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Spruce Up for the Holidays

Spruce are beloved as potted Christmas Trees. Both the Colorado and Colorado Blue Spruce have a nice pyramidal shapes with strong limbs that can hold heavy ornaments or light strands. The Colorado Blue is set apart by its stunning steel-blue foliage. 

Beyond the holidays, spruces make a lovely addition to any landscape. When viewed in the northern forests, these majestic, needled evergreens are glorious with their graceful, symmetrical, conical forms. Smaller landscapes may also enjoy the merits of this genus with the many slow-growing and dwarf cultivars that are commonly offered, many of which are also ideal when selected as living holiday trees. Larger spruces work wonderfully planted in a row as a windbreak but shine equally as well when chosen as a specimen plant. Added benefits include deer resistance and salt tolerance.

Caring for Your Living Christmas Tree

If you do opt for a potted spruce, there are certain steps you need to take so they can survive the rigors of the holiday and be ready for planting. 

  1. Only leave a live spruce tree inside the house for a maximum of 12-14 days.
  2. If possible, place the tree in a garage, carport or sheltered area to help acclimate it to a warmer location before putting it into the house. Keep the root ball moist..
  3. Place ice cubes on the soil to keep cool and moist while in the house.
  4. Place the tree away from heating vents, wood stoves and baseboard heaters.
  5. Check water level daily and refill as needed.
  6. Prepare your planting hole outside by digging it early and covering with plywood until needed. Store soil in the garage so it does not freeze.
  7. If possible, acclimate the tree once more by putting it in a garage or sheltered area for a few days before planting outside. Continue to keep the root ball moist.
  8. Plant the tree as you normally would, mulch and water well.

Growing Tips 

  • Plants require full sun, good air circulation and moist, well-drained, acidic soil.
  • Spruces are shallow-rooted and should always be planted high rather than low.
  • Mulch the root zone with a thick layer to keep plant roots cool and moist.
  • Consider available space and ultimate size of the chosen variety before planting.

 Since we are interfering with the natural growth cycle of these trees, their survival through the season cannot be guaranteed. However, customers who have purchased living trees from us and followed the guidelines have reported a great success rate with the trees thriving in the spring. It is fun to look out into your yard at trees from Christmases past!

Problems With Your Compost Pile? Fix Them!

A compost pile should be part of every gardener’s yard, since it adds so many benefits for recycling and providing organic material in the garden. There are times, however, when it can be tricky to keep a compost pile in peak condition and breaking down material most efficiently. If you encounter any of these common problems, you can easily correct them and keep your compost pile at its best.

  • Pile is Too Dry
    Without adequate moisture, beneficial microorganisms cease to function and decomposition stops, turning a compost pile into a clumpy mess that does not decay into usable organic material. Keep the pile moist at all times, but not overly wet. A dampness like a squeezed sponge is ideal. It may be necessary to use a hose to water your pile occasionally, or a tarp or piece of plastic over the top of the pile can help keep moisture in the pile instead of evaporating.
  • Foul Odor
    A stinky compost pile is no gardener’s friend, and over-watering the pile will compact the material. When air space is decreased, the pile becomes anaerobic, resulting in an unpleasant odor. Turn the pile frequently to increase aeration and add larger pieces of dry, porous, carbon-rich material such as wood chips or straw to absorb excess water and improve air circulation.
  • Pile is Cool
    Check all the items required for a hot, quickly-decomposing pile: carbon, nitrogen, air and water. Correct any deficiencies. Another issue may be that a pile that is too small will have difficulty insulating itself. Increase the size of your compost pile by adding more material so it can generate sufficient heat from decomposition to keep itself warm.
  • Pests in the Pile
    While insects and worms are welcome helpers in a compost pile, a poor pile may also be attracting mice, rats, squirrels, raccoons and other wildlife. This usually means that the wrong material was used for composting. Never add meat, fish, bones, dairy products or oily food to the compost pile, all of which can have strong odors that will attract unwanted wildlife. Similarly, no human, cat or dog manure should be added to the pile. Avoid adding weed plants or diseased plants as well, since those weed seeds or disease spores could be transmitted to your garden or landscape when the compost is spread.
  • Poor C/N Ratio
    When planning the optimum conditions for compost decomposition, the standard recommendation is 3-to-1; three parts carbon to one part nitrogen. Carbon-based material is brown and nitrogen-based material is usually, but not always, green. Chopping or shredding additions to the compost pile will speed up the decomposition and help keep the pile balanced.

