Archive for ‘Perennials’

April 1, 2012

A is for April

A is for April.  April 1 to be exact.  While others may be joking I bring you a fact.

On April 1 there’s something important to be done, in the garden that is, and it can be quite fun.

So don your gloves, sharpen your shears and protect your fingers or I fear these things we call grasses will have you in tears.

See today is the day or around this day near, that you must cut your grasses, the ornamentals, my dear.

For now is the time that they begin to grow and we must cut them back because these you can’t mow.

Grab some twine and wrap it tight, then with all of your might, take your loppers or your trimmers or your sharpest garden shears and cut them all down to six inches or near.

You must do it now, you must do it soon, for if you don’t, your grasses will look much like a goon.

When you’re done, please don’t waste, that’s good stuff for your compost.  (Or your pathways or your mulch pile or an alternate host.)

So get out there!  Go to it!  Get them cut!  Then relax.  Because this season is just beginning, it’s one of the last times to kick back.

Kate

 

March 9, 2012

Gearing up for starting seeds

“It’s 17 and sunny.”  the morning show host said brightly.  Did I hear him right?  Yikes!  Wasn’t it 55 yesterday?  No, wait, that was Tuesday, or was it Monday?  Oh, well.  Tomorrow is supposed to be in the 50s and looks like 60 is coming a couple of days after that.  But, basketball tournaments haven’t started yet so there’s still time for one more blizzard.

To some this may sound insane, but to those of us who live here, it’s simply called Minnesota.

Bright, sunny mornings make me smile and honestly, I prefer the 10 – 20 range more than the 20s and 30s.  Why? Because when we get into the 30s and get snow-melt the air is damp and as we say in Minnesota “it’s not the cold so much, it’s the dampness, it cuts right through ya”.  Despite the chill in the air I’m so excited to get the garden going.  In March?  Sure!  Okay, technically not outside, although you can sow seeds in snow, I’ve yet to experiment with that and this year is not the year to try considering we’ve been looking at brown grass far more than a white blanket of snow.

Snow or no snow though, it’s almost time to get seeds started inside.  Do you have everything you need?  A sunny window?  Plant Lights?  Seeds?  Seed trays?  Growing medium (soil)? Early March is a good time to get all of these things ready to go: plant lights set up, seeds ordered and delivered, garden calendar and garden journal ready.

Most warm season plants need to be started inside about 6-8 weeks prior to the average last frost.  In our area, that’s anytime between March 20th and April 3rd.  So if you haven’t gotten your supplies together, now’s the time to do it!

Seed catalogs typically start coming in the mail in January.  When they start filling my mailbox, my heart picks up a little speed, a smile crosses my face.  I immediately transport myself from a cold winter day to a warm sunny day in the middle of August, out in the garden with everything at its peak…. picking sun-ripened tomatoes, smelling the scent of basil and thyme as I brush against them on my stroll through the back yard.   And the raspberries!  Hanging there, just waiting to be plucked from their canes and popped into my mouth where the sweet burst of flavor sends tingles of happiness down to my toes.  But alas… it’s not August, it’s March.  But I can dream and so can you.  After all, it’s these dreams, these visions of perfection that get us in the spirit of gardening even when Mother Nature isn’t ready for us to play the soil just yet.

Back to seed catalogs.  If you haven’t ordered seeds… Do. It. NOW!  When perusing catalogs though and making those final decisions, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.  First, make sure the plants you select are suitable for your climate, and by climate, I mean cold hardiness zone.  Minnesota used to range from zone 4b in the south to 2b in the north, but in January 2012, they updated the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to reflect recent temperature changes and shifted Minnesota into a slightly warmer zone.  Our new zones range from 5a in the south to 3a in the north.  So what does this mean?  The plant hardiness zone map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature.  What does that mean for gardeners?  It’s a tool to help us determine which plants are most likely to thrive in our location.  When looking at seed catalogs, plant catalogs or plant tags in the nursery or garden center it should show the cold hardiness for each (perennial) plant.  For example, say I’m looking through the Seed Savers Exchange catalog (one of my favorites) and as I cruise through the description for “Oregano, Greek” – I see “Perennial in zones 4-9”.  If I live in northern Minnesota, in zone 3a, I think to myself, “nope, not a perennial here” but if I live in southern Minnesota, in zone 5a, I think, “hmm… maybe that’s why my oregano came through the winter last year”.

