This blog is for all people who have a passion for gardening or for those who are beginning gardeners. I will share with you gardening DIY projects, tips for a healthy landscape, fun plants to grow, and the basics of gardening “How To…”. I look forward to sharing my gardening experience with you and I hope that you will comment and share your gardening experiences with me. Gardening is a glorious experience that deserves to be shared! Continue reading “For the Love of Gardening”
I am writing this article not to scare you away from gardening but to educate you about it. I love to garden but some of the most beautiful plants in the garden are actually poisonous, even deadly. I am extremely careful about what I plant in my garden in order to keep my pets safe. If you have children or animals that frequent your garden, please research prospective garden plants prior to planting them to make sure they are not poisonous. And, if you suspect one of your current garden plants may be poisonous, please research it. If the plant is poisonous, be wise and use caution if you choose to keep it. Here is just a small list of common garden plants that are poisonous to humans and animals:
- Foxglove (Digitalis)
- Lily of the Valley
- Narcissus (Daffodil)
- Larkspur (Delphinium)
- Purple nightshade
- Mountain laurel
- Water hemlock
- Elephant ear
- Lilies in the Hemerocallis genus
- English Yew
- Rhubarb leaves
This is just a short list of garden plants that are poisonous. There are more. If you are unsure whether or not a plant is poisonous, please do a search of the plant prior to planting it in your garden. It could save a life. For a larger list of poisonous and non-poisonous garden plants check out the University of California
If you think a child or an animal may have ingested a toxic plant, please call poison control immediately. Don’t wait.
Stay safe and happy gardening!
Quote of the Day
“A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust.”
-Gertrude Jekyll, British horticulturist and writer
Biennials comprise some of the most beautiful flowers in the landscape. Biennials include such lovely flowers as hollyhocks, sweet william (also called dianthus), and foxglove. But what exactly is a biennial and how do you grow it?
What is a biennial?
To answer the question, “What is a biennial?”, it may help to first define the other types of flowers that are more well known. Annuals are flower that must be planted every year. They grow, set seed, and die within the same season. They don’t come back. Perennials are flowers that grow, flower, die back to the ground, and come back the following year and the year after and so on.
Biennials are odd in that they combine the behaviors of both annuals and perennials. Biennials sprout from seed the first year. The plants focus all their energy on growing sturdy roots and healthy greens but will not flower during the first year of growth. Biennials will then die back to the ground for the winter and come back the following spring. In the second year of growth, the biennials create a stunning display of flowers and set seed. After setting seed, biennial plants die completely and don’t come back. So a biennial grows the first year and dies back to the ground for the winter like a perennial. The following year the biennial will flower, set seed, and die, root and all, like an annual.
How do you grow a biennial?
Because of the interesting growing behavior of biennials, there is a trick to growing them. In order to have beautiful flowers every year when you start biennials, plant biennials by seed for two years consecutively or plant potted biennials for several years in a row. Thereafter, either let the seeds fall to the ground or collect the seeds to reseed the following year. This means do not deadhead your biennial flowers. Instead, allow the flower head to dry up and collect the seeds to replant the following season or allow them to drop to the ground so the plant reseeds itself. This process of planting will give you a never ending supply of biennial flowers year after year after year.
How are biennials special?
Biennials are a special type of plant. They have a fascinating mix of annual and perennial growth behavior. In order to have their flowering presence in the garden every year, the gardener must follow a special process. However, biennials are well worth the effort. They have some of the most beautiful flowers of any garden plant.
Quote of the Day
Shed no tear! O shed no tear!
The flower will bloom another year.
Weep no more! O weep no more!
Young buds sleep in the root’s white core.
-John Keats, English poet
You never know what you are going to find in the garden. I am going to deviate from my normal garden articles to tell you the tale of Francis. Francis, the critter in the picture, is an Eastern Gray Tree Squirrel.
The evening I found Francis, I was outside getting the laundry off my clothesline. That’s when I heard an animal scream. It was a scream the likes of which I’ve never heard before. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It sounded like it was coming from the tree but I couldn’t see what was making this awful noise. It was obviously an animal in distress. I assumed it was a bird until I saw Francis at the bottom of the tree.
