Monday, April 22, 2013


Rocks are the easiest sculptural elements to incorporate into a garden, creating natural-looking landscapes. They add color, contrast, interest, and require no maintenance.

When strategically placed they will keep vehicles from driving over driveway edges and harming plants or grass located in areas susceptible to damage. Large boulders can be incorporated into the landscape providing a great deal of aesthetic appeal.
Two Ton Rock Placed As Outcropping
Now is the perfect time to design and place landscape boulders. Arrange around plants to determine where they will fit best. They come in all sizes and colors, from giant Stonehenge-type slabs to tiny pebbles the size of peas in colors including brown, tan, red, pink, blue, green, white, black and gray.

The big concern with rocks is their weight. You will need equipment and assistance to transport and place them. Positioning is very important; everyone involved must be extremely patient and willing to take as much time as necessary. Sculptural boulder elements can be expensive to buy, transport and place, limiting your use of them in the landscape.

Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when adding boulders, rocks or smaller stones to your property.

• In nature, rocks repeat naturally. If you have only one rock outcropping in your yard, add more to create a theme. Vary sizes and spread them throughout garden beds. Use two to three per bed at most, arranged in random patterns simulating nature.
• Allow large specimens to complement nearby plants. Smooth flat rocks are natural seats.
• Measure the area where they're going so you know what size to look for. Quarries and stone yards often let you choose your own.
• Select landscape stone as carefully as your plants. Check size, color, texture and shape. Be innovative in utilizing specimens. Stagger largest ones for partial screening and a dramatic effect. Install in the soil as steps, using large flat slabs horizontally arranged on slopes.
• Smaller rocks can be used for low retaining walls creating charming additions and a manicured look to rustic, natural gardens. Flat rocks, up to a foot or so wide, can be stacked without mortar for low walls.
Sitting Walls
• Rockscaping enhances water features like small ponds. Create waterfalls in natural or artificial streams or ponds.

• Imply a riverbed and establish an effective, ornamental drainage swale. Cover soil surface of a meandering U-shaped or V- shaped depression with consistent aggregate material like rounded river gravel. Vary rock sizes for a natural stream design.
Drainage Swale
Consider these books,, for working with landscape stone:
“Listening to Stone: Hardy Structures, Perilous Follies and other Tangles with Nature,” by Dan Snow (Artisan, 2008)
“In the Company of Stone: The Art of the Stone Wall,” by Dan Snow (Artisan, 2001)

Search the Internet for other books on using stone in the landscape.

©2013 Joel M. Lerner
For more helpful tips follow me on Facebook
Editor, Sandra Leavitt Lerner

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Spring Gardening

With spring finally upon us, many plants are rapidly growing.

If perennials browned and died back last fall and weren’t cut, do it now. Examples are liatris, verbenas and black-eyed Susans. Clip liriope and perennial ornamental grasses. Use shears, string trimmers, or a mower on its highest setting.

Some winter or early spring flowering perennials like leatherleaf sedges (Carex buchcananii) and evergreen sedges (C. pendula) shouldn’t be cut back. They can be slow to renew or not renew at all. Don’t prune dianthus or winter-blooming hellebores, except browned leaves.

After daffodil and tulip flowers fade, cut stems that held flowers (scapes) to the base. Leave daffodils in the ground. Minor bulbs like crocus, hyacinthoides and scilla will season without cutting. Tulips are best dug as the foliage yellows. Lay bulbs in the sun to dry for about two weeks, protected by chicken wire cages if wildlife is a problem. When bulbs dry, knock off soil, separate bulbs, place in porous bag with vermiculite to keep them firm and store in cool dry location until you replant in November.
Prune forsythia, floweringquince and winter jasmine after blooming. Cut forsythia in half or to a height where it won’t require pruning again until after blooming next year. Flower buds will form on this year’s new growth. Floweringquince doesn’t need pruning if it flowered well this year. When more wood than flowers show, cut back to 18”. Winter jasmine only needs pruning when it’s overtaking an area and is growing where you don’t want it. It can be cut to 12” after flowering. Only renew overgrown plants that have lost ornamental value.
Incorporate organic material into root zones of plants. It helps tree roots retain moisture and increases ability for soil to hold nutrients. Lay fine textured compost or Leafgro 1-2” thick around root systems at tree base. It’s the perfect complement to fertilizer. Don’t pile against bark.

Insects are waking up and disease-causing organisms that were dormant during winter are emerging. Spray dormant-oil insecticide or fungicide. Spraying now will insure the least negative impact on the environment by reducing necessity for additional spraying during growing season. If you don’t want to use a petroleum-based product, mix 1-cup vegetable oil with 2 tablespoons liquid soap (not dishwasher detergent). Slowly add one gallon of water to create your spray. Use a sprayer that never contained insecticide or weed killer to apply. Only use dormant-oil on plants when it is the recommended method of pest control.

