Container Plants: Dressing up the Yard

Container gardens are a great way to spruce up an area where there is no access to soil. It’s a wonderful way to accent or draw attention to an entry way, deck, or patio. They can also be used to separate or screen certain areas where we like to linger on summer days.  Container gardens are all play and no hassle. You can skip the weed pulling and all the shoving and play with color and texture of plants. Depending on how large the pot is, you can plant anything between perennials, annuals, and even dwarf evergreens.   Here are some steps to making a magnificent container garden:

Pick a Pot or Container

Unless you have certain plants in mind, choosing a container first is the way to go. Find something that reflects your personality or something that would blend with the house well. For instance, a stone or neutral colored pot would be perfect for ornate home. Clean lines or geometric shaped pots might be a great fit for a modern home. Colorful pots may contrast with the plants to give the area some pop. No matter what pot you chose, keep in mind that if you would like a mixture of plants, then you will need a pot that is no smaller than a foot wide. It’s very easy to stuff plants into a container and have them outcompete IMG_0233each other.  When you are shopping around, note the weep holes at the bottom of containers. If a pot does not have a weep hole, it could cause serious damage to the plants if the soil is waterlogged. There will be instances when we will receive copious amounts of rain in the summer.

 

Purchase the Plants

Instead of planting a single plant, why not try combining different annuals, ornamental grasses, or dwarf evergreens? Go for a mix ofcolors, texture, and foliage to make your container stand out. It usually a great idea to plant something that will give the container some height. For instance, using ornamental grass in the center of the container and layering plants from tallest to smallest from the grass to the rim of the pot. Stick to about 3-5 different plants per pot. Any more, and it begins to look too overwhelming or messy.  Be sure to pair plants that can handle the same amount of sun exposure- this is key to their survival!

If you do not have time to plant a container garden, but would love one, contact us! We have fine gardeners on staff who can meet every expectation with skill and finesse.

What Goes into a Great Lawn?

There is no magic answer to growing a perfect lawn. However, there are a few actions you can take to making your lawn look beautiful.

Mow height plays a crucial role in the health of your lawn. In the spring and early fall, it a good idea to keep your lawn at about 2-3” high. The last mow of the season is the only time you can cut it down to about 1 ½”. The summer season is the trickiest one. With the sun blazing and temperatures breaking records, it can be tough to keep your lawn healthy and lush. The secret to keeping the lawn from burning is by keeping the lawnmower blade set up higher than 3”. Keeping the blade sharp is another useful tip!

If you pluck a piece of grass from the lawn that has been recently mown and notice a brown jagged edge at the top, it means that your blade is dull. Homeowners should sharpen their mower blades at least 2-3 times a year. Damaged ends leave the grass blades susceptible to pests and diseases. One other danger to be aware of is over-watering.

Mike and Dorothy Tsostis house, Rutland, MA, 2009

Over-watering a lawn can cause more damage than letting the grass wilt. During peak growth, lawns will need about 1-1/2” of water a week so that the soil becomes moist 4-6” down. Keep an eye on the weather since it might not be necessary to turn on the sprinklers if rain is expected that week. Fertilization is another factor to keep in mind.

Some homeowners believe that over-fertilizing the lawn can be helpful when in fact it can really hurt the growth of the grass. There are only four times when the lawn should receive some fertilization: spring, summer, early fall, and after the first frost. Fertilizer helps boost the soil and provides some of the building blocks of food for the grass. Other than that, the grass is producing its own food directly from the sun. Over-fertilizing can cause the microbes in the soil to die and can create a sterile environment.

 

Keep a good eye on your lawn this season. Preventing problems is much easier to deal with than recovering from them. Routine maintenance equals a happy lawn. Call us for any questions or if you’re looking for a maintenance program. We are happy to help keep your lawn lush!

Tree Planting- Don’t Get Stumped!

