Green Thumb Tip #21: The Mid-Summer Snack

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A snack makes us all feel a little better, doesn’t it?  If you want the plants you tend to have that ‘Wow!’ factor as summer relentlessly wears on, give them a tasty pick-me-up.  There are several good choices, and it’s easy enough to add care and feeding into your routine.

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Although plants ‘make their own food’ from sunlight, carbon dioxide and water on a daily basis, they also need an assortment of other elements and minerals for optimal growth.  Plants rooted in the Earth likely find most of what they need dissolved in the soil.  When we grow a plant in a pot or basket, anchored in potting mix, we need to provide those important minerals and extra elements to support their growth.

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Nitrogen is the most important element to support lush growth.  Phosphorous and potassium (K) support blooming, fruit formation, and healthy tissue development.  You’ll find the percentage of these elements listed on any fertilizer you might buy, in the formulation of N-P-K.  A fertilizer labeled 10-10-10 is a balanced fertilizer.   Since only 30% of the product is labeled as one of the key elements, you know that 70% of the product is filler, which may contain other necessary elements and minerals.

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Still waiting for the first blooms to appear on this new Begonia….

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But your plants might need a ‘pick me up’ that has more of one element than another.  You will find lots of specialty organic and inorganic fertilizers formulated for different uses.  Savvy gardeners would never  apply a standard lawn fertilizer to a flowering potted plant, for example.  Read the labels on the products at your favorite nursery or big box store to find the right product for the right plant.

When you potted up your plants in the spring, you likely added a little Espoma Plant Tone or Osmocote to the mix.  Or maybe you used a potting soil advertised to have fertilizer already mixed into it.  That is fine, but most of the pre-mixed potting soils feed for roughly 90 days.  That means that they’re beginning to lose the umph right as we hit the heat and dry spells that summer always brings.

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Many products are water soluble and can be mixed into a watering can and applied as a soil drench or foliar feed.  These give the quickest ‘pick me up’ results.  I learned about Neptune’s Harvest from a trusted nurseryman many years ago, and have used it ever since.  This is my ‘go to’ product for most pots and baskets out of doors, and I use it at least a couple of times a month in June through September.

The numbers on this fertilizer are relatively low (2-3-1), in part because it is an organic fertilizer made from seaweed and fish emulsion.  Yes, it smells terrible.  But because it is made from these organic materials, Neptune’s Harvest also delivers many trace minerals for stronger, healthier growth.

Plants can access the nutrition very quickly and show results very quickly.  Plants show better leaf color, put on stronger new growth and set more blooms after a dilute application of this mix.

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For plants indoors, and those plants I’m growing mainly for their flowers, I prefer to use Orchid Plus plant food (20-14-13) from time to time.  This is a reliable way to induce the plants to set buds and produce flowers.

This is one of those ‘light blue’ chemical fertilizers, and I mix it up much weaker than the package suggests.  If you feed too frequently, a mineral residue will build up on the pot, or even the potting soil.  Use this when watering only about once every two to three weeks.

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Plants are under a lot of stress in our area right now.  Rain has been scarce in our neighborhood, and temperatures regularly reach well above normal.  The garden looks a little tired and wilted.  The first line of defense is hydration.

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Plants are mostly water, and water pumps through their tissue from the roots, up through every cell until water is released as vapor through the leaves.  When a plant wilts, it means that its cells are collapsing for lack of enough water.  Some plants can perk back up once water is available  again; others won’t.

Water helps in the short term, and in this sort of weather, small pots or baskets may need hydration every morning and evening.

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Without sufficient water, their colors look dull, leaf edges may burn, and growth slows down.  New leaves and flowers may be small.  It’s not a very pretty sight!  If you have time to do nothing else, at minimum keep plants as hydrated as you can until it rains again.

Too much water causes its own set of problems, including root rot.  As in all things, we seek balance. 

Keep in mind that when there is a lot of rain and frequent watering, soluble fertilizers will wash right out of the soil.  This is another reason to give light supplemental fertilizers on a fairly regular basis, while plants are responding to summer’s bright light and warmth with active growth.

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You may have noticed that each day grows a little shorter, now that we’re nearly to August.  We’ve enjoyed a few cool nights, and the garden is preparing for its late summer show.

It’s a challenge to help our plants survive right through the season and have enough strength for a beautiful late summer and autumn display.  We have to keep them actively growing despite the challenges our weather may present.

