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In shade gardening, drainage frequently becomes a problem especially if a slope is involved. As our chosen high canopy anchor trees get larger in our landscaping, the grass below becomes thinner and shallower rooted. This leads to the possibility of rutting created by runoff in anything but a mild drizzle. Sometime between year 10 and year 20 of your landscape, shade will eventually take over where you have chosen to plant top of the canopy shade trees. Annual aerating and seeding will go a long way to keeping your grass lush and thick. This particular turf area and gardens are in year 24 from their installation but even with copious amounts of care, the turf will eventually thin out.

If the shade garden is on a hillside, steps will need to be taken to prevent rutting. These steps can be as simple as adding a decorative gravel to the bed edges. In the case shown in this photo, the original grade worked fine until the shaded turf thinned out and started to rut. It was necessary to start over and regrade the area with a swale to funnel runoff into the center of the turf. I then reseeded and used a woven mat in the bottom of the swale to stabilize the soil until the new seed establishes itself and fills in.

Sometimes it becomes necessary to forego turf and try shade loving but aggressive groundcovers such as Mazus or Ajuga. Several of the Ajugas, such as ‘Black Scallop’ and ‘Chocolate Chip’, are on deer resistance lists. Some of the super dwarf Ophiopogon (Mondo Grass) are so low-growing that you could run the lawn mower over them without touching a blade. Mondo Grass would be the best choice if you wanted evergreen groundcover for our area.

stone edge

stone edge

Pruning

Pruning is one of the major tasks that we perform each year. If we have lots of moisture in May and June it starts to look as if we live in more tropical climes. The growth is just spectacular and abundant. This means we will spend two months pruning landscapes.

Daylilies

Daylilies

Coneflower

Coneflower

We do almost 90% of our pruning by hand using shears only on plants that clients like to see this look. Hand pruning gives us the ability to shape plants according to their natural shape. It also allows us to maintain this natural shape while letting light into the core of the plant and also maintaining plants to a certain size. This can be due to space limitations or simply the client’s wish to have a plant maintained at a certain size. Plants like Repandans Yew and Cherry Laurel can be pruned by selecting branches that are elongating and cutting them back inside the plant so that you are reducing the overall size of the plant, allowing light into the center and hiding all your cuts at the same time. Take a plant such as the Procumbens Juniper that has grown to the edge of the sidewalk. The only way lots of contractors cut this is with their line trimmer creating a wall of brown, unattractive Juniper. Using the hand pruning technique we are able to, in one session; remove the dead buildup from underneath the plant and allowing the beautiful top foliage to fall naturally to the edge of the pavement. This can be done year after year maintaining a nice, natural edge to the Juniper.

As is the usual in the Washington, DC metro area the Summer weather is pretty predictable. We are going to see hot, humid weather. The months of May and June were perfect incubators for fungal diseases as we had an abundance of rain with many days of constant cloudiness. Trees such as Sycamore saw their expanding leaves hit hard with fungus and defoliate. Cherries too. Sycamores have refoliated while Cherries and Amelanchiers will be ok but will not set new leaves. Lots of bizarre fungi are decorating our mulched beds. I normally see this on beds mulched with hardwood mulch but this is the first year I am seeing it in beds with shredded pine mulch.

Spring in Washington DC

March

                                                                                              

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.

Late Summer perennials

Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ combined with pink Aster

 

What will September bring? By most standards we have experienced a mild Summer. No drought and no extended periods of high temperatures. Gardens and lawns are very much appreciative and growth has continued uninterrupted. Asters, Helianthus, Jo Pye Weed, Crepe Myrtles and Toad Lilies – all blooming or coming into bloom as I write this. Proof that late Summer has plenty of color to offer gardeners. So far mother nature has cooperated by giving us timely rain. Remember though that plants can still use about an inch of water per week so don’t forget to water if the rains did not soak your neighborhood.

We are entering the window to work on our lawns here in late August. Depending on your lawns’ needs, that may be as simple as aeration and seeding or even a total restoration. If it’s the latter make sure to get your herbicide down now as the area being killed off will need a little recovery time before proceeding ahead with seeding.

 

 

 

I have a late season nesting of Wrens in a little ceramic house that hangs at the edge of my deck with the pond being just a few feet away. You can see the Wisteria that provides cover as the parents zoom in and out of their little house. It’s fun to watch and listen to them as they chatter away as the parents perform housecleaning and feeding chores. I don’t have any idea how many chicks there are but they are noisy when they are hungry. It sounds like a good healthy nest full. Here’s to successful fledging.

Wrens

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!