Now, before I go on, let me back up a bit and tell you a bit more about myself. Not only am I passionate about gardening, but I have been an indiscriminate animal rescuer literally my whole life. In fact, as a toddler, I used to walk up and down the alley behind our house after it rained to save the worms in the mud puddles because I knew they would die if I left them there. (Funny enough, I just read an article on The Dodo , about a dog that saves worms .) And, as a child, I was known in my small town as “the cat lady” because my rescue cats would follow me wherever I went.
I have rescued everything from cats and dogs, to rabbits, turtles, a turkey, and a blind ferret. People call me in to remove an animal when it’s where it’s not supposed to be. I’ve done everything from removing a feral cat from a commercial greenhouse to blocking traffic on a four-lane highway to remove a wild painted turtle from the road.
I’ll never forget one cold snowy winter night when I was contacted by a local farmer at 9:00 o’clock in the evening. He said there was a greyhound dog on the loose near the farm where he worked. He and other workers had tried for days to catch the dog but were unable to get near it. He was worried about the dog because it was nearly -20 below zero outside that night. I thanked him for calling and told him I would head out to get the dog. I put on my winter gear, jumped in my SUV, and headed out to the last place the dog had been seen. Within a short amount of time, I found the dog. He was curled up in a pile of hay along side a road, trying to stay warm. I approached the dog carefully but in no time at all, I had the dog in my vehicle. As it turned out, he was actually a scottish deerhound and he was physically fine, just a wee bit cold. He now lives happily with his new family in his forever home.
Most of the animals I take in are abandoned, abused, and/or lost. I have dealt with a lot of different health and behavioral issues, as well as disabilities that come with rescue animals. As a rescuer, you generally have no idea what the animal’s background is or how it ended up where it was found. Your job is simply to help. It would be disingenuous for me to say that I simply love these animals when in fact, my life is dedicated to my fur-kids. It’s my life’s purpose.
So now that you know a little more about me, let me continue with the story of Francis, the infant gray squirrel stranded at the base of the tree. When I found Francis, he was frantically rolling about in the shrubbery unable to walk. I quickly looked around for the mother and noticed a squirrel laying dead on the road. It had been hit by a car.
I made my decision very quickly to take in this tiny squirrel. I ran into the house and grabbed a hand towel. I ran back outside, scooped up this little creature, and brought him into my home. He was cold but moving. He was also quiet. I prayed he would be ok. I held him against the skin of my throat at the base of my neck to keep him warm. As I held him, I frantically searched online for any articles referencing “rescue” and “baby squirrel”. I have never rescued an infant squirrel before and I had absolutely no idea how to help.
During my search, I learned how to care for Francis’s immediate needs. I also found a company called Fox Valley that makes the specialized formula Francis would need to survive and thrive. I ordered the Fox Valley formula online and used puppy formula, as recommended, until the specialized formula arrived in the mail.
As my knowledge grew, I quickly realized that rescue squirrels have very specific nutritional needs and require a great deal of care in order to grow healthy and strong in order to be released, usually around the age of 12 weeks. But, it also became clear, that Francis was disabled, likely from the fall from the tree. Francis has a bad hip which restricts his ability to move around, climb, and sit up properly to eat. His balance is off and he is abnormally small for his age, only about half the size he should be.
Due to his disability, it’s likely that I’ll be looking after Francis for the duration of his life, which may be as many as twenty years according to some experts. We are still learning as we go but I think Francis will be ok. His never-ending energy and high spirits, despite his disability, make me pretty certain, he’s an angel that “dropped” into my life to make me smile.
The moral of this short animal tail (animal tail, get it! Ok, it’s not that funny.) The moral of the story is this: Be careful in the garden. You never know what you’re going to find.
P.S. I don’t recommend that you rescue animals, especially wild animals, unless you have the training or experience to do so. Remember, I have been doing this for more than thirty years. Rescuing animals can be very dangerous, not only for the animal, but for you too. There are very real physical dangers as well as health issues to consider before rescuing an animal. Rabies and other diseases are always a consideration in these situations. If you find an animal in distress, please call your local experts or professionals that are trained to deal with these situations. Thank you.
