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Monday, December 31, 2007

Landscape Plan: Side Garden

Here's another landscape plan I put together for some family members. The edges of this area would be in the sun while the inside area would be shaded by the existing eastern red cedar and a crape myrtle. A rough edged stone patio, dry creek bed, and a bench give the area a rustic appearance. The dry creek bed would funnel water from the downspout of the house underneath the patio and out the other side. Ferns, hostas, heuchera and astilbe plants make up the shady areas. Daylilies edge the sunny areas for color while the evergreen azaleas provide some spring accent colors near the house.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Good to be Home Again!

I hope everyone had a very happy holiday! We just got back in tonight after visiting several family members in various parts of Tennessee. We're very fortunate to have both sets of parents within easy driving distance so we can visit them both at Christmas. We also spent several days in west Tennessee in Trenton and Union City where some of my wife's family lives. We had a good time but are glad to be home!

While we visited my wife's grandmother in Trenton I took the opportunity to collect a few things. She has several Crape Myrtle trees that have a historical family lineage. The original Crape Myrtle came from my wife's great grandmother's house and was planted later at my wife's grandmother's house. It has survived many seasons in the same place even after freezing to the ground multiple times. Each time the mighty myrtle froze it came back strong. I took a small envelope outside and knocked the branches above the envelope to encourage the seed to fall into it. These seeds should sprout new Crape Myrtles that have a good cold weather hardiness and a family connection.

I also took some fruit from the Southern magnolia tree in the front yard in the hopes that I can raise some magnolias from the seed inside. The magnolia appears to be a smaller variety but after a conversation with Sarah (my wife's grandmother) there is more to this little magnolia. Her husband did not really want the tree in the yard. Strangely each year the growing tip kept breaking off of the tree which limited its height. After several years of this happening Sarah said to her husband "I don't know why this keeps happening, I wonder what's causing it?" After mentioning it to her husband it never happened again! He never admitted to anything but she knew he really didn't want any trees. To him every tree meant another obstacle to mow around. She also gave me a gardenia cutting she had and an African violet offshoot from one of her plants.

Thursday evening we visited my wife's aunt in Union City. While at her house we visited with family, ate more food and opened more presents! Although this wasn't a traditional sort of present (and did not require unwrapping), she offered me a rosemary plant trimmed in the shape of a tree that someone had given her. She said that she didn't have the time to plant it so I happily accepted it! (Thanks Gracie!)

Now I need to get the seeds ready for planting!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Here's just a quick post to say Merry Christmas to everyone out there! I may not have a chance to post over the next week so I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday with lots of food, family, and fun! Hold true to the spirit of the holiday and it's true meaning and you will have a very Merry Christmas that will take you into a joy filled New Year!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Perusing and Planning with the Seed Catalogs

I've seen many posts recently about gardening and seed catalogs. Some posts analyze the timing of the seed company's publications. Most posts are simply people salivating in anticipation of what may come! I have to admit it I am doing the same. Ask my wife what my favorite bathroom reading material is and she'll tell you that it's the seed catalog. It doesn't matter which one. I like looking at those pictures and imagining where these plants will fit into our landscape. In two out of three bathrooms in our home there exists a small stack of seed and garden catalogs taunting me with the promise of spring! But that's not all.

I've started marking the catalogs creating an initial planning list for out purchases come spring. I simply put a little star beside the plant I like so I can narrow the list later. The key is to balance what would be nice to have and what you could actually fit into your garden. I think many gardeners buy too many seeds. That's OK though since usually you can store seeds for a year or two and still have viable seeds. I don't think we'll order any plants from the catalogs but we will stock up on seeds. Perennials, annuals, vegetables and herb seed that's where the money is, or rather goes! Why only seeds? It's pretty simple really. Seeds are cheap! If you are willing to put in the time to baby them up until planting it's the best way to go. The key here is to have the room to start them indoors a few weeks in advance. If you start them early you end up in a statistical dead heat with the store bought plants and you've saved dozens of dollars. We almost always start our tomatoes from seed indoors. The one exception was the year when we bought from one of our local high school's agriculture department (Not a bad way to get a few extra plants every now and then). Several times we used little paper cups to start the tomato seeds. You could always go with peat pots or newspaper pots.

