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Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Good Tomato Resource

For those of us who garden in the summertime almost exclusively for the purpose of tasting that juicy red perfect tomato from the vegetable garden there's a pretty good resource for you. It's an Ebook called How to Grow Juicy Tasty Tomatoes written by Lucia Grimmer and Annette Welsford. Together the two tomato aficionados have assembled a handy resource for other tomato fans, both experienced and beginners, who want to grow better tomatoes.

Annette sent me a copy of the Ebook of How to Grow Juicy Tomatoes to review which I've only begun to delve into. It's 80 pages long with sections that discuss a wide range of tomato topics like planting, staking, diseases, tomato pests, storage, and even hydroponics. I don't suspect I'll ever get into the hydroponic growing of tomatoes but I'll admit it is very interesting stuff. One of the most useful sections would be the tomato pests and diseases chapter. The authors discuss simple tomato issues like blossom end rot to the more complicated and difficult to deal with wilts and anthracnose. Those things just sound scary!

The book is only about tomatoes so no other vegetables to confuse the tomato grower. No lettuce, no cucumbers, just tomatoes!

My only reservation in recommending the book is the Ebook format. I'm an old fashioned sit down and read a book (or look at the pictures) kind of gardener. They do have a bound book version of How to Grow Juicy Tomatoes but it costs a little more for publication reasons.  If you're interested check out the website with more information on the book and how you can get a copy.

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of the Ebook for review purposes. 

Friday, July 30, 2010

Tomatoes and Fall Garden Thoughts

It's that time of year where the tomatoes are coming in faster than I can pick them. That's a good thing but I wonder sometimes if I'm in over my head trying to find ways to use all these tomatoes. I planted over 20 tomato plants this year which may have been too many but I couldn't resist. There are so many interesting varieties out there that sound so delicious in the seed catalogs that limiting myself to twenty something tomato plants was excruciatingly difficult!

I'm trying to stay ahead of the tomato picking but unless I'm out in the garden on a daily basis some of the ripe ones go to waste. I'm making more tomato sauce this year than I have in the past. My goal is to have enough to feed our family weekly throughout the winter. Spaghetti is a main course we have frequently during the dormant season so the more 'maters the merrier! Most of the tomatoes I've harvested have been made into a plain sauce then frozen. I even made an orange tomato sauce out of some smaller orange tomatoes. We'll see how that tastes this week! In the next few days I'll start canning what I "can" so that we can retain some freezer space for other things. Hopefully the beans will start coming along and we can save them in the freezer.

Very soon it will be time to think about fall gardening. Even though the heat of summer is still beating us mercilessly over the head fall gardens have to be started early in order for the vegetables to mature before the frosts. I've noticed that the box stores are still carrying their seed displays which I haven't seen before. Maybe with all the interest in vegetable gardening over the last couple years they've finally realized that people can garden past October. In fact depending on what you are trying to grow you can be harvesting fresh food from the garden in December and January. It all depends on the weather and what you chose to grow. Next week I'll post on fall vegetable gardening - it's definitely time to start thinking about it! (You can check out my fall vegetable garden layout from last year until then!)

What is your favorite dish made with fresh home grown tomatoes?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Framing the Cosmos - Photo Post

Cosmos in the self-sowing garden framed by a decorative feature of the arbor.

Also in the garden: Celosia, 'Blue Bedder' Salvia, Verbena bonariensis, sunflowers, coneflowers.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Propagating Schip Laurels

Schip laurels (pronounced Skip) are a very easy evergreen that you can propagate at home. I mentioned propagating cherry laurels a couple years ago but since it's a good time of the year to take cuttings I thought I would revisit it. It will take a couple years before a cutting turns into a plant large enough for a foundation planting in the landscape but if you're patient it's an easy way to get a few extra plants! Schip laurels are one of several varieties of cherry laurel which means that the same techniques used to propagate the Schip laurel should be applicable to the other varieties as well.

How to Root Schip Laurels (Prunus laurocerasus 'Schipkaensis')

For Schip laurels I like to take greenwood cuttings in the summertime. Taking cuttings is very simple and will result in a rooted cutting in about 4-6 weeks.

