Monday, May 29, 2017

Some people adopt animals. I adopt plants.

Some people adopt animals in need. I adopt plants and nurse them back to health. Lowe’s has a section of carts in the back of the garden center full of plants that weren’t watered, have gotten beaten up and are otherwise not saleable. The best part is that are for sale at a DEEP discount. Being a frugal gardener, I am all over those carts! All they need is a little bit of extra attention.

Here are a couple of finds from last week. I had two days of jury duty and I needed something to lift my spirits and clear my energy so I stopped at the garden center on the way home.

Coreopsis, also known as tickseed, is one of my favorites because it grows so well in my yard and the yellow flowers are so vibrant. Two years ago I had a big beautiful plant that was killed by some people doing work at the house-clearly I am  still seething about that incident-so now I have a replacement. Just cut off the deadstuff, give it a little more TLC and in a couple of weeks I will have a happy perennial that I bought for $2.00.

Geum is new to me but I love the orange flowers. Another perennial, that will keep coming back year after year, for $3.00. 

Bring your smart phone, it comes in handy to identify the plants and to get some basic information like what conditions the plant needs, how big it will get and what it looks like.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Victory is eating what you grow

For me, one of the most gratifying things about gardening is eating what I grow. It's the end of the life cycle of the plant. The cycle starts when I first start planning in the winter and the seeds get planted in trays and placed in the sunniest windows or started outside directly in my raised bed. I wait with anticipation - will the seeds sprout?

Phew, we have a sprout! Major victory.

Lettuce, kale, radishes and arugula.
Now how do I keep this little thing alive for weeks until it can be put outside. We had a rollercoaster spring here in D.C. with wild swings in temperature and then it snowed really late. It is so tempting to put your vegetables in the ground when it's in the 70s in March. Be strong, don't do it!

I much prefer direct sowing seeds because I have more success and I am not turning my house upside down. When I start seeds indoors, I am creating a climate that does not exist in my house and it's kind of a pain. (Is this window sunny enough? Why am I moving these trays all around the house all day, following the winter sun?)

I REALLY wanted to try winter sowing this year, but did not start any trays to put outside because of the really warm winter and spring we had. I was afraid the seeds would sprout really early and not survice or they would sprout and then freeze when the temperature dropped again.

I took some chances with the spring garden knowing that these are tough little plants and can withstand some cooler weather. Yesterday I picked a bunch of lettuce, arugula and kale and two teeny radishes that were all started outside. And today I made scrambled  eggs and added some of these fantastic spicy lettuce greens (Burpee mesclun spicy mix) that I chopped up. Delish! And this week, my lunch salad will feature the kale, lettuce and arugula. The greens stay fresh for many days, too, because they are picked fresh from my backyard.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The great peat debate (in my head anyway)

The other day I was searching for information about how to substitute for peat moss in the new pumpkin patch raised bed I am putting in the yard. I made the soil mix from Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening when I installed my first raised bed five years ago. It has worked well for me as you can see on the progress of the spring crop in the photos, but I have since heard that peat moss is not sustainable so I do not want to use it again.
Clockwise from top left: Lettuce and arugula, kale and tendersweet and nantes carrots in the background, Stuttgarter onions, Cherry Belle radishes, Bloomsdale spinach

Some of the things I had read in my searching – from sources that I felt were reputable – offered so many contradictory answers like (1) justification for using peat moss, (2) explaining that peat and peat moss are different, (3) try using coir, the fiber from the out husk of a coconut, and (4) coir may have salt in it that will kill your plants—are you sensing my frustration? 

Well, the next day, this story appeared in the Washington Post, “Peat Moss: Good For Plants But Bad for the Planet?”, timing is amazing sometimes, right?

What have you used as a peat substitute in your garden? There is no easy answer. So my solution is trying coir and increasing the compost. My other lesson is to take a breath, it will be okay!

Saturday, May 06, 2017

Attracting Beneficial Pollinators

Starting Milkweed From Seed

Here’s the progress of the milkweed I started from seed a few weeks ago. I got the seeds at Washington Gardner’s Seed Swap Day on January 28, at Brookside Gardens in Maryland. I put the seeds (the fuzzy white things pictured lower right) in the fridge for four weeks (that’s called stratification, not to be confused with scarification) as instructed. 

Back in early April, reusing a cupcake container from Safeway, I punched a few drainage holes in the bottom, put them in seed-starting mix, found a warm spot in the house and hoped for the best. My friend Jen told me it took milkweed two years to germinate in her yard so I did not have high hopes. But a few weeks later, I had my first sprout! And then many days later, another sprout. I think these seven seedlings have been coming over the past few weeks. They definitely did not all sprout at the same time and I hope to get one or two more before I put them in the ground later in May in a sunny flower bed where I also grow Black-eyed Susan.

The zinnias I plant every year attract butterflies and Goldfinches, too. I look forward to seeing a few more butterflies in my Hyattsville gardens this summer.

Create Habitat for Monarchs in Your Garden
According to the Monarch Joint Venture, Monarch butterflies cannot survive without milkweed; their caterpillars only eat milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.), and monarch butterflies need milkweed to lay their eggs. With shifting land management practices, we have lost much milkweed from the landscape. Planting milkweed is a great way to help other pollinators too, as they provide valuable nectar resources to a diverse suite of bees and butterflies.

