Mulch For Garden Beds And A Pretty Winter Plant Combination

Over the weekend, our across-the-street neighbor was raking up the many Japanese Maple leaves from his gorgeous tree, and so I ran out and asked him if I could take the leaves for my garden beds, pretty please?  He said yes (not the first time for this same reason, I might add), and so away we hauled a bunch of beautiful tiny orange and gold leaves to dress our flower and vegetable beds.  Some photos to illustrate:

Bulb bed mulched, Dec. 2011

A little bulb bed, tucked in for the winter with a couple of inches of Japanese Maple leaves for mulch.

Another flower bed mulched, Dec. 2011

 
 
In this bed I’ve left room around the rose on the left and daylilies on the right, and mulched over the top of where I have lots of bulbs planted.  From garden writer Ann Lovejoy, I learned to mulch the bulb beds, because it helps to keep the upcoming spring flowers from getting mud splashed on them from incessant spring rain that we get here.
 

Fruit trees mulched for the winter. My fruit tree row, weeded (and I was aided in this by the neighbor's chickens who like to come over and visit--there must have been bugs that they were excited to eat there) and mulched with a couple of inches of leaf mulch. Dec. 2011

 
 

Vegetable bed mulched with Japanese Maple leaves, December 2011

 
 
It’s also a good idea to cover bare soil in your vegetable beds as well, and the leaves work great for this.  In the upper left corner there are some bright green garlic leaves–I planted them several years ago, and even though they get pulled up every year, they keep coming back, and not a bad thing I might add.  They are much more pungent than garlic from the grocery store.
 
 

Japanese Maple leaf mulch

 
Japanese Maples grow readily in the Pacific Northwest.   They are gorgeous, there are many in smaller sizes, and they tend to grow unaffected by disease or pests, making them a winner for the garden.  I like to use Japanese Maple leaves in my garden for several reasons:
  • They are already naturally small, so I do not have to chop them up like would have to do with full-sized maple leaves
  • They are free
  • They are amply available when I need them

In our climate, it tends to be best to use about a two-inch layer of leaves for mulching your flower and vegetable beds.  Leave room around the plant crowns; don’t cover them with mulch.  If you put more than two inches, it can sometimes become a haven for mice and other pests that like to live in the leaves if given the chance.  I also like the small leaves better than large maple leaves, because the large leaves, if they are not chopped up fine, tend to stick together in our rainy climate and don’t break down very readily over the course of the winter, and they also become a haven for slugs, which will winter over and eat the plants that you have so carefully covered nearby.

 

Another type of “mulch”:

  

Outdoor containers covered in plastic, Dec. 2011

I just grouped my containers on the garage roof together, and covered them with several layers of clear plastic.  Old clear shower curtains also work great for this, and are made from heavier plastic, which is better.  Although it occasionally goes down as low as 18 degrees here, it is pretty rare, and this in times past has been enough protection to keep containers from splitting, and plants from dying in the containers.  (Fingers crossed.) 

Now here is a pretty plant combination (or two):

 

Gorgeous early winter foliage, December 2011

 
The yellow leaves are on a red-flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum, that I plan to begin shaping into an espaliered form on the wall.  The brilliant red leaves adorn a Berberis thunbergii ‘Helmond Pillar’ barberry.  This is a perfect plant if you are looking for a low-maintenance shrub to fill a tight and narrow spot in the garden.  It reaches five feet tall but only two feet wide, and is great in a small garden.  It’s deciduous, and it has semi-glossy burgundy leaves that turn green as they age, but still keep a burgundy undertone.  It also gets bright orange and red seeds in the fall as well.  I need to take a few more pictures of it, and will then present it in a “Through The Seasons” post. 
 
 

Viola and feverfew, December 2011

 
As you can see, I haven’t gotten around to emptying the hanging baskets yet, (wanted to leave them til the last minute for the hummingbirds, because they had nasturtiums in them), but there are still some purple violas along with chartreuse feverfew.  I may pull those out and transplant them in a protected spot in containers at the front of the house.
 
Some more plant hangers-on:
 
 

Snapdragons in December

 
 

Roses flying high in the sky, December 2011

 
 

A lone, bright pink 'Zephrin Drouhin' rose, Dec. 2011

 
And some winter-flowering plants:
 

Yellow forsythia and white viburnum, viburnum=hummingbird food, December 2011

 
I’ll do a post soon of holiday decorations!
 
