Saturday, December 22, 2012

Transplanting Plants and People -- Don't Forget to Pack the Garden!

Gardeners are experts on transition, on the cycles of nature.  Each season is a show in itself. From the icy fronds on winter browned stalks to the tiny shoots of leaves poking from the frozen black earth, gardeners wait in anticipation for each nuance, each rotation of growth.
Life's never the same place twice--nor is the garden.

The yard is never planted for one season, nor one "look" for that matter.  The desire for a rolling backdrop is the difference between a landscaper and gardener.  It's a play with several acts, from the flamboyant spring to the purist winter.

Thus the anticipation of a far away springtime in a northern village had us planting chilly bushels of bulbs while the winds of December blew the last leaves off our new hill.   My kind and patient Bill, self dubbed the "garden slave" stood by, shovel in hand, ready to employ his patented "wedge" planting method.

In March, the daffodils at the end of the drive will be a welcome sight.  It'll remind us of hard work done on a frigid afternoon as well as a cherished neighborhood left behind.

The plants were the first to move northward.  The day after closing, it wasn't lamps loaded into the back of the Jeep, but Lysimachia.  Mother Mary came along for the ride, of course.  Within days of offer acceptance, the garden was readied for movement.

Many plants are readily available for purchase at the nursery, but it took years for the thick carpet of Shasta Daisies to proliferate at the south end of the patio.  A carefully planned transplant can duplicate the look with less time and fewer pennies:

1.  Root ball cut in advance:  A few weeks before the move, do a root ball cut around your favorite hydrangea, shrub or large plant.  At least three inches outside the drip line, make a deep circular cut but do not remove the plant.

2.  Move en masse:  Carve out a large mass of plants, particularly in those areas that require thinning.

3.  Prepare the container:  Use plastic or waxed grocery boxes or pots, the lighter the better.  Line with newspaper for easy lifting.  Fill the bottom with some free mulch.  Carefully loosen the plant and pop it into the container.  Water frequently.  Cardboard containers will disintegrate unless the move is imminent.

4.  Prepare the new area:  Loosen the entire bed.  Work in some bone meal or organic material. 

5.  Transport:  Use a tarp or drop cloth. The plants will retain water, so tip them up a bit to drain if it's rained.   Otherwise bring a spare pair of boots. 

6.  Transplant:  Dig to the appropriate depth.  Fill the hole with water.  Try to include as much as the original soil as possible to preserve tiny yet critical microbes. 

7.  Protect:  Mine were transplanted in late fall, so some of the early bloomers like Hellebores got small boulders tucked up against the base to give them some shelter and warmth.  Even on a cold winter day, stony surfaces retain the warmth of the sun.  Hosta and Turtlehead got an extra layer of leaves.

It's a new, but familiar zone.  Ralph's a little miffed, but adaptation is the key to a successful transplant.

The snow's starting to clear.

Might we still have time to get some grape hyacinths in the ground?

More Articles of Interest:

Planting Bulbs -- Paying It Forward

Layered Plantings -- Should I Cut Back Faded Bulbs?

Turtlehead and Other Fall Bloomers

Friday, November 30, 2012

Eat This Not That --Poisonous Plants For People and Pets

Holiday Hazards?  If you've pulled this blog up because Uncle Bo just ate the Amaryllis, call Poison Control immediately.  At 1-800-222-1222, calls are taken 24 hours, 7 days per week by trained nurses, pharmacists or doctors. 

When my oldest daughter was in elementary school, fine dining always came with some apprehension. We learned to seat her  back facing towards rest of the world while we pretended not to notice the salad deliberately stuck to her nose.  It was (and is) always interesting...

Once a plate came with an allium tucked next to the chicken nuggets.  The stunned waiter's eyes nearly popped from his head as our girl scooped the bloom off the plate and swallowed it with a satisfied "pop."  She also drank perfume once.  After calling the above number we determined she'd be okay. Still, her breath smelled quite nice. 

Before heading out to the flower garden to gather supper for the family it's good to know in advance if the plant is edible, on the bellyache list -- or worse.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Most plants toxic to humans and livestock are also poisonous for the family pet.  The Michigan State University Extension Service publishes an extensive list of dangerous plants and parts. 

