Thursday, April 17, 2014

Indoors, Outdoors

The heavy rain on Tuesday turned to snow. Temperatures plummeted, and for the past couple days it has been very cold. Well below freezing at night, and bitterly cold and windy in the daytime.

The sun is out today, but after breakfast, when I want to get outside and start working in the garden, it is in the 30s and unpleasant despite the strong spring sunshine.  It will warm, but only into the 40s today.

Inside, my seedlings are getting impatient. Starting them in the warm bedroom, under lights, has been great, but it's still weeks to go until the last frost date when I can plant them. They will have to stay in their pots for three more weeks! Some may be blooming by then.

I googled last frost dates for my zip code, and the last frost for here is May 10, which is about right. 

Zone 5 B, officially, although some maps show us as zone 6.

I am particularly concerned about the morning glory vines. I don't have sticks or supports big enough for them in their little pots and they are vining wildly already.

Outside, the star magnolia opened its first blooms a few days ago and they were immediately battered by warm winds. Then it snowed, and the nights got bitter, turning them limp and brown.

There are still some tightly closed buds, so if the temperature abates by the time they open, I may still see a starry white profusion of flowers on this pretty shrub. It's gotten to be a nice shape now.

As the day got up into the high 40s I did get outside and did some jobs best done in cool weather: I turned the compost row (achy body!), then used some of the nice turned moldy stuff to put around the blueberries in the field.

In the chill air, it was nice to see bright yellow Cornus mas blooming, unaffected by the subfreezing nights.

Did some more edging around the trees on the east side, trimmed the willows, raked the brown mess of persicaria, that kind of stuff.

We got 4 yards of 50-50 soil and compost from Envirocycle today, so that will get spread under the willows shortly. It's sitting on a tarp in the driveway now. Jim will help with moving it and spreading it over the next few days.

Still much to do. . . . 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Example of a Low Wall

Rain, rain, wind and rain today. Almost an inch by midday. It's warm -- in the low 60s. The lawn is suddenly a very vivid green.

So. . .  I'm inside looking at pictures. Found this on Pinterest and immediately knew I need to make a simple fix to the low stone wall that borders the east side of my house.

Here's the example I pinned of how the low border wall should look. A few larger flat rocks jut back into the mulch and give the low wall visual weight and oomph:
found on it's a green life

The edging wall I built has same-size small rocks all lined up too evenly (yes, I am aware my personality gets in the way of effective garden design). I need to duplicate the staggered larger stones in the example and make this wall less uniform.

my first attempt, with leftover stones from the wall I built by the driveway

(the only variation is the cut out for the sprinkler head)

I also need to accentuate the arc shape by extending the wall at either end of the strip to round the curves.

the wall needs to extend further along the right and left curved parts

My low wall came out the way it did because I simply used up the leftover rocks from my main project building a stone wall at the top of the driveway. There really weren't enough to do this side properly.

I know I need more stones.

Another pallet of wallstone from Harken's in East Windsor would be good. It's actually too many for the few rocks I'd use here, but a pallet would give me plenty of varied shapes and sizes to use elsewhere -- like some big flat steppers for the grass by the bridge, which I need more of. And maybe some for a small wall under the dogwood that I am sort of considering, using photoshop to try the idea out.

Yes. More rocks. That'll do the trick.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Proceed With Caution

A warm, sunny day, little breeze and 70 degrees. It rained very lightly, just a tenth of an inch, and this weekend the grass has really started to green up.

The winter bloomers just won't let go. They are cautious and not ready to flower even though it is just about mid April. Plants that should have flowered in late winter are still tightly budded.
Cornus mas, getting ready to open but not quite there yet

Dawn viburnum has lots of buds but they are just barely expanding

Not only are these late opening, but they are slow too. Once the buds swell and the hint of flowering is there, they usually burst open quickly. But we have had below freezing nights well into mid April, and so they are being cautious and taking their time.

One winter bloomer is not merely cautious, it is probably dead. The fragrant honeysuckle does not even have swelling buds. Nothing. The bark on the bottom stems was badly chewed this winter, but I had thought it would be okay. Apparently not.
I think this Lonicera fragrantissima didn't make it

The winter heaths are looking better, although still only half of each plant has flowers. After a shearing they will be fine.
Still fried on the front side, but blooming and alive

The star magnolia is an early spring bloomer that has opened in late March in warm years. But this year it is hanging on to its fuzzy fat buds well into April, and only a few are showing a hint of the white stars that will emerge.
Star magnolia, with only a few blooms even showing the promise of white stars

There are still forecasts for below freezing nights in the next week, and that will make the magnolia blooms mush if they do open up soon. So caution is most definitely needed.

This year the winter blooming plants and the early spring plants may be out at the same time. Forsythia is starting to show little bits of yellow, but no explosion of color yet.

Daffodils on the back hill are up, but only one or two are blooming. The daffodils at the top of the driveway aren't open yet, but the greenery looks good.

I am so ready to see the winter blooming trees and shrubs get their act together before the spring show starts and steals their time in the limelight!

But they are proceeding very carefully and slowly this year.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Lemon Tree

I now have a dwarf Meyer lemon tree in a pot in the dining room.

