What to plant under an oak tree…

Our oak tree - Cumru 2014

Our oak tree – Cumru 2014

       Here in Berks County we are blessed with many varieties of oak tree’s, but along with the blessing of a great oak is the challenge of what can be planted with it.  Some  simply leave the oak to itself and it does fine.  But for those who feel the mighty oak needs added dressing here are few ideas.  Oak tree’s like dry, light alkaline soil so companion plantings also must enjoy dry conditions along with filtered sun to part shade.  Just a quick reminder, annuals look pretty except the water needed to keep them going can invite unwanted problems to the oak tree’s roots, called oak root fungus.  To avoid the open invitation plant companion plantings at least 3 feet to 5 feet from the trees trunk.  And please don’t add mulch up and around the trunk in the “volcano” fashion which can also invite problems.

     A few wonderful companion plantings are hosta, iris, astillbe, bleeding heart, lady’s mantle and one of my favorites heuchera.  Heuchera has become a garden must have, there are so many color varieties.  This herbaceous perennial can begin flowering late spring thru late summer while still providing winter interest.  Birds enjoy it, can be use as a cut flower and its low maintenance factor is a real benefit.  Along with being a native in North America, fertilizing can be as easy as an osmocote type slow release fertilizer every 3-4 months.  Dividing is advised every few years – or as needed.

Astillbe - 2014 Cumru

Astillbe – 2014 Cumru


     In the photo, vinca darts blue, hosta, ornamental grass and Sedum ” golden teardrop”  have been used to add interest to a spot near the driveway.  The different colors and textures add to the whole look.  The sedum spreads quickly, I found it easy to manage.  The planting appear closer than they actually are.  This area is slightly sloped and gets snow in winter, while in spring and summer dappled sun.

Hosta, vinca darts blue and sedum " golden teadrop" with an oak tree. 2014 Cumru

Hosta, Vinca darts blue and Sedum ” golden teardrop” & ornatmental grass with an oak tree. 2014 Cumru

 Then again there are times when less is more and looks just the way it should.  Let your creativity go when adding to your garden – just remmber : “Right plant – Right place”.    Until later, El

oak tree - Cumru 2014

oak tree – Cumru 2014

Summer has arrivied…




  Here we are the day after the Summer Solstice, the sun is shinning, there is a slight breeze here in Cumru, and in the background are the wonderful songs of our native birds mixed among the buzzing of the day’s early risers.  Mornings are so pleasant here in the garden, already  mother natures creatures are fluttering about.

   As the month of June comes to a close, there is still time to plant a flowering garden to please.  A favorite of mine is the “herbaceous perennial” Becky Shasta Daisy” – this a beautiful white petal flower with a sun yellow center that blooms from June well into September.  Becky Shasta Daisy can grow between 3 to 4 feet and spreading 2′ to 3′  and will need dividing every 2 to 3 years to encourage continue vigor.  This gem of a perennial has other positive usefulness beginning with 1) deer don’t like it.  2) drought tolerant – labeled as a xeriscape planting.  3) a great cut flower. 4)  Attracts pollinators – bees, butterflies and birds.



Another garden perennial that goes well in the garden now through September is Echinacea coneflower – Merlot (purple) and White Secret (white) are two favorite Echinacea varieties do to the fact they are drought tolerant and only require good air circulation ( just don’t crowd – less is more).  These grow 1-3ft and spread about 3 feet.  Attract pollinators.  Both are deer and rabbit resistant along with both are fragrant.  During winter these beauties do another task beside winter interest, they provide food for native song birds.


Xeriscaping landscaping is basically grouping plants with the same water and sun requirements together that tolerate drought like conditions.  Enjoy!  until later,  El

Garden Chores preparing for Summer….



       The mornings have been so beautiful the past few days, with my cup of joe and my constant companion Bo it was off to the garden for walkabout.  The tap-tap tap from a nearby tree could be heard, following the sound we spot a large woodpecker .  I had never seen a woodpecker like these before.  No wonder these are not just any woodpecker but a pileated woodpecker that is a “fairly common resident west – uncommon east”.  Well imagine my surprise seeing two – yup…had to grab the camera.  Enjoy the pictures.  


  These woodpeckers are a committed long-term monogamous pair year round.  Also, both incubate their eggs in their hallowed tree hole – no nest dressing for apx. 18 days.  Both pileated woodpecker parents will feed their hatched young with regurgitated food.  These woodpeckers eat ” wood boring insects such as the long horne beetles, carpenter ants, nuts and fruit”.  Both woodpeckers were the size of black crows. 


    These Pileated woodpeckers are “currently candidates for endangered species”.  It is also illegal to shoot them.

Now that the spring-flowering shrubs and bulbs have faded.  Now would be the perfect time to get into the garden in the cool early morning  – before the heat of the day.  If the early hours are not do able there is the early evening, just remember to keep water off the foliage.  Now would be a terrific time to begin a composting pile, beginning with the withered bulb leaves.

