Friday, November 30, 2007

What did I do this summer?

I propagated plants! Propagating is a great way to increase your landscape plants cheaply. What could be better than cheap plants? This was the first summer I seriously experimented with rooting cuttings. Some plants can be propagated by division, some by stem and tip cuttings and others by root cuttings. What I did was mostly the stem and tip cutting types. Stem cuttings are pretty much what it sounds like: a section of the plant stem. The tip cutting is just as self explanatory: a section of the stem tip. The stem tips tend to be green wood and contain auxins that help to stimulate growth in the plant. In the past I have toyed with rooting willows and several easy to root house plants. This year I expanded my repertoire. I continued to do some willow cuttings, mostly for a deciduous hedge row to define our border, but I "branched" into some other plants as well. Here is what I found:
  • I found that Euonymous 'Emerald Gaiety' is extremely easy to root. The branches of this euonymous actually form aerial roots and may be propagated with nothing more than simple cup of water.
  • I found that butterfly bush tip cuttings root fairly easily in sand by applying rooting hormone to the base of the stem cutting.
  • I found that spirea is also a simple to root plant with rooting hormone. You do have to be careful with damping off as this did happen with a couple of my trials.
  • I also found that I don't need to buy too many verbenas next year! Once these plants get going they take off. They root very easily and and quickly become a 2' diameter mound of delicate little blossoms. Verbena often is treated as a tender annual depending on your zone. Both types that I experimented with were successful in rooting.
  • My favorite this year was rooting the dwarf English laurels. I was able to make 4 of these plants easily with rooting hormone in a sand/peat mixture. I plan to make several more cuttings of these!
  • Mums are another one that I found are extremely easy to root using mostly a peat mixture and a little rooting hormone, although I doubt the hormone was a necessity. Asters have worked this way also.
I'm still waiting on a few cuttings that are slower to root like a couple cherry trees, pyracanthus, some purple leaf plums, and a sweet gum but hopefully these will grow as well as the other plants have. Even with the drought conditions in Tennessee this year these plants were successful. Lots of plants can be propagated through cuttings so pick one and experiment!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Plant for Winter Interest

When you think of color in the winter garden you may think of evergreens first. You may imagine the dark green needle-like foliage of the pines, whose evergreen branches invoke images of winter scenes with snow covered trees. You may think of the glossy green leaves and the berries of the hollies that birds love to eat for winter time nourishment. But do you think of the bark? The bark can be one of the most interesting colors or textures in the wintertime garden. One of my favorites is the red-twig dogwood (Cornus stolinifera). This deciduous shrub holds its attractive green leaves most of the year, but when the temperates dip this plant sheds all and reveals its flashy red stems. As an added bonus it even has the red berries that dogwoods are known for! Place this plant among evergreens and other berry bearing bushes and you have a recipe for winter color that will brighten up a drab and dreary winter landscape.

A Quick Care Note:
Every couple years the oldest stems should be cut to encourage new growth. If the stems are allowed to age they will lose the plant's signature bright red stem color.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

It's a New Baby Girl!

I missed posting yesterday due to the birth of our brand new baby daughter! So let me introduce you to Olivia Rose. She was born yesterday morning at 10:44, healthy and happy! She weighed in at 7 lbs. 8 ozs. and 19 1/4 inches long.


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Everyone is doing great and both mother and daughter come home tomorrow!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Hemlock Privacy Screen

Here's a picture of our eastern property line. Along the line we placed 4 Canadian hemlocks about 8 feet apart to create a border hedge. The hemlocks will eventually fill together and create a nice soft evergreen screen for that side of the house. I would like to make this area into a woodland corridor connecting the front yard and the backyard with a shady path.

When planting the hemlocks I removed the grass in a 3ft area around the plant location. Then I dug the holes a little wider than the root ball and placed them into the holes making sure that the base of the plant remained slightly above the level of the soil. I then put newspaper down over the edges as a biodegradable landscape fabric and covered with a cypress mulch. I don't recommend amending the soil in the hole. That encourages the roots to stay in the hole where all the good dirt is and not spread out. It is better for the plant to adjust to the conditions in which it will grow from the beginning. Amending the ground all around the plants is a better plan to improve the soil. Sifted compost in spreader can do wonders!

