Category Archives: Garden Tips

And the Winners are… 2018 Plants of the Year!

HOW THE PLANT OF THE YEAR IS SELECTED

Candidates for the Proven Winners’ Plant of the Year are judged stringently by growers, retailers and home gardeners against the five criteria: Easy to Grow, Iconic, Readily Available, Perfect for Baskets or Containers and Outstanding Landscape Performance. Plants are selected that are easy for everyone to grow and deliver a clearly exceptional garden performance.

After several rounds of voting, the winners are announced to growers across North America one year in advance to ensure they have plenty of time to grow the millions of plants needed to satisfy the demand at retail. As a result, home gardeners can easily find a retailer who carries the winning Plants of the Year.


ANNUAL OF THE YEAR: Supertunia® Bordeaux™ Petunia hybrid

Supertunia® Bordeaux™ will quickly grow into a blanket of sparkling purple flowers in your landscape. Since it is so vigorous, you won’t need many plants to make an impact. You’ll love how they look when you grow them in hanging baskets and upright containers. Supertunia® Bordeaux™ play well with others if you’re into playing matchmaker.

  • Masses of vibrant color
  • Non-stop bloom from spring to frost
  • Self-cleaning flowers—NO deadheading needed
  • Versatility of use in containers and landscapes
  • Broad color range to suit every style
  • Remarkable vigor and disease resistance

Supertunia petunias are vigorous with slightly mounded habits that function as both fillers and spillers in containers.  They are also excellent landscape plants, best suited to be placed near the front of beds.  They have medium to large sized flowers. Whether you’re looking to add a mass of color to your garden beds or create impressive containers with curb appeal, Supertunia® Petunias are the best choice for your sunny landscape. You’ll be amazed how green your thumbs are when you grow these vigorous, reliable flowers.


PERENNIAL OF THE YEAR: Primo™ ‘Black Pearl’ Heuchera

Coral bells like Primo ‘Black Pearl’ tend to grow best and have the prettiest coloration when grown in part sun, meaning 4-6 hours of direct sunlight per day. In very warm climates, full shade may be necessary. In cooler zones, it will grow in full sun if given adequate moisture. Primo ‘Black Pearl’ will keep its dark coloration even in full sun conditions.

  • Jet black, glossy, ruffled foliage
  • Long lasting, light pink cut flowers
  • Attracts pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds
  • Vigorous, densely mounding shape
  • Versatile – grows in landscapes and containers
  • Naturally heat and humidity tolerant
  • Measures 8-10” tall x 26-30” wide
  • Native perennial for zones 4-9

Coral bells like Primo ‘Black Pearl’ can be grown in containers, but keep in mind that it grows notably larger than standard varieties, so give it plenty of room to show off. If growing it on its own, choose a container that is at least 10” in diameter and 8” deep. If you plan to pair Primo ‘Black Pearl’ with other plants in a combination recipe, you’ll need a much larger pot, at least 18” in diameter.


LANDSCAPE PLANT OF THE YEAR: Spilled Wine® Weigelia

Rich, velvety foliage forms a sumptuous textural backdrop for a bright floral bouquet of magenta pink blossoms that sing every spring. An updated, more petite look for weigelia, it’s the perfect choice for foundation plantings, edging landscape beds and planting en masse. Full-bodied looks and an easy constitution—that’s Spilled Wine® weigelia.

  • Dark wine red foliage all season
  • Loads of vibrant magenta pink flowers in spring
  • Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds
  • Not preferred by deer
  • Low mounding shape
  • Adaptable to most soil types
  • Grows in large containers and landscape beds
  • Grows 2-3’ tall x 2-4’ wide
  • Reliably hardy in zones 4-8

Like a complex wine, Spilled Wine Weigelia embodies a certain richness and intensity that may look complicated, but there’s really nothing to it. It even adapts to most soil types, including clay. Giving it 6+ hours of sunlight, average water (about an inch per week), and a bit of slow release tree and shrub fertilizer in early spring will do the trick.


Learn more about our National Plant of the Year program at www.nationalplantoftheyear.com.

Recipe for a Successful Garden

Enter the kitchen garden:

A garden is as distinct and individual as your tastes will allow. Whether you like it hot and spicy-with herbs and peppers that sing with flavor-or subtle blends of flavorful veggies and culinary herbs, it is easier than you think to have success in the garden and in the kitchen.

