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Friday, May 30, 2008

Tonight Is The Night I Nearly Blew Up the Mower

I could have named this post several different things like: How to Destroy Your Mower in 5 Minutes, or Roasting Marshmallows Over an Open Mower, or even How To Turn Your Lawn Mower into a Bomb in Three Easy Steps. Fortunately each of those creative titles are inaccurate. The first title is wrong since I think my mower is still usable, that's good news! The second title wouldn't work since I didn't roast marshmallows over my flaming mower, nope that would have been really dumb. The last one might get me in trouble with homeland security so I'll stay away from that one too. (If you are a member of homeland security welcome to my blog! There's nothing illegal here, really there isn't!) The truth of the matter is I did a couple stupid things with my mower that I knew better but just didn't think about at the time.

It started after I finished mowing our one acre yard with the riding mower. I was getting the push mower out to trim around the house and the garden beds. The mower, which is about 8 years old, (easy to remember since my wife and I will have been married 8 years on Tuesday and we got it when we moved into our first place) got stuck on something. I looked down and saw a piece of nylon twine wrapped around the blade. I thought to myself "safety first" and removed the spark plug. (OK maybe I really didn't say "safety first" it was probably more like "I really like having my hand.") Whenever working on a mower you should always remove the spark plug so that the engine doesn't accidentally start, that would be bad. Then I turned the mower on its side to get the twine out. No problem there, it only took 15-20 seconds to pull it out. "Great," I thought " now I can get back to mowing." I flipped the mower back on its wheels and gave the pull string a tug and then... there was smoke... then fire...

I ran around to get the hose (in retrospect not a great idea since oil and water definitely don't mix). Wouldn't you know it the hose had kink in it. I got that one taken care of then another one appeared, then another. I was afraid the flames would reach the fuel tank which was full of some very, very expensive gas (is there any other kind anymore?) and ignite. The ensuing explosion would probably catch the house or cars on fire (maybe not but that's what was going through head at the time). When I finally got the water to come out the hose the fire had almost died out and there was just a small flicker of a flame. I sprayed it down with my thumb over the end of the hose to direct the water since I didn't have time to grab a nozzle and sprayed the engine down with the hose. The fire died down and a feeling of relief washed over me.

Wow did I mess up! Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes. It caught on fire because of a couple factors. First gasoline came out of the vent hole in the gas cap when I turned it on its side. Then I forgot to put the spark plug back on before I started the engine. The spark plug arced to the mower deck igniting either the gas fumes or the liquid gas still on the mower. Fortunately the engine itself was not on fire, just the top of the mower. I'll check tomorrow in the daylight for damage to hoses and other parts to make sure I haven't killed the mower. I should have waited for the gas that escaped the tank to evaporate and put the spark plug back on before I started the mower. I knew all that before but just wasn't thinking. Also don't use water to put out an oil based fire, it usually just makes things worse. Use sand or dirt. I even had a pack of topsoil sitting right next to me, I just didn't think about it. I guess sometimes it's better to be lucky than good!

I had planned a different post for tonight but since this mower incident popped up I thought I would share that story with you instead. Tomorrow I'll post my Bird Bath Garden Layout and Sunday some pictures of the Bird Bath Garden. Just remember to always check the spark plugs!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Name That Plant!

Is this a wildflower or a weed? Of course the phrase "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" always applies to wildflowers. What one person appreciates another might find invasive and vise versa. Then again someone might appreciate it and find it invasive...what do you think? This wildflower is very common in the southeast and much of the United States. I can assure you it is very common in the wilder parts of out yard! I think the pale creamy yellow flowers are very attractive, but in the landscape these plants might take over.

Here are some more pictures that might help you figure it out.

The stem with its leaves.

Could this be a clue? Five serrated leaves.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Vegetable Garden Update

It's been a little while since I've updated you on my raised bed vegetable garden. I'm pleased with the way things are looking right now. The tomato plants are taking off as are the squash and cucumber plants. You can see for yourself the benefits of gardening in raised beds! The tomatoes and other vegetables grow faster and larger.

In the picture above you can see one of our 11-12 tomato plants. I haven't kept track of how many I put in nor did I keep track of where I put each one. That's probably not good but I figured I would recognize the tomatoes by the fruits they produce. I can tell you without a doubt that the large tomato plant in the picture below is a 'Brandywine' tomato. The foliage is more broad than the hybrid tomatoes I selected for the garden. All of these tomatoes came from seed and were planted using a deep planting method. In my opinion it is the best way to plant a tomato. Just bury the tomato as deep as you can and remove all the leaves except the top few.

