Picked 5 Different Types Of Berries Out In The Garden Today!

Could’a picked 6 different types. but not enough were ready of the Aronia berries:

  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Red Currants
  • Blackberries
  • Blueberries

I hope we are able to go pick some U-pick berries soon, to put in the freezer and make some freezer jam–I really need to clean out my bigger freezer and organize it better–berry motivation!


Plant Problem Troubleshooting Guide–Part Three

This is the final installment of the plant problem troubleshooting guide.  If you missed them, here is:

I highly recommend that you check out Parts One and Two before digging in to Part Three–There are questions that were asked previously that get built upon in this segment, and the whole thing will make much more sense. 

Let me say, this might seem like a lot to think about.  But keep in mind, some of the questions may not apply to your particular plant issue, so just answer the ones that apply to your plant.  This list of questions does give you a systematic way to examine a plant, in order to discover clues that lead to an identification of a plant problem, so it might give you a starting place to begin looking and thinking about the plant problem.

Alright, let’s forge ahead!


17.  Where is the plant situated?

  • In the garden?
  • In lawn?
  • In landscape bed?
  • In landscape berm/mound?
  • On lot line?
  • On a slope?
  • In nursery/greenhouse?
  • Next to driveway?
  • Next to pool?
  • Next to garage/carport?
  • Next to road?
  • Next to house?
  • Next to sidewalk?
  • Next to fence/deck/patio?
  • Under eaves?
  • Plant is shaded?
  • Growing in full sun?
  • Exposure–north, south, east, west?
  • Windy location?
  • Other?

(Think situations where the roots of a plant would get compacted, which can kill a plant.  Also if a slope causes a plant to live in what is essentially a swamp or a desert due to drainage issues.)

18.  Soil situation:

  • Sandy soil?
  • Loamy soil?
  • Clay soil?
  • Lots of rocks?
  • Introduced top soil?
  • Good drainage?
  • Poor drainage?
  • White crust on soil?
  • Shallow soil 6 inches or less depth?
  • Soil the builder left?

(The type of soil in which a plant grows can have a major impact on the health of a plant.  New houses typically get the top soil removed by builders during construction, but then usually lesser quality soil is reapplied after the home is complete.)

19.  Chemicals applied to or applied to nearby plants:

  • Insecticide:  Type, dated applied and where applied?
  • Fungicide:  Type, date applied and where applied?
  • Fertilizer:  Type, date applied and where applied?

20.  Have any of these weed killers been used in your landscape/garden within the last two years?

  • Round-up, Kleen-up, Knock Out:  where and when applied?
  • Triox, Noxall, Spike, other soil residual:  when are where?
  • Casoron:  where and when?
  • Others:  Name of product, where and when applied?

(Most of these have residual effects that can last in the soil for up to two years, so the weed killer you applied two years ago may be killing your plant situated in the same spot today.  You might also want to consider that if someone on a neighboring property or a county road crew used any of these products on a windy day, it might have drifted over to your property.)

21.  Was a separate sprayer used when applying weed-killers and insecticides/fungicides?  Yes or No?

22.  Have any of these things happened to your affected plant or within your yard/garden in the past 3-5 years:

  • Construction or heavy equipment over soil?
  • Change of soil grade–landscaping or poor installation?
  • Soil/root injury–septic work, trenching, root removal or cutting, pool installation, construction?
  • Addition to soil of a volume of organic matter or other soil additives?
  • Trunk or bark injury:  injury to the plant from a lawn mower or weed eater, staking wire, rope or twine?
  • Extreme drought:  no irrigation for several months in spring, summer or fall months?
  • Driveway or road paving nearby?

(Any and all of these can have an impact on a plant’s health and longevity.)

23.  What do you think the problem is?

Whew–that’s it!  This should give you some specific information that will help lead to an answer in identifying your plant problem.


Solutions For Plant Problems

Here are some resources that you can access online and in person to figure out how to fix plant problems once they are identified. Some also help you with plant problem identification as well.

  • Washington State University puts out two excellent websites that are helpful for identifying issues related to specific types of plants.  They are:  Hortsense and Pestsense.  They make a very helpful first stop when you are trying to figure out what a plant problem is.  Educational, with several pictures useful in identification of plant issues.  The only drawback is that they don’t list much in the way of solving the problem.  However, their focus is that of IPM, or integrated pest management, which uses the least harmful and least toxic methods of solving a problem first before moving on up the ladder of toxicity, making it much safer for homeowners, their children, as well as pets and wildlife. 
  • My favorite plant pest and disease book:  American Horticultural Society Pests and Diseases:  The Complete Guide to Preventing, Identifying and Treating Plant Problems.  By Pippa Greenwood, Andrew Halstead, A.R. Chase and Daniel Gilrein.   This is the one I have turned to for help when working in the Master Gardener Answer Clinic office.  And as the title says, it is very complete, mentioning nearly every type of plant that you would find in a garden.  Many libraries have this book, but it’s a good one for your personal reference library as well.

July 28, 2010 Update:  I found another excellent resource concerning plant diseases, and it is the Cornell University’s Plant Pathology Department.  They offer Vegetable MD Online, which focuses on plant diseases by crop, and comes with pictures.  A tremendously helpful website, it also gives some solutions for each of the plant problems, and lists disease-resistant varieties.

