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Marlies Plaggenborg is a lifelong gardener, 25-year resident of Ashland, co-founder of the Ashland Garden Club and owner of a Garden Design company in the Metrowest area. Libby Moore is a Master Gardener with the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and a member of the Ashland Garden Club. Her articles also appear in the Ashland Directions newspaper.

April 2015

Winter Damage – Rhododendrons and Hollies

No doubt about it, this certainly has been a difficult winter for broadleafed evergreens such as rhododendrons and hollies. Many of the leaves show damage from harsh winter wind, sun reflecting off of the snow, cold and salt. Leaves that are above the snow pack are showing the most damage. The leaves that were covered in snow were actually insulated by the snow and probably show little or no damage. The leaves dry also because the plant isn't able to absorb any moisture from the snow pack. The dead leaves may be removed to promote new growth. New leaves will replace the dead leaves in late May.

Do not rush to prune the plant – be patient! Scratch the bark and if it is bright green underneath, it is alive and it's best to wait until late May before pruning. If the bark is scratched and there is brown beneath the bark, the stem is dead and may be pruned. The plant may also be fertilized with Holly-tone, an all natural fertilizer. Be sure and follow the directions on the package.

Winter damage to rhododendrons and hollies may be kept to a minimum by mulching the plant for the winter in late fall and spraying with Wilt-Pruf, an anti-transpirant which guards against moisture loss. If the plant was planted in the fall, an extra barrier of protection may be need such as wrapping the plant in burlap. Be sure and water your plant well before the ground freezes.

Please be patient this spring to see what Mother Nature has it store for your damaged plants!

Libby Moore is a Master Gardener with the Massachusetts Master Gardener Association and a member of the Ashland Garden Club. She can be reached at LibbyMoor@aol.com. The Ashland Garden Club meets the second Saturday of the month at 10 am in the basement of the Ashland Library. New members are always welcome!

March 2015

Entering MASSHORT at the Flower Show
The Boston Flower and Garden Show

This is an invitation to consider entering one or two of your houseplants in MASSHORT at the Flower Show – the Amateur Horticulture classes at the Boston Flower and Garden Show. The Amateur Horticulture Competition is open to all interested individuals, plant societies and garden clubs. This year there will be junior exhibitors (16 years old and younger) with a selection of Junior Horticulture Classes.

When you enter the Amateur Horticulture Classes of MASSHORT at the Flower Show, you are given the opportunity to have your best plants judged by a panel of experts. And more importantly, you will be demonstrating to all visitors to the Boston Flower and Garden Show what dedicated amateurs can achieve!

To download the schedule of the Amateur Horticulture classes, go to www.MassHort.org/Mass-Hort-at-the-Flower-Show. Look at the left hand column and press Amateur Horticulture then scroll down to the bottom of the page to download the 2015 Amateur Horticulture Competition Schedule. The schedule will give you directions and the times to drop your plants off at the Seaport World Trade Center.

A few tips taken directly from the schedule:

  • All plants must have been owned and grown by the exhibitor since December 9, 2014, unless otherwise noted on the schedule, and must be of show quality and free of disease and pests. Plants must be rooted unless they are epiphytic (grown without soil).
  • Exhibitors are responsible for identifying every plant with correct botanical and common name. There are reference books in the entry area as well as people to help you correctly identify your plant.
  • Containers should be clean, free of chemical deposits, and in proportion to the plant material. Simple, unpainted terra cotta is strongly recommended.

Feel free to contact me at the email address below if you have any questions regarding entering MASSHORT at the Flower Show.

Libby Moore is a Master Gardener with the Massachusetts Master Gardener Association and a member of the Ashland Garden Club. She can be reached at LibbyMoor@aol.com. All of the information in this article has been taken directly out of the Amateur Horticulture Schedule for MASSHORT at the Flower Show. The Ashland Garden Club meets the second Saturday of the month at 10 am in the basement of the Ashland Library. New Members are always welcome.

January 2015

Caring for Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera truncate) or Thanksgiving Cactus is an easy-to-care for houseplant. Despite its name: cactus, it does not like direct sunlight as it will scorch the leaves. It prefers bright indirect natural light and does not do well under artificial lights for a long period of time. During the winter when the sun is low, it can with stand more direct sunlight. Be careful not to overwater and water when the surface of the soil is dry to the touch. Christmas Cactus likes regular room temperature.

