Thursday, January 26, 2017

Spring Garden Itch


Mid-winter is about the time most gardeners start getting "spring itch". For nonsufferers, it should be noted this is not a dermatological condition requiring an office visit, nor is it likely to be contagious. It's simply a longing to be back in the garden knowing full well that any activity pursued in the soil is physically impossible for at least a couple of months. There are therapies that can be employed right now to ameliorate the symptoms.

Always a treat -- the first special plants of spring at the doorstep
1. Catalog therapy - Allow yourself to get lost in the beautiful catalogs arriving daily. Make lists of what you must have.

Check with local garden centers before you buy online. In addition to all the good stuff that happens from "buying local", plants are not a sweater or a pair of shoes. I prefer selecting my own actively growing rose, perennial, whatever, rather than accepting something the shipping department (no offense to the fine folks in shipping departments) pulled. I reserve my online plant purchases to: exclusives, very new or very rare specialties that I can't get from my favorite garden center- Chalet. Still, when I come home at night in spring and there's a box of plants waiting to be opened that's better than Christmas, for sure!

Consider renewal pruning on overgrown oldies 
2. "To do" list therapy - Now is a great time to objectively look at your garden and think about how you can make it even better.

What needs: dormant pruning, transplanting, removal, adding to (as in small groupings that need beefing up), cutting back or deadheading (perennials), to be bought, refining bed outlines and sizes (that always means enlarging, by the way), mulch added or removed, acidifying, thinning, fertilizing. You'll have a great sense of accomplishment and purpose facing spring with list in hand.

While the garden is asleep you can enjoy learning and dreaming
3. Reading therapy - Get out your garden books. Buy great garden magazines like Fine Gardening and absorb. It will ease the urge, just by inspiration, I promise.

4. Landscape "assessment test" therapy - This refers to garden design goals rather than the tasks just described in #2. While annual and perennial color are great, at least 6 months of the year that visual impact is dramatically reduced in the Midwest. What is your family's view of your landscape now - from inside the house? We have a tendency to prioritize views from the street, pulling into the garage, sitting on the patio, etc.

  • I took the "test" of a long border that runs the full length of my property. Since I clear cut all my perennials in the fall that bed was b-l-e-a-k November through April. And in snow, boring. Peppering dwarf conifers throughout that bed the last few years has made that winter view much more enjoyable.

Start early and beat the May crowds - good design takes time
  • Now is the time to think about landscape projects requiring professional design.Check now (that's right, winter) with your favorite garden center or landscape firm. Let them help you assess your project. The installation of landscapes is necessarily a seasonally driven pursuit. People are often surprised when they call or come in mid-May to learn that the design and installation can't be accomplished within a few days. A good design is first and foremost an artistic, creative process that requires time. The installation component is equal parts hard physical work and artistry, too. Be one of the prepared people when spring breaks.
The seed racks beckon with colorful choices
5. Seed shopping therapy - Check out the garden center's seed racks and buy what you're going to need. Whether you're going to start them indoors or sow directly in the garden, this is an important garden activity.

Indoor plant care can help keep your thumb green
 6. Houseplant therapy - As day length and light intensity increase again houseplants are going to start stirring from the doldrums of winter hibernation. As you start seeing new growth you can think about feeding, repotting, moving plants around and adding new varieties to your collection. Houseplant care is gardening, too.

Garden itch subsiding yet?                 

Friday, January 13, 2017

2017 Landscape Resolutions


In a recent survey the number one resolution for the year wasn't dieting, but to be a better person. Truly admirable. Why not consider some resolutions to make your landscape better in 2017, too? The Hortiholic will happily share a few suggestions.

Help to reduce the spread of a very bad plant, buckthorn
  • Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) is a noxious invasive, not an acceptable screening plant. Do yourself and your neighbors a huge favor and get rid of it to slow the spread. Boxelder and Siberian elm are equally awful and should share the same fate.
Assess the front of the house, and elsewhere
  • Tens of  thousands of dollars are spent on home renovations so our houses won't be "dated". How long has it been since you've considered the front of your house? Stand at the street, pretend it isn't your home and objectively ask, "Does this landscaping make my house more beautiful or is it as tired as the _______ (kitchen, bath, fill in the blank) I just replaced? Everyone sees the front of your home. Be proud of it. If you're overwhelmed seek professional help (design, not a therapist), preferably before spring so you're ready to proceed with ideas, or even better, a plan when weather breaks.
  • Just because you divided the Hosta lining the sidewalk and now have 150 or more "plants", don't feel compelled to share Nature's bounty. Compost 'em or throw 'em away. Don't put the neighbors in a position where they feel they have to accept and find a place for them. Neighbors, if you don't want the "seconds", politely decline. Perhaps, "Oh thanks, but I have other plans for that area." I'm sounding like Miss Manners, aren't I?
  • Break out of the rut. Try 3 new varieties of annuals, perennials, veggies or herbs. They don't have to be new on the market. Tried and true is good, especially if you're a newer gardener and building confidence in your green thumb. New to you and your garden is just fine.
  • Make life easier on yourself and stop trying to grow grass under a Norway maple. Too much shade, too much root competition. Consider a really tough shade tolerant ground cover. If that's too daunting make a bed with mulch as the ground cover. Let the bare soil and lack of grass suggest a potential bed outline. 
Create a pollinator-friendly place
  • Bees and Monarchs aren't the only pollinators. Other butterflies, moths, insects and birds can use all the help they can get. Check out "Little Garden Club of Wilmette Pocket Prairie Plant Selection Guide" as a great resource. They've certainly raised my understanding of how even a grouping of 5 or more native plants as a way station in your garden can make a big difference!
  • Do you have a room whose windows no longer "tell" time of day because of the foliage "curtaining" it? Do guests have to walk on the grass, or single file, to the front door because the landscaping is overgrown? If it's just a plant or two and you think it's salvageable, find out what the plants are and whether they can handle a rejuvenation prune or... must be trashed. 
Save tags to replicate what you liked
  • If you're not an obsessive compulsive person (guilty), if you're not a spreadsheet guru (guilty again) save the tags and labels from your plant purchases. I recommend a year, but two would be better. It's so much easier in the spring to replicate a successful container or add to a perennial grouping if you have the tags. Spring is frenzied in the garden center. A rousing game of 20 questions with your favorite horticulturist ("Well, I think it was blue. Maybe a foot tall. I don't remember when it bloomed. What was it?") may not yield the correct answer.
Take up birdfeeding and enjoy the show
  • Get a bird feeder and keep it filled! Winter is tough for our feathered friends when snow cover is deep. Learn the species names. I guarantee you'll enjoy watching them jockeying for a spot at the feeder. The antics of the squirrels trying to get around the baffle is fun, too. You'll be saving lives.

I got rid of so much angst with this post I think I can skip my therapy session this week.                          

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