December Gardening Chores

Find a place to store garden tools where you can easily find them. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Find a place to store garden tools where you can easily find them. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

December Gardening Chores

We have had record snow storms and low temperatures already and December is just showing up to the party. The ground where I live in USDA Hardiness zone 5b is still workable so I am hoping the moisture will replenish depleted water tables and still let me do a little last-minute garden work.

 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.

 As soon as a hard frost hits, it will be time to mulch. 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 also make good mulch.

 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.

 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. I have my shovels now hanging from where I usually end up leaving them at the end of a hard day of gardening, easier to find later.

 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 them 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.

 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 plants to get in the ground? Bury them in pots then moved to their final place next year. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Still have plants to get in the ground? Bury them in pots then moved to their final place next year. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

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.

 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.

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.

Give your gardening friends a gardening-related gift. It almost be winter but gardeners are planners and are already thinking about spring!

Charlotte

They're In My Garden Now: Emerald Ash Borers

Emerald ash borer larvae in ash tree in my garden. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Emerald ash borer larvae in ash tree in my garden. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

They’re In My Garden Now: Emerald Ash Borers

They are now in my garden taking out my ash trees - emerald ash borers. Emerald ash borers Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire are an exotic beetle from Asia that was discovered in North America near Detroit, Michigan in the summer of 2002. The adults look like grasshoppers from the Emerald City in Oz, iridescent green with large black eyes. The adult beetles nibble on ash foliage, causing little damage.

The larvae, however, is another story. The immature emerald ash borers feed on the inner bark of ash trees, disrupting the tree's ability to transport water and nutrients, eventually killing the tree.

No one knows for sure but the emerald ash borers probably arrived in the United States on solid wood packing material transported from Asia. It’s suspected they spread by hitchhiking on firewood transported among homes and recreation areas in at least 34 states.

I was working for US Forest Service when it was discovered in southeast Missouri in July 2008 in Wayne County. In September 2013, Missouri’s quarantine expanded to include all 114 counties and the City of St. Louis. The quarantine included not allowing firewood to be brought into Missouri for fear of hitchhiking bugs. It was interesting talking to incoming campers who didn’t understand why they couldn’t bring in their own firewood.

Woodpeckers remove slivers of ash tree bark as they eat larvae. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Woodpeckers remove slivers of ash tree bark as they eat larvae. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

I didn’t know I had damage to my limestone hillside ash trees until I was walking through my garden checking on what wildflowers were still blooming. As I rounded one of my paths, I saw flecking. Flecking is caused by woodpeckers as they feed on emerald ash borer larvae living under the bark. Feeding starts at the top of the ash trees, where emerald ash borers prefer to settle in first. Woodpeckers will strip the bark to feed on the larvae.

With bees in my garden, insecticides is not an option so my only realistic choice is to cut down the ash trees, which I will be having done shortly.

University of Missouri Extension notes emerald ash borers are similar to Dutch elm disease that killed native American elm trees. This invasive bug is capable of eliminating all ash trees from our forests and cities. This makes it one of the most serious environmental threats now facing North American forests.

Confirmed emerald ash borers since July 24, 2018.

Confirmed emerald ash borers since July 24, 2018.

It is expected emerald ash borers will diminish ash trees in Missouri's forests to a very low level. Although ash trees account for just three percent of Missouri’s native forest, the fast-growing shade tree is popular for landscaping. On average, about 14 percent of trees lining streets in urban settings are ash. In some neighborhoods and parks, the figure reaches as high as 30 or 40 percent.

I’m told St. James, Mo. is loosing many of its old ash trees to emerald ash borers. Since its discovery, emerald ash borers have killed trees, created regulatory headaches and cost millions in control measures. It has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in at least 34 states, caused regulatory agencies to enforce quarantines and fines and cost municipalities, property owners, nursery operators and forest products industries millions of dollars.

Well, at least we tried to keep them out.

