Good Gardening in 2018 

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December  is here who knows what Mother Nature has lined up as fall tumbles into winter. There is work as '18 landscape / garden season winds down and preparation for '19, so let me share some thoughts with you. Factors that will play a role include age, health, individual circumstance / setting, history of care and maintenance . November had quite a showing by Mother Nature everything from temperature ‘extremes-flip flop to heavy winter boots', spectacular sunrises whose ‘orange-ness in Eastern sky was breath taking, series of cloudy days opened up allowing a full moon to move gently across the sky, Thanksgiving weekend climaxed with a rainbow on Sunday. Deciduous woodies went from full regalia of colors to all foliage browning / falling and skies became gray.

Following Are General Care, Thoughts, Overviews

Care / Maintenance plus Safety-Should Ice, Sleet, Snow Occur-don't knock / hit branches of woodies (resulting damage / bruising can linger or cause permanent damage), if you must use a broom and gently sweep, remember using rock salt (sodium chloride-though it is cheaper) can de-hydrate ground / root system, may damage hardscapes, alternatives calcium chloride (90% less de-hydration) or traction sand are less damaging, fireplace ashes, fertilizer containing nitrates will reduce troubles, even wild bird seed can reduce slippery qualities on hardscape do to texture aspects, Weather Related-remember ‘snow or ice' protects buds, stems, branches from cold so do not knock, bush or sweep could actually do more physical harm that snow / ice factor - Keep Any Tools Ready to Go When Needed-from shovels / spades to leaf / snow blowers / mowers, store out of weather, sharpen blades, routinely start and run for a few minutes anything motorized Landscape Chemicals-(all types)-seal / tape bags shut, tighten caps-set in dry location, do not allow to freeze 

Indoor Seasonal / Tropical Paradise-keep plants away from drafts (cold and hot) whether opening doors, furnace vents and radiators, let soil dry slightly between watering, consider punching holes in bottom of decorative foil wraps for drainage to prevent soggy potting mix / possible root rot-this applies to any plant under watering is better than overwatering best when watering use warm water, cold water could damage roots, if making a purchase protect plants from severe cold when walking to car, same applies during ride home and from car indoors, keep all plant foliage from direct contact with house windows Existing or Wanting Indoor Pizazz-blooming plant(s) fertilize using type formulated for tropical / house plants-at ½ label rate every few weeks while flowering continues, looking for plants can bloom this time of year: Bromeliads-easy care, striking foliage, keep in bright light or color fades, keep water in center leaf cup, Christmas/Thanksgiving cactus-do not over water, set in bright sun, any repositioning may cause bud drop, Cyclamen (bulb) same care as cactus, Poinsettias-place sunny window (min. 4 hours sun), keep soil slightly damp (not wet) Bulbs that Bloom Indoors (with minimal care)-paper white and soleil d'or (types of narcissus / daffodils), amaryllis, freesias, hyacinth-many are available in bloom, as bulbs, or in kits with container, potting mix and instructions

Popular Outdoor Decorations (strings of lights, dangling ornaments and or inflatables)-use common sense whether stringing, hanging or placement some can generate heat, physically rub openings on bark of twigs, branches to evergreens broadleaf and or conifers, inflatables ‘motors' generate heat and when deflated can create fungus, bacteria problems for any plant that is covered

Lawn (cool or warm season)-had difficult spring and summer from drenching to drought, wide swings in air /soil temperatures, if soil is basically unhealthy (lack of aeration / composting) could make '19, if you have winterizer fertilizer in garage apply (only on bluegrass or fescue) vs. storing, if lawn growth continues mow (blade height 2.5-3.0") as needed to prevent elongated blades from matting down (winter fungus scenario) Weeds (lawn and or beds-annual type i.e. chickweed, henbit, and perennial i.e. dandelion, purslane, clover) hand digging most effective control but worth effort (some weedy plants can flower, produce seed now), herbicides ineffective

