Natural Insect Control Idea

Three of my birdhouses repaired and waiting to be installed for natural pest control.

Three of my birdhouses repaired and waiting to be installed for natural pest control.

"...love your articles in the Kaleidoscope (Weekly Newspaper). If I shouldn't be using pesticides in my garden, what suggestion do you have for natural insect control?" -- Theresa

Natural Insect Control Idea

Hi Theresa, you have several options but one of my favorites is birdhouses. Well, not the actual birdhouses but what the birdhouses attract to a garden. This is the time of year when I walk through my garden and start bringing birdhouses into my garage for repairs, if they haven't already wintered over on one of my shelves. That's when I get a better idea of whether they have been occupied and who has been using them.

If I leave my garage door open, it's fun to catch birds walking along the shelves checking out the birdhouses. If I have a part glued, I put the birdhouse out in the sun to help the glue dry faster. Not a good idea to run the risk of having birds getting caught in the sticky stuff.

I also like to get any painting dry before I return the birdhouses so they will also sit in the sun after a paint job. Now I add a wad of newspaper in the entrance if the paint takes more than a couple of days to dry because if the real estate is nice, birds will move in even if the bird house is not dry, or in a tree.

Birds are natural insect predators so they are wonderful contributors to keeping garden insect numbers down. The cute birdhouses, like the little church one, are just an extra benefit!

Charlotte

 

Finding Perfect Gardening Gloves

My favorite, and the gardening gloves I recommend, with re-inforced fingertips.

My favorite, and the gardening gloves I recommend, with re-inforced fingertips.

Finding Perfect Gloves

"Charlotte, I shopped at a local store for gardening gloves and they had so many options it confused me. I took (my wife) by and she picked out a perfect pair that looked a lot like these. She used them last week. They performed perfectly. The leather finger tips stood up well. Thanks for the help. I would not have thought of that on my own." -- Kenny

Kenny, finding the right gardening gloves can be a challenge because there are too many choices. When I have only the wrong gloves available. I won't use them and that's SO bad for my hands. It takes weeks for the damage to be repaired, and in the meantime I live with painfully cut and scratched hands with broken nails....not a pretty sight.

When I have good gardening gloves that fit well and stand up to my gardening habits, I can spend most of the day in them and still get a lot done. I have tried a lot of gloves and carry these gardening gloves because they have lasted the longest and survived me, no small feat.

Thanks for sharing, nice to hear I was able to help!

Charlotte

 

How to Pick an Amaryllis bulb?

How to Pick an Amaryllis Bulb That Blooms

"...over the years, I have tried to pick an Amaryllis bulb that will bloom and failed. What do I need to get?" - Amanda

Hi Amanda, don't get discouraged, Amaryllis are easy and fun to grow. I love to give them as gifts, especially because one can watch them grow on a daily basis, especially in the middle of winter when the weather outside is cold, the landscape is covered with snow and there is nothing green within miles.

What to Look for in Amaryllis Bulbs

First, don't pick a bulb that is all brown, without any growth showing. When buying loose bulbs, it's a gamble whether you are getting an Amaryllis bulb that stored enough energy to bloom before it was removed from soil, dried and shipped for sale.

Most Amaryllis are sold in gift boxes. Don't be afraid to gently open the box and look inside. You are looking for an Amaryllis bulb that already has a bud tip showing. The bud tips are easy to spot from leaf tips because they are thicker. Leaf starts are good to have, too, but it you only see leaf starts, the bulb may not bloom.

In the following photo, the bud tip is on the right, the leaf tip is on the left. 

Amaryllis bulb with a bud tip showing will ensure you have a blooming flower starting.

Amaryllis bulb with a bud tip showing will ensure you have a blooming flower starting.

If an Amaryllis bud is not showing any growth by the time it is in a box at a retail store, chances are it didn't get enough energy stored in the bulb before it was harvested. If you are buying Amaryllis bulbs for gifts, pass on those, you want a bud tip showing.

Also don't be afraid if the bud tip is all white, that just means it has not been exposed to light to turn green. This bulb will still bloom once the emerging Amaryllis bud tip is exposed to sun to turn green.

Amaryllis bulb with a white emerging bud tip, right, and leaves, that need sun exposure.

Amaryllis bulb with a white emerging bud tip, right, and leaves, that need sun exposure.

