Monday, October 5, 2009

October in the Garden

Harvesting, putting your garden to bed and preparing for next spring are the biggest tasks this month. This means raking leaves, planting garlic, mowing the lawn and planting your spring flowering bulbs! October is still a great time to plant trees and shrubs, the ground typically wont freeze until mid December so plants should have several weeks of root growth before going completely dormant.

Picking pumpkins should wait until they are completely orange. They will continue to ripen on the vine as long as temps stay above freezing. If you didn’t get a chance to grow pumpkins in your own garden this year, there are some great U-Pick-It farms around. The Massachusetts Department of Agriculture has a comprehensive list by county:

Spring Flowering Bulbs, if you haven’t made your selections yet, there are lots of good deals and places to get bulbs. The key to selecting healthy bulbs is to pick ones that have weight to them. Pick your bulbs as you would an onion or clove of garlic – meaty, not mushy or dry. And remember to augment your selection of Daffodils, Crocus and Tulips with other beauties. For easy April blooms try: Chionodoxa, Scilla and Muscari. For May to June blooms try: Alliums, Hyacinthoides, Leucojum and Eremurus.

And if you buy more bulbs than you can finish planting, remember to store them in a cold (not freezing!), dry location for the winter, like an unheated basement or garage. Then in the early spring you can pot them up and force them for indoor bloom.

Start Amaryllis bulbs for Holiday blooms. Many species of Amaryllis take 8 weeks or so to bloom, and be careful not to over water those bulbs while waiting for growth to start!

Lawns should be mowed for as long as the grass keeps growing. Some years that will carry into December. Your lawn will also benefit from a fall application of fertilizer, giving it the carbohydrates needed to help survive winter. Rake leaves early and often before they get matted and moldy, this can save a lot of lawn related headaches. Also, take note of areas with crabgrass, nothing can be done at the moment, but note those problem areas and apply a preemergent early next spring to get a jumpstart on controlling that weed.

Now is a great time to fertilize trees and shrubs, especially if they did not get a spring application. Do not be tempted to prune them though, until after they are dormant. Pruning now will encourage new growth and instead you want them to save their energy for winter and next spring.

Clean, repot and bring in the last of your houseplants. Keep an eye out for freezing temperatures, but I leave my Christmas cactus out as long as possible to try to get it to bloom at Christmas (rather than Thanksgiving). The Christmas Cactus needs 12 to 14 hours of dark each day to trigger the set of blooms, and there is some evidence to show that bright outdoor lights may upset this process so be sure your plants are shaded from artificial light to ensure good bud set.

Thank you to everyone who has sent in ‘Questions for Cory’, keep those great questions coming.

Q. My Iris are taking over the garden, can I move them now? Or should I wait until the spring?

A. This is a great time to divide and relocate spring blooming perennials. Siberian Iris (Iris sibirica), in particular, benefit from dividing every 3 years. If you have noticed a lack of foliage growth or reduced blooms in the center of the plant, this is most likely an indication that your Iris needs to be divided. Also, go ahead and divide or relocate hardy perennial herbs such as Mint, Chive, Oregano, Tarragon and Lemon Balm. This year many early flowering perennials were very prolific with seed production and their “Offspring” have cropped up all over the garden. Volunteers from worthy garden plants such as: Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla), Columbine (Aquilegia), Foxglove (Digitalis) and Goat’s Beard (Aruncus) can be relocated or shared with neighbors and friends.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September in the Garden

September is a great time to catch up in the garden. Weeding, seeding, planting and dividing are all good chores for September, and in many cases it is the best time for landscape projects. Here are some suggestions to get you started.

Fall is a great time to also plant many trees and shrubs. Look for plants with healthy leaves and strong stems or trunks. Also take a tour of the Arnold Arboretum to see what those shrubs, trees and vines may look like in a few years. They have free, guided tours available as well easy self-guided gardens such as the Leventritt shrub and vine garden.

Divide and replant perennials such as Iris, Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum), Hosta and others that have thrived in your yard. Share the surplus with friends and neighbors, also many perennials freely self-sow (Echinacea, Digitalis, Coreopsis and others), these “Babies” are easy to dig up and share as well.

Chances are if they work in your yard they will work in others.