Mulch(ing)-advantage is minimizes soil temperature fluctuation-reducing possible feeder root damage due to soil freeze / thaw cycle, and has aesthetic value but Don't Over Mulch just for visual impact-depth for all woodies (evergreen and deciduous) 3-4" and perennial / ground cover (both herbaceous and evergreen) bed areas 1-2"-reminder layers of fallen leaves is not mulch (but potential winter fungus starter) Keep Fallen Leaves from Piling Up by Raking and or Mulching with Mower 

Dormant Season Soil Aeration and Composting Trees-reason healthier soil / trees, frequency every 3 years, equipment electric drill, earth auger (bit size 1" and 1' long) and compost for backfilling holes-first series of holes starts 1/3 distance from trunk to tree dripline and encircles entire tree-auger holes 2' apart and 6" deep, continue encircling series of holes 2' between, last circle 1-2' beyond dripline, make sure each hole is filled with compost to complete soil enrichment

Keeping Landscape Healthy or Improving Health-starts with Soil Testing (separate test for major landscape divisions i.e. lawn, evergreen bed space, edible garden...), retest every 2-3 years-information obtained can help avoid costly (mental and financial) troubles use professional testing laboratories vs. home owner kit to achieve best analysis 

Flight Patterns / Bird Action (up close personal-bird bath / feeders or in trees with recently dropped foliage-sound, color and flying style, males and females) from cardinals, blue jays, doves, purple finches to crows, wrens, chickadees, juncos, gold finches-sunrise to sunset repeat visitors or newcomers know it is IT'S GREAT-many birds eat specific type of seed, and generally not cheap stuff 

Forgotten Spring Flowering Bulbs-colder ground will restrict bulb acclimation / flowering next spring but to take a chance and plant (in ground or larger pots) depth 3-4X diameter of bulb, backfill, water, cover with 1-2" mulch vs. leaving sitting in garage / basement

Tree / Shrub Planting-can continue if ground not frozen, dig hole 3X diameter of root ball, depth 75-80% of root ball to keep crown above surrounding ground allowing should soil settling occur, backfill, water, 3-4" mulch over root ball-keep mulch away from bark-invitation for winter rodent bark gnawing

Wildlife-can move closer to homes for winter protection and or food, squirrels, voles, field mice, deer, and maybe Canada geese-each requires totally different action for control ranging from covering bulb plantings with hardware wire ¼" squares eliminating digging, wrapping trunks to prevent gnawing, hanging bars of Irish Spring soap or aluminum pie pans to repel deer, secure outdoor trash can lids-keep raccoons out, baffles on bird feeders, professional services are available


November’s herbaceous and deciduous plant material, some already asleep others drowsy and heading for a long winters nap. October’s end turned out to be most spectacular foliage color in memory, especially maples, dogwoods, and sumac. November will have ginkgo and flowering pear tree as potential color show-offs, with sweet autumn clematis, sweet alyssum and some other annuals (i.e. summer marigolds and fall planted ornamental cabbage, kales, pansies), cool season edibles will do their autumn best until temperatures drop into ‘freezing depths’. Broadleaf and coniferous evergreens take over aesthetics lead / focal point for next couple of months, as tropical / houseplants recently moved indoors add pizzazz to home’s interior. Daylight savings shortens later in day sunlight / work time, though cooler fall temperatures can make some heavily physical projects less intense i.e. soil improvement, mulching, bed elimination / additions / re-edging, laying stone walkways… Prioritize most important comes first be sure and finish before moving onto next scenario.  