As Mulder would tell Scully on The X-Files, “The truth is out there.”  And there are answers to plant problems–it sometimes just takes a while to figure it out.  The longer you garden, the easier the identification process will become.  Just start, and always feel free to contact your local cooperative extension office, where the extension agent or Master Gardeners will do their best to help you when you get stumped.

Happy gardening!

Plant Problem Troubleshooting Guide–Part 2

Here is the next installment in the plant problem troubleshooting series.  I highly recommend that you check out Parts One and Two before digging in to Part Three–There are questions that were asked previously that get built upon in this segment, and the whole thing will make much more sense. 

For part 1, see here.

For part 3, see here.

For solutions to plant problems, see here.  (You will need to scroll down to the bottom of the page.)


9.  When did you first notice the problem (approximate date)?

  • Did the problem happen very quickly?
  • Did it happen gradually?
  • Is it getting worse?
  • Is it not getting worse?

(A bug can come in and decimate a plant overnight, while a disease is gradual and takes time to gain a foothold.)

10.  Has the plant ever had this problem before?  If yes, when?

11.  Are other plants in your landscape or garden similarly affected?  If yes, which ones and where are they located?

(Could be a pest related to one plant, or something like a slug that will eat damn near anything.)

12.  Which are the plant parts that are affected, and how are they affected:

  • Flowers: Are there spots, are they wilted, distorted, is there insect injury, or some other issue?
  • Fruit:  Are there blotches, it is dry or distored, is it rotten or mushy, or some other issue?
  • Leaves/needles:  Are there spots, are they wilted or rolled, do the leaves fall off, are they distorted, are they yellowish or brown, or some other issue?
  • Roots:  Are they brown (internally), are they rotted, are they chewed, are there few roots, or some other issue?
  • Twigs:  Are they dead, are there decayed areas, are they sticky/weepy, or some other issue?
  • Stems:  Are they dead, are there decayed areas, are they sticky/weepy, or some other issue?
  • Large branches:  Are they dead, are there decayed areas, are they sticky/weepy, or another issue?
  • Trunk:  Is it dead or losing bark, is there a decayed area, is it stucky/weepy or some other issue?
  • The whole plant:  Is it wilted, distorted, stunted, or some other issue?

13.  Have the base and/or roots of the plant been checked for signs of a problem or injury to the plant?  If so, what did you find?

(If roots get compacted, it can kill a plant.  This is seen often in trees where trucks and cars have repeatedly driven over the root zone.)

14.  How was the plant planted?

  • balled and burlapped?
  • plastic pot?
  • bare root?
  • pot/burlap removed from the root ball?
  • peat/manure/compost added to backfill?
  • peat/paper pot?
  • fertilizer applied at planting or right after planting?
  • planted by landscaper?
  • planted by previous owner?
  • other?

(Plants won’t grow well if the roots are constricted.)

15.  Is the plant mulched with:

  • nothing?
  • grass clippings?
  • bark mulch (what type of bark was used?)
  • other?

(Certain types of bark mulches can kill plants.)

16.  How is the plant watered?

  • hand watered?
  • sprinkler?
  • set sprinkler system?
  • drip/soaker hose/porous wall hose?

  Where is the water applied?

  • overhead watering?
  • individual emitter per plant?
  • watered whenever you water your lawn?
  • watered directly at base of plant?
  • watered at dripline?

  How often is plant watered?

  • how many times a week, and for how many minutes?
  • as needed with checking soil?
  • as needed without checking soil but relative to weather conditions?

(Overwatering or underwatering can stress a plant, killing it slowly or weakening it, making it more vulnerable to pest attack.)


Hope you are enjoying the series so far!  The final installment will be up soon.

Plant Problem Troubleshooting Guide–Part One

I thought it might be helpful to go through a thorough way of examining a plant to determine what a specific plant problem is. This guide is broken into three parts:

 I highly recommend that you check out Parts One and Two before digging in to Part Three–There are questions that were asked previously that get built upon in this segment, and the whole thing will make much more sense. 

For part 2, see here.

For part 3, see here.

For solutions to plant problems, see here.  (You will need to scroll down to the bottom of the page.)


These are the types of questions that Master Gardeners will ask you when you ask them a question at an Answer Clinic, or take a plant sample into the office for help with a plant problem. They all start with simple observations of specific areas, and really anyone can learn to do this. So let’s start.

1. Is the plant located on a commercial property, at a commercial nursery, or in a home garden or landscape? (Some plant problems are more closely associated to certain locales than others.)

2. What type of plant is it? Options include:

  • broadleaf tree
  • flower
  • tree fruit
  • small fruit
  • shrub/vine
  • ground cover
  • conifer
  • vegetable

(Again, certain plant problems are more closely associated with particular plant types.)

3.   What is the name of the plant and the variety?  (It is a good idea to keep your plant labels, or at least a list of the plants that you grow, for answering this type of question.  Certain plants are more prone to particular problems, so knowing the name is helpful.)

