Do Cotton Sheets Save Fruit Buds?

 These are my dwarf fruit trees covered in fleece and cotton sheets during our last cold spell.

These are my dwarf fruit trees covered in fleece and cotton sheets during our last cold spell.

Do Cotton Sheets Work to Safe Fruit Buds?

This last cold spell was four days long. I didn't know at the time it was also part of the coldest spring in Missouri's recorded history. I have been trying different materials to see which ones work the best to protect my fruit tree flowers from getting nipped during this late winter freezes. 

Over the years I have tried bird seed bags, corn bags, a variety of blankets and settled on cotton - sheets, pillow cases and lightweight fleece blankets. I will cover them with plastic bags if rain is in the forecast but without a chance of precipitation its all about keeping the flowers from getting blasted.

After four days, I wasn't sure if they had been covered for too long or not so as soon as there was sunshine and temperatures in the evening over freezing, off came the sheets.

 My uncovered dwarf fruit tree flowers are none worse the wear for being covered in cotton.

My uncovered dwarf fruit tree flowers are none worse the wear for being covered in cotton.

After giving the dwarf fruit trees a few hours to enjoy the sun, I went back to check to see how the covered flowers were doing.

These are dwarf patio peach trees.

 Dwarf patio peach trees made it through this last freeze covered in cotton pillow cases.

Dwarf patio peach trees made it through this last freeze covered in cotton pillow cases.

One of my favorite spring-blooming dwarf fruit tree is the apricot, the vibrant pink color is just lovely.

 My lovely dwarf apricot required two sheets to give it full coverage from the last freeze.

My lovely dwarf apricot required two sheets to give it full coverage from the last freeze.

As I was heading back to the front of the house, I saw honeybees visiting the recently uncovered blooms.

 One of my honeybees visits the dwarf patio peach tree blossoms saved by cotton sheets.

One of my honeybees visits the dwarf patio peach tree blossoms saved by cotton sheets.

That made all of the effort to cover up the trees worthwhile!

Charlotte

The Dirt on Soil

 Leaves are a good soil additive, helping to keep soil from packing too densely, especially Missouri clay. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Leaves are a good soil additive, helping to keep soil from packing too densely, especially Missouri clay. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The Dirt on Soil

 

Did you know there are more microorganisms in a tablespoon of soil than there are people on earth? Soil is an amazing recycling operation, a constant re-combining of minerals and decaying plants and animals.

An average soil sample is 45 percent minerals, 25 percent water, 25 percent air, and five percent organic matter. Different-sized mineral particles, such as sand, silt, and clay, give soil its texture.

How fast water interacts, or doesn’t interact with those mineral particles, determines how well different plant varieties can pull the nutrition they need. Then there are the good soil organisms and the bad ones that, once out of balance, can turn soil communities into infertile landscapes.

To find out what kind of soil you have, you can do a quick soil test at home:

1. Fill a quart jar one-third full with topsoil and add water until the jar is almost full. Screw on the lid and shake the mixture until all the clumps of soil have dissolved.

2. Set the jar on a windowsill and watch as the larger particles begin to sink to the bottom. In a minute or two, the sand portion of the soil will have settled to the jar bottom. Mark the level of sand on the jar side. A colored magic marker will work, you can wash it off later.

3. Leave the jar undisturbed for several hours. The finer silt particles will gradually settle.

4. Leave the jar overnight. The next layer above the silt will be clay. Mark the thickness of that layer. On top of the clay should be a thin layer of organic matter. Some of this organic matter may still be floating in the water. In fact, the jar should be murky and full of floating organic sediments. If not, you probably need to add organic matter to improve the soil's fertility and structure.

Not sure what you are seeing? I can understand, sometimes it all looks like a big muddy blob. Take a good look until your eyes can distinguish between colors. Give up? Ok, but don’t toss it down the sink, pour it on a flower bed, there is another way.

 One of the easiest soil amendments for flower beds is to add weathered wood chips. The wood chips break down into added organic matter and, once in decomposed form, are a wonderful planting medium for many plants. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

One of the easiest soil amendments for flower beds is to add weathered wood chips. The wood chips break down into added organic matter and, once in decomposed form, are a wonderful planting medium for many plants. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Collect about 6 scoops or 1.5 cups of soil from 6-8 points from a good 4-6 inches below ground from around your garden in a plastic bag and take it down to your local University of Missouri Extension Office. For $15, they will send the samples off to a lab. In a couple of weeks, you will get a very detailed analysis back with a detailed report of your soil including ph levels and recommendations of what you need to do, if any, to improve your soil.

The report will also help guide you in what you can plant in your soil conditions and how to amend your soil for optimum garden growing conditions.

Take your time with whatever you do, most soil amendments take time.

Charlotte

 

Saving Fruit Buds From Freeze

 Lightweight blankets, sheets and cotton pillow cases cover my flowering fruit trees early April.

Lightweight blankets, sheets and cotton pillow cases cover my flowering fruit trees early April.

Saving Fruit Buds From Freeze

Hopefully it's the last snow of the year but the forecast was ill-timed. Some of my dwarf fruit trees were flowering, their pink buds and round little posies threatened by the below freezing temperatures.

