August Gardening Chores

In hot weather, the best way to water your garden is with an underground wand (back) or by pressing the hose head into the ground so the water reaches plant roots.

In hot weather, the best way to water your garden is with an underground wand (back) or by pressing the hose head into the ground so the water reaches plant roots.

August Gardening Chores

I don’t plant anything in my garden in August.  The soil in USDA zone 5b is so dry in Missouri, few plants will survive even if watered so I just skip doing much planting. I also try not to watch as some of my plants fry under the hot sun but I know if I can keep the roots wet, they will come back later this year, or next:

1.     Water plants at root level, which means no sprinklers. Use underground wands and move them to saturate soil. Gardens need an inch of rain a week. Don’t forget established shrubs and older trees, they also need moisture delivered to their roots to make sure they make it through the record hot August temperatures.

2.     Water potted plants daily; if temperatures are once again hitting record levels, maybe twice a day and move them into shade. Add compost to keep the potted soil healthy.

3.     If you didn’t get to planting your garden this year, at least toss a few buckwheat seeds to help improve your soil. Buckwheat will sprout in about 6 weeks and will be welcome fall food for pollinators as well.

4.     If you haven’t been using your fresh herbs, this is a good time to start. Most may have flowered and lost some of their potency but they still can be added to salads and other summer dishes. Rosemary and chamomile can be harvested and used in bloom. I chop up and freeze some of mine in ice cubes for winter use in soups.

5.     My tomatoes set late this year but they are finally ripening. Try to keep them evenly watered to minimize cracking.

6.     Have peonies you want to divide? Wait until after a good rain but you can start dividing them now through September. Bury the root “eyes” no more than an inch or two beneath the soil; if you bury them deeper the plants won’t flower. If you have to move peonies without rain, use a hose to soak the soil around the plant before you try to dig it up.

7.     You can also dig up daylilies and iris now to divide and re-plant. Again I would wait until after a good rain. Remember to use gardening gloves so your hands don't get cracked. If you still need to move the plants, at least water the area with a hose first so you don’t rip roots when you try to dig them up.

8.     Start saving seeds for next year. Marigolds, zinnias and sunflowers have a lot of seeds than can easily be stored.

9.     I am also developing new flower beds for next year by removing starts, adding cardboard and mulching.

These Black-eyed Susans have settled in well with the help of wet leaves under mulch.

These Black-eyed Susans have settled in well with the help of wet leaves under mulch.

10. Hot temperatures can prompt trees to drop leaves early. Leave leaves on the ground to return nitrogen to the soil. If you are worried about them sitting on grass, set your mower to a higher setting and cut them up when you mow. Leaves are a wonderful source of soil amendments. They also work well as mulch, helping to retain water when leaves are underground or under mulch.

Charlotte

Yellow Mums in Bloom

Yellow mums in bloom mid-July at Bluebird Gardens, a little early but at least not leggy.

Yellow mums in bloom mid-July at Bluebird Gardens, a little early but at least not leggy.

Yellow Mums in Bloom

It's easy to take fall mums for granted, those little autumn blooming flowers unless you have tried to make the plants form those little mounds all by yourself. I gave that up years ago, settling instead for having just non-spindly chrysanthemums in bloom whenever they were ready.

The professional advice is to pinch the mums once a week through July 4th. The pinching keeps the plant low and bushy, as well as branching so that there are more flowers in bloom. That is also supposed to delay blooming so the mums bloom on cue during their designated blooming month in the fall. 

I do pinch most of my mums through spring, but not all. I leave a few to grow long and leggy so that I can include them in flower bouquets. The short, stout branches are hard to manage in a vase and that is a shame because mums are one of the longer-lasting cut flowers. It's why they are a popular addition in floral bouquets, they tend to be the last flowers to die off when the rest of the cut flowers have faded.

So it's early August with record summer heat and some of my mums have decided to bloom. This yellow one in particular is having a good time so yes, I am doing absolutely nothing about it. I could trim off the flower buds and try to delay flowering until later but I am not going to touch it.

Some plants bloom slower in hot weather. That's what I am telling myself as I enjoy the bright sunny flowers popping up a good couple of months early. Did I mention I love surprises?

Charlotte

 

Mystery Plants

The corner of my driveway retaining wall where the corner of my eye caught a mystery plant.

The corner of my driveway retaining wall where the corner of my eye caught a mystery plant.

Mystery Plants

Do you ever walk around your garden and catch a plant out of the corner of your eye you swear you didn't plant there? 

Happens to me all of the time. So often, my certified wildlife garden should be called the "However Garden," as in "Phlox like sun. In my garden, however, they chose to grow in part shade."

I have a lot of examples of plants confirming they don't read gardening books and defying odds so it shouldn't be surprising to find something growing where I didn't plant it. Only this was a brand new spot I had just carefully mulched. I knew the area well and I didn't remember seeing anything green around where I had mulched so why was there something definitely green there now??

No, not the onions on the left, I planted those to keep bugs off the rose tree, on the right.

No, not the onions on the left, I planted those to keep bugs off the rose tree, on the right.

I stopped and went back for a closer look.

The green onions were growing well on the left. I planted those a good month or so ago to help keep bugs off the white tree roses I found on sale. Towards the end of the season, I will harvest those for my last fresh salads, if I remember. If not, I may have an early start on next year, depends on how mild next winter is.

