Archive | May 2018

Life Lessons from the Garden: The Bluebird of Happiness

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden



bluebird-house-good-58a6d4f55f9b58a3c90cf93fIt had been more than two weeks since the bluebirds hatched. The pale blue eggs that once held them seemed so tiny and impossible to produce the little fuzz balls of life that were now ready to go out into the big world. For many days the parents were lovingly caring for them, bringing them food, and keeping them warm on chilly nights. But now the time had come for them to leave the next. I was outside working in the garden when I noticed two babies fly from the box. I stood watching, thinking the third one would be close behind. But the daylight soon faded into night and the little bluebird still sat inside his box. I saw him again the next morning, peeking his head out of the hole. He’d come almost all the way out, to where I thought he’d just fall. He’d quickly go back inside, only to peek out again a few minutes later.

If only that little bird knew how wonderful the world was outside his little box. If only he knew the freedom that awaits him. He could touch the sky with his little blue wings and catch tasty bugs, and let the summer sun glisten off it’s newly formed feathers. But he seemed to be more content staying inside the little box. After all, it was familiar and safe. Besides, it wasn’t so bad inside the box, he thought. The world of the unknown just seemed so big and scary. Although, the urge to fly was becoming overwhelming.

The little bluebird stayed snuggly in his little box for another night. The next morning mama and papa bird once again tried to coax the little bluebird out of his box. “I’m content to stay in this box!” said little bluebird. “Although, I am getting hungry. Mama has hardly given me any food at all” Still, the little bluebird remained in his box another day, only peering out on occasion to see the big world outside.

The little bluebird began to get restless. It was getting lonely inside the box. He once again peered out the hole and noticed his brother and sister sitting in a tree. They flew from one branch to another, chirping happily. There were other birds too; ones that didn’t look at all like mama and papa. Some of them were big and scary and some were very pretty. But mama and papa were still there to show them where to go and how to avoid danger. Just then papa flew in the air and caught a big bug and fed it to his sister.


The urge to leave his box suddenly became overwhelming. The box which once seemed so comfortable suddenly seemed more like a prison than a sanctuary. “What kind of life will I have if I stay inside this box? It looks like real life is waiting out there” thought the little bluebird. But the little bluebird knew that once he left the box he could never return. “What if I don’t like it out there? What ifit’s not safe?” said the little bluebird. His papa noticed the little bluebird and flew near the box. “Little bluebird,” he chirped. “Of course it’s not safe.” The little bluebird seemed startled. He wanted words of comfort and encouragement. But his papa continued, “It’s not safe…but it’s good. You were created to soar. Yes, the box is safe and familiar, but abundant life cannot be found inside the box. Spread your wings and fly into the unpredictable, yet beautiful adventure called life.”

At that the little bluebird perched on the edge of his hole. Looking back he said, “So long box. You can’t hold me any longer. It’s time for me to fly.” He leaned forward and jumped. For a moment fear gripped his little heart and he began to flap his tiny wings frantically. “What have I done,” he thought. “I knew I should have stayed in my box!” Just then he felt a soft breeze gently lift him upward. His tiny wings beat in rhythm with the wind, and he began to fly. “I’m flying! I’m Flying!” He chirped to his mama and papa. They smiled in delight as he perched on a nearby branch where they flew to meet him. “I didn’t think I could fly, papa, but the wind helped me!” said little bluebird. “To think I was willing to stay in that little box all alone when I could have chosen to be free. But I thought I would be safer there.” “Yes,” said papa. “Sometimes we just need to jump and trust that we will be carried from there.”

Like the bluebird, each of us has areas of our lives where we are afraid to step outside our comfort zone. What is your box? To step outside might mean being vulnerable and exposed, yet true freedom and a life filled with delight cannot be found in safety. Be willing to leave your box and trust that you’ll be carried from there as you remember the words reminiscent of C.S. Lewis … “Safe? Of course it isn’t safe…but it’s good.


Plant Now for Fall Color

Ground covers are a frequently neglected part of garden design. How else to explain the overwhelming use of Vinca minor, English ivy, and pachysandra when so many other choices are available?

Instead of thinking only of very low-growing evergreen selections, broaden your possibilities to include other plants that can be massed to tie together areas of the garden. The relationship between a ground cover and its location and use should determine the appropriate height, not some limiting idea that anything more than 4 inches tall cannot qualify.

Fall color is an important part of garden design, and it should be part of your ground cover selection process, just as it is for trees and shrubs.

Some ideas for ground covers:



Fragrant sumac

Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’): The glossy, deciduous leaves, which are aromatic when bruised, turn a fiery orange-red in the fall. The wide-spreading shrub grows to 2 feet tall and works very well, even on a slope, in full sun or partial shade.

