Start a new tradition throw a daffodil party

Are booming daffodils a good excuse for throwing a party? It is if you are Dick Deionne of Ann Arbor.

Each spring he throws a daffodil party where he treats his friends to the spectacle of thousands of daffodils that includes dozens of different varieties.

Beginning gardens should  be aware that daffodils are planted in the fall.
Beginning gardens should be aware that daffodils are planted in the fall.

Most of his plantings are under trees or around the edges of the wooded areas.

Daffodils thrive in rich woodland soil.
Daffodils thrive in rich woodland soil.

Normally black walnut trees are troublesome for flowers because of a poisonous chemical that walnut roots release into the soil. This makes the area in the tree’s root zone unsuitable for most plants. Daffodils are resistant to the chemical and do well under black walnut trees.

Daffodils grow happily under black walnut trees.
Daffodils grow happily under black walnut trees.
A few daffodils in the garden are nice but a planting like this makes quite a statement.
A few daffodils in the garden are nice but a planting like this makes quite a statement.

If you want to start your own version of an annual daffodil party, keep in mind that daffodils are planted in the fall. Flower bulb sellers start taking orders for daffodil bulbs in mid-summer for fall delivery.

Bob

 

 

Super-sized Christmas poinsettias are started now

Holidays for horticulturists usually have two dates.  First, there is the actual date that the holiday occurs. The second date is the time when plants associated with that holiday need to be started.

Greenhouse people are beginning to make preparations for Christmas now, in very early spring .

I’m sure you’ve seen giant-sized poinsettias in full bloom during the Christmas season. Did you ever wonder how they managed to get them so big? The secrete is to keep the same poinsettia plants growing year after year.  Each year the plants get bigger and produce more colorful bracts.

If you have a poinsettia that is still alive from Christmas, you can renew it and have a larger more colorful plant for next Christmas.

 

A bench of pruned poinsettias at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Ann Arbor.
A bench of pruned poinsettias in Greenhouse 3 at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Ann Arbor.

Start by pinching off all of the leaves and bracts from the plant. Many of them may have already dropped off anyway by now. Next cut the main stem or stems to about six to eight inches above the soil surface. Remove the plant from its pot.

This pruned poinsettia is just beginning to make new growth.
This pruned poinsettia is just beginning to make new growth.

It’s best to carefully rinse the old soil off of the roots and re-pot the plant using new potting mix. Removing the old soil is not absolutely necessary though, I’ve had very good results by simply leaving the existing soil then re-potting into a larger pot. What is necessary however, is using a loose commercial potting mix, not soil from the garden. Poinsettias need loose soil, no ifs ands or buts.

Then water thoroughly — soak the pot with water and let it completely drain out. Never let poinsettias sit in the water that collects in the pot saucer, they just can’t tolerate wet feet.

Put it in the brightest area you have to encourage it to grow. Once you see shoots developing, feed it with a good house plant fertilizer about once a month.

Later, after the danger of frost has passed, place the plant outside in a bright spot that has dappled shade during the hottest part of the day.

As the plant grows through the summer, you can pinch back shoots to help keep a symmetrical shape. Pinching will also stimulate more branching giving the plant a more compact and bushy look.

With some care and luck you’ll have a stunning plant to show off next Christmas.

Bob

 

Matthaei Botanical Gardens blooming agave

A few days ago, I had a chance to see the blooming agave plant at University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens Desert House — the one you’ve been hearing everyone talking about.

The agave leaves have a rare variegated green and white color.
The agave leaves have a rare variegated green and white color.

When I first saw this plant over 30 years ago, it was already 50 years old. Through the years it didn’t appear to change much but of course it has been growing and maturing all that time. Now after 80 years, it is finally blossoming.

It has produced a flower stalk so tall that they’ve had to take out some roof glass from the greenhouse in order to give it more room to grow.

The flower stalk has grown through the roof of the conservatory.
The flower stalk has grown through the roof of the conservatory.

I encourage you to get out to the Botanical Gardens and see it. This type of agave blooms only once in its lifetime and then it dies. So, when it’s over, it’s over.

The flowers are producing an abundance of real agave nectar, not the manufactured stuff you find in the store.
The flowers are producing an abundance of real agave nectar, not the manufactured stuff you find in the store.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens is located on Dixboro Road south of Plymouth Road, Ann Arbor, directions and hours are available on their website.