It even shipped with quite a few blossoms on it, and they do smell rich and sweet.

I'm off to google Meyer lemon growing tips now, and cruise Pinterest boards for recipes.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Seedlings Fledge

After the rain on Tuesday it got warm, into the mid 60s and humid. It was the first really springlike day of the year.

The trays of seedlings went outside for a few hours in the afternoon for the first time. It was like watching birds fledge -- I hovered as the humid breeze battered their tiny stems and I fussed over keeping them damp enough in the open air.

Despite the warm hint of spring it is still gray and grim outside. The empty pots look forlorn, waiting to be planted up.

The tiny iris reticulata bulbs by the front door are the only color, and they are a welcome sight popping out of the green kinnikinnik. But the kinnikinnik got severely winter burned this year, so I spent some time cutting out all the brown stuff.

By the time I got done, the entire edge was cut back. When summer comes the long woody stems will reach for the walkway again and cover the straight cement edge of the walk with glossy little green leaves.

I noticed something while on my hand and knees snipping stems -- the new little iris bulbs I added last fall are a different cultivar than the original ones (neither the original nor the newer ones were marked anything other than "Iris reticulata")

Not what I was expecting. I love the clear periwinkle blue of the first planting, and wanted them spread throughout the kinnikinnik. I added new ones to this patch and across the walk under the post light too.

But the new ones are deep purple, not at all blue. See the two single irises at the top of this picture? Not the same as the clump in front. At all.

The original clumps can be divided to spread them out and achieve more of the clear color I wanted. In fact, they need to be divided, since they are looking crowded now. The challenge is finding them under the groundcover after they are gone by, when it is time to divide them.

Both types of iris are sweet, but I didn't want two different colors. I think the fix is to intermingle the blue and the deep purple more by digging up some of the original color and spreading them among the newer purple bulbs.

Add that to my To Do list.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Invention of Velcro

Cool and cloudy, in the low 50s as the week started. Now rain.

On Monday I tackled my annual spring chore of cleaning up the bittersweet, multiflora roses and autumn olives on the back hill and in the meadow. This is the time to do it before everything leafs out and makes the tangle of brush impossible to maneuver in.

Burdock seed capsules
Even so, the bare vines and jungly dead growth from last year is awful.

I hack, I chop, I dig and lop.

It's not gardening.

It's bushwhacking. It's brush hogging, but by hand, with pruners and a bottle of woody herbicide to paint on the cut stems.

Every year I am careful around the tall dead stems of giant burdock that grows among the trees on the hill. I've had the velcro burs stick to my clothes, and one time I got the burs impossibly tangled in my hair.  Eeesh.

So I was particularly careful around the burdock plants on the hill as I chopped back vines.

Of course you know what my caution produced. This time I got burs stuck to the back of the polarfleece collar of my winter parka (it was cold out).

Stuck to the collar! Meaning I got burs down my neck. Burs in the bottom of my hair, some in my ears, a lot down my back.

Burs even got stuck to the velcro tab on the back of my hat. Oh, the irony.

It's not truly like velcro. Velcro rips apart easily. Burdock burs cling and never release.

It's not even like my brush hogging is very effective. I only get about a third of the invasive thugs that grow in the formerly disturbed area that I am trying to reclaim.  I'll need to be out there again and again before summer sets in and finally deters me from setting foot in the jungle.

But I do it every year, and maybe it helps. And every year I relearn, uncomfortably, how velcro was invented.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Off Script

This weekend was nice enough, in the 50s. The ground was still damp but the puddles and icy lakes have disappeared. I had every intention of getting at my loooong list of spring chores, including some major garden expansions and a lot of work needed on the back hill.

Instead, I went completely off script.

I simply wandered out behind the berm and started moving moss to the area edging the dry creek bed.

It's an area nobody sees behind the berm, and it was never on my list of things to fix.

But it is a corner I round multiple times every day on my way to the compost pile, and it was bugging me.  I walk past the bridge, and down into a muddy swale. So, unplanned and without consulting my list, I spontaneously began fixing it.

I added bits of moss from the meadow to the edges of the rocks and around a few of the stone steps.

Then I dug out the muddy grass in the swale, added a couple more stepper stones, and dug up more moss in the meadow and planted it.

You don't really plant moss. It has no roots. You press it in. All it needs to do is make contact with the soil or rocks so it can anchor itself.

It doesn't need acid soil -- in fact it doesn't need soil at all, since it has no roots. Moss grows happily on rocks and on the pavers of my patio. The reason it has a reputation for needing acid soil is because it grows where nothing else will, and that is usually where the ph is not good for other plants or grass.

The only thing moss wants is no competition. It likes sun, at least the types in the meadow do. Once it is established it is fine in drought, it just goes dormant. Moisture brings it back. It has no season, it will grow whenever it is above 20 degrees and moist.

I'll need to keep these moss divisions wet to get them to take. I'll also need to keep grass and weeds out to keep the competition down while they establish.

