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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Growing The Fall Vegetable Garden Part 1

I finally started my fall vegetable garden. I planted it in one of my 4'x3' raised beds by planting lettuce, radishes, onions, broccoli and more summer squash. I know summer squash isn't a fall vegetable crop but I'm hoping to get one more batch of yellow crookneck squash before the first frost. This raised bed is the first of  4 raised beds that I will convert from summer vegetables to fall vegetables in the coming days.

One of the biggest advantages to fall gardening is the lack of insects to bother the plants or the gardener. Most insects will have completed their life-cycle with the fall vegetables are picking up speed which is great for those plants!

I did a little preparation before planting that should help the fall vegetables along. I leveled the bed and removed any weeds then I did something different as an experiment. I moved the dirt from one side to the other and layered newspaper then moved the dirt back over it. Then I repeated the process with the other side. My thought was that the newspapers would act as a water retention device and keep the water closer to the plants longer. The newspapers will break down eventually and add to the organic matter already in the bed. Then I leveled the bed again and tamped down the surface with my garden rake.

Before planting seeds I made sure that the vegetable bed was well moistened with cool water. Most spring and fall vegetable seeds prefer cooler temperatures for germination and watering with cool water may help to offset some of the summer heat we are still experiencing. Fortunately the nights have been much cooler which should help the seeds. To prevent the rodents from getting into the bed I'll be putting up a small plastic mesh around each bed. I'll wait on the mesh until some of the seeds have germinated.

My next raised bed will have spinach, a second round of lettuce and radishes. I may sneak some beets in there too since I love beets! By sequencing the lettuce I can spread out the harvest. The spinach is very cold tolerant and should last much of the winter.

Have you started your fall vegetable garden yet?

Monday, August 30, 2010

What's Wrong With Your Garden?

Lately I've been thinking "what's wrong with my garden?" I don't have to look far for the answers. Weeds are coming up everywhere. Plants have suffered under the dry and hot conditions we've had this summer and are only now beginning to come back. Then again some plants are just plain dead like two hemlocks and two mugo pines. I'm not sure why two hemlocks were effected and the others were not especially since they were all treated exactly the same and were in the same conditions. Some mysteries are not meant to be solved!

So what is really wrong with my garden? Here's the short list!
  • Encroaching weeds - crabgrass in particular which is going to seed now!
  • Too many plants in too small spaces - when starting the garden I planned on transplanting things in a few years so that I could get a more full look right away. It's now been a few years and it's time for transplanting! Not to mention plants like mint and Sweet Autumn clematis that are bent on complete and total garden domination.
  • Need...More...Mulch...
  • The edging needs weedwacked. I had trouble starting my 2 year old Ryobi 4 cycle weedeater the other day. Hopefully I can get it working to trim up the areas that really need it!
  • The vegetable garden is a mess with tomatoes gone wild, rodents munching my melons, and what else? Weeds! I need to get my fall garden going but have some prep work to do first.
  • The birdbath in the birdbath garden needs repaired. (The soldering broke on the copper bath.)
  • Stepping stones need made for the side garden. 
  • The yard needs mowed.
  • An azalea needs rescued from the weeds along the slope.
  • A swale needs constructed for better drainage near the shed.
  • The tiered garden bed needs filled with soil (layered/lasagna method).
  • The garden shed needs caulked and painted

I could probably go on. And on. 

So what's wrong with your garden?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Garden Blogger Posts of the Week - Vol.2

http://www.growingthehomegarden.com/2010/08/garden-blogger-posts-of-week.htmlWelcome to the second week of Garden Blogger Posts of the Week. Last week I highlighted two posts that I thought were interesting, unique, or stood out in some way (cool pictures etc.). Today I'll mention a few more. Please pay them a visit when you get the chance!

I thought Nancy Bond's pictures of the eagle were very cool. Imagine looking out your front door to photograph a bald eagle! And all I get are gold finches and cardinals!

Gail's post resonated with me this week because of the sentiment she expressed. Much of my garden isn't looking like I want it to because of various factors - and often all I see are the bad things. Gail reminds us to not forget about the good things that make our gardens special to ourselves.

