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Tips And Tricks For Waking Your Garden Up In April

Although we’ve been experiencing a snowy and cold spring here in Vermont, I’m sure April will be the month that comes in like a lion and out like a lamb. This means it’s finally time to open up the windows, get your boots on and start thinking about waking your garden up for the season.

There are a few simple steps to take in April, before planting time in May, that will make the season more successful and run smoother for you in the garden.

Take Stock Of and Sharpen Your Tools

This is a big one. Many of us hang our tools up in the garage or shed in November, forgetting about them until it’s time to cut back in the spring. Even before it’s time to use them, head out and evaluate the state of your tools. If there’s rust or your blades have become dull, use fine sandpaper to remove the rust and sharpen the tools with a 10” mill file. This entire process shouldn’t take longer than a half hour and will make your first day out in the garden much easier.

Evaluate Your Infrastructure

With the strong winds and heavy snow we’ve had this winter, April is the perfect time to head out into your property and evaluate your infrastructure. Did a part of your fence break and need repairing? Did your raised beds get damaged? Now is the time to fix all of these things in the garden before planting time.

Clean Up

Many of the trees on my property lost branches this winter, so I’m now going around and clearing them off the lawn. It’s one of the easiest ways to feel productive in the garden this time of year, I think.

Furthermore, if you didn’t get around to raking your leaves and picking them up, now is the time to add them to the compost pile or throw them in the woods! Your plants will want easy contact with the sun to start sprouting and thick layers of leaves and debris can prevent this. This is especially important to do around spring-blooming bulbs such as Grape Hyacinths, Daffodils, Tulips and more. Watch for flower tips at ground level and gently pull away twigs and large leaves from growth early, before the stem pops out of the ground.

Start Seeds Indoors

If you haven’t already, now is the time to start tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and more inside for transplanting once there is no more chance of frost.

I also like to start some annuals like sunflowers, zinnia and more for a cheap way to create huge color in containers and for a longer bloom time with sunflowers. I plant my sunflower seedlings once there is no more chance of frost in a bed and then direct sow seeds with them.

Identify Areas That Could Use Extra Color

Early spring is a great time to evaluate your gardens from last season and identify areas that could use extra color. Annuals are a fantastic way to add easy, quick and long-lasting color to new perennial beds, containers, front walkways and everywhere in between!

So although April is still too early to plant or divide here in Vermont, there is plenty to do to get prepared and have a successful growing season. Plus, we’re all just excited to get outside this time of year!

Don’t have time to get your garden ready for spring or want to work with our designer to add annuals to your property? Contact us here

Favorite Ideas & Themes from the Vermont Flower Show

If you attended the Vermont Flower Show last weekend, you know just how much there was to take in. From seminars on small space portable gardening and designing a pollinator friendly garden, to the keynote speaker Claudia West’s talk on plant communities, there were plenty of new, exciting ideas floating around for us to soak in.

We wanted to talk about some of our favorites, which isn’t to say they were the best; they were simply the talks we were able to attend in the busy two-day span of the flower show.

The Grand Garden Display

As soon as you walked into the flower show, the grand garden display towered over you, inviting you in to walk through the enchanting paths. The theme “Netherland” could not have been more perfect. With gorgeous plant groupings – some all white and others painting a rainbow of blooms – offset by whimsical structures and stone work, it was a fantastic display and showed off the many talents found in Vermont.

Bonus: if you stayed late on Sunday, they sold off all the plants from the grand display!

Plant Communities with Claudia West

Our landscape designer David is interested in Claudia West’s philosophy of plant community based design and he got me excited to hear her talk. I was not disappointed! In her talk at the flower show, she spoke about the basic principles of her design theory. I’ll break them down (simplistically) and explain the different principles. For a more in depth look into her ideas, read her book “Planting In A Post-Wild World.” It’s fabulous!

Principle One: Think of plants as species that interact with each other and the garden, instead of plants placed adjacent to each other with mulch in between. The plants should work together, instead of live apart with no communication.

