Category Archives: Flowers

So Much Planting to Do!

When I looked at the pile of fall bulbs and garlic waiting to be planted, I had to wonder what I was thinking when I ordered it all.

This year I decided to plant a little more garlic, mostly because I wanted to try a couple of new varieties.  I’ve been planting garlic the last few years and love the different varieties. No matter what you grow, it’s always better than the store bought kind.

Then there’s the bulbs I ordered. I hadn’t planted many new bulbs in a long while and it was starting to show in my gardens. I became inspired last year to add some alliums and daffodils, both at home at at the cabin in WI.

It was so pretty this spring, I decided to add more this fall and Groupon obliged by offering some great deals back in August. I’ve actually had pretty good luck with bulbs from Groupon, but I can’t vouch for all their garden offerings. If you have a special plant, bulbs or seeds in mind, I would still go to my tried and true plant and seed companies.

As it happens sometimes when I order on-line, I lose track of what I bought and then the boxes start to arrive. And then more come… Here’s just some of the hundreds of bulbs that came!

For some people that’s not an issue, but planting bulbs isn’t my favorite thing to do and I’m a terrible procrastinator.

After sitting in the house for a couple of weeks (or maybe a few) while it was weirdly hot for September, I finally got all the garlic in the ground last week. This year I planted two varieties that grew well for me before; Music, a hardneck porcelain type, and Susanville, softneck artichoke type. I also planted two new hardneck varieties, a rocambole Spanish Roja and a purple stripe Duganski, all from Territorial Seeds.

The garlic cloves are in their holes ready to be covered up for the winter and that’s my leeks looking awesome in the background!

I was careful this year to mark every row. I have a bad habit of planting and forgetting. This way if the garlic doesn’t come up, I know something should have been in that row, plus I’ll know what I’ve harvested. I often have to guess.

While I was at it, I got the french shallots planted as well. They’re one of my favorites to cook with!  Here they are all ready to be covered with about an inch of soil. My Sloggers garden clogs are perfect for this kind of muddy work.

Once that was done, the bulbs started calling my name to get them in the ground. I do love my bulb digger for planting bulbs in our hard clay soil. Using it speeds things up, ensures that I’ve dug my holes deep enough and saves my back. Still need to get the smaller bulbs in and for those I’ll use a trowel or dibber (I just ordered this one, so I’ll let you know if I like it).

Did you add any bulbs for spring this year?

 

Lime in the Planter?

I went out to water the front planters the other day and there was dirt and plants all over the front stoop, and a big hole dug in the the tall planter.

Then I saw what looked like a lime in the center of the planter. Now maybe that wouldn’t be so weird, except this is Chicago and limes don’t grow here.

So what was going on?

Cutting it open showed me it wasn’t a lime, butt instead a black walnut. Hmm… So I changed my question to why was there a black walnut in the planter on my front stoop. My best guess is a very creative squirrel. All over my yard I have signs of squirrel activity as they get ready for winter.

Every fall they seem to get very active burying their winter food in my grass and gardens. I don’t really mind, it’s kind of like free aerating. As long as they stay away from my bird feeders!

But, I still don’t understand the black walnut. The closest black walnut tree is over as block away, and after carrying it so far why put its such a difficult spot? But then there’s a lot about squirrel behavior that seems puzzling. Add this to the list 🙂

 

First Too Much Water, Now Not Nearly Enough

First we had an unusually wet spring, and now we’re in a drought situation here in Chicago and many other locations. What does that mean going into the winter? Nothing good, that’s for sure. So what to do? Keep watering each week as long as possible until your plants go dormant.

Ideally, all trees, shrubs and perennials should be getting about an inch a week in order to go into the winter healthy and strong.  Any new transplants, like this Star Magnolia and Bottle-brush Buckeye, should be especially cared for during a time of drought.

Evergreens, like boxwoods, yews and arborvitae, despite their lack of noticeable stress under drought can be especially susceptible to winter kill. I have a row of yews along the north side of the house that don’t always get rain to fall on them.

I tend to periodically “dump” water down the center of each plant from a watering can to ensure their root balls get enough water. Seems faster and more consistent than standing with a hose.

 

Plants susceptible to disease are also another group of plants to be sure to tend to. Our Purple Ash, while seemingly healthy because we’ve been treating it for Emerald Ash Borer, is a good example of a tree to keep a careful watch on.

Others in my yard that are less than healthy and need more watching during drought periods are Red twig dogwoods that have twig blight, and a River Birch that is prone to chlorosis.

