Archive for the ‘perrenials’ Category

Resist being the early bird Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

I made my first nursery trip of the year this past weekend. It was wonderful just feeling that greenhouse heat and humidity while the winds whipped up a frenzy of dust and chill outside. I did purchase 3 items which I’ll talk about later but I wanted to use this post as a simple warning. Aside from cold-weather veggie crops, trees, shrubs and very-hardy perennials, please put off any planting for a while longer. We are still more than a week from the last average frost date and even then it won’t wait to hurt a little longer before filling up your flower and garden beds.

Soil temperature is a huge factor, especially with warm-weather crops like tomatoes, peppers and melons. You may have good-sized transplants that can weather a few cool days but it can really stunt their progress to have cold ‘feet’. I might wait closer to June before setting my transplants out. Transplants set out earlier can actually be set back weeks when it comes to actual production, so resist until the soil is warmer – 60F if you want to get technical. I had a grandmother that didn’t start her veggies until June and she always seemed to have a bumper crop.

Pots, baskets and raised beds will be more susceptible to temperature changes. Annuals might be in full bloom in the nurseries and garden centers but that doesn’t mean they can weather a night outside yet. If you are eager to get some pops of color outside, plant your annuals in baskets and make sure to bring them in when temps dip below 55-60F. Same goes if you fear your favorites will be picked over at the stores if you wait until they can actually spend the nights outside.

There are a few things you can do to start a little earlier in the garden:

  • Use bottles with bottoms cut off and caps removed to shelter new transplants for a week or two. Make sure to remove them if it does get hot outside or you could risk cooking the baby plant.
  • Mulch heavily
  • On an especially cool night, cover your tender plants or ones that have just set buds with cloth, overturned buckets, plastic bags or blankets.
  • Cover the ground around plants with plastic to make it heat up quicker – cut ‘Xs’ where you want to put your transplants
Spring bulbs: when subtraction = division Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Spring bulbs have pushed their way up out of the dirt, like baby bird mouths hungry for sun and rain. I know it’s spring when my daffodils and grape hyacinths show that tell-tale shock of spring-green where there was once only gray rubble.

It’s been a few years since I planted these – a great fall investment of both time and money. The first signs that spring-blooming bulbs need to be divided is a lower blooming rate than in previous years. Some, like the hyacinths need it more often than others like tulips. If you pay attention they will tell you.

One thing I’ve forgotten in past years is to mark where my spring bulbs are so that, come early fall, I’ll still be able to tell where they are long after the shoots have withered back. I’ve been wanting to move them around anyway so I’ll be taking my smaller trimmed pieces of maple branches and poking them in the ground to note their location. My reason for moving them is simply aesthetics – I plopped the short bloomers in the middle of a south-facing bed so I end up with a dead spot come June, right in the middle of my perennial flowers. That or I end up trying to plant something new in June or in fall and I slam my trowel right through a mess of bulbs – and a slurry of 4-letter words bloom forth.

Ahead of myself Saturday, February 27th, 2010

Agave parryi, zone 4, well-drained soil, most cold-hardy agave

I just stopped at High Country Gardens as I’ve been drooling over their catalog for a week straight. They have a focus on xeriscaping, native plants, and their descriptions are some of the best as far as what conditions each plant can thrive in, and what ones they can’t. Last year I ordered a zone 4 agave and a sugarbowl clematis. Unfortunately I planted the clematis in a less than optimum spot and tried too-late to transplant it somewhere better. The agave started in an elevated berm surrounded by spreading sedums and I decided to move it as well to a place where it would get better insulation from winter exposure. Crossing my fingers on that last one. I wanted it insulated but now, under 4′ of snow, will the spring thaw and wet be to its detriment? I learn best by trial and error – though it’s not easy from a money standpoint.

So, at HCG I loaded up my online cart with everything I could want (at least being that I’m in Zone 4 – my queendom for Zone 5?) and scrolled down hoping for major sticker shock to turn me away. Under $100 means plenty of room for justification, right? So, I push harder to talk myself out of hitting the ‘checkout’ button:

  • Go back to these archives to stick to my focus for the year: Here and here
  • Remind myself that I have a third child on the way who will inevitably take more time and money than I ever think she/he will
  • I love walking aimlessly around our area nurseries in May and June and usually find something there to try – yeah for supporting local businesses
  • I already have an intensive seed regiment planned
  • Remember that my garden was ridiculously out of control and haphazard 1/2 through last season so there is lots of work to do with what I already have
  • Do I actually have specific, ideal spots for these plants or will they fall the way of the clematis I shoved in the ground without enough thought? Truthfully, NO
  • Oh, and  credit cards don’t pay themselves off.

