Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Zombie Deer Disease Apocalypse?


Deer with CWD.




Zombie Deer Disease Is Alarming

This article was passed along to me. It is disturbing. An infection called Chronic Wasting Disease is on the rise. It’s commonly called “zombie deer disease” because infected animals become very thin, disoriented, and have a vacant look in their eyes. “Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) has been reported in at least 26 states in the continental United States and in four provinces in Canada”, the article reports.
“CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy disease found in deer, elk, moose, reindeer, and caribou. It is a progressive disease that is always fatal.” It is similar to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, also known as “mad cow disease”).
“The disease is believed to be caused by abnormal proteins called prions, which are thought to cause damage to other normal prion proteins that can be found in tissues throughout the body. They are most often found in the brain and spinal cord, leading to brain damage and development of prion diseases. Infected brain cells eventually burst, leaving behind microscopic empty spaces in the brain matter that give it a ‘spongy’ look.”

Zombie Deer Disease Is Spreading

The disease is spread through saliva, feces and urine of infected animals. Contact with diseased tissue such as the brain, spinal cord and lymph nodes can also transmit it.
Prior to 2000, it was only documented in a few counties in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska. It has now spread to areas as far east as Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland, and as far south as Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas. See this map for greater detail.

What does this have to do with gardeners?

Unfortunately, deer seem to be more prevalent in yards and gardens than ever before, even in urban areas. Until now, their depredations have been limited to vegetable patches and flower beds. Greater problems may arise.
Though experts say that CWD is not transmissible to humans at this time, the same was said about BSE a few years back. Then it was discovered that BSE could infect humans. So, scientists are being cautious.

How should we respond?


  • Don’t panic. Remember that there are no documented cases of Chronic Wasting Disease having been transmitted to humans. Furthermore, cases of CWD in the Cervidae family – deer, elk, moose, reindeer, etc. – are limited, at this time. Chances are your county doesn’t show up on the map. If it does, the number of cases are probably quite few. If you live in or near a county where CWD has been documented, you should:
  • Avoid contact with deer saliva, feces and urine. While it’s unlikely that a moose will lick you, or a deer pee on you, you or your children might find deer feces in your yard. Don’t touch it. (You wouldn't really, would you?)
  • Check with your state Department of Natural Resources Game and Wildlife Division for statements on CWD.
  • Hunters should wear gloves when field-dressing harvested deer, and avoid contact with brain, nerve and spinal cord tissue.
  • Hunters harvesting deer in areas where CWD has been documented should consider having the meat tested for the disease. “As a precaution, they should avoid eating deer and elk tissues known to harbor the CWD agent (e.g., brain, spinal cord, eyes, spleen, tonsils, lymph nodes) from areas where CWD has been identified.”

For more information, read the following:

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

7 Tips For Saving Water In Your Garden


Water sprinkler


During the hot, sometimes dry days of summer, the realization hits – often in the form of a water bill – that we should be cutting back on water use. But how? We check for dripping faucets, toilets that keep running, avoid washing the car, reducing time in the shower, or putting less water in the bath. Those are good things to do, but perhaps the answer is in our own backyards. Yes, and front yards, too. If we maintain any type of lawn or garden, we probably use more water there than anywhere else in the house.

Some solutions to problems may be immediate. Many require planning. Act now while your last water bill is fresh on your mind, and you’re sufficiently motivated.

Here are 7 tips for saving water in your garden.


  1. Water less frequently. “Well, duh!”, you might say. Fact is, though, most lawns, gardens and ornamental plants do not need to be watered every day. Instead of watering every day, water every other day. That could cut your outdoor water use in half. Allowing the soil to drain and feel dry to the touch before watering again is usually better for your plants, too. Mildew and root rot are usually associated with over-watering, so watering less may help to avoid plant diseases. Lawn grasses can undergo some drought stress, and still bounce back when rain returns. You can follow this tip today; it requires no planning.
  2. Recycle water. If you use a sprinkler system, place containers strategically to catch some of it for reuse. Collect rain water in rain barrels to siphon off or dip into later. There’s no sense in letting free water go to waste.
  3. Plant a rain garden. Rather than let perfectly good water run into drains, divert it into a rain garden specially designed as a basin to retain it. Best plant choices should include those that adapt to bogs, but will also tolerate brief dry periods.
  4. Mulch around your plants. This will immediately reduce soil exposure to the drying rays of sun. Mulch choices are many. Bark, wood chips, straw, hay, and grass clippings are popular. Select the one that looks best for your application. Neither does this require planning. Start today. FYI, Ruth Stout was a major influence in the organic gardening movement who taught the benefits of mulch. If you’ve never read her books and articles, you should.
  5. Garden in raised beds or containers. By doing so, you will irrigate targeted areas rather than broadly, potentially saving water. There’s no need to water between vegetable rows and on paved drives and walkways.
  6. Install drip irrigation. This is especially appropriate for raised beds and container gardening. Containers, in particular, are prone to drying more quickly. Here again, drip irrigation targets specific areas. A simple system can be quite inexpensive when compared to what you’ll spend on watering. Drip irrigation systems make use of tiny plastic emitters which dispense small amounts of water right where you need it most. An emitter might release as little as ½ gallon per hour, maybe 1 or 2 gallons per hour. PER HOUR! The savings is significant.
  7. Substitute drought-tolerant plants for the water-hungry species in your landscape. This doesn’t mean you are limited to cacti and succulents. A host of trees, shrubs, drought-tolerant perennials and ground covers are available for your garden. Look for them.