Look to the right of the tree rose.

There, to the right of the rose tree. A bunch of little green sprouts bunched together.

There, to the right of the rose tree. A bunch of little green sprouts bunched together.

Those are some kind of seeds that have sprouted, and I know I didn't plant those there.

Those look suspiciously like sunflower seed seedlings.

Those look suspiciously like sunflower seed seedlings.

As I peered closely at those seedlings, I knew exactly who had been gardening in my new driveway retaining wall. Squirrels, storing sunflower seeds from the bird feeders.

Since spotting this first little stash of seedlings, I have found a number of them in other spots around the garden. If they are left undisturbed, the squirrels, or maybe chipmunks, should have a nice crop of sunflowers by fall.

Gives new meaning to a wildlife garden, doesn't it.

Charlotte

Summer Gardening Must Haves

My summer gardening basket of must haves sits by my den door so I don't forget things.

My summer gardening basket of must haves sits by my den door so I don't forget things.

Summer Gardening Must Haves

The hot dog days of summer are here in Missouri. At around 2 p.m. earlier today I found myself "wimping out" of spending time in my garden, unheard of if you could see all of the work that still needs to get done. I mean, is a garden ever really finished??

I sheepishly put away my pruners, dusted off my hat and snuck into the house hoping none of my neighbors would see me. Then I thought this is ridiculous, it's hot, I'm retired and I'm done for the day. A friend's posting of her thermometer in the porch shade sealed the deal - 104.5F, and it's only mid July.

According to the Climate Change Institute in Columbia, Missouri, the trend will be for us to have longer springs, hotter summers, longer falls and milder, shorter winters with less snow. So far we definitely had a milder winter and longer spring. Not looking forward to a hotter Missouri August, the ones in previous decades were nothing to celebrate, the Missouri Botanical Garden calls it the "dearth," when most of Missouri's plants go into survival mode, or die off all together. It's not good news for bees, with colonies at their highest populations for the year left without a source of food.

As our climate rapidly changes, we are also seeing more ticks, bigger poison ivy plants and the obvious, exposure to more dangerous sun rays. To remind myself to protect myself before I head into the weedier parts of my garden, I set up this basket of "must haves" I keep by my den door.

Bug spray, sunblock, water, neck towel - and don't forget a gardening hat - are must haves!

Bug spray, sunblock, water, neck towel - and don't forget a gardening hat - are must haves!

The basket has the following, all must haves to survive the hotter summer temperatures:

30 Sunblock or higher

Bug off

Extra pair of socks to fend off the aggressive poison ivy vines

Clear Caladryl for those spots that get exposure

Gardening gloves

Neck towel

Small bottle of water

Two plastic bags in case the gloves tear

Muslin kitchen towel to wrap around my head

Garden hat (out of picture)

I also wear sunglasses but if you don't regularly wear glasses, add a pair to your basket.

No need to spend a lot of money on the basket, I picked this one up at one of our local thrift stores for $1. No, wait, it cost me $2, this was the second basket I bought because my cats appropriated the first one as a napping spot.

Charlotte

 

For the Love of Geraniums

My newest addition to my geraniums, aren't these pretty?

My newest addition to my geraniums, aren't these pretty?

"Science, or para-science, tells us that geraniums bloom better if they are spoken to. But a kind word every now and then is really quite enough. Too much attention, like too much feeding, and weeding and hoeing, inhibits and embarrasses them." ~Victoria Glendinning

For the Love of Geraniums

So maybe this is a good time to confess I am a lazy gardener. Maybe I should say I have better things to do with my time in the garden than - well, mow grass, or in the spring tend to delicate seedlings. I do, and can, but I have found, over the years, that a hardy plant that originated in South Africa can survive in inside pots through winters long enough to quickly bring me a splash of color every spring: geraniums.

It was a discovery I made by happenstance. A friend gave me a little geranium start literally in a brown bag, telling me the little green piece would quickly turn into a plant if I just put it in a pot, watered it and made sure it had a little care.

In those days, I had yet to hear about people cleaning soil off geranium plants and wintering them over in brown bags in the basement so I was intrigued. Could this little 3-inch sprig really become a plant? 

A few weeks later, there were buds on a little corner and I was intrigued. Once in bloom, that plant had flowers continuously the rest of the growing season, inspiring me to haunt plant sales and bring more varieties and colors home. To this day most of my deck pots have a geranium as a base plant. Maybe two.

It Started with Salmon

A basic salmon geranium has been a parent plant but not by design. It was wintering over in a corner where one of my cats liked to nap in the pot in the sun. Little plant pieces would fall off so I would plant those in neighboring pots, resulting in several salmon geranium starts that now are potted and are keeping my deck company.

The original geranium now has a rock where the cat used to nap, and the cat has a basket nearby in a sunny spot for naps. The verdict is still out on how well this arrangement will work out but the geranium appears to be happy.

The old-fashioned, traditional, die hard basic geranium our grandmothers had.

The old-fashioned, traditional, die hard basic geranium our grandmothers had.

Besides color, geraniums are also available with scents, which I haven't been able to find at any of our local nurseries yet. 

