Saturday, March 28, 2009

Free Gardening Courses

I’ve been passed a slip of paper listing some FREE courses on gardening! I will be attending all sessions.

Landscaping for the Senses
April 13th

Gardens for Four Seasons
April 20

Compost 101
May 4

If you are in the mid-Michigan area, you may want to check these out. Call 616.452.3191 for more information.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pruning, Containers and Guerillas

Pruning Mission Accomplished
Last weekend, Miss A stopped by our lot to help me with some pruning. After doing the research on butterfly bushes, I took a crack at trimming ours by myself. I think it turned out okay. Here are some “before” and “after” shots.

However, when it came to pruning the dappled willow and a few other multi-stem shrubs, I called Miss A. She has much more experience under her belt with gardening than I do. She patiently walked me through the process, answering my constant questions. Even my cringes when the little handsaw came out were politely tolerated.

Here’s what I learned.
  • Keep up on your pruning! Growth neglected last year gave us some difficulty this year. Plus, constant upkeep gives more control over the shaping of the tree or shrub.
  • Remove older canes near the base. This was important on the dappled willow since the new canes are usually the shoots that have the prettier, dappled leaves and red bark. In most instances, removing the older canes will lower the overall height of the shrub. Plus, it will thin out the interior of the shrub, allowing more light in and encouraging new growth.
  • Afterward, we inspected how the branches of the shrub were growing. In some areas, the branches had crossed. This leads to the branches rubbing together, opening wounds and possibly introducing disease to the shrub. So, I had a few hard choices to make about which branches would stay and which branches would go.
  • The next step allows more fine-tuning of the shrubs height and shape. Miss A and I clipped off any winter damage we found and any longer branches seeming out of place. She said this is also the point we could lower the shrub further in height if desired.
  • Overall, when pruning a shrub, be sure the cuts are at an angle. The cut should be made between the length of the branch to be removed and the “collar” area where the branch meets the shrub. This area will allow for the cut to properly heal.
Bulbs Sprouting Indoors
Remember the bulbs I had forgotten about and tossed in some containers? Here’s an update.

Three of the five containers have healthy bulbs growing in them. As my better half commented of the other two, “if these haven’t shown activity yet, I’m not sure we’ll be seeing anything from them.” I think I may be leaning toward agreeing with him, though I think I’ll give the containers a bit more time. After all, I’m not in need of the pots right now anyway.

Notes for This Fall
This picture is from Miss A’s cottage garden. My better half expressed genuine affection toward these little guys. Note to self: order snowdrops for next spring.

Guerilla What?!
This is just fantastic. I’ll be looking around on the community boards to see if there is a chapter near us.

Crocus-time Continues
Hoorah! We also have purple AND white in the sidewalk bed.

Friday, March 20, 2009

First Day of Spring

Even though it was only 30 degrees outside this morning, when I returned home from work I was greeted by the first splash of color on our lot. We have crocuses. Now I know what flowers will be emerging from all the thin, dark green blades with light veins. These guys are in the sidewalk bed with what looks like some tulips. I wonder if there will be some purple as well. I hope these yellow ones open this weekend since the weather forecast is calling for sunshine and warmer temperatures.

Also, I found the first signs of bulbs I planted last fall. I believe this one is a “Queen of the Night” tulip. I mixed some of these with red anemones in the new fence bed. I scratched down what I planted where, though I have to find my notes to be sure.

There is activity in all the garden beds now. Tulips and star of Bethlehem are growing like crazy in the front bed. Sedum is budding up from the sidewalk bed and daylilies are poking out from house bed.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Coral Bells

When I found our Midnight Rose coral bells (or alum root) plant last year during a nursery trip with Miss A, little did I know I was purchasing a “2007 NEW & EXCLUSIVE! The Newest Coral Bells available!” Wow. I just thought it’s dark leaves with hot pink speckles that changed throughout the season made it a cool looking perennial. Plus, around late spring, it has the prettiest little white flowers atop tall, delicate stalks.

Our Midnight Rose is currently living in the sidewalk bed. That means I will have to find it a new home for the season while we are regrading the side of the house. This plant grows up to 10" high and 16" wide. It should do well in either sun or part shade. However, I read the foliage of these plants (Heuchera) vary in color from amber to deep purple. Apparently the darker the leaf, the better the plant fares in full sun. As of right now, I think the gate bed will be where the coral bells will spend this season.

