Friday, November 21, 2008

Come Feed The Birds

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are now over 51.3 million bird-watchers in the United States, and the number continues to grow. A birder is defined as an individual who "must have either taken a trip a mile or more from home for the primary purpose of observing birds and/or closely observed or tried to identify birds around the home." The vast majority do so at home. And why not? It is so easy and inexpensive to do.

If you are not yet a birder, you should consider this marvelous educational hobby. You'll delight in watching these feathered creatures, and as your knowledge increases so will your sense of satisfaction. If you are a bird-watcher, introduce someone else to the pleasure.

When our children were very young, we positioned a bird bath and feeders in view of a special window so they could watch and learn. And when our parents aged, we provided them with bird feeders so they could watch from their favorite chairs. Feeding the birds is a kindness for birds and people alike.

To feed the widest variety of birds, different types of bird feeders and foods should be used.

Platform and tray feeders are flat structures with short walls attached to the rims to prevent seed from falling off. The feeders may be set on the ground, mounted on poles or hung. Some are designed to be mounted beneath other types of feeders to catch spilled seed.

These can present a wide variety of seeds. Filled with millet, platform and tray feeders attract blackbirds, cowbirds, doves, juncos, chipping sparrows, house sparrows, tree sparrows, white-crowned sparrows and white-throated sparrows.

If corn is used, they will attract doves, grackels, house sparrows, jays, juncos, starlings and white-throated sparrows. If set on or near the ground, they will also attract bobwhite quail and ring-necked pheasants.

If peanuts are used, platform and tray feeders will attract cardinals, chickadees, doves, grackles, house finches, jays, juncos, sparrows, starlings and titmice.

Hopper feeders are like boxes with side panels usually of glass or acrylic. The panels are positioned with narrow openings at the base so that small amounts of seed can empty into a feed trough or tray. Of course, there are different sizes available for dispensing small seeds or peanuts.

Metal tube feeders are shaped like round metal cages. Some have perforated sides while others have wire mesh tubes, allowing different sizes of seed to be used. The smallest mesh is appropriate for dispensing Nyjer thistle seed. Those with larger perforations may dispense peanuts. The mesh or perforations allow birds to cling to the tube and eat from the sides. Trays may be attached to catch spilled seed.

The more common tube feeders have solid tubes, often of acrylic, with ports at the base for dispensing seed. Perches for the birds to mount upon are often attached. Trays may also be attached to these to save dropped seed.

Black oil sunflower seeds work very well in tube feeders, and there is very little waste. These attract chickadees, goldfinches, redpolls, nuthatches, pine siskins, titmice and woodpeckers. Add a tray to the bottom of the feeder and you'll also attract cardinals, crossbills, jays, purple finches and sparrows.

A tube feeder and tray with peanuts will attract cardinals, chickadees, doves, grackles, house finches and sparrows, jays, juncos starlings and titmice. Hanging peanut feeders draw chickadees, titmice and woodpeckers.

Nyjer seed feeders draw chickadees, doves, dark-eyed juncos, goldfinches, pine siskins, purple finches, redpolls and various sparrows.

Suet feeders come in many forms, but the most common basic element is the wire to hold a suet cake. Suet is a fat-based product that may also contain seed, peanut butter or insects. The cage is hinged and has a simple latch for locking. The simplest are hung or attached to the sides of other feeders. However, ingenious designers have come up with various improvements. The upside down suet cage is covered with a small roof to protect the cake from rain. Clinging birds hold on to the bottom of the structure and feed. Tail prop suet feeders are designed with woodpeckers in mind. Rather than in a square cake form, the suet can be presented in a log held in place by a round wire holder.

Suet feeders will bring cardinals, chickadees, creepers, kinglets, nuthatches, starlings, thrashers, woodpeckers and wrens. Suet with peanut butter draws bluebirds, cardinals, goldfinches, jays, juncos, kinglets, starlings, thrushes, woodpeckers and wrens.

There is even a suet feeder designed to simulate a tree trunk. Thin cakes consisting of suet and peanut butter are sandwiched between two slabs. This one is particularly attractive to woodpeckers.

Some birds have a sweet,...uh..., beak, so certain feeders are appropriately designed to hold slices of fruit, dollops of jelly or nectar. Bluebirds, cardinals, cedar waxwings, yellow-breasted chats, jays, mockingbirds, orioles, starlings, tanagers, thrashers, thrushes and woodpeckers enjoy fruit. We are all familiar with hummingburd nectar feeders. But nectar made more readily available is appreciated by cardinals, finches, orioles, tanagers, thrushes and woodpeckers.

Bluebirds like small insects like mealworms. Bluebird feeders are designed to hold the mealworms and to provide a protected environment for the birds as they dine.

Placement of your bird feeder is nearly as important as what you put in it. It should be situated where it is easy to view and convenient to fill.

The feeder should be near to trees and shrubs for shelter where they may assess the situation and wait until it is their turn to feed. Evergreens are perfect, providing protection from weather and a hiding place from predators. About 12 or 15 feet distance should be good. A combination of shrubs and trees can provide shelter for a greater number of species.

Hummingbird feeders should be protected from the wind in order to avoid spilling nectar. A shady place will keep the nectar relatively cool.

Birds may not visit your feeder right away. Sometimes it takes awhile for the news to get around. Be patient. But if the birds still don't come, reconsider whether the setting is hospitable.

Though they never ask a crumb from you, come feed the birds. You'll be glad that you do.

Do you have questions or comments about bird feeders? Do you have pictures of birds at your feeder that you'd like to share with us? Contact me by e-mail. I'd love to hear from you.

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Monday, November 3, 2008

Behind A Garden Wall in El Paso

What grows behind that garden wall? Follow us and we'll show you.

The landscape around El Paso, TX is stark and dry, seemingly inhospitable to all but the hardiest of plants. To think that one could grow a lush garden there seems impossible. But this lovely oasis welcomes you with its tropical appearance. See what this resourceful gardener has done as you take this photographic tour.

"It is a challenge to figure out what to plant but so much fun" she told me.

bold entrance beckons us with colorful enticements and a hint of what grows beyond the garden door. Creeping fig (Ficus pumila) adorns the wall. Tropical palms lend the romance of desert oases while colorful Margarita Sweet Potato vines (Ipomea batatas) spill out of terra cotta and blue glazed planters.

Lovely shades of pink and white work well with the colors of the house and surrounding hills. But you'll also find other colors in flower and foliage.

A partial list of plants in this wonderful sanctuary includes:

Persian Buttercup (Ranunculus asiaticus), Mont Blanc Asiatic Lily (Lilium x 'Mont Blanc'), Red Carpet Border Lily (Lilium x 'Red Carpet'), Carolina Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata), Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), Upright Elephant Ear (Alocasia macrorrhizos), Black Stem Elephant Ear (Colocasia esculenta 'Fontanesii'), Wild Taro (Colocasia esculenta), Bat-Wing Passion Flower (Passiflora coriacea), Blue Passion Flower (Passiflora caerulea), Creeping Red Verbena (Verbena peruviana), Echinacea 'Magnus', Echinacea 'Sunset', Little Business Daylily, Chicago Apache Daylily, Aster x 'Monch', Pink Ice Plant (Delosperma cooperi), Blood Lily (Haemanthus coccineus), Dahlia x 'Fleurel', Dahlia x 'Apache', Dahlia x 'Golden Emblem', Dahlia x 'Rosella', Dahlia x 'Red Majorette', Dahlia x 'Kennemerland', Dahlia x 'Ace Summer Sunset', Caladium 'Aaron', Caladium 'Postman Joyner', Golden Groundsel (Ligularia dentata 'Desdemona'), Adam's Needle (Yucca filamentosa) and Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia uvaria).

Would you like to share your garden with us? Let us know. We would love to hear from you. If yours is a private garden, and we choose to feature it, you will be rewarded with $10 off your next purchase of $60.00 or more at You'll get free shipping on your order, too. Your privacy will be protected. If yours is a public garden, we will gladly link to your website and encourage you to link to ours for maximum exposure.