Enjoy a break from gardening.  I still have a couple of little chores left to do, but nothing major.  The temperatures have definitely dropped–it’s ranging from the low to mid-40s during the days and down to low 30s at night, so I am on winter hummingbird patrol, putting the feeder out in the morning and bringing it in right after dark.  Sun shining through the bright blue sky today–I love it!
 
Leave a comment if you like!
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I Can’t Get Started With You–Growing Vegetables in the Pacific Northwest, August 2011 Edition

A little mid-summer update for the vegetables I’ve been growing.  As anyone living in the Pacific Northwest knows, this summer has been just as cold as last summer, and the result is that all the warm-season vegetables are very late to ripen this year, as they were last year.  I hope this is not a trend, but it may be (thanks, global climate change–I was hoping we’d turn into Napa Valley here . . .)  Anyway, as I mentioned in this earlier post on Guerilla Gardening, I’m growing a lot of my heat-lovers under hoops and plastic this year.  It helps to raise the night-time temperatures a little bit, which is what the problem is.  Cold nights are not good, because the vegetables mature and ripen at night, so you want higher night-time temperatures for crops to ripen earlier.  This we have not had here at all, and thus the plastic.

Here are the tomatoes:

These are tomato plants in cages under plastic taken earlier in June.  Here they are now:

Those babies have really taken off, and barely fit under plastic anymore.  A veritable jungle of tomato vines . . . but

Green ‘Costoluto Genovese’ tomatoes, and  . . .

yet more green tomatoes–I’ve got green tomatoes as far as the eye can see, and no red and ripe ones yet.  Soon, hopefully.

On to the pumpkin and squash:

The first baby ‘Rouge Vif d’Entemps’ pumpkin, also known as Cinderella pumpkin.  They start out this pretty shade of yellow and deepen to orange as they mature.  They are wonderful for eating, but most of the time I use them for decorating in the autumn months. 

And now a grouping of vegetables:

At the bottom are ‘Mesa Queen’ acorn squash flowers, and above are fava beans, corn and the last of the peas.  (I can’t believe I still have peas–normally they are done in by mid-July here.)   I am just barely seeing some tassels forming on the corn, but the peas have been going strong since July.

I think the fava beans are quite interesting plants to look at.  Here are the flowers from earlier this season:

Other vegetable plants in the garden:

These are ‘Royal Burgundy’ bush beans (curious name, because they are decidedly purple to me).  I’ve grown these for three years and they always produce a good crop, even under these cold growing conditions.  They are just at the picking and eating stage.

I’m also growing:

‘Scarlet Emperor’ runner beans.  I love the flowers and the beans on this pretty hummingbird plant.  Here’s more of a close-up:

Runner bean flowers, with some picasette garden art thrown in the rear of the photo.

Cucumbers have been problematic both this and last year.  Just like last year, I had to restart seeds three times before they would germinate–it was just too darn wet and cold for them earlier.  And it’s still realy cold for them, because they like it to be 60 degrees at night for them to ripen, and not once has it been that warm here.  Nevertheless, they grow on apace under plastic:

Here are the cukes tucked into bed for the night, and . . .

Here they are uncovered.  It needs to be 60 degrees at night for them to ripen, and thus my problem.  However, I am optimistically growing ‘Green Slam’, an early (ha) ripening slicing cuke, along with a new hybrid called ‘Rocky’, and some ‘Harmonie’ pickling cukes.  The ‘Harmonie’ cukes are the largest so far, but only a couple of inches long, and there are lots of flowers still on the vines.  We may have some cukes come September, who knows.

Some crops thrive in cooler weather:

These are beets that I use for beet greens in salads and for sauteeing.  The green leaves are ‘Chioggia’ beets, and the red leaves are ‘Bull’s Blood’ beets.  Both grow quite well here.

