Hydrangeas, the obvious choice for a Mother’s Day tribute!
I spend all summer lamenting about all that is undone in my garden, but then winter comes and I jump on any excuse to work in my garden. I can hardly wait to garden, to the point that sometimes I cut back or prune too early just because I want to get outside now! Anything I can do in the garden is an absolute treat...pruning, weeding, mulching, it just feels great to be outside. What can you do on a sunny winter day to get out and get ahead?
MULCHING I am a believer in annual mulching. In the coastal Pacific Northwest, the soil is rain-leached at best and pure sand at worst and an annual application of a thick compost based mulch can do wonders. If you feel frustrated with your garden the best thing to do is spread a 2-4" feeding mulch of 75% compost and 25% shredded hemlock (assuming your garden is designed to accommodate acid-loving plants).
CUTTING BACK FERNS & ORNAMENTAL GRASSES One of the best things you can do to make your coastal garden lovely, is cut back the ferns before the fronds emerge. This can be easy or a serious effort worth hiring out. Sword ferns, deer fern, really all ferns can be cut back Jan-March to the ground. Don't worry, as it warms new fronds will emerge to replace the old! The bonus is no dead brown old leaves. The key for ease is to do this before the new frond emerge in late February-early March so you don't have to worry about cutting off the new growth. However if you forget, still do it, even if you remove the new fronds they will send up new ones and make a good summer show.
PRUNING DECIDUOUS TREES AND SHRUBS Get out your ladder and pole pruners, now is an excellent time to prune maples, alders, birches, most any deciduous trees. Wait on your fruit trees, however, as pruning them in wet weather can allow entry for a host of fungal diseases that plague our rainforest environment.
SUNNY & DRY
Mexican Orange Blossom - Choisya ternata 'Aztec Pearl'
Dwarf Tea Tree - Leptospermum 'Squiggly' (XeraPlants variety)
Dwarf Barberry - Berberis 'Concorde'
California Lilac - Ceanothus 'Blue Jeans' & 'Victoria'
Daisy Bush - Olearia monroi (Thompson's Nursery)
Pacific Wax Myrtle - Myrica californica
Variegated Buckthorn - Rhamnus variegata (Xeraplants nursery)
Oregon Grape - Mahonia 'Soft Caress'
Rhododendron 'Seaview Sunset' (Thompson's Nursery)
Variegated Japanese Aralia - Fatsia japonica 'Spider's Web'
Sweet box - Sarcococca confusa
*Evergreen Huckleberry - Vaccinium ovatum
Hydrangea 'Pia' & Cityline 'Paris', 'Bloomstruck'
SUNNY & DRY
Maidengrass - Miscanthus 'Morning Light', 'Little Kitten', 'Graziella'
Fountain grass - Pennisetum 'Red Head', 'Moudry'
Little Bluestem - Schzachyrium scoparium 'The Blues', 'Blue Heaven', 'Jazz', 'Standing Ovation'
Mexican Feather Grass - Nasella or Stipa tenuissima
Blue Dart Rush - Juncus 'Blue Dart'
Sedges - Carex testacea 'Prairie Fire', 'Blue Zinger', 'Bowles Golden'
Japanese Forest Grass - Hackonechloa 'All Gold'
SUNNY & DRY
Catmint - Nepeta 'Walker's Low'
Tickseed - Coreopsis 'Moonbeam'
Avens - Geum 'Sangria', 'Blazing Sunsets', 'Flames of Passion'
Ravenswing Chervil - Anthricus 'Ravenswing'
False Indigo - Baptisia (Blooming Junction & XeraPlants)
Japanese Holly Fern
Cimicifuga 'Black Negligee'
SUNNY & DRY
Woolly thyme - Thymus pseudolanginosus
Shore juniper - Juniperus conferta
Sedum 'Blaze of Fulda', 'Betram Anderson'
Dianthus 'Flashing Light' (Blooming Junction)
Dwarf Mondo Grass - Ophiopogon 'Nana'
Bishop's Hat - Epimedium
*Deer Fern - Blechum spicant
Himalayan White Birch - Betula jacquemontii 'Whitespire'
Thunderhead Pine - Pinus thunbergii 'Thunderhead'
Oregon Green Black Pine - Pinus nigra 'Oregon Green'
Donard's Gold Cypress - Cupressus 'Donard's Gold'
Purple Smoketree - Cotinus coggygria 'Grace'
Lion's Head Japanese Maple - Acer palmatum 'Shishigashira'
* = native plant
Some plants do well, and then they take over the garden, end up in the neighbor's yard, and won't even die in the compost pile. Many of these are on the invasive list for Oregon and should not be planted. There are many other low maintenance plants that will thrive and not attempt to take over the world.
