Making the Most of Mulch

Landscape Maintenance

Mulching has been favored by gardeners and landscapers alike for many years, as mulching adds a nice finishing touch to well-landscaped grounds and protects plants, trees, and shrubbery. Since mulch can affect the soil beneath the mulch, it must be applied properly to not damage the root system of your plants. We’ll discuss what to consider when adding mulch to your property so you can make sure your gardens, yard and landscaping look their best year-round.

What is mulch?

Mulch is the name used for a substance that’s put on top of soil to provide protection or add visual interest to an area. When you are deciding which mulch to use in your landscaping, remember, the best mulch is an organic material, that is, it’s a substance that already comes from nature. Common mulches are made of bark/wood chips, and moss. Mulch comes in a variety of colors, so you can choose one that best complements your property features and landscape design.

Why use mulch?

Mulch has been used to add an aesthetic, decorative touch to landscapes for decades. Mulching around plantings, shrubs and trees adds a dimension of shading under foliage as well as contrast under brightly colored flowers. But mulch serves much more than a decorative purpose.

Mulch can help deter weed growth among your plantings by not allowing sunlight to pass down to them. It will help the soil around your plantings retain moisture, which is always beneficial to their growth, especially in dry periods. Mulch traps water and slows evaporation from the surface of the soil, so plants stay hydrated longer, reducing the need for frequent watering. It can protect your plants during periods of heavy rain, as it will absorb water and protect the roots; mulch will also help minimize soil erosion around your plantings.

Mulch can also help protect your plant’s roots during periods of extreme heat, as it acts as an insulator. The use of mulch can reduce the occurrence of heat damage to both the base of your plants and the surrounding soil. It will also help your plants resist pest and plant disease; in fact, organic mulches provide earthworms and micro-organisms with food, which is great for your plants and your plant health.

During decomposition, organic mulches add beneficial nutrients back into the soil, enriching your soil for next year.

Apply mulch correctly

Once you’ve decided on the “what” (type and color) of the mulch you want to use on your property, you’ll want to focus on the “how” of spreading the mulch. Improperly spread mulch can not only be disruptive to the overall design of your yard, it can also be damaging to a garden or landscape. Mulch that’s applied too thickly can be damaging to a plant’s root system and may stop water from making its way down to the root of the plant, or not allow the area surrounding a plant to drain correctly after watering or a rainstorm.

Start your mulch application by cleaning out the areas where you want to apply mulch. Take out the weeds, sticks, leaves, etc. that have accumulated over the winter months, and water if necessary. Then start spreading the mulch; it’s best to lay down mulch in a depth of approximately 2 inches.

If you’re putting mulch down around plants, shrubbery, and trees, etc., make sure to keep the mulch around three inches away from the plant itself, to help with air circulation around the root of the plant. However, if you’re mulching a vegetable garden, you do want to mulch right up to the stalk of the plant, to help with water retention. Water the whole area after mulching.

At Stephens Landscaping, we have a lot of experience with using many kinds of mulch, and we’d love to discuss which kinds and colors of mulch are right for your landscape and garden. Call us at 603.707.0630 or reach out by email.

Spring is Almost Here!

Landscape Maintenance

Spring is the time of renewal, and that means for your landscapes and gardens, too! While the official start of spring begins in March, the actual start of spring feels like it begins a little later here in New England. We still have bits of snow and ice hanging around in spots, but signs of spring are certainly beginning to pop up everywhere. This transitional period is the perfect time to start preparing your green spaces and gardens for the upcoming spring and summer seasons. Here are a few tips to get started.

Walk Around and Take it In

Before you do anything else, walk around your property and see what needs to be done. Winter can be rough on a landscape, and a lot of damage can be hidden under piles of snow. You may discover holes in lawns from burrowing animals, damage from ice on walkways, broken tree branches and flattened shrubbery, and dead spots of lawn.

Start with a Clean Slate

Once you’ve seen what needs to be done to get your green spaces and gardens ready, the best place to start is with a good cleaning. Now’s the time to remove broken branches, leftover leaves, and the stuff that the wind picks up stuff from driveways, roads, and nearby properties.

Raking your lawn is the best way to clean up any dead leaves that fell during the winter or remain from the last fall clean up. Raking will also remove the bits of grass that did not survive the winter as well as the myriad of twigs and small branches that fell during the snow and ice storms we had this season.

Clean around your plant beds and in your garden area. It’s important to get these areas ready for planting, so once the threat of frost has passed, these areas will be ready to go.