Speaking of ground covers, many are awesome substitutes for water-hungry lawn grasses. Mondo and liriope, low-growing junipers and euonymus are a few. Some tolerate foot traffic; some don’t. Few lend themselves to heavy use, such as games of badminton and foot races. But if you want to cover larger areas with something other than grass, and save water, consider ground cover plants.

Follow these simple tips for saving water in your garden. You'll save money, too!

Return to Drought-Tolerant Plants

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Behind The Garden Wall - The Portland Japanese Garden


The Portland Japanese Garden, set in the hills overlooking the city, provides a peaceful refuge for those seeking rest in an atmosphere of tranquility.  Follow me to see what grows behind the garden wall.


Portland Japanese Garden gate


To heal the wounds of war.



After the horrors of World War II, a number of Japanese gardens were planned in the United States as a way to heal the wounds of war, provide citizens with beautiful gardens, and promote cultural understanding. Portland Japanese Garden was one of those. Planning began about twelve years after the end of the Pacific War. It was hoped that “needing no translation, an American could experience firsthand Japanese ideals and values, communicated simply through nature.” Perhaps the irony was not lost on Allied veterans.

The idea was conceived by Mayor Terry Schrunk and other citizens of Portland. The chosen site was the original Washington Park Zoo. A few remnants of the old zoo remain. For example, the present-day koi pond was formerly the zoo’s original bear pit. In fact, the zoo began as a bear pit where unwanted bears were captured in the interest of public safety, and penned for public amusement. (Mayor Schrunk, once accused of perjury related to labor-racketeering, managed to avoid being penned.)

According to the garden’s literature, “The site was dedicated in 1961, and Professor Takuma Tono of Tokyo Agricultural University was retained to design the Garden. Professor Tono’s plan included five different garden styles laid out on 5.5 acres. This was quite a departure from gardens in Japan which typically follow one singular style. His intention was to represent different historical developments in Japanese garden architecture and through that communicate Japanese culture to create a cultural exchange.” Professor Tono was one of the most revered landscape architects of his time in Japan.

The garden was finally opened to the public in 1967, though some portions were not completed until May 18, 1980. The completion was celebrated with some fanfare, but Mount St. Helens overshadowed the event with a big bang of its own.

A great deal has been written about Portland’s Japanese Garden, so there’s no point in reiterating much, but to say that the garden now consists of eight different Japanese garden styles on 12 acres. Some are pictured below.

I must remark that the staff people were very pleasant, and the docent who guided our tour was exceptionally knowledgeable and agreeable. She was, of course, an avid gardener with a great deal of personal experience to draw upon.

Here are some of my photographs, with a few comments. Click on the images to enlarge them.


Acer palmatum - negative space

Trees such as this Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) are carefully pruned to create negative space. Negative space becomes as much a feature of interest as the tree itself.


Portland Japanese Garden Zen Garden


The Sand and Stone Garden, seen from above. Zen gardens make use of sand, gravel and larger rocks to recreate natural scenes. Swirling patterns in sand suggest motion of water. Larger rocks suggest islands and mountains.

Portland Japanese Garden scene across a water feature

This lovely vista from the Strolling Pond Garden is probably one of the most photographed in the garden. When the docent said so, everyone snapped a picture, which further established its status.

Portland Japanese Garden scene

A view back across the water feature shown above.



The Flat Garden.

Wisteria arbor at Portland Japanese Garden

The beautiful wisteria arbor is supported by concrete posts molded with the texture of wood.

Azalea in bloom in the Portland Japanese Garden


May is an ideal time to visit the Portland Japanese Garden when azaleas and rhododendrons are in bloom.


Viburnum in bloom with Japanese maples.

Tea House at Portland Japanese Garden

A view across the Tea Garden. The Tea House provides visitors with a sense of settled peace and serenity.


Tsubo-Niwa 



Displays on the bonsai terrace



Scenes in the Natural Garden



The koi pond


A multi-tiered stone lantern set in a mossy lawn.

If planning to visit Oregon, the Portland Japanese Garden should be included in your itinerary. For visitors and residents of the city, the garden affords a unique opportunity to escape the insanity below.

Return to GoGardenNow.com.



Thursday, August 15, 2019

Anemones - Tears of Aphrodite


Anemone blanda - blue shades



"Anemone" translated from Greek, means "wind", for it was believed that spring winds caused them to bloom. Just as the winds caused them to bloom, so the zephyrs blew fragile petals away.

Anemones are native to the Mediterranean region where winters are warm and summers are dry. There they have a rich heritage in legend and history. Two species are widely available: A. blanda, and A. coronaria.


Anemone blanda 'Pink Star'Aphrodite's Tears

Grecian Wind Flower

Anemone blanda is known as Grecian Wind Flower. According to legend, the flowers sprang from the tears of Aphrodite as she mourned the death of Adonis. The name evokes romantic scenes of ancient temples, and rocky hills swept by Mediterranean breezes. Certainly, the scene gives a clue to its preferred habitat.

The name, blanda, does not mean "boring", as our contemporary parlance suggests. Blanda means "pleasant" or "mild." It is pleasant, indeed!

