Live Holiday Trees

LiveHolidayTreesFlickrMSVG When my husband and I were first married, we lived in a dumpy basement apartment. It seemed pretty glum to me sometimes since there wasn’t much light and we didn’t have a yard of our own. When our first Christmas came, I decided that I wanted to have a live holiday tree. I ended up picking out a small Norfolk Island pine and it did make the place more cheery. Live holiday trees are slowly becoming more common, though they are still not used as much as cut or artificial trees. You can purchase them at your local garden center or order them online. There are even services that will allow you to rent one. Some take care of details like delivery, setup and pickup. Some Advantages Are:

  • You can plant it outside or use it as a houseplant afterwards. They are perfect if you only have a small space.
  • You don’t throw it away after the season is done, like a cut tree.
  • It is not manufactured with toxic materials, like artificial ones are sometimes.
  • You get at least a little more oxygen added to the air in your household.
  • It feels even more like nature since it is still living.

Some Common Live Holiday Trees:

  • Aleppo Pine
  • Fir Trees
  • Norfolk Island Pine
  • Palm Trees
  • Rosemary Topiary
  • Southern Red Cedar
  • Spruce Trees

You can use any tree, though, for a short period of time as long as it fits into the space inside and you have somewhere to plant it afterwards. Things to Consider:

  • Have you been working out lately? Tall potted plants can weigh a lot. Think about how much you really want to be moving around.
  • Make sure you have a spot all prepped for planting (hole dug, etc.) if it will be moved outdoors. This is especially important if you expect the ground to freeze.
  • You really only have about a week to work with if you live in a cooler area and intend to plant the tree outside. It will start to come alive again from its winter’s nap, which will be very confusing and detrimental when you take it back outside.
  • Make sure that you water it. It won’t dry out as fast as a cut tree, but it is living, after all.

Have you had a live holiday tree? What kind? Image by MSVG via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License

Color Planning for Your Garden in the Fall

Cotoneasters have great fall foliiage and fruit

            Fall color on a cotoneaster

Fall is a great time to do some color planning for your garden. You can look at other people’s yards and see ideas for plants that are blooming and changing foliage color at this time. If you decide that you want to add some new trees and shrubs for fall interest next year, many can be planted successfully at this time; in fact, for many, this is the ideal time instead of spring. This is also the time to start considering what spring flowering bulbs you will want to plant soon, which we will cover in a subsequent post.

Three Types of Trees That Provide Fall Colors

Maples are likely the first trees that come to mind when we think of autumn foliage. The palm shaped leaves come in a wide assortment of shades like red, orange, yellow, purple and brown. Depending on the species you choose (some produce better than others), you can also tap them in late winter to make maple syrup.

Oak trees also put on a good show with their leaves in hues of red, yellow, brown and orange. The acorns can also be used to make fall decorations for your house.

Aspen trees have foliage that turns yellow in autumn. Since these are often found in higher elevations where evergreens live, the pop of color is especially lovely. This can work for your garden too as a focal point.

Three Types of Shrubs That Provide Fall Colors

Cotoneasters are sturdy shrubs that will brighten up your landscape with their scarlet foliage and fruit. Two to look for are the rockspray cotoneaster and the willowleaf cotoneaster.

An underused shrub is the redvein enkianthus, which provides several seasons of color. In the spring it produces gorgeous clusters of white flowers with pink veins. In fall, the foliage becomes orange, red or yellow.

Serviceberries have white flowers that turn into edible fruits. In autumn, the leaves will turn to orange and red.

What are your favorite ways to add color in the fall?

Image by Roberto Verzo under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License

Try Native Plants in Your Landscape

Eastern redbud in bloom

The eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is native to New York.

If you want to try something different in your garden, consider adding some native plants. These are ones that originate from your area and can offer some potential benefits not shared by ornamental plants from outside the region.

Preserve Diversity

Gardens can be repetitive and boring if everyone uses the same standard favorites. When you use plants that come from your area, you are helping to ensure the continuation of that species. This is especially important as invasive species have been introduced over the years that can take over and choke out everything around them.

Less Water Needed

When you try to bring in plants from other areas, they may be used to more water than often found in your area. If you pick natives, you will usually be able to irrigate less, conserving water.

Attract Beneficial Insects and Animals

Many plants have evolved to form a positive relationship with insects and animals found in their area. For example, planting the eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis – pictured above) will entice visitors like butterflies and bees.

Less Maintenance Overall

Since the plants are adjusted to the growing conditions in the area, they will most likely require less care than other plants. This could include amending the soil to make it more acidic or alkaline, fertilization or pruning.

If you are interested in adding some to your garden, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has prepared a list of New York native plants that you may be able to find at your local nursery or garden center. A link to a local supplier list is also included on that page. You can call the local Extension office for additional recommendations.

Image by Cranbrook Institute of Science under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License

Start Deadheading Your Flowers

DeadheadingFlickrcreating in the dark

Many of the early blooming plants are done or winding down on their flowering, leaving you with dry flowerheads that are usually not as appealing. Unless it’s a plant where you are wanting the fruit to develop, you can deadhead and make your garden look better overall.

