Winter Garden Fun

Even though we had those few incredible quasi summer days, I think we can all agree by now that it’s, well, Fall. Perennials and annuals are well and truly on their way out after a busy growing season. And thus our focus shifts to those quieter, maybe less glamorous, but certainly more steady garden friends. Shrubs, often relegated to the back seats by all those party-girl flowers, finally come center stage. They’re the garden’s backbones, its structure, they set the tone – and now is their golden hour. Make sure you give them a chance to shine by chosing the right shrub for the right location.

Evergreen or deciduous? Maybe with a dash of color?

One of the fun things about shrubs and small trees is that they are a fantastic way to extend the season and add color and interest to the fall and winter garden.
Many deciduous shrubs and small trees put on an amazing show of fall foliage. Oakleaf hydrangeas burst into a dark wine-red. The ‘Amber Jubilee’ Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Jefam’)  will glow in a palette of rich, warm shades of gold and copper.  Many viburnums turn a dark maron-purple. Fothergilla, commonly known as Witchalder, displays a whole range of reds, oranges, and yellows.


Evergreen shrubs, such as the ilex family or evergreen rhododendrons, will keep their foliage year round and are an eye-soothing green oasis in the drab winter landscape.
Opt for contrast with a splash of color: dark red winterberries (Ilex verticillata) or the striking crimson branches of red-twig dogwoods (Cornus sanguinea) invite the eye to linger.

Location, location

Shrub formsBut not only color can add interest to a winter garden. Shrubs and small trees come in all shapes and sizes. Many have distinct structural features, from vase-like, arching forms, to full bushes, and tall, columnar statements. Strategically placed, they provide a focal point in an otherwise barren yard.  Choose the location wisely, taking light needs and soil conditions into account, and make sure the plant’s mature size and natural shape can find full expression in its designated spot.
If you – like me – already dread those long and dreary New England winter months, there’s still some time to plant shrubs NOW. Soil temperatures will stay warm for still a few weeks, even after air temperatures have plummeted – great conditions for root growth! The plant can focus fully on getting its root system established, without bothering with growing branches, twigs, and leaves.
The Green Thumb can help you plot and plant your fall and winter interest! Shoot us a line for any and all gardening questions!

Spring is in the air!

Oh, spring, you love of my life!

This past week has given us a wonderful glimpse of what’s to come.  The first bulbs are popping up and every day brings out some new little harbingers img_5440
of spring. My rhododendron buds are swelling, and our climbing rose is shedding last year’s leaves and setting new buds. If you’re like me, you’re probably wandering around your garden at least three times a day, inspecting every tree and shrub, scanning the ground for any little spot of green peeping out from under the leaf mulch. It’s glorious!

I’m itching to get my hands back into the dirt, but of course, this being the end of February, it’s still too early to actually get planting. So, what can be done?

There are actually quite a few chores that will help get your garden onto the right trajectory for when spring springs in earnest.

Number 1 chore for late winter: Pruning!

First, inspect your shrubs for winter damage and cut out all dead and injured stems.  This is an important step, as these wounds provide entryways for disease. Next, tidy up and shape your shrub as desired. Prune out branches that grow inwards or rub on other branches, thinning them in the process, so sunlight can reach the center of the shrub. I recommend using pruners instead of electric hedge shears for this step. That said, make sure to thin and shape spring bloomers such as rhododendron, forsythia, lilac, etc. only after they are done blooming.

Tidy up around your plants

Remove dead foliage and leaves that have accumulated around your plants. Large leaves often create a thick impermeable layer that can smother young shoots, prevent water from reaching the root zone, and harbor pathogens. Perennial stalks left over the winter should be cut down now to make room for new growth. This should be done carefully, as tender shoots sometimes hide in between spent stalks and foliage.

Rejuvenate your soil

Once the danger of severe, killing frosts has passed, remove thick layers of old mulch and use a cultivator or your hands to work the lower layer of decomposed mulch into the soil. Applying compost or a well balanced organic fertilizer around your plants can give them a nice boost.

A word of caution: although tempting, it’s not a good idea to start working the soil too early. Soil that is still saturated with melting snow compacts easily and makes root growth very difficult.

Start planning and plotting!

Don’t forget to dream! I love walking around my reawakening yard, imagining what could be. This is often when I have my best ideas, because it’s all potential. Plus, if you’re thinking of redesigning your hardscaping, adding some new elements, or fixing existing ones, now is the perfect time.

Another thing you can do in early spring is start seeds indoors. This is a great activity to involve young children, and it gives such satisfaction to watch a plant develop close up.

Now you’re ready to count down to spring. I, for one, can’t wait! As always, please be in touch with any questions about pruning, planting, gardening – just drop me a line!



It’s almost Bedtime for your Garden

It’s that time of the year again. I personally am already getting into “hunkering down” mode. As much as I love gardening, I also enjoy cozying up and dreaming about the next growing season. One necessary step on the road to hibernation is putting your garden to sleep and tuck it in well.

Take stock:

This is a perfect time to debrief your garden and take stock. What did well in the past growing season? What didn’t work? Which plants died, which are taking over the garden bed? Certain plants will have done so well that they should be divided to rejuvenate them, while others may need to be moved to a different spot for optimal growing conditions. Whatever the case may be, it’s fun to spend some of those long winter evenings with a plant catalog or a gardening book and plot for spring. You might even want to draw up a little plan to visualize your ideas.

