Archive for the ‘Flowers’ Category

Saving Some Bugleweed

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Not long ago I stopped by a neighbor’s house to see how her remodeling project was going; she’s putting the house up for sale.  She asked me about a row of plants growing on the north side of the house.  Her plan is to remove the flowerbed and plant the area into grass.

Years ago, a previous resident planted a row of Ajuga — sometimes called Bugleweed.  The foliage on these plants is a beautiful bronze color.  I’m not sure of the variety, it’s probably ‘Bronze Beauty’.

Ajuga multiplies by sending out runners (stolons).

The plants are doing quite well in the shady area.   Ajuga has a tendency to spread but these are behaving themselves and staying put in the garden bed.

Ajuga makes a great ground cover growing best in rich moist soil, which describes the growing conditions of this bed of Bugleweed.  They will adapt to drier and less fertile areas if they have to.

In mid-spring, blue flowers appear on Bronze Beauty.  Other varieties produce purple or white flowers.

The owner says these plants have to go.  Normally, I’d wait until spring to move them but, since I have no choice, I’ll have to dig them within the next few days.

With some snow cover this winter, they should over-winter just fine.




Bee Balm

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

While walking past a clump of Monarda the other day, I noticed the plants were humming with insects.  Even though the flowers were past peak blooming, all sorts of bees were buzzing around.

About half the blooms are left on this stand of Monarda and there are still plenty of bees visiting it.

I took a minute or so to look at the insects and counted at least a half dozen different species of the bee family. There were honeybees, paper wasps and some kind of bumblebee; those were easy to spot. Looking closer I could see other species of smaller bees that I was not able to identify.  It’s no wonder Monarda is called Bee Balm.  Butterflies and hummingbirds like Monarda too.

Bee Balm is a native plant that has found a place in the garden.  Normally, in the wild, it grows in damp areas.  In the garden, it grows fine in a flowerbed; you just need to give it a little extra water during dry spells. If you have a wet area that gives you problems, Monarda is a good solution.

Even though Monarda is a perennial, it is best to wait until spring before dividing and moving a clump to your garden. Fall planted Monarda will often winterkill.  I have grown it from seed; it is fairly easy to start and is a cheap way to get a lot of plants.

It grows to a height of three or four feet, has red, pink or purple flowers depending on the variety, and takes care of itself once it is established.

Monarda is also used as an herb.  In the herb garden, it is known by its other two names Bergamot and Oswego Tea.

Planting Monarda is an easy way to add color to your garden while helping our local honeybees and other pollinators.



Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The Lilacs have really been putting in a show this spring.  They started blooming quite a bit later because of the cool temperatures.  The flowers have been looking fresh longer too.

Lilacs have been flowering profusely this spring.

Some of the early varieties have started to fade, but the later varieties are still looking fine.  A big bouquet of Lilacs can really brighten up a room.  Also,  cutting flower stems is just about the best kind of pruning you can do for your Lilac bush.  Cut off as many stems as you need; you won’t hurt the plant.

Keep your flowers fresh by stripping off the leaves from the stem.  Also crush the base of the stems before placing them into water.  A pair of pliers works well for small stems; use a small hammer for larger stems.

It’s a very good idea to snip off all of the old flowers once your Lilac has finished blooming. Removing all the faded flowers will help stimulate the plant to produce even more flowers next year.  The old flowers never fall off, they end up forming brown panicles that makes the shrub look a bit messy.  So, that is another good reason to remove them.

Don’t worry if you are not able to get to snipping off the flowers, your Lilac will still do just fine without any attention.  That is another reason why Lilacs have been so popular since colonial times.

There is also a discussion on crushing Lilac stems here.


Yellow Iris in the Flooded Garden

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Much of our garden is under water.  You can see the mulch under the water where the potatoes grew last year.

Last year's mulch where the potatoes grew.

It looks like we may not be able to work that area until Memorial Day.  That’s OK though  since we can change our original plan and plant  the warm weather crops into that area later on.