Principle Two: Use the stress of your garden as an asset. Instead of trying to grow peonies in poor soil or sedum in moist soil, take into consideration your light, soil type, maintenance and choose plants that thrive in this type of landscape.

Principle Three: Cover the ground by vertically layering plants. This is the principle that gets me most excited. She talks about the idea of using plants as living mulch to help suppress weed growth and create a full plant community. By filling all the niches in your garden with plants, you’re not only making it almost impossible for weeds to grow, but you’re creating a wild-like planting that helps the plants grow stronger together.

Principle Four: Make it pretty! West touched on this idea a lot in her talk; in order for this plant community based design to work, it needs to be aesthetically pleasing and colorful. It’s one thing to come up with a fantastic design idea, but clients and gardeners need to love the way it looks, too! She talks about having seasonal pops of interest and color paired with large statement plants and groundcovers.

Principle Five: Less maintenance. These plant communities, if designed with West’s theory in mind, should require little to no maintenance. The bottom layer of groundcovers helps retain water and keep weeds from popping up. The garden simply needs a mowing (yes, mowing!) once per season.

This idea is so fascinating to me, but seems like a lot of work to design. Our landscape designer David has put West’s ideas into use in his previous work and is excited to work with some of our clients to utilize this type of planting in the future.

Creative Containers With Sarah Salatino

I, for one, am obsessed with container gardening, so I couldn’t miss this talk by Sarah Salatino from Full Circle Gardens.

Some of my favorite ideas I learned in this container garden seminar:

  1. Dump your soil out (or compost it) at the end of the season and use fresh soil every year.
  2. Anything can be a container! If you want to plant zinnias in an old teapot, simply fill the bottom inch with rocks and place a screen on top of it before you fill it with soil. Sarah uses window screening and simply cuts it to fit.
  3. There are dwarf vegetables that can be planted in containers. Sarah talked about dwarf tomato and even cucumber varieties that thrive in containers. She suggested pairing a dwarf tomato plant with a basil plant and a marigold for a mini garden on a patio or balcony.
  4. Create a moveable garden statement with containers. Sarah talked about planting one variety each in small pots and arranging them in your outdoor space. The great part about it is you can move and re-arrange the plants as the season goes on, depending on your mood.
  5. Many varieties – such as succulents – can be planted in containers and brought outdoors in the summer months and back indoors in the winter to be used as a houseplant.

With so many displays to see and seminars to attend, it was a weekend full of Vermonters generally geeking out about gardening. And we can’t wait to try some of these new ideas in your gardens!

Meet David Burton, Our New Landscape Designer

We’re thrilled to have a new landscape designer join our team this year. David Burton’s background, passion and design knowledge makes him the perfect fit for DiStefano Landscaping. We sat down to talk him about his experience, what gets him excited about landscape design and more.

How David Got Interested In Landscaping

“I grew up doing a lot of gardening with my grandmother,” David says. “She had extensive gardens at her house that were actually designed by my grandfather. My grandfather was a landscaper … he used landscaping to help get his three girls through college.”

David attended Virginia Tech and got his degree in horticulture. “A part of the Virginia Tech curriculum is they make available a lot of different garden tours, so we got to go up and down the east coast touring gardens,” he says. “ I also got to go to Italy, England, Ireland and Wales to see different gardens so that was a great inspiration. I continue to pull from that.”

His Journey To DiStefano

David has had several jobs before joining us, all relating to landscape design in their own way. He managed a garden nursery in Virginia right after college, and then did landscape design in New Jersey. David says it was working for a landscape architect outside of Princeton, New Jersey, that helped shape his design aesthetic.

He moved to Vermont from New Jersey where he worked at Trowel Trades and then started his own landscape design company, Ginkgo Design. After several successful years with his own company, David decided to join our team here at DiStefano (and we couldn’t be more thrilled).

