Gardening By Design
We're all looking for plants that are easy to grow so we can spend more time enjoying them and less time maintaining them. So, here's the challenge to people looking for plants to enrich their lives: Prior planning prevents poor performance. Getting an area ready for planting will always define the difference between plants that thrive and plants that dive. So, let's change those problem areas into a place that you can enjoy through the changing seasons.
Start with a plan/design that provides a place to spend time relaxing outside.
Trees and shrubs are the backbone of any design and your best starting point. Also referred to as screens, garden backdrops, and vertical elements, shrubs provide privacy and a sense of enclosure as we avoid views and noises from intrusive surroundings by creating spaces to enjoy being outdoors. I advocate using a mix rather than single variety plantings in an effort to create diversity in the landscape. Adding perennials and annuals further increases the overall beauty and adds seasonal interest. On the design, the average garden depth is two-thirds of the mature height of the tallest planting.
Ex: A design that includes shrubs that mature at 8' need to be a minimum of 6' in depth.
Establish edges to define where the garden begins and ends.
Edging is available in a range of materials. Criteria can include ease of installation, durability, aesthetic qualities, and availability for future installations. Using consistent edging material for nearby areas as they're developed adds continuity to the site. Garden walls and other raised bed designs hold soil in place and add a vertical element to an otherwise one-dimensional view of the garden. Hardscapes including buildings, fencing, or walkways can be used to define the front or back of the garden. To avoid plant damage and soil compaction, it's best to do those needed fixer-upper chores to hardscapes prior to planting.
Improve soil for plant root development and water conservation.
I work new beds 10-12 inches in depth with a tiller then topdress with 2-3 inches of organic amendments. Bring the tiller tines up and incorporate the amendments into the top 4-6 inches of soil. Machinery can be rented or digging by hand is always an option. The time and energy spent breaking up compacted soil and preparing a garden area for planting will always pay off in the long run. I prefer to use organic amendments since they feed both the soil and the plants. Rejuvenating an existing garden? Start by digging out weeds and weedy looking plants that don't fit into the design; if it's a really cool plant, lift it out for saving, otherwise... toss it.
Establish how the garden will be most easily, yet efficiently, watered.
In-ground systems with flexible poly and rigid risers are easy to install, manageable, and reliable, but, risk saturating blooms with water and are blocked as plants mature. Connected emitters on a drip system, low-volume soaker hoses, and drip tube systems are water-wise, but need to be constantly monitored to ensure that they are delivering enough water to thoroughly soak the entire root zone of all plantings. Water timers at the faucet can be used to deliver water intermittently. Our 5,000 sq.ft. lawn is on a pop-up system and programmed to receive two-twenty minute cycles, twice a week in the heat of summer. Over the past two summers, we have averaged 30,000 gallons of water in July and in August to maintain a fully developed landscape, the greenhouse and nursery, and for use in the home.
Select and group plants that have the same light, soil, and water requirements.
Do your homework so you can shop with a list of possibilities. Pictures of the area or a picture from a magazine that appeals to you are also ways to increase your chances of finding just the right plants, but be flexible and willing to try plants suggested by a trusted retailer. Gardening is for those who love to be around plants and enjoy spending time outside caring for them.
Topdress with a slow-release fertilizer and 2-4 inches of mulch.
Do this before when planting plants in 6" or smaller pots fairly close to one another. Do this after for bigger perennials and shrubs. I apply a 14-14-14 slow-release fertilizer combined with iron at the rate of one pound per 100 sq.ft. of garden area. Mulching is an important step since it will deter weeds, conserve water, and improve the tilth of the soil. Gardeners have their own favorite, I like those that break down within two seasons, feeding the soil and the organisms that make healthy plants possible.
Water newly planted gardens thoroughly and frequently until established.
Even water-wise plants need to be kept evenly moist while roots work their way into the soil, especially those planted in July-August. Once established, after one full growing season, continue to water thoroughly, but less frequently. All plants need a supply of oxygen to the roots, so avoid over-watering once plants are established. As temperatures rise in July and August, we increase watering to every five days. With our 12 gardens, using an excel spread sheet to schedule watering days. A deep, thorough watering is better than light, frequent watering.