Reseed bare spots in your lawn, September is best time of year, whether you are repairing bare patches or creating a new lawn. And remember that seed needs a little bit of water every day to germinate effectively, just enough water to moisten not drown the seeds.

Later this month, dig up your ‘tender bulbs’ Gladioli, Cannas, and Dahlias. Trim off the brown shoots and roots and store in a cool dry place for the winter.

Start repotting houseplants in preparation to bringing them back indoors. I scatter my houseplants all over my yard, under shrubs or in bare spots in the garden and typically I forget one poor plant and lose it to frost.

Thank you to everyone who has sent in ‘Questions for Cory’. I will try my best to answer those questions here.

Q. My Hydrangeas are huge this year and I want to prune them back. Is this a good time to do it?

A. Great question. And for the most part I would say yes, but there are several species of Hydrangea and not all have the same requirements, so here is a more thorough answer. Smooth Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens) – Big white blooms in June, this shrub blooms on new wood, so I would prune this shrub in winter or early spring. Most common cultivar is “Annabelle”. Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) – Probably the most common Hydrangea, white or blue blooms of mophead or lace cap form. This shrub blooms on old wood so pruning should happen right after blooming stops or you run the risk of pruning off next year’s flowers. That said, the new Endless Summer hybrids have taken out all the guesswork and worry for us. These plants bloom on new and old wood, and bloom for a full 3 months, so prune these shrubs whenever you feel like it with little consequences. Panicle Hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) – This shrub has made a huge comeback in standard form and with prettier cultivars. The latest blooming of the Hydrangeas, this shrub also blooms on new wood so winter or spring pruning is best. Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) – The easiest to tell apart due to the leaf shape (shaped like Oak leaves), this shrub blooms in June on old wood so DO NOT PRUNE now! Pruning is best done in early July right after it blooms, and the flower buds can be subject to winter kill with temps below -15’. Also, keep in mind the 1/3 rule – “Never prune off more than 1/3 of a plant in one year”.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

August Gardening Chores

Reclaiming your garden. Weeding is a perennial chore (pun intended) but this year weeds seem to have thrived more than usual. I blame the rain, but whatever the reason, the weeds are taking over and have buried half of my perennial garden. The half, which seemed to be doing the best this year are part shade plants which were not overwhelmed by all the rain and lack of sun this summer. For instance Daylilies (Hemerocallis), False Dragon’s Head (Physostegia) and Fall blooming Windflower (Anemone) have bloomed quite vigorously this year and spread. So this fall will be a wonderful time to divide those plants, and maybe share some with friends or neighbors.

Powdery mildew has been a real problem this summer with the rain and high humidity, this

fungi looks like baby powder coating leaves of perennials, shrubs and even trees. The fungus can be treated with a fungicide or even a simple solution of baking soda. Also, make sure that

there is plenty of air circulation around the plant. If your Monarda, Roses, Paeonias and Phlox (etc.) are infected, thin out the plants and dispose of the infected leaves (not in your compost!) as the fungus can over winter.

Bulb catalogues are starting to fill up mailboxes. Before you place your order, find those pictures of your spring garden and determine which bulbs are ready to be divided or moved and then select your additional plants. Keep in mind that bulb planting shouldn’t start before October. You can get some great discounts by ordering early and responsible companies won’t ship them until proper planting time. But for the others, be sure you have a cool, dry place to store your bulbs until you can plant them.

Consider keeping your lawns longer, mow at 2 1/2” to 3”. The UMass Turf department reminds us that longer blades of grass directly correlate to deeper roots (and deeper roots need less frequent watering).

Thank you to everyone who has sent in ‘Questions for Cory’. I will try my best to answer those questions here.

Q. I would love to see you post some advice, and or pics of pruning a lilac. I have one that is 8 feet high, gangly and in need of a severe pruning.

A. This is such a great question, and Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)

does get gangly and top heavy and a healthy plant can rebound quickly from very aggressive pruning. So don’t be shy.

Here is how I typically approach rejuvenating or “hard pruning” Lilacs: start by taking out the oldest wood, the gnarly, desiccated branches in which insects are probably making homes. If they have open cavities, signs of borer insects or breaks then prune them all the way to the ground, if they are relatively healthy, then hard prune them leaving 18” from ground to top of branch.

