• Slogging Thru

    November 04, 2016

    I find myself slogging through the days right now, attempting to navigate the morass of the 2016 election season, muddled domestic and foreign political affairs, and an equally swampy autumn.

    Great Blue Heron Slogging

    Great blue heron slogging at the shores of Padilla Bay in search of sustenance.

    Our record-breaking October monthly rainfall numbers were so high in all of Washington state that no part of the state is still considered droughty. And, where we live, it’s downright swampy. At least that gives us an excuse not to mow. But, will we ever get the last of our bulbs planted. And, if we do, will they just rot in this year’s chilly, waterlogged soil?

    Azalea flowering in fall

    Azaleas are usually considered spring bloomers, but look carefully and you may catch them putting on fragrant fall flowers like this that pop against their colorful fall foliage. What a treat!

    On these dim, wet, gray “indoor” days, it’s easy to get mired down watching the non-stop ugliness of politics unfold on television and the internet. But, here’s the best medicine I’ve found: get outside — even if you do get wet. There’s nothing like breathing fresh air while observing the natural world to liberate our hearts and minds.

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    Some days I dig into the garden, planting bulbs and trusting in a future that will not only let them grow but also encourage them to thrive. Other days, I take a long walk at the shore with my pup, admiring the power and determination of migrating birds flapping into the storm — something that happens every year regardless of who we want for our next President or Senator. Always, I carry a camera in hopes of capturing a moment of the miraculous beauty of nature. These images help me get through the next downpour, the next tragedy at Standing Rock, and, of course, the political quagmire leading up to November 8th.

  • Snowberry Goodness

    October 28, 2016

    As autumn wind and rain denudes gardens of fleeting fall foliage, scrubby native snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) begins to shine in the wild and in cultivated landscapes.

    snowberry plant

    Soon this snowberry hedgerow will be bare of leaves & the bright, white berries will take center stage.

    Together with rose hips, seed pods, cones, evergreens and colorful twigs, long-lingering berries offer visual respite during the short, dim days of winter. And, while some of these provide forage for wildlife, snowberry berries aren’t very popular on most wildlife menus. So, those white, hold-fast fruits brighten the twiggy hedgerows and dark forest understory in many deer, squirrel and bird-infested gardens for many months. (But let’s be clear, some wild and domestic critters are likely to give your shrubs at least a little nibble now and then.)

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    Snowberry is a scrubby, deciduous, North American native shrub that is adapted to a wide range of habitats. Growing to about three to five feet tall and wide, it thrives in dark understories as well as sunny roadsides. It plugs along steadily in damp or even dry soil. And, while its grey-green foliage may succumb to a bit of powdery mildew in the most stressful environments, it’s a tough shrub to kill through placement choices or neglect. Its diminutive pink flowers are favored by many wild bees whose pollination efforts lead to weighty clusters of fruit.

    To ensure those white winter berries really shine, give your shrubs an evergreen backdrop. Native mahonia, evergreen huckleberry or even a few sword ferns can do the trick in a shadier spot. If you’re gardening in the sun, consider mixing snowberry with wild, hippy roses — especially in a hedgerow, which offers protective habitat all year for wildlife.

  • Houseplant Pest Inspection Time

    October 21, 2016

    When you bring your houseplants indoors for winter, be sure to do a thorough houseplant pest inspection first.

    houseplants in solarium

    Healthy houseplants in a bright sunny window for winter.

    When spring and summer temperatures warm for day and night, many houseplants appreciate a little outdoor vacation for the season. Not only is this a great way to open up indoor spaces for summer, but it is also a beautiful way to decorate your front porch, decks and even garden beds.

    But, when your indoor plants go outside, they’re even more susceptible to various pests and disease.

    Not every pest or disease will be immediately apparent when you gather your houseplants indoors. Some of the most obvious and common issues we’ve encountered don’t come to life for a few days or even a few weeks after your plants are in the house.

    • Scale: This is a pest that really gives us the willies, and it always seems to show up on our citrus trees within a week or two after the plants have been inside for fall. Look for raised lumps along the stem. They start out soft and easy to squish. Then, they harden up with a tough shell that’s hard to penetrate. Squishing can remedy it when young. Trimming out infected branches also works. You could also visit a local nursery for some of the other management options on the market.

      houseplant pest - scale on lime tree

      This is scale. Scale is nasty. Scale likes to live on all sorts of plants, but it really seems to love our lime tree. YUCK!

