Tiger Lilies

 Tiger lilies have started to bloom in my Missouri hillside garden, a sure sign of summer.

Tiger lilies have started to bloom in my Missouri hillside garden, a sure sign of summer.

Tiger Lilies

If there is one plant that marks the beginning of the hot summer Missouri season, it's tiger lilies in bloom.

These very old-fashioned lilies survive in most drought conditions, their flowers swinging from on top of 4-5 foot stems.

Tiger lily flowers (Lilium lancifolium or Lilium tigrinum) propagate through black bubils in the axils above the leaves. That may explain why I have a number of plants scattered throughout my flower beds, their little seed starts scattered by wind and my carelessly knocking the bubils over when I walked close by.

Growing tiger lilies involves planting the bubils and waiting, as it may be five years before these produce tiger lily flowers. If you have tiger lilies growing in your existing garden, keep them happy with soil amendments. I give them a handful of aged compost followed by mulch every year.

I think about moving the various ones scattered around the garden so they are all together but the soil is usually so hard and dry mid-summer in Missouri. I think I will wait for more plants to grow where the original ones area, that's much easier!

In the meantime, time to make another one of our charming baby jungle quilts, I think of tiger lilies having faces every time I see them!

Charlotte

Darling Daylilies

 Originally from China, Missouri's ditch lilies are the basis for all hybrid daylilies on the market today. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Originally from China, Missouri's ditch lilies are the basis for all hybrid daylilies on the market today. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Darling Daylilies

We don’t appreciate them as much as European settlers, who among their few possessions made room for Hemerocallis fulva, today’s common orange daylily, when they first arrived in North America. How did we forget how valuable these plants used to be?

When I worked for several weeks in Southampton for the 50th Anniversary of D-Day, several of our English counterparts talked about their tiny gardens. One of the staple plants they continue to grow in their kitchen gardens is daylilies because all parts of the plant are edible.

I didn’t know that when I first admired the beautiful orange blooms. I did know they were almost impossible to kill and grow in almost all conditions. When my husband at the time and I had a house built, I used them to hold soil. Some areas today still have the descendants of those first plants, so thick now I need to thin them out if I am going to see flowers in that part of the garden again.

I have since learned why daylilies are so darling, they are delicious. Jan Phillips in her book "Wild Edibles of Missouri" calls orange daylilies "another one of mother nature's grocery stores." Phillips confirms the whole plant is edible, from the young flower stalks in spring that taste like asparagus to the tiny, white root bulbs reminiscent of radishes.

The steamed stalks are referred to as the poor man’s asparagus, something I once again forgot to try this year when the stems were young enough.

Don Kurz in his field guide to “Ozark Wildflowers” said these plants have been “eaten in salads, in fritters, as a cooked vegetable and as a seasoning. In China, a root tea is used as a diuretic.”

There is also a cautionary note. “Recent Chinese reports warn that the roots and young leaf shoots are considered potentially toxic and can accumulate in the body and adversely impact the eyes, even causing blindness in some cases. Their studies also warn that the roots contain a carcinogen.”

 Daylily buds, left, and the open flowers are delicious additions to salads. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Daylily buds, left, and the open flowers are delicious additions to salads. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

I like the fresh flower buds. They are a nice addition to a salad or served on their own as a side dish. They taste like green beans with a hint of onion and brighten up any dish when you add an open flower.

Another way to enjoy the buds is to steam them. It only takes a couple of minutes to make the buds wilt so keep a close eye on them so they are not overcooked.

One of the more popular recipes is to fry the buds. If you want to try, use a flour dip in an egg wash in hot oil for only a minute or so, they cook quickly.

If you are going to eat daylilies, make sure you are picking them from a chemical-free area. Wash in cool water, then allow to dry. I keep them on their stems in a flower vase with water until I use them.

You don’t have to eat them to enjoy them, they are beautiful just as they are. I like them on this handmade wildflowers quilt, too!

Charlotte

 

Dreaded Bush Honeysuckle

 Bush honeysuckle can grow very big, these are growing along my road inside city limits.

Bush honeysuckle can grow very big, these are growing along my road inside city limits.

Dreaded Bush Honeysuckle

If I could drive down my lane with my eyes closed, I would. As much as I love anything green and growing, I have a hard time looking at all of the invasive Bush honeysuckle currently in full bloom.

