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Monthly Archives: November 2016

Vegetable Garden in season autumn

Autumn is here. What could be better than starting a fall vegetable garden?

The leaves are just starting to turn colors, the heat has finally started letting up, and many plants and bugs are starting to die down (especially those pesky weeds pests). The grills are being fired up even more now that there’s a slight, comfortable chill in the air, and people are starting to come out of their air conditioned homes in the cooler evenings to enjoy the weather.

In some growing zones, September is too late to start any kind of planting other than what winters over. But, in zones 5 and up, now is the perfect time to start those cool-weather plants that grow quickly.

Read on for a list of the best vegetables to get growing in a fall garden and a few tips and tricks to help get the most out of your plants.

Which Plants Are Good for Fall Gardening?

Leafy greens are perfect for a fall garden. They are already quick-growing plants, but they grow even better in the cooler weather that comes with the autumn season. All of these listed can be directly sown in the soil. One really good thing about them is they grow well in containers so you can bring them in if it does get too cold. You can also cut the outer leaves on the plants and they will grow more to replace them. This is advisable for the warmer days to prevent bolting.

Baby spinach takes as little as 4-6 weeks to be ready. Mature leaves are usually ready between 6-8 weeks. Loose leaf lettuce leaves are usually ready to cut in 30 days or so. Baby kale and mustard greens can be harvested in around 25 days, and the more mature leaves are usually ready in 50-65 days.

Swiss chard is harvestable as early as 30-35 days with baby leaves being ready sooner. They can handle frost much better than other leafy greens, and some varieties can even winter over and grow back for several years, especially when there is no hard freeze.

Yellow squash and zucchini usually have edibles in as little as 50 days, especially if they receive plenty of water and sun. They might not get as big as when planted in the spring, but they have more flavor when eaten small. These little beauties cannot handle frost though, so if you want to keep them growing, you might want to use row covers on colder nights.

Broccoli takes about 45-60 days to mature, depending on the variety, and are perfect for the cooler weather. They can actually handle some frost and keep going. It is better to have started seeds a couple of weeks prior to summer ending, but that shouldn’t stop you from planting now. They will still grow, but they may not be as large as summer pickings.

Spring radishes are ready in 20-25 days. They are one of the fastest growing vegetable there is. Directly sow their seeds into the ground. In two and a half weeks, start pushing on the soil and see if there is a bulb.

Carrots are great cold weather vegetables. Baby carrot varieties can be harvested after about 30-35 days while other varieties take up to 50 or more. Fall carrots tend to be sweeter, possibly due to the already warm soil versus in the spring when the soil is cold. They can grow throughout the winter, just mulch to protect them from frost.

More Tips and Tricks

Most of these plants do not handle droughts well. If your area is experiencing a dry season, make sure to keep the plants watered. A soaker hose or sprinkler is fine, but you can also just water them manually if needed. It is always best to water in the mornings or early afternoons.

Check with your local forecast and other sources such as the Almanac to learn what your first expected frost date is. Make sure to plant far enough ahead of that date that your plants will be ready for harvest beforehand. In many cases, if they are not ready, you can cover them overnight to protect them from frost.

Mulch your plants. Good mulch can help protect plants from freezing a little longer. Be wary though, as not all of the bugs have gone away. Slugs and other pests may use the mulch to hide under during the day. Set out beer traps or iron phosphate baits to protect your plants.

There are many other plants that can be planted in a fall garden; it all depends on your growing zones and the dates of first frosts. The later your first frost, the more options you have available. These two websites can help you check your frost dates: USDA Plant Hardiness Zones and The Old Farmer’s Almanac. Both sites have some great information on seasonal growing, when to grow, how to grow, where to grow.

Grow of Fleabanes

The genus Erigeron, commonly called fleabanes, is quite large. Appearing much like asters, they bloom earlier in the season, helping to extend the ‘daisy’ season. They are also ideal for the butterfly garden. If you are not already growing some, hopefully this article will entice you to start!