A. blanda is reliably hardy in USDA climate zones 6 through 8. Full sun to partial shade is best; morning sun to light shade throughout the day in southern regions. Well-drained soil is essential. The plant naturalizes readily to spread a spring-time carpet of light blue, pink or white daisy-like flowers on 6" to 8" stems. The fern-like foliage is also quite attractive. In addition to naturalizing, Anemone blanda is desirable for bulb and rock gardens, perennial borders, container and patio gardens.

 

Spanish Marigold

Poppy Anemone

Anemone coronaria is known as Poppy Anemone, Spanish Marigold, and Florist's Anemone. The flower shape and size is very much like that of a poppy. The name, coronaria, refers to the wreath-like appearance of the stamens.

Poppy Anemone - Anemone coronariaThere are two groups of Poppy Anemone widely available: De Caen and St. Brigid.

De Caen anemones produce flowers in bright shades of red, white, blue and pink. They are so-named because they were typically cultivated in the De Caen region of France.

St. Brigid anemones produce double-petal flowers in the same shades. That name was given because they were cultivated in Ireland, and St. Brigid is one of Ireland's patron saints.

A. coronaria is not as cold-tolerant as A. blanda, being reliably hardy in USDA climate zones 8 through 10. However, it tolerates heat much better. Sun exposure and soil moisture requirements for A. coronaria are the same as for A. blanda. These are excellent for bulb gardens, perennial borders, container and patio gardens. They're excellent for cut flower arrangements, too.

Planting and Growing Tips


Though anemones prefer warm climates, they can be enjoyed by gardeners in cooler regions. Planting season for southern gardeners is in the fall. Planting season for northern gardeners is in the spring. Logically, they are commercially available both times of year. The best selection is usually in the fall.

Anemone coronaria cormsWhen you receive them, the tubers will be shriveled and dry. That's normal. Simply soak them over-night in water at room temperature before planting. Don't skip this step!

The planting site should be well-drained and in full sun to partial shade.

Plant the tubers 6" to 10" apart in the garden and 1" to 3" deep, depending upon the size. Sometimes it's difficult to tell which side is up. Don't worry about it, they will re-orient themselves.

Water thoroughly but gently, taking care not to wash the bulbs to the surface. If planted in the fall, the roots will develop throughout the cool months and flowers will appear in spring. If planted in the spring, the flowers will appear.

Water as needed to maintain slightly moist soil during spring and fall. Anemones are drought-tolerant during summer.

Flowering lasts about four weeks. When blooming is completed, let the foliage remain to build food reserves for next year. Foliage may be removed when it yellows and dies back. Take care to leave the bulbs undisturbed. After a few months of dormancy, they will begin another growth cycle.

If you are one of those who tries to stretch the limits of where a plant might be grown successfully, know that Anemone coronaria (De Caen and St. Brigid) benefit from a covering of mulch in USDA climate zones 7 & 8. Anemone blanda benefit from a covering of mulch in USDA climate zones 3 & 4. If you don't want to risk losing them during your cold winters, lift them after the foliage has fallen, then dry and store them over winter.

Container Gardening Tips

As mentioned before, anemones do well in pots and patio gardens. Choose containers with adequate drainage. To improve drainage, place 1" or 2" of polystyrene packing "peanuts" in the bottom of the container. Fill the container with good quality potting soil. Position containers where they will receive full sun to partial shade.

Plant the tubers 2" to 3" apart in the pots. This is much closer than if planting in the garden. Again, it is not necessary to consider which side is supposed to be up. After planting, water well, thoroughly and gently soaking the soil.

When blooming is completed, let the foliage remain to build food reserves. Leaves may be removed when they turn brown and dry. Take care to leave the tubers undisturbed in the pots. After a few months of dormancy, they will begin another growth cycle.

If the containers are kept in an area where cold weather is excessive (USDA climate zones 7 & 8 for A. coronaria, or zones 3 & 4 for A. blanda), they should be moved to where they can be protected.

If you've never grown anemones before, you should do so. Their beauty and historic legacy will lend color and interest to your gardening experience.

Return to GoGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Ornamental Garlic – One Surprising Bulb For Your Cutting Garden


Allium aflatunense


Lots of flowers are great for cut flower arrangements, but one of the most surprising is ornamental garlic, also known as Allium. I’m sure you’ve seen them in magazines. Remember those big, bold, purple globes dressing up the featured homes of the rich and famous? That’s what I’m talking about.

The bulbs are planted in fall for late spring or early summer flowering. They’re simply stunning in large vases. Sometimes they’re displayed alone, three or more stems together making dramatic decorative statements. Not only are they eye-popping, they often last much longer than other flowers. They’re easy to grow, too.

Let's go over the basics. Allium has average water needs, so you’ll need to water them if you don’t get enough rainfall. However, the site should be well-drained. Allium is very heat tolerant, but you mustn’t let it wilt. It needs full sun to partial shade. Allium is hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 -10. Only in zones 3 and 4 do they require mulch to get through the winter. If you plant them in containers where the bulbs are more exposed, bring the containers indoors to store in a cool, dark place over winter.

Think about the variety and the size of the bulb to ensure they are spaced correctly, and planted at the proper depth. The depth to the bottom of the planting hole should be 2 to 3 times the height of the bulb. Therefore, a 2" bulb should be planted 4” to 6" deep, a 3" bulb planted 6” to 9" deep, etc... If planting several bulbs, space the holes 4" to 12" apart depending upon the varieties' sizes. Place the bulb in the hole with the pointed end up and cover it with the soil. Water it well. Spread mulch over the planting area if you'd like. Do not allow synthetic fertilizer to touch the bulb.

