Gardening Tips

  1. Protecting In-ground Citrus & Avocados - Zones 7, 8 and 9b

    With the onset of winter comes the cold. Depending on where you live you may have begun watching the weather reports to get ahead of a cold snap that could damage your Citrus or Avocado plants.

    Depending on the variety, a rule of thumb is Citrus and hardier Mexican varieties of Avocados will tolerate to 30 degrees Fahrenheit for about 3 hours without damage. Some noted exceptions would be the Mexican Lime and any citrus or Avocado tree that has been recently planted.

    Selecting the best location to plant is your best advantage against the cold. Choose locations that have good air movement but not exposed to high winds and avoid low locations where cold collects during the fall and Winter. In marginal citrus locations (zone 7) selecting a wall of the house or a south facing wall that radiates heat to add protect to your plants. Avocados are not recommended for planting in the ground in Zone 7.

    Protection for you citrus should begin in the late summer. A good feeding with and organic fertilizer in September will help add to the protection against winter frost. The current rule is a well fed and well-watered citrus will improve the plants tolerance to cold. Also with Zone 7 Citrus, colder weather may call for wrapping the trunk into the lower canopy with burlap or old blankets and then mulching the base of the tree to 4 inches out past the canopy adds to the overall protection

    In all zones prone to freezes a frost blanket to cover the tree is essential. Adding 100 watt conventional bulb or a string or 2 of C9 Christmas lights hung through the trees under the Cover will add to the degrees of captured heat. I have found that during the cold periods leaving the covers on for a few weeks will not bother the tree. Be sure to turn the lights on early in the evening to allow the heat to collect under the cover. There is some evidence that pulling back the mulch during the warm part if the day allows the ground to heat up to be released into the canopy later that evening.

    The real trick to successful Citrus and Avocado Protection is keeping the trees below 10 feet during the growing season. I recommend below 8 feet to make covering and adding protection like lights a breeze. When size control is a part of your Citrus and Avocado growing adding a simple structure around your tree is easy and makes applying a frost blanket simple.                                                                      

    Applications of any of the Anti-transparent products are not recommended. Any damage that might occur on the trees as a result of winter cold should be left until the temperatures begin to stabilize in the spring to be pruned off.

    Finally, selection of varieties can mean the difference between success and failure. Very few avocados that are not of the Mexican type will survive in a winter cold climate such as Zone 8 or 9b or lower.  

    Varieties like the Mexicola, Fuerte, Stewart, Jim Bacon, and Zutano are good to try. The all popular commercial Hass should be reserved for Zone 9a and greater.

    For the hardest of the citrus, the varieties that are able to tolerate to 28 degrees for short periods are the Meyer Lemon the hardiest of the lemons, Kumquats with Nagami being the most well-known and the Fukushu a newer very sweet large fruited tree gaining in popularity. Calamondins are a very cold hardy kumquat like fruit used mostly in cooking. Owari Satsurma mandarin is a noted cold hardy variety and are very dependable. The jury is still out on newer varieties like Gold Nugget and Pixie. The Yuzu a fruit used primarily for Asian cooking is thought to be the hardiest of all the citrus. Sweet Oranges must be protected along with most Lemons, Limes and Grapefruit. Some varieties to try in these zones are the Trovita Orange, Lisbon Lemon, Bears or Persian Lime and the Oro Blanco Grapefruit.  

    For all other varieties grown in Zone 9a, 10 or higher, simple recommendations for covering your plants and feeding and keeping them watered in the event of a hard freeze are the order.

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  2. Advice For Overwintering Your Roses

    Most people cover their roses for the winter too early.  Wait until your rose plants have been exposed to several killing frosts and some good colder weather to help them go dormant BEFORE covering if winter protection is needed in your area.

    All across the midsection of the states, typically the right time is about Thanksgiving time to protect your roses.  In the more northern states still time if you have not, and as you move into the more southern areas if winter protection is needed it may be a bit early still.

    Hybrid tea, grandiflora, floribunda, and of course all the new shrub rose types can all benefit from some additional mulch added right on the plants about a foot deep.

    Wait to prune your roses until late winter or early spring so any winter damage is removed when being pruned.  And for roses that bloom on last year’s wood - they don’t get pruned until after the June bloom is done.

    Any kind of shredded mulch (bags may still be available near you), or compost works great too.  Dump the mulch right where the canes come out of the ground piling it up about a foot thick.  It will protect the canes from dying back.  The exposed parts will discolor and may die back but those parts get cut off in spring anyway, and the covered portions will remain green and viable.

    Many used to use the styrofoam rose cones and many times those plants would rot underneath the cones so if you are using them, be sure to cut the tops off the cones to allow moisture in and out during the winter months.