Step back and look at the shrub, and surrounding area. Chances are the growth is at the top third of the plant, and the plant is probably 3’ taller than you want it to be. Which means that you will be removing 90% of the foliage to bring the shrub down to the height you want. For a Common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris), this is OK. Next step, I take out about half of the main branches, so if you have 12 main branches to your shrub, pick the 6 oldest, weakest, or most poorly shaped and prune them to the ground. Leaving 6 strong, straight and healthy branches. Then, if you want your ultimate shrub height to be 5’, prune your remaining branches to 4’ tall (1’ less than desired height). This picture shows a Lilac 4 weeks after we pruned as described above. Notice all the healthy, new growth at the base of the plant. This new growth will continue to grow and "fill in" the skeletal area framed by the old branches left behind.

There are lots of other methods and approaches to pruning Common Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris). And healthy Lilacs will tolerate almost anything, so feel (to use my daughters new favorite word) empowered and go for it. This method is not the same you would use for other shrubs or other species of Lilac, like Meyer Lilacs (Syringa meyer “Miss Kim”) or other small leaved Lilacs, which have a different growth habit and often a single main stem.

The best time to prune Lilacs is early June, after the blooms have faded. But if you missed the window and can’t wait until next year, just be sure to fertilize your shrubs after pruning, and water regularly for the next two months. And keep in mind that Lilacs (like other European plants) benefit from annual liming.

And my last note on Lilacs, I have seen scale (Peach scale?) and aphids on a lot more Lilacs this year. And scale is a nightmare to get rid of, so be sure to clean your tools between pruning jobs, especially if sharing with neighbors. It will help slow the spread of some of these insects.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

July Gardening Chores

With all the rain we have had this June, watering has not been a big issue in the garden. But the lack of sun has presented some challenges. Many sun-loving annuals (Including vegetables) are significantly smaller than normal at this time of year, new grass has not filled out (lawns need water and sun to get established) and many plants are infected with powdery mildew, fungi and rusts. Treat these infected plants now, clip off and discard the damaged leaves. Also wash your pruning shears after doing so, to reduce the spread of infection to other plants in your yard.
With July on the way, watering will probably take a front seat in the garden chores department again. And proper watering techniques are crucial to your plants continued health and growth though the summer. Long, soaking watering sessions a few times a week is best. These deep soakings are best for most plants and plantings other than germinating seeds. Use soaker hoses or other ground level sprinklers to quickly get the water where the plants need it – to the roots. Running your lawn sprinklers 
at mid-day, in full sun on a hot day, is not efficient watering. Most of the water will evaporate before it reaches the roots of your thirsty plants. This can also scorch the leaves of many garden plants, similar to applying baby oil to your skin and running around in full sun.

“Volcano Mulching” is NOT a good mulching practice. 
This method of mulching is actually the exact opposite of any known proper mulching technique. Mulch SHOULD NOT touch the bark or trunks of trees and shrubs, applying mulch in this fashion will only invite mildew, fungus, insects and diseases to move in. Also if the mulch is highest around the trunk and lowest at the outside drip line, you are pushing all the water away from the tree or shrub 
roots. “Proper Mulching” (about 2” to 3” deep) should be flush to grade or create a “water well” (small lip of mulch encircling the trunk) about 
the same width as the root ball. Mulching in this Proper Mulching fashion can help reduce water evaporation at the root level where plants need it the most, it helps keep down weeds (which compete with your plants for sun, water and other nutrients; and it keeps the soil temperature up to 25’ cooler which promotes better root development.

Also if you are heading off on vacation this month, mow and water your lawn before you leave. When mowing your lawn follow the 1/3 rule. Cut no more than 1/3 of the grass blade in a 
single mowing. This reduces the stress to the remaining blade and ensures the clippings are small enough to be left in place for ‘mulching’ as they quickly decompose. The best schedule I have found is to water your lawn in the early morning and then mow in the early evening. This way cut 
blades are not exposed to the drying heat of the day.

Other garden chores for July: Prune sucker growths on tomato plants, for the best fruit production. Suckers are additional shoots, which form where a leaf connects to the main stem. And to avoid blossom rot or cracking of the tomato skin, keep the soil around your tomato plants evenly moist. Mulching can help.