Return to and take a look around the shop.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Pleasure Of Bird-bathing

When we think of attracting birds to our yards, we think of bird feeders. To be sure, they do bring many species within viewing distance. But birds are also attracted to water. And they especially appreciate bird baths this time of year because of heat and dry conditions. A large population of juvenile birds and the start of migration season will bring even more to bathe. In addition, there are many species that dine on insects and would never frequent a seed feeder. So the addition of water features will attract more such as flycatchers, mockingbirds, tanagers, thrashers, thrushes, vireos and warblers.

There are many kinds of baths available on the market: bowls and dishes, puddles and fountains, some suspended and some set on the ground. With a little ingenuity, you can make your own from a tray, garbage can lid or a Frisbee. Any type of bath will attract birds, but some species prefer particular structures and bath placement. To attract a diversity of species, consider more than one type of bath.
The most popular type of bird bath with humans is the bowl or dish on a 3' pedestal, perhaps because they function well as landscape ornaments. Fortunately, they are popular with many birds, too. They readily attract cardinals, catbirds, chickadees, doves, finches, goldfinches, mockingbirds, nuthatches, orioles and sparrows.

Dishes or bowls set on the ground or partially buried are especially popular with ground birds such as quail. But they also attract doves, juncos, robins and sparrows.
Multi-level pools and fountains can have the added attraction of moving water powered by recirculating submersible pumps. These types of baths draw buntings, cardinals, catbirds, cedar waxwings, chickadees, doves, finches, flycatchers, goldfinches, grosbeaks, mockingbirds, nuthatches, orioles, sparrows, titmice, thrushes, vireos and warblers.
Moving water can also be provided by a simple dripper or a garden hose with a water fountain placed above a bowl, dish or shallow pool. The Water Wiggler is a useful battery-operated device that provides movement by gently agitating the water. The sound of the water attracts birds likes doves, juncos, mockingbirds, quail, robins, sparrows and towhees.
Even a small hanging cup will attract a few little birds like chickadees, finches and titmice for a drink.
Hummingbirds seem like they're always on the move. Just as they eat in flight, they bathe on the wing. To please them, set up a mister near your hummingbird feeder or over your pedestal bath. They'll fly to and fro through the mist, then perch somewhere in a tree to preen and dry.
Keeping bird baths is a simple and pleasurable task. Here are a few tips:
  • Provide clean water. Still water may need to be replaced daily since it can become stagnant in the heat. Flowing water may be freshened less frequently.
  • Refill the bath before it becomes dry. This is always important, but especially so if you are running a submersible pump.
  • Maintain a shallow depth. Water more than 2" deep is too deep for the little creatures. They want to bathe, not swim.
  • Provide non-slip footing. Plastic and glazed ceramic baths my have slippery surfaces. You may improve them by creating small islands or shoals of pebbles in the center or around the edges.
  • Extend the bathing season by adding a thermostatically controlled water heater.
So, while the time is best, set up a bird bath near your home. The birds will show their appreciation by providing you with an educational and entertaining experience.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Fall Bulbs For Warm Climates

Well, of course fall is on the way. And though some parts of the U.S. are already enjoying moderating temperatures, we in the Deep South are not. So it's difficult for us to get into the mood to think about planting fall bulbs. In fact, one customer recently wondered whether there are any fall bulbs that perform reliably in our heat. For some of us, average minimum winter temperature is only 40 degrees Fahrenheit. So I decided to put together a quick list of fall bulbs that do well in warm climates.
As you scan the list below, you'll notice that a number and, usually, a letter follows each plant name. That is the warmest USDA climate zone where that plant is reported to succeed. If the plant does well in much colder zones, I feel it's unnecessary to state the climate range. However, there are some bulbs that are only successful in the warmest zones, so I noted their range, e.g. "9-11."
  • Allium aflatunense 9b
  • Allium giganteum 9b
  • Allium sphaerocephalum 'Hair' 9b
  • Allium moly 9b
  • Allium 'Mount Everest' 9b
  • Allium neapolitanum 9b
  • Allium oreophilum syn. ostrowskianum 10b
  • Allium schubertii 9b
  • Allium siculum syn. bulgaricum) 9b
  • Allium sphaerocephalum 10b
  • Anemone blanda 10b
  • Anemone coronaria (De Caen) 10b
  • Camassia cusickii 9b
  • Camassia leichtlinii 9b
  • Chionodoxa forbesii 9b
  • Chionodoxa luciliae 9b
  • Colchicum spp. 11
  • Crocus sativus 9b
  • Crocus speciosus 9a
  • Crocus vernus 11
  • Crocus zonatus 10b
  • Erythronium revolutum 9b
  • Freesia 8-11
  • Fritillaria persica 10a
  • Fritillaria uva-vulpis 9b
  • Hippeastrum papilio (Butterfly Amaryllis)8 - 10
  • Hippeastrum hybrids (Dutch and South African Amaryllis) 8 - 11
  • Ipheion uniflorum 9b
  • Iris danfordiae 9b
  • Iris x hollandica 9b
  • Iris reticulata 9b
  • Lycoris aurea 10b
  • Lycoris radiata 9b
  • Lycoris squamigera 11
  • Muscari latifolium 9b
  • Muscari macrocarpum 9-11
  • Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica 9b
  • Ranunculus asiaticus 8a - 11
  • Scilla hyacinthoides (syn. campanulata) 10b
The following narcissus are known to do well into zone 10b:
  • Narcissus Accent
  • Narcissus Actaea
  • Narcissus Barrett Browning
  • Narcissus Bell Song
  • Narcissus Carlton
  • Narcissus Chinese Sacred Lily
  • Narcissus Dutch Master
  • Narcissus Fortissimo
  • Narcissus Golden Bells
  • Narcissus Grand Soleil d'Or
  • Narcissus Hawera
  • Narcissus Ice Follies
  • Narcissus Jetfire
  • Narcissus Mount Hood
  • Narcissus Pheasant Eye
  • Narcissus Pipit
  • Narcissus Replete
  • Narcissus Rijnveld's Early Sensation
  • Narcissus Rip Van Winkle
  • Narcissus Tahiti
  • Narcissus Sir Winston Churchill
  • Narcissus Tete-a-Tete
  • Narcissus Thalia
Beginning July through December, you'll find a great selection of fall bulbs for warm climates at

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Third Mistake: No Clue About Plants

This is the third in a series of articles on common gardening mistakes.

A third mistake is beginning your gardening project without enough information about plants. In this article, I'll give you a list of things you need to know about them, and help you find that info.

As I wrote in my last blog post, gardening should be pleasant and satisfying. Much of the satisfaction comes from success. Without it, you'd probably give up. So would I. So we need to know as much about our craft as possible. We don't need to be experts, either. Just a little
information is enough to start. But I bet that the more you learn, the more you'll want to learn.

Life Cycle

On of the first things you'll need to know when selecting plants is their life cycle. A life cycle describes how long it takes for a plant to grow, flower, produce seed and die. Imagine how disappointed you would be to plant a flower expecting years of pleasure, only to have it die within a season. Knowing the life cycle of any plant will help you choose one for its intended use and avoid disappointment.

There are three types of life cycles: annual, biennial, and perennial. An annual plant is one that grows, flowers, seeds and dies within a single growing season. Examples include marigolds, tomatoes, and zinnias. A biennial plant is one that grows during the first season, then produces flowers, seeds and dies the second season. Examples include cabbage, carrots, foxglove, money plant and parsley. A perennial plant is one that requires at least three years to complete its life cycle. Examples include chrysanthemums, daylilys, hostas, roses, woody shrubs and trees.

Though it may confuse matters a bit, there are some biennials and perennials that produce flowers during the first growing season. If they are too tender to live through the winter, gardeners may use them as annuals, enjoying them for a single year and planting them again the next year.


