Category Archives: Plants

Composting Made Simple

It’s no secret that compost is highly revered among gardeners. We know some who have requested a truckload as a Birthday present!  Love for compost is understandable since the benefits of this nutrient-rich substance include improved soil quality,  reduced need for watering, and healthy plant growth. But the benefits extend beyond being an invaluable resource for gardeners; composting is one of the simplest things we can do to make a positive impact on the environment. According to the EPA, Americans discard about 73 billion pounds of food each year. All of that unnecessary waste takes up a lot of room in our already crowded landfills, in turn, creating a lot of greenhouse gas emissions. With that in mind, it makes sense that more of us should be in the routine of composting, whether we maintain a garden or not.

Oftentimes, people don’t take up composting because they believe it is too complicated, while others may have the impression that it’s too messy or smelly. There is, of course, something else that may prevent someone from taking the plunge into the composting world: limited space. Lack of space is an issue that many of us in the Boston area know quite well. While it’s true that larger kitchens and yards can be helpful for creating compost areas, deciding to compost need not be a big endeavor. There are several easily manageable ways to begin the practice of composting, regardless of space constraints.

One popular method of composting is known as “stealth composting” and this is ideal for those with limited space as it allows for composting on a smaller scale. Stealth composters can be kept indoors or out and it’s not difficult to make your own, which means the size can be customized to suit your needs. With this process, it’s not uncommon to designate a countertop or the space under your kitchen sink as your compost area. If this appeals to you, here’s a great tutorial to get you started.

 

 

Vermicomposting (or “worm composting”) is another popular option for indoor composting. This option is particularly suitable for basements, and as an added bonus, children are likely to want to be involved with this system. Vermicomposting is unique in that is specifically relies on using worms to assist in the decomposition process. As with stealth composting, setting up your own vermicompost bin is not complicated, nor is it difficult to maintain. Here are some good guidelines should you decide to take up vermicomposting.

If you are fortunate enough to have enough space to compost on a larger scale, there are endless choices when it comes to creating an outdoor compost area. Compost bins can be made from wood pallets, trash bins, large storage containers, wire fencing, and pretty much anything imaginable.  However, living in an urban area can make for unique challenges when it comes to composting. You will definitely want to take measures to ensure your compost does not attract rodents and other critters, and it’s also important to keep your neighbors in mind when you consider the location of your bin. Purchasing a compost bin is not a requirement, but manufactured bins may be the best way to ensure your food waste is securely covered. (If you are a Boston resident you can purchase  your bins at a reduced rate from Boston Building Resources.)

 

Those of us in Boston are lucky to have a few more options to make composting as simple in possible. Recently, the city began a pilot program called “Project Oscar,” which allows residents to drop off their food waste for composting at designated areas through the city. (Read this to learn more about Project Oscar.) An even easier option is to sign up for service with Bootstrap Compost. For a fee, Bootstrap Compost provides members with buckets in which to store food scraps, then it is collected weekly or bi-weekly, depending on your needs. In return, you are given five pounds of compost a few times a year (or you can choose to donate it). 

Perhaps you like the idea of composting but you just aren’t sure what to do with the stuff once you’ve got it. This is where we can help! Our experts at Christie Dustman and Company can work with you to show you how to use compost to get the most from your plants and garden. If you don’t personally have a use for it, check with the gardeners in your life as they will probably happily take it. You can also contact your nearest community garden and see if they accept donations.

With so many composting techniques available, there really is no excuse not to do it.  Find the method that suits your needs best and you’ll be in the habit of helping your garden and our planet in no time.

 

Invasive Species vs. Non-Invasive Alternatives: Part 3

Contributed by Curtis Hawley

Round 3: English Ivy (Hedera Helix) vs Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides)

As we learned in our previous posts in this series, you can’t purchase Japanese Barberry or Burning Bush in Massachusetts because they’re invasive species. Though we often see English Ivy taking over landscapes and even houses, you can buy it almost anywhere plants are sold. This begs the question: is English Ivy is an invasive species? You betcha.

English Ivy is an aggressive exotic plant that outcompetes other plants. It can even kill off tall trees! Let’s get ahead of the game and consider a friendlier groundcover plant, Barren Strawberry, a groundcover that offers some excellent characteristics to enhance your garden.Barren Strawberry vs. English Ivy

Invasive Species: English Ivy (Hedera Helix)

English Ivy has been a standard go-to groundcover plant for years, especially in hard to grow, heavily shaded areas. It’s a rather hardy plant, but is not known for its flowering stage. In fact, English Ivy is most aggressive when it does go to flower. This is because it only goes to flower once it starts climbing. Once English Ivy starts climbing a structure, it must be heavily maintained. This is especially important around the home, where English Ivy is capable of damaging gutters, wood fences, and cracked masonry. If it gets to the point of having to be removed, English Ivy can cause damage at that point as well. It often leaves behind a residue that’s very difficult to remove.English Ivy