Today’s kitchen gourmet is more likely to trek to the backyard garden than to the local market for fresh rosemary, peppers or cilantro. Where else can you be assured of a variety of fresh produce that is designed around your palette?

There are three elements essential to a successful planting: location, drainage and spacing

Location:
Most vegetable and herb gardens need a minimum of four to six hours of direct sunlight for peak performance. The ideal exposure would be a southwestern or a southern exposure. That would mean the garden would be bathed in sunlight from around 10 am till 3 or 4 in the afternoon.

We suggest using a rectangular shape for your garden bed. By keeping your dimensions to a 4′ x 8′ plot you will insure an easy accessibility to your garden for weeding, watering and harvesting. You might use a flexible garden hose to approximate your final garden. Just as a good carpenter will measure twice in order to cut just once, an experienced gardener will spend a week or so in gauging the available sunlight over the terrain in order to establish the best available location.

Once your location is secured, then it is time to address the issue of drainage. Almost all culinary herbs and vegetables benefit from good drainage. A garden bed is built, as in built up, to insure the best possible conditions. This type of gardening is known as a “raised” garden. Raised beds can be created quickly, often in a single Saturday afternoon.

Use wooded materials such as non-treated pine or cedar, wall-stone or edgers to frame your bed. This should result in an increase of anywhere from 6-8″ from ground zero. Once your materials are obtained and your spot is properly marked (use limestone), turn the existing soil to a depth of six to eight inches. A couple of passes with a borrowed rototiller will do the trick. If you are digging by hand, remove this soil and mix it with compost or manure, peat moss and top soil to create a rich cake-like consistancy. Turn all the materials in a large pile by fork and shovel and fill your now assembled frame. Attempt to mound towards the center. Drainage gaps can be used on the corner and center sections.

Grade your soil smooth of rocks, lumps and debris

Then it is time to lay out your plant material. Pay close attention to the spacing requirements listed on the plant tags. Plant for maturity. Our sample bed of roughly 32 square feet should hold at least 24 plants properly spaced. Depending on your needs, you might start with one or two plants of a variety. This should give you plenty of material for a wide variety of meal possibilities. With proper plant selection, it should be enough produce to spark neighborhood get togethers throughout the summer months. Bon Appetit!

Not enough room? Consider the contained garden:

Whether it is a situation where there is a shortage of a sunny spot or maybe you are simply limited in space. You can still take advantage of the information above. Just adapt it to the container(s) and space

available to you. This is a great way for apartment or condo dwellers to maintain a small culinary garden.

Whisky barrels, terra cotta planters or even window boxes can produce a bounty of herbs, vegetables and flowering material. The key to success remains in light, drainage and spacing. We’d love to introduce you to the many possibilities of container gardening.

Children in the Garden

A garden is a wonderful place for a child to experience the natural world and learn how things grow. It is a place of wonder and surprise that excites the imagination as it teaches valuable lessons about the environment, responsibility, and discipline. With a little planning and effort-and a little help from you-your child can create his or her own garden world to enjoy all summer long.

Creating a Child’s Garden

Give your child his or her own special space: Rope off a corner of the family garden, prepare a separate plot, or set up a rain-barrel planter. Just be sure to place the garden where it will get plenty of sun, at least 4-6 hours per day. Help your child create a simple plan, using kid-friendly plants, such as large colorful flowers, tasty vegetables, and interesting plants that grow quickly. Great beginner plants include morning glories, zinnias, sunflowers, sugar snap peas, pumpkins, corn and tomatoes.

While buying pre-finished plants will the job easier, consider starting the garden from seed. Winter is the perfect time for planning the garden and for selecting and planting the seeds.

In early spring, help your child prepare the garden bed. Children will appreciate the process if they understand a very basic concept: The soil is the seedling’s lunch box. This is where the plant will get all the food, water and nutrients it needs for proper growth. Preparing the soil will teach your child an important lesson in the rewards of hard work.

Keep it Fun!

The Potato Volcano is a great gardening and recycling project to try. Or, if your child likes private hideaways, you can help him or her create a pole-bean teepee or a sunflower clubhouse. Whatever project your child chooses, be sure to keep things fun. Let gardening open a whole new world for your child-one filled with earthworms and flowers, sunshine and showers!

