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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Pot Up Some Paperwhite Bulbs Today

Paperwhite bulbs starting to bloom

Today, November 7th, is the best day to pot up paperwhite bulbs if you’d like them in bloom for the winter holidays.  So easy–put potting soil in virtually any container that is at least one-gallon size deep and wider is better, plant the bulbs so they are completely covered with soil, water it in, and put it in the garage.  You want it to be somewhere where it won’t freeze but will be below 50 degrees, and where it is dark–you can cover the container with newspaper, and that works well.  Then wait.  By December, there will be green shoots coming up out of the soil.  When they are about two to three inches tall, you can bring the pot up, water it and place it in front of a bright window–I put mine in the dining room on the south side of the house, and it gets good light here.  They should be blooming near the end of the month, and will bloom into January (and who doesn’t need some fresh blooming flowers in January?)  These are annuals for me, so I usually just compost them when they finish blooming.  I’ve tried planting these outside to get them to rebloom outdoors next year, but they never really do much, even with fertilizer–they kind of give their all the first year and that’s about it, at least that has been my experience with them. 

Give it a try–it’s super easy and worth it!  Leave me a comment and let me know if you’re growing some paperwhites this year, and how you like to use them around the house in the winter season.

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.

Seasonal Cookbooks

It has been so rainy and I’ve been working on other things, thus I have curtailed garden activities for a while.  (Although I do have more seeds to start–I may have to gird my loins and get on with it even in the rain.)  But at this time of year, I am looking for seasonal recipes.  It annoys me to pick up a February-issue magazine and look through the recipes to find that they use all kinds of summer-grown ingredients.  Instead, I have been trying to find some new recipes and cookbooks that feature season-friendly recipes.  I have to say that I’ve been eating a lot of coleslaw, and would like to find something else that would be tasty and not break the bank.

Here is a list of some cookbooks that I have found that offer winter-friendly recipes:

Bartley, Jennifer.  The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook.  Portland:  Timber Press, 2010.  This is a fun book–it includes garden design plans, seasonal checklists, fresh recipes, plant profiles and growing tips, as well as flowers for the table, all based on a seasonal approach.

Chesman, Andrea.  Recipes From The Root Cellar:  270 Fresh Ways To Enjoy Winter Vegetables.  North Adama, MA:  Storey, 2010.  Another cool cookbook that offers ways to cook vegetables that you will often not find in stores except in the winter, such as salsify, and with a focus on root vegetables, greens and brassicas.  There are a lot of easy to make recipes that don’t call for a lot of ingredients, which is appealing.  Chesman has written a couple of other cookbooks that I look forward to reading, including Serving Up The Harvest and The Vegetarian Grill.

Dahl, Sophie.  Miss Dahl’s Voluptuous Delights:  Recipes For Every Season, Mood and Appetite.  New York:  William Morrow, 2009.  The recipes in this book focus on four-season cooking and using fresh ingredients. 

Webb, Robyn.  Flavorful Seasons Cookbook:  Great-Tasting Recipes For Winte,r Spring, Summer and Fall.  Alexandria, VA:  American Diabetes Association, 1996.  For those looking for some healthy options in winter recipes, this is a good place to start.  Each recipe lists preparation time, as well as a complete nutritional analysis. 

Weir, Joanne.  Winter:  Recipes Inspired By Nature’s Bounty.  San Francisco:  Weldon Owen, Inc., 1997.  This volume is part of the Williams Sonoma Seasonal Celebration line of cookbooks, and the photographs of each recipe are just gorgeous.  It offers tips for selecting winter ingredients, has pictures and detailed descriptions of winter vegetables, herbs, fruits, as well as winter ingredient preparation techniques.

I hope to preserve more food for next winter this gardening season.  I always do some, but I want to try to do more in this regard.

What are you cooking now in the winter?  Leave a comment, and also check out the Tuesday Garden Party.

