Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"They'll fit on elves' feet" - Imagining beside Christmas ferns

My Aunt Ann has always been imaginative. Before I was old enough to go to school, my family would travel a dozen miles or so to visit my maternal grandparents every Monday afternoon. Though I loved the elders very much, it was Ann I wanted to see. She would return from junior high school classes tired and frustrated, but always took time for me. She would make fearsome masks with crayons on brown paper bags. She would point out fairy-rings in the back yard and tell me stories about mysterious convocations. We would kneel down to see tiny pools and rivulets where sprites bathed and played in secret.

As I began writing about one of my favorite ferns, the Christmas fern, I discovered a poem by Maxwell C. Wheat, Jr. that reminded me of Ann's imaginings. A few lines go like this:

“Come see the Christmas stockings,”
Says Grandmother, taking our hands
Leading us to the stream in our back woods

There on the bank
She shows us fronds of ferns lined with leaflets
Each shape like a fat “L”
“They’ll fit on elves’ feet, Nanny.”

Those were the tutorials I loved then and do still. But life is not so easy now. Grown-up life is a frantic chase. To learn, you have to get down on your knees.

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"Who can fear the winter stern while still there grows the Christmas fern."

Christmas Fern - Polystichum acrostichoides
The Christmas Fern - Polystichum acrostichoides

"When frost has clad the dripping cliffs
With fluted columns, crystal clear,
And million-flaked the feathery snow
Has shrouded close the dying year;
Beside the rock, where'er we turn,
Behold, there waves the Christmas fern.

No shivering frond that shuns the blast
Sways on its slender chaffy stem;
Full-veined and lusty green it stands,
Of all the wintry woods the gem.
Our spirits rise when we discern
The pennons of the Christmas fern.

With holly and the running pine
Then let its fronds in wreaths appear,
'Tis summer's fairest tribute given.
To grace our merry Yuletide cheer.
Ah, who can fear the winter stern
While still there grows the Christmas fern."
                                                  -W. N. Clute

People of science are often people of art. How can one delve into the wonders of creation without being astonished by the order and beauty? Willard Nelson Clute (1869-1850) was one of them. He was born in the village of Painted Post, Steuben County, New York. The name of the village comes from a painted totem that early explorers found at a river junction. The rivers, creeks and mountains nearby must have inspired his love of nature. He pursued his passion. Clute founded the American Fern Society in 1893. In 1928, he became professor of botany at Butler University, Indianapolis, and curator of the botanical garden. He authored over a dozen botanical books, some of which his wife, Ida, illustrated.

In Our ferns in their haunts: a guide to all the native species, Clute waxed poetic about the Christmas fern. Who could resist? As he noted, "To the hunter, the trapper and the rambler in the winter woods, the Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is a familiar species. In summer it is not especially noticeable, but in the snowbound season, the cheerful, fresh-looking fronds are sure to attract the eye."

They did attract the eye, and were extensively harvested for Christmas greenery arrangements. Apparently all the collecting did little to diminish the numbers of the Christmas fern. It is widely distributed throughout its native range, from Quebec to north Florida and to eastern Texas. Because it is so robust, gardeners find it to be easy to grow.

Its botanical name, Polystichum acrostichoides (pronounced pol-IS-tick-um ak-ruh-stik-OY-deez), refers to the many rows of spores, and the fact that it reminded someone of another genus of ferns, Acrostichum. The seldom-used name, Nephrodium acrostichoides, is synonymous.

Christmas fern is hardy from USDA climate zone 3 to 9. It prefers well-drained, humusy soil like you'd find above creek banks and on woodland floors. Shady locations under hardwood trees are best, so it's an excellent choice for shade gardening. Soil pH may range from 5.6 to 7.5. Once established, it is somewhat drought tolerant and should be considered for xeriscaping. Being a fern, it is deer resistant.

I can't imagine why tilling such a site would be necessary. It's always good to take a soil sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Service for analysis. Follow the recommendations.

Christmas ferns grow up to 24 inches high and 12 inches to 18 inches across. Dig planting holes about 12 inches apart. The holes should be no deeper than that of the rootballs. Water the plants in their pots, then plant them, watering more as you go. When planted, the tops of the rootballs should be visible; do not bury them under soil.