This refers to the characteristic appearance of the plant. There are common and scientific terms that are used to describe plant appearances. I won't go into them here. But it is important for you to know the habit of plants you might choose for your landscape. Know that looks can be deceiving, especially when the plant is young, so a little research is necessary. Imagine your dismay if you purchase a plant thinking it has a low, mounding habit because it looked that way at the nursery only to discover that it has an upright, ascending one.


Certainly, plants should be chosen with purpose in mind. Size is a factor in whether a plant suits a purpose, so it's important to know its potential or ultimate size. Let's consider foundation planting around a house. Though certain shrubs may be just the right size for a few years, they can outgrow their usefulness. And I'm not inclined to spend weekends pruning them to maintain an appropriate size. So I plant with potential or ultimate size in mind.

Growth Rate

Growth rate is nearly as important a factor as plant size. Because we tend to be impatient, we want plants that grow fast so they will look mature or fulfill their purpose in short order. But the problem is that plants which grow quickly may not stop growing when you think they should. If you want a large plant, my advice is to buy one.

Hardiness - cold and heat

Plants can't migrate when summer or winter approach, so they must be chosen with cold-hardiness and heat-tolerance in mind. The fact that you find a plant for sale at your local big-box is no indication that it is appropriate for your area. Again, a little basic research is necessary.

And while you're at it, learn the following characteristics of any plant: moisture requirement, nutrient requirements, pH requirement and sun exposure preference. If you have a deer problem, research that, too. With this information, you'll be able to choose plants appropriately according to what you've already learned about your planting site. For "how-to" information on that, see my last blog post.

I promised that I'd help you find plant information. Here are some places to look:

Check out the plant listings at You'll find some basic facts such as plant hardiness, sun exposure, moisture and pH requirements.

Read articles on this blog. You'll find plenty of information now, and there's more to come.

Consult books. With so much information on the internet, it's fair to ask whether books are even necessary. I think so for a few reasons:

  • If you own them you usually know where to find them, provided you haven't loaned them out; (In fact, I have a ceramic plaque posted on my wall that I bought several years ago as a souvenir from the University of Salamanca which warns, "HAI EXCOMUNION RESERVADA A SU SANTITDAD CONTRA QUALESQUIERA PERSONAS, QUE QUITAREN, DISTRAXEREN, O DE OTRO QUALQUIER MODO ENAGENAREN ALGUN LIBRO, PERGAMINO, O PAPEL DE ESTA BIBLIOTHECA, SIN QUE PUEDAN SER ABSUELTAS HASTA QUE ESTA ESTA PERFECTAMENTE REINTEGRADA. So don't even ask to borrow mine.)
  • They seem easier on the eye;
  • They don't burn your lap when you're reading in bed;
  • They may become collectible.
Your local public library is a treasure trove of information. Not only may you borrow books without risk of excommunication, but you may be able to buy some cheap. Libraries often have periodic book sales. Some even devote part of their space to permanent book sales, so you may be able to purchase great material for a couple of dollars.

As I write this, I'm scanning the shelves around my desk. The vast majority of my books on plants were published by Timber Press. You should check out their online catalog. The National Arboretum Book Of Outstanding Garden Plants by Jacqueleine Heriteau with Dr. Marc Cathey, published by Simon and Schuster, is worth owning.

If you insist on browsing the internet, a quick search will turn up lots of information on practically any plant that comes to mind. But you should definitely check out Paghat's Garden for interesting observations, excellent photography, and a fascinating perspective on gardening and plants.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Second Mistake: No Clue About The Garden!

This is the second in a series of articles on common gardening mistakes. The second mistake is beginning without enough information about your garden site. In this article I'll give you a list of basic things to learn.
Gardening should be pleasant and satisfying. To be sure, there is a lot of pleasure in gardening activity, but much of the satisfaction comes from success. Ask yourself, "Self. Would you continue gardening if you never tasted success?" My self would say, "No!", and I bet yours would, too.

Many would-be gardeners are clueless, lacking basic information about their craft. Sometimes you can stumble across success in gardening. But you're more likely to do well if you are equipped with some knowledge. Fortunately, gardening information is readily available and easy to obtain. Whats more, learning is fun and satisfying in itself.

You will improve your knowledge and gardening skills if you learn a few of the following things about your garden:

Soil type

Though there are many soil types, there are only four general types that you really need to know.
  • Rock
  • Sand
  • Clay
  • Humus
These four soil types in different combinations and of various origins determine the porosity and nutrients of your soil. As with most things, too much of any is a bad thing. You need to know your soil type. Most often, it is quite obvious. But if you are unsure or need to know more, your nearby Cooperative Extension Service is a great resource. With the help of soil samples and maps, they can assist you. Believe it or not, several different soil types may exist on the same property. Its helpful to know them all, especially if there is any chance that you might be planting in them. There is not much you can do to radically change your soil type, but you can usually improve it by adding appropriate materials. Your Cooperative Extension Agent can make recommendations.

Soil moisture

Water is essential to life. Even cacti need some of it. So it's availability is important to everything. Soil moisture can be influenced by soil type, the location of water sources ranging from rivers to downspouts, by low-lying areas as different as valleys and mere depressions, and rainfall.

Even the water table is important. The water table is the depth below the soil surface where more abundant water may be found. For some, this may be fairly near the surface. If the water table is too near the surface, some plants will not grow well because their roots won't grow into the water.

Several years ago I decided to plant an acre of dwarf espaliered apple trees. Fruit tree size is affected by the rootstock to which the upper portion is grafted. Espaliered plants are grown on a trellis or against a wall. Mine were to be trellised. I knew that the water table was an important factor, so I obtained a bit of help from the Natural Resourses Conservation Service to locate it. My planting site was on a very slight hill. We drilled at the bottom of the hill and discovered that the water table was about 3' below the surface. Safe enough, I thought. But I was wrong. The trees at the bottom of the slope never did do well. Eventually I ended the project.

You may be able to manage soil moisture. But at what cost? Rainfall can not be managed. So you must consider water availability very carefully and choose your plants wisely.

Soil pH

Soil pH refers to the level of acidity or alkalinity of the water in your soil. Plants function best within a pH range. For some plants the range may be wide; for others it may be comparatively narrow. Soil pH can also influence the growth of diseases and the availability of nutrients. Your Cooperative Extension Service can also help you determine this for a nominal fee.

Various tests can be made on your garden soil. They can even test your potting soil. A routine test usually includes pH, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and manganese levels. Other possible tests may include boron, soluble salts, organic matter and nitrate levels. The routine test is usually sufficient, but I often request a test for organic matter.

The procedure may vary from state to state, but in Georgia, one can obtain a small soil sample bag from the County Extension Service Office. The bag is printed with sampling instructions. One simply prints one's name and address on the bag, checks off the requested tests, indicates the type of plant one intends to grow, inserts the soil sample in the bag, and returns it to the office. The sample is sent to a state lab. Within a few weeks, the results are returned along with recommendations for improvement. A pH level of 7 is neutral. Anything below 7 is acid. The lower the number, the more acid it is. Anything above 7 is more alkaline.

Climate zone

After years of data collection, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has delineated various climate zones throughout the country based upon average low winter and high summer temperatures. Knowing which zone you live in can go a long way in determining which plants could survive in your area. You can learn about your climate zone by going to the USDA Web Site and looking at their map.
The mere fact that a plant is known to do well in a range of USDA climate zones that happens to include yours is no guarantee that it will perform well for you. There are too many other variable factors. Nevertheless, this is important information for you to know.

Sun exposure

Is it shady or not? You would think this to be fairly obvious, not requiring much research. But it does require a bit of observation and thought because conditions change. The sun is positioned higher in the sky during summer. It rises later and sets earlier in winter. Deciduous trees lose their leaves. Small trees grow. So, what was in shade earlier may be exposed to bright sunlight later. These things you must know.