I have a general idea of what we will need for next year. There are a few vegetables that we plant every year like tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, radishes, green onions and green beans. This is where I'll start in the catalogs. With the tomatoes I want to try an heirloom variety. The flavor is supposed to be much better even though they are less disease resistant than the hybrids. I've seen a couple that sound good. The Mortgage Lifter has an impressive name, if only it would do the same for us as the name implies! We'll go for some cherry tomatoes of some sort and probably another kind that is conducive to slicing and smacking on a hamburger or slathering with mayonnaise on a BLT.

The problem is wanting to try a bit of everything. We have limited space in both our garden and our stomachs so we must restrain ourselves from over planting. That being said I would love to have enough in my garden to give to our neighbors and friends throughout the summer so I'll plan ahead for some extra.

Sunflowers will have to be planted. There are several varieties including the giant Kong. A sixteen footer! I'm not sure we need one that big but the others could make a great temporary screen the birds will love! Last year the gold finches flocked to the sunflowers. The cardinals weren't too shy either. Maybe I can make enough to supplement our winter birdseed. I can't make it through the whole winter on what I can produce but maybe one or two fill ups.

There are also perennials and a bunch of them! Where can I put them all? One that already has a place in my mind is catmint (I'll comment about catmint after Christmas). Delphiniums would definitely be an excellent accent to several places in our landscape. They have a quasi-fantasy type quality about them reminiscent of a medieval castle garden. Perhaps some more achillea and salvia?

I shouldn't leave out the herbs. How many different kinds of basil can I use? The purple leaved varieties are really interesting and there is a small compact form that is pretty unique. Mix them with some of the traditional large leaved basils, oregano, rosemary and thyme and you have the makings of a pretty good kitchen herb garden.

There's a lot to think about. Maybe that's why gardeners enjoy getting the catalogs in the mail. It's a chance to plot, plan, dream or scheme your way to a better garden. I think in many ways gardeners are collectors who always want something new or unique to add to their collection. At least that's what I think.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Cool List of Trees

Now here is a cool list of trees for those who may like to bring a bit of the Smokey Mountains into their landscape. On the Great Smokey Mountains National Park website they have published a list of all the trees in the park and even included the non-native ones denoted with an asterisk. What I find interesting is where they have indicated how abundant the plants are. They have also included shrubs, sub-shrubs, and vines. Take a look!

Arbor Day Tree Update No. 1 or Do Deer use Pruners?

I have to ask do deer use pruners? I was walking in my yard transplanting a willow and went over to one of the free maples I planted.

And to what did my wondering eyes appear?
A slice off the tip of my maple by a deer!


Perfectly sheered as if the deer carried a set of bypass pruners in its pockets! I was afraid the deer might snack on my trees. It seems that a maple is good for lunch, dinner or even that late night snack. I wish the maple had not appeared on the deer's menu but that just confirms what I was thinking. I should find two larger "Sunset" maples to put in the yard instead. Larger trees would stand a better chance against the appetite of the white-tailed midnight muncher. Don't get me wrong I like the deer coming to visit. I just wish they would bring a bag lunch instead!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Smokey Mountain Photos


Chris over at Outside Clyde posted a great picture of the Smokey Mountains that reminded me of when we lived out that way. We really miss living in east Tennessee because of the proximity to those mountains. There are all sorts of beautiful nooks and crannies to explore, breathtaking views, and animals to see. If you're lucky you may even catch a glimpse of a black bear or the elusive river otters. It took us nearly four years of trips to Cades Cove to finally see a bear but on the day we did we saw at least five. One was a mother bear with her three cubs. Needless to say we kept our distance!

We have too many pictures to post at one time so here is a small sampling of spring and summer pictures that we took while exploring one of our greatest National Parks!

A view from Cades Cove

Ben Franklin sure liked this bird!

Trees along the trail

Deer are a common sight in the parks!


Abram's Falls - a very popular trail off of Cades Cove


The road goes ever onward...



Plant of the Week


This weeks plant of the week is another one native to the Smokey Mountains. It may be an easy guess but its a plant worth talking about. It likes the shade and gets plenty of what it likes in the mountains!

