Non-profits, Eagle Scout projects, libraries, churches, religious buildings, and public spaces are areas where people seek to create memorials for loved ones, to mark the remembrance of an important event, or to create a meditative space. Landscaping in the front of religious and non- profit buildings is important because it communicates an image to the community and the people they serve. It is the first thing clients, worshipers, and donors see when entering a building. These spaces need to be inviting, low maintenance, budget friendly and sometimes communicate the mission or vision of the organization.
This blog post will outline what you should know when designing and maintaining small volunteer public spaces, like the areas outside of a library, landscapes surrounding non-profit buildings and worship spaces, as well as memorial gardens. If you are planning to memorialize a loved one at your church, park or school, you can use these guidelines when discussing options with your organization.
Let’s say that you have determined the location of your project. There are several questions you need to ask yourself before you can begin:
What is the budget?
Determines level of donor funds required for immediate installation and for maintenance.
How will the space be used?
Defines the material used, orientation of seating, safety and lighting issues, and location of memorial plaques or signs. If it is a prayerful space, consider buffering for sound and traffic noise.
When will the space be used?
This will influence specific choices in lighting, accessibility, safety and weather factors like wind, salting and shoveling.
Who are the key players and decision makers?
Identify if there are councils, leaders or volunteer boards that need to be involved. Clearly understand how often communication needs to take place and who has final approval of various aspects of the project.
Assess your growing conditions, and select only plants designed to thrive in those conditions.
Careful evaluation of sun, shadows, salt spray, and utilities (above and below) saves money. Selecting native plants will improve chances of success. Natives rarely require pesticides. You’ll also save money which would have been spent replacing dead plants which weren’t well-suited for the location.
Who will install and manage the installation?
If you have the money and materials, now it’s time to evaluate the number of volunteers needed to install your plan. This effort may simply require working with a maintenance staff member, but it may involve coordinating many people over a weekend. Though it may seem obvious, ensure someone is in charge of the volunteers.
What are the maintenance requirements and how much will maintenance cost? This is probably the most important question that determines the success of the project.
Who will weed, water and mulch? Who will treat pavers or concrete? Restain wood bench? Manage pests?
Even an aluminum bench in the woods needs annual tending to keep weeds from growing up and around it. Not only do project volunteers have to consider weeding and annual mulching, but hardscape maintenance is also part of maintenance consideration: pavers need treated with silicon, concrete needs sealing, light bulbs need replacing.
How and who will maintain the site?
An often overlooked, but necessary aspect of planning ensures the space achieves and keeps its goals for many years.
Key Design Principles for Sites on a budget and managed by volunteers:
Know your site conditions: Evaluate planting zone, sun, soil, moisture, wind, utilities, snow, salt spray, deer browsing and safety concerns.
Choose plants that are low maintenance: Read labels and choose plants that require minimal pruning. Choose plants that are disease and pest resistant. Native plants often fit the bill and new cultivars are bred to be friendly for a small garden.
Plant in layers: When the garden is mature, plants should cover the soil so that minimal mulch is needed and weed seeds can’t contact bare soil. This doesn’t mean beds are overplanted. It means that low-growing ground covers and shrubs serve as a “green mulch.”
Quality: Benches are commonly used to memorialize loved ones. Invest in commercial grade benches, planters and lights. Residential quality products purchased at local stores will disappoint and require replacement. Commercial grade products last decades. By choosing commercial grade products, planting the right plant in the right spot, and choosing low maintenance plants, you increase the likelihood the space will achieve its long-term goals at minimal cost.
Let’s take a look at a couple of examples to illustrate designs and effort required for non-profit landscapes.
This non-profit serves the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of homeless pregnant mothers and their children in Pittsburgh. The volunteers purchased a friary perfectly suited for the mission. The landscape needed to be low maintenance, low budget, and fit into a residential neighborhood. When residents walk through the beautiful, original door, the board wanted to recreate the feeling of ‘coming home’ rather than living in a commercial ‘facility’.
The home’s outside plant material was overgrown and had invasive ivy growing on the building. The board organized a group of 100 volunteers over a weekend to rip out and install the foundation planting. A local landscape center sold plants at a discount. The growing conditions are part sun with an abundance of deer. Plants used were: Clethra, Deutzia, Boxwood, Bird’s nest spruce, dwarf Korean Viburnum and mixed begonia. These plants won’t outgrow their space, have little pest and disease issues and, with the exception of begonias, offer four seasons of interest.
St. Bernard Catholic Church - Pittsburgh
Donor Garden to Memorialize a Young Member of St. Bernard Church in Mt. Lebanon, PA
The purpose was to have a space to memorialize a loved one. The space chosen is in the front of St. Bernard Catholic Church located on a major road used by commuters and passed by pedestrians. The site is also located at a stop light. The donor garden communicates the Patron Saint of the church, Saint Bernard. Traffic moves quickly past this location.
QA Architecture was hired to design the hardscape and Gwen’s company designed the plantings to reflect the architecture and symbols of St. Bernard. The installation was completed by professional contractors. Maintenance is done by paid staff at the church. Massed plantings of boxwood, hydrangea paniculata and “knock out” roses were used to create a long season of blooming and compliment the formal architecture of the building. Annual pruning and a small amount of mulch are the only maintenance needed at this site.
