Monday, December 11, 2017

Parched December Landscape

Repeating this timely blog from three years ago - with a few revisions.

Few do it on a regular basis. More people need to do it on warm days. I'm not talking about taking a walk on a pleasant sixty-degree winter day. I'm referring to giving your trees and landscape a much needed deep drink of water.

In the Denver area we've had a trace of precipitation the past several weeks. On November 27 we set a record high of 81 degrees. This morning I saw two honeybees on the still blooming blue scabiosa (pincushion plant).

You might be thinking because its winter there's no need to be concerned about watering the landscape. Who actually waters their plants this time of year? Gardeners and homeowners who pay attention to the year round needs of their plants, that's who. 

The best way to find out if you need to water is to grab your longest screw driver and poke it down in to the ground through the mulch, the grass and especially on sunny south, west or southwest facing areas. Check anywhere the soil isn't frozen. If it doesn't go down easily, then you're dry, if you need to use most of your weight to get it down, then you're parched.

Winter watering is one of the best things you can do for your landscape. On-going or prolonged dry plant roots in the winter can lead to root damage, death or reduced plant vigor. 

During the middle part of the day when temperatures are over forty degrees, set up your sprinkler and move it around the drip line (outer branch tips) of trees or close to the trunk if the tree is new or young. 

I make it super easy on myself and set the timer and move the sprinkler every 15 to 20 minutes or so. Circle back and repeat the same spots (soak and cycle) if the area is severely dry. Soak and cycle helps the water soak down avoiding water waste and run-off. 
If you want to use the deep root soil needle then plan on an hour or more of hands-on time for large trees and other areas. Insert the soil needle down no more than a foot or eight inches (that's where most of the roots are located) and let it run five or so minutes in each spot, you'll know when the area is saturated. Move it every five to eight feet around the tree. Don't forget the shrubs too.

You can also use a soaker-hose, some call them weeping hoses and extend it around the tree drip line (or closer for new trees). Make sure the water pressure is low so it soaks downward and not up and misting the air. Leave it in place until the screw driver goes down easily (check after thirty minutes), you may need to soak and cycle using the soaker if the area is super dry. Keep in mind that soaker-hoses aren't as easy to place around the tree when the hose is cold from being in your shed or garage, use some stakes to keep it in place. 

Check your landscape every four to six weeks if there's a dry weather pattern. 

If you are growing garlic that was planted last fall they probably need a drink too, check them! 

After watering you still have time for that winter walk, or maybe some frisbee. The golf courses must be having a banner fall season!

Additional local watering resources:

Fall and Winter Watering from CSU Extension

Watering Tree Care Guide from Denver Water

Planttalk Fall & Winter Watering

Thursday, December 7, 2017

My Mom

When you lose a parent or a loved one time seems to stand still. My 92-year old Mother passed away the day before Thanksgiving and it feels like the Christmas season has begun without me. I'm going to try to catch up very soon, but grieving doesn't have a timetable, ask anyone.

If you are reading this blog and know me personally then you know my Mother has been a role model for many of my behaviors (good and not so good). She shaped and encouraged an entire family of gardeners - from my three siblings to their spouses, children and countless cousins. Most of my aunts and uncles planted seeds and tended flowers during their lives. My remaining Aunt Jo, given name Mary Ruth, gardened for years in Billings, having worked at a popular garden center before retirement. Customers sought her out for her plant and planting wisdom. She's 94 and the last remaining sibling of ten, my Mother was the youngest. Aunt Pat (Pauline) died just a few years ago at age 100. 

Mom and Me, windy-bad hair day! Easter 2014
Why all the male sounding monikers for my aunts? According to all seven aunts, my grandfather was hoping for more boys, but they only had three, so he decided to give them all (or most) male sounding nicknames. I'm not sure if that would be politically correct today, but it worked in the early part of the twentieth century when Sherman and Emma were starting their family. My Mom was called 'Dickie,' another aunt was named 'Kelly.' I already mentioned Aunt Jo and Aunt Pat. The eldest, Florence became known as 'Sister,' probably because she was the first born and they didn't know how many girls were ahead. Her role in the family was being the big "sister" who helped my grandparents raise the younger kids. 

I think grief sharpens our memories to help us cope and keep loved ones close. I'll miss the Sunday afternoon phone calls when we mostly talked about the weather, always back to gardening, don't you know. My frantic call near the holidays to ask for the special ingredient in the green bean casserole - there really isn't one, unless Velveeta is considered special. How deep are potato seeds planted? I already miss the December goody package of her delicious peanut brittle, which I always shared with others, especially my father-in-law who looked forward to it as much as me. Her Christmas gifts for many years have been a Montana imprinted shirt, tote or something clever and useful like an embroidered oven mitt. She ordered them from my older brother who owns a small embroidery and pack/mail business. 