I'm still working on my irrigation system which will mainly consist of soaker hoses. I decided to use a basic hardwood mulch that was colored red. The garden's appearance was not really my concern even though the red-mulch looks great. I could have gone with straw or cedar mulch and been happy with its appearance but the red coloring reflects the red light frequency back onto the plants. This is helpful in particular for tomatoes since the red light frequency helps improve the quality of the fruit. I've used it before in my container vegetable garden and we've had good tomatoes, so why change a good thing? Underneath the mulch I layered newspapers as an extra layer of mulch. They will break down over time but for now they will prevent weeds from growing underneath the mulch.

I used an inter-planting method for the vegetable beds. I planted marigolds in the bed to discourage insects from tasting our crops. I also planted basil in the beds but the seedlings are too small to see right now. The cucumber plants are mixed in this bed to help provide an additional groundcover (plus we kind of like cucumbers!). All these plants are good companion plants with each other. In the square bed I just have four of the tomato plants. I'll probably plant some other things in the same bed soon, I just haven't decided what.

In the rectangular bed in the above picture I have squash, peppers, and marigolds.

If you remember my vegetable garden layout there were two 'L' shaped beds that were formed by a square bed and two large rectangle beds. I only took pictures of one 'L' since the other is only partially planted. I'll update that one later. I still need to plant a few more things out there. It has lettuce and radishes that will need to come out soon and beans that are about 6-12 inches tall. I can't wait to taste my first tomato from the garden! Did I mention that they were blooming?

The Forgotten Cuttings (Echinacea purpurea)

In my last post I forgot to show you the Coneflower cuttings. They are easy enough to grow from seed but I wanted to see how challenging the cuttings would be to root. I took six cuttings from our coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) but only two rooted. My success rate will be greater next time since I figured out what the problem was: water loss. With no roots started a cutting needs to keep a balance between sustaining itself and growing roots. It needs some greenery but not too much since the extra leaves require water. The cuttings that survived had small leaves. You can see in the picture where I trimmed off some of the larger leaves so that the stem would root. If all you have on a cutting is large leaves then it may become necessary to trim the foliage. You can tell very easily by watching the leaves for any browning. If the leaves turn brown or black then they aren't getting enough water. All you need to do is cut the leaves down to (probably) no more than in inch in length. The next cutting I take from the echinaceas will have one small leaf or one leaf that has been trimmed.

Why take cuttings from a plant when it seeds easily? It takes less time to grow into a mature plant and you get a plant that is genetically identical to the mother plant. This way you can be assured of the same flower color, the same growth habit, and the same foliage. I like growing from seeds also so I have started 9 purple coneflower and 9 'White Swan' coneflower plants from seed. They haven't sprouted yet but I'll let you know when they do!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Rainy Day Cuttings

Today and yesterday it rained. While it wasn't the nice steady soaking rain that every gardener dreams of it also wasn't the wimpy little sprinkles that tantalize the taste buds of the drought worried plant person. It was somewhere in between. Hopefully a little more rain will fall tomorrow as I can envision our tomatoes growing to the size of trees over night. Not really but one can dream!

The rain is great but where can a gardener garden when it is raining outside? The garage of course!

My seed starting lights are still up in the garage spotlighting the cuttings and remaining seedlings that are patiently (or maybe desperately) awaiting transplanting. Today I potted a few more of the cuttings I made. It didn't take long since there weren't many but it was one gardening chore easily accomplished during a rainy day.

The catmint cuttings I made a couple weeks ago are doing fantastic (on the left). Three little Walker's Low (Nepeta faassinii) cuttings were joined today with three more which brings me now to seven catmint plants (on right). If you ever run across catmint rub the leaves between your fingers and smell the scent that is left behind. This is one of those plants you can appreciate for its scent as well as its appearance.

Another experiment of mine was this little Silver Mound cutting. This artemesia is known for its silvery colored foliage and its mounding habit. Aptly named don't you think? Since this cutting worked I'll be trying a few more. These will help line the sidewalk garden either in place of the lavender I was planning or in addition to it.

I had to have more sedum. At the plant swap I traded for a 'Dragon's Blood' sedum. In order to complete my plans for the sedum garden I still need more 'Dragon's Blood' sedums to plant with the 'Blue Spruce' sedum. I took two cuttings last weekend and I was able to pot up these little dragons today but I'll still need to make a few more cuttings.

I also potted up some annual verbena cuttings. These new plants came from a $2 hanging planter of verbenas. In the pot there were 4-5 plants that needed some very basic care...like watering and deadheading. (Something the big box store caretakers don't really get into, but thanks to them I can save some money!) The hanging planter bounced back and I took these 4 cuttings. The roots come out at the nodes so if you want to quickly build a root system for annual verbena bury two nodes under your potting medium. The stem will grow two sets of roots and you will be much farther along. They don't take more than a few days with a rooting hormone application.