St. Bernard needed to move a beloved Mary statue and create a prayer and meditation space that could also be used for seasonal celebrations, like May Crowning and First Communion celebrations for their elementary school. A church member donated funds for this project. The result is an attractive, peaceful space which naturally welcomes parishioners. Commercial grade benches and pots were used. Volunteers install annual plantings. Paid maintenance staff weed, prune and mulch this area. Plants used in this space were Ilex Opaca (Amerian Holly), Deutzia, Lilac and Roses.
Gardens in public places create a lasting impression. That’s why careful thought and planning should be done long before shovels touch the ground. These are the kinds of projects that deliver intangible benefits like welcome, hope, and love for our neighbors and community.
Native plants in a suburban garden get a bad rap. Natives have a reputation for being messy and hard to manage because they are often planted with perennials. Some gardeners leave their perennials to dry, which attracts birds. Others run out of time in the fall and wait to cut back their plants in the spring, leaving untidy beds. Regardless of your gardening style, native perennials, shrubs, and small trees deserve a place in your garden, according to Kate Brands, author of the book: Native Plants for the Small Yard. She says that natives are beautiful, have many ecological benefits and fit well into a residential landscape. Let’s explore why.
A plant is considered a native if it has occurred naturally in a particular region, ecosystem or habitat without human introduction. Ideally your native plant selection should first start in your region then expand to larger reference areas. To illustrate, let’s start with Pittsburgh, where Holly and I live. When I design a landscape, I start by selecting plants from Western, PA. If necessary, I’ll expand my search to native plants that grow across the entire state. Finally, should my client have a very specific need, then I expand the search to those which are native to North Eastern US, then to North America. Plants introduced during colonization by Europeans or in trade with South America, Africa or Asia are NOT native. Pennsylvania plants are primarily deciduous, so to create a foundation planting that has winter interest, we sometimes expand our tolerance for native plants to include evergreens from the broader North America. For a small city yard which has growing conditions in a zone higher than the suburbs due to radiant heat reflected from paving and brick, we occasionally consider native plants slightly south of our region.
Why use native plants? According to Kate Brands, at least one third of the world’s food supply is dependent on pollinators. Aside from the well-known honeybee there are thousands of species of native bees, wasps, moths, butterflies and other insects in North America that are important for pollination of our food. These native pollinators depend on native plant species for survival. Non-native plants are not part of this food chain. For example, most species of native caterpillars rely on native plants. In keeping with the idea of a food chain, many birds rely on these native caterpillars. One nest of baby chickadees requires 350 to 570 caterpillars every day, depending on how many chicks there are. So, an incredible 6,000 to 9,000 caterpillars are required to raise one clutch of chickadee to adults. Almost all baby birds require insects like caterpillars to grow, even birds that mature into seedeaters. What we plant in our landscapes determines what can live in our landscapes.
There are many other reasons for going “native.” Beauty is made easy. Native plants have a more subtle color palette that mimics nature, so they look naturally beautiful and unified to our eye when grouped together. Choosing a wide assortment of plants also ensures seasonal interest, with the bonus of attracting colorful birds and butterflies. Many people support the local food movement. Native plants are a keystone species for growing local food since so many pollinators depend on native plants to survive. Nature, which inherently includes native plants, gives people a sense of place. These plants are tied to the landscape and culture of our local area.
Native plants have less need for herbicides and pesticides, resulting in a healthier yard for your family and pets. Native plants co-exist with nature rather than competing with it, so they’re often easier to maintain than nonnative species. When used in stormwater management projects, native plants hold stream banks in place, prevent erosion, absorb water, and filter pollutants from our waterways.
Natives can also be used as alternatives to commonly sold invasive plants. This graphic is from Kate Brand’s book (Pennsylvania Natives):
Information rich resources include the websites listed below. They offer adjustable plans, plant lists for a variety of conditions as well as growing conditions for each plant.
The most challenging part of using natives in a small space is choosing trees. Often native shrubs will grow into small trees. For small yards, it is important that each plant works for the real estate it uses. Trees and shrubs should have at least two, and better yet, three seasons of interest. For example a chokeberry has spring flowers, summer berries and fall color.
Hopefully, we’ve made a strong case for integrating native plants into your home landscape. Natives are ideally suited for your local growing conditions. Many natives are keystone species, which are a vital link in the food chain. And lastly, natives are beautiful, require fewer pesticides, and are uniquely suited for water mananagement. Look for displays of natives at your local nurseries and public gardens.
Bark that doesn’t Bite: Plant profiles of trees that offer spectacular winter interest for small yards
Evergreens aren’t the only star performers in the winter garden. Many deciduous trees have four seasons of interest, offering a big impact in limited space. Their spring and fall leaf color are attractive and the bonus: their bark is their best attribute. As you plan for fall planting and save your money for spring purchases, consider adding trees that offer winter interest with their bark, branches and shape. Here are a few of the brightest and the best:
Coral Bark Maple
If you want to prevent mice, spiders and other pests from getting into your home, inspect pest entryways into your home and seal them. Entrances may include areas below your siding, door/window seals, dryer vents, and soffit gaps. For more information on fall pest control, visit Family Handy Man for useful tips and videos.