  • Take a 6 inch cutting with about 3-4 nodes.
  • Remove all but the top two leaves. 
  • Dip the cut end in rooting hormone.
  • Place in a container of rooting medium (here I used sand).
  • Keep the medium moist and wait for rooting.
  • Check in about 4 weeks to see if there are roots by giving a little tug on the cutting. If there is resistance you may have roots. 
  • Pot or plant the rooted cutting. 

After I potted up my cuttings I placed them with some hydrangea cuttings on my front porch to acclimate to the weather.

What evergreens have you propagated?

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Story of a Lemon Tree in Tennessee

Many years ago back when I was in college I brought home a lemon from the store. On a whim I decided that I would plant a couple of the seeds from that little lemon into a cup and see if I could grow a lemon tree. The seeds sprouted and several little lemon trees grew. The little lemon trees were sustained in pots inside the house which gradually grew larger and larger. This past winter I decided that I was done with the lemon tree experiment. I was tired of lugging the tree indoors every winter. I was tired of the thorns and spikes constantly sticking me as I walked by. I was also tired of the lack of fruit or flower on this experiment. In all the years it only flowered once and consequently only fruited once, only to have the baby lemon terminated prematurely by a severe case of spider mites! Citrus trees have their problems and spider mites are a big one, at least when it comes to growing them indoors.

As I mentioned, I was tired of the thorny little lemon tree that hadn't produced anything in the 13-14 years I grew it. Last fall rather than bring it indoors I left it outside. I didn't protect it. I didn't water it or take care of it in any way. It sat on my front porch waiting for its demise. I abandoned it...completely. There was no way that lemon tree could make it through one of the harshest winters in many years to come to Tennessee.

I couldn't have been more wrong about the outcome! This spring my abandoned lemon began sprouting new growth along the branches. I trimmed up the dead branches and cut back a few of the larger branches to make a more compact tree and now here is how it looks:

Shiny, green, glossy leaves! Does this mean my lemon tree is hardy in Tennessee? Probably not but you never know. Most lemons are hardy in zones 8 or warmer not here in zone 6b. Maybe I have a lemon tree that could regularly survive our mild winters but I doubt it would make it through too many of the extreme winters. My lemon got lucky. Since my little lemon tree fought so hard to stay alive I think I'll store it in the garden shed in future winters. Who knows, I might one day find myself with a lemon!

Husker's Red Propagation - The Easy Way!

I've written before about propagating Husker's Red Penstemon (Penstemon digitalis) but thanks to a garden club friend of mine I learned a new method to propagate them. She was talking to Rita Randolph of Randolph Greenhouses who passed on this little trick that I'm about to share with you. It is as easy as it gets!

Here's How to Propagate Husker's Red Penstemon the easy way!

First go out to your clump of Husker's Red after it has flowered and identify some stems that might be a little loose on top of the clump. Look to see if there are some small leaves beginning to regrow from the base of the clump and select a couple of the stems next to them.

Firmly grasp a stem of the penstemon and give it a gentle pull. A small amount of roots should easily pull away with the long stem.

Then take the roots and stem to plant it into a pot or another location and clip off the excess stem above the first couple leaves. You don't need the whole stem anymore just the roots and a few leaves. Leaving too many leaves will make the roots have to work harder to sustain the plant when you just want it to work on making more roots.

Now you're done!

Don't forget to water it routinely until the root system grows strong enough to sustain itself. This is a really easy way to divide the Husker's Red penstemon!

For some really good information on taking care of your perennials check out Nancy Ondra's Perennial Care Manual!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Double Dew Daisies - Photo Post

Two Shasta daisy flowers covered in the morning dew.

Early this morning (not too early maybe after 7 AM but much earlier than we've been getting up due to the new baby!) I went out with the camera to see what pictures I could find. Back by the greenhouse garden shed where my Russian sage, rudbeckia, and Shasta daisy combination is I found the flowers all covered in the morning dew. It's amazing that there is still moisture to be found out there with all the dry weather we've been having but moisture there is! The morning dew gives an impression of cool temperatures that truly just aren't here at any time during the day. The mornings are hot, the days have been excruciating, and the evenings cool off but not nearly to a comfortable level. I spent a few minutes last night even looking at the January snow fall pictures with longing! (Someone please tell me I'm crazy and to get those thoughts out of my head!)  The white daisies is the closest we'll come to snow for a long while as it should be but I'm definitely looking forward to the predicted precipitation for this week.