One success story is in the fruit department.  In my area and at my house, the berries have been tremendous this season.  We u-picked strawberries–39 pounds–which I made into freezer preserves and individually quick froze, and blueberries–35 pounds–that I preserved in the same manner.  Raspberries did not do so well at the u-pick farm that I went to, so I only ended up with a little cranberry-raspberry freezer preserves, but my own raspberries were very prolific.  I think there was so much rain earlier that it mooshed (that’s scientific of me) the roots of a lot of the raspberry plants here, so they just died, but mine came through unscathed.  Right now the June-bearing raspberries are finishing up, in August(!), and the bees are busy at work polinating the buds and flowers on the fall-bearing raspberries.  I have these beauties ripe and ready to eat now:

They are blackberries and marionberries in various stages of ripeness.  I wrote an earlier post showing and telling about how I trellis, prune and fertilize my berries, and they responded well to this treatment.  I grow a ‘Lochness’ blackberry, which is a thornless variety.  I have to say I’ve changed my tune a lot about the blackberries and marionberries.  They needed a few years to settle in and put down roots, but once they did, youza, have they been producing.

I also have apples:

This is the ‘Spitzenberg’ apple tree, which is part of my espaliered belgian fence in our backyard.  This heirloom is the first the ripen, but they don’t ripen until probably October this year.  I will give more updates as they mature.  Behind it is a ginormous butterfly bush, which the hummingbirds, swallowtail and monarch butterflies have been enjoying for several weeks.

I also have grapes (!) this year, once I got brave and took the pruners to this vine:

This is our ‘Einset’ grape, which is a red seedless table grape.  Obviously, it’s not ripe because the grapes are still green, but I’m thinking end of September or beginning of October these should be ready.  They grow on the open-air roof of a pergola where we dine during the warmer summer months (I’m still waiting for those months.)

Lettuce and salad greens have also been very successful this year as well.

This is mizuna on the top, which is an Asian mustard green that is not as invasive as the regular mustard greens, and Tatsoi–Bok Choy with the round dark green leaves at the bottom.  Both go into our salad bowls, as does the ‘Ruby Red’ Swiss chard with the red stems growing next to them.

My best lettuce to date has been the very earliest starts that I put in the ground in chilly March of this year.  However, here is a little bed that I planted in June.  This contains ‘Two Star’ leaf lettuce in the back with the frillier leaves, and ‘Concept’ lettuce, with more rounded leaves, in the front.  Both of these have consistently produced good lettuce all season.  I will put up a results list of my favorite lettuce and salad greens seeds based on how they grew in my garden later in the year.  I’ll leave you with this garden picture:

(PS–I dug my first new potatoes of the season, called ‘Dark Red Norland’ and they were great.  Had a lot less trouble with flea beatles this year, because I think the cold weather diminished their numbers.  I forgot to take a picture of the harvest, so intent was I on cooking and eating those red round tasties.)  How are your vegetables faring this interesting growing season?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments.  And don’t forget to visit the garden party.

Mid-Summer Flowers At Minerva’s Garden

I thought you might enjoy an update on some of the flowers that are blooming right now in my garden.  This is just a tiny sampling, but a few of the ones that are very noticeable and showy.

First, the calla lilies . . .

Yellow calla lily

This yellow calla is really tall–close to three feet.  There is a fragrant white star jasmine in bloom behind it, and golden creeping jenny in the foreground as the groundcover.  A pelargonium I started from seed back in February is in bud but not yet in bloom and sharing the container.

A closeup of the leaf . . .

One calla lily leaf

What a glorious leaf–can you imaging a single huge leaf in a modern-looking geometric glass vase for a formal dinner party?

Here is a pink calla lily.

Pink calla lily

This one is in a huge pond liner that I turned into a gigantic container, and it is engulfed by shares space with blue borage, which the bees adore, as well as nasturtiums.

Calla lilies are easy to grow, and you can save them over from year to year.  Because our weather has been cold in winter lately, I bring the tubers indoors for the winter, and start them in one-gallon pots indoors under lights in March to prepare them for planting outside in mid-May.  Water daily as needed, and Miracle Gro once a week throughout the summer, and they do great.

Now for some snapdragons.

Cherry snapdragon

I just think the color of this one is so amazing–such a bright, happy cherry color that screams “Summer is here!”  I started these from seed back in February, and then planted them outdoors in mid-May.  I have upright blue-grey Russian sage growing in the background, and Jupiter’s Beard in the same shade growing around it.

Here are snaps in white . . .

