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
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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
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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
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Sunday, July 22, 2012


Our garden has been focused on growing plants to coordinate blooms for twelve-month interest. Throughout the years, it’s turned into a fabulous butterfly garden as well.

Sandy and I watch these beautiful and graceful winged creatures, some of which only live for a week, bring animation to our garden. As we learn more about them, their story becomes more interesting.

There are 670 species in the U.S. and Canada. In their short life as butterflies, they visit hundreds to thousands of flowers drinking nectar and pollinating plants. Only one of their larvae – caterpillars – might be considered a crop pest. The cabbage butterfly lays its eggs on young plants in the cabbage family and the larvae feed on the heads of these vegetables as they form.

There is a host plant on which each butterfly hatches, feeds and pupates from egg to caterpillar into adult. There are also nectar-producing flowers. So, you must grow flowers and host plants if you want to sustain their life cycle.
Monarch Caterpillar
Here are nectar-producing flowers:
• Black-eyed Susan, Maryland’s official state flower with golden yellow flowers throughout the summer,
• Butterfly weed or milkweed (Asclepias), both a perennial and host plant for monarchs,
• Goldenrod’s (Solidago) showy golden blooms aren’t an allergen and attract butterflies,
• Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium) has large flowers in August and September,
• Lavender (Lavandula) is evergreen, offering flowers for nectar,
• Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) also offers nectar,
• Sage (Salvia officinalis) enhances perennial borders and attracts butterflies with its flowers,
• Liatris keeps them busy,
• Verbena is enjoyed by every butterfly in our yard, with purple rounded clusters of flowers all summer, until first frost.

Butterflies cannot complete their life cycle without host plants. Monarchs will hatch and feed only on milkweed. They migrate 1000-2000 miles to the mountains of Mexico, resting on branches of fir trees, flying back in spring, mating along the way. The next generation will often complete the journey home.
 These plants serve as hosts:
Thistle, mallow and hollyhock – painted lady,
• Asters – pearly crescentspot,
• Oak, hickory, hops and sorrel – gray hairstreak,
• Spicebush and sassafras – spicebush swallowtail,
• Willow and poplar – viceroy,
• Parsley, dill and fennel – eastern black swallowtail,
• Plantain, cudweed and many others – buckeye,
• Wild cherry – tiger swallowtail.

Learn more about butterflies on the following Web sites:
North American Butterfly Association, 
 Monarch Butterfly Journey North,

Watching butterflies float, dip and drink their way through gardens adds animation to a space. Myths surrounding them are positive. There’s a Native American legend, “To make a wish come true, whisper to a butterfly. Upon these wings it will be taken to heaven and granted, for they are the messengers of the Great Spirit.”

Ensure winged beauty in your garden by:
• Locating space in a sunny area,
• Installing host plants and nectar producing flowers,
• Including shallow puddles for drinking and small flat rocks for them to bask in the sun,
• Not using pesticides in or near their habitat,
• Researching butterflies that frequent your area.

Enjoy a one on one experience with butterflies in the Washington, DC region by visiting:
Smithsonian Butterfly Garden, and
"Wings of Fancy" Live Butterfly & Caterpillar Exhibit,

©2012 Joel M. Lerner
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Friday, June 29, 2012

Deer Control

Homeowners want lush gardens in spite of a rebounding deer population. Whitetail deer are the most common.

According to Dr. Clay Nielsen, Southern Illinois University, by 1930 U.S. populations were approximately 300,000, now there are roughly 29 million. Any plants with foliage or edible stems can become food sources. Neil Soderstrom’s book, “Deer-Resistant Landscaping: Proven Advice and Strategies for Outwitting Deer and 20 other Pesky Mammals” (Rodale, 2009), addresses these growth explosions.
Deer Browsing Our Woodland Area
“Today deer overpopulation among whitetails has proven almost disastrous in many wild areas,” writes Soderstrom. “In over-browsed areas, amphibians and insects have no cover . . . Birds and other wildlife that are dependent on those same insects must move on or starve.” Some forestland has more than 200 whitetails browsing per square mile. A healthy deciduous forest will support about 15. Rock Creek Park in the Washington, DC region is estimated to have 375 deer living there, reported by Chief Ranger Nick Bartolomeo on May 30, 2012.

Deer control theories begin with keeping them away from your plants. They are beautiful to watch, but “not in my backyard,” from a gardener’s standpoint.

Keep them from your garden with fences too high for them to jump -- 8’. Most county codes here allow 6-7’. If you must meet a 6’ height code, widen the horizontal distance deer must jump with deer resistant tall, spreading shrubs along both sides of the fence.

