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Monday, June 30, 2008

Propagating in the Early Morning

Early morning is the best time for so many things including plant propagation. Taking cuttings when it is cool prevents them from drying out and losing too much moisture before they get prepared. If a cutting dries out it very well could be the end of the road for your potentially propagated plant! This morning, as I always try to do before 7:30 AM, I went out to the garden to find something to do. It's never hard to find some task or job that needs done, but I decided to take some cuttings. I didn't really need to take any cuttings but it is one of my favorite things to do in the garden. I accomplished a lot over the weekend in the garden and I felt that taking a few cuttings would be a good reward.

Here are the cuttings I took today:

PlantType of CuttingTotal Cuttings
Red Twig DogwoodGreenwood, stem tip2
Catmint 'Walker's Low' Nepeta faasseniiStem tip7
Mediterranean White HeatherStem tip6
Viburnum 'Shasta'Stem tip2
Silver MoundGreenwood, stem tip2
Unknown Variety of SedumStem tip2
Dragon's Blood SedumStem tip2
Blue Spruce SedumStem tip1
Salvia nemorosaStem and stem tip3
AstilbeStem tip2
'Purple Homestead' VerbenaStem tip4
Russian SageGreenwood, stem tip1

The astilbe is experimental and probably won't work, but you never know if you don't try it right? The red twig dogwoods are from greenwood cuttings which are more sensitive to moisture, or the lack of it. They are supposed to root faster than the hardwood cuttings but hardwood cuttings of red twig dogwood root very easily.

Blue Skies Smiling at Me

This morning I went out to tinker in the garden and had to capture some of images of the clear blue skies overhead. I was out taking cuttings on this cool spring-like morning that I'll share a with you later today.

The sky began as mostly overcast with a few spots of blue shining through.

Soon the overcast skies gave way to puffy cottonball-like clouds on a background of blue.

The clouds were parting above our Tulip poplar, the state tree of Tennessee.

As I finished feeding the birds I took one last picture of the sky. A clear day is ahead, have a good one!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

What's Not to Like About 'Homestead Purple' Verbena?

What's not to like about 'Homestead Purple' Verbena? The only answer I could come up with to my own question is that I don't have enough of it! It is a fantastic flowering ground cover. 'Purple Homestead' grows very well with little care in full sun. For Tennessee gardens it's a must have.

Who Discovered 'Purple Homestead' Verbena?

Do you know Allan Armitage (Armitage's Native Plants for North American Gardens) and Mike Dirr (Viburnums: Flowering Shrubs for Every Season)? You've probably heard their names before. These two University of Georgia professors, horticulturalists, and authors are responsible for the discovery of 'Purple Homestead' verbena. According to an article by retired Arkansas Extension Agent Gerald Klingamen, the two Georgia professors were driving to Athens when they spotted a large mass of Verbena on a homestead (hmm, could that be where the name came from?). They stopped to inquire about the plant but the lady who owned the property didn't know much about it. She allowed Armitage and Dirr to collect some cuttings and now it's in garden centers and nurseries everywhere.

It's hard to beat these purple blooms that flower prolifically throughout the summer. We have three of these plants with two more coming from cuttings. One of the 'Purple Homestead' verbenas was in our mailbox garden and mysteriously died. I suspect it may have had too much moisture. It really looked fantastic this spring mixed with 'May Night' salvias and an Achillea (yarrow). I had just bought two more small plants for other locations when it passed away. The verbena in the first picture was a cutting from our first one that I rooted last summer so technically we still have the first plant since this one is a clone. It's growing thick and strong in our front porch garden.

This verbena bloom is forming a near perfect circle with its flowers. They root very easily from cuttings or you could divide them each year if you want more, who wouldn't?

I wish I could take a photo of the verbena flowers when they are bathed in the moonlight. I doubt my camera would get a great shot but they seem to glow an effervescent purple when reflecting the moonlight. It would be a perfect ground cover flower for a night garden.

Can you figure out what's not to like about 'Purple Homestead' verbena? I sure couldn't!

