Category Archives: Lawns

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.

An Invasive Violet for Western Oregon

It is not uncommon for people to ask me about violets which seem to be taking over their yard.

Violets come up in planting beds and lawns in the early spring, with purplish-blue flowers and purple leaves in the sun but darker-green leaves in the shade. They can grow here in Western OR, even in gravely, dry soil where not much else will grow. They are not fragrant.

European Dog Violet
European Dog Violet

This is the European Dog Violet or technically, Viola riviniana ‘Purpurea Group’.  Sometimes V. riviniana plants are sold as Viola labradorica purpurea and sometimes even Viola hederacea, but I am told that those plants are not generally sold or even found growing in the NW.  Buyer beware!

V. riviniana can spread from its running fleshy roots which can plunge rather deeply, making this plant quite drought tolerant.

These plants can out compete smaller plants such as Mentha requenni  and can mar the look of a stand of slightly taller plants such as Ophiopogon p. ‘nigrescens’.  However bigger plants can comingle with no problems.  For instance, the currently invasive common exotic ivy, Hedera helix, can easily quash this violet but then who wants a groundcover of ivy?

V. riviniana can spread easily by seed as they shoot their seeds explosively, up to 8’ away when they are brown and ripe. Therefore, once established, they can become very numerous. On top of that fact, the seeds may stay viable for up to 5 years in the ground.

Some suggested methods of removal are:

  • Covering a densely growing area, where they are to be removed, with cardboard and 2” of bark mulch. Anything that dares to come up from far flung seeds, immediately remove with your handy Hori-Hori! This may take more than one year.
  • Hori Hori
    Phil’s trusty Hori-Hori

    I personally have removed all of my V. riviniana with only a hoe over the past 15 years. If I see one riding piggy back in the potting soil around a plant from a nursery, I immediately dispose of that violet in the garbage, not the compost pile! I wait to plant it in the ground, watching the potted plant and digging out any other unwanted Violets over the course of a year. I have seen several come up around a piggy-backed plant from a nursery!

  • There was a location in my garden, after the 10th year, where violets repeatedly came up from seed or old roots around the base of my largest old Azalea. Ultimately, I crawled on my hands and knees and surgically removed them with my Hori-Hori. They have not returned since.

Plants from the Genus Viola that you may want to cultivate in Western Oregon.   

viola sempervirens
Viola Sempervirens

We have some lovely native violets here in the Pacific NW, but many are robust growing as well. Try them where they will not cover smaller plants and you will be fine. You may find different species on-line. I have grown (and particularly like) a yellow one that is local and evergreen, Viola sempervirens. It is cheery in the spring. It spreads by stolons as well as seeds.

There are plenty of other lovely exotic violets that are not invasive. These Violas include the plants which we commonly call Violas and Pansies  in the nurseries. They have been bred to have large blooms and are available in many colors.

From what I have read, the most fragrant form of this plant is Viola odorata ‘Rosea’,  which is a bright pink form.

Final thoughts:

Clearing a property of Viola riviniana is not a task for the faint of heart.  It requires persistence and boldness and a ready willingness to dig in the rainy season, because that is when it is easiest to pull/dig out of the ground.  In the dry season of summer, it can be almost impossible to extract this Viola from the concrete-like dry ground. Your Hori-Hori is your best friend if you would like to rid yourself of these invasive plants.

Spring Awakening

Spring has officially arrived. Really. Despite the rains and clouds, the crocuses and daffodils are popping up and new green leaves are emerging. As I write this the sun is pushing the clouds away and the temps are reaching for the 50s. The birds are at the feeding stations and have you heard the frogs?  It’s like a symphony in the neighborhood.  The spring awakening is such a special time.

