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Archives for September 12, 2016

Conifers, evergreen ‘bones’ that tie a landscape together year-round

A landscape needs “bones” — plants that anchor the overall look throughout the year, not just during the growing season in spring and summer.

Evergreens typically form the “bones” of a good landscape design. In addition to providing a green backdrop, evergreens feature texture and form.

Throughout my gardening years, conifers have been my favorite family of evergreens for many reasons. Their softly textured foliage is pleasant to look at and touch. Their shapes and sizes are varied and artsy.

I’ve used conifers such as arborvitae as screening hedges along property lines, as stand-alone specimen plants in beds and as container gardens on patios. They need no pruning and generally have no major pest or disease problems. When bagworms once attacked one of my container-grown arborvitaes, I carefully picked them off and monitored the plant for any further issues, which never happened.

For the corners of a former house, I used a graceful-growing slender hinoki cypress, another conifer cousin that lends a look of art to a landscape. The word “conifer” generally refers to a plant that bears a cone as its fruit or method of reproduction, according to horticulturists.

There are evergreens I dislike, especially Leyland cypress, an overused shallow-rooted, disease-prone tree that many landscape designers are moving away from, according to Peggy Krapf, owner of Heart’s Ease Landscape Garden Design in James City County, Toana, Va.

“We are instead using Green Giant arborvitae,” she says.

“They look similar to Leyland cypress but Green Giant appears to be deeper rooted (won’t blow over in storms as readily), more pest and disease resistant, a U.S. (West Coast) native and appears to be very deer resistant. I also like the way the lower branches droop toward the ground rather than reaching upward as Leylands do.”

Like Leylands, Green Giant is a large, soft, fast-growing evergreen pyramidal shrub used primarily for screening and should be planted where it has the space to reach its mature size. Plant 6 to 8 feet apart in sun or part shade, Krapf adds.

In Newport News, Jay Bussey says conifers are his favorites, too. He has more than 30 different species planted in his almost-acre yard.

“I enjoy their texture and year-round beauty,” he says.

“During the winter months when everything is lifeless and dull, conifers steal the show.

“My favorite is any Blue Atlas cedar, followed by hinoki cypress.”

Caring for conifers is relatively easy, he adds. The key is give them good topsoil and compost.

“After that, just enjoy them,” he says.

“The only conifers I have ever lost were rescue or sickly ones, and they didn’t survive the initial planting.”

At Peninsula Hardwood Mulch in York County, nursery manager Allan Hull views conifers as a stable group of plants to use in the landscape. For that reason, Peninsula Hardwood Mulch is expanding its conifer selection.

“You can get different textures, colors, forms, sizes and habits that provide year round beauty with little trouble,” he says.

“My favorite group of conifers are the Chamaecyparis, also known as cypress. These tend to have luscious foliage which are not usually prickly. The plants usually have a sculptured habit normally somewhat upright and pyramidal. Very seldom do they encounter pest or disease problems.”

Some things to remember when selecting conifers, Hull advises:

  • Dwarf is a relative term. It does not mean 3-by-3 feet. If the parent grows 30 feet, then 10 feet may be dwarf.
  • Labeled mature sizes generally consider a 10-year growth span, and conifers live much longer than that so they often exceed the listed size. So leave more space than you think is necessary.
  • Conifers, which mostly are evergreens, seldom disappoint. Like all evergreens, they keep foliage all year, but not necessarily the same leaves/needles. As a plant grows, older foliage turns brown or yellow and falls off. Then new growth occurs on the tips and hopefully conceals the inner branching as it grows. Most conifers do this in the fall, whereas most broadleafs do it in spring. As the plants get older you generally can see less and less of it.


