Rose Pruning

Inspiration to learn how to prune roses, it is relatively simple once you follow a few steps.

Inspiration to learn how to prune roses, it is relatively simple once you follow a few steps.

Rose Pruning

Ok, it’s that time! If you are one of those people who have wondered through the year when you should be pruning your roses, the time is now. I look for green stems by St. Patrick’s Day, a good way to remember what time of year roses should be pruned.

To prune roses, start with sharp trimmers cleaned with alcohol so you are not spreading last year’s diseases. I use old socks soaked in rubbing alcohol to wipe down my trimmers. I also make sure the trimmers have been sharpened so the cuts are clean; using dull trimmers will cause stem tissue damage to the plant and invite diseases as well as slow down growth.

Now pruning anything can be nerve-racking. The good thing to remember is that most plants, including roses, are forgiving so take a deep breath.

The second tip is to take your time.  When I first started pruning, I tied pieces of yarn and old bread ties where I was thinking of cutting. I would adjust the cutting plan before actually making the cut. If I made a cut and didn't like it, I would remind myself of tip number one.

After trying several different approaches, here is how I start. I first remove any and all dead stems, that usually gives a better view of what's left behind and what you should trim next. Go slowly; some branches that are dead may only be dormant. If in doubt, first scrape the branch gently with your fingernail to expose what's underneath. If it's green, that branch is still alive.

Some branches may be yellow green; that means it may be dying but it could rally with a little help so don’t give up on it just yet. Definitely mark that rose for a little extra soil conditioning and give each plant ¼ cup dried coffee grounds, half to one banana peel and 2 tablespoons Epsom salt mixed together. I also add crushed egg shells and dried orange peels when I have them. Feed once a month through the growing season.

You want to keep a shape that leaves air circulating through the center so remove branches that crisscross or are in-growing.

Now that the dead branches are gone, and then the criss-crossing ones have been removed, what is left is almost done.

Look for the pink nodes facing outwards, that's where you want to cut to encourage growth.

Look for the pink nodes facing outwards, that's where you want to cut to encourage growth.

Look carefully at what is growing where. Find the pink nodes facing outwards, that’s where the plant will grow. Cut the branch 1/4 inch above the swollen bud at a 45 degree angle, that will encourage the branch to grow outward.

In general, also follow the following guidelines:

If you want your rose bush to be about the same size as it was last year, cut it down by half.

If you want a smaller shrub, prune to one third of its original size.

If you want something larger, prune to two thirds of its original size.

If this is your first year growing roses, prune much lighter at first; I usually wait until at least the second year before doing any pruning.

Charlotte

Fleece Coat Saving Blooms

My old fleece coat covered my compact dwarf peach blossoms during the last winter storm.

My old fleece coat covered my compact dwarf peach blossoms during the last winter storm.

Fleece Coat Saving Blooms

If you pick up any gardening catalog, there are a number of fancy products to help protect plants from winter damage, from special coverings to water wands that deliver a mist to keep below freezing temperatures from damaging blooms.

Over the years, I have tried a number of options to protect my compact dwarf fruit trees from late winter freezing temperatures and this year was no exception. The week before spring, five days of below freezing temperatures threatened to nip all of my blooming fruit trees.

Without pause, I raided my closet and pulled out all of my extra winter coats to wrap around my small compact dwarf fruit trees. Most easily fit around the blooms without causing damage, and the extra large fleece jacket fit around the older of the three peach trees.

Peach blossoms were protected under my old fleece coat.

Peach blossoms were protected under my old fleece coat.

After five days of waiting to see how they would do, it was time to check inside the jacket.

Carefully unbuttoning the front, I peeked inside to find all of the peach blossoms were still intact, even still blooming. 

There may still be homegrown peaches to sample in my future this season, not to mention my best-dressed fruit trees.

Charlotte

Protecting Fruit Trees

Wrapping coats around flowering compact dwarf fruit trees helps protect blooms.

Wrapping coats around flowering compact dwarf fruit trees helps protect blooms.

Protecting Fruit Trees Late Winter

Spring is literally only days away but winter is making one heck of a last hurrah this year. After several weeks of spring-like weather, five days of below freezing weather, including a hard frost have zapped my lovely blooming daffodils, hyacinths and possibly compact dwarf fruit trees.

Or maybe not.

After trying a number of different materials, I have found that wrapping my compact dwarf fruit trees in some of my winter jackets has successfully worked in keeping the flowers from getting nipped.

It's not the prettiest sight in the garden. Luckily I don't have neighbors close by or I would be a leading candidate to be reported to the lawn police. After all, who wants to be looking over to a neighbor's house to see shapes that look like strange creatures standing around.

My jackets are serving as compact dwarf tree covers during below zero temperatures.

My jackets are serving as compact dwarf tree covers during below zero temperatures.

I ran out of clothing so for my apricot trees, I used fleece blankets under dark honey bed sheets. 

Snow gathered on top of the sheets so I had to remove the snow to prevent the weight from damaging the flowers underneath. When I peeked, most seemed to still be okay but that was before the night with the hard freeze so we will have to see how they fare through those temperatures. It can take a couple of days before I will know wether this was enough protection through those temperatures.

Fleece blankets under bed sheets cover my flowering compact dwarf apricot trees. 

Fleece blankets under bed sheets cover my flowering compact dwarf apricot trees. 

