Archive for the ‘Flower Gardening’ Category

My friend Darby called me on her cell phone the other day with a shopping alert. She was at a discount store selling boxes of bare root perennials at bargain prices and wanted to know how many I wanted. She was shocked when I told her I would pass on this bargain.

Plants at rock bottom prices are not a value if they fail to grow and thrive and the problems with bare root plants often arise when you get them home. They have a relatively short shelf life once they are taken from cold storage and boxed up, so they need to be planted ASAP.

I told Darby how I cornered the market on bare root plants a couple of years ago and the experiment was a disaster. I had neither the time nor the space to care for the plants until the weather warmed enough to plant them in the garden.

Each box contained 6 bare roots – a real bargain for under $10. I grabbed an armload.  Most of the roots were too large to fit into the small pots I had on hand so I resorted to planting them in 10 oz foam coffee cups and stuck them under lights in the basement where it was cool. To make sure the plants got off to a good start the roots needed to be soaked several hours before planting.  And planting took forever so by the time I finished I wished I had never seen a bare root plant. To make matters worse I had no room under my lights to start my seeds.

Why not grow them in your conservatory Darby asked? Most home green houses and conservatories lack the automatic venting needed to prevent temperatures from rising when the sun shines. On a sunny day the temperature in my conservatory can shoot into the 90’s spelling death to bare root plants that have yet to develop good root systems. Bare root plantings are grown in cool greenhouses.

Walter’s Gardens of Zeeland Michigan one of the largest wholesalers of bare root plants tells their growers to promote root growth, newly planted bare roots should be kept between 48 to 55 degrees F for 10 to 14 days after potting and then increase the temperature to 55 to 60 degrees. Nighttime temps should be maintained at 45 to 50 degrees F.  Heat will accelerate the green growth and you want the roots development first.

I found florescent lights worked well at first but once the plants started putting on leaves they needed more light so at that point I put the perennials under professional grow lights. These high intensity lights make that wheel in the Edison box sing and my electric bill took a big jump.

When planting in spring, perennials shouldn’t be exposed to freezing weather so I explained to Darby she would have to tend those babies until the nights are frost-free and then be prepared to cover them if frost threatens.

Before planting out doors the plants need to be hardened off which means they will have to be carted in and out-of-doors for a week or more.

At some point the plants may need to be transplanted into gallon pots. Plants that stay in small containers too long become pot bound, which stresses them and they often need to be watered twice a day.

Walters recommends planting bare roots in a bark-based soilless potting mix to help hold moisture in the potting mix

“Are you telling me not to buy bare root plants?” Darby moaned.  No kiddo, I just want you to be aware of how much time and space it takes to grow them successfully so you don’t waste your money and end up with a bunch of dead plants, I answered. I suggested she start with box of easy to grow bare root day lilies or hostas and see how it goes.

I also reminded Darby bare root plants sporting green leaves have broken dormancy. They’re poor buys because the plants don’t have a root system to support that new growth and they have to use their stored reserves. While they may live through the summer many eventually run out gas and fail to survive the winter.

Roses and shrubs purchased from mail order houses that arrive bare root are not such a problem. They can and should be planted outdoors as soon as possible. However, if that’s not possible, for a short period of time they can be kept in a garage or stored along the north side of the house until planted.  Dormant bare root roses can withstand freeze as low as 28-degree says Nancy Lindley, author of Roses for Michigan.

When the plants arrive be sure check the packing to make sure it is moist and mist both the bark and the roots if they look at all dry.  Leave the packing in place and wrap the plants loosely in wet burlap, damp sheets or thick sheets of wet newspaper to keep them moist until they can be planted.

I’ll check in with Darby in a few weeks to see how much trouble she is in.  Hopefully, she took my advice and started slow.


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If you had asked me a few years ago which of my gardens I favor most, hands down the answer would have been my English-style flower border. It’s the garden I dreamed about and yearned for, but never had room to grow when I lived in the city.

But today my story has changed because my woodland shade garden has stolen my heart. I look out at it every day from my office window. In summer, from that distance of 20 feet, I can see a colorful mix of hostas, heucheras, astilbes and a host of hydrangeas. But it’s the smaller plants, those that stay close to the ground, that call to me to come and take a closer look.

I am thrilled my lungworts Pulmonaria, with their leaves splotched, spotted and glazed with silver, are reseeding. And tiny Japanese painted ferns are popping up everywhere. Native ferns got wind that the living was easy in the humus rich soil I prepared and have also taken up residence.

What are missing are the lovely native flowers that once filled the woodlands that surround my house. The dogtooth violets Erythroniumamericanumand trillium Trillium grandaflorumof my childhood are nowhere to be found. The large deer population that roams my acreage and adjacent family homestead has ravaged the wildflower population that thrived in the surrounding woods when I was a child, so now I will have to buy native plants I want to grow in my woodland garden. And I want to expand the collection.

Many woodland natives are early blooming ephemerals that flower in spring and then go dormant, so they are best purchased and planted in early spring. But they can be hard to find.

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Yardpost – If you left gasoline in the tanks of your lawn mower, string trimmer, or chain saw and the tool is out there in the unheated garage.  You might go out and start those engines and run them until they run out of gas.  This avoids a starting problem this spring.