Meems in NYC wrote a post thinking about starting her own garden shed! Of course since I've been working on a similar project I thought her upcoming project is definitely worth following.

Please visit those three bloggers if you haven't already!

And if you would like to catch up on The Home Garden Posts this week here's the weekend wrap up!

Last weekend I tackled a couple projects. One was a plant holding bin/raised bed and the other a birdhouse. The plant holding bin took some time to complete but having a place to put extra plants and the results of my home plant propagating will be very helpful. Another project completed this week was a second raised bed made for housing my strawberry plants. It's a raised bed garden that is built into the slope to give the garden a tiered effect.

Another post mentioned layering as a plant propagation method. Two plants in my garden layered this week to provide me with a couple more free!

I also announced the winner of the organic weed killer products and told you about some little tulip poplars that need new homes.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Volunteer Tulip Poplar Saplings

An interesting problem has arisen lately. You see, over the last few months little saplings of our Tennessee state tree the tulip poplar have popped up all over the place. It must have been a great year for tulip poplars last season because I've found over 7 saplings that seem to be doing great all over the yard. They all need moved as some are way too close to the house and others are in places I really don't want them. The problem is how do I use them?

One answer was given to me a couple months ago during a tour of a hosta garden in Franklin, TN. The owner of the garden (and president of the Middle Tennessee Hosta Society) told me that when she was trying to develop shade in her backyard she planted tulip poplars - and gave them plenty of extra water! Tulip poplars grow extremely fast and can quickly create a canopy for shade. I want to propagate more shade in my backyard, especially for the hot Tennessee summers, and the tulip poplars might do the trick. I wouldn't need too many of them perhaps 2-3 might be all that is needed.

One or two of the tulip poplars will get planted near some wild cherries that are gradually dying out. I don't want to lose the deciduous privacy screen the trees provide in the summer and the tulip poplar should help us out there. Now what do I do with the others? Any ideas?

The Organic Weed Killer Winner is...

The organic weedkiller winner is...

as selected by the random number generator at Random.org...

which came up with the number...

(I'm drawing this out a little)...

(just for fun)...

(are we having fun yet?)....



which means that....

Meemsnyc from the blog: Gardening in the Boroughs of NYC is the winner!

Congrats and email me your mailing address ASAP so I can get the products sent out to you!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Another Raised Bed, This Time on a Slope!

Today I spent some time outdoors getting a raised bed put together for our back slope. It gives the slope a somewhat terraced visual effect but the wooden bed isn't needed to hold the slope in place. It's done fine on its own for several years! Here's the view from one side with the garden shed to the left. The plant holding bed is a good 15-20 feet away from the willow tree and the new bed is on the far right. I've temporally added dried weeds over the soil in the bed.

Here's the view from between the shed and the willow. When my finances are better I may replace the wood beds with stone retaining wall blocks. The old wood won't last very long but I'm hoping for at least 2 years out of it. It used to be part of a deck and I'm fairly certain that the pressure treated properties (and chemicals) are completely leached out. Beyond the second raised bed I can imagine another set of raised beds with a small stairway in between. Now that's a project for another year! (Besides I'm almost out of old wood...)

The large raised bed in the back is around 28 feet long and 4-5 feet deep. The bed took most of the day to complete but now I have a bed ready for my strawberry plants to move into in a few weeks. I'll probably sneak a few other plants in the bed as I go - taller stuff that will enjoy having the strawberries as a groundcover. I still need to add soil and compost to fill the bed up higher.

How do you cope with gardening on a slope?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Layering Might Be the Easiest Way to Propagate Plants

Layering an arrowwood viburnum

I really enjoy making new plants - you guessed that by now didn't you? Most of the time I prefer to make stem cuttings of various types of plants whether shrub, tree, perennial, or annual but that isn't always the easiest way. In many ways layering a plant is the simplest way to ensure a successful rooted plant with very little risk. Today while I was outside I noticed two plants that had successfully rooted through layering which started me thinking about this method of propagation.

First of all what is layering? Layering is where you cover a section of a stem or branch underneath the soil and wait for the plant to make its own roots. Sometimes nicking the plant beneath a node and adding rooting hormone to the wound will speed up the process but I've never needed to do that on any layering projects.