This past week I showed you all around the garden shed. I did some real gardening (in spite of the heat) and fixed up the plantings with a nice layer of mulch all around. One of my favorite combinations of plantings I added happened completely by accident with the sunflower and 'Shenandoah' switchgrass blending together. The rest of the plantings will fill in over time including beautyberry, another crape myrtle (I'm definitely a fan of a properly pruned crape), several salvias, and all sorts of other neat plants.

I'm really enjoying the tomatoes this year. Cherokee purples, Romas, and all kinds of delicious tomatoes are filling boxes every day for us. It seems every other day I'm making another batch of tomato sauce for storing.

Every week is a busy week! I hope you've been able to get outside an enjoy your garden despite the oven outdoors. How's your garden growing?

Friday, July 23, 2010

How a Crape Myrtle Should Be Pruned

You hear about it all the time crape myrtles being unceremoniously chopped off before they can become what they should be. This pruning method is best known as crape murder. The result of crape murder is a plant that ends up with lollipop like flowering tops with branches that flop all around in the slightest breeze. Can you tell I'm not a fan? But I am a fan when the pruning is done right. That means allowing 1, 3, or 5 stems to grow into a multibranched tree. It's a fantastic sight, when done right:

Here's an example of crape myrtle pruning gone right! This crape myrtle at my parent's house has been a allowed to grow into a full size tree. The suckers get cleaned up regularly and dead branches get pruned every now and then. This particular tree lost it's other main branch because of the freeze of 2007. A couple new branches are being trained to replace that lost branch. Pruning a crape myrtle allows you to see one of it's best features - the bark! Over time the bark begins to develop a mottled pattern that offers year round interest.

A quick crape myrtle tip: You can easily propagate crape myrtles from the suckers by taking a 4-6 inch piece, dipping it in rooting hormone, and sticking it into a moist medium. Also you can stick them in water and they will root in about a month. Just keep the water changed frequently.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What Could Be Better...

Than a delicious, dark red, juicy sliced tomato?

My turkey wrap sandwich was very happy this afternoon with the addition of this red fruit of the garden. Not too juicy and not too meaty, just perfect - the perfect tomato experience. The scent of the tomato after cutting it open was like taking in the fragrance of a honeysuckle flower. Am I silly for going on and on raving about one little vegetable from the garden? Maybe. But when you think about how special it is to take a seed in March, nurture it though spring, through the last of the safe frost dates, and finally plant it into the garden - then you watch it grow, sucker, spread, flower, and fruit. It's an experience that culminates in the sweet taste of that perfect tomato. It's hard to describe a sensation like that in text. It's the process that fascinates me. A process that takes every moment of sunshine, every drop of rain that fell on the vine and into the soil, and every nutrient brought up through the roots from the rich, loamy garden soil and packs it all together into that beautiful red fruit. It feels like I'm eating a small part of the world, I'm eating life. It's special. Vegetables don't get much better than this do they?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Around the Garden Shed - the Rest of the Plantings!

Yesterday's post had many of the colorful plants I planted around the garden shed today's post may be less colorful but hopefully still interesting!

First let's start off with a small stepping stone pathway. I bought some cheap 12"x12" stepping stones to lay down for this little pathway. To the left of the pathway is an area that still needs developed. The area to the left and right once looked about the same - things have been improved!

We can't forget about the large plantings like the trees. This red maple will one day provide a good amount of shade all around the area. Red maples are great trees for fall color - like you would see in the Fall Color Project for 2010! (Just something to keep in your thoughts for later ;))

In front of the garden shed are zinnias complete with butterfly attachments.

Black and Blue Salvia is quickly becoming a staple in every garden. It's already bloomed here once and been deadheaded.  This plant was a division in the spring from another one near the birdbath garden.