When harvesting blueberries, remember to leave them on the bush for several days after they have turned blue for the sweetest flavor. Netting your bushes will help prevent the birds from eating your berries before you do.

Deadheading (removing spent blooms) of many annuals and perennials will encourage repeat blooms. Also an aggressive prune of many perennials such as Nepeta and Salvia now, will promote new growth and flowers for late summer.

And towards the end of this month, stop watering any Amaryllis you are trying to hold over from last winter (even if it has green leaves), and move them to a cool, dark spot (unfinished basement is what I use). Leave the bulbs in their pots untended until October. A colleague of mine recommended turn the pots on their side so you don’t accidentally water them.

Thank you to everyone who has sent in ‘Questions for Cory’, keep those great questions coming.
Q. I have a Bleeding Heart on the side of my house along the driveway, next to a row of large Hostas. It was the first plant to show it's head this spring with lots of beautiful deep pink blossoms. It looked so healthy and vibrant, but now the leaves are starting to look dried out (even though I water when we don't get a lot of rain). Do you know what this could be or what I can do?
A. I suspect your first instinct is correct, and your Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is drying out. Dicentra is a great shade plant, like Hosta, but it is a bit pickier about soil. Dicentra prefers cool and moist soil, and being next to a driveway can be a tough location. Even if you are watering, in the summer the sun heats up the driveway and that heat dries the surrounding soil. If (after the past week of cool and rainy weather) the plant perks up, and you can see new growth at the soil level, this would be a good indicator that your Dicentra should be moved. Try Narcissus (Daffodils) in the same location for an early spring bloom, they did not mind the dry summer soil.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

June Gardening Chores

Blooming has been incredible this year, from the Lilacs, Viburnums, and Rhododendrons to some lesser known plants including Kolkwitzia (Beauty Bush) which has pink flowers with yellow throats. This large, vase shaped, old fashioned shrub is blooming with abandon right now, but goes unnoticed the rest of the year, even the deer don’t seem to find it attractive. I have also been asked frequently about Cladrastis (Yellow Wood) a mid size, fast growing tree which has had fragrant white blooms dripping all over it the past few weeks. Both are at the end of their bloom cycle now, but are hardy and relatively pest free plants.
Garden chores for June: Prune! A good rule of thumb is to prune a woody plant after it finishes blooming which means now is an excellent time to tame your Syringa (Lilacs), Rhododendrons, Wisteria, Viburnums and Pieris. This way you can shape them as needed without sacrificing next year’s blooms.

Set out your vegetable transplants on a cloudy day to prevent wilting. When buying vegetable plants it is better to purchase stocky ones rather than tall spindly ones.

After harvesting your spring lettuces and radishes, Plant fall harvest crops such as beans, turnips, late cabbage and Brussel Sprouts. It is also a good time to mulch your garden to help keep the weeds down and the moisture levels up.

Father’s Day is June 21th, give dad a special treat and mow the lawn for him. Or help him weed out the crabgrass. Young crabgrass is fairly easy to pull out (be sure to get the roots), and spot seed bare areas with a “patch” mix (typically a blend of mulch and lawn seed). This will help keep the seed moist to encourage germination as the days and nights get warmer.

Consider keeping your lawns longer, mow at 2” to 3”. The UMass Turf department states that longer blades of grass correlate to deeper roots (and deeper roots need less frequent watering).

The Red Lily Beetle is active and laying eggs. This beetle eats the leaves of all true lilies (Lilium spp) and Frittillaria, and they can decimate those plants. They do not eat Day Lilies (Hemerocallis spp). You can easily hand remove the bright red beetles from the Lilly leaves and dispose of them, but also check under the leaves for the slug like egg masses and remove those as well.

For new plantings, soaker hoses get the water to the root level rather than wasting it on the leaves. And don’t water in the middle of the day on a hot, sunny day. This includes lawns. The water will evaporate before it gets to the roots, and may even cause scorching (sun burn) on the leaves of some plants.

