Gardening FAQs

Below is a list of some of our frequently asked questions. The top section relates to general gardening questions. The bottom section relates to Christmas decorating. If you have a gardening question not listed, please give us call or send us an email.

Once the snow has melted and the ground has thawed, spring clean up of your gardens starts with clearing away all leftover leaf debris, dead plant material, and any early sprouting weeds. Next, aerate the soil with a garden fork to help loosen any winter or foot compaction in the upper layer. About 4” deep is adequate and should not impact any buried irrigation lines. Prune any woody shrubs or plants according to their type. Apply fertilizer according to type of plants and appropriate rate for bed size. We recommend Espoma Plant-tone or Holly-tone organic, granular fertilizer. Check the edge line of your ground beds and cut a clean crisp fresh edge…unless you use metal or rubber edging. Next, apply mulch over your bed areas (1-3” deep). Now is the time to begin your deterrent program for deer & rabbits and/or slugs. They very much enjoy seeing new growth in your gardens. Our Garden Center team is happy to help you with any product tips and selection. Finally, sit back and enjoy!

It is best to prune roses while they are dormant. Plan to prune them in early spring time, soon after snowmelt. This is the time when the structure of the plant is clearly visible before any new leaves have grown. All roses need an open vase shape. You can create this by removing all canes that may cross through the inner area first. Next take any thin, weak ‘twiggy’ shoots off completely. Now cut back the remaining outward growing thick canes back by half or so, cutting just above a leaf bump that is on the outside of the cane. This encourages new canes to grow outward.

We recommend using a slow-release, granular fertilizer like Espoma Plant-tone or Holly-tone 3 times per year: first during your garden’s spring clean up, again in mid-summer, and once more in September. This keeps a steady supply of active nutrition to feed the soil microbes, which in turn feed your plants. Polly’s teams also use water-soluble fertilizer in a hose-end feeding tool to foliar feed gardens once a month in July & August when flowering is at its peak to maximize plant nutrition.

Beyond adding a beautiful contrasting color to set off your garden plants, mulch performs many beneficial actions for a healthy bed. First it shades the soil to keep it cool and preserve moisture. Mulch also helps to keep soil from becoming compacted which allows oxygen to be present in soil. As it decomposes it breaks down into organic matter and builds soil richness. It helps weeds from growing from seeds blown in on the winds. It makes weeds that do appear easier to completely pull from a more open soil. Application should be applied anywhere from a depth of 1” to 3”. The formula we use for 2” application generally is your bed’s sq. footage(equals length x width) multiplied by .17 (2/12’s of an inch). Example; bed is 12’ long and 4’ deep. 12 x 4 x .17 = 8 cu ft. or 4 bags of our mulch. Happy to help as we can.

Avoid adding mulch much deeper than this as it can have the negative effect of starving the soil of oxygen, and/or burying crowns of non-woody plants and killing them. This often happens when an early ‘annual’ reapplication of bulk mulch is applied in spring before gardens have begun to grow.

Polly’s carries bagged premium pine bark mulch in a couple varieties of coarseness. Pine bark is just that, simply chipped or ground bark. It’s dark chocolate brown in color that lasts until the mulch is fully composted. The different grades of chip size are so you can fine tune the best choice for what plants you are mulching. We can assist you in this decision. Convenient 2 cubic foot bags are easy to load and apply as well!

This differs from bulk mulch ground from hardwood trees which starts off golden when fresh and grays as it ages.

Here are several suggestions for local suppliers of bulk mulch who will deliver:

  • Harbor Design Center: 231-439-9070
  • Northern Michigan Hardwoods: 231-347-4575
  • Pure Property Management: (231) 412-6051
  • David Hoffman Landscaping: (231) 348-3772

No, we do not carry any seeds.

Regarding vegetables, we take all of the seeding work out of the equation by offering a great variety of greenhouse-grown potted or flatted veggies and herbs which will be ready for you to plant immediately as soon as the threat of frost subsides.