Take a guess and tell me what you think!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Taking Flowers from the Dead

I saw this story online at the Tennessean Newspaper's website. Apparently a women was stealing decorations from grave sites and adding them to her landscape! How desperate must your landscape be to take fake flowers from the graves of the deceased then add them to your garden. The story also says that she took solar lights and benches. Maybe she was affected by the Seasonal Affected Disorder that Hanna over at This Garden is Illegal was talking about. Maybe she was just desperate for some color in her yard. Some community service in the graveyards she robbed would be a fitting sentence!

Here's the story:

Woman charged with stealing flowers from graves

Plant of the Week: Flame Azalea

Rhododendron calendulaceum










This week's Plant of the Week was the Flame Azalea. Most people answered it pretty close. This is actually a native plant to the Smokey Mountains. It grows from four to eight feet tall and spreads out somewhere between ten to fifteen feet. My wife and I found this particular plant in 2003 along the Abram's Falls trail. We took the pictures on the way up the trail but sadly when we came back down the trail they were gone. The fiery orange petals could be seen strewn up and down the trail. Several children destroyed them while their parents watched. The National Parks are there for people to learn and observe nature in its beauty. Kids will be kids but it's up to the parents to impress upon their children the importance of preservation. It was a missed opportunity for the parents of these children to discuss the purpose of the National Parks. There are many other flame azaleas in other areas of the park but these were the only ones we saw on that trail. It's just too bad that those people who followed the children up the trail didn't get to see the flame azaleas that day.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Helpful Gardening Hints: Compost collection

We all know we should compost. Most of use know the things we can compost. So here's a couple ideas to help you compost!


1. We have a compost bucket outside our back door. The 5 gallon bucket stands ready to collect the compost until we can take it to the big bin in back. There are compost buckets you can bring indoors that have fancy carbon filters to minimize odors, but we don't have one for two reasons: we already have a bucket and we don't have enough room inside our kitchen! When we accumulate compost we can just open the back door and dump it into the bucket. We put several 1/4 inch holes in the bucket on the sides, on the top, and on the bottom so the compost could get oxygen. We secured the top of the bucket with a large rock so that animals can't lift it off. This bucket used to be our primary compost maker when we were living in our apartment. It just sat on the back porch making "gardener's gold."

2. We reuse newspaper bags to hold compost in the garage until we can make it out to the compost bin. It all depends on the weather. If it's raining we'll put the kitchen scraps in the newspaper bags then give them a twist. The twist prevents the kitchen scraps from emanating odors. Then we put the compost bag in the garage. If it's not raining we use the compost bucket. If you don't receive newspapers or they don't have the plastic bags then you can use old bread bags.

Of course if we're having warm weather then the walk to the bin is a great excuse to get outside!

Mystery Berry

We went shopping yesterday so I didn't have time to post anything but here's something I've been wondering about.

The other day I was walking in our backyard near the woods with the camera and found these interesting little pink berries. I was trying to identify what they were and thought about beauty berries or coral berries. The berries are clustered along the stem like both plants do but I'm not sure which one it
might be. I'm leaning toward coral berries.

What do you think? Are they beauty berries, coral berries or some other wild plant?





Tennessee Garden Bloggers

Are there any other Tennessee garden bloggers out there? I found one yesterday courtesy of Nan at Gardening Gone Wild. If you have a chance go visit Frances over at Faire Gardening over in east Tennessee. If you are a Tennessee garden blogger let me know and I'll add you to the roll!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

First Snowfall?

I'm not sure how this snowfall counts. Would it be the first one in Middle Tennessee? Would it even be enough to count? I'm not sure, I only know that we did not receive what our northern neighbors have been gifted with this December!

I know it disappointed my two year old daughter who asked me several times to make a snowman!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Have a Holly Jolly Cutting (Holly Propagation)

Holly Jolly Cutting just doesn't have the right ring to it does it? Ah but here it does! Despite the awful Christmas pun it is pretty exciting to see my new holly cutting coming to life! It is probably the Buford holly (Ilex cornuta) which is a popular one in the home landscape. We actually have four of them left out in out front area off the porch that came with the house. One other holly met an early demise courtesy of the early thaw and late frost of 2007.

This past year my greatest excitement in gardening has come when propagating something new and finding that what I did actually it worked. One day in late summer I thought "what else can I practice propagating with?" The hollies looked like good candidates. So without waiting for the latest straw poll from Iowa I took two cuttings from the holly bushes.

