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March Gardening Calendar

March Gardening Calendar

March brings with it a sense of change, a feeling among all that there is light at the end of the tunnel. While there will still be plenty of cold days and nights ahead, and undoubtedly some more snow before it is all finished, all can sense that true Spring is just around the corner.

While most of us might hardly notice the passage of Fall into Winter, we all notice the first day of spring this month. Be it balmy or blustery, the first day of Spring marks a mental turning point: Warmer days are ahead. March is also a time when the pace starts to pick up for those of us who garden in the Southern Great Lakes region:

1.  If the weather stays consistently moderate, gradually start to remove mulch from early flowering perennials as they break dormancy.

2.  If you haven’t already done so, finish removing foliage and dead flower stems from your perennials beds. Also start trimming ornamental grasses: Remove the dried plumes and foliage. Place back any perennial that has heaved out of the ground.

3.  Although it might be tempting, leave the mulch and soil mounds around roses for a few weeks longer. There are still plenty of opportunities for more cold weather and snow in the weeks ahead.

4.  Continue to prune fruit trees and grapevines this month. Finish this task by the second week of the month at the latest.

5.  When the temperatures are above 50, apply dormant oil spray to fruit trees and deciduous ornamental shrubs and trees.

6.  Look around your yard and see where things are starting to grow. Look to see where similar plants are still dormant. These are microclimates, and by observing frost patterns and where plants break dormancy early or not, you can use this information when siting new plants.

7.  Continue to start seeds indoors.

8.  Towards the end of the month, start removing your windbreaks around such plants as your rhododendrons. Keep your hydrangeas macrophyllas covered a little while longer.

9.  As leaves of your spring flowering bulbs start to emerge, scratch in a little bone meal or organic fertilizer in the soil around these plants.

10. Get the lawnmower and other power tools ready to go for the upcoming season. The time to mow will come sooner than you think!

11. Take advantage of pre-season sales to purchase yard maintenance equipment.

12. If you didn’t do this last fall, now is a good time to empty your soil from your pots and hanging baskets. Add the old soil to the compost pile or your gardens. Clean and sterilize your containers before using, and buy new containers while the selection is still good.

13. Get bids for any big landscaping projects. If you use a lawn service, now is a good time to get bids from several different services before the busy season begins.

14. Maintain your cold frame. Keep it open on warm, sunny days to prevent the plants from getting too warm.

15. Continue to take branches of early spring flowering bushes in for forcing. The closer to the time when they normally bloom, the easier they are to force.

16. Pot up some pansies for early outdoor color. They can stand it down to about 30 degrees. Bring them up to the porch or another protected spot if the temperatures threaten to dip lower.

17. Scratch in some cottonseed meal or other organic fertilizer around your azaleas and rhododendrons as their buds begin to swell.

18. Start your summer bulbs indoors such as dahlias and begonias the last two weeks of this month.

19. Don’t forget to keep feeding the birds!

20. Take in a flower show. Many cities host many home and garden shows. It is a great way to spend a weekend day. Also take a simple walk around the yard to see what’s cookin’. You might spy a crocus or more already in bloom!

February spotlight plant of the month: African Violets

February spotlight plant of the month: African Violets

 

African Violets

February is that month when every day seems to be in endless winter here in the Southern Great Lakes Region. Granted, there are a few “teaser” days, a preview of the coming spring. However, the norm for our area is a few more good cold snaps and snowstorms. Ice storms, cold rain, and windy days are not unusual, either. Many of our gardening ventures naturally turn to indoor pursuits. What better way to brighten up the remaining days of winter than with a few lovely ladies, the African Violets?

African violets are not that hard to maintain. Many people tend to think they are temperamental plants, but by giving them what they want and using a little common sense, nearly anyone can have success with them.

You do not need to buy the most expensive hybrid on the market. Here is one instance where dropping into the local discount store or supermarket can be a rewarding experience. Just be sure that the plant is healthy, disease-free, and that you don’t take any tiny varmints home with you. How to tell? Thoroughly inspect the plant. Check for aphids and thrips. Look at the joints of the leaves to the stems. If there are any cottony-appearing dots? Those are mealy bugs. They can be controlled, but why pay for headaches? Go to another retailer and buy pest and disease-free plants.

Keep your little tropical lovely protected from the walk to the car from the store and to the house. Now, check the container. If it is like most plants, that little violet will soon outgrow its digs. Go for a shallow pot, the next size larger in diameter. Not as shallow in height as a bulb pot, but a little less deep than a standard pot. Make sure it has at least two decent-sized drainage holes. African violets love moisture, but not to the point of drowning! Place some Styrofoam popcorn in the bottom of the pot or some pebbles.