You typically won’t see a lot of cold hardiness information noted in fruit and vegetable seed catalogs.  Why?  Because the majority of these plants are annuals.  We plant them, grow them, harvest their fruit and they complete their life cycle all in one season.  However, perennial herbs, fruits and vegetables, perennial flowers, as well as trees and shrubs, will include cold hardiness information because they will continue living, growing and producing fruit year after year in the proper growing conditions.  What if you fall outside the perennial zones?  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a shot at growing the plant, it just means you’ll need to think of it as an annual whereas other areas will think of it as a perennial.

The other thing to note, is if you will be growing the plant for its fruit, you want to make sure your climate has enough warm days during the growing season to allow the fruit to mature.  This will also be noted in the catalogs or on seed packets.  They will state “65 days to maturity”  or “75 days from transplant” (“transplant” signals that these need to be started from seed indoors prior to planting outside).  They may state “50 days”, they may state (with peas, for example) “Shell, 50-55 days” or they may state “Edible podded, 60 days”.  Basically what all of this means is that they need to have the number of days (shown on the package or in the catalog) during the growing season (average last frost in the spring until average first frost in the fall) to be able to produce fruit.  Keep in mind if you only have 75 days in your growing season you would be cutting it pretty close to not getting any fruit if you choose something in the 65+ range.  It would be a huge bummer to nurture a plant all summer to run out of warmth before you get fruit.

On to plant light stands.  If you don’t already have one, you can buy them ready-to-assemble or build your own.  Some plant light stands can be pretty darned expensive, I’ve seen them for as high as $800 for the mac daddy down to around $250 for a pretty basic structure.  However, you can build your own for just a little over $100 with hardware store materials and a little handiness.  Mine is built from PVC, which unless you like the look of white plastic in your house it’s not all that pretty, but the plants have yet to complain.

If you’ve never started seeds inside, I’d encourage you to try it.  It’s pretty fun, truly amazing to watch, can be disappointing at times, but be very rewarding and well worth the money you save versus buying transplants later in the season.  At the very least you get to say, “I grew that, from seed!”

The added bonus about starting your own plants from seed, is that if you want to eat local, organic food, there’s really no better way to know exactly where your food came from than to start with an organic seed, grow it in organic soil, provide water, sunlight and feed it with healthy, chemical-free fertilizer (a.k.a compost) until the day you harvest. It doesn’t get any more local or organic than this!

If haven’t tried seed starting and you’re not sure where to start, or if you have and ran into problems please give me a holler, leave a comment or drop me a line and I’d be happy to offer what I can to help you get things growing.

Kate

October 24, 2011

Fall Clean-up

Fall clean-up.  We all hear the phrase, but what exactly does it mean?

Fall clean-up means removing any dead, diseased or dying material from your gardens at the end of the growing season.

Where to start?  Wherever you’d like.  I typically start at one end of my yard and work my way around, armed with gloves, pruners, clippers, loppers, a large garbage can and bags.

What am I looking for?  To start off with, anything that’s “done”.

Annuals are pretty obvious.  You can take one look at them and say “yep, they’re done”.   Annuals are typically just as dramatic when they’re done as when they’re at their peak.  In other words – pretty darned ugly.  Yank ’em.

Perennials on the other hand, aren’t quite so cut and dried (so to speak).  Obviously if you have ornamental grasses, Asters, etc. that are at peak right now, don’t touch them!  As for perennials that have already passed their peak, start looking for diseased material.  If the plants are “done” and have a disease such as powdery mildew (the white frosty looking film) on their leaves or stems, cut them “way back” (typically to 3-4 inches high) then DISPOSE of the diseased material.  And by dispose, I mean DO NOT put this stuff in your compost bin/pile!  If you leave it and let the leaves eventually fall to the ground powdery mildew spores will get into the soil and increase your chances of having problems again next year. The same applies to compost.  You don’t want those spores in your compost!  Instead, put the diseased material in a tightly sealed garbage bag and toss it in the garbage or burn the plant material in a fire pit (assuming no burning restrictions in your area).

