Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

March 26, 2010

What is the pH of your landscape garden soil?

Filed under: Uncategorized — glenn @ 11:51 am

What is the pH of your soil?

“What a question.  How would I know?”  might be your immediate response.

Without getting into the details, most of which I no longer remember, a pH “count” refers to the degree of acidity versus alkalinity  of what is being tested, in this case, soil.   A measure resulting at 7.0  is deemed neutral.   The higher the number indicates greater alkalinity, therefore the lower the number the more acid.  It all has to do with hydrogen content. 

Alkaline soils are often called “limey”. 

Some rock, such as limestone outcrops are  much more alkaline than other rock such as granite, slate, or basalt.  As rock  degrades through weathering, the pH of the local soil will be be adjusted accordingly to the benefit of some plants and the detriment of others.

Most soils around the Twin Cities are slightly acidic…6.3 to 6.6….I am guessing.    If I remember my numbers correctly each tenth of an increase is equal to ten times the difference.  In better explanation, 6.5 is ten time more acidic than 6.6, and one hundred time more acidic than 6.7. 

Balsam spruce grow best on soils around pH 5.0.   White pine foliage usually turns yellowish in soils more alkaline than 6.0 and slightly aqua in well fertilized sandier soils of 5.5. 

Acid loving plants include nearly all of the coniferous evergreens except for arborvitaes.  Chamaecyparis and junipers don’t seem to be too fussy.

Other than conifers, rhododendron and azaleas REQUIRE acidic soil, high in organic matter as they cannot live in heavy soils without good drainage.  Magnolias also prefer similar soils. 

Usually there are three items on the market which the home landscape gardener can use to acidify the soil……apply garden sulphur or aluminum sulphate which are NOT fertilizers, and ammonium sulphate which is an acidifier as well as a nitrogen fertilizer.   Ammonium sulphate should probably not be used in the garden after the first of August since fertilizing at that late date might encourage continued fresh growth making the plant more susceptible to winter injury. 

Garden sulphur can be appllied now.  Sprinkle it into the soil at the drip line of the plant.  Aluminum sulphate can be mixed with water or applied dry and watered into the soil.  It becomes quickly available. 

If you have Endless Summer Hydrangeas in you landscape, keep applying light applications of aluminum sulphate beginning in a week or two if you wish the color of the inflorescence to become pink….or mauvish….or blue as you continue to acidify the plant…..over a period of time.

Aluminum sulphate can be lethal to plants if carelessly over used, so govern your applications according to the label.

P.S.  I have never in my thirty six seasons of landscape gardening my property have tested the soil anywhere on my grounds.   There is almost never a need to do so.

March 25, 2010

Is It Too Early To Fertilize?

Filed under: Uncategorized — glenn @ 5:57 pm

What in the garden do you want to fertilize?

I have a bit less than a half an acre of gardened landscape to nurture.  There is only one of me.  Therefore I have to streamline much of what I do in the landscape to make it and keep it presentable. 

That means I have already applied a granulated fertilizer to the grounds this past week.  Via a hand spreader I walked around the entire area applying a 10-10-10 (a balanced)  fertilizer to everything, including my mowing strip of lawn in the back grounds.  I most likely will apply another sweep of  either the same granulated fertilizer or one 10-0-10, if I have any left from previous seasons.   For years, by habit, I have alternated the two applications often every other year, if not every other application.  The middle number of the formula is phosphorus.  Years ago “officials claimed there was a major runoff problem  caused by phosphorus found in liquids used in washing things.  I wanted to do my civic duty and oblige those who claimed they were “in the know” at the time.  

At the same time I knew that most phosphorus in the Minnesota soil is  unavailable to plants, yet vital in the process of plant root development.   Information on matters dealing with the environment are often “all over the map” depending on which office is providing the advice.

My alternating of the phosphosrus content when fertilizing the garden  made me feel that I was satisfying both sides of  of the expert spectrum.    Kind of like being a peace maker. 

Many believe there is a special religious inspiration associated with using  only organic fertilizers.  Feel however you wish, but there are some things one should know about their differences.  

Generally, organic fertilizers become available more slowly, for it takes more time for the organic source  to be broken down to become  usable by the plants.  Inorganic fertilizers, that is those “man made” , are typically available almost immediately.   In both cases water is the conduit required. 

A few of my plants, the thymes, don’t respond well to fertilizer.   I try to remember where they are and simply walk past them as I broadcast the fertilizer granules.  Hand broadcasters are perfect for such strolls through the grounds. 

I have an above ground automatic sprinkling system installed on my grounds.  I also use a hardwood bark mulch  in many areas of the grounds, especially covering the garden paths.  Many areas are covered with natural leaf fall.  To aid in their decay I sometimes apply a fertilizer with a higher first number on the fertilizer formula……such as a 20-10-10.