    The best materials to add to your compost pile include…

    Brown Material (Carbon-Based)
    – Dried, dead Leaves
    – Shredded paper, including newspaper
    – Wood ash
    – Sawdust
    – Eggshells
    – Chipped brush and wood chips
    – Straw and twigs

    Green Material (Nitrogen)
    – Grass clippings and sod scraps
    – Vegetable and fruit peels, scraps and rinds
    – Disease and insect-free plant material, such as clippings and prunings
    – Horse, cow, chicken and rabbit manure (herbivores)
    – Coffee grounds and used coffee filters
    – Used tea bags
    – Used potting soil

No matter what issues your compost pile may be having, problems are easy to correct and you can quickly adjust your pile to be productive and efficient. Before you know it, you’ll have plenty of rich, nutritious compost to nurture your garden and landscape all year long.

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Tulips: Spring Starts Now!

Members of the lily family, tulips are native to central and western Asia. In the 16th century, they were introduced to the Netherlands where most tulip bulbs are grown today. With over 100 species and nearly 3,000 varieties, tulips have been divided into 14 groups, including Darwin hybrids, Triumph, Lily-flowering, Double early, Rembrandt, Scheepers’ Hybrids (or French) and Parrot variations. Their classification is based on form and habit. A 15th group includes species tulips with the smallest plants growing to just 3 inches.

Tips for Planting Tulips

Tulips are an easy care addition to any landscape, and they are easier to plant than many gardeners realize.

  1. Choose only top-sized bulbs without any bruises or obvious damage. Bigger bulbs generally indicate better quality and bigger flowers.
  2. Plant bulbs as soon as purchased or store in a cool, dry location.
  3. Choose a sunny (or part sun) location with well-drained, rich soil.
  4. Plant 2” deeper than recommended to promote re-blooming each year.
  5. Apply bone meal 3 times a year – in fall when you plant, in spring as bulbs emerge from the ground and after flowering has finished. This will provide food for the foliage and bulb growth for next year’s flowers.
  6. Protect tulip bulbs from pest damage by laying wire mesh on top of your bed just beneath the soil. Sprinkling VoleBlok in the holes when planting can also be helpful.
  7. Mulch and water the bed thoroughly after planting.
  8. Plant before the ground freezes.
  9. Deadhead flowers after they have faded, but leave the foliage to die back naturally. Do not cut off the leaves until they have turned brown, or else they will not develop large enough bulbs for a good show the next year.

Tulip Timesaving Tip

Don’t have much time to plant a large, luxurious tulip bed? Plant 100 tulips in just 1 hour!

  1. Choose a part to full sun location and dig a large area to a depth of 6-8”, placing the displaced soil on plywood or cardboard.
  2. Place tulips, pointed end up, evenly over the area.
  3. Gently slide the soil from the plywood or cardboard onto the tulip bulbs. Tamp the soil lightly, sprinkle the bed with bone meal and water well. In spring, the entire area will bloom!

With so many to choose from, it’s always time for tulips!

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Fall in Love with Fall Pansies

Ideal for fall gardens, pansies offer a colorful display. 

Planting Pansies

As with any plant, pansies perform better if the soil that you place them in is well prepared. Choose a planting location that is well-drained and work in 4-6 inches of rich organic matter, such as garden compost, peat moss or Sunnyside Gardens’ Potting Soil. Plant pansies at about the same level, or slightly higher, than they were growing in their market packs or containers, taking care not to plant too deep or the plants may wilt and rot and the roots could smother. After planting, mulch and water the bed thoroughly. Remember to check the plants often during the first three weeks after planting or until new growth begins, to ensure adequate moisture necessary for healthy growth. Because these plants require very little care, no other maintenance is usually necessary for them to reach their full potential.

