Horticulture Locavores

The term Locavore, applying to eating local food is a movement that has gained a lot of attention these last few years.  Farmer’s markets, and farm to table cooking are springing up everywhere for the health of it.  The landscape industry uses this concept for purchase of plant material for the plant health of it.  The bottom line…support your local garden centers instead of running to the big box store.  I promise it will make a difference!

1.  Plants are genetically better suited for our environment.

It makes sense that a plant grown in the soil it will be planted in would adapt better.  I’ve actually seen a shrub come out of a pot to expose “red dirt”.  You don’t really have to be a horticultural expert to realize that plant was not grown in Northern Illinois.  It is more than just soil that determines a plants’ survivability.  A Red Oak grown on one side of a large forest will be genetically different from a Red Oak on the other side.  This is the main reason planting local plants will make a difference in how well they adapt.  If you plant a Burning Bush that was grown in southern California, that shrub will grow slower, be more susceptible to disease and cold hardiness issues only because the genetics of that shrub are not as well suited for the freeze/thaw and clay soils of Chicagoland.  We purchase our trees and shrubs from local nurseries from Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin to ensure they are either grown in similar situations or maybe even a little more cold tolerant than ours.

2.  Planting native perennials ensures plant diversity

Native perennial gardens are becoming more common.  They don’t provide the pop of color or length of bloom time that their more genetically altered, alter egos give a garden, but they do provide the most adaptable species that need the least amount of environmentally damaging fertilizers, pesticides, and supplemental water.  The former Natural Garden in St. Charles, IL was one of the foremost caretakers of native plants in the area.  Before going out of business in 2011, the Natural Garden kept files of dozens of types of native carex grasses, for example.  There were so many types some were indistinguishable from one another.  Normally, a garden center would not sell varieties with similar characteristics because of the redundancy.  The Natural Garden, not only made sure to keep alive these various varieties of one species, but also was vigilant in keeping their seeds sources within a 90 mile radius of St. Charles to guarantee they were truly native to the area.  Thankfully Midwest Groundcovers has taken over the task and carries the Natural Garden line of native perennials helping to ensure that no one species can be wiped out by disease or pest.

naturalgardennatives.com

naturalgardennatives.com

3.  They know their plants

Purchasing local can also help ease frustration when you have questions.  I know if I have a question about a new plant or a tree I don’t normally use, the nurseries will be full of useful information to aid in making the right choice.  Many times, the box stores will have little more than a warm body taking care of the plant material and the plants can often look neglected after a few weeks on the shelf.  A local garden center will usually employ professionals or garden enthusiasts who know a thing or two.  They know how to water and deadhead potted plants to keep them looking their best even after an entire season.  They can also make suggestions for types of plants given your specific requirements and desires.

B. Burr

B. Burr

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More than Mud Pies

It’s been awhile since I held my first job, customer service at The Natural Garden in St. Charles.  I still occasionally run into coworkers from that first job, but one particular favorite of mine was Dr. Joe.  He was a retired doctor who decided to call it quits early to pursue his leisure passions.  Always the gardener, he talked plant tips with patients until he left to teach his grandchildren about the greener things in life.  I always enjoyed hearing about the new plant projects he was planning with them, and the joy he found in their discoveries of the natural world.  I often wonder if his grandchildren remember him for the time he spent with them, digging in the dirt.  The following are a few projects that Joe did with his grandchildren and some I suggest to anyone wanting to cultivate a love of gardening in a young mind.

1.  Growing Snapdragon from Seed

kravelindo.com

kravelindo.com

Snapdragons are an easy to grow annual flower that could be planting directly in a garden bed or started early in a west-facing window.  The reward in the end is the unique flower that open and close when pinched. The colors are bright and fun too.

2.  Planting a Children’s Perennial Garden

marcumsnursery.com

marcumsnursery.com

Along with interesting flowers like snapdragon a children’s garden can be planted with a variety of other interesting perennials.  Try Balloon flower with buds that look swollen just before they open.  You can actually make a popping sound if you squeeze the buds just before they are ready to open and it won’t hurt them.  Just don’t do it too early.  Other options are scented flowers like Catmint or butterfly attractants, like Butterfly Bush, Liatris, or Monarda.

3. Helping with a Vegetable Garden

Allowing children to be in charge of an area or particular type of plant is a great lesson in the entire food growing process.  Trying to keep their attention with abundant producers like green beans, or tomatoes, or satisfying a short attention span with a fast grower like lettuce.  Pumpkins germinate fast though they are not harvested until fall.

