31 March 2007

My Butterfies Rock

These are adult painted Lady butterflies dining on orange slices. Double click on the photo to make it larger and look at the plant leaf on the left where the just hatched caterpillars are eating the hollyhock leaf. Then look at the tiny black dots on the paper towel and the plate - that's how small the caterpillars are the day after they hatch out of their blue eggs.

Muskogee is celebrating Earth Day for the first time this year on April 21st. The celebration will be part of the opening of the Muskogee Farmer's Market in its new location at the Civic Center on Okmulgee St.

My small part of Earth Day is that I am raising butterflies to make kits for a giveaway. Five weeks ago I received 30-painted lady butterfly caterpillars from an education/science company. They grew over two weeks into a size that we recognize as a caterpillar. Then they stopped eating, made chrysalis and emerged as butterflies.

The adults mated and laid eggs on the plants in their box and now the cycle is repeating as the adults are dying and the babies are growing. Most adult butterflies live only two weeks.

30 March 2007

Gardening Friendships

Asiatic Lilies emerging
Consider joining some clubs that are focused on gardens, gardening or specific plants that interest you.

Muskogee Garden Club is affordable for most enthusiasts at $15 a year. Tulsa Garden Center's membership is $25 and includes a newsletter.

Most associations and societies have a website rich with growing tips, enthusiastic gardeners to chat with and meeting notices.

Here are a few other possibilities to consider: Alpine Garden Society, American Association of Amateur Arborists, Azalea Society of America, American Bonsai Society, American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta, International Bulb Society, American Clematis Society, American Daffodil Society, American Horticultural Society, North American Cottage Garden Society, Perennial Plant Association, American Iris Society, North American Rock Garden Society, Saxifrage Society, The Violet Society or maybe the Weed Science Society of America.

29 March 2007

Tomater Growin

The photo is Larkspur coming up from the plants I let go to seed last summer.

Carson Borovetz Greenhouses on North Street in Muskogee is open and tomato plants are 3 for a dollar. I bought Jet Star this year because Pete Carson said they were the best seller of all the kinds he grows.

I will confess to being a person who likes to know a lot of stuff. A few years ago in the vegetable section of Lowe's I was looking at tomato plants. As is my custom, I asked the women there what kinds of tomato plants they were buying.

The shortest of them, a woman who looked like she had planted many gardens in her life, looked up at me and said, "Don't you know nuthin?"

I skipped a breath, blinked and thought of all those years I attended college and sat in offices and what a waste all of it would seem in her eyes.

It is easy for me to confess ignorance so I did just that. With that same gruffness, she told me to buy an Arkansas Traveler tomato and to plant it twice as deep as it was in the pot. But, to be sure to pinch or cut off the stems that would be buried in the hole.

Without thinking, I said, "Really?" You can't imagine the scowl that was reflected back to me. "Stupid," was all she said before she launched into more detailed and useful directions.

So, without criticism or comment, I freely pass on to you the wisdom I received that day.

My little 3-pack of tomatoes have had their lower leaves pinched off and each has been moved into a 6-inch deep pot with bagged, sterile soil. From there they will be moved into 8-inch deep pots while we are waiting for the end of April to arrive. At planting time, I will pinch off the lowest leaves or side branches and plant the tomato deeper than the depth of the pot.

Mesonet reports that soil temperatures in Muskogee area are mid-60s so you could put them out now but tomatoes will just sit there if they do not like the cold soil. In pots they will grow. They can be taken outside every day and brought in at night (my method) or grown in a greenhouse, cold frame or other protected environment.
Pete Carson also recommends composted chicken litter from Earth Smart which he sells.
My grandmother would have told you the same thing - only chicken poo makes successful tomato growing. She probably would have thought that people who didn't know about chicken compost for tomatoes were stupid.

27 March 2007

Let's Propagate

There is a vining variegated euphorbia on one of the fences that I plan to propagate this week. Spring is the right time to take cuttings and make new plants out of them because you want to use wood from this year's growth that is firm, not soft.

