Archive for garden tips – Page 3

10 Things to know about landscaping your new home

Ah, the glory of a new home.  Everything is, well, so new.  So fresh.  And there’s not a chip, dent or scratch anywhere (yet).

"I hired Carol to help me make the most of every inch of my new property." Photo by Kelly Uchytil

“I hired Carol to help me make the most of every inch of my new property.” Photo by Kelly Uchytil

Outside, however, it’s another matter altogether.  With most new homes, there simply isn’t anything but dirt.  So what to do?  Well, here are my ten ideas on how to do the landscape right…so you won’t have to do it over.

1.  Hire a landscape designer to lay out the land and give it the look and feel you want.  This needn’t cost an arm and a leg (call me and be surprised), and you’ll get the over-all plan set up before you start all that digging.

2.  Plan for more drainage than you think you need for areas adjacent to driveways, patios, pathways, lawns and especially retaining walls.  Ask neighbors about standing water in winter and spring.  Find out how long standing water takes to drain and where it drains to (your yard perhaps?!)

3.  Plant some larger sized trees in your first phase so everything won’t look so puny while they spend the next five years growing into the space you’ve provided for them.

Sherry and Kelly got exactly what they wanted and more.

Sherry and Kelly got exactly what they wanted and more.

4.  Consider how long you plan to live in the house.  If it’s less than five years we often focus on the entry and front yard.  If it’s longer, then invest in a good design for the whole property that you can build on over the years.  Curb appeal sells your home.

5.  Create an oasis for privacy.  It needn’t be large, but ideally it should have some eye appeal from inside the house.  Sunny days are precious, so create a place to enjoy them.

6.  Know how you’re going to handle upkeep.  The idea of “low maintenance” can be a misnomer:  it’s easier to mow than weed.  Decisions about upkeep need to be made right along with the design.  And if you don’t want to be the gardener, make sure you have someone who will, because there is no landscape short of concrete that doesn’t require upkeep.

7.  Pay close attention to watering the first year.  Many a well-intentioned landscape has gone to ruin in the first year for lack of proper watering.  Such a waste!

8.  Avoid BDS, one of the leading killers of new plants.  What is BDS, you ask?  Bored Dog Syndrome.  It happens when Fido pulls up plants, shakes them good, and doesn’t replant them; or decides to water them with full force.  The cure?  While plants are still young, don’t let Fido out alone.  This may be a pain, but trust me, you’ll save a lot of money.

9.  Before you pave your driveway or paths, lay PVC conduit pipe underneath.  That way you can easily add irrigation or lighting later on.  PVC pipe is cheap.

10.  Soil prep is where it’s at — it’s the difference between plants that thrive instead of die.  You need soil that drains well in winter but holds moisture in summer.  Every site has different requirements, so get professional advice at the start.

Top 5 Stepable Path Plants For Portland Landscapes

North Portland Landscape Design parking strip

Becky Clark Design Thymus Praecox ‘Coccineus’ ablaze w flower in north Portland parking strip

Selecting Stepable Path Plants for Portland Landscapes

Maybe it’s not fair that most people don’t know the finer points of selecting stepable path plants.   The truth is planting between pavers successfully without insider knowledge rarely ever results in a thriving and attractive result let alone a planting that qualifies as low maintenance.   It’s a little like ‘Goldilocks and The Three Bears’, the plant has to be just right.  Remember?  The chair and the bed had to be the right size and the porridge had to be the right temperature.   If the plant you select is not right for the job,  your path or patio can have weed problems that will take a complete do over to solve.

Most people don’t want to trial and error plants. They want to know it will work before they put in their time and effort.  That is the advantage of hiring a Portland landscape designer.  We know what works here and what doesn’t.

Portland landscape designer walking on stepable plants

Step on these plants.  This keeps them growing low and dense.

Here’s how I think about selecting stepable path plants.

I want a plant that doesn’t grow higher than 1″  or 2″ tall maximum.

Many stepable plants tend to grow into a hump and must be walked on regularly to keep it from growing into a hump and being a trip hazard. Stepping on the plants frequently will cause them to grow dense and shorter.  My grandson Rain helped me plant my flagstone patio.  I  stepped away and his friend came running in and said “I keep telling him they’re stepables not stompables.”  I looked up to see my grandson stomping on the freshly planted ground covers.   Surprisingly, the plants survived just fine.

Portland Garden Design Groundcover

Leptinella = Black Brass Button stepable groundcover

I want a plant that doesn’t grow over the flagstone too quickly.

If you plant a type of stepable that grows too vigorously you will be constantly cutting the plant off of the flagstone.  Untended it will completely cover your flagstone.  A slower plant might need a trim every year or two.

What do Stepable Groundcovers Need?

