Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Winter transplanting

After a few weeks of sinus woes, trying to hook up a new tv and sound system and watching an ever expanding waistline, I decided that I had to get outside. Today was the perfect day. Sunny, 60s, wonderful.

Moving plants is a good job for mid-winter. This is the best time to transplant most plants because they are now dormant. I have a long list of plants that I want to move this year. I started out with a rose called 'Lavender Pink Parfait.' According to the Antique Rose Emporium, this rose grows about 2 - 3'. Yeah right. Mine is at least 4 feet tall, positioned in the front of a border and looking totally out of place. I've wanted to move it for years.

Sorry for the terrible photo - I forgot to set the camera to autofocus.

The first thing to do is to prune it severely. I cut out all the dead wood and cut back the healthy canes within one foot of the ground. Pruning the plant will make it easier to deal with and also reduce stress on the plant when it starts to put out new growth in the spring.

Now it is time to dig it up. Carefully slide a shovel or spade all around the plant and gently move it back and forth to loosen the root system. You can usually tell when the plant is free from all roots. Lift it carefully out of the hole with the shovel.

Clean up the plant by removing all the dead wood and weeds that might be growing around it. You know those tree saplings that always pop up in the middle of the rose and are impossible to remove? Now is the time to pull them out.

The new planting hole should have been dug first. I add a bucket full of compost and good soil to ammend the new hole.

Place the rootball in carefully and fill the soil in around it. If, by chance, the soil fell away from the roots when you dug it up, don't worry about it. Just carefully spread the roots out and cover them with soil. Water it well after planting and tamp down the soil to eliminate any underground air pockets.

Last, but not least, mulch around the plant with leaves or pine straw.

Here we have a slightly different situation. This is hydrangea 'Tardiva' which has produced offshoots that can be dug up, removed and planted elsewhere.

I was anticipating a frustrating job with this because I thought it was going to be difficult to dig between the main plant and the offshoots. Fortunately the roots gave way fairly easily and it wasn't problematic at all. However, they came free without retaining any of the rootball. This always makes me nervous but really all you can do is plant it immediately and water it well. This has happened numerous times and the plant is usually okay. I ended up with three extra plants. I planted the larger one and potted the remaining two.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Almost there...

The amaryllis I wrote about a few weeks ago is about to bloom!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gardening books for Christmas

It is almost 75 degrees here today with a balmy breeze and storms predicted for tonight. I spent some time out on the patio with the cats reading and enjoying the weather. And speaking of reading, I got some great gardening books for Christmas. Michael spoils me rotten by whittling down my Amazon Wish List every year (or maybe I've just been a really good boy). Here is my haul this year:

The Gardens of Russell Page by Marina Schinz - I would hope that all avid gardeners will have read Russell Page's classic 1962 book The Education of a Gardener (if you haven't, shame on you!). The influential garden designer created fantastic gardens all over the world. Sadly, many of them are no longer in existence. This book profiles some of the ones that are still remaining. It is a gorgeous book and the photographs are fantastic.

The Garden at Hidcote by Fred Whitsey. I've never been to Hidcote or even England for that matter but when my feet do touch English soil one day, this will be one of my first destinations. I have read a lot about Hidcote and its creator Lawrence Johnston but never anything in this much detail. I can't wait to start this one.

Shade: Ideas and Inspiration for Shady Gardens by Keith Wiley. Our garden is getting shadier so I need some inspiration. I'm determined to solve the problem with the area behind the garage this year so maybe this book will give me some ideas. The photos are wonderful.

Easy Container Gardens by Pamela Crawford. I stumbled upon this book while browsing at Barnes & Noble while we were on vacation. Great illustrations for dramatic containers.

American Horticultural Society Pruning & Training by David Joyce. When it comes to pruning, I need all the help I can get. I've heard great reviews about this book and I'm happy to have it in my collection. I'm sure it will get a lot of use.

I got some other books as well. 80 Years of Oscar by Robert Osborne. I'm crazy about the Oscars and I try to get this book every five years when it is updated.

Cookbooks are always on my list! Baking is my forte but I do want to learn to cook everyday food. Martha Stewart's Cooking School is supposed to help. In the meantime, I'll still be making desserts. I'm sure Crazy About Cupcakes by Krystina Castella will be a fun diversion when I need a break from learning how to make that frittata from Martha.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Seeing the garden through a new lens

I have a new camera lens, a wide angle Sigma 10-20mm, a lens that I've needed for a long time. I just can't get used to the idea that a good lens cost more than my camera did. You might take a look at these photos and think that I got myself a dud but it is just our weather. It has been foggy, dark and wet all week here and I just heard today that we are officially out of the drought. I love all this rain but I'm wondering - does it help the plants any during the winter? Probably.

All of this rain and a head cold has kept me inside this week but I'm feeling better and couldn't wait to get out and try out the new lens.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Let it snow!

