New plants, 2016,Vol. 1

Planted two tassel ferns, Polystichum polyblepharum, yesterday before the freeze. One looks great. The other I had let get too dry, so it will take a while for it to settle in and look good.

  • I acquired them last week at the Duke Gardens plant sale, a gardening sucker’s paradise if every there was one. It’s worse then Target. I went in with a $25 gift certificate I had won at a lecture, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to limit myself to that small amount. The total sum spent shall remain between me and my bank, but I will say I think I got the better end of the bargain.
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Garden log, 3.11.15

Moved two blueberry bushes today. They’re loaded with buds, so I might have planned the timing of this project a bit better, but I hope this new location will be, um, fruitful.

Moved and divided Christmas ferns yesterday. Amazed at how brilliantly these plants grew with absolutely no help from me. Now they’re in a spot where they’ll get more attention. Can’t wait to see what becomes of them next.

On a walk-around late this afternoon, I spotted this:



Do you know what these wormy little things are? The unfurling leaf buds of Sanguinaria canadensis, also known as bloodroot. One of my very favorite spring epherals. It’s a bit early for them, I think, but I am glad to see them anytime.

Garden log, 2.1.15

Winter blues seem to be hitting me harder this year than they usually do. I haven’t had the urge to get out and tinker on those intermittent warmish days. I started to wonder if my gardening verve had disappeared.

It’s amazing what a little springtime can do.

Hellebores

On a walk around the garden yesterday, I spotted my first hellebores of the year. How they fired me up! I promptly ran to the shed to extract a rake and hand pruners. I raked away the last of the fallen leaves and cut away all of last year’s hellebore foliage to better show off the emerging blooms. To my delight, I found hundreds of hellebore seedlings carpeting the ground around the mother plants. Once they’ve got their true leaves, I’ll transplant them to other spots in the garden that need some cheer.

If you’ve never grown hellebores, perhaps because you’ve been intimidated by the price at the garden center, it’s time to shake off that anxiety. It’s hard to think of a tougher plant that isn’t made of synthetic materials. As long as you have some bit of shade, however slight, you can grow hellebores. They grow brilliantly at the base of deciduous trees, even ones with intrusive roots like maples. And if you buy one or two plants in flower, they’ll reseed generously every year. It takes them about three years to grow from seedling to flowering size, but the seedlings are charming in the meantime and can be spread out to cover what grim, bare earth you’ve got.

hellebore seedlings

Hellebore seedlings can take what nature throws at them.

Did I mention that they flower for ages? Last year mine were in bloom for a full four months, finishing up when the rest of the garden had found its footing.

Honestly, there’s no reason not to treat yourself to a few plants. Go on.

Garden log, 12.28.14

It’s surprisingly mild today. I went out intending to shred leaves before the forecasted rain arrived, but I found more entertaining chores to occupy me instead. The leaves will be there.

I raked out the new sunny bed and fed everything lightly with a slow-release nitrogen fertilizer. The bed contains some evergreens and some winter-blooming plants, and I learned recently that soils high in potassium, as this bed is, hinder uptake of some nutrients and trace minerals, including magnesium. Washington State University Extension recommends balancing out the potassium with nitrogen. So I did. The soybean meal (7-2-1) I applied will break down very slowly in cold weather, so I don’t expect it to stimulate much if any fresh green growth that would be susceptible to freeze damage in winter. I’ll test the soil again in the spring and see where things stand.

I also fed the camellias with soybean meal. The sasanquas are blooming now (particularly ‘Yuletide,’ appropriately), and the japonicas have nice fat buds on them.

I divided a Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis from the rain garden. I took about seven small rooted pieces from the mother plant and you’d never know it had been touched at all. I transplanted these in the front yard, in a few tricky spots that have not been successful with much else. We’ll see how they fare.

I spent about two hours dividing the Festuca glauca ‘Elijah Blue’ near the road. These plants perform very well with utter neglect, but even fescues have their limits. They need to be divided about every other year in order to look their best, as they tend to get dense, congested crowns and will die out in the centers. They prefer to be divided and cut back in winter. I hacked mine apart with a pick-axe (exhilarating!), fed with soybean meal, and mulched with decomposed bark chips. I think about four more days of the same activity will have the rest of the plants tended and looking fresh for spring.

And finally, I cleaned leaves out from within and under my heath plants (Erica x darleyensis). I have been surprised at how well they’ve performed in my hot weather. They sit at the base of an oak tree at the top of a slope in my front yard, so they get dappled light for about 10 hours in spring through fall, and direct but weak winter sunlight. Fed them with soybean meal, mulched with decomposed wood chips.

As I cleared out the leaves, I found some rooted layers. I dug those up and transplanted them into a scree area I am renovating. I also cleaned out some pieces that had not rooted. I am trying to root those, although I’m not expecting great things given the time of the year.

A decent day’s work, I think. The leaves will be there tomorrow. Maybe some other chores will be, too.

 

My seed-grown cyclamen

Last year, I planted cyclamen seeds. Last month, I saw their first stirrings to life.

