Neighborly Garden News
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Drought tolerant lawns and xeriscaping: the next big idea!
Drought, water shortages, increasingly extreme weather and changing climate may point the way towards the demise of the lush green lawn. Other options, filling in for the traditional lawn, can make a beautiful statement and reduce your water and workload too.
Xeriscaping; a form of landscaping that requires little water and minimal care. Non-turf lawns needing less pesticides and fertilizer; generating less waste is gaining momentum across the country. A few FAQS about xeriscaping and creating an environmentally friendly yard:
About 9 billion gallons of water per day is used on landscaping in the USA-according to the EPA. This is about one-third of our total daily water use.
Grass doesn’t need to be watered daily. General USDA recommendations say most traditional lawns only require weekly irrigation.
There are 112 million people living in drought conditions across the USA. As of September 15th, 2022, 66% of the country is in some level of drought; about 12% is in extreme drought.
Low-water doesn’t necessarily mean you have to replace your lawn with rocks or cactus. Many wonderful groundcovers are low, green and lush. Some can even be walked on, like a traditional lawn, but don’t require regular mowing or watering.
Utilizing native plants is a great choice, but certainly not your only option. The key to success is diversity in the planting plan, and using plants that will thrive in your particular situation. You’ve heard this before: “The right plant in the right place.”
Knowing your soil type is your first step towards a successful planting. The four basic types are: sand, silt, clay and loam. Each has different holding capacities for water and nutrients; a simple soil assessment can advise you on what type of soil you have and the best plants for your type.
A few cold hardy suggestions for possible lawn alternatives are:
Ajuga reptans (Carpet Bugle) grows 8-12” tall x 12-18” wide prefers full sun to partial shade.
Cerastium tomentosum (Snow-in-Summer) grows 4-6” tall x 15-18” wide. Prefers full sun, very tough; tolerant of foot traffic.
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (hardy Plumbago) produces stunning deep blue flowers in late summer, then brilliant red fall foliage. Can grow in full sun or full shade; 9-12” tall x 12-20” wide.
Tanacetum densum v. amani (Partridge Feather) feathery silver foliage makes this a stand out in any garden. Grows well in full hot sun or partial shade. Rabbit resistant once established- 3-8” tall x 12-24” wide.
October’s to-do list
As I begin to write, today is the 1st day of fall and it is a strange, yet enjoyable, sensation to be enjoying a cool rainy day after the dusty, dry summer. I’m hoping the recent spell of soaking rain will push us out of the current drought. On a recent drive it was nice to see the beginnings of fall colors throughout the valley and hill towns. This cooler weather has jumpstarted my urge to get out and play in the garden. I plan to plant garlic for next year’s crop and divide and transplant some established peonies, and other perennials this month. I’m hoping freezing temperatures are a few weeks away; it’s always sad to see the end of another growing season. We’ve had a good tomato year, canning 30 quarts of ‘Blue Beech’ plum tomatoes; in addition to the bounty of sun-dried cherry tomatoes, snow peas, sweet peppers and herbs we’ve frozen. I think I am ready to face winter with a full pantry of preserved produce. How has your garden year turned out?
Because of the recent drought, it would benefit any recently planted (within the last 3 years) trees & shrubs to provide them with supplemental water before winter, as long as you have no restrictions on outdoor water use in your town. Older trees and shrubs, and those that were showing signs of weakness, would benefit from additional water, too. If you are unsure, please consult with your landscape professional for their advice.
Get ready for bird feeder season by cleaning out your feeders with hot soapy water, and be sure to rinse very well. Try and leave a few seed heads on flowers and ornamental grasses to feed finches and other small seed eaters. The seed heads and leaves provide much needed winter interest too. Leaving foliage intact on ornamental grass also acts to insulate the crowns and offers a bit more winter protection.
If you noticed your garden not growing as well as you thought it should, despite fertilizing and watering, you may want to check the soil pH. In New England our soil type tends to be on the acidic side of normal. Incorrect pH can limit a plant’s ability to uptake nutrients from the soil. It is recommended to apply lime to garden beds every other year or as needed. Fall is the best time of year to apply lime to your soil. The natural freeze/thaw action helps physically move the mineral into the soil structure. If you grow vegetables, replenishing lime is an important component to maintain the fertility of your beds. Adding lime will alter the pH, or acidity/alkalinity of the soil. Countryside can do a basic pH test to determine your needs.
Falling leaves mean it’s time to clean out your gutters before winter. Clogged gutters can create ice dams (frozen blocks of ice that prevent your gutters from free-flow) over the winter. Frozen gutters often lead to leaky roofs and big repair costs down the road.
Reduce winter damage caused by rodents and other gnawing animals by clearing away turf and weeds from the base of fruit bearing trees and shrubs. A trunk that is girdled by gnawing will likely cause the tree to die. Wrap the stems or trunks with hardware cloth (a kind of wire screening) to keep mice and rabbits from gnawing the bark.
After frost has killed the foliage of tender bulbs and tubers, (like dahlias, gladiola, and tuberous begonia) you may dig them up in preparation for storing them for next year. Cut back the tops to about 6”, and brush off any remaining soil. Let your bulbs or tubers ‘cure’ in a well ventilated cool, dark area for about 2 weeks. After the ‘cure’ they may be stored in peat moss filled containers. A protected area that stays about 40-50 degrees will keep them dormant until next spring.
