29 December 2006

Creeping Euonymus evergreen groundcover

Wintercreeper euonymus (euonymus fortunei and euonymus alatus) are both green all year round and make great plants for pots, along fences and in beds.

In the summer the leaves are deep green and in the winter the leaf bottoms have a purplish color. The stems of both forms are woody - like a grape vine which makes them easy to prune and shape. I grow a creeping form up a chain link fence beneath tall birdhouses. It has grown fast enough to make a pretty screen over the birdhouse post but not so fast that it has to be trimmed all the time.

It will also form a mat under trees to mulch them, keeping weeds out and cooling the roots.

Both the shrub and creeping form can be used on a hillside for erosion control according to Steve Dobbs in the Oklahoma Gardener's Guide.

Extreme conditions will adversely affect the plant's beauty - some mildew in wet shade, some frozen tips in harsh winter, or scorched leaves in a really hot summer. But, I've been able to trim off damages parts and the plants always bounce back.

Dobbs recommends Euonymus 'Coloratus' for a low growing form with good fall color. He also recommends it as a substitute for a plant Californians love, Asian jasmine. (Jasmine is as easy to grow on the west coast as Creeping Euonymus is to grow here. Jasmine has lovely, sweet smelling flowers but not the beautiful purple-tinged leaves.)

28 December 2006

New flowers and a sale at Breck's

Have you visited Breck's website (http://www.brecks.com) this week? Several plants are on sale. Take a look at the blue toad lily. Yes, blue and beautiful. It blooms late summer to early fall and can be left in the ground over the winter - hardy to zone 3.

The other cool link on Breck's site is their plant finder. There are buttons and pull down menus where you enter your preferences: Category (bulb, perennial, begonia, etc.), sun or shade, flower color, zone, usage (deer resistance, ground cover, back border, culinary, etc.). After you make your selection, the program gives suggestions.

24 December 2006

Sunny Dry Flowerbed

A new flower bed we put in this fall is in an area that is difficult to water so we planted spring blooming bulbs and several perennials that can survive a week without water.

In a book I am reviewing for next week's garden column ("The Perennial Gardener's Design Primer") the authors recommend a planting plan for an area just like my new bed - sunny and dry. They list 17 plants of varying heights and times of interest. The plant lists suggests the number of each to buy, ranging from 3 Veronica to 17 Helianthus.

So I started researching the recommended perennials to see if they will grow here in zone 7 and I found an on-line pre-season sale at http://www.americanmeadows.com/.

On sale for sunny, dry garden spots: Pennisetum, 3-inch pots for $5.00 each; Sedum for $5.00 each; Salvia nemorosa for $3.00 each; and Veronica for $3.50 each. These are basically half their usual price.

I have never ordered from American Meadows. If you have, would you let me know if their plants hold up to the descriptions?

22 December 2006

Indoor herb projects

A dear friend passed on to me a book from her shelf, The Pleasure of Herbs by Phyllis Shaudys. In it I found ideas and recipes for easy projects that could be fun to do with bored children and visiting grandchildren. (The book is 200 pages of gardening tips, recipes for edibles and instructions for herbal crafts. It is available on the Internet for $2.95)

Herbal home humidifier - Combine in a worn out pot: 6-cups water, 1-cup dry or 2-cups fresh mint leaves, one-half cup orange peel, 1-cinnamon stick, 1-tablespoon whole cloves. (Mint is still alive outside. Ground cinnamon and cloves can be used.) Bring to a simmer and set a timer for an hour.

Herbal skin oil - Combine 4-ounces safflower oil with 1-tablespoon dried rosemary or sage. Refrigerate for several days; use as facial cleanser.

Bath sachet - Combine 2-cups Borax with 1-ounce lavender, peppermint or rosemary leaves. For oily skin, add 1-tablespoon oatmeal or cornmeal. For each bath, use 2-tablespoonfuls of the mix in a drawstring bag. The bag can be rinsed and reused.

