Gardening in a Changing Climate

Gardening in a Changing Climate

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Boise, Idaho—home to Idaho Botanical Garden—is known as the City of Trees. There is an elusive fact that our city’s shade trees and lush lawns conspire to hide. We live in the desert.

Southwest Idaho lies in the heart of the sagebrush steppe, a xeric grasslands ecosystem that covers 120 million acres across the North American West. The annual precipitation of the Treasure Valley is 12 inches. A foot of rain and snow is meager compared to precipitation in Seattle, Washington (37.5 inches), but three times that of Las Vegas, Nevada. Water has always been precious in the West. How will that resource fluctuate as our climate continues to change?

In Idaho, the amount of annual precipitation may not be as important as the timing and form that water comes in. As we discussed in Parts I and II, warming winters have rippling effects on our wild and urban landscapes. Our “snow days” may turn into rain days.

Water combined with warmer temperatures can cause gardens to “wake up” and break their dormancy too early. Leaf and floral bud creation are dangerous in the winter due to the likelihood of frost damage. New foliage will turn black and die when this occurs. Snow can act as both a water tower and cozy blanket; gradually releasing water while insulating the soil. Excessive rain can cause soil saturation and erosion, especially in urban clayey soils. Plant roots need air to survive, and too much water can asphyxiate them.

Southwest Idaho summers are predicted to be hotter, drier and longer. Just like people can experience heat illness, many plants suffer stress and can even perish in the hot sun. Take stock of your plants’ reactions to heat stress. Do some plants appear fine, while another’s leaf margins are brown? Are the leaves “flagging” or wilting downwards? If so that species or cultivar may not be suited to our climate.

Plants have fascinating ways of dealing with heat. Some have fleshy, water-storing roots (like four o’clock, Mirabilis spp.), and some go dormant during the summer (like spring bulbs). Some mine deep into the soil with a tap root (e.g. netleaf hackberry, Celtis reticulata), or spread their roots thin to collect every drop of rain (like Cacti). Others, like Sedum, have even adapted a novel and more efficient way of photosynthesizing (CAM photosynthesis).

As our seasons offer new challenges, we have the opportunity to evolve with them!
● Install a roof rainwater collection system
● Plant xeric or water-wise plants (visit our many demonstration gardens for inspiration!)
● Choose shade trees that are drought tolerant and adapted to our high pH soils
● Convert unutilized turf and lawn areas to drip irrigation and perennial plantings
● Consider replacing annual bedding plants like Petunia with perennials, which may consume less water from year to year
● Use bark or other organic mulches to conserve soil moisture, especially around the base of your trees

Insect-Eating Birds In The Garden

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Purple Martin

Purple Martin

For many years, we have had a house for Purple Martins, and have enjoyed the mosquito-free yard that they help maintain.

Plus, it is entertaining watching and listening to them while they work.

Over the years, I noticed that while mowing with the riding mower that the sky would fill with birds that were catching the bugs that the mower stirred up.

But they were not the Purple Martins which remained on their house.

After some research, I discovered that the birds were Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows.

The Barn Swallows had nests in the rafters of the old barn in what used to be a pasture on our property, but it was not clear where the Tree Swallows nested.

I located some birdhouses for the Tree Swallows and installed four of them around the gardens. Immediately all four houses became occupied by Tree Swallows and Eastern Bluebirds, both insect-eating birds.

This is the fourth year that we have had Tree Swallows and Bluebirds nesting around the gardens in the houses I provided for them.

Not only has it been a joy to watch the birds flying about the yard, coming and going as they search for bugs to eat, but there has been a tremendous reduction in pests in the gardens.

One of the Tree Swallows favorite insects is the White Cabbage Moth. Because of the birds’ pursuit of the moth, we seldom see cabbage worms on the brassica family plants in the gardens.

Additionally, I have observed the Bluebirds sitting on the edge of the raised beds watching for squash and cucumber beetles, and feasting on them when they detect motion.

While the Tree Swallows prefer flying insects, the Eastern Bluebirds prefer insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, larvae, and small moths.

I have never seen the swallows on the ground, or in the raised beds looking for insects, but I have frequently observed the bluebirds doing so.

Meanwhile, the swallows will sit on the top of the trellises for cucumbers and squash just waiting for a moth to fly by.

One thing we have learned about attracting birds to the garden, though, is to not use the yellow sticky traps to catch the squash and cucumber beetles.

The birds will attempt to get the beetles off the trap but will get their feathers caught in the Tree Tanglefoot that I use to coat the traps.

While the yellow sticky traps are very effective at catching the beetles as they fly into the gardens, they are not compatible with the birds also wanting those beetles.

Bring the Heat with Outdoor Fire Features

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An Elemental Connection

We all have an ancestral connection with fire that persists, even as technology plays an ever-increasing role in our day-to-day life. Fire is elemental, essential – it gathers us round to inspire with its dazzling dance, protect for the unknown in the dark, and soothe our psyches with its warm embrace. As landscape designers, we love to include fire features – pits, bowls, rings, and even grills – for exactly these reasons.

