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2004 Tips Archive

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December 2004:

TO MULCH OR NOT TO MULCH?

Each year we receive questions about using winter mulch to protect perennial plantings. Here's some information we hope will help when you are facing this to-mulch-uous decision.

Q: WHO? (As in - should I be putting winter mulch on my perennials?)

A: This is the hardest question to answer definitively. Many factors come into play, including size, age and hardiness of your plants, their location and exposure, type of soil and long range weather prognostications. But each gardener has to balance the costs, time and effort of applying mulch against potential threats to the well being of their plant materials and their peace of mind. Basically, the proper mulch, properly applied, will do no harm, will likely prove beneficial and, in certain years, may be essential.

Q: WHAT & WHERE?

A: A winter mulch is (what?) a layer of material applied in addition to any organic mulches, such as wood or bark chips, compost or manure, used during the growing season to retard weeds, retain moisture and rebuild soil structure. While these 'seasonal' mulches must be kept back from the crowns and stems of plants, winter mulch is spread (where?) 2" to 8" deep over the entire growing area and, unlike other mulch, is generally removed from the garden or bed when warm weather returns. It is important that winter mulch be comprised of an open, fluffy material that won't mat down and smother the plants' crowns. Pine boughs are our favorite choice (recycle those cut Christmas trees and wreaths) although clean straw, excelsior or pine needles also work well. Note: The ideal winter mulch is a thick fluffy blanket of snow. If you can put up with your neighbor's questioning stares, take advantage of this wonderful natural insulation and shovel it onto your perennial beds and borders.

Q: WHEN & WHY?

A: With perennials it is soil temperature, not air temperature, which is the vital factor concerning winter survival. It is important to realize that the purpose of winter mulch is not to prevent the soil pr perennial roots from freezing but (why?) to provide insulation to help keep them frozen. Repeated cycles of freezing and thawing can damage roots and crown, heave plants up out of the soil or cause plants to break dormancy too early. Therefore, winter mulches need not and usually should not be applied until (when?)After the garden soil is thoroughly frozen to a depth of about 2".

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November 2004:

Begin a Beautiful Christmas Tradition!
Give a LIVING TREE this holiday!

Begin a beautiful holiday tradition of giving living trees to family members and friends to enrich their indoor holiday celebrations with the lovely scent of a living evergreen tree and to incorporate in their homes' outdoor environments come spring.

A living holiday tree in a container, with its root system intact, is an investment in the future. By following a few simple procedures (listed below) the tree can be transferred into the landscape after the holiday season is done as a living reminder of Christmas' past.

Besides "making memories", a live growing tree will be making our air cleaner as it absorbs carbon dioxide, replacing it with fresh oxygenated air. The fresh scent of Clean Air!

A Living Tree: A Perfect Gift

For a child or grandchild - it can grow up as the child grows up (Snap a photo each year of child and tree?)

For the "snowbird" - perfect for a short holiday celebration before going south, plant upon their return in the spring.

For the office holiday celebration- there is always room for a desk-top tree (and the fresh scent and fresh air it produces). And most landscapes, corporate or private, have room for a slow growing dwarf conifer, come spring. Dwarf Alberta Spruce trees can also be grown in their containers as handsome entryway, patio, or deck specimens, to be adorned with lights on future holidays.

For the new home owner developing the landscape - a special reminder of that first Christmas in their new home.

For the coffee table, side board, or dining table centerpiece for your house, apartment or condominium.

Special things to consider with living trees:

Before bringing indoors, store the tree in a sheltered, cool spot - a garage, porch or other protected area.

The time the tree is indoors should be brief - from four days to ten days.

After being indoors the tree must be cooled down slowly in a garage, porch or other protected area before putting outdoors 'till planting in spring.

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October 2004 :

It's FALL and time to plant spring flowering bulbs to enjoy their beauty next year. But, how can you 'mark the spot' where these new bulbs are planted so you don't dig them up again next fall when planting more bulbs?

Here's a landscapers' secret . . . After planting a grouping of tulips, daffodils or whatever . . . "surround" that planting with some Grape Hyacinths (Muscari species). These small, inexpensive bulbs, in addition to providing beautiful 6 to 9" tall purple blooms in Spring, also produce clumps of grasslike foliage in early fall - right at bulb planting time!

When eyeing that 'nice open spot' to plant some new bulbs these natural growing 'place-markers' will warn you that you've already "been there and done that" in a previous year. Note: Besides the classic grape hyacinth, Muscari armeniacum, you might also consider using Muscari 'Valerie Finnis', which blooms a strikingly beautiful 'baby blue' or Muscari comosum plumosum, the unusual rosy purple "Feathered Hyacinth".

