Toad Lily amongst Crepe Myrtle trunks

Toad Lily amongst Crepe Myrtle trunks

A different Fall color variant of native Red Maple

A different Fall color variant of native Red Maple

Good Fall color from Hosta

Good Fall color from Hosta

Sometimes there aren’t enough words to describe something you are looking at and Fall color fits that category. It is much easier photographed than it is described as each Fall brings new and different color variations. Variations are determined by our weather during the Summer followed by how cool it gets at night in September. If we have drought conditions in late Summer, trees and plants in general are going to want to start their dormancy as early as late August. They will want to drop their leaves with as little fuss as possible including any spectacular color changes. Another major factor is cool nights as trees are starting to go dormant. This helps to set the brilliant colors everyone loves to see. We did pretty well this year as rainfall was decent with no significant dry periods. And then it cooled down significantly in September with some chilly nighttime temperatures. Colors this Fall have been very good.

 

Color is not only manifested in leaf color of trees. Hosta this year has been pretty spectacular with their brilliant yellow color. Berries have colored up very nicely as evident by the red berries on the American hollies growing in the field behind my home. A couple of reliable performers in the perennial world are the Trycirtis family and the Dendranthema (Hardy mum) family. Trycirtis or Toad lily has small orchid-like flowers that grace arching stems by the hundreds. They keep developing more and more interesting flower variations for this family. Very worth having in the garden and it will take shade also! I planted the hardy mum in my garden just a few years ago and already I have had to divide and remove 50% because of pretty aggressive growth. It will take over in the garden if left unchecked but the late season show is worth it. This photo was taken a full 4 weeks into its’ flowering period.

 

A lot more photos than usual this time but it was worth it. Enjoy!

Japanese Katsura Tree fronted by a Fernleaf Full Moon Maple

Japanese Katsura Tree fronted by a Fernleaf Full Moon Maple

Native Red Maple

Native Red Maple

Living fossil - Gingko

Living fossil – Gingko

Fall berries of Satyr Hill Holly

Fall berries of Satyr Hill Holly

Autumn Clematis-227

Autumn Clematis on Crimson Queen Maple

Autumn Clematis on ground

Autumn Clematis on ground

Hosta 'Emerald Tiara' and Hosta halcyon in late Summer

Hosta ‘Emerald Tiara’ and Hosta halcyon in late Summer

Each season of each year brings something new to our weather table here in the Washington metropolitan area. One thing is for sure in our area, the weather is never the same. Sure we know it will be humid in the Summer but other than that who knows what a particular season will bring. The latter days of Summer this year were fairly cool and dry and then all the sudden it got pretty darn hot again which actually breathed new life into my tomato plants giving me some very delicious late season tomatoes! Nothing like a tomato sandwich in early October – that may have been a first for me using tomatoes from my garden.

 

Other things have also done well here at the end of the Summer especially some old standbyes such as Clematis paniculata. If you, or a neighbor, has this vine you know it comes up from seed readily throughout the garden. Sun or shade, it will perform. I like to let these seedlings grow in place and temporarily take over another plant or boulder or fence. In this case you can see it is growing over my Crimson Queen Weeping Japanese Maple. This is the second year I have allowed this Autumn Clematis seedling to grow over the Maple. I cut it back to about 12” high right after it finishes blooming to try and contain the seeds but most importantly to clear the Maple foliage so as not to adversely affect the plant. As long as I see no evident damage to the Maple I will allow this little seedling to continue. Another example is just to let the vine stretch out in the garden. It has such a beautiful carpet of deliciously fragrant flowers that it is well worth it to allow this vine to take over temporarily.

 

An unexpected late season performer this year was Hosta ‘Great Expectations’. In past years this guy was pretty crispy by the middle of September but here at the end of September this guy is still going strong.  In this particular photo Hosta halcyon is in the background, which is generally one of the best performing Hostas in our area. The blue leaved Halcyon has the advantage though of waxy leaves which helps to fend off slugs and other leaf eaters. This particular area of my garden gets sun until late morning. Each year our area brings unexpected joy in our gardens – it just depends on the weather we have gotten.