There’s also versatility to fire features, they bring a destination to a landscape. When set away from the house they offer a respite for contemplation, whisking away our worries of the week, lost in the crackle of the embers. Placed nearer the house or patio fire features provide a very social gathering space ideal for entertaining. More importantly, especially in our colder New England climate, they allow you to enjoy the outdoor spaces in the cooler evenings and throughout the seasons.

Fire Feature Types

Fire features come in several various shapes, sizes and materials to suit any taste. Ranging from a simple iron fire bowl to a custom masonry fireplace with wood cubbies. No matter the style the toughest choice often is wood burning versus gas fired.  Gas fired fire pits and fireplaces are easy to use, with the turn of a key and a match you are instantly basked in warmth. An added benefit is that there is no smoky smell or ash to clean. However, gas fired varieties will require a licensed plumber to connect to your existing propane or natural gas supply and typically incur an additional cost for trenching.

Personally, I love a wood fire. The nostalgia that the sights, sounds and smells of real wood can’t be mimicked. No matter the preferred type of fire feature, it’s something will be enjoyed by the entire family. As you contemplate your next landscape design project, you will want to consider bringing the heat.


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With the warmer weather of summer now here to stay in Massachusetts, homeowners will soon start seeing sprouts and seedlings from their early season plantings, if they haven’t already. As your yard grows, it’s important to maintain it properly so that plants can stay healthy and provide beautiful blooms for as long as possible.

Pruning, or trimming certain parts of a plant, can help make it last longer and increase its blooms. But we see some good-intentioned gardeners making pruning mistakes that can actually damage the health of the yard.

Here are some of the most common mistakes we see homeowners making when pruning their yards, and how to overcome them:


1. Not understanding ideal plant structure.

You never want to simply start pruning a plant without understanding its different areas and their function. Find pictures of the plant you are pruning in a mature, healthy condition and note things like its height and bud distribution. This will help you understand where on the plant you need to cut.

Before you start pruning, you need to know which areas should be trimmed and which are better left alone. Otherwise, you run the risk of over-pruning, which can stress the plant and ultimately stunt its growth. YouTube is a great source for quick tutorials on pruning

2. Not knowing when to prune.

Just as you need to understand the structure of the plant, you also must recognize the timing of the plant’s growth and how that impacts its need for pruning. Some plants should be pruned earlier in the year during the spring and summer seasons, while others are best pruned going into the dormant colder seasons. If you prune too late, you run the risk of interfering with flower buds and limiting its bloom.

To solve this issue, make sure to understand the particular bloom timing of each plant you will be pruning. There are lots of online resources about pruning that can help, particularly when it comes to shrubs and trees that grow in the Massachusetts area.


3. Not having the proper pruning tools

While knowledge of the timing and specific areas of a plant that need to be pruned is important, you must also have the right tools for the job. If you don’t have any tools for pruning, a good way to start is choosing one set of hand shears or cutters, one longer set of shears, and one pruning saw for trees and larger shrubs. There are plenty of great landscaping and gardening resources online with more information about pruning tools.

Take time to learn how to hold and operate them for best results – some shears may need to be used at a certain angle. Be sure to keep your pruning tools clean and rust-free when they aren’t in use.

Learn how to make your yard a reflection of your own personality by downloading the ebook titled “How to Maintain Your Landscape and Transform it into a Beauty You’ll Love.”


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When the temperature warms up, people spend more time outdoors. What better way to spend time outside than on a beautiful patio? Not only will you be in the comfort of your own home, but a patio helps to beautify your home and provides the perfect venue to entertain guests. Summer should be spent taking trips and doing various activities but for those days that you don’t feel like leaving the house, a patio is an ideal place to relax. This home improvement project also won’t hurt your pocket. Keep reading to learn some reasons why you should have a patio installed this summer.


Buying a house is a serious investment, so you want to make sure that you’re happy in your home. A patio adds value to your home because now you can create memories, take in the sunshine, and marvel at the beauty of your home. Also, a home upgrade such as this automatically appeals to potential buyers.


If your family is big or you like to host events, a patio extends the amount of space you have. If you want to relax and need personal space, you can spend time outdoors without feeling cramped. Your children will also have room to run around as they please without disturbing the peace in your home or tracking dirt or mud all around. Your guests will also appreciate that they can stretch out and have options as to where they can socialize.


Maintaining a home means that there’s a lot of cleaning. However, since patios are relatively low-maintenance, you won’t have to stress over its upkeep. Patios also won’t lose their luster when inclement weather comes through. Durability and longevity make a patio quite the investment.


If you love to garden, don’t feel limited by a patio. Container plants, whether they sit on the ground or hang from your patio, are the perfect way to accent a patio. You may think that sitting around in the sun will cause you to overheat, but plants increase oxygen levels. Also, patio furniture such as umbrellas or awnings is optimal for cooling down your outdoor living space and blocking the sun’s UV rays.


Evergreen Gene’s offers professional landscaping and maintenance services through the state of Maryland. We are here to make sure your gardens and grounds look as beautiful as possible year-round. Interested in how we can help your garden look its best? Give us a call at (410) 766-6877 or visit us online. To see examples of our work and get more helpful gardening tips, follow us on Facebook,Pinterest, LinkedIn, Houzz, and Twitter.

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