» Archive for February, 2015

Crisp, Tasty Lettuce

Friday, February 27th, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • Asparagus will provide you with delicious, low-priced spears for years to come if you plant them now from dormant crowns.
    • Fill your spring flower beds with pansies and violas and enjoy their bright faces in many shades of blue, yellow, red, pink and purple.
    • Prune wisteria trees and vines by cutting out unwanted long runners and removing old seed pods. Don’t damage flower buds that are clustered at the end of short branches.
    • Raspberry, blackberry, loganberry, and boysenberry vines should be planted now for delicious, home-grown berries.
    • Cut back suckers on lilac bushes. Wait until they bloom to prune them, then you can bring the fragrant branches indoors.

Crisp, Tasty Lettuce

An ever-expanding selection of lettuce varieties are available to home gardeners, adding variety, texture and color to the salad bowl.

Lettuce varieties can be divided into four groups: crisphead, butterhead, leaf and romaine. Each group has its own growth and taste characteristics.

Crisphead lettuce is probably the most familiar. It makes a tight, firm head of crisp, light-green leaves. In general, crisphead lettuce is not tolerant of hot weather and bolts readily under hot summer conditions. Since it needs 80-90 days to mature, grow a few plants in spring, and more in the fall.

The butterhead types, also called Boston or bibb lettuce, have smaller, softer heads of loosely folded leaves. The outer leaves may be green or reddish with cream-colored inner leaves that have a buttery flavor. Buttercos varieties grow upright like a romaine but have a heart like a butterhead and waxy leaves.

Leaf lettuce has an open growth habit and does not form a tight head. Some cultivars are frilled and crinkled and others deeply lobed. Color ranges from light green to red and bronze. Leaf lettuce matures quickly and is the easiest to grow.

Romaine or cos lettuces form upright, cylindrical heads of tightly folded leaves. The plants may reach up to 10 inches in height. The outer leaves are medium green with greenish white inner leaves. There is also a red romaine that is very tasty and attractive.

Lettuce is a cool-season vegetable and develops best quality when grown under cool, moist conditions. Lettuce seedlings will tolerate a light frost and do they best in spring and fall. Seeds of lettuce can be planted early in the spring or transplants can be set out starting in early March.

In the summer, lettuce prefers to get it’s sun in the morning and late afternoon, rather than the hottest midday sun, so you can plant it in the shade of taller plants.

Lettuce can be grown in a wide range of soils, but loose, fertile, sandy loam soils, with plenty of organic matter are best. Till in well-rotted manure or compost and top dress with alfalfa meal. The soil should be well-drained and moist, but not soggy.

Several successive plantings of lettuce will provide a continuous harvest throughout the growing season. You can set out plants and start seeds at the same time and you will have two crops on the way. Space plants of leaf lettuce nine inches apart and head lettuce plants 12 inches apart.

All lettuce types should be harvested when full size but young and tender. Leaf lettuce, butterhead, buttercos or romaine types may be harvested by removing the outer leaves, or cutting the plant about an inch above the soil surface. A second harvest is often possible this way. Crisphead lettuce is picked when the center is firm.

Start your lettuce patch now and enjoy delicious fresh lettuce straight from your garden.

Harbingers of Spring

Friday, February 20th, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • Potatoes can be planted this month. Plant red, white, yellow and russet for a variety of uses and flavors.
    • Blueberries make delicious fruit on attractive plants that you can use in the orchard or the landscape. Choose varieties now.
    • Last chance to spray peach and nectarine trees for peach leaf curl before the buds break open. Use copper spray for the best results.
    • Plant bright and cheery primroses to brighten your flower beds and boxes.
    • Plant strawberry plants now for delicious strawberry shortcake this summer.

Harbingers of Spring

Spring is on its way – cold mornings give way to beautiful warm days, birds are building nests, and here and there, the beginning of spring’s colorful show of flowers can be seen. Some flowering plants are always the first to bloom in the spring and thereby signal its approach.

The very first shrub to bloom each year is witch hazel, Hamamelis. Their spidery petals are twisted and ribbon-like forming radiant yellow, coppery orange, or dark red flowers that are surprisingly fragrant. They are slow-growing but will become large shrubs if not kept smaller with pruning.

An added bonus is their beautiful fall show of yellow, purple, orange and red leaves. Grow witch hazel plants in full sun to part shade in well-drained soil. They are are nice in woodland gardens, but you’ll sacrifice some blooms if you don’t grow them in full sun.

Witch hazel has a special adaptation to cold: while a sunny day above freezing will pop the flower buds open, a sudden chill will cause the petals to roll up for protection, then, at the slightest hint of warmth, they unfurl again.

Flowering quince, Chaenomeles speciosa, is one of the first shrubs to greet us with a burst of color. This unassuming shrub blooms delightfully anytime from February through March with waxy flowers in shades of red-orange, rose, pink or white.

