Designing the Front Yard

This is a switch for me. Usually I am working in other people’s gardens, but this week I’m focusing on my own front yard. My goals: less lawn to mow, more color, little added maintenance.

Everything in front of the house changed a couple of years ago when a Linden tree split during a storm and had to be removed. The area went from full shade to full sun. Out went the pachysandra – never a favorite but it did the job – and in came an old-fashioned Annabelle hydrangea, new Limelight hydrangeas, a caryopteris ‘Blue Knight,’ a few day lilies, some forget me nots and lady’s mantle.

Deciding What to Grow

I like plants that are undemanding and bloom for a long time. Hydrangeas do that with flowers that start in July and go until frost. I also like to dry the blooms and use them to decorate the house for the holidays. So, I enjoy these big, fluffy panicle of flowers for a long, long time.

frontofmadisonIn front of the hydrangeas is a 12 by 5 feet rectangle on each side of the front walkway. This is currently lawn. The plan is to take this out and plant something low maintenance that flowers as long as the hydrangeas. My choice: Double Red ‘Radtko’ Knock Out roses.

For this year, the plan is to plant the 3 roses on each side which means they will have plenty of room to spread to their mature size of about 4 by 4 feet. If it looks too spare next season, I will add petunias to fill the space visually as I did in the photo above.

In time, the roses won’t need fillers. If you had more room and wanted to add plants in front, you could add perennials such as Walker’s Low catmint or Lady’s mantle with its frothy flowers and appealing green round leaves — either of these would look very pretty.

Getting Started

The area is grass now and there are bricks to be move to line the sidewalk and create the rose bed. The next step will be to add topsoil and peat moss to the sandy soil that is the base of the garden. Then digging holes, planting the Knock Outs, putting down cardboard under a high quality landscape fabric and mulching. The cardboard will smother the grass and weeds that grow there now.

To water this section, I plan to use soaker hoses on a timer. This method has worked well for me in other areas.

The Plan

Today I am shopping for a specimen tree for the corner of the house. I’m thinking of a Rose of Sharon ‘Diana’ which is pure white and reaches a height of 8 to 10 feet. In front of it, I will plant another white hydrangea and to the side a Hinnomaki Red gooseberry.

Growing food is an interest of mine and I already have honeyberries, blueberries, strawberries, elderberries and quince in the home garden. Adding gooseberries is a natural and this shrub will produce lots of vitamin-rich fruit, not outgrow its designated space, and add interest with red berries that should be made even more visible with the backdrop of white hydrangeas.

That’s the plan. I’ll keep you posted.

Watering? Really? It’s Been So Rainy

An email from the National Garden Bureau on watering made be think.

We have had so much rain lately. Twice our usual amount for the month of June already and we aren’t through the month yet. So do we even have to think about watering?

The answer is: Yes. Think about it and make a decision based on what you know about your garden, where your plants are in their development, your soil, what you have planted and the weather.

Here are some guidelines from The National Garden Bureau that will help you decide.

How much should you water depends on your soil type, the air temperature, wind, type of plant, age of the plant, in-ground vs. in containers (and which type and size of container). An overall rule of thumb is to give your plants 1” of water per week. If you have sandy or silty soil, you will likely need to water more than 1” per week.

If temperatures spike then you will also likely need more than 1” of water per week. For vegetables, here are a few more specific guidelines:
* All seeds need even moisture during germination.
* Beans need more watering when they’re flowering.
* Sweet corn needs water during silk, tassle and ear development.
* Watermelon needs more water during fruit set and growth.
* Tomatoes need consistent amounts of water to prevent blossom end rot. And giant pumpkins need lots of water when they are growing.

Timing: One commonly known fact is that watering in the morning is best. Not that you shouldn’t water in the afternoon or evening but when possible, avoid watering in the heat of the day. Morning watering is best for two reasons: 1) less water evaporates as you water and 2) Overnight dampness on the leaves could cause diseases so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Frequency: Watering more thoroughly is better than watering more frequently. A thorough drink for your plants will help them establish deeper, stronger roots.” And a strong root system is vital for healthy, productive plants.