The cuttings were mostly greenwood and it was a little later in the season than I probably should have taken greenwood cuttings but most of gardening is an experiment so why not?. Every time you try something new you learn something even if you fail. The two cuttings I made were about 7 inches long. I stripped many of the leaves off and placed them in sand after an initial root hormone application. It's pretty much the standard procedure used in propagating most cuttings. In fact, I treated it the same as I did the Burning Bush cutting I posted about a couple days ago. When I checked my cuttings the other day I found short little root stubs protruding from the stem of one of the cuttings. Here in the picture you can see the roots. I've been keeping them in our garage in a semi-sheltered location. If I had a way to create some bottom heat, like with a heat mat, they would root faster. It's feet are very small, perhaps only a centimeter in length but that's how it all starts. One little bit at a time. Its companion cutting has not rooted yet but still shows lots of green on its leaves. It may take a little longer than its running mate to come around!

One quick general note about hollies. Since hollies are dioecious you need to have a male plant to pollinate the female plant's flowers to produce berries.



Look here for more plant propagation information.

Arbor Day Experiment (Part 2-2)

In one of my last posts I mentioned receiving my free Arbor Day trees. Those trees have now been planted. While planting them I was pleasantly surprised by a couple things.

1. The trees were marked very clearly with the color coding system. It was not just a thin little line above the roots indicating which tree they were, but rather a very large blot. This made identifying the twigs a lot easier.

2. The root systems were in great shape! It may have been since they were in the ground so long before shipping because the weather has stayed warmer longer.

There was one tree that may have arrived dead but I planted it anyway just in case.

Here's what I did!


I put 8 of my saplings into a trough planter that was used last year for some trees. I mixed together some potting soil and some mulch for improved drainage then put the little trees into appropriately sized holes for the roots. Finally I mulched the planter and put it into a sheltered location. I did the same with the hemlocks only I used two small pots instead of a planter. The little sprigs should do fine over the winter.




Arbor Day Experiment Part 1
Arbor Day Experiment Part 2

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Plant of the Week


Let's try this a little differently this week. If you can identify the plant of the week post what you think it is in the comment area of this post!

Burning Bush Cutting Progress (Euonymus alata)

This fall I took a scraggly looking branch off a little burning bush I had. The botanical name is Euonymous alata. These bushes are green during most of the growing season but turn fiery red in the fall before they lose their leaves. It is for this reason that people plant them. Yesterday I checked the cutting's progress.

I wasn't really expecting anything so the resistance I felt when I tugged gently at the cutting was surprising. I very pleased when I extracted the cutting and several tiny little roots were revealed. You can see the little roots on the right side of the picture.

Starting the cutting was pretty simple. I found a nice looking section of stem about 5 inches long. I cut it below a node, dipped it in water and applied powdered rooting hormone. When you dip the cutting in water it allows the powder to stick better. Then I put it in a container with sand and made sure to keep the sand moist. I will leave the cutting in the sand for a couple more weeks then pot it up. I'm keeping it in the garage to avoid frost damage on the tender little guy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Arbor Day Experiment (Part 2)

Part two of my Arbor Day experiment will begin soon! Today I received my 10 free trees. I found them unceremoniously shoved into my mailbox courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service. Fortunately I don't think any damage was done. I would think that a package that has LIVE PLANTS in big letters on the outside of it would dropped off by the door and not shoved into a mailbox shorter than the package! But enough complaining, on to the trees!

I was able to choose from several of the available free tree packages and picked the Wild Bird Garden. It's a selection of trees and shrubs that make good habitats or food sources for birds and wildlife. Here are the plants that came in it: a Burr Oak, a Northern Red Oak, an Arrowwood Viburnum, a River Birch, a Gray Dogwood, a Tulip tree, two Canadian Hemlocks, a Sargent Crabapple, and a Washington Hawthorne. The package came with a pamphlet that has descriptions for the trees as well as a leaf identification page. This could be very useful in the spring when the leaves begin to show. Each tree is supposed to be labeled with a color just above the roots but I know from planting some free Arbor Day trees last year that the paint marks can be very hard to read and the leaf identification guide could be useful in identifying them.

