Neighborly Garden News
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Pruning is essential for plant health
What creates a pleasing landscape to most people? In the past we landscaped our homes primarily for the view from the curb. Now we are versed in the concept of creating ‘outdoor rooms’ to give pleasure to the homeowner, and purposely design outdoor spaces as extensions of the home environment.
Having a beautifully landscaped yard is not all about having the most exclusive plants. I think a beautiful yard is largely about upkeep and maintenance, and the simplest plants will look outstanding when well cared for. Most landscape professionals will tell you the #1 method to dress up the look of your yard, is to edge the beds. Weeding can take hours (or days in my case), but edging is a quick fix that can really improve the view.
This is a little known fact, but trees and shrubs growing unattended in a forest environment, have little in common with cultivated species. Populating a garden with your chosen types of plants creates an ecosystem that would probably never be found in nature. In this person-made environment, its likely plants may encounter stressors to their well being and immune system. Soil type and sun exposure may not be optimal, the level of soil moisture may be more or less than they are accustomed to; all these factors enter into the tree’s viability. This is one of the reasons why our landscape plants require nurturing and training to thrive.
A newly planted tree often has little to no resemblance to what they will look like at maturity. I often notice small, newly planted, saplings planted only 6 feet apart. This distance looks correct when they are first planted, but it doesn’t take into account the size of their spread at maturity; soon they will be too close together. No training is required for the first year or so, as the new tree is setting down structural and new feeder roots. The second or third year would be the time to start pruning to accentuate its form. The type of pruning it had received while growing in the nursery environment was to facilitate working around the tree farm. Allowing access to mow between rows, and apply fertilizer, etc.
If you do the major structural pruning while the tree is young, these wounds will heal and be unnoticeable as the tree matures. Waiting until a mature tree starts interfering with a structure to remove limbs will result in a large wound that takes longer to heal and will remain visible. Working on a smaller tree is also more cost effective; the fee for tree work goes up for larger scale trees.
Another type of pruning is called shearing. This is basically clipping the tips of branches to create a smooth and even surface. This technique is used on both formal and informal hedges. Formal hedges usually have smaller leaves and are sheared to form a ‘wall of green’. Think of the massive evergreen hedges planted to create living mazes. Informal hedges are more loose and irregular in shape, and may have larger leaves. Often they are chosen for their flowers and fruit, and create a living opaque wall.
You should be sensitive to the timing of pruning for flowering specimens; too late in summer, or too early in spring may rob you of blooms for the season. Pruning evergreens too late in the growing season and cutting too deeply into ‘old wood’ may result in a bare patch as these tender new shoots will be susceptible to any early cold snaps. Fast growing shrubs might need more than one pruning per season to help slow their growth. Hemlocks and Yews are examples of fast growing plants that are often sheared into a hedge. Without regular pruning they would be 40 ft tall or more in a few years.
Need help pruning? Give us a call! (413) 458-5586
July’s to-do list
As I sit down to write our newsletter this month, we are in the midst of an ‘abnormally dry’ spell in both Berkshire and Franklin counties. According to Drought.gov, 93% of our state is classified as abnormally dry right now. Plant symptoms may include stunting of plants, early browning and dormancy of turf grasses, and wilting of garden plants. Yesterday was the first good soaking rain we had all month, in the valley, and it was sorely needed. Now that we are officially in summer, don’t allow yourself to get lax about weeding. Weeds tend to rebound with amazing powers of viability during high summer and will overrun your garden as soon as you ignore them. Unfortunately too, ticks show no signs of abating yet either. Stay vigilant with tick checks; after you’ve spent time outdoors, and remember to use insect repellent as your first line of defense.
Resist pruning spring flowering shrubs after July 4th or risk losing flower buds for next year’s bloom. It’s helpful to remove spent flowers to keep your garden border neat. Now is a good time to prune heirloom and rambling roses, now that they’ve finished their bloom period. Some heirloom roses will have a second flush of bloom, so applying a fertilizer for roses, after pruning, would nourish the new growth.