4.  Flower Press Christmas Presents

This is one I did as a child and loved.  I collected flowers in the backyard like Roses, and wildflowers like Chicory and Queen Anne’s Lace.  Had I taken the creativity further, I’d have laminated them onto bookmarks, or framed them as art.  A great way for a child to make a christmas gift for a teacher, or grandparent.

5.  Creating a Garden Hideout

If you have the room, how about creating a secret hideaway garden.  This one goes against many “good” landscape principles, but in a house with children, a little non-formality won’t hurt.  Some ideas are creating a teepee, or planting tall perennials in a circle such as hollyhocks.  Hollyhocks can be planted 12″ apart with room left for a doorway.  A fun place for a tea party on a summer day.

The Experts Weigh In

Becca LaBarre

Becca LaBarre

Who doesn’t want a panel of experts in their field to bounce off ideas?  I’m very glad I have some go-to people to ask advice, construction applications, or find out the latest and greatest must haves.  Here are some of my collegues greatest advice to homeowners from perspectives all over the board.  From designers, to brick salesman, maintenance gurus, and growers their diverse backgrounds mean that collectively they’ve seen just about everything.

Kathy Richardson
Landscape Designer

One thing I always try to tell people when helping them with their landscape design is to think about the big picture. They might just want a couple of plants, but know that they need a patio in a couple of years. So instead of just popping some plants in willy nilly, try to plan for your future landscape. Most people can not landscape their entire yard all at once. Not only is that a big maintenance undertaking all at once, but the cost of installing your dream landscape is usually not budget friendly. Dream big, and install a phase at a time. Plan your garden by laying out a master plan – or hiring a great designer to include all of the items you want in your garden into a master plan. There’s no reason why everyone can’t eventually have the landscape of their dreams. Install a patio one year, some foundation plants the next, stepping stone path and some accent plants the next and so on. It does take a bit of planning and patience, but you can’t beat the end result. That way, your garden and all its parts look like they were supposed to be there and you’ve got a functional and beautiful well thought out landscape.

Mickey Bittenbender

Maintenance Operations Manager
To prevent your lawn from turning brown during the hot summer months apply one inch of water per week with a lawn sprinkler, anything more is just a waste of water and money. If you choose to let your lawn go dormant during the summer months keep in mind this does not eliminate the need to water. During extended dry periods (3-4 weeks with no moisture) it will still be necessary to apply at least a ½” of water to help prevent costly lawn repairs due to turf grass die off.

 

Jim Clesen
Ron Clesen’s Ornamental Plants, Inc.
Grower

 

[My advice] basically, is for the homeowner to realize that they need to have an active part in the planning stages. Educate themselves. And, after all the decisions have been made then sit back and let the professionals do their job.  Working with designers before I know there are two types. Ones that plan for the product that they feel comfortable, for many reasons including they are just who they are, or what is overstocked in the nursery.  The other is one that will listen to what your needs are AND form fit the plantings, along with some of their previous experiences, to what your needs and wants are.  Asks important questions like “who will be maintaining these gardens or how much time and effort can you give?”
Jim Slattery AIA,CES
Illinois Brick Company

Material Sales 

The one tip I would give a homeowner is this, “Make sure your landscape design has color through-out the year”. I call it “Keeping your Landscape Alive” I drive around and looking at many landscape designs and see lots of color during spring, summer and fall months. But after the leaves and pedals have fallen off most designs look lifeless. The proper selection of trees, shrubs and ground cover is imperative to maintaining inviting color through-out the year to any landscape design. Ask a Landscape Professional on which plantings will work best for your property.

The Law on Lawns

As the light of the day begins to dwindle, it’s about time for a week or two of indian summer to make us all throw up our hands a say, enough!  By now the lawns that had a chance of survival have begun to green.  Some established lawns may need to be re-seeded and this month is the best time to do it.  Here is the step by step process we take to insure your new lawn looks green next year.

Adamsgarden.com

1.  Start by killing any weeds with roundup a few days in advance.  This step is not necessary if weeds are not a problem.

2.  If there is sufficient topsoil, but the soil is hard, till the soil with a rototiller and rake it to loosen the top.  This ensures that the seeds will have something to germinate in rather than wash away in the first rain.  Also, remove any large rocks or clumps unearthed by the rototiller.