Tidy up:

Make sure your plants don’t go to sleep in a messy room. Remove all spent, diseased, and dead plant material. This is crucial to prevent pest larvae, fungal spores, and diseases from cozying up under a protective layer of plant debris, where they would doubtlessly plot garden bed dominion.

Know your invasive plants and noxious weeds and remove them. If you compost your yard waste, be sure not to add your weeds to the pile, but instead dispose of them (especially the seed pods or berries) in the trash. Likewise, diseased plant material should ideally not go in your compost.

Tuck them in:

Speaking of compost: a 1-2 inch layer of compost makes a nice, cozy blanket for your beds and borders. Over time, with winter rains and snow melt, nutrients will leach into the soil and prepare it for a successful new growing season.

Mulching will add a protective layer. Just like in summer, it helps stabilize soil moisture as well as temperatures, and thus helps prevent a condition called frost heave, which can cause severe root damage. You want to apply 2 inches of mulch as soon as the soil is frozen. Make sure not to mulch all the way up to or over your plants.

I’d like to particularly point out the benefits of leaf mulch/leafmold. img_4646After all, they’re right there! Why spend a lot of money on mulch if you have a high quality source of nutrients such as calcium and magnesium already lying on the ground? It’s critical, however, to shred them up first. This will not only speed up decomposition, but also prevent the leaves from becoming one solid moldy layer that won’t let water penetrate into the root zone. You can shred them up easily with your lawn mower or special leaf shredders. Or you can have me do it for you!

Mommy, Daddy, I’m thirsty:

Give your garden a good drink of water before it goes to sleep. Especially evergreens need to be well hydrated before and in between those killing frosts. The main damage these plants suffer over the winter is not frost damage per se, but rather winter desiccation. The plants continue to lose moisture through their needles. If this moisture isn’t replenished, the needles will turn brown and dieback will occur. Water loss is further accelerated on warmer days and/or in windy conditions.

Send your trees and shrubs well hydrated into their winter break, and don’t store away your watering hose in the very back of your garage. Occasional deep watering (slowly trickling water for an hour or so) during late fall and winter, in periods when the soil isn’t frozen, is important. If you’d like to keep an eye on rainfall quantities, here’s a valuable resource.

As ever, if you have any questions on getting your garden ready for winter, or any other garden-related questions, I’ll be happy to hear from you!

Stay warm!


Tamar Klompas

The Green Thumb

Happy Spring!


Bulbs, bulbs, everywhere – spring bulbs are still very much in evidence in any garden centre, nursery, or even random supermarkets. The relatively warm November gives us another week or so to get more bulbs into the ground. And while it is still a few months before we can actually enjoy them, it is most certainly a great time to dream about spring!

G. 'Ophelia' at Cresson's
Snowdrops come in many shades, forms, and sizes. Galanthus Straffan is one of the oldest cultivars.

Many nurseries and mail orders have special sales on, and experience teaches us that by the time the bulbs should go in the ground, most garden centres are all but cleared out. So – this is the time!

There is a plethora of these beautiful harbingers of spring out there, and it’s rather hard to choose.

Here are a few tips to make your spring garden a success:

Deer- and Rodent Resistant Bulbs:

Many of us here in the city and suburbs are plagued less by deer, but most certainly by squirrels and chipmunks who will happily munch up our spring bulbs.  There are a few ways to discourage the critters.

Alliums are close relatives of onion, garlic, and leeks.

First of all, plant bulbs they don’t like.  Tulip and crocus are reputedly delicious and will likely end up as someone’s dinner. Most other bulbs, such as scilla, allium, daffodils, frittilaria, and snow drops, are much harder to stomach.


If you don’t want to do without tulips, you might want to try to spot plant them surrounded by other bulbs.

Lastly, make sure not to leave any “invitations” out for potential dinner guests: clean up any and all brown skins after planting. If you have a bird feeder in the vicinity, make sure it is “spill proof”.

Stage your spring blooms:

Packages and labels will give you an idea how tall your flowers of choice will grow. A rule of thumb is, the bigger the bulb, the bigger the bloom. Make sure to give the little snow drops and croci a chance to shine by placing them in the foreground, while planting taller flowers in the back.

Cluster your bulbs to get more bang for your buck. Avoid “lone soldiers”. Most labels give certain recommendations to plant bulbs 4-6 inches apart, and while I won’t dare telling you to disregard these instructions, I personally take them with a few grains of salt.

Consider timing:

Not all spring bulbs bloom at the same time. There are early season, mid-season and late season bloomers. It can be charming to group them in a way to have different spots “pop up” at different times, or even to plant early and late bloomers in the same cluster for a full-season show of color.


Last, but certainly not least –

Choose healthy bulbs and the right growing conditions:

A healthy bulb is firm and heavy for its size. There shouldn’t be any dark patches or light splotches. Bulbs that seem very light are likely dried out and may not be viable. Soft, spongy spots are signs of rot; these bulbs should be discarded.

Bulbs hate “wet feet”. Too much soil moisture will make them rot. They thrive in sun (remember, we’re talking early spring, and many spots that will be shady later in the season will be sunny now).

To prepare the planting site, loosen the soil to the appropriate depth (5”-8”, in very heavy clay soils a little less). You might even want to add some compost to boost your soil’s levels of nutrients and organic matter.

If you have any gardening questions, on bulbs or otherwise, please be in touch!

Happy Gardening!


Tamar Klompas

The Green Thumb