Fall-ing for Ornamental Grasses

Fall-ing for Ornamental Grasses

Ornamental grasses have long been a staple in landscape design, offering a contemporary edge to flower beds, acting as natural privacy screens, and adding visual interest, especially this time of year. And they’re fairly hardy, which means than we can enjoy a wide variety of grasses year after year, with minimal maintenance requirements.

In early to mid-fall the seed heads of many ornamental grass varieties come into flower, creating showy plumes that add texture and or colour to your home’s exterior appearance. So while deciduous trees start to shed their leaves, and the plants that beautified your gardens all summer start to die off, ornamental grasses are just hitting their aesthetic stride.

This leaves many homeowners wondering what to do with these grasses come this time of year, when yard clean-up is underway. You want to get the job done but it seems a shame to cut down these beautiful plants in their seasonal prime.

Essentially, you can’t go too far wrong here. If you prefer to clean everything up now, yielding a clean palette on which winter can blanket snow, then proceed. What’s more, warm-weather grasses are generally spent by this point and may not be terribly pretty anyway, so prune away.

Just be sure to wear long sleeves and gloves to protect against cuts from sharp grass blades. You might even consider protective eyewear, depending on how deep into the grass you need to get to adequately trim it back. The last thing you want is the sensation of paper cuts on your eye balls!

While we understand the desire to wipe the slate clean in the fall, there are a few good reasons for leaving your ornamental grasses be until the spring:

  1. As previously mentioned, the tall grasses, fronds, and seed heads add visual interest to what can otherwise be a flat, white landscape during the winter.
  2. The sturdier stems provide a place for winter birds to perch while seed heads offer them some nourishment.
  3. If you use your ornamental grasses as a natural privacy screen, they can continue to do their job through the winter.

Whether you prune now or wait until the spring, there are a few things you can do to make clean up as simple as possible without damaging new growth.

  1. Again, wear protective clothing (long sleeves and gloves) and protective eyewear.
  2. Gather up and secure all blades on a plant. You can either use a few blades of grass from the plant itself or something like garden twine to secure the foliage, which makes cutting a breeze and allows you to haul away everything away in one neat trip.
  3. Use clean, sharp garden shears appropriate to the size of plant you’ll be trimming. Tools that are too small for the job demand extra time and effort to get the job done, while tools too big for the job might be unnecessarily unwieldy.
  4. If cutting in the fall or before new growth begins in the spring, you can trim the plant back to the ground or within a few inches. If new growth has begun, trim the foliage back to just above the new growth, which will quickly overtake the dead stalks obscuring them from view.
  5. Although the initial cutting might create a bit of a choppy appearance for what remains, be sure to smooth out the remaining mound by giving it another little trim.
  6. Finally, to ensure a healthy start for the new growth, clear away any loose or matted dead material between the mound’s shoots.

In the spring, we’ll create a post that will provide some guidance about selecting and planting ornamental grasses, in case you’re interested in getting started with them or want to add more to your existing stock. In the meantime, enjoy your existing grasses, as many are at their best right now.

Why Fall is the Best Time to Seed or Sod Your Lawn

Why Fall is the Best Time to Seed or Sod Your Lawn

When we reach September, we tend to start thinking about putting our lawn and gardens to bed for the winter season. However, the onset of cooler nights with sunny, warm days is the perfect combination for establishing a healthy lawn. The absence of extreme heat means less demand for watering and minimal risk for seed dryout, and the overall cooler temperatures help keep weeds at bay.

Whether sodding or seeding, take advantage of late summer conditions to create a foundation of strong roots before the frost and snow set in. Here are the ins and outs of both sodding and seeding:

SOD

If you’re looking to get your lawn installed fast, then sod is your answer. Not only is installation quick, but the wait time before it’s ready to use is generally only three to four weeks.

Plus, you can cover a range of surface sizes, so while sod can handily cover a small yard, it really shines when you start with a large surface area and convert it to a lush green lawn in just a day or two.

But there are a couple caveats here. First, sodding can be labour-intensive as it requires a bit of prep and some heavy lifting during installation, so you want to make sure you have enough hands on deck to successfully complete the project.

Also, sod is considerably more expensive than seed (about 5x more expensive for the materials). So, if your priority is getting to a finished lawn quickly, sod is your answer. However, if keeping costs down is a factor, then you might opt to apply seed instead.

SEED

Starting a lawn from seed actually has a number of advantages. First and foremost, it’s a more natural process than sodding because the grass begins its life in the soil where it will live. With moderate watering, the seed germinates and takes root, ultimately creating a lush, native lawn.

Seed is pretty approachable for the average homeowner as it’s relatively easy to apply, and the tools and materials needed for the job can be found at most garden centres and home improvement stores.

Of course, the aspect of seeding that makes it a popular choice with homeowners is the price. Seeding costs only about a fifth of sodding your yard, making it a seemingly obvious choice.

However, there is a drawback of seed and that is time. From start to finish (a lawn that’s ready to be walked on), a seeding project takes considerably more time than sodding. Depending on amount of sunlight, variety(s) of grass, watering, air temperature, nutrients and grading, a seeded lawn can take up to one year to be completely ready to go, so patience is a requirement.