Non-Invasive Alternative: Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides)

Barren Strawberry is a groundcover plant native to the Eastern U.S. It can be a bit aggressive, but that can be a benefit when trying to fill an area quickly. Unlike English Ivy, though, Barren Strawberry is not a climber, so it won’t cause the kind of damage that many invasive species can cause when they spread. Personally, I notice this plant the most in the spring after the early spring show of bulbs and before the perennials and annuals really start rocking with the warmer weather of late May/early June. During this gap, I often see a solid blanket of yellow Barren Strawberry flowers in full bloom!  Barren StawberryOne significant advantage of English Ivy when compared to Barren Strawberry is its shade tolerance. If you need a groundcover plant in a deep shade, I recommend considering Japanese Pachysandra.

Here are some other great advantages with this non-invasive alternative:

  • Drought tolerant
  • Not too many ground covers have a showy flower, but this one does!
  • Excellent lawn alternative

This concludes our showdown between some of the most commonly requested invasive plants and more friendly, native alternatives! Many invasive species are not well suited (or perhaps too well suited) to our New England ecosystem. I hope you get to try out the alternatives mentioned in your own landscape – feel free to mention your own native plant alternative success stories in the comments!

Get Ready for Bulbs!

Bulbs Not PlantedFall is here, and fall is bulb time! We are planning bulb “overlays” for the garden, meaning that bulbs can be planted on top of and in between the other plants in your garden. Bulbs can bloom from March to May using crocus, grape hyacinths, various types of tulips, daffodils and alliums. Many of these bulbs will come back year after year except for highly bred tulips. When we design bulbs, we think about sequencing the blooming over time and color combinations. We can do something completely different color-wise from the other plants in your garden – bright colors, cool colors, monochromatic, etc.

With bulbs, it is not uncommon to plant a large number to make a decent statement, for example, 500 crocuses. It takes a lot of bulbs to really show up and not look sparse!CrocusesOur bulb orders can cost $300 to $500 to $700 plus labor. We take care to ensure that each bulb is planted with its growing eye up rather than just scattering them in a hole.

Tulips & Daffodils

 

If you’re interested in thinking about early spring color, please email Brian at brian@christiedustman.com by Tuesday, October 31st. We will need to know what you are comfortable spending and with that in mind, we can tell you what to plant where for the best impact!

 

Invasive Species vs. Non-Invasive Alternatives: Part 2

Contributed by Curtis Hawley

In Part 1 of this blog series, we talked about what the term invasive means in regard to plants. Another term that’s commonly used in this discussion is “native,” which refers to a plant that is native to the local environment. This term also can be dissected, argued and debated.

When we say a plant is native to our area, though, how far back are we going? When we go back about 12,000 years to the end of the last ice age, the glaciers that rolled down Route 128 almost certainly obliterated all “native” vegetation up to that point and transplanted them undiscerningly along its way. Let’s put a closer parameter on time: the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock will be our time cap. We have pretty good documentation about the plants that inhabited our area at that time and those that were introduced for various purposes.

Let’s get into another exciting plant showdown, shall we?

Round 2: Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii) vs. Cotoneaster horizontalis

Japanese Barberry & CotoneasterInvasive: Japanese Barberry (Berberis thungerii)

Japanese Barberry is commonly requested – it be quite appealing to the eye! Visual appeal is typically what spurs a non-native plant’s introduction to an environment. Since Japanese Barberry is an invasive species, it can handle all sorts of difficult conditions including deep shade. It can thus outcompete native plant species, dominating edges of woodlands and choking out native undergrowth.

Non-Invasive Alternative: Cotoneaster horizontalis  

There are a few great alternatives to Japanese Barberry, but my choice would have to be the Cotoneaster. If you want a taller form, Cotoneaster divaricatus looks very similar but grows to about 6’ – 8’. I think the Cotoneaster has a very interesting, unique structure. This shrub offers a skilled pruner (ahem) all sorts of possibilities to accommodate a client’s style preference; from formal and tidy to a natural and flowing look to even accommodating water features.

While Barberry’s deep burgundy color certainly gives it much fall appeal, Cotoneaster has game too! Its foliage has a similar burgundy show, although not quite as deep a color. Where it really wins in my opinion is its bright red-orange fruits which appear in late summer and persist into early winter. I’d recommend Cotoneaster to anyone interested in a Barberry with the confidence that they’ll be pleased with its unique look.

Cotoneaster horizontalis

Here are some other great advantages of this non-invasive alternative:

  • Very hardy plant in all sorts of conditions
  • Much broader, year-round interest
  • No thorns! Barberry is thorny, a concern for little ones, 4 legged friends and your local fine gardener tending your gardens
  • Rabbit problems? Cotoneaster is seldom abused by rabbits

In the next and final round of our Invasive vs. Non-Invasive showdown, we’ll highlight a plant not yet technically identified in Massachusetts as an invasive species. Intrigued? We’ll discuss alternatives before it’s classified as such!