Where to Plant Pansies

These versatile blooms can be used in many different parts of your garden or landscape. Add a graceful drift of single-colored pansies or a mass of mixed colors to brighten a border, under a tree or along a fence, pathway, deck or wall. Try tucking single plants in garden beds around perennials and shrubs that have finished blooming to brighten up an otherwise dreary section of the landscape and to help mask older, spent growth. Pansies also do well in containers placed on a deck or patio or next to the entrance of your home to greet your guests with welcoming color. Try pansies in a hanging basket and you can even move them indoors to enjoy when the weather is too poor for outdoor gardening. A small container of fall pansies can also be a great gift for winter holidays, birthdays or just to brighten the day of anyone who could use a touch of color in their life.

With so much color to enjoy in so many ways, fall and winter pansies should be a staple of any garden and will bring great gardening joy to the landscape even during colder, dreary months.

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Repotting Houseplants

Fall is an excellent time to repot many houseplants. Potted plants that have been growing outdoors during the summer have probably grown quite vigorously due to the high light levels and greater humidity. If the top growth of the plant has increased in size by 20 percent or more, it probably should be transplanted into a larger container so the roots can stretch and settle comfortably.

Before You Repot

Before repotting, check the plant and the soil carefully for insects.  Add systemic granules to the soil and spray the leaves with an insecticidal soap to remove any unwanted pests. If an insect infestation is particularly bad, it may be necessary to remove most of the plant’s soil and replace it with fresh potting soil. Avoid using soil from the garden, however, which will harbor insect larvae and eggs as well as weed seeds and other material you do not want in your houseplants.

Acclimating Plants

Bring your plants indoors well before any danger of frost for proper acclimation to the indoor environment. The change in light levels and humidity could shock more delicate plants, and they may wilt temporarily or drop leaves before they adjust to the new conditions. If possible, bring them in just a few minutes at a time for several days, gradually increasing their indoor time to several hours before keeping them indoors all the time. Flowering tropicals will also benefit from cutting back some of their foliage to avoid shock before being brought indoors.

To help houseplants overcome the transition from outdoors to indoors, position them in a bright, sunny area and consider adjusting indoor temperature and humidity controls to more closely mimic outdoor conditions. Make adjustments slowly and gradually, and the plants will adjust.

Time to Repot

Once your houseplants are adjusted to their indoor fall and winter environment, they can be safely repotted without adding to their stress. Repot the plants early in the day, and move them to a slightly larger pot. Avoid jumping several pot sizes, which could lead to excessive root growth while the foliage is neglected. Be sure to fertilize and water the plants appropriately to provide them proper nourishment as they settle into new pots. Do not expect luxuriant foliage growth right away, however, as it will take some time for the plants to begin growing again, especially in fall and winter when most houseplants are entering a dormant, slow growth period.

By repotting your houseplants in fall, you can help healthy, vigorously growing plants adjust to a new environment and continue their growth with ease in a new, larger, more comfortable pot.

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King of the Cold: Ornamental Cabbage & Kale

Looking to add interest to the fall and winter landscape? This year, plant ornamental cabbage and kale for bold textures and vibrant colors.

About Ornamental Cabbage & Kale

Unlike most other annuals and perennials, these two hardy plants improve in appearance after a frost or two, which bring out more intense and brilliant colors in their foliage – perfect as an autumn accent or centerpiece plant. Identified by a number of names including floral kale, decorative kale, ornamental-leaved kale, flowering kale and flowering cabbage, ornamental cabbage and kale are classified as Brassica oleracca (Acephala group). Offering unlimited use in the landscape, these plants have large rosettes of gray-green foliage richly variegated with cream, white, pink, rose, red and purple. Kale leaves are frilly edged and sometimes deeply lobed.

While typical ornamental kale and cabbage varieties are easy to find, you can also try more unusual options, including dwarf varieties as well as upright, taller hybrids that can even be used in cut arrangements.