Hull’s conifer recommendations include:

  • Arborvitae Pyramidal, a screening plant for a narrow area. Upright growers Emerald Green and Jantar work in confined spaces, 12 feet tall and four feet wide and nine feet tall and three feet wide, respectively.
  • Cephalotaxus Prostrate, also called false yew, nice ground cover that takes light shade or sun, one-foot tall and six feet wide.
  • Cephalotaxus Harringtonia upright yew adapts to conifer and Oriental gardens; two-toned foliage makes nice specimen plant, 10 feet tall and 4 feet wide.
  • Cryptomeria, commonly called Japanese cedar, has a coarse texture. The Gyokuryu type is a dwarf upright that grows about 10 feet tall, but can also spread and develop a mounding habit.
  • Xanocyparis Alaskan Jubilee, a weeping hinoki specimen with bold drooping foliage, 20 feet tall and six feet wide.
  • Juniper Angelica Blue with bluish foliage on a spreading plant, three feet high and six feet wide.
  • Juniper Hollywood, a candelabra growth habit that can be planted in groups, 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide.
  • Juniper Saybrook Gold with golden foliage on a spreading plant, three feet tall and 5 feet wide.
  • Hinoki Cypress Split Rock, a dwarf silvery blue specimen or grouping, sculptured foliage and habit, six feet tall and wide.
  • Juniper Robusta Green, which is similar to Hollywood Juniper except smaller and gray-green foliage, 12 feet tall and six feet wide.
  • Juniper Hollywood Variegated. Same as Hollywood Juniper except for the variegation.
  • Hinoki Cypress Minima/Minimus, very compact and dense dwarf, very slow grower, 12 feet tall and two feet wide.
  • Hinoki Cypress Wells Special, nice tight sculptured foliage. Stately plant, good specimen or screen, used singularly or in groupings, 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide.
  • Cryptomeria Globosa Nana, small rounded habit, has a coarse texture. Great for groupings or smaller spaces, three to four feet tall and wide.
  • Cryptomeria Black Dragon, an upright dwarf conifer. Sometimes has a heavy cone set that can slow growth for that season. Sometimes may lean a little and requires a stake to straighten it. Slow grower, 9 feet tall and 3 feet wide.
  • Cryptomeria Radicans or also Yoshino, Upright “Japanese cedar.” Coarse texture used as a screen, accent plant or specimen. Tough, good street tree, 30 feet tall and 12 feet wide.
  • Cypress Arizona Blue Ice, nice blue foliage on an upright plant, use as a screen, hedge or specimen, 30 feet tall and 15 feet wide, good replacement for Leyland cypress.
  • Cypress Carolina Sapphire, larger than Blue Ice, 40 feet tall and 18 feet wide, another nice silvery blue foliage plant that can also replace Leyland cypress as a hedge or screen.
  • Hinoki Cypress Confucious, a conical golden foliage plant that is lush and sculpted, somewhat layered. Good foundation plant, or stand-alone specimen in larger beds with good space, 12 feet tall and 10 feet wide.
  • Hinoki Golden Spirited, a dwarf conical conifer with golden foliage that’s frilly but still nicely sculpted, nine feet tall and three feet wide.
  • Dragons Eye Pine, variegated pine showing lots of color in two-tone needles. Tough plant tolerates salt spray and clay soils; trunk is sometimes twisted or curved adding character, 25 feet tall and 15 feet wide.

“I just can’t say enough good things about conifers,” says Hull.

“One characteristic I like is their consistent root hardiness. Conifers are the first plants I suggest when someone is looking for a container plant they intend to keep potted for a long time. Conifers tolerate winters cold much better than broadleaf plants, especially broadleaf evergreens.

“Many do well decorated for Christmas, too.”

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Little Garden Design – The Best Ways To Get Started

Are you tired of asking your children to select up and put away their things? If “tidy up your room!” is a popular refrain in your home, there are some basic things that you can do to assist your kids get on the arranging bandwagon.

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Newlyweds win big in national garden contest – Eagle

DERRY — When Country Gardens Magazine announced that it would be hosting a contest in conjunction with the gardening professionals of American Beauties Native Plants, one local couple applied right away.

With a passion for nature, Danielle and Drew Waseman crossed their fingers that they’d be gifted the $7,500 makeover for their Cella Drive home. 

They were thrilled when they found out they beat out over 250 applicants. But they received more than just a face lift for their three acres of land.

Instead, landscaping and environmental experts spent a week creating a space for wildlife to thrive. As birds, bees, butterflies and other critters dwindle, simple additions to a yard can become a sanctuary, they said.

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Hydrangeas, moonbeams flowers and geraniums are just a few of the colorful additions Danielle and Drew have enjoyed.