Do not use a contact herbicide along with your fertilizer application if you have any valued perennials growing.  I do not use preem anywhere on my grounds except for its strip of lawn.  I really like to see evergreen seedlings pop up here or there.  I keep some of them.   Redbud trees weed all over the place as do Korean Angelica often called “Gigas”.

Because of my automatic irrigation system one of the major weeds on my grounds is astilbe.   It grows everywhere because of the reliable availability of water.  I like astilbe.  It’s good that I do.

I don’t have much luck with Heuchera (coral bells).  They like it drier.

For those who grow specialty plants such as peonies, hostas, azaleas and rhododendrons, each responds best with a more discplined program of fertilizing.   When in doubt with flowering shrubs and many prized robust perennials, fertilize with an inorganic fertilizer right after top bloom.

The quality of soil anchoring your  plants is also  important. 

Not all soils are equal.  I have a light loamy soil which has been covered for over 35 years of leaf and/or shredded bark mulch.  Acids from this decaying organic material   aid in plant ability to absorb nutrients.  Did I luck out…..You couldn’t ask for a better soil environment for growing trees and shrubs. 

Some soils are more acid that others.  White pines do not like to live long in an alkaline soil.  If they develop a yellowish hue to their needle cover, you know they aren’t happy. 

Don’t over analyze and over pamper what your plants prefer.  Keep reading about their individual peculiarities during the winter season.  Take notes on what folks observe and report. 

If you really like to know “stuff” about trees and shrubs for the northlands, you may want to buy “Dirr’s Hardy Trees and Shrubs” a fine pictorial review of plants many of which are hardy in Minnesota.   He has written a manual for those more serious about their woodies.

March 21, 2010

A Good Weekend for Home Landscape Cleanup

Filed under: Uncategorized — glenn @ 11:51 pm

I had a good day working on my grounds today.  I have about a half an acre in plantings which includes a lawn, well a lawn of sorts….I takes me ten minutes to mow it.  I would like to have more lawn than I actually have allowed, but life hasn’t turned out that way.

Snowdrops,  some  scilla and eranthis are in bloom already.  Narcissus and some tulip foliage are showing.   I cleaned up some of the winter damage, cleaned some areas of unwanted leaves.  In other words much of the two days was spent tidying up from winter, although I did find time to apply a balanced granulated fertilizer for nearly the entire grounds.

March is the ugliest month of the year in my  Minnesota gardened landscape.   I have had to surround the grounds with a temporary fence to keep the deer out during winter.  A herd of 14 had broken through a section of my  fencing and in two visits devoured 90% of my azaleas’ buds, all of my tree peony buds, munched off all the buds on my fothergillas and destroyed one rhododendron.  They denuded the sides of three arborvites plus caused less noticeable damage to countless others. 

Rabbits and mice munched on evergreen foliage close to the ground.  Coyotes showed up on my property a month ago one midday.  It was obvious they had placed to go and food to seek.  I wish them luck as long as they go after the little stuff.  Feral cats are terrific in lowering the winter rodent menace as well.  

Winter damage caused a  couple upright junipers not to be upright, so I had to prop them up. 

Northerners are especially drawn to Spring…..especially in Minnesota after a long winter.  In another week or two the green at ground level will begin to overtake the brown.

March 19, 2010

The Winter Was Rough On Evergreens

Filed under: Uncategorized — glenn @ 9:52 pm

Winter has been particularly punishing to evergreens these past two years. 

Last winter severe winds during subzero temperatures severely damaged or killed yews.  This winter the heavy snow coupled with rain at Christmas froze a layer over the spreading and some upright conifers crushing  them early in the season.  Subsequent snows with no January or February thaws  added more weight to those already smushed disfiguring many. 

While spreading a granulated fertilizer throughout my extensive gardens yesterday, I was disappointed to see so many arborvitaes damaged.  Some will resurrect themselves without disfigurements…especially the Rhinegolds and Hetz, by my Woodwards look rough.

The junipers, with the exception of the beautiful Blue Arrow, survived beautifully. 

What is one to do with damaged evergreens?

Again, one must review what the role the plant played in the landscape.  Most landscaping in Minnesota is planted  as cliche……”cookie cutter”.   Plants are placed as if there are four rules to successful landscaping regardless of the surroundings. 

Landscape gardening  throughout its history is supposed to be an art form.   What is to be done regarding damaged plants, should depend upon whether the plant still has value……  Is it damaged beyond survival?  Is the ovate or global form now compromised from the winter damage?   Can the plant be easily transplanted to a location on the grounds where an irregular form might be  more interesting?   