Water Garden Care: Fall-Winter

Cleaning the Pond (Sept-Nov)

Clean out any debris that may have fallen into the pond and sunk to the bottom. Decaying materials, such as leaves and twigs, release gases that are harmful or fatal to fish, should the surface become covered with ice. You may have to drain the pond to accomplish this task. Should you decide to drain the pond, just follow these steps:

1. Pump pond water into a container large enough to house your fish for a time.
2. Put an aeration device in holding tank and put fish into tank.
3. Pump out 75-80% of pond water, then turn off pump.
4. At this time, scoop out as much debris as possible. A fish net makes the job fairly easy.
5. Turn filter back on to clean out any fine material, rinsing pad often.
6. Fill pond with water, adding a dechlorinating agent, such as Aqua Safe, if your water does not come from a well.
7. Add salt to the water at a rate of 5lbs./1000, (use rock salt, pond salt or kosher salt).
Note: only add salt for the amount of water you are adding back to the pond.
8. Let water sit for a day for temperature to adjust, add a product such as Treats-all to help reduce
chance of disease, as the fish will be somewhat stressed, then reintroduce fish to the pond.

Ideally the pond cleaning should be done after the leaves have fallen off the trees. If you wish to clean it before leaf drop, you can place a net over the pond to catch any leaves. Cleaning the pond is a very important step to proper pond health.

Winter Care of Plants

1. Hardy Lilies and Lotus- When lilies and lotus have finished their season, and the leaves have died back, pick off the brown leaves and sink the plants in the deepest part of the pond.
2. Tropical Lilies- While not the easiest plants to winter, their beauty makes it worth the effort. When the plants appear to have gone dormant (usually mid-November), remove them from the pond. Unpot the tubers in a container of moist sand, keeping them at a temperature of 40-50 degrees. Check periodically to make sure tubers remain moist. Tubers can be started again in April in a sunny, warm tub, inside.
3. Tropical Marginals-Most of this group can be kept as houseplants in a window, as long as the pots are submerged in water.
4. Hardy Marginals-This type of plant can be left on the shelf of the pond, or submerged for extra protection. Remember to raise up in early spring.
5. Tropical Floaters-Plants in this group should be scooped out as soon as they turn brown from frost. Don’t leave them in too long or they will sink, making them more difficult to remove. If you wish to try to save these plants for next year, place them in a container of water and keep in a warm sunny spot, inside, although due to the lower cost of these plants, it is not usually worth the effort.
6. Division-Lilies and certain other aquatic plants can be divided in the fall, though most water gardeners prefer to do it in the spring.

Amaryllis Planting and Care

Amaryllis Quick Tips:

  • Planting Period: October until the end of April.
  • Flowering PeriodLate December until the end of June.
  • Flowering time is 7-10 weeks.
  • Larger bulbs produce more flowers.
  • Always store un-planted bulbs in a cool place between 40-50 deg. F.

Amaryllis-One of a Kind

Of all flowering bulbs, amaryllis are the easiest to bring to bloom.  This can be accomplished indoors or out, and over an extended period of time.  The amaryllis originated in South America’s tropical regions and has the botanical name Hippeastrum.  The large flowers and ease with which they can be brought to bloom make amaryllis popular and in demand worldwide.  The amaryllis comes in many beautiful varieties including various shades of red, white, pink, salmon and orange.  There are also many striped and multicolored varieties, usually combining shades of pink or red with white.

Preparation for Planting

The base and roots of the bulb should be placed in lukewarm water for a few hours.  Remember, if you cannot plant the bulbs immediately after receiving them, store them at a cool temperature between 40-50 degrees F.

Planting

Plant bulbs in a nutritious potting compost, many are available pre-mixed.  Plant the bulb up to its neck in the potting compost, being careful not to damage the roots.  Press the soil down firmly to set the bulb securely in place after planting.

Placement and Watering

Plant the bulb, or place the potted bulb in a warm place with direct light since heat is necessary for the development of the stems.  The ideal temperature is 68 to 70 degrees F.  Water sparingly until the stem appears, then, as the bud and leaves appear, gradually water more.  At this point, the stem will grow rapidly and flowers will develop after it has reached full growth.

