Garden log, 5.17.13

Aside

Woke up in the middle of the night remembering I had planted out seedlings of Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ a few days ago and forgot to water them. This is not a good sign of my mental health. This morning made an emergency nursery bed for seedlings of Belamcanda chinensis, Celosia ‘Crimson Pink,’ what’s left of Echinacea ‘Magnus,’ some Linum perenne (flax), purple bee balm, ‘Mammoth’ dill, Thymus vulgaris, and something else that has lost its label. Assuming, hopefully, that they survive, the bed will be a design disaster. Put white Nicotiana in white garden, fingers crossed. Moved remaining suffering seedlings to the shade and gave them a good water and a low-strength fertilizer. Hope I can get to the rest tomorrow before projected thundershowers.

I knew it would come to this when I planted all those seeds during my winter sowing mania. I love to sow; love having cheap new plants; hate to thin, prick out, and pot up. Must think of better way to do this, because I like the winter sowing technique. Could nursery beds be the answer?

The way of all projects?

I am keen to finish the rain garden project. I don’t have very much left to do; perhaps 25 square feet. But, as always seems to happen, a few other responsibilities have preempted that work.

I am having a large tree removed from my garden this week. Continue reading

Propagation, part 2 (cuttings)

Following from my initial tutorial on plant propagation, here’s the second installment, on growing plants from cuttings. I meant to publish this ages ago. Sorry about that.

Propagation from cuttings is easier, I find, than from seed (at least, it was before I tried winter sowing). Lots of plants root easily from cuttings. Here’s how you do it.

1. Remove a section of stem, perhaps 4-6 inches long, from your plant of choice. Here, I have taken cuttings of some unknown variety of pink chrysanthemum. Cut off the flower, if there is one.

strip lower leaves

2. Strip the lower leaves off the cutting, leaving about 2 inches of bare stem.

rooting hormone

3. (Optional) Dip the end of the cutting into a small bit of rooting hormone. Rooting hormone is easily found at garden centers, and comes in powder and gel form. Don’t dip the cutting directly into the container; doing so will contaminate the rest of the rooting hormone. But it’s not absolutely necessary to use rooting hormone. Some plants will root just fine without it.

poking holes 2

4. Fill a squeaky-clean pot with your choice of potting medium (potting mix, coir, perlite, etc.) Moisten the mix thoroughly. Using a pencil, chopstick, or your finger, make a hole in the dampened growing medium in your pot.

completed

5. Insert your new cutting gently into the hole, taking care not to remove much rooting hormone in the process. Use the pencil or chopstick to gently firm the soil around the cutting.

6. When your pot is full, water the cuttings either from the top or bottom. Personally, I prefer bottom-watering, wherein you place the pot in a shallow bowl of water and let the water wick up through the drainage holes. Don’t leave it too long–just until the pot feels a bit heavy; maybe 15 minutes.

7. To elevate the humidity levels around the plant (important while the cuttings are forming roots), you can cover the top of the pot with plastic wrap, a plastic bag, or (my favorite), a cheap shower cap from the dollar store (they come in multi-packs and you can rinse and reuse them). Poke a few drinking straws into the pot to prop up the plastic; you don’t want it touching the surface of the leaves. Cut a couple of slits in the plastic to allow a bit of air to circulate; this will stanch mold development (alas, you won’t be able to use the shower cap for its original purpose). Or, you can leave it untented, but you must be more vigilant about watching the pot’s moisture level.

8. Keep the potting medium just moist, not wet. The classic comparison is that the soil should feel as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Check it regularly until you get a sense for how rapidly moisture evaporates from your medium.

9. Make sure the pot has adequate light. You can grow the cuttings under fluorescent lamps, or if you’re lazy like me, you can stick the pot outside and let the cuttings work with the elements. In the winter, this approach won’t work with tender cuttings, like those of houseplants or summer annuals, but hardier plants do just fine. These chrysanthemums spent the winter outdoors with no shelter at all.

10. You’ll know when the cuttings have rooted when they resist a gentle tug. Please don’t check them too often, or you will defeat the process. Patience is essential. Give them a solid 3 weeks, at least, or if you take cuttings of hardy plants in the fall, let them sit around all winter. I’ve propagated chrysanthemums, lavender, rosemary, Carolina jessamine, and Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ using the leave-it-to-the-elements method.

At the end of this document is a list of plants that reproduce easily from cuttings. Give them a try!

Frost weed, Verbesina virginica

I am giddy today. Not only is it 65 degrees outside (I opened the windows in the house!), but I have been given a packet of seeds of frost weed, Verbesina virginica, from Gail at Clay and Limestone.

I can’t wait to try these. Gail promises it is a pollinator magnet. They’ll get a spot in my under-construction white garden, and I look forward to watching them this summer and fall. But perhaps their most remarkable effects are seen after a warm winter day and a cold winter night, when they create their astonishing frost blossoms. Gail’s photos will take your breath away.