Days ago while clearing her house I came across a bright purple bag containing some pretty holiday themed silky women's scarves. I had no idea why she put them in the place I was emptying - the antique buffet cupboard near the dining room table. My brother told me she had recently purchased them for my sister and me for Christmas, having run out of time or ideas of something to order from Paul's shop. My Mom was tired, not well, and most likely in the know of what was happening to her health. 

My Mother was a doer, she completed any task she set her mind to doing. Add the no nonsense approach and attitude and you'll get the full picture of her personality. My husband says she didn't suffer fools gladly. Per my brother's observation, our family was a very early example of the latch-key generations to follow. Both parents worked to provide a home and support four children. Mom stayed home with my older brothers and sister until I started first grade (there wasn't kindergarten back then). When I turned six she went back to practicing nursing, working the seven to three shift in order to be home when I got home from school. She fixed dinner every night and did all the motherly chores we all know. My Dad was helpful and a loving Father, but back then married roles were clearly defined and followed.

Before we both left town my sister and I visited the hospice home where she died since we weren't present at the time of her death. We wanted to meet the nurse and let her know how thankful we were for her care of our Mom. She hugged us first (tightly) and then told us how our Mother knew all the ins and outs of hospice care (she volunteered for them for ten years), and had been a lifelong nurse. Vickie described Mom as being no nonsense, of course my sister and I nodded in agreement. Lee, my sister was quick to add that "it was great that she was no nonsense, unless you lived with it full time!" We all laughed - a respectful laugh.
Mom's Primroses

In addition to gardening she loved to read and was part of an active book club with her church friends right up to the end of her life. She was part of the volunteer church group who made sandwiches for homeless shelters in Billings. 

She enjoyed decorating her south facing bay window with seasonal scenes so passing walkers could admire and enjoy. She loved old classic movies and PBS programs like 'As Time Goes By,' 'Ann of Green Gables' and 'Downton Abbey.' Her love of music included Pavarotti, Louis Armstrong, Roy Orbison and Christmas music. 'Joy to the World' was her favorite. And musicals - 'Oklahoma,' 'My Fair Lady' and The Sound of Music' to name her top must watches. My parents always had a dog with a great yard to play. Her very old, yet still happy, mixed-breed dog Toby was put down just a week prior to her death. 

Mom wanted to die at home, she almost got her wish. She spent just a few hours in the hospital emergency room early Sunday morning before Thanksgiving. She told the hospital staff and my two bothers that she wanted to go to the hospice home immediately. Tom, my bother took her to her house, they had some soup and gathered a few of her belongings. We talked Sunday evening on the phone and I told her that I loved her, she died just three days later peacefully in her sleep, out of pain from slow growing lung cancer.

Ever Happy Toby!
My hope is that as we inch toward a New Year and then spring, I'll be refreshed and renewed to begin a new gardening season. I know my Mom would have planted her geranium slips outside in May and enjoyed seeing the first blooms on her roses. Her favorite plants were primroses and hybrid tea roses - 'Double Delight,' 'Chrysler Imperial,' and 'Peace.' 

She also enjoyed her bougainvillea, Christmas cactus and several indoor plants. Her ficus and jade plants were giants and loved her east facing sunny window. Mom looked forward to spring tulips, summer zinnias and homegrown vegetables. She grew peas and potatoes, hoping to enjoy creamed early potatoes and peas by the fourth of July. She canned tomatoes, peaches and cherries, a task she mastered early in a large family that survived on home farming and selling chicken eggs.

From the King James Bible - Ecclesiastes 3:2 

"A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant, 
and a time to pluck up that which was planted."

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Losing a Mother and Gardener

Dear Blog Reader - I'll be taking a couple weeks off from writing to spend time with family. My Mother passed away and my focus will be elsewhere until it's time to come back to the keyboard.  

My very best to you for a wonderful Thanksgiving and Holiday Season.  

Sending heavenly well wishes to the best gardener I know - Madylene, known as 'Dickie' by many, but Mom to me.

I love you Mom!

Tilling my Mom's garden a few years ago, she had the BEST soil!

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Bulbs - There's Still Time to Plant

We're having a very mild fall season along the Front Range of Colorado - which means there's still time to plant bulbs in the ground in non frozen areas. This includes ornamental bulbs (tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, etc.) and garlic planting stock. Also, consider planting ornamental bulbs in containers for outdoor cold storage for 16-18 weeks. After that time move the container indoors to enjoy cheery spring blooms.

Below are some helpful resources to help you plant.

Jefferson County Master Gardeners Video - Gardening Power to the People: Planting Bulbs

Garlic Planting Video Link - Planting Garlic

Friday, November 10, 2017

Outdoor Winter Containers - Store or Style

A few years ago I wrote about decorating outdoor containers for landscape winter interest. The message bears repeating, along with some container storage tips if you prefer to focus on holiday lighting and getting ready to deck the halls.