Over the years, I have covered them with a number of different textiles to see which ones work the best against frost and freezing temperatures. As long as it doesn't rain, cotton sheets, pillow cases and lightweight fleece blankets and coats seem to protect them the best without causing damage as they are unwrapped later.

If there is wet precipitation, then adding something over to shield the cotton helps. Bird seed bags, corn bags and plastic dry cleaning bags have helped to keep the cotton from adding weight to the branches.

These dwarf fruit trees have been covered for three days against the cold. Hopefully they will get unwrapped in another day or so and the flowers will warm up enough to entice the bees with freshly-produced nectar. I'm sure the bees will be happy to be out of their hives as well!

Charlotte

 

April Gardening Chores

 Prune lilacs immediately after blooming or you may be cutting off next year's flowers.

Prune lilacs immediately after blooming or you may be cutting off next year's flowers.

April Gardening Chores

There’s so much growing in mid-Missouri, where I live in USDA Hardiness zone 5b, I love taking my walks to see what’s popped up or getting ready to bloom, and what may be visiting my garden. Haven't seen rabbits yet but they will soon be checking out the greenery, too!

Clean out composters and add to flower beds and fruit trees. Mix with existing soil for now; you will mulch this later. Leave a good bucket of finished compost as starter for the next compost batch and start adding leaves, grass clippings if you have them, kitchen scraps and water. Don’t forget to mix.

Prune lilacs immediately after they bloom. If you wait until later in the season, you will be cutting off next year’s blooms.

Continue to sow lettuce, spinach and radish seeds every 10 days or so for fresh spring salads in your round foot garden. I would call it my pot garden but that leads you to believe I am growing something completely different. Call it your garden in pots, if you prefer.

If you like to grow peas, this is the last month to plant sugar snap peas and snow peas, they prefer cooler weather conditions. To keep their roots happy, mulch with cardboard to keep them cool, then add a layer of wood chips.

As daffodils and tulips continue to grow and bloom, sprinkle compost around them to keep the bulbs well fed. As the flowers fade, remove them by snipping off the flower heads. Leave the greenery until it turns yellow; the green leaves help the bulbs store energy for next season’s blooms. Don’t mow the leaves down with the lawn mower until they turn yellow or the bulbs will gradually become smaller and you will not have any more blooms next spring.

If you have a vegetable garden area, this is a good time to add cardboard to kill off any growth prior to summer planting. Don't till, the prevailing thought now is that tilling damages the soil ecosystem. Kill the plants you don’t want, make holes to plant the ones you do, or make trenches to plant seeds, and cover. Easy peasy. Who doesn’t like easy gardening??

 Pot gardens work just as well to grow onions, lettuce, spinach and other spring crops.

Pot gardens work just as well to grow onions, lettuce, spinach and other spring crops.

Start your summer plants inside in containers you can transplant outside later; tomatoes, peppers, watermelons, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, zucchini.

Don’t forget companion plants to reduce crop damage; basil is a good bug deterrent for a lot of plants and grows easily from seed.

Plant for pollinators as well. I love zinnias and so do butterflies and bees. Native plants such as New England Asters, yarrow and purple coneflowers are good choices for pollinators because they have long blooming seasons. For another good annual, try sunflower seeds. Birds will love the seeds in the fall.

Enjoy the beauty of Missouri’s native trees, these usually bloom this month, redbuds and dogwoods. Better yet, plant a few more native trees along with compact dwarf fruit trees. Although planting native flowers is still good for pollinators, trees provide better, and more reliable, pollen sources for bees. The smaller fruit trees are good pollen sources as well and, when pollinated by bees, will also give you easily accessible fruit to pick.

Charlotte

Signs of Spring

 'Tete a Tete' miniature daffodils blooming at the corner of one of my hillside flower beds.

'Tete a Tete' miniature daffodils blooming at the corner of one of my hillside flower beds.

Signs of Spring

When I think of spring, I imagine two favorite signs now connected by a thoughtful gift from an East coast colleague that shows up with the first early spring flowers.

We had worked together a few years back. When we were on breaks or sharing a meal, we enjoyed comparing notes about our very different gardens.

His was an east coast, meticulous garden inspired by formality and precision. He had clipped topiary Boxwoods, manicured Weeping Willows and dramatic Drooping Cherry trees. I used to tell him his garden sounded just a tad sad based on his description, did he have anything with more of a happy sounding name planted anywhere?

By comparison, my Missouri limestone hillside garden was a riot of easy to grow native redbuds, dogwoods and compact fruit trees sprinkled with anything that bloomed throughout the growing season, even weeds. No grass to mow. Ponds, lots of birdhouses, bird baths, benches, butterflies and bees, “quite a busy place” he used to say. And frogs. Lots of frogs, all shapes and sizes but my favorites were the spring frogs.

Frogs, he would say, as if the concept was brand new to him. I gathered nothing went into his garden without advance permission.

 A Missouri spring peeper frog resting on my back ladder between making joyful noises.

A Missouri spring peeper frog resting on my back ladder between making joyful noises.

Little frogs called spring peepers, I would add. Tiny grey frogs with a big presence, they make a resounding noise on the first warm spring-like day, everyone knows just when that is, at times it is in the middle of winter. The sun will come out, the day will warm up and so will the frogs. One won’t be able to hear one’s thoughts for the racket it’s quite special.

