Please Be Sure to Water!


Yosemite National Park

I think all of us here in the Magical Mid-Atlantic were hoping for some good, soaking rains from Tropical Storm Hermine this past week; alas, it is drier than ever.  We must be very diligent about watering (soaking) our gardens as we prepare our plants to go dormant before they head into winter. I am beginning to see plants drying out in some of the gardens I am visiting. Please, please—WATER!!!

Lantana, Balboa Park, San Diego

Lantana, Balboa Park, San Diego

Watering. After a very hot July and August, early September promises more heat and drought,  and it will likely remain this way until late September or early October, unless we have a hurricane (let’s hope not—at least not the windy component!).

If you have new shrubs and trees that were installed within the last year or two, and you have a sprinkler system, don’t depend on the sprinkler system to do a proper job of watering your newer plants. Irrigation systems are great for established gardens, lawns, and shallow-rooted plants, but you’ve got to deep-soak your new plants, especially when temperatures are above 90F and we haven’t had rain for awhile. Here are some further notes:

When trees are rooted and growing leaves, they are taking up water from the ground. It’s like suction (and much like our sweating):  the leaves “sweat”, and in the process, pull the water from the ground with the roots, up through the plant, and out through the leaves. This is called transpiration. The hotter, drier, and sunnier the weather, the faster the transpiration, thus the increased water need. It’s like a continuous loop of water drawn in and sweated out. When the days shorten in the fall, plants anticipate the coming cold weather, drop their leaves, and go dormant. Evergreens just go dormant, of course, without dropping all their leaves…most plants in our region just stop from the ground up. The roots will continue to grow until the ground gets below 40 degrees. This is all very simplistic, of course…so much more is going on, but you get the drift.

My grandson, Julian, at the San Diego Waterfront Park

My grandson, Julian, at the San Diego Waterfront Park

Things are different when a plant is first planted. That’s because they take time to root…in other words, the little feeder roots that take up the water have not yet come from the rootball of the transplanted plant and established themselves into the surrounding soil. Therefore, we must baby them for a few weeks until this happens. Too little water, and they drop their leaves as a defense mechanism because they are trying to conserve water in the stems so that when water is again available, they have the strength saved up to leaf out again. Conversely, when too much water is around the roots and the rootball cannot get any oxygen (because this is important, too), the plant’s leaves often turn a soaked-looking dark brown, and either hang onto the plant or drop, because the plant doesn’t need any water and the systems shut down. Both of these things are really easy to do after plants are just put in…there is a fine balance. Believe it or not, more plants die of overwatering than under watering. Isn’t that crazy? But it’s true.

As the days shorten, and the sun becomes less intense as we move towards fall, your plants will require less and less water…you can probably cut the frequency a bit. Likewise, plants dry out more quickly when the humidity is low; less quickly when the humidity is high. Monitor carefully so you don’t over- or under-water.  Just remember to soak deeply when you do water.

Get to know your garden and its “hot spots”—places that dry more quickly than others. This is true even if you have an irrigation system. Put your fingers under the mulch, into the soil, and check for moisture.  Don’t depend on a quick thunderstorm to water for you (much of the heavy rain will run off and not soak into the ground)…deep soak your garden as needed. Let the lawn go dormant or provide once inch of water per week to keep it green. If hand–watering your plants, take the nozzle off the hose, and aim that nice, steady stream of water directly at the center of the plant where it meets the soil. Let the water soak in deeply. When using sprinklers, rain gauges are a big help…or (better) check the soil with your fingers. And remember:  like winter-damaged plants, those left unwatered are not guaranteed…another incentive to get out the hose!

African Tulip Tree, Balboa Park, San Diego

African Tulip Tree, Balboa Park, San Diego

Weeds.  Ugh.  I know, I know…it’s too hot, too dry, there are too many…etc. etc.  Really, though, you must get to them before they go to seed or you are really going to have your work cut out for you.  At the very least, go out and cut off those seedheads before they ripen and fall!

I find that the best time to pull weeds is after a good rain or just after I’ve watered.  The weeds slip right out of the ground, for the most part, except for a few stubborn ones; then, I have to get out the pointed trowel (a wonderful tool) or a dandelion weeder.

After you weed, you can put down some mulch to cover the bare ground, if you’d like…it helps to control weeds and helps keep the soil from drying out so quickly.

