Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lucious Home Grown Strawberries

Few fruits are as popular with the home gardener as strawberries. They require very little growing space, and can be grown in almost any garden. The plants make a good ground cover, the flowers are attractive, and the fruits are delicious. They can be grown in containers, raised beds or conventional garden rows.

There are three types of strawberry plants: June-bearing, Ever-bearing, and Day Neutral.

June-bearing plants produce one large harvest and quit. Whether they actually bear during the month of June depends on your climate zone. Lets just say they bear in late spring.

Ever-bearing plants don't actually bear forever, or even for the entire season. The first harvest in late spring is usually followed by a period of rest and another crop in the fall. Sometimes they'll produce a small harvest in the interim.

Day Neutral plants are insensitive to length of day and will keep on flowering as long as temperatures remain above 35 degrees F and below 85 degrees F.

Ever-bearing and Day Neutral plants usually produce smaller fruits than June-bearing plants.

Sometimes varieties are listed as early-season, mid-season, or late-season. What this means for most gardeners is relatively insignificant as the first harvest for all varieties is usually separated by just a few days.

Choose varieties that are known to do well in your area. Your local Cooperative Extension Service should be able to advise you. Purchase virus-free plants produced by commercial growers. Plants obtained from other gardeners may carry diseases that will infect your own patch. Viruses passed from garden to garden will diminish plant vigor and productiveness.

Fifty or so plants are sufficient for a family of four. If you want to freeze or preserve some for later, you'll probably need one hundred plants. One hundred plants will produce about 40 quarts of fruit.

Strawberries are usually treated as biennials, especially if grown in rows, the plants being replaced every other year. If using this method, do not allow the plants to form fruit the first year. Pick off flowers as they form. The plants should be stronger and more productive the second year. Ever-bearing plants are the exception; buds should be removed until mid-summer of the first year. By then the plants should be established well enough to produce a decent fall crop.

Plant in early spring as soon as the ground can be worked. Gardeners in the Deep South often plant in the fall. The site should be exposed to full sun (at least six hours per day) and be well-drained. If you do not have such a place in your garden, consider planting in containers.

Strawberries need rich, organic, well-drained soil. The planting site should be located in full sun. Cultivate the soil deeply and have the soil tested. If you don't have your own soil test kit, you can take your sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service. The charge is usually very reasonable. Call them first for instructions. The pH should be between 5.5 and 6.5. Amend the soil according to soil test instructions. You'll probably need to incorporate compost or fertilizer. If using synthetic fertilizer, broadcast it in the area a couple of weeks before planting the strawberries.

When preparing the bed, remove all weeds because strawberries do not compete well with them. A thorough job of weed and grass removal will put the gardener well ahead of the competition. Some herbicides are available which are approved for use in the edible garden, but I recommend hand-weeding and mulch for weed suppression.

If planting in garden rows, space plants 12 to 18 inches apart in rows three feet apart. The holes should be deep and wide enough to accommodate the roots without crowding. Planting depth is very important for the health of the plants. Crowns should be set at the soil surface. Plants set too deeply will develop crown rot. Those set too shallowly with the tops of the roots exposed are likely to dry out.

Strawberries send out many runners, producing new plants at the end of each runner. Those that end up in the wrong place can be removed and discarded or replanted elsewhere. More fruit may be produced if runners are not allowed to form. Keep the area free of weeds.

Raised beds are recommended if your site is in full sun but lacks optimal drainage. They also tend to be more productive for longer periods of time. If planting in raised beds, the beds should be no wider than three feet. Wider beds are more difficult to reach into for harvesting and maintenance. To keep a vigorous strawberry bed, you should also remove some of the older plants occasionally. Well-maintained raised beds may produce vigorously for 5 or more years.

If planting in containers, keep in mind that growing conditions remain the same. Strawberry jars and window boxes are very popular because they provide ample drainage and are very attractive. Strawberry jars are usually made of terra cotta with several pockets formed around the sides for holding the plants.

