“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.

Interested in receiving the “Ask the Landscaper” column in your inbox? Sign up (in sidebar at right) to receive notifications of new posts.

 

Flowering Spring Trees

dogwood-white-travis-400-01

I’m a Hoosier girl, and spring is one of my favorite times of the year. In the springtime in Indiana bodacious blooms abound. From tulips and daffodils to crabapples, every plant appears to join me in a celebration of the end of winter and the beginning of a new season.

I get the most enjoyment out of all the small trees showing off and vying for our attention. Every vista is picture worthy. Crabapples adorn every branch with a flurry of flowers. Hundreds of crabapple cultivars exist so if a crabapple is in your planting future do your homework to make sure the tree and fruit size, flower color and disease resistance fits your needs.

The flowers of Redbud are a sure sign spring in the Midwest. Redbud, Cercis canadensis, grows as a native under story tree throughout the forests of the eastern US. It can grow to 30 feet tall and a bit wider at maturity. Redbud also blooms at an early age of 4-7 years. Even the trunks of older trees show off in spring as they parade their pink-purple flowers.

 

I would rank Flowering Dogwood as the most commonly desired spring flowering tree. The large white bracts (those actually aren’t flower petals) of Flowering Dogwood flowers are held at the ends of branches like chalices waiting for spring rains. Flowering Dogwood, Cornus florida, is native to a large range of the eastern US.  Dogwoods are understory trees so they like afternoon shade, wood mulch, plenty of organic matter and moist well-drained acidic soil. Flowering Dogwoods hate to be too wet or too dry.  We have a great selection of spring flowering trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals at Metzger Landscaping in North Manchester. We invite you to stop by our nursery MondayFriday 8-5 and Saturdays 8-4!

The Great Perennial Divide

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 planting and continue around in 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, 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.

Metzger Landscaping 069

Pruning Lilacs

lilac

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?”

 

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 definitely not good foundation plants.

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.

 

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

Creative Landscapes for Country Settings

By Leesa Metzger, Metzger Landscaping & Garden Center

Landscaping a farmhouse is all about an appreciation of the vistas and the pastoral settings of a rural area. Yet even if you don’t live in the country, you can still landscape with an eye towards that relaxed country style.

The most important thing in designing for a country house is recognizing the specifics of your own architecture and setting.  Having grown up on a farm and still loving the country life, as well as creating beautiful landscapes for over 20 years; I’d like to share some professional tips for creating a gorgeous country-style garden.

Dos:

·         Do look for lines in the architecture and land that can be repeated through the landscape. For example, the swoop of a roofline can be mimicked in the lines of a pathway to give the sense that home and landscape fit together seamlessly.

·         Do use a soft color palette in your planting and décor. White, light blue and the natural tones of foliage highlight the country theme best. Also, try to reflect the colors from your interior and architecture within the landscape for a cohesive look.

·         Do make the most of your views. Plan your landscaping to enhance and draw the eye towards any pastoral scenes, beautiful trees, or rolling hills that may be visible from your property, both from inside the house and out.

·         Do choose local materials and stone. A country home reflects its natural surroundings, so adding boulders, rock outcroppings, stacked stone walls or irregular flagstones native to your region will give your rural home the easy elegance that comes from fitting with the environment.

Don’ts:

·         Don’t neglect cultural requirements when choosing plants.  It’s been said before, but still rings true, “choosing the right plant for the right place is key in successful planting design.”  Paying attention to whether you have sun or shade, wet soil or dry, and then picking plants to suit can make all the difference in having a healthy, thriving landscape.

·         Don’t spend your weekends weeding. While topdressing with compost can help keep down weeds, the best weed control is mass plantings of ground cover, or a fresh layer of quality mulch.

·         Don’t select elements contrary to the farmhouse theme. Rustic elements like Adirondack chairs, built-in benches with cushions, and even old-fashioned oak barrels will fit better than sleek, modern décor.

The most important place to start in any design is with solid design principles. Pay attention to how people will move through the space, and concepts like form, line, texture, balance and rhythm all play a part in that sublime sense that the landscape just feels right.  While many people start planning a landscape by thinking about plants, a designer first considers issues of structure such as what is happening in the architecture and on the land. This results in a landscape that both looks beautiful and functions well. If you’re not sure where to start, hire a landscape designer, you’ll save time and money in the end if you start with the right plan.