One fence is stiff plastic mesh that comes in rolls. It can be wrapped around and drawn between trees for support in woodland areas without staking. It’s black and not very visible. For information, call Benner’s Gardens at 1-800-753-4660, Also check see-through mesh netting available as Poly Deer Fence,

Other deterrents are draping netting over favorite plants, hanging CDs on shrubs to scare them; water blasting from motion activated automatic sprinklers (Scarecrow) and deer repellents.

Based on the fact that deer are herbivores, you can try home remedies such as hanging human hair in wool bags on plants, rubbing and stringing bar soap on shrubs and trees, and suet, if you’re using bird feeders.

Commercial repellants range from putrescent eggs to animal urine. Try an egg-based product like Deer Guard, or Coyote Urine,, a deer and rabbit repellent made of ammonium salts of fatty acids.

Another class of repellents makes plants taste bad. We've had tremendous success in our garden with Messina Wildlife’s Deer Stopper,, approved for organic growers. Active ingredients are rosemary oil, mint oil and putrescent whole egg solids.

Use plants deer don’t like – those with thorny, hairy leaves, thick, leathery foliage or herbs (because of their strong flavor or odor). Deer prefer fertilized and irrigated plants. The more accustomed they are to people, the better the chance they’ll eat ornamentals. If they’re hungry, they’ll try almost anything. They’re known to have varied tastes.

Two Web sites that offer excellent suggestions for deer resistant plants and additional information about deer control are:
Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station,  and Out Out Deer,

©2012 Joel M. Lerner
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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Weed Control

Last week I watched a gardener battling overgrown honeysuckle vines grown onto a privet hedge, through chain link fence, and even though cut back to their trunks were inextricably meshed with the fence. This occurred from years of neglect.

Weed control is key to having a handsome landscape. Gardens are lost in weeks, especially this time of year, without care. Keep weeds at bay.
Amur Honeysuckle

Lawn Weeds
Herbicides are very effective at controlling weeds, however they are toxic. Don’t use them around children, pets or edible plants. On sloping properties they will wash into rivers and streams, affecting the food chain. We have chosen to simply keep our lawn mowed and not treat with any toxic herbicides. When weeds are mowed as part of a lawn, they become part of the green carpet that is your turf.

The best weed control for turf is to maintain thick healthy grass through proper mowing, fertilizing and watering. Foot traffic, pets, rocks, low organic content in the soil, or shade can cause weed problems. Correct these situations by aerating or tilling the soil, amending with a layer of compost.

Many lawn weeds can be pulled by hand. Dandelions, when young and tender, are at their best for making wine and salads. If you use them, you might not have enough in your lawn, so get permission to harvest your neighbor’s lawn too.

Chicory roots can be pulverized for a coffee substitute and purslane is edible. The red, fleshy stems, thick succulent leaves and small yellow flowers of this plant can be eaten in salads or cooked.

NOTE: Before eating any weed, be sure to get a positive identification from a garden center, plant clinic, or Cooperative Extension Service. A thorough text on this subject is “Eat the Weeds” by Ben Charles Harris (Keats Publishing, 1995). Also check out Eat The Weeds and other things, too by Green Deane, Be certain any weed you eat has not been treated with herbicides or insecticides.
Kudzu or Porcelainberry

Weeds in Garden Beds
Best approach to weeds in planting beds – pull them when they’re young. That’s our preference. Every time you pass your beds, pluck some. Trees can begin as weeds and go unnoticed until they’re firmly rooted and difficult to pull.

If actively growing weeds are invasive, the most effective herbicide is glyphosate. This non-selective herbicide will kill any plant it contacts. Reportedly, it biodegrades quickly, and can safely be sprayed over roots of mature shade trees to control poison ivy, porcelainberry, or mile-a-minute weed. Read and follow labeled instructions, and apply glyphosate very carefully, even if it means putting it on weeds with a cotton swab or paintbrush. A gust of wind while you’re spraying could blow the spray onto ornamentals. I will only use glyphosate in extreme situations.
Nutsedge, Oxalis & Ground Ivy In Planting Bed
Vinegar has been approved by the EPA as a safe, non-toxic, non-selective weed killer. It burns and kills foliage it contacts. It’s very effective when weeds are saturated.

After you’ve gotten your weeds under control, apply Preen Organic (corn gluten) for a safe pre-emergent herbicide that will discourage weeds from germinating.

