Tag Archive | Garden Care

Pruning Rule Breakers

rhododendron-245633_960_720Rhododendrons, unlike most shrubs, have no painless window for pruning. They start forming the buds for next year’s flowers before this year’s have even opened, and by the time bloom season is done, those buds are well advanced.

It’s difficult emotionally to cut off any of next year’s flowers, but if you continually avoid pruning, you may be even more devastated. In fact, you could end up having to cut the rhododendrons to the ground and start all over again.

Pruning rhododendrons requires imagination as well as sharp sheers. Dr. Richard Lighty, the director of the Mount Cuba Center for the Study of Piedmont Flora in Greenville, Delaware, advises that you try to visualize what the shrub should look like. Reach your goal by critically selecting strong outer branches that, when pruned back, will expose smaller inner branches in the right position to fill in. Once exposed to light, these inner branches will begin to grow.Rhododendron-pruning-outline-diagram1

As the flowers fade, trim no more than 15 to 20 inches off the strong branches. Where should you prune? Where the strong branch is near the tip of an inner branch that has a whorl of glossy leaves surrounding the buds, your signal that the inner branch is healthy. If the shrubs are still too big, reprune in two years.

To make sure the plant has stored enough food that it can easily handle pruning, fertilize in late fall the year before you intend to prune. If you fertilize after pruning, it will put out long, leggy growth.

Although it is better to stay on top of your regular pruning chores, rhododendrons can be cut down to 12 to 15 inches from the ground if necessary. The plants have buds at their base that will generally send up new shoots. But, as I learned, there won’t be any flowers for two to three years.

All-Purpose Fertilizer for Vegetables

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Nice, rich compost

Every year, we get the same questions in a variety of formats:  why won’t my vegetables grow? What should I do to grow more tomatoes? Do I need different types of fertilizer for my different vegetables? The answer to all of these questions is the best fertilizer for your soil and vegetables: compost! Compost is the all-purpose answer to everything, and if you have enough of it you won’t need much of anything else. Though different crops have different needs, they will be able to serve themselves from the smorgasbord provided by healthy soil with plenty of compost in it. Once you start adding specific fertilizers, you start having to pay attention to each individual diet.

Salad greens, for example, want lots of nitrogen to promote the fast growth of leafy tissue. Peppers, on the other hand, are more eager for the potassium that promotes flower and fruit development. Although they too need nitrogen, they’d make great big green leafy bushes with nary a pepper in sight if you gave them a lettuce-appropriate dose.

And major nutrients like nitrogen and potassium are just the beginning. There are dozens of micronutrients, such as boron, calcium, and copper, that plants must have — in different amounts — to thrive.

In practice, it can be hard to create soil so fertile that no amendment is necessary, especially when growing vegetables in a small space. But before you break out the fertilizer cookbook and start concocting special meals for all the crops you want to grow, make sure the soil is well drained and well aerated, and that the pH is between 6 and 7 (the best range for most vegetables). Ensuring these conditions exist may be all you need to do. If the soil is bad or the pH out of whack, it won’t matter what you put on the table, the vegetables won’t be able to eat.

by Vicki Schilleman, OCMGA Master Gardener

Authors in our Midst and at our Garden Conference – #2

Author Stacy Tornio

Stacy Tornio was my inspiration to become a Master Gardener. At the time, she was the editor of Birds & Blooms and a Master Gardener herself. Since then, she has branched out to pursue her goal of being a published author — and has been wildly successful. With 15 published books currently available on amazon, Stacy was the keynote speaker at our Garden Conference several years ago and a vendor this year.

Stacy’s most recent book, Plants You Can’t Killwas written with an eye toward inexperienced gardeners but there’s a wealth of information in the book for those of us who can’t figure out what we’re doing wrong! Loaded with beautiful photographs, it’s a book that should be in every gardener’s library.

From the amazon page:

“I kill everything I plant.”

Does this sound like you or someone you know? Give yourself a pat on the back because admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. And lucky for you, you can easily turn your brown thumb into a green one with the help of Plants You Can’t Kill.

Seriously—it doesn’t matter how many plants you’ve killed in gardens past. It’s time to put those experiences behind you and finally grow something in your empty and bare spots. This is the only gardening book you’ll ever need with more than 100 plant picks for every situation. You want veggies? We have ’em. You need to fill a big space? We have shrub ideas for you. You just want something pretty? We have plenty of that, as well.

