Pot Shots: Early Spring Bulbs

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Planting up pots with spring blooming bulbs has become an autumn ritual for me.   I consider how the bloom will unfold around the perennials, ferns and woodies included in the design.   I plant with a sense of anticipation and caution.  I am excited by the potential while also mindful of the many pitfalls that can damage bulbs between autumn and spring.

I’ve lost bulbs in recent years to hungry squirrels, bacterial infection on some of the bulbs planted, extreme cold and dry soil.

Some variables we can anticipate and plant to avoid. 

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Newly planted on September 25, 2018

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I’ve learned to order and pick my bulbs up as early as possible, before they can get old or contaminated in the the shop.  This year, I learned to spray the bulbs with a repellent, like Repels All, just before I plant them to discourage rodents.  I use the largest pots possible and try to shelter them against the worst weather.

Now, I make a point to water bulb filled pots throughout the winter when the ground isn’t frozen, and to mulch each pot with rocks or moss to minimize damage and bulb loss.

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November 6, 2018 Autumn blooming Colchicum was the first bulb to bloom in this fall planted pot. Cyclamen leaves have already emerged, and moss has begun to establish. 

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This four season pot’s main occupant is a native Oakleaf Hydrangea, which doesn’t look like much at the moment in its dormancy.  The pot is filled with an assortment of bulbs, roots, corms and tubers to unfold gradually over the long months between late autumn and early summer.

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We are currently enjoying Tommies, better known as Crocus Tommasinianus, known to rarely attract rodents.  This Crocus species simply smells differently from most species and cultivars, which can actually attract squirrels and mice because they smell nut-like.  Tommies are some of the earliest Crocus to bloom each spring, multiply well and can thrive in partial shade.

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We also have another snowdrop blooming and the first bloom of our Cyclamen coum, which will open in another day.  I planted a mix of fall blooming Cyclamen hederifolium and C. coum for a longer season of delicate blooms.

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It isn’t cheating to begin adding plants in early spring.  Pots are stages, and the players come and go to keep the show lively.  I added the panola last week, to fill a small hole left by a curious squirrel.

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I love bulbs in pots precisely because I’m curious, too.  I want to watch spring unfold in miniature, up close; in a choreographed microcosm of what is writ large around us.

Moss mulch elevates the entire experience for me because it provides that splash of vivid, living green on even the coldest, dullest winter days.  It protects and insulates the bulbs while also protecting whatever is in growth from splashing soil during rains.  And, quite honestly, I’m curious to watch every tiny plant that sprouts from the moss.

Left untended, the grass would grow in little clumps through the moss until unplanned plants (read: weeds) overwhelmed the planting.  But no:  We have little snips to keep everything tidied up.  That is a lesson learned from hard experience, too.

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You never got around to planting bulbs this year?  No worries. 

You can still create a beautiful pot of blooming bulbs now.  I’ve found bulbs in growth at nurseries and the grocery store for the past few weeks.

Grab a pot or basket and fresh potting mix, plan your arrangement, and just take those bulbs already in growth and slip them out of their nursery pot as you tuck them into your arrangement.  Add a pansy or primrose, if it makes you happy.  There is no shortage of moss after all the rain these past few weeks.

All sorts of interesting things have begun to turn up at local nurseries, and your creative ideas will lead you to just the right components for your own spring pot.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience.

Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.”
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Hal Borland

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February 15, 2019

 

 

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The Temptations of Early Spring…

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Last week we were swept up in the edges of the ‘Polar Vortex’ and had some of our coldest temperatures of the season.  It felt like winter.  We ate soup and stayed indoors.  But a winter storm swept through on Friday and took the cold out to sea, leaving us with balmy spring-time weather in its wake.

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We were still frozen at mid-day on Sunday, but the sun was out and warmth was returning.

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It was warmer this morning than all day yesterday, and by afternoon we were looking for projects to take us outside.  The air was soft and the sun was warm.  I could smell the sweetness of our opening Edgeworthia flowers for the first time this season.

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A honey bee was out foraging on the Mahonia flowers, and birds called to one another throughout the day.  A group of owls had a loud conversation in the ravine, and a nest has appeared in a shrub by the garage.

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It feels like instant spring, and I was inspired to all sorts of little tasks like taking cuttings, giving our living room fern a trim out on the deck, and potting up some of our rooting Begonia stems.

I groomed the pots on the patio; fingers crossed.  We had geraniums still green until this last cold spell and ‘annual’ Verbena still green and growing.  The ‘Goodwin Creek’ lavender is usually fried and frozen by February; but so far, so good with ours in big pots by the front porch.