This month, they’re going nuts. Every time I pass by the pots, I find more leaves pushing up from the gravel.

Cyclamen seedlings

Cyclamen seedlings

Two species are doing very well: Cyclamen coum album, and Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum. I’m surprised that Cyclamen hederifolium isn’t doing as well, as that’s supposed to be the easiest to grow. I have heard that C. graecum is supposed to be quite finicky, although plants from Greece and Turkey tend to perform well here as long as the drainage is good. I can’t wait to see their foliage take on its pattern. Here are two images  from John Lonsdale of the Pacific Bulb Society:

Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum foliage. Photo by John Lonsdale, via Pacific Bulb Society.

Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum foliage. Photo by John Lonsdale, via Pacific Bulb Society.

Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum leaves. Photo by John Lonsdale via Pacific Bulb Society.

Cyclamen graecum ssp. anatolicum leaves. Photo by John Lonsdale via Pacific Bulb Society.

I can transplant them after they have 3-4 sets of true leaves–no idea how long that will take. The Pacific Bulb Society indicates fertilization with an 18-8-18 formula, alternating with a fertilizer based on calcium nitrate. I’ll show in a future post how to mix your own fertilizer blends.

For now, I must sow the rest of the seeds and see if I can get another batch going. The prospect of having such wonderful foliage to get me through a grim winter cheers me up immensely.

What are your favorite winter plants?

Growing unusual fruit: Lingonberries

My growing obsession with unusual fruit reached its tipping point a few weeks ago, when I placed an order for a few new edible landscaping items: A cornelian cherry, two honeyberries, and two lingonberries. Friends, this is just the beginning.

fruit plants arrived

They’re here!

I started with the lingonberries. Lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) are native to the northern reaches of North America, Europe, and Asia. As such, I’m taking a bit of a risk with these plants, as I live at the very edge of their heat-tolerance zone. They’re extremely cold-hardy. If I’d planted them last fall, they’d have shrugged off our polar vortex as a mild winter. With luck, they will spread by rhizomes to form a nice, tidy mat.

Like most Vaccinium species (blueberries and cranberries share the genus) they require moist, acidic soil. They also appreciate a bit of shade. I hope they’ll become an edible groundcover beneath my Southern highbush blueberries, which perform very well here.

They arrived in good condition. Inside the larger container, the plants came shipped in tall cardboard sleeves to keep the foliage from being crushed.

The lingonberries came packaged in tall cardboard sleeves.

The lingonberries came packaged in tall cardboard sleeves.

The 4-inch pots came wrapped in plastic to keep the soil moist and inside the pot.

The pots, but not the foliage, were shipped in plastic to keep the soil moist.

The pots, but not the foliage, were shipped in plastic to keep the soil moist.

Interesting looking moss came along for the ride.

interesting moss in lingonberry pot

I prepared the planting holes by digging them about six inches deep (the height of the pot) and about eight inches wide (twice the pot’s diameter). This is tricky to do because blueberries’ roots are shallow and brittle, and they don’t appreciate having their roots jostled and broken. Into the holes, I mixed a little homemade compost and some soybean meal. Soybean meal, available at feed stores, acts as a slow-release fertilizer high in nitrogen. It will release its nutrients to the blueberries and loganberries over the course of the summer. I don’t expect to need to feed them again this year, particularly because my acid clay is already high in phosphorus and potassium, though I’ll monitor the soil using free soil tests from the county extension service.

Soybean meal is typically used as a feed stock for poultry or pigs, but it's an excellent slow-release source of nitrogen.

Soybean meal is typically used as a feed stock for poultry or pigs, but it’s an excellent slow-release source of nitrogen.

I slipped the plants out of their pots. The roots look healthy, although they”ll need to be loosened a bit.

Plant roots should be loosened before planting, especially if they begin to grow in circles around the pot like this. But I'll need to be careful with the brittle roots.

Plant roots should be loosened before planting, especially if they begin to grow in circles around the pot like this. But I’ll need to be careful with the brittle roots.

I placed the plant in the hole, gently spreading out the roots, and covered with more compost. I watered it in, and spread up some of the existing pine bark mulch. I later mulched the entire bed with three inches of shredded pine bark.

The blueberries and lingonberries grow in a raised bed composed of native acid red clay and decomposed pine bark. The lingonberries will enjoy the dappled shade of the blueberry foliage, and will receive some additional shade from the side of the deck. Between this and regular deep watering, I hope they’ll get the break from the summer heat that they need.

The lingonberries and blueberries grow in a raised bed of native clay and decomposed pine bark.

The lingonberries and blueberries grow in a raised bed of native clay and decomposed pine bark.

Lingonberries typically produce two crops of fruit per year, in late summer and again in late fall. I’d be surprised if they fruited this summer, but perhaps I’ll get a crop around Thanksgiving or Christmas. Once the fruits begin to form, I’ll shelter them in my blueberry fortress.

Here’s a guide from Cornell University on growing lingonberries.