Winter is the best time of year to prune deciduous trees and shrubs, since the trees are dormant and you can easily see the form and structure of the branches. In this video, David Yost reviews the three main steps to take when pruning your trees to ensure you do so in a way that will improve their overall health and appearance.
This post was originally published in July of 2015 and was updated January 3, 2018.
‘Emerald’, which matures to about 15’ tall and 4’ wide; ‘Nigra’, 15’ x 5’; and ‘Pyramidal’, 20’ x 8’ are three of our most popular varieties. Great for our Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, these varieties display dense, dark green foliage that is soft textured. They maintain good winter color.
As a young tree, cryptomeria has a very dense, full growth that begins to open up into a more irregular, graceful form with age. It matures to a height of 50’ – 60’ and a spread of 20’ – 40’. An elegant tree with attractive red bark, cryptomeria can be used as a specimen or to create privacy. Cryptomeria should be planted in full sun. Growing 30’ – 40’ tall, ‘Yoshino’ is the most popular type.
Eastern Red Cedar
Native to the mid-Atlantic region, Eastern red cedar is a narrow, evergreen tree that can mature to 25’ to 35’ tall. The dense and pyramidal form becomes slightly pendulous with age. Male plants have gold cones and female plants have blue cones that birds love. The two paired together are quite attractive in the landscape.
Some homeowners are smitten with Foster hollies, which feature small, fine-textured leaves and narrow, upright growth. Their dense growth, dark green foliage and bright red berries make them an excellent choice for privacy screens. They mature to a height of 20’ – 30’, but with routine pruning they can be easily kept to a height of 12’ – 15’.
Giant (Western) Arborvitae
Native to the Pacific Northwest, this is often sold as ‘Green Giant’. Because of its fast rate of growth and soft-textured foliage, the variety ‘Green Giant’ is often promoted as an alternative to Leyland cypress. ‘Green Giant’ will grow 30’ – 40’ tall with a spread of 10’ – 12’. This tree has better resistance to deer than other arborvitaes or Leyland cypress.
A hybrid tree that originated in Wales in 1888, Leyland cypress has exploded in popularity over the past 30 years. This tree grows very rapidly, and is capable of growing 3’ a year or more until reaching maturity at 25’ – 35’ tall and 10’ wide. It requires full sunlight and appreciates a bit of protection from harsh winter winds. Moist, well-drained soil conditions are ideal, although this tree will adapt to heavy clay
Nellie R. Stevens
A very popular, vigorous, hybrid holly that grows into a broad pyramidal form. It can mature to 25’ tall, but like all hollies it responds well to pruning and can be cut back in early spring if necessary. The berries are prolific with an orange-red color. Nellie Stevens withstands harsh, exposed environments better than other hollies.
This is a widely planted, versatile shrub that is suitable for many different situations. It will grow in full sun or full shade, preferring something in between. The white flowers appear in late April or May, and are attractive, but considered secondary to the glossy, dark-green leaves. Skip laurel will grow 8’ or more tall and 4’ – 6’ wide, but can easily be shaped by occasional pruning.
Prized for its glossy green leaves and fragrant white flowers, this is a great specimen tree that can also be used for screening. ‘Little Gem’ is a compact variety that grows to 20’ or more tall and about 8’ wide. Planting them in a location protected from harsh winter winds is best.
Similar to Southern Magnolia, chindo viburnum features leather-like, shiny green leaves. This evergreen shrub makes a good hedge because it is very dense with a pyramidal form. New growth often has a red hue.
One of the few evergreen viburnums that can be grown in our area, leatherleaf viburnum features deeply wrinkled, tough textured leaves that are very interesting. The white flowers are attractive and the berries are bright red. Planting viburnum in groups will improve berry production.
Red Tip Photinia
This popular shrub boasts bright red growth that lasts a few weeks before maturing to green. Small white flowers appear in the spring and are followed by red berries. It grows to a height of 10 to 15 feet tall and 5 to 8 feet wide. Plant in full sun to partial shade with good air circulation.