It’s the proverbial dilemma of beauty versus damage to native natural communities. A friend of mine has carefully pruned Bush Honeysuckle shrubs all around her property, only to wonder now why nothing is growing under them but she won’t believe it’s the lovely bush honeysuckle.

 The bush honeysuckle flowers look similar to the native fragrant honeysuckle vines.

The bush honeysuckle flowers look similar to the native fragrant honeysuckle vines.

Bush honeysuckle produces a chemical that inhibits everything that grows under and within close proximity to its roots. A native of Asia, Bush honeysuckle produces leaves earlier in the spring and holds on to them late in autumn, giving it a decided competitive advantage over many native plants.

In addition, the Bush Honeysuckle entices birds with their bright red berries, ensuring that their seeds are widely scattered even though the berries themselves don’t offer birds much in terms of food value.

Some communities now sponsor Bush honeysuckle removal days, mobilizing volunteers to yank, pull, cut – whatever it takes – to remove the plants.

 You can easily pull young bush honeysuckle out of the ground after a good rain.

You can easily pull young bush honeysuckle out of the ground after a good rain.

I started my own battle against Bush honeysuckle several years ago when a former office colleague came over early spring and helped me cut down the largest bushes. As he cut the larger branches I yanked at the 1-3 year starts, quickly creating a huge pile of greenery that overwhelmed my three empty composters.

I continue the battle, waiting for days after a good rain to walk through my hillside garden and yank at all of the plant starts I can find.

 This pile of bush honeysuckle were yanked out of the ground and are now in the compost pile.

This pile of bush honeysuckle were yanked out of the ground and are now in the compost pile.

For those plants that have tried to escape my attention, red yarn decorates their trunks so that they are targeted for removal once my handyman brings his chain saw over for a day. I have my own chainsaw but my brother David made it clear I was not to use it on my own. It’s good advice, I’ve been known to unbeknownst to myself at the time stab myself with a trowel. Or a bread knife.

Missouri Department of Conservation suggests the best time to tackle these plants is fall, after leaves fall, when their sap is receding and one can apply any one of those site-specific weed killers. Since I have honeybees, I don’t use those products on my property, relegating me to the ongoing battle of pulling the plants as often as I can and denying them an opportunity to produce berries.

These plants grow almost everywhere: lake and stream banks, marshes, fens, sedge meadows, wet and dry prairies, savannas, floodplain and upland forests and woodlands.

A recently introduced pest, the European Honeysuckle aphid, somewhat controls flower and fruit production in some of the bush honeysuckles. Heavy bug infestations cause tips of branches to form "witches' brooms" or deformed twigs, often greatly reducing fruit production. Native ladybug beetles, however, have been noted to control the aphids.

Guess this will continue to be my battle as long as I don’t drive myself off the road!

Charlotte

Miniature Roses

 Miniature roses are shrub roses that are easy to grow and continuously bloom most of the season.

Miniature roses are shrub roses that are easy to grow and continuously bloom most of the season.

Miniature Roses

Of all of the garden flowers I grow, one of my favorites are the miniature rose varieties. They come in a wide range of colors; are relatively hardy; bloom profusely when planted in the right conditions and are easy to incorporate into desk-friendly cut flower arrangements.

Most of my miniature roses were giveaways from community lunches, friends gardens and garden sales. Valentine's Day and Mother's Day are favorite holidays for giving roses so the weeks afterwards are a good time to check for marked down plants. Focus on the health of the plant and leaves, you can always cut off the spent flowers and encourage new budding.

Plant miniature roses where they will get at least 6 hours of morning sun in a southern exposure in well-composted soil. Miniature roses are shallow-rooted so I mix in shredded leaves to help them retain water.

Once planted, add mulch and leave the area under the plant clear 4-6" of mulch.

During the growing season, I give my roses a banana peel, crushed egg shells, used coffee grounds and a dash of epson salts in between doses of fresh compost mixed into the soil around them.

 Miniature roses are also charming cut flowers, the perfect size for desk arrangements.

Miniature roses are also charming cut flowers, the perfect size for desk arrangements.

Once you get your first miniature rose growing well, the flowers will bloom for weeks on the plant, another wonderful reason to add these hardy perennials to your garden.

