Fake or Real Christmas Tree?

My favorite kind of Christmas tree, outside, living and covered in a blanket of snow!

My favorite kind of Christmas tree, outside, living and covered in a blanket of snow!

Fake or Real Christmas Tree

When I married someone who wanted to go out into the woods to cut down a tree to decorate, I frankly balked. As a gardener who regularly planted trees, the thought of cutting one down for a mere few weeks didn’t make sense so we compromised. One tree could be cut down as long as we planted one to even the score.

Since then, there’s been an interesting shift in terms of what is considered to be environmentally friendly. Today using cut trees is considered eco-friendly because they are a renewable and biodegradable natural resource.

Real Christmas Tree Benefits

On average, it takes about seven years to raise a Christmas tree to marketable size. During that time, it is absorbing carbon dioxide and filtering the air and releasing oxygen. It is also providing watershed protection and habitat for birds and other wildlife. Christmas trees are also planted and raised as a crop by tree farmers. Unlike other row crops, a Christmas tree plantation remains green and growing year-round. If there was no market for real Christmas trees, that land would probably be developed for something else so there’s something to be said for keeping another piece of land in a green strip.

The artificial Christmas tree that stays out all year around, this time of year in my kitchen, surrounded by vintage salt shakers in the shape of dolls, teddy bears and trains.

The artificial Christmas tree that stays out all year around, this time of year in my kitchen, surrounded by vintage salt shakers in the shape of dolls, teddy bears and trains.

In contrast, artificial Christmas trees are made primarily of metals and plastics, which are all non-renewable resources. The plastic material, typically polyvinyl chloride (PVC), is a potential lead source. The potential for lead poisoning is considered high enough that California requires a warning label on all artificial trees made in China, and an estimated 85 percent of artificial trees are made in China. Additionally, these trees must be transported 8,000-plus miles to their U.S. destination, which emits additional CO2.

On average, an artificial tree is used for seven years before it ends up in the landfill. Regardless of how many years it is used, it is still going to end up in a landfill far longer. In contrast, a real Christmas tree can be composted, submerged in ponds for fish habitat or made into wood chips.

I still contend a tree should be planted for every one cut down, even ones cut from tree farms.

Artificial Christmas Tree Option

Although these artificial tree use are national averages, they are not typical for my family or friends. Ou artificial Christmas trees have been used for closer to 25 years including surviving breaking in kittens and frisky cats. 

Now there are a couple more good uses for artificial Christmas trees. My 18-year old cat Margaret used to like to climb the family Christmas tree so she would get one all her own, without lights or ornaments, tied to a post. Somehow she knew it was hers and would spend hours underneath it napping or waiting for someone to walk by she could ambush with a paw, or jump on moving feet.

Now that she’s older she still likes to nap under the Christmas tree so artificial trees make nice cat toys. She’s no longer interested in climbing so the extra tree top is becoming a door wreath.

Margaret has also turned the tiny artificial Christmas tree I have in my kitchen into her equivalent of a dinner bell. When I'm not paying the attention she thinks she deserves, Margaret will climb on the stool next to my kitchen island and nudge the little Christmas tree sitting on the silver platter until it falls over. Do I think she does it deliberately? Now what do you think?

Artificial trees can also be made into swags, wreaths andgarlands, and you can hang one upside down and join the latest Christmas décor trend. Or let your cat do it for you.

Have a very merry!

Charlotte

Forget Something?

Because some days one just doesn't know what to do with a long white tail.

Because some days one just doesn't know what to do with a long white tail.

Margaret Cat Fall Cat Nap

Friends and family know Margaret cat well, she has been my life buddy going on 18 years now. An alumni from the local animal shelter, she was found as a kitten in a cardboard box on the side of a county road with her legs duct taped together so she couldn't get out.

She was smart even then. As the story goes, she saw the shelter dog mascot running around. She figured out how to open her cage so she could get out, too.

I adopted her minutes before she was scheduled to be killed because the animal shelter supervisor didn't like cats and was tired of trying to keep Margaret locked up.

At my house, her inquisitiveness and intelligence is encouraged. If she sees something out of a window, she will come to get me to let me know I should follow her and see what is outside. She wakes me up every morning, is the last one to tuck me in at night.

Margaret is part Siamese, which means she has long legs and that deep voice. And yes, she likes to talk. Sometimes she has a lot to say about life in general, or what the other cats have been doing, especially if I have been gone for any time. In other discussions, she is clear about something she needs, like an ear scratching. She is most eloquent when she decides its time to go outside for a walk around the deck; she prefers that I come with her so she can end the tour sitting in my lap. When I'm running late, she keeps my priorities straight and reminds me to feed her.

This particular day, I was starting to move my deck plants inside for winter. Some are large trees on metal caddies, a messy process dangerous to small animals with dangling appendages who like to stay close to me. Before I started, I tucked Margaret into her favorite napping basket in a sunny window and we discussed the schedule for the rest of the day. Napping was high on the list.

Once I thought she was settled in, I grabbed the broom and started to leave. Something made me turn around. 

That tail.

I suppose if I thought I was a little person in white fur, I might forget I had a tail, too.

Charlotte

 

 

 

December Gardening Chores

Hopefully by December we will have a hard frost and flower beds can be mulched to keep soil temperatures even. I pile oak and hickory leaves on mine, or let leaves fall where they may.

Hopefully by December we will have a hard frost and flower beds can be mulched to keep soil temperatures even. I pile oak and hickory leaves on mine, or let leaves fall where they may.

December Gardening Chores

The calendar says it’s the end of the year but it doesn’t seem like it yet, leaves are hanging on trees and I’m still sneaking tiny mum bouquets out of my garden.

