“Ask the Landscaper” Blog

“Ask the Landscaper”

Welcome to “Ask the Landscaper” a column written for the Wabash Plain Dealer.

A former horticulture, botany, and agriculture teacher, and owner of Metzger Landscaping & Design, Leesa Metzger answers reader’s questions about gardening, plants, and landscaping.

To submit a question to the “Ask the Landscaper” column, call us at (260) 982-4282, find us on Facebook, or fill out the contact form below.

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Fireworks & Fireflys

Have you ever noticed the evening fireworks show in your yard that starts around the 4th of July every year? Summer means fireworks and fireflies. It turns out that fireflies, also known as lightning bugs, are really neither flies nor bugs; they’re soft-bellied beetles – members of the family Lampyridae, which means “shining fire.” Many of us spent our childhood evenings catching fireflies in a jar.  Fireflies, also known as lighting bugs, are really a type of beetle with a fantastic ability to make their posterior glow. There are many species of fireflies in the world and the light the adults produce can be yellow to red. In fact, one species of fireflies has eleven pair of green lights on its thorax and a pair of red ones on its head; now that is a light show! Edison must have been envious of fireflies. When you watch a firefly you are witnessing a chemical reaction. A substance called luciferin is stored in the beetles light organ. The light organ has many air tubes in it along with reflectors. When oxygen and luciferin combine in the presence of enzymes, light is produced. The reflectors help to disperse the light. Fireflies control the light by how much and how often they let oxygen into their light organs. Now you may ask, “why do fireflies go to so much trouble?” Finding a mate and finding food make the world go ‘round so that’s always a good guess. Fireflies flash to attract a mate. And not just any mate but a mate of their same firefly species. The flash code is very specific to the species. They’re quite common in the United States, but only east of the Rocky Mountains. They need a warm humid landscape and thrive in woodlands, fields, and grassy areas near lakes and streams. The light they produce is created by a brief chemical reaction in a dedicated light organ, yellowish in color, located under the abdomen. The light is called “cold light” because virtually all of the energy consumed goes into light, not heat. The light communicates with other fireflies, mostly to attract mates. The show generally begins in early June, before the June 21 summer solstice which marks the beginning of summer. It runs for about 30 minutes each night, starting around sunset Typically after sunset the male firefly patrols grassy areas while he flashes his code. The females hang out on low vegetation and if she is interested she flashes back the same signal. After exchanging signals about five to ten times the male finds the female and then it’s “lights out.” Adult fireflies eat small insects if they feed at all and they don’t bite people. The young fireflies live underground and don’t look anything like their parents. Their spindle shaped bodies glow continuously and are often called glowworms. Your landscape and garden contain creatures more fascinating than any science fiction story. Take a moment to get away from the city lights to enjoy a real light show. If you share a fascination for fireflies consider joining a network of citizen scientists involved in Firefly Watch. You can track and report on your own fireflies. The website also has a ton of great info on the biology of fireflies. https://www.mos.org/fireflywatch

Spring Gardening Tips!

Despite the recent cold snap–spring is here! It’s time to grab your trowel, rake and hoe and get ready for spring with the following tips.

Prepare for Frost.  The frost-free date for our area in Indiana is April 26.  The term frost-free means that there is still a 50-50 chance of frost on the frost-free date.  The terminology seems crazy doesn’t it? Be prepared for late spring frosts. Cover tender plants with row covers, cardboard, blankets, hot caps, or newspaper. We have had frost as late as Memorial Day. Remember having no blueberries or apples a few years ago?  A hard frost/freeze has already likely zapped most of the fruit bearing trees and shrubs in our area. Only time will tell as to how much damage this last snow and freeze did to flowering shrubs and fruit trees.  Don’t plant tender annuals until after May 20.

(Metzger Shade Garden).  Annuals brighten the edge of the flower garden along the patio in Leesa Metzger’s back yard.  Remember to wait until after may 20th to plant annuals or you will need to cover them on nights that the weatherman predicts a frost.

Prune Trees and Shrubs.  Spring is a good time to prune trees and shrubs while they are dormant. Without leaves; it is easy to see the framework of the plant. Complete pruning before buds break. For general pruning of trees and shrubs remove any dead or diseased branches. Remove all water sprouts and suckers. Water sprouts are stems that grow at right angles to the branches. Suckers grow from the base of the tree. Prune out crossing or rubbing branches. Prune back to a bud or a branch. When cutting back to a bud, make sure the bud is facing outward. This will cause new growth to grow to the outside of the plant.