We would go on with our official business and when talk turned back to gardens, the conversation would come back around to the little frogs, which apparently they don’t have on the East coast. Or if the do, they must sing much more quietly in his garden.

So what do these little frogs do, he once asked.

Well, I said, giving it due consideration. They swim in the water in my empty flower pots. They hang out in my rain barrel. They sit under plants. They suction cup themselves to my windows and drive my cats crazy.

I mean, do frogs have jobs, he asked.

Why yes, I said. They eat bugs.

And peep?

Yes, they peep, usually in spring, when daffodils much larger than they are bloom.

(I didn't say it was scintillating conversation, now, did I.)

Another time I showed him a picture of one of my frogs. I have a couple living in a rain barrel. I wanted him to see what they looked like just in case he found any on his property. He nodded once he took in their size and coloring.

So when I opened the box of miniature daffodils with his return address, I knew exactly why he sent them. They were for the spring peepers, teeny tiny daffodils for the small frogs he knew I had in my garden.

Welcome spring!

Charlotte

Good Garden Visitors

 Opossums are good garden visitors, they keep ticks and snake populations in check.

Opossums are good garden visitors, they keep ticks and snake populations in check.

Good Garden Visitors

As spring pops up, it’s time to welcome good garden visitors and set aside pesticides and insecticides. Although I understand those are used because they are conveniently available, most home gardeners do more harm than good. Let’s look at more environmentally friendly, and less costly, alternatives:

Birdhouses. Besides being fun to make and even more fun to add to a garden, birdhouses provide shelter to a variety of attractive garden visitors. Some birds feed larvae and caterpillars to their young and by doing so provide bug control. These homes are also good shelters for paper wasps, which are good pollinators for fruit trees. Having alternative housing also keeps paper wasps away from your house doors and windows.

Birdbaths. Add rocks and sticks to provide safe landing spots for small insects and keep the areas filled with water, especially when there are dry periods.

Provide other water areas with shallow dishes, pebble areas and sand for butterflies and other smaller insects. All living creatures need water.

Toad houses. Use old broken ceramic pots turned upside down as long as there is a space underneath that creates a cool spot for a toad to sit in. Toads like cool, damp spots and will eat more than their share of destructive insects.

Hover flies are 3/8 to 3/4 of an inch long with black and yellow stripes. Some people call hover flies sweat bees since the flies enjoy a little tasty drink of sweat periodically. However, hover flies don't sting and actually can't sting even if they had the urge. Hover fly young are ravenous predators of garden pests such as aphids, thrips and small caterpillars. The adult hover flies do not eat other insects but feed on nectar and pollen

 Rehabilitate well-used bird houses by adding new holes and wire to be able to rehang them.

Rehabilitate well-used bird houses by adding new holes and wire to be able to rehang them.

Plant a variety of flowers. Many predators and parasites feed on pollen and nectar or use flowers to supplement their food supply if they run low on pests. To attract the good bugs, also called beneficial bugs, add plants in the carrot family and mustard family. Use plenty of plants with small flowers such as sweet alyssum, dill, fennel, garlic chives, coriander, cilantro and white lace flower, cultivated version of Queen Anne's Lace. Other popular plants for good bugs include: blanket flower, coneflower, coreopsis, cosmos, tansy, yarrow, goldenrod, sunflowers, yellow alyssum, sweet clover, buckwheat and hairy vetch. Let a few of the broccoli plants go to flower.

Plan a season of bloom. Gardeners enjoy having flowers all season as much as the beneficial insects.

Include some permanent hardscapes such as stone paths and decorative rock. These attract lizards, part of nature’s garbage patrol. Lizards consume dead insects.

Don’t be too rushed to escort that opossum off your property. Opossums eat fruits, snakes, insects, snails, slugs, eggs, mice, rats, fish, frogs, crayfish, and carrion. They are immune to Missouri venomous snakes and, through grooming, get rid of a lot of ticks. They are also nocturnal so if you don't want to cross paths, start taking your garbage out first thing in the morning.

Charlotte

Bird Bath Benches

 This is my mother's old garden bench now close to her old garden bird bath.

This is my mother's old garden bench now close to her old garden bird bath.

Bird Bath Benches

We often seem to spend extra time locating the perfect spot for bird baths but do we even consider a nearby seating area?

I was pondering this question as I finished weeding a part of my garden where my mother's garden items are now settled in. One is a bird bath I finally was able to plug up so that it holds water and my returning Robins enjoy using for bathing. Many of the Robins are descendants of the original 12 or so I raised by hand and released; Robins, as many songbirds will do,  return to their fledging spots to raise their young.

My closest bench used to be across the driveway, too far away to quietly sit and watch the birds splashing. Once the bird bath was fixed, I moved my mother's old bench closer so that anyone could settle down and watch the show in the bird bath.

That's one of the great delights of having a certified wildlife garden, there is always something going on if one only takes the time to slow down long enough to observe. Now the bench reminds me to slow down and take it all in.

Charlotte

 

June Gardening Chores

 My herbs, tomatoes, peppers and yes, a banana plant on my back deck garden.

My herbs, tomatoes, peppers and yes, a banana plant on my back deck garden.

June Gardening Chores

Behind in gardening chores? So am I. It’s been such a wet spring, it’s hard to get anything in the ground, let alone much mowed. The plants sure have taken advantage of all of the moisture. And just think, June is traditionally our wettest month of the year.

