Friday, May 19, 2017

Succession Planning

Spring tulip, columbine & spirea
Once spring has sprung, the pages of what's flowering whizzes by in never ending speed.

It's gone from tulips and daffodils to iris and peonies in the wink of an eye.  It's affirmation all gardens need succession planning.

In the corporate world, it's a plan on how and who will replace upper management personnel when they leave.  In the garden, it means planting perennials to have something blooming during every phase of the spring/summer/fall seasons.

Seldom does the beginner gardener consider succession planning and instead buys for only pretty.  Agreed, pretty is very important but if that pretty only lasts a few weeks of every year, the garden can have some disappointing times. 
Summer Hydrangea, lilies and beebalm

Another factor is the succession of blooming plants must be planted when they're not blooming and when we're not thinking about them.  Spring flowering bulbs is a good example where they must be planted in the fall.

In a smaller example of this, my daylilies represent flowers that bloom extra early, early, midseason and late.  Granted it's powerful to have every daylily blooming at the same time but that show will only last about a month.  Having plants from all four bloom periods extends the bloom time from late April to frost. 
Spring peonies and lilacs.

Read the little tags on nursery plants you're considering for the garden.  They will almost always tell the bloom time.  If in doubt ask the employees.  

Fall is perhaps the hardest time to find a lot of bloomers.  Especially hard for a gardener because these fall blooming perennials take up a lot of garden space all spring/summer being simply green.  

Placing perennials with different bloom times together in beds keeps an area from being entirely "blah" when that one plant isn't in bloom.
Annual Nasturtiums bloom until frost.

If you don't enjoy flowers, the color of the foliage during the different months can help do a similar bed change.  Spring is often the time when some plant leaves are lime green which may soften to medium green as the summer progresses.  A stunning example of fall leaf color is how a Burning Bush turns bright red in the fall.
When all else fails, Hosta leaves work!

Using brightly flowered annuals tucked around perennials will help keep the beds bright until frost.  It requires more time and money but it can worth it for a quick fix or for fuller color.

And finally, if you like to bring cut flowers into the house, having a continuous spring, summer and fall of abundant blooms makes it possible.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Dirt, Mold, Moss and Algae on Vinyl?

Last summer was the worst for vinyl siding (and some other surfaces.)  Have you noticed the many homes where the siding is covered with this green or black coating?  

Our home's painted surfaces didn't have much but the vinyl shutters were covered and required so much work to clean.  Last year, the only thing that took it off my shutters was straight bleach and lots of work.  This is hard on the body and yard and impossible for large surfaces like siding.

Scotts Outdoor Cleaner Plus Oxiclean.

It claims it doesn't hurt plants or other surfaces.

It will kill a moss garden so don't spray on that.

It sells in concentrate for you to mix and apply to large surfaces.  It comes in ready to use spray bottle for small areas.  And in a container that attaches to your hose or power washer for large surfaces.

(Remember to start with the LEAST pressure if you're using a power washer.  You don't need the added problem of cracked and broken siding, screens, windows, trim and etc. from too hard of a blast.  The use of a power washer with this product is not for hard hitting water but to reach all areas.)

It says it's available at Ace Hardware and Walmart (among others.)

For the record, if nothing is done, the green/black will spread - not go away.  It's not only unsightly but it can eventually cause problems and damage to other surfaces.  For some it causes health issues.   Winter/cold does not kill it.  Even if you kill the active growth, the stain will remain unless you use a product to remove.

I know people have installed vinyl siding so as not to have to mess with the expense and labor painted surfaces require.  In this case, it appears that plan wasn't foolproof.  In addition, vinyl lawn furniture, shutters, statuary, pool surrounds and all are falling victim.    

