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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Bee Photography

Here are a few pictures of the bees in my garden.  I hope you enjoy the beeutiful photos!

Bee on a coneflower

Purple Coneflower

Bee on a sunflower


Bee on a cosmos flower


Bee on verbena

Verbena bonariensis

 Bee on 'Oranges and Lemons' Gaillardia

'Oranges and Lemons' Gaillardia

Two Bees on coneflower

'Sunset' Coneflower

My garden "bee" friendly, don't you think?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

3 Reasons Why Kids Should Grow Up Around a Garden

As you might imagine much of our time is spent in the garden. The kids are outdoors as much as possible (when the weather is cooperative).  I don't think just being outdoors is enough, being in the garden is where children should be and here's why:

  1. Gardening gets kids active physically. One big issue facing our country is childhood obesity and getting the kids active in the garden is one great way to get kids moving. The other day I spent an hour pulling weeds and I felt like I had just been to the gym!  Kids can pull weeds, dig holes for plants, move mulch around with child size wheelbarrows, and all kinds of other activities.
  2. Gardening exposes children to the process of growing food, good healthy food. Not the mass produced heavily sprayed crops from the grocery store. Seeing how the food is grown builds an understanding of what it takes to bring food to the table and an appreciation for everything from the tomato to the common carrot.
  3. Gardening brings children and wildlife closer together. Do you think playing a video game indoors in the living room would have brought my children to see this little box turtle? Butterflies and dragonflies don't come in our house normally either, although we recently invited one Black Swallowtail caterpillar inside to learn about it's life cycle.  That's the kind of stuff kids can't see if they don't get outdoors! Gardening brings everyone closer to nature. It's completely unavoidable. If you are in the garden nature will find you whether it's a nifty insect, beautiful bird, annoying plant raiding rabbits, or a wandering deer.  The close proximity to nature teaches people to appreciate it for its beauty and helps us to learn how connected we are to the great outdoors.

In our neighborhood very few children venture outdoors enough. There are lots of children here as evidenced by the school bus stops each weekday morning, but where are they when not in school?  I would like to encourage all parents to put the video game systems away for a week, send your kids outdoors, and get those kids active. They may not like it at first but I'll bet your kids will be much happier!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Cilantro Seeds Ready to Sow

It's that time of the year again! Time for cilantro seeds! Cilantro is one of those herbs not every enjoys but if you do always want to have some around. Unfortunately it bolts when the weather turns hot and doesn't want to come back until fall.  I let our cilantro bolt (go to seed) every year so that the seeds will sow themselves and begin the cycle of cilantro all over again. I just take the cilantro seeds and sprinkle them in areas where I want the cilantro to come up in the fall then let Mother Nature take her course! In the fall they germinate and we have fresh cilantro through the winter and spring. Herbs are so easy, don't you think?

Look here for another cilantro post and my recipe for guacamole!

Homemade Cucumber or Melon Trellises

I've been trying for several weeks now to get my garden trellises built for the vegetable garden. This weekend I finally managed to put two together, one for my cucumbers and one for my 'Tigger' melons. Building these two trellises can easily be done in just a few hours. I had to decide how high I wanted them to be and what kind of configuration I wanted. I was considering a simple 'A' frame design but instead went with this modified structure here:

The legs of the trellis are 5 feet long and the top horizontal bar is 24 inches. The base of the trellis stands at 45 inches and is 33 inches wide. The dimensions are designed to fit inside two 4'x3' raised beds. Making the first side was a little tricky but once I had spaced it out and screwed it together I used it as a template for the other three trellis sides I needed to make.

I opted to go with a homemade mesh made from garden twine or jute. Mostly because the price for simple garden twine is less than three dollars per roll and can be tossed into the compost bin at the end of the growing season. My first attempt (below) at weaving the mesh didn't look so hot but the second one turned out much better (above). I tied the vertical strings first then weaved the horizontal strings through so that each horizontal string wrapped tightly around each vertical string.