Fleabanes…where does one start to describe this vast group of plants? For the moment, there are well over 200 species of Erigeron, many of them native to North America. I say ‘for the moment’ as plant taxonomists have been very busy lately reclassifying the North American Asteraceae and no doubt, more than a few Erigeron may end up on the chopping block! As an example, I don’t know if there are even any true Asters left in North America. But I digress. Fleabanes on the whole, are relatively small-stature plants that appear very similar to asters, however, they mostly bloom early in the season while most asters are late summer to fall-bloomers. The flowers are most commonly white, pink or purple shaded but rarely, may be yellow. They include annual, biennial and perennial species. Some can be troublesome weeds while others have very diminutive, non-showy blossoms. But there are plenty of attractive, garden-worthy species.

Most fleabane are rather undemanding plants. Full sun and well-drained soil are their main requirements. Many exhibit reasonable drought-tolerance. The taller types are ideal for the front of the border (even the tall ones are mostly under 90 cm height). Most are under 30 cm making them ideal for rock gardens. They are generally easy from seed not requiring any special treatment. Many are also easily divided. The taller cultivars provide wonderful, long-lasting cut-flowers and all the fleabanes are very attractive to bees and butterflies. Depending on the species, they may be grown from zone 9 to zone 2.

Two standard border fleabane hybrids are ‘Azure Fairy’ and ‘Pink Jewel’

There are way too many fleabanes to describe individually so I will touch upon the most popular types. Perhaps the most well-known are the border types that originate mostly from E. speciosus, E. glaucus and E. peregrinus, all species native to western North America. There are numerous named cultivars, ranging in height from 45 to 75 cm (60 cm being the most common height). Colours vary from white, through shades of pink, lavender and violet to nearly true-blue and red. Blooms may be single, semi-double of fully double. In themselves, the wild ancestral species are as equally garden-worthy as their modern-day offspring. They all bloom mid-summer. Growing 30-50 cm is another western fleabane called E. glabellus. It may be used along the front of the border as well, but can also be used in a large rock garden setting.

E. glabellus and E. speciosus

The other more popular fleabanes are small alpine types best suited for rock gardens. One of the most widespread species in North America is E. compositus, a tufted species with single white flowers in late spring-early summer. Similar is E. pinnatisectus, with finely cut foliage but lavender blossoms. Another choice alpine species is E. leiomerus which forms a small mat with 10 cm stems topped with good-sized lavender-blue flowers. Similar is E. simplex, another small species with purple-blue flowers. The only native fleabane in my area is a delicate species called E. hyssopifolius. This one forms a tufted mound with somewhat trailing stems ending in white flowers. For gardeners in the western U.S. and Canada, there are several other desirable alpine fleabanes to choose from.

E. compositus, E. pinnasectus and E. hyssopifolius

There are only a handful of yellow-flowered fleabanes and most of these have proven to be challenging to grow outside their native areas. One notable exception is E. aureus, a delightful tufted species with numerous 10-15 stems topped with one-inch daisies from late spring through early summer. In cool summer regions like my home (Newfoundland, Canada) this fleabane blooms from late May through September!

E. aureus and E. karvinskianus

A very popular trailing species is E. karvinskianus, a species native to Mexico. This plant is often sold as a bedding annual for trailing over rock walls or hanging baskets. A profusion of white or pink-tinted blooms are produced for months on end. This one is only hardy to zone 7 so is only suitable as a perennial in mild climates. This species can become a little weedy in mild regions and is now naturalized throughout southern Europe, New Zealand and Australia.

As you can see, the more showy members of the genus Erigeron are delightful plants worthy of a place in any garden.

Boxwood

Boxwood has a use in almost any garden. It can be sheared into neat geometic shapes for a formal garden setting, or left to grow into it’s natural shape for a more casual look. As far as height, you will find anything from 2′ to 15′. There are cultivars with variegated foliage for a different look. It is as well suited for a hedge as it is for a specimen planting. Come with me as I take a closer look at this very popular shrub.