Will it make it all the way through to next summer?

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Italian Arum unfolding ever so slowly in a pot by the kitchen door.

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I am a little chagrined to realize how much the weather effects my ambition to get gardening things done.  The warmth and sunshine gave me a welcome rush of energy.  Even so, I know that winter hasn’t finished with us, yet.

There may be warmer days yet in the forecast for the week, but I know that more ice and snow will find us before May.  I’m still reluctant to do much pruning or other clean-up so early.

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Iris bulbs are up and growing in the Iris border at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden. We will have flowers before the end of February.

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I wanted to clean up the dead and dying branches of things in pots near the house, but not too soon, if they can still recover from their roots.

Cut too soon, the next hard freeze might kill them.

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I spotted little green buds on the Clematis and found Dianthus buds ready to open.  I’m still taking inventory of all the Hellebores with flower buds.   Oh, the havoc a false spring can create when a hard freeze follows a balmy breeze!  I’d rather the plants remain dormant, and not begin to grow too early.

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It was too nice a day to waste fretting over winter’s next act.  I went ahead and pruned our little variegated English holly to shape it a bit, and now have a pan with eight Ilex aquifolium cuttings that I hope will root.  The holly should be hardy enough to not mind the early pruning.

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Hellebores keep right on blooming through winter storms and freezing nights.

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Bulbs are popping up everywhere and buds are swelling on our Magnolia trees.  Yesterday morning, the ground was too frozen to re-plant Violas uprooted by the squirrels.

Today, the soil is soft and moist, full of promise and tempting me to press some bit of stem or seed or root into it for safe keeping, until spring settles in and our garden grows lush and green once again.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Date Seed Update:  I moved some of the seeds showing growth from the jar of water to a damp paper towel in a zip-lock.  I have the seeds under a lamp in a warm spot, and am checking them daily for growth. 

Of course, I could have planted these directly into pots of soil.  But it’s more interesting to keep them out where we can watch them grow a while longer!

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Six on Saturday: Camping Out Indoors

This is one of our favorite Alocasias, often called African Mask. It spends winter in the living room and summer in a shady part of the garden.

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We love big and colorful leaves in our summer garden, and we end up growing a pretty good collection of tropical plants each year that can’t make it through our coldest winter nights outdoors.  By the end of October, we are deciding which plants will get to camp out inside for the winter, and where (and how) they will overwinter.

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This Alocasia, originally from Trader Joe’s, wasn’t labeled. It reminds me of A. ‘Regal Shields,’ but grows a bit larger.  It died back to its tuber in the basement last winter.  This winter it is still in growth in our sunny garage.

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Some plants get to grow on in their pots in our sunny living spaces.  They will stay comfortably warm from November through April or May.  Aside from living with a little less light than they’d like, they have a good winter of continued growth and minimal disruption.  I continue to fertilize many of these plants to encourage winter blooms.

Others come into the garage.  It is a good deal chillier, and they get even less light.  But they remain active, with very little new growth, and most manage to survive the winter.  I water these only as needed to keep their soil barely moist, and don’t apply any fertilizer until the weeks before they move back outdoors.

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Begonias live in our garage and living room through the winter.  Some may lose their leaves, but often return from their rhizomes in the spring.  this one is growing well this winter and is still producing new leaves.

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A few sturdier plants, Alocasias, Zantedeschias and Colocasias, are re-potted into much smaller quarters and overwinter in the basement near a window.  Most of those that get this treatment have a dormant period built into their annual life cycle and are at least marginally hardy here in Zone 7.

I spare them a real period of freezing temperatures and make sure that they stay barely moist through winter.  They lose most, or all of their leaves and may survive as a tuber with a few active roots.  The Zantedeschias we are overwintering this way have continued to throw out sturdy new leaves, reaching for the feeble winter light from our basement windows.

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Begonias with Caladium ‘Moonlight’. Cane Begonias can be overwintered in vases of water as cuttings. Once the stem has roots, it can be potted up in a much smaller pot, indoors, until time to plant it outside in late April.  Cuttings of this Begonia rest on my kitchen counter, waiting for spring.

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Finally, most of the Caladiums and some Zantedeschias go fully dormant in November, with all leaves and roots dying back.  Once their tubers have dried out, I pack them away in rice hulls, in bags, and put them in an out of the way spot indoors for the winter.

They slumber through winter without any moisture or light, and must be re-awakened each spring by planting them in moist soil.  They send out all new growth each spring and are ready to back out doors in May or June.