Since our spring season is getting extended with our rapidly changing climate, there is still time to get some late spring chores done:

1.     Japanese beetles show up this month so hand pick and drop in a bucket of water with soap. Also treat your lawn with nematodes and milky spores, both will gradually help eliminate grubs.

2.     Trim lilacs now so growth the rest of this year will provide blooms next year.

3.     Get your flower pots planted. Water the soil first, let drain, then add your flowers for better adjustment.

4.     When planting vegetables, plant a new supply every 2 weeks to give yourself a new crop through the season.

5.     Keep your asparagus bed weeded and let the green top ferns grow until they go brown, do not cut.

6.     As rain stops, make sure to water deeply in the root zone. Don’t sprinkle on leaves, that’s a waste of water and does nothing for your plants.

7.     Pinch mums weekly through July 4th to keep them bushy and delay bloom until fall.

8.     Leave spring bulb greenery to die off naturally. I gently remove the yellow leaves if they bug me and plant summer perennials to cover them in the meantime.

9.     Plant annual flower seeds, such as zinnias, sunflowers, forget-me-nots, cosmos, marigolds and herbs.

10.  Mulch your vegetables, even those growing in pots. Shredded leaves, shredded paper and torn cardboard all work under dried grass and leaves.

 This dill and purslane volunteered from last year. Gardening doesn't get much easier than that!

This dill and purslane volunteered from last year. Gardening doesn't get much easier than that!

11.  When mulching, leave 2-4 inches clear from the plant stem and the mulch ring no larger than 5 inches deep. More than that and you are smothering the plant itself.

12.  Check for dead limbs and remove before they fall on someone.

13.  When planting wildflowers, mark the beds where seeds have been added. Some wildflowers may take 2 years to germinate.

14.  Add bird baths for interest and a bird water source. Birds will help keep unwanted insects down.

15.  Feed roses and other plants compost to give them a good source of energy.

16.  For those of you with grass, don’t cut more than 1/3 of the grass down at one time.

17.  When making new flower beds, use cardboard boxes to kill off unwanted plants. Add shredded leaves, grass clippings, mulch to get the bed ready for fall planting.

18.  Take photos of your garden. Use the same photo spots you used in spring so you can see the changes from one season to the next.

19.  When adding perennials, focus on native plants. Once established, they will require less water and care than non-natives and Missouri has a lovely array of native plants to choose from.

20. Make sure to have a seating area in a cool garden spot so you can sit down and enjoy all of the work you have invested in your garden.

Charlotte

Hummer Time

 This is one of my inside cats supervising the hummingbird feeder out of the window to my deck. This cat in particular takes her supervisory duties very seriously and lets me know whenever there is a hummingbird at the feeder.

This is one of my inside cats supervising the hummingbird feeder out of the window to my deck. This cat in particular takes her supervisory duties very seriously and lets me know whenever there is a hummingbird at the feeder.

Hummer Time

With all of the other spring signs several weeks early this year, I decided to put out my hummingbird feeders a few weeks early and turns out, I was just in time.

Hummingbirds winter over in Central and South America, migrating back north for our spring and summer while the southern hemisphere goes into its winter season. As they migrate north, the male hummingbirds are the first to show up at backyard feeders. They are the scouts, checking out food and nesting areas for the incoming females.

This year, I had one ruby-throated hummingbird at the feeder off my deck the first day I put out the feeder.

How Hummingbirds Migrate

The story of how hummingbirds make this trip is amazing. During migration, a hummingbird's heart beats up to 1,260 times a minute, and its wings flap 15 to 80 times a second.

They fly alone, often on the same path they have flown earlier in their life, and they fly low, just above tree tops or water. Flying low allows the birds to see, and stop at, food supplies along the way. They are also experts at using tail winds to help reach their destination faster. Research indicates a hummingbird can travel as much as 23 miles in one day.

 A good hummingbird feeder has feeding slots that are flush with the surface. That way the feeder can easily be cleaned with an old toothbrush and hot water. Do not use detergent when cleaning a hummingbird feeder, a little bleach in water will remove any mold growing inside the container. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

A good hummingbird feeder has feeding slots that are flush with the surface. That way the feeder can easily be cleaned with an old toothbrush and hot water. Do not use detergent when cleaning a hummingbird feeder, a little bleach in water will remove any mold growing inside the container. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Hummingbird Homemade Sugar Syrup

You can help feed hummingbirds with a simple solution of sugar water. I make my sugar syrup one part sugar, 4 parts water. Mix the sugar in hot water out of the tap until the sugar dissolves completely. You don’t want to boil the water unless you boil, then let it cool off because boiled water can be too hot.

Once cooled, I store the sugar water in the refrigerator and only fill the hummingbird feeders halfway so the sugar water doesn’t spoil. Then change the sugar water every week or so; more often in warmer weather.

When cleaning out the hummingbird feeders, don’t use soap or any other cleaning agent or you may find the hummingbirds won’t use the hummingbird feeder.

To keep mine clean, I rinse out with hot water and a give it a good scrubbing, then add a little dab of bleach in the water to remove any leftover mold and rinse well.

