Neighborly Garden News
Do you know your soil type?
Knowing what your garden soil is comprised of, can help you grow better plants. A simple method to evaluate your garden soil is to fill a glass jar with two-thirds water, and one-third soil. Shake the jar well, and then place on a window ledge where it will be undisturbed, and you can watch the layers of soil particles settle out. High quality loam contains about 45% sand, 35% silt, and 20% clay. The heaviest particles, sand, will settle first, then silt, and lastly clay. Organic matter will float to the top. It can take a few days for all the clay particles to settle down.
If you find that more than 70% of your soil sample settled towards the bottom, you have sandy soil. Finding 30% or more, of the soil sample settling on top means you have clay soil. A neat trick is to compare an area you’ve been improving, vs. one that has not been amended, and observe the differences. So depending on how your sample settles out, you may have a sandy loam, (more sand) or a silty loam, (more clay) or best of all, good loam, a balance of both.
Adding compost regularly will nourish soil with little organic matter. Organic matter levels will diminish over time as this material will continue to decompose in the soil profile. This is why you see farmers adding manure every growing season to their fields. Because of the bulky nature of compost it also helps open up heavy soil, and works with lime to buffer pH values (keeps pH stable). Many people complain of having acid soils because of proximity to Pines and other heavy needle shedding species. Adding compost can help bring these soils in balance, with proper application of lime.
Composting, and using the finished product to improve our soil, has been practiced for centuries; before there were scientists to explain why this practice was beneficial. It is also nature’s way to recycle of kitchen and yard waste. No matter what your soil type, adding compost to your beds will only improve the soil texture and quality. Better quality soil means healthier flowers, shrubs, trees and veggies. Healthier plants may result in having to rely less on chemical methods to control pests and diseases.
Countryside Landscape will deliver our own soil and compost to your local location. We also offer natural hardwood mulch.
February’s ‘to-do’ list:
Now that we’ve experienced our January thaw, we can settle down to the brunt of winter weather until spring arrives. Thankfully our length of daylight has increased, and it is noticeably brighter each day. By the end of February we will be receiving almost 11 hours of daylight. What will you do with the longer days?
Beat the late-winter doldrums by attending one of our local flower shows: Amherst Orchid Society spring show, February 22-23rd at Smith Vocational School in Northampton, MA offers breathtaking displays from orchid clubs all over New England, along with demonstrations and talks. Smith College spring bulb show, March 7-22nd, is an annual event where the conservatories are filled with thousands of colorful, fragrant blooms.
Minimize winter burn damage by using an anti-desiccant spray. Winter burn of susceptible evergreens is most likely to occur during February, more than any other month. The 3-way punch of strong winds, frozen soil, and bright late winter sun, sets up conditions that can lead to leaf burn or browning. The time period to spray is when the temperatures will stay above freezing for 24 hours. We offer this application. Contact our office for details: (413) 458-5586
Indoor plants need a little TLC, to refresh their leaves since you brought them inside last fall. Dust your houseplants with a moist cloth to keep their leaf pores open and free to breathe, they will thank you! Scout for pesky bugs; plants leaking sticky sap are a tell-tale sign of sucking insects. Aphids, mealy bugs, and scale insects are the most common pests, easily removed with a strong stream of water, and a Q-tip at the kitchen sink. Fertilize your plants weekly, with a half strength dilution of your preferred water soluble fertilizer.
An easy kid-friendly project is forcing branches of spring flowering shrubs and trees into early bloom. Snip branches on a 45’ angle, and submerge in water overnight. Place the branches in a sturdy, heavy bottomed vase and store the branches in a cool location until the buds begin to open. Change the water every few days for longer vase-life. Best candidates for forcing are: Forsythia, Crabapples, Cherries, Pussy Willows, and Quince.
Inspect and prepare your garden tools. Nothing beats a sharp blade to speed up garden chores like dead-heading, pruning, and hoeing. Before your garden life becomes hectic, take a morning to lubricate and hone your hard working tools. Inventory your garden essentials, and set reminders to order soil and compost, or mulch, and to schedule the ‘heavy jobs’ like gutter cleaning, spring clean ups, and lawn renovation.
Late winter snow storms can often be wet and icy. Remember to shake off evergreen branches weighed down by ice and snow, so they won’t snap. If you should happen to get some broken branches, be sure to prune off the stump cleanly. A ragged tear will inhibit proper healing, and invite infection from pathogenic organisms.