So what if you have perennials that are “done” but still look healthy?  In this case the decision is yours.  Since three-quarters of our year is winter (okay, slight exaggeration..) I like to leave as much as possible for winter interest and food for the birds.  Good examples of this are Black Eyed Susan, Cone Flower, Bee Balm and definitely Ornamental Grasses!  The more texture you can leave in your garden to look out onto during those blustery winter months the better.

What if its none of the above?  Not peaking, not dead, not diseased, but just “done”?  Then what?  In this case cut it back. If it’s not going to add anything to your winter landscape then it’s only going to become more to clean up in the spring.

On to the veggie garden.

When it comes to diseased plants the same rule applies in the veggie garden as it does in the flower garden.  Diseased plants = trash or burn.

Warm season crops (tomatoes, peppers, etc.) have done about all they are going to do. I know, it’s sad, but it’s time for them to go.  Pull them and toss them.

Cool season crops on the other hand might still be doing well.  If you have cool season crops that are still producing, by all means, leave them!

One good example of this is Brussel Sprouts.  Brussel sprouts like the cool weather and actually taste better when they’ve been nipped by frost 6-8 times.  They can even withstand mild winter temps, even if buried in snow!  The bonus?  Instead of tasting bitter like they often can, the frost/cold draws the sugars out and they will be super tasty!  How can you tell if they have been nipped by frost and are “ready to eat”?  The outer edges of the leaves will have a purple tinge to them.

Pull any other crops that are not perennials (asparagus, strawberries, etc.) and not producing and clean up all leaf litter to minimize future disease.

That’s about it.  Once it’s clean, your garden is going to look a little bare, at least until the snow flies!

Kate

October 4, 2011

What now? Water ’til winter!

As the temperatures drop and the gardening season fades….. wait, WHAT?!?!?

Remind me, what is the date?  What season is this?  It’s October… in Minnesota…  and it was 80 degrees yesterday, its supposed to be 85 degrees today, 80 degrees tomorrow, the day after tomorrow and the day after that.  It’s pretty odd to have gorgeous fall color and 80 degree temps in Minnesota right now, but I’ll tell ya what, I’ll take it!

Honestly, when the cool weather hit a couple of weeks ago I was totally ready for fall.  I absolutely love fall, but I also know what follows it, so if Mother Nature offers a few extra days of summer you won’t hear me complaining!  I’ll be honest though, it’s kind of confusing.  Ummm… what now? Should I be planting or doing fall clean-up?  The answer would be BOTH!

Now is an ideal time to plant spring blooming bulbs like tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, scilla, crocus…. you get the picture.  It’s also the perfect time to plant garlic!

Okay, so what if you’re really not into either of those and nice weather or not, you’re done gardening for the season?  Then what?  It’s really easy to call it quits this time of the year.  A lot of people are just worn out and their gardens are “done”.  As much as it is tempting to let things go, it’s incredibly important to continue watering trees, shrubs and perennials to help them prepare for winter.

Remember the Water, water, water! post back in June?  Well, here we are again!

Trees, shrubs and perennials are the backbone of our yards.  They provide structure, shade, protection from winter winds and “winter interest” and yet they also tend to blend into the background and get forgotten.  I, for one, am guilty of taking them for granted and almost forget that they need attention, especially in the fall.

The past few weeks have been really dry and dry plants get stressed.  Stressed plants have less of a chance of surviving the winter and a better chance of experiencing winter die-back.  Water gives them strength, helps them better survive frost and winter temps.

So how late in the season should you water?  Water until the ground is frozen (typically some time in November).

Seriously.  Water until you can’t water any more, then put away the hoses and shut off the faucets.  You’re plants will thank you.

Kate