Winter has set in and gardeners are left with fond memories of last year’s gardens. But don’t get blue, get your green on. It’s time to start looking forward to spring. The new year is here and spring is just a few months away. Here are five ideas to help you get ready for spring.
2019 Plants are here! Gardening catalogs will be coming in the mail soon but you can start looking online now. The new plants for 2019 are all over gardening sites. Start window shopping now. See what’s out there for new plants to freshen up your landscape.
Hemerocallis ‘Seal of Approval’
Explore new ground! If you have had a desire to freshen up your landscape with a new design and don’t know what you want, research it. Go to the local library, bookstore or get online to do a little sight-seeing. See what’s new by watching DIY videos. Even if you don’t want to do it all yourself, this will give you some great ideas to get you started.
Hire an expert now. If you live in an area with four distinct seasons like I do and you want professional help to complete a landscape project, contact a landscape designer or contractor now. The sooner the better. A professional’s summer project calendar can fill up quickly so time is of the essence. Get in touch with professionals right now to start the design process and get your project scheduled.
Discover something new! Have you ever wanted to put in a rose garden but didn’t know where to start? Do you want a cut-flower garden but don’t know how to grow it? Hydrangeas are your thing but you don’t know anything about them. If you want to try something new, start planning now. Do your research. Find out how the plant(s) of your dreams grows and it’s needs. What kind of light, water, soil, and fertilizer does it need? How big does it grow? Does it need protection from blistering summer sun or burning cold winter winds? Find out now and then take the plunge. Life is too short to wait! Do it now.
Last but not least, let your imagination run wild. If you are a garden lover like I am, letting yourself have a few moments to daydream about what could be in your garden is as good as meditation. Allow yourself to enjoy the experience. Garden daydreams are like a glass of fine wine, they are too good to gulp. Take your time and enjoy the experience.
To all my gardening friends in this wonderful new year, I wish you much exploration, achievement, and enjoyment from your 2019 gardening experience. Happy Gardening!
Quote of the Day
“I like gardening. It’s a place where I find myself when I need to lose myself.”
I love to study nature. I recently started studying the weeds in my garden and I discovered that many of them are edible and some even have medicinal uses. It is so exciting to research this topic and learn more about the plants that have been growing naturally in my garden all along.
The Broadleaf plantain is a great example of a usable plant that is abundant and accessible in the landscape. Plantain can be eaten raw or cooked and is loaded with vitamins and minerals.
Broadleaf plantain is native to Europe and Asia. It was likely brought to North America by European settlers where it naturalized and became pervasive enough to make the list as a weed. However, there is evidence that it was once used as a food crop by ancient peoples. It was also used medicinally as well. Broadleaf plantain contains the compounds allantoin, aucubin, and mucilage which contain, among other things, antimicrobial and antiviral properties. It has also been used as a diuretic and has cooling, tissue healing properties when used as a poultice or ointment on injured skin. (Hint* It is fantastic for insect bites.)
As an edible plant, broadleaf plantain contains a multitude of vitamins and minerals. It contains large amounts of Vitamin A and Vitamin K. It also contains Vitamin B1, ribolavin, and calcium. Young raw leaves are a tender and tasty addition to salads but they can also be cooked like spinach or kale. Older leaves tend to have a more bitter flavor and are a little tougher in texture but they contain more healthy phytochemicals than young leaves so simply blanch them before eating to tenderize them a bit. To store long-term, blanch the leaves in hot water and then freeze to use later in soups and stews or sautéd with vegetables for a healthy meal. Leaves may also be dried and crushed to create a tasty herbal tea.
Last but not least are the seeds which are also edible. The seeds, which appear on long peculiar flower stems, can be eaten raw or cooked or dried and crushed then added to flour to create tasty breads and cakes.
(Note* Please be absolutely sure edible weeds that you plan to consume are clean and have NOT been sprayed with chemicals.)
Who knew that this plain looking plant with the odd flower spikes was entirely edible and a tasty, nutritious addition to a healthy diet. What a wonderful world!
Quote of the Day
“They whom truth and wisdom lead, can gather honey from a weed.”
Espalier is a French term, pronounced “eh-spal-yay”, for the ancient practice of specialized pruning to train woody plants, like trees, shrubs, and vines, to grow in a predetermined shape. This process was originally created to allow fruiting plants to grow in limited space, however, mere function has evolved over centuries to become a beautiful “high” art form, similar to the gorgeous art of the Japanese bonsai or European topiaries.
Creating an espalier takes time, patience, and the right choice of plant, space and design. Because of the somewhat complicated nature of creating espalier, I won’t go into specific instructions, however, I will give you a simple description of how it’s done.
