Archive for fall gardening tips

Pruning Nandina easily for Portland residential landscapes

Pruning Nandina easily, the perfect low maintenance plant, for Portland residential landscapes

Low Maintenance Shrub (Nandina) for Portland Residential Landscape DesignI promised I would follow up from my last blog about Nandina domestica – Heavenly Bamboo and how seriously low maintenance they are.  I’ll give you my easy pruning trick for Nandina and you’ll be all set to use this shrub, a low maintenance year round beauty, in your Portland landscape.

What’s the problem with shearing Nandina?

If it’s so easy to prune why do we see so many sad looking Nandina out there? People try to prune them like a boxwood hedge.  Boxwoods have a typical shrubs’ woody structure and little tiny leaves.  They can be sheared and look pretty good.  Nandina are a multiple cane plant with a compound leaf composed of many oval shaped leaves.  The best way to ruin their appearance is to shear them into little round balls or squares.

Ugly Nandina in Portland Landscape Need Pruning TipRestore leggy sparse leafed Nandina plants

These photos illustrate embarrassing ugly examples of Nandina out there in commercial and residential landscapes.  These sad plants at my local bank have not been pruned at all.  If yours look this bad, hold off on tossing them.

Portland Landscape Designer's example of poor pruning techniqueWe could correct these ugly leggy Nandinas’ appearance in one year by applying the pruning technique I have illustrated here.  These Nandina domestica ‘Gulfstream’ could look amazing with regular irrigation and pruning once every year or two.

My drawing “Fix Leggy Nandina” illustrates restoring a Nandina that has developed leggy bare canes (or stems if you like).  It has no foliage at the base of the plant.

The Cool Trick to Pruning Nandina

The simplest pruning technique is to cut 1/3rd of the canes to the ground and call it done.  This technique will get you a much better plant once the new canes sprout. I control the height by selecting the tallest canes to remove.

You can take your easy pruning a step farther and select another 1/3rd of the canes and cut them at different heights.  If you only have 3 canes to work with it would look like my “Fix Leggy Nandinas” illustration and in one year it would have a new cane with leaves on it sprouting from the ground and the stem you cut back would have new stem and leaves above where you made the cut.

When to Prune Nandina

You can prune nandina any time of year here in the Pacific Northwest.  I like to remove canes to use for holiday table decoration in the winter but only from a robust plant with lots of canes.  I  prefer to do restorative pruning (such as in my illustration “Fix Leggy Nandina”) as early as March or as late as May.

How to Prune Dwarf Nandina

The technique is mostly the same, but dwarf varieties like ‘Firepower’ need almost no pruning to contain height and if they get enough sun, they rarely get leggy.  The plant can get too wide so I like to thin a few canes out at the bottom (or up to 1/3rd of my canes) every year to keep the plant from ever getting too wide. This allows the little plant to continue serving as a colorful year round foundation plant for the long term in your landscape.     Here is a good video to illustrate pruning the dwarf varieties.

 

 

Read my previous blog about Nandina “Colorful Four Season Plant”

Growing Greens in Winter

It’s the first week of October and I just planted veggie greens starts in my raised bed. Yup it’s not too late. I bought two kinds of collard greens, Bok Choy Rosette (a dwarf variety) and  2 butter leaf lettuce (Rhapsody Butterhead  and Little Gem).  Adding pounds of fresh greens  into my diet this summer has been great for my energy and my waistline.

Butter lettuce and bok choy in Carol Lindsay's salad table.

Butter lettuce and bok choy in Carol Lindsay’s salad table.

Each week I pick a mixture of greens.  I wash them in a dab of dish soap and cold water. I spin them dry and stuff them into a large pickle jar. I feel better and  breakfast has been quick and yummy. The smoothies are so tasty! Each morning I scoop out 2 fistfuls of greens, add protein powder, frozen fruit and blend.  It’s so fast, tasty and healthy it’s got to be wrong!  My fav combo is basic greens with basil, frozen peaches, 3 strawberries and 1/2 a banana with coconut milk. The basil and banana are sweet enough I don’t miss adding sugar.  Basic greens could include kale, chard, beet greens or collard greens, romaine lettuce and arugula.