Regular care and careful observation  are the secrets to success.  Hydration, feeding, deadheading and a little grooming ensure that our gardening investments pay generous dividends in beauty.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Green Thumb Tip # 14: Right Place Right Plant
Green Thumb Tip # 15: Conquer the Weeds!
Green Thumb Tip #16: Diversify!
Green Thumb Tip #17: Give Them Time
Green Thumb Tip # 18: Edit!  
Green Thumb Tip #19: Focus on Foliage  
Green Thumb Tip #20: Go With The Flow

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Garden Blogger’s Foliage Day: Pelargoniums

A basket of ivy leaved Pelargoniums, which overwintered in our garage.  It is finally ready to begin blooming again.

A basket of ivy leaved Pelargoniums, which overwintered in our garage. It is finally ready to begin blooming again.

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Christina, who gardens in the Hesperides, sponsors a day on the 22nd of each month to focus on the foliage in our gardens.

I’ve wanted to join her theme for many months now, and have finally been home with time to pull a post together, and interesting leaves to photograph, today.  Christina posts to Cathy’s In A Vase On Monday theme, and I always admire her lovely flowers.

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Zonal Pelargonium

Zonal Pelargonium are so named because of the “zones” of color in their leaves.

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What a treat to enjoy the wide angles of her Mediterranean garden filled with herbs in her post today!  What a fabulous garden she keeps!

I love plants with interesting leaves.  And I love interesting leaves which happen to also be distasteful to the deer who continue to sneak into our garden.

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Perhaps that is why I’ve become so enamored of Pelargoniums in the past few years.  I’ve never been particularly fond of the flowers these plants produce.  There are so many other more beautiful flowers.  But I grow as many varieties as I can for their lovely foliage.

My favorites are the scented Pelargoniums, which have been particularly difficult to source this season.  The ones I hoped would survive our winter did not.  Marginally hardy here, some winters they make it, and others are cold enough that they die before the weather sufficiently warms in spring.

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This rose scented Pelargonium grew in our garden last summer.  I still haven't been able to source this variety this year, and the roots apparently didn't make it through this past winter.

This rose scented Pelargonium grew in our garden last summer. I still haven’t been able to source this variety this year, and the roots apparently didn’t make it through this past winter.

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I kept many pots of various Pelargoniums going through the winter in our garage, and these are leafing out now.

Most of our scented ones had grown into shrubs by autumn, and I didn’t make cuttings, believing I could purchase fresh plants this year.  Although I’ve found a few at The Great Big Greenhouse in Richmond, Virginia; our local nurseries have little to offer beyond the ubiquitous P. “Citronella.”

I love the soft, fragrant leaves of these useful plants, mostly native to South Africa.  Like other herbs, they are edible and may be used in cooking.  Their fragrance helps repel flying insects, and they remain utterly distasteful to deer.  Drought tolerant, they thrive in full sun.

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This little scented plant came home with me on Saturday from my excursion to The Great Big Greenhouse.

This little scented plant came home with me on Saturday from my excursion to The Great Big Greenhouse.  The leaves are so beautifully textured, and they are edible.

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(Christina, had you considered a large and lovely pot filled with Pelargoniums to fill the empty spot where your Buxus once grew?  It will turn loss into beauty while you plan a more permanent fix.)

As much as I enjoy the scented varieties, I’ve gained a new respect for other Pelargoniums as well.  I’m growing a selection of Ivy leaved cultivars  in pots and baskets this year in many areas of the garden.  I love how these drape in a hanging basket.

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An ivy leaved Pelargonium I have growing in a sunny area near our kitchen door.

An ivy leaved Pelargonium growing in a sunny area near our kitchen door.

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They have deep glossy foliage, in the shape of ivy leaves, and produce an abundance of sturdy bright flowers through the entire season.  Hummingbirds love the flowers, which grow well in full sun and can stand getting a little dry without drooping.

I’ve also been purchasing Zonal Pelargoniums with variegated leaves.  These beautiful variegated Zonals have been widely available in our area, and I have been collecting them to use in planters at the street and on our front patio.

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I’m not so concerned with the color of their flowers, as I am with the beautiful patterns on their leaves.  These blend well with other plants grown primarily for their foliage to make a living tapestry of texture and color in summer displays.  They can take full sun or partial shade, withstand drought, and aren’t bothered by pests or disease.