3.  If there is insufficient topsoil, it would be ideal to add to it.  Six inches are best for optimal root growth, but unless you can remove six-inch of existing soil, it is a bit unrealistic.  I would try to add an inch or so if possible.

4.  If you live in the Midwest, and have a sunny location use a seed mix that is made up of a Kentucky Bluegrass, Perennial Ryegrass and Fine Fescue blend.  It is imperative to make sure the seed is not old or inferior or the lawn will be poor and full of weeds.  For shady yards the preferred lawn should have creeping red fescue as part of the mix to grow in low light.

sunlightwaterandus.com

5. For a novice lawn applicator, use a drop spreader in two directions to make sure you haven’t missed any areas and have the seed spread evenly.

thayernursery.com

6. Add a turf starter granular fertilizer to the seed.  The granular fertilizer should be re-applied in two to three weeks intervals for another one or two times depending on when the seeding was done.

7.  Use erosion blanket to cover the new seeds and pin it down.  This is imperative to protect the seed from washing away and any animals from making all your hard work a meal.

esfinc.com

8.  Watering the new seed is the single most important step in establishing the new lawn.  Water every day with an overhead sprinkler.  The soil should remain wet.

9.  Flashing forward to next season.  A new lawn may benefit from another application of fertilizer in the spring.  In winters of snowfall, the snow may be too heavy for new lawns and could cause some dieback.  In this case, overseeding may be necessary as well.

10.  A new lawn is still vulnerable to drought for several seasons after establishment.  Treat all one to two-year old lawns with care by watering as needed.  Do not apply any pre-emergent weed killers in the first season after establishing the lawn, as the preventative measure may prevent the growth of the new lawn.

The right steps at the right time is the best bet for a healthy lawn.  Planting in the wrong season can mean lots of weeds and little fruitful yield.  A lawn that is planted in September can often grow thick in a few short weeks and may even need one to two mowings before a hard frost. Hard to believe?…try it!

What’s in your Soil?

Thinking about the basics in the success of any landscape project, I am reminding of a phrase from one of my father’s favorite literary characters.  As Sherlock Holmes would say, “Its elementary my dear Watson”, and so are the elements needed for plants to thrive at your home.  The major player is the soil that surrounds the house and unfortunately is one aspect that most people have no control over.  There are several keys to know about soil in the Midwest that can be changed and some areas where a change in plant may be the only solution.

soil-compost.co.uk

The Midwest is plagued with clay soil, but once compacted a million times by bulldozers and striped of topsoil, your yard is a desolate wasteland.  Above is a picture of good topsoil.  A yard should have at least 6” of topsoil for the best growth for lawn, perennials, and other more shallow rooted plants.   More than six inches would be better.  If the soil has been compacted use a rototiller to break up as much of the soil as you can.  To aerate the soil, sand can be added and for groundcover an addition of compost to help it grow together faster.  Below is a shot of clay soil.  It is typically very difficult to work and may require an ax and not a shovel.

ci.frisco.tx.us

For trees the issues are more complicated.  The ball of the tree is going to be in the clay soil unless you amend the soil more aggressively than is practical.  The most important thing to remember is to dig the hole for the tree bigger than the rootball.  The soil that is put back around the ball, must be the same as the soil dug out of it.  This is why amending the soil around the tree will not be helpful, but harmful.  After the tree roots grow through the amended soil, the tree will have difficulty breaking through to the clay.  If sides of the hole are particularly smooth from digging, such as if a tree spade has been used, rough up the sides to help the roots make it through.

I have found that in some cases a poor site can only be remedied by planting trees that can handle the soil.  Some of the most successful larger trees are Autumn Blaze Maple, River Birch, and smaller ornamentals are Crabapples and Japanese Tree Lilacs among others.  Evergreen trees are especially susceptible to having difficulty in poor soil mostly because clay soils trap water that will kill the roots.  If an evergreen or other less tolerant tree must be used the ball of the tree can be planted a little higher than normal and drainage tiles can be used as a French drain system to alleviate water pooling near the ball of the new tree.

Becca LaBarre

Here is an example from my own work that was a very difficult case.  Almost all the evergreens on this property struggled to establish.  I had Jim Fizzell check this out and the verdicts was that these trees were sitting in water due to clay soil, even the ones that were on a berm.  I was pretty frustrated.  We ended up replacing the trees and planted them higher than normal.  For the worst offenders we planted a few water loving trees instead like River Birch.  I am happy to say that once established the trees took off and are now providing the screening we intended them to provide.

