Archive for fall gardening tips

Drought Tolerant Plants for Front Yard Curb Appeal In Portland

Evergreen Ground Cover Plantings for Portland Front Yards

This blog could be called many things…..Drought tolerant Plants for Front Yard Curb appeal in Portland or  Evergreen Groundcovers for Front Yard Curb Appeal but actually it should simply say these plants together are my favorite all season interest groundcover.

Year round color for drought tolerant groundcovers in Concordia neighborhood of North Portland

Evergreen texture and contrast party in my client Lisa’s garden in late winter. Heather and Hen and Chick together.

Low Water Ground Cover Plants – Heathers with Succulents

I want to introduce a drought tolerant heather that looks fantastic with hens and chicks and talk about how to use these plants for year round good looks in your Portland landscape.

Reasons to use Heather with Succulents or Hens and Chicks

We garden designers want attractive planting combinations to be year round colorful attractive plants that look great together, suppress weeds, feed bees and are simple to care for.  This is my 2nd blog of three showcasing the use of low water and drought tolerant plants.

What is Great About Planting Heathers and Hens and Chicks together?

Drought tolerant heather, sedum and hen and chicks landscape in Portland.

Shortie Heather  (with Sedums and Red foliaged Hens and Chicks), grow nicely in rock crevices

Contrast!  The fine soft needles of the heather, the large blunt shape of the Sempervivum leaf and the rosette that it forms creates a strong contrast.  Using these combinations really tickles my designer’s fancy.  Using contrast is an important tool for design.

Drought Tolerance:   They both need well drained soil and must be irrigated the first summer to establish mature drought tolerant roots.  So yes plant them together – they are a perfect fit.

Heathers and hens and chicks are evergreen, provide multiple foliage and flower colors to create interest.  It’s fun to see a gold leafed heather with the dark red rosettes of a hen and chick by the front door in winter.  No wonder I love to use them for a colorful year round landscape planting plan.

The Shortie Heathers are My Favorites

Texture galore with drought tolerant evergreen groundcovers including heather, hens and chicks and sedums

Heather and succulents make a tapestry of color in the garden of Marcia Peck on ANLD garden tour.

The shorties – Besides being so attractive these very low (4” tall or less) heather (Calluna vulgaris) are well worth it because they need very little to no pruning at all.  Some clients don’t remember to prune anything so these shorties are just right for them.  All the other types of heather have to be pruned.  I’ve nicknamed these heather ‘shorties’ to set them apart from the many many other kinds of heathers.  If you call them a “shortie heather” at a plant nursery they will not know what you are talking about.  Stick with the latin and look for these at specialty growers and nurseries.  See end of blog for where to buy these special heathers.

I like to use a very short heather with my hens and chicks like this three inch high heather called Calluna vulgaris ‘Mrs. Ronald  Gray’. This heather has needles that grow in a configuration that look like tiny ferns fronds and is my favorite of them all.   Other very short 2 inch to four-inch-tall heathers include Calluna vulgaris ‘Caleb Threkheld’, and ‘White Lawn’.  I use these shortie heathers in a variety of situations with many different kinds of plants but they look especially good with the succulents. They will also drape over a wall nicely.

The Difference Between Drought Tolerant Heather and Other Heathers

Rose City Park front yard shows Calluna Vulgaris 'Mrs Ron Gray' this Designer favorite drought tolerant heather.

The stems look like feathery tiny ferns on this unique Calluna vulgaris, Mrs Ron Green (shortie heather)

I want to be sure my readers will understand that not all heathers are drought tolerant (and most of them are not shorties either).  Heathers named Calluna vulgaris – Scotch Heather (summer and fall flowering heathers) are very different from the spring flowering heathers (Erica carnea and Erica darleyensis) in terms of their soil conditions and water needs.  The Calluna must have well drained soil. They must be watered regularly and carefully their first summer, after that, they prefer less water and can become drought tolerant after just a few years of maturity.   They need full sun or at least 8 hours where Erica carnea can make do with less.  Erica darleyensis can take light shade although I like to grow them in full morning sun.

I Water My ‘White Lawn’ Heather Once a Month in Summer

My Calluna vulgaris ‘White Lawn’ at my vacation house gets watered once a month if its been hotter than usual in the summer.  I’m only there once a month and they even made it through the heat dome of 2021.

Portland landscape cascading Caleb Threkheld heather.

Calluna vulgaris ‘Caleb Threkheld’ cascades down the sides of an elevated planter in early fall.

Plant Heathers in fall

Portland front yard with drought tolerant Calluna vulgaris "Mrs. Ron Gray' with dwarf blanket Flower in late summer

Calluna vulgaris ‘Mrs. Ron Green’ borders synthetic lawn flowering in mid summer at my clients home.