Sunset, Big Sur, CA

Sunset, Big Sur, CA

Vacation time. We were fortunate to travel to California again this summer. More about our trip in the Fall Newsletter. What have you all been up to this summer? I look forward to seeing many of you this fall and hearing all about your adventures. Please let me know if you’ll need my help this fall—I have been booking for fall all summer!




Posted under Garden maintenance, Garden Travel, Southern Gardens, The Fall Garden, The Summer Garden, Water in the Garden, Weather vagaries

Camellia sasanqua 'Setsugekka' at Woodland Cottage

Camellia sasanqua ‘Setsugekka’ at Woodland Cottage

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays! Here is a link to my Holiday 2015 Newsletter, full of garden tips and information on our travels this year. Enjoy!

Posted under Garden maintenance, Garden Tours, Garden Travel, Holidays, Newletters, Random garden thoughts, Southern Gardens, The Fall Garden, The Winter Garden, Travel

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on November 28, 2015

FREEZE WARNING Tonight for the D.C. Area


Take photos of your favorite plant combinations, before the frost, so you can repeat them next year. Here, we have variegated spider plants, purple heart, and sprengeri asparagus fern, all tender to frosts and freezes.

Right on time, the first freeze of the season is due in the D.C. area tonight. Not all areas will see a freeze (or even a frost), but it’s time to prepare, just the same.

With the turning of the seasons comes a list of things to do to put your garden to bed for the Winter season, so it can rest:

Without delay, bring inside your tender houseplants and tropical plants. Check for insects and spray accordingly, if you believe in spraying. Once inside, I give them as much light as possible and only water enough to keep them alive. I could care less if they grow over the Winter…the only reason I have them inside is to decorate the rooms and keep them alive until I can put them out again the following April. By then, they are beyond ready to go back outside.
• ***Continue watering, as needed, until you put the hoses away for the Winter. Fall can be sunny with very low humidity, and very dry. This year, I’ve found that many of the large trees we installed suffered because of the lack of deep watering during this Summer’s drought. Please be sure to lay the hose down at the base of the trunk—water on a slow trickle—and allow the water to seep in slowly. These large trees have big, deep rootballs and the water must get into the ground deeply so the trees don’t die. DO NOT depend solely on irrigation systems during the first couple of years—monitor your plants for water. Remember that newly-planted items do not have the means to absorb surrounding water until they root. The bigger the new plant/transplant, the more water it’s going to need. I cannot stress this enough.
Once the regular hard freezes arrive, be sure to turn off your outdoor spigots from the inside and store your hoses for the Winter, out of the harsh weather.
When the time changes, change the batteries in your smoke alarms (the twice yearly time changes are good seasonal reminders). And check your dryer vents, too. You’d be surprised how many people forget to check their dryer vents—they can get clogged and become a great fire hazard. There are companies out there to clean the vents for you, if you are not into doing it yourself.

Houseplants.10.21.10 064

Time to bring in your houseplants for the Winter!

Other Fall gardening notes:
It’s a great time to plant new plants and to transplant shrubs that might be in the wrong place. They will spend the Winter rooting while the tops of the plants go dormant, and they will be ready to grow in the Spring. I think that Fall planting is the best-kept secret in the gardening world. There are exceptions: certain plants don’t establish themselves in the Fall, for whatever strange reason; and things that are marginally hardy—at the northern limit of their hardiness range where you live–should not be planted in the Fall because they might not have time to root well before the cold weather sets in. They have a better chance of surviving the first couple of Winters if they are well-rooted.
I don’t like to fertilize shrubs in the Fall—especially broadleaf evergreens–because it promotes new growth on the remaining warm days of Fall—only to be frozen off when the hard freezes come in. It’s best to let your plants go dormant naturally so they can withstand the Winter cold more easily, especially if the Winter turns out to be severe. It’s a great time to fertilize deciduous (leaf-losing) trees, however, as they go dormant.
No major pruning should occur now; new growth should not be promoted due to the coming hard freezes. Plants should be allowed to go dormant. Minor trimming and shaping are fine; just no major pruning unless you absolutely have to do it. A great time to prune evergreens is during the holidays, when you might want to bring in some greens to decorate.
Get the weeds out now! They are all setting seeds and those seeds mean many more weeds next year. Save some time, in advance, by weeding now when the weather is nice.
Seasonal color—pansies, mums, ornamental cabbage and kale—these and other seasonal plantings can go in now. Pansies should make it until Spring and should revive after any Winter dormancy; ornamental cabbage and kale often get fried in the first bad freeze; and you decide on the mums…they are perennial and could possibly come back and bloom next year, depending on the variety. Most people replant them every year, though.

