Archive for the 'garden care' Category

Walking the Walk | Becoming Green


I went to a spectacular lecture today at the U. S. Arboretum.  I found out about it because I recently joined the Arboretum as a Friend for the mere pittance of a $35 contribution.  I encourage all my buddies out there to join and attend some programs with me.  This was the program I saw.  Below the announcement, I have written up some notes to share about some pretty exciting advancements in

Measuring Sustainability in the Garden

Dr. Steven Windhager

There is a great deal of talk about creating sustainable gardens, but how do we assess the level of sustainability in a garden? The SSI (Sustainable Sites Initiative) has been formed to provide guidelines and performance benchmarks for those who want to create and measure sustainable landscapes. The goal is to quantitatively asses the attributes of all types of sites in order to measure success in maintaining or improving the health of an ecosystem. Learn about the SSI, including what it is, why it is needed and how it affects public gardens and other landscapes.

Dr. Windhager is the director of the Landscape Restoration Program at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and serves on the Steering Committee and as Technical Advisor for the SSI. His expertise includes Sustainable Site Design, Ecological Restoration, and Urban Ecology.

Lecture Notes |

On average, 30 to 65% of a family’s daily potable water is used in landscaping (what a bummer to learn this!).  Strategic planting of 1 canopy tree can eventually conserve 25% of a home’s energy use.  We all need to think macro in order to make actual gains in living greenly.  Conservation is all well and good, but, we have the opportunity to reverse some of the detrimental impact we’ve had on our own environment in terms of climate change by designing “sustainable” landscapes, big and little.

To achieve true sustainability, we must satisfy 3 intersecting criteria: economic vitality, social acceptability, environmentally sound science.  In other words a yard needs to be affordable, look great and add up to a sum gain in energy use when you consider ALL factors in it’s creation and care.  He gave the example of a commercial property where a pond for storm water abatement is put behind a building and fenced off with ugly chain link.  While this pond may, at first, do it’s job, it’s been shown that it is soon ignored and then not maintained properly, falls into dis-repair and soon enough is no longer effective.

So it’s important to measure carefully and precisely.  That’s where the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center came in.  Maybe a decade ago, they wanted to become LEED certified (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), but there they found there were no benchmarks for landscape design similar to those developed for architecture and building.  So they began working on guidelines for sustainable methods and benchmarks for performance in landscape design.  The Sustainable Sites Initiative, a system where “credits” are appointed for design that meets particular criteria (available at  They encourage design that for example, uses very little or no potable water for irrigation (only gray water like captured A/C condensation) and keeps storm water from ever running off a site and much, much more.  They even give credit for plastic pot recycling programs.  This initiative also shows how to measure sum gains realistically.  Dr. Windhager spoke a lot about assessing the starting point of any site.  Is it a ‘Green”, “Grey” or “Brown Field”?  A Green Field describes a site that has no previous building on it.  A Grey Field is a site that has had building but is not contaminated with any toxic chemicals, and you can guess what a Brown Field is.

He also said that the costs of sustainable design are front loaded in the design phase, but can often be built for less.  He recommends that every project include a Soil Plan that addresses potential compaction, how it may be mitigated or how bulk density may be restored and to bring organic matter to acceptable or improved levels.

The guy was a wealth of knowledge in this realm and explained everything clearly.  If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, please do.  One of his most potent pieces of advice:  Never Ever Use PEET.  It traps too much carbon in the soil.  Enjoy.

Find Your Roots | Technology

When planting near trees, it’s great if you know where the tree roots are so you can avoid doing damage to them. Many people don’t realize that the first top 6 inches of soil is where the vast majority of all tree roots are and that they generally spread out way beyond the canopy. This artist’s illustration of a real tree and it’s roots from the Morton Arboretum (in Chicago), shows the truth of the matter very plainly. An arborist from Care of Trees, shared this drawing with me. They specialize in you guessed it …


Damaging soil compaction often happens when people renovate their homes. It can’t be helped when big digging and multi-ton equipment is envolved. A “hardpan” forms at or under the surface and people see the poor water filtration symptomatically. The worst compaction happens when soil is wet and then basically squished beyond belief, expunging air from between soil particles, leaving no room for nuetrients, air and water to circulate. Everything a tree needs, except sunlight, comes from underground, so you can see why soil compaction stresses a tree. For a more in depth, but fairly understandable explanation of the topic, read University of Georgia article, Soil Compaction & Trees, Causes, Symptoms & Effects by Dr. Kim Coder.

this photo was originally uploaded by canopy photo. A professional arborist used an air spade to check this Live Oak’s roots for health and vitality.

People in this bussiness can use great technology to help you save and keep your mature trees even with major home or landscape renovation. They can help prevent soil compaction by using “protection and airation mats”, that distribute the weight of heavy equiment or top soil or even a concrete path over the top of roots, while allowing proper air and water flow; or “de-compact” soils using a tool called an “air spade” which blasts air into the soil at mach 2, lifting compacted soil. After that you can renovate the soil with appropriate organic material by “radial or vertical mulching”. I think this is fantastic.  This artical from GROUNDS MAINTENANCE by E. Thomas Smiley, explains these treatments more fully.

