Fun With Plants: Avocado Seeds

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Plants and their growth patterns entertain and fascinate.  You may find this nearly as ‘geeky’ as Sheldon Cooper’s ‘Fun With Flags’ on the hit TV series, “The Big Bang Theory.”  Feel free to have a good laugh and then try these methods for seed sprouting yourself!

Once upon a time, the accepted method for sprouting avocado seeds involved a jar of water, three or four wooden toothpicks, and a fresh avocado pit.  The method occasionally worked, but I lost my fair share of seeds to rot and forgetfulness.  If the seed didn’t rot where it was pierced by the toothpicks, then chances were I’d forget to top off the water and it would dry out.

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One can rarely raise an avocado tree, Persea americana, to actually generate avocado fruits in our climate.  The trees, and yes you need at least two to increase the chance that its flowers can be fertilized, must have winter protection.  Trees normally don’t flower or produce fruit until they are close to five years old, and may take longer than that.

A few hybrids have been developed that grow in Florida, and can withstand temperatures down to around 20F in winter.  But most varieties of avocado don’t respond well to any frost.  These subtropical trees will eventually grow to nearly 60′, which makes it a bit challenging to bring them in for our winter months.

Yet the young trees are very attractive, and some homes with large windows and high ceilings can accommodate at least a young tree.  Native to Mexico and Central America, Persea americana technically produces berries, not fruits.  Each avocado ‘berry’ has a single seed.  Flowers are produced in a panicle, like blackberry flowers, and so a whole group of avocados develop together from a central stem.

Commercially, avocado trees are grown from cuttings grafted onto various rootstocks because the hybrid parent won’t produce seeds true to itself.  It is still worthwhile to grow an avocado tree from a seed at home, for the fun of it, and to enjoy the tree as a winter houseplant and summer time potted patio plant.

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We ate a lot of avocados in late winter and early spring.  What can I say?  Avocado on toast, topped with a slice of tomato, sustained us through our cold, wet spring.  And those seeds were just too good to throw away.   I decided to try out a few different ways to sprout them.

I’ve been starting cuttings, especially broken pieces from our Christmas cactus plants, in wine glasses partially filled with fine aquarium gravel for a while.  One day, I decided to plop a particularly fine looking avocado pit into one of those glasses to see what would happen.

When starting an avocado seed partially suspended in water, the idea is to have the water cover only the bottom third to half of the seed.  The pointed end of the seed is its top, where a stem will eventually emerge.  The rounded end is the bottom, which should be kept wet to stimulate root growth.  It made perfect sense to me to simply set the seed on the gravel, partially fill the glass with water, and see whether a root would emerge.

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This root comes out of the very bottom of the seed, directly into the aquarium gravel, and isn’t visible through the glass.

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Avocado pits are clunky things, and the initial root is thick and sturdy.  The pit must first crack before the root will emerge from the center of the seed.   It’s also from the crack in the seed that a stem will eventually emerge, weeks later, as the new plant begins to grow.  Perhaps the long duration of this initial germination is what invites rot when the seed is pierced by toothpicks and then suspended over a jar of water.  I changed out the water in the glasses frequently to  keep everything fresh.

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While I was waiting for these seeds to germinate (and my counter space was filling with wine glasses) I was inspired to try the same method I’d used earlier for date seeds, to see whether avocado seeds would respond.

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This seed has been wrapped and bagged for more than a month now, and is beginning to show a root. I’ll pot it up in another week or two.

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After cleaning up the seed of any clinging avocado fruit, I simply wrapped up the seed in a damp paper towel, sealed it into a zip lock sandwich bag, and popped it into a cupboard.  Yes, into a cupboard.  I used a cupboard over the stove, where I knew the seeds would stay warm as they germinated.  Check on them as you think about it.  Sealed into the bag, the seeds will stay moist enough to begin to germinate without rotting in standing water.  After a month or more, you will see a root begin to emerge.

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Once the seed’s root has emerged, pot up the seed in good potting soil, and keep it just damp while waiting for the stem.  I potted up a group of seeds and left them in my basement work area until their stems emerged, which is why the stem is pink and not green!  Now, I’ll bring it out into the light as it continues to grow.

Please notice that the seed should be planted at the soil surface, not completely buried in the soil.  You can get some interesting effects by planting the seed very shallowly, leaving most of the seed visible as the tree begins to grow.

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The one green stem has been growing up in the garage, where it gets some light. I’ll move all of these pots out onto the deck by the weekend.  Only partially bury the seed in soil when you initially pot it up.

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If your seeds germinate in spring, you can grow them outside, in a protected location, for their first season.  Remember to bring them inside before frost, giving them as much light as you can.  If your seeds germinate before outside temperatures remain at least in the 50s, then keep the growing trees indoors until the weather is settled.

Give the tree good potting soil, feed with a time released fertilizer like Osmacote or use a product like Neptune’s Harvest every few weeks during the growing season.  Re-pot the trees as their roots fill the pot, or trim the roots and prune the canopy to dwarf the plant.

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This is a great activity to do with any botanically inclined young person in your life.   It allows for a close-up examination, in very slow motion, of the germination process and the initial growth of roots and stems.

Allow young people to experiment with the germination process,  draw the seed in various stages of growth, photograph the growing plant, and write about their sprouting tree.  Home school parents can bring in lots of interesting history, geography, food preparation and math to add depth to the botany.

Or, one can simply start the seeds for the sheer joy of it, and have a bit of fun with avocado plants!

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Nature is messy. Don’t worry so much about always getting it ‘right.’   Have fun and watch the process unfold….