Now for the soil: I don’t fuss with making my own mix. There are some relatively inexpensive African Violet soil mixes on the market; just pick a good one to use. Make sure it does not have any fertilizer added. You are buying this in February, and that little plant is in its resting phase. Add soil until about 1/3 to 1/2 full, take the plant gently from its old container, center it, and fill to the base of the plant with more potting mix. Now, the saucer you use must be deep enough to hold pebbles and water. It should be at least an inch tall. Add pebbles, and at this time, add room temperature water that has settled for a few hours. Water until the level is fairly high in the saucer. The idea is to water from the bottom. After about an hour or so, poke your finger in the soil. If it is moist, drain the excess until only pebbles are touching the bottom of the pot with a thin layer of water beneath to provide humidity.

Fortunately, African Violets like the same temperatures and conditions as we do. They do not like the temperature to drop below the mid-sixties and are not fond of the eighties. Keep them between 65 and 72 degrees F. throughout the day and night, and they will do well. Take care that they are far enough back from the window panes not to suffer from cold and frostbite, especially at night!

Remember to keep the humidity up. Check them every few days for dryness and water them as needed. Again, use water that has had time to dissipate the chlorine and water them from the bottom so that they will “wick up” the moisture. After an hour or so, drain the excess. This is the same routine as when you repotted them. Allow the soil to almost dry completely out between watering.

If you have a bright north or east facing window, this is ideal for these little girls. West works well if they are not smack dab against the window. African Violets need about twelve hours of bright light a day. If your home is relatively dark, you might have to supplement them with artificial light.

From early March until the end of October, fertilize with a good organic fertilizer every four to six weeks. Hold off fertilizing from late October until early March. Repot them when they start to become root-bound, and that should do it! The only other thing you need to watch for are pests and diseases. Isolate any infested or diseased plants from your other houseplants and African Violets. Cotton swabs dipped in alcohol can help to control mealy bugs if they are spotted before they become a real problem. For thrips and aphids, you can try insecticidal soap. Harsher chemical insecticides can be harmful to these delicate plants. Disease should not be a problem if you practice good sanitary techniques with these plants. Do not over water them, water from beneath, and do not allow water to collect in the crown of the plant. Groom the old dead leaves from your plants and provide good air circulation between your plants to ward off most disease problems.

If you haven’t had success with African Violets, this little bit of education should help! As I said, use common sense and good grooming, watering, fertilizing and lighting for them to perform their very best. They are happy-go-lucky ladies, from the classic purple and yellow-eyed singles to the really frilly prima donnas. They all require the same care, regardless of pedigree.

Instead of a dozen long-stemmed roses this Valentines Day, why not not give your sweetie a passel of posies of the African Violet kind? Well, maybe the roses AND an African Violet or two…

February Gardening Calendar

February Gardening Calendar

February is a month that can vary widely from year to year in the Southern Great Lakes Region. Some years, February is an extension of January, merely a flip of the calendar page. Other years, February is a preview of spring, with rainy days and a few pop-up flowers. It is really a roll of the dice; one never really knows what February might bring, or the March that follows.

Just when winter starts to wear thin, Valentine’s Day comes to the rescue. Young and old alike participate in the exchange of Valentine cards, gifts, dinners, and nights out on the town. Whatever it might mean to an individual, this little holiday offers a mental break from the sameness of routine that winter brings.

Many of the same gardening chores of January follow into February. But, this is also the time of year when the tide starts to turn for the gardener. Some plants can be started for the upcoming spring season, and there are some other chores that can be tackled towards the end of the month. Let’s see what the short month of February brings:

1.  Continue to order early from mail order sources. Many choice plant items sell out quickly, and many early ordering bonuses end in February.

2.  Continue to bring in pre-chilled pots of spring flowering bulbs for early season floral displays.

3.  If the snow melts and the lawn in matted, gently rake up the lawn to help get air circulation down to the crowns of the grass plants.

4.  Continue to fill bird feeders and maintain an open-water source of drinking water for the birds.

5.  Inspect flowerbeds during the thaw cycles for signs of frost heave. Place the plants back into the ground, and when the ground refreezes, apply mulch.

6.  Remove any storm-damaged branches from trees and shrubs, pruning away cleanly.

7.  Towards the end of the month and into March, pruning can begin now on deciduous trees, fruit trees, and grapes.

8.  Reapply anti-desiccant to broadleaf evergreens and exposed rose canes one more time. Do this when the temperature is above 40 degrees.

9.  Continue to inspect young trees for rodent and rabbit damage. Make sure tree wraps and tree guards are holding up to winter weather. Inspect windbreaks as well.