What kind of plants will layer? A whole bunch! Including forsythias, blackberries, viburnums, beautyberry, hydrangea, and many others. If I were to write a list of all the potential plants that could be propagated by layering I would be typing for a very long time. If a plant has a suitable branch close to the ground that can be pinned underneath a little bit of soil or compost there is a good chance it will root.

Why is layering the easiest way to propagate many plants? The branch or stem is still attached to the main plant which means the branch is still receiving moisture and nourishment from an established root system. Once you induce rooting by covering the node with soil or compost the branch doesn't have the additional stress of supplying water to the plant while working on building roots. In short: there is little risk of a plant or a branch dying.

Layering a Hydrangea

Is layering the best way to propagate plants? Notice the difference here: best vs. easiest. It all depends on what you are looking for in you plant material. If you want a bunch of plants fast then cuttings are a better way to go. You can take many more cuttings from the branches than you can make plants with layering even with serpentine layering of a suitable branch. If you are more concern with getting a difficult to root plant rooted then definitely go with layering.

I like to do a combination of both layering and cuttings. Sometimes plants will have low hanging branches that just scream for layering while they still have lots of suitable material for taking stem cuttings. My viburnum in the top picture is a great example - it roots easily but also loves to layer.

Which method do you prefer: layering or cuttings?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Building a Plant Holding Bed

A plant holding bed is a luxury that anyone who propagates plants might find very useful. (I know I will!) A plant holding bed can function as a coldframe or just as an out of the way spot set aside for plants to rest in while they grow. For me I just have too many propagated plants to continue storing them on our front porch - that's not what a front porch is for is it?  Building the hold bed was simply the next logical choice!

How to Build a Plant Holding Bed

This isn't rocket science but building a raised bed does require some thought. I spent some time (several minutes ;)) trying to figure out a good location that was out of the way and doesn't utilize yard space that we are actively using. The lower portion of this slope near the garden shed seemed ideal. It isn't close to the house but with an extra long garden hose I can get access to water. I'm also hoping to add a rain barrel to the side of my garden shed which would make an easy and free water source nearby.

The next step was actually figuring out the shape I wanted and staking it out. By staking the outline of the beds I could remove the soil and dig the bed into the slope of the hill. I left a lip on the back side of the beds  to prevent runoff water from going straight into the raised bed. I used a tiller to break up the surface of the soil, a rake, and a shovel to level the ground above the holding bed.

Then I set about building the rectangular portion of the bed. I used corner posts to screw (deck screws) in the boards which makes it easy to square off the corners. (Dimensions 4'x8') The corner posts are measured to the height of two board widths to make a nice fit (approx. 11 inches).

After the first level of the rectangular center bed was built I added the triangles on either side. The back board is 4 ft. long which I attached using another corner piece. The long hypotenuse side (geometry was a very useful class!) was measured and cut using 45 degree angles on the ends.

Here is the location after the first portion of the bed was built. 

Once the bottom level was complete it was easy to measure and cut the remaining board for the top layer.

The next step will be to add a cover to it to prevent our resident wildlife population from enjoying the plants more than I do! I have two thoughts on that:

  1. Use a PVC pipe frame with a plastic mesh over it or 
  2. Build a wood frame with a mesh. 
The wood would look nicer but PVC is be light weight and cheap. And I really like cheap! The wood also gives me added support if I choose to lay a window over the bed to covert it into a cold frame.

Here's where you can see how it fits in with the landscape. The future bed will house many of our strawberry plants that have overtaken the vegetable garden. That bed will be almost 27 feet long and will help to create a terraced hillside look. In between the two beds is a pathway wide enough for the riding mower to journey through.

I'll post more on the hill-scape when the next section is added!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Plant Holding Bin and a Birdhouse (Weekend Projects)

This weekend I worked on two garden projects. One took a a good deal of time to complete while the other only took about an hour and a half.

