Garden Solutions – January 2018

            January can be a dreary time of year for the gardener, yet it can be exciting as well.  We have had a very trying season this past year with warmer temps and drought.  Now is the time to dream and redesign your flowerbeds for the upcoming spring season.  Now is a good time to beat the spring rush if you would require assistance or guidance from landscape designers.

Remember our wildlife!  Birding is a favored hobby among American people. Your yard can be a natural magnet for all kinds of birds by supplying special treats of food, water, safe places to nest and a few other necessities this season.  Enjoy their antics and activity during snowy days.  This can give you a real feel good sensation.

            Feed the birds hi-energy foods like black oil sunflower seeds and suet, which give birds more energy per ounce consumed. One need of wild birds often overlooked by consumers in cold weather is the need for ‘open water.’ The main reason they need water is to help keep warm. Birds fluff out their feathers so they can better capture a ‘layer of air’ that acts as heated insulation. Matted, dirty feathers can’t be fluffed out. Therefore, by offering food and water, dozens of your feathered friends will soon add brilliant flashes of red and blue, gray and white, across the snow, and you’ll hear their melodious songs as the sing “Thanks” to you for helping them survive.

Let’s turn thoughts to the indoors as there are many things that can be done there.  Houseplants should have the dust washed off their leaves on a regular basis during winter.  This allows the leaves to gather light more efficiently which will result in better growth, especially since there is less light available this time of year.

Indoor plant insect population is a problem that needs to be checked on regularly during the winter as well.  Dry home conditions are perfect for insect incubation cycles.  Washing the plants regularly will greatly cut down on this problem.  Organic remedies, such as Insecticidal Soap, for controlling insects are readily available and safe for indoor use.

            If you can tolerate the cold weather, there are a number of things that you can do this month in your landscape that will lighten your workload for the rest of the season. The main item is pruning or thinning of your woody ornamentals. Interior, broken, or crossing branches should be removed now while you can see exactly what you are removing. The general rule of thumb is that you should not touch spring flowering trees and shrubs at this time of year.

If the weather is extremely bad this month, then snow and/or ice removal are going to be the big tasks. Heavy accumulations of snow or ice can easily damage plants. Dump a snow shovel full of wet snow on top of some of your shrubs and you may end up replacing the broken mass next spring. Snow plows can also do quite a bit of damage to plantings and lawn areas. Use location stakes with flags to show where your driveways and walkways are as well as where to “dump” excess snow. If you have to deal with ice, be extremely careful with the melting compound you use

Time flies fast, so enjoy this winter preparing for spring and we will “See you in the garden”.

Sandi Hillermann McDonald

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Garden Solutions – December 2017


The month of December brings the holiday season and warm thoughts of family, friends and community. I would like to say “Thank You” and wish you and yours a “Blessed Holiday Season” with all the best in the New Year!

Fall will turn into winter this month. It may not always be the most comfortable time to be planting anything in your landscape, but it is a great time for the plants. Trees and shrubs are completely dormant now, so the concept of transplant shock does not apply.

Trimming or pruning of some of your trees and shrubs can be done now. Resist the urge to cut back everything. Most perennials benefit from adding a layer of mulch or dead leaves. Keep your ornamental grasses up until mid-March.

Plants get “chapped lips” too. Cold, dry winter winds and bright winter sun make our skin chapped and unhealthy. Those winds have a devastatingly similar effect on your plants too. No wonder your evergreens don’t look so great come spring. This drying effect is called desiccation. To fight desiccation, choose the right plants for windy, dry areas. Make sure to water your evergreens well through early December, before the ground freezes. Mulch your plants for winter to retain soil moisture as well as soil temperature. Use an anti-desiccant like Wilt Stop by Bonide. These products coat leaves and needles to slow down the loss of moisture.