Scented bath bubbles - Combine 2-cups Ivory liquid or other mild liquid soap with one-eighth-ounce essential oil. Let it stand for a week and use one-fourth cup per bath.

Lavender beauty bath - Combine 1-cup baking soda, 1-quart Epsom salts and 1-dram lavender oil. Place in a large container with a scoop. Put a scoopful under hot running water or tie some in a large cotton handkerchief.

20 December 2006

Garden website sales

To keep up with recent offers from garden supply companies I subscribe to their email newsletters.

Highlights from the ones in my mailbox in the past 36 hours -

Gardeners Supply has a Secret Santa sale this week. Their specialties include bird feeders and gifts for gardeners. One of their links has gifts listed by price. http://www.gardeners.com/

Johnny's Selected Seeds is having a December sale that ends at midnight today. Stocking stuffers, tools, organic seeds - whatever your gardening soul desires. Free shipping on orders over $30.00. Even gift certificates are on 15% off sale - $50.00 value certificate costs $42.50. Use Code #07-1015 at http://www.johnnyseeds.com/

Logee's, the famous tropical plant provider is having a pre-2007 catalog sale. A few items interested me so I sent them an email for more information. They responded overnight - very good service for any company. Look at the photos of their products for some contrast to our gray weather today.

"All of our plants are considered container plants that can be grown indoors always, and, depending on where you live, outdoors also. Here in CT, we move everything outside in late spring and back inside in early fall." Their website is http://www.logees.com/

Happy browsing.

18 December 2006

Christmas tree care and recycling

If you bought one of the 34 million Christmas trees that were sold this year here are a few tips for a fresh tree:
- keep fresh trees in the house for a maximum of 10 days
- a fresh tree can consume a quart of water a day
-never burn a Christmas tree in your fireplace
-recycled trees can be placed in ponds for fish shelter ( In fact, several trees can be put into one pond with great benefit so if you have a pond, get your neighbors' trees too.)
-recycle cut trees into mulch by cutting off the boughs and laying them over flower gardens
- use the tree in the yard as a wildlife habitat or hang feeders and use it as a bird feeding station

And in the holiday spirit, The Christmas Spirit Foundation, sponsored by the National Christmas Tree Association, coordinates the donation of 3,500 freshly cut trees to military installations in the US and abroad. The same organization has given a Christmas tree to the first family every year since 1966.

15 December 2006

garden writing past and recent

Gardening magazines and catalogs strive to fill the reader with a can-do spirit.

Their writers frequently overreach in their promises of success: "Grow all the fruit your family can eat for a year and have plenty to give away." "These evergreens grow 3-feet a year in all conditions." "Give your garden Style!" "Blooms in Hot Colors for 3 Seasons!!"

Hype and hogwash.

For relaxing reading, nothing can compete with books written in years gone by. Read these excerpts and see how they provide a sense of the writers' love for their gardens and the joys inherent in growing a garden.

from "The Culture of Perennials" by Dorothy M-P. Cloud, published in 1925
"The propagation of perennials is an engrossing subject to the happy possessor of a garden, as through a knowledge of the processes of plant increase big results can be obtained from small beginnings and with comparatively small outlay. The method which Nature employs is to propagate by seed, but frequently by this means the progeny differs from the parent. A few suggestions as to this method will make it quite simple for the novice to carry out."

from "Annuals for Every Garden" by Dorothy H. Jenkins, published 1945
"On bright mornings in September it seems as though every fence post in town is hung with the gleaming funnels of Heavenly Blue morning glories. Sometimes a few moonflowers which have not yet gone to sleep are little white clouds in the sea of blue. Entrancing as is the Heavenly Blue, whether used over an arbor, along a fence or beside the kitchen door, it is far from being the beginning or the end of the annual vine story."

from "Green Thoughts: A Writer In the Garden" by Eleanor Perenyi, published 1981
"Sooner or later every gardener must face the fact that certain things are going to die on him. It is a temptation to be anthropomorphic about plants, to suspect that they do it to annoy. One knows, after all, that they lead lives of their own: plant the lily bulb in the center of the bed and watch it come up under a brick near the edge; pull up a sick little bush and throw it on the compost heap, and ten to one, it will obstinately revive."