Want to know more about 'Purple Homestead' Verbena?
Here's some information on propagating 'Purple Homestead' Verbena.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

My Vegetable Garden Layout Revisited

I suppose it's human nature to second guess oneself and lately I've been wondering if the vegetable garden layout I decided to make was designed the best way. It's very functional and all the vegetables have been growing wonderfully (until a couple pests came along, but that isn't related to the garden's layout.) Aesthetically the layout works well and there is plenty of space for our little vegetable crop, but there are a few things that could be tweaked.

Right now the area inside the rabbit fence is grass. Having grass inside the garden creates a small problem: it's inconvenient to mow around the irregular shapes. Mowing near the fence is difficult since the mower gets caught in the fencing. Around the beds I just can't get close enough to get all the grass and either a trimmer or a set of shears is needed to make the area look good. It might have been made easier if I had just done simple rectangular beds. My solution (that I haven't gotten to yet) is to take cardboard and lay it down over the grass then mulch. If I have mulch there the mowing won't be necessary. I would eventually like to have a steppable ground cover like elfin thyme covering the mulched areas. I've considered a gravel based mulch but I've heard some people swear against. Please don't swear as this is a family friendly blog but what do you think?

The beds are almost four feet across which makes planting in the center hard to reach. Planting in two rows should work better for next year. A three foot width would probably have worked well but I like having the extra space.

I still have some work to do. The outside perennial bed isn't ready yet. The left side is started and has been planted rather haphazardly. A mixture of "whatever I didn't have a spot for" seems to find the ring. The one ring. The one to hold them all and in the garden bind them. OK that's enough channeling my inner Tolkien. So far I only have one butterfly bush planted there. It's the one in the lower left that came from a cutting I made over the winter. I know he's glad to be planted. Daylilies, sunflowers, a canna lily, zinnias, a scarlet runner bean, and some cosmos have all found a home in the ring. Hodgepodge doesn't even begin to describe it. Eventually I'll move those plants into a better home, but for now the ring is their home.

I need to fashion a gate for each side. Right now I have creatively (or really, cheaply) allowed the fencing to overlap so it will form a flexible gate at each end. It seems to work since I haven't had any bunny attacks in the vegetable garden. Two wooden picket fence-like gates are on the agenda, just somewhere toward the bottom this season's list.

I would like to expand the ring a couple feet outward but that will have to wait for now. It's getting hot in Tennessee and planting might have to wait a while.

There's always too much to do isn't there?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Enemies of the Garden: Squash Vine Borer and Cucumber Beetle

I've been riding a gardening high since everything seemed to be going so well. The summer squash has been putting out squash prolifically and everyday there have been more cucumbers to pick. Things are changing. Now there are some pesky pests who are honing in on my vegetables. The squash vine borer and the cucumber beetle are the villains.

These two garden pests have mercilessly dined upon my beloved vines. The squash vine borer is an ugly little thing in its larval state, which is where it does the damage. I was examining a cucumber beetle that had landed on the squash leaf and decided to knock him away. When I knocked the beetle off a large leaf of my squash plant came off too. That's when I found the rear end of this squash vine borer mooning me. As if he hadn't offended me already by damaging my squash plants.

There's not much that can be done now. I haven't used any pesticides this year which may have allowed these guys to find my plants. All I can do is manage the situation. I'll attempt to remove the borer then bury the squash vine under more dirt. This will allow the squash vine to root in more places and will lessen any possible die back from borer damage and girdling.

The cucumber beetle wouldn't have been so bad if it weren't for the bacteria it carries. I noticed about a week ago that the cucumber leaves seemed to be wilting in the heat of the day. Since it was in the mid 90's and the plants needed watered I didn't think too much of the wilt at the time but it turns out I should have. The cucumber beetle carries with it a bacteria that causes bacterial wilt. It transmits the bacteria to the plant either through its mouth or through its excrement. In the first picture below the damage doesn't look bad until you look a little closer.

Unfortunately there is no cure. My vines have a terminal illness.

Here's the culprit who brought the devastation to my cucumber vine. By all appearances he looks like a friendly little beetle. Some of his relatives even have stripes. The University of Kentucky Department of Entomology has some information on preventing cucumber beetles from damaging your crop, but for my vines it's too late.