Although this may not work, I couldn't sit back and not try. My compact dwarf fruit trees are small enough that I should be able to cover them if I can just get the right combination of warmth and lightness so that it doesn't damage the blooms.

Charlotte

Blooming Semi-Dwarf Pear Tree

The first blooms on my semi-dwarf Bartlett pear tree enticing my honeybees.

The first blooms on my semi-dwarf Bartlett pear tree enticing my honeybees.

Blooming Semi-Dwarf Pear Tree

I almost cringed at the news, the forecaster called for temperatures to dip into the low 20s and snow.

It's been a record mild winter in Missouri this year, with spring a good 3 weeks earlier than previous years. Besides bees setting up house almost a month early, my compact dwarf fruit trees are also blooming early, not a good development when winter has not finished with us yet.

The biggest impact will be on my semi-dwarf Bartlett pear tree, planted next to my driveway in 1984. This tree had not produced fruit for so long I had actually forgotten I had planted it there until 30 years later when in 2010, I finally saw it in bloom.

What a sight. At first I thought it was snow. That's what one gets from looking out the window without glasses on. On closer inspection, and finding one's glasses, I realized my pear tree had finally found it's bloom.

Another close up of the clustered semi-dwarf flowering Bartlett pear tree blossoms.

Another close up of the clustered semi-dwarf flowering Bartlett pear tree blossoms.

The flowers of Bartlett pears are so pretty, reminiscent of small single roses.

That first year the pear tree bloomed, I had also cleaned out my birdhouses and found an increased number of small wasps nests. As I looked through dozens of pictures I took of the pear tree, I realized the pollination was courtesy of the wasps that had taken up residence in the birdhouses. I haven't looked at wasps the same since.

One of the pictures I took the first year my Bartlett pear tree bloomed thanks to visiting wasps.

One of the pictures I took the first year my Bartlett pear tree bloomed thanks to visiting wasps.

We don't think of wasps as pollinators but they part of the family of insects, birds, bats and other insects and animals that form that fascinating family of pollinators. That was the same year I added honeybees to my garden later in the year. They have joined the wasps visiting the Bartlett pear tree in bloom as well.

Every year since, I wander through the flower beds checking out to see how soon my bees find the rest of the flowering compact dwarf fruit trees. I usually find at least one bee beats me to the flowers.

This is a semi-dwarf Bartlett pear tree full of flowers this year, even though its too early.

This is a semi-dwarf Bartlett pear tree full of flowers this year, even though its too early.

On this particular cloudy, overcast day, I didn't see any bees among the flowers but I still enjoyed looking at all of the white.

When one has waited 30 years to see a tree in bloom, one doesn't get tired of finally seeing flowers. And one does cringe at the thought that all of these beautiful possible pears will be gone if a freeze hits the area.

My beautifully-blooming Bartlett pear tree next to my driveway.

My beautifully-blooming Bartlett pear tree next to my driveway.

My other fruit trees are small enough that I can cover them in coats and sheets but this pear tree is too big to protect.

So every morning, I go outside and check to see if the blooms have made it, hoping that this year in spite of the late winter, I will still get pears later. That's excluding the battle with the squirrels.

Well, one battle at a time.

Charlotte

 

March Gardening Chores

Birdhouses undergoing repairs are drying in the sun before I put them back out in the garden. Repairing birdhouses are one of the many traditional March gardening chores I look forward to getting ready for spring.

Birdhouses undergoing repairs are drying in the sun before I put them back out in the garden. Repairing birdhouses are one of the many traditional March gardening chores I look forward to getting ready for spring.

March Gardening Chores

This is the month when I am ready to push my potted plants wintering inside out but in my heart I know it’s too early, our last frost day is supposed to be in May. 

This year, though, everything seems to be at least one month ahead of schedule. According to the USA National Phenology Network, spring IS a good 3 weeks ahead of schedule for mid-Missouri, a trend forecasted as our rapidly changing climate alters traditional weather patterns and seasons. Phenology is nature’s calendar – when dogwood’s bloom, when a robin builds a nest, when leaves turn color in the fall. These trends gardeners, beekeepers, farmers and others have followed for centuries are now followed by a network. The phenology network combines professionals and citizens collecting a variety of data to monitor signs in nature to better identify trends.

With this shift in what to expect, I have also adjusted a few of my traditional March gardening chores but not enough to take a chance on putting my inside plants outside for the season.

1. Check inside potted plants, trimming and shaping so they are ready to go outside. Prune limbs back at least a third, and remove any criss-crossing branches. I also start feeding them diluted fertilizer, a pinch per gallon of water so they can start growing again.

2. Prune outside roses. Remove dead branches first, then remove any dead canes down to the green.

3. Plant onion sets, lettuce, spinach, radishes; I start those in my pots so I can easily cover them if there’s an evening cold spell.

4. You can also plant broccoli and cauliflower, and I like having snow peas to harvest and individually freeze for later use. Snap peas also prefer cooler spring weather. At the rate we are going with record warm spring temperatures, we may have skipped a long cool spring period this year.

My compact pear tree off my deck is getting ready to bud almost a month earlier than in past years. Watching when trees bud is part of what scientists and citizens in the phenology network to do track nature’s seasonal trends. This year, they confirm spring is 3 weeks ahead of schedule in our part of the country. 

My compact pear tree off my deck is getting ready to bud almost a month earlier than in past years. Watching when trees bud is part of what scientists and citizens in the phenology network to do track nature’s seasonal trends. This year, they confirm spring is 3 weeks ahead of schedule in our part of the country. 