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Caladium ‘Burning Heart’ was a newcomer to our garden this summer.  Its tubers are resting, waiting for me to wake them up next month.

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The alternative to going to all of this trouble would be to treat our beautiful summer tropical plants like annuals, allowing the frost to kill them each fall and starting over with new plants each spring.  Some gardeners may go this route, especially if you don’t have the space indoors to let the plants camp out in comfort for a few months.

It would be an outrageous expense for us, and there isn’t a guarantee that you will even find the plants in spring to replace those lost.  We lost our Alocasia ‘Stingray’ last winter, and then didn’t find it in any catalogs for spring.  We were delighted to find A. ‘Stingray’ in Brent and Becky Heath’s spring catalog, and have several on order.

So every fall we bring as many as we can indoors, care for them through the winter, and then begin moving them all back outside again in April.  They may look a bit worse for the winter in doors, but all soon grow new foliage and perk up in the sunshine to enjoy another summer of beauty and growth.

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Zantedeschia, calla lily, blooming last June.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

Many thanks to The Propagator for hosting Six on Saturday each week.

 

 

The Shape of Things

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You may find winter’s landscape a bit stark.  Some might observe we are down to the ‘bones’ of the garden: trunks, branches, hardscape and often frozen ground.

Much of that is colored dull brown or grey, brightened here and there by our evergreens, holly berries, Nandina clusters, and rosy swelling buds.

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There’s little left that looks or feels soft.  The ground may still be littered with crumbling leaves blowing about.

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Skeletons of last May’s Hydrangeas linger here and there; an ethereal bit of Solidago shivers in the wind.  Sharp edges everywhere: sticks, thorns, spines on holly leaves and brittle branches.

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This is a sober and thoughtful turn of the seasons.  I find myself studying a crape myrtle tree as I unload groceries from the car.  Which branches need pruning next month?

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My eye wanders over to the hedge of rose of Sharon shrubs leaning at an unlikely angle towards the butterfly garden.  They’ve grown too tall and top heavy for their spot.  I’m making a mental list of things to do while the garden is sleeping.

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With the garden stripped bare and most of it slumbering, I can see the shape of things.  I can see things I like, and things that must be fixed.  I can wade into beds once filled with Canna and Hedychium, grasses and flowering stems.  Now I see the roots exposed on this leaning Camellia, and the brazen honeysuckle vines climbing up through the center of a venerable old Azalea shrub.

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I can see branches that may be damaged, diseased, already dead, or dangerous in some way.  With the leaves gone, I can finally see problems that may have been hidden before.

This is the time to fix it all.  This is the time to prune woodies, while they are dormant.  This is a good time to find and eliminate invasive vines or shrubs.  This is the time to remake the borders of the beds, study the layout, figure out where new shrubs might go and which old ones need to go.

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I learned an interesting fact this week:  Most home landscapes are only expected to grow for 20-25 years before the main shrubs must be replaced.  I’m so used to hearing about planned obsolescence in everything from cars to toasters, that the shock at hearing that statistic is mild.

You see, I happen to know that some of the Azaleas growing along our foundation were planted before 1970.  We won’t do the math there, OK? 

But a case can be made for shrubs and trees having a life span, just as a pet or any other living thing grows, ages, and eventually will die.  I look around and see a lot of things that have maybe grown too big, or grown here too long.

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Some older shrubs may be ‘fixed’ with rejuvenation pruning.  By cutting out older branches, new ones may grow.   We do this with roses, with Hydrangeas and with some holly shrubs.  I cut the beautyberry and butterfly bush back to just a couple of feet each spring, knowing it will reward me with fresh new branches.  When flowers grow from new wood, this will work.

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Other shrubs, that set their flowers in the autumn, won’t bloom if you cut their buds away by pruning now.  Azaleas, Hydrangea, Forsythia and Camellia have their buds set and ready to open once the weather warms.  After bloom, we can cut out the older, taller canes from those that send up new shoots each year.  We can head back branches grown too long, shape, direct, and guide future growth.

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This is the time to walk around with a notepad and a critical eye, making decisions about what plants may stay, which need a bit of pruning, and which must go before another spring distracts us.

I’ve been reading about ‘tidying up’ in our homes, according to Marie Kondo’s KonMari method.  I’m not yet piling all my clothes or books in the floor to sort them, but the idea of making peaceful living spaces by identifying what gives us joy- and what does not- has value.

I wonder if she has a similar method for tidying up one’s garden?

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I wonder if we wander around our own yard in January noticing what ‘brings us joy’, and what leaves us feeling anxious or annoyed, if we might be inspired to make some changes?

