Archive for the ‘Gardening Tips’ Category

New Ways to Think About All That Mulch in the Garden

After four years my neighbor finally put in a modest foundation bed last summer. I watched her laboriously dig out a 3-foot-deep bed, tearing at the fescue imbedded in potter’s clay (that’s our soil). Eventually she put in a row of three evenly spaced barberry shrubs, a miscanthus in one corner and a hosta in the other, then a daylily of some type. She mulched her bed with so many wood chips, they rose halfway up the barberry shrubs and almost covered the daylily leaves.

To be encouraging, I told her how wonderful it all looked, when what I really wanted to say was, “What do you think about staggering those plants? How about a more curved bed? Maybe that miscanthus won’t work so well in that much shade.” But most of all I wanted to point out that her plants were drowning in mulch.

I couldn’t say any of this — I feel bad talking about it now, like I’m some sort of landscape backseat driving jerk for even mentioning my thoughts. It’s her house, her yard, her plants. But the mulch. The mulch. So instead of talking to my neighbor, I’ll talk to you about why wood mulch can be both great and, well, not very great at all — and what a better alternative might be.

Types of wood mulch. We’ve been taught that wood mulch is essential, and in a lot of ways it is. If you use it, chunky wood mulch at a depth of 3 to 4 inches is best at suppressing weeds and adding organic matter to the soil, while also allowing good water infiltration. Finely shredded wood mulch tends to create a dense, impermeable mat and even blow away, but it’s great at weed suppression. The point here is that the kind of wood mulch you use matters. And don’t use cypress, as it’s often harvested unsustainably (of course, it wouldn’t surprise me if all wood mulch is harvested unethically).

Wood mulch is good for your soil. Termites don’t like wood mulch, contrary to the myth my home builder told me when he saw I was putting it right up against the house. It also doesn’t suck nitrogen out of the soil as it decomposes; instead it creates awesome soil by encouraging microbial life.

Yes, this was my garden many years ago, with 20 yards of mulch and when I was clueless about everything. Please note that I now mulch it with the perennial stems I cut down each spring, which isn’t enough, but it doesn’t matter — by early June you can’t even see the ground.

But too much is very bad for plants. Let’s also talk about mulch volcanoes. You know, mountains of mulch piled up 1 foot to 2 feet against a tree trunk. I never knew my city was riding over a fault line filled with mulch magma, but apparently it is. This practice will lead to disease and trunk rot and tree death. Personally, I prefer the park-like look of trees with no mulch — trunks coming straight out of the lawn or meadow, like the olive tree and mass of lavender here. Trees like river birch even seem to prefer plants around their root zone, which better shade and cool the soil.

All that being said, some studies show that a circle of mulch around trees and shrubs increases their rate of establishment and growth over the years. How’s that for conflicting info about mulch? Keep in mind, though, that a tree’s feeder roots will eventually reach out to at least twice the tree’s height — that’s one really big potential mulch circle.

Wood mulch maybe isn’t the best mulch. Designwise, I feel that mulch maroons plants and makes a perennial bed look like every other perennial bed. Mulch is default landscaping, and it kind of bugs me, as it’s very boring. If you can’t afford more plants, buy plugs, which are often a third the price of larger pots and give you more plants for your buck. In a worst-case scenario, plugs establish and spread just as fast as much larger root-bound nursery pots. More plants. More awesome.

Plants are the best mulch. Why not let your self-sowing perennials self-sow? Let them spread, get free plants, create a dense garden full of life and shelter and food for insects and birds and spiders and frogs and kids. Nature abhors a vacuum, and mulch is a vacuum devoid of life. In nature smaller plants and seedlings are the mulch, in effect. So if you’re actively planting a new bed from scratch, consider what shorter plant to use in front and under taller ones to create a rich, beautiful layer that serves many purposes at once.

Eventually you won’t even need mulch. After a few years, as your plants establish, you won’t really need any kind of trucked-in mulch. The taller and thicker plants create a shade barrier to most weeds and help conserve soil moisture. If anything, I’d say top-dress with some nice compost in the fall, since compost can be both a mulch and a natural fertilizer. Letting it soak in over winter is also a smart idea

One last reason plants make a better mulch. In a sunny area, you have to keep adding mulch, maybe as often as once a year, because mulch breaks down faster in sunlight. That’s not as low maintenance as I like, but wood mulch is far better than rubber (adds nothing to the soil; seems sort of like pollution) or rock (adds nothing to the soil; pain in the derriere to clean debris from or dig in). Nothing mulches like a nice plant ground cover and a diverse, vastly more interesting and layered perennial bed.

