Small-scale gardening is a hot topic! Many great books have been written on the subject and growers are developing more and more dwarf trees and compact shrubs to fit those needs. Baby boomers are “downsizing” and Millennials are moving into their first homes, creating a growing demand for ornamental and edible plants that fit comfortably into these smaller spaces.
My personal interest in small-scale gardening is especially keen as I fall into the latter category of those of us who have sold the large family home and are moving into smaller more manageable properties. I purchased a new home about a year ago. A smaller house, on a much smaller lot with a challenging irregular shape. I spent a lot of time over the last several months observing the conditions of the yard and planning the design I would like to implement. I can’t wait to start planting!
My back yard is roughly about 1200 square feet and late last fall I had a patio and walkway installed reducing the potential planting area to under 1000sq. My goal is to create a cozy backyard retreat with small trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals, along with a small sitting area to enjoy a cup of tea in the morning and maybe a late afternoon drink.
Because the space is small and I am hoping to keep maintenance at a moderate level I am completely eliminating the lawn. There are no trees in my small space. It’s currently a blank page other than the pavers but there are several large maples surrounding the yard creating a high shade situation that will influence the plants I choose. Before I can start putting them in the ground however I will have to deal with the soil.
I have designed and planted many gardens but this may be the most challenging soil I have ever worked with. Bright orange clay! Clay soil is composed of very fine particles. It absorbs water very slowly and holds it for a very long time. It can also become very compacted, making it difficult for plant roots to penetrate the soil.
I know that I need to improve the soil and adding organic matter is the first step. But because I have only a little experience with clay I stopped by the main store and had a chat with Stacy. Compost was something we both agreed would be beneficial but she gave me an additional tip that I was unaware of. Gypsum, she said would help reduce compaction, improve drainage, decrease acidity and eliminate soil salts. Sounds good to me!
With all the rain we’ve had I will have to wait a while until my soil dries up to begin the process. It’s never a good idea to work with clay when it’s wet because that can add to the compaction problems. Once the compost and gypsum have been turned into the soil I can finally start the planting process.
I have big plans for my small-scale garden and I would love to share them with you as my cozy retreat begins to take shape. Choosing the right plant for the right location can be challenging but that’s just part of the fun!
Cecile Bardinelli, Guilford Garden Mart Manager
Peonies are garden classics! They’ve earned their classic status with their easy care and their incredible longevity. To get them to be spectacular and long-lived, follow a few easy steps.
Skip the big spring fertilizing, your peonies were busy building roots last fall. Adding a granulated, bulb fertilizer like Bulb-tone lightly around the base of your plants, is all the spring fertilizing you’ll need to do. Watch for Gray Mold or Botrytis on shoots. If you spot the mold, spray with Copper Fungicide to control. As for ants on peonies, they are part of life and not really a sign of serious consequences. You’ll do better if you just ignore them.
By now, the red shoots of peonies are turning green and spring blooms are about a month away, but now is the time to put out those cages and peony hoops. It’s easier to do them earlier than later. If you are planting new ones, Van Wilgens offers newer varieties with singles flowers. These varieties are just as fragrant and seldom require staking or hoops.
Pretty simple! More questions? Stop by and see us! We’ll help fill in the blanks.
Nothing says summer like the fresh taste of homegrown fruit. Berries are becoming a staple crop in everyone’s summer garden, and for good reason! Not only are these little fruits delicious, but they also provide a ton of nutritional benefits. Add some berries to your garden for a harvest the whole family is sure to love.
When growing fruits in your organic garden, be sure to use Espoma’s liquid plant foods to give you healthy blooms and abundant fruit.
Here are some of our favorite berries to grow:
Blueberries pack a big punch for such a small fruit. They are loaded with tons of vitamins, essential nutrients and antioxidants. Blueberries are often a favorite among kids, too. What better way to get kids involved with the garden than by planting something they love?
Blueberries also thrive in containers, making them the perfect fruit for small space gardeners. The beautiful foliage they produce is just an added bonus.
Try using Espoma’s Holly Tone plant food, perfect for acid-loving fruits like blueberries and strawberries.
Another fan favorite, strawberries are well-loved for their versatility. While delicious on their own, they also pair well with so many different flavors. They can be used in anything from sweet pies and homemade jams to a tasty vinaigrette dressing. Whether snacking, cooking, or baking, there’s no way your strawberries will go to waste!
Strawberries grow best in soil with a pH level of 5.5-7. If your pH level is too high, use Espoma’s Soil Acidifier to create the perfect growing environment.