There was a nursery rhyme where I grew up in Brazil about hummingbirds getting rides on the backs of geese. I was at a conference of biologists many years ago listening to one present his theory of how those tiny birds make the long trek across the Gulf of Mexico. After basically saying they couldn’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt how hummingbirds fly across that long expanse of water without food, I mentioned the nursery rhyme and asked if there was any possibility that those two species worked together.

The scientist said no, they knew the hummingbirds made it across the Gulf of Mexico because they found their little exhausted bodies along the shoreline.

The voice of an old gruffy, well-respected biologist came from the back. “That’s where the geese dump them.”

Charlotte

Finding First Strawberries

 Can you see the first strawberries? I have strawberry plants as border plants at Bluebird Gardens.

Can you see the first strawberries? I have strawberry plants as border plants at Bluebird Gardens.

Finding First Strawberries

For many years I have used strawberry plants as border plants.

It started when I found a patch of wild strawberries and didn't want to mow them over. Once transplanted into my garden, I kept them as border plants so I could easily find them.

When my brother sent me strawberry plants for a birthday, I also planted those as border plants. There is something enticing about planting something edible along flower bed borders, the anticipation of finding something delicious along my garden walks still thrills me every time I think about the possibilities.

As strawberry season approaches, I start looking through my flower borders for the first strawberries of the season. Easier said than done because my resident turtle population also has their eyes on those berries. One day they are there, the next completely gone so I try not to get my hopes up about finding a delicious treat.

For several years, I even had strawberries planted in a raised bed thinking that would discourage slow-moving visitors. Instead, I found a turtle pulling itself up over the raised bed border to get to the ripening strawberries!

These strawberry plants are day neutral so they should fruit several times this year.

 Not sure the front strawberries will make it but that one in the back...

Not sure the front strawberries will make it but that one in the back...

Strawberries require rich soil so I add compost every fall around the plants so they have enough time to absorb the nutrients before fruiting. I'm sure the turtles appreciate the extra effort!

Charlotte

Blackberry Winter

 Blackberries in bloom at Bluebird Gardens, these are growing over one of my compost areas.

Blackberries in bloom at Bluebird Gardens, these are growing over one of my compost areas.

Blackberry Winter

Blackberries have been a favorite addition to my garden. Although wild blackberries grow abundantly through mid-Missouri, these are thornless ones so I have them growing where I can easily access them once the fruit is ripe enough.

After a very mild winter and earlier than usual spring - I had tulips blooming mid-February - these blackberry vines started blooming about a month earlier than in the past. The sign of the flowers is also a trigger for beekeepers to track the nectar and pollen honeybees are bringing in. And in the Missouri Ozarks, they are also a warning that we may still have one last cold spell before warm weather settles in.

It's called a Blackberry Winter, and we are currently enjoying a few days of this last nippy hurrah before summer settles in for good. During this cold snap, temperatures in the evenings hover around the mid 40s while daytime temperatures are sweater-cool mornings.

An office colleague introduced me to the term many years ago, when she explained we couldn't go on our regular morning break walk because it was too cold. She also referred to a cold snap in April as a "dogwood winter," the cold snaps coordinating with the blooming trees.

As our climate continues to rapidly change, I wonder if these cold snaps will disappear. Weather in the midwest is forecast to have milder winters with longer spring and fall seasons.

 Blackberry promises, blackberry fruit still green but ripening in the sun.

Blackberry promises, blackberry fruit still green but ripening in the sun.

It's a nice respite from spending the days in the garden pulling weeds and hauling mulch. And then there are the ripe blackberries to look forward to picking!

Charlotte

Tip Toe Through The Tulips

 My first tulips in a couple of decades are blooming, and I can't get enough of seeing them!

My first tulips in a couple of decades are blooming, and I can't get enough of seeing them!

Tip Toe Through The Tulips

For years I would pass by those bags of tulip bulbs and remind myself there was no point in feeding the beautiful flowers to my resident deer. This past fall, I splurged on a couple of bags of mixed color tulips after the flower beds attached to my driveway retaining wall were finished. I make bulb gardens out of tulips bulbs most years but its not the same as having the bulbs blooming in the garden for weeks in spring.

Designed to be practical as well as beautiful, the driveway retaining wall includes three levels of flower beds, each adding greenery as well as stability to the wall holding up the curved road into my property.

We actually followed the design of the old railroad tie retaining wall, adding a flower bed at the bottom where the tulips are now blooming.

 My builder was proud of his work until he showed photos to a couple of people who wondered why the walls are so short.

Why would you want taller walls, I said, this way we can easily see the flowers in bloom. If the wall was taller, you couldn't see much blooming and it would all feel hemmed in. Who wants to look at tulips half way up?

Most people are used to taller walls, he said, and they don't get the flat stones at the top.

 One view of the tulips blooming in the flower bed that is part of my driveway retaining wall.

One view of the tulips blooming in the flower bed that is part of my driveway retaining wall.

I like the flat stones. I can sit on the edge of the flower beds and enjoy the flowers, then I can also easily reach over and do some trimming, or add mulch. Or better yet, easily plant something. When I'm through, I can cut through the flower bed by walking on the flat stones from one side to the other. I can pretend, I said, that I was tip toeing through the tulips.

 The view from the other side of the driveway retaining wall, tulips are pretty from both ends.

The view from the other side of the driveway retaining wall, tulips are pretty from both ends.

