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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Drought Tolerant Garden Plants

My gardens haven't seen any rain for several weeks now.  The grass is brown and I even commented to my daughter that it sounds like crunchy snow.  Of course the reality couldn't be further from the truth - it's hot!  No snowball could survive in our back yard today with temperatures expected to rise into the triple digits.  Droughts do provide us with one really nice opportunity to examine our gardens for drought tolerant plants.  Here are a few of those plants that have done very well in my garden without any supplemental watering.

In most cases natives perform better than exotic plants in the garden.  But there are exotics that can thrive in our weather conditions.  Unfortunately these exotics often become invasive because they can handle our native conditions so easily.  Take this butterfly bush for instance.  It's done fantastic without any care from me this year.  It's a beautiful plant but can be a fast spreading invasive in the right conditions.  As an example take my mom's garden.  She has two butterfly bushes outside her vegetable garden and last year they seeded the vegetable garden with at least 20 new butterfly bushes.  They are drought tolerant but beware before planting!

One really cool native plant is ninebark.  This physocarpus is 'Diablo', a patented variety with gorgeous purple tinted leaves.  It's performed very well through the drought so far.

These pictures were all taken in the heat of the day and so the leaves have curled just slightly as a defense against losing moisture.  This is perfectly normal for most plants.  It's when plants start the day off wilty that you need to be worried!

I can't say enough good things about switchgrass!  Native, hardy, beautiful, and a great replacement for miscanthus.  I have 5 varieties in my garden and I like them all!  Here is 'Heavy metal' and below it you will see 'Shenandoah'.  All switchgrasses can be propagated easily through division

 'Shenandoah' features reddish tinted foliage that really becomes bright and colorful in the fall. 

'Powis Castle' is a non invasive variety of artemisia.  It spreads only by layering which is easily controlled.  In fact it is so easily controlled that in most cases you will probably plant the layered divisions in other areas of your garden.  There are few plants that I will say are completely deer and rabbit resistant and this is one of them!  They've never taken a nibble of our artemisia. It's also extremely drought tolerant!

Achillea is one of those plants that anyone can grow!  It does spread but it's usually controllable.  Bees and pollinators love it and with the ferny foliage you will too.  Trim it back after the flowers have faded to encourage it to bloom again and again.

Native viburnums like this arrowwood viburnum do great in times of drought too.  Soon the berries will turn blue and supply the birds with some important sustenance for the dry summer.

Another native shrub that does great is the witch hazel.  Ours has never been very fragrant when blooming in the spring but does an excellent job as a small shrub in the landscape.

I hope that the weather is being kinder to you than it is to us!

To plant more natives in your garden do some research into Alan Armitage's Native Plants Book. It's a great resource! 

Monday, June 25, 2012

Stone Borders and a Sitting Wall

Sometimes you don't really know where your garden is going to go.  Impulse plants or bargain plants can shape the type plants you put in, the kind of plant can determine where it goes, or you may even move plants to place them in better locations, but this notion of outside forces shaping your garden doesn't just pertain to plants.  Elements of whimsy may enhance an area. Maybe you get tired of something structural and move it.  Sometimes it's something else...like rocks!  Recently one of my neighbors decided that he didn't want a pile of rocks that was in his yard.  They were originally slated to be a fire pit but weren't suitable.  Since my neighbors know of my gardening obsession he figured I might be able to use them. I just had to come pick them up.  My fascination with rocks as a garden element made this a no brainer!  I love garden beds outlined in rocks of all kinds.  I like using natural stone better due to its aesthetics but I'm not above using manufactured stone in the garden.  Either type of stone can do wonders for enhancing a garden. 

Stone Border around garden
I picked up the truck load of stone last week and steeled myself for working on Sunday afternoon.  Yep Sunday afternoon when temperatures were in the high 90's and beyond.  Frequent breaks are imperative when working outside in these conditions!  As are gloves when working with stone.  Not only do stones have rough edges that will tear apart your hands but the sun turns them into baking stones too hot to touch with bare hands.  Despite the working conditions this garden enjoyed getting outside and setting the stones along out front garden areas.  These new rocks were larger than what I had previously installed and in most cases replaced what I originally had used for borders.  Many of the original stones went to a new location across from the front garden as did several manufactured stone blocks that I used a couple years ago for building our side garden entry arbor.  Some of these stones were very square and quite large which made them perfect for this area.

