Archive for how to gardening tips

Native Plants In An Ecological Garden

Sustainable Native Garden Design

Front Yard Meadow Garden

Dawson approached us at wanting a garden that is as good for the land as it is for him. He was on the cusp of retirement and had never tended a garden before, so part of our project plan included follow-up visits to teach plants, pests and maintenance. I just enjoyed one such visit at this truly sustainable garden.

An ecological native meadow garden in Portland

Spring in a Pollinator Paradise

An ecological garden is full of pollinators and little critters. It has only been 6 months since the garden was installed by Autumn Leaf Landscaping and even I am astounded by the ecosystem that has already developed in the garden. Today, the California Lilac, Ceanothus ‘Victoria’, and Lewisia cotyledon are delighting the bees. Last month it was Lupine and Western Azalea. Next month it will be Echinacea and Milkweed. In fact, this garden has pollinator plants for every month of the year. I wouldn’t design it any other way.

Native California lilac for a Portland ecological garden.

California Lilac, Ceanothus ‘Victoria’ with busy bees.

Lewisia Cotyledon native garden plant in Portland.

Lewisia cotyledon in the boulder garden.

Maintenance in a Native Plant Garden

Maintenance is different in a garden with wild native plants. The Bigleaf Lupine, Lupinus polyphyllus, is past it’s bloom when we visit in June. Last month the butterflies and hummingbirds enjoyed this robust plant. Now the blue racemes have faded to beige seedpods. A traditional landscaper would have cut the plant back to make a tidy mound. But here in this ecological garden, we want the seeds. Not only do they have a beauty all their own, we actually want to encourage a bit of seeding in this wildlife garden. The more the merrier. The entire planting plan allows for light self-seeding.

Plant diversity in Portland native garden.

When you let native plants go to seed, you actually create plant diversity within your garden. This native iris, Iris douglasiana, is seedling-grown and therefore blooms in a variety of colors.

Seedling grown Portland native iris. Portland iris is seedling grown for this native garden.

Not only that, but seedling-grown plants have great resilience. In a winter-wet, summer-dry garden like we have in Portland, only the seedlings that can handle these specific conditions (sun, soil, water) will survive. Over time the plants in this garden will be better adapted to this site than a plant from a nursery.

Pest Control in a Natural Garden

Many of the questions from a new gardener revolve around pest control. In an ecological garden, we avoid pesticides at all cost. Instead, we employ what is called Integrated Pest Management.  The most important difference between this method and traditional pest control is that the first step is to observe the “pest”.  What is it? Is it causing harm? Take this California Coffeeberry, Fragula californica ‘Eve Case’. Dawson asked how to get rid of the aphids.

Native California Coffeeberry in native ecological Portland garden.

California Coffeeberry, Fragula californica ‘Eve Case’ with minor aphid population.

Natural pest control in Portland native garden.

Same California Coffeeberry, Fragula californica ‘Eve Case’ with Ladybug feasting on aphid population.

Aphids can be a real problem, no doubt. If your situation has gotten out of control, check out this great article. In this garden, as we are standing there observing the number of aphids and noticing that the plant is otherwise healthy, we see a ladybug – the natural aphid enemy. Too good to be true? Not at all, it’s more common than you think in a diverse landscape. The most difficult part about gardening naturally is gaining the knowledge about when to intervene and when to let nature find her own equilibrium. Today, we don’t need to intervene.

There was also some root weevil damage, but we’ve already covered that one on this blog post.

Natural Materials

In a truly eco garden, the materials used should be natural as well. Here we use cedar chips for paths, wood risers for steps, and natural stone.

Cedar chips for Portland native garden design.

Cedar chips are a great path material. When applied 4″ thick, it is very good at suppressing weeds.

Natural river rock in Portland native rain garden.

Rain Garden using some on-site boulders plus natural river rock of various sizes. The native wetland grasses here are Carex obnupta and Juncus patens ‘Elk Blue’.

