Paper First, Backhoe Second

When I leave the office to meet a potential client for the first time it has become a happy moment for me. I arrive eager to hear their needs and how I can potentially help them with some possible solutions. Sadly, I often find that the person/persons have already started a project but did not have a clear idea of what they were doing. Often when I arrive, I find partially installed patios, walkways, drainage systems or numerous plants sitting in pots/partially planted.

Sometimes I find the couple has not been able to agree on what they are doing because they had not taken the time to dialog, discuss and draw out a clear vision of what they would like to experience regarding their real estate. Numerous times I have been called in because one person in the household has maimed, or at the extreme, cut down a tree which should have been left alone or at a minimum, pruned correctly.

I have been called when a drainage system was being installed which caused more water damage because it pointed the water to their crawl space. When Blackberries, Bamboo or other invasive pests have become a problem I have been called in. Often the client cannot imagine their world without the plant and they struggle over agreeing how they should go about the task of removal.

I have been asked to help when several plants were purchased, some planted, but the partner did not like the species or where they had been placed. I have been called when a baby was born which changed the wife’s idea of what would be important in the landscape. However, the husband did not want the maintenance level that the wife expected. There was a lot of tension.

It is important when someone owns even a little bit of real estate that there is a vision of how they would like to have the space fit into their lives over time. Some examples include setting up their estate to:

  • make them feel happy when they drive up to the garage.
  • create a space for them to share a meal with family or friends, have it big enough, and have the ambiance level that they want to see, smell and hear.
  • create spaces—that are not in plain view—for storing garbage/recycle bins, kayaks, outdoor furniture, garden tools.
  • create a space outside which could be viewed regularly from inside the house, which would change by itself over the seasons.
  • create a space outside for retreating to:
    • read, swing in a swing seat with grandkids, grill hot dogs over a fire bowl or meditate by a waterfall.

The slower season of the year from November through February is the very best time of the year to ponder, process and dialog through your dreams of what you want your real estate to eventually do for you.

We say:

Paper First: get your plans prepared and set in the order and way that you BOTH want to have things done.

Backhoe Second: you will both then be ready to bring in the tools to make the changes that you want to have happen, as you have the time and the money to do them!

Phil’s Garden Tips & Tricks for November

The nights have become longer. The rains have returned. The clouds are lower. The humidity is up. It is time to get the garden ready for its hibernation period!

  • Cover any bare ground with bark mulch (such as medium dark hemlock). Weed the space first, of course—this will insulate your plants from the potential cold to come. It also prevents erosion. As the mulch breaks down it helps the plants by feeding the soil creatures, which in turn give the plants important nutrients. Some plants, such as fuchsias and cannas, always need a blanket of mulch around their base to stave off the cold. The mulch in the summer protects the ground from drying out as quickly and from overheating.
  • Provide winter protection to built-in sprinkler systems by 1. turning off the automatic controller and then 2. turning off the water to the system at the street or at the backflow prevention device and then remember to drain it, if your system has a drain.
  • Prune your roses back about 1/3 height to prevent winter wind damage.
  • If moss is appearing in your lawn it may mean too much shade, poor drainage, low fertility or soil compaction. Use a lawn moss killer if you want to keep the grass looking thick and lush. Of course, you may decide to ultimately shrink your lawn. The rainy season is a great time to ponder and process what that might look like while you are not busy mowing it!
  • Prepare the lawnmower and other garden equipment for winter storage. Clean and oil tools and equipment before storing them away. Store hoses carefully to avoid damage from freezing. Do not leave them attached to the hose bib. In really cold weather, if they have not been both drained properly they might burst!
  • Now is the best time to lime the lawn: 50-80 lb. per thousand square feet.
  • Fertilize the lawn with a fall/winter fertilizer if you did not do it last month.
  • Great time to purchase Paperwhite Narcissus for the holidays by indoor forcing. They will bloom five weeks from the time that you start them.
  • Great time to plant new landscape trees and shrubs or just transplant.
  • Good time to prune the plants which bloomed in late summer.
  • There is still time to plant your spring-flowering bulbs, but don’t delay.
  • Watch for wet soil and drainage problems in your yard during heavy rains; drains/French drains and ditches are possible solutions.
  • You may lightly fertilize rhododendrons and azaleas now, for better green-up in the spring. Never lime these plants as they like acidic soil. Make sure the soil is moist when you fertilize and do not overdo!
  • Always rake leaves off the lawn as soon as you can. Leaves left on lawns can quickly damage a lawn! If the leaves are raked into the beds they will act like a good mulch and will NOT hurt the plants at all.