1. Choosing Your Space
The first step is to decide where you want to plant your espalier. That will help you choose the right plant and design for that space. The space could be a wall you would like to highlight or cover, or a decorative trellis. Or, as seen below in the photo, your creation can be used to segment areas to add visual interest. Your imagination is the only limit to what you can do with espalier.
2.Choosing a Design
Now that you have chosen your space, you can choose a design to fit the space. There are several popular designs, but your imagination is really all it takes. Some of the more popular designs range from the rather simple easy to create to more intricate designs that require a great deal of knowledge and patience to produce. The photos below show three common espalier designs including the candelabra, the Belgian fence, and the horizontal cordon.
The photos above show images of just a few of the popular espalier designs but there are many more. The most important aspect of choosing an espalier design is to consider what you want the plant to do. Do you want a focal point, a living fence, or something else? After you choose the right design, you must choose a plant that will accommodate both the design and the space you have chosen.
3. Choosing the Right Plant
Espalier design uses woody plants to create living works of art. Woody plants can be trees, some shrubs, and even vines. When using fruiting or flowering plants, care must be taken to prune at the correct time or the plant will not be able to produce properly.
Common espalier trees include pear, apple, and crabapple because their soft wood is easy to manipulate but cherry trees with their harder wood can also be used. It is best to use semi-dwarf or dwarf fruit trees due to their restricted size rather than their full sized cousins when attempting to create an espalier unless you have a large area to fill. Non-fruiting trees like magnolias can also be used to create spectacular espalier designs. Shrubs commonly used in espalier include juniper, gardenia, privet and viburnum and vines like grape, jasmine, and wisteria, create beautiful living art in your garden and landscape. Always be sure the plant you choose can accommodate the space and design you have chosen.
4. Structural Support
After choosing the space, the design, and the plant, you must create the structural support necessary for your creation to come to life. This may be include driving in posts and running the necessary wire supports, drilling anchor holes in brick to sink the bolts into, or simply securing your new trellis to a wall or fence in order to support the weight of your mature creation.
Once your basic support structure is up, you need a way to fasten your plant to the structure. Common plant fasteners include garden twine or wire, plastic clips, and VELCRO brand adjustable plant ties. There are numerous variations of garden fasteners to use on your plant but make sure the material you use doesn’t cut into the plant stem or you could damage your plant and endanger your project.
Extensive and persistent pruning is a big part of espalier. This must be done with correct timing for each plant in order to allow fruiting and flowering plants to produce. Also, pruning is best done frequently to clip off unwanted sprouts and support the sprouts you want rather than waiting. If you wait too long before pruning you put your project at risk. Having to cut out large amounts of foliage because you waited to long may have detrimental effects on the health of the plant and the design you have chosen. It’s best to frequently prune and adjust supports in order to create the living art you see in your mind’s eye.
For more information about espalier, research the specific plant you would like to use in your project to find more detailed information on when and how to prune your plant and which designs the plant of your choice is well-adapted for. As always, make sure your sources are reliable when completing your research.
Gardening is all about being creative. If you would like to create your own espalier, do your research and choose your space, design, and plant wisely. With a little planning and a lot of patience, you can create your own living art.
Quote of the Day
“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”
Dana Althoff is the retail manager at a large greenhouse and landscape center in the Midwest. She has a degree in horticulture with minors in business and agronomy. Dana has experience both as a commercial wholesale grower and in retail sales at several different locations in several different states.
On a sunny Saturday morning, I sat down with Dana at her kitchen table to learn more about her vast experience and love of gardening. I wanted to find out how she got started in the gardening business and where her love of gardening came from. I also wanted to know what advice she had for new and experienced gardeners alike.
Dana’s Gardening Tip #1: “Water it or it’ll die.”
What is your background in gardening? How did it become an interest of yours?
Dana said she began gardening with her mom and her grandmother as a little girl. Her mother let her take over the planning, planting, and care of the flower beds when Dana was in the fourth grade just as her grandmother had allowed her mother to do as a little girl.
As an adult, Dana went on to study horticulture and agronomy in college during which time she worked for her uncle at a whole sale nursery. Dana recounted the joy she had working in the vast flower fields at her uncle’s nursery.
Do you have a specific plant group that you like to work with?
Dana said she enjoys working with all plants, including annuals and perennials, but she has a particular fondness for hostas. She said the ‘Sum and Substance’ Hosta is among her favorites. For those of you that have never seen a ‘Sum and Substance’ hosta, it’s a beautiful giant yellow variety that can reach 2 to 3 feet in height with a spread of 5 to 6 feet!
