Photo by Guy L. Adams
Gardening by the Yard
By Tom Corbin
A Fairlington Gardener
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"Gardening By the Yard Column."
Spring Gardening Tips
(Posted April 21, 2008)
The Flower Border
We have been "lucky" this year in that spring's cool temperatures have extended the blossom time of spring bulbs, shrubs, and trees.
The cooler temperatures have also checked the impulse to plant summer annuals; however, the soaring thermometer of the past few days have increased the nurseries' business in that gardeners are eager to plant petunias, marigolds, salvia, geraniums, coleus, and other warm weather materials.
May 1 is usually considered the "magic date" for planting out summer materials, for by this time the soil is usually warm, the night temperatures are above 45 degrees, and day time temps are warm enough to keep summer annuals happy. If planted when the weather is cool, summer annuals "sit", but when planted after warm weather is firmly established, they flourish! Resist the urge to plant warm season annuals until the last frost date has passed in your area.
A Garden is Always Evolving
Experienced gardeners know that first year perennials do not do much in the border. It usually takes 3 years for perennials - such as daylilies, phlox, sedum, and grasses - to become established. The first year, perennials "sleep"; the second year, they "creep"; and the third year, they "leap"! The message here is that a border takes time to establish, so gardeners must have patience.
And a garden is always evolving - once that azalea reaches maturity, it has shaded out that perennial planted near it. Once that tree grows and shades the area, we must put in shade-loving plants where before we could plant those that preferred the sun.
Even in the small spaces of Fairlington gardeners - the area near our residence and our patios - we must continue to rethink the plantings over time.
Fairlington is particularly graced with lovely stands of azaleas which flower in late April. An occasional pruning and fertilizing will keep them looking good. Flower buds are established in the summer for next year's blooming season.
To avoid interfering with next year's blooms, azaleas should be pruned soon after flowering. Shearing azaleas detracts from their natural grace and form; they should be hand thinned.
There are many varieties of azaleas. "Encore Azaleas", developed in the eighties, bloom in the spring and again in the fall. (Note: the fall flowering is not as prolific as spring's.) Low growing azaleas with a spreading growth habit can be used as ground covers as they grow 1 or 1.5 feet tall and spread 2 - 3 feet. Some colorful varieties are 'Joseph Hill' (orange), 'Kaempo' and 'Michael Hill' (both pink).The 'Exbury hybrids' have been bred for large, colorful flowers in such tones as yellow, orange, and true reds/ purples.
The gardener's dilemma is "what to do with the bulb foliage?" After daffodil blooms have faded, dead head them before they go to seed and make sure you leave the foliage for at least 8 weeks to recharge the bulbs to rebloom next year. Feed them with an all purpose fertilizer (5-10-5); avoid putting the fertilizer on the leaves.
I totally remove tulips after they flower in the border and replace them in the fall. The old bulbs are not reliable and most times only produce leaves the second year. Removing them altogether also gives space for summer materials.
Before perennials get "leggy", pinch out the top to encourage a more bushy plant. Pinching back phlox, for example, keeps the plant shorter and bushier and also provides for more flower heads. The same goes for sedum. Usually by the time sedum is ready to flower in late summer, it has flopped over. Pinching it now to encourage side shoots will help eliminate this condition.
If you have plants that you know are going to require staking, put the stakes in now. Peonies become top heavy when in bloom; bracing the plants now - before flowering - will keep the blooms off the ground later.
Perhaps you have noticed the appearance of "volunteers" in your border - plants which have seeded themselves. If you don't put down a heavy mulch, you will find that some well situated plants will seed themselves and produce colonies. Helleborus do this, as do some forms of Echinacea, bleeding hearts, columbine, and most native plants. Remember to continue to dead head pansies (remove spent flowers) to keep them flowering until hot weather.
Heuchera - "Coral Bells"
One of the most adaptable and easily grown plants for our area is heuchera. Known by its common name, "coral bells", it will grow in the border in part sun or shade, and in containers. Each year newer colored varieties are produced. Although some forms have colorful flowers (usually red or pink), it is grown primarily for its leaves. Some newer forms are 'Pistache' (lime green), 'Frosted Violet' (burgundy violet), 'Encore' (rose-pink with purple tones), 'Peach Flambé' (red-orange leaves), and 'Sashy' (dark green on top with lavender on reverse). In protected areas, such as Fairlington patios, it provides year round interest.
Great Plants for the Shade
P. Allen Smith's web site http://www.pallensmith.com recommends the following plants for shady gardens - the typical Fairlington space.
- 'Summer Wave' - Blue Torenia (Wishbone Flower) - annual
- 'Rockapulco' - Apple blossom Impatiens - double flowering annual
- 'Dolce' Coral Bells' - See Heuchera above - perennial
- 'Infinity' - Salmon colored New Guinea Impatiens - annual
- 'Diamond Frost' - Euphorbia - annual - This plant was new to the area last year. It blooms continuously with little maintenance into November. Good for both the border and containers - annual
- 'Pineapple Lily' - Eucomims autumnalis - adds an exotic, tropical touch to the garden - annual
- Hosta - There are so many varieties, colors, and sizes that there must be one to suit your garden - perennial
- Japanese Anemone - grows two to three feet fall and blooms from late summer into the fall - perennial
In the interest of protecting our environment, there are many thing the small-time gardener can do to limit our impact on the planet.
Plant native species. The American Horticulture Society (located near Mt. Vernon), Blandy Farm (the VA arboretum near Winchester, VA), Green Springs Farm (located off Little River Turnpike), and local farmers' markets offer native species which will grow in our area.
Use natural products. Limit the use of chemical sprays and fertilizers in the garden.
Consider drought tolerant plants. Once established many plants, including native species, are drought tolerant. Discover them through a little garden research.
Promote Natural Growth Patterns. Encourage the natural growth form of plants and shrubs. Sheared plants are stressed out and use more water than those left to grow in their natural pattern.
|Earth Day - April 22 - "THE EARTH keeps some vibration going There in your heart, and that is you."|
from "Fiddler Jones" Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters (1868 - 1950)