Advanced Gardening tips:

  • Reduce fertilizer applications to houseplants. Change to Oxygen Plus.
  • Consider supplying food and shelter for attracting wild birds to the garden.
  • Bait garden and flower beds for slugs during rainy periods.
  • Store your potato crop at about 40 degrees in a dark area with moderate humidity.
  • You still have time to plant garlic for a harvest next summer.
  • Fruit tree sanitation: to prevent possible spread of leaf diseases, rake and destroy leaves from around base of trees.
  • Tie raspberry canes to wires; prune to one foot above the top wire (around four feet tall). This is a good time to cut and root Rhododendrons and Camellias; root Begonias from leaf cuttings.
  • Place a layer of composted manure or compost over dormant vegetable garden area.
  • Cover rhubarb and asparagus beds with composted manure and or compost.
  • Rake and compost leaves. A three to four-inch layer of leaves spread over the garden plot prevents soil compaction during the rainy season.
  • Consider tying up limbs of Arborvitaes to prevent breakage by snow or ice.
  • You might want to plant a window garden of lettuce and/or chives.

Estimates, Bids, and Time and Materials (T&M)

Estimates, bids, and time and materials (T&M). I often hear people in the community using these words interchangeably, but in truth these words mean quite different things to the business person who is contracting for services to the public.

Estimates: These are usually given if the potential client wants a price very quickly—just to see if it is within their ball park budget. It is just that, an estimate, and a contractor does not expect to have the client hold them to this price or to the price range. Often, we will give a low and high number as a range to the estimate. This is particularly done if there are a number of unknown challenges or risks involved to implement the task. An example of a common unknown challenge is when one has a break or multiple breaks in an irrigation system due to an accident or severe freezing. We do not have X-ray vision to know how many breaks there are and how many pipes or heads must be dug up and replaced to get the system to work successfully again.

T&M (Time and Materials): Occasionally, after giving an estimate to a client, the client wants to go ahead and have work accomplished. We try to make the client aware of what is included in a T&M job. Normally this does not include a contract. The first step is to sleuth out what needs to be done on site. This time is billed to the job. There may be some cleanup needed with removals involved, this will include labor for a trip to and from the recycle or dump site which is also billed. If a challenge is encountered during the job which needs special tools or equipment, there will be time to travel to purchase the equipment or to return to the shop to fetch it, if we own it, and this time is billed as well. Often, clients will not understand this situation because they want to pay only for the time that they see our employees on their site.

Bid: Most often we offer a bid for a job. This involves a contract which states what is included in the bid. We do our best to include the removals, the trips to and from the dump, the shop, the store and how many days and hours of labor it will require. If something is encountered during the job which is entirely outside of the contract, we will need to stop and give the client a bed price to perform the “additional to contract” work.

In a T&M job, the client takes on the risks of what might happen on the job. In a Bid job, the contractor takes on the risks of what might happen on the job and charges for it. Often it is less expensive for the client to work as a T&M job unless there is something unearthed which is unusually expensive. Most clients prefer a bid for their work as they then have a firm price to expect at the end of the job and they might feel that they do not know the contractor well enough to trust him/her, so they would rather take the risk of paying more for the product, rather than trusting the unknown or unfamiliar business person.

Phil‘s Garden Tips and Tricks for October

It is now the waning days of Summer. The kids are back in school and your commutes have changed as a result. Take a moment as you drive and enjoy the slow change of the seasons. The rainy season will be with us by the end of October! September and October are my two favorite months of the year, for dry but cooler weather and generally sunny skies.