10. Crack open coldframes on sunny, warm days to vent. Again, check for any signs of trouble such as too wet, too dry conditions, diseases, etc.

11. Continue to check tubers, corms, and other summer “bulbs” for disease and excessive drying out. Mist the holding medium and bulbs if they are becoming too dry.

12. Towards the end of the month, branches of many early flowering shrubs such as forsythia and pussy willow can be taken indoors for forcing.

13. Check houseplants for heat stress. Maintain adequate humidity and light levels. Water appropriately.

14. Continue to remove newly fallen snow from evergreen branches and other shrubs and trees that can suffer breakage from the weight of the snow.

15. Some seeds of early plants or those plants that require a long indoor growth period can be started. These include pansies, seed geraniums, and seed-started begonias. Get a book or magazine with a timetable to help determine when to start seeds. For example, if your average last frost date is April 20 and a plant requires twelve weeks before the last frost date to reach transplant size, count back those twelve weeks from April 20 to determine when to start seeds.

Some of my favorite seed sources

Herbs: basil, scallion

Various Veggies

I figured this could go hand-in-hand with my posting about online and mail order shopping.

Here are some really great places to do a bit of winter dreaming and buying for your gardening needs:

Pinetree Seeds

It would be hard to top this company. A tremendous selection of vegetables, spices, herbs, flowers, and and and!!

The best things after the quality and wealth of offerings are the prices. Many of the seed packets offered are less than a dollar, many are an ounce or more of seeds, you simply cannot go wrong here!!

Reimer Seeds

Reimer Seeds, based out of North Carolina, is a great all-around seed source. Offering many favorites and some unusual seeds at fair prices, Reimer Seeds offers a loyalty points programs for customers to save even more on future orders.

The Cook’s Garden

From Warminster, PA, The Cook’s Garden is, indeed as its site states, ” Dedicated to cooks who love to garden and gardeners who love to cook.”

Emphasis here is on culinary herbs, vegetables, edible flowers, and anything for the gardener who also enjoys cooking. There are also other flowers and plants available. An added bonus: Recipes for the gourmet gardener as well.

Artistic Gardens/Le Jardin du Gourmet

If you are like me, a big bone of contention is receiving a humongous packet of seeds when only a few are needed. Sometimes they carry over for another year, sometimes, they don’t despite seed saving efforts.

Artistic Gardens/Le Jardin du Gourmet, offers many varieties not found elsewhere for the dedicated kitchen gardener. Seed packs for samples start at 35 cents apiece. This makes it very easy to buy many different “bits of this and that.” Also offered are flowers and herbs, bulbs and plants.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seed

Sooner or later, most gardeners will try their hand at old and proven varieties of flowers, herbs, and vegetables. Baker Creek offers many old varieties, many with great disease resistance and old-time color, fragrance, form, and flavor. I highly recommend them!

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Another great company with a good reputation. Johnny’s Selected Seeds offers many great offerings across the spectrum. It is one of the few places where I was able to find Hungarian Paprika Peppers. Perhaps a bit more expensive than some other places, it is still competitive and Johnny’s seeds have never failed to grow for me. Well worth the price.

Pantry Garden Herbs

If you love herbs, this is THE place to browse! The selection is great, the prices are fair. For herbal gardeners everywhere. I highly recommend this site!


January Gardening Calendar

January Gardening Calendar

January is a quiet month for gardeners in the Southern Great Lakes Region. The flurry of the holiday season has passed. Long nights and short days bring out the urge in some to nestle in and wait out the worst of winter weather. Others relish the season with outdoor activities: Ice hockey, ice fishing, skiing, and tobogganing are among the activities that residents of the region take pleasure in. For indoor types, college and high school basketball rules. For armchair quarterbacks, there are the playoffs leading up to the big Superbowl weekend.

While not much is happening outside, there are still gardening and maintenance chores that can and need to be tackled this time of the year:

1.  Trim the branches off your Christmas tree and use the boughs for mulch. Or, you can set the tree outside and add fruits and suet balls and other goodies for the birds and other wildlife to enjoy.

2.  Avoid walking on lawns when there is snowpack to prevent compaction and snow mold later in the season.

3.  Avoid the use of salt-based products on sidewalks and drives. Sand or cat litter provides good traction on slick spots without damage to lawn, ornamentals, or concrete.

4.  Inspect tree trunks for rodent and winter damage. If you haven’t already done so, time’s a-wastin’ to add tree wrap and mesh guards to prevent girdling and other damage by rabbits and rodents.