Strawberry plants should receive at least one inch of water per week if planted in rows or raised beds. More water may be necessary if the plants are planted in containers in which the soil may dry faster. Mulching with straw or compost helps to conserve water.

In colder regions, strawberries may also be protected during winter with a layer of straw mulch. Freezing temperatures often cause soil "heaving" which pushes the plants upward. Mulch can help to prevent it. In spring, the mulch may be raked aside before growth begins, but left around the plants to help keep the fruit clean.

Fall fertilizer application is recommended. A soil test will indicate the type of fertilizer and the appropriate application rate.

Strawberries, like other garden plants, may be troubled with various insects and diseases. Remedies, both organic and synthetic, are widely available, but it is not within the scope of this article to review products. Whether using organic or synthetic remedies, always follow label instructions.

There are two simple, effective methods for disease and insect control: crop rotation and companion planting. Crop rotation involves moving the strawberry bed to a new location some distance from the older bed when the plants lose vigor, thus leaving the pests behind. Companion planting involves locating strawberries in close proximity to other plants that repel insects attracted to strawberries. Similarly, certain plants have beneficial effects upon strawberries. Companion planting is especially appropriate for raised-bed gardening. Beans, borage, comfrey, garlic, lettuce, onion and spinach are said to be good companions to strawberries. On the other hand, strawberries do not do well in the presence of cole crops such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.

Discover the pleasure of growing and sharing your own home-grown strawberries.  You'll be delighted.

Return to Strawberries at goGardenNow.com.

A Different Kind Of Daffodil


The Peruvian daffodil (Ismene or Hymenocallis x festalis) is not widely planted or known, though the flower is beautiful and the plant is very easy to grow. Actually, it is not a daffodil at all. The blooms have an exotic appearance, something like a cross between a daffodil and crinum. Fragrant flowers are white or yellow. Glossy, evergreen, strap-like foliage adds a rich appearance to the garden. They have no serious insect or disease problems. Plant height is 18" to 24".

Hymenocallis is cold-hardy in USDA climate zones 8-10, preferring rich, moist but well-drained soil with pH in the range of 6.1 to 7.5. The plants prefer full sun, but light shade is tolerable.

If grown in colder climates, plant outdoors after danger of frost is past. A soil test will indicate any necessary soil amendments. Your local Cooperative Extension Service will send you soil sample to a lab for testing. Fees are nominal. Call their office for instructions.

Prepare the soil by cultivating deeply and incorporating recommended soil amendments. The bulbs should be planted 8" deep and 12" to 15" apart.

Flowers usually appear within two weeks of planting, so Peruvian daffodils are perfect for filling in garden spaces after flowers like tulips and narcissus have finished blooming. Blooms appear before foliage emerges, so the plants seem a bit naked for awhile.

In those areas where they are not cold-hardy, Hemerocallis bulbs should be dug just after first frost and allowed to dry. Roots must be left intact. After excess soil is removed, the bulbs can be stored in a warm, dark area of the home.

Peruvian daffodils are also excellent for container gardening, especially in mixed plantings. If forcing, the bulbs can be brought into flower by bringing them into a warm, well-lit room. After blooming, they can be planted outdoors when weather has warmed.

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Lilies Always Delight

Many plants that are called lilies are not. There are daylilies, canna lilies, calla lilies and water lilies, for example, none of which are true lilies. True lilies are of the genus Lilium, and include many different species and hybrids. Examples of true lilies include "Easter" lilies, Turks-cap lilies, Asiatic lilies, Oriental lilies, Michigan lilies, Carolina lilies, Leopard lilies and Tiger lilies.

Lilies are among the most impressive of flowers and always delight. Their elegant appearance might make one think they are difficult to grow, but they are not. Provided that they will succeed in your region, this guide should help you grow them successfully.

Plant breeders have produced many different varieties of lilies in many different forms, colors and sizes. There are lilies that bloom at different times during the growing season. You'll find many suitable for container gardening, perennial borders and cutting gardens. You need only choose from the vast array of lilies available, which may be the most difficult task of all.