Dana’s Gardening Tip #2: “Don’t get tied up with the idea that growing a certain plant is hard to grow. Just try it!”
Do you enjoy working in the garden on your time off?
Dana said she does enjoy working in the garden at home but only in fair weather.
Working in the retail business requires Dana to work in all kinds of weather so she prefers to be comfortable when working in the garden at home.
I mentioned that one of the assumptions that customers always had of me when I worked at the garden and landscape nursery was that my gardens at home were immaculate. Dana laughed and said she gets that too. Dana said that most of her gardening energy is spent at work with little left over for home, so home gardens tend to suffer. It’s akin to a plumber having a broken faucet at home that never seems to get fixed.
What questions do you get the most frequently and how do you answer those questions?
Question: “How do I plant this tree?” Answer: Dig the hole 2 times as wide as the root ball and plant it no deeper than the root flare.
Question: ” How do I water this plant?” Answer: It depends on what the plant is and where it’s planted. In general, keep it moist for the first few years, then supplement with water when dry in the years after that.
You have worked as a commercial grower as well as a home gardener. How is commercial growing different from home gardening?
With commercial growing, you must please the customers so the plants must be of generous size, a visually pleasing shape, and attractive coveted colors while the home grower must only please themselves. However, with both types of growing, the gardener must still use diligence in fertilizing and awareness in scouting for the early signs of disease.
What advice do you have for hobby gardeners that would like to start growing in a home greenhouse?
Start simple. Start with a handful of different types of plants and be prepared to care for them every day. There are no days off. Try growing some plants that are easy to grow from seed like tomatoes and peppers for vegetables and marigolds, petunias, and zinnias for flowers.
Dana’s Gardening Tip #3: “Don’t be afraid to try new things. Plants die. Keep going.”
You have worked a great deal with encouraging children to engage in gardening. What is your motivation?
Dana explained that she was encouraged at a young age by her mom and grandmother to engage in gardening. She mentioned the fact that some of the kids she worked with have never touched soil before. She said that during her children’s potting class, kids get the tactile experience of touching and smelling the soil and the plants and working with the plants in order for them to grow in the child’s flower pot creation.
Dana’s garden book recommendation: Small Space Gardening by Melinda Meyers.
Finally, you were trained in horticulture and agronomy before organic gardening became a trend. How do you feel about organic gardening?
According to Dana, organic gardening has its place. Dana said she understands the desire to use organic gardening with food plants for safety but not with ornamentals because you don’t eat them. She said she tried using organic methods in commercial growing but she didn’t have any luck with it so she reverted to the use of synthetics.
Big thanks to Dana for taking time out of her busy schedule to sit down with me to discuss gardening, a topic we both love. Gardening is all about learning whether through your own research or by asking the experts. Keep learning and growing my gardening friends.
Quote of the Day
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”
Gardenias, azaleas, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, blueberries, spruce, pine, maple, oak – the list goes on and on of plants that grow best in acidic soil. If you love acid loving plants and the ph of your soil is below 7, you won the acid soil lottery. Plant away! But what if your soil is alkaline and you have a love for acid loving plants? There are many synthetic means available to acidify your soil but there are also ways to do it organically. By adding specific amendments to the soil, you can lower the ph naturally.
Tip: Creating an acid soil situation where there wasn’t one before may injure alkaline-loving plants nearby. If you choose to acidify your garden soil, use care so you don’t damage nearby plant life.
Amending The Soil
If you have plants that prefer acidic soil or you would like to add plants to your garden that prefer acidic soil, you can amend the soil to lower the ph if necessary. Plants prefer acidic or alkaline soil because the chemistry of the soil determines which types of nutrients in the soil are available to your plants. For example, alkaline soil chemically binds up the iron that is already in the soil. This makes most of the iron in the soil unavailable for plant use. Because acid loving plants require a good deal of iron to thrive, this situation results in iron deficiency. A lack of iron results in a condition, called chlorosis. It is generally identified by a yellowing of the leaves on the plant. When the soil is amended to create a more acidic soil condition, the iron that is already present in the soil is chemically released and becomes available for use by the plant.
Tip: Changing a soil’s ph level is generally a slow process that may take several applications and a lot of time before it takes effect, even with chemical treatments. Have patience my friends!
Sphagnum Peat and Peat Moss (Best Option)
Sphagnum peat and peat moss, which are highly acidic, are the best means of lowering the ph of your soil naturally. (Hint: It also adds organic matter to the soil which improves soil structure!) These materials lower the ph of your soil while they break down. Adding peat or peat moss along with compost to your acid loving plants every year will make your acid-loving plants very happy and it will improve you soil structure as well. Also, in my opinion, this is the safest and easiest way to acidify your soil naturally.
