This winter was one of the coldest in recorded weather history for our zone 6 region. With snow events continuing into late March, a full month later than the brutal winter prior, extreme low temperatures left heavy damage in many landscapes….and many homeowners (and contractors) distraught over the losses.
Broadleaf evergreens suffered most. Their fleshy leaves, exposed to the unusually late cold and ice, burned just like food left too long in the freezer. “Freezer burn” caused leaves to completely die, or to have brown sections of unsightly damage.
Every winter we expect some winter damage, but this spring, it’s the extent of the damage that is so hard to fathom. Plants like laurels (prunus laurocerasus) considered ‘marginally’ hardy for zone 6, suffered the most. However, many fully hardy geneses such as holly and rhododendron, suffered equally, if not more. Fully hardy in our zone 6, they form the backbone of many winter landscapes.
Flowering trees also took a hit. Many crape myrtles, a particular favorite that we have become accustomed to planting liberally, died completely. Although they can regenerate from their roots, it hardly seems worth the wait. Very established specimens as well as newbies didn’t make it, so age did not offer protection. Ones that survived may have had a slight positioning benefit that shielded them from the worst winds and exposure.
The good news is that a lot of this damage will regenerate on its own. Most laurels and hollies are slowly pushing new growth now. Your patience will be rewarded as many shrubs and trees return to fullness within the season. Most dead leaves drop on their own, but you can go ahead and cut them off if you don’t want to wait. Cut back to live wood to encourage new growth.
Plants, of course, can also be replaced. The question is: replace with the same, or go for something hardier? I am an eternal optimist. I also want to plant what I want to plant. I love laurels and I am willing to live with their imperfect winter performance, but maybe you’re not so it’s time to consider something new.
Steps can also be taken in the fall to protect broadleaf evergreens: anti-desiccant treatments and burlap wraps may be the difference between life and death in an extreme winter. Less hardy varieties can also be planted in locations with more screening from harsh winter winds, or protected areas near walls, fences or other larger planting screens.
No one can predict next year’s weather except to say that it will be unpredictable. Regardless of what side of the climate change argument you fall on, recent winters have been undeniably brutal. And by the way, in case you were wondering about that plant warranty, landscape designers and contractors are not in control of extreme winter weather!
After a long and difficult winter, the signs of renewal come as a welcome relief. The late snows kept things hiding, but hellebores and witch hazels, magnolias and cherries are all visible now…along with early bulbs like daffodils and grape muscari.
While it’s exciting to see new life pushing up through the earth, there are important tasks that also need your attention now.
TURN ON OUTSIDE WATER
Remember to turn on outside water lines. You’ll be needing them if you haven’t already, and if you have hired any professionals to do landscape work, that’s the first thing they will be looking for.
CHECK LEADERS AND GUTTERS
You did this in the fall, now it’s time to check leaders and gutters again. Keep them free from debris and leaf accumulation to avoid clogging that can drown plantings in too much water.
SPRING CLEAN UP
After removing dead plants, branches and leaves from your lawns and beds, prune away dead and damaged branches from woody trees and shrubs. Many shrubs that didn’t get hard pruned in the fall can be pruned at this time (hydrangea, butterfly bush, caryopteris). Prune back any perennials that were left in the fall such as grasses and others that remained for winter ornamental reasons.
CULTIVATE THE SOIL
Lightly turn the soil over with a cultivating tool. Soil can become compressed over time and opening it up lightly aerates root systems and permits water and fertilizers to penetrate more easily. It also looks really nice to see freshly cultivated dirt.
Add a layer of mulch to your beds if you didn’t last fall. Mulch adds protection, keeping soil temperatures even and preventing water evaporation. As it breaks down mulch also supplies nutrients and organic matter that replenish the soil. For perennial areas, I recommend something lighter such as a layer of compost or composted manure, lightly cultivated it into the soil base.
GROW THROUGHS AND STAKING
If you get to this chore early, you’ll save yourself heartache later when the foliage is too tall to manage. Set stakes or ‘grow-throughs’ around or over plants that get tall and split: peonies, daisies, salvias and veronica are common selections. Most plants look better with a little light support…but don’t make it too obvious….it’s an art to keep it subtle and not make plants look girdled, but it’s worth the time to keep perennials at their best. Staking can also be done naturalistically with twigs and small branches set carefully in-between plant foliage. This is more time consuming, but a very appealing way to invisibly make plants look perfect all season.