Using These Attractive Plants

Popular in borders, grouped in planting drifts, or planted in containers for the deck or patio, ornamental cabbage and kale typically grows to 12-18” high and wide, depending on the cultivar. Plant these specimens at least 12” apart in an area with full sun that has moist, well-drained soil. Organically rich soil with proper compost or fertilization is best to provide adequate nutrition for these lush plants. Although they are able to withstand light frosts and snowfalls, ornamental cabbage and kale will typically not survive hard freezes and are best treated as showy annuals.

The best foliage color will occur if ornamental cabbage and kale is planted in early fall as temperatures are cooling, or you can sow seeds 6-10 weeks before the first anticipated frost date – just be sure the seeds have sun exposure in order to germinate properly. These plants are usually attractive in the garden until Thanksgiving or slightly later, or in mild climates they may even last until spring temperatures begin to rise. Hint – when the plants smell like cooked cabbage, it is time to pull them out!

While these plants are superficially similar to the familiar cabbage and kale vegetables popular in salads and other edible uses, it is important to note that ornamental varieties are cultivated for color and shape rather than taste. Keep them out of the kitchen and in the garden instead, and you won’t be sorry!

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Autumn: Why Plant Now?

Although many gardeners plant trees and shrubs in the spring, knowledgeable gardeners plant in the fall to take advantage of all this fabulous season has to offer. But why is fall planting better than spring planting?

  • Stress Reduction
    Transplanting causes stress as plants are removed from containers, balls or established locations and changed to new locations. Planting in the fall, when a plant is entering dormancy and is generally hardier and sturdier, reduces this stress so the plant can thrive.
  • Establishing Strong Roots
    Fall planting “establishes” trees and shrubs by encouraging root growth. Because the soil is still warm, the roots continue to develop until freezing, though the upper parts of the plant are already dormant. When transplanting in the spring, the developed roots are active and delicate tips or rootlets, as well as buds and new leaves, are more easily damaged.
  • Weather Resiliency
    Trees and shrubs planted in the fall are better able to withstand the rigors of the next summer’s heat and dry conditions because they have much longer to develop healthy roots systems and become thoroughly established. This is especially critical in dry climates or areas prone to drought or irregular rainfall.
  • Faster Maturity
    The “head-start” of fall planting results in a larger plant in less time, helping create a mature landscape without waiting for smaller plants to catch up. This can be especially critical when replacing dead or damaged plants in a mature landscape to avoid a gap or uneven look.
  • Water Conservation
    Planting in the fall saves watering time and promotes conservation by eliminating daily watering. Cooler temperatures with the addition of both morning and evening dew contribute greatly to soil moisture availability in fall without as much supplemental watering.
  • Color Confirmation
    Fall is the best time to see a plant’s autumnal color. Planting in the fall eliminates the surprise of the wrong color or unexpected shades that may not coordinate with nearby plants. By planting in autumn, you’ll know exactly what you’re purchasing and planting, and you will be able to match better with your existing landscape.
  • Saving Money
    Last but definitely not least, buying your beautiful trees and shrubs in autumn can save big money. We discount prices on trees and shrubs to create room for holiday season materials and pass the savings on to you. Selection may be more limited later in fall, however, so don’t wait too long to take advantage of great savings.

Autumn can be the ideal time to plant trees and shrubs, whether you are adding to your landscape, replacing plants or starting a whole new look. If you plant in autumn, you’ll be amazed at how lovely your landscape will look next spring.

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Bird Feeding Basics

Winter is the perfect time to think about attracting bird visitors to your yard. Bird watching is a great hobby that can be enjoyed by both younger and older members of the family and getting started is both easy and inexpensive.

Bird Feeders

The type of bird feeders you select will depend on where you want to observe your feathered friends, as well as the kinds of foods you are offering and the types of birds you want to attract.

Hanging feeders, suitable for smaller birds, can be hung from a tree, pole or hook. Platform feeders can be mounted on a pole/post, deck railing or fence, or even just set on the ground. There are also window feeders that can be mounted directly to a window for enjoyment close at hand plus suet feeders or cages which hold suet cakes – a must for attracting insect-eating woodpeckers and nuthatches.

