Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A Construction Emergency?

Nick the Builder and his crew came last Friday and took down the gutter pipe and prepped the existing fascia boards to accept the rafters for what will be the new roof on the screened porch. I expected them around 9 am, but they rolled in around noon and worked until 7 pm. They left with a promise to be back at 9 am on Monday. Well, they arrived closer to 11:30 am, but at least they got the bulk of the framing up.

I'm already in love with it and was eagerly awaiting their arrival this morning (Tuesday) when I received a text. They "might" be able to get here in the afternoon -- a construction emergency. Emergency? Short of a building collapsing on somebody's grandmother, I'm having a hard time imagining the shape of a construction emergency. They didn't get here this afternoon. They left several large saws, nail guns, tool boxes and other stuff here, so I'm assuming they meant to be back this morning. Whatever the emergency, they were not fully armed. Am hoping they'll be back in the morning, but not counting on it.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Front Yard Cries for Attention

Our front yards are mowed and generally tended by a lawn service, the cost of which is included in our monthly home owners assessment fee. They mow, edge, prune bushes, and spread pine straw where required. In general, they maintain what the builders provided when the homes were built. Any additions, like a different kind of mulch, ground cover, trees, etc., are the responsibility of the home owner. The trees were planted by the builder, but somehow they aren't covered by the maintenance program.

So, when I discovered an army of caterpillars* greedily devouring my oak tree yesterday, I hit the panic button. Soon discovered that the tree people I found on line were eager to remove the tree, but none of them would deal with the caterpillars. So, this morning I hied over to Walmart and bought a bottle of Sevin Ready-to-Spray pesticide and a pair of long-handled loppers and went on the attack.

The caterpillars very conveniently had arranged themselves in bunches. It appeared from the previous damage that they started at the end of the branch and ate their way to the trunk of the tree before moving on to the next branch. I say convenient, as it made a relatively easy job of spraying several at the same time. One cluster was well above my head. I was afraid I'd have to climb a ladder to get to it, but the spray stream was strong enough to hit it from the ground. Sorry this photo is so blurry, but I wasn't eager to get closer, so this is a blow-up.
The caterpillars appeared to die almost immediately, as all movement stopped. I was afraid they'd come raining down on my head, but they stuck to the stem of the leaf they were eating. Tomorrow I'll get out the long-handled loppers and prune away the branches with the most damage. They are all fairly small in diameter and down low.

I would have done it this morning, but I tackled another bit of landscaping instead.
The area beneath the tree has a faux brick edging that is supposed to contain the vinca ground cover. Nobody told the vinca, and it crossed the edging and was heading toward the driveway. The lawn service trimmed the bush that you see here, but ignored the vines, so I'm assuming that's outside of their purview. 
I attacked the vinca and the knockout roses that are under the dining room windows.
The roses had been reaching out over the sidewalk, putting visitors in jeopardy as they approached the front door. And voila! The faux bricks have reappeared!
Compare this photo with the before photo above. The clippings from this side and the other side of the flower bed filled a large plastic yard waste bag.
This side of the flower bed was also overgrown with escaping vinca. The greenery in front of the tree is balloon flowers past their bloom. I deadheaded them, so that part also looks better. The holly bush at left was trimmed last week by the landscaping crew. They ignored the Knockout roses. I cut back the bushes on the right, but the ones in the middle still need attention. I wasn't too eager to push my way in among the thorns to reach them, never mind a mild reluctance to encounter a snake or two in all of that greenery. 
So much for the front yard. As we segue to the back yard, do you see that white rectangular item in the open garage door? It's a bundle of shingles for the screened porch. Yes! Construction has begun. Nothing much to see so far. The material are all stacked on the patio, and the gutter has been taken down and the initial framing for the roof beams are up. Come Monday morning, Nick the Builder assures me that they will be framing it up.

I added a second hummingbird feeder in the back yard. It took the little hummers about 20 minutes to find it. Both feeders are busy from dawn to dusk. The numbers appear to have increased. Apparently, if you feed them, they will come. :)

Still dealing with the pigeon situation. Some friends suggested that a plastic snake would scare them off. One said a piece of electric cord on a window sill was enough to scare away the birds. Not having a fake snake in the cupboard, I used what I had on hand -- a black bungee cord.
I put it down at dusk one evening. The next morning the pigeons were stomping around as usual. It didn't faze them a bit. I'm a bit leery of using a fake snake, as if it does work for the pigeons, it may scare off the smaller birds, too. 
This entry is getting a bit long, but I have one more photo to share.
The rain clouds were the lovelies shade of pink at sunset the other night.