He just shook his head and smiled. My builder knows there is no such thing in my world as having too many flower beds.

And if that doesn't satisfy the people looking at the photos and wondering why someone wants flat stone walls, I said with a twinkle in my eye, just tell them your client is a goat. 

Charlotte

Flower Flies

 A flower fly, also called hover fly,  on a dandelion at Bluebird Gardens.

A flower fly, also called hover fly,  on a dandelion at Bluebird Gardens.

Flower Flies

At first, I mistook this little insect for a bee, a common problem for hover flies. Hover flies are true flies but they look like small bees and wasps. They are the helicopters of the insect world, often seen hovering in the air, darting a short distance, and then hovering again.

These beneficial insects are valuable tools in the fight against aphids, thrips, scale insects and caterpillars.

Hover flies (Allograpta oblique) are also called flower flies and drone flies.  The adults feed on nectar as they pollinate flowers. The female lays her tiny, creamy white eggs near aphid colonies, and the eggs hatch in two or three days. The beneficial hover fly larvae begin feeding on the aphids as they hatch. After spending several days eating aphids, the hover fly larvae attach themselves to a stem and build a cocoon. They spend 10 days or so inside the cocoon during warm weather, and longer when the weather is cool. Adult hover flies emerge from the cocoons to begin the cycle again.

Flower flies are nearly as effective as ladybugs and lacewings at controlling aphids. A well-established population of larvae can control 70 to 80 percent of an aphid infestation. Although they are most efficient at controlling aphids, they also help control other soft-bodied insects.

The bright bands of color on a flower fly’s abdomen probably help to defend the insect from predators. The bright color makes them look a lot like wasps so that predators, such as birds, might think they can sting.

You can tell the difference between flower flies and wasps by their heads, which look like typical fly heads. Another identifying factor is that flies have two wings, while wasps have four.

Flower flies aren’t available for purchase, but you can plant flowers and herbs to attract them. Plants that attract flower flies include fragrant herbs such as Oregano, Garlic chives, Sweet alyssum, Buckwheat and Bachelor buttons. 

And dandelions.

Charlotte

Fun with Garden Gloves with Claws

 Have you seen these gardening gloves with claws on the fingertips?

Have you seen these gardening gloves with claws on the fingertips?

Fun with Garden Gloves with Claws

Ok, so I don't always use gardening gloves when I should. Sometimes when I'm inspired, it's just too much trouble to stop and put them on, as I was finding a new spot for my mother's lion. I needed to make a little spot in the ground for the red brick to sit and, well - there goes my manicure.

Too easy to do, too mundane of a garden story. Enter these new garden gloves with claws, designed to make digging easier and save your hands.

I gave a friend a set and within hours he said he had to hide them because one of his friends wanted to "borrow" them. Like a good book, one should never loan a good pair of gardening gloves with any expectation to see them again.

 Garden gloves with claws worked quite well in loose soil and compost.

Garden gloves with claws worked quite well in loose soil and compost.

After trying the gloves in various areas of my garden, I took them off long enough to finish cleaning my hands and painting my nails.

Then whimsical inspiration hit me and I painted another set of nails.

 Adding nail polish to garden gloves with claws gives the gloves a whimsical touch.

Adding nail polish to garden gloves with claws gives the gloves a whimsical touch.

Now my garden gloves with claws are ready for garden work!

Charlotte

What Do You Call These?

 Snow bells blooming at the front entrance of my house at Bluebird Gardens.

Snow bells blooming at the front entrance of my house at Bluebird Gardens.

What Do You Call These?

Of all of the spring bulbs blooming in my garden, I have to confess I love finding these. They are not the most dramatic, or even the prettiest, but their hanging white flower heads that look like tiny white bells have an air of enchantment about them. I imagine the garden fairies are nearby, playing among the green leaves. I have always called them "snow bells."

Since posting a couple of pictures of them in bloom, friends have suggested these have a different name. They grew up calling these "snow drops." For me, snow drops are the low to the ground, also white blooming bulbs that also bloom in spring but have a different flower shape. 

 Snowdrops are much shorter than snowbells but share the same flower color. 

Snowdrops are much shorter than snowbells but share the same flower color. 

Snowdrops do look like they could be cousins to snowbells, don't they. Look how they share the same light green dashes at the edges of the flower petals.

Snowbells close up.

In doing a quick search for the flower pictures, I found these are also called "summer snowflakes," which seems a sweet whimsical name. Leucojum aestivum also is referred to as "dewdrop" another wonderful descriptive word for the way the white, bell-shaped flowers droop. 

 Another angle of the "dewdrops" in bloom in the front flower bed.

Another angle of the "dewdrops" in bloom in the front flower bed.

I suppose at this point there is no harm in adding yet another name so - what would you call these charming white flowers if you could name them?

Charlotte

 

 

April Gardening Chores

 Eastern redbuds welcome April with their lovely pink haze of flowers surrounding my house.

Eastern redbuds welcome April with their lovely pink haze of flowers surrounding my house.

April Gardening Chores

My garden is starting to get serious about growing this month. It’s time to try to keep up:

1.    Clean out composters and add to flower beds and fruit trees. Mix with existing soil for now; you will mulch this later. Leave a good bucket of finished compost as starter for the next compost batch and start adding leaves, grass clippings if you have them, kitchen scraps and water. Don’t forget to mix.