Waxleaf privet makes an excellent screening plant. Although it matures to a height of 12 to 15 feet, it can tolerate severe pruning. This shrub has a profusion of white blooms, black berries and glossy, green foliage.
The crape myrtle is one of the most iconic trees of the southern summer. You can rarely drive throughout the Northern Virginia area during this season without seeing these beauties in bloom. They provide stunning color and are very easy to care for. Generally, they don’t need a lot of water and will be happy with at least eight hours of sunlight. The warm, bright summers in our area actually make crape myrtles flower more. Because of this, crape myrtles can grow in places many plants won’t.
Crape myrtles come in many different varieties, including tree and shrub variations, making them a versatile plant that can be used in many ways in your landscape. Here are a few of our favorite ways to make the crape myrtles shine in your landscape.
With flowers in various shades of red, purple, pink, and white and leaves in shades of green, red, and black, there are a multitude of varieties available that make stunning specimen plants in any yard. These deciduous plants make an excellent specimen, providing four season interest with new growth in spring, beautiful summer blooms, standout fall foliage, and smooth, white branches in winter. For nighttime interest, add up lighting to the base of the tree to illuminate their beauty against the dramatic dark backdrop of the night sky.
(Image via Southern Living)
The texture, size and colors of crape myrtles pair beautifully with all types of other plants. Here are some of our favorite trees and shrubs to pair to bring out the beauty in both plants:
- Cherry tree: For blooms all spring and summer, plant cherry trees and crape myrtles together. The cherry trees will bloom through the spring, and just as their bloom is ending, the crape myrtles will begin to show off beautiful blossoms.
- Evergreens: With their year-round foliage, evergreens provide contrast to the crape myrtle’s trunk and branches in the winter landscape..
- Nandinas: With their similar care schedule and multicolored foliage, nandinas add greens, reds, and yellows to your garden, complementing the crape myrtles’ colors in spring, summer and fall.
- Limelight hydrangeas: This particular variety of hydrangea has a similar bloom schedule as most crape myrtles. Their glowing white blooms will instantly brighten the purples and reds of your crape myrtle blooms. You can also make a wonderful white garden by combining the limelight hydrangea with a white flowering crape myrtle. These compliments will glow during fall evenings while both are in bloom.
(Image via House Beautiful)
Shade for Outdoor Spaces
Create a relaxing summer space by using a crape myrtle to create shade on your patio. Crape myrtles are late bloomers and deciduous, which means in the spring you will have access to the warm spring sunshine as the tree leafs, and in the heat of summer your tree will provide refreshing shade and beautiful blooms.
(Image via Southern Living)
Miniature crape myrtles will only grow about 3 feet high, making them an excellent choice for a perennial border that will change with the seasons. They add great color to foundation plantings and shallow depth to your landscape.
With spring at our doorstep, we are all ready to give our garden beds a fresh look and feel. One of the topics our customers frequently ask us about at the garden center is how to mulch, and what types of mulch are best. While the shear number of options can be overwhelming, the good news is that when following a few simple steps to properly mulch your garden beds, you can simply select whichever suits your tastes and your budget.
Depth and Coverage
When mulching a garden bed, the most important piece to remember is that the mulch should be layered no more than 3 inches deep. 1-2 inches is plenty. Any more than 3 inches, and it will begin to cause more problems than benefits – mulch that is too deep can bar water and air from reaching the soil, lead to shallow root growth, and encourage plant disease. When mulching around trees and shrubs, ensure that the stem or trunk of the shrub or tree is not covered by mulch. I frequently see mounds of mulch surrounding trees, like an upside-down funnel with the tree coming out of the top. This forces the stems and trunks of trees to sit in moisture, increasing the likelihood of disease and other ailments affecting it. Instead, follow the 1-2 inch mulch depth all the way from the edge of the garden bed to the base of the tree. If you are planting trees and shrubs for the first time, the same mulching methods apply.
