Purple jacaranda trees

These jacaranda trees, currently in bloom in southern Australia, are beautiful!  These pictures show how these spectacular trees line the streets in Adelaide…

 

The pictures remind me of our crab apple trees in the spring and our maple trees in the fall here in Canada.  The striking purple color of the jacaranda trees grabbed my attention of course because GRAY IS NOT MY COLOR;  I am a blatant  PURPLEHOLIC.

 

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Great weather for ducks, or for overseeding and fertilizing your lawn and trees

This rainy weather is good for ducks, as my mother used to say, or for overseeding your lawn.  Weed and feed is also best applied in cool, wet weather, but not at the same time as the seed.

There are a few new products on the market to fix bare patches too.  They are 3 in 1 or 4 in 1 mixtures of composed/amended soil, seed and fertilizer.  If your lawn is patchy with bare, grassy, and weedy spots, try one of the mixed products. I have had success with both of these.  They do not contain a weed-killing ingredient, so you will have to treat the weeds six weeks later.

 

There are several “weed and feed” products out there.  On established (not patchy) lawns I prefer to weed first, then feed.  Otherwise, I tend to feed the weeds.

 

Another job for cool, wet, spring weather is fertilizing your trees.  I have three evergreen trees I planted as tiny seedlings when each of my three sons was born.  They were originally planted in my backyard.  As they reached about four feet in height, I asked the owner of the building behind us if I could plant them in his yard.  He agreed, so now I get the privacy, but still have space for a garden in my yard…

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To fertilize my trees I use spikes that get pounded into the ground around the tree’s dripline.  One spike contains enough fertilizer for each 2 inch of tree diameter.   There are many varieties on the market. Be sure to choose the proper spike for the tree(s) you want to feed.

 

The weather here is going be cool and rainy for a few more days. With it too muddy for work in my clients’ gardens, I will get these chores done at home.  If it is cool and rainy where you are, use this weather to get your overseeding and fertilizing done.

Out with the old and in with the new

Last weekend it was out with the old, dead trees and in with the new seedlings on our cottage lot.  This past summer we noticed that one of our huge maple trees had died, presumably due to the drought conditions we experienced this year, as it looked fine in the spring.  Several smaller trees around it were looking like they were on their way out too, so all needed to be removed before they toppled over during a storm onto the nearby hydro lines.

 

The dead trees were in an area between our cottage and the road providing a natural privacy screen for many years. You can tell by the size of the trunk remaining that the maple was very old.  We replaced the old trees with new evergreen seedlings that had sprouted up elsewhere on our property.  They appear to be fast growing, so hopefully the bare looking area will fill in quickly.

 

 

How and when to water your garden and lawn

In drought conditions like we have been experiencing here in the Ottawa (and most of Ontario) area, it is important that you know how and when to water your garden and lawns if you feel you must do so.

  • water plants in your garden at ground level, at the base of the plants.  Don’t spray the leaves of plants.  The hot sun will burn the wet foliage. (see pictures below)
  • water early in the morning or just before sunset so the water does not evaporate as quickly as it leaves your hose.
  • water well less frequently.  A long soak every few days is much better than a quick daily spray.  This encourages deep roots for your plants (and lawns too)
  • don’t forget to water your trees too.  Let water drip from a hose at the base of the tree for an hour when no rainfall is received for 4 or 5 hot days.
  • remember, lawns will recover, but many plants and trees will not

Drought conditions in Eastern Ontario

On a recent trip along the 401 between Ottawa and Kingston in Eastern Ontario, I could not help but notice the toll that the drought conditions have taken on the trees.  Usually beautiful, lush green against the magnificent limestone rock cuts, many of the deciduous trees are currently a toasted, brown color.  The rocks absorb the heat from the sun making the high temperatures that much more dangerous for the trees.  The rocky landscape is not able to retain the limited moisture we have had from rain…

 

 

Even though this was mid-August, it looked more like October when the leaves have changed color and are about to fall.  Although we have had more rain this past week, I don’t think these poor trees will recover.

Spring is here, I hope

While my turkey was cooking this afternoon, I took the opportunity to get outside in the beautiful sunshine we are enjoying this weekend.  Most of my yard is bare with just a few patches of snow left.  I saw a few buds and stems of perennials basking in the sunshine too…

 

     My pond is still frozen with the plants around it covered in snow…

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A quick peek at my gardens turned into a chance to trim back some ornamental grasses that I left over the winter…

These ornamental grasses are best trimmed right now when they start to show some new growth.  Another garden chore that can be done very early is the trimming of any dead, crossing or undesirable branches on your trees.  It is much easier to do now than when the leaves emerge as you can see the shape of the tree better.