Shrubs that bloom in the spring like Lilacs, Spirea, Viburnum, Weigela and Forsythias should not be pruned in early spring. Pruning would remove flower buds. Prune after they finish flowering.

Topiary lilac trees at the Metzger Landscaping nursery are always blooming around Mother’s Day.  Don’t miss their special Mothers Day Sale on Friday May 7th and Saturday May 8th!

Soil Prep Do’s and Don’ts.  Never work your soil when it is wet. Digging or tilling wet soil will compact your soil turning it into clumps as hard as concrete. It will take several seasons of adding organic matter to the soil to rebuild its structure. Use the “squeeze” test to check if your soil is dry enough to work. Take a handful of soil and squeeze it. If the soil crumbles through your fingers, you can work your soil. If it stays in a ball after squeezing, the soil is too wet to work and you should give it a few days to dry.

Lawn Care Tips. Prepare your lawn for the mowing season. Rake away all twigs and debris. Have the lawn mower blades sharpened, replace the spark plugs and change the oil. Seed bare spots in the lawn. Dig up the soil six to eight inches deep and add a starter fertilizer. Sprinkle on a good seed mix of bluegrass and fescue. Rake lightly to mix seed with soil. Tamp to assure seed-soil contact. Keep well watered for two to three weeks until the seed has germinated.

Get Rabbit Protection in Place.  Protect your newly planted vegetable garden from rabbits. Purchase chicken wire fencing with one inch or smaller mesh. Wire should be at least three feet tall. Install around garden and bend back six inches of fencing and bury below the soil. This will keep rabbits from crawling underneath the fence.

Now is the time to Divide Perennials.  Spring is a good time to divide most perennials. Divide plants when flowers get smaller, when the center of the plant dies out or when the plant outgrows its space. Dig around the plant and lift the clump out of the ground. Break the clump into sections. Larger sections will re-establish quicker than smaller sections. Keep the clumps moist until ready to plant.

Bulb Care
Remove spent flowers from spring bulbs. Allow bulb foliage to die back naturally. Leaves make food resources which are stored in the bulbs for a repeat flower show next year.

Indoors at Metzger Landscaping’s Garden Center is stocked with fertilizers, decorative garden items, garden iron and anything you’ll need this year to make your yard look beautiful.

Houseplant Maintenance
Spring is a good time for houseplant maintenance. Longer days and higher light intensity will cause indoor plants to begin growing faster. Start fertilizing again using a half strength solution every other watering. Prune hard now to stimulate new, bushier growth. Repot your houseplants when roots grow through the drainage holes, when the soil mass is filled with roots, when new leaves are smaller than usual or when the plant wilts between waterings. Plant into a container that is one to two inches wider than the original pot. 

Spring has Sprung!

A former horticulture, botany, and agriculture teacher and owner of Metzger Landscaping and Garden Center in North Manchester answers reader’s questions about gardening, plants and landscaping.

Are you feeling the gardening itch yet? We’ve all enjoyed the winter garden break, dreamed and planned, and now it’s go-time.  Let’s do some digging! The crews at Metzger Landscaping have been busy bees doing spring clean-us and getting our client’s landscapes ready for a beautiful season ahead.

The months of March and April are prime time for a spring garden cleanup – and starting as early as you can means less work later on.  Taking care of dead branches before trees leaf out, pulling all the small new annual weeds before they get big means more time to enjoy what you love about gardening: planting and harvesting your flowers and vegetables, and soaking in the view.

Chores for cleaning up and prepping beds and borders for the season start with pulling dead plants and remove fallen leaves and dead foliage which can smother plants and foster disease.  If leaves are small and starting to compost, you can work it into the top layer of the soil around the plants.  Push any frost-heaved plants back into flower beds, tamping them down around the base with your foot.  Loosen the mulch and other dried plant matter covering the ground around your plants to allow water and air to the roots. Edge along beds to refresh the lines and keep grass from growing into them.

Spring clean-up time is a good time to prune dead and damaged branches from trees and shrubs. Prune tree branches back to the trunk using a handsaw for branches larger than ½ inch in diameter. Use sharp bypass pruners for shrubs and small trees, shaping as you go. Fruit trees you didn’t get to in winter can be pruned during a spring clean-up.  When pruning fruit trees in the spring be sure to prune before buds begin to break into bloom or you’ll stress the tree.