Trees Trees Trees

Trees serve as the backbone of the garden. Trees add structure and height, clean the air, filter water, prevent soil erosion, provide shade and can be a habitat for wildlife. If you have ever sat beneath a maple tree in the heat of summer and enjoyed the cool shade it provided you understand the value of that tree. To me planting a tree is a no brainer, the more the better!

It takes time for trees to grow into a well structured specimen with a great canopy so they should be the first plants put into a landscape. You could splurge and buy trees that are already mature but these are expensive and the root ball can be difficult to plant by yourself. Smaller trees can catch up significantly to the larger ones in a couple seasons since those large root balls have to recover for the missing roots that were cut when they were removed from the nursery.

When buying a tree check the root systems to make sure it isn't pot bound. Look at the foliage for damage caused by disease and check the trunk for bark damage.

Our landscape had two trees in the front yard, both of which are Bradford pears (one of the most over-planted trees in Tennessee).

Here is what we added so far:
1 Red Sunset Maple (Acer rubrum 'Franksred')
4 Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)
1 Green Weeping Willow (Salix alba)
2 Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis)

We planted the maple for the fall color and the shade and the hemlocks to form a privacy hedge on one side of the house. I've always like the form of the weeping willows and this one will help to make a summer screen for our deck. The redbuds are native to Tennessee and have great purple spring blossoms.

There are quite a few more trees coming from the Arbor Day Foundation so once I get them planted I'll add to the list. We also added several shrubs but I'll save them for later.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Holding Strong (Crape Myrtle Fall Color)

These two crepe myrtles are holding strong to their color. Although these bright red and orange beauties are not mine, I did manage to get a couple seedlings from them to plant in my yard. Most people think of crepe myrtles for their summer flowering colors, but these two are evidence that there is more to a myrtle than meets the eye. I only hope that next fall my crepe myrtles can be as bright and colorful on a cold and cloudy Thanksgiving day!


Blogging about Blogging

So on Wednesday of this coming week I'll have had this blog open for a month. I find it interesting that about two weeks after I start articles all over pop up about garden blogging. Is it something that is catching on? Or is it publicity brought on by the talented folks who have paved the garden blogging way. The first article I noticed was Doug Green's article in the American Horticultural Society's magazine "The American Gardener." It was a very good article about how to start blogging and about some interesting people who blog. This morning in the USA Weekend section of our newspaper another blurb about garden blogging appeared. Each blog site seems to have its own niche. Subjects range from the personal to the informative or even to the political. To most people who are reading this now this probably isn't news. You probably have your own blog!

Now where do I fit in?
The demographics of those who garden blog does not seem as varied as the subjects. Younger garden bloggers are in the minority and there are very few men who garden blog. I'm a little out of place I guess, but why not be different? A thirty something gardener guy writing about his experiences...why not? There are worse ideas out there! The subject of age in garden blogging popped up in a post at Cold Climate Gardening the other day. It's an interesting read about older gardeners not blogging and it left me thinking about the blogging community demographics.

So why am I blogging about gardening?
Its been a subject that I've had an interest in for a long time and sadly I find that most people around me don't have the interest that I do in gardening or plants. For several years I was only able to garden in other peoples yards or on my back porch in pots. Now I have the space to do it. So why not write about it? I have the opportunity to talk about whatever I want, whenever I want. I can share my ideas or the work I've done with others who may appreciate it.

So what have I learned?
There's lots to see out there, lots to do, and a lot more to learn. It's also addictive! It's fun to share your accomplishments, your plans, and your experiences. It can even be a good way to record information for yourself.

Garden blogging, why not try it? Your comments are always welcome, so tell me what you think!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A View from the Dome

Can you ever have too many sunset pictures? Here a picture of a sunset I took from Clingman's Dome in the Smokies, taken about 3 years ago.


The First Step to Recovery...

The first step to recovery is recognizing that you have a problem. We sure do, its our drainage! We sit below the road in our cul-de-sac and while drainage is generally good for our house, our driveway pools water near the garage. It's mostly just an annoyance. When its rained heavily you have to step through a mud puddle to get into the car, usually it doesn't require scuba gear. I have a plan though: A modified French drain.

Along the edge of the driveway I plan to dig a trench, as long as the puddle is wide and deep enough that a perforated drain tube can be placed in it. The drain will then attach to another tube that leads out into the yard through another trench. At the end of the second trench will be a water receiving area partially filled with gravel. Once all the tubes are in place I'll put a layer of gravel over top. Near the driveway I'll fill the top section with a freely draining decorative gravel or rock that levels out just below the driveway edge. The tube that takes the water into the yard will be covered with a layer of gravel then with dirt. The water receiving area will be re-covered with dirt then planted with a rain garden, using grasses and perennials that will help filter out the water from the driveway.