5. Plant potatoes on St. Patrick’s Day.  The trick to planting potato seeds is to cut seed potatoes and let them sit out for 2-3 days to first develop a callous before planting. If you immediately plant, the potato seed piece disintegrates before the potato start can develop roots. 

6. Start herbs, tomatoes, peppers and other seeds in starter pots you want to harden off later before planting outside.

7. There’s no more putting this one off, if you leave your garage door open, even for just a few minutes, birds will let you know they are shopping for real estate and they will not be waiting any longer. I usually make repairs – gluing is usually involved – then let that sit for a few days to dry before painting. I also let the paint dry for another few days before taking the birdhouses back out into the garden. 

8. Don’t trim your mums yet, leave the dry tops for late frost protection.

9. Mark where bulbs are popping up so you don’t do what I do and try to plant something there later. Oh, never mind, it’s like finding treasure.

10. Enjoy spring, it's the season of growth and renewal!

Charlotte

 

 

 

Apricot Trees in Bloom

My compact dwarf apricot tree in bloom almost a month earlier than usual.

My compact dwarf apricot tree in bloom almost a month earlier than usual.

Apricot Tree in Bloom

I have them all over my one-acre hillside gardens, compact dwarf fruit trees instead of ornamental ones. I have planted them for years in the middle of garden beds, in part for color, in other part for the fruit provided I can beat squirrels to it.

These trees provide regular-sized fruit on short stock so they are easy to pick. I have small paths that lead up to the trees for easy access.

I love the rich pink color of the compact apricot trees against the rich green of the vinca.

I love the rich pink color of the compact apricot trees against the rich green of the vinca.

This year, the apricot trees are blooming earlier than usual by about 3 weeks. These two rich, dark pink, flower-covered trees lead to my small herb garden. One is shorter than the other courtesy of visiting deer that trimmed one tree shorter than the other one.

The blooms were particularly thick this year.

Compact dwarf apricot tree should be ready to set fruit this year.

Compact dwarf apricot tree should be ready to set fruit this year.

As I was photographing the flowers, I wondered if my honeybees had paid a visit. A movement out of the corner of my eye answered the question as a pollen-ladden bee landed on a nearby flower.

One of my honeybees visits the compact dwarf apricot tree blossoms.

One of my honeybees visits the compact dwarf apricot tree blossoms.

Hopefully this will be a good year for fruit yields from these trees courtesy of my bees.

Charlotte

2017 Year of the Daffodil

It's that time of year when I can pick handsfulls of daffodils to share with friends and family.

It's that time of year when I can pick handsfulls of daffodils to share with friends and family.

2017 is the Year of the Daffodil

Did you know that daffodil bulbs were introduced to North America by pioneer women who made the long ocean voyage from Europe to America to build a new future?

Those European settlers were quite creative with how they travelled. Given limited space for bringing personal goods, they sewed dormant daffodil bulbs into the hems of their skirts to plant at their new North American homes to remind them of the gardens they left behind.  The remnant ancestors of those bulbs still persist today in older gardens in the eastern half of the US, making them a part of our heritage for over 300 years!

Land surveyors at a federal agency where I used to work told me they also used to look for the yellow daffodil swaths as hints for old Missouri homesteads. Many Scottish Irish immigrants settled in Missouri as they were traveling west and their party hit some mishap - a broken axle, injured horse, sick child. Even those settlers carried with them a few bulbs as reminders of their original homes.

Daffodils are popular spring flowers where I live because they are also deer-proof. Daffodils belong to the Amaryllidaceae plant family. The official botanical genus name for Daffodils is narcissus, which comes from the Greek word ‘Narkissos’ and its base word ‘Narke’, meaning sleep or numbness, attributed to the sedative effect from the alkaloids in its plants. 

I have daffodils all over my one-acre limestone hillside, some gifts, others rescues from other gardens, few purchased. Although it's not always easy to dig holes, the bulbs do settle in and naturalize, even in the hardest limestone and sandstone hillsides.

This is a good time of year to mark where they are growing if you want to move them later. I prefer them scattered throughout the hillside so I can enjoy seeing them out of all of my windows.

And I can always find room for more. In my world, daffodils are "in" every year.

Charlotte

Winter Tomatoes

My winter tomato plant is nicely setting fruit in one of my living room windows. One of the challenges of growing tomatoes inside is the lack of insect pollinators but Howard appears to have had some visitors before I brought him inside. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

My winter tomato plant is nicely setting fruit in one of my living room windows. One of the challenges of growing tomatoes inside is the lack of insect pollinators but Howard appears to have had some visitors before I brought him inside. (Photo by Charlotte Ekker Wiggins)

Winter Tomatoes

Over the years, I have mentioned to friends that I grow tomatoes in winter. I know there are some skeptics so meet Howard, my tomato plant for this winter.

Howard is probably a Roma by the shape of the fruit. It’s a good guess because I tend not to worry about labeling my plants. I can tell one vegetable from another and, when it comes to tomatoes, I like them all. If I have to distinguish the variety, I vote for taste sampling.

Now Howard had a rough summer last year. Actually he wasn’t much of a tomato plant at all, if you count being a tomato plant as actually going to fruit. Howard was the tomato plant that had all leaves eaten off by tomato hornworms when the caterpillars discovered my deck garden plants.