Spring is a good time to prune trees and shrubs while they are dormant. Without leaves; it is easy to see the framework of the plant. Complete pruning before buds break. For general pruning of trees and shrubs remove any dead or diseased branches. Remove all water sprouts and suckers. Water sprouts are stems that grow at right angles to the branches. Suckers grow from the base of the tree. Prune out crossing or rubbing branches. Prune back to a bud or a branch. When cutting back to a bud, make sure the bud is facing outward. This will cause new growth to grow to the outside of the plant.

Shrubs that bloom in the spring like Lilacs, Spirea, Viburnum, Weigela and Forsythias should not be pruned in early spring. Pruning would remove flower buds. Prune after they finish flowering.

After the spring clean-up is completed its time to mulch.  Mulching is the single most important thing you can do for your garden every year. It prevents weeds, regulates soil temperature, retains moisture, and improves soil structure.

Gardening Gifts That’ll Get Two Green Thumbs Up!

Do you have a gardener on your gift list this year? I’ve got a list of gift ideas that any gardening enthusiast with really dig this year! Gardening season might be the furthest thing from your mind when you’re shopping for Christmas presents. After all, it’s cold out there! But for many of your friends and family, spring is their absolute favorite time of year—and goes hand in hand with their most beloved hobbies too: planting, pruning and potting.

This year, I encourage you to support the Earth-loving people in your life with one of our picks for the best gardening gifts that can be found right here in Wabash County in North Manchester! Shop local this season for the gardener or outdoorsman in your life. With spring just around the corner, your resident plant lady (or gentleman!) is sure to appreciate your forward-thinking gesture!

Best of all though is the fact that you won’t have to do a ton of work to bring affordable present ideas to life. These freshly picked gifts for gardeners include everything from accessories and décor to tools and more, all of which are guaranteed to get two green thumbs up.  From a country store birdfeeder that’s as delightful as it is useful, to seed packets that’ll help her or him keep their ducks in a row (or rather, their rows in a row!), there’s a special, meaningful gift here for just about everyone on your list.

The best one-stop-shop for local garden gifts is a visit to Metzger Landscaping’s Garden Center located on State Road 13. The most well-stocked garden center and nursery in Wabash county offers decorative bird baths, gardening trowels and Corona brand pruners, soy wax scented candles, mosaic gazing balls, gardening gloves, seed packets, and all kinds of decorative porch and patio items. Is the list a bit too overwhelming? Stop by or call over the phone for a gift certificate for your favorite gardener to use for anything in the nursery when springtime rolls back around.  Your gardener can use the gift certificate to purchase annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs, or even landscape services once things warm up!  We can even mail you the gift certificate for contact-less shopping.

For the best selection around for birdhouses, birdfeeders and an array of custom birdseed mixes check out Allen Feeds located in the heart of Manchester on State Road 114. No matter what bird your gardener is trying to attract to their garden, the folks at Allen Feeds will have the feeder and birdseed mix you’ll be looking for.

The Hardware in North Manchester carries Stihl brand power tools that any gardener or outdoorsman would love to find under the tree on Christmas morning.  Stihl is hands-down the best brand of outdoor power equipment, and the only brand that Metzger Landscaping relies on. Best of all it can be found at our local hardware store with reasonable prices that can’t be beat anywhere else too. So shop local for those hedge trimmers, weed eaters, chain saws and blowers.  Check out their great assortment of garden gift items found throughout the store and tucked away in their glass greenhouse.

The folks at Cottage Creations can help you make that holiday hostess feel loved with a fresh floral arrangement that can last for days and days. Request evergreen arrangements that will brighten anyone’s festivities and tend to last throughout the entire holiday! Cottage Creations carries Tyler candles, garden lanterns, stepping stones, ceramic figurines and garden angels.  Every gardener would appreciate Cottage Creations goats milk lotion to soothe those hard working hands.  Visit their store for the most extensive collection of Christmas décor in town with every style imaginable.  Outdoor holiday wreaths and garlands can be found at Cottage Creations as well.

Fall is for Planting!!

Fall is for planting! Fall seems to be the perfect season to get a new landscape established.  Cooler weather helps plants acclimate to their new surroundings easier than during the heat of summer.  Less watering is of course a welcome relief for homeowners establishing new plantings as well.  It’s a win-win!

September is a good month to landscape with fall mums, which are available in a rainbow assortment of colors.  Bronze, red, yellow, and white are among the more popular choices.  At Metzger landscaping we even carry mums that are tri-colored—that’s right—you can get three colors of mums all in the same pot! 