    • Aphids: Yep these suckers often hitch a ride inside. Inspect the undersides of leaves before you bring in your plants and keep an eye out for fresh hatches soon after the plants come inside.
    • Woodlice: Also known as pill bugs or rolly-pollies, these eaters of decomposition love to hide on the bottom of planters or just inside the drain holes. Knock them loose outside before you bring in your plants.
    • Frogs: Okay, these aren’t pests, but they really don’t want to live indoors with you. Our native Pacific tree frogs tried to make many of our houseplants high on a deck their homes. Carefully, help them find their way outside where they know how to survive just fine all winter.

      cleaning pests from houseplant

      Clean out detritus & be sure any live frogs stay outside when you bring in your houseplants for winter

    • Mold, Mildew & Fungi: You may find little mushrooms popping up in your houseplant, which shouldn’t give too much worry. But do clean up and dispose of leaf and other detritus in the tops of your planters to dissuade the growth of mildew and mold, which can readily spread to your beloved plants as well.
    • Weeds: Garden weeds love to set up shop in your container gardens. Be sure to winnow them out before you bring your plants in for winter.

      oxalis weeds in houseplant container

      Clean up weeds & detritus before bringing in houseplants that enjoyed a summer vacation outdoors.

    • Slugs: Slugs also hide in the wet, dark recesses of planting containers. Dig them free before you bring in your plants.
    • Snails: You may find young snails hatching and climbing through your plants soon after they come indoors. Smash’m!

    There are any number of other houseplant pest issues that can pop up when plants move inside for winter. Picking over the plants, soil and containers carefully before you bring them inside is a good basic rule. Too, spraying any questionable foliage with a good jet of water may also knock back some of the more common problems like aphids.

    If your houseplants haven’t yet made the move indoors for winter, hurry up and get them inside soon. Wind, heavy rains and sudden temperature drops shouldn’t catch you by surprise this late in the season.

  • How to Remove Ivy Weeds

    October 07, 2016

    Many ask how can I remove ivy from my garden?

    English Ivy ground cover

    English ivy may seem like a great ground cover choice,
    but there are better options than this invasive weed.

    Depending on how much English ivy (Hedera helix) you have, where it is growing and how long it has been growing there, eradicating English ivy can be quick work or may take several seasons.

    There are many species of ivy growing, but the most insidious is common English ivy, which was likely introduced to “new world” gardens by the English who had cultivated this European mainland plant in their island gardens. Then, it spread quickly across the land. This adaptable plant will thrive in sun or shade and the cruddiest soils. It can travel as a ground cover and create a climbing helix shaped woody vine, smothering everything it crosses — from the side of a house to a tender perennial garden to ancient forests. That bullying behavior qualifies it as a nasty weed in my book.

    trees and ivy

    In the foreground, mature ivy growing on the stump of a mature tree it helped kill. In the distance, large native Doug firs clothed in climbing ivy to remove.

    And I’m not alone in thinking this plant deserves to be called a weed. In the Pacific Northwest, several states have categorized it as some level of noxious weed. Too, the USDA qualifies it as an “introduced, invasive and noxious plant.”

    So, how do we eradicate it?

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    To begin, just don’t buy it.
    (more…)

  • Japanese Maple Pruning

    September 30, 2016

    Early fall isn’t really the best time for Japanese maple pruning. But, I’ve been breaking rules like this and following the “do it when you can” way of life lately in order to try to get ahead of all of the renovation tasks needed on our new, large property.

    Japanese maple in need of pruning

    This dwarf Japanese maple looks awful. Limbs are overgrown beyond the bed lines & it looks sparse — probably as a result of growing under layers of landscape fabric & heat-building rocks. Time to do some Japanese maple pruning!

    And I’m exhausted!

    But, I do try to post once a week, so here’s why I tackled this maple in late September:

    • It’s in that bed filled with overlapping layers of landscape fabric & roll-y poll-y rocks that I wrote about last week.
    • A neighbor wanted those rocks & the maple was making moving them difficult.
    • The maple looked like crap & desperately needed a bit of limbing up.
    • Even though late summer/early fall isn’t the best time to prune deciduous trees, these cuts aren’t likely to deal a death blow to this tree.
    • In fact, getting the landscape fabric and heat-holding rocks out of the way and adding a layer of arborist chips is likely to help the tree in the long run.

    So, I pruned out a lot of dead material and some living branches to give my rock-shoveling neighbor room to maneuver.

    Low and behold, my maple pruning unveiled a gorgeous greenish boulder with a small natural birdbath indentation!

    Pruned Japanese maple tree

    After removing a lot of landscape fabric & rock, pruning a few branches, adding a few plants & topping the bed with arborist chips, I could almost feel the tree sigh in relief. And doesn’t it look better?!

    Once my neighbor had shoveled all he could shovel in a day, I hauled out the last of the landscape fabric, keeping a narrow edge of pebbles for drainage between the bed and the paver pathway, added a few perennials in a couple of key spots, and I top-dressed the tired soil with arborist chips from tree work we had done earlier this summer. Later, as I was putting my tools in our woodland shed, I spied an old alder branch, which I added to the bed for interest — kind of driftwood meets nurse log look. Once the soil microbes work their way up in the soil profile, breaking it up along the way, to feast on the arborist chips and incorporate the nutrients into the root zone, I’ll add more plantings.

    But, there’s no rush. In fact, I’ll probably be doing more maple pruning (in winter) before I do anymore planting (next spring).

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(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 but don’t cost you anything extra. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)