Bigroot cranesbill (Geranium macrorrhizum): This


Bigroot cranesbill

mound-forming semi-evergreen perennial has leaves with a distinctive medicinal scent that turn reddish in the fall. It grows from 12 to 15 inches tall and spreads well through a thick, rhizomatous root structure. It is easy to grow and is both heat and drought tolerant. Different cultivars have different spring flower color



Leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides): Fall color and flowers occur at the same time. The shiny green leaves turn strawberry tints, then bronze-red in fall, while the cobalt blue flowers last from late summer until frost. Cut back the bare wiry stems in late winter.


Siberian carpet cypress

Leaves appear in late spring, just after you’re convinced it is dead. Grows 8 to 12 inches tall. It works well in full sun or shade, but colors up better in the sun.

Siberian carpet cypress (Microbiota decussata): This wide-spreading evergreen grows to2 feet tall, with arching, scaly, feathery foliage that turns bronze after a frost. It’s unusual in that it is an evergreen that tolerates shade. It really is from Siberia, and very cold hardy.




Rockspray cotoneaster

Rockspray cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis): The dark, shiny deciduous leaves turn orange-red, complementing small red berries growing along the stems. This densely branching woody shrub grows from 2 to 3 feet high, spreading to 6 feet. Its arching habit makes it looklike the perfect refuge for rabbits or chipmunks as it covers and cascades down a bank. Lower-growing cultivars are also available.

Growing Moss

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

We have a cottage in northern Wisconsin where the soil is extremely sandy, conditions are wet (at least most years), and there’s no direct sunlight. My husband spent hours and hours building new steps from bricks and sand, down from the driveway, and I was constantly battling the growth of grass or weeds settling into the cracks between the bricks. Finally, after several years of coddling the growth of moss, I now have a lovely set of steps with moss growing between the bricks — although there’s a way to go yet until it’s where I want it.

There are lots of places where we can’t get things to grow because of shade or moist conditions. Rock gardens always look good with moss between the stones and, of course, a natural, woodland look always needs large rocks with moss. You can grow your own!

07b00980d4f216a286fe4fd73a16382aThe most important ingredient in any recipe for moss is patience (as I learned): it can take years to achieve that fuzzy carpet. The next item on the list is the powers of observation. There are hundreds of different mosses, each suited to a particular ecological niche, and the best way to choose one that will grow well where you want it is to notice what’s already growing there or in a similar location. [Note: I’m chagrined to remember pulling out tufts of moss from between my bricks after they were newly laid because I thought it was ‘spoiling’ the look! Grrr!)

With any luck, the moss you want will be somewhere on your property or that of a friend, because the next step is to collect some. Taking mosses from public lands is not legal; taking them from private ones without permission is stealing. If necessary, moss starts can be purchased; specialists in bonsai supplies sell them.

Collecting Moss


Collect moss after a soaking rain, or, if that’s not possible, water the mossy area thoroughly. Though there are some mosses that will grow on several different substrates, you’ll have the best luck if you collect from a surface similar to the one you want to cover (wood, soil, or rock).

Take small, roughly 1 1/2-inch diameter patches, and never more than two or three from a square foot of moss. If it is growing on soil, make sure you take the patches with soil attached. Keep the patches moist.

Growing Moss from Slurry

This method is mostly used for hard surfaces such as rocks, flowerpots, and concrete. The idea is to coat the object with a mush of ground moss that contains lots of spores. To get it, you simply process clean moss in a blender, combining it with a thick liquid that will hold it in suspension and help it adhere.

4912b88dde824566d0c7fa410fe5163c--growing-moss-grow-moss-on-potsYogurt and buttermilk are think and sticky — and acidic, which moss likes — and are therefore often used in slurry recipes, but they are not essential. Potter’s clay (from the craft store), thinned to thick-milkshake texture with water, works even better because it holds moisture longer. Diluted manure can also be used if you have a blender dedicated to garden purposes.

For about 3 cups of slurry, enough to coat roughly 1 1/2 to 2 square feet of surface, you’ll need: 

  • 1 loosely packed cup of moss pieces, or a bit more
  • 2 1/2 cups of liquid: diluted potter’s clay, diluted manure, yogurt, buttermilk, or whatever mixture you want to try
  1. Grind the moss in a blender with 2 cups of the liquid. The result should be about the texture of thin pudding. Add more moss (or more liquid), if necessary.
  2. Thoroughly wet the object, paint it with the remaining 1/2 cup of thick liquid, then paint on the moss slurry
  3. Keep the surface constantly moist, using a gentle mist so you don’t dislodge anything. Once a day will probably be enough if the item is in a damp, shady place, but don’t let it dry out. Within six weeks or so you should see the thin green, algae-like filaments that signal new moss is growing.

