Archive for Winter Gardening

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. 

 

Colorful Four Season Plant for Portland Residential Landscape Designs

North Portland residential landscape design for year round colorColorful Four Season Plant for Portland Residential Landscape Designs

I like to use Nandina as a colorful four season plant for my Portland landscape designs.

Advantages

The foliage is colorful year around.

Very low maintenance plants if you know the cool pruning tip.

They are easy to prune successfully so you can keep them for years.

Nandina varieties fit multiple diverse needs in the landscape because they can be small (18″ to 24” tall) or up to 8 feet tall.

They thrive in half or full day sun.  Deer don’t typically eat them.

Colorful Four Season Plant for Portland Residential Landscape DesignsDisadvantages

People prune it wrong and then it’s so ugly they remove them – this is so easy to avoid.

It’s not a successful shade plant and will look leggy and sparse in the shade.  They will look so bad they will be removed.

People think Nandina is drought tolerant and they don’t water it in the summer……….this ends badly.

Nandina (from China) doesn’t feed our native insects; therefore, overusing it limits food for our native bird population.  I like to select at least a few native plants for companions.

Is this plant overused? Some garden designers snub the Nandina plant because it is used in commercial landscapes. Nandina is useful to my Portland residential landscape design clients who want low maintenance landscapes.  With the right plant partners Nandina can sparkle in a home landscape.

North Portland residential landscape design for year round colorHow I Use Nandina in Garden Designs

Nandina domestica – Heavenly Bamboo (not related to Bamboo)

There is a variety of Nandina to fit every landscape:

  • 6 to 8 foot tall  ‘Moyers Red’ or 4 to 6 foot tall ‘Plum Passion’ dress and soften an expanse of fence, hide the hot tub or garbage area nicely
  • 2 to 4 foot tall ‘Sienna Sunrise’, ‘Moon Bay’ or ‘Firepower’ work well in foundation plantings and entry areas.

Use a tape measure on planting day, assume the size info on the plant tag is being modest and give your plant more room to grow.  Some varieties of Nandina will grow 3 to 4 feet wide.   To keep your Nandina from getting too wide, I suggest pruning out entire canes at the base of the plant once a year.  For varieties that are listed as 3 to 4 feet wide, plant it at least 30 inches off your path.

A new variety called ‘Blush’ is typically 24 inches tall and 18 inches wide. The evergreen leaves turn an intense claret red and hold their color for months, longer and redder than other Nandina. ‘Blush’ was designed for the southern United States where it is fully drought tolerant. In Portland, all varieties of  Nandina including ‘Blush’, requires irrigation in summer. Multiple articles on the net enthusiastically state ‘Blush’ is drought tolerant but they do not mean here in the NW.  In the high humidity of an Alabama summer I too am probably drought tolerant…..Mint Julep anyone?

North Portland residential landscape design for year round colorPlant Partners

I love to combine Nandina with textured or needled plants that contrast with the narrow Nandina leaves.  Dwarf conifers, (Pinus mugo ‘Sherwoods Compact’), heather  Erica carnea ‘Adrienne Duncan’ or ornamental grasses like  Opiopogon (black mondo grass)  work well.  NW native plants, like salal, sword fern and huckleberry give  contrast and good looks.  They also provide food for native insects and for our birds who must eat native insects for food.  Pairing Nandina with typical cottage garden plants disappoints my aesthetic; there isn’t enough leaf contrast.

How to prune Nandina

The key to success with Nandina is learning how to prune it which is all about thinning the multiple canes (or stems) of the shrub.  Read more in my next blog or check out this u tube video I found to get you started.

 

 

 

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.

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.

Entry Presence with Winter Red Foliage for Portland Landcapes

Winter Color Sizzle Plant

‘Sizzling Pink’ Chinese Loropetalum is the focal point plant for a Willamette Heights  Landscape Design in a Day client’s entry.

Entry Presence with Winter Red Foliage for Portland Landscapes

Exciting Winter Color Shrub

As a Portland landscape designer I have many clients who want exciting winter color in their landscapes.  When new clients fill in their landscape preference survey they often circle the option for burgundy foliage and add little hearts!   Sadly most burgundy leafed plants are not cold hardy enough here in the Pacific Northwest to look picture perfect in winter.

My Favorite

My favorite choice for dark red or eggplant purple foliage is called Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum or Red Chinese Loropetalum.  Plain Chinese Loropetalum has green foliage and white flowers.   I love the Red Chinese Loropetalum.  It  has amazing thick hot pink fringe flowers in early spring.  The spring foliage emerges burgundy red or dark to medium red pink depending on the variety.   Other varieties are dark red to an eggplant purple through the year.

Unique plant but tricky to site properly

My NW Portland landscape design clients, Dave and Rhonda loved this plant.  It provided a very attractive color echo of their eggplant front door and visually softened the adjacent concrete area. It looked good until January and then for several years the leaves burned and they didn’t grow back in until July!. The love was there but it took too long to recover for an entry focal point plant.   Their plant got sun from 6am in the winter until 1 pm.  They had good drainage and were careful and consistent with watering.  Perversely, I have seen other plants simply glowing in February in the same exact siting.  Can you tell I had a little trouble giving up on that one?  I avoid 6 am winter sun for best outcome.

lorepetalum-from-monrovia

Spring flowers (Photo courtesy of Monrovia)

So why bother with this plant?

It is the wonderful purple red foliage color, the soft arching shape of the branches and the hot colored fringe flowers in spring. Its well worth it if you love purple foliage.    If the plant gets cold east wind in winter, the leaves will burn (desiccate) and it may look terrible until May or June. Year round good looks is all about proper siting and a bit of luck.

Proven Winners variety called Loropetalum 'Jazz Hands'

Proven Winners variety called Loropetalum ‘Jazz Hands’

Twp good choices

These two old  varieties are still easy to find and are what I’m most familiar with:   ‘Sizzling Pink’, which is also called ‘Burgundy’ (cold tolerant to 15 degrees), and   ‘Pippa’s Red’ (hardy to 10 degrees).  ‘Pippa’s Red’ is not as dark a red leaf as ‘Sizzling Pink’. I’m interested in ‘Hines Purpleleaf’, ‘Zhuzhou Fuchsia’ and ‘Jazz Hands’ but wasn’t able to find them to purchase.

There are many new varieties but most were hybridized (designed) for the southern states and are not tested here in the Pacific NW.

I love to drive around Portland and see them thriving.   They saw it, bought it, and just happened to plant it in the right spot!! Whoever they are, they don’t even know its supposed to be a little tricky.  I would be willing to try it in colder areas like Gresham but only where it is 100% protected from east wind.  Even then, I’d consider it an experiment. A whole landscape of plant experiments is called gambling and is not typically the result  we want in a landscape design.  Most of my clients want a sure bet.