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

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.


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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