- Remove the leaves of irises to prevent borers from eating the rhizomes in the spring. All diseased leaves must be removed from the yard to prevent spreading diseases to plants or surrounding soil.
- Keep grass mowed until it stops growing. Remove leaves to prevent winter injury and damage from fungal snow mold diseases.
- Prune trees and shrubs to remove all dead and seriously cankered wood.
- Provide winter protection for roses, evergreens, young trees, and sensitive plants to prevent injury from wind and rock salt. Broken limbs are more susceptible to infections through their open wounds.
- Take a spin around the garden centers and capture some final sales. If it is too late to plant, just overwinter the plants in a cold garage. Proven Winners has informative tips on overwintering pots. https://www.provenwinners.com/overwintering-perennials-shrubs
- Visit an arboretum and note the beautiful fall colors. Consider adding one to your garden next year.
- Enjoy the harvest and collect seeds. Check out Fine Gardening for seed collecting details. https://www.finegardening.com/article/collecting-and-storing-seeds
- Shop local: Grab a friend. Go apple picking and visit your farmer’s market for final vegetable treasures.
- Many types of trees & shrubs
- Cold season Annuals
For good reason, most people think of spring as the preferred planting season. Landscape plants installed in March, April, and May benefit from generous rains and the long growing season that stretches ahead. But more often than not, many regions receive too much precipitation that makes planting difficult, especially on poorly drained sites. Furthermore, the sudden onset of hot, dry weather that typically displaces an often too-short spring can injure tender new plantings. Because of these difficulties, plant trees and shrubs during the period from mid-August to mid-October (zone 5 & 6). During this time, moderate and relatively stable air temperatures prevail, and soil temperatures and moisture levels are usually in a range that promote rapid root development.
If you wait too long into the fall season (November - December) to plant, you run the risk of poor root growth and increased failure rate. Conifers, in fact, need a slightly earlier start than hardwoods, preferring the warmer soil temperatures of the summer to early fall.
Some other slow- to-establish species are best planted in spring. These include:
Black Gum Tulepo
Nootka False Cypress
Stone Fruits (peach, cherry)
Lindens (other than silver)
Maples (other than red)
Kentucky coffee tree
Nurseries sell trees and shrubs in many forms—bare root, container-grown, balled and burlapped, or dug by tree spade. Transplanting can be successful with all forms. Always put extra effort into the planting process to ensure a good start for your plant. The faster the root system is re-established, the better the chances for survival, and the more rapidly your new tree or shrub will grow.
Before planting anything this fall, do some soul searching and ask yourself these questions: What do I want from this tree? (fall color, flowers, shade, fast growth, etc.)
- How much maintenance am I willing to provide? (No tree is maintenance free.)
- Where am I going to plant this tree and what kind of site do I have? For example, is the site wet, dry, sunny or shady? Is the soil loose or is it heavy clay?
- How much room do I have, and how big is this tree going to get?
- Are there any underground or overhead utilities that could interfere with the tree or that the tree will threaten?
September and October are the best months for planting bulbs. This will allow ample time for the bulbs to become well rooted before the ground freezes. Bulbs planted after October may not have time to root adequately and therefore may not flower uniformly in the spring. Freezing and thawing during the winter may also push an unrooted bulb out of the ground.
Plant the bulbs at a depth consistent with the level indicated on the bulb’s directions. As a general rule, this depth is four times the height of the bulb between the soil surface and the tip of the bulb. Make sure to plant the bulbs with the growing tip up. After the ground freezes, cover the bed with a 3-inch mulch to prevent alternate freezing and thawing that breaks roots and damages bulbs. When purchasing bulbs, be attentive to size. There is a direct correlation between the size of a bulb and the size of the flower grown from that bulb.
For more details on planting bulbs visit Colorado State University Extension website.
Most of the turf grass grown in Zone 5/6 lawns is “cool season,” including Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis), perennial ryegrass (Loliam perenne), and fine fescues (Festucaspp.) Because these grasses grow best in cool weather, late summer to early fall is an ideal time to plant a new lawn, patch bare areas, or overseed an existing lawn. Grass seed must receive regular irrigation, especially until it begins to germinate. This is more likely to happen naturally in fall rather than in spring, when the new grass must withstand hot summer days.
When purchasing, you may find grass seed embedded in what looks like dryer lint. The premise is that this will hold water when the seed is planted and watered. Though this may seem like a good idea, the best practice for getting grass seed to sprout is by making sure it has good contact with the soil. Loosening the top of soil before planting or raking the seed in will achieve this. Newly planted seed may be mulched with a light layer of straw.
Why should spring get all the glory? While you might not think of fall as a time to get outside and plant new perennials, it actually presents a golden opportunity to do just that. Not only is it bargain time for many perennials at the garden store, the growing conditions are perfect for establishing roots. In autumn, the garden’s peak is fresh in your mind, so it’s easy to remember where you need to add some pizzazz. Remember that dead spot you noticed in midsummer? How about the garden bed that needs a splash of yellow or blue? Now is the time to address those areas.