As soon as a hard frost hits, it will be time to mulch, not before. Mulching maintains the soil at an even temperature. During winter, the point of mulching is to keep plants in hibernation. If you still have leaf piles, move those into flower beds, those will easily make good mulch.

I live in USDA's zone 5b, the growing belt of the US. To mulch trees, make a well around the tree trunk and leave an area the width of a tire between the tree trunk and the mulch. When mulching, don’t pile mulch up to the trunk or you will create an area for diseases. Leaving a little moat around the tree also reduces girdling.

Any broken branches and limbs? Get those trimmed before ice hits, or before someone runs into them visiting for the holidays. You know where they are but people knew to your property are bound to run into them.

Have empty pots, garden carts, rakes leaning against the side of the house? It’s time to clean them off and store them for the season. The rakes, in particular, you don’t want to step on the tines and hit yourself on the side of the head.

Leave the dry flowers for now. Birds will eat the seeds and the dry greenery will provide protection for the young shoots growing at the base of the plant.

Did you plant mums this fall? Remember to water mums every couple of weeks this first year. Once they make it through their first winter, mum roots will become established and won’t require regular watering through winter.

This is a great month to collect dried flowers for decorative outside wreaths. These gray additions are long-bracted wild indigo branches. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This is a great month to collect dried flowers for decorative outside wreaths. These gray additions are long-bracted wild indigo branches. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

If you saved seeds, this is the time to make sure they are marked and stored in a dry, cool place. Some people store them in a refrigerator. I use an old ice cooler in my garage to keep mice from snacking on the bags through winter.

Still have trees you haven’t planted? There’s still time so get them in the ground and water well.  If you are getting a live Christmas tree, dig the hole now so you can pop it in the ground right after Christmas.

Let tap water settle overnight before using on house plants. Tap water can be too cold and may have additives that need to evaporate before being exposed to indoor plants. I fill my recycled milk jugs and let them stand overnight before pouring on inside plants.

Make sure to make notes in your garden diary for next year projects, I seem to remember them this time of year as I am putting things away.

Have bulbs ready to bloom through winter? Paper white narcissus, hyacinths and Amaryllis  are all good choices to bloom when it’s cold outside. The first two can also be permanently planted outside and Amaryllis are repeat bloomers. I love gardening, even in the middle of winter, don't you?

Charlotte

 

 

 

Saving Zinnia Seeds

Saving a few of my favorite annual flowers, zinnias, for planting next year.

Saving a few of my favorite annual flowers, zinnias, for planting next year.

Saving Zinnia Seeds

Missouri weather this November has been typically mercurial only more extremely so. Mornings with record lows, then afternoon temperatures are sunny and warm. Or one day it's no warmer than in the mid 20s and the forecast for the next day is in the mid 50s, as it is for this Thanksgiving.

As I was filing up the bird feeders with sunflower seeds this morning, wearing a winter jacket and gloves, I decided not to wait until it was warmer to collect a few seeds of my favorite annuals, zinnias. I planted these late again this year so they didn't bloom until early September but when they did, it was a wonderful addition of color to my fall garden.

Of all of the available annuals, zinnias are by far my favorite annuals to plant. They grow quickly in almost any soil, are hardy in most conditions and offer a wide range of bright colored flowers that are favorites of both butterflies and bees.

I found one of my zinnia patches tucked away to the side of one of my walking paths, the plants themselves already nipped by cold temperatures. I had my garden tool set with me so it was easy enough to cut off the seed heads to dry out for a couple of days in a paper-towel lined basket before storing in a marked paper bag in a dry cabinet for next year.

Do they all sprout again? No, but enough do get a start that it's worth saving a few. Besides, just having the seeds saved reminds me to plant them earlier and to be thankful for everything my garden gives me every year.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Charlotte

Frog Showdown

This large ceramic frog met her match with one of the Missouri's native green frogs.

This large ceramic frog met her match with one of the Missouri's native green frogs.

Frog Showdown

Frogs are among the bell weather species. After years of working with biologists, I know that frogs in ecosystems, or the lack of them, are a sign of the health of that collection of plants and animals that depend on each other for survival.

If just the number of frogs in one area is any indication, my little corner of the world is very healthy. I have a lot of frogs living in my one-acre limestone hillside, especially around two small ponds I built to fill in holes that once held driveway concrete.

One morning, as I was heading out for a walk, I spotted the showdown between one of my green frogs and the newest addition to "Froggie Bottom," what I call the pond area in memory of one of the metro stops where I used to work in Washington D.C. 

The ceramic frog had sat at a garden center for years. Finally marked down on sale, I brought it home to keep my other ceramic frog company in the pond area, not giving any thought to how the real frogs would react to the new arrival.

As I rounded the corner, it appeared there was a stare off between the ceramic frog and my resident green frog.

Green frogs, Lithobates clamitans, look similar to a bullfrog but are smaller and have a ridge of skin along the sides of the backs, from behind the eyes to midbodies. Also according to Missouri's Department of Conservation, green frogs may vary from green to greenish tan to brown, with the upper lip and head usually green. There may be faint dark spots on the back, and the legs usually have indistinct dark spots or bars.

Adult males have a bright yellow throat.  The call is an explosive “bong” that sounds like a loose banjo string.

There are two subspecies of green frogs in Missouri. Northern green frog (L. clamitans melanota), described above, and bronze frog (L. clamitans clamatans), a smaller, brownish or bronze frog with yellow lip and head, which is restricted to the southeastern part of the state.

See the green frog now? I have dozens of them living in these tiny ponds.

See the green frog now? I have dozens of them living in these tiny ponds.

Who won?