Lilies are grown from true bulbs, as are onions, tulips and daffodils. A bulb is a flattened or compressed stem called a basal plate, usually growing underground, with a growing point on top and surrounded by enlarged, fleshy scales or layers that store food. The layers or scales are the bases of leaves. Onions are bulbs with layers. Lilies are bulbs with scales. Roots grow downward from the basal plate. Root scars or dried roots may persist on the bottom of the basal plate.

Bulbs may or may not be covered with papery structures called tunics. Tunics help to protect bulbs from drying out. The onion is a good example of a bulb with a tunic. Lilies do not have tunics. Bulbs without tunics lack protection from drying out, so special care must be taken to keep lily bulbs moist until they are planted. For this reason, lilies that are grown and traded locally are usually harvested and re-planted in the fall of the year. Gardeners and small nurseries usually do not have the facilities to store the bulbs for long. Bulbs that are produced by large commercial enterprises are usually available and planted in the spring of the year because those businesses do have the means to harvest, ship and store the bulbs properly for longer periods of time.

Lilies perform best within USDA climate zones 4 through 9, but there are exceptions. Some are cold hardy into zone 3; others suffer south of zone 8. There are more variables than can be addressed in this guide, so you'll need to research the species or varieties that interest you to learn whether they will work for you. As a rule, lilies do not succeed in hot, arid climates.

The planting site should be exposed to morning sun and afternoon shade. Soil should be moist but well-drained, high in organic matter, with pH between 5.6 and 7.6. The best way to determine if the pH is within that range and contains the proper nutrients for lilies is to have the soil tested. Your local Cooperative Agricultural Extension Service can help you. You can collect the soil sample yourself. For a nominal fee, they will send your soil sample to a laboratory for analysis. Be sure to call the Extension office for instructions.

Prior to receiving your bulbs, cultivate the soil to the depth of one foot and add plenty of well-rotted compost. Remove weeds and debris. Soil test results may recommend other soil amendments. Follow those instructions. The soil amendments you may use depends upon the type of soil you have in need of amending. Common soil amendments include sulphur for lowering pH, limestone for raising pH, sand for helping drainage, clay for slowing drainage, gypsum for breaking up caking clay and compost for enriching the soil. Bone meal is especially good for bulbs. There are others which I don't have the time or space to name. Which you should use depends upon your particular circumstance. If you use synthetic fertilizer, allow at least a week before planting so it can be incorporated into the soil by rain or irrigation and not burn the bulbs. The site should be ready for planting when your bulbs arrive.

Plant your lily bulbs as soon as you receive them. Do not allow them to dry. They do not have tunics for protection. As a rule, bulbs should be planted at least three times as deep as they are wide. For example, if the bulb is 2" wide, plant it 6" deep. That means the bottom of the hole should be 6" deep. Cover with soil and water deeply. A two to three inch layer of straw mulch will help to preserve moisture, suppress weeds and moderate soil temperature.

During summer, you may fertilize occasionally. Apply 2 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer per ten square feet of garden area every two weeks until flower buds appear. Do not allow synthetic fertilizers to come into contact with the plants. Irrigate if rainfall is inadequate. Soil should be moist but not soggy. When you water, water deeply so that moisture reaches the roots. Weed when necessary, but be careful not to disturb the lily bulbs. Taller lilies may need to be staked. Take care not to harm the roots when inserting stakes into the ground.

Growing lilies in containers is not much different than in the garden. Begin by choosing varieties with a shorter growth habit. Use the finest potting soil; cheap soil will give poor results. The best potting soils will be light-weight, peat-based with added materials to enhance plant growth. Select containers that will allow you to plant deeply enough and that will accommodate deep root penetration. Plant the bulbs at the proper depth. Because container gardens are easily affected by temperature fluctuations and can dry quickly, take steps to keep the pots cool and properly watered. Grouping pots together, placing them in areas where the pots can be shaded, mulching and companion planting, adding moisture retentive gels can be beneficial. Larger containers are not as quickly affected by temperature and subject to drying.