See the leaves starting on the left? Don't cut off the leaves, that will help recharge the bud after it blooms.

I try to pick Amaryllis buds as they are starting at the bulb base but if you need something blooming sooner, pick the bulb bud several inches taller. Either way, once the bulb is in soil, the plant will keep growing until it blooms. 

Actually I have bought Amaryllis bulbs on sale that bloomed without soil but it took extra energy from the bulb and took longer for the bulb to recuperate before it bloomed again. Even if you pick an Amaryllis bulb that's several inches high, get it into soil as soon as you can and water. That will help the bulb get nutrients and keep the Amaryllis bulb healthy.

This Amaryllis bulb grew and is getting ready to bloom without even being in a pot with soil.

This Amaryllis bulb grew and is getting ready to bloom without even being in a pot with soil.

Ok, now for a little test. Look at this photo and tell me, which one is the emerging Amaryllis bud and which side has the emerging leaves?

Amaryllis bud is on the left, emerging green leaves are on the right.

Amaryllis bud is on the left, emerging green leaves are on the right.

Amaryllis Bulb Care

Once the Amaryllis bulb leaves die back, the bulb should rest for a couple of months before you water it to get it started again. In other words, don't water it for a couple of months - how easy is that.

I have some Amaryllis bulbs that are 6 years old now, so much fun to see them repeatedly blooming. And they are quite large now, too!

Good luck, let me know how you do on your next Amaryllis bulb shopping trip!

Charlotte

 

How to Tell Mum Starts Have Taken

Rust-colored mum starts at Bluebird Gardens.

How to Tell Mum Starts Have Taken

"...I read your instructions on how to get mums started with root hormone. How can I tell they have roots?" -- Nadine

Hi Nadine, there are several ways you can tell if your mum starts now have roots.

One way is to observe how the cutting is doing once you placed it in the ground. In the photo, I have two mum cuttings. If I had to guess at this point, the one on the left has a better chance of rooting than the one on the right. The leaves and flowers on the one on the left are still green and vibrant; the cutting on the right is shriveling, which means no water and nutrients are getting into the plant.

One thing you could do about the one on the right is gently remove it out of the ground, re-cut the end to right under a growing node; re-apply root hormone and stick it back in the ground.

The second way is to gently tug on the root cutting. If the plant resists, chances are roots are developing. If the cutting comes up, recut the bottom, re-apply root hormone and try again.

The last way is the surefire way. If you are transplanting the cuttings to a permanent spot, you can peek at the bottom to confirm roots as you are transplanting.

Here's another batch of mum starts in my garden. Which ones from this photo do you think are getting a good start so far?

Here's another batch of mum starts in my garden. Which ones from this photo do you think are getting a good start so far?

If you don't have root hormone - I tend to run out at the end of the season - you can also root mum cuttings in water. I use a clear glass so that I can easily see when the roots get started. Replace the water daily and keep them away from curious cats, one of mine likes to re-decorate the house with mum cuttings. Not must mum cuttings, anything in water is an invitation to drag the greenery all over but that's another story.

Also remember to water seedlings once a month through winter so you will have established perennials. Good luck!

Charlotte

Systemic Insecticide & Japanese Beetles

A Japanese beetle on a wild grape leaf at Bluebird Gardens.  

A Japanese beetle on a wild grape leaf at Bluebird Gardens.

 

"My knockout roses are being eaten by the Japanese beetles.  Why doesn't the rose food with systemic insecticide bother the beetles?  Thanks."  -- Lynn

Hi Lynn,

For systemic insecticides to be strong enough to kill Japanese beetles, they would kill the roses first.

Have you tried hand-picking the beetles? Do it early morning. Sneak a container with soapy water under the leaves with the bugs and the bugs will fall into your container.  If you get them early enough, they won't leave a trace pheromone for other beetles to follow.

You can also try wrapping your roses in cheesecloth or fruit tree netting.

Let me now what ends up working best for you. The good news is that they only live for about six weeks. Good luck!

Charlotte

How Does My Pot Garden Grow?

My deck garden full of pots at the end of August 2016. It was a very hot summer!

My deck garden full of pots at the end of August 2016. It was a very hot summer!

How Does My Pot Garden Grow?

