We had a taste of spring here yesterday and this morning. We actually hit 70 F yesterday afternoon! It was the perfect day for a drive out to the country, and so some loved ones and I took off for destinations west after lunch.
Just over the county line, in the eastern edge of Amelia, Clay Hudgins of Hudgins Landscape and Nursery, Inc., is preparing for his first spring in his new location. We had visited last fall and been impressed with the excellent condition of the plants and friendliness of his staff.
What else to do on the first 70 degree day of the new year, but go wander through a nursery? Although I was in search of potted Hellebores, Clay interested me in shrubs instead. Many of his shrubs were on sale, and most of his Espoma products. So I stocked up on Holly Tone and Rose Tone; and adopted a gorgeous Rhododendron.
Our neighbors have successfully grown Rhododendron, even without fencing out the deer; and so we are going to try this one in a spot where a Camellia failed this autumn. The poor Camellia had been nibbled by deer multiple times during its short life. Sadly, most of its roots had also been eaten by the voles. It was too abused to even take a photo of it.
But I’ve learned a trick or two to protect new shrubs since that Camellia went into the ground in 2011. Today I planted both the Rhodie, and a potted dwarf Eastern Redbud tree, Cercis canadensis, which was already growing with Heuchera ‘Caramel,’ spring bulbs, and an Autumn Brilliance fern.
This is a cool and partially shaded area, part of our fern gardens behind the house. These plants will get afternoon sun, and should grow very happily here.
The first line of defense to protect a shrub’s roots from vole damage is gravel in the planting hole.
I dug this hole about 4″ deeper than needed, and about 6-7″ wider. You may notice a clam shell stuck to the side of the planting hole in the photo. That is plugging up the main vole tunnel, which is now back-filled with gravel behind that shell.
Like earthworms, voles dig and tunnel through the soil. My job is to make that as difficult and hazardous as possible. In addition to gravel, I like to surround the new shrub with poisonous roots. There were already a few daffodil bulbs growing in front of the deceased Camellia. You can see their leaves just poking through the soil in the bottom left corner of the photo, if you look closely. I’ve added a few more daffodils now, planted near the new Redbud, a few feet behind the Rhodie.
I’ll plan to plant more daffodils in this area when they come on the market again in fall. But, until then, I’ve surrounded the Rhodie with seedling Hellebores, spaced about 12″ apart. Hellebores are one of the most toxic plants we grow. Every part, including the roots, is highly poisonous. Once these roots begin to grow and fill in, they will form a poisonous “curtain” of plant matter around the Rhodie’s roots, protecting the root ball as the shrub establishes. Just for good measure, I’ve laid a light ‘mulch’ of the old Hellebore leaves we pruned this morning. They will quickly decompose into the soil, and their toxins will offer this area additional protection.
Japanese Painted Ferns are already established in this area. Their first fronds will unfurl over the next six weeks. I’ll add additional ferns, and most likely some Wood Anemones to this planting. It is mulched in pea gravel and some shells at the moment, to further thwart creatures who might want to dig here.
A little Holly Tone is mixed into the bottom of the planting holes and is also dusted over the mulched ground. Mushroom compost is mixed with the soil used to fill in around the root balls. Finally, I watered in all of the plants with a generous wash of Neptune’s Harvest. It smells so foul that hungry creatures give it wide berth. Just for good measure, I also sprayed the Heuchera and Rhododendron with deer repellent just before going back inside.
Overkill? Not at all! I want these plants to get off to a good and healthy start! I’ll show you the progress here from time to time. This gorgeous Rhodie is absolutely covered in buds, which will open in a beautiful shade of lavender later in the spring. I’m so pleased with this shrub, having seen its beautiful roots and abundant growth, that I’m seriously considering purchasing a few more Rhododendrons from this same lot while they are available, and still on sale.
Gophers are the bane of our existence, so I was especially interested in your vole strategies. The deer have never bothered our Rhodies, but beware the dreaded lacewing.
The garden remains full of hungry mouths to feed, doesn’t it? We don’t have gophers, but several neighbors have had ground hogs settle in their gardens. Our largest visitors are the snapping turtles, who dig nests, and the deer. I’ve become an unwitting admirer of poisonous plants; they are the ones which survive here. Thank you for visiting Forest Garden, Ricki. A pleasure to have found your site today. Best wishes, WG
Wonderful! Here is still winter, but soon we can begin our planting too!
It won’t be long now. We got a tiny window of spring like weather, and now we’re back to winter, too. Thank you for visiting Forest Garden, today. Please stay warm, WG
How exciting that you are out planting already and enjoying 70 degrees! (What a difference a few degrees latitude makes.) That Rhodo has got a good start, I can’t wait to see it bloom. 🙂
The photo on the card shows a beautifully marked blossom which reminds me of an orchid. I can’t wait to see the shrub in bloom. It will probably be early May. We had a great time, remembering how much we’ve missed our work in the garden since the weather sent us inside in November 😉 Now, the roller coaster dips down again. We heard that MA finally declared a state of emergency this afternoon. Are you doing OK? How much more snow fell on your garden today?
We are fine thank you – we got a foot today and it is still snowing, can you believe it? Forecast is 3-6″ on Thurs. This is turning out to be quite the winter!
Did you get my email?
It is hard to believe so much snow has fallen on MA this winter. Such strange weather patterns! We are wondering whether the kids will have any summer left at all. They may have to move graduations back into July! Can you imagine? This will certainly be a winter to remember. I’ll look for the email- haven’t found it yet- take care, WG