only thing that grew well was their water bill.  A big shock for me was the number of clients whose lawns did not come back at all due to the extreme heat.  They let their lawns go dormant, something that thrifty Portlanders have been doing for decades.  The lawns did not come back with the fall rains.  This had never happened to anyone I knew before.  The spring of 2016 was very busy for Portland landscape design professionals.  People were replacing their dead lawns and remodeling their landscapes.  So now it is July of 2016 and it’s just starting to get hot.  Whether your landscape is mature or has recently been installed it’s not too late to learn how to water properly and protect your investment.

So it’s time to share my watering tips with you again.  SUMMER WATERING TIPS

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.

 

Hot Time in my Summer Garden

Daizzie in the garden, it's almost a year since she arrived.

Daizzie in the garden, it’s almost a year since she arrived.

Wow, having a garden of any kind has been challenging in this unusually warm year.  For some plants it’s been touch and go as a result of the heat.  In my veggie garden I have learned a lot this year.  My tomatoes would not set fruit if the evening temperature was too high (in June and July) so what looked like a potential bumper crop of tomatoes quickly changed to dead flowers and no fruit set when the temps soared.  Now that it is cooler (as of two days ago) I see some new flowers on my tomato plants and am hoping for more fruit to set before the next heat wave comes.

South side container garden for tomatoes.

South side container garden for tomatoes.

 

I also learned to plant lettuce and dwarf petunia under my tomatoes that were in containers.  They blocked the sun by covering my soil, which cooled the soil and now the leaves of my tomato plants look so much better.  They were tip burned and turning yellow.  I also have tomato plants on the south side of my floating home and they get a lot of sun and heat.

Radicchio shades tomato root zone.

Radicchio shades tomato root zone.

We have a mole family in our community garden and we can’t set one of those nasty traps with the teeth since kids or sometimes pets could go in there.  Today I put chili powder down the holes but probably all that will happen is that they will move to a neighbors raised bed and then come back to mine when the chili smell is gone. I’m adding soil to fill their holes and I imagine an entire freeway of holes and passageways from one raised bed to another.  It’s only comical until one of my Kale wilts,  faints and dies because of no soil under the roots, then I tend to growl.

Daizzie is getting used to our new scarecrow.

Daizzie is getting used to our new scarecrow.

Dogs are no longer allowed in the garden, which is probably a good thing since Daizzie is afraid of our new scarecrow anyway.    Sharing the garden with my neighbors is so much fun and we all water for each other so vacations are not a problem.

I’ve tried some greens called Deer Tongue; ok bad name but tasty and found them to be very heat tolerant and my New Zealand Spinach is loving this heat and producing all the greens I can eat.  By the way, don’t cook them, they turn to slush; which is strange because this spinach has an oddly thick leaf.  They are meant to be eaten fresh.

My neighbor Betty and I (mostly Betty) will be starting seeds for our fall gardens – I’ll get my chard, collard greens and lettuces going to enjoy until frost.

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.