Some things to consider for beautifying your landscape in late March and early April:

  • Now is the best time to purchase perennial plants at the nursery.
  • Continue weeding to prevent seed maturation. If you weed seriously now, summer weeding will be a breeze! And if you are going to use a pre-emergent weed control, now is a good time.
  • Continue baiting for slugs.
  • This is the last good month for transplanting. If a plant is starting to sprout, it might be best to just leave it and wait for next fall to move it.
  • Prune spring-flowering shrubs after the blossoms fade.
  • Trim or shear winter-blooming heathers when the bloom period is finished.
  • Fertilize rhododendrons, camellias, and azaleas with compost or, only if necessary, an acid-type fertilizer. (An indicator is that the leaves are yellow)
  • Spread mulch over garden and landscape areas that didn’t get mulched last month.
  • Lawn-mowing begins; set blade ¾ to 1” for bent grass lawns; set blade 1 1/2” to 2 ½” for fine fescue and ryegrasses. In other words, set it as low as you can without damaging the lawn. It will look really shorn. It might take three tries to get it to the level that you want. The grass will be wet and green.
  • First application of lawn fertilizer this year after the first mowing. Our preference is an organic fertilizer (non-petrochemical). (Or, something like 16-5-5).
  • Fertilize cane berries with manure/compost (or, 10-10-10).

Prune out dead wood on blueberries and gooseberries and keep them from getting too big, then spread wood shavings and as needed manure/compost.

Exit Rain, Enter Weeds: June Gardening Tasks

As I look out at our Winterbloom landscape, I see abundant growth, color and wildlife activity, especially birds. I think the same Robin comes each spring to build a nest in the tree visible from our office window. Well, enough bird watching. Here are some June tasks for you:

  • This is the best month to plant the warm season annuals of flowers or vegetables: Eggplant, Tomato, Peppers, Corn, Basil, melons etc.
  • Mow regularly; set your lawn mower at the highest setting that you want for the rest of the summer until October. The longer grass helps to shade the roots and keeps the grass greener and healthier.
  • Keep up on the weeds. The rainy season is over and it will soon not be so much work.
  • 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 to put out. Try to use safe pet bait.
  • Prune flowering shrubs or perennials after they bloom, as needed.
  • Check the leaves of your Rhodies and Azaleas to see if you need to do any weevil control such as nematodes or insect tape. If you see notches chewed out of the foliage, these pests have been there.
  • 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 can be purchased locally.
  • If you want to make your Rhodies bloom more and look neater, it is time to dead head them.
  • Continue to take care of coddling moths and scab on apples and pears. Check to see how many times and how often.
  • It is time to thin out the fruits on pears and apples.
  • Spray for fruit flies on cherries.
  • Check for Aphids and cabbage worms and take action if needed on veggies or roses.

 

Around Winterbloom

This moment of peace is courtesy of Winterbloom and the European ground orchid

The Dactylorhiza maculata, or European ground orchid, requires relatively little care and adds a delicate touch of color and verticality to our planting beds.

Give them a half-day of sun and they’ll grow in, through and around your other plants.

They like our Willamette Valley climate of wet winters and dry summers, so consider giving them a try!

 

 

Brew Pub for Slugs?

Salt is good for killing slugs on the patio or sidewalk, but it kills plants in the garden. Some of our clients have used beer for their planting beds. Don’t waste the good stuff on them, though; buy the cheapest rot-gut you can find and pour it into shallow plastic tops or jar lids.  You should see results (we’ll leave it to your imagination what that means) by the next morning.

Mulch, Schmultz

Recently I walked with two clients while discussing their harshly sterile, bare, sloping, side yard; where soil was eroding down onto the public sidewalk. It was slippery and muddy and very unattractive.

One of them brought up the idea of a nice boulder retaining wall set next to the sidewalk, which would help to hold back the soil.

The other remarked “But that would cost a lot of money and we are not ready to spend that right now, even though it might solve a lot of the problem with our sloping, ugly, side yard and would look good to the neighbors.”

The slope was not so steep that it would not be walkable, and they could have installed a lawn to hold the soil back from washing onto the sidewalk. However, they did not want to plant grass. The idea of mowing a sloping side lawn, which they would not use, did not appeal to them. I suggested a much less expensive option of placing a two to three-inch layer of bark mulch on the bare soil.

They wondered what I meant by mulch.

Mulch is any material placed on the ground which, when spread around in a fairly uniform layer, will insulate, protect or enrich the soil. Examples of mulch are: leaves, tree bark, compost, shredded paper, wood chips, wood shavings, shredded cardboard or nut hulls/shells.