The list is long and some "potentially lethal" plants are unexpected and fairly common:
  • Apple seeds--In large quantities can cause severe symptoms such as abdominal pain, vomiting, and worse.
  • Bleeding Heart--potentially lethal in large quantities.
  • Boxwood--Tummy troubles
  • Not for salad use!
  • Daffodil/Crocus/Tulips--Entire plant, mainly the bulbs, potentially lethal.
  • Hydrangea--Flowers and leaves, abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea
  • Snow On the Mountain -- Itchy dermatitis caused by contact with the milky sap.
Keep blood and bone meal, insecticides and fertilizer away from pets. 

Don't assume that pretty holiday plants are exempt from the danger list:
  • Christmas Rose/Hellebores -- Stomache upset and nervous/heart conditions.
  • Holly -- The leaves and berries can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Poinsettia --Sap is a skin irritant, only one reported death in 1919. 

Still,  before running to the yard and ripping up half the flower bed, rest assured that the children and Ralph the dog have coexisted peaceably for years, with nearly the entire list above--and narry a belly ache.  Casey survived her allium appetizer.  Most four legged creatures are naturally avoidant of toxic plants and blooms.  Not that Ralph is discerning about what he eats from the yard, by any means.

Best practice?  Get salad fixings from the market and table arrangements from the yard.

As for those squirrels who dig up my carefully placed daffodil bulbs--pass the Pepto Bismol buddies!

More Articles of Interest:

To Hellebores and Back

Hey! Look What Survived the Winter in My Garden?

Perpetual Poinsettia


Friday, November 9, 2012

Frogs on the Windowsill

Who'd have guessed  that the scaly little guys were such positive harbingers of  a healthy environment.  Frogs and toads are a signal that the ecology of an area is healthy and balanced--so the recent return of these chubby little amphibians to our yard was a welcome event. Their delicate environmental sensitivities require that their habitat be chemical and pollutant free and nearly exactly as mother nature intended. 

The marshy Rouge floodplain which borders our home has long been pummeled with pollutants. When the local tiny toad population exploded, it was a hopeful sign that the watershed was bounding back.  What was unexpected was where they chose to thrive -- in basement window wells. 

Our sills have become frog condominiums. It's speculated that mama and papa frog, whilst hopping along one day landed on the wide grates and found themselves hurling downward to a soft landing on the leaves that never quite get cleared out each fall.  A plentiful supply of bugs and unprecedented protection from predators caused a population explosion.  Attempts to free the squirmy creatures were largely unsuccessful as they scurry into tiny concrete caves.

Still they spend most mornings trying to escape on their own.  On the rare occasion when I was able to snag one for freedom, a replacement appeared overnight.  A few others ended up in a friend's pond as part of the forced relocation program.  Eventually we gave up and let them be, reasoning that at least they were safe from raccoons, car tires and other such predators.

It's impossible to get an accurate census.  Some are always hiding, often in plain sight. Babies are so tiny they're indistinguishable from the environs, 'Specially now they've donned their muddy winter coats.

They're certainly entertaining.  As cold weather descends, our resident amphibians remain undeterred.  From the treadmill each morning, the show in the window is far more entertaining than the morning news.  Scrambling up and over each other, pressing their grinning faces against the glass, these delicate creatures, eyeballs popping. wrestle each other backwards for hours. 

Morning sprinkler showers really get them going. 
At night, when the air is warm and the windows ajar, the sound of soft croaks punctuated with an occasional deep bullfrog rasp brings back memories of childish summers at the lake.

 Let the music begin!

Welcome back little friends. 

There's always a spare window womb. 

More Articles of Interest:

New USDA Planting Zones -- The Blog Formerly Known as Zone Five and a Half

 Winter Weeds and Good Deeds -- How Climate Warming Affects Plant Survival

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Turf Times -- How To Grow Grass From Seed

Fall is the best time for planting grass seed.  Increased precipitation and cooler temperatures intensify the odds of success. 