Tidy up the Trees

Early spring is the best time to lightly prune your trees and shrubbery. Heavy winter snows and ice storms are damaging to trees and shrubs, so a light pruning helps to keep them in good shape.

By pruning early, you’re also giving your trees and shrubs a healthy start on new growth. It’s best to prune before any new growth starts, because in later spring and summer, the plant’s energy will be focused on flowering and growth. Shaping the plant will also be easier when there are no leaves to get in the way of your view.

Lawn Care

Your lawn may look a little sparse and brownish this time of year. If you have bare spots on your lawn, once the weather gets a bit warmer and your lawn gets a bit greener, it’s a good idea to have your lawn spot-seeded and fertilized. You can pull out any weeds you see, before they’ve really had a chance to start growing and before you’ve fertilized your lawn.

Don’t mow the lawn just yet, though, even though you may see a bit of winter growth. The lawn has been through a lot over the winter months, and you don’t want to cut it too short while it’s growing in the early spring or you may damage its root system. Wait until it’s well-established and warmer outside before you begin mowing.

If you didn’t aerate your lawn in the fall, you can do it in the spring before the real growing season starts. You should also fill in the holes in your lawn at this time, if you’ve found any.

Get the Whole Area Ready

Don’t forget about your hardscapes. Sweep up the patios and verandas, uncover or bring out the furniture, and clean out the planters.

Inspect your irrigation system. If it’s warm enough, turn it on to make sure that it works properly and that there are no leaks. If you find problems, call your irrigation company before they get busy for the season.

Plan Ahead

During the long winter, and especially while tending to your property during this late winter/early spring prep, you’ve most likely thought of some ideas on what you’d like to do with your property this year. Now’s the time collect all those ideas into a plan. Decide to plant a vegetable garden or find a new spot for your existing one to see if it’ll do better. Select new annuals or perennials to bring more color to your outdoor spaces.

Visit our Garden Center in Moultonborough to see what you may want to plant, or if there’s anything new to try out. Of course, you’ll want to wait until the chance of the last frost has passed before planting anything, but now’s the time to plan what you want to plant, and where. We’ve got an experienced and creative team on hand, so be sure to ask for help or see what they are doing for new ideas.

 

Our Favorite Native Landscape Additions

Planting

Native plants occur naturally and have meaningful effects and benefits to birds, butterflies, bees, and other wildlife. They are low maintenance, beautiful, require less water and fertilization, and help the climate by storing carbon dioxide, and providing vital habitat for wildlife. Utilizing native plants in your landscape means they are more likely to establish quickly and will be hardy. Some of our favorite natives that we incorporate into almost all of our landscape designs include:

Perennials

  • Joe Pye Weed: These fast-growing flowers are favorites of butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. The tall, vanilla-scented wildflowers grow in leaf clusters several feet high, and in the summer, tiny mauve colored flowers appear on top of the leaf stems. They prefer an area that’s full sun to partial shade, and moist, well-drained soil. It’s best to plant these when there’s no chance of frost.
  • New England Aster: This is a favorite here in New England and can be seen practically everywhere. This easily-recognizable flower grows to about five feet tall, and while the most popular variety has a medium purple flower with a dark yellow center, asters come in different shades of purple and even pink! This aster is drought-tolerant, deer resistant, and does well in all types of soil. It’s a late summer to early fall bloomer, and while it’s blooming, you may see the lower leaves drying up. But, don’t worry…your plants are not dying; this is normal.
  • Blue Flag Iris: These lovely, classic irises are great additions to your garden, and do especially well around any water feature. They prefer soil that is acidic, rich, and moist, and to be located in an area that is full sun to part shade. These are early bloomers, and you can expect to see flowers from May to July. These are known to attract pollinators as well as hummingbirds.
  • Sweetfern: This zero-maintenance plant has a sweet scent when crushed, and the leaves resemble little ferns, as its name implies. This shrub will spread itself out over the years, making clones of itself throughout your garden. It does well in poor, acidic soil, and is known to be a “nitrogen-fixer”.
  • Hayscented Fern: This is a great fern if you have an area that needs some good coverage. These ferns prefer shade to part shade and grow from to eighteen to twenty-four inches in height. The fronds grow into a beautiful green color from the spring into the summer, and in the fall, turn a lovely yellow. When disturbed, the fern gives off an odor similar to fresh-cut hay.