The rest of the plants are best left alone for a while yet…

 

 

April showers bring May flowers; the advantages of spring rain

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The rain in the weather forecast for the next 10 days here in Ottawa brings the saying  “April showers bring May flowers” to mind.  The rain showers will water the spring bulbs and perennials, encouraging their bloom.  A few days of rain makes the lawns so much greener too.  All the rain showers and cool weather forecasted this spring is also good for planting grass seed or fertilizing your lawn and trees.

There are many products available for spring treatment, some with just seed, some with just fertilizer, and some that combine seed and fertilizer…

Some combinations for your lawn even add peat which is beneficial in keeping the soil rich by absorbing moisture (first picture)  These combination products can be a good thing for novice landscapers and home owners, as the research is done for you.  The proper type of fertilizer and the amount to use is calculated for you.

Corn gluten (second picture) is a popular, organic, pre-emergent treatment for crab grass.  Pre-emergent means it should be applied before the crab grass seeds germinate (start to grow) very early in the spring, as soon as the snow is gone from the lawn.  I use corn gluten on my lawn in the fall, after the first frost, but before the first snow fall.  I have found this practice convenient (one less thing to do in the spring) and most effective against crabgrass.

Fertilizer spikes (third picture) are efficient ways to feed your trees.  Make sure you choose the proper product package for your trees though.  There are packages for evergreens (pine, spruce, cedar etc), ornamental trees (crab apple, lilacs etc) fruit trees (apple, plum etc) and other popular trees (maple, elm etc)    Simply pound the spikes in the ground around the perimeter of your tree’s dripline as specified in the package directions.  Obviously, the larger the perimeter of your tree’s dripline (the outer edge of branches), the more spikes you need.  It is best and easiest to pound these spikes into the ground when the ground is wet and more rain showers are in the forecast.

Make the most of the forecasted rain; your lawn and trees will thank you!

To Mulch or not to Mulch?

Sometimes I advise clients to use mulch in their gardens, and sometimes I advise them not to, but most often I advise them to use it wisely.  Why?  Because many times mulch is used for the wrong reasons and incorrectly, causing more harm than good…

Mulch is beneficial for keeping moisture in and keeping weed levels down, but it must be applied properly.  Applied incorrectly, too thick or too close to plants, it can cause rot,  mildew/mold and eventually the demise of your perennials, shrubs and even large trees.

Mulch should not be piled right up to the base or stalk/stem of your plants.  When applying mulch to your gardens you should leave a space of at least 1 inch (so the soil shows) between the base or stalk/stem/trunk of your plant or tree and the mulch.  After a heavy rain and in the spring after snow has moved the mulch, you should reestablish this space as soon as possible, especially for young plants that will rot quickly if the mulch is left too close to the stems.

Mulch applied too thickly around the base of a tree will eventually kill the tree.  The roots of all plants, including large trees, require oxygen, moisture and nutrients.  If mulch is applied too thickly, these required items cannot reach the roots, causing starvation and death of the plant. This theory also applies to ornamental rocks and anything else piled around trees to minimize the growth of weeds and grass.  These pictures show mulch piled much too thickly around the base of a mature tree(incorrect), and removed from the base and spread out (correct):

Mulch will keep weed levels down, but it will not eliminate weeds altogether as many people are led to believe.  Weed seeds blow in the wind and will settle in the mulch and germinate there too.  The difference is, when you pull out a weed growing in mulch, it comes out much easier and more completely, with the root intact.  If you do not remove the entire root of a weed it simply grows back, often very quickly.

Mulch applied in a thin layer (one inch thick is plenty) around a tree can be beneficial to keep weeds and grass roots from competing with the tree roots for oxygen, moisture and nutrients. Just remember, more is definitely NOT better!

Nothing, including grass, should be planted around a new tree for the first five years, allowing the tree roots to get established. After that, shallow rooted perennials or annuals work best as they do not force the tree roots to compete for required elements.  A few examples of shallow rooted perennials are geraniums, sweet woodruffe and lamium.  My personal favourite is the perennial geranium (very different than the red annual geraniums that I am not so fond of) because it tolerates almost full shade to almost full sun, and is the first plant to green up in the spring.  Perennial geranium flowers can be white, pink, blue, purple and many shades in between, but are almost inconspicuous in many of the varieties; the foliage is the main attraction to me:

If you do decide to mulch your garden or use mulch under your trees, please use caution and apply it correctly so you do not do more damage than good…

Create a New Garden Without Digging up the Grass

I found this article in a recent issue of Canadian Gardening…http://www.canadiangardening.com/how-to/techniques/create-a-new-flower-bed-using-a-no-fail-technique/a/1513 describing a method to make a new garden right over top existing lawn, so you do not have to spend hours of back-breaking work removing the grass.