4.  How old is the plant?  (Some plant diseases and pests go after young seedlings, while others affect mature plants.)

5.  When was the plant planted in this location?

6.  What is the size of the plant–approximate size (height and/or width)?

7.  Try to describe what the problem is.  (This can be broken down into several areas.  The first area are patterns that the plant problem might take.)


           A.    On the affected plant:

  • The pattern of damage started at bottom of plant and moves up?
  • entire plant is affected?
  • damage only on one side? Which side–north, south, east or west?
  • started at the top and moves down?
  • damaged only on tips of branches?
  • damaged only on inside branches?

          B.  In the landscape or planting:

  • Is the pattern of damage such that only scattered plants affected?
  • only one plant affected?
  • several plants in a row affected?
  • all similar plants affected?

Now, with this specific information about patterns of plant damage . . .

8.  Illustrate or describe the pattern of damage in a sentence or two or in a little quick sketch.


There will be further posts in this series in the days to come, so stay tuned!

I’d love your comments to know if you find this type of post helpful to you?  Are there any specific plant issues that you are dealing with that could be the basis for a post?  Let me know.

Please stop on by the Tuesday Garden Party–much fun and glorious gardens to see!

Plants That Thrive In The Curb Strip

These curb strip areas, narrow bands of soil surrounded by sidewalk on one side and the asphalt road on the other, tend to be very dry and some would argue not the best place to try to garden.  However, I have had good luck with growing a variety of plants that thrive in what are ordinarily some fairly harsh conditions.  I do not water these plants myself; Mother Nature provides any water they get in the form of rainfall.  Some of these plants I didn’t even plant out there myself, because they reseeded on their own from other areas of the garden.  But these have grown and come back each year with not much help from me.  Admittedly, some of these plants are rather tall, and they may not work for you if you are trying to get in or out of a vehicle right onto the sidewalk, but we tend to park closer to our garage area where it is open and easy to disembark from a car, so it’s not an issue for us.  We followed Maurice Horn of Joy Creek Nursery’s advice to dig up the soil in the strip and add plenty of gravel to provide good drainage for the clay soil that is there–that’s basically all we did to “amend” the soil.  No fertilizer added.  I occasionally will add some compost in the fall, and usually it gets a mulch of leaves in the fall and winter from nearby trees that drop leaves.

Several plants in this small area.  Moving from left to right, there is a bright red crocosmia ‘Lucifer,” followed by Lamb’s Ears pink and grey flower stalks below.  Next are yellow hollyhocks, and a little grouping of pink hollyhocks mixed in with some Centranthus rubrum, or commonly known as Jupiter’s Beard.  The yellow at the end is a bit of coreopsis, probably ‘Sunburst’ because I have it growing elsewhere in the garden and it reseeded down here.  Across the sidewalk from the curb strip are two terraces with four-foot tall retaining walls that are planted with other drought tolerant plants, one of which is the blue catmint that you see in the bottom right foreground.  The crocosmia, hollyhocks, Jupiter’s Beard, Lamb’s Ears flowers and catmint are all hummingbird nectar plants as well, because the flowers are all essentially large to small tubular shapes.

A close-up of crocosmia ‘Lucifer’–such a pretty flower, hummingbirds love it and it also makes a great cut flower for flower arrangements.  To the immediate left are some just finished blooming Oriental lilies, ‘Casa Rosa.’  Spring and summer-blooming bulbs are crowded into these curb strips as well, because they provide the perfect growing conditions for bulbs, namely wet conditions in spring and bone-dry conditions in the summer.  These Oriental lilies only reach about 3 feet tall down here–I have others in amended flower beds elsewhere on the property that are 7 feet tall, so my neglect helps to keep them shorter down here!

This is growing in a terrace bed opposite the curb strip.  The large plant is Santolina ‘Pretty Carroll.”  It started life as a one-gallon sized plant, and as you can see it is gigantic now, especially when in bloom.  The foliage is such a lovely contrast to the bright yellow flowers–very cool grey and fillagree-looking.  With it sprung up a light pink hollyhock that reseeded there, so I just left it and am happy with the result.  Opposite this is the blue catmint, so there is lots of blue contrasting with yellow going on here, of which I am particularly fond.  Just barely in the shot at the top is a hint of the large butterfly bush now in flower, called ‘Pink Delight,’ which is a beautiful pink and another hummingbird favorite.

Feel free to leave a comment–what types of plants do you like to grow in your curb strips, or other low/almost no maintenance plants have you found to be effective in your landscape?

Please stop on by the Tuesday Garden Party as well–lots of fun seeing everyone’s gardens!