 

Early Gardening Activities For February

I got my vegetable and flower seeds ordered and bought last week.  I normally do this in person, but circumstances this year did not allow for that, so I ordered almost all online.  I ordered from Territorial Seed, Johnny’s, and I am trying Pinetree based on their great prices as well as Jami’s word of recommendation at An Oregon Cottage.  They have a glorious selection of coleus seed, and I went a little crazy with that, but I should have some really gorgeous hanging baskets and containers this year, because I could get seeds that had been sorted into individual colors rather than mixes–I cannot wait!  I will be starting flower seeds around Valentine’s Day, so they’ll be ready to transplant in the middle of May.  I was actually a little late apparently getting my order in at Johnny’s, because they had already run out or had backorders for a couple of the seeds I wanted, but I was able to get my second choices, so it all worked out.  They are really expensive for their shipping costs, but they are also the only place I know to get ‘Nadia’ eggplant seed (a must-have for me because it grows well here, or rather, as well as any eggplant grows here), and they were cheaper in certain instances than Territorial.  I had to figure out the seed cost on a per seed basis (I was seeing double by the end of that mathematical experience), and sometimes Johnny’s was cheaper and sometimes Territorial.  (If you buy a lot of seed, the cost adds up very quickly.  All those packets look so innocent, and you think,”Well, it’s only a couple of dollars.” but it ends up being a lot of money if you are not careful.)  It’s best to get all your seed in the spring, because seed is not always available later in the season, so it always seems expensive to me, but when you consider how much food and flowers it will produce, it’s actually much cheaper than other options, like buying transplants from a nursery.

I got a few little jobs accomplished yesterday out in the garden.  First, I started a little bit of onion, lettuce and spinach seed inside under grow lights to get a few transplants to go outside under plastic in March.  Today I started sprouting my early ‘Dark Red Norland’ seed potatoes inside under lights, as those will be planted out later around the first weekend in April, depending on the weather.  You can read how to do it here.

Next, I moved on to the flower beds.  Slugs are always around, and so I took Sluggo and put it around all my emerging bulb foliage, the hostas, tradscantia and hellebores.  (That’ll fix ’em .)  I then picked the dead leaves off of my ‘Asao’ and ‘Louise Rowe’ clematis vines.  The weather has been fairly warm here, and many of the clematis and roses are starting to break dormancy, so there was a lot of new growth on both.  (The fruit trees and hydrangeas are also beginning to break dormancy as well.)  Now they look a lot neater.  I tied them back into position, so they are all ready to go.

I then noticed the curb strip was looking a little worse for wear, so I went down and cut down dead foliage, and raked up leaves that had caught around the plant crowns.  I used those leaves to mulch nearby flower beds, so that worked out well.

After that, I picked a little mustard greens, arugula and swiss chard that had wintered over under plastic in the garden!  Made greens and feta with penne pasta for dinner with some of it. 

I have yellow crocus and winter aconite blooming–so pretty.  My snowdrops have been blooming for a couple of weeks now, and the winter jasmine is in gorgeous display.  ‘Arnold Promise’ Chinese witch hazel is blooming, but it had a lot of the flower buds blasted by freezing temperatures early this winter, so not so many flowers this time around.  The ‘Texas Scarlet’ flowering quince is about to bloom.  There are even one or two blooms on the forsythia, very early.  And the viburnum continue to bloom off and on–they got their buds frozen late last year, so fewer blooms there, but more appear as the weather warms.  The ‘ Tuscan Blue’ rosemary has also been blooming for a couple of weeks, but much more now as the weather warms.  The rosemary is situated right in front of our dining room windows, and the hummingbirds are often out there eating from the rosemary flowers!

Hope your garden is doing well–leave me a comment and let me know what you are doing in yours.

Please visit An Oregon Cottage for The Garden Party.

The Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow . . .

. . . and I hope to be outside in the garden because of it.  Just mostly weeding, but it will be nice to be outside for a while.  A lot of bulbs are poking up out of the ground already–I went around and Sluggo’d them yesterday, because they are prime food for the little gastropod mollusks.  The snowdrops are also about to open, and the primroses are blooming away right now.  All got chomped by slugs, and so they all got a dose of Sluggo yesterday.  The birds, including the hummingbirds, have been having a great time at the bird feeders in recent days.  The Chinese Witch Hazel, ‘Arnold Promise’ has buds that are swelling, so will have some flowers soon if the weather holds.  I have a bit of mustard greens and arugula still holding on under plastic outside, but I’ve been busy and haven’t checked them out much lately, so that’s on my list for tomorrow as well.  When February rolls around, the weather warms just enough that some of those tough salad edibles that have been languishing in the garden tend to spring back to life, so I am looking forward to that as well.

Also, an addendum to my last post about Molasses in the Garden.  I read an article in Organic Gardening Magazine that said that using molasses in compost tea is not safe to use around food plants, as it may spread salmonella and e.coli bacteria to them, so be warned.  Fine for use around ornamental plants like flowers and shrubs, though, which is where I am going to use it.

The winter jasmine is blooming away, especially when we get a few warm days in this bleak midwinter.  It’s grey days like this when I dream about March and daylight savings time beginning on March 13th this year.

It’s not far off–in the meantime, I need to get busy and look at seed catalogues and decide what to get.

The Promise of Spring . . .What is your gardening promising you in this New Year?  Leave me a comment and let me know!

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!


Forsythia in Bloom!

It’s early, but the forsythia is in bloom already.  This yellow deciduous shrub is a great early bloomer, with bright yellow flowers.  It also functions as a living trellis for my ‘Polish Spirit’ purple clematis, which blooms in the summer when the forsythia is out of bloom.

Its partner in this picture is a flowering viburnum shrub, an evergreen one that has a very long season of bloom, and is a great winter food source for hummingbirds.

Is your forsythia in bloom?  What else do you grow with it–leave me a message in the comments.

Flowering Quince Starting To Bloom

The beautiful and bright flowering quince is starting to bloom in my garden.  The Latin name of this particular cultivar is Japanese flowering quince Chaenomeles X ‘Texas Scarlet’, and it is a beauty.  Here is a picture:

You can make a beautiful winter combination of this shrub, which is a hummingbird food plant, along with Chinese witch hazel ‘Arnold Promise’, which blooms at the same time, along with Viburnum, an evergreen shrub that has pink buds and white flowers, hummingbird food, which blooms for a very long time and comes in a wide variety of cultivars, and then underplant with crocus, grape hyacinths, ‘Tete-A-Tete’ mini narcisus and mini irises.  Absolutely beautiful!

Leave a comment, and tell us if you grow other cultivars of Japanese flowering quince.

Chinese Witch Hazel ‘Arnold Promise’ Blooming!

This Chinese witch hazel, ‘Arnold Promise,’ Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise,’ is so pretty in bloom on bleak and gray January days.  The flowers look to me like tiny yellow spiderwebs, or silky yellow streamers.  Most years, we get a prolonged cold snap in December and January, which is when this large deciduous shrub is setting its buds, and it tends to blast the buds before they flower.  It was much warmer so far this winter, and thus the nice bloom.

I have read that this is a hummingbird plant, but will need to check on that.  Also, the leaves of this plant in the autumn are absolutely a gorgeous spun yellow color.

In my garden, I underplanted ‘Arnold’ with early flowering bulbs and perennials including purple grape hyacinths, ‘Tete-A-Tete’ minature narcisus, purple and yellow crocus, and a clump of white candytuft, Iberis Sempervirens.  These bulbs and perennials are not yet in bloom, but by the looks of things will be soon.

Here is a picture of ‘Arnold’:

This is more of a close-up of the flowers, but look at how nicely it is set off by the color grey of not only the sky but also the stone wall behind it.  Always give your flower beds a good backdrop, and the look of them will improve tremendously!

Please leave a comment–do you grow ‘Arnold’ in your garden or other types of witch hazel, and if so, what types of companion plants do you grow with it?

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