Seasonal Gardening Guide – Your March Checklist

Here in upstate New York, spring sometimes takes its time in coming. Yes, the date on the calendar for the first day of spring is the same every year, but the weather isn’t! Some years, we enjoy warm weather in March and we’re outside in t-shirts. Other times, the snow stays on the ground and we don’t get a warm-up until April. Either way, there are still some things you can do, or start to think about, in March. Depending on what the weather brings THIS year, see if you can check some of these spring chores off your list:

Depending on what the weather brings THIS year, see if you can check some of these spring chores off your list:

  • General Garden Cleanup: Once the snow is gone, check your garden and landscape beds for debris, such as leaves that didn’t get removed in the fall, and broken branches from winter snowfall. Remove the debris so beds will be ready for spring planting and/or mulching.
  • Soil Testing: If it’s been a while since you last had your soil tested, give us a call. We may be able to test your soil for you, or point you in the right direction for where you can get it done. Knowing what is in your soil, as well as what’s missing, will help you determine what you might need for soil amendments and fertilizers to improve plant growth and health. (Note: You will want to wait until the soil is thawed out and at least 50 degrees F before taking a sample.)
  • Fruit Tree Pruning: Early March is typically a great time to prune fruit trees, while they are still dormant and before buds start to swell. Dead or diseased branches should be removed, as well as suckers and any branches that are rubbing against others or compromising the structure of the tree. Good pruning practice includes sterilizing your pruners before each cut.
  • Perennial Care: When the snow cover is gone, inspect perennial beds. If some plants, such as grasses, did not get trimmed back in the fall, cut them back to the ground now. Also move leaves or other debris away from the base of the plants.
  • Start Vegetable Seeds Indoors: If you’re planning a vegetable garden this year, it’s time to start them growing from seed inside so they’ll be ready to plant in the garden once the danger of frost has passed. Check your seed packets carefully to determine how long seeds take to germinate and how soon afterward they should be planted outside. You want your plants to be ready to go in the garden when it’s the right time, but you don’t want them to be too tiny or overgrown from starting them at the wrong time indoors.

March is also a great time to think about your overall gardening plans for the year. Our landscape maintenance division is ready to help with your lawn care needs, and our design-build team can help with landscape design and installation. Or, if you are a Do-It-Yourself gardener, be sure to stop in to our garden center for all your plant needs this spring!

toadflax-frostWinterizing the Yard

Here in the north country, we face the inevitable in November and December every single year ‐ cooling temperatures and possible snowfall.  As the temperature drops, you may be tempted to spend more time indoors curled up next to a cozy fire.  If you have a lawn, garden or landscape bed, however, there are a few things you should do first to help your plants make it through the winter and be ready for spring when it comes.

  • Rake up and dispose of thick layers of leaves on your lawn

A few leaves on your lawn won’t hurt, and may even help the grass if they’re broken into small pieces and decompose over the winter.  A thick carpet of leaves, however, can become compacted over time and can suffocate the grass below. This will cause the health of your lawn to deteriorate.  Instead, rake or blow large amounts of leaves from the lawn. If you need help, Toadflax Lawn Maintenance is only a phone call away.

  • Use leaves from your lawn as mulch

Although large amounts of leaves are best kept off the lawn during the winter, they can be of use in other areas of your yard.  Put raked leaves into the compost pile and let them decompose with other yard waste over the winter.  Or, spread them evenly throughout your flower beds, providing a winter blanket for your gardens and adding valuable organic material back into the soil as they decompose.

  • Watch for browning needles on conifers

As temperatures approach freezing and below, it’s normal for some conifers to show browning of the needles, especially towards the interior of the plant.  This can be unsightly and it is okay to remove the dead areas with pruners.  Or, if you just leave them alone and let nature take its course, the dead areas will fall to the ground on their own and you can dispose of them then.