September Gardening Tasks:

  • Slack off on watering in the beds, but water some if your soil is dry. Less water now hardens plants off for winter.
  • Weed. Yes, still.
  • This month and next month are the best months to plant or renovate lawns, particularly as the air gets cooler and before it gets completely cloudy and cold.
  • Bait for slugs.
  • You can begin trimming off the tops of those perennials that have finished blooming and have turned brown to clear up the clutter.
  • Now is a good time to take rhododendron cuttings to start new ones if you are so inclined.
  • September through March are the best months of the year to transplant or plant. The very best month is November.
  • Prepare compost piles for recycling vegetation from garden and deciduous trees this fall. For a more detailed look at what makes good compost, read this blog post on composting.
  • Pick and store winter squash, if ready. This is usually late in September.
  • Use a copper spray for peach and cherry trees during dry periods.
  • Spray for bacterial canker of blueberries, leaf cane spot and juniper twig blight (after pruning away dead and infected twigs) during dry periods.
  • Bring houseplants indoors after cleaning and re-potting if nights get too cool. If possible, keep them out through October.
  • Pick tomatoes and potatoes.
  • September was the last month to plant your winter vegetable garden west of the Cascades. Examples are winter hardy kale, Brussels sprouts, different Italian greens, broccoli, raab, turnips, cabbage, kohlrabi and more.
  • September was also the final month for regular lawn fertilizer application (use a special Fall/Winter mix later in November).

How to Over Seed Your Lawn

The best time for over seeding (filling in bare spots) or just seeding in general is September/October/November or March/April/ May.

  1. Scratch/rough up the bare areas in the lawn with a leaf rake or a hard rake if necessary.
  2. Sprinkle some seed over the bare areas. Cover it about ¼” deep with a grass seed mulch.
  3. Wait about a month to see what happens. If green tiny shoots, like dog hair, begin appearing, you are doing well.
  4. If no green appears—or not enough to create happiness—repeat the performance every three weeks until you have grass.
  5. Keep the bag of grass seed in a cool place (like a garage) over the winter. In the summer put it in a refrigerator. (Watch out for rodents, they love the stuff!)

Phil’s Garden Tips and Tricks for August

It is high summer, and the dry season is at its peak! We have only had one significant rain event since April, making ground moisture very low. Many plants are stressed if they have not had some additional water. Even the native plants do not look their best this year. The forests and meadows are tinder dry, so please be vigilant!

To do this month:

  • Weed. Weeds should be few and far between now that the hot weather is upon us and it has been a long time since it has rained. Do not let weeds go to seed in your yard!
  • Mow regularly.
  • Don’t forget to water. The best time to water is in the early morning using approximately one inch a week on the lawn. Use more if it has been hot and dry. Beds need half that much.
  • Control caterpillars on leafy vegetables, Geraniums and Petunias, as needed, with Bacillus Thuringiensis (BT). It is a natural product.
  • Use mulch to protect ornamentals and garden plants from hot weather damage. For spider mite control on susceptible ornamentals, hose off foliage once a day for three days, once a month in July, August and September. Arborvitae hedges are the most susceptible.
  • This time of the year fleas can inhabit dusty dry areas where suburban wild creatures such as Raccoons, Skunks and Opossums lurk. Fleas that were left from those animals can very easily jump onto your pets or you. Sometimes just watering these areas can drown the fleas, or, sprinkling some food grade Diatomaceous Earth can cause disruptions in their life cycle.

Ask Phil – Spotted Spurge

This month’s “Ask Phil” question comes from J.W. –

Q: I’ve repeatedly picked out low-lying, flat tiny-leafed weeds I believe are called Spurge. They are tenacious, coming back and spreading rapidly. Any ways to combat them?

