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Mulch: When, why, and with what?

Mulch is typically shredded bark and ground-up wood products that are used to beautify gardens and flower beds and control weed growth. It provides a nice contrast with grass, while edging and mulching your beds can define your gardens and make your property stand out with a neat and fresh appearance. Always a nice look for the spring and summer. 

Sweet Peet in a garden bed

Sweet Peet in a garden bed

When should you mulch?

Mulch is typically put down in the spring. But I find that a lot of landscapers do it too early. After a winter without work, mulching early in the spring gets the cash flowing and the workers busy. But if you mulch before blooms appear on the trees, your new mulch will get covered by seedlings and pollen. And when heavy winds and rains in April wash the mulch away, you're left with weary looking gardens before summer even starts! 

You also want to wait till your first weeds emerge before mulching. Instead of putting mulch down over weeds that are embedded underground, let them bloom, pull them out, and then mulch. You'll have a better weed-free look all summer. 

That's why I consider the best time to mulch to be May, not April.

At that time, it's good to use a weed-suppressing product such as Treflan or Preen. Sprinkle that in your beds before you put the mulch down on top of it to suppress more weeds from coming up without harming your perennials. 

What kind of mulch should you use?

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All the rage right now in Fairfield County is what's known as Sweet Peet mulch. A registered trademark that is often mimicked and called Sweet Mulch, Magic Mulch, Eco Peet, or 100 other copycat names, it's organic, and it biodegrades into excellent topsoil for your plants and flowers. It's also dark and looks very nice. But on the downside, Sweet Peet is made from cow and horse manure. What do cows and horses eat? Weeds in the fields all day. Sorry to say, the seeds go right through them, so adding that manure to your garden means you're adding weed seeds to your garden! Even weeds that didn't come from the cows' diet seem to thrive in this mulch. I recommend using Sweet Peet every third year -- alternating with two years of bark mulch to get better bed soil and weed control. If you mulch with Sweet Peet every year, your beds will become too "composty" with no barrier against moisture or against weed seeds looking for a place to embed themselves.  

Some people frown on the cheaper varieties of mulch that are dyed different colors to look like true cedar bark mulch or true hemlock bark, which is twice the price. People tend to think the dyed mulch is an inferior product because it's so much cheaper. But I've been mulching for 30 years, and I can tell you the dyed stuff is just as good as any of the fancier products. It holds its color, does its job, and looks good as long as any of the more expensive varieties. 

 

Spring has sprung, so has our new website!

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Thanks for checking out the new Jeff Foster Landscapes website! We're very grateful to our friends at Radish Media for helping us pull this together. We hope our blog and gallery of landscaping plants will be useful to our loyal customers. And, of course, we hope showing off our work here will help us win some new customers.  

Longtime Facebook holdouts, we're jumping on the social media bandwagon to spread the word about our services. Find us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter as we set out to share some of the best advice, images, and ideas we can find for you on beautifying your property without breaking the bank.    

After a long winter, my team and I are happy to be back outdoors doing Spring cleanups! Look for us in Easton, Trumbull, Fairfield, Westport, Norwalk, and New Canaan. To get our blog updates by email, be sure to sign up for our seasonal mailing listAnd give us a call or send us an email if we can help you get your property into its best shape for the warm weather!

Happy Spring!

Jeff Foster

How to Pick the Right Plants for Your Home's Foundation

When planning your property’s landscape, foundation plants take special thought. A problem I often see is when a homeowner or builder has picked the wrong plant for an application. It’s a common scenario: You go to a nursery or warehouse store and pick a plant that looks pretty right now. But over time it gets big and bushy, reaches 25 feet tall, or starts to die when you prune it. 

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I’ve had customers tell me, “That plant grows too fast. I can’t see out the window!” And my answer is, “That plant doesn’t belong in front of your house.”

It’s good to do some investigating so that you can pick the perfect plant for the spot you are trying to fill.  Before purchasing a plant to go, say, next to your front door, or beneath your dining room windows, find out what that plant does in its mature state. How big does it get? How much pruning can it handle? Some plants just won’t thrive if they are cropped. Those are the ones that are meant to be planted on the border or your property—they can become floppy and big and be left alone, like the Rhododendrons in the foreground in this photo of a Dupont estate. 

Recently, a customer asked me to fill in holes in his landscaping to block the view of his neighbor’s property. My customer wanted to achieve instant coverage by planting new Norway spruce under his existing giant hemlocks. Those spruce will fill in the holes this season, but for the long term, they are unfortunately the wrong choice. Norway spruce can grow to 100 feet, so when they are underplanted, they struggle to survive. 

Often, the homeowner is not to blame for poor plant choices. The builder is. Builders of new homes and additions have the right equipment to install landscaping plantings, and they are conveniently on the job site with a team to do the labor. But if you entrust a builder with picking your plants, chances are you’ll be hiring someone like me in a few years to come fix that mess!

Besides aesthetics or problems like not being able to see out of your windows, the wrong plants can also cause you major financial headaches. Some plants installed up against homes in the ’70s and ’80s—such as Taxus and Rhododendron, can become so overgrown and out of control that they damage the foundation.

Where can you find the information you need to choose the right plant? 

Our own University of Connecticut is a fantastic resource when it comes to gardening and plant selection. Use their Plant Database of Trees Shrubs and Vines  and use their Plant Selector to search for plants by attributes. 

Truth be told, there's really only a short list of plants that do well as foundation plants in our planting zone here in Easton. In order to have year-round coverage in front of your home, you will want the majority of the back plants close to the house to be evergreen. Boxwood, Spirea, PJM compact Rhododendrons, dwarf conifers such as dwarf Alberta spruce, numerous holly varieties, and slow-growing cypress such as Hinoki cypress or other dwarf varieties are all good choices. In front of those is where you can get into variety and color, with things like Hydrangea, dwarf azalea, and perennials.