Garden Update and Troubleshooting Guide

I am in Southwest Washington State, gardening zone 8, and until recently the weather has been extremely cold for this time of year and damp.  Last week, it shot up to 99 degrees.  The plants actually loved all that warm weather, as did I, although I was out watering vegetable beds twice a day to keep them going in the heat.  Here is a little guided tour of the vegetable beds:

The Cukes:

Now, I know you’re being polite, but you’re probably thinking to yourself, “That bed looks mighty empty.”  And I would concur.  This is due to my having to replant this bed three times before anything would grow.  I did chitted cuke seeds, which worked very well last year, twice, and twice they all died but the one bigger one at the bottom of the photo.  I then decided that I should plant plain old seeds in the 90 degree weather we had last week.  I kept the bed watered, which you typically are not supposed to do with cuke chitted seeds, and four days later all these babies appeared!  So now I have all salad slicing cukes, because I ran out of pickling cuke seed in all the replants, and they are about 2-3 weeks later than they should be.  Such is life in my vegetable beds this year.  And did I mention that I am a Master Gardener and have been through all the training, and have about ten+ years of vegetable growing experience under my belt?  So don’t feel bad if you have problems sometimes in your garden–we all do at one time or another!  The trick is to think like a detective and try to figure out how to fix it or do it better or differently next time to get a different result, hopefully a better one.  Also, notice I still have hoops and plastic in place–I cover this bed every night it is below 60 degrees or until the plants outgrow the hoop area.  Cukes, eggplant and peppers require it to be 60 degrees at night before they will set fruit and the fruit will mature, so if Mother Nature does not provide that for the plants, you need to do it for them.  This is one big reason why people can’t get eggplant and peppers to mature around here–it’s too cold and we have a short growing season because it takes forever for the temperatures to warm up at night in the spring (and this year in the summer until about last week).  The only way I’ve been successful with eggplant and peppers is to cover them at night, and then they produce well.  Usually.

The Eggplant, Peppers and Green Onions: (Voted Most Likely To Succeed)


So this bed looks a bit better than the last one.  To my eye, the plants are on the small side for this time of year, and that is purely due to cold temperatures for the entire month of June.  Also, I cannot for the life of me get green onions to germinate from seed outside.  I followed all of Steve Solomon’s tips, to no avail.  So I tried some thing different to get a different result–I started some seed inside under light, and transplanted the little guys out when they were big enough–about 4-5 inches tall.  They are doing alright, but they too would prefer some warmer weather.  No flowers yet on the eggplant (and they are a gorgeous lavender color!), but the peppers have a few flowers and baby peppers on them.  Now you may notice some leaf damage to the pepper plant in the corner.  Here is more of a close up of the damage to the leaves on some of the bigger peppers:

You see those holes and part of the leaves chewed off?  That is slug damage.  How do I know?  Experience gardening here–slugs are notorious for this, and I saw a huge slug on the inside of the plastic when I uncovered this bed today.  Remedy:  Pick the slugs off when you see them and smash them to bits with a rock.  Not the violent type like I am when I see a slug?  You can also put out beer traps and Sluggo.  A good and cheap slug trap is to get a clean and empty cottage cheese carton or a yogurt carton with a lid.  Use an exacto knife to carefully cut slug-sized holes in the upper side of the container(go slow and be careful–easy to cut yourself doing this–don’t ask how I know), then fill it with beer (don’t use non-alcoholic beer–it won’t attract the little devils–alcoholics all–don’t ask how I know), and then put the lid on it.  Dig a little hole in the dirt so the holes in your container are level with the soil line, and put the container in the hole.  Come back in a couple of days, and there should be drowned slugs in the container, which you can empty in the trash and refill with beer and replace.  Hey, at least they die happy.

The Beans:

They look pretty good–about where they ought to be for this time of year and when I planted them.  I have both bush beans and runner beans. 

The runner beans produce red and lavender flowers that the hummingbirds love, so I planted these right next to our pergola so we could see some hummers up close, and then from the flowers come the beans.  It doesn’t look like much at the moment, but it will soon be covered with bean vines and flowers, and eventually, beans for dinner and freezing.  I put garden twine on the outer edges of the trellis to provide more room for the outer bean plants to grow up.  Here’s a close up or two:

I use what I have to hold those strings taut in the dirt–a heavy wire u-shaped garden staple, or even tent stakes.  Tie your string on, and then use a mallet to drive them into the dirt.  Easy.  The beans will climb up those strings–you might have to point them in the right direction to give them a little help at first.

The bush beans are next to the peppers, so guess what I noticed is going on up there?

In the bottom-left corner of the photo you will see the telltale holes and unevenly chewed edges on a few of the leaves indicating slug damage.  And now you know what to do about that.  However, you will also notice that most of the plants are clean and look great, so this is a relatively small issue.  C’est la vie.  I may just sprinkle a little Sluggo around the chomped plant and call it good.

The Corn and Pumpkins: (Voted Best Body)

Just had room for one little bed, but they are doing as well as can be expected due to the colder weather we’ve had.  I would like these plants to be bigger (kind of a recurring theme with me, you’ve probably noticed), but the good news is that they are pest and disease free, which is great–a success story!

They would be happier with more sun and warmer weather.  (So would I. )  I probably should cover these with plastic, but I took it off because we had company over, and the plastic was pretty ugly.  Perhaps an excuse to get some better looking plastic.  Is there such a thing?  I could also cover them with row covers, but they are quite expensive to buy so plastic it probably will be.

The Tomatoes: 

They loved the warm weather last week, and shot up!  Still, very few have flowers yet, no green tomatoes yet.  I have one tomatillo at the end that has some flowers–yay!

This is about half of our tomato crop this year.  I hope we have a “crop”–come on warm weather!