As for wildflower seeds, people seem to think they could sprinkle wildflower seeds like fairy dust and a magical garden will appear without any effort. Even with a prepared garden bed and the seeds carefully planted, a lot of watering and weeding would be needed for the wildflowers to thrive. Truthfully, if they were reliably successful, we mostly wouldn’t have jobs 😉

We recommend you use fresh potting soil each spring to ensure the best plant health. Last year’s potting soil is likely depleted of most of its nutrients, is no longer loose and easy to plant in, and may contain pathogens or disease (e.g. molds, fungi, spores). Simply compost the old potting soil and start fresh for success!

Pots/Containers/Boxes: Allow the soil to become somewhat dry but before the plants begin to wilt. Then water the container carefully around edges just until it begins to drip from drain holes. 

Gardens: Allow to dry out partially to encourage roots to grow more deeply and become more drought resistant. Then water slowly for a long time to allow water to permeate deeply. Soaker or weeper hoses are great for this task but it may be cumbersome to reach every plant in your garden. Overhead, professionally installed irrigation systems can work well but be sure to work with your service provider to set up garden bed timers & zones for longer durations than the frequent short water applications typical for lawns.

Pots/Containers/Boxes: Allow the soil to become somewhat dry but before the plants begin to wilt. Then water the container carefully around edges just until it begins to drip from drain holes. 

Gardens: Allow to dry out partially to encourage roots to grow more deeply and become more drought resistant. Then water slowly for a long time to allow water to permeate deeply. Soaker or weeper hoses are great for this task but it may be cumbersome to reach every plant in your garden. Overhead, professionally installed irrigation systems can work well but be sure to work with your service provider to set up garden bed timers & zones for longer durations than the frequent short water applications typical for lawns.

We recommend a granular fertilizer at planting mixed in the soil such as a garden fertilizer with a balanced ratio of N-P-K (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium = 10-10-10), or any brand time-release fertilizer such as Osmocote or Miracle-Gro. Additionally, feed about every 2 weeks to monthly with water soluble fertilizer added to your water. This is like a big-boost energy drink to help keep your plants in top nutritional shape.

Petunias are among the hardest working, most heavily flowering annuals grown. While this makes them popular choices for boxes and containers, proper ‘plucking’ will go a long way to season-long beauty. Breeder’s have made petunias that will continue to put out flowers even without removing old blooms and seed pods, the resulting look can be pretty scruffy and unappealing. Too much untrimmed growth contributes to mold and disease getting a chance to take hold. We recommend looking at your plants weekly and pinching off the seed pod from spent blooms all over the plant. Further, pinch back about half of the total stems by a third or so every 3 weeks to a month. Cut these stems just after a leaf node and the stem will branch and thicken the overall plant size. These stems will rebloom in a week or two. Once they begin to bloom do the same to the other uncut stems. This continuously rejuvenates the plant. Alternatively, you can shear every stem back on the entire basket or plant by half all at once with shears. Then tidy the stems with longer stumps above leaf nodes where it’s easy to see them. Shake out undersides, remove brown debris from the plant, and give it a good watering with water-soluble fertilizer now. You will be rewarded in a couple weeks with a flush of new flowers!

Due to the limited amount of space available in our Garden Center, we have chosen to focus mostly on time-tested perennials, ornamental shrubs and grasses, and the best seasonal annuals.

Other local nurseries for potted tree choices are Willsons Flower & Garden in Petoskey or The PlantMan in Cheboygan. Or check out David Hoffman Landscape & Nursery near Conway or Drost Landscape which are open to the public.

This question almost always applies to Hydrangeas that can bloom blue or pink. These are shrubs in the Hydrangea macrophylla family. These shrubs bloom first on ‘old wood’. This refers to stems grown the season before the current one. The trouble could also be due to that the shrub was pruned back too hard and these ‘old wood’ stems were removed, or more normally, winter cold froze the buds along these stems. Our climate changes have reduced consistent, winter-long, deep snow cover protection, but extreme cold temperatures still exist. Without the insulation of snow cover, this genus of Hydrangea can lose all viable flower buds each winter. They will bloom somewhat in the late summer or early fall on ‘new wood’ or usually on this year’s growth. Older cultivars of this genus are also sluggish bloomers.

