1. Peony Care After Flowering

    Peonies are amazing perennials.  Interesting how you even see them growing on abandoned farmsteads without any attention.  Simple care of full sun and well drained soils is all you need.

    Once the plants are done blooming, it is well worth your while to deadhead the old flower heads.  You do not want the plants to produce seed so removing the spent blooms it does not allow the plants to waste its food making seed, but storing food instead.  

    The other thing deadheading does is prevent fungal disease from affecting the plants. 

    Lastly, removing the old flower heads really cleans up the plants appearance and make them a nice green plant in the perennial or shrub border for the balance of the season. 

    Keep your Peony plants looking good, continue making food, and prevent disease simply by cutting off the old flowers with a sharp knife or pruners.  If you haven’t done so, it is not too late.

    Peonies are best dug or divided in the fall if you are planning on moving any.  Wait until fall to do so. 

    After deadheading looks great and is best for the health and vigor of the plant.

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  2. Pick your color…

    Annuals are a terrific way to put some color in your landscape.  You don’t have to go crazy overboard to really punch up the front of your home. 

    Pick plants that work. Select plants that don’t need a lot of fussing with deadheading or have problems with disease or insects.  Annuals planted in the ground will need less watering than the ones in containers as the season progresses.  But in all cases, be consistent with food and water for the best show.

    Then, pick your color palate.  What color is going to show up nicely against the color of your home?  Is your home dark brick, earth tones, or white?  Will your plants be in sun or shade?

    White and green can be very elegant.  White and blue are a classic combo.  How about white blue and yellow together?  Red and yellow together is very showy and used a lot.   Stick to colors that will complement and show up against the color of your home.

    There are not any rules when it comes to adding color, but pick what colors you like.  Then pick the plants that will work based upon that exposure.  And last, be sure to fertilize your annuals as you plant them.  Remember they have been bottle fed in the greenhouse, so they will be hungry once you plant them in the ground.

    Deadhead, water, and fertilize for fresh looking annuals all season long.

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  3. Pruning Pine Trees

    You would think you might need a pruning shears to prune your pine trees…but not the case at all.

    When the new growth elongates like it does at this time of the year on Pine Trees, it looks like “candles” stuck on the tips of each branch.  Usually there is one center longer candle in the center surrounded with several shorter candles.

    The best time to prune all pine trees is when the new candle growth expands and before any needles have started to from on those candles – typically 6” or so.  That new growth is tender and very easily shortened up by breaking that new growth back by about half way with your fingers leaving the longer candle the longest on the tip of each branch, including the very top of the tree.

    Do not cut the new growth with pruning shears as you will also cut the newly emerging needles, but if you BREAK back the new candle growth the needles will not be harmed at all and each tip will make a new bud on the tip for next year.  The needles that emerge from the candle that was broken back will be perfectly formed as they emerge and develop.

    Why shorten up that new growth?  By “candle pruning” as it is called, you reduce the amount of growth that will expand after breaking them back by about half.  Instead of the new growth being two feet or even more, it will only be about a foot reducing the distance between the next set of branches.  This reduction of new growth will affect the overall form of the pine while keeping a very natural appearance.

    Candle prune your pine trees when they are young so that they will already have a dense and uniform outline.  It works with all pines including dwarf and Mugo.





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  4. Plant Watering Tips

    Plant types, soil types, sun/shade exposure, and the climate you are in will dictate your watering schedule for the plants in your yard.  Water deep and thorough, and as needed to prevent your plants from being stressed.  Plants that are not stressed remain vigorous and can ward off problems easier and recover faster if there is a problem.


    Water the soil at the roots always, don’t spray the leaves of any of your plants whether they are trees, shrubs, roses, annuals or perennials. 


    Don’t use a nozzle on your hose, just use the hose itself to water your plants.  Spray nozzles will tempt you to spray the flowers and leaves of your plants and that is exactly what you DO NOT want to do.    


    Morning watering is best if you can, that way if you do get more than the soil wet, they begin to dry very quickly.  They key is to keep your plant tops dry. 


    Lastly, how do you know if your plants need water?  The best method is to touch the soil at the roots and if it feels moist - skip watering that day.  If the soil feels dry, give your plant roots a good drink.  

