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.

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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

Winter Tree Work



This year, at least, has been warm enough to accomplish a few things in advance of Spring.  Friday, my excellent landscape crew came by and mulched my entire garden, from front to rear.  Our county collects leaves in the Fall and shreds them, then lets them compost.  They do the same with all the tree branches they collect throughout the year, shredding the pieces into a wonderful shredded hardwood mulch which they stockpile and allow to age.  They deliver it to county residents for a song.  I got my mulch from them this year–15 cubic yards–and the guys spread it patiently for me.  A little tricky to coordinate deliveries with the pace of the landscape crew, yet it worked out very efficiently this time.  It’s nice to have it finished early, especially since perennials and bulbs are already emerging.  We’ve had a mild Winter here.

Likewise, the tree guys (arborists) are here right now.  I was surprised to see them this morning, frankly–we had some snow and ice over the weekend, just a bit, and the temperature has hovered right around 32 so it has stayed wintry.  Plus, it’s foggy and drizzly today.  Nevertheless, the doorbell rang this morning and the crew is in the trees, pruning away.

Winter is a great time for tree work.  The structures of  the trees are apparent.  The underlying garden is dormant, reducing the chances of damage.  After all, the tree guys need to stand below the trees and maneuver those big branches they’ve cut, then cut them up and haul them out.  That’s a lot of footwork on the ground.  They don’t have to step as gingerly in the Winter, one less thing to worry about with an already stressful job that requires intense concentration.  Plus, the leaves are off the trees, lessening the weight and increasing the visibility both in the trees and from trees to ground.  One of the trees I’m having pruned is a big Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), and the backs of its leaves are tomentose (there’s your word for the day–it means “hairy”).  Those tomentose leaves can stick to clothes, I’m told, which can be a hassle.  Something I had never thought about, actually.  The biggest bonus of Winter tree work:  demand is down, so you get the work accomplished quickly at a time of year when you are not usually in your garden, anyway.  Another bonus for me:  I can be focused and engaged because this is my slow time of year.

Preparing to climb...

Preparing to climb...

Today, I’m having the big Sycamore trimmed and attending to two other trees, as well.  One is an ancient Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera).  Last summer, we had a bad thunderstorm come through (normal around here) and about a 40-foot piece from the top got broken.  Some of it fell to the ground; the rest has been resting in the top of the tree (maybe 100 feet up–I have some big trees).  Time to clear that top out and cleanly cut the tears.

Attending to the top of the Tulip Poplar

Attending to the top of the Tulip Poplar

The other tree is a Chestnut Oak (Quercus prinus).  They are native on my steep hillside, and I’ve watched them slowly deteriorate over the years–from climate change?   Pollution?  Weather vagaries?  Who knows, but it is happening.  I lost three magnificent Chestnut Oaks in 2003 when Hurricane Isabel blew through.  I’ve been babying two more in my front garden.  One is an ancient, two-trunker and it has been slowly weakening.  Last year, after several years of trying to halt the decline, I threw in the towel and decided to let it die an honorable death.  Very sad for me because this tree sets the tone for my magical woodland garden.  Yet, life goes on and I’ve come to accept the inevitable outcome.  So I’m enjoying the time I have left with this magnificent tree.  When it goes, the adjacent, young Live Oak (Quercus virginiana, an evergreen Oak) will finally have some breathing room and a chance to expand and shine.  I planted it many years ago, anticipating the loss of the larger tree.

Back to the other Chestnut Oak in the back garden:  the arborists are pruning out the dead top, back to the thick, green branches lower down the trunk.  A note here:  I **HATE** topping trees (see more about ‘crape murder’ here).  But removing this tree completely will wipe out a significant portion of summer leaf coverage/privacy in my back garden, so I’m choosing this option vs. removing the tree outright at this time.

Arborist in the top of the Chestnut Oak

Arborist in the top of the Chestnut Oak

To watch excellent arborists at work is mesmerizing.  It’s like watching acrobats.  Ropes, pulleys, people going up and down–what a talent and art it is.  Just amazing.  My hat is off to them for their knowledge, professionalism, care and courage.  What a joy to hear their calls and laughter, even on such a crummy day.  It is obvious they love their work.