When all chances of frost are past in the spring, move the Christmas Cactus to a well lit area outside where it will not receive direct sun. Water when the soil is dry to the touch. Fertilize weekly with a 9-18-9 liquid plant food such as Hawaiian Flower Magic. Allow the plant to remain outdoors into the fall experiencing nighttime temperatures from 55 – 65 degrees and daytime temperatures from 65 – 70 degrees. This allows the flower buds to form. When the nighttime temperatures drop below 55 degrees, move the plant inside to a well-lit room with temperatures between 65 – 70 degrees.

Christmas Cactus like to be pot bound and only need to be repotted using a well draining potting mixture once every 2 – 3 years. If the plant becomes too large, simply prune it to the desired size after it has bloomed.

Follow these easy care instructions and your Christmas Cactus will live and flower for you for a long time!

Libby Moore is a Master Gardener with the Massachusetts Master Gardener Association and a member of the Ashland Garden Club. She can be reached at LibbyMoor@aol.com. The Ashland Garden Club meets the second Saturday of the month at 10am in the basement of the Ashland Library. New members are always welcome!

December 2014

Repurposing Your Christmas Tree

Over 25 -30 million Christmas trees are sold each year in the United States according to the National Christmas Tree Association. Christmas trees are a renewable and a recyclable resource and we need to keep them out of landfill sites. So here are some ideas for repurposing, recycling, and reusing your Christmas tree.

Saw the branches off the tree trunk and lay the branches on your garden to prevent wind damage. This gives the garden a nice evergreen cover for the winter. Make a trellis with the leftover trunk.

Remove the needles and small stems and place them around acid-loving plants such as azaleas and rhododendrons. This will naturally feed the plants. Use the left over trunk as a plant stake.

Use the whole tree to make a wildlife shelter. Dig a hole in the yard or garden before the ground freezes and plant a plastic pipe vertically in the hole. Make sure the pipe will be wide enough to accommodate the tree trunk. Place the tree's trunk in the pipe hole after Christmas giving you an instant wildlife shelter. Take this a step further and redecorate the tree using food for birds and other wild animals such as a string of popcorn and dried berries. Or decorate using cut orange halves and suet. Of, if you have a wooded area, simply lie the tree down in the woods.

If none of these ideas work for you, there's always curbside pick-up for Christmas trees. Please do consider repurposing, recycling or reusing your Christmas tree.

Libby Moore is a Master Gardener with the Massachusetts Master Gardener Association and a member of the Ashland Garden Club. She can be reached at LibbyMoor@aol.com. The Ashland Garden Club meets the second Saturday of the month at 10am in the basement of the Ashland Library. New members are always welcome!

September 2014

Overwintering Geraniums: How to Save Geraniums until Spring

Geraniums are grown in this part of the country as an annual but in other parts of the country they are considered a tender perennial. There are basically three easy ways to keep geraniums over the winter.

The easiest way to keep geraniums until spring is to simply move the pots into a well-lit, cool room. Cut the plants back by about a third to a half of their height. Check the pots for bugs and water them when the soil is dry to the touch being careful not to overwater. Indoor geraniums prefer daytime temperatures at about 65 degrees and nighttime temperatures around 55 degrees. Periodically pinching the plants will prevent them from becoming leggy.

Another method to overwintering geraniums is to take them out of their pots and shake off the soil around the roots. Hang the plants upside down in a cool dry place (50 - 45 degrees). Or the bare root plants can be placed in a paper bag. About once a month during the winter, soak the roots in water for a few hours and then hang them back up. Eventually, all the leaves will fall off. When there's no chance of frost, cut back each plant, remove anything that looks dead, pot them and water.

A third way to saving geraniums is by taking cuttings. Take 3 – 4 inch cuttings from the top of the plant. Take off the lower half of the leaves and dip the tip of the cutting into rooting hormone. Put the cutting into a rooting mediums of vermiculite and sand and water it well. Put the cutting and container into a clear plastic bag. Place the bag in bright but not direct light. The cutting should root in 4 – 6 weeks. When the cuttings have good roots, the plastic bag can be gradually removed and the plant can be grown on in a cool, well-lit room until all danger of frost has passed. Repotting may be necessary before moving the geranium back outside for the summer.

Using any of these three methods will give you beautiful flowering geraniums next spring! Geraniums are tougher than you think.

Libby Moore is a Master Gardener with the Massachusetts Master Gardener Association and a member of the Ashland Garden Club. She can be reached at LibbyMoor@aol.com.