Charlotte

A Touch of Winter

Welcome to snow-covered Bluebird Gardens. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Welcome to snow-covered Bluebird Gardens. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

A Touch of Winter

Winter snuck into mid-Missouri earlier than usual fall 2018. Two snow storms, the second dropping 3-4 inches of snow, covered my garden in a lovely fluffy white blanket.

These snow storms inspire some of the quilts I carry including snow in the garden.

Enjoy this peek at my garden covered in snow, no need to bundle up.

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Blue bench suggests the color underneath snow. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins.)

A compact dwarf plum tree holds onto its green color. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins.)

A compact dwarf plum tree holds onto its green color. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins.)

Pond water doesn’t freeze after the first snow. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Pond water doesn’t freeze after the first snow. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Cedar trees with a blanket of snow. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Cedar trees with a blanket of snow. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

My honeybees have been tucked in for winter. They cluster during cold weather, eating honey for food and coming out to fly when temperatures are over 45F.

The southern apiary is tucked in for winter. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The southern apiary is tucked in for winter. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

A birdhouse gets exposed after leaves have fallen. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

A birdhouse gets exposed after leaves have fallen. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The view off the west side of my house. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The view off the west side of my house. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

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Stay warm, winter isn’t officially here yet!

Charlotte

Missing Gardening Pick Ax

Do you see it hiding in the leaves and vinca? (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Do you see it hiding in the leaves and vinca? (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Missing Gardening Pick Ax

I garden on a Missouri limestone hill which means my main gardening tool is a pick ax. And a good set of sturdy boots.

When my last pick ax literally fell apart, I bought a new, improved one with a plastic handle and a weight I could better manage. The only problem was the handle was green, which meant as soon as I set it aside in the garden I couldn’t find it.

Enter my handyman who said he could fix that and sprayed the plastic handle a bright red. Now you should be able to find it wherever you leave it in the garden.

The next day as I was cleaning up, no pick ax ANYwhere!

Back track your steps and see if you can find it where you were working earlier, my handyman suggested. I did. Several times. Nothing.

Then earlier today, I saw it. Actually I saw the bottom of the pick ax sticking out next to a tree where I must have left it. And was it the red that caught my eye?

No, it was the original green still visible on the pick ax bottom.

The bottom of the pick ax stood out among the greenery. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The bottom of the pick ax stood out among the greenery. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Reminds me of my missing green claw glove that’s still somewhere in the garden. The claw gloves are also mainly green with black tips but now I’m wondering if painting them will make any difference in terms of finding them.

This pick ax was painted red all over!

My newly-painted gardening pick ax for easy spotting. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

My newly-painted gardening pick ax for easy spotting. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Well, it’s back and now with hard frosts killing off most of the greenery, I should be able to more easily spot it - at least until next spring.

Charlotte

Shredded Leaf Mulch

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Shredded Leaf Mulch

If you have a riding lawn mower you can have wonderful shredded leaf mulch. Shredded fall leaves, combined with grass clippings, will make rich soil conditioner that will retain water and return nitrogen into the soil that you can’t buy at any garden center.

This time of year, people are raking fall leaves and bagging shredded ones, then dumping them at our local composting station so let’s look at some options.

A standard pile of drying leaves that haven’t been shredded. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

A standard pile of drying leaves that haven’t been shredded. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Dried leaves can be good garden mulch provided the leaves are fully dry and not still green, or yellow. The leaves that aren’t dry yet need to be dry before applying to a bed but both can be used if this pile is first run over by a riding lawn mower.

Bunched leaves holding moisture that haven’t bee shredded. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Bunched leaves holding moisture that haven’t bee shredded. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Here is another leaf pile, this from the inside of one of those paper bags. See the black spots on the leaves? I would be tempted to skip this leaf pile, those black spots are an indication of some kind of spores on the leaves I would rather not spread to my garden.

Shredded and unshredded leaves are a good combination. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Shredded and unshredded leaves are a good combination. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Now we are getting somewhere, this is a leaf pile with both shredded and regular dry leaves. This combination provides good immediate garden cover with the shredded leaves and will continue to work as the new leaves decompose.