Benefits of Mulching Garden Beds
- Retain soil moisture, reducing frequency of watering
- Moderate soil temperature, keeping the soil warmer in winter and cooler in summer
- Reduce erosion of soil by retaining it in garden beds and increase water infiltration into the soil
- Improve appearance of garden beds, giving a polished look and feel
- Reduce need for weeding
Selecting the Best Mulch for Your Landscape
Mulch comes in many, many varieties. This can be overwhelming to customers who have not decided on a favorite kind yet. The good news is that there is really very little difference between mulches in terms of benefits to the soil and garden bed. You can choose whichever kind you want, based on your preferred looks and price. If you are not sure what kind you want, we are happy to help you pick! Here are a few of the options that we offer:
- Shredded Hardwood: economical, holds well on moderate slopes
- Cedar: aromatic, naturally decay resistant
- Cypress: decay resistant
- Silver Dollar, Rappahannock and Virginia Fines: good color retention, does not pack down
- Dyed mulch: good color retention
Now is the time to get your lawn in spring shape! The weather is warming up, trees are starting to bloom, and healthy, dark green grass can really contribute to the feeling that spring has arrived. By taking a few steps, anyone can refresh their lawn for a beautiful spring landscape. Before starting your lawn refresh, remember that each one is different and your lawn’s care needs will be unique to the conditions it is under as well as its current state. If you need any assistance deciding which of the steps apply to your lawn, please call one of our experts at the plant clinic or stop by and see us.
Control Winter Weeds
March is the perfect time to control and eliminate any winter weeds that crept into your lawn over the season. Chickweed, bittercress, henbit, deadnettle, clover, dandelion and wild violet are all weeds that may be seen at this time.
Prevent Summer Weeds
After treating winter weeds, it’s a good idea to pre-treat for summer weeds. Preventing their germination from the beginning will save you a lot of trouble, and help you maintain a weed-free landscape throughout the season. Common summer weeds include crabgrass, goosegrass, foxtail and Japanese stiltgrass. When planning your weed prevention, you will want to take into account whether or not you will be seeding your lawn.
Seed and Fertilize
Take advantage of the spring season to fill in your lawn by overseeding. This is a great opportunity to select new seeds that will work great in your lawn’s conditions. We offer many varieties and are happy to help you select one that will thrive in your landscape. When you are seeding, fertilize your lawn as well with a high phosphorous formula.
Spring is almost here and it’s time to start getting our gardens ready for the season. As you plan your March and early April gardening projects, here are some tasks you may need to complete.
Prune Perennials and Shrubs
Cut back the old, browned growth of perennials and groundcovers and trim the leaves of grasses and liriope back to almost ground level. Removing the old growth will make way for fresh, green growth that will emerge this spring. Remove old stems of sedum, coneflower, chrysanthemums and other perennials back to where the new buds are beginning to emerge. This will help keep your perennials full and stocky while giving your garden a fresh look. After cutting back your perennials, thin boxwoods and prune hollies and yews. Needled evergreens such as junipers and cypress can be lightly sheared or thinned, but avoid any extensive pruning. If you prune back into the old growth on these plants, they will not fill back in. This is also a great time to prune crape myrtle, roses and other summer blooming shrubs, with the exception of bigleaf and oakleaf hydrangeas. Avoid heavy pruning for these plants, as this will interfere with their flowering. If you are looking for more detailed information on pruning times and methods for some of our most popular landscape plants in our northern Virginia region,check out our tree and shrub pruning guide.
Clean Up Landscape Beds
Give your landscape beds a professional look using a spade or edging tool to define borders with smooth, sweeping curves or straight lines. After this is complete, add fresh mulch to protect and improve the soil, conserve moisture and discourage weeds. There are several different types of mulch to choose from, and they all do a good job. Pick the one with the color, texture and price that suits your taste. As a note: never layer more than 3 inches of mulch in your landscape beds – it is possible to have too much of a good thing!
Get ahead of the weeds! As you are cleaning up your established landscape beds, pull out any weeds that crept in this winter and apply a weed preventer. Weed preventers create a chemical barrier in the surface of the soil to inhibit germinating seeds from becoming established. Just be sure not to use weed preventers in any beds where you will be adding new plantings this spring. For more information check our blog posts on treating winter weeds and preventing summer weeds.
