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Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Question of Perspective: Native vs. Exotic

This could be a tense question for all those opinionated gardeners out there but which should you pick, native or exotic plants? There are definitely advantages to choosing native plants with tolerance to the climate being first and foremost. Natives are better for the indigenous wildlife as it provides the food and sustenance they are used to eating.

Exotic plants are those that are not native. OK that's not an extensive definition, but if it was introduced from another region, country, or planet, it's not native! The advantage of an exotic plant lies in its uniqueness. Exotic plants can create an aesthetic diversity in the garden and may still provide for the needs of the local wildlife. Let me be very clear, I'm not talking about invasive plants which can take over a countryside in a matter of minutes (i.e. kudzu).

My opinion:
If you want my opinion (and if you're reading this you must!) a healthy combination of both native and exotic plants is good for the garden. By using natives you can create a more drought tolerant and climate resistant garden. But I wouldn't want to be without the exotics for their unique appearances and properties.

What do you think? Should you go all native? All exotic? Or am I right and you should use a combination of both? What's your perspective?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Enemies and Allies: Hornworms and Wasps

"The enemy of my enemy is my friend." This ancient sentiment applies very well to the denizens of the garden. The tomato (tobacco) hornworm in the pictures is a being of great tomato destruction. This larval stage of the five-spotted hawkmoth is able to demolish whole tomato plants in a matter of days if not caught early. It feeds off the tomato plants with a voracious appetite leaving behind bare stems where green foliage used to be. But there is help on the way for the organic gardener. Without using pesticides you can rely on Mother Nature to provide a counter attack for these destructive beasts.

Enter the braconid wasp! And I do mean enter! This parasitic wasp lays it's eggs inside the hornworm where they hatch and eat their way through the flesh of the hornworm. The wasp is harmless to people and animals but is a death sentence to the hornworm. The white shapes covering the hornworm in the pictures are the larva of the wasp working their way out. If you see a hornworm in this stage it is best to let it be and let the braconid wasps do their work. The wasps will continue to grow then lay their eggs in other hornworms which will protect your tomatoes from being unceremoniously snacked upon.

If the wasps haven't assassinated your enemy then you can easily pick up and dispose of the hornworms in a solution of soapy water.

R.I.P. Tomato Hornworm

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Thrifty Gardening Tips: A Two Season Trick

Here is Part 8 of The Home Garden's Weekly series about how to garden on a budget.

I call it the Two Season Trick but there really isn't much of a trick to it. Just plan in fall for spring and plan in spring for fall! Or as a general rule plan ahead at least two seasons. The budgetary savings here may not seem so obvious but if we dig a little deeper you will find it.


Suppose you want bulbs to be blooming in the spring. You can either plant them in the fall or wait until they are sold in stores already blooming in pots in the spring. The plants you buy in the spring will cost more, besides fall is the best time to plant most bulbs.

New Plants: Perennials, Shrubs, and Trees

I mentioned earlier in this series about buying smaller plants and that's where planning ahead two seasons can really make a difference. A smaller plant purchased a couple seasons early will eventually end up just as good if not better than the larger one purchased in season.

Most garden centers (I'm not including nurseries in this) will sell you the plants when they are blooming. People see the blooming plants and are immediately drawn to them. If you go ahead and buy the blooming plants you will spend more than if you purchase them before they have bloomed.

Buy your perennials in the fall when the sales are happening and you not only save money but you get a plant established for the spring season. A perennial, shrub, or tree planted in the fall will get the advantage of a winter's worth of root growth. Slow though they may be roots still grow when it's cold, as long as the ground isn't frozen!

'Snow Hill' Salvia x superba

Garden Beds

Preparing your garden beds a couple seasons before you need them is a good way to save a few bucks. In fact preparing your garden beds in fall before you need them in the spring is probably the best time to do it. It also requires less effort, just use the news! Newspaper that is. Lay down several layers of wet newspaper where you want your garden or flower bed to be. Then layer grass clippings, shredded leaves, and mulch over it. When spring comes you will have a ready made garden bed, itching to be planted. If you want to you could add other organic materials like compost or peat into the mix. This will save you time in the spring and better prepare your garden for planting your favorite perennials. By applying the grass clippings and shredded leaves you add organic material that will help to enrich the soil which will reduce the fertilizer you may be tempted to use during the growing season.