Thanks, Gail!

January check-up

We had a “wintry mix” on Thursday night and on Saturday I took a stroll around the garden to check on my seeds post-precip. There is so much going on in the garden, even though from the house it looks merely like a field of mud.

Hundreds of hellebore seedlings are coming up (and apparently, my plant choices make me terribly fashionable). My acanthus is looking fine, although I need to move it to a place where it can show off properly. (One problem with acanthus is that moving it is essentially dividing it; it’s hard to get all pieces of the roots and they do come back from root fragments). (c) 2013 AWH/MissingHenryMitchellMy yellow crocus along the front walk are flowering, and crocus foliage is up elsewhere in the garden. It goes without saying that the daffodils are poking through everywhere.

The blueberries are all showing buds, as are the stems on my shrub roses. This reminds me that I need to spray the roses to force them into dormancy, at least for a short time. The new bronze foliage emerging on a few of the roses will not do for January. The roses must have at least a short period of dormancy if they’re to do well in the summer. And the Rosa banksiae lutea, which I moved late last summer and was uncertain whether it would survive, seems to be doing well enough. This means I had better get cracking on building the new screen upon which I expect it to luxuriate.

And my seeds! Holy cow, so much germination. The pans of dill, beets, kale, feverfew, poppies (Danebrog, paeoniflora, and California), coreopsis, urtica (nettles), the red hollyhocks, geum, pink nicotiana, English lavender, rue, blue flax, bachelor’s button, chamomile, Thymus vulgaris, tithonia, alyssum, gaillardia, and Anemone hupehensis ‘Pamina’ have all sprouted. I am not worried about the dill, beets, and kale. Beyond that, who knows? Time to put in a query to my winter sowing compatriots to ask whether it’s time to panic.

Finally, rethinking my part-shade trellis seems more and more advisable. I may prefer an evergreen screen, but this is not something to be rushed into.

There are always ideas simmering away.

A few of my favorite things

Latest plants sown include:

My gardening philosophy, if I have one, is of the pasta-pot variety: Throw it against the wall and see if it sticks. (This is not to be confused with seed bombing, which in my opinion is much more charming and probably more effective than what I do.) But in my bit of Arcadia, with its heavy, sticky clay, absurd summer heat and humidity, unpredictable water, and nutrient-sucking oak trees, I have been reduced to nine years of trial and error.

What’s worked for me? Here are just a few of my favorites, in no particular order:

white hellebore flowering

Flowers of Helleborus orientalis bloom in winter and early spring, and are deer-proof.

Helleborus orientalis: Passed along by my neighbor, these lovelies bloom when little else does (right now!), persevere under impossible conditions, require virtually nothing in theway of attention from me, and have bold evergreen foliage. They reseed generously but are not at all difficult to manage. I have successfully transplanted tiny seedlings by sticking my finger into the dirt, shoving the plant in, and walking away. I don’t even water them in. I will never willingly be without these plants again.

Gardenia jasminoides. I have a hedge of these that I planted in 2004 as quart-sized shrublets. Today, they’re well over 5′ tall and flower gorgeously in May and June, when they perfume the entire garden. Their foliage is glossy, their flowers voluptuous, and so far, I’ve not had any problems with insects or disease. Sometimes, if I’ve pruned intelligently, I can get a second flush of bloom in late August.

Iris tectorum 3

The bloom of Iris tectorum, Japanese roof iris.

Iris tectorum. Why did I wait so long to buy this plant? It’s 2 feet tall and bulletproof. It seems to be easy to propagate by seed. The clear, blue-purple flowers are charming and it blooms well in dry shade. Now that I think of it, it might make a nice combination with another favorite,

Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum.‘ Delicate-looking, but absolutely tough as nails (perhaps you are detecting a pattern in my affections by now).

epimedium in winter

Epimedium in winter

Its heart-shaped leaves are evergreen here, though they turn a rusty bronze in winter. It blooms for me for several weeks in spring, with dainty yellow flowers dangling on a wiry stem. I have a clump about 3′ in diameter sitting smack on top of the roots of an oak, and it never complains or looks puny.

winter honeysuckle flower

The blossoms of winter honeysuckle, Lonicera fragrantissima, are lemon-scented.

Lonicera fragrantissima. Fragrant winter honeysuckle grows as a large shrub or small tree. Mine copes happily with hot afternoon sun between (you guessed it) two large oaks, and smells heavenly when it blooms in late February or March (though with all the warm weather we’ve had lately, mine started blooming last week). I admit it looks a bit worn at the moment, but it’s suffered a bit of neglect this fall. In the spring after a light dressing of compost, it will fill out marvelously with abundant, rich green leaves. It would probably be even more glorious if I gave it a more sympathetic home, but it does what I ask of it, and earns my admiration in return.