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  5. Healthy Bird Feeding Tips

    There are a few things you should know about keeping your bird feeding stations healthy for your visitors. 

    Summertime rains can get your seed in the bird feeders wet causing clumping and mold or sprouting to occur.  Regular feeding creates some debris to build up on the trays that have drainage holes (see below) to allow the rain or irrigation water to quickly drain away keeping the seed drier.  Scrape away this built up debris before you clean the feeders. 

    The next time you go to fill you feeders, shake them a bit to see if the seed can move freely within the feeder.  Maybe it is time to empty your feeder completely. 

    Take a bucket and put a 10% non-chlorine bleach solution in a bucket and scrub your feeders with the solution.  Rinse them well.  Then allow the feeders to dry in the sunshine before refilling them.

    Raking up around the base of your feeders the hulls and spilled seed is a good idea too.

    Some birds like Cedar Waxwings, Robins and Bluebirds will love it if you offer them raisins or berries.  Orioles appreciate having a fresh orange slice available too.

    Fresh water is crucial for keeping your feathered friends healthy and happy.  You can use the same bleach solution for cleaning out the birdbaths using a scrub brush, and again rinse with clean water before refilling with fresh water.   Keep those birdbaths clean and full and the birds will appreciate you.

    Don’t forget about the hummingbirds too.  Warm temperatures can cause your homemade hummingbird nectar to turn cloudy and spoil.  Be sure to make a fresh batch often and it can be stored in your fridge.  1 part sugar to 4 parts water, and bring to boil and cool.  Clean out the feeder with soapy water, rinse and refill to keep your hummers happy too.

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  6. Keep Your Coral Bells Looking Good

    There has been extensive work done hybridizing and selecting new introductions of Coral Bells.  The old-fashioned selections were basically grown for the airy wispy flowers born on long stems that put the flowers above the foliage.  They were great cut flowers to add to your arrangements.

    There are still some selections of Coral Bells that were selected for the flowers, but so many more selections have been introduced for the incredible leaf color.

    Coral Bells (Heuchera) come in a myriad of color from yellows, oranges, silver and purples of many shades.  They are wildly attractive perennials but have become more commonly used as landscape plants. 

    Many are grown predominately for the amazing foliage colors.  At some point, they do send up flower stalks and they do bloom.  Once the blooms are done, they spent blooms should be removed right down into the clump of foliage. 

    Removing the spent blooms keep your Coral Bells looking clean and attractive.  Some people like to cut the flowers as they arise and immediately use them in flower arrangements, maintaining the plants are foliage plants only in the landscape.  Not a bad option, and a reliable source for bouquet fillers. 

    Look what a difference deadheading your Coral Bells can have on your plants.

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  7. Creating Interest on Your Brick Patio

    How is your brick patio looking?  How are you using that space? 

    Typically, you have seating areas and fire pit areas, and there are some places that are just unused.  Why not create a little interest in those out of the way spots?  Center spots, edges, corners all can be transformed into super little garden areas.

    How about removing some of those bricks in that patio and use those spots to showcase some of your favorite plants?  Remove the bricks to create an irregular interesting shape.  Perhaps you have a very formal patio and you can also do a very formal design as well.  How about pulling out part of a row and including Mixed Sedum just to define the edge?

    Remove the sand, gravel and replace with a planting mix based upon the kind of plants you will use.  You can also build up the area some to create even more interest. 

    Hot and sunny areas scream for Sedums, Yuccas, Cactus, Lavender, succulents and other xeriscape plants.  Don’t forget to include some annuals for long term color.  Just think what you can include in a shaded spot…. Ferns, moss, Hosta, Begonias all of these will like a richer soil with more organic matter.

    Have some fun with it.  

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  8. Homemade Options for Controlling Insects, Killing Weeds, and a Fungicide

    Homemade insecticidal soap for your outdoor plants

    It is sometimes handy to have an old spray bottle loaded with an insecticidal soap mixture in case you see some bugs (aphids, beetles, mites or other chewing or sucking bugs) on your precious landscape plants.  Always test the mixture on a plant before spraying.   In an old window cleaner bottle mix up:

    Quart bottle almost full of clean water
    2 tablespoons of vegetable oil or Neem oil
    ½ teaspoon of mild soap like blue Dawn or castle soap without bleach

    Shake well and apply to dry foliage in the evening when it is not going to rain.


