Archive for garden tips

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.

Safe Soil in the City

Portland landscape designer Carol Lindsay

Daizzie and I in my edibles garden

Safe soil in the city – smart and healthy practices for urban gardens

I love having a vegetable garden. It’s healthy, right? I love eating kale and I grow a lot of greens for smoothies year-round.  There are a few concerns about growing food in urban areas. Two concerns that apply to us all, city and suburban, are lead paint and lead exhaust from the past in our soils. Let’s be practical not scary about this.

Is my food safe to eat? What are the most important practices I can do and how can I keep it simple?  My garden is below Highway 30.  It’s an old heavily traveled highway so our soil has years of exposure to lead exhaust.

There’s no way I’d grow my food in the ground here.

My current garden practices

I’ve been assuming my food is safe to eat because:

Our community garden has raised beds with new clean soil from just three years ago.
I apply lots of compost at least three times a year.

Carol's winter kale

My garden supplies me with year round greens like kale.

I use an organic fertilizer. (OK it’s boxed Dr. Earth, not a truckload from Natures Needs because it’s very convenient and my garden is small.)  I don’t know what my NPK ratio is which makes me a bit of a lazy gardener but the food I like to grow does fine.  NPK being Nitrogen, Potassium, Phosphorous.  And yes I was trained as an advanced master gardener and yes that was a very long time ago………they teach you all about soil in the master gardener program.

I wash my produce, no nibbling right out of the garden bed. (OK once in a while a strawberry or tomato).

According to some experts I’m doing OK but I could do a lot better.

My improvements

  1. Soil areas next to old garages often have higher lead levels.

    Soil areas next to old garages often have higher lead levels.

    Reducing exposure to dust is the most effective thing you can do to reduce lead hazard in your landscape. It is typically in the first few inches of soil. This is the most important thing in the blog.  Mulch and compost applications cover your soil and protect it from dust with contaminants in it.    We want to keep the dust and soil off human skin and out of the mouth.  This is critical for babies and small children and good for the rest of us too.  Adding compost has many benefits for improving conditions for plants.  Adding compost at least twice a year can only benefit, there are no drawbacks.

  1. Here at my community garden, we could have put a barrier between our new soil and the existing ground soil. I can still do this once my winter Kale are done in March. I’ll have to get a tarp and dig out a lot of my soil so I’m going to install a metal grid and landscape fabric.  The grid is to keep the moles and gophers out of my raised bed. They may have brought some of the lead contaminated soil up into my new clean soil, and they caused a lot of havoc with the roots of my plants.  Some died or did not produce well because of the soil disturbance.
  1. I could improve the efficacy of washing my veggies by using a 1 percent vinegar solution instead of only using water. I’m thinking a large spray bottle under the sink could be used for my final wash. It’s got to be simple or I won’t do it.

Beyond these good soil management practices, I will need to do a Nutrient Analysis soil test to know what I need to add to my raised beds to improve the health and productivity of my vegetables and bind up any lead and keep it locked into my soil where it won’t cause problems for me.

Portland landscape designer in edibles garden

My garden is below Highway 30. It’s an old heavily traveled highway so our soil has years of exposure to lead exhaust.

Lead Soil Test

My client Katy had an older home in SE Portland.  I suggested a lead soil test.  She collected the soil and submitted samples for a lead test. She discovered the area where we wanted the kids play structure to go had high lead.  It was next to the neighbors’ garage.  Several inches of contaminated soil were removed.  She brought in new soil and playground chips and now has a safe play area for her toddlers.

What’s one new thing you could do this year to improve your landscape or edibles garden?  Get your soil tested.  I’m planning to collect soil from my vegetable garden and submit it to a lab for testing.  I’ll share that experience with you in another blog.

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.

New Shrubs Expand Designer’s Palette

Ceanothus G. 'Hearts Desire' Picture from Xera

California Lilac Ceanothus Griseus ‘Hearts Desire’   Picture from Xera Plants

I’m excited about these new plants for Portland gardens.