 

 

How best to water? Check the soil for moisture by seeing if a trowel or finger can get into the soil. Very dry soil will compact and resist penetration. This compacted soil reduces the ability of the water gathering tree roots near the surface to absorb moisture. Light, frequent watering should be avoided, instead water the trees and shrubs within the drip line (distance of the trunk to the ends of the branches) about once a week with 1-2 inches of water. It’s good to have a rain gauge or check out Weather Underground to find a weather station nearby to know really how much precipition actually falls in your yard.  Helps decide if you need to water our not. Many times I find rain is in the area, but maybe not at my house, or it’s less than I think it is.

I sometimes will set out a container to see just how much water I’ve sprinkled. I also set a timer so I don’t forget and flood the area! Today all I could find was a dog dish 🙂

 

 

What’s my favorite sprinkler? This Dramm ColorStorm Turret Sprinkler. I often sprinkle only in one direction, like against the house or fence, and these are easy to adjust to water only what I need and built to last. If I’m doing a bigger patch, I’ll get out my Dramm ColorStorm Oscillating Sprinkler.

 

So, time to go out and water!

(Are you in a drought? check this map from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to see where your area stands)

 

 

Cheerful and Bright Zinnia Bed

Last year, my friend Susan described to me how she grows a beautiful hedgerow of zinnias every year by collecting the seed heads in the fall (Fall Seed Gathering Means Beautiful Summer Zinnias).

I thought I’d give it a try this spring, so I collected all the zinnia heads from my garden last fall.

I left them in a bag over the winter on the porch and this spring crumbled up the dry seed heads to release all the seeds. No need to separate the seeds from the rest of the smaller plant material.

This spring, when the soil temperature was warm enough (usually not until after Mother’s Day here at my zone 5 home) I planted the overwintered seeds in a bare spot in the front garden that just needed some color. Just sprinkle out the seed mixture in thick rows or mat. Zinnias are definitely picky about temperature, so don’t start too early. (The dug-up plant on the left? A random daylily that was really out of place after a bunch of landscaping changes. It got replanted up at the WI cabin.)

Then I waited. I was surprised at how fast the seeds germinated, and by early July I had a beautiful, welcoming splash of color.

They’ve been blooming beautifully all summer, and the Durango Outback marigolds (Johnny’s Seeds) and Annabelle hydrangeas are perfect companions. I think the marigolds will be perfect candidates to try this seeding method with next spring.

Durango Outback Marigold

I did try this seeding method this year with snapdragons. They germinated and grew really nicely, but for some reason haven’t flowered very well.

Maybe because they’re in a planter, or maybe it needed more fertilizer, or the seeds didn’t overwinter properly? Funny thing though, they seem to have grown just great in our fire pit where I must have tossed some “waste”.

I will be definitely be collecting all the seeds heads again this fall!

 

Purple Sensation Allium

Last year, a fellow blogger (Jason at gardeninacity) wrote a post about his beautiful spring alliums. I have to admit, I was jealous of those amazing flowers in his garden. I’ve grown edible chives (Allium schoenoprasum) for years, but they are nothing compared to these other garden alliums.

Alliums like Purple Sensation, with its the 4-5″ diameter purple globes rising on sturdy 24″ to 30″ high stems, would certainly add drama to any garden! For some reason I thought they’d be hard to grow, but it couldn’t have been easier.

With prefect timing, Groupon had a special last fall on Purple Sensation Alliums that seemed like a really good deal. Groupon is not normally my go to place for gardening plants, but I thought buying bulbs from them was pretty safe.

I planted them around the yard last fall using my lightly used, but handy bulb planter.  I am not a fan of bulb planting, but this step planter really made it easy. Allium bulbs can only be planted in the fall and at a depth of about 6″.  As a bonus, they are rabbit and deer resistant.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This spring some new, very large plants started sprouting around my yard. I had forgotten exactly where they were planted, so it was such a surprise when they began coming up.

Then these beautiful huge purple puffballs started to emerge.

All around the yard these purple globes emerged.

I hope they spread because they are just too fun to have in my yard. And because they are deer resistant, I’m going to add them to my cabin garden as well!

Allium bulbs aren’t always easy to find in your local garden center.  If you can’t find them, they can be found online in the fall at places like Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, White Flower Farm, Bluestone Perennials, and apparently Groupon.

 

 

Checking on the Seedlings

Why didn’t I buy grow lights before?? My seedlings have always been “fine”, but after seeing my mom’s lush healthy seedlings under her grow lights, and with a little nudge from my husband I decided to take the plunge. I am so glad I did!

I bought two 2 ft Hydrofarm T5 Grow Light Systems.

I decided against the single 4 ft light so I would have more flexibility. They came safely packed and were easy to assemble. I did have a little trouble with placement since my table is a 4 ft one and each lamp is actually 26 inches. Got it figured out with the help of a tray table.