Flowering Period

Bulbs will flower in 7-10 weeks as a general rule.  In winter the flowering time will be longer than in spring.  Set up your planting schedule between October and April with this in mind.  To achieve continuous bloom, plant at intervals of 2 weeks for stunning color in your home or garden.

After-Bloom Care

After-Flowering. After the amaryllis has stopped flowering, it can be made to flower again.  Cut the old flowers from the stem after flowering, and when the stem starts to sag, cut it back to the top of the bulb.
Leaf Growth and Development. Continue to water and fertilize as normal all summer, or for at least 5-6 months, allowing the leaves to fully develop and grow. When the leaves begin to yellow, which normally occurs in the early fall, cut the leaves back to about 2 inches from the top of the bulb and remove the bulb from the soil.
Bulb Storage. Clean the bulb and place it in a cool (40-50 deg. F), dark place such as the crisper of your refrigerator for a minimum of 6 weeks. Caution: Do not store amaryllis bulbs in a refrigerator that contains apples, this will sterilize the bulbs. Store the bulbs for a minimum of 6 weeks.
Plant Again. After 6 weeks you may remove bulbs whenever you would like to plant them. Plant bulbs 8 weeks before you would like them to bloom.

http://www.amaryllis.com/planting-and-care

Planting a Live Christmas Tree

Family traditions are a big part of the holiday season. Many families have created landscapes that are planted with evergreens from Christmas past. Memories grow on with Spruce, Fir and Pines that were once a part of the holiday festivities. Properly planned, a live tree can be decorated, enjoyed and eventually planted in the space of three to four weeks surrounding Christmas day.

If you plan to buy one of these live trees, decide in time to take the proper steps to insure a successful transplant. First, select the spot where the tree will be planted and dig the hole early in December before the ground freezes. Dig a hole that is suitable in size to the root that you are planning on planting. Remember, measure twice and cut once! You might want to store your backfill in a wheelbarrow that is sheltered in the garage until you need it. This will insure that the soil in workable and not reduced to a frozen mound of un-movable earth. Next, fill in the hole with leaves and cover it with a tarp until you plan to plant.

Plan on keeping your tree indoors no more than 7-10 days. This way it will only need to put up with dry warm air for a short time. Keep the root ball moist at all times. Many use wooden barrels, plastic or galvanized tubs in order to water properly and yet protect the floor.

After Christmas, plan on acclimating your tree to the outdoors for about two-three days. This can be done in a screened porch or garage. Afterwards, carry your tree to its prepared site. Remove the tarp, scoop out the leaves and place the root ball in the hole. Add the soil from your stored wheelbarrow to fill the hole completely-firm it well with your feet. Give the tree several buckets of water at this time. Mulch the tree in well with the leaves or other compost or bark mulch.

Keep that greenery fresh this holiday season

The holiday season is fast approaching and soon it will be time to deck the halls with decorative greenery and boughs of holly. To make sure all your garland, swags, trees and kissing balls look their best make sure to use an anti-dessicant such as Wilt-Pruf® to keep your greens from drying out.

This is also a helpful tip for prolong the life of greens, holly, berries and boxwood used in outdoor window boxes or winter planters. An application of Wilt-Pruf can help extend the life of your festive display.

You can use Wilt Pruf® to protect and extend the life of Christmas trees and wreathes by reducing moisture loss. Moisture loss is the primary cause of the needle loss and browning that is so common. For wreathes, holly and other seasonal greenery many commercial producers dip the object in Wilt Pruf® and let if drip dry over a catch tray. For the homeowner, spraying is just as effective.


This is a simple process:

  1. For a long lasting Christmas Tree begin by selecting one that has been cut recently and is still fresh.
  2. Apply Wilt Pruf® to all foliage outdoors in daylight, Wilt Pruf® needs exposure to ultra violet light to dry properly.
  3. Let dry before bringing indoors
  4. 1 Quart RTU will treat the typical 5′ – 6′ Christmas Tree, you can also mix the concentrate at 5:1 dilution and apply with any pressurized sprayer.

Wilf-Pruf® is also a good way to protect evergreen shrubs from Winter winds and chills. It provides a protective layer that helps to lock moisture in preventing burning and helps to keep plants from drying out.