This should eliminate our "water feature" and allow us to step into our car without investing in scuba equipment!

Friday, November 23, 2007

War of the Weeds!

The moment I found out what that particularly green feathery weed in my yard was, it was war! RAGWEED! It was everywhere in our yard. The front, the back, the sides, underneath hollies in all the garden beds, and pretty much everywhere else you looked it was there. Like an alien entity overlooking our planet while planning its method of invasion. For several weeks I waged war on the plant with little success. I tried the non-toxic chemical method with vinegar leading the charge. It's odoriferous scent attacked the invading invasive like a salad dressing on fire. Unfortunately it did little more than burn the tips of the leaves. Still the ragweed came on, seeking to ravage more land and destroy more of our faltering fescue lawn. The great arms of ragweed blotted out the sun from the blades of grass causing them to wither and die.

Beneath the aliens, bare ground was exposed, I had one recourse left without resorting to the nuclear bomb of gardening...ROUND UP. Before attempting the drastic measures and risking a botanical holocaust I had one more strategy: using mechanical means to decimate the diabolical weeds. This meant pulling up weeds by hand like a madman, which I did. The weeds could not stand against my attack. They were unceremoniously uprooted from their footholds and tossed into the heat of the summer sun to dry up and wither away. But this was not all! I had one more weapon up my sleeve. To prevent future uprisings and reprisals I had to prevent them from multiplying. They could not, would not come to seed! The whirling blades of ragweed death had to be used. I mowed and I mowed, anytime the weeds gained height they were taken down. I continued to pull weeds and push the mower until the weeds no longer had a hold on the yard. We fought and in the end the tide turned! Very few of the invaders remain, but I must remain vigilant. Their offspring may be waiting, lurking for the right moment to strike, but for now the battle is won.

OK so that was a bit silly but that's what I did. Our yard suffered from several years of neglect before we bought the house. The homeowners before us rented the house out and the tenants did not keep up the place as they should have. Mowing ceased for at least 6 months or so allowing the weeds to grow unchecked through the yard. When I did my first mowing multiple bare spots were exposed where the ragweed (Ambrosian artemisiifolia) had taken over. Since they formed a small canopy of sorts over the ground, no grass could grow. Over the course of the past growing season I went through and pulled every ragweed sprout I could from the roots. Anytime I was near a ragweed in the yard it got pulled. That combined with regular mowing has brought the yard into a manageable state.

There are still a multitude of weeds in the yard, but the ragweed was by far the most destructive to our landscape. Aside from the bare spots and the visual scars left by the invasive weed, there were allergy concerns. When ragweed begins to pollinate people suffer from sneezing, coughing and other symptoms. Often people mistake goldenrod for ragweed. Goldenrod is insect pollinated and not wind pollinated so the pollen does not create allergy problems like the wind pollinated ragweed. Spot treating a yard with a chemical herbicide would probably be OK but I'd rather not go to that step. I do have to watch out for possible seedlings next year. The best defense against weeds in the yard is overseeding. By overseeding with a cool season grass in the fall you give the grass seed a chance to establish a good root system by spring. It will grow faster and healthier with an established root system and will help to crowd out the light from weed seedlings. Maybe this will help with your own War of the Weeds!

Follow Up: Rosemary

The other day I wrote about layering rosemary plants. Layering is the process of propagation where roots are formed by placing the stem of the plant underneath rooting medium (soil) to allow it to root with the support of the parent plant. If you look closely at the picture to the left you can see small roots being formed at the base of the plant. These roots will continue to grow and will eventually be able to support their own plant.

Rosemary grows very well outdoors in Tennessee. Yesterday while visiting my parents house for Thanksgiving dinner I took an updated picture of the rosemary.
The picture on the left (it's the same one in the layering rosemary post) was taken a year ago and here it is now! Notice how the large rock in the first picture has been devoured by the spreading herb. Like I said, it grows well in Tennessee!