Polly’s carries only one new variety from this family of Hydrangeas which has been crossed with a hardier type of Japanese mountain Hydrangea to withstand many of the shortcomings listed above. It’s called Hydrangea ‘Let’s Dance Can Do’. This variety has been a decade in testing for hardiness and flower power.

For other care and pruning tips, check out our Hydrangea Care Sheet

The type of Hydrangea that can have blue flowers is the family called Hydrangea macrophylla, or big leaf hydrangea. We carry one variety called Let’s Dance Can Do by Proven Winners. This has been tested for nearly a decade for improved hardiness. This is crucial in our area where we can get extremely cold temperatures during the winter months, yet not always have the deep, winter-long snow cover we used to rely on to protect these somewhat tender shrubs.

Our native soils are alkaline which favor pink blooms. Couple that with the hard water we have from our wells which further adds to alkalinity. For these reasons, we encourage folks to quit fighting for blue and embrace pink! Blue flowers are developed when the plant is grown in acidic soil conditions. It can be attempted to change the nature of the blooms with amendments and acid formulations of fertilizers. We carry these options if you desire the blue. Often these are most successful in containers.

To learn a bit more on this, check out our blog post: Hydrangea Blues

Hummingbirds require lots of energy to maintain their fast metabolism. They are drawn to plants with tubular blossoms that shelter nectar. Popular choices are Agastache, Lobelia, Salvia, Fuchsia, Columbine, Crocosmia, and Hosta to name a few.

Butterflies prefer certain plants for feeding and others for hosting them, pupating their young, and feeding the resulting caterpillars. So, when you see caterpillars, don’t be too quick to spray!  For example, common milkweed (Asclepias) is the sole host plant for the Monarch butterfly in the north. That’s why you will notice Polly’s does not weed out this plant from our property. Annuals they enjoy include Ageratum, Bachelor’s buttons, lantana, snapdragons, verbena, and zinnias. Mint, sage, and dill are good herb choices. Dozens of perennials to choose from include Coneflowers, bee balm, hyssop, lavender, flowering onions, black-eyed susan, phlox, sedum, Stoke’s aster, yarrow, and Butterfly bush. We have selections in all of these plants.

For additional information, click on our Hummingbird Handout

The true pure definition of a native plant is one that has grown in a geographical area or local ecosystem before and without any human influence or interference. So in the strict definition we only carry a few native plants such as butterfly weed and prairie dropseed grass. Since we prioritize flowering perennials, shrubs & ornamental grasses, we DO carry a large variety of cultivars of native plants. These are choices of plants that have been bred for improved flowering, colors, and plant habit. These are often called ‘Nativars’. We have a wide variety of choices in perennials and grasses. Please check out our Native Plant Handout or visit us in person to learn more!

Low maintenance usually includes things like being tough and drought tolerant. They bloom even if you aren’t there to ‘pluck’ very often. Choices that fit this in annuals are dusty miller, flowering vinca, spider flower, dwarf zinnias, and lobularia. Perennial choices are peonies, coral bells, astilbe, catmint, baptisia, coneflowers , alliums, sedum, and bleeding hearts. Ornamental grasses are low care. Many shrubs also fit in the low maintenance realm.

Geranium Rozanne, Becky daisies, most coneflowers, Nepeta Walker’s Low & Nepeta Jr. Walker, Coreopsis L.L.Charlize, Campanula Taikon series, Salvia Caradonna, Veronica Blue Skywalker, Russian sage, black-eyed susan, Heuchera Berry Timeless, and Bleeding Heart Luxuriant. Ornamental Grass calamagrostis Karl Foerster, butterfly bushes, and all Hydrangeas.

Zone refers to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone which “is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which perennial plants are most likely to thrive at a location.” Polly’s Garden Center currently sits in Zone 5b. Here is a link to the 2023 Michigan Hardiness Zone Map with the zone chart and a Zoomed Northern Michigan zone map.

