Halloween Trick

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.

Bob

Knobby Roots in the Garden

Now that we are at the end of the summer gardening season, at lot of us will begin pulling out  old and worn out plants and tossing them in the compost pile.

I found this root attached to a sweet potato plant:

Notice the knobby, bumpy nodules.  This is not normal for a sweet potato root. The abnormal growth is caused by a nearly microscopic worm-like creature called a nematode.

Nematodes are the bane  of sweet potato farmers in the southern states where sweet potatoes or other vegetables are grown year after year in the same spot.  In addition to gnarled roots, nematodes also cause reduced yields.  Often the damage shows up as black spots under the skin of the tuber that are not seen until the root is peeled leaving an unusable potato.

This nematode damage can occur on almost any common vegetable plant.  If you find a root that resembles the one in the photo, destroy it and don’t attempt to compost it, otherwise you risk spreading the pests to other parts of your garden.

There is no method of control for nematodes in the garden except rotating your crops.  You must rotate to a grass-related crop such as sweet corn in order to break the life cycle of the nematodes. “Regular” garden crops will support nematodes in the soil.

Knobby roots on legume plants such as peas and beans are  normal and not caused by nematodes, so don’t dispose of  them.  Beans and peas have nodules on their roots that harbor beneficial bacteria. In this case the bacteria  are beneficial to the plant and actually produce fertilizer in the form of nitrogen that the beans use to grow.

Chances are you won’t see these symptoms in a new garden because the nematodes have not had enough time to multiply.

Happy Composting,

Bob

Planting Idea for Next Year

Here’s a nice flower combination that was quite successful for us this year.

The purple flowers are  Gomphrena ‘Purple’.  The orange flowers are Zinnia ‘Profusion Orange’.

Both Orange Profusion and Purple Gomphrena are about 14″-16″ in height. I used them here all by themselves in a sloping bed which really showed them off.

The two colors go well together and the blossom shapes compliment one another as well.  Also, the blooms  held up nicely  all season. You can see  that they are still going strong.

Make a note of it in your garden notebook to look for these varieties next spring.

Bob

Dakota Gold!

Thar’s gold in them thar hills!!

Not the precious metal type of gold, but the horticultural kind you can find in Helenium ‘Dakota Gold’.

Helenium is the genus name for a grouping of plants that includes Sneezeweed. Many of these species and varieties are tall, often growing over four feet in height and having large orangish flowers.

Dakota Gold grows only about a foot tall and about a foot and a half  in width.  It’s growth habit makes it ideal for planting in the front of a bed.

It also produces an abundance of dainty, bright golden yellow flowers.

I used it in a spot where I wanted a swath of yellow but didn’t want to use something over-powering like Marigolds. A single plant of Dakota Gold, or a planting of just a few, would not be very impressive,  but plant a good sized drift of them and they suddenly become something special.

As far as I know, last year was the first year Dakota Gold seed was widely available. We should be seeing more and more Helenium Dakota Gold being made available in garden centers in the future as more gardeners discover this wonderful little plant.

…and that’s nothing to sneeze at!

Bob

Eremurus-Foxtail Lily

This time of the year it is always a treat to see the Eremurus blooming. Because we have them planted in an area under the walnut trees where not much else is growing, they seem to shoot up  out of nowhere.

Foxtail Lilies in bloom
Foxtail Lilies in bloom

As you may or may not know, it is nearly impossible to grow most plants under Black Walnut trees, but the Eremurus seems to live there just fine.

These plants are native to Tibet where the summers are hot and dry but have good fall and spring rainfall. This often describes the weather in this part of the country as well.  It’s no wonder that Foxtail Lilies do well here.

Our Eremurus are the yellow variety (bungei) and range from 3 to 4 feet tall.

From a distance, the hundreds of tiny flowers on the stalk merge together to give them their unique look.

Eremurus Flowers
Eremurus Flowers

It’s when you get closer that the individual flowers become apparent.

Foxtail Lilies are grown from tuberous roots that in themselves have a unique shape, they sort of remind me of star fish.

Fall is the time when the roots are planted, so you have some time to track some down and get them ordered.  We got ours from K. van Bourgondien and Sons  (dutchbulbs.com).

There is one thing I would recommend when planting your Foxtail Lily this fall, and that is to mulch them well. They are a little weak getting started the first fall.  However, after that, they thrive here in southern Michigan.

So, put Eremurus  on your fall ” must-buy list”.

Bob

Longer Lasting Lilac Blossoms

It seems that the Lilacs are producing many more blooms than normal this year. Apparently the long, cold winter didn’t bother them at all.

This means there are so many more blossoms to cut for inside the house. Inside you can enjoy a close-up look at the flowers and smell their wonderful scent!

We have three varieties of Lilacs on the property to choose from; white, dark purple and traditional Lilac color. Each one has a slightly different smell. Placing all three together in a vase like this gives you a really complex aroma to enjoy.

Now, Lilacs differ from many other cut flowers in that they  flower on woody branches. This changes how they are handled after cutting.

The more water a flower stem takes in, the fresher and longer lasting it stays. To accomplish this, gardeners have discovered a little trick for cut Lilacs.

Start by snipping the stem to its final length, one that fits the size of vase. Then take a pair of pliers and crush the cut end of the stem and place the stem immediately into the water. This helps water to move up into the stem where it is most needed.

Cut Lilacs are not the longest lasting cut flower by any means, but by using this simple trick, you can enjoy them for a bit longer.

Bob

Easter Lily Care and Re-bloom

 

I have found that there are two different groups of people when it comes to caring for an Easter lily after Easter.