I haven't tried this product but if your home is covered in this unsightly mess, it might be worth a try.  There are other products that say they do the same thing and there are contractors that will do the cleaning for you.  If you do yourself, read directions, take health and home precautions.  If you hire others, make sure you both know how it will affect your plants.  Let me know how it goes.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Black-Capped Chickadee Fun

Here are some fun facts from a birding on-line site.  Pretty smart little bird considering the size of their brain.

  • The Black-Capped Chickadee hides seeds and other food items to eat later. Each item is placed in a different spot and the chickadee can remember thousands of hiding places.
  • Every autumn Black-capped Chickadees allow brain neurons containing old information to die, replacing them with new neurons so they can adapt to changes in their social flocks and environment even with their tiny brains.
  • Chickadee calls are complex and language-like, communicating information on identity and recognition of other flocks as well as predator alarms and contact calls. The more dee notes in a chickadee-dee-deecall, the higher the threat level.
  • Winter flocks with chickadees serving as the nucleus contain mated chickadee pairs and nonbreeders, but generally not the offspring of the adult pairs within that flock. Other species that associate with chickadee flocks include nuthatches, woodpeckers, kinglets, creepers, warblers and vireos.
  • Most birds that associate with chickadee flocks respond to chickadee alarm calls, even when their own species doesn’t have a similar alarm call.
  • There is a dominance hierarchy within flocks. Some birds are “winter floaters” that don’t belong to a single flock—these individuals may have a different rank within each flock they spend time in.
  • Even when temperatures are far below zero, chickadees virtually always sleep in their own individual cavities. In rotten wood, they can excavate nesting and roosting holes entirely on their own.
  • Because small songbirds migrating through an unfamiliar area often associate with chickadee flocks, watching and listening for chickadee flocks during spring and fall can often alert birders to the presence of interesting migrants.
  • The oldest known wild Black-capped Chickadee was a male and at least 11 years, 6 months old when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Minnesota in 2011. It had been banded in the same state in 2002.
There's a little side information to this:  do not cut down all old trees unless they cause a safety issue.  There are many birds that need dead branches and logs for homes.  Culling out all but "perfect" trees will diminish your birding opportunities and inhibit their chances of survival as natural habitat is harder to find.  

I feed un-hulled sunflower seeds in the winter and always have Black-Capped Chickadees plus we have an old wooded area.  They are perky little songbirds just waiting to entertain you.     

Right Here - Right Now

Iris "Red Zinger" is like velvet and sparkles
and welcomes spring.  Iris can be picked (it will have a
short stem if you don't want to destroy future blooms.)
and put in a bud vase.  
This little pink iris has been blooming for
several weeks, spreads and has a vanilla fragrance.
Don't know the name but it's always welcome
as the first iris to bloom in my gardens.
So easy to enjoy and so sweet.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Recycling - It's a Garden Thing

This rescued hosta I call Big Blue.
As customs are certain to do, articles regarding recycling abound in every publication as if it's something new.  Current generations always think they just discovered the very essence of everything - I know my generation did, too.  In that vein, the new/old idea is then given a new label and the media is awash with wonderful ideas.

Recycling has always been incorporated into gardening as surely as kissing is to lovers.  Garden recycling was simply called by different names or even more simply "just done".

Seed saving is an excellent example of recycling.  Originally it was done as about the only way to make sure a variety of plant ended up in the gardens of the world.  Because so many people migrated to the new world, they brought the necessary seeds to start their food and to a lesser extent, their flowers. The old tale of Johnny Appleseed was based upon need and fact.

This old fashioned fragrant climbing petunia
was from seed from a neighbor.
The current seed savers enterprise is based on a desire to make sure old or vintage plants aren't lost during phases in the plant industry where something goes out of favor.  Only to have another generation wish it could be found again.  Or only to recognize the old variety had qualities that we wish we could incorporate today.

As an example, think of the old juicy and flavorful tomatoes vs. today's tomato that was developed only because it shipped well and stayed red in the grocery.