Happens every year. The little tomato plant starts look beautiful for awhile, turning my corner deck garden into an amazing lush green wonderland. Then one morning, I find the telltale green pellets on the ground, a sure sign that caterpillars are gorging themselves on the tomato leaves.

Tornado hornworms turn into hummingbird moths.

Tornado hornworms turn into hummingbird moths.

Since those caterpillars turn into beautiful pollinating hummingbird moths, I don’t destroy the caterpillars. Instead, I carefully pick them off and move them to a tomato plant I set aside on the side of the deck. As long as I find all of the caterpillars, they leave the rest of my tomato plants to fruit in peace and peacefully finish their metamorphosis.

It was a good caterpillar crop so poor Howard ended up pretty nude by the end of the summer growing season. I almost forgot about him until October, when I bring my tropical plants inside. He was sitting behind one of the tropical hibiscus; I assumed he was spent. Instead, he was showing very healthy new growth so I cleaned him up and brought him inside as my one winter tomato plant.

Tomatoes are perennial plants in their native Peru. They are also heavy feeders, which means they need rich soil with healthy microorganisms to keep them alive and growing. To make sure they have nutrients they need, I added composted soil, Epsom salt and worm castings, giving them three different sources. I wasn’t sure the flowers would get pollinated but apparently a few did or I would not have fruit ripening.

Just as in our summer gardens, winter tomatoes also prefer even watering. To make sure Howard didn’t dry out, I added a plastic bottle with holes buried up to the bottle opening so that when I water, the soil gets more evenly soaked.

I keep trying, though, because more often than not, I have one tomato plant growing all winter and making it into spring next year. The longest growing tomato plant – so far – was one that grew for 4 years.

Howard tomato plants turning red, almost ready enough to pick!

Howard tomato plants turning red, almost ready enough to pick!

With Howard in a pot sitting in a southern exposure window, I started getting ripe tomatoes by mid-January. They aren’t as sweet as summer-ripened tomatoes but they are better than any tomatoes I have purchased during winter.

Nice treat to enjoy in the middle of the non-growing, snowy season.

Charlotte

Recycled Pussy Willows

Pussy Willow buds are soft as cat fur and when in bloom are wonderful sources of pollen for bees.

Pussy Willow buds are soft as cat fur and when in bloom are wonderful sources of pollen for bees.

Recycled Pussy Willows

I have always wanted to add these charming perennials to my garden but just never found them on sale. 

This sprig came from a cut down bush dropped off at our local recycling center, the branches still fresh and green. Worth a try to get them rooted, especially since now I have a place where I can put them safely away from curious cat paws looking for a new play toy.

Trimmed at an angle, the pussy willow branches are now in a pot hopefully rooting.

Trimmed at an angle, the pussy willow branches are now in a pot hopefully rooting.

Many shrub branches can be started like this. Cut the branch about 8 inches long with a 45-degree clean angle cut and remove any greenery that will be under the soil.

I added a little root cutting stimulator, make a small hole in the damp potting soil and added the pussy willow branch. I added several in case not all of them take but I am told these plants are easy to root. Once I know they have started, I will move them into individual pots.

Pussy willows are one of the first flowering trees in late winter and early spring. Having more pollen sources in my garden for my bees will help them have more food sources at a time when little is available.

These can also be rooted in a jar of water but I had the extra potting soil available.

In another 4 weeks or so, I will peek to see if the roots have started.

Charlotte

Winter-Blooming Daffodils

These daffodils are blooming a good month earlier than they should be.

These daffodils are blooming a good month earlier than they should be.

Winter-Blooming Daffodils

There really is no such thing, winter-blooming daffodils. There are species of daffodils that bloom early, in the past sometime mid-March, depending on weather. A good rain, even with cold temperatures, could coax greenery out of the ground long enough so that sunshine would bring a bud to the surface.

This year, traditional blooming patterns are kicking off the year even more unpredictably than they were last year. Hellebores, which usually start blooming mid-January were not setting bud until a month later. Daffodils, which don't bloom until mid-March, the beginning of spring, were nodding their bright yellow heads a month early, which inspired me to call them winter-blooming. That was also confusing because although mid-February, temperatures were in the 60s, breaking yet another record for the warmest recorded days.

Ok, I'm not loosing my mind. According to the National Phenology Network, "spring continues to arrive three or more weeks early – now making an appearance in Missouri, West Virginia, and the southern parts of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio. Washington DC is 22 days early."

USA National Phenology Network has a simple mission: "We bring together citizen scientists, government agencies, non-profit groups, educators and students of all ages to monitor the impacts of climate change on plants and animals in the United States."

Nature's Notebook, a citizens involvement program, is quantifying what gardeners and beekeepers have been doing for years, collecting observations and comparing notes. In the case of spring-time, they are suggesting this trend will continue:

"By mid-century, early springs and late-season freezes will likely become the new normal, which may result in more large-scale plant tissue damage and agricultural losses."

Let's hope we also will continue to have winter-blooming daffodils. Hard to think of spring without lovely yellow cheery daffodils.

Charlotte

 

 

Yellow Hellebores in Bloom

How about that, the mystery hellebores are yellow doubles!

How about that, the mystery hellebores are yellow doubles!

Yellow Hellebores In Bloom

I picked up these wonderful perennial winter-blooming plants on sale a couple of years ago. Because they were on sale, I didn't know what they were in terms of color, I just knew they were hellebores and I wanted to add more to my hillside Missouri garden.

