Saturday, September 29, 2007

Soil Test

I took my first soil tests this year. The soil test packets can be picked up at a county extension office or some local nurseries. Information on how to obtain a soil test in Lehigh and Northampton Counties is available at

Taking a soil test takes a little time and effort but it was much easier than I imagined. Am I absolutely sure I’m getting a perfect sample? – not really. But I think it’s adequate. I’ll try to describe what I did for a small rose bed – 3’ x 12’.

The test packet contains a sealable plastic test bag, a soil test information form and a lab-addressed mail envelope. Each piece of the kit has the same assigned number.

It is recommended to take 12 to 15 soil sample plugs 6 to 10 inches deep for gardens and to zig zag through the bed – following the line of an imaginary W.

Since the bed is small and there are 5 roses in it, I took only 5 samples 8 inches deep with a hand trowel. Too many roses for this small bed? - but I had to have them. There were only so many places to dig a sample. I have managed to get the recommended amounts of sample plugs in the larger beds.

The samples were mixed together in a clean bucket and then spread on newspaper overnight to reduce moisture. Stones were removed. I put a cup full of soil in the sample bag.

The information form for gardens is the last (green) page of the form. I filled in my name and address and picked a “crop code” from the back of the form for my sample, i.e., 5510 for “Roses Maintain”. I put the soil sample and form into the mailing bag and took it to the post office.

The cost for the sample kit was $9.00 and postage about $2.50. I received the analysis and recommendations by mail about a week and a half later. In the case of the rose bed maintenance, it was suggested I use 10-10-10 fertilizer at the rate of 1.5 pounds per 100 square feet. No limestone, magnesium (Epsom Salts) or gypsum is needed. Soil pH is in the optimum range. Organic matter is above minimum acceptable CEC number.

I have two more beds I’d like to test this fall. In spring, I would like to test the lawn soil. We’ll see how much time (and energy) I have in spring.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Winter Blooms and Buds

The Japonica (I don’t have a genus/species on this one) and Heather (Heathe Erica x Darleyensis ‘Silberschmeize’) have buds ready for winter bloom. These evergreen and almost care-free woody ornamentals are a nice green spot in the brown winter landscape. Both plants are well-established - planted about 9 years ago. I feed with Holly-Tone in spring and occasionally prune a branch. I deep water during dry spells with a soaker hose.

The rhododendrons have large buds ready for spring bloom. Our large (mostly ignored) rhody seems confused. A few buds have opened with the warm fall weather. Every year I vow to pay more attention to this old (at least 40 years - 10 ft. tall) bush. It seems a bit stressed. I'll have to make it a point next growing season to take better care of it.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


As preparations continue for Celtic Cultural Alliance's Celtic Classic September 28 - 30, the marigolds got a trim by the Arts Quest's Blumenplatz committee. The plants are donated by Dan Schantz Greenhouse. The flowered sign is located at the northern end of the Fahy bridge below Payrow Plaza city center.

The 20th Annual Celtic Classic features Highland Games, music, food, crafts, a parade and musical competitions for a fun-filled weekend festival.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fall Roses

I think of the fall bloom of roses as a bonus in the garden.

The hybrid tea rose ‘Peace’ is not my favorite rose. It blooms reliably although only sporadically. It is not disease resistant and I continually fight the black-spot battle. A few times I’ve been tempted to dig it out and replace it with a modern disease resistant rose. Then it blooms and I’m caught up in the beauty of the flower.

The color of the climbing rose Eden changes from a deep pink and cream to a medium pink to white as it matures. Planted in 2004, it seems slow growing and is now reaching about 3 feet. Eden is advertised as disease resistant and that seems to hold true. I can’t wait to see it climb over the arbor. It is a spectacular bloom.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Autumn Blooms

The mum buds are swelling as the nights get longer but I have a few other plants in my garden that bloom in autumn.

The old stand-by Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is beginning to bloom along the hot, dry path behind the garage. It’s a reliable plant that will not be burned to crisp in the hot summer sun. My self-named sedum path also has pink-blooming Sedum ‘Sieboldi’ as well as a variegated sedum and little stonecrop ground cover.