Dealing with poor soil can be a losing and frustrating battle.  I was once told by one our landscape consultants brought in from time to time to help solve difficult cases of dying plants, that it should be expected that a new home site could lose 20% of the plantings due to the poor soil.  It is for this reason that I do find myself sticking to tried and true plants time and time again, especially in areas of newer construction.  Even though soil is an elementary piece to the landscape puzzle, trying to plant in certain soils without care can be like trying to make two plus two equal five.  It just won’t add up.  You may not always win the uphill climb that soil 101 can cause, but follow a few soil rules and you may just beat the odds.

A Great Start

I recently was given a great opportunity to sit down with avid gardener Colleen Gloss of West Chicago, IL.  Sitting on a Sunday afternoon on her back deck looking out on her corner potting shed, with Colleen, and her sister Kathy, I hardly asked a question before her passion for vegetable and perennial gardening came pouring out.

Kathy Edgecombe

She grows her abundant garden from seed when the long winter days still linger and the soil outside is chilled.  Her laundry room provides the perfect location to begin her flats of culinary herbs, vegetables, and heirloom perennials.

The tale begins each fall, as she gathers seeds from perennials, and her heirloom tomatoes and uses old screens to dry them out in the potting shed.  Once dried the seeds are placed in small wax envelopes, stuffed in recycled viles and saved over the winter in the cool temps of the potting shed.  Her two current favorite tomato varieties are Italian Classico and Amish Paste.   The remainder of seeds are purchased.  Colleen recommends the Seed Saver Exchange in Decora, IA for their reasonable prices and great information.  Check out seedsavers.org to find out more about them.

Once planted and thriving in the laundry room, the colder season plants like lettuce can begin the transition to the cold frames on the south side of the house.  Colleen plants in succession of 7-10 day intervals, so there is enough lettuce to use throughout the season.  Once it is time for other plants like petunias and leeks to make their climate change to the cold frames, the cool season plants get kick out for the potting shed.  This triangle rotation gives the plants a chance to transition into the real world of the garden soil.

Kathy Edgecombe

Check out these cold frames which are currently housing leeks and heirloom petunias.  The flats sit atop a weave of heat coils attached to a chicken wire mesh to help keep the soil warm during chilly April days.  The coils are set in sand so that when they heat up, the entire sand base is warmed and provides even heat to the trays of plants.  The potting shed also has a similar system.

Kathy Edgecombe

Talking to Colleen, she makes her whole system seem like a breeze.  While many gardeners struggle with soil borne disease and pesky rabbits, Colleen credits her dogs for keeping the critters at bay, and her reused soil is rich with her own fresh compost and leaf mulch.  To start the small transplants she used seed starter mix which she finds has too much peat.  She then adds her own vermiculite to create the best soil for her new sprouts.

I admire Colleen’s approach to reuse of materials, down to the potting shed roof which takes run off water into a rain barrel and captures enough water for the vegetable garden during the summer.  It takes effort and more than a little research.  A few good resources like “Mother Earth News” and “The Herb Companion” are Colleen’s company for great ideas on staying true to nature.  If you are planning to try your own hand at seed starting she recommends “The New Seed Starter Handbook” by Nancy Bubel.  The text rich book is chock full of details on individual plants and their specific requirements.  A great guide for planting times are based on the information she receives from the “Farmer’s Almanac” and bases much of her plantings on the Lunar calendar.  The guide points to which days during each phase of the moon is optimal for planting.

Kathy Edgecombe

After a long summer of tending to her vegetables and herbs, the reward is plenty. Colleen uses the herbs wrapped in cheese cloth to infuse olive oil.  The oil can be frozen in individual servings to be used later.  She is also a great fan of pesto, and canning pickles.  Now that she has perfected her seed starting, Colleen knows how many plants of each type to grow to produce what she needs without getting carried away.  Her one tip for newbies is to stick with the tried and true varieties.  I whole heartedly agree with her on this one.

Above the bench in her potting shed is written this quote “Green fingers are the extension of a verdant heart” by Russell Page.  I thoroughly enjoyed learning from Colleen and her confidence in green practices.  It might be easier to run to the store for plugs of peppers and tomatoes, but there is much satisfaction in beginning from the beginning, and to take the organic approach.  “When I don’t take an hour after work to do a little work on my garden, I feel jipped”, Colleen explains.  Thank you Colleen and Kathy for teaching me something new.  I hope to come back in the fall for the harvest and pass along a few recipes!