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September 2004:

UGH! SLUGS! This growing seasons' weather seems to have produced a "bumper crop" of slugs. Slugs are mollusks - essentially, shell-less snails, that feed primarily at night. Often the only daytime evidence of their presence is shiny slime trails and lots of holes chewed in and through the foliage of your plants - especially large leaved ornamentals like hosta. Westview Farms stocks and sells a variety of products to combat these sneaky, slimy garden pests. Here are 4 we use and can recommend:

  • BEER TRAPS: These non mechanical, movable traps can be used as a first line of defense and also as indicators of how severe infestations are in certain areas. They do involve a bit of hands-on maintaining but they are cheap, effective, reusable and non poisonous.
  • DIATOMACEOUS EARTH: Good for spot applications and for protecting smaller areas or prized specimens. A sprinkling of these minute fossilized sea creatures in the garden provides a physical barrier that slugs cannot and will not cross. It is considered organic and safe, when used according to label directions.
  • SLUGGOT: A relatively new product and rapidly becoming a favorite. A primary ingredient in this molluscicide is iron phosphate; so, any bait not ingested by slugs soon breaks down into fertilizer! SLUGGOT is organic, safe for use around children, pets and wildlife and is even labeled for use in vegetable gardens up until harvest.
  • BUG-GETTA GRANULES: for areas not frequented by children or animals, this metaldehyde based molluscicide bait is deadly to slugs, snails, even sow bugs and earwigs.

Stop in (don't forget to bring your web site coupon!) and we'll be glad to tell you more about these products and their uses.

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August 2004:

Question: Is it OK to plant perennials and shrubs in the "high summer" months of July and August?

Answer: Yes, if those plants are "container grown" like all the plants we offer at Westview Farms Perennials & Herbs.

Here's why: Container is another word for pot, so "container grown" means that our plants have been growing in the pots they are in for a significant period of time. Most of our container grown plants were "potted-up" the previous spring or, in some cases, last fall. When you remove such plants from their pots and plant them in your garden or landscape their root system remains intact and undamaged. Ideally they won't even notice the change and will adapt to their "new home" without any transplant trauma.

Question:So why does the belief persist that we should not be planting perennials, etc. during the "dog days" of summer?

Up until about twenty years ago, hardly any growers went to the 'trouble' and expense to container grow perennials and shrubs. The normal practice was to "field dig" these plants, either at the time of purchase or within a day or two before. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with field dug plants, they are really "transplants" and plants being transplanted, especially in July and August generally go through considerable shock and require more specialized knowledge regarding care and handling AND expectations.

At some nurseries, many 'roadside' stands and especially at farmers' markets, you will still encounter plants that are freshly "field dug". Placed in the same size and type containers, it may be impossible for the consumer to distinguish how plants being offered have been produced. It is best to ask the seller directly. There is much to debate and discuss regarding this issue but the bottom line is that properly produced container grown perennials, shrubs, herbs, etc. may successfully be planted at any time between March 1st and mid November!

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July 2004:

All the wonderful rainfall- and lightning-produced nitrogen so far this season has generated some spectacular results in the growth of many garden plants.

Some flowering plants, however, have responded to all this water and nitrogen by putting on lots of lush foliage but not much in the way of flower production

If you are disappointed in the bud set or flowering of some of your perennials or annuals you might try a blossom builder or bloom builder soluble fertilizer. We use a product called Jack's Classic Blossom Booster. Its 10-30-20 formulation provides a phosphorus 'boost' to encourage flower production. Follow label directions and do not succumb to the tendency to "double" or "triple dose" for "better" results. Jack's Classic Blossom Booster 10-30-20 is available at Westview Farms and many other independent garden centers.

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June 2004:

In early summer you suddenly notice some bright yellow and/or reddish brown leaves on a prize rhododendron . . .

Q. What should you do?
A. Maybe nothing!

Before reaching for the fertilizer sprayer or disease control product, first look very carefully at the plant in question. If almost all those alarmingly colored leaves are on the "inside" or "underside" of the plant and most outer foliage looks fine, there is little cause for alarm. Following bloom time rhodies put on a rapid flush of new leaf and branch tip growth. As this new growth matures, the oldest, smaller interior leaves begin to "shut down", turn color and ultimately drop off as the newest foliage takes over photosynthesis, etc. Although it may appear alarming, this shedding process is a natural part of the growth cycle and requires no 'intervention' by gardeners.

Note: Properly sited, rhododendrons should not require very much in the way of fertilization. Do not apply foliar feed products past the end of July.

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May 2004:

Consider building your garden library. The internet is great - hey, it got you here! But, we still enjoy learning "the analog way" with books, too. It's hard to curl up on the bed at night with your CPU, keyboard and 19" color monitor.

Three books we like are:

Caring for Perennials, What to do and when to do it
By Janet Macunovich
ISBN 0-88266-957-5

This Michigan based author and gardening expert provides very readable tips and techniques for perennial garden maintenance and timing.

The Well-Tended Perennial Garden, Planting & Pruning Techniques
By Tracy DiSabato-Aust
ISBN 0-88192-414-8

Another excellent source for planting and pruning techniques with some unique suggestions for controlling plant heights and bloom times.

Weeds of the Northeast
By Richard H. Uva, Joseph C. Neal and Joseph M. DiTomaso
ISBN 0-8014-8334-4

Know your enemy! This source book will help you tell friend from foe. Although it does not provide control information, it is full of excellent pictures of weed seedlings and mature foliage. It's descriptions of weed habits and root structures will give you insight into potential control techniques.

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WESTVIEW FARMS Perennials & Herbs, 4051 60th Street, Holland, MI 49423 616-396-8858 (p) 616-396-3737 (fax)
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