The Waseman’s garden was strategically designed to provide seed, nuts, berries and pollen. Birdbaths, evergreen trees and nesting boxes were also installed.

“When homes are built, we clear a lot of land and take away resources that the wildlife depend on,” Danielle said. “But a garden should be seen as an opportunity to replenish what was taken away.”

She encourages others to utilize native plants in any garden design to easily and affordably give back and provide for local animals.

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EWMS benefits from Day of Service

A major renovation of East Wake Middle School could be complete by 2020, but there are still things that can be done to improve the overall experience for students at the aging facility until that time arrives.

Activate Good, a Raleigh-based nonprofit that serves as a match maker between volunteers and charity-worthy causes, secured a helping hand – or many of them – for some of those improvements as part of its fifth year organizing the Triangle-wide 9/11 Day of Service.

The group obtained a $4,000 grant funded by the Travis Manion Foundation to pay for several projects at East Wake Middle on Friday and Saturday.

Activate Good contacted Wake Schools grants director Angie Wright in June, seeking interest in working together on a Day of Service project. School leaders recommended East Wake Middle, according to WCPSS spokesman Matt Dees.

“This is a high-need school and we really like to give as much attention as we can to the schools,” said Amber Smith, Activate Good executive director. “We work with nonprofits all across the Triangle, but schools are part of those partnerships we have and regularly we’ll try to send groups and companies out to serve at different schools.”

EWMS Principal Rebecca Beaulieu said the parties involved were mindful of the upcoming renovation when they tossed around ideas for projects to tackle.

“We are slated to get a new school in the next couple years out here, so we did not want to waste the funds and have something that we couldn’t use moving forward as far as the structure,” Beaulieu said. “We had thought about doing an outside science classroom, but this whole area (around the main office) will become an athletic field. We instead chose to do some smaller projects, and things that they’re doing right now certainly benefit students in the classroom from Day One.”

Those projects included adding whiteboards in classrooms where chalkboards still existed, mounting a media center projector, cleaning up some landscaping at the front of the school and making about 70 teacher appreciation kits for the EWMS staff.

Another task, painting inspirational quotes on walls in hallways, stairwells and the lobby area, flowed with a teaching approach the school implements.

“We’re a Capturing Kids’ Hearts school, which means all our staff has been trained and gone through professional development on how to best build relationships with kids,” Beaulieu said. “Part of that is we think and do good things every single day, every period.”

Participating Friday were about 30 students and teachers from Franklin Academy, eight volunteers from the downtown Raleigh Holiday Inn and a handful of individual volunteers.

Another school and group were lined up to join the effort Saturday.

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Symposium all about plants, habitats, animals in the Region





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4 Tips for Making Your Outdoor Spaces Shine

Outdoor spaces are a major selling point that can often be overlooked when sellers are preparing their home for the market. From a luxurious, resort-style cabana to a romantic seating area shaded by a massive oak tree, outdoor space is one of the most important aspects of a home.

Beautifully styled patios, gardens and dining areas have the ability to make a buyer fall instantly in love. Here are a few tips that will make your outdoor spaces shine for potential buyers and give your listing photos the extra emotional pull they need.

[See: 12 Home Improvement Shortcuts That Are a Bad Idea.]

Spruce it up. At the very least, your outdoor spaces should be clean, tidy and well-maintained. The first impression is the most important, and a bad first impression is hard to overcome.

Pay attention to how your home looks from the street or on a potential buyer’s first approach. Does the property look inviting? Make sure the driveway, parking area and any walkways are clean and clear for easy accessibility.

Lawns should be kept cut, and dead or dying patches should be restored. The landscaping and gardens should be thoughtful and well-maintained. Identify areas that are in need of repair or refreshing. Maybe the fence around the vegetable garden needs a fresh coat of paint. Maybe the existing outdoor furniture is faded and needs to be reupholstered, or the wilting potted plants need to be removed and replaced with fresh vibrant ones.

Damage or poor maintenance can be a red flag to buyers and may indicate that the property has not been well cared for in other areas, either. It’s important to put your best foot forward from the very beginning and give the buyer a clean slate to begin imagining herself in your home.

[Read: 9 Quick Ways to Boost Your Home’s Curb Appeal.]