The big project was a plant holding bin to hold my propagated plants that aren't ready for in the ground planting yet. Fortunately I was the recipient of some old deck wood a couple years ago that since then has been resting comfortably in the back. Amazingly it is still in pretty decent shape after two years of sitting through our weather. I'll write a full post on its construction later this week but here is the finished product:

It's essentially a set of three raised beds that will be nestled into the slope of the hill. The middle one is 4'x8' and the two triangular raised beds are 4' on two sides and about 5'8" on the slope side (remember your Pythagorean formula here!) The bed on the left is in the shade for most of the day while the center and right bed receive part shade. Eventually there will be another bed further up the hill for some other plantings. This slope is part of a larger project to make a couple tiered gardens. So far I haven't spent any money on this project since the wood was old and donated and the screws were left over from garden shed construction. I need to add a lid that will keep the rabbits and deer from munching on my plants.

The short project of the weekend was a bird house. I've been itching to add one to the yard and had this idea to use a dogeared fence board to make one. It was a very easy project and came together quickly. I pre-drilled hole then used finishing nails to hold the sides together.  If you don't pre-drill holes you risk splitting the wood. (I'd say chances are about 90%!) I didn't use any written down measurements and sort of improvised the bird house. Many websites have the ideal dimensions for certain types of birds and I actually printed a list off of one of them but lost the list! The birdhouse turned out fine though for a first attempt. I'll improve upon my design with the next one. It was so easy to do that I have to make a few more!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Garden Blogger Posts of the Week!

I thought I would do something a little different for this Sunday and highlight a couple Garden Blogger posts this week that I thought were either very interesting, had very cool photos, showed me something new, or took me somewhere fantastic! I hope you'll pay a visit to the bloggers listed below and see what I found to be very interesting posts.
Garden Blogger Posts of the Week!

Jodi on Friday at Bloomingwriter in her post showed a very interesting place called Cape Split. The scenery and pictures are nothing short of breathtaking with giant rocks jutting out from the bay to form craggy islands some of which are only accessible by those who are lucky enough to have wings. 

Carol's post at Flower Hill Farm was very interesting. Titled A Royal Beginning it highlights the early stages of development in the life of everyone's favorite butterfly - the Monarch! If you're curious about what the egg or caterpillar of the monarch butterfly looks like she has some very nice close-up pictures. The prefect thing if you are trying to identify one!

Please go pay a visit to those two blogs and see what you think! If you missed anything this week on The Home Garden here's a quick wrap up.

This week began with a look at the blooms in the garden for Garden Blogger's Bloom Day. With the awful weather we were having it is a wonder anything was blooming. Fortunately the rains have returned, but unfortunately in the form of thunderstorms and flash floods. You just can't have everything! I also managed to use up all my free Craigslist bricks in the Garden Shed for the floor. I'm still searching for more bricks as I can to finish it out. Melons and peppers are showing up in the vegetable garden. The peppers have been good but I'm still waiting on the first ripe melon!

My fellow plant propagation nuts might enjoy the post on propagating a Shasta viburnum. One of the most beautiful shrubs of spring! If you like pictures better than propagation posts (really how could you?) there were a few garden pictures in Friday's post that might be worth a look. As always beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  And since everyone likes free stuff why not enter the EcoSMART giveaway?

I hope you're having a great weekend! I'll get to show you my latest project this week so stay tuned!

Wait a minute, this isn't radio...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Would You Like to Win an Organic Weed Killer?

The people at EcoSMART have offered to give away a bundle package containing an eco friendly pesticide and several other of their environmentally friendly products. Included in the bundle is an organic weed killer, a fungicide, garden insect killer and an insect repellent. All you need to do to enter the drawing for the is to post in the comments here and tell a little bit about why you would like to win! A winner will be selected at random from all entries and announced the following Friday (August 27th). All entries should be in by Thursday August 26th.

Good luck!

Also don't post any personal information in the comments. I don't want spammers to get your physical or email addresses. You can email that info after the contest is over to my email address and I'll forward it on to the company for your award.

A Few Garden Photos for Friday (Photo Post)

Here are few things happening in my garden that are worth a look at through the photos. No real theme for this post just a chance to look at some garden pictures!