When the lilies bloom, especially those in the garden, you won't be able to resist cutting some for flower arrangements. They do very nicely as cut flowers. Remove no more than the top third of the stem. Taking more than that may inhibit the plant's ability to store adequate food reserves in the bulb for next year's show. Harvest in the morning or evening when temperatures are lower. Use sharp clippers or shears to make clean cuts. Immediately place the cut ends of the stems in a bucket of cool water.

As the flowers in your garden fade and drop, remove any seed pods that may appear. Allowing seeds to mature weakens the plant. Let the leaves yellow and brown naturally. The dry stem and leaves may be carefully removed in the fall.

Return to Lilium at goGardenNow.com.


Dahlias For Best Of Show

Every flower has it's following of fans, and the dahlia certainly has it's share. The plant is native to Mexico and South America, and named for Anders Dahl, the Swedish botanist. Dahlias were first introduced to Spain in the 1780s. They are now available in so many colors, sizes and forms that they have some appeal for practically any gardener. I've seen them growing in gardens fabulous and famous, and in gardens beside humble dwellings in mountain hollows. No matter the setting, they lend a grand elegance. They are not only beautiful in the perennial border, they make excellent cut flowers and are often grown for show.

Dahlias are tuberous-root plants that are grown from seed, cuttings or tubers. Most gardeners start with tubers because they are easily obtained and predictable.

Dahlias require exposure to full sun for at least 6 hours per day, and well-drained sandy loam with pH between 6.0 and 7.5. To determine nutrient needs, take a soil sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Office for testing. Call first for details. Prepare the soil by cultivating deeply and amending the soil according to soil test recommendations. Amendments should be incorporated into the soil.

Large-flowering dahlias require higher levels of soil nutrients. Fertilizers high in potash such as 5-10-10 or 4-8-12 are often recommended. Applications of composted manure, bone meal and blood meal also improve the soil. Medium-flowering plants require half as much fertilizer as the large ones. Small-flowering dahlias need very little fertilizer since smaller blooms are considered to be more desirable.

Large dahlias will need staking to prevent them from bending or breaking. Begin by driving 6' stakes into the ground at the places where you intend to plant. The stakes should be driven 18" deep and 3' to 4' apart. Then prepare planting holes next to the stakes. If the stakes are spaced 4' apart, you should be able to plant two dahlias per stake. Planting holes should should be about 4" deep unless the soil tends to be dry. If it tends to be dry, the holes should be 6" deep. Place the tubers 4" or more away from the stake. The upper end should be slightly elevated in the bottom of the hole. Sometimes it's difficult to determine which end of the tuber is up. Look for growing points, or "eyes". The end with the "eyes" should be the upper end. Most of the eyes should be facing upward. Cover with soil and water well. Take care that bits of synthetic fertilizer do not come into contact with the tubers.

Watering is necessary if rainfall is not adequate. Dahlias require at least 1" of water per week, perhaps more if weather is hot. Irrigate weekly so that the soil can drain between waterings.

Cultivate frequently to prevent the soil from compacting and to remove weeds, being careful to avoid disturbing the plants and stakes. If you prefer not to cultivate, a layer of mulch will help to retain moisture and suppress weeds.

Additional fertilizer may be applied around the large-flowering dahlias during mid-summer. Apply 5-10-10, 4-8-12 or another recommended fertilizer at a rate of 1 or 2 tablespoons per plant. Do not allow fertilizer to come into contact with the plants.

As the plants grow, selected branches and buds should be removed to encourage better blooming. Pinching to remove is usually sufficient, provided that pinching is done at the right time. The first pinching should occur when 4 pairs of leaves have developed. At that time, pinch out the very top of the plant to encourage branching along the side. As side branches develop, select the best 4 to 6 branches to remain and remove the others. As those remaining branches develop, remove buds that appear along the sides of them to encourage development of best quality blooms.