Since high school, I've kept a few orchids as a hobby. For a few years a bathroom has provided an ideal environment because it has a large window and the humidity is high. Recently I was dissatisfied with their progress and thought a bit more light might help to induce bloom. So I moved a few to a table sheltered on a covered side porch. It was shady all day long; so I thought. But late afternoon summer sunlight reached all the way to the table and burned a few of my plants. Aggravated but determined, I spied a large birch tree that provided shade all day; so I thought. But spaces between the leaves allowed spots of sunlight to peep through just long enough to burn spots on some of my orchid leaves. Determined to avoid future damage, I moved them under a camellia shrub and strategically placed a few pots of banana plants to block early morning sun. But now I'm not so sure the orchids weren't better off in my bathroom. I could have avoided damage to my Phalaenopsis if I had been more observant earlier.

Plant descriptions will usually say something like, "Full sun to partial shade", or "Prefers light shade." What does that mean? Think of it like this: "full sun" means full exposure to sunlight from sunrise to sunset. "Partial shade" means some shade during the day, but that is so variable as to be practically meaningless UNLESS you observe a site and take notes. My orchids on the porch were in partial shade, i.e. shade until 6:00pm, but when the sun finally reached them it scorched them.

When considering "partial shade", you've got to observe how much shade, when during the day, and for how long. Don't forget to take into account the intensity of the sunlight when it does come around.
"Light shade" means just that all day long.

Reflected light is also an important consideration. For plants requiring shade, it can provide just enough exposure to be of benefit.

Other things you should know

Though they may seem minor, there are some other things you should learn. Among them are wind and chemical exposure.

Wind exposure can affect the stability of your plants, i.e. blow them down. It can affect soil moisture, i.e. dry it out faster. It can help prevent frost damage by not allowing it to settle on your plants. Take note of it.
Chemical exposure is usually in the form of pollution. It can be obvious to the extreme, or hidden and insidious.

When I was a little kid, my family occasionally traveled through a town named Copperhill, TN. Copperhill was the home of a copper mining industry which produced a lot of air, soil and water pollution. Consequently the nearby hills were barren and eroded. This was an example of the obvious and extreme.

Hidden chemical pollution can be from something that was dropped, spilled, washed, leached or misapplied. It may not be easy to determine. The best thing is to be handle with care.

Whether your garden is large or small, a bit of basic information will enable you to enjoy your gardening experience and taste sweet success, and I want you to have it. Begin today learning about your garden space by following the steps I've already mentioned. I'll continue to provide or help you find the information you need. Not only that, but there is a lot that I can learn from you. So please contact me with your questions and your comments. And of course, I invite you to add your comments to this blog. Enjoy!

Are you ready to shop? Be sure to visit and have fun!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

First Mistake: No Idea!

This is the first in a series of articles on common gardening mistakes. The first mistake is gardening without a plan. In this article, I'll give you some suggestions how to form one.

I've made this mistake myself: finding an interesting plant at the garden center and buying it with little or no idea of what I'm going to do with it, then returning home and walking around the yard looking for a place to plant it.

Being a plant enthusiast, I've done this type of thing very often with wild abandon. I've bought strange-looking plants, begged for cuttings, shaken seeds into my pocket and pinched off tiny branches in passing. I've tried growing things where anyone who knows anything said they couldn't be grown. I've bought plants, not for the plants themselves but for the epiphytes that were growing on them. I've espaliered apples and hybrid cherry trees to the walls of my home in south Georgia. To indulge myself further, I've enlisted with government programs to help with new plant trials. Several years ago, a visitor from a department of agriculture said it looked like I was running a one-man "experiment station."

On the other hand, there have been days when I've not wanted to see another plant, much less to care for it. So you can see I'm a hopeless case.

Why then am I presuming to advise you about developing a landscape plan? Because I'm learning from my mistakes and I want to share what I've learned with you.

There is something to be said for the thrill of finding an exciting new plant and adding it to your collection. It seems therapeutic. To be sure, the opportunity to buy that plant at that price may not present itself again. But if this pattern is followed consistently, your yard will look more like a confusing jumble than a thoughtful expression of yourself. In fact, it can become a source of frustration for you.

So I suggest that you begin with a basic plan for your landscape. It doesn't matter whether you live on a five-acre mini-estate, or have a patio garden; you need a plan. Obviously, the smaller garden is simpler and easier to deal with. You should be flexible about it, for the garden is almost like a living, ever-changing organism. Not only does your garden change, but so do you. Your desires and needs tomorrow may be a different from what they are today. But it you have a basic plan, you can flesh it out as you go. You can even change it fundamentally if you need to so so in the future.

Sometimes the idea of developing a plan seems intimidating. I understand that all too well. We may be stymied by the enormity of it all and end up doing nothing. But begin we must. Keep in mind that your plan does not need to be comprehensive. You don't need to include every single plant and color. A very, VERY "bare-bones" plan is all that you need at first.

Here are a few questions you should answer in order to get started with your plan.

1. Shall I develop the plan myself, or enlist the aid of another?

Sometimes we don't know where to begin, so a little assistance is needed. If that is true for you, consider seeking an adviser. Find one that meets your needs.

Perhaps you need a lot of help, especially if you have a larger property. If so, consider using a Landscape Architect. You can find some in your area by going to the website of the American Society of Landscape Architects and clicking on Firm Finder. Fill in the search fields, and in a few moments you will have plenty to choose from.

Many garden centers offer consultation and installation services. A quick search through your phone book should turn up a few. These are often quite flexible, ready to help when you need them without requiring big commitments.

Your Cooperative Extension Service can provide a wealth of information, and so may docents and staff at public gardens.

2. What is my lifestyle, and how can my landscape enhance it?

Consider your vocation, family and friends, hobbies and various interests. How does your garden fit with all that?

3. What is the size of my landscape?

This is something that you may not be able to change at the moment, if ever. But your plan should take it into consideration to your best advantage. If your landscape is large, perhaps you should consider dividing your plan into smaller segments. Work outward from your home. Those areas you use more often should be treated first. Those that you use less often should be given less priority.

4. How much time do I have to devote to it?

Don't confuse this with how much time you'd LIKE to devote. Come on now! Be realistic. Count the hours in your day and in your week and ask yourself, "Self! How much time can I devote to my garden?"

5. Is gardening among my favorite activities, or not?

I believe that the urge to do a little gardening and nurturing is part of our human nature. But if gardening isn't your top priority or favorite hobby, that is okay. What is a pleasure for some is a distraction for others. By being honest about it, you can develop a plan that fits your lifestyle.

You have many interests and desires. Your landscape, however large or small, should contribute to your personal fulfillment. With that in mind, posing and answering questions like those above should help you determine how your landscape can become a source of pleasure rather than of frustration. Then, whether you intend to develop your own plan or seek assistance, your ideas can begin to form around your personal needs.

It has been my business for over 25 years to help people with their gardens, so please ask me if you have questions. Visit soon!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

It Takes Small Villages

Last night we ate dinner with friends. These weren't "just friends" but good friends. When we agree, we do so wholeheartedly, and also when we disagree. Our conversation covered lots of stuff: shared faith, businesses, families, successes and failures, good memories and things we've learned.

One friend said it seems like our best, cherished, and most humorous memories are of our most trying experiences. So we shared those for awhile.

Then the subject of "The Economy" was raised. Among the six of us (equal gender representation), none thought that we were actually worse off now than one year ago.

All agreed that these are fearful times. But what's new about that? One person declared that if we stopped listening to the NEWS but kept on doing business as usual (working and earning, counting our dollars, saving, contributing, spending wisely), not much would change for us.

This quote from Pat Paulson came to mind: "We have nothing to fear but fear itself...and of course, the boogieman."

We all agreed that good and manageable relationships are built upon good economies, sound and verifiable agreements, and dinner.