  • Remove dead plants & trim perennials

As the weather turns colder, most annuals begin to die.  Removing the unsightly plants from your garden not only improves the look of the garden but it will also make your spring cleanup job easier.  Perennials in the same area may look dead too.  This is because their top growth dies back, but it does not mean that the entire plant is dead.  Go ahead and remove the dead growth and place mulch around the root ball to help protect it from the extreme winter temperatures.  Don’t cover the center of the plant, however, as this could cause it to rot and die.

  • Take care of potted plants

Many people enjoy the looks of potted perennials or tropical plants throughout the growing season.  These need to be prepared for winter, however, or they won’t survive the colder temperatures.  Perennials can be left in their pots outside, but place them in a sunny area and cover the pots with mulch to provide similar insulation to what they would have if they were planted in the ground.  Tropical plants, however, will not survive in this climate if they are left outdoors during the winter.  They can remain in their existing pots but should be brought indoors and placed in an area where they have plenty of light.  They will still need to be watered throughout the winter, but not as frequently, and they won’t need to be fertilized again until spring.

  • Plant more perennials

As long as the ground isn’t frozen, it’s usually safe to plant perennials, trees and shrubs in the fall.  Planting them early in the fall versus later, however, will give them more time to become acclimated to their new surroundings and establish roots before the winter weather hits.

  • Keep turning the compost pile

If you’ve made your own compost pile from yard waste and/ or household food scraps, it’s just as important to maintain it throughout the winter as it is to do so in the spring and summer.  The internal temperature of the pile will be cooler during the winter months, however, and result in slower decomposition of the organic material in the pile.  You can help raise the internal temperature by continuing to turn the pile and also covering it with a thick layer of fall leaves.  The leaves will add more nutrients to the organic matter as they decompose and will also insulate the pile.

  • Plant a cover crop

If you are like many gardeners, you plant your vegetable garden in the same place each year and just till up the ground each spring before planting time.   Even with crop rotation, however, your garden soil can become depleted of essential nutrients over time.   To combat this, add nutrient‐rich soils and fertilizers each year when you prepare your garden, or plant a cover crop in the fall. Cover crops can add vital nutrients and replenish what has been removed from the soil.

  • Take care of gardening tools and equipment

Remove any water from sprinklers, hoses, and irrigation systems.  Otherwise, water left in them will freeze and may cause them to crack or burst.

  • Evaluate your gardening efforts

Once your outdoor spaces have been prepared for winter, it’s a great time to start thinking about what you want to do next year.  Start by evaluating what worked best this year and what could be improved to provide even better results next season.  Winter is the perfect time to look through gardening books or talk to our gardening professionals here at Toadflax Nursery to get new ideas and inspiration, either for your existing gardens or new ones.

Beautiful Blooming Bulbs

Flowering BulbsThere’s nothing more exciting after a long winter than seeing little shoots of green popping up through the ground and new flowers showing their faces soon after. In order to have spring blooms, however, there’s some planning ahead that is required. Here are some of our favorite tips for choosing and planting bulbs that will make your spring yard a blooming paradise:

Choose quality bulbs

Beautiful blooms start with high quality bulbs. Be sure to check them for firmness and freshness (you want them firm and full, not mushy and moldy). In general, the larger the bulb the larger the bloom. Purchasing bulbs locally from the garden center will allow you to personally inspect them before you buy.

Pick the right planting area

Like any plant, bulbs require proper conditions in order to survive and thrive. Most prefer full sun and soil that drains well, both of which will help prevent bulb rot, but be sure to ask us if you are unsure of the ideal planting area for the bulbs you have chosen.

Plant at the proper time

What time of year you plant the bulbs is determined by when you want to see blooms. For early spring flowers, bulbs should be planted in the fall when the soil is cooler. For summer blooms, plant bulbs in the spring after the last frost date.

Plant at the right depth and position

One of the most common concerns regarding bulb planting is how deep and in which direction to plant them. In general, they should be planted in a hole that is two or three times the height of the bulb. Not every bulb is exactly the same, however, so be sure to read instructions carefully or ask us for help. If the bulb has a pointed end, plant it with that end up; otherwise, look for roots and they should be planted down.