Hellebores are very interesting perennials. They bloom usually in the middle of cold midwest winters. their flowers the only blooms within miles. The flowers are actually leaves protecting the center stamens were the seed pods grow, usually appearing by late April.

This year, my established hellebores didn't start to bloom until mid-February, which is about a month later than in the past. The rest of my garden is also a bit off schedule. I have bulbs growing a good three weeks ahead of schedule with the exception of crocus, which in the past have bloomed on Valentine's Day, February 14. I have half a mind to give up trying to guess when something is going to be in bloom except that I have bees and I keep track of what's in bloom to track their food sources.

Although my hellebore plants were close to where they were picking up pollen substitute, my bees were not showing any interest in the budding flowers.

I am glad to finally find out what color these mystery hellebores on sale are. It's a nice surprise to know they are yellow double hellebores and will fit right into my spring landscape along with all of the other yellow daffodils and tulips.

That has a nice ring to it - spring.

Charlotte

 

Picking Up Injured Bird

Picking Up Injured Bird

Have you seen bird bodies in the middle of a road? I have, and when I can, I stop to pick them up in case they can recover. After this last experience, I will be paying more attention, and stopping more, if I can.

On this particular Saturday, I was headed to the grocery store when I saw a bird standing in the middle of my two-lane road trying to push another bird lying on its side. It reminded me of a video I saw online of a bird trying to push another injured bird up. It was an unusual enough sight that I pulled over to better observe what was going on.

When the standing bird saw my car, it flew off so I got out to check on the bird still on the ground. The bird lying wasn't moving but it was breathing. I didn't see any noticeable injuries but it didn't appear to be able to fly. On closer inspection, it was an Eastern Bluebird, probably hit by a passing car.

I love birds. I have more than 38 birdhouses scattered throughout my 1-acre Missouri hillside garden. Birds are not only fun to watch but they are natural insect predators helping to keep my little garden ecosystem balanced. One of the first species I found on this property were Eastern Bluebirds, which is why when the city asked me to help name my road, I suggested Bluebird - after a few other names were rejected. I was trying to keep the name honest to the area but they didn't think my first choice, "Lizard Ridge," would do much for the property resale value.

Wrapping the injured Eastern Bluebird in a towel I carry in my car, I took the bird home and gently inspected it for any injuries. It was breathing through an open beak so I placed it next to my little front porch waterfall in case it needed a drink.

I placed the Eastern Bluebird I found lying on the road near my front porch waterfall.

I placed the Eastern Bluebird I found lying on the road near my front porch waterfall.

The Eastern Bluebird didn't move. Not knowing how long the Eastern Bluebird had been lying on the ground, I suspected the bird's body temperature might have been going down so I wrapped it back up to stay warm.

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, "the Eastern Bluebird is a small thrush with a big, rounded head, large eye, plump body, and alert posture. The wings are long, but the tail and legs are fairly short. The bill is short and straight. Male Eastern Bluebirds are vivid, deep blue above and rusty or brick-red on the throat and breast. Blue in birds always depends on the light, and males often look plain gray-brown from a distance. Females are grayish above with bluish wings and tail, and a subdued orange-brown breast."

The injured bird close up looked like a female Eastern Bluebird. Her coloring was muted, as opposed to the bright feathers of the male Eastern Bluebirds I see periodically in my garden.

My garden is a certified wildlife habitat. Over the years, I have nursed and released dozens of wild animals back into the wild, all with the full knowledge of the Missouri Department of Conservation.

After taking down one of my bird cages in the garage, I made a little nest of paper towels in an old plastic container, wrapped the Eastern Bluebird in fleece and hung the bird cage outside in a tree.

The injured Eastern Bluebird resting in a makeshift nest in a bird cage hanging from a tree.

The injured Eastern Bluebird resting in a makeshift nest in a bird cage hanging from a tree.

At first the Eastern Bluebird lay in the make shift nest with her eyes closed. It was hard not to check on her every few minutes but I finally walked away so she could rest in peace.

Caged Eastern Bluebird started opening her eyes for a minute, then closing them.

Caged Eastern Bluebird started opening her eyes for a minute, then closing them.

Of course I didn't stay away, I kept going back to check on how she was doing and making sure she was tucked in and warm. 

About half an hour later, she was opening and closing her eyes but she was still not showing a lot of energy.

Her body temperature, however, was warmer so I tucked her in tightly again and forced myself inside to get a cup of tea.

This was a good sign, her eyes were open and bright, she may have just recovered.

This was a good sign, her eyes were open and bright, she may have just recovered.

After another half an hour, her eyes were fully open and bright so I decided to take her out to see if she could fly. 

Gently removing her from the fleece, I opened my hands and off she flew into a nearby tree.

Recovering Eastern Bluebird perches in a nearby tree in Bluebird Gardens.

Recovering Eastern Bluebird perches in a nearby tree in Bluebird Gardens.

She sat on a nearby tree branch for several minutes before moving on. I like to think she knew where to find the male Eastern Bluebird that was trying to nudge her when she was lying on the road.

As I watched her fly off, I thought about how bluebirds are a symbol of happiness and how her recovery made me very, very happy.

Charlotte

2017 Phelps County Master Gardener Core Course Registration Open

Print this form off and register for the spring 2017 core course to be a master gardener.

Print this form off and register for the spring 2017 core course to be a master gardener.

