Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

November 14, 2011

It has been very dry in the Garden this Fall. WATER NOW if you can.

This article should be considered a WARNING to any readers who planted or had us or anyone else plant new plant materials on your grounds since about the first of July this year in the Twin City area.

We certainly had a number of rainfalls earlier in the year.   Many were of the plundering type in which the downpour was overwhelming but not terribly helpful to landscape garden plants.   Following these deluges, we have had a significant drought.   Here in the western part of the Twin Cities where I live, I don’t think we have had an inch of rain over the past two and a half months.

I have an irrigation system which is scheduled to water the grounds for twenty minutes every other day.   It runs early in the morning, except if I am home weekends.   I like to watch my plants watered whenever I have a chance, so I turn the system on manual when I have the time to see the watering.

My irrigation system was winterized over four weeks ago….during a day of light, very light, rain. 

October is usually a drier month in the Twin Cities, and has been so all of my life.   We usually see a good amount of rain here in September.    With the cooler nights approaching cold nights, plant  need for water is not as critical as in warmer months….and the days of sunlight become significantly shorter in the fall, so there is less evaporation.

And remember although tree shade does reduce moisture evaporation from your understory plantings,  the big trees, mainly maples, elms and basswoods hype up their own water needs first and foremost when dry or not dry, for these trees when mature, aren’t protected by shade…….unless maybe by cottonwoods if you live in an area  big enough  to handle them.

Coniferous evergreen trees are not serious water robbers.  Most  respond very well when watering is reliable.

When the temperatures of summer reach or pass the 90 Fahrenheit degree mark, most of our garden plants begin to shut down to save moisture…….if there is no reliable watering available.

By far the greatest killer of  landscape plants, woody or otherwise,  especially among the newly planted,  is from lack of water…..more specifically, the lack of regular reliable watering.  

Soils also play a role in plant deaths due to drought.   I am lucky….actually my plants are lucky to have a great soil environment from which to grow.   There is no clay hereabouts…..for which I am grateful.    My grounds are loamy  by nature and made loamier by years and years of my mulching the grounds with oak leaves.   Only five  per cent of my landscape garden is in lawn…..which takes nine minutes to mow.    The remaining is in garden plants including trees,  and paths…..and my house, of course.

If you live in our area, and have planted or have had planted a  number of perennial plants, woody or herbacous  in your garden this year after mid July, I advise you  to get out your sprinklers this week as soon as possible and water them well.   It will also help your herbaceous perennials to make it through the winter.

November 9, 2011

Late Autumn Color in our Northern Landscape Garden

By habit  northerners, including  amateur and professional ‘horticulture’ oriented people  refer to color in the autumn garden as any  color but green.   Red, pink, scarlet, orange, rust, chartreuse, gold, yellow, maroon, plum….you get the idea……green is never listed.

This is mainly the  habit, monkey see, monkey do.   But there is another reason why these days greens have become so much more important in the art of landscape gardening.

Over the past twenty five years the greatest numbers of ‘new’ plants in our Twin Cities ‘north’  for use in our art form, are coniferous evergreens.   Some such as  Microbiota from Russia and Chamaecyparis from Japan, are genera which finally are available in the Twin City market.

Others are old time conifer ‘inventions’  which finally had made the Twin City market as a natural response to the greater interest in the landscape garden and an ability to pay extra  for the more unusual.

And then there are the newer ‘inventions’, new breedings and more commonly new discoveries from nature’s ‘mistakes’ all of which give us a much wider variety of colors AND sizes of green conifers…….

“Conifer”  refers to woody plants which bear cones.

At present on  this 9th of November, 2011  my landscape garden is still radiant with reds, pinks, browns, rusts, maroons, scarlets, oranges, yellows and chartreuse.   But the base for  this canvas is still green from the conifers…..from the darks of yews to  the  darks of the shade-sides of nearly any other upright green foliaged conifer, these are the plants which dominate, frame,  and define the beautiful pictures of a  classic landscape garden, not only today in late Autumn  at its colorful best, but in Winter and early Spring when their forms truly dominate the classic landscape garden.