David’s Design Aesthetic

David’s design philosophy is “form follows function.” Essentially, he figures out how the client wants to use the space first and lets that dictate everything else. “You could have an amazing, beautiful landscape and if it’s not functional or useable then no one ever interacts with it,” says David. “If there’s a landscape that doesn’t have a function you look at it and scratch your head, knowing there’s something off – something that doesn’t jive.”

One of David’s design pet peeves is a walkway with curvy edges. “If someone wants a curve in their front walkway, that’s fine, but why? Maybe it’s a feature – a boulder – it’s something that makes sense to curve, rather than just curve for the sake of a curve. These things are really key in how I approach design,” he says.

David thinks an outdoor landscape really needs to feel like an extension of the home.  “You want to – as much as possible – pull the materials of the house into the landscape. You want that repetition … you don’t want it to look like it was dropped out of outer space. So that’s really important,” he says.

David’s Favorite Design Project

Last year with Ginkgo Design David did a large project in Colchester that incorporated a lot of different features. There were three water features, extensive lighting, a metal gate David was able to design, as well as a lot of planting.

David got to try a new approach to planting in this project that he says is very trendy right now, which he learned about from Claudia West. “It’s all about plant communities. The concept is planting in a community so that it mimics nature and by mimicking nature it cuts back on maintenance,” David explains. “The idea is that the soil surface is so covered with plant material, it keeps the sun off of the soil and you don’t have weed seed germination …”

He explains that certain plants, like ornamental grasses, don’t come into their full form until the summer. So the areas around those plants in the early season are exposed to sun, making it easy for weed seeds to germinate. With this planting method, you’d fill in the bed with groundcovers around the grasses so weeds don’t get the chance to grow. “ The idea is to use layers; so you’re using a groundcover layer for weed seed control, a structural layer that has a deeper root system for erosion control, and then these seasonal layers of interest …” explains David.

David says this way of planting was fun and challenging for him as a designer, which is one of the reasons he enjoyed this project so much.

Gardening At Home

Although David is an avid gardener, he says with four small children at home there isn’t much time to landscape. He does have a wildflower meadow on his property that features a variety of native and pollinator-friendly varieties such as milkweed, goldenrod, red twig and more.

David’s Favorite Tree: Ginkgo (not surprising!)

David’s Favorite Shrub:  Fothergilla, because of the gorgeous evolution of color that happens in the fall.

David’s Favorite Perennial: Any type of shade plant. “I really like shade gardening.” He says. “The house I grew up in had a lot of shade so it was always a struggle to get things to grow and thrive. So shade gardening has always been a passion for me and I think there are so many different species and plants that people don’t realize can survive in shade.”

David is getting ready for the spring season with DiStefano Landscaping and is enthusiastic about working with our amazing clients. “I’m excited for the opportunity to work on some interesting projects and develop a nice client base and work with them on fun projects,” he says.  

We’re excited too, David. Welcome!

It’s Time To Start Planning For Spring

It’s hard to believe with all of the cold weather and snow we’ve been getting here in Vermont, but now really is the best time to start planning for spring. While we sit indoors and dream of warm summer weather (it does come again, I promise) it’s the perfect opportunity to start browsing through Pinterest, Houzz and other inspirational sites to start dreaming and scheming your big plans for the spring and summer months. Let’s talk about some of my favorite ways to do this.

Planning For Spring: Gardening

We all love sitting outdoors in June, enjoying the colorful blooms of Daylilies and Iris, hearing the buzz of bees going to and from the garden. But enjoying these blooms requires a lot of planning and organizing, which should be done in the off-season.

planning for spring: patio

I try to keep all of my ideas in one place: a garden journal. I use this journal to keep track of things that didn’t do well last season (my Hydrangea didn’t bloom, maybe I need to move it) and dream varieties I want to add to the garden such as Clematis or Tree Peonies. I find most of my ideas online – mostly on Houzz and Pinterest – but I am old school in that I like to eventually put everything down on paper. If you’d rather keep everything online, organizing your ideas with Pinterest boards is extremely helpful.

planning for spring: tulips

So if you’re thinking of finally turning that shady spot in your yard into a colorful garden this season, now is the time to start planning your varieties (like Hostas, Coral Bells, Astilbe, Bleeding Hearts) and sourcing them. A simple Pinterest search, such as “Shade Garden Ideas,” is a great place to start. From there, you can look at different heights, bloom times, light and soil preferences and more to start blocking in your garden for color, interest and texture all season long.