Other plants that are easy to propagate include geranium, roses, blackberries, mums and pentas.

You will need a sterile potting medium such as vermiculite or sand, a clean container and clean scissors or knife.

Take the cuttings from the top 4-inches of the growing tips or cut a side shoot from a healthy plant. Just as with pruning, the cut should be at a slight angle.

A node is the place where a leaf emerges and the cut should be made below the node because you will remove the leaves and those are the places where the roots of your new plant will emerge.

Carefully remove any leaves or flower buds that will be on the planted part of the stem but leave a few leaves on the tip so the plant can gather energy.

Not everyone uses a planting hormone on cuttings, but professionals do. The products most commonly available are Roottone® and Hormonex®. After the end of the stem is dipped into the hormone, gently knock off any excess because too much will prevent roots from forming.

Use a pencil or other similar object to make a hole in the moistened vermiculite or sand that you put into the sterile container. Put the hormone dusted stem into the hole and continue until all the holes are filled. Then gently water.

Make a greenhouse for the starts. For example, put a 2-litre plastic bottle with the bottom cut out over a round pot or put the entire, planted pot into a clear plastic bag. A little support can be constructed with wire or bamboo and then plastic wrap can be draped over the support. If you have any clear plastic berry boxes, they are just about perfect.

Keep the mini greenhouse where it is 70 to 75-degrees and light but not sunny.

One successful gardener said that if the plastic drips water, the greenhouse is too wet. If there is never any steam in there, it is too dry. In a few weeks your cuttings will have made roots and they will be ready to plant in small pots or into a prepared bed.

In my experience, you should root twice the number of plants you want because not every one will root successfully.

26 March 2007

Plants for Water-Wise Gardening




These red tulips are planted in clusters across the front of our yard and have come back three years now. They are a visual treat every time.

The spring this year is great compared with last year! Remember that we had already experienced drought and record breaking heat by this time last year.

The lack of rain is worrisome, though. In addition to the usual sprinkling of the seed beds, we have started watering the flowering fruit trees to make sure they have enough moisture to produce fruit.

If your thoughts are turning to water-wise plants, take a look at the High Country Gardens online catalog for some beautiful xeriscape ideas.

Xeriscape sometimes implies that you have a desert garden in Phoenix or Albuquerque, but even water-wise gardens in Oklahoma do well with these types of plants. Waterwise plants include sage, salvia, asters, agastache, achillea, grasses, penstemon.

It is important to group these low-water plants together. If they are mixed in the same bed with thirsty plants like roses, they will suffer from too much moisture on their roots.

23 March 2007

Gardening Blogs

When we have worn ourselves out gardening, it's time to do something else. Clicking around the Internet can be a great non-television way to relax and rest.

If you plan to go to the opening of Moonshadow Herb Farm this weekend, here's a link to a blog about scented geraniums - check out Geranium Blog before you go to Moonshadow to buy Sharon Owen's selections.

The photo is native plum blossoms.


Are you a tree lover and hugger or just in the market for tree-talk? Here is a blog that waxes poetic about trees and has photos of trees so you can see what they look like. Click here for the link to "A Tree Grower's Diary" with writing and photos by Julie Walton Shaver.

And, since it is time to start working on the lawn, click on the Lawn Care blog for an expert's advice.

Earth Friendly Gardening is a writer's blog that is focused on sustainable gardening for a healthy planet.

An acknowledged expert in treading lightly on the earth, Henry David Thoreau, has his own blog with entries dated during his lifetime.

Other famous people in the gardening world have blogs. For example, author Amy Stewart has a highly regarded blog called Dirt. Stewart's blog has lists upon lists of links to other blogs. The categories include: Chicken gear, chicken info, chicken blogs, garden blogs, earthworm links, i.e. something for everyone interested in the earth.