Well, the ceramic frog is still holding her ground.

Charlotte

Tractor Commute

Who said there is only one way to get to a meeting?

Who said there is only one way to get to a meeting?

Tractor Commute

It was an absolutely beautiful fall morning as I headed north to a meeting near our state capitol, Jefferson City.

As I do every day, I chose my something different for the day as the route I usually take. Turning the routing over to my iphone, I followed the back roads through the rolling fall color-covered hills and fog-covered valleys, enjoying the new route without checking the map every few seconds to make sure I was on the right road.

There were tiny towns I never heard of, and some that were familiar but I had never visited before. I was traveling through after the busy morning commute so only a few school buses lumbered past me, and a truck or two.

By the time I arrived at my meeting destination, I felt like I had meandered through several story lines.

My meeting was at a demonstration farm, a lovely setting at the top of a hill with cows serenading us at one side, chickens roaming on the other side. As I pulled into my parking space, I saw the parked tractor.

Now there was a story I wanted to hear!

Charlotte

 

Watch the Birdie!

This is a Bird of Paradise flower from a gardening friend who auctioned the plant off.

This is a Bird of Paradise flower from a gardening friend who auctioned the plant off.

Watch the Birdie!

Earlier this year, I bid and won a Bird of Paradise plant, (Strelitzia reginae), also known as crane flowers, one of the most beautiful exotic flowers, from a fellow master gardener. Originally from South Africa, I remember seeing these striking flowers all over Honolulu, Hawaii when I worked there with the US Navy.

It can take 5 years before the plant has its first flowers, depending on growing conditions. This was a plant started from seed.

The plant I won needs to be cut apart so my gardening friend let me cut off one of the flowers to enjoy. Excited to have this lovely flower home the same week snow was in the forecast, I put it in a flower vase in my kitchen so I could see it while I was bottling honey.

One of the rules I have in my kitchen is cats, especially inquisitive, trouble-in-the-making yellow cats, are not allowed on the kitchen counters, including the center kitchen island. When I came back to the kitchen with my camera, guess who I found not only standing on the center island but giving the Bird of Paradise flower a closer look?

Shirley Honey where she should not be, on the kitchen island getting a closer look at the flower.

Shirley Honey where she should not be, on the kitchen island getting a closer look at the flower.

Shirley Honey likes to watch birds outside my living room window but this is not a good bird-watching spot, even if the flower is called a bird of paradise.

After moving her off the counter and finishing my dishes, I found her in her window seat in the den, looking forlorn. She's actually in her favorite spot ready to watch a bird, or lizard, or me go by.

This is a cat perch one of my brothers built out of PVC pipes and canvas. I added an old pillow sham for winter warmth for my 18-year old cat but Shirley Honey has claimed this as her favorite sunning spot.

Shirley Honey in her window seat waiting for a lizard, or bird to walk by.

Shirley Honey in her window seat waiting for a lizard, or bird to walk by.

Watch for the birdie from there, Shirley Honey!

Charlotte

10 Fall Bulb Planting Tips

Check bulb packaging for when spring bulbs will bloom: early, mid or late in the season.

Check bulb packaging for when spring bulbs will bloom: early, mid or late in the season.

10 Fall Bulb Planting Tips

They are all planted in the ground, finally. Between daffodil bulbs I dug up at my brother's Virginia home, a few I picked up from the St. Louis Daffodil Society and another few I found on sale, it was a busy and fulfilling afternoon. I'm ready for spring!

1. Check for spring bulb sales by early November. Many places want to make room for holiday items and start discounting packaged bulbs. As long as your ground isn't frozen, you can plant spring bulbs until mid-December. Most spring flowering bulbs need 8-12 weeks of cold weather conditions to set bloom.

2. Gently press through bulb bags before purchasing to make sure the bulbs haven't dried up. You want plump bulbs that have stored energy.

3. Pick up a bag of bone meal to sprinkle on the bottom of the area you have dug up to plant bulbs. Not easy to find, all of our retailers had packed their regular bone meal away. No need to buy the variety marked "organic," bone meal is a natural product.

4. Place bulbs in the hole at the appropriate depth - there usually is a chart on the back of the package. Crocus should be planted 3" deep, most daffodils and tulips 5-6," 

5. Place the bottom of the bulb at the bottom of the hole. If bulbs move and fall over or are planted upside down, the growing stalk will weave around and grow towards the sun but the flower may bloom close to the soil line.

6. Not sure where to plant? Take photos of your spring garden so you can look back and identify the possible areas to plant more bulbs. I also make notes to remind myself to dig up bulbs I want to move next spring.

I have photos of my garden in spring to remind me what is planted where.

I have photos of my garden in spring to remind me what is planted where.

7. Daffodils and tulips bloom in three main stages in USDA Zone 5b: early, along with crocus; mid-season, when the eastern Redbuds are in bloom and late season, when peony greenery starts to grow. Pick bulbs that will give you flowers through all three stages.

8. My experience is bulbs keep to their original blooming stages the first year or so. With our climate changing so rapidly and erratically, bulbs have bloomed at odd times these past few springs so it's hard to say for certain what will bloom when after the first year. I do know the pheasant eye jonquils are still one of the last spring daffodil-relatives to bloom.

9. When planting crocus and tulips, two of my personal spring favorites, plant where mice can't easily get to them, especially through mole tunnels. Moles don't eat the spring bulbs, they tunnel through gardens looking for grubs. Mice use the mole tunnels to access bulbs for winter food.

I have tulip bulbs now planted in raised flower beds not easily accessible by moles and had a lovely long tulip display earlier this spring. It inspired me enough to buy a couple more bags of mid-season tulips to add to the area for a little pop of red when my native wild columbines are in bloom.