How often do you begin a new project to solve an old problem?  How often do you wait for a calamity to edit the structure of your garden?

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January is a good time to embrace change.  We have a fresh start by the calendar and by the wheel of the natural year, too.

Now that the garden has undressed itself and settled in for a good long rest, we can take a breath and ‘see’ what is and isn’t there.

We can see the shape of things, and dream it into any shape we choose for the many seasons yet to come.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Sunday Dinner: Ever Turning

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“There’s magic, positive magic,
in such phrases as: “I may be wrong.
I frequently am. Let’s examine the facts.”
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Dale Carnegie

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“Everyone thinks of changing the world,
but no one thinks of changing himself.”
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Leo Tolstoy

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“Once time is lost, it can never be earned by any means”
“Time never stops for anybody
and never shows kindness to anyone”
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Sunday Adelaja

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“You couldn’t erase the past.
You couldn’t even change it.
But sometimes life offered you
the opportunity to put it right.”
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Ann Brashares
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“There are times when the world is rearranging itself,
and at times like that,
the right words can change the world.”
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Orson Scott Card
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“The strangeness of Time.
Not in its passing, which can seem infinite,
like a tunnel whose end you can’t see,
whose beginning you’ve forgotten,
but in the sudden realization that something finite,
has passed, and is irretrievable.”
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Joyce Carol Oates

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“I change the world,
the world changes me.”
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Libba Bray
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Experiments With Gravel Mulch

Yucca filamentosa ‘Colorguard’ has appeared from under our newly installed gravel mulch.

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Most of the mulches we use are organic and improve the soil as they decay.  Shredded bark or leaves, pine straw, straw, newsprint or brown paper all have their uses.

When we consider inorganic mulches, there are definite benefits along with some obvious deficits.  Inorganic mulch won’t improve soil texture or fertility.  But neither will it harbor fungal disease, come pre-contaminated with weed seeds, provide a nesting site for ants or decay in just a few months.

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New terraces are planted to help control erosion, and mulched with pea gravel (spring 2017).

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I was first drawn to pea gravel mulch as we began to try to control erosion and cultivate the steep slopes of our back garden.    But I was also digging some gravel into the back-fill and planting hole when we installed new shrubs and perennials, to try to thwart the voles who would otherwise devour their tasty root balls.  Finishing the job with a nice mulch of gravel felt appropriate as a further deterrent to rodents.

Pea gravel definitely helps both with erosion control and rodent control.  But it also ‘disappeared’ into the soil on rainy days, after a while, and got covered with leaf litter and other organic matter over time.  I find myself renewing the pea gravel in spots after a while.

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“Soil security”

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Gravel mulch serves to help conserve soil moisture, just like every other sort of mulch.  It shades the soil, shelters root systems, absorbs the shock of falling rain and holds soil in place.

Additionally, gravel reflects sunlight and heat back up into the plants above it, helping to dry the plants more quickly after a rain and thereby deter fungal disease.  Gravel mulch also provides a dry barrier between moist soil and dry plant, preventing crown rot.

Soil doesn’t splash up onto lower leaves and branches, and the gravel perhaps makes it a little harder for invertebrates to travel up and back between soil and delicious plant above.

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Gravel mulch is used most commonly in rock gardens, where many drought tolerant and alpine plants are featured.  Some plants wouldn’t live long with a moist organic mulch, but manage just fine with gravel mulch that protects their crown.  Gravel is coming into vogue again as a fashionable and useful mulch for perennial gardens, too.  I have been reading about perennial and succulent  gardens grown under several inches of pea gravel in various garden magazines.

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Even a thin gravel mulch has helped conserve moisture around these newly planted perennials.

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I also recently enjoyed listening to a presentation by Joseph Tychonievich at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden where he presented his new book, Rock Gardening:  Reimagining a Classic Style.  Joseph inspired me to move ahead with my vision to incorporate more areas of gravel mulch in our sunny perennial beds in the upper garden.

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I use fine gravel as a mulch in potted arrangements, too.

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This area is gently sloping, and erosion isn’t as much of a pressing concern as in the lower gardens.  The entire area was left under several inches of freshly ground hardwood mulch in 2013, as the arborists who cleaned up our fallen trees ground up leaves and branches and simply left it all in place.

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Fresh compost piled on top of existing mulch allows me to plant in this area in 2013, right after the trees came down, without digging into the clay. A light covering of wood chips from the forest floor mulches the planting .