May 2013

Amaryllis After-Bloom Care

Did you know that you can get your amaryllis to re-flower?  Just follow these easy directions and your amaryllis will flower for you again next winter.

After flowering, your bulb is exhausted so you must allow it to re-nourish itself.  Cut off the flower stalk a few inches above the bulb.  Do not cut off the foliage!  Place the bulb in a south facing window and water it when the top of the soil is dry to the touch.  Fertilize once a month…I use a 9-18-9 liquid fertilizer.

After the danger of a frost is passed toward the end of May/early June, put the pot outdoors in full sun or take the bulb out of the pot and plant it directly in the garden in a sunny location.  In the fall, after the first frost, bring the bulb in, cut the leaves back to about 2 inches above the bulb, clean it, and put it in a cool, dark place (40 – 55 degrees) such as the refrigerator, basement or garage for a minimum of 6 weeks.  Do not store your bulb in the refrigerator with apples - this will sterilize the bulb.  After the cooling period, re-pot the bulb in a 6 – 7 inch pot in a well-draining potting mix.  Be sure and leave 1/3 of the bulb exposed.  Put the repotted bulb in a warm place and keep the soil almost dry until new growth emerges.  Plant the bulb 8 weeks before you would like it to bloom.  Enjoy you new bloom!

Libby Moore is a Master Gardener with the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and a member of the Ashland Garden Club.  She may be reached at LibbyMoor@aol.com.

February 2013

Time to Get Planting - Terrariums

We are officially in the middle of winter and all of us are aching to get our hands dirty!  What a perfect time to plant your own miniature garden in it’s own environment!  Your garden can include wrought-iron fences, fountains, stone pathways, ceramic figures and anything you have always wanted!  Plant a terrarium and allow your imagination to be your guide!

Start with any size glass container you can find - a mason jar to an unused aquarium - bell jars to hanging spheres!  Depending on the size of your container, put a foundation of a half-inch to an inch of gravel or sand on the bottom to provide drainage.  Add a half-inch to an inch of activated charcoal.  Top with a  2 - 3 inch layer of potting soil. 

Now the fun really begins...add plants!  Be sure and select plants that like similar growing conditions such as low-light plants or succulents.  Look for miniature plants such as ferns, baby’s tears, small palms, peperomias, african violets and small spider plants. 

Once the plants are planted, gently pack the soil around the plants.  Add your own touches such as stones or moss.  Be very careful not to over water and test the soil before re-watering.  Place the terrarium in a well lit room with indirect light.

The choice to seal your container depends on the plants.  Succulents need air.  Ferns and palms can grow in a humid closed environment.   Maintenance is minimal once the plants are established.

Libby Moore is a Master Gardener with the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and is a member of the Ashland Garden Club.  She can be reached at LibbyMoor@aol.com.



Caring For Trees

Trees are the back bones of our gardens.  Here are some tips for caring for our precious trees.

All new trees and any tree which is under stress, should receive one inch of rain or 5 gallons of water each week during the summer and through to Thanksgiving. Don't "drown" trees with automatic sprinklers or poison them with weed control chemicals.

To prevent tree losses on construction sites and in your yard, protect the roots and bark. Keep construction activity outside the tree drip line to prevent soil compaction and injury to the tree bark. Do not park trucks or cars under trees. Avoid compacting the soil which deprives roots of oxygen, moisture and growing space.

Be sure and plant your tree properly. Put the tree in the right space with room to grow! Expose trunk flares and loosen soil on sides of the root ball.

Prune sparingly and properly. Pruning creates wounds and removes leaves which are essential for manufacturing food to produce new roots.

Do not cut roots. Severed roots hamper growth, give disease an entry point and threaten a tree's stability.

Mulch your tree. Mulch helps retain moisture, control weeds, protect the trunk and roots, improves soil structure and prevent compaction. Be sure to keep the trunk flares exposed.

Protect your tree from salt. Salt draws water out of living cells, depriving leaves of water needed for photosynthesis.

Do plant new trees!! Help replace our aging tree canopy!

Libby Moore is a Master Gardener with the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and a member of the Ashland Garden Club.  She can be reached at LibbyMoor@aol.com 


Winter Interest In Your Garden
Part II

In order to enjoy your garden year round, it is important to consider how your garden will look during the long winter months.   Include ornamental grasses which can dominate the sleeping garden in the winter with their gold colored stalks and fluffy seed heads blowing in the wind.  Select a stiffer variety such as Maiden Grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘Gracillimus’).  Leave the dried seed heads of sedum, purple cone flowers, black-eyed Susan and sunflowers intact for the winter.  Not only will the seed heads provide winter interest but they will attract and provide food for birds.