Just a bit of background first. Boxwood, or Buxus is a genus of about 70 species. They are native to parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, Madagascar, South and Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. Only the European and some Asian species are frost-tolerant; the remainder are tropical and sub-tropical. These shrubs are slow-growing and evergreen.

I purchased a group of Buxus ‘Green Velvet’ to plant spaced around my pool fence. My requirements were that it be hardy in my zone (6a) and not over 2′ or so high. This is what my landscaper recommended. The photo at the left is one as it was delivered from the nursery. I did some reading after they were planted, in PlantFiles here at Dave’s Garden and on the web.
This is a hybrid boxwood, Buxus sempervirens x B. microphylla var. koreana, a cross between B. sempervirens, or American boxwood and B. microphylla var. koreana, Littleleaf Korean boxwood. What I found is that it is hardy to zone 5a. I am in 6a, so this sounded good until I read further. In USDA Zones 5 and 6, this boxwood is best sited in a sheltered location which protects it in winter from strong winds and full sun. In my yard it is planted in full sun with no protection from strong winds (and, believe me, we get strong winds). The listed size is 3′ by 3’… not too bad. I have no intention of shearing these shrubs into ‘bowling balls,’ but trimming enough to keep them in bounds and keep the center open so light can get to the inside branches is routine maintenance that I can manage. At right, you can see 3 of the 9 plants I purchased in their permanent homes. This was their first winter in my garden. I don’t find the ‘bronzing’ of the leaves (next photo) unattractive, but it seems it isn’t good for the plant. It means that the leaves have gotten dessicated (dried out) from the harsh winter winds. The last photo is one of my shrubs beginning to recover from the winter. At this point I’m not going to replace them, but I may try spraying them with an anti-dessicant, such as Wilt-Pruf, next fall. I am pleased that all 9 of them made it through the winter.

In truth, this was not my introduction to boxwood. There was one cone-shaped shrub in my original landscaping that was simply labelled ‘boxwood’ on the plan. It never occurred to me to ask for more details. Unfortunately, it declined rather quickly and this soured me on boxwood in general for a while. That is until I realized that I had voles in my front garden and it was highly likely that these rodents had eaten the roots of the boxwood in question. I was blaming the flora when it should have been the fauna. I’ve learned quite a bit since then and I have Dave’s Garden to thank for most of it. The point to all of this personal interaction with boxwoods is that you need to know the plant, it’s proposed use and the location where you intend to plant it before you buy it. Now let’s look at some others.

Boxwood is an excellent hedge shrub. It takes very well to pruning. Pictured at left is a hedge of Harland boxwood (Buxus harlandii). It grows to 4′ to 6′ in height and is hardy from zone 6a to 8b. In mid-to-late spring there are small cream or light yellow blossoms which are fragrant, but have no petals. Most boxwoods have similar flowers. It will take some shade and prefers slightly acidic soil. Harland is also more resistant to pests than most other boxwoods.

Green Mountain boxwood (Buxus microphylla var. koreana x B. sempervirens ‘Green Mountain’), seen at right, is an upright, pyramidal form, with foliage very much like ‘Green Velvet’ discussed earlier. It can grow from 3′ to 5′ high and is easily maintained in the pyramid shape or can be used in a hedge. Coming out of Sheridan Nursery in Canada, it is known for it’s superior hardiness, zones 4 through 8. It is less likely to yellow in the winter than other boxwoods and will tolerate wind and air pollution.[2]
Another excellent use of boxwood is in privacy screens. A nice example is in the photo at left. American boxwood ‘Green Tower’ (B. sempervirens) is well suited for this task. You can expect it to reach a height of 8′ to 10′ by about 2′ wide. (Note: the plants at the right of the photo were purchased about 6 months before those at the left.) ‘Green Tower’ will also make a lovely specimen planting, perhaps on both sides of an entryway, as it will keep it’s upright, narrow shape without pruning. It is hardy in zones 5a to 9b, does best in full sun and a limestone soil with a PH of 6 or higher.
If you are fond of variegated foliage, you may like American boxwood ‘Variegata’ (B. sempervirens), pictured at right. It is hardy from zone 6a to 8b and can get as tall as 6′, although average would be more like 4′ to 5′. A more compact variegated cultivar is ‘Elegantissima’, at 2′ to 3′ in height.