This morning the news programs were talking about the crazy weather across the nation. New Orleans got snow as did other parts of the southeast. We got snow too. It arrived late and was brief but I had never seen it coming down so thick. I didn't pay much attention to the weather until I started gardening. In my observations, when we do get snow, it is usually in late January or February. Snow before Christmas is rare but our weather has been colder for the past month and it is usually mild this time of year. I personally love it!

(Click on the images for larger views)

Some of the trees and shrubs still have leaves so this made the snowfall different and more interesting.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The fascinating amaryllis

Do you grow amaryllis during the holiday season? I always buy one or two and I really enjoy watching them grow. It amazes to see the big fat bulb sprout and start to grow rapidly before exploding into a massive bloom. Most amaryllis are sold with the advertisement of being in bloom by Christmas. This has never happened for me and my blooms are always late. This year I decided to order a bulb from the reputable John Scheepers Inc. I selected "Floris Hecker" which is supposed to be "velvety red" and very floriferous. The red ones are my favorite. The bulb arrived much later than I expected and there is no way it will be blooming by Christmas day. That doesn't really matter that much to me because flowers in January are always welcome.

If you have never grown an amaryllis, they are very easy! You can buy them already in a pot or if you choose to pot it up yourself, choose a pot that is only an inch or two larger than the bulb. Plant it so that the neck of the bulb sits out of the soil. Place it in a warm sunny area like a south or west facing window (temperatures in the 70 degree range are ideal). Keep it watered well and it will start to grow. In about seven or ten weeks, you should have blooms. The plant can then be moved to a cooler area, out of direct sun, so that the blooms will last longer. It is advisable to stake the tall stalks so that they won't topple over.

Amaryllis can be saved for next year although I confess I've never had success with this. The bulbs can be planted outdoors in the spring and grown there until fall when they need to be dug up and brought indoors. When the leaves begin to yellow, cut them back and store the bulb in a dark place for six weeks before bringing it back out and starting the cycle over again.

Friday, November 28, 2008

11 minutes with Ken and Vicki

I was very excited (and scared to death) when I was invited to be a guest on Ken Druse and Vicki Johnson's radio program/podcast "Real Dirt". The interview was a blur and seemed to go by really fast and all I could think about afterward was what I should have said and what I should not have said! We discussed gardening in Alabama and talked a lot about roses. Ken and Vicki were super nice and if you haven't listened to their program, all past and present episodes can be accessed on their blog. My segment should be on the November 29th episode.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving blooms for you

Happy Thanksgiving! It is a sunny day with temperatures in the 60s here although it is still chilly inside the house (the disadvantage of living in a big old drafty house).

Our Thanksgiving cactus is so beautiful this year that we placed it in the center of our kitchen island. These beautiful plants (Thanksgiving Cactus, Christmas Cactus and Easter cactus) are members of several closely related species in the genus Schlumbergera. Which one do you have? Take a look at the leaves for guidance. Thanksgiving cactus have sharp pointed notches on the edges of the leaves whereas the Christmas cactus has rounded notches. The Easter cactus also has sharp notches but also have tiny hairs as well. They originate from the mountains of Brazil where they grow as epiphytes.

Despite being called "cactus," they are not treated as such. They require regular watering and consistent moisture levels. Good drainage is essential however as they will die from root rot if forced to endure soggy soil. A cactus soil mix is a good medium to use if you are potting up new ones. They will grow happily outdoors in partial shade and should be brought inside during the fall. Weekly fertilizing during the spring and summer months is recommended although not essential.

The changes in temperatures will cause the plant to set blooms. Night temperatures in the upper 50s and lower 60s for 6-8 weeks is needed. Darkness is also a critical factor and if you can't provide the temperature requirements, simply put the cactus in a completely dark environment (like a closet) for 12 hours every night for several weeks. When the plant starts to bloom, place it in a spot with bright indirect light. Avoid full sun and extremely warm areas. Flowers and buds will drop in warm areas or from lack of water. Keep watering the plant until the flowers are gone, then withhold water for six weeks or so and give the plant a rest.

The holiday cactus is a long-lived plant and can easily live for decades. Pruning can be done in June to make the plant bushier and increase bloom count. To do this, cut off two or three segments from each leaf stem. These can be easily rooted by placing them in a light planting medium (1/2 perlite and 1/2 peat moss is a good mixture). Place the cuttings half the depth of the first segment and water lightly. They will wilt but should eventually perk up as the cuttings take root. After that, treat it like you would a mature plant.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dreaming of roses

The bloggers at Gardening Gone Wild have asked their readers to submit their thoughts on roses for the month of November. Since the rose is my favorite flower, I am happy to oblige.