Plants I beg you not to plant, and please don’t ask me to plant them for you…
Mt. Bretia, Crocosmia, Lucifer's Red I know you love the blooms, so plant them in a pots and cut the flowers off an bring them in before they go to seed, but please don't plant them in your yard. The deer tend to eat most of blossoms anyhow. We call Mt. Bretia our most expensive plant as we've had clients spend more money on removing this plant than any other. It spreads by running underground and by seed. It also cannot be burned and should not go into any compost pile as it will come back.
English Ivy Sure, you know not to plant it, but don't even plant it in a pot. I can't tell you how many times as I've climbed through a rat-infested ivy jungle I find a single cracked rotted container that was once home to a potted arrangement with a 4" start of ivy. At the end of summer, the container got dumped in the woods where it plotted revenge and 10 years later is an army ready to consume the neighborhood. Yes, even the cute variegated varietal can revert and become regular tenacious ivy.
Lamium, Spotted Dead Nettle, Yellow Archangel, Lamiastrum galeobdolon
Euphorbia, Mole Plant (not all varieties are bad)
Toad Flax, Linaria
Mint, Chocolate Mint
Stipa gigantea, Giant Feather Grass
Variegated Ribbon Grass, Phalaris arundinacea It's a variegated form of the super invasive Reed Canary Grass, need I say more?
Cape Fuchsia - Phygelius
Comfrey - It will swallow plants whole and return from the tiniest piece of easily broken root.
Variegated Bishop's Weed, Variegated Gout Weed, Aegopodium podagraria
Sweet Woodruff Galium odoratum
We often get calls from frustrated homeowners who can't seem to get their lawn looking they way they want it to look. Organic lawn care is really just good gardening. The goal is make the lawn so happy and healthy that the problems go away without the need to remedy a particular issue such as weeds or pests. Grass is a nitrogen hungry little plant that needs to be fed regularly to be able to out-compete weeds and be ready for the Fourth of July picnic. Here is what we do to maintain gorgeously deep green lawns that you'll feel safe allowing your children and pets to play on.
Mow high and often--this can be as often as every 5 days in warm spring weather. This is a very common mistake--never remove more than 1/3 of the grass blade! A longer blade length (1.5”) will feed the roots better allowing the roots to grow deeper and stronger which will provide better drought resistance in July and August. Longer grass also discourages weeds and moss. Leave clippings on lawn whenever possible, even if you don’t have a “mulching mower”. A biologically active healthy lawn will devour clippings in no time. Sometimes in the spring the clippings are too long and wet and need to be raked removed. Anytime you remove clippings from the lawn you should fertilize to replace the nutrients you removed by feeding (fertilizing).
Compost (is magic!)
Fall or early spring is a good time to apply 1/2” of light screened compost. Devil’s Lake Rock Co. has a good fine compost available. Especially important to do if your lawn is on sand. Best to do this annually, but once every other year at the minimum. You can over-seed at the same time if necessary. It will look like you've destroyed your lawn after you've down this, but just wait, you'll be shocked at the beauty in less than a month!
Summer Drought (dormancy)
If you are not irrigating your lawn regularly you can expect it to “go dormant” the end of July and August. This does not hurt the lawn as it's part of it's natural cycle just like maples losing their leaves in the fall. It does mean you have to tolerate a brown lawn for a month or two in the summer. However, if it is exceptionally hot and dry, it is a good idea to give the lawn about 1/4” of water once a week to keep the crowns alive. This is historically not necessary at the coast due to ambient moisture, however, I'm seeing the need for this more and more. It is fine and even admirable to save water by letting your lawn go dormant, but if you start to water too much after your lawn has browned you may break it’s dormancy and so will need to continue to provide consistent water or it will be wasting energy. It isn’t good for the lawn to go in and out of dormancy more than once a year. This is all complicated further when going grass in sand and I would suggest adding topsoil if that is your lot in real estate and life : )
There are many good organic options these days, however, not so many are locally available. The best locally available option we've found is available at most Ace Hardware stores:
Milorganite - Organic Lawn Fertilizer
36# per 2,500 sq. ft.