Soil, water, and mulch

To ensure that your bulbs get the nutrients they need, add compost to the soil and make sure that the soil drains well. Furthermore, bulbs require watering, just like any other plant- just make sure they don’t stay too wet. Adding several inches of mulch on top of the planting area will help keep weeds at bay and won’t prevent the bulbs from poking through.

How Flowering Herbs Can Contribute to Your Garden

lavenderIt’s time to start planning your garden! Spring has arrived (even though the snow makes it hard to remember which season it really is) and summer will be here before we know it. It’s time to think about what we want to grow and plant in our gardens and our landscapes this year. We have so many new plants for 2018, and we can’t wait to show you! But one thing we think would be a great addition to your garden are flowering herbs – they’re nice to look at, smell great and are a great addition to a healthy lifestyle!

Considering that we live in a pretty northern climate, you’ll need to do some garden planning beforehand, so you know which ones to choose. Our landscape designers recommend selecting herbs that will complement existing elements in your garden. You’ll need to consider the size of your garden, how quickly your herbs will reseed, when your region’s blooming season occurs, and the color and scent that you’re hoping for.

Cultivating herbs to stand side-by-side with perennials is a tradition going back centuries. It will give your garden that “cottage feel,” by adding a layer of romanticism, interest and freshness.

Our Favorite Flowering Herbs

Lavender is the perfect addition, if you’re looking for some color and fragrance. It blooms mid-summer and can tolerate heat. The most common types are English and French lavender. Lavender is also a natural pest repellent. Consider planting it near outdoor seating to repel mosquitos and attract butterflies. A tough perennial, lavender will last for several years if conditions are right.

Anise hyssop is another delicate and aromatic herb that grows well in gardens. It is a flowering perennial of the mint family, well suited as an ornamental. Experts say that a location with full or partial sun works best. Anise hyssop prefers well-drained soil, attracts butterflies, and is a low-maintenance addition to any garden.

Sage is another great addition for your garden. It is an herb with a pine-like aroma, delicate flowers, and soft foliage. Sage can be a perennial or an annual and comes in both blooming and non-blooming varieties. It can basically grow anywhere and one of the best advantages is that the flowers are edible as decorations on cakes, in salads, or as a garnish!

coneflowerThe purple coneflower is another one to consider. It is bred in a wide variety of colors and this tends to be a very visible plant. They grow, on average, two to four feet tall and need at least five hours of sunlight each day. Coneflowers bloom from early- to mid-summer and will thrive until the first frost. They’re rich in nectar, making them popular with bees and butterflies.

Catmint is another great flowering herb to consider with its slight aromatic scent. Do you have deer in your yard? Catmint is a tough, deer-resistant perennial that’s also drought-tolerant. It comes in a variety of soft colors too.

Lemon verbena is also a great choice in the garden. It is a bushy herb with a sweet, lemony scent and delicate pink or white flowers.

Looking for even more? There’s rosemary, ornamental oregano, lemon-scented thyme – all of which you can use for cooking or boiling for their scent.

These are just some of the best flowering herbs you can add to your garden this summer. Part of the fun of mastering the art of gardening is to try new combination! Try your hand at growing some new plants and herbs and see what other types of things you can utilize as you cultivate them. There’s nothing better than finding success in your own efforts. We can help you with every part of the process. Come on in to our garden center this spring and let’s get your garden plan ready for the summer months.

Landscape Lighting is the Secret to an Outstanding Space

Nightscaping is one of the hottest trends in home improvement today. It is an often overlooked design feature outside your home but is something you’re bound to enjoy as it will call you outside on those perfect evenings.   Most of us spend our days working inside rather than outside. Many nights, once we get home, fix dinner, take care of the kids or finish up chores the sunlight has faded. Without the right landscape lighting, there may not even be a reason to go outside at all. Soft outdoor lighting will not only enhance your deck, patio or yard, it has the ability to transform it into a place you’ll love to be – no matter if it is already dark out or not.   Imagine a warm summer night, a soft breeze in the air, an inviting patio with soft landscape lighting and your favorite relaxing playlist. Pure bliss, right? A well designed and lit outdoor space is exactly what you need to enjoy your home just a little bit more. Whether you are alone with the family or entertaining guests – it can set the mood and expand your living space into the great outdoors.  