2017 Phelps County Master Gardener Core Course Registration Open

I can still remember how excited I was about getting ready to register for this first master gardener class.  It was not that long ago, although wanting to be a master gardener had been on my to do list for much longer.

What I enjoyed about these series of University of Missouri gardening courses was that they were Missouri-specific, had very practical applications and I could go home and apply the information in my own garden. 

My favorite class was the one on soils, an intricate world I knew was fundamental but never suspected was so fascinating. To this day when someone tells me something is not growing well I start looking first at how they are treating their soils.

The other aspect of these classes I enjoyed was getting to know my classmates. Some were attending classes as the foundation for businesses they had always wanted to pursue; others were tired of not getting anything to grow and wanted to cure their black thumbs, and yet even more wanted Missouri-specific recommendations on what varieties to grow. I'm not positive but I do believe our class still holds the record for keeping the Mountain Grove Fruit Experiment Station lecturer the longest after class discussing blueberry, strawberry and raspberry varieties to plant. 

Once these classes are completed, students volunteers for 30 hours in approved projects to become a certified master gardener, contributing back to their communities in a variety of ways from teaching to designing gardens.

The deadline to register for this spring 2017 class is Thursday, February 23. Cost is $150. Contact University of Missouri Phelps County Extension, 200 North Main, Rolla, Mo. (573) 458-6260.

Charlotte

 

Miniature Red Roses on Sale

Now this is what I call a great sale, and to have it attached to a flowering plant, even better.

Now this is what I call a great sale, and to have it attached to a flowering plant, even better.

Miniature Red Roses on Sale

I had popped into a nearby grocery store to get warm when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the 49 cent sale sign over the word "floral." My mother used to joke I could have my glasses off and still spot a plant on sale.

Meandering over to the sale rack, I found the sign was on the side of a row of miniature red roses, most of them with spent blooms. The plants themselves were still dark green and strong so I knew they were still growing. I picked three. I stick with the rule of uneven numbers to decorate, even with plants.

The sale price was attached to these red miniature roses, now on their way to my house.

The sale price was attached to these red miniature roses, now on their way to my house.

The lady at the check-out wasn't sure these would pull through but I was. These were marked down just because they had stopped blooming. A little time and sun, and they would be back to being appreciated.

I cut off the yellowing buds, sprayed the leaves with a room-temperature water mist, let drip dry, then mixed worm castings from my worm farms in a corner of the potted soil. I thought about un-potting them first but the soil was loose enough to easily add the castings and fluff them into the existing soil.

Worm castings are now available in bags at most garden centers. You can also make small worm farms in a garage corner with kitchen scraps and a handful of red wrigglers and collect your own during the growing season.

The potted roses spent a few days in a sunny spot and soon the rest of the buds were starting to open.

One of my friends in the nursery business recently told me sales of roses are down in general, although as a cut flower they are still a popular choice. The most cut red roses are sold for Valentine's Day, although Mother's Day is also a contender.

Over the years, of all of the roses I have grown,  miniature roses are the easiest and hardier ones to grow and, with a little care, will continuously bloom through our USDA zone 5b growing seasons. I enjoy growing the other varieties, too but I won't hesitate buying these small varieties whenever I find them on sale.

After a little compost tea, the roses are my dining room table center decoration.

After a little compost tea, the roses are my dining room table center decoration.

I also used to tell my husband-at-the-time, if he wanted to buy me flowers, I for one would appreciate having them still growing. Once danger of frost is over, I can plant gift flowers in the garden and keep enjoying them through the years.

Look at these now, tucked in a basket on my dining room table. Cut flowers are nice but a basket of potted roses that will keep on growing and blooming - well, even nicer!

Charlotte

February Gardening Chores

Check seeds, most are good for 2-3 years. Old seeds, back, are only good to hold memories!

Check seeds, most are good for 2-3 years. Old seeds, back, are only good to hold memories!

February Garden Chores

There are signs of activity in my hillside garden, ever so slight maybe but activity nevertheless. I am spotting mole runs through some of my walking paths, and the mums I planted last fall are sprouting little tufts of green in the center. I live in USDA Zone 5b.

I know, I should appreciate cold enough days that I have to stay inside but I enjoy sunny, warm days when I can get some things done. Here are my garden chores for February:

1.     Prune trees. I focus first on my compact fruit trees, pruning them into a goblet shape. I have one pear tree that I didn’t prune for many years, now I am trying to catch up by pruning only up to 1/3rd of the tree every year.

2.     Composting yet? If not, this is a good time to pick out and area and get it set up. There are many ways you can compost, from using pallets, reinforced chicken wire or splurge on a self-contained unit. I have three because I knew my wildlife would consider the other methods as fine dining.

3.     Remove dead branches. I used to wait to do this until a branch almost hit me on the head. I now remove them as soon as I see them, even if weather conditions are not conducive to being outside.

4.     Photograph your flower beds. It will give you an easy reference later when you decide to reshape them with plantings. Good bones are important for gardens, too.

5.     Inventory bird baths. How are they doing in terms of giving birds access to water? Add a heater to at least one to make sure your feathered friends have water access. If you have a base or a cut off tree, buy only the bird bath top to make sure you have a source of drinking water. My little waterfall off my front porch has been running most of the winter, inviting all sorts of birds and wildlife to take a drink including 9 bluebirds and 3 robins at the same time. I also enjoy having birds on my favorite throws like this birds in the garden. Keeps me warm!