To find your specific Hardiness Zone and learn more, visit:

Yes. We can help you do that at the Garden Center but we’ll need you to do some homework first:

  • Roughly sketch out your garden area(s) indicating which way is North/South.
  • Measure your garden area(s) and note those dimensions on your sketch.
  • Take pictures of your garden areas from several angles and note the time of day you took them.
  • Determine how much sun/shade your garden(s) receive (see FAQ-How much Sun).
  • Do you live in an area with a lot of deer or rabbits?
  • Make a short list of the plants/colors/styles you like and dislike.
  • What is your irrigation plan? (existing system, hose & sprinkler(s), hand water)
  • Work on your budget guidelines for this project.
  • Let us know the goal of your project (e.g., pollinator garden, garden makeover, curb appeal to sell, etc.)
  • Bring all of this into us and be ready to take notes.

We will work with you to develop a garden plan.

The most effective method for rabbits is fencing them out of your prized garden beds. A fine mesh fence that’s right at or slightly below soil level and 2-3’ tall will keep them out. Live trapping to reduce populations is another method. Be sure to release them far away from your garden. Polly’s carries a variety of repellents that work on scent and taste. There are other repellents that work using sound and/or lights that you can find on-line. Many swear by scare tactics such as shiny things dancing on the wind, noise making motion detectors, even the classic scarecrow! 

Deer are similar in all ways when trying to keep them from decimating your prized plants. Physically fencing your property is the surest way to deal with deer. Choosing plants that deer ‘usually’ leave alone, such as plants with strong scents, hairy leaves, or bitter sap helps a lot. Polly’s relies on vigilant application of a variety of repellents to fend off these marauders. We can help you with several options and educate on best methods and frequency of applications.

For additional information on deterrents, check out out blog post: White-tails and Rabbits and Slugs! Oh, My!

We do carry many plant choices that deer don’t ‘normally’ find attractive. That said, unusual pressures from drought, population sizes, and other factors can push hungry animals to eat things they wouldn’t normally choose.

Check out our handout for a list of Deer Resistant Perennials

Rose Chafers overwinter in the soil as larvae, similar to Japanese Beetles. Rose Chafers emerge in late May to early June as adults and are voracious feeders. There is typically one generation per year in the North. They congregate on plants to feed and mate. Their emergence often coincides with many bloom cycles such as roses and peonies! Monitor your blooms regularly for these pests beginning late May. The best, low-cost, non-chemical solution is to prepare a bucket of soapy water in which to drop the beetles. Small numbers can be picked by hand and dropped into the bucket; use a small battery operated vacuum to suck them up then into the bucket; or place a drop cloth below plants, shake the plant to drop the beetles onto the drop cloth, then fold it up and drop them into soapy water. This will require frequent, diligent efforts. Covering prized plants with fine netting before these pests emerge can save you from them defoliating your beloved roses! Fabric stores have low cost options that you drape over the plants and pin down to the ground. Be careful to watch for any adults that may emerge inside this netting tent and be sure to remove them promptly. Organic chemical options include Neem products and Pyrethrins. Non-organic chemical options include pyrethroids or carbamates. Refrain from neonicotinoids when possible due to this chemical’s strong negative impact on bees.

Japanese beetles emerge from larvae in the soil just like the Chafer. They arrive later during summer’s peak and stick around longer, approximately six weeks. All of the above methods and chemical treatments apply. You can also use traps to attract beetles and catch them. Be sure to place these traps 30-50 feet away from the garden as they don’t catch all the beetles. You don’t need to be drawing more in. Empty the catch bag(s) often as the smell of dead beetles will repel live ones. You could place small receptacles of these dead bugs under foliage in containers plagued by beetles! You won’t smell them but the beetles will. There are beneficial nematodes (a microscopic worm) that can be watered into your nearby lawns in Spring AND fall that wake up to feed on the beetle’s larval stage. These can be found mostly on-line at companies selling beneficial insects. The best type is called Heterorhabditis bacteriophora. Applying nematodes can also be helpful for lawn health as beetle larvae feed on grass roots. Plan on annual applications to keep populations of the good guys high.

Polly’s is vigilant in supplying information on necessary sunlight required for all of our plant choices we offer. Successful gardening begins with choosing the right plant for the spaces you have. Monitoring your spaces (when all the deciduous trees have their leaves) for when you see sun hit (time of day) and how long it lasts will give you the truth on the conditions that you have to work with.