Friday, May 1, 2009

May Gardening Chores

Spring is in full swing, and just in time for Mother’s Day, May 10! For a Mother’s Day gift that last longer than cut flowers, consider planting a tree or shrub for Mom. There are some excellent bloomers this month including: Silverbell (Halesia tetraptera): Low branched tree with white bell shaped flowers and grey striped bark; Crab Apples (Malus sp): densely branched tree blooming white, pink or red; Koreanspice Viburnum (Viburnum carlesii): Mid size shrub with white blooms of the sweetest scent; Little leaf Lilac (Syringa patula “Miss Kim”): Rounded densely branching shrub with fragrant blooms, not as large or gangly as common Lilac but with an excellent fall color. Lilac Sunday at the Arnold Arboretum is also May 10th this year, call or visit their website for more information. Also, keep in mind that if you wish to avoid the crowd, the shrubs are in bloom before and after this date.

May is a glorious time in the garden and also a very busy month for garden chores; here are some tips to help keep your garden on track this month.

Prune back the winter damaged branches allowing for more sunlight and air circulation to encourage the new growth. I have seen quite a bit of “Sunburn” damage this year, especially to Rhododendrons, which may have gotten too much sun from the reflective snow cover this past winter. But by now you should see new buds and new growth on the plants, which is a sign that they will bounce back. The exception is of course plants in deep shade, which may need another week or two to show signs of life; and our garden teenagers who “sleep until noon” meaning they may not leaf out until late May or occasionally June (Clethra, Itea and Hostas to name a few).
It is also a good time to sow your annual flower seeds and vegetable seeds such as beets, carrots and radishes. Plant these seeds directly in the soil. It is also very easy to grow many herbs and veggies in pots on a Deck or in a Patio space. This close proximity to the house can make it easier to monitor their watering and possible attack from bunnies and other pests.

Consider a system for collecting and storing rainwater, which you can then use when your plants are thirsty, like those 90’ days we have experienced already this spring. The systems come in a variety of sizes, styles and complexities from a simple barrel (with lid to prevent mosquitoes and other pests) to some of the newer “rain harvesting” systems which collect, filter and store water to be used by the homeowner for watering or creating a sustainable water feature in your garden.

Fertilize bulbs blooming right now with 5-10-5 or similar fertilizer if you want them to bloom next year. Work about a teaspoon into the top of the soil around each clump. And be sure to ‘Leave the Leaves’ until they turn brown, they are still gathering energy for next year’s blooms. Some tulips were hard hit by the heat wave, this is a good reminder that even in April supplemental watering may be necessary. And with proper care these bulbs should also return next year.
Fertilize your lawn, selecting a product with at least 30% of the nitrogen in a slow release formula. Check the your lawn grass for tearing after you mow, you may need to sharpen your mower blades. Ragged cuts turn the grass tips brown a day or two after mowing and can allow diseases to enter the grasses.

And last but not least - Weed, weed, weed your garden. ‘One year of weed equals seven of seed’ if you let those annual weeds grow and set seeds you will be haunted by their offspring for years to come. Many annual weed seeds can remain dormant for years just waiting for the right time to come back and haunt you.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

April Gardening Tips

The birds are singing, the Crocuses are blooming, kids are riding their bikes and my mailbox is full of glossy plant catalogues, it must be spring. If your green thumb is itching, here are some tips to get your garden ready:
This spring is much wetter than last year, which essentially is good for the plants, but as you go about your spring clean up tasks avoid the soggy areas. Excessive traffic on a wet lawn can cause poor aeration, one of the reasons ‘Rolling lawns’ in the spring is no longer a preferred practice.

The best way to keep weeds out of your lawn is to keep your lawn grass healthy. Tune up your mower (sharpen the blades so they don’t tear the grass), rake, fertilize and apply limestone every three years. Add some limestone to your Lilacs (Syringa) and Lavendar (Lavandula) too.

Begin removing mulch from your perennial beds, and gently cut back any remaining perennial husks, you may be surprised at how many new sprouts are starting already. If you are using mulch to protect tender plants keep the mulch down a bit longer, the days are warm but it is still dropping into 30’s in the evening.

Start your vegetable garden with spinach, lettuce, carrots and radish seeds. If you have not grown vegetables before, consider growing your vegetables in containers, which can be more easily monitored and work your way up to a dedicated plot.
Prune rose canes; you should be able to determine the ‘dead areas’ now, start by cutting back to a live bud on the green area (live cane) Apply 10-10-10 fertilizer.