New and recently planted shrubs, trees and perennials need supplemental water during the growing season. Deep, less frequent watering is preferred over shallow daily irrigation. Please don’t rely on rain for watering newly planted trees and shrubs. It is usually not enough to get down to the root zone. Additionally, older trees will benefit from extra water during droughty periods. Countryside can provide watering services while you are away on vacation, please contact our office: email@example.com
Raise your mower height to 4” to conserve your lawn through the hotter and drier days of July. The added height will help shade out lawn weeds too. If you can, water your lawn through prolonged dry spells, so it won’t go into dormancy. Watering deeply once a week is far more effective than multiple shallow watering; and will promote better root development.
Potted plants need extra TLC to keep looking beautiful all summer.Pots in the sun need deep watering (saturate the pots until water drains out) daily, and regular feeding to replace what you flush out with daily watering. We like to use a timed release fertilizer, such as Osmocote in the potting soil, and a weekly dose of water soluble fertilizer, such as Miracle Gro or Peter’s to keep our client’s plants blooming all summer.
Don’t let your basil go to flower! Keep the plants pinched to encourage bushiness. It’s very easy to preserve your extra basil. I like to puree’ chopped fresh basil in a little extra virgin olive oil to create a paste; I freeze it into portions to use all through the winter.
If you haven’t done so already, protect your blueberries and other small fruit from hungry birds by covering the bushes with netting or floating row covers.
If you have a lot of Japanese Beetles attacking your plants the low impact way of eliminating them is to hand-pick Japanese Beetles in the morning, and drown them in a container of soapy water to reduce adult populations. The fewer adults you have=less egg laying and new beetles. Later you may consider starting a grub reduction program. Grubs are the immature phase of this pest, and grub infestation goes hand in hand with mole and skunk damage on lawns. These mammals will dig up lawns in their quest for grubs.
Contact Scott Higley for more information about grub reduction programs: firstname.lastname@example.org
Need a hand with weeding and pest control? Send us an email email@example.com or call today! (413) 458-5586
Massachusetts has pollinators aplenty, but they need our help!
Last month was our National Pollinator month in the US. Pollinators are insects and animals that transfer pollen from one plant to another. This pollen transfer leads to plants being able to produce fruits, vegetables, and nuts. When we think about pollinators, bees and butterflies immediately come to mind. You may not know that other animals and insects have a hand in pollinating, and many are represented here in MA.
Honeybees are not native to the US, but still play a huge role in commercial pollination. Our most familiar native bee is the bumble bee (family Bombus). A bumble bee likes to feed on clover; you can help them by planting a patch of clover, both red and white clover will grow in our region. Other types of MA bees are carpenter bees, (family Xylocopa) sweat bees (family Halictidae) and mining bees (family Andrenidae) Most of the lesser know bees are not at all aggressive, and rarely ever sting. Wasps are also considered pollinators, not as efficient as the bee, but they will transport pollen as they visit flowers to feed on nectar. A wasp’s larger benefit is their constant hunting for insect prey, which helps keep insect populations in check.
Honeybee covered in pollen
Carpenter bee near it’s nest entrance
A butterfly is considered second only to the bee in its pollinating efficiency, but did you know that moths also pollinate plants, but mainly at night. A moth’s hairy body contributes to its pollinating ability Moths out-number the population of butterflies, and are also further divided into their own sub-order, Frenatae. Planting a ‘moon garden’ of white and light colored fragrant flowers will help attract moths. Moths particularly favor tubular flowers, like Nicotiana, Petunia, Calibrachoa, Moonflower, Phlox, and Hosta.
