Fall is coming!


Summer is drawing to a close, and fall chores are ahead. This is a great time of year to aerate and overseed your lawn. Grass seed planted in the fall will be much more established by next summer’s heat, which will stress out any spring planted seed. Also it may limit your ability to use pre-emergent herbicides to keep weeds out of your turf.

Falling Leaves…can be pretty but also a chore. Make sure to clean your gutters out often in the fall so they don’t get clogged with debris.

Bulb planting…almost but not quite yet. While some bulbs are quite forgiving, Tulip bulbs (for those of you lucky enough to not have deer!) really should not be planted until the ground has cooled. But now is the time to plan and order your bulbs for the best selection. Some bulbs I adore: Daffodils – I know they aren’t exotic, but they sure are reliable, come in an almost infinite array of varieties with different sizes, colors, forms and bloom times. Deer and squirrels also leave them alone, which is a big plus for many of us. Snowdrops are also great, they will naturalize and are a welcome sight after a long winter. I prefer species tulips, they may be small, but they are much more reliable to return year after year. Some other bulbs to try: Crocus – another great naturalizer and early bloomer, Hyacinths – Beautiful, colorful and fragrant, Muscari (Grape Hyacinths) – naturalizes well, Scilla sibirica – small but pretty, Fritillaria – From the towering imperialis to the many species, they are distinctive additions, Leucojum (Summer Snowflake) – a later bloomer. All of these except the species tulips are deer resistant. My favorite bulbs by far are Hardy Lilies. I am a Lily fanatic. By choosing different species and varieties you can have an extended show of gorgeous showy flowers that are great for cutting. Some, like the orientals in particular are extremely fragrant. Like all bulbs, the foliage needs to ripen in order for them to gather energy to return next year, so don’t cut them with long stems for the first couple years. They will get stronger, taller and spread, then it is time to cut them for the house. You can dead head them after bloom, but leave the main stalk as tall as possible until fall. There are so many lilies it is hard to find space for all of them! But luckily they are vertical and can fit in small spaces. Unfortunately, deer adore them as much as I do. I’ll be browsing very soon to decide what new bulbs to add this year. If you are gradually filling in your gardens with spring bulbs (as most of us are who are on a budget) instead of marking the bulbs you have, consider marking the spaces you want to fill next year. A simple popsicle stick in the ground can give your direction on where to plant in the fall. So next spring, walk around and identify spaces you could fill in the fall. Or take pictures of the gardens in the spring so you can have a better idea where to add what in the fall. Our memories usually fail us by the time the bulbs go dormant.
Some Spring Bulbs:

Pruning – Don’t trim your evergreens too early. Trimming them in early fall can cause a new flush of growth that won’t have time to harden off for winter. Wait until the temperatures have dropped so you don’t encourage new growth. For those of you with Knockout Roses (One of my favorite shrubs), don’t be shy about cutting them back if they are established. Bloom can go on until Thanksgiving in our area, so now is not the time, but once it has really gotten cold, take the hedge trimmers to them and knock them down to size. If they are new plants, they probably can just be tip pruned for shape, but after several years they can get huge if you don’t stay on top of them. No special pruning is required, just hack them down to about 18″. Next spring they will be bushy and full and re-grow faster that you can believe. The double varieties don’t seem quite so vigourous to me, so handle those a little more gently. You can cut back those butterfly bushes in the fall also, but don’t go too far…the plants need some wood over the winter to survive. In the spring you can be much more aggressive. I like to just cut them back by half in the fall, then again in the spring. Don’t prune your Azaleas, Forsythia, Hydrangeas, Rhododendrons, or Pieris in the fall. They have already set their flower buds for next spring and you will be cutting off your future flowers! Prune these spring blooming shrubs immediately after they flower.

Annuals – Some are looking really tired by now. Lantana (the banner picture right now) is an exception. It is just reaching it’s stride. For those of you lucky enough not to have those tiresome destructive deer, planting pansies can really freshen up the landscape and give you a bonus of spring color next year. Other fall annuals are dianthus, dusty miller, alyssum, osteopspermum, and even calibrachoa (Million Bells). Calibrachoa will weather light frosts very well. Time to pull out those impatiens though. At least before the frost. Oterwise they are a slimy mess. That is if you didn’t get hit by the downy mildew epidemic this year. It seems every impatien planting I have seen has been devastated. It was a huge problem this season. So don’t blame yourself if your impatiens gave out on you, Downy Mildew may have been the problem.