Persicaria ‘Painter’s Pallet’ is grown for leaf color. The creamy white and green leaves are striking in the bright shade. The crazy little red blossoms that appear in fall make it look a bit like Medusa. It re-seeds prolifically so I’ll cut the flowers before they turn to seeds - certainly no loss to the attractiveness of the plant.

The Clematis paniculata ‘Sweet Autumn’ insert says, “vigorous and easy to grow" – you betcha. I grow it for its light fragrance as well as its fall bloom. Since it blooms on new wood, I’m not shy about cutting it back. Although I haven’t had any problem with re-seeding (yet), I’ll trim it as the flowers begin to fade to reduce seed production. I’ll cut it back another third in late winter. Sweet Autumn is the kind of plant you can hack away at - a great stress reliever.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Dusty Miller and Silver Mound

I love the silver-grey of the annual dusty miller (Senecio bicolor subsp. cineraria Senecio) and the perennial silver mound (Artemisia schmidtiana 'Silver Mound')

The Silver Mound dies back in winter but the soft feathery green is a fluffy little clumping plant. I give it a light hair cut with the scissor early in summer and in remains in control in dry/part shade.

The Dusty Miller contrasts the evergreen euonymous and hinoki cypress as well as the annual coleus. It seems to grow anywhere – dry, wet, sunny, shady.
It is an annual in zone 6 but I have some that have wintered-over for years. I cut off any dead stems in late spring or early summer after the new growth appears at the base. The birds seem to love the new growth for nest-making. I try to keep them away by placing a pinwheel nearby or sprinkling a little cayennne pepper on the new growth. One of its best attributes in my mind - it adds another hue to the brown winter landscape.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Container Vegetables

The container vegetable experiment this summer was a moderate success. (see July 4, 2007 for variety and method) Both the cucumbers and beans were very tasty.

The beans did well and are still flowering and producing – a regular bean machine.

The cucumbers produced a moderate number of cukes into July. Production slowed in August to a standstill. The leaves became grey with mildew but new shoots are coming out of the base of one plant now. I don’t know if there will be any late crop cucumbers but it is flowering. Next year I may try a mildew resistant seed (with a cage?) or try to replant for a late season crop.

The greatest problem with container gardening is water. In the hot days of July and August, the pots needed water 3 or sometimes 4 times a day. There are a few things on the market to help with this problem - water absorbing polymers and drip/wick systems. I will most likely give it another try next year with a better watering system.

The best thing about container vegetables - they are right outside your door and there is little to no bending to harvest them.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Enjoying the Garden

The last few weeks of August, I’ve noticed I can’t get enough of looking at the garden. There’s not a lot of work to do. Oh, there’s some watering and dead heading and a few weeds to pull. It’s hot. There has been some rain. I’m enjoying wandering through the garden in the morning with a cup of coffee and looking at the plants in bloom.

The soothing trickle of water in the oriental garden, ornamental grasses waving in whatever light breeze blows through, the bright heads of the cleome flowers, colorful coleus grown to bushes, annual zinnia six feet tall, ripe tomatoes on the vine, aroma of sweet alyssum along the paths – fruits of the labor of spring and summer.

It’s a time for reflection and enjoyment – watching the butterfly and goldfinch visits. It’s a peaceful time in the garden.

As September starts, it’s time to think about next year’s garden. The dry shade under the lilac needs a new plan. Overgrown perennials need to be divided. The clean-up will begin soon. Leaves will need raking. The mulch bin will be filled. Hopefully, I’ll have time to do some garden tours.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Bloodleaf Plant

This plant, also know as Beefsteak Plant, is a bright tropical plant that I purchased at the Philadelphia Flower Show a few years ago. It is officially known as Amaranthaceae Iresine herbstii. (Say that fast three times!)

It roots easily from stem cuttings. Every spring I have several to put out in pots or in the ground. I found that it doesn’t do well in hot sun. Sun burn causes loss of color in the leaves and leaf curl. The deep red leaves do better in the shade. I plan to give it a prominent place among my house plants this winter.

I haven’t found any place to buy this plant locally but there are some internet sites that have the plant for sale.