Garden clean-ups are an important step in keeping your beds and plants disease free. Remove any organic debris from plants known to be susceptible to fungal and bacterial problems; Peonies, Roses, Tall Garden Phlox, and Lilacs are all healthier if we clear out their faded and/or blotchy plant material.
Need a hand with fall clean-up? Thinking about screening out the deer this winter? Give our office a call to schedule your fall and winter services: (413) 458-5586 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Tips to improve your patio and garden space
Now that leaves have fallen, and garden chores aren’t beckoning you may find you actually have some spare time to assess your yard. If gardens stayed the same year after year, we would not need to think about tweaking our outdoor spaces. Most gardens are not static, and the plants we grow do change and shift over time. I can easily see the young trees I planted ten years ago bear no resemblance to their former selves. I don’t plan on removing them, or drastically pruning them, but I will reconsider how I utilize the outdoor space I have created.
1. Consider your positive features. Every outdoor space has it’s ‘sweet spot’, try and look for your yard’s power position. You may have a fabulous view, or a terrific swimming pool and patio area. Highlight these areas by aligning your seating with a view towards these special places. Even if a nearby structure casts a long shadow, embrace the shade and create a soothing shade garden offering a respite from the busy world with comfy seating.
2. Make your backyard a place you want to escape to. Hang a hammock between two trees, or on an unused corner of a porch to create a simple hideaway. Create a gathering space, like a fire pit, for entertaining into the cooler months, or use heat lamps to extend your outdoor season well into fall. Build a treehouse that both kids and adults can use as a secret hangout.
3. Improve your gardens ambiance. Adding lighting will change the way your garden looks at night. Something as simple as a string a lights along the railing of the stairs, or an upward facing light at the base of your favorite tree, can add a dramatic touch. Discreet lights along a pathway will beckon your guests to follow along.
4. Don’t forget the audio. With the latest Bluetooth technology, having our favorite tunes to listen to is as easy as buying an outdoor speaker. There are many weatherproof types to choose from; some are even disguised as flower pots! If there is distracting noise you’d rather mask, think about installing a water feature, so all you’ll hear is the sound of trickling water. A bird bath bubbler would help your feathered friends and create a soothing sound at the same time.
5. Add a tree to bring everything together. The right tree can become the focal point of your outdoor space. Think about what you’d like to gain from the new tree. Would one that is multi-stemmed and spreading, and provide a privacy screen work for you? Or perhaps you’d want something with multiple season interest; flowers in spring, fruit in summer, and beautiful fall foliage? Maybe the best choice is something showy, but a dwarf specimen, to fit in your compact area. Taking the time to visit outdoor display gardens helps visualize what a tree will look like in your space. Consulting with your landscape professional is always a good choice, because they already know the soil and climate conditions you are working with.
Enjoy the ‘downtime’ fall and winter provides for gardeners. Now is our time to kick back for a while and relax; take stock of our past growing season, and plan for next year. Soon enough all the beautiful plant catalogs will start showing up in our mail and inboxes, and we can start the process of gardening again in 2023.
After another summer of blistering heat, and scant rain, I am re-thinking my perennial beds to accommodate our changing climate. This summer, I finally stopped watering and decided to let nature take it’s course. I know this may sound harsh, but we must become water-wise for the betterment of all, if we want a tolerable future on planet earth. Here are a few ideas for perennials with exceptionally low water requirements.
Lavender is extremely drought tolerant, and actually dislikes abundant watering. I have seen it growing wild along the sides of the roads in the south of France. Growing in gravel, no water and blazing hot. Lavender needs full sun to do it’s best. Providing a cover of evergreen boughs over the winter will help keep ice from accumulating around the plant, and protect it from harsh weather. Very resistant to animal browsing.
Bees love Lavender
Echinacea or Purple Coneflower is a native plant that has been improved upon over the last few years, so is now available in many other colors besides purple. It’s ability to withstand drought and full sun remains the same fortunately. It’s native environment is out on the western prairie, and it has evolved to be a tough, yet beautiful addition to the garden. Makes a good cut flower too.
Purple Coneflowers also come in white, red, orange and yellow
Achillea or Yarrow has also been hybridized to include a multitude of new shades besides the common yellow color. Yarrow has the benefit of been resistant to animal browsing as well as being very drought tolerant. The flowers are good for cutting, and also can be dried for arrangements.
Yarrow and Russian Sage are pretty paired together
Perovskia or Russian Sage is a beautiful plant for very hot and dry locations. It prefers sandy, well draining soil in direct sun. It has the ability to blend into any color scheme, with it’s silvery-white leaves and lavender colored flowers. Several cultivars offer varying heights to fit into any sized garden. Very resistant to animal browsing.
Stachys byzantina or Wooly Lamb’s Ears adds texture and cool silver colors to the garden. It is grown primarily for the foliage, but will produce shoots with tiny lilac colored flowers too. Often placed to ‘cool down’ and compliment warm tones in the garden, Wooly Lamb’s Ears is a very versatile garden addition.
Wooly Lamb’s Ears