Here is a partial list of the more noticeable sources of color in my today’s landscape  garden show in a year where there was no killing frost until evening six days ago and very little frost since:

Three Fothergilla with all colors of autumn,  three Paperbark maple trees, one brilliant yellow-gold, another blinding orange, and a third scarlet red all in full display,  two Norway maples pruned as eight foot shrubs, both orange,  two Crimson Spire oaks  viscious orange blending with rust and scarlet, and the third week of now pinkish orange of my eight by eight foot yellow leafed barberry. 

I allow the Japanese spiraeas to seed whereever they want….and then I cull when they are out of place according to my eye.   I think most of these autumn oranges are seedlings of Gumball spiraea or Anthony Waterer, or Neon.   Some are from Little Princess and remain tight foliaged and orange in fall color.    I have a number of Juddii viburnums throughout the grounds.   Besides the wonderul fragrance of its midMay blooms, these viburnums display a mass of plum to maroon to red leaf color in late autumn.

The best maroons are the more massive purple leafed smokebush especially Velvet Cloak.   Grace Smokebush is spectacularly colorful and has been for a month…..orange blending in every way to maroon.   The steadiest of the darker maroons is Black Beauty Elderberry, which in my grounds dies back to the ground every year and then recovers, sending up eight to ten foot stems…..notice the plural of this statement, please.   Every leaf is still on each of my half a dozen Black Beauties, and every leaf is the same dark purple-maroon as borne  months ago  in Spring.

The colorful conifers which provide the form and contrast of  today’s setting start with the brilliant yellow of some Sungold (King’s Gold)  Chamaecyparis, both trees and shrubs,  yet although  all essentially are the same Chamaecyparis pisifera aurea  nidiformis plants,  some have turned lime green instead.

The Andorra juniper has already turned into its winter’s plum color.

In stark contrast are those in the bluish greens…..Dwarf Colorado Blue Spruce,  Pumila Scot’s Pine, Hughes, Maneyi, Table Top, and Blue Prince  Juniper.  

The upright Japanese Yew or its Taunton ‘spreader’ yew, especially if grown in summer shade, is still very, very dark green and getting darker as winter ‘falls’ on us.  Another impressive very dark green comes from the foliage of the Clanbrassiliana Spruce a dwarf of about 15 feet height at ‘maturity’. 

The Serbian spruce shows a bicolor combination of turquoise newer foliage above the older  dark green.

The conifer genus which our Minnesota gardens cannot do without is ‘Thuja”, the arborvitaes.  

Whether the tall pyramids, the spiky pyramids,  the fat uprights, the round ones, the bluish green ones, dark green or chartreuse green, the golden, or the burnt tipped orangie shrubby ones, those with spiral foliage growth and others fuzzier appearing, this genus is a god-send to  the Minnesota landscape gardener.

Most arborvitaes darken significantly as winter approaches.   Many of those with genetic yellow in them will begin to display it by the ides of March.

I have a couple Sunkist or  Yellow Ribbon planted in full sun for half day that remains as yellow  today as it was in  July.  

Growing and maintaining the landscape garden is an art form surpassed by no other in stimulating the spirit of those who create it, maintain it and display it.

Give it a try, but be patient and alert.   Give us a call at Masterpiece when you need assistance…..at 952-933-5777.

November 8, 2011

To Clean or Not to Clean…..that is the November garden question

Because of this present November being exceptionally dry, pleasant, beautiful, and void of a killing frost until last Wednesday night here in the Twin Cities, landscape gardeners have been able to spend more time than usual amid their garden plants.  These following questions  arise for all of us and our answers may vary from year to year.

To water or not to water? 

Who expected the last part of October to be so dry?……and after a very dry August?   I had my watering system turned off two weeks ago, and had not watered for a week before that.   Yet, I was shocked while planting yesterday to see the soil so dry so deep into the soil.

I immediately hand watered all of the plants planted over the past six weeks…..beginning with the perennials whose root systems are much more endangered by drought.   I am able to use the sprinkler in the major portion of my landscape garden grounds, and again, watered the newer plantings as a priority.  

Overwatering could be a problem after mid August.   Many woody plants begin their winterizing shortly after the summer equinox.   This is called hardening off.   We don’t know much about the specifics regarding the vast numbers of plants now available for our grounds plantings.