I was really hoping to expand the garden further to the north this spring, but that will have to wait.

Along with some moisture tolerant weeds, a clump of Yellow Iris is the only thing thriving.

These Irises were started from seed a few years ago.  I’m not sure exactly what species this is.  It very well may be the species that has been causing trouble in other states by becoming invasive.

Here in our garden it is behaving itself.  The clump has slowly grown in size from  four small plants to a clump about three feet in diameter.

This clump of Iris is thriving in the flooded part of our garden.

They’ll put on a nice  of flowers for us a little later in the season.  I’ll post some photos later when they blossom.  I’ll also get a chance to identify them to see what variety they are while they are in bloom.


Poinsettia Care

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Every year around Christmas time I get asked by at least two or three people, “what is the best way to keep my Poinsettia alive and looking well once I get it home? ”

Poinsettias don’t really need a whole lot of special treatment but they do need just a little bit more care than a typical house plant.

To keep your poinsettia going for as long as possible you need to follow just a few simple guidelines.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that most poinsettias die from over-watering.

Your home probably has different growing conditions than the greenhouse in which your plant was grown so it will be less actively growing and therefore needs less water. That being the case, let the surface soil dry out just a bit before watering. Then water the plant thoroughly until water flows out of the bottom of the pot.

Any water remaining in the foil wrapper has to be emptied out otherwise the roots will become water-logged and eventually die. With fewer roots the plant will not be able to sustain itself and will prematurely die. That is the main reason why many people cannot keep their Poinsettia alive more that a couple of weeks.

If you have a choice, pick a spot that has bright light but not in direct sunlight. Keep your Poinsettia away from cold drafts or heating registers where hot air will blow directly on it.

Don’t worry too much about fertilizer for your plant, it won’t really need much until spring. A half-strength dose of water soluble houseplant fertilizer once in a while should be adequate.

Also, keep in mind that poinsettias weren’t meant to last too much longer than the Christmas season. Poinsettias are selected for color, not for hardiness as a house plant.

By following these guidelines you should be able to enjoy your Poinsettia as a reminder of wonderful Christmas memories for many weeks to come.


Time to Plant Spring Flowering Bulbs

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Even though things are slowing down to a crawl in the garden after the frost, fall can still be a very busy time of the year for the die-hard gardener. In addition to all of the garden and yard clean-up there’s still plenty of planting to do especially if you look forward to flowers in the early spring.

The only way to get Tulips and other spring flowering bulbs to bloom in your garden is to plant them right now. Although the choice may be more limited than earlier in the fall, plenty of bulbs are still available in garden centers.

Back when I was gardening professionally I needed to get my bulb order in by July first each year. A lot of planning went into deciding just how many of each variety would be planted and into which garden. So in July, during the busiest time of the regular growing season, I was compelled to come up with a plan about how the garden would look in April.

Since I would plant between 15,000 and 20,000 bulbs a year, my order would be placed with other large orders of bulbs in the summer. Bulb growers in Holland needed to know ahead of time how many bulbs they would have to harvest and ship to the USA. Your local garden center probably placed their order at that time as well.

The bulb planting season actually starts earlier in October. The idea is to get the bulbs into the ground so that they will have time to develop a good root system before winter. You can imagine that with 20,000 bulbs to plant I often was planting well into November and even sometimes into early December. Most gardeners don’t have that excuse and should get their planting done soon.

Bulbs look best planted in clusters rather than in straight lines or as single plants. If you can afford it, large drifts of single varieties make an impressive sight in the spring. You don’t need to plant thousands of bulbs to make an impression, even a small planting near the house can be a real joy after a long winter.

Eye-catching Drift of Grape Hyacinths.

Crocus, Tulips, Daffodils and Hyacinths are the most common spring bulbs that are planted therefore are the most commonly available. Others you might find include Muscari, Anenomes, Snowdrops, Scilla, Allium and others. When buying your bulbs look for ones that are free from mold, discoloration or other signs of rot. Also a healthy bulb will feel heavier in your hand than one that has started to deteriorate.

