» Archive for July, 2009

Shade Gardening

Friday, July 24th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Start seeds of broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and other cool-season crops now. Transplant them to the garden next month and they will be producing for you this fall.
    • Fuchsias will bloom all summer if you remove faded flowers and seed pods and fertilize every ten days with a liquid fertilizer like Miracle Gro.
    • Penstemon are bushy, evergreen perennials that attract hummingbirds with their red, pink, lavender or purple trumpet-shaped flowers all summer and fall.
    • Roses need water and fertilizer to keep blooming well throughout the summer. Watch for pests and treat immediately to prevent infestations.
    • After the June crop of raspberries is finished, remove canes that produced fruit leaving new green canes, which can then be trained on trellises.

Gardening in the Shade

When the weather is too hot to do much work out in the sun, gardening in the shade is much more pleasant. While some plants do not grow well in low light, many others thrive in these conditions. Just as moisture, temperature, and soil conditions may limit plant growth, the amount of shade present may determine which plants will grow successfully. The key is to discover which ones are adapted to the conditions in your yard or garden.

Landscapes change their degree of shade over time. As trees and shrubs mature, the landscape receives greater shade. What was once a sunny garden may evolve into a shady one. Examine the amount of shade in your garden periodically to determine if changes in plant materials may be needed due to increased shade from a maturing landscape. Keep in mind that light patterns also change with the seasons. An area that is in full sun in summer when the sun is high in the sky may have medium shade in spring and fall, when the sun is at a lower angle. Study your garden through the seasons to accurately determine what type of shade is present.

Available sunlight may be increased by selective pruning. Removal of lower limbs on large trees can increase light levels significantly. Large shade trees are a valuable resource that in most cases should be preserved. However, removal of diseased, unattractive, or poorly placed trees improves the beauty of your property and increases the light available for plant growth.

Plants growing in the shade often must also compete with roots of shading trees for nutrients and moisture. Shallow rooted trees such as large maples, birch trees, redwoods, poplars, pines and willows are particularly troublesome. Roots competing for limited surface water may cause shade gardens to dry out more quickly than sunny sites during long dry periods. Some shade-tolerant plants are adapted to low moisture situations, while others require moist shade.

Adding organic matter to shade garden soils will help. Most woodland species are accustomed to growing in soils rich in leaf litter compost. Raking and removal of leaves each fall in the typical landscape disrupts this natural nutrient recycling process. If you are patient, earthworms will eventually incorporate organic matter into the soil.

Bright, bold colors are less common in shade tolerant plants than in sun-loving ones. Flowers are usually produced less abundantly in the shade as well. For these reasons, shade gardens are often more subtle and restful than sunny ones. Plant textures become more important elements of the design. Large-leaved plants such as hostas have a coarse texture, while finely divided fern fronds create a fine texture. Strong contrasts in texture will help individual plants stand out.

Glossy leaves have more impact than dull or velvety ones. Variegated or yellow-green foliage is evident in the shade more than dark green or blue-green foliage. Light colors – white, cream, yellow and pastel pink – stand out in the shade, while deep reds, blues and purples may fade into the shade unless set off by a contrasting lighter color. To emphasize plantings in the shade, concentrate on plants with light-colored flowers or foliage.

Add a fountain or birdbath and you will enjoy your shade garden all through the hot days of summer.

The Beauty of Grasses

Friday, July 17th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Colorful petunias will brighten up any flower bed. Their purples, pinks and reds make a real splash when planted in groups of the same color.
    • Attract birds to your garden with a concrete bird bath. They come in many attractive styles and make good gifts.
    • Dig gently to harvest potatoes, a few plants at a time, after foliage yellows and dries up.
    • Roses need water and fertilizer to keep blooming through the summer. Watch for pests and diseases and treat as soon as you see trouble.
    • Prune rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas to shape them now. If you wait much longer, you will be cutting off next year’s flowers.

Graceful Grasses

Ornamental grasses are an essential companion for perennials. Their linear leaves and various growth habits provide striking contrast to the shapes of most perennials. They add beauty and texture to almost any landscape, and provide such valuable traits as reliability, long season of interest and a tolerance of a wide range of environments.

With their foliage so different from leafy shrubs, grasses make a striking contrast to shrubs and most perennials. In the fall, when most of them bloom, their graceful plumes or feathery flowers are very attractive. The contrast of textures and shapes is one of the most appealing aspects of gardening with ornamental grasses.

There are many beautiful grasses in the genus, Pennisetum, known as Fountain Grasses. They are clumping grasses that grow 2 to 4 feet tall with beautiful flower heads. Australian Fountain Grass, Pennisetum alopecuroides, grows in mounds 3 to 4 feet tall. It is one of the most versatile, dependable and showy of all the ornamental grasses with gracefully arching foliage. It flowers from late August to October with rosy-copper spikes in arching sprays. It prefers full sun and fertile soil with adequate moisture. Pennisetum orientale, Oriental Fountain Grass, has flowers that are nearly white with a hint of pearlescent pink. The showy Purple Leaved Fountain Grass, Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’, is not hardy here but is beautiful used as an annual accent plant.

Ribbon Grass, Phalaris arundinacea, has showy green-and-white striped foliage on a spreading plant that reaches 30 inches tall. It can be very invasive so it is best grown in a container. It likes partial shade and can be grown in dry or moist soil. It has showy flowers that are pale pink and bloom in June and July.

Japanese Silver Grass, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Yaku Jima’, is a fine selection for small gardens. It grows 3 to 4 feet tall with green foliage that turns reddish brown in the fall. The fluffy reddish flowers emerge in mid-September and are quite showy and good for fresh or dried arrangements. It grows in full sun or partial shade and works well as a waterside plant.

Northern Sea Oats, Chasmanthium latifolium, is a clumping grass that is treasured for its showy, drooping flowers and rich, bamboo-like foliage. It is effective in mass plantings as well as a good choice for shady, damp conditions, though it will also grow in full sun. The flowers are very attractive throughout their various stages, and they make excellent cut or dried flowers.

Blue Fescue, Festuca glauca, grass has been used for decades as an attractive border plant for edging driveways and walks. Its blue foliage grows to 10 inches tall with flower spikes rising to 18 inches. It grows well in full or partial sun with average watering.

Mexican Feather Grass, Stipa tenuissima, is a great plant for mass planting, as it waves gracefully in light breezes. It blooms in the summer with feathery flowers that turn a golden brown, rising above the 24-inch, green foliage.

Add year-round interest to your landscape with ornamental grasses.