“…was wondering how your pot garden is doing? My mother started one this year and she is struggling with her tomatoes….” – Lisa

Hi Lisa, your Mom is not alone, this was a hard growing season for tomatoes. Between the record hot temperatures and the extremes in soil conditions – too much water one day, not enough the next – my tomatoes also did not do well.

However, now that temperatures are moderating, my tomatoes are starting to ripen so hopefully your Mom will soon get a late bounty as well.

One of my first beefsteak tomatoes to ripen this year, early September. Finally!

One of my first beefsteak tomatoes to ripen this year, early September. Finally!

My green peppers and cucumbers were fried in our record heat; my eggplant start was munched on early on but seems to be making a good recovery, and my herbs are plodding along.

My eggplant has made a lovely recovery and shares a pot with purslane.

My eggplant has made a lovely recovery and shares a pot with purslane.

Basil, one of my favorite herbs, is growing in a pot ready to bring it in later this fall.

Basil, one of my favorite herbs, is growing in a pot ready to bring it in later this fall.

I actually caught myself thinking I may just stick with my deck pot garden next year instead of trying to plant a traditional garden. We’ll see, it was a humid day, the heat may have gotten to me for a minute or so but it’s not a bad idea. Planting in pots is much easier. I can better manage soil and watering conditions and better shoo away uninvited visitors.

Charlotte

Leftover Surprise Lilies

"...saw your surprise lilies on Facebook, so beautiful! I have a question. I moved my surprise lily bulbs this spring but a couple of them came up again. Do I move them now or do I have to wait until next spring to move them?" -- Lisa

Lisa, here are leftover surprise lilies blooming in one of the flower beds in front of my house, too!

Lisa, here are leftover surprise lilies blooming in one of the flower beds in front of my house, too!

Leftover Surprise Lilies

Hi Lisa, I have a few "leftover" surprise lilies myself!

If I had a flower of the month club, surprise lilies would be my August flower. This North American cousin of the traditional holiday gift flower Amaryllis blooms in Missouri when little else is in bloom. August is Missouri's dearth month, usually the hottest month of the year and when plants shut down to survive the hot weather conditions.

I also thought I had moved all of the surprise lily bulbs out of the corner of a front flower bed so I could settle an old bird bath under the rain gutter to collect rain water. Instead, two bulbs I missed digging up sprung up this August 2016, a little out of place now that the rest of the surprise lilies are gone.

If you don't have to move them this fall, I wouldn't. Let the bulbs collect energy over fall and winter over where they are currently growing. Then spring, when the leaves start peeking out of the ground, dig them up and move them.

Pick a rainy spring day so rain water will help settle them into their new location.

One of the secrets to successfully moving any plants is to dig them up in a ball of soil; most won't even know they were moved.

If you have to move them now, wait until the flowers are finished and gone to seed. Remove the stem with the seed pods. Leave 2-3 inches at the top so you know where the bulbs are. Dig them up with a huge shovel so you don't disturb the roots and carefully move them to a new hole that will fit the glob of soil you removed.

Water well with a pinch of all purpose fertilizer to help them get re-established.

Chances are if you keep them in soil, the move won't interrupt their growing cycle and they will bloom again next year. It's a technique I have successfully used for most of my plant moves in my garden.

If the bulbs are disturbed and have to spend energy re-establishing their roots, they won't collect enough energy to be able to bloom next year. It may take a full growing cycle for them to bloom again.

Now I took a different approach to my little leftover lilies. Instead of digging them up, I added three more surprise lily bulbs to the flower bed corner and watered well. No one would expect them to be growing there and that makes me smile. 

What can I say,  I love surprise lilies!

Charlotte

 

Wild versus Domestic Petunias

Wild versus Domestic Petunias

"I saw your posting on wild petunias. By any chance are they related to domestic petunias? I don't have any wild ones in my garden but I do have domestic ones...." -- Alice

Interesting you should ask, Alice. Although they look very similar, Missouri's wild petunias are not related to the more popular, and common, domestic petunias.

Missouri's wild petunia in bloom at Bluebird Gardens.

Missouri's wild petunia in bloom at Bluebird Gardens.

Purple domestic petunia blooming in a Bluebird Gardens deck pot.

Purple domestic petunia blooming in a Bluebird Gardens deck pot.