Life will be easier, and kinder if you plant your heathers in the fall-best practice.  Planting in early spring would be next best.  Planting in late spring or early summer will mean complete devotion to watering these plants.  It’s easy to kill heather their first summer and here is why – most plants leaves will droop a little and let you know they are dry.  You water them and all is forgiven.

Heathers Cannot Dry Out The First Summer

Not so with heathers – Heather cannot dry out the first summer, not even once or it’s all over.  This is why planting in the fall is easier on you.  If the chance they will have to be replaced come fall is not a problem for you, you have nothing to lose except the plants.  Most of us won’t be planting 50 of these so our loss is minimal except for the shorties which are harder to get in the first place…..still calculate your potential loss and decide if you want to gamble now that you have the facts.

No Pruning for the Shortie Varieties of Calluna Vulgaris – Scotch Heather

Portland landscape with freshly pruned heather.

Calluna vulgaris – heather freshly pruned at the Oregon Garden. These heathers get about 12″ tall and must be pruned each year.

Taller type heather must be pruned thoughtfully every year but mostly one never needs to prune these shortie Calluna vulgaris – Scotch Heather.  I have plants Calluna vulgaris ‘White Lawn’ that are over 10 years old.  I’ve let one heather spread out and moved any hens and chicks that got in the way.  I have a patch that is over 15 years old and it’s about 24″ wide now.  I like it that wide and I still have room for plenty of hens and chicks.

Drought tolerant Calluna Vulgaris heather in Portland landscape.

My large two foot swath of Calluna vulgaris ‘White Lawn’ gets little to no water at my vacation home. This is what I call a “shortie” heather.

If you are still with your heathers in ten years, you can choose to either referee so the heather doesn’t totally bury the hens and chicks as it matures by carefully pruning out a section of the heather or….You could be a lazy gardener and just let the heathers grow over the top of the hens and chicks since by then you will have lots and lots of the hens and chicks.  I love the combo so I have done a little of both. Just realize that the section you cut out of the heather will not grow back.

Happily hens and chicks are so easy to transplant.  Sometimes I pick little chicks off the mother plant and tuck them into a cooler spot in the ground even with no roots on them at all and often they root and thrive – they are that easy to transplant. Learn more about hens and chicks.

 

Drought tolerant Sempervivum Carmen Hen and Chick pictured in Portland.

Exquisite foliar texture on this Sempervivum –  hen and chick called ‘Carmen’.

Finding the Shortie Heathers to Buy

So perhaps I’ve convinced you that these shorties heathers are just right for adding full season color and interest to your low water landscape.  Where to buy them?

Highland Heathers – Janice Linewebber can u.p.s. right to your door. If her web site is not updated just e mail her at [email protected]  Ask her if she has any Calluna vulgaris that grows only 3 or 4 inches tall.  She will probably ask if you are my client…I love these little shortie Calluna vulgaris heathers so much in my designs.

Heaths and Heathers is mail order and while there are threats of retirement….so far we can still order from her. She is also on Facebook as Heaths and Heathers Nursery and is in Washington.  Ask her for substitutions as she has some shortie heathers I’ve never grown or used. A shortie is 4″ or under when mature.

There is a large wholesale grower in the area called Little Prince that sometimes grows these heathers. Therefore, I have found them at Cornell Farms and Portland Nursery at times.

Drought tolerant Sempervivum arachinoides called 'Pekinense' grown by Little Prince

Top marks for this Sempervivum arachinoides called ‘Pekinense’ grown by Little Prince and photo by Little Prince as well.

Contact Us for a Thoughtful Drought Tolerant Landscape Design

We love to create landscape plans that are low maintenance and can support our environment. Plants help cool the soil, absorb carbon and provide food for pollinators and other life. They also make your home welcoming and attractive.  Contact us if you want a low maintenance landscape design that is interesting, colorful and can be an asset to your home and community.

Pruning Nandina easily for Portland residential landscapes

Pruning Nandina easily, the perfect low maintenance plant, for Portland residential landscapes

Low Maintenance Shrub (Nandina) for Portland Residential Landscape DesignI promised I would follow up from my last blog about Nandina domestica – Heavenly Bamboo and how seriously low maintenance they are.  I’ll give you my easy pruning trick for Nandina and you’ll be all set to use this shrub, a low maintenance year round beauty, in your Portland landscape.

What’s the problem with shearing Nandina?

If it’s so easy to prune why do we see so many sad looking Nandina out there? People try to prune them like a boxwood hedge.  Boxwoods have a typical shrubs’ woody structure and little tiny leaves.  They can be sheared and look pretty good.  Nandina are a multiple cane plant with a compound leaf composed of many oval shaped leaves.  The best way to ruin their appearance is to shear them into little round balls or squares.