Okay, I have kept the worst for last.  That honor goes to . . . (drum roll, please):

The Salad Greens and The Potatoes: (Mustard Greens voted Miss Congeniality)

I have had so much trouble with the salad beds this year, beds that ordinarily are really super easy to grow.  First off, could not get any lettuce seeds whatsoever to germinate outside.  I finally am starting some seed inside under lights so that I can transplant it out.  Next, I have planted the mustard greens that will not die.  Seriously.  We had a warm winter, and I started a bed very early, on Feb. 2nd, of course covered with plastic.  We had salad greens to eat for dinner in four weeks!  Only thing was, all the the cold-tolerant seeds that I had planted, like spinach, beets, arugula, swiss chard, etc., all had been overtaken by the mustard greens.  So I think to myself, not a problem, quit your whining, at least you have salad from the garden in March!  So then I started another bed in March with a variety of seed types, and guess what?  All mustard greens again.  The problem continues, but to a lesser extent now that the weather has warmed up a bit, and I have clued in.  I think what was going on is that I used my own homemade compost on the beds, and my guess is that I had composed mustard greens that had gone to seed, and the seed did not die but remained viable over the winter, and then when I added fertilizer to the bed, they said “Yippie!” and shot up, smothering the other plants.  I have been trying to be more scrupulous about keeping the beds weeded, but as you can see, I have a lot of beds, and I am the only gardener in the family, so I do my best to keep up, but in all honesty I hate weeding (don’t tell the Master Gardeners–they’ll excommunicate me), and it sometimes finds its way to the bottom of my gardening to-do list.  But I do love salad, and so I have been trying to mend my wicked ways.

(Notice the gigantic mustard green leering at them from the other bed.)  The rows need to be thinned, and I can take the thinned out ones and either replant them in all the empty rows that had lettuce seed in them, or I can put them in tonight’s salad.  A win-win situation.  And if I am going to be really on top of things, the old mustard greens that have now gone to seed?  I will cut off the flower and seed heads and those will go into the trash rather than the compost heap.

Now for the potatoes.  As readers of my blog know, I have been battling flea beetles out here all season.  Several factors led to this situation, the biggest one being a long cold and wet spring and summer until a couple of weeks ago.  Normally in the past, I have applied diatomaceous earth early when I first notice leaf pin hole damage on early growth, and that tends to get rid of them.  Then normally the weather warms up and the flea beetles are no longer a problem, because they tend to go after new growth on potatoes and tomatoes for me, but they get killed or are less interested in the older growth on plants.  Well, along came the Spring and Early Summer of Our Weather Discontent.  Because it stayed cold for so long, the flea beetles really dug in and caused a lot more damage than they normally do.  Thus the following pictures:

I did everything right in starting these potatoes.  I spaced them correctly(rows should be 36″ apart on the centers).  I started with certified clean seed potatoes from a reputable nursery(if you use potatoes that come from the grocery store, you run the risk of introducing the disease called scab into the soil, which is very hard to eradicate once there).  I used the appropriate fertilizer on the hills (which is complete organic fertilizer minus the dolomite lime, or four parts seed or alfalfa meal, one part bone meal and a half-part kelp meal.)  I planted them at the right time (when the minimun air temperature is at least 43-45 degrees and the minimum soil temperature is at least 39-41 degrees–I planted on April 20th, but could have done it even a couple of weeks earlier but was too busy).  As they grew I hilled them up properly, ending with hills that are about 10 inches tall and about 18 inches wide.  What more could a potato ask for?  Well, it could ask to not be devoured by flea beetles, apparently. 

The good news is that it was really hot last week, and I am hoping that put a damper on the flea beetles.  I also found out that diatomaceous earth will harm beneficial insects, so then I ran to the gardening center to find something that would work on organically grown vegetables that actually works.  I ended up with Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew.  This I sprayed on the tops and bottoms of the potato leaves and vines twice.  I think that, plus the warming weather, helped to stop the infestation.  I am seeing dark green leaves with almost no leaf damage now.  This stuff is not perfect, however, because it can kill bees for up to three hours after application.  The good news is that there are no bees around these plants because they have no flowers yet, so the bees were kept safe.  I am a little worried that there are no flowers yet–it seems pretty late in the growing season to not have flowers.  I guess time will tell with this bed.

I will be writing other posts soon about how to troubleshoot problems in your garden, so tune in frequently!

I don’t want this to be a complete gardening buzz-kill post, so here are some pictures I took this morning of pretty flowers and other plants.

Summer jasmine, dark purple ‘Jackmanii’ clematis and lighter lavender ‘General Sikorski’ clematis

This is ‘Niobe’ clematis reblooming.  If you keep this one deadheaded, and fertilize once a month, it will usually bloom through September.

This is the Garage Rooftop Garden.

Flowers and grasses and sedums.  Okay, I gotta confess–that green tall plant has a story.  Went to a plant sale, saw a plant, liked the plant, bought the plant.  Got plant home, realized it had no name tag, and I had forgotten the name of the plant on the drive home.  Solution:  Pot the plant up and get it to flower so that I can identify the plant.  (Sheesh, I hope no other Master Gardeners are reading this . . . excommunication here I come . . .)

