» Archive for May, 2009

Colorful Trees for the Landscape

Friday, May 29th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Asparagus plants should be fed with good, rich compost when you have finished cutting spears. Keep the bed mulched and weed-free all summer, and the soil moist.
    • Cover cherry trees with bird netting to protect your crop.
    • Mulch blueberry plants with aged sawdust and feed with cottonseed meal or an acid fertilizer.
    • Earwigs are out and about and hungry. Control them with the new “Sluggo Plus” or go out after dark with a flashlight and a spray bottle of Safer’s Insecticidal Soap. One squirt will put an end to the spoiler.
    • Fuchsias in hanging baskets make beautiful patio plants. They bloom all summer and attract hummingbirds to their pendulous blossoms.

Outstanding Trees for Garden Interest

Early spring brings us many beautiful flowering trees. Flowering plums, with their showy pink blossoms, flowering cherries covered with flowers, and flowering crabapples in their many forms and blossom colors. Then there are “tulip tree” magnolias and gorgeous dogwoods.

As spring progresses, we are met with another season of color by a variety of flowering trees. The Red Horsechestnut, Aesculus carnea, is outstanding in the landscape for its beautiful springtime display of blossoms. The multitude of pink to bright scarlet blooms appear on erect, eight-inch-long panicles at each branch tip and are quite attractive to bees and hummingbirds. It has very large, dark green leaves with five to seven leaflets, and will ultimately reach a height and spread of 30 to 40 feet.

Another very showy tree is Purple Robe Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Purple Robe’. The dense clusters of extremely fragrant, one-inch rose-pink blossoms resemble wisteria blossoms and they are literally “alive” with the bustling activity of visiting bees. (The honey which is produced from them is quite delicious and sought-after.) The tree is fast-growing with an upright form and a rounded head to 30 feet tall with a 20-foot spread.

One of the finest of these spring bloomers is the Fringe Tree, Chionanthus virginicus. The snow white fringe tree flowers grow in 6-inch long, loose clusters that have the look of puffy white clouds. It grows as a multi-stemmed tree or large shrub, usually reaching 15 to 20 feet in height and spread. It is hard to think of a more beautiful, small tree than Fringe Tree when it is in full bloom.

The Japanese Snowbell, Styrax japonica, is a lovely small tree with pendulous white flowers that are beautiful when viewed from below. It makes a fine patio tree at 20 feet tall and wide and its fall color is yellow, often with a reddish cast. It will grow in full sun to partial shade, and is beautiful in a raised planting area where the flowers can be enjoyed from underneath.

For foliage color, there are few trees as attractive as the Tricolor Beech, Fagus sylvatica ‘Tricolor’. The leaves are purple with a pink or cream edge, turning copper in the fall. Plant it in the shade of larger trees, or the leaves may burn in the heat of summer. This tree is slow-growing to 20 feet or more, and it can be grown in a container for many years.

The Chinese dogwood, Cornus kousa, is a later flowering form of dogwood than the more common Eastern Dogwood. It flowers for a long time beginning in late May, with creamy white blooms set against bright green leaves. Flowers are followed by reddish fruit that resembles raspberries and attracts birds, and the foliage changes to reddish purple in the fall.

Now is the time to choose one of these outstanding trees for a special accent in your garden.

Vegetable Planting Time

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • The “Wave” petunias make wonderful hanging baskets for full sun. They come in purple, bright pink, reddish-purple and pale “misty lilac.” They can also be used for a colorful summer ground cover.
    • Rhododendrons are in full bloom now. Choose plants now for spectacular blooms in your shade garden.
    • Cage or stake tomatoes while still small so that you can train them as they grow.
    • Alpine asters, columbine, sea pinks and Tiny Rubies dianthus are outstanding plants for spring bloom in the perennial border.

    • Ladybugs are a big help with aphids in your greenhouse or garden. Release at dusk in problem areas.

Cool as a Cucumber

For a heat-loving summer vegetable, cucumbers are about as “cool” as they come. Originally from the hot, dry regions of Asia and Africa, the crisp, white flesh of cucumbers have always seemed refreshing. Now a staple of summer salads in this country, this is one vegetable that should be in every garden.

Cucumbers are climbing vines that are easy to grow. There are many different varieties from the ever popular, round, yellow lemon cucumbers to long and thin slicers. Cucumbers are usually divided into two groups: the smaller, faster growing varieties used for pickling and the longer varieties used for slicing.

There are also “burpless” varieties and “yard-long” Armenians, both with non-bitter skin that you can eat. In addition to fresh eating, cucumbers can be preserved by pickling them, an art which is centuries old. You can pickle any small cucumber, and enjoy them that way all winter long.