Beautyberry Bush
Morning Glory

Red Zinnia

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Propagating 'Shasta' Viburnum (Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum) from Cuttings

I have many favorite plants (as all gardeners can attest to) but I am really a big fan of viburnums. Many viburnums have showy flowers in the spring, leafy green foliage throughout the growing season, and great fall color. Some are evergreen, many provide food for the birds in the form of berries, and they are definitely fun to grow! I remember observing a house a few years ago that had a beautiful Shasta Viburnum planted on the corner of their house. The viburnum branches covered in blooms was an awesome sight that I wanted to duplicate in my garden. So duplicate it I did! I bought one 'Shasta' viburnum (Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum) and planted it on one corner of our backporch and this year started making cuttings.

Here's how I made the cuttings of the 'Shasta' Viburnum.

  • I took a 3 node cutting about 6 inches long from greenwood wood.
  • I removed all the leaves except for one or two at the top of the cutting. 
  • Dipped the end in rooting hormone and placed it in my sand medium.
  • This time I put the cuttings in a makeshift propagation chamber. (I'll post on that another day. It was made form two reused plastic containers - one to hold the sand and the other as a lid.)
  • In about 4 weeks I had some nice rooting on the viburnum cuttings. 
Score: 5 of 5 cuttings rooted.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Vegetable Garden: Melons and Peppers

There really is more in my garden than tomatoes, really! I know, the one vegetable I talk about the most is the tomato but I do try to diversify my garden. I dabble with the herbs, I really dig ornamentals, but you might also say I like a mean melon. Unfortunately this year my melons haven't been as perfect as I had hoped. The perfect gardening season would provide my family with fruit for breakfast from spring through fall frost but either I've failed in my garden this year or the weather has failed me. Most likely it's a combination of events. Fortunately we still have plenty of time to make a few good melons.

Among the melons we are trying to grow this year are the Old Time Tennessee Melon - which I'm sure is very tasty (at least that's what the rabbit who ate this one would tell me.) Fortunately we have more coming that I'm planning on getting to before the rodents do.

We have this small baseball sized melon of some unknown variety. I honestly can't recall if I planted this one or if it grew from a previous melon planting. It's a little small to be much more than a snack but hey, a melon's  a melon!

What would a garden be without everyone's favorite? The Watermelon! This one is a 'Moon and Stars' heirloom watermelon like I grew last year. The outside rind of the melon has spots just like the foliage does.The fruit is very tasty!

Peppers grow here too. This one began as purple then gradually turned red. The taste is pretty good. My favorite way to prepare peppers is to saute them up with onions and add them into my omelets! (Along with a healthy* portion of mushrooms and cheese of course! And throw a little bacon or ham in there too if you have it.)

Let's not forget about the hot peppers either! These cayenne peppers are extremely hot. They burn my fingers just by touching them when dicing. My favorite use for hot cayenne peppers? Deer repellent! A little cayenne pepper tea spray every now and then on the deer's favorite delicacies of the garden works wonders.

That's the end of this quick update from the vegetable garden. Soon it will be time to get the fall garden going. The temperatures are a little more tolerable and the rains have been coming - welcome news for any gardener!

*Healthy describes a large amount of food in this case not necessarily something that is the epitome of health! ;)

Monday, August 16, 2010

More on the Brick Floor! (A Garden Shed Update)

For those of you who are interested in the status of my garden shed I posted a little more on the floor. I'm out of bricks and didn't quite get the whole area covered but I'm happy with the progress for now.  Let me know what you think!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Blooming in August

The fifteenth of another month has arrived which means it's time for Bloom Day! This bloomday just finds me happy that I have plants alive and virtually ecstatic that I have blooms. If you've been reading along lately you probably have heard me complain before about the lack of rain and the really high temperatures. Water is so vital to a garden and it's been lacking lately.

Let's see what blooms in August here in my Tennessee garden!

We have zinnias:

I like to add zinnias to empty spaces. I plant them from seed I save each year. The second from the bottom on the right is 'Persian Carpet' zinnia, an heirloom zinnia new to my garden this year.