The plants in Plants You Can’t Kill have been vetted by an amazing and famous panel of horticulture experts (this is just a fancy way of saying they went to college for gardening), so feel confident you’re not wasting money on yet another gardening book. These plants will actually survive your well-meaning, yet sometimes neglectful ways.

Ready for the most resilient, hardcore, badass list of plants known to gardeners? Find them and grow them with the help of Plants You Can’t Kill.

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Recycle Your Christmas Tree

Christmas trees are too often tossed unceremoniously onto the curb right after the holidays. But there’s no reason holiday evergreens can’t be allowed to serve long after the merry-making is over.

For a splash of instant green, cut the branches of pine, fir, spruce, or other needled evergreens and add them to barren window boxes or containers.

You can also use branches to protect dormant plants. A think cover of evergreen limbs helps keep the surface layer of soil moist, and also helps to stabilize soil temperature, reducing the rapid cycles of frost and thaw that can heave perennials and shrubs from the ground and rip their roots.

Christmas greenery also can be used as tracery on trellises and arbors. Held in place with plastic ties or string, cut boughs give plants like climbing roses, and vines like grapes or clematis, a good-looking shield from drying winter winds and sun.

In addition, leftover evergreens are useful for augmenting the natural foliage around a bird feeder or bath. Wild birds like protection and aren’t choosy whether their evergreen screen is living or dead.

There is an art to denuding a Christmas tree, though, and pruning shears or loppers are a must. Heavy gloves make it easier to handle the rough bark and the needles. If you must cut up the tree inside, cover the floor with a plastic sheet to prevent a mess of needles and sap.

Remove the evergreen boughs from gardens and planters when the tips of early spring bloomers, like crocus or snowdrops, have pushed about an inch out of the ground. Where no bulbs are planted, leave the branches until mid-April or whenever spring seems securely in place.

Planning for next year

When growing season is done and the garden has been put to bed, it’s time to start planning for next year! I love tea and drink it the way many other people drink coffee. I have an area in my flower garden devoted to herbs, and I’m thinking about adding something new:  tea.

downloadTrue tea (white, black and green) comes from one plant species: Camellia sinensis, hardy in Zones 6 to 9. This plant isn’t finicky (slightly acidic soil, a sunny location and plenty of water will keep it happy), but it grows slowly from seed. It can take three years to get a harvest and cuttings are challenging, so purchasing a plant seems like the right approach. Like me, you may already have herbs in your garden, such as mint and lemongrass, that you can use for tisanes, or herbal teas.

When using herbs for tea, it’s important to research which part of the plant is used for making tea, such as the leaves of the mint plant, the buds and flowers of chamomile or the outer stalks of lemongrass. Freshly picked herbs can be brewed right away. You can also dry herbs to keep the cupboard stocked.

Herbal tea

imagesThis hot beverage is not actually tea (not being made from the Camellia sinensis plant, but from herbs), but is called tea and is wildly popular. Some of the possible plants to use:

  • Bee balm
  • Bergamot
  • Lavender
  • Lemon Verbena
  • Raspberry
  • Rose Hip
  • Sage
  • Strawberry
  • Yarrow

Gently tear or crush herbal leaves, buds or roots to release essential oils and boost flavor, and you might consider a tea infuser or ball instead of a strainer for a simpler brewing process to avoid having a cup full of leaves.

Storing Tender Bulbs/Corms

By Kathy McCarthy

Do you love plants that have tender bulbs but think it is too much trouble to store them over winter? Hang on folks. The results may be worth your efforts and this is a great way to increase your supply. The directions are for plants I have been successful in storing.

Remember to dig carefully. It is important to loosen the roots gently, digging a few inches away from the plant. You want to avoid cutting or breaking the fleshy structure. Diseases enter through cuts and bruises.