In Zones 6 and 7, the cool-down period starts around the end of September, about six weeks before the first fall frost. This is the ideal time to start your fall planting. In Zones 3 to 5, you’ll want to plant earlier if you can. And of course, Zones 8 to 11 can pretty much plant year-round without a problem. (Lucky!) Still, you want to get an early start to give roots time to get established. Wait until the soil freezes hard, then spread a few inches of mulch around your perennials—not to prevent soil from freezing, but to keep it from thawing. Roots that aren’t solidly anchored can “frost heave” out of the soil when the ground freezes and thaws, putting the plant in danger of getting killed by cold. Once mulch is on, you’re all set. Even if a few of your new perennials don’t make it, you’re probably still coming out ahead. Fall planting gives you a big jump on spring gardening, so you have more time in the busy season. Below are some perennials that do well when planted in the fall.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes a 3.5-fold increase in vector-borne diseases in the U.S. from 2004-2016, with more than 76 percent of cases caused by tick-borne pathogens. Most of those cases are Lyme disease. The state with the highest number of Lyme disease cases in the U.S since 2000 is Pennsylvania.
The consensus among researchers indicates that the increase in the tick population is due to:
- Shifts in land use which result in loss and fragmentation of the tick’s natural habitat.
- Changes in human or animal behavior that may bring ticks and hosts into closer proximity.
- Researchers believe the black-legged tick population might have exploded in recent years because timber that was cut down around 1900 is growing back and providing ticks with an expanded habitat, increasing their contact with people.
No. And that’s the tough reality. Landscape modifications can create an environment unattractive to primary tick hosts, such as deer and rodents, which may decrease the abundance of ticks that are present in parts of the yard. Fewer ticks have been found on well-maintained lawns. But ticks will always gravitate to woodlands, stone walls, heavy groundcover and ornamental vegetation. If your home garden contains plants which deer favor, or if your yard contains invasive, understory vegetation, ticks are more likely to be found. Landscape management alone may not reduce disease incidence, as the undetected bite of only one infected tick is required for transmission of B. burgdorferi type Lyme disease. This blog provides ideas on how to incorporate tick management into the landscape.
There are landscape design tactics to keep your family, friends and pets safe. Knowing just a little about tick behavior will assist in understanding what solutions will work to minimize your family’s and pet’s exposure.
Most (about 98%) Lyme disease cases are associated with the nymphal blacklegged tick, of which 10-36% may be infected with Lyme disease. Nymphal blacklegged ticks are about the size of a pinhead, difficult to spot, and are active during the late spring and summer months when human outdoor activity is greatest. About 75% of Lyme disease cases are associated with activities (hiking, fishing, horseback riding, farming, play, yard or garden work) around the home. Ticks do not jump, fly or drop from trees, but grasp passing hosts from the leaf litter, tips of grass, etc. Most ticks are probably picked up on the lower legs and then crawl up the body seeking a place to feed. Adult ticks will, however, seek a host (i.e., deer) in the shrub layer several feet above the ground, about or above the height of children.
Until a human vaccine for Lyme disease becomes available, people need to proactively avoid tick bites; regularly check for them after exposure in high-risk zones; and remove ticks properly and expediently. While ticks are unlikely to be encountered in open fields, children chasing balls off the field or cutting through woods to school may be entering a high-risk tick area.
Residential landscapes are designed for a variety of aesthetic or environmental reasons and “tickscape” practices should be integrated where Lyme disease is prevalent. In most cases, alterations will be made to an existing landscape, although landscape architects and designers should also incorporate tick- safe landscaping concepts into major renovations or new construction. Follow these simple landscaping techniques to reduce blacklegged tick population
- Deer, raccoons, cats and stray dogs bring ticks into the landscape. Prevent them from entering your yard by constructing fences.
- Remove old furniture, mattresses, or trash from the yard that may give ticks and their carriers (rodents) a place to hide.
Woodland edge and leaf litter are high risk areas for nymphal ticks. Altering the landscape to increase sunlight and lower humidity may render an area less hospitable to ticks. Open up your property to direct solar exposure. Management of the habitat should focus on the areas frequently used by the family, not necessarily the entire property. To reduce ticks adjacent to homes:
- Stack wood neatly and in a dry area (discourages rodents).
- Mow the lawn. Mowing and removing cover vegetation around the house also will discourage rodent hosts.
- Remove leaf litter accumulations around the house and lawn perimeter. Leaf litter and other plant debris can be raked or blown out from under shrubs and bushes. Composting or removal by appropriate bagging is an acceptable method of disposing leaf litter. Leaves should not be simply moved to another part of the property. The removal of leaf litter has been shown to reduce the number of young ticks on some properties. Some communities will compost collected leaves and provide the compost to residents for free or a nominal charge.
- Cut grass, weeds, and brush along edges of the lawn, masonry walls, and driveways.
- Prune plants to provide open space between the ground and base of the plant. Individual shade trees, with the exception of fruit trees like crab apple that are attractive to deer, and small ornamental stands in the open lawn will probably not contribute to the tick numbers unless surrounded by ground cover.
- Isolate areas used by the family or public (i.e., lawns, play areas, recreational or ball fields) from tick habitat or tick hot spots (i.e., woods, dense vegetation, groundcover, stone walls).
- Keep playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges and trees.
- Use hardscape and xeriscape landscaping (i.e., brick, paving, decking, gravel, container plantings, low water requirement plantings) in areas immediately around the house that are frequently used.