Pothos plantHere are a few tips on winter houseplant care. When the heat goes on and the daylight becomes shorter, it may be necessary to move the plants to a different place in the home and to give them different treatment from that given during the summer. Flowering plants need at least half a day of direct sunlight. The ideal temperatures for foliage plants are 68-70 degrees during the day and slightly lower at night. Remember, windowsill locations are much colder during the winter and plants may need to be moved to prevent them from getting chilled. The amount of water the houseplants need declines during winter. Reduce fertilizing as well.

Some of the plants in your landscape can help you decorate for the Christmas season. Holly and Boxwood can be trimmed now with some of the cuttings used to accent wreaths or live indoor plants. Some of the growth of evergreens such as White Pine and Norway Spruce, can be used to make a harvest wreath or basket for your front door or porch. Talk about recycling! After Christmas, you can take them to your compost bin for future fertilizer! Along with these Holiday tips, here are a few other ideas for the month:

• Use caution when spreading salt or calcium on ice or snow packed walks or driveways. Salt can damage lawns and plantings, calcium is much safer to use. Be sure to designate areas to for piling snow from plowing in advance to prevent damage to trees, shrubs and lawns.
• Continue to feed our fine feathered friends and place heated birdbaths with fresh water out for them.

Again, I wish you and your family a very Blessed Christmas season. Let’s get to work on planning that beautiful garden scene for next year!

See you in the Garden…………..
Sandi Hillermann Mcdonald

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Garden Solutions – November 2017

As evenings become cooler and crisper and the daylight gets shorter and shorter, it’s a signal that frost is upon us. The change in temperature and season can leave gardeners longing for the warm summer air, instead of prepping for winter. There’s still plenty of gardening to be done this time of year. Get the most out of your fall harvest and set your garden up for spring success by jumping on these garden tasks now.

6 Tips for Fall Gardening

Plant Trees
It’s no secret that the best time to plant a tree or shrub is in the fall. Before you plant, evaluate the landscape to assess the amount of sunlight, ground vegetation, proximity to permanent structures, and hazards, such as overhead wires or underground pipes. Choose a site where the tree will be able to grow to its mature height. Then, dig a hole twice as wide and the same depth as the root ball. Place the tree in the hole at the same depth it was growing before and fill half the hole with compost. Mix in an organic fertilizer with the soil. Backfill the hole, give it a nice drink of water and watch your tree grow.



Get Bulbs in the Ground
Spring-blooming bulbs can generally be planted any time before the soil begins to freeze. Give bulbs their best shot by planting a few weeks before the ground is frozen to help them establish roots.

Improve the Soil
While fall is for planting, it’s also the perfect time for prepping for next season. Healthy soil is the backbone of every successful garden. Test soil now for pH and nutrient levels and amend accordingly. Dig 4″ deep with a stainless-steel trowel and either use a DIY soil test or stop in with your soil sample and we will test the pH for you. To adjust the pH level of your soil, use Espoma’s Organic Garden Lime to raise the pH of very acidic soil. Poke holes in the soil’s surface and scatter on the lime. Rake lightly into the top inch of soil. Or, apply a soil acidifier to lower the pH of extremely alkaline soil.

Create CompostCompost_On_Shovel_w
All of those colorful leaves that are falling make for perfect additions to your compost pile. If you don’t have a compost pile already, start one! The best compost contains about 25 times more carbon-rich materials than nitrogen-rich materials. Think of these as brown and green materials. Brown materials include paper, straw or dried leaves. Green materials include garden and food scraps for rich, fertile compost.

Top with Mulch
Add a thick blanket of mulch on garden beds to reduce evaporation and control weeds. Choose organic mulch that will improve the soil as it decomposes. Lay 2 – 3″ of mulch around established plants. When mulching trees, the mulch should extend away from the plant to just beyond the drip line covering a bit of the roots Keep 2 – 3″ away from the stems of woody plants and 6″ away from buildings to avoid pests.

Make the most of this beautiful fall in the garden.
Sandi McDonald


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Garden Solutions – October 2017

This month I am going to focus on bulbs, trees and pumpkins!