Deadheading is the process where you use a standard set of pruning shears (also called pruners, secateurs or clippers) to remove part of the stem under flowers once their life is over. This term is very commonly used in conjunction with roses, but it can be used for many of your other plants.

Some plants like the Knock Out® roses are self-cleaning, meaning that the old flowers naturally fall off and you do not need to do this process. You would also not want to do this on a fruit tree, of course, since you would be removing your entire crop.

One benefit of this practice is that you can sometimes get the plant to start flowering more. Since the flower’s job is to ultimately produce seeds and the next generation, the plant may “panic” and send out more flowers if you remove the dead blossoms and halt the reproductive process.

For roses, I suggest following the stem underneath the hip (the fruit) to the next node (joint where the leaf joins the stem) underneath and clipping it at a 45 degree angle just above this node. This will keep the plant’s appearance neater since you don’t have a bare stem sticking up. You can also have problems with insects and diseases if you simply cut it right below the hip and leave the branch. If there are a cluster of roses, choose the node underneath them all. Most other flowers can be deadheaded in a similar fashion.

Have you deadheaded your plants before? Did they bloom again?

Image by creating in the dark under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Adding Annuals to Your Garden

AnnualsFlickrdaryl_mitchell

 

If you are looking to revitalize your garden, try adding some annuals.  They only last one growing season, so if you decide you don’t like how they look, you can just try different plants next year. You can include plants like tropical species that might otherwise not be able to survive the winter in your area by treating them as annuals.

Color Combinations

These types of plants usually come in brilliant colors that will instantly improve your yard. As Cornell University states, “There is no right or wrong when it comes to color in the garden.  Color choices are a matter of personal taste.” One way to choose plants is to pick annuals with complementary colors to the plants that are already in your garden. You can also try choosing all warm or cool colors.

Design Considerations

Think about your current plants when you are shopping for annuals. Check for the mature height so you do not accidentally plant a taller annual in front of a shorter one. Look at the growing facts like sun and water requirements, spacing and flowering time. Choose plants that bloom at different times throughout the year to help extend the color show.

Suggestions to Get You Started

Not sure which annuals are the best for your landscape? There are some that will fit into almost any garden. Pansies, marigolds and snapdragons are very cheery species that are available in a wide variety of shades. Petunias add beauty and fragrance. Impatiens and coleus work well in your shadier spots.

If you would like help choosing or planting some annuals in your garden this year, call us today for an appointment!

Image by daryl_mitchell under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Spring Color Displays Are Popping Up!

Crocuses are a great addition for a spring color display

Crocuses in the snow

One of the best days of the year is when I see flowers blooming for the first time after a long dreary winter. I love the reminder that the world is coming alive again! Spring color displays are showing up everywhere. The following plants can be used in your garden to provide that effect.

Annuals

One of the easiest ways to add color to your garden each year is to plant annuals like coleus, impatiens and pansies. These species can be started from seed or you can buy plants at your local nursery. They will flower during the growing season and then die off. Next week I will go into more detail about planning and designing with annuals in mind.

Bulbs

If you’re looking for flowers that bloom even when the ground is snowy, try one of the bulbs that bloom early in the year. I am partial to crocuses, personally. You can also plant species like snowdrops and glory-of-the-snow. If you want to add these to your garden, though, you will have to wait until autumn. Bulbs meant to be planted in spring will bloom for you in summer, which can be a good way to keep colors going in your garden.

Forsythia

The cheery yellow blossoms of the forsythia are a sure sign that spring is right around the corner. This is one of the first shrubs to come alive each year. It is generally unremarkable for the rest of the growing season, however.

Fruit Trees

In addition to gorgeous flower shows in the spring, fruit trees will reward you with a bounteous feast later in the year. Make sure you get cultivars that are known to grow in your area. It is especially necessary to choose one that matches the amount of chill hours (how much time they spend at colder temperatures) or you may have blossom and fruiting problems.

Redbud

One of the lovelies little trees around is the redbud. It is so eager to bloom in spring that the pink flowers burst open even before the leaves do. I recommend the ‘Forest Pansy’ cultivar, which has rich purple leaves in contrast to the rosy blossoms.

What is popping up in your garden these days?

Image by Muffet under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Choosing Plants for Your Garden

ChoosingPlantsFlickrtracie7779

Spring is right around the corner and you may have already started planning for new landscape improvements. It’s tempting to run down to your local garden center and buy any plant that catches your eye, but you must resist that urge and do your homework. Choosing plants for your garden requires attention to the conditions present in your yard.

USDA Zones

The USDA produces a map that divides locations into hardiness zones based on the average minimum low temperature each year, with 1 being the coldest and 13 the warmest. For example, Yonkers, NY is rated as USDA Zone 7a.

Each plant has a general range of zones where is it most likely to be successful. While this is not an absolute guarantee (microclimates and other factors can affect its chances in your own garden), choosing a plant that is meant for your zone helps its possibility of survival.

