» Archive for June, 2009

Garden Companions

Friday, June 26th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • There’s still time to plant summer vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers and corn will bear for you if you plant them now.
    • It’s time to set out Brussels sprouts for fall harvest.
    • Stake or cage tomato plants before they get any larger.
    • Feed rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias with an acid plant food to encourage lush growth. Pinch or prune to promote full, dense growth.
    • Fertilize container plants every 10 to 14 days with a liquid fertilizer. Pinch off faded blossoms and they will keep blooming all summer for you.

Secrets of Companion Planting

The practice of mixing flowers and herbs into the vegetable garden or around certain shrubs to attract beneficial insects and repel harmful ones is known as companion planting. Hundreds of examples of plant companions are recorded in garden folklore, and scientific studies have supported many of these.

There are many varieties of herbs, flowers and vegetables that can be used for companion plants. Certain plants act as “trap crops” that draw pest insects away from other plants. Nasturtiums are used this way to attract aphids which seem to prefer them to other crops. Planting a ring of them around apple trees limits woolly aphid damage to the trees (although the nasturtiums won’t look too great).

“Nurse plants” provide breeding grounds for beneficial insects. Herbs such as fennel, dill, anise and coriander are members of the carrot family that produce broad, flat clusters of small flowers that attract beneficials. Grow these plants near your vegetables to keep parasitic wasps nearby. Sunflowers, zinnias and asters also attract helpful insects.

Cucumber beetles, which look like green lady bugs, are a common pest in the vegetable garden. You can lure them away from other plants by planting radishes or nasturtiums nearby. Nasturtiums also deter whiteflies and squash bugs.

Radishes will lure leafminers away from spinach. The damage the leafminers do to radish leaves does not stop the radish roots from growing and being edible, a win-win situation.

Flea beetles are tiny black insects that riddle eggplant leaves with holes. Catnip nearby will deter these creatures. It will also reduce aphids on pepper plants. Keep the catnip in a pot, though, because it can grow out of control in the garden.

Sweet basil is known to repel aphids, mosquitoes and flies. Planted near tomatoes, it is said to help them overcome both insects and diseases and also improves their growth and flavor.

Garlic grown in a circle around fruit trees is good protection against borers. It also deters aphids, weevils and spider mites. It is beneficial when planted around rose bushes for these reasons. Plant near cabbage to repel the cabbage moth and resultant caterpillar damage.

Rosemary deters cabbage moth, bean beetles and carrot flies, so plant some around your vegetable garden.

Marigolds are known for their ability to suppress nematodes. However, we do not have soil nematodes in this area of California. French marigolds help to deter whiteflies when planted around tomatoes and can be useful in the greenhouse for the same purpose. Marigolds may help repel flea beetles from eggplants. For best results plant marigolds that are tall and strongly scented, with the eggplants.

There are many other interesting possibilities. So fill your garden with flowers and herbs and reap their protective benefits as well as their beauty and fragrance.

Beautiful Blue Flowers

Friday, June 19th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Decorate your porch or patio with prolific Hanging Wave Petunias in bright pinks and purples. They make nice gifts for Father’s Day.
    • Feed rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias with an acid plant food to encourage lush growth. Pinch or prune to promote full, dense growth.
    • Stake or cage tomato plants before they get any larger.
    • Roses bloom all summer with their abundant flowers in so many different colors. Choose some now when you can see their lovely flowers.
    • Fertilize container plants every 10 to 14 days with a liquid fertilizer. Pinch off faded blossoms and they will keep blooming all summer for you.

Blue Bellflowers

The vast and varied family of Campanulas has something for almost every gardener. There are ramblers to hang over stone walls and plant along paths, neat cushions for smaller places and tall plants for the perennial border.

The name “campanula” is Latin for “little bell”, and the common name “bellflower” is given to several different varieties. Many campanulas do have bell-shaped flowers, while others open wide to look like little stars. Campanulas are prized for their sky-blue flowers, though they range in color from light blue to blue lavenders to royal purple. Pure white flowers are common in many species, and pink ones occur in a few.