Weeds are the enemy.  Prevent weeds.

Most stepable plants require good drainage in order to grow thickly and repel weeds.  If they don’t grow thickly, and have bare patches, weed seeds will be able to reach the soil, germinate and thrive.  I fertilize my patio plantings with half strength fish fertilizer several times a year to keep them growing thickly and I rake or sweep leaves and debris off the plants so they can get as much light as possible.  These actions help keep the plants growing vigorously which is another way to thwart weeds.

I’ve listed plants below for part sun and full sun.   I don’t have a stepable plant that thrives in strong shade, regardless of what the plant labels say.  I’ve tried several that manage to stay alive in dappled shade but don’t grow thick enough to repel weeds.

Another tip:  Don’t plant in an area that was infested with weeds.  You will need to tackle the weeds first before you plant your stepables.

Leptinella with star creeper

Here’s a close up of  ‘Platt’s Black’ Brass Buttons with Star Creeper.

Stepable Plants for Part Shade/Part Sun:

Leptinella squalida –  New Zealand Brass Buttons.   The variety I prefer is ‘Platt’s Black’.  The other variety of Brass Buttons I like, ‘Leptinella P. Verdigris’  is a a little fast for pavers but I have used it for paths.  I don’t grow either of these in full sun. They spread until they find an environment they don’t like.  In my patio they run into too much shade and the strong roots of sword fern and they stop there.  These are spreaders so think before planting.

Stepable Plants Portland Modern LandscapeMentha requienii –  Corsican Mint  This is a crowd pleaser because it smells good when you step on the plant.  This plant needs some sun, and needs good drainage, too much shade and soil that is too wet in the winter will kill this plant.  Full day sun is typically too much for this plant.  I’ve seen it in full sun but when I tried it, it failed.

Stepable Plants for Sun:

Elfin Pink Thyme fills in a path in Portland OregonThymus Serpyllum ‘Elfin’ or ‘Elfin Pink’  – I love this plant and it is truly a flat mat if you step on it regularly.  It does get weeds growing into the middle so it’s not maintenance free, but only garden magazines talk about maintenance free landscapes.  When it is successful you will have to cut it off of flagstones some but I find it quite manageable.

Stachys densiflora 'Alba' in full flowerStachys densiflora ‘Alba’ – Alba Lambs Ear   First of all this plant looks nothing like  the traditional cottage garden plant (silver furry leafed) Lambs Ear.  The tiny leaves are fully evergreen, dark green and leathery.

Stachys D, 'Alba' with attractive seed heads and Thymus P. 'Elfin Pink"

Seed head is a rust red and very attractive.

I love this plant because it doesn’t let weed seeds infiltrate the tight mound of leaves.  Plant it on the edges of your path or step on it every day, otherwise it will mound up.  It takes full sun easily and the long flowering period is fantastic! The seed heads that follow are interesting as well.

Stepable ground cover in Irvington neighborhood, Portland, Oregon

Cushion Bolax ‘Nana’ – Emerald Cushion is my favorite stepable for sun.

My Favorite Stepable Plant

Azorella Trifurcata ‘Nana’ – Cushion Bolax   I have this plant at my vacation house in full morning sun (so 4 hours) and it will take full day sun as well.  It occasionally has a dandelion sprout in the middle, but other pesky weeds don’t invade.  I find it to be very low maintenance and perfect for a place I only visit every month or two.   It will creep over your pavers so plan to trim once every year or two.  It’s my favorite filler plant for pavers, paths and as a foreground plant in a planting bed.

My dog Barley looking at freshly planted Cushion Bolax ground cover.

My dog Barley looking at freshly planted Cushion Bolax.

I love the texture.  It goes through a change where the little needles feel like a plastic carpet (which sounds bad but is fun) and then it softens into a ‘pettable’ surface.  The yellow flowers are tiny fat buttons and cute.

Let’s work together and get you off to a great start

Are you looking for a Portland landscape designer who knows what plants and materials will work in your landscape?  We know how to put it all together and get you on the path to your new attractive and manageable landscape.   Contact us and let’s create together.

Lace Bug Update

Azalea Lace Bug damageLast year I wrote a blog about a serious new insect problem for landscapes in the Pacific Northwest. It was serious because rhododendrons and azaleas make up a large percentage of the plants in most gardeners landscape. The easy way to control the insect was with a systemic pesticide that harms bees.  Many people were talking about removing all their susceptible plants rather than harm bees.

Here’s my latest report and what you can do to save your plants without killing bees:

Save bees and your azaleas and rhododendrons. How big a problem?
I have visited over thirty client landscapes in the Portland area since February – all the gardens but two had moderate to severe lace bug damage on rhodies and azaleas.  I was already expecting the 2015 lace bug plant damage to be a huge problem for my clients. Robin Rosetta, Associate Professor, Extension Entomologist, OSU says the lace bug hatch is a full month early.  This is very bad news unless you are prepared to start treating your plants now in mid-to-late April and early May.