Birds in the Garden: Creating a Haven for Colorful Birds in Your Yard

Birds bring many benefits to our lives. They fill our gardens with song, bring a spark of color and interest to our winter landscapes, and also eat many garden pests. Attracting birds to your landscape is fun. Their needs are easy to meet and just about everyone can achieve success by providing them with three basics things: shelter, water, and food.

If you have evergreen trees or shrubs, or maybe a tall canopy of shade trees, then you have the element of shelter. Birds need protection during feeding and bathing from cats and other predators. Try to position feeders and birdbaths close enough to natural shelter so that birds can perch safely between trips to the feeder, but yet far enough away so that they don’t make an easy target for the neighbor’s cat.

Water can be the most alluring aspect of your landscape. The sound of splashing water is relaxing and will also attract colorful birds. Birdbaths and small fountains are great accents for your yard and will provide your new guests with one of their most basic requirements. A shallow water source is all they need.

Consider placing your bird feeder adjacent to your water source. Once you have attracted birds to your yard, you don’t want to play hide-and-seek with the food source. Feeders can be hung from tree limbs, mounted on a freestanding pole, or even hung from the shepherd’s hook that held a hanging basket in spring. To stock your feeders, use birdseed mixes high in sunflower seed to attract the greatest variety of birds. Cardinals love black oil and striped sunflower as well as safflower seed. Suet cakes are great for woodpeckers, chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches.

Another helpful tip is to scatter some seed on the ground around your feeder. This will attract mourning doves and other ground feeders. It’s easy to create a safe haven for birds in your yard. The enjoyment they bring will last a lifetime. Put out your feeder today!

 

Six Steps to Renovating Your Lawn

Summer heat can take a toll on your lawns  The heat and dry conditions After a visit from the “lawn doctor” was the prognosis intensive care? Where is the green that lifts our spirits? The answer is in 6 easy steps to renovation your lawn. Maintaining a healthy turf is a great way to get outdoors. When you’re done, your turf will be in great shape and you’ll feel good too-a greener lawn & leaner you!

Let’s break it down. Take these steps, or only those you feel necessary, in the order shown:

Step 1: Dethatching. Thatch occurs in lawns as a build up of tillering that occurs with mature rhizomes. It is this internet or crossing of decomposing rhizomes that forms a mat in your turf just below the soil line. It should be removed with a dethatching machine or by mowing close to the ground and following with a stiff rake to tear up any remaining debris.

Step 2: Raking It’s not only great exercise for you, but really stimulates your turf while removing the old grass, crabgrass and weeds. Because thatch and weeds decompose slowly and might contain weed seeds, we recommend against composting this material.

Step 3: Aeration. This might just be the most beneficial aspect of the six steps. Punching holes, or coring your turf allows moisture, fertilizer and air to penetrate the soil. This can reduce the effects of soil compaction and allow for better drainage. This can be done mechanically by a lawn service or manually with a foot press aerator or a new pair of golf shoes that need breaking in.

Step 4: Seeding. For spot seeding many choose to use a blend of perennial ryegrasses. They germinate quickly, usually with 7-10 days, and provide quick cover for winter damaged areas such as entry ways, driveways and play areas. Choose a seed mixture that is right for your area. Blends are available in sunny, shady, or combination areas. Broadcast by hand or with a rotary spreader. Water in well, possibly daily until seedlings are well established.

Step 5: Fertilizing. For renovation your turf we recommend using a “starter” fertilizer. This provides a green-up, but also focuses on developing the root system, making your turf disease and drought resistant. Follow directions on bag for application instructions.

Step 6: Watering. This is probably the last thing you want to thing about now! However, a new lawn, whether it is sod or seed, should be watered consistently until well established. This might mean daily waterings. Following these simple steps can help your lawn look better than ever-and you’ll feel better too!

October Tips

 

  • Mulch in spring-planted trees and shrubs. Don’t permit them to get too dry; water them throughly and deeply
  • Start amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus for holiday blooms. (Allow 5-6 weeks for paperwhites and 12 weeks for amaryllis).
  • Apply fall lawn fertilizer at this time
  • Apply lime to lawns to raise pH. A 50# bag of lime will raise lawn pH about .5 point per 1000 sq ft.
  • Re-seed areas damaged by grubs with insect resistant seed varieties
  • Fall is a great time to start a compost pile. Start out with brown leaf and add the last few trimmings for nitrogen. Remember to alternate layers. Shred brown leaf to speed decomposition
  • Apply an anti-dessicant, such as Wilt-Pruf, to spring or fall planted broadleaf evergreens and specimen conifers. Make sure temperatures are above 50 degrees. Newly planted Arborvitaes could be wrapped in burlap to protect from snow load.