Transplanting Moss

This method is most often used where the moss will grow on soil, though transplanting will work on any surface as long as it is porous. Before you go out collecting, prepare the site. Remove vegetation (except existing moss, of course). Text for pH and lower it if necessary; most woodland mosses are acid lovers, happiest when pH is about 5.5. Rake the area smooth and water thoroughly.

Collect the moss patches. Place them on the prepared site, pressing down well, then pin them to the soil here and there with twigs to help them bond with their new home. If you’re doing only a small area, you can cover it with the moss “sod”, but otherwise, spread the patches out about 8 to 10 inches from center to center. They will grow together, eventually, as long as you keep the soil between them damp and free of weeds. For faster coverage, make some slurry and spread it between the patches.

Water well right after planting and frequently thereafter. The moss should take hold in about a month. Once it’s established it will tolerate a dry day or two, but not until then.



The Battle Against Weeds

1452647202156The battle against weeds is relentless. In every square yard of soil it is estimated that there may be as many as 100,000 weed seeds. Why are they such a bad thing? The simple answer is that they compete. They drink water and absorb nutrients from the soil. They crowd yours crops for space, hogging the light and putting them in the shade. And they play host to all kinds of pests and diseases.

Perennial weeds

  • Bindweed – one of the most difficult of all weeds to eradicate. Dig up and destroy every piece of root, or spray leaves with systemic weedkiller.
  • Bramble – vigorous and invasive, with painfully sharp thorns. Roots are deep and must be dug out completely.
  • Creeping buttercup – a low, spreading weed that throws out horizontal runners, producing new plants at each node. Uproot the whole lot.
  • Dock – dig up the long taproots without letting them snap or they will regenerate.
  • Stinging nettle – dig out the roots of stinging nettles in order to eradicate completely. But be careful, the sting really hurts!
  • Creeping thistle – its root system is so tenacious that a systemic weedkiller may be the only solution to the problem.
  • Dandelion – remove dandelion flower heads before they fade and release their tiny, parachute-like seeds — and dig out the entire tap root.dandelion-flower-02
  • Ground elder – dig up carefully — this determined weed with regrow from any stray bits of root left in the soil.

Annual and biennial weeds

  • Goosegrass – also known as ‘cleavers,’ the plants have tiny, hooked hairs that cling to supports. Dig up by the roots.
  • Plaintain – uproot the whole plant — including its tap root — before it flowers and produces seed.
  • Annual meadowgrass – hoe regularly to prevent the grass from flowering and spreading across your plot.
  • Ragwort – remove and compost before the yellow flowers turn to seed.
  • Groundsel – dig up and remove before the fluffy, dandelion-like seed heads form.
  • Common chickweed – a low-growing weed that spreads vigorously but has shallow roots which are fairly easy to pull up.
  • Shepherd’s purse – easy to uproot when still young. Compost only if the heart-shaped seed pods have not yet formed.
  • Hairy bittercress – pull up when young, before the long, cylindrical seed pods appear.

verve_shutterstock_lifestyle_2016_151Weeding tips

  • Hoe regularly so that you catch weeds when they are young and while their roots are still shallow.
  • Don’t let weeds flower, or they will generate a new crop of seeds.
  • Hoe when it’s dry so that severed and uprooted weeds die quickly.
  • If the soil is damp, collect up and dispose of any remains to ensure that they don’t regrow.
  • Loosen soil thoroughly so that when you dig up roots you leave nothing behind.
  • Don’t put perennial weeds on your compost heap; they may live to fight another day.
  • Use lightproof membrane mulches to kill established weeds.
  • Spread surface mulches to suppress the growth of new weeds.
  • Use chemical systemic weedkillers as a last resort.

Transplanting Daffodils

4eb015c098194a88800061c2c8073efd--flower-gardening-organic-gardeningMoving to a new location? Or, maybe your daffodils have spread beyond the intended space? Or, maybe you want to share with others? The ideal time to dig up daffodils is about eight weeks after flowering, when the foliage has just started to yellow — and while you’re at it, you might as well divide the large-flowered ones. Small-flowered types can be left alone indefinitely, but most large-flowered daffodils must be divided every three to five years or you’ll end up with nothing but leaves.

Dig the new planting holes before you start, figuring that each old clump is probably getting overcrowded, should be divided, and so will need about three or four times as much space in the new location(s). Have extra soil and sod ready to fill in the old holes. Choose an overcast day, or work in the evening. Using a digging fork, putting it deep into the soil, cut a line around the clump about 2 inches from its outside edge. Keep working your way around, loosening the lifting, following the line you cut, until the whole clump is free. Lever it out, gently break it apart, and then work the sod away from the stems and set it aside for lawn repair.

