Cat Hair for Birds Nests

The first cat hair offering disappeared in less than a day. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The first cat hair offering disappeared in less than a day. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Cat Hair for Birds Nests

Do you have long-haired pets? I have one cat and, over winter, I save the hair from her daily brushings to give to birds for their spring nests.

There have been a number of suggested bird nesting materials and some are do nots: aluminum, plastic, human hair, yarn and dryer lint. Also on the do not use list are string and dog hair. The best nesting material I have found to date is the long cat hair. It lasted less than a day in the repurposed suet feeder, now refreshed with a second batch.

Suet holder has been re-filled with another batch waiting to be added. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Suet holder has been re-filled with another batch waiting to be added. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Later this year I will check birdhouses and look for tufts of cat hair sticking out of nexts and birdhouse corners.

The cat fur is a favorite because it is very soft and warm, giving the nest extra insulation and protection.

To save your long haired cat fur, clean your brush after every brushing session. Clean your winter suet holder before filling with pet fur, then hang back on a tree.

If you can watch the suet holder, periodically check it and you may catch a bird helping themselves to the fur.

Charlotte

Secret to Bare Root Plants

Bare root Itoh peonies are getting a start first in a container. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Bare root Itoh peonies are getting a start first in a container. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Secret to Bare Root Plants

It’s that time of year when gardeners dreams turn to buying bare root plants because they are less expensive, or something they can’t easily find locally. Or maybe you get a bare root tree for Arbor Day, or as a store giveaway at your local home and garden center. Regardless of how you get them, there is a simple secret to getting bare root plants to grow.

You need to pot them first.

That’s right, no planting directly into your garden this first year. Instead, get them in pots with potting soil and let them grow in the pot for the first year. What the plant is doing is establishing roots, which will ensure the plant survives when you transfer it into its final growing spot.

A number of friends have bought bare root plants from places like George O. White Nursery in Licking, Mo., one of my favorite places to get local native plant stock. The prices are hard to beat, the most expensive tree seedling is 90 cents per seedling, and the price goes down as you buy in larger quantities.

However, you don’t want to take those seedlings and plant them straight into your garden or landscape. The roots need a little more time developing so once you get the bare root seedling, get them into a pot. Make sure the pot is about twice the size of the current root structure to give it room to grow.

This bare root dwarf fruit tree is getting a start in a pot. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This bare root dwarf fruit tree is getting a start in a pot. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

And be patient. It can take a little time for new seedlings to get used to their new environment, which is why I use plain potting soil, not soil with added fertilizer. I can then monitor how the plant is doing and add my own fertilizer as I see fit.

How do you know if the plant is settling in?

New green growth is a sure indication the plant is settling in. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

New green growth is a sure indication the plant is settling in. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Green growth along the trunk nodes is one good sign. And don’t be discouraged if you don’t see much growth this first year above ground, with the right conditions most of the energy should be going into root development.

I leave my seedlings in pots through the growing season, then add them to my garden in fall or the next spring. I keep an area that I call my nursery and plop the plants, pot and all, in the nursery to winter over there if I haven’t moved them to their permanent location.

And don’t forget to water them. Since they are now in pots, they may need water more frequently than the established plants in your garden.

You will know they are ready to plant in the garden when the tree seedlings are looking more like the Tree of Life lap quilt.

Charlotte

My Hardy Geraniums

My favorite geraniums are these raspberry-colored ones. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

My favorite geraniums are these raspberry-colored ones. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

My Hardy Geraniums

As you think about what plants you want to have in pots this year, make sure you include geraniums. I have had a variety of different geranium colors in pots for many years, giving me wonderful color in the dead of a dreary winter.

Most geraniums offered on the market are annuals, and it is assumed they will be planted one year and allowed to die when cold weather sets in. Even if you have them planted in your garden, you should be able to dig them up and move them inside in pots to continue growing, and blooming, through winter.

The raspberry-colored geranium in the top photo is my favorite. The plant is now 4 foot tall and lives in my business office, keeping my printer and desk company through the year. It tends to bloom most of the year taking a short break around fall.

I do give them watered down fertilizer, 1/2 tsp per gallon of water every other month, and worm castings a couple of times a year mixed into the soil. I remove the top soil, mix in the worm castings, then replace it all back into the pot. Every three years or so I remove as much soil as I can and replace it with new soil.