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Pelargoniums, though tender perennials, generally get treated as annuals by modern gardeners.  Most remain so common and inexpensive that we give them little thought.  In fact, many American gardeners see them as cliched; often overlooking them for newer hybrids of other flowering annuals.

I experimented with keeping as many of our plants as I could in the garage over winter with mixed results.  A little more than half survived, kept in slightly moist soil.  Had our winter been shorter, they might all have made it.  Many of these plants kept green leaves all winter, even if they did grow very scraggly by February.

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These Pelargoniums overwintered in their container in our garage, and are just leafing out again for the new season.  These tender perennials can grow quite large when kept from year to year.

These Pelargoniums overwintered in their container in our garage, and are just leafing out again for the new season. These tender perennials can grow quite large when kept from year to year.

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It seems that European gardeners are much more likely to grow Pelargoniums than are American gardeners. Many Europeans fill window boxes and hanging planters with these sturdy plants season after season.  Many have perfected techniques for keeping their plants alive from one summer to the next.

I’ve been reading The Passion For Pelargoniums: How They Found Their Place In the Garden by Anne Wilkinson.  9780752496061_p0_v1_s260x420

Anne traces the history of this genus from the native plants found growing in South Africa and South America by European explorers in the Seventeenth Century, up to the present day.  She talks about the important European growers who developed countless hybrid cultivars of the various species of Pelargoniums, and what traits were valued at different points in their history.  In fact, in the mid-Nineteenth Century, at the time of the American Civil War, British nurserymen were in stiff competition with one another to develop the many Zonals with variegated leaves that we enjoy so much today.

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This extremely detailed and meticulously researched book will be of interest both to gardeners who enjoy growing Pelargoniums, and to anyone interested in the history of commercial horticulture.  The story is filled with fascinating characters, drama, intrigue, and previously untold history.

If you are wondering why I’m not simply calling these plants “Geraniums,” as most of us normally do, it is to avoid confusion with the true, perennial Geraniums.  We are growing quite a few varieties of these in the garden this year, too.  They are native to many areas of Europe, and have nothing to do with the tender Pelargoniums native to the Southern Hemisphere.

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Perennial hardy Geranium

Perennial hardy Geraniums have flowers with five, equally spaced petals.

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Many of the plants we grow  are chosen strictly for their leaves.  Beyond the Pelargoniums, I’ve also been watching for the Bonefish series of Coleus, and I’ve been nurturing a wide variety of Begonias.  Both offer inconspicuous flowers but outrageous foliage!

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An Angelwing Begonia finally making its new leaves for summer.

An Angelwing Begonia finally making its new leaves for summer.

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For those waiting for the wide shot of our May garden, I’ll include one to show the progress of the Canna lilies and Colocasia which finally have begun to grow.  These overwintered in the ground.  It appears that we lost some of the dark leaved  Colocasia, a huge disappointment; but at least two of our cultivars survived winter and are bulking up now that the heat has finally arrived in our garden.

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Do you select plants primarily for their flowers or for their foliage?  Everyone has their own preference for the balance between leaves and foliage, bright color and restful green.

As much as we love that rush of May Iris and roses, our focus remains on the foliage which lasts through the season.

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I plan to focus on a different genus each month, sharing some of our favorite foliage plants growing  in our garden this summer, as I join Christina in her monthly GBFD post.

Do you have favorite foliage plants?  Do you include tropical foliage plants in your garden?

If you’ve not grown Pelargoniums for a while, I hope you will give them another look on your next trip to the garden center.

We stopped by our little McDonald’s Garden Center satellite store today, and were delighted to find a wonderful selection at 40% off.  These tough little plants prove a true bargain, because they keep performing well through the entire season with minimal attention.  Give them bright sunlight, steady moisture, and a monthly feeding to keep them growing (and blooming) until frost.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

 

Let It Live

Pelargonium x hortorum "Mrs. Pollock" can't be found in garden centers ever spring, and is worth saving over the winter.

Pelargonium x hortorum “Mrs. Pollock” can’t be found in garden centers every spring, and is worth saving over the winter.

 

Geraniums, likes so many plants we purchase as annuals each spring, are actually  tender perennials.  This means they  will live indefinitely.

A true annual lives only to produce its seeds.

Once it has fulfilled its purpose in life, the plant, like a fragile moth, will only decline and die.   Think of cornstalks after the harvest and you will understand.