We had some extremely high winds this weekend after I built the trellises and they held up fine. These structures should last several seasons and can be covered with plastic in the winter time to extend the growing season as if they were small greenhouses. The total cost for both trellises was less than $35. Most of the wood was purchased for this project but a few pieces came from leftover scrap lumber used on previous projects.

What kind of garden trellis do you use?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

An Afternoon in the Vegetable Garden

It's been a good while since I had a couple hours to "maintain" the vegetable garden. Ideally I would take 20 minutes each day to weed, search the garden for problems, weed, prune, weed, and tie up tomatoes. Yes you may have noticed quite a few weeds, let's just say so did I! Today I did a little bit of all that, not enough, but I've made headway into the realm of the tidy gardens.

We're beginning to see vegetables ready for harvesting.  The squash is now producing. We lost the zucchini during the three weeks without water that began the month of June. My irrigation wasn't set up to go to that bed and as the business of life took over the gardener with the garden hose wasn't as diligent. I may have to fire that gardener and get a new one, oh wait...

Today I pulled the first onion onion of the year. I love red onions! They are probably my favorite onion for cooking or grilling smothered in olive oil. Red onions seem to caramelize better than other onions and end up with a sweet and slightly tangy flavor. I planted it from small seed onions in the spring.

I pulled a few small carrots from one raised garden bed. They were planted in the same bed with some tomatoes because as that popular companion planting book says "Carrots Love Tomatoes"! My carrots were a combination of 'Nantes' and 'Cosmic Purple'. Purple carrots are really orange on the inside but the outside sure looks neat. Unfortunately I think a vole has taken a bite out of one carrot.

I found these little seed like eggs on our winter squash. Squash bugs. I found the nymphs on the undersides of the leaves and sprayed some insecticidal soap on them. Squash bugs love to suck the juices out of the leaves and fruits of the garden. I wrote a little more about them today at The Tennessee Gardener Magazine blog.

Here's what those eggs turn into (squash bug nymphs, don't they just make your skin crawl?):

On the same plant I've found squash vine borer damage. This squash won't be around much longer.

Not to be confused with piles of "weed", this pile of weeds came from various areas of the garden. The vegetable garden was definitely overdue for a good weeding.

My melon beds are lush and full of big green foliage. Something tells me I need more garden space!  These are also the raised beds with the onions in them. I'll leave the onions in the ground as long as I can and use them as I need them.

I planted some zinnias seed in the vegetable garden in a few places.  If you look close you'll notice some Japanese beetles and their damage on the zinnia - better the zinnias than my musk melons!

Our pickling cucumbers need trellising. Maybe this weekend I'll finally get an opportunity to do that. Last weekend I went to put the trellis together and rain came pouring down. We needed the rain but couldn't it have waited 30-45 minutes?

This small melon vine is called 'Tigger'. The bright red and orange fruit gets up to about a pound and is supposed to be very sweet. I can't wait to give them a try! No flowers yet but maybe soon.

What do you think, do Tiggers bounce?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Short Plant Propagation Update

I wish I could say I had thousands of plants sitting in the backyard from my plant propagation experiments but unfortunately I've just been too busy to do much this year. That isn't to say I'm not happy with what I've accomplished. Sometimes the uniqueness of the experience is much more valuable and satisfying than quantity produced.  What I'm especially pleased with are the rooted cuttings I potted up today. I've been keeping several cuttings in my propagation box that were probably ready to come out days if not weeks ago.

My propagation container sure looks like a mess doesn't it? It's a hodge podge of various perennials and shrubs. Ideally I would divide each container by type and variety but when space is an issue - or time for that matter - shoving them all in the same spot will just have to do! Inside this former salad container are cuttings from perennials like gaillardia, 'Purple Homestead' verbena, and Russian sage. I also have some pineapple sage which is an annual I like to have in my garden.

The shrub area is where I'm excited. Three more of my chamaecyparis cuttings rooted which brings me up to six successful chamaecyparis cuttings.   Also in the below picture are a viburnum, hydrangea, and a teeny tiny little butterfly bush.  Unfortunately the camellia cuttings have yet to root and I lost my single crape myrtle cutting. Sometimes everything works and sometimes you lose a few.