This next geranium is blooming in living room pot. Its red color pops nicely against the purple leaves, a beacon among the sea of plants wintering over in the bay window. The red color compliments the red in the amaryllis blooms currently in bloom.

These red geraniums are pretty among the purple leaves. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

These red geraniums are pretty among the purple leaves. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

One more reason why you should save at least one geranium for winter. This is a tomato red geranium blooming in another pot in my dining room, brightening up the area on cloudy, gray days.

Tomato red geraniums in bloom in my living room. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Tomato red geraniums in bloom in my living room. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Now these geraniums are different than the native, hardy geraniums. Even though they are only annuals with a little care they can bloom year after year if you keep them inside over winter.

Here’s another way to bring in these colors to your room, our Ribbon Flowers Lap Quilt will add the same colors to the back of a chair or sofa and be ready for that unplanned nap!

Charlotte

Daffodil Bouquets

Most of these daffodils where picked in bud form. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Most of these daffodils where picked in bud form. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Daffodil Bouquets

There are few things that brighten up a room than a bouquet of spring-growing yellow gold daffodils, these remind me of our Yellow Gold Double Wedding Ring Quilt.

To have longer lasting inside bouquets, pick the daffodils when they are still in bud. Once exposed to the warmth of a room in a flower vase with water, the buds will open into flowers and give you a longer-lasting display.

These daffodil buds are excellent cut flower candidates. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

These daffodil buds are excellent cut flower candidates. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

When cutting daffodils, leave at least one flower bud so you will know what type and colors that group of bulbs produce.

I also only pick one or two buds from each group so I can also enjoy the flowers in bloom outside as well as cut flowers inside.

Daffodils don’t play well with other flowers so don’t mix your daffodil bouquets with other flowers straight out of the garden. If you want a blend, let the cut daffodils sit in water by themselves for a good 24-48 hours. The toxins in daffodils that deter deer will drain and then you can mix them with other flowers.

Large King Alfred in the back and small Tete-A-Tete daffodils in front at Bluebird Gardens, (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Large King Alfred in the back and small Tete-A-Tete daffodils in front at Bluebird Gardens, (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Also take clippers with you when cutting daffodils out of the garden. The clippers will give you cleaner cuts and you won’t have to tug at the green stem to easily remove it. Keep the green leaves on daffodils so the leaves can collect sunlight and, through photosynthesis, translate it into energy they store in bulbs for use next year.

Finally change the water in the vase every couple of days and recut the stems to give your daffodils a long life inside.

King Alfred daffodils are the largest daffodils currently on the market. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

King Alfred daffodils are the largest daffodils currently on the market. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

If you don’t have daffodils in your garden, or you want to plant more this fall to have enough to cut, King Alfred daffodils are the largest available on the market. Just a few make quite a statement and are hard to miss either in the garden or in a vase.

If you want something smaller, look for Tete-A-Tete daffodils, which qualify as miniatures and are long lived once cut and used in flower vases as well.

In between, there are a variety of early, mid and late blooming daffodils and jonquils, providing a nice variety of flowers to enjoy over the next few months. Happy spring!

Charlotte

Fighting Japanese Beetles

Japanese beetles making a meal out of a Rose of Sharon flower in my garden. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Japanese beetles making a meal out of a Rose of Sharon flower in my garden. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Fighting Japanese Beetles

I was meandering through my garden at sunset when I spotted the beautiful iridescent green spots on a milkweed. Juvenile Japanese beetles, starting to hatch from last year’s buried grubs. For the next 6 weeks, it will be a battle between these wily bugs and I.

The 3/8th of an inch hard shell beetles are eating machines, devouring more than 200 plant species. Once they turn from grubs into beetles, they set off a scent that says "let's party" to other Japanese beetles, yet another reason why you shouldn’t crush the bugs, no matter how tempting.

If you don't see them, you'll know you have them when your plant leaves turn into lace.

Leaves turned to lace is a sure sign of Japanese beetles. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Leaves turned to lace is a sure sign of Japanese beetles. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Prior to the beetle's accidental introduction into the United States, the Japanese beetle was found only on the islands of Japan, isolated by water and kept in check by its natural enemies. The beetles entered the country as grubs in soil on Japanese iris roots. By 1920, eradication programs were dropped; the beetle proved to be too prolific a breeder.