What to do with outdoor containers after the growing season - will they make it through the winter?

Plastic containers are probably the most forgiving when it comes to surviving the recurrent freeze-thaw cycles in Colorado. In the past few years new, frost resistant plastic containers have been introduced and they may be fine sitting out all winter. 
If you have the space - store plastic containers in a garage, shed or under a protected eve. First toss the spent foliage and soil in to the compost bin. If disease plagued the plants like powdery mildew, just throw away the entire contents. 
Glazed and terra cotta containers are much less forgiving when it comes to winter conditions. Unlike plastic, these materials are porous so easily absorb moisture from winter rain, snow or remaining potting soil left in the container. 
When glazed and terra cotta containers freeze they often crack when the soil inside expands then warms up again. No doubt whomever coined the phrase 'crackpot' did so during the winter. 
One note about glazed containers - less expensive pots may not be glazed on the inside, or not fired at high temperatures which makes them more likely to crack during the winter. 
If they are glazed both out and inside, and fired at high temperatures when made, they may not absorb water - making them more winter proof. One way to tell quality is to lift it (or try to lift it), the heavier the better and if it's glazed inside, it will feel and look smooth, not rough.
For storage - if they're small enough to move, repeat the same procedure for glazed and terra cotta as plastic containers. Take one more step and carefully turn them upside down for good drainage and rest them on some bricks, bubble wrap or boards to prevent direct freezing to the ground. 
If your glazed or terra cotta containers are too large and you're not going to decorate them, then cover with a plastic tarp to keep them dry. Wrap with bubble wrap before or after the tarp for extra insulation. 
    Metal Containers - many are low cost
Any of the other materials used for outdoor containers including the newest recycled weatherproof plastic containers, concrete, marble, metal, fiberglass, wood and cast iron are the best bets to endure our tough outdoor conditions - generally for many seasons.

    Recycled  Weatherproof Plastic
    What are your outdoor fall-winter decorating goals?
    Do you need curb appeal? Your containers might be sitting there empty anyway - they can't or won't be moved. They would remain lifeless from November to May except for the neighborhood squirrel's regular visit to snack on his stash of acorn or buckeye nuts.  
    More "selling" curb appeal? A couple of houses went on the market on my block earlier this fall and the first thing I noticed was the owners (or their realtors) quickly replaced faded, dried geraniums with brightly colored mums. They looked inviting..."come on in and buy me."
    It's not enough the day after Thanksgiving to put out the blow up Santa workshop or the herd of pre-lit wire deer - better decorate the outdoor containers too!
    Put on the creative cap and have fun. Here are some basic guidelines, there are no absolute style rules:
    Empty the containers you're decorating - before they freeze. Frozen potting soil is difficult to remove unless it comes out in a solid block after being tipped over. Loose soil is easier to poke in branches or greenery. A couple of years ago I got a late start on decorating the front concrete urns and had to use some old heating pads to thaw the soil (silly, I know). It didn't work and it probably wasn't the safest thing to do. Thank goodness we had a warm spell in early November that year and in a couple of days I was in business.
    Gather the fill materials. This is where you can really go to town or the nearest thrift store, hobby store, discount center and for sure your favorite garden store. Don't overlook what's growing in your own backyard. Red and yellow dogwoods add color plus vertical winter interest. Dried foliage, flowers and seed pods add depth and interesting fall muted tones. Look for anything that will complement a green foliage base or skirt (my personal choice), but you don't have to stick to green. The container doesn't have to be the traditional - thriller - filler - spiller, although this model works for outdoor winter containers too. A container filled with pinecones and secondhand Christmas tree ornaments is simple, yet seasonal.
    Build it and they will come (to admire). Adding lights or some of the battery or pre-lit props add the final pop to any outdoor container masterpiece. Don't forget the wreath or swag on the front door.

      This is a rectangular metal container (they have square too) from Room and Board. If you're looking for weatherproof, there are more metal containers on the market then just a few years ago. 

      It's filled with internet ordered curly willow - that have lasted several years. They are stored in the basement in the off season. At the base are free fir branch cuttings from a nearby Christmas tree lot. Our outdoor containers are placed on our patio with a view from the living room - quite nice!

      This urn contains layered evergreen pine, blue spruce, and fir branches with tucked in winterberry and pine cones. Look for assorted green boughs in garden centers or try artificial. 

      The low container with birch, tillandsia and pinecones is meant for an indoor table but the same idea would work on an outdoor space. Instead of the air plants, opt for sprigs of pine or similar.

      This concrete container has curly willow, free fir cuttings from a Christmas tree lot and winterberry.

      For more examples and ideas, check Pinterest or search outdoor container images online. 

      Glazed Container with birch branches and pinecones

      A few years ago we took out a birch tree and kept several branches. In the fall I place them in the blue glazed container along with some pine cones. Some years I place evergreen boughs around the base.

      Happy outdoor container decorating fun!