I have not examined the trees very closely since the instructions said not to open them unless you can plant right away. I stored the saplings in the garage where they would rest in cooler temperates until I could take care of them, hopefully tomorrow. The baby trees will have a temporary home in a trough-like planter since I don't have permanent locations picked out. I'll have to think very hard about where to put those trees, especially the oaks. Though I may never live to see it, the Burr Oak can reach 80 feet tall with a similar spread. (Not exactly a small tree!)

There's more to come later about my Arbor Day experiment! If you haven't already you can read about part one by clicking here!

Plant of the Week: Crocus


The correct answer to the plant of the week was crocuses!

These particular crocuses were tiny little bulbs (actually corms) that we planted outside of our apartment in east Tennessee. We didn't have much space to do anything and just experimented with a few just to see if we could get a little color along our short walkway. They would pop up in the early spring and give us a little show with their purplish blossoms.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Weird and Wacky Winter Weather

Snow is falling in the northern parts of our country as we are experiencing record 75 degree temperatures in Middle Tennessee in December! The forecast goes down from here with even a possibility of snow in the future for the weekend. Strange weather! Mid 50's would not be surprising for this time of year but mid 70's? I guess it's one last taste of warm weather before the winter cold decides to stay put.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Butterfly Bush Cuttings Making Progress


Things are looking good for my butterfly bush cuttings. So far none have succumbed to damping off. Only one lost any leaves. One good sign of a cutting is when new growth starts to develop. As you can see on the closest cutting that new growth is starting to sprout. This usually means that roots have emerged! I'll leave them in the pot for a couple more weeks then check the root systems. If the roots are ready I'll pot them up into some small pots and keep the new growth trimmed through the winter to encourage more roots. If everything goes well they should be ready to plant in the spring.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Arbor Day Experiment (Part 1)

They finally came! My experiment with Arbor Day has begun. Earlier in the year I ordered several trees from the National Arbor Day Society. I also got a few free trees with my order. I know many people have had mixed results when ordering from Arbor Day. They either have trees that don't make it through the winter, receive dead trees, or get the wrong plant. Most of what I received was in good condition, not perfect, but good. My ornamental cherry tree had one branch that was broken at the top and one on the side. The little hemlocks I got were very little (not a big surprise) and one of the four had lost quite a few leaves. I received two free red maples that seemed to be in good shape with adequate root systems for the size trees they were (3 foot). I also got a couple free forsythias that looked pretty good. One even had a side chute that had its own roots, had I been more industrious I would have cut it from the main stem and let it be its own plant. Since I had plenty to do I didn't worry about it.

The trees were sent wrapped in wet packing material that looked like strips of paper. Underneath the paper the roots were coated with a water retaining crystal material to keep them moist. The trees were attached to a bamboo stake for support. The roots of the trees were wrapped in plastic bags then the whole set of trees was placed into a triangular shaped cardboard box for shipping. Here's a picture of the trees in their packing material on the right.

Impressive right?

OK maybe not, but they're tiny trees, every tree starts out small.

The instructions said to soak them for 3-6 hours before planting. I did not have 3-6 hours to soak the trees from when they were delivered to when I planted them, instead I put them in a bucket of water for the length of time it took me to dig the holes.

See bucket:
See Bucket with plants:












The hole digging was easy as the ground was still a bit wet from rain on the previous day. It's amazing how different the dirt can be from one side of the lot to the other. Near the street the ground is almost all clay and toward the back is a very rich dark dirt with lots of worms.

Here are the trees that I planted:
American Sweetgum, Two Red Maples, Sugar Maple, Two River Birches, Three Forsythias, Yoshino Cherry, Four Canadian Hemlocks, Red Osier Dogwood

Some people don't like the sweetgum because of its burrs but its fall color can be spectacular. This particular tree had some good roots (see picture on right). It went into the ground on the eastern side of our back yard. There is a tree near there that it will eventually replace. The two red maples were free trees and are planted in the back to section off the area to eventually make a wooded glade. The sugar maple is parallel to our Red Sunset maple about 30 feet or so from our house. The birch is planted behind the birdbath garden to create shelter for the birds. The Yoshino Cherry is in the front yard because of its spring flower display along with the forsythias which are next to the road. Two of the forsythias are on one corner of our lot and the other near the mailbox. The second birch is located in the back near a water runoff area. Since the natural habitat for river birches is along side banks and streams it should be able to handle the extra moisture. One of the hemlocks joined our hemlock hedge and the other three were potted up since they were kind of small. The red osier dogwood was put into our front garden bed temporarily until I can remove and replace the hollies there.

