Laundry Basket Planter Video

Using a laundry basket as a planter.  What a great idea!  But, it’s not my idea.  I found this video on Youtube on the Garden Answer Youtube channel.  This is such a unique inexpensive idea for a garden planter.  I had to share it with you.  Happy Gardening!

Note:  I do not own this video and I am not paid to advertise it.

 

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Garden Tips and Helpful Hints

Sometimes as a gardener you have small questions that don’t require an extended answer.  Today I’m going to give you five helpful hints and garden tips for everyday garden questions.

 1. How do I know when to water my potted plants?

For most potted annual plants a good rule of thumb is to stick your finger into the soil up to your first knuckle.  If you feel moisture, hold off watering.  If you don’t feel any moisture, go ahead and water.  This is just a general guideline.  It works well for most potted annuals (that have good drainage) but doesn’t work well for plants like succulents which need much less water and plants like ferns which need more. Be sure to educate yourself on the water requirements of your specific potted plants.

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Annuals in a tree stump flower bed

2. Should I dead-head my garden plants?

Unless you want to save seeds, dead-heading garden plants keep them looking tidy and also encourages plants to produce more blossoms.  If you want to save seeds, don’t dead-head your plants.  Leave the expired blossoms on the plant.  Most plants, especially annuals and biennials (that are in their second year of growth) will produce seed heads or seed pods where the spent blossoms are located.  Simply collect the seeds, allow them to dry fully, and put them in containers until you’re ready to use them. (Don’t forget to label your seeds!)

 

3.  Should I mulch my garden and landscape?

You should use mulch in your landscape and garden to not only keep moisture in the ground but to keep the roots of your plants cool. Summer sun will heat up black dirt very very quickly and can damage sensitive roots.  You can use landscape rock or bark mulch in your landscape for a neat appearance and anything from straw to leaves in your vegetable garden which not only keeps moisture in but breaks down into compost to add nutrients to the soil as well.

 

4. When should I fertilize?

The general rule is to apply fertilizer in spring and fall but it depends on the kind of fertilizer you use.  Compost can be added at any time but adding it in the spring when you plant is best.  Slow release fertilizers are usually applied in spring and early fall.  This helps plants get going in the spring and build up nutrients for a winter’s rest.  Liquid fertilizers are generally applied weekly because they act fast and wash away quickly. Always read the label on manufactured fertilizers and follow the directions for proper application.

 

5. And finally, a question I am asked all the time is should you have a gardening buddy?

Yes.  I highly recommend a gardening buddy to cuddle with, oops I mean to visit with, while you enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.

Happy gardening!

Quote of the Day

“I take care of my flowers and my cats. And enjoy food.  And that’s living.”

-Ursula Andress, Swiss actress

Planning Next Year’s Garden

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.

Gardens separated by fences
Gardens separated by fences: http://www.mooseyscountrygarden.com/botanical-gardens/laking-garden-ontario.html

 

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.

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Landscape design with trees and shrubs

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.

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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!

Happy gardening!

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

Biennials

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.

Happy Gardening!

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

 

 

 

 

Preparing Perennials for Winter

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?

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Hosta. Photo by Wanette Lenling

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!

hollyhocks
Hollyhocks, are a common biennial.    Photo from http://www.alientravelguide.com

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.

Red Twig Dogwood
Red twig dogwood photo found at http://www.menet.umn.edu

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.

Happy Gardening!

 

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

 

 

 

Compost. What’s the Big Deal?

First, what is compost?  Compost is simply organic matter, such as grass clippings and leaves, that have been decomposed down to what looks like brown chunky dirt. Micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungi, and macro-organisms such as insects and earth worms, are responsible for the decomposition process. The resulting decomposed organic matter contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous that are essential for healthy plant growth.  Think of it as giving a vitamin supplement to your favorite plant to make sure it stays vital and healthy.  Amending the soil with compost either before planting or adding it around your existing plants boosts the vitality of your landscaping. Your plants will thank you with beautiful flowers, abundant fruit, and healthy greens and roots.

Second, how do you compost?  Gardeners have many different methods of composting. No one way is the “right” way. Some gardeners build fence-like structures with removable walls to hold compost while others purchase compost tumblers that can be rotated 180 degrees to speed the compost process. Some gardeners take a hands-on approach to their compost by adding water, purchasing bacteria or worms,  adding specific percentages of brown or green organic matter, and turning the compost at specific intervals all in an effort to speed the composting process. These methods are absolutely effective in creating nutrient rich compost for your garden.