A deciduous shrub, it grows from 6 to 10 feet tall and spreads as wide. It is a twiggy, tangled, multi-stemmed plant that makes a good barrier or hedge. The 1-1/2 inch, apple-blossom-like flowers are borne in clusters and are quite showy for over a month. Flowering quince will tolerate a wide range of soil and site conditions, including dry sites. For best growth and flowering, plant in full sun.

Forsythia ‘Spring Glory’ is a deciduous shrub that explodes each February in brilliant masses of yellow flowers. Flowers are produced in groups or clusters along the stems. Leaves emerge shortly after flowering and are medium green in summer.

Plant it as a single specimen in an out-of-the-way place where it will be a burst of golden color then blend into the background for the rest of the season. It will grow to 6-8 feet tall and wide, and can be used as a screen.

Since they bloom on old wood, forsythias should be pruned immediately after flowering. Pruning the shrubs from mid-summer to late winter will drastically reduce flowering in spring. Plants are drought-tolerant once established.

The lovely winter daphne, Daphne odora, is one of the sweetest fragrances of spring. In February, clusters of pink buds appear at the tips of the stems that open into white or pale pink flowers that are intensely fragrant with a citrus-like odor.

The leaves of winter daphne can be solid green, or bordered with a pale yellow edge. It makes a very neat evergreen shrub year-round and grows to about four feet tall and at least as wide. Plant it in a spot where it gets protection from the hot mid-day sun and has good drainage.

Enjoy the harbingers of spring as the longer days bring new life to the natural world.

The Raspberry Patch

Friday, February 20th, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • Bare root fruit trees, grape and berry vines, and ornamental trees and shrubs are still available and ready to plant.
    • Roses should be pruned if you haven’t done so already. Remove all old leaves on and around the bushes and spray with Neem oil to prevent early pest and disease problems.
    • Plant peas in well-drained soil for a spring crop. Protect from birds with bird netting or lightweight row cover.
    • Spring vegetables can be planted now from nursery starts. Begin your garden with broccoli, cabbage, lettuce, spinach, chard and onions. It pays to grow your own!
    • Deciduous Clematis vines can be cut back to about waist height, to encourage bushiness, more flowers and a nicer looking vine. Do this now before the new growth starts.

The Raspberry Patch

The delicate unique flavor of raspberries make them a favorite with fruit lovers. Growing a raspberry patch in your yard is easy. There is very little maintenance and you are rewarded with succulent berries year after year. By planting different varieties that bear at different times, you can have a steady supply of fresh raspberries all summer long.

Raspberries can be divided into two groups based on the season in which they produce fruit. Everbearing varieties produce fruit in the summer as well as the fall, while summer-bearing varieties only produce fruit in the summer. Raspberry plants can also be divided into categories by color: red, yellow, purple and black.

Summer-bearing red raspberries include Willamette, which is the earliest to bear with dark red fruit and a rich and slightly tart flavor. Canby also bears in the summer with light red fruit that are medium to large, firm, sweet and excellent for fresh use and processing.

Everbearing raspberries include Amity, Heritage and Bababerry. Amity has large, firm, dark red berries with classic raspberry flavor and superior quality, and almost no spines. Heritage is the traditional standard for fall fruiting raspberries. It has large, sweet, dark red berries with a mild flavor. These berries are superb for freezing and delicious for table use. Bababerry has large, soft red berries up to 1-inch, and is highly regarded for flavor. It is an excellent producer, and tolerates summer heat better than other raspberries.

Yellow raspberries are less common than the other two types but produce berries that are just as sweet and large. Most yellow raspberries are fall-ripening including Fall Gold, which ripens 10 days before the Heritage fall crop. Its fruit is medium-sized, yellow with a pink blush, soft, but with extremely sweet golden berries that are excellent for eating fresh or processing.

Purple raspberries are cultivars with both red and black raspberries in their genetics which produce uniquely flavored fruit. They are extremely vigorous and often show added disease and insect resistance. As the fruit ripens it changes color from red to purple. Royalty has a large, reddish-purple berry with soft, but sweet, flavor. It is a favorite for making jams and adding to pies.

Black raspberries, or Black Caps, produce fruit on arched or trailing canes. New canes are not produced from old roots; instead, they develop from the base of old canes. Black raspberries are preferred by chefs because the fruit tends to be sweeter. Munger is a small, blue-black berry with good flavor that ripens in July.

Raspberries need well-drained soil that is somewhat acidic and at least 6 to 8 hours of sun a day. Plant vines 2-3 feet apart in rows 4-6 feet apart, and construct a simple trellis system to keep the vines upright for easy harvesting. A summer mulch will help keep the area weed-free, retain moisture and keep the soil cooler.

Prune summer red raspberries after harvest by removing the canes that bore fruit. Fall-ripening varieties bear on new canes that grow in the summer. After fruiting, either cut these canes to the ground, or remove the portion that fruited and leave the lower canes to produce next spring.

Once everything is in place, your raspberry patch will provide you with many years of savory satisfaction.