Composting is a wonderful way to recycle garden trimming, leaves, grass trimmings, vegetable and fruit skins. The end result is what gardeners call “black gold” to use within the garden.   Composting is simply speeding up the natural decay process of organic matter.  There are a variety of composting bins available, just take a moment to consider how much space is available for it along with:

Placement :  a flat spot which will allow good drainage which aids in aeration.  Water accessibility.              12763416[1]

  The compost pile will need a few things to encourage microbial activity.  1) Material high in Carbon aka dry browns such as fall leaves, shredded newspaper, straw, paper bags, bark ( broken into small pieces) and cardboard (egg cartons – small pieces). 2)  Materials high in Nitrogen aka Greens such as lawn clippings, leaves, vegetable & fruit scraps/peels, and coffee grounds.  Simple rule compost needs to be equal browns & greens by volume.  3) water: Moisture is needed by microbes – all life on our earth require a certain amount of water. The moisture amount has often been explained as, ” the compost mixture should feel damp to the touch with as much moisture as a wrung-out sponge”.  4) Aeration aka oxygen is essential for the microbial activity of the aerobic microorganisms.  In other words air needs to be able to move through the organic matter – if not rot will begin and odors will follow.

Once all your organic matter is in the compost bin every 7  to 10 days give your compost a turn to encourage continued “cooking”.  This style is commonly called “Active Method”.  Compost happens – whether you do the mentioned composting or you choose to do “Passive Method” .  Passive is just as named, organic plant matter is collected and over time decomposition happens. 

Spring is just about to end and summer’s quickly approaching.  Summer solstice is Saturday, June 21 of 2014.  Until later, El



April Showers Bring May’s Flowers!



  Outside the pitter-patter of April’s showers’ continue to fall.  Yesterdays blooms begin to fade while tomorrows blossoms begin to open……                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Spring 2014 Cumru Daffadil

Spring 2014 Cumru

  Yes, there will be a shorter season for vegetables which would normally be finishing mid-summer with replanting for fall harvesting.   Lets take a moment to talk about raised vegetable gardens.

   So, you’ve built a raised garden bed, with visions of an over abundance of crops.  Some how the experience hasn’t been as wonderful as expected.  Getting back to basics is what is needed.  Begin with a soil test.  Soil  can appear wonderfully colored and feel great.   If the nutrients are gone, whatever plants you plant or seeds sown will simply grow slowly if at all.  Phosphate, aids in the growth of new roots. It is an important ingredient for success within your garden.   A  soil test is going to ensure your soil will be able to feed and nurture you plantings, by listing what your soil is lacking and how to amend it.  Compost  is a wonderful way to amend soil – Remember most new gardeners / first timers usually experience new challenges.

   There are a few things to know about raised beds.  Raised beds have a tendency to dry out faster than conventional garden beds.  Investing in a good soaker hose can help take care of that, by being placed under the mulch product you decide to use.  Mulch / top-dressing is very beneficial and should be 3 -4 inches deep.  Straw is a good mulch to use in the garden bed, straw will not provide many nutrients to your soil as it breaks down – what it does do is become part of the amending process that is needed by raised beds.  When purchasing straw bales, look for certified weed free bales.  Hay bales are not a good choice, due to the fact they are full of seeds.   Straw is actually a wonderful way to keep those tenders roots cool during the hot summer days, keeping water off plants leaves which helps fight disease.  Mulch / top-dressing will also work to keep weeds at bay.

  While early planting can be touch in go when a freeze is announced – those cool weather planting could gain an added protection from (empty) toilet paper rolls being  slipped over the young planting. Also works well with tomato plants against hungry cut-worms.  Just keep in mind the best way to ensure a great growing season, is to begin from the start with great soil – poor soil can guarantee  poor vegetable growth.  There is still time to salvage the remainder of this growing season.

Take notes as you go on your raised garden adventure, record all the things that have occurred within your garden bed, what was planted, insects, and the type of seeds or seedlings yield.    Remember, confidence will come with your continued experience!  Until later, El                                                                      

   Soil test kit:  Penn State extension – Berks County 610-378-1327  – http://entension.psu.edu                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Spring 2014 Cumru Azalea

Spring 2014 Cumru


Spring Came With A Freezing Frost!

Spring 2014 - Cumru

Spring 2014 – Cumru

     The Seasons’ early frost along with a blanket of snow was a bit of a surprise!   What that means for gardeners, is a shorter growing season.  The anxiety of seeing your spring-flowering planting and trees waking up from winters dormancy being subjected to a blanket of snow is enough to rattle any one.  Healthy plantings should be able to withstand a little cold.  Cold temperature vegetables, cabbage, kale, broccoli and brussel sprouts should be fine.  A layer of straw can be used to cover for added peace of mind.  It has been said, ” a fast frost enhances the flavor of those cold weather vegetables”.  