Dry shredded and unshredded leaves combined with grass clippings. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Dry shredded and unshredded leaves combined with grass clippings. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

A combination of dried leaves with grass clippings will also work as long as there are more dry leaves than clippings. Grass clippings will quickly remove nitrogen from the soil and generate heat so try to keep the mix at least even.

My favorite pile, shredded leaves and clippings. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

My favorite pile, shredded leaves and clippings. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This pile would also make an excellent composter addition, a mixture of both “brown” and “green.”This is the shredded leaf pile I have been bagging and hauling home to add to new garden beds. A combination of shredded dried leaves with maybe a quarter grass clippings. I wear gloves as I pack the bags in case the mulch included poison ivy spores. Even so I still managed to get a long scratch on my right index finger.

I have also been raking my dried leaves in my garden and moving them to cover garden beds but this shredded mix is a real treat for my flowers and one that will keep on giving next year.

Charlotte

This Rose Truly Offers Double Delight

Double Delight hybrid tea rose has a lovely spicy scent. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Double Delight hybrid tea rose has a lovely spicy scent. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This Rose Truly Offers Double Delight

I am so enjoying this last rose bud from my garden. This hybrid rose was introduced to the Rose Hall of Fame in the mid-80s and won the All-American Rose award in 1977.

That’s a long time ago and something I missed when buying this rose. I picked it up on sale without knowing what kind of rose it was, not a problem for me because I love surprises.

One of the better growing conditions for roses is sunny days and cool evenings, which we have been having. I didn’t expect to see any roses blooming until I passed this rose bush and saw this bud falling over. The sides had a splash of pink while the bud looked yellow, similar to the colors in this vintage roses twin quilt.

Once in a vase, I had to check for a scent. Wish you could smell this rose, it’s fruity and delicious, just the way one would want a rose scent to be!

Double Delight hybrid tea rosebud a day after I picked it. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Double Delight hybrid tea rosebud a day after I picked it. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Don’t know how much red color the rose bud will have at this stage but I don’t care, my nose will happily spend the rest of the season enjoying this wonderful scent!

The Double Delight hybrid tea rose finally fully open! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The Double Delight hybrid tea rose finally fully open! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Once open, the Double Delight hybrid tea rose looks like a creamy white rose and lasts about a week as a cut rose.

Charlotte

How to Get Poinsettias Red Again

Poinsettia color comes from leaves changing by light deprivation. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Poinsettia color comes from leaves changing by light deprivation. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

How to Get Poinsettias Red Again

Poinsettias are starting to pop up where I live, a sure sign of the holidays and as traditional to have around as Santa Claus. The poinsettia colors are from their leaves changing from green to red, for example, after the plant was deprived of light.

The poinsettia flowers are actually the tiny yellow pollen-covered centers.

Poinsettia flowers are the tiny centers where pollen can be found. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Poinsettia flowers are the tiny centers where pollen can be found. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

There are a number of guides on how to get a poinsettia to turn colors again and I can attest that it is very simple.

This is a gift poinsettia from last year. It spent summer outside in a shady corner of my garden, then came in around September.

A one-year poinsettia after spending summer outside. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

A one-year poinsettia after spending summer outside. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

I have to confess, I wondered how much this plant would grow outside this summer. When I lived in Mexico City in the 1950s, I remember poinsettias the size of trees in our backyard. I half-mused what I would do if this gift poinsettia had a growth spurt.

The plant was placed in a window in room that doesn’t get evening light. I tried to remember to regularly water it but I missed it a few times because it’s not a room I have been in much recently. The neglect didn’t seem to hurt the plant.

See now what I see?

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The leaves are starting to show signs of turning red, a sure sign that it has been deprived of light for the requisite 6-8 weeks that triggers the leaves to turn red.

I’m now hooked and regularly visit the plant during daylight to watch the transformation.

Interesting to watch the leaves turning color. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Interesting to watch the leaves turning color. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Looking forward to adding this plant to my holiday decorations, so glad it will be around a second year!

