When summer temps and humidity peak, it’s helpful to have a shady spot in your yard. If you don’t already have such a space, now is a great time to do something about it.
Start by walking around your yard and observing those shady nooks and crannies created by large trees, house shadows, or large urban buildings if you are a city-dweller. Is there a certain time of day where your space gets cooling shade? How long does this particular area stay cool?
Our blogs on creating garden rooms will give the basics on how to create a special retreat space. This blog focuses on turning the challenges of shade into opportunities. Following are tips for transforming your shady area into a lovely, inviting space.
Begin With Purpose
Create a purpose for the space. Ask yourself: Do I want to sit and read? Entertain? Eat breakfast? Improve curbside appeal? Or just view the space from my kitchen window? Answers to these questions determine seating, focal points and plant selection. A reading space requires comfortable seating. A space viewed from the house has a focus on seasonal interest, especially winter interest. A shady, front area under a large tree should tie into the rest of the foundation planting by repeating color, plants, and texture from the other parts of the yard. Repeating garden elements ties the space together. In addition to choosing similar plants, repetition can also be achieved with garden benches from the same furniture line, pots of the same color, and pieces of art.
Don’t Plant Wimps
Shed Some Light
Plant selection is key to your success, and is driven by soil and light. If your shade is created by towering trees or urban buildings, you will be dealing with large roots, clean building fill, and poor soil. Your glass is half full, not half empty. With careful research or help from a professional, you will discover ways to reclaim this space. Observe the light conditions. If you have dappled shade versus deep shade, your plant selection will increase even with just a little sun. Pruning a tree by heightening it’s canopy and thinning will not only give the tree a lovely shape, but also shed a little light on the plants below.
Lighten Up Those Shadows
Rocks, Roots, Mulch and Poor Soil
Soil amendments and mounding beds will help improve soil. If you’ve lost plants and nothing (not even weeds) grow in your shady spot, be sure to get a soil test. Your soil test may recommend improving soil with amendments. Organic amendments include sphagnum peat (non renewable), wood chips, worm castings, grass clippings, straw, compost, manure, biosolids, sawdust and wood ash. Inorganic amendments include vermiculite, perlite, tire chunks, pea gravel and sand. Preserve the health of your large trees by never mounding soil or mulch around the base of your tree. For information on volcano mulching please read our blog. Landscaping fabric discourages healthy soil. Soil is living and it's health requires the free movement of worms and bugs. Landscaping fabric also inhibits the spreading of perennials and shrubs. If you have a weed or invasive species problem, minimize chemical use by laying thick layers of newspaper or cardboard under the mulch. This will help suffocate plants and eventually decompose.
Believe It Or Not, Beware Of Heat
If you live in an urban garden, your space is protected from winds and you can often experiment with plants that grow in a higher hardiness zone. The benefit is that you can enjoy greater plant diversity than your suburban neighbors. However, be cautious and observant of the impact radiant heat has on shade-loving plants. Keep shrubs away from dryer vents. The heat from various home vent systems prevents dormancy or wakes a plant up too early in the spring. This damages and sometimes kills shrubs. Perennials are often o.k. in soil planted beneath a vent.
We got into lots of detail with this blog on creating a sanctuary in the shade. Our hope is that you will understand that the challenges of designing and maintaining a pretty shade garden are fairly minimal. And just think of the payoff! A cool spot to drink iced tea with a friend. Enjoy!
Learn more about designing your garden or landscape visit our blog menu and read about bones of the garden, creating garden rooms, and color inspiration for your containers.
What makes a garden unique, special, and stunning? Selectively choosing a statement piece. Adding a distinct feature to your outdoor space shares a piece of the gardener's personality and offers visual pleasure. Statement pieces are special and make an impact. Create a statement by introducing into your garden: fire and light, sculpture, a unique garden gate, wall art, bold umbrellas and rugs, or a mass planting of uniquely paired annuals. Take note that too many features make the landscape appear busy and messy. Choose wisely and place in strategic locations. Use them like a period or exclamation point at the end of a sentence. A sculpture at the end of a garden bed or near a door draws the eye and offers a hint of what to expect within the garden space. Statement pieces attract attention and allow the eye to pause and rest, so never place focal points near an eyesore like a gas meter, trash can, or A/C unit. Instead, place them for a strategic view from the house --like a kitchen window, near an outdoor seating area, close to a front door, or framed by an arbor. Have fun and experiment.
Fire and Light
Fire dances in the shadows of evening and warms the view as well as the space on a cool night. Fire pits don't have to look like a camp site. Unique lights and fire balls extend their function by not only serving as a daytime sculpture but accenting a dark space at night.