Consider increasing your shrub border and reducing lawn area. A well-designed shrub border can provide 4-season interest with less maintenance and less water us than a typical lawn.

Check your Hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis and Tsuga caroliniana) for the wooly adelgid. Look along the underside of branches for fluffy white matter. These are the eggs. If you find some on your trees you can treat with Horticultural oils (which are safe for humans and wildlife) on dry days when the weather is over 45’, or consult a certified arborist.

Thank you to everyone who has sent in ‘Questions for Cory’, keep those great questions coming. I will try my best to answer those questions here.

Q. Do you have any suggestions for an easy to grow fruit that my kids will enjoy? They don’t eat many vegetables but I want to grow something we can all enjoy.
A. Try Strawberries and Blueberries both are relatively easy to grow and pest free, except for the birds and animals that will try to eat them. Strawberries can be easily grown in containers, and plants can be treated as annuals or as a multi-year crop. Lowbush Blueberries (Vaccinum angustifolium) grow wild all over New England and grow less than a foot tall, but produce very sweet little berries. Highbush Blueberries (Vaccinum corymbosum) are also native, but the hybrids and cultivars (ranging in height from 4’ to 12’) produce much sweeter berries than the wild shrubs. The hardest thing about growing blueberries is keeping away the birds until harvest, netting helps and truly the fruit tastes best when allowed to ripen fully on the bush.

Q. I put some bulbs in my garage last fall and somehow forgot that they had not gone into the ground. Any suggestions as to what I should do with them at this point? The box appears to be “growing” a bit!
A. This happens more often than you would expect! If you have left over bulbs, which did not get planted, first check them to see if they are still viable. A healthy bulb should feel firm and fleshy like an onion or head of garlic. If it feels mushy or light and dry then they did not survive. Plant the survivors in old terra cotta pots and place them in a cool, dark area to encourage root growth for a few weeks, then move them into sun to encourage blooming or plant directly in your garden.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Delightful Distractions

It started with a few leaves around a cluster of crocuses, the rain had finally stopped and I want to encourage those crocuses to bloom so I pulled away the matted leaves. Then I saw the tiny blue Chionodoxa blooms, which always make me think of smiles, and I needed to free them from the last vestiges of winter’s grasp. This included the husks of old Iris leaves, which I cut back to discover the tiny new green Iris siberica growth, tinged with red; and the Narcissus dotted throughout. Needless to say, I had to keep going.

Denied the sheer joy of “fingers in the earth” for the past four, cold, winter months, I felt ravenous as I tore through the garden debris and on to each new emerging promise of a beautiful spring. On and on I went, stopping only to grab a new lawn and leaf bag, or another garden tool – knowing full well I should be in my office getting work done – but feeling giddy from the joy of all these new treasures growing. A clump of new Narcissus I planted last fall can’t wait to see the blooms! Trusty Geranium sanguineum, Potentilla fruiticosa and Nepeta “Walker’s Low” already unfurling their leaves. An old stand of Campanula persicifolia putting up new leaves, like Phlox subulata, Iris germanica and Iberis sempervirens the low foliage stays green(ish) all winter! Which is key for breaking up those swaths of winter dirt when your perennials are dormant.

Alas, all good stories must come to an end. And my tale ended with a phone call, finally dragging me into my office, a bit stiff from lack of practice, but truly invigorated from my little foray. I guess I am lucky that dirty nails and knees give me ‘street cred.’ in this business.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Maintaining winter sanity with indoor bulbs

After 2 weeks of increasingly warm temps, I had lulled myself into believing that spring was on its way. Of course, Mother Nature slapped me back to reality as I awoke to peals of laughter and “Snow Day!” echoing through the house.

As if to make a small peace offering, my Freesia did begin to bloom and the fragrance has excellent restorative powers. I have always loved forcing bulbs indoors, having grown up in New England I have found the need to creatively garden indoors during the long winter months. Bulbs are an excellent way to surprise yourself, bring a little extra something to your normal repertoire of houseplants. There are the usual casts of characters, most often grown for the Christmas season: Amaryllis (the choice of colors and shapes is staggering), Paperwhites (the easiest of the Narcissus for indoor blooms), Hyacinths and so on. And for the most part, if you tire of them, toss them when they are done. But this year is the first time I tried Freesia and I have not been disappointed.