Thursday, November 22, 2007

For Next Year

I know most people have already put their tools away and their beds are ready for winter. It may be too early to even think about next year, but the off season (winter) is planning time for next year. It's time to figure out what worked for the 2007 season and think about what to plant in 2008. The University of Tennessee Gardens website has some great information about annual plants from their 2007 annual plant trials that may help the planning process. They tested the same annuals in Jackson, TN and in Knoxville, TN then rated them for June, July and August. On the site they show the rating for each location on a scale of 1-5 (5 being the best) and gave an average of the two locations. This information is a very good resource for a gardener wanting to find a new annual to put into the garden next season. They also include a picture of each plant with the results.

Take a look at the trial results: University of Tennessee Gardens 2007 Annual Trials

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here's just a quick note to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving! It's good to have a day to reflect on what you appreciate. Don't over stuff on the turkey today! It's usually the side dishes that get me!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Crazy Thought? Maybe Not! (Butterfly Bush Cuttings)

Last night I had a crazy thought "why not take a few last minute cuttings before the cold weather moves in for good?" The cuttings would need warmth to root and survive, so keeping them outside was not an option.

I found a decorative pot that my wife bought a few years ago at a campus art sale back in college and filled it up with sand. Sand works great as a rooting medium for cuttings. Then I went out to my butterfly bush and took enough greenwood material to make 8 cuttings. I cut each of the cuttings to about 4 inches long with at least two nodes and a couple leaves. I pinched the growing tip from the top of each
cutting and dipped the bottom of the cutting in water. Next I dipped the cutting into some powdered rooting hormone and inserted it into the sand. Finally I put it in our bathroom and watered it!

A while back I put a small shelf between the two windows in the bathroom. It's a great location since there is a good amount sun by the windows and there is humidity in the bathroom. It doesn't look too bad at all with the decorative pot!

I'll check them in a few weeks to see if rooting has started, then pot them up in a good potting mix. I've been fairly successful with rooting butterfly bushes like this in the past so I anticipate good results. The mother plant was a declining nursery stock plant that I bought for $5 and nursed it back to health. Now it's an extremely vigorous and attractive butterfly magnet!

Yet Again!

Yet again I could not resist the urge to look for discount plants, and I found some! I picked up three more 'East Friesland' salvias, three 'Caradonna' salvias, another viburnum, and two 'Patriot' hostas. My total for these nine forlorn plants was $8.74 after taxes. The salvias were all in great shape for being on a discount rack. The hosta leaves had faded on the 'Patriot's but the root systems were strong. I took a chance on the viburnum, but for a dollar why not? I scratched the bark with my fingernail and found green underneath so it is alive and hopefully will stay that way until spring. I suspect the freeze we had caused it to go dormant, which for many trees and shrubs dormancy is a good time to plant.

I managed to get each of these plants in the ground yesterday before today's rains came. The 'East Friesland' salvias are with their kin in our birdbath/butterfly garden while the 'Caradonna' salvias have joined our front perennial garden. They will mix together with some purple and white verbena that I plan to transplant to that bed.

This time of year many nurseries are looking to sell their perennial stock which means it's a great time to pick up a few plants. The roots will settle in over the winter and be ready for foliage and blooms in the spring. One important thing to remember: mulch! Cover the base of the plants with a 2-3 inch layer of mulch for protection. You should also do this to mums after they have been cut back.

New plant of the week!

Take a look at the new plant of the week! Here's a small hint: It's a tree. OK not much of a hint. See if you can guess it!

Plant of the Week:Hemlock


Most people got it right! The correct answer was the hemlock. The Canadian Hemlock or Tsuga canadesis is a great plant to use as an evergreen screen or a specimen tree. It has the potential to grow between 40-70 feet tall and could spread up between 25-35 feet in diameter. Its foliage is soft and feathery unlike many other evergreen trees. Hemlocks produce cones with seeds that are eaten by a number of birds. A great tree for wildlife, the hemlock is facing a devastating predator: the woolly adelgid. This little insect is destroying many of these magnificent trees.

We planted four little hemlocks to eventually become a privacy screen along our property line.


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Chore is a Game to a 2 Year Old!