- Place a 3-ft wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to restrict tick migration into recreational areas.
- Avoid invasive plant species and plantings that are inappropriate for your location. Several guides and listings of invasive plants and native alternatives are available. Some nurseries are helping to assess invasiveness and introducing alternative cultivars.
- Ticks also may be found in groundcover such as Pachysandra. Restrict the use of groundcovers to less frequently used areas of the yard. Clean up the vegetation around or even seal stone walls near the house.
- Move swing sets and playground areas out or away from the woodland edge!
The use of hardscapes, mulches, and xeriscape landscaping techniques can help reduce tick habitat and isolate parts of the yard from tick hot spots. Hardscapes refer to non-living features of the landscape like patios, decks, and paths. Mulches are used to suppress weeds and help retain soil moisture, but also can help reduce tick movement. In the laboratory, landscape materials have been shown to deter tick movement and around homes. A three-foot wide or broader woodchip barrier may help reduce tick abundance on the lawn, although results vary widely from home to home and from year to year depending upon other factors (i.e. density of woods, amount of shade, initial tick densities.) Mulches can help reduce the number of ticks on the lawn and delineate the tick zone. Quality of the landscape material may also influence results as wood chips from chipped trees, especially if it contains leaves, quickly degrade and may soon become no different than leaf litter. The application of a barrier or buffer will be easiest where there is a sharp delineation between the woods and lawn. A pesticide application can be focused on the landscape barrier or buffer zone to increase the effectiveness of the barrier. Move swing sets and sandboxes away from the woodland edges and place on a covering of smooth bark, mulch or other suitable material.
Xeriscaping is the application of water-conserving landscape practices. This approach reduces habitat cover; helps isolate frequently used areas, can provide an attractive focal area in the yard or garden, and reduce maintenance and water, fertilizer, and chemical use. Many drought-resistant plants are also deer-resistant. Landscapes can incorporate formal or informal designs around play, eating, or pool areas. Landscape materials such as laid brick, wood decking, stone paving, raked gravel or pea gravel (set down slightly from bordering bricks, stone, or paved areas), and concrete (exposed aggregate can provide varying attractive colors and textures and edged with brick or tile) can be used to create a patio and paths. Some plantings can be in raised beds or containers.
Possible Landscape Design Options
Butterfly gardens in large, open, sunlit areas is an attractive alternative to an open expanse of manicured lawn. Clumps of nectar flowers can be separated from tick habitat by gravel or mulch paths or strips of lawn to reduce its potential for harboring ticks. A much larger separation also would minimize any impact from targeted use of pesticides for tick control.. Some nectar plants are deer- browse resistant.
Keep Biodiversity. Elimination of woodland and all wildlife habitats is not necessary or environmentally desirable. In cases where environmentally acceptable, consider alternatives to large tract of open lawn or only small lawn areas: butterfly gardens, vegetable gardens, formal herb gardens, colonial style gardens, wildflower meadows and hardscapes. Some evidence suggests a lack of biodiversity and a landscape that specifically favors deer and mice increases tick abundance and transmission of Lyme’s disease. The key factor appears to be the presence and abundance of deer. The objective of a tick management program is to discourage activity of several key tick hosts, and create a barrier between woodland habitat and areas the family uses most frequently.
- Be aware of your surroundings.
- Limit time in tick-infested areas.
- Use proper protection like clothing sprays
- Check for their presence after leaving area.
- Have another family member examine parts of your body you cannot see, such as scalp and back.
Tickscaping: download the PDF from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.
Lyme disease symptoms visit your doctor and read the information on the CDC website.
In PA contact the PA Tick Research Lab for a free tick test.
Keep tabs on rainfall and water as needed. Most plants need at least an inch of water per week, more if the weather is very hot and dry. Remember to water deeply. Install a soaker hose to a timer to keep any new plantings watered during busy work and family weeks as well as while you are on vacation. During dry spells, be sure to water the base of the plant. Wet leaves from overhead watering, combined with hot humid air, creates optimal conditions for disease. Sometimes there is too much rain. Waterlogged plants literally drown, because roots need air in the soil. Over-watered soil will cause slug populations to bloom; even worse is the ensuing fungal issues. While you can’t predict mother nature, you can control how much you manually water. Use a hand shovel and take an occasional inventory of soil moisture. Push away soil and observe how deep moisture is. If you’re planning a new garden, take into account wet areas and select plants that like ‘wet feet’. Another alternative is to make raised beds or mound beds. If you have a short- term problem, a simple trench funneling excess rain away from your garden may be enough. For more on too much water, check out this article. “Too Much Rain in the Garden--Managing Wet Dirt and Waterlogged Plants."
Deadhead your flowers for more blooms the next day. Roses and coneflowers respond well to this. Removing faded perennial flowers encourages the plant to send energy to its roots so it will bloom longer this season and better next year. Prune back any diseased or pest- eaten foliage and be sure to keep the soil clean of plant leaves. Pest- damaged debris on the ground may contain bug eggs that will hatch and re-attack your plants.
There are some plants that you may not want to deadhead because they serve as food for wildlife. For example, finches snack on coneflowers and Black-Eyed Susan seeds. Other plants, like foxglove and columbine, propagate by self- seeding and do not benefit from deadheading.
