Spring Prerequisites (Your Autumn “To Do” List)

Here we go again!  We are headed for a long wintertime nap…well at least our grass, plants and trees are.  Having a beautiful yard requires regular maintenance, as well as, forethought.  It is very important to fulfill the needs of your lawn, ornamental plants and trees in autumn to insure they have a healthy start in the spring.  Following a few basic steps at this time of year (September through November) will release you from excess work in the spring and summer.  We can all use a little more play time in the spring, no?

My first recommendation is to…

…have a soil test performed.  By testing now, you will be able to determine the needs of your soil and then apply lime or other necessary amendments to have the soil ready and nutrient rich by spring.  The Adobe Acrobat document below provides instructions for how to collect proper soil samples and where to take them.

The following document will help you to interpret your soil sample results.  While I am sure your local Extension office will be glad to help, I hope you can use this for reference.


Another thing to consider: Is your mulch still performing?  You will need enough mulch (about 3-4 inches) to help the soil around your plants retain moisture and to insulate them which will help during freeze and thaw events. When we fluctuate temperatures quickly during the winter, the soil will expand and contract. When this happens, your plants will experience damage, some might be heaved right out of the ground.  If you notice this happening, you will need to get them re-seated soon to prevent the roots from drying out. While applying the mulch be sure not to push it against the base of any plant, including trees.  If it is allowed to contact the crown or base of plants, it will cause a myriad of problem including fungus, rot and insect/pest infestations.  It is also an excellent time to clean excess debris from the beds and trim many perennials down (not shrubs or trees). Any plants which have slumped over and are hugging the ground (hostas, dayliles, iris, etc…) will be an open invitation for fungus and pests such as slugs or ants, so it is best to clean these up now before they have a chance to move in.  We even offer free delivery with a minimum order of 4 yards to many zip codes! Check here to see if you are in the zone!

An Irrigation sprinkler watering a garden

Probably the single most important requirement for this year is something we generally take for granted…water.  The lack of natural precipitation is taking a toll on the healthiest of plants and trees in many states. Under normal circumstances, they would have had plenty of rain to prepare them for winter, but this year we will have to supplement. A deep and thorough soaking two or three times before the ground freezes should satisfy their thirst, but if we remain in the dry pattern, a few soakings during winter warm-ups might be necessary.  Unfortunately we will not be able to run our in-ground irrigation systems so don’t forget to remove the hose from the spigot when you are finished watering!

It is NOT the time for shrub, grass and tree trimming.  Fall is the worst time to trim your shrubs and trees and you will want to wait until they are sufficiently dormant (very late fall to early winter) before doing so.  Trimming causes injury to the plant which generates a need for the plant to “repair” the damage.  If the plant has not gone dormant yet, it may be stimulated to pull energy back up from the roots making it vulnerable to freezing temperatures.  My cut-off time for all trimming is around August 31st which allows plenty of time for the plant to tend to the cuts and then prepare itself for winter dormancy.  Snow pack can cause injury to ornamental grasses if they are trimmed down in the fall.  Our temperatures fluctuate greatly which results in more melting than freeze drying of our snow and ice.  If the grasses are leveled, the snow and ice sits directly in the center of the crown which prevents the grass from drying out sufficiently…an almost certain setting for crown rot.  If you leave the grasses standing, not only do they provide winter interest, they can easily slough off snow packs and ice thereby greatly reducing the risk for crown rot.  I take my stands down to about 6 inches in early spring when the grass is just beginning to emerge, removing any lose canes in the process.


Wrapping your trees (newly planted or those with thin bark) will help to reduce winter sun scald which so many trees are prone to.  The cells of the tree (usually the southwest side) become warmed by the sun in January and will begin to wake up.  When the temperature drops this area freezes and cracks causing a vertical split along the trunk.  More than likely the tree will not die from this, but they can and it also creates an open invitation for insects and diseases.  There are many different methods used to protect the young trees, but wrapping with a light color (to reflect sunlight) seems to work the best.  It can also deter deer from helping themselves to a snack.  You will want to apply your tree wrap around Thanksgiving and remove it in late March or early April.  Be sure to inspect it on a regular basis through the winter to make sure it is still intact and not loose, possibly scraping the tree.   The trees which are most vulnerable to sun scald are:

  • Maples (including ornamental varieties)
  • Honey Locust
  • Linden
  • Mountain Ash
  • Oaks
  • Red buds
  • Willows
  • Apple and other fruit trees
  • Ornamental Cherry
  • Other thin-barked trees

While these are the trees to pay particular attention to, all newly planted trees should be protected for at least the first few winters.

