CRAZY TIME IN THE GARDEN + FRIDAY FINDS

We've officially hit the height of Holy Crap There's a Lot to Do in the Garden season. I've been taking it chunk by chunk, trying to completely finish one area before starting on another. The problem with this plan, of course, is that the other areas of the garden farther down the list are turning into jungles while they wait for their turn.

Short of hiring help, which I talk about every year and then come up with 18 reasons why that won't work, there's nothing to be done about it other than to just plod on. It is frustrating because right now a good amount of time is spent tending annuals and other plants that have congregated in multiple areas of my yard while they await planting. And yet, I'm still on the fence about whether I want to plant containers this weekend. It's still quite cold at night here (often in the 40s), and that's not treatment that most annuals like. Right now I can cover them all at night, but once they are in containers, it's every plant for itself.

Anyway, there's no question what I'm doing this weekend. Gardening. I'll take a few breaks for some Memorial Day gatherings and a graduation party, but we're rapidly getting to the part where I wish all the big work in the garden were done and I could go into maintenance mode. Also ... why are there so  many weeds? It is infuriating.

There are moments of glory in the garden though and here's one. This spirea. I'm pretty sure it's Glow Girl and I'm very sure I planted it too close to another spirea, but holy smokes, that foliage is outstanding. A loose hedge of these would be phenomenal.

I feel like that rogue ostrich fern is photobombing this picture.

Speaking of containers, which I guess I was about four paragraphs ago, I planted my first one last weekend, just to do one because I couldn't wait any longer. And I made a video of it. Check it out here and stick around the mini blooper toward the end of it.

And now a few finds for this Friday:

It's Chelsea Flower Show time, so I've been checking out all the gardens. Honestly it's a bit of a let down from previous years, but apparently the Brexit vote came right around the time they were taking garden submissions and very few companies felt comfortable spending money sponsoring show gardens then. Anyway, this is my favorite of the bunch. I'm not at all a fan of the Best in Show garden, although I imagine it garnered major points for being such a huge undertaking.

I think my friend Linda's garden looks better in spring than any other time of the year. She has such interesting foliage plants that all the fresh green popping up is delightful. Do check out her blog to see the fabulous photos she's been posting lately.

If you're into fairy gardens, don't miss Lisa's adorable wheelbarrow garden. I had a wheelbarrow that meant a lot to me and when it rusted out and got wobbly we pitched it. I now wish I would have saved it for a mini garden/container. Woulda coulda shoulda.

A few weeks ago I did a cocktail hour stroll through the garden, completely with cocktail making, on a live Facebook broadcast. It got LONG (I'm a talker), but if you want to check it out here you go. I want to do more of these (but maybe as videos instead of live broadcasts) because I can't think of a better match than cocktails and gardens.


Well that's it for me. What are you up to this weekend? Anything OTHER than gardening? Or do you take these holiday weekends off from the garden?


HIGH SEASON FOR HOSTAS

Hostas, at least the ones in my garden, are just about at their peak. They thrive in the cool nights, (semi) warm days and constantly damp soil thanks to spring rains. The armies of slugs haven't hatched to attack them yet and so far the deer have been (mostly) thwarted by my preventative measures.

Their leaves are brilliantly colored and nary a stem is flopped. So perhaps it's no surprise that this is the time that I typically end up tinkering with them. Earlier in the season, when they are in their stubby-shoots-coming-up stage, I tend to forget just what they look like fully unfurled. But now my lousy gardener's memory is jogged.

I vowed this winter (at least mentally if not publicly) to be better about maintaining my garden this year, and that starts with doing some dividing and rearranging that I've put off for far too long. So this weekend I did a bit more of that, and I have to say I'm happy with the result.

'June' hosta with 'Stripe it Rich' Hakonechloa after dividing
One 'June' hosta became three surrounding Hakonechloa 'Stripe it Rich'.

Since I made this video on how to divide hostas, lot of people have been asking me if it's too late to divide them now. The answer is an unequivocal no. In fact, you can technically divide them at anytime, but recognize that the more leafed out it is and the warmer the weather, the more you're going to have to water to counteract the stress it's been through.

Sunday afternoon I divided one of the Hakonechloa 'Stripe it Rich' grasses I grow in the east terraced garden. I've never seen that cultivar anywhere else but that plant grows so well in that half-day-of-sun situation. Originally there were three of them. One died, and the other two got quite big. My intention was to divide the remaining two (making for plants total), replant the third of the trio that had died and move the other division elsewhere in the garden. It's a good thing I started with the middle one because that thing was a beast to dig up and divide.