Recently I tried to find some gardening podcasts to listen to. That’s how I found the gardenerd site. Very fun. One of the podcasts had a great recommendation for composting. When collecting scraps in the kitchen for the compost pile, first dump the contents in a sealable container in the freezer. Then when the container is full, you can dump it into the compost pile. It prevents you from having a smelly container of compost goodies in the kitchen.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Weekend Outside

After a frosty week, we had beautiful weather this weekend. All of our snow is gone except for a small pile behind the garage. Instead of doing the usual gardening reading/research the last two days, I was outside in the yard. Here are a few things I managed to accomplish.

  • majority of the leaves were cleaned up
  • emptied some planters that should have been emptied last fall. I have three terra cotta pots to mend. 
  • compost pile tidied up
  • crazy, wooden vine not yet identified was trimmed back and pulled out of the fence and gutters
  • day lilies were cleaned up
  • gardening tools cleaned and sharpened
  • backyard measured out for landscaping map
  • pruning date set with Miss A
  • husks/roots of old wildflowers pulled from front bed
  • tons of awesome seeds received from Mr. D

More later. Now I have to transfer my backyard measurements to my drawing program.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

To Do

This past Thursday and Friday, the temperature around here spiked into the upper fifties. At the stroke of 5:00, I rushed home and was outside cleaning up the garden. It was wonderful. All of my irises, sedum and ornamental grasses are cut back. Bulbs are poking out of the ground all over our lot. Some of them I haven’t seen before. I’m so excited. It’s like Christmas.

Today it’s raining. Tomorrow it’s supposed to rain. So, I’m stuck inside thinking of the projects I would like to accomplish outside this season.

Transplant Sidewalk Bed
We have water coming into our basement whenever there is a hard rain, so we’ll be redoing the grading on this side of the house. As a result, everything in this sidewalk bed has to be moved. There are irises, lilies, astilbe, sedum, coral bells and a peony. Last fall, I already gave Mom G two carpet roses from this bed. She has much more room at her place for the sprawling type of plants. 

Transplant a Rose Bush
I have so much homework to do on roses. My friend, Miss A, has the most unbelievable gorgeous rose bush at her place. I on the other hand, don’t know what I am doing with roses. What I do know is I cannot have our rose bush in the front bed climbing out of there again and trying to catch neighbors. I think it was getting ideas from those irises. Anyway, the rose bush is tucked between two evergreen bushes up front. It doesn't have enough sun or room to do well up there. I’m going to attempt to move it into the backyard along the fence line.

Learn about Composting
When we moved in, there was already a compost pile started in the back yard. However, much of it was lawn clippings and leaves that had not been shredded. Being a free standing pile of “stuff,” it was quite a task to get it into something resembling order. I’m not sure how I want to handle it this summer. It’d be nice to contain it somehow. Last summer it was in the process of kicking down our fence. This one will require some more brainstorming and research.

Build a Rain Barrel
Many gardeners I know swear by rainwater. They say their plants are just happier receiving rainwater over city/well water. My grandmother who lives in Europe is an avid gardener. One thing I noticed about the gardens over there are the different containers used to collect rainwater. The rainwater is then used to water the plants in the garden. What a great idea. It seems a much more efficient use of resources.

After reading various sets of instructions on how to build one, I think I can handle it. I’ll be referencing a combination of this and this when it’s time to construct one.

Friday, March 6, 2009


When I began my attempt-at-gardening adventure, I asked my better half if he would like me to install certain models of plants into our lot. He is a great cook, so he requested some basic herbs he could walk outside and pick when required for his various kitchen masterpieces. Not a problem. Otherwise, he seemed indifferent.

That is, until he spotted the foxglove.

The foxglove was my introduction to the concept of a biennial. Annuals are good for one season unless they self seed. Perennials winter over and will come back in the spring. But biennials produce blooms every other year. I was happy to find out this was the reason the foxglove didn't produce any flowers after I brought it home and planted it. I just hope it blooms this summer or both of us (him more than me) will be disappointed.

When reading up on foxglove, I discovered every part of the plant is very poisonous. Apparently there is a chemical in it that affects the heart. I’ll keep this in mind when I have our future four-legged foremen on the job in the garden with me.

Yet another interesting thing I found out about foxglove is this from the Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin site:
The foliage tends to be evergreen, so do not cut back in fall, but you can cut back any remaining flower stems down to the base. Prune off winter-damaged leaves in spring.
Here are some other plants on our lot which benefit from a spring versus fall pruning.

Astilbe Astilbe don’t require much maintenance. Fall clean-up is unnecessary and may weaken the plant’s tolerance for cold. Minimal spring clean-up is required.