Lace bug eggs waiting to hatch.  Photo by Robin Rosetta.

Lace bug eggs waiting to hatch. Photo by Robin Rosetta.

Strong blasts of water should be applied to the back of the leaves to damage the wings of the lace bug while it is in its soft nymph stage.  It can be a little difficult to hold your leaves steady to spray the back side, especially if it is a large rhododendron.  Portland Nursery has something called a Bug Blaster Head for your hose.  It’s easier to use and has a safer pressure for your plants’ leaves.  It also has a wand attachment that would make it possible to treat a large rhododendron.

Insecticidal soaps applied to the back of the leaves will also damage the lace bug nymph. These two methods are effective only while the nymph is soft.  Once it turns into an adult, soaps won’t work and water spray will not remove embedded eggs.

Green-Lacewing March Biological

Green-Lacewing March Biological

This may get confusing because the bad bugs that damage your plants are called lace bugs.  I’m about to introduce you to a good bug that eats the bad bug. The good bugs are called green lace wings.  If you don’t want to spray your plants because they are too big, there are too many plants or you want to work toward a long term solution; you need to purchase green lace wing larvae from March Biological  or go to Portland Nursery to order through them.  The green lace wing will eat the newly hatched lace bug and prevent the lace bug population from exploding.  Getting green lace wings in a high population in your garden will help with the next one or two lace bug hatchings that we expect this year.  My friend, Phil Thornburg, from Winterbloom has successfully diminished his damaging lace bug population. It took him a couple of years but he did it by applying green lace wings instead of pesticides.

Plants in full sun seem to be the most damaged from lace bug.
Basically they are stealing the green right out of the plants’ leaves and laying eggs that will hatch in another month adding insult to your already damaged plant.  Remember to water your rhododendron and azaleas regularly this summer –  they will need the extra support.

Question: What does lace bug on my rhododendrons have to do with bee colony collapse disorder?

Rhody Lutea March 2015 treated with bee killing spray

Rhododendron ‘Lutea’ in my client’s garden without any damage.  A rare occurrence.

Answer:  Systemic drenches often contain imidacloprid. It’s popular because it’s easy, the chemical is suppose to be safer for mammals (so humans, rats, bats are pretty safe) but the spray will harm or kill bees or any insects who feed on the plant.  For months afterwards bees take it back to the hive with the pollen so it’s not just harming one bee – it’s harming the colony.

The time to treat your plants without harming the bees is now!


Hydrangea Pruning Made Simple

Spring Hydrangea Pruning

A lot of my clients have asked me to help them with pruning their hydrangeas.

Hydrangea serrata 'Preziosa'

This blog addresses mophead hydrangea pruning.  Hydrangea pruning is simple and easy once you know the rules.  There is a link to a pruning video at the end of this blog produced by Cass Turnball of Plant Amnesty to help you feel more confident.  There are 5 kinds of hydrangeas.  This blog only addresses mophead hydrangea pruning.


Hydrangea serrata 'Preziosa'

Why prune hydrangea at all?

Why prune hydrangea plants at all?  Like most plants, pruned hydrangea shrubs will have a better shape so they look good regardless of the flowering aspect.  Many of us buy a hydrangea and think it will be 4’ x 4’.  Over time, many varieties will grow to 7’ tall.  It is very important to plant the right plant in the right place so you don’t have to be frustrated.  There are some varieties that are going to mature at and be easily kept in the 4’ to 5’ range.  We prune to achieve that height as well as a good shape.  If you have a variety that wants to be 7 or even 8 feet tall every year even with proper pruning, the best answer is to remove the plant and buy a variety whose size works for your garden.  Old Arts and Crafts homes with 6’ high foundations are perfect for the hydrangeas that are most cheerful at 7’.  They don’t work as well for homes with a 12” foundation or a small yard.Another reason we prune is to remove stems that no longer flower.

rabbit ears 2

Nicely pruned and open plant

We prune hydrangeas in early to mid March in the Pacific NW.  We start pruning our plants when they are about 3 years old or when you see the oldest stems are developing bark.  Remove the oldest woody canes.  On a young plant this might mean removing only 1 or 2 stems.  We remove dead stems and canes and we deadhead flowers back to the first lateral buds.  I think of these buds as rabbit ears.  I love this task.  I think it’s because I’m close to the ground and my soil smells good.  I typically see 2 colors of buds at this time.  The burgundy buds are just a bump on the stems.  The tiny green buds (the rabbit ears) are such a vivid green.  It says spring to me (and no it doesn’t rain every minute even in March).  These are days when a wool sweater and a down vest are perfect for comfort.