One of the popular options to eliminate these voracious bugs is Japanese beetle traps, which I don’t recommend. Those are basically pheromone-laced paper bags that attract Japanese beetles. The challenge is the bags don’t catch all of them so having more Japanese beetles in your garden means more potential grubs to hatch out next year.

If you insist on using Japanese beetle traps, make sure you place them at the edge of your property and down wind.

What has worked very well for me over the years is dropping them in a can of soapy water early morning, while they are still sluggish. I pop the soapy water-filled coffee can underneath the plant branches, then shake them. The bugs fall into the water without my touching them.

Soapy water in an old coffee can quickly dispatches Japanese beetles. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Soapy water in an old coffee can quickly dispatches Japanese beetles. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

According to University of Missouri Extension Service, Pyrethrins and Spinosad are effective and non-toxic sprays to try to manage Japanese beetles.

For a long term solution, my brother in Virginia has treated his lawn with milky spores. He has dozens of crepe myrtles, one of Japanese beetles favorite munchies. According to him, Japanese beetle grubs eat the spores; get sick; die and, in the process, release more milky spores. It can take several years to eliminate the Japanese beetles, not counting whether your

Neighbors have treated their lawns.

Believe it or not, there are plants Japanese beetles avoid. The typical kind of plant that will help to drive away Japanese beetles will be strong smelling and may taste badly to the insect. Some plants that deter Japanese beetles include many herbs such as garlic, rue, tansy, catnip and chives. Other Japanese beetle deterrent plants include white chrysanthemums, leeks, onions, marigolds, white geraniums and larkspur.

There are also plants that Japanese beetles skip or only munch on towards the end of their season. I assume these are just not tasty plants: begonias, caladiums, common lilacs, common pear, tulip tree, flowering dogwood, forsythia, hydrangea, hickory, magnolia, persimmon and most oak trees.

Ok, time to soap up and start picking off those pesky bugs!

Charlotte

The Beauty of Iris

Several friends have posted that this color iris was also their Mom's favorite. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Several friends have posted that this color iris was also their Mom's favorite. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The Beauty of Iris

I blame Mom for my fascination with Iris. These blue iris were her favorite, a North American version of the orchids that grew wild in our backyard trees in Brazil.

When we lived in southern Illinois in an old farm house, she had several beds of iris off to the side of our driveway. It was our job as kids to keep those beds weeded, something that was hit and miss some years depending on what other activities took up our after school time.

I loved weeding those Iris beds. There was something cathartic about pulling out plants that didn't belong and standing back to see my work. In those days I didn't know what the unwelcome plants were, I just knew Mom would not be happy until all of the funny green tufts of green growth were out of her precious Irises.

It's one of the reasons why I started to carry these Iris throws. The applique fabric iris are lovely against the white cotton back drop and so quickly bring a garden vibe into any room.

When a gardening friend heard about my love of iris, he brought me a few new starts last year. Another gardening friend shared a supply of white ones so now I have more than Mom's iris keeping me company in my garden.

White and yellow iris were added last year courtesy of a couple of friends. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

White and yellow iris were added last year courtesy of a couple of friends. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

My peach bearded iris have bloomed in this spot for years. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

My peach bearded iris have bloomed in this spot for years. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This iris was a surprise bloom this year, love the color combination. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This iris was a surprise bloom this year, love the color combination. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Over the years, as I moved from one house to the next, Mom's irises were dug up and moved with me. I didn't always plant them in the best conditions so it could take a couple of years before I had them in the right light and soil conditions to bloom.

It doesn't take much. They like sun but will bloom in partial shade. They don't want to be wet and need to be planted so the root rhizomes sit on top of the soil while the roots are covered.

One of Mom's irises bloomed this year along my cedar fence. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

One of Mom's irises bloomed this year along my cedar fence. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This spring, Mom's bluish/purple Irises made a lovely showing, giving me the opportunity to mark them so once blooming is over, I can group them back together in one color blocked flower bed.

The best time to move Iris is June through September. The shallow-rooted plants need a little time to settle into their new growing spot. Add a little compost to enrich the soil and mulch after planting.

Mom's irises in another spot blooming along with peonies and columbine. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Mom's irises in another spot blooming along with peonies and columbine. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Mom's irises bloomed this year, along with my peonies, on Mother's Day. Suppose that's a sign?