One group of  simply let their Lily “run its  course” and then toss it away after it starts to fade. Most of these folks probably water the plant once or twice and then let it go.

On the other side of the equation is a group of people who would like to keep their Lily blooming as long as possible and maybe even save it for next year. Since you are reading this post, I’ll assume you belong to the second group and are interested in getting the most out of your Lily.

Easter Lilies like to be in a cool bright spot when they are inside a house. So, if you have a choice where to place it, choose the cooler spot away from any heating vents jut as long as it gets light from the window. Don’t worry too much about it though.

More important than location is watering. Since most Easter Lilies come with a pot wrapper, it is easy to kill a Lily with too much water.  The wrapper will trap water and not allow it to drain away, this will cause the roots to become water-logged and eventually die. This is the most common mistake people make in caring for their Lily. Be sure to dump out the excess water that drains into the wrapper after watering.

Cut off the blossoms as they fade. Once all the blossoms have come and gone, just care for it like a house plant. Feel the soil with your finger to get an idea how dry it is. The top of the soil should look and feel dry before watering again. 

I also like to pick up the pot and feel how much it weighs, a dry pot will feel quite a bit lighter than a wet or damp pot.

Sometime around Memorial Day, plant the Lily into a flower bed or other area with good soil and sunlight.

Sometimes the existing stalk will die back. When this happens, the Lily bulb will send up a new shoot and continue growing through the summer.

Then in the following year your Lily will surprise you with blossoms in July. They always surprise me because I usually forget that I planted them there until they bloom.

They don’t naturally bloom during Easter, we have to give them special conditions in a greenhouse to force them to do that. Forcing Easter Lilies is a complicated procedure. We force over 200 Lilies every year. It’s fun but also a challenge because Easter Sunday changes from year to year!

There’s no Federal law saying you have to save your Lily (at least not yet ;))  but it is easy to do and a lot of fun.

Bob

Bloom Another Day

We put up the 4th week of our spring Exhibit at the Gardens.  My volunteers look forward to doing it even though it is chaotic.  We have to take out the past weeks old faded bulb flowers and put in new fresh ones.  Seeing  the cheery  daffodils, beautiful tulips, elegant bleeding hearts and vibrant  hyacinths that one of the other horticulturists grows for the exhibit, is so refreshing at this time of year.  Especially on a gray darkish day like we sometimes have in March.  It really gets our hopes up for spring!

If you receive or buy a potted tulip or hyacinth or daffodil for Easter, you can save it and plant it outside to bloom another year.  The simplest way is to plant the whole pot in the ground after danger of frost is passed.  Another way is to care for the bulb foliage in the pot, giving it light fertilizer and partial sun.  Once the foliage has turned yellow , cut the leaves off and take the bulbs out of the soil and store in a mesh bag, hanging it in a dry place like the garage.  Tulip bulbs are especially prone to rooting  if they stay too moist all summer.

Then replant the bulbs in the fall. Bulbs that have been forced used up a lot of energy so they will not flower again the next year.  It may take 2 or 3 years of growing and storing energy from the sunshine before they have enough energy to bloom again.

A lot of tulips actually don’t come back well.  Species tulips and old varieties are more likely to come back again.  Hyacinths usually come back and bloom again and daffodils come back very well.  You can even get daffodils to naturalize very well.

Enjoy your beautiful flowers this Easter and then enjoy them for years to come!

Happy spring,

Judy

You can have your landscape and eat it too!

Anyone can grow fruits or vegetables in their own backyard.  No special garden plot needed!

Edible plants  can be tucked in a number of spots in an existing landscape.  The only requirement is enough sun which in most cases is 6-8 hours of direct sun.

Any vegetable can be grown but some look better than others, so they can be put in more noticeable spots.  Some plants that are being used for landscaping are swiss chard, parsley, everbearing strawberries, lettuce, kale, cabbages, peppers and many kinds of herbs.

Best results can be obtained if the soil is improved directly around the edible plant. Also, during dry spells, they will probably need supplemental water.

Blueberries and dwarf fruit trees such as apples, pears, peaches and plums are a good choice even though they need a few early season sprays.

Grapes on a fence or arbor can add quick privacy.  There is even a hardy Kiwi vine for our hardiness zone.

Just think of walking out into your own yard in the summer and picking peaches off your own tree.  Nothing tastes better!

bye for now,

Judy

Is Your Jade Plant Thisty?

This time of the year it’s very easy to over-water house plants.

There is a lot less light in the winter,so most  plants including Jade Plants, will not be as actively photosynthesizing and won’t need as much water.

Over-watering has symptoms similar to under-watering.
When you give a plant too much water, it can cause the roots to become water logged and eventually die back. When the plant loses its roots, it can’t take up enough water, hence, the apparent symptom of not enough water. The well-meaning person taking care of the plant gives it even more water making the problem worse.

A Jade Plant  is able to store water in its fleshy leaves and stems. When it dries out to the point of needing water, the leaves become soft and flexible.

If you think your Jade plant needs water, gently squeeze a leaf or two.

Jade Plant

If it feel soft, it needs water. If it’s still firm, which in the horticulture trade is called turgid, no water is needed. The plant shown above needs no water, the leaf feels pretty firm.

Dry Jade Plant

This next plant’s leaves are soft and flexible, that means this plant needs water.

This squeeze-the-leaf  method works only on Jade Plants and other plants with similar fleshy leaves such as sedums and aloe.

Enjoy your indoor gardening!

Bob