Tag Archive | Garden Care

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.

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Overwintering Geraniums

8387268_origSometimes you have a perfect summer with conditions that have contributed to the most beautiful container of geraniums you’ve ever had. What to do in the fall — let them die off and try again next year, or attempt to keep them over the winter? If you’re tempted to keep them, you have some options.

The perfect solution would be a cool, damp basement (can you say cellar?), where you could just hang them upside down. Shake the excess dirt from the roots, but leave all that clings. Loosely tie a string around the neck area, where the stem meets he roots, and use this to hang them from a rafter or beam. They should get good air circulation; be sure they don’t touch each other or anything else.

A dry basement — as long as it is cool (35º to 45ºF) — is a distant second choice. In that case, you will need to pot them up and they will need a place that’s light. They should be watered thoroughly about once a month, but let them go dry in between — they’re hardly growing.

No matter which way you store them, remove buds and flowers, where the disease botrytis hides, and any leaves that turn yellow. Cut the plants back to 6 inches after planting them outside next year.

Even thought your geraniums appear healthy, they could have picked up at least one of the many diseases that affect geraniums during the summer. When they are ready to go back outside, the geraniums will be stressed from their winter treatment, but any disease organisms will be just fine so the plants may not be as healthy as you expect. Keep a little extra in the gardening budget for replacements.

Allergies of Autumn

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Beautiful stems of Goldenrod – mistakenly blamed for Fall allergies

Poor Goldenrod (state flower of Kentucky) — blamed for the itchy, watery eyes suffered by so many this time of year (including me!). It’s a shame that goldenrod is blamed for the sneezes and wheezes of autumn allergies, so I am, once again, writing an article in defense of this beautiful garden plant!

The reason, I’m sure, that so many people think of goldenrod as their autumn nemesis is because it produces those brilliant yellow flowers just when ragweed also blooms. But no one notices the culprit’s small homely pale green blooms. Goldenrod’s pollen is heavy and is moved about only by bees, whereas ragweed pollen is tiny and light and meant to be spread by the wind.

There are some 15 species of common ragweed, whose botanical name is Ambrosia (an ironic misnomer for sure). Ragweeds grow naturally from coast to coast, adapting to both country meadows and gritty city environments. The plant has fernlike leaves similar to those of wormwood (Artemisia), and is actually a tasty treat for pigs and cattle.

Ragweed is also an excellent soil preserver and conditioner, one of the group, sometimes called pioneer plants, that spring up rapidly after floods, fires, or bulldozers have ravaged the earth. So, a very useful plant for both the Earth, and for the pharmaceutical companies that collect lots of my dollars every fall as I struggle to breathe without crying!

Pruners

Pruners come in two basic styles: anvil and bypass. With anvil pruners you have only one sharp cutting blade, which closes against a dull bed (the anvil) to sever whatever. Bypass types are more like scissors, with two sharp blades, one of which secures the branch while the other moves past it, cutting as it goes.

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Anvil Pruners

Anvil pruners cannot be brought as close to the cut as bypass types, but they do have two advantages: only one sharp blade means only one blade to sharpen, and the mechanism does give a bit more leverage. Though this can make a difference if you want to use a small pruner for very thick or very hard wood, it’s usually easier to use a bigger pruner for heavier jobs and stick with bypass for everyday use.

Bypass pruners come with all kids of blade lengths and angles, with and without ergonomic handles, and in special versions for lefties. They also come in a wide price range, with the best-made costing two or three times as much as the cheapos. Fortunately, even the most expensive pruners cost less than dinner and a movie for two, so there is no reason to stint. Just remember the old saying: good tools make all tasks go lightly.

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Bypass pruners

In fact, it’s best to have at least two pruners, one saved for rough work (at ground level, for example, where you might hit gravel) and one used for delicate operations like removing spent lilac blossoms.

This will let you go a bit longer between sharpening sessions. But those sessions are as important as the pruners themselves because it is absolutely essential to make clean cuts when you are pruning shrubs. Wood that has been torn or crushed, as is guaranteed to happen if the pruners are not sharp, is (literally) an open invitation to disease.

Just as it’s better to plant a five-dollar tree in a ten-dollar hole than the other way around, it’s better to have a pair of sharp cheap pruners than to work with quality tools that have been allowed to get dull. If you don’t want to sharpen them yourself, be sure to have them sharpened regularly by a professional — your local nursery or garden center can usually recommend someone. Keep your tools clean and oiled between uses so they don’t rust, and they should serve you well for years.

Keep your Dahlias

dahlia-173799_960_720Dahlias will not winter over in places where the ground freezes, but they are easy to store if you have a cool place to keep them. Start by making labels while the plants are still blooming, so you remember which color is which. Wait until frost kills the top growth, then as soon as there is a dry day, cut off the dead foliage leaving stubs 2 inches long. Use a digging fork to lift the tubers; turn the clumps upside down.

