» Archive for May, 2017

Gardening with Kids

Saturday, May 13th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • It’s time to plant the vegetable garden. You’ll find starts of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash and much more at the nursery now.
    • Mother’s Day is the perfect time to give a gift of a living plant. Rhododendrons, roses, hanging fuchsias and ivy geraniums are sure to please her.
    • Calibrachoa, or Million Bells, look like miniature petunias and come in many unusual shades and blends. Plant them in full sun for a profusion of flowers from spring to frost.
    • Mulch blueberry plants with aged sawdust and feed with cottonseed meal or an acid fertilizer.
    • Set out petunias, cosmos, marigolds, impatiens and begonias for lots of colorful flowers all summer long.

Gardening with Kids

There are many fun ways to interest children in gardening. Whether you’re a parent or a grandparent, having children enjoy their time with you in the garden can be an experience they will remember all their lives.

One successful way to pique a child’s gardening interest is to have a few unusual or fascinating plants around the garden. Snapdragons are an old favorite, and many of us still remember pinching the blossoms to make them “snap”. Bleeding heart has an intriguing flower as do fuchsias and balloon flowers before they open up.

Children love to “pet” the furry leaves of lamb’s ears and to stroke the plump, pointed leaves of a clump of hens and chicks .

Tall plants hold a particular fascination for children, especially fast growing ones. Sunflowers are fun to grow because they get taller every day. Large marigolds, zinnias and cosmos and “dinnerplate” dahlias, tall gladioli and lilies will capture their interest.

Plants that children can eat are a good way to interest them in the garden. Sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes, and strawberries are probably the favorites. Searching through the dark green leaves looking for a bright red, ripe berry is almost like hide-and-seek. This delicious fruit is its own reward. Strawberries planted now will bear fruit this summer.

Planting potatoes is a good activity to do with children. Plant a sprouting potato and check every few days to see if the green shoots are emerging. The real magic comes at harvest time, when large round potatoes are dug up out of the earth. Digging for potatoes is like digging for buried treasure, and potatoes come in some amazing colors and shapes too.

Pumpkins are a ‘must’ for children as they are interesting to watch grow and they can be used for dried seeds as well as to make Jack-o-lanterns.

Kids enjoy garden structures like a bean teepee or a sunflower house where they can have a secret hideaway. Other plants that are good for tall garden structures are scarlet runner beans, morning glories or cucumber vines.

Don’t forget to plant some fragrant flowers for them to pick and enjoy. Sweet peas make the perfect bouquet and honeysuckle flowers can be enjoyed for their sweet nectar as well. Oriental lilies have a lovely fragrance as do lavenders, which are fun to make into sachets or lavender wands.

When kids are a little older, they will enjoy having a garden space of their own. Let her plant what she wants in her own way. If he plants an entire seed packet in one square foot, he will see the results and may decide to spread the seeds out better next time. Encourage the planting of flower bulbs. It’s wonderful to see what grows out of a hard, dry bulb.

If you love to garden, chances are that your children will grow to enjoy being outdoors and may develop an interest in gardening if you help them discover the joys of the plant world.

Butterfly Garden

Friday, May 5th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Tomatoes and peppers can be set out now. Choose new hybrids or heirlooms for the flavors that you love.
    • Azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons provide lots of beautiful flowers for the shady spring garden. Choose now.
    • Plant strawberry plants now for delicious strawberry pie this summer.
    • Flower seeds can be sown directly in the garden now. Cosmos, marigolds and zinnias will give you beautiful flowers all summer.
    • Feed roses to encourage a beautiful display of color later this month. Treat plants to prevent insect and disease problems.

Butterfly Garden

One of the joys of summer is watching the butterflies visit your garden. You’ll enjoy them even more by planting flowers that they like to visit.

The main food of adult butterflies is flower nectar. Some flowers contain more nectar, and are more appealing to butterflies than others.

Nectar plants should be of various heights, because smaller species of butterflies often stay low, while larger species often prefer to stay high when feeding. When planning a garden, plant several of each flower species to attract butterflies and nectar bearing flowers that bloom in sequence over a long season.

Nectar plants can be perennials, annuals or shrubs. Lilacs and the native Ceanothus are among the earliest plants which will attract butterflies. Butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) has graceful plumes of purple flowers that bloom in the summer. Bluebeard (Caryopteris) blooms from late summer into the fall with its lovely sky-blue flowers.