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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Pot Shots: Early Spring Bulbs

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Planting up pots with spring blooming bulbs has become an autumn ritual for me.   I consider how the bloom will unfold around the perennials, ferns and woodies included in the design.   I plant with a sense of anticipation and caution.  I am excited by the potential while also mindful of the many pitfalls that can damage bulbs between autumn and spring.

I’ve lost bulbs in recent years to hungry squirrels, bacterial infection on some of the bulbs planted, extreme cold and dry soil.

Some variables we can anticipate and plant to avoid. 

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Newly planted on September 25, 2018

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I’ve learned to order and pick my bulbs up as early as possible, before they can get old or contaminated in the the shop.  This year, I learned to spray the bulbs with a repellent, like Repels All, just before I plant them to discourage rodents.  I use the largest pots possible and try to shelter them against the worst weather.

Now, I make a point to water bulb filled pots throughout the winter when the ground isn’t frozen, and to mulch each pot with rocks or moss to minimize damage and bulb loss.

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November 6, 2018 Autumn blooming Colchicum was the first bulb to bloom in this fall planted pot. Cyclamen leaves have already emerged, and moss has begun to establish. 

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This four season pot’s main occupant is a native Oakleaf Hydrangea, which doesn’t look like much at the moment in its dormancy.  The pot is filled with an assortment of bulbs, roots, corms and tubers to unfold gradually over the long months between late autumn and early summer.

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We are currently enjoying Tommies, better known as Crocus Tommasinianus, known to rarely attract rodents.  This Crocus species simply smells differently from most species and cultivars, which can actually attract squirrels and mice because they smell nut-like.  Tommies are some of the earliest Crocus to bloom each spring, multiply well and can thrive in partial shade.

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We also have another snowdrop blooming and the first bloom of our Cyclamen coum, which will open in another day.  I planted a mix of fall blooming Cyclamen hederifolium and C. coum for a longer season of delicate blooms.

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It isn’t cheating to begin adding plants in early spring.  Pots are stages, and the players come and go to keep the show lively.  I added the panola last week, to fill a small hole left by a curious squirrel.

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I love bulbs in pots precisely because I’m curious, too.  I want to watch spring unfold in miniature, up close; in a choreographed microcosm of what is writ large around us.

Moss mulch elevates the entire experience for me because it provides that splash of vivid, living green on even the coldest, dullest winter days.  It protects and insulates the bulbs while also protecting whatever is in growth from splashing soil during rains.  And, quite honestly, I’m curious to watch every tiny plant that sprouts from the moss.

Left untended, the grass would grow in little clumps through the moss until unplanned plants (read: weeds) overwhelmed the planting.  But no:  We have little snips to keep everything tidied up.  That is a lesson learned from hard experience, too.

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You never got around to planting bulbs this year?  No worries. 

You can still create a beautiful pot of blooming bulbs now.  I’ve found bulbs in growth at nurseries and the grocery store for the past few weeks.

Grab a pot or basket and fresh potting mix, plan your arrangement, and just take those bulbs already in growth and slip them out of their nursery pot as you tuck them into your arrangement.  Add a pansy or primrose, if it makes you happy.  There is no shortage of moss after all the rain these past few weeks.

All sorts of interesting things have begun to turn up at local nurseries, and your creative ideas will lead you to just the right components for your own spring pot.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

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“Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience.

Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.”
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Hal Borland

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February 15, 2019

 

 

Unum de multis: Horticultural Multiplication

Osmanthus ‘Goshiki’

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Unum de multis:  Out of one, many…

That is one of the wonders of the plant kingdom!

It took several trips and quite a few hours of shopping to finally source a few little variegated English holly shrubs in the fall of 2017.  Although these were clearly labeled as Ilex aquifoliumn, as it turns out, they are actually Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’.

I accepted the plants at face value, believing the big name label on the shrubs that identified them as English holly.  It was a very knowledgeable reader of Forest Garden, California Horticulturalist Tony Tomeo, who pointed out the error and set me on the path to a correct identification of the shrubs.

Sometimes known as ‘false holly’, Osmanthus is a beautiful and useful evergreen shrub from Asia.  This particular shrub is called ‘Goshiki’ because the leaf exhibits five different colors during its development:  pink, cream, yellow, orange and white, in addition to green.  It is a beautiful plant in growth, with the new growth showing the most color.

I’ve grown this plant over the past several years and have it elsewhere in the garden.  It goes to show how quickly we will believe and accept how things are labeled, that I didn’t recognize the error in labeling right away.  It took Tony’s nudge for me to compare the two leaves side by side.

Out of the several plants finally located, two survived that very cold winter and finicky spring to live on into 2019.

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Our shrub newly planted in 2017

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My several attempts to locate  small English holly shrubs for planting projects this fall proved unsuccessful, and I ended up substituting other plants late into the season.  It goes with the territory that available plants change season to season and year to year.  A gardener can never take for granted that a particular plant will be available when needed.

That is why it pays to learn how to propagate your own plants, so that once you have one of some special something, you can generate more as needed.

Now, it isn’t technically difficult to propagate most plants.  But depending on what you are trying to grow, and the time of year, some special equipment may be necessary.  Without a greenhouse, propagation box, heat mat, lights or misters, it can be challenging to achieve the results that commercial growers can produce.

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Yet it is amazing what you can do at home, with little equipment, once you understand some basic principles.  A great resource for all types of propagation, including sowing seeds, is Making More Plants by Ken Druse.  This is a clearly written, beautifully illustrated guide that teaches me some new trick each time I re-read it.

There are several types of stem cuttings one can make, and their advantage is that a rooted stem eventually grows into a clone of the parent plant.  Stem cuttings are generally low-tech, easy and quick.  And I have learned a few little tricks that increase my chances of success without a greenhouse or fancy set-up.