Ugly Nandina in Portland Landscape Need Pruning TipRestore leggy sparse leafed Nandina plants

These photos illustrate embarrassing ugly examples of Nandina out there in commercial and residential landscapes.  These sad plants at my local bank have not been pruned at all.  If yours look this bad, hold off on tossing them.

Portland Landscape Designer's example of poor pruning techniqueWe could correct these ugly leggy Nandinas’ appearance in one year by applying the pruning technique I have illustrated here.  These Nandina domestica ‘Gulfstream’ could look amazing with regular irrigation and pruning once every year or two.

My drawing “Fix Leggy Nandina” illustrates restoring a Nandina that has developed leggy bare canes (or stems if you like).  It has no foliage at the base of the plant.

The Cool Trick to Pruning Nandina

The simplest pruning technique is to cut 1/3rd of the canes to the ground and call it done.  This technique will get you a much better plant once the new canes sprout. I control the height by selecting the tallest canes to remove.

You can take your easy pruning a step farther and select another 1/3rd of the canes and cut them at different heights.  If you only have 3 canes to work with it would look like my “Fix Leggy Nandinas” illustration and in one year it would have a new cane with leaves on it sprouting from the ground and the stem you cut back would have new stem and leaves above where you made the cut.

When to Prune Nandina

You can prune nandina any time of year here in the Pacific Northwest.  I like to remove canes to use for holiday table decoration in the winter but only from a robust plant with lots of canes.  I  prefer to do restorative pruning (such as in my illustration “Fix Leggy Nandina”) as early as March or as late as May.

How to Prune Dwarf Nandina

The technique is mostly the same, but dwarf varieties like ‘Firepower’ need almost no pruning to contain height and if they get enough sun, they rarely get leggy.  The plant can get too wide so I like to thin a few canes out at the bottom (or up to 1/3rd of my canes) every year to keep the plant from ever getting too wide. This allows the little plant to continue serving as a colorful year round foundation plant for the long term in your landscape.     Here is a good video to illustrate pruning the dwarf varieties.

 

 

Read my previous blog about Nandina “Colorful Four Season Plant”

Growing Greens in Winter

It’s the first week of October and I just planted veggie greens starts in my raised bed. Yup it’s not too late. I bought two kinds of collard greens, Bok Choy Rosette (a dwarf variety) and  2 butter leaf lettuce (Rhapsody Butterhead  and Little Gem).  Adding pounds of fresh greens  into my diet this summer has been great for my energy and my waistline.

Butter lettuce and bok choy in Carol Lindsay's salad table.

Butter lettuce and bok choy in Carol Lindsay’s salad table.

Each week I pick a mixture of greens.  I wash them in a dab of dish soap and cold water. I spin them dry and stuff them into a large pickle jar. I feel better and  breakfast has been quick and yummy. The smoothies are so tasty! Each morning I scoop out 2 fistfuls of greens, add protein powder, frozen fruit and blend.  It’s so fast, tasty and healthy it’s got to be wrong!  My fav combo is basic greens with basil, frozen peaches, 3 strawberries and 1/2 a banana with coconut milk. The basil and banana are sweet enough I don’t miss adding sugar.  Basic greens could include kale, chard, beet greens or collard greens, romaine lettuce and arugula.

Now that it’s fall, I still have lots of chard and kale left from summer.  My kale is 5’ tall and I have underplanted them with bok choy starts and more kale starts.  I’m not harvesting my kale until after the first frosts hit.  I’m told the kale from this summer will sweeten with the cold and taste even better. Here are the kale varieties I’m growing right now:   Italian heirloom Lacinato, (it’s sometimes called Black Kale) Winterbor, Red Ursa.  I still have lots of rainbow chard and I continue to harvest the largest outside leaves so the plants don’t get huge. They are about 1 foot high at maximum.  If you are a beginner, chard is easy and prolific.

It's amazing how much food you can grow in a 4x8 raised bed.

It’s amazing how much food you can grow in a 4×8 raised bed.

In addition to smoothies, greens are so great in soups.  I use a pressure cooker to make soup quickly and I pick easy recipes because I’m really not the cook in my family.

My brother is the hot shot cook in our family and I was always outside in the garden with my dad. My favorite recipe is Ethiopian – Inspired Red Lentil Soup.  I’m going to grow my greens and use them  for as long as I can this winter.  If I bought the greens each week at a grocery store it would easily cost $100.00 in a month so I’m saving money too.

Mulching to protect our Salmon

Recently, I attended a workshop to learn more about what I can do as both a gardener and a landscape designer to help the salmon survive and to make a difference in our environment.

Salmon have to see to navigate their way home to spawn.

Salmon have to see to navigate their way home to spawn.