Shrubs

  • Low Bush Blueberry: This low bush is a great idea for an area where you need ground cover, or a nice border edge. The shrubs don’t grow very tall; they only get to a height of about two feet. They are very picky about their soil conditions, preferring sandy, well-drained and rich soil, and they like to be in full sun or partial shade. In the spring, they’ll feature small white flowers, the summer will bring some sweet edible berries (not the big ones you see in the supermarket, but still delicious and enjoyable. For those big commercial sized berries, you’ll need to plant the high bush blueberry, which is described below), and in the fall, the leaves will turn a very vibrant red. This shrub will add color to your garden for many seasons.
  • High Bush Blueberry: If you’ve ever gone blueberry picking at a farm, you probably picked from a high bush blueberry. They are the most commercially-grown variety, and their berries are featured in most stores and farmers’ markets. These shrubs handle our cooler temperatures well, and they actually need some cold days in the winter to form berries in the spring; they’re perfect for New England. These bushes like moist soil but not standing water, so they should be planted on a slope for good drainage. They prefer full sun to partial shade (the more sun, the more blooms, more fruit, and more brightly colored fall leaves.) They do require regular watering.
  • Clethra: Also known as summersweet or sweet pepperbush, this flowering shrub grows from three to eight feet tall, and features fragrant white, bottle-shaped flowers. This plant blooms in stages throughout the summer, and while it prefers wet soil (it’s usually found around the shoreline), it is drought-resistant once it has become established. It’s a favorite of pollinators like bees and butterflies.
  • Winterberry Holly: This classic Christmas favorite is a perfect choice for adding winter color in your garden. While the shrub will drop its leaves in the fall, the red berries will continue to grow up until the spring. While the berries are a favorite feast for a variety of birds, they are toxic to people, dogs, and cats. The shrub can grow in both wet and dry soils, and in full sun, part shade, and full shade conditions. They grow from six to ten feet tall. You must plant a male and a female shrub of the same species in order to have the shrubs bloom at the same time and to have berries grow.
  • Kalmia Latifolia: Commonly known as mountain laurel, you can see this flowering shrub in gardens all over New England. Its delicate pink and white bowl-shaped blooms appear in late spring and early summer, and once the blooms have passed, the dark green leaves will stay on the shrub throughout the winter months, adding a welcome patch of color. This shrub is a favorite of pollinators and does best in moderate to partial shade. It prefers to stay moist, so it’s best to keep your shrub watered well.
  • Serviceberry: This plant can either be grown as a sizable shrub or small tree. In early spring, it blooms in pinkish white flowers, which then turn to delicious berries that look like blueberries but are a bit sweeter; they are ripe when the berry is a dark purple. In the fall, the leaves turn a beautiful shade of deep reddish orange. It prefers to be in full sun to light shade; the more sun, the better the flower and fruit production. It will tolerate many soil types. During the first year after you’ve planted, make sure to keep it well watered; after that, it will be pretty drought tolerant.


Trees

  • Birch: Birch trees are a popular choice in many yards. Most everyone in New England is familiar with these tall, stately white bark trees. But birches come in many different varieties as well as the more known white ones. There are short shrub-type birches with reddish leaves that do well in a rain garden, a dwarf birch is a shrub good for ground cover and tolerates cold weather well. River birch are a tall pinkish-brown tree that “sheds” its bark throughout the season and features dark green leaves that turn a beautiful yellow in the fall, as well as many more! We’d love to discuss what variety would work best for you and your landscape.
  • Sugar Maple: As New Englanders, we love our sugar maples. This tree is the primary source for maple syrup, a long-enjoyed tradition here in northern New England and a popular wood for furniture. This fast-growing tree needs room to grow, and prefers deep, well-drained loam or light clay. Once mature, this tree provides good shade in the summer, and spectacular foliage of bright red and orange in the fall.
  • Red Maple: This is a tall tree. With heights reaching about 100 feet and a spreading root system, this is a tree that needs a lot of space in which to grow. This tree is easy growing, and not fussy—it grows well in both wet and dry soils, is fairly drought-tolerant, and does well in shady or sunny locations.
  • Eastern Hemlock: This tall tree can grow up to 100 feet but can also be used as a hedge with proper, consistent pruning. It needs to have good drainage and be away from strong winds. The foliage of the eastern hemlock is fragrant and attracts both birds and butterflies, and will yield an abundance of pine cones. This tree is a slow grower, and needs direct sunlight and moist, well-drained soil. This tree will grow into a pyramid shape when not trimmed.

There are many options available to you to add year-round interest and color to your garden and landscape. We’d love to help you create a plan to maximize your space and achieve all of your landscape goals. Contact us to discuss your ideas or give us a call at 603.707.0630, and be sure to visit our Garden Center. We’ve got new plants coming in weekly, a wide selection of pottery, landscape aggregates, and annuals—all available for delivery! Come visit us Monday – Saturday: 8:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M. Closed Sunday. Or give us a call at 603.677.9100 if you have any questions or are looking for something special.