For those frustrated by gardens already too full, flower bulbs are delectable treats to tuck easily amongst established shrubs and perennials. Spring-flowering bulbs are planted in the fall because most need a period of cold conditioning to activate the biochemical process that induces them to flower. In general they are best planted when soil temperatures have started to cool, and, optimally, at least six weeks before the first hard, ground-freezing frosts. This translates to anywhere from early October to November and even December in our climate. Whether a garden bed is bursting at the seams or rather bare, there’s always room for bulbs.  And the process is as easy as…….DIG—DROP—DONE!!  ENJOY!!!!


The Many Benefits of Planting Trees

                Most often, we plant trees to provide shade and add beauty to our landscape. These are great benefits, but trees also provide many less obvious benefits. Consider all the benefits listed below and remember fall is the perfect time to plant trees for an increased success rate next spring.

  • Trees are perfect for planting as living memorials, to remind us of loved ones, or to commemorate significant events in our lives.
  • Even though you may own the trees on your property, your neighborhood may benefit from them as well. Through careful planning, trees can be an asset to your entire community.
  • Tree lined streets have a traffic calming effect, traffic moves more slowly and safely.
  • Trees can be placed to screen unwanted views or noise from busy highways.
  • Trees improve our air quality by filtering harmful dust and pollutants such as ozone, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide from the air we breathe.
  • Trees give off oxygen that we need to breathe.
  • Trees reduce the amount of storm water runoff, which reduces erosion and pollution in our waterways and may reduce the effects of flooding.
  • Many species of wildlife depend on trees for habitat. Trees provide food, protection, and homes for many birds and mammals.
  • Evergreen trees on the north side of your home and shrubs around the foundation of your home can act as a windbreak to reduce the cooling effects of winter winds.
  • The value of a well landscaped home with mature healthy trees can be as much as 10% higher than a similar home with no or little landscaping. (Topping trees will reduce their value.)

Preserving and Firming Up a Pumpkin

               There are ways to help keep your pumpkin fresher and firmer.  Cut open the top of the pumpkin and clean out all the seeds. Fill a washtub, sink or large bucket with cold water, and soak the pumpkin in the cold water. If you have fine detail work to do, you may want to let your pumpkin soak overnight. This will firm up the pumpkin flesh and allow you to do carving that is more intricate. You can add a small amount of unscented Clorox bleach in the water to prevent premature mold and bacteria growth.
Once you have carved your pumpkin, you can add a thin amount of petroleum jelly on the exposed cut edges. This will help seal moisture in the flesh of the pumpkin. If the pumpkin dries out, it will shrivel. You can try to revive it by soaking it in a bath of cold water for one to eight hours. Longer is better. Overnight will not hurt.
You can prepare your pumpkins ahead of time and keep them fresh for a future party or gathering. Soak them first. Wrap them in plastic wrap to hold in the moisture and store them in the refrigerator (not the freezer). They will stay fresh this way for a very long time.
Once you remove a wet pumpkin for display, you should immediately dry it off. This prevents mold from having a chance to grow.

Now, enjoy all that the month of October has to offer and I will…
See you in the garden.

Sandi Hillermann McDonald


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Garden Solutions – September 2017

The Best Time of Year is NOW!!!

When I was a kid, I loved summer—no school, warm sunshine and lots of fun and mischief to get into.  Now that I’m a Grandma, my thoughts on the seasons has also matured.  Over the years, I have come to enjoy all the offerings of fall.  The cool, crisp mornings that gives way to warm days and starry nights.  Fall color in Missouri is exceptional with the turning of leaves on trees-colors so vivid and alive that they jump out of the landscape.  Driving past fields of pumpkins gets the kids excited that Halloween candy is yet to come.  The treat of eating sweet grapes fresh off the vine and juicy apples plucked from the trees comes to mind.  And of course, fall sports begin.

There is no better time of year than this abundant season to catch your bearings, reevaluate the year, enjoy the harvest and relax.  It is also the best time to take a few moments to invest in your home.  There are many simple tasks you can do now to help save yourself time in spring when you are twice as busy.