Please contact Mierop Design for assistance with any of these horticultural maintenance chores. Our Landscape Guild Master Gardening Crews are happy to help! www.mieropdesign.com 973.744.1758
It’s finally spring and the urge to spend time out of doors is powerful. The sights and smells of a fresh new season are exciting, especially after such a protracted winter indoors. The time is here to get that spring ‘to-do list’ going. A short series of classes offered at Van Vleck House & Gardens by me and my business partner, Frank Contey of Terra Graphics, can help jumpstart your season.
Entitled Landscape by the Yard, we will be teaching four sessions beginning Wednesday, April 1st. The first class, “Think Spring” will focus on key chores for the ‘do-it-yourself’ gardener, as well as highlighting design considerations that inform all outdoor room planning
Best known for its gigantic, dramatic swags of wisteria that flower in May, the Van Vleck property is extraordinary from both architectural and landscape history perspectives. Originally built as a private residence over 140 years ago, three generations of Van Vlecks lived on the 5.8 acre estate and developed the grounds. In 1993, the property was gifted to The Montclair Foundation by heirs of its last resident, Howard Van Vleck. A recent capital campaign has raised funds to update the facilities and attract more annual visitors to this extraordinary suburban jewel. Last year saw the debut of a new educational facility with programming for both children and adults in our community.
I was privileged to have been asked to assist the campaign kick off in 2008 by designing and building the formal “Tennis Garden” with my partner Terra Graphics. Last year, Frank and I were again fortunate to have been asked to host the educational launch with a series of classes for adults. More recently Terra Graphics completed an extraordinary mosaic “Butterfly Garden”, superbly designed for children by Molli Dowd of Afterglow Design. The Butterfly Garden will debut this spring and I am sure it will become a favorite local activity for parents and children.
Landscape by the Yard was given a nice nod from Garden Design Magazine! Classes begin Wednesday, April 1st and run from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at the Educational Center. Visit vanvleck.org for further details.
We hope to see some of you there!!
The adage “What you see is what you get” doesn’t apply to good
landscaping. It’s more like “What you get is far, far greater than what you see”. A well designed landscape adds beauty and value to any property. But as with many artful trades, the visual result represents a fraction of what the project includes. Before hardscapes can be built or flowers planted, proper grading, drainage, footings and utilities have to be engineered and installed. Of course, choices of plants and hard materials are important, but these considerations are icing on a bigger cake. Designing and planning for what “lies beneath” precedes everything – and can often determine the long term success, or failure, of a project.
Grading creates the shape of what’s to come by either “cutting” or “filling” the landform. Soil can be added or subtracted, sculpting the earth to suit its desired new end use. Proper drainage manages precipitation and storm water runoff so as to avoid both flooding and erosion which can wreak havoc on plants and homes alike – both yours and neighbors’.
Excavating 42” down below the frost line is critical for proper footings that stabilize all hardscapes: patios, decks, walls, steps and landings.
Skipping or cheating on this step results in shifting or failure of principal structures in the landscape. Add utilities: irrigation and water lines, electrical and gas conduits, cable, sound or lighting lines – all out of sight, but never out of the designer’s mind. They may not be pretty, or cheap add-ons, but the future of your project depends on these choices being well conceived and executed.
By far the most popular feature on my website is the “Before and After” section. Featuring an array of landscape problems – from crumbing steps to overgrown fields of weeds, one little click transforms the scene to a perfectly executed solution. It’s so easy and satisfying to see ugly become beautiful, dangerous become safe, dark become light-all in the span of a second.
Who can deny the appeal of an instant makeover? Reality TV renovations bring in crews of craftsmen to perform perfectly orchestrated miracles – overnight and on a budget no less! Computers have accustomed us to ‘pointing and clicking’ through life – instant gratification. Or perhaps it’s our childlike love of magic – things changing without our understanding or effort.
Whatever it is, I admit to loving these shots myself, so I’m sharing a few. Seeing them again allows me to skip over the huge effort and time required by the job: design, engineering, client consent, permits, obstacles to execution and of course, weather delays. If only life were as easy as “before” and “after” photos – but we all secretly know it isn’t.
Winter always seems to come too fast and take too long to go away. Last year’s devastating cold took its toll on our landscapes, so let’s be better prepared this year with steps to protect your investment. Attend to the following chores before ending your garden season this year.
WINTERIZE YOUR WATER
Outside hose lines and irrigation systems must be properly closed for the winter. If not, pipes can freeze and break, potentially causing enormous water damage inside and out. Make sure to close off all outside hose bibs and water lines running around the foundation or to accessory buildings like a garage or pool cabana. For your automatic irrigation, it’s not as simple as turning the manual shut off valve! The system needs to be “blown out” to remove any water that may be lingering in the irrigation lines so that they don’t freeze and break .This is a task for your irrigation contractor so don’t forget to get on his calendar in time.
