Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Getting Plants Ready for Indoors

I repotted my orchids today. Although the experts say they shouldn't be repotted often, I needed to address the likelihood that some insect stowaways took up residence in their soil. I love mixing my own potting material up--it's probably related to my enjoyment of cooking. And this time of year it can be done outside.
All but two of my orchids repotted in clean mix.

I'd placed an order with Kelly's Korner Orchid Supplies for pots and other stuff, including a product called Orchiata, which is made of New Zealand pine bark; Premium Hydro Pellets, and a variety of Aircone pots.

Oncidium speckled spire ‘Wisp’ in January.
If I had known I could get the hydro pellets locally at The Wattage House (who'd know from the name?), which specializes in hydroponic and other types of mostly indoor gardening. It's just an hour from my house and driving there and back is a lot less expensive than the $16.50 that Kelly's Korner charged for shipping. I talked with Brian, a very knowledgeable young man who worked out what kind of lights I will need to get my plants through the winter. Yes, I decided to officially cross the line back into houseplant gardening, as it's getting more and more difficult to do without healthy plants from November through March.

I also discovered that The Wattage House has a huge array of fertilizers, including Fox Farm, which is one of my favorites probably because of the cool artwork on the packaging, but possibly because it's a good product. I decided to try Beastie Bloomz, which has a nutrient ratio of 0-50-30. Yes, you read that right, the middle number (representing phosphorus) is a 50! The percentage of potassium is no slouch either, at 30.
Miltonia 'Robert Jackson' in December.

I gave all of my containers with blooms a feeding with Beastie Bloomz (According to Brian, it won't work unless there are already flowers or flower buds on the plant.), as well as dosing some of my in ground plants like Zinnias, Dahlias, Viola, and snapdragons. Although I hadn't taken any photos of blooming plants with no flowers, I'm pretty sure I'm seeing results already, but perhaps it's just my imagination.

As for the orchids, I watered them in a large Tubtrug, leaving them to soak in about a half inch of the water until they soaked up all they needed.

Although they're just a bunch of leaves right now, they're healthy and I'm hoping they'll bloom again. Time will tell.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

I Hate August!

In a gardener's sense that is. Or maybe I should qualify it further and tell it like it is. I am a lazy gardener and that is why I hate August. Okay, it's out. I've said it. Which should be the first step toward doing something about it.

First, let's enumerate the reasons for hating the month whose sole job is to hint at the end of summer. I am the gardener who espouses excess in a garden bed.

Flashback: Sometime in April

Lilies emerging from the litter.
"Let no space go unplanted" is my motto for April. It's the month when there are so many bare patches to fill and the best garden centers have the freshest, perkiest plants--the ones you dream about all winter long.

Recovering from the bunny brunch.
Sure, there are plants coming up -- hopeful and innocent babes just grooving on the newly discovered warmth and sunshine. Anticipation is the attitude for April, and all of the things you vowed to avoid last season fly out the window with the first nudge of a warmish breeze. These are the issues that don't come calling until August, like not crowding the lilies, cutting back the Amsonia and Baptisia, or staking tall plants BEFORE they topple. Who thinks about these things when nothing in the garden is more than six inches high?

Any color other than brown, or dirty snow is welcome in April. It's the month your patience pays off, when tender stems and buds draw you out each day after donning rubber boots, warm gloves and the ugliest, warmest hat you own. On warm days you can skip the gloves in favor of a cup of coffee that can be carried in one hand while the other holds a stick to brush back the dried leaves so you can see what's going on.

The Present Reality: A Day in Early August

As glad as you are  in April that you planted spring bulbs, it's hard to believe that just four months later you can't imagine planting, or even ordering anything that would force you to deal with the exuberant chaos that is now your garden!

Would you want to wade into this mess?
Franklinia alatamaha with two flower buds!
The lilies are finished, but you have to leave the unsightly stems up to photosynthesize. The Baptisia you didn't cut back after blooming is threatening to smother everything within a 12-foot radius surrounding the spot where you planted the cute little thing four years ago. Even the single tomato has bit the dust due to a mysterious case of late summer suicide.

And did I mention the mosquitoes? Suffice it to say they're out there in droves from noon to 4 pm and in whatever-is-more-than-a-drove all the other times. What's a lazy gardener to do in August? I scavenged for a glimpse of hope on a day when the mosquitoes weren't too bad. And I found several glimmers!
Hibiscus 'Cherry Cheesecake' prepares for its close-up.

The most obvious because of its proximity to the deceased tomato plant is the Franklinia alatamaha, a rare tree that's been surviving in my garden for several years. Not thriving. Surviving. Which is about all I can ask considering it couldn't survive in its home environment.
Hibiscus 'Cherry Cheesecake' from last year.

I must be desperate. I'm even rooting for the hardy Hibiscus (or rose mallow) 'Cherry Cheesecake', a plant group I've never gotten excited about. In fact, I'm surprised it's still in my garden. Anyway, the foliage is relatively unmarred by Japanese beetles, and there is a bud about to unfurl its pink petals.

