public space in an area neighborhood

Cherries in the Kenwood neighborhood

It is nice to drive and see the spaces that are wonderfully maintained by either neighborhood gardeners or even the jurisdictions themselves. Who does the maintenance of these public spaces is not as important as that it is being done and we the public get to enjoy it. In neighborhoods around our area early builders or even neighborhood groups planted thousands of Cherries along our suburban roads, many in small neighborhood communities. The primary tree planted has been the Yoshino Cherry emulating the gifted Cherries on the Tidal Basin in our nation’s Capital. There is obvious pride in these communities in their Cherries. Many have covenants mandating maintenance of these trees and, when removed, their replacement with like trees. The effect is ethereal for a too short period in early Spring.

public space along Reno Road, NW

Street planting along Reno Road, NW

There is the occasional small plot of land cut off due to road configuration that becomes public space due to its’ disconnection from any nearby home lots. My guess is neighbors cherish these open spaces, regardless of their small size, and band together to plant and maintain them. It gives them some much needed gardening space and a chance to enhance their neighborhood in so many different ways. Some are areas of reflection which may include a seating area or just a small walking path. Others are just a planted garden space providing neighborhood beauty and enhancing everyone’s quality of life. Regardless of the reason it also increase home values in the immediate neighborhood as it increase the “curb appeal” of the neighborhood. 

In some cases such as the bulb plantings by the Maryland State Highway Administration along our major highways, it is really right in our faces as we speed by. Some of these plantings look as if they may contain better than 5,000 Narcissus bulbs and the affect is both soothing and entertaining as we pass by. Large flowing sweeps of colors along our interstates provide us poor commuters a splash of brilliance in our otherwise dull commutes. Just spectacular!

Remember to: clean your gutters as tree flower drop is coming to an end. Deadhead and fertilize your bulbs for best flowering for next year. Do not band the foliage but do cut it off at the first sign of browning or yellowing. This indicates the plant is in the first stages of sloughing its’ leaves so it is ok to provide an assist. If you haven’t done so, prepare your garden for vegetables and remember, its’ pretty nice to stick the occasional vegetable plant in the landscape where it can get five to six hours of sun and provide your family with some fresh Summer produce.

Spring in Washington DC



Woodpecker searching for larvae

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Can it really be the start of Spring? It just seems so odd that here we are in the first full week of March and it feels like Spring. This time last year we were still experiencing snow with measurable snow on both March 5th and March 20th. The last couple of years, Spring has been so late, it just doesn’t seem right. But I’ll take this early warm weather knowing full well it may be just a brief interlude in Winter. It is such a pleasure to drive in DC and to see the first Cherries blooming along Massachusetts Avenue with Witch Hazel, Hellebores and crocus. With all the breeding work being done the last few years, Hellebores are quite spectacular with their deep red and dark maroon shades.


Now a week later, after several days of way above average temperatures, Spring is really busting out all over. Forsythias, Cherries, Daffodils, Hyacinths, Star and Saucer Magnolias are all in bloom. The forecasted arrival of the Tidal Basin Cherries has even been pushed up by almost 2 weeks. We are in full spring mode here, working nearly every moment of daylight available to us. Even though it is not really practical, we try very hard to get ahead of emerging Spring perennials and bulbs, so that we can get mulch and fertilizer down. There is no real reason for this except that it is easier to work in garden beds without bulbs coming up everywhere.


Osprey leaving the nest during nesting season

Osprey cruising the mouth of the Chester River

It’s also so glorious to watch the return of native birds as they either flood back into the area from warmer climes such as the Osprey or just simply make themselves known by singing up a storm now that breeding and nesting season is here. Robins are so funny as they congregate in the shallows of my waterfall bathing and throwing water everywhere as they frolic. Spring is here.

Dutchman's Breeches & Celandine Poppies carpet the woodland floor

Dutchman’s Breeches Dutchman’s Breeches & Celandine Poppies carpet the woodland floor

I took my camera and revisited a property that the homeowner asked me to install deer fence 3 years ago to see the difference it has made. The change is pretty extraordinary. The garden has always been a woodland garden the homeowner really put a lot of work into improving while at the same time keeping the character of a native woodland garden. It had become a constant struggle though as the deer just devastated not only a lot of hard work but also the existing native understory plantings such as native Viburnums one would expect to see in a Maryland forest.