There are around 400 varieties to choose, but I’ve narrowed the selection to only include my favorites. Of course, I like the tall ones best. The shorter ones like Allium moly and Allium ‘Mount Everest’ are mighty nice, but have short stems. They look best actually grown in containers.

So, check them out at GoGardenNow.com. They’re not shipped until September, but you’d better order early while the selection is best.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Saffron - The Most Valuable Spice


Saffron threads


Saffron is hailed as the most valuable spice in the world – more valuable than gold! Let’s see, now. Saffron was recently priced at about $112 per ounce (avoir), and gold was priced at $1425 per ounce (troy). Even without bothering to convert avoir to troy (1 to .91), it’s clear there’s no contest. But here’s the consolation – most of us can’t mine for gold in our backyards, but we can probably grow saffron crocus!
 
Crocus sativus flowers
Saffron comes from a crocus flower (Crocus sativus), which blooms in autumn. The spicy part is the red, thread-like stigma of the flower. Each flower only produces three stigmas, and each bulb only produces one flower per year. You can see at once that it takes a bunch of saffron crocus bulbs to produce a tablespoon of spicy threads. (That’s why I sell them by the case.)

Besides being tasty, saffron has been used to color fabric – like the yellow-orange robes of Buddhist monks. (They used turmuric, too.)

Saffron crocuses thrive in USDA climate zones 4 through 9, so gardeners in most parts of the U.S. can enjoy them. Plant in full sun to partial shade. Average garden soil that is consistently moist with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8 is fine.

A good all-around practice for bulbs is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden. Be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

Crocus corms should be planted 3" deep. Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole. Recommended plant spacing is 3" to 6". If 6" apart, you'd need 4 per sq. ft., so a case of 100 should cover up to 25 square feet. Unless snow or rain fall is inadequate, irrigation should not be necessary.

A great thing about crocus corms is that they’ll come up year after year, and multiply. They require very little maintenance. Some folks plant them in the lawn for naturalizing, but you might not want to do that with saffron crocuses.

I’m not claiming that you’ll grow premium quality saffron in your own backyard. Few locations are so productive. But it sure would be fun to grow your own, and use it proudly in your special curry or paella recipe.

So, check them out at GoGardenNow.com. They’re not shipped until September, but you’d better order early while they’re available. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Here Are 5 Vines That Will Attract Birds To Your Garden


Hummingbird with Trumpet Vine


As I noted in a previous article, bird-watchers who want to see them up close usually attract them with bird feeders, houses and baths. There are, however, other ways of enticing them that shouldn't be overlooked. The landscape can be transformed into a bird sanctuary by including plants that provide food and shelter. Ornamental vines are important components of such a plan.

Here are 5 ornamental vines that birds find irresistible.

A Clarion Call For Hummingbirds 

Trumpet Vine (pictured above) or Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans) is a climbing deciduous vine native to the southern United States. Travelers may have noticed it growing up and over fences and signposts along the highway. Large, bright yellow, orange to red trumpetshaped flowers appear from midsummer to fall. Campsis is popular world-wide for its stunning flowers, and because it attracts hummingbirds.

Campsis is cold-hardy in USDA climate zones 4 through 10. For best results, plant in full sun, well-drained soil with average to poor fertility. Plants are drought tolerant when established and heat-loving. It is best planted next to a permanent structure for support.

Carolina Jessamine - Gelsemium sempervirens

Yellow Garlands of Spring 

Gelsemium sempervirens – known as Carolina Jasmine, Carolina Jessamine, Yellow Jasmine, and whatever else comes to the viewer’s mind – is another great native plant that provides nectar for the birds. It’s grown mostly for its glorious early spring flowers. Southerners wax nostalgic about it. Unfortunately, it is cold hardy only in USDA climate zones 7 through 9. The flowers usually appear before the hummingbirds arrive, so is best planted as a nectar source for other species. I’ve written much more about it in a blog article, Carolina Jessamine – The Yellow Garlands of Spring.

Wild and Wonderful 

English Ivy - Hedera helixMost of us think of English ivy and all its varieties as a rampant but boring evergreen covering, or worse. But look closer and you’ll find a plant with lots of interesting variations that can not only provide mass ground- or wall covering, but also shelter and an ornamental food source for birds.

Some folks dislike ivy for it's vigorous growth habit. The very characteristic that makes it a fine ground cover can render it unwelcome; it covers ground. It's true that ivy can be troublesome if completely unchecked, but ivy does not damage trees or sound structures. It isn't a parasite. It cannot harm a mature tree, but it could outlive an old one. It cannot collapse a sound building. Ivy is a major food source for many birds, and the fruits ripen up just in time to fatten them before winter arrives. Hedera ivies also provide abundant shelter.

It Keeps Institutions From Crumbling 

Boston Ivy - Parthenocissus tricuspidataBoston Ivy - Parthenocissus tricuspidata - is native to east Asia, not Massachusetts. Each leaf is composed of three lobes. In juvenile foliage, each lobe is very distinct. It is a vigorous climber, as anyone who has seen it on a wall knows well. Fall brings bright colors of yellow, orange, red or burgundy. The walls it adorns seem draped in a majestic tapestry. It is also widely used to cover trellises, pergolas, and as an ornamental ground cover for erosion control. Small flowers appear in July or August followed by fruits in October or November, and birds love 'em.

Boston ivy grows in any fertile, well-drained soil, and thrives in USDA climate zones 48. In other words, it'll probably perform well in your garden.

