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 and 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 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 quickly so I wrapped her 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

 

How to Make Amaryllis Bulb Gifts

How to Make Amaryllis Bulb Gifts

No surprise, I suppose, but I like to give plants as gifts, especially a plant that promises beauty in the dead of winter. One of my favorite plants to give as gifts is amaryllis. These native South American bulbs are easy to find at garden centers, especially in winter.

A number of friends have told me they pass them up because they think they are hard to grow. Far from it. Once potted, amaryllis require a little water only when soil goes dry and maybe a stick to hold up the stem once the bud shows up. The flowers are stunning and last 1-2 weeks depending on room temperature.

Part of the fun is watching them grow, the stems can grow an inch or two daily.

To prepare them for gifts, open the amaryllis box to see how far along the bulb is growing. You want a bulb with only the bud tip showing.

If you are gifting this to someone who doesn't think they can grow anything, find a bud that's already growing a few inches. A day or two in a sunny window will turn the blond plant green and it will bloom quickly. 

It still amazes me these flowers will start without even being in soil. They store their energy in the bulb so it doesn't take much to get them started:

Amaryllis bulb getting a start on sprouting still in the gift box.

Amaryllis bulb getting a start on sprouting still in the gift box.

Look for the bud starts, those will turn into flowers. This bulb doesn't have a bud so it will grow leaves to collect energy in the bulb for the next blooming cycle.

To easily turn them into gifts, write up instructions on how to care for the bulbs. I copied my own published gardening article on amaryllis care and added them to the boxed bulbs:

my gardening to distraction article on how to care for amaryllis bulbs explains how to care for these south american flowers.

my gardening to distraction article on how to care for amaryllis bulbs explains how to care for these south american flowers.

No need to be fancy with packaging, just add a ribbon to tie the printed detailed instructions to the bulb boxes.

Once gift-wrapped, store them in a cooler spot away from sun so the bulbs aren't tempted to grow before you give them. These are tropical plants so they don't like temperatures below 60F.

Add a little gift card wishing the recipient well and there you have it, a fun and unusual growing gift for all sorts of occasions!

Boxed amaryllis bulbs with Gardening to Distraction article copies ready for gift-giving.

Boxed amaryllis bulbs with Gardening to Distraction article copies ready for gift-giving.

And guess who is happy to keep the left-overs....

Charlotte

 

Impatiens Patiently Blooming

Even if I don't have impatiens any where else in my garden, I have some in this pot.

Even if I don't have impatiens any where else in my garden, I have some in this pot.

Impatiens Patiently Blooming

For someone who likes to say she doesn't plant many annuals in my Missouri hillside garden, I sure find myself writing about them. Maybe that's because the few I do have stay with me for a long time. I mean a VERY long time.

Take these pink impatiens. Even if I don't have impatiens any where else in my garden, I usually splurge on a sale and pick up a little start for this pot. It's always on it's side, that's the way I like it, as if it turned over one night and the flowers grew spilling out of it.

The year part of the garage was being repaired it was a contest between the contractor and I on who would get to the pot first. The contractor insisted on setting the pot straight, I would set it back on its side. Not sure the poor impatiens knew that year whether they were literally lying or sitting up straight.

This year, they bloomed beautifully outside and I didn't have the heart to leave the plants outside. Having an extra hanging basket available, I snuck the impatiens in the basket and gave them good diffused light in my dining room. Some years they do well with the transplant, other years they don't.

This year, they have been blooming continuously there ever since.

Pink impatiens have been blooming continuously inside ever since in a hanging basket.

Pink impatiens have been blooming continuously inside ever since in a hanging basket.

With this kind of success, I will keep transplanting impatiens inside every fall and keep taking my chances.

Who wouldn't enjoy having these lovely flowers blooming inside all winter and maybe even take them back outside when all danger of frost is passed?

I have been lucky enough in the past to pull some impatiens through that far. Let's see how well I do with these.

Charlotte

Buds Too Soon!

Apricot buds late December 2016.

Apricot buds late December 2016.

Buds Too Soon

There was a time in my life when a warm day in late December was a gift. Not that I don't appreciate being able to spend time outside in sunshine so late in the year. What I don't like to see is the ongoing record warm winter temperatures coaxing buds out of my compact fruit trees like my apples and apricots way too early.