I opened my mailbox a few days ago and was pleasantly surprised to find that it contained a plant catalog from a new company called Harvesting History. The company specializes in heirloom seeds and bulbs. The tasteful beauty of the catalog itself sent me on a mission to learn more about this wonderful new company dedicated to the plants of old.
For those of you that are new to gardening, the term “heirloom” simply means the plant has been openly pollinated by insects or the wind without mechanical means and that the cultivar is somewhere between at least 50 to 100 years old. GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) are not considered heirloom cultivars no matter the age. Traditionally, heirloom cultivars were considered to be handed down from one generation to the next for many generations.
According to the website, Harvesting History was created in 2016 by a group of horticultural professionals with the combined experience in excess of 500 years! The company is dedicated to the preservation of heirloom varieties and their history. The company carries a wide variety of heirloom cultivars including flowers, vegetables, and herbs along with a variety of other classic gardening products. About Harvesting History
Harvesting History’s stunning full color catalog contains a brilliant collection of detailed photographs of the many varieties of bulbs the company has for purchase along with a beautifully crafted narrative describing the history of each plant. A short description of each plant, its hardiness, and growing zones help the gardener choose from the large selection Harvesting History has available for purchase.
The Harvesting History company has piqued my interest. Their stunning full color catalog and beautifully designed website make it fun and interesting to browse through the many varieties of bulbs, tubers, seeds, and other products they have available for sale. Check it out! You may find your new favorite!
Quote of the Day
” I continue to be interested in new things that seem old and old things that seem new.”
– Jaquelin T. Robertson, American architect and urban designer
It’s September. The nighttime temperatures are beginning to drop. The morning air is crisp and cool. The summer sun is setting, fall is coming, and winter will soon be here. It’s time to begin thinking about preparing your landscape for winter. The question is, “What do I have to do to prepare my perennials for winter?”
First of all, what the heck is a perennial?
One of the questions that first time gardeners always ask is what is the difference between a perennial flower and an annual flower. It’s simple. Annuals have to be planted yearly (annually) and perennials come back up year after year (perennially). Annuals include such flowers as petunias, impatiens, and alyssum. Perennials include such garden favorites as daylilies, hostas, and coral bells. Whereas annuals live for one season, set their seeds and die, perennial plants hibernate during the winter only to burst forth in the spring with new growth when the weather warms. There is also a whole other set of plants called biennials that act like both perennials and annuals! I won’t cover biennials here as I will tackle that subject in an upcoming blog so stay tuned!
In the fall, annual flowers can be dug up and discarded into the compost pile. Their life cycle is complete and they will need to be replanted either by seed or as transplants the following spring. So then, the question remains: “What do I do with my perennials for the winter?”
Do I have to cut down my perennials in the fall?
I have both cut down my perennials for winter and left them up. As a naturalist organic gardener, I prefer to leave my healthy perennials uncut for winter when I can. In nature, as plants die back in fall, the base of the plant is insulated from the cold with the plants own dead leaves and other garden debris like fallen tree leaves. Snow acts as a secondary insulation keeping the ground temperatures stable and creating a barrier between the plant and the biting cold air. With a moderate amount of snow cover, the ground temperature, even near the surface, will actually hover just below freezing. This is why water pipes do not freeze when they are buried underground!
For a more concrete example of layered insulation, think of how a home is insulated with multiple layers of insulation. There is siding on your house under which is sheeting to keep out moisture and drafts and then there is fiberglass or blown insulation in the walls between the studs. Mother nature uses the same concept of multiple layers of insulation to keep plants protected from harsh winter weather.
What do I need to do to protect my perennials when I cut them down for winter?
It is not uncommon for gardeners to cut down all their perennials in fall. It keeps your yard looking neat and tidy and prepares the landscape for next spring. And, if you live in an area with a Home Owners Association, you may be required to clean up your landscape in the fall to stay within the rules of the HOA. There is nothing wrong with cleaning up your landscape in the fall. In fact, if you have had any insect, bacterial, or fungal infestations, you definitely want to remove the greens from at least those plants. Throw this plant material away rather than putting it in the compost pile as it may spread the problem onto next year’s landscape.
If you choose to cut down your perennials, it is a good idea to cover them with a layer of mulch several inches thick to protect them from the winter air. The mulch can be anything from purchased wood mulch to straw or tree leaves. Leave the mulch on the perennials for the duration of the winter. In the spring, carefully rake the mulch away, uncovering your perennials, to allow the spring sun to warm the ground. Your perennials should wake from their slumber and begin to grow.