Have you ever seen a corn stalk put out a second round of flowers and ears of corn?  Of course not.

But many of our favorite ornamental plants, like geraniums, may live on for many years, if simply kept from freezing over the winter.

Like a Bougainvillaea in Southern  California, it will grow and bloom so long as it has light, warmth, and moisture.

This variegated geranium is also worth saving.  It has bloomed all summer under tough conditions.

This variegated geranium is also worth saving. It has bloomed all summer under tough conditions.

A  scented geranium; zonal or bedding  geranium, Pelargonium x hortorum; or an ivy leaf geranium, Pelargonium peltatum, will grow large and strong over time, giving many flowers.

We often don’t see an individual geranium plant reach its potential, because we discard our maturing plants each autumn with the first frost, and begin a new with little seedlings or cuttings each spring.

This rose scented geranium has grown into a massive shrub over the summer.  These sometimes overwinter in the ground for us here in Williamsburg.  These root easily in soil, and cuttings may be the best way to overwinter a plant this large.

This rose scented geranium has grown into a massive shrub over the summer. These sometimes overwinter in the ground for us here in Williamsburg. These root easily in soil, and so cuttings may be the best way to overwinter a plant this large.

 

It is surprising  to compare what our  one year old and our two or more year old geranium plants look like this November.

The plants I found space for in the garage last autumn looked positively bedraggled by spring.   Yet, when watered, fed, and set back  outside; they all bounced back to beauty within a month.

 

This massive basket spent last winter in the garage. We brought it back inside on Friday evening before the weekend storm.

This massive basket spent last winter in the garage. We brought it back inside on Friday evening before the weekend storm.

Those overwintered  plants have been covered in flowers non-stop this summer.

The plants I purchased in little 4″ pots this past spring grew and bloomed.  None of them died.  But none of them ever grew to “spectacular,” either.

They kind of limped along.  Now I understand that like many other perennials, geraniums will grow more vigorously and bloom more generously as they age.

This is a hard time of year for gardeners. 

We’ve been busy and attentive to our gardens all summer.  And now as the days grow shorter and cooler, some of us are looking forward to a brief break and a rest from the endless round of watering, trimming, feeding, weeding, mowing, and general involvement of the last several months.

Many of us feel a bit overwhelmed at the sheer volume of potted plants we might want to overwinter, and wonder how to possibly take care of them all inside for the next several months.  While we hate to see them die, it is hard to figure out what to do with them all.

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But there easy, no-cost ways to keep tender geraniums through the winter. 

There are basically three ways to overwinter a mature geranium plant.  (A fourth strategy would be to take and overwinter cuttings, discarding the parents.)

Which method you’ll choose must be based in how much space you have, how much winter sun light you have inside your home, and how much “fussing” you’re willing to do to over winter your plants.

Purchased in late April in tiny pots, these geraniums can be dug out of the large pot which has been there home this summer, and brought insid for winter storage.

Purchased in late April in tiny pots, these geraniums can be dug out of the large pot which has been their home this summer, then  brought inside for winter storage.

 

The first, easiest way, is to clean up your currently outdoor potted geranium plant, trim it back a bit where needed, and set  it inside your  warm, sunny, living space.

Keep it watered all winter and let it survive inside.  You may or may not get blossoms, depending on how much light you can provide.  I’ve seen geraniums blooming in January when kept in a sun  room.

The second way is to bring the whole potted plant inside to a partially lighted garage or bright basement.

So long as there is some light, and temperatures stay above freezing, the plant can survive with minimal moisture.

Geraniums can go into a “dormant” state,  with little or no new growth, and remain alive for many weeks.  Although the leaves may drop off, life remains in the roots and stems.

Break the dormancy in early spring with water, more warmth, and brighter light.  It is wise to cut the plant back by 1/2 to 2/3 when bringing it inside for this sort of storage.

 

July 7, 2014 opening flowers 011

The third method is one I’ve never tried.

It again relies on the plants’ ability to go dormant for a while without actually dieing.  This is the method if you don’t have space for pots inside.

Dig your geraniums before the first frost, and shake the roots free of soil.  Trim back long roots and long stems.  Keep the bare root geranium in a garage or basement over the winter.

Most instructions for this sort of storage suggest hanging the plant, upside down with twine, in your basement.  Of course the leaves will shrivel and drop away.  Some of the stems may even die.