Wood risers used in Portland native garden design.

Wood risers used for steps in a natural garden. Two evergreen native plants flank the stairs: Sword Fern, Polystichum munitum, and Salal, Gaultheria shallon.

Stepping stones through Flowering meadow eco-turf in this Portland native garden design.

Stepping stones create a distinct path among the wild backyard eco-turf. Portland company PT Lawn Seed sells this Flowering Meadow mix under the name PT710.

Of course, I love creating a garden that is good to the land. But for me, the reason this garden is a home run is because the homeowner is absolutely loving it. The year-round blooms. The hummingbirds and ladybugs.

Are you interested in a sustainable garden that is good for the land and good for the soul? Contact us and get the process started!

Tips for Planting Under Mature Trees

Planting Under Mature Trees in Portland Landscapes

Flowering Tree with plantings underneath

Fatsia Japonica, Beesia and Hosta thrive under Japanese Snowbell Tree in NE Portland.

A designer pal of mine asked for some help with selecting plants to grow under large mature trees.  Here is what I have learned over many years.  Also a thank you to Bruce Hegna (Nature Nurture Landscape Design) for his contributions to the list and Stacey Stewart, Eden’s Gate Garden Design.

 

Carol’s rules for planting under big trees

  1. Do no harm to your big trees roots.  Please don’t chop into them, bury them with additional soil or treat suckers with herbicides. They may see you coming but they cannot run away.
  2. Plants competing with mature tree roots will grow very slowly. Two or three times as slow as plants who do not have tree root competition.  Patience is a requirement.
  3. Up close to the tree trunk where there are so many large woody roots is the hardest place to plant with success.   Also, the size of root ball for your new plants will need to be smaller close in to the trunk so you don’t damage your trees roots. And yet….see #4
  4. A larger sized plant will establish with a higher percentage of success than the tiny sized plants. (Which isn’t fair but I did not make up these rules, nature did)
  5. When you discover a root where you want to put a plant try splitting the root ball of your new plant so the new plant is straddling the root. This can work surprisingly well in fall and winter, but not in the heat of July.
Lush plantings under mature trees in Portland Landscape Design

Plants thrive with morning sun only in hillside garden in NW Portland’s Willamette Heights neighborhood.

Plants to grow under mature trees

Morning sun and afternoon shade under deciduous trees

Under 3’ tall plants:  Sword Fern,-Polystichum munitum, Bishops Hat-Epimendium ‘Sulpereum’ ‘Frohnleiten’,  Hardy Geranium-Geranium Macrhorhizum,Creeping Oregon Grape-Mahonia repens, Hellebore, Hosta

Taller shrubs:  Osmanthus, Japanese Aralia-Fatsia, Huckleberry- Vaccinium ovatum

Understory trees:  Variegated Red Twig Dogwood Shrub- Cornus S. ‘Hedgerows Golden, ‘Vine Maple-Acer circinatum, Rhamnus Variegata, (Variegated Italian Buckthorn) Azara microphylla, Russian Olive. Eleagnus ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’

Woman with Sequoia Tree

Carol Lindsay communing with a grove of Sequoia trees – nothing grows here.

Deep shade is the most difficult.  It’s much easier to grow plants with some dappled light coming through deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves in the fall). Here is a deep shade landscape of mine in Portland.

Naturescape Portland Oregon Native Plants

Evergreen Huckleberry used as a screen in SW Portland.

Huckleberry used as drought tolerant planting under mature tree in Portland.

Huckleberry Hedge at the edge of a shade garden in NW Portland.

Plants to grow under limbed up fir trees

These plants are getting direct sun for part of the day

Plants Under 3’ Tall:

Mahonia repens (needs some shade), Sword Fern, Tellima grandiflora, (Fringe Cup), Ceanothus t. ‘Kurt Zadnik”, groundcover California Lilac, Abelia ‘Rose Creek’, cold hardy Hebe, a variety of hardy geranium groundcovers like Geranium x cantabriginense and more.