It is especially important to cover tender perennials, even if you don’t cut them off. A tender perennial is basically a perennial that a gardener is attempting to grow in a climate zone with harsher winter temperatures than what is generally recommended for that plant. For example, a zone 5 perennial grown in zone 4 would be considered a tender perennial in zone 4. The plant will need much more care in zone 4 in order to help it survive the winter, if it will at all. (Please see the following link to learn more about your growing zone: USDA Zone Map ) If you are attempting to grow a plant in a colder zone than is recommended, please do a search on the particular plant you are attempting to grow in order to find out what professionals or other gardeners recommend for winter protection for that specific plant in your specific area. It may save you the heartache of having to replace your plant in the spring.
Perennials with a purpose.
There are some plants you may want to consider leaving up for the winter simply because of their striking beauty or usefulness.
Upright sedum such as ‘Autumn Joy’ and ornamental grasses like ‘Karl Forester’ look gorgeous in the winter landscape. Dried sedum flower heads with a soft dusting of snow covering them add interest to the winter landscape and the movement of ornamental grasses in the winter breeze surrounded by snow is undeniably beautiful. Another noteworthy exception is red twig dogwood. Even though it is a woody shrub and not a perennial flower many people cut it down in the fall. It is definitely worth leaving up for its striking red winter color.
Some other perennials that you may also consider leaving up are flowers with seeds that are consumed by birds like coneflowers and black-eyed susans. Coreopsis, or tickseed as it is commonly called, is also a favorite of winter wildlife. The birds will love the winter buffet and you get to enjoy the view!
A little preparation in the fall on your part is all it takes to insure that your plants have a great shot of surviving the winter weather. It’s well worth the time and effort when you see those same plants bringing your garden to life in the spring.
Quote of the Day
“The spring, summer, is quite a hectic time for people in their lives, but then it comes to autumn, and to winter, and you can’t but help think back to the year that was, and then hopefully looking forward to the year that is approaching.”
-Enya, Irish singer and songwriter
Mixing edibles into the landscape with ornamentals creates a beautiful and interesting landscape that is also productive. However, common synthetic landscape chemicals are not always recommended for use on edibles. Plants absorb the chemicals we put on them through the roots and leaves. The presence of these chemicals in and around the edible plant may make the plant and its produce unsafe for you and your family to eat. So how do you maintain a healthy productive mixed landscape without the use of synthetic chemicals? By using safe organic alternatives to maintain your plants, it is possible to create a beautiful mixed landscape of ornamentals and edibles without introducing unsafe toxins.
Organic fertilizers are very popular now and can be found at most local garden stores or online sites. These fertilizers come in liquid, granular, and pellet forms. Use the fertilizer that is right for your landscape. Some plants, like roses and blueberries, have special nutritional needs. These nutritional needs can be met by simply using specialized organic fertilizers. Generally however a simple all purpose slow release fertilizer spread over your lawn and landscape twice a year is all it takes to keep your plants healthy and productive all summer long.
Compost is always recommended to improve the texture of the soil but it also adds nutritional value and trace elements to the soil that are necessary for proper plant growth and food production. Compost can be purchased at most local garden stores but for those gardeners that wish to create their own compost or for more information about the nutritional value of compost in your landscape, please refer to my article on compost that will explain the ins and outs of compost and compost production. Compost. What’s The Big Deal?
*Hint: In home-made compost, use only yard and grass clippings that have not been treated with synthetic chemicals, especially herbicides. Synthetic chemicals do not break down naturally and may remain in the compost. If herbicides are present in your compost, you could inadvertently kill your entire landscape when the compost is applied.
Herbicides (Weed Killers)
Weeds are the bane of any garden. Keeping up with the weeding takes a lot of time and energy. The CobraHead Garden Tool makes this job a lot easier. See my review of the CobraHead at The CobraHead. An Amazing Garden Tool. But to reduce the time it takes to weed by hand, herbicides can be applied to help control the weed population in your garden and landscape. Although there are a great number of synthetic herbicides on the market, they can be dangerous to humans and animals. Luckily there are a number of natural herbicides available to help control the weeds in your landscape.