View some of our favorite landscaping projects.

Planning For Spring: Hardscaping

Planning your hardscaping this time of year is key for two reasons:

  • You can browse thousands of photos and ideas online and hone in exactly what you want for your landscape.
  • You’ll get in our queue for spring and summer work. Our spring schedule is filling up fast, so now is the time to call.

planning for spring: patio

Imagine yourself outdoors in the spring; what do you see? A spectacular stone patio with a seating area, framed by a stone wall and raised garden beds? Do you see yourself enjoying drinks by a stone fireplace at night? Now is the time to dream big and think about your vision for the warmer months.

To help inspire you, browse through our case studies and projects. Our talented designer can also put together a gorgeous plan that will fit your landscape perfectly.

Planning For Spring: Have Fun!

The key to dreaming and planning for spring in these colder months is to enjoy yourself; I am guilty of pinning hundreds – ok, maybe thousands – of ideas to my Pinterest boards knowing I won’t use most of them. But that’s OK! The idea is start thinking ahead and prioritizing what you think is important to tackle in your landscape this season. Getting organized now also helps with time management once the weather does get warm; we often want to be outside working once the nice weather comes, not sitting indoors planning what we’re going to do.

planning for spring: poppies

Planning for spring also helps many of us get through the long, cold winters here in Vermont. It keeps our minds thinking of sunny days and drinking coffee on a patio in the morning admiring our gardens, instead of shoveling snow and all the other not-so-fun things winter brings.

Whether you’re planning on doing the work yourself or need our help come spring, now is the time to start thinking about it. Because hey, the official start of spring is only next month (even though spring in Vermont doesn’t usually arrive until May).

Contact us about your spring design project.

Our Landscape Designer featured on American Meadows Blog

American Meadows sat down with our landscape designer Marie to talk about her design process, her favorite plants, her experience with their product and more. Check out their post to hear what she had to say!

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The American Meadows Blog

Why do you need a landscape design?

I’ve been a landscape designer for over a decade now and yet I still have some friends and extended family that have no idea what I actually do. They always just assume that I only do plant layout for foundation beds or small residential gardens.  So when I show them photos of my projects that are full of not only plants, but walkways, patios, walls and lighting they seem genuinely shocked. ‘You really designed all that?’ or ‘I had no idea you did that!’ Are common responses that always makes me laugh.  As a landscape designer knowledge of plant material is very important, but so is knowledge about different hardscape options, drainage, lighting and construction practices. All of these elements are important aspects of a well thought out landscape and a great reason to hire someone who specializes in landscape design to help you design your dream outdoor space!

 

Working here at di Stefano landscaping means being a part of a full service landscape design and build company. We offer the broad spectrum of landscape services from landscape design, to installation of hardscapes and gardens, as well as maintenance of planting beds and lawns. We take landscape designs and make them a reality! Often when meeting with a client for the first time to discuss a project, the most frequently asked question is ‘Why do I need a landscape design?’  The answer to this question is that there are many reasons why having a plan is helpful when thinking about a landscape project for your home or business.  The first being that a landscape plan shows the overall look of what the space is going to be like when the project is completed. You will be able see where walkways or patios will be situated, how garden beds will help to create spaces and nestle hardscapes into the landscape and how each outdoor space corresponds with not only each other but also the building and the surrounding environment. Having a plan is especially helpful if you are thinking about a multi-phase project. The reason for this is because everyone involved in the project can see the long term goal of what you want to accomplish with your outdoor living space. Smaller projects within the whole can be picked off one or two at a time over a span of months or years.