White snapdragon

I love the clean, crisp look of this flower, and especially like it with a background of grey-toned weathered wood behind it.  My hope is that both of these beauties will reseed in the garden and come back next year, as snapdragons sometimes will for me.

Here is a pretty combination:

'Double Lavender(?)' pelargonium, white yarrow and nasturtiums

I grew the pelargonium, commonly and confusingly known as geranium, from seed back in February.  The seeds are teeny tiny, and they came 10 seeds for three dollars–needless to say, you don’t want to try planting these in a wind storm or sneeze at the wrong moment!  However, they had a super germination rate, and I ended up with many new pelargoniums for my containers.  Although listed as ‘Double lavender,’ these look a decidedly baby pink to me, but I am still happy with them.  I like pelargoniums–you can bring them inside at the end of the growing season, pot them up in one-gallon containers, grow them under lights and have flowers all winter long!  One trick is to water them, in the winter months when they live indoors, only once every two weeks, and Miracle Grow them at the same rate.  I have some that are going on eight years old doing this!

Other summer flowers include zinnias and dahlia.

2 'State Fair Mixed' zinnias and an 'Arabian Nights' dahlia

I love this color combination of  shades of pinks with deeper burgundy–one of my mom’s favorites as well.  The zinnias I started from seed indoors in February,and the dahlia is a new one to me.  I potted it up indoors in mid-March, grew it under lights, and planted it outside in mid-May.  These are all growing in full sun in containers in my rooftop garage garden.  I adore these hues with the grey cedar fence background–so pretty.

Another look at different colored zinnias . . .

Bright 'State Fair Mixed' zinnias with blue tea cart

I love bright colors in the garden as well!  And it’s a good thing, because at this time of year the pastels are usually fading, and the flowers are turning brighter shades, mostly in order to attract bees so that the flowers can reproduce and then die.  Those bright colors help to attract the bees, so that the life cycle continues.  All I know is, the flowers are gorgeous–look at all that orange-red with the blue(!) and the bees are happy!

More zinnias . . .

'State Fair Mixed' zinnias

Wouldn’t you like to use these bright colors on your table for an outdoor party or dinner?  Imagine a green tablecloth with bright pink and orange blooms, and blue dishes?  Or blue and white print tablecloth, with white dishes and the bright flowers?  Stunning–get thee to a second-hand store and pick up fun dishes!  Many possibilities . . .

What flowers are blooming for you now in the middle of summer–leave me a comment below, because I love to hear from you and what is going on in your garden!

You can also join the Garden Party.

 

Guerilla Gardening on the Summer Solstice

Here is something to think about:

“Do what you can, with what you have, right where you are.” 

Theodore Roosevelt

That statement has always spoken to me, to not make excuses but to make an effort to move in the direction I want to go, in whatever aspect and capacity of life to which I wish to apply it. 

There was a film director that I met one time, and she made her mark in films way back when she was getting started by loading up her van with her camera and limited equipment, a skeleton crew and a very few actors, and heading off down the road.  When she saw a likely spot, they all got out and proceeded to shoot some scenes for a film, right where they were at.  She ended up with some good films.  She eventually was asked to direct a well-know television series as a guest director, and they wanted her to do her “guerilla directing” thing with the big show, but she couldn’t be spontaneous when it took 4 semi-truck loads of equipment to shoot one little scene for that big show.

But I digress.  Roosevelt’s statement also applies to gardening.

After spending a spring wishing and hoping for warm weather and that the rain would cease to fall in excessive amounts, I think I am finally past it.  I can wish and hope all I want, but the fact is it appears that this growing season is going to be quite similar to last year’s growing season, which was short and cold. 

This is a not a bad combination for my flowers, which are doing great and growing well.  It could spell disaster, however, for my vegetable garden. 

But, what I have going into this, and to my advantage, is the knowledge of the growing season last year.  This will help me to get into what I have been calling “guerilla gardening” mode, to help me get some kind of a reasonable vegetable crop from my garden this year.  Here are some tips that I am using with my vegetables this year, and I hope that they might help you as well in your gardening pursuits.

Get-real gardening.