CUT BACK PERENNIALS
In late fall perennials need a good haircut to keep the garden looking tidy, as well as to prevent mold and fungal born diseases from developing during months of winter precipitation. Cutting back also gives perennials a clean start from their base in the spring. Some perennials, however, especially grasses, maintain an interesting winter structures. They have architectural merit and can be left to decompose naturally over the winter and cut back in late winter/early spring.
LEAF CLEANUP AND COMPOST
Raking and removing leaves from the garden floor is a fall ritual for many. In addition to keeping beds free of mold and fungal born diseases, it leaves the garden looking tidy and cared for. Decomposing leaves however are a critical part of nature’s life cycle, so instead of bagging them for curbside pick up, find a discreet place on your property for composting. If you layer leaf matter with green garden and lawn clippings, turning them occasionally as they “cook”, the result will be a beautiful, dark humus in about a year. Use this to top dress beds or as a nutrient dense soil amendment when installing new plants. Compost is the ultimate recycling payoff that earns its name as “gardener’s gold” for its ability to build soil and nourish plants. There is nothing better for a gardener than having his or her own reservoir of compost on site.
It’s not too late to get down a 2″-3″ layer of hardwood mulch. Mulch is a magical material that performs many important duties: it keeps soil hydrated in all seasons and regulates soil temperatures (warm in winter/cool in summer). As it decomposes, mulch also adds organic matter to your soil which is critical “food” for plants and their root systems. Plan to mulch every two years to keep beds protected and healthy, in addition to looking beautiful.
Evergreens, particularly ones with broad leaves (laurels, rhododendrons, pieris, mountain laurel) suffer the most in winter from wind, dehydration and browning/burning of leaf surfaces. This results in unsightly damage to new and older plantings, as well as plant death. Spraying a coating of Wilt Pruf, an anti-desiccant can help in preventing winter damage on evergreens. It’s a waxy coating that is sprayed onto the plant leaves to provide a layer of protection. It’s not a guarantee but it’s an aid that is well worth the investment Note: Wilt Pruf needs to be applied when temperatures are above 40 degrees.
Please contact Mierop Design for assistance with any of the above services.
As the weather gets cooler and leaves start falling, thoughts of spring may seem far removed….however, it precisely the time to be planning for all the bright color you will long to see popping in your garden early next year. Fall bulb planting is a ritual that can provide big payoffs for small efforts.
Daffodils and tulips are the mainstays and every catalog and nursery abounds with selections. This year, consider trying something more unusual– something you haven’t seen or maybe even heard of. Bulbs are inexpensive and easy to install, so there is no downside to trying out new varieties.
Below are links to a few of my personal favorites:
Camassia lechtlinii, a mid-season bloomer on a graceful tall stalk with beautiful starry lavender or blue flowers. It’s airy and visually weightless bringing great color to spring garden beds.
Ornithogalum magnum, another tall stem
carrying starry white flowers that open from the bottom up. It’s an elegant partner to many lower early season perennials.
Allium gladiator is a head turner that commands full attention with its big purple flower domes floating over lower plantings. At once whimsical and elegant, there really is nothing like it. All the other smaller alliums are also worth your consideration and all have the added benefit of being deer resistant. The Drumstick or allium sphaerocephalum is especially worth consideration.
Ipheion uniflorum is a minor bulb that makes a lovely groundcover very early in the spring. Known as the Spring Starflower, it produces fragrant star shaped flowers that make a stunning low block of color when planted en masse. Deer and rodent resistant, colors range from white to deep periwinkle.
Hyancinthoides hispanica, also known as Spanish Bluebells or Wood Hyancinth is an excellent choice for lightly shaded beds. From a base of strappy leaves a 15” tall stem emerges with tall clusters of dangling bell shaped flowers. They look lovely planted in groups below deciduous trees and in addition to being unattractive to deer and rodents, have added benefits of becoming more prolific over time.
The fall garden needs more attention from gardeners and landscape designers alike. It’s a time of equivalent beauty to spring and summer but because attentions may be elsewhere at this time of year, plants with fall interest are often overlooked. Japanese anemones, asters in all shapes and sizes, verbena bonariensis (my personal favorite), obedient plant, gaura in pink or white are all putting on a big show – while other perennials and shrubs are repeating earlier performances. The fading colors of many hydrangeas have their own special appeal at this time and make excellent cut flowers as well. Because many nurseries stock up early on great spring and summer performers, the use of fall perennials and shrubs is less emphasized in planting designs and most contractor installations. Extending interest into the fall season keeps the garden interesting into this later part of the year…a great reason to consider adding in these plants to your garden!