Summer Gardening – It’s Too Darn Hot!

Heliopsis 'Loraine Sunshine'

Heliopsis ‘Loraine Sunshine’

I’ve mentioned often that I’m heat- and sun-intolerant. As I remember, this started in my teens. I remember going out in my bathing suit to lie on the deck at home and try to get some tan. After a very short time I had to go back indoors – I just couldn’t take it. I was about 16 at the time.

When I lived in Des Moines, I had a job that started at 7:30 a.m. Since I’m a slow starter (NOT a morning person!), this meant getting up at 5:40. Thus, when I took my vacations for gardening (always the 2nd and 4th weeks of April), I was already used to getting up early.

The first week was for cleaning up and preparing the garden. The second was for planting. I’d be out there at 6 a.m. Of course, those weeks were (usually) nice and cool, particularly the first of the two weeks. 55 degree weather was perfect for me to work hard without getting any overheating symptoms. At that temperature, I could even take the sunlight.

But then there was the one time Continue reading

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Bloom River Gardens – Review

This year I ordered two dwarf conifers from Bloom River Gardens online, chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Cumulus’ and ‘White Pygmy.’ I had had both of these before, but they died after an extremely severe winter where they were buried under close to a foot of snow for months.

These small shrubs weren’t cheap, and had been less expensive when I purchased them in 2011, but the ones I ordered this time were larger than the first set. Customer service was first-rate: a representative called me to say that ‘Cumulus’ had gone out of stock, and asking if I wanted to cancel that part of the order. He told me they were in the process of obtaining more, so I said I would not cancel, even though shipping would be delayed.

I was called again when the nursery obtained the shrub, and notified by mail of shipment. The two little darlings arrived in beautiful shape:

Dwarf Conifers from Bloom River Gardens

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Cumulus’ (left) and ‘White Pygmy’ from Bloom River Gardens

As you can see, they had been packed with care and suffered absolutely no damage in transit. The root balls were still moist. I was enchanted.

I’d been fortunate to pick up some especially lovely planters from at an amazing sale price that were perfect for these small gems of false cypress. (The planters come with plugs in the bottom that I thought were blocking drainage for indoor use, so I removed the plugs and planted. Oops. I missed the lettering that said “drill holes here for outdoor use. Don’t make that mistake!)

At any rate, the two small shrubs (‘Cumulus’ about 4.5″ wide and ‘White Pygmy’ about 6.5”) look wonderful in these planters, and are healthy as can be. I couldn’t be more delighted with my purchases from Bloom River Gardens, and give them an A rating for both plant quality and customer service.

Aren’t they marvellous?

Dwarf false cypress from Bloom River Gardens: 'Cumulus,' 'White Pygmy.'

Dwarf false cypress from Bloom River Gardens: ‘Cumulus,’ ‘White Pygmy.’


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Preen is a Total Flop

After the landscapers finished renovating the slope bed, it was pristine black dirt with peat tilled in. We had to hustle and put plants back into it – most of them just went anywhere they could fit. A couple of days later I shook Preen all over the bed and watered it in well. Then I forgot about it – other parts of the yard needed urgent attention.

For those of you who don’t know, Preen is a pre-emergent herbicide, meaning it keeps seeds from germinating. Since almost no weeds were visible at the time, it should have been just what I needed – even though, as I discovered, the topsoil the landscapers brought in was anything but sterile. I never thought to ask… my mistake!

Then the other day I took a photo walk around the entire property (it’s only about a quarter acre, including the house). The sight of the slope bed made my stomach lurch. It’s absolutely choked with weeds.

I have a lot of Preen left, so I suppose I could absolutely cover some ground with it instead of shaking it around (although I did so rather thickly) just to see what happens. But frankly, I think the stuff was a waste of money. Here’s what I mean. Everything enclosed in red is weeds except in one place, which is a circle within a larger circle of weeds. It’s marked.


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Renovating a Weed-Choked Garden Bed

One of my first planned projects for my “year of renewal and renovation” was to clean up a small island bed that sits between the two halves of my driveway, out at the street end, that was almost buried in weeds. I didn’t think it was going to be too difficult:

  1. Dig out as many of the plants I wanted to save as possible and put them in pots, pulling all weeds out of the soil balls. My son Joey took care of most of the (and a lot of other jobs as well); I did the weed-pulling.
  2. Spray the bed with Roundup, avoiding the plants I wasn’t able to dig out. Those included:
    Clematis x durandii

    Clematis x durandii

    • Salix caprea pendula – weeping pussy willow tree
    • Clematis x durandii – a non-twining clematis with true navy blue flowers
    • Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Gold Threads’ – a dwarf golden false cypress
    • Thuja ‘Teddy Bear’ – a dwarf globe arborvitae, and
    • A bed of daffodils
  3. Have my tree service remove two volunteer trees that had developed quite strong root systems.
  4. Hand-paint weeds (with Roundup) that were too close to the remaining plants to be sprayed.
  5. Treat sprouts of trumpet vine individually with “tough brush” killer.
  6. Wait for all the weeds to die, then add amendments and dig them in.
  7. Replant in a new design.