22 March 2007

New Way to Plant Seeds

Johnny's Selected Seeds has a new product that looks like it would work for several situations.
It's a 4-inch round, paper disc, full of seeds. Right now they offer only chives, parsley, thyme, arugula, cilantro and basil. The parsley disc contains 46 seeds and sells for a dollar per disc in a 5-disc pack.
Today's garden photo is the spring wind blowing daffodil blossoms.
I hope your early spring vegetables and flower seeds are coming up and that your perennials are letting you know they are still alive. There is plenty to do - digging compost into beds, mowing, transplanting and dividing. Take time to enjoy the view while you are out there working.



Last but not least, here's a fun link to Dragoo's Skunk Page, Dragoo Institute for the Betterment of Skunks and Skunk Reputations.
Skunks, the Mephitidae family, superfamily Musteloidea, do not live in Europe anymore, though they did live in Germany about 11-12 million years ago.
In the Musteloidea family: otters, badgers, and weasels, raccoons and ringtails, red or lesser panda, and the Mephitidae (skunks). Photos and info respectfully posted at the link.














19 March 2007

Pruning Spring Flowering Shrubs and Vines

You already know that it is advisable to prune any and all dead diseased and damaged limbs, branches, vines - that's a given. Oh, and snip out tree limbs that cross or rub, too.



But flowering shrubs and vines are confusing to keep track of if you have several types. Hydrangeas in particular are challenging because some varieties bloom on old wood and some bloom on new wood.

(The photo is this morning's new growth on a clematis vine that blooms dark purple.)



Here are excerpts from a column on spring pruning by Pat Howell who writes the "Easy Gardener" column for the Tacoma Silver Spring Voice in Maryland. (Click on the link to read in full.)


Some plants like to be pruned BEFORE they bloom because they bloom on new wood - that is, they form their flower buds now.


Some shrubs bloom on old wood - they formed their flower buds last fall.



Right now Azaleas have this year's buds and so you would not prune until AFTER they bloom.


Hard pruning With sharpened hand pruners, or sharp loppers, cut back the following shrubs:
Beautyberry [Callicarpa]—to short stubs
Bluebeard [Caryopteris]—to short stubs
Butterfly bush [Buddleia]—to 10" above ground
Bush clover [Lespedeza]—to 10"
Hibiscus—to 10"
Ninebark [Physocarpus]—to 10"
Smoke bush [Cotinus]—to 10"
St. John's Wort [Hypericum]—to short stubs
Twig dogwood (red or yellow)—leave them until end of winter; then trim back to 12".
Witchhazel—to 20"
Ornamental grasses—to 10"
Winter Jasmine—to 24" after bloom is over.



Gentle Pruning
Clematis vines—Snip away dead stems ABOVE a visible bud. If you do not see any visible buds, wait three weeks, for some more warm weather, to determine if vines have survived. Be careful not to cut through a stem that might be below a bud. If in doubt, wait.


Hydrangea vines—Only prune off branches that are in your way



Crape Myrtle - After you see leaves, it is safe to do some shaping by cutting out stems simplifying the trunks into groups of three, or five at the most. Be sure all leaves and twigs are removed way up (usually above your eye level) to enable the spectacular bark to show. This pruning will promote much more of a flower display.


Nandina—Snip off dead leaves and twigs.


Prune after bloom
It is best to prune some shrubs in the two months immediately following their bloom. By mid-to-late June, new buds are forming, even if invisible to us. Don't plan to prune after June 15.


Including: Azaleas, Deutzia, Forsythia (cut them to 12" high and wide right after flowering), Flowering Quince, Lilacs - cut off blooms as soon as they fade, Hydrangeas (most, though not all, bloom on old wood). It is hard sometimes to keep track of which blooms on old vs. new. If you are not sure and your plants look ratty, cut off the ratty/dead tips, and wait to cut shrub way back until after bloom.