Great Looks for Fall Color

Fall is right around the corner and it is a glorious time.  The countryside is virtually exploding with oranges, reds, golds and yellows.  This is a great time of the year to enjoy the out-of-doors.  It is also a great time for fall gardens as autumn mums and perennials finish the season with a flourish.

Most spring planted annuals get a bit ragged about now, having survived through the heat, dry conditions and pests of the summer.  This is a good time to freshen up your gardens by introducing some proven winners to your fall landscape.  Coincidentally, you’ll probably be around to enjoy your fall garden more than you mid-summer plantings.  The weather is more temperate, vacations are over with and kids are back in school.

With that it mind here are a few suggestions that are sure to please.  Most of these plants will have strong seasonal interest well into December-and ornamental grasses are great all throughout the winter!

Fall Favorites: Ornamental Grasses-Grasses are a terrific way to add drama to your landscape.   Their texture is a perfect foil to Rudbeckias, Sedums or hardy Chrysanthemums.   They are extremely easy to grow, durable and can be used in a variety of landscape situations.  They are also very attractive when used in containers.  Ornamental grasses can range in height from under one foot (Festuca cinerea ‘Elijah Blue’) to well over six feet (Miscanthus sinesis ‘Silver Grass’).  Many varieties of the Pennisetum family are gaining in popularity, including alopecuroides, with its enormous tassels through fall and winter and a dwarf fountain grass called ‘Hamelin’.  Most varieties send out dramatic spikes of feathery plumes during late summer and early fall.  These seed heads add interest to an otherwise stark winter landscape. 

Ornamental Kale-Flowering kale and cabbages are fast becoming one of the more popular additions to the fall border.  And for good reason…ornamental kale offers dramatic colors and shapes not commonly available in the fall.  Brilliant pinks, purples and creamy whites add intrigue whether planted  in the landscape or used in containers to accent mums and grasses.

Their fabulous colors are not flowers, but rather rosettes of central leaves.  Flowering Kales have fringed or serrated leaves that actually gain in color intensity as the weather turns colder.  They literally bloom into the winter months!  Their vibrant displays will last until the winter temps reach the teens.

Fall Pansies (Violas)-This is a great way to extend your color into November and beyond.  While most mums have gone by, these guys, with proper maintenance, will flower their heads off.  Plant them in drifts, in pots or even tuck a few in to spruce up a tired hanging basket.  These cheery faces do especially well with the warm ground temps and cool nights of autumn.  They usually will flower through the first couple of  hard frosts.  Hardier varieties even winter over and provide unexpected delights the following spring.  Imagine their deep purples set off against the brilliant pinks of ornamental kales.  The nice thing about it is it will look great whether planted in the landscape or potted up for the front door!

Well, those are but a few of many great ways to liven up your fall landscapes.  Sedum, hardy perennial Hibiscus and Asters are other opportunities.  Stop by with any questions.  We are always here to help.  Fall is a beautiful time, and after all, Fall is for Planting!    

September Tips

Fall is a great time to plant trees, shrubs, bareroot perennials and bulbs.

Start pansy & viola seed for bloom next spring

Watch your compost pile. This is a good time to add an activator for brown leaves & lawn trimmings

Check your lawn for grub activity. Sure signs are brown patches of lawn with turf that you can peel back. Another sign is increased activity of skunks, raccoons and moles in your lawn. Treat with dylox, oftanol or diazinon to eliminate grubs.

Plant spring flowering bulbs. Plan on the end of this month. Fertilize and water in well.

Plant fall pansy, flowering cabbage and kale. They all love the cooler night temps that come with autumn in New England.

Fall is a great time to seed or re-seed your lawn. Keep grass seed moist until germination occurs. Add weed-free straw or salt marsh hay to hold seed in place.