The sweet summer flavor of raspberries makes a great addition to any dessert.
Raspberries often grow up instead of out, so make sure you plant with support stakes or next to a fence. A tall raspberry plant looks beautiful in any garden and draws all eyes to the beautiful red and green foliage it creates.
Since they don’t produce fruit in the first year of planting, blackberries require a bit of patience. However, with great care, we promise it will be worth the wait!
When blackberries are ready to harvest, the flavors pair very well with raspberries. Blend together in a smoothie or bake a mixed berry pie and enjoy the taste of summer.
Want to know more about growing your favorite berries? Our friends at Espoma have made this handy infographic!
The wait is over! Our courtyard here at Van Wilgen’s is filled with Lemons, Limes, and Brown Turkey Figs. The amazing smell of citrus fills the room. Growing Your own citrus or figs can be a very rewarding experience. By just providing them with their basic needs you will be able to sit back and reap the rewards.
- Full sun for adequate growth.
- Well-drained slightly acidic soil.
- Water sufficiently so the water is reaching the root ball. Once or twice a week.
- A high temperature of 70 to 85 degrees is ideal, and the low temperature should never go below 50 degrees.
- Remember plants are living organisms, and just like you or I, they need food too. Apply espoma citrus tone once a month from March to November.
- Citrus is a tropical plant and can’t be left out in our zone over the winter. So, don’t hesitate to come in or call us in the fall and we will walk you thru the best way to bring your citrus in for the winter.
- Full sun for adequate growth
- Ph should be between 6.0 and 6.5.
- Water thoroughly once or twice a week as needed.
- Fertilize during the summer months with espoma garden food 5-10-5.
- At the beginning of the season or as soon as you buy the fig you will add approx. a cup to a cup and a half of lime just once for the entire year, this slightly raises the alkalinity of the soil which is what the figs need to thrive.
- Figs are a tropical plant so give us a call in the fall and we will walk you thru overwintering it properly.
There’s nothing like homemade lemonade or lemon tarts made from your very own citrus tree. We love to get pictures and stories from our customers, so at the end of the season send us pictures of your tree and what you have made with your harvest.
Darlene Granese, Greenhouse Manager
(Seeding Small Patches of your Lawn)
I know I probably sound like a broken record. “Seed, seed, seed, okay, enough already with the seed!” I know this is what you are saying to me but seed is just so darn good for the lawn. It is the best way to fill in unsightly dirt patches, it is the most natural way to do weed control, and patchwork seeding is easy. It really is.
Patchwork seeding is starting super small. The French philosopher, Voltaire said, “Il faut cultiver notre jardin.” This translates to, tend to our own garden. I like to think it means to tend to your garden a little at a time and before you know it, you have one big, beautiful garden. This is a good approach for life and your lawn. Start small, especially if life is busy, water is scarce, budgets are tight, etc… This is why I love patch seeding. You take a little at a time, give it the true attention it needs, water it, and be patient. Patch seeding is so simple and easy, even your younger children can get involved. With a little adult help, they can dig up the dead grass or weeds in a bad patch, rake out a nice clean slate, put down a little topsoil, hand spread the grass seed, press it into the soil, cover with grass seed accelerator, and water it. They might even have a little fun doing it. If they help you to keep that little patch wet daily, it could be fun for them to watch the grass grow. It will give them a nice feeling of accomplishment to see something they planted, turn so green and get so tall.
Patch seeding will save you some big headaches later. Those patches that start off small in the spring, tend to get taken over with nasty weeds and crabgrass. They also tend to get larger as the summer heat burns out the edges of the small patches. Fill them in now and you will save yourself from more work later. It’s all about working smarter and not necessarily harder. Heck, even have a little fun with the kids while you are doing it!
So seed, seed, seed! I am going to say it over and over again. Sorry.
Come see us at VanWilgen’s. We would love to help!
*Van Wilgen’s Premium Grass Seed
*Van Wilgen’s Topsoil
Big or small, that patch of earth in your backyard is a part of the planet we live on. Celebrate Earth Day by being kind to it. Like you, all of us at the garden center enjoy digging in the dirt and outdoor living. Here are a few of our favorite ways to “go green” this week and year-round.
• Plant a Tree. So for us, this is a no-brainer. Aside from the fact that we love beautiful the green canopy they create, they produce the oxygen we breathe. The amount produced by an individual tree is dependent on its species, maturity, and health. They also assist in filtering pollution from the air, and in reducing erosion.