Lawn quality's measured by mileage in my neck of the woods.  A "sixty mile an hour" lawn is less superior than a "ten mile per hour" meadow.  The lower the speed of the passing car, the higher the measure of excellence. Golf cart pace yields the gold standard.  If Bill's rapid speed of ingress up the drive and into the garage were our measure, a few cans of green spray paint would produce enough blurred color to make the yard presentable.  We settled for about a "thirty mile" standard.

Having married a Brit who'd never owned a lawn mower, we'd much to learn about establishing a lasting lawn.  Sod installation produced a lush carpet of thick green cuticles.  So did the second round. Yet, within the year, the crisp edges had receded and seams had melted to a mucky brown mess.  Better we had papered the lawn with dollar bills.

Unfortunately, there's no shortcut to a lush lawn.  In the end, the best results are produced with native seeds grown in local soil, not imported from a sod farm.

These basic steps are simple:

1.  Buy the best seed for your lawn based on region and sun exposure.  It needn't be expensive or treated, just what grows best in your region. Check with the local county extension office for advice.  Most have very helpful volunteers trying to earn their master gardener status, eager to help.  Always buy a mix with some annual or rye grass.  This upstart seed sprouts early and often and disappears after one year.  In the meantime the perennial grass is taking hold and spreading about.  Sun mixtures will melt away in the shade and shady blends will burn up in the sun, so pay attention to labels.

2.  Prepare the area.     Assuming there's no grass in the proposed plot, clear it of weeds and uninvited growth. Pull together a metal pitchfork and a heavy rake.  The fork is to loosen the soil and reduce compaction.  "Pop the soil" throughout the area.  It allows water to flow to the roots, and tender grass roots to spread more easily.  Remove rocks and clumps of clay. 

3.  Add nutrients.  Cover the tilled  area with a thin layer of organic compost. 

4.  Grade the area.  Once the area is fully tilled and composted, use a heavy rake to grade the area, leaving the top soft and fluffy.  Observe where water flows from downspouts and due to the natural curve of the plot.  Grade the areas of flow higher as there will be run off. 

5.  Spread the seed.  A hand held spreader works best.  It's easier to avoid wheel and boot tracks in the nicely graded yard, and a better method for directing seed. It doesn't have to be too thinck for the first application.  Better to wait three of four days and spin out a second batch of seed.  The new sprouts will already show where more is needed.

Watch out for overspray.  Grass seed in the flower beds is tough to remove and a real problem.  Grass seed always thrives best where it is not supposed to be, including the rose garden. 

6.  Touch up with a very light raking.  This embeds some of the seed.  There will be unavoidable casualties due to rain, birds and random paw prints. 

7.  Water lightly.  Be careful not to create rivets of water. Follow up on alternate days if it doesn't rain.

8. Cover up.  If the seeded area is on a hillside or in the direct path of rain or downspout runoff, cover lightly with some hay, wetting it lightly.

9.  Wait.   After all that work, sit back for two weeks before running the mower over at a high setting. 

10.  Touch up.  Expect some areas of failure.  Follow the same steps to touch them up.

11.  Overseed.  Two months later, lightly overseed the area to encourage lushness. Use the hand spreader on a low setting. 

A fine lawn is a frame for a lovely home.  It's a source of pride and pleasure to the homeowner. 

Head out on that new turf and enjoy!
More Articles of Interest:

Hosta La Vista

Winter Weeds and Good Deeds

How to Grow Flowers from Seeds -- Four O'Clocks and other Heirloom Plants

Monday, October 8, 2012

Gnomes Get Kids Gardening

From the nursery to the nursery, a clever way to engage children in the wonders of gardening is to enlist their help in finding all those sneaky gnomes.

Gnomes have a tendency to pop up in the most unusual places and it takes a wily kid to find them all.

Making it fun, not work for little ones gets them revved up for gardening.  Like any childhood experience, early exposure coupled with a cheery approach is a formula for lasting enjoyment. 