There is plenty of sun-loving, low-growing moss in the meadow, all along the sunny open paths where Jim mows. Without the competition of weeds, moss grows happily there. I found three different kinds (at least they look slightly different to me, I have no idea what is what) and I mixed them all together around the stepper stones.

I never did figure out how to edge the dry creek bed after I built it several years ago. Lawn growing right up to it looked artificial and the turfgrass really wanted to grow into the stone bed. All summer it required trimming along the edge and it was a lot of work. Here it is in May of last year.

(I never figured out how to end the creek either. It just stops in an area of dirt.)

In September of last year I added stepping stones, but they ended in a funny patch of lawn that was impossible to mow and still needed trimming.

A mossy path all along the edge is a much better look, and if I can get it going it should be much lower maintenance than that awkward patch of lawn.

Looking down the new moss path from the bridge -- the red twig dogwoods look so bright this time of year. At the end of the creek is a twiggy honeysuckle shrub, Lonicera fragrantissima. It's a winter bloomer, shouldn't it have flowers in April now in 50 degree weather? Nothing so far this season. The brown plant on the right is clethra, and it won't green up until very late in spring.

(You can see, looking in this direction, how the creek bed just ends abruptly in a patch of dirt. I need to decide what to do about that.)

Fixing the path by the dry creek bed was not on my list of things to do, but I had fun scooping moss out of the mud in the meadow and pressing it into my little stone path. Muddy work, fun work, but off script. I really need to start over and get back to my spring "to do" list.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Checked Off the List

The first week of April gave us some nice sunny days in the 50s, although today is gloomy and cold again. But while it was nice, I got stuff done!

Here are highlights of what was checked off my to-do list:

Mesh tree trunk protector tubes were removed from all the trees.
My new system using orchid clips to fasten cylinders of plastic mesh fencing works like a charm. Clip on, clip off, easier than any other type of trunk protector I have used. 
It took me just half an hour to remove all the cylinders from all the trees I had wrapped.  

I cleaned up all almost all the remaining perennial stalks.
Such an easy job now with the hedge trimmer. Grasses are easily lopped and even woody stems of large perennials are quickly dispatched.
I still like the look of the dried pale seed heads on the caryopteris, and am reluctant to cut this one back, but it must be chopped at some point. 
At this time of year it is the only thing in the garden that is still upright and looking somewhat nice. The spring light highlights its pale structure so nicely.

The patio furniture was brought up from the cellar and put in the gravel garden. I like it in this new location.

The cottonwood tree stump was relocated.
I moved it from the gravel garden, where it was an end table next to the low chairs, to the Blueberry Garden, where it is perfect. A bit of bulk in the empty spot. This just looks right -- it adds some mass in an area of small stuff.

I planted lettuce seeds in the bowls on the deck.  Also moved some of the indoor seedlings from their cell packs and potted them up.

I pruned. The smokebush was coppiced, the climbing hydrangea was shaped, and I cut red twig dogwood branches overhanging the dry creek bed.

There is an excellent post here that Nan Ondra did on coppicing shrubs, and she even details at the end (it's a long, comprehensive post) how she cuts her 'Grace' smokebush. Here is my smokebush (Cotinus 'Grace') before and after.  

It looks like I killed the whole thing, but it should start shooting out lovely red foliage and be big and full by early summer. (The color in these pictures is weird, awfully turquoise for some reason.)

I did the taxes. Check that off the list.

There is still so much to do in the garden -- moving shrubs and dividing perennials and edging / expanding gardens, and I am going to run out of spring very quickly.

So busy. So much to do.
So much to do.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014


Today was the first nice day of spring. Not very warm, only up into the mid 50s, but the sky was bright, the air was still, and the top of the soil is beginning to melt. The top inch or so is quite soggy but it is still frozen deep down.

This winter was so severely cold for so long, that winterburn on the broadleaf evergreens is a real problem. This is the first year I have seen it so bad.

'Tide Hill' boxwoods have a lot of brown, especially the ones
that are planted out into the gravel

The blue hollies on the berm are completely browned in front

If you look at the back side of each holly there is some
green, but the entire front facing side of each is quite brown

The same thing with "Ghost Hills' heath -- the back side is okay, with a
haze of tiny pink flowers, but the front part is dessicated.

A lot of winterburn on the front edge of the kinnikinnik.

I'll give them all a good trim in a few weeks -- mostly the boxwoods and kinnikinnik, which need the dead stuff cut off. And the heaths will get an overall shearing. I think all will be fine.

I have pictures from other years of the 'Lynwood' forsythia by the road cut in full glorious yellow bloom on April 1. Not this year -- no blooms yet.

The Lonicera fragrantissima is not blooming yet either. This fragrant honeysuckle is finally a large shrub, and there are many buds, but no open flowers. So much for "winter blooming".

Don't ask me about the stunted witch hazels. 'Diane' has a ton of little tiny blooms, but they are so small, not fragrant, are hidden by the brown persistent foliage, and just do not impress.

But we have irises!
Iris reticulata is popping up in the kinnikinnik, along with the snowdrops that have been out all month. This is really nice.

It's a weird season, and the plants have not yet been able to shrug off the months of single-digit cold, even with the strong spring sunshine and promise of an end to winter.