Some Yellow Flowers:

Row 1: 'Oranges and Lemons' Gaillardia
Row 2: Rudbeckia 'Cappuccino', Yellow Cosmos

A Lot of Purple:

Row 1: Verbena bonairensis, Butterfly Bush, Salvia farinacea
Row2: Petunia, 'Purple Homestead' Verbena, Black and Blue Salvia
Row3: Russian Sage, New York Celeste Aster, Liriope

And some Crape myrtle!

Crape myrtles made either from cuttings or from naturally occurring seedlings.

Coming soon: Caryopteris and mums!

Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

And the Tomato Seed Winners Are...

Thank you to everyone who entered the drawing for the 'Woodle Orange' Heirloom tomato seeds. You WILL enjoy these next year or I'll give you your money back! (Oh wait you didn't pay anything - oh well ;))

The winners as randomly selected by Random.org are can be seen below in the picture. Just count down the commenters until you match up the number in the picture to find out who won or simply look at my list below (Darla removed herself from the drawing so her comment should not be counted). If the winners will send me an email (thehomegarden@gmail.com) with your mailing address I'll send the seeds out this week! You won't have time to get them started for this year but be sure to save them with your other seeds to start next spring. Can't you just taste them? Maybe that's just me, they do taste excellent on a burger like I had tonight!

The Winners: 
Melody, Pam, Victoria, Monica, and Tom M

Congratulations and thanks for commenting! 

There will be another giveaway next week so make sure you check back on Friday! 
(or just read everyday so you don't miss anything!)

The Home Garden: A Look Back at the Week

This week like every week seemed to fly by. We finally received some rain which will help out the various gardens immensely. We even had a decent evening because of the increased cloud cover! On The Home Garden I showed a comparison between my backyard from 2008 and present, wrote two posts one of my favorite ornamental grasses: switch grass (on propagating switchgrass, and a followup on switchgrass), and talked about more plant propagation. It's always busy around here with the garden and I know you are busy in yours. Thank you for taking the time to read the posts and commenting!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Finally a Decent Evening

Wilted 'Oranges and Lemons' Gaillardia
As most of you already know the weather here has been abysmal. Temperatures have been in the mid to upper 90's frequently with little rain to cool things off or water the plants. In most cases I've let the plants fend for themselves. Many are drought resistant/tolerant and should come out OK in the end and those that aren't are mostly annuals. There are a few I'm taking special care of because they are either new or I really like them and know how sensitive they are to the lack of moisture.

Tonight though was almost pleasant. Earlier in the day we had a couple showers. Not much more than will wet the foliage but the increased cloud cover was responsible for keeping the heat down this evening - which means I was out in the garden. Which means I was weeding!

You would think that with very little rain the weeds wouldn't grow - not true. It seems that the weeds are the most hardy and most drought tolerant beings on the earth. Perhaps I go too far in describing them as beings but they do seem to have a personality of their own. As you pull out the weeds and you hear that irritating snap of roots breaking off from the stem you just know you're going to see them again. They seem to taunt you as you pull them out. I'm probably making it too personal but you know how weeds are. If you want to conquer them you have to take it personal!

Rudbeckia in Need of Deadheading

I also deadheaded a few rudbeckias and coneflowers, trimmed up the nearly dead looking chocolate mint, and pulled out a couple dead evergreens.  I'm disappointed with the evergreens which were both mugo pines but it really isn't surprising. They were discount rack material that just didn't make it. After examining the roots I found how pot bound they were and it's really a wonder they made it this long. I love chocolate mint and I hate the fact that it always dies back this time of year. I try to keep it watered because it's my favorite amendment to my sweet ice tea but the heat just gives it a beating.

August is an effort in endurance for the gardener isn't it? I'm just trying to make it through to get to the cooler weather on the other side and I'm very grateful for the small breaks like we had this evening.

Don't forget tomorrow is the last day to enter the Heirloom Tomato Drawing!

Also I mentioned a fall gardening post for this past week which I neglected. It's coming soon - promise! For now though you can read the one from last year to get a head start on your fall vegetable garden. (Also Fall Vegetable Garden Layout)

Backyard: August to August

It's a little hard to see the changes that have happened over the last two years but I was looking through the pictures back in 2008 and was amazed on how much has changed. A maple tree in the back is twice as large now, the vegetable garden has been redesigned and now has plants around the outside of it, and I can't leave out the garden shed in the back. The angle of  the two pictures below isn't quite perfect but it's close enough to give you the idea.  