The whole issue of the safety of pesticides used in the home landscape has, in my modest view, been pretty much ignored by the federal, state, and local governments in this country for the past 50 years.  In that time, all of the very expensive tests required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine the safety of a pesticide for consumers are directed towards the possibility of a pesticide compound causing cancer.

The reality, and this is a doozy, is that in fifty years there have probably not been a dozen cases of cancer suffered by a consumer, linked to any pesticide contact.  Cancer caused by pesticides only occurs among farm workers who are using it for very prolonged periods of time.  The guy spreading the pesticides on your lawn might get cancer, but you will not.

The true danger of pesticides for consumers is that they can cause serious allergenic incidents.  While the federal government is not keeping track, at least for public information, in that same fifty years there have been many deaths, mostly of children, reportedly caused by exposure to a pesticide sprayed on a lawn or in trees and shrubs.   There have been thousands of allergenic reactions suffered by consumers in that same period caused by exposure to a pesticide, usually within a day of its being applied to the home landscape.  There is no reporting mechanism to account for this problem at the local, state, or federal level of government.  It’s considered a private matter.

Pesticides are tested for potential effects on cancer primarily because scientists can measure cancer.  They do not test for impact on allergies, because there are no tests to measure the impact of a pesticide on allergies.  Allergies are far too complex to be measured in that way.  So the EPA ignores the potential impact of any pesticide on allergies, while allergies all along have been the real problem.

So here is the Catch-22.  Not only do we not know whether any pesticide sprayed on the home landscape will or will not cause an allergenic reaction, the vulnerability of Americans from allergy, especially young children, is going up at a scary rate.

When my son was born in 1965, he was diagnosed as being somewhat allergenic.  The doctor said between 5% and 10% of all babies born at that time would have that problem.  The figure now is something between 40% and 50% of all young children have some allergenic weakness, be it dust, peanuts, or airborne chemicals.  Most of these allergies are not life threatening, but since we don’t know about the impact of a freshly applied pesticide on the lawn, no one should allow their child on that lawn for at least 24 hours.

Then what about the allergenic child living down the street who comes to visit?  How do they know to stay away?  The answer is that they don’t.  The state law requires the pesticide applicators to place a 4 by 5 inch sign at the property’s entrance reporting that a pesticide has been applied.  If a kid can’t read or comes onto the lawn from the side, there is no way for that child to be warned.  I would like the law to be changed to require the pesticide applicator to surround the entire area that was sprayed with little red flags placed at every six feet or so.  Then kids could be trained to stay away from any property that has those red flags.

By the way, you pet owners should also take notice.  Most veterinarians know which of their clients subscribe to a lawn service which sprays pesticides on the lawn.  Their pets have skin irritations and allergies that are caused by those pesticides.  The rule again is to not let the kid or the pet out on to the grass for 24 hours.

With all this, let’s not get crazy.  If I spray my rose bush with a pyrethroid type pesticide such as Bonide’s Eight, do I keep the kids and pets inside for 24 hours?  No, because they don’t usually roll around in the rose bush.  I don’t use pesticides unless I really feel they are necessary to save a plant.  If I minimize my use of pesticides, this whole allergy problem disappears.  Now all I have to worry about is what my neighbors are doing.

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Nancy’s Tomato Chronicles – Week 7 of 2010

(Week 7 is Feb 15th to 21st)

Timely Tip: Sweet peas are cold tolerant and should be planted early in spring. To keep the seed from rotting before it sprouts, pre treat it by soaking for 24 hours and pre-germinate it indoors before planting.

If the magic garden genie ever appears in my dreams and grants me three wishes, my first wish would be that every gardener through out the land would be compelled to grow a few plants from seed.

It wouldn’t have to be a big deal. Those who are short on time might begin by dusting the seeds of sweet alyssum between the cracks in their sidewalks and scattering lettuce seeds among the petunias.

Folks new to gardening might start with easy growers like sassy sunflowers, Cosmos or bachelor buttons.

Flower gardeners would be driven to search out new varieties and veggie gardeners would reap a three-season harvest.  American seed houses, currently hounded by flat sales will halt the downsizing of their inventories; there would be lots of extra food to feed the hungry and our world would be a prettier to live in.

Growing plants from seed is not difficult and starting seedlings indoors in March and April helps to stave off the late winter ickies that plague so many of us this time of year.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog (www.johnnyseeds.com 207 437 4301) has a great selection of seeds and seed starting supplies for growing a great garden. Start by ordering Nancy Bubel’s “New Seed Starter’s Handbook’ (Rodale $15.95), a thorough easy to read how-to on gardening from seed.  Bubel also gives lots of tips on how to grow a garden without spending a fortune.

But like all hobbies, once you get into it you may want to invest in some tools that will help you garden smarter.

Also from Johnny’s there’s the Hydrofarm Seedling Heat Mat. Professionals know that bottom heat is the secret to fast starts and quick growth. This easy to use waterproof mat will give you the grower’s edge. Easy instructions and growing tips are imprinted right on the mat. It’s available in two sizes to fit one or two standard seed trays, priced at $36.00 and $50.00.

Johnny’s also carries the Hydrofarm Green Thumb Grow Light System, an award winning new and improved grow light stand for starting seedlings that is lightweight, easy to assemble and a snap to adjust for height. It’s also quick to disassemble for easy storage. Priced at $128.50, the unit includes two Argosun full spectrum fluorescent tubes that can also be used for growing flowering plants, such as miniature roses and African violets, as well as seedlings.

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