Taller plants:  Corylus cornuta, (native hazelnut),  Holodiscus discolor, (Ocean Spray), Vaccinium ovatum, (Native Huckleberry) Acer Circinatum, (Vine Maple and please be sure you have room for the Vine Maple to 10’ wide and more)  Azara microphyllya, (Box leaf Azara Chinchin) Mahonia (Tall Oregon Grape).

Most of these plants are drought tolerant or low water but you will be watering them carefully, not too much or too often but regular water is a must under such difficult conditions. After many years most of these plants will require less frequent watering.

Hardscape design Sellwood Moreland Garden Design in Portland

Freshly installed Landscape Design in a Day. Emily says, “Carol got my desire for simplicity and my style both with the plant material and the hardscapes.”

After care for plants growing under mature trees

  1. Drip irrigation-you will need to water the new plants so they actually get some of the water.  This means a long slow watering practice such as what you can achieve with drip irrigation.
  2. Top dress with a mulch rather than push the plants with fertilizers. Add mulch around the new plants twice a year or at least once unless they are a plant like California lilac or Manzanita, (they do not tolerate any fertilizer or rich mulch).
  3. I’ve had great success with dressing just the crowns of the plants with tiny crushed rock such as quarter ten crushed rock. Plants that had not grown in years had a growth spurt when I started adding crushed rock around the plant.  (Great tip from Maurice Horn—Joy Creek Nursery.)

There is still some trial and error but I hope you will be inspired to try underplanting your big trees.  You can have successful, healthy and attractive plants under and near many kinds of large mature trees.

We love  to create designs that work with your mature trees.  Contact us and tell us all about what you want in your landscape—503-223-2426 or use our contact page on our web site.

 

Resistance is Futile-Plants that take over your landscape

Resistance is Futile-Plants that take over your landscape.

This blog is about attractive plants that take over your landscape.  They are tempting and for sale at most garden centers.

Star Trek The Next Generation came out 20+ years ago but I was busy building my landscape design practice and raising a stepdaughter so I missed the whole thing.

Maybe I’m just going to seed as I recently watched all seven seasons in short order. I encountered the Borg and was impressed with their ability to take over a universe. The Borg remind me of certain plants that will happily assimilate your entire garden and need to be avoided. 

Here’s a list of plants that are as nearly devastating as the Borg and good at propagating their own kind without any assistance. They have an aggressive spreading growth habit and yet they are still sold at most nurseries and garden centers in spite of their thuggish nature. Be warned.

Foliage of Houttynia 'Chamelon', is an aggressive spreader in Portland Oregon gardens.

Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’ Photo Source

Here is a beauty of a beast: Houttuynia

Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’ –  I’ve never known anyone who (once it was planted ever managed to get rid of it. It is famous for aggressive roots that will grow through other plants and overpower them. It can seed although it hasn’t in any of my clients gardens because I never use it.  Look at how cute the variegated leaf  is!

Aggressive Japanese Bloodgrass in Portlands' Raleigh Hills residential landscape design

Japanese Bloodgrass, Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’

Japanese Bloodgrass Spreads

Imperata cylindrica ‘Red Baron’ or ‘Rubra’- Japanese blood grass is a spreader but it can be dug out and eventually be banished but don’t sacrifice your time to this plant.  If you are going to plant it anyway….it is a beautiful (very beautiful) plant, trap it by planting between a sidewalk and a retaining wall as this designer pal of mine did.

Aggressive Ribbon Grass in NW Portland parking lot is well contained by boulders.

Ribbon Grass, Phalaris arundinacea

Ribbon Grass is on the Fence

Ribbon Grass, Phalaris arundinacea, is a plant that can be very difficult to eradicate but if a designer suggests it for a contained area that doesn’t mean they are a newbie.  It is planted in a parking lot that I frequent. It’s been trapped there over 9 years and has not escaped. I myself have never used it in a design but it is very very low maintenance.  This article talks about using herbicides to re-claim natural areas on the Metolius River.  Here is an article regarding success in killing the ribbon grass.  Sorry to say it but the other method I know of is digging out the plant over and over.