5.  Cleanly prune any storm-damaged branches from trees and shrubs.

6.  Inspect flowerbeds during the January thaw for signs of frost heave. Place the plants back into the ground, and when the ground refreezes, apply mulch.

7.  Check the cold frame for signs of trouble. On warm, sunny days, vent the cold frame.

8.  If the winter is not particularly snowy, check plants such as rhododendrons and other broadleaf evergreens for signs of dehydration. If the temperatures are above freezing and these plants are dry, water them. Also, reapply an anti-desiccant to your evergreens to prevent excessive moisture loss. Do this on a day above 40 degrees.

9.  Gently remove freshly fallen snow from evergreens to prevent limbs from breaking.

10. Start bringing in a few pots of forced bulbs for a touch of spring.

11. Remove snow dams from eaves to prevent damage to your eaves and roof.

12. Start ordering early from mail order sources for best selection.

13. Check seed-starting supplies. Replace old fluorescent or grow lights before the seed starting season begins.

14. On warm days, take a look at the bare bones of your garden structure. See where plants can be placed, which plants might need to be moved, and write down your thoughts and ideas for future reference when the planting season begins.

15. Check houseplants for heat stress. Maintain adequate humidity and light levels. Water appropriately.

16. Houseplants, especially tropicals, might suffer cold injury if they are placed too close to window panes during the winter. Move them back a few inches, and make sure their leaves are not touching the glass.

17. Continue to feed the birds! Think about adding a birdbath heater to the birdbath so birds can find a source of fresh water to drink.

18. Inspect summer tubers, corms, and bulbs. If they look like they are drying, spritz them with a little water. If they are in a medium such as sand or peat, moisten that as well. Discard any diseased or dead bulbs, etc.

19. Can’t afford a trip to Florida or Hawaii? Find out where you can take a day trip to a conservatory. Many large and medium sized cities in the region have indoor botanical gardens that offer a nice escape for those of us who need to see some green and smell the organic scents of growing plants and soil.

For The Gardener: Online/Mail Order Shopping Tips

For The Gardener:  Online/Mail Order Shopping Tips

 

Garden Catalogs

Garden Catalogs

Winter here in the north is a tough season for many gardeners. Outdoor gardening chores slow way down this time of the year and it’s easy for us outdoor types to go a bit stir crazy. This time of year would be a true Purgatory here on Earth  it were not for the wonderful mail order catalogs and the retail gardening sites found on the Internet. Indeed, one of the most pleasant “gardening” activities during these cold months is browsing through the various mail order catalogs as they arrive in the mail or surfing the online nurseries and planning the additions for the coming year’s garden.

Mail order and online ordering can be a blessing or a curse, so it pays to go forth armed with a little knowledge and wisdom before making purchases. Here are a few tips to help you when you do decide to order those newest additions for your yard and garden:

Be aware that most of these catalogs and updated web sites are coming right at the time when we crave getting back into the swing of gardening the most. I always try to set a buying limit before I even open a link to a site or open one of those tempting catalogs that arrive in the mail. I also try to refer to my gardening journal for ideas on what I need or to refer to my wish list for what to add to the gardens. Definitely set a budget and try to refer to your wish list before viewing an online site or opening up a single page of a catalog!  Also, set your spending limit on the high side. You will probably go over the limit a bit, at least I do. But, the shock to the pocket book will not be as severe as it would be with too low of a shopping budget or no budget at all.

Whether shopping from a mail order catalog or online, try not to gamble:  Shop from reputable sources. Most vendors are honest, but go with established companies. If you do buy from a small specialty source, order only one or two items to see what the quality of the plant material is, to see if that transaction has gone smoothly, and to see if the plant has lived up to your expectations. Definitely make a journal entry so that in the future you can refer back to the experience you’ve had with that company and its plants.

Be aware of descriptions and enhanced photos. It isn’t unusual for a vendor to post an enticing photo of  a plant and a persuasive description. They are, after all, trying to make a sale. A good salesman will always sell the sizzle, not the steak itself. A case in point are photos I’ve seen of  “blue” daylilies. Almost everyone who is into daylilies knows the Holy Grail for a daylily aficionado is the elusive true-blue daylily.  Genetically, this is the only color daylilies cannot produce. Breeders have come close, but there is always a pink or red tone to the blue–more a mauve or purple. Yet, it isn’t uncommon to see enhanced photos showing a true blue tone to a particular cultivar.  This is particularly true of less than reputable vendors.

Along with that, beware of vendors who use catchy names for plants. An example is for creeping thyme. I’ve seen it called, “Walk on me plant”.  Common names are fine, botanical names are better. Often the vendors with catchy, uncommon names for a plant are also not known for good plants, products, or service.

