Avant Gardening

Avant Gardening & Landscaping

Archive: April 2016

Avant Gardening’s Spring Plant Sale – 3 Unique Growing Methods

Avant Gardening and Landscaping is having a plant sale! The next couple of blogs will be relating to our nursery to expand your knowledge and interest in our plants. In this post you will learn about what separates Avant’s nursery from other nurseries by finding out more about our growing methods.

CLICK HERE to download your $5 OFF SAVINGS COUPON to use at our Spring Plant Sale!

Visit Avant Gardening’s Nursery at 3055 Siggelkow Road, McFarland, WI 53558 on 5/13, 5/14, 5/20 & 5/21 from 9AM-4PM to check out our available plants.


What does Avant do differently?

#1. Avant’s nurserymen are environmentally responsible and use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices. They observe, identify and monitor pests everyday while caring for our plant stock. Our nursery is very proud to be pesticide free – our plants are never sprayed for insect control or plant disease. We use other, more creative, methods for controlling outbreaks. A technique we practice often is using ladybird beetles to control aphid outbreaks! Ladybird beetles will feast on the aphids effectively controlling the population without any pesticides. This is just one of our nurserymen’s tricks to keeping insect pests under control.IMG_20150918_115604794

#2. The plants in our propagation beds get the best nourishment from our own compost. We take all of the plant debris from job sites and turn it continually throughout the year, once it breaks down into fine organic matter we mix it into our planting bed mix – the outcome is a very fertile soil mix that is periodically tested by UW Soils lab to ensure high quality. Come by and see our propagation beds to see just how well it works!

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#3. At Avant we like to experiment with different potting soils to find the optimal growing medium for our perennials. Different plants have different needs and we are constantly adapting our various soil mixes to each plant’s needs. This year we have an exciting new blend of well-draining potting mix that our perennials really seem to like.


Where do the plants come from?

We have high quality, unique, hardy plants many of which are grown in our propagation beds. We are constantly observing and testing how different species and cultivars grow in our local environment so that we can suggest the right plant for your gardens. Our propagation beds are used to grow varieties of perennials that are not patented. After growing in the ground for at least 1 year, we divide the various plants into several and continue to grow them in pots. This technique results in large, healthy, vigorous, perennials that always impress.

Also, our nurserymen collect seeds from non-patented plants to grow the following season. We start growing the seed in small cells in our greenhouse around February. Plants are re-potted every few weeks into larger sized pots to provide plenty of room for healthy roots to develop. They are ready to be sold in 1 gallon pots after just a few months of growing!

For plants we cannot grow from seed or propagate freely, we order small 2” plugs and grow them in our greenhouse. We start these plugs in February and by April they are filling out their 1 gallon pots nicely. Our plugs are all sourced from the Midwest and we only grow hardy plants that will survive in our zone.

Wondering who our fantastic nurserymen are? Meet Michael & Tom! 


Michael (right) has been with Avant Gardening for 7 years! He received his Bachelor of Science Natural Resources degree in Horticulture from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He spent four summers working at the UW Arboretum Longenecker Gardens. In the academic year 2010-2011, while his wife was teaching in Florence, he became familiar with Renaissance gardens and volunteered at the “Giardino Torrigiani”, the largest privately owned garden in Europe situated within city boundaries. At this time he was able to indulge another of his interests: the tomato’s journey from the New to the Old World – by studying Italian Still Life paintings from seventeeth through early nineteenth century. In his free time he enjoys playing tennis and volunteers with his wife for Angel’s Wish, a non-profit animal rescue organization.

Tom (left) has been with Avant Gardening now 3 years. Besides maintaining and constantly updating our inventory, Tom is also an avid insect collector. You’ll find him selling our perennials and ornamental grasses at the Hilldale Farmers Market on Wednesdays from 7am-1pm starting on May 4th through June 11th. On the weekends – name an outdoor activity and Tom does it! A regular at natural parks, he visited 40+ state and local parks last year!! His favorite is Mirror Lake State Park in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

Panicum Instead of Miscanthus – Spring Switcheroo’s!

Switchgrass (Panicum spp.) vsMaidenhair Grass (Miscanthus spp.)

