Garden log, 1.23.15

Yesterday I planted seeds of Papaver somniferum (Hungarian blue breadseed) and Papaver ‘Lauren’s Grape,’ as well as larkspur (Delphinium ajacis) ‘Apple Blossom’ and ‘Pink Queen.’ The breadseed poppy is perennial, but the others are annuals.

Larkspur ‘Apple Blossom’ (Delphinium ajacis ‘Apple Blossom’). Photo by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.

Papaver ‘Lauren’s Grape.’ Photo by Annie’s Annuals.

I plan to include more self-seeding annuals in my garden this year, though I’m afraid it’s late to be planting poppies in Zone 7b. Perhaps they’ll get a decent zap of cold in February and take hold by early summer. I’ve never had much luck with poppies, but last fall a friend shared her planting technique with me and so far, things seem to be working:

How to Plant Ornamental Poppies

  • Spread a layer of compost 1-2 inches deep over the area where you wish to plant. Smooth the compost with the back of a rake.
  • Scatter the seeds over the compost.
  • Use the head of the rake to tamp the seeds gently but firmly into the compost.
  • Leave them alone. Don’t water; don’t cover.

The seeds are tiny and need light to germinate. In the past, I didn’t plant them in compost, or sometimes I’d forget where I planted them and would mulch them over with shredded leaves. The ones I planted in November have germinated and their cotyledons hover just above the compost. They’re quite tough, having survived heavy rain and some wild temperature fluctuations so far.

I also, against good advice, transplanted some crocuses just before they burst into bloom. Crocuses are tough; they’ll get over it. Some tasks you just have to tackle when you have the time.

(c) 2013 AWH/MissingHenryMitchell

The garden could easily be mistaken for a mud-wrestling pit these days, thanks to  frequent rains and plagues of squirrels that dig up my unfrozen ground to hide their found treasures. I wonder why the squirrels haven’t dug up the poppy seedlings (yet?).

Wintertime houseplant health

I’m not under 4 feet of snow at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I want to spend a lot of time in the garden right now. Nor should I: It’s terribly damp, and I will compact the soil where I walk and damage its structure where I dig. So to scratch the gardening itch, I turn to my houseplants.

houseplant-collection-copyI am a terrible houseplant gardener. I never do anything as regularly as I should: I don’t water, I don’t turn my plants. I hope mainly to keep them on life support for a few months until it’s safe to take them outside again.

Extension agencies from Universities of Nebraska, and Maryland recommend the following tips to ensure your houseplants thrive in the winter months:

1. Increase the humidity…

That dry, centrally heated air that dries out your skin, hair, and eyes parches your houseplants, too. The air inside your home may have as low as 10% humidity, but plants (and humans) desire humidity of around 40%. Use a humidifier, or set plants on trays of pebbles filled with water (make sure the pots aren’t sitting in water). If you can, keep your plants with high humidity needs in the bathroom, where they can benefit from your steamy shower.

 2. But don’t overwater.

Ferns like evenly moist soil, and succulents like it very dry. For most all other plants, wait to water until the soil is dry to the touch, down to the depth of your first knuckle. Don’t assume that your plant needs watering once a week. Most indoor gardeners overwater rather than underwater their plants. Letting the soil dry out between waterings cuts down on the prevalence of fungus gnats.

When you do water, allow the water to saturate the soil and run through the bottom of the pot. Better yet, set the pot in a shallow pan of water for a short time. The dry soil will wick water up until the plant has what it needs. You’ll know it’s time to take the pot out of the water when the top of the soil looks moist, or when the container stops emitting air bubbles. Never let the pot sit in water longer than necessary.

3. Skip the fertilizer.

Most plants need a period of rest or dormancy in the winter months, when they’re not actively growing. Feeding encourages growth and robs your plants of a chance to recharge and get ready for the growing season ahead. Save the fertilizer until spring.

4. Avoid temperature extremes.

Wide swings in temperature, such as a blast of cold air from an open door or a perpetually heated breeze from a vent, stress plants. Don’t forget that window glass can be quite cold. As you edge your plants to the window to grasp what light they can, be sure to keep the foliage from touching the glass.

5. Spin me right round.

An additional tip from garden blogger and houseplant guru Lisa Steinkopf,  is to give your plants a quarter-turn every time you water. You’ve observed plants growing towards their light source. Rotating the plant keeps it growing straight.

 

A quick garden postcard: fresh January salad (and recipe)

Lettuce 'Freckles'

Lettuce ‘Freckles’

I peeked under my row cover yesterday to see how the greens are doing. What could be better than a fresh salad from the garden in January?

Lettuce grows quickly. This variety, ‘Freckles,’ can be harvested in 55 days from seed. The critical thing is to ensure it has steady moisture. With our unending rain, that hasn’t been a problem.

I’m going to toss this with a tablespoon each of dried cranberries and pecan pieces. I’ll top it off with some parmesan cheese, and dress it with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. I may throw in a few leaves of fresh thyme.

Try it. You’ll like it.

January gardening chores

You may have just gotten the last of your holiday houseguests out the door and the decorations packed away into the closet, and you were probably hoping to spend 10 minutes with a cup of coffee and the newspaper. Ha. It’s only 14 weeks until the last average frost date. You think you have time to sit around?