My daughter and I went out to play today in the 70+ degree temperatures. Our goal was to take advantage of the last gasp of warm weather before old man winter came for his annual visit. Almost immediately my daughter darted to the sandbox. We removed the covers from the sandbox to reveal an assortment of toys half buried in the sand for safekeeping. She played in the sand for a bit, moving the sand back and forth and putting into various buckets and containers, while I moved a couple patio doors to a better location for the winter (possible greenhouse story later!). In order to put them where I intended I needed to move my assorted collection of nursery pots (I'm not sure I can bring myself to throw any good pots away). All this commotion caught my daughter's attention and she had to get in on the game. We had pots strewn all over. Little pots, big pots and everything in between. Flats and cells of all kinds could be seen. Ok enough bad poetry, we had a big mess. But Grace was great. She loved stacking the pots into other pots and even started putting some really small 1" and 2" pots into a cell where each one would fit. To her it was a game, a big puzzle to solve. If only we all could keep the attitude of a happy little 2 year old all our lives.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Layering Rosemary

One of the easiest ways to make a new plant is layering. Layering is where you allow the plant to create new roots on a branch while still connected to the mother plant. The advantage to layering is the connection to the mother plant. It continues to feed the offshoot branch allowing it to form the new roots to sustain itself. Many plants do this naturally and you don't have to do anything special to create the offshoot. Rosemary does this really well.

If you want to help it along make a small cut into the branch being careful not to sever the branch then put a toothpick in the wound to keep it open. Finally use landscape pins to pin down the branch to the ground. With rosemary you could get away with only doing the last step. In a few months you will have new plants to pot up or move to another area of the garden. Just cut the stem that holds the new plant to the mother plant when you are ready to plant the offshoot. It may help to cover the rooting section of the plant with mulch or a small mound of dirt.

Rosemary works great in herb gardens and trimmed up in topiary form, not to mention that it is perfect with onions and garlic in potato dishes!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Morning Mists

As the summer fades and cooler temperatures arrive the play of the sunlight in the mist and the trees can bring a very picturesque scene. This photo was taken one early October morning from our back deck.

Rootbeer anyone?

I picked up this sassafras leaf in our backyard. I was struck by its interesting coloration, red on the outside edges and orange around the main veins of the leaf. We have sassafras trees everywhere around in our yard so their leaves are easily found. They have a very strong lemon scent that can be smelled when you crush the leaves. I've done that more than a few times with my lawnmower!

Apparently the roots of the sassafras tree used to be distilled to make root beer. I'd rather just go buy a 12 pack of good old A&W than worry with digging up those roots!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Some more plants!

Today I stopped by one of our big box home improvement stores and visited the declining stock in their gardening area. I've mentioned before about the good deals you can find there and so today I found a couple deals! While they are desperately cleaning out their summer and autumn wears to make room for Christmas trees, I picked up a couple of perennials to add to our gardens.

The first is one I think everyone should try somewhere in their landscape: Russian Sage. This variety is called Longin Russian Sage. It is supposed to be a more upright variety than other kinds of Perovskia atriplicifolia. Russian sage has silvery colored stems and feathery foliage highlighted by lavender colored blossoms that create a showy display in the summer. Planted in mass, Russian sage is very impressive and as a perennial it is very easy to grow. I put two others in this summer and each pruning cut brought forth vigorous new growth. I paid a whopping $1.00 each! One other note about Russian sage, it seeds very readily so you can either transplant the seedlings to another location or let them grow to form a mass of perennial power!

My other find was 'East Friesland' Salvia (Salvia nemerosa '). I picked up two of these salvias for $1.00 each. They should bloom next year with dark purple flower stalks and will stretch 18-24 inches tall. I put these two plants in my butterfly/birdbath garden where they should blend with the coneflowers and butterfly bush I have there. All of these plants were bought on the discount rack this season, including an ornamental grass called Miscanthus sinesis 'zebrinus' or Zebra grass which rests in the same bed.

Being perennials all four of these plants should overwinter well and bring forth great flowers next season!


Friday, November 16, 2007

Frosts didn't claim this achillea! At least not yet.

It seems the frosts don't hold much sway over Achillea! The mums have mostly wilted away, but this little guy by the mailbox is still blooming. I took this picture this morning in 30 degree Temperatures.

White Nose

Almost sounds like a Christmas song but White Nose is the name of a squirrel that frequents our yard and our back deck. He's a pretty big little guy with a furry white nose, hence his name. He feels quite comfortable partaking of our bird buffet. I really don't mind the squirrels visiting the bird feeders. The only bad thing about them is that they empty the feeders out fairly quickly, which is probably why most people don't like the squirrels in their yards.