Sculpture placed on an empty wall or in a garden bed can be whimsical or artistic. This is an opportunity to put your personal stamp on your outdoor space. It can be a small surprise only discovered while walking on a garden path or something more bold like a decorative metal screen.
Garden gates mark the entrance to a garden space. They create a curiosity to explore what is beyond. Some gates are more transparent than others offering a brief glimpse into a garden. Others are opaque and give off the vibe of 'privacy only'. Most gates viewed from the front of the house compliment the architecture of the home, while gates within a back yard garden are more informal and whimsical.
Whether living or not, wall art visually anchors an outdoor entertainment area, fills a drab wall or fence, and can serve as a focal point.
Bold Umbrellas and Rugs
Umbrellas and statement rugs add color to an urban space that doesn't have much green space for plants. Umbrellas give visual privacy from onlookers who live uphill from your home or from apartment dwellers viewing down on your space. Umbrellas, of course, provide shade for your outdoor space and your planters and pots. If you have an old deck or plain concrete patio, add personality and define a space...especially for sprawling decks. Rugs can help carve out the dining space from a seating area.
Moving water serves many purposes in a garden. Splashing and bubbling adds white noise and buffers traffic and neighborhood sounds. The movement is relaxing and offers a place for the eye to rest. In the evening light dances on it's surface, adding interest to an evening landscape. Finally, sweet little birds might stop by for a refreshing drink or a cooling dip.
Choosing unique colors and mass planting in pots or garden beds will draw attention. It is a fun way to add a statement and to experiment seasonally with a variety of plants and colors. If you are the type of person who likes to spice up a space, this might be an inexpensive way to add fun and visual impact. Even if you don't have a lot of planting beds, unique pots and plants serve the same purpose.
Remember that incorporating one of these elements in your garden is enough to make a statement. Though it may be tempting, adding too many bold elements overwhelms the senses. A garden should offer respite.
"Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace."
May Sarton, poet
To welcome summer guests, adding a touch of the garden to what you serve will really elevate your style. In addition to a garnish, flower petals look lovely on a green salad, frozen in ice cubes, and topping your favorite cocktail. Other ideas are decorating cupcakes with violets, steeping fresh chamomile flowers for tea, and stir-frying a daylily bud. By adding color and flavor to your dishes, edible flowers are a perfect way to add a gourmet touch to entertaining.
Most edible flowers are best eaten raw and taste best right after they have opened. Critical facts to remember:
1. Not every flower is edible.
2. Avoid flowers sprayed with insecticide, fungicide or herbicide. This is especially important for roses and dandelions.
3. Never harvest roadside flowers or eat florist flowers.
4. Use sparingly.
5. Identify the part of the flower that is edible. For example honeysuckle flowers are edible but the berries are poisonous.
Flowers can be sweet, floral, citrusy, bitter, tangy or even "pea like." If you're interested in using flowers in your summertime fare, check out these resources:
Have you ever watched a dog explore? Dogs follow their noses, and pick up and often chew and swallow the objects that pique their curiosity. Regardless if those objects are even edible! Therefore, as dog owners or dog admirers, we should know which plants contain toxins that can harm pets. Even though your dog may not commonly dig or eat plants, he or she might get enticed to follow a chipmunk or mole. Pets may come across any number of plants while outside, especially if they pick up the scent of other animals. Below is a list of outdoor plants that you may find in your yard that are poisonous to dogs.
These plants are from the be.chewy website which includes a list of 50 indoor and outdoor plants. I chose plants commonly found in the backyards of the North Eastern U.S., including common vegetable garden plants. For the complete plant list, visit the be.chewy website.
Now that spring is here, I bet you are chomping at the bit to start filling planters. Planters can be used for annuals, perennials, vegetables, shrubs, trees and succulents. Choosing the correct planter size will improve plant health. If you think of a planter as your plant’s home, you might be more inclined to consider the importance of the planter size and shape. These factors impact the air:water ratio within the soil. Other factors include drainage and planter material. Believe it or not, taking the time to select the right pot is a big part of growing outdoor plants that thrive.
The most common pot materials are plastic, fiberglass, resin, and terracotta, or clay. Plastic, fiberglass and resin pots are colorful, lightweight and low-cost. They tend to retain moisture, so you'll water less frequently. Choose plastic when weight counts, such as with hanging baskets or plants on a wall shelf. Resin pots can be made from recycled materials, making them earth-friendly. In addition, resin withstands expansion and contraction with weather changes, and is very lightweight. Terracotta pots are heavier, offer beautiful patterns and typically cost more. These pots are porous, so plants need water more frequently. Once filled, a large terra cotta pot may be too heavy to move without help. Terracotta is the perfect choice for plants that like dry or well-aerated soil, including cacti, succulents, orchids and bromeliads. Porous ceramics like terracotta will dry more evenly than plastic pots, and any wood planter will dry even faster than terracotta.