There are more than 20,000 different daffodil species, all deer-resistant and hardy.

There are more than 20,000 different daffodil species, all deer-resistant and hardy.

10. Have too many wildlife visitors? Then plant daffodils. There are literally thousands of varieties, all of them hardy and deer-resistant. If they can grow in my limestone-covered hill, they will grow anywhere!

What tips do you have for spring bulb planting?

Charlotte

November Gardening Chores

Pile falling leaves on flower beds for winter insulation and returning nutrients to the soil.

Pile falling leaves on flower beds for winter insulation and returning nutrients to the soil.

November Gardening Chores

I survived moving all of my potted plants inside but just barely, had to escort the usual hijackers back outside – praying mantis, lizards, several garden spiders and one baby mouse.

1. Now that we are all settled inside, I am still moving potted plants around to give them optimum light conditions. My heat isn’t on yet so although the first frost for USDA zone 5b is a few weeks away, this should give the plants time to adjust and not drop so many leaves when the furnace kicks on.

2. Leaves have also been making their way onto flower beds for mulch and a layer that hopefully decomposes into soil over the next few years. I will be adding wood chips from our local recycling center after the first frost.

3. If you want to plant, or move trees, this is a good time to tackle that job. I prefer planting into final spots in spring so my seedlings are now in pots and heeled into the nursery garden bed. That will give me all winter to decide on their final destination.

4. It’s been very dry so remember to water. An inch a week is a good measure, especially for woody plants, such as azaleas and evergreens. When watering, check for damaged branches and remove. Once winter ice moves in, the ice will cause more damage than necessary on those weak and damaged limbs. I take pruners with me so I can also trim out suckers and branches that are too long, especially along where I regularly walk. No point in putting that off until later when the ground is covered in ice and snow.

5. If you haven’t done so already, this is a good time to empty out most of your composters. Most likely candidates to get the new rich soil amendment includes asparagus and strawberry beds.  I also added compost to my deck pots to get them ready for my next crops. I still have red onions growing so I may scatter some lettuce and spinach seeds.

6. Still need to mound my rose crowns with 6 inches of soil or so before the first frost. I have mounds of mulch already piled nearby to scatter on the plants after I add a layer of leaf mulch for extra insulation.

7. My purple coneflowers bloomed well this year so I have trimmed a few seed heads to plant in my nursery bed next year. The rest I leave for winter bird food.

8. Zinnias are finally in bloom. A bit late but that’s because I planted the seeds late earlier this year. I need to get them in the ground much earlier next year. Other annuals such as impatiens will winter over inside in hanging baskets.

9. Have grass to mow? You should be on the downside of the mowing seasons. Make the last cut when you see grass has stopped growing. Let clippings lie where they’ve been cut to restore Nitrogen to the soil. Have fun mowing over the leaves to shred and move them to flower beds.

Cut your remaining garden flowers to enjoy in an inside bouquet.

Cut your remaining garden flowers to enjoy in an inside bouquet.

10. All spring-flowering bulbs planted? Me, neither, just found a bag of bone meal to add to the bottom of the holes. Should have all of those in the ground shortly, though!

Charlotte

Frankenstein Cat

This is Boo Boo before he dashed outside and met up with - well, we're not sure just what!

This is Boo Boo before he dashed outside and met up with - well, we're not sure just what!

Frankenstein Cat

I had no intention of adopting this cat. Someone had dumped him in the Presbyterian Church parking lot, where I saw him for a number of weeks darting under cars early in the morning. Not sure if the local animal control officers tried to catch him or not but he was young and fast so not a surprise if they tried and were not successful.

One morning as I was leaving the parking lot, I realized I was the last car parked so I opened the driver's side door to see if I had a cat under my car. Next thing I knew, he had climbed into my car and was sitting on the passenger seat, purring up a storm and so happy to have someone petting him.

After a quick vet visit where he got his shots and a check-up, Bartholomew went home with me until I could find him a permanent home. I have lost count of the hundreds of cats that have gone through my house over the years as fosters but there comes a point where one is emotionally exhausted from the constant goodbyes. 

So Boo Boo Bartholomew Trouble - he earned all of those names - is now a permanent fixture in my house. He still likes to go outside for short walks in the garden with me, checking the flower beds and running back to me in between for some head pats. This particular warm night end of summer, he dashed out the garage door as I was taking out the garbage.

I called for several minutes but he didn't come back inside. Every hour or so I would wake up, go outside and walk around my garden calling him. By morning, I thought he was either run over or lost so I made another garden tour calling him. I found him under a bench on the back side of the house, his fur on his scruff missing and one quarter-size area on his right side with fur missing. He was not himself, growling and hiding once I put him back inside.

The next day, I had to leave him at the vet for what I thought would be a couple of stitches for the small open spot on his side. The vet guessed Boo Boo must have walked into a raccoon, possum or armadillo that attacked him, there were claw marks on the missing fur spot.

When I picked him up the next day, I was startled to find he had stitches down half his side. The vet assistant said once they shaved him, they found several other spots that needed stitching so they cut them out and stitched all of them up in one straight line - Frankenstein cat, as one of my neighbors now calls him.

Boo Boo home from the vet looking like two cats stitched together, just in time for Halloween!

Boo Boo home from the vet looking like two cats stitched together, just in time for Halloween!

Within a day he was back to his old antics, including - you guessed it - wanting to go back outside for a garden walk. Crazy cat...

Charlotte

 

Mixing Mums

These two mums are keeping the last little pink rose of the season company.

These two mums are keeping the last little pink rose of the season company.