Simply put, the challenge of a stem cutting is to have the stem strike roots while the leaves continue to live, and before the stem begins to rot.  That means that plants with large leaves need enough water flow through the stem to support the leaves, even before roots begin to grow.  And, the rooting has to occur in a way that doesn’t allow the stem to clog up, or begin to decay, before the roots can grow.

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This method of rooting stem cuttings is nearly 100% successful for Christmas cactus cuttings.

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Most commercial growers place stem cuttings into a damp, soil-less medium to root.  They then put the stems into a heated, lit, enclosed space for a few weeks while roots form.  Enclosing the stems increases humidity, which benefits the leaves.  Bottom heat speeds the process, and adequate light is required for photosynthesis.

Getting an herbaceous stem to root in a water is a bit easier.  Water is more easily available and so the leaves are well-supplied.  But, water grown roots are structurally different from soil-grown roots.  The plant will need to quickly re-grow new roots once it is planted in soil.

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These coleus cuttings had been rooting in water for not quite two weeks.

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I am using a hybrid method to get my little holly cuttings to root.  The container is a recycled aluminum loaf pan without any drainage holes.  There is a half-inch of clean, fine aquarium gravel in the bottom of the pan, topped with some clean peat based potting soil, and then topped off with fresh vermiculite.  I watered this well to wet all of the soil and also create a shallow reservoir in the bottom of the pan.

After pruning the shrub I want to clone, I trimmed the cuttings to only a couple of inches long and set then into a shallow cup of water.  A smaller cutting can be more successful because there is less plant tissue to support while it grows roots.  Remove the bottom couple of pairs of leaves from the cutting, dip the cut end into powdered rooting hormone,  and stick the cutting into the pan so that the exposed leaf nodes are in the soil.

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A clear dome holds humidity so the cuttings won’t wilt while they root. Make sure to vent the dome each day to allow fresh air inside.

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Take care that the cuttings don’t touch one another and that their leaves don’t touch the soil.  This helps limit any molding or transmission of disease.

Once all the cuttings were trimmed and stuck, I put the pan into a re-cycled bakery cake container that has a clear, domed lid.  I set the container on a low table beside a window that gets strong morning light. There is also a fluorescent bulb burning in a nearby lamp.  There is no bottom heat provided, but the room is warm and the sun provides additional warmth.

I expect these cuttings to strike roots sometime this month.  The best way to tell that roots have developed is when new growth appears.  One can also tug lightly on the cutting, expecting to feel a little resistance once roots form.  Tugging too soon might damage newly forming roots, so it really isn’t smart to try this too soon.

Once the cuttings have an inch or so of new roots, each can be potted up into a 3″ or 4″ nursery pot and set outside in sheltered, shady spot.  It is important to keep the new shrubs well watered through their first few years so they never completely dry out.

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Another method, for herbaceous or very soft woody stems, involves a wine glass and a little bit of gravel.  Again, using relatively small cuttings, rest the cut end of the stems in the spaces in the gravel and add only enough water to cover the bottom portion of the stem.  Maintaining shallow water allows roots to form without exposing much of the stem to potential rot.  The wine glass itself helps enclose the stems, increasing humidity for the leaves.

Again, work with short tip cuttings of stems, trim the bottom leaves from the stem, and dip each cutting into rooting hormone before placing it in the glass.  Make sure the water stays fresh and at a fairly constant level.  If ever the water looks cloudy, rinse out the glass, rinse off the stems and replace the water with fresh.

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This glass of Spanish lavender cuttings sits near a sheltered window where the cuttings will get indirect light all day.  I expect roots to form so these can be potted up by early March.  The mother plant is one I search out each year and only sometimes can find.  It is a hardy perennial and one of the earliest lavenders to flower each spring.  Once these stems root, I expect to start another batch of this particular lavender.

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This is Spanish lavender, L. stoechas ‘Otto Quast,’ with its ‘rabbit ears’ atop the flower.

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Once you get the knack of stem cuttings, you can beg a cutting from a gardening friend and ‘grow your own.’  You can create multiples of the plants you enjoy most in your garden, or produce clones to pass on to others.  A neighbor populated her yard with beautiful Azalea shrubs she started herself from cuttings decades ago.

There is tremendous satisfaction in knowing how to create several new plants from a single original.   It empowers the gardener, saves a great deal of cash, and allows us to have more of those plants we most enjoy.

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Woodland Gnome 2019

More on planting pots with shrubs, bulbs and perennials for winter

 

Moss: Let It Grow

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I love plush, moist green moss.  And I am always interested in reading about how other gardeners grow their moss.  Imagine my delight to come across a beautifully photographed feature on Dale Sievert’s gorgeous Wisconsin moss garden in the Fall 2018 Country Gardens magazine.  If you love moss, please treat yourself to this issue.

“The color green engenders a great sense of tranquility,

peace and serenity.” 

Dale Sievert

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I am always looking for simple and effective ways to get moss to grow both in shady spots in the garden and also in pots.  The keys to good moss growth remain steady moisture and reliable shade.   Wonderfully, moss spores are often carried on the wind, ready to grow when they land in a place that offers the moisture and shade that allow them to grow.

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A moss garden I constructed in February of 2012 using stones picked up on the beach in Oregon.

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The first stage of moss growth looks more like algae than like typical moss.  It is low, smooth and moist looking.  From this, the buds and rhizoids will form, soon growing into recognizable moss plants.

If you live in a wet area, you likely see this early growth of moss on brick and stone and clay pots quite often.  If you love mosses as I do, you might also be looking for ways to assist this process to get moss established exactly where you want it to grow.

