Thursday, July 17, 2014

Garden Training for Excess Raining

I thought I had a handle on just how wet the summer has been. My rain gauge (that measures 100ths of an inch, I'm proud to say) recorded 9.30" for June. I just spoke with a fellow horticulturist who was telling me that she was pruning and found gangs of slugs hiding in yew branches four feet off the ground. We've revealed a new definition of saturation point: So wet that even slugs seek higher ground!

Short of dragging water-soaked containers under overhangs or setting up umbrellas over drought-tolerant perennials, there's only so much a person can do to stem the flood waters. Here are a few proactive things that may help save plants after the recent deluges.

Override the Sprinkler System 
Congrats to those folks that have automatic overrides. For those that have manual controls, please consider shutting off your system on an as-needed basis! We've all seen sprinklers gushing water in the middle of a downpour. In addition to the ecological benefits of conserving water, think about the dollar savings.

Drain Your Saucers
Plants in containers (with holes in the bottom) have much better drainage than plants in our clay-laden garden soils. Hanging baskets or decorative pots with saucers (attached or otherwise) must be checked daily and emptied. The potting mix will have absorbed all the moisture it can hold after 30 minutes. After that, roots are dying. So, be extra vigilant about water removal with all the rain we've been receiving.

Formerly full begonias

Remember to Fertilize
Nutrient deficiencies may start showing up in plants on a patio near you, namely yours. Most potting mixes are "soilless". They are either coarse peat or bark-based to promote drainage. They have minimal nutrient content regardless of whether the bag says "Fertilizer Added" or not. Constant rainfall, like our own frequent watering, leaches nitrogen out of the bottom of the pot. Nitrogen is responsible for leaf and stem growth, as well as leaf color. Add a complete fertilizer (nitrogen, phosphorous and potash-containing) to keep your plants in tip-top shape as needed.  

Control the Slugs
Populations of slugs and earwigs are exploding. Protect hostas, lettuce, spinach and other slug faves with the iron phosphate baits. They are applied directly to the ground under and around your ornamentals and vegetables. The varmints eat the bait and crawl away to die within a day or two.

Chewed on petunia
Check New Plantings Daily
Newly planted perennials, shrubs and trees that were container grown will need to be checked daily for water. Remember they've been potted in a coarse mix to promote drainage. That doesn't change because they're out of the pot and in the ground. It is possible that the day after a good rain the root ball of your new plant could be dry, even while the surrounding soil is wet. Never assume anything about rainfall and new plants.  

Check Before Watering
Wilting plants MAY or MAY NOT indicate a need for water. Ironically, plants wilt when they're standing in water just the same as if they're bone dry. So, before you water that wilting Hydrangea or coleus in the midday sun, check the mulch or soil surface to see if it's moist. If so, wait a few hours and revisit the plant in the cooler part of the day, and see if it hasn't returned to normal. If not, water may be needed.

Water stress-induced leaf roll on tomato

Preventative Treatments
Use fungicides preventatively on plants with a past history of fungal issues. Roses and black spot, tomatoes and blight(s), Garden phlox and powdery mildew, are among the common health issues to be expected with constant rainfall and high humidity. Again, prevention of further infection is the goal. Present symptoms will not be reversed.

Enjoy the lush growth in your garden because of, and in spite of, the incredible rainfall!!!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Japanese (Maple) Spoken Here

'Koto-No-Ito'. 'Osakazuki'. 'Asahi zuru'. 'Beni maiko'. 'Shishigashira'. 'Oridono nishiki'. 'Seiryu'. 'Inaba shidare'. These Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) names are, of course, beautiful in their own right. The beauty of the trees exceeds even the elegance of their names.

Feel the thickness of a Japanese maple leaf, especially a cutleaf (dissectum) type, and it doesn't take much imagination to understand how they might sunburn or get wind-tattered if planted in the wrong place. For that reason I'm especially happy when someone says they want a Japanese maple and have an east-facing exposure. Love the idea of the morning sun to fully color the burgundy leaved varieties, but afternoon shade to prevent sunburn. Deep shade for most of the day will muddy maroon leaves and turn them green/brown. Not a color you hoped for when you chose to own a Japanese maple.

Cutleaf (dissectum) type foliage

Another bonus to an eastern exposure is the shelter it provides from prevailing northwest winter winds. That isn't to say you can't grow one successfully in a south or west (with no afternoon shade) facing site. Just avoid planting it against brick walls or surrounded by paved surfaces where it will get reflected afternoon heat and sun, both on its leaves and roots. I have certainly seen good looking specimens planted in afternoon sun, but they've always been placed away from reflective surfaces and were well mulched!

Japanese maples are perfectly happy in average garden soils that aren't excessively compacted or ever experience standing water. If you can meet these site requirements perhaps you should consider adding a Japanese maple to your landscape. Want something distinctive?