I remember that a politician once opined, "It takes a village!" I'm pretty sure she was thinking of a global village, diverse in constituency yet very much unified. It seems appealing. But it appears to me that if the global village errs (i.e. the village idiot is elected as sheriff; the gold is robbed from the only bank in town), all suffer.

I much prefer the diversity found in small villages where everything is experienced and managed in good proportion: business, friendships, faith, agreements/disagreements, village idiots.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Wild and Wonderful Ivy

Most of us think of ivy as a rampant but boring evergreen ground cover. But look closer and you’ll find a plant with a myriad of interesting variations that can not only provide mass ground cover, but also elegance and curiosity as a potted, trellised or even bonsai plant. Plants in the genus Hedera (Latin for ‘ivy’) are characterized by twining vines with aerial roots that assist them in their ascension.

Ivies are woody plants that spread out until they find something that lets them spread up. When they climb they attach themselves via root-like hold fasts. Ivy can cover slopes, chain link fences and is in fact a plant of choice used to cover massive sound barriers along interstate highways. As a vine for growing in shade, it is unsurpassed. If you want ivy to grow on a structure, fasten it as desired, then watch it go. As far as price per square foot is concerned, ivy is notably inexpensive.

All Hedera, regardless of species, have many things in common. Its foliage is alternate, 3-5 lobed or entire, often variegated. There are various cultivars and growth habits. The leaves range in color from creamy white to deep green with uncounted natural and hybridized variations. It produces umbels of tiny, 5-lobed greenish flowers followed by berry-like fruits in fall. The fruits are toxic to humans but not to animals.Hedera have two distinct growth phases. A young, juvenile plant often has lobed, minutely hairy leaves, adventurous rootlets, and climbs. The older, mature plant has larger, mainly broadly ovate leaves without lobes. Mature plants produce flowers and fruits. This latter phase is seldom seen when the plant is grown indoors. Mature unlobed ivies grown vertically often produce lobes, so pay attention if that is a concern of yours. Lobing is also affected by seasonal variation. This plant mutates readily and is generally hardy to USDA climate zone 5. Zones 6-10 are ideal. Climate zones 7-10 are best for variegated cultivars. Your nearby Cooperative Extension Service office can help you determine your soil pH by a very inexpensive soil sample.
They can live in bright to low light, but variegated forms require higher light, turning greener in low light. They tolerate average to dry conditions but must be well watered during extending dry spells. In addition, the soil must be well drained and completely dried out between irrigation cycles or ivy will get root rot. Hedera prefers humid climates but will tolerate average humidity.

While ivy grows in full sun, exposure to wind can cause leaf burn. It's ideal for shady gardens because it thrives in dark shade. Ivy makes an extensive root system that is tough and deep. Digging it out is a real chore. But, if you decide to remove an established plant it will not return from roots left in the ground once the major stems and leaves have been eliminated.

Be careful when deciding whether to plant ivy outdoors; the same qualities that make them a quick solution for covering up "problem areas" in your garden can make them quick weeds. The very characteristic that makes it a fine ground cover can render it unwelcome: it covers ground. Ivy can be troublesome if completely unchecked, but it’s nothing like kudzu. Ivy does not damage trees or sound structures. It isn't a parasite. It cannot harm a mature tree, but it could outlive it and therefore give the impression that it's killing it when actually the tree is just old. It cannot collapse a sound building. If it’s not pruned it can get into gutters or under shingles and dislodge them under its own weight. A mass of ivy can pull off stucco that's old or not firmly attached, but the plant itself will not do structural damage. In fact, it can protect a building from weather and provides extra insulation.

There are many Hedera species and I am going to describe 6 of them. The ones most common in the U.S. are the first three in the list, H. helix, H. canariensis, H. colchica.

Helix, which means "twining", refers to the way the ivy leaf attaches to the stem. H. helix has several subspecies (helix- English ivy, hibernica- Irish ivy, poetarum-Italian ivy, to name a few) but in general any ivy that starts with “H. helix” is often called English ivy. Brought to North America by colonial settlers, this plant grows easily in many types of soil and in sun or shade and is hardy from Zones 5-9. English ivy is fairly drought-tolerant once it is established. Its two to four inch leaves are alternate and simple or entire (unlobed). Juvenile plants’ leaves have 3-5 lobes and adult leaves are ovate to rhombic (diamond-shaped). Mature plants bear pale green flowers and produce berry-like fruit in fall clusters. English ivy can out-compete grasses, herbs and trees because it is a vigorous climber. In the south, H. helix can grow throughout the year. It mounds up to 1’ tall and climb up to 50’.

H. canariensis (African ivy, Algerian ivy, Canary Island ivy, Madeira ivy or Elephant Leaf ivy) is native to north Africa and the Iberian peninsula. It is distinguished by red leaf stems and 4-8” long heart-shaped or 3-lobed glossy emerald-green leaves. A variegated form is also available. A vigorous climber, this tropical or sub-tropical plant is damaged if temperatures fall below 20F (-6.6C). Growing only in Zones 8 - 10, it is adaptable to various soils and pH, but prefers rich, moist soil in partial sun to shade. It establishes and grows rapidly. If you live in Zone 7 or cooler, African ivy makes a good houseplant.

H. colchica (Persian ivy or Colchis ivy) is native to Asia, Georgia, Russia, northern Turkey and Iran. It's hardy to USDA climate zone 5 or 6 through 9 or 10. Foliage is 3-8” long, dark green, heart-shaped, leathery. When crushed the leaves are refreshingly aromatic.

H. rhombea (Japanese ivy) is native mainly to Japan and Korea. In the U.S. it thrives in Zones 6-9. Characterized by unlobed ovate or triangular leaves only 2" long, Japanese ivy is generally expensive and hard to find.

H. azorica is native to the Azores and thus known only as Azores ivy. Fan-shaped light green leaves grow 3" long on this fast climber. New growth is white and hairy.

H. nepalensis, or Nepal Ivy, has elliptic lobes with 3-6 “teeth.” Native to Himalayas, Afghanistan and western China, it has weak vigor.

I love ivy because it can be elegant, whimsical or purely functional depending on the variety. Fortunately, my Hedera wish list is almost complete. Here are my favorites so far:

H. helix ‘Baltica’- Flat, green, palmate foliage is more heart-shaped and has white veins. Grows in Zones 5-9.

H. helix 'Gold Child'- Variegated flat, palmate green leaves are splashed with gray and broad green-gold margins. Hardy from Zone 5 to 9.

H. helix 'Needlepoint'- Its delicate willowy leaves are under 1" long and look like a bird’s foot, but is hardy from Zone 5 to 9.

H. helix 'Telecurl'- Grows in Zones 5-9 and has a green ruffled leaf is curled between 5 lobes.

H. helix 'Anne Marie'- Variegated flat, hand like leaves have creamy colored lobes.

H. helix 'Ivalace' aka ‘Wilson’- Rippled 5 lobed dark green leaves have crimped margins that curve upward. Hardy in Zones 5-9.

H. helix ‘Teardrop’- 2002 Ivy of the Year. Mostly unlobed foliage that elongate to a point. Slow growing and stiffly branched. Has survived - l5 degree F temperatures.

H. canariensis Gloire de Marengo'- Zones 6-9. Heart-shaped or triangular foliage with wide white margins and grayish centers.

H. colchica 'My Heart'- It's hardy in USDA climate zones 5 - 10.  Needs some shade in zones 7-10.  You'll love its particularly large, green heart shaped leaves.

H. colchica 'Dentata Variegata'- won three awards from the Royal Horticultural Society (1907, 1979, and 1984). Large triangular leaves with a green center and light green edge have sharper points than usual at the end of its lobes. Hardy from Zones 6-9 and can take greater cold than ‘Gloire de Marengo’.