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And I think I just discovered a new way to encourage moss growth that doesn’t involve organic milkshakes made with beer, buttermilk or yogurt.  Some writers swear by the efficacy of whirring up moss with one of these in a blender and painting it onto stones and walls.  Others say they’ve only ended up with a smelly mess.  I’ve put that experiment off to another day!

But I noticed recently, that the perlite topping off the soil mix of some newly potted up little trees, has turned green.

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I potted up these rooted Acer cuttings within the last month, and moved them out to a shady spot on the deck to grow on.  You can imagine my delight at seeing a fresh green sheen on the perlite!  Is this an early growth of moss from airborne spores?

Think of perlite as ‘popcorn rock.’  It is volcanic rock that has been super heated to more than 1500F, where it puffs up and expands, now riddled with airways.   Perlite is light, soft and fine grained, making a valuable addition to improve texture and drainage in potting soil.

It is also very good for rooting cuttings because it holds moisture so well, while also allowing air to permeate the soil.  This helps to prevent rot in the stem and new roots of the cutting.

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So it makes sense that moist perlite is a great medium for growing moss.  It isn’t a smooth base, like so many gardeners recommend for getting transplanted mosses established.  But it is a wonderful material for the moss rhizoids (not roots) to anchor onto as the plant develops.

Remember that mosses don’t have any roots.  They absorb moisture directly through their cell walls into the structure of the plant.

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That is why rain, fog and mist encourage moss to grow.  If you are trying to encourage moss to grow, remember to keep the plants and their growing medium misted and moist.

I’ve been wanting to grow a sheet of moss for a while now, and picked up a terra cotta tray recently for that purpose.  Once I saw Dale’s gorgeous moss covered stones in the CG article, I’ve been thinking about how I can replicate the effect for my own pots.  Once I saw the moss growing on perlite last week, an idea began to form to make it happen.

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A layer of perlite covers a thin layer of peat based potting soil in this terracotta tray. Terracotta also helps to hold moisture.

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I’ve poured a thin layer of regular potting soil into the terra cotta tray, and topped off the soil with a layer of perlite.  I moistened the medium well, and then went out into the garden hunting for a few clumps of moss.  Some moss gardeners recommend breaking found moss up into tiny bits to sow into a new medium.

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You don’t have to worry about having roots as you would with a vascular perennial.  Moss just wants to grow!  So I broke my hunks up into very small bits, and pushed them firmly down into the perlite before watering it all in.  I’ve set some stones among the bits of moss, hoping that by keeping it all damp I can encourage moss to grow on these small rocks.  I’d count that as a major victory in my moss growing efforts!

It is still damp and rainy today as the remnants of Hurricane Florence bring us a bit more rain even as they blow northwards and out to sea.  It is a good day for moss, and our garden is still very damp from days and days of rain.

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I have this terra cotta tray set in the shade on the deck this afternoon.  When the weather turns dry again, I may tuck it into a plastic bag or cover it with a clear plastic box while the moss establishes.  But the moss in the Acer pots didn’t get any special treatment; this may not need covering, either, as our weather cools.

I want moss to grow on these stones so I can use them as decorative accents in our winter pots.  I haven’t decided whether to simply keep the tray of moss growing for its own sake, or whether to use sheets of the moss in pots.  Either way, I’ll show you what this experiment does in the weeks ahead.

If you love moss as I do, then you may want to try this simple method for growing it, too.

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Woodland Gnome

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The Mossy Creek Pottery Garden, Lincoln City, Oregon

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“There is an ancient conversation going on between mosses and rocks
poetry to be sure. About light and shadow and the drift of continents.
This is what has been called the “dialect of moss on stone –
an interface of immensity and minuteness, of past and present,
softness and hardness, stillness and vibrancy, yin and yan.”
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Robin Wall Kimmerer

Leaf VI: Perpetuation

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The garden starts looking a bit tired, by late August; and I’m certainly feeling a bit tired, too.  After all, we’ve been at this now since February when our gardening season began a bit prematurely, with a string of days in the 80s.  And we have a few more good months of gardening still ahead this year. 

The garden is getting a good, deep drink today.  It began raining here sometime after midnight, and I was awakened several times in the night, listening to the heavy rain pounding on our roof and on the trees.  And we needed this rain to soften and re-hydrate our summered out soil.

A storm is moving up the coast.  The forecast keeps shifting, of course, but we’ll harvest a few inches of rain before this low moves away from us and out into the Atlantic.

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This is the time when some might give up for the year.  After all, things look a bit overgrown and shabby after weeks of heat and too little moisture.  A lot of plants in the garden have pretty much finished up for the season, or are taking an untidy nap.

Things might have gotten a little out of hand while we were traveling this summer, or while it was too hot to reasonably work outside.

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Joe Pye Weed takes center stage in the morning sunlight last week.

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September, almost upon us, offers a reprieve and a fresh opportunity for us all.  Students get a new semester.  Adults return from vacation, refreshed.  And gardeners get a beautiful autumn in the garden.

Autumn may be the best gardening season of the year.  Many perennials have matured into their full potential for size.  The garden’s silhouette may be more full and lush than at any other time of the year.  Colors in both flowers and foliage are rich and intense.

The air is cooler, the sky bluer, and the sun less intense.  This is the best season to give new shrubs and perennials a chance to establish and grow their roots out into the surrounding soil during the cool of the year.

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Pokeweed has overgrown the Salvia, Colocasia and Hibiscus that have grown here for the last several summers. They are just holding on beneath its shade.

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I’ve been refreshing our garden, preparing for the change of seasons. I’ve been cutting back browned leaves and stems, lifting mats of grass growing into my beds, deadheading, and replacing dying annuals with something fresh.