The key to successful planting for mums for the landscape is proper site preparation.  Choose a sunny, well-drained spot.  Dig and loosen the soil to a depth of eight to ten inches in a hole twice the diameter of the plant’s pot.  Mix organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure into the soil.  If you want to try to overwinter your mums, once plant tops die back after blooming or severe frost, cut the stems even with the ground.  Apply a thick layer of straw or bark mulch at the end of October, removing it in the spring as the frost leaves the ground.  If we have a mild winter, or you live in a mild location, chances are better that they will survive.  The Garden Center at Metzger Landscaping in North Manchester has a fantastic selection of mums to brighten your landscape and perk up your front porch decorations!

Looking for long term fall color for your landscaping? Consider trees and shrubs that turn brilliant colors year after year.  A maple tree called ‘red sunset’ turns a reliable, brilliant red color each fall.  Pair the red sunset maple with a sugar maple or silver maple that turn a yellow golden color for a spectacular fall color.   There are many trees to consider for fall color, other than maples.  Many of the colorful large trees turn variations of yellow including yellowwood, American beech (a yellowish bronze), ash (a reddish yellow), ginkgo, honeylocust, quaking aspen, golden weeping willow, and elms.  For dark red colors in large trees consider some of the oaks such as the white, swamp white, scarlet, shingle, pin, and red oak.  Some of the other oaks’ leaves aren’t particularly showy in fall.  One of the few hardy flowering cherries for the north, the Sargent cherry, turns yellow to red.  A few shrubs that I use in our landscape projects for spectactular red fall color are Viburnum ‘brandywine’, old fashioned Burning Bush, and Virgina Sweetspire.  Shrubs to plant for yellow color include Buckthorne ‘fine line’, Dwarf Lilac ‘miss Kim’, and False Cypress ‘lemon thread’. 

Ornamental grasses and flowering fall perennials add texture and color to landscape beds late in the season.  When most perennials are starting to wane there are several reliable perennials that  homeowners can turn to for a splash of late season color.  Sedum ‘brillance’ or ‘autumn joy’, Gaillardia ‘indian blanket’ , black eyed susan Rubebeckia and purple asters are stunning are all in the fall.   All ornamental grasses seem fabulous in the fall but a few personal favorites are Panicum ‘shanendoah’, Miscanthus ‘sarenbande’ and Dwarf Fountain grass ‘hamlen’.   Visit us at Metzger Landscaping’s Garden Center for a great selection of fall mums, ornamental grasses and colorful fall perennials.

Bagworms and Evergreen Damage

Have you noticed an evergreen tree or shrub starting to die and turn brown?  This is the time of year when we should be scouting for bagworms.  Bagworms disfigure evergreen trees and shrubs by feeding on leaves and needles and girdling twigs. As worm-like larvae they spin silken bags around themselves, to which they attach pieces of the leaves they are eating. They carry this bag with them as they feed, it acts as a protective armor. A fully developed bag is about two inches long. These tough, spindle-shaped bags hang from the branches of infested trees like holiday ornaments, so they are easy to spot. Bagworms are the larvae of moths. Full-grown, these worms measure 1 to 1 1/4 inches. Their bodies are brown with that portion inside the bag lighter than the rest. Adult male moths have black wings, but the females are wingless. The females lay their eggs in fall, and the eggs hatch the following May or June. As the young worms begin to feed, they start doing their damage to tree and shrub foliage. They will continue eating for several months, maybe as late as August in our area. Proper insecticide use will effectively control their damage in late spring. Bagworm caterpillars make distinctive 1.5 to 2 inch long spindle-shaped bags that can be seen hanging from twigs of a variety of trees and shrubs. Sometimes the bags are mistaken for pinecones or other plant structures.

Bagworms prefer juniper, arborvitae, spruce, pine, and cedar but also attack deciduous trees in large infestations. Female moths cannot fly but the larvae can disperse. Very small caterpillars can spin strands of silk and be carried by wind, an activity called “ballooning”. Larger larvae may crawl to adjacent plants.

Bagworms pass the winter as eggs (300 or more) inside bags that served as cocoons for last year’s females. The eggs hatch in mid- to late May to early June in Indiana and the tiny larvae crawl out to feed. Each uses silk and bits of plant material to make a small bag that protects and camouflages it as during feeding and growth.  This is the window of opportunity for pesticide use if you had a large bag worm problem the prior year.