With large plumes of fluffy seed heads, this grass’s seed (when viable) is easily picked up by the wind and spread far distances. Since its introduction in the late 19th century, large stands of the species of this grass (not ornamental cultivars) have self-seeded along roadsides, forest margins and disturbed sites. According to nps.gov, 50+ ornamental cultivars of Miscanthus sinensis are sold in the U.S. nursery trade, luckily most set little or no seed due to self-incompatibility, meaning that pollen from other forms is needed in order to produce viable seed.IMG_20151015_100305601_resized

Miscanthus sinensis is chosen over other grasses often because it is extremely tolerant and can adapt to a wide variety of soil and moisture conditions. Miscanthus prefers full sun, limiting its advance into woodland areas though, luckily. It is also one of the strongest grass stalks and will remain upright after multiple snowfalls in winter, which provides nice winter interest. Most of the grass blades have sharp edges that cause multiple “paper-cut” type scratches when cutting back this grass/dividing/etc. Only use ornamental cultivars of this grass species – and be sure that they aren’t easy spreaders.

But, why not just use a native ornamental grass in place of Miscanthus in our landscapes?20160412_120039

Panicum virgatum can tolerate wet and dry soil conditions and some cultivars grow very tall, just like its foreign competitor. Panicum remains very stiff throughout the winter as well and can tolerate part-shade conditions better than Miscanthus. It was once an important component of our tallgrass prairies that were spread throughout our region. Avant-084_resized

Switchgrass usually turns a vibrant yellow hue with orange tinges in autumn, althought there are some cultivars now that turn a brilliant red/maroon, such as ‘Shenandoah’. Another fantastic cultivar is ‘Ruby Ribbons’ dark, purple/maroon streaks are present on the foliage throughout the season and pinkish-purple colored seed heads form late summer-early fall that are simply stunning.

Panicum spp. seed heads hover over the foliage like an airy cloud. Their flower panicles turn beige as the seeds mature in fall, and the showy seed heads persist well into winter. Panicum seeds are a great food source for birds in the wintertime.

Other native grass alternatives to Miscanthus include: Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardi), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans).

So, we ask you to be an informed and environmentally-friendly gardener and do your part to keep these potential invasive species from overwhelming our native woodlands! If these plants are already present, please consider removal and replacement with a native alternative.

Contact Us today to look at plants we would all like to see removed!

6 Simple & Fun Tasks You Can Complete In April

April Garden Checklist

 A gush of bird-song, a patter of dew, A cloud, and a rainbow’s warning,

Suddenly sunshine and perfect blue – An April day, in the morning.

-Harriet Prescott Spofford


April brings gardens bursting into bloom and it can make us gardeners quite excited and antsy to get outside! What should be on your “to-do-list” for April?

1. Welcome Woody Plant Blooms

Does your spring landscape look a little empty? Think about adding bright yellow forsythia, native serviceberry, or the unique flowering redbud. These budded branches can also be cut (pre-bloom), brought inside and forced into bloom if the snow just keeps coming – as it sometimes does!Clients 2006 088

2. Plant Cool-Season Annuals

As soon as soil is workable (not too wet!) consider pansy, lobelia, calendula, snapdragons – and don’t forget about vegetables! Most lettuce and other greens, radishes, seedlings of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage can handle the cooler soil temperatures. Get seed potatoes in the ground as soon as possible too!20160411_134318_edit

3. Stop Weeds Before They Start!

Sprinkle a pre-emergent weed killer on your planting beds early this month (there are both organic and synthetic options available) Completing this simple task now will save you tons of time, endlessly weeding your garden later on – when you should be enjoying the outdoors! Use caution th

4. Divide & Transplant Perennials

Mid-April is a great time to divide most perennials – if they are spring bloomers delay dividing until the flowers have faded. Wait until there is approximately 2-4” of new growth on the plants to ensure they will successfully re-establish.

5. Entice Wildlife – Especially Our Butterflies & Hummingbirds!

Some butterflies make their first appearance in April, think about setting out shallow dishes of water with flat landing rocks to give them a drink. Also, migrating hummingbirds reach our area this time of year, time to put out your feeders for them!IMG_20150710_103756958 IMG_20150710_123306812_HDRBirds, butterflies, bees and other pollinators (really all different kinds of wildlife!) are attracted to moving water. Another great way to bring these beneficial creatures into your landscape is with a water feature! Worried about all the maintenance? Try a pondless bubbling rock feature like this one that was featured on Olbrich Botanical Garden’s Home & Garden Tour last season!