Miniature roses are hardy outside in USDA zone 5 and up.

Charlotte

September Gardening Chores

 Plant new flower beds with a cover crop to keep the soil well conditioned. Buckwheat grows fast, has a lovely white flower and can easily be mulched. It is also a good fall pollen source for bees.

Plant new flower beds with a cover crop to keep the soil well conditioned. Buckwheat grows fast, has a lovely white flower and can easily be mulched. It is also a good fall pollen source for bees.

September Gardening Chores

Where has the time gone? It’s almost fall, another season, time to start getting the garden ready for winter.

If you have been fertilizing, it is time to stop. Plants need to start slowing down and get out of the growth they usually pursue through spring and summer, even without the boost of fertilizers. Add a last dollop of compost mixed in the soil and that should be it for this season.

Do keep watering trees and shrubs from now through hard frost. In USDA Zone 5b, our first hard frost is usually mid to end of October.

Start cleaning up flower beds and vegetable gardens by removing spent plants and saving seeds.  Leave the ragweed to treat the soil, they will die once their work is done.

If you plan to start a new garden next year, do the soil preparation now so the area will be ready for any planting you are planning to do early next spring.

For later use, plan on bringing some of your herbs inside include parsley, chives, rosemary and stevia. Basil can also be brought inside; sow seeds now to get new plants started for later use.

Good time to move peonies. I have several I buried the eyes too deep so when replanting, remember to not bury any more than an inch or two beneath the soil surface. Daylilies and iris can also be dug up and divided now.

Make notes in your garden diary about to dos for next year. Note what plants worked well this year, what seeds you had meant to plant but didn’t get to – whatever you want to tackle next year.

Have favorite annuals? I do, too, and I trim them now before bringing them inside. You can also take root cuttings and start young plants if you have good indoor light. Geraniums, coleus, wax begonias, impatiens all will winter over inside if you keep them pinched and bushy. Geraniums will winter over stored in brown bags without soil.

Order spring bulbs. Daffodils are toxic to deer so they won’t get munched on. Tulips are not so buy a few for color, then plant them behind a solid wall with wire if you don’t want wildlife snacking on them in the meantime.

If you have left over Amaryllis bulbs, put them in a dry, dark place without water and let them rest for a couple of months. If you want to time when they bloom, pot and water them 6 weeks prior to when you want them in bloom.

 Cut herbs to dry for later use. Catnip is a favorite cat treat around my house so this is the first herb I cut to dry for winter enjoyment by my pets. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Cut herbs to dry for later use. Catnip is a favorite cat treat around my house so this is the first herb I cut to dry for winter enjoyment by my pets. (Photos by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Start trimming plants you plan to bring inside to overwinter.

My deck is starting to get covered in leaves so I am sweeping them off to the composter and getting those emptied onto the flower beds. Don’t bag and rake clippings, leave them on your lawn to return Nitrogen to the soil.

This is also a good time to stock up on mulch. Buy it in bulk or load up at your local recycling center before they close down for the season.

Charlotte

Garden Visitors

 Grasshopper on Double Delight blooming rose at Bluebird Gardens.

Grasshopper on Double Delight blooming rose at Bluebird Gardens.

Garden Visitors

I'm either getting a little particular or a little spoiled, maybe both. When I see a flower in bloom, I am a tad disappointed if it doesn't have a visitor of some sort.

Over the years, my chemical-free wildlife garden has been teeming with bugs, from those who make their home next to mine to the honeybees I invited to join us about 7 years ago. 

The bees spurred my interest in seeing who and what was visiting flowers, in part to see what variety interests them and when. My gardening buddy Tom and I compare notes on what flowers our honeybees are on, although to this day he seems quite put out that his bees don't like to visit his goldenrod while mine do. Missouri has 22 different species of goldenrod blooming from June through September so it may be we have different species blooming but it's fun to get Tom riled up. Well, as riled as Tom will every get, I suspect.

My first garden visitor to capture my interest was a ladybug - a real one, not the Eastern Japanese beetles - that rode into my house on my left garden boot. I gently picked her up and took her back outside, wondering if she had found a supply of aphids to keep her well-fed.