March.2011.3.27.11 054

Pansies survive most Winters in our area and provide much-welcome color.

Bulbs—this is the time to plant. Daffodils, narcissus and most other bulbs can go in now until the ground freezes hard. Wait on tulips and hyacinths until at least November. The soil is too hot until then to plant these two. And remember to buy the best quality tulips and hyacinths you can afford…they decline after a few years in our hot, Summer soil. Think of tulips as a present to yourself and buy them fresh every year to get the best show. If you love tulips, it’s worth the money. And remember: deer love tulips, but won’t touch daffodils.

Good luck with your preparations for the cold weather to come!

Posted under Container Gardens, Garden maintenance, Houseplants, Pruning, The Fall Garden, Weather vagaries

First Frost/Freeze of the Season Due this Weekend in the Magical Mid-Atlantic


Right on time, the first frost/freeze of the season is due this weekend, here in the Magical Mid-Atlantic.

Most of you have brought in the houseplants; if not, it’s time to wrap it up. Bring in those tender things: any tropical plants (such as your Summering houseplants), or any tender plants you might want to save that would be susceptible to the effects of a frost/freeze. I just finished getting everything in the door a couple days ago.

Soon: turn off your outdoor spigots for the season; put hoses away when you get the chance. Change the batteries in your smoke alarms (the twice yearly time changes are good seasonal reminders). And check your dryer vents, too. You’d be surprised how many people forget to check their dryer vents—they can get clogged and become a serious fire hazard. There are companies out there to clean the vents for you, if you are not into doing it yourself.

Happy Fall and I’ll have more in my Holiday Newsletter in late November. Hope all of you are well and happy.


Photo by the blogger. If you copy, please link back.

Posted under Houseplants, The Fall Garden, Tropical Plants

Holiday Newsletter

My annual Holiday Newsletter is up on my website–here’s a link,

Here at Woodland Cottage, the last of the leaves are just about to fall after a gorgeous, colorful Autumn.  The Japanese Maples were exquisite, and they still have a few red leaves.  I’ve really enjoyed them.  They took my breath away every time I looked out the back windows!

Beautiful 'Bloodgood' Japanese Maples in the back garden at Woodland Cottage

Beautiful 'Bloodgood' Japanese Maples in the back garden at Woodland Cottage

I’ve started decorating the inside of the house for the holidays, and I put up the outside lights this afternoon.

More soon–I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving!

Posted under Holidays, Newletters, The Fall Garden

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on November 26, 2012

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Early Autumn Garden To-Do List for the Magical Mid-Atlantic

After the Summer’s heat, it’s time to get back out in the garden and put it to bed for the Winter.  Here’s a link to your chores!

Camellia sasanqua 'Setsugekka' at Woodland Cottage

Camellia sasanqua 'Setsugekka' at Woodland Cottage

Posted under Garden maintenance, Houseplants, Insects in the Garden, Pruning, The Fall Garden

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on October 3, 2012

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Fall color at Woodland Cottage

Fall color at Woodland Cottage

No matter where you live in the Northern Hemisphere, the signs of Fall are everywhere.  Birds migrating, animal behavior changing, day length shortening and light intensity weakening.  The temperatures are cooling, of course, and I read that there’s even been a dusting of snow already in the far North.

Today, we turn from days dominated by light to days dominated by darkness until next Spring.  Today is the equality day, the balance day, where light and dark fight and dark wins…or, looking at it another way, they are both at peace with each other today.  Can’t you feel the “pause” in the air?

My keen sense of the natural world around me (probably due to the fact that I spend a great deal of my life outside, observing) told me early in the year that the usual, yearly succession of garden events was beginning two weeks early, at least here in the magical Mid-Atlantic where I live.  As far as I can tell, that has continued all year.  Plants leafed out early, so the bugs came out early to eat the plants, and the birds and bats came out early to eat the bugs and plants, etc. etc.  Now the flip side is happening because it cooled off two weeks earlier than normal.