Always select planters with drainage to prevent root rot. It's totally possible to make planters without drainage work with a little finesse:
Knowing that for containers with identical volume, tall, narrow pots dry out faster than short, wide pots. Steer clear of choosing a tall, narrow pot for plants that like to be kept uniformly moist at all times. That same tall, skinny pot could be perfect for a specimen cacti.
Conversely, a short and wide bonsai dish style pot could be ideal for carex or iris plants that naturally live in bog-like conditions and like to be kept wet. Although you’ve probably seen succulents planted in narrow containers. This only works if that same short and wide bonsai container has a succulent soil-less mix and has drainage holes located in the container’s base. A tall narrow container would be more ideal for succulents.
A plant's roots need room to grow in whatever container you choose. If the roots are restricted, it can affect the plant's ability to thrive. Containers that restrict roots can affect a plant's flowering, nutrient uptake and photosynthesis along with plant yield. (This is why you want to plant root-bound nursery stock in appropriate containers sooner rather than later in order to keep them healthy.) Containers that allow for more soil between the side and bottom of the container and plant roots protect the roots from hot and cold temperature extremes. Plants growing in a planter box without adequate space for root development may exhibit certain symptoms that can alert you to a problem. Plants with compacted roots will exhibit reduced growth. Chlorosis, which is a yellowing of leaves often caused by a plant's inability to take in key nutrients, is often seen in plants with inadequate root systems. You can also watch for other symptoms of restricted root growth, including dropping of new leaves, small leaves, stunted growth and plant wilting.
Planters for Vegetables
For most plants, a 6-to 8-inch-deep planter is sufficient. The depth may vary for some vegetables, however. Turnips, cucumbers, broccoli, beets, lettuce and green onions can all grow well in a planter box at that depth, but other vegetables, like cabbage, need a deeper depth of at least 10 inches. Vegetables like tomatoes, carrots and peppers require a deeper container of at least 12 inches. To make sure any vegetable root balls have adequate growing space, leave 2 inches of space on the roots' sides and 6 inches on the bottom.
Planters for Flowers
Annuals flowers most often have a shallow root system and grow well in a planter box with an 8-inch depth. Perennials, like bulbs, require a deeper planting box depth. Large bulbs require a planting depth of 8 inches, which means the planter box should allow for the 6 inches needed at the bottom, as discussed earlier, making the depth at least 14 inches. Most smaller bulbs are planted at 3 to 4 inches deep, so they would do fine in a planter box with an 8-inch depth. Reading the package or container planting instructions can help when determining proper planter box depth.
Planters for Trees and Shrubs
Planters need to be large enough to allow sufficient root development relative to the top growth and to anchor the tree when the wind blows. Even the smallest trees (except perhaps the smallest dwarf conifers) should have pots of at least 20 inches across. You can undersize the pot if you compensate with diligent watering and feeding, but generally, the larger the pot, the better. Adequate pot size will minimize the stress of fluctuating soil temperatures and moisture. A well-sized pot for a tree placed on a deck should prevent it from tipping in a windstorm. Pots also need to be frost-proof and resistant to UV damage. Wooden, fiberglass, cast concrete and high-grade plastic are most desirable. Planters must drain freely to prevent waterlogged roots. According to Monrovia Growers, taller shrubs and trees should be planted in containers ⅓ of the plant’s height.
As you’ve learned from this blog, there’s more to selecting the right container for your outdoor plant than picking a pretty pot. Be assured that paying attention to air:water ratio will help your plants thrive in their outdoor containers. For design ideas, read our previous blog, Color Combinations for Your Containers. Enjoy making your outdoor spaces more colorful!
In case you missed it.....
"I realized when you look at your mother, you are looking at the purest love you will ever know."
Spring will be in full swing by Mother's Day. What better way to honor the sweet woman who raised you than by choosing a unique gift which celebrates her devotion to her garden? Mothers of all ages would be grateful to receive any of these charming presents. Hoping you get to spend quality time with your mother this Mother's Day!