Mixing Mums

One part of my one-acre hillside garden is finally back in order. The flower beds under the driveway retaining wall are getting re-populated with a variety of perennials including chrysanthemums I started earlier this spring.

Several of the mums I planted were also gifts from a gardening friend last fall, colors unknown.

In part of my garden, I planted some starts next to established mums, assuming I would move the starts later. Now I'm not so sure, I love the combination of the white, daisy-like flowers against the deep burgundy ones.

The daisy-like white mums got some burgundy neighbors earlier this year.

The daisy-like white mums got some burgundy neighbors earlier this year.

Before I had a chance to move the new burgundy mum starts, another clump of mums bloomed downhill. This clump was quite a surprise, a combination of several different colored mums including yellow, orange and pink.

I was going to try to separate them but then decided to leave them. I like the color mix. Besides, the plants are established and I don't want to risk loosing them through another winter.

This combination of three different mum colors formed a mound in one of my lower flower beds.

This combination of three different mum colors formed a mound in one of my lower flower beds.

Around the corner, another nice little colorful combination of pink and yellow.

I was wondering why I was so comfortable with these color combinations when I realized this reminded me of choosing fabrics for some of our custom quilt projects, especially the custom thrown kids clothes quilt. I often walk through my garden to get color-combination-inspired and here was another suggestion, or two...

Another mum combination turned out to be yellow and pink mums growing together.

Another mum combination turned out to be yellow and pink mums growing together.

What a fun idea to mix the mum colors, I may just keep this going. 

In addition to the eye-catching color combinations, now if I want to take a little sprig of flowers, they won't be so missed!

Charlotte

Prince Charming

At the entrance to my driveway hangs a birdhouse that doesn't house any birds.

At the entrance to my driveway hangs a birdhouse that doesn't house any birds.

My Prince Charming

There are many reasons to have birdhouses around a garden. In addition to encouraging birds to nest and become part of your natural pest control, birdhouses are also wonderful homes for other species.

Take the year I found half of my 40-odd birdhouses with paper wasps. It was the same year I had my first pears on my semi-dwarf Bartlett pear tree, about 30 years after I had first planted it. The paper wasps had helped to pollinate the tree. I now tend not to disturb wasps nests in birdhouses through the growing season, especially if they are out of the way. Paper wasps are among many of the species that contribute to pollination but we don't usually appreciate that contribution.

My little blue-roofed birdhouse, however, is not out of the way. It hangs from an arbor at the entrance to my driveway so I pass it always every morning on my walks. One morning, I stopped to look closer to see if any paper wasps had moved in.

Hard to believe? Take a peek at what you will see most days in the summer in my blue birdhouse.

Hard to believe? Take a peek at what you will see most days in the summer in my blue birdhouse.

Fully expecting to see either paper wasps or a bird of some sort inside, instead I found a little three-toed foot sticking out of the entrance.

I have several small ponds around the one-acre property with a number of quite green residents. In addition, Fred, the gray tree frog and his green wife Fran live in one of my rain barrels and greet me every time I lift that lid but I was not prepared to find another tree frog living in the birdhouse. 

Gray tree frogs are common throughout Missouri, apparently even more common throughout my garden. They are wonderful natural pest control. Their diet consists of moths, tree crickets, ants, flies, grasshoppers and beetles. They are very acrobatic and reportedly will often jump from branch to branch to catch their prey. 

Mine seems to be more of a city tree frog, he reminds me of the guy watching TV bothered by a knock on the front door. See him?

Yes, that's a tree frog living in a birdhouse. I call him Charming, as in Prince!

Yes, that's a tree frog living in a birdhouse. I call him Charming, as in Prince!

Did you kiss him, one of my gardening friends asked after I shared that I now had a tenant in the blue birdhouse.

No, I said, but it did inspire me to name the tree frog Charming. No point in waiting for my Prince when he's already here, is there!

Now when I walk by the arbor, I look over to see if Charming is in or not. Most days, I will find him literally hanging out of the birdhouse as I walk by. I took my camera with me on this walk and before I could get close, there he was, hanging out of the birdhouse front.

Charming's not always shy, he usually pops out to see me as I take a morning walk.

Charming's not always shy, he usually pops out to see me as I take a morning walk.

Charming is welcome to stay. I usually take the birdhouses down for winter repairs but this one will remain until I know it's no longer occupied for the season. After a new coat of paint, out it will go next spring.

Last winter, it stayed up all winter because it remained occupied all season. That may happen again this year.

Maybe  I should rename these tree frogs "birdhouse frogs"??

Charlotte

October Gardening Chores

Lots of bulbs to plant this fall, they started in Missouri and are back for a short stay.

Lots of bulbs to plant this fall, they started in Missouri and are back for a short stay.

October Gardening Chores

This is one of the gardening chores I don’t look forward to, deciding what potted plants come inside for winter. Early in the month it’s time to start pruning and checking for any hitchhikers that may be inadvertently coming inside, too. Welcome to fall, and the gardening chores associated with putting a garden to bed for winter.

To cut down on leaf drop, bring in plants a month before turning on the heat. I tend to wait until a couple of days before hard frost is in the forecast to give my plants as much time outside as possible. Then I have to sweep up dropped leaves for weeks afterwards so don’t do what I do if you don’t like messy plants.

For single plants in separate plants, consider combining them, watering well and the bringing them inside. Even if they only last for a couple of months, they will help to extend the growing season a little longer. Do I sound like I miss my garden over winter? You bet, it's why my house looks like a little jungle mid-January.

If you haven’t been, you need to water. Perennials, evergreens and azaleas need one inch of water a week and we are sorely behind the average. Water with the hose in the ground so the water gets to the roots. Keep watering until our first hard frost. For USDA zone 5d, that is usually around Halloween.