You wish. It’s time to get organized for spring.

First task: Go through that shoebox full of leftover seed packets. If you cannot remember when you purchased the seeds, throw them out. As for the rest, test their viability.

hollyhock seeds

Second task: Clean out the seed flats. Make sure you have enough potting soil and perlite. Winter sow your perennials and hardy annuals and get them out of your house.

Third task: Get out the garden notebook you faithfully kept last year (it was your New Year’s resolution, remember?) and consider your successes and failures. Which tomatoes performed brilliantly and tasted like the perfect summer day? Which ones (which looked so promising in the catalogue) tasted like cardboard and attracted aphids by the bucketful? Which of your experiments in the annual or perennial bed won your heart or turned your stomach? Make notes of the edibles and ornamentals you want to grow this year, and those you will not repeat. Clean out your seeds accordingly.

Fourth task: Look at your photos from last year, or your map of your garden beds (which you made so you won’t accidentally dig up your dormant plants), and analyze where the gaps are. What plants look great in their current spots, and which ones seem to suffer? Will one of those plants perform better if it gets more, or perhaps less, light? Make a plan to transplant poorly performing plants to better spots, and plan which plants to grow in their vacancies.

2014 catalogues, first harvest

The first harvest of the 2014 gardening catalogues.

Fifth task: If you are begging for a break, fine. Take that stack of gardening catalogues and magazines and a pack of post-it notes to the table, along with your coffee or tea. And bring along your maps and plans and notebooks. And something to write with, for goodness’ sake.

Using all of your accumulated data, choose the plants you can no longer live without. Circle them, flag them with the post-its, dog-ear the pages. Prioritize. Of course, you are not going to order more plants than for which you have identified space, because you have learned that lesson already, haven’t you? Plus, your budget is still on life support after the holidays, and wasn’t that another of your New Year’s resolutions, to stay on budget in your gardening pursuits?

Now place your plant orders. The nurseries will ship live plants at an appropriate planting time, but you don’t want to place your order late and find that the Uvularia grandiflora you desperately want, that will be just perfect in that spot near the door, has sold out (again). If you procrastinate you know where this will end: You will find a poor substitute on a clearance rack somewhere that you know will recover under your tender care, and you will plop it in the spot (never mind that it wants full sun and this gets three hours, at best, in the height of summer), and be shocked–shocked!–when it cries uncle six weeks hence.

Your garden is going to have its finest year ever. Your organization and discipline will pay off so handsomely in five months’ time that the local gardening clubs will be clamoring for your wisdom in lecture form, and the neighbors will be resentful because of the traffic slowing down to admire your handiwork.

Count on it.

 

 

Zone 7 Gardeners, Start Your Seeds!

If you live in USDA Hardiness Zone 7 or warmer, it’s time to sow seeds (indoors) of

  • Onions
  • Hot peppers
  • Artichokes
  • Celery

If your onion seed is left over from last year, pitch it out. Onion and leek seed seldom remains viable longer than one year.

How to sow vegetable seeds:

  1. Fill a clean, sterile flat with a soilless mix. Ideally, choose one made for seed starting.
  2. Moisten the mix and tamp it down firmly.
  3. Sow the seed according to package directions.
  4. Cover lightly (if indicated) with sand, perlite, or grit to thwart damping off.
  5. Water lightly again.
  6. Cover with clear plastic and place in a warm, well-lit location.
  7. Monitor every day or so to maintain good moisture levels. When seedlings emerge, remove the plastic covering.

If you’re looking for good varieties to try, consult Cornell’s Vegetable Varieties for Gardeners website. This citizen-science database includes reviews of thousands of vegetable varieties by gardeners across the country. You can filter results by your state, frost-free season, or soil texture.

A simple search of recommended tomato varieties for my state.

A simple search of recommended tomato varieties for my state.

You won’t transplant these outside for some time yet, but these crops need an extra-long head start. Aren’t you glad you have some indoor gardening to do when it’s so cold and nasty outside?

Garden log, 1.4.15

Despite 70F (21C) temperatures today, it’s winter and I must govern myself accordingly in the garden. I went through the seed packets and found a handful of treasures to winter sow:

I’ll keep an eye on the anemones and spinach. For now, I’m growing the spinach in the cold frame, though I may transplant some of it into a larger bed as the month progresses. The anemones will need a second cold, moist period, so in late spring they’ll migrate to the refrigerator for a month or two. I hope to be able to transplant them to the garden this fall.

January here can be terribly unpredictable: This week, we’ll swing from a high of 70 to a high of 29F (-1.6C). I’m sure we had winter temperature swings when I was growing up, but I don’t remember anything like this. And we always had at least a few snows; that’s not a guarantee now. The more time I spend in the garden, the more I worry about climate change.

My snowdrops are blooming and the foliage of daffodils and crocus stands just above the mulch. I’m closer to my goal of having something in bloom all year round.

This year’s bumper crop of acorns has meant that the deer have stayed away up to now, but two days ago I saw seven (seven!) adult deer at once in the neighbor’s backyard. I hope my garden looks more trouble than it might be worth to them. Thinking more and more about the necessity of a fence, especially with Henry‘s addition to the household. Perhaps he’ll frighten off the squirrels and voles, who are making one heck of a mess in the soft, wet ground.