Those of us who live in colder climates may be thinking it’s time to rehab last year’s tender succulent containers. Over the winter, these planters have been trying to soak up as much sun as possible on windowsills and in sunrooms, but it’s a sure thing that by mid spring many of the plants have become unbecomingly leggy. You have two options: disassemble the planter, plant by plant, then cut back and replant in fresh soil, or if the planter is not too overcrowded or out of proportion, you can see if just trimming back is the answer.
I’m encouraging you to be ruthless when you cut back. After cutting off their heads these plants won’t look happy immediately, but the alternative could become down right ugly (and, any cuttings that are pinched back can be stuck in sand and rooted for more plants). You may find that some of the spreading succulents have exceeded their bounds and need to be lifted and divided…but you can use these pieces to tuck in around the container where their are “plant gaps”. Fertilize your planter …we use a seaweed/fish emulsion. It will take a number of weeks and some warm sunny weather for your planters to start to perk up.
Vertical Succulent Gardens are often in need of cutting back and editing. We usually leave our vertical planters horizontal on benches during the winter, to minimize stretching. Still some plants such as the rosettes of Sempervivum or Echeveria may have become overwhelmed by creeping Sedum and Delosperma, and need to be replaced. We take fresh cuttings and secure them in place with floral pins. Fertilize with seaweed/fish emulsion , keeping the wall planter flat while the new cuttings root in, and move outside as soon as nights stay in the 50′s or above. In a few weeks, growth will begin to fill in the empty spaces, and then you can hang.
If you’re like me, once the snow retreated you walked about your garden searching for hints of growth. For me the first signs came from the snowdrops and now the crocus are showing color, as well as the narcissus which are sending forth their green pencil shoots. We’ve cut back the old Epimedium and Helleborus hybridus foliage. Ah yes, there they are: the tightly curled flower buds just waiting for a bout of milder temperatures.
Our conifers are all looking okay, and right now the tropical looking Trochodendron we planted last summer is looking pretty darn good (fingers kept crossed). On the other hand the Bamboos, both the Fargesia rufa and Phyllostyachys aureasulcata, took a real beating. The browned foliage will be replenished with new growth, but the thing is that won’t happen until mid May…. can we really stand looking at it for that long? We have no choice but to live with our brown Phyllostachys forest, but we may just have to cut the Fargesia to the ground and spare ourselves the view of winter’s scourge. It means we’ll sacrifice some height this year, but I’m sure we’ll get at least 3’ of it back this summer, and next year the Fargesia should reach 6’ or more.
It’s still too soon to tell with most perennials. Unless the evidence is an obviously mushy crown, it’s really just a wait and see. We’ve had many a plant resurrect itself from deep roots in late spring, once the earth has sufficiently warmed. Good news is the Beesia deltophylla, covered with a blanket of fallen leaves for the winter is promising growth.
Here’s what I recommend. Take pictures of the what your garden looks like now, and then document again in 6-8 weeks. Keep these images as a record of reference for the future, so when things look skeptical in early spring, you have hope.
You wouldnt know it by looking out my window today, but this past Sunday afternoon it hit 50 degrees. I walked about the garden taking inventory, and just as I had hoped, buds were beginning to swell on spring flowering trees and shrubs. To my delight, the Hamamelis (witch hazel) blossoms were beginning to open. It was a perfect time to cut some branches for forcing indoors.
Forcing is not difficult, but it helps to understand a few basics. Many woody plants (trees and shrubs) set their flowering buds during the previous growing season. They must undergo a dormant period (about 6 weeks) of cold temperatures. A sustained warm moist spell following this dormant period will break dormancy. You need to mimic this warm moist spell to trick your cut branches into thinking it is spring.
1. Walk about your garden in search of subjects, observe, and prune
You can actually tackle some pruning as you search for stems for forcing. As you select branches, remember to consider the shape you want your tree or shrub to grow. Prune on a mild day, preferably in the afternoon. The day’s warmth will aid the plant in taking up water and sugars from the roots. Branches force more easily if they are less than 1/2 inch in diameter.