Also, it is hard to know with these on-and-off again showers if it has rained enough to be useful … too much … or not at all in your garden. Moreau was drenched recently when my own garden 20 miles away got nothing.

In my garden, I don’t guess. Instead, I check the soil before watering by digging a hole about 6 inches deep and touching the soil in the hole to feel if it is damp. If it isn’t, I water. If it is, I leave well enough alone.

Dead, Dry and Diseased

If you haven’t been watering or tending your plot, you may want to go and check on it.

Powdery mildew and squash vine borer damage are visible in several plots. Please remove the dead and diseased leaves promptly.

Many gardens look dry, too. Gardens need about an inch of water per week. When you water, really soak the ground.

Check that the water reached the roots by turning over an area with a trowel to see how deeply the water has penetrated. In order for the plants to produce well, consistent watering is key so visit regularly to water and weed.

Jim Norton, Gardener and National Weather Service Observer

If you ask Jim Norton, “How’s the weather?” you may get more information than you expect.

Jim has been gathering statistics on the weather for the Albany Weather Forecast Office for at least 25 years as part of a nationwide program that depends on the observations of its volunteers.

The gardener of plot #10 at the Saratoga Springs Community Garden at Wesley, Jim has kept his eye on the sky since he was a youth. And every morning at 7 a.m. he carefully collects and records information on precipitation, wind direction,  sun and cloud cover, and the maximum, minimum and present temperature.  The rain gauge records the precipitation to within a hundredth of an inch. His reports are sent daily to the Albany weather office.

The data he, and about 100-150 other regional observers, collect provide scientists and researchers with continuous climatic observations that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Ray O’Keefe, Meteorologist in Charge, said these observers are “very important”  to the Albany Weather Forecast Office.

He explained that the observers fill in gaps and enrich what the the weather service’s satellite technology is reporting. For example, he noted the technology can warn that hail is likely, but the observers are the ones who report on the hail’s size, where and whether it is hitting the ground. “They provide us with the ground truth,” he said.

As a gardener, Jim is in good company with other record keepers. Thomas Jefferson kept nearly perfect weather records between 1776 and 1816. George Washington recorded weather observations, too. “I enjoy looking at the sky, watching. This is being part of nature,” he said.

Jim added that as a youth he had hoped to become an astronaut but by the time he applied he discovered he was considered too old. Instead he worked for 45 years for GE in a research lab taking pictures of integrated circuits. “They were just being developed then, now they are in everything,” he said.

In his garden plot at the community garden, Jim is growing corn, two kinds of lettuce, tomatoes, chives and more. He obviously is enjoying himself, “Oh my gosh, this is fantastic. It’s fun to be a part of this garden. I love it,” he said.

Hot Weather Tips

It is another hot day in the garden. Here are a few tips for gardening when it is hot and humid:

1 –  Try to do any chores early in the day or postpone your activities until early evening.

2 – The best time to water is early morning or early evening. Don’t overhead water when the sun is high in the sky.

3 – Water deeply. You want to encourage the roots of your plants to grow down deep into the soil. This will protect them during dry, hot spells.

4 – If possible, put a light layer of mulch around your plants. Not only will mulch keep moisture in the soil longer, but it helps to prevent weeds.

5 – Plant tough plants that can handle the heat. The plants I chose for the Welcome Circle can all handle a hot, dry spell. They are survivors. And for a garden that is in full sun all day, tough plants are the best choice. Some tough plants include marigolds, monarda, salvia, cleome, zinnias.

6- Weed when the weeds are small. Weeds compete with the desired plants for water. For those of you who asked about my favorite weeder, the  stirrup hoe… yes, it is also called a scuffle hoe.

7 – Don’t fertilizer when the temperature is above 80 degrees.

8 – Keep the gardener hydrated, too.  And know your limits. If you feel it’s too hot, humid, etc, to garden then don’t. Instead, have a ice cold drink in the shade and put your feet up. That’s what summer is about. Come back later in the day to water when the weather has cooled.

See you in the garden – Natalie Walsh