Tag Archive | garden planning

Black Walnut Conundrum

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Leaves and fruit of Black Walnut

Black walnuts have a long history of cultivation on American farms and, to a lesser extent, in gardens all over the East and Midwest. They are beautiful trees, with upright trunks and wide canopies. They bear delicious (though hard to crack) nuts, and they are very valuable as timber trees — a single straight trunk can be worth thousands of dollars.

Unfortunately, black walnuts are not completely garden-friendly. The extensive surface roots compete with anything planted over them, the thick leaf cover produces dense shade, and all parts of the tree exude a chemical called juglone, which inhibits the growth of a great many plants.

Vegetables in the solanaceous group — tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes — seem particularly sensitive to joglone, as are many perennials, including columbines, peonies, and chrysanthemums. Hydrangeas appear to hate juglone. So do rhododendrons and azaleas, lilacs, and lilies. Ditto pines and birches, apples, and blueberries.

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Stately Black Walnut with beautiful over-arching canopy

Because juglone-laden feeder roots extend far beyond the tree’s canopy, and juglone-containing leaves and nut hulls also tend to get spread around, none of the plants listed above is likely to do well unless it’s at least 50 feet away from the drip line of a black walnut and 100 or more feet away from the trunk.

So what’s left? Quite a lot, really. Kentucky bluegrass and black raspberries actually seem to thrive when planted near (but not under) black walnuts. If the soil drainage is good and other growing conditions are right, gardeners have also had success with cucurbits (squash, melon, and cucumber), as well as beans, beets, and carrots.

The list of possible flowers is longer, starting with spring-flowering bulbs (except crocus) and woodland wildflowers such as Jack-in-the-pulpit, sweet woodruff, and cranesbill. Many hostas appear to be up to the challenge, and asters, day lilies, coralbells, and Siberian iris are also likely bets. Euonymous usually does o.k., and so do Japanese maples, viburnums, redbuds, and hemlocks.

One warning: As the recurrence of words like “seems” and “possible” suggests, these pros and cons are based on observations, not controlled experiments. And to complicate matters further, the amount of juglone in the soil can vary considerably, depending on such factors as soil type, drainage patterns, soil microorganisms, and the age of the tree.

So, if there’s something you’re dying to try under a black walnut, try it. But watch carefully. Affected plants will quickly show signs of stress and should be moved before they start dying, too.

Return to Reverence – The Marigold

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

Early on in my marriage I wasn’t exactly a gardening diva. In fact, I had very little interest in gardening. But my husband’s father, Louie, had gardening in his veins. I fondly remember going to his house and weaving my way through narrow passageways of seedling flats in his garage. Soon, the flats were transferred to a small greenhouse set up in his driveway. It wasn’t long before friends, neighbors and strangers were stopping in to buy his plants and engaging in some of the most colorful conversation they had ever had.

download (1)Louie, the ultimate salesman, always touted each variety of flower he grew, but none seemed to rival his affection for marigolds. Yes, I said marigolds! It’s not just the marigold’s distinctive scent that causes many seasoned gardeners to turn up their noses. What is it then, that brings many to dismiss them? Could it be that we have become gardening snobs, believing we have progressed too far in our botanical knowledge to extol such a lowly flower, as though it is only reserved for the commoners and unsophisticated gardeners? I hope not. I long to bring marigolds back to their once revered reputation. It’s name alone expresses how admired and respected it once was. In fact, marigold or “Mary’s gold,” was named after the most revered of all women in history, the Virgin Mary, and were believed to bring good luck. Originally discovered in Central America in the 16th century by the Portuguese, it was brought back to Europe where it grew in popularity. Today in South Asia, yellow and orange marigold flowers are grown and harvested by the millions to make garlands used to decorate statues and buildings. In Mexico and Latin America, marigold flowers are used to celebrate All Saints Day and All Souls Day, and flower heads are scattered on relatives’ graves. So, it stands to reason that they should receive an honored place in our own gardens. Through the years many hybrids have been developed to bring out the most desirable characteristics like large flower heads, various plant sizes and unique colorations.