The transformation didn’t even take that long. Minus the presence of deer, it seemed as if plants that had cowered in fear for years just burst from the forest floor. Maple-leaved Viburnum (Viburnum acerfolium), Possumhaw (Viburnum nudum) and Beautyberry (Callicarpa sp.) immediately sprang up and made their presence known. Natives such as Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), (Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) and Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) have made a huge comeback even so much as carpeting the woodland floor here in the 3rd Spring since the barrier went up.

Dutchman's Breeches

Dutchman’s Breeches


I observed an interesting comparison as the neighbors to either side have for the most part left their properties mostly natural but unfenced. It’s like the understory has been eliminated entirely and the woodland floor has limited diversity. Mostly Trout Lily (Erythronium sp.), a beautiful native but lacking any appeal to the deer, has thrived. This is also a plant that comes up in the Spring and then goes dormant as Summer heat starts to roll in. Its’ limited appearance at the time of year when there is a virtual smorgasbord of native and cultivated plants available has aided its’ survival.

Home of the deer

Home of the deer

It has just been recently that deer have become commonplace on my 3 acres. So far there has been enough woodland area to the North of me and, I guess, enough local landscaping that they are not a problem. Yet.




Daffodils framed by PJM Rhododendron

Spring has really been procrastinating this year but I think we are done with Winter (and snow) until next Winter rolls back around. Spring may be late but I know it will be renewing to our gardens and spirits as it always is. It’s just such a great time of year as everything in nature just seems so brand new. In our area, and in nearly half the country, the simple delight of seeing the first hints of Spring come with the expansion of the leaf buds of our native red maple (Acer rubrum). It seems an oxymoron but it’s a pleasure to drive on the highway and have great clouds of red along the side of  the road indicating the our earliest Spring tree is getting ready to leaf out. As predicted, this Spring will be one of an explosion of colors more so than the normal succession as plants roll out their Spring finery.


I am also seeing an awful lot of Winter damage to a wide variety of plant material. Things like Yews which qualify as one of the cold-hardiest plants grown in our area have Winter burn. Another surprising plant with burn is the overused Leyland Cypress. Less surprising are things like Holly cultivars, Hydrangea and Sarcococca. It remains to be seen the effect the cold weather had on Crepe Myrtle as this is one of the latest plants to leaf out. I believe we will not see the total effect until mid-Summer when hot weather will deliver the coup-de-grace to plants barely hanging on after unseen damage to their root systems. I think back onto the importance of late Fall watering of newly planted plants and less hardy shrubs to give them a better chance at surviving a harsh Winter. A good thing I am observing here on my property (Zone 6) is a windbreak of Yoshino Cryptomeria which are about 9’ tall that I planted 3 years ago. They are in perfect condition with no dieback or burning! They even held their good green color throughout the Winter. Kudos to the breeder of a Cryptomeria which appears to be Winter hardy in our area.

Snowdrops - a reliable late Winter bloomer

Snowdrops – a reliable late Winter bloomer

Casa Blanc Lily peeking through the snow

Casa Blanc Lily peeking through the snow


We are all confused/upset/frustrated with the never ending Winter we seem to be stuck in. 8” of snow on St. Patrick’ Day? Yes it seems totally absurd but our weather so far to me, is just another example of typical Baltimore-Washington weather. In other words – anything goes. Remember last Spring? It was gorgeous the way Spring unfolded with cool temps well into May. Spring blooming times were extended and the colors were just gorgeous. But then again, it was the first time in my 37 professional years that we had a frost warning as late as May 24th. Where weather is concerned in our area, crazy is a good descriptive.


The cold temperatures we have been having for nearly 10 weeks will lead to a lot of disappointed gardeners who regularly push the envelope (like me) with marginally hardy plants. Most of these will perish along with pretty harsh damage to old standbys like Nellie Stevens Holly, Crepe Myrtle and Camellias. Hopefully most will be in the form of winter scorched leaves and not dieback.  Anyone remember the Winter of 1979 when it seemed as if all the Crepe Myrtles in the Washington, DC area died back to the ground?


There are some good things that come out of Winters like this one. Spring will be delayed (obviously) and when it comes it will be sudden and spectacular. We will most likely experience a compressed flowering season where plants that normally bloom in something resembling succession will probably overlap. It could be gloriously long or spectacularly short show of color depending on the weather when Spring does happen. The melting snow over the last 3 months really helps to replenish our water table and also acts as a protective layer of insulation for those marginally hardy plants. Remember snow on the ground is very close to the freezing mark while the air temps could be well below that. We take water for granted in our area but there are portions of this country that have very serious decisions to make concerning their water supply. Lastly for serious gardeners, a brutal Winter just provides us with more space in our gardens to try new things.


Happy gardening!

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.