    A pile of mulch is such a simple way to insure winter success in areas that do get cold, and now is the time!

     

    Photo (right) shows a foot of mulch piled on the canes covering the crown of the plant for the winter for simple success.

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  3. How to Keep Your Christmas Tree Fresh

    Here are a few tips for keeping your tree fresh while it is in your home for the holiday season.

    - You just brought your tree home. While it is still outside, spray all needles with an anti-transpirant like Wilt Stop or Wilt Pruf, or even hairspray works great, to prevent the needles from drying out the day before you bring your tree inside. Spraying the needles prevent them from giving off moisture - instead they will hold the moisture in the tree. Hairspray does work well but remember it is very flammable (like your tree) so keep the spray and the sprayed needles away from flame like you would anyway.
    - Make a fresh cut on the bottom of the trunk (even if only removing an inch or two) JUST before bringing the tree into your home.
    - Put hot tap water in the reservoir, and add some soda pop or an energy drink. Trees take up lots of water at the start so don’t let the reservoir dry up - very important! It may empty the reservoir daily at the start so get as much water as you can into the tree right from the start.
    - Cool rooms are best, and keep your tree away from heat.
    - Using LED lights not only saves energy, but they stay cool, better for keeping your tree fresh longer. 
    - It doesn’t hurt to mist the trunk of the tree with fresh water whenever you can without getting any electrical cords or decorations wet.

    Enjoy and remember to check the water level daily at the start – you will be amazed at how much water some trees can take up.

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  4. Indoor Winter Citrus Care

    This is the time of the year when all citrus grown in cold climates is brought indoors for winter protection. There are a few critical considerations that will allow your citrus plant to adapt to being indoors and stay healthy until it is put back outside in the spring.

    The optimal place to over winter a citrus is in a greenhouse that is climate controlled. This is rarely available to the average homeowner. The process of bringing plants indoors should begin about 3 weeks before expected night-time temperatures reach 35 degrees or less. Citrus plants should be brought to a protected location that is well lit but not necessarily full sun. A location up against the house is ideal. A covered patio works well or just a wall that has good radiant heat coming from the house. The idea is to get the plant used to less light while offering some protection from the fluctuating fall temperatures.

    A permanent location inside the house should be selected with some important considerations. First and most important is sunlight. The location should be one with the greatest amount of sun available. A southern or southwest facing window is most often your best choice. Plants should be exposed to as much sunlight as possible. This means that when placing more than one plant, it is recommended that they not be placed behind one another. For maximum light exposure, place plants above one another on the floor and table.

    Sometimes optimal sunlight exposure is not available indoors and artificial light is required. There is still much research being done to determine what the best artificial light source for the hobbyist is. Keep in mind that citrus typically is ripening fruit during the fall and into the winter. In nature this is happening when the sunlight is at its lowest exposure. Because of the research at this point, the recommendations are more directed at what not to do. When artificial light is needed, full spectrum florescent lights are not recommended. Though great for light, to the plant they suggest spring or summer. This is confusing to a plant that has just come in from being exposed to the shorter day light of the fall. Currently recommended is a bulb designed for plant growing: a grow light. Even better, if an indoor gardening company is available, contact them concerning the latest light sources or bulbs recommended for fall/ winter growing and fruit ripening.

    Also important is not placing the plant close to any heat source. The dry air inside the house is another factor that can cause problems with citrus plants. The biggest contributor to dry air will be around any heat sources. If possible, avoid placing citrus close to heater vents, radiators, fireplaces and wood stoves. Avoid placing citrus close to kitchen stoves and ovens as well.

    Last and most important is the watering of your citrus. Fall and winter alone mean that the plant is using less water because it is not in a growing mode but rather a dormant or fruit ripening mode. The improper watering of citrus when indoors is the number 1 reason for defoliation while indoors. While indoors, citrus requires ¼ the amount of water they require during the spring and summer months. Become familiar with the moisture in the soil by pushing your finger in up to the knuckle and feeling the wetness. Citrus should be grown on the dry side during the winter time. A wet finger means wet soil.

    The fact is that citrus does best when grown on the dry side anytime. The difference is that the spring and summer months are active growing and flowering periods. The longer days, the heat and the growth all require more frequent application of water - unlike what is need during the winter months.

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  5. Planting a Tree is Just Not Digging a Hole: Simple tips for planting a fruit tree

    Some places in the country may be able to get away with just digging a hole, putting a tree in and covering it with soil. This is not the average situation by no means. Most homeowners are face with a variety of different soil types and drainage issues. Here are a few simple ideas on what to consider when planting a fruit tree.