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All fertilizers are labeled with three numbers. These numbers represent the ratio of nitrogen (N), phosphate (P) and potassium (K). In basic terms, nitrogen promotes foliage growth, phosphate encourages healthy root growth and flower production and potassium promotes the overall health of the plant by building disease resistance. For annuals apply a fertilizer that has high amounts of nitrogen and low amounts of phosphate: 10-6-4, 24:12:17 or 20:10:20 or compost tea.
Problems in Summer:
Your landscape and soil are living and require maintenance. Have you heard of the saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?” This motto applies to the time we invest in the summer garden. Did you know that proper watering and timely feeding will prevent disease? Planting the right plant in the right spot remains one of the most important steps to ensuring its success. Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is part of an overall, healthy approach to managing pests. The goal isn’t to eliminate every bug, rather prevent major damage. Let’s face it, the bugs we dislike, are food for the birds we enjoy. And pesky, hungry caterpillars transform into butterflies. Resolve to allow for some pest damage, but not enough to totally destroy your garden and landscape.
Pests to Watch For: If you would like more information on identifying and managing specific pests, your local University’s extension office is a good place to start. Or use the links here.
The peak bloom time of midsummer is a smart time to assess your landscape and formulate a work plan. This is because your trees and shrubs have undergone their annual growth spurt. Based on your goals, your plan might focus on the maintenance of your existing trees, shrubs, and plants. Or maybe you plan to tackle larger projects such as planning a new garden room, the removal of overgrown shrubs or an unhealthy tree, or the addition of french drains or a new walkway.
- For inspiration, visit local arboretums and conservatories. Summer is a great time to harvest new ideas from other gardens in your area or while on vacation. Take advantage of local garden tours, public gardens, or parks to discover tips and tricks you can use in your own gardens. And be sure to bring a camera along to document what you see. Take note of interesting garden bed ideas, plant combinations, new introductions, or techniques you see as you tour.
- Design for year-round color and interest. It is tempting to go to the garden centers as soon as they open in April and purchase plants that are blooming. The natural consequence is having a garden filled with only spring interest. Do you have any gaps in your blooming cycle for summer, fall, and winter? Now is the time to eliminate the plants that you don’t like, and replace or add ones to fill in the seasonal gaps in your landscape.
- Edit your landscape. Many clients resist removing plants, but you shouldn’t hesitate to make changes which will make you happy. If you have a small yard keep high standards when it comes to performance. If a plant is not growing as expected, remove it, replant it somewhere else, or severely prune it. Save your replanting for a cool and cloudy day. And water the transplant religiously. Or, if you decide not to keep the plant which didn’t work in your space, offer it to a neighbor or friend.
- Start a Garden Journal. Take photos, from across the street or yard, and also close-ups of your favorite blooms. Note the name of each plant, bloom time, where you purchased it, when it was planted. Add this to your garden journal; if you don’t have one, start one.
- Plant a row of vegetables for the hungry. Dedicate this area for donation.
Gardens don’t have to be all work! Take advantage of the season by sitting outdoors to fully experience the scents, sounds, and beauty of your yard.
- Greet the mail carrier and people walking by. Watch the birds, butterflies and little critters. Sip a cool beverage.
- Reap a Harvest. Dry blooms of hydrangeas Or cut and arrange your flowers for a container on your porch, patio, or inside your home. Short on blooms? Supplement those stems with a bouquet from your farmer’s market or grocery store. Enjoy the unmatched flavor of fresh-picked vegetables.
- Sketch or paint a scene from your garden. If you weren’t blessed with an artist’s hand, invite someone who has the talent and might appreciate the inspiration.
- Share your garden with others, especially young children. Kids are such fun! Plus, they’re better at living “in the moment” and help us to see things in the garden which we’d overlook. Strolling through a garden with a child, be it your garden or a public one, is our opportunity to inspire future generations of gardeners!
An ideal mulch product mimics nature by covering plants with organic matter that provides nutrients and beneficial microorganisms to the soil. You probably use mulch to suppress weeds, but mulch does much more: it retains moisture, controls erosion, and moderates fluctuating soil temperatures in our plant’s root zones. When properly applied, at the right time and depth, it naturally enhances the soil and plants with the gradual decomposition of organic matter. A thin layer of about 2 inches is all you need to achieve these benefits, plus add uniform color to your garden.
To save you time and money, avoid these ten common mistakes:
This looks exactly like it sounds—a deep pile around the base of a tree trunk. This type of mulching causes the lower trunk to become waterlogged and eventually compacts and interferes with oxygen reaching tree root cells. Volcano mulching decays the tree’s bark and harbors rodents that chew on the base of the tree.
Better choice: Keep mulch away from the base of trees. (PSU Mulch Fact Sheet)
2. Using Fabric and Plastic Weed Barriers: These don’t work to keep weeds away and have negative side effects. These materials strangle plants, which require space to grow. These barriers also negate aeration and prevent the absorption of decomposed organic material.
Better choice: Don’t use weed barrier at all. Or remove the existing one. Use natural mulch.
3. Poor quality mulch: Cheap or free mulch, especially from landfills, can be very tempting, but it can be full of pesticides, dangerous tree diseases, pests, and weeds.
