DEAR JESSICA: Part of my 150-foot-wide property has been cleared for an inground pool. Next to my home are two-story homes that overlook my property from their second floor, so I’m looking to plant privacy shrubs that could grow up to 10 feet taller than my 6-foot stockade fence. The area gets full sun from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. I did some research on Green Giants, Leyland cypresses and arborvitae, and I’ve become overwhelmed. I understand that Leyland cypress grow 10-feet wide and deep. I don’t mind the width, but I’d prefer not to sacrifice yard space for their depth. I’m told that some shrubs have to be wrapped over winter, and I’d prefer not to have to do that. — Kelly Ann Russo, St. James
DEAR KELLY ANN: I certainly understand your desire for privacy, and I’d imagine you’d like it sooner than later. You really can’t go wrong with either Leyland cypress (Cuprocyparis x leylandii) or Green Giant arborvitae (Thuja standishii x plicata, Green Giant). Green Giant can grow to about 60 feet tall with a width of 14 feet. It is denser than Leyland cypress, so it may provide better adjacent privacy, but that likely isn’t a major concern for you since they will be planted in front of a fence. Leyland cypress is a bit larger, with the potential to max out at 70 feet tall and 15 feet wide. Both have a growth rate of roughly 3 to 5 feet in height per year, but both will also grow into your yard space beyond your stated comfort zone.
Other notable differences include color: Green Giant is pure green, whereas Leyland cypress leaves have a gray-green hue. Green Giant can handle cold temperatures a bit better, but Leyland cypress does better in heat, which could come in handy if your fence is made of a synthetic material such as PVC, which traps heat. Leyland cypress also can tolerate drought better. Green Giant has fewer pest and disease concerns.
Both trees can be regularly sheared to manage their depth. It’s important to begin pruning as soon as the trees become established. You’ll know when that is by the first appearance of new growth. Water trees deeply a day or two before pruning, then start by trimming a couple of inches from all of the longer branches on each tree, cutting at the point where stems intersect with lateral branches. That will encourage new, denser growth. Repeat this in late spring and once more in midsummer during the next two growing seasons, also trimming the top terminal leaders (the vertical stems at the top of the tree) by no more than one-third their length each time. As the trees mature, you will be able to begin sheering their fronts, but take care not to prune or sheer into the deeper parts of branches that are bare and brown; new growth will not emerge from those areas. Apply a granular fertilizer after each pruning to facilitate healing.
DEAR JESSICA: Awhile back, my 6-year-old great-granddaughter was visiting and noticed my daffodils had already broken ground and were growing. She turned her head, looked up at me with a quizzical look and asked, “Great Gram, it’s still winter. Snow is still on the ground. How do daffodils know it’s time to grow?” I have no answer! Hopefully you do! — Lucille Forgione, Glen Cove
DEAR LUCILLE: First of all, I commend your great-granddaughter for being one smart cookie! It’s very insightful of her to recognize the apparent contradiction of plant growth and snow cover, especially at her age. I love that you’ve introduced her to your garden and that she is attuned to her natural surroundings. I’m sure you’ve already explained to her that daffodils grow from underground bulbs.
Here are some more specifics about how such plants grow: Each bulb contains an entire plant — flower, stem and leaves — in miniature form, along with a complex food-storage system that nourishes it and ensures its survival even while dormant. Much of what a daffodil needs to survive is contained in its underground bulb, including a chemical that behaves like antifreeze, preventing it from freezing over winter (when planted at the correct depth), regardless of how cold the ground gets. Beneath it, there are roots, which grow in late fall or early winter, just before dormancy.
Daffodils are hardy bulbs and, as such, not only can survive exposure to cold temperatures, but require that exposure to bloom properly. That’s why we plant them in autumn, before the soil freezes. When days begin to lengthen and temperatures warm a bit (regardless of whether there is snow cover) water is drawn through roots and causes the bulb to swell, pushing out those first sprouts, which actually are the stored miniature leaves. They follow the warmth of the sun up through the ground and begin photosynthesizing, or producing food, for the growing season and leaf production.
Sometimes, the weather may “trick” them to sprout ahead of schedule. This happens when there’s an unseasonably warm period, either in very early spring, late winter or even earlier. Gardeners often panic, fearing their plants will be killed when frost inevitably returns, but that isn’t usually the case. Although subsequent frost could, indeed, damage exposed plant tissue and cause leaf tips to turn brown, as long as flower buds remain nice and cozy within the bulb, the spring bloom won’t be affected. To protect against this, it’s best to apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch over beds in early winter — but only after the ground has frozen.
Aside from weather variations from year to year, it’s important to note that there are early-, mid- and late-season varieties of daffodils that bloom accordingly. Planting a combination of all three is the best way to ensure blooms from as early as February and all the way through May.