One of the easiest plants to break dormancy is Forsythia. Other plants to consider are Willows (Salix), Witch hazel (Hamamelis), Winter hazel (Corylopsis), Quince (Chaenomeles), Viburnum, Dogwood (Cornus), Flowering Cherry (Prunus). I thought I would experiment a bit while I was taking inventory , so I also cut branches of Spirea, Magnolia and Birch (Betula).
2. Hydrate your stems
After you have gathered your array, fill a deep bucket or large pan with warm water, (for really big branches a bathtub works quite well). Submerge your cut branches in the warm water and leave them in a warm spot overnight. You can add a small amount of lemon-lime soda or even Listerine (approx. 1T per quart of water) which will act as a preservative. The next day, under very warm running water, make fresh cuts to your branches. If you have thick branches (1/2 or more), you can split and splay the stems an inch or so for better water absorption. Begin to arrange, or keep these stems in a cool space (45-50 degrees) for a week or so, until you are ready to arrange them.
3. Create your arrangement
In a fresh vase of water with a bit of preservative, create your arrangement. Some branches will burst open immediately, but others will need more coaxing. Remember your first attempts are about experimenting. Branches which have an interesting shape or color will look fabulous even if they do not force (I’m thinking about the curly willow I used). Every week or two venture outside and select more branches. Take notes on what stems forced well in early February, and which ones might require more time outdoors as winter weather transitions into early spring.
I will post an image of this container in about a week, and you can see how successful I was.
Hinoki Cypress Wreath with Elkhorn Cedar. Love the little cones on the Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa) and the undersides of Elkhorn Cedar (Thujopsis dolobrata) are fabulous!
Mixed Greens Wreath. Dwarf Blue Spruce (Picea glauca ‘Montgomery’), Littleleaf Boxwood (Buxus sinica ‘Justin Brouwer’), plus several cultivars of Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa cvs. ‘Confucious’, ‘Crippsi’, and ‘Jade’)
Mixed Greens Wreath with Golden Berried Blue Holly (Ilex meserve ‘Golden Girl’), Littleleaf Boxwood (Buxus sinica ‘Justin Brouwer’), Various Hinoki Cypress
Littleleaf Boxwood (Buxus sinica ‘Justin Brouwer’) with Blue Holly (Ilex meserve ‘Blue Princess’ ) plus wreath making supplies
After 25 years of planting unusual evergreens on our property, I feel like now our plants have enough growth to afford plenty of interesting options for creating winter wreaths. This year’s crop provided me with lots of interesting material, and while I was taking cuttings I was also pruning at the same time.
I hate making the same composition twice, so each wreath has a character of its own. I’ve used various wreath making forms in the past, but this year I went back to using wire forms which I covered with moistened long fiber sphagnum moss secured with a 22 gauge florist wire.
Here are a few tips:
- You will need a lot of material for even a small form, especially if you want big fat full wreaths. The amount shown in the silver pan was just about enough to create a 16″ wreath.
- If your base is 12″ wide, expect the finish sized to be about 18″ (or more in diameter, depending how far out your branches extend).
- Broadleaf greens such as Boxwood, Holly and Rhododendron desiccate quickly, especially if they are placed in a warm space or in a sunny spot. Using a base that has moistened sphagnum and tucking in the branch tips of the little bunches helps keep them hydrated. Mist or soak your boxwood or holly wreath often. Also, applying an anti desiccant helps prevent the leaves from drying out.
- Holly berries are often tucked along the inner lower branches. Try to position the cuttings so you can see the berries, then trim back as necessary.
- Repetition of your assorted bundles helps you create a balanced circle.
- After you create your wreath, hang it and step back to see where it may need editing. You can always trim back or tuck in more cuttings.
- Weather resistant ribbons add a touch of color to simple wreaths made from one or 2 plants, such as boxwood or holly. I prefer not to use ribbon when I have a lot of interesting leaves and cones to admire.