If you have been fertilizing, no more. Also this is not the time to prune anything, wait until January after the plants are dormant.

If you haven’t cleaned up flower beds of spent plants, here’s your last chance to gather seeds. Birds will take the rest after frost. Leave the rest to clean up in spring. By then, most of the greenery will have broken down and become part of the garden mulch.

Last call to bring in fresh herbs: basil, rosemary, parsley, chives and stevia will also easily transition to a sunny, inside window in pots.

Geraniums, coleus, wax begonias, impatiens all will winter over inside if you keep them pinched and bushy. Geraniums will winter over stored in brown bags without soil. Really. I didn’t believe it until I tried it one year. I still prefer to bring them in still in pots so I can coax them to bloom through winter. So hardy, they will, too!

Time to get spring bulbs into the ground. Add a little bone meal at the bottom of the hole to slowly feed the bulbs. Plant bulbs close together if you don’t mind digging them up to separate in a couple of years. If you would rather not, give them some space in between. Mark where you planted them.

Dry leaves help to hold in moisture in flower beds so I layer mine with layers of fall leaves followed by winter mulch after the first frost. Right now I am adding the leaf layer. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Dry leaves help to hold in moisture in flower beds so I layer mine with layers of fall leaves followed by winter mulch after the first frost. Right now I am adding the leaf layer. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Leave the falling leaves where they are. If you are worried about your grass, run the mower over them. Leaves return Nitrogen to the soil and make a wonderful amendment to flower beds and help retain moisture. I started planting perennials this summer with holes lined with wet, dry leaves. Worked beautifully!

Charlotte

A Garden of Mums

Mums are the main flowers in this charming garden in my hometown.

Mums are the main flowers in this charming garden in my hometown.

A Garden of Mums

When I think of autumn, I think of hot apple cider, fall leaves, sweaters - ok, the list of things I still need to get done before it gets cold - and mums. Chrysanthemums, one of the longest lasting cut flowers there are have become a fall garden staple where I live.

Chrysanthemums are also the foundation for most of the "safe" bug sprays on the market. Pyrethrum, derived from the Pyrethrum daisy, is not so much safe as it is less harmful than other bug sprays on the market. It should be used only as a last resort and kept away from fish and water sources.

So it was with mixed emotions that I accepted several mum plants. I want pollinators coming to my garden, not getting discouraged from visiting. A quick check and it was good, mums repel roaches, ants, Japanese beetles, ticks, silverfish, lice, fleas, bedbugs and spider mites. Nothing about butterflies and bees.

Shortly afterwards, I was driving around town and saw this charming garden - can you count how many mums it has?

A variety of chrysanthemum colors stand out against the grey of the tree trunk.

A variety of chrysanthemum colors stand out against the grey of the tree trunk.

Impatiens are in the back, adding color but the front of this garden is definitely mum-dominant.

On the right side, a nice combination of mums and impatiens, both adding more color to this front porch.

Love the size of these white chrysanthemums, they remind me of a snowdrift!

Love the size of these white chrysanthemums, they remind me of a snowdrift!

When I got home, I walked through my garden to see what mums were blooming. I have several starts that are small and two mums taking over a garden corner where ground cover roses were blooming earlier. One little rose was still peeking through, a last nod to summer.

See the little pink rose in between the two mums?

See the little pink rose in between the two mums?

My mums will never grow as big as those in that charming garden because they have real soil to grown in. My mums are tucked into rock crevices and soil pockets on my hillside but I still enjoy the pop of color they give my fall garden, even if its only a small pop.

Charlotte

Painted Ladies Migration

GC Painted Ladies Migration 2.jpg

Painted Ladies Migration

Did you know that painted ladies butterflies are migrating in record numbers this year? Me, neither although I suspected something was up when I spotted a kaleidoscope of painted ladies on my Autumn Joy Sedum plants early September. About the same time, several readers emailed me photos of butterflies they thought were Monarchs. Easy to confuse the two since both Monarch butterflies and painted ladies are orange and black.

According to Chip Taylor, the director of Monarch Watch, based at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, this is “the largest migration of painted ladies” he has seen in “more than 30 or 35 years.”

The migrants start as far north as southern Canada and travel to northern Mexico and Texas. It will take five or six generations to make the trip and return.

“Painted lady migrations leave a trail of dead bodies as they move across the country,” Taylor said.

Monarch butterflies, on the other hand, will live six to nine months after they become adults. The same individual will make the trip to their winter grounds in Mexico and back.

“No painted lady makes a two-way migration,” Taylor said.

Painted ladies are the most widely dispersed butterfly species, observed on every continent except Antarctica and Australia. It’s the species most commonly raised in classrooms.

Painted ladies often are mistaken for monarchs. Monarchs have white dots on black bodies and the orange and black pattern is sharp and clear. Painted ladies have brown bodies and the pattern on their wings is not as delineated.

Both take about a month to become adults, but painted ladies seem to live only two or three more weeks. Both Monarchs and painted ladies are seen feeding on many of the same flowers.

How many Painted ladies butterflies do you see on this Autumn Joy Sedum? There are a couple of honeybees, too!

How many Painted ladies butterflies do you see on this Autumn Joy Sedum? There are a couple of honeybees, too!

Taylor said painted ladies have been feeding on thistle, sunflowers and soybeans. In my garden, they were also on Autumn Joy Sedum and New England Asters. Unlike monarchs, painted ladies can be found on the ground while migrating.

The week prior, a number of Monarch butterflies had landed on the same Autumn Joy Sedum plants, the first time in several years that I had seen so many Monarchs at one time. As a certified Monarch Way Station, it was exciting to see the numbers of butterflies on the increase in my garden.