I potted the shrubs and planted the perennials directly into the garden since the weather has forecast good chances of rain throughout the week. In fact it even rained about 0.2 inches today.  I desparately need to get outside to trim back the suckers on our crape myrtles and I'll probably make a few cuttings while I'm at it.

What's on your propagation to do list?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Propagating Blueberries through Cuttings - My First Attempt

Last week I acquired three blueberry bushes in a secret deal from my local big blue box store. OK it really wasn't a secret since they were offering them for half off to anyone. But what they don't know is that those three blueberries bushes I bought for $15.00 (Total) might become 50 one day, that is if I can get the plants to root from the cuttings I made over the weekend.  There are two big advantages to taking greenwood cuttings of blueberries. First, and most obvious, you might be able to make a few extra blueberry bushes. Second, each new cut will spur new growth and since blueberries flower and produce fruit on the previous season's growth it should encourage a higher yield.

Here's how I made my blueberry bush cuttings:

  1. I took 4-6 inch greenwood stem tip cuttings from two of the same variety of blueberry bushes. I made my cuts just above a node on the plant. After that I cut back the remaining stem so that a node was left at the bottom of the cutting.
  2. I removed all but the top two leaves from the blueberry cuttings. More leaves means more water loss. I probably could have left another pair of leaves on the cutting which is in fact what my favorite plant propagation book says to do.
  3. While I was getting the rooting hormone prepared in a clean baby food jar I placed the cuttings in a jar with water so they would remain hydrated. I always put my rooting hormone in a separate container just in case any cuttings may be contaminated with a disease. I don't want to put any pathogens into the original jar of rooting hormone.
  4. I dabbed the cuttings in the jar of rooting hormone and covered the base of the stems as much as possible with rooting hormone. Having the cuttings moist to begin with helps significantly!
  5. Then I stuck the cutting into a previously prepared container with a mix of sand and peat. 
  6. My last step was to put the cuttings into my plant propagating box

Now I have to wait to see when the plants will root. I'm estimating about 6-8 weeks but that could vary greatly. Since blueberries need a pollinator for cross pollination I'll be attempting a few cuttings from my other variety soon. Maybe one of these days I'll have my backyard orchard ready to grow!

Friday, June 17, 2011

'Primal Scream' Daylily AAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

The other day I mentioned I had another daylily that was about to bloom called 'Primal Scream', well that daylily is screaming now! 'Primal Scream' has large orange blooms that have faint hints of reddish coloring in the outer edges of the petals and a more true orange color the further toward the center.

I planted my 'Primal Scream' daylily in the birdbath garden which unfortunately no longer has a birdbath. The soldering fell apart around the bracket that held the copper birdbath onto the post. One of these days I'll get around to repairing the old copper birdbath or maybe I'll find a new one.

A Master Gardener who lives nearby recently invited our garden club to visit his garden that houses over 600 daylily varieties. I've been very curious about his garden for a while now and hope to make a stop up there while the daylilies are still in bloom!

I have to say that 'Primal Scream' is one of the most vibrant daylilies I've seen but I know that with the ease of daylily hybridization there must be thousands of high quality daylilies available. Now if I can ever get my act in gear maybe I'll actually hybridize something!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I Have Two Huge...

Hollyhocks! These plants are simply enormous. I haven't measured them but a rough estimate of six and a half feet sounds very realistic. Unfortunately they are in a really bad location - flanking our front walkway. I should have transplanted them last year to another location more suitable but either didn't think of it or was too lazy. Although the term "lazy gardener" is rarely attributed to me! Darla even thinks I don't sleep...

Hollyhocks and Dave's Daughters

Anyway these hollyhocks sprouted last spring from seeds made the previous season. They grew the first year and never produced flowers. This is the second full year of growth and they are now flowering, such is the nature of the biennial. I need to remove one of these hollyhock beasts to make the walkway walkable. I want at least one of them to grow old enough to produce seed so that I may collect it and relocate it to another garden. I did transplant a new hollyhock to another garden at the beginning of this spring so we will have a flowering hollyhock next year. To keep hollyhocks flowering year after year you really need to plant the seed every year so that when one is flowering another is growing in its first year.