    First and most important is drainage. The most common reason for fruit trees to struggle or die is due to poor drainage. The best time to get familiar with your drainage is during the wettest part of winter. Watch the locations in your yard and make note of how long the water stands in any area after a heavy rain. Locations that take over 5-6 hours to drain-off are potential problem areas.

    When drainage is determined to be good with no long-standing water the hole required is not so difficult to dig. The idea of planting a $10.00 tree in a $20.00 hole filled with all sorts of amendments is not recommended anymore. This is for any number of different reasons. The one I like the best is that the tree will have to survive in the native soil that is in your yard, the sooner it gets established in that soil the better. Save your amendments for mulch to cover your surface area.

    The simple hole for areas of good drainage are ones that are dug to the depth of the container or Bare root tree you are planting. The hole should be in the shape of a cone tapering up and out from the center of the hole. Not twice as wide and twice as deep. For bare root a slight mound of soil in the center of the hole to spread the trees roots into and insure that the root space is filled with soil.

    The soil line in the container or on the trunk of the bare root tree should be the soil line that exists when you are done planting. Planting too deep in many soils will result in the death of the tree.

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  6. Fall Planting continues, plus a few reminders for fall!

    As we have been telling you, fall planting works so incredibly well because the soil has had all summer long to absorb the heat from the sun. When you plant new plants, you want them to make new roots into your soil as soon as possible.

    There is good reason that Fall planting is so great and the most obvious one is the warm soil. Think about planting first thing in the spring and just how much cooler the soil may be compared with now. In the fall the warm soils coax those new roots to form almost immediately.

    The cooler air temperatures slow down the top growth of the plants and many that we are shipping are showing fall color. So, cool air, and warm soil = new roots! Yay, new roots!

    New roots can form very late into the fall or even early winter. It takes a long time for the cold temperatures to go down into the soil and newly planted plants are going to take advantage of that long extended root producing season.

    Adding a two to three-inch layer of shredded mulch over the roots of the plants after planting this fall extends that root development season even longer. The addition of mulch prevents the cold from going into the soil as it insulates the soil a bit later into the season. The mulch also conserves moisture and can prevent some weed growth even this fall.

    Fall planting is also a great time of the year when moisture is many times more plentiful in a lot of areas and the plants themselves begin to start using less moisture, so it allows the plants to better establish. Fall planted plants that have time to make new roots will act like a plant that has been in the ground for a whole year next spring when it begins to grow. Fall planting = jump on spring. Win – win.

    Another benefit is that Nature Hills has partnered with some growers that produce bare root plants for us. If you are not familiar with bare root plants, they are plants dug from the fields by shaking off all the soil from the roots. Those plants are then stored in huge coolers where they can be shipped from now until next spring. The coolers keep the plants dormant and we then water the roots and the humidity is kept very high. Check with our staff or on our website to see when bare root plants can be shipped.

    The beauty of bare root planting is that the plants are less expensive, easy to handle and to plant. Again, the fall planting of bare root plants going in the ground will stall make new roots and those plants will take off next spring like they have been in the ground for a whole year. Consider bare root this fall or next spring.

    Anything that you planted new in your landscape this year from early spring right up until now would love some attention. Watering new plantings is super important right up until the plants go dormant for winter.

    Trees and shrubs continue to make new roots and if they are not getting sufficient water, it is important to add additional water to keep the plants hydrated right to the end of the season.

    Some plants are native to wetter or are more of a lowland species and those plants will particularly appreciate the extra care to see that they have enough moisture. Some plants that do appreciate having good soil moisture right up until the ground freezes include Ash, Birch, Larch, Red Maples, Cottonless Cottonwood, Black Walnut, Swamp White and Pin Oaks, Redbud, Sweet Gum, Tuliptree and Ginkgo, plus remember some shrubs like Viburnum, Red Twigged Dogwood. Arborvitae and really any evergreen or broadleaved evergreens (especially if newly planted) will appreciate having excellent soil moisture right up until the ground freezes.

    Siouxland Cottonwood

    So, before you put that hose away for the winter…. take a bit of time to water the roots of your newly planted plant materials to insure good survivability.

    There is still plenty of time to plant spring flowering bulbs and nothing could be easier than planting our new bulb pads with perfect combinations and super variety. Check them out here.

    Don’t forget too there is still time to bust open a few heads of garlic into individual cloves and plant them about 2-3 inches deep in a sunny location for an excellent crop of garlic next June. Don’t use the cloves from the store but from your local markets where they have not been treated (for best results).

