Monday, December 28, 2015

Goodbye Gardening Season 2015

You're probably reading many year in review articles and blogs this week. Top ten movies, Ten Strangest Animal Discoveries, and top Adele songs (they pretty much all sound the same, but I'm still a fan). Let me add my two cents and coincidentally I have two central observations about the gardening season of 2015. 

June 7.5 inches
Rain and Japanese beetles.  In my yard it rained Japanese beetles in July and August. "Holy Known Unknown Flying Objects!!"  There's no way of knowing the Japanese beetle totals, maybe, definitely, in the hundreds.

Colorado averages between fourteen and fifteen inches of precipitation a year. Putting that in how little that amount is perspective, Massachusetts receives forty-seven. The weather service measures moisture amounts at Denver International Airport, the totals in my yard are usually higher. In 2015, Denver received 18.22 total inches of precipitation, that's through 12/27. The "head scratching, can't believe this is happening rain months" were May and June. 

In May we received a little over five inches and in June close to seven and a half.  The math is easy, we received a boatload of precip. in the prime time spring planting window. As a result my tomatoes went in the ground around July 4th about the same time I harvested garlic. On the flip side, the cool-season vegetables were in heaven with the lower temperatures and wet weather - broccoli, lettuce, spinach, potatoes and kale sailed through to the dinner plate deliciously fine.  

And wouldn't you know, the faucet quit flowing in August and most of the fall season. At least it wasn't a repeat of November 2014's freeze event, so plants benefited from the normal gradual hardening off period. By the way, my plant losses weren't too bad from the '14 flash freeze, mostly newly planted perennials and two Rose of Sharon trees that I'm still watching for recovery.

Fall was simply spectacular. Not only did roses rally for another bloom cycle (they really missed the spring season), but late summer thrillers performed on cue. Coneflowers, penstemons, monarda, echinops, lavender, and asters....the list is too long to mention all of them. Trees enjoyed a long period to show off their fall glory before we all turned our thoughts to what side dishes to prepare for Thanksgiving.    

And now we're in the chill of late December and looking forward to what She'll throw at us next. We know for sure that the days are lengthening and the trowel beckons. 

Japanese Beetles
Oh...those darn Japanese beetles. I will not swear in my writing, but curse words are spot on to describe their presence in one's yard. The first JB I spotted was on a patio container 'Rosa Bianca' eggplant in late June.  Then they gathered to stay, play and eat on the fence of silver lace vines, which are the collective veil of privacy from the alley to our backyard. They had to go!  I tried the easy way first - flicking them in to a soapy jar of water, but the numbers were too great and I couldn't easily reach them on top of the vines.  I mixed up some organic BioNEEM® which mildly discouraged them. Then I cried and commiserated with other area gardeners who were battling them as much or more than me.  Then we all cried as the heat of August kicked in when their eating and mating season moved into fifth gear....turbo gear!  I learned about a biological (organic) product that works on both adult beetles and their larvae.  It contains the active ingredient Btg. It was only available from one mail order supply company.  I'm hoping it has a wider distribution next summer.  I wrote several blogs about Japanese beetles and control options (including Btg) and protocols a few months ago. More - Japanese beetles  

Japanese Beetles on Roses
Japanese beetles are not only incorrigible insects, they are intrusive, invasive and insensitive to our summer garden pleasure! To borrow some words from Dr. Seuss and Mr. Grinch...they stink-stank-stunk!

At the end of each garden year there isn't a downside, at least in my book.  What happened happened. The tomatoes finally ripened and we enjoyed several warm fall evenings on the patio. Gardeners will collectively hit the ground running with new hope and vigor in a few months.  In the meantime I'll read up on the latest plant introductions while Adele is playing in the background.  

Happy New Year!  

Thank You for Reading My Blog and Denver Post Punch Lists!  

Monday, December 21, 2015

Seasonal Delights

Plant Select Tennesse Purple Coneflower
This time of year receiving holiday cards and letters, plus scrolling through Facebook is a cheery get away from the negative zone. Not the Negative Zone parallel universe a la Marvel Comics. I mean the twenty-four hour negative news cycle which mostly includes Hollywood bawdiness and divisive political mudslinging.

No more Debbie Downer pessimism, it's almost Christmas!

Checking out what family and friends are baking, making and photographing is downright positive, smile inducing and hopeful. Trying not to sound too cliche-ish, but wouldn't it be nice to have that feeling all year?!

My favorite Facebook postings are anything plant related, followed by the Santa and kid pictures, along with those whirlwind recipes that show how to bake one-bite cinnamon rolls or chocolate covered popcorn in thirty-seconds.  And the animal videos that make you laugh out loud or cry in less than five seconds, talk about a quick emotional response! They equal the immediate reach for a tissue Budweiser Clydesdale commercials from the Super Bowl. Yea, some would call the time spent on FB a waste, I call it "five good minutes." I stole that title from an ESPN sports program segment that my husband often watches.

Enjoy the season. The bills arrive in January, but spring is just a few weeks away.