Some perennials offering winter interest include:  Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis) is a perennial which will begin to flower in January and continue to flower through March.  It also has great foliage!  Lenten roses prefer light shade and can take harsh winter wind.  Pinks (Dianthus) form a low-growing, blue-gray mat of foliage which offers texture and color to the garden all season.

A shrub worth mentioning is Rosa rugosa which forms tomato-like hips after the flowers fade.  The rose hips remain intact all winter long.  The hips are a orange/red color and are about the size of a golf ball.

Consider adding pots both empty and filled with plants to add instant color to bare spots. Place a pot filled with cut evergreens near the front door or group pots together in the garden where a bit of interest is needed.  Consider filling the pots with grasses, evergreens, or annuals that grow in cool temperatures such as pansies, violas, ornamental cabbage, kale or primroses.

Now you can look forward to enjoying your garden over the winter months!



The growing season will soon be coming to a close!  This is the first of a two part series of plants that you can plant for winter interest in your garden.  Almost all of the plants mentioned here are native American plants.

Several easy ways to add interest/structure in your garden is to include evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs with interesting bark, foliage and fruit such as berries.

Evergreens could include any pine tree or cedar.  There are many to choose from and you can select one because of it’s shape, like pyramidal of columnar or select one because of it’s color:  blue, bright green or golden needles.  Picea pungens (Colorado Blue Spruce) is cylindrical to pyramidal in form with silver-blue needles.

Deciduous trees and shrubs offer different colored and textured bark.  Betula nigra ‘Heritage’ (River Birch) offers pinkish exfoliating bark which adds dimension to the winter garden.  Red and yellow twigged dogwood offer winter color after their leaves drop off.  Cornus ‘Artic Fire’ is one of the reddest dogwood shrubs and paired with an evergreen background will make a dramatic statement in the winter garden.

For berries think about adding hollies - deciduous or evergreen.  Ilex verticillata ‘Sparkleberry’ (Winterberry) is a wonderful shrub with silvery branches and bright red berries in the winter.  For an evergreen holly tree, try Ilex opaca (American Holly) with leaves that have a matte green finish.  The holly tree has a pyramidal habit and red berries in the winter.

Part II in October will feature more plants with winter fruit and seed heads of pods.  Fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs!


Growing Dahlias

Dahlias are one of my favorite garden flowers!  They flower continuously from mid-July until the first hard frost.  Dahlias are available in many forms and colors.  Dahlias have tuberous roots that cannot tolerate frost so they need to be dug up in the fall...or you can treat them as an annual and buy new ones every year.

The soil needs to be warm, approximately 60 degrees, to promote growth.  Dahlias need an open, sunny location to thrive.  An area that receives 8 hours of direct sunlight is best.  Be sure that your soil has good drainage.  Put a small handful of bonemeal in the planting hole and work it in well before planting the tuber.  Lay the tuber in the hole horizontally 4” - 6” deep, about 18” - 24” apart and cover with soil.   Water after the sprouts have appeared above the ground.  Stake the tubers that will reach 3 feet or higher.

Dahlias don’t need a lot of fertilizer!  Fertilizer high in potassium and phosphorus such as a 5-10-10, 10-20-20 or 0-20-20.  Apply fertilizer within 30 days of planting and repeat in 3 - 4 weeks.

The best time of day to cut your flowers is in the cool morning.  Place the cut stems in 2” - 3” of very HOT water and allow to cool at least one hour.  Be sure that your blooms clear the top of the container as the steam can burn them.  Removing old blooms will keep your plants strong and blooming late into the fall.


Container Gardening

Now is the time to think about planting outdoor containers of flowers, herbs and vegetables.  Whether you don’t have a lot of space in your garden bed or you want to have your plants near you when you are outdoors, here are a few tips for planting containers.

Be sure and select containers that are a good size.  Do not crowd your plants’ roots into the container you have selected!  Your plants will need room for their roots to grow.  Select a soil mix that will drain well but is high in moisture holding ingredients such as peat moss.  Porous containers such as terra cotta, wood and baskets lined with sphagnum moss or coca fiber will allow the roots to breathe, keeping the roots cooler and providing oxygen for the roots.  It is very important that the containers have drainage holes.