Here’s an interesting one, Rosemary-leaf boxwood (B. sempervirens ‘Rosmarinifolia’, at far left). If you saw it, you might not recognize it as a boxwood because of the narrow leaf. Other than that, the plant has the same properties as the other boxwoods. It is 4′ to 6′ tall and hardy zones 6 through 8. And at near left, thinking out of the box (forgive me, I had to get that awful pun in here somewhere), is the Giant Box Tree (Buxus balearica). It is only hardy in zones 8a through 9b and will reach the astronomical height of 15′. It takes it’s name from it’s home in the Balearic Islands of Southwestern Spain. The Mediterranean background explains the lack of hardiness.

Boxwood are often used for garden topiary, which is a shrub trimmed into a decorative shape. Some cultivars lend themselves to particular shapes more than others. At Langley Boxwood Nursery in Hampshire, UK, Buxus sempervirens is commonly used for all types of topiary. B. ‘Rotundifolia’ (as seen in the opening thumbnail) is suitable for large ball shapes and standards (a ball at the top of a trunk).[3] The natural shapes of the shrubs are used to suggest the appropriate topiary. ‘Green Tower’ is used for obelisks, cones and related shapes. Topiary are also sheared into spirals, double ball standards and fanciful animals. There are very formal gardens where the boxwood hedges are used for fancy knots, mazes, and other intricate designs. A site you might like to visit if you are interested in boxwood topiary and sculpture is Boxwood Gardens. Also, there is an excellent article at About.com on How to Plant Boxwood Hedges if you should be interested in planting one of your own.

Just a couple of other notes about boxwood in case they have grabbed your interest. Good news… deer will only eat them in a very harsh winter when there is no other food available. All boxwood are shallow rooted. You must take care not to cultivate too closely around them. They should be mulched with 2-3″ of organic mulch to keep the roots cool and prevent them from drying out. The best defense against disease is to keep the plant pruned so that light can reach the inner branches, be sure it is planted in a well-drained area with plenty of organic matter and that it is properly fertilized (too much can be as harmful as too little). For additional information on specific cutivars, check out PlantFiles, the huge plant database here at Dave’s Garden.

This is a Mugo Pines ?

Mugo pines are among the most popular dwarf conifers for growing in both cold and milder climates. This article will introduce you to the variety that exists in this plant and the proper long-time care so your plants will stay compact and healthy.

Most gardeners are familiar with mugo pines. They are certainly among the top-selling pines in the landscape industry. Their overall small size makes them useful for smaller garden, which are becoming the norm these days. They are used as foundation plants next to homes and buildings, as evergreens for the rock garden, as landscape shrubs for slopes and roadside medians and the list goes on. Few conifers are as versatile as mugo pine. Carefree, they only ask for full sun and a well-drained soil. They do not seem fussy about soil pH although if too alkaline, the plants may go a little yellow. They can tolerate windy sites and salt spray, making them ideal for coastal gardens. They also exhibit considerable drought tolerance. Hardiness is not a problem; they can be grown in zones 2 to 8. Generally they do not require extra fertilizing but if your plants seem a bit too slow (slow is the norm however) you can add an evergreen fertilizer in spring just as the buds start to grow.

