Archive for the ‘Seasons’ Category

With as many new plants as I have this year, I was deciding whether to put some mulch around them. No need now! We got about 8 inches of new snow (my estimate) and lots of blowing and drifting during the storm that is still marching across the Midwest. As a result, my newest bed looks to be under about 2 feet of snow, and only the tops of these coneflowers are visible. They do look good in their caps, however.

A note about mulching plants in winter: The idea of mulch is not to protect a plant from freezing. Unless it is inappropriate for our zone, the plant can handle freezing without a problem. The purpose of mulch is to protect the plant from heaving out of the ground during the thaw-freeze cycles that we get throughout the winter. While the layers of snow on my plants could certainly melt over  the next few weeks, exposing the plants to the worst of Minnesota’s winter and lots of thawing and freezing,  it’s not likely given we are heading into the coldest time of the year in Minnesota.  While blizzards are terrifically inconvenient (although my daughter and I will get our Christmas tree up and decorated today due to the day off from school), the snow is very welcome here.


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Holiday containers are all about texture.

With the weather about to cool way down, I didn’t want to wait to put together a mixed holiday container. It’s easy to spend a lot on items like packaged spruce tips, curly willow sticks, red twig dogwood and even faux berries and poinsettias, but you can also do a mixed container for very little money. For this mixed container, I started by using a collage technique to decorate the plastic pot with holiday paper.

Ready to start

This takes a day or more to do, so over the weekend, I also gathered the fixings for my pot. I bought a small Fraser fir Christmas tree for $15 (this will be used in another project as well) and cut the bottom 1/3rd of the branches off for the main greenery in my pot. The Fraser fir has kind of two-toned needles, which adds a nice texture to the pot. I also walked around our yard, cutting stray branches from a swamp white oak and a mugo pine. I like the wispy look of red cedar in holiday containers, but don’t have any in our yard. We do, however, have a very mature creeping juniper, so I snipped some wisps from that to use. I had some left over grasses that I had used in a Halloween display as well. The grasses had a large reddish seedhead, so I thought they would add something to the pot, too.


This morning, assembly began. First, I filled the pot with leftover potting soil from this summer and began building the greenery around the pot. I started with the Fraser fir, then added in the white pine, the mugo, and the juniper for accents. It looked pretty good, fluffy and green, with a fair amount of texture. Then, I added in the red-headed grass (if anyone knows what this is called, please let me know through the comments) and some Joe Pye weed from the garden.  I tried several ways of placing it, but no matter what I did, the grass looked, as my husband said as he left for work, “dead and sad.” That’s not what we want this time of year!

The finished product.

With the grass out, I needed something else to brighten the pot. This is the first year I’ve had hydrangeas and I’ve been looking forward to seeing the snow on their broad flowerheads, but it seemed a good idea to sacrifice some of them to the pot. The tannish brown color contrasted nicely with the greenery and the flowers added another texture. The pot still needed some brightening. The pot has a natural look to it, so ornaments and ribbon seemed out of place. Instead, I put skewers into a couple of apples and stuck them in the front of the pot, and cut several branches of berries from a high bush cranberry bush.

The finished product contrasts nicely with the tall red-twig dogwood display and gives a cheery look to our front porch.

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It’s easy to spend a lot of money on holiday decorations for inside and outside of your home — but it can also be done on the cheap, and my goal this holiday season is to come up with a few nice decorations that don’t cost much money.

Here’s the ultimate cheap holiday pot: It cost nothing. A couple of weeks ago, I trimmed back some decidedly overgrown red-twig dogwood bushes. While many of the branches went to the county brush pile, I picked some of the longest, straightest, and brightest for use in outdoor holiday decorations. For this simple pot, I took a good-sized bunch of branches and set them in a strawberry pot that otherwise would spend the winter in the garage. Ta-da! A decorative holiday pot.

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One More Chance

In this mixed up fall — August in September, November in October, October in November — you never know when the last day for gardening will occur. Here I was all set (perhaps even a bit eager) to call it quits, and along comes a pleasant weekend, so the jobs I was ready to not do, got done. The last of the pots were emptied and cleaned, the trimmed dogwood branches were taken to the Rice County compost pile (Northfield’s closed Nov. 15),  and I watered all my new plantings one last time.

