Friday, August 15, 2014

Floral Friday

It seems as if every flower in the garden is competing for best in show this week.

"No, I'm bigger!"

"No, I'm showier!"

"I'm prettier!"

Here are the finalists - I'll let you decide who wins.

Poor hibiscus with sawfly damage ... but look at that color!

I'm lucky that my gladiolus come back every year without me digging them up.

Beauty in numbers for Black Eye Susans.

Love this daylily - it's blooming now when the rest have stopped.

Look at the ruffles! (!!!!)

I know this is the bee's favorite (sedum).

"Sloam Double Standard" Daylily. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

August Garden Chores

Sweet Autumn Clematis is one of my favorite flowers, which begins to bloom at the end of this month.
August is a fast month in the garden with hot days and the slow advancement toward less daylight. To get the most out of your garden this month, here are some guidelines that I will be following.

Seed Starting
Now is the time to divide rhizome irises.
Sow carrot, beet, lettuce, radish, spinach and pea seeds now for a fall crop. I'm going to plant some in my cold frame, too, so I can extend the crops when the days get colder.

Prune hydrangeas now for flowers next summer. There is a short three-week window to do this in August; after that, the plants will put their energy into creating flower buds for next year. Read more here.

Cover Crops
As vegetable areas are harvested, start sowing cover crops to help condition the soil this fall and over the winter. I like to use High Mowing Seed's hairy vetch and winter rye mix.

Divide Irises
This can be started in July and continued throughout this month in the Northeast. Irises should be divided every three to five years, or when clumps start to lack flowers. There's a helpful article on dividing and transplanting rhizome iris here.

The garden usually needs help this month with water, so keep an eye on plants. The best time to water is in the morning.

Poor perennial hibiscus with sawfly damage.
Keep shaking Japanese beetles into cups of soapy water to get rid of them. The best time to do this is in the morning or early evening hours, when they are not as active. Have you applied neem oil to your perennial hibiscus? I forgot to this year and the hibiscus sawfly is having a field day eating the leaves. The plants are flowering now.

Now is the time to figure out where you want to plant and what you want to order for spring blooming bulbs. Typically, the earlier your order, the better the availability.

Remember to get outside and enjoy the flowers! Summer is fleeting - onward!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Prune Hydrangeas Now for Flowers Next Summer

Endless Summer blooms in my 2013 garden.
My plant lost many of its flower buds that were
formed on old wood last fall but killed with the
excessive cold and windy winter. Now in the garden,
it is only flowering from the new stems.
MIDDLEFIELD, Conn. - Are your hydrangeas not blooming this summer? You're not alone.

Old man winter is still wrecking havoc for Connecticut gardeners this summer. Last year's excessive cold, windy and lack of snow cover early on in Connecticut is to blame for the lack of hydrangea blossoms this summer, according to Chris Valley of Prides Corner Farms, Inc., a wholesale plant representative for Country Flower Farms.

Most of the hydrangeas that are without flowers fall in the hydrangea macrophylla category, which bloom on old wood (think Nikko Blue and Endless Summer as well as other mophead or lacecap hydrangeas). This is a popular category of hydrangeas because they are the most colorful.

"They put all their emphasis on creating flower buds in the fall that are then carried into winter," Valley said. "There is such a big time period when things can go wrong."

Newer varieties like Endless Summer, Blushing Bride, Twist & Shout and Let's Dance have the ability to bloom on both old and new wood, which eliminates the danger of losing all flowers. This year, however, the first wave of hydrangea flowers didn't occur for many of these varieties.

What gardeners were left with were several brown, dead branches that were killed. Wind damage was the culprit. These dead branches can be removed in spring. (Afraid it's not dead? Use your fingernail to scrape the bark away. If there is no green growth underneath, then remove the entire branch. If you find green growth, cut above it.)

At the end of August, these plants typically begin putting all their energy toward new growth. (If pruning is necessary, there is a three-week time window to do so.) To prevent loss of flower buds this winter, Valley has two suggestions. For a fairly large hydrangea, wrap the plant in burlap to protect it from the wind all winter long. (Take a string, tie it to a sturdy branch and walk around the plant to tie it up.) It's important to leave the top open.

"Do not fill the burlap with leaves. Otherwise you will make a condo for mice," he said. If it snows - great. Snow is a good insulator for these plants.

The burlap can be removed in the spring when the weather starts to be consistently mild. Don't wait too long in the spring to remove the burlap (example, the whole month of May) or the plant will go into shock. If there is a late frost advisory in spring, throw a blanket over it to protect the buds and leaves.

The other option for care, which only applies to the Endless Summer category, is to cut the plant to 12 to 15 inches and cover it with leaves for winter protection. However, if you have a fairly large plant, or cringe at the thought of hacking your hydrangea to the ground, the wrapping in burlap option may be better for you.

How to Prune Macrophylla
Valley has been with Prides Corner Farms for 15 years and said hydrangeas consume the biggest part of their catalog. "They are a super complicated category of plants," he said. The macrophylla category is one of five.

For Endless Summer or Bloomstruck varieties, Valley recommends starting to prune when the plants start to flower. Cut long stems for bouquets to be brought indoors. "When you cut one flower off, the plant will send out two new flower shoots," he said.