from "Hill Song: A Country Journal" by Lee P. Huntington, published 1985
"Zinnias and marigolds in the garden are the colors of Indian saris, and in the fields goldenrod in countless numbers give a brassy shine to the landscape. The round puce-colored heads of Joe Pye weed crop up in every pasture. Asters begin to appear, all sizes from barely there to grand ebullient bursts, in colors from mouse-pale to Oriental purple.
Elderberries are ripe, and this year we have managed to gather them before they have been all gobbled by birds."

The authors engage and draw in their reader with their gardening knowledge. You can imagine sharing in their success.

Gardeners live on the belief that next season's garden will have just the right amount of rain and sun and only pollinating insects will visit the vegetable garden and fruit trees.

In spite of past failures and plants with a mind of their own, we are relentlessly optimistic and hopeful. How else could we confidently visualize our northeast Oklahoma yards resembling the photos in the catalogs that are arriving daily?

Do you have a favorite gardening book? Please share the name and title and tell us a little about it.

13 December 2006

watering in winter

During the winter, tree and shrub roots grow out in search of moisture even though you can't see any activity above ground.

This week it would be a good idea to check plants close to the house to see if they need water - it is warm and there is no rain in sight.

In particular, new plantings have to be kept watered while they are getting established. Bedding plants such as pansies will need water and deadheading to keep them at their best. (Deadheading is removing flowers that are past their prime.)

I'm still dividing iris corms - an endless task because I have planted them everywhere. A corm that has produced a flower will never again bloom but the two young corms on the sides can be separated from the spent one and re-planted. They will bloom next year or the year after.

When temperatures drop, dry plants will suffer the most so keep up with watering.

11 December 2006

December pruning

This week of warm days is ideal for getting outside to putter in the yard. Yesterday, the ivy on the house got its annual haircut to keep it from becoming too big next year.

Generally speaking, pruning for this year is already finished or should wait until February.

Here's why: Shrubs and trees that bloom in the spring have already made all their flower buds for next spring. Forsythia, lilac, wisteria, crab apple and other spring bloomers fall into this category. Any cutting you do now will reduce the number of flowers.

Roses should have been cut back to 3-feet tall already and if you didn't get around to pruning yours, go ahead and do that now. Also, mulch the roots of your roses with 6 to 8-inches of leaves, pine needles, compost, etc.

Another primary reason not prune to now is that pruning stimulates growth. Any pruning now will trigger tender stems that will die back the next time it freezes.

Take advantage of this warm week to remove the 3 D's - diseased, damaged and dead plant materials but leave the rest a little while longer for the sake of your plants' health.

There are dozens of garden and nature related newsletters out there. The native gardening group on Yahoo groups is about nature, birding and the environment. Their website is http://groups.yahoo.com/group/nativegardening/.

If you have a favorite gardening or nature website let us know about it.

05 December 2006

Cold weather gardening

It is hard to wrap my mind around going outside right now though there are dozens of chores to be accomplished. For example, I haven't cleaned out the Bermuda grass from the back of the vegetable bed and I should get out and turn the compost.

But, it's still too wet and chilly to do much. Hopefully, today's strong wind will dry things out enough so we can be out in the sun by the end of the week.

So, instead I made bird feeding suet. Here is how I did it: Melt a pound of lard and some bacon grease over very low heat.

Chop and run through the food processor beef fat that the butcher gives out at no cost.

Combine the two, using a whisk. Then, start adding other foods birds need and want in the winter - raisins, nuts, sunflower seeds, corn, cornmeal, popcorn.

When it cools, make balls and refrigerate or freeze. Or, put into a saran lined pan and chill, cut and freeze until needed. Put the chunk of suet into a mesh bag and hang the bag from a tree branch pretty close to the tree.

Enjoy watching the birds at feeding time.