'Autumn Frost' hosta after moving
'Autumn Frost' in it's new home. I don't know a hosta that is more beautiful in spring.


After that bit was done, I moved two of the hostas that surrounded the center grass. One was 'Autumn Frost', which I consider to be the single best looking spring hosta that has ever been grown on the face of the planet, and another is an unknown. The third was 'June', which is certainly in my top five favorite hostas. 'June' had gotten quite large, so I decided to divide it into three and replace the moved hostas, although space things out a bit more to accommodate growth better than when I originally planted there.

'June' hosta

If I thought the grass was difficult to dig up, I clearly had no idea what 'June' had in store. In fact Mr. Much More Patient was called into rare garden service to grab a shovel and dig/pry opposite me. (In case you were wondering, he's been well trained for these moments, starting with "What is safe to step on here." He's a good man.) The root ball was so big I had to have him help me roll it out of the hole. Things were much more manageable once 'June' was finished with surgery and I'm happier that it's a bit more of a cohesive look there.

That job, which ended up taking well over an hour, was certainly not the only thing I did in the garden this weekend, but it probably brings the most satisfaction. And it's one more way I justify not having to go the gym. Crossfit has nothing on hosta dividing.


THE QUEST FOR 'SHROOMS CONTINUES

A while ago I showed you the rather odd loaf-like object taking up space in my refrigerator. Well, I'm happy to report that I was able to free up that space in the fridge this weekend, as the mushroom spawn has been planted scattered strewn.


The process of growing these Wine Cap mushrooms is less than exciting, and since I've never done this before, I pretty much just followed the instructions that came with the spawn, which was mixed with sawdust. My five-pound bag was enough for a 50 square foot area so, because my spatial relationship skills are not great, I laid out the bed area with birch logs. There is absolutely no need to do this, other than to make sure you have about the right size area and I liked the idea of knowing where exactly to look for my 'shrooms.



Because there was some grass and weeds in the area, I laid down some sodden cardboard as a weed block. This wasn't in the instructions that came from Field and Forest, but I saw this method in a few videos I watched. Then I spread several inches of damp wood chips on top. I used chips from maple and ash trees we had taken down a couple months ago, but you could use purchased untreated wood chips if needed. The instructions said a variety of chip size is best, and that's certainly what I had in my pile.


Then I took the "loaf" of spawn out of the fridge and broke it up in the bag, then sprinkled it all over the wood chips, trying to broadcast it evenly. After that, it was a few more wood chips and some damp straw.

And that's it. All I have to do now is make sure that the area stays damp but not wet, especially through the hot bits of summer.

This is about as big of a garden experiment as I've ever undertaken. Of course there was the potato tower a few years ago, but let's hope the outcome is significantly better than that.

With any luck, by the end of summer I'll be feasting on my very own homegrown mushrooms.

Have you ever grown mushrooms. Tell me about it!

HOW TO PLANT A TREE (THE NEW WAY)

Prepare yourselves. I'm about to tell you how to plant a tree in a way that may go against everything you've ever been told about planting a tree. But bear with me because I'm also going to tell you why it's a good idea to plant a tree like this.

Plant a tree for life, not for the short term.

First of all, you need to start thinking about a tree as a many-year (possibly a lifetime) investment. You need to think about the long-term health of it, not just the next five years. There are things you can do when you plant a tree that will determine if it lives to see your kids' weddings, or perhaps the next owner's kids' weddings.

The typical advice about planting containerized or balled and burlapped trees is to disturb the roots as little as possible and plunk it in a very wide but not too deep hole. For balled and burlapped trees this advice often includes leaving all the burlap intact to rot away naturally (which I've actually never seen happen), which you pretty much have to do in order to leave on the wire cage that holds the whole thing together.

Here are the problems with that method:
  1. Once roots start circling, as they are wont to do when grown in containers or spend a lot of time in the balled and burlapped state, they will continue to circle because they have "root memory." Roots that circle will never properly anchor a tree and are lightly to girdle the whole thing, essentially choking itself off.
  2. Trees, like almost all plants, do not like leaving familiar territory. Roots are unlikely to stretch out beyond the conditions in which they are accustomed. This is why it is no longer advised to put a "$5 plant in a $25 hole." Why would roots want to seek water and nutrition and stretch out if they are comfy in their little universe?
  3. It's very easy to plant containerized or balled trees too deeply because they've been growing that way at the nursery.
Balled and burlapped trees are typically grown in clay because it's the only kind of soil that will stay together in a ball, but few people grow trees in full clay. My garden is certainly an example of that. My soil is mostly sand or sandy loam, although there is some clay in a few spots in the yard where clearly fill had been brought in at some point.