Missouri's weather in 2016 continued to break records all year. It's been part of a trend I started to notice in my garden in the 1990s, slowly at first. In the last decade or so, record hot summer weather has been more frequent, impacting plants, trees and wildlife.

The top part of plants and trees have withered in the punishing heat. I have tried to keep roots soaked, hoping to pull them through the harsh conditions. Wildlife have also been impacted. Twice in that decade squirrels and birds have turned to my fruit trees for food and moisture.

Now this winter so far, weather has turned unusually mild. Bulbs are starting to pop out of the ground far too early; most need between 8-12 weeks  of cold before they can grown greenery and buds to bloom.

More importantly, my compact fruit trees are also showing significant buds forming. Once cold weather sets in again, those buds will freeze and another season will go by without flowers, and more importantly, pollen for my bees.

Four-year old compact apricot tree forming buds late December due to warm weather.

Four-year old compact apricot tree forming buds late December due to warm weather.

If these conditions are setting in on my fruit trees, I wonder what is happening to commercial fruit producers who have much more to loose than I do.

For once, I find myself wishing winter would stay cold for a solid few weeks so my fruit trees stay dormant.

Charlotte

Signs of Mum Life

New growth is starting to appear under my mums.

New growth is starting to appear under my mums.

Signs of Mum Life

What I wouldn't give for a cold front and some snow, I was thinking as I walked through my Missouri hillside garden the day after Christmas 2016. The temperature was again close to 60F, unseasonably warm for Missouri in December. Usually the temperature is closer to freezing.

Trying to look at the bright side of our rapidly changing climate, I decided to take a look at how the chrysanthemums I had planted in October were doing. Most were gifts from a friend who had shared a stash of yellow and darker light brown ones - I like to think of them as honey-colored - we both planted at the end of the growing season. Or what we thought was the end of the growing season.

Once established, mums are perennials that help repel unwanted insects. The first year, however, their roots have to be kept moist until they have a chance to be established.

Remembering the number of days I had dragged gallons of water out in cold weather to pour over the plants, I wondered how successful I had been. I had not stopped long enough in those cold days to peek to see if there was any sign of life.

Even now, in warm, sunny weather, I didn't remove any of the dead flowers and branches. Those serve as as protective cover, if we ever get winter back.

Peeking through those dead branches, there was what I wanted to see, little green ruffles at the center of the plant. Roots are getting settled in. 

So far, so good.

Charlotte

 

Dried Orange Slice Christmas Tree Garland

Dried orange slices strung as a garland through a Christmas tree.

Dried orange slices strung as a garland through a Christmas tree.

Dried Orange Slice Christmas Tree Garland

Did you ever string popcorn for Christmas tree garland? 

I did many years ago. I decorated a small outside cedar only to watch wild turkeys dragging the strung popcorn off as a treat the next morning.

I thought about those wild turkeys when I saw this lovely dried orange slice garland on a Christmas tree at the Henry Shaw country house at Missouri's Botanical Garden, St. Louis.

With Christmas trees staying up all year, or being transformed into Easter home decor, these dried oranges add nice color.

Oranges are a favorite treat of one of my favorite summer garden bird visitors. Luckily Baltimore Orioles have migrated by December or those dried orange slice Christmas tree garlands - or whenever they are used through the year - wouldn't have a chance!

Charlotte

Birds Everywhere

Fun to see how birds seem to be flying all over the place, isn't it!

Fun to see how birds seem to be flying all over the place, isn't it!

Birds Everywhere

Birds are very much a part of my garden. In addition to being welcomed to nest in a variety of bird houses throughout the hillside property, they are part of my bug patrol, helping to keep unwelcome bugs in check and adding a wonderful dimension to my certified wildlife refuge,

I wasn't thinking about that when I decorated this Christmas tree this year but there was a tribute to my outside helpers in the white artificial doves I added.

It wasn't until I took this picture that I realized they looked like they were flying in from the outside, so appropriate for my house since right now my potted plants are wintering over inside,  giving my house a decidedly wild jungle theme. 

From my very green house to yours, may you have a very Merry Christmas!

Charlotte

Settle Down, Winter!

Ice coats tree branches in my back yard at the beginning of winter.

Ice coats tree branches in my back yard at the beginning of winter.

Settle Down, Winter!