Better choice: Use a trustworthy supplier who offers a mulch that contains shredded bark, wood from trees, decomposed matter, and aged manure.
4. No Mulch: Gardens that have no mulch will dry out more quickly, get compacted, fail to adequately nourish plants, promote the germination and spread of weeds, and erode more quickly.
Better choice: Mulch or use ground cover plants. Once established, dense ground cover smothers weeds, casts shade to keep the ground cool, draws rainwater into the soil (particularly beneficial on a slope,) and is low maintenance. When ground cover fills in, no mulch is necessary.
For a list of excellent ground covers check out Blue Stone Perennials. This is unsponsored. I order from them every year, and if you live close to Cleveland check out the amazing annual June sale.
5. Using the same mulch depth for all plants. Too thick a layer of mulch inhibits the movement of air and moisture into and out of the soil.
Better choice: Follow the appropriate mulching depths for your plants.
3-4” for woody plants, keeping it away from trunks.
2-3” around herbaceous plants and keeping mulch away from crowns.
NEVER exceed 4” of mulch.
6. Do not use uncomposted wood chips as a mulch near houses or along driveways where vehicles will be parked. This kind of mulch provides ideal growing conditions for a troublesome fungus called "artillery fungus." The artillery fungus shoots spore masses that stick to vinyl siding, automobiles, and other objects. The dark spore masses, each up to 1/16-inch in diameter, are extremely difficult to remove and can be very unsightly.
Better Choice: Blend mushroom manure and mulch. Penn State researchers have discovered that blending 40 percent used mushroom compost with landscape mulch greatly suppresses the artillery fungus. Mushroom compost, or mushroom soil, is the pasteurized material on which mushrooms are grown.
7. Cocoa bean mulch smells good and is organic, but is toxic to dogs.
Better choice: Use another type of mulch.
8. Dyed Mulch, which unfortunately has become highly popular, may contain demolition debris and also be contaminated with lead paint, pressure treated wood, or other toxic substances. (More information further into this blog)
Better choice: Use organic mulch.
Better choice: Lay down newspaper under soil and mulch to kill grass and weeds.
10. Inorganic mulch (plastic, rubber, etc) does not contribute to soil or plant health and is usually more ecologically harmful to produce and transport. Products such as shredded tires are intended to provide a soft surface under playground equipment. It should never be applied to garden beds. As with landscaping fabric, leaf debris and other organic material cannot decompose into the soil. Plastic pieces and rubber also increase the heat of the soil, which may damage plants or affect the time plants go dormant in the fall.
Better choice: Use local natural mulch.
Did you ever think that your organic garden just might be topped off with a nice, thick layer of arsenic or chromate copper arsenate (CCA for short) or any one of many not-so-organic chemicals? The potential health risks are sobering and beyond the scope of this mention.
In 2004, the mulch and soil industry adopted standards prohibiting the use of CCA-treated wood in all consumer mulch and soil products. The Mulch and Soil Council (MSC) also developed a Product Certification program to help consumers identify mulches and soils that comply with industry standards and contain no CCA-treated wood. Certified mulches and soils can be found at major retailers and garden centers across the country. They are identified by the MSC Certification Logo on the package and are listed on the MSC Web site.
Colored Mulch can be toxic, bad for plants and harmful to children.
Most colored mulches are treated with harmless dyes, like iron oxide-based dyes for red, or carbon-based dyes for black and dark brown. Some cheap dyes, however, can be treated with harmful or toxic chemicals. This is pretty rare though, and most often, it is not the dye itself that is of concern, but rather the wood in mulches. Generally, if the price of dyed mulch seems too good to be true, it probably is not good at all. Spend the extra money for better quality and safer mulch. While most natural mulches, like double or triple shredded mulch, cedar mulch or pine bark, are made directly from trees, many colored mulches are made from recycled wood – like old pallets, decks, crates, etc. These recycled bits of treated wood can contain chromates copper arsenate (CCA). Using CCA to treat wood was banned in 2003, but many times this wood is still taken from demolition sites and recycled into dyed mulches. CCA treated wood can kill beneficial soil bacteria, beneficial insects, earthworms and young plants. It can also be harmful to the people spreading this mulch as well as animals who dig in it.
Safety of Dyed Mulch in the Garden
Besides the potential dangers of colored mulch for pets, people and young plants, dyed mulches are not beneficial for the soil. They will help retain soil moisture and help protect plants during winter, but they do not enrich the soil or add beneficial bacteria and nitrogen as natural mulches do. Dyed mulches break down much slower than natural mulches. When wood breaks down, it requires nitrogen to do so. Colored mulch in gardens can actually rob the plants of the nitrogen they need to survive.
Any organic material can be mulch, including ground-up leaves, compost, buckwheat hulls, ground-up bark, lawn clippings, wood chips, bark nuggets, or even stone. Bark mulch is the most common, but lighter mulches like buckwheat hulls and compost are better for perennial beds. Shallow-rooted perennials do better when they don't have to compete with heavy mulch for micronutrients in the soil.