One of the biggest problems with our hollyhocks is this lace effect on the leaves.

Hollyhocks are far from pest free and I've had these caterpillars on them every time. They are the larvae of the sawfly.  They munch and much and munch until the leaves resemble a set of grandma's doilies. The hollyhocks are covered with these half inch long larvae. I'll be outside very soon spraying them down with insecticidal soap to take care of the issue.

Hollyhocks are definitely not a plant for the perfectionist!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Something is Wrong With My Front Garden Plan

My garden is made up of a series of island garden beds. Each one is "designed" (I say that very loosely) to create the pathways that appear in between the gardens. To me a pathway is what really makes garden. A good path let's you see everything there is to see, leads you down unexpected turns, and really enhances a garden. Plants are integral for a garden and structures are important too but you don't go anywhere without a pathway. But this post isn't really about pathways, it's about one garden bed in particular that I need help with. You see, there's just something wrong with it. Maybe it's the plantings, maybe it's the size and shape, or maybe it's something else entirely.

In this bed I've brought lavender plants from my in-laws garden.  They were the result of the natural layering of several lavender plants. I also have several irises, a blackberry lily, 'Husker's Red' penstemon, and even pumpkins! (I'm not ashamed to admit I left out pumpkin from 2010 lying in this bed to rot in the hopes of future Halloween pumpkins.)  I transferred some strawberries to this bed as well because I thought incorporating real edible strawberries as a ground cover would be pretty neat. We'll see how that turns out later. There are even an annual coleus in the mix as well as some sedum 'Acre'. Which would be have to be the sedum genus's response to kudzu - even though it really can't come close.

But there's something wrong with this garden. Do you have any ideas? Here take a look: 

So you tell me, what is wrong with this garden bed?

Blooming Daylilies

Daylilies are one of those plants every garden should have. Unfortunately I've been lax in adding daylilies to the garden over the years. I'm not sure why really. It might be the fact that daylilies in the garden centers aren't all that thrilling and that is where I do most of my shopping. I've perused catalogs for various online nurseries and seen some spectacular daylilies. I tend to be hesitant to order much through online nurseries since the plant size tends to be fairly small.

I bought a new daylily this year called 'Primal Scream' which won't be featured in this post (You can see 'Primal Scream' here). It's a few days from its first blooms but sports brilliant orange blooms when it does. Or at least it's supposed to, I haven't seen it yet! Here's what our current daylily collection looks like:

Stella D'Oro Daylily
Stella may be common but when used in the right places can really add some color. I can't say for 100% certainty that his is a Stella since it came with the house but the odds are good.

'Red Volunteer' Daylily
This beautiful daylily was just given to use last weekend by a friend who lives on the other side of our neighborhood. It has a nice form and a beautiful color don't you think?

Forgotten Name Daylily (edit: 'Pardon Me')
I'm guilty of completely forgetting the name of the daylily that Frances gave us a couple years ago.  I always try to keep up with all the names and cultivars but sometimes my memory fails! It's done very well in our garden and has been divided and moved into a couple locations now.

'Crimson Pirate' Daylily
Arrrr!!! Need I say more? Probably. 'Crimson Pirate' came from a box bought at a box store. The petal shape is quite different from the other daylilies we have. It's more of a spider type daylily.

Ye Old Ditch Lily
We have quite a few ditch lilies around the garden. It's taken some time but I've realized that the proper place for these in the garden isn't among the other plantings. Ditch lilies should be planted enmass for a full effect as filler plants in their own special area.

Do you collect daylilies? How many varieties do you have?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

5 Ways to Help the Garden Survive Droughts

Drought tolerant Purple Coneflower
It's June and already we're suffering drought conditions. The weather around us is more like late July and August than June with temperatures ten degrees higher than normal and no rain. We are dry as a bone. Last night I watched as a huge rain cloud dissipated into nothing before it made it to our garden on the weather radar. My garden is suffering but here are some ideas I'm trying to deal with the drought.