Basic Light Level Definitions:

  • Full sun – more than 6 hours of direct sun per day
  • Part sun – 4 to 6 hours of direct sun per day, including some afternoon sun
  • Part shade – 4 to 6 hours of direct sun per day, mostly before midday
  • Full shade – less than 4 hours of direct sun per day

We also have a helpful handout for determining How Deep is Your Shade

Or if you’re designing specifically for shady areas, here’s a list of annual flowers by color which are shade tolerant: Shade Annuals by Color

Polly’s does not carry sod. It is an extremely perishable product. Sod cannot be held for any length of time without degrading. Sod is best installed by professionals or planned and prepared for in advance of a do-it-yourself project. Check with local, full landscape businesses or search online for a sod farm that may deliver to our area.

Continue to water your perennial gardens adequately through the fall until a hard freeze. Once we have a hard freeze (28-25 degrees) or colder, cut back all soft-foliage on plants that die back to the ground. Leave all ornamental grasses and woody types (hydrangeas, weigela, roses, etc.) alone until spring (except spring bloomers like Forsythia or Lilac, prune mid-summer). If you’re unsure, leave any untouched to be safe. Pull any remaining weeds. Apply soil amendments (e.g., lime, sulfur, or gypsum) at this time to give them time to work. If you are growing challenging plants such as the ‘blue’ hydrangeas, it’s time to protect these against harsh winter winds by gathering up and tying tight with twine. It’s fine if the leaves haven’t dropped yet. You may also choose to cage these with fencing and fill with fallen leaves. Later, once the ground has frozen (not too early!) you should mulch the crowns of cutting roses.

Dividing plants is best done by lifting the entire plant out of bed using a border fork or two. Forks can ‘tease’ the root ball with less damage than a round point shovel, which severs all roots you encounter. Begin some distance from the base of the plant and work around the entire circumference. The root ball should be able to be rocked out of the soil now. Lift and set on the soil surface. Use 2 forks back to back and push down from the top of the plant to separate sections apart. Prepare a new hole with amendments (e.g., compost, fertilizer, etc.) and replant one section. Set the new plant section about an inch or two below the bed surface creating a shallow saucer. Water newly divided plants deeply by filling the ‘saucer’ repeatedly. Cut the plant back to about 4-6” at this time to help it recover and focus on root growth. September is the best time for plant divisions as days are getting shorter & cooler, rains are usually more prevalent, and most plants are past their hard blooming or active growing processes. You can clearly see which plants are too large or where you may need more plants. The exception is fall blooming flowers and ornamental grasses. Mark these with a tag and plan to divide these in the spring. Alternately, if you are experienced in identifying your perennials, once they begin to emerge in the early spring, this is another excellent time to downsize overgrown plants.

For more information on dividing perennial plants, check out our blog post: Divide & Conquer

Plant care is kind of the same indoors or out, but you need to do more of nature’s work up front for your house plants. Choose plants that thrive in the light that is available in the spaces you’d like to fill. Some do well in fairly dark conditions while others need bright rooms or windows nearby. Be sure your containers have good drainage. If you utilize cachepots for your pots to drop into, be sure to empty them frequently so plants never sit in water. Allow the soil to dry out between watering. As we say: “Don’t love them to death!” For smaller pots, this can be checked by learning to pick up pots to check their weight. Water when they’re light, don’t if medium or heavy in feel. For larger planters, or to take out the guesswork, consider getting a moisture meter. Next, feed with a water soluble fertilizer about monthly from spring to October. During the dark, short days of winter, allow your plants to rest with less fertilization. Consider repotting when the plant looks quite tight in its existing pot, but do not jump up too big in pot size. Think about 1” larger in diameter. Much larger can upset the soil to roots ratio and can contribute to rot. Wash plants occasionally in the sink, shower or by taking out doors. Misting with water during dry months of indoor heating helps. Keeping plants up on stones in saucers allows water to evaporate from drainage to further humidify the air near the plants.