Pruning Shrubs and Hydrangeas

Did you know that the best time to prune most of your deciduous shrubs is NOW?  Call today and get them correctly pruned and shaped to enjoy their beauty and keep them at a managable size. Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Forsythia, Lilacs and many other spring blooming shrubs should only be pruned immediately after flowering. If you wait too long and trim them in the late summer or fall you will lose flowers the following spring.See further below for an explantion of Hydrangea pruning, which is dependent of the type of the plant. We will address more about the correct pruning of Lilacs in a future article. Butterfly Bushes (Buddleia davidii varieties) generally only bloom on “New” wood – the growth of the current season, and should be pruned very hard in early spring. Otherwise the plants will become overgrown with and only flower at the tips. Butterfly Bushes will rapidly regenerate and grow back to a good size, even after this severe pruning.

Some information about Hydrangeas that we hope will be helpful to you:

Would you like to change the color of your hydrangeas? Many varieties of Hydrangea macrophylla (Mophead Hydrangeas) will change color depending on the soil chemistry. The amount of Aluminum that the plant ingests can drastically change the flower color. Aluminum uptake is dependent upon the pH of the soil. It is much easier to change a pink hydrangea to blue than it is to change a blue hydrangea to pink.

If you want Pink flowers, you need to keep the plant from absorbing aluminum. Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Use a fertilizer with a generous amount of Phosphorus. Phosphorus is the middle number in the fertilizer formulation. (the “P” in “N-P-K”) This will help keep aluminum from being absorbed into the plant.
  • Apply dolomitic Lime several times per year. This will increase the soil pH, which will also keep aluminum absorbtion down. Try to keep the pH level between 6.2 and 6.4. But if the pH is too high, the plants will have a hard time taking up iron and show signs of iron deficiency.

To create a BLUE hydrangea, we want to increase the amount of Aluminum available to the plant.

  • Add Aluminum sulfate. This should be done after the plants are throughly watered since too much can burn the roots.
  • Decrease the soil pH. This will make help the Aluminum be available for absorbtion. Try for between 5.2 and 5.5.
  • Use a fertilizer with lower in Phosphorus and higher in Potassium. Potassium is the last number in the fertilizer formulation (The “K” in N-P-K) (“K” is the chemical symbol for Potassium)

White Hydrangeas are not affected by these methods. Neither are Oakleaf (Hydrangea quercifolia), Pee Gee types (Hydrangea paniculata var.), ‘Annabelle’ types (Hydrangea arborescens) or climbing Hydrangeas (Hydrangea anomola ssp. petiolaris). Some varieties also tend towards one color or another due to genetics, but will be affected slightly by the above methods. (For example, the dwarf Hydrangea ‘Pia’ tends to be pink, and the large variety ‘Nikko Blue’ tends towards blue) The intensity of the coloring is also determined by the variety, so if you are purchasing new hydrangeas, it is best to do some research first if you have a preferred color in mind. Just don’t be fooled by the color of the plant when you purchase it. Container grown hydrangeas will usually change color once they are adapted to the soil you plant them in.

There are many new and exciting varieties of Hydrangeas available. Breeding has produced new plants that are much more reliable bloomers, since they bloom on both new and old wood. Most older varieties of H. macrophylla (the Mopheads) bloom only on growth from the previous season. A few standouts are: ‘Penny Mac’, ‘All Summer Beauty” and “Endless Summer”. There are also some fascinating varieties of ‘Lace Cap’ hydrangeas, like “Tokyo Delight”. The “Lace Cap” hydrangeas have a beautiful, delicate appearance and should be more widely grown. The common Variegated Hydrangea is usually a Lace Cap variety, but unfortunately it is very sensitive to cold winters so it rarely flowers in our area unless it is in a protected location or if we have a mild winter. The foliage is attractive without flowers however, as it can bring a welcome contrast to other green leaved plants.

Pruning hydrangeas can seem daunting. It isn’t that complicated actually. Older ‘Mophead’ types, and Oakleaf Hydrangeas (H. quercifolia varieties) do not really need any pruning at all, other than removal of dead branches or to keep them smaller. They bloom on ‘Old’ wood (The stems that grew the previous season) so it is important not to cut them back in fall, winter or spring. You can cut them back in June and July without affecting next years blooms. You can deadhead (cut off old flowers) anytime. You can trim the stems back to keep the plants smaller, but it is better to choose a variety of the appropriate size for your garden. If you have one of the newer, improved varieties that bloom on both old and new wood, the same guidelines apply, although with these you will still get some flowers even if you prune them incorrectly. One exception to these guidelines is if you have an older plant, and then you may want to consider ‘Rejuvenation’ pruning. This means removing about 1/3 of the stems regardless of their age. This will perk up older plants.

