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The Greenhouse Blog

Plants That Beautify Your Landscape in Any Season!

December 17, 2012 2 min read

Plants that are beautiful year roundMost of us think of evergreens when we want some color and life in our winter landscapes. Small leaved varieties, such as spruces, yews and junipers are timeless, hardy and familiar. But if you’re yearning to break out of the mold, consider some less familiar, but equally divine winter specimens….

Broadleaved Evergreens

Shrubs like Boxwoods and Hollies are becoming increasing popular. Their glossy, rich leaves are larger than their needle typed brethren and yet depending upon your climate, just as hardy.


There are plenty of species that are considered a semi-evergreen. Which basically means, in warmer climates they will retain their leaves. In colder climates they may or may not retain their leaves depending upon the location, and the variety of species planted. This doesn’t mean they won’t do well in a colder climate; they just might be more deciduous in nature. Various Rhododendrons and Azaleas are great examples of popular semi-evergreens. During a mild winter in Omaha, you may have yourself an evergreen, but next year if it’s very cold… you’ll be waiting for spring to see leaves again.

Other examples of widely used semi-evergreen shrubs are: Pieris Japonica, Euonymous, and Mountain Laurel.

Ground Covers

Purple Wintercreeper is a hardy, versatile evergreen groundcover. There are plenty more that are true to semi-evergreen including but not limited to, English Ivy, Pachysandra, Periwinkle, and European Wild Ginger.

The large variety of drought tolerant succulent plants offers selections that can be used as evergreens in cold climates up to zone 4.

Bark and Twigs!

There is no doubt that the warmer your climate, the more options you will have when it comes to ‘greening’ up your landscape. If you are in an extremely cold area, you may want to think a little outside of the box.

When choosing plants for your garden or yard, think about what it will look like in winter. Trees such as River and Paper Birch offer stunning bark that show dramatically in a winter snow. Shrubs like Red and Yellow Twig Dogwood are also grown as much for their brilliant twig color as they are for their summer foliage.

Waiting until early spring to cut prairie grasses and flowers also provides your winter scenery with attractive interest as well as beneficial food and shelter for wildlife.

Please keep in mind that many of the above mentioned plants are general selections. Always read the labels of your specific variety carefully to make sure you are making a decision that will keep you happy all winter long!

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Winter Pruning of Deciduous Trees

December 11, 2012 1 min read

Winter Tree PruningWinter can be the perfect time for pruning trees. The optimal time is usually after several deep frosts have occurred as it helps to ensure your deciduous trees are dormant. Diseases are also less likely to set in and the leaf-free branches are much easier to see and reach.

Pruning should only be done if absolutely necessary. For instance, branches are imposing a possible dangerous situation, they are encroaching upon areas where they should not be, or branches are rubbing against each other, causing damage to the tree itself.

Some basic rules for pruning are:

  • - Never cut mid-branch. Always cut at an angle just above the swollen collar where the two branches intersect. The collar provides a protective ‘shield’ as the tree heals. Removing the collar leaves your tree vulnerable to disease.
  • - If pruning smaller branches and twigs, prune back to just above the next bud on the branch where you want your small branch to end.
  • - Don’t overdo it. Never prune more than ¼ of the crown of your tree at one time.

Not all deciduous trees should be pruned in winter. Spring blooming trees flower on last year’s growth. Pruning them too soon can result in fewer flowers.

As far as Evergreens are concerned… as a general rule, these fair best when pruned in early to late spring. Shearing needle leafed evergreens is best done while these plants are semi-dormant – during midsummer!

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What is the Farmer’s Almanac and Should I be Using It?

December 07, 2012 1 min read

Farmers AlmanacFor hundreds of years people have been using the Farmers’ Almanac for a multitude of reasons. If you have ever wondered what it is and if you should be using it, we’re here to lay out a few Almanac basics to help you decide if this over-one-century-old garden staple is what you could be missing.

According to Wikipedia, the Farmers’ Almanac is a North American periodical that has been in publication since 1818! It is most famous for its long-range weather prophecies, and astronomical information. The publishers have a ‘secret mathematical formula’ for predicting weather patterns and activity. They also claim that their readers attribute nearly an 85% accuracy rate to yearly forecasts.

The Almanac is not entirely written in mathematical and technical terms. In fact, it uses a good dose of trivia and humor to keep it light and entertaining. This time honored book also gives tips and advice for sustainable living, gardening, food preparation, and conservation.