Check to see that protective mulch has not been heaved up and off your garden beds. If you wrapped your shrubs in protective covering, make sure it has not become loose and pulled away, leaving vulnerable plants exposed to harsh winds. Is there any sign of animal damage/browsing? Hardware cloth wrapped around the trunk or stems can limit what damage they can do. There’s still an opportunity to apply animal repellent, if they’ve been a dining in your yard. Please call our office to schedule an application: (413) 458-5586
Get a head start planning your 2020 garden, even if it’s snowing!
Winter is a good time to review what worked and what didn’t in your garden during the previous year, whether it’s the bare spot after the bulbs died back or the vegetables no one ate. Maybe there’s something you loved growing, but it was simply in the wrong spot. Did any plants struggle? Perhaps they are in a less adaptable exposure than what they really want. Match plants to your garden’s micro-climates, even if this means moving some to new locations.
Did you really love your flowering garden beds? Were there color combinations that worked really well? Did you have blooms throughout the growing season? Maybe this is the year to try some different annuals or add some new perennials. Were there any bare spots through the growing year? Are there new places to garden in your yard? Maybe this could be the year you plant your own fruit tree or put in a few fruiting shrubs (something to share with your feathered friends?).
Did your garden need some lift? Did you find that the ground view was pleasing but there wasn’t any vertical appeal? Maybe adding some plants to make a living screen, or even a temporary trellis for fast growing vines to climb on would give some height to your garden. You could even plant a vining plant in a large urn, and move this vertical feature around as it pleased you during the summer.
Potted Morning Glories
How did your veggie garden fare? Was it a victim of too much too soon, or a casualty of weeding? This year plan to grow only your favorites, and leave the veggies no one eats off your grow list. What would make your gardening easier for you? Is hiking out to the back becoming too much effort to keep up with maintenance chores and watering? To make it easier to harvest edibles, see if there’s a good growing space near the kitchen or barbecue area (don’t overlook a front or side yard). Or maybe convert low-growing edible beds to raised beds. Simple fixes like adding a work surface for potting plants or a short ramp onto a shed to make getting the garden equipment out a little easier may be a big help.
Back Door Garden
Rain barrel watering system
Cute Garden Shed
Classic Garden Shed
Tiny Garden Shed
There seem to be fewer little birds around the feeders this winter. I’ve seen a lot of woodpeckers, and larger birds; like Blue Jays and Cardinals. But the Titmice, Juncos and Nuthatches have been very scarce. It’s more important than ever to establish a bird friendly environment; provide accessible water, cultivate both un-mowed meadow and mowed lawns, and plant trees and shrubs for protection and food. If you plant trees and shrubs, the birds will come. Some of their favorites are:
Picea spp: Spruce trees; several species are native to the United States. Spruce are one of the top 5 trees for attracting songbirds, offering both food, (cones) and shelter. All varieties of Spruce favor the colder regions of the Northern hemisphere, and have a pyramidal or conical growth habit. Within each species are many hybrid cultivars; a Spruce to fit almost any landscape.
Picea glauca cones
Sambucus Canadensis: The common or northern Elderberry is a hardy native small tree/large shrub, producing clusters of blue-black soft fruit that is edible to humans and birds alike. The deciduous emerald-green leaves have a tropical palm-like appearance. The Elderberry likes full to part sun, moist soil; grows to 12’ tall.
Sambucus Canadensis fruit
Cornus florida: Flowering Dogwood is the princess of the New England woods. Other species of Dogwood also produce attractive fruit for birds; e.g. Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa), Redosier Dogwood, Pagoda Dogwood. No less than 28 species of birds eat Dogwood fruit. Cornus florida requires consistently moist soil, and dappled shade to do its best. Flowers are available in shades of white, pink or red. Can grow to 35’ but more typical is 20-25’.
Cornus florida fruit
Cornus racemosa fruit
Malus spp: The apple family, most bear some kind of fruit that will attract many kinds of birds and mammals through the winter. There is a specimen for every sized garden; mature sizes can range from 6 feet, to 25 feet for standard sized trees. Some Malus will bear edible (to humans) fruit, while others are considered ‘ornamental’ and bear fruit only suitable for wildlife.
Crabapples for birds
Viburnum spp: Viburnums offer both humans and birds a lot of appeal. They are showy in all seasons, and most offer beautiful fall foliage to end the year. Viburnums will produce fall ripening fruit for the birds, and this will also give visual appeal to gardeners, until they are eaten. The plant itself provides a good structure for nesting or winter shelter. Viburnums are not fussy about soil or light, most will perform well in part shade. Mature heights can range from 4-10 ft tall x 4-10 ft wide, depending on the variety.
Viburnum dentatum ‘Blue Muffin’