Here is a helpful list that we keep in our office, it mentions some of the many reasons other reasons why a landscape design can benefit you. This list also highlights some of the many things that are taken into consideration when a professional landscape designer is working with you on your project.

Why Landscape Design?

The Arrival Experience:

  • How does your landscape make you feel when you arrive home?
  • What do you see first and is this something you want to change?

Outdoor Living

  • How can we maximize the outdoor living spaces for our needs?
  • Where will dining, play, entertainment or work take place?
  • How are each of the desired spaces defined?

Sightlines:

  • Are there views that need to be highlighted or blocked?
  • Do you need wind screens or plantings to help muffle the sound of traffic?

Grade / Site Challenges:

  • Can slopes be turned into assets?
  • Drainage concerns and where to direct/handle the water?

Housekeeping and Functionality:

  • Screening of existing utilities, panels, septic or AC units?
  • Location of new utilities, panels, septic or AC units in correspondence to the desired use of the outdoor space.
  • Where will chickens or other animals fit into your landscape?
  • Where will wood, boats or RVs be stored?

Conserve Resources:

  • Can we conserve resources by limiting lawn spaces or adding shade trees to help cool the house?

Customize:

  • How can we create a truly one of a kind space for the homeowners to enjoy?
  • How can we incorporate all the elements that the homeowner is looking for, like specific plant material both new and transplants, pavers or stone for hardscapes or raised beds for vegetables?

Value:

  • What can be done to enhance curb appeal?
  • How can we maximize the resale value / marketability of the home?
  • How does the project provide value for the client? Does it purely make them happy to spend time in their landscape? Does it provide comfort or safety by installing a new front walkway and steps or do they see that there will be a financial return when they go to sell their home?

 

Let us know if you have a landscape project you would like help with and we would be happy to create a landscape plan for you!

Giant Hogweed

With the glorious Vermont Summer weather we have been having, everyone seems to be out and about enjoying both their residential landscapes and our natural surroundings. At our weekly safety meeting one of the crew members mentioned that everyone needed to be careful of Wild Parsnip while they are installing and maintaining our landscapes. If you are unaware of this plant then please check out our previous blog on the topic! Along with that nasty plant there is an equally awful plant that seems to be much less known and I wanted to draw some attention to it for your safety.

giant-hogweed-infest-flowering

What is Giant Hogweed?

Heracleum mantegazzianum or Giant Hogweed, is a perennial  plant that can often be found along roadsides, riverbanks and along wood lines. It can reach heights of 15-20 feet tall.  This plant looks like a ginormous Queen Anne’s Lace with a flower that can measure 2-2.5’ in diameter. The large stock is often mottled with purple. The stalk and the extremely large leaves are also covered in bristles. For more images of this plant check out the Invasive Plant Atlas of New England or The Vermont Gardener Blog.  Giant Hogweed was brought to the United States in 1917 as an ornamental garden plant for it’s curious height,  it was planted to provide interest in perennial gardens. It eventually became invasive and is now on the federal noxious weed list.

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Why should you pay attention to Giant Hogweed?

Much like it’s evil cousin Wild Parsnip, the sap of the Giant Hogweed will react with sunlight and cause serious burns to your skin, with blisters and swelling. If the sap of this plant comes into contact with your skin wash immediately. And if you don’t catch it in time and burning occurs seek medical assistance immediately. The images of these burns were literally making me so queezy I just couldn’t include one here….so please be careful if you come into contact with this plant!

For information on removing Giant Hogweed from your landscape visit the Natural Resources Conservation Services.

Our Landscape Designer Featured in National Magazine

A few weeks ago we received a call from the national publication Turf Design Build Magazine. They were chatting with landscape designers from different regions of the country about the use of color in the landscape. We were lucky enough to have them choose us!  Our designer talked with them about the challenges of having a short growing season and about how she uses color and texture to enhance her designs. So check out the latest copy of Turf Design Build Magazine to see what our Landscape Designer and several others from around the country have to say about color in the garden!