We have two furry visitors that come by regularly, White Nose and a little gray squirrel that we haven't named yet. There is a positive side effect to squirrels eating at your feeders; they knock quite a bit of seed to the ground which is good for juncos and other ground feeding birds.


The top picture is White Nose himself! The bottom one is the little gray squirrel.


If you don't want the squirrels on your feeders, there are a few things you can do.
  1. Make a peace offering. Giving the squirrels their own feeder can help keep them from munching on your bird seed. There are several kinds of feeders out there. One type is a platform that you put corn cobs and other treats on for the furry critters. Others are box type feeders. Just make sure you keep the feeders stocked, otherwise they will return to your bird feeders.
  2. Baffle them! Install a squirrel baffle on your feeder. Squirrels have trouble climbing around them and fall off.
  3. Get squirrel resistant feeders. Many of these feeders are made so that squirrels can't reach into them to get the seed. Other feeders have a weight sensitive platform that will drop due to the weight of the squirrel sending them spiraling down in culinary disappointment.
  4. Just accept it!
Wildlife is an integral part of a balanced landscape and dealing with wildlife frustrations is just a part of it. We also have deer with voracious appetites and rabbits that have no qualms devouring hostas, so I'll take squirrels any day!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Blank Slate

It will be fun to think of what next year's growing season will bring. The yard here is pretty much a blank slate still. I've done a few things, like making a garden bed or two, making a bird bath garden, and added trees but there is a lot left to do to fit my vision of what this yard could be. Everyday I can think of a new thing to add to the landscape. Today I started thinking about a small herb garden bordered with stone in the front yard near our walkway. I'll add that one to my to do list. Over in the right column of my blog I have the "Ever-Growing List." It's my to do list that just keeps growing, kind of like kudzu. As I knock off jobs I'll talk about them and post pictures of the process.

I'm looking forward to starting on the raised beds for my vegetable garden. This past year all I could do was plant some potted tomatoes and peppers which never amounted to much. Our house was fixer upper and much of our time and expense went into making it habitable. With the vegetable garden raised beds are definitely the way to go. I helped my parents build some a couple years ago and their veggies have produced more than they could eat.

What I'm planning will be a 2 year process. This first year I will build the basic wood frame out of 2"x8" boards. I plan on having 4 4'x6' beds and 2 4'x4' beds. I'll set them up into 2 "L" shapes. The second year I'll expand them to 16" tall. At least that is my current plan.

My next project will have to be planting the Arbor Day trees I ordered. The trees are only shipped when dormant so I haven't seen them yet but I can't wait to get them in the ground!

What were they thinking?

I had to drive our cat Amber to the vet today to get some tests done on her. She has kidney renal failure and we have to periodically see how her blood is. She's been doing really good but has lost her appetite recently.

While I was up in town I thought I'd drive around a few minutes to see what new developments had popped up. Shopping centers and housing developments are popping up all over the place in our area. I noticed in between one residential area and a shopping center there was a plant creating a great screen. In fact this plant could probably grow 20 feet high or more creating a very good sound barrier as well as the visual screen it was intended to be. Only one problem...it's Bamboo! Bamboo can send runners out all over and can quickly tack over an area. Putting it as close to a residential area may not have been the best of ideas. Bamboo is actually a grass and grows very, very fast. Sure it looks neat, it looks exotic but its problems could be huge. Some people who plant bamboo put in a very thick sheet of plastic to keep the runners from escaping. Sometimes this works. I doubt the contractors did that here though. There are also forms of bamboo that clump rather than run and these are much less invasive. Still bamboo is not native to Tennessee and you always have to be careful with exotic plants!

It's a good bet that some people in those neighborhoods will indeed find an unwelcome visitor in their future.

W8KSHUYGNVNZ

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

From my window...

From my window I can see my homemade compost bin, unfinished as it is, with our poor ole jack-o-lantern resting its big orange head on the grass clippings from my last mowing. That relic of a Halloween come and gone will come around again next year in some way. Either as broken down black gold or in the seeds that he left behind. His progeny will most likely grace us next season with lots of little orange gourds ready to be carved and given personalities of their own! Soon I'll add some leaves to the top of the bin and won't be able to see our old friend Jack, but he'll be there. In fact he might even be in my tomatoes next year, who knows?