    Rose care should be delayed as you do want your rose bushes to be exposed to the cold and frosts to help those plants to go dormant before you do any winter protection. Have a few bags of shredded mulch ready to go for the best overwintering rose tips to be covered in our next blog.

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  7. Five for Fall 2017: The Top 5 Garden Trends You’ll See This Year

    Fall is…well…almost in the air. It’s still too hot to break out the sweaters and scarves in most of the country, but it’s not too early to start planning your perfect autumn garden! With that in mind our intrepid trend spotters have pulled together a list of the top five trends you’ll be seeing this year. (So if you want to be ahead of the curve and have the Jones’s trying to keep up with you, work one or two of these into your fall plans.)

    1. Small is really big. Dwarf versions of your favorite shrubs are all the rage. Dwarf Nandina, Dwarf Yaupon Holly, and Little Henry Virginia Sweetspire are petite versions of classic landscape shrubs. This means they’ll fit into smaller urban gardens and are perfect in containers. Play with scale in your garden for some great effects. Many smaller shrubs in a large garden add dimension and interest and fill the space in a more dynamic and fresh way than a few oversized shrubs.
    2. It’s time to talk about the birds and the bees. No, no…not that talk. It’s time to rethink pollinators in your garden. Fall is the perfect time to plant flowering shrubs - and especially natives – that will provide plenty of food, forage and cover for the local fauna for winter. Try adding native coneflowers or Oakleaf Hydrangeas that will put on a beautiful fall flower show AND make your feathered furry and fluttering friends happy!
    3. Get hip with Hygge. The Danish have given the world some great things – insulin, Lego’s and fluffy, flaky pastries, to name a few. (Actually the Danish pastry comes from Vienna, via Denmark, but we’re not quibbling since we never quibble when our mouths are full.) But the most recent thing to cross the Atlantic is Hygge (pronounced hue-ga). This is the Danish idea of finding cozy contentment by enjoying the simple things in life. You’ll be seeing this idea used in gardens more and more frequently. Cozy garden ‘rooms’ with sweet-smelling flowers, burbling water features and snug seating areas are rolling off of designer’s drawing boards in droves. Which leads us to trend number 4.
    4. Get cozy around a firepit. Don’t wait for it to get cold to add a firepit to your garden. Do it now so that you can just bring out the cocoa, marshmallows and toasty blankets to enjoy the warmth of the fire while your neighbors try to build a firepit wearing mittens. Plant some lavender and garden mums to give your firepit color and fragrance. (As a bonus, toss a little bundle of dried lavender into the fire for a scented boost.)
    5. It’s time to consider losing the lawn. Use this great planting season to plan on un-planting the lawn and replacing it with easy-care, low-maintenance, drought-tolerant groundcovers like ajuga or sedum. The “lose your lawn” revolution is in full swing due to the excessive droughts of the last few years. Hop on board! If you plan well, you will be sipping iced tea next spring while your neighbor mows their lawn.

    We’re wishing you the best autumn ever and remember that NatureHills.com is here 24/7 to help you have the best garden ever!

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  8. 9 Plants for Early Spring Color

    87-12739443078Swj   After a long, dreary winter, everyone is ready to start seeing flowers begin blooming in the spring. Enjoy these nine plants that will bring you fantastic spring color early in the season.
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  9. Ash Trees in the Urban Landscape

    [caption id="attachment_6163" align="aligncenter" width="627"]Common Ash Tree Common Ash Tree[/caption] Why is it that Ash trees became so popular to plant anyway? Green, Black and White Ash are native over a large portion of the US and Canada. Many nurseries have some incredible selections from the native species that are seedless, have great fall color, and beautiful upright and rounded forms. Municipalities, homeowners, and Landscape Architects began noticing the beautiful seedless selections that were coming on the market. They began being used on most all the projects not only because of their varied forms and fall color, but because of their adaptability of different soil types, and hardiness. If you have ever seen an Autumn Purple Ash in fall color, you know just how unbelievably and intensely gorgeous they can be.

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  10. Broadleaf Evergreens are All the Rage…

    [caption id="attachment_6107" align="aligncenter" width="1920"]Boxwoods Boxwoods[/caption]   Boxwood is such an interesting plant because their shiny green leaves stay on the plant year-round even in areas that have snow and cold. There are different forms both spreading and upright. Boxwood in the colder climates may need some protection from the drying winter winds (on the west and north exposures) in some areas. Some of these newer selections are outstanding for areas into hardiness zones 5 and some even into zone 4. They are wildly popular especially into the colder climates to introduce some winter interest into the landscape. They make incredible sheared and formal hedges and the upright forms make perfect pyramidal specimens. Boxwood can also be used less formally and look great without shearing, but allowed to grow more naturally.

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