Avoid the use of chemicals to eradicate weeds and insects.
It's a buggy world, but they're not all bad guys. The use of chemicals in the home landscape has been the leading cause of the decline in beneficial insects that keep populations of detrimental insects in check. In driveway areas, weed burners provide a safer alternative to spraying. Pulling weeds is part of gardening and if you get them before they go to seed, the chore is made exponentially easier
A,B, Seed Starting
Growing plants from seeds can be rewarding since it allows you to watch the seedlings develop into mature plants, controlling each step of the process. When we first opened in December of 1991, we started all of our perennials, herbs, veggies, and flowering annuals from seed. Now, we buy from large growers who specialize in seedling and cutting liners for next step growers, just like us. But, there are some veggie varieties that we prefer to seed ourselves and have had great success with over the years including tomatoes, peppers, and annual herbs. In March, we started 5 tomato varieties and 5 pepper varieties from seed and plan to offer them in 3.5" pots starting in mid-May.
I'll explain one example of starting a long-time favorite tomato, 'Oregon Spring'.
At my potting table, I start with a clean seeding tray that I fill mid-way with a well-balanced, soiless potting mix. Tomato seeds, like most veggie seeds, are large enough that I can easily handle them and space them evenly on the soiless mix at about 150 seeds per tray (we do two trays of this variety). I use a short piece of 2x4 to gently press the seeds down so they come into contact with the soiless mix, then cover the seeds with a light layer of coarse vermiculite (you can use the soiless mix). The trays are then moved onto a bench in the warmest spot in the greenhouse and watered with a misting sprayer until the vermiculite is saturated. The trays are then covered with another seeding tray that is removed each morning to vent and apply another misting. The tray stays covered until most of the seeds sprout, about 10 days. After the seeds sprout, I cut back on the misting/watering and water only when the vermiculite dries (visibly shrinks) and leave the tray uncovered. Once the seedlings have two sets of true leaves, I gently tease the roots loose using a sharpened dowel and transplant each seedling into a clean, 3.5" pot, using a well-balanced, soiless mix. I fertilize with a water-soluble fertilizer at the recommended rate, every third watering. About 3 weeks later, the plants are ready for acclimating (inside at night/outside on warm days).
Suggested supplies to consider using to start seeds indoors:
Seeds (we like Territorial Seed Company @ 541-942-9547), seeding trays, soiless potting mix, low-volume water nozzle, sharpened pencil, and small, clean pots. 18-3.5" pots fit nicely into the tray used to cover the seed trays. A limited number of trays, pots, and blank labels are available for sale at the greenhouse.
Advice to consider:
Look for short-season varieties (72-80 days). Example: 'Oregon Spring' tomatoes at 77 days. Seeds sown first week of April, transplanted about 3 weeks later, mature by about mid-July (77 days from transplant).
Sow close to the number of seedlings you plan to grow. Label varieties as they're sown and use a blank label to divide them. You can use the same tray for tomato varieties and annual herbs, and another for pepper varieties. Peppers are slow pokes and usually take up to two full weeks longer before they're ready to transplant. Remember, I sow 150 seeds per tray, so unless you're feeding a small army, a couple of trays should be plenty. Store extra seeds in an airtight container up to 3 years in the refrigerator. Once the seeds sprout, keep in a sunny location (or close to the light source if that's how you're growing) to avoid stretch. A low-speed fan will allow the stems to strengthen and avoid dampening off.
Disregard the calendar when it comes to planting up in container gardens or in ground. Instead, go with a good five-day forecast and always be ready to cover if temperatures are predicted to fall below 38 degrees. Memorial Day is the earliest I would consider planting tomatoes and peppers. Brassicas, including Broccoli, Cabbage, and Cauliflower germinate quickly and can be started and planted earlier since they are much more cold-hardy than tomatoes and peppers. Squash, cucumbers, and beans are very cold-sensitive and do well with a direct, in ground, sowing about Memorial Day.