Landscape Plan: Memorial Garden

With the growing season coming to a close its time to start planning for next year's landscape. Every now and then I like to design landscapes for people. Here is a sample of a small garden design that I made for a couple friends of ours. Its actually a memorial garden and is suitable for almost any corner of a yard. Its small so its also perfect for small yards. It uses one of my favorite trees, the Yoshino Cherry! The spruces in the picture could be replaced with a yew that has a conical shape.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Invasion!

It's the invasion of the lady bugs! Or really the Asian lady beetle. They are coming! As I write there is one on the windowsill in front of me. These beetles are great in the garden, they eat pests like aphids but when they invade they home they can become a problem. They go everywhere and leave yellow stains behind. Not to mention they shells when they die. As for what to do about them try vacuuming them up or preventing their entry by sealing up cracks around your house. I wouldn't personally go so far as pesticides for them but it is an option. The University of Kentucky Department of Entomology has a great article for more information!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Daffodils

Today my little 2 year old daughter and I went out and planted daffodils. She did pretty good, dropping the bulb into the hole after I dug it out. Initially Grace kept trying to rearrange the bulbs all over the bed. Then she started taking the spade I was using to dig the holes. Eventually we got a process together and soon we had planted 40 daffodil bulbs. Now if the squirrels and other critters don't get to them we'll have some great flowers to look at in the spring!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Out and About

I enjoy periodically just walking around the yard and seeing what there is to see in my landscape. Today was a bit of an overcast day probably in the lower to mid 60's F. Its always a good idea to walk around your yard so you know what's happening. Today I took a camera and shot a few pictures. The fall colors are out on some of our trees.

These pictures are of our backyard. We have about an acre with a tree line to the south, a bit of a wild field area to the west between us and our neighbor's yard, and another neighbor on our eastern side.
In the Spring we planted this maple tree in and attempt to add some future shade to the yard. Its an October Glory maple. It has some good red color with some hints of orange.

This tree is just a nice maple with golden colors in the back tree line of our yard. Its most likely a silver maple.

Don't forget about fall color from berries! Here are some red nandina berries (sometimes called heavenly bamboo) that have ripened in our front walkway garden area.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Seed Collecting!

Time to gather your seeds!

Get a good paper or clean plastic bag and head out to the garden. If you have more than one type of plant to gather seeds from you should grab some extra bags. After your perennials or annuals have finished for the fall, collect the dead heads on them to use next spring. Just cut the dead flower heads off and let them fall into your bag. Keep only one kind of seed per bag and label them with what the parent plant is. Keep in mind that there is no guarantee the seeds will be true to the parent plant, but sometimes the variations can be interesting. Clean off the dead flower petals and let them dry if needed, then store in a cool, dry place. It is important that they are well dried before storing. It may help to add a moisture reducing element to your bag like silicate packets.

Many plants are excellent for dead heading and replanting in the spring. This fall I collected seeds from zinnias, rudbeckia, coneflower, gaillardia and asters. The zinnias always do well. If you have never planted them before they are great for attracting hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden. Just plant in a sunny location in the spring after frost and let them go! The rudbeckia will do well in sunny locations as will the coneflowers (Echinacea).

As for the galliarda and asters, I've never tried them from seed before so it will be an experiment but I have plenty of seeds to use. I have read where the Asters may not flower until the second growing season, but its worth a shot!

I also took some seeds from our butterfly bushes to try, but I've had good success with cuttings from the greenwood so I may just use the cutting method to make more butterfly bushes in the spring.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Favorite Trees for Fall Color

The colors are out and some trees are spectacular! There are all sorts of colorful trees for the fall that just can't be beat. The maples are some of my favorites. Here are some suggestions for trees with great fall color:

Maples:
Sugar Maple (Acer Saccharum): beautiful yellow orange foliage
Red Maple (Acer rubrum) red foliage (of course)
Japanese Maples (Acer Palmatum).

Sweet Gum (Liquidambar): Purple to red are common but beautiful to look at.

Oaks:
Red Oak (Quercus rubra)
Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)

Ginkgo Biloba or Maidenhair Tree has a bright golden color.

There are many varieties of the maple trees to choose from including October Glory and Sunset maple. A mature Ginkgo tree can't be topped for its golden colors. Just make sure you find the male of the species, the females drop very messy fruits.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Summer Projects

Since summer has now officially come and gone and I only started this site a week ago (give or take a day or two), I thought I would share an easy project that I did this summer from another old wooden palette. Originally I was going to turn it into a compost bin, but after using the palette laying on the ground for potting plants a new idea came to mind. I gathered some other scrap lumber and sanded them down real good. Then put them together to make a potting bench. After it was all pieced together I got a small can of cedar colored wood stain and stained the bench. It won't last forever but its a pretty good use of scrap wood.