If the damaged plant is a pyramidal, it would have been smart to tie the upright growing branches loosely together at about ever five foot interval generally.  We use parachute nylon string….olive drab or black…whichever is available.  It lasts forever.  There is no need to bore into the tree.   Simply loop one strand of nylon string around all of the upright branches but mixed into the foliage, so as not to be seen,  and tie the string end to end. 

If the tree or shrub is destroyed beyond redemption, one can always cut the plant out. 

I have a twenty-five year old Woodward (global) arborvitae which for the fourth time in its history has been badly pummelled by winter, losing a section here, a branch there, and again, later,  another, each time destroying its original, natural globe form.  By pruning I had to abandon it’s natural globe form.  There was no choice for the plant to remain global>  It was too severely disfigured.  Yet, again by pruning,  I managed to create one of the most interesting specimens on my grounds……..

…..until this spring.  The winter just passed has done it in, breaking the major trunk which I had made so attractive.   That’s life.   I had twenty five years of service from that Woodward.   How can I complain?

On the other hand, I had grown a Waneta Plum years ago.  The fruit was delicious, the flowers incredibly fragrant, and the small tree grew gnarled….which I helped along.  It was a masterpiece to look at for twenty years plus.  Over one  winter it died.  Losing that plum hurt.   I am still mad at it.  I felt it betrayed me.

The most important landscape plants in Minnesota are the hardy evergreen conifers.  You can figure out why for yourself.   For most of the ground junipers the older they get the more beautiful they become….especially with clever pruning.   You can help them develop terrific character.

Most Minnesotans are not familiar with their grounds.  Landscaping  is “in the way”.   Caring for lawn is easy…..Yet, many homeowners hire out lawn care to a company like Masterpiece Landacaping, Ltd.  We are grateful for it helps keep us in business. 

We provide excellent lawn care and are exceptionally  experienced in corrective and artistic pruning as well as plant placement which are at the core of the beautful Minnesota home grounds. 

Call us for consultation or for landscaping services at 952-933-5777.    Or , have a question?…Give us a call.

In the meantime spread some 10-10-10 granulated fertilizer around your favorite shrubs, evergreen or otherwise  withing the next couple weeks.  Let’s not use an  herbicide with it, however.  Generally,  keep weed control limited to lawn care.

March 4, 2010

Thoughts About the Formal Landscape

Filed under: Uncategorized — glenn @ 10:56 pm

The Formal Landscape
Little in American life today is formal. Yet most of our Minnesota home landscapes are still designed, if they are designed at all, more or less formally. Early Minnesota city & town streets and lots were plotted by newcomers from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and New England. Streets were straight and lots were rectangular. Houses for most buyers were boxy and had to be built fast! The Vikings were coming!

One of the texts of the day which easterners brought with them was “Beautifying the Suburban Home Grounds”, a text to “aid persons of moderate income” to help them “make gems of home beauty on a small scale”. “Suburban” meant a part of the city to be built not as rural or congested as in the existing urban areas but as an ideal community of “reasonably” priced lots on 50-foot front by 200-foot depth to some 200-foot by 300-foot lots for “commodious” houses and “suburban homes with stables and gardens”. These are to be located “within easy walking distances from business where men of congenial taste and friendly families may make purchases and cluster their improvements so as to obtain all the benefits of rural pleasures and many of the beauties of park scenery without relinquishing the luxuries of town life”.

As a mark of displaying the civilized rather than the wild, and influenced by the grid patterns of city streets, the home landscape would generally become a formal design where plants to decorate the house would be arranged more or less in geometric patterns; straight lines (hedges, tree lines, foundation plantings), triangles, circles, or groupings of threes and fives and guided by some unwritten rule that what is placed on the right must be placed on the left. Here is where your “graph paper, pencil, and ruler” method of landscape design could be helpful.

When well designed, the formal landscape makes its greatest impact upon the visitors’ first view of the grand pattern. For decades the beauty of the stately, uniformly pruned American Elms formally lining the streets of Minnesota towns and cities declared to richer and poorer these communities were civilized and the people here lived in harmony.

(For a  review of the idealized natural landscape garden setting, click on The Landscape Garden on our  Home Page.)  Call us at Masterpiece for an artistic review of your grounds, business or residential…..952 933 5777 .

March 3, 2010

Garden Gals and Garden Orange

Filed under: Uncategorized — glenn @ 12:34 am

I have been monkeying around  “garden”  for more than 60 years.  I have been landscape gardening for forty of those same years.   When I had finally grown up, about twenty years ago,  and got started with Masterpiece Landscaping, Ltd. I  had to begin to sell my ideas about beautiful landscaping to clients.   With guys I could talk form.  With gals one learns to talk color.