What I have found, though, are these wonderful red and pink iridescent geraniums that brighten up any spot where they sit. I love their variegated coloring, especially in flower arrangements. That's another wonderful quality of geraniums. Cut at the right time, they will last a long time as cut flowers.

These geraniums are as bright as they seem to be and no, they do not glow in the dark. I checked.

These geraniums are as bright as they seem to be and no, they do not glow in the dark. I checked.

Easy to grow, continuous blooming and forgiving - pretty close to perfect, if you ask me!

Charlotte

July Garden Chores

 Left, new mulch works well to kill off unwanted plants under paths. Aged mulch, right, is a necessity in Missouri summers to keep garden beds cool during hot weather.

 Left, new mulch works well to kill off unwanted plants under paths. Aged mulch, right, is a necessity in Missouri summers to keep garden beds cool during hot weather.

July Garden Chores

Heat. It’s what drives every gardener this month, whether it’s making sure the garden gets an inch of moisture a week to stay cool or mulch to remain cool. I live in USDA zone 5b so among the other chores for July, besides enjoying picking berries:

1.     Deadhead flowering plants. Removing spent blooms will help keep plants healthy and may even give you a second and third wave of flowers.

2.     Remove weeds/unwanted plants. Unwanted plants take up nutrients, moisture and space away from desired plants. In this context, competition is not a good thing.

3.     Know your weeds. If you weren’t sure what it was before, whatever was growing should be showing its true identity by now. Many plants casually labeled weeds are forgotten herbs; others, like goldenrod, are blamed for what a true weed, ragweed does, which is aggravate allergies. And ragweed is a good plant, it only grows in very poor soil and adds nutrients to improve it before it dies off. Did I say know your weeds already??

4.     Give your garden one inch of water a week. When you water, use a watering wand or place the hose into the ground, no sprinkling. In hot summer weather, using sprinklers is a waste, the water just evaporates before it even hits the ground.

5.     Touch up mulch. Mulch will help keep garden beds cool. Make sure it’s aged mulch. If the mulch is steaming, it’s too young to use on flower beds.

6.     Keep your early morning dates with Japanese beetles. Catch them in soap-filled buckets to help reduce the population. Don’t try to catch them later in the day, they will just fly off.

7.     No more compost for woody plants, time for them to start hardening off and getting ready for winter.

8.     Don’t forget to water trees deeply, especially newly-planted trees and the oldest ones.

9.     Rambler roses done blooming? Prune.

10. How are your vines? My blackberries and clematis need a little help so I gauge their possible growth for the rest of this season and add support. Oh, I’m often wrong, the idea is just to give them extra support or it’s a mess trying to untangle them later. I usually wait until next year then and start with fresh growth.

11. I am starting to make new flower beds so I am hauling cardboard boxes home to get a good start. Once I line the beds with cardboard, I add mulch to start making the foundation of the bed. After the next rain, soil will be added, then another layer of mulch.

12. Start thinking about what needs to be done early next spring. I keep a list, check it twice…

13. The nearby composter will also get cleaned out. Not entirely, leave a good bucket-full as compost starter for the next batch.

14. Mowing grass? Don’t bag or rake clippings, they return Nitrogen to the soil.

15. Plant buckwheat in open areas. It’s not only a fast-growing, Nitrogen-introducing cover crop for garden spots, it also gives bees a source of food during August, when little else is in bloom.

Dead-heading, or removing spent flowers, encourages plants to produce more flowers. I pinched off this spent miniature rose right after I took this photo.

Dead-heading, or removing spent flowers, encourages plants to produce more flowers. I pinched off this spent miniature rose right after I took this photo.

What gardening chores do you have on your list for July?

Charlotte

Rain Barrel Residents

Meet Fred, who lives in the rain barrel on my deck, I first met him in early March.

Meet Fred, who lives in the rain barrel on my deck, I first met him in early March.

Rain Barrel Residents

My rain barrels are as much of a "must have" for my gardening as my favorite gardening gloves and pick ax. I have several, all connected to my rain gutters so a good rain shower refills them and the overflow continues down gutters into the back wildlife pond. I have spotted turkey, deer, a variety of songbirds including bluebirds, some rabbits - even a mama mouse carrying a baby to the side of the pond for a drink - all visiting the pond through the year.

So I was just a bit startled earlier this spring when I opened up the deck rain barrel lid and met Fred. Fred is a gray tree frog, very common frog species in the Midwest but not usually found in my rain barrels. Fred and I took one good look at each other, decided we were harmless, and I at least gently put the lid back down and waited to see if Fred was going somewhere.

After a few minutes, I peered back in only to find Fred staring back up at me. That's when I knew he was there to stay.

Over the next few months, I was careful when I checked water levels by opening up the deck rain barrel lid not to jar it too much for fear of jostling Fred. Fred would peer at me, no apparent judgement expressed but I couldn't help but think he couldn't be too happy with the disruption. Tree frogs are solitary creatures so who would be happy to be interrupted.

Last week, a new development; Fred has a friend! I named her Fran. She's not used to having me open the deck rain barrel lid so she tends to hop out the top and hide in the nearby dry grapevine wreath. I now try not to open the deck rain barrel lid unless absolutely necessary.

After re-filling the rain barrel earlier tonight, I peeked under the lid and both gray tree frogs were in their little spots so I must not have been too disruptive.