Front yard of North Portland Row House is lost to Aspens aggressive growth habit.

This stand of Aspens (Populus tremuloides) started out as one trunk!

Aspen Trees

Aspen trees, Populus tremuloides, are beautiful in a forest but not good for tiny city plotsOne tree will become many and fill your soil space with invasive roots that lift walkways, invade foundations and water lines and leave companion plants with no water or nutrition. See this great article from designer pal Beth Goodnight regarding the evils of aspen and some alternative suggestions.

Keep Mint in a Pot

If mint gets away from you – you will never get rid of it. Some people plant it in a pot and keep it on a concrete patio. The roots can escape from the pot and once it spreads in your soil you will have it forever so I never set my pot of mint into a planting bed. I like having mint for soups but it is strictly a container plant. 

Japanese Anemone in Portlands' Grant Park neighborhood in low maintenance residential garden design.

Japanese Anemone is beautiful but travels fast-best to know what you are doing if you have this plant.

Japanese Anemone and Bishops Weed in the Right Spot Only

Japanese anemone, Anemone sp., should be used with caution. This one is very very seductive and over the top beautiful. It travels by root which is the problem. I like to use it in very low maintenance planting plans/landscape designs and in parking strips where it is easily contained. It doesn’t seem to invade the lawn so I’ve used it in low maintenance plant borders too.

Bishops weed, Aegopodium podagraria, should be planted by people who know exactly what they are in for. It can be contained in the parking strip or a low maintenance planting where you have nothing but shrubs. Large shrubs with bishops weed as a ground cover can be a functional landscape choice. If I use it I have a rule:  You are not allowed to ever give a start of it to a friend.      

There are, of course, many plants besides my short list that should be avoided or used with caution. These plants are the stars of this blog because they are so attractive, tempting and readily available at your local garden center.

Let us put our plant knowledge to work for you and create a design with plants that are helpful to pollinators, attractive, lower maintenance and won’t take over your landscape.  Contact us for a landscape re-design and start enjoying your yard instead of being stymied and frustrated by aggressive take over plants.  Taking care of a yard you don’t even like is thankless.

Bad News about Slug Bait and Winter Garden Care Tips

Winter is just around the corner here in Portland.   Here are 5 timely tips to help you care for your landscape right now.

Slugs Last chance to knock out slugs! Control your slug population now in late fall.  They lay thousands of eggs that will hatch in spring.  I’ve got bad news about using the so called pet safe slug baits. New science says it kills your earthworms and can sicken your pets and other animals.  Control your slugs with beer traps or even better an instant coffee spray.  Yup coffee! Fill a spray bottle with strong instant coffee or any coffee except de-caf.  Spray the leaves of plants they prefer and any slugs or snails you see.

I grow lots of winter greens here in NW Portland so I’ve been out there spraying down the leaves of my beautiful Dinosaur Kale plants to protect them now.  Spraying coffee once a week in fall and early winter makes a big difference in the spring hatch of slugs.   Read more about why slug bait harms worms.

Portland garden tips include coffee

Its the caffeine that kills slugs or snails. Instant coffee works well.

Mulch.  If you only do one thing to improve your soil and care for your plants, mulching is the biggie.  Schedule your winter mulch application for the last week of November to mid-December or hire someone to blow in your mulch.  Companies such as Bark Blowers will blow in mulch including the newer “living” mulch products that I prefer.  One company that provides mulch inoculated with beneficial bacteria is Natures Needs, a product called  Recology Compost.  McFarlane Bark, Mt Scott Fuel and Grimms Fuel supply basic mulch products.   Did you mulch just 2 inches deep?  Great!  Now go and unbury the crowns of your plants so they don’t die from rot during our wet winter. Burying plants with mulch might be a good practice in Vermont or Montana but not here.