2.    Prune lilacs immediately after they bloom. If you wait until later in the season, you will be cutting off next year’s blooms.

3.    Continue to sow lettuce, spinach and radish seeds every 10 days or so for fresh spring salads in your round foot garden. I would call it my pot garden but that leads you to believe I am growing something completely different. Call it your garden in pots, if you prefer.

4.    If you like to grow peas, this is the last month to plant sugar snap peas and snow peas, they prefer cooler weather conditions. To keep their roots happy, mulch with cardboard to keep them cool, then add a layer of wood chips.

 Daffodils in bloom around the corner from the front of my house at Bluebird Gardens.

Daffodils in bloom around the corner from the front of my house at Bluebird Gardens.

5.    As daffodils and tulips continue to grow and bloom, sprinkle compost around them to keep the bulbs well fed. As the flowers fade, remove them by snipping off the flower heads. Leave the greenery until it turns yellow; the green leaves help the bulbs store energy for next season’s blooms. Don’t mow the leaves down with the lawn mower until they turn yellow or the bulbs will gradually become smaller and you will not have any more blooms next spring.

6.    If you have a vegetable garden area, this is a good time to add cardboard to kill off any growth prior to summer planting. Don’t till it, the prevailing thought now is that tilling damages the soil ecosystem. Kill the plants you don’t want, make holes to plant the ones you do, or make trenches to plant seeds, and cover. Easy peasy. Who doesn’t like easy gardening??

7.    Start your summer plants inside in containers you can transplant outside later; tomatoes, peppers, watermelons, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, zucchini.

8.    Don’t forget companion plants to reduce crop damage; basil is a good bug deterrent for a lot of plants.

9.    Plant for pollinators as well. I love zinnias and so do butterflies and bees. Native plants such as New England Asters, yarrow and purple coneflowers are good choices for pollinators because they have long blooming seasons. For another good annual, try sunflower seeds. Birds will love the seeds in the fall.

10.  Enjoy the beauty of Missouri’s native trees, these usually bloom this month, redbuds and dogwoods. Better yet, plant a few more native trees along with compact dwarf fruit trees. Although planting native flowers is still good for pollinators, trees provide better, and more reliable, pollen sources for bees. The smaller fruit trees are good pollen sources as well and, when pollinated by bees, will also give you easily accessible fruit to pick. That’s what I call a win-win!

Charlotte

Pansies

 Purple-bordered white pansies in bloom at a local nursery center.

Purple-bordered white pansies in bloom at a local nursery center.

Pansies

It's hard to believe there is a flower I deprive myself of having but pansies come close. For some reason, I had this impression that I couldn't grow these charming spring flowers in USDA hardiness zone 5b so I tended to pass these up, even on sale.

Until several years ago, when I found a hanging basket full of pansies at the local recycling center. Thinking I could use the hanging basket, I brought the whole container home, watered the soil and left it on my deck planning to remove the spent greenery and replant. 

To my surprise, the greenery turned out to be yellow and blue pansies, quickly revived by the water.

I found a semi-shady spot for the hanging basket and enjoyed the blooming pansies through mid-summer, a good 4 months of cheerful color in a corner of my garden. I was hooked.

 Large purple pansy in bloom.

Large purple pansy in bloom.

When most people think of pansies, they often think of the larger, bolder varieties often the first blooming plants found at local nurseries as spring flowers. Although those are eye-catching, I tend to gravitate to the smaller, less hybridized varieties, perhaps influenced by those Victorian flower drawings in some of the flower books my grandmother sent me many decades ago.

Pansies can be grown from seed; they are also easy to transplant from starts.  A master gardener friend told me the secret to keeping pansies growing as perennials in our zone was to make sure to keep them watered and they should pull through, even winters. 

Although I have tried to do that, I have not successfully pulled pansies through but I haven't given up trying. I have a new spot off my front porch that has good shade that looks promising for pansies. Now I'm on the lookout for blue and yellow ones on sale to add to that spot and see if I can get them to stay.

 Purple pansies hand-painted on the side of a ceramic tea cup.

Purple pansies hand-painted on the side of a ceramic tea cup.

And if that doesn't work, I can always stop by a friend's house and enjoy a cup of tea in one of her lovely hand-painted ceramic cups!

Charlotte

Garden Ornaments Add Interest to Bird Baths

 Garden ornaments add interest to bird baths in my garden.

Garden ornaments add interest to bird baths in my garden.

Garden Ornaments Add Interest to Bird Baths

Here's a quick way to turn a mundane cement bird bath into a unique garden focal point; add a favorite garden ornament. Or two.

Now it's not as simple as I make it sound. Finding this little squirrel holding a pinecone took months to find, in part because I could never quite find the place where these were made open when I was driving by. When I finally did, they were out of the more natural wildlife ornaments so I waited to go back in a couple of months.

Good thing because on that same day, I also found the larger than life acorn. Years ago, a very young squirrel I nicknamed "Balboa" ended up in my den. I had left the door open so my cats could go out on the porch and Balboa had decided to take a peek inside. On the coffee table was a small bowl of unshelled peanuts, leftovers from the night before.

By the time I heard the crunching sounds from the den, Balboa had started his own party and was throwing shells all over the room, totally disregarding the disdainful looks from my matronly cat Margaret sitting on the nearby sofa. If Margaret is anything, fastidious is her middle name.