The arbor area stonework now extends all the way from the corner shade garden to the front sidewalk with a consistent type of natural stone.  Below is a picture of the border stones in the front garden area.

Creeping phlox will gradually nestle against the big stones and soften the look a little bit.  To me stones add the appearance of age and maturity to the garden.

The stones doing a great job at separating the garden beds from the lawn - although at the moment the lawn isn't much to talk about!  Dry. Dry. Dry.

From the other side of the garden the lined beds create a pathway in between the two garden areas. 

The manufactured stone from the arbor area was moved across to the other garden to create a short sitting wall.  It's the perfect spot for kids to sit and play in the front garden.  This area gets afternoon shade and will soon (whenever the ground is softened up by moisture) house a few new hydrangeas.

I stair stepped the natural stone on the ends to blend the two types of stones together.  In a small way this reminds me of some old ancient ruin. 

I sat down here several times while working on the front border.  I need to trim one branch from the tree above and then the sitting wall becomes the perfect place to take breathers while working in the garden!

How do you use stone in your garden?

Friday, June 22, 2012

5 Gardening Aggravations!

Aggravations are sure to enter into everyone's lives at some time or another and when we think of aggravations as a part gardening a whole lot of subjects arise! In fact this list of 5 gardening aggravations that I'm about to share with you could extend well beyond the necessary 5 items for a Friday Fives post.  It could even be material for future posts on the subject - which would result in quite a few future posts!  Today I'll list the five gardening aggravations that are on my mind at the moment. Feel free to suggest a few more in the comments below.

5 Gardening Aggravations

  1. Drought - Drought conditions are all over Tennessee at the moment.  The grass is crinkly and brown and even the drought tolerant plants we have are showing signs of stress.  Drought tolerant means they can deal with these conditions not that they enjoy them!  I'm watering the vegetable garden every other day to insure a good crop and keeping other stressed plants watered as needed.  Generally when you water you should water less often and water deeply (which means longer).  I covered several garden watering tips in this post.
  2. Hoses - Hoses are simply frustrating!  You lug around these cheap garden hoses that kink up constantly.  I'm too cheap to spend money on the good never kink hoses (Amazon Link) and aggravation always ensues.  Then no matter what kind of hose you have - it's never long enough!  You quickly can get to the end of the hose and have to come up with some creative method of watering the often involves an arc of water that extends your range another 15 to 20 feet!  I've done this so many times that I've become highly skilled at aiming the water arc to exactly where it needs to go.  Soaker hoses and irrigation systems are a great option but that takes time to set up. 
  3. Insects - Insects can be the bane of every gardener's existence.  The most notable pest right now is the Japanese beetle.  The damage hasn't been too bad and has been mainly on the roses which will eventually come back with brand new foliage.  Japanese beetle traps don't work - or work too well as an attractant - and aren't worth the money spent on them.  I've had success with soapy water and hot sauce but they eventually come back.  One thing I have noticed is that my grape vines haven't been damaged that have been surrounded by cilantro plants.  I let the cilantro bolt and the tall plants have covered our young vines.  Perhaps the scent of the cilantro has masked the presence of the grape vines.  It might be something to try!
  4. Dying Plants! We have quite a few dying plants right now due to the weather conditions.  There's only so much time available to spend watering and to try to keep things alive.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Gardeners need to plant what will grow in their area successfully with fewer additional resources.  If a plant dies because it needs special attention than it may not be the right plant for the gardener's garden.  This is one reason why natives are very well suited to gardens! If the weather conditions kill off a plant than take note of it and either try a different location next time or go with a different plant. 
  5. Ragweed
  6. Weeds - Despite the drought weeds survive!  Ragweed and Johnson grass are the two that are present in our garden right now.  There seems to be nothing can stop them short of constant mechanical removal.  They really are amazing plants that never seem to have an issue with the weather.  They are so highly adapted to the local weather conditions that it's too bad they aren't useful for something - ragweed biofuels anyone?

Now it's your turn, what aggravations are you dealing with in your garden? 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Propagating Asclepias incarnata through Cuttings!

