LECTURES IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST!

Please join me for the following presentations later this month in and near Seattle:

February 23, 2017
21 Acres Center for Local Food & Sustainable Living
13701 NE 171st St., Woodinville, WA 
“Uncommon Fruits for Backyard and Small Farm”

February 24-25, 2017

Northwest Flower & Garden Show

Seattle, WA

“Luscious Landscaping with Fruiting Trees, Shrubs, and Vines”

“Fruits for Small Gardens”

STEPPING INTO SPRING

Cleanup Time Re-Starts in Veggie Garden

Warmer weather, even if it’s not all that warm, makes me feel like spring is just around the corner. The ground — in my vegetable beds, at least — isn’t even frozen, no doubt because water doesn’t linger long in the well-drained soil and because the dark-colored compost blanket I laid down in autumn sucks up the sun’s warmth.

So yesterday seemed like a perfect time to continue the garden cleanup that screeched to a halt when frigid weather struck, and some snow fell, a couple of months ago. Old cabbage heads that never quite ripened were laying on the ground like ratty, pale green tennis balls (with stalks attached). The four-foot-high stalk of one Brussels sprouts plant, stripped in autumn of its sprouts, stood sentry like a decrepit soldier in the same bed.

Of course, kale also still stood, except for those that flopped to the …

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OF FLOWERS AND TEMPERATURES

Flower, You Hoya

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but some plants suffer much neglect in my hands. My aloe, for example, has occasionally gone a whole year without a drop of water.

Hoya, also known as wax plant or Hindu rope plant, is another of my neglected plants. This plant is about 25 years old and has sat in the same pot in the same location for the past 15 years. The pot is only 3 inches square, dwarfed by the 3-foot-long “Hindu rope,” a single stem along which grow thick, green, involuted leaves. The hoya sits on a west-facing windowsill of a tower window in my house, and the lanky stem can drip down another 2 to 3 feet before it’s got to be shortened to keep from being bumped by anybody beneath it. One reason the plant gets watered so infrequently is because watering involves pulling out and climbing a …

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THE WEATHER WON’T PUSH ME AROUND

Breaking (Pruning) Rules

Snow squall or not, I just had to get outside. Not enough snow for a cross-country ski, but, after too much time indoors, I had to do something outside.

I was driven to break a fundamental rule of the garden. I pruned, and that’s a no-no. Pruning is best delayed until at least after the coldest part of winter is over, ideally closer to the time when warmth and sun are stirring buds to swell in preparation for their final burst. I did rationalize that any pruning now would leave me that much less to do amidst the hubbub of spring gardening activities.

I wasn’t indiscriminate in trespassing this Rule of Gardening. The plants that I pruned were gooseberries, which are very cold-hardy plants so are unlikely to suffer any cold damage as a result of untimely pruning. Also, no need to wait, as is done with peaches, for growth …

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IN WITH THE NEW, STILL WITH THE OLD

Scale Attack Beginning!

As if to ring in the new year, scale insects are starting to make their presence known. These insects crawl around as babies, find nourishing spots on leaves or stems, insert their feeding tubes, and then spend their days sucking plant juice. Carbohydrates and sugars are what result when sunlight and chlorophyll get together, so longer days may already be making plant sap sweeter and more plentiful, much to the liking of these suckers.

Armored scale on staghorn fern

I encounter two kinds of scales on my houseplants. Each armored scale looks like a small, raised, brown tab. Cottony cushion scale looks like a small tuft of white cotton. As either kind feeds, it exudes a sweet honeydew that drips on leaves, furniture, and floor, and eventually becomes colonized with a fungus that airbrushes those sticky drippings an unappealing smokey haze.

(Scale insects are often problems on trees and shrubs …

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EVERYTHING’S EASY, FOR NOW

An Easy Orchid

Orchids are one group of plants I’ve regularly sidestepped. It seemed to me that if you grew orchids, you became crazed over orchids, to the exclusion of other plants. You then fill your home with as many of the over 20,000 species as you can cram onto your windowsills. I feared being led down that path.

My sidestepping took a turn into orchid-land 25 years ago when a local orchid enthusiast gave me a plant of Odontoglossum pulchellum, which I today learned has also been called lily-of-the-valley orchid. But more importantly today, the plant is in bloom. Blossoms from this plant are no rare occurrence; it’s bloomed every year for about the past 20 years, some years around now and other years waiting until February to unfold.

Odontoglossum pulchellum doesn’t sport knock-your-socks-off, traffic-stopping blossoms; instead, they have a soft, subtle beauty. Right now, delicate, arching flower stems rise up from …

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FREE DRIP IRRIGATION WORKSHOP IN PHILLY

Learn about a way of watering that increases productivity, saves water, lessens diseases, and is easily automated. I’ll be holding a DRIP IRRIGATION WORKSHOP in Philadelphia on January 19, 2017 @ 6pm at PHS Town Hall, 100 North 20th Street (20th and Arch streets), first floor. The workshop is free.

GARDEN DREAMS AND REALITY

Figs (Cuttings) Galore!!

Cold weather and short days have put a not totally unwelcome lull in the gardening year. Nonetheless, I wander into the greenhouse occasionally just to drink in the sight and smell of lush greenery suffused in warmth and humidity, and to pull some weeds. The figs in there could use some pruning; they are dormant and leafless and need all stems cut back to 3 to 4 feet in height.

Gardening lull or not, I can’t just toss those cut stems away, putting them to waste. Each stem can make a whole new tree, and fairly easily. So I set up a little propagator for rooting some of these “hardwood cuttings.”

Being leafless, the cuttings lose little water so have no need for the high humidity demanded by softwood cuttings, which are cuttings taken while plants are actively growing and leafy. Any cutting, hardwood or softwood, does need its bottom portion, where roots will form, …

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NUTS, SOME GOOD, SOME BAD, AND NEW(!) PLANTS

 

A Good Harvest, But . . .

The black walnut harvest was abundant this past fall. Back in October, we gathered about a dozen 5-gallon buckets of of unhusked nuts, and, after husking, cleaning and drying them, set them in the cool, dry, squirrel-proof loft of our garage/barn (gabarn?).

The nuts are now sufficiently cured and ready for cracking. Two tools have made quicker, easier, pain-free, and more effective the once difficult and thumb-threatening job needing a concrete floor and a hammer. The Master Nutcracker makes elegant use of cogs and levers. For any nutmeats still gripped in a piece of shell, a “diagonal cutting plier” nips the shell piece to create a fault line that opens to drop out a piece of nutmeat, or to twists off a piece not fully cracked.

This year’s harvest was from two trees. Most was gathered from the ground beneath a decades-old tree. That tree grows …

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MY PONYTAIL GROWS, AND SEEDS ENTICE

I Grow A Ponytail

A friend gave me a ponytail palm (Beaucarnea recurvata) decades ago, and up to this summer it looked something like a palm tree sitting atop a large onion. Or a long-leafed dracena plant whose stem, near ground level, had swollen almost to the size of a bowling ball. The plant looked very interesting, but not particularly attractive, and the sharp edges of its long, strappy leaves were grabbing at me every time I walked by too closely.

So last summer, I was going to toss the plant in the compost pile; instead, I lopped off its top to about 3 feet in height. What remained was nothing more than what looked like a tan bowling ball halfway immersed in a pot of soil with a inch-thick, bare stem tapering skyward from its upper side.

After pruning, I ignored the plant just as I had done for the past few …

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