I even  found an inventive way to get the hose wound up and put away. The hoses we have tend to get twisted, so I undid all the crimps and twists and laid the hose on the driveway (which is slightly angled) to drain. Then, standing in the garage so not too many neighbors would see, I put the hose at my waist and started turning around. Other than having to stop once because I was getting dizzy, the method worked wonderfully — the hose was carefully wound around my middile, it slid off in a neat circle, and it was easy to stow.

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Looks good in hat

me in hat

Lose the hat, lady

Let’s face it: Not everyone looks good in a cap. The young lady at right, for instance, has always looked good in hats. Her mother, at left, not so much. (And, why is she kissing a dog?) I think about caps while cleaning up the garden in fall, and today was a perfect day for garden clean-up in Minnesota: warm temperatures, sun, no wind and the ominous threat that this will not last lingering in the air.

So here is the Cap Theory of Garden Clean-Up: Any perennials that would look good in a cap of snow should be left standing. Plants like sedum, Joe Pye weed, yarrow, coneflower, and some rudbeckia provide the perfect landing pads for snowflakes, making them a bright spot in the otherwise monotonous tones of winter. Other plants that might be left standing are those with interesting color and texture, such as grasses or Husker Red penstemon, which as bright red stems. Cut down any plants that look flat or soggy after freezing, such as hosta (yuck — nothing is more unsightly than a hosta after a freeze) and daylilies. Today I also cleaned up a lot of Clara Curtis daisies, some Mexican hat, and a scraggly looking Walker’s Low nepeta. Because they may carry powdery mildew, the phlox also got cut back.


Coneflower, looking good in snow cap.

You don’t have to cut plants back in the fall  at all — and many years, I have just not gotten around to it. But with beautiful weather, it’s fun to walk around the yard, shears and pruners in hand, deciding what would look good wearing snow this winter.

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It’s Too Early for This!

Snow on Sedum

Snow on Sedum

When I took the dog out this morning, we were greeted with this: a dusting of snow and temperatures in the 20s. Isn’t it a little early for winter? I still have bulbs to plant, for crying outloud! It will pass, of course, and probably by noon, but the message is clear: Winter is coming.

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September Garden

IMG_6673While many gardens fade after mid-August, mine often looks better in September than it does at other times of the year. It’s not something I’ve planned, but a happy accident of having a few fall bloomers, annuals that don’t take off in Minnesota until mid to late summer, and early bloomers that make an encore appearance in September. This clematis bloom, for instance, was a complete surprise. I bought this ‘Bee’s Jubilee’ clematis at Donahue’s Greenhouse in Faribault way back in May. Since it was its first year in the ground, I did not expect blooms at all. But yesterday while out picking my ga-zillionth raspberry, I noticed it, peeking around the pergola. It’s very pale and pretty and I’m looking forward to seeing more next year.

IMG_6682In addition to the surprise clematis, I’ve getting another flush of bloom on my roses out front (this grasshopper posed nicely on a bloom, though grasshoppers are not my favorite part of September), some daylilies are putting on a last show, a few Goldmound spirea are sprouting their second round of blooms, buckets of zinnias and cosmos are still looking good, and that’s in addition to all the lovely fall plants such as Autumn Joy sedum, black-eyed Susan, and a gorgeous Joe Pye weed that is attracting bees from all over town to my meadow area.

That’s not to say some areas are not looking a little — umm, let’s say, tattered. The beautiful hollyhocks from early this summer are faded, ratty and begging to be cut down (it’s on the weekend chore list), and some tall rudbeckias I planted last fall are in deep lean mode now. And, of course, the Grandpa Ott’s morning glories have taken over big swaths of one bed (pulling those before they seed is another job on the weekend list). I just heard an unofficial weather report that the warmth of the past week will not last much longer, so now is a good time to get out and appreciate the garden’s last blast of beauty.

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