Here are some examples:

Compost mulch will enrich the soil by feeding its resident population of micro flora and fauna; preventing the bare soil from eroding; helping to retain moisture in the dry periods; and suffocating weeds. It is a temporary fix however, because most good compost will be quickly broken down and eaten by the micro flora and fauna. Its nutritional benefits will then be available to the roots of the plants underground, but the erosion protection, the retention of moisture and particularly the positive effect of the weed suffocation will be gone very quickly. It is a common mulch used around plants with a final layer of bark mulch placed on top.

Leaf mulch is as you may guess, a collection of fall leaves that will quite possibly last the winter and into early spring. They will provide erosion protection during the rainy season and if they last long enough into the early part of the dry season, provide moisture retention as well. However, leaf mulch is also generally temporary. Shredded fall leaves or thinly placed grass clippings are excellent as far as nutrition goes, but have an even shorter life span for the other functions wanted from mulch, as this product is the most delicious to micro flora and fauna.

Straw mulch/hay mulch is occasionally available as an option. It is moderately slow to break down, but it carries many, many seeds. Therefore, it might best be used in a large commercial setting where there is a large expanse of soil that needs to be protected from erosion, but the owner is not picky about every kind of meadow plant imaginable germinating everywhere. This is not a product ever recommended for suburban planting beds.

Bark mulch can be excellent on all accounts and comes in various colors, grind sizes and tree types.

  • The most common type is fresh Douglas fir. It is reddish in color and slow to break down. It is the least expensive of the bark products. The micro flora and fauna must work hard to break it down and, as they do, they extract nitrogen from the air and soil. That’s why, with this type of bark, you’ll need to use a fertilizer with nitrogen to keep your plant leaves from yellowing. Another negative aspect of Douglas fir bark is its tendency to be splintery. Dark fir bark has less splinters and is a dark blackish red. This is so because it is already partially broken down and not fresh. Therefore, it does not rob as much nitrogen from the soil, but of course it also does not last as long.
  • Bark nuggets are usually derived from pine bark and provide the same results as red Doug fir bark but do not offer any splinters. Some people like this look, but one must place it rather thickly to provide good moisture retention during the dry season; as there are usually no smaller parts to create a sealing blanket, just bigger chunks. It is more expensive in the Willamette Valley, than the other bark products, since it is normally trucked in from eastern Oregon.
  • Hemlock bark, either fresh or dark is another option. It has almost no splinters. As in all bark products it can be found as fresh or dark, and in either a fine, medium or coarse “grind.” That means the average size of the material itself. Fine has a very smooth look on the ground but can wash or blow away, as well as break down more easily than the medium or the coarse. Medium is the most common as it has a mix of fine, medium and some coarse. Coarse grind appears very chunky on the surface of the soil but is the slowest to break down. Again, fresh hemlock breaks down more slowly than dark hemlock bark. Winterbloom’s most commonly requested mulch is medium dark hemlock, as it seems to have the best of all qualities. It is also the most expensive of all the bark products.

Nut hulls such as filbert (Hazelnut) shells, may be used as a mulch. in the Willamette Valley this is most available from filbert orchards or nut drying operations. It is a product that breaks down very slowly and is often used for paths as an organic option to crushed gravel. It has a coarse texture. A more expensive, but very fragrant and tempting product, is cocoa bean hulls. It has been found however, to be attractive, to dogs. As it can damage their intestines, it is now being discouraged as a mulch for dog owners.

Chips are a not uncommon mulch. It is coarsely chopped debris derived from tree or shrub removal. How long it lasts depends on whether it has a higher concentration of wood or of leaves. I have found that it is very similar in effect, but not look, to fresh fir bark. It does not have the fine splinters of fir but it also does not have fir’s nice uniform effect; rather a wild tousled appearance with many textures and sizes. Winterbloom generally uses this only to mulch natural areas or for woodland paths. We do not generally use it in suburban planting beds.