Hedera can be rooted in water using a stem or the tip cuttings of juvenile growth. A hormone to encourage growth works well too. While cuttings can be easy to do, finding the variety you want can be difficult. If you purchase an established plant, plant it in well drained soil just deep enough so that the root ball is flush with the surrounding earth. Let the soil completely dry between watering. Plant them 18” apart or more and they’ll fill in the space quickly. The original plants are considered mature after 2 years and can be thinned. If you’ve working in a small area that might be the best thing to do, but if you’re in a large space, thin what you need to keep it manageable. But how do you keep this plant manageable?

Cutting is successful with persistence but does not kill the plant. However, the use of cutting and then applying an herbicide may provide better control. Digging or pulling a plant up provides immediate control with little re-growth, but don’t leave the pulled plants on the ground; they can root and continue to grow.

Control Hedera that is growing up trees by cutting the vine at waist height, loosening the vine around the limbs and removing the roots. If the root can not be removed by hand, strip the bark and notch the exposed section of the vine. Paint on an undiluted herbicide such as glyphosate.

Hedera can have various pests and problems. Avoid the most common (root and stem rots and leaf spot) by not over irrigating. If you’ve got a rampant leaf spot problem use a fungicide. Spider mites are the most serious pests, usually on plants grown indoors. Treatment requires pesticides that are specifically developed for spider mite control (miticides or acaricides). Because most miticides do not affect eggs, a repeat application at an approximately 10- to 14-day interval is usually needed for control. Aphids can be controlled chemically, but also tend to kill other good bugs in the area. Try spot treatment first. Mealybugs have never destroyed ivy, but if they bother you try using the thumb and forefinger. If they’re really doing damage try Malathion. Whiteflies; I hate them but they’re easy to control. If your ivy is grown inside, try a white fly trap. If the ivy is outside an insecticidal soap is the least toxic material that can also get rid of them.

To sum up:

  • Plant Hedera at the same level it grew previously; don’t bury it.
  • Plant 18” apart.
  • Let the ground dry between irrigations.
  • Hedera is typically hardy between Zones 5-9.
  • Monitor the borders of the desired growth area to prevent escape.
Whether inside or out, Hedera is a wonderful plant with many potential applications. With a little love and care, this is a plant that will grow where and how you want it. Take some time to examine ivy varieties; you’ll be surprised at all Hedera have to offer.

If you would like to receive more free gardening information and be notified of new items and specials, sign in today and subscribe to our newsletter. There is no obligation to you. Of course, you can cancel at any time. And don't forget to tell us about your experiences with Hedera by adding a comment to this blog. We look forward to hearing from you!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Simply Beautiful Dianthus

Dianthus gratianopolitanus: hard to pronounce, but it stands for a simply beautiful plant. The name Dianthus is a combination of the Greek words "dios" for god and "anthos" which means flower. Thus this divine flower has always been highly esteemed by gardeners and viewers. Dianthus gratianopolitanus (grah-see-AHN-no-pohl-ee-TAHN-us) is also called "Cheddar pink" and "Border pink". The origin of the term "pink" or "pinks" is likely from the Dutch or German words for Pentecost, which is the plant’s bloom time. Cheddar pink is named for Cheddar Gorge in southwest England, one of the locations where it grows wild. Border pink is a name that refers to its functionality. It is a common misconception that Cheddar pink is a cultivar itself. 

Native to Europe and the Mediterranean, Cheddar pink is a versatile plant. I’ve seen it used as an excellent border or edge, in rock gardens, as a stunning sloping ground cover, in terra cotta pots and wall crevices. If you have a cottage garden it is not complete without this plant. Being relatively short, Cheddar pink grow about 4" tall and up to 1’ wide. Its flowers will add an additional 4" in height. Cheddar pinks can be semi-evergreen or evergreen and can live from Zone 3-9 depending on the cultivar.

Dianthus tend to have blue-green, blue-gray or silvery leaves. These are complimented by a wide range of pink, but also purple and red blooms. These ornamental flowers are clove-scented and attractive bees and butterflies, which pollinate this self-fertile plant. Even though they only grow ankle-high the scent is strong and pleasant. The double-flowered form, 'Flore Plena' has an even stronger scent.

Cheddar pink grows best in full sun in any (sandy to clay) soil as long as it’s well drained. The plant prefers a soil pH of 6.6-8.5 and cannot grow in the shade. I have seen the plants growing in maritime environments as long as the soil was dry.

Although it germinates during cold frames, Dianthus should be planted outside after the last expected frost in your area. Plant them about 10" apart if you’re using them as a border or ground cover. If grown in a container, use a soil mix with very good drainage and place in full sun. Don’t fertilize too much or the plant will be leggy with fewer blooms. Repeat irrigation of the new plantings after the soil has thoroughly dried. Cheddar pink can tolerate short dry periods, but will produce fewer flowers in drought or in continual hot, dry areas.
After an eye-catching bloom in late spring, prune or deadhead your Cheddar pinks for extended bloom time. During the winter months there is no need to put down more than one layer of mulch. The following March or as soon as new growth appears, your year old plants may need division. Larger clumps can be divided and replanted, but smaller clumps may need to be potted first until they establish significant roots. Transfer the year old potted plants back outside in the spring. Mature plants need to be divided every few years to promote longevity and prevent rust, leaf spot, root rot, and other diseases. And deer will avoid mature plants.
This undemanding plant has many popular varieties. 

x 'Firewitch’: Voted 2006 Plant of the Year by The Perennial Plant Association. It has one of the bluest foliage of all Dianthus, the longest bloom period and is the most tolerant of heat and poor soil conditions. As a groundcover, the pool of silvery-blue foliage produces eye-popping magenta-pink blooms. If you live in Zones 3-8 you will not be disappointed with this one. Plant them 18" apart as one plant can spread up to 2’.

x 'Bath’s Pink’: A Georgia Green Industry Gold Medal Award winner. Produces pale pink 1" blooms that perch beautifully atop its blue-green foliage. Attains 1’ in height and width, but plant them about 10" apart to be sure you don’t have gaps. Blooms in early summer, but after pruning it blooms through late summer. Grows in Zones 3-9.

x 'Fire Star’: A shorter variety that grows less than 6 inches tall but demands to be noticed with its dark, scarlet blooms that have a darker crimson center. Starts blooming in mid spring and can bloom up to late summer. A dense and vigorous grower that grows best in Zones 6-9.

Let’s discuss Cheddar pink one more time. It’s a drought tolerant and fragrant plant that is a beautiful border, edging, ground cover or feature which attracts butterflies and resists disease (as long as it’s kept dry) and deer don’t like them. You pretty much cannot go wrong with this plant. I give it my highest recommendation.

If you would like to receive more free gardening information and be notified of new items and specials, sign in today and subscribe to our newsletter. There is no obligation to you. Of course, you can cancel at any time. And don't forget to tell us about your experiences with dianthus by adding a comment to this blog. We look forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Echinacea: Beautiful, Drought-Tolerant, Beneficial

Echinacea is loved around the world for its beautiful, showy flowers and reputed herbal remedies. If only all our plants could be so useful. It requires very little maintenance, too. 