Bob

Hostas need time fully develop

If you are like me , you probably have had the experience of buying a plant from a catalog or garden center only to find out it wasn’t quite as wonderful as it looked in the picture. Of course, sometimes sellers tweak  photos a bit to highlight the characteristics of a particular plant.

In the case of hostas however, the differences can be very real and not due to photo manipulation.

Many varieties of hostas require a cold period before they reach their full potential. New hostas are often grown in a greenhouse for the first year and may have not gotten enough exposure to cold temperatures. As a result, during the first year in your garden, they can look very different from a mature plant of the same variety.

Although hostas produce flowers, it is the foliage that attracts gardeners.
Although hostas produce flowers, it is the foliage that attracts gardeners.

Leaf color, texture, size and shape can all look different until the second spring. There are some varieties that require a few years growth before all their characteristics are evident.

Also, keep in mind that hostas are shade tolerant plants. Even though we see hostas planted in sunny areas all the time, they prefer to grow in areas where they are shaded from the hot afternoon sun. Full morning and evening sun exposure will allow hostas to develop properly.

In a year or two your new hosta will look as good as the one in the catalog. I wish I could say the same about the shirts I buy.

Bob

Veronica speedwell

This is the first spring for our Veronica gentianoides, sometimes called Veronica Speedwell or Gentian Speedwell. We planted this perennial last fall and it seems to be very hardy since it survived our winter, even after all of those record-breaking cold days and nights.

Gentian speedwell is one of the earliest flowering perennials. Ours started blooming right after the tulips died back and just recently finished blooming.

Its wonderful light-blue flowers are about one-half inch across and are held by a spike 16 inches tall.

This is not a plant that you would notice driving down a bumpy road at 50 miles an hour, unless it was a naturalized area with a large number of plants. It works best in an area where you can enjoy it up close such as along a sidewalk.

Later a seed stalk will develop from the flower stalk on these Gentian Speedwell plants.
Later a seed stalk will develop from the flower stalk on these Gentian Speedwell plants.

You may have noticed that Veronica gentionoides has the same first name as Veronica filiformis, the common lawn weed also called speedwell.  That’s because they are closely related. Don’t worry though, Veronica gentianoides won’t become a lawn weed.

Like many of us, Veronica’s ancestors immigrated from somewhere else in the world. In this case, they were brought here from the middle east — specifically the Caucasus region around Turkey and Iran.

Gentian Speedwell will tolerate some light shade but prefers full sun. Wild populations in the middle east are found in damp fields, which tells us that the plant will do best if kept watered or is grown in a moist area.

There are cultivated varieties for sale, I’m not sure what variety ours are.

Later in the summer after they’re done flowering, the plants will send out creeping roots that will produce new plants. The new plants eventually form into a mat that makes a good ground cover for filling in bare spots in the garden.

Bob

Ants on peonies

We’re seeing ants again on peony buds again this year. It happens every spring. They show up as soon as the buds get some size to them. They’ll stick around all the way through flowering.

Ants and peonies just seem to go together.  Many long time gardeners believe you must encourage the ants because you can’t have good peony flowers without them.  We now know that is an old wives tale.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are gardeners who fret and worry about the ants so much that they try to destroy every ant on their peonies. They think the ants are hurting the peonies and inhibiting flowering. That belief is just as much an old wives tale.

 

You'll find ants on peonies all day, every day this time of year.
You’ll find ants on peonies all day, every day this time of year.

In fact, ants on peonies are pretty much neutral — neither good nor bad. They are there only to feed on the sugary surface coating that is secreted by the buds. And that causes no damage.

Peony ants are so well behaved they won’t even try to get into your house so there is no need to worry about that either.

Sometimes an ant or two will ride into the house on cut flower stems. To avoid that, cut the flowers just before they open and knock off any ants you find.

Gardening has enough challenges without having to worry about ants on peonies. So cross that one off your list.

Bob

 

Tuberoses

The tuberoses have been blooming in the garden for a week or so.

When they first started blooming, I actually smelled them before I saw them, which is not surprising since tuberoses are one of the most fragrant flowers you can grow.  They produce so much fragrance that farmers plant fields of them that they sell to perfume makers. The sweet scent is most noticeable in the evening.