Caring for your newly planted veggies and herbs.
Keep soil/container garden mix evenly moist. Wet/dry watering cycles can cause delayed fruiting, stem end cracks, and blossom end rot. Go easy on the fertilizer. Sure plants need feeding, but over doing it will lead to lots of leaves and few blooms. We use Osmocote®, a slow-release fertilizer that lasts for about 3 months. Planting colorful annuals (especially yellow ones) in with your veggies will attract pollinators and other beneficials that keep pests in check. Know thy enemy! Check for pests, especially on the underside of the leaves. A brisk rinse with a water nozzle will knock most of them off, so avoid using chemicals.
Our Annuals Availability List Page will be posted in April. Happy Gardening!
Annuals, and Perennials, and Shrubs...OH MY!
Annuals are a gardener's best friend when it comes to all summer color in beds and containers. We usually start with those cold-hardy varieties including pansies, violas, and snapdragons that can breeze through those inevitable, late-spring cold snaps that would nip other annuals. Then there are those tender perennials (AKA cold-hardy annuals) that are up next for planting including salvias, coreopsis, and assorted others that can take below freezing temps through spring. We've given up on marigolds, zinnias, portulacca and the like since they have zero tolerance for even a hint of frost in the air. What's equally nice about cold-hardy annuals is that they are also the last ones to freeze out, when our early-fall frost first strikes, lasting well into September and even into October. Petunias, calibrachoa, and verbena can also be trusted to tough out some chilly spring weather and will also hang in there through early-fall, but we usually hold off until early-May to consider taking them out for acclimating. I'm a creature of habit, and have planted our display garden containers on Earth Day, then start to acclimate for my personal containers and in ground planting no sooner than early-May. By then, the picnic table is out and I can shove them under there if snow strikes late. A light cotton sheet works best for needed covering since it can be left on through the day.
Perennials are my choice for nearly all in ground planting since they come back every year providing me with a better value and a one-time bed prep prior to planting. As I explain to my newbies, some perennials are short-lived (3-5 years), like the coreopsis, delphinium, and shasta daisies while some live for generations including peonies, daylilies, and iris. Some spread vigorously within two seasons, and some take 3-5 years to get settled in. Some will spread their seeds here, there, and everywhere while some are sterile and will stay neatly where planted. Our website is a hybrid between a catalog and a newsletter. I try to provide information about the individual plants, but go a bit further and share some things I've learned about gardening in Northern Nevada. I get a range of people stopping by, from those who have forgotten more than I'll ever know, and those that are just getting started. Both have found our website helpful and I suggest at least looking over it prior to making plant selections.
Shrubs will always be an important element to any landscape. Available in a wide range of sizes, leaf texture, foliage color, and branching habit, shrubs fill needs for either a city lot or large acreage designs. Used in landscape designs for...ever, shrubs are a structural element used to divide areas/rooms in the same way that walls serve the interior design. Also referred to as screens, garden backdrops, and vertical elements, shrubs provide privacy and a sense of enclosure as we avoid views and noises from intrusive surroundings by creating spaces to relax and enjoy being outdoors. Using a mix rather than a single variety planting creates diversity especially when accentuated by groupings of colorful perennials. Shrubs that turn to shades of yellow, orange, and red continue their seasonal interest into fall as gardeners spend the last warm days of the season out in their gardens. They also provide a vertical element to an otherwise one-dimensional view as gardens are viewed from indoors looking out.
The Language of Gardening
Hobby enthusiasts, including gardeners/growers, often use terms that get bantered about which may be unfamiliar to those just getting started. This is a short list of some of those frequently used terms that may help clarify some questions most often asked by people stopping by the greenhouse and nursery.
Acclimate; Acclimating plants is the process of allowing plants time to become accustomed to their new growing environment prior to planting. Plants from the greenhouse have no experience with wind, direct sun, high daytime temps or low nighttime temps, so their tender growth needs time to toughen up, literally, to the conditions they will face once planted. We suggest at least 3-4 days and nights.
Aeration; Via aerators for lawn areas and via incorporating coarse materials including sand, bark chips, perlite, etc. into the soil to allow for water and nutrients to flow evenly through the root profile and to reduce soil compaction.
Amendment; A broad term which can include organic matter such as composted manures, wood mulch, peat moss, or kitchen compost that can be incorporated into the soil. I think of incorporating amendments as feeding both the soil and the plants. By improving/amending the soil, plantings are better able to develop a vigorous root system. This applies to intended lawn areas, beds, borders, hedges, and vegetable gardens. When you are ready to amend the soil prior to planting the area, the tiller's tines need to be brought up since amendments do their best work when limited to the top 4-6 inches of soil. Organic amendments break down as they are used and need to be replaced seasonally.
Annuals: Provide all summer color in ground and containers strategically placed to optimize enjoying the flowers and the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds that they attract and sustain. Lasting just one season, annuals include flowers that are available in a wide-range of colors. Vegetable gardens also benefit from colorful annuals as they draw pollinators into the area.
Biennial; Plant that completes its life cycle in two seasons. Typically, the plant is green in its first year, then flowers the second year producing seeds that ripen and fall to the ground. Without allowing the plant's flower to produce seeds that ripen and fall, the plant will die back and finish. An example of a biennial is Hesperis, common name, Dames Rocket.
Climate; Climate refers to the overall, seasonally average temperatures. The National Weather Service records daily high and low temperatures dating back decades and is interesting since it keeps "normal" in perspective.
Drought; Usually refers to periods of more than two consecutive years with below average precipitation.
Drought tolerant; Usually refers to plants that, once established, can survive with little irrigation through the heat of summer. These are the zeric plants best when grouped together and away from lawn areas.
Fertilizer; N-P-K: Percentage of Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potassium. A balanced fertilizer is suitable for most plants. Water-soluble fertilizers dissolve easily in warm water and can be applied through a sprayer for foliar feeding or a nozzle applied directly to the roots. Slow-release fertilizers have prills with small amounts of water-soluble fertilizer that release small increments of fertilizer each time the plant is watered. The more often you water, the more often fertilizer is released.
Genus; Variety, cultivar, and species are words that are often used interchangeably in reference to the botanical name of a plant. We usually opt for genus since most plants that reach the mainstream trade via growers are from, but not the same as, plants found in the wild. Example: Echinacea purpurea 'Ruby Star' is the genus, species, and cultivar of a comon Purple Coneflower. Echinacea purpurea 'Cheyenne Spirit', same genus and species, different cultivar. There are also plants that are patented or branded, for example Proven Winners. Some series of plants are registered names, for example, Wave Petunias.
Growth; Every person who has worked in the sales area of a nursery has had the experience of a customer picking up a plant and asking if it will grow. Sardonic personalities must put themselves in check and determine the real question which may be: "What height does this plant reach at maturity?" Or, "Does this plant have an upright or mounding habit?" Or, "Will this plant spread slowly or aggressively through the growing season?" The USDA, through whom we are licensed and inspected, requires that plants be clearly labeled with accurate information. The labels we use are often furnished with the plants and the information ranges in size from microscopic to picture tags four times the size of the container the plant's growing in. Our challenge is to respect the customer's question and provide needed information, through signage, this website, or by simply re-asking the question.
Lean Soil; Soil that contains little or no fertility or organic matter. Sometimes refered to as poor soil and is generally thought of as the opposite of rich soil.
Light: Full Sun, Part-Shade, Full Shade
Full Sun at this elevation, 5,800'+-, refers to either a south or west directional facing that is not obscured by nearby structures or trees and can include east facing gardens that receive a full 4-6 hours of direct light. Reflected light from walkways or buildings can intensify the light compounding the need to select plants within this catagory.
Part-shade is the comfortable light experienced with the morning sun or filtered light from a tree canopy. It refers to 2-4 hours of direct light. Plants listed for part-shade that are planted in full sun may not reach their full potential. Plants that are listed for either full sun and/or part-shade will tolerate full sun providing the soil is amended with organic matter so it holds extra water allowing it to stay cooler. Plants that need part-shade to full sun that get stuck in a full shade location quickly become spindly, don't bloom, flop over, or all of the above.
Full Shade is all about the structures and dense plantings that cast an all-day shade onto the foliage and roots of a plant. Not that beautiful, filtered light from small-leafed tree canopies, that would be part-shade. Not even the north side of a building that gets afternoon sun starting in late June. Plants listed for full shade that are planted in hot, dry, sunny locations will indicate leaf burn, wilt, and overall poor health. It is the most rigid of the three lightings we list and adherence will determine a plant's success or failure. It is our opportunity to provide plants that thrive under such conditions. The trend towards planting full to part-shade plants is on the rise since people also prefer to spend time through the heat of summer in cool, shady areas.
Mulch; Literally defined, means a protective covering spread on the ground to reduce evaporation and suppress weeds. Mulches include, chipped or shredded bark, clean gravel, ground fabrics, rubber (yuck!), and given the creative forces behind gardening, the list goes on. We don't use ground fabric in the gardens, but we do use it under the washed gravel in the outdoor retail areas and under bark in the gazebo area. Gravel as mulch in the gardens is preferred by xeric plants and designs that include rock gardens. I include small bark chips in my "mix" and use it between perennials and shrubs in the gardens after cutting back the perennials in late fall. So, you might be asking yourself, "What's the difference between adding an amendment, and using mulch?", short answer, not much. Typically, amendments are incorporated before planting, and mulch is used after.
Perennials: Plants that winter over and typically have a bloom time; early, mid, or late season. Many are long-lived like Peonies and Hemerocallis/Daylilies and will last for generations and will continue to grow each year filling an area with colorful flowers and attractive foliage through the changing seasons. Thought of as a value since they are planted just once rather than annually.
Water-wise; A term that refers to the plants, not the people who water them. It's a favorite listing because there's such a wide variety of plants available to choose from and because, let's face it...we live in a high desert and water-wise plants are a smart choice. I believe that most mortalities in the landscape can be directed to the amount of water a plant needs vs. the amount of water a plant gets. Water-wise plants have adapted over many years to hold the water they need in their roots and foliage. Pubescent foliage with its fine hairs, traps moisture, narrow leaves also tend to require less water. An example of a xeric (zir-ik) plant with both characteristics is Cerastium 'Snow in Summer'. Xeriscape; Landscape principles that make a low-maintenance, water-wise landscape both attractive and attainable: Thoughtful planning, Improving soil conditions, Limiting turf areas, Mulching, Grouping plants with similar water needs, Efficient irrigation, and Maintenance including weeding, pruning, and scheduled fertilizing. Consider this, whether to water depends on the weather.
Greenhouse Maintenance and Construction
The goal of creating a controlled environment starts with choosing the ideal site location, construction materials, orientation, and equipment. Start with a location that provides quality solar gain through the winter into spring growing season. Orient a stand-alone structure facing east to west with the vent opening facing prevailing, western winds. Choose durable construction materials for the roof, sidewalls, and endwalls that will withstand heavy snow, strong wind, and provide insulation through winter-spring. Our Main Greenhouse roofing is a 6ml, four-year, double-layer, horticultural grade, polyethylene with an inlet fan to provide airspace for insulation between the two layers. A Stuppy Greenhouse Manufacturing “kit” that includes easy-to-install extrusions to attach the poly to the structure and at the ends.
The sidewalls are 4' panels of twin-wall, polycarbonate leading to 4', double wall, insulated, plywood sheets to perimeter concrete footing. Endwalls are full sheets of same polycarbonate. The west end has a temperature activated outside vent with cooling pads inside. The two exhaust fans located on the east end, pull fresh, cool air across the greenhouse and vent it out. We have 2 propane heaters, one overhead and one under the bench with a convection tube, 2 exhaust fans, 4 airflow fans, an environmental controller that co-ordinates the heating and cooling equipment, and a ‘Dozatron’ chemigation system to apply fertilizer and chemicals through the waterline. Ideally, the greenhouse is kept cool and dry. Daytime temperatures through the winter months are in the low seventies and kept above freezing at night.
