• Drought Tolerant Rock Star Plants

    October 02, 2015

    Need drought tolerant plant ideas for your PacNW garden?

    drought tolerant garden

    Combine Carex testacea & Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ into your thirsty garden.

    As our climate continues to change, bringing longer, hotter, drier summers, it’s evermore important to select garden plants that not only tolerate hot and dry, but also thrive and perhaps offer us some respite from the broiling sun. The 2015 summer in Seattle was a perfect time to push the limits on plants to determine which can take the heat and which need the most supplemental water to survive when the ground is parched and the sun just won’t stop.

    Following are a few rock star plants that shined the brightest this summer: A tree, a shrub, a grass(like), a ground cover and a perennial. And, yes, they all look great together!

    Acer griseum: This tough-as-nails little maple has consistently been one of our top tree choices. We’ve known it can thrive in direct sunlight. It even does well in urban settings where extra heat builds and reflects onto it from sidewalks and street asphalt. Plus, it looks fantastic all year long.

    blooming Acer griseum

    Not only can Acer griseum withstand reflected heat, but it thrives in it.
    Plus, these blooms feed bees & hummingbirds in spring.

    This year we watched ours closely for watering needs and found they didn’t require watering at all. Not one watering! Even as succulent Sedum groundcovers below them shriveled into mid-summer dormancy, these trees didn’t need to be watered at all. Now, keep in mind, they’ve been in the ground for almost a decade and were well watered in infancy to ensure they’d root. But, we’ve hardly watered them in years. If you add them to your garden, be sure to keep them watered sufficiently until yours are fully established. Then, you’ll have a low-maintenance, easy-care, gorgeous small tree whose shade may help take care of you in the long, hot summers ahead.

    Physocarpus ‘Diablo’: The cultivar name of this ninebark hints at its ability to love the heat, and indeed it does. If you’re looking for a large, deciduous, sun-loving shrub with four seasons of interest, this beauty may be perfect.

    blooming Physocarpus

    Physocarpus ‘Diablo’ is a non-stop devil of a plant that thrives in hellacious heat.

    In fact, you almost can’t kill this thing. We love to use late winter tree trimmings for pea and bean towers, but we’ll never use this devil’s spawn that way again. Seriously, shove a stick from this in the soil, and it will sprout. And, if you’re trying to use it as a pea trellis, well, don’t. It’ll suck the life out of any seedling struggling to get a start near this powerhouse. If you add this shrub to your garden, watering it while young may not be critical, but watering while young is the insurance policy you’ll buy to guarantee a long-lived shrub with lots of drought tolerant year ’round interest in the hot, dry future.

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)

    Carex testacea: Love the look of landscape grasses? Try this sedge (shown above) instead. It’s (more…)

  • Fall Pruning Tips

    September 25, 2015

    Have you been duped into believing fall pruning is ideal? Surprise! Fall is one of the worst times to prune. Or at least, it’s the worst time to prune most woody plants. There’s plenty of other cutting and cleaning work to do instead.

    Boxwood: not for fall pruning

    Think fall’s the best time to tidy up your hedges for winter? Think again!

    Put down your saw this time of year and spend this time weeding, raking, mulching and cutting back perennials ready to hunker underground for the cold months ahead.

    Why not cut woody plants now? Making cuts on plants does a number of things to their growth systems. Trimming can stimulate new growth, and new growth is tender. If a cold snap hits, which can happen unexpectedly and fast anytime in fall, any tender new shoots can be damaged, weakening your plant and making it look awful. That being said, if your shrubs have been neglected for a long time and are full of dead material, go ahead and snap the dead stuff out. Just don’t start sawing on living limbs at this time of year.

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)

    Once your trees and shrubs have lost their leaves and have been standing bare for at least a couple of weeks, that’s the time to begin many woody pruning jobs.

    Buddha statue among fallen autumn leaves

    Prune woody plants after plants have been bare for a few weeks.

    Have happy hedges! You know those hedges that look raggedly and full of holes all winter. Maybe they die out in spots as winter trudges by? Most likely they were cut hard in autumn. Instead, save shearing work for late winter, early spring or even mid-summer. Trimming hedges just ahead of the spring growth surge ensures they’ll flush out with lush, privacy-providing new growth fast; trimmed in mid-summer, they’ll put on a little regrowth with time for it to toughen up for the cold season and look tidy as well.

