Please Be Sure to Water!

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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

Don’t Forget to Water

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Daylily ‘Africa’ at Woodland Cottage

As Summer slowly begins to slip into Fall here in the Magical Mid-Atlantic, we enter the hot, dry weather of August and early September. The first signs of Fall are just becoming evident: shorter days; a new, golden quality to the late afternoon and evening light; and the fading of many flowers and vegetables in our gardens. Besides watering and weeding, there is not much else to do in our gardens. Still, these are two very important items—don’t let them slide.

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Longwood Gardens, July 2015

Watering. After all the rain we’ve had this Spring and Summer, it seems impossible that we’d even need to talk about watering—yet here we are. Right on schedule, we are drying out again, and it will likely remain this way until late September or early October, unless we have a hurricane (let’s hope not).
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 things, especially when the temperatures are above 90F and we haven’t had rain for awhile. Here are some further notes:

When plants 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/needles…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.

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St. Francis, in the back garden at Woodland Cottage. A favorite spot for the birds.

Things are different when a plant is first planted. That’s because it takes 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 it for a few weeks until this happens. Too little water, and it can drop its leaves as a defense mechanism because it is trying to conserve water in the stems so that when water is again available, it has 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 over-watering 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 one 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!

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The view from Paris Mountain, VA, August 2015

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.

A field of Queen Anne's Lace at Blandy Farm, The State Arboretum of Virginia, August 2015. Photo by Catherine Giovannoni.

A field of Queen Anne’s Lace at Blandy Farm, The State Arboretum of Virginia, August 2015. Photo by Catherine Giovannoni.

Vacation time. This month, I’m excited about a trip to Southern California. An old friend’s son is getting married in Los Angeles; we’ll attend the wedding, tour some Southern California gardens, and spend some time in San Diego visiting some friends (and our new grandson!), too. 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 Summer Garden, Travel

Weeds, Mossy Paths, and Bliss

Looking through the woodland on a Summer's day

Looking through the woodland on a Summer's day

Weeds.  Ugh.  And yet.

Years ago, I went on a landscape tour to Richmond with the Landscape Designers Group to which I belong.  It was led by a designer who took us by his aunt’s house.  She had the most glorious mossy pathways–thick and spongy–and I was moss-green with envy!  “I must have those paths!”, I thought (vowed!).  This tour fell around the time I was first developing my garden here at Woodland Cottage, oh, maybe 15 years ago.  Perfect timing.  (Isn’t it funny how the answers often fall right into your lap, if only your antennae are up and you are attuned?  I have a secret:  it’s a tool that many designers use.)

I’d read all the prescriptions for creating mossy paths:  buttermilk and moss mixture, lay sheets of moss, etc. etc.  The truth is, I did nothing.  I marked and cleared my meandering pathways, lined them with green Liriope, kept them weeded and raked, and just went on living.  Over time, the moss began to grow on its own.  I do know that moss grows well on compacted (the soil on my pathways compacts from my walking on them), moist, shady soil.  I have all the above.  I will say that the amount of moss skyrocketed after I got my sprinkler system and the moisture was suddenly applied evenly and regularly, as opposed to waiting on Nature and yours truly to supply it.

Our host with the mossy paths in Richmond (going back to that) told us that we must keep them cleared of debris and weeds.  She had a blower and used a yardman to accomplish these tasks–I don’t have a blower and I am the yardman, so I rake softly, with a soft, lawn rake (FYI, the thin-tined metal works better on moss than those wooden/wicker/whatever-they-are-made-of ones, IMHO), and hand-weed.

Ugh.

I have prodigious amounts of Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and Toadlily (Tricyrtis hirta) in my woodland.  I love them both, but I didn’t realize how prolific they would get in my garden (I don’t want to say invasive, because they are desired, but yeah, you could say that).  Last year, I had thousands of both in my pathways.  It was, for the Cardinal Flowers and Toadlilies, a good year.  And Cardinal Flowers, I learned, have a stubborn tap root, to boot.  Snap off the top without getting the root, and the darn things leaf out again.  And pull up the baby Toadlilies, and you get a big chunk of moss, too.  Not good for the moss, on either count.

Anyway, the weeding became a monumental bore/chore, especially with the high heat we had in the Mid-Atlantic last summer.  I’d start early, or wait until late evening to weed, but by the time I had to quit, I had weeded maybe two square feet.  It was that bad.

I decided, finally, to spray the weeds with Roundup (curses! horrors!).  I know, I know…have at it–I am guilty as charged.  But here’s something to know about me:  I will spray chemicals as a LAST resort.  I’m a busy guy, and I don’t always have time to pull every weed and pick off every bug.  When they get way ahead of me, I have to make a decision whether or not to spray.  And–rarely, I must add–I do choose to spray.  In this case, I used a backpack sprayer with a wand so that I could very specifically (and painstakingly) target each weed/patch of weeds.  It took me forever, and I did it again 10 days later–and I did lose some moss–but I can tell you, a year later, that I am so glad I did.  Because I weeded all my mossy pathways in about three hours yesterday.  A miracle.

Two things about me and weeding:  I dread it, and then I love it.  True, today I am intimately involved with Mr. Bengay and Alleve for my lower back (at age 54 the lower back does get stiff, even if I am in great shape).  I dread it because of the monotony.  Then I love it for the same reason because it’s that very monotony that allows my brain to stop its craziness, focus on one thing, then relax and drift.  I’m telling you, I solved many design quandaries and got more ideas during those three hours yesterday.  I got quiet, listened, and the answers came.

Gardening, for me, is like that.  Sometimes, when I am in the thick of trying to figure out the answers, I just open the door and take a turn in my garden.  My head clears; the answers come.

And what a sense of accomplishment to look out on the paths and see moss, and only moss.  In my mind, I can see the moss expanding already into the voids opened by my weeding.

Happy Father’s Day and Happy Gardening.

Posted under Garden maintenance, Random garden thoughts, The Summer Garden

This post was written by Jeff Minnich on June 17, 2012

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