Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pruning the easy way to a beautiful garden

Pruning is not a chore but one’s expression of living art. There are many reasons to prune plants. From a grower’s perspective, we prune plants to train them to have full, well branched structures. Generally shrubs should be pruned every 6-8” and trees are pruned every 12-15”. The result on the one hand will be a plant that has strong branches able to better withstand heavy snow and ice during the winter time. On the other hand, a well pruned plant creates a work of beauty during the rest of the year. Characteristics such as flower color, size, fragrance, leaf color during the season, or even fall color will all be enhanced with proper pruning. The end result will allow us to sell a plant that will perform brilliantly for years to come. From a homeowners perspective, we prune plants to keep them from getting out of shape, growing too tall, too wide or more simply put, so they don’t cover up the windows, grow over the walkway, or up against the house. Now whether you are a professional or a weekend gardener, pruning a plant should have the same results.

We need to get to know our plants and understand their strengths and weaknesses. For a plant that means we need to understand where do they grow best and under what type of growing conditions? Where will they provide the best effect, whether that is complementing the architectural details of the home or providing screening between adjacent properties? So before we take on how to prune plants, let’s make sure they are a good fit to the yard. Learn the maintainable size of the tree or shrub so you can place it in the best location. The bottom line is the proper plant for the proper location will allow us to grow the plant as it would naturally. Learning how to prune plants so that we maintain them in an area that is too small for them to grow can truly dampen out spirits as a gardener. So in the end, right plant right location becomes a thing of beauty…living art.

The first principle
of pruning is to cut back to another branch or bud where there is healthy wood. When we clip the top off a branch the energy will flow to the bud or branch just below the cut. The result will be buds breaking open and producing new shoots. Most times after the plant is pruned we see it grow furiously. Over the years when trimming is done to the outer portion of the plant the canopy becomes very dense. As sun light is restricted from getting to the interior of the plant the inside branches die out. The second principle of pruning I call "thinning-out". This is the most important part of pruning that most people do not do. And without this step our plants grow out of shape having you ask 'Is it still salvageable"? By thinning, we reopen up the dense canopy by taking out sections to allow sun to get to the center again. Evergreens such as Yews are prime examples of a plant most of you would say looks great on the outside yet dead on the inside. If we were to thin the plant, we allow the shape to remain and allow sun into the center. The buds in the center will break open and develop branches that will begin to grow through our openings towards the sun. The result is a more open plant that does not stimulate excessive new growth. A lot of growth can be removed without changing the plants natural appearance. Yews, Hollies, Junipers are Evergreen Shrubs that can be maintained for years at a desired height and spread by thinning-out. Viburnum, Euonymus, Weigela, Dogwood, and Barberry are some common Deciduous Shrubs that will also benefit from this technique. This method of pruning is best done with hand pruners, not hedge shears.

When To Prune: The best time to prune most flowering shrubs is just after they flower. Deciduous Shrubs such as Forsythia, Viburnum, Lilac, and some Hydrangeas (macrophylla varieties) produce the following year’s flower buds just after their current years flowers cycle. So if we prune a Lilac in the fall because it is overgrown from several years of neglect, though we will put the plant back into shape, we will also loose the following year’s flowers. It would be best to loose some flowers and have a better maintained shrub. Evergreens Shrubs such as Yews, Junipers, Holly, Spruce and Fir can be pruned late winter or early spring before new growth starts. All evergreens in the Pine family would be pruned late spring after they flush their new growth. Most of the evergreen shrubs continue to grow during the summer season. Broadleaf Evergreens such as Rhododendrons and Azaleas should be pruned after they flower in late spring. Thinning out as previously described with a hand pruner is best. Old flower clusters can be pruned or pinched off to prevent seed formation and to encourage new growth and flower buds.

Though this is a lengthy blog, save it as a general guideline to help keep you in tough with your plants. Or better yet, see you at my next class .