When you can't actually get into the garden having a garden in the garage can ease the anxiety of not being able to work in the garden. I must warn you though, it's not for everyone. If you like having a place to park your cars you may want to avoid using the garage for plants. I don't think our cars have ever been inside our garage...I need to build that greenhouse!

The Blooming of the Daylilies (Hemerocallis)

The daylilies (Hemerocallis) have begun their summer show appropriately on the unofficial start of summer, Memorial Day. Maybe the lilies felt the need to pay tribute to all of our country's veterans as we all should. These showy flowers are well known for their bountiful blooming abilities. Each flower only lasts a short period of time, about a day (imagine that!), then either sets seed or fades away with fresh blooms appearing over and over again. To encourage the proliferation of blooms you can dead head the spent blooms which sends the energy that would be used to produce seed back into the plant.

Here are some of the 'Stella de Oro' Daylilies with buds that are about to break.

We have this daylily next to a butterfly bush in our front garden. Unfortunately this plant will need relocated as soon the light of the sun will be forever blocked by the growing foliage of that butterfly bush. For now though it is a happy little flower!

I planted several of these next to our salvia in the front porch garden. Together the purple and gold should make for a nice combination this summer. I would like to add more of the daylilies to the front porch garden in time among other plants.

I began with one clump of Stella last fall and divided it into thirteen divisions. Every clump has begun to produce flowers this spring. A couple of the received a second division a month ago and are doing very good in the garden. Daylilies just keep on growing. You can begin with one and they will become as many as you need over time. If there ever was a fool proof plant to plant in your garden it would have to be a daylily.

I would eventually like to try hybridizing daylilies. Hybridizing is pretty simple with daylilies. You just take the stamen of one to the pistil of the other and if everything works right you will have a hybrid seed. That may be oversimplified a bit and you still have a ways to go to get your hybrid but that's where you start. There's no guarantee that it will be the plant you had in mind but to me it sounds like a fun experiment. I'll need to get a couple other kinds of daylilies for the hybridization experiment.

You may have guessed it, this one is not like the others. I don't have a name for it other than Hemerocallis 'That Orange One'. It was one of several divisions I made from my mother-in-law's garden. I like the deep orange color in the middle that contrasts with the yellowish colors on the outside of the petals.

So far the 'Crimson Pirate' daylily has not budded but I'm hopeful that it will this summer. I found some interesting information about the 'Stella de Oro' Daylily and it's name. Apparently the name means "Star of Gold" but is a hybridization of Italian and Spanish which makes the name a little inaccurate.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Foliage in the Shade Garden

I went out yesterday morning with the camera and took some photos of the shade garden. Rather than stand back and shoot the whole scene I chose to take a few close up photos of the leaves. To me one of the most interesting parts of a plant is the foliage. Many plants have a limited time only policy on their flowers, but their foliage has an extended offer. It will be there the whole growing season not just the two weeks in spring where they prolifically produce flowers then peter out to leave behind an unsightly mass of green growth. There certainly are plenty of plants that have fantastic flowers and foliage.

Here's a look at some of the foliage in my corner shade garden.

This plant might not be one you associate with foliage, but astilbe has some nicely shaped leaves. Just look at those toothed edges on the dark green foliage. The red stems are a nice touch. Soon it will shoot up some showy plumes of white flowers, but the foliage will not be forgotten!

A closer look allows you to see the water droplets resting on the surface of the leaf. Unfortunately no natural rain created this effect. A certain water can wielding gardener is responsible.

'Lady Guinevere' the hosta is dressed in fine variegated foliage. Anyone know of an 'Arthur' or 'Merlin' cultivar? The white variegation has a faint yellow tint that helps to highlight the wavy habit of the leaves.

Here is one of the two 'Patriot' hostas growing strong. The dark leaves have a nearly white variegation to them.

Our 'Ginko Craig' hosta is interesting because of its leaf shape. The leaves are more narrow and sword like than other hostas. It also has a variegation like the previously mentioned hostas.

How about those heucheras for foliage color? The deep purple of this 'Palace Purple' heuchera contrasts well with the greens of the hostas. There's even a Japanese painted fern sneaking into the picture.

The 'Fireworks' heuchera I picked up at the plant swap last weekend leans toward the red side of the color spectrum. Along the leaf veins it carries a greenish tint.

With a nearly opposite coloration from the 'Fireworks' huechera this heucherella called 'Stoplight' has some fantastic foliage. The red color is centered around the veins while the rest of the leaf displays a lime green.