Read the policies of the company. Often this information is on the same page as the order form. See if there is a daytime phone number you can call if you have any questions before you place your order. For online shopping, find out if there is a phone number and/or an e-mail address. Clear up any questions before you commit to a purchase! Read plant guarantees carefully. Some firms will not guarantee a plant after the first growing season. Some will offer money-back guarantees, others want the culprit plant shipped back to them, and finally, others will offer replacement plants or credits. One other thing: You must follow the rules exactly. If you drown a plant or fail to plant it promptly or in conditions that are contributing factors to its demise, you most likely won’t receive a refund, credit, or replacement. Most if not all nurseries and garden centers will only honor their guarantees if the gardener has followed planting instructions and expected cultural practices.

Use wisdom and care. You must be aware of your zone and your particular growing conditions. If a plant loves zone 7 conditions and you live in South Bend, Indiana, you are on your own. Yes, we all push the zone limits, but seasoned gardeners who do this are very realistic and are aware that the plant is out of its normal range. Overall, gardeners are gamblers. But, we hedge our bets and offer the best possible conditions and protection for that plant. Most companies state the zone conditions of a particular plant with the plant or seed descriptions. If you live in zone 5 and order zone 7 plants, you might not get a refund or replacement. Also don’t buy a ton of out-of-zone plants for your garden. One or two, here and there only. Stick with plants that will do well in your zone. Along the same idea, try to buy from sources that share a similar growing climate, particularly for shrubs and plants. A saucer magnolia grown in Georgia may not be able to survive a winter in a zone 5a to 6a region. However, bend the rules. You sometimes have to buy a plant that was grown in an area of warmer or dramatically different climate or growing conditions. Do grow that plant in a protected bed for the first two or three seasons to get it acclimated to your area before placing it in its permanent position.

Shop locally. Many garden centers and nurseries offer the same stock or items found online and in catalogs. For example, if you can find Burpee seeds on a rack locally, purchase them locally. If you can find a particular perennial, shrub, or tree locally, ditto. Reserve shopping online and via mail order for new or unusual plants and varieties. However, if you are on a budget and can’t afford a large shrub or tree grown locally and you simply must have it, then it makes sense to buy a smaller plant via mail order or online.

Check out the bottom line dollar figures for shipping and handling as well as the quantity, size, and price of your chosen plants or seeds. Do comparison shopping between the different catalogs and online sources. Also check for early bird specials, quantity discounts, and discounts for the amount spent.

Many print catalogs are also available online. Often a catalog that costs a few dollars via mail will be offering the same stock online and you can save the cost of paying for a catalog. Many offer PayPal or other alternatives to credit card purchases as well.

Keep a copy of your order and any order numbers, the contact person you have spoken with in any telephone conservations, and copies of your canceled check, credit card statement, money orders, or PayPal transactions. You might need all of this information in case of a refund request or dispute.

Fill out your orders on a separate sheet, before filling out an order form. Put it aside for a few days. If you have really blown your budget, go back to the orders every few days and take a long, hard look to pare it down a bit. After you feel comfortable with your order, mail it out or complete the online order. Sit back, relax, and wait for the adventure of “Christmas in April” when all of your plant purchases start to arrive!

One last point: Read reviews of different mail order/online businesses before purchasing. One of the best sources for consumer reviews is the The Garden Watchdog. Gardeners are quick to praise or criticize a nursery or garden supplier based on their experiences. To find out about a particular company, go to this link:  Garden Watchdog

Part of the fun of gardening is mail ordering and online shopping. It is often the best way to find seeds or plants that are not available locally. Use a little wisdom and common sense. You can prevent the possibility of an unpleasant shopping experience and still be able to have that showcase garden of your dreams!

Winter Gardening

Winter Gardening

Winter Garden

The Winter Garden

It might seem surprising to some, but as gardeners living here know, winter is not a static time for garden-related activities in the southern Great Lakes region.Along with planning this year’s gardens, there are many tasks that need our attention during the winter season.

It’s a good time to sharpen tools and to check and tune-up power equipment such as mowers and trimmers. With winter in full force, one can beat the rush and be well prepared for the start of the spring season.

January and February are the best times to order seeds, plants, and supplies from mail order sources. The selection is better and the gardener can take advantage of early bird specials. By ordering early, we are in good position to get exactly what we want to plant and grow this year.

Winter is the time of year when thaw and heave cycles can wreak havoc with perennial plants. On days when the snow has receded, we can stroll the grounds and check plants for heaving and place them back into the ground. Placing more mulch over the plants will prevent further heaving. This helps to keep the ground at a constant temperature, and it prevents premature dormancy break. Mulch can be removed in the spring.