To plant the trees I dug hole about 12-18 inches in diameter then churned up the dirt in the holes. I did not amend the holes since I want the trees to get used to the soil they will be growing in for the rest of their lives. I placed the trees into the holes with the crown of the roots just above the soil line. Then I watered the trees and mulched. Two and a half hours later I was done.

Will they live? Thats the question! I'll update on their progress for spring with before and after pictures. Right now the before pictures just look like sticks in the ground! The only plants I am concerned about are the hemlocks. They don't look very strong but we'll see!

December Skyscapes

A view of our southern sky with the skeletal tree branches making an interesting skyline.


A sunset with dark red clouds reflecting the light of the western sun.


Save the Mums!

Mums are the staple of almost every household in the fall because of their abundant fall blossoms and varied array of colors. One thing many people don't think about is that they are actually perennials. Some people realize this of course, but often people treat them as annuals only to buy them all over again next year. That is fine I guess if you want to spend money on mums year after year, but why dispose of something you could reuse again next year? A few small steps can save those mums and save you money.

If your mums are already in the ground then you have it easy. Just clip the dead growth back to 3-5 inches and cover with a good layer of mulch over winter. In the spring when new growth starts keep the branches pinched back to 6 inches or so until the middle of July or a little later if you live in warmer climates. Pinching the mums creates lateral branches for a fuller, more robust plant. If your plants are in pots find a good sheltered location in your yard and put them in the ground. Then follow the steps for an in ground mum. When new growth starts in the spring pot it up again in a large pot and follow the previously mentioned pinching procedures! You may want to trim a couple roots to initiate new root growth.

You might ask why did I choose to mention this? Two days ago I saw a person in our neighborhood dispose of 6-7 potted mums in the trash. I was very tempted to go through their trash to save the mums but just could bring myself to actually go through someone else's trash. They should have at least composted them! Just dumping them in an unused corner of the yard would be enough to make a little compost and save a few cubic feet of landfill space. Don't let good mums go bad, save the mums!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Happy Thoughts

I was tagged by Christopher at Outside Clyde to list eight things that make me happy. Then I get to name 8 other victims to do the same!

Here are the rules: When tagged, you must link to the person who tagged you. Post these rules before your list, then list 8 thoughts that make you happy. At the end of your list, you must tag and link 8 other people.

Happy thoughts:
1. Obviously my family!
1. My wife Jenny who does a great job as a wife and a mother to our two children.
1. My daughter Grace who is the smartest 2 year old in the world (really!)
1. My newest daughter Olivia who despite keeping us up at night has brought smiles and laughter to out home.
5. I've finally been able to get into the ground to garden after gardening in pots for years!
6. I'm happy the Steelers are doing well this year and will be even happier if they beat the Patriots on Sunday. Miracles can happen!
7. I'm happy I finally got all the bulbs planted.
8. I'm happy that all the major bare spots in my bedraggled lawn have grown grass!

And the Taggies go to:
Wild Flora at Wild Flora's Gardening
Tracey at Life in Sugar Hollow
Kristen at American Swede (since she's a fellow Tennessean!)
Susan at Simply Susan
Colleen at In the Garden Online
Seeded
El at Fast Grow the Weeds
Tracy at Outside

Sorry if I don't know all of you but I've not been blogging for very long. I've enjoyed looking at all the sites above!

December and Still Digging

Yesterday I fought the wind and dug a few more holes in our front garage/sidewalk garden. Its not much to look at now all bedraggled from the frost. Our perennials have said "good night" and only a few small shrubs look of any account, but in this bed I planted 60 tulips. I didn't use a special power drill with an auger or spade attachment. Nor did I use a bulb planter tool. I went old-fashioned. I used my spade. Here it is in all its glory! It's ergonomically designed to be easier on your hands and wrists. Using the spade, I stabbed the ground and wiggled the blade back and forth, then gave it a twist. This made a pretty good hole for each bulb. Using this method it took about 30-45 minutes to plant the 60 bulbs. I made all the holes first then put the bulbs in the holes. After putting the bulbs in I back-filled with dirt and mulch.

