» Archive for November, 2015

Color for Cooler Days

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • Compost your leaves as they fall, don’t burn them! Leaves make wonderful compost that breaks down into rich humus by next summer.
    • Clean up dead foliage on perennials like peonies, daylilies and balloon flower and cut back dead flower stems on Echinacea, blanket flower and penstemon.
    • Seed slopes with annual ryegrass to prevent erosion and improve the soil for later plantings.
    • Clean up water lilies by cutting off dead leaves. Leave hardy lilies in the pond and sink them down to the bottom of the pond for the winter.
    • Daffodils announce the arrival of spring if you plant them now. Choose from a variety of colors and bi-colors.

Color for Cooler Days

As the petunias and marigolds wind down, and chilly nights come on, it’s time to clean up the flower beds and plant some new flowers for the cooler months. Snapdragons, pansies, violas, calendulas, stock and primroses are the best choices to keep your garden and containers colorful.

Snapdragons come in a variety of sizes and colors. They range from 8-inch tall ‘Floral Carpets’ to 36-inch tall ‘Rockets.’ The color range spans all the pinks, reds and lavenders as well as yellow and white. Although they are sold as annuals, in our climate they will winter over and rebloom profusely in early spring. They make wonderful cut flowers. When squeezed side to side, the snapdragon flower opens wide, delighting children of all ages.

For mass plantings, plant medium and dwarf varieties 6 to 8 inches apart and tall types a foot apart. Give them a sunny location with good garden soil that is well-drained. Snaps look very nice when interplanted with delphiniums, irises and daylilies.

Pansy flowers can be up to three inches across and come in a wide variety of colors: violet, purple, blue, pink, red, orange, yellow, white and many new bicolors. Pansies have become more popular as gardeners have seen how well they preform through wet, wintery weather. Pansies are unaffected by a covering of snow, and pop right back when the snow melts.

They are good companions for spring-flowering bulbs. By choosing colors that compliment the bulbs you can create some very pretty living bouquets. Blooming over a longer season than the bulbs, they will fill in and provide color as the bulbs are finishing their cycle.

Violas, which are the smaller cousins of pansies, also have some interesting new hybrids. The Sorbet series includes ‘Peach Melba’, with peach and yellow petals tipped with red, ‘Antique Shades’ come in red-purple shades each with pale edges. The old-fashioned ‘Johnny-Jump-Ups’ and purple ‘King Henry’ violas are cheerful all winter. Violas are dense and neat, spreading to 12 inches across.

Calendulas are very easy to grow. They are sometimes called winter marigold, though they are not marigolds at all. They grow in the sun and have large, fluffy daisy flowers. ‘Pacific Beauty’ mix has 2-3″ blooms, in shades of orange, cream and yellow on 1-2 feet tall plants. ‘Touch of Red’ are a blend of red, yellow and orange, each petal with a red tip growing to 14 inches tall. Calendulas like cool weather and will provide lots of color between now and next summer.

Stock is well-known for its wonderful fragrance. Flowers come in lovely rich colors of pink, purple, rose and white. Most flowers are double and, set against their gray-green foliage, they are beautiful. They make wonderful cut flowers, mixing nicely with snaps to have a riot of color as well as fragrance.

English primroses are the best bedding plants for shady areas in the winter. Their flowers sit in a cluster directly in the center of the plant, some on central flower stalks and some with lower flowers on individual stems. The color range is incredible, covering red, blue, yellow and all shades in between. The new ‘Primlet’ mix has clusters of double flowers that look like rosebuds.

If primroses are started early enough they will bloom in the fall. All plants will bloom from February through April, putting on a terrific show of color. If planted in a spot that receives shade in the summer, they will become well-established and be bigger and more beautiful next winter.

Perk up your garden with cheerful fall bloomers.

Stately Liquidambars

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • Ornamental kale and cabbage make a dramatic planting in flower beds over the winter.
    • Plant pansies, snapdragons, stock, calendulas and primroses now to replace summer annuals.
    • Tulips can paint the spring garden with almost any color you choose. Plant them now to enjoy their bright flowers next April.
    • Garlic sets can be planted now for an easy crop that you can harvest next spring. Choose from hard-neck, soft-neck or Elephant garlic varieties now available.
    • Plant cover crops in the garden where summer plants have finished. Fava beans and crimson clover will grow through the winter and improve your soil for spring planting.

Stately Liquidambars

If you’ve always wanted to see the fall colors in New England, do the next best thing and plant your own deciduous tree for fall color. Now is the ideal time to shop for such trees — while their leaves are showing their brilliant fall color. Few trees can equal the foliage of the liquidambar, or sweet gum tree. From yellow and orange to burgundy and red, these trees have it all. The sweet gum is one of the most reliable trees for autumn color in our area.

