Tag: pruning

Iris on Irises

Iris on Irises

Not Just Irises 003
Iris and her props at the ready

Drawing on her 30 years of experience in operating a local nursery, the Club’s recent guest speaker Iris Burke provided a wide-range of tips on better ways to treat our garden treasures and to protect them from their foes (we’re talking slugs and deer!).

As proprietor of “Not Just Iris’s Greenhouses Inc”, Iris grows a wide selection of annuals, perennials and shrubbery, and has a wealth of  knowledge about their care and nurture. She has, for example, a strong belief in using a little slow-release fertilizer for perennials from spring through to at least mid-summer. She has observed that many gardeners neglect their perennials once they have given them a spring dose to get started.  She also noted that perennials often become stressed during August’s dry spells and that they need to be given water just as the annuals do.

Iris bloom (cultivar unknown)

As her name implies, she is also partial to irises and she reminded her listeners of the need to divide these plants about every three years, when the centre of the clump has stopped producing new blooms.  She suggested that irises are easy to grow in almost any kind of soil and that they should not be over-fertilized.

In a discussion of pruning methods and timing, she was adamant about the need to cut back certain shrubs to promote more growth and blooms, but cautioned listeners to be sure of the particular characteristics of each bush or tree. A smokebush, for example, blooms on old wood so should not be pruned until after it has “produced” its smoke, whereas a butterfly bush blooms on new wood and should be cut back to about 15 cms above ground in early spring to ensure healthy growth and blooms for the coming season. (our post of August 27, 2012, shows butterflies enjoying the nectar on a butterfly bush).

A Cotinus (smokebush) in full “smoke” mode

In addition to advice on pruning fruit trees, lilacs and flowering vines, Iris gave a few tips on dealing with slugs (broken eggshells spread around the base of hostas, for example), deer (blood meal, urine, or soap shavings in pantyhose), and earwigs (her own recipe of dish soap and a hose-spray bottle).  In keeping with the  slogan of her greenhouse – “Where things are budding out!”, Iris branched out into a vast array of garden topics and also answered questions from the audience.

Preparing Your Garden for Winter

Preparing Your Garden for Winter

A tumble of pumpkins

October’s pumpkins and coloured leaves mean that Chester gardeners, however reluctantly, must say farewell to summer and begin to prepare their gardens for winter’s onslaught, especially for our region’s common freeze and thaw cycles.  At a recent meeting of the Chester Garden Club, Rosmarie Lohnes passed on some tips to help local gardeners maintain healthy gardens through the off-season.

Her first tip included the benefit of  dividing perennials at this time of year because, when many leaves have fallen, it is easier to see the bones of the  garden and plan any changes in the placement of plants.

Woodland colours
Sedum “Autumn Joy”

Weeding in the fall also provides a good
opportunity to get down close to the ground and examine plants for disease or damage that may need remedial action.

Rosmarie recommended natural plant-based fertilizers like diluted manure  or seaweed tea for fall feeding, especially for plants that have been divided and moved. She noted that synthetic fertilizers and fish emulsions should not to be used at this time of year because they would stimulate above-ground growth rather than feed the roots.

Rosmarie Lohnes of Helping Nature Heal

 Mulching is an important part of winter preparation because climate changes in recent years have resulted in a lack of snow cover that used to provide a good layer of insulation.   Along the south shore of Nova Scotia, winter now brings repeated cycles of freezing and thawing and, in the winter, the lower angle of the sun means that its rays can hit the ground under what would have been summer’s leafy barrier.  This constant changing of ground temperature can result in a plant’s being heaved up out of the ground.  Despite the chilly air that retards a plant’s growth, its roots remain active (absorbing water and nutrients) until the temperature falls below about 7 ° C, so if any roots have been heaved out of the ground by the freeze-thaw cycle they are vulnerable to dying off.  A thick layer of mulch, such as hay or leaves anchored with brush (evergreen cuttings), provides good protection against this damaging cycle.

October is also a good time to prune both shrubs and any dead stalks on perennials. Woody stalks should be cut back only to the rosette.  One simple rule of thumb Rosmarie passed on was that any plant that will be “mushy” in the spring can be cut back now.  Ever the keen recycler, Rosmarie suggested that all old stalks and leaves be chopped up and sprinkled on garden beds,  where they will disintegrate over the winter, gradually being absorbed as nourishment for the soil, or that they be added to a compost. Some old stalks can be left to provide seeds for the birds or just simple eye appeal to the garden.

Fluffy seed heads of fountain grass wave in the breeze

As for shrubs, another rule of thumb for fall pruning is not to prune any branch that is larger than your finger. If the plant is not dormant, it is advisable to wait until spring to prune any branch larger than your wrist in order to prevent “bleeding” from the cuts.

Despite the advent of cooler weather, some plants continue to defy Mother Nature and are still producing blooms. The next two shots from Myra’s garden illustrate the hardiness of some of the Gaillardias.  Although the fall blooms lack the lushness of those in the  warmer months, they are still an attractive asset to her garden.

Gaillardia grandiflorum Goblin in July 2012
The same Gaillardia plants on October 15

In contrast to the survival of those Gaillardias, tender annuals like New Guinea Impatiens and  nasturtiums have been touched by a light frost in some areas. The main  colour in many gardens is found in yellowing foliage, ripened apples, and crimson berries like those on these cotoneasters.

Cotoneaster berries