If you want to use the blooms as cut flowers, it is fine to cut them with long stems in June and July. After the first of August, cut them with shorter stems so you don’t reduce next season’s bloom. Of course as with anything, there are exceptions to this rule (There is something called ‘remontant’ hydrangeas, like ‘Endless Summer’, that will regenerate flower buds if cut off or damaged by frost) but if you follow these guidlines you should be rewarded with good blooms. Unless, that is, MOTHER NATURE interferes! Lack of blooming, even when plants are healthy and pruned properly is usually due to the flower buds being harmed by cold. Hydrangeas vary in their hardiness, so it is important to choose one that will tolerate our winters. The plants that are sold as forced blooming houseplants sometimes are very tender varieties that won’t bloom in our region. So just because it had flowers when you bought it doesn’t mean that it will ever flower again!! Late hard freezes can also seriously affect hydrangea blooms, but there is little we can do to control this.

All of the above comments apply to H. macrophylla varieties. But what about the other types? Well, some hydrangeas do the exact opposite, and bloom on ‘New’ wood, that is new growth of the season. “Pee Gee”and “Annabelle” types (H. paniculata,  H. arborescens varieties) can be cut back anytime except when they are preparing to bloom. (They can be cut back in Fall, Winter or early Spring)

We hope this information is useful to you, and please feel free to Contact Us if we can be of any assistance.



Shrub Care

Winter 2011-2012

Well, I didn’t keep up with the blog very well. I’m making it a New Year’s Resolution to do better in the future. Winter is a bit dreary, but it has been mild so far. I had plenty of time to clean up all of the gardens and get a fresh layer of mulch put down (22 yards) AND clean up the leaves which is a daunting task with the property surrounded by large trees, mostly Oaks, which are prolific in dropping their leaves but of course do it grudgingly, bit by bit instead of just dropping all at once which would be more considerate. (Like Maples, which are at least polite enough to shed the majority of their leaves in a short period of time, making clean up easier)

I got a new ‘toy’. It is an electric leaf shredder. It was very cheap, about $120 on Amazon.com. I wasn’t expecting much for the price, but couldn’t afford to step up and buy a real chipper like I wanted, so I decided to give this thing a try. It is a Flowtron LE-900 “The Ultimate Mulcher Electric Leaf Shredder”. It is basically a tub with a weed whacker string head at the bottom and you feed the leaves in the top and the string beats them all to hell and they drop through the holes at the bottom. It reduces huge piles to just about nothing but finely shredded material. I made a bin for the leaf shreddings and was worried it was too small, that I would have to erect a second in order to handle the massive leaf load, but it turned out I didn’t even fill it halfway! That machine rocks! But it cannot handle sticks or anything large, they will just clog it up. Small price to pay considering the price difference between it and a realy chipper.

Also had a chance to get the deer fence up while it was nice out. I have to fence the back and side yards and also seperately fence my Knockout Roses by the Driveway. Otherwise the d$*& deer will strip everything to sticks over the winter. I am very lucky, in the summer they pretty much leave most things alone, although last spring they did get a clump of oriental lilies which ticked me off, but all in all they are much better here than at a lot of my client’s homes. I have sites that they eat stuff they are not supposed to touch. Junipers (especially Blue Pacific which is a favorite) Mahonia beali, Little Princess Spirea are a few things that are supposedly on the list of things that deer will NOT eat are delicacies to them at one site in Gaithersburg. Sprays of Liquid Fence every 7-10 days with a power sprayer to blanket spray the gardens (I use about 7 Gallons per spray) (And I dilute the concentrate a lot less than the label recommends) keep them mostly at bay. But if I miss a spray, all bets are off, they will go nuts and chow on everything. But they are really strange creatures. I have other sites in Potomac where they eat different things and leave other things alone that they devour elsewhere. I have one site in North Potomac, where the owner has over a dozen Nellie Stevens Hollies in the far back, and I put one Dragon Lady Holly right on the house corner. Do you know those little Sh*(&s don’t touch the Nellies, but ate the Dragon Lady to the trunk. I don’t get that. They also eat the Rhododendrons, which isn’t too unusual, but leave the skip laurel totally untouched. And yet another place where they leave the Rhodies alone but they eat the Skips and Nellie Stevens. There is a short list of plants I have not seen them eat anywhere (And Mahonia beali USED to be on that list until this year)

