Category Archives: Gardening

DESIGNS ON GARDENING

The Turn Of  The Year

Sure there’s seed-sowing, weeding, and pruning to do, but I’ve also been spending a good amount of time communing with my pitchfork. Turning compost.

Some people are put off by the thought of having to turn compost. Don’t be. Compost does not have to be turned. Any pile of organic materials will eventually become compost.

Still, I like to turn my composts. I typically build new piles (a lot of them!!) through summer into fall, turn them the following spring, and then spread the finished compost that fall or the following spring. As I fork the ingredients from the old pile into the adjacent bin, I break up any clumps with the pitchfork and fluff up any parts that seem sodden and gasping for air. A nearby hose makes it convenient to spray any dry areas.

Everything organic (was once or is living) — hay, weeds, old plants, some …

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GRAPE EXPECTATIONS

Hello Vanessa

A few days ago was the perfect day for planting the Vanessa grape vine deposited here by the UPS guy. Not because the weather was warm and sunny or because working outdoors was made all the more pleasant with peach, pear, and plum trees in all their glory, awash in white or pink blossoms. And not because the plums were suffusing the air with a most delectable fragrance.

Vanessa grape

The day was perfect for planting because the soil was in such good tilth. With each shovelful, clumps of soil broke apart under their own weight. A far cry from decades ago in my first garden, around this time of year, when digging brought up clods of Wisconsin soil still sticky and wet.

In wet soil, digging drives air out of the soil; under such conditions, roots of trees, shrubs, vines, and seedlings suffer. Better to wait for the soil to …

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A BETTER BERRY?

Out With The Old, In With The New

“Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did,” wrote a Dr. Boteler about the strawberry (as quoted in Izaak Walton’s 17th century classic The Compleat Angler). I disagree. I also don’t like to crawl for my fruit. With that said, I’ll agree that strawberries do taste very good, more so for being, usually, the first fruits of the season.

I just took a look at my strawberry bed; weeds are making inroads and the plants look pretty puny. Dispatching the weeds is no problem. As far as the puny plants, it was to be expected. Although strawberries are perennial plants, over time they pick up diseases, including some virus diseases lacking dramatic symptoms except that they reduce productivity. So a strawberry bed should be replanted — at a new location — every 5 years. My garden notes tell me …

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WITCHES AND BREBAS

Arnold, You’re Too Big

Witchhazel, a few weeks ago

Over the years, my Arnold’s Promise variety of witchhazel has earned its keep with branches showered in fragrant, golden flowers late each winter. Some years, like last year, part of the bush would blossom in autumn, then put on a repeat performance in late winter. (Branches that blossom in autumn don’t blossom again in later winter, but other branches, which hold off in autumn, do.)

I should have read the fine print more carefully before I selected this variety of witchhazel. My plan was for the plant to visually smooth the transition from the corner of the house to an upright stewartia tree to a moderate-sized shrub (Arnold’s Promise) to some subshrubs (lowbush blueberry) to ground level. Except that Arnold’s Promise has grown to 15 feet high. Which it’s supposed to do, according to the fine print. Which I didn’t read.

My job, now, …

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HOUSEPLANTS THRIVE DURING MY CUBAN GETAWAY

 

Water In Air, In Soil, In Reserve

My houseplants enjoyed my absence more that I expected. I thought it might be harder on them. After all, with spring in the air (indoors) for a few weeks now, they were all pushing out new shoots from the ends and along stems that had lain dormant all winter. Citrus, avocado, and amaryllis were even flowering, and rosemary was getting ready to flower.

Lack of water was going to be the threat, 5 days of it, while I was far away wandering up and down streets and in and out of alleys of Havana, Cuba.

Through winter, I had eased my houseplant watering chores by using “water siphons” (aka “hydrospikes” or “self-watering probes”). These porous ceramic probes, filled with water and pushed into the potting soil, have the thin, flexible tubes coming out of their caps plunked into mason jars filled with water. I knew well …

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BLEEDING PLANTS, WHAT ABOUT RABBITS?