Each fall, hundreds of millions of Monarch butterflies migrate from the United States and Canada to overwintering areas in Mexico and California. That’s where they winter untilconditions favor a return flight in the spring. The monarch migration is truly one of the world's greatest natural wonders, to think butterflies leave and several successive generations later, they arrive at their destination.

However, habitat loss continues to threaten their ability to make this amazing journey across North America both this time of year and throughout the spring and summer breeding range. Monarch Way Stations are places that provide resources necessary for monarchs and other butterflies to migrate.

To become a certified Monarch Way Station, and to see what kinds of plants and other resources you should have in your garden to help pollinators, visit monarchwatch.org.

Charlotte

Best Place for Native Seedlings

This flowering dogwood was a seedling given away several years ago at a local hardware store for National Arbor Day. I didn’t count on the nearby bridal veil overtaking the seedling so give your seedlings plenty of room to grow. By purchasing from George O. White State Nursery, you know you are getting the native species as opposed to hybridized species.

This flowering dogwood was a seedling given away several years ago at a local hardware store for National Arbor Day. I didn’t count on the nearby bridal veil overtaking the seedling so give your seedlings plenty of room to grow. By purchasing from George O. White State Nursery, you know you are getting the native species as opposed to hybridized species.

Best Place for Native Seedlings

Ever been given a free redbud or dogwood during Earth Day or Arbor Day? Most likely those tree seedlings were purchased from this unique nursery. I am going out on a limb here, as they like to say, but there is no better place to get Missouri native tree and shrub seedlings than George O. White State Nursery in Licking, Missouri.

The nursery was started by my former employer, USDA Forest Service, to raise native species to restore Missouri’s national forest in the 1930s. Overgrazing, over-cutting and over hunting of Missouri’s forests depleted or exterminated many of the species we take for granted today – wild turkey, river otters, ruffed grouse, even deer, not to mention the millions of trees and shrubs that provide wildlife food and cover.

To restore the wildlife populations, millions of native trees and shrubs were required. It was the mission of George O. White, a US Forest Service forester, to establish the nursery in Texas County.

According to Missouri Department of Conservation, “As a Forest Service employee, White helped establish and operate the nursery. He would go on to organize and direct the Department’s first forestry program, and he became Missouri’s longest-tenured state forester, serving for 21 years. In 1960, the Department renamed the state nursery and dedicated it in honor of White’s commitment to Missouri’s forests and forestry efforts.”

Today the nursery sells off their extra stock to the public in the fall. In the past, the sale started Nov. 1, about the time all of the fall leaves were on the ground, but this year, it was pushed up two months to Sept. 1.

The seedlings are not available for pick up, and shipping, until February but some of the stock sells out fast; ninebark, witch hazel and elderberries often sell out quickly. If the order is not paid for, the stock may be offered back up for sale at the time the plants are scheduled for shipping but I try not to wait too long after the ordering window is open to place my order.

The prices are hard to beat. Not including sales taxes and an $8 handling charge, seedlings can range from 32 cents to 80 cents, depending on how many seedlings you buy, usually in bundles of 10, 25 or 100.

Once you have the seedlings, it’s best to get them in water to keep them hydrated. They can also be wrapped in wet newspapers and placed in plastic bags to keep the roots moist. Phelps County Master Gardeners bought 100 flowering dogwoods for giveaways at the 1st annual spring Growing Green Fair in 2013, wrapped them in wet newspapers and nicely kept them hydrated before the event so I know this works.

The George O. White Nursery catalog is a great free reference for how to plant the seedlings including an easy chart of various land uses. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The George O. White Nursery catalog is a great free reference for how to plant the seedlings including an easy chart of various land uses. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

They also offer a wonderful color catalog that provides details on how best to use the various species. A copy was available in Missouri Department of Conservation’s September magazine and you can call the nursery and ask them to mail you one.

You can also download a copy of the catalog here: https://mdc.mo.gov/sites/default/files/downloads/SeedlingOrderForm.pdf

Don’t want 10 of one species? Talk to your friends and consolidate an order, that way you don’t end up with too many plants and too little space to plant them.

Charlotte

A Good Gardening Friend

Some of the tossed mum plants Tom shared with me. They look a little down but they are not out!

Some of the tossed mum plants Tom shared with me. They look a little down but they are not out!

A Good Gardening Friend

Every gardener should have a friend like my friend Tom. If it's possible, Tom is even more of a dedicated gardener than I am. He's out in his garden even in bad weather, which is where I draw the line. If I have to wade through snow or ice, I pass. Rain is fifty-fifty, depends on what I need to get one. Sometimes I like to plant just before a rain, other times right after one. I am gardening in the Ozarks so anything that softens up the soil, besides a pick ax, is very welcome.

Tom has been gardening for four years and has created a wonderful garden on his family property. I love to visit to see what new area he has developed, or what new plants may be blooming. He has a corner of his garden he has named after me, and I have a spot in my garden that I named after him. I told him that officially makes us gardening buddies.

So it was great anticipation that I waited for him to drop off "something that will keep you busy." Next thing I know, he's splitting his stash of mums, great big plants someone had tossed after full bloom, plants that still have a lot of life still in them in my favorite color, yellow.

Mums can be planted late into fall. As long as the roots are kept moist through winter, they should establish themselves and come back on their own for a number of years. The other advantage of mums is that they are natural bug repellers, although my bees seem to disregard that and still visit to check on available pollen.

I have split plants with Tom in the past; a stash of iris from another friend comes to mind but who is counting. When I had a chance to dig up a garden earlier spring, Tom was the one I called when I realized I couldn't dig it up by myself. And yes, we split whatever we dug up for the day.