    Wait! What about winter bloomers? Prune these only as they’re blooming or shortly after. If you trim a winter-flowering hedge or shrub after early spring, you’ll cut off all it’s flower buds for the winter to come!

    Snow on blooming witch hazel

    Prune winter bloomers like witch hazel as they’re blooming or right after to maximize your blooms the following year. Plus, you’ll get to enjoy them in indoor, winter bouquets. Take care if you cut during winter freezes. It’s easy to break frozen branches.

    If not trees and shrubs, What should you be cutting in fall? (more…)

  • Tomato Paste Replaced

    September 18, 2015
    The concentrated rich flavor of tomato paste imparts an intense, hearty flavor to many dishes. But how often have you opened a can and only needed a tablespoon of paste from it?

    Homemade Tomato Paste

    Rich, thick, delicious tomato paste is easy to whip up into small, as-needed batches.

    Quit buying those cans. Skip cooking and canning a big batch of paste. Instead, whip up only as much as you need, one recipe at a time, from versatile dried tomatoes in your pantry – it’s fast, simple and really tasty!

    Dried tomatoes instead of paste

    Fill your pantry with dried tomatoes from your garden at the height of freshness!

    Once your pantry is stocked with dried tomatoes, whip up our tastier-than-tomato-paste puree to add to dishes like stroganoff, soups, marinara, gravy, curries, stews or any other dish that needs an injection of rich tomato flavor.
    Dried Tomato Paste PureePrint Print

    4-6 dried tomato halves*
    1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons chicken or vegetable broth (or water + 1/4 t sea salt)

    *If you are using unseasoned dried tomatoes, add 1/8 t dried thyme and 1/2 T olive oil

    Pour broth or water plus salt into a microwave safe measuring cup. Heat about 1-2 minutes or until the liquid boils.

    Dried tomatoes soaking in broth for tomato paste recipe

    Soak just a few dried tomatoes in broth or salted water to make up the perfect amount of tomato paste for your recipe every time. A little of this goes a long way!

    Add dried tomatoes to the hot broth, pressing down with a spoon and stirring until the tomatoes sink into the liquid. Set aside for at least 20 minutes to allow the tomatoes to rehydrate; they won’t absorb all of the liquid.

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)

    Once the tomatoes are soft, pour the tomatoes and liquid into a blender. (At this point the liquid should be cool, but if it isn’t take care when you turn on the blender, starting at the lowest setting to avoid any steamy, hot explosions of red goop everywhere.) Cap the blender pitcher tightly and begin pureeing the mixture, starting at a low setting and eventually working to a high setting. Within a few minutes you should have a nicely whipped, rich tomato blend. It may be a little runnier than the stuff you’re used to buying in the can, but it will be intensely flavored (and full of your own garden goodness!)

    Using a spoon or spatula, scoop the mixture from the blender and add to your recipe as you would tomato paste, adjusting the amount based on how much tomato-y flavor you want.

    (This makes about a 1/4 cup of paste. If you want less or more paste for your recipe, adjust the number of tomatoes and amount of broth relative to your needs.)

    If you accidentally make more than you need, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and drop your DIY paste in 1 T. globs onto the lined sheet. Place in freezer until solid. Then, drop your chunks into a freezer-safe container to store for next time.
  • Shade Vegetable Garden Secrets

    September 11, 2015

    Growing a shade vegetable garden really is possible if you choose the right food crops. Trying to cultivate tomatoes or zucchini in deep shade isn’t likely to work, so don’t waste your time failing with those. Instead, try some of these great performers for your dark corners!

    Peppermint sticks chard in September garden

    Chard like this ‘Peppermint Sticks’ variety from Renee’s Garden seeds* performs equally well in deep shade or bright sunlight. Here it is glowing in bright September sunshine.

    Choose leafy greens like lettuce, spinach, kale or chard for your beds that get the least sun. Then, be sure to time things just right, and you’ll enjoy a long harvest of nutritious green goodness.