There is nothing like a little hands on... time in the garden... Larry

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Putting Your Garden to Sleep

Just take small steps.... That is what I said while looking from one side of the garden to the other. So much to do... So with small steps here is my list of accomplishments:
  • Cut back the sedum to the ground; even though they look great in the winter.
  • Cut back all those great 'Knock Out' Roses to 18"; then thinned them out to create a uniform branching structure.
  • Cut back Daylilies to the ground just before they turned brown. They are easy to cut back while they are standing up and the debris rakes off easily.
  • Lightly prune shrubs so they keep their shape. In my next post check out an article about pruning that I wrote for a trade magazine.
  • Pull all left over Annuals and rake out the debris.
  • Gather, drain, wind up, tie up and hang all garden hoses in the shed.
  • Drain the two fountains and cover them to prevent freezing.
Next beautiful day.... garden tasks to accomplish:
  • Prune shape and thin many shrubs.
  • Apply Jonathon Green Organic Fertilizer to the planting beds. This will gently feed our plants and keep them in good vigor.
  • Apply 'MoleMax' to keep Moles and Voles from tunneling in the garden. Remember to apply this product every 4-6 weeks. As an organic control it keeps the critters out by making their skin itchy.
  • Start tree pruning....
See my next post for a great article and / or check out my next pruning class and I will see you in person. Don't forget to bring a list or samples of plants you want to learn how to prune.

See you in the garden... Larry

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Back to the Garden Blog...

After a long hiatus many of you have asked me to keep up with the blog posting. I appreciate the support and encouragement. As time has gotten away from me here I go again...and this time (I promise) to the best of my busy schedule to keep you in the loop about our gardens, timely garden advice for our area, and other interesting thoughts all relating to gardening.

Next week, Saturday October 25th at 12 noon, I am talking about 'Putting your Garden to Sleep'. The hour, and then some depending many questions I field, will help you understand the Who, What, Where, When, How and Why many of these tasks are important.

See you next the garden.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Decorating the Garden...just in time for...

At this time of year we see many people rushing into the nursery looking for ways to decorate their garden, entrance, patio or deck just in time for... a graduation, wedding, weekend party or even the July 4th barbecue.

An easy solution to the garden pick me up are patio floral arrangements. These are ‘Grab and Go’ collections of beautiful annuals and perennials have been grown in decorative containers for immediate pickup. A pair placed outside the front door to your home will create an inviting welcome sign setting a festive mood. A group containers; perhaps one large and two smaller placed in a grouping on a patio or deck can easily dress up a corner. Or even a smaller simple one toned container can dress up an outdoor dining table setting the tone for a fabulous meal.

If you are into big and bold, instantaneous color try this simple solution. Take a large hanging basket, place it on an end table or plant stand. Take off the hanger and instantly convert the arrangement to a table top wonder of color.

Have you ever wondered how your neighbors created immediate color in their gardens? You know those huge hanging baskets at the nursery? Take a couple, slide them out of the pot, plant them right into the ground, feed, water and Whala! Instant color and neighborhood envy.

So there you have it. Simple, easy and fun gardening solutions that make creating a beautiful atmosphere for any party a piece of cake. Get ready for that festive time of year, summer.

Enjoy your garden, decorate with color and watch your party come to life!

Friday, May 16, 2008

To Be Organic...That is the Question

What does it mean to be an Eco-Friendly Gardener? What does it mean if the label says ‘Organic, Natural, Natural Based, OMRI, Eco-friendly or Contains Natural Ingredients?’

Here are some simple terms to learn about:
'Fertilizers' are any product that contains a mixture of nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium (N-P-K). The number such as 10-6-4, or 5-10 is the percentage of nutrient in the bag. The numbers or percentage must add to at least five or 5%.
‘Organic’ means the ingredients must have been alive at one time. This could either mean plant or animal.
‘Natural’ means minimally processed ingredients, such as rock phosphate. It can also refer to something mined, such as perlite or vermiculite.
‘Organic Based´ means 50 percent or more of the guaranteed nutrients are from an organic source.
‘OMRI’ (Organic Material Reasearch Institute) listed means the product has been approved for organic production, processing and handling. OMRI products are the most desired by those that are true organic growers. The products are tested by an independent institute. For a product to display this seal, it must meet the standards of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.
'Microbes' in the soil are beneficial bacteria that help break down organic matter into more usable forms that plants can take up.
‘Compost Tea’ is not a fertilizer. A 'Tea' consist of beneficial microbes in liquid form added to the soil to assist plants to take up nutrients by breaking down the organic matter into smaller more usable forms. Soil Soup is a great source of microbes.
'Mycorrhizae Fungi' located on the outside and inside of roots help enable the plant to take up some essential nutrients. They are especially beneficial as a plant partner in nutrient poor soils such as new housing subdivisions. The absence of Mycorrhizal fungi can slow plant growth. Natures Creation Plant and Soil Booster is a fantastic compost that has Mycorrhizal fungi. Not only does it help loosen clay soils, it helps the plant take up nutrients.