    Simple weed and grass total vegetation killer:

    Remember this mixture is used like you would a total vegetation killer, not for your lawn.

    Half gallon of vinegar
    1 cup of Epsom salt
    1/8 cup of blue Dawn or castle soap without bleach

    Mix well and spray on dry plants to be killed (keep in mind that whatever it gets sprayed on, it will kill anything green including lawns).  Great for using on brick pavers, driveways, fence lines, etc. where you do not want things to grow at all.


    Simple fungicide for your plants:

    Wet and humid weather may have caused more problems than normal in some years.  Keep in mind that you probably will not cure the problem but you can prevent fungus like powdery mildew from occurring or from spreading.  The other thing that is important is to know what you are dealing with so have the problem assessed by a professional.  There are some products available already made on the market, but you may want to consider making your own.  Always test a small portion of a plant before spraying everything first. 

    Mix the following in a spray bottle well:

    Half gallon of clean water
    2 teaspoons of baking soda
    ½ teaspoon of blue Dawn or Castle soap without bleach

    Shake well and keep agitated when using.  Spray both sides of the foliage of dry plant in the evening including new and unaffected leaves too.  

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  9. Dwarf Bush Honeysuckle

    A classic smaller suckering shrub lives in sun or shade, tolerates moist or wets soils, and even exhibits salt tolerance.  No insects or disease seem to affect this versatile little shrub.  But let’s talk about the real beauty of this bronzy leaved little gem – the perfect shrub for holding soil on steep embankments many times used in place of grass to mow – brilliant!  How about protecting your shoreline along a river or lakefront property too?   Pictured you see we used it in a parking lot where it gets virtually no care at all.

    This past spring, we just mowed this shrub off right down to the nubs.  Look how graciously it responded with beautiful with fresh new stems coming from the roots.  Incredible foliage and such an effortless way to maintain your Diervilla plants. 

    Now, picture this plant in many colors.  There are some interesting new selections of this native selected for new summer foliage color. Kodiak Red, Kodiak Black, Kodiak Orange, plus a variegated one called Cool Splash.  They all respond much the same way except for the Cool Splash which like to remain more as individual plants and do not colonize like the others will.  

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  10. Japanese Beetle Season Has Begun

    Do Japanese Beetles exist in your area?  Did they just move into your area?

    It seems that when Japanese Beetles first move into an area, they have a voracious appetite.  The brown beetles have an iridescent green sheen and commonly found feeding on the newest growth of plants they like.  The eat the tissue between the veins in the leaves leaving the leaves looking like brown lace.

    The also eat the flowers of some plants like roses.  Here you can see one in the lower left-hand corner feeding on the rose flowers.  

    What can you do to get rid of them?

    Depending upon where you live, the beetles are first noticed late June or early July.  Probably the easiest and most environmental way is to physically remove the bugs from the plants keeping in mind that they continue to hatch for 6-8 weeks.  Pick off the plants and put them in a bucket of water with healthy squirt of dish soap to drown them. 

    Insecticides can be used and be careful to read the label for use on the plant you will be treating.  You can also use insecticidal soap or neem based insecticides to help control them. 

    Some plants like roses that are huge magnets for Japanese Beetles, a systemic insecticide can be used.  The beetles live for only about 60 days.  Then they lay eggs in your lawn areas and they love watered lawns best. 

    The life cycle does allow for destroying the grubs in watered lawns and large expanses of turf areas like golf courses and watered parks.  Japanese Beetles love watered turf areas best as the grubs feed on the roots of grasses.  Birds, voles, and skunks will tear up your lawn areas to get at the grubs in the roots of your lawn. 

    Treating the grubs in the grass areas eliminates the beetles from hatching and causing damage to some trees & shrubs and roses.  Typically, most grubs are best treated from now until late September, but timing of treatments is very important and you should contact your local ag extension office to see when that is in your particular area.  

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