hydrangea 1 heads banner

Joy Creek Nursery Hydrangea Garden

There is more to the story about hydrangea pruning. Occasionally there are individual plants that didn’t read the rule book.  My garden coach client Mary followed the proper pruning techniques and she lost all her flowers for the year!!  AAACK!!  Her plants are 30 plus years old.  Since that debacle Mary only deadheads her plants, again just down to the first buds and she removes old woody stems.  Her plants always flower beautifully and are the focal point of her summer garden.  I’ve never had this happen to me but I’ve heard about it often enough from other professionals to know that some plants are probably genetically different than others.  If you don’t prune at all, your plants will get big and ungainly looking.  A build up of deadwood may diminish their flowering capacity.

For a detailed lesson on pruning mop head hydrangeas, see this video.

Winters come early, protect your plants

Tips for Winter Care of Drought Tolerant & Other Plants


Iron gate design with snow S.E. Portland OregonI recently was a guest on a radio talk show, Real Estate Today, with Gloria Hahn of the Hahn Group.  Once again it was fun, I was only a little nervous and it went well.

We talked about protecting plants from winter weather damage.  There are many kinds of damage that occur due to winter weather.  Here are a few tips to protect your plants.

Daphne care for the winter season.

Don’t let your Daphne “catch” downspout disease.

Prevent Root Rot

Be vigilant about clogged downspouts….many a Daphne has died in May because of the root rot that happened from sheets of water coming over the gutters in winter.  Don’t let your downspouts and gutters clog up. I never plant a Daphne or a shrub that is especially prone to root rot near the downspout. No one means to let them clog up but if you do not have a basement you might think you can let it wait.

Keep Bark Dust off the Centers of Plants

Applying mulch or bark dust to your planting beds in early winter is a great idea.  Mulch benefits your soil and plants and helps protects roots from cold temperatures. Bark dust helps prevent weeds.  If you have it blown in, be aware you must go out and remove the material off the crown of your plants.  I can count the number of times bark dust was applied correctly by a blow in company on one hand. They don’t pay attention to plants and especially perennials.  When the plants crown is buried it will be kept wet all winter and can die from crown rot.

It’s up to you to save your plants.  You must remove the excess product off the plants crown.  I often use a whisk broom but fingers work nicely .  I don’t apply mulch or bark dust over my fallen leaves.  I rake first and then apply 2 inches of product on my planting beds.

Echinacea 'White Swan' has winter care when dormant.

Butterflies hatch from leaves left on site.

Speaking of leaves; these days I find places in my property to pile a lot of my leaves so butterflies and other beneficial insects eggs (on the leaves) can hatch in the spring and benefit my landscape and local environment.

Don’t Prune Plants Unless They Are Dormant

Late fall or winter is not a safe time to prune most evergreen shrubs and other plants that don’t go dormant in the winter.  This can bring a plant out of dormancy or prevent it from going dormant.  This can make it vulnerable to damage or death.  When cold temps hit, if you are a plant,  it’s a good thing to be dormant and miss it all.  There are some plants that are extremely cold tolerant but many are not. Plants can’t go to Arizona for the winter.

Professionals like to prune deciduous trees and shrubs like Japanese maples (not evergreen) in December to mid January here in the Pacific Northwest.  This plant is dormant at this time, has not started to grow buds and will not “wake up” in response to pruning.  Professionals know what plants are exceptions but most homeowners do not.

Carol on a garden coach appointment pruning for winter care.

Carol Lindsay pruning non evergreen tree in winter.

Do spread a 2” layer of mulch or compost around your plants once your winter landscape is cleaned up.  You don’t want to put the compost over a bunch of decaying leaves. Mulch helps protect plant roots from extreme cold.  If you have trees whose leaves don’t drop until December, you need to wait ’til these leaves have dropped.

Drought Tolerant Plants Are Susceptible to Root Rot

Most of my clients these days ask for a low water landscape design.  I mention this with regard to winter plant protection because these plants must have good drainage in the winter.  The crown or stems at the soil level are very prone to rot.  I like to mulch the crowns with minus ten crushed rock.  I place the tiny crushed rock around the plant, not over the top of the plant.  This helps roll winter water away from the plant’s crown.  It is critical to keep bark dust or mulch away from the crowns of these perennials and shrubs. Plants like Manzanita, Yucca, Phormium, Callistemon, even hens and chicks or sedums will benefit from crushed rock applied around the crown.   If you have mulch or bark dust blown in, this can have disastrous consequences for drought tolerant plants.  It is critical to keep bark dust or mulch away from the crowns of these root rot sensitive plants.

For more information on landscape design for your garden, contact me to make an appointment.