    Peppermint Sticks Chard Seedlings

    Sowing chard seeds early in the season will give your crop kickstart. Or, direct sow your seeds if your bed is getting some spring sunlight & the soil is warm. Early spring or late summer!

    Many leafy green food crops will grow quite well in dappled to even deep shade, but it is important that they are exposed to sunlight and warmth during their early stages of growth.

    Chard covered in horticultural fleece in April

    Covering your leafy green starts or seeds with a sheet of horticultural fleece helps protect your food garden from pests like leaf miners & warms the soil to help your crop grow.

    In early spring, this planting bed gets at least three or four hours of sunlight. But once the surrounding trees and shrubs leaf out and the asparagus and other nearby perennials grow tall, this will truly be a shade vegetable garden bed. And, in early autumn nearby trees begin to shed their leaves, again letting in sunlight so cool season greens below can grow.

    Vegetable shade garden in July

    While this bed looks bright & sunny on a hot July day, the chard is growing below the tall, ferny, shade-casting towers of asparagus. This light hardly touches chard in the under-story!

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)

    Of course, when it is hot and dry, chard and other greens will need supplemental water. Leafy greens will not thrive in dry shade.

    Chard in shade vegetable garden in September

    Seeded in March, planted in April & offering edibles well into September, this brightly stemmed chard is productive in an area that receives only a dappling of sunlight each summer & fall day. Bonus: it adds a pop of bright color to an otherwise dark corner.

    You might notice a few other edibles in this shade food garden bed — chives, strawberry, asparagus, rhubarb and blueberries. While chard does quite well in the shade, perennial food crops offer quite a few easy rewards in the darker corners of the garden. (And that asparagus grows tall enough to reach the sun!)

    *Disclosure: Garden Mentors has received test growing ‘Peppermint Sticks’ chard & other seed from Renee’s Garden Seed. However, no compensation has been paid for this post or for growing this crop.
  • A Berry Hip Garden

    September 04, 2015

    One of the common woes we hear from new clients isn’t that they need a super cool, cutting-edge or hip garden. Rather, they simply want something interesting going on outside their windows even in the dead of winter. While we can almost always suggest a variety of plants with evergreen foliage and flowers in our PacNW winters, we also ask our clients to consider many other gorgeous and striking plant features that are non-blooming stand-outs from late summer through winter.

    The end result when they look beyond the blossom? A berry hip garden.

    berry hip Red rose hips

    There’s nothing quite as hip as a rose hip! Many native & non-hybridized roses offer particularly gorgeous hip (or seed pod) color that often holds well into winter. Wildcrafters will love harvesting them for their tasty nutrients!

    Hypericum berries in fall

    Hypericum may lose its leaves for winter, but rigid stems stand tall, topped with iridescent rosy-red berries. Plus, they’re coveted for flower arrangements!

    Seed pods in garden

    Seed pods like these unique forms will eventually, dry & burst forth with seeds, adding unique forms to the garden, dried material for floral arrangements & interesting receptacles for winter frost.

    Viburnum opulus berries in fall

    Abundant “cranberries” follow the snowball like blooms on Viburnum opulus – also known as the cranberry viburnum. You won’t want to eat these berries, but their eye-candy will fill your soul and perhaps a bird’s belly well into winter.

    Chinese Lantern Plant

    Chinese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) are a striking sight by late summer. They make great floral arrangement features & they are the perfect living decoration for your Halloween garden. Just watch out – this plant can be terribly invasive.

    Pine cones

    The evergreen needles on a pine tree are no-brainer winter interest, but don’t forget that bare as well as snow-laden cones are particularly eye-catching in mid-winter.

    Red Cotoneaster berries

    Red Cotoneaster berries add color well into winter. Birds will eat them, but usually they wait until the berries have fermented. Then, robins & other birds gobble them down, chattering drunkenly until they literally fall off the branches in a stupor. Now that’s interesting!

    Need help figuring out how to add just the right berries, hips, cones, twigs, pods and other bits of “off season” interest to your garden? Contact us for personalized on-site help today! This list just scratches the surface of all the possibilities!

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