An ideal time to spray broadleaf and newly planted evergreens with an anti-transpirant is when the temperature is above 35 or 40 degrees. This will help prevent “dehydration” from arid winter winds. If woody plants have been in the yard less than a year, it won’t hurt to take out the hoses and water these new shrubs and trees if the ground is too dry. The roots are still becoming established and the plants will need to take a drink despite the cold. Just remember to disconnect the hoses from the faucet to prevent damage to plumbing and hoses when watering tasks are done!

As the season progresses, there are pruning chores that can be undertaken. Many ornamentals, fruiting trees, and grapes are best pruned in late winter while still dormant. Prune for shape and to remove watersprouts and suckers from fruit trees. Try to maintain an open framework to these trees, to allow sunlight to reach in. Train your grapes, remove excess vines and cut back the best growing limbs to the buds that will grow this year’s crops. Remove old fruiting branches. Refer to a pruning guide or contact your county extension agent for the best method and time to prune these plants. Be careful when pruning: You don’t want to prune away too much and sacrifice blooms on those plants that flower on old wood!

Dormant oil spray can be applied to ornamentals and fruit trees before dormancy breaks. Late winter is an ideal time to do this. Dormant oil spray helps smother scale and other overwintering insects. Remember to read the application directions for the proper method and time/temperature for applying this.

When there are significant or heavy snowfalls, remove snow loads from evergreens by gently brushing off the newly fallen snow. Do this by brushing upwards to prevent breaking limbs and branches. After ice storms and other bad weather, check for torn limbs on trees and bushes. Cleanly prune away those branches.

You can get a jump-start on the growing season by starting seeds. Seeds require different starting times. Some require pre-chilling or heat, light or dark, for germination to take place. Refer to the instructions on the seed packets for successfully starting seeds. Learn what your average last frost date is, and count back from that point to determine the number of weeks of growing that needs to be done indoors before hardening off and planting outdoors.

We need to look after our gardening partners, the birds. Don’t forget to keep birdfeeders filled during these cold months and well into spring. Birds also need a constant and dependable source of water. Try to keep an open source of drinking water handy. A birdbath heater is a worthwhile investment for this purpose.

Above all else, don’t miss an opportunity on balmier days to take a walk through your winter gardens. The winter garden has a stark beauty not seen during the rest of the year. It is always surprising to see how many plants are still green during this season! There is a great joy and hope when seeing the sprouts of the crocuses and daffodils pushing their way out of the ground, of hearing birds sing, and of the freshness of the crisp winter air.

The 2011 All-America Selection Winners

The 2011 All-America Selection Winners

All-America Selections are plants that have been rigorously tested in display gardens across the US. These plants are tested in different climates, soils, and growing conditions. They are then evaluated for performance. The best of the best is awarded the AAS endorsement annually. Look for these winning selections in garden centers and through mail order seed and plant retailers.

And now, sound the turmpets! Here are the 2011 AAS winners:

Gaillardia ‘Arizona Apricot’
2011 AAS Flower Award Winner

Gaillardia ‘Arizona Apricot’

Gaillardia ‘Arizona Apricot’ 2011 AAS Flower Award Winner

Gaillardia ‘Arizona Apricot’ is a new agaillardia featuring an all-new apricot color, edged in yellow. The plants are only 12 inches tall and compact, making this a great border or container flower choice. The foliage is a bright green which contrasts with the flowers quite nicely. The flowers range from 3 to 3.5 inches acrss. Bloom time is from early summer to autumn. The first flowers form in about 90 days from an indoor sowing. The plants are literally covored in blooms. Removing faded blooms will encourage a continued show.

Ornamental Kale ‘Glamour Red’
2011 AAS Cool Season Bedding Plant Award Winner

'Glamour Red' Ornamental Kale

Ornamental Kale ‘Glamour Red’ 2011 AAS Cool Season Bedding Plant Award Winner

‘Glamour Red’ is the first kale awarded the  All-America Selections award. The leaves are waxless and the colors are very intense. The leaf form is fringed and the flower head size is about 10 to 12 inches across. Average time to bloom is about 90 days from sowing. The heads will develop good color when early fall arrives and the night temps drop below 55 degrees. ‘Glamour Red’ shows good frost and disease tolerance and is sure to be a hit in the fall border or container gardens.

Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Red’
2011 AAS Bedding Plant Award Winner

Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Red’

Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Red’ 2011 AAS Bedding Plant Award Winner

Salvia ‘Summer Jewel’ is a dwarf and extremely branching plant. At full maturity, it remains about 20 inches tall. Great for the hummingbird garden, the flowers are a brilliant red color and each flower spike is covered with 1/2 inch blooms. The leaves add a dark green contrast to the intensely red blooms. Flowering isabout 50 days from sowing and the flowers hold through wind and rain. ‘Summer Jewel Red’ will add an accent of bright color to containers or gardens. Use in a grouping for dramatic impact.

Viola ‘Shangri-La Marina’
2011 AAS Cool Season Bedding Plant Award Winner

Viola ‘Shangri-La Marina’

Viola ‘Shangri-La Marina’ 2011 AAS Cool Season Bedding Plant Award Winner

For people who love their violas and pansies, this year’s winner, Viola ‘Shangri-La Marina’, offers a beautiful addition to the cool season border and containers. This viola blooms early and prolifically and sports a 6 inch mound of color with a 12 inch spread. The blooms are light blue with a dark blue face and each bloom is rimmed in white. Flowering in just 70 days from sowing, ‘Shangri-La Marina’ will provide a long season of color if sown early indoors and will also offer additional impact to fall garden displays. More resistant to frost than many others, this viola offers extended blooms during the fall and often into the following spring. Use in the garden or in containers and pots.

Pumpkin ‘Hijinks’
2011 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

Pumpkin ‘Hijinks’

Pumpkin ‘Hijinks’ 2011 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

‘Hijinks,’ is a new pumpkin with 6 to 7 pound uniformly round fruits. Great for small jack-o’-lanterns, painting, or in fall displays, this pumpkin will be a hit this fall! The vines spread to 15 feet and show great resistance to powdery mildew and high yield of fruits. ‘Hijinks’ is ready to harvest earlier than many other pumpkins, about 100 days from an indoor sowing or 85 days from transplants.

Tomato ‘Lizzano’
2011 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

Tomato ‘Lizzano’

Tomato ‘Lizzano’ 2011 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

‘Lizzano’ is an excellent cherry tomato suited to the container or hanging basket. It is a strongly growing semi-determinate tomato. Ultimate height is 16 to 20 inches with a spread of 20 inches. The fruits are small, about 1 inch in diameter, and are sweet and prolific. The fruits set continuously for extended harvests. The plants start to produce about 105 days from sowing or 63 days from transplant.

Tomato ‘Terenzo’
2011 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

Tomato ‘Terenzo’

Tomato ‘Terenzo’ 2011 AAS Vegetable Award Winne

‘Terenzo’ is a very sweet, standard sized cherry tomato with fruits of about 1-1/4 inch diameter. Its height is similar to ‘Lizzano’, about 16 to 20 inches tall. This tomato is excellent for container or hanging basket growing. It is a bushy or determinate variety and its fruits are resistant to cracking. Expect a high yield of fruit throughout the summer.

Spotlight Plant Of The Month For December: Christmas Cactus

Spotlight Plant Of The Month For December: Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus

December offers many wonderful plants to grace our homes and to offer  the gardener on our holiday lists. One of the most interesting and beautiful of plants is the Christmas cactus. This plant has one of the more unusual of botanical names, though: Schlumbergera bridesii. No matter which name we use, common or botanical, this native of South America is quickly becoming a very popular plant to add to our indoor plant collections during the holiday season and beyond. It is a most fitting plant to feature as December’s spotlight plant.

Christmas cacti come in various shades of pink, white, and near-orange, or salmon. They offer color and a touch of the tropics when many of our homes are starved for durable blooming plants. Not a true cactus, but a succulent by nature, many make the mistake of under watering this plant.

Unlike poinsettias, which can quickly turn leggy and die, the Christmas cactus is a bit more durable. After the blooms cease, withhold water for about five or six weeks. It needs to “nap” a bit. Repot with fresh soil which is light and fertile. When new growth resumes, fertilize with a weak organic fertilizer every three weeks.

This plant likes shade in the summer and constant moisture. Not sogginess, but moisture. It makes an excellent porch plant in the shade. When the kids return to school, start to decrease the amount of water that you give it. Let it go thirsty in October. In November, keep it in a humid area, or place it on a bed of moist pebbles that do not “wick” into the pots. Water, but not too much or too often, just to keep it moist. This plant appreciates a bit more light indoors than out, but not the sunniest spot in your home.

To induce blooming, give Christmas cactus bright, indirect sunlight, and keep it in a temperature range of 55 to 60 degrees. If you have a cool, bright room, this is ideal. If the temps have to go higher, as it does in most of our homes this time of the year, keep it in a dark closet until bloom buds start to develop. You can start this process as soon as you bring the plant in from its summer vacation.

So, if you want a little different plant to share your digs with for the holidays, pick a Christmas cactus or two. I think you will be pleased.