Prepare Garden Beds for New Plantings
Amend the soil of garden beds where you will be adding new plantings with fertilizer and soil conditioner. We recommend using Merrifield Starter Plant Food for your fertilizer and Merrifield Planting Mix for the soil conditioner. Preparing beds now will make it easier and more enjoyable when you are ready to start planting.
Plant Cold Hardy Trees, Shrubs, Perennials, Vegetables and Annuals
You can begin planting cold hardy trees, shrubs, perennials, vegetables and annuals. Be aware that we will continue to have freezing temperatures and frosty mornings throughout our area until late April. If you have plants with tender new foliage or flowers, be prepared to cover them with a frost cloth on those cold nights and days. Pansies, violas and primroses will all provide spring color, but are cold tolerant and can handle the chill of early spring. We get new plants all the time, so you can always stop by and ask our plant specialists about what will work well in your garden. Improve the growth, color and flowering of your favorite garden plants by fertilizing now as the growing season begins. We have made this super easy. If you want to promote blooms, use Merrifield Flowering Plant Food, if you want to promote lush, green vegetative growth, use Merrifield Tree and Shrub Food.
If you have any questions about preparing your garden for spring, give us a call, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop by the store and talk to us!
One of the most difficult things to do when designing a garden bed or container is figuring out which plant combinations to use. With so many beautiful plant types and varieties to choose from, how do we narrow it down to a few that will really look great together? Quite often, we end up gravitating towards plants that catch our eye, but end up clashing in the garden. The fall can be especially overwhelming, with the bold reds, crisp yellows, and bright oranges of the season. It is easy to get carried away with all the new colors that the season offers. By no means does this mean you need to shy away from them. As a landscape designer, I often refer back to the basics of color theory to inspire and direct beautiful color combinations in the garden. You too can use these guidelines to create a stunning display of fall color!
The Basics of Color
Just like selecting a wall paint or window dressing for your living room, carefully combining colors in an outdoor space can help you create a cohesive design composition. Here are the three basic color combinations that I often refer to during the design process (discussed in more detail below):
These color schemes are formed based on the color wheel, which many of you are probably familiar with:
The color wheel depicts primary (yellow, blue, red), secondary (orange, green, purple), warm (yellow, red, orange) and cool (blue, green, purple) colors. Complimentary colors are those that opposite each other on the wheel.
Combining Colors for Fall Beauty
You can use color theory to combine plants in any way you want at any time of year. Since it’s fall, I’ve selected a few of my favorite seasonal plants to illustrate monochromatic, analogous, and complimentary schemes. These plants look beautiful together, but by separating out the plants we can create a variety of distinct styles in our gardens.
Monochromatic with Green Foliage
A monochromatic scheme incorporates only one color and its values. By selecting various shades, we can create a strong, cohesive visual effect. One of the most commonly used monochromatic designs in landscaping is variations of green in a shady part of a garden. Using green in these spaces enables us to use a wide variety of shade-friendly foliage plants. The combination pictured above includes boxwood, liriope, a green foliage heuchera, and a fern.
Analogous with Red and Orange Foliage, Blooms and Pumpkins
Analogous colors can be found next to each other on the color wheel. Using this combination creates a pleasingly harmonious variation. Color combinations of this type generate a pleasing energy in the garden without using too many colors. Here, I’ve combined orange and red for a display of fall color using pumpkins, mums and a burning bush.
Pair the opposing colors on the color wheel for an undeniably bold approach to gardening. Complementary colors “complement” each other by making the other color appear more intense. If you are looking for a high energy space, pairing complementary colors in your garden is a great start. In a fall garden, combining red and green is a great choice. In the photo above, I’ve paired the green foliage of liriope and boxwood with the red foliage of heuchera and the red blooms of fall blooming mums.
Have Fun and Try a Variety of Combinations
While the color schemes used in this post are a great starting point, I always encourage gardeners to try out whatever color scheme makes them happy. The point is to have fun with color and make a beautiful garden you love!