For a look at the previous Thrifty Gardening Tips check out these posts:

Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 1: Buying and Saving Discount Discount Plants
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 1 Follow Up: Buying and Saving Discount Plants
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 2: The Generosity of Gardeners
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 3: Save Gas, Only Mow Where You Go
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 4: Think Small Plants
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 5: Make Compost
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 6: Making a List
Thrifty Gardening Tips Part 7: Know Thy Landscape

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Morning Glories

Could there be anything so easy to grow as a Morning Glory (Ipomoea)? Once a seed sprouts the vine will happily climb whatever structure it lies adjacent to whether it be a tree, shrub, trellis or post. It's not picky!

Of course there is the issue of Ipomoea invasiveness. Morning Glories are rapid growers and self seeding phenoms. They can quickly overtake trellises and arbors which makes them a good choice to use for an annual vine to cover your structures. Use them with care becasue they will spread. To help control your Morning Glory plant it in a pot then keep a watchful eye on where the vines travel. You could also pinch off the spent blooms before they go to seed. Another idea would be to collect the seed when the flowers turn into brown pods, then store the seeds so that you may put them where you want them and not where Ms. Ipomoea would like to grow.

If by some chance, OK really a 100% chance, you miss a few seeds and a new plant sprouts that you don't want in your garden pull it up quickly before the roots are too deep. They can be controlled with vigilance. This particular morning glory was transplanted into a pot from somewhere else in the yard. I made sure last fall to collect as much of the seed as I could and I've had very few seedlings appear.

As you can see I've been training our Morning Glory to grow around our front porch railing. As it grows I'll continue to weave the ends of the vines around the rails. Occasionally I'll pinch the growth tip to encourage more branching for thicker coverage.

The heart shaped leaves and light blue flowers of the Morning Glory can be a welcoming site to greet visitors to our home.

I've noticed that the hummingbirds seem to like sipping nectar from morning glories. Morning glories come in quite a few colors and are related to other plants like the moon flower which only blooms at night. The two blooms in the picture below are volunteer morning glories that are very common around our yard.

I know a lot of gardeners view morning glories as invasive weeds. I think of them more as invasive flowers. Fun to look at but in need of a watchful eye.

Muskmelon Madness!

The other day I went out to the garden and picked one of the best cantaloupes we've ever eaten. The taste of a store bought melon can never beat that of one that is homegrown!

Cantaloupes are actually muskmelons (Cucumis melo 'reticulatus') that are given the name cantaloupe to sound more palatable. Musk just refers to the smell but if you think of musk you might think more of a skunk, so most people just call them cantaloupes. True cantaloupes (Cucumis melo 'cantaloupensis') aren't actually commercially grown in the United States.

Our cantaloupes or muskmelons are going wild in the raised bed garden (Raised Bed Vegetable Garden Layout). They've completely overrun the bed they are in and are partially covering two other beds. I don't mind since we eat a good deal of fruit and as long as they keep producing we'll be eating. I was at the store today and saw the price of muskmelons was two for $5, so for every two melons the vine produces we save $5. It's almost like growing money!

Cantaloupes have male a female flowers like squash, cucumbers, pumpkins and many other vining fruits. You can tell when the cantaloupe is ripe when it pulls gently off the vine. It will have a generally tan appearance on the surface. A couple of the melons I picked this morning felt like they had just fallen off the vine.

Here's what I picked this morning with many more still to come. One melon from the other day plus the five from this morning makes six. One we've eaten, another we are working on, two were given to my parents (who incidentally gave us the plants), and the last two will eventually get eaten by a hungry almost three year old! Of course she will have help! Yum...