Some of my favorite photos and video links from 2015 -

Holiday Popcorn

A Thanksgiving Miracle - SNL

Freshpet Holiday Feast (from '14, still a winner) 

Garlic doesn't mind the snow!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

It Was a Good Ride

Part of life is letting go of things that have served their purpose, often there is an emotional component - happiness or more often, sadness.  My most recent "letting go" experience happened a few days ago. It was sad. My twenty-year-old ownership of my 1994 Ford Aerostar minivan ended.   

Simply and economically it was time to get rid of this very fond reminder of my single career days motoring up and down the interstate highways and back roads of the Rocky Mountain West. I was a manufacturer's representative for several years prior to meeting my husband and later closing my business and "getting off the road."  My career required lots of travel, mostly by driving to store owners from Las Cruces, NM to Havre, MT"The Van" as we've always called it, was not only my ride, it was my home away office, suitcase and connection to the latest news at the top of the hour by radio.  It had no CD player, GPS and came equipped with only one airbag. Back in those days all you needed was cruise control and a fuzz buster, I had both! 

Time has flown by and seeing "the van" get towed away was the end of many chapters in a long book.  By the way, it still drove okay, but the charity Step 13 sent the tow truck anyway

This story doesn't have much to do with gardening, although I used the van often over the years to haul plants, bags of mulch, expanded shale and large item garden do dads. We often lent it to neighbors and friends to help with their moves. I drove the van to northern Idaho in 1996 to get married, then on to Jackson Hole and Jenny Lake Lodge for our honeymoon. My sister and I had some unforgettable times driving the van through Phoenix on our way to meet up with our parents who wintered in the area in their 80s-era Fleetwood Bounder motorhome And the most memorable drive was in '01 when I met and picked up our first dog Tallie. She was close to six years old and needed a new home which we lovingly provided until she was fifteen.  She rode calmly on the bench seat behind me while I nervously steered us both back to a new life.  

So long dear van....your aerodynamic slope-nosed design was no longer in favor or production after 1997. Ford Motor Company moved on to the Windstar, then the Freestar and currently the Ford Transit Connect.  

We're not in the market for a replacement, we'll make due with our compact station wagon hatchback. I'll miss the van more than ever next time I need to move some large rocks.  :'(


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What's Next Part II (after Thanksgiving)

With a blink Thanksgiving came and went.  Really, it's over?  Well, then before we know it December holidays may come and go just as quickly. And you know what the New Year means...countdown to spring!  So what's next?
It's early December and every time you enter the garden center or grocery store you're first greeted with displays and rows of amazing, beautiful winter flower bouquets, poinsettias, rosemary, and Norfolk pine plants. And there's winterberries, fresh greenery, Christmas cactus and orchids, oh my!  Goodness, there's more red, white and green staring you in the face then the over the top Santa display at the nearby shopping mall. You're torn whether to splurge on one of these seasonal splendors or hold tight to your budget and continue walking staight to the bread aisle. You can't help but dream about guests walking into your aromatic cinnamon spiced holiday party oohing and aahing over the house filled with dazzling seasonal floral eye candy. Back to reality, should you make a purchase, that's your call...I'm still thinking about going back for the blue-dyed poinsettia. 

If you buy, choose a day when the outside temperature is above 50 degrees to cart home your holiday treasure.  And cover it with plastic bags from the store or bring your own box to keep the cold and wind out. 

Hopefully your plant came with a tag which should give you basic care instructions.  Often I take a photo of the tag just in case it gets tossed with all the foil or decorations. 

When you first get home, carefully unwrap your plant and if foiled, cut some holes in the bottom of the foil and then place the plant on top of a tray so water will freely drain. Check for flying gnats and if present isolate the plant until they are taken care of.  My recommendation is to break off small pieces from your outdoor water feature mosquito dunks and place on top of the soil, once watered in the larvae will be killed (the dunk contains "Bt," a very safe biological product to use). More - fungus gnats  

Links with care instructions for some popular holiday plants. 

Christmas Cactus
Christmas Trees 
Norfolk Island Pine 
European Cypress and Lemon Cypress Potted Plants 
Cut Flowers 

Wishing you a happy, healthy December holiday season. May it slow down just a tad so you can enjoy more time with your guests. After they are gone, sit down with a 2016 seed catalog and dream of you know what!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What's Next, Part I

Snow on the ground and nights in the 30s means winter is coming or in some locales, has arrived. Rejoice or lament, there are plenty of things to do inside to get your green fix (not that kind of green fix).  I'm talking about easy and mostly low-cost foliage futzing about, just take your pick - plant amaryllis or paperwhite bulbs, or force spring bulbs now for late winter enjoyment. How about planting some unique glass terrariums or decorating with the easiest of care air plants, aka - tillandsias or beyond gorgeous orchids?  For your homegrown fix consider growing micro-greens, sprouts or planting garlic in a pretty container to use as chives.  And if you're creative and love DIY projects for the holidays or anytime, I've linked some websites that will expand your selection and possibly require a second glue gun (aren't they just about the best invention ever)?  This is Part I, check back soon for Part II.