I mentioned it to a friend of mine, who thought she would like to give it a try in her backyard.  Her backyard is small, but it features a gorgeous rock wall that must be at least 12 feet tall along the back edge.  The home is in a subdivision build on a rocky ridge, so the rock wall was created instead of carting the huge boulders away.  The only drawback it that her yard is substantially lower than her neighbours’ behind her, giving her yard a “fishbowl” setting.  I am told that when we receive a heavy rain, the water cascades down the rock wall in several spots.  I will have to choose plants that like damp soil for  these spots; I have several in mind.

There are two maple trees and a few sumac shrubs that will eventually provide some privacy along the back.  One side of the yard is walled off by a tall, full cedar hedge and the opposite side has a wrought iron fence.  In my plan I will add a few small trees to the side with the fence, possibly lilacs, as they grow quickly, are inexpensive, hardy and a favorite of my client.  For now the yard receives a lot of sun, but once the trees get larger, they will provide some shade with the privacy…

The old, single level deck was recently replaced with a beautiful, multi-levelled deck with two sets of steps leading off it.  The plan is to have a walkway between the two sets of steps with a small patio (just large enough for a small table set and a lounger) on the ground level between the cedar hedge and one set of steps.  The deck builder was kind enough to leave us this area bare, you can see it in the first picture.  I recently found two colors of patio stones for sale at a great price on Kijiji, and will keep looking for more inexpensive material to create a pattern for the patio and walkway.   The rest of the yard will be a combination of garden and river rock; no grass.

This seems like a large, expensive project, but with the method outlined in the article and the use of many recycled products and donated plants, we hope to keep the budget at a minimum.  It is also a plan we can work on in stages as time and budget permit…

The first step was to get rid of the grass.  To do this we cut it short, then covered it with several layers of newspapers, which in turn was covered with a triple mix of soil, peat moss and compost.  The final layer consists of leaves that I collected, bagged and ready for pickup, from my neighbors curbs on garbage day.  I used the leaves as an inexpensive (free) substitution for the mulch suggested in the article.

I did not disturb the perennials that were randomly planted; I simply applied the layers of paper, soil and leaves around the plants, and will move the plants to their new homes in the spring when we get to the planting stage…

It did not look very pretty when we were done this stage, but we managed to get the layer of leaves down before the snow arrived.  I am anxious for spring to see how well the process worked.

I will keep you posted!

Is Mulch Really Killing our Trees?

This post is courtesy of Steve Elwell, president of SumaGreen.  Visit his website at www.sumagreen.com

Is mulch really killing our trees?

YES!!! Mulch can kill trees.

This is a subject of much interest because the trees are suffering. When the soil around a tree gets too high, problems develop. This can occur naturally but is more often caused by people. People who love their trees are hurting and even killing their trees for lack of knowledge. To much mulch around a tree could actually KILL your tree.

Soil is one thing, mulch is another. The difficulty is that both cause problems for trees when applied incorrectly and mulch, good organic mulch that is, becomes soil eventually. The deeper the mulch around the tree trunk the worse the situation for the tree.

Landscapers and builders/developers (sometimes the same but sometimes different companies or different people) cause damage to trees in the normal course of their respective business. Builders prepare the land for building structures and landscapers make the prepared land beautiful. After scraping the earth with heavy equipment the landscapers, and sometimes the builder/developer bring in soil to cover the land for various reasons. The soil level gets raised. Any pre-existing trees that were preserved have to cope with an unhealthy high soil level that actually comes as a mix of detriment and benefit. High soil levels hurt, but new rich soil helps (as long as it does not get to high on the existing tree trunk.

Sometimes homeowners feel it is a good idea to make rings around the trunks of trees by removing the grass and then covering the bare soil with mulch. Sometimes the soil around the trunk will be cultivated, augmented and raised. Then flowers will be planted there. This practice is not good for the trees.

 

Please remember too, when using mulch around plants in your garden, don’t put the mulch right up to the stalk/stem/base of the plants.  Leave at least a 1/2 inch space so the plants do not rot.