For some good information about muskmelons check out this page at the North Carolina State University Department of Horticulture.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Cobblestone Patio Project Progress Report

Here's look at where I'm at with my cobblestone patio project. It's still not quite finished but I do see a light at the end of the tunnel. It's been a couple weeks since my last update on the patio and my progress has been very intermittent. Last week I woke up on Wednesday morning nearly immobilized with a terrible back pain that eventually subsided but took days out of my project time. It felt like I pinched a nerve or had the worst back cramp you could possibly imagine. I've been able to get some quality work done this past week which is one reason why my posting and commenting on blogs (both this one and other garden bloggers) has been erratic.

Now that I have my excuses out of the way I'll give you a quick tour now of where the patio is and what still needs to be done!

When you come around the side of the house you will see and entry sidewalk. This part of the project will be finished next year as we add another length of it but for now a three foot length and a step down onto the main patio will greet the patio guests. I roughly (OK very roughly) laid out the paving stones in one possible arrangement before I set them in stone (pun alert!). To the right of the sidewalk will be a raised planting bed edged with stone. Into that bed I plan to place a Japanese maple and a few other plants to be determined later.

Here's a glimpse of the patio with the paving stones not quite set yet. I still need to work sand in between the cracks to stabilize them. I'll recover the edges of the patio with soil and hopefully plant a thyme around the edges of the patio. That will have to wait until I find the time and have the thyme!

Here you can see some areas that are set with sand in the cracks. The areas that are set are very solid.

In the center is where the planting bed will be and to the right will be the sidewalk that will extend to our garage door sidewalk. It's only one level now but next year we'll add a second tier.

I've got a few corners to finish up. I like the rounded edges since they make it seem a little less formal but they do require a little more finagling. I still have to carve the individual paving stones to fit the remaining gaps on the edges. Fortunately the stones aren't too difficult to size up but it will take a little time.

The patio is taking a little longer than I planned, but don't all projects? I should have it finished by the weekend if I take a few minutes each day to work on it. I can't wait for it to be complete!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Sunday Question: What are the Best Ornamental Grasses in Your Garden?

Here's another question for another Sunday! What are the best ornamental grasses in your garden? Ornamental grasses are great plants to use whether as a background or as a feature plant. There are all kinds of ornamental grasses to choose from; some are native and some exotic. In our garden we only have two varieties but I hope to add more eventually. The two we have are Miscanthus sinensis 'Zebrinus' (a variegated miscanthus) and Karl Foerster 'Feather Reed Grass' (Calamagrostis x acutiflora).

The striped pattern on the miscanthus makes it very interesting in the garden as a foliage plant. Miscanthus sinensis actually comes from China. Generally anything that has sinensis in its botanical name comes from China. I have two clumps of it in our Bird Bath Garden (Bird Bath Garden Layout).

The Karl Foerster Feather Reed Grass has been a little on the disappointing side. It is a great grass to add into any garden but I divided it shortly after purchasing it last fall and it is still recovering. It will do fine eventually but for now the three clumps are a bit on the small side. Time will heal all wounds and next year they should be pumped up and ready to grow! I have it in our rain garden mixed together with rudbeckia and zinnias. Feather reed grass would look great with coneflowers and other wildflowers, which coincidentally are in the rain garden also!

There's a list of grasses I would love to have growing in my garden but at the top of my list is Muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris). I actually like the pink variety of it better than the white mainly for the color interest, but both would add some value to a garden. Muhly grass is a native grass found from Texas on northward to Massachussets that grows to about 3 feet tall.

What ornamental grasses to you have in your garden? And/or what ornamental grasses do you want to add to your garden?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Prickly Pear Cactus: A Sharp Tennessee Native

When people think of plants native to Tennessee the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia humifusa) probably doesn't come immediately to mind. Still it is one of many of the unique plants you can find in our diverse state. This particular cactus was found in Mt. Juliet, TN in cedar glade conditions but you could find it anywhere in the eastern United States. The ground there is very rocky with very little well nourished soil.

In the late spring the prickly pear cactus flowers with bright yellow blooms. The fruit of the prickly pear can be eaten and is common made into jams and jellies. Of course the spines should be removed first!