This next plant gets its name from its foliage, the Oak Leaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). The broad leaves resemble the shape of an Oak tree's leaves. It also has some showy flowers that are just beginning to form.

The Japanese painted fern has some of the most interesting foliage of any plant. The fronds emerge with a red stem to display a silvery gray-green color on the surfaces of the leaves.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Budding Garden

Things are really starting to show their colors here in our Tennessee gardens. The spring flowering plants have displayed their petals and are preparing for next season. The daffodils and tulips are long gone. The salvia has given its first performance and is ready for dead-heading to prepare for the next show. Many of the plants in our gardens flower from summer through fall. Once planted these plants are pretty much take care of themselves.

One or two buds remain on our irises but most have finished blooming and are producing their seed heads. This picture shows the last of the spring Iris blooms in our yard. The buds appear as dark purple before opening up into a lavender purple color.

Another spring bloomer that still has buds is this viburnum. I'm not sure which kind of viburnum it is but it was a discount plant purchase at the end of the season last year.

Many of the roses are in full bloom right now. This was our Mother's Day gift for my wife. She can enjoy the roses every time they bloom, not just in the vase.

The summer flowering perennials are beginning to bloom. Alphabetically by its botanical name this flower could almost be first and last. Achillea millefolium is its botanical name but yarrow is it's common name. This is one of several Achillea plants that we have and I think this picture is of the 'Paprika' cultivar. It's easy to lose track of what you take pictures of with a digital camera!

What summer garden would be complete without a daylily (Hemerocallis)? In our gardens we have the 'Stella de Oro', 'Crimson' Pirate, and another unnamed orange kind. The orange ones were taken from divisions at my mother-in-law's house. The Stellas were here before we were and the 'Crimson' Pirates (Arrrr! Sorry had to say that.) came from a box. Those box purchases aren't very good, you would think I'd learn. Only three of the twelve have come up. If tho4se three are happy so am I. They should multiply very rapidly and then I'll be able to make some divisions.

Here is one of my selfish favorites right now. I collected seed from my mother-in-law's coreopsis last summer and planted them in pots. They grew into small plants by fall and I put them into various places around the yard. They are all doing fantastic and seem to be about 12-18 inches tall with buds all over. I can't wait to share the blooming birdbath garden with you. I put the coreopsis with coneflowers, salvia, a butterfly bush and some ornamental grass. I'll post about that spot in a few days once more blooms have arrived.

Here is one of the coneflowers I just mentioned. This is the bud of a 'Sunset' or 'Sunrise' coneflower. Unfortunately I can't remember which but we'll find out soon. The 'Sunset' Echinacea has a deep orange color while 'Sunrise' tends to show a vibrant yellow flower. I may have it written down somewhere but having a surprise is always fun.

Here's another shot of the coneflower a little farther along. We should find out soon what flower it may hold. Any guesses?

Friday, May 23, 2008

One of My Favorite Garden Tools: My Swiss Army Knife

This may be an unusual tool to consider a garden tool but I have found my Swiss Army Knifevery useful in the garden. As you probably know Swiss Army Knives have many useful attachments from the knife itself to toothpicks. I don't use the toothpick at all but there are many other parts I use frequently.

In the picture below you can see what I consider to be one of the most useful parts of the knife, the scissors. I use the scissors for a number of things related to pruning. Mostly I take softwood cuttings with the scissors. If it's too thick for the scissors to cut I'll use my pruners that are much more substantial but for perennials these are more than sufficient. They do well as a small pair of pruners for trimming the small stuff. Of course using the scissors for what they are intended is great too! Cutting twine and string, plant tags, and all sorts of miscellaneous things.

I don't use the knife as often as the scissors but it does come in handy for cutting open bags of mulch and would come in very handy for grafting. Grafting is something I would like to attempt eventually. Grafting is basically where you take a branch of one plant and attach it to another plant's branches or root stock. Think of it like an organ transplant except it is not nearly complicated.

This little attachment has two functions. A flathead screwdriver and a bottle opener. I've used the flathead screwdriver for all sorts of things but most recently I did some hose repair that required a flathead screwdriver. It also has a Phillip's head attachment that I use that isn't pictured. Now what could that bottle opener possibly open?

It even has a handy little saw blade. I haven't used it for anything but it is nice to know I have it when I need it.

There are other attachments like nail files, tweezers (great for removing splinters), a leather punch (I use it for poking holes in containers that don't have drainage holes), and a can opener. There are all kinds of knives out there with various functions. Many knives have more functions than mine does and several have less but this knife is a very handle tool for me in the garden. Do you have an unusual tool that wasn't meant specifically for the garden that you like to use in the garden?