The soil in my area is quite alkaline. I planted an azalea with a soil mixture of 50% soil and 50% sphagnum peat moss. Then every year after that, I added a hardy layer of sphagnum peat moss around the azalea and it grew quite nicely.
Mulching with Pine Needles
There are current ongoing arguments over the idea of whether or not pine needles will acidify the soil. Scientists are saying that while pine needles are acidic while they are on the tree, they lose that acidity fairly quickly once they fall to the ground and by the time they are decomposed their ph is at a neutral level. But, life-long gardeners swear by using pine needles as a natural mulch to acidify the soil. In this debate, you will have to choose a side but my advice to you is this: if you have pine needles readily available, use them as a mulch around your acid loving plants. It won’t hurt. Even if pine needles don’t acidify the soil, they will improve the soil structure as they break down into compost.
The arguments concerning pine needles are the same with oak leaves. Again, it never hurts to mulch with them or add them to your compost!
While conducting research for this article, I read numerous articles and watched a multitude of videos about watering plants with a water/vinegar solution to acidify soil. Personally, I wouldn’t try this. Vinegar is a natural herbicide (i.e. plant killer). It would be far too easy to burn or kill your beloved plants. And from what I read, it only acidifies the soil slightly and the results are short-lived which would require the process to be repeated frequently. My suggestion – don’t do it.
My best advice to you is to grow plants that like alkaline soil if you have alkaline soil and acid loving plants if you have acid soil. If you really love a plant that likes acid soil and you have alkaline soil, grow the plant in a pot with potting mix for acid loving plants and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!
Happy Gardening my friends!
Quote of the Day
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Compost is the wonderful “black gold” that’s created when organic matter like leaves and other garden refuse decomposes. It’s full of nutrients that feed your plant. It improves soil structure too.
“Ok, I understand what compost is,” you say, “but what the heck is compost tea?”
Compost tea is quite literally an organic liquid fertilizer that’s brewed from compost.
How is Compost Tea made?
It’s easy to make compost tea. Simply place a good shovel full of fresh compost in a 5 gallon bucket or other waterproof container. Then fill the container with water. Allow this mixture to steep for about a week, stirring it daily to get a good brew.
*Hint: I use a ratio of approximately one part compost to three parts water but many gardeners use a 50/50 ratio. So do your own experimenting and find what works best for you. The fun in gardening is that it’s a lot of experimentation.
How to use compost tea.
To use the compost tea, simply strain the mixture to separate the liquid from the solid compost. Make sure the liquid is cool to the touch (it may be warm if it’s been brewing in the sunlight). Put the cool compost tea in a watering can and water your plants as normal. It’s that simple.
You can use it to water the soil around the plant’s roots but you can also use the compost tea as a foliar fertilizer by allowing the compost tea to wet the plant’s leaves. This allows the plant to take in nutrients through the leaves and not just the root system. However, if your plant has a fungus on the leaves, don’t use the foliar feeding method. It could make the fungus worse or spread it to plants nearby.
How often should compost tea be applied?
Once a week is a great schedule to water with compost tea. If you put fresh compost on the soil around your plants either in the fall or in the spring and then supplement with compost tea once a week, your plants should grow lush and healthy. And once you use the compost tea you just brewed, refill the bucket with new compost and water and make some more. This is a great way to get kids excited about gardening too! What child doesn’t like to play in dirt and water?
Making your own fertilizer is cost effective and it also feels good to know exactly what you’re using on your plants, especially edibles like fruits and vegetables because what they eat, you eat. And, the lush flowers and abundant produce you’ll get from the process will put a big smile on your face!
Happy gardening my friends!
Quote of the Day
“When I am quiet in the garden, I can hear my own song.”
Heuchera, also known by the common names Coral Bells or Alumroot, is a sensational shade plant that is very easy to grow. These plants are generally pest-free and require little care once established. This shade loving perennial is grown almost exclusively for its vibrant colorful foliage and they are gorgeous! Check out these colors:
Heuchera ‘Black Pearl’
Heuchera ‘Fire Alarm’
Heuchera ‘Lime Ruffles’
Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’
Heuchera ‘Stainless Steel’
Heuchera are a herbaceous perennial plant that is native to North America and it’s root is known to have medicinal qualities which is where the common name alumroot comes from.
Heuchera have been placed in the Saxifragaceae plant family which also includes perennial favorites like astilbe, bergenia, and tiarella (foam flowers). In fact, the tiarella has been crossed with the heuchera to create the heucherella!