I like to think that's my mother, who loved my garden, saying from Heaven she approves.

Charlotte

June Gardening Chores

Blackberries ripen in June around the same time as mulberries. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Blackberries ripen in June around the same time as mulberries. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

June Gardening Chores

It was a record-breaking long spring so why not a record-breaking summer. This year it seems we went straight to summer from winter with no spring in between. Anyone else have any kind of spring?

There’s still time this month to try to catch up on some chores and plant, June traditionally is our wettest month of the year.

1.         Plant a new supply of vegetables every 2 weeks to give yourself a new crop through the season. Early spring crops are done but there is still time for tomatoes, green peppers, green beans, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, pumpkins and annual herbs.

2.       Keep asparagus beds weeded and let the green top ferns grow until they go brown; do not cut.

3.        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.

4.        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.

5.         Japanese beetles show up this month so hand pick and drop in a bucket of water with a few drops of dishwashing soap to drown them. Pick early in the morning when they are sluggish. Also treat your lawn with nematodes and milky spores, both will gradually help eliminate grubs. Add geraniums and tansies to your flower beds, they are natural Japanese beetle repellants.

6.         Trim lilacs immediately after they end flowering so growth the rest of this year will provide blooms next year.

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

8.         Plant annual flower seeds such as zinnias, sunflowers, forget-me-nots, cosmos, marigolds and herbs. Some herbs can be moved inside later for winter use.

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

11.       For those of you with grass, don’t cut more than 1/3 of the grass down at one time.  For spots where grass doesn’t grow, plant flowers.

Native flowers such as coneflowers start to bloom this month and continue until fall frost. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Native flowers such as coneflowers start to bloom this month and continue until fall frost. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

12.       When adding perennials, focus on native plants. Once established, they will require less water and care than non-natives and they will be food for native pollinators.

13.        Pinch mums once a week to encourage them to grow bushy for fall flowering. I take the pinched off pieces, gently push them into the ground and encourage more plants to grow.

14.        Feed roses and other plants compost to give them a good source of energy. Roses should be fed once a month. A quick pick me up is to dig your banana peels, egg shells and coffee grounds in around roses.

15.         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.

16.         Also make sure to have a nice seating area in your garden so you can stop and smell the flowers!

Charlotte

 

Tomato Trouble

This tomato is definitely in trouble for several reasons! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

This tomato is definitely in trouble for several reasons! (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Tomato Trouble

Several readers are having trouble getting tomato seeds started this year and for good reason. Not only has it been record cold but we have jumped from winter to summer with little spring in between.

Tomatoes are very close to my heart. I wrote a speech in high school about tomatoes first name, “love apples.” They are actually fruits re-categorized as vegetables to work around a 19th Century import tax.

There are several factors that can cause trouble with tomatoes, starting with seedlings that die off. The condition is called “damping off” and covers several possible fungi that can kill off seedlings. Start again with brand new potting soil use  a washed or new container. Add crushed egg shells in bottom before adding more soil to ward off blossom end rot, which is caused in the fruit by a calcium deficiency. Keep the pot in a window for warmth and away from drafts. Water with a spray bottle so you don’t over-water.

The second problem is flowers that drop. There are several reasons tomatoes drop their flowers, starting with the impact of record high temperatures. Tomatoes, like most flowering plants, go into survival mode if temperatures are above 90F for five or more days in a row.

Plant survival mode means most systems are shut down, including pollen production. It’s why a plant may seem to die in hot weather and yet reappear the following year. As long as the roots can pull through, most plants will survive.

Tied to temperature is high humidity. Humidity that is too high prevents pollen from sticking to the stigma once it is released. Without pollen, there are no pollinators and without pollinators, there are no flowers that produce tomatoes.

These cherry tomatoes grew over winter inside my house, the last of my winter crop. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

These cherry tomatoes grew over winter inside my house, the last of my winter crop. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

In addition to weather conditions, tomatoes need pollinators such as native bumblebees. These little hoodlums of the bee world literally shake the tomato plant, releasing pollen all over the stigma and themselves. When high temperatures shut down pollen production, they also put bees out of business.