Advantages of Landscape Lighting

  • Provide a warm, inviting ambience for you and your guests
  • Create any type of mood you’d like it to – romantic, dramatic and intriguing designs are all options
  • Highlight your plants and flowers around the garden or landscape setting
  • Highlight the focal points of your outdoor area
  • Hide eyesores
  • Accent special plants or trees
  • Add security for your home – lights often deter burglars and crime
  • Add a layer of safety by highlighting paths for walking or avoiding dangerous things around the yard
  • Highlight the beautiful architectural features of your home
  • Create a festive place to entertain your guests
Our landscape design specialists can help you plan the perfect nightscape setting for your home. When you have a beautiful space to come home and relax in, you will enjoy life just a little bit more.   Whether you use your outdoor space to entertain friends and family, or you prefer to use it as your own quiet little oasis, outdoor lighting can create the perfect atmosphere for enjoying outdoor living. We encourage you to give our landscape designers a call and see how we can help you create a landscape lighting plan, utilizing the latest design techniques, that will work within your space and your budget.

How to Attract Birds in the Winter

Have you ever spent any time trying to attract birds to your garden? It’s an entertaining pastime, and can even be quite rewarding, to tally up the various species that visit the feeders and bird friendly landscaping in the garden. While many homeowners look for their birds during the spring and summer months, there is actually a great need to help our fine feathered friends during the long cold days of winter.

During the winter months, birds spend most of their time and energy seeking out food, water and shelter. It can be a desperate time for them, especially here in Upstate New York when the temperatures plummet and snow blankets most of their feeding grounds. With a little bit of planning, however, you can transform your garden into a prime location for birds to find both shelter and sustenance.

The selection of trees, plants and shrubs you choose for your landscaping can offer birds both the food and shelter they need to survive. Not only will you be providing a refuge for them, you will be able to enjoy seeing and hearing them all year long. You will also be providing some much-needed color and contrast into your winter landscape as well!

Plant in Layers

Some birds prefer higher trees for shelter and food, while others prefer to be closer to the grounds. So when you look around your yard, consider the differing layers – a canopy of tall trees, an under-canopy of smaller trees, a shrub layer, and various ground covers and/or vines. The more variety your offer, the greater the variety of birds you’re likely to attract.

Provide Adequate Food Sources

Food is the single most important thing you can provide for your feathered friends. Food can be rather scarce during the winter months and trying to find enough food consumes most of their time. By providing a source of seed and nut bearing trees to your yard, you make their hunt much easier.

Consider adding evergreens, junipers, firs, hemlock and spruces to your yard, which will provide both shelter and food. These trees provide a great food source for birds such as chickadees, woodpeckers and grosbeaks.

Trees such as oaks, walnuts and hickories won’t necessarily provide much in the way of shelter, but the nuts they provide are an excellent source of food for many different birds.

Don’t forget about fruit-bearing trees and shrubs as well. There are varieties that hold onto their fruit throughout the winter months. Winterberry, holly, bayberry, viburnum and photinia will provide food all winter long. Flowering crabapple trees and dogwoods are also a winter favorite of birds. As an added bonus, they all provide some amazing color and interest in your garden as well.

Go WILD with your Landscape

What we mean by this is don’t immediately cut everything back in the fall. Sure, it will look nice and give you that well-manicured look, but you will be taking away a fantastic source of food and shelter. Native grasses that emerge later in the season will provide flower seeds for your birds to feast on as well as good coverage for them. Many of them also put on a beautiful show of color during the fall and winter months as well. Hair grass, switch glass and bluestem are all great choices.

You can also leave your perennials as is throughout the winter months. Just like the native grasses, perennial flowers produce seeds that provide much needed nutrients. If you can refrain from snipping their seed heads back until springtime, the birds will thank you! Birds love Coneflowers, sunflowers, Black-eyed Susans and Coreopsis for their abundant seeds.