The heuchera is a relatively small perennial at between 10 and 20 inches tall with flower stems that reach 1 to 2 feet above the colorful foliage. The size of the leaves vary by variety. They can quite petite or as large as your hand!
Foliage and Flowers
The foliage of the heuchera is the main attraction to this plant. With so many colors of foliage to choose from, there is just the right heuchera to light up a shady corner in any landscape.
Heuchera does produce lovely delicate flowers on long 1 to 2 foot stems in early to mid summer. The flowers are less showy than the foliage but they do add subtle beauty. The flowers also attract butterflies and hummingbirds to the garden. The flowers make a beautiful filler for any cut flower arrangement.
Growing Requirements and Care
Heuchera will grow as a perennial in zones 3-8, depending on the variety. These plants grow best in part sun, although different varieties tolerate different conditions. In general, darker colored varieties are able to withstand more sunlight than lighter colored varieties.
Heuchera grow best in neutral to slightly acidic moist well-drained soil. Good drainage is a must in order to avoid root rot situations. Add a good amount of compost to the soil when you plant your heuchera to improve soil structure and add nutrients to the soil. Once your newly planted heuchera begins to sprout new leaves, add a slow release fertilizer to the soil to give the plant an extra boost. Every spring add a good helping of compost and some slow release fertilizer to your heuchera plant to keep it happy and healthy all season long.
Heuchera should be watered deeply once or twice a week depending on temperature and soil conditions. Heuchera grow best when the ground is mulched to keep it moist but keep mulch one to two inches away from the stem to avoid stem rot issues.
Heuchera can be a beautiful addition to rock gardens, especially on slopes where the drainage is good. Additionally, it’s easily grown as a potted plant to provide just the right punch of color for a mixed planter!
Powdery Mildew is a fungus that looks like baby powder on the leaf of the plant. It may also infect the stems, fruits, and flowers. During hot wet weather, use a preventative fungicide before symptoms appear. Natural neem oil is effective at preventing and treating powdery mildew. As always, carefully read and follow the directions on any garden chemicals before use.
Powdery mildew fungi will overwinter in plant material so any plant debris (like fallen leaves) affected by this fungi should be thrown away. Do not place infected plant material in the compost or it will spread the disease.
Spores spread on the wind and will take up residence on wet plant leaves so water using soaker hose or drip irrigation system to keep root moist and plants dry.
Downy Mildew is caused by a parasitic organism that is not a true fungus but has some fungal qualities. Downy mildew tends to appear in spring during cool damp weather. It appears as a fuzzy white, grey, purple, or brown growth on the underside of the leaf. Yellow or brown spots may be seen on the top of the infected leaf. There are few chemical controls available to the home gardener for this disease but Bonide makes a product called “Liquid Copper Fungicide” that can be used to help control downy mildew.
Remove infected plant material as soon as possible and as Downy Mildew survives the winter on dead plant material, clean up dead plant material in the fall. Discard it in the trash. Don’t place it in the compost pile or the disease will spread.
This disease is spread through water so use drip irrigation or soaker hoses to water plants.
Stem Rot can be caused by a number of issues from injuries to fungal issues related to overwatering and wet conditions. To avoid stem injury, keep all mulch several inches away from the stem. This will also help with wet conditions. Make sure to water deeply once or twice a week and avoid quick frequent waterings, especially water on the leaves and stem. It’s best to water the ground around the heuchera and avoid getting the plant wet. Stem rot can also be caused by a fungus so care in watering is very important.
Once stem rot has occurred, a fungal spray may help but most often the plant will need to be removed.
Aphids are a common pest among garden plants but they are relatively easy to control. I use a soap and water mixture as a natural remedy to control aphids. You can also encourage carnivorous insects like ladybugs and lacewings to take up residence in your garden to help control unwanted insects like aphids. Manufactured sprays containing pyrethrins can also be used to control aphids but some of these sprays will kill beneficial insects like butterflies and bees so use with caution.
Weevils may cause damage to the leaves and roots of the heuchera. In the larval stage, weevils look like worms or grubs in the ground. In the adult stage, these bugs look like black beatle-type insects. To control root weevils, parasitic nematodes are added to the soil to kill the larvae and a shallow bowl of water will attract the adult beetles. The adults will crawl into the water and drown. Synthetic pesticides can also be used to control weevils as well. Read and follow the directions on all manufactured pesticides before use.
Heuchera is an exquisite garden perennial with colors that will light up any shade garden. They are extremely easy to grow and are versitile enough to grow in planters as well as a rock garden. Add a few to your garden to add a shock of color!
Quote of the Day
“Happiness radiates like the fragrance from a flower and draws all good things towards you.”