A Native With Great Possibilities 

Virginia Creeper - Parthenocissus quinquifolia
Virginia Creeper - Parthenocissus quinquefolia - is native to many parts of North America, from Quebec to Florida, and westward to Colorado. It's a member of the grape (Vitaceae) family. The relationship is easy to see when you look at the flowers and fruits, but I don't recommend them for human consumption. Each leaf is composed of five leaflets. It climbs vigorously. Fall brings bright colors of yellow, orange, red or burgundy. The depth of fall color seems to depend upon available sunlight. Virginia Creeper is widely used as an ornamental ground cover, but its fall color and ability to cover walls, trellises and pergolas makes it popular as well.

Virginia Creeper thrives USDA climate zones 3-9, a broader range than Boston ivy will tolerate. Its fruit and dense growth habit make it very attractive to birds for food and shelter.

These suggested vines, along with many bulbs, perennials, annuals, shrubs and trees will be welcome additions to your landscape from the birds' points of view.

Remember to think outside the bird feeder when you plan to feed the birds.

Return to GoGardenNow.com


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

5 Flowering Perennials That Attract Birds


Bird on Echinacea flower seeds


Bird-watchers who want to see them up close usually attract them with bird feeders, houses and baths. Why not? The avian friends are provided their creature comforts, and we enjoy the pleasure of their company. But they are also attracted to natural sources, especially foods. By planting flowers that produce seed and nectar, we can beautify our landscapes and feed the birds at the same time.

When choosing them, consider bloom time, the types of seeds and nectar produced, and the species they would attract. From early to late, nectar to seed, this will provide extended seasons of color and bird-watching interest. Otherwise, planting for the birds should follow the same principles you would for planning any garden.

There is also a financial benefit; perennial herbs and vines produce nectar and seeds season-after-season so you don’t have to buy so many so often.

You must remember that to grow flowers successfully for the birds, you shouldn’t dead-head them,i.e. remove the spent flowers. It defeats the purpose if the seeds aren’t allowed to mature. Another consideration is that plants should be chosen for their minimal maintenance requirements. Selections that require pesticides to prevent insects and diseases present a hazard to the birds.

Here are 5 flowering perennials that the birds and you will love.

Coreopsis is a bright-flowered plant that resembles large asters. In fact, Coreopsis is a member of the Aster family. Most are yellow, but some are in pink shades, too.

Coreopsis is commonly known as tickseed, and for good reasons. Coreopsis means "bug-like", in reference to the little dry fruits called achenes which in some ways resemble insects. Not only are the seeds small and brown, their hair-like structures cling to passers-by who brush against them; and they don't just drop off, they must be picked off. Thus the name, Tickseed. Birds love them!

Dendranthema


Dendranthema, commonly known as “hardy garden mum”, is a gorgeous, old-fashioned looking plant with blossoms that resemble large daisies. Colors vary, but my favorite shade is pink. It’s what you might expect to see in your grandmother’s garden. Maintenance is minimal. It blooms in late summer or fall. Birds are attracted to their abundant seeds.


Echinacea


Echinacea is known worldwide for its showy flowers, reputed herbal remedies, and abundant seeds. It’s native to the United States and Canada, and known by many names including Hedgehog or Purple Cone flower, and Comb flower. All because of the very obvious seeds. Birds notice them, too. The handsome flowers are often used in decorative fresh and dried arrangements. The plants require very little maintenance, are drought-tolerant, and will grow just about anywhere.

Rudbeckia

Rudbeckia is one of my summer favorites, and not mine only. I often pass cars parked beside highways, the driver and passengers strolling among bright-flowered patches to pluck bouquets. Birds also love the seeds of Black-eyed Susans.

They’re mighty easy to grow, especially R. fulgida, which is the great-granddaddy of the most reliable perennial cultivars. If they’ll grow untended beside the highway, they ought to thrive for you. Read my article, Rudbeckia – Where Black-eyed Susans Grow, for in-depth info on this memorable and ever-popular selection.

Sedum

I admit that Sedum is not the first flower that comes to mind to those who want to feed the birds, but I want to remedy that. As you know, sedum flowers prolifically. All those tiny jewels at shoe level are perfect for ground-feeding species.

Beside the fact that the seeds nourish birds, sedum is a marvelous ground cover for filling cracks and crevices in rock gardens and stone walls, and for cascading out of containers. What’s more, sedum will grow just about anywhere. If you garden from USDA climate zone 3 to 9, sedum will probably thrive for you.

These suggestions, of course, do not represent all the plant choices to consider. Asters, Centaurea, Cosmos, Gaillardia, Helianthus, Leucanthemum, Papaver, Solidago, Tagetes, and even those cursed Taraxacum (Dandelions), attract birds. Think outside the bird feeder when you think of feeding the birds.!

For these and many other bird-friendly plants, GoGardenNow.com!


Tuesday, July 9, 2019

5 Ways To Transform Your Yard Into A Bird Sanctuary


Chikadee bird


5 Ways To Transform Your Yard Into A Bird Sanctuary



I know what you’re going to say. “I see birds in my yard all the time. What more do I need to do?”

I’m glad you asked.

Fact is, birds really could use your help. Sure, diseases and weather-related hardships take their toll. Habitat is diminishing in some areas, or the neighborhood just isn’t what it used to be.Cats, especially of the feral persuasion, are estimated to kill 1.3 – 4.0 billion birds annuallyin the United States. Accidents and collisions with man-made vehicles and structures account for the deaths of millions more.