A plant rack I got for $5 for a pair of them at a salvage yard (!), attached to the fence and filled with strawberry plants.  And do you know that slugs still occasionally find the fortitude to climb all the way up there?  (Dirty bastids . . .)

 My basil plant flotilla.  ‘Genovese’ basil.  The flower container is filled with coleus that I started from seed, a burgundy petunia, ‘Cambridge Blue’ lobelia that I started from seed, and Golden Creeping Jenny, Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’.

That’s all I got.  Please visit the Tuesday Garden Party for more gardening fun!


Clematis In Containers–Take Two

Update:  Many technical difficulties in the original post, so I am trying to post this again.  Thanks for your patience!

I wanted to share with you an article I wrote for a local small newspaper (no longer in business) when I was their garden writer.  My focus for this column was “Container Gardening,” and I came up with this topic one week.  All of the pictures were taken by me of clematis that I grow in my garden.  Enjoy!

Clematis ‘Louise Rowe’

Clematis is a diverse genus of flowering vines. While there are some monsters that will grow twenty to thirty feet of stems in one season, others will remain at a petite eight to ten feet tall and are suited for container gardening.

My favorite clematis expert is Portlander Linda Beutler, whose book Gardening with Clematis: Design and Cultivation is filled with terrific tips and tricks especially suited to Northwest gardeners for getting clematis to perform at their best. After reading her book and hearing her speak at gardening workshops at the Camas Public Library and Joy Creek Nursery, I decided to give container-grown clematis a try for myself.

To begin this gardening adventure, I started discovering plants that will thrive within the constraints of a container. I’ve had good luck so far with three large-flowered hybrids. The first is “Asao,” which has darkish pink blooms accented with lighter pink centers and which blooms early in the season, from the end of April until the end of May. Linda advises that if you sparingly prune off the dead ends and fertilize it at half strength right after it finishes its first bloom, it will often rebloom for the month of September. This clematis doesn’t need any hard pruning to keep it in full fig, just a light trim to keep it neat. ‘Asao ‘ is quite happy in my garden growning in an eighteen-inch tall and wide turquoise-blue plastic pot along with the October through February-blooming double soft pink Camellia sasanqua ‘Jean May.’ ‘Jean’ stays much smaller than her later blooming, sometimes tree-sized, Camellia japonica cousins. Because this evergreen camellia is more shallow-rooted than the clematis, it is happy to spread its roots near the upper portion of the pot while the clematis burrows its roots deeper down in the pot, thereby cooperating in limited quarters. I also like to add some shallow-rooted annuals, including summer-blooming pastel sweet peas and baby-blue ‘Cambridge Blue’ lobelia with a dark purple, fragrant heliotrope to the mix to create a container that has something of interest going on four seasons of the year. This pot thrives in a covered entryway to the house so that harsh winter rains don’t crush and dissolve the somewhat tender camillia blossoms.

Clematis ‘Asao’

Two other of my favorite clematis for containers include the double purple ‘Daniel Deronda,’ and the double pale lavender ‘Louise Rowe.’ Both ‘Daniel’ and ‘Louise’ flourish under the same regime of pruning and fertilizing that I use with ‘Asao,’ and both bloom at about the same time as ‘Asao.,’ ‘Daniel’ is wonderful growing up through something yellow or chartreuse. I placed the container so it grew near a large yellow David Austin English rose ‘Graham Thomas,’ with some airy, five-foot tall Verbena bonariensis rising up on pencil-thick stems as a purple haze. In a container setting, you might select a diminutive chartreuse-foliaged shrub in a neighboring pot, such as the small, two-foot tall and wide evergreen Hebe ‘Co-ed,’ with chartreuse foliage maturing to green, and purple summer flowers. (Update July 2010:  I would no longer recommend Hebe shrubs in general, because our recent cold winters have killed every one of mine.  A better option for a small evergreen would be a heather or heath, which also blooms in the winter and has lovely and often colored evergreen foliage in other seasons.)  Another colorful choice would be the two-to-three feet tall Berberis thunbergii “Aurea Nana,’ with golden foliage, mid-spring yellow blooms and red berries in the fall.

‘Louise’ is a fascinating clematis to watch over the growing season, because it can simultaneously have single, semi-double, and double flowers in bloom. Her flower color is set off by close proximity to the color blue, perhaps used as the color of the container in which she grows, which is what I did, or accomplished by growing other blue-flowered or -foliaged plants close at hand. One that I like is Cerinthe major ‘Purpurascens.’ An annual that reseeds rather freely in my garden, it has blue-green leaves on arcing stems, and at the tips of each stem flowers a small tubular dark purple blossom. It looks great combined with that stalwart and infinitely blendable annual, lacy Dusty Miller. Both annuals keep their good looks from spring through fall, helping not only to intensify the clematis flower color but also to carry the container over while the clematis is in-between first bloom and rebloom.