One of the best ways to recycle plants is to share plant starts or seeds with others.  Gardeners do this because most of us realize the joy of giving something special to someone who will treasure it as much as we have in our own garden.  In older generations, it was done to help another family have variety enough to make meals healthy.

Daylily "Chloe" was from my daughter's
My gardens are filled with the beauty from some other gardener who either by the fun of sharing or by the necessity of sharing allowed me to have a plant.

If you want to see determination on the face of a gardener, watch them "save" a plant from destruction.  Due to a new landscaping idea, new building construction or from the simply clueless, most of us have rushed in with shovels to grab some old beauties from annihilation. 

I often credit in these articles plants my daughter and I rescued from a parsonage in Galesburg, where the new vicar decided to bulldoze the entire English garden to make a dog run.  After we did the mandatory "what is he thinking" noises, we took out three pickup loads of mostly old varieties of plants.  This was "by the necessity" type of recycling.

Gardeners will also be able to tell you exactly who gave them a plant or the entire story related to their recycled gems.  It's one of the best parts of gardening - working around this or that plant and it brings a memory of that person or situation.  Working in the garden is like living in a diary or photo album.  This the what is called "fun sharing" recycling.

Annuals are perfect for seed saving.
The necessity of saving plants from extinction, the necessity of saving plants for feeding your family in a new world or simply the joy of sharing plants with another gardener is recycling.  Dang it's fun to be trendy in a recycled kind of way.    

Friday, April 14, 2017

In the Easter Parade - Sort of...

In rural Indiana in the 1950s, we never had an Easter Parade but we certainly knew how to parade our Easter finery at church.

It was an exciting time for this little Tom boy since I was given a new summer dress and matching Spring coat, new white (always) Mary Jane shoes, new white anklets, white gloves and best of all a new Easter bonnet.

All Easter hats for women and girls were straw and decorated with flowers and ribbons. All women and girls wore hats to church. Most often our hats were either white or died to match our dresses. My favorite was a pink one my mom had where the top was cut out and the brim covered in roses. 

Because I didn't get new clothes except fall school clothes, maybe one piece at Christmas but a whole outfit at Easter - it was a big deal. 

My mom often made my clothes and I always loved them. One year she made a pink dress but all I really remember is the taffeta-lined pink cape. Really, what rural kid had a pink cape - ME!

As I got older, I would get a white purse to carry my hanky and small bottle of Evening in Paris perfume.

It was also the time of the year my mom felt the need to give me my biannual Tonette permanent. Therefore, every picture of me and my Easter finery includes the dreaded corkscrew style she so favored. Children had no say in these things. I'm just grateful mom did better in the clothes portion.

Easter was an opportunity to wear the strand of imitation pearls Santa had brought one Christmas. Amazingly I still have those pearls and they still look imitation and they hold great memories.

The men and boys wore suits. Plus, hats they had to balance on their knees during church. I suppose my brother's attire was new but who cared in the whole fashion scheme of things.

We always gave mom an orchid corsage (every grocery carried them in a clear plastic box in the produce section.)

I suppose there were young girls dressed much better and in more expensive finery but I sure didn't know. It was a happy time and on the way to church I'd sing:

"In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it,
You'll be the grandest lady in the Easter parade."

Monday, April 10, 2017

To Be or Not To Be

It is ALWAYS a best guess on what each new spring will bring.

  • Will it be too wet - too dry - or just right?
  • Will it be too cold or too hot at the wrong times?
  • Will we have an unusual amount of damaging insects or will they be under control or within normal limits?
  • Will we have a late freeze?
  • Will there be hail or wind damage?
  • Will the growing season be shortened by an early fall?
  • And the list goes on...

Here are some of the predictions for 2017 from the folks who do the best job of best guessing:

Professor Tony Lupo to RFD Radio Network:  "Another El Nino is currently developing in the Pacific Ocean..."  "El Nino generally means good yields for farmers...because we tend to have milder weather conditions - temperatures that are close to normal and precipitation which occurs on a somewhat regular basis."  