This is one sharp native. It's also known as 'Devil's Tongue'. I wonder how it got that name?

These sharp protrusions from the pad are really leaves that have developed over the years into extremely sharp spines.

As for propagating cactus...er...I'm not touching this one!

(But you can find some good information at Desert Gardens if you really want to risk bodily injury!)

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Meeting of Tennessee Garden Bloggers

Tuesday evening several of us Tennessee garden bloggers got together to meet. For some of us, including myself, it was the first time seeing the bloggers behind the screen. Our conversations ranged from garden topics, blogging topics, to air traffic control. So who was there? Who are the faces behind the blogs?

Gail from Clay and Limestone is on the left and Frances (our surprise guest) of Faire Garden is on the right. No that's not Gail's baby, she's holding my almost 9 month old daughter.

Here is a shot of DP of Square Foot gardening in Nashville looking intently into the conversation.

Here is Tina of In the Garden, the instigator of the meeting!

Have you ever met Mother Nature? She walked into the restaurant and and had dinner with us!

Here's Frances again with my wife and daughter, who was bouncing around. Tina brought these very nice garden plaques for each of us. I had a good time and hope to meet with you all again. I also want to thank Gail, Frances, and Tina for the plants!

The Thrifty Garden Tips will continue next Thursday. I was unable to get the post finished since I spent most of my day working on the patio. The end of that project is in sight!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Rosemary as an Evergreen Landscape Planting

You probably know rosemary as a fantastic herb for your garden. It's great for seasoning chicken, fish, and (my personal favorite) used in an olive oil dip for bread; but what about in the garden as a landscape planting? I have two rosemary plants framing the front steps to our house. They help to define the entrance into the yard from the front steps.

Rosemary at the front steps

The color lasts year round and it thrives in our Middle Tennessee zone 6b-7 area. One one side of the stairs the rosemary's green color contrasts with the light gray-green color of our Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and the silvery foliage of a 'Silver Mound' (Artemisia schmidtiana). You can see in the top left picture the edge of the silver mound nudging against the rosemary.


On the right side of the steps the rosemary is backed against a darker shade of green with our asters that should soon be blooming with purple flowers. The rosemary has never complained about not having enough water and in fact seems to thrive in drought-like conditions. If you decide to use it as a landscape planting don't be afraid to use it in your cooking as well, it likes frequent trimmings. The more you clip it the thicker your plant becomes. These rosemary plants are in their second year in the ground and have grown into solid plants that I should be able to use for cooking all winter. If you want a more formal look rosemary can be trained into a topiary or be pruned into various shapes. I prefer the natural look.

You can propagate rosemary cuttings fairly easily since it roots in a cup of water or through layering. Its strong scent can also be a deterrent for deer and rabbits. To date I've never seen a deer on my front steps, but you never know! Rabbits are another matter...

Results: What Perennials Could You Not Garden Without?

This past Sunday I asked a for some inspiration on perennials for fall plantings. Here is a summary of what people suggested. I've simplified this post to show only the specific perennials themselves but those who commented offered some great ideas for where to use these perennials and some other options like trees and shrubs so please go back and read the comments for some more inspiration!

Laurie's Picks (From my Garden to Yours...):

Tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, Shasta daisies, purple coneflowers, and clematis, honeysuckle, black-eyed Susans, mums, asters, deep crimson verbena (hanging baskets) and million bells.

Perennial Gardener's Picks (The Perennial Garden Lover):


Gail's Picks (Clay and Limestone):

Coneflowers, rudbeckia, TX salvias, Salvia azurea, Little bluestem grass, Mexican Feather Grass, goldenrods (Solidago), native asters, baptisias, hellebores, clematis, phloxes: pilosa and paniculata, stargazer lilies, daylilies, epimediums, villosa, heucheras and the crosses, hardy native ferns, verbena canadensis, monardas and malvas

Rhonda's Picks (Adventures in My Garden):

Knockout roses, coneflower, black eyed susans, daisies, phlox, rose of Sharon, 'Purple Homestead' verbena, agastache 'Blue Fortune', blue liriope, daylillies, tulips, daffodils, monarda, the baptisia, Lambs ear.