Bagworm caterpillars feed for about six weeks, enlarging the bag as they grow and withdrawing into it when disturbed. When abundant, the caterpillars can defoliate plants. Heavy infestations over several consecutive years, especially when coupled with other stresses, can lead to plant death.

Bagworm control depends upon how many bagworms are present. If only a few small trees or shrubs are infested, handpicking and destroying attached bags may provide satisfactory control. This must be done during fall, winter or early spring before the eggs hatch. Destroy the picked-off bags by burning them, as they will overwinter on the ground and hatch in the spring.bagworm cacoon

Attracting Hummingbirds, Butterflies & Pollinators

Hummingbird

Planting a few nectar- and pollen-rich flowers can turn your landscape into a haven for hummingbirds and butterflies.

The most important step you can take is to plant a pollinator-friendly garden. Choose nectar and pollen-rich plants like wildflowers and old-fashioned varieties of flowers. A succession of blooming annuals, perennials and shrubs is best so nectar and pollen will be available throughout the growing season. Also, include plants like dill, fennel and milkweed that butterfly larvae feed on.

Butterflies are some of the most beautiful and interesting creatures on Earth. By planting a butterfly garden with all of the right kinds of plants and flowers that butterflies love to feed on and lay eggs upon, you will certainly have a yard full of butterflies throughout the growing season. Butterfly gardens can be any size – a window box, part of your landscaped yard, or even a wild untended area on your property.

Butterfly Host Plants are important when you create your butterfly garden to provide a site for the butterfly to lay eggs and also food source for the emerging caterpillar. Be prepared for heavy munching on your host plants!

 

Because tiny caterpillars cannot travel far to find their own food, the female butterfly locates and lays her eggs on only the type of plant that the caterpillar can use as food. Most species of caterpillars are particular about the type of plants they can eat. If the egg was not placed on the correct plant, the caterpillar hatching from that egg will not survive. Many gardeners do not like to see plants in their gardens that have been chewed on by bugs. To avoid this, you may want to locate your butterfly host plants in areas that are not highly visible, but still a short distance from the butterfly nectar plants. If you do not provide host plants, you will have fewer butterflies.

Many native trees and other plants found in and around our yards are host plants for caterpillars. There are a variety of plants that can be included in a butterfly garden that are excellent host plants. Caterpillars of the monarch butterfly feed only on milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.), so be sure to include some to support the monarch’s entire life cycle by providing nectar through the entire garden season.  Spring flowering trees and shrubs that provide nectar early in the season include serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.), redbud (Cercis canadensis), flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), spicebush (Lindera benzoin), and pussy willow (Salix discolor). Some mid-season shrubs include leadplant (Amorpha canescans), buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), and weigela. Butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.) has long been a popular butterfly-attracting plant. 

Give low maintenance perennials a try to add color and food to your garden visitors. Coreopsis, catmint, agastache, beebalm, daylilies, and salvia just to mention as few of the many plants we grow at Metzger Landscaping. With proper planning, good plant selection and minimal maintenance you can create an area that will not only attract butterflies and hummingbirds, but will help to preserve these important and beautiful insects that are so vital to our ecosystem. Check out Metzger Landscaping’s Garden Center, where you can find a huge greenhouse full of perennials to help attract butterflies, hummingbirds and pollinators of all kinds to your yard this summer.

 

Paint the Landscape with Color

Many homeowners are interested in saving time and money in the garden.  Perennials are one of the best deals you can find.   Perennials are always a good value because they come back year after year and some varieties like hosta, daylilies and iris will also multiply over time!

Even without these time and money saving qualities, perennials play an important role in garden design.  They serve as the “paints” that will help create a colorful display in the landscape.  Just as there are special techniques to applying paints to a canvas, over the years we have learned a few lessons about designing with perennials in the landscape.  Metzger Landscaping often  strives to add color to our landscaping projects through the use of low maintenance, colorful perennials.  In fact, the two things most-often requested by our clients are “low maintenance” and “color”.   By using the “right” combination of perennials, we can create both.  This is why we say at Metzger Landscaping, “We Turn Gardens into Art”.

Charming beauty and limitless potential top the list of reasons to grow perennials. A perennial is a non-woody plant that lives for more than two years and typically dies back as hard frosts embrace foliage. New growth emerges in spring, either from the ground or from remnants of woody stems. Some perennials such as coral bells and ornamental grasses retain foliage year-round, and create interest throughout the seasonal changes in our Indiana climate.