It is a good time to visit your local garden center again, with an eye towards investment in your garden’s future.  Many are cutting prices on summer stock to make way for their fall chrysanthemums and other seasonal items.  I have scored some wonderful deals recently on clearance herbs, perennials, ferns and a few salvageable annuals.  I’ve also invested in several bags of my favorite ‘Leaf Grow’ compost.  I plan to buy a few bags of hardwood mulch later this week.

Most nurseries will mark down their summer stock by 30%- 60%, depending on the plant’s desirability and how late it is in the season.   A nursery I visited on Saturday was actually giving plants away for free, with a purchase.

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Persian Shield grows as an annual in our climate. I found this one on clearance last weekend, and have  taken cuttings from it to spruce up late summer pots.

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As you cut back spent perennials, or remove fried annuals, replenish the soil with some fresh compost and plant something that will look good for another few months.  I’ve planted small pots of bronze fennel, Echinacea, and Lantana ‘Bandana’ in full bloom, over the past week.  Earlier in the month, I planted a half dozen Mexican bush sage, Salvia leucantha, all of which are growing well.  I expect the Lantana and Salvia to grow enough to fill in empty spots with bright flowers until frost.

I also purchased a huge, overgrown Persian Shield, Strobilanthes dyerianus, for about $2.00.   I love the bright purple foliage of this striking plant.  It is sturdy, drought tolerant, and can tolerate sun.  After cutting it back, I re-potted it to replace an expiring annual.

But all of those branches I removed will root in a glass of water!  As each cutting roots, I’ll plant it into a potted arrangement that needs a bit of freshening.  You can perform this bit of garden magic with many of the blooming and foliage plants available now on clearance.

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Our cane Begonias are covered in blooms this week. Canes root easily in water.

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Although it is still way too early to plant winter annuals, you might find some good evergreen perennials or ferns mixed into the clearance at the garden center.  I have just planted two ‘Epimediums,’ saved from a jumble of pots marked down by half.  These usually pricey perennials have tough, leathery evergreen leaves.  Their early spring flowers look like sprays of tiny fairies dancing on the breeze.  I’ve planted them where I know Daffodils will emerge next February.

Perennial ferns were mixed into the same clearance sale.  Crowded, I was able to cut the clump of fern into several pieces, planting them a foot or so apart to spread the ferny joy in a shaded bed.

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My new ferns went into this shady bed where daffodils will emerge next spring.  Potted up are Alocasia ‘Stingray’ and Begonia ‘Gryphon.’  They will return next summer, after a long winter snoozing in the garage.

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Fall is a good time to divide growing clumps of perennials you already have growing in pots.  Knock the plant out of its pot, gently pull a few sections away, and pack the now empty spots with fresh soil.  Water well, and let your mother plant keep on growing.  You can pot up or plant each division elsewhere, and let it grow on.  You may want to shelter the new potted division in a shady spot for a few days to let it establish, before moving it on to its destined spot.

Use this same trick with perennials, like Colocasia, spreading by runners.  Moving offsets now will give them a few months to establish before the leaves are killed by frost.

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Colocasia ‘Mojito’ produces many offsets, which can be pulled off of the mother plant and potted up to grow quickly into mature plants like this one.

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I learned a new trick, last week, too.  Admiring a friend’s kitchen windowsill garden, I noticed her Caladium leaf had grown both roots and new leaves in a glass of water.  Her leaf had fallen over in a storm.  When she pulled it, it came with a bit of the tuber attached at the base of the petiole.  From that tiny beginning, a new plant was forming.  When she pots up the rooted leaf, a tiny tuber will grow from these new roots.

This is one way to increase your Caladium collection; though one shouldn’t do it with any new patented Caladium variety.

All sorts of bits of plants, trimmed away in a late summer clean-up, may be rooted.  My kitchen windowsill, and the bright space around my sink, is full of  cuttings rooting in bottles of water this week.  I plant these out into small pots of soil as their roots form.

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Pruning away spent flower clusters from many perennials and woodies will likely earn you fresh flowers before frost.  Keep those butterfly bushes, crape myrtles, Salvias, Dahlias, roses, and even Joe Pye weed dead-headed, and the new flower buds will keep forming.  You can extend your season of bloom for many more weeks with this attention to detail.

Always remember:  plants want to grow! It requires just a little effort on our part to assist them.

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Dead head spent flowers from woody shrubs, like this crape myrtle, to keep new flowers coming. Joe Pye Weed will also continue to produce flower buds if regularly trimmed of its old flowers.  Newly planted yellow Lantana and  bronze fennel now fill the empty spaces in the bed at left, where I’ve also added a bit of compost. The white flowers are self-seeding garlic chives.

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Once the rain has finished, I’ll head back out to the garden to top-dress many of our beds with an extra inch of compost.  And I’ll follow that with an inch or so of fresh mulch over the next week.  This will offer a little nutrition to the soil, and help lock in the moisture we’re receiving from this storm.  Our cadre of earthworms will appreciate the effort.

Gardeners learn many tricks to perpetuate the beauty of their garden year to year, and through the changing seasons.  We learn to multiply and nurture what we already have, and minimize what we might need to purchase season to season.

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Late planted Caladiums have struggled with heat and drought this summer. (photographed last Thursday, when I was keeping them watered by hand.)  Now that we’ve had significant rain, they will surely shine through the next few months.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Many of life’s failures
are people who did not realize
how close they were to success
when they gave up.”
.
Thomas A. Edison
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“A wise man
will make more opportunities
than he finds.”
.
Sir Francis Bacon

 

 

 

Blossom XXIX: Buddleia

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Buddleia davidii, or butterfly bush, hosts many hungry pollinators on its abundant, nectar filled blossoms each summer.    I enjoy the beautiful creatures it attracts as much as I enjoy its brilliant blossoms.