Concentrate, Evaluate, Orchestrate, Be Realistic and Honest  

Bulbs-hardy (crocus, tulips, daffodils, lilies, etc.) install with bulb point up into well drained prepared soil, depth 3X bulb diameter, backfill, water, mulch covering 1-2", or pots (24"+ outdoors, 6" for indoor forcing, plant in well drained potting mix), non-hardy summer winter storage (elephant ears, cannas, caladiums, etc.) cut off foliage, dig up, clean, dry, store layered between newspaper in paper bag or cardboard box, place in dark, dry location, indoor winter bloomers (amaryllis, hyacinth, paper whites, etc.) water / fertilize, place in sunny location

Perennials Finished Blooming-cut spent flowers (option allow seed heads to remain giving local birds an easy meal and or when seeds drop, may germinate next spring adding new plants) and reduce height by ½, remaining stems will offer some insulation to plant crown, add mulch if needed keeping depth at 1-2”

Fallen Leaves Duality-make it so much easier to see finches, cardinals, chickadees, blue jays, wrens…set up feeders (don’t bother buying cheap seed most birds are particular (purchase seed for specific type of bird you enjoy the most i.e. black sunflower for cardinals, thistle seed for finches) and will likely rake out undesirable seed with falls onto ground below. Number 2 creates physical work-out to rake / remove or mow / mulch either action will help reduce / prevent disease problems and eliminate locations where insects may seek protection from cold

Harvest-final chance for herbs, even hardy varieties may lose fragrance / taste quality as days get shorter, keep an eye on cool season vegetables and ‘pick’ before decline begins

The Bad ‘W’s’-Weeds-warm season (crabgrass, spurge…) annuals are dead / dying after having dropped seed for months, perennials (dandelion, clovers…) are still obvious, cool season newly germinated broad (thistle, henbit, purslane, spurge,  etc.) or narrow blade (annual blue grass, wild onion / garlic etc.) annuals and well / newly established broad (plantain, thistle, etc.) leaf perennial weeds-try raking / scraping soil to uproot or expose root system, hand digging works best, colder temperatures has made herbicides less effective because foliage absorption level is very low Wildlife-protect trunk of new installations cut vertically 3' piece of 6" black corrugated pipe spread open, place around trunk, animals are drawn to freshly turned soil if planted protect covering of hardware cloth cover with mulch (don’t pile mulch up against trunks this can be invitation for smaller rodents which can injure by chewing bark), set (choker loop or spear) traps and move (routinely) for mole, mice, and voles, etc.

House Plants-recently brought indoors will show signs of acclimation-drooping and or leaf drop possible foliage discoloration, water when potting mix shrinks away from inside of pot, no fertilizer unless plant has flower buds or blooming then only apply ½ label rate, routinely check for insects on underside of leaves, along stems and bottom of the pots for slugs, little gnats flying around potting soil surface and white flies are very common-try insecticidal soap (either as soil drench or spray directly on insects) continue to monitor closely as insects lay eggs insecticides will not kill eggs-only after hatching-if / when purchasing protect plants out to car and from car to indoors on cold days 

Lawns-Fertilize ONLY-cool season (blue grass, fescue) with winterizer, does not cause growth, nutrients are stored and used by plants for health / winter durability, keep mowing until growth stops mower blade height 2.5-3.0”, still time to lay sod (bluegrass or fescue) on prepared ground only, seeding iffy may sprout but root into ground penetration is worry, make final cut on zoysia blade height 2-2.5” don’t scalp because it exposes crown of plants making them more prone to cold damage    

Water Gardens-cut back hardy plants, then if potted place in deepest water for protection, remove tropicals (to indoors or discard), clear water of debris, check / clean pump / fountain-shut down / remove, or keep running through winter, minimize debris getting into water by placing netting over water, makes next major clean-up less labor intensive, reduces algae potential and keeps fish safe from potential poisonous bacterial growth

Winterizing Storage of Devices / Equipment-from faucets, hoses, sprinklers, irrigation systems to spades shovels, weeder, mowers, rototillers, sprayers, spreaders, carts, tubs-begin process of cleaning, clearing, draining, turning off, oiling, storing, clean Chemicals-herbicide, insecticide, fungicide, fertilizer-to prevent cold temperature or moisture damage which can reduce effectiveness-be smarter (amount and necessity wise) when making future purchases making storage a no issue Stay Ready-keep handy any pruners, saws or other tools that will likely be used throughout winter, purchase if needed snow shovels, de-icer / traction sand and bungee cord to wrap evergreens minimizing ice damage