Offer Plenty of Water

It might seem like birds would have plenty of access to water during the winter, but they really don’t. Having access to a clean source of water is critical for survival during the winter. Make sure your birdbath is still accessible during the winter months and that the water doesn’t stay frozen.

There are portable warming devices you can utilize that will de-ice your birdbath during the cold months. You might also want to consider investing in a heated birdbath. As long as they have access to fresh water daily they have a much greater chance of survival.

Even the smallest changes in your landscaping can make a huge impact for the birds in your area. By just adding a few bird friendly shrubs or trees, your garden will soon become a valuable resource for your feathered friends.

New York State Pride in Apple Growing

toadflax-applesHere in New York State, we have a lot to be proud of, and our apple growing is just one. We produce approximately one-fifth of the total United States production, growing different varieties at the same time as quantity. Apples are essential to good health and are rewarding to grow. According to Cornell University, “Apples are a very significant part of the diet and are one of the best sources of antioxidant phenolic compounds in the Western world.” They have also identified a dozen compounds, called triterpenoids, in apple peels that inhibited cancer cells from growing in other studies. We have put together a list of the most popular NY apple varieties and some information and qualities for each type.
  • Empire apples – It’s a sweet-tart combination that’s great for everything. It is said to be the perfect blend of sweet and tart, and is juicy and crisp, with a tender white flesh. Great for eating and salads. Also good for sauce, baking, pies, and freezing. The New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva introduced this variety whose parent varieties are McIntosh and Red Delicious in 1966.
  • McIntosh apples – People have enjoyed this apple since 1811 when John McIntosh discovered the first seedling. McIntosh apples grow particularly well in New York’s cool climate! They are sweet with a tart tang, very juicy, and have a tender white flesh. They are excellent for eating, sauce, salads, and pies.
  • Red delicious apples – Red Delicious have the slight tartness so characteristic of apples from New York. They are sweet, juicy, and have a crisp yellow flesh. They are excellent for eating and salads.
  • Cortland apples – This great all-purpose apple was developed at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva in 1898. They are sweet with a hint of tartness, juicy, and have a tender white flesh. They are good for freezing, eating, salads, baking, and pies.
  • Golden delicious apples – These apples have a mildly sweet flavor, are juicy, and have a crisp light yellow flesh. They are excellent for eating, salads, sauce, baking, pies, and freezing. You can cut down the sugar in pies and sauces made from Golden Delicious apples.
  • Red Rome apple – This old time variety originated in Ohio in 1816, but is widely grown in New York State. They are mildly tart and have a firm, greenish white flesh. Excellent for sauce, baking, pies, salad, and freezing.
  • Gala apples – This is a new variety developed in New Zealand. It is said to have the mild flavor that “picky eaters” prefer and a bright yellow-red color that is visually appealing. They have a mild, sweet flavor, are juicy, and have a crisp, creamy yellow finish. Excellent for eating and salads.
  • Honeycrisp apples – They have a “honey-sweet” taste, a complex sweet-tart flavor, are juicy, and have a super yellow crisp finish. They are excellent for eating, salads, baking, pies, and sauce.
  • Braeburn apples – Great for snacks and salads, this type of apple is a great choice. It has a sweet and tangy flavor, is aromatic and juicy, and has a super crisp texture with yellow flesh. It is also excellent for snacking, cooking, salads, and sauce.
  • Macoun apples – This apple is the perfect way to satisfy your sweet tooth! Macouns are extra sweet and aromatic, very juicy, and are excellent for eating fresh, sauces, and salads.
  • Fuji apples – Fujis are great snacking apples. Super sweet, super juicy, and super crisp. Excellent in salads, eating fresh, and making sauce.
  • Jonagold apples – Jonagold is the perfect baking apple. It has a honey-sweet flavor with a hint of tartness. The crisp, creamy yellow flesh is juicy and is good for pies and freezing. They make great fried apples! Simply sauté in a little butter with a little cinnamon. No sugar needed!