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As that has decomposed, I’ve renewed the mulch with bagged hardwood and Cypress mulch from the local hardware store.  It smells pleasant, and Cypress helps to repel insects.  It has an ecological downside, though as mature trees are cut for mulch.

The soil in much of this area still consists of thick, hard clay, despite my best efforts to dig in compost and improve its texture.  There may be a few inches of good compost on top of the clay, but the clay still holds heavy rainfall and keeps parts of the garden far too wet, especially in winter.

I am beginning to understand that a gravel mulch will promote better growth and vigor in most of the plants we are trying to establish, particularly the Iris and Mediterranean herbs.

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Recently,  I decided to experiment with a much larger gravel mulch in one of the beds that needed some TLC.  I lost several perennials here over winter, and so had quite a bit of bare ground.

On our shopping trip, my partner noticed this beautiful blue green rock quarried somewhere in Virginia.  We decided on the spot to give it a try, and I am very pleased with the results thus far.  Not only is this gravel not going to shift around on a rainy day, but I don’t believe it will sink down into the soil anytime soon, either.

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This three year old Siberian Iris bloomed for the first time this spring, and I hope the new gravel mulch will help it grow more vigorously in future.

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Now, please keep in mind that gravel is the heaviest mulch you can choose, and moving it around and spreading it takes both strength and commitment.  If I had the luxury of ordering up a truckload of it and hiring a crew to spread it for me, that would be a lovely thing.  But I don’t.

Rather, I’m buying it a couple of bags at a time and spreading it by hand.  It is going to take most of the summer to mulch this whole area working with just a few square feet each week.  But I am already seeing the benefit this mulch brings to our plants.

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This is a single bag of gravel spread around our new Monarda.  It will take a few more bags to finish this area….

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I bought three plugs of Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’ about four years ago, as we were first planting this bed.  I wanted them to make a large focal point to anchor the area and planted them in a broad triangle.  Well, let’s just say that I expected them to grow much faster and they have largely gotten lost between larger and floppier perennials.  In fact, one of the three was struggling so much that I dug it up in late winter and planted it into a pot in full sun, hoping to give it a better chance to grow.

Never mind that I kept digging it up every month or so, checking to see if there was any visible growth, and replanting it again with the confirmation of a fresh root or tiny shoot.  That is a sad tale, and I ended up filling the pot with first one plant, and then another, simply to have something to look at besides the empty pot.  I ticked this off as a failed plant and moved on.

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Maybe if I put a fresh gravel mulch in this pot, the Yucca would finally grow?

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But not so fast!  Something of that Yucca was left alive in the original bed.  And finally, a month after I mulched over the area with the new Virginia gravel, look at what has emerged!  Plants really really want to live, and sometimes we just need to improve conditions for them and get out of the way to give them a chance!

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This newly planted Lavender was struggling with our weather extremes, but has improved under the gravel mulch this month.

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Our friends at our local garden center have a running joke that we always buy gravel or compost, if nothing else, and are their best customers for pea gravel. Gravel has made gardening in this difficult site possible.

If you happen to be in the neighborhood, and want to visit with me and bring a little gift, a fresh bag of gravel is always in style.   I’ll be so happy to see you, will show you around the garden and offer you a few divisions of something nice to take away with you.

And I might even let you help spread the gravel while we’re at it!

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Fabulous Friday: It Lived!

Our figs lived through this long and very cold winter.

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We’ve been watching the fig trees daily for signs of life.  Yes, along with the joy and excitement of spring, there is a fair degree of anxiety, for some of us, about what survived the winter and what did not.  As I chat with gardening friends, the topic of what has survived and what is not in leaf comes up again and again, these days.

That anxiety and expectation has been preoccupying me this week as I tour the garden expectantly between attempts at unpacking our basement and garage.  What am I unpacking, you might wonder? 

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Athyrium niponicum ‘Applecourt’ has leafed out this month, and the hardy Begonias have begun to emerge and grow.  It is always a relief to see their small red leaves appear each spring.  Newly planted Caladiums will soon open their first leaves, too.

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In those last warmish weeks of late October and early November, we moved as many of our tender perennials as we could into the basement and the garage.  It has been a horticultural Noah’s Ark these past months as the survivors have huddled together in the relative security of these all too dim spaces, waiting for spring.

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Colacasia ‘Mojito’s’ tubers were stored over winter in the basement, and have come back to the garden today.

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And now that it is clearly spring, we have been bringing them back out into the light, watering and grooming each pot and basket, and allowing them to rest a while in the shade on the way to their summer homes.  There is an urgency about bringing these brave survivor plants back out into the life-giving warmth and light of early summer, and looking for signs of life.