Larger sized bulbs such as Daffodils and Tulips are planted deeper into the ground than the small bulbs such as Crocus and Muscari. The small bulbs are planted into a hole that is about three inches deep, while the larger bulbs are planted twice that depth. Usually detailed planting information is available for each variety when you purchase your bulbs. Any fertile garden bed will support the growth and development of spring bulbs.

If you never have planted bulbs before, to get you started I have scanned a leaflet from the US Department of Agriculture that describes how to plant bulbs. It contains more detail than I can present here in this blog. Take the time to plant some bulbs this fall then when spring rolls around you’ll be glad you did.


Forced Bulbs, A Cure For The Inevitable Late Winter Blahs

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Our autumn has been quite pleasant so far but before you know it we’ll be  into the winter season.  Christmas and New Year’s are always festive but by the time February rolls around, most of us begin to tire of  the seemingly endless gray days.

By starting a fun project right now, you can head off some of those late winter doldrums in a small way.  Tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, crocus and others can be coaxed into blooming several weeks before their normal flowering season by a process known as “forcing”.  Forcing done by large commercial growers is a complex affair following certain standard procedures to ensure maximum profitability. Home gardeners can use  similar but much simpler techniques to accomplish the same thing.

The first thing to do is get all of your materials together. You’ll need pots or some kind of container (I like six inch pots), potting mix and of course bulbs. I advise gardeners who have never forced bulbs before to start out using tulips.

Fill your pot with enough soil so that the top of the bulb is nearly level with the top of the pot. Do not compact the soil, leave it loose to encourage quick root formation. Then gently place the tulip bulb onto the soil, again don’t press them down. Finally cover the bulbs with more soil leaving  at least 1/4 inch watering space.  If you look at a tulip bulb you will see that it has a pointed top, a bottom and one side that is flat. Place the flat side facing outward. By orienting the bulbs this way you will get the best arrangement of leaves and flowers as the plants bloom.  Keep the soil moist and do not use any fertilizer.

Your planted bulbs will look something like this. Here I have seven small hyacinths planted into a six inch pot. Usually you can fit five or six tulip bulbs into a pot this size.

Spring flowering bulbs need a cold period of at least 13 weeks in order to bloom properly.  So you must find a cold spot to store your pots during that time. The ideal temperature for this cold period is somewhere around 35 to 48 degrees F.  Older homes may have an unheated root-cellar, sometimes known as a Michigan Basement, that will provide the needed conditions. Otherwise, a spot in the garage might fit the bill. I have seen gardeners keep their forcing pots in the window-wells next to the outside walls of their house.

If you decide to store your pots outside, you may want to cover them with screen in order to keep out mice and voles that will feed on the bulbs. Keep the soil moist during this period so that you maximize root growth which will in turn maximize blooming.

After the 13 week cold period is over, you can begin bring the pots into the house. Don’t put them in direct sunlight. As they warm up, they will start to grow leaves and begin to flower.

You can utilize the same techniques that were employed to create this indoor winter display at the Matthaei Botantical Gardens.

There is nothing like your own home-grown forced tulips to brighten up those gray days in February and they make great gifts too.


You Can Divide Daylilies Now

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Daylilies are one of the most versatile flowering plants available to gardeners. You can depend on them to produce an abundance of showy flowers and the foliage makes a good ground cover. They are not attacked by insects and are susceptible to only a couple of mild disease organisms that don’t seem to hurt the plant very much at all. There are varieties available that will flower at different times during the growing season so that you can have Daylilies flowering most of the  summer. In addition to all of that, they are perennials meaning you don’t have to plant them over again each spring. In general, Daylilies don’t require as much maintenance as many other flowers.

If you noticed this year that your Daylilies didn’t  produce as many blooms as in the past, it is possible that they are starting to become over-crowded. After four or five years of growing in the same spot Daylilies tend to form a heavy mat of roots in the middle and the plant loses its vitality. To prevent this problem, divide your Daylilies frequently. Late summer and early fall is the ideal time of the year to do this.