• Mulch your Garden. Applying a layer of mulch to your flower beds not only limits erosion, but it also reduces the need to water. Mulching also means less weeding, and that’s a win/win
• Plant Milkweed and Fill a Planter with Annuals. Though it may be a weed to some, this plant is the only food eaten by the kind of caterpillars that become monarch butterflies. While you’re at it, fill one of your annual planters with flowers that welcome pollinators. The results will be beautiful and beneficial!
• Grow Your Own. Nothing tastes like vegetables that you’ve grown yourself. Whether you just grow a pot of tomatoes on the patio or you expand your large vegetable garden, you’ll be able to say, “I grew this, and it’s delicious!”
These are all kinds of practical ways to be kind to the earth 365 times a year. In the Garden is a great place to start.
Finally, mother nature is easing up on us just a bit.
With the sun finally shining and warmer temperatures you can’t help but feel the energy here at Van Wilgen’s. Every day we have more and more plants making their way up from the growing department. Billy and his crew have done their job, growing the most amazing crop of spring/summer color to fill our greenhouse. With the temperature on the warmer side these days, we need to be mindful that we are still in the month of April. So, even though temps are warm during the day, the nighttime temps can still be a little cool for some of the plants we grow in the greenhouse. Look for the signs that will remind you if a plant needs to be above a certain temperature, or just ask one of us, we are here to help make your gardening experience as easy as possible. Mid May is usually when it’s safe to plant outside worry-free. Until then if you are buying a plant such as geranium, you will need to protect it if the temperature drops below 50 degrees at night.
I generally say there are 3 stages of spring/summer plants.
- Pansies, nemesia, and osteospermum daisies. (The hardiest varieties.)
- Petunias, bacopa, alyssum, snapdragons dusty miller, and fuchsias. (These handles cooler temperatures but above 35 degrees.)
- The rest of the summer annuals (These can handle 50 degrees and above.)
If you really want to feel spring fever stop in and walk through our tropical paradise, enter through the back of our greenhouse. Take a deep breath and enjoy. Remember tropical temperatures are 50 degrees and above day and night.
(Signs from Mother Nature to get doing some garden chores)
Mother really does know best…Mother Nature that is! Mother Nature talks to us on a regular basis. She talks to us in her own beautiful and gentle way. Plants blooming, grass greening, birds building nests, are all her ways of speaking to us. She is trying to tell us something. If we listen closely, we might actually hear. Mother Nature has a gentle way of prodding us out in the garden. Her way of writing her honey-do list always seems much kinder than our own to ourselves.
One of Mother Nature’s first gentle prods is the bloom of the yellow forsythia bush. Luckily, it is in every town across Connecticut, creating living walls of gold that we can’t miss. So what is Mother Nature trying to tell us with this bright yellow signal flag? She has a few messages to get across to us gardeners. She wants us to know that soil temperatures are getting warmer and will reach approximately 55 degrees when the forsythia is at its peak bloom. This is important. A 55-degree soil temperature means so much.
Mother Nature’s To-Do List when the Forsythia is blooming:
- Apply Crabgrass Pre-Emergent with fertilizer now. Water it in or before a rainfall.
- If you are going to seed your lawn, now is the time. Be sure to use the right crabgrass control with new seed. The only one is Greenview’s Seed Starter Fertilizer plus Crabgrass Preventer.
- Put down Lime on your lawn and in your veggie garden. The sweeter the soil, the happier the plants.
- Add some good compost into your veggie garden to add some richness.
- Plant cool-season veggies like lettuce, kale, and broccoli. They can handle the colder temperatures.
- If you have not already pruned your roses, be sure to give them a good haircut now.
- Mulch your garden beds and apply Preen weed preventer over top to stop those weeds from popping up.
- Apply Bayer Tree & Shrub Protect & Feed to those vulnerable plants that need a little help with insect control i.e. Hemlocks for Woolly Adelgid, Boxwoods for Leafminer, and Hollies for Scale.
- Apply your first Orchard Spray to all your fruit trees.
There is more that you could do but like every good mother, Mother Nature does not want to overwhelm you. Most of all, she wants you to put down the trowel once and a while and actually enjoy all the yellow beauty she has created.
Come see us at Van Wilgen’s. We would love to help!
*Greenview Crabgrass Preventer plus Lawn Food
*Greenview Seed Starter Fertilizer plus Crabgrass Preventer
*Fast Acting Lime or Garden Lime
*Van Wilgen’s Premium Grass Seed
*Bayer Tree & Shrub Protect & Feed
*Bonide Orchard Spray