Your garden might be largely out of sight during the off-season, but it doesn’t have to be out of mind. Now is a great time to prepare for next year and come up with a game plan to maximize the most from your landscaping endeavors. The Farmers’ Almanac just might help!

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Winter Garden Gems That Benefit Wildlife

December 05, 2012 2 min read

Winter Garden Gems for Wildlife

Winter can be hard on all of us. But just think of those poor little critters out in the cold looking for food during the darkest, coldest days of the season.

Feeding wildlife with store bought food is acceptable as long as the seeds and food contained are those of native plants. Many store bought varieties contain ‘fillers’ that have little nutritional content or seeds of invasive plant species.

If at all possible, the best course of action to take is to make sure your landscape provides some native plant species. This is what wildlife should naturally be eating. As a bonus to us all, this spreads the seeds of native varieties creating more beauty and natural food abound!

Herbaceous Vegetation

Leave your prairie and meadow plants stand for an outdoor dried bouquet! Seed heads of coneflowers, Black-eyed Susans, Bergamot, and Sunflowers look gorgeous with tufts of snow capping their crowns. Birds will flock to them for their scrumptious AND nutritious seeds.

Prairie grasses such as, Little Bluestem, Switchgrass, Sideoats Grama, and Canada Wildrye also look great and feed birds. Plenty more native prairie and wetland-reed species will work well. Even if not used as a primary food source, they can become secondary food sources and offer much needed places to nest and take cover from a winter storm.

Trees and Shrubs

Besides the large seed bearing trees such as the mighty Oaks, Walnuts and Hickories, there are plenty of smaller, berry producing tree and shrub varieties that will add beauty to your landscape while supporting winter wildlife.

Sumacs provide beautiful autumn color and large clusters of burgundy, bitter tasting berries. But when it’s 10 below-zero outside, they must seem mighty tasty! Hollies, Beautyberries, Saltbush and select Viburnums (depending on your climate) also have nutritious berries that persist into winter.

Small, berry producing trees provide double duty as wind breaks, higher and safer places to nest, as a well as food. Some favorite varieties consist of Mountain Ash, Hawthorns, and Hackberries.

Select evergreens may also offer food sources, but more importantly, bushy types like Spruces provide a cozy place to nest and hide during the stark winter season. Getting the most from your evergreenswill help keep your landscape and your wildlife healthy all year long.

Finally, providing water is essential for winter birds in particular. Where most sources are frozen over, water can be extremely hard to come by. Melted snow is very cold and takes a lot of energy for the body to heat itself after drinking. Using a heated bird bath might garner more wildlife action in your yard than providing ample amounts of seed. Even if you don’t have a fancy bath, just buying a heater at your garden store and using in a shallow tin pan will do wonders!

Just be sure to put it by your window. Then grab your binocs, sit back and enjoy the winter show!

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‘Tis the Season! Getting the Most from Your Evergreens

December 02, 2012 2 min read

We all love our evergreens, especially during the winter. They are often the saving grace in our landscape, offering beauty, life, and most importantly – green!

Getting the Most from your Evergreens!

Even though evergreens are known to withstand and maintain their beauty through winter, doesn’t mean they are indestructible. While they may not be growing during the off season, they are transpiring. Which means they can become susceptible to drying out, otherwise known as – desiccation. Evergreens that are situated in a particularly cold or windy spot can benefit from an anti-desiccant. This spray will seal in moisture and as a bonus, deter deer and other garden pests.

Evergreen boughs that have broken off the plant, or that have been pruned (keep in mind, the majority of pruning should be done in early spring) makes a great cover for sensitive ground covers. Just lay them over the area to be protected and secure.

Broad leafed species such as azaleas and rhododendrons can benefit from a little extra winter protection from their evergreen brethren. Take boughs from narrow leaved varieties and stick the broken ends into the ground around the base of the shrub. Tie together the tops of the boughs to make a little tent-like plant shield!

Keep in mind, if you use a live Christmas tree, boughs cut from it after the Holidays can work great!

Place flags or visible stakes by evergreens that border drives and streets so that snow plows and blowers don’t run into them.

While snow can provide efficient protection from excessive cold and wind, too much snow can weigh down and crack branches and smaller tree trunks. If your evergreens are struggling to stand up under the weight of a heavy snow fall, shake off some excess to relieve the pressure.

If you take good care of your plants during winter, you’ll be for EverGreen!

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Your Basic Checklist for Winter Garden Clean Up!

November 30, 2012 2 min read

Performing a few maintenance and organizational tasks now, can save you time, money and stress next spring.

