The Beauty of Grasses

Friday, August 28th, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • Fall vegetables can be planted now for a fall harvest of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, chard and lettuce.
    • First-year fruit trees need to be well-watered through the dry weather. If they are neglected the first year, they may never be strong, productive trees.
    • Japanese maples may be pruned now in order to shape them.
    • Divide Oriental poppies and bearded iris now. Add some bone meal in the bottom of the hole when you replant them.
    • Plant beets now for fall harvest. They will have a deeper red color than beets planted for spring harvest, and tend to have higher sugar levels too.

The Beauty of 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.

One of the most attractive grasses is Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster,’ is known as feather reed grass and is valued for its early bloom, vertical lines and ability to grow in heavy soils. It makes a clump of narrow, stiff, rich green leaves that grow 3′ tall and 2′ wide. Flower stalks rise to 6 feet with feathery plumes that turn golden in summer.

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 Blood Grass, Imperata rubra, is a unusual and dramatic grass, slowly forming a low clump of red-tipped leaves that glow in the sun. It grows 12-18” tall and rarely flowers but its red foliage becomes more intense over the summer and fall.

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.

Muhlenbergia capillaris, known as Pink Muhly grass, is a clumping grass to 3 feet tall with vibrant pink, airy flowers on 4-foot stems. It is very attractive massed for late season color.

Maiden grass, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus,’ is an elegant grass with a vase-like form to 6 feet tall. It blooms in late summer with striking plumes of white flowers, and turns golden bronze after first frost. Use as a screening or background plant.

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.

Japanese Forest Grass, Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola,’ is a gorgeous grass for shady sites. Its bright yellow foliage with thin green stripes gives the effect of a tiny bamboo, without the invasive qualities. It makes a graceful, colorful groundcover for the shady bed.

Deer avoid most ornamental grasses so you can add year-round interest to your landscape with these attractive plants.

Bird Gardens

Friday, October 16th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Garlic cloves can be planted now. Keep them watered and weeded through the winter and you will harvest healthy large bulbs next June.
    • Chrysanthemums are the brightest flowers for the fall garden. Plant some now.
    • Naked lady amaryllis have lovely, fragrant pink flowers that bloom in late summer with little or no care. Plant the bulbs, available at local nurseries, now.
    • Seed slopes with annual ryegrass to prevent erosion and improve the soil for later plantings.
    • 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.

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 niger 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.

The Cutting Garden

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008 by Jenny Watts
    Hang up Codling moth traps now to reduce the number of wormy apples in your harvest this year.
    Enjoy the bright yellow colors of goldfinches outside your window by putting up thistle feeders for them.
    Flowering dogwood trees are blooming now to help you choose a beautiful small tree for a focal point in your garden.
    Turn in cover crops now and you will be ready to plant your summer garden in two or three weeks.
    Check your rose bushes for frost damage and prune back burnt shoots into healthy green growth. Spray now with Neem Oil to prevent insect and disease problems.

The Cutting Garden
If you enjoy having fresh flowers in the house, it makes good sense to grow your own. With your own cutting garden, you can grow the flowers you love in the colors you want and make sure you have a selection of flowers for cutting most of the year.

Cut flowers are as easy to grow as vegetables when grown in blocks of the same kind. Choose plants that bloom for a long period and hold up well in the vase. Make sure you grow flowers that bloom at different seasons to have bouquets throughout the year.

In order to receive the maximum production of flowers, the garden should receive seven or eight hours of sun a day. The soil should be fertile with good drainage. There are also some flowers for cutting that can be grown in light shade, though flower production won’t be as great.

If you want to grow cut flowers in an ornamental garden, mix annuals and perennials with ornamental grasses, bulbs and roses. Grow at least three plants of each perennial and six of each annual to have enough flowers for cutting at one time.

Many of the best annual cut flowers are in the daisy family: asters, bachelor’s button, calendulas, cosmos, dahlias, marigolds, zinnias and sunflowers. Some contrasting flowers include gladiolus, dianthus, gayfeather, Victoria Blue salvia, snapdragons and stock.

Everlastings make great cut flowers for fresh or dried arrangements. Baby’s breath, globe amaranth, pink candle celosia, yarrow, statice and strawflowers are easy to air-dry without losing their color or form. Some, such as purple coneflowers and black-eyed Susans produce bold, bristly seedheads that are nice in dried arrangements.

Perennials from the daisy family include: aster, gaillardia, chrysanthemum, coreopsis, black-eyed Susans, Shasta daisy and painted daisy. Cup-and-saucer campanula, delphinium, lupine and penstemon offer tall spikes of bold flowers. Iris, poppies, peonies, daffodils, lilies, tulips and roses have individual flowers to uses as centerpieces of your arrangements.

Ornamental grasses add drama to flower arrangements. Use Northern Sea Oats, fountain grass, feather reed grass (Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster’), or Japanese silver grass (Miscanthus sinensis) in both modern and country-style arrangements.

For long-lasting cut flowers, be sure to include carnations, Peruvian lilies (alstromerias), delphiniums, roses, lilies and sunflowers in your cutting garden. Their blooms will last in the vase for 6-14 days.

In areas that receive less than two hours of sun a day, you can grow astilbe, columbine, foxglove, and old-fashioned bleeding heart. If your flower bed is under deciduous trees, daffodils and tulips will flower nicely before the trees leaf out in the spring.

Whether you create a cutting garden, or add cut flowers to your ornamental flower beds, it’s easy to have lots of pretty cut flowers to enjoy indoors all season long.