As much as gardeners quickly express frustration about weather, insect pests, or deer browsing, we really are a thankful lot. We are thankful more often than we acknowledge : for sunshine, rain, snow cover, good bugs, birds, rich earth….Most importantly, I think we are grateful for the plants which grace our gardens.
After yesterday’s much needed torrential rainfall (thankful!), this morning’s view from my window is tranquil except for the activity at the bird feeders. I’m viewing a corner of our garden which is designed with plants that provide winter interest: Hinoki Cypress Chamaecyparis obtusa, Japanese Forest Grass Hakonechloa macro, Little Bluestem Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Blue Heaven’ , Hellebores Helleborus ‘Golden Lotus’, a beloved Japanese Maple Acer palmatum ‘Katsura‘, a Wheel Tree Trochodendron aralioides (recently planted, fingers crossed…putting it through the hardiness test) plus the showiest plant right now, Winterberry, Ilex verticillata ‘Berry Heavy’ which like all of the hollies this year is heavy with fruit.
Soon the birds will pick off the winterberry fruit, and this picture will change as it will again and again throughout the year. I am reluctant to see blossoms fade and watch leaves fall, but then I realize I am truly grateful that this picture from my window is always changing. A new day, a new season awaits which will provide new gifts to be thankful for.
We’ve been asked recently if we had ever written a post on wintering over tender plants in cold climates. The answer is yes, we have, but it certainly would be convenient if we posted easy access links to the 3 articles for those who may have missed the postings or for those who want a quick refresher.
We plant up some pretty large non winter hardy succulent containers here at Avant Gardens, and we are always asked “Do you move that big pot inside for the winter?” Our answer: “No, we just take it apart and repot the plants which we especially want to save.” Yes, space is always an issue, and we have greenhouses.
Most home gardeners do not have a greenhouse, but have a sunroom or a bright indoor space that is south or southwest facing. Non hardy succulents do not need a lot of heat, and will be fine in spaces that stay above 35-40F degrees. This could mean a space in a cool attic, basement or in a garage that stays above freezing. Because available space is often limited, you may want to select the choicest, slower growing specimens (such as a large Echeveria or Aeonium) and not save every small clump of sedum or string of pearls.
Here is a brief photo essay demonstrating the dismantling of a big planter. Be sure to have on hand an array of different sized containers and a sharp draining succulent potting mix to pot up your specimens.
Your planters are probably looking spectacular in September, before nights start dipping into the 30′s.
Last October we were surprised one morning when temperatures dipped below freezing the night before, and realized it was time to bring our plants indoors.
Transfer the lifted plants into a handy wheelbarrow or cart.
You don’t want to use pots that are too big. Remember you probably do not have a lot of room, plus the pots (roots) will stay drier if there is not excess soil.
Do not fertilize during the winter, and water only as needed. The frequency will depend on how warm and sunny a space you have. Check for pests periodically. Mealybug has a way of suddenly appearing on plants indoors. A simple cure is using rubbing alcohol on a Q-tip or piece of cloth and rubbing off the offenders. Rotate the pots so that your plants do not lean in only one direction towards the light.
If at the end of the winter you have rather awkward, leggy plants, do not be afraid to cut them back sharply. The plants will respond with new tighter growth as longer days provide more sunlight. If you want more babies, let the cuttings heel and then stick on a slightly moist propagating tray of sand and perlite. Begin a light fertilizing program in March or April, as when plants and or cuttings show new growth. We recommend an all purpose seaweed/fish emulsion for succulents.
I have always thought that what makes great visual art is when an object or painting compels you to look at it again and again. I feel the same way about plants and gardens, and containers. Of course, plants are constantly changing, so plantings are ephemeral compositions. Perhaps that’s why we want to take in their beauty all the more.
Here are some planted containers that have looked good all summer, and still do in mid September.
We did a posting of some planted containers in early July. A number of these containers sold, and we hear they still look smashing.
As you can see, it’s mostly about foliage. What are your favorite container combinations from this season?