PLANT, PLANT, PLANT! Fall in Missouri is the ideal time of year to plant all kinds of things from cool-season vegetables to turf grasses, and especially shrubs, evergreens and deciduous trees.  Yet, when it comes to planting, many gardeners only think of the spring.  Why is fall such an ideal time to plant?  First, the warm soil in the fall helps encourage root growth.  The plants roots continue to grow through our mild winters, and become well established by the spring.  This makes fall plantings much better equipped to handle the heat and drought once summer finally arrives.  In addition, our fall and spring rains help do all the work in establishing your plants so you don’t have too.  There are also fewer pests and disease problems to attack your plant while it is young.

            When fall arrives, I want to see bright oranges, vibrant yellows, and fiery reds.  These fall colors bring life back to our landscapes after the summer sun has faded most of the blooms.  The natural turning of leaves into their disguised color of glory brings a new energy to our yards and awakens our senses.  Right now, you can find selections of trees and shrubs especially bred for fall color.
There is no reason to have hum-drum containers during fall when there are Garden Mums and Fall/Winter Pansies to replace our burnt out summer annuals.  Fall cool floral crops are also great additions to beautiful fall containers.  Adding perennials also brings new life to containers.

Home decorating is great fun also to add pumpkins, corn stalks, gourds and other harvest items to the landscape or porch décor.

In addition, don’t forget fall bulbs.  Now you will find the best selection, and you have until Christmas to get them into the ground for spring blooming.  Bulbs need 10 weeks of cold weather to create their magnificent spring show.  Many varieties and colors are popping up in this category of plants as well.

THE POST SEASON WRAP UP.  One of the best-kept secrets to the most lavish landscapes is autumn restoration.  Just a few garden chores done in the fall will lead to spring and summer pay-offs that are well worth the work.  Things to do now include:

Pull Weeds:  Clean up your yard by pulling weeds.  Then apply a pre-emergent such as Preen containing Trifluran.  This will keep your yard looking nice and weed free for months to come.

Fertilize: It is important to fertilize your evergreens and conifers at this time because their root systems continue to grow throughout the late fall and even into the winter till ground frost appears.  An application of Osmocote or plants spikes is ideal for this task.  The plants take up these nutrients and are ready to explode when the spring growing season arrives.

Prepare Your Lawn:  Were you disappointed in your lawn this year?  Well, now is the time to prepare your lawn for next spring!  Aerate and thatch it if the soil is compacted.  This will allow the soil to drain better and give it much needed oxygen to the roots.  Seeding can be done as well as fertilizing.  Seeding in early fall will give the roots plenty of time to become established before winter.  Fertilize with a winter type fertilizer to build nutrients up in the root system.  This will keep your lawn from going into the winter hungry and it will help it take off much faster next spring.

Enjoy the cool crisp air and I’ll….see you in the Garden
Sandi Hillermann McDonald




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Garden Solutions – August 2017

August… besides vacations, other activities that will pull you away from your list of gardening duties are fairs, festivals, family outings, and back to school preparations. It really is a good thing that August is a slow month for working in your landscape.

Here are a few health benefits of enjoying the outdoors. Studies show that depending on the activity, gardening can burn between 250 and 500 calories per hour. For many people gardening is a creative outlet, for others it’s the change of scenery from the daily grind that makes a difference. Still others find that the satisfaction of reaping the rewards (those tasty fruits and vegetables, and beautiful flowers) of your efforts is what helps to reduce stress levels.

Your main tasks for this month both begin with the letter W. Weeding and watering. It is important to stay on top of the weeds. If you let them get ahead of you and they go to seed, you are going to have hundreds more to deal with this fall and next spring. Spraying weeds with an herbicide such as Roundup is one of the easiest ways to rid of weeds. Be very careful when spraying around the plants that you want to grow in your landscape. It generally is best to pull weeds that are growing in and immediately around your desirable plants, and spray those that are “in the open”. As far as watering goes, most plants will survive on 1” of water a week. A rain gauge will help measure the amount.

Mowing the lawn is another task that continues in August. Due to the usually hot and dry conditions that are the norm in August, you may be able to space your mowing times further apart. That is unless you have an irrigation system to keep your lawn growing vigorously.