 

Hidden amid perennials’ wonderful attributes, however, lie a few challenges. A common misconception about perennials is that they create a plant-it-and-forget-it garden.  While some perennials are low-maintenance, most require ongoing care throughout the growing season, including mulching, watering, and sometimes staking. Deadheading (removing spent blooms) is necessary to increase the number of flowers on certain plants.

 

 

Color isn’t constant with each variety of  perennial you choose to use.  Designing for a “succession of color” is the key to a successful design. Most perennials flower for a two- to four-week period. Beyond that color-filled time frame–and without careful planning–a perennial garden is mostly foliage. The trick is to compose a blend of perennials that flower in sequence. This process can be hard to perfect.  Incorporating a few annual flowers near the border can offer steady color throughout the growing season.

 

Perennials need space, so when designing always plan for growth.  Because perennials live for more than one season, they’re constantly growing and enlarging their borders. It’s this changeability that gives a perennial garden its charm. Avoid the temptation to overcrowd young plants; always plan for plant expansion. You’ll also need to increase the volume of plants if you want season-long color. When you arrange a planting that combines individual perennials into a harmonious blend of color, texture, and bloom, you’ll savor the beauty and discover the inspiration only perennials can give.   Using perennials in the landscape design along with the structure of flowering shrubs, evergreens for winter color and ornamental grasses for texture can  turn a landscape into a living work of art.Metzger Garden Center Nursery

The nursery at Metzger Landscaping is overflowing with perennials, trees and shrubs.  Stop for a great selection in North Manchester to paint your landscape with color this season.

Top 10 Tough Perennials we grow at Metzger Landscaping’s garden center

·        Daylily; Hemorocallis, ‘happy returns’ & ‘rosy returns’ among other reblooming                   daylilies

·         Variegated Hosta; ‘widebrim’, ‘francee’ and ‘patriot’

·         Black Eyed Susan;  Rudebeckia, ‘goldsturm’

·         Purple Cone Flower; Echinacea, ‘Kim’s knee high’ & ‘cheyanne’

·         Coral Bells, Huechera; ‘citronelle’, ‘palace purple’, & ‘caramel’

·         Russian Sage, Pervoskia; ‘little spire’

·         Maiden Grass, Miscanthus; ‘sarenbande’

·         Coreopsis, ‘moonbeam’; ‘route 66’

·         Agastache; ‘blue fortune’

·         Salvia; ‘blue hills’

Dividing Perennials

Dividing Perennials Pic

Most gardeners have a spring ritual that includes walking their garden in search of emerging plants. We begin to get an idea of which plants have expanded well beyond their borders. The quick use of a sharp spade now is better than attempting the eradication of a full-blown invasion later. Thus, it is time for the great perennial divide!

April is the time to divide perennials for many reasons: plants have outgrown their space; plants aren’t doing well in that site because of sun, shade or moisture requirements; plants got way too big; flowers were not the color you anticipated; or maybe you have decided it would look so much better in another spot. Or maybe you just feel like digging. Remember the adage: “Every good garden has been in a wheelbarrow at least three times.”

Dividing can be an invigorating process for plants in which the center tends to die out. Some such as yarrow, aster, perennial sunflower, obedient plant and black-eyed Susan perform better if they are divided every few years to keep them in bounds.

April is an ideal time to move/divide most perennials. However, peonies should be divided only in September. Bearded irises are divided in July and August. Plants that form underground rhizomes or multiple crowns are easy to divide.

Everyone has their favorite method of dividing perennials and their favorite implement of destruction. I prefer a small sharp spade to divide large clumps. Shove the spade into the soil on the outside of the plant and continue all the way around the outside. Cut the plant into the size of sections you want. I often have to jump on the spade to get through thick stems.  

Some gardeners prefer digging around the clump and using two garden forks to pull the clump apart. Divisions can be as large as you want, but four-inch diameter sections work well for most plants. Smaller divisions may not bloom as well for a couple of years.

The whole clump does not have to be lifted. Sections from the outside of the planting can be removed to reduce the size of the planting or to leave the mother plant intact. For many perennial plants the most vigorous shoots are on the outside of the clump. This method works well for space invaders such as beebalm, mint and anything that spreads by runners to form a colony (or in the case of mint, its own country).