Whew, I think I finally convinced myself to sit on my hands for now.

Budgets, building up and barrels Friday, January 29th, 2010

The minimal time I’ve been gardening at my home (7 years) I’ve learned to have, if not a strict budget, at the very least a focus of what I wanted to accomplish that season. The first year or two I was buying and collecting with abandon. It was a good start (but I did burn a hole in my pocket book). The best choices I made didn’t come from nurseries but through collecting and trading. I’ve acquired some tried and true specimens that I already knew would work well in this corner of our world. Hostas, daylilies and iris from my mom, roses I’d known grew well from childhood memories at my grandmothers’, native grasses, mints, sedums and thyme.

Now that I’d found some stuff to work with I moved onto more foundation plantings like shrubs and trees. Having all of ours wiped out by dutch elm, blight and scald those became the focus the next couple years. To save money we went to the nearly-annual city surplus sale and donated to the Arbor Day Society – for a minimal donation you get quite a few trees, though tiny, it’s worth it even if only a couple survive. We only splurged on the two trees planted the day our kids were born. Investing in perennials, trees and shrubs will always be a better deal as they, hopefully, come back year after year needing less and less maintenance as they become established.

Last year (and the year before) we put up a fence to enclose the backyard both for our kids’ and dog’s sake and to keep rough-n-tumble kids from breaking, beating and stomping the stuff we had planted. There is just something way too appealing about breaking branches.

Bringing us to this year’s focus:

  • Dirt — basically building up the veggie garden, raising or mounding the beds. This will help them heat up faster, drain better and hopefully provide more of a path to get to things. I’d love all raised beds as it would make the work easier but the building materials would probably be out of our range. By bringing in a mix of compost, dirt, peat etc. we will improve the soil quality. Before all of this I should finally get soil samples sent into the extension office so that I know where I’m at as far as pH and basic nutrient needs.
  • Water conservation — rain barrels and soaker hoses. Our old soaker hoses need replacing and they really are the smartest way to water. I’ve been talking about rain barrels for a few years and have never tackled the project. To buy one premade will cost a minimum of $150 from what I’ve perused in catalogs, but there are easier ways to make your own. I just need to find large plastic food-grade barrels that have never held any chemicals. They could be used as is by dipping watering cans into, or I can add spigots and drain hoses for greater ease with some strategic holes, faucet and hose attachments. Not only do you end up with free water, it’s actually much better water for your plants. City water around these parts is more alkaline and will increase soil pH. Just remember a couple mosquito dunks to kill the larvae.
  • Lastly, another tree splurge as there is another Pharris on the way to make his/her appearance in April. We haven’t nailed down the type of tree we want yet but I’m leaning towards an evergreen of sorts or an oak. I’ll have to call the nurseries and check on the availability of bareroot vs. container in early April.
Hummer spotting Tuesday, September 8th, 2009
Hummingbird September 2009, Rufous?

Hummingbird September 2009, Rufous?

This Labor Day was a treat indeed. I stepped in to finish the mowing The Hub had started, just to get some fresh air and exercise. While walking through one of the side gates I noticed a blur of buzzing fleeing from my obedient plant (physostegia). I just assumed it was a hummingbird moth and didn’t really think twice. But, later The Hub ventured out and pulled me around the corner back to the south side of our house. It was a hummingbird! This was a first for our yard (if I remember right). And to the very common and sometimes invasive obedient plant.

The sage he is, The Hub declared later that if you want to attract native wildlife you need native plants. Point taken. No need for brightly-painted plastic bottles of sugar water.

I believe this is a female Rufous hummingbird. She looks a bit skinny so I hope she got a good meal. The obedient plant is flush with blooms so I’m happy this feast was available to her.

Veronica Tuesday, July 28th, 2009
Purple veronica with native grass, pot marigolds and coral bells.

Purple veronica with native grass, pot marigolds and coral bells.

Veronica, or speedwell, is a lovely perennial flower. There are two types. The one I have shoots up spikes of tightly-packed ‘blue’ flowers, not unlike a bottle-brush. Mine is fairly short, about 12″ but some varieties will grow a few feet tall. The other type is a lovely groundcover. The mat of foliage becomes dappled with flat-petaled flowers of blue or white.

My veronica does well in its micro climate with larger shading plants surrounding it. I’ve grown it in dryer, hotter spots and it doesn’t do too well.