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**Pat Pendley, Christie Pendley ,and Doug Hall, are licensed Real Estate Brokers in the State of Oregon with RE/MAX Integrity

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Butterfly Gardening: Delight the Eyes With Living Sculptures

Surprise and thrill with a garden that attracts magical winged creatures, bringing color, movement and life

Once we’ve laid out a landscape — installed the pavers and edging and mulch, placed the plants — we can sit back in deck chairs and admire the splendor of a beautiful vista. But there’s another element just below the surface — a fourth dimension that thrills our senses and brings us fully into the place. Butterflies add a presence of color and movement that echos the flowers, grasses and stone walls in our gardens, delighting and surprising. Gardening for butterflies is perhaps the simplest thing you can do in your landscape — likely you already have the basic elements to help them thrive.

Start With What You Plant

Obviously, the first thing you can do to attract butterflies is to plant flowering plants, from perennials to shrubs and even trees. You can plant them in masses and drifts, or go for a more random cottage style. Formal or informal — the butterflies won’t care.

What our winged friends do care about is what kind of flowers you have. Generally, the greater diversity you have, the better. And in general the less complicated the flower, the better. For example, new cultivars of coneflower that have double layers of frothy petals confuse butterflies and other pollinating insects, so they’ll ignore the bloom. The “simpler” flowers — like purple or yellow coneflower, black-eyed Susan, Joy Pye Weed, mountain mint, blazing star and aster — are perfect, especially if they are not named cultivars; straight-species flowers often have the flavor a certain growth habit or petal color.

Certain butterflies are especially attracted to certain flowers — monarchs go especially nuts for blazing star, or Liatris ligulistylis.

Finding out which flowers will work especially well for you requires a bit of trial and error based on your location. A good place to start, though, is local university extension offices or arboretums, as well as native-plant nurseries that specialize in attracting and providing for wildlife. You’ll certainly be doing

If you want as many butterflies as you can get, you must use host plants — plants that butterflies raise their young on: milkweed for monarchs, fennel or parsley for black swallowtails, plantain for buckeyes, baptisia for sulphurs. Many tree species are particularly important, like oak, black cherry and willow.

Gardens With Wings lists plants and the butterflies that lay eggs on them.

Add Water

I bet you don’t think of water as necessary for butterflies, but it is. You won’t see them sipping from a pond or pool like birds, though, as they slurp droplets. This is why a fountain or other water feature that splashes a bit is important, as the action creates nearby butterfly-size mud puddles and drops to easily drink from. You can incorporate such a feature in almost any landscape design, from formal to informal.

A disappearing fountain with a rock base might work best for quenching a butterfly’s thirst. You can place it among the plants so some water finds its way onto leaves. Use plants that have cupped leaves to hold rainwater, like sedum and prairie dock. Even consider creating a damp mud puddle in a shallow birdbath, which is particularly attractive to butterflies. (Think about it — butterflies use their long proboscis to pull out nectar from flowers, so they like to do the same with water from globs of mud.)

Create a Habitat

Whoa, what’s this, a winter picture? Yup. Can you count the number of butterflies here? There could be dozens. Many butterflies overwinter as adults (mourning cloak), caterpillars (viceroy) or in a chrysalis (swallowtail).

This is one big reason not to cut down or clean up your garden in fall — butterflies are snuggled in among all that dead plant life, waiting to emerge in spring. Plus, leaving the garden up creates an added architectural element for you over a long winter. Wait until spring to clean up, and walk gently over fallen leaves and twigs when you do go back outside.

A beautiful lawn in a clean, modern landscape, filled with lots of architectural negative space, is often appropriate to a house’s design. However, it’s also a desert for butterflies. In addition, it may well be that the lawn is maintained with pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers, which are easily harmful to butterflies at every stage in their life cycle.

If you want butterflies, you simply can’t spray anything in your garden or landscape (and neither can your neighbors). If you must spray something because you’ve exhausted every other avenue of treatment and thoroughly researched alternative strategies, try to spray when insects are least active, like late evening.

Enjoy the Experience

There is nothing more pleasing than taking pride in and enjoying a designed landscape that complements your home and lifestyle. For many that experience can be elevated even more by creating a fourth dimension in the garden, that of insects like butterflies.

