Molasses In The Garden

Over the weekend we got to visit the lovely Portland Japanese Garden with a group of Master Gardeners and Watershed Stewards from Vancouver. We got a tour with a couple of the volunteer gardeners who have worked at the garden for years, and it was very informative. So many beautiful plants, even in the waning autumn season. This was a great time to visit, because you can really see the beautiful structure of the trees and shrubs that have been meticulously pruned. The garden design does a superb job of framing magnificent views through the use of a hidden reveal provided by hardscape or shrubbery as well as the use of curved paths. Meticulous care is taken to have the garden always at its prime–they remove by hand evergreen needles on trees and shrubs that have turned brown, for example, and the gravel paths early in the morning are raked into beautiful designs, so it pays to get there early to see them. They have many lanterns in the garden, and light them around September 20th or so for certain ceremonies, and the cherry trees blossom along with Japanese iris in the spring, so both times are also superb for visiting this gem of a garden.

One tip that Alan, our tour guide, gave to us follows: Mix 2 tablespoons of blackstrap molasses into one gallon of water. You can use this solution as an organic plant nutrient that is good for the soil. If you use it as a foliar spray, it will kill sucking insects like aphids and thrips, but not harm the beneficial insects. The only down side is that it could perhaps cause some mold on the leaves of the plant, but if the air circulation is good, that would likely be minimized. This solution is one that they use at the Japanese Garden to good effect, so I thought I would pass it along. I have not tried it myself, but plan to next gardening season.

***A note:  I read recently in the April/May 2010 issue of Organic Gardening magazine, page 50, that “Researchers caution that molasses and other microbial foods used in brewing compost tea can boost the levels of pathogenic bacteria, such as salmonella and O157:H7 E. coli.  Because of this significant health concern, aerated compost tea should be used with care, and should not be used on food crops” (Shoup).

What’s new in your garden–do tell in the comments.

Gotta add a photo, so here is one I took in the autumn at the CASEE garden back in 2006–a beautiful, natural garden that works well in providing food for birds naturally.

Please visit Jamie’s Oregon Cottage Blog for her Garden Party.

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Reblooming Amarylis and Autumn Decorations

In Southwest Washington, for the most part, we are settling in to a rainy and fairly warm weather pattern.  With the exception of lettuce and a few other salad and cooking greens that are growing under plastic and hoops, the vegetable garden is done for the winter, at least outdoors anyway.  I have tomatoes that I picked earlier in the season that are still ripening inside nicely, so we do get to still have some wonderful fresh tomatoes on salads and sandwiches on occasion.  I am still working on cleaning up garden beds, weeding and getting them covered with plastic, but no real rush, so that can happen the next time we have a break in the rain.

I continue to feed the birds.  They are enjoying the black oil sunflower seed and hummingbird nectar, along with nectar from a few surprisingly hardy plants that are still blooming, such as the viburnum, borage, verbena bonariensis, glossy abelia and the start of the ‘Tuscan Blue’ rosemary.  The coleus are also still blooming (!), and the hummers feed away on their columns of tiny flowers, as they do from nasturtium flowers that are growing in containers and hanging baskets.  Some of the verbena bonariensis has also gone to seed, and the little birds attach themselves to the flowers to eat seeds.

I grew Rouge Vif d’Entemps pumpkins, also known as Cinderella pumpkins again this year.  The results are adorning the front steps to the house.  I’ve paired them with containers in blue with yellow grasses and sedums.  Because they are living under a covered stoop area that is warmer than just being out in the garden, this tends to keep the containers alive all year, so there is a little something fresh outdoors that is fun to look at.

Here is a little indoor flower arrangement I did for Halloween.

I also potted up paperwhites on November 7th in a large clay pot, watered the soil, and then put the pot in the dark garage.  It will stay there until December, when green shoots will appear, and then I will bring it into the house and eventually it will bloom.  If they are started by Nov. 7th, they will usually be in bloom by Christmas and Solstice.  If you plant them now, they will still bloom after the holidays, giving you something wonderful to look forward to after the holidays are done.

 

                                                                                                        Paperwhites in bloom from last year.

I started, at the beginning of November, to start watering and feeding my amarylis bulbs, which are inside in bright sun-facing windows in the house.  Here is a little recap for you from last year on how to get the amarylis bulbs you buy now and have bloom this winter, rebloom next year:

Growing amaryllis indoors is a great way to have luxurious, large flowers indoors during the drab winter months.  It’s actually fairly easy to get them to rebloom year after year.  Here are the steps if you are starting out now with a new bulb, which typically go on sale at hardware and department stores as well as gardening centers sometime in the month of November.

1.  Plant the bulb.  The bulbs like snug containers, and the pointy top 1/3 of the bulb needs to be above the soil level in the pot.  The little plastic pots that come with the bulb that you purchase have no drain holes, so you will not need a saucer beneath them, but you also have to water carefully so you do not waterlog the bulbs.  Water so it’s moist but not soggy, and place the pot in a sunny window.

2.  Continue to water and fertilize with a complete organic fertilizer every two weeks after planting.  Eventually leaves will sprout from the bulb, and a thick stem will emerge, from which the flower head will grow.  With a smaller bulb, this may or may not happen the first year, but should as the bulb matures.  I have read that for every five leaves on the bulb, you will get one flower stalk.  My younger bulbs have bloomed with as few as three leaves.  My bulbs are not mature enough to have more than five leaves at this point, but we will see if this is true as time goes on.

3.  After the bulbs have bloomed, hopefully around or just after the winter holidays,  continue to water and fertilize every other week all winter, and through the spring and summer.  In the summer, if you wish, you may move the pots outdoors in a protected spot like a porch  in July when it warms up, but they also do well hanging out indoors in front of a sunny window.

4.  In the beginning of September, stop fertilizing the pots, and cut way back on watering.  You want them to dry out a bit, but not die from lack of water.  Very little is needed.  Foliage may wither and die at this point, and that is fine–simply use a scissors and cut off any unsightly browned foliage as it occurs.  If the pots were outside for the summer, in the beginning of  September bring them back inside to their sunny window.    Keep the pots barely moist and no fertilizer for the months of September and October.

5.  Starting in the beginning of November, resume watering and fertilizing every other week, and keep them in a sunny window.  This will help to wake up the bulbs, and they should start eventually to send out new foliage and flower stems.

Another note:  The flower stems can get very tall, and so I like to keep very slender stakes, even a thin skewer or chopstick can work, and slide them into the pot and use twine or even ribbon to tie the stem to the stake, so that it doesn’t break.  I had a cat knock one over, and the stem was hanging over.  I  used scotch tape to wrap around the stem and stake to get the damaged stem back up into an upright position, and it actually bloomed, but your mileage may vary.

That’s all there is to it–as you can see, a very easy process.  You can place plain pots together in decorative baskets found very inexpensively at thrift stores, and cover the top with Spanish moss to hide the pots, making a lovely holiday decoration for your home.

‘Appleblossom’ amarylis about to bloom last year.

‘Appleblossom’ in bloom.

Stop by the Oregon Cottage Garden Party for more fun gardening posts!