Our Succulent Wreath Workshops on Saturday June 16th were a great success. I promise we’ll do another one before the summer is over, but we need to get more growth on all of our stock plants because of the tremendous number of cuttings needed. In the meantime, for all those who asked, here’s a quick “how to” in case you have a supply of cuttings on hand from your own garden and containers.
First, gather lots of cuttings. Select a variety of sizes and shapes: rosettes from Sempervivum and Echeveria, filler plants such as cuttings from low growing hardy and tender Sedum. Remember that these plants will take root and begin to grow in the sphagnum wreath form, so you don’t want to select from plants that want to reach tall proportions. It seems all succulents mix and match well, but try to select light medium and dark tones so your wreath has dimension and contrast.
Begin by soaking a sphagnum moss wreath (we used a 9″ premade form) in water. Start by using the larger rosette forms if you have them, distributing them equally around the wreath. Use a pencil, bamboo skewer or other pointed utensil to poke a hole for the succulent stems. Remove any lower leaves off the stems if necessary to position your rosette in the hole. Use topiary pins to help secure your cutting in place, but try to make the pins discreet.
Be sure to tuck creepers on the inner and outer sides of the formso that they take root and hide the moss.
Continue to use up your cuttings. It’s really hard to screw up here. If you still see moss when you run out of cuttings, don’t worry, these babies will take root and spread. If the cuttings spread more than you like, snip them back (which you will have to do eventually).
Carefully move your wreath into a sunny warm spot where it can remain undisturbed until the cuttings root. When the sphagnum form feels dry, you can soak the form in a basin or spray with water (in the morning or at the end of the day, so water spots don’t sunburn the leaves) . It will take approximately 4-6 weeks for the cuttings to root in. Do not over water. Wait until the cuttings are rooted before you fertilize. Do not over fertilize. We recommend using a Seaweed/Fish Emulsion. If you hang your wreath, you will want to rotate it occasionally so that the plantlets don’t all start reaching for the sky. You can also periodically lie the wreath flat in a sunny location to prevent “stretching” from occurring. Enjoy!
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It’s about to begin. In a couple of weeks here in southern New England, (late November), we’ll start to notice clouds of dull gray brown moths fluttering about at night, attracted to the glow of porch and street lights. Mating season for the Winter Moth, Operophtera brumata, is about to begin as both male and female moths emerge from their pupae. They will procreate into December, or as long as mild enough temperatures prevail.
In our recent research for the best methods to combat this destructive pest (Winter Moth caterpillars devour new plant growth on many of our most highly desirable ornamental trees and shrubs), we came across great news! University of Massachusetts Entomologist Joe Elkinton and his team have solid evidence that a parasitic fly, Cyzenis albicans, is an impressive natural control for Winter Moth. At four test sites where the parasite has been released throughout southeastern MA (Seekonk, Hingham, Falmouth and Wellesley) populations of winter moth have dramatically decreased. Here is a link to an article.
Isn’t that fantastic to read? However, while we are waiting for this helpful parasitic fly to move into our neighborhoods, we must begin preventive measures. It is necessary to understand the Winter Moth lifescycle to plan and time your defense. The first meaure is to apply sticky tree bands around treasured specimens, which trap the females as they adhere and climb up tree trunks, emitting their sex pheromone to attract the males. After the mating scene has occurred, female moths continue to climb to the top of trees and shrubs and then lay their eggs in the bark and crevices near branches. Adult moths die at this stage.
Other types of botanical controls can be applied over the winter and early spring. In late winter, dormant oil spray can be applied to branches to suffocate the eggs. In early spring, Bacillus thuringiensis a.k.a. BT, a beneficial bacteria, can be used to effectively control the caterpillars as they emerge from their egg sacs and seek nourishment from the young unfurling foliage. Spinosad is another bio insecticide, and is available to homes owner under product labels Monterey Garden Insect Spray and to licensed pesticide applicators as the product Conserve. Care should be taken to avoid applying Spinosad when bees are active.