Fran, left, often can be found keeping Fred company inside the deck rain barrel.

Fran, left, often can be found keeping Fred company inside the deck rain barrel.

Well, here's to love. These two have found each other and not over a barrel but in one!

Charlotte

Deer Me!

Whirlygigs, hanging strong-scented soaps from mesh bags and night flashing lights are among recommendations for deterring deer garden munching. These are being tried in a friend's garden.

Whirlygigs, hanging strong-scented soaps from mesh bags and night flashing lights are among recommendations for deterring deer garden munching. These are being tried in a friend's garden.

Deer Me!

I was meeting friends for dinner when one turned with a distressed look on her face. They ate all of my garden flowers, my whole garden, she greeted me, her hands moving through the air in circles as if she could push the image of her missing vegetable garden away.  Not a terrible surprise since she said she has fed these deer since they were fawns.

That’s the first challenge trying to strike a balance between having wildlife close by and a garden.  As more of their native habitat is developed for human use, and weather conditions such as drought make food supplies scarce, wildlife will compensate by finding other ways to get what they need, even if it means snacking on your prized hostas.

Eight Tips for Keeping Deer Out of Your Garden

To prevent deer from using your garden as a snacking spot, there are several things you can do:

1.     Identify where their normal path areas are through your neighborhood. Deer will use the same paths so know where they tend to forage.

2.     Don’t feed them, or at least don’t feed them close to your garden area.

3.     When planning your plantings, place them in areas that have some protection from easy deer access. I have favorite herbs, tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers growing in pots on my deck, where deer can’t easily access them.

Deer-Resistent Plants

4.     Plan plantings that don’t attract deer. Daffodils, for example, exude a toxin that repel most wildlife munching. Tulips, on the other hand, are a favorite spring deer treat.

Some other common garden flowers that are deer-resistant include ageratum, geranium, marigold, morning glory, nasturtium, salvia, snapdragon, Shasta daisy, canna, liatris, petunia, phlox, verbena, vinca and yarrow.

5.     Deer don’t like pungent smells. Favorite recommendations for dispelling deer are bars of Irish Spring soap, either hanging in mesh bags around the garden or scattered around the garden edge. Other smells they don’t like include mint oil; cinnamon; garlic; hot peppers; citrus, and bundles of dog and human hair scattered around the garden edge.

Homemade Deer Repelling Spray

For an easy, homemade deer repelling spray, University of Missouri Extension David Trinklein,  associate professor of Plant Sciences and State Floriculture specialist in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at the University of Missouri,  suggests a mixture of 20% whole eggs and 80% water, mixed well and sprayed liberally around the garden. Reapply monthly and after rain.

Keep Things Moving

6.     Deer also don’t like moving objects. Whirlygigs, hanging mirrors and aluminum pans, even the old-fashioned scarecrow all work to keep deer at bay. The key is to move them around so deer won’t get used to them.

7.     Small plant cages, netting and fences, including electric ones, are the next level of defense. When planning a fence, make sure it’s at least 8 feet high or deer will jump right over it.

Although a popular recommendation, using moth balls scattered around a garden to dispel deer is not a good idea. Moth balls contain chemicals than can leach into soil. Here I have a few month balls in a plastic mesh hanging from a hook to discourage a snake from one of my small ponds. Stay tuned on whether that works.

Although a popular recommendation, using moth balls scattered around a garden to dispel deer is not a good idea. Moth balls contain chemicals than can leach into soil. Here I have a few month balls in a plastic mesh hanging from a hook to discourage a snake from one of my small ponds. Stay tuned on whether that works.

Don't Use Moth Balls

One note about a favorite recommendation, using moth balls. If you read the product directions, they say don’t, moth balls are doused in chemicals that can leach into soil and are harmful when in direct contact.

Charlotte

 

 

Hello, Summer!

A bumblebee visits gooseneck loosestrife in bloom at Bluebird Gardens.

A bumblebee visits gooseneck loosestrife in bloom at Bluebird Gardens.

Hello, Summer!

Not complaining but summer is finally here. Whew. It's been a long spring after a record mild winter; it was so mild, my honeybees had consumed their winter honey supplies by Christmas flying around looking for something to do. In the past, cold temperatures kept them clustered inside the hive, consuming very little honey until maybe early February. 

With the mild winter, spring was almost a month early this year.

Spring 2017 marked the first year in decades I had tulips blooming at Bluebird Gardens.

Spring 2017 marked the first year in decades I had tulips blooming at Bluebird Gardens.

Tulips kept me company for the first time in decades, a last minute splurge purchase last fall when I wanted to celebrate getting my driveway retaining wall with planting beds finished. Deer have made fast snacking of tulips in years past so I haven't bothered to plant them until last fall. 

With a nice spring rainy season came good conditions for plant growth. Plants in pots that wintered over inside, including tropical hibiscus and geraniums, quickly recovered and started to bloom.

My honeybees pollinated compact fruit trees and flower beds, so far giving me one of the best honey seasons so far since I started beekeeping. It's been a fun spring with queen-right bee colonies keeping me company in the garden.

This was also the year I systematically mulched all of my garden paths so they are relatively level and safe to walk on. When gardening on a hillside, that is no small feat since paths match the hillside angle unless one deliberately alters the layout. It's a pleasure now to meander through the flower beds without fear of slipping down the hill along with the strawberry plants.