Here are the best deer proof plants in my experience: Boxwoods, Cephalotaxus (Japanese Plum Yews), Microbiota (Siberian Cypress), Pieris, Juniperus chinensis (Chinese Junipers), Imperata (Japanese Blood Grass), Calamintha nepeta nepeta (Calamint), Perovskia (Russian Sage), Achillea ‘Coronation Gold’ (Yarrow, but not all varieties – they particularly like the soft ferny green leaved varieties like ‘Summer Wine’), Stachys (Lamb’s Ears), Deutzia ‘Nikko’, Osmanthus, Bamboo, Berberis (Barberries), Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’ (Blue Star Junipers), Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’ (Dwarf Japanese Garden Juniper), Cedrus atlantica varieties (Atlantic Cedars), Cedrus deodora varieties (Deodar Cedar Varieties), Pinus densiflora ‘Burke’s Red Variegated’ (Japanese Red Pine), Buddleia (Butterfly Bush), Magnolia grandiflora (Southern Magnolia) and different Iris varieties. (I haven’t seen them bother Japanese, Flag, Bearded, or Siberians)

I will update this list as I think of things. A few things that they ‘Don’t Eat’ but do: Monarda (Bee Balm) Coreopsis verticillata, Spirea, Blue Pacific Junipers (as mentioned above), Laurels (Skip, Otto Luyken, etc.) I’m sure there are a bunch more and like I said earlier, it really depends on the site and the deer and how hungry they are.

Stinkbugs were so/so this year. Not as bad as last, but still a pain in the neck. My tomatoes were doing just beautifully until they showed up and ruined everything. They also LOVE my piles of firewood to overwinter in  – found the only thing that I can spray is Bifenthrin (according to the Ortho Home Defense Max label) so I am trying to keep those critters from coming in with the firewood by spraying it in the summer. Some still made it so I have to bang the logs together when I move them to dislodge the little @#$@*s.

Am looking forward to a better lawn next year. Spread 12 yards of topsoil/leafgro mix and heavily re-seeded this fall. I also planted a TON of bulbs due to our warm fall and mild winter so the gardens should be full this spring. Had to keep the pansies and tulips in back where the deer won’t eat them, but put in plenty of Hyacinths, Crocus and Daffodils near the road.

There is finally snow on the ground now and it has gotten quite cold. I have been working on some updates for the website and sorting pictures of plants and jobs from last year. I’d rather be outside gardening, but what can you do, sometimes you just have to think about it!



Friday looks like it will be wonderful!!! 70 and Sunny!!! I can’t wait to plant my strawberries, peas, lettuce and spinach. I also bought some pansies for the pots on the front porch. The bulbs are all peeking up now, and I have a few daffodils (Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation) blooming already. It’s been a long, cold winter and I can’t wait for spring. The picture above is a closeup of the flowers of the ‘Okame’ Cherry tree. It is a very early bloomer and starts the Cherry Blossom progression of spring here in Maryland. I’m going to cut some forsythia and bring it inside – it won’t take long to force since the buds are fat and showing color. I plan on a lot of changes this year, my husband has no idea what he is in for :) First things first….weed out the weaklings. I am vicious when it comes to getting rid of plants I don’t think perform well. First on the list are Buddleia davidii ‘White Ball’ (Butterfly Bush) and Hemerocallis ‘Rosey Returns’ (Daylily). The butterfly bush does bloom all season, and it does stay compact, but it just is not that attractive. It’s actually kind of ugly even in full bloom. And the color of the ‘Rosey Returns’ isn’t really ‘Rosey’ it is more of an ugly salmon.

Last fall I went nuts with lilies. Asiatics, Orientals, LA Hybrids and Chinese trumpets were planted with wild abandon. I think I went overboard actually. I’m also getting back into roses, coming full circle now back to giving them another try. (I ripped a lot out years ago when I got tired of the maintenance) The Knock Outs are great, I have a lot of them and they perform really well, but I am actually branching out and planting some Hybrid Teas (GASP!!!) I would never plant them in a client’s landscape, but I’m going to give it another shot and see if I can’t keep them up this year. I also planted a climbing ‘New Dawn’ mixed with a Clematis jackmanii on my new arbor. It is a baby though, so I hope it made it through the winter. My hardy banana and windmill palm aren’t looking so good. Also some late planted Needlepoint Hollies (Ilex cornuta ‘Needlepoint’) look pretty crispy. I tried a new Viburnum, Spring something or other (I’ll have to see if I wrote down the name!) and it was supposed to be evergreen, bloom pink and fragrant and it looks very unhappy. It is mostly brown, which I am thinking is not a good thing.

Have to run, but next time I want to talk about my bamboo.