Last year, I got a photo of the only bloom that opened without beetle damage. It's a gorgeous flower with plenty of substance, and even after fading, doesn't detract as much as some others.

Cyclamen purpurascens
I had to scrounge a bit lower for another plant with pink petals. It was worth it. Cyclamen purpurascens is something you don't see at many garden centers. Or online plant emporiums for that matter. It's under four inches tall, so I've yet to experience the fragrance it purportedly exudes.

I've been practicing my Army crawl, but haven't mastered it to the point where I can scuttle and

inhale at the same time. The little plant is pretty to look at, though, and appears whenever it feels like it, usually right after I think I've lost it.

The pineapple lilies are still in varying stages of bloom (or not); the one that makes me glad I went outside today is Eucomis montana, which I purchased from Brent and Becky's Bulbs.
Eucomis montana is just beginning
Compared with all the other species and hybrids I'm growing, this pineapple lily has some serious substance!

Its leaves aren't necessarily stand-up, but the flowers are very waxy. I'm pretty sure this Eucomis will keep me entertained most of the month.

Although I really don't remember which poppies are blooming right now. I know they're corn, or Shirley poppies, which more accurately are Papaver rhoeas, an easy from seed species with several hybrids available.

Because of their lackadaisical appearance, it's likely they are volunteers from last year's sowing. But on a somewhat colorless August day, I'm not complaining.

In one respect, August in my garden is not unlike April. There is not enough color, and the temperatures can be uncomfortable, but there is always something waiting in the wings to provide my required quota of enchantment.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Spiky Plants for Late Summer

There once was a time I considered myself lucky to be able to grow Kniphofia in my garden. These plants bloomed once, their flowers large and heavy in substance. They looked great for about two weeks before falling back into their hulking presence, their crowns spreading up to three feet wide and just as high.

After settling in awhile, Kniphofia 'Echo Yello' makes
a strong statement in late July.
My first experience with the small varieties (under two feet tall with a one-foot spread) was with 'Elvira', another trial plant from Blooms of Bressingham. It bloomed its first year (2012) although sparingly, increasing its output each subsequent year (2013-14) until this year when its flowers dwindled due to a need for division or an extrication from overcrowding or perhaps both. Although not a rebloomer, 'Elvira' puts on a nice show for a couple of weeks in late June - early July.

And then came the reblooming varieties--slender in leaf, with smaller flowers and the ability to offer waves of blossoms throughout most of the summer.

This year I am trialing varieties sent this spring by Itsaul Plants. I won't know until next spring how hardy they are, but I can tell already that most of them satisfy the rebloom criteria.

They're planted in a variety of locations throughout my garden--sunny, partly sunny, and even overshadowed by taller plants. They bloomed a bit in early June, and now are ramping up into an even stronger show with little sign of stopping.

Kniphofias from left are 'Echo Duo' and 'Echo Mango' at right with Echinacea 'Butterfly Kisses' and 'Solar Flare',
(the taller coneflower) also bred by Itsaul Plants.
I still grow Itsaul Plants' first Echinacea varieties, Big Sky 'Sunrise' and Big Sky 'Harvest Moon'. And after having grown it in the same spot for the past four years with no sign of slowing down, Itsaul's more recent introduction called Echinacea 'Solar Flare' is still one of my favorites.

Eucomis 'Katie' shows of her substance and pink flower centers.
If I had to assign a theme to my garden this year, I guess it would have to be the season of the spikes. Tall and slender plants are in the minority by mid-summer; my response is to add some new ones each year. Continuing the theme from last year, I'm once again growing a plethora of pineapple lilies (Eucomis). I'm especially enamored with 'Katie', a white-flowered cutie with magenta centers. Its leaves are substantial and stand upright, a quality lacking in other Eucomis I've grown.

All but two varieties- 'Oakhurst' and 'Glow Sticks' - are planted in pots. I've been told of their ability to overwinter in my Zone, which is somewhere in the 6 range, but I planted 'Oakhurst' in a south facing bed right up next to a concrete block structure near the house.

Last year's Eucomis are, sadly, unidentified. I tried to keep them labeled, but somehow during the winter and after spring harvest it got away from me. So I'll be taking photos of the unknown flowers and trying to match them against those I've listed in my journal. I know the identity of those I purchased this year, including:
Last year's yet-to-be-identified Eucomis.

 2014
Eucomis pole-evansii
Eucomis ‘Toffee’ 2’-2 ½’ high
Eucomis ‘Twinkle Stars’
Eucomis vandermerwei
Eucomis autumnalis (3)

2015
 Eucomis ‘Katie’ (3)
Eucomis montana
Eucomis ‘Oakhurst’
Eucomis ‘Glow Sticks’
Eucomis 'Glow Sticks' looks great even before blooming.


I believe these are Eucomis autumnalis from 2014 along with Phormium 'Candy Stripe' and Amaranth 'Molten Fire'.