You might find tree planting as simple as plopping a tree into the ground and watching it grow. Believe it or not, there is much more that goes into it than that. Think of it this way: trees are an investment. If you care for them properly and help them grow from the start, they might outlive you! Just like any investment, it’s good to do research and think long and hard before buying. Here are some words of advice for those looking to buy a tree:

  • Location: It might be easy to say where you would like the tree to go, but is the area sufficient enough to propagate tree growth? Check the area for indications of possible tree failure. This could include: too much competition in the soil, compacted soil, overhead wires, underground utilities, overhead structures, high erosion areas, or confided spaces. This list is certainly not limited, as there are many potential hazards to tree health and growth.
  • The Perfect Fit: Not all trees work in all places. Be sure to find the right tree that can grow in the spot that you determined to plant. There are many informational guides out there to help you with choosing the correct tree. Some things that you want to keep an eye out for:
    • Plant hardiness. Can this tree grow in our climate?
    • Evergreen vs. Deciduous. Are you looking for a tree that can keep its foliage?
    • Height and Width: What is the maximum height and width this tree can grow? Will it fit in the space that you determined?
    • Sun: How much sun does this plant need? Can it take periods of shade?
    • Water: How much water does this plant consume? If it likes moisture, for instance like a bog or swamp, it might not be a good fit for a dryer area.
    • Pests: Does this tree attract certain pests. Could it be susceptible to Asian Longhorns?

Once you have determined a tree for the location, it’s time to head to your local nursery! You will find that trees vary in size. Larger trees are typically balled and burlapped, while smaller trees are located inside containers. Be sure to check for a straight form, a single leader (if applicable) and possible blemishes.

Once the tree is on site, it’s time to begin the planting process!

Rick and Susan Walters house, Concord, MA, 2009

You first begin by digging the hole 2-3 times wider than the root ball, but only as deep as the root flare. Determining the root flare is key to a healthy tree. The root flare is the lower area on the tree right where the roots begin to curve away from the straight trunk. Always be sure to keep this area free from debris. If the root flare is covered by rocks, dirt, or mulch, the tree will suffocate or rot and will ultimately die.

Remove the container or wire cage so that the root ball can be covered with soil in the hole. It’s key to snip and remove as much burlp and cage as possible so that the tree can root out into the soil. A great gardening tip is to scrape up the edges of the root ball ever so slightly and gently so that some of the roots are exposed. This will promote the roots to spread into the existing soil. The next step is to ensure that the tree is straight on all sides. Make sure to walk around and inspect the tree up close and far away. Next: add soil.

Adding soil back in while watering is a great way to ensure that the soil becomes slightly firm around the tree. Shoveling in healthy soil that is compliant with the plant’s needs is key. A sprinkle of fertilizer to stimulate root growth is also not a bad idea when filling in the hole. Pack the soil around the base to prevent sinking and raise the soil to grade and root flare.

Next is more water before adding the mulch. Be sure to give your tree a good drink since you just opened up its roots for water. Once the soil has absorbed the water, it’s time to layer on some mulch. Mulch will help hold in moisture for the tree. Be sure to add a 2-3” layer of mulch (keep most of it away from the root flare). Do not make a mulch volcano or mound. We see this all the time and it’s not healthy for the trees! This is when there is mulch burring the root flare in the shape of a mound or volcano. This not only suffocates the root flare, but it sheds water away from the tree.

The last step is all about water. Water, water, water. Keep a good eye on the weather and be sure to give your tree enough of a drink so that it is not under stress!

For more details, check out this helpful article: http://www.treesaregood.com/treecare/resources/new_treeplanting.pdf

Upcycling: Pallet Garden Ideas

You may have come across a few photos of people using pallets as a garden bed or vertical growing walls. The reuse of recycled material to achieve a higher purpose and value is known as upcycling. Upcycling is exactly what pallet gardening is. Nothing is better than taking a pallet, composed of raw wood, and refining it into a crafty planter.