Kathy Edgecombe

A Facelift for a Fresh New Season

The sun was shining today with temperatures in the 50’s.  It’s not quite Spring, but it soon will be.  In honor of March 1st and those daffodil bulbs that have been trying to come for weeks now, I thought I would give a few clean up tips for your spring garden.  I would begin most clean up at the end of March or early April, depending on how garden deprived you are.

This Old House

1.  Mulch…its not for everybody.  While shrubs and trees benefit from mulching to help keep moisture on the roots, perennials, annuals, and groundcover may not grow as well heaped with mulch.  Some perennials can have a hard time emerging in the Spring.  If you notice them struggling, try to remove some mulch right around the base to aid them.  Groundcover and annual flowers will not fill out as well with mulch surrounding them.  Using a compost around groundcover and perennials is a better alternative to give nutrients.  However, weed suppression is best with mulch, so I will usually mulch perennials, but with only 1″ of mulch instead of the typical 2-3″.  Remember mulching your beds in not necessary on a yearly basis.  Raking the beds to “fluff” up the mulch can make them look clean and allow the darker mulch underneath to surface.

degroot-inc.com

2.  Who wants a haircut?  Ornamental grasses need a trim in March.  It is one of the more time sensitive clean up items on the list.  It won’t hurt them to wait, just make your life more difficult.  The goal is to cut the grasses 4-6″ off the ground so that the new growth isn’t peppered with dead grass stalks.  It will be a lot easier to trim back without having to work around new blades.  All other perennials can be trimmed back at this point, if it wasn’t already done in the Fall.  It really doesn’t matter which time of year the perennials are trimmed.  Some people like to keep them up for winter interest or as a winter food source for animals.  Sometimes leaving the dead plants up for the winter can help shelter the roots against the winter cold.

Thrive

3.  Edging in on perfection.  Adding an edge with a spade to the beds in the spring puts a finishing touch on the clean up.  If you find your bed lines get bigger every year, which is almost inevitable, use grass seed and a blanket along the edge to scale it back, every 5 years or so.   A manual edge tool rather than a shovel will work best for novice edgers.  I don’t recommend plastic edging around beds.  They may help for a year or two, but they are widely unsuccessful in keeping the lawn from growing back into the beds and eventually heave out of the ground, get run over and ripped to shreds by the lawn mower, and generally don’t allow you to make as nice of an edge as simply doing it by hand a few times a year.

Kansas Forest Service

4.  No leaves, no flowers?  Not a problem.  A spring cleanup can provide a perfect time for minor and not so minor pruning.  Pruning in late February or March before a shrub or tree begins to flower or come into leaf provides some great advantages.  It is easier to see which branches are not contributing to the overall look of the plant and easier to see how to have a balanced pruning job in the end.  Also, certain shrubs (ask me for specifics) can benefit from “rejuvenation pruning”.  This means to cut back severely, to promote a lot of new growth.  A good example is an arrowwood viburnum.  Sometimes these plants can over escape a desired size and can be “hacked” back to a few feet off the ground to allow new growth to grow back in.  Early spring is a great time to do this because the cut marks will be hidden by the new growth and by the summer it won’t even look like it was pruned.  Doing the same thing in the summer will be noticeable during the rest of the season.

homeschoolingx3.typepad.com

5.  Inventive Inventory.  The spring clean up is a great time to check on the status of missing plants, any winter damage by burrowing critters, chewed stems or rubbed bark by deer and rabbits.  If you are an avid gardener, you can get creative with a garden journal to catalog, doodle and dream up your next plan.  Maybe its time to revamp an area that has gotten over grown or lost its cohesiveness with too many onsie and twosie perennial combinations.  Lots of homeowners lose their steam for outside projects by the 4th of July.  Get started early to get on your landscapers’ to do list!

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Rules of Watering

Sacramento Tree Foundation

More than likely you’ve heard the term “green thumb”. Some people are said to have one and some do not. I like to believe that the term is synonymous with watering know-how and ability. One of the hardest skills in landscape to learn is how much to water and more often than not, I find that my clients love their plants too much rather than not enough. You’ve just spent a lot of money on plants and maybe your own back-breaking labor to install them.  It is an important concept to understand. I’ve struggled over my career to come up with the best watering instructions I can write. I believe over the last 7 years I have modified my instructions at least four times. Make them too simple and they are followed to closely, thus giving no wiggle room to the variance in plant requirements. Too complicated, and I instill fear in my client’s mind that they are not cut out for babysitting their new transplants every waking moment of the day.