Moisture and nutrients are needed to produce good growth!  Two products that will help are a slow release fertilizer, such as Osmocote, and polymer crystals, such as Soil Moist, which increase the water holding capacity of your containers.  When planting your containers, add Soil Moist just before placing your plants in the container so that the Soil Moist is at root level.  Follow directions on the Osmocote package for the recommended amount for the size of your container. In addition, give your plants a dose of water-soluble fertilizer, such as Miracle Grow, at every watering.

Libby Moore is a Master Gardener with the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and a member of the Ashland Garden Club.  She can be reached at Be sure to celebrate Ashland Garden Club’s 20th anniversary by joining us for our 20th Anniversary Garden Tour on July 14th.


Dividing Perennials

May is a good month to transplant and divide summer and fall flowering perennials. The best time to divide a perennial is when the foliage is 2 – 3 inches high.  Carefully dig up the entire plant.  Using a spade or fork, dig about a foot outside the crown.  Loosen the plant carefully and lift it out of the ground.  Depending on the type of plant, you can easily pull the plant apart using your fingers.  This would work well dividing rudbeckia.

If you are dividing hemerocallis (daylily), the double fork method of division works best.  After lifting the plant out of the ground, insert two gardening forks back-to-back into the center of the clump.  This seems tough on the plant…don’t worry it can take it!  Pull the forks away from each other and the clump will separate.  The two pieces can be separated again until the desired size is reached.  You might need to jump on the forks to separate the clump.

Grasses are challenging to divide.  After cutting off last year’s growth, dig it up.  If the double fork method mentioned above doesn’t give the results you are looking for, use a serrated knife to slice the clump into the desired number of pieces.

Keep the plants moist during the division process.  Plant them into the desired location as soon as possible and water.  Or place the new divisions into pots and water well.  Be sure to label the plants.  The Ashland Garden Club would happily accept your unwanted divisions to sell at their yearly Plant Sale on the Saturday before Mother’s Day.

The following plants are suitable for spring division:  Achillea (yarrow), asters, campanula (bellflower), cimicifuga (bugbane), coreopsis (tickseed), digitalis (foxglove), grasses, hemerocallis (daylily), heuchera (coralbell), hosta, monarda (beebalm), phlox, rudbeckia (black-eyed susan).


Putting Your Perennial Gardens to Bed

It's almost winter and we've had frosts, so it’s time to pull out the annuals and tidy up the garden. If you haven't done so already, there still is time to "tuck your garden in" for the winter.

There are pros and cons to cutting back the herbaceous growth the perennials pushed up this season. If you cut it back, you won’t have a place for insects to overwinter. I've spotted an occasional chrysalis and wouldn't want to disturb a monarch in the make, plus there is at least some organic matter above the ground, giving a little winter interest.

Conversely, cutting everything back makes for a much neater look and it is then easier to clean up the leaves. If you have moles, voles or mice, keeping things neater will make it easier for the hawk and the owl to hunt these rodents down. I've often cut back a large Hosta in the fall and was amazed to see a significant network of tunnels hidden under the copious leaves.

Another reason for cutting back growth now is that I seem to have more time in the fall than in the spring. Springtime is for planting! So I cut back all the Peonia, Baptisia, Rudbeckia, and Digitalis, but leave standing the ornamental grasses, the Sedum Autumn Joy, and the Cimicifuga if it is still in bloom.

In your garden there are no rules. I figure though, what's done is done and if I should spot an insect of interest I'll relocate it while doing my fall clean up.

Once things are tidy and you still have time and energy, then would be the time to spread a nice layer of compost or any other mulch over your garden. The compost or mulch has the whole winter to soak down into the soil and will keep things a tad warmer during the freeze and thaw period as well as keeping future weeds to a minimum.


This month the American Winterberry shines. The botanical name is Ilex verticillata and many cultivars are sold. It is a deciduous holly, so by November it has lost its leaves and the red berries are eye-catching. It is native to the eastern U.S. preferring moist areas where it forms thickets. In drier gardens, however, it remains a solitary shrub reaching 8 feet and with a nice compact form. Even with our dry summer and water ban it has not suffered and is full with berries. The birds leave them alone until January providing nice decorative branches for the holidays.

Nice cultivars are Winter Red, Red Sprite, Winter Gold and Sparkleberry. If you have a sunny spot, plant this shrub – no garden should be without it!