Mugo pine (Pinus mugo) also go by the name mountain pine, Swiss mountain pine and dwarf mountain pine. Some books spell the name ‘mugho’ but botanically, there is no ‘h’ in the name. This pine, as the name suggests, come from high mountains, in this case, the mountains of Europe. These include the Alps, Apennines, Pyrenees, Balkans and Tatras. In the wild, they extend into the subalpine and even alpine zones. Although grown as a dwarf, in their native haunts, they can reach 6 m (20 feet) which is small for a pine but certainly too large for a small city lot. Not to worry, if properly tended to as a young plant you can maintain them as a small-sized conifer for years.

Mugo pines when they have not been pruned on an annual basis.

Pruning should be done on an annual basis to maintain tight, compact plants. Some very dwarf selections require no pruning, but most do benefit. Pruning is simple due to the unique way pines grow. The new growth of pines elongate first (often called a candle) then produce their needles after the new stems have almost reached their full length. To prune any pine (but especially mugo) wait until the new growth has fully extended but the new needles are only about 1/4 to ½ of their mature length. At this stage, cut back the current season’s new growth by half to three-fourths, depending on how severe you want to be. This early pruning will allow the plants to produce a cluster of growth buds at the cut point, resulting in denser growth of branches the next year. If you wait too late to prune, only one bud might form at the cut point, which will not really help thicken up the plant in subsequent years. Never prune back into 2-year-old wood or older, as the plants will not generate any new buds at the cut point.

The main pest of mugo pines are pine sawfly and pine shoot tip moth. Both attack the current seasons growth and can be devastating. Watch plants carefully for the first signs of the larvae and spray the plants with insecticidal soap (on a cloudy day); other appropriate insecticides or even hand remove them. Diplodia tip blight can also occur resulting in the browning and death of the current seasons growth. Prune out the affected parts and burn or dispose of them in the garbage.

‘Alpenglow’ maintains a tight compact, somewhat flat-topped habit even without annual pruning

Most of the ‘standard’ mugo pines sold in the nursery industry are essentially the wild type so annual pruning is a must. The so-called ‘dwarf mugo pine’ in the trade may also be just the standard species but if lucky, the tag will say Pinus mugo ‘Mops’, Pinus mugo var. pumilio or Pinus mugo var. mughus. If so, these selections will stay quite compact even without annual pruning. There are at least 50 named selections of mugo pine which can vary in ultimate size and overall shape. Rarely, some are upright and pyramidal like a typical conifer, albeit, compact in size. ‘Big Tuna’, ‘Aurea Fastigiata’, ‘Gallica’, ‘Dolly’s Choice’ and ‘Rigi’ are such selections. Others are completely prostrate and flat like ‘Corley’s Mat’, ‘Slavinii’ and ‘Spaan’s Pygmy’. With a more rounded habit are ‘Allen’, ‘Kobold’, ‘Mops’, ‘Ophir’ and ‘Sherwood Compact’. Compact, flat-topped forms include ‘Alpenglow’, ‘Flat Top’, ‘Kissen’ and ‘Sherwood Dwarf’. The smallest selections include ‘Humpy’, ‘March’, ‘Mitsch Mini’, ‘Paul’s Dwarf’, ‘Valley Cushion’ and ‘Teeny’. These latter ones are ideal for bonsai or alpine troughs.

Some of the smaller selections include ‘Mitsch Mini’, ‘Sherwood Compact’, ‘Valley Cushion’ and ‘Teeny’.

There are no true blue mugo pines but those with distinct blue tint include ‘Blue Form’, ‘Rock Island Compact’ and ‘Slavinii’. There are several yellow forms. Most of these are greenish in summer, turning yellow in winter and include ‘Aurea’, ‘Aurea Fastigiata’, ‘Ophir’, ‘Variegatum Aureum’ and ‘Winter Gold’. For yellow spring growth that turns green in summer try ‘Gold Spire’. Finally there is ‘Yellowpoint’ whose needles are yellow-tipped all year.

‘Rock Island Compact’ is reasonably blue in colour while ‘Wintergold’ glows through the dreary winter months.

There are certainly many other selections not mentioned that are equally attractive and worth investigating, but these few listed above will be at least a starting point in your adventures with mugo pines!