Corn Gluten Meal: Corn gluten meal is a byproduct of milling corn. It is a natural fertilizer that also works as a pre-emergent herbicide. A pre-emergent herbicide stops the plant from taking root once the seed begins to grow. Be aware that corn gluten meal will stop all seeds from taking root, including garden and grass seeds. Read the manufacturer’s directions before using this product if you intend to plant seeds in your garden or over-seed your lawn.
Vinegar: An easy and inexpensive herbicide that is common in most households is plain white vinegar. Vinegar contains acetic acid which is deadly to plants. Common household vinegar is safe for humans but manufactured vinegar herbicides may contain a stronger vinegar solution which can be hazardous to humans and pets. If you choose to purchase a manufactured vinegar herbicide, read the manufacturer’s label for instructions prior to use.
Vinegar works as a herbicide by drying up the leaves of the plant. It works best on young plants and annual weeds. It does not kill the root of the plant so several applications may be necessary to kill larger plants or perennial weeds. To use common household vinegar as a herbicide, simply pour full strength vinegar into a spray bottle and spray on the leaves of the undesired plant. Vinegar will kill all plants indiscriminately so it may help to use a piece of cardboard to protect desirable plants while spraying. This will keep them safe from the vinegar spray. Repeat as necessary until weeds are gone.
To prevent outbreaks of fungus in the garden or to treat fungus that is already present, there are several organic solutions. If one of the following solutions does not work, modify the strength of the solution or try another solution as some fungus is more susceptible to certain treatments than others.
Cinnamon: Cinnamon is a natural anti-fungal. It works on many types of fungus but is especially good at preventing damping-off disease on seedlings. To treat new seedlings growing in starter trays, try sprinkling cinnamon on the soil. Cinnamon can also be made into a “tea” by steeping one tablespoon of cinnamon in a gallon of hot water. Leave it overnight to cool. When it has cooled, filter the “tea”, then pour it into a spray bottle. Spray the “tea” directly on the plants and the soil. Spray once a week to prevent an outbreak or to treat a current fungal infection.
Milk: Milk is also naturally anti-fungal. Milk works on current fungal infections but also works as a preventative as well. Mix milk (2% works best) and water in a ratio of 1:4 in a spray bottle. Spray it on the affected plant once a week, making sure to spray the underside of the leaves as well. Milk works best if it is sprayed on the plant in the early morning or in the evening as it needs to stay moist to kill the fungus. Repeat until the fungus is gone.
Cedar Oil: Cedar oil, which can be purchased at most garden stores, has been shown to have both anti-fungal and insecticidal qualities. Cedar oil as an insecticide is discussed below. Cedar oil as an anti-fungal is applied by spraying the affected plant and works similar to the milk treatment. Read the manufacturer’s label for proper mixture strength and application instructions.
Insecticides (Bug killers) and Deterrents
Insecticides kill bugs, while other products act as a deterrent. Attempting to kill all the insects in your garden or landscape is not recommended as beneficial insects, like bees and lady bugs are just that, beneficial. They pollinate your vegetables and eat the destructive insects like aphids. However, killing or deterring detrimental insects will help keep your landscape beautiful, productive, and comfortable to work in.
Dish Soap: Dish soap in an excellent insecticide. It is safe and effective for use in the landscape and garden. Insecticidal soaps may be purchased at most garden stores. Always follow the manufacturer’s directions for use. To use regular dish soap as an insecticide on your plants, mix one tablespoon dish soap with one tablespoon olive oil or liquid vegetable oil in a spray bottle and fill the bottle with water. Spray down the affected plant being sure to wet the leaves on the top and bottom. Do not spray plants in direct sunlight as this may cause a condition called sun scald (sun burn) on your plant. Also, some plants may be sensitive to dish soap so if in doubt, test the dish soap mixture on a small portion of the plant first and wait a few days. If the plant remains healthy, it is probably safe to spray down the entire plant.
Dish soap insecticide works on contact with the body of the insect and has no residual effects so a few hours after treating your plant, use a hose or spray bottle with clean water, to wash down your plant and remove any soap residue and dead insects. Repeat this process every three days until all signs of infestation are gone.