Perhaps the furthest advances in breeding, however, have been in diminishing one of its most notable qualities: its scent. Many people find the scent offensive. I personally find it’s something that one needs to learn to appreciate. I like to think of it like coffee; when I first tried coffee, I couldn’t understand why anyone would drink such an awful concoction. But with time I came to acquire a taste for the brew and now I love to greet each morning with a hot cup of coffee. And likewise, I love to greet each spring with marigolds.

Many use marigolds to outline garden beds or vegetable plots, believing they help keep out rabbits, deer and insects. While marigolds can deter some pests, they are not the all-purpose pest and plant repellent that people have been led to believe they are. Yet the marigold itself is virtually pest and disease free, with the exception of their arch-nemesis, earwigsfrench-marigold-1225611__180, which like to nestle and munch inside its tightly clustered flower heads. Despite countless breeders’ attempts, very few new color varieties of marigolds have been developed. The most common remain the yellow, gold and orange varieties seen in garden centers and catalogues. You will not find a pink marigold… yet.

Burpee’s Seeds, however, has done exceptionally well with developing unusual white varieties of marigolds. ‘French Vanilla’ is my personal favorite. It’s scent is light and pleasant, and is one of Burpee’s earliest triumphs in hybridizing white marigolds. It grows to 2’ with large 3½” flower heads and deep green foliage. The blooms are white with a hint of cream. Other notable white varieties include ‘Snowball’ and ‘Snowdrift’. Burpee’s Seeds played a major role in making the marigold among the most used flowers in America. After sweeping over Europe and Asia in popularity, David Burpee saw the promise in marigolds. In 1915 he took over the seed company founded by his father, W. Atlee Burpee. Young David felt that marigolds held promise and decided to feature them in his catalog and fund research. If you love giant flower heads, try the ‘Inca’ or ‘Inca II’ varieties. These giants produce 4-5” flower heads of bright yellow or orange on stocky 20” plants. If you’ve driven down South Oneida Street in Appleton during the summer, you’ll notice this variety lining the streets of Marigold Mile. Many other great varieties are available. Here are the three most common types of marigolds:

 

  • African or American Marigolds: These plants grow to 3’ in height with large globe-shaped flowers. ‘French Vanilla’ is among these beauties.
  • French Marigolds: These plants generally grow from 5-18” tall. Flower colors include red, orange and yellow, as well as bicolor varieties. Flowers grow to 2”across. A great new variety is called ‘Fireball,’ a unique combination of yellow and reddish orange with a large flower head.
  • Signet Marigolds: Recognized for their finely divided, lacy foliage and clusters of small, single flowers. The flowers are yellow to orange colored and are edible, having a spicy tarragon flavor. The foliage also has a pleasant lemon fragrance. A popular variety is ‘Starfire,’ with petite, bushy plants that boast hundreds of small florets.

downloadThe marigold. It’s no fuss, easy going, with a bright and sunny disposition. It may not be the flashiest of flowers or even the most impressive. It’s good at highlighting others around it, and is reliable, strong and simple. But I suppose that is why I love the marigold so much. Its attributes, character and charm remind me of Louie, who has sadly since gone on to meet the Master Gardener of all gardeners. It is partly because of him that I am so passionate about starting my own seeds, and I will always grow ‘French Vanilla’ marigolds in his memory.

Straw Bale Gardening – take 2

Guest speaker Jim Beard shares information about Straw Bale Gardening

I’ve done posts before on Straw Bale Gardening (see June 9, 2016 here), but I thought a repeat was in order as we’re all thinking about getting our gardens going for 2017. For those who not yet tried it, this might be the perfect alternative to creating a big vegetable garden. At our Garden Conference on April 1, guest speaker Jim Beard (subject of October 15, 2015 post here) had a wonderful presentation about the benefits of trying straw bale gardening.

According to Jim, you plant from the top the first year, plant from the bottom (potatoes) the second year, add it as a wonderful addition to your compost pile in year 3. There’s a little work involved, of course, but all good gardening requires some work!

I’d be interested in your efforts — let me know if it’s successful for you!

 

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

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.