Balboa had several other adventures as a youngster under Margaret's watchful eye so the giant acorn is a tribute to his first discovery of those den peanuts which must have seemed huge to a pup of a squirrel.

The squirrel statue itself is charming but adding it to the bird bath adds a nice touch to that part of the garden and quickly makes it a focal point. I added the real tree twigs to give my bees a safe place to land when they visit to get water.

The giant acorn is sitting on a rock that will soon be covered by nearby greenery. That way the acorn won't be lost when other garden sampler plants grow up around it.

 This charming frog keeps another bird bath company in front of my living room window where more bees visit him every day.

This charming frog keeps another bird bath company in front of my living room window where more bees visit him every day.

And the best part?

You can easily customize any bird bath with a garden ornament, making each one into your very own unique story with very little effort. Assuming you can find the right ornament to add to the bird bath!

Charlotte

 

 

 

 

 

 

Round Foot Gardening

 The beginning of my deck garden at Bluebird Gardens.

The beginning of my deck garden at Bluebird Gardens.

Round Foot Gardening

You have heard of square foot gardening, the practice of dividing up a garden plot into squares and carefully planting each square with a desired crop?

This is round foot gardening, what I used to call pot gardening but because that leads one to think of Colorado and that one is planting marijuana, let’s just be a little more square about it all. Most of my pots full of soil are at least one foot around and no one I know has a foot that looks like a circle so I think we should all be good with this new terminology.

I have been planting basic herbs and vegetables in round pots on my deck now for several years; enough years that I prefer it to trying to tend a full garden. I keep telling you, I am basically a lazy gardener. I like this option because the pots are easily accessible from my kitchen. I can also see them out my dining room windows, just in case I have forgotten a garnish or some other last minute fresh ingredient I need to add, and my squirrels look at least guilty as they sneak by stealing a cherry tomato.

Some basic gardening principles from full gardens apply here as well:

1.    Don’t plant the same crops in the same pots more than 2 years in a row so make a note and rotate. I cheat: I take photos and date them to remind myself of what I planted when and in what pot. I also use certain sticks and stakes, moving those around from year to year.

2.    Be kind to your soil. Don’t let it dry out. Keep it healthy by adding compost, mulching, keeping it watered and planted with something when you are not growing something you want to eat.

3.    If weeds grow and you haven’t planted anything else, leave the weeds. Volunteer cover crops are welcome and will keep the soil nourished in between your plantings.

4.    Frost free dates are the same. Although Mother’s Day is our traditional USDA Zone 5b date, we may be mid-April this year. If you can’t wait and get an early start, make sure you have something to protect your outside crops on those nights when temperatures dip. Other pots, plastic, even old winter coats will work to give your tender greens a little protection.

5.    Water daily. To make sure my plant roots are kept moist, I add plastic bottles with holes buried into each pot and use them to keep pots well hydrated.

6.    Add crushed soda cans, old packing peanuts, broken terra cotta pieces to pot bottoms to help lighten the weight. Keeping the bottom lose also helps water to filter through more easily.

7.    Mix vegetables with flowers to make pretty arrangements. Many herbs are edible so mix vegetables with flowers for pretty arrangements. Add violets and basil to a pot with a tomato.

 Plastic bottle with holes buried in pot helps keep soil moist. Red onion is liberated from crisper.

Plastic bottle with holes buried in pot helps keep soil moist. Red onion is liberated from crisper.

8.    Go to your refrigerator and clean out your crisper of sprouting onions, potatoes, celery and carrots and you are well on your way.

9. Don't forget to dream about your garden, even one in small pots!

Charlotte

Spring Fever

 Semi dwarf Bartlett pear tree in bloom at Bluebird Gardens, surviving the last week of cold.

Semi dwarf Bartlett pear tree in bloom at Bluebird Gardens, surviving the last week of cold.

"It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is. And when you’ve got it, you want — oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!"
~Mark Twain

Spring Fever

It's been a mild winter but just the thought that it was still winter was enough to make me want it to be spring. 

I really shouldn't complain. I could still putter outside on some winter days. My hillside gave me a clear view of the good garden bones I have to work with, a promise of new projects to tackle once the weather warmed up.

A pile of gardening catalogs and books kept me company by the fire, and a stack of projects were always only half finished.

My plants were dormant for most of the time, although the compact dwarf fruit trees started blooming a good three weeks earlier than usual.

 Pink compact dwarf apricot trees are the first to bloom in early spring at Bluebird Gardens.

Pink compact dwarf apricot trees are the first to bloom in early spring at Bluebird Gardens.

The compact dwarf apricot trees are usually the first to turn their beautiful dark pink, followed by the compact dwarf peaches, which pale by comparison.

Valentine's Day used to mark the first appearance of purple crocus but our rapidly changing climate is playing havoc with plant habits, too. I finally found my first yellow crocus blooming a good month later than usual.

No matter, we made it through the last week of below freezing temperatures. I dressed my fruit trees in my winter coats and fleece blankets, picked bouquets of daffodils to enjoy inside in case they were snapped by the freezing temperatures, and have a list of projects to tackle once temperatures warm up again.

It's time for new beginnings. It's time for the fever. It's now officially spring!

Charlotte