Get Ready for National Pollinator Week in June

What can you do for pollinators?
There’s a lot here, just choose one that’s doable to get started this year.

  •  Create a pollinator-friendly garden habitat in just a few simple steps.
  • Design your garden so that there is a continuous succession of plants flowering from spring through fall. Check for the species or cultivars best suited to your area and gradually replace lawn grass with flower beds.
  • Plant native to your region using plants that provide nectar for adults plus food for insect larvae, such as milkweed for monarchs.  If you do use non-native plants, choose ones that don't spread easily, since these could become invasive.
  • Select old-fashioned varieties of flowers whenever possible because breeding has caused some modern blooms to lose their fragrance and/or the nectar/pollen needed to attract and feed pollinators.
  • Install 'houses' for bats and native bees. For example, use wood blocks with holes or small open patches of mud. As little as 12” across is sufficient for some bees.
  • Avoid pesticides, even so-called "natural" ones such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). If you must use them, use the most selective and least toxic ones and apply them at night when most pollinators aren't active.
  • Supply water for all wildlife. A dripping faucet or a suspended milk carton with a pinhole in the bottom is sufficient for some insects. Other wildlife need a small container of water.
  • Provide water for butterflies without letting it become a mosquito breeding area. Refill containers daily or bury a shallow plant saucer to its rim in a sunny area, fill it with coarse pine bark or stones and fill to overflowing with water. 
  • Share fun facts, such as: a tiny fly (a “midge”) no bigger than a pinhead is responsible for the world's supply of chocolate; or one out of every three mouthfuls of food we eat is delivered to us by pollinators.

More Information

2017 Green Matters Symposium, Montgomery County, Maryland

Twelve Native Milkweeds for Monarchs, National Wildlife Federation

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Container Gardens Are Flexible and Easy

Torenia and pentas love the sun.
Container gardens offer a lot of flexibility making it easy to grow herbs, flowers, even vegetables, in a small space. When I lived in a condo in D.C. I grew herbs and flowers on my 5th-floor window sill. Now that I live in a house with a yard, containers will add a lot of variety to my landscape this summer. They can also help use your space as it presents itself-clay soil, wet spots, harsh sun, dense shade, or maybe you rent and you can't dig up the yard.

Work With What You Have
I have what I call micro-climates in my yard and containers allow me to grow successfully in those spaces. Take the back steps as an example. It is about 10 feet wide and has extreme sun and total shade in the same small space. When I plan for those pots each spring, I have to remember they will not grow the same things well. Begonias and parsley grow beautifully in the shady section but would be burnt to a crisp just a few feet away in the sunny section. Pentas and torenia (wishbone plant) love the sun and flower all summer long in the sunny section, but would not flower so nicely in the shade all day.
Clockwise starting with red begonia, creeping jenny, coleus, parsley, mint all do well in shade.

Get Creative
In my quest to expand my knowledge and put it to work, I turn to Pinterest for container gardening #pinsperation. While many of the posts are professionally staged and sometimes include flowers that would never be in bloom at the same time, I like the variety of containers that are featured. I am now scouring my local thrift stores and neighbor's curbs on trash day for quirky containers for the summer. Like an old chair! Whodathunk?
Reclaim Your Space
Containers can also put your space to work. You can stick a container in a neglected corner or decorate some steps or along a fence. Containers also give you more control over the soil, too.

When you really think about it, a raised bed is just a large container. I was not up for breaking up the yard and amending the clay soil in my yard so I installed a 4 foot x 8 foot raised bed vegetable garden 5 years ago.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Caring for Bulbs After They Bloom

In my yard the flowering plants are kind of in limbo. 
  • The forsythia has flowered and the leaves are now coming in. 
  • The hydrangea has come back after popping back in February when we had a string of very warm days and dying a few weeks later when it snowed and was below freezing for multiple days in a row. I cut off the deadwood above the new green leaves and it looks good again.
  • All of the bulbs have passed now. My daffodils bloomed weeks ago thanks to those 70-degree days in February and now all that remains is the drab foliage. The tulips were beautiful this spring, but just a couple of blooms remain. It may be tempting to cut all the leaves and stems, but STOP! The leaves help the bulbs deep down in the dirt rejuvenate themselves. Right now, deadhead the flowers, not letting them so to seed. Don't touch the leaves just yet, though, let them die on their own. When the leaves let go with a gentle tug, then it's time to remove them. It's so tempting to cut them off, I know. They look ugly and seem to take forever to die, but just leave them be. You will be thankful next February and March when they start poking through the dirt again. If you will need to move or split the bulbs in the fall, mark the spots now - I use golf tees - so you can find them easily.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

No More Decapitated Tulips

Warsawa (solid red) and World Expression tulips.
Tulips are my favorite flower. Their simple shape and uniformity are what attracts me I think. A few years ago I picked up a bag of 50 bulbs at Home Depot that was a mix of Warsawa (solid red) and World Expression (red and cream). They are starting to fill a new bed that was created under a large tree in the front yard when we put a low retaining wall around it.

Last year the tulips did not very well--I wonder if it was because of the all the rain we had. And the squirrels were decapitating them--grrrr. But things turned around this year and the bed looks beautiful. It just needs more tulips...