*Did you know that a group of caterpillars is called an army? I learned that today!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

August Update

Between the heat and the rain, the garden is growing well. Do you recall the dead zone in the center of the yard? Look at it now!

Thanks to Kelly Landscaping Management, the Bermuda is filling in nicely. The brown areas on either side of the island are some stubborn fescue that was doused with herbicide last week. There is more fescue scattered here and there, but it will be dealt with when the Bermuda goes dormant in the fall. [Click the photo to see it larger.]
I think I need to suggest to Jody that he check his mower's setting. The grass looks like oversized corduroy ribs.

I figured out what to put in place of the two Rose of Sharon bushes that died. A bottle tree! Unless the toxic ground contains something that will eat iron, it should survive very well. I bought the bottles as a set with the tree. It needs three more large bottles at the bottom and a small one on the very top.

The bottle tree can stay outside in all but freezing weather to add a flash of color to the island. 

Another area of the garden that is suffering a bit is the planter under the bird feeder. The marauding pigeons really are destructive, flying rats.
All three lavender plants started out the same size. Something is nibbling on one of them to the point that it is much smaller than the other two. And the blossoms disappear from the larger ones. If it's not the pigeons -- which I've seen pecking and scratching the plant -- it must be the rabbit I spotted a week or more ago. Haven't seen it since, but rabbits can be sneaky.

There were some purple flowers between the raggedy looking white ones. They disappeared completely. Pfft! Gone! Must have been especially tasty. Some plants are touted as being deer resistant. Would be nice to find some that are rabbit resistant.
On the positive side, a couple of volunteer impatiens plants have popped up.
Had no idea there were flowers in this mulched area. The appearance of this lovely pink impatiens is a pleasant surprise. Side note: I have the spray paint for Buddha, just haven't gotten around to doing it. On the agenda for this coming week.

Another impatiens appeared about 2/3 of the way to the back fence. No photo.

This paulownia is growing well, but not at all like the one that grew in our Missouri garden. The two that were planted behind the island got pulled up today. They were nothing but dead sticks. No sign of a root system. That mark the demise of all three plants from the Nursery Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken. *sigh*
The leaves on this paulownia uncurl as they grow, and they are slightly fuzzy. The tree seems to want to form branches, too, unlike the Missouri tree, which send up a straight, single trunk with  branches farther up, and had very smooth leaves. This one has two branches in a Y-shape, and the trunk is very short, even stubby. Have no idea what it will be when it grows up!
The hummingbird feeder is a very busy spot. I haven't taken a traffic count, but no matter when I look at it, one or more hummingbirds appear. There's plenty of nectar for all, but they spend a good deal of time and energy chasing away rivals. I think it is time to get a second feeder. I find myself cooking up batches of sugar & water nectar a couple times a week. They go through about 3/4 of a cup a day.

Can you imagine the size of the tummy of a creature the size of your thumb? Just think how many sips it takes to consume that much liquid? Amazing!
This feeder has a cup on top for water, meant to deter ants and other crawlies out of the goodies. Keeping it filled was a real chore until I got out the Lysol disinfectant spray and soaked the brace and fence with it. Haven't seen an ant since, and that was a couple months ago. Whatever it is in the spray that they find distasteful seems able to withstand our torrential rains.

With the heat and humidity, I find that I need to give the feeder a good cleaning each time I refill it, as black mold grows quickly. It gets a good scrubbing with an old toothbrush, especially around the yellow faux flowers at least every other day. 
Speaking of rain, the rain gauge registered four inches this past week. It was good to see the sun yesterday and today, but the humidity ... ugh.

The big news is that on Tuesday work will begin on the screened porch! Can't wait to be able to sit out there and enjoy the flowers and bird friends. Yes, even the pigeons. :)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Ten Days Later ...

Since the past post, ten days ago, there has been a burst of color and growth and a trip to the dark side.

The color has popped on the crape myrtle. The flowers appear to be pink in the photos. In real life they waver between pink and coral, depending on the degree of sunlight and cloudiness. It's lovely in any hue.

The growth spurt was enjoyed by the healthy paulownia. It is now taller than its red flag, and its new leaves are getting larger and larger. Dinner plate sized leaves are a feature of the mature tree.
Notice the Emerald Green soldiers. Jody told me not to water them. I haven't turned the hose on them once, despite deprivation being contrary to my instincts. They are growing nicely. 