Plant Life Span

Think about how much work you want to do in your garden and whether you want it to change yearly.  Annuals grow for one season, then die. Biennials last two growing seasons before the end. Perennials, trees and shrubs usually live for many years. Some people like cheery annuals like pansies that brighten up your garden, but need to be replanted yearly. Perennials last longer, but may need pruning to spruce them up.

Size

When you are shopping, make sure you look at the tags to see what the expected size will be at maturity. It is easy enough to forget and buy a plant that looks like it will work in your space based on the container size at the garden center, but turns out to spread farther than desirable over the years. You don’t want to have an imbalance where front plants tower over rear ones (thus hiding them) or end up with your plants becoming crowded from improper spacing

Planting Site Conditions

Plants do not all have the same preferences and needs. Look at the tag and see the sunlight requirements. Ask a garden center associate if your site has special needs. For example, clay soil, places that tend to be wet or acidity all require specific species that are able to tolerate those conditions.

Ensure Fruit Pollination

If you are trying to grow fruit in your yard, make sure you have enough plants available for cross-pollination. Some species are able to fertilize themselves, but many need a different cultivar (cultivated variety – think Golden Delicious and Fuji for applies) nearby. If you only have one plant, you may not get any fruit at all.

Choosing plants for your garden carefully will help you get the best possible look for your landscape and make it easier for them to grow properly. If you would like assistance in planning out your garden this year, don’t hesitate to call.

Image by tracie7779 under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Mulch During Your Spring Cleanup

Mulch is beneficial in the garden

When you are doing your spring cleanup to prepare your garden for the coming growing season, take the time to put down some new mulch. This practice helps your plants stay healthy and strong. It also makes your yard more visually appealing.

Some Benefits of Mulch

When you put wood chips, compost, or other common mulching materials into your garden beds, your plants benefit greatly. This layer above the soil insulates the plants better from temperature fluctuations that could freeze the roots or evaporate the water present. Weeds have a harder time pushing through to the surface and growing properly. It is also aesthetically pleasing and adds a uniform color to the base of your plantings.

Two Reasons to Mulch Every Year:

1)Mulch is often made of natural organic materials. Over time as they are exposed to air, water and organisms, it begins to break down. If it is not replenished yearly, it will become thinner and you will lose the beneficial properties.

2)Since the mulch has been through the elements and decomposition, it can look old and weathered. A fresh layer will reinvigorate your planting beds and accent the colors of your foliage and flowers.

How Much Should You Use?

Two to three inches is a good general guideline to use when applying mulch in your landscape. This is enough to cover the soil up properly and add insulation. You can figure out how much you need by multiplying the length and width of your garden (using feet) times how deep you want the layer to be, converted to feet. Three inches would be .25 feet, for example. The resulting number is how many cubic yards are needed to cover the entire area.

A warning for trees and shrubs: Make sure you leave at least six inches of space around the trunk that is free of mulch. If you have it closer, this can invite pests and diseases to invade the plant. It can also keep the bark moist, leading to rot.

Image by csessums under a Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License

Planning for Landscape Improvements

A landscape plan can help you improve your garden successfully

Is your garden ready for an update? When you are planning for landscape improvements, take the time to research your options and carefully consider any new plants or other garden features that you want to add. This can help you optimize costs, pick the best options and avoid problems in the future

Think About Your Needs

Why do you want to make changes to your landscape? How much do you want to spend? Perhaps you now have kids and would like to add a playground. You may want a garden that attracts hummingbirds, or one that provides fruits and vegetables. Write down a list of possible additions for your garden. Look at the costs for different options.

Create a Landscape Plan

Sketch out at least a basic layout of your yard. Note where there are currently plants, concrete, and any other features. If you are adding plants, research some different possibilities to make sure they will grow in your garden. Use the mature size when calculating where you can place them.

Need a Helping Hand?

If you are not sure about the best options for your garden, you may want to call in a professional for assistance. They can help you lay out a plan for your landscape improvements and even install it for you.

Image by Landscape Design Advisor via Flickr Creative Commons

Contract or No Contract?

Signing a contract

You’ve done your homework and selected a landscaping company to come and do work at your house. They had great reviews, beautiful examples in their portfolio and seemed to understand what you wanted done to your garden. Since you clicked so well, do you really need to have a contract?

Expectations Are Laid Out

Have you ever played the game Telephone? Spoken messages can become distorted and we tend to forget parts or transform it into what we think we heard. A written contract solidifies what each side is expected to do and when. You won’t have to wonder if your landscaper remembers that you really wanted petunias or that you don’t want a fountain. They won’t have to hope you know when to pay them and how much.

Peace of Mind

In a perfect world, a contract would not be needed. Both parties would fulfill all of their obligations without fail.  We know, of course, that this is far from the case. Unexpected things can happen even with the best of companies and clients. A contract will help protect you just in case things cannot be resolved and you need to meet with a mediator or go to small claims court.

Always Have a Contract

When you hire someone to beautify your landscape, always sign a contract clearly stating what you would like them to do. If they refuse to do one, move along. Professional landscaping companies will always want to have one written up to protect both of you.

Image by danmoyle via Flickr Creative Commons