The one thing that is consistent, year to year, though, is the changing of the leaves.  Unlike the leafing out in the Spring–which is brought on by a combination of day length, light intensity, and warmth–the Fall color begins when the light intensity and day length are at exactly the right level.  Mother Nature flips the “off switch”, and chlorophyll production ceases in the leaves.  Now, the greens fade, and the brilliant colors–present in the leaves all along, but hidden by the deep greens–start their annual show.  Two or three weeks later, the leaves have fallen and the trees are bare.

Here in the magical Mid-Atlantic, I start to notice in August the Dogwoods turning their deep, wine red ever so slightly.  This is brought on by heat stress, probably (and lawsy it was hot here this Summer) and, from then on, it’s gradual until the rest of the trees do their Fall thing.  On the National Mall in Washington, D.C., my friend, Dean, and I take our Fall walks under glorious, old Elms which begin to turn yellow right around Columbus Day weekend (mid-October).  Finally, the show begins, and the color peak is usually somewhere around the 25th of October to the 1st of November.  Then, the big “dump” of leaves, and the shock of the bareness.  It always takes me awhile to adjust to the stark landscape.  (And that surrounding starkness is why I planted my garden so heavily with evergreens.  A walk in my garden in Winter is a joy because I am transported from the nakedness around me).

While the leaves begin turning at the same time each year, temperature and moisture do determine the color intensity and length of the Fall color show.  It is said that warm, sunny days, and cool, crisp nights–and ground with plenty of moisture in it–make for the most brilliant color intensity.  Dryness and heat can result in dull colors and browning; too much rain can knock the leaves off prematurely.  Either way, by early November, the trees are bare, once again .

In my garden here at Woodland Cottage, I have the added treat of seven Japanese Maples.  These are the last to color-up, usually as all the other color is waning and falling–and they give the final hurrah.  The varieties I have, upright ‘Bloodgood’ and weeping ‘Crimson Queen’, turn brilliant, fire engine red and hang on for a long time.  I have uplights underneath them, and it’s like looking out at cherry drops when I gaze out the back windows at night.

'Bloodgood' Japanese Maple, Fall color, Woodland Cottage

'Bloodgood' Japanese Maple, Fall color, Woodland Cottage

The time of the falling leaves has, for me, always been a time of pause–between getting back into the groove after Summer and the craziness of the Winter holidays to come.  Savor this time with me, won’t you?  Take time to pause and enjoy Nature’s Autumn show.

Posted under Random garden thoughts, The Fall Garden


Ralph, my wise, old garden gnome.  He sees all.

Ralph, my wise, old garden gnome. He sees all.

I have an article due later this week on the subject of peanuts.  I’m looking forward to writing it, yet I haven’t gotten the urge or the inspiration to get started.  The deadline will get me moving, I know, because I have a deep-seated need to fulfill my obligations to the best of my ability.  I still see my mother staring at me, arms crossed, with tapping foot and pursed lips.  It will be on time.  The Miss Joan in my head will make sure of it.

Tonight, I’m avoiding the article on peanuts by writing in my blog.  How convenient!  I know I am not alone…often, my dear, brilliant attorney friend, Catherine, has writer’s block with the briefs she must file on time.  She’ll finish in time and turn them in; meantime, she knits, and writes blog posts, and brilliant articles for magazines.  I get that urge to avoid when the writing “don’t come easy”, as Ringo Starr sang.

I’ve been feeling a little melancholy lately, for various reasons.  Steve and I just came off a wonderful, Summer vacation to Savannah, Beaufort SC, and St. Augustine FL.  More on the trip in another post (with Steve’s great photos); let’s just say it was hard to come home.  I’m still having dreams of moss swaying lazily in live oak trees.

It’s the “off-season” for me, also, so my days aren’t as crazy and I have time to fill as I see fit.  It’s kind of a crack in the wheel of the year for me because everything is in that lull between the end of Summer and the start of Fall.  I don’t have to think too much about appointments and installations and garden maintenance and schedules and deadlines (other than the article deadline, that is)–everything seems to be hanging in suspended animation until a switch gets flicked and time says, “Okay. It’s time for Fall.”  I’m working on redecorating a bathroom, reading, and just staring into space thinking about all kinds of things.  One of those things is time.  As much as I love Fall, I’m sad to see the Summer go.

I felt propelled to my bookshelf today and pulled down “Every Day in Tuscany” by my penpal friend, Frances Mayes, my favorite.  I was thinking about time and, sure enough, she discusses it much in this book.  I’ve been reading all day and stopped many times to ponder.  So many thoughts about time came to me today.