  • Grow warm-season plants under plastic.  Let’s face the facts, shall we?  Where I live in SW Washington state, it has not reliably hit 50 degrees air temperature at night yet, on June 21st.  On and off, but not consistently.  It needs to be at least 50 degrees, and preferably 55 degrees overnight, before tomatoes will ripen–their ability to ripen, mature and turn red is based much more on the nighttime temperatures than the daytime.  What this means is that I am looking for ways to increase the nighttime temperature around my tomatoes.  I have planted my tomatoes, and placed tomato cages over them, then I put clear plastic over the top and sides of the cages, holding down the edges with rocks.   This plastic will raise the nighttime temperature by 3-4 degrees, which will help bump it up to at least 50 degrees, if not a bit more.  This will help your tomatoes ripen a lot faster than if they were uncovered.  Last year, I asked most of the farmers who had ripe tomatoes at the farmers’ market how they got their tomatoes to ripen, and nearly all of them, with farms located in this area, said that they had to cover them with plastic to get them to ripen, so that is what the professionals are doing.   Rain and any kind of water falling on the fruits is also another big enemy of a perfectly ripe tomato.  You want to keep rainfall off the tomato fruits as much as possible, or they rot very quickly and have lots of blemishes.  Plastic is very good for this purpose as well.  I also pretty much gave up growing the tomatoes that are late-season varieties–only one ‘Brandywine’ plant this year, for example, and more of the quicker cherry tomatoes.
  • It gets worse if you want to try to grow cucumbers, eggplant and peppers, or any of the melons.  These plants need 60 degree temperatures at night in order to mature.  For these, put hoop houses over your planting beds.    If you use PVC plastic pipe, found at a hardware store, and push it into the ground over your plants, it will form a half-circle, or a hoop.  On these hoops you can place clear plastic and hold it down with rocks at the corners, and clothes pins on top of the hoops.  The idea is that you don’t want the plastic to touch the plants.  Water condenses under the plastic, which helps to keep things moist under there.  Unfortunately, this will be high maintenance, because eventually July will roll around, and we will get some days that will be in the 80s and 90s.  On those hot days, you will need to open the plastic in the morning, make sure everything has enough water so they don’t dry out, and then cover them at night.  You will have to decide how much you love cukes, peppers and eggplant, and how much time you have to spend babying these plants, because they will take more work than some of the other things that are easier to grow.  Nearly every local grower at the farmers’ market last year who had ripe peppers for sale had to cover them with plastic to get them to turn red.  Just sayin’.   And every variety of eggplant, pepper and cuke that I grow are suited to short growing seasons, because those that need a long growing season will never ripen before we start getting colder autumn weather.  This is pretty hard with cukes, because I want to get as much growth as possible under plastic, to increase the temperature to improve growth, but eventually they get too big, and you have to put a trellis up for them to grow upon, so eventually (I wait until the last possible minute), you will not be able to cover the cukes any longer.  Then they have to be big enough to hopefully swim and not sink on their own with whatever the weather hands out.  The eggplant and peppers stay covered throughout the entire growing season until they die in the fall.  I have never had good luck with melons, so I wish you well if you want to give it a go–just be sure to plant short-season melons, and you might fare better than I.
  • To give them a headstart, I also cover my corn bed, as well as the pumpkin and squash bed, to warm it up for them to get a good start.  After the plants get too big, I end up uncovering them, but not until partway through July.

    'Ruby Red' Swiss Chard is a winner

  • So, what can you grow that will not be a pain in the neck for the gardener?  Here are some plants that I had good luck with last year, even though it was a very cold summer:  Lettuce, arugula, beets and beet greens, tatsoi, mustard greens, swiss chard, green beans, both bush and runner bean types, sugar snap peas.  It also appears that we are going to have a bumper crop of blackberries, raspberries and marionberries this year as well, without much work on my part.  (The bees have been very busy, on the other hand,  polinating all those flowers for me.)  If you want a garden that you don’t have to cover with plastic, you might want to focus on these crops that will grow just fine in cooler temperatures.  And that is totally an okay thing to do–why fight nature?  It is a fight very difficult to win, so why not go with what gets handed out and make it easy on yourself?  I have no problems with that.  It is just that I love, absolutely live for, home-grown tomatoes, and so I am willing to take the extra steps in order to get some of our own.  (I am also someone who monkeys around with fussy delphinium plants that need to be protected from slug attacks and need to have each bloom stem individually staked–you love what you love, what can I say.)  Another option is to purchase those warm-weather crops from farmers that are coming over from sunny and dry Eastern Washington and Eastern Oregon to the farmers’ markets to sell their wares, and then you grow what is easier to grow in your garden–this works very well, too. 