Tuberoses don’t tolerate cold temperatures so you have to wait until the soil warms up.  Because it took so long for the soil to get warm this season, I planted mine around the beginning of June.

They require very little care and don’t mind being neglected for a while.

These tuberose flowers measure about one and a half inches across.
These tuberose flowers measure about one and a half inches across.

The grassy-looking leaves on tuberoses are not particularly eye-catching so, you can’t count on the foliage to make a dramatic impact in the landscape. It’s all about the flowers and their aroma. They make excellent cut flowers too.

You can save tuberoses by digging the tubers up before frost. Keep them warm in storage –above 50 degrees F — and dry over winter.

By digging and saving your tuberoses each year, you can quickly build up a large number of tubers to use each year in your garden.

Bob

Remove seed stalks from spring flowering bulbs

Our daffodils, tulips and hyacinths are done blooming for the season. That doesn’t mean that we can forget about them. There’s still some work left to be done that will greatly improve our chances for flowers next year.

Right now the plants are beginning  to form seed pods at the end of the flower stalks — where the old flower is attached. This is normally what happens when the plants are left to fend for themselves.

Small pruning snips work great for removing seed stalks.
Small pruning snips work great for removing seed stalks.

The problem with seed pods is they take too much energy to grow and we don’t need seeds to grow tulips, hyacinths or daffodils. To conserve that wasted energy, we need to remove those flower stalks as soon as possible after the flowers have faded.

I try to cut the flower stalks as close to the base of the plant as I can being careful not to cut off the leaves. Plants need their leaves to produce energy for growth, reproduction and other plant functions.

Since I don’t plant as many bulbs now as I did in past years, this job for me is not as demanding as it used to be. This year I only have a few hundred stalks to cut.

Bob

Flowers attract hummingbirds

Bees and butterflies are fun to watch but, I think hummingbirds are the most fascinating visitors to a garden. No matter how many times you see them, they never fail to surprise and amaze.

Hummingbirds use a huge huge amount of energy in relation to their size.  Sugars found in flower nectar is source of this energy. Everyday they eat their body weight in nectar so they are constantly on the lookout for nectar-producing flowers.

You can encourage hummingbirds to visit your yard by planting the flowers they’re looking for.

They prefer red and orange tubular flowers but will feed on most brightly-colored flowers with nectar. There’s plenty of flowers that meet these requirements.

Hummingbirds like tubular flowers such as petunias and nicotiana.
Hummingbirds like tubular flowers such as petunias and nicotiana.

Here’s a partial list to consider: monarda, red salvia, agastache, honeysuckle vine, fushia, verbena, phlox, butterfly bush, daylily, trumpet creeper, cypress vine, coral bells, heirloom petunias, penstemnon, morning glory, bugle weed, red-hot poker, and many others.

Like people, hummingbirds also need protein and fats in their diet. They get those nutrients by eating gnats, mosquitoes and other small insects. So, having an area of wild plants — weeds — nearby will provide space for these small insects to grow.

Finally, hummingbirds need trees and shrubs to provide a place for them to nest and to escape from predators.

If you look around, you’ll probably see that most of the things hummingbirds need are already in your neighborhood.

Planting the right kind of flowers is the best way to get hummingbirds to hang out in your backyard.

Bob

Cool weather keeps spring-flowers bulbs blooming

Many gardeners have been enjoying the cool spring this year — especially those who spent days and days last fall planting spring-flowering bulbs.

In years past, I planted as many as 20 thousand tulips, daffodils, and hyacinth bulbs in one fall season. For many years I considered 10 thousand bulbs to be a light planting year. It took my helper and me several weeks to get those flower bulbs into the ground before winter arrived.

Then, I would wait until spring to see the results of all of that work. Most of the time spring progressed normally and the bulbs put on a show that lasted for weeks. Every once-in-a-while a week of summer-like weather would occur in early spring. All of the bulbs would shoot up out of the ground, bloom, and die-back all within about a week’s time. How disappointing those springs were — one week of spring-flowering for six weeks of hard work in the fall.

Cool spring temperatures keep bulbs flowering much longer.
Cool spring temperatures keep bulbs flowering much longer.

 

This year we’re having a nice, slow start to spring. Our bulbs are slowly opening and their flowers look like they will stay fresh for sometime.

Spring bulbs are the best reason to hope for a cool spring.

Bob