Well, that sounds difficult enough, when I laid it all out, but at least it had a good flow, a logical sequence. It hasn’t worked out very well, though.

The thug of all thugs - trumpet vine (campsis radicans)

The thug of all thugs – trumpet vine (campsis radicans)

Steps 1 and 3 were finished early. Then I made my first mistake by using spot weed and grass killers instead of Roundup. The stuff just didn’t die. Finally I re-sprayed with Roundup. This did a better job, but still, an awful lot of weeds survived, including most of the trumpet vine sprouts. (Never buy trumpet vine!)

Next, I broke my cardinal rule of renewal and bought new plants. A lot of new plants. That was a hugely important rule. The plan was to give myself a virgin garden bed and to put in it only plants I already had. That meant I would be able to design the bed fully next year and buy the plants necessary.

I bought well over 200 plants, if you include two flats of 48 annuals each, intended as fillers. My self-discipline disintegrated. Now I had to spend a huge amount of time putting the new plants into decent-sized pots, since there was no place ready to plant most of them.

The weather warmed up, limiting the amount of time I could work outside more and more. One fairly cool day I went ahead and spread all the amendments on the island bed – peat humus, mushroom compost and composted manure. I was delighted with my ability to lug around six 21-pound bags – my strength is increasing! But I did not have the strength necessary to dig it in. I’m hoping several heavy rains since them have sort of mixed them into the original soil.

That brings us up till today. And still there are weeds in the bed. Perennial weeds that spread by runners – things you can’t just dig out completely. Quack grass and perennial sow thistle are the worst… and the trumpet vines. Plus I never did get around to the painstaking job of painting Roundup on weeds directly next to – or even growing through – the plants I wasn’t able to take out initially.

It’s the first day of summer, and I’d hoped to have this bed completed a month ago. It’s mostly my own fault – I made the job much harder by having to spend so much time potting newly received plants.

Today was a good day to spray Roundup, though, so in spite of the heat I went and bought more and then blasted those trumpet vine sprouts and weeds hard. I used one whole bottle of regular Roundup, not just on the island but in a few other areas as well. After that, I unpacked and watered my last two (I swear it!) shipments of plants.

Trumpet vine growing through Gold Thread false cypress.

Trumpet vine growing through Gold Thread false cypress.

The Gold Thread false cypress, though, is a problem. A large trumpet vine leader is growing right next to its trunk and coming up right through the center. It may be possible to wrap the shrub with plastic or a heavy tarp and spray the upper portion of the vine, leaving the shrub covered till there’s no danger of herbicide dripping onto it, but I’m not sure that will be enough to take out something as hard-to-kill as campsis radicans. If not, the entire shrub will have to be lifted and separated from the vine before replanting. That has to be done on a very cloudy, preferably cool day. Evergreens don’t like to have their roots exposed to sunlight.

Anyway, I surprised myself out there. It’s around 83 degrees outside, and I did not get dizzy or nauseated or get a migraine in a full hour of work. I wasn’t in sunlight the entire time, but still, my heat tolerance must be improving!

Photo credits:
Clematis x durandii – Anne McCormack/Flickr
Trumpet Vine – Mesantic/Morguefile
Gold Thread Cypress with Trumpet Vine – Marcia Purse ©2015

Posted in Gardening Nitty-Gritty, Problem Plants, Renewal, Renovation, Weeds | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Why I Cut Down the Staghorn Sumac

Staghorn sumac – botanical name rhus typhina – is an interesting structural element in the garden most of the year, and utterly spectacular in the fall.

Staghorn Sumac, May 2009

Staghorn Sumac, May 2009

This picture shows that the staghorn is – at least, mine was – a rather sparse tree. It was already here when I moved in, and I found that it was rather delicate – branches small and large came down with every bad storm. This picture was taken just a year and a half after I moved in, and it was already rather skimpy.

Unfortunately, it was putting all its energy into sending out suckers. Dozens of them.

Then in fall one forgot about the scantiness of limbs and branches and the suckering problem.

Staghorn Sumac in Fall 2011

Staghorn Sumac in Fall 2011

Incredible, isn’t it? Continue reading

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