The last item on your list (but no less important) is to stock up on bird seed for the winter. Our feathered friends have a difficult time finding food when we cut down all of their natural sources.  They will greatly appreciate a nice buffet through the frozen months.  If you are concerned about weeds resulting from the seed, try our Wild Delight bird seed which contains no filler seed.  Your outdoor pets will tend to eat every morsel eliminating the waste of undesirable seeds which create the clutter and eventual weeds.

Well…that’s all I have for now!  Give us a call if you need further advice or check product availability.  I hope you get all of your chores done because I know you will be pleased with your results come spring!  Enjoy!!

The Garden that is Finished is Dead

Bulb Time!! – How To

After a lengthy and colorless winter, flowering bulbs are a welcome sight to behold in early spring. The majority of our perennials and shrubs require warmer temperatures to begin displaying their best attributes. Because of this we depend on the spring flowering bulbs to brighten our mood…break us out of the doldrums.

I get many questions each fall concerning the proper way to plant bulbs.  There are many variables, which makes an easy answer impossible.  Hopefully, I can cover everything so you can have a lovely field of color in your yard when it is most needed.

One of the main questions I get is “When can I plant them?”.  This is fairly simple, but difficult to determine.  The bulbs that we buy this time of year are in a dormant state and we need them to stay that way with the exception of root development.  The soil we plant them into needs to be fairly cold, preferably around 40° F.  If it is too warm, this may generate too much activity.  I usually check the weather forecast (although not always a guarantee) and if our daytime highs will be cooling to the 50’s with nights near freezing, we can be fairly certain that the warm weather is finished for the year.  We are experiencing a very mild fall this year and this will push our bulb installations forward.  As soon as the ground cools and there is no risk for a warm-up, you can install your bulbs.

Probably the second most common question I receive is “Why don’t they freeze?”.  Well, they can if they have not been hardened off.  While going dormant, bulbs undergo a process which simulates the effects of Anti-freeze.  They produce sugars and salts which prevent ice crystals from forming and many gradually lose water.  Dry tissue is less likely to be damaged by freezing temperatures.  This is the best reason to schedule your installation accordingly to allow enough time for the bulb to “prepare” for the chill.  If you have already purchased some bulbs and need to wait a week or so to plant them, keep them dark and dry and pop them into the refrigerator and they will be just fine.

The next question would have to be “Do I install them in groups or rows?”  There is an easy answer for this one.  If you are not bordering something (sidewalk, driveway, etc…), definitely plant in groups.  If you are bordering something, you can install rows, but they will look much more substantial if the row is a minimum of three bulbs wide.

“Do I really have to plant them that deep?”  Yes, you do.  Tulips, especially, simply don’t behave very well in our zone.  We have a little leeway when planting Crocus, Grape Hyacinths or Daffodils because they are extremely hardy and will reposition themselves as they create offsets.  It is always advised to follow the specific depth instructions for each type of bulb.

Another request I get is “I am bored with tulips, what else can I use?”  There are many options to choose from:  Hyacinths (beautiful jewel tones), Daffodils (many different sizes and colors now), Allium (very bold statement), Scilia, and Crocus (lovely when random in the turf) are a few of my favorites.  There are also new varieties of Tulips each year which are much more eye-catching and interesting.  Experimenting with different color combinations can be your answer, as well.  Visit our Gallery page of beautiful Spring Bulbs for some beautiful examples!

“Should I feed them?”  There are many bulb fertilizers available and it is very easy to simply sprinkle in a bit while you are installing them.  They will benefit and you should have brighter colors and stronger plants.  They will still grow and bloom if you don’t provide the extra boost, so if you forget, don’t worry too much.

When considering the installation process and the tools needed, I am frequently asked, “What do you think about bulb planters?”.  You have probably seen them, they are the little metal half-cone shaped contraption with a handle.  These are designed to plant one bulb at a time and have measurements etched into the side to guide you in determining the depth.  If you are only planting a few bulbs or if the ground is very soft and workable, these can be great tools to help you get the job done.  On the other hand, if you plan to plant in mass (like most people prefer to do), it will be easier to use a shovel to excavate your area.  Simply lay a tarp on the ground to hold your soil until you are ready to cover the evenly spaced bulbs.