More information can be found in this handout: Houseplant Care

Christmas Decorating FAQs

For a standard, single-entry door, you will need 18’. For a standard, double you will need 21’. The length required for railings or fences are determined by your desired dips or drapes. Measure the entire, straight length and multiply that by 1.5 for deep dips. Measuring the length needed for porch columns is similar. Multiply the column height by 1.5 unless posts are thin (like a 4×4 or lamppost), then multiply by 1.25. For more tips, check out our full Christmas Decking Tips blog post or this Christmas Garland handout.

A Christmas tree is very similar to a fresh cut flower bouquet. Trim the base of your tree just before you place it in your stand, straighten, then fill the stand with water. Check the water level very frequently after first setting your tree indoors. It will drink A LOT to rehydrate at first. Never allow it to run dry as this will ‘reseal’ the cut stump and not allow it to reopen until another chunk is trimmed off. Keep well watered and placed away from direct heat sources.

Find some additional tips in this Christmas Tree Care handout.

Be sure to recycle your tree once the holiday season is over. Fresh-cut, undecorated Christmas Trees can be recycled at Emmet County Recycling’s Pleasantview Rd Drop-off Center.

Poinsettias are very easy to keep healthy! Proper watering is the key. Lift your poinsettia to feel its weight. Allow it to get ‘light’ before watering then water around the soil surface until it drips out of the bottom. After a short time, remove the pot cover and drain any excess water. Be sure to do some occasional housekeeping to remove any dropped leaves from the soil surface or plant interior to keep it fresh looking. Do not place near direct heat sources or drafty entries.

Find other helpful tips in this Poinsettia Care handout.

Your arrangement is made from fresh, live evergreens. You can help to keep the greens fresh by regularly showering the arrangement in a sink. Allow it to sit and hydrate for a short while, then tip it slightly to drain any excess water, give it a little ‘shake’, then rest on a water resistant surface for some time. Protecting delicate surfaces by displaying fresh arrangements on trays is recommended.

Christmas cactus are unusual in that this cactus enjoys more humidity than typical cactus. Misting them occasionally is beneficial. Water as you would a normal houseplant, but run a little drier starting in the fall to help initiate flowering. Fertilize in the spring & summer, but not during fall and winter. Grow in bright indirect light. An east facing window is perfect. They prefer typical home temperatures of 60-70 degrees. You can shape these plants anytime before fall by snapping branches at any leaf joint desired. Don’t shape in the fall as you may remove the buds you can’t see yet. Any time the plant turns reddish instead of green, suspect it is receiving too strong of light or too much/too little water as long as you are feeding occasionally too.

Find other helpful tips in this Christmas Cactus handout.

While the idea of utilizing a live tree (vs. a fresh-cut tree), decorating it for the holiday, then planting it in the landscape may sound great, the practical challenges make it much less appealing. Polly’s has chosen not to sell live Christmas trees partly because we don’t carry live trees of any kind, but mostly because we want you to be successful and planting a live tree, removed from its environment for 2-3 weeks, in late December, will not set you up for a positive outcome. If you still want to know what it may take to have a live, potted Christmas tree, please read on.

First, expect the tree to be much smaller than you’re used to because it will be in a pot with its root ball still intact, which will also make the tree quite heavy and cumbersome to move. A 5-6 foot balled and burlapped tree with its soil ball may weigh up to 200 pounds. Next, you will need to find a site for your tree well in advance of Christmas to pre-dig the hole (about 1.5-2x the width of the root ball) before the ground freezes. You will need to store the soil you removed in buckets or boxes and keep it from freezing so you can backfill when you plant the tree. After acquiring a tree, you will need to slowly bring the tree out of dormancy by transitioning it from outdoors to an unheated, non-freezing space for several days before bringing it fully indoors. The tree will only be able to be indoors for a maximum of 5-7 days and should be kept relatively cool, ideally under 70 degrees. You will then need to again transition it back to a colder, non-freezing space for several days before it can go back outdoors out to be planted. Once you are able to plant the tree outdoors, you will need to water it in thoroughly and water several more times for at least a few days to make sure the roots don’t draw too much moisture from the rest of the tree as it tries to return to dormancy. You may also need to stake it to ensure it doesn’t topple from winter winds or snow. Given the variability of winter weather in northern Michigan, you could be having to dig out feet of snow to get to your tree’s chosen location.