Small and simple yard projects are the key.  Set aside a low shelf in the shed for tiny watering cans, plastic pots or dollar shop utensils

While touring the local farm market, pick up a six pack of pansies and a packet of pumpkin seeds.  Children need the immediate gratification of a pretty pot of colorful plants as well as a daily check of a sprouting seed to carry their interest through the season and hopefully, a lifetime.

Vegetable gardens are a a tricky way to get toddlers to eat greens.  Growing corn stalks to tower over a tiny tot marks for them the season.  Planting, tending, picking, cleaning and cooking all teach valuable lessons of diligence, patience and the passage of time. One year my mother planted cucumbers in our yard.  I was amazed to see how they literally grew overnight.  We picked, we canned sweet pickles, we ate.  To this day I love cukes.

Raised gardens are best for kids.  Set out wood beams or logs in a rectangular pattern, fill one third up with compost from the local municipality and the top with good topsoil.  The ground is soft and easy to plant for youngsters.  In future years, a quick turnover of the plot in early spring will ready it for more salad growth.

If critters are a problem, then ring the plot with mesh.  Using an old gate for entry can be fun.  Label it with the child's name. If there isn't room for a garden, a simple container will do, or look for a local community garden.

If the weather isn't cooperative, a rainy afternoon can be spent making fun garden art.  One of my favorites is a sweet watermelon stepping stone made by my youngest. 

Scarecrows and windchimes can always be made from items around the house. 

Just keep it light and fun.

You never gnome what what a kid may find outdoors

Now, if there was just a way to get them to pull a few weeds?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Impatiens blight disease -- Trouble in the landscape

impatiens blight disease 2013
Impatiens blight disease will likely continue in 2017
Downy mildew has arrived in the Mitten.  Impatiens blight disease.  Don't be fooled by the soft moniker--this ornamental flower killer means business.  "It is likely that impatiens could lose their place in our landscapes if they cannot be grown reliably."  This quote from the esteemed Michigan State Extension Service causes icy fingers to clamp around the heart of gardeners who've relied for decades on these colorful and easy plants to provide tone  and warmth to the shade garden. 

impatiens fungus 2013
Impatiens fungus or blight hit hard in 2012 and is full blown in 2013.  First the plants appeared sickly.  Then the blooms fell off, leaving translucent stems pointed upward like outstretched fingers from an open hand.  Those disappeared, leaving only a puzzled memory of last year's hearty fall blooms.  Chalking it up to a chilly spring followed by the hottest July in recorded US history, there was only passing concern.  When the stalwarts in the windowbox began to fade the circumstances became troublesome.  All those lovely flats painstakingly planted-- for naught.  Will this happen again?

At a Sunday baby shower hushed whispers about an "airborne" disease triggered alarm.  Is this blight insidious or an aberation?  Are there measures to prevent the future spread of disease for next season?

Look for pale white spots on the underside of leaves.  Remove the leaves and destroy.  There are commercial fungicides available from growers.  Copper based fungicides would be more attractive to naturalists.  Once a plant is infected, it's too late for the fungicide.  Organic gardeners should rely on prevention and early intervention:
  1.  Lift the leaves before you buy.  The disease begins at the greenhouse.
  2. Avoid overhead watering, irrigate the plants with watering cans or hoses directed at the base.
  3. Chose a site with good drainage, medium early sun access and low humidity.
  4. Use adequate but not excessive fertility.
  5. Monitor the plants frequently, removing diseases leaves.
  6. Clean tools frequently.
  7. Remove infected plants and try to avoid spreading by touch.
Impatiens are officially off the "low maintenance" list.  At least they weren't a cash crop. 

A safe bet?  New Guinea impatiens are resistant to downy mildew. 

A new introduction, Sunpatiens are designed to thrive in sunny areas and seem exempt from the disease.  These planted in a warm front bed amongst lavender and cleome were slow to take, but have bloomed heartily in September. 

But will so miss those bloomin' bizzy lizzies!

Related Articles:

Mycorrhizza -- Fun with Fungi in the Garden

Turtlehead and Other Fall Blooming Flowers

When Should I Plant Annuals in Southeast Michigan?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Turtlehead and other Fall Blooming Flowers

Fall bloomers not only add pastel hues to the jewel tones of the fall yard, they complement the shade garden. Holding back the show until autumn, these subtle blooms are well worth the wait.   