Swallowtail butterflies on Joe Pye Weed

Swallowtail butterflies on Joe Pye Weed

Japanese beetles on Marigolds

Japanese beetles on Marigolds

 

Summer 2013

 

As usual Summer is completely unpredictable here in the Baltimore Washington area. After that gray, gloomy June early July looked a lot more like Summer with 5 days of pretty hot weather but since then it has been a fairly cool Summer. We have even been treated to 2 stretches of spectacular low humidity weather. What does all this mean for our landscapes? In the long term – very little. We are getting decent amounts of rain so the water table is getting replenished. In the short term however we are going through our usual plethora of fungal diseases (lawns look terrible) that brings with them rotten annuals and tomatoes and, in overcrowded landscapes, lots of inner die back in plant material due to fungal induced rot.

 

As far as annuals go in this area, it is really a guessing game in the Spring each year as to what to plant. As everyone knows by now we really didn’t have the luxury of our old standby Impatiens this year due to the emergence of Downy mildew so everyone searched for suitable replacements. I think a lot of us found out New Guinea Impatiens, while not affected by Downy mildew, do not perform as well as their cousins in shade. Caladium will probably be seeing a lot more use as this is a reliable performer in shade. Petunias, for the most part, did poorly this year and my testing of them in deeper and deeper shade did not turn out well. Petunias will take some shade but basically need a lot of sun and dry weather to shine. I used Torenia in total shade (but lots of light) and it did well.

 

I do a little vegetable gardening at my home by incorporating tomatoes into a flower bed that gets 5 hours of sun each day. I bought 6 different plants this year of which only 2 were tomatoes I have grown in the past. They have not performed all that well and it’s hard to tell why. Is it our partly cloudy Summer? Does it have anything to do with the bee colony collapse that is going on around us? I can say for sure that partly cloudy has a lot to do with tomatoes as the plants do best when it is hot and dry between rains and the fruits need sun to set the sugar content of the tomato as it finishes its’ ripening process. The bee theory I will leave to the experts.

 

Now for what we are reaping due to our Summer weather. Crepe Myrtles are blooming like crazy. Growth in general has been off the charts. We are spending a lot of time pruning. Ferns and Hosta have both done well.  Joe Pye Weed has long been a favorite and it has not disappointed this year. It is in full bloom and does an amazing job of attracting interesting insects such as Tiger Swallowtail butterflies. Dahlias should perform well here in late Summer as they just love cooler nights. I’ll report back on Dahlias though. Hydrangea was doing very well until the Japanese beetles showed up. Oh well it’s Summer.

 

Casablanca Lily-8946It is such a sweet time of year as Oriental Lilies are blooming. The fragrance of Lilies such as ‘Stargazer’ and ‘Casablanca’ is exquisite. Easy to grow, Lilies are purchased as bulbs and planted in the Fall. Oriental Lilies generally grow tall and will stand up better with staking. Many different forms of stakes are available online and at your local garden center.  Foliage will start to appear in early Spring and right about mid-July is when both ‘Stargazer’ and ‘Casablanca’ blooms. Even with all of the rain (commented on in a previous post) the Lilies in my garden have done very well and now are just starting to bloom. Plant them anywhere they will receive at least 5 hours of sun but consider planting them where you can enjoy the fragrance such as near a patio or deck or in any bed that you pass regularly. Fragrance from Lilies such as ‘Stargazer’ is readily savored from as far away as ten feet. Even if you don’t enjoy the fragrance, Lilies show so well that they can be planted in beds that line the periphery of your property. They are spectacular even from a distance.

Hydrangea aspera-226What a difference a month makes. We went from getting some but not enough rain to what? Just a rotten mess. We had measurable precipitation more than half the days in June with many more cloudy days and that pattern continues here into early July. We are in the midst of an explosion of fungus and rot in our gardens. Tomatoes, petunias and geraniums are particularly hard hit as they just thrive on sunny, dry days. I just replaced an entire planting of Superbells (Calibrachoa) that was lost to rot. Perennials such as Catmint (Nepeta), Yarrow and many others are just looking terrible. Established stands of perennials are more likely of surviving with their crowns intact than newly planted plants. The crowns of new plants just rot along with the foliage. I even saw a 45 year old Yew that died over the course of just a few weeks in June as the drainage conditions in the bed that it was in became saturated.

Now is a good time to thin plants so as to allow for better air circulation and light into the interior of plants. This type of pruning is always good practice as it both encourages interior growth and suppresses conditions that promote fungal growth. Also cut back any perennials that show signs of rot and remove the clippings and dispose of them (but not in the compost pile). If the crown has survived the plant will push new growth out and possibly even bloom again if the weather turns favorable.

Many plants are doing well despite the weather. Established plants always stand a better chance of making it through weather anomalies but some, such as Hydrangea, Hosta and my Daylilies are thriving.

Annuals are all in. Gutters are cleaned. Now, after the usual enormous flush of Spring growth, it’s time to start pruning. With just a few exceptions, previously sheared hedges being an obvious one, we do all our pruning by hand. This takes extra time but it’s worth it. It allows us to apply different techniques and styles to different plants as needed. Let’s use Azaleas as an example. Now is the correct time to prune them as their flowers have faded and they are just starting to put new growth out and it is this growth that will set buds for next years’ flowers.  So get your pruning done now so that next years’ flowers are not affected.

The first thing we do when pruning Azaleas is to remove umbrella shoots. Umbrella shoots tend to make your Azalea tall and leggy. They are easy to spot as their bare stems rise above the existing plant and have leaf growth swirling about the tip. This gives them the look of an umbrella. These shoots should be removed down to the branch they originate from. Make a clean cut leaving just a sliver of shoot on the branch you are cutting from. This allows the cut to heal properly and quickly which is key in any plant to protecting against entry by disease organisms.

If you need to lower the height of the plant or just reduce the size overall, repeat the above process removing the prior years’ shoots. This style of pruning will leave your Azalea looking natural and not sheared.

The cool weather continues here into early May giving us something I have never seen before – frost warnings as late as the middle of May. Folks living outside the Capitol beltway have needed to protect their tender Summer annuals even after our frost-free date of May 10th. We have been forced to bring all of our trays of annuals into our buildings as late as May 24th. Even inside our (unheated) buildings we suffered some damage to tender annuals such as New Guinea Impatiens, Wax Begonias and Dragon Wing Begonias.  Tender annuals such as Lantana, Geraniums and Petunias came through undamaged. Here at the end of May, I believe we are finally past any danger even for tropicals such as Hibiscus and Mandevilla.
Siberian Iris-250

Our rainfall has been a bit below normal but it seems to me that the ground has good moisture and, right now, there is no danger of drought. We certainly are getting good growth and for the established landscapes we maintain, there are the typical signs of late Spring shagginess associated with contented landscapes. As we head into June, our focus is going to be on pruning of your gardens.

Remember to clean your gutters! Every year at this time we perform the first of three cleanings of our client’s gutters to rid them of any leftover leaves from Winter and most especially Spring flowers. All of our shade trees have finished flowering and when these flowers drop they usually wind up in the gutters. I recommend flushing the downspouts with your hose while cleaning the gutters to make sure your entire house drainage system works. Flushing will let you know if the water from your roof is being carried away through your underground piping system or is being moved away from your foundation via splash blocks at the exit of your downspouts.  This protects your basement and foundation from damage caused by water pooling in these areas.

 

Peonies-8230Ahhh remember last year. Spring seemed to come in February as the weather warmed up and basically never looked back. We were cutting lawns by the middle of March. We started having warm, humid nights as early in the year as I can ever remember followed quickly by fungus problems in our lawns. Jump forward to this Spring and Washington area weather has returned nearer to normal. It was a full 2 weeks later that our lawns needed to be mown and nary a warm, humid night in sight. It has been an absolutely glorious Spring. Has anyone seen a better early Spring display than this year? Cherries and Crabapples were glorious this year along with Lilacs and lots of early Spring bulbs. I even had newly planted Narcissus ‘Decoy’ bloom for a full 5 weeks in my garden.

This Spring, our progression through the weeks was wonderful even though we kept getting cool weather that I’m sure the folks anticipating warmer temps were sick of. These cooler temps gave everyone (us included) more time to get Spring cleanups and mulching done. For the last 10 years or so we have been using shredded pine bark mulch exclusively. This is a great product that can also be used as a soil amendment. Even though pine is slightly acidic, it actually helps to raise the ph of our acidic soils and at the same time aiding in the breakup of our typical clay based soils. Shredded hardwood mulch typically forms a nearly waterproof layer that shredded pine mulches do not. Shredded pine mulch also decomposes completely leaving nothing to build up year after year.