Now excuse me, I have some mums to plant before it starts to snow.

Charlotte

 

Missing Impatiens

All of a sudden, the impatiens bed at the front of my driveway was empty.

All of a sudden, the impatiens bed at the front of my driveway was empty.

Missing Impatiens

I was taking my usual morning stroll through my garden when I was startled to see the flower bed at the front of my driveway empty. Well, not exactly empty, more like missing the sweet impatiens that spent summer there. 

Of all of the flowers beds I have, I spend a little extra effort on this one because it is the entrance to my property. When I was working full time away from home, it was a wonderful sight as I came home to be welcomed by this little splurge of color.

A lovely little stash of pink tulips used to pop up in spring in this spot, until my local deer family decided to have the tulips for a snack. They pulled up the greenery and bulbs and I haven't replaced them yet.

Pink impatiens added color to the flower bed at the entrance to my driveway.

Pink impatiens added color to the flower bed at the entrance to my driveway.

This is how the flower bed looked earlier this summer. The impatiens were added a little late in the season because I bought them on deep markdown. I wasn't sure they would be happy in this flower bed but for the price I thought it was worth a try.

The flower bed received more sun than the traditional impatiens liked. The increased sun kept their size small, which was perfect for the space they had in the flower bed. They would probably do better with less sun on the north side of the property.

Pink impatiens flowers.

So pretty, and they added a nice and much-needed splurge of color.

So what happened?

The first frost of the season got to the impatiens before I dug them up and moved them inside in a pot. I can just hear a friend saying to me "you can't save all of the plants" but I like having flowers blooming inside. I also usually manage to pull impatiens through winter in pots so not getting to these in time was a double loss.

Now I need to patiently wait until next year to add another dab of color to this flower bed. Will be fun to see what strikes my fancy.

Do you try to save annuals inside in pots over winter?

Charlotte

Last Flowers of the Season

These pink and white geraniums were the last blooming flowers from my deck plants.

These pink and white geraniums were the last blooming flowers from my deck plants.

Last Flowers of the Season

The 2016 growing season is over. My tropical deck plants are settled inside, a month earlier than our first cold fall days but then we are once again setting new temperature records as forecast for Missouri. Our rapidly changing climate will give is warmer temperatures and less snowfall, which I will miss now that I'm retired and I can now enjoy those cold conditions without having to go anywhere.

These pink and white geraniums are favorites. The plant has bloomed continuously all summer so I picked the last flowers on the plant as I settled it into its winter spot in a south-facing window. It will bloom again during winter but it may take a few weeks. Yet another reason why I love geraniums, they bloom regularly regardless of the season as long as they get their sun.

As I was walking through my garden, I also found two little pink zinnias still blooming. By themselves, they looked pretty sparse. Added to the geraniums, they made a very pretty flower arrangement on my den coffee table. 

The last zinnias blooming in my garden added to the last blooming geraniums.

The last zinnias blooming in my garden added to the last blooming geraniums.

Isn't this pretty? 

Fresh flowers are a wonderful addition to a room, even simple ones. Combined together, they can make a lovely last flower bouquet of the season.

Charlotte

Don't Bag Those Leaves

Oak leaves falling and covering a path at Bluebird Gardens.

Oak leaves falling and covering a path at Bluebird Gardens.

Don't Bag Those Leaves

What if I told you there is something that will improve what soil you have, easily make new soil and take almost no work to do it?

Good, then stop bagging those leaves. I know some of us want to have immaculate lawns but you are doing your garden a huge disservice by removing those leaves and making extra work for yourself to boot.

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, leaves of one large tree can be worth as much as $50 worth of plant food and humus. They are a rich source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and trace minerals tree roots have mined from deep in the subsoil. Pound for pound, leaves contain twice the mineral content of manure.

Leaves are also wonderful soil conditioners. Leaf humus can lighten heavy clay soils, which we have, and increase the moisture retention of dry sandy soils. For those of us who try to garden all four seasons in the Ozarks and primarily grow rocks, leaves are an incredibly available source to easily improve our soils.

I don’t have much soil in my garden on the side of a limestone hill so l have been letting leaves compact and disintegrate for decades. Several years ago, I was curious if my new soil pH was somehow more alkaline than usual. With the help of a soil test through University of Missouri Extension, I can confirm my leaf-based soil is right smack dab in the middle, where it should be.

Leaves also make ready mulch. After our first hard frost, I literally kick piles of leaves into flower beds with my boots, sometimes dumping bags of leaves from a neighbor’s house. I used to rake leaves onto flower beds but now I have too many plants to safely rake without pulling them out. Frankly kicking them around is much more fun.

Now if I had a lawn mower, I would be tempted to mow over them a few times to speed decomposition. As it is, I pile them on flower beds and watch them disappear by spring so no need to go to the extra effort.

Composters make turning leaves into soil easy.

One thing you can do with leaves is compost. Rake them into piles or enclose them in bins, one of my gardening friends made some very nice compost bins out of recycled pallets. If you have been seduced by a leaf vacuum, many have a shredder that reduces the volume of leaves being inhaled. The broken down leaves also make a very nice mulch layer.

To compost, mix a shovelful of soil in each layer of leaves to introduce helpful microorganisms to the pile. Leaves are high in carbon but low in nitrogen. It helps to add a source of nitrogen like manure or grass clippings to help feed the bacteria that will be doing all the work of breaking down the leaves.

My youngest brother one year bagged leaves in black bags, then promptly forgot about them. When I visited a year later, the leaves had broken down into beautiful leaf compost we spread around his vegetable patch. Doesn’t get much easier than that!

Charlotte