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Hummingbird moths are especially drawn to Buddleia.

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These deciduous shrubs tend to be short lived.  They want plenty of sun and prefer rich, moist soil.  We lost several over the last few years, and had only one remaining last fall.

Buddleia want to be frequently pruned.  The bloom on new growth, and produce abundant blooms until frost if you faithfully dead head their spent blossoms.

They also need to be cut back very hard each winter.  If left to grow unpruned, they can soon grow too tall and gangling, falling this way and that from their own weight.  That said, I’ve never had one grazed by deer.

When I pruned our butterfly bush  in the late fall, I was inspired to stick lengths of the pruned stems into a large pot, around a winter blooming Helleborus.  I wasn’t confident that these woody stem cuttings would root, but decided to take the chance.  By early spring, we noticed new buds and leaves appearing and we could tell roots had formed.

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I transplanted most of the rooted cuttings out into the front garden when I refreshed the pot in late spring.  But we left the largest and strongest in place to grow on this summer in the pot.

All of the rooted cuttings have put on abundant growth this summer and are now well-established and blooming.  A seedling Rudbeckia has also appeared in the pot along with a Caladium  I tucked in this May, some Verbena cuttings I planted in June, and a division of Dichondra argentea. 

If this sounds like shamefully haphazard planting, well…. what can I say?

The Hellebore took a long time to die back, as did the foliage of the daffodil bulbs still nestled deep in the pot.  Spreading Colocasia plants have sprung up all around, hugging the pot with their huge leaves.  It may look a bit wild and woolly, but I can promise you that the many hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and this lovely hummingbird moth are happy with the abundance.

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Plants basically want to live.  The magic of simple propagation, whether from stem cuttings, division or saved seeds; is their will to survive against all odds.

The next time you find yourself pruning, consider whether you have space or desire for more of the plant you’re trimming back.  Green stems generally root well in water.  Woody stems will root in soil or a soil-less medium like vermiculite or sand.

There are finer points to it, depending on the time of year you take your cuttings.  But why not take a chance and give those pruning an opportunity to root?  Look at the beauty you have to gain! This is an easy and inexpensive way to give yourself impressive small shrubs for your large pots, too.

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Propagate your way into a full, lush garden filled with plants that you like, and that grow well in your conditions.  Doesn’t it seem a bit magical that a blossom this beautiful will grow from a pruned stem, that would otherwise have been tossed away?

*
Woodland Gnome 2017
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A blossom from the mother plant, still growing strong and covered in flowers.

 

Blossom XXV: Elegance
Blossom XXVI: Angel Wing Begonia
Blossom XXVII: Life 
Blossom XXVIII: Fennel 

 

Plan Now For Winter’s Flowers

Muscari

Muscari, Grape Hyacinth

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Color drains from the garden as frost works its wintery magic.  Leaves turn brilliant orange, scarlet and gold before tumbling from their trees on autumn winds, soon to turn soggy and brown underfoot.  Newly bare branches stretch high against the sky, sometimes blue but often grey and sodden.

Shiny green remains only on our evergreen shrubs and trees, now brilliant against an otherwise drab and barren landscape.  We admire red berries against prickly holly and soft Nandina leaves and purplish blue ones now noticeable on the Wax Myrtle and Ligustrum.

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January 17, 2016 snow 039

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Yet some of us crave flowers, even during the restful months between frosts.  It would be altogether too depressing to me, a Virginia girl, to face long months ahead of a dormant garden without anything in bloom.

In Zone 7 and south, we can enjoy flowering shrubs, annuals, perennials and bulbs during the winter.  Even through periods of freezing weather, snow, ice storms temperatures down into the teens; these plants soldier on.  When they thaw, they just keep growing.  Some of these plants still grow and flower through the winter in zones well to our north.

If you need winter flowers, consider some of these beautiful choices: (Follow the links for more detail about growing each plant)

Shrubs

 

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Camellia Sasanqua

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Edgeworthia

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Edgeworthia

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March 23, 2014 parkway and flowers 003

Forsythia

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March 15, 2015 flowers 018

Japanese Magnolia

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March 12, 2016 spring flowers 025

Magnolia stellata
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november-27-2016-garden-012

Mahonia aquifolium

 

Hamamelis (Witchhazel)

 

Perennials

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March 14, 2015 spring flowers 020
Helleborus

 

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February 14, 2015 flower basket 004
Primula

 

Annuals

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March 20 2014 spring 006
Viola

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Bulbs

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March 12, 2015 watershed 002
Crocus

 

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March 25, 2016 Daffodils 016
Daffodils

 

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March 20, 2016 spring flowers 031
Muscari

 

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February 24, 2014 snowdrops 036
Galanthus nivalis ( Snowdrops )

 

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Iris reticulata

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Vines, ground cover

Perwinkle flowers bloom on the Vinca minor vine in early spring.

Vinca Minor, Periwinkle

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This is the time to plan for winter flowers.  Find a good selection of Violas, Hellebores, shrubs and bulbs at garden centers now.  Plant through the end of December, at least; and enjoy these beautiful plants for many years to come.

Winter flowers are brighten our gardens and bring a touch of joy to frosty winter days.

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January 27, 2015 snow 009

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Woodland Gnome 2016

Autumn Makeover

october-4-2016-pots-010

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This is a good time to refresh our pots for the coming seasons.  In our climate, we have a good six months to enjoy cool-season arrangements.  I like to construct pots which will remain attractive from autumn through until early spring.  Sometimes, these same pots will make it through the following summer with minor adjustments.  This saves time, money, and makes decorating the patio or garden simple.