This other little salvia was propagated from a cutting but the mother plant was seed grown last year.

The lamb's ear hasn't taken kindly to the intense heat and lack of rain this summer but should rebound nicely when the weather is more favorable. 

What garden is complete without a coneflower? Only a shade garden!

 This feathery leaved plant is a tansy found at a plant swap this spring.

Like everywhere else this garden is a work in progress. Since I can't paint the shed yet (it's way too hot) tinkering in the garden is a good way to spruce up the area before the shed is finished. Inside the shed there is still some work that needs done like the brick floor and the shelves but really 90-100 degree days aren't ideal for that either! Hopefully cooler weather will come along and give us a break after this weekend but I'm not counting chickens...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Plantings Around the Garden Shed

In my last post on the garden shed page I mentioned that I would show you in two parts the plantings. Well...I'm afraid I may have to expand that to three, we'll see! After taking some pictures today and on previous days I'm happily astounded by the neat stuff I'm seeing. Please don't take that as bragging since most of the cool stuff is a result of pure random luck that just fell into place and happened to improve my ideas. Let me show you what I'm talking about.

My original plan for this area had two ornamental grasses on both sides of the main pathway. I followed that plan by planting two Shenandoah switch grasses which are at their peak right now. The leaves turn a beautiful red color that extends down from the leaf tips. The happy accident here was when one of our extremely heavy winds knocked a sunflower down to the ground. I planted the sunflower from a seed but I really intended it to stand on its own as sunflowers do - the whole wind thing changed everything. The sunflower continued to live after the fall and since I didn't want to deprive the bees and the finches their favorite food I let the sunflower stay put. Here is how it appears now:

The fallen sunflower branched upward and created a bushy sunflower peeking above the switchgrass.

This photo is a little closer and you can take a look at the foliage of the switchgrass. Switchgrasses make great substitutes to miscanthus which can be invasive in some areas. Switchgrass is a native which are always great to add to the garden.

Just to the right of the switchgrass is a planting that uses Russian sage, rudbeckia, and Shasta daisy. The Shasta daisy was a trade brought home from a plant swap last year. It was one of those plants that I really didn't have the right spot for so I stuck it in this garden. In this instance I think I got lucky since it blends so well with the rudbeckias and the Russian sage behind them both. Next year this display should look fantastic as all three plants are in their second year in this spot. I've found that the third year is when to expect great things from perennials!

The rudbeckia and the daisies are almost inverses of each other. The yellow centers of the daisies blend nicely with the yellow petals of the rudbeckia.

 And one more gratuitous garden shot... you're not opposed to gratuitous gardening are you?

These small zinnias are a very cool find this year. They are called Persian carpet and even though they aren't carpeting the area it would look very awesome if they were. I only ordered one pack of seeds but you can count on the fact that I'll save the seeds from this group for next year. Each flower looks like a tiny little fire lighting up the garden.

And here's the last gratuitous gardening photo for this post: a Monarch butterfly on a cosmos flower. 

Stay tuned for the next post to see the rest of the plantings near the garden shed!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

It's Been a While - Time for a Garden Shed Update!

My last garden shed post was way back in June and I'm definitely overdue to share some more progress. This one has much more to do with gardening than building a shed so go take a look at the first part of two posts!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Even More Deer!

It appears that our local deer population has undergone a small expansion with the addition of a new fawn.

Lately the deer have been keeping to the outskirts of the yard and haven't been bothering the vegetable garden or any of our plants. Many of the plants in the other gardens have scented foliage and are considered deer resistant. The mother and baby deer were in our side yard very close to our driveway. While these deer could be problematic I will just let nature take it's course. This does mean I'll need to protect our younger trees this fall as the buck will need somewhere to rub his antlers. I've seen the damage before and don't want any more tree casualties.

Monday July 12, 2010

Tuesday July 13, 2010

Wednesday July 14, 2010

Thursday July 15, 2010

Saturday July 17, 2010

Propagating A Yoshino Cherry from Cuttings

About 6 weeks ago I was out limbing up a couple Yoshino cherry trees (Prunus x yedoensis) . I couldn't let the clippings just go to waste so I thought I would try my hand at rooting a Yoshino cherry from the greenwood cuttings. Previously I've only managed to root one Yoshino Cherry from a hardwood cutting and it didn't make it. Cherry trees are one of my favorite trees for the landscape since they have great flowers in the spring, grow relatively quickly, and can provide some nice shade.