Ranging in size and color from spring to fall, healthy butterflies echo the landscape design and bring us home in ways we wouldn’t have imagined before. Perhaps gardening for butterflies draws out the simple wonder of childhood in all of us, recalling a sense of peace and health many of us are missing in our hectic lives.

Courtesy of
HOUZZ

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**Pat Pendley, Christie Pendley ,and Doug Hall, are licensed Real Estate Brokers in the State of Oregon with RE/MAX Integrity

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It’s Easy to Grow PUSSYWILLOWS

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Over the years, my parents and I have had pussywillow trees at our houses. Our pussywillows came to up, via my Mother’s sister Mary’s garden. Aunt Mary, garden maven that she was, most likely started her own tree from a branch picked off of a pussywillow tree, that grew at the edge of the woods, by Grandma’s house.

To get some pussywillow branches to start your tree, first ask around, telling relatives and friends what you are looking for. If no one has any, look in / ask at the florist department of your local supermarket, or go to a florist store in your area. Pussywillow branches will only be available for sale in late Winter-early Spring when the catkins (velvety flowers) of the pussywillow are about to, or just came out.

Pussywillows are sold in bundles, because they are often displayed by themselves in mass. You will also see a few pussywillow branches stuck into arrangements that are made up with tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths, because they are also a harbinger of Spring.

When selecting pussywillow branches, try to get the longest and straightest ones that you can find. The longer and straighter the branch, the taller and straighter your pussywillow’s trunk will be.

If you buy pussywillows in a bundle from the florist, take the straightest and thickest 3 to 5 branches from that bundle, and put them in a tall vase or bucket with 8 to 10 inches of water in it. Put the rest of your pussywillows in a vase with no water in it, so they will dry and stay exactly as open as they are at that moment. This way you will be able to keep them for a long time.

Rooting Pussywillow branches ..Pussy willows are a bit messy and smelly during the period when they are growing roots. Find a place in your house where you can leave them to root, like a spare storage room, light filled back hall, sun room, garage with windows, or any other kind of space that does not have to be completely neat and pristine.

Unfold a couple of sheets of newspapers and put them down on the surface where you will be placing the vase / bucket, this will protect that surface, and make for easy cleanup.

Over a period of a few weeks, while the branches are rooting, the pussywillow catkins (velvety flowers) will greatly expand (looking like a caterpillar) and then they will start to fall off. At that same time they will form sweet-smelling pollen that will also drop.

After the catkins have fallen off, new green shoots will start forming here and there toward the upper part of the branch. At the same time, white roots will start to grow out from the lower part of the pussywillow branch, that is below the water line.

Let the roots grow to about 3 or 4 inches all around the stem. At that point, from the 3 to 5 branches that you have rooted choose the one that looks to be the healthiest, with vigorous root growth and some nice looking new shoots and leaves on top. That is the one to plant on your property. If you don’t have room for the others, offer them to gardening friends or throw them away.

If you try rooting a pussywillow branch in late Spring or early Summer after it has already leafed out, take off all the lower leaves from the branch, so just a clean stem is under water.

Plant your new Pussywillow Tree in a spot that gets full sun to partial shade. Full sun is 6 plus hours of direct sunlight each day. My parents had pussywillow trees on both the north and south sides of their house. Mine grew on a shady side of the house that only got morning light.

Plant your pussywillow in a part of your garden that is far away from underground water pipes, wells, sewer lines, or septic tanks. Being part of the willow family, you don’t want their roots traveling toward, and affecting anything like that.

Now look at illustration 1.
That is what a new pussywillow branch should look like the first year you plant it. It is most likely forming roots and establishing itself.

illustration 2.

Shows a pussywillow that has formed some long branches, and it has also started forming some small secondary branches toward the tops of the long branches.

At the end of Winter / early Spring, when the pussywillow is starting to sprout its catkins again, you MUST cut back all of its branches, just leaving the trunk, like illustration 3. This will encourage the tree’s trunk to grow wider and stronger, and the next crop of new branches will all be / grow long and straight. They will be the perfect shape and length for arrangements.

The yearly chore of cutting off all the branches in late Winter or early Spring must be done so the pussywillow does not ever grow side branches. If the side branches form the tree will start to change shape, and only pussywillow catkins will grow at the ends of the branches. A pussywillow that is allowed to grow naturally can get 20 to 30 feet tall.

Our pussywillow trees lasted many years before they finally got cut down or died. They produced many bundles of branches that we decorated with, gave to friends, and I sold them at Spring Art Shows, back in the day when I did Art and Craft Fairs.