Overgrown shrubs may require hard, selective pruning after flowering. You may want to restore plants that have grown too large but wait before seriously attacking old shrubs, until they have had a chance to recover from February's weather.

18 March 2007

Mid-March Gardening

If you missed out on the garden fun today, rain may prevent you from being out there the rest of this week. At least we hope so.
To Do: Do remove winter debris from bulbs and corms as they come up but leave some leaves and mulch around other perennials because we could still have a freeze before April 15. If you already bought some tender plants re-pot them and water them with diluted fertilizer. They can be put outside for a few hours on these balmy days but have to come in at night.
For the same reason, start tender annuals inside the house, in a cold frame or greenhouse. We are almost a month away from being able to plant many flowers and veggies outside. Read the seed package, look up the plant's hardiness or ask in this blog.

One of the most useful tools in keeping plants healthy inside is a fan. Running a fan on low keeps the air circulating and reduces the chance of fungal disease (damping off) attacking vulnerable seedlings.

16 March 2007

Free Flower Calendar Pages

If you could use a few months of calendar pages to track garden activities, there are some beauties at Cal's Plant of the Week.

Click on this link Cal's Plant of the Week and scroll to the bottom of the page where you will find "Calendars" with gorgeous photos - pages that you can print at home.

You can also subscribe to Cal's Plant of the Week which is provided as a service by the University of Oklahoma Department of Botany & Microbiology and specifically Cal Lemke, who is OU's botany greenhouse grower and an avid gardener at home as well.

This sunny weather while the ground is still soft has been wonderful for catching up in the garden. Today I moved a hot pink monarda (bee balm) from a vegetable patch to a more suitable location. When it was little, 3-years ago, it was fine, but last year it competed with the basil for being 4-feet-tall and wide and heavily scented.

The hydrangeas survived 2006's awful summer and icy winter to emerge this week as though nothing happened. What troopers they are.

All over the yard there are daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, crocus and other spring blooms - it makes me happy just to be outside among them even though I was only sprinkling seeds, bleaching pots and pulling weeds.

Happy gardening.

13 March 2007

Oklahoma Mesonet - Current Soil Temperatures

The soil temperature today is in the upper 50s and is warm enough to plant some seeds but not others. It's easy to find ideal germination temperatures for any seed by searching the seed packet or the Internet.

Oklahoma Mesonet is an online service that you can access by clicking here.

Here are a few examples of soil temperature preferences.
40 degrees- F soil - Plant endive, lettuce and pea seed
45 degree F soil - Plant carrot, radish and spinach seed. Set out cabbage transplants, potato starts, and onion sets
50 degree F soil - Plant beet, parsley, parsnip and Swiss chard seed
60 degree F soil - Plant snap bean, sweet corn, cucumber and turnip seed.
Set out tomato seedlings
65 degree F soil - Plant lima bean seed
70 degree F soil - Plant okra, southern peas, squash, pumpkin and watermelon seed. Set out eggplant and pepper transplants
75 degree F soil - Plant cantaloupe seed. Set out sweet potatoes.

12 March 2007

Tomatoes From Seed

If you have any interest in growing tomatoes other than the half-dozen available at garden centers, starting seeds is a good way to get variety. Seeds are available for Heirlooms, old fashioned and new hybrids. There are so many seeds in an envelope, sharing with another gardening friend is a way to double the types you grow.

In response to a question about when to start tomato seeds, Renee Shepherd of Renee's Seeds said, "Generally speaking, the goal is to start your tomato seeds six or eight weeks before the last frost date or another guideline would be that they are ready to plant out when temperatures are regularly in the 50s both day and night. I prefer this second criteria, as it gives leeway for local conditions."

For me, pictures speak louder than words. Follow this link to Renee's Garden Seeds instructions on growing tomatoes from seeds - with photos of every step for us visual learners. The photos go from first seed planting, to dividing seedlings, planting in the ground and pruning. Check it out.