Left to seed, autumn arrivals give impact to the winter garden--robust blooms nabbing snowflakes for interest

Turtlehead a/k/a chelone
Sturdy turtlehead is slow to establish, but a reliable perennial that thrives in the shade garden--adding structure and height through September when lipstick pink blooms arrive.  Low maintenance, disease and fungi resistant, these uncommon plants are worth the search. A batch at the base of the driveway always draws comments from passersby and the hardy gals thrive despite the giant oak that interrupts the sweeping spray of the sprinkler system.

Reliable hosta sprouts elongated blooms of frilly purple or white.

Shrubs do the heavy lifting as burning bush and hydrangea reach their peak of color.

Black cohosh, a native plant, sets out white blossoms resembling giant caterpillars.  These blooms droop gently or wave gaily in the chilly breeze. 

Reliable sedum sets out honeycombed blooms of pink, red and burgundy.  Left on the stem through winter, they deepen giving contrast to the white winterscape.  Red flag grass throws out plum colored tassels which capture the wind. 

Fall blooming plants tend not to be delicate. To survive the heat of summer then gracefully transition to the vagrancies of cool fall requires some strength of character and color n'est pas?

It's not all burgundy and bronzes in the October garden, as dramatic monkshood give the yard  a regal blue hue before winter sets in...

Frost on the pumpkin!


Friday, September 14, 2012

Yellow Flowers -- Blooming Sunshine

Reflective, structural, colorful, complementary-- yellow flowers provide it all. From the moment each tiny daffodil first casts its glow over the dull winter landscape, to the last golden maple leaf drifitng downward towards winter's cold arrival--golden tones anchor the happy garden.

Colors undeniably touch our souls.  Red invokes passionate thoughts of love or anger (or both.)  Blue reflects the sky and encourages calmness and serenity. 
Yellow provides the highest impact, with the least effort.  Golden plants are notoriously low maintenance.  Sturdy members of the plant community, there's always a need and a place for these mirrors of sunshine.
Daffodil bulbs can be planted en masse or in tiny pockets of surprise.  Their fading foliage can be easily cut back or allowed to disappear beneath late spring arrivals.  Squirrel permitting, Daffodils will reappear for many years with no need for nutritional or liquid supplement. Plant a few extras in a hidden location to clip for the kitchen or hall table.  
Soon after, sunny forsythia brightens up everything from freeways to grocery lots.   

Later, throughout the warm months, waves of gold replicate in masses of liriope, cut flower and yarrow.

Golden hosta lighten up shaded spots.

Late summer's when the luminous show hits its peak.  Deep yellow petals framing blackened centers announce the arrival of hardy Black Eyed Susans.  These long blooming mainstays require little maintenance and last through fall.  Planted in a sunny location, they will thrive, needed only cutting back in late fall, after the dried blooms have turned a dusky fallish brown. Even in partial sun, the show's not as elaborate, but still plant-worthy. Leave Susan in for winter interest.  Sturdy stems stand up to early snowfall.  Susans are easily divided and transplanted.  By the second season following movement, the plants are well established.

Yellow plants may not be exotic, scarce  nor uncommon, but they're the backbone of a busy garden.  Shying away from the common golden Stella D'Oro after seeing it in practically every commercial planting, I relented and included bunches in the yard, dotting the main approach.  Stella's still there, as reliable and colorful as ever, most years blooming in both late spring and early fall. 

The assertive tone may imply the need to grab the limelight, but the true value of golden plants is the contrast provided to deeper hues of purple, violet and blues.  Planted next to blue salvia, lavender, or hot pink phlox, yellow blooms accentuate their purple hued counterparts to perfection.  Neither outshines the other.

Blooming sunshine.  Points of light. Warmth, brightness and essential for any garden. 

Yellow thrives in the wild.  Atop a dry summer mountain, the only color is gold.

Truly, there's always a place for sunshine. 

Even on a cloudy day. 
More Articles of Interest: