Wednesday, September 29, 2010

…a year later

Don’t you love before and after pictures? I do. Last year I put in a new garden around the AC unit. (See September 29, 2009 post.)

The Pieris japonica 'Mountain Fire’ almost is now almost 3’ tall (behind yellow mum). I added 3 hostas and 2 mums this year. The rest is filled in with annual coleus and impatiens. I plan to add another evergreen shrub next year – maybe a Daphne.

The AC unit is 4’ tall. It may take a few more years to disappear behind the shrubs.

Before – September 2009 After – September 2010


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Propagating Coleus

An instructor once told me, “Any plant with a square stem is easy to propagate.” It must be true because I’ve raised coleus cuttings every year using a somewhat haphazard method.

There are many ways to do it – in perlite, in vermiculite, in sand, using plastic bags to retain moisture, etc. If you google “propagate coleus” you will get a pile of articles. Here’s what works for me.

I cut a 4 to 6 inch growing tip from the coleus I want to grow. I pinch off the bottom leaves so there are no leaves in the water.

I put 3 or 4 cuttings in small vase (or dollar store coke glass) and let stand until I see good roots and have time to transfer to pots. I change the water (sometimes).

When the cuttings have rooted I set out 3 or 4 inch pots. I use an old pizza pan as a tray. I usually clean the pots in a mild Clorox/water solution after use. I didn’t this year so I’ll see if it has any effect. I’ve used pots without cleaning before. It didn’t seem to make any difference.

I mix approximately 3 parts potting soil, 1 part perlite, 1 part peat moss.

I gently pour soil around roots and stem until pot is about ¼ to ½ inch from top. Don’t tamp soil around cutting. Pressing on the soil may damage fragile roots.

Water gently and generously to settle potting soil around cutting. Water until it runs out of bottom of pot.

Top off with fish emulsion solution. Let stand in water overnight to be sure roots are completely wet.

I move them to the windowsill over the kitchen sink so I can keep an eye on them and make sure they stay moist. I’ve had some trouble with damping off occasionally. I try not to crowd the cuttings to ensure adequate air circulation.

In about 2 weeks, I move them under lights and pinch growing tips for bushier plants. (I used to fill windowsills before I had grow lights.) Remember to check every day or two. Water lightly when top is dry. Water from below when pots feel light in weight. Feed once or twice a month with fish emulsion and wait for spring.

I think the most important part of this is to pay attention to the plants. If all goes well, I’ll take cuttings from the new plants in early spring and have enough to fill my pots and garden next summer.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Coleus Combinations

I’ve raved about coleus before. The brilliant colors, variety of sizes, ease of growing and propagation make them one of my favorite annuals. I’ve mentioned coleus at least a dozen times in the last 5 years. Type coleus in the search box at the top of the page if you want more.

Well, here I go again.

I like to combine coleus of similar hues or combine them with similar colored impatiens to make a color splash. Sometimes an opposite color will give it some pop. I sometimes plant 3 or 5 of the same variety in the ground to create a bush-like display.

This year’s display in pots -

and in the ground.

The possibilities are endless. It’s fun to experiment with combinations each year.

Distinguishing variety names of coleus is difficult. Sometimes the same variety has different name at another grower. Even though most varieties do best with some shade, the varieties will look different depending on the amount of sun they get. For help sorting through the varieties see “Coleus Finder” and Rosy Dawn Gardens.

There are a few ways to propagate coleus. Next time I’ll share my method.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Happy Combination

Sweet Autumn Clematis (Clematis ternifolia) and Autumn Sun Rudbeckia (‘Rudbeckia nitida 'Herbstsonne')

Last fall I moved the Autumn Sun Rudbeckia from next to the garage. I added 3 Sky Pencil Hollies (Ilex crenata 'Sky Pencil') to the area because I wanted to introduce some winter interest along the long, gray garage wall. (See October 10, 2009 post “Japanese Holly”.)

I divided in rudbeckia in half. One half went to a friend. I couldn’t decide where to put the other half so I temporarily stuck it in beside the Sweet Autumn Clematis.

It turned out to be a happy combination.

Both plants are tall. The rudbeckia blooms well into fall when sweet autumn blooms. Both plants can be cut to the ground in fall. The yellow and white combination is more outstanding than either one by itself. And, they both seem to like the location.