 

Top 10 Perennials for the Northeast

Planting

Perennials are a great choice for any garden or landscape, especially here in the Northeast. As their name implies, they come back year after year, with little fuss required from you apart from the initial planting and occasional weeding and watering. Perennials are usually the first glimpse we see of spring, providing a hint of green in the snow, and they provide necessary nectar, seeds, and nesting materials for insects and birds, as well as pollen required for other plants to bloom. Perennials get the whole thing started!

By planning to include perennials in your garden and landscaping, you can create nice, changing color displays by planting a variety with staggered blooming times and durations. There are many varieties of perennials available so you can select plants best suited for your landscaping needs; there are types of perennials that are drought-resistant; some that repel deer, annoying insects, or other animals that would munch on your garden; and some that do better in shade vs. full sun, for example.

Our favorite choices for our northeastern climate are:

#1 Catmint—Walkers Low or Six Hills Giant

This easy to grow perennial is a favorite among many gardeners. It’s heat tolerant, pest and disease resistant. It features lovely, long blooming lavender-colored flowers, and is aromatic. Its gentle color blends nicely with bold colors and likes full sun. Popular varieties include:

  • Walker’s Low: Usually grows about two-and-a-half feet tall to three feet wide.
  • Six Hills Giant: This variety also grows about two-and-a-half feet tall to four feet wide, so this will take up a bit of room in your garden; careful planning is required.

#2 Daylily

Daylilies like several hours of preferably morning sun, and seem to thrive on something close to neglect. However, it’s best to remove the seedpods once they start to bloom to help next year’s batch. While some blooms only last for a day or two, most lilies grow in large batches, so blooms may be staggered for a month or so. There are thousands of varieties of lilies available, such as:

  • Stella d’oro: These beautiful, compact golden flowers are popular with gardeners across the United States. They only grow about a foot high, and are great for growing in a mass or along a border. They will bloom continuously throughout the summer.
  • Happy Returns: This variety of lily is similar to Stella d’oro, except the color is a brighter yellow where Stella is more of a gold tone. This plant does well in poor soil, and is very hearty. This plant will spread, so it’s best used where it has room to grow.
  • Big Time Happy: This plant boasts larger, four-inch ruffled blooms in a light canary yellow color. This variety does well in more urban areas, in poor soil, and near pavement that might have had salt runoff in the winter — perfect for New England!

#3 Variegated Iris

This classic bearded iris features fragrant blooms that are attractive to many pollinators. It comes in colors of purple, yellow, and white. The plant grows two to three-feet high, and blooms in late spring to early summer. Wildlife such as deer and rabbits don’t seem to eat this plant, and it’s also resistant to most diseases. It’s best grown in full sun to part shade, in well-draining soil. Because they grow so well, it’s best to divide them every two years or so to keep them healthy.

#4 Blue False Indigo

Years ago, indigo was an expensive dye made from tropical plants. This plant, as its name implies, is a “false indigo”, and was used as a substitute to make the dye as this plant was commonly found in the Midwest of the United States. The bushy plant produces blue, pea-like flowers and grows best in full to partial sun. It tends to grow in big bushes about four feet wide, so it would be best in a space where it has room to grow.

#5 Tickseed—Moonbeam

These lovely bright yellow flowers are easy to grow, even in poor soil, and resemble daisies. They grow compact plants, and bloom all summer long. They attract birds and pollinators, and are deer resistant. They can get about a foot- to a foot-and-a-half tall and wide, so they won’t take up much room in your garden or border, and they make a nice cut flower.

#6 Stonecrop—’Autumn Joy’

This late blooming plant has bright pink flowers which appear in August and turn goldish copper by November. They grow to two-feet wide and tall, and are best planted in the spring, after the threat of a frost has passed and before the full heat of summer has begun. It likes full sun and sandy, well-drained soil. The flower heads can be left for the winter interest, and serve as food for the birds, to be cut back in the spring.

#7 Dwarf Black Eyed Susan

These bright yellow flowers with brown centers are popular with gardeners. They are a prolific grower, and extremely easy to grow. They prefer full sun/partial shade, and well-drained soil. They are drought-, disease, deer-, and rabbit-resistant, and are a great, low maintenance plant. They are wonderful in cut flower arrangements. To keep the plants healthy and promote further blooms, its best to deadhead the flower once the bloom has passed.