Set the Scene. Homebuyers are looking at spaces both inside and out, and considering how they will use them in their daily lives. Setting the scene to capture a buyer’s imagination and his or her attention is critical.

You want your home to be memorable and to stand out against the competition. Professional staging companies are one resource available to assist in designing a scene that will showcase your outdoor areas in the best light possible.

However, there are also some things you can consider on your own to create a space that will make the next buyer want to curl up next to the fire pit, break out a bottle of Pinot and invite over a few of their closest friends.

Consider how a space is meant to be used and showcase that use. Is the front porch the perfect spot to relax with a book? You can evoke that idea by creating an intimate seating area. If the patio next to the pool is meant for lounging in the sun, it should show that — possibly with a row of cushioned lounge chairs with nicely folded beach towels and brightly colored umbrellas. Showing is always more powerful than telling.

Once you have an idea of how each space should function, you’ll want to accessorize each area to bring it to life. Colorful pillows, potted plants, rugs, cozy throws and thoughtful centerpieces can instantly bring life and warmth to an outdoor space. Use color to your advantage and keep in mind the style and aesthetic of your home. Even just a pop of color here and there can create visual interest in your listing photos and in person.

Light the Scene. Outdoor lighting and landscape lighting is particularly important and often overlooked. Many buyers insist on seeing a property at night as well as during the day and if you are planning to take twilight photos, exterior lighting is even more critical.

Make sure all of your current landscape lighting is working and replace burnt out bulbs, including the pool light. Then determine if any areas are lacking. Walking paths and stairs should be well-lit as well as your outdoor entertaining areas.

Think soft and romantic rather than motion-sensing spotlights. Candles, fireplaces, lanterns, outdoor lamps, stylish fixtures and overhead lighting from fixture or string lights are perfect options to light your scene.

[See: Current Design Trends That Will Date Your Home.]

Create the Privacy. Privacy is an important factor for almost all homebuyers. Anything that can be done to make your outdoor spaces feel more intimate and private will resonate with prospective buyers.

A row of large potted plants or lattice with climbing vines may help shield your patio from your neighbors, or a row of hedges might help insulate your yard from a busy street. Plantings, curtains, privacy screens and fencing can all be used where appropriate to increase the privacy of your home’s outdoor spaces.

Outdoor spaces are a critical selling point and styling them appropriately for your listing photos, as well as for prospective buyers, can make all the difference. Don’t neglect your gardens, outdoor barbeque areas, patios or decks. Clean and make repairs, set the scene, light the scene, accessorize and create the privacy to make your outdoor areas shine.

Sally Forster Jones is recognized as one of the top real estate brokers in Southern California. Sally is an expert in the luxury real estate market in Los Angeles and internationally. Her extensive knowledge ranges from residential sales, luxury and architecturally significant properties to new developments and commercial transactions. Sally is currently President of Aaroe International Luxury Properties with John Aaroe Group in Beverly Hills, California, where her team, Sally Foster Jones Group, is comprised of a full-service team of agents and real estate and marketing professionals.

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End of summer tips for flower, vegetable gardens

We’re coming close to the end of a rather challenging summer for flower and vegetable gardens.

Plants that were able to get enough water have done pretty well, but in many situations rain and even irrigation water has been scant. I’ve been dragging hoses around our yard all summer, doling out water where it’s needed the most. 

Now it’s time to focus on the plants that are still doing well and cut back or completely remove those that are done for the year. Even though you’ll have fewer plants left in your garden, those that remain will be the attraction for the fall season.



The hot, mostly dry weather this summer created ideal conditions for spider mites and leafhoppers. My phlox and fall-blooming helianthus have been devoured by these tiny menaces. I got a so-so flower show out of my phlox, but my helianthus that do most of their blooming in September are a lost cause this year.

Both are perennials, so I’m just going to cut these bedraggled plants right to the ground and hope for better conditions next year. My bee balm is alive but parched from the lack of rain, so that’s getting cut down as well.

