As I sit at my desk, watching the snow come down during our first blizzard, I am daydreaming of spring planting. On my desk, gardening books and catalogs lay open to designs I love and plants I would like to have. Graph paper and color pencils are patiently waiting as ideas begin to form. If you are like me, when one growing season ends, it’s time to start planning the next.
I love design. I love planning for new flower beds and borders. I also love to redesign old gardens with new walkways, trellises, or arbors along with flowers. Fences can also add to the landscape by separating large gardens into smaller spaces.
After settling on the new hardscape (walkways, retaining walls, etc.), it’s time to delve into the joy of picking out the new plantings. It’s fun to pick out new perennials such as roses, delphiniums, peonies, and lilies but don’t forget to include decorative trees, like birch and canadian cherry, and shrubs, like viburnum and lilac. Mixing flowers in with trees and shrubs gives your new garden the thoughtful balanced look every designer craves. This is where planning is really important.
Adding trees and shrubs to the new landscaping will create a vision of beauty in your garden, however, there are some things to consider when doing so. Trees and shrubs are more permanent parts of the landscape than annual and perennial flowers. Annual flowers must be replanted ever year and most perennial flowers that come up every year can be easily moved. This is not the case with trees and shrubs. It is important to take into consideration how large a tree or shrub will get at maturity, how long it takes to reach maturity, and the plant’s long term needs. For example, a small white pine tree may look elegant in the landscaping next to a red brick home but within a few short years it will outgrow the space and it will need to be removed. A better option for such a space would be to plant an aborvaete or juniper that grows vertically and slender. This will still give the homeowner the elegant evergreen appearance and the plant will be able to thrive in that space for many years to come.
Color and bloom time for each plant is also a consideration when planning a new garden or landscape. Some plants, like hostas and coral bells, are grown strickly for their foliage texture and color. However, plants like peonies and lilacs, which are grown for their showy colorful blooms, have a definite bloom time. It is important to plan around the bloom time of each plant to allow your garden to have consistent bloom coverage for the entire growing season. To get the most from your garden, plant a mix of flowers and shrubs in the colors you like that start blooming in early spring, like tulips and forsythia, with summer bloomimg plants, like coneflowers and viburnum, and fall blooming plants, like mums and asters. Then, to make sure there is no time your garden color falls flat, add in some annuals for all season color and a show-stopping look.
Planning your new garden or redesigning an old one is fun way to stay in the gardening spirit even when the snow is falling outside. And, creating a good plan ahead of time will give you a beautiful garden or landscape that is colorful and inviting all season long!
Quote of the Day
A black cat among roses, phlox, lilac-misted under a quarter moon, the sweet smells of heliotrope and night-scented stock. The garden is very still. It is dazed with moonlight, contented with perfume…
― Amy Lowell, American poet
Saving garden seeds is easy and inexpensive. I began saving seeds in law school as a way to save money. I bought an organic acorn squash at the local grocery. I ate the squash and dried the seeds. Over the summer, I planted the seeds and I harvested 75 squash to take back to school with me. My supply of squash lasted me the entire school year!
And, saving seeds from plants you love allows you to reproduce your favorite plants over and over again without spending a dime. (Hint* If your plant is a hybrid, plants produced by their seed may look or taste completely different. Look at the plant tag or the seed packet to determine whether your plant is a hybrid. To reproduce identical plants from seed, use heirloom seeds or plants. )
Coneflower seed head
Coneflower seed heads
In order to save seeds from a flowering plant you must stop deadheading to allow the flowers to mature into seed heads. When the flowers shrivel up, seed heads or seed pods will become evident. Allow the seed heads or seed pods to mature and dry on the plant. If the seed heads or seed pods are on a plant that will drop its seeds, like petunias, or blow away, like garden thistle, simple place a piece of nylon stocking over the seed pod or seed head and secure it with garden twine to catch the seeds.
Collecting seeds from a seed head is as simple as snipping the seed head off the flower and shaking or pulling the seeds off . To collect the seeds from a seed pod, however, you remove the pod from the flower stem, open it, and shake the seeds into a container. Or, snip the seed pod off the plant and allow it to fall directly into a paper bag. Seal the top of the paper bag and shake it vigorously. This will shake the seeds lose from the seed pod. Then gather the seeds from the bottom of the bag and place them in a container or envelope. Store in a cool dry area.
If there is moisture remaining on the seeds, such as from dew or precipitation, allow the seeds to dry completely for a few days to a week in a brown paper bag prior to putting them in a sealed container or envelope. Or, lay a paper towel or clean cloth on a cookie sheet and place the seeds in a single layer on cookie tray. Let the seeds dry in a dim, dry, cool area for a week or more before placing the seeds into a container or an envelope. Finally, label the envelope or container and store in a cool dry place.
Seeds from vegetables are generally harvested from the fruit itself, however there are exceptions. Some of the easiest plants to harvest seeds from is the squash or the pumpkin. Simply cut open the pumpkin or squash and remove the seeds and the pulp. Next place the seeds and pulp in a kitchen strainer and wash them with cool water. Continue to rinse under cool water until all the pulp is removed and the seeds are clean. Spread a paper towel or clean cloth on a cookie pan and spread the seeds out in a single layer on the pan careful to remove any small, damaged, or immature seeds. Leave the seeds to dry in a dim, dry, cool place for a week or two. Then transfer the seeds into a clean jar or envelope. Don’t forget to label your container.
Tomato seeds can be saved using the same process as pumpkin or squash. Simply cut open a tomato and squeeze the seeds and pulp out into a strainer. Tomato seeds are much tinier than pumpkin seeds so use a strainer with a fine grid. Rinse them under cool water until the seeds are clean and all the pulp is removed. Lay the cleaned seeds out on a clean cloth or paper towel and allow to dry for a week or two. Periodically during the drying process, run your hands over the seeds to separate the seeds into a single layer to dry completely as the seeds tend to stick together when wet. You can also follow a more rigorous process called fermentation for tomato seeds that I found on Permaculture Research Institute website. I have never tried this method of saving seeds but I’d love to hear your thoughts about this process if you try it.
Carrots and celery, both of which are Biennials , are among a group of vegetables whose seeds are harvested like those of flowering plants, but are harvested after the second year’s growth. The tops of these plants flower and set seed after the second year. To thoroughly dry the seed heads, cut the seed heads from the plant and place the whole seed head in a brown paper bag up to a week to finish drying. When the seed heads are thoroughly dry, shake the bag to release the seeds from the seed heads. Gather the seeds from the bottom of the bag and place them in an envelope or jar to be kept for planting the following year.
These are just a few suggestions on saving seeds for a few different flowers and vegetables. If you have questions about saving seeds from specific plants, don’t hesitate to do a quick online search on trusted sites. Saving seeds is easy, it saves money, and it allows you to reproduce your favorite plants. But remember, hybrid plants don’t reproduce by seed to create an identical plant, but heirloom seeds do, so try ordering seeds from heirloom seed suppliers like Harvesting History
Good luck and Happy Gardening!
Quote of the Day
“The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies.”
-Gertrude Jekyll, British horticulturalist and writer
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:
Lily of the Valley
Lilies in the Hemerocallis genus
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.
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
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!
hosta with slug damage
Mock Orange Shrub in bloom
Cabbage: Photo by Wanette Lenling
Hemerocallis photo by Wanette Lenling
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.”