      For flowering plantings, you can expect the small buds to become shriveled and brown.  This should grow out as the weather warms and new grow continues.  Here are pictures :

2014 Spring - Cumru Azalea -PJM

2014 Spring – Cumru
Azalea -PJM


    This azalea  is currently a foundation planting – as shown the flowers and buds were immediately affected by the frost.  Don’t prune – the new growth will soon take over the entire plant and it will look better.   If the site is just too much for you, carefully snip off the brown bud.  After the azalea  has finished flowering – then you can prune.  Don’t prune after June – you may be pruning off next years flowers.  There is a new Encore variety that will bloom twice, once in Spring and again in Fall.   When fertilizing – less is more.  Consider a slow release fertilizer.  If you over fertilizer leaves will have that scorched look.  

While walking through the garden, I hear an all familiar sound the seasons first pollinator. 

Spring 2014 Cumru

Spring 2014 Cumru

       If another frost is predicted, you may want to cover your plantings with either straw, burlap or blankets.  Some empty containers can also be placed over your plants to protect from frost.  Just remember, healthy plants that produce buds on old wood as well as new should bounce back as the weather warms.  With a shorter growing season, you can get a jump on vegetables and annuals by starting inside and bring plantings out after Mother’s Day.   Happy Spring!  Until later, El


Here are sites :  http://azaleaSocietyofAmerica.org  –  http://AzaleaBlossonWatch.org   –  Penn State Extension – http://.psu.edu/

 Ps.. Azalea is in the rhododendron family,  the difference is the flower size and leaves.


Spring is Blooming…

052   As Spring begins to entice with the glorious promise of more to come, now is the time to pause and become inspired.  There is still time to redefine your gardening space….Small changes can be the beginning to transformation.

    First, what do you want your garden /yard to be used for – growing vegetables, flowers, herbs, or just a wonderful place to unwind and entertain, or perhaps a little of each?  You don’t need much to create that special place.  Sometimes less is more, the versatility of large containers is one way, perhaps you would enjoy a kitchen cooking garden, herbs are very easy to grow.  Many flowers can be grown for salads, as well as being added to ice trays for your favorite summer beverages.  A few are pansies, violas and not to be forgotten Johnny Jump Ups.  Squash blooms are always wonderful to add to cooking or as garnish.  A great book for more : Edible Flowers – From Garden to Palate by Cathy Wilkinson Barash.

047Within your garden beds try to include as many natives plants as you can.  Natives are so beneficial for returning wild life – who have migrated south for winter, only to prepare for their journey back to our yards and gardens.  Did you know migrating birds will usually return to the same feeding areas year after year?  Birds feed on some of the little critters that inhabit the soil.  So take the opportunity to invite nature into your life…you will be so glad.  Hummingbirds love deep-throated flowers.  Butterflies feed on nectar flowering plants.  Butterflies are going to be returning soon, so milkweed is a must have.  Monarch butterflies lay their eggs upon the milkweed leaves.  Don’t have any, consider adding some.  Just making a few additions to your garden can be helpful to the environment by creating a wildlife habitat.  A butterfly invitation can be as easy as having a few nectar flowering perennials and annuals.  To encourage butterflies to lay eggs, the host plant – would be needed for the “very hungry caterpillar to eat”.  Yes, each species of butterfly have their own host plant variety.  Confusing – no problem here is a site that has great pictures of both plant & the butterfly it supports, and offers them for purchase.  http://www.ButterflyBushes.com/milkweed  – Rose Franklin’s Perennials located in Springs Mills, PA.

Your garden space can be your canvas to plant with living color, so indulge that side that wants to add more to your garden space with inspired enthusiasm, for the new growing season!  Get growing!  Until later, El

               DSCF3096                                                                                              DSCF3094                                      


Spring Equinox : Brings the Dream of Spring Colors March 20th

                                                                                             019As the Vernal Spring equinox arrives to announce the beginning of a new season, the landscape still bares remains of the last snow fall.  The vernal equinox happens when, the sun moves between hemispheres over the celestial equator, with “Earths’ tilt on its axis orbit around the sun and ceaseless motion in orbit”.  The sun will rise from “the east and set due west.” 

As if a timer has gone off, Mother Nature brings the promise of a new color palate, sure to please.  The first spring bulbs, perky crocus will make their appearance emerging up through the scattered snow remnants.  While the fragrant hyacinth, tulip and daffodil follow to make their Spring debut.  Yes, Spring is here!

According to the Farmers’ Almanac – March 19th – thru March 21st is a good time to start seeds. (www.farmersalmanac.com)

Now is also a wonderful time to make the “garden to do list”  – so that the you don’t over do in one day.007                                                                                                                                                                                             

Spring 2014 Daffodils

Spring 2014 Daffodils

Spring 2014 Daffodils

Spring 2014 Daffodils

     Take a few minutes and walk through your garden, you will be pleasantly surprized!  Until later, El

PS…there is a Berks County Horticulture Club meeting, April 9th – 2014 at 7 pm – http://berkshortclub.org/events


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