With those things in mind, here are five ways to transform your yard into a bird sanctuary:
  1. Make your yard a welcoming place for birds. Provide the basic things birds need – food, water, shelter, and places to nest. Plan your landscape with your feather friends in mind. Include shrubs and trees, and especially native plants that produce their favorite foods. Cedar waxwings swarm my holly and mulberry trees for the berries in spring. Pileated woodpeckers swoop in to peck the bright red magnolia seeds from their pods. Provide bird baths and shallow pools for water. Erect bird houses, nesting boxes, and leave nesting materials about for them to snuggle up in.
  2. Provide foods they’ll actually eat. Black-oil sunflower seeds work best for our birds, while millet and nyjer seeds go mostly untouched. We found that some brands of suet are ignored, but others are devoured in short order. If you’re not sure what will work for you, experiment with small amounts of different foods, or ask a bird-lover in your area. When you get it figured out, make sure you keep an ample supply in your feeders.
  3. Keep it clean. You wouldn’t want to eat in a nasty restaurant, would you? Neither do the birds. So, keep the feeders and water sources clean. A monthly scouring works. Wooden feeders should be lightly brushed to remove caked-on food. Metal suet cages and plastic bird feeders can probably go in the dishwasher. Birdbaths should be scrubbed with a wire brush. Keep fresh water on tap. If discarded seeds and hulls begin to accumulate, rake them up and get rid of them. And don’t forget to tidy up in and around the bird houses, too. Germs, mites and untold kinds of pestilence will congregate in dirty nesting boxes.
  4. Prevent accidents from happening. Most of us have heard the sickening thunk of a bird flying into a window. It might’ve thought it was portal into a better world, a way to escape, or the image (mirrored) of a foe. At any rate, the window turned out to be none of those things. You can avoid such accidents by attaching decals or stickers to your big windows. See-through screens outside the windows might soften the blow. Not only windows, but who-knows-what-else can hurt the birds: porch fans, low-hanging strings, hammocks, nets and chemicals can be hazardous. Scout for them, and think how you might mitigate or eliminate the danger.
  5. Now, about those cats. Even precious puddy tats are capable of catching innocent little birds to leave as gifts on your doorstep. If you can’t or won’t keep your cats indoors or feral beasts roam about, mount your feeders, baths and nesting boxes so the felines can’t get at them. And, for Pete’s sake, don’t feed your birds on the ground.
A Tale of Two Kitties cartoon image


These few steps should help you help the birds. Think how satisfied you’ll feel knowing the good you’ve done for the birds.

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Saturday, June 29, 2019

5 More Bee-Friendly Perennials for Your Garden

These will also thrive just about anywhere.

bee on blossom


Trudie Styler – actress, producer and director – is quoted as saying, “I have a huge belief in the importance of bees, not just for their honey, which is a healing and delicious food, but the necessity of bee colonies that are vital to the health of the planet.” Quite so.

Why bees? 

Well, because they are essential in the web of life. How could we live without them? They contribute to the well-being of so many living things by going about their beesness of pollinating.
Did you know that there are over 4000 species of native bees in the United States? The honeybee – perhaps the first that comes to mind – isn’t even native to our continent, but was introduced. There are so many others that are less well-known, but no less worthy.

Bees need help.

In a previous article, I noted that bees are at a disadvantage. Loss of habitat, mites, pesticides, wax moths, and colony collapse disorder afflict them. They could use our help.
We can help in various ways. I listed several before. One of the easiest is to plant their favorite flowers.

Bees need flowers!

Flowers provide what bees need to live. They’re not particularly picky, but seem to prefer some flowers more than others, especially those that provide lots of pollen and nectar. I listed five of their favorites in my last article. Here are five more.
ajuga burgundy glowAjugaalso known as Bugleweed, Carpenter's Herb, Sicklewort, or Middle Comfrey – is native mostly to Europe, Asia and Africa. It’s a low-growing ground cover that flowers in early spring with short flower spikes in various shades of blue. Its foliage attracts the eye even when the plant is not in bloom. The dense mat suppresses weeds, so we like it in borders and as a lawn substitute. It grows well in zones 3-9.
CreepingPhlox – known as Thrift, Creeping Phlox, Moss Phlox – is superb as a ground cover in perennial gardens and borders, rock and alpine gardens. Of course, it is bee- and butterfly friendly. Plant it beside terraces and between stepping stones for eye-popping color in spring. Colors include blue, pink, lavender, white, red and striped. Creeping Phlox is right at home anywhere in climate zones 3-9.
dendanthrema sheffield pinkDendranthema – familiarly known as “hardy garden mum” – is a bright-flowered plant with blossoms shaped like large daisies. Colors vary, but my favorite shade is pink. It’s what you might expect to see in an English cottage garden, or around your great aunt’s back door. Maintenance is minimal. It blooms in late summer or fall. Dendranthema thrives in USDA climate zones 5-9.
Dianthus (Cheddar Pinks) flowers look like little carnations, and smell like them, too. These low-growing, clump forming perennials bloom spring through summer. Evergreen, blue-green linear foliage is attractive even when the plant is not in bloom. They’re quite easy to grow. Dianthus performs well in climate zones 3-9.
sedum flowerSedum (Stonecrop) attracts bees and butterflies, to the surprise of some. Maybe they’re overlooked because sedum grows so close to the ground. At any rate, sedum should be included in your pollinator-friendly collection. Sedum is a remarkable ground cover that fills cracks and crevices in rock gardens, and spills out of containers. It grows in the most surprising places. It’ll thrive in USDA climate zones 3-9.