Gladiolus

A gladiolus ““bulb”” is really a corm, a swollen underground stem. A new corm forms on top of the old one. While this is taking place, small new cormels are produced from the base. Corms can be dug when the foliage begins to yellow or before a hard freeze. After carefully digging the corms, cut off the old leaves close to the corm. Leave the corms outside in the sun for a day or two and then spread out in a garage or similar place to cure, but not on a cement floor. This will prevent storage rot. After a few weeks of drying, clean them by removing the roots and outer sheath of corm. Remove and discard the old corm. Store the corms in a mesh bag and hang them out of the way in a cool well-ventilated area. I use a mesh onion bag and hang it in my basement. The small cormels can also be saved and planted the following year, but it will take a few years to produce blooming plants.

Cannas

Dig the rhizomes in fall before the first frost. Remove the old stalks and gently brush off soil. They can be washed with a garden hose. Let them dry for a few days before storing. I store my rhizomes in a box filled with vermiculite. However they can also be stored in peat moss. Another way to store cannas is to leave the soil on the rhizomes and pile the clumps in a box. Cover with plastic and store in the basement or other dark, cool, dry area. I put the box on top of another container to keep it off the cement floor. Rhizomes must not freeze during storage. The temperature should be between 50 and 60 degrees. Never store canna rhizomes in a mesh bag, as this will allow the bulbs to dry out.

Calla Lily

Bulbs should be lifted out of the soil in late fall, but before the first frost. The bulbs bruise, so handle them carefully. Remove the excess soil by either washing or carefully rubbing it off. Dry the bulbs away from direct sunlight or wind for several days. Put them in a paper bag and store them in your basement or other dark, dry location. Like cannas, the temperature should be between 50 and 60 degrees.

Label and Check

When storing, I label the containers carefully. You can use a permanent felt marking pen to write directly on the fleshy root. I find it helpful to attach a sheet of information regarding planting time, depth, etc. to the container.

During the storage season, I periodically check for damaged or rotting material. Any damaged material is removed and thrown away. You don’’t want one bad ““apple”” to spoil the whole bunch.

Once spring arrives, you will be glad you saved those tender bulbs. If you have more corms, rhizomes and bulbs than you can use, think of your fellow gardeners and give them away.

Summer Bulbs

Overwintering Summer Bulbs

by Diana Alfuth, horticulture educator for Pierce & St. Croix County UW-Extension

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Tender summer gladiolus

Summer bulbs cannot make it through our cold Wisconsin winters. If you want to plant them again next year, tender bulbs must be dug and stored once the foliage begins to yellow or is killed by frost. Cut the foliage to about 2 inches, dig the bulbs with a spading fork and knock off most of the soil. Don’t wash canna, dahlia or caladium bulbs, but hose off others, if needed. Discard any bulbs with spots or sunken areas, which may indicate the presence of disease.

Once bulbs are dry, pack them with some peat moss, sawdust, perlite, vermiculite or sand, or put them in thick paper bags and place them in a cool, dry place for winter. A root cellar, unheated basement or extra refrigerator can be used to keep temperatures between 50 and 65ºF, or 35 to 55ºF for gladiolus. Don’t store bulbs with ripening fruit, such as apples. The fruit gives off ethylene gas, which can damage bulbs.

Check the bulbs periodically over the winter. If mold is present, spread the bulbs out to dry or otherwise reduce humidity. Separate the bulbs prior to planting next spring.

Planting Summer Bulbs

from The New York Times column ‘Garden Q&A’

Summer bulbs are tropical types that want summer conditions. They will start sprouting when the soil is still less than toasty, but if it is downright cold, they’ll sulk, and if they sulk in soil that is damp as well as cold, they’re likely to rot.

So people in short-season areas have two options: the first is simply to wait for warm weather and then wait for flowers; the other is to give plants like crocosmias, acidantheras, and dahlias a short head start indoors.

Since you don’t want to have to worry about providing greenhouse conditions, wait until it’s near the frost-free date, then plant your summer beauties in a free-draining seed-starting medium like Pro-Mix. Water well, then set the pots (or for small bulbs, plug flats) where they will be warm but not hot, 60º to 65ºF. Add water only as necessary to keep the soil barely moist, and do not fertilize.

It should take a couple of weeks before sprouts show above the soil and start needing light, by which time the weather should be warmer. Set the plots outside in a sheltered spot where they will get plenty of sun but be protected from cold winds, and be prepared to move them indoors if the temperature threatens to go below 55ºF. Once you’re sure the weather has settled in a warm direction, transplant into the garden.