There's more to do. There is always something more that needs to be done but I will take a few minutes to savor what I have done so far.

Not for long. I love this sign I saw recently, it epitomizes summer:

If you have time to read this, you have time to weed.

Charlotte

Cloning Roses

These are roses from a florist from a summer wedding I decided to try to clone.

These are roses from a florist from a summer wedding I decided to try to clone.

Cloning Roses

You probably have seen the same videos that caught my attention, ones showing how to clone roses by planting them in potatoes.

I thought about those videos as I was enjoying a friend’s son’s wedding earlier this summer. The table decorations were beautiful bowls of pink and white roses.

Table decorations at my friend Margaret's son's wedding in Kansas City July 2016.

Table decorations at my friend Margaret's son's wedding in Kansas City July 2016.

As I was leaving the wedding venue, I thought why not take this opportunity to see if this cloning process works.

If it does, I could give a cloned rose to the bride as a wedding memento. I also suspected my friend, mother of the groom, would love to have a start.

It would be an unusual but sweet memory of the lovely Kansas City weekend.

I collected the same size water bottles to make little domes over the pots.

I collected the same size water bottles to make little domes over the pots.

I collected a dozen clear plastic water bottles without lids.

I used the same size bottles so I could monitor if there was one type of rose that did better than another one.

I selected a bag of large russet potatoes to feed the rose starts.

I selected a bag of large russet potatoes to feed the rose starts.

I also purchased a bag of large russet potatoes and dusted off a dozen clean plastic pots in a tray.

Rooting hormone should be used separate than the original container so it's not contaminated.

Rooting hormone should be used separate than the original container so it's not contaminated.

Rooting hormone is a staple in my gardening supplies. Best to spoon out a little into a separate container and use that supply instead of dipping straight into the container.

After removing rose leaves, making clean cuts and dusting with root hormone, in they went.

After removing rose leaves, making clean cuts and dusting with root hormone, in they went.

Adding bagged potting soil, I trimmed off rose leaves, dipped the newly-cut rose stems in rooting hormone and eased them into the potato holes before covering with soil and watering.

In some cases, the rose stems were shorter than the recommended 6-8 inches. I used them anyway, making sure growing nodes were covered by soil.

Potted potatoes with rose stems under their clear water bottle domes.

Potted potatoes with rose stems under their clear water bottle domes.

Glitch with Rose Cloning

In researching rose cloning, I discovered a glitch. Some roses offered for sale in the US are patented, which means only the person holding the patent has the right to asexually reproduce the plant.

Much like videos that are copied without permission, rose breeders hold the rights to their registered roses. Cloning the rose, especially for sale, is illegal and denies the rose breeders their rights to make money.

Rose patents are good for 20 years. Any rose introduced within the last 20 years are also probably patented. To stay out of trouble, it is best to only propagate rose varieties that are at least 20 years old.

I don’t have a clue what the wedding roses were. They were provided by a florist, which means they may not be patented and were grown overseas.

Red miniature roses bloom most of the Missouri growing season in my garden.

Red miniature roses bloom most of the Missouri growing season in my garden.

Too bad because I still have old hybrid tea and miniature roses that bloom continuously once they start, adding a lovely scent to my garden.

I also enjoy feeding them a mixture of egg shells, dried banana peels, Epsom salts and dried coffee grounds during their growing season. One of my hybrid teas is more than 30 years old.

After several weeks, I couldn’t wait any longer so I peeked at the plastic bottle-covered pots.

Cloned rose stems in potatoes showing signs of growth - of potatoes!

Cloned rose stems in potatoes showing signs of growth - of potatoes!

Sure enough, it was working. I was growing very green, and very healthy, potatoes!

Have you tried to clone - well, anything from the garden?

Charlotte

Hummingbirds in Gardens

Hummingbird at a Bluebird Gardens syrup feeder.

Hummingbirds in Gardens

 I have had a couple of calls about aggressive hummingbirds protecting sugar water feeders this time of year.

Hummingbirds are territorial most of summer but we seem to notice their aggressive behavior more early fall. I don't know if it's because we are more cognizant of them because of changes in our weather in September or they are spending more energy chasing off rivals but they do get protective of their feeding stations.

Territorial hummingbirds make things easier for us in the Midwest by migrating end of September. These lovely tropical birds winter over in Central and South America so if they are eating you out of house and home, know they will be leaving shortly.

If you have been feeding them all summer, continue to feed them until they leave. They have become accustomed to your source of sugar syrup, one part sugar to four parts water. No need to add red dye, the red color of the hummingbird feeder is enough to catch their eye. Make sure to use hot water when mixing with sugar, then allow to cool before filling the feeder. Also make sure to change the sugar water every second or third day, especially if temperatures are hot. 

Don't clean hummingbird feeders out with soap, they don't like feeders that have been treated with most soaps. I use hot water to kill the bacteria, then clean the feeder out with a bottle brush. 

Hard to believe I will soon be putting the hummingbird feeders away, it feels like I just dusted them off.

Hummingbird feeders make nice gifts so if you find one you like, pick an extra one up for someone's birthday or holiday gift. They can be hard to find around the holidays so I buy them now if I want to gift them. Sometimes they are available on sale this time of year so you can pick them up for next year's use, too.