Invasive Species vs. Non-Invasive Alternatives: Part 1

Contributed by Curtis Hawley

Inspired gardeners often ask our crew with hopeful expressions: “I was driving down the street the other day and saw this amazing plant, could you get me one of those?” As knowledgeable horticulturists, it’s our responsibility to do some research before we order you the latest garden showstopper. We go through an in-depth list to learn about each plant. This list includes the plant’s sun/shade requirement, moisture tolerance, acidity/alkalinity preference and competition with neighboring plants. During this process, we sometimes learn that a requested plant is considered an invasive species.

When it comes to plants, the term “invasive” can get a little muddied. For all practical purposes, an invasive species is a non-native plant that is introduced to a new environment where it behaves in a rather aggressive manner due to very little competition and/or extremely ideal growing conditions. Although Poison Ivy or Golden Rod can be rather aggressive at times, they are actually not considered invasive species since they’re native plants. Two examples of common invasive species are Oriental Bittersweet and Japanese Knotweed. Both of these species are very aggressive. They’re often found growing on roadsides and quickly taking over areas. We don’t get many requests for Knotweed, though, so let’s talk about some other popular plants that qualify as invasives and some excellent, eye-catching native alternatives.

Round 1: Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) vs. Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur’

Burning BushInvasive: Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus)   

We commonly get requests for this shrub in the fall. Admittedly, its month-long bright fiery red display is quite stunning. Outside of its fall showcase, however, I don’t personally find this shrub to be very aesthetically pleasing, and of course because it’s invasive I don’t recommend it! When someone asks for this Viburnum, I like to present my favorite alternative Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur.’  I think Winterthur outdoes Burning Bush, plus it’s more friendly to neighboring native plants.

Virburnum nudum WinterthurNon-Invasive Alternative: Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur’   

Winterthur is a native plant, so that’s a great place to start. Not only is a native plant by definition not invasive, but it’s usually not overly aggressive either. But you know what’s even better about native plants? They’re being grown in their natural environment, which means that it’s very likely that the plant will thrive!

Here are some other great advantages of this non-invasive alternative:

  • Much nicer flower show in May/June (Burning Bush has a non-distinct flower)
  • Flowers are followed by a colorful fruit structure that changes from red to blue throughout summer
  • Fall colors feature maroon to dark red-purple
  • Great food source for pollinators
  • Better ornamental shaping from pruning (Burning bush tends to get sheared into “meatballs”)

 

Stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 of the Invasive vs. Non-Invasive Plant Showdown, including another very popular shrub and one of the most popular plants you can still buy today…

“We Need to Block that View!” – Creating Privacy with Landscaping

Contributed by Christie Dustman

I can’t count the number of times I have heard someone say, “We need to block that view!” In fact, many people go on to describe how they wave to their neighbor at night, kitchen window to kitchen window.

While we all love living in proximity to the city, we also want our privacy. How can landscaping help with this dilemma?

This is the rub: we want plants to do lots of things for us, but sometimes using plants to block out a particular view is almost as visually unappealing as that view itself. For example, think of that house you drive by with an A/C unit enclosed by a fence that screams, “Hey, A/C unit here!” 

This Saturday, April 22nd at 9am, I’m hosting a Walk and Talk at Allandale Farm to discuss ways to approach this common dilemma. Register here and come to learn some new options! 

Check out other Walk and Talks I’m hosting at Allandale Farm this spring here. I hope to see you at one!

Pruning Workshops at Allandale Farm April 15, 2017

Contributed by Christie Dustman

Every spring, my internal panic measure ratchets up as the weather warms. Suddenly, all of the woody plants in my garden seem to need immediate help and I feel pressured to work on each plant. For each of these plants, I have to use my brain as well as my tools. It takes a lot more brain power to prune than simpler tasks like weeding or deadheading. Imagine that – pruning my plants engages my brain as much as my tools!

For many people, spring brings up those perennial questions of how, where, why and when to prune woody plants such as shrubs, roses and smaller trees: “What plants should I touch now?”, “How far should I cut it and where?”, and for almost all folks, “Am I going to kill it?”

Allandale Farm

Good news! I am teaching a 2-hour pruning workshop, “Pruning for Healthy Plants,” at Allandale Farm this Saturday, April 15th at 9am and again at 11:30am. I will show my tools and tool belt, then delve into the indispensable thought process that should precede any cutting. Just like you have an end goal when you walk into a hair salon, you should have clear goals and reasoning behind any pruning actions. As we all know, a bad hair cut can really ruin your day!

You can register here – hurry up, space is limited!

