Monday, March 28, 2011

How Many Is Enough?

Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine to the soul.
~Luther Burbank, 1849-1926

Did you ever wonder how many plants it takes to create those full, overflowing, lush flowering baskets of annuals that you see hanging from the lamp posts on your local Main street?

This is basket week at the municipal greenhouse where I volunteer. We are planting thousands of plants in large wire and moss baskets that will eventually beautify lamp posts near and far on city streets. Just look at them…rows and rows of moss baskets. The baskets I planted today are destined to beautify Safeco Field in Seattle…home of our Mariners baseball team.

The pot pictured below is 20 inches (51 cm) in diameter. In it I have placed 20 plugs of differing but all cascading varieties of annuals. I have planted them in two offset circles, so as the plants closer to the center cascade they won’t completely cover the plant at the edge. In the center is a Begonia ‘bonfire’ which is upright but will also hang over as the stems lengthen.

At the greenhouse we plant ‘plugs’. As you can see below they are quite small but well rooted and used more in commercial applications because of volume and cost. At your local nursery you’ll find annuals often in ‘basket stuffer’ sizes, usually 2 inch (5 cm) pots. Even at that size you can still get 20 in this pot. Make sure to read the label and get everything in trailing or cascading varieties. Trailing lobelia, verbena, lotus vine, trailing begonia, calibrachoa, petunia, diascia, ivy geranium are all great for hanging pots. Something upright in the center will add height. Make sure all the plants you choose have the same light needs and are specified on the plant’s tags. If your basket is going to be in full sun be sure all the plants are labeled for full sun.

The brown plastic tubing lying in the pot is a part of the watering system Safeco Field uses. You definitely want to get that in place from the very beginning before the plants start to fill out if you are going to use a watering system like that.

Baskets need more attention to watering. Since they are made of wire and a mossy liner which allows more air flow and being suspended in the air and wind, they will dry out faster than terracotta or plastic pots. In mid summer, on a sunny, hot day you may need to water them two times a day.

Organic fertilizers are slow release naturally, so mixing in a handful of granular organic fertilizer before you put in your plants should feed your basket for 3-4 months. If you feel it needs a boost after 3 months or so you’ll want to switch to a liquid organic fertilizer, using every few weeks. Organic dry fertilizers need to be mixed into the soil, not just sprinkled on top. It will be too hard to mix in a dry type with all the plants and you don’t want to damage the lovely jumble of vines.

So now that your plants are in, all you need is sun, warmth, water and fertilizer and you too can have a beautiful, full hanging basket of colorful annuals this summer.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Muscari (Grape Hyacinths), Hyacinths, Tulipa turkistanica, Corylopsis veitch (Winter Hazel), Hepatica, Daffodil, primrose (double English), Heleborus, Bellis perennis (English daisy), violet primrose

Author’s photos

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Seedlings on the Sill

Every spring, like it or not, we are all beginners, all over again.
~Dominique Browning

When my sunny, east facing window sills fill up with seedlings you know it’s nearly spring. My vegetable garden always gets its start this way. The advantage to starting your vegetable garden yourself from seed guarantees you get the varieties that have already proven successful in your garden. In addition to seed, nurseries offer “starts” or seedlings. With starts your choices are limited to what the growers grow and growers stick with those varieties that sell best or what they think will sell best. Selections can vary widely from year to year. You may find a variety one year and have great success with it only to never find it available in starts again. For me ‘Stupice’ is the only tomato I want to grow because it tolerates cool, cloudy weather but it performs great in sun and heat too. Since we never know what spring or summer will be like it’s a great choice for the Pacific Northwest. Also, most growers and nurseries do not offer organic vegetable starts, so your seedlings have been grown with chemicals. I prefer to grow my own so I have control over what fertilizers are used on the foods I’ll be eating.

Currently in an east window I have Anise Hyssop (seed I saved last year) and Canna (newly bought tubers) growing for the flower beds. Leeks and lettuce are germinating on the cooler sills.

Mini watermelon and one more tomato are germinating on the heat mat. I saved those watermelon seeds last summer from a delish mini yellow fleshed variety that I found in my organic market! I have no idea if they will grow, normally our summers don’t yield big juicy melons but since this is a mini, it will require less time till harvest. I thought I’d give it a go and hope for a hot summer. Keeping my fingers crossed.

Below are 3 tomato seedlings growing on the sill, more lettuce and leeks starting in between.

Previously I wrote a post on experimenting seeding in new coir based seedling mix and coir compressed pellets.  As an update, based on my experience…I don’t like coir. I got so-so germination with the coir pellets, better results with the peat pellets. The bagged coir seedling mix was the same, not as reliable germination as with the peat based. I also bought some coir compressed plug’s for use in plug trays…they are the worst. After expanding in warm water they settle so densely in the plug tray there appears to be no air to keep the mix fluffy. I think they smother the seed. In every case the seed failed, I think it rotted. It seems to me that coir is just too heavy a material. That’s too bad because research shows coir to be more sustainable and eco-friendly to harvest than peat. Everything that is coming up today is in a peat based medium.

Do you start your own garden plants and vegetables from seed? Do you use peat, coir or something else? Please share your experience with these products and your preferred medium. We can all learn from each other. Blogging is great that way.