Here are some
views of the potting bench.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

First Freeze and Winterizing

Tonight the weather people are expecting our first hard freeze in Tennessee. It will then officially end the growing season! This is not entirely true though. The plants are still growing roots. Plants planted now will grow strong root systems though the winter and should have great foliar growth in the spring.

Good Ideas
  • Remove all hoses from the nozzles to prevent pipes from cracking. Any water left in the nozzle could be damaging so its best not to take chances!
  • Time to clean garden tools and get organized so that everything will be ready to go in the spring. Clean and sharpen shovels, pruners and other tools and also perform any lawn mower maintenance needed.
  • Put excess leaves in the compost bin. NEVER throw out or burn leaves! Put them in the bin or mulch them with your mower into the grass. Composted leaves are some of the best sources of organic material you can add to the compost pile. You don't even need an official pile. Just rake the leaves into a seldom used corner of your yard and let them go! You could also put them in a black plastic bag and poke several holes in it. This will speed up some of the composting.
  • Mulch everywhere you can. A fresh layer of mulch will help you perennials and trees continue to form their root systems by locking in heat and moisture underground. It also will help prevent heaving in the soil because of the freezing temperatures in winter.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Fall Colors

Fall in Tennessee is known for its wonderful color displays. We have a variety of trees both of deciduous and evergreen trees that usually make spectacular displays of colors. Unfortunately these trees have suffered with the drought this past year and have not fully shown their colors. Here are some pictures of past autumn colors in the Smokey Mountains. We used to make fall pilgrimages to a place called Cades Cove. It's a great place for a hike or a picnic and is nestled in the Tennessee side of the mountains. Some of the pictures are taken from the top of Clingman's Dome, another great stop in the Smokies.

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Saturday, November 3, 2007

Helpful Gardening Hints: Weed Slaying!

An ecologically safe and easy to use weed killer is simply water! Just boil it in your teapot and water the troublesome weed with some scalding hot water. It is non-selective so anything it touches it could kill. It's effective against most weeds but they may need a second treatment. Be sure to target the root and stem area. Just hitting the leaves will only damage the leaves and the plant could come back. This is best used as a spot treatment.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Helpful Gardening Hints: Newspaper

If you are tired of hauling your old newspapers to the dump or recycling there are a couple good uses of it for around the house. First its important to note that newspaper is biodegradable and most of the inks are soy based so there will be no harm to the environment. In fact the newspaper should add to the organic content of the soil.

Idea #1
Use the newspapers to make paper pots. The pots are biodegradable and relatively easy to make. First gather your newspapers and an appropriately sized can. A soda can or vegetable can will work fine. Whatever size can you choose will determine the size of your pot. Then tear a suitable size strip of newspaper lengthwise. Next lay the can on the newspaper so that long strip of the newspaper will wrap around the rounded parts of the can. Be sure to let some newspaper hang over to cover the bottom of the can. Wrap the newspaper around the can and fold over on the bottom and there is your pot. Fill it with dirt and set it in a flat or a tray so that the pots hold together well. When you water these in the tray do not water the pots themselves, just put the water in the tray and it will gradually seep up to the top of each pot. When you are ready to plant them just bury the pot and all into the ground. It will decay gradually.

Idea #2
Rather than dig up an area to lay a new bed, use newspaper then cover with mulch or dirt. First mow the area as short as you can. Then layer 3-5 sheets of newspaper to make it thick enough to block any weeds from coming up. Cover all gaps between the newspapers (if you don't the weeds will come back). The newspaper and grass will degrade and will help improve the quality of your topsoil. It will take about 4-8 months for the newspaper to degrade. It all depends on how much water the area gets.
You can use this around trees. I like to remove the soil around the trees in a 3 foot circle first. Then leave a small open area around the tree itself, maybe 8"-12" or so. This is so the moisture can easily get to the root ball of the newly planted tree. Then lay the newspaper around the outside of the hole to prevent weeds and cover with mulch! If a weed does pop up, it's usually pretty easy to remove once you've done these hints. I hope you can use this in your garden!