Outdoor rooms are everywhere. On television, in magazines and on social media, they captivate audiences and elicit dreams of intimate gatherings, meditative solitude or perhaps the ultimate creative work space. Rooms are by definition limited by barriers or boundaries, enclosed and only so large. They are a perfect fit for smaller, more urban properties.
So why do I hear so many homeowners describe their smallish outdoor space in disparaging terms? “It’s just a townhouse backyard.” “I have nothing but a postage stamp.” “It’s small—there’s not much we can do with it.” Sometimes, I hear a hint of shame or a vague tone of apology, as though their little spot of earth isn’t worth good design. To that, I say STOP. Stop right now and begin to look at things a different way.
I also can say, I understand. So many of us who grew up in the suburbs or more rural locales have chosen a more urban setting in which to raise our own families. Our expectations of what a “yard” should be can be stuck in that suburban mold. You know the one: an ample deck or patio leading out to an expansive lawn, just right for a game of touch football, several well-placed shade trees, and maybe a play set or vegetable garden far enough away not to feel obtrusive. Your very own slice of nature. Letting go of that expectation can feel disappointing, but it can also feel like opportunity!
When my husband and I chose our row house in the Rosemont neighborhood of Alexandria, we knew we were choosing against the big yard. With lots of green space in a nearby park where our little boy can play, we don’t miss it. Instead we are designing a space that fits who we are – simply flagstone with areas for cooking, eating and lounging, a kitchen garden, a sandbox and a few ornamental plants. A place that is an extension of our home. A place where we can live.
How to create a beautiful small outdoor space
If the vision of a purposeful space in sync with your lifestyle has your wheels turning, you may need to stop thinking in terms of a disappointing miniature suburban yard and start thinking in terms of an outdoor room. First, consider what defines a room indoors. Indoor rooms generally:
- Have a distinct purpose and have what they need to fulfill that purpose.
- Use the whole space, wall to wall and floor to ceiling
- Have a logical connection to adjacent rooms
- Contain furnishings that make them useful and comfortable
- Include details that make them special
When we bring those concepts outside, it’s easy to see that the outdoor portion of your property need not be nature in miniature nor a useless and ignored place devoid of personality. It can be a true extension of your home, treated with the same sense of purpose, design and detail.
To get there, follow these seven tips:
Embrace the space
Let go of trying to make a cozy space feel expansive or preserve a lackluster view—it’s okay if you can’t see the edges of your property so long as you feel good in the space.
The fewer uses for a space, the easier it will be to create a unified and pleasing design.
Take a cue from indoors—straight lines and angles often (but not always) help to maximize usable space.
Built-in seating, planters, storage, etc., can eliminate the need for bulky furniture and allow one piece to serve multiple purposes.
Pay attention to walls and ceilings, both of which are fair game for furnishings, art and plantings.
Because, every inch of a small space will be noticed, attention to detail will make it special.
Make peace with maintenance
Plants—the one quintessentially outdoor furnishing—will grow and change. You can use dwarf cultivars to make the job easier, but a lush look will require some artful pruning and extra care for container plants.
Are cooling temperatures and shorter days making you think of a cozy gathering around a fire? It’s no wonder. Fires have a primal draw. They are a source of warmth, comfort and hospitality. They engage all of our senses, and as a result, seep into our memories.
For me, a crackling fire harkens back to so many wonderful times and places. When I was very young, my grandmother would take my sister and me to a spot of open land near a creek and teach us how to build a little campfire and roast hotdogs and marshmallows on sticks. She kindled not just fire but a love of the outdoors. Later there were campfire sing-a-longs at summer camp, bonfire pep rallies and gatherings with friends around all manner of campfires and fire pits.
As a designer, I love to have to the opportunity to bring this kind of experience home to my clients. This is good thing, because fire features have become very popular. Every year, I seem to get more requests to create space for a fireplace, fire pit or chiminea in a landscape. Everyone seems to be craving that warm, hospitable place within the garden. What’s more, the warmth of a fire extends outdoor fun well into the late fall and even winter months. You don’t have to move to California to enjoy year-round outdoor living!
