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!
Advertisements

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.)

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

Flea Beetles and How To Deal With Them Organically

I noticed that my new potato leaves had little pin holes in them.  The cause is due to flea beetles.  Here is a picture of the pin holes:

Diatomaceous earth is an organic method for killing flea beetles.  I had some on some potatoes I grew in 2008, and they wintered over in the soil and went after my tomato starts in 2009 that I had planted where the potatoes were previously, but this nipped them in the bud right away before they did much damage to the plants.  You can also plant radishes nearby, because they like radishes better than tomatoes.  The beetles go after new growth on the tomatoes and potatoes, so if you get them  covered with the earth right away, the rest of the plant should be fine.  You can get diatomaceous earth at garden centers and some hardware stores.  It is white, and it is best not to breathe this stuff in, and try not to apply it on a windy day or it will blow off the plants.  It’s good to apply it after you have watered when the leaves are a little wet, because it will stick to them better.  However, it does need to be re-applied after rainy weather.  You sprinkle it on the leaves and on the surrounding earth.  It will look like this:

Just thought you might want to know–hope it helps you if you are dealing with this in your plants.