Preparing Your Fall Garden Beds

Are you overloaded with new ideas for perennial beds and borders after visiting friends or public display gardens? Seen lots of unfamiliar and interesting new plants at the nursery? If so, fall is an excellent time to prepare fall garden beds for planting now or in the spring. The cooler temperatures, weaker sunlight and shorter days of fall mean less energy goes into top growth and more into establishing a strong root system. Planting in this area can usually continue through October.

After choosing the proper plants for your location-taking into account plant hardiness and the amount of available light-the most important thing you can do to insure success is to properly prepare your soil.

After marking off the area, you need to rid it of perennial weeds. Rototilling will only increase your weed crop, so you will need to carefully pull all underground stems and roots. Be sure to also remove any additional roots you find when you turn the soil over.

The soil you’re aiming to create should hold moisture, but also be well drained. If it doesn’t drain well now, it probably has high clay content. The actual soil particles are very small and pack together very closely, suffocating and drowning plant roots. Adding gypsum to clay soil can help break it up.

If your soil drains very quickly and you need to water frequently, it is probably sandy. Soil particles are relatively large and fit together loosely. Plants rarely drown in sandy soil unless the area is low-lying or the water line is high. In this instance it would be best to make a raised bed.

The solution, both for maintaining good drainage, and moisture retention, is generous amounts of organic matter. It separates clay particles, creating air space, and holds water and nutrients in sand. Good sources of organic matter are finished compost, well-decomposed manure, leaf mold and damp peat moss. These should be incorporated into the soil when it is turned over to a depth of 12″ or more. At this time you can also remove any sizable rocks, roots or other debris.

Most perennials grow best in a soil that is slightly acid to almost neutral-a pH of about 5.5-6.5. Most soils in this area are probably very acid and will need to have lime added every 2-3 years.

If you prefer to estimate your fertilizer needs, there are a few things to keep in mind. Phosphorous, and some of the trace elements, even when present in the soil in sufficient quantities, are only available to plants within a fairly narrow pH range. Keeping your soil pH at 5.5-6.5 should be adequate for most plants.

Fertilizers can either be natural, or you can use dry or granular fertilizers that are either quick or slow release. You can use either type if you are going to plant now. If you are going to delay planting until spring, wait and add the fertilizer then unless you are using natural fertilizers which break down slowly and will not leach out readily.

Natural fertilizers should be incorporated into the soil when you turn it over, especially phosphorous (bone meal, rock phosphate), as it doesn’t move readily through the soil. Dry or granular fertilizers can be sprinkled on the surface and raked into the top few inches of soil.

Happy Planting!

Window Box Color All Year Round

It’s always a shame that just when your window box has reached their peak of fullness and color, autumn sneaks in and nips at the foliage and flowers, signaling it’s time to clean them out. Or is it? This season, try extending the life of your window boxes, so you can appreciate their beauty year-round, each time you glance out your winter windows.

To spruce up your boxes, start by removing what looks old and tired: the geranium leaves are beginning to yellow, the verbena is way past its prime, and the dianthus isn’t flowering anymore. But the ageratum seems to be perking up now that the heat of summer has passed, and the ivy and vinca are holding their own. You can fill in gaps with cool season flowers such as mums and pansies and probably get another three weeks of flowering out of those boxes.

When freezing temperatures arrive, it’s time for flowering brassicas, such as kale and cabbage, with their colorful, curious foliage. Plant them directly into the boxes and they will last all winter long through the harshest of weather. As you plant, tuck daffodil and tulip bulbs under the flowering kale to guarantee an early spring show. You can mix in cut sprigs of crabapples, viburnums, winterberry, or any other shrub or tree with clusters of colorful berries and strong branches. Just stick the branches into the soil in the boxes, and your only problem will be the birds and wildlife competing for the berries! Tangled grapevines and bittersweet, with its orange seed coats and red berries, quickly go from noxious weeds growing in the wild to precious commodities in autumn and winter window boxes.

Evergreen branches from spruce, balsam, and fir will retain their color throughout the winter months as long as the temperature is low. Stick their ends into the soil just before the soil freezes, arranging them en masse. For the holidays, string little white lights through the boughs and tie on weatherproof velvet bows. Discard the branches once the temperatures start to warm, but don’t worry, your window boxes won’t be bare for long. The tulip and daffodil bulbs you carefully tucked in for the winter will soon be coming to life, and the cycle will begin anew.