The Old Farmer’s Almanac says, “Last Spring Frost will be April 22 and the First fall frost will be October 13. (50% probability for each.)  Growing season will be 174 days.” 

According to UW Madison Department of Entomology: “The mild el Nino weather conditions may have bolstered the number of Japanese beetles.”  “Some scientists have predicted high tick and Lyme disease in the eastern US in 2017.”  While others think it will stay about the same.  About the same is approximately 30,000 documented Lyme disease cases across the country per year.  That boils down to gardeners need to prevent tick bites.

Invisiverse’s Cynthia Wallentine, “A boom in mouse populations (due to the mild winter) could cause a surge in cases of Lyme disease.  The White-footed mice serve as a reservoir for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.  In the two years following a good acorn crop, we see a high abundance of infected ticks on mice and other hosts.”  “The mice, ticks, acorns and weather for 2017 predict a bad year for Lyme disease.”  

There are 13 and 17-year Cicada species.  Then there are two brood groups.  This equals 4 emergences.  Cicada Mania says, “The next periodical cicada emergences in Illinois will be in 2021, 2024, 2028 and 2031.

The National Pest Management Association’s information, “Wetter than average weather with a record-breaking warm December can jump start ant and tick activity.  Also the premature mosquito population increase is already occurring.   Termites are swarming earlier.”

The Grower Talks Magazine, Paul Pilon the Perennial Production Consultant and editor-at-large of Perennial Pulse newsletter, says “…I do anticipate more insects and mites will survive than usual.  If I’m right, it’s likely many growers will observe pests, particularly aphids and two-spotted spider mites, earlier than a typical year.”    

It’s too early to predict if there will be lots of powdery mildew but it can be expected if the wet spring becomes a wet summer.

Dr. Raymond Cloyd, entomologist at Kansas State U. believes, “…biggest pest issues for Spring 2017 will probably be the same as previous years, which includes Western flower thrips (WFT), aphids and whiteflies.” “Since there are fewer active ingredients for pesticides being introduced…WFT will continue to be a primary insect pest due to the current resistance to insecticides and the ability to transmit viruses.”

“Dr. Jill Calabro, Research & Science Programs Director for AmericanHort., “A potential late spring frost (which is the hallmark of a mild winter) could predispose trees and shrubs to attack from pathogens such as anthracnose.”

Moisture plays a roll in how many ants will decide your home is their next best meal.  According to Termidor, “Termites, carpenter ants and the odorous house ant will seek areas where there is moisture.”

The US Federal Fish and Wildlife Service, “the rusty patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis) has been placed on the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife…effective 02-10-2017.” 

As a side note, if you want to see where your food is coming from, why it’s priced as it is today and what to expect, see www.usfoods.comFarmer’s Report Market Trends”.  And if you ever think we should stop trade from Mexico, it’s a good reminder we would then be without much of our winter produce.

For the good news, May Berenbaum, professor and head of entomology at the University of Illinois, “There are about 200,000 species of insect pollinators.  Two-thirds to three-fourths of all flowering plants depend on pollination.  Pollinators account for only a fraction of the insects in existence.  Insects also break down decomposing bodies, eat manure and serve as nutrition to animals.”  Her talk is asking all of us caring gardeners to talk about protection for beneficial insects and to educate others.

According to Monarch ButterflyJourney North, “Monarch Butterflies lay eggs as they travel; northbound butterflies are delivering the next generation.”  On March 30, 2017, it was reported the migration’s leading edge was approaching Oklahoma.  Most of the current migrating monarchs will reach the end of their lives by the end of April.  The size of the next generation will largely be determined by the quality of breeding habitat in Texas (and some neighboring states to a lesser extent.)”  This site has cool maps showing the reported sightings of adults, eggs, larvae and milkweed. 