Charlotte

Lily Pad 2.0

Norman the frog hanging on to the side of the blue escape shelf now in one of my ponds. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Norman the frog hanging on to the side of the blue escape shelf now in one of my ponds. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Lily Pad 2.0

One of my favorite sounds to hear in my garden is that of frogs. I love the deep resounding notes of the bullfrogs and the melodious drawn out chirping of spring peepers before they jump back into the water or hide under water lilies as I walk by.

As I was going to a yard sale last year, I spotted something I thought my frogs might use, a blue escape shelf normally placed in swimming pools. If a wild animal falls into a pool there is no way for it to swim out safely so these escape shelves are designed to attach to a pool corner for a safe exit.

I don’t have a pool but I do have a small pond so I installed the shelf earlier this spring thinking it might come in handy if a turtle or rabbit fell in.

I now have two “frogs” in my little pond, one on each side of the tiny watering hole. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

I now have two “frogs” in my little pond, one on each side of the tiny watering hole. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

For the past 3 months, the escape shelf has been occupied by a young bull frog. All day, actually, from when I go out in the morning to feed the goldfish to before sunset when I wrap up garden work.

I walk by him a good few dozen times, dragging all manner of items - shovels, pick axes, boxes of plants, water in buckets, swinging the garden instruments over the pond to clear the small walking path. The frog - I have named him Norman - sits on his new blue lily pad, unflinching.

A few times he may reverse direction, or scoot up closer to the edge of the escape shelf but rarely does he jump into the pond.

This is typically how Norman spends his days in my pond, sitting on the blue escape. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This is typically how Norman spends his days in my pond, sitting on the blue escape. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

I stopped the other day to say good morning as I was feeding the fish. No response. No movement, his little green back still turned towards me as he sat.

One of my cats prefers to watch a mouse game on my cell phone and birds singing on my laptop. I suppose it only makes sense that now a frog would prefer an escape shelf to the traditional lily pad.

Charlotte

Visiting Spring Bulbs

Missouri bulbs gifted to my brother in bloom settled into their Virginia flower bed.

Missouri bulbs gifted to my brother in bloom settled into their Virginia flower bed.

Visiting Spring Bulbs

The anticipation was exciting and it had nothing to do with Christmas. My brother in Virginia was doing some garden remodeling and asked if he could send back some of the daffodil bulbs I had gifted him over the years. That way the bulbs could visit "home" for a couple of years and once his new flower beds were ready, the daffodil bulbs could make the trip back to their new garden spot maybe with me in tow. Well, no maybes about it, I will be returning with the bulbs, our family loves nothing more than to spend time together in the garden.

Need you even ask was my original answer. Actually I brought a suitcase full back when I visited earlier in fall and already had those settled in. During that gardening time together, we had discussed whether I should set up a special garden beds for the bulbs.

After much thought, my brother said no, "I'll just go shopping when I'm ready," meaning he will browse my garden and pick out the daffodil bulbs he wants back when he's ready. I suspect he will also be checking out another favorite perennial, day lilies. He’s never been very interested in tulips, and neither have I. Mice tend to snack on the bulbs and most tulips don’t bloom well the second year except for one tiny patch that has now bloomed for several years in a row at the side of my driveway.

I didn't hear much for several weeks. then my sister-in-law broke the news that two boxes were heading my way, and they weighed 70 lbs.

How many bulbs in 70 lbs, I would ask. No one seemed to know including my gardening friend Tom. "Oh, you're in trouble now," was his only answer so I decided not to worry about it until the boxes arrived.

Two boxes of bulbs from Virginia weighing 70 lbs ready to vacation in my Missouri garden.

Two boxes of bulbs from Virginia weighing 70 lbs ready to vacation in my Missouri garden.

The boxes were intact and undamaged so I peeked inside the bags. Surprise, there were more than just daffodil bulbs.

The daffodil bulbs had decided to start growing.

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Spring bulbs sprouting need to be planted in the ground so roots can keep bulbs fed.

Spring bulbs sprouting need to be planted in the ground so roots can keep bulbs fed.