Dormancy, for a plant, can fool you.  The plant may look completely dead; bare branches, bare soil, brown slimy leaves.  The whole ugly mess… may still harbor life in the roots and branches.  Pitch it too soon, and you have lost a beautiful plant.  Wait too long, and the plant’s life force may expire.

Sad to admit, but I have erred a few times on the side of impatience when I should have just waited a bit longer for a plant to awaken into new growth.

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There is the matter of the Colocasias and Alocasias I stuffed into grocery bags last autumn and stowed in the basement.  To be honest with you, I didn’t want to lift and carry their generous pots to the basement.  And so I followed the odd advice I found somewhere on the internet to store their root balls in paper bags.  Given the choice between further hurting my back, losing my beautiful plants, or trusting the anonymous but reasonable advice…. I took the chance with the grocery bags.

Miraculously, there was a vivid green leaf of Colocasia ‘Tea Cups’ bravely waving at me from above the crusty brown rim of the bag in February.  But it was still too cold to repot them, then, and I’ve procrastinated on this task since things warmed up in late April.  When I went to retrieve them this afternoon there was nothing green or promising about the mess waiting for me in the bags.

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But I soldiered on and lugged them up from the basement and out to my work area, where I managed to beat and coax and squeeze their rigid root balls of the two largest plants into 5 gallon plastic pots.  After a thorough watering, I’ve set the pots aside in a warm bright spot to see whether my plants will resurrect themselves from their dormant tubers.

There were a dozen smaller tubers, still attached to the desiccated leaves of other plants rescued last autumn.  I’ve trimmed and planted them into waiting pots and I will hope to see their leaves emerge by June.

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The Afghan fig F. ‘Silver Lyre’ returns from its roots each May.  Rarely, leaves will emerge from buds on last year’s stems.

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And my beautiful reward for all of the effort today came on my last tour of the garden this afternoon:  fig leaves!  Our figs are finally awakening, trusting that the summer weather is settling in at last.  Their buds are opening up and leaves unfurling on the branches even as new sprouts emerge from the soil.

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One by one, our winter dormant plants are springing back to life and growth.  We’re still waiting for a few woodies, like those olive trees that overwintered on the patio because I couldn’t lug their huge pots indoors.  There is still green wood just beneath their thin bark, and so I’ve not yet given up.

Hope fuels us gardeners.  And the smallest green leaf emerging from a brown and wrinkled stem can make all of that patience and effort worthwhile.

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Woodland Gnome  2018

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Iris ‘Strange Rites’

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Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious! 

Let’s infect one another.

Green Thumb Tip #17: Give Them Time

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We are just finishing a harsh winter, and find ourselves in the midst of a chilly, slow spring.  Most of our woodies and perennials are a little behind the times in showing new growth, according to our experience with them in recent years.  Understandable!

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The Camellias didn’t do well in our cold, windy winter weather.

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We had a few nights in January when the lows dipped a little below 0 degrees F, which is rare here.  We had winter temperatures more like Zone 6, found several hundred miles to the west.  Our woodies and perennials rated for Zones 7 or 8 suffered from the deep, prolonged cold.  And it shows.

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Normally evergreen shrubs, now show extensive leaf damage, with brown and curling leaves.  Bark on some trunks and branches split and some stand now with bare branches.   Those woody shrubs that can easily withstand winter in Zones 6a or colder generally look OK.  But those that normally grow to our south, that we coddle along here in the edge or warmer climates, took a hit.

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I needed to cut back far more dead wood from our roses than any year in memory.  It is a very sad sight to see established shrubs looking so bad here in the second week of April.  Our cool temperatures through March and early April, with a little snow recently, have slowed the whole process of new spring growth, too.

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Some gardeners may be struggling with a decision about whether to replace these badly damaged plants.  Now that the garden centers are finally allowing deliveries of fresh stock, it is certainly tempting to rip out the shabby and re-plant with a vigorous plant covered in fresh growth.

I will counsel patience, which is the advice I am also giving to myself this week!  We invest in woodies and perennials mainly because they are able to survive harsh winters.  While leaves and some branches may be lost, there is still life in the wood and in the roots.

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I was out doing the ‘scratch test’ on a completely bare lilac shrub this morning.  Its condition is still a troubling mystery to us, as several other lilacs, of the same cultivar, are leafing out and are covered in budding flowers.  But this one, on the end of the row, sits completely bare without a swelling bud to be seen.  I scratched a little with my fingernail one of the major branches, and found green just below its thin bark.  So long as there is green, there is life.