February is a good month to get your key garden tools sharpened, such as my favorite pick ax.

February is a good month to get your key garden tools sharpened, such as my favorite pick ax.

 

6.     Get your gardening tools sharpened. Many home and garden centers offer this service so if you haven’t checked, this is a good time to do so.

7.     Save milk jugs, toilet paper rolls, kitty litter containers. You can use milk jugs for early spring plant covers; make planting pots out of toilet paper rolls and repurpose empty kitty litter containers into watering cans.  Save a few extra to exchange with other gardening friends who may have plastic bottles you can puncture holes in and bury in pots for watering.

8.     Check indoor plants for mealy bugs and other pests. Usually by now those bugs have found a foothold and need some nudging to leave.

9.     If you haven’t ordered gardening catalogs, do so now. Catalogs are good references for names and plant care. Plant tags have become very generic and almost not much help so get at least one catalog you can use as a reference.

10. Have your early spring seeds picked out? Lettuce, spinach, peas all like cool spring growing conditions.

What are your February garden chores?

Charlotte

 

Lenten Roses

Lenten Rose, also called Hellebore, in bloom in my garden.

Lenten Rose, also called Hellebore, in bloom in my garden.

Lenten Roses

For many years, Hellebore niger were expensive plants. So expensive that I promised myself only to splurge when I saw them on sale.

Several years later, I found my first Hellebore, also called Lenten Roses, for $3. Having no experience about how they grew, I planted them in a shady area where I could watch them from the comfort of my living room chair. If this plant was going to bloom in the middle of winter, I didn’t want to miss it. Ok, so I also didn’t want to commit myself to going outside to my garden, in the cold, to check on it.

On the third winter, I found my first Lenten Rose in bloom, a dark rich burgundy blooming against the snow-covered ground. What’s even more amazing is that these flowers lasted – are you ready for this – until early May.

Turns out Hellebore “flowers” are actually leaves that turn color. The flowers, much like Poinsettias, are actually teeny tiny inside the colored leaves we mistake for petals. The “flowers” gradually turn, fading from a deep burgundy to pink as the flowers inside form seed pods.

I was hooked. Now my visits to plant sales included a search for more Hellebores. I ended up with half a dozen or so, different colors planted in shady areas where I can easily see them from my walking paths.

Now I do go out, even in cold weather, and check to see if they are blooming. Considering that nothing else is in bloom outside at the same time, they are easy to find, the buds and flowers waiving over dark green leaves. When fully grown, the plants are a feet tall with dark green leaves that remain dark for most of the year.

Lenten Roses are also easy to grow. The base of the plant needs to be planted one inch below the soil line, no deeper. Plant it right the first time because their roots grow deep.

They like more alkaline soil rich with compost and humus, and need some protection from winter winds. I mulch them after the first frost and have them on the east side of my house, which gives them good wind protection. I also planted one under a bird feeder, not such a good idea. Those Lenten Roses are more apt to be damaged by squirrels and birds trying to get to the bird seed that falls around them.

These perennials are also called Christmas Roses.  According to legend, a young shepherdess named Madelon was tending her sheep one wintry night. A group of wise men and other shepherds passed by, bearing gifts for the newly born Jesus.

Madelon wept because she had no gifts to bring. An angel appeared and brushed away the snow to reveal a most beautiful white flower tipped with pink.

I have a Hellebore in that color combination, just haven’t seen it bloom yet in my garden this year. Yet another one of the very few reasons I look forward to winter. That and hot chocolate on a snowy day.

Charlotte

 

Recycle Christmas Greenery

Recycle Christmas trees as wildlife cover, a fish nursery or take to a recycling center for mulch.

Recycle Christmas trees as wildlife cover, a fish nursery or take to a recycling center for mulch.

Recycle Christmas Greenery

Bless my brother, he didn't even ask why almost as soon as I got back into town, I was texting him from the recycling center. I was curious how many people would be recycling Christmas greenery. Did you know that 75% of what is hauled off to landfills could be recycled? A good percentage of recyclables are easily compostable materials such as Christmas trees, leaves and kitchen scraps.

My brother has started composting. He told me he was amazed at how quickly he has less in his garbage. He started by saving kitchen scraps in a plastic bag stored in the top freezer drawer for easy access. When the bag is full, he takes it outside to a handy composter sitting next to his garage. I suggested he could also bury it in holes in his garden but he lives in northern Minnesota; his garden is frozen seven months out of the year. On the other hand, he's proud to report they have one of the lowest crime rates in the country so there's something to be said about living in tundra conditions.

Besides kitchen scraps, live Christmas trees and other greenery can also easily be recycled, even if it is cold. After removing all decorations, including tinsel:

  • Pull off or cut off tree branches and boughs to cover roses and other tender plants, if you haven't already. The best time to mulch is after the first hard frost. Mulch is basically a blanket to maintain soil temperature around plants. With our ever-fluctuating temperatures, it's even more important now to make sure plants have consistent soil temperature so they can maintain their winter dormancy.  Trees that are particularly affected by fluctuating temperatures, and should also be mulched, include cherries and Japanese maples.
  • If you have a pond, tie a rock to the denuded tree and sink it in your pond. It will provide a nursery area and good cover for baby fish and tadpoles.
  • Place the tree in a corner where birds can use it for protection. One year, we "planted" one of our live cedar trees back in the yard with pinecones with peanut butter and strings of popcorn. It was highly entertaining to watch all of the wildlife that made use of that tree for the rest of winter, especially song birds and wild turkeys. Once wild turkeys discovered the popcorn strings, they spent several days working them out of the tree. I can still remember them walking off, dragging popcorn strings behind them.