Our first garden was a tiny plot behind a tiny apartment down the street from where we presently live. I’m guessing that it was about forty feet wide and twenty feet deep. It was our first home and my love of gardening began there. Browsing through catalogs, I was always drawn to roses. I made a bold notion to order a selection of ‘Europeana’ and ‘Iceburg’ roses from Wayside Gardens and alternate them around the back porch and patio area. Lo and behold, they lived and were absolutely beautiful the years we lived there. It is odd that I haven’t been able to grow a decent ‘Europeana’ or ‘Iceburg’ in our present garden. Hmmm

I started out with hybrid tea roses because that is what our local nurseries sold. At the time, I knew little about old roses. I was drawn, however, to large displays of roses. I liked seeing climbing roses draping over archways and big billowy shrub roses spilling out onto pathways. I wasn’t very fond of the stark thorny canes of hybrid teas although the blooms were of course very lovely. I liked roses that were so dense that you couldn't see the individual canes. I also soon discovered that hybrid tea roses were very demanding and required constant pruning, fertilization and spraying to keep them looking their best.

Fortunately, I learned that there was an alternative for rose lovers who didn’t want to spend their gardening time behind a face mask roaming the garden with a sprayer in hand. Old roses, or antique roses, were easier to grow and better yet, they had that opulent look that I so loved. Of course they don’t bloom all summer like hybrid tea roses, but I grow so many other plants that I can overlook that discrepancy. I started buying roses from mail order catalogs, like the Antique Rose Emporium and Chamblee’s Nursery, and pretty much went wild over roses.

I would be lying though if I said that all of the older roses are easy and carefree to grow. A lot of them are, but I have found quite a few duds over the years as well. I’ve learned that the best thing to do is try one and if it doesn’t perform, shovel prune it and replace it. I can always find another rose variety that I want to try.

There are different types of old roses and some do better than others in our southeastern climate. As a general rule, the Gallica and Centifolia roses do not perform well here and get blackspot as bad as hybrid tea roses. They are better suited to cooler climates. I have found that Noisettes, Hybrid Musks, Polyanthas and the old Tea Roses perform the best in our garden.

A garden is ever changing. We started out with tons of sun, which roses love, but over the years the trees that we have planted have grown significantly and the garden is shadier. As a result, many of the roses have suffered. I am constantly moving roses here and there so that they get the sunniest exposures. This factor has also led me to grow more hybrid musk roses, which are more tolerant of shade than other roses.

Beginning in late April and extending through May, the roses are at their peak. The scent is overwhelming and it is the first thing that visitors comment on. It is truly a magical time. Walking through the fragrant garden with cascades of colorful blossoms surrounding me is my ideal of paradise.

Someone just reminded me that I didn't mention any of the roses that I've shown. Sorry about that! The top photo is "Veilchenblau" one of my all-time favorites. It only blooms once a year but when it does, it is magnificent. The second photo of the rose behind the urn is another of my favorites - "Buff Beauty". The buds start out a deep apricot and open to lemon yellow before fading to a pale blush color. The color range is incredible and since the buds open at different times, you can see all the color variations at once. This is a big rose and one of the few in the garden that has an open spot to grow to its full potential. It is about 8 feet wide and 6 feet tall.

The third photo shows the pergola on the left which is covered with various roses. It is hard to see the details here but in view are "New Dawn," "Reve D'Or," and "Francois Juranville." The rose next to the bench in the fourth photo is "Robin Hood". This easy-to-grow and trouble-free rose is one that I frequently recommend to beginning rose gardeners.

The fifth photo of the pink rose growing on the arch is "Climbing American Beauty." Again, it only blooms once per year but when it does, watch out! In the next photo, you can get a glimpse of "Buff Beauty" again. The huge rose next to the bench in the sixth photo is "Moonlight" which is a hybrid musk rose. The final photo features "Buff Beauty" again as well as "Rambling Rector" growing on top of the pergola. You may recall my previous post about my battle with this monster rose! It is one of few roses that I've regretted planting.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Last blooms

The growing season is drawing to a close here in north Alabama. The temperatures have been dipping near the freezing mark all week and a frost is sure to come this week. Yesterday seemed like a January or February day with dark skies, wind and rain. Heavy black clouds made me think that it could snow.

Today though was sunny but cold. We took advantage of the day to get the leaves up (we are amazed at how many there are), put away the fountain pumps and disconnect the urn fountain. A few flowers and bright autumn colors are still lingering -

A shasta daisy (above) still looks fresh, oblivious of the cold weather.

Hydrange blooms can take on interesting hues in cooler temperatures. This is "Charm" and "Blushing Bride" -

The leaves of the oakleaf hydrangea are always spectacular in the fall months -

The Japanese maples are still beautiful. I don't know the name of this one. It is only about two feet tall.

This aster, named for garden designer Ryan Gainey, wasn't as pretty as it usually it this year. The color was all washed out and the blooms were somewhat puny.

There are other flowers, like roses, salvia and camellias that are blooming but I didn't have time to photograph them but most of those were featured in last month's bloom day post.