Organic vs. Synthetic Fertililzers:
A plant taking up an ingredient such as nitrogen does not distinguish whether it is from an organic or synthetic source. Organic fertilizer generally breaks down more slowly within the soil before it is in a form available for the plant to use. This period can often last several months. So when you have healthy old plants and need to gently feed them, organic products work best. Synthetic fertilizers take a great deal more energy to produce than organic types. This makes ‘organic’ fertilizers the “green” choice. Organic fertilizers are beneficial to the soil and helpful to Mycorrhizae and Soil Microbes. Composted mulches and soil conditioners contain the organic matter microbes feed on. Organic fertilizers are the food that feeds the microbes. Synthetic fertilizers feed the plants and not necessarily the soil. Synthetic fertilizers can be fast acting when a plant needs a boost, such as annuals which are grown for one season. They will need to be replaced yearly if not bi-yearly depending on the time release built into the fertilizer. Organic fertilizers typically have a lower ratio of N-P-K than synthetic fertilizers. Therefore, if one was to use organic fertilizers, more may need to be used in order to achieve a significant improvement to an unhealthy plant.

Choose your products wisely to make sure they help your plants perform their best. Make sure you read the label of ingredients and not just the name on the bag. It goes the same when you food shop. And most of all ask questions. Fine garden centers should have the answers at their finger tips making gardening fun, exciting, successful and Eco-Friendly.

See you in the nursery...LG

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

May Garden 'To Do' Short List...

It's all about putting a list together and then figuring out what you can get done and what you will want to others to do... Fran is the list maker; I am the 'others' that gets it done...

May Projects and Tasks:
* Apply a weed and fertilizer program to your lawn to take out the dandelions before they flower. The fertilizer will nurture your lawn to help fight weeds off in the future. Now that the lawn is 'Lush, and don't I know she likes a Lush Lawn.' We use organic weed controls and fertilizers.
* You pick 'em, I'll plant 'em annuals! No threat of frost in the future, we have cast off our lines and are planting (sailing) away. So after hours Fran and I will shop till we drop. I feel like a kid in a candy store. And the cavities in the garden are all being filled in with color!
* Fran saves time in her busy schedule by adding instant curb appeal with patio floral arrangements and hanging baskets. The drip irrigation I put in at the house makes watering as easy as turning on and off a switch.
* There is nothing like rich nutrient filled soil. Replenish your containers with new potting soil. This was to be last fall's task. But at least the containers got put away. So I emptied them last week... New soil and fertilizer will make your flowers thrive!
* Plant summer-flowering bulbs for additional bursts of vibrant summer color. I always like it when Fran says 'I don't remember planting that.' Personally, I think she likes the surprise. It's just the opposite when I walk into the house and say 'When did you get that?' And she says 'Two months ago. It took you that long to notice...'
* Delphiniums, Phlox, Carnations, Aubrietia, Candytuft, Basket of Gold, Primroses, Coral Bells and Saxifrage are great flowers to add early season perennial color. I mass the color with quantity. I'm not a plant one of this, one of that kind of guy.
* Cut back expired blooms from flowering bulbs (tulips, daffodils) but continue to feed and care for the plants until the foliage has died back naturally. Do as I say, not as I do. I never get this done. And the flowers seem to take care of themselves. Or maybe it is the occasional rabbit or deer we hired to dead head. Hmm...
* Set the stakes next to your taller flowers like peonies early in the season. I never take our stakes out. Fran doesn't seem to mind. It's one less task to keep off our list and maybe yours too. 'Pin Up Stakes' are the best. When used properly you don't see the supports and everyone of your neighbors will ask you why your Peonies don't fall down. I guarantee it! They are well worth the investment of buying them once and having them forever.

Next week: Plant the Veggie Garden. I can't wait for fresh tomatoes, basil, mozzarella and balsamic vinegar...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Quick List of Spring Garden Project Update

Last Week Completed
Lawn Projects:
Rolled Lawn to smooth out the bumps.
Aerated Lawn to allow the roots room to grow.
Applied Jonathon Green Step One for lawns because ‘Frances loves a lush lawn…and don’t I know it!’

Garden Projects:
Raked out all left over leaves from the gardens.
Lightly pruned some shrubs.
Cut back ornamental grasses.
Sprayed all weeds with an herbicide using a two gallon pump sprayer.
Applied Corn Gluten to control new weed seedlings.

