FREEZE WARNING Tonight for the D.C. Area

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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.

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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.

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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

Rain Days–Some Garden Potpourri

Everything is washed clean from the rains.

Everything is washed clean from the rains.

Lover of sunshine that I am, it sure was nice to get a couple of true rain days.  My little world here at Woodland Cottage is washed fresh and clean.  It’s sparkling in the intermittent sunshine this morning after heavy rain overnight.  This is rain day #2.  I’m getting lots accomplished.  I realized yesterday that it was the first rain day we’ve had this long Spring that simply didn’t allow us to work outside.  We’ve sloshed through all the showery others.

We’re now in that “in-between” time here in the magical Mid-Atlantic–between the flowers of full Spring and the first flowers of early Summer.  It is almost Hydrangea Time.

'Nikko Blue' Hydrangea budding up

'Nikko Blue' Hydrangea budding up

'Annabelle' Hydrangea in a pot.  They make great container plants.

'Annabelle' Hydrangea in a pot. They make great container plants.

Rain days allow me to:  Write my Spring newsletter (I’m tardy by two months :/–and yes, I did get it written and to my talented friend, Peter, who does the layout ).  Vacuum the floor.  Write a blog post.  Catch up on billing and paperwork.  Get started on some magazine articles (the deadlines loom).  Delete the junk from my e-mail inbox.  Clean off my desk.

It's clean!  I can even see my favorite picture of Steve!

It's clean! I can even see my favorite picture of Steve!

Sunday, I spent a day in my own garden.  I got most of the pots and the windowboxes planted (and fertilized), all the rest of the houseplants outside and organized, and some planting and transplanting accomplished–just before the rain.  In my brain, I feel like I’m so late this year because the gardens are so advanced compared to the usual mid-May.  The reality is I’m finishing some things earlier–I usually don’t get around to the pots and annuals until after Memorial Day.  Some things will wait until after Memorial Day–I want to pick up a few favorites in Wilmington that weekend–but it feels good to be this much ahead.

I have some new additions this year in my front yard:  giant, white Alliums (flowering onions).  The variety is ‘White Giant’.  I love them.  I’m astounded, also, that they all stood up to the heavy rains last night.  That surprises me.

Look closely, and you'll see the Allium 'White Giant'.

Look closely, and you'll see the Allium 'White Giant'.

One of my clients was cleaning out their pond earlier this Spring and had a huge crop of tadpoles.  I brought home a couple dozen and put them in the lower pond.  I’ve been so busy, I haven’t had time to check and see how they’re doing.  Sunday, I took a look and saw a few–they seem fatter and happy.  Then during a water break in the kitchen, I looked out the window and saw this guy/gal sunning him/herself on a mossy rock by the upper pond. Because my friend Mike Ferrara and I are working our way through the ‘Lord of the Rings’ series on Sunday nights (and because I name just about everything), I’ve decided to call him/her Frodo.

"Frodo" the Frog

"Frodo" the Frog

My friend Ronn Payne gave me some gourd birdhouses this Spring.  I’d admired them at his mother’s place in the Virginia countryside, where he grows the gourds.  He surprised me with three.  I hung them immediately: one in a Live Oak out front (I can see it from the dining room); one in a Crapemyrtle on the side (I can see it from where I’m typing right now); and one in a Darlington Oak in the back (which I can see from my downstairs desk and bedroom).  Very quickly, a tiny little bird with the most wonderful song (very garbled, happy and sing-songy) moved in, the same kind of bird in all three.  They are very energetic, and so fun to watch and listen to.  You cannot imagine the joy I get from “my” birds, all types.

It's blurry, but here's one of the gourd birdhouses.

It's blurry, but here's one of the gourd birdhouses.

Everything is sparkling and happy from this morning's rains.

Everything is sparkling and happy from this morning's rains.

What a Spring.

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Posted under Animals in the Garden, Container Gardens, Random garden thoughts, Spring Flowers, The Spring Garden, The Summer Garden, Water in the Garden

Summer Pleasures

Hot, dry, cooler, wet, very humid, a little fresher, pollution, not, up, down. Summer is here! My favorite season. After work, I piddle around the garden at Woodland Cottage–weeding, trimming, potting, planting.

A view through the woodland garden.

A summer view through the woodland garden.

I’m just about finished planting all my pots for the season. I repotted all my big houseplants last month into larger, poly pots that look just like terra cotta, though they are about a tenth lighter. I like to use Pro-Mix as my potting medium. Repotting left me with a bunch of huge, terra cotta pots so I’ve been looking for places to put them in the garden and what to put in them. I have one big pot to go, and a few little ones. If I don’t get them emptied this fall in time to protect them from the freezes, oh well. Frances Mayes (‘Under the Tuscan Sun’) wrote somewhere about how Italians just cinch a wire around their cracked pots to keep them going. Those big terra cottas are expensive. I tried it on one pot and it seems to be working. It gives the pot a rustic look. I just used clothesline wire because it’s easy.

I love this combo...Variegated Arboricola and pink Ivy Geraniums.

I love this combo in a pot...Variegated Arboricola and pink Ivy Geraniums. It's a nice surprise.

In the evenings, once the heat breaks a little bit, I head for my back patio, sit in a rocker, and just enjoy my garden. Often, I read until it’s too dark, then just sit there until there is no light left in the sky. I love to watch the bats at dusk, hear the birds and cicadas making their sunset racket, and then I look up at the stars. At this time of year, the Little Dipper is pouring right onto the house.

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

Back patio bed with Windmill Palms and Mexican Heather

Back patio bed with Windmill Palms and Mexican Heather. This overlooks the woodland garden.

A view from the back patio.  That's Annabelle Hydrangea in the foreground and Nikko Blue Hydrangea in the background.

A view from the back patio. That's Annabelle Hydrangea in the foreground and Nikko Blue Hydrangea in the background.

Posted under Container Gardens, The Summer Garden