Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Out, Out

This past weekend was glorious and sunny. And warm -- in the low 70s. Just lovely weather finally.

I spent these past days outside cleaning up and edging and puttering, my favorite thing of all to do in my garden.  Bring it on.

Jim patched the vole tunnels in the front lawn and seeded them with grass. The lawn is greening, especially in front where it is was over fertilized last season.

We brought up one hose and hooked it up -- as long as I drain it at night and shut it off at the faucet end (there will still be below freezing nights for a few more weeks), it should be fine. It is always so hard to do any spring clean up without water!

In this good weather I finally got all the cotoneaster plants out from under the fir tree by the front door.

Cotoneaster horizontilis
Cotoneaster is pronounced Koh Tone Ee Aster. It has no common name that I can find. That is unusual -- it's an awkward plant in name, and and awkward plant to grow.

(The genus name comes from cotone, which is an old Latin word for quince and the suffix 'aster' means resembling -- so it is a plant that resembles quince.)

It is widely used in foundation plantings. I had one on each side of the front door at my old house in West Hartford. The stiff branches caught debris and looked drab in winter, and I paid them no attention.

They were glossy green in summer, had red berries, and stayed low.

But here at this house, the cotoneaster plants near the front door have driven me crazy for years.  The builder put several in, at the foot of a fir tree that was always destined to grow way too large for the spot and overtake the cotoneasters.
In 2006 the bare woody branches of several cotoneaster plants surround a tubby new fir tree.
It looks like there is plenty of room but there isn't.

The plant has a few things to recommend it -- not in winter when the branches are bare. But in summer it is a shiny green, it stays low, and there are berries. In fall it has deeply colored foliage. That's nice, especially in front of the dark green mass of the fir tree.

Red berries and maroon foliage in 2012 were stunning under the now big fat fir tree.

But the problem with the cotoneasters planted around my fir tree were twofold: first, the fir tree got too big. Obviously that was going to happen.

But secondly, the structure of the cotoneasters is a problem. The branches arch over every which way, leaving open areas underneath, and that allowed all manner of grasses and weeds to grow under the low canopy of the tangled stems.

I spent every summer trying to weed the cotoneasters and I never could pull anything up from under those congested branches.

When I decided to eliminate the cotoneasters and began digging them out, I was amazed at the lush hayfields of grass and robust tap rooted weeds that were entrenched under each woody shrub.

Besides turf grass, I found juniper seedlings, young thistles, a solid carpet of popweed (ugh), and more. (There's an article on popweed here.)

Out, out.

Of course digging up all the shrubs was a nightmare. They are spreaders -- where an arching branch reaches over and touches soil, it roots, so there were a dozen tenaciously rooted shrubs where the builder had originally planted four. They get big woody stems and they did not want to come out. Jim helped me dig out the rootballs of several, but in the end I just cut back the branches of the rest of them, and covered the decapitated remains with mulch.

Now, what to do with the open space around and under the big fir tree?

I hate looking at brown mulch. I don't want to plant a shrub or groundcover in there and then have to take it out in a few years as the fir gets even bigger.

The purple iris reticulata blooms will go by, then there are red 'Lucifer' crocosmias that bloom in summer around the light post but I never got a real stand of them going, so there are only a few.

Maybe just some annuals in the mulch? A carpet of white alyssum? At least until I figure out what to do with this oddly shaped empty patch of mulch I created.

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