The annuals that did the best for me this summer are zinnias, marigolds and snapdragons. I didn’t plant too many, so it wasn’t too hard to keep them supplied with just enough water to let them thrive. Benary’s Giants is my favorite variety of zinnia as a cutflower and it’s looking great right now. For marigolds I planted the variety Safari along the front of some raised beds in my vegetable garden, and they are putting on a steady show right now, and Giant Yellow is holding its own among my perennials thanks to the spot watering I’ve been giving it all summer.

Go ahead and cut any of your perennials that aren’t good right to the ground any time now. They’ll be back next year.

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By removing the above ground parts of these brown, straggling plants, my remaining plants will look much better. I cut my baptisia completely to the ground in mid-July, and it’s now a beautiful mound of lush, green foliage. My sedum Autumn Joy is just beginning to open its bronze flower heads, and I even have a few delphinium pushing up flower stalks for a second time.



In the vegetable garden, completely pull out any crops that are done for the year. This can include green beans, cucumbers, summer squash, potatoes and perhaps lettuce and spinach that has gone to flower. Powdery mildew and bacterial wilt are two common problems for cucumbers, melons and squash, so once your plants succumb, it’s best to remove them from your garden. 

It’s a good idea to not add any infested or diseased plants to your regular compost pile. Either make a separate bin away from the others for this or haul the materials to the back of your property, if you have the room, to let them decompose.

Once you have the spent materials out of your gardens, you can scatter oats over the bare areas for a quick cover crop that will die with the first heavy frost, or cover the bare soil with a natural mulch such as grass clippings or chopped fallen tree leaves to discourage weeds and add organic matter to your soil.

The gardening season isn’t over; it’s just past its peak. By doing a little clearing out now, your remaining plants will be better able to put on a nice show for the fall.


Amy Ivy is a regional vegetable specialist with the Eastern NY Commercial Horticulture Program of Cornell Cooperative Extension. Home gardening questions are handled by each county’s Cornell Cooperative Extension office. Office numbers are: Clinton County, 561-7450; Essex County, 962-4810; and Franklin County, 483-7403.

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HOW DOES YOUR GARDEN GROW: Maintenance tips for suffering hydrangeas

Editor’s note: How Does Your Garden Grow is a series the Gazette will feature again this growing season, provided by master gardener Ken Oles of Wrentham. He will discuss various backyard gardening topics, and answer your gardening questions.


Q:My hydrangeas did not do well this year.  Should I prune them?  If so, when?

A: Due to the drought last year and the late frost this past spring, hydrangeas did suffer and, as a result, your plants may not have reached their full flowering potential. However, improper blooming time and technique are also a possible reason for poor blooming. 

One of the most common questions this time of year involves pruning of hydrangeas. The short answer is, “It depends.” 

Ordinarily, hydrangeas do not have to be pruned unless they have become too large for their space or have become rather unsightly and need some attention. Otherwise, simply removing dead branches and deadheading spent flowers are all that is necessary. 

When to prune hydrangeas is based on whether the variety produces flowers on old wood or on new wood.  Should you wait too long to prune hydrangeas that produce blooms on old wood (i.e. stems from the previous summer) you risk the chance of having no flowers next year. They should be pruned immediately after the flowers fade. 

On the other hand, if your hydrangea produces flowers on new wood (stems that have grown this year), its buds are set within the season.  Therefore, these hydrangeas should be pruned in early spring before any new growth develops. 

For example, Oakleaf hydrangeas, along with big-leaf hydrangeas, which include mopheads and lacecaps in various colors, bloom in early summer on old wood and, therefore, should be pruned after flowering. The ever popular ‘Annabelle’ variety with its globe-shaped flowers and the Panicle hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) such as PeeGees, bloom on new wood so prune them in early spring before new growth begins. 

As with most pruning, if you have plants that produce blooms on old wood, remove any dead branches and branches that cross each other while hydrangeas that bloom on new wood can be selectively pruned to shape them the way you want them to look. 

Finally, if you purchase new plants, be sure to save the label or record the type of the hydrangea for future reference regarding when to prune.


Ken Oles is a Wrentham resident and a life member of the URI Master Gardener Association ( He is also the coordinator for the Harvests from the Heart community garden in Wrentham that produces fresh produce for the Wrentham Food Pantry. Ken is a member of the board of directors and co-president of Masschusetts Agriculture in the Classroom. He can be reached at

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