These Daylilies are still doing fine and will not need to be divided for a couple of years.

Dividing Daylilies is very easy, all you need really need to do is dig the plants up and split them apart. With Daylilies it is easy to tell where the division should be made because they tend to form clumps of roots with a fan of leaves attached. Break these clumps apart and re-plant them into their bed or into a new spot. Place the clumps at the same depth as they were originally growing.

A clump of Daylilies separated from the main plant.

Many years ago I was asked to divide a relatively large bed of Daylilies. If I remember right my helper and I ended up transplanting somewhere around 2000 divisions.  We ended up constructing three more beds to hold all of them.  It did make a striking display.

If you have had no flowers at all from your Daylilies in the past, it is most likely there is a problem with the site. They do best in partial shade but will grow fine in a sunny spot if the soil is kept moist and has adequate fertility. Keep in mind however that they will not flower if they are planted in too shady of a spot.

Don’t be too concerned if you are unable to work on your Daylilies this fall, they can also be divided early next spring.


Transplant Poppies Now

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Oriental Poppies, once established reliably bloom year after year, sometimes for decades. They don’t like to be disturbed or moved unlike some other perennials that need to be divided every couple of years or so. Those other perennials can be handled more easily for moving.

There are times when plants need to be relocated for one reason or another, maybe you’re moving to a new home and want to bring your plants with you. If you have ever tried to move poppies in the conventional manner, that is in the spring or fall, you probably have been disappointed in the results.

The secrete to moving Oriental Poppies is to dig them after blooming rather than in the fall or spring as you would most other perennials. Once Poppies have finished blooming they enter into their dormant period which starts at this time of the summer and usually lasts until the middle of August.

Carefully dig the roots and divide them if needed and place them into their new spot about 18 inches apart with the buds about two inches below the soil. Poppies need plenty of sunlight to thrive so be sure their new location gets full sun. Other that that, they are quite happy under ordinary garden conditions.

You have plenty of time to move your Poppies so you don’t have to be in a big hurry to do so. Keep in mind that it may take a year or two before the plants bloom again after moving.


Halloween Trick

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Have you ever seen a flower with two colors on one blossom? Yes, of course you have.

Have you ever seen a flower with two colors on one blossom where the colors are divided exactly down the middle? Now that’s a little more rare.

How this occurs is an interesting process.

Let’s briefly review how a flower is formed.  Think back to your high school biology. Plants are made up of small, microscopic structures called cells.  The cells grow and divide over and over again until you have a fully formed plant.

Inside of the growing tip of a bud (called a meristem) there are many many cells dividing like crazy in order to get a flower to form and blossom in one growing season. Each time they divide, they pass on a blueprint of how the flower is to be built. This is called genetics.

All of those millions of cells start out as just one cell. That one cell divides into two cells.  At this very early stage, something happened to one of those two cells.  The genetic blueprint didn’t get copied exactly right, the blueprint says it is supposed to be a Mum blossom but instead of painting it yellow, it specifies pink as the color.

All of the descendants  from that one pink cell “thinks” the flower should be pink, while all the descendants from the yellow cell know it is supposed to be yellow because it is a yellow Mum.

Those darn pink cells are stubborn and continue with their pink idea until the flower is completely built.  And guess what? Exactly half of the flower is pink and the other half is the color it is supposed to be…yellow.

In the horticulture trade this is called a chimera.  This is one way how different varieties are begun.

An observant grower will notice something unusual happening with a single plant, often just a single stem on a plant. If it looks promising, he will reproduce it and hopefully turn it into a new variety.  If he has a crew of farm hands helping and he doesn’t go to check his crop, this small detail will more than likely go unnoticed and the opportunity to create something new will be lost.

Chimeras don’t always reproduce themselves very well. They are unstable, which is how they became chimeras in the first place.

A couple examples of chimeras include thornless raspberries and different colors of Poinsettias.

So, will I make a million dollars producing pink and yellow Mums?….probably not.