Another bag has iris rhizomes so those will be tucked into a flower bed and heavily mulched until spring. After they get established, they will be moved to their final garden spots next fall.

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To plant, I will add compost to the bottom of the planting holes along with bone meal so the bulb roots will have access to nutrients. They already have a head start since all bulbs have roots and some green shoots.

Although the green tops may be nipped once cold weather moves in, the daffodil bulbs should settle in for winter and continue to store food in the bulbs for use when they bloom in spring.

Settling daffodil bulbs in ground mixing soil with compost, then watering after they are covered.

Settling daffodil bulbs in ground mixing soil with compost, then watering after they are covered.

The temperatures for the next week are forecast to be in the 60s so good time to get all of these visitors settled into their temporary accommodations.

Welcome home, daffodils!

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Fall Bulb-Planting Tips

Surprise lily bulbs ready for fall planting.

One of my favorite spring flowers, surprise lilies, ready for fall planting.

 

Fall Bulb-Planting Tips

One of my neighbors waited until January to plant some daffodils and then wondered why they didn't bloom in April.

Some spring bulbs, like tulips and some daffodils, need at least 12 weeks of below freezing temperatures to set their bulbs for blooming so don't wait too long to get bulbs in the ground. This is as much a reminder for me than anyone!

  • So to repeat, if you want to ensure spring bulbs bloom, get them in the ground before the end of November.
  • No need to buy special bulb-planting tools. Use a small pick ax, good trowel and study pair of gardening gloves.
  • Loosen the soil around the edges of the hole so their roots have an easier time of growing. 
  • Add bone meal, compost or even a handful of sand from your neighborhood sidewalk. These soil amendments will feed the bulbs and help with root development.
  • Water after planting. The faster you can get the bulbs reaching out to the soil, the faster the bulbs will get a good start.
  • Make sure you know how deep the bulbs need to be planted. If you plant them too shallow, the flowers will fall over. If you plant too deep, flower stems will be too short. Most packages have a guide on the back or ask the person who shared the bulbs with you.
  • Plant bulbs behind plants that will grow later in the season and cover bulb greenery as bulbs collect energy before they die down. And don't mow them down before their leaves turn yellow!
  • Plant bulbs in a spot where you can enjoy them.

Ok now excuse me, I have some bulbs I need to get in the ground.

Charlotte

Re-Blooming New England Asters

New England asters are a favorite fall blooms in my Missouri garden.

New England asters are a favorite fall blooms in my Missouri garden.

Re-Blooming New England Asters

With bees in my garden, I added New England asters this year to make sure they have a continuous pollen source through the four seasons.

These asters are perennials and easy to grow. Some people toss them after they bloom and that's a shame because once established, they provide a nice pop of color between the end of summer flowers and the fall tree displays.

To help extend the aster blooming season, remove the dead flower heads. They are easy to spot, they look like brown flowers.

To remove dead blooms, just carefully pinch the flowers off the stem.

To remove dead blooms, just carefully pinch the flowers off the stem.

Gently pinch the dead flower off the stem. You can start with garden scissors but it is easier to just pinch them.

Once the dead blooms are removed, the plants will generate a second wave of flowers, bringing another hint of blue and purple into your fall garden. 

These asters are blooming again about a month after I removed spent blooms.

These asters are blooming again about a month after I removed spent blooms.

Aren't these beautiful? Well worth the extra effort to keep them blooming.

Aren't these beautiful? Well worth the extra effort to keep them blooming.

New England asters are easy perennials to add to a garden and come in a variety of colors, primarily purples, blues, burgundies and whites. I picked up several on sale. Don't have a clue what color they are, looking forward to next year's fall blooming surprise!

Charlotte

Cat Napping Spot

Boo Boo likes to watch birds in the bird feeder from his favorite perch, a ceramic bird bath.

Boo Boo likes to watch birds in the bird feeder from his favorite perch, a ceramic bird bath.

Cat Napping Spot

This lovely ceramic bird bath used to spend most of the year in my garden, except for winter. Two years ago, I ran out of room in my garage so I snuck the bird bath into my living room to store through the cold months.