If you haven't already come to appreciate the beauty of Christmas ferns, I'm sure you will. Good cheer!

Read more about Christmas ferns.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

FAQ: Is it too late to plant perennials in zone 6?

I live in USDA climate zone 6. Is it too late to plant perennials?

It is not too late (end of September) to plant cold-hardy perennials in zone 6, particularly if they are container grown. Plants that have been produced in a greenhouse may not become hardened-off before first frost, so you could see some tissue damage. But it would probably be only cosmetic. An insulating layer of organic mulch around the plant should be helpful.

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World's first blue-pigmented rose!

You rose lovers will get a kick out of this!

NEW YORK, Sept. 14, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Beginning in early November, Suntory will for the first time, introduce their internationally renowned blue rose APPLAUSE in North America. With nearly 100% blue-pigmented petals, blue rose APPLAUSE is the world's first blue rose, a technically sophisticated and wondrously stunning flower with a delicate blue color. Read more.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Simplify your garden. Simplify your life.

Gardening and simplicity aren't usually associated, except in the minds of those who don't actually garden. We gardeners have a whole lot of work to do, but there's so much else outside the garden to do in life. Is there a way to simplify the garden to make life easier? The answer is "yes." But it takes planning. Gardening requires work; no doubt about it. We can spend hours deciding what to plant, where to plant, more hours keeping insects, diseases and weeds at bay, and even more time moving and transplanting, trying to find the right locations and combinations that work.

But, when it really comes down to it, gardening can be a simple thing. You do not need costly tools or much time to dig a hole. Plant a seed and wait for it to grow. Seems cheap and simple. But nature isn't what it's supposed to be, and we have our own ideas. So things become very difficult.

Nature drops seeds in the most inconvenient places. Acorns sprouting near houses grow into trees that ruin foundations. Jumanji vines grow where they are not wanted. Edible weeds aren't appreciated at the dining table. (Dad, these look like dandelions.) If we don't do something about the rampant growth, we might be visited by the municipality or home-owners association. It's all too much!

What to do? Simplify!

I heard someone remark, "After years of digging, planting, pruning, watering, composting, fertilizing, weeding, mowing, digging, planting, pruning, watering, composting, fertilizing, weeding, mowing, I'd prefer to move to a smaller place in the city about three floors up from the ground (with a few pots of herbs in my window) where I could walk out below and crush the weeds growing in cracks beneath my foot."

Small gardens are about that easy. Larger gardens take more effort, but it is possible to simplify them. If gardening is costing you dearly in money, time and effort, it may be that you aren't doing it in the most efficient way. Taking the right steps at the right time with the right tools can make your life significantly easier.

For example, you might want to consider cutting down on pesticide use. Not only will you save time and money, but you will help improve the environment while crossing another chore off your list. On the other hand, quick walk along the fence line with a herbicide sprayer is easier than whacking with a tool.

Instead of buying cheap tools, spend more for durable ones. Use the right tool for the job.

Simplifying will involve changing what you plant in your garden. Hybrid tea roses require much more time, effort and money than low maintenance landscape roses that are easy to grow. Plant resistant species rather than insect/disease magnets. (Plant insect magnets away from your garden to distract and keep them busy elsewhere.)

Reduce the size of your lawn. Ground cover plants usually require less effort than grass. Whether for sun or shade, dry or moist soils, there are many suitable ones.

Though apple and peach trees require a great deal of care, other fruit trees like pears, figs and cherry trees do not need so much. There many ways to reduce the time and money you put in the garden. Blackberries, raspberries, blueberries and others may or may not do well in your area. Consult with an expert at your nearest Cooperative Extension Service for good advice.

Some vegetables and herbs are easy to grow while others are not. Grow the easy ones. Sweet potatoes, red potatoes, peppers, broccoli, collards, okra and swiss chard are a snap. Cherry tomatoes are easier to grow than the whoppers. Mint, oregano, basil and italian parsley are simple. Learn from your own experience and that of others. If you have to work too hard for success, it might be easier and cheaper in the long run to buy the difficult ones at your nearby farmers market.