Let the tubers dry a few hours, then gently remove as much soil as possible. Don’t wash them off, as the last thin layer of clinging soil will help protect them from shriveling. Line a large box with a plastic bag; then add a 4-inch layer of coconut fiber, dry shredded leaves, styrofoam packing peanuts, or sawdust. Place tubers stem side up on this bed, keeping them well separated. Nestle the labels into the clumps.

Completely surround the tubers with additional packing material, and loosely close the bag. Store in a dark place, ideally at 35º to 45ºF. When storage temperatures climb to the mid 50s, the tubers will start sprouting. Ignore short sprouts; they’ll be buried when you plant. Clumps that come from storage with long, pale stems, however, should be hardened off before being set out into the garden.

Dahlia tubers

Dahlia tubers

In the spring, as long as there are a couple of healthy-looking eyes (the buds from which the plants grow, located up near the old stem), even rather shriveled tubers will make decent-size plants. If shoots have started to grow, evaluate them before planting. If they are still small (less that 2 inches long), just bury the tubers as you would normally, a couple of inches below the soil.

If the shoots are long and pale, they will be too far along to bury completely; they’ll also be brittle and vulnerable to sunscald, so handle carefully. Toughen up the shoots by putting the tubers with their new growth in the shade for a week or so before planting. Plant the tubers at the normal depth, with the long shoots above ground, and continue to protect the shoots with a light sprinkling of straw for the next week or 10 days. The idea is simply to shade the bleached growth until it turns green, so don’t smother it with a heavy layer of mulch.

Keep your Caladiums

Starr_071024-9740_Caladium_bicolorAre your caladiums so beautiful this year that you can’t face the thought of getting rid of them when the summer is over? Why not try to keep them until next summer?! They can be left in the garden into fall so that the leaves can continue working and the tuber can continue to grow larger. However, once frost is in the forecast, don’t wait — just dig, taking up the whole plants or only the tubers.

To winter over a caladium, put the tuber into storage immediately or pot up the whole plant and place it in a brightly lighted windowsill. By late January, the caladium is going to look tired and will need to rest before the tuber is repotted in the spring or planted in the garden after the soil has warmed up. Chop off the foliage, knock off the soil, and let the tuber dry at room temperature. Any condensation will encourage bacterial rot. Store the tuber in dry vermiculite or in a mesh bag (like an onion bag) in a dry place, ideally at 70º to 75ºF but never below 50º, making sure there is good air circulation. Remember: it needs to be stored dry!!

Caladium is an extraordinary foliage plant. Its leaves can be white with narrow green borders or combinations of white, green, and rosy pinks, in pale to outrageous patterns that approach a third grader’s first attempt at stained glass. Most caladiums are hybrids of Caladium bicolor or C. picturatum, native to the tropics of the Americas and the West Indies. Plants can be costly, but tubers are inexpensive so you can just say goodbye at frost time if you like.

Lilac Woes

Did you plant a lilac bush and have lovely flowers the first year and nothing since then? Or maybe you’re not getting the flowers that you used to get from your established lilacs?

According to Jack Alexander, the chief plant propagator at the lilac-magnificent Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University, newly planted or transplanted lilacs tend to have transplant sulks. Most spring-flowering shrubs, lilacs included, form flower buds the previous year. That initial display you see when you buy new shrubs was set when the lilac was still comfortably at home in the nursery. When it was moved, the disturbance set it back. Give it a bit more time, and whatever you do, don’t move it again!

flower-356176_960_720Common lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) and the French hybrids based on them are especially sensitive in this regard. If you’re the type who likes to move the furniture around, try planting ‘Miss Kim’ (a cultivar of S. patula). She’s a bit less fussy about an occasional relocation.

‘Miss Kim’ is easy to find at nurseries, as are a good number of S. vulgaris varieties and cultivars. But for the widest selection of colors, fragrance, and bloom times, mail order is the way to go.

Pruning

Lilacs have to grow for a few years before they start flowering. After that, they bloom in spring on year-old wood, the stems that grew from the older branches during the previous summer.

Pruning consists mainly of removing elderly trunks and clipping off seed heads within reach. But if you want to cut back young growth, the proper time is right after flowering. It should be done as soon as possible, and no later than three weeks after petal fall.

Still not getting Flowers?

If you are not pruning too late or cutting off all of the new growth, the problem may be too much fertilizer, which could push vegetative growth at the expense of flowers. Or, maybe the problem is a lack of light. Lilacs need plenty of sun to flower well, and shade is the most common culprit when mature bushes fail to bloom.

Remember, too, that if you go through a summer of little or no rain, the plant will be unable to set buds for next year so you can expect little or no flowering the year after a drought.