I liked seeing it every morning as I bundled up for work, a promise that warmer weather was going to arrive.

I grew up in South America and still struggle with appreciating all of the virtues of winter. I do enjoy some, especially the wearing hats and gloves part. I also like the time to dream about next year's garden, reviewing notes from last year and making new lists for the new year.

One morning as I headed out the door, I did a double-take. There smack dab in the middle of the bird bath was my little Presbyterian cat, Boo Boo Bartholomew. Someone had dumped him in the church's parking lot. He climbed into my car one morning as I was leaving and trying not to run over him. He's been at my house ever since.

And this morning, he was curled up in the bird bath, purring away. I had left a towel on it the night before so he had his own comfortable bedding. The bird bath is right inside the front window where a bird feeder sits, perfect cat entertainment. When I called to him, one paw stretched across the bird bath rim; he kept his eyes closed. He must have been ver-y comfortable.

Cats have a way of making themselves comfortable, don't they. 

So if you have garden decor that needs to winter over, don't overlook bringing it inside and making it part of your home decor, at least for a season. Great way to store them and still enjoy them.

Charlotte

 

Bug-Busting Mums

Chrysanthemums, or mums, not only add color to our fall gardens but help with bug control.

Chrysanthemums, or mums, not only add color to our fall gardens but help with bug control.

Bug-Busting Mums

Do you have a mum in your garden? Have you looked at it closely?

Go ahead, take a peek. I will wait.

What did you see?

Ok, so the flowers are starting to fade on one side. And yes, most of us need to water our mums more than we do. See anything else?

That’s my point, no bugs. Although we tend to only enjoy the beauty of mums in fall, chrysanthemums are the source of a popular bug repellent. When we buy “natural” bug spray with pyrethrins, we are essentially buying “Eau de Mum.”

Mums do not provide insecticidal services simply by growing in our gardens. Their compounds, collectively known as pyrethrins, are only available when freshly plucked flowers are dried and powdered, and their oils then extracted. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, there are currently more than 2,000 registered pesticide products on the market that include pyrethrins.

How Pyrethrins Work on Bugs

Natural pyrethrins are neurotoxins, or contact poisons, which quickly penetrate the insect’s nerve system. A few minutes after application, the insect cannot move or fly away. The natural pyrethrins are swiftly detoxified by enzymes in the insect so some pests will recover. To delay the enzyme action so a lethal dose is assured, manufacturers add organophosphates, carbamates, or synergists.

Synergists enhance the insecticidal activity of the pyrethrins. The synergists also prevent some enzymes from breaking down the pyrethrins, maintaining their efficacy as a bug deterrent.

The US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry notes on their website pyrethrum was first recognized as having insecticidal properties around 1800 in Asia and was used to kill ticks and various insects such as fleas and mosquitos.

Six individual chemicals have active insecticidal properties in the pyrethrum extract. These compounds are called pyrethrins. Pyrethrum looks like a tan-colored dust as ground flowers or a syrupy liquid as the crude extract. Pyrethrins are only slightly soluble in water, but they dissolve in organic solvents like alcohol, chlorinated hydrocarbons, and kerosene.

Pyrethrins are often used in household insecticides and products to control insects on pets or livestock. Pyrethrins break down quickly in the environment, especially when exposed to natural sunlight.

Pyrethroids are manufactured chemicals that are very similar in structure to the pyrethrins, but are often more toxic to insects, as well as to mammals, and last longer in the environment than pyrethrins. More than 1,000 synthetic pyrethroids have been developed, but less than a dozen of them are currently used in the United States.

As usual, read the fine print on labels so you know what you are using before you apply it.

Mums are a veritable arsenal against non-welcome bugs: mosquitos, roaches, ants, Japanese beetles, ticks, silverfish, lice, fleas, bedbugs, spider mites, harlequin bugs and root-knot nematodes. 

Keep mums blooming in fall by pinching off old flowers so new buds form, I pinched this mum about a month ago. You can also pinch mums weekly spring through July 4 to keep their traditional mounded shape.