I'm always interested in trying to make new plants and recently I decided to give my Asclepias incarnata a try.  Asclepias or butterfly weed make great host plants for butterfly larvae.   I've always assumed that asclepias needed to be grown from seed or from root cuttings but as it turns out they will root easily from stem tip cuttings.  I guess it just goes to show that there's nothing wrong with giving something a new try even if you have some doubts!

I took the stem tip cuttings about 6 weeks ago applied rooting hormone and placed the cuttings in moist sand in a plastic cup.  I kept the cuttings in a humid environment for the duration and kept them watered.  I checked the asclepias cuttings periodically for rooting by giving them a gentle tug.  If I didn't feel resistance I left them alone.

Yesterday I was able to pot up three of three asclepias cuttings.  Now I'll have to find some of my orange butterfly weed to give it a try!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Raised Bed with Concrete Retaining wall Blocks

This week I put together another project in the vegetable garden. It was a little one that was another step toward designing my vegetable garden as a parterre style garden layout.  This raised vegetable bed was also another project that I accomplished with materials furnished by Lowe's Creative Ideas.  The idea for this project was to create something that was both edible and ornamental! I decided that working in the vegetable garden was the way to go.  Vegetables can be very ornamental by themselves but I also incorporated some more traditional flowers and plants to enhance the garden's ornamental value.

For materials on this project I used the retaining wall blocks.  There are quite a variety of block styles to choose from.  I went with a mid priced block (about $2.50 per block) that has some natural looking contouring.  The sides of the block are beveled to allow for rounded corners or even circular raised beds

For plants I chose three colors of sweet peppers (orange, red, and yellow), two daylilies (which are edible), some gerbera daisies (to plant on the edges), and a red flowering penstemon called 'Ruby Candles'.  Adding flowers and herbs to a garden bed in order to attract beneficial insects is called companion planting. Flowers attract pollinators which as we all know are very beneficial to gardeners!  I do need to note that this bed already had a few plants that I grew from seed including peppers and basil. 

I set the concrete blocks directly on the soil since these were only going to be a one layer border for the raised beds. I leveled the blocks with soil but if the blocks were to be used as a retaining wall they would have needed gravel for leveling underneath the stones.  

I filled the raised bed area with soil and compost I had on hand in the garden.  Once it was planted I mulched with a hay bale that I bought at Lowe's.  Mulch is extremely important to retaining moisture in the soil.  We're going through a dry spell right now and anything I can do to keep water where the roots are is a necessity!

The plants are freshly planted and need some time to settle in before looking their best.  I'll update you in a week or two to show you how it is coming along! In case you missed my last project check back and see the vertical garden arbor using gutters I built!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Drought Tolerant Plants and Photos Around the Gardens

I hope when you read this post that the rains are coming down in a delightful shower to water your garden, because they certainly aren't here! It's dry, extremely dry. Working in the ground is like cutting through a brick. Fortunately we've planted plants over the years that can tolerate these dry drought conditions.

Autumn sage is one of those drought tolerant sages that is a reliable performer.  It hasn't stopped blooming yet this year which is different from most years.   Usually it blooms in the spring then stops during the summer then picks up blooming strong in the fall.  It can be easily propagated through cuttings and also through seed.  I just gathered seed for it the other day that I'll plant next spring.

Even though this isn't the native beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) this Callicarpa dichotoma does quite well in our dry periods.  It's beauty is spectacular in the fall when bunches of purple berries cover the branches. Beautyberry is very easy to grow from cuttings.

Black and Blue salvia is another tried and true drought tolerant plant.  It never fails to perform well. It also is very good at feeding the hummingbirds!

Monarda isn't always thought of as being drought tolerant but ours seems to do well under a small amount of shade.  Locating it in a good spot is also important as both of the plants in the following pictures are sited where the soil is more rich than other areas of our yard.

Daylilies seem to do great even when the weather isn't ideal.  I've been extremely pleased with the performance of 'Primal Scream'.  This orange beauty is a definite eye catcher!

Rudbeckia is always a nice choice for drought tolerant gardens.

Here is a Tennessee coneflower - or perhaps a hybrid.  I'm not entirely sure as it came to me from a plant swap.  Whether the echinacea in the picture is a Tennessee coneflower or not the Tennessee coneflower itself is very drought tolerant and thrives in the less than ideal soils of cedar glades.