Information and advice on herbicides is available from:
• Environmental Protection Agency,
• Cooperative Extension System,

Mulch is a practical method of controlling weeds without using chemicals. Materials that can be laid in beds as protective coverings will reduce evaporation, prevent erosion and control weeds. Use compost, straw, salt hay, pine bark nuggets, shredded hardwood bark, shredded pine bark, wood chips, newspapers or landscape fabric. I prefer organic, partially composted materials.

Put a 1” veneer of your favorite ornamental mulch on top to provide a clean unified appearance in your garden.

©2012 Joel M. Lerner
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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ticks, Lyme Disease And You

Reporting for WTOP radio, Amy Hunter ( sited a study on Lyme disease in the United States, the most extensive field study ever undertaken here. Results were released February 2, 2012, published in the “American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.”

Residents of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states run the highest risk of contracting it. Primarily carried by a minute deer tick (Ixodes scapularis), hardly noticeable on your skin, it measures a sixteenth to eighth inch long, and transmits a bacterial infection (Borrelia burgdorferi). Deer are the most common host of adults. Another are mice.

This study found the South virtually Lyme disease free, according to Dr. Maria A. Diuk-Wasser, lead author of the study. “We can’t completely rule out the existence of Lyme disease in the South,” she says, “but it appears highly unlikely.” Cases reported there were only in individuals who traveled to areas with high infection rates. Study the Lyme Disease Human Risk Map ( to ascertain your vulnerability and amount of protection you require against this disease.

I’ve had these arthropods crawling on me, digging in for a blood meal. Fortunately I’ve not had any on me long enough to cause Lyme disease. Studies indicate that infected ticks must feed for at least 24 hours before they pose a risk. The best defense is thoroughly checking your body after walking or playing in areas where ticks dwell.

Where there are deer, there are ticks and they are plentiful throughout Rock Creek Park and other natural urban areas, like along the C&O Canal. Be vigilant and check yourself throughout the day when working, hiking or playing outdoors.

Tick environments include but are not limited to leaf litter, woodpiles, birdbaths and feeders, forests, tall grasses and high weeds, moist areas and cat and dog fur.

Everyone should familiarize themselves with initial symptoms – onset of a red bull’s-eye rash, fever, headache, flu-like symptoms and fatigue. If untreated, Lyme disease can become a serious illness, causing joint stiffness and neurological problems. Symptoms can take from three to 32 days to appear. Sometimes early signs never appear or go unnoticed. Early diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics are the best cure.

It was first identified in 1975 in Lyme, Connecticut. With approximately 20,000 new cases diagnosed yearly, the CDC ( reports that Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the U.S., occurring mostly in Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, and North-Central states.

Nymphs are infectious when they acquire the bacteria from the larval stage. The nymph stage is when most infections occur in humans because the tick can barely be detected. The male is black and the female dark reddish, like a speck of dirt that doesn't brush off.

The number of tick and insect repellents available has increased, including botanicals such as BugBand ( An informative brochure is available through the State of NY, Department of Health, on Tick and Insect Repellents, ( DEET, permethrin and botanicals are discussed. I prefer botanicals, although sometimes DEET may be necessary in areas of high concentrations of ticks, but never at more than a 25% solution. Another repellent sometimes used in place of DEET is picaridin.

© 2012 Joel M. Lerner
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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Landscape Design

Garden designs should start by putting pencil to paper. It’s easier to correct mistakes with an eraser.

Spring is the perfect time for site analysis. Garden centers are overflowing with garden materials plus it’s a wonderful season to be outdoors.

Even with horticultural savvy, landscape design is sometimes an abstract concept – it’s difficult to visualize the impact of a garden space than a single element like a flower, tree or trellised vine. So, divide your garden into smaller parts so you can better understand it.

Twenty-eight years ago, I developed a system called Lernscaping™ to assist homeowners with the basics of landscape design. It helps determine what you want so your landscape reflects your personality.

Lernscaping™ translates your intent into the “language of landscape” so you can communicate what you want to a landscape professional before you begin your project. Here are some key points to assist you in creating landscape ideas to fit your personality and budget.
An informal fountain adds interest
• What elements excite you in the garden – sculpture, colors, rocks, smells, paths or types of paving?
• What ambiance do you prefer more than others – formal fountains, rock water cascades, symmetrically balanced paving or curved, sweeping beds with a patio in the woods?
• Get to know your outdoor space. You’ll save time, money and aggravation when you begin installation of your garden.
• Record your garden's vital statistics.
- Measurements of design areas
- Compass points and hours of sun
- Pleasant views
- Unpleasant views
- Drainage patterns/problems
- Location of underground utilities (You must call 811 before you dig)
- Features worth keeping
• Consider all aspects of your garden – favorite colors, seasons, plants, building materials and activities.
• Do you entertain, have children?
• Number of hours you spend in the garden?
• Do you want screening, seating, lighting or water?
• How does the sun traverse your garden, casting shadows, creating hot spots?
• Where is the most pleasing place to face for maximum comfort?