Whatever material you buy, make sure it contains no weed seeds. Or later in the summer, you'll be in for a big surprise. If you're buying compost or horse manure, be sure it's aged (about 4-6 weeks,) or it can burn your plants. If you're worried about termites, use a mulch that has little or no actual wood in it. (Bark doesn't attract termites — it's the wood they feed on.)
How much should I purchase?
A yard of mulch will cover 100 square feet when spread 3 inches thick. Measure carefully, and buy only what you need. There's nothing more frustrating than paying for something and having a large pile of it left over. To calculate the amount you need, use Lowe's calculator.
Some like to mix compost into the mulch and a 1:4 ratio is good. However, it may be better to mix the compost into the top layer of soil, then mulch. This way, you are amending the soil, not the mulch. Often weed seeds develop in the mulch and the mulch breaks down faster when there is manure mixed in. By applying compost or manure under the mulch, you may be able to delay mulching to every two years.
(Unsponsored Information from Davey)
- Low Maintenance: You almost never need to replace them.
- Lower Cost: Because they’re longer lasting, it is generally less expensive to mulch with rocks.
- Fire-Proof: If you live in an area with wildfires, rocks could be better since they’re non-flammable.
- Weeds Be Gone: Rocks can keep weeds away longer.
- Wind-Resistant: Heavy rocks are great at preventing soil erosion in windy areas.
- Perfect for Rock and Cacti Gardens: Rocks are just right for these garden spaces!
- Too Hot: Rocks, especially lighter ones, raise the soil temperature, leading to stressed and thirsty plants.
- No Benefit to Plants: Rocks don’t aid plant growth or soil health.
- Messy pH: Most trees prefer acidic soil, but rocks create alkaline soil, which can hurt trees.
- Return of the Weeds: Wind will eventually blow soil between rocks, creating a spot for weeds to grow. Navigating through rocks to pull weeds is very challenging.
- No Good for Pruning: Rocks can prohibit rejuvenation pruning, creating unwieldy shrubs.
- Remove by Hand: If you want to remove stones, you must do it manually, which can be tedious!
Plant a 10 cent plant in a 10 dollar hole.
Feed the soil, not the plants.
Fertilizers, whether organic or chemical, may be a waste of effort and money if the plant cannot absorb them. Adequate nutrients may be physically present in the soil, but not available. In order for plant roots to obtain nutrients, there must be appropriate hydration and pH. The hydration and pH ranges differ for each plant, and most plant’s requirements can be found online or on their plant tag.
Hydration: Soil must be sufficiently moist to allow the roots to take up and transport the nutrients. Some synthetic fertilizers and chemical pesticides actually restrict water and air movement in the soil.
pH: The acidity of the soil must be within a certain range for nutrients to be releasable from the soil particles.
For example pH for grass is between 6.3-7.0 (slightly acidic to neutral), but the ideal pH for a rhododendron is between 4.5 and 6.0 (acidic).
When planning your garden or landscape you’ll want to include plant combinations that have similar hydration and pH needs. For example, you don’t want to plant acid loving Rhododendrons (4.5) with more neutral loving plants like lilacs (6.5-7.) Roses, however, prefer a similar pH to lilacs and would be a better complimentary plant.
You’re probably not a chemist, or a soil science major. So you might want to know: How do I feed the soil? What nutrients does my soil need? If your plants and grass are growing well, you don’t need to do anything. However, if you see plants that are suffering or a lawn that is bare or with a lot of weeds, do a soil test. It is like your doctor doing a blood test before prescribing a medicine. Fertilizers are expensive and you may not even need them because your pH or water factors may prevent your grass and plants from absorbing the nutrients.
Look into your state’s agricultural extension or cooperative office and obtain a soil test. It’s a simple test done for a small fee. The state university (Ex: Penn State, Rutgers, Cornell, Vermont, Va Tech) sends you a kit (some zip lock bags, directions, etc.) You mail in your soil and wait for the results. On the form, you indicate what you want to grow, such as grass, shrubs, vegetables, perennials. Then the test results will include recommendations for amending your soils for your growing requirements. Local Master Gardeners and extension offices are also informative and free resources for seeking answers to plant and soil problems.
Note about lawns and soil: pH, water, soil compaction and fertility impact weeds in your lawn. Adjusting your pH can reduce your weeds without ever using a chemical. You can reduce Clover, Dandelion, and Knotweed by adjusting your soil’s pH. Check out How to “read” the weeds in your yard. Applying high nitrogen fertilizers on lawns can disrupt the nutrient balance, accelerate turf growth, increase the need for mowing, and contribute to thatch buildup. The application of pesticides harms what is naturally essential for maintaining healthy soil and turf, microorganisms, beneficial insects and earthworms. Learn more about organic lawn care.
Still have weeds?
Plants look weak and are dying?
- Feed the soil, not the plant.
- Stop or reduce chemical use. Chemicals don’t feed the soil, and they harm the environment.
- Administer a soil test before putting nutrients into your lawn or planting beds.
- Know your plants and where they like to live. Make them feel at home with proper light, soil, water, and pH.
- Evaluate the compaction of your soil.
Gwen Wisniewski: Landscape and Garden Designer. Contact me. Let me help you integrate these garden inspirations. Choose the links below to find out more about my landscape design service or to make an appointment.
Holly Schultz: Blog & magazine writer and editor. Contact me for writing. I look forward to working with you.