I have never, ever heard a male human being announce as absolutely detested, some color or another in the garden…….and actually to go further, about any color outside the garden as well.  Pink has carried some cultural connotations for male attire….and usually guys don’t clothe themselves resembling colorful Christmas trees.    

As a rule, guys who are into landscape gardening will be attracted most by form.  Gals who garden are captivated by color. 

Most women have a better knack at choosing colors than guys…..They’re expected to.  They practice it almost every time they get dressed.   Gals brighten the world up often by looking  like a flower.  Some  flowers have been used as names for girls….Lily, Rose, Magnolia.  No guy has ever been called, “Blossom”.  Looking like or named after a flower is not a guy thing….so where is this writing going?   To the color, ORANGE.

Certainly most women can see the classical beauty created by a well designed and maintained landcape garden, where form, space  and texture almost always  dominate color.  Our most devoted clients at Masterpiece Landscaping, are these women I have just described.  Yet, when we first met, these gals were no different from the female population at large regarding the color, ORANGE!

“I don’t want any ORANGE in my garden!”  has been  a female pronouncement heard more often than pronouncements against all other colors put together.   Some gals like a “pink and blue” setting, others prefer yellows with  whites as color schemes in the landscape. 

Why pick on orange?…which is my favorite color in my own landscape garden…..My color perception does not pick up reds well in the landscape unless they are sharp scarlet.  I lose those reds among the green foliage…..But, when I see orange, I see opportunity for display.  My eye always stops to admire the color.  Orange in the garden enlivens everything,  either by itself or in combination with…well….you name your color….you cannot go wrong unless that orange is among the  dull.

Why is ORANGE so hated?  These gals are otherwise really sweet and pleasant people!

It has nothing to do with gardens.  It has to do with clothing….Most women don’t wear orange because they don’t think they look good in orange.  Orange-hate is simply carried over into the garden world. 

Orange is rare in the garden.  Its biggest display is often in the fall when some of the sugar maples hit high orange perfectly.  Imagine looking up at such a sugar maple with the bright blue sky surrounding  it.

It is not surprising that as gals become more interested in landscape gardening, especially where dwarf conifers are grown, they begin shopping around for graden things ORANGE!!

March 1, 2010

The Sunny Days of March Can Cause Trouble for Some Plants

Filed under: Uncategorized — glenn @ 1:26 pm

Here we are with the beginning of March.  The snow I have on my grounds still covers everything.  It has piled between two and four feet everywhere.  I saw Earth for the first time last week driving along a freeway.  Naturally, Earth appeared only on the North side of the east-west road.

With the exceedingly bright sun reflecting off of everything white, this is the time of the year susceptible evergreens and smooth-barked trees are vulnerable to winter sun-scald. 

Do you remember last warm season seeing maple or ash trees with ghastly looking vertical wounds on the south or southwest side of the trunk?    It appeared as if the tree had split…..cracked wide open deep into the heart of the tree.  That most likely is injury caused by sun scald. 

Pyramidal arborvitaes and upright yews planted on the south or southwest side of  a building,  often brown out where exposed to the winter sun.  Techny arborvitaes do not seem to be bothered by sunscald, by the way. 

I must have twenty five or thirty global and  semi dwarf arborvitaes somewhere or another on my grounds.. They have never been bothered by sunscald, for they are out in the open where there is no entrapment  of heat from the sun.  This year they are still buried under all the snow.

DeGroot’s arborvitaes are occasionally touchy about sunscald injury during their first winter after planting. 

With the lengthening day and increasing intensity of the sun, temperatures by afternoon can be very deceiving.   As I write this article, I am already sweating from the East sun coming through my office window at 9:20 AM.  By afternoon the sun’s rays reflecting off the snow or off any white building  can cause temperatures on the south exposure of bark or evergreen foliage  to rise significantly.   Plant tissue of susceptible species of this sunny part of the plant is stimulated into activity.  When again in shade with evening approaching, below freezing temperature  will kill the active cells eventually causing bark to split on certain young deciduous trees, or swaths of browned out dead foliage on some evergreens. 

Deciduous trees most susceptible to winter scale are apple, crabapple, ash, mountain ash, maple, and linden.  Evergreens often sensitive to winter burn are yew, some arborvitaes, and Alberta spruce.  Often, although the plant might

Commercial tree wrap is available to protect deciduous trees. You will want do provide some kind of  wrap for the young trees because  the injury from sunscald is often severe and disfiguring.

For sensitive evergreens you shouldn’t wrap the entire plant.  Just place some object to provide at least some light shade to the south-southeast side of the susceptible shrub or small tree.   

As these plants age, they often become less sensitive to this kind of winter injury.  I’d recommend that you countinue with your tree wrap protection of deciduous trees until the bark matures  enough  to show a  roughing pattern.