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This lilac survived our winter in a pot near the kitchen door. We are delighted to see it in bloom so early. I’ll plant this shrub out in the garden once the blooms are finished. It has been in this pot for several years, after arriving as a bare root twig in the mail in early 2015.

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I want to prune this one back pretty severely, mostly because it is becoming an eyesore.  But my Master Gardener friend strongly advises to give it more time.  She suggests waiting until early June to make life and death decisions on trees and shrubs, to give them time to recover.

I may prune the lilac a little, now that the freezing weather here is likely over for the year, and hope that stimulates some fresh growth.

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Japanese Maples have finally allowed their leaves to unfold this week.

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That is what we’ve done with the roses.  We pruned, hard, and we see new shoots coming from the roots on all of our roses now.

There are a few good reasons to nurse our winter damaged woodies back to health instead of replacing them now.  First, our tree or shrub is established and has a developed root system.  Even if all of its trunks and stems are dead, new ones will soon appear from the roots.  This seems to happen every single year with my Ficus afghanistanica ‘Silver Lyre’.  It keeps the shrub a manageable size, and the plant looks pretty good again by early summer.

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F. ‘Silver Lyre’s’ stems are visible beside the Iris leaves. Rated to Zone 7b, it always returns, sometime in May, from its roots.  A Sweetbay Magnolia waits behind it, in a nursery pot.  I want to see some sign of life before planting it.

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Another reason to rejuvenate an established shrub, rather than plant a new one, is economic.  Finding a good sized shrub to replace the old one is a bit of an investment.  Weather and higher fuel prices are definitely reflected in shrub prices this spring.  I’ve felt a little bit of ‘sticker shock’ when looking at prices at area nurseries.

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These Viburnums show cold damage, even while still at a local nursery.

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And even if you buy a new shrub, it is likely to sustain damage during its adjustment time, if you live in deer country.  Shrubs fresh from the grower have been heavily fertilized to induce quick growth.  This extra nitrogen in the plant’s tissue tastes a little ‘salty’ to grazing deer, and makes the shrub that much more delicious and attractive to them.  It takes a year or so of growth before the tastiness of new shrubs seems to decline, and they are ignored by grazing deer.

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I’ve just watched a major investment in new holly trees get nibbled down nearly to the branches by deer in our area.  It is very discouraging, especially if your new shrub is replacing one damaged by winter’s weather!

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This Eucalyptus sometimes sprouts new leaves from its existing trunks in spring. Last winter it was killed back to its roots, but then grew about 6′ during the season.  I expect it to send up new growth from its roots by early May.

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All things considered, I am planning to give our woodies another six to eight weeks, and every possible chance, before declaring them and cutting them out.  It is the humane and sensible approach.  Even though the selection at garden centers this month is tempting, I will wait.

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The view this week at the top of our garden. Still looks rather wintery, doesn’t it?  The southern wax myrtles which normally screen our view, were hit hard by the cold, and a new flush of leaves have not yet opened.

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In this climate, it is generally better to plant in fall, anyway.  Fall planted shrubs get a good start in cooler weather, so their roots can grow and establish the plant in the surrounding soil before summer’s heat sets in.  The selection may be a little more sparse by October or November, but the prices are often better, as nurseries try to clear their stock before winter.

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This English holly, purchased last November, lived in a container over winter, and may be too far gone to save. I planted it out in the garden last month in hope it may recover….

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And of course, you might try propagating replacement shrubs yourself, from cuttings.  I have pretty good luck rooting hardwood cuttings over winter, or greenwood cuttings in spring and summer.  It isn’t hard to do, if you are willing to wait a few years for the shrub to grow to maturity.

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As with so many thing in the garden, it takes time and patience to achieve our goals.  They say that ‘time heals all things.’

That may not be true 100% of the time, but patience allows us to achieve many things that others may believe impossible!

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Our red buckeye tree was knocked back to the ground in a summer 2013 storm.  It lived and has grown to about 5′ high in the years since.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Green Thumb” Tips: 

Many visitors to Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help grow the garden of their dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.

If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what you know from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I’ll update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about gardens and gardening.
Green Thumb Tip # 13: Breaching Your Zone
Green Thumb Tip # 14: Right Place Right Plant
Green Thumb Tip # 15: Conquer the Weeds!
Green Thumb Tip #16: Diversify!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

 

 

The Williamsburg Botanical Garden

The Butterfly Garden at The Williamsburg Botanical Garden is beautiful, if still dormant, in early February.

