Why apply new mulch every year to fight weeds when you can plant something like the lovely Chocolate Bugle Weed (Ajuga reptans) in your beds which looks like mulch from a short distance, and like an adorable little plant close up? There are so many ground covers which prevent weeds better than mulch. Bugle Weed, of which there are many varieties to choose from, stays green (or bronze) year around, and puts up short sprays of purple flowers in late spring. It allows perennials to emerge, and yet suppresses weeds. What could be better? If you worry that the soil will lack enrichment without a new layer of mulch every year, sprinkle some compost and shake it down through the leaves.
Did you know that it’s dangerous to plant Day Lilies in with Tiger Lilies – or more succinctly – to allow those wild Tiger Lilies to seed themselves among your tame and cultivated Day Lilies?
It’s not that they have an evil influence, or that they will breed with their higher-class cousins. No, it’s a simple but deadly disease called Botrytis Blight or Botrytis elliptica. While the disease attacks both wild and cultivated lilies, it rarely kills Tiger Lilies, whereas the results are much deadlier for cultivated Day Lilies.
For that reason, it is advised to grow Tiger Lilies in beds of their own, as far from Day Lilies as possible. Botrytis Blight is prolific in damp conditions, which explains why you see large swaths of Tiger Lilies growing on hillsides, where the soil dries quickly after rains.
If you see yellowing and brown-spotted leaves on any of your lilies, remove those leaves. If they continue or return, dig up the plant to determine if the root bulb is rotted. If it is, dig up not just every part of the plant, but the soil surrounding it. The disease lives in the leaves, contaminates the ground, and releases air-born spores the following spring. The sooner any diseased leaves are destroyed, the better your success with preventing loss.
Are Tiger Lilies worth it? Oh, yes. That’s my hillside you see, in front of my house. It’s a very steep hillside, much too dangerous to mow. My solution is to let it overgrow with groundcover and interplanted with Tiger Lilies, which are prolific propagators. Not only is my hillside no longer eroding, but it looks great all year long. The only downside is that it’s a bit too steep to easily remove the spent lilies, or the dried flower stalks. But, what a spectacular show in the middle of July, when few other flowers are blooming!
Ants on Peonies: Did you know that Peony flowers can’t open without ants to eat the sugar off the buds? It’s called symbiosis. In the same way, we can’t live without each other, although in the case of people, it’s not our extra sweetness that needs to be removed. Peonies exist to remind us of what sweetness looks like. I want to be a big, flamboyant flower blossom, too. Don’t you?
It may seem like a very long time before you’ll see green again, but that doesn’t mean you have to give in to the mid-winter blues. Mid-winter is actually the best time to do many garden-related activities. Here are just 7 reasons to get a jump start on the 2016 garden season now, rather than waiting for the first signs of spring:
Insects are hibernating
No bees, no bites, no annoying nuisances to deal with. Now is the time to wander your property, look for and remedy situations that promote unwanted insect habitats. Certainly not all unwanted insects can be mitigated during winter, but some can. Many insects survive through the winter under the cover of fallen leaves, or in the first inch or so of soil under groundcovers. Keeping the ground clear of the warm blanket of leaves can kill off hundreds of earwigs and other insects that do damage all year long.
Plants are dead or dormant
Now is the time for your mid-winter clean up. Most of the leaves have fallen, even though we all know that a few continue to fall throughout the winter. With the majority gone, it becomes easy to see what remains of anything still green. Any sneaky little trees or shrubs trying to grow up in the borders? It’s much easier to dig them out root and all now than in the spring when they’ve grown over winter.
Hardscaping lines are clear
Looking at your landscaping while the plants are dormant gives a whole new perspective. What you see in the dead of winter are the bare bones, the skeleton, of your property’s landscaping. Hardscaping refers to the man-made elements of a landscape. In the Monet exuberance of summer, the plants are the thing, stealing the show. In the winter, all that is left are the evergreens, bare deciduous trees, shrubs and a few brown remains of perennials. Now is the time to view the lines of sight from different perspectives in the yard and from the house. Now it’s easy to examine the condition and appeal of the walls, sidewalks, patios, edging and seating options.
Animal tracks are easy to track in the snow
Another excuse to get outside! There is nothing more beautiful than the tracks of birds and animals in pristine snow. A fresh snowfall is a good time to find breaks in deer fencing and holes where destructive animals might be burrowing; a way to be proactive with repairs before the planting season begins.
Seed catalogs and hot beverages require an easy chair
Every gardener knows the guilty pleasure of browsing seed catalogs, whether online of off, while snuggling with a blankie and a hot beverage in the dead of winter while the winds howl outside. The feeling of laziness pays off in the long run with proper planning for the coming season. There is time to logically think through purchases so that your budget isn’t stretched past its limits. (Who hasn’t succumbed to temptation at the garden center with purchases that had no connection with the original reason for the trip?)
It’s not too late to protect plants from heavy snows
Most heavy snows come later in the winter, so if you haven’t protected those tender plants, it’s hopefully not too late. Mulching, wrapping with burlap and staking with twine all are easier without fighting the foliage of summer or fall. If the temperatures are near freezing, be gentle to avoid breaking branches.
Planning requires planning
It’s one thing to make a list; it’s another to make a list based on an overall plan with goals and objectives. Most gardeners start as I did, with a shopping list of much-loved plants, only vaguely aware of the needs of the plants, or the suitability of the plants to the site.
After years of failures, it became apparent that education and tracking were in order. What began as a homemade logbook to record my warranteed purchases and bedding placement of plants soon became a very fat expandable file folder stuffed with plant tags, seed packets, and flower bed folders with garden plots drawn out on graph paper.
Over the years my record-keeping evolved into finely tuned logs that kept me on track. Below is information from those logs and records, and these were included when I turned all these logs, lists, and folders into a journal that any gardener can use:
List of suppliers
List of purchases
Information for each individual plant
Logs to track every aspect of each kind of plant from starting seeds to harvest
Plans for pruning for all the various plants
Seasonal and yearly plans
Log for soil amendments
Pest and disease treatment log
Formulas and recipes for treatments
Cultivation and propagation log
Log of bloom and harvest times to plan sequence of bloom time for flower beds, and to plan harvest workload
Even in this day of online information and apps, a paper journal and log sheets are a must. I can look up a plant on my phone while standing in the garden to see why it’s looking so poorly, or find an insect to determine if it’s a good bug or a bad bug. I’ve played around with designing garden plots on various apps and online (most are for veggies.)
But nothing replaces a written record that encompasses all the variables of my garden. Bloom times and harvest times are different not just for different planting zones, but within a half mile. What works for my neighbor doesn’t work for me. Soil ratios can change within feet. The same flower could be planted in twelve locations in one yard and perform differently in each location. No app can handle that level of information, and no technology is long-lasting. Think of how many phones and computers you’ve been through already, and you know that you need something more permanent to track your garden.
That’s why when I designed The Garden Journal, Planner & Log Book, I also planned the cover and the artwork on the logs themselves to be a delight to the eye as well as practical. A good garden journal needs to be able to go from coffee table to garden and back, because you never know when you might want to thaw out with that warm beverage by the fire, dreaming of summer to come.