Now that it’s fall, I still have lots of chard and kale left from summer.  My kale is 5’ tall and I have underplanted them with bok choy starts and more kale starts.  I’m not harvesting my kale until after the first frosts hit.  I’m told the kale from this summer will sweeten with the cold and taste even better. Here are the kale varieties I’m growing right now:   Italian heirloom Lacinato, (it’s sometimes called Black Kale) Winterbor, Red Ursa.  I still have lots of rainbow chard and I continue to harvest the largest outside leaves so the plants don’t get huge. They are about 1 foot high at maximum.  If you are a beginner, chard is easy and prolific.

It's amazing how much food you can grow in a 4x8 raised bed.

It’s amazing how much food you can grow in a 4×8 raised bed.

In addition to smoothies, greens are so great in soups.  I use a pressure cooker to make soup quickly and I pick easy recipes because I’m really not the cook in my family.

My brother is the hot shot cook in our family and I was always outside in the garden with my dad. My favorite recipe is Ethiopian – Inspired Red Lentil Soup.  I’m going to grow my greens and use them  for as long as I can this winter.  If I bought the greens each week at a grocery store it would easily cost $100.00 in a month so I’m saving money too.

Mulching to protect our Salmon

Recently, I attended a workshop to learn more about what I can do as both a gardener and a landscape designer to help the salmon survive and to make a difference in our environment.

Salmon have to see to navigate their way home to spawn.

Salmon have to see to navigate their way home to spawn.

Restoring our watershed means remembering that all water runs downhill, and compacted bare soils don’t absorb water. Water rushes downhill, collecting debris, dirt and contaminants as it goes, polluting and muddying the water that the salmon use.  If a stream is muddy and a salmon can’t see, it won’t go into the stream, which is where they return to spawn. Personally, I like to see where I’m going, and hadn’t ever thought about how salmon navigate or their preferences. They don’t use radar to find their way home, they have to see.

So how does mulching get in the act of saving salmon? Mulching slows down the water, and improves the soil’s moisture holding capacity and it actually immobilizes and degrades pollutants. This means cleaner, less polluted water goes to streams and rivers, keeping the water clear for the salmon to see. Pretty simple huh!

New plantings at Masterson garden receive blanket of mulch.

New plantings at Masterson garden receive blanket of mulch.

Well, it is.  Mulching bare soil areas with as little as 2 inches of compost has many benefits. It supplies slow release nutrients to plants and to existing natural good fungi.  Compost improves your soil structure, creating passageways for air and water, creating a better environment for plant growth and a healthier low maintenance garden for you.

“If all the bare soils in the Portland Metropolitan area were covered with 2 inches of medium grade compost, there wouldn’t be any problem with runoff into the rivers and stream.” The Salmon can’t be saved with random acts of kindness.

3 Colorful Shrubs for Fall

Compact Burning Bush
The most popular variety of Euonymus alata ‘Compacta’ because people think it will be small, say 3′ x 3′.  It is not the least bit small and easily grows into a beautiful small tree.  The smallest variety on the market is called ‘Rudy Haag’ 5′ x 5′.   Even the variety called ‘Pip Squeak’  is 6′ x 5′.  If Burning Bush is not placed with room to grow, these shrubs get turned into ugly muffins by frustrated gardeners.  If it is sheared properly, thinner at the top and wider at the bottom, this can be a very attractive hedge but it will need to be sheared two or three times a year.  Ugh! Too much work for me.

pipsqeck burning bush monrovia 8959268-largeI love to use this shrub as a shree (part shrub, part small tree).  A client of mine, Ruth in Scappoose has hers planted in full sun and pruned into small multi-stem trees.  They are underplanted with a hot orange summer flowering Euphorbia which is a wow combination.  These “shrees” have been in their location for over ten years and they are not irrigated at all. Other than having a professional pruning every year or three, this privacy planting is very low maintenance and simply stunning. The ridged and winged bare stems of the Burning Bush are attractive and add winter interest.  To establish this plant, water it once a week, or twice in hot weather.  Once established, it will thrive with once a week watering.  As it ages in place it needs less and less water.  A plus … The deer don’t bother this plant in Ruth’s garden.