My favorite formula for a multi-season pot flows from the well know “thriller, filler, spiller” rule.  To construct a pot with staying power, combine evergreen woodies and perennials with cold-weather annuals, bulbs, evergreen vines and ‘accessories.’  Since this is a long-lived arrangement, plan for the inevitable growth and change these plants will experience over the months coming.

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January 25, 2016 snow 008

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Begin with a generous sized pot.  Remember the growing roots of all those plants you include!  Bulbs, especially, produce huge root systems.  You also want the plants to remain in scale with the pot as they grow.  A large pot allows you to leave the arrangement in place for a longer time before you need to re-pot or plant out the shrub.

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February 23, 2014 spring bulbs 007

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Glazed pots work well in our climate.  But if your winters grow very cold, you might consider a pot made of materials which won’t crack when  the potting soil freezes and thaws repeatedly.

Choose a good ‘thriller’ plant first.  Most garden centers offer great little evergreen shrubs this time of year.  I chose a dwarf Alberta Spruce in a quart pot.  Whatever shrub you choose, try to fill no more than half your pot’s volume with the shrub’s roots.  Osmanthus , Ilex, Camellia,  Thuja, Mahonia, Arborvitae, Buxus  and Leyland Cypress make beautiful pots, too.

If you are satisfied with woody structure during the winter, you might consider planting a deciduous shrub or small tree that blooms in early spring.  Cercis, Witch-hazel, red twig Dogwood, or fruit trees all work well.

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Miniature daffodils grow to only 6"-8" tall and work well in spring pots. Plant the entire bulb and foliage out into a permanent spot in the garden when switching out plantings for summer.

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For a smaller composition, choose a good evergreen perennial instead of a shrub or tree.  I often begin with a Hellebore, which gives great structure and may grow to nearly 2′ high when in bloom.  Arum itallicum is another good choice for a shady location.  Evergreen ferns, Iris, and Heuchera also work well in our Zone 7 winters.

I always plant in a good quality potting soil, amended with fertilizer.  Whether you use slow release Osmocote, Epsoma, or some combination, remember to feed these plants for the best show.  Some gardeners recommend adding good compost or worm castings to the pot when planting shrubs and trees.

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Potted Mahonia blooming on the patio.

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Once you’ve chosen your ‘thriller’ plant, consider adding the surprise element of spring blooming bulbs.  Although the flowers may last for only a few weeks, they pack a punch when little else is blooming.  And, their foliage lasts much longer and helps fill in the pot.

You might choose one type of bulb or several, depending on how much space is left.  And bulbs can be ‘stacked’ according to their required planting depth.  Begin by nestling some Daffodil or tulip bulbs around the bottom of the shrub’s roots.  They should be planted at a depth about 3x their size.  Most large bulbs will go about 6-8″ below the soil level.  You might also choose big showy Fritillarias or Alliums, which will bloom a little later.  Cover the large bulbs with a few inches of potting soil, and then lay a layer of Muscari, Crocus, or even Galanthus for earlier flowers.

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Violas jnder a potted redbud tree grow here with Heuchera and daffodils.

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Next, fill in around the shrub with cold weather annuals like Violas or Snapdragons, or possibly plant a few seeds for cool weather annuals. These are ‘fillers’ to add interest to your arrangment, and are the plants most likely to get switched out frequently.  Perennial Heuchera, Dianthus, or even herbs like Thyme or Rosemary work well as fillers.

If you like grasses, try an evergreen Carex, Mondo grass, or  Liriope.  These tough evergreens will look great no matter the weather and grow more dense as time goes on.  I’ve transplanted Ajuga ‘Black Scallop’ from elsewhere in the garden for this pot.  Ajuga blooms in the spring.

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Finally add some plugs of trailing Ivy or Vinca as ‘spillers’ for your pot.  While I like Ivy, many gardeners avoid it as it can become invasive.  There are many attractive Vincas which will also bloom in the spring, as well as Creeping Jenny and some evergreen varieties of Sedum, like ‘Angelina’ which will continue growing all winter.  I like to finish pots like this with sheets of moss lifted from the garden.

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Violas

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You might use moss, pebbles, aquarium gravel, or even cones or mulch to finish the pot.  This layer looks neat, adds interest, and can help insulate the soil during a freeze.

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January 15, 2015 ice garden 028

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The beauty of a potted arrangement like this only increases with time.  When you first plant, water in well with compost tea or a product like Neptune’s Harvest to get everything off to a good start.  You might give a liquid feed again in early spring as the perennials begin to grow again.

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october-4-2016-pots-007

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This is a dynamic arrangement which will continually change as the plants grow and fade.  You might enjoy placing it where you can watch it through the winter from a window, or where you will pass it daily as you come and go.  This pot now crowns our ‘stump garden,’ beside the driveway, where we will see it daily.  But it will also remain visible from the street during the winter.

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February 11 2014 snowdrop 001

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In early summer you can switch out the annuals and let the pot keep going, or, you can dig a hole large enough to simply set the whole thing into the garden like a plug.   This is a good way to start out small, affordable shrubs or trees and grow them on until they are  large enough to move into the garden.

The first frost doesn’t need to end our gardening adventures.  With a little planning, most of us can enjoy beautiful pots year round.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

Lilac Revival

April 6, 2016 Parkway 008

This lovely Lilac, another gift left by previous gardeners here, is revived.

Covered in blooms again, with lush spring growth, it is finally performing better than it did that first spring we found it in our new garden .  Revived, you wonder?  What happened?