Clematis ‘Daniel Deronda’

True to their vine nature, pot-grown clematis need some kind of structure upon which to grow. I met this need by placing my containers near structures upon which the plant could grow, such as a large rose and a handrail and spindles. If you wanted a freestanding container, you could use a narrow piece of trellis at least twice the heigth of the pot and eight to ten inches below the soil surface to anchor the structure. Trellis can be purchased, or homemade out of wood, copper tubing, even painted one-half inch PVC pipe connected with appropriate fittings. Clematis will need to be tied to any supporting surface diameter greater than one-half inch. You can wrap larger supporting posts with chicken wire and the clematis should be able to climb up the structure on its own, with just a little help from you in the form of attaching it with twine while the plant is young.

Because these vines will be living in pots for several years, it’s a good idea to choose high-quality potting soil. I succeeded with my three clematis by following many of Linda’s tips on the best type of potting soil and planting method. She recommends looking on the label of the soil to see if it contains something to lighten the soil like sand or pumice, composted manure and worm castings, kelp meal, dolomite lime, bat guano and bone meal. If you make your own homemade compost, add some of that to the mix as well. Before filling your pot with soil, put some fine metal mesh in the very bottom of the pot to cover the drainage holes so the soil doesn’t run out, next a couple of inches of gravel for good drainage, then add soil mixed with a sprinkle of slow-release fertilizer about halfway to the top, after which you can place your new plant into the pot. You want to cover the root ball plus about three inches of the stems. Adjust the soil level so the plant is at the appropriate depth, insert whatever supporting device you chose to use, then fill in the container with more of the potting soil until you’re within a couple of inches of the top of the pot. Water at this point, allow the soil to settle, and add soil as necessary so the soil level remains at a couple of inches below the top of the pot. Tie the clematis to the structure, then finish with a thin top layer of gravel for a mulch. For maintence, it’s best to water every one to three days depending on how dry it is. Linda also recommends that six weeks after you pot up the clematis you should start using flower-boosting fertilizer about once a week until the plant has set bud, then stop fertilizing until after it has finished blooming and you’re preparing it for fall rebloom.

If you’re like me, you will quickly become enamored of these amazing vines, and you will be well on your way to enjoying dapper spring and fall-blooming clematis that may well be the abundant showpiece of your container garden.

Photos and content copyright 2007-2010 Minerva’s Garden

It’s Tuesday, so please head on over to the Tuesday Garden Party, where you will see lots of beautiful gardens!  And enjoy this hot weather!


Made Strawberry Freezer Jam and Froze Strawberries On This 4th Of July!

Not a traditional way to spend the Fourth, admittedly, but my wonderful husband went to a you-pick farm yesterday and picked 22 pounds of lovely strawberries.  Since we had company over yesterday and I was busy cooking for that, he also washed and hulled all the berries for me–what a sweetie!  Into the refrigerator they went until today, when I turned them into jam and frozen whole berries. 

I just do individually quick frozen berries–place the cleaned berries on a cookie sheet so the berries are not touching one another, and then place the sheet in the freezer.  In an hour or two, they are frozen and can be transferred to a labeled ziplock bag, which is what I did.

I also made sugar-free jam.  I have a neat cookbook called Canning and Preserving Without Sugar by Norma M. MacRae, who is a dietician and nutritionist.  The recipe I used is called “Strawberry Preserves.”  I like my jam fruity and fairly soft set, so I don’t really like to use pectin at all.  The recipe calls for 10 cups cleaned strawberries, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (I also added some rind as well),  concentrated white grape juice (you take 3 cups of white grape juice, put in a pot and boil it down to 1 cup. ) That’s it.  Take 5 cups of the strawberries and put them in a big  nonaluminum pot (I use an 8-quart stainless steel stock pot) with the lemon juice and grape juice.  Bring it to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly, then reduce the heat a bit and continue cooking until it thickens a bit.  It was about 15-20 minutes for me.  (It does set up more as it cools.)  Take the pot off the heat, and stir in the remaining 5 cups of strawberries, which you can dice, slice or leave whole–your preference.  This cools the mixture off quite a bit.  I then decided to freeze it, so I filled my plastic containers, leaving 3/4 of an inch at the top (this is important, because the jam will swell when frozen.)  Put the lid on, and label it.  I also made up 3 pints which I put in the refrigerator to eat up in the next couple of weeks.  One batch makes 10 1/2 cups of jam, or roughly 5 pints.

Total, I made 14 pints of sugar-free jam, and ended up with 1 one-gallon bag full of individually quick frozen whole strawberries.  We paid $1/pound for the berries (!), and about $2.90 for the white grape juice.  I already had some fresh lemons and containers, so this ended up being a fairly inexpensive project that I will be very happy to have come cold winter weather.

Happy 4th of July, everyone!!