I'll try to start over with some new vines since I have plenty of seed. Hopefully they will do well but for now I'll harvest everything I can until the vines die off.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Before 7:30 AM

One of the best times to work out in the garden is the early morning before 7:30 AM. Anytime thereafter the temperature and humidity skyrockets, at least here in Tennessee. Early morning is also one of the best times for watering. It gives the plants water in the coolest part of the day when they can absorb the most since it doesn't evaporate as fast. You also avoid the heat of midday which can contribute to fungal diseases. Fungi likes warm and wet. For me working before 7:30 AM is essential since anytime after that my little girls could wake up for the day.

Here's a few of the chores I got done before 7:30 AM this morning:

I Transplanted

I transplanted several English laurels into either larger pots or dirt. They all came from cuttings. Four of the laurels were recent cuttings that have be crying out for re-potting for quite some time. They just weren't happy staying in the sand. The other four were from cuttings I put into one large pot in the fall. They had a good deal of new growth and needed moved into separate pots. Now these 8 laurels will grow in their current pots until fall when I'll transplant them into the ground.

I also transplanted my Father's Day Japanese Maple into a larger pot. I have a great idea of where to plant it in our landscape but the spot isn't ready yet and probably won't be for at least a month, and most likely a bit longer. Until then a pot will have to do, besides fall is a better planting time for trees and shrubs then 90 degree June days.

I Watered

I watered some daylilies near the vegetable garden, watered all the pot transplants, and watered a few plants I put in the other day like Butterfly Weed, Salvia lyrata, ajuga, and a Silver mound (artemsia).

I Planted

My new additions to the garden include monarda and a neat little fern that I picked up from my wife's Aunt's garden. I have some research to do to find out the name of the new fern. It was in her garden that I found the variegated hydrangea.

I Took Cuttings

My sidewalk garden is coming along nicely with the silver mound forming a fluffy border that I want to continue down the length of the sidewalk. I didn't have enough plants to do that yet so I made five more cuttings of silver mound. It roots easily and thrives in our hot climate. I also collected three more cuttings of my Russian sage. I only took from branches that weren't forming flower stalks. Those stems should create a few more branches and make a bushier plant.

I Drank Coffee

When I finished I drank a cup of coffee. Yep I needed that!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Taking Variegated Hydrangea Cuttings

While we were out of town this past weekend we visited one of my wife's aunts. She has a custom built log cabin in the woods surrounded by her garden. Since her property is very shady one of the most prominent plants in her garden is her hydrangeas. She has several kinds of hydrangeas that I'll show you in a later post, but I was fascinated by her variegated hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla). In the picture below you can see why. Even without blooms you would have an interesting plant to admire because of its variegated foliage, and the flowers aren't half bad either!

Here's a closeup of the variegated leaves. It has a creamy colored edging that sneaks inward toward the dark green heart of the leaf.

Can you guess what I did? Of course you could, it's in the title of this post. I took cuttings! I managed to limit myself to four suitable stem tip cuttings for rooting. Each cutting has at least 2 nodes along its stem not including the node with the top leaves, 3 nodes in all.

One of the challenges I faced with the hydrangea cuttings was transportation. I needed a way to keep them moist over the course of a few days. I couldn't root them while away from home so the solution was a plastic bag. By wrapping the cuttings in a moist paper towel I was able to keep the cuttings from drying out. I kept the cuttings indoors over the next couple days in a cool location until I was able to get to them. I took the cuttings on Saturday and rooted them Tuesday morning.

When I was ready to stick the cuttings I got my potting medium ready. It wasn't anything complicated, just plain old sterilized playground sand in a cleaned out plastic container.

Then I put some rooting hormone powder into an old yogurt cup. Cleaned out of course! I try to re-use what I don't recycle then recycle what I re-used. It's a good idea to use a cup like this then discard the hormone to prevent spreading possible diseases or contagions through the new cuttings.

Then it was time for a dip. I made sure that the cut ends of the hydrangea cuttings were damp by running them for a second under some water. Then I dipped them in the powder and shook off any excess.

Finally I stuck the cuttings into the sand and watered them. It may be unconventional but I don't put drainage holes in the sand containers, nor do I use misters. I've found that as long as I keep the sand damp, not soaking wet, that the cuttings do fine. This is probably because the sand is (or should be) completely sterile. If I monitor the moisture every couple days then I should have some newly rooted variegated hydrangeas in a couple weeks! Once these baby hydrangeas have rooted I'll give you a peak at their roots.