So when I got a tree recently—an espalier Asian pear that I've been desiring for a long time—I planted it in a way that was pretty much exactly the opposite of what the nursery advised. I turned it into a bare root plant.

Don't freak out. This whole process moves quickly so at no point are the roots allowed to dry out. Here's the process:

1. Lift the whole thing into a very sturdy wheelbarrow. A kiddie pool would work too. Then fill it with a few inches of water and let it soak for several hours. The bottom of a balled and burlapped tree is likely to be hard as a rock so it needs some time to soften up.

How to plant a tree the new way
Start with the tree in a wheelbarrow or kiddie pool and allow the bottom to soak in a few inches of water for several hours to help loosen the root ball.

2. Then use a hose and some gentle work with your hands to carefully work all of the soil off the root ball without tearing away fine roots. I'm not going to lie, this is a long, messy process.

How to plant a tree-- the new way
Carefully wash all the soil off the roots. In the beginning of the process, above, you'll be breaking off big chunks. At the end, you have to tease it out through the roots, as shown in the quick video below. 


3. When all the dirt has been washed off from the roots, examine the root ball. Look for circling roots and cut them. Clean up jagged roots (mine had a ton of these that seemed to have been ripped off and scabbed over).

The new way to plant a tree
Here's what the roots looked like when I cleaned off the soil. There were two huge roots that had been ripped apart at some point and a few fiberous roots. I would have liked to see a lot more.

4. Find the root flare. This is where the trunk flares out and the roots begin. That is the level where you want the top of the soil when you plant.
5. Dig your hole as you usually would—at least twice as wide as the root ball and no deeper. In fact it's best to plant just a touch high to accommodate for the soil settling. Don't add any amendments to the hole. (I did sprinkle some mycrohizal fungi on the roots. There is some discussion as to whether this does anything or it's a feel-good thing, but I opted for feel-good put some on.)
6. Place your tree, making sure to face it the best direction and check that the soil level is correct by laying something—a long stake or a shovel— across the hole, then gradually add soil to the hole. About halfway through, firm in the soil—I like to face my foot toward the truck and my heel out and gently press down in a circle. Don't smash it! You're just trying to firm in the tree, not squish the life out of it.
7. Add in more soil and repeat the firming process.
Firm in the soil by gently pushing with your heel around the tree.

8. Water it well, preferably using the water from the root-washing process which can have beneficial bacteria in it.
How to plant a tree the new way.
Water in well, preferably using water from the root washing process.

9. Once you've watered and all the water has been absorbed, check the soil level again and add more if necessary.
10. Mulch deeply around the root zone, but don't pile up mulch on the trunk. If need be, water again at this stage.
11. Stake the trunk low and remember to remove the stake when the tree seems well anchored, no more than year from planting.
A few notes about my specific situation:
  • Because I was planting an espalier tree that will be supported by guide wires on the fireplace facade, I planted the tree quite close to the house, about 14 inches. This is much closer than you should ever plant a tree in any other case.
  • I also didn't stake the tree because of it's location and the guide wires. There won't be wind whipping this tree around so I skipped the stake, but it's an important step in almost any other case.
  • I firmed down the soil under the root ball only because I'd recently put that soil in from another spot in the garden. Here's why I did that. 
When the tree is planted, it's not uncommon that it will sulk a bit at first. Don't freak out. The tree is stressed. It has experienced a drastic change in growing conditions and its roots have been disturbed. This is unlike what you've probably experienced with other methods of planting (and a good reason to plant in spring or fall but not the heat of summer, which is stressful enough on its own), but keep in  mind that you're aiming for the long term health of the tree here. 

You will probably have to be very careful about watering for the first two weeks. I don't want the roots to dry out at all during this time, so I stay on top of the watering, but be sure not to over water, which is probably worse. Once you're past this first critical period, you should go to a "proper" watering schedule, which is to say regular but infrequent (generally weekly) deep watering. This encourages deep root growth rather than surface root growth.

How to plant a tree the new way
The planted tree is looking pretty good in its new home and it has acquired its own bodyguard.

I bet you're skeptical right now and maybe even thinking, "Planting the old way worked fine, why change it?" But did it really work better? Have you seen trees die or just fall over in a wind storm? Of course these things happen for other reasons as well, but often it's because of improper planting. And just think about it: Doesn't it make sense to get a tree growing in the soil that it will call home for the rest of its life from the get-go?

Here's a study on this method if you need a little science to quell your skepticism. And here's more information on the why of this.