Fothergilla 'Mt Airy', (Bottlebrush) in full fall color.

Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’, (Bottlebrush) in full fall color.

Witch Alder (also called Bottlebrush)
This shrub has two seasons of wow, one is spring where the fragrance is heavenly, the bottle brush flowers are attractive in flower arrangements and if pruned properly, the shape of this “shree” will look good year round.  The 2nd wow is the fall color.

Fothergilla (Bottlebrush) fragrant flowers on naked stems delight in spring

Fothergilla (Bottlebrush) fragrant flowers on naked stems delight in spring

This plant, Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’ will need regular water until it has been in place for many years. Almost all plants, even those listed as drought tolerant, look better with some irrigation in our Pacific NW Mediterranean style summer. See fabulous colorful art made from these leaves!!!

Gatsbys Moon Hydrangea

Hydrangea Quercifolia Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Gatsby’s Moon’ is a new variety from Proven Winners.

Oakleaf Hydrangea 
I’ve written about this plant many times but that’s because it’s so great.  The full size plant may not fit in most landscapes but there are two semi dwarf plants that will.  These plants have huge white conical flowers in mid- summer that fade to a nice pink.  In fall the large and well textured leaf turn the most fabulous rich reds and stay on the plant well past Thanksgiving.  These leaves always go in my Thanksgiving table centerpiece.  Once the leaves fall, there is great rusty exfoliating bark on the stems that glow in the winter light.

Hydrangea quercifolia, Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Sikes Dwarf’ and ‘Pee Wee’ are the two varieties I use the most. They are NOT tiny shrubs, still expect a 3′ to 4′ wide and tall plant.  My experience is that ‘Sikes Dwarf’ is taller than ‘Pee Wee’.  The leaves are smaller than the species, 4 to 5 inches instead of 8 to 10 inches and they still have the interesting grainy texture and great flowers. One drawback … deer seem to like the leaves.  It is native to the South Eastern United States.

It’s easier to prune than a traditional hydrangea AND it doesn’t need as much water.  If you want you can cut it off at the ground in late winter and start over.  Here is a video “How to Prune Oak Leaf Hydrangea”  by Cass Turnbull of Plant Amnesty.

Garden Tips Planting in Late Fall or Early Winter

Buyer Beware! Watch out for fall discount plants at nurseries or garden stores. When you select plants on the leftover table at nurseries you are running some risks. The top of the pot will be chock full of weed seeds and the roots may well harbor larvae of undesirables such as my favorite foe, the root weevil. Here are some tips to help if you decide to buy and plant in the late fall or early winter.

Garden Tip #1: Successful Planting in Late Fall

If it is a small deciduous  shrub or perennial, (leaves fall off for winter),  I remove the top 2″ of soil at a minimum.  At the maximum,  I gently rinse the whole root ball to remove most of the soil.  Squash any cream colored larvae you find and toss the wet potting soil/mud into the garbage.  Most of us do not get our compost hot enough to kill weed seeds and eggs of root weevil.

I then re-plant  in a bigger pot w clean potting soil, or I plant it in its long term spot. Too much work? Don’t buy off the discount table.

Garden Tip #2: What Not to Buy in the Late Fall

After trial and error I’ve learned never to buy or plant these specimens in the late fall or early winter. True grit soil prep allows a person to plant nearly everything in the winter and the fall but I still hesitate to plant these specimens:

  • Salvia, Hummingbird mints (agastache)
  • Spanish Lavenders
  • Rosemary
  • Most Phormiums
  • Expensive fancy Echinaceas
  • Expensive Clematis Montana

Garden Tip #3: What to Plant in the Late Fall

Most plants are game for being planted this time of year. Heathers and various evergreens prefer fall and winter over late spring or early summer planting.