  1. Plant native plants - You've probably heard this one before but native plants are better adapted to the local area weather conditions and are better prepared for the extreme weather conditions that may emerge.
  2. Survival of the fittest! Observe what plants thrive during extreme drought conditions and plant more of these kinds of plants in your garden while resisting the urge to plant more of the drought sensitive plants.
  3. Prioritize plantings and irrigate - You may not be able to water everything so select the drought sensitive plants from your garden and make sure you irrigate them on a regular basis. My priority is the vegetable garden right now which I've set up with a series of soaker hoses to bring moisture to the base of each plant.
  4. Mulch and compost, compost and mulch. - Mulch is a cure all for so many things. Mulching the garden keeps the soil moisture from evaporating too quickly and allows the plants to have more time to absorb water. Adding compost to the soil improves soil structure and thus water retention.
  5. Weed Weeds! Weeds take valuable moisture from your garden plants. They are aggressive and in most cases will out grow most perennials and annuals you choose to plant. By routine weeding you eliminate these water hogs and preserve more moisture in the soil for the plants you like!
Number 2 is something I'm keeping a close eye on this year. Drought is frustrating, can't be prevented, but can be tolerated!

How do you help your garden through drought conditions?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Home Plant Propagation Chamber - As Simple As it Gets!

Fancy words like propagation chamber might make you think of some elaborate industrial nursery propagation system with robotic arms that plug plants into mass produced flats of flowers and foliage, but that really isn't the case. At least for the home gardener. A simple home plant propagation chamber can be made with one quick trip to the store.

What Do You Really Need to Build a Home Propagation Chamber?

What do you need to build your own home propagator? Try one large clear or semi-transparent plastic container with a lid. That's all you really need - seriously. You could incorporate mist heads with water lines into the plastic container but for now, especially if you are just starting off with plant propagation, the one storage box is all you need. If you want to add misting capabilities to your box you can find kits at most home improvement stores that can be adapted to fit your needs. Just drill holes where you need to insert the mist heads and add drainage holes in the bottom of the box. I've found that when using the box I only need to water every 10 to 14 days so the mist system doesn't seem that necessary. Otherwise I check the cuttings every couple days for progress or to see if any cuttings are doing poorly.

I Have My Plastic Box, Now What?

Most of my plant propagation involves using sand as a medium. I also use (or I should say re-use) quite a few plastic containers. With the plant propagation chamber I can place my prepared cuttings in their own plastic containers directly into the box, water, and then wait.  Before too long the cuttings will be taking off.  Just make sure the box stays out of direct sunlight or you could bake your cuttings. The plastic box maintains a good level of humidity without drowning the cuttings.

In this container: Chamaecyparis, Verbena, Camellia, Viburnum, Gaillardia, and Hydrangea Cuttings

Top Container: Boxwood Cuttings,  Bottom Container: Raspberry Cuttings.
These boxes work great for anyone who is interested in propagating plants at home. They are a good way to maintain moisture and get those cuttings out of the house. I'm sure my wife is glad about that!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica)

Last year I bought a packet of California poppy seeds. I planted the poppy seeds in the fall just like I do my red corn poppies and here they are now. The blooms are bright and nothing short of spectacular. The foliage isn't too shabby either. It reminds me very much of the foliage of my 'Powis castle' artemisia, silvery in hue with feather like leaves.

Most of the California poppies I planted are in a front garden area I started also in the fall. The poppies provide some late spring and early summer color in this garden.

I planted a few 'Caradonna' salvias from cuttings nearby which actually became enveloped by the poppies. Behind them both is a 'Golden Jubilee' Agastache and the blade like leaves of several irises. Next year this whole garden should look like river of flowers going from daffodils in early spring to irises in late spring. The summer blooming flowers like coneflower, 'Montauk' daisy, and various annuals will fill out the outside areas.

Why do I like to plant poppies?
  • Poppies are easy to sow - just sprinkle the seeds in the fall.
  • Poppies are easy to grow - just let mother nature have her way with them. Despite the current drought cycle we're in the poppies haven't stopped blooming!
  • Poppies look awesome!

Are your poppies still blooming?