Working in a nursery watering every day you get a feel for which plants are as I like to call them “the canary in the coal mine”. This is how I explain it to my clients. An Annabelle Hydrangea is one of the first to droop, sometimes years later during hot dry spells. It’s fine to let it get to this point, but make sure to water at this sign. Drying out a plant between watering is the best way to water. Think of what it means for the soil to be wet. It mean no oxygen for the roots, and rot will occur.

The best way to water is with a soaker hose, left at the base of a plant for deeper, more infrequent watering. Another option is for a hose to be left at the base at a “drip-drip” setting. The water should not be on high enough for the water to run off the plant, but soak in to the root ball. This is where many people go wrong. It takes a lot of time to move hoses around and to get a feel for which plants need more or less water. A quick soak means you will be back watering that plant in a day or a few days because it seems dry. It also means that the plant is being subjected to frequent watering that promote diseases and root rot.  Plants that receive water deep down in the soil are thus encouraged to reach their roots far and wide as it seeks water and to establish well. A secondary reason for watering the base of a plant is to keep water off the leaves, as will happen with overhead water systems.  This also promotes disease caused by fungus. In general, a perennial will need water 2-3 times per week while establishing and a tree or shrub will need 1-2 times per week for 30 min -1hr during the same time frame. Of course, a good rain negates the need for supplemental watering.

Other factors that play a role in watering can be types of soil, and age a type of the plant.  I have seen plants overwatered on a slope due to the heavily compacted clay soil that was used to make that slope.  This is one reason why newly constructed home sites are particularly hard on new plants.  Also, after a tree or shrub is established it might still be necessary to water once or twice during those hot mid summer months.  Certain perennials can dry out easier next to sidewalks and asphalt where the sun creates a hot surface that can burn and dry them out sooner.

Bart's Tree Service

Thinking a mild winter is good for your plants?  Not always.  I was reminded today of a sometimes forgotten principle.  Conifers…i.e.  a type of plants that is usually evergreen and has needles is green in the winter for a reason.  It doesn’t go dormant, and still moves water through its system, even in the frozen tundra of Chicagoland in February.  Usually they do this in the winter via snow coverage, but in year with little snow, and a ground that keeps pendulating between frozen and unfrozen, this can prove detrimental.  I encourage all my clients to water their new evergreens as late as possible.  A general rule of thumb is to give them a good soak right around Thanksgiving to allow them to begin winter on a well watered foot.  Many times in January, we get a week of warm up where the weather turns mild before plummeting to the sometimes single digits.  This is a good time to water again because the trees can dry out or desiccate.  In a case like this winter, several little warm ups can mean major water loss and new trees could benefit from watering every other week or so if the ground is not frozen.  Remember evergreens are one of the most touchy plants when it comes to overwatering and rarely recover once they show signs of it.  I was once explained this concept by one of the owners of Spring Bluff Nursery, Ken Norris.  I loved his stories to help illustrate his concepts because they helped clients remember them.  He used to say, remember that a person walking in the desert can be found in a day or so, dehydrated, but alive.  He’ll suffer, but will bounce back.  How long can a person survive at the bottom of a swimming pool?  A few minutes at most.

Gardentia.net

The kicker concept in the whole watering regime is that whether a plant is watered too much or too little, the signs look the same.  That’s when the questions must be asked.  Have we had adequate rain?  How often have I watered?  Does the ground around my plant feel moist?  Is there an underground sprinkler watering my lawn?  If there are droopy leaves, or leaves are turning brown and falling off the tendancy is to want to water more because the plant seems to be in distress.  If the signs point to plenty of water, then most likely it is an overwatering symptom.

Are you getting the picture.  Not an easy explained system.  After years of caring for plants, this becomes second nature.  Of all the possible negligence a person can bestow upon their landscape like lack of fertilizer, forgetting to weed, over or under pruning, or even improper lighting, it’s the most important to get the watering correct, or you have no need for performing the rest of the tasks. As I always tell my clients, if you have any questions about specific plants please let me know.  It is much easier than trying to revive a shriveled specimen of a formerly elegant plant.