I am a simple gardener, however, and I like to let Nature do what it does naturally. Organic matter will naturally degrade over time without human intervention.  My compost pile is just that, a pile. I don’t turn it. I don’t amend it.  I simply pile leaves, garden refuse, and kitchen scraps on the pile and let nature take over. (But, my dog does take a hands-on approach every now and again in his attempt to find the tasty kitchen scraps!) Every spring, I dig at the bottom of the pile and I scrape fresh compost out with a shovel to spread in my garden. This method works for me but each gardener must choose the method that works for them.

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Compost pile: Picture by Wanette Lenling

Each gardener must determine if and how they are going to create their compost pile. Research different methods if you have never composted to see what would work best for you. Also be aware that some homeowner’s associations may not allow simple compost piles due to the messy look or smell, so the gardener may need to purchase a tumbler or build a bin in order to hide the compost. Experiment with the method that works best for you to create organic compost to add the essential nutrients to your soil for beautiful healthy plants.

For more complete and in-depth information on composting, check out this great website from the Illinois extension office. https://web.extension.illinois.edu/homecompost/science.cfm

Happy Gardening!

 

 

 

Tree Stump Flower Bed

What if you could transform a tree stump from an eye sore into a focal point?  A tree stump flower bed is an inexpensive fix to an unsightly tree stump, adding height and variety to the landscape.  It can also serve as a raised planter for those individuals restricted by physical limitations.

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Here is what you’ll need for this inexpensive project:

  • safety glasses
  • leather gloves
  • chicken wire
  • wire cutters
  • hammer
  • 1 nail (any size)
  • garden twine
  • fencing staples
  • permanent marker
  • potting soil
  • Sphagnum moss
  • annual flowers, herbs, or vegetables of your choice

Step 1.  Put on your safety glasses.  Tap a nail anywhere into the side of the stump.  Attach the twine to the nail and circle the stump with the twine back to the nail.  Mark the twine with the permanent marker where it meets the nail.  Remove the twine and the nail from the stump.  Add approximately two inches onto the length of twine.  This will equal the length of chicken wire you will need to complete this project.

Step 2.  Roll the chicken wire out on the ground.  Wearing gloves and using wire cutters, carefully cut the chicken wire to the length of the twine. Discard the twine and take the chicken wire to the stump.  Encircle the top of the stump with the length of chicken wire. Approximately 10 to 12 inches of chicken wire should be sticking up above the top of the stump. The lower half of the chicken wire should encircle the stump.  This creates the “pot” or container in which to grow your plants.  Bend the freshly cut ends of the chicken wire to hook the chicken wire to itself to make an enclosed circle of chicken wire around the top of the stump.  Holding the chicken wire in place, use fencing staples to fasten the wire to the stump.  Make any adjustments necessary and use as many fencing staples as needed to ensure the chicken wire fits snugly and securely to the stump.

Step 3.  Use the sphagnum moss to line the inside of the chicken wire container on top of the stump. It may help to wet the moss slightly. The moss will hold the dirt inside your new planter. Once the inside of the container is lined with plenty of sphagnum moss, pour enough potting soil on top of the stump to fill the chicken wire container to a depth of at least 8 to 10 inches.  Remember the potting soil will settle so pat it down and add more if necessary.  To settle the soil, it may help to wet it slightly. To help retain moisture and reduce the need to water your new planter, add moisture crystals to the potting mix according to the manufacturer’s directions.  Also, mix well composted manure, compost, or slow release fertilizer into the potting soil to keep your plants well fed all season long.

Step 4.  Finally, plant your annuals, herbs, or vegetables in your new planter to create a beautiful new focal point or handy raised planter in your yard or garden.  Use creeping plants such as sweet potato vine or alyssum to spill down the sides of your new planter or weave any flexible woody vine, like woodbine or grapevine, through the chicken wire to give your new planter the appearance of a basket.

Create, create, create!  Experiment and try new ideas with your tree stump flower bed.  There are thousands of ways to create and fill your new planter.  Your imagination is your only limit!

Happy gardening!

Quote of The Day

“A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.”

-William Blake, English poet