When performed properly, pruning maintains the health and beauty of a tree. It is a blend of science and art. If done hastily and improperly, it can cause irreversible damage and introduce diseases and pests. Every pruning cut is a wound, and done correctly allows the tree to heal itself. There are common mistakes to avoid when pruning trees and shrubs:
Pruning Without Purpose
Knowing what you are trying to achieve determines the tools you will use and the cuts you will make. Why prune plants? Some reasons include:
Over the decades I have fond memories of creating a children’s garden with my four children (now grown). In the 1990’s I started my first perennial and annual garden and had many successes and failures. I’d like to share some of my lessons learned and my favorite easy-to-grow seeds. I call these my ‘toss and grow’ seeds. You basically toss them into the ground, rake a little soil over them and water.
Zinnia: These are my favorite and top the list because: deer and rabbits do not eat them, they come in a variety of colors, heights and sizes. The flowers make excellent bouquets and the plants thrive with the pruning from cutting the flowers. They require full sun and air circulation to prevent mildew.
Cosmos: These are second on the list as they are also deer and rabbit resistant. They come in a variety of colors and sizes. The only reason they are not number one is that they tend to self seed and come back as their parent plant...tall (3’ or more) and all pink/purple. The finches love to eat the seed heads in the late summer. In your fall clean up, be sure to remove these plants at the end of the season.
Cleome: These are literally toss and grow seeds. These seeds need light to germinate, so you don’t even need to rake soil on top of them. The flowers are pink, purple, white and fuchsia. They will self-seed and also resemble their parent plant. Remove the seed pods before they burst or leave them for larger flowers the following year. However if your original seeds were short and a unique color, the self seeding will be tall and pink/white. Deer and rabbit-resistant is another big pro to this prolific bloomer!
Pumpkins : We have had so much fun growing Cinderella pumpkins. Once we even received a citation from the municipality because a grumpy person didn’t like the leaves growing on the broken, public handrail near the garden. We had a good giggle at this. Choose seeds that have a short growing cycle so they are ready for fall carving. Be sure to throw out old pumpkins because decaying pumpkins attract rats, deer, and other rodents.
Nasturtium: These flowers have large seeds and a high success rate, making them wonderful for children to plant. The flowers are also edible! They come in a variety of colors. Deer tend to avoid this peppery- flavored plant. An old-fashioned plant, nasturtiums deter pests by masking the scent of plants commonly targeted. The strongly-scented leaves actively repel certain pests and attract others as a “trap crop.” Nasturtiums can be planted as a sacrificial companion crop to attract cabbage white butterflies. This way, they’ll lay their eggs on your nasturiums, not your brassicas: broccoli, cabbage and kale. Nasturtiums can also help repel insects from eating your cucumbers and squash. Lastly, this charming plant’s blooms are important pollinators for bees and hummingbirds.
Other plants which are easy to grow but unfortunately, tasty to deer, groundhogs and rabbits are:
For plants that readily self-sow, the cycle begins when spent flower heads drop their seeds in autumn, and the seeds germinate in the spring as the soil warms. Seeds from heirloom flowers grow true to the parent stock. Hybridized seeds regrow with a variety of characteristics from the plants used to create the hybrid, so results are unpredictable. What you get is fun if you’re open to all of the possibilities. But if you selected the hybridized seeds for a specific quality, such as height, you might be unhappy with seedlings from the previous year’s flowers.
Be sure to read seed labels for spacing and sun requirements. Always plant once the soil has warmed and the risk of frost has passed. If you don’t have a sunny garden spot, consider planting some seeds in a pot on a bright deck or patio. Happy Planting! And Happy Spring!
As temperatures rise, people like us (avid gardeners) flee to warm and inviting greenhouses to herald the beginning of spring. Filling your pots with the proper soil mixture ensures long blooms and healthy potted plants. We’ve spent several blogs on container gardens (link) and design. In this blog, we will explain what soil is best for potted plants and how to purchase or create your own.
Potting Soil Myth
“Potting soil” actually doesn’t contain soil. It is a soilless blend of ingredients used to grow plants. Regardless of what you are planting, the differences between good quality potting mixes and soil are:
In general, soil straight out of your garden is too heavy, drowns roots and prevents air circulation in pots. Tip for success: Do not buy bagged garden soil or use soil taken from or intended for garden planting. Potting soil and garden soil are not interchangeable.