Separate the bulbs, letting them fall naturally into smaller clumps that still have dirt 100_5200attached. Don’t tear the roots — you can hose off the roots, disentangle them, and do a more thorough job of dividing. Plant in the prepared holes, and water well.

Save the fertilizer for the fall. By the time daffodils (genus Narcissus) bloom, their leaves are almost finished transferring the carbohydrates they’ve made into the bulb for storage. As the chlorophyll breaks down and the leaves turn yellow, the plants need only sunlight, air, and water to finish up.

If you need to fertilize daffodils, do it in early spring just as new growth pops up, or in the fall when roots are growing and daughter bulbs are being formed. Use a balanced fertilizer or well-rotted compost to maintain nutrition in situations where the bulbs are crowded or are permitted to set seed, which takes a lot of energy.

Many gardeners also hedge their bets by mixing a bulb booster into the bottom of the hole when planting bulbs, because it is high in phosphorus, which does not move much in the soil. Phosphorus encourages root growth, the first order of business for a newly planted bulb.

Grow Your Garden to Match Your Cuisine

Whether you have a large plot or a small patio garden to work with, fresh veggies and herbs that highlight different countries around the globe are both fun and functional. Some tips:

  • When designing a cultural garden, choose only a few edibles — specifically the ones you cook with most. You can always add on or switch out plants.
  • Consider how much sun the proposed site receives in a given day. Most edibles need around eight hours a day to thrive.
  • Edge edibles with ornamentals to keep the look pleasing and pretty. Just consider any ornamental plant’s growth habit, so they don’t end up eventually overshadowing low-growing vegetables and herbs.
  • Include one vertical grower, which provides interest. Cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, and pole beans are good considerations.



Beautiful Rainbow Chard

Ooh la la. A high-style potager (kitchen garden) featuring these favorite French goodies is tres magnifique!

  • Alpine strawberry
  • Chard
  • Chervil
  • Culinary lavender
  • French green bean
  • Garlic
  • Leek
  • Savory
  • White asparagus


Cook up the freshest fare around with these must-have ingredients. The number of chili varieties out there is endless — choose a few to spice up your life.

  • Chili pepper (jalapeno, po

    Ripe tomatillos


  • Cilantro
  • Epazote
  • Heirloom corn
  • Heirloom squash (summer and winter)
  • Red Mexican bush bean
  • Tomatillo


The vegetables and herbs in this region are as varied as the cuisine itself.

  • Broccoli raab
  • Cipollini onion
  • Fava bean
  • Fennel
  • Heirloom cantaloupe
  • Italian parsley
  • Roma tomato
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Savoy cabbage
  • Sweet basil


These exciting vegetables may be used in stir-fries and salads, or to accompany Chinese dishes. Use fermented cabbage in kimchi.

  • Bitter melon


    Bok Choy in the garden

  • Bok choy
  • Daikon
  • Edamame
  • Green onion
  • Lemongrass
  • Napa cabbage
  • Snow peas
  • Thai basil

If you get a chance, visit the Cleveland Cultural Garden in Cleveland, Ohio. Featuring 31 gardens that are each inspired by a different ethnic group — Polish, Greek, Italian, German, Hebrew, Irish, Chinese, African-American, and Indian, to name a few — the Cleveland Cultural Garden in Rockefeller Park is a must-stop destination in Ohio. For more information, visit


Sunflowers for Birds


Mammoth Grey Stripe Sunflower

Time to start planning that flower garden for this summer. Sunflowers are one of the best plants you can have in your garden. You can attract the following bird species: cardinals, chickadees, house finches, titmice, grosbeaks, nuthatches, goldfinches, red-bellied woodpeckers, and pine siskins.

Pick the Right Variety

You can find many sunflower options on the market today, but not all of them are suitable food sources for birds. When selecting sunflowers, make sure they produce a good supply of seeds. Some of experts’ top picks include Mammoth Grey Stripe, Paul Bunyan, and Aztec Gold.

Growing Tips

Sunflowers are truly one of the easiest plants to grow, but they do have a few requirements. They need at least six hours of sunlight per day and well-drained soil. They benefit from organic matter, and also keep the area under sunflowers mulched for better results.main-qimg-5977490348a0e3209b5297e1e5303e06-c

Ready for Seeds

Sunflowers have the best seed buffet in late summer to early fall. For longer harvest time, stagger your planting, early spring to midsummer. This way, you can attract birds for months.

Harvest Tip

Gather your sunflower heads, and put them in a dry place to dehydrate. You can then hang them out by your feeders, extending the sunflower season all the way into fall.