Look to the horizon noting panoramas from every angle. Enhance or frame aesthetically pleasing vistas, screen unpleasant ones and create your own.

Heat pumps and highways are worth screening. But remember that planting in or fencing off unsightly structures might call attention to them – distract the viewer to hide an eyesore. Place an ornamental bench and direct the view away from the object. Plan color and interest on the opposite side of the garden. If you use shrubs or a planted trellis to screen the object, repeat the theme and use elsewhere in the yard.
Face an ornamental bench toward the garden
Develop designs that retain and enhance existing features like native wildflowers, streams, rock outcroppings and native plants.

Sculptural elements, seating, fountains, and water gardens are a welcome addition to most landscape designs. At least one piece in a private corner of the yard, tucked into the background of shrubs or surrounded by perennials will add interest.

Your budget will determine the size and quantity of plants you install. Cost doesn’t hold you back from creating an ideal design on paper.

© 2012 Joel M. Lerner
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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Lawn Substitutes

Homeowners who want to decrease their turf are on the rise. Requests are for groundcovers that are more interesting, don’t require mowing, provide color and can handle light foot traffic. I call these lawn substitutes.

Some landscape designs look great with groves of trees, ferns, shade tolerant plants, rock gardens, wildflower meadows, patios, decks or large island beds as alternatives to turf. The challenge is how to integrate areas when lawn creates a good connector or common thread. The cool, deep green color is visually attractive as a backdrop for red, pink, magenta, lavender and other colors.
Wildflower meadows create colorful groundcovers. 
Here are some dependable lawn substitutes that will ultimately grow together and create large lush areas.

• Low growing drifts or sweeps of native grasses, like native broom-sedge (Andropogon virginicus) or blue gramma (Bouteloua gracilis) make an impressive display with showy seed-heads, colorful foliage and seeds in summer and fall, holding their form into winter. They never need mowing and are drought tolerant and will cover large sunny areas, self-sowing to naturalize.

• Creeping thyme (Thymus serphyllum) will fill smaller gaps with flowers and fragrance. Provide good drainage and full sun and plant between path stones where you might brush or step on the foliage exuding fragrance.

• Bugleweed (Ajuga) is available in red, pink, purple, green, variegated, curled and smooth-leafed forms. Drifts look beautiful in spring bloom. They are happy in shade and spread widely. Leave enough room for them to wander.

• Other low growing plants for full sun and smaller areas that won't show much damage if exposed to some foot traffic and will emanate fragrance when bruised are Corsican mint (Mentha requienii) and a hybrid of Roman chamomile called treneague (Chamaemelum nobile 'Treneague'). They will cover open spaces in rock or herb gardens and “travel” between the joints of paving.

• Try some mazus in partial sun. With regular moisture, it will spread to cover areas previously occupied by lawn. It works well between flagstones on informal paths. It hugs the ground flowering purple, blue or white in late spring. You can walk over healthy stands of it and divide into mats for other sections of your property.

• Dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nana’) is an evergreen grassy member of the lily family that grows 3-4” high and never needs mowing. The plants tiller together like turf and are tolerant of drought, foot traffic and shade.

• Two groundcover mat forming plants that make an impression, but won’t take much foot traffic, are pearlwort or Irish moss (Sagina subulata) a diminutive, fine textured, ground hugger (flowers white, related to carnations and good for rock gardens) that will cover large areas in well drained sites, and sedum (S. spurium ‘Dragon’s Blood’) with copper red foliage, reaching 2-4” in height and spreads quickly. It can languish in summer humidity but will stay full the rest of the year.

• Moss makes a handsome low maintenance cover for the woodland, but won’t handle much foot traffic. It has several millimeter rhizoids that anchor the plant, but will cover an area only if it’s happy. In addition to spores, it spreads by growing new stems and colonizing patches of soil, rock, brick or other organic material that provides moisture. If it's doing better than the lawn, acidify (according to labeled instructions) with aluminum sulfate to encourage growth.

• Cover the ground with wildflowers. Sow wildflower seed in June in weed-free, lightly loosened soil. Leaving an area to nature will also result in plants covering the ground, either voluntarily or by counting on wildlife and weather.