Some plants such as daylilies, catmint, and astilbe have more of a central crown. Dig out the whole plant and make divisions using a spade or garden knife or in the case of ornamental grasses an axe works well.

Replant divisions immediately, plant into pots, heel into a pile of moist mulch for planting later or put on your neighbor’s doorstep. Be sure to water plants thoroughly after replanting. Before replanting, amend soil with compost if needed. Most perennials do not flower as well the year they are divided, so don’t be discouraged.

Some plants do not like to be moved or divided. These include baby’s breath, old fashioned bleeding heart, balloon flower, lavender, monkshood, blue indigo, gas plant, sea holly, lupine and butterfly weed.

Other April gardening activities include removing last year’s perennial stems, trim butterfly bush, caryopteris and Russian sage back to 6-8 inches and remove any winter mulch from perennials and roses. Ornamental grasses should be cut down before new growth emerges.

Pruning Lilacs

IMG_0070This row of topiary lilac trees in the nursery at Metzger Landscaping will make the perfect focal point for local landscapes. Lilacs are usually in full bloom around Mother’s Day.

By Leesa Metzger

A former horticulture and botany teacher and owner of Metzger Landscaping & Garden Center in North Manchester answers reader’s questions about gardening and landscaping.

 

Spring has sprung and the phone in our office is ringing off the hook! Spring clean-ups are in full swing, beds are getting a fresh layer of mulch and we are looking forward to planting beautiful landscapes.  Several clients have asked this week, “When is the right time to prune lilacs?” and “How do I trim back a huge old fashioned lilac?”

 

The traditional lilac, Syringa vulgaris, is known for its wonderfully fragrant flowers. A lovely bouquet will easily fill a room with fragrance. Unfortunately that’s their only real ornamental attribute. They tend to look gangly and unkempt most of the year. Throw in a little powdery mildew on the leaves and lilac shrubs leave much to be desired. It’s probably best to tuck a few traditional lilacs into a shrub border or grouping in the landscape. They are most definitely not good foundation plants for around your home!

The recent estimate is that there are 2000 cultivars of common lilac. Most are in the pink, purple, blue or white range of flower colors with a few creamy yellows. There are a few listed as powdery mildew resistant such as ‘Charles Joly’ (magenta), ‘Madame Lemoine’ (pure white), ‘President Lincoln’ (true blue), ‘Primrose’ (creamy yellow) and ‘Sensation’ (purple and white bicolor).

Because lilacs tend to be long lived in the landscape, they may suffer from poor blooming eventually. The usual causes are:

1.      Too shady a site. All lilacs grow and flower best in full sun and well-drained soil.

2.      Pruning too late in the season and therefore removing the next year’s flower buds. Common lilacs should be pruned immediately after flowering to keep them vigorous.

3.      Shrubs are in need of renewal pruning. Lilacs tend to bloom best on younger branches. Prune by removing about one third of the older branches down to the ground each year after flowering.

4.      Poor shrub vigor due to scale or borers. Usually removing the older stems will help to control these insects. Oystershell scale may require a spray of insecticidal soap or summer oil in late May. Be sure to read and follow all label directions.

Although the common or French hybrid lilacs are magnificently fragrant, there are superior lilac species for the landscape. In my opinion these landscape plants do not have quite the heady fragrance of common lilac, they are far better looking shrubs after they flower and tend to be free of powdery mildew. If you don’t have much landscape space, these are better choices.

‘Palibin’ lilac is a neat, tidy shrub at five feet tall. The dark green leaves are smaller than common lilac. It may flower when quite young with pink lavender fragrant flowers. ‘Miss Kim’ lilac is a little larger at six feet. It makes a nice rounded shrub. It flowers a little later than common lilac with blue lavender flowers. The flowers are small but prolific. ‘Miss Kim’ usually develops a nice burgundy fall color, which is non-existent in common lilac.

Littleleaf lilac ‘Superba’ is also about six feet tall and like the other landscape lilacs forms a nice twiggy shrub. It has red buds that open to dark pink. ‘Tinkerbelle’ lilac might be worth growing just for the name. It has pink flowers on a five feet tall shrub. It has nice green heart shaped leaves.

Stop by our nursery in a few weeks to check out ornamental topiary lilac trees that make a great focal point for a landscape or other more traditional varieties as well.  See you soon!

To send a question for Ask the Landscaper, contact Metzger Landscaping at 260-982-4282, visit www.metzgerlandscaping.net to send a question, or find us on Facebook.