Cedar or wood shavings from a wood or lumber mill is another option for a mulch. It breaks down very slowly and is quite soft in function and appearance. It is often used as a surface for play areas as it is not splintery or rough. It is not used as a mulch in suburban planting beds.

Garden mulch from a recycle yard is also a common mulch that is very reasonably priced for planting beds. It is the ground and partially composted debris from city and suburban yards. It is black in color, has more of an odor than the bark products, but breaks down a little faster than the medium dark hemlock.

The composts, chips, garden mulch and all the types of bark may be blown onto planting beds. This is an easier way to spread the mulch versus using wheelbarrows, rakes, forks and shovels. It is also more economical than paying a landscaper to do the same task. Also, if you use a reputable company to blow on the mulch, they will generally clean up well and only the smallest, most fragile plants may be damaged or killed. These should be temporarily protected with overturned pots by you, the homeowner or designer.

Tall fescue – Festuca arundinacea

Tall fescue is a cool season perennial species bunch grass native to Europe. It is a coarse-textured medium to dark green grass, whose leaves are rolled in a bud (unlike the more flat blades we’re used to in the northwest). The plant appears quite vertical. It handles our long, wet, cool seasons very well and its deep root system also enables it to cope well with our dryer hotter months.

When mixed with other grasses in a pasture, or a coarse grassy lawn in the warmth of a western Oregon summer, it stands out because it tends to be green when other grasses have turned brown and gone dormant. It is well adapted to sunny areas. It has traditionally been an important forage grass throughout Europe because of its ability to stay green during the dry warm months and there are many cultivars which have been grown for different localities and uses. It has been used to some degree as an ornamental grass, for soil conversation, and as a phytoremediation (Phytoremediation refers to the natural ability of certain plants, called hyperaccumulators, to bioaccumulate, degrade or render harmless contaminants in soils, water, or air, such as lead or other toxic materials) plant. Because it naturally has a bunch grass type of growth rather than a creeping or quickly spreading habit, if grown as a stand, it regularly needs an addition of seed to fill in blank spots. In a ryegrass or bent grass lawn this Tall fescue is considered a weed, since its dark vertical and coarse texture stands out against the rest of the sod grasses. It does not mix well. It is not often grown as a lawn in its natural form, because it is so coarse textured and bunchy in appearance.

New varieties that are finer in texture and shorter in stature are known as turf-type Tall fescues and dwarf turf-type Tall Fescues. These fescues are good to plant for general sunny lawn use and are the most common lawn grass types in California. There are also Tall fescue-endophyte assisted varieties available. These varieties are very drought tolerant, disease resistant and also deter predation by insects and mammals. They may be good for lawn areas but are counter productive in pastures, since they’re poisonous to cattle.

Recently some of the turf-type Tall fescues have been developed to the point where several are purported to be spreading. This trait in a Tall fescue lawn is very advantageous, as the standard varieties need to be reseeded occasionally to fill in bare spots. There are several varieties of this group of sod type Tall fescues and they are all Rhizomatous Tall Fescue (RTF). Some varieties of RTF do fill out fairly well, while others do not. This grass is still somewhat in the research stage but there have been some success in the RTF Sods, which are now available. They become thick, green and more drought tolerant as a lawn grass that will fill in naturally (except for the large holes) without having to be reseeded.

Here are some reasons why Northwesterners might become interested in an RTF sod for their own lawn:

  • Tall fescue tolerates more sun and heat before turning brown and going dormant. Most of our native grasses, and particularly the non-native ryegrasses, do go dormant when it becomes hot and dry. However, Tall fescue is not a grass that can be used in shade.
  • This particular selection of Tall fescue tends to crowd out other grasses more than our standard perennial ryegrass and so it has a more uniform appearance after several seasons than most sod types.
  • When damaged, this lawn can repair itself to some degree where many other types of sod would not.
  • Since RTF takes more sun and heat than other grasses, it can handle a south-facing lawn placed at a slight tilt toward the sun, with reflected heat from a sidewalk. This is the hottest aspect for most lawns and one where most grasses would develop dry, dead spots. Not Tall fescue! It seems to relish full robust summer sun in our climate.