Soooooo what do we know from all of this?  It's another year of gardening with another year of pests and problems.  But gardeners are nothing if not optimistic.  We are learning and changing as we need.  And we're not about to let a few pesky pests alter our love of gardening.  Right?

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Coconut Oatmeal Cookies

I made one of my mom's cookie recipes yesterday and "wow" are they really good.  They might even be somewhat good for you in a high calorie kind of way.

Coconut Oatmeal Cookies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

1 C - Crisco Butter Flavored Shortening 
1 1/2 C - Brown sugar
1 - Egg
1 1/2 C - Old fashioned oats
1 C - Shredded coconut
3/4 C - White flour
3/4 C - Wheat flour
1/4 tsp. - Soda
2 tsp. - Baking Powder
1/4 tsp. - Salt
1 T - Pumpkin pie spice
1 T - Vanilla

Cream shortening and sugar thoroughly.  Add whole egg and vanilla; beat until mixed.  Add oats and coconut; mix well.

Sift together flours, soda, salt and baking powder and add to mix.  

At this point, you can add any or all of the following and mix well:

1 C - Pecan pieces (or other chopped nuts)
1/2 C - Dark chocolate chips
1 C - Craisins or Raisins 

Make into 30 balls and put on un greased cookie sheets.  Flatten to 1/2 inch with a fork or your fingers.  They will retain the shape and size.

Bake for 13 minutes or until golden.  Let cool on waxed paper.

Glaze:  Mix 1 tsp. of vanilla, 1 T. of pumpkin pie spice and 1 C. of powdered sugar with enough water to make pourable.  Drizzle this over the cooled cookies.   

These big boys are chewy, filling and great with a big glass of milk or a bowl of vanilla ice cream.  


Saturday, April 1, 2017


There were so many bees on my hyacinths the noise could be heard across the garden.  If you ever wonder why you should plant early blooming flowers, this can be a lesson.  Bees break dormancy early and need to find pollen.  I've put out jelly and juice when we've had a very early spring but they want natural plants.  

And besides bees, the hyacinths smell sooooo good.  

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Yellow in the garden seems a no brainer except when the marketing people have a color agenda every year and yellow is often pushed to the back.

Consider yellow a neutral because there are very few things in a garden or house paint that clashes with a nice clear yellow.  Then - if you add other colors and shades to yellow, it goes in so many lovely directions.  Orange/yellow - clear yellow - deep ocher yellow - near white yellow and so on.
I call this "Unknown Glowing" Daylily.  It blooms
in near-shade.

Yellow brightens shade, welcomes spring, glows in the sun, accents a spot and brings a garden cohesiveness.  
A sweet little annual Cosmos.

Yellows can be perennials or annuals.  They can be trees and bushes.  And they can be hardscapes.

It's pretty obvious I love yellow because the first thing you notice when you arrive at my house is it's painted yellow.  The yellow caused a bit of a neighborhood uproar in the beginning but I think they've learned to live with my choice after twenty years.  
Shrub rose bush "Golden Wings".  One of the
most fragrant roses I have in my gardens.

I've used many yellow daylilies all around my yard including one of the oldest, "Lemon Lily."

Every nursery and seed store has annual yellows:  marigolds, cosmos and petunias to name only a few.
Floribunda "Julia Child" rose
Roses are a great source for yellow as is attested by the oldie but goodie, "Yellow Rose of Texas".
Golden Rain Tree
I have two beautiful yellow trees:  A "Weeping Golden Willow" and the "Golden Rain Tree".  Keep in mind if a tree's leaves turn yellow in the fall for a late shot of lusciousness.

This Forsythia bush contrasts
against the red barn siding.
Spring flowering bulbs bring long overdue
sunshine to the garden.
This pretty Gold Finch is snacking on
sunflower seeds.  
A medley of annuals and perennial yellow
flowers is beautiful bouquet.
Bring a little sunshine into your life - add yellow to your gardens.  It's a smile waiting to happen.