Companion Post .. Make an Easter Egg Tree, Celebrate Spring 3-21-2011, How to Plant (Design) a garden. Mass versus Specimen Planting 2-17-2011

COURTESY OF
Fred Gonsowski Garden Home
http://fredgonsowskigardenhome.com/2012/02/15/its-easy-to-grow-pussywillows/

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**Pat Pendley, Christie Pendley ,and Doug Hall, are licensed Real Estate Brokers in the State of Oregon with RE/MAX Integrity

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Grape Vine Pruning Tips

Grape-vine

Grapes produce fruit a few years after planting, the vines are vigorous but can be pruned to fit in small spaces, there are varieties adapted to almost any climate in the country, and the plants are long lived, yielding grapes for eating, juicing and wine making for years.Pruning grapes can seem daunting and a mystery to the inexperienced gardener. However, with a little understanding and trial and error, you can learn to how to prune your vines to keeping them under control and producing well.

Grape Vine Pruning Tips are:

1.Grape Vine Basics:
The key to pruning grapes is understanding their fruiting habit. Grapes produce the most fruit on shoots growing off of one year old canes. If you have too many old canes (from no pruning), then you’ll get fewer grapes. If you prune back your vines completely each year, then you get lots of new growth, but again, few grapes.Plant in spring and prune back the grape vine to three buds. Place the vine near a stake and attach it to keep the vine growing vertically. As it grows, select the strongest shoot and let it grow. From here on the pruning systems vary.

2.Grapes on a Fence:
Once you’ve selected a main cane, allow two canes to form on either side of the main trunk at about the height of your first horizontal wire (about 3 feet). Let the trunk grow up further and top it once it reaches the ultimate height (usually 5-6 feet). Allow two more canes to develop on either side of the main trunk.The first winter, prune back the side canes to 3 buds on each and construct wire supports for them to be attached to. As the side canes grow, attach them to the wire and remove all other canes coming off the side canes or trunk. Remove fruit clusters because you want the vines to send energy into growing strong roots and a trunk at this point.The second winter, prune back the side canes so they have about 10 buds on each. The next year they will grow shoots that will fruit. Select four other shoots close to the side canes and prune these back to two buds on each. These will be renewal spurs for the following year’s production.The third winter prune back the side canes that fruited to the trunk and prune back the renewal spurs to ten buds and select four more renewal spurs for the following year’s fruit. Continue this process each winter. You should be removing up to 70% of the grape canes each winter.

3.Grapes on a Stake:
If you are low on free space, try growing grapes on a stake. Pound in a sturdy stake next to the grape vine and securely attach it. Let the vine grow to the top of the stake the first year then top it. Allow 4 to 5 side canes to grow. Remove all the rest.The first winter, cut back the side canes to three buds on each. These will send out shoots that will produce grapes the next year. Remove all weak and spindly growth, especially along the lower parts of the trunk. The second winter, prune back the healthiest canes to six to ten buds, select two canes as renewal spurs and prune those back to three buds on each and remove all other canes. Repeat this pruning each winter. Your trunk should be able to support four to seven fruiting canes each year as it gets older.

4.Grapes on an Arbor:
Make sure you have constructed a sturdy arbor to hold the weight of the grape vines. It may be a two, four or six post arbor, depending on whether it’s attached to the house or another structure. The top can be secured with 2 inch by 4 inch wooden slats that hold the arbor together and topped with 1 inch by 2 inch wood pieces to create the lattice work for the vines to grow on. You may also need corner braces to secure the whole structure. Grow the grapes, one per post, selecting the strongest cane. Allow it to grow to the top of the post the first year, securing it to the post as it grows. The first winter top the cane and allow it to grow side branches along the top of the arbor. If you let the vines just continue to grow, they will produce dense shade, but little fruit. Prune the grapes each winter by removing those canes that fruited the previous year, cutting back one year old canes to five to six buds, and leaving some renewal canes pruned back to two to three buds. The goal is to have canes on the trellis spaced 2 to 3 feet apart. Remove any weak, thin canes. You want to leave enough fruiting canes on the trellis to fill it back in each summer, but not so many that is becomes a tangled mess.

These are the grape vine pruning tips

Courtesy of
Asianetindai.com
http://asianetindia.com/grape-vine-pruning-tips/

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(541) 979-0571

**Pat Pendley, Christie Pendley ,and Doug Hall, are licensed Real Estate Brokers in the State of Oregon with RE/MAX Integrity

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