© 2012 Joel M. Lerner
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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Fragrance In The Garden

When Shakespeare wrote the immortal words, "that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet," I'll bet he was inspired by the aroma of the gardens and woods that surrounded his hometown, Stratford-upon-Avon. But, of course, roses were only a metaphor for plants that stimulate your olfactory senses.

When I design gardens and landscapes, fragrance as well as visual stimuli are major considerations. While most of us respond to the lovely aroma of flowers like lilacs, hyacinths and roses, there are many other creative ways to bring fragrance into your garden. The flowers and foliage of many plants can perfume your environment.

Other plants that visitors will search out on your property because of their fragrance are sweetbox (Sarcococca hookeriana) and holly trees. Many hollies have a scent that surprises people, particularly when flowers aren’t noticeable. Sweetbox is a low growing woody plant that has small insignificant looking blooms in late March to early April that emit a sweet fragrance in spite of their dainty size. In fact, they’re cleverly hidden behind foliage so you can barely see them. The enjoyment is in the perfume that exudes from its small, mostly hidden flowers.

Fragrance can provide a special effect in the form of flowers or foliage. Walking in Rock Creek Park, I enjoy bruising the leaves of spicebush (Lindera benzoin) whenever I see one. It has a refreshing, spicy, fruity odor, is native to the mid-Atlantic region and also the habitat for the spicebush swallowtail butterfly.

Later in the spring and summer I enjoy blossoms on Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica). It is also native to the eastern United States and was introduced in 1744. A low growing, long flowering plant, it has wonderfully fragrant flowers in late spring/early summer and grows to about four to six feet in height, in sun or partial shade, in wet or dry soil. Its display of maroon fall foliage can hold for weeks.
Itea In Flower
  ‘Lemon Drop,’ a Mezitt hybrid, introduced by Weston Nursery, is a deciduous azalea and another native bred plant that has an outstanding sweet citrus smell that is a knock out for its fragrance and ability to attract butterflies to its nectar rich flowers in late spring to early summer.

Edge a flowerbed that has been sited where it will receive lots of sun with lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). Foliage brushed or bruised between your fingers will produce a “lavender” scent even in winter. Do the same with rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Arp’) that is hardy in the Washington, DC area, in protected sunny locations, and you might even get a shrub that flowers in late winter and other seasons as well.
Rosemary 'Arp' Flower Clusters
Another plant I enjoy almost exclusively for its short-lived unbelievably fragrant flowers is Koreanspice viburnum. Beautiful blossoms last only about two weeks in April (this year beginning in March), and then interest is gone except for providing fuzzy foliage. It's a compact five-foot tall, disease resistant shrub. Yet, these two weeks of pinkish/white flowers are the closest you can get to a perfect fragrance.

Search for sweet smelling flowers as they open this spring. You will notice that many have their own unique scents. But, be careful and make sure you look for stinging insects before you sniff.

© 2012 Joel M. Lerner
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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Late Winter/Early Spring Color

Your garden should catch the eye and maintain visual interest year round. When planning your outdoor spaces be sure they offer a coordination of color each season.

Traditional landscape plans offer a few trees, expanses of lawn requiring frequent tending, trimmed evergreen foundation shrubs and isolated areas that provide color of spring flowering shrubs, bulbs or other perennials. Most of the show is over before you can be outside to enjoy it, and then you must care for this boring space that looks the same year after year, so make it interesting.

Achieve interest 365 days a year by introducing a coordination of blooming plants – trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. Color is one of the best attention getters. It is the first element you discern when viewing a garden or landscape.

There are wonderful winter and early spring blooming plants that thrive in this region:
• Hellebores begin to open in February and maintain their flowering interest until April. They are extremely deer resistant evergreen perennials that will grow in heavy shade.
• Winter flowering jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) displays brilliant yellow flowers sporadically throughout winter.
• Native vernal witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis) and spiked winterhazels (Corylopsis spicata), both in the witchhazel family, are fragrant and begin their display in January/February.

Colorful barks of various trees also set off the winter garden. A few of them are:
• Striped maples (Acer pennsylvanicum) have green and white stripes running vertically along the trunks.
• Paperbark maples offer beautiful orange/russet red exfoliating bark.
• Coral bark Japanese maples have exquisite red leafless branches until the weather begins to warm.
• Red twigs of redosier dogwoods are standouts in the landscape.

Look at every characteristic of a plant, including bark, season of flower, leaf color, berries, branching habit and foliage texture. If several interesting characteristics occur on a single plant, it can add a long-season of interest and color to your garden.

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© 2012 Joel M. Lerner
Hellebore In Bloom

Vernal Witchhazel In Flower