5% nitrogen, 2% phophorous, 4% iron
Slow release organic fertilizer that only works when soil temperatures are between 55 and 85 degrees. For best results, apply 3-4 times per year, but spring and fall are most important times to fertilize. If you leave your grass clippings to mulch on the lawn, don’t bother with summer fertilizing. Each time you remove clippings from the lawn you will need to replace these nutrients somehow.
Dates to fertilize:
Memorial Day (or when soil temp is 55 degrees+)
Fourth of July
Iron--”Moss Out” or “Ironite”
Our soils are naturally deficient in iron. Iron will help kill moss safety. Be sure the only active ingredient in the product is iron and not another toxic substance. Available as pellets or liquid to apply through a hose-end sprayer. I use the pellets for ease of application. Apply in late spring or early fall when lawn is wet, but temperature are in the 60’s or 70’s. Milorganite contains iron, but sometimes more is needed as an initial moss treatment. Also good garden bed amendment for rhodies and most plants.
Pelletized or “prilled” is easiest to apply and doesn’t make such a mess. Lime feeds the lawn and also reduces moss. Apply in fall and/or spring.
Why not reseed any bare spots from pulling out a dandelion as they appear? Mix the seed with compost and keep watered. In fall or spring you can “overseed” the entire lawn with fresh seed. I use the lawn seed from TCCA farm store in Cloverdale as it is a good mix of grasses for the coast. If you applied iron to kill the moss--wait two wks, then rake out moss and sow grass seed. Apply 1/2” compost if you can to over the seed.
If you have a lot of weeds its because the culture isn’t calibrated correctly for growing grass. Is is too wet or dry? What kinds of weeds do you have and what sorts of deficiencies do they indicate? If you have a lot of dandelions you need iron & lime-- try hand pulling and overseeding. Next year there will be fewer dandelions--pull a few more and keep up the regime. In a couple of seasons, you won’t have dandelions. Why not leave the clover as it feeds the grass nitrogen, stays green, and flowers. Dutch white clover is an excellent low-growing choice for blending into a lawn.
Growing Edibles in your Landscape
This is something that seems like a no-brainer that everyone can get excited about. As long as you are growing plants, why not grow something you can eat? For the most part that is true, however, at the coast it's so much easier said than done for two major reasons: deer and elk. Most of the plants that we like to eat are also deer candy. This is especially true of apple and pear trees as they are in the rose family. Every enthusiastic new coastal gardener has quickly learned the hard way that roses impossible to grow at the coast. Deer repellents do work for most plants when applied on a weekly regime, but not for roses. Yes, for ruminants, anything in the Rosaceae family is tasty enough to still be worth eating even when doused in "putrified egg solids", castor oil, blood meal, and sprinkled with cayenne pepper.
When a client is serious about growing food the first step is to put up a fence or deal with individually caged beds or trees. If this is not something desirable, either for aesthetic reasons, or for HOA code, then you can still grow artichokes and most herbs. Deer won't touch artichokes, rosemary, thyme, savory, lovage, sage, and most other oily plants. Also, not all fencing and cages are ugly. Personally, I like the look of non-galvanized steel remesh as it ages to a lovely rusty patina that disappears into the surrounding landscape. It can also be installed in a way so that the fencing panels are removal and can be lifted out for access.
Salt air and wind are two other factors that can limit the success of fruit and veggies at the beach and on coastal headlands. Cloches, cold frames, or agricultural spun row covers are an excellent means of protection against wind, excess rain, salt spray, and also many common pests.
Edible Plants for Landscape Setting on the Coast...
Plants were selected based disease-resistance, ease of pruning, general good behavior, tidiness and beauty.
Artichoke 'Green Globe' and 'Violetto'*
Alpine Strawberry 'Mignonnette'
Rubus calycinoides 'Emerald Carpet'*
* - deer resistant (usually)