Don’t fear the bee.

Fear of bees is called melissophobia. (It sounds like a disease from a pharmaceutical company or tort attorney’s ad.) Fact is, though, you’re probably not so much afraid of bees as you are of bee stings. But, take my word for it; bees are not interested in you. They only sting in self-defense or to protect their homes. If you leave them alone, they’d rather leave you alone.
By intentionally planting a pollinator-friendly garden, you’ll not only be enhancing the beauty of your space, but promoting the well-being of nature, from the little creatures below to those that buzz above.
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Saturday, June 22, 2019

5 Bee-Friendly Perennials for Your Garden.


They’ll Grow Just About Anywhere!



Echinacea with bee



Gardens and wildlife just seem to go together, sometimes too much so. (Deer and rabbits come immediately to mind.) Thoughts of flowers, birds and butterflies most often enter one’s head. But there are other creatures worth accommodating. I’m thinking of bees.

Why bees? 


Well, because they are very important. For example, bees are major contributors to the well-being of a host of living things by the not so simple act of pollination, which, by the way, they do by accident.

For many folks, “BEE” is synonymous with “honeybee.” But those aren’t the only ones that deserve attention. In fact, the common honey bee is not even native to North America. There are over 4000 species of native bees in the United States.  There are sweat bees, stingless bees, bumblebees, long-horned bees, cuckoo bees, leaf-cutter bees, carpenter bees, and a blueberry bee.

Bees could use our help.


Bees suffer from loss of habitat, mites, pesticides, wax moths, and colony collapse disorder. I doubt that any are actually in danger of extinction, though. (I expect someone will write to argue otherwise.) Still, it never hurts to be generous and help other creatures set upon by trials.

You can help in various ways, but some of the easiest and most obvious include the following:
    • Avoiding insecticide use when bees are present;
    • Providing nesting places, or leaving some plant litter around the garden so bees can find their own;
    • Providing a water source (Bees will line up around the edges of bird baths to drink.)
    • Providing lots and lots of flowers.

Bees LOVE flowers!


There are very few that bees will not visit. For some, any flowering weed will do. But there are some things that bees look for especially in a flower. These are:
    • Pollen
    • Nectar
    • Scent, even if imperceptible to us
    • Color (Bees especially like blue, purple, violet, white and yellow.)

With that in mind, here are five flowers for you to grow that bees love, and they’ll flourish almost anywhere.

Achillea flowers
Achillea
Achillea, commonly called Yarrow, is a perennial herb native to parts of Europe, Asia and North America.   Yarrow produces flat flower clusters in hues of red, pink, gold, yellow and white. Flowering begins in the spring and continues well into summer or even fall. Feathery, fern-like leaves are green or gray and have a fresh, spicy fragrance.  Yarrow is perfect for borders and naturalizing in mass plantings, fresh- and dried flower arrangements. It grows well in zones 3-8.

Coreopsis – known by the unflattering name of “tickseed” – is a bright-flowered plant with blossoms shaped like large asters. Color is mostly yellow, but there are some in pink shades, too. Maintenance is minimal. It’s a sunny summer flower that will lift your spirits. Coreopsis thrives in USDA climate zones 4-9.

Echinacea (Coneflower) is loved for its beautiful, showy flowers, and has been reputed for centuries to be an herbal remedy. It requires very little maintenance, too. Popular colors include pink and white. Echinacea is perfect for climate zones 3-8


Nepeta 'Blue Wonder'
Nepeta (Catmint), of course, is adored by cats and their servile humans, but bees go crazy around it, too. Catnip plants are wonderful for the herb garden. The alluring flowers and aroma are pleasing to all. Catmint colors include blue, blue and deeper blue. Though native to Europe, it is right at home anywhere in climate zones 3-9.

Rudbeckia (Black-Eye Susan) attracts bees, butterflies, and birds which love the seeds. All Black-Eyed Susans are reasonably drought-tolerant. They're especially suited to naturalizing, wildflower meadows, cutting gardens, wildlife gardens, native plant collections, heritage and cottage gardens. Colors are shades of yellow and orange. Rudbeckia is native to North America, and since there are very few states where it cannot be found, you know it’ll thrive in USDA climate zones 3-9.

“But”, you say, “I’m afraid of bees!”

That’s called melissophobia. Actually, though, you’re not so much afraid of bees as you are of bee stings. Am I right? Fear less. Bees are not interested in you. They only sting in self-defense or to protect their homes. As a former bee-keeper, I speak from personal experience. Many were the times I’d slowly approach the hives without protection of long sleeves, veil and gloves to sit and observe the wondrous little creatures. Some would fly up to inspect me. Sometimes another person would join me. So long as one of us didn’t thrash about, the bees would buzz off and go about their beesiness.
Think how much satisfaction you’ll feel with a garden full of flowers for the bees, knowing that you’ve done some good.

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Sunday, June 9, 2019

What's Your Soil Type



Bare foot farmer on soil

Soil is more than just something to hold your plants upright and in place.

Sometimes we think of it that way, though. Fact is, it’s that and more. It provides the elements that plants need to grow.