Balloon Flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) If pruned for sturdiness, Balloon flower blooms late in the season and remains attractive until frost. Since it is late emerging in the spring, it helps to leave the old foliage as a marker.

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) Although not particularly attractive in winter, the seed heads will feed the birds.

Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii) To lessen winter kill, wait for signs of green at the base and then cut back to 6 - 10 inches.

Coral Bells (Heuchera) Heuchera are prone to heaving in soils that freeze and thaw. Leaving the foliage in tact helps to mulch the plants through winter.

Hosta Although Hosta foliage gets ugly over winter, some Hosta varieties can be damaged by spring frosts and benefit from the protection of the collapsed foliage.

Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) Lady’s Mantle doesn’t really like to be sheared back frequently. Occasional shearing or selective deleafing may be necessary because of sun scorch, but Lady’s Mantle will over winter better if left in tact and cleaned up in the spring.

Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina) There’s no point in trying to clean up Lamb’s Ear for the winter. Let it be and remove winter damage when the leaves perk up in the spring. 

Lavender (Lavandula) Many areas have a hard time over-wintering lavender. The problem is more often moisture than cold, but cold is a factor. Don’t prune lavender late in the season, as new growth is extremely cold sensitive. Wait until new growth appears in the spring before removing winter die back.

Lupine (Lupinus) Lupines are temperamental, short-lived perennials and they do not enjoy winter. Leave the foliage on for protection and hope for the best come spring. 

Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) There’s not much left to this plant in winter. But many gardeners like to leave it standing so they’ll remember where it is, since it is late to emerge in the spring.

Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) Like its cousin Lavender, Perovskia doesn’t like to be trimmed back in that fall, because it’s tender growth is too sensitive to cold. Wait until new growth appears in the spring and then cut back to about 6 - 8". If the only new growth is from the base of the plant, the entire top woody section has died back and it can be pruned to the ground.

Sedum Many of the tall Sedums can remain attractive throughout the winter, even holding caps of snow on their flowerheads. ‘Autumn Joy’, in particular, holds up very well. The basal foliage appears very early in spring, so Sedum can be one of the first plants you prune in the spring. 

For a full listing, look here.

And finally, here is another great gardening blog I found.

Garden Envy

My better half and I are residents of Zone 5. Mrs. M and her family are residents of Zone 11. This is what she gets to do in late February.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Bulbs and Containers

I’ve been reading a lot lately about forcing bulbs. I’d meant to do it about two months ago because I had some bulbs I was not able to plant before winter pounced on Michigan. Bulb forcing seems like a complex ritual involving a delicate balance of temperature and light... and possibly sacrificing a goat. Right now, it seems to me like almost as much work as starting seeds inside. Yes, call me lazy, but I’m just not ready to take that challenge on at this point in my education.

So, I questioned some fellow gardeners this past weekend about what I should do with my bulbs stored away in the bottom drawer of our buffet. Their advice was “Well, if the bulbs are still good, throw them in a pot and put them in a sunny window.” Excellent. I can do that. In fact, I did so tonight. I potted tulips, irises and crocuses. It was amazing what a good mood potting a few bulbs  put me in.

My method? Can “potting with reckless abandon” be considered a method? After searching The Internets for instructions on planting bulbs in containers, I found everyone seems to have their own way of going about the same task. Finally, I combined some common pointers (there were fewer than you’d think) and started in on planting. 

I used handfuls of smaller rocks to line the bottom of my pots to help with drainage. One thing I read over and over is how bulbs do not like to sit in wet soil. Then I added at least two inches of potting soil for the roots. This measurement seemed to be the flexible one in case your pot is a bit larger than you need. Next came snuggling the bulbs together in the pot. Oh yes, no spacing, the little guys are nice and cozy. This is supposed to create a more stunning display. And really, if given the choice, who wouldn’t want to be more stunning? Then I topped the pot off with soil, leaving about an inch from the top of the soil line to the top of the pot. Throughout the process, I made sure to plant the bulbs at the depths suggested on their packaging.

Are the bulbs good? I think so. I found I was correct in keeping them in a dark place. However, the buffet in our dining room was too warm. The bulbs had started sprouting. They weren't waiting on the lazy wanna-be gardener that had stuck them in the drawer last fall and forgot about them until a few weeks ago. In the future, I’ll store bulbs in the basement. We don’t heat the room down there, so it’ll be a dark, cool environment for the them.

Tomorrow I’ll bring out the plant stands and set the pots in the front window on the south side of the house. We’ll see what happens. Hmm... could that be my gardening theme for this year?