In the last 20 years as a professional landscape designer, I have created a variety of custom landscapes perfectly suited to their surroundings. While each of the built landscapes by Metzger Landscaping shares similarities in the principles used to create them, each has its own character which comes from observing and acknowledging the specifics of the site. Along with installing unique plants and hardscaping such as patios, paver sidewalks and retaining walls, Metzger Landscaping in North Manchester has a nursery specializing in high-quality perennials, trees and shrubs as well as annual bedding plants and hanging baskets.  The garden center is stocked with everything a gardener needs from plants, tools, fertilizers, flower and vegetable garden seed packets as well as fun things to add color and variety to the garden such as garden iron, trellises, lanterns, garden shed décor, and decorative pots. Pick-up bulk mulch, topsoil, stone, and landscape edging to start your next landscaping project.

Valentine’s Blooms

valentines flowersYou just received a breathtaking delivery of flowers from your Valentine, and now you’re probably thinking about how to make their firm petals and vibrant colors last for as long as possible. Here’s how you can make your cut flowers last much longer. 

First, remove the flowers from the packaging, hold the stems underwater, and cut the stem at a 45-degree angle using a sharp knife. Cutting the flower at this angle allows the stem to have a greater surface area for water consumption. Do not use scissors to cut the stems and do not crush the stems either; this will damage the tips and block the flower’s water intake. 

Next, prepare the vase and the water. Kill any bacteria or algae that formed in the vase by cleaning the inside with bleach. If your florist does not include preservatives with the flower still the vase with lukewarm water and add a floral preservative. You can either buy preservatives from your florist or make on your own. To make your own preservatives, mix lemon with a very small amount of bleach, or a teaspoon of sugar with a few drops of bleach. Take note that using homemade concoctions might not be as effective as professional cut flower food because they don’t contain the complex mixture of preservatives and nutrients flowers need to survive. 

Before putting the flowers in the vase, remove all the leaves that might be submerged in the water. Leaves have the tendency to decay when submerged underwater and when these leaves rot, they poison the water and shorten the vase life of your flowers. Arrange the flowers in any way you desire, but make sure you do not overcrowd the vase. If the bouquet is too large or the arrangement seems too tight, divide them into two and place them in separate vases. 

Once you’re satisfied with your floral arrangement, keep the vase in a cool spot away from direct sunlight to avoid rapid respiration. Respiration is the process wherein living organisms age. It is helpful to note that flowers generally have a higher respiration rate than most agricultural crop. The lower the temperature of the room they are placed in, the longer the flowers will last. However, if the flowers are subjected to temperatures below four degrees, their internal cells can get easily damaged and dry out the flowers. If you want your bouquet to decorate an air-conditioned room, make sure the temperature is not too cold.

Finally, take care of your flowers every day and remove wilted flowers so they do not contaminate the rest. It is recommended that you change the water daily but if you are too busy to do so, replacing the water every two or three days is fine. Make sure you add the preservative each time you change the water. You can also re-cut the stem for improved water absorption. Taking care of cut flowers by following the steps mentioned will extend the life of your bouquet for many days to come.

 

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

 

Helpful Tips for Overwintering Plants

Did you recently drag some of your favorite plants indoors to “save them” from Mother Nature’s cold snap? Not exactly sure what to do with them now? Many plants grown as perennials in warm climates are not hardy enough to withstand the freezing temperatures in Northern areas. Northern gardeners can leave these plants outdoors to die at the end of the season or they can overwinter them until the next growing season. Many gardeners have great success with overwintering annuals such as geraniums, tropical mandevillas, hibiscus and a whole host of other great patio plants. 

Overwintering involves protecting the plant from the cold, either in the garden or in a sheltered place. There are many overwintering techniques, ranging from covering dormant plants with a thick layer of mulch to moving plants to coldframe, sunny windowsill, or cool basement. What works for one type of plant might be fatal to another. 

geraniums

An easy way to overwinter some plants is to grow them in containers year-round and use them as houseplants or on the sun porch during winter. Slow-growing woody plants such as lavender, rosemary, and tarragon make the transition from outdoor plant to houseplant and back very successfully and can thrive for many years.