Utilize low, inexpensive fencing around areas where rabbits munch. Eighteen to 24” is tall enough. As leaves mature, rabbits stop eating foliage. Mothballs, dried blood, castor oil, and cayenne pepper have limited success and need to be re-applied frequently.

Try protecting plants from deer with fences, walls, chain-link or deer fence. The latter is rigid black plastic mesh 8’ tall that can be snaked around trees, through woods, and be self-supporting. Other popular remedies include motion-sensor activated water sprays, lights, sound, soap, hair and animal-based products using egg mixtures. Check with your local garden center for deer-resistant plants and the Cooperative Extension Service,

©2013 Joel M. Lerner
For more helpful tips follow me on Facebook
Editor, Sandra Leavitt Lerner

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Garden of Ordinary Miracles An Alphabet Book

I can’t imagine a better time to review a book on flowers than the beginning of spring.

“A Garden of Ordinary Miracles An Alphabet Book” (Universe Publishing, 2012), by Robert Zakanitch, is a beautifully illustrated text that offers the names of ordinary flowers and what they look like. The author has hand-rendered the images and organized the flowers alphabetically.

It will teach children and adults what flowers look like and how to use them in the garden. This 64-page book lists each plant beginning with A and ending with Z. Each letter represents a flower commonly found in the garden that will add color.

Children will enjoy the illustrations, and adults will learn that flowers can be referred to by common or botanical name. The author prefers illustrating flora by common name making it easier for children to learn names of the plants and what they should look like. Adults will learn that some flowers are better identified by scientific names to find the correct plant.
For example, the first plant in the “Alphabet Book” is azalea, but if you want to find an azalea at a garden center, it would probably be found under its botanical name of rhododendron. If your attention was captured in early spring by the plant called forget-me-not, its correct botanical name is myosotis and would be found under that name. If you like Johnny-jump-ups find them under viola. That’s the proper genus for this violet. Larkspurs will be found under the botanical name of delphinium.

Children will learn flowers they like as they read or look through the collection of Zakanitch’s storybook-style book. Drawings are woven through it to create the story line. Adults can search for flowers that they might have forgotten to plant in their garden in 2012, learning to identify them by their common or botanical names.

There is so much to look at and enjoy on each page. Readers will be enchanted and entranced by the intricately detailed and whimsical nature of Zakanitch’s art, combining pen and ink and color on the same page. It’s worth acquiring for the artwork alone and fascinating to discover which flowers were used because of their common name and those listed by botanical names in order to achieve the A to Z plant listing. If you have a question about which name is common or botanical, use a horticultural text such as ”The American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers,” edited by Christopher Brickell.

©2013 Joel M. Lerner
For more helpful tips follow me on Facebook
Editor, Sandra Leavitt Lerner

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Elegant Garden

Welcome to 2013!

Now that we have entered the winter months and most of us are spending more time indoors than out, it’s the perfect time to catch up on reading some exceptional gardening books. Buy one for yourself or the friend you might have forgotten during the holidays.

I recently had the pleasure of enjoying “The Elegant Garden: Architecture and Landscape of the World’s Finest Gardens,” by Johann Kräftner (Rizzoli International Publications, 2012), This gorgeous collection of photography is representative of magnificent architecture in the landscape and offers ways to create your own garden paradise by extracting ideas from international grand gardens of the past and present.
The Elegant Garden
Kräftner introduces gardens as “a place of eternal life,” referred to as paradise in the Middle East, and has included historical information on gardens throughout the world beginning in the eleventh century B.C., going so far as to reference the Garden of Eden.

The designs depicted in the photographs are defined in depth throughout the book. Ranging from classical to contemporary, by following principles in this text you can embody garden spaces and create your own “pleasure ground.” Castles, sculptures, formally trained shrubs, garden rooms, orchards, vegetables, Asian, European, Moorish, American, modern and classical landscape designs are all represented in this superbly illustrated, 430 page hardcover tome that contains photography that will spark ideas for your own property.

The hundreds of gardens in this book promise to instill confidence for do-it-yourselfers and help develop a better grasp of how to envision space. Creating your outdoor comfort zone and comfortably flowing from one garden space to another are clearly defined by photos. This book abounds in landscape design ideas from around the world, containing approximately 850 high quality, full color photographs and superlative historic interpretation – from Rome to the present and a view of what each culture in between considered aesthetically pleasing.

Recognizing that designs occur onsite and not simply on a piece of paper, personal style, planning, recognizing the bones of a garden, planting for 12-month interest, color, architectural features, balance, scale and spatial definition are some design principles quickly discovered by simply perusing this outstanding book. This book contains images ranging from formal to rural, showing them in winter, spring, summer and autumn.