Hummingbirds are the primary bird species for pollination in the US. In our area the native hummingbird is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. These busy, tiny birds transfer pollen as it sticks to their face-feathers and beak. They are attracted to brightly colored, nodding, tubular flowers. They love Lantanas, Salvias, Phlox, Columbine, Honeysuckles, and Cardinal flower, to name a few. If you plant groups of these flowers, they will visit your garden frequently, and you need not bother with a fancy feeder.
A pair of ruby-throated hummingbirds
Certain animals and insects have perfected the art of mimicry as a survival tactic. Two flies native to MA have that mastered, and I would challenge the casual observer to tell them apart from their ‘real’ counterparts. The Flower fly mimics a wasp (family Syrphidae) so it will look scary and not get eaten. The Bee fly (family Bombyliidae) looks just like a bumble bee, and probably fools its predators most of the time. Both mimics are fuzzy enough insects to do a decent job transferring pollen, even without the pollen carrying leg baskets that real bees have.
The bee fly mimics a real bee
Beetles are some of our planets oldest known pollinators. Their remains have been found preserved with the flowers and pollen they lived on millions of years ago. It seems reasonable that beetles would prefer to pollinate the living descendants of ancient plant species. In Massachusetts beetles are responsible for pollinating native Magnolias, and the yellow-flowered water lily; they will also pollinate Sassafras, Paw-Paw (Asimina triloba), and Sweet Shrub (Calycanthus floridus).
Creating a haven for pollinators means planning ahead to design a more diverse yard. Planting native flowers and trees and shrubs, in addition to your imported plants, will attract a wider group of pollinators. Try to leave a portion of your outdoor space a little wild and unmown; for the wildlife. Let us make this our new mantra- “Leave it wild, for the Wildlife”.
Creating habitat for our native and introduced pollinators has become important as we continue to see the effects from honeybee Colony Collapse Disorder. Pollinator gardens can also provide habitat for natural pest enemies. Many natural pest enemies only feed on prey for part of their life cycle; pollen and nectar are alternative food sources when prey is absent. These plants are excellent sources of pollen and nectar:
Acer rubrum, the native Red Maple is highly prized for its outstanding red fall leaf color, and its ability to withstand periodic flooding. The frilly red flowers in April, add to Acer rubrum’s appeal. There are many outstanding cultivars available for home gardeners. Red Maple will grow 40-60 ft tall, and has a medium rate of growth: 10-12’ in 5-7 years. Prefers slightly acidic, moist soil; one of the first trees to show seasonal fall color.
Acer rubrum flowers
Helenium autumnale, or Sneezeweed is a hardy member of the perennial sunflower family. Hundreds of flowers will open in late summer on a bold 3-5 ft tall plant. A pollinator magnet, you may see hundreds of native bees on one mature plant during bloom.
Tilia Americana, the American Linden or Basswood, has very fragrant yellow flowers during June. Sometimes T. Americana is called the ‘Bee-tree’, because it is so beloved by pollinators. Growing to 60-80 ft tall, it is said to be a source of the best honey for bees. Tilia Americana will grow in full sun or partial shade, but prefers deep, moist soil.
Tilia Americana flowers
Vaccinium corymbosum, the High-Bush Blueberry, will provide sweet berries for your family, and pollen and nectar for the beneficial insects. If you want to harvest berries for yourself, it is recommended to protect the bushes with bird netting. Blueberries are native to swampy areas, but will thrive in sandy, acidic soils also. They can grow well in sun or partial shade, depending on the cultivar will grow 6-12 ft tall x 8-12 ft wide.
High-Bush Blueberry flowers
Agastache foeniculum is Anise hyssop, a long blooming, very easy native perennial. The fragrant plants attract many kinds of pollinators, and bloom June through September. The leaves and flowers smell and taste like licorice, and has been long used as an herbal tonic. Anise hyssop will grow in full sun to part shade, and prefers a well drained soil. The plants may self-seed, and can spread into 2-3 ft tall clumps. There are several cultivars on the market as well as a sterile cultivar called ‘Blue Fortune’.
Anise hyssop flowers