'Koto-No-Ito' (Harp strings) - An unusual mixture of slender string-like green leaves, two different sizes at the same time! Golden-yellow fall color, bright green bark. Have one myself, love it.

'Osakazuki' - Durable, non-burning green summer leaves. Considered by many to have the most intense scarlet fall color of any Japanese maple.

'Asahi zuru' (Dawn swan) - Stunning variegation of white, rich green with pink tones that later turn white. Afternoon shade is a plus.

'Beni maiko' (Red-haired dancing girl) - Emerges fire-red, maturing to pinkish-red and green leaves. Stunning pink-red fall color.

'Shishigashira' (Lion's head or mane) - Dwarfish tree with densely tufted green leaves that are sun-proof. Gold and crimson fall color. Very compact with ornamental green bark. Elegant is the adjective to use. Have one, wouldn't be without it. 


'Oridono nishiki' (Rich colored fabric of the master) - Deep, shiny green changing with wide ranges of pink, white and cream variegation. Yes, really pink.

'Seiryu' (Blue-green dragon) - The only upright growing cutleaf type. Emerges bright green with reddish tones, green in summer, fall brings gold, yellow and red!

'Inaba shidare' (Cascading rice-like leaf) - Deep-purple red leaves retain their color well all season, then brilliant purple-red for autumn.

'Inaba shidare'

The addition of even a single Japanese maple (Acer palmatum, A. palmatum dissectum) to a landscape can quickly elevate the beauty of a space. Many of us are familiar with the standard varieties, 'Bloodgood', 'Crimson Queen', and 'Garnet'. Don't let the exotic names of the many hardy varieties mentioned above keep you from "branching out" and considering them for your garden.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Winter, Bunnies & Ice - Not So Nice

I wish I had never ended the last post with, "Here's hoping the spring thaw brings you a garden unfazed by winter weather." Talk about a jinx- geez! If your garden escaped without burned evergreens, a moldy lawn, broken branches, shrubs girdled by rabbits, roses that appear dead... Well, run and get a lottery ticket, 'cause you're one of the lucky ones.

Let's not dwell on how our plants got in this fix. We know how it happened. Let's get to solutions. There are some symptoms that we can be proactive about. Other damage is going to require patience and a wait-and-see-what-happens attitude.

Burned Evergreens - The Falsecypress damage pictured below is fairly typical. Lots of evergreens are showing bronzing of foliage. In particular, damage can be expected on south or west-facing sides that get the brutal combination of winter sun and wind. Patience, please. Most evergreens' growing points are on branch tips and can still be alive, even if the rest of the branch looks dead. If every needle is brown or orange the plant MAY be dead.

Fried Falsecypress

Is there any way to predict dead or alive? One way to get a better idea of your plant's future is to break off a bud at the end of any branch. If the bud is soft and pliable, and both of the break points (bud and stem that it came from) are moist and green, there is hope. The question is: If all of the buds grow out in May, what will the tree look like when the growth from previous years is dead? Time will tell.   

Moldy Lawns - Many consecutive days of grass being buried under snow caused some lawns to show snow mold. As soon as melt occured the grayish-white fungus showed up on the dormant grass. Some lawns were completely covered with it. Warm temperatures, perhaps a very light raking to remove leaf debris (if present), and an application of fertilizer and it should be gone. Do not dethatch!  

Branches broken by ice or snow? Get out the Felcos and make clean cuts. One thing that may show up later on deciduous branches is "canker". Canker is a symptom, a discoloration on branches or trunks. They might be described as black, purple or brown lesions, large or small. They may or may not have distinct margins that contrast with the normal bark color. They are secondary bacterial or fungal invaders due to plant stress. This warrants removal of the diseased stems. A perfect example would be the blackening of stems often seen on older Redtwig dogwood stems.

Did the Easter bunny visit your landscape prematurely? I wish he'd just left the milk chocolate eggs rather than the chewed up bark of crabapples and fruit trees! Where the bark has been completely removed (girdled) the branch will die. It may try to leaf out and then will collapse and die later. Arborvitae missing branches 3' off the ground now? In that case stems with no foliage will never produce leaves on those branch "stumps". Start pruning, but you may not like what you're left with.

Branches girdled by rabbits

Roses are looking baa-a-a-a-ddd, lots of dieback to the ground. If you're itching to get out and work you could start with a "rought cut". That is, prune out the tallest dead canes down to roughly the point where you see green. With so many people using "own root" roses, like the "Knockouts", they MAY completely regrow from the crown and make perfectly fine plants. You can go in later after they leaf out (about the time you make the first fertilizer application) and prune out any stems that are dead.

Dead rose canes

Is it alive or is it dead? That's the $64,000 garden question this year. Time and nature will bring answers in the coming weeks.

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