As the growing season approaches, February 1st in the main greenhouse, nighttime temperatures are increased to 50 while daytime temps stay in the low seventies. In March, the temperature (starting 20 minutes before dawn and for 30 minutes afterwards) is decreased by 8 degrees. This allows for plant height control producing a stockier plant without plant growth regulators/chemicals. This also results in venting excess humidity that accumulates in the greenhouse overnight. Humidity levels through spring are at a comfortable 40% during the day, but increase to 85% at night. Early morning venting can bring that number down to 65% in a matter of minutes reducing the need for chemical application of fungicides. Another way to reduce high, nighttime humidity levels is to finish watering in the greenhouse early and avoid watering on cloudy days. Heating, cooling, venting, environmental controller, and irrigation/chemigation equipment decisions are made prior to construction with allowances for needed modifications as equipment wears out and needs to be replaced.
The Southern Greenhouse roofing is the same as the main greenhouse except it’s a 5ml, two-year, double-layer film. Sidewalls on both sides are manually operated, rollup curtains, and the endwalls are fiberglass. This is also a Stuppy Greenhouse “kit”. Daytime temps are kept in the sixties through the day and just above freezing at night with a thermostatically controlled heater and a shutter/exhaust fan cooling system. By June temperatures are uncomfortably high in the southern greenhouse, so the poly is pulled, stored, and replaced with a 45% shade cloth. Likewise, shade cloth is pulled over the stay-in-place poly for the main greenhouse by late June.
Fertilizer rates: 200ppm for actively growing starts and 100ppm once mature. Phosphoric acid is applied at 1oz per 100 gallons of water to achieve a pH of 6.1; without the pH adjustment, our well-water is at 7.9, making nutrients unavailable.
Pesticide applications: The EPA has defined reduced-risk pesticides as compounds that pose a lower health risk to humans, the environment, and beneficials. These products do not work on the insect's nervous system like standard insecticides and are therefore more worker-friendly within closed greenhouse environments. We have chosen to use these reduced-risk pesticides in our greenhouses including 'Endeavor' to control aphids, 'Conserve' to control thrips, and bT to control shore flies and fungus gnat larvae.
Tomato seeds are started in the main greenhouse in mid-March. We grow several varieties every season with about 200 seeds per seeding tray. This puts our “starts” ready by mid-May to begin the acclimating process for late May planting. Otherwise, our annuals and perennials are grown from rooted cuttings, seedling liners, and bareroot stock brought in from large growers that specialize in growing for smaller greenhouses, just like us.
The southern greenhouse is full by the end of November and we start growing transplants in the main greenhouse the first week of February. Growing your own plants can be challenging, but also very satisfying. We hope this information provides you with some insight on how our small operation began in 1991 and some ideas if you are considering building your own greenhouse.
Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance
Prior planning prevents poor performance and landscaping with shrubs is living proof of that adage. Soils that have been improved with organic matter lightly tilled in will hold then release needed water and nutrients while allowing excess water to drain away. By improving the overall quality of the entire garden area intending for planting rather than randomly sticking plants in the ground, you will be creating a plant community with plants that work together as a cohesive design that is easier to maintain and visually pleasing. Perennial groundcovers deter weeds from germinating through spring, shade the roots of surrounding shrubs and taller perennials through summer so gardens require less frequent watering and insulate roots through winter. Drifts of hardy perennials make a dynamic impact visually while blooms provide food for pollinators and attract beneficials to keep pests in check.
Once you have a plan for your landscape with designated areas for gardens that include a diverse mix of perennials and shrubs, you can begin selecting varieties with the just the right height and spread to fill those areas and provide low-maintenance beauty. Used in landscape designs for decades, shrubs are a structural element used to divide areas/rooms in the same way that walls serve the interior design. Also referred to as screens, garden backdrops, and vertical elements, shrubs provide privacy and a sense of enclosure as we avoid views and noises from intrusive surroundings by creating spaces to relax and enjoy being outdoors. I advocate using a mix rather than single variety plantings in an effort to create diversity in the landscape. Spring flowers, summer fruit, and fall color are all sought after characteristics since those features add to the sensory pleasures that bees, butterflies, and birds bring as they move through your landscape.