This Week To Be Done:
Garden Projects:
Take out the Hemlock the rabbit ate.
Plant ‘PJM’ Rhododendron as replacements.
Get a larger ‘Havahart’ trap for the rabbit to live in.
Plant Cotoneaster to frame the Serviceberry feature tree.
Mulch new gardens.
Fertilize the large evergreen trees in the back yard.
Broadcast organic fertilizer though out the remaining gardens to gently feed.

Remember to always look back and admire what you accomplished. Remember the reason why there is always something to do in the garden: to help you escape from your day to day routine.

See you in the nursery. Bring your list…

Monday, April 21, 2008

'Bark' the garden

Sometimes we learn the hard way. After years of business, I am still going to school. I call it ‘The School of Hard Knocks’. I’m sure you can relate. We all have our stories; mine is about bark mulch.

Last year my staff mulched a new garden we just planted. It looked great, no buried plants, uniform coverage…good job guys. So as the garden came to life this spring, I started to see chunks of wood in the garden from 1-3” in size laying on the surface. I realized my guys used the economy mulch, not the Premium Bark Mulch we use on all projects.

So here I am 6:30 Sunday morning in the garden leaning up against a leaf rake scratching my head asking the same question many of you call about: ‘Is all Mulch the same?’ The answer is no. ‘Bark’ Mulch is just that, the stuff off the outside of the tree, bark. When ground up uniformly it biodegrades and eventually becomes soil. For those of you that have poor soil, decomposed bark is the best soil amendment. So when planting, mix it into the ground. Your plants will love it.

Generally, Mulch can be ground up wood including the bark on the outside, pulp wood on the inside and every twig and limb in between. The problem is the inside pulp wood does not biodegrade as fast as the bark. So as the bark biodegrades it sifts to the bottom leaving all the pulp wood on the surface. Next thing you know you have all this debris in your garden. You should be able to shred bark between your fingers. Pulp wood feels like a hard piece of wood you could burn in your fireplace. It cost more to skin the bark off a tree and separate it from the pulp wood. That’s why there is a cost difference in materials.

So I raked up the pulp wood debris into piles. Off it will go to be sent back to the woods behind the nursery. Next Sunday morning, I will be having a re-mulching party. If you want to see the difference for your self, you are cordially invited to join me.

Location: My gardens.
Time: Sunday 6:30 am.
Serving: Coffee and the good stuff, ‘Bark’ Mulch.
Please RSVP with desired wake up call preference.
See you…in the garden.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Picture or the the garden

Have you ever seen a landscaped home and asked your self questions such as ‘What were they thinking? What was the concept? What was the theme? What were they trying to accomplish? Why did they plant that tree here? Why that grouping of trees is over there? Why did they alternate plants? Or just say to your self ‘Boy that looks busy or those plants don’t seem to go with the home’. So many questions….

I have been asked many times, ‘How do I come to create the designs I do?’ My answer is always the same; I ask a lot of questions. My favorite question to ask any client is ‘What do you see?’ And when they say ‘I don’t know’ I tell them the story about the plant and the frame.

When Frances, Josh and I go down to visit my family on Long Island, we always make a trip into the city. And with the great food (Katz’s, Ray’s), favorite shops (Chinatown), there is always a museum to take in. So off we go looking at art. My favorite art are paintings by Monet. I love scenes of gardens. What do I see? I see a beautiful painting with a frame around it. So when I design, I think of the artist. My pallets of paint are my plants. I use plants to do one of two things. They are either pictures or frames. So for example, the large twenty four year old maroon leaf Copper Beech in my front yard is a picture to behold. The green Lady’s Mantle planted as a ground cover underneath the tree is the frame that shows off the picture. On a larger scale, the picture in every front yard is the home. The frame is the plants that show off the picture of the home. I use the analogy a picture on the wall of your house or at a museum to help one understand my train of thought. So imagine a picture frame having four legs; top, bottom, right and left. What would happen if each one of those legs of the frame were different? What would you see; the picture or the frame? You would probably say I’m confused. The four frame legs are too busy and distracts from the picture. This is what happens to too many landscapes in front of too many homes. The gardens which should be the frame distract from the architectural details of the home. I like to think in today’s world the phrase ‘More is Less’ applies to most of us and the hectic lives we live. This also applies to many gardens. Too much stuff, too busy, too many things going on makes our lives less fulfilled and our gardens too overwhelming.