Iron gate design with snow

Landscape Design in a Day client’s custom gate. Photo by Lori Aveling

Protect your plants from winter temperatures

The best cold protection for plants in the winter isn’t something that naturally occurs to most people.  Over watering and over fertilizing done in summer can cause plants to not go dormant.  When cold weather comes, they are not prepared.  Read more: Protecting Plants from Winter Cold Starts in Summer 

Pruning knowledge  There are many plants that should not be cut back in the fall and winter.  There are many perennials and grasses that can be cut back to create a more attractive winter landscape. This is a case by case basis which drives new gardeners crazy. Consider consulting with your garden designer who can teach you what to do to your plants and when.  It feels good when you know what to do.

Protect your pottery  The best winter protection for your pottery is proper drainage and location.  Make sure water drains through the pots hole and doesn’t back up.  If water sits in the bottom and it freezes, good bye pot.  I have had Vietnamese high fired pottery outside and intact for over 15 years.  I always put drainage material in the bottom of the pot and a piece of flagstone under the pot or I use those little pottery feet.

If I have expensive pots where they will get east winter wind, the kind of wind that freezes rain to ice on the power line, I would move them into a protected area for winter right now. I hate to even think about that kind of weather but we get our share here in Portland Oregon, especially in January.   Its hard to pay attention to the weather report, and besides who wants to move heavy pots around when its icy cold out?  Not me.

For more information on how we can help you during winter months with your garden design.

Hot Time in my Summer Garden

Daizzie in the garden, it's almost a year since she arrived.

Daizzie in the garden, it’s almost a year since she arrived.

Wow, having a garden of any kind has been challenging in this unusually warm year.  For some plants it’s been touch and go as a result of the heat.  In my veggie garden I have learned a lot this year.  My tomatoes would not set fruit if the evening temperature was too high (in June and July) so what looked like a potential bumper crop of tomatoes quickly changed to dead flowers and no fruit set when the temps soared.  Now that it is cooler (as of two days ago) I see some new flowers on my tomato plants and am hoping for more fruit to set before the next heat wave comes.

South side container garden for tomatoes.

South side container garden for tomatoes.

 

I also learned to plant lettuce and dwarf petunia under my tomatoes that were in containers.  They blocked the sun by covering my soil, which cooled the soil and now the leaves of my tomato plants look so much better.  They were tip burned and turning yellow.  I also have tomato plants on the south side of my floating home and they get a lot of sun and heat.

Radicchio shades tomato root zone.

Radicchio shades tomato root zone.

We have a mole family in our community garden and we can’t set one of those nasty traps with the teeth since kids or sometimes pets could go in there.  Today I put chili powder down the holes but probably all that will happen is that they will move to a neighbors raised bed and then come back to mine when the chili smell is gone. I’m adding soil to fill their holes and I imagine an entire freeway of holes and passageways from one raised bed to another.  It’s only comical until one of my Kale wilts,  faints and dies because of no soil under the roots, then I tend to growl.

Daizzie is getting used to our new scarecrow.

Daizzie is getting used to our new scarecrow.

Dogs are no longer allowed in the garden, which is probably a good thing since Daizzie is afraid of our new scarecrow anyway.  Sharing the garden with my neighbors is so much fun and we all water for each other so vacations are not a problem.

I’ve tried some greens called Deer Tongue; ok bad name but tasty and found them to be very heat tolerant and my New Zealand Spinach is loving this heat and producing all the greens I can eat.  By the way, don’t cook them, they turn to slush; which is strange because this spinach has an oddly thick leaf.  They are meant to be eaten fresh.

My neighbor Betty and I (mostly Betty) will be starting seeds for our fall gardens – I’ll get my chard, collard greens and lettuces going to enjoy until frost.