Do you have hummingbirds visiting your garden?

Charlotte

Ragweed

Unassuming ragweed getting ready to bloom at the corner of Bluebird Gardens.

Unassuming ragweed getting ready to bloom at the corner of Bluebird Gardens.

Ragweed

If there is one weed that is misunderstood, it is ragweed. Well, maybe not so much misunderstood as mis-identified. All of those reports of daily high pollen counts are due to this unassuming plant, not the showier goldenrod, which often gets the blame.

A showy yellow goldenrod in bloom in my garden is not responsible for my sneezing.

A showy yellow goldenrod in bloom in my garden is not responsible for my sneezing.

 

22 Varieties of Goldenrod

Missouri has 22 varieties of goldenrod blooming from June through September, making them seem interchangeable as garden flowers go but they are different varieties. The bright yellow flowers, cousins to daisies, are hard to miss, especially when they bloom in large swaths across fields.

I like Goldenrod because it is a hardy plant, often establishing itself in poor soils and adding a gold tone to our fall palate. They are perennials so they basically take care of themselves.

Ragweed

Ragweed, on the other hand, is a quiet, unassuming aster cousin. They are distributed throughout North America, primarily the southwest. A single plant can produce about a billion grains of pollen per season. It causes about half of all cases of pollen-associated allergic reactions in North America, starting in July through the first frost.

A closeup of ragweed flowers in bloom, causing grief to allergy sufferers.

A closeup of ragweed flowers in bloom, causing grief to allergy sufferers.

Although I appreciate that people with allergies, including myself, keep a close eye on the pollen and mold reports, I can't help but hope my buzzing bees also know about this generous pollen source. The plants are not very showy so I don't know that they attract a bee's attention. When conditions are right, bees can get a second "flow" in fall to store honey for winter but I have yet to see bees on ragweed.

Does ragweed cause you allergy grief?

Charlotte

Bumblebees in Gardens

Bumblebees on gooseneck loosestrife at Bluebird Gardens.

Bumblebees in Gardens

It’s been a busy time for calls about bumblebees. We may think our gardens are places to grow food and flowers, and develop a green mantle of a lawn, but to wild animals gardens are home.

Several recent calls centered around bumblebees stinging. Bumblebees, like many other pollinators such as butterflies, are at their peak population in September. Most bumblebee nests are in the ground and house 300-400 bees. Only the queen bumblebee makes it through winter so their canning supplies – honey – are only enough for one bee.

Bumblebees are normally quite docile, going about their business of shaking pollen out of flowers and not bothering anyone. They will sting if they feel threatened. Driving a lawn mower over their nest entrance qualifies to a bumblebee as a threat.

On the other hand, bumblebees are wonderful pollinators, providing a bounty of green peppers and tomatoes.  If you don’t have them in your main traffic area, one option is to stay away from that area until a hard frost. It is a small price to pay for their pollination services.

Have you seen bumblebees in your garden?

Charlotte

Autumn Sedum "Joy"

Autumn Joy Sedum plant getting ready for fall at Bluebird Gardens.

Autumn Joy Sedum plant getting ready for fall at Bluebird Gardens.

Autumn Sedum "Joy"

If I was stranded on a desert island and could only pick one plant, this would be it. Autumn  Sedum "Joy" is a plant that transforms itself through the four seasons, remaining easy care even through record hot Missouri summer temperatures and drought conditions.

Autumn Sedum "Joy" is easy to overlook in spring, when the plant develops rose-like greenery. By mid-summer, the plant becomes a larger bush with green, broccoli-like buds. The buds flower into a pink haze,  finally deepening into rich bronzy-red. Even the dead flower heads have good winter effect. In rich soils, plants may be pinched in June to prevent floppiness. A classic perennial!

One of my Autumn Sedums "Joy" in spring, forming rose-like leaves as the plant grows.

One of my Autumn Sedums "Joy" in spring, forming rose-like leaves as the plant grows.

By the time summer rolls around, the plant reminds me of heads of broccoli. The flower heads then bloom into lovely pink flowers.

Autumn Sedum "Joy" beginning to bloom in Missouri mid-summer.

Autumn Sedum "Joy" beginning to bloom in Missouri mid-summer.

A little Iphone micro-lens gave me this close up of the Autumn Sedum "Joy" flowers. So pretty!

Close-up of Autumn Sedum "Joy" flowers in bloom September 2016 at Bluebird Gardens.

Close-up of Autumn Sedum "Joy" flowers in bloom September 2016 at Bluebird Gardens.

By winter, Autumn Sedum "Joy" flower heads have dried to a rich cinnamon brown. I often cut the flower heads off to refresh my dried flower arrangements. The ones that stay in the garden turn into what I call "snow flowers."

Snow-covered Autumn Sedum "Joy" in winter suggests snow flowers, or so I call them.

Snow-covered Autumn Sedum "Joy" in winter suggests snow flowers, or so I call them.

Autumn Sedum "Joy" requires almost no care. I have it planted in a variety of soils, moisture and light conditions and it's doing well in all of them. The only thing it doesn't seem to recover well from was getting trampled on when a beehive was temporarily parked next to one. Despite getting broken branches, that plant is recovering quite nicely!