Things You Can Do In Your Garden Now

It is kind of rainy and drizzly here this morning.  We had planned to go to a u-pick strawberry farm, but the weather put a damper on that.  Instead, I think that I will do a few little clean-up type tasks around the garden today.  These are the things that I will try to accomplish in between rain showers (at least I don’t have to water today):

  • Deadhead and fertilize the roses:  This is an ongoing project throughout the summer months.  It is easy to do, and it helps to keep your rose bushes flowering throughout the bloom season.  You will need garden pruners and a bucket.  It is easy to get scratched while doing this, so wear long sleeves and garden gloves to protect your skin, and always wear eye protection when pruning shrubs–little pieces can easily break off and you do not want them in your eyes–trust me, I know from experience.  Or you can get a ‘Zephrin Drouhin’ thornless climbing rose–it is a beauty with deep pink blooms.  Simply look at the plant, and anywhere there is a dead rose blossom, cut it off. I like to take my cut down to the nearest 5-leafed stem, and cut just above the five-leafed stem.  This way the growth hormones of the rose will produce another bloom there.  You can also cut off any dead, broken, or diseased stems off.  Place all this in your bucket and do not put in the compost pile if there are diseased plant parts present, but put in the trash can instead.  I will also be fertilizing all my roses.  I do this once a month during bloom time, and I use Miracle Grow, but you could use any good rose fertilizer as well.
  • Deadhead the clematis as needed and fertilize them:  I fertilize them, along with the roses, once a month with Miracle Grow, but they respond well to rose fertilizer as well.  Some clematis will rebloom if deadheaded.  I do this with my burgundy ‘Niobe’ and purple ‘Daniel Deronda’ clematis.  My late spring-blooming clematis are still blooming because spring was delayed here due to cold weather, but after they are done, they can be pruned back and fertilized for rebloom in the fall.  It could be tricky this year because they were late in blooming, so it might make rebloom in fall come too late with colder weather.  Would have to play it by ear on this idea this year.
  • Stake and weed beds; remove fading bulb foliage:  It seems like staking and weeding is a neverending process during the growing season.  Bulb foliage that is yellowed can be removed from the beds.  It is also time to add some compost to where your bulbs grow.  This will help to improve the tilth of the soil, and depending on the potency of your compost, may give a bit of a light feeding.  Those bulbs will be beginning to store up food for next spring’s blooms, so you can help them do so by giving them a bit of compost now.
  • Plant a basket container:  I ended up with a cylindrical dark brown basket that I no longer use indoors, but I thought if I lined it with a plastic bag, it would make an interesting container for plants.  I still have burgundy and green coleus starts that I grew from seed, and I have quite a few ferns that tend to appear on their own without any help from me in various spots on our property, so they will go into the basket.
  • Clean and fill bird feeders:  I have a roofed tray feeder that many types of birds really like, because they can see into it and fly through it.  In this I put black-oil sunflower seed in the shell, which many birds like.  I found that if I use the cheaper kinds that are full of millet, they push all the millet out of the feeder in their search for the apparently tastier sunflower seeds, and millet makes a mess under the feeder because it grows into a matting grass that I don’t like.  The hummingbird feeder will also be cleaned and refilled today as well.  I have a great feeder that is made of glass and plastic, and it has a wide mouth so I can put a soapy sponge all the way down to the bottom to get it really clean.  I also try to cleanse it by placing 1 capful of bleach into a sinkful of water, and letting the bird feeder soak in that for a minute or two.  You could also use hydrogen peroxide in the same amount if you don’t like bleach.  Then I rinse it well and fill it with nectar that I make using four parts sugar and one part water in a pot on the stove, which I let gently boil for only 5 minutes with the lid on, then remove from heat.  After it cools a bit, I strain it using a paper coffee filter in a funnel, and store it in a closed jar in the refrigerator.  No food coloring is needed.  I clean my feeder 2-3 times per week, but you could do it more, especially if the weather gets really hot.
  • I had planned to chop the bigger, bulkier stuff that has not broken down in my compost pile, but that plan is averted due to rain.  It clogs up my little chopper something fierce to try to run wet matter through it.  Will wait till it is all dried out again.

I always get motivation to make the garden look nice when I have company coming over, and in fact we’re having guests over tomorrow night for dinner, and hopefully the weather will cooperate so we can eat outside under the pergola!  I’ve been so busy getting the vegetable garden in that the flowers tend to take second place at this time of year, but I will try to whip things into shape a bit.  Also I like entertaining outside because I don’t have to clean the whole house prior to guests arriving, just the rooms they will likely see, like the bathroom and kitchen, so it’s a little easier to accomplish.  My husband accuses me of being Martha Stewart’s sister when it comes to perfectionism in entertaining, and I am trying to curb my unhealthy ways by throwing more small and impromptu dinners that I don’t have to stress over, which is more fun for me as well, and so the outdoor pergola helps in this regard as well.  My office is right near the pergola, so I want to try to come up with some fun youtube music playlists and then I can open the window and put my speaker into it, so we can have some nice music playing while we eat–we’ll see how far I get on that project.

We have our first raspberries ripe and ready to eat!  Just a few, more will come as the season progresses.  Lots of sugar snap peas still as well, so they may play a role in the dinner I have in mind for tomorrow.  My huge ‘Bill McKenzie’ summer-blooming clematis is starting to bloom–yellow bell-shaped blossoms, blooming at the same time as my purple ‘Jackmanii’ clematis–good timing this year!  Here is a picture of Bill:

Weather reports for next week show that it is supposed to go up into the 90s–I will believe it when I see it, but a girl can dream, right?

Please leave a comment–do you have some great tips for easy outdoor entertaining?  I’d love to learn!