Woodie Plant Installation (tree / shrubs)-check carefully before purchase (broken branch, split trunk, brittle twigs…) then check tag or ask about mature size, think about projected planting site before buying, will it fit in the future without needing a lot of pruning, pre-installation, determine if large existing tree roots will be problematic, overhanging branches, power lines, underground utilities, space for growth, what are specific requirements (dry, well drained, moist sunny, part shade, wetter, away from competing tree roots and or hardscape / structure, etc.) actual installation dig hole 3X root ball diameter, only 80% as deep (meaning crown of plant is higher than surrounding ground) allows for settling, remove from pot, cut / loosen burlap or wire basket place in hole, partial backfill water, backfill, water until soil doesn't sink, cover root ball 3-4" mulch, inspect and remove any broken or damaged branching, continue watering day for a week then water as needed 1” every 10 days

Have Soil Analyzed-collect separate samples from specific plant locations (lawn, edible, shrub, sun, shade, butterfly garden…) have each tested to determine pH and soil nutritional levels both inadequate and overabundant-information can save real and mental money 

Keep Cleaning It Up-Remove Dead Plant (fallen tree leaves, twigs, branches, leaves of perennial, annual, vine, vegetable, herb foliage / stems, fallen fruits…) Debris-reducing locations for potential overwintering insect and disease troubles, whether herbaceous (annual, bulb, perennial, ground cover…), evergreen plant beds, lawn areas and woodie plants (deciduous and evergreen) get rid of any out of place plants to prevent future trouble aggressiveness may cause


October's transition creates many interesting scenarios i.e. evergreens start moving to forefront as deciduous / herbaceous plants are falling back, leaves color, interior conifer needles brown followed by dropping, possible activities new installations, mulching, pruning, transplanting, and or evaluation, research, fact finding then using gathered information for making changes and or getting reassurance things are working. This springboard month jumps as all plants slow into dormancy and actions / work if timely / correctly done could mean an aesthetically more enjoyable winter and healthier less troublesome ‘19 growing season. Remember landscapes tempo is always set by Mother Nature's weathering attitude, but impact can be accentuated or buffered by smart October gardening. 

This Month's Work Schedule, Concerns and Pleasurable Events

Keep Watering Landscape-Don't Think About Putting Hoses Away or Turning Off Irrigation Systems-adequate soil moisture is crucial for all plant material-newly installed or well established, deciduous or evergreen, woodie or herbaceous, root system / crown or above ground growth- dehydration as temperatures cool weaken, then when winter's ground freeze thaw cycle becomes reality there can be physical tearing root (feeder) hairs and or elevation of plant crown increasing chance of troublesome damage whether dormant zoysia, active bluegrass, daffodil bulbs or Christmas ferns, witch hazel or holly, pine or Japanese maple, clematis or English ivy...

Incoming Tropical Delights-thoroughly checked for insect / disease problems corrected before brought indoors, any plants with questionable health-discard-indoors locate pots / saucers in sunny window / under grow lights by mid-month-care use caution not to overwater (wilting foliage / branching can mean either under, over watered or unhealthy-take time to determine cause before reacting), only fertilize budded or flowering plants (allow others to ‘rest') routinely check (stems, leaf bottom / top, potting mix, underside of pot) check all plants for signs of insects, disease, or unexpected decline-be sure of prognosis before making treatment(s), if over-all appearance declines consider discarding vs. trying to save, keep troubled plants to minimize spreading potential trouble-seasonal purchases check over completely, once home some foliage / flower drop may occur

Avoid Potential Fallen Leaf Problems-(from trees / shrubs and drooping / sagging perennial, edibles or annuals-don't think letting fallen leaves lay will become cheap mulch / weed control or anything positive, once you can no longer see lawn, ground cover, real mulch because leaf debris is totally (usually 2-3" deep) covering / blanketing can create unhealthy humidity (setting stage for disease, bacteria, fungus eruption-especially during rainy periods) factor for living plant material and soil microorganisms-so routinely remove debris by cutting off, sweeping, mowing, raking and or blowing, then recycle / compost collected leaves