Do you have Autumn Sedum "Joy" in your garden?

Charlotte

Reasons for a Folding Fence

A folding fence for sale at a silent auction with one of the best reasons to buy it!

A folding fence for sale at a silent auction with one of the best reasons to buy it!

Reasons for a Folding Fence

For the past two years, our local master gardener group has held a silent auction to benefit the chapter's operational fund. I missed the sale last year so I was intrigued to see what master gardeners would bring to sell this year.

There were the usual contributions of plants, from succulents to hawthorne and double rose of sharon starts. The table with gardening books was, unfortunately, too familiar. With the exception of one book on trellises, I had either read or currently owned the rest of the books.

Along one wall, a line of tables held a variety of different garden implements. The one that caught my eye was a green metal folding fence, something I have been considering buying to try to keep my herbs and spearmint from migrating all over my garden. I realize the fence will not help with the real culprits, the spearmint runs wild thanks to the running roots underground, but I do like to have my garden look nice. The folding fence would at least give a corner some semblance of order, even if we all know better.

As I was getting ready to write my silent bid, I spotted the excellent job of marketing. The person who had donated the fence wrote for "keeping your husband from cutting your flowers down."

How many of us have had that happen??

Charlotte

Vinca Inspiration

Does this remind you of a flower bed of impatiens? These are easy to grow vincas!

Does this remind you of a flower bed of impatiens? These are easy to grow vincas!

Vinca Inspiration

It's almost fall, a time when I start making notes of what didn't work, and what did, over this last growing season.

I managed to get a flower bed of zinnias planted, something I sometimes wait too long to start only this year, someone ate the tops off. I love the strong colors of zinnias, a must plant flower for anyone who asks me for recommendations.

Tulips, on the other hand, have been relegated to only in a bulb garden status. Not that I don't love tulips, especially pink tulips. but so do deer grazing through my garden. 

I also like impatiens for shady areas, although the impatiens blight has given me second thoughts about planting them in large swaths. Enter vincas, an easy to grow annual I have tucked away in several pots on my deck when I shop the end of spring plant sales.

For some reason, I had never considered them for flower beds until I saw this lovely combination  in the photo at a St. Louis hotel. I thought at first they were impatiens but they were in full sun. As I got closer, and cleaned my glasses, I could see what they actually were. Great idea, and the first suggestion I am writing in my garden diary to consider next year!

What are you writing in your garden diary to try next year?

Charlotte

Vanishing Tomato Plant

My once robust deck tomato plant all of a sudden looked like it was being eaten.

My once robust deck tomato plant all of a sudden looked like it was being eaten.

Vanishing Tomato Plant

It was a sunny cool early September afternoon. I decided to take a book and join my cat Margaret on my deck chair, one of Margaret's all time favorite things to do. Mine, too, especially when I don't have anything pressing on my schedule. I'm retired now, I thought, I can take a couple of hours to relax and read.

A few minutes later, out of the corner of my eye I saw my once beautiful potted tomato plant vanishing. Most gardeners will confess they may have garden dreams but they often don't realize when they come even close. Our minds are making mental notes spotting something else that needs to be done instead of appreciating what they have accomplished so far. I tried to shut that part of my brain off for a few more minutes but I couldn't concentrate on my book. I had to take a closer look.

Tell-tale skat under my vanishing tomato plant gave me the first clue of what was happening.

Tell-tale skat under my vanishing tomato plant gave me the first clue of what was happening.

The first thing I noticed was that the leaves were now gone from the lush top of the plant. I had just moved the plant to the left a couple of days ago for fear it was too top heavy so I had a very recent impression of how lush it had been.

As I looked closer, I found the culprit. More like culprits, I counted six that I could easily see.

Here's the culprit, a tobacco hornworm, which has a voracious appetite.

Here's the culprit, a tobacco hornworm, which has a voracious appetite.

The tobacco hornworm is one of two caterpillars that can devour a tomato plant on their way to becoming a moth. The tomato and tobacco hornworms are very similar in markings and size but this one is a tobacco hornworm. I had a number of  3-4 inch Carolina moths on my deck earlier this spring so I am guessing these are their progeny.

With our record summer temperatures this year, it appears the caterpillars waited until the temperatures where cooler before hatching and kicking off their metamorphosis cycle. Much like their more flamboyant, and endangered, pollinators, the Monarch butterflies, Carolina moths are part of the family of pollinators that keep plants propagating themselves. Many of those plants are our sources of food.

I have several tomato plants finally having fruit ripen, we can share. I am keeping an eye on my other tomato plants in case those are getting munched on as well. I would still like to have a few fresh tomatoes this year. 

If I decide I have too many, I will freeze the caterpillars and feed them to my birds and frogs.

Have you seen tobacco hornworms on your tomato plants this year?

Charlotte

Rooting Mums

Mum starts can be dusted with root hormone and added to a garden spot to start new plants.

Mum starts can be dusted with root hormone and added to a garden spot to start new plants.

Rooting Mums

Fall must right around the corner because chrysanthemums plants are popping up all over my home town.

The pretty tiny flowers add fall color to a landscape from different tones of yellows to orange, red, white and burgundy. Mums are also being appreciated as garden flowers because they deter bugs. Most of the "natural" bug sprays on the market are made with mum extract so I am going to add a few more mums around my garden to keep bugs at bay.

