» Archive for May, 2014

Flavorful Peppers

Saturday, May 17th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Fuchsias in hanging baskets make beautiful patio plants. They bloom all summer and attract hummingbirds to their pendulous blossoms.
    • 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.
    • Spray roses every two weeks to keep them healthy and prevent leaf diseases. Neem oil is a safe alternative to chemicals.
    • Flower seeds can be sown directly in the garden now. Cosmos, marigolds and zinnias will give you beautiful flowers all summer.
    • Calibrachoa, or Million Bells, are a trailing, miniature petunia that comes in bright oranges and reds. Plant them in full sun for a profusion of 1” wide flowers from spring to frost.

Wake Up your Taste Buds with Flavorful Peppers

Pepper popularity just keeps growing and every year gardeners are trying out new varieties. The number of pepper varieties available, especially the hot types and sweet non-bells, has exploded and now numbers in the hundreds.

Peppers are grouped into three types: sweet bell peppers, sweet non-bell peppers and hot peppers ranging from “warm” to “blazing hot.” The big development in bell peppers has been a variety of colorful bells ranging from red, orange and yellow to lilac, purple and chocolate. In standard green bells, California Wonder and Bell Boy are still favorites. They turn to bright red as they ripen. However, Red Beauty, which produces sweet red peppers in only 68 days, is the most popular bell pepper today.

The sweet non-bells range from the little Italian Pepperoncini peppers which are good for pickling to the long, yellow Sweet Bananas. Corno di Toro, the heirloom “Horn of the Bull” pepper, is imported from Italy. Fruits are 8 to 10 inches long, curved much like a bull’s horn, and ripen to a gorgeous red cone. Pimientos, with their heart-shaped fruits, are ideal for salads, garnishes and canning.

Italian Long Sweet, widely used in Italian cooking, is very sweet when red-ripe. Colorful Gypsy peppers turn from yellow to orange-red and they are crunchy, firm and sweet.

Hot peppers are usually called chilies. Anaheim is a long, green chili that is mildly hot. Ancho-Poblano has heart-shaped fruits that are called Poblanos when used green and stuffed to make chili rellenos; and called Anchos when dried and ground into chili powder. Pasilla, the popular Chili negro, is mildly hot and slightly sweet and is used in many Mexican dishes, including “mole” sauce.

Hot and spicy Jalapeños and flavorful Serranos used to be considered the “hot” peppers. Along with Hungarian Wax, which has spicy, fairly hot banana shaped fruits that are perfect for pickling, and Fresno, small fruits with fiery flavor, they run in the mid-range of the heat scale.

Slightly hotter are Tabasco, bred for the famous extra-hot Tabasco sauce, with fruits that ripen from yellow-green to red, and Cayenne, which has long, slender, slightly wrinkled fruit that is excellent for chili and homemade salsa.

But for the really hot peppers there are Habaneros, “the hottest chili in the world,” and Thai Hot Dragon, “eight times hotter than Jalapeño,” Jamaica Scotch Bonnet, “smoky and fiery hot,” and Caribbean Red, said to be hotter than all the rest.

Peppers like warm weather and can be damaged more easily by cold weather than tomatoes. Use hot caps or “Walls-O-Water” to get them started early. They like soil rich in organic matter and adequate moisture through the summer. Plant peppers in full sun, about 18 inches apart. Place some bone meal in the planting hole to help prevent blossom-end rot. Mulch to keep down weeds and keep in soil moisture. Some gardeners mulch the plants with black plastic to warm the soil as much as possible, which can increase yields.

Enjoy some new taste sensations with flavorful peppers this summer.

Lovely Japanese Maples

Saturday, May 17th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Mother’s Day is the perfect time to give a gift of a living plant. Roses, lilacs, hanging fuchsias and ivy geraniums are sure to please her.
    • It’s time to put out oriole feeders. You can also attract them with fresh orange halves.
    • Feed roses to encourage a beautiful display of color later this month. Treat plants to prevent insect and disease problems.
    • Plant the vegetable garden this month, but remember that late frosts can still nip tender young plants.
    • Plant an herb garden in a container near the kitchen door for convenient fresh spices like basil, oregano, parsley and thyme.

Lovely Japanese Maples

Japanese maples are beautiful in every season, from the new growth emerging in spring, to the wonderful leaf textures through the summer, to the bright fall colors and finally the artistic arrangement of their bare branches in winter.

While most small trees are grown for their fleeting flowers, Japanese maples are grown for the beauty of their leaves that come in a great variety of shapes and colors. For hundreds of years, the feudal lords of Japan bred and selected trees to find ever more beautiful specimens. Today there are hundreds of cultivars of both Japanese and Western origin.

The leaves of the most familiar cultivars look like stars because they are divided into five to seven sharply pointed lobes. Their botanical name, Acer palmatum, reflects this: palmatum, means shaped like the palm of the hand. On some trees, the lobes are further divided giving the leaves a lovely feathery or lacy appearance. These are dissectum varieties, meaning they have lacy leaves.