A: Hi J.W., it is good to hear from you. Spotted Spurge is a difficult weed to control. It is almost impossible to eradicate as the seeds are very tiny and can last several seasons in the soil, waiting to sprout. Here are some suggestions:

  • If you are into non-herbicide weeding, I suggest regular use of the Hula Hoe or similar method on a dry sunny day, before they set seed. That way you can leave them lying there and they will dry up. They set seed when they are bigger, and it is hotter. It is hard to tell if they are setting seed unless you get down and look at them up closely. If they are setting seed, then carefully pull them up and place them in your garbage container and do NOT place them on the ground to dry up.
  • This is a warm-season weed. If you are into herbicide spraying I would suggest using a lawn weed spray with a little Dawn soap in the mix to coat the foliage better. That should kill them, but it must be done repeatedly and do not do this around vegetables or fruits that you will eat. If they are seeding, then it will do NO good, because the seeds are still viable, and will all sprout this summer and next season.
  • Lastly, Spotted Spurge only gets about 2″ tall at most, so it cannot cover up plants that you want. They are just annoying flat to the ground weeds.

What is the name of that plant?

One of the most challenging things that we do as humans is communicate. It is difficult enough to get an idea across to a partner, mate, spouse or family member but it can be impossible to communicate with someone of a different language.

Surprisingly, when it comes to plants, we have a very clear way of communicating with anyone in the world! If someone of a different tongue points to a plant and appears to be asking what its name is, it is easy to tell them—if you know the botanical name. The reason it is easy is that the botanical name is the same in every language of the world.

For example, Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’ might be called by many different common names in English; golden daisy or plain’s daisy are two such names. Who knows what the common name for that plant is in Spanish, French or Russian?  However, if we use the Botanical name it is the same in Spanish, French or Russian. Botanical names are always binomial, meaning they have two parts. The first is the Genus—in this case, Coreopsisand is always capitalized. The second name is the Species—verticillataand is never capitalized. The variety that people like to plant here in the Willamette Valley is called ‘Moonbeam’ because it is pale yellow and is not too vigorous. A variety is always capitalized and is enclosed with apostrophes. Most people just call it Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’. Coreopsis verticillata ‘Moonbeam’ is an herbaceous perennial. That means that it disappears in the winter and comes back every spring.

Helleborus orientalis is an evergreen perennial. That means that it is ever-green, having green leaves all year long. However, it is not woody like a tree or shrub and does not die out or go dormant every year.

If a plant is a hybrid cross—that means two different species have been used to pollinate the plant—it is shown by an X. Rhododendron X ‘Jean Marie de Montague’ is a beautiful slower-growing Rhododendron which came to us as a cross—shown by the cross—of several Rhododendrons. It is always cloned and not propagated by seed. The clone is named ‘Jean Marie de Montague’. It is an evergreen broadleaf shrub. That means it is green all year round and it is shrub-like in growth.

Pseudotsuga menziesii is known commonly as a Douglas fir tree. It is an evergreen coniferous tree, meaning that it is a tree which produces cones and is green all year.

Quercus garrayana is known as Oregon White Oak and is a deciduous broadleaf tree. That means that it loses its leaves in the wintertime.

A plant may have many common names, but each essentially has only one botanical name. Everyone in the world has the capacity to learn it and then use it to communicate with anyone else in the world.

Phil’s Garden Tips & Tricks for July

Summer came more softly this year, it seemed. The days in the 70s and 80s with low humidity and the warmer nights have seemed just perfect for enjoying one’s yard and garden. 