    'Purple Queen' bush beans and sunflowers in containers

  • In addition to colder weather, you might also have a lot of shade on your property due to large trees.  Vegetables need sun, so one solution is to go in for large container gardening.  You can grow all sorts of vegetables successfully in large containers.  I’ve grown tomatoes, peppers , eggplant, corn, sunflowers, lettuce, beans, peas and cukes in big containers.  The plants will not produce as much as they would if growing in the ground, but you can place the containers anywhere you have a sun spot, so you will likely have much more success in growing vegetables in this manner.  You will discover that the garden hose and fertilizer are your friends if you take this route, which is high maintenance.

    Corn and salad greens in containers

“Do what you can, with what you have, right where you are.”   If you want to vegetable garden this year, then don’t let the weather stop you.  Just know what you’re in for, so you can decide how you want to spend your time and energy.  And garden smart, like a guerilla gardener would, and you’ll have some success. 

Do enjoy the first day of summer, the Summer Solstice, today, and visit the Garden Party.


Columbine, Clematis and Friends

I got my first columbine plants as pass-along plants from my mother’s garden when we first moved into our home.  I’ve never purchased a columbine plant; I have several now, and many have undergone changes over the years, so that there are variations on the original plants that I started with.  I don’t know the specific variety names of the columbine that I grow, but I do know that they are spectacular now in the garden.  They require no special care, make excellent cut flowers for flower arranging, and the hummingbirds adore them as a nectar plant.

Here are a few that I grow:

This one shares its spot in the garden with another pass-along plant that I got from a friend, a hardy geranium in bright pink.  I love this really deep, dark purple color, with the little spot of yellow in the center setting it off nicely.

Here’s a variation on purple:

This purple columbine has a white edge that is quite striking.  I don’t recall that the first ones I planted here had that white edge, and I think these have developed in this way over time, but I could be wrong about that.

Another type of purple:

I like this purple ruffled double columbine–it reminds me of antebellum dresses that were worn in Gone With The Wind!

And now for some pink:

I love this delicate shade of pink.

Some variations on a theme:

A pink columbine with the white edge, nestled among other columbine.

A grouping now:

I like them grouped together, to play up all of their subtle differences–they are interesting to look at.

Some other plants in bloom at the same time as the columbine in my garden:

This is clematis ‘Asao.’  It grows in a large container, along with a few annuals that I pop in with it during the spring.  This container receives morning sun and afternoon shade, and it gets watered as needed and fertilized twice a month, except right before it blooms and of course when it’s dormant in wintertime.  It has been growing happily here for several years. 

Other flower friends nearby:

The stately foxglove.  These were growing here when we moved into the house, and over the years I have transplanted them all throughout the gardens.  If you like a really tidy, formal garden, these may not be the plant for you, because they reseed freely, but they are not what I would call invasive–they are easy to pull up and plant them where you like, or just give away or compost the excess that you have.  But what a gorgeous flower–the bees and hummingbirds also really love this flower.  Sometimes in the summertime, I will find bumblebees asleep inside these large tubular flowers early in the morning, before they have warmed up enough to fly away!

A closer look at the amazing color variations inside these lovely foxgloves.  I have some that bloom in white, as well as a deeper rose color.

Purple bearded iris that were given to me by a neighbor, dark Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Raven’s Wing’ with the white Queen Anne’s Lace-type flowers, and gobs of sky blue forget-me-nots surrounding.

And finally, blooming away inside is . . .

Amarylis ‘White Christmas.”  (Kind of misnamed–this one always blooms for me in May, lately.) 

What is new and in bloom in your garden?  Do let me know in the comments, and visit An Oregon Cottage for the Garden Party.


In Bloom Today!

Just a few photos from this warm late winter, dare I say it, early spring day:

 

This is yellow crocus, a few winter aconite, and the dark chocolate foliage of Anthiscus silvestrus “Ravenswing.”   Tulip foliage as well, but no flowers there yet.