Feeders should be located in a sheltered place where they are not exposed to strong winds or vulnerable to attack from predators such as hawks and cats. Try grouping several different feeders together to attract the maximum number of different birds. All feeders should be kept clean and in good repair.

Bird Seeds

Just like us, birds have certain food preferences. Black oil sunflower seed is one of the most popular seeds, attracting a large variety of different birds. Some seeds such as Nyjer (thistle) are very specific – if you want to attract colorful goldfinches, then this one is for you. Mixes containing sunflower, thistle, cracked corn, millet and other seeds are also available, to tempt many bird visitors. Larger birds that feed on the ground, such as doves, quail and wild turkeys, will love cracked corn.

Natural Food Sources

If you are serious about attracting birds to your yard throughout the year, then think about planting trees, shrubs, perennials and even annuals that will provide natural foods at different times. Birds love berry-producers such as crabapples, and viburnums. Perennial favorites for seed eaters include members of the black-eyed susan family (Rudbeckia), coneflowers (Echinacea), goldenrod (Solidago) and coreopsis. Seed heads of ornamental grasses are also highly sought after. Of the annuals, sunflower (of course!), marigolds and cosmos are popular. Just be sure to leave seed heads on the plants so birds can take advantage of them.

Don’t Forget Water!

Water for bathing and drinking is one of the basic requirements for all birds, even for species that won’t visit feeders. If you already have a bird bath, be sure to keep it filled with clear, fresh water. A bird bath heater will keep water available even during freezing weather. A mister, dripper or bubbler will move the water around and attract even more birds with sparkling splashes.

From feeders and seeds to plants and water sources, we have everything you need to get started attracting birds. Come on in today and you’ll be able to enjoy your feathered friends this fall and winter!

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Cut Christmas Tree Selection and Care

A fresh cut tree can be a wonderful addition to your holiday décor as well as a treasured Christmas tradition. Unfortunately, with poor care a cut tree can be looking wilted and worn long before December 25, but if you know a few tricks, you can keep your tree looking vibrant and lush throughout the season. Extend the life of your cut tree this Christmas and enjoy the beauty of the season much longer! 

  • In selecting a tree, make sure the “handle” at the bottom is long enough to allow the trunk to fit into your tree stand. Otherwise, it will be necessary to remove large branches near the base, which could ruin its appearance, shape and visual balance.
  • Check the tree’s freshness before your purchase by bending, pinching or flexing needles. They should be somewhat pliable and not fall off easily. Avoid purchasing a tree that is already showing signs of dryness.
  • Make a fresh cut to remove 1/4″ to 1″ of wood from the base of the trunk before putting the tree in the stand. If you use a “center pin” stand, make sure the hole is drilled in the stem after the tree is trimmed.
  • Once home, place the tree in water as soon as possible within 1 hour after cutting the trunk. This will help the tree better absorb moisture to keep the needles plump and secure.
  • If needed, trees can be temporarily stored for several days in a cool location, such as a garage, before being taken indoors and decorated. Place the freshly cut trunk in a bucket full of water. The tree may need to be supported to keep it from tipping over.
  • To display the trees indoors, use a stand with an adequate water holding capacity for the tree. As a general rule, stands should provide 1 quart of water per inch of stem diameter.
  • Use a stand that fits your tree. Some stands have circular rings at the top, so the ring must be large enough for the trunk to fit through the hole. Other stands are open, which may allow a greater range in trunk size. Avoid whittling the sides of the trunk down to fit a stand. The outer layers of wood are the most efficient in taking up water and should not be removed.
  • Keep your tree away from sources of heat such as fireplaces, heaters, heating vents and direct sunlight, all of which can make it dry out more quickly. Lowering the room temperature will slow the drying process, resulting in less water consumption each day.
  • Check the stand daily to make sure that the level of water does not go below the base of the tree. With many stands, there can still be water in the stand even though the base of the tree is no longer submerged an unable to absorb water.
  • Do not use additives in the water, including floral preservatives, commercial tree preservatives, molasses, sugar, bleach, soft drinks, aspirin, honey, etc. Clean water is all that is needed to maintain the tree’s freshness.
  • Miniature lights, particularly LEDs and other energy-efficient bulbs, will produce much less heat and reduce drying of the tree. Do not overload the tree with too many lights.
  • Always inspect light sets prior to placing them on the tree. If worn, replace with a new set. And, do not overload electrical circuits, fuses or circuit breakers.
  • Always turn off the lights when leaving the house or when going to bed. Minimize how long the lights are on, such as not leaving the lights on during the day when they are less visible.
  • Monitor the tree for freshness by bending or pinching needles to test their flexibility. After Christmas or if the tree is dry and brittle, remove it from the house.