I started the peppers back in March and then planted the rest of the seeds at the right time based on my last frost date.

I usually add a couple of weeks to the last frost date to be on the safe side, so I’m aiming to plant the week after Mother’s Day. I keep track of what I’m doing on these handy Botanical Interests Month-to Month planner sheets.

I’m growing Cosmos and Marigolds in my APS system trays, and this year all my vegetables in Botanical Interests small 1 1/2 in Recycled Paper pots and larger 3 inch Recycled Paper Pots.

I’ve always ended up with root bound squash and cucumbers in the smaller APS trays and they are really tenuous when transplanting, so I decided to grow them in the 3 inch pots this year. As a bonus, using these Botanical Interests Paper Pots they can go right into the ground when ready–just tear off the bottom strip and all set to go. The paper will just decompose and the roots aren’t disturbed when transplanting.

So far I’m really happy with the BI paper pots.  Plants have grown great and watering has been easy, even when I’ve been gone on vacations. I was a little worried about that, since I had always used self watering plant trays.

What I ended up doing while I was away was to place the paper pots in a baking pan and fill the tray up with water. The plants just soaked up what they needed. I did figure out I needed to fill the tray the day before, and again right before leaving since the soil soaked up so much water right away. That has seemed to work well for 4-5 day trips. I don’t keep them this damp too long so I don’t encourage mold/fungus to grow that could damage the seedlings. (What’s my favorite indoor watering can? The Oxo 3 liter Indoor Pour and Store)

The squash is healthier than I’ve ever grown!

Marigolds!

Cosmos!

Sunflowers are about 8 inches tall!

The kohlrabi, basil and coleus is getting there and maybe should have been started earlier.  This was a couple of weeks ago and they’ve since been thinned to one plant per pot. Best to thin by cutting the unwanted plants rather than pulling them out. Pulling one can pull them all out.

Can you tell the difference between the purple and white kohlrabi?

Can’t wait for the weather to get warm enough to think about planting. We keep having frost warnings so this year things are going to be a little delayed. In the meantime, this weekend I’ll put up the mini greenhouse and begin transitioning them to the outdoors (also known as hardening off). Seedlings have to be gently introduced to the outdoors or it’ll be too much of a shock for them.

How’s your seed growing going?  Has it been a tough year for you?

 

Nature Walk on Earth Day

It was a beautiful day for a walk, so I headed out to the Morton Arboretum to walk and celebrate Earth Day.  Spring flowers were in abundance!

Here’s what I saw:

White Trout Lily (Erythronium albidum)
Immature plants produce a single leaf and no flower, while mature plants produce a pair of leaves and a single flower. Colonies often have far more leaves than flowers.

Prairie Trillium (Trillium recurvatum)

This poisonous plant never really “opens” like other trilliums. The drooping sepals and stalked leaves are clues that you have this trillium and not the very similar Toad Shade.

Virginia Springbeauty (Claytonia virginica)

This small flower is a sure sign that spring has arrived! You’ll find them open on warm sunny days and closed during cloudy weather and at night. These are stunning as a sweeping sea of pink in the forest.

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)

Wild geraniums are easily identified by their large palmately lobed leaves and their beak-like seed capsules that point upwards.

Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)

This fragrant flower is easy to spot and identify by its toothed leaf pattern. By the end of spring, both the flowers and foliage will disappear until next year.

Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia)

While I often find these as weeds in my yard, their deep purple flowers are a cheerful find amidst all the decaying fall leaves.

Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)

This escaped ornamental plant, which can be mistaken for Wild Leeks (Spring Leeks (aka Ramps), will soon show it’s distinct white flowers.  Unlike leeks, all parts of this plant are highly toxic.  If it doesn’t smell like onions or garlic, don’t eat it!

After my hike in the spring woods, I stopped by my local Wild Birds Unlimited store to stock up on sunflower seeds and suet for the birds and to buy a bat house to encourage bats to our place in Wisconsin. The staff at WBU is a great source of info for what’s going on in your local bird world, and I find the best birding supplies there. Today, I heard the hummingbirds are back already so time to get the feeders out (Hummingbird Nectar)!

Then as a last fun nature day stop, I went by a local nursery to buy some Summer Beauty Allium (Allium tanguticum).  I have a hot, dry sunny spot where oddly nothing seems too happy to grow.  I’ve been seeing these in similar locations in public gardens so I’ll give them a try. They produce a pretty pom-pom flower display mid-summer, are sterile so aren’t invasive, are pollinator favorites, and rabbits stay away from them.  All around sounds pretty good to me.

Did you get out and enjoy this spring day!

 

 

Spring Colors Are Everywhere!

Spring in Chicago has been on and off again the last couple of months. We were teased with early warm weather and everything started popping out, but then winter seemed to come back and bring everything to a halt. But now, everything has just exploded in color.