Unless you’re growing hydroponically (artificially in soil-less, nutrient-rich solutions), you need to know what type of soil you have, if you’re going to garden successfully. It’s true even if you’re growing in containers.

As noted in a previous article, soil consists of solids, liquids and gases. Let’s consider the solids. They include:

  • Minerals – Inorganic solids with definite chemical compositions in crystal forms formed by geologic processes. Examples include magnesium, sodium, iron, copper, and zinc.
  • Organic matter – These are left-overs of dead plants and animals. Examples include shells, bones, hair, feathers, leaves, grass, wood, and such cell structures in various stages of decomposition.
  • All of those help to nourish and support your plants.

These are the basic soil types.

I did a web search for soil types to see what answers would turn up. Some returned as few as four types. One search returned twelve! While it might not be as precise, I prefer the fewer.

With the exception of one type, the difference between the other three amounts to the size of the soil particles. Those would be:


  • Sand – This includes the largest of the particles. Each one is usually visible to the naked eye. Liquids and gases can easily flow between them, maybe too fast. Dry particles typically do not cohere.
  • Silt – Silt particles are somewhere between the size of sand and clay. They are produced by the action of water, becoming sediment. When wet, silt coheres, but remains somewhat crumbly.
  • Clay – Clay includes the finest of all soil particles. Many are flat in shape. When wet, clay is plastic. When dry it becomes brick-hard.
  • Loam – It’s a combination of the other three soil types. Here the combinations are many. They are named according to the particle sizes, their predominance, and, often, the location where they are found.

A good example is Tifton soil – a soil of Georgia. A Wikipedia article describes it like this:

A typical Tifton soil profile consists of an 11 inches (280 mm) topsoil of dark grayish brown loamy sand. The subsoil extends to about 65 inches, strong brown fine sandy loam to 22 inches; yellowish brown sandy clay loam to 40 inches; yellowish brown mottled, sandy clay loam to 60 inches, and strong brown, mottled sandy clay to 65 inches. Two distinctive features of the Tifton soil profile are the presence of more than 5 percent ironstone nodules in the upper part of the soil and more than 5 percent plinthite in the lower part of the soil.

Tifton soils are on nearly level to gently sloping uplands of the Southern Coastal Plain. They formed in loamy sediments of marine origin. Tifton soils are among the most agriculturally important soils in the state.

Learn more by observation or the official soil maps.

It’s important to know your soil type because it informs you about the possible success or failure of your plant choices and landscaping plans. You can learn your soil type by simple observation, but if you want to be more sophisticated about it, go to the interactive USDA Web Soil Survey web site. According to the site, “NRCS has soil maps and data available online for more than 95 percent of the nation’s counties and anticipates having 100 percent in the near future.” Thanks to your tax dollars at work, you can probably drill down to your own location, and get the official nitty-gritty about the dirt under your feet.

What about organic matter?

Well, that’s called humus. Humus is the organic component of soil. (It is not to be confused with hummus, which is organic matter of an edible sort.) Humus is made up of decomposed plants and animals. It helps with water retention in the soil, and also provides many nutrients to your plants in readily available form.

What you should do about your soil.

If you have sandy loam, loamy clay, or any of the other combinations, there’s not a lot you can do about it. If you have perfect garden soil, consider yourself lucky. But, what if  your soil is much less than ideal? Short of a major excavation project, you’ll always have it under your feet. Even then, you can only excavate so deep. I think you ought to just learn to live with it, but living with it still means you can improve it to some degree with the addition of soil amendments.

The helpful folks at your local Cooperative Extension Office can advise you about that. They should know what measures have been successful, and what have not.

For example, Iowa State Hort News states, “Advertisements for gypsum sometimes claim that gypsum will help loosen heavy, clay soils and improve soil drainage. However, the addition of gypsum to Iowa soils is of little benefit.”

Experts at Washington State University concur. “With the exception of arid and coastal regions (where soil salts are high) and the southeastern United States (where heavy clay soils are common), gypsum amendment is just not necessary in non-agricultural areas.”

Cooperative Extension agents in other states might advise differently.

Adding organic matter (humus) to your soil is always a good idea, and composting is one of the best ways to achieve it. My article, The Not-So-Magical Experience of Composting, gives a basic idea of the process.

Soil improvement is an ongoing project.

Keep in mind that soil improvement – especially adding organic humus – is an ongoing process. About 30 years ago, when I was intent on improving the organic matter of my Tifton loamy-sand, a farmer friend told me I could add it ‘til the cows came home, but it wouldn’t do any good. The reason being that the heat and humidity here breaks down organic matter so quickly it won’t build up on the soil. He was right. After three decades of growing and mowing clover and rye grass, there’s less than 1 inch of organic matter on top of my acres of loamy sand. I’m not saying it hasn’t done some good. I’m simply saying you have to keep on keeping on.

Building a thick layer of humus in a few flower beds or vegetable garden should be easier because you have less area to work. This would be especially true in raised bed gardening. Even so, dig down a foot or so; you’ll probably find your native soil just as it was before.

My last word on the subject…maybe.

Choose your plants to match your soil type, not the other way around. You have arid, sandy soil? Plant something that thrives in it – cactus, perhaps. (By the way, check the GoGardenNow – The Gardening Blog articles on xeriscaping.) You have heavy, clay soil? Select plants that love it. Same goes for any other soil type.

The bottom line is that knowing and understanding your soil type will help you make better decisions about how to manage it, and to select plants that will improve your chances of gardening success.