GENERAL NOTES:

  1. Choose good quality sod or seed.
    1. Sod should be deep green and the accompanying roots should be moist. Laying down dry sod will result in less than ideal results, and will require a lot more watering.
    2. There are a lot of different varieties and combinations of grass seed available depending on if you are seeding a shaded area, full sun area or simply over-seeding.
  2. The ideal conditions for establishing a lawn are as follows:
    1. Level or gently-sloping ground with no significant low areas where water would puddle,
    2. Adequate water supply, either from rain and/or a sprinkler or irrigation system,
    3. At least six hours of sunlight each day for sod; seed varieties can be adapted for areas that receive less sun,
    4. Little or no walking on it, until it is established,
    5. Moderate air temperature – not too hot or too cold (high teens, low twenties),
    6. Well aerated soil with lots of nutrients and good drainage; moderate pH is good but if it’s a bit acidic, that will work well, too.

PROFESSIONAL CARE

If you want a lawn established quickly and properly (and done right the first time) there’s no substitute for professional workmanship. We have a lot of experience creating and maintaining lawns. If you’d like your lawn areas to be prepared and either sodded or seeded correctly, contact us at A Touch of Dutch Landscaping about our sodding and seeding services. We guarantee our work.

Pruning Tips and Techniques for Healthy Trees and Shrubs

Pruning Tips and Techniques for Healthy Trees and Shrubs

Learning how to properly prune trees and shrubs is an essential skill that will help keep them healthy and beautiful. Below, we’re going to share some pruning basics, discussing not only how to prune but also when.

How to Prune – Tools

Regardless of what you’re cutting, it’s important to have the right tool(s) for the job. The most common tools are:

Pruning Shears: Can be held with a single hand and spring-loaded to return to open position for your next cut. These are ideal for roses, vines, and shrubs.

Loppers: There are a few different types of loppers, but they all have thicker blades and longer handles than pruning shears, and generally require two hands for operation. Loppers are capable of cutting branches up to 2 ½ inches thick, and are typically used to trim trees and vines.

Pruning Saws: When loppers won’t do the trick, reach for a pruning saw. While there are many different styles, most can cut through branches up to 5 inches thick.

Hedge Shears: These are great for trimming and shaping hedges, evergreens, and shrubs. While the branches this tool generally encounters are thin, it can get through up to a 2-inch thickness.

Pole Pruner: Pruning trees and shrubs from a distance can be challenging and require this special tool. Reaching 8 feet or more, and able to cut through over branches up to 1 ½ inches thick, a pole pruner eliminates the need for a ladder, making it not only handy to have, but safe as well.

A Word About Tool Maintenance

It’s imperative that tools are well maintained. This means cleaning and sharpening blades on a regular basis. Tools should be cleaned after each use. A wipe-down with a rag is usually enough to clear the blades of debris. If you’re pruning a diseased tree, be sure to add alcohol to your rag before wiping the blades down.

If you start to notice your blades aren’t cutting as cleanly and efficiently as they used to, you can use a mill file to sharpen the blades’ bevels while securing it in a vise. If you don’t feel up to the task, having your blades professionally sharpened every year or so is also an option.

How to Prune – Techniques

Proper pruning of flower-bearing and fruit-bearing trees and shrubs can help them produce more flowers and fruit in future cycles.

If you’re pruning to get rid of disease, cut back all dead and diseased branches, ensuring to take a bit of healthy growth beyond what you want to eliminate to ensure you get all of it. Then you can trim additional growth as needed to achieve the desired shape.

If you’re pruning to reduce bulk and restore a nice shape to your tree or shrub, try to cut on a slight angle, about a half inch above a bud or branch that is growing in the desired direction.

Although over pruning will not destroy your tree or shrub, try to avoid being heavy-handed with pruning measures, as doing so would impede new growth the following season.

When to Prune

The guidelines around when to prune are fairly simple. For trees that bloom in the spring, like Lilac, Forsythia, and Rhododendron, it’s best to prune them as soon as the last flowers of the season fade. New growth begins on these trees after they’re done flowering, in the same season, so if you wait to prune until later in the growing season you’ll reduce flowering the following spring.

For summer blooming trees, resist the urge to prune in the fall. These shrubs don’t generate the new growth that flowers will grow from until spring time, so are best cut back after they go dormant in the winter or even early spring the following year.

For decorative and privacy hedges, like the popular Boxwood, trim back new growth regularly through the growing season, stopping about 6 weeks before the first frost. It’s best to keep the top a bit narrower than the bottom to avoid shading the lower branches from much needed sunlight.

While the subject of pruning tools and techniques can get more complex, depending on your hardiness zone and the plant species in question, the basic pruning advice above will help you keep your trees and shrubs healthy, happy, and looking good, year after year. If you find that maintaining your gardens requires more time and effort than you can spare, contact us at A Touch of Dutch Landscaping to discuss your maintenance needs.