Big Chestnut Oak branch coming down...

Big Chestnut Oak branch coming down...

...and on the ground, ready to cut up.

...and on the ground, ready to cut up.

Meantime, one of my neighbors just came around, asking for some of the wood from the Chestnut Oak.  He says it makes excellent firewood, so yes, have at it!

Here is the crew of seasoned professionals!

Here is the crew of seasoned professionals!

Taking care of your trees is an investment–trees are beneficial to us in so many ways:  they cool our environment; provide screening and habitat for our wildlife friends.  And the beauty they provide softens the surrounding landscape, relaxes our eyes, and adds value to our home investment.  I love, love, love my trees.

Are you taking proper care of your trees?  Do you need to invest in some tree work?

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

Posted under Garden maintenance, Pruning, The Winter Garden, Tree work

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on January 23, 2012

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Don’t Commit Crape Murder!

It has already started!  I’m starting to see Crapemyrtles (Lagerstroemia indica and hybrids) that are hacked to sticks.  Just today, I saw a large crew climbing tall ladders to maim several beautiful Crapemyrtles–looked like a colony of ants descending.  My theory has always been that it’s just a way for the landscape maintenance companies to justify getting a few more bucks out of their clients at a slow time of year.  And yes, I’m in the business, so it’s not like I’m judging from afar.  I credit my friend at Southern Living magazine, garden editor Steve Bender, for coining the phrase.  And my friend David Pippin, the Richmond horticulturist, is not amused, either.  They have been attempting for years to get the good word out there.

Crape murder just committed

Crape Murder just committed

This is what they look like a year later

This is what they look like a year after they are Murdered. Notice the growth coming from the points at which they were pruned. Looks weak, huh?

It’s not necessary to prune Crapemyrtles in order to make them bloom.  They bloom off the new growth, anyway, and continual pruning just makes them weaker at these pruned joints.  The proper way is to thin out the branches.  There is a variety of Crapemyrtle available today in every size, shape and color–for every space and application–so this pruning is just unnecessary.  Where everyone got the idea that “it has to be done in order to make them bloom”, I don’t know.  Probably from driving around and seeing practically every Crapemyrtle hacked, or told by their irresponsible yardman that it must be done.

Now this is how Crapemyrtles should be pruned

Now this is how Crapemyrtles should be pruned!

So don’t so it–don’t Murder your Crape!

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

Posted under Garden maintenance, Pruning

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on January 25, 2011

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Let the January Thaw Begin!!

Here at Woodland Cottage, today the sun came out and the temperature actually climbed to a [balmy] 52F degrees!  I made my first trek in weeks around my entire garden to survey for damage from the heavy snow/ice/cold.

The ground is still mostly frozen tight, locked up; but there is a bit of thawing happening on the surface.  I’m happy to report that I didn’t see any major damage on anything–just a lot of fallen sticks and limbs.  There are a few limbs broken from the weight of the snow, but more evident are the limbs which are sagging–but not broken–from being stretched by the weight.  I’ll either prune or tie these up with strong, natural twine as we approach true spring.  I think I’ll tie up things like camellias that are full of bud–when they start to bloom, they will weigh down considerably–and I don’t want to prune off the buds now. I can prune the branches when they have finished blooming.  On other broadleaf evergreen things that are sagging–like waxmyrtles, weeping yaupons, boxwoods, ligustrums and tea olives, for example–I’ll trim them a bit at a time to see if lessening the weight will allow each branch to pop back into place.

Winter burn on leaves is a funny thing.  Sometimes, the leaf burn and damage are not apparent until the plants begin to put forth new growth in April or May.  It can be deceptive.  NEVER cut a winter damaged plant until spring growth starts and you are sure a branch is dead.  You would be surprised what is salvageable.

Also, just because we got through this freeze doesn’t mean we are finished for the winter.  Don’t be fooled.  Sometimes, the most severe damage can come from a late freeze occurring after plants have begun to come out of dormancy.

Soon, it will be time to begin appreciating the gifts the winter-blooming plants offer us.  Can’t wait!

Posted under The Winter Garden

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on January 14, 2010

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