It was a nice memory when earlier this summer I was working with my brother in his Virginia garden. We had just wrapped it up for the day when he came into the kitchen where I was talking to his wife, a towel wrapped around his waist, and he handed me a ladybug that had accompanied him inside. As the big sister, there was a tinge of pride that I had corrupted him early.

Having a camera in hand has encouraged my quest for the garden visitor. When I walk through my garden with my camera, my eye is drawn to the movement of garden visitors, as if they are paying my flowers their respects. Some flowers entertain a lot of insects all at once, others like this Double Delight hybrid tea rose welcome one visitor at a time.

Regardless, it's fun to quietly watch interaction between the flowers and bugs. There is no doubt watching the garden visitors that we are all connected!

Charlotte

Runaway Cucumbers

 My cucumbers are growing in pots on the second floor deck facing west.

My cucumbers are growing in pots on the second floor deck facing west.

Runaway Cucumbers

I was walking around my garden one morning and, at the top of the hill, I spotted my cucumbers trying to run away.

Actually they weren't running, they were more like meandering out of their deck pots and making a relatively leisurely track down the deck.

This was my first year to grow cucumbers from seeds in my pot garden, or my vertical deck garden for those people who look quizzically at me when I call it a pot garden. I grow only vegetables and some herbs but calling it a pot garden offers some exciting possibilities.

 Both cucumber plants are outgrowing their pots and need more support.

Both cucumber plants are outgrowing their pots and need more support.

When I checked the deck, the cucumber plants had definitely wound their way around the small white trellises in each pot and moved over the railing. Or in the case of one of the plants, through the side of the railing.

For next year, I will have to use larger trellises to keep the cucumber plants happy.

Duly noted!

Charlotte

Surprise Lilies

Surprise lilies budding at Bluebird Gardens.

Surprise Lilies

Several friends have told me they are a bit worried this year. Their surprise lilies Lycoris squamigera have popped up earlier than usual, they said, starting to bloom mid-July as opposed to early August. Is this one of those signs that winter will also be earlier than usual?

Also called Resurrection lilies, mine also started to pop up mid-July but, as I told them, the plant name suggests trying to time when these perennials bloom is probably not a good idea. After all, it’s supposed to be unexpected, isn’t it?

According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, plants in the genus Lycoris are sometimes commonly called resurrection flower, surprise lily or magic lily because the leaves disappear in summer with the flower spikes seemingly rising from the dead in late summer.

And while I am on the background of this delightful plant family , the genus name Lycoris is in honor of Mark Anthony’s mistress, and it wasn’t Cleopatra.

North America's Amaryllis Cousin

Surprise lilies are north American cousins to the Amaryllis we tend to see for sale around Christmas.  The Christmas Amaryllis won’t survive our Midwest winters but surprise lilies are perennials in our USDA zone 5b growing area.

Surprise lily leaves appear in spring, collecting energy through those leaves and storing it in the below ground bulbs, then turning the leaves yellow and dying off. Then mid-summer, seemingly all of a sudden, a green stalk with buds at the top appear, heralding the arrival of what some people also call the “naked ladies.”

The princess pink aromatic flowers last several days as cut flowers.  The green stems will curl up at the bottom of a flower vase, forming an interesting artistic pattern all of their own.

Cut surprise lilies in a vase at Bluebird Gardens.

Surprise lilies have been a popular landscaping addition for a number of decades in the Midwest and sometimes mark abandoned homesteads.

How to Care for Surprise Lilies

If you have surprise lilies in your garden, or are given bulbs to plant, these are relatively low maintenance.

Surprise lily bulbs should be separated every 5 years or so or they will grow too thick to bloom.

The best time to move surprise lily bulbs is right after they bloom. I have also successfully moved surprise lilies as the green leaves were dying off mid-spring. Regardless of when you dig them up, start a good 5 inches from the edge of where you think the bulbs are so you don’t cut into the bulbs.

If the ground is dry, wet it down first before digging up the bulbs to minimize damage to roots.

Transplant to an area with room to grow. I mix compost and some aged mulch into the soil to help the bulbs get a good start once they are ready to grow.

I also try to plant them where I will remember they are located so I am not digging into them later thinking this is a free spot to plant something else.

Intersperse surprise lilies with pink phlox and plant them behind daylilies and iris, which provide the plants some cover as they bloom.

Charlotte

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