I bought the tulips in a box with two types of bulbs in the box: 'Negrita' and 'Shirley'. The 'Negrita' has purple blossoms and the 'Shirley' has mostly white with purple splotches and accents. Since I bought these in bulk fairly cheaply I don't know how well they will do, but we'll see this spring!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Garden Thoughts: A Gardening Equation

(Time x (Knowledge + Experience) x Money )= Your Garden

How successful is your garden? I think you can tell just by observing the outcome, but there are elements that go into it that effect your desired outcome.

Time to me is by far the most important. The amount of time spent planning, weeding, planting, propagating, or even researching play a huge role in what you get. With enough time you can grow large trees from small saplings, perennials or annuals from seed, or propagate plants from cuttings. Your knowledge and experience is a factor, but each time (there is that time word again) you try something new you increase your experience and learn something new! With experience and knowledge you can find other gardeners to exchange plants or seeds. You could even get help in landscape planning from garden clubs or other gardeners.

Instant gardening gratification can be achieved with enough cold hard cash, but you don't have to have a lot of money to be successful. Every now and then you will see a plant you can only find at a garden center or nursery and you may spend some money there. You may even spend a little on dirt, mulch, or containers. If you compost (experience, knowledge, and time again) you get free super powered dirt and you won't need fertilizers. You can even collect rainwater to reduce the cost of watering your garden. Knowing how to cut your lawn will help your grass grow without using fertilizers. Knowing what the plant requirements are will help you to figure out the best plants for your climate. Money can be the least of all factors but time is by far the most important!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Planting in Three Dimensions (3D)

When you plant a tree there are many things to consider about its location. The amount of sun it needs, the soil qualities and the size of the plant are some things that need to be considered. When you think about the size of the plant you need to think in three dimensions: the height of the tree, the diameter of the tree, and the root spread of the tree.

The First Dimension: The Height
The height of the tree is pretty self explanatory. Take some time to consider barriers to the trees height and plant appropriately. Watch out for power lines and other structures that are important to avoid. Planting a large tree like a maple or oak underneath or too close to a power line is just asking for trouble, instead you should consider a smaller tree. Under story trees like the redbud and the dogwood tend to be smaller in size and will fit better beneath power lines and other man made structures.

The Second Dimension: The Diameter of the Canopy
You should space the tree so that the diameter of the canopy would be away from any obstacles in your yard. Don't plant too close to the house since fallen branches can cause considerable damage to your property. Don't forgot about the spread of the tree and consider how it will affect mowing or planting plants beneath it. You should think about where the shade will cover. Planting an appropriate deciduous tree near your house can help lower cooling bills in the summer.

The Third Dimension: The Roots
The roots will extend beyond the drip-line of the tree to reach for the water the tree needs to survive. The drip-line is the edge of the branches of the tree. Avoid placing your tree where the drip line will be near sewer lines or underground utility lines since the roots will eventually be in that area. Sidewalks could be a concern also as many trees have large roots that grow above ground. The roots could crack or break the concrete.

Don't forget about these three dimensions when planting your tree so you can avoid big mistakes! In fact I've been considering moving the willow I put in this fall. I was more concerned with providing a fast screen for privacy and did not consider all the problems associated with willows. Willows tend to drop sticks and small branches on a regular basis. The roots are also very adept at finding water. The location I put it in is still a good 25 feet away from any structures in my yard, but I think I want some more distance from our house. I have a couple of places in the backyard to move it to and I even have an idea of how to replace the willow. Fortunately the willow's roots should not have extended too far yet and I have time to correct my mistake!

Native Substitutes for Exotic and Invasive Plants

Today while browsing I checked the Tennessee Exotic Pest Plant Council's website and found some very useful information for home gardeners. But first let me tell you why I was looking for it. I saw a post discussing Allan Armitage's view of native plants over at Garden Rant. To sum it up in three words: diversity is good! In my opinion as long as you don't invite invasive species to your yard that will take over the country (i.e. kudzu) then having a diverse ecology in your landscape is a good idea.