For anyone who has bought Freesia for cut flowers, the fragrance is sweet but not overpowering like Narcissus “Ziva”. The foliage is nothing to write home about, and it takes 3 months to bring newly planted bulbs to bloom (similar to Amaryllis), but my patience has rewarded me with 2 dozen stalks of Freesia blooms in varying states of bud swell/bloom. And I will therefore survive a few more weeks of winter. The trick to forcing Freesia is to be sure your newly planted bulbs get LOTS of sun and not too much heat. I would think grow lights would be perfect, but I put mine in a south facing window, and watered them nearly every day. The cultivar I selected is Freesia “Volante” which is a double form, and although it was purported to be white I think the blooms are more ivory or cream. I planted up 3 pots, with 8 or so bulbs in each (Freesia bulbs are small reminding me of Allium caeruleum) and they are leggy, I keep turning the pot to lean against the window. I have never been fond of staking, but it could be laziness.

Veltheimia bracteata is a tried and true indoor bulb, which I treat as a houseplant. Unlike most bulbs the leaves remain viable year round, and it is quite long lived which means annual blooms without the challenging extra step “winterizing”. And they are excellent glossy green leaves, similar to Amaryllis but with a softer wave to them. In fact, when I first received this bulb (about 15 years ago), I thought it was an unusual Amaryllis and treated it very similarly. Planting with the top third of the bulb above the soil, growing in medium light (East facing window), and put it outside in the summer, keeping it in dappled to low light, and initially I did “Winterize” it like Amaryllis but later found it unnecessary. It seems to like infrequent repotting, there are now 4 bulbs in 1 pot and the blooms have become more reliable when crowded (like Clivia). My fertilizer regimen is sporadic, but I have top-dressed the soil. This beauty has a funky bloom, which starts in February (when very little is happening!) and lasts 4 to 6 weeks. Is anyone else growing this sleeper? If so, I’d love to hear stories of success, or challenges. I would definitely recommend giving it a try, the only common name I have heard used is “South African Cape Hyacinth” which is too much of a mouthful and could be very misleading as it is not like a Hyacinth!

…now where did I put that Snow shovel?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Punxsutawney Phil says... More Ice?

Not that I think anyone is surprised, but Punxsutawney Phil predicted 6 more weeks of winter. Happy Groundhog Day?

As a gardener, I appreciate the snow cover acting as a blanket for many of my plants, especially some of those funky new perennials in my trial garden. But the ice is a nightmare this year. From the ice dams on the roof to the low point where my driveway meets the street, the battle against ice has raged for several weeks now and I have clearly been losing.

So this brings me to Eco-friendly/Green ice melt options. Do they exist? Do they work? Are they truly eco-friendly? I did a little on-line reading over the weekend, and gleaned a bit of information if not knowledge.
I found 3 products which seem to be the most promising (I am not endorsing anything here, just blogging!) but I would love to hear back from others on this as well.

1) Safe Paw by Gaia Enterprises – This seems to be the easiest to find, sold in some grocery and pet stores. There is no salt used, although I am still unclear as to the active ingredients (crystalline amide core infused with special glycols is the most detail I could get). And it claims to work in temps a couple degrees below 0.
2) Environmelt by Kissner – The active ingredient on this product is the chemical compound CMA (calcium magnesium acetate), which is purported to be non-corrosive, safe to use and biodegradable, but it also seems to be the most expensive.
3) IceClear – A liquid preventative, so it is best applied before the storm, with any spray equipment (Hort oil or fertilizer pumps seems to fit the bill). It’s compound is “potassium carboxaylates, carbo-hydrates and a corrosive inhibitor” effective to -50’F.

As always buyer beware, but seems to me that steering away from salt or salt-based products is the important first step. The next step is determining your need for your situation and then using only what you need. Remember too much fertilizer can burn or even kill plants, and fertilizer is a common substitute for salt in ice melt. And after all is said and done, I am still not sure of the cumulative effects of any of these products have on ground water or fish populations. But I’d love to hear!