Just a mix of crocus–it looks like the Easter Bunny’s basket exploded!  I love how the orange stamens contrast so nicely with the lavenders, purples and whites.

An unnamed hellebore that I picked up from the Master Gardener’s Plant Sale several years ago.  I love the rosey hues and gradiations of color that this flower offers. 

Across from the hellebore, I just put in yesterday an early salad greens little bed. 

This is what it looks like opened.  No germination yet, but I only planted it yesterday.

Some deep purple mini iris, a little shot of blue scilla in the front, with a dwarf golden evengreen on the left.

A favorite early flowering combination:  ‘Pickwick’ crocus with ‘Tete-A-Tete’ miniature narcissus.  There were the first bees that I’ve seen this year buzzing all around the crocus.  A little clump of forget-me-nots, not yet in bloom.

‘Flower Power’ crocus on the sidewalk that leads to one of the doors of the house.

What’s blooming in your garden?  Leave me a comment.

And while you’re at it, visit Jamie’s Garden Party.

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.

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.)

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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.)

       Patterns:

           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.

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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!

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!

 


Peas Flowering, Hardening Off Eggplant and Peppers, And Other Random Gardening Notes

In yesterday’s one blessed day of sunshine, I got several little projects accomplished.

  • The sugar snap peas are finally starting to flower.  They’ve gotten quite tall–maybe 5 feet.  Peas should be on the way soon.
  • I brought out my ‘Nadia’ eggplant and ‘Marconi’ Sweet Italian Frying pepper plant starts outside to begin hardening them off.  I hope to plant them outside next weekend, so I’m hardening them off to get them used to outdoor weather conditions before I do so.  I brought a few more tomato starts that were ready out to harden off as well.  Plus a couple of Bush morning glories, a variety called ‘Royal Blue Ensign’ that I had started from seed.  I love to use these for fillers in containers–they have small morning glory-shaped flowers in bright blue, with yellow and white in the center of the flowers.   For insurance, I put everything up on a table outside and sprinkled them with Sluggo, which is considered an organic-growing option for killing slugs.
  • Noticed that the slugs were destroying my baby salad greens that are about 4 inches tall in one of the upper beds, so I Sluggo’d that as well. 
  • Petunias are also a favorite of slugs, so Sluggo’d them in my containers, and deadheaded those that needed it.
  • I fertilized all the roses and clematis vines.  I used Miracle Grow, but you could also use a rose fertilizer.  They can be fertilized once a month throughout the summer and into early fall.
  • I planted sunflower seeds outside.  I am trying an ornamental sunflower called ‘Van Gogh’ that is supposed to reach 5-6 feet tall.
  • I deadheaded the ‘Niobe’ clematis vine.  This will help to keep it in flower off and on all summer long.  This one is pretty easy to grow and has beautiful burgundy flowers.  It flowers low on the vine, at about 5 feet up, and thus it makes a good partner for climbing roses.  I also deadheaded my ‘Asao’ clematis vine to tidy it up, and it may rebloom a little bit in the fall.
  • My ‘General Sikorski’ clematis is blooming.  Gorgeous lavender flowers–this is the vine that is depicted on the home page of Minerva’s Garden, and it is such a beauty.
  • I fertilized the hanging baskets and flower containers.  They are starting to grow nicely.  The nasturtium seeds in them and in others of my containers have germinated and they’re about 1-2 inches tall.
  • Since it was dry today, I reapplied diatomaceous earth to the potato leaves.  They are growing very well, but the rain keeps washing off the diatomaceous earth, so it’s been a battle to keep the flea beetles in check.  I have to keep reapplying it.  More information about flea beetles and how to kill them here.
  • I picked the first ripe strawberries from my plants.  Slugs tend to wreak havoc on these fruit as well, and so I grow my plants up in hayrack planters that are attached to a fence at about 3 1/2 feet up off the ground.  I fertilize them with complete organic fertilizer.
  • We actually put out one garden hose yesterday, but not because I have to water plants (except those under cover of our front stoop–they can dry out, so they get extra water).  Had to wash off a barbecue.
  • Finally, I sat out in the pergola and enjoyed the garden.

Hope you were able to get out and enjoy the sun yesterday as well!  I hope we get more in the very near future.  Leave a comment and let me know how your garden is growing.

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