Book Your Flight(s)-depending on setting and location various varieties of birds can visit, if seed and or water is available anticipate return fly-bys-overs and landings, many birds prefer specific seed i.e. thistle seed = finches, oiled sunflower = cardinals, mixed seed = doves...added plus check trees / shrubs for old nests, try to determine who nested there-Reminder ‘robber' squirrels, rodents / small mammals are constantly seeking food and during dry spells water, make placement adjustments if possible-additionally birds are guaranteed draw for outdoor / feral neighborhood cats

Plant Response to Chemical Applications-Herbicides, Insecticides, and Fungicides-become less effective (both contact and systemic) as weeds absorption rate diminishes and insects activity is less as weather cools, fall lawn fungus can occur best action leaf buildup prevention-Fertilizing (scenario plant dependent)-NO on existing or newly planted zoysia, trees, shrubs, vines, roses, or perennials (may slow dormancy process and or trigger damaging bud, twig growth...) depending upon weather YES on healthy annuals and cool season lawns--if using granular make sure to water after application-unsure what type of fertilizer is best to use check with favorite garden center-off season chemical storage liquids should not be exposed to temperatures below mid-30's, granular keep dry lack of cautionary action could render product ineffective   

New Tree / Shrub Installation-keep watered, dig hole 3-4X diameter of root ball, only 80% as deep so crown (trunk / twig root system intersection) stays above surrounding ground, set root into hole, backfill and water, cover root ball with 3-4" of mulch, no fertilizer, stake loosely allowing for wind to sway, water to prevent dehydration

Future Excitement in Small Packages-add a spectacular showing, purchase new minor (smaller and generally earlier blooming vs. daffodils / tulips) bulbs, your landscape can have blooms starting in early / mid-February with Eranthis, Anemone, Crocus, Galanthus, Scillas, Muscari. These bulbs create best impact planting 15-25 bulbs in close (1-2" apart) proximity can be grown outdoors ground or pots / window boxes or potted for indoor (after refrigeration for 6-8 weeks) forcing, any planting in pots / window boxes bulb placement can be tight just make sure bulbs aren't touching). Flowers are quite cold tolerant and colors range is rainbow like guaranteeing a welcome site as winter doldrums set in. Siting all bulbs regardless of variety / size / bloom season require a well-drained soil ideally with high organic content, if potting use potting mix not potting soil. Planting Tips: bulb depth 4-5x bulb diameter, after backfilling over bulbs, water and cover with 1-2" of mulch. Note squirrels don't know bulbs are in location, they prefer to dig / plant acorns, nuts...where digging is easy-improved soils, generally squirrels don't dig deep enough to reach bulbs, many times it is a misnomer that squirrels steal bulbs, but many times lack of bulb performance is because soil is to moist / wet and bulbs rot, if concerned lay piece of chicken wire over bulb area then cover with mulch


Have Soil(s) Tested-separate tests for designated area i.e. lawn, perennial, edible...

Mulch-total depth (new plus existing) shouldn't exceed 3-4" woodies, 1-2" perennial, bulbs...

Lawn Mowing-cut any actively growing lawns set mower blade height 3-4"

Weed Control-physical removal is most effective, use tool (not hand pull) to get entire root system

Water Feature Pumps-check intake, keep debris free to maximize enjoyable sound

Water Gardens-cut back hardy aquatic plants, cover with netting to minimize debris accumulation

Perennials-install, transplant ASAP allowing for root system establishment before colder weather

Gathering Seeds-place in paper envelop and label with name, store dark dry location till next spring

Summer Bulbs / Tubers-dig, shake clean, keep only firm ones, store in paper bags in dry dark spot  


Good Gardening--To each and everyone that stops by-I say to you the world of life and gardening is simply wonderfully wild and crazy

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