As they grow, make sure tomato plants don’t get too much nitrogen fertilizer. A balanced plant meal requires nitrogen for growth, phosphorous for moving energy through the plant, and potassium for stress tolerance.  Our Ozark soil can provide nitrogen but the other two fertilizer elements usually need a boost.

The other delicate part of raising tomatoes is watering. Tomato roots in open ground can grow to 5 feet deep. Tomatoes even grown in containers prefer to be evenly moist so with temperatures, and humidity, either at record levels or varying widely, requires careful monitoring.

Plant herbs with your tomatoes. The herbs will help detract bugs. Basil is the number one herb for tomatoes, but other herbs compliment tomatoes as well: bay, chives, dill, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, savory, tarragon and thyme. 

I have sunken plastic bottles with holes in pots keeping my tomatoes company so that I can better keep the roots moist. I also use a paint stick propped into the side and moved over an inch to check how wet the soil is before I water.

And that speech about tomatoes I gave in high school?

I got an A. I suspect it would have been an A+ if I had not eaten the display.

Charlotte

 

Visiting New York Hostas

My sister-in-law's visiting New York hostas have established themselves well in my garden. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

My sister-in-law's visiting New York hostas have established themselves well in my garden. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Visiting New York Hostas

I was talking to family and heard my sister-in-law say she missed seeing her New York hostas. I can understand why. These used to grace crape myrtle trees in her front yard in Virginia, the varigated leaves a nice contrast against the grey crape myrtle trunks.

Variegated hostas have white, cream or yellow in their leaves that may look like solid patterns, blotches or stripes. ‘Marginate’ variegation is when variegation occurs on the margin of the hosta’s leaves. ‘Medio variegation’ is when variegation is in the center of the hosta’s leaves.

According to the American Hosta Society members' rankings, in 2008 variegated hostas made up 8 of the top 10 and 17 of the top 25 hostas. 

Turns out the varigated hostas with white centers can be touchy to grow. Without enough sunlight, white-centered hostas lack chlorophyll in the main portion of the leaf. In more sun, the green portion of the leaf can often produce the extra food needed for the hosta to thrive.

Some white variegation hostas can tolerate full sun without burning. Generally, a hosta with thicker leaves can tolerate more intense light.  White variegated hostas with thin leaves should be restricted to partial shade, bright shade, or early morning or evening sun to look their best. Direct sun exposure is often too intense for the white variegated hostas and may cause them to burn or turn brown, which isn’t harmful but can certainly make the plant unsightly. 

I don't have all of them, I just hand-carried a dozen or so home when I flew back from a short visit. I also had daffodil bulbs and some crape myrtle starts in hand but the hostas travelled in my carry-on, their leaves waving in the airport as I hopped the flights.

When I first planted them in a shady part of my garden, they were bedraggled and looking a bit tired, somewhat akin to being munched on by deer. Deer love to eat hostas so I would not have been surprised to see my visitors nibbled on. So far only rabbits have made a little visit to the flower bed.

Here they are now, looking brand new and quite happy on their little Missouri vacation!

The varigated leaves add a lot of interest to these visiting New York hostas. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The varigated leaves add a lot of interest to these visiting New York hostas. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

They will remain in this lovely shady flower bed until my sister-in-law wants them back. I will only be too glad to personally deliver them!

Charlotte

Where to Find Missouri Gardener Magazine

Missouri Gardener Magazine now available at Walmart Garden Center check out. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins at Rolla, MO store.)

Missouri Gardener Magazine now available at Walmart Garden Center check out. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins at Rolla, MO store.)

Where to Find Missouri Gardener Magazine

Every time a garden feature I've written is published in Missouri Gardener Magazine, I try to find at least one outlet where the story subject can find copies of the magazine. It was easier said that done.

For many years, the only local source for this wonderful gardening magazine was local book stores. 

Now the bi-monthly glossy magazine is available through Walmart stores in their garden center section. I stumbled upon this development as I was checking out in my regular haunt, our local garden center. There on the check out counter, taking up space for where I was placing my sale plants was a pile of the magazines.

When I queried the clerk, she said she was told the chain is now carrying the magazine, a wonderful development for gardeners looking for Missouri and regional-specific gardening information.

In addition to interesting garden features, the magazine has regional updates from University of Missouri Extension horticultural experts, something we no longer can easily access since those positions are no longer available at the county level. Although books by gardeners like Jerry Berry are interesting - he was the master gardener who made a name for himself concocting gardening mixtures from beer mixed in with other kitchen products - the advice in this magazine is more reliable.