I’ll be teaching four other classes at Allandale Farm on Saturdays this month and next. To see the full listing, check out the events page on Allandale Farm’s website.

Falling for Containers

Contributed by Tim Wholey

Reflecting on this past summer, one word jumps out – RAIN – or more specifically, the lack of it.  It was one of the hottest and driest on record. We added “deep watering” to our garden maintenance regime this past summer and let many hoses trickle on plants at our clients’ homes during this severe drought. Even with hoses and an irrigation system, the lack of rain has been hard on gardens. The poor plants just looked hot and brown!

This brings me to my passion: outdoor containers. I love that containers are easy to water, require very little water overall – and it doesn’t take much time! Quite different than large gardens!

With our fall container season starting this week, I have to say that I’m looking forward to it this year more than ever. I’ve just started replacing summer blooms with flowers reflecting all the colors of the new season:  golds, yellows, reds, oranges and purples. It has been a welcome change for all of us.

Consider the ease and beauty burst of a container for this fall at your house – I’d love to work with you!

Water, water, water!

Contributed by Christie Dustman

Summer’s wonderful sunny weather is here in full force and we humans love it!   But our plants experience summer differently.  The Boston area is entering a drought ……… and this follows a winter and spring of low moisture.

While it occurs to many of us to water the Evergreens + perennialsperennials we have, few of us think about our shrubs and trees. Perennials and perhaps the temperamental Blue Mophead Hydrangeas wilt more easily, triggering our compassion.  More established shrubs and trees, on the other hand, are stalwart in the face of lack of water though at a more severe point may lose inner leaves or show fall colors out of season.  Much like we think to pack water for our kids, we may forget our adult water bottles at home.

True confession:  Every day when I get home, I pull out my hose and get to work on systematically watering my shrubs and trees. Dinner and the dog can wait.  I start in the back left corner and work around my garden 360 degrees.

I recommend deep watering for large shrubs (3’ tall+), evergreens (hedges too!), and trees Deepwater-tree-hose(smaller and large canopy trees) to get moisture down into the top 18” of soil where the majority of water-absorbing roots are found.  The ideal method is the slow-soak method – put your hose at the base of the plant and turn on a low trickle from your hose for ½ -1 hour per plant.  For a large shade tree, water on both sides of the trunk, so 2 hours total. The goal is for the water to seep into the ground and not run off.  Keep track with a kitchen timer so you don’t forget and leave the hose running.

I will be deep watering my larger plants once per week until the natural rainfall comes back – most likely into the fall – and encourage you to do the same. Check out the links below from our friends at the UMass Extension Landscape, Nursery & Urban Forestry and feel free to email me if you have specific questions!

Dry, Dry, Dry… Resources for Landscapers

Long-term Drought Effects on Trees and Shrubs

U.S. Drought Monitor: MA

Winter Survival Tactics

Contributed by Lynn Hutchinski

Isnake plant with snow in background don’t know about you, but about this time of year I start to get a little stir-crazy.  The holidays are over – the fun and energy and bright colors are gone – and it’s cold and snowy out there and no way will I be heading to my garden to play any time soon.

One of the things I turn to every winter season to keep me sane is my houseplants. We have just missed “Houseplant Appreciation Day” which falls on January 10th. Some people give their houseplants names – I haven’t gone that far yet – and some people talk to their plants, but most of us appreciate them for the many benefits they provide to us in this dreary New England winter season:

  • Through pores on the surface of their leaves, houseplants absorb many of those nasty volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that pollute our indoor air, such as benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and xylene (found in some plastics, detergents, fabrics and building materials).
  • Plants help to maintain indoor humidity levels, which can alleviate the problem of breathing dry air causing respiratory ailments such as asthma, bronchitis, and over all dehydration.
  • Negative ions, such as those produced by air purifiers, are created when plants breathe out. These negative ions attach themselves to dust particles, mold spores, bacteria and more and they fall to the floor, where they can be vacuumed up.
  • And, of course, plants drink in carbon dioxide and pour out oxygen to refresh us from our winter doldrums.3 window plants - rosemary

There are many easy-to-grow houseplants that will improve your indoor air quality, but some of the best according to a 1989 NASA Clean Air Study are Areca palm (Chrysalidocarpus lutescens), Lady Palm (Rhapis excelsa), Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina), Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum), Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum),  Dracaena reflexa, Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata) and even the simple Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum).

Finally, if houseplants don’t provide enough greenery to see you through to spring, then try a field trip to one of the outstanding greenhouses in the Greater Boston area. Here are two I recommend – one at Wellesley College:

http://www.wellesley.edu/wcbg/our_gardens/margaret_c._ferguson_greenhouses

And another in Waltham at the Lyman Estate:

http://www.historicnewengland.org/historic-properties/homes/lyman-estate-greenhouses