Always remember to consider the look of any intended garden area from several vantage points including inside the home looking out, sitting on an adjoining deck or patio, and from the street. Shovels, spading forks, five-gallon buckets, and hoses work well as easy-to-alter props while designing to include tall, medium, and shorter plants how they will be seen from those different vantage points. Consider also the changing seasons. Since we tend to spend more time outside through summer and fall, privacy is more of an issue, and as we spend more time looking out from inside through winter, the structure/bones of the landscape are visually important and shrubs provide contrast to an otherwise one-dimensional view.
Gardening in Northern Nevada
Perennials are a delightful addition to the gardens as we look for seasonal color that prompts us to spend the warm days of spring, summer, and fall outdoors. By definition, a perennial is a plant that will winter-over despite temperatures falling to -30 degrees through winter months.
Gardeners are always on the lookout for long bloom times, low-maintenance, deer-resistance, blooms that attract beneficials, and foliage that can hold its own as the blooms fade; and despite the challenges of gardening in this area, the undaunted gardener is willing to try new varieties. Fear of failure is not an option in gardening, so do your homework, shop with a list of possibilities gleaned from a trusted source, then put down the smartphone and grab a trowel. It’s unrealistic to expect every plant to thrive, but always feels like it was worth the effort when they do.
Herbaceous perennials, like the ones shown above, have foliage that dies back through winter. I move through the gardens in late fall trimming back the foliage so the new growth that emerges in spring won’t have to fight its way through dead, matted foliage that harbors pests. I’m busy working in the greenhouse and nursery through spring, so there’s no time for me to do landscaping chores, but it is a great time to plant shrubs and perennials that will have all summer to set root before cold weather arrives. My advice is: Start with a plan, shop early to get the best selections, even if it means “tending them” until you have a chance to plant them, don’t jump the gun and try to work soil that is too wet, and take on small, manageable areas one at a time.
Once you can work the soil, incorporate organic amendments by lightly tilling or spading them into the top 4-6 inches, plant allowing for mature height and spread, then topdress with mulch. Broadcasting a slow-release fertilizer will prevent tender new growth susceptible to late frost. Watch for aphids and thrips, but avoid the temptation to spray pesticides that will also kill beneficials which will, given time, thrive in healthy gardens and keep pests in check naturally.
Annuals in containers provide stand-out color for areas including the deck and patio where we can enjoy our time “down time” relaxing outdoors through spring, summer, and fall. Every gardener has their favorite colors and varieties to work with and I continue to lean towards annuals with long bloom times, low-maintenance, deer-resistance, blooms that attract beneficials, and foliage that can hold its own as the blooms fade. (Sound like familiar traits?)
Long gone are the days of marigolds, sweet potato vine, moss rose, zinnias, cosmos, and a host of tender plants that freeze with even the slightest hint of chilly weather. Terra cotta pots that always seem to dry out have lost all appeal, as have “cute” little pots that need watering daily. It’s big and plastic for me and while the initial cost of filling them with quality potting mix is expensive, the plants will thrive and the mix can be reused for years to come. I cut back finished annuals in late fall and lift out the roots with a spading fork or trowel in spring. After the finished stems and roots are out I “attack” the container mix that has compacted through winter.
After spending months maturing in the ideal environment of a greenhouse, annuals benefit from a week or more acclimating to their new growing conditions. I keep mine on the deck, ready to head out with light cotton sheet should temps fall into the twenties. I use a pot-in-place method for all container gardens: Take the plant out of its pot and set it aside. Mold the potting mix around the empty pot so that only the top rim of the pots can be seen. Apply slow-release fertilizer around the pot rims. Gently remove the pot and set the plant’s root ball in the void created by the empty pot. Apply slight pressure at all four corners and water in immediately. Done! We use this method for every container garden that we grow.