There are a few things that are great about pallet gardens:

  1. Easy to Weed: It’s easy to manage a small pallet garden if it becomes infested with weeds. Because it is a small defined growing area, maintenance is simple! There are many ideas out there in regards to making elevated planting beds. This allows easy reaching for those who are elderly or handicapped.
  2. The Divide: It’s easy to plant from seed or grow from starter packs when everything is planted in a line. Gone are the days of tilling soil and losing track of where you have planted your flowers or veggies.
  3. The Creative Approach: Pallet gardening can be taken to the next level by adding or removing boards and even adding a dash of paint.

Upcycling pallets is not limited to gardening. There are hundreds of creative ideas to reuse pallets: everything from treehouses, to patio benches, to architectural pieces! Check out these ideas from around the web:

New England Winters: How to Prepare for Spring

13Although it may be the dead of winter, there is plenty to do in order to be fully prepared for the spring. Gardening is not over once the snow flies! Here are some helpful ideas to help you be prepared for the coming days of thawing and melting:

  • Inventory and order seeds. Figure out what you might want to try growing this year and make a list of seeds that you need to order. You may want to begin growing the seeds indoors first so that you have a head start on the season.
  • Inspect your Tools: Now is the time to sharpen any cutting or digging tools. This will make planting, pruning, and deadheading run much smoother and quicker. This is also a great time to check over your power tool to ensure they are in working order.
  • Pruning: Now is a great time to structurally prune any trees. The leaves are out of the way and you have a clearview of any branches that may be overlapping, touching, or cracking. If you have Lenten Roses growing, now is the time to remove the old stalks and leaves. The new leaves and blooms will be arriving shortly.
  • Antidesiccant Spray: February is known for harsh winds, frozen soil, and chilly temps. Now is a great time to do what you can to protect the leaves of your evergreens by spraying antidesiccant. Why is this important? The elements are leaching water from your evergreens. By spraying a waxy like cover on the leaves/needles, you are essentially armoring your evergreens against the elements.
  • Winter Ice Threats: Handle plants that have the potential of causing damage if a heavy snow or ice storm were to hit. It’s better to act ahead of time before things turn for the worse. If there is a tree that has termite-ridden limbs that are hanging over your deck or house, it might be wise to call in an arborist to care for the situation.

 

Behind the Scenes of a Great Design

Landscape design goes beyond just receiving that digital or printed copy of your landscape plan. Copious amounts of thought, research, ideas, and planning stand behind every great design. The question is, how does it begin and what is the process? Here is a simple list that designers (and homeowners) think about:

  1. Site Analysis: every location is entirely different. Whether you are in the same town, in the same neighborhood, or even on the same street, a design for your site is entirely unique. Many factors contribute to this statement, the major one being: microclimate. Designers note the ecological and environmental factors on site in order to determine what would be best to meet your expectations.
  2. Style: “What kind of feel are you trying to achieve here?” might be a question that a designer would pose to any homeowner. It’s important for a homeowner to know what kind of theme or style they are trying to accomplish before contacting a designer to come on site.
  3. Spatial proportions, orientation, and links: The task of uniting a site as a whole and keeping spaces proportionate is key to every great design. Deciding on spatial orientation and proportion stems from the site activities. What are you looking to do/see/experience in the space(s)?
  4. Water, structure, plants, and hardscape: these are all elements that tie into a design to achieve functionality and unity. In terms of residential design, designers frame their mind around the following: architects are the ones who create the house/structure. Landscape architects and designers are the ones who unify the structural living space with the outdoor environment to create a meaningful experience for the homeowner.
  5. Details: Focusing on certain elements on the site, using certain materials for texture and color, and other elements go into creating meaningful events that can be experienced on the site.
  6. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Designers are challenged to think of sustainable efforts to help homeowners preserve their resources on the site for generation to come.January Photo

One key principle that our designer on staff lives by is “purpose”. If you question a designer about why a certain plant, structure, or element is used on site, ask: “What is the purpose of this here on the plan?” A great design is supported with elements that have a meaningful purpose for their existence on your site.

The winter months are a great time to prepare a design so that projects can begin first thing in the spring. Let us know if you have any ideas brewing!