About that trip to the dark side ... almost all of my life I've held artificial flowers, especially plastic ones, in contempt. However ... after throwing out the deader than dead marigolds that had surrounded the statue, I surrendered. The ceramic pots will only accommodate 4-inch flower pots, which dry out quickly. With the heat we have been experiencing, keeping up with them was next to impossible, hence the death of the marigolds, and thus a trip to Hobby Lobby and the purchase of a stem of silk flowers and a large block of florist foam.

 Three of the four living Rose of Sharon bushes are beginning to bloom. The fourth is the one that experienced the miraculous recovery. I don't see any buds on it, nor do I expect to see any. It gets full marks for simply surviving! The other two bushes do seem to be dead. The leaves they had have gone from withered green to brown. Will leave them in place for the time being.

On a separate topic: did I mention I'd like to screen in the little patio outside the back door? I ran my idea past one of the members of the Architectural Review Board, who wasn't thrilled with my idea to use a sheet of corrugated polycarbonate for a roof. I thought it would let in a lot of light. He thought it would look tacky and fly away in the first set of strong winds to come along. So I went back to the drawing board and emailed a new set of plans to the fellow who will be building it for me. I expect the estimate to rise dramatically, but the end result will be very nice.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

A Month Later ...

Between the rain and the heat, precious little has been done by me. However, Mother Nature has been at work. Here's a quick rundown on how things stand as of the 4th of July.

First, the crape myrtle. It has produced a lot of buds. I'm a bit disappointed in the few that have opened. The catalog described the color as more coral than pink. I'm hoping that as more buds open it will take on a coral hue, but whatever it is, I'll be enjoying it.
Remember the Rose of Sharon that had the microscopic leaves? Well, look at it now! It is filling out nicely and looking very healthy. I'm so happy that it got the time it needed to recover. 
The two nearest neighbors of the recovering bush, which were putting out leaves from the get-go, now seem to be in distress. Their leaves are withering. They've had as much rain as everything else in the garden.

Difficult to focus the phone camera, but here area some of the wilting leaves on the Rose of Sharon right beside the one that is recovering. Will be interesting to see what happens next.
Next up, the paulownia trees. If you'll recall, I bought two of them bare root from the nursery that shall not be named. As of last week, I thought both of them were dead. Not so! One of them is looking like a dead stick.
But look at the other one --- there are little leaves sprouting from the base of the trunk. There may be hope for it yet.
Compare with this paulownia, which came potted, not bare root. It is growing very well. This shot doesn't show it, but it is as tall as the red flag now.
The hydrangea bush has produced two flowers, this one and another on the other side of the bush. I'm thinking I've learned the lesson with this. I pruned back like mad in the early spring without knowing whether it blooms on old growth or new growth. Since there is no sign of buds in the greenery, I'm now pretty sure it blooms on old growth. Oh, well ...
Remember the nasty bush growing under the fence? Joe cut it down to the ground but couldn't get out the root without destroying that section of fence. Well ... look at it now! It is in the side yard, not easily seen from inside the house, so it has escaped my attention until today. Guess who's getting out there tomorrow before the branches get too thick to cut with my hand clippers.
This morning I managed an hour or so of weed pulling, so at least part of the garden is looking passably good. I really need to get outside at the crack of dawn, before the temps climb into the humid high seventies to keep up. The balloon flowers are in dire need of deadheading. You can see some of them in front of the hydrangea photo above. The marigolds in pots around the statue on the island have curled up their toes. Not sure what to replace them with. The pots are small, and the heat dries them out so quickly that they need water a couple times a day. I haven't been keeping up. Buddha needs to be spray painted. And so it goes . . .

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Many hands ... or at least a few more

As I age, I pay attention to what my body is telling me, and the day after the mowing it told me I needed some help. I put out an announcement on Nextdoor.com seeking garden help -- no experience necessary --  hoping to get a student in need of some summer cash. I got three responses.
  • One was from a high school girl who disappeared as soon as she learned she was expected to be here by 8 am. 
  • The second was a guy who would have done a good job but couldn't get to it for at least 3 weeks. I had looked at his Facebook page and was impressed by the remodeling he does. While he was here, we talked about screening in my little back porch area.  I'm waiting for an estimate.
  • The third was a general handyman who said he could come on Wednesday and with his crew get the whole yard weeded and mulched. I thought he might be overestimating, but he was eager and able to come quickly so I hired him. This was after he quoted me $80 for the job and I talked him up to $120.
Bobby seemed eager to put down some kind of barrier cloth under the mulch, but I ixnayed that. I've used the cloth in other gardens. It does not prevent weeds, as the mulch provides a nice growing medium for seeds that fall into it, and when it comes time to take up the cloth or plastic, it will have rotted or decomposed -- in short, a hot mess. He told me about Preen, pre-emergent granules that are sprinkled under the mulch. I searched it out and read glowing reviews, so off I went to Home Depot and bought some. Also bought Roundup to spot kill any weed stupid enough to poke its head up.