This book is well suited for your coffee table. It is the perfect inspiration to keep you focused on your landscape during the winter months. The photography, international appeal and inspiration alone are worth it. Cost: $60.

©2013 Joel M. Lerner
Editor, Sandra Leavitt Lerner
For more helpful tips follow me on Facebook

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Curb Appeal

Landscaped properties sell homes by adding curb appeal.
Well maintained landscaping shows that you care about your property.

Keep paving smooth, presenting a neat appearance. Comfortable entries allow you to enter a home guiding you in the most efficient manner. Walk grades, or steepness, should be no more than 5% with a minimum width of 42”. If stairs are necessary, always plan for at least two or more. A single stair is a “trip step.” Build each step a maximum of 6” high and the tread (the part you walk on) a minimum of 14” deep.
Comfortable Entry
Trip Step
Use landscape lighting for aesthetics, security and safety. Down-light from trees and use a few lights against the house or on plants with interesting growth habits. Invite buyers to experience your property in the evening to view this different atmosphere.

Color in the landscape “pops,” especially flowers. Sellers who do some homework in the year leading up to a listing can show their garden’s potential. Take pictures when plants are at their showiest times. Passing along information on plants, and photos of gardens is as important as other information buyers receive about your home.

Here are further landscape design suggestions to enhance your property:

• Balance the front of your property equally with trees and shrubs. Trees add the greatest value, according to the American Nursery and Landscape Association, so install them first. Create large beds, 8-12’ wide, around the home’s front corners. Utilize vertical plants, like holly, hinoki falsecypress, water lily star magnolia or chindo viburnum (V. awabuki ‘Chindo’), planted about 8’ off corners to “anchor” the house to the landscape. Install shrubs no closer than 3-4’ from the foundation.

• Design tiered beds – low flora in front, taller plants to the rear. Install them in groupings for impact. Use broadleaf evergreens, or other shrubs. Fill in open spaces with groupings of perennials or annuals that flower at various times throughout the growing season. This type of arrangement requires a planting bed 10-12’ wide. Keep planting beds edged and free of weeds.

• Choose shrubs for year round ornamental value, especially if you don’t know when you’re selling. Some shrubs and trees offer 12-month interest, like kousa dogwood with spring flowers, edible summer fruits, fall color and interesting winter bark. Little Henry Virginia sweetspire’s foliage turns maroon in fall, with deep maroon stems in winter, and white, fragrant, horizontally growing panicles of flowers in late spring/early summer.

• Containers enhance entries. Any plant that can be placed in the ground can be grown in a container. Any object that will hold soil with drainage holes in the bottom will work. Think of your containers as a garden – install trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials, fruits and vegetables, as long as the size of the container will accommodate the size of the plant. Containers allow gardens in areas without space for traditional landscaping.
Colorful Container Planting
 • Watering and drainage are critical to plants in containers, especially hanging baskets. They can require watering every day during the summer if located in the sun.

• Repeating plants in mass by using the same colors in large sweeps will be an eye-catcher for buyers if in bloom when you’re planning to sell. For example, plant masses of mums in fall, moss phlox in early spring, purple coneflower in early summer, and black-eyed Susans later in the summer.

• Outdoor art or a specimen plant near the entry will attract attention. Only use a piece or two. Sculpture serves as a contrasting element with gardens. Design plants and sculptural elements in proportion to the size of your home or property.

©2012 Joel M. Lerner
Editor, Sandra Leavitt Lerner
For more helpful tips follow me on Facebook

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fall Lawn Care

Fall is the best time to refurbish or plant cool season turf. It’s the most common groundcover used by homeowners, in full sun, when provided with moist, well-drained soil rich in organic material.

Lawns help control erosion and dust, dissipate heat and noise, reduce glare, lower fire hazards and are used for recreation and aesthetics.
Utilizing Lawn As A Path
They are specialized, withstanding regular cutting at heights of 2”-4”, perennial, green most of the year and grow into a tight carpet that will withstand some foot traffic. 

Turf is divided into two types -- warm and cool season. In the Washington DC region, now is the time to establish or renew cool season grasses. We live on the northern cusp of hardiness for warm season grasses. The only variety practical to plant here is zoysia and that’s in spring.

Cool season grasses stay green during cool temperatures and turn brown during drought and heat. Some will stay green through winter. They hold their chlorophyll longer and withstand our winters better. Even now, coming out of this hot summer, it took only one soaking rain and cooler temperatures for them to begin growing.