 

Bleeding Is Okay

Everyone wants to prune this time of year. And rightly so. It’s a good time to prune most trees, shrubs, and vines, as it was a couple of months ago and, looking forward, will be until about when these plants come into bloom.  Or, finished blooming, in the case of those plants whose pruning gets delayed until after we all get to enjoy their early blossoms.

A reader wrote me about her Japanese maple, which needed to have one of its multi-trunks cut off. Should she do it now or in autumn? If lopped back now, would the tree bleed to death? Would the gaping wound get infected, possibly leading to the demise of the whole tree?

Japanese maple in fall

Bleeding sap generally does more harm to gardeners’ psyches than to plants’ physiologies. My grape and hardy kiwi vines bleed when I prune them this time of year, with …

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MOVING ALONG, INSIDE AND OUT

 

Figs Awakening

Even in the cool temperature (45 degrees Fahrenheit) and darkness of my basement, the potted figs can feel spring inching onward. Buds at the tips of their stems have turned green and are just waiting for some warmth to burst open. Or, if the plants just sit where they are long enough, the buds will unfurl into leaves and shoots. Which would not be a good thing.

My goal is to keep the plants asleep long enough so that they can be moved outside when they will no longer be threatened by cold temperatures. How much of a threat temperatures pose depends on how much asleep the plants are. Fully dormant, a fig tree tolerates temperatures down into the low 20’s. Even now, as they are just barely awakening, they can probably laugh off temperatures into the mid-20s.

If the buds expand into shoots and leaves, they’ll be burned by any …

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HINTS OF SPRING, REMEMBRANCE OF SUMMER

 

Greenery, For Humans And Ducks

Spring has come early, as usual, in my greenhouse. Growth is shifting into high gear as brighter sunlight fuels more photosynthesis and warms the greenhouse more and for a longer time each day. Giant mustard plants, which provided greens all winter, are no longer tasty now that they have shifted their energy to stalks topped with yellow flowers. No matter. I’m digging the plants out and sowing lettuce seeds.

Paths in the greenhouse are carpeted in green — mostly from weeds, mostly chickweed, which is also soaking up the sun’s goodness. No matter. I’m also digging these plants out before they go to seed and threaten takeover of the greenhouse.

To take over the greenhouse, the chickweed would have to do battle with claytonia, which already has self-sown to  bogart much of the greenhouse floor. Fortunately, the claytonia is good fresh in salads.

Chickweed is also good — to some …

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IT’S SPRING! INDOORS, AT LEAST

 

A Big, Fat, Red Flower; Perfect For Now

One spring day many years ago, my friend Bill looked out upon the daffodils blooming and other stirrings, and summed up the scene with the statement that “It’s spring and everything is wigglin’.” We haven’t yet come that far along, but things are wigglin’ — indoors. (Little did I know that 2 days after writing this, all would be buried under two feet of snow!)

Most dramatic among the wigglins is the big, fat flower bud pushing up from the big, fat amaryllis bulb. True, the goal of most people is to have the flamboyant, red blossoms open for Christmas, which requires beginning a bulb’s dormant period in the middle of August. It’s cool temperatures, around 55°F., and dry soil that puts an amaryllis bulb to sleep. Then, in early November, warm temperatures and just a little water wakens the bulb out of its …

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‘SHROOMS

Home-Grown Oysters

Move over shiitakes, you fancy, reputedly healthful mushrooms offered on supermarket shelves and at farmers’ markets at high prices. Make way for oyster mushrooms.

Many of us have chosen to grow shiitakes rather than pay the high prices for them. This means laying in a stock of freshly cut hardwood logs and riddling them with holes that are plugged with inoculated dowels pieces, then sealed with wax. A dose of patience is also needed for home-grown shiitakes, even after going through all that trouble, because a year is needed until first harvest.

My logs, from two and three years ago, yielded mushrooms last spring and autumn. But those logs are sleeping now; what about mushrooms now?

Enter oyster mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms are much more cosmopolitan about their nourishment. And planted now, harvest could begin within a few weeks.

The basics of growing any mushroom are the same. You inoculate a substrate (some material …

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