Keep mums blooming in fall by pinching off old flowers so new buds form, I pinched this mum about a month ago. You can also pinch mums weekly spring through July 4 to keep their traditional mounded shape.

Using Mums in Our Gardens for Pest Control

Planting mums in our gardens can ward off insects. To use mums for pest control, plant them about 1 to 1½ feet from the plants you wish to protect.

If you are more of a linear gardener, plant mums in a row or as a border.

Remember to water your newly-planted mums through winter. Once established, mums are perennials and will keep bugs away for many years to come.

Charlotte

Gorgeous Garlic Chives

Transplanted garlic chives blooming beautifully in my Missouri garden.

Transplanted garlic chives blooming beautifully in my Missouri garden.

Gorgeous Garlic Chives

I don’t mean to brag but I thought I was familiar with most culinary herbs until I found these little bunches of onion-like plants in a neighbor’s garden. Without knowing what they were, I dug up as many as I could and moved them to my garden, planting them along flower borders so I could watch them during the growing season.

So many weeds we have growing in our ditches are herbs that are no longer loved and appreciated. It is a shame since many of them have as much, if not more, health benefits as plants we buy in grocery stores.

Turns out the plants I dug up are garlic chives, a very common herb used in Asian cuisine and quickly developing fans around the rest of the world.

Garlic chives belong to the chive family of onions. The family has two branches, onions and chives. The chive-like leaves add a garlic flavor to any dish, a nice option when one doesn’t have real garlic.

The plants grow about 12-inches high. They prefer a rich moist soil with sun and, once established, easily spread through self-sowing.

The green leaves of garlic chives can be cut and added to salads and dishes.

The green leaves of garlic chives can be cut and added to salads and dishes.

The leaves look like regular chives, only instead of being hollow tubes like regular chives garlic chives are flat. Both seem to grow about the same size.

I have them planted as flower bed border plants, more so that I could see them when they bloomed and I could confirm the identification.

Garlic chives make wonderful border plants.

Garlic chives make wonderful border plants.

Garlic Chives Healthy Benefits

t is interesting to see how herbs were used for medicine. In the case of garlic chives, they allegedly reduce stress and fatigue. Paste of the herb supposedly heals wounds faster and stops bleeding. It was also used in the treatment of liver, kidney and digestion problems.

More to the point, garlic chives can be used in soups, sauces, salads, egg dishes – wherever you like to use garlic but don’t have any available. If for some reason you can’t eat garlic, garlic chives are a good way to add the garlic flavor without any related issues.

Garlic chives are rich in vitamin C, riboflavin, potassium, iron, vitamin A, thiamin and betacarotene. These elements help maintain blood pressure and increase a body’s immunity.

Garlic chives are also low in fat and have a high content of dietary fiber and protein. According to Frank Tozer, who wrote the Uses of Wild Plants, it also helps to maintain a balanced metabolism.

A macro lens closeup of garlic chive flowers.

A macro lens closeup of garlic chive flowers.

If you look at the white garlic chive flowers closely, they look very similar to wild onion flowers, which bloom in late spring. When trying to tell the difference between the two, wild onion leaves are tubular while garlic chives are flat.

Natural Pest Deterrent

Another advantage of garlic chives is they are supposed to deter pests such as Japanese beetles, black spot on roses, scab on apples and mildew on cucurbits. I will move a few around next spring to increase my natural bug repelling efforts.

I have used both garlic chive flower stems and cut up leaves in salads and can’t tell a difference between the two, they both add a nice garlic flavor.

Wild onions and garlic were a Native American food staple. Bulbs were gathered in large quantities for winter use. Whole bulbs were roasted in fire pits, something we can duplicate by wrapping bulbs in aluminum foil and baking in a 350-F oven, or the ashes of a fire, for 45 minutes.

Native Americans also used wild onions and garlic as insect repellants, simply smearing them on their skin. I have heard alleged garlic cloves repel vampires but I am sure smearing garlic all over will repel people.

Charlotte