Tina's Picks (In the Garden)

Peonies, irises, amsonia, hardy geraniums, coneflowers, brown eyes, Russian sage, mums, hostas, sedum, salvias, eupatoriums, and daylilies.

Dee's Picks (Red Dirt Ramblings)

Daylilies, pink garden phlox, Mexican feather grass, showy goldenrod, penstemons, balloon flower, maidenhair fern (the one with the black stems), lady in red fern.

Skeeter's Picks (In the Garden)

Lantana (tender perennial/annual), Purple Homestead Verbena

Dave's Picks (The Home Garden):

Salvia nemorosa ('Caradonna', 'East Friesland'), Nepeta faassenii (Catmint 'Walker's Low'), Gaillardia, Coreopsis, Coneflower, Perovskia artiplicifolia (Russian sage), 'Purple Homestead' verbena and of course rudbeckia.

As you look over the list you may notice some favorites that repeat themselves. Things like rudbeckia, coneflower, phlox, daylilies and verbena all seem to be well liked! There is definitely a lot of perennials to choose from; time to make a list!

This next Sunday's question will be about ornamental grasses!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Sunday Question: What Perennials Could You Not Garden Without?

Fall is fast approaching us here in Tennessee whether it feels like it or not (to me it feels like September) and I've started thinking about what to plant. Perennials are perfect for fall plantings since their roots grow slowly over the winter to become established root systems by spring. Then in spring the root systems are ready to go and the plant can send forth new fresh growth. If you plant the same kind of plant in spring it will have a slower growth process since it has to work hard on developing roots and making new foliage as well.

I've been collecting and adding new plants to our gardens as I can all year but I'd like to know what other gardeners view as "indispensable perennial plants." What perennials are the "must haves" in your garden? If you were starting a new garden which plant would you choose to begin with? I want to add some new things to my garden this fall and would like to hear some suggestions. Soooo....what should I plant?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Day in the Garden with My Daughter

The other day while my youngest daughter was taking her morning nap my other daughter and I went out to play in the garden. It was a nice August day, very atypical as it was comfortably in the 80's. Our first stop was down to her garden. It was full of the zinnias and sunflowers that we planted several weeks ago. It's been a carefree children's garden, perfect for an almost 3 year old. She just watches it grow with no weeding and very little watering. There are plenty of weeds but the flowers stand tall above them. We can see her garden from the dinner table. This tall sunflower towers above the zinnias. Isn't it fun to look at? The head is now weighted down with its seed development but you can see how it looked when we were out.

There are very few yellow zinnias in the garden but that makes those that are there all the more striking.

What little kid doesn't stop to smell a flower? She did tell me afterward that there was no smell. Zinnias are not known for adding scents to the garden!

While attempting to get her to pose for the camera something she spied something else with her little blue eyes, probably one of many fluttering butterflies bouncing around the zinnias.

She even helped me to transplant the cuttings that had rooted the other day. It was her job to fill the pots and water after the cuttings were planted. She had help but she's off to a good start!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - August 2008

The fifteenth of every month is Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day hosted and originated by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. Please take a look at the plants blooming in our garden then go see what's blooming in other gardens across the world!

The trees and shrubs:

Crape myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica)

Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii)

The Perennials:

Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)


'Purple Homestead' Verbena (Verbena canadensis)

'Oranges and Lemons' Gaillardia (Gaillardia x grandiflora)

'Walker's Low' Catmint (Nepeta faassenii)

'Caradonna' Salvia (Salvia nemorosa)

'Stella d' Oro' Daylily (Hemerocallis)

Yarrow (Achillea)

Sedum/Stonecrop (Sedum seiboldi)

The Annuals:

Annual Verbena (Verbena x hybrida)

Coleus (Solenostemmon)

Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana)



Attracting butterflies and hummingbirds with zinnias.

Thanks for visiting the Home Garden!