Winterizing Container Grown Trees and Shrubs

Winterizing Container Grown Trees and Shrubs

THIS ARTICLE originally appeared in the Horticulture & Home Pest News, Sept 15, 1995 issue, p. 136.
Prepared by Sherry Rindels, Department of Horticulture, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

Many homes have patios and decks complete with large pots containing shrubs or trees. These containers provide a feeling of permanence and beauty to the area. Unfortunately for those of us in Iowa, containerized plants often experience severe winter injury and often death if unprotected. In containers, the roots of the plants are exposed to below-freezing temperatures on all sides. As temperatures fluctuate, the soil thaws and refreezes causing the plant to heave out of the soil. This tears the roots and can expose the roots to drying winds. Branches can be broken directly by strong winds or by the container tipping over. Sudden temperature changes can also damage the container itself causing it to crack.

Small plants can easily be moved into a cool garage or basement. Temperatures should be in the upper 30′s or lower 40′s. Protecting large plants is a bigger challenge but it can be done. Covering the plant and the container thoroughly can help protect the plant. However, if the plant is too tender for our climate or if the winter is unusually harsh, these measures may not be adequate.

To aid in the success of the plant, select plants hardy for our area and make every effort to be sure the plant is going into the winter in a healthy state. Continue watering the plant through the fall. Do not fertilize after mid-summer. Woody plants should be encouraged to gradually cease growth and harden off in preparation for winter. After the first hard frost and the plant has lost most of its leaves, begin the process of winter protection. Gently tie together the branches so they won’t be damaged when you pack insulating material around them. Water the tree thoroughly and mulch the top of the soil with several inches of straw or leaves. Make a cylinder around the outside of the tub with chicken wire or other type of garden fencing. Make the cage tall enough to enclose the entire plant. Fasten the wire fencing to a stake with wire or staples to add support. Fill the cage with straw or leaves working carefully so no branches are broken in the process. Wrap the outside of the cage with burlap or shade cloth and secure it with twine. This prevents the stuffing material from blowing away. As a last step, cover the cage with plastic or roofing paper and tuck in the edges. Tie over the top to prevent it from blowing off. When spring arrives, unwrap the tree gradually. Remove the plastic or roofing paper cover first. Gently pull out the leaves or straw from around the branches and untie them. The stuffing can be used as a garden mulch around perennial flowers or in the vegetable garden. Leave the fencing and the outside wrap in place. Water if the soil is dry.

Once spring has truly arrived, remove the burlap or shade cloth wrap and the cage. Prune broken or damaged branches and remove any other unnecessary growth. Select a cloudy day to remove coverings so the tree can acclimate gradually. Store the fencing and burlap away for next year. Containerized trees and shrubs add a great deal to our landscapes. With proper winter protection, the same plant can provide beauty for many years.

Caring For Conifers

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Caring For Conifers By Kathleen Franklin

Conifers are chiefly evergreen, with needles or scale leaves. They are cone-bearing trees that have evolved over hundreds of millions of years to form glorious forests that shelter an endless variety of wildlife. Conifers include pines, hemlocks, cypress, yews, junipers, fir, cedar, and spruce. Many conifers are slow growing, measured in just a few inches per year. Patience is a necessity, but the rewards are great. They are wonderfully low-maintenance trees as long as they are properly sited and planted. Just about every type of conifer likes an open, sunny location. They require consistent watering, but they aren’t crazy about heavy clay soils. Good ventilation and drainage helps prevent some of the fungal diseases that can plague conifers. Some cold-loving conifers, such as firs, hemlocks and spruces, are starting to struggle a bit in the mid-Atlantic region as we experience increasingly warm winters and even hotter summers. The best time to plant or move a coniferous tree or shrub is late summer or early fall. Conifers usually do not require heavy pruning except for those grown as formal hedges. Light pruning of most evergreens – except for pines and spruce – is best done in late winter/early spring before new growth starts. Pines and spruce should be pruned in mid-summer, after the season’s growth has been completed but before stem tissues harden off. Fertilizing should be done very sparingly; too much fertilizer will cause conifers to produce too much growth too quickly, often resulting in an excess of sap that will attract pests and diseases. Conifers typically have shallow root systems, so they appreciate mulching with composted leaves every autumn. One note about blue spruce: do not use insecticidal soap or horticultural oil on this variety of spruce. The reason it is “blue” is that it has a waxy substance that gives it its bluish-silver cast; soaps and oils will strip this wax off the needles. It’s harmless, but your “blue” spruce will be green for at least a season or two!

Next week: Starting Seeds

(c) 2006 – Kathleen Franklin, All Rights Reserved. Kathleen is a county-certified Master Gardener and a longtime employee of a local garden nursery. To ask a question or to schedule a garden consultation, contact