Come in and take a look at the bulbs that we have and if you don’t see what we have or need mass quantities, let us know!  I am sure we can help you create a beautiful display!


The Garden that is Finished is Dead

The Great Divide – How To

Oh my…the weather is ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC!  I guess we are being rewarded for putting up with the horribly unbearable summer we have had.  Everyone seems to be excited to get outside and make everything beautiful for autumn.  At Suburban, the mums and many other bits of fall color are pouring in the doors (and flying back out).   We are also gearing up for our fall festivities which will include visits from Cowgirl Kate and Witch Hazel!  I hope you and your family will come out and see us, you will have a great time!

There are so many things that can be done in the yard at this time of year: aerating and seeding, laying sod, cleaning beds, trimming shrubs, planting bulbs (later), preparing tropicals to return indoors, installing new plants and cleaning and/or dividing perennials.  This is the best time to

plant new trees and shrubs.  They will have the entire fall and spring to settle in before the summer heat rolls back around.  For the same reason it is also the best time to divide perennials.  Not only that, you have a larger window to work with.  Hostas, Daylilies, Liriope and Iris are all perennials which benefit from being divided every few years.  Sedum should still be divided in the spring since it is just getting ready to bloom.  Liriope is easy to divide but you might wait until they are nearing the end of their bloom cycle.

Hostas can be divided in two ways.  I usually “shave off” sections that I wish to move elsewhere.  Using a sharp shovel, it is simply a matter of cutting a section of the plant away.  Usually it is best to try to retain the shape of the original plant.  The other method is to dig the entire plant and cut it into sections, each of which can be replanted.  Dividing Hostas will also insure that your plants will bloom the following year.  When disturbed in the spring, they will occasionally sulk and refuse to bloom during the initial year. The picture below depicts a hosta which I would consider in need of division.

If Daylilies get too crowded, they will begin to produce fewer blooms.  It is necessary to give them some elbow room every few years.  Enthusiasts of these plants insist that the best way to divide them is by placing to pitchforks/garden forks back to back through the center of the unearthed plant and then prying the roots/tubers apart.  This does less damage to the plant than cutting through with a shovel.  A clean division will help the plant establish easier and make it less open to diseases or pathogens in the soil.  When dividing your Daylilies, you will want to cut the foliage down to a manageable height, keeping in mind that the foliage is what nutrients to the roots.  Try to remove only what is necessary to keep the plants from flopping over onto the soil.  Green foliage that comes in direct and flat contact with the soil will invite slugs and other pests, rot and other problems.  Daylilies love sunlight and will bloom profusely if they have enough of it.  Be sure to find a location which will be easy to water in a time of drought, too.  While the drought will not kill them (generally), they will go dormant, turn brown and become very unsightly.  Consider spacing, as well.  A small clump of Daylilies will quickly take up quite a bit of space.  A bit of forethought will save you the work of moving them before you would have needed to.

This is also the ideal time to divide or plant Bearded Iris and others.  They are not the easiest plant to correctly install in the ground, but I hope to relay the important factors to you.  The first thing you will want to do is to cut the foliage down about half way (leave about 6-8 inches).  I cut mine at an angle with a point in the center, but it shouldn’t matter.

The next thing to think about is placement.  Bearded Iris are rhizomes which seem to grow “backwards” and this year’s rhizomes are finished blooming.  The offsets produced by this year’s rhizomes will bloom next year.  If you visualize the rhizome as a “foot”, it will be easier to place them taking into consideration the fact that they will spread “backwards”.

The new rhizomes (next year’s blooms) will appear near the heel.  The other important step is insuring that the top of the rhizome remains slightly above the soil level, exposed to the sun.  If planted beneath the surface, they will not perform well, probably won’t bloom and may even have weak foliage.

You may have to check on them periodically to make sure they haven’t fallen over.  If you have landscape fabric staples, they can be pinned into place.  Installing Iris properly will insure gorgeous blooms for years to come!

Above all, have fun in your gardening adventures and remember:

The Garden that is Finished is Dead