What is the same? The browning of the grass! No rain means the grass goes brown until cooler weather and more rain comes along.

August 2008

August 2010

How has your yard changed over the last 2 years?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Switchgrass Followup

In yesterday's post on propagating switchgrasses I left out the picture of the 'Northwind' Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). Also I didn't post any details about the two switchgrasses that I mentioned. So here's a little more about switchgrasses!

Switchgrasses are native to the United States and flourish during the warm season. In my observations they are later to emerge from winter dormancy than other grasses like miscanthus. 'Shenandoah' Switchgrass grows between 3 and 4 feet tall and is one of the shorter varieties of panicum available for ornamental use. The two 'Shenandoah' switchgrasses I have in our backyard gardens are different sizes even though the plants started out the same. The taller of the two fits in the between 3 and 4 foot range but the other one is much shorter and also has a smaller width. I believe this is due to the sun conditions which favor the larger 'Shenandoah'. It receives about 1.5 to 2 hours more of natural sunlight than its companion. The more sun the switchgrass receives the more vigorous it grows.

The 'Northwind' switchgrass is near the road in the mailbox garden (which really needs some work!) It gets full sun but has grown as tall as they say mostly because of the hard compacted clay soil where it is growing. The roadside area is one of the worst spots in our yard to grow plants because when our community was created some areas were completely scraped of any soil during the grading process. What was left was the clay and gravel leftover from construction. I've gradually added mulch and compost to the area but "Rome wasn't built in a day"! The poor soil doesn't prevent this switchgrass from performing well but does keep it from its potential. 'Northwind' should grow between 4 and 5 feet tall but our second year plant is just a little over three feet in height. As the soil loosens, compost is added and rain resumes conditions should improve for my 'Northwind'.

'Northwind' Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
One switchgrass that is on my radar is 'Prairie Fire' which resembles a 'Shenandoah' on steroids. The red coloring that emerges in summer seems much deeper and darker than 'Shenandoah'. It's height varies depending on where you look and could be anywhere between 3-6 feet (according to Fine Gardening Magazine).  I haven't seen it sold near me yet but I'll be on the lookout!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Seven (More) Switchgrasses

Today I potted up seven rooted sections of switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). Four of them were 'Shenandoah' which gains a reddish coloring in the leaves in late summer and fall and three were 'Northwind' which has a taller and more upright shape. Switchgrasses are definitely "where it's at" when it comes to ornamental grasses today. They are native plants and aren't invasive. To make things even more perfect ethanol producers have been using switchgrass as a substitute for corn to produce biofuels. Not a bad plant by any means! Because it's a native it is well adapted to our weather and should be able to survive random periods of drought like we've been having lately. (Only .3 of an inch in the last two weeks - not fun for the gardener or the garden!)

Since these are such great plants to have in the garden I decided to increase my stock of switchgrass by what else? Propagation!

'Shenandoah' Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)

How to Propagate Switchgrass

Propagating Switchgrass is very easy through division. The exact method of division depends on the size plant I want. If I want smaller plants that don't effect the size of the mother plant I take pieces from the outside of the clump, move the soil away, and remove a stem with roots with a sharp knife (or a good yank - but sometimes the roots don't come and the stem separates at the nodes). This is very easy to do and you can make many (albeit small) divisions.  These switchgrass divisions are now potted up individually where I will grow them until they have grown a large enough root system to be planted in the yard. Hopefully I'll have the time to make a few more divisions later in the week.

Now if I want larger clumps I would dig up the whole clump and use a shovel to slice through the entire root system. This method will produce about 4 (sometimes more) decent sized clumps from a large switchgrass. It's more labor intensive than the first method but gives you a larger clump faster. The first method can be done nearly anytime since it isn't very invasive but I wouldn't even consider doing the second method (digging up the clump) unless it was early in the year when we were still receiving rain and the new growth was fairly short. Early spring is probably the best time to divide a large clump.

Have you added switchgrass to your garden?