Gardeners who grow dahlias for exhibition do even more pinching and disbudding to produce the best flowers possible. They also apply more fertilizers and insecticides, and take steps to protect the flowers from sun exposure to enhance bloom color. It is not within the scope of this article to discuss the various techniques here.

When cutting flowers, use a sharp knife or pruners and cut at a slant. Immediately place the cut ends in a container of cold water. If the flowers begin to wilt, cut the stem once again a couple of inches above the last cut, and place in the water.

The most common pests include aphids, thrips, leaf hoppers and spider mites. Various insecticidal soaps and chemicals can be used to good advantage. Always carefully follow label instructions.

After the first hard frost, cut off the plant stalks close to the ground. After a couple of weeks, the tuberous clumps can be dug and stored over winter. Store them in a very cool and dark place. Care must be taken to prevent them from freezing and drying. Baskets make excellent storage containers because they allow ventilation along the sides. Without adequate ventilation the tubers will rot. Sprinkle with water every week or so to replace lost moisture.

In spring, the tuberous clusters can be divided. Each division may consist of one or two roots with "eyes" at the top. The division can then be planted as before, or shared with others.

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Cannas: Bright and Bold

Cannas
For a bold color statement in the garden, you can't do better than plant cannas. Cannas are sometimes called "canna lilies", but they are not true lilies. They are closely related to Ginger. Cannas are perennials that grow from rhizomes. A rhizome is a thick stem that grows horizontally at or just below the soil surface. The stem is segmented by nodes. Roots grow from the bottom of the rhizome. Shoots and leaves may appear along the top and sides of the rhizome.

Cannas produce large leaves that resemble banana foliage. Leaf color depends upon variety and ranges from light green to burgundy or even bronze. Colors may be solid, variegated or striped. Impressive clusters of floppy flowers are produced at the top of the plant that range in shades of red, pink, orange, yellow or combinations thereof. Their appearance is very lush. Plant height varies by variety, ranging from 3 to 6 feet or more. Therefore they lend themselves well to all kinds of uses from container gardening in small spaces to mass plantings along highways. A mass planting of cannas is stunning, like big brushstrokes of paint in the landscape.

Though they appear very tropical, cannas can be grown almost anywhere in the United States. They are reliably cold hardy in USDA climate zones 8 through 10, but can be grown as annuals or lifted and stored over winter in cooler zones. Where cannas are not cold hardy, they may be started indoors in containers during the months of February or March and planted outdoors when danger of frost is past. This will give them a head-start so flowers can be enjoyed before mid-summer.

Cannas prefer full sun but will tolerate partial shade with a minimum of four hours of direct sun per day. Rich soil, moist but well-drained, is best with mildly acidic pH ranging from 6.0 to 6.8. They are not too picky, though. I've seen them doing quite well in ditches and at the edges of ponds. The best way to determine if the pH is within range and contains the proper nutrients is to have the soil tested. Your local Cooperative Agricultural Extension Service can help you. You can collect the soil sample yourself. For a nominal fee, they will send your soil sample to a laboratory for analysis. Be sure to call the Extension office for instructions.

Cultivate the soil to the depth of 10" and add plenty of well-rotted compost. Remove weeds and debris. Soil test results may recommend other soil amendments. Follow those instructions. The soil amendments you may use depends upon the type of soil you have in need of amending. Common soil amendments include sulphur for lowering pH, limestone for raising pH, sand for helping drainage, clay for slowing drainage, gypsum for breaking up caking clay and compost for enriching the soil. Bone meal is especially good for rhizomes. Which you should use depends upon your particular circumstance. If you use synthetic fertilizer, allow at least a week before planting so it can be incorporated into the soil by rain or irrigation and not burn the rhizomes.

Plant your cannas in spring after the danger of frost has passed. Planting holes or trenchs should be about 4" deep. Space the rhizomes or plants 12" to 18" apart. Lay them flat in the bottom of the hole or trench. Don't worry about which side is up. Cover with about two inches of soil. Water deeply. If some of the soil washes away, add more. Avoid heavy watering until new shoots grow to 4" height.