Of all the wonderful spring blooms, my favorite is the daffodil.

After 20 years, last fall I added more daffodil bulbs to the ever dwindling display and I was not disappointed at my efforts.

   

We have two new magnolias that have done really well this year.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me they were reversed when planted last spring. I’ll have to have them replanted once they finish blooming and we’ll be back to square one with needing to baby them all summer again 🙁

The Jane Magnolia (Magnolia x ‘Jane) is one of the “Little Girl” Magnolias. It’s considered a late blooming magnolia and its blooms are a spectacular deep pink.

The other magnolia we planted is a Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’) which has large, fragrant, white double flowers. 

Even the bumblebees enjoyed this spring day on the rhododendron!

I love this time of year. Everything is so fresh, green and bright!

PS Photo credit goes to my husband Steve!

 

What Am I Growing-2017

It’s always fun to spend time in January and February going through all the seed and garden catalogs to see what I am going to grow this year.

It’s also during that time, I wish I had bigger gardens and more sun to really plant huge vegetable and flower gardens. But I have what I have, so I’m limited in what I can plant and can honestly barely take care of that. After many years of experimenting, I’ve settled into growing particular vegetables we like best, but often changing up the varieties, and then throwing in a few new things for fun.

Now’s the time to get started with any indoor sowing that needs to be done to give plants a head start in my northern climate. As in prior years, I’ve printed out my very handy planting guides from Botanical Interests and noted the sowing dates by counting the weeks backwards from my average last frost date.

If you don’t know your average last frost date, you can find it easily on Dave’s Garden.

Like usual, I’ll get my tomatoes and sweet peppers from a local nursery (shout out to Vern Goers Greenhouse) who grows multiple varieties of both. Pretty much any variety I want I can get from them, and they’ll be stronger and healthier than anything I’d grow.

So what am I growing this year? I usually get my seeds from Botanical Interests and Burpee, depending on who has my favorite varieties. This year, I have also ordered some seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds since I was already ordering leek plant sets and seed potatoes from them.

Inside, I will be starting:

Vegetables that I will starting outdoors directly:

I’m also trying something new this year, seed tapes. Seed tapes are supposed to make it easier to plant small seeds and reduce the need for thinning. It’s biodegradable and can be cut to fit your space. Looks handy! I’m going to try it for spinach and radishes this year.

Since we don’t have any spring parties scheduled, I’m going to grow more of my own annuals from seed.   As always, I’m growing marigolds and plenty of my new favorite cosmos.

I’ve described how I start seeds using the Gardener’s Supply Company APS System (which has been replaced by the GrowEase System) in “Time to Sow Seeds Indoors“. This year I’m also adding some new recycled paper pots from Botanical Interests which look perfect for the plants that don’t like to transplant so well.

Plants can be grown right from seed and when time to transplant, the bottom tears off and the remaining pot and plant go right in the ground.  Sounds great for my cucumbers and squashes.

I’m also finally investing in a grow light. I tend to grow very leggy seedlings that do ok, but a grow light is going to help the seedlings grow faster, healthier and better for transplanting. My mom Peggy bought the Hydrofarm JumpStart JSV2 2-Foot T5 Grow Light System a couple of years ago and had great luck with it. Her plants looked great when I was visiting last week, so I just ordered the same light set. Looking forward to not having a leggy, tangled mess of plants 🙂

 

 

Creeping Thyme Update

A couple of years ago I wrote a post, Creeping Thyme Problems“, about my patch of creeping thyme that was totally a disaster. This post has also become one of my most popular, so I must not be alone in having ugly creeping thyme!

Creeping Thyme

After some scary, severe winter pruning, it came in the next spring healthy and lush.

Creeping Thyme

A couple years later, I’ve pruned it a bit more each year to keep it fresh and it’s still looking great. Except for the grass that has crept in.

If you’ve tried to get the grass out of ground cover mid-summer, it’s a thankless job.  I tried to bribe the kids, but to no avail.

While walking around the yard checking everything out a few days ago, I noticed that the grass was greening up and was easy to spot and pull out while the creeping thyme was still dormant.

Definitely easier than pulling it out mid-summer when everything is green and thick. You need to get right down to the grass roots, otherwise you’ve just “cut” the grass and it’ll come right back. Since the thyme is dormant, it’s easy to find the roots and not have to dig around and disturb everything.

This is a new job I’m adding to my spring garden prep list that will hopefully save me weeding time in the heat of the summer. It’s also a useful time to pull out the creeping charlie that is starting to green up and “creep’ its way around the garden.

Looking forward to thick lush creeping thyme that smells great when I walk on it this summer!