11 March 2007

Gardening Info - TulsaMasterGardeners.org

The graduates of the OSU Master Gardening program in Tulsa are active and their website is a resource for local gardeners.

The newest offering is an email newsletter that is offered to anyone who signs up at

www.tulsamastergardeners.org

Also at their site: A link to the OSU Fact Sheets and Announcements of events, including their plant sale. Here is a quote about the sale from the link:

The plants in our sale are sold in two different ways: one group is to be preordered and prepaid no later than Friday, March 30, 2007 (click here for an order form). Preordered plants will be available for pickup on Thursday, April 19,2007 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. We will also have perennials and premium annuals available for purchase only on April 19, 2007 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on a first come, first served basis. In this exciting part of our sale, we will be offering over 100 different and unusual varieties. of perennials, premium annuals, herbs and hanging baskets priced from $2.00 to $14.00. We will offer as many Oklahoma Proven and other award winners as possible.

09 March 2007

Million Bells are Petunias

A reader posted a comment that sent me to the Internet for research.

The comment was that "petunias and calibrachoa (million bells) can benefit greatly with a little PH manipulation. They prefer a slightly lower PH and regular fertilization. A little garden sulpher (available at Lowes) works great."

Million bells actually is a petunia.

The reader will be happy to know that their experience regarding those flowers' pH preference was studied at Rutgers and Cornell Universities. Thanks for the tip and the reminder that it is important to provide the correct pH levels for good gardening results.

Here's a link to the study and an excerpt is below.

Northeast Greenhouse IPM Notes
May 2006 A publication of Rutgers and Cornell Cooperative Extension Vol. 16, No 4
Puny Calibrachoas? It May be Thielaviopsis
We attributed this disease reduction to a pH effect: lower pH will help the plant and suppress the fungus. Aim to keep pH well below 6.0 for best results; pH 4.8 will prevent disease development in field soil. Many calibrachoas are prone to iron deficiency at high pH, so lowering their growing pH can help reduce iron chlorosis as well as disease symptoms.

Tips for Yellow Tips Karen Kackley, J.R. Peters Laboratory
Many growers are seeing yellow growing tips on members of the “petunia group” (e.g. petunia, calibrachoa, bacopa, scaevola, nemesia, diascia, and pansy). The most usual cause of yellow tips on these plants is iron deficiency due to high pH in the growing medium. Members of the “petunia group” grow best when the pH in the medium is between 5.4-5.8. At higher pH levels, iron and other micronutrients become insoluble and unavailable to plants.

When yellow tips are detected, the first step should be to determine the pH of the growing
medium. Do this by sending a sample to a horticultural testing laboratory or by doing in-house
testing. It is important to remember that while iron deficiency due to high media pH is
the most common cause of yellow tips, it is not the only cause. High phosphorous, low iron
and imbalances with manganese, zinc and copper can also result in iron deficiency. If
high pH is detected, efforts should be directed at correcting this situation. One of the most
common causes of high pH in the growing medium is the use of high alkalinity water. A
complete laboratory water analysis will determine the level of alkalinity in water and
supply the information needed to determine the amount of acid required to correct the problem.
In the meantime, growers may wish to use corrective iron drenches.
http://njaes.rutgers.edu/pubs/fipmnotes/2006/ghipmnotes16-04.pdf

08 March 2007

Spread the Wealth - Divide Perennials

The main reasons to divide perennial plants are to make them smaller to fit a space and to create more plants. Division can also help rejuvenate sad and overgrown plants.

When the following plants make themselves known this spring, go ahead and divide them. It's a good idea to prepare pots or dig and prepare the new planting hole before you start. That way the roots will be protected and not left in the wind and sun.