During summer, you may fertilize occasionally. Apply 2 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer per ten square feet of garden area every two weeks until flower buds appear. Do not allow synthetic fertilizers to come into contact with the plants. Irrigate if rainfall is inadequate. About one inch of water per week should be sufficient. When you water, do so deeply in order that moisture will reach the roots. Weed when necessary. A light mulch of straw will help to preserve moisture and suppress weeds. Other than that, very little maintenance is needed. Though it is not necessary to remove spent flowers, doing so will prevent seed from forming and may encourage a longer bloom period. Occasional application of a recommended insecticide will keep away leaf-eating insects such as Japanese beetles, though the extent of their damage is usually minimal and cosmetic. Call your Cooperative Agricultural Extension Office for insecticide recommendations. Always, follow label instructions.

Shorter growing cannas are wonderful in container gardens. Use the finest potting soil; cheap soil will give poor results. The best potting soils will be light-weight, peat-based with added materials to enhance plant growth. Select containers that will allow you to include companion plants, if desired. Larger containers will require less frequent watering. The addition of water retentive gel can be beneficial. Plant the rhizomes at the proper depth.

If yours is a climate where cannas will not survive the winter, you can dig and store them for planting next year. At the end of the season following the first hard frost, lift them, cut off stems and leaves and wash the rhizomes. Large ones may be divided with each piece having three or four "eyes." "Eyes" are growing points resembling buds where future growth will appear. Pack in peat moss and store in boxes or bags with some ventilation. Plastic bags with ventilation holes like potatoes come in will do nicely. Store in a dark place where the temperature can be maintained between 45 and 55 degrees F. Moisture should not collect in the storage container. On the other hand, the rhizomes should not be allowed to dry out.

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Those Elegant Callas

For sheer elegance, I believe callas are unsurpassed. Their simple, exotic shape makes them favorites of flower arrangers. But they are so easy to grow you don't have to be a florist to enjoy them.

Callas (Zantedeschia spp.), sometimes called "calla lilies", are not true lilies but are aroids, members of the Araceae family along with anthurium, pothos, monstera, philodendron, caladium and jack-in-the-pulpit. Many aroids are native to the tropics. Callas are native to southern Africa. They are cold-hardy in the United States from USDA climate zone 8 through 11. Those who live in cooler regions can grow them successfully in container gardens, lifting and storing the rhizomes over winter.

Those structures often referred to as flowers are not actually flowers at all, but are modified leaves called spathes. The actual flowers are much smaller and are surrounded by the spathes. Callas are available in a wide range of colors. The glossy green foliage is very attractive and may be used in floral arrangements along with the spathes.

Callas are grown from rhizomes. A rhizome is a thick stem that grows horizontally at or just below the soil surface. The stem is segmented by nodes. Roots grow from the bottom of the rhizome. Shoots and leaves may appear along the top and sides of the rhizome.

If planting in the garden, select a site in full sun with richly organic, moist but well-drained soil. Some callas do well in wet, boggy soils, but never in standing water. Soil pH should be between 6.0 to 6.5. The best way to determine if the pH is within that range and contains the proper nutrients for callas is to have the soil tested. Your local Cooperative Agricultural Extension Service can help you. You can collect the soil sample yourself. For a nominal fee, they will send your soil sample to a laboratory for analysis. Be sure to call the Extension office for instructions.

Prior to receiving your rhizomes, cultivate the soil to the depth of one foot if the site is not boggy and add plenty of well-rotted compost. Remove weeds. Soil test results may recommend other soil amendments. Follow those instructions. The soil amendments you may use depends upon the type of soil you are in need of amending. Common soil amendments include sulphur for lowering pH, limestone for raising pH, sand for helping drainage, clay for slowing drainage, gypsum for breaking up caking clay and compost for enriching the soil. Bone meal is especially good for calla rhizomes. Which you should use depends upon your particular circumstance. If you use synthetic fertilizer, allow at least a week before planting so it can be incorporated into the soil by rain or irrigation and not burn the bulbs. The site should be ready for planting when your callas arrive.

Bear in mind that all parts of the plant are toxic if eaten and can cause skin irritations and/or allergic reactions in sensitive persons. If you believe you might be susceptible, wear gloves when handling any part of the plant.

Calla rhizomes can be planted in fall or early winter in warm climate zones, or in spring. If planting in spring, do so when the soil has warmed and danger of severe frost is past. They should be planted shallowly with the tops exposed, similar to German iris. To determine which is the top side, hold the rhizome horizontally and look for small buds or growing points. These growing points are called "eyes." They resemble the eyes on potatoes. The area with the most eyes is the top side. In a hole or trench, lay the rhizomes horizontally with the eyes looking upward. Space them at approximately twelve to eighteen inches apart. Press the soil around them leaving a portion of the rhizome exposed. Water well. If some of the soil washes away, replace it. With warm soil, roots and shoots should begin to form soon. A light layer of straw mulch will help to preserve moisture and suppress weeds.

During summer, you may fertilize occasionally. Apply 2 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer per ten square feet of garden area every two weeks until spathes appear. Do not allow synthetic fertilizers to come into contact with the plants. Irrigate if rainfall is inadequate. Soil should be constantly moist (not soggy) and never allowed to dry. Weed when necessary, but be careful not to disturb the rhizomes. Occasional application of a recommended insecticide will keep leaf-eating insects away, though the extent of their damage is usually minimal and cosmetic. Call your Cooperative Agricultural Extension Office for insecticide recommendations. Always, follow label instructions.

Growing callas in containers is not much different than in the garden. Use the finest potting soil; cheap soil will give poor results. The best potting soils will be light-weight, peat-based with added materials to enhance plant growth. Select containers that will accommodate the calla rhizomes and any other suitable companion plants. All companion plants should have similar soil and moisture requirements. Because container gardens can dry quickly, take steps to keep the pots properly watered. Adding moisture retentive gel to the soil can be beneficial. Larger containers are not as susceptible to drying. Tipping over can also be a problem with small containers.

When the spathes appear, you can cut all you want for flower arrangements. Harvest in the morning or evening when temperatures are lower. Use sharp clippers or shears to make clean cuts. Immediately place the cut ends of the stems in a bucket of cool water. The cut "flowers" are long-lasting.

When bloom time is over, let the foliage remain to build reserves in the rhizomes for the next growing season. Continue to provide water sufficient to maintain moist soil. You may remove the foliage when it has turned yellow.

If you live in a climate zone where callas are not cold hardy, you may dig and store them until the next growing season. After digging them, remove foliage, wash the rhizomes and let them dry in the shade. Do not let them become shrivelled. Pack in peat moss and store in boxes or bags with some ventilation. Plastic bags with ventilation holes like potatoes come in will do nicely. Store in a dark place where the temperature can be maintained between 45 and 55 degrees F. Moisture should not collect in the storage container. Neither should the rhizomes be allowed to dry out.

Return to Callas at goGardenNow.com.



Glorious Gladiolus




Gladiolus are glorious because they are so beautiful and very, very easy to grow.  By following these steps, you may enjoy fresh flowers throughout the summer.

"Glads", as they are sometimes called, are native to Africa, Asia and southern Europe. Though cold hardy from USDA climate zone 7 through 11, they can be grown practically anywhere in the United States. In northern zones, they can be grown as inexpensive summer annuals. In southern zones, they can come back year after year.

They make perfect garden accents. The striking blooms and sword-like foliage make a bold statement in the garden. They're great for cut flower arrangements and for gifts. Just think how good you'll feel carrying an armload of your own home-grown glads to someone you love. Or plant loads of them and invite your friends to pick their own!

Gladiolus prefer full sun, at least six hours per day. Average garden soil with pH between 5.5 and 8.5 is fine. This can be determined by taking a soil sample to your local Cooperative Agricultural Extension Service for testing. Call them first for instructions. They will charge a nominal fee.

The site should be moist but well-drained. Irrigation may be necessary if rainfall is insufficient. Glads should receive one inch of water per week. If they do not receive enough water, the flower spikes will grow crooked. Take care not to over-water.

You may plant them in rows, raised beds, or intersperse them among other plants in your flower garden. Cultivate the soil to a depth of twelve inches and amend it according to soil test recommendations. Remove weeds and debris during cultivation. It is usually a good idea to incorporate superphosphate into the soil before planting at the rate of two pounds per 50 feet of row. If superphosphate is not available, application of 5-10-5 fertilizer at the same rate is recommended.

The corms should not come into contact with synthetic fertilizer. If you use it, you can avoid burning the corms by waiting a week or two before planting them. Or you can place the fertilizer in the bottom of the planting row and cover with an inch or two of topsoil before planting the glads.

Plant four to six inches deep and six inches apart in spring when the weather and soil has warmed. Cover with soil and water well. An application of mulch can suppress weeds and help to retain moisture.

Glads benefit from generous feeding. A second application of 5-10-5 fertilizer may be applied as a side dressing at the rate of two pounds per 50 feet of row when the emerging bloom spike can be felt at the base of the foliage. Again, the fertilizer should not come into contact with the plants. Avoid high nitrogen fertilizers. Too much fertilization can encourage bulb diseases.

Gladiolus differ somewhat by variety and corm size as to how long it takes between planting and blooming. Larger corms bloom sooner. The average time span is between 65 and 95 days. If you plant a mix of varieties, you may enjoy new flowers until mid-summer. Stagger planting them every couple of weeks and you can have an abundance of blooms until late summer.

If cultivation is needed during the growing season to control weeds, take care to cultivate only at the soil surface. Deep cultivation can easily damage the feeder roots.

Various diseases and pests, especially thrips, can afflict gladiolus. It's best to avoid them in the beginning by purchasing commercially produced bulbs. These will have been treated during harvest and processing for sale. Weeding and maintaining a clean garden also helps to prevent problems. If problems do occur, consult with the staff at your local Cooperative Extension Service for recommendations.

Since the flower spikes grow rather tall, they may require staking. The stems are often not strong enough to support the weight of flowers, especially if they are exposed to wind.

You won't be able to resist cutting some for flower arrangements. Choose stems with no more than three flowers in bloom. For best results, cut the stems in the early morning or late evening when temperatures are cooler. Leave a few leaves on each plant so the corms will remain strong. Most growers allow four leaves to remain on the corm. Use a sharp knife or clippers making a clean cut. Plunge the lower ends of the stems immediately in a bucket of cool water.

Allow the leaves remaining on the plants to dry naturally. This will allow them to store plenty of nutrients in the corms for next year's growth. Before frost when the tops have turned brown, trim them back to about four inches.

Many gardeners who live in warmer areas just leave them in the ground over winter and they come back year after year. Though this may be acceptable for some, the practice may encourage those thrips, other insects and diseases that should be avoided. So it is best to dig the corms and store in a cool, dry place at temperature around 40 degrees F. Digging and storage is necessary for growers in colder regions where glads are not hardy.

Begin digging by loosening the soil on both sides of the row. Lift the corms gently. Remove the foliage, leaving very little if any at the tops. Spread the corms in a dry location exposed to full sun for a day, then remove them to an airy location out of the sun to dry further. You may spread them on layers of newspaper. Some gardeners construct tables or trays with mesh bottoms for drying. Such structures can serve to dry other bulbs and corms after harvest. Stir the corms to allow all sides to dry, especially during damp weather. You may even expose them to an electric fan. Dried soil should fall away during the process. Remaining soil should be brushed off before final storage. During cleaning, the corms may be inspected. Those that are damaged or diseased should be discarded.