Cucumbers will grow well in most good garden soils. They like warm weather and at least 8 hours of sun a day. Since cucumbers are 95 percent water, they need long, deep drinks of water to grow fruit that is not bitter. Temperatures above 100°F can cause bitterness or stop fruit production.

When planting, add compost to your garden soil and use a complete organic fertilizer, like fish emulsion, to help get your cucumbers off to a good start and provide nutrition throughout their growing season. When the vines are about a foot long, side dress with compost or fertilizer which should take effect just as the plants blossom. Stand back and wait for an abundant crop of cool cucumbers.

Most varieties of cucumbers are vines, and they love to climb! Try growing them on a trellis. Cucumbers grown on trellises tend to produce healthier fruits, which are uniform in size and shape, and 2-3 times more cucumbers. They are also cleaner at harvest time and the air circulation provided by the trellis helps prevent diseases.

Trellising cucumbers frees up space in the garden, and you can plant lettuces or other greens under the trellis in the shade provided by the growing vines. Plant the vines 18 inches apart. Cucumbers grown on the ground need more space, so plant them 36 inches apart and space the rows at least two feet apart.

Cucumbers need plenty of water to be juicy and crisp. Plants that do not get enough water produce small, bitter, deformed fruits. Soak the soil deeply when you water.

Pick cucumbers frequently when they are young and tender. The goal of a cucumber vine is to set seeds and if even one fruit is allowed to mature, the whole vine will quit producing. Gently twist or clip off the fruits being careful not to break the vines.

Cucumber vines are not heavy producers, except for lemon cucumbers which share their abundance all at one time! Expect 1 to 3 pounds per plant, so you may want 6 plants per person, if you are going to make pickles, and 2 plants per person for fresh fruit only.

Plant cucumbers now for delicious, cool fruit this summer.

Color in the Shade

Friday, May 15th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Thin fruit trees now while fruits are still small. Thin apples to 6 inches apart and peaches to 4 inches apart. On Asian pears leave 1 fruit per spur.
    • Wisterias are large, vigorous vines that are blooming right now with their long clusters of purple, pink or white fragrant flowers. Give them a strong arbor to climb on.
    • When you plant your tomatoes, put a handful of bone meal in the bottom of the hole to help prevent blossom end rot on the fruit later on.
    • Spray roses every two weeks to keep them healthy and prevent leaf diseases. Neem oil is a safe alternative to chemicals.
    • Ivy geraniums make wonderful hanging baskets for partially shaded spots where they will bloom all summer.

A Beauty in the Shade Garden

It is sometimes difficult to design a shade garden with lots of color. Most plants do not flower well in too much shade. But Impatiens are easy-to-grow and flower in shady areas all summer long.

Impatiens came originally from Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania. In the 1950’s, hybridizers began working with Impatiens to improve plant qualities. New varieties were introduced in the 1960’s as this new bedding plant began to catch on. Now Impatiens are the most popular bedding plant in the country.

Common names for Impatiens, like ‘Busy Lizzy’ and ‘Touch-me-not’, hint that this plant is indeed “impatient.” When the seed pods are ripe and full, the slightest touch will cause them to burst open and scatter their seeds in the wind.

Hybrid Impatiens come in a full range of colors. Flowers are up to two inches across completely covering the 12 to 18 inch plants. Colors include red, white, orange, coral, pink, rose, lilac, lavender-blue and burgundy as well as picotee bicolors, which are striped or splashed with white. There are also double-flowered varieties known as “rosebud” Impatiens.

New Guinea Impatiens are quite extraordinary with 2-3 inch flowers and very large leaves that are often variegated with cream or red. Plants grow 1 to 2 feet tall by summer’s end in rich, moist soil. They grow well as container plants and will take more sun than other Impatiens.

Impatiens are easy to grow in partial shade, in rich, moist soil. In too much sunlight, they will have small leaves and few blooms. They also do not perform well in deep shade, where there is no hint of sunlight for any part of the day, but thrive in filtered shade along with begonias, ferns, foxglove, hydrangeas and fuchsias. The plants will tolerate morning sun, but by noon they need to be in the shade or the summer sun will cook them.

Impatiens do best when given a well-prepared, relatively fertile soil that can be kept on the moist side during the summer. Consistent moisture is the trick to premium impatiens flowers. Never let the soil dry out completely. Those grown in the soil under trees will need extra water and fertilizer due to competing with the tree roots.

Moss baskets look wonderful planted with Impatiens. As they grow, they completely surround the container with flowers. They are excellent in window boxes and make wonderful drifts of color bordering lawns and pathways.

Covering themselves with flowers all summer, Impatiens are perhaps the most useful summer annual for shady gardens.