Missouri's wild petunias Ruellia strepens are perennials that grow in rich open woods, streamsides, open valleys and moist uplands. Wild petunias are North America's version of the petunias purchased over summer.

Petunia is a genus of 35 species originally from South America, closely related to tobacco, tomatoes, cape gooseberries, potatoes and chili peppers. The popular flower of the same name derived its epithet from the French, which took the word petun, meaning "tobacco," from a Tupi-Guarani language. 

Can you now see the difference in the photos between the two?

Charlotte

Ailing Potted Tomato Plant

One of my Roma tomatoes growing in a pot on my deck at Bluebird Gardens.

One of my Roma tomatoes growing in a pot on my deck at Bluebird Gardens.

Question About Ailing Tomato Plant

Of all of the plants we plant in our gardens, tomatoes may be the favorite. Knowing the plants are not doing well can be disconcerting, as one can tell from this email from Charlie in St. James:

Charlie: "O.K. Master gardner,I have a patio tomato in a large pot. It was so nice and healthy looking has on several tomatoes however I have been watching it turn yellowish brown on several lower limbs.Have you got any free advice on what is going on and can I correct the problem? Thanks in advance" -- Charlie near St. James.

Charlotte: Hi Charlie, your tomato is not happy with the record hot, dry temperatures. They like regular, consistent watering. In addition, sounds like your plants are missing some basic elements so give it half the recommended fertilizer in water to make sure they have the food they need. Plants in pots need a little extra help because the water in the pot vaporizes faster.

Good luck, let me know how they do!

Charlie: "Thanks Charlotte. I had the patio tomato on a plant stand about 2-1/2 feet off the very sunny concrete deck. Too hot there I moved it to a semi shaded spot in the back yard removed the sickly limbs fertilized it(miracle Grow) it came out of it in a couple of days looks great now. Believe you were spot on. Thanks again" --  Charlie.St. James.

Glad they are doing better, Charlie!

Charlotte

What Is This Plant?

Can you identify this spring-blooming plant in Missouri USDA zone 5b?

Can you identify this spring-blooming plant in Missouri USDA zone 5b?

What Is This Plant?

It is one of the questions I get asked the most but not an easy question to answer. Especially when people try to just describe the plant, without a photo or a plant sample.

"So it has this funny curlycue on the side" and "my mother remembers this plant when she was little" are not good clues. If someone is not able to provide a photo, I ask them to tell me what plant they can identify that is similar to the one they don't know. Even then, there is no guarantee I will be able to identify it but I stand a better chance of getting close, or keeping them away from a particularly healthy batch of poison ivy.

One of the more controversial identifications is weeds versus herbs. Actually some weeds ARE herbs but not everyone appreciates that badge. It seems easier to mis-identify bluebells for Virginia bluebells, similar in name but different species.

I will be glad to help you if I can but for both of our sakes, if you would like a plant identified try to provide a photo or sample. If you didn't take one, go to a search engine and type in the color of flower or leaf shape, then surf through images until you find one similar. Who knows, you may even identify the plant yourself!

Have you identified the plant in photo? 

It's a prairie or climbing rose rosa setigera, one of Missouri's native spring-blooming roses.

Charlotte

 

Will Deck Pots Work?

One of my deck pots with lettuce, radishes, spinach, parsley and pig weed. Salad's ready!

One of my deck pots with lettuce, radishes, spinach, parsley and pig weed. Salad's ready!

Will Deck Pots Work?

“You could buy a greenhouse if you don’t know how to make one. Are you sure those (deck) pots will work?” – Amy

Charlotte: Thanks, Amy. Although I like the idea of a greenhouse, I can’t help but imagine all of the wildlife that will enjoy going in and helping themselves to seed starts.

Although I also have "visitors" on my deck, only Chuck the groundhog has successfully absconded with a tomato. Well, wait, Roscoe the squirrel sometimes digs in the soil; Herbert the lizard looks like a tiny dinosaur in my pomegranate bush  and I do have to carefully water some of the fruit trees so that I don't knock tree frogs off. It can be a busy place!

Frankly, a deck garden is easier than a traditional garden plot. I can more easily weed, manage bugs and water. I do dream of having a greenhouse some day but in the meantime, I will concentrate on making my deck garden better.

I’m sure Chuck will appreciate it!

Charlotte