The tree is named for the reddish resin that exudes from the bark known as storax. The common name ‘sweet gum’ comes from this sweet balsamic sap which, when exposed, hardens into a fragrant gum.

Fall color is not the only attractive feature of a liquidambar. Their bright green, maple-like leaves are attractive in spring and summer. In the winter, their prickly, round fruits hang down from the bare branches like little ornaments. They are a favorite for flower arranging.

Liquidambars have a narrow, upright habit of growth. They can reach 40 or 60 feet in height with a spread of 20 to 25 feet. Since they branch low to the ground, they make excellent screens. They can be planted 10 to 15 feet apart to make a tall untrimmed screen.

When planted on the west side of the house, they will offer filtered shade from the hot afternoon sun. When they are in brilliant fall color, this back lighting makes them especially handsome.

Liquidambars are easily trained as lawn, street or patio trees. During the first two or three years, leave on the lowest branches. If you want to be able to walk under the tree, prune out its lower branches when the tree begins to form a sturdy trunk. Do not cut the central leader to create a rounded head. The tree will just send up another leader to take its place, and this may spoil the tree’s appearance.

When sweet gum trees are grown from seed, they may vary in size and in fall color. If you buy them after the leaves have turned color, you can choose the one that you like best.

Several varieties have been selected for their fall color and these are reproduced by grafting. These cultivars include ‘Palo Alto’ which turns a fiery scarlet in the fall; ‘Burgundy’ which has purplish leaves that hold late into winter; and ‘Festival’ which has pink, orange and yellow leaves on the same tree.

Liquidambars need full sun for best fall color, but they will take some shade. They make nice street trees, but do not plant them under power lines since they grow so tall. And make sure to plant them well away from sidewalks and driveways as their roots will crack nearby pavement.

For best appearance, water them once a month in heavy soils, and twice a month in sandy soils through the summer. They do well in damp locations.

The sweet gum is an outstanding deciduous tree that looks at home both in woodland settings and in residential gardens.

Attract migrating birds to your garden

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • Chrysanthemums are the brightest flowers for the fall garden. Plant some now.
    • Choose shade trees for fall color now and plant them while the soil is still warm.
    • Fragrant hyacinths make a colorful display in a garden bed, or can be grown in pots. They come in red, pink, blue and white and can be planted now.
    • Divide overgrown water lilies and irises. Repot using heavy soil with no organic matter or packaged Aquatic Planting Medium.
    • Crimson clover, fava beans and purple vetch will fortify your garden soil over the winter. Seed these crops as you compost your summer vegetables.

Attract migrating birds to your garden

Many different birds pass through our area each year, sharing their colorful plumage and distinctive songs with bird watchers. Birds offer us our best chance to observe wild creatures close at hand. To attract birds to your garden, you need to create a habitat that contains the resources that they need: food, water and shelter.

The best way to attract birds is to offer them something that they have trouble finding in your neighborhood. If there is no water around, put out a birdbath or build a small pond. Birds are strongly attracted to the sound of running water. A small fountain or tinkling little waterfall is sure to bring them to your yard.

If there are no winter berries in your area, plant a pyracantha or holly bush and they will come. If you have an open yard, plant shrub borders along one side and trees beside the shrubs. Create an island of trees, shrubs, and flowers and add a birdbath and you will be providing birds with a wealth of food, water and cover.

Plants offer birds food, shelter and nesting sites. Birds favor areas where different kinds of vegetation come together. Trees, shrubs, flowers, grasses and vines offer a variety of advantages to birds.

Seeds come from annuals, perennials, grasses and evergreen trees. You will have to let your flowers dry and go to seed to make food for the birds. Gloriosa daisy, purple coneflower, asters, coreopsis, sunflowers and ornamental grasses are excellent seed sources. Cone-bearing evergreens attract finches and crossbills.

There are many shrubs that have winter berries. Nandina, holly, viburnums, pyracantha, Japanese barberry, privets, dogwood, hawthorn and crabapples, to name a few. A few vines make berries that are attractive to birds. These include English ivy and Virginia creeper. As vines get large and bushy they provide a pleasant place for birds to take cover as well.

Of course there are a wide variety of bird feeders to attract birds also. Nuthatches, titmice and chickadees visit seed feeders, suet and even seed tables and ground food. Sociable finches love Nyjer thistle, which needs a special feeder. Robins and towhees will come to feeding tables and are attracted to peanuts and dried fruit.

Whether you are creating a new landscape or making changes in an old one, try to attract the birds to areas where they are visible from a window. Most birds prefer shaggy shrubbery, so let the plants grow naturally.

Few birds are comfortable feeding or drinking in the open for very long. Most birds prefer to have cover nearby to hide quickly from dangers. Place bird feeders and baths so the birds can reach shrubbery in a moment but not so close that a cat can pounce on them from a hiding place.

Fall is a good time to create a bird habitat, or to make plans for planting one next year.