Restoring our watershed means remembering that all water runs downhill, and compacted bare soils don’t absorb water. Water rushes downhill, collecting debris, dirt and contaminants as it goes, polluting and muddying the water that the salmon use.  If a stream is muddy and a salmon can’t see, it won’t go into the stream, which is where they return to spawn. Personally, I like to see where I’m going, and hadn’t ever thought about how salmon navigate or their preferences. They don’t use radar to find their way home, they have to see.

So how does mulching get in the act of saving salmon? Mulching slows down the water, and improves the soil’s moisture holding capacity and it actually immobilizes and degrades pollutants. This means cleaner, less polluted water goes to streams and rivers, keeping the water clear for the salmon to see. Pretty simple huh!

New plantings at Masterson garden receive blanket of mulch.

New plantings at Masterson garden receive blanket of mulch.

Well, it is.  Mulching bare soil areas with as little as 2 inches of compost has many benefits. It supplies slow release nutrients to plants and to existing natural good fungi.  Compost improves your soil structure, creating passageways for air and water, creating a better environment for plant growth and a healthier low maintenance garden for you.

“If all the bare soils in the Portland Metropolitan area were covered with 2 inches of medium grade compost, there wouldn’t be any problem with runoff into the rivers and stream.” The Salmon can’t be saved with random acts of kindness.

3 Colorful Shrubs for Fall

Compact Burning Bush
The most popular variety of Euonymus alata ‘Compacta’ because people think it will be small, say 3′ x 3′.  It is not the least bit small and easily grows into a beautiful small tree.  The smallest variety on the market is called ‘Rudy Haag’ 5′ x 5′.   Even the variety called ‘Pip Squeak’  is 6′ x 5′.  If Burning Bush is not placed with room to grow, these shrubs get turned into ugly muffins by frustrated gardeners.  If it is sheared properly, thinner at the top and wider at the bottom, this can be a very attractive hedge but it will need to be sheared two or three times a year.  Ugh! Too much work for me.

pipsqeck burning bush monrovia 8959268-largeI love to use this shrub as a shree (part shrub, part small tree).  A client of mine, Ruth in Scappoose has hers planted in full sun and pruned into small multi-stem trees.  They are underplanted with a hot orange summer flowering Euphorbia which is a wow combination.  These “shrees” have been in their location for over ten years and they are not irrigated at all. Other than having a professional pruning every year or three, this privacy planting is very low maintenance and simply stunning. The ridged and winged bare stems of the Burning Bush are attractive and add winter interest.  To establish this plant, water it once a week, or twice in hot weather.  Once established, it will thrive with once a week watering.  As it ages in place it needs less and less water.  A plus … The deer don’t bother this plant in Ruth’s garden.

Fothergilla 'Mt Airy', (Bottlebrush) in full fall color.

Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’, (Bottlebrush) in full fall color.

Witch Alder (also called Bottlebrush)
This shrub has two seasons of wow, one is spring where the fragrance is heavenly, the bottle brush flowers are attractive in flower arrangements and if pruned properly, the shape of this “shree” will look good year round.  The 2nd wow is the fall color.

Fothergilla (BottleBrush) fragrant flowers on naked stems delight in spring

Fothergilla (BottleBrush) fragrant flowers on naked stems delight in spring

This plant, Fothergilla ‘Mt. Airy’ will need regular water until it has been in place for many years. Almost all plants, even those listed as drought tolerant, look better with some irrigation in our Pacific NW Mediterranean style summer. See fabulous colorful art made from these leaves!!!

Gatsbys Moon Hydrangea

Hydrangea Quercifolia Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Gatsby’s Moon’ is a new variety from Proven Winners.

Oakleaf Hydrangea 
I’ve written about this plant many times but that’s because it’s so great.  The full size plant may not fit in most landscapes but there are two semi dwarf plants that will.  These plants have huge white conical flowers in mid- summer that fade to a nice pink.  In fall the large and well textured leaf turn the most fabulous rich reds and stay on the plant well past Thanksgiving.  These leaves always go in my Thanksgiving table centerpiece.  Once the leaves fall, there is great rusty exfoliating bark on the stems that glow in the winter light.

Hydrangea quercifolia, Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Sikes Dwarf’ and ‘Pee Wee’ are the two varieties I use the most. They are NOT tiny shrubs, still expect a 3′ to 4′ wide and tall plant.  My experience is that ‘Sikes Dwarf’ is taller than ‘Pee Wee’.  The leaves are smaller than the species, 4 to 5 inches instead of 8 to 10 inches and they still have the interesting grainy texture and great flowers. One drawback … deer seem to like the leaves.  It is native to the South Eastern United States.

It’s easier to prune than a traditional hydrangea AND it doesn’t need as much water.  If you want you can cut it off at the ground in late winter and start over.  Here is a video “How to Prune Oak Leaf Hydrangea”  by Cass Turnbull of Plant Amnesty.