Leaf colors range from yellow-green to dark green, and from bright red to deep blood red. There are also trees with variegated leaves that are green outlined with white or gold. Red-leaved trees are the most prized. In an otherwise green landscape, a red Japanese maple makes a stunning accent.

Japanese maples are divided into groups based on the shape of their leaves. But generally speaking, they grow either as trees or shrubs.

‘Bloodgood’ is a vigorous lawn tree with deep, dark red leaves that hold their color well. It grows to 15 feet tall and wide, turns bright red in the fall, and is a dependable, sturdy tree.

‘Sango kaku’ is a popular tree for its bright coral red bark in the winter, pale yellow-green leaves in spring and apricot and gold fall color. It can grow to 20 feet in the landscape or be kept at 8 feet in a container.

Many of the smaller mounding types have finely dissected leaves. Typically they grow to 6-8 feet in the landscape, or 4-6 feet in a container. ‘Garnet’ is a beautiful, cascading, mound-shaped specimen with a rich red-orange color that develops best with some sun. ‘Inaba shidare’ is an upright grower, yet it has a beautiful cascading form. The deep purple-red leaves retain their color better than others in the hot summer months. Fall color is a brilliant crimson red.

‘Tamukeyama’ has a lovely weeping habit and deep purplish-red leaves that hold their color all summer. It does well in hot situations. ‘Viridis’ has green, finely dissected leaves that will burn in hot sun. The golden fall leaves are touched with crimson.

Japanese maples thrive in moist but well-drained, slightly acid soil in sun or part shade. The red-leaved cultivars need ample sunlight to develop their best color. Shade from afternoon sun and protection from drying winds will keep the leaves looking their best. Occasional watering, once a week in dry periods, and a light fertilizing in the spring will keep them healthy and beautiful.

Good under oaks, as background for ferns and azaleas, or as a small tree for patios and entryways, Japanese maples are beautiful landscape trees.

Soil Preparation for the Vegetable Garden

Friday, May 2nd, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • It is time to mulch your fruit trees and flower beds to retain moisture in the soil. Xerimulch will do an excellent job at a reasonable price.
    • 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.
    • “Topsy Turvy”®Tomato and Pepper Planters are a fun and convenient way to enjoy these popular vegetables hanging right outside your kitchen door.
    • Hang up Codling moth traps now to reduce the number of wormy apples in your harvest this year. Replace pheromone lures in old traps.
    • Gladiolus make wonderful cut flowers throughout the summer. Plant some every two weeks for continuous blooms.

Soil Preparation for the Vegetable Garden

Soil is truly the foundation of the garden. Without good soil, plants become stunted and stressed and prone to insect attacks. But good soil, loose and humusy, with good fertility, allows the roots of plants to penetrate easily and take up the nutrients they need throughout the growing season.

First determine what type of soil you have. Soil texture is determined by particle size, which ranges from microscopic clay flakes to more rounded silt particles to sand grains. While undisturbed sandy soils are well aerated and well drained, they are nutrient poor, since sand and silt cannot hold nutrients. In contrast, clay soils hold nutrients very well but have poor drainage and aeration. Thus a soil with both sandy and clay characteristics should be optimal for plant root health.

However, unless a huge amount of sand is added to clay soil, it will not improve the soil texture. The pore spaces in a clay soil are very small and when sand is added, the large pore spaces of the sand are filled with the smaller clay particles. The result is a heavier, denser soil with less pore space than either the sand or the clay soil alone.

It is important not to turn clay soil when it is still wet. It will form large clumps that dry hard and solid and do not allow roots to penetrate. It may take a week of sunshine before wet soil is ready to turn. When it has dried out sufficiently to break apart when you turn a spade of soil, it is ready to be worked.

Using organic matter is the best way to improve soil. Compost, manures, leaf mold, sawdust, and organic amendments increase the water-holding capacity, aeration, and drainage of both sandy and clay soils. These materials are decomposed by soil organisms releasing nutrients that become available to the plants.

To add organic matter to a new bed, first turn the soil to a depth of 8 to 10 inches then spread a 2-inch layer of decomposed material over the soil and turn it in. If you use fresh manure or sawdust, it will take nitrogen from the soil for its own decomposition.

If you want to “double-dig” the bed, do that next. This method, taken from the “French intensive” gardening method, will yield the most produce in the least area. Then add organic nutrients in small amounts to enrich the top layer of soil. (see “How to Grow More Vegetables” by John Jeavons)

If your soil has been worked before and is pretty good, only add a one-inch layer of compost to replace the nutrients you took away in the form of vegetables the preceding year. Too much compost can encourage an increase in symphylans, microscopic creatures which eat plant roots, and result in considerable crop damage.

Soil in good tilth is well aerated, retains moisture and is rich in humus. Good soil is the beginning of great things in the garden.