Echinacea has been used for centuries by Native Americans as a natural solution to physical ailments. Popularized by John Uri Lloyd, a pharmacist and medicinal plant enthusiast, Echinacea is used worldwide as an immuno-stimulant.
This close relative of Rudbeckia, or Black-eyed Susan, is native to the Great Plains region of the United States and Canada and has many monikers including: The Hedgehog or Purple Cone flower, Kansas Snakeroot, Droops, Black Sampson, Sampson root, Scurvy root and Comb flower. Echinacea purpurpea, a common variety, comes from the Greek word echinos for 'hedgehog' and purpurea for 'purple'. E. purpurea is one of nine species Asteraceae family. All nine are 2-4 feet tall perennials that live in USDA Climate Zones 3-9. They all require full sun and well-drained soil (hint: raised beds) and are exceptionally drought tolerant. Seed them this spring and they will bloom in the next year’s summer. Once established they bloom every year. E. purpurea is a striking plant available in many colors. The center of the fragrant 4 – 6 inch bloom is a brown or green spiky cone that attracts masses of butterflies and bees. The flowers are showy and make brilliant cut or dried arrangements. Blooms are supported by hairy unbranched stalks in the midst of narrow jagged deep green leaves.
  • There are several popular varieties: E. purpurea ‘Magnus’ This Perennial Plant of the Year in 1998 has rosy purple sunflower-esque blooms from July – October with a height up to 3’.
  • E. purpurea ‘White Swan’The petals of this classic white showy coneflower droop from the copper-orange center. Blooms June to August and grows up to 3’.
  • E. x purpurea ‘Green Envy’ – This 3’ tall exotic’s wide petals surround the cone in pink and fade to light green. Blooms July to September.
  • E. x purpurea ‘Sunrise’ – Delicate pale yellow flowers reflex away from the cone that transitions from green to gold. Blooms July – October and grows up to 3’.
  • E. x purpurea ‘Kim’s Knee High’ – These very pink shuttlecocks float on the breeze around an orange center and bloom from July to October. Grows up to 2’ tall.
  • E. purpurea ‘Sunset’ – Deep orange overlapping petals surround a fat brown cone. It stands 2.5’ high and blooms from July to October.
Echinacea thrives under specific but easy conditions:
  • full sun;
  • well-drained, aerated and fertile soil;
  • pH near 7.0, though will tolerate more acid or alkaline soils.
Your nearby Cooperative Extension Service can assist you with a very simple and inexpensive soil test.
Echinacea loves sunlight. It will grow tall in the shade, but it won’t be lush. Well-drained soil is essential. It should never have to sit long with roots in soggy soil. If you’re planting in a low lying area, use a raised bed.
In the spring, cultivate your garden as normal. Ordinary garden soil is usually good enough for Coneflower, but if your soil is sandy or clay add a little compost or organic fertilizer. 

E. purpurea is available in many sizes but you don’t need them any bigger than gallon pots. Buying them bare root or in small pots is easy and a lot cheaper. If the plants are young they do require frequent water and some weeding. You can plant them any time of year, but the hotter the weather the more water they'll need. Protect them with wire cages or netting if Peter Rabbit dines at your place. 

Be sure to space Coneflower about 12 inches apart because they can spread up to 2 feet. E. purpurea may need up to 18 inches per plant. Watch these seedlings take off during the summer.

Greater spacing between plants might help prevent the only two reported diseases: fungal leafspot and root rot. Deer are not a problem with Echinacea but gophers, moles and rabbits like the roots, especially of young plants. Leafhoppers, grasshoppers, a nematode and Japanese beetle are the reported minor pests. Goldfinches love Echinacea seed crop and can eat all the seed in a few days. 

While the flower blooms in between June and October, deadhead them to extend the bloom cycle or leave spent blooms for winter architectural interest. Echinacea plants are good at self-sowing so leave a few of the last flowers to dry up naturally. Watch out for Echinacea seedlings in the spring and transplant them appropriately. 

After 3 or 4 years, the plants are ready to be thinned. Depending on how they respond to your soil you can separate up to 6 plants from an original. In warmer climes, divide your plants in the fall or spring. First loosen the soil around the circumference of the mature plant’s root system. Insert your spade and lift it up. Remove excess soil by gently shaking it. Pull the root clump apart following its natural divisions. Replant the divisions in freshly cultivated soil with frequent watering until you see new growth.

If you are interested in old-fashioned herbal remedies for the common cold or just wanting a wilderness look in your garden, Echinacea is a timeless plant for modern needs.

If you would like to receive more free gardening information and be notified of new items and specials, sign in today and subscribe to our newsletter. There is no obligation to you. Of course, you can cancel at any time. And don't forget to tell us about your experiences with Echinacea by adding a comment to this blog. We look forward to hearing from you!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Marshall's Answers To FAQS On Bulbs


Q. Why do bulbs often look so different?
A. Bulbs are like other creatures; they vary from genus to genus and species to species. But some "bulbs" look very different from others because they really aren't bulbs at all.

Q. What is a bulb?
A. 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. 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. Some bulbs do not have tunics. The Easter lily is a good example. Bulbs without tunics lack protection from drying out, so special care must be taken to keep them moist until they are planted.

Q. What are some examples of bulbs?
A. Examples of bulbs include allium (onion), lilium, narcissus, tulip and hippeastrum.

Q. What is a corm?

A. A corm is an enlarged, solid stem, usually growing underground, with a basal plate on the bottom and a growing point on top. This top growing point is called a terminal bud. The stem is divided into sections. The sections are separated by structures called nodes. Other growing points called lateral buds can arise from the nodes along the sides of the corm. If the main growing point is damaged, the lateral buds can replace the terminal bud. Some corms may be covered with papery or scaly remains of leaves.

Q. What are some examples of corms?
A. Examples of corms include gladiolus and crocus.

Q. What is a rhizome?

A. 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.

Q. What are some examples of rhizomes?
A. Examples of rhizomes include cannas, callas and german iris.

Q. What is a tuber?
A. A tuber is a swollen, fleshy portion of an underground stem that lacks a basal plate. A tuber lacks a protective tunic, but has a protective skin. Growing tips or buds appear over the surface of the structure from which shoots and roots may grow.

Q. What are some examples of tubers?
A. Examples of tubers include caladiums, potatoes and oxalis.

Q. What is a tuberous root?
A. A tuberous root is a swollen fleshy, unsegmented portion of a root. Growing buds form at the top end of the root.

Q. What are some examples of tuberous roots?
A. Examples of tuberous roots include dahlias, ranunculus and sweet potatoes.

Q. How are bulbs measured?
A. Bulbs are usually measured in centimeters around the perimeter of the bulb. Thus, tulip bulbs that are advertised as "Size 12/14" are a minimum of 12 to 14 centimeters around the circumference of the bulbs. Some narcissus bulbs are advertised as "Topsize". This simply means that those bulbs are among the largest available for that particular variety. Daffodils are often advertised as "DNI", "DNII", or "DNIII." "DN" means "double-nose" and refers to the fact that multiple bulbs of various sizes are attached at the basal plate. "DNI" bulbs are the largest, and up to three flowers may grow from that bulb. "DNII" bulbs are large and two flowers may grow from that bulb. "DNIII" bulbs are the smallest and least expensive. Fewest flowers will grow from DNIII bulbs. "DN" does not refer to the actual measurement around the circumference of the bulb. However the bulbs are marketed, keep in mind that the largest bulbs cost more but will produce more flowers and be most satisfying.

Q. How are corms measured?
A. Corms are measured in centimeters around the perimeter.

Q. How are rhizomes measured?
A. Rhizomes are usually measured in centimeters length, but the largest are generally advertised as "topsize", which means that the rhizomes offered are among the largest available for that type.

Q. How are tubers measured?
A. The largest tubers available are generally advertised as "topsize", which means that the tubers offered are among the largest available for that type.

Q. How are tuberous roots measured?
A. Tuberous rooted plants may be advertised as "topsize", which means that the plants offered are among the largest available for that type. They may also be advertised according to the size and quality of the "division." A division is a portion of a larger clump that has been cut apart. The largest divisions are often called "#1 divisions."

Q. Is it okay to refer to bulbs, corms, rhizomes, tubers and tuberous roots as bulbs?
A. It depends on the company you keep. Among true friends who aren't trying to prove themselves, you may refer to them as bulbs. If you associate with self-conscious or pretentious persons who are keeping up appearances, you'd better get your terminology right. If you are pushed to the limit, you might refer to your most annoying critics as "fast and bulbous. Got me?"

Q. What are Fall-planted bulbs?
A. Fall-planted bulbs are those that are planted in the Fall for Fall (i.e. fall-blooming crocus) Winter, Spring or Summer bloom. Do not confuse Fall-planted bulbs with Fall-flowering bulbs, though some Fall-planted bulbs such as the crocus mentioned before may actually bloom in the Fall.