Plant more perennials, but fewer species. You can simplify by cutting down on the number of species of plants that you grow, but grow enough of each to fill the designated space. Instead of three daylilies, three irises, three phlox, three salvia and three dianthus, grow fifteen daylilies. To keep it interesting, plant five of three different varieties of daylily. Focus on a few plants that you enjoy growing, are good at growing, that require less work, and then grow lots of them.

Develop a landscape plan. Your plan can be simple or complex, but the point is to make sense of your landscape and focus your efforts. A plan will help you prioritize your work. Even if you have to put some things off for awhile, they will get done eventually. This step by itself reduces the stress of deciding what to do next. Divide your landscape into spaces for specific purposes: vegetable garden, fruit garden, shade garden, entertaining, etc. Decide where you want the spaces to be, how large, and how convenient to your home. Of course, some things will be pre-determined. If you live on a wooded lot, your shade garden may be larger than if your yard was devoid of trees. Slope and soil conditions will be determining factors.

Always consider future maintenance, whether you are planning the planting areas, patio or deck. If anything requires too much work, you'll probably put it off until a big and costly solution is required to fix it. A little care now and then will save you lots of time and money in the future.

Consider the water. Unless you own a private well, irrigation can be expensive. Not only that, watering can be restricted by your state or municipality during times of drought. Xeriscaping should be at the top of your list of possibilities. Xeriscaping describes a manner of gardening that reduces or eliminates the need for supplemental watering.  It involves selecting plants that require less water, devising methods to capture water for later use, and installing very efficient irrigation systems. If more water is needed, consider systems that can be controlled accurately. Dragging a hose around from place to place is not something you want to do often.

Use lots of organic mulch. Mulch made of hay, wood chips, straw and compost suppresses weeds, conserves water and recycles organic material back into the soil. In the last century, Ruth Stout, the "no dig-dutchess", was considered the mother of mulching. She authored several "no work" gardening books. Obtain copies and study them carefully.

Wood chips, pine straw mulch and landscaping rocks can also be substituted for grass, requiring less effort and cost while keeping things looking natural.

Install edging. Edging defines the contours of your planting beds, helps to keep mulch in them and grass out. Permanent edging also adds visual interest. I highly recommend steel edging. In lieu of permanent edging, a bedding plow can do a good job of defining the contours, but with a little more effort.

Select low-maintenance furnishings. Cast aluminum chairs, settees and tables can be quite beautiful and will provide years of service. Recycled poly lumber is a new material used for outdoor furniture. It should last a very long time. Teak and cedar woods don't last as long, but will surprise you with their longevity. In addition, they weather well to a natural patina. Occasional weatherproofing may be necessary, depending upon the material chosen. Cushions and fabric umbrellas may need to be moved indoors for protection during winter months.

Choose low-maintenance garden art. As lovely as they are, fountains and water features will require a lot more upkeep than sculptures and container gardens. Birdbaths are very attractive and easier to maintain than fountains.

Simplify with shrubs and small trees. If you want color, texture and diversity in your garden, plant shrubs and small, ornamental trees. There are many excellent ones that are handsome and easy to care for. They flower with different colors in different seasons, so you can have bloom almost year around. They provide an array of heights, foliage shapes and textures. Consider their mature sizes. Avoid those that require lots of pruning, and those that drop viable, enthusiastic seeds everywhere. Include them in mixed borders with perennials, ground covers and a few seasonal annuals for POP.

Do small, simple things while they are still small and simple. It's far easier and less expensive to pull a small, seedling tree up by hand than to remove a 30' tree from next to the house. Finally, there may be some tasks you can't get around to doing. Let them go for awhile. There is no reason to fret yourself into a lather with your garden. That's not what a garden is for. Life can be simpler.

If you would like to share your thoughts, please contact me or comment below.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Results of Community Poll Ending 16 September, 2011

Our Community Poll ending 16 September, 2011 asked the question: How much more are you willing to spend for organic foods?

28% of respondents said, I'm not willing to spend any more.
15% of respondents said, Up to 10% more.
21% of respondents said, Up to 20% more.
15% of respondents said, Up to 30% more.
7% of respondents said, Up to 50% more.
14% of respondents said, I'll buy organic regardless of the price.

