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.
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)