Oh how I covet a greenhouse for my seedlings but for now I’ll count my blessings and be grateful I have a laundry room with sunny, east and south facing window sills in which to grow my starts and begin my garden each spring.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Corylopsis (Winter Hazel), Hepatica, Daffodil, Cyclamen coum, crocus, primrose (double English), Heleborus, Bellis perennis (English Daisy), violet primrose

Author’s Photos

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Thanks for the Bloom

Just because you've only got houseplants doesn't mean you don't have the gardening spirit - I look upon myself as an indoor gardener.
~Sara Moss-Wolfe

I mentioned a few posts ago in February that while at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show I got waylaid at Andy’s Orchids booth. I bought an Australian native species orchid, Dendrobium pugioniforme, basically because I fell in love with the leaves! Bad idea I know but based on what he said of its culture I was also fairly certain I could make it happy. He had me sold when he said it's flowers had greenish petals with a purple and white lip. I love green flowers.

Today it made me happy…it bloomed! Yay a bright spot on this grey drizzly day, it’s soooo sweet. It’s tiny…only 1 inch (2.5 cm) across, and fragrant too! I can’t take credit for this bloom, it was already in bud, so my test will be if it will bloom again for me someday.

What a cutie…just thought I’d share. Do you grow orchids? I just love them.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Daffodil ‘Tete a Tete’, Cyclamen coum, crocus, primrose (double English), Heleborus, Bellis perennis (English Daisy), violet primrose, Galanthus elwesii (snowdrops)

Authors photos

Saturday, March 5, 2011

White Flowering Currant (Ribes)

Listen! O, listen!
Here come the hum the golden bees
Underneath full blossomed trees,
At once with glowing fruit and flowers crowned.
~James Russell Lowell, The Sirens

My neighbor and fellow gardener, Margaret has a white flowering Currant (Ribes) shrub near her front door. I think I’ve mentioned her yard in previous posts…anytime I wonder where my bees are foraging I have only to walk up the block to find them somewhere in her garden.

Well it’s March, spring in my hemisphere, and the flowering currants are beginning to bloom in my neighborhood and that’s where I found them today, in her shrub. When it’s fully engulfed in open blooms they are there, in droves. As a passerby, you can hear them. Both of us look forward to the March days that are warm enough to lure the bees out of their hive and into her currant. Today, as I was walking to see if they were in her shrub, she called from her window…”Joan! Your bees are all around the garden!” And they were…on this gorgeous, sunny 50F (10C) degree morning they were in the crocus gathering pollen, in the heath gathering nectar and in her currant. When in bloom, this shrub is beautiful. Personally I think some white flowers are far classier than their colored counterparts and this is one example. The red flowering currant is nice but the white outshines it to my eye. That and I’ve not seen the bees go to the red varieties so perhaps I’m a little biased. However the hummingbirds frequent the red.

There are several Ribes species. Some can take colder winters, some need warm winters. The species hardy and prevalent in the Pacific Northwest is Ribes sanguineum. Her white variety is probably 10-12 feet (3-4m) tall but not as wide, and gets morning sun. Mostly I see the red King Edward VII variety around here, advertised to only reach about 8 feet (2.5m) in height. It is easy to find in bloom in nurseries now. Whichever color you choose the Ribes sanguineum is hardy in zones 4-9. This is a deciduous shrub native to the coastal ranges of California up to British Columbia. Plant them in sun to light shade. They are fairly drought tolerant but do better with moderate water. If your summers are hot and dry, give them a shadier spot for the heat of the day. They will need little if any pruning if you buy the variety that grows to the size you have space for in your garden. But beware, the tag may say a size of eight feet but ask a knowledgeable nursery employee before you buy…it could get bigger.

While this currant does produce some fruit it is not the same species used for culinary purposes. Look for those in the fruiting section of your nursery.

Nectar and Pollen Plants of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest by Burgett, Stringer and Johnston is a fantastic book. It is an illustrated guide to plants sought after by honeybees in this region. Though geared toward beekeepers, any gardener interested in attracting pollinators could benefit from it. In it they list Ribes sanguineum Pursh as “not very attractive to bees” but also list nectar and pollen both to be had. This is the only variety they mention, which includes the red, 'King Edward VII'. This may explain why I don’t see bees on the reds. Having not seen the tag from Margaret’s shrub, I can’t definitively give you the variety, however, ‘White Icicle’ is a white cultivar commonly sold here under the name Ribes sanguineum glutinosum ‘White Icicle’. Neither can I explain why the bees like it and not the red.

I am so glad my neighbor has this plant. This time of year with less nectar and pollen available, those blooming spring plants attractive to bees are especially important for them to begin foraging and replenishing their dwindling stores. The earlier they can find quality pollen and nectar the earlier the queen starts to lay eggs, the quicker the colony builds up, the more time for honey production.

Had I not seen the bee’s response to these blooms with my own eyes I’d probably have skipped over the importance of this plant. It’s now on my list of bee-plants for a future garden and you can be sure I’ll include it in my presentations to bee clubs and garden clubs.

In Bloom In My Garden Today: Daffodil ‘Tete a Tete’, Cyclamen coum, crocus, primrose (double English), Heleborus, Bellis perennis (English Daisy), violet primrose, Sarcococca, Galanthus elwesii (snowdrops)

Author’s photo