There are many perennials that provide nectar. Spring-bloomers include purple rock cress (Aubrieta), chives and forget-me-nots. There are numerous summer-blooming perennials that attract butterflies. The daisy family provides a lot of them with Gloriosa daisies (Rudbeckia), coreopsis, Shasta daisies, blanket flower (Gaillardia) and purple coneflower (Echinacea). Sunflowers, with their many color choices, will give you some tall plants for the back of the border.

Other good choices are lavender, milkweed (Asclepias), pincushion flowers (Scabiosa), bee balm (Monarda), and summer phlox. Yarrows (Achillea), catnip, verbena and red valerian (Centranthus) also attract butterflies.

You can fill in the flower bed with annuals like marigolds, ageratum, cosmos, heliotrope, verbena and zinnias. These can give you varying heights and flowers over a long season.

For the end of the season, asters like Michaelmas daisy and showy sedum (Sedum spectabilis) will provide nectar for the last generation of butterflies.

There are many more plants which are attractive to butterflies and part of the fun of ‘butterfly gardening’ is experimenting and seeing who comes to dinner.

Although nectar sources alone may attract butterflies, only the planting of caterpillar host plants defines true butterfly gardening. They provide a site for the butterfly to lay eggs and also a food source for the emerging caterpillars. In most cases, they won’t be interested in your shrubs or flowers. They would rather eat plants like clover, plantain, parsley and dill or the leaves of birch, poplar and willow trees. Be prepared for heavy munching on your host plants!

Use insecticides sparingly because most garden insecticides can kill the caterpillar stages of the insects. Adult butterflies also can be killed by resting on insecticide-treated surfaces.

You will also want some still water for butterflies to drink. A birdbath can often give a butterfly a necessary drink. Swallowtails will often congregate around wet gravel.

The butterfly garden is wonderful fun for kids and adults alike.

Glorious Rhododendrons

Friday, May 5th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Get ready to plant your vegetable garden. Choose from the many varieties of tomato and pepper plants available now.
    • Hang up Codling moth traps now to reduce the number of wormy apples in your harvest this year.
    • Attract birds to your yard with bird feeders. Delightful gold finches will be happy to visit your thistle feeders, and rufous-sided tohees will visit seed feeders.
    • 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.
    • Flowering dogwood trees are blooming now to help you choose a beautiful small tree for a focal point in your garden.

Glorious Rhododendrons

There are few sights more beautiful in the plant world than a mature rhododendron covered with large, rounded trusses of bright, colorful flowers. These large shrubs can be used to enclose the shade garden and give you flowers to enjoy each spring.

The rhododendrons that we are most familiar with represent a small portion of the rhododendron family. Varying from ground cover shrublets with needlelike leaves to large-leafed tree types, the more than 900 species comprise a very large family. While most of the species are native to eastern Asia — from Siberia to New Guinea — they also grow naturally in Appalachia as well as in our coastal forests.

Rhododendrons have been hybridized for more than a century. By crossing species, we now have rhododendron hybrids that are tough, adaptable and easy to propagate. Attractive foliage, vigorous, trouble-free growth and large, colorful flower clusters have been some of the goals of hybridization.

To successfully grow rhododendrons, you need the right soil and exposure. These plants are shallow rooted and need moisture and oxygen in the root area to flourish. They do best in soil with plenty of organic matter and good drainage. In poorly drained sites, build a raised bed or build a mound so that the rootball is above the existing ground level. Plants should be planted no deeper than they were in the container. It is better to err on the side of too shallow than planting them too deep.

Acid soil is also necessary for good growth. Check the pH of the soil and add soil sulfur, if necessary, to bring it down to 5.5 to 6.0. You can fertilize once or twice a year in the spring with an acid fertilizer, but established, healthy plants need little or no fertilizer.

Although rhododendrons like the shade, they need some sunlight in order to bloom. Three or four hours of morning sun are ideal, but they can also have late afternoon sun or filtered sun all day through overhead branches or trellises. Insufficient sunlight is often the cause of poor blooming and leggy plants.

Rhododendrons need water through the summer months. Keep cultivation around them to a minimum, due to their shallow roots, and use mulches to control weeds, conserve moisture, and provide more uniform soil temperatures. Mulches can be made of sawdust, decorative bark, straw, or other organic materials.

Rhododendrons come in a rainbow of colors from pure white, through shades of pink and lavender to bright reds and purples. There are a few yellow or cream-colored rhododendrons also. They all are welcome sights in the garden each spring.

Note: For over 35 years, I have written a garden column for The Willits News. I have been encouraged by many readers to compile these articles into a book, and I have done so. A Year in the Garden: Gardening in the Willits Area is now available at Sanhedrin Nursery.