There was the small matter of Holly Tone,  spread generously for its acid loving neighbors…..   The Lilacs, there are two, are planted among Hydrangeas, Forsythia, and a Rose of Sharon.  I spread Holly Tone pretty generously on all of the acid loving shrubs our first few autumns in this garden.  Azaleas, Hydrangeas and their cousins love Holly Tone and respond with vigorous growth.

But not the Lilac, which prefers a sweet soil.  And these let me know right away that I had made their soil inhospitable.

It was a sad and sorry sight to watch them struggling along these past few years.  We gave them a little lime from time to time and some Plant Tone.   The crisis is finally passed, and they have covered themselves in abundant blooms and beautiful leaves for the first time in several years.

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April 6, 2016 Parkway 009

A large ‘Rose of Sharon’ tree towers over our Lilac, with Forsythia and Hydrangea shrubs behind. These have grown together in the garden for a very long time. It is wise to plant Lilac with at least 6′ feet all around for its future growth.

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Lilac shrubs enjoy full to partial sun and consistently moist soil.  They have few pests and require little or no maintenance.  Lilacs will grow into small trees if allowed, so plant them with plenty of space!  Deer won’t bother them, and they offer plenty of nectar for pollinators.

I order Lilac shrubs from mail order nurseries and grow them in a pot for their first few seasons, then move them out into the garden.  This is our current potted Lilac, our first with a white flower.  We will plant it in the garden after its bloom has finished.

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April 5, 2016 052~

Lilacs make wonderfully fragrant and colorful cut flowers.  Cutting lilacs to bring indoors is simply ‘pruning,’ which should only be done after they bloom each spring.  Prune too early, and you prune the flower buds away!  These long lived shrubs have been popular in both home and public gardens in Europe since late in the 16th Century; and in North American gardens since early colonial times..

There are Lilac enthusiasts who showcase their Syringa collection as the ‘bones’ of their garden.  They prove excellent additions to our Forest Garden.

Woodland Gnome 2016

So Much to Love: African Rose Mallow

The second of the African Rose Mallow shrubs I purchased this season, planted in compost near our bog garden began the season as a rooted cutting in a 3" pot.

The second of the African Rose Mallow shrubs I purchased this season, planted in compost near our bog garden, began the season as a rooted cutting in a 3″ pot.

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We have been growing a new (to us) variety of Hibiscus this summer known as “African Rose Mallow.” I found a small pot of it in the water garden section at our local Homestead Garden Center in late May, and added it to our new bog garden.

There are so many things I like about this small shrub:  First, nothing has bothered it all summer.  Not a single leaf or twig has been nibbled by deer, rabbit, squirrel, or insect.  Its leaves remain pristine.

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September 3, 2015 rose mallow 009~

And what gorgeous leaves!  Their  delicately cut silhouette reminds me of a Japanese Maple’s leaf.  The color has remained a rich, coppery red throughout the summer.

Red leaves on bright red stems certainly makes a bright statement in this area where I’m also growing so many chartreuse and purple leaved plants.  This African Hibiscus, Hibiscus acetosella, has won my heart over the past three months for its eye-candy appeal and sturdy constitution.

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September 3, 2015 rose mallow 010

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It is a fast grower.  I’ve repotted the original plant twice, and it is already showing root growth from its drainage hole again.  I bought a second plant when I spotted it a few weeks later and planted it directly into compost around the edge of the bog.  Its growth has been even more vigorous than its sibling grown in a pot.  Both plants have grown taller than me, but neither has yet bloomed.  I’m still hoping to see buds form and blooms open before frost.

About three weeks ago I finally trimmed back the potted plant to encourage a bit more branching along the main stems, and plunked the two stems I pruned away into a vase of water by the kitchen sink.

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September 3, 2015 rose mallow 011

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My friends know my kitchen sink, flanked by two windows, is my magical rooting spot in the house.  One will always find stems of several somethings rooting in this bright, moist, protected spot where I can keep a close eye on their progress.

And these tall stems of the African Rose Mallow did not disappoint.  Although the stems were semi-hard when cut, the leaves have shown no signs of wilt throughout the process.  I first noticed the new white roots on Sunday afternoon, and they have grown enough this week for me to pot the stems up today.

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September 3, 2015 rose mallow 012~

I’ve returned the rotted cuttings to the bog garden for now, but I’m considering where I would like to plant them out once their roots establish.  It will definitely be somewhere it the front garden where I can enjoy them against the other Hibiscus which delight us all summer.

The H. acetosella are rated as hardy in our Zone 7 climate.  All of our native Hibiscus enjoy damp soils and are often found growing on river banks and near swamps.  Yet, they make it in our drier garden just fine, with a little watering during dry spells.

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September 3, 2015 rose mallow 013~

I’m planning to root another set of cuttings and produce  a few more of these luscious rose colored Hibiscus plants.  The leaves are edible, if one is hard pressed for a meal, and may be prepared like spinach.  They retain their color when cooked.

The leaves are also used as a medicinal herb in parts of Africa and South America.  They have anti-inflammatory properties and may also be used to treat anemia.  This is a good specimen for true forest food producing gardens, and I’m a little surprised to have not found it before this spring.

If you enjoy hardy perennial Hibiscus and love plants with beautiful foliage, this African Rose Mallow may be to your liking, too.  But you only need to buy one, and then take as many cuttings as you like to increase your collection.

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Our newly rooted cuttings, potted and returned to the bog garden to grow on for a few weeks before we plant them out into the garden.

Our newly rooted cuttings, potted and returned to the bog garden to grow on for a few weeks before we plant them out into the garden.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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