Straw Bale Gardening

by Sharon Morrisey, Horticulture Agent for Milwaukee County and advisor to UW-Extension Master Gardeners

For a new twist on container gardening, try straw bale gardening. This emerging technique skips the container and substitutes partially decomposed straw for potting mix.

It starts 11 days before planting after the bales are put in place. Lay them so the string is on the sides and not the bottom. A stake driven in at each end will help hold bales together. Tall stakes can double as end posts for vertical supports to hold vines or tomato plants.

Conditioning the bales begins with three days of thorough soaking. For each of the next three days, sprinkle 1 cup of ammonium sulfate or 1/2 cup of urea on top and water soak again.

For the next three days, use one-half as much fertilizer. On day 10, simply water. If, on4565926778_fb192ef49d_b day 11, the bales no longer feel warm on top, you can plant. Otherwise, wait until they cool to body temperature.

Transplanting into the bales only requires stabbing into the straw and prying open a space large enough for the roots. To sow seeds for individual plants, pack a little potting mixture into the openings you make, place the seed at the proper depth, cover and add a little mulch to hold moisture and prevent the potting mix from washing away. To make rows for crops, such as lettuce or spinach, use your trowel to cut a trench, fill with soil, and plant.

The rest is the same as traditional container gardening. Water daily and do not allow bales to dry out. A soaker hose running the length of each bale will make this much easier. Fertilize once a week with a water-soluble, balanced fertilizer.

Expert’s Tip: Ten Tips for A Successful Tomato Container Garden

Ann Wied, Waukesha County UW-Extension Consumer Horticulture Educator

Not enough time or space for a garden?  Tomatoes grow great in containers.  Here are a few tips to use yourself or share with others …

  1. Choose a compact, bush, or dwarf tomato variety. These tomatoes are often labeled at garden centers as “great for ctomatoes-in-containers-220x162ontainer gardening”.
  2. Buy healthy, resistant varieties.  Choose varieties that are resistant to diseases prevalent to where you live.  Look for this information on the plant tag or garden catalog.
  3. Choose a container large enough to provide support for your tomato.
  4. Don’t rush to plant your tomato. Plant near the recommended planting date for your area. Even if you can protect the plants from frost and/or cold night air, cool temperatures can keep growth slow, cause nutrient deficiencies, and prevent fruit set. In addition, once fruits start to form, cold temperatures can cause the tomatoes to become deformed.
  5. Place the container in an area that has at least 4 hours of direct sunlight each day.
  6. Water your tomato plant whenever the top 2 to 3 inches of soil is dry. This may be every day or every other day if the weather is hot and dry.
  7. When you water, water until it drains through the bottom of the pot and don’t let the plant sit in excess water.
  8. Fertilize once a month throughout the growing season with a fertilizer labeled for vegetable plants.
  9. If the tomato gets too large or bushy, support it with a small cage or stake and/or prune out some branches.
  10. Monitor for disease and insect problems. If a disease occurs, remove and destroy infected leaves or the entire plant if the disease is severe.

Perennial Herb Garden

Herbs-in-containersTired of replanting herbs every year because they don’t survive our harsh winters? Want to try some new flavors and fill out some of those empty spaces in your garden? Try planting perennial herbs! There are so many hardy herbs that fit the bill, you’ll want to refine your garden plan before choosing plants. Is this a culinary herb garden? If so, consider chives, garlic chives, fennel, sage, tarragon, thymes, winter savory, and — as long as you keep it in a confined space — mint.

If your interest is more in medicinals, you’ll want to try arnica, catnip, echinacea, feverfew, valerian, and comfrey (which should only be used externally no matter what you read).

And don’t forget that some annual herbs are such rampant self-sowers that you’ll have to plant them only once. Borage, dill, chervil, and coriander will come back reliably year after year as long as you let some plants go to seed. They won’t necessarily come up right where you want them, but a little untidiness never hurt any garden, and they are easily weeded out if they’re really in the way.

Note: if you have space for your herbs near your back door, they’ll be handy for throwing into your cooking. Containers of fresh herbs growing near your bar-b-cue grill will liven up your outdoor cooking.