The largest single block of respondents is unwilling to spend any more. But, clearly, the results indicate that 72% of respondents are willing to pay more for organic foods. How much more is the question. Nevertheless, this indicates a growing trend among American consumers. Farmers should consider it carefully.

You're invited to participate in our current goGardenNow Community Poll which asks the question, Should the ornamental plants you purchase be raised organically? You'll find the poll in the right-hand side-bar.

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Plant Flower Bulbs In Fall For Spring Splendor

Your yard will make you proud with eye-popping splendor if you plant spring-flowering bulbs this fall. Bulbs are easy to grow, and most are perennial, increasing in beauty year after year. Burst out of those gray days of winter with gorgeous blankets of color.

Read more about fall bulbs.

Anemones: Born Of The Wind.
Bluebells Seem Like Fairy Gifts.
Oh, Look. Crocuses!
Fragrant, Full-Bodied Hyacinths.
A Host Of Daffodils.
Enjoy A Multitude Of Muscari.
Tulips! A Spring Rainbow Of Colors.
Fall Bulbs For Warm Climates.
Marshall's Answers to FAQs On Bulbs.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

FAQ: How and when should I prune over-grown holly bushes?

I have some holly bushes that have grown too large. They almost cover the windows. How and when should I prune them?

You are probably tempted to prune your shrubs to just below the window sill, and to do it now. The problem is two-fold. Firstly, heavy pruning will stimulate re-growth of new tissue that will not have time to harden off before cold weather arrives. Therefore the tender growth will be damaged by frost. Heavy pruning should be done in spring after danger of frost is past.

Secondly, pruning to below the window sill will not be enough. Your shrubs may half-way cover the windows again before the first growing season is over. They may not look good, either. The best practice is to cut them quite low, perhaps only 10 inches to 12 inches high. New growth should flourish. Trim to improve the shape in late summer.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

FAQ: What garden tasks should I do in September?

Among the most frequently asked questions, "When is the best time to...", is near the top of the list. Here are a few gardening tasks for September organized by region.

Northeast States: Frost in September is possible. Plant broadleaf and evergreen trees and shrubs, perennials and ground covers. Divide perennials and transplant. Plant container grown mums. Transfer herbs to pots for use indoors. Move tender perennials to the greenhouse or cold frame. Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Sow cold-hardy greens. Thinking ahead, root prune plants that you wish to move next spring. Take cuttings to root over winter in the cold frame. Fertilize fall annuals, house plants and container gardens. Continue fall cleanup. Compost debris. Continue to irrigate shrubs and trees. Be aware of possible frost, and be prepared to protect plants if necessary. Take house plants indoors.

Mid-Atlantic States: Plant evergreen and broadleaf shrubs and trees, perennials and ground covers. Divide perennials and transplant. Plant container grown mums. Transfer herbs to pots for use indoors. Move tender perennials to the greenhouse or cold frame. Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Sow winter annuals, vegetables. Plant winter vegetable sets. Lightly shape shrubs. Thinking ahead, root prune plants that you wish to move next spring. Take cuttings to root over winter in the cold frame. Fertilize fall annuals, house plants and container gardens. Continue fall cleanup. Prepare beds for spring planting. Continue to irrigate shrubs and trees. Continue rose care. Compost debris. Fertilize plants with bone meal.

Mid-South States: Plant shrubs and trees, perennials and ground covers. Divide perennials and transplant. Plant container grown mums. Transfer herbs to pots for use indoors. Move tender perennials to the greenhouse or cold frame. Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Set out cool season vegetables. Lightly shape shrubs. Fertilize house plants and container gardens. Begin fall cleanup.  Compost debris. Continue to irrigate shrubs and trees. Continue rose care. Continue lawn care or begin lawn renovation. Fertilize plants with bone meal.