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The Williamsburg Botanical Garden is a great destination for picking up ideas and observing many different sorts of plants growing here in James City County, Virginia.

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Whether you go for a quiet walk, or to participate in a class, there is always more to learn, experience and enjoy.

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The garden is a true community effort.  It brings together volunteers from many different organizations, including the Williamsburg Master Gardeners Association.

The garden is subdivided into  specialty gardens planned and maintained by different groups, and serving different purposes.  In addition to the butterfly garden, there are areas devoted to heirloom plants, native plants, wetland and woodland plants, perennials and flowering shrubs, a fernery, and an area of raised beds for therapeutic gardening.

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The Pollinator Palace

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Best practices are modeled, and new gardeners are both trained and inspired in this special space.  Even though the Williamsburg Botanical Garden is fenced to exclude deer; songbirds, pollinators and other small wildlife are welcomed and fed.

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The first stirrings of spring were evident today under bright skies.  It was only a few degrees above freezing when some gardening friends and I ventured out, tools in hand, for a pruning workshop.

Despite numb fingers and toes, we discussed proper pruning for several species of flowering woody shrubs.  Experts demonstrated the proper use of a variety of nifty pruning tools, too.

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A few of the earliest shrubs, like Spirea, showed tiny bits of green. Its buds are just tentatively opening this week.  But most of the herbs, perennials, and deciduous woodies were still slumbering through their last few weeks of dormancy.

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Daffodils have just begun to emerge, their bright blooms now only days away.

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Today served as a call to action to get out and get after the woodies in our own Forest Garden, before the season gets ahead of me this year.  I was a bit slack last year on the pruning. This year, there is a great deal of cutting and thinning and just plain lopping back waiting for us.  But it won’t wait for long; warmer, longer days will coax those buds to open all too soon.

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It is too early in the season to prune wood from early spring bloomers like Spirea and Viburnum.  However, one may always prune out wood that is Dead, Diseased, Deformed, or Damaged.

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Some gardeners grow a bit confused about what pruning to do, and when.  In general, February is a great month for pruning roses, crape myrtle, butterfly bush, rose of Sharon, and other trees and shrubs which won’t bloom before June.  If a shrub blooms on new growth only, it is safe to prune it back now.

If your shrub blooms on old wood from last year’s growth, and already has its flower buds ready to go now, then “wait to prune until after bloom.”  

All of our favorite spring shrubs like Rhododendrons, Camellias, Forsythias, and Spireas have flower buds set and ready to open on schedule, over the next several weeks.   Any pruning done now will reduce our spring blooms.

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There are great Botanical gardens all over the country, and we are very fortunate to have such a nice one here in Williamsburg.  One can’t help but feel either inspired or overwhelmed after an hour’s walk among such a beautiful collection of plants.  This is a great destination for a walking tour, even on a frosty February morning.

Once I had a cup of coffee and could feel my fingertips again, I was ready to head over to Lowes.   I wanted to have a look at some of the new nifty gadgets for pruning that I’d seen demonstrated today, while my enthusiasm was still warm.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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For The Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Tour Guide

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Sunday Dinner: Promise

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“Know who you are,
what your potential is
and press towards it with all
that you have within you”
.
Sunday Adelaja

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“There is that gnawing feeling
that we are far more than what we believe ourselves to be.
Maybe it’s time to believe the gnawing.”
.
Craig D. Lounsbrough

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“A potential is a hidden greatness.
It is the success to be realized.
It is an accomplishment yet to be uncovered.”
.
Israelmore Ayivor

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“The unlike is joined together,
and from differences
results the most beautiful harmony.”

.
Heraclitus

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“Dreams become regrets when left in the mind,
never planted in the soil of action.”
.
Auliq-Ice

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“To be ordinary is a choice,
for everyone has it in them
to become extraordinary.”
.
Lauren Lola

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“This is the miracle of all miracles—
when life sacrifices itself to become something greater.
When it awakens to its potential
and rises in power.
That is true magic.”
.
Seth Adam Smith
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Never become impatient with the process,
bored with the pace, frustrated at the meager results,
just keep trying.”
.
Auliq-Ice

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“All of those things – rock and men and river – resisted change,
resisted the coming as they did the going.
(Mt.) Hood warmed and rose slowly,
breaking open the plain, and cooled slowly
over the plain it buried.
The nature of things is resistance to change,
while the nature of process is resistance to stasis,
yet things and process are one,
and the line from inorganic to organic and back
is uninterrupted and unbroken.”
.
William Least Heat-Moon

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“Everything is an experiment.”
.
Tibor Kalman

 

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