December Gardening Calendar

December Gardening Calendar

 

Holly

Holly

December is, as it is everywhere, a festive season in the Southern Great Lakes Region. It is a busy time for all: Shopping, decorating, and entertaining all take top billing this month. Fall changes officially to winter this month, but with the winter holidays, one hardly notices the official passage into winter.

Generally, our region has already experienced a good snowstorm or two by the official turn of the season. Some years, however, autumn lingers long into the month. By now, planting chores and winter prep are completed with the garden and yard. Many of the leftover chores are hold-overs from last month’s list. Yet, there are a few other things we can continue to do in the home, yard, and garden this month:

1.  Purchase some Christmas Cactus, Kalanchoes, Cyclamens, and Poinsettias to make your home more festive. Be sure to remove any foil wraps on the containers. These can hold water in the pots, which might cause the plants to rot from excess moisture. Make sure these plants are well wrapped before leaving the store for the trip home.

2.  Buy some amaryllis bulbs to grow on the windowsill. Depending upon variety, some staking might be required.

3.  Houseplants can suffer from the lack of humidity. Growing plants in pebble filled trays and saucers can help maintain humidity around plants. Set your plants on the pebbles, and fill the saucer or tray with water to just the top of the pebbles.

4.  If your roses aren’t protected, do so early in the month. Spray anti-dessicant on any exposed canes when the daytime temps are above 40. Mound soil, mulch, and leaves around the base of the plants to about 18 to 24 inches above the base of the bushes. this is especially true of hybrid teas, floribundas, and roses that have been growing in the yard less than two years, and any other marginally hardy rose. Some of the bush roses, such as the Explorers, Rugosas, Mordens, and Buck’s roses can overwinter successfully in our zones 5a to 6a region without protection. Again, if any variety was newly planted this past season or has been in the ground less than two years, protection would still be a good idea.

5.  Continue watering outside when the weather is above freezing, if there has not been sufficient precipitation and the ground has not frozen. Drain hoses after removing them from the faucets to prevent damage to hoses and plumbing.

6.  Try to take a daily walking tour of your yard, as the weather permits. Observe frost patterns in your yard in early morning. See where frost lingers, where frost does not hit, and write this down in your diary or journal. Often a surprise plant or two will be blooming in a protected spot. These are indicators of microclimates, and you can use this information when planning on where to site plants.

7.  Check the coldframe for any problems. Make sure plants are overwintering without the problems of standing water, field mice, disease, insects, or excessive cold. Prop it open on days that are sunny and above freezing to prevent excessive warming of your plants.

8.  Continue to keep birdfeeders filled. Birds offer a lot of winter interest, and by making your property attractive to birds, these helpmates might decide that your place would make a good home next year. Many birds migrate to the region from further north, but many birds make our region their year-around home.

9.  Take cuttings of holly and evergreen boughs indoors for Christmas decorating. Also fill outdoor window boxes with Christmas greens and decorative bows.

10. Keep fresh-cut Christmas trees in a cool, not freezing location. After bringing a tree home, cut 1 to 2″ from the base and plunge it into a bucket of tepid water with preservative added to prevent the cut end from sealing over. Don’t let the water run dry! When bringing a tree indoors for decorating, allow it to rest in the stand with water in it for several hours to allow the tree to “relax” its branches as it becomes acclimated to indoor warmth. Then decorate.

11. Gardening catalogs should start arriving this month. Start a list of items that you want to purchase for planting next spring. This is also a good time to take out any pictures you have taken of your gardens during the past growing season. You can see what you might need to add to your gardens and yard.

12. Potted Christmas trees should be placed in a cool, not freezing, area until brought indoors for decorating. These trees should not be brought in for extended periods. A day or two before Christmas and a few days after will not harm them. If kept too long indoors, they will break dormancy. After Christmas, take the tree out to the area where you prepared the planting site earlier (see October’s calendar), and plant it. Water well and mulch.

13. Continue to keep bird feeders full. Word will get around, and you will be amazed at how many visitors will come to call during the winter months if you provide a steady supply of suet and seed!

14. Remove any stray leaves that may have blown in around your plants. If they are not shredded, they can mat down around your plants and smother them or promote rotting.

15. Continue to apply mulch to your flowerbeds as the ground freezes to prevent freeze/thaw heave and premature breaking of dormancy.

16. Have a gardener on your gift list? A gift certificate to a nursery or garden center would be appreciated. You can also “gift” him or her with a gift certificate to a gardening-related mail order source. Another good idea would be a gift subscritption to a gardening magazine.

18. Most of all, have a Blessed Holiday Season, one and all!