After reading that post I began to wonder about alternatives for exotic invasive plants. Natives tend to be hardier than exotic plants since they developed in the region and typically are more drought, disease, and pest resistant. While diversity is good there may be some good native alternatives for your landscape. The TNEPPC has some great resources available for free download to people interested in finding alternatives to the exotic and invasive plants many people commonly plant. Here is a pdf document that suggests alternatives to invasive and exotic plants: TNEPPC Native Substitutes. Download a copy and use it as a reference when planning your garden!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Garden Design Ideas: Create a Focal Point

A few years ago I helped my parents build together a focal point in their yard. It is made of two concentric circles of decorative concrete retaining wall, with the center circle taller than the outer one. The circles serve as a central location in the yard for some garden pathways. In the center ring is a weeping cherry tree that provides beautiful spring flowers. The outer circle is home to mums in the fall and often holds pansies. You could easily plant any type of annuals or perennials in the circles. A focal point could be anything from walls and fences to fountains and trellises. It would be fairly simple to create an elegant fountain or water feature in place of the weeping cherry tree. The sky is the limit! Just use your imagination.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Plant of the Week:Oak

The plant of the week this past week was an oak tree. This tree is actually in West Tennessee at my wife's grandmother's house. It is a very large and majestic tree that provides great shade and a bounty of acorns each year. The picture was taken from the base of the tree looking up at the canopy. As for the exact type of oak I suspect it is one of two possible candidates: the willow oak or the shingle oak.

The willow oak and shingle oak can be sometimes be confused due to the similar nature of their leaves. Each leaf is narrow and oval shaped as opposed to the ridged and pointed leaves of other oaks. The leaves of the shingle oak (Quercus imbricaria) tend to be longer than the willow oak (Quercus phellos).

For more information and a quick identification guide follow this link (pdf file):
The University of Tennessee Extension: Identifying Oak Trees Native to Tennessee

Saturday, December 1, 2007

It's the The Final Mowdown!

Today I took the mower out for a final spin in the balmy 60 degree weather before closing shop over the winter. I'm sure the mower was appreciative of the action as it had rested in my garage for a month gathering dust. It was a good day. It was just the mower and me, man and machine, making the final cut against the waning weeds and the odoriferous onions. Most of the heat thriving weeds and grasses had faded to that lovely dormant brown color and had given way to the bright green of my fresh cool season Kentucky 31. It's young and thriving, growing strong in the cool fall temperatures!

On we rode, up the slopes and back down again, feeling the rush of the wind on the number two speed setting. Over the bumps we careened like some mechanical bull in a seedy western bar, but the grass was grateful for our passage since in our journey we brought light to the lower levels of the lawn. We chopped down the tall creeping crabgrass and cool weather weeds and allowed the sunlight to stream down upon the young blades of fescue. We rode and we rode until there was only a little more to mow.

The riding mower deserved its rest and so out came his distant cousin the mulching push mower, whose specialty was collecting organic matter for composting. We patrolled the borders of the garden beds looking for rogue weeds and grass threatening to escape the confines of the yard. Once these areas had been successfully contained we moved to the back of the landscape to attack the most serious and threatening invader to new fescue grass in the fall: the leaves. Those paratrooping invaders threatened the well being of any grass unfortunate enough to remain shrouded in the darkness beneath their bulk. Left by themselves to decay the leaves would be a welcome influx of organic matter, but for now they had to be shredded or removed to allow light to reach the small blades of grass. The leaves were sucked into the gaping maw of the push mower and shredded, destined to become an addition to my compost bin. Some of the leaves collected ended up as mulch around trees and others became soil amendments to spots of bare ground plaguing the lawn. Many of these leaves remained where they fell and were summarily shredded. They will serve the ground well as shredded organic matter, improving the soil and giving a helping hand to the fescue that they had previously threatened.

For the mowers it was their final mowdown. The last hurrah before their long winter rest. One last chance to use up their gas and to trim the yard before the cold of winter shut everything down. For me it was one more time to enjoy being outside on a pleasant day.

One more thought:
Leaves are one of the best sources of compost material available. Don't let this resource go to waste. You can pile them up in an unused portion of your property, put them in a compost bin, leave them in place and mow them down into smaller bits. I hate to see people bag up the leaves for roadside collections. Or worse, when they burn them. It's a free resource that will make your landscape better if you use them right!