We don know that watering heavily well into late autumn keeps some plants in summer growing mode.   They have not been allowed to adjust to the coming of the cold and severe, and can be killed.

About three winters ago, I lost four or five established yews, one of which was a beautiful tree.   I had never lost a yew on my grounds in 35 years of a dozen or more  plants of yew life.   Eventually, I discovered that their deaths occurred from a windy weekend in January.   There was plenty of snow, but with a temperature of ten or more below zero, and winds of twenty miles per hour over a twenty hour period, killed them.   I stayed warm  indoors that weekend day.   My yews had no place to hide.

To clean or not to clean?

This question is difficult to answer.    Fall cleaning the landscape garden is a major project in most grounds.   Size and time dictate the schedule.  Cleaning out the leaves whether from your or your meighbors’ trees makes the grounds appear, well, clean…and neat.   Lawns should be raked for their better health enduring winter.  

No one knows when the first major snowfall will occur.   Last year the tonnage was dumped over night and through the day starting on  Saturday, November 13, here in the Twin City area.   We got hit by a  35 inch heavy snow drop.   Much was damaged, but the ground never froze, because it was covered all winter long by nature’s best insulator, snow.

Plant debris and autumn leaf fall  are  typically blown to  obstacles, such as  neighboring plant stalks which entrap debris which  builds up protecting plant crowns until a sizeable  snowfall.   This is nature’s way some plants endure the rigors of an early winter.  

The real danger to our plants, whether perennials or the  more delicate woody shrubs, or sometimes even to the well established tougher reliables, is the “Test Winter”.

A test winter  is that winter in our Northland when the temperature drops to 10 to 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit before Christmas without any snow cover.   Perennials are especially vulnerable.   If you had left nature do its thing, leaf debris would have collected  around the stems of such plants for insulation.  It can also be that winter when the temperature drops to minus 30 with a driving wind which can be a real killer for many woody members of the landscape grounds not blessed with snow cover.

To weed or not to weed?  

Weed whenever you can, but remember a weed is “a plant out of place”.

I allow certain plants ‘out of place’  to grow in my grounds within limits.   Red and white oak seedlings, for example.   Both are in beautiful autumn colors….red and maroon and kept within a foot of the ground offer colorful highlights when other colors have already faded.    Pruned Ohio Buckeye seedlings can be made into  an attractive shrub.

Late autumn is an excellent time to scour the landscape grounds for buckthorn seedlings since their leaves are still green at this time.    Every year I come across a four or five foot weed tree of ash, box elder or  other maples, or elm and buckthorn or pagoda dogwood growing handsomely.   How did I miss noticing  these varmints for the past five or six years some even being in full sight as I walk by?   They blended in with the other greens nearby.

To plant or not to plant?    Late autumn isn’t the best time to plant, but survival depends on moisture available and good soil preparation.   Regardless of season, when planting woody materials, make certain that the roots are ‘loosened’, that is freed from the circular pattern forced by the pot in which the plant was housed.

Root bound plants do not have a high rate of survival if transferred from pot to grounds without freeing  up the root system.

To wrap or not to wrap young deciduous trees?

Usually one wraps these trees to protect them from the south and southwest sun during winter.    Some trees, such as young ash, apple, and crabapples, are very susceptible to sun scald, that is, the sun’s strength of warmth usually in February and early March warms up the exposed tissues during a sunny day.   Upon sunset the tissue freezes as the temperature plunges, and destroys the cells, splitting the bark on the south and/or southwest side of the tree.

Another reason for wrapping younger trees is to provide protection from rodents.   Last winter was a terrible, terrible time for trees killed by rodent’s, voles, mice, rabbits,  under the snow eating away at the young bar, girdling the tree, causing its eventual death.    Crabapples, apples, plums, even young oaks were killed.

For some reason wrapping with the corregated “Tree Wrap” confuses the varmints enought to make them forget about bark breakfasts and dinners.     If deer are in your neighborhood these late October and early November days, you know the hunting for does stags, like to sharpen their weapons on trees  up to fifteen inches in girth and your chest level.

This “Tree Wrap” wrapping seems to fool them as well….at least until I get reliable reports suggesting otherwise.

