04 May 2011

Garden Answers with Elizabeth from Frager's

Photo by María Helena Carey

Here is another great installment of Elizabeth’s gardening column.  Have a question for Elizabeth?  Send it to questionforelizabeth@gmail.com! –MHC

It is hard not to stare in awe at the world around us when year after year our environment transforms from a brown, apparently lifeless, terrain into a lavish display of colors and textures.  And every year it never ceases to amaze me how quickly this metamorphosis occurs.  Seemingly overnight, the array of plants and trees we so lovingly took the time to plant and care for wake up to remind us that we too can partake in this renewal each spring.   For a gardener spring brings the opportunity to create something new; tweak something old; or simply start up the same bountiful garden we are accustomed to.  This spring we can address those issues we didn’t care for in seasons past. Let’s start with two questions that perplex us most:

What can I plant in a tree box that can withstand the shade of the tree; a constant struggle for water; car doors; dog’s business; trash cans; that can be able to be stepped upon and still be attractive?

First, I would like to thank our neighbor for taking the time to care for his tree box. We don’t all have a lot of space, but we can all rogue-garden in tree boxes, if we are so inclined. These miniature snapshots of horticultural creativity create a more beautiful Hill for all of us. When I first heard this question I immediately thought of coral bells (Heuchera).  These lovely little evergreen mounds of leaves shoot up a spray of flowers in early summer that remind me a bit of fireworks.  But it is no longer their flower that makes heuchera a favorite: their large leaves come in a wide range of colors from purple to peach, to lime green.  They are native to boot!  To pair with your new splash of color, try foamflowers (Tiarella), Japanese forest grasses (Hakonechloa macra), Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum), lungwort (Pulmonaria) or a simple pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis).  Don’t neglect your creativity and style. Although you do not want to plant anything too tall in a tree box, please keep in mind that size, shape and, importantly, height all play important rolls in a design. So add some Siberian irises (Iris) or gaura (Gaura lindheimeri) to add a ‘thrill’ factor to your vision.

How do I rid my garden of squirrels?

Whether you think they are well-coiffed rodents, or the scourge of the Hill, squirrels are a nuisance to every Capitol Hill gardener. I wish I could tell you there was a magic way of riding your space of them, but that would be too easy. Bulbs can be protected from “squirrelscaping” by planting them under chicken wire. Rodent repellents can be sprinkled or sprayed in flower boxes.  You can erect an entire cage around your vegetable garden and you can shoot them off your fruit trees with a high-powered water pistol (I had one customer who very successfully saved a crop of apricots with this method).  However, I will tell you this… I am tired just thinking about it. We may simply have to live alongside our furry foes.  They are not interested in the plants themselves, just long-lost nuts, so trying to seek out ‘squirrel-proof plants’ is misdirected.  I will continue to sprinkle my rodent repellents around my plants in hopes that this will throw off their highly developed sense of smell. But if anyone out there comes up with a better plan than choosing plants with strong root systems, please share with the group.

In my garden this week,

  • I split my hostas.
  • I planted squash, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and French beans.
  • I neatly tied down the foliage of my bulbs (I did not cut it off).
  • I lay a fresh layer of lime and gypsum over my vinca; both to improve its vigor and to help it rebound from a winter of dog visits.
  • I fertilized my roses.
  • I treated myself to a new iris for an area of my garden that is deluged by a downspout.

And now, back to the office!

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What's trending

  • Rodent repellents and pets

    Are the rodent repellents okay to use if you have pets, as many people on the hill do? And if not I would encourage people not to use them in tree boxes on the street.
    To that point, anyone have a good way to keep the rats out of your garden that is safe for pets and attractive (not erecting a large chicken wire cage around the plants?)

  • hillrat

    The Garden Guru on WTOP advises that you don’t tie up the foliage of bulbs. He says they need all the sunlight they can get for next years blooms. Yes, tying them up looks neater, but i would rather have better looking blooms in future years.

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