#8 Shasta Daisy—Becky or Snowcap

A classic! Pure white flower petals surround a yellow center. These begin to flower in early summer and will continue to bloom all summer long if you keep up with deadheading them, and they attract bees and butterflies. They mix well with all other plants to add a nice pop of white to any garden or landscape. They will need to be divided every two years or so to keep the plants healthy.

  • The Snowcap daisy is a dwarf plant, growing about a foot to 15 inches high, and spreading about a foot wide. It loves full sun and dry, well-drained soil.
  • The Becky daisy is similar in appearance to the Snowcap daisy, but is not a dwarf plant and grows to three- to four-feet height and three-feet wide.

#9 Hay-Scented Fern

This perennial grows quickly and provides great ground cover. They grow in shade to part shade, and get about two-feet tall and three-feet wide. They are deer- and rabbit-resistant, and are easy to grow. These attractive ferns have bright green leaves in the summer that turn yellowish in the fall, and give off a scent that will remind you of fresh-cut hay.

#10 Gayfeather—Kobold

This is a tall, showy, wand-like pink/purple flower. This compact flower grows tall out of grassy clumps that get to about two-feet high, and one-foot wide. It prefers full sun and moderate watering. The blooms attract hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies, and will provide bird food once the blooms die off in the cold weather. This plant will add a nice vertical interest to your garden.

These are just a small sampling of plants that are available to add to your garden. We’d love to help you come up with a plan to meet all of your gardening goals. Contact us to discuss your ideas or give us a call at 603.707.0630 to discuss your next project, and be sure to visit our Garden Center. We’ve got new plants coming in weekly, a wide selection of pottery, landscape aggregates, and annuals—all available for delivery! Come visit us Monday – Saturday: 8:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M. Closed Sunday. Or give us a call at 603.677.9100 if you have any questions or are looking for something special.

Popular Design & Landscape Trends

Landscape Design

TAKING IT OUTSIDE

Warm weather has finally arrived in the Lakes Region and many of us are looking forward to spending more time outdoors.

While outside, you may realize your outdoor space needs refreshing, or even a complete renovation. Whether you have an established space that needs updating or you’re starting from scratch, there are many things you can do to make outdoor spaces comfortable, functional, and welcoming.

A MATTER OF SPACE

The first step is to consider what you want to do with the space—what do you want to use the outdoor space for? What will happen the most out there?

Outdoor spaces are often used as places of refuge, where people go to read and relax, and become one with nature; they can be great exercise spots or peaceful meditation gardens. One of the most common uses for outdoor areas is a play space for the whole family. There are many customizable play-sets available at differing price points, depending on age and interest levels. Larger areas could accommodate putting greens, bocce courts, or small disc golf courses.

Once you determine how you would like to use the space. With a little planning, you can make your deck, patio, or backyard an extension of your home. If you already have a deck, you can enlarge it on the same plane, or add levels. Adding on to a patio will give you more space to work with. A backyard redesign or upgrade will give you the most opportunities to create a space that will suit your needs.

Some people use outdoor spaces as an extension of their living room, and furnish it with rugs, décor, and comfortable furniture. Others use this space as an outdoor kitchen or entertaining area. Grilling areas can be expanded to include preparation, storage, and counter space, as well as dining. Larger cooking areas may even include pizza ovens or a bar and lounge area.

BUILT FEATURES

A popular and useful structure for any outdoor space is a pergola, pavilion, or gazebo. What once started as garden follies are now available in many configurations, materials, and price points. These structures offer additional opportunity to incorporate beautiful landscaping and plantings to increase natural beauty and add visual interest to your landscape.

In conjunction with garden structures, a fire pit is a great addition to any patio or back yard, perfect for relaxing at night, and making s’mores.

Another great addition to an outdoor space is the inclusion of a water feature. Some ideas include a fountain or koi pond; a pool, either above ground or built in; or a hot tub or spa.

Plantings play a big part in making your space the most inviting. We can work with you to develop a plan that will not only look good in your available space and accommodate your specific needs, but that will also make the most sense with our climate and growing season in the Lakes Region.

HOME BENEFITS

Thoughtfully designed outdoor areas can give you years of enjoyment, as well as increase the value of your home. Many people see an increase in their property values, as a return on investment for upgrades made to outdoor spaces. For more information about what a good outdoor space can do for the value of your home, contact our associates at Lake Life Realty.

WE CAN HELP

There are as many options as there are ideas for creating or refreshing outdoor living spaces. We have created some beautiful and functional outdoor spaces and would love to help with your plans. We’ll work closely with you to design a plan that best fits your space, design aesthetic, and budget. We’re excited to see what you have in mind. Contact us today!