Cedar Oil: Cedar wood smells good and has been used for hundreds of years to deter insects. Cedar oil, when sprayed on the lawn, will deter fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and many other pest insects. There is a caveat. Cedar oil will also deter beneficial insects like bees and butterflies so do not use it on plants that are in need of pollination, including garden vegetables and fruit trees, and in butterfly gardens.
Cedar oil is not harmful to plants, animals, or humans. It can be purchased at most garden stores or online. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for proper application.
Diatomaceous Earth: Diatomaceous earth has been used for many years as an effective insecticide. It is silicon dioxide that comes from the fossilized remains of ancient algae that is mined from the ground. It is non-toxic and safe for home and garden use. Diatomaceous earth is generally sold as a powder and remains effective as long as it stays dry. It can be used in the house any place insects hide or it can be used in the garden either on the ground or as a dust to protect plants from harmful insects.
The powder is comprised of sharp microscopic pieces that cut the insect’s underside causing damage leading to dehydration and death. It works best on soft bodied insects like aphids and gastropods like slugs and snails. Even though diatomaceous earth is non-toxic, care should be taken not to breath in the dust or get it in your eyes due to the substance’s sharp microscopic texture. Using gloves and a mask is recommended to apply this product and always read the package instructions for proper use.
Beer or copper for Slugs: Slugs can be a problem for any gardener. They chew holes in leaves and can devastate plants in a short amount of time. As I have already covered this topic thoroughly in a previous post I will simply add the link here: The Trouble With Slugs Mixing edibles into the landscape with your existing ornamentals can be extremely appealing visually as well as a productive use of your landscape space. With careful organic plant maintenance, your plantings will be safe, productive, and very beautiful!
Quote of the Day
“You’ve got to out on a limb sometimes because that’s where the fruit is.”
-Will Rogers, American Actor
“The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”
-Moliere, French playwright and actor
Daily announcements of fall plant sales have been filling up my inbox recently. “Buy now!”, “Huge sale”, these ads say. My advice is, buy now! Here’s why:
Huge savings for you.
You benefit with extremely low prices from the company trying to clear out its inventory. At the nursery where I used to work, we always had huge fall sales with drastic cuts in prices because any plants we had to keep for the winter had to be stored. Storing all those plants required a lot of labor and work hours for which the company received no profit. Then in the spring, we would have to pull all those plants out of storage again which took a lot of labor and work hours. There is no profit in this for the company, therefore they would rather sell off their inventory at drastically reduced prices than store plants for winter. Therefore You benefit! As the consumer, you get really really low prices for plants that would have cost you double or even triple the price in the spring.
If you buy plants at fall sales, it’s still ok to plant them. In fact, fall is the best time for transplanting many flowers including daylilies, irises, and peonies. Some plants may not look the best because they are no longer actively growing on top but there is still plenty of time for the roots to grow down before winter. Water the plant well when you plant it (or transplant it) and keep it moist until such time as evening temperatures are at the freezing point and daytime temperatures are cool. Then stop watering to allow the roots to dry out. Wet roots rot so you only want the roots to remain moist but not wet for the winter.
In the colder climate zones, cover any new plants or transplants with leaves, mulch, or straw for the winter to ensure they stay insulated and warm for the winter. Also, when you plant or transplant in the fall, don’t fertilize your plants. You don’t want to encourage new growth. It may damage or kill your new plant as winter sets in. You want them stop growing and setting in for winter weather.
Designate an area of the yard for sale plants
For sale plants that don’t have a place in your garden yet, designate an out-of-site area in your yard to heel the plants in for winter and make sure to label them if necessary so you don’t forget what you bought. Over the winter, you can plan and map out your new garden arrangement. Then in the spring, move your new plants to their designated spot and watch them grow!
Hint: Heeling plants in simply means temporarily planting plants until their permanent planting area is ready. For a great demonstration of heeling plants in check out this video I found on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ZI6Cb_4AOM
Take advantage of those plant sales. It will save you a lot of money in the end and you may even be able to afford that expensive plant you have been coveting but could not afford until now. Besides, in the spring, think of the fun you get to have creating new areas of the garden without spending a dime!
Quote of the Day
“Autumn’s the mellow time.”
-William Allingham, poet