Q. What are Spring-planted bulbs?
A. Spring-planted bulbs are those that are planted in the Spring for Spring, Summer or Fall bloom. Do not confuse Spring-planted bulbs with Spring-flowering bulbs, though some Spring-planted bulbs may actually bloom in the Spring.

Q. When is the best time to plant Fall-planted bulbs?
A. Fall-planted bulbs must be planted in the Fall season, usually when soil temperatures drop below 60 degrees F.

Q. When is the best time to plant Spring-planted bulbs?
A. Spring-planted bulbs must be planted in the Spring season. Some of them can be planted as soon as the soil has begun to thaw and is no longer rock-solid. Others must be planted when danger of freezing has passed, or has warmed to about 60 degrees F.

Q. What kind of environment do bulbs prefer?
A. Every guide will recommend that the soil be well-cultivated and well-drained sandy/loam, free of weeds and pests, rich in organic matter and free of stones with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0, and that the average seasonal temperatures and rainfall be nearly perfect. Few such sites exist outside the fertile fields of bulb-producing regions such as The Netherlands, Belgium and Kashmir. But you can do the best with what you have with thoughtful preparation.

Q. How should the planting environment be prepared?
A. Choose a site that meets your bulbs' sun or shade requirements. Then try to replicate the environment of the fertile fields of bulb-producing regions such as The Netherlands, Belgium and Kashmir. Actually, I'm serious. Begin by taking a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office. They often provide collection bags. With each soil sample, indicate the type of bulb you intend to grow in it. For the most basic recommendations, you may be charged a nominal fee. For more information such as micro-nutrient and organic content you may be charged more. Follow the recommendations. Poorly drained sites can be improved by raising the height of the planting beds. Clay soils can be amended with gypsum, sand and/or loam. Sandy soils can be improved with organic compost. There is not much you can do about minimum winter- or maximum summer temperatures, so purchase only those bulbs that are recommended for your climate zone. Responsible irrigation practices may help in lieu of optimal rainfall.

Q. What does "naturalizing" mean?
A. "Naturalizing" means growing bulbs in an area where they can grow "naturally", perhaps multiplying and forming colonies as though they are native to the area. It means minimum maintenance. In order to achieve it, your soil and climate zone must be conducive to growth for that particular plant. Daffodils, narcissus and crocus may naturalize open fields and lawns if the climate is to their liking. Similarly, squill and scilla may colonize woodland areas. To be successful, the plants must be let alone to proceed through their own life-cycles without disturbance. In other words, avoid cultivating the soil, and don't mow down the yellowing leaves until they have dried fully.

Q. What kind of soil amendments should I use?
A. The soil amendments you should 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. Your local Cooperative Extension Service should be helpful.

Q. What kind of fertilizers should I use?
A. There are many bulb fertilizer formulations on the market, each with their own claims to superiority. You may want to experiment with them to see which work best for you. Your soil sample report from your local Cooperative Extension Service will include recommendations based upon the results of the test. Following its instruction should be a good bet. A fine all-around practice for Spring-flowering 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. Repeat the application when shoots appear, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue. Summer- and Fall-flowering bulbs should be fertilized more frequently but with less fertilizer per application. Apply 2 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer per ten square feet of garden area every two weeks until flower buds appear.

Q. How deep should bulbs be planted?
A. The proper depth may differ according to the type of bulb. But as a rule of thumb, bulbs should be planted three times as deep as the bulbs 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.

Q. How deep should corms be planted?
A. The proper depth may differ according to the type of corm. But as a rule of thumb, corms should be planted three times as deep as the corms are wide. For example, if the corm is 2" wide, plant it 6" deep.

Q. How deep should rhizomes be planted?
A. The proper depth may differ according to the type of rhizome. But as a rule of thumb, rhizomes should be planted at or near the soil surface. For example, german iris should be planted with the lower end of the rhizome about 1" below the soil surface, but the top of the rhizome where the foliage appears should be showing just above the soil surface.

Q. How deep should tubers be planted?
A. The proper depth may differ according to the type of tuber. But as a rule of thumb, tubers should be planted 2" to 3" below the soil surface.

Q. How deep should tuberous roots be planted?
A. Most tuberous roots are attached to the growing point of the plants from which leaves appear. This growing point is called a "crown." The crown should be planted at soil level with the tuberous roots spread out below it in the hole.

Q. How should I care for the site after the bulbs are planted?
A. Other than keeping the area relatively weed-free, Fall-planted bulbs require very little care after planting. A 1" layer of mulch is very beneficial. During Spring, when growth begins, regular irrigation is helpful. For most types, the soil should be allowed to dry a bit between waterings.

Q. How should I care for the plants after flowering ceases?
A. After flowering ceases, most bulbs spend a few weeks building food reserves and preparing for dormancy. In order for them to build food reserves, foliage must remain intact and irrigation should continue. The leaves will begin to yellow over time. Though yellowing leaves are unsightly, they must be left alone until they dry and turn brown. After they turn brown, the foliage may be cut off. Avoid pulling dried foliage since the bulbs themselves may be pulled up by accident. Most bulbs, corms, rhizomes and tubers require drier soil during dormancy.

Q. Can bulbs be grown indoors?
A. Yes, bulbs can be grown indoors. Some may require special treatment in order for them to flower. Apart from providing adequate sunlight, moisture, and fertile potting soil, some bulbs may require forcing.

Q. What does "forcing" mean?
A. Many plants require a period of cold weather during dormany to induce growth and bloom. "Forcing" requires a method to provide that necessary period of cold. The method involves keeping the bulbs in a dark place at a temperature between 40 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit for up to 15 weeks. Paperwhite narcissus do not require a period of cold weather before blooming.

Q. How does one go about "forcing" bulbs.
A. Gardeners living in areas where winters are consistently cold may simply keep their potted bulbs in a covered trench or in a dark corner of an unheated garage as long as the temperature around the bulbs does not go below 40 degrees. Another common method is to store the bulbs at the proper temperature in an extra refrigerator. If you plan to keep them in a refrigerator, make sure that you do not keep fruit in the same place. Fruit slowly releases ethylene gas which will damage the flower bulbs.

Begin by planting the bulbs in well-drained bowls with a superior grade of potting soil. Pots with wider bases are best because they are less likely to tip over. After planting, mark the bowls to identify the bulbs, water well, drain and store. Some of the bulbs may begin to sprout during storage. When 15 weeks have passed, remove the bulb bowls from storage and keep in a cool, dimly lit area. Within a few days, the shoots will appear and turn green. When the shoots have turned green, they can be moved to a bright location to be enjoyed. Keep the soil moderately moist. The flowers may last for three or four weeks.

Q. How do I care for indoor bulbs after flowering ceases?
A. For some bulbs the answer is simple: throw them away. Bulbs that have been forced have usually used up their food reserves for blooming and have been deprived of the opportunity to rebuild them. Even transplanting them in the garden is usually an exercise in futility. Tulips, hyacinths and narcissus are examples.
Hippeastrum, however, are good examples of bulbs that can be grown indoors and brought into bloom again. After blooming, they may be planted in the garden in temperate climates, or one might continue to grow them indoors. When the bulbs are potted, they should be kept slightly moist. Avoid over-watering. When they begin to sprout, they should be fertilized with a balanced slow-release fertilizer. An all-purpose fertilizer should be fine, but some are available that are specially formulated for bulbs. If you choose to use a water-soluble fertilizer, feed them twice per month. Display them in a cool, bright area out of direct sun to encourage a longer bloom period. After flowers fade, allow the stems to yellow and droop. When they have shriveled, cut them off at the top of the bulb. Continue watering and fertilizing as usual until the leaves yellow. When the leaves have shriveled, they can be cut off, the bulbs unpotted and stored for later use.

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