For more information on the Home & Garden Tour, please visit: http://olbrich.org/events/homegardentour.cfm

6. Sit Back & Enjoy the Beauty

Hopefully you had the forethought to stick a few clumps of bulbs in the ground last fall – otherwise take a walk through you neighborhood and make a mental list of ideas and color combinations for next year! Reliable daffodils, vibrant tulips, and dainty grape hyacinth steal the spotlight in April.

Do You Know How To Clean Your Pond?

Melting ice and spring bulbs mean it is time to start your pond. While you may be tempted to start feeding your fish as soon as the ice melts, fish cannot properly digest food when the water temperature is below 60. Bacteria and aquatic plants do not thrive until the water temperature is above 50. While you are waiting for the temperatures to warm it is a good time to consider your maintenance plan.Picture 266


A good spring clean up is essential to a healthy, beautiful pond for the summer season. It is also a great time to inspect your pond lighting, filtration and consider any renovations. The first step is to assemble your tools; A large tote or bucket to hold fish (if you have them) during the cleaning, a pump to remove water, pressure washer or garden hose with a spray nozzle, and waders (can help keep you clean and dry, but are not essential).

Start to drain the pond. Depending on the size of your pump and pond this process can take a few minutes to an hour or more. As the water level drops start to transfer your fish. If you have small fish a nice trick is to allow the water level to drop and leave less space for the fish to hide (remember to count your fish before you begin so you don’t forget any.) Before the water is below the skimmer height, try installing the pump and testing it. If it doesn’t turn on right away don’t worry. Aquascapes recommends trying a vinegar bath to clean deposits from the pump. Use a 5 gallon bucket and regular white vinegar diluted up to 50:1 with water. If after cleaning it still doesn’t work, it may be time for a replacement.

Once the fish are safely stored you can begin to remove any loose debris that may be floating on the pond or settled on the bottom. If your pump can handle solids (usually labeled as a trash pump) you can clean as the water level is dropping, no need to wait until it is fully drained as the pump will help to remove the suspended debris. (If your pump is for clean water only it is best to drain the pond fully first.)

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It is not necessary to remove all algae and debris from the pond, however many of our clients like to start the year with a clean slate. The leftover debris and algae can provide a good level of bacteria to re-colonize the pond and set up a strong ecosystem.

Once you are satisfied with the cleaning, inspect the infrastructure. Turn on your pond lighting and check for burn out fixtures and make adjustments to placement. If boulders or gravel settled, put them back in place or consider adding more. (Tip: If you are adding gravel, be sure to wash it before installing to remove dust and dirt.) If you do not have lighting, this is a great time consider adding it. Contact Us – We can help determine what would work best for your pond.IMG_0255

With a clean, strong set-up you can begin to refill your pond. This process can be long. Most garden hoses fill at a rate of 25-60 gallons per minute. With a 1,200 gallon pond (8’x10’) you are looking at almost 45 min. Larger or deeper ponds… this is a good time to grab a snack! Once the water level nears the skimmer you can start to introduce the fish. If the water temperature of the pond before cleaning was more than 15-20 degrees above the temperature of the new water, you may want to temper the fish. Place them in a bucket set in the pond and let the water adjust to the pond temperature.

With the water level above the bottom of the skimmer inlet you can restart the pump. With the pump running you can add your spring bacteria or any other chemicals. Always remember to check the instructions as each manufacturer may have different recommendations as to when to add, dosage or reapplication period.

Now, sit back and enjoy your beautiful, clean water feature.Clients 2011 070

A strong ecosystem is the best way to keep your water clear and algae level to a minimum. While many do not want to care for fish, they are a great way to help keep up a pond with minimal additives. As the season progresses, keep an eye on the water level. Evaporation can drop water levels and lead to premature pump failure, however if you are losing more than an inch or two a week (3 to 4 inches is extremely hot, dry weather) a leak may have developed. If you feel you have a leak, give us a call and we can help with troubleshooting. Leaks are frustrating and we will work with you to determine the cause as quickly as possible to help you get back to enjoying your water feature.

Ponds are an investment, both financially and time. But the aesthetic value, wildlife attraction and soothing sounds of streams and waterfalls make the investment payoff.

Enjoy the season.


Other Resources:

Paradise Pond Shop – http://www.paradisepondshop.com/

Aquascapes Resources – http://www.aquascapeinc.com/own-a-water-feature-resources