 You can hold many types of nonhardy plants, often called tender perennials, indoors over winter. Cutting back, digging up, and potting plants growing in the garden is one option for overwintering, but this may cause transplant shock, especially if the plants are large. An easier way to save tender perennials is to take and root cuttings, and then keep the cuttings indoors over winter. Many summer bedding plants, including impatiens, begonias, geraniums, and coleus can be overwintered this way. Rooted cuttings take up less space indoors than entire plants, and there is less chance of inadvertently overwintering diseases and insect pests. Take cuttings from your overwintering plants in late winter to propagate more transplants to move outdoors once the weather warms. To keep them from getting leggy as winter progresses, pinch them or keep them under plant lights.

 

Fleshy roots of cannas, dahlias, and even four o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa), along with tender bulbs like caladiums (Caladium spp.) and tuberous begonias (Begonia spp.) can be dug and stored over winter.

 

Keep Mice Out!

Guests come and go during the holidays. Mickey, Minnie, or Mighty may have decided to stay since your home, garage or even your car is the perfect place to raise a family. Mice can quickly become unwanted guests. In a year one female mouse can have 5-10 litters with 5-6 young in each litter.

Of the several species of mice found in the mid-west most likely to cause damage to our structures and food include house mouse, deer mouse and white-footed mouse. Mice will eat just about anything and do damage by chewing electrical wires in houses or cars and wood in homes and garages. Blankets, clothes, paper, cardboard, and house insulation may be damaged as it is used for nesting material. Mice can also carry human disease.

House mice are small grey-brown rodents with long tails, large ears and black eyes. They are typically 5½ to 7 inches in length including the tail and weigh one-half ounce.

Deer mice and white-footed mice are important food sources for wildlife such as fox, owls and hawks. They can become indoor residents as they search for a warm place to spend the winter. These mice appear gerbil-like to me with their grayish-brown to reddish-brown coats, white bellies and white feet.

Effective mouse control includes three elements: proper sanitation, mouse proof construction and population reduction. Proper sanitation includes reducing food and shelter. Keep debris piles, wood piles and stacked boards way from home foundation. Store indoor materials in tight-fitting hard plastic containers and if possible at least eight inches off the floor and one foot away from walls.

Store bird and pet food in tight-fitting containers. Keep filled pet food bowls out for a short period. It’s almost impossible to starve out mice, but controlling food access will reduce populations.

Mice can detect openings where warm air is escaping from buildings. Mice may be doing you a favor by forcing you to make your home more energy efficient. Mice can enter through very small holes. Eliminate any openings larger than 3/16th of an inch. Eliminate gaps around pipes with steel wool and caulk or mortar. Larger openings can be closed using aluminum flashing.

Mouse populations can also be controlled using traps and toxicants. In most home situations traps are the best option for low mice populations. Traps do not contain pesticides and allow removal of the bodies.

Snap traps are the most common. Bait traps with peanut butter, caramel or nesting materials of cotton balls or cloth. Mice are most active before dawn and right after dusk. Place traps behind objects in dark places next to walls. Use several traps at no more than ten feet apart. Or just adopt a cat with a known reputation as a good mouser.

Box traps which capture the animal alive are not recommended for house mice since they are not native and relocating animals is very stressful to the animal and the likelihood of their survival is very low.

Electronic devices are also not recommended. Mice are very accustomed to living with people and our repeated noises. Little evidence shows the effectiveness of sound, magnetic, or vibrating devices at driving mice from buildings.

Saving Seeds

heirloom-tomatoes

 

You’ve met the tomato of your dreams…but you don’t know his name. Do you let cindertomato slip away? Saving our favorites through seed collection seems like a simple process. Walk through the woods or eat a few blackberries – seeds stick to our socks or between our teeth with little forethought from us.

However can you save seed and get the same plant next season? It all depends. Depends on the parent’s genetics and whether the pollen came from the family or the mailman. Generally in order for seeds to develop, pollen has to be transferred to the female part of the flower either by insects, wind or gravity. If the parent’s genetics are fairly stable through generations of inbreeding and the pollen comes from the family and not the mailman, then the seeds can be saved and then planted next season to produce a plant very similar to last season’s plant.