Many of us are familiar with California Lilac and its blue flowers.  Beloved by bees, including our endangered native bumble bees, it’s  also a host plant for Swallow Tail butterflies.  However, it has its problems in a home landscape.  Many varieties are short lived because they receive summer irrigation along with your other plantings.  They need infrequent or no summer water to be a long term plant.  Most of all keeping them a manageable size is difficult for many gardeners. Ceanothus Griseus ‘Hearts Desire’ is different.  It can handle some summer irrigation and unlike all the other varieties of ground cover type California Lilac, it grows to only 4 inches tall and grows slowly to 24 inches wide.  It is easy to tip prune so can be confined.  These new habits make it a very useful plant for smaller landscapes.  It can take a lot of dry so we can plant it in the xeriscape dry tolerant gardens that have no irrigation or it can receive some summer irrigation.   I see this  plant as a major improvement over old varieties like ‘Anchor Bay’ or ‘Points Rey’.  Xera Plants is growing ‘Hearts Desire’ but expect other growers to jump on the plant wagon soon.  I’d use ‘Hearts Desire’ under limbed up fir trees, on SW facing banks or in “hellstrips”.  I will be trialing this new variety of California Lilac in my xeriscape garden.

Manzanita is a shrub or large tree known for its colorful bark and picturesque windswept shapes on the northern California coast. Here in Portland it’s too wet or too cold for most Manzanitas.  News flash!  Some of the California Manzanita species have been hybridized (designed by humans) into cold hardy evergreen ground covers and shrubs.  I love the leaves and the bark color and will be using these two specific varieties of Manzanita in my designs more frequently.   My favorite is ‘St. Helena’ which grows to 24 inches, and can take irrigation if it must.

Hummingbird sitting on manzanita plant

Hummingbird sitting on Manzanita plant

For success with Manzanita don’t feed the soil with compost or fertilizer at all, not even when doing initial soil preparation.  Work with the existing soil.  It needs to be watered through its first summer and then little to no irrigation is best.  This year (2015) my clients will be instructed to water it through its first winter as well since we are expecting a very dry winter but most years this would not be necessary.  Note: hummingbirds love Manzanita flowers.  Pacific Horticulture Society has an in depth article about Manzanita/Arctostaphlylos for the NW; by our revered plants man Paul Bonine.

Callistemon viridiflorus 'Xera Compact' Picture from Xera

Callistemon viridiflorus ‘Xera Compact’ Picture from Xera Plants

Callestemon or Bottle Brush is well known to Californians.  They have many varieties with hot red flowers and they  attract hummingbirds like crazy.  Their loose needles have a tropical feel to them and they can look wild or messy depending on your point of view!  While talking with Greg Shepard at Xera Plants, I got good news about the varieties of this plant that we can grow here in Portland.  A few of these make very attractive  tidy evergreen shrubs.  I’m always looking for soft textured evergreen shrubs with winter good looks that don’t get too big.  Hummingbirds are attracted to all of the Bottle Brush plants but deer are not.  Pretty great huh?

Here are 2 varieties I am most interested in for my clients:

1.  Callistemon Pityoides ‘Corvallis’.  Yes found in Corvallis, Oregon the original plant withstood 20 years of cold and everything an Oregon winter can throw at a plant.  It grows 5’ tall and 3’ wide in ten years.  It can take regular water or can be trained into drought tolerance easily.  It flowers twice in a season with soft yellow bottle brush flowers that remind people of baby ducks.  Deer usually leave it alone unless they are desperate.

2.  Callistemon viridiflorus ‘Xera Compact’ grows to 4 ½’ feet tall.  It is  VERY heavy blooming for 6 weeks.  The flowers are chartreuse and yellow brushes 3 inches long, the leaves are deep green in summer and take on hints of red in winter.

 

 

 

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.