So Bobby and Johnny (his partner) and a young man showed up at 8 Wednesday morning. Bobby told me he couldn't stay because he had a house to paint but that Johnny and Brennan would get the job done. I'd edged several areas the night before, so I showed them how I wanted the ditching done and they got to work. In an hour they had weeded and mulched the two forsythias. Then Johnny disappeared. That left Brennan the high schooler who, I learned as we chatted, was working with a finger on his left hand jammed and swollen and an injury to his right shoulder from a fall at his second job at a pizza place. Plus he hadn't gotten a good night's sleep and missed breakfast. I ended up making a sandwich for him as he hadn't brought any lunch.  To shorten this long story, the day ended with Bobby and Johnny rushing through the last third of the flowerbed along the fence. Johnny allowed as how Bobby tended to promise more than they could deliver.  No kidding. I'm happy to have a good bit of the work done but not really thrilled about the quality of the end-of-day efforts. Brennan was far more meticulous.

Here is the little mob of bushes behind the island BEFORE.
Here is the same area AFTER weeding, Preening, and mulching. It looks much better. You can see the messy edging and haphazard mulch placement along the fence. This was part of the end-of-day effort. At least the weeds are gone, the Preen applied, and some mulch in place. I can use my trusty edger to clean up the edge. And truth be told, there are more weeds than grass back here, so there won't be the precise edge that's possible nearer to the house.
With the bushed mulched, the island is a more pleasant place to sit.
While the work was being done on the rest of the yard, I continued my efforts along the fence.

This is as far as I'd gotten before the rains came. Hard to see, but there is a forsythia bush hiding in that patch of weeds.
When the day was done, the forsythia (left above) had been liberated and the five calla lilies that had originally ringed the statue were planted in front if it. Digging those holes with a hand trowel was a challenge. I dug out some rocks that were as big as my fist. (Click the pictures for a larger image.)
There are still about 10 bags of mulch to be spread, but I can handle it. I want to add to the fence bed where the mulch is a bit thin, and the dogwood, paulownias and Emerald Green arborvitae still need to be mulched. If there is any left, I'll spread it along the right side fence, where there is currently just a strip of slightly weedy bare dirt.

This is now the view from the porch. I can almost ignore the overlooking houses. The brown patches in the foreground are dead poa annua. It finally succumbed to the heat. The grass is quickly filling in, so it should be green pretty soon.
The bare fence on the right side of the yard looks bleak compared to that on the left. I've had an idea that will add color to the right side. I'm still pondering just how it will be done. Stay tuned. :)

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

After the rains ...

After nearly three weeks, the rains have ended. We're promised a week of sunshine and climbing temperatures.Jody and his crew came by to mow on Tuesday, June 5. They did not have time to spread any mulch as they were still several mow jobs behind.

Three weeks of rain and the grass grew! It looked so much better after its trimming.
The three paulownias are growing, some better than others.

This is the paulownia (Empress Tree) tree that came from Fast Growing Trees. It is doing well. I was concerned that it might be the wrong kind of paulownia because of the initial leaf shapes, but the new leaves are shaped more like the ones I expected, so all is well. 

This paulowna and the one pictured above it are the two that came from a different online nursery, which shall remain nameless. I didn't check the business reviews and am kicking myself for the oversight.  These two are not growing as well, although they were in the ground about two weeks before the healthy one. Note the curled leaves on the top one and the limp leaves in the bottom photo. Research tells me that these trees are not happy with extreme drought or extreme moisture. The ground they are planted in had soil amendments added but comprises more clay and rocks than where they healthy tree is planted. Perhaps it does not drain as well.

These two are also putting out leaves in the expected shape, so all is good. My concern was that one kind is invasive and hard to control. This kind behaves. :)

The three lavender plants are growing well. They have begun to put out buds. Can't wait for the lovely, fragrant flowers to open!

The ground is still pretty wet. I'm going to give it a day before I start the weeding and edging and mulching routine. My garden muscles are telling me they like the 3-week respite and will no doubt complain once I'm back outside.
Two new birds came to visit. I think they were a male and female Baltimore oriole couple. I haven't seen them since. They were too big to fit into the caged seed feeder and found nothing on the ground, so they apparently moved on.
Sorry for the poor photo. I took it through the window. Didn't want to startle him. His colors were much more vibrant in person. His wife was a more muted version.