It’s funny how clients are so different from one another in terms of “garden time” (thank goodness–it keeps my job interesting).  Some are patient (they get that a garden needs to grow and can take years to develop), and some are not (they want the end product NOW).  We gardeners know the answer, of course:  great gardens develop over time.  I was having dinner the other night with my dear friend, Crawford, who will be 90 next year, and we were talking about gardens and time.  I told him about my impatient clients.  He said, “What a shame that they miss out on the joy and pleasure of watching their gardens grow.”  Indeed.  But I didn’t let him off the hook, either.  I said, “You are just as guilty!  You cajoled, fertilized, watered, and just about put stretchers on your Pieris to get them to grow, remember?!  You complained for three years or so, and the fourth year they doubled in size.  How quickly you forget!”  He said, “Welllll–it was all that encouragement I gave them that made them grow!!”  We laughed.  Even in your 80s, you can learn lessons about time.

Remember, with plants:  “It sleeps, it creeps, it leaps.”  And that’s not just about English Ivy, either.  In my experience, it’s pretty much across the board, at least in the Southern climates where I live and garden.  Seems like the plants take forever to grow, then one day you notice suddenly that they’ve doubled and need pruning.  Astounding!  What a pleasure to be a gardener with a few years under my belt…now, I sit back and enjoy the process because I know the reward will come soon enough, at a seemingly increasing speed.

Steve was up this weekend, and after a delightful evening with a dear friend and her nephew on Friday night, we had a full Saturday night.  First, we were privileged to be invited to a 50th birthday surprise party for our friend, Stephanie.  What a cordial group of people, and when Steph walked in and heard the “SURPRISE!!!”, she started to cry.  The crowd burst into a lively version of “Happy Birthday”, and in the amount of time it took to sing the song, I could feel the honest and devoted love for Steph.  Her years devoted to cultivating these loving friendships all came to fruit in that one instant.  A moment in time, and a lesson for all of us.  It’s very easy for gardeners to see the metaphor here.

After our quick appearance at Steph’s party, we went out to Wolftrap (which is a local venue set in a national park here outside D.C.) to participate in a sing-along viewing of “The Sound of Music”.  So much fun and so many memories associated with the film.  On the way home, we discussed how the huge crowd joined together, joyfully, as one big unit, to celebrate the fun of this film.  For those three hours, we all had one thing in common:  our experience watching the film–not our differences.  It was a congenial,  civilized and laughter-filled evening I will remember.  Yes, some melancholy there, too, for me–I was seven years old when “The Sound of Music” was released in 1965 and much in my life has changed.  But “The Sound of Music” has remained the same, even as my own life is flying by.

This time of year, for me, is a time of thought:  “What’s next?”  The seasons are changing, days are shortening, nights are cooling. What will you plant in your garden this Fall?

Posted under Books, Garden Ornament, Gardeners, Random garden thoughts, Southern Gardens, The Fall Garden, The Summer Garden, Writers

Music to My Eyes

Yep, my eyes.  Can you see the Sweet Music?  A magnificent Fall this year.

Photos by the author.  If you copy, please link back.

Posted under The Fall Garden

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on November 17, 2011

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Finally: Indian Summer

I’ve always been taught that Indian Summer isn’t official until there has been a frost.  Technically, my garden has not seen a frost, but since so many others in the D.C. area have seen it, I’m going to go out on a limb and call it “Indian Summer” here in my garden.  And a glorious day it was, here in the beautiful Mid-Atlantic.  I spent the afternoon working on my own land.  Here is what I enjoyed:

Readers of garden magazines/books/blogs always see the nice, pretty garden pictures.  Well, in order to make them pretty, you gotta have some ugly, too.  Today, as I began winterizing my garden, I started cutting back perennials.  First on my list is Toadlily, always, since their seedpods are just about to pop open and spew millions of seeds from here to China.  If I don’t cut them now, I will be sorry next Spring–for weeks.  Here’s the cut-back Toadlily bed, just after I finished–some ugly:

As much as I hate, despise, detest Winter, I do love seeing my garden return to its Winter “bones”.  So much easier to assess what spots need attention, and the evergreens pop out of obscurity and come into their own.

Some people call a day in the garden a day of work.  Not me.  I call it a day of joy.

Photos by the author.  If you copy, please link back.

Posted under Garden maintenance, The Fall Garden

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on November 6, 2011

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