These flowers look great in woodland or wild flower beds. They form nice non-invasive clumps.

Lily of the day Monday, July 27th, 2009

daylilyfuschia7-2009 Daylilies have stood the test of time with gardeners – dating back to more than 4,000 years. daylilyorange7-2009

No wonder, they are very easy, prolific, attention-grabbing and low maintenance.

Daylilies are pretty drought tolerant. They are heavy feeders and like many perennials, they benefit from the occasional thinning. Either spread out the thinnings  and replant or offer some to friends.

Daylilies come in a wide variety of colors and sizes. They can give a more tropical feel to a traditional garden bed.

One arrangement I have is a small island bed of orange daylily and hostas with lavender flowers – what’s really cool is that they start blooming at the same time of year. The long wide grassy foliage goes great with the fatter oval leaves of the hosta. Even without flowers they look lovely together.

If your soil is lean add a little extra fertilizer that is heavy on the nitrogen. During very dry times an 1″ of supplemental water a week will work.

Sugarbowl Monday, July 20th, 2009

My Sugarbowl clematis, or Scottii wasn’t looking so hot. When I received it in the mail I planted it immediately in May. It kept getting more and more pale. It looks like a scraggly tough little plant but I may have been too late trying to save it. I stuck it in an all-day-sun spot with minimal mulch. Bad idea.

Now I’ve transferred it to the West side of the house among some much taller, therefore shady, perennials. Hopefully this unusually cool and wet July will help it along. The scottii is a non-vining clematis. Its nodding little blue-cupped flowers is what seduced me. Some day maybe I’ll have my own pictures to post here.

Clematis need, in general:

  • Some sun. Some can take more than others – the late-summer blooming varieties for sure. Seem most adaptable to this.
  • The bottoms and roots like to be cool so plant a groundcover or other plant by the base to offer shade.
  • Most are vining varieties. Some will do this readily others may need a little tying. Almost all will need extra support once matured.
  • All can use a good trim. Generally the early the bloomer, the later the pruning. Late fall to early spring is a good time. The later-blooming varieties do well with leaving little above ground. Earlier bloomers do ok with leaving 8-12″ above ground.
Butterfly Weed: Asclepias tuberosa Monday, July 13th, 2009

I’d admired my mother’s butterfly weed for years (not to be confused with butterfly bush). She has her’s located at the base of her driveway where it’s long-blooming bright orange flowers welcome you warmly into late summer. asclepiastuberosa7-2009

Last year I picked up my own. Can’t remember where, and nearly pulled it early this season when I was on a weed rampage – Note to self: mark the spot of late-coming perennials. Too often I’ve either dug into a spot where one was late to break surface or I’ve pulled one after the weeds hid it from me.

Anyway. I’ve seen few pests and it’s perky sunshine orange flowers sit atop waxy multi-leaved sturdy stems 18″ high. It’s a great, low-maintenance perennial that will come back year after year, filling out into a nice non-invasive clump.

Black thumbs Monday, July 6th, 2009

heucherablack7-2009For those who think they CAN’T GROW ANYTHING, take a waltz around some city or business property. 9 times out of 10 the plantings and landscaping methods used are for minimal, if any, care. I saw this beautiful black-leaved heuchera and it’s dainty moon-yellow flowers – Granted parks & rec does have regular ground maintenance, they aren’t going to plant stuff that needs to be babied. Other good choices for the black thumbs:

  • Russian Sage – medium height plant, good for rugged and SW-style settings, it is drought tolerant, heat tolerant and has lovely flecks of purple flowers most of the season.
  • Stella d’Oro daylily – miniature and standard form they are prolific beacons of sunlight.
  • Potentilla – once scraggly backdrops there are now many varieties from dark green to modeled lime and with blooms ranging from pink to yellow to white.
  • Contoneaster – tough shrub, can be left to sprawl or takes well to trimming
  • Shrub roses – these should grow well, but any trimming gets a bit prickly
  • Mints – Great ground covers especially for large, or contained areas. Smell good. Spearmint, cat mint, or regular – great additions to sauces, teas, lemonade.
  • Snow on the Mountain – variegated foliage, easily and quickly spreads. Best for large areas or contained areas.
  • Hostas – Shadey spots scream for hostas. They take a variety of soils and are quite adaptable
  • Lily of the valley – also good shade. Early summer blooms bring a sweet scent.
  • Stonecrop or sedum – I’ve written about before. Come in wide variety of shape, size and color – just make sure they are for zone 4 and you should be good to go (and neglect).