Aster, Bee Balm (Monarda), Blanket Flower (Gaillardia) , Blazing Star (Liatris), Catmint (Nepeta), Chrysanthemum, Coral Bells (Heuchera), Coreopsis, Cornflower, Daylily, (Hemerocallis), Ferns, Hardy Geranium, Hardy Zinnia (Heliopsis), Hosta, Obedient Plant (Physostegia), Coneflower (Rudbeckia), Ornamental Grasses, Perennial Salvia hybrids, Phlox paniculata, Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), Shasta Daisy, Speedwell (Veronica), Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana), Stonecrop (Sedum), Wormwood (Artemisia species) and Yarrow (Achillea species).

06 March 2007

Potting and Planting Mixes

When you buy bagged compost, planting mix/soil, potting mix/soil, composted manure and all the other sterile products available, check the fertility and pH on the bag. Do they advertise it to be 2-10-3 or 10-46-0? Is the pH (acid - sweet) level high or low?

Geraniums and pentas prefer a high pH requirement (6.3-6.5) and pansies prefer a lower pH (5.5-5.8). The wrong planting soil and amendments could lead to a disappointing result and providing the right environment can give you a gorgeous result.

Starter Fertilizer for Seedlings

Starter solutions available in nurseries, are usually called something like quick start. They are diluted to keep from burning tender stems, leaves and roots.

Here's a recipe for how to make your own from OSU Fact Sheet 6007-4.

Add two tablespoons of 19-46-0 or 12-24-12 or 10-20-10 fertilizer
to a gallon of warm-ish water to dissolve thoroughly.

Apply a cup of the diluted fertilizer to each plant, but avoid pouring it directly on the plant stems.

Pouring into the planting hole before adding soil and then the plant would be ideal for a small garden, but probably not practical if you are putting in 300 eggplants or cabbages.

05 March 2007

Spring days!



Sunny and 70-degrees - what a great day for being outside in the garden.



The photo on the left is Dragonwing Begonias in the greenhouse at Blossoms Garden Center in Muskogee.

Those of us without a greenhouse were outside planting beets, lettuce and other cool weather seeds.

You could also scatter seeds of poppy, bachelor buttons and other flowers that enjoy a chill before bloom. The seeds I planted in the fall are up and now I'm going to put more in the bare spots.

Tree trimming continues with the sound of chain saws having become a part of our neighborhood environment.

Wait a little longer to trim and prune shrubs. Any shrub that blooms in the spring has already set its flower buds and trimming will cut them off. Just wait until the bloom ends - then prune.

Arnold's had vegetable plants in stock and people were grabbing them left and right. If you have little vegetable plants, hold off on putting them out yet. Keep them under lights and warm until we see if there is another hard freeze in the next couple of weeks. They may enjoy a move to bigger pots and a little fish emulsion or seaweed fertilizer diluted to half strength while you wait for the soil to warm up.

02 March 2007

Blossoms Garden Center Muskogee


Lora and Matthew Weatherbee, owners of Blossoms Garden Center in Muskogee gave me a peek into the greenhouses today. Over the next few blog entries you will get to see what's growing and will be available March 31st when Blossoms opens for the season.

One of the plants, Diamond Frost Euphorbia from Proven Winners has exceptional heat and drought tolerance and is said to produce a nonstop cloud of airy white blooms. The plant has already won 38-awards in its short life.


Horticulturist Tim Wood said on his gardening blog, The Plant Hunter (click to read), "The small white flowers are so abundant that the cumulative mass of flowers creates a beautiful show akin to Baby’s Breath. What is most remarkable is that this plant bloomed from the day I planted it until the day I had a heavy frost in my garden. It is a blooming machine."

Spring and Summer Bulbs


Spring blooming bulbs are springing up all over town and the summer blooming bulbs are in the stores. In our back yard there are white-white, yellow-yellow and yellow-white daffodils blooming around the tree trunks and in the mostly winter-dull garden by the shed.


Joost Pennings of the Netherlands took this photo at The Lentium (click to see more photos).

Get out and enjoy the flowers. And then go get a few summer bulbs like calla and canna lilies to brighten your summer garden.