Here are some things to do around your garden this month…

  • Prune shrubs only after they have bloomed unless you are on a rejuvenation project.
  • If the weed is not seeding, you may just leave the up rooted plant right there, most days, and it will dry up and turn into mulch!
  • This is the month that we fertilize lawns with an organic/natural fertilizer.
  • Check for root weevil adult damage on the leaves of rhododendrons and azaleas and decide whether you should use nematodes for their larvae or sticky traps for the adults.
  • Mulch, if you have not already, to conserve soil moisture. This is best done with one of the bark products, or compost.
  • Watch for signs of spider mites on arborvitae hedges (dusty looking foliage, loss of color, presence of tiny mites). These pests can kill a whole hedge. Here is a simple non-chemical method – pick a block of time when you can spray water on the foliage of the plants once a day for three days in a row. Repeat this same practice each month during the dry season. In other words, act like a heavy summer rain and wash them off the foliage!
  • You may cut off the foliage of the Spring bulbs when the tops have browned. If overcrowded, dig, divide and store to replant this fall.
  • Lawns probably need one inch of water per week this month. Beds need ½ inch per week.
  • Stake tall growing annuals or perennials if needed. Dahlias need it!
  • Check for scale insects on camellias, holly, and maple trees.
  • Encourage beneficial insects by planting members of the sunflower family – including zinnias, marigolds, Jerusalem artichokes and others.
  • Stake tomatoes, watch for blight, prune for air circulation, pick off affected leaves.
  • Cover blueberry bushes with netting to keep the robins off.
  • Check leafy vegetables for caterpillar attack.
  • This is the time to begin mid-summer plantings of beets, bush beans, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, kale.
  • End of month: prune the spent fruiting stems of raspberries, boysenberries and other cane berries after harvest.

Use Human Psychology – Expensive vs. Cheap

Spring is the busiest time of the year for anyone in the Horticulture or Landscape Community.

We received a phone call in May from someone who wanted a cleanup because their yard was overgrown and full of weeds. It had been many years since any work had been done.

They said emphatically that they did not want work that was expensive. That was a difficult statement for this landscape company owner to swallow because of course the opposite of expensive is…cheap.  Did they want a “cheap job” done to their yard in the prime time of the year?

We at Winterbloom had an overwhelming amount of work, it being springtime, and would not be able to get to the project until July.  They wanted someone who could do the work pronto. I suggested they call one of the many local landscape trucks in their area.  They had done that, but all of the landscapers were busy.  At that moment, they exclaimed, “Why doesn’t anyone want to help me with my job?!” and hung up!

That caused me to ponder about using the aid of psychology to be supportive in one’s search for help in one’s landscape.

1. If one must call in the Spring for help, say something like, “I will pay EXTRA to get the work done now!”

2. If one really wants a financial deal, wait and call for the work to be accomplished during December through February. That’s when Landscapers are hungry for business, and may be more inclined to charge less.

Phil’s Garden Tips & Tricks for June

Summer starts around the 21st of this month, which means that the sunshine is most effective. Sunshine is the food of photosynthesizing plants! On the 21st the sun is close to vertical in the sky during the day, giving the most food possible to the plants. After the 21st it slowly drops from vertical every day. Always remember that no matter what the TV advertisers say, fertilizer is not, and has never been, food for plants.

  • This is the best month to plant the warm season annuals—flowers or vegetables:  Petunias, Impatiens, Eggplants, Tomatoes, Peppers, Corn, Basil, Cucumbers, etc.
  • Mow regularly: set your lawn mower at the highest setting for the rest of the summer until October. The longer grass helps to shade the roots and keeps the grass greener and healthier.
  • Keep on top of the weeds. The rainy season is over, and it will soon be less work. You can toss the weeds out in the sunny part of the bed (but only those not going to seed!) and they will dry up by the end of the day and not reroot, like they might in the rainy season.
  • Water as needed: one inch per week at least on the lawn, and about half an inch on the shrubs, is a standard rule of thumb.
  • Slug bait is still important. Try to use pet-safe bait.
  • If it is needed, prune flowering shrubs or perennials after they bloom.
  • Check the Rhodies and Azaleas to see if you need to do any weevil control such as nematodes or insect tape. Also, check to see if you have lace bug damage on the leaves. It usually shows up later in the summer.  They suck the Chlorophyll out of the leaf cells and make the leaves look hideous.  They can be somewhat controlled by a predator called Green or Brown Lace Wings, which may be purchased locally.
  • If you want to make your Rhodies bloom more and look neater, it is time to dead head them.
  • Check for Aphids and cabbage worms and act, if needed, on veggies or roses.