For a carpet of blue-purple flowers most of the summer, try one of the creeping campanulas. Dalmatian bellflower, Campanula portenschlagiana, forms a low mat that bears light blue flowers from late spring through summer, while Adriatic bellflower, C. garganica, has mid-blue, star-shaped flowers on a trailing plant, 3 to 6 inches tall and 1 to 3 feet across. These are nice along paths, in rock gardens, spilling over walls or as a groundcover.

Growing slightly taller, to ten inches, is Campanula carpatica ‘Blue Clips’. It makes a low carpet of evergreen leaves topped with cup-shaped, light blue flowers, from June thru October. It makes an excellent edging plant. About the same size is Blue Bells of Scotland, C. rotundifolia ‘Olympica’. With small blue bells on one foot plants, it does well in the shade, blooming from June to August.

Taller still is the Peach-leaf bellflower, C. persifolia, growing about two feet tall. The cup shaped flowers are borne on graceful spikes in early summer. It is a good cut flower that reblooms when spikes are cut. The richly colored violet flowers of Clustered bellflower, C. glomerata ‘Superba’, are held on strong stems above basal foliage. They bloom heavily in late spring.

The cottage-garden classics, Canterbury bells, are commonly known as cup-and-saucer for their bell-shaped flowers with a flat base. They produce huge spikes of extremely long lasting blooms in various shades of blue, pink and white. This plant is a true biennial and will bloom the second year after planting. Allow flowers to develop seeds to insure plants for following years.

Campanulas are sun-lovers, but most will flower in partial shade. The larger types need good, fertile soil, while the smaller kinds need good drainage and less fertile conditions. For container plantings use a compost based potting soil and avoid peat based products.

They are hardy perennials, except for cup-and-saucer, and will live for years in your garden, blooming profusely with their blue bellflowers.

Flowering Rockroses

Friday, June 12th, 2009 by Jenny Watts
    • Azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons can be pruned now without sacrificing next years bloom. Ask at your nursery if you need help.
    • When you finish cutting asparagus, feed the bed with good, rich compost that will also act as a mulch this summer.
    • Cover cherry trees with bird netting to protect your crop.
    • Finish planting the summer vegetable garden. Seeds of early corn, and beans can go directly in the soil and plants of tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash, cucumbers and basil can be set out.
    • Red, white and blue petunias or combinations of these with lobelia, geraniums, impatiens and salvia will make a nice display for the Fourth of July.

Tough, Colorful Rockroses

Well-known for their showy spring flowers, rockroses are sun-loving, fast-growing, drought-resistant shrubs that are tolerant of poor, dry soil. They are ideal plants for informal plantings, rocky hillsides or along country driveways.

Since rockroses grow wide, they are at their best where they are not confined to small areas. Use them on hot dry banks, tumbling over rocks, or in a planting of drought resistant shrubs. Given plenty of room, they are beautiful, picturesque shrubs.

Rockroses, or Cistus, are Mediterranean natives that have a long flowering season in late spring. Scattered flowers begin to appear in April; by the end of May the plants are covered with large petaled single flowers; then the blooms taper off through June.

The flowers drop their petals when they fade, so they don’t leave brown, dead flowers on the plant.

Rockrose flowers come in white, pink and lavender-rose, a very striking color. Some plants will grow only thirty inches tall while others reach four to five feet with little effort. Another genus, Halimium, are called yellow rockroses, and they have showy flowers as well.

It is important to choose a variety which will fit the site chosen as rockroses resent severe pruning. Prune only to protect a path from encroachment or to eliminate dead wood or occasional lopsided growth.

Rockroses keep their leaves throughout the year, and are effective at preventing erosion on banks and suppressing weeds underneath them. They are drought tolerant, thrive in rocky soil, and are generally deer-resistant. They also make a pleasant background for flowering bulbs.

There are two requirements for growing rockroses: good drainage and very little summer water. They will often appear at first to respond to frequent irrigation, but the excess water greatly increases the chance of die-back, induces lanky growth and shortens the life of the plants. Plants grown in more natural settings may live for 20 years or more.

Plant rockroses in full sun and add a little lime at planting time. Irrigate deeply and infrequently for the first season. By the second year, most plants can survive without water.

These are truly carefree plants that will delight you every spring with their showy flowers.