I think I’ll keep them together.

Information from Dave’s Garden Sweet Autumn Clematis
Autumn Sun Rudbeckia. Plant name confusion again - See UBC article.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Praying Mantis

I’ve always found Praying Mantis (Praying Mantid) fascinating. As kids we would squeal and drag anyone who would listen into the garden to see the “big bug”.

They are huge (for an insect) and strange looking. Their prayer posture makes them look unassuming. They eat other bugs. Unfortunately they don’t discriminate between good bugs and bad bugs (or relatives). They will sit still and let you take their picture. .

Here are some fun facts from Oregon State University 4H publication:

- Mantids have five eyes—two compound (with multiple lenses) and three simple.
- Mantids are successful hunters 85 percent of the time.
- Praying mantids got their name because it looks like they are praying when they rub their front legs together.
- Mantids are the only insects that can look over their shoulder. A praying mantis can turn its head more than 180 degrees and can see movement up to 60 feet away.
- Female praying mantids sometimes eat males after mating.

More information on Praying Mantis from Cornell Extension.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Big Tree - Small Space

I’m not really sure what this evergreen is. When I bought it around 1998, I was told it was a Golden Thread Cypress and that it might get 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide. I bought 3 at a great price from a wonderful, old landscape supplier. It is a beautiful gold evergreen, delicate and airy.

But if you plant it in the wrong place, you will have to trim it to keep it a manageable size.

Then you will be stuck with a large green lump.

(Lehigh County is offering a drop-off hazardous materials collection Saturday, September 25, 2010 between the hours of 8 am and 2 pm. - appointment required. More information here.).

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Overgrown Shrubs

I trimmed some shrubs yesterday. I have many of the problems common to old gardens. Paths are closing in, perennials become overcrowded, shrubs grow over perennials. I am constantly dividing and trimming. I know I didn’t put enough thought into mature size. Some evergreens grew larger than advertised.

These 20 year old red-blooming azaleas and (older than that) mountain laurel fill every inch of space our side garden.

They look better with some of the growth removed.

The back of the same garden was overgrown and caused mildew to grow on the house.
A little pruning gave them some breathing room.

This fir was our Christmas tree 35 years ago. I left the little white plastic fence at what was once the edge of the garden. I remember how small the tree was when we planted it. It is now taller than the house.

Over the next six months I’ll try to make a plan for spring. Perennials will be divided or removed. I’ll try to decide if large trees or shrubs need to be removed or severely pruned. I’ll need to make some tough decisions. I’ll see what can be saved. It will be difficult to say goodbye to plants. They feel like old friends.

A pruning guide is available at Virginia Cooperative Extension - when to prune and how to prune.

Saturday, September 04, 2010


Has the hot, dry summer of 2010 affected the hydrangeas? You be the judge.

August 2008

August 2009

August 2010


Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Hot, Dry Summer

It has been a hot, dry summer here in eastern Pennsylvania. Several years ago, in an effort to conserve water, I decided to water only new plants, vegetables, plants in pots and a few annuals. I’ve been lucky the last few years. Summer temperatures have been mostly mild and rain has been adequate.

This year we have had several heat waves (temperature above 90 degrees for at least three days). Rainfall was at least 28% below normal in August.
It was hard to keep my resolve as I watched the astilbe dry up and fade away. The Sedums are fine as expected. Many plants survive (almost thrive) in the August heat without supplemental watering.

Annuals in the sun:

(Above) Snow on the Mountain (Euphorbia marginata) with a few cosmos sprinkled in.

Dusty Miller doesn’t seem to mind the heat or dry.

Snapdragons hide in the herb garden.

Cosmos and Cleome sometime look a little droopy in the hot afternoon sun but nod prettily every morning.

Perennials in the sun:

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare).

Yellow Coneflower Rudbeckia ‘Autumn Sun’ and ‘Sweet Autumn’ Clematis
Mums are in bud.

Perennials in shade or part shade in the afternoon

Lily Turf (Liriope muscari) – one tough plant.

Lavender 'Grosso’ planted in 2004 seems to thrive on neglect
Japanese Blood Grass (Imperator cylindrical) in a sea of Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) and Mexican Evening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa Siskiyou) ground covers.

There are many more survivors. The plants that don’t make it will have to be replaced with a tougher plant. My garden is no place for sissies.