If you want more information on plant propagation check out The Basics of Cuttings.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Woodland Shade Garden Design Process

Very soon (July) a wedding will take place in the backyard at my in-laws home. A while back I was asked to help spruce up the area around where the ceremony will be to help improve its aesthetics for the wedding. The property itself is roughly 6 acres of mostly wooded land with a cleared area near the house for yard space. Since the wedding will take place in the back yard, my mind went toward designing a shade garden area that would be well suited to the rustic charm of the forest. I wanted to let the area blend in, yet still stand out. In the picture below you can see the area for the garden. To the left of the area is where the wedding ceremony will be.

We began by laying out stones for a small border. Some of the stones were in fact large 200-400 pound boulders that it took three of us to move (You can check out those boulders in my post: Rock'N Roll). Most of the stones were easily handled by one person and loaded into a wheelbarrow then brought to the site from the surrounding woods. Stone is an easily found commodity at their house since they live on top of limestone hills.

After the stones were placed between the trees, I positioned the plants in an arrangement that I thought looked best. We selected Autumn ferns, 'Palace Purple' heuchera, various hostas, coleus, and a rhododendron. The rhododendron would have been accompanied by two others but they didn't have three of the same kind at the store. Since then I've rethought things slightly and would rather put in oak leaf hydrangeas where at least one of the rhododendrons was destined to go. In addition to the ferns we purchased I went into the woods and transplanted several of the native ferns into the shade garden.

My daughter loves walking on the stone border and posing for pictures as you can see!

Once everything was in place I began planting. Several varieties of hosta were planted including 'Wide Brim' and 'Patriot'. The stump in the background is a placed log and not a real stump but it does appear to have been there for a while.

You might be asking "why didn't you clear the grass and weeds that were there?" One answer would be "because I didn't need to" but the other, more honest, answer would be "because I'm lazy!" Both of those answers are true since we used one of my favorite planting techniques: newspaper! By layering the newspaper between the plants we put an effective weed prevention barrier that was easy to work around. To me newspaper is better to use in gardens than landscape fabric. It breaks down over time and you can plant things where it used to be. Also the roots don't get tangled up in the newspaper like they do in landscape fabric. I do like the fabric for under mulched walkways and areas where NO plants will ever be!

I moved several more logs to use for planters and to add a bit of woodland charm to the garden. The stump toward the middle of the following picture was once a cedar tree that is now a stand for a Boston fern. I thought that placing a log on its side would help to evoke more of the woodland mood.

From this angle you can see the three large boulders I mentioned earlier. the two on the left are easily 300-400 pounds and about 3 feet in length. Perfect stones to have a seat and drink some cool lemonade or anything else for that matter.

Toward the front I added a small ring of stones that connects to the garden but distinguishes a transplanted redbud (Cercis canadensis). Redbuds are all over Tennessee and fit in well as an understory tree to help add to the shady conditions. Their spring color is spectacular and their heart shaped leaves look great through all growing seasons.

Here is the redbud tree itself. It's a small one with a good root system.

I picked a tree that had a "Y" branching pattern. My thought was that it would grow nice and bushy over time.

The next couple pictures were of the woodland shade garden in April. Work was mostly finished except for mulching, which was just recently completed.

Here is a heuchera next to a stump.

A few of the ferns.

Here is one final look at the woodland shade garden in April.

Now the garden is almost complete. The mulch is covering up the newspaper and the plants are growing in their new home. Toward the back you can see two small flags where other plants may be planted in the future.

Remember the Rustic bench I mentioned? Here it is right next to the shade garden. One side of the garden has the convenience of the large stones that double as seating and the other side has this bench. No matter where you go you can have a seat to enjoy the sounds and sights of nature.

It's amazing how much adding mulch dresses up an area. Any volunteer weeds that pop up can easily be pulled.

Here is a look at the garden from the front. The log caladium planter is standing in the center where one of the little flags was. A few pieces of driftwood were added to enhance the rustic look. There is a tiki torch in the center that needs moved, but that can be done once we know where all the seats will be.

Hopefully this garden will enhance the enjoyment of the wedding for the guests. Even if it doesn't, I had fun putting it together!