How to propagate a Yoshino Cherry:

I took greenwood cuttings about 6 inches long. Then I removed all the leaves except for one at the top of the cutting. I dipped the end liberally in rooting hormone then stuck the cutting in a pure sand medium. I kept the cuttings moist and in about 6 weeks I had roots. Tenting the cuttings will help to maintain moisture.

My success rate wasn't as high as I'd hoped as only 1 out of 6 rooted but it definitely gives me hope that I can use this method to make a few more Yoshino cherry trees.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

4 More Easy Plants to Propagate!

It's almost always true that success in an endeavor brings excitement and enthusiasm for more and I've always found this true for plant propagation. If you've never tried propagating plants because you think it's difficult or just too much work then think again! There are all sorts of plants out there that are very easy to propagate and barely require any effort to root. Start propagating with something easy then you'll be excited to try more - one warning though: it IS addictive! In the past I wrote two posts about easy plants to propagate (10 Easy Plants to Propagate and 5 More Easy Plants to Propagate) but in this post I'll share a few more that I've found to be extremely easy and extremely successful with minimal effort.

Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)
Quite frankly I was amazed at the roots that I found when I transplanted four more cuttings into pots. The cuttings had only been rooting for about two weeks in sand and had developed a great start. I took stem tip cuttings with two nodes from a plant I have next to the vegetable garden treated them with rooting hormone and kept them in moist sand for two weeks. I didn't put any covering over them but I may not have had to water as often if I had. (score: 4 of 4)

Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
This one should come as a no-brainer since catmint (a close relative) is so easy to propagate. I did the same rooting procedure as I did for the pineapple sage and had some nice roots on both cuttings I made. (score 2 of 2)

'Violet Dusk' penstemon (Penstemon smallii) is a piece of cake for propagating. This small perennial will grow roots from the end of the cut so internodal cuttings will work fine. Otherwise I did the same as above! (score: 4 of 6)

Hydrangea! (Hydrangea macrophylla)
OK, hydrangeas aren't a new revelation but I thought I'd mention that six new plants came from two branches of the parent plant. Stem tip cuttings aren't necessary and the roots will emerge internodally which means you don't have to have multiple nodes to get some rooting action! (score 6 of 6) One quick propagation tip: if you have large leaves consider cutting the leaf in half to reduce moisture loss. (see picture)

If you're looking for something easy to propagate give one of these four plants a try!

Don't forget to check out the previous posts!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

July Showers Bring...July Flowers!

For today's issue of Garden Blogger's Bloom Day I can actually share with you some very nice flowers all thanks to the recent rains. The extra water perked up enough of the garden for it to be almost perfectly presentable just in time for the 15th of July. I hope you enjoy them as much as this happily buzzing bee enjoys the gaillardia!

While not typically well known for flowers the beautyberry bush will be bursting with purple berries this fall all thanks to those little blooms.

Coreopsis is another good summer bloomer. Deadheading the spent flowers frequently helps produce repeat blooms. This coreopsis is a descendant of 'Jethro Tull'. Sadly 'Jethro Tull' did not make a return tour to my garden this year.

A trip to the birdbath garden finds us with this scene:

I don't always photograph it from this side but when it looks like this I should! The 'Powis Castle' artemisia provides a nice foliage contrast to the 'Diablo' ninebark. I need to trim back the artemisia before it gets too leggy.

Along one side you will see petunias, coneflower, and rudbeckias all in bloom.

The self-sowing garden next to the arbor is in bloom too.

Sunflowers and coneflowers.

Orange Cosmos and Celosia.

Orange zinnias

and yellow zinnias

The front gardens have a few things too like these red annual salvias.

and one of my favorite perennials: Russian sage!

Of course the sunflowers are blooming everywhere. This one seems to be thanking the sky for sending the rain. I probably should too!