With just a few common sense steps, you can find a lovely fresh cut tree and keep it beautiful throughout the holiday season.

Fall Gardener’s Calendar

SEPTEMBER

Spray Bonide All-Season Spray on hemlocks to control woolly adelgid.

Spruce up the landscape by planting Fall Pansies, Flowering Cabbage & Kale,  Garden Mums,  Fall-Blooming Perennials as well as Trees and Shrubs.

Test your lawn pH to determine if you need to apply sulfur this season.  Sulfur should be applied at a rate of 1-2 lbs. per 100 sq. ft.

Pick up your Spring Flowering Bulbs like tulips, daffodils, crocus, hyacinths, and more!  An Auger for the drill will also help make planting easier.

Plant cool-season salad greens (arugula, lettuce, radishes and spinach) in cold frames.

Apply Superphosphate now to coax stubborn plants into bloom next year.

Aerate, re-seed and apply Fall Lawn Food to the lawn.  Keep grass seed damp; water every day if necessary.  You will also want to check for grubs.  Increased activities of skunks, raccoons and moles as well as brown patches that peel back easily are an indication of grub activity.  Apply granular Grub Free Zone III to control the grubs. 

Treat houseplants with Systemic Granules and Spinosad Soap now to get rid of any insects before bringing them into the house prior to the first frost.

Clean out garden ponds and pools.  Cover with Pond Netting before the leaves start falling.

OCTOBER

Plant bulbs.  Fertilize with Bone Meal and water in well.

Divide daylilies and spring-blooming perennials, including iris and peonies. Don’t be tempted to prune your spring flowering shrubs like forsythia, lilac,  spirea or viburnum or you will destroy next year’s buds.

Rake leaves from the lawn and lower the mower blade.  Check your compost pile.  Now is a good time to add Compost Maker to help break down brown leaves and lawn clippings.

Dig up summer-flowering bulbs, such as dahlias, cannas, tuberous begonias, and gladiolus after the frost kills the top growth.  Treat them with Bulb Dust, pack them in Peat Moss, and store them in a ventilated area for winter.

Fertilize your trees with Jobes Tree Spikes or Baicor Tree Feast after the leaves fall. Fertilize shrubs with Ferti-lomeTree and Shrub Food.  Spray hemlock again with Bonide All-Season Spray Oil.

Set up bird feeders.  Clean out birdbaths, refill and purchase heaters for the winter.

End of October- Clean up and destroy diseased rose leaves and debris surrounding shrubs and perennials. Mound 10-12 inches of mulch around roses to protect from winter damage. 

Apply Sunnyside Gardens’ Winterizer to the lawn.

Remove annuals, roots and all, and add to your compost pile, but do not add any diseased material to it.

Cut back perennials unless they feature ornamental seed heads and Fertilize with 8-16-8.  Prune long raspberry and rose canes back to a height of three feet.  Clean up your beds and gardens to avoid harboring insects and diseases over the winter.

Pot hardy spring bulbs (crocus, daffodil, hyacinth,and tulip) and place in a cold frame or cool garage (40 degrees) or sink into the ground and mulch.  Keep evenly moist.

Update garden records, noting successes and failures, gaps in planting, future planting and landscape changes.

Water all landscape plants well and mulch before the winter cold sets in.

Spray evergreens with Wilt Pruf for protection against wind and cold weather.