Holiday Bulbs: 

Start amaryllis bulbs indoors in November for late December/early January bloom and stagger planting into the New Year.  Have fun choosing colors and sizes.  They range in shades of red, salmon, pink, green, yellow, white or dramatic bicolored or striped colors. You get what you pay for, smaller bulbs found in discount or box stores may not have the robust flowering that says "wow!"   

Use new potting soil in 6-inch pots (or a container that is just an inch larger than the bulb) with a third of the bulb showing above the pot rim. Water well and place in a cool area. Hold off on watering until growth appears, then water more frequently and move to a sunny location.  Quality bulbs should produce two flower stalks with four flowers on each stem.  For more information click here - amaryllis

Paperwhite narcissus bulbs are quick and super easy to grow in either water or soil. Garden centers stock paperwhites all through the winter season so plant them now and often. For family fun ask your kids or grandkids to help. Use a glass container filled with a 2-inch or more layer of pebbles or decorative rock, place the bulbs on top and fill in around them with more pebbles to keep them in place. Add water until it touches the bottom of the bulbs and maintain that level. If planting in fresh potting soil, sink the bulbs slightly in a soil filled container.  Use a container with drainage holes, if not then start with a 1/2 inch layer of small rock pebbles below the potting soil.

Paperwhites just about to bloom

Place the container in a bright room, not too warm (70 is just fine). They start blooming as early as three weeks.  Use decorative or seasonal twigs, or stakes to support the stems.  If you want to keep the stems shorter, try mixing in a very small amount of vodka, gin or rubbing alcohol in the water filled container (don't use with soil planted bulbs).  More - Pickling your Paperwhites.

After they are finished blooming (flowers turn brownish and you'll know they are gone), toss in the compost pile. Clean the container and start another set! 

I found this giant glass vase on the sale rack at a furniture store.  It's become my favorite way to grow and seasonally display paperwhites.  I use artificial berry branches after Thanksgiving through the holidays.  If using fresh branches of any kind, you'll have to set them in their own tiny vase within the vase because live branches will break down in the water causing discoloration (of the water).  

Some of my favorite DIY garden links (some sites require registration): 


Gardening on Pinterest 

Apartment Therapy Fall Wreaths 

DIY Centerpieces 



Monday, November 9, 2015

Green Manure Magic

Last blog I covered covering open planting beds with shredded leaves to protect the soil, sort of like building a cozy winter's cape.  That's a lot of c's in one sentence.  So allow me to switch gears but continue the conversation about your garden soil and other considerations for winter care.
Close Up Cover Crop - Austrian Peas/Winter Rye

Another "covering" option for bare soil is to plant a green manure, also known as a cover crop.  From early Romans to the first American settlers, farmers have been using green manures to replenish, improve and prevent soil erosion.  Fields, or in our yards - planting beds that grow crops in the same location year after year need a break or an alternate crop that will enhance the soil by replacing lost nutrients. Planting green manures also improves soil quality (tilth), the soil's water holding abilities and provides a nice environment for beneficial earthworms and soil microorganisms to thrive.

Green manures can be direct seeded in the fall, spring or summer, just be sure to give the cover crop enough time to decompose before planting the next season of vegetables or annuals. Allow at least six weeks or longer to completely break down. If planted in the fall the hardy crops like winter rye and field peas will grow through the winter. Buckwheat and clover winter kill.  

Be careful not to let the crop go to seed, this is more of a consideration with spring or summer planted green manures. 

Rake area, spread seeds, cover seeds with soil and water
The planting procedure is simple - use several seeds, enough to fully cover the bare surface to prevent soil from blowing away.  In addition, this blanket of green will keep weeds out through the winter and when turned over in late winter and allowed to break down, the soil will be super charged with organic nutrients.  Use legume-type seeds for a beneficial nitrogen fix. Check the handy guide below for seed options based on the planting season.  Chart from the University of Wisconsin Horticulture, compiled from Johnny's Selected Seed Company and Cornell University Department of Horticulture.   

Check with your local garden center for seed availability or mail order.  

This bed was planted in October with winter rye and field peas. It's okay to mix seeds.

This bed was turned over in late winter and allowed several weeks to break down before planting.

Cover Crop
Seeding Rate Per 100 sq. ft.
(10’ x 10’ Garden)
Does This Plant Fix Nitrogen?
Growth Rate
2 lb
Is easily worked into the soil.
Attracts pollinators and beneficial insects.
Re-seeds prolifically. 
DO NOT allow to go to seed.
½ lb
Grows better in high pH soils than other clovers.
Late Summer, Early Fall
4 lb
Likes well drained soils.
Dies over the winter.
Makes a good choice in areas to be worked early the following spring.
Early Fall
5 lb
Can outcompete many weeds.
1 lb
Is easily worked into the soil.
4 lb
Easy to grow.
Grows fast.
Can be planted late in the season.
Late Summer, Early Fall
1 lb
Easy to grow.
Late Summer,  Fall
2 lb
Needs fertile soil.
Does not like low pH soils.

                                                                Chart from Wisconsin Horticulture

Summer planted buckwheat, beautiful plant and attracts beneficial insects!