How to Make New Mums

You can either collect cuttings from your mums or pick up pieces that have been knocked off existing plants.

I was moving a couple of mums and had several pieces that broke off. I made a fresh cut on the bottom, made sure there was one node where leaves were attached; removed the leaves and placed them in water until I could get them into the garden.

Rooting hormone is a staple in my garden supplies, just don't reuse.

Rooting hormone is a staple in my garden supplies, just don't reuse.

Rooting Hormone

One of my garden supply staples is rooting hormone. It helps plants develop roots in soil and is available at most garden and nursery centers.

Pour a little root hormone into a separate container. Dip the mum cutting in water, then dip in root hormone.

I save my root hormone in a little container so that I have it handy to use.

Do not pour root hormone back into original container or you may contaminate the powder.

Make a small hole in soil and insert the root hormone-covered mum cutting.

Make a small hole in soil and insert the root hormone-covered mum cutting.

Place Root Hormone-Covered Start in Soil

Once you have the root covered in root hormone, make a hole in moist soil. Carefully add the root hormone-covered plant in hole and cover.

If soil isn't moist, add water and allow to get moist before you add the plant start.

Cover plant start with moist soil and wait several days for roots to form.

Cover plant start with moist soil and wait several days for roots to form.

Now Wait

Now comes the hard part, waiting. Don't peek or you will dislodge the root hormone from the plant.

I wait a month before I gently tug on the start. If it resists, congratulations you have roots started.

If if comes out of the ground, it didn't take.

The good news with mums is, they are relatively easy to root so it's worth the effort.

Have you tried to root mum starts?

Charlotte

My Favorite Border Plant

Monkey Grass not only makes a nice border plant but it blooms in August when little is blooming.

Monkey Grass not only makes a nice border plant but it blooms in August when little is blooming.

My Favorite Border Plant

There is no doubt in my mind what plant is my favorite border plant. Ever hear of Monkey Grass? Liriope muscari is the Latin name for the most common variety of this plant family and the one I have the most in my garden.

What's not to love. It's easy to care for, heat and drought tolerant, crowds out weeds and tolerates a variety of soils including the worst my limestone hillside garden can offer. And it blooms in August to boot, a month when little is adding garden color.

I bought a start a good 20 years ago or so. Since then, I have been using the expanded clumps as a source of starts to line flower beds and add garden accents. It's easy to take them for granted because they are so easy to grown but I particularly like them in bloom.

Monkey Grass in bloom in my garden lining flower beds and adding accent interest.

Monkey Grass in bloom in my garden lining flower beds and adding accent interest.

These plants are also easy to divide. Once a clump is dug up, my spade can easily cut the clump into smaller starts. 

These border plants look so pretty along flower borders!

Monkey grass as my edging around bluebird gardens.

Monkey grass as my edging around bluebird gardens.

Aren't these tiny flowers sweet? Bees also like monkey grass flowers!

Aren't these tiny flowers sweet? Bees also like monkey grass flowers!

One of the additional benefits of monkey grass for me are the teeny tiny flowers. Bees like to visit them once the flowers start to bloom if nothing else is around to catch their attention.

Some people also give these plants a spring trim to cut off the greenery that turns brown in a USDA zone 5B winter. I don't, the old leaves melt into the ground as natural mulch and new leaves pop out and quickly take over the old dying greenery.

What is your favorite plant border?

Charlotte

Naked Ladies

Surprise lilies, also called naked ladies, make lovely cut flowers.

Surprise lilies, also called naked ladies, make lovely cut flowers.

Naked Ladies

When I started doing a live Rolla radio interview a few years back, I would take fresh flowers in from my garden.

Both radio personalities Lee Buhr and Bob McKune seemed to enjoy the flowers, and it was a fun way to relate to radio listeners. For the following days after the interview, people would approach me with their stories about a particular flower or on-air discussion.

One year, I had to step away for a few minutes before the interview so I snuck the flowers into the studio.

It was a vase of surprise lilies, also called resurrection lilies or magic lilies.

Surprise lilies get their nickname from their habit of blooming on naked stalks.

Surprise lilies get their nickname from their habit of blooming on naked stalks.

A cousin to the popular Amaryllis bulbs available around Christmas, surprise lilies leaf out in spring, then die back until mid-July, when one green stalk makes its way out of the ground and soft pink blooms appear on the top for several days.

One surprise lily can fill a room with its sweet fragrance.

As cut flowers, surprise lily stalks have an interesting habit of curling up at the bottom, giving them a very modern look in a clear glass vase.

Perennial bulbs originally from the East - either Japan or China, surprise lilies are found on old farmsteads in Missouri, almost as popular as daffodils and day lilies.

When I got back to the radio station, I was told the phones were ringing off the hook.

Thinking it was due to some discussion Lee and Bob were having, I thought nothing of it when Bob motioned me to enter the studio.

We had a nice discussion about surprise lilies and what else was growing in my garden, a few words about an upcoming event and I was through.

As I was getting back to my office, someone asked if I had heard what Bob had said as my introduction to the interview.

"Bob said coming up next, naked ladies in the studio."

That's another name for surprise lilies, but to this day there are some people who bring it up as if they need confirmation impish Bob wasn't talking about me!

Charlotte