Winter has been late in coming this year. Not usually an issue for me personally but worrisome for my bees because they have been enjoying record warm weather and consuming their honey stores, food they store to eat over winter.

Spring-flowering bulbs also depend on 12 weeks of cold weather to set their blooms, and frankly  I'm tired, I could use a break to catch my breath, do some reading and get ready for another growing season. I haven't had that stretch of cabin fever yet, unexpectedly warm days keep popping in enticing me outside to get yet another chore done before cold weather supposedly sets in.

Record cold temperatures dipping below zero started off this first week of December but will end the week at Christmas with the forecast with temperatures in the 60s, not a normal Missouri Christmas day by any means. Sunny days are good but the temperature swings are all off. 

So winter, now that you are officially here, please stop toying with us and settle in to stay cold enough to keep us inside reading for awhile. gardeners depend on that, too!

Charlotte

Fruit Tree Pruning

Be sure to distinguish between growing nodes and budding flowers on fruit trees.  This is a compact dwarf apricot tree getting ready to bloom as soon as weather turns warm again. Flower buds are nice and oval-shaped, growing buds have tiny green leaves starting to form. 

Be sure to distinguish between growing nodes and budding flowers on fruit trees.  This is a compact dwarf apricot tree getting ready to bloom as soon as weather turns warm again. Flower buds are nice and oval-shaped, growing buds have tiny green leaves starting to form. 

Of the four seasons, winter is the best time to prune trees. I usually start pruning my tropical trees wintering over inside and take the opportunity with a warm day to tackle my compact fruit trees scattered around my one-acre garden.

Now don’t wait until the tree is full grown. I completely forgot I had planted a semi-dwarf pear tree near my driveway until it started to bloom some 30 years later. Now I am trying to trim octopus-like branches while keeping enough branches I can reach to bear pears. If you start pruning and shaping when trees are young, trust me they are much easier to shape.

Most fruit tree pruning guides will offer confusing descriptions of the desired shape so here’s my short cut; keep the center of the fruit tree open to allow sun, and encourage 3 main center branches to form a cup. Prune remaining branches to grow outwards and strong to hold fruit. It’s tempting to keep more branches for flowering and setting fruit but if the branch is too weak, the weight of the fruit may break the branch so keep a few strong branches instead of a lot of weak ones.

For flowering trees such as redbuds and dogwoods, prune when flowers are fading. For the rest, prune in late winter when trees are still dormant. Don’t prune in fall when some viruses are at their strongest and can contaminate trees through their open cuts.

Some other tips:

Main side branches should be at least 1/3rd smaller than the trunk diameter. Encourage branches to form angles that form “10 o’clock” and “2 o’clock” angles within the trunk.

Don’t prune up any more than 1/3rd of the tree’s total height and never, ever, top a tree.

Charlotte

Tree Pruning Time

Prune trees above the growing node but make sure your pruners are sharp; i set these pruners aside so I don't tear more of the tropical hibiscus while pruning.

Prune trees above the growing node but make sure your pruners are sharp; i set these pruners aside so I don't tear more of the tropical hibiscus while pruning.

It’s time to prune trees if you haven’t already. Although I appreciate well-shaped trees and bushes, I have to work myself into a certain state to prune. There is something counter-intuitive about cutting off branches to make something grow a better, fuller shape.

I start pruning in January when my tropical hibiscus have dropped most of their leaves in my living room. The leafless tree shape is easier to see and I can do the trimming in phases so I don’t traumatize it. Basically you don’t want to trim more than a quarter of the total tree branches at once so mark them before cutting so you don’t cut too much.

Start with some simple branches to cut off:

1.     Mark and remove dead branches.

2.     Mark and remove branches that are unsafe. This can be branches that are unsafe for people who may be around them as well as branches that are unsafe for the tree itself. Branches that cross are not good for fruit trees, for example. Branches with a low clearance are not safe for people who may mow lawns nearby.

3.     When choosing branches to remove, mark branches so new buds are facing outwards. It took me awhile to get this concept under my belt but basically don’t cut above growing nodes that will force a new branch inward. The nodes should be pointing in the direction you want the new branch to grow.

4.     Don’t cut right at the growth node, trim at a 45 degree angle about 1/8th of an inch above the growth node.

Coming up next, tips for pruning fruit trees.

Charlotte