But for other macrophyllas, the time is now. "If pruning is necessary, this is the time to prune them," Valley said. "Pruning is not an essential thing to do every season. You have a three-week time window: basically the beginning of August to the end of August. After that, the plant's full attention goes to flower buds for the next year."

Valley demonstrated pruning a Cityline Rio hydrangea. Prune the branches so the plant has an overall mounding shape. When pruning, be consistent. Don't leave a large rogue branch if the rest are short. (As shown in the video below.)

Pruning will increase the amount of flowers for the upcoming season. "It is simple to thin it out. It's the healthy thing to do," he said. Thin the plant out by one third, including older branches in the middle. This will open up the inside of the plant for sunshine and air circulation, which will encourage growth. "Follow the stem down and trim it right out."

Friday, August 1, 2014

Floral Friday

There are so many flowers blooming this week in the garden, which is fitting as we enter the last "official" month of summer. I found myself photographing a lot of closeup flower shots this week.

One surprise (for me) has been the number of phlox plants beginning to bloom this week. I didn't realize my garden had so many! Sometimes I forget what I have planted.

Morning glory



Shasta Daisy, "Becky"


Morning sunlight with false sunflower


Daylily with zinnias



What's blooming in your garden today?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Garlic Harvest 2014

If your garlic stems are starting to yellow from the ground up, it's time to harvest them. It's best to do this on a dry day (ideally, not watering the garlic for a few days prior also helps, even though Mother Nature may not cooperate with that).

The garlic is ready for harvest.
When digging the plants up, leave enough space between the plant and the shovel so you do not accidentally spear the garlic bulb. If you do, remove the cloves that were damaged and put the garlic aside to use in the kitchen soon.

Be careful when removing the plants from the ground. You don't want to break the stems off the garlic. Lightly shake the excess dirt from the roots.

After digging all the garlic up, I let it sit in a partially sunny area to "cure" for the afternoon. This dries up any loose dirt attached to the roots. Don't put it in direct, hot sun.

Next, find a spot in your home that will be on the darker side but will also allow for good air circulation. For me, this spot is the coat rack behind our back door. I tie all the garlic together in a bunch with string and allow it to hang there to dry for about 6-8 weeks.

After the garlic has been dried, I cut off the stems to about two inches above the bulb. I trim the roots as well. I separate them into two camps: garlic for replanting and garlic for eating. The largest bulbs I will replant in October, so the next year I will get bigger bulbs. (Read more about that here.) The smaller bulbs I will save for the kitchen.

I keep the "kitchen" garlic in my cabinet in a cloth bag (I bought mine from Gardener's Supply a few years ago) and use them as I need them. They are usually good until December without having to worry about them sprouting. If you still have a lot by December, you can freeze the cloves for use later on.

Garlic harvested in 2011.
This Year's Harvest
This year I tried out a new spot in my garden for the garlic and noticed that the bulbs did not grow as large as last year. It's possible they did not have as much sun as in previous years. Also, this new spot was a little more difficult to get to for watering, which might have also played a role in the smaller size. We've had a dry growing season so far so it's possible they needed a little more attention than I usually give them.

My neighbor down the road also grows garlic and reported a less than ideal crop as well this year. He even lost a couple of bulbs that were not suitable for storing or eating. The only person I know who had success was my friend across the street, Tricia, who planted her garlic in the same beds as her tomato plants. All of her garlic looked fairly large and healthy. Garlic is a good companion plant for tomatoes - something to keep in mind when planning the garden next year!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Hummingbirds in the Garden

Just wanted to share some pretty photos of the ruby-throated hummingbird in my garden. She loves the bee balm planted in the front garden (actually preferring that to the feeder I have in the bed as well). She visits on a timed schedule, making her rounds around the neighborhood and being back on our property within a 10 minute time window.

Monarda (Bee Balm) "Raspberry Wine"

Verbena bonariensis attracts butterflies also.

These photos were taken before I put the hummingbird feeder out front. For the solution, I take 1 cup of granulated sugar with 4 cups of water.  I bring this mixture to a light boil and then take it off the heat to cool. In the hot summer it's necessary to change the sugar syrup regularly so mold doesn't grow inside. An ant moat hanging above the feeder helps to keep the ants away.

Who visits your garden?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Now's the Time to Look for Caterpillars

Last weekend I discovered six little black swallowtail caterpillars on my fennel plants. I was excited to find so many at once and decided that once my busy weekend was over, I'd bring them inside to watch them grow. This was Saturday night.

By Monday morning, all the caterpillars were gone. I don't know what bird/insect got them, but I was really disappointed. I shared my frustration on Facebook, and one friend who regularly checks for caterpillars in her garden sympathized. When you consider how six caterpillars were gone in less than 48 hours, it's downright amazing butterflies survive at all. (Hence the "scary" appearances of monarch and spicebush caterpillars to birds.)

So after checking the fennel at least three times with no results, I decided to check my flowering carrot plants for black swallowtail caterpillars. (Black swallowtail butterflies will also lay eggs on dill, parsley, parsnips and rue. The life cycle is explained in brief here.) I found three little caterpillars. This time, I wasn't taking any chances, so I snipped off the carrot flowers they were on, along with some fennel, put them in a mason jar filled with water and brought them inside.

They have remained under my (dormant) growlights all week and have continued to grow larger. I feel bad about the six I lost, but at least these three will have a chance.

Photo taken this morning with my iPhone.

Two caterpillars resting this morning.