Pick a cool season grass seed by choosing between two types – dwarf, turf-type tall fescue or a fine leafed variety, such as bluegrass, creeping red fescue and perennial rye grass hybrids. A blend of several compact growing tall fescues or a mix of fine textured grasses for seeding your lawn depends on your needs. Tall fescues are wear tolerant, disease resistant and mowed at 3”-4” in height. Fine textured bluegrass, fine fescue, and/or perennial rye are softer to the touch. They can be mowed at 2 and ½” and still maintain their lush appearance.

 Most cool season grasses grow best in soil with a pH of 6.5 (pH is the measure of acidity and alkalinity). Find where to have your soil checked through your County Cooperative Extension System,

Create a healthy lawn:

• Aerate with a plug aerator from an equipment rental company. Spikes must be hollow and remove plugs of soil. Go over lawn three or four times, more if possible. Never aerate when lawns are soggy.

• Condition soil with compost that is fine textured enough to fill aeration holes. Sprinkle about ½” over holes. Don’t cover healthy turf because you will kill it. LeafGro is a locally composted, fine textured material. You might use as many as five bags of LeafGro per 1000 square feet of turf, if your lawn has a lot of bare areas, and only one or two bags per 1000 square feet if your lawn is thick.

• In September and October cool season grasses can use high nitrogen fertilizer because their leaves and roots grow vigorously until winter. Use a fertilizer that is at least 40 to 50% organic or has a percentage of slow release or water insoluble nitrogen (WIN) utilizing a drop or broadcast spreader. Always follow instructions on the packaging.

• There is a fine textured cool season seed mix, blended for thickness, slow growth and low nutrient requirements called Pearl’s Premium Ultra Low Maintenance Grass Seed Sun or Shade, This mix contains five species of low growing native fescues plus frontier perennial rye and deep blue Kentucky bluegrass. This mix is slow growing, so lawn might only need mowing monthly. Follow directions on package for seeding.

• Moisture is available to plants in the form of dew with cooler temperatures. But, be sure your newly aerated and amended lawn is moist enough by sprinkling seed with water lightly every day. As seed begins to sprout, water more deeply to keep grass growing.

©2012 Joel M. Lerner
For more helpful tips follow me on Facebook

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Poison Ivy

One of the most common plants in our woodlands that is often found along paths and can cause distress is poison ivy (Rhus radicans). It has pros for wildlife but cons for people.

If you have ever been a victim of the uncomfortable rash caused by it, you already know the cons. But, there are a few pros. It is a native plant, a source of food for birds, and habitat for many critters that live on the forest floor or in trees.

Poison ivy is a close relative of the pistachio and cashew. It’s one in a family of plants that produce sap caustic to humans. Yet, some people don’t have a reaction at all when exposed to it.

If the oil stays on your skin for more than 10 minutes, even in winter, you can get an itchy rash, which will show up on your skin over a period of 24 to 72 hours, depending on your level of exposure and sensitivity. Although direct contact with the oil or smoke from burning poison ivy is necessary to get the rash, remember that the allergen, urushiol, doesn't become dormant; it remains active for days on whatever it touches, including pets. Pets don’t get a rash, but can get oil on their fur and then rub it onto furniture, rugs, and you. The oil will remain on your clothes.
Poison Ivy
Learn to recognize it. Poison ivy can look like a small shrub, or vine if it’s climbing a tree. The leaves grow in groups of three, usually with a red area in the center where the stems of the leaves meet. They can have smooth edges, be slightly lobed or have an undulating margin. Woody stems are tan and possibly covered with reddish-brown, hair-like aerial rootlets if they're climbing a tree or building.

It might be confused with box elders or wild raspberries, because of their compound three leaflet clusters. Boston ivy might look like poison since its young leaves have a shiny reddish color. These plants are very different. Box elders are large trees; raspberries have thorns, and Boston ivy has a different shape to its leaf. If you’re in doubt, don’t touch it until you get a positive identification.

If you have to work around it, wear gloves, long sleeves, long pants, and keep your socks pulled up. Wash clothes with a strong soap and any areas where it touched your skin with a solvent, such as isopropyl alcohol, as soon as possible.

Getting rid of poison ivy on your property is a slow and steady process. My herbicide of choice is a systemic weed killer such as a glyphosate based product. These are approved for use over tree roots where poison ivy is most commonly found. The herbicide works in about seven to ten days if it’s applied according to labeled instructions. The poison ivy will brown slowly and die, including roots.

It’s important to cut vines near the ground so you aren’t spraying herbicide up into trees. Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide that will kill any actively growing plant. And, depending on the amount of poison ivy you’re trying to control, a second application on regrowth might be necessary. If dead plants must be removed, wait until they begin to decay.

For more information on poison ivy, check

©2012 Joel M. Lerner
For more helpful tips follow me on Facebook.