If you don't want to buy individual magazines, you can also subscribe to have it mailed to you, an annual subscription is $19.95 per year. No, I don't get a cut on the subscriptions, I'm happy to be associated with a gardening magazine that provides good advice and pertinent information.

These were the events for fall 2017, what do you know is scheduled for this fall? (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

These were the events for fall 2017, what do you know is scheduled for this fall? (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

You don't see me listed?

Leaf back to the back, every issue features a calendar of upcoming gardening events that I collect and edit, it's a great way to get a sneak peek at what is coming up. I'm collecting September-October 2018 events so if you have something to share, email me by May 25. Thanks!

Charlotte

May Gardening Chores

f you want more daffodils, don’t cut off the fading flowers, the green round heads are full of seeds that will scatter and form more daffodil bulbs. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

f you want more daffodils, don’t cut off the fading flowers, the green round heads are full of seeds that will scatter and form more daffodil bulbs. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

May Gardening Chores

How does it feel to have lived through Missouri’s coldest spring in recorded history going back to 1893, this past spring? Or maybe I should say this attempt at spring still or whenever it finally arrives.

I had mixed feelings wondering what this meant in terms of forage for my honeybees and what gardening chores I would have to double-up on in May on my limestone hillside garden in USDA Hardiness zone 5B.

The good news is that the soil should finally be warming up enough this month for seeds to sprout, even if some crops like corn and wheat may be a few weeks behind their usual growing schedule. Where I live in mid-Missouri, the last frost date is usually Mother’s Day, which this year is May 13.

If your spring crops didn’t make it, try again; there still should be time for at least one sowing of lettuce, spinach and radish seeds.

There is always a good time to plant onions, I grow several crops throughout the growing season. Onion sets planted around roses make good bug deterrents and are fun to harvest as long as you remember to leave a couple on bug patrol.

Give tree seedlings a long drink of water before planting into their permanent garden location. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Give tree seedlings a long drink of water before planting into their permanent garden location. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

The forecast is that we will have a wet May so take the opportunity to get tree seedlings planted. This is also a good time to divide and move perennials. Be careful of disturbing newly emerging, self-sowing annuals, learn to distinguish the sprouts of bachelor buttons and other carefree annuals so you don’t disturb them.

Mark daffodils you want to dig up and move later this fall.

As daffodils and tulips continue to fade, 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. Leave the leaves so the bulbs can recharge.

See ants on your blooming peonies? Gently shake them off if you want to bring cut flowers inside, otherwise leave them alone. The ants help the flower buds open.

If you don’t compost, this is a good month to start. Place a small grocery bag in your freezer and add kitchen scraps. When full, take outside and bury in a garden corner. As you get into the habit of saving kitchen scraps, it will be easier to then make your own compost area or buy one, then start adding leaves and grass clippings to the kitchen scraps, some water, and mix. After a few weeks, you will have black compost ready to add to your flowerbeds.

Summer plants started inside in containers can start to spend a few hours a day outside on warm, sunny days before you transplant them into your outside garden.

Shop for natives to add for mid to late summer flowers. Good choices include Purple Coneflowers, Black eyed Susan, Salvias and any plants with low water requirements.

If you don’t have grass planted, plant clover instead. If you do, consider how to minimize the golf course-look greenery and add more varieties of blooming flowers through the growing season.

Did I mention take time to enjoy the beauty of the May flowers like iris, peonies and roses??

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

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

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

How To Add Planting Spaces

If you garden in the Ozarks, you know our biggest crop is rocks. But if you want to grow something else, you need soil.

One of the ways to make rocks work for you is to use them as garden borders. The rocks will hold in soil, fallen leaves and mulch as well as slow down rain water, which eventually will all turn into soil.

In addition, you can use the rocks to soften soil areas for planting. This won't happen overnight but it will make planting a little easier later.

This is one of my garden spots with rocks as borders:

These rocks have been a flower border for a couple of years holding in soil, mulch and moisture.

These rocks have been a flower border for a couple of years holding in soil, mulch and moisture.

After some time, rocks will kill grass, weeds and other unwanted plants and you can easily move them to expand a flower bed. The remaining holes will be perfect for planting, especially if you add soil and mulch.