 

Vermont Arbor Day

IMG_3621Today is Vermont Arbor Day! It’s a splendid holiday that helps spread the need for conservation each year. All of us here at di Stefano Landscaping strive to create beautiful landscapes not only here in Vermont, but in parts of New Hampshire and into the Adirondacks of NY as well. We each do our part here, whether that means me creating the perfect residential or commercial landscape design, Chris and Andrew working in the office to coordinate all the moving parts for each upcoming landscape installation, to the many members of our wonderful crew installing and maintaining these landscapes with ample trees, gardens and hardscapes like patios, walkways and stone walls. In honor of today’s holiday, here is a brief history of how this day came to be as well as a few links to both the National Arbor Day Foundation and the Vermont Urban & Community Forestry page that has great Arbor Day events being held throughout Vermont.

 

Julius Sterling Morton was an avid tree lScreen Shot 2016-05-06 at 9.03.06 AMover and conservationist and is attributed to establishing the 1st American Arbor Day.  J. Sterling Mortan was among the pioneers to the Nebraska Territories from Detroit in the 1850s. He and his wife Caroline Joy French settled on 160 acres, all of which were treeless. They spent years planting thousands of trees throughout their property. Mortan was a journalist and eventually became a politician. He took every chance he could get to give agricultural advice and urged people to plant trees and gardens. In 1893, President Grover Cleavland appointed him as the US Secretary of Agriculture.

The 1st American Arbor Day was celebrated on April 22, 1885 in Nebraska. It is believed that nearly 1 million trees were planted on that day by thousands of volunteers which included all the local school children and a majority of the towns people. Today Arbor Day is nationally celebrated on the last Friday of April.  However many states have adopted their own day. This was done for optimal planting weather, with many southern states choosing dates in January or February and northern states like us, choosing dates in May.Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 8.34.40 AM

Vermont’s Poor Man’s Fertilizer

As I was walking my dog Tucker last night through some freshly fallen snow, these thoughts popped into my head.  Why do some older Vermonters call the snow “Poor man’s fertilizer”? And is the snow beneficial to the landscapes we install here at di Stefano Landscaping, as well as farmer’s crops? Didn’t read about this in an Old Farmer’s Almanac once?  I know it’s probably a strange thing to think about on an evening stroll, but when it’s pitch black at 5:30pm and about 18 degrees, I figure it’s okay to let the mind wander to positive things instead of what might be lurking around the corner! With these questions still on my mind this morning when I got our office,  I did a little research on the matter. I found that indeed there are not only natural fertilization benefits, but also several other benefits to having snow in your ornamental landscape.

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  1. Along with the fact that snow is made up of frozen water, it also contains nitrogen. When it snows it deposits it into the soil. This is true of lighting and rain showers as well. In fact they contain higher amounts of nitrogen than snow. However the long melting process of a thick layer of snow allows for the slower release of nitrogen and the soil is able to better absorb it than in a quick summer rainstorm. Traditional fertilizers provide a much stronger dose of nutrients to your ornamental landscape, but every little bit helps right!garden
  2. Snow acts as an insulator against the freezing temperatures of our Vermont winters. A nice layer of snow helps to prevent the frost from penetrating even deeper into the soil.  This increased layer of ground frost can damage the roots of trees, shrubs and perennials.   A layer of snow also aids in protecting covered plants from the harsh winter wind and sun that can dry out plant material and cause winter kill of branches.garden in snow
  3. A thick layer of snow helps to preserve soil moisture for the plants throughout the long Vermont winter.grasses_snow
  4. Snow can highlight different aspects of your garden.  A good landscape design takes our long winter into consideration. Evergreens are incorporated throughout the design not only for structure, but also to provide the landscape with a little green that we miss during the winter. Ornamental features such as exfoliating bark, interesting branching patterns, bark color or texture tend to catch a viewer’s eye more this time of year. Plants like Red Twig Dogwood show off red branches brilliantly against the snow and ornamental grasses left standing provide texture and movement to the landscape in the winter breeze.