Before purchasing or making your own potting mix, it is always a good idea to start with these questions:
Why Potting Mix Matters
Potting mixes are lightweight, retain moisture, and they supply plenty of air space around the roots. Air space is actually one of the most critical aspects of potting mix. If the roots don’t have enough air, a plant usually doesn’t survive. Although the ingredients tend to vary, good mixes always contain an organic component (peat moss, compost, bark), vermiculite or perlite (to help retain moisture), sand, nutrients and limestone. Some contain fertilizer or moisture-retaining treatments, usually indicated on the label. Knowing what is in the potting mix is key to determining whether it will be a good match for the plants you are trying to grow. General potting mixes will work fine for most annuals and vegetables grown in containers, but they may hold too much moisture for orchids, succulents or cacti. Specialty mixes are sold for these plants and, while not absolutely necessary, can provide benefits. (Emma Erler, a landscape and greenhouse field specialist at the University of New Hampshire Extension)
Potting Mix Ingredients
Educating yourself on the basic ingredients is a good way to determine the best potting mix for your needs.
For a review of the best gardening soils to purchase, try the links below. Nowadays, it is hard to decipher whether the review is being sponsored and if reviews are honest. Regardless, these sites contain some useful information. There are some excellent quality bagged soils available. Just make sure to read the labels to ensure the ingredients match your plant’s needs.
If you are a DIY, you can easily make your own potting mix, and even include children in the process. Be sure to know what you plan to grow. Use the recipes to create a mix to best care for your plant. Happy Spring Planting!
6 DIY Potting Mix Recipes from Savvy Gardening
With the holidays approaching, we’ve compiled a list of items any home gardener would like to receive. The common theme here is pragmatic and affordable. Prices for gifts range from $10-$80. Each of these items serves a purpose, whether it is to start a cutting garden or protect your hearing. When you decide you want some of these items, remember to share the link with your loved ones.
This kit is perfect for the budding flower grower and contains all the essentials to kick off a successful growing season. Save 10% off individual retail prices when you purchase this collection that includes:
Rose Success Kit
Grow your loveliest roses yet with our top three rose products, and save money too. We've put together everything you need to ensure healthy, abundantly blooming roses.
Hand selected for color and form, these special assortments of Floret's cutting garden favorites are guaranteed to create abundant, foolproof bouquets all season long.
Galvanized Flower Caddy
Unique flower caddy goes from garden to house with ease. This rustproof and watertight container carries cuttings or displays seasonal bouquets. Vintage-inspired caddy is made up of four conjoined French flower market buckets, which give it stability as well as unique style. Galvanized-and-wood handle for single-handed carrying ease. Gather long-stemmed blooms, dogwood, willow branches, winterberries, and more. It's actually perfect for picking; with a little water in each bucket, cuttings will stay fresh until you can get them indoors.
These winter shrub and small tree protectors are superior to burlap, and will last for years. Cut this durable and flexible coconut husk fabric to size with scissors. You invest a lot of time and money to purchase and care for your plants. Protect them from sun scald, wind, snow and salt spray.
Crescendo Gardening Ear Plugs are the first ear plugs designed especially for gardening and yard work. Whether you are just whacking a few weeds or working toward that picture-perfect golf course quality lawn, Crescendo Gardening is the perfect way to ensure your hearing stays protected while you work. And thanks to the enormous selection of home and garden gadgets available today, keeping a nice lawn and a beautiful garden has never been noisier. These great ear plugs provide NRR 16 hearing protection overall, with up to 25dB of protection at some frequencies.
Crescendo Gardening Package Includes:
2 sets of interchangeable tips (small and large)
1 set of interchangeable Gardening sound filters
1 rugged aluminum screw-top carry case with key chain
Deep Drip Watering Stakes
$7-$10 each (pending length)
Plant roots will reach and grow towards where they find water. DEEP DRIP® stakes release water deep into the ground, encouraging plant roots to grow deep into the soil, instead of coming up to the surface looking for a surface/shallow water source. Deep root watering leads to healthier, stronger, and of course, deeper roots. Deep seated roots also help to prevent tree uprooting during strong winds, hill erosion, and damage to structures, foundations, and sidewalks that could otherwise be caused by uprooting.
Mechanic's supplies help you lay the foundation for beautiful arrangements that stay in place. Pin frogs allow you to securely arrange heavy, woody branches in even shallow vessels. Hairpin frogs allow you to insert stems at any angle and create lush, trailing bouquets.
This gorgeous journal brings the beauty of Floret to every note and memory. With seasonal photographs of glorious blooms and inspiring quotes about the natural world throughout, this is the perfect companion for any flower lover.
This list is certainly not exhaustive. But it should inspire our family and friends to select a gift we’ll actually use more than an ugly Christmas sweater! Some of our blogs compliment these gifts, so be sure to read during the holidays and share the links with your friends and family.
Thank you for finding us! Holly and I have collaborated to bring you informative, fun, and seasonal garden inspiration blogs.
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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.