November 2, 2011

Why is our 2011 November landscape garden so Beautiful?

If you have been ‘playing’  in your landscape garden the past month you may have noticed that this October of our year, 2011, was special…..If so, why?

My grounds throughout is at its most colorful best this early November   than  in all the 37 years I have lived here in the Hopkins area.  It is a landscape garden about 1/2 acre in size, laid out over the years by my passion to create beauty in the land over which I have domain while I live.

I have noticed I have been  spending more time ‘being there’ in the garden the last few weeks than previous Octobers.   Beauty has its lure.   It sure beats drugs by anyone’s observation, I would think.  I noticed yesterday and today, I’ve been  loathe to  leave  its  beauty, so I  have been manufacturing  various tasks to  keep me here.  

These tasks are governed by the garden’s beauty.    I prune, rake, cut back some perennial foliage, clean fallen leaves from the conifers…..nothing well organized, nothing planned, simply enjoying a daily three mile walk or more walking its paths, “Being there”…..and thinking why is this year’s Autumn so special in my landscape garden?

We have had no killing frost here.   I think that’s the answer.   There have been only two evenings when the temperature dropped to 31 or 32 degrees Fahrenheit.   Statistically,  October 10th has been  the average date for killing frosts in our Twin City area.   That is nearly a month ago.

We don’t have much sunshine these days.   The maples, Ohio Buckeye, Kentucky Coffeetree dropped their leaves by  mid October.   There are no garden  shadows without sunlight.  And November is Minnesota’s most cloudy month, meaning that in the landscape garden there is no shade from the major trees by late October, except from oaks.   If there is no sunlight, there is no shade, and with no killing frost, color at ground level to small tree level is not only still displayed, but not visually  damaged.

Most of all, this color can be seen from left to right and right to left in its entirety.   No killing frost allows many garden perennials to extend their bloom, no longer  in mass but as high lights and small groups.   Their foliage, led by the chartreuse, yellow, gold, and orange of large hosta clumps throughout the grounds, many floppy, still  display a coloring never before seen in such quantity during the growing season.    Some hostas, such as   June and El Nino, are still in their summer season form and  color.  

The fire colors of the major barberries and the maroons of the colored ninebarks, velvet cloak and grace smokebushes and white oaks in the distance, and all of the seed pods, blackened dead or golden brown, the blue from late summer blooming geraniums and reds from fothergilla, my annually pruned red oak at the back door entry to my chocolate brown-red sided house is nearly beyond inspiring.

Then I walk my paths and notice a large clump of Korean lilac , whose autumn color beauty I haven’t seen for many years……a color of soft, dusty, pink, tan, rust, orange all blendings  on leaves the size and appearance  of butterflies resting enmasse on the lilac’s autumn  ‘twigs’.

Yet, no matter how beautiful the colors of this scenery I have described  may be in anyone’s eyes, they are insignificant without the most important color and collection of plants to glorify the setting……the greens of our evergreen conifers, from ground covers to magnificent trees.   It is they who are now entering our Minnesota garden world dominating its beauty until mid May every year,  that command its  scenes.

Until this  week, the most inspired I have ever been by  my landscape garden was in early February some nine  years ago, at 3:30 AM in a light snowfall of large snowflakes sparkling from a full moon  peeking through the cloud cover.

I was to go to a colleague’s wedding in Hawaii…..and I thought no place in the world could be more beautiful than the scene  I was leaving.   I went to the wedding in Maui.  Everything was beautiful, but not as beautiful as that morning.

Nor is the color of today’s display, but it is its equal.

Use your own imagination, fellow Minnesotans.   What setting without color  could be as or more beautiful than this year’s extended,  special Autumn,  in Winter?  Picture it yourself.

I doubt it could be a garden scene without the beautiful forms of our Northern  conifers and silhouettes of  what they enframe on a moonlit evening graced by huge sparkling snowflakes.

The most important plants in our Northern landscape gardens are the evergreen conifers!!!

 Winter is our longest landscape season…..as long as Spring, Summer and Autumn put together.

Check out your own landscape where you live.   If you think there could be improvements, please give us at Masterpiece Landscaping a call  at 952-933-5777.   We can help solve your landscape problems.