What you do need to do is apply a little thinking, planning and creativity. Options for fire features are nearly limitless, so if you think only of a raised stone circle, think again. As you can see from the photos below, the fire features Merrifield has built in the past few years range from elaborate outdoor living rooms, complete with fireplaces, to rustic camp-style pits to movable fire bowls. Clients who have completed such installations tell me their fire features tend to be some of the best-loved and most-used of their landscape additions.
Looking beyond the DC area, there are even more creative options to discover. In the western US and Australia, where wood-burning fires are largely prohibited, many people opt for gas fire features with sleek, modern designs. With the ability to simply turn them on and off, they fit into all kinds of unexpected places. Check out Pinterest and Houzz for some stunning examples. Maybe you’ll end up in the vanguard of homeowners bringing this trend to the East Coast. Whatever you do, don’t limit your imagination. A Merrifield Garden Center designer can help make your dream a reality.
When working with a designer on your fire feature, the first two things he or she will consider are the available space and how you intend to use it. While built-in fire pits and fireplaces generally need generous surrounding hardscapes and to be positioned 20-25’ from structures, such as your house, portable fire bowls and chimineas can be used in smaller, closer spaces. In general, it is not recommended to put fire features under roofs or pergolas or on top of wood decks (and yes, believe it or not, that is a common question). Wood burning fire features are ideal for people who want a campfire experience, gas features are better for those who crave the ambiance with a bit more simplicity.
A few questions a designer might ask when planning your fire feature are:
- How much space do you have/want to dedicate to this particular feature?
- Do you need this space to be convertible (dedicated to fire for small gatherings, open space for large-scale entertaining)?
- Is there any space 20-25’ from a structure?
- Should the space be an extension of your home or a destination out in the garden?
- How many people would you like to have gathered around the fire?
- Will you be using the fire for cooking?
- What factors (e.g., hassle of getting it started, safety concerns, no dry place to store firewood) would prevent you from using the fire feature often?
Once you’ve honed in on the location and the type of fire feature you want, it’s time to think about feeling, style and materials. What feeling do you want to create? The memory of a cozy campfire? A luxurious resort? A romantic retreat? Think about whether the space should feel enclosed and intimate or open and exciting. What aesthetic choices will contribute to that feeling?
As you’ve seen, aesthetics for fire features are as varied as any home or garden. Ideally, the style and scale of your fire feature, home and garden would all be the same—yours! If your home tends toward cozy and rustic, with exposed beams, lots of natural materials, and a loose woodsy garden, a grand brick chimney might seem out of place. However, it might be the perfect thing for a more formal home with a white-columned pergola and parterred herb garden.
To point to a more concrete example, recently, I designed an outdoor living area with a fireplace to be a true extension of a home. Because the home sits on a steep hill within a woodland of tall trees, the living area and the fireplace needed to be bold, with large proportions, to be in scale with their surroundings. They also needed to be one with the house to avoid looking tacked-on. To get this seamless look, we used a stone veneer that was already on the house to cover the fireplace and adjacent retaining walls. The bold proportions come from chunky, rough-hewn stone for benches and wall caps and large-scale pavers for the patio that echo the colors in the veneer. The result is very cohesive, as though the outdoor area was built right along with the house.
What are the stylist hallmarks of your home’s character that you can transport into the landscape with a fire feature and surrounding patio or garden?
Here are a few aesthetic notes to look for:
- Stone – notice color, texture and visual weight
- Brick – notice color, finish and age
- Stucco/Dryvit – notice color and relationship to other materials
- Copper – notice patina and degree to which it gives the house character
- Wrought Iron – notice it’s shape and stylistic details
- Formal – look for symmetry, heavier, traditional materials, classical details
- Rustic – look for natural materials and details, situation within the landscape, feelings of “woodsiness” or “beachiness”
- Modern – look for clean lines, spare or quirky details, asymmetrical and nontraditional spatial relationships.
Having a location, type, scale and feeling in mind and a few stylistic details for inspiration, you are ready to create the perfect place to warm those chilly evenings in the coming months. Invite some friends … open a bottle of wine. What could be better?