The flowers of peas, beans, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant are self-pollinating and saved seeds come with predictable outcomes. Many older cultivars and heirlooms are open-pollinated. Even though they cross-pollinate the genetics is fairly consistent. Saving seed from self-pollinated or open-pollinated plants will yield a similar plant; that is unless they are hybrids.

The tricky part to saving seed begins when the plant is a hybrid or the parents naturally cross-pollinate with other relatives. Any saved seeds from hybrids will produce wildly different offspring from their parents. If you are into the unpredictable, seeds saved from hybrids are your dream come true. Keep in mind some varieties are patented and therefore illegal to propagate.

If you are willing to embrace any deviations, here are the basics to seed saving:

For dry fruits such as marigold, zinnia, spider flower (cleome), most flowers, beans, peas, and herb seeds allow the seed to mature and dry as long as possible on the plant. Generally seed color changes from green to white, beige or brown when they mature.

 Complete the drying process by spreading on a screen in a single layer in a well-ventilated dry location. As seed dries the chaff or pods can be removed by hand or wind. For extremely small or lightweight seed such as dill put the dry seed heads into paper bags to catch seed as it falls.

For fleshy fruits such as tomatoes allow the fruit to ripen on the plant. Keep in mind vegetables will be past prime for eating if seeds are to be saved. Cut the fruit open and spoon the pulp and seeds into a glass container. Give the family an impending gross alert and set the pulp and seeds aside for one or two days to ferment and then spray water into the fermented solution. Healthy clean seeds will drop to the bottom of the container. Pour off the sediment. Several rinses may be necessary. Then spread the seed on paper towels to dry.

 After seeds are thoroughly dry, package in envelopes, label and date for storage in a cool, dry location. Generally, plants grown as annuals do not require freezer storage to encourage germination.

 

Attractive Edibles just waiting for Spring to Arrive

Spring has sprung…or has it? My calendar showed spring arrived a couple of weeks ago, but my daffodils are telling me a different story altogether. Slowly reaching toward the sky, the daffodils were certainly tired of all of that snow cover. One cannot deny the longer hours of daylight, the birds chirping happily in the morning and the flower bulbs peeking out of the ground are all good signs. Indeed, spring is just around the corner!

On the gardening calendar for this weekend was supposed to be the beginning of my annual spring clean-up of the flowerbeds. But this landscaper knows that plans change quickly due to our unpredictable Indiana weather. Cold, rainy, chilly April days make for wonderful garden planning days instead of days in the garden. Seed catalogs, measurements, and notes sprawled across my desk all beckon for design inspiration.  Several of my clients these days are looking to create attractive vegetable gardens this spring. It’s a rather new concept in garden design – creating attractive edible gardens.   Many inspiring photos of herb and vegetable gardens that are as beautiful as they are tasty can be found online.

First posted 4/06/13 at Indiana Gardening.

Use Perennials to Paint the Landscape

sm_landscaping
Landscaping design and installation by Metzger Landscaping & Design.

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, even 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 & Design often strives to add color to our landscaping projects through the use of low maintenance, colorful perennials. In fact, the two  most-often requested wishes 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 & Design, “We Turn Gardens into Art”.

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; 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 work of art.

Try These Top 10 Tough Perennials

  • Daylily; Hemorocallis, ‘stella de oro’ & ‘rosy returns’
  • Variegated Hosta, ‘widebrim’ & ‘francee’
  • Black Eyed Susan,  Rudebeckia, ‘goldsturm’
  • Purple Cone Flower, Echinacea, ‘Kim’s knee high’ & ‘white swan’
  • Coral Bells, Huechera, ‘cherry splash’, ‘palace purple’, & ‘caramel’
  • Russian Sage, Pervoskia, ‘little spire’
  • Maiden Grass, Miscanthus, ‘sarenbande’
  • Coreopsis, ‘moonbeam’, ‘route 66’
  • Agastache ‘blue fortune’
  • Salvia ‘purple rain’, ‘blue hills’

To see more great photos of perennials used in our landscapes, visit Metzger Landscaping & Design on Facebook.

First posted 3/23/14 at Indiana Gardening.