So when I design, I think the opposite; ‘Less is more’. I choose fewer varieties of plants and more quantity of fewer varieties. I frame the sides of the home with trees to create the left and right side of a picture frame that separates your home from the others in the subdivision. I frame the windows and make sure I use the same plant so they show off the type of window architecture you picked out and not distract from it. I frame the entrance so when your friends and family turn off the street and drive up the driveway they know where to go; to the front door. And lastly I create just the right number of pictures with in the garden and frame them simply with one type of plant to make the stroll up to the front door interesting, comfortable and not overwhelming. And who picks out the art? You do. This becomes your signature, your style, your personal touch.

Without you realizing it, you picked out the original picture and that is the home you live in. I ask what colors you like and what plants appeal to you just by sight. You pick out colors, textures and variations of plants that are pleasing to your eye. And what do I do? I paint with them to show off the architecture. Some I use other I decide not too all to be certain to make sure the plants complement each other and the home. And without you knowing it, I am the steward of the plants. I make sure they can grow well where ever I plant them. And oh by the way they are aesthetically pleasing because you helped pick them out along with being complementing the architecture.

So in the end the best designs make me say, ‘Wow, what a beautiful home. Look how the plants complement and show off the architecture’. Calming, pleasing, easy to look at. Success in the design means success in the garden. So, ‘What do you see in your garden, pictures or frames?’

I invite you to come see mine…

Thursday, April 3, 2008

"Feed Me!" says the Garden...

What seems so simple and sensible a garden task to do can be the hardest to get accomplished. Why is that? Why do we find the number one recommended garden solution, like feeding your plants, is not thought about as often as it should be? Perhaps the answers will never come to us if we talk about plants.

So let’s talk about people as if they were plants. And in this way perhaps you can think to change the word ‘people’ for ‘plants’ as this blog reads on. We all understand people need to eat when they wake in the morning, right? After all Frances could easily say “You are such a bear in the morning,” sometimes… Or perhaps you just thought about bears coming out of hibernation. We would then say “Oh yea I get it, they have not eaten all winter, no wonder they are hungry.” No wonder I act like a bear in the morning. I am sure some of you act like one too. I’m hungry; we’re all hungry! Certainly a good breakfast has been known to go a long way. And after a long days work, dinner would be a welcomed sight too. So everyday we feed ourselves. No big deal, right? We just do it as if it is second nature. Bears forage for food after a long winters sleep; second nature once again. So when it comes down to it why do people eat? They eat to stay healthy, fight off disease, feel good, the list is endless. Basically people eat to stay alive.

I know you get it now. But please indulge a moment more to wrap this up. The lawn will not green up without being fed food in the spring. So apply a good organic fertilizer now before it starts to wake up. The flowers you plant in spring will not grow as well as you would like without being fed through out the spring, summer and fall. So when you plant them, make sure to amend the soil by adding fertilizer. The trees and shrubs will not grow old gracefully without food too. So before they break bud, make sure there is something for them to wake up to and eat. And as if you need an example here is what an evergreen would tell you if it could talk. “So you expect me to grow old with lush full branches from the top to bottom? And with what should I dine on if you do not feed me twice a year?” So now as you drive by many a home to and from work looking at every evergreen tree in sight, notice the young thin yellowing ones or the old tall ones that look like they are loosing their bottom or inside branches. What you see are starving trees. They are dying from the bottom up and from the inside out.

I could only hope to drive down the road someday and hear someone yell out the window to some poor soul raking his lawn “Hey Mack, looks like your trees are hungry and it looks like you never missed a meal in your life! Could you do your trees a favor and feed them too? I can’t take it anymore!”

Now you know what goes through my gardening mind everyday. So enjoy your dinner and don’t forget to feed your plants the dessert...Get it?

See you in the nursery...

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

What do I do the garden?

I have been told I have a lot to say. Certainly if you listen to our radio show on Saturdays you would concur with Frances and say he may have too much to say. As if the radio was not enough, today marks the beginning of what will be many postings. The question what do I do first has me perplexed when I think about this blog. So I will just start and see where this takes me. The obvious I know: the subjects are endless when it comes to gardening. We all know there is so much out there on the web to read about. So why read this?

Here is my answer. This blog will allow me to respectfully tell you, show you, teach you, and coach you about the good, bad and ugly gardens, garden techniques, garden design, garden installation, pruning and general maintenance I have seen over the past 24 years when I first established Grossman's Country Nursery in 1984. I will share with you our gardens and the gardens of others. I will not identify you, but beware I may take a before and after photo only for you to say "Hey, that's my place!"
So sit back, relax and enjoy...and don't forget to tell me what you think.