Lower South and Gulf States: Plant winter-blooming annuals. Plant or transplant spring and summer blooming perennials, bulbs. Lightly prune trees and shrubs, but do not prune spring-blooming trees and shrubs. Remove or prune trees and branches damaged by storms. Continue lawn maintenance. Root prune trees and shrubs that you might wish to move next spring. Order bulbs for fall planting, if you haven't already. Continue to irrigate shrubs and trees. Continue rose care. Continue lawn care or begin lawn renovation.

Plains and Rocky Mountain States: Plant container-grown trees and shrubs, perennials, ground covers. Sow cool-season vegetable seeds for fall crop. Divide perennials. Lightly prune trees and shrubs. Add debris to compost pile. Continue lawn maintenance. Order bulbs for fall planting. Move herbs from garden to pots for winter use indoors. Remove dead, diseased and damaged limbs/branches from trees and shrubs. Fertilize plants with bone meal. Take house plants indoors. Apply pre-emergent herbicide to lawns.

Pacific Southwest and Desert States: Begin fall planting, sow cool-season annuals and vegetables. Sow cool season perennials in flats. Divide perennials and deadhead perennials. Lightly prune shrubs and trees, with the exception of spring-blooming shrubs and trees. Fertilize annuals, house plants and and container gardens. Clean up garden and add debris to compost pile. Continue lawn maintenance. Order bulbs for fall planting. Remove dead, diseased and damaged limbs/branches from trees and shrubs. Fertilize plants with bone meal. Apply pre-emergent herbicide to lawns. Renovate lawn, if necessary.

Pacific Northwest States: Plant broadleaf and evergreen trees and shrubs, perennials and ground covers. Divide perennials and transplant. Plant container grown mums. Transfer herbs to pots for use indoors. Move tender perennials to the greenhouse or cold frame. Plant spring-flowering bulbs. Sow cold-hardy greens. Thinking ahead, root prune plants that you wish to move next spring. Take cuttings to root over winter in the cold frame. Fertilize fall annuals, house plants and container gardens. Continue fall cleanup. Compost debris. Prune dead, diseased and damaged limbs and branches from trees and shrubs. Continue to irrigate shrubs and trees.

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Saturday, September 3, 2011

A bad job of laying sod.

I came across an example at a recreational facility of how NOT to lay grass sod. Frankly, I've seen more bad examples during my meanderings than good ones. At this site, it looked almost like the sod tiles had been thrown off a moving pickup truck and left where they landed. (Click on the images below to enlarge them.) First, I noticed that sod tiles were overlapping.

Overlapping sod tiles.
Second, I saw that there were lots of little gaps between tiles.

Little gaps.

There were BIG gaps, too!

Big gaps. 

Third, irrigation control boxes were set too much beneath grade.

Irrigation control box set too much below grade.

Fourth, edges were untrimmed and unpatched.

Untrimmed edges.

Finally, the sod was left unrolled.

Needs to be rolled.
A good sod job begins with good preparation. Old sod and weeds may need to be killed with an appropriate herbicide. Glyphosate is a good one. It can be applied by the homeowner, is effective, and doesn't persist in the soil.

When grass and weeds have died, the site should be tilled (if necessary), graded and leveled. Foreign and hard objects like rocks, dried dirt clods, building materials, and roots should be removed so that the sod roots can make good contact with the soil. If tree roots can not be removed, they should be covered with soil and the soil leveled.

Irrigation control boxes and sprinkler heads should be carefully placed so that they will be at soil level in order to avoid being overgrown by sod, or being clipped by mower blades.

Sod should be obtained just before installation, and be kept moist and green until installed.

Sod tile runs (courses) should be straight. Tiles should be staggered like bricks laid in a "running bond."

Gaps must be patched. Large gaps can be plugged with small pieces of sod. Large gaps can be filled with portions of sod tile cut to shape.

Sod should be neatly trimmed along walks, drives, curbs and planting beds. Lawn edgers are effective.

After the sod is laid, it must be rolled so that it makes good contact with the soil. It doesn't take much to rent a sod roller. They come in different sizes. Some can be attached to riding lawn mowers and pulled. Others come with handles, and can be pushed.

Sod rollers.
Adequate irrigation is essential. The sod must not be allowed to stress due to dry conditions, nor should the soil be kept soggy.

Laying sod is hard work, but that is no excuse for a slip-shod job.

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