2014 THE YEAR OF RECOVERY AND MAINTENANCE.
The long cool spring turned into a long cool summer in our area. But weather’s been strange everywhere from extreme storms to floods and drought. We truly are in the middle of climate disturbances. Many plants took months to recover from the devastating floods, shifts in temperatures and intensity of the sun of the last two seasons.
You would not know this from an over-all look at my own garden: many things died in the spring flood, others struggled but many plants also revived to live on with regular lives. I moved a Cornus alternifolia ‘Argentea’ just a few feet away from the sludge, and it started to leaf out again. Even a good deal of TLC did not help it survive. In the end I had to throw it out.
Careful placement of plants is an absolute must. If it’s dry shade they need, give it to them. Don’t put sun loving plants in the shade and expect them to perform. I put this lovely tree way too close to a flooded area and have paid for it.
WATERING THE GARDEN
Watering has turned into complete bafflement for many people. This year we’ve had rains of monsoon quality which barely stay on the land. They slide off into the sewers faster than we can keep up with them. It’s played havoc with whether things live or not.
Recently, we had to remove a dead tree only to find that though it had been watered, the watering had not really reached the roots. So sad. Couple of rules of thumb:
1. Newly planted trees and shrubs: spend a full count of 60 with the hose aimed toward the base of the plant to make sure the water has soaked in and down below the roots. Do this twice a week.
2. Check its effectiveness by sticking a trowel into the soil near the plant, pull back the soil to see how far down the moisture is going.
These two precautions will help your plants get through times when it doesn’t rain especially #2 to make sure roots and below are getting moisture. Quite often if you lift a big leaf say from a hosta or under an evergreen you’ll find it’s dead dry. This is called a rain shadow and big plants create them. So check everything.
Automatic watering systems have turned out not to be bonuses this year. They have been calibrated for the big needs of spring but keep on pumping out water even when it’s raining. Of course the sprinkler people hate re-setting systems. But unless you are out of town always make sure you can turn it on and off at will rather than automatically.
We’ve seen so much death due to overwatering it’s mind boggling. Don’t let your watering system kill your garden or fill it full of fungal diseases.
3. Perennials will take about 30 seconds.
If you have large borders, let the sprinkler do its work for 45 minutes to an hour twice a week. It’s effective especially in the morning when foliage has time to dry out. But if you can only water at night, at least do it by hand avoiding the foliage and you won’t attract damp and fungal diseases. If you have an automatic watering system make sure it doesn’t come on before 5:30 a.m. And don’t let it just dribble in 10 or 20 minutes a day. That’s useless. Leave it on for deep watering once or twice a week when there is no rain.
Le Jardin des refuses this week: left Liquidambar (Sweetgum) with Chelone (Turtlehead) in the foreground and Rudbeckia nitida ‘Herbestonne’ the gold in the background.
Never have I seen a year like this one for weeds. Last year brought us strange diseases, this year it’s weeds. We are unlucky enough in our neighbourhood to have a guy who has turned his lot into Dogpatch and let it go to weed and seed. Unhappily these monsters blew seeds up and down the street. Within two weeks every single garden was sporting brand new knee-weeds. It costs to have stuff removed if you can’t do it yourself. So this is why we mulch regularly.
PLANT AND MULCH
A nice thick layer of mulch (we use well-composted pine bark with a bit of sand added) but not too thick—four inches (10cm) is enough. And mulch isn’t going to ward off the evils of all weeds. You have a respite for a couple of weeks before weeds will make their way through to the surface again. But at least you’ll know exactly where the weeds are. They will be weaker and easier to pull.
Here is how we observed a city tree being planted: A hole barely big enough to accommodate the root of the tree, turf dumped back into hole, tree plunked in and back filled and then twelve inches (30cm) of large wood chips loaded up over the hole and the side of the trunk. One bucket of water and on to the next one.
When I think of the care we take in digging holes just to the depth of the root system but twice as wide, fluffing out the roots to make sure they are healthy, placing the tree so it has a face presented to the world and is slightly proud (just above the surface of the soil), back filling, a layer of compost and careful deep watering before we mulch. Of course it takes a lot longer but we are planting for the long term not to fulfill a quick landscape contract.
This is a great time of year to add woody plants (trees and shrubs) to the garden. Make sure your first frosts are six weeks away and consider it the second planting season.
Lespedeza in my garden
I fall in deep like with plants, new one each year or perhaps every season. And it would seem this year’s favourite perennial is Lespedeza ‘Gibraltar’. We started using it a lot in our gardens last year and I wrote about it for the Globe. So this year it’s been hard to find again. It dies back to the ground and I’m sure many people tore it out without realizing that it comes back from the roots even after a terrible winter. It will then grow to a good four feet and put out the most wonderful pink to magenta blooms. Graceful, arching, they are like herbaceous shrubs. I have mine next to a Baptisia which has been in the ground for about 15 years and does bloom finally. They vie quite happily for space.
Both practically cover up the new Japanese maple ‘Shaina’ which took the place of an aged and ailing form of ‘Sangu-Kaku’ the coralbark maple. It will give me quite a new look, won’t grab any light from my neighbor and sports this amazing colour for three seasons. It’s good in sun.
** NB: If you have Japanese Maples make sure you cover the whole root system when watering them. They have wide ranging feeder roots and this will help them tolerate the sun.
PRUNING THE GARDEN
That’s your job this time of year. Walking about the garden, seeing where to nip and tuck.
Here’s an Aster ‘Little Carlow’ before pruning and after
Aster before: it’s way too big and needs to be brought under control and in scale with the surrounding plants. Go to the level you want to take the perennial down to, then nip the stalk off at the nearest node (notch) where you can see new growth.
Aster after: much neater and I’ll show you a shot in my autumn newsletter.
The brand new Acer palmatum ‘Sangu Kaku’ in the background is being nudged by the Japanese maple in the foreground. I always start pruning woody plants like this with a question: What do I want this plant to do for me? In this case be a companion.
I’m going to keep the smaller maple the size it is now which means taking a bit off it every so often and it won’t destroy the true nature of this plant, just bend it to my will slightly.
It will give the Coralbark maple room to grow upwards and create a wonderful canopy on this side of the garden.
Wonderful things happen so often by serendipity and here’s one of the lovelies of the garden right now: The garden from the centre back to the house. I am enjoying the way the plants have layered up and create a marvelous picture. It draws me into the garden many times during the day to admire and be thankful for such a wonderful retreat from the ghastliness of the world at large.
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