If you are more interested in wood chips, most recycling centers allow local residents to haul off wood chips for free. Wood chips make great cover for walking paths and, once dry, are great for mulching flower beds and trees. 

Smaller trees like cut cedars work well as outside brooms to clear off paths.

Charlotte

Wildflower Folklore

One of the books I picked up at our local library sale for reading on a snowy winter day.

One of the books I picked up at our local library sale for reading on a snowy winter day.

Wildflower Folklore

Every year, our local library volunteers have two book sales and I make myself a winter reading box for what I find. Not that I stay out of the box before a snowy day but the idea is to have a stash of books I get to first read on a snowy, icy winter day when schools are closed and most are home staying warm and safe.

This year, when I reached into my snowy winter day box, "Wildflower Folklore" by Laura C. Martin was the first book I grabbed. It was a nice choice because even though we have had a relatively mild winter so far, I was missing my wildflower garden flowers.

This sweet book has the history of listing flowers as well as drawings of what they look like for easy identification.

I opened the first pages to one of my favorite native Missouri flowers, blue-eyed grass, the smallest member of the Iris family.

Wildflowers Folklore has history and drawings of featured flowers, such as blue-eyed grass.

Wildflowers Folklore has history and drawings of featured flowers, such as blue-eyed grass.

Here's a patch of blue-eyed grass blooming in my garden, love their delicate size and color.

Here's a patch of blue-eyed grass blooming in my garden, love their delicate size and color.

How flowers got their names is part of the story, as well as the background to some of those names. I was happy to see a reference that bees like blue-eyed grass, more because I have seen my bees visiting the flowers when they are in bloom.

Charlotte

Bluebirds at Front Porch Waterfall

The first bluebird, and robin, take a drink out of the waterfall off my front porch.

The first bluebird, and robin, take a drink out of the waterfall off my front porch.

Eastern Bluebirds at Front Porch Waterfall

One of the things I enjoy doing during winter is watching birds, especially after a snowfall. Curled up in a chair at my front living room window, I can observe the birds in the feeder and woodpeckers visiting several nearby suet stations.

On this particular day, I was walking by my front door when I observed through my glass door window that my little front porch waterfall was also a busy place. An Eastern bluebird was joined by my first robin of the year, both enjoying a drink from the water still running in spite of the cold temperatures.

I was happy to also see another two robins join them. Having hand-raised and released a number of them in my garden, I assumed these were the descendants of the birds I cared for many years ago. Robins, like many birds, return to their birth grounds to raise their young.

More bluebirds show up at my front porch waterfall at Bluebird Gardens.

More bluebirds show up at my front porch waterfall at Bluebird Gardens.

Bluebirds are a staple in my garden. I encourage birds because they help keep the insect population in check, part of my non-chemical bug patrol.

Eastern Bluebirds Identification

According to the Cornell Lap of Ornithology,  the Eastern Bluebird is a small thrush. The brighter birds are males, a combination of bright blue with a burnt orange breast. Blue in birds depends on the light. Males often look plain gray-brown from a distance. Females are grayish above with bluish wings and tail, and a subdued orange-brown breast.

Eastern Bluebirds nest in tree cavities and old woodpecker dens. They feed by dropping to the ground onto insects. In winter, they perch on fruit trees to eat berries. I have also seen them eating berries off the smooth sumac.

I tried to take pictures with my small digital camera through the door glass but my phone worked better. Not the best pictures but you can still get a sense of how many bluebirds were enjoying the water.

Up to nine bluebirds showed up at my waterfall at once to get a drink.

Up to nine bluebirds showed up at my waterfall at once to get a drink.

When temperatures are in the single digits, it's hard for birds to find a water source, which makes my waterfall a popular spot.

Bluebirds are a sign of happiness. I like to think this many bluebirds on my door step are a good omen for the year year ahead.

From all of the bluebirds and I, happy new year and may this year be one full of happiness for you, too!

Charlotte

Milk Jug Greenhouse

This milk jug is protecting a little rose start at the corner of one of my flower beds.

This milk jug is protecting a little rose start at the corner of one of my flower beds.

Milk Jug Greenhouse

It's easy to assume that when someone says "greenhouse," we all imagine a large, house-like structure with glass walls and maybe a tray of plants sitting in a corner.

One of my favorite tiny "greenhouses" are plastic, one gallon milk jugs. I also use clear plastic water bottles the rest of the year but for winter, the opaque gallon milk jugs work quite well.

After cutting the bottom out of the milk jug, I store them stacked on top of one another until I need them, usually close to the first fall frost. Most of the time, I get delicate plants and seedlings insider to winter over but not always. This past year, I had rose starts I was worried about so I deployed my carefully collected milk jug greenhouses.

After making a little trench around the rose starts, I placed a milk jug into the trench and covered it back up with soil so the milk jug would not fly off. 

When the soil around it was dry to the touch, I watered the rose start through the milk jug center.

As temperatures hit single digits, I peeked inside to make sure all was well. So far, so good. 

Will be interesting to see if once spring arrives, the little rose start has survived winter in its little individual greenhouse.

Have you tried to use milk jugs as plant covers?

Charlotte