Rocks used as borders help break down soil for easier planting.

Rocks used as borders help break down soil for easier planting.

Another view of a flower bed I expanded by moving out the border rocks.  To help rocks form the planting areas, dig a trench to initially put them in and remember to use  gardening gloves  when moving rocks, they can damage your hands. You also want to have a good grip on the rocks or they may roll where you don't want them to go.  How do you use rocks in your garden?    Charlotte

Another view of a flower bed I expanded by moving out the border rocks.

To help rocks form the planting areas, dig a trench to initially put them in and remember to use gardening gloves when moving rocks, they can damage your hands. You also want to have a good grip on the rocks or they may roll where you don't want them to go.

How do you use rocks in your garden?

Charlotte

Last of Seven Gardening Mistakes - Pesticide Over Use

Homemade insecticide with dishwashing or antibacterial soap and water in a spray bottle.

Homemade insecticide with dishwashing or antibacterial soap and water in a spray bottle.

Pesticides are a leading culprit of bee and other pollinators declining. Most of the overuse is by well-meaning home gardeners who may not realize the pursuit of garden perfection is at the cost of links in our ecosystem.

Easy Bug Repellent

Beekeepers use a few drops of dishwashing, or antibacterial, liquid in a spray bottle for most unwanted bugs. Spray again after a rain. If you want to ramp it up, add a few drops of hot sauce. Use glove when applying.

Know Your Bugs

Those caterpillars on milkweed are Monarch butterflies so get to know what are good and bad bugs. Ladybugs, praying mantis and parasitic wasps are all good friends in the garden.

Use Your Hands

Hand-picking bugs off plants also works well. Wear gloves if you don’t want to touch them and enjoy the time you get to spend outdoors doing it.

Companion Planting

Companion planting is another technique that works well to reduce bugs in your garden. Some plants are a natural bug deterrent such as marigolds, and basil.

Hang Bird Houses

Birds are bug eaters so add a few bird houses to your property to encourage birds to nest and patrol your property.

Charlotte

Six of Seven Gardening Mistakes - Rotate Crops

My new Bluebird Gardens strawberry bed refreshed with compost and new plants.

My new Bluebird Gardens strawberry bed refreshed with compost and new plants.

Lost any strawberry beds? I did last winter, and it was a mild one. My best guess is that the soil was tired and could not support the plants, which are heavy feeders.

Why Rotate Crops?

Rotating crops breaks lifecycles. Many fungal blights, rusts and spots are host specific. Their spores remain in the soil and affect the next batch of plants. Most caterpillars, beetles and borers and some nematodes also show a definite preference for certain plants or plant groups. Their eggs and larvae are in the soil awaiting their host plants.

Rotate Every Third Year

Another reason why crop rotation is important is that different plants have different nutritional requirements. A simple rule of thumb is plant the same crop only two years in a row.

Last but not least, one of the biggest mistakes home gardeners make in their gardens.

Charlotte

 

Five of Seven Gardening Mistakes - Compatible Plants

Yellow onion sets planted next to roses help keep my Bluebird Gardens roses bug-free.

Yellow onion sets planted next to roses help keep my Bluebird Gardens roses bug-free.

In this seven-part series, I am going over the biggest mistakes I see gardeners make and how to address them. I have made far more mistakes but these are the main ones I see repeated in questions readers of my weekly gardening column "Gardening to Distraction" email or call me about.

Plants That Get Along

This one is not so much a mistake as a missed opportunity for natural pest control and bigger yields. It's called "Companion Planting."

According to Amazon's book description: "Plant parsley and asparagus together and you'll have more of each, but keep broccoli and tomato plants far apart if you want them to thrive. This classic companion-gardening guide outlines the keys to creating a harmoniously varied and bountiful garden. Utilize the natural properties of plants to nourish the soil, repel pests, and secure a greater harvest. With plenty of insightful advice and suggestions for planting schemes, Louise Riotte will inspire you to turn your garden into a naturally nurturing ecosystem."

Three Sisters

The "three sisters" planting concept is the same thing, some plants are more compatible than others. I plant onions around my roses to keep bugs off the roses and to more easily find onions when I need them. I guess I could also eat my roses but I prefer them in flower vases!

Charlotte