If you are thinking about a new addition to your landscape this fall, now is the time to talk to your favorite landscape designer. Your designer can discuss your needs with you, design the changes or new additions, and get you on the schedule for a fall installation.

If you tried your hand at seasonal vegetable or square foot gardening this spring, here are a few ways you can enjoy a fall garden. Carry tomatoes, peppers and basil plants over in your fall garden. Direct sow beets, radishes, turnips, leafy greens and spinach now where other spring crops such as broccoli and cauliflower have come and gone for this year. Replant nursery starts of broccoli and cauliflower.

Last but not least, take care of yourself. During the hot time that is referred to as August, it is easy to over exert yourself. Drink plenty of fluids and rest in the shade as needed.

See you next month……….in the garden
Sandi Hillermann McDonald




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Garden Solutions – June 2017

            I, for one, cannot believe it is the first of June already. This year is really flying by. This is the month for picnics, vacations, family reunions, and for just enjoying the outdoors in general. One of the tasks to take care of this month is weeding. If you put a pre-emergent weed control product in your landscape beds in March or April, you are due for a second application now. There are two reasons for this. First, most of the pre-emergent products that are available to the homeowner have a short life span, up to 60 days. The second reason is due to all of the rain we have had. However, there are many benefits to the very adequate rainfalls this year. One of them is the ease with which some normally difficult weeds can be pulled. So take time to clean up your landscape beds and apply a pre-emergent as soon as possible.

The long hot days of summer are stressful to every living creature, including all your plants. If you are tired of the endless task of keeping your plants watered, it is time to think about adding mulch to your beds.

            I know that hotter weather is just ahead, so do yourself and your plantings a huge favor and apply mulch. If you have beds that have never been mulched, add 3” around all annuals, perennials, roses, trees and shrubs. Top dress previously mulched beds with an additional inch of fresh mulch.

Not only does mulch hold in moisture, relieving you of some of your watering tasks, it also keeps the soil cooler, so your plants will be less heat-stressed. An added bonus is that weed seeds have a difficult time germinating when buried in mulch, reducing the time you spend weeding.

            One of the most common questions that we receive at this time of year is, “How much do I water my ______?” I will try to explain some basic guidelines here:

Vegetables and Bedding Plants planted in the ground: established plants need at least one inch of water per week, more when bearing fruit. Check the soil around the plants, when it is dry one inch down, it’s time to water.

Container Gardens and Hanging Baskets: check your containers every day for water. Either test the soil by touch or lift the pot to check its weight. Most baskets and many containers will need to be watered once, or even twice a day, depending on the weather. I suggest you fertilize once a week.

Perennials: newly planted perennials need daily watering until established, at least one to two weeks, depending on weather. After they show signs of new growth, apply a one inch per week rule.

Trees and Shrubs: newly planted trees and shrubs should be watered every 4-5 days for the entire first year after planting, unless rainfall is abundant. Place the end of your hose next to the base of the plant and let the water trickle very slowly for about two hours. This will allow the root zone to become thoroughly saturated.

            Established Lawns: your lawn should be watered when the grass blades don’t bounce back after being walked on. One inch of water per week should keep your lawn green and healthy. It is best to water early in the morning, before the heat of the day. This keeps evaporation to a minimum, and allows plenty of time for the grass to dry before nightfall, which will help prevent fungus problems.

Newly Seeded or Sodded Lawns: for better germination, I suggest you mulch grass seed with straw as soon as it is planted. Once seed has germinated or sod has been laid, they must not be allowed to dry out. Water daily with a sprinkler until there is good growth. Early morning is again the best time. Once established, go back to the one inch per week rule.

Water Gardens: also require an occasional addition of water. Check your pond weekly and add water as needed. Water plants have variable depth requirements, so you need to keep the water levels consistent.

So continue to enjoy your outdoor spaces and make relationships with your plants! They can give you so much in return!


See you in the Garden,

Sandi Hillermann McDonald

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