Here’s a quick checklist to make cleanup extra easy…

1. If you are in a warmer climate and still have plants growing, it’s not too late to pull weeds and invasive plants. Doing so now will save time and elbow grease next spring. Old and dead plant debris is a safe haven for insects and disease.

2. Water your garden and evergreens before and between the first frosts. (More on this at Overwintering Sensitive Plants)

3. Thinking of making a new garden bed or expanding your existing one? Simply lay down newspaper under a dark plastic tarp and top with bricks to keep in place. Next spring the lawn or area underneath will be decomposed and much easier to till and turn into a new bed!4. Make sure your garden tools are dry and clean while storing over winter.

5. Drain and store pumps from garden ponds. If you’re not overwintering your container plants, clean out your pots and bring them in to avoid cracking from the cold.

6. While memory is still fresh, make a rough diagram of your garden plants so you know exactly what you’re dealing with next spring.

7. After the first hard frost, lay down a 2 – 4” layer of organic mulch.

8. Ornamental Grasses that don’t add much winter interest or provide food for wildlife (ie, Zebra Grass), can be cut back to 3 – 4” inches.

9. Detach and drain outdoor hoses. This will prevent the faucets from bursting and keep your hoses in good shape for next year.

10. After the first hard freeze, wrap delicate plants like roses and azaleas in burlap and/or cover the base of plants with a mound of soil or mulch for extra protection.

Remember, the basic rule of (green) thumb is… less mess = less stress!

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Protecting Container Plants for Next Spring’s Show!

November 28, 2012 2 min read

Foliage no doubt beautifies decks, patios and balconies. Depending upon your climate and the variety of plants you have will determine if you can successfully overwinter your container plants.Protect your container plants from winter!

Generally speaking, potted plants that are hardy to two zones colder than the zone of your climate should be able to withstand an average winter. For instance, someone who lives in a Chicago zone 5 should ideally plant zone 7 or higher if they wish them to withstand a normal winter.

Many of the same things you would do to protect your in ground plants you can also do for your container plants. Including watering, mulching and in some instances covering with a frost cloth or burlap. However, a little extra effort may be in order:

1. Temperature fluctuations in the soil vary greatly due to the relatively small area contained in your pot. If space allows, move your pots off of hard surfaces such as concrete and stone. If possible, place your containers on the ground where the temperature will be more stable.

2. Watering cannot be overemphasized. Making sure the plant has plenty of water before the first several hard frosts will protect the roots from cold and drying out. When winter rain fills your pots, make sure drainage is sufficient. If a frozen ground doesn’t allow for this, tilt your containers so drainage can persist and root rot doesn’t set in.

3. Double up! If you are expecting a particularly cold winter, you may consider placing your plants container and all, into another larger pot. Use the space between the pots to fill with insulation. Nothing fancy is needed, using old blankets, bubble wrap, or whatever you have laying around the garage will do. If you don’t have a larger container – wrap the outside of your pots with blankets and secure with duct tape!

Of course, there are never any guarantees, but these are some easy practices to hedge your bets for success!

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Snuggle Down: 3 Easy Ways to Winterize Those Sensitive Plants

November 26, 2012 2 min read

Prepare your plants for winter!Winter’s a-coming, and many of your plants are depending on you to help them through.The first thing in order is to get a game plan and prioritize. Take casual surveillance of your landscape to foresee where your plants might need the most help. It is common for a plant to flourish with little help from you, in a protected southwestern facing spot, while the same species in the same yard struggles in a northerly windblown exposure.

Mulching is the most common and easiest way to prepare plants for winter. However there are some considerations. Organic mulch, while providing nutrients and protection for the plants, also provides a cozy bed for rodents and other pests. Rodents will eat bark as leaves and berries become scarce. It may be worthwhile to protect your bushes and small trees with chicken wire or aluminum foil at their base before laying the mulch.

Water, water, water! Especially if you’ve experienced a dry autumn, you will want to make sure that your plants get a good dose of H20 before their winters nap. Soaking soil before the first freeze is ideal, but doing so in between frosts while the ground is still not completely frozen will give plants the extra strength they need for a strong root system.

Many gardeners like to see what they can get away with and plant warmer weather species in their cold climates. Often, it works if the correct protection is provided. Using frost covers (sold at garden stores) or burlap to cover these and other tender plants like roses will help keep them protected. They will also help keep them safe from hungry critters!

Depending upon your climate and the types of plants you have will determine how much winter preparation you will need to commit to. The extra effort will pay off as you see your beauties alive and well come spring!

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