One of my favorite over perennials period is the heuchera!  Here is one little tiny flower from a heuchera called 'Paris'.  'Paris' sends up clusters of beautiful coral red flowers.  I've found that all the heucheras in my garden have done very well when water is scarce!

What plants are the best performers in drought conditions for your garden?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Two More Daylilies!

Yesterday I brought home two more daylilies to add to our daylily collection.  Please welcome 'Serena Sunrise' and 'Custard Candy' to the garden!

'Serena Sunrise' Daylily
Both of these daylilies have already been crossed with each other (yesterday) and with my favorite daylily 'Primal Scream' (today)!  I can't wait to see the results, but wait I must!

'Candy Custard' Daylily

Both of these daylilies are going to be a part of this month's Lowe's Creative Ideas project which involves planting an edible garden area that is also ornamental.  Daylilies are well known for having edible flowers and when mixed in with more traditional edibles should look fantastic!  For May I put together a vertical garden that uses gutters as planters.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Our Daylilies of 2012

It's nearly summer which means that it's time for the daylilies to be showing off their flowers. Daylilies aren't native plants by any means but they do really well here in Tennessee.  They have very few problems and tend to grow nearly untended!  I'm sure that combining their low maintenance attribute with their beauty is why they have become so popular. They are definitely not deer resistant and may need protection from deer if the daylilies are planted in a deer prone area, although I don't think we've had the deer eat any of our daylilies yet.  Daylilies get their name from the blooms that open and flower for just a day.  Despite this they can be blooming for several weeks during the summer due to multiple scapes (flower stems) and multiple flowers on those scapes! 

I'm getting into daylily hybridizing this year in a more serious way (which means I'll actually collect the seed this time!)  When hybridizing it's important to know which flowers are diploid or tetraploid.  Diploid flowers have two sets of chromosomes where tetraploid have four.  The two types won't cross over with each other.

Here are a few of our daylilies:

Lavender Dew (or at least that's the plant tag I have!)

A double ditch lily (Hemerocallis fulva)

Red Volunteer

Crimson Pirate

Primal Scream

Pardon Me

I have several more daylilies on the way but most likely they will not be flowering this year.  Of course I'll show them when they are!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Vegetable Garden Progress: Melons, Potatoes, and Tomatoes

My lately planted vegetable garden is doing its best to get back on track!  It's been a busy spring time and everything got delayed until the official "whenever I could manage a few minutes" time.  But one of the great things about gardening in Tennessee is the long growing season.  Even if you don't get the vegetable garden planted within two weeks of the frost date, you still have plenty of time to get it in! 

I'm excited to see some of our first tomatoes forming on the plants.  These tomatoes are on an 'Amazon Chocolate' tomato plant. It's an heirloom plant that so far I'm thrilled with even though I've never eaten a single tomato!  This tomato grew strong and healthy right off the bat from seed.  As far as the growth rate it out competed every other tomato I started from seed this year.  The stem is nice and thick with branches that have very large leaves.  I'll have to get back to you on the taste (I'm looking forward to that taste test!) but so far Amazon chocolate looks pretty good.

Another plant I'm excited about is the 'Yellow Midget' Watermelon.  It's a new watermelon to our garden.  The rind turns yellow when its ripe and ready!  They produce 2-3 lb. watermelons which sounded perfect for an after dinner dessert melon.  I companion planted nasturtiums right next to the melon in an attempt to ward off the squash bugs and vine borers.  So far so good.  We'll see how things go!  These melons are planted where I used to have a raised bed.  For now it is a borderless raised bed or a mounded raised bed

'Costata Romanesco' is a ridged zucchini that should be a prolific producer of that well known green summer squash. I planted our squash late so we haven't harvested anything yet.  Inadvertently it may have been a good thing as I may have dodged the squash vine borer.  We'll see...you may not be able to hear it but I'm knocking on wood right now...

My family enjoyed some of the first potato harvests this weekend.  We grew a purple colored potato called 'Adirondak Blue' for the first time.  It was a little strange to have purple colored potatoes with our dinner but teh taste is all that matters!  We enjoyed them both as a skillet grilled potato dish with salt and pepper as well as hashbrowns that accompanied our pancakes.

Hopefully over the coming weeks I can spend more time in the vegetable garden getting everything growing exactly how I want it!