An ivy leafed and a scented geranium share this pot with a eucalyptus

An ivy leafed and a scented geranium share this pot with an Eucalyptus

 

Take the plants down about once each month and soak them in water for an hour or so, to keep the plant from drying out completely.

Rehang the plants after each soaking,  until early spring.  Re-pot each plant in fresh potting mix and place it in light and warmth to break dormancy.

The plant should respond and begin growing again within a few weeks.

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Why go to such trouble to overwinter geraniums?  I can think of at least three good reasons to make the effort:

1.  Geraniums are better plants in their second, and subsequent years.  You’ll have a bigger, brighter, more floriferous plant next year if you keep it this winter.

2.  Your special cultivar may not be on the market next year.  Plants come and go in fashion.  I get frustrated each spring looking and looking for plants which simply are not offered locally.  Finding it in 2014 in no way guarantees the shops will have it in 2015.

3.  These plants add up in expense.  A single geranium plant may cost $5.00 in a 4″ pot.  However, how many do you plan to purchase?  This adds up very quickly.

Overwintered plants may be easily harvested in early spring for cuttings.  A little effort adds up to considerable savings over replacing all of your geraniums each spring.

June 19 garden 010

Now that we’re down to the brass tacks of November, and imminent frost anytime now in Williamsburg; I’ll be tending to my geraniums.

These were last on the list of plants to bring in because they truly don’t mind cool weather.  It is frost and freezing temperatures which kill them… not the low 40s and upper 30s we’ve had thus far.
And the more I think of it, the more I want to try to save.  Is it compassion, thrift or greed? 

June 19 garden 012

 

Hard to pin it down.  But, I’ll bring in as many as we can find a spot to keep over the winter.

Woodland Gnome 2014

 

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Planting Pots

Pot constructed by the Pattons and offered for sale at their Homestead Garden Center in James City County, Virginia.

Pot constructed by the Pattons and offered for sale at their Homestead Garden Center in James City County, Virginia.  Please notice the contrasting colors and shapes of these sun loving plants.

Pots are the easiest way to garden.

If you have only one  square foot of sunlight where something might grow, you can grow your garden in a pot.

Gardening in a pot allows you to be spontaneously creative…  and outrageously unconventional in your plant choices and design.

Situated in full sun at the street, this newest, unprotected pot must tolerate heat, drought, and stand up to our herd of deer.

Situated in full sun at the street, this newest, unprotected pot must tolerate heat, drought, and stand up to our herd of deer.  It is planted with Zonal Geraniums, Caladium, Lamium, Ivy, Coleus, and Cane Begonia.

 

Pots are  the “trial and error” notebook of a gardener’s education.

 

My first ever pot of Pitcher Plant.  Once I learn how to grow it, I can use it in combination with other bog plants.

My first ever pot of Pitcher Plant. Once I learn how to grow it successfully, I can use it in combination with other bog plants.

 

A friend was telling me yesterday that she’d love to find a class to teach her about designing potted plantings.

This brilliant and creative friend, an artist by profession,  could definitely teach such a class !

I asked her to please let me know if she found one, because I would come with her…

These aquatic or bog arrangement is also at Homestead Garden Center for sale today.

This aquatic,  or bog arrangement, is also at Homestead Garden Center for sale today.

But I’ve never taken a class on making pots.  I have studied thousands of photographs of others’  pots in gardening books and magazines.  And I’ve grown plants in pots since I was a child.

Maybe a local garden center offered such a class, once upon a time, and I just missed it.  Hard to say…

An experiment:  Do you see the vase "neck" embedded in this hypertufa pot?  It is an opening to the soil, and ivy grow out of the neck.

An experiment: Do you see the vase “neck” embedded in this hypertufa pot? It is an opening to the soil, and ivy grows out of the neck.  A friend generously gave me the pieces of her broken vase to use in this pot.

 

But here is what I’ve already learned about growing potted plants, by long years of trial and error;  and  what I can share with you:

1.  Choose the largest pot your space and budget allows.  From a design perspective, big pots have impact.

A few big pots make a much better statement than two dozen tiny ones; unless they all match and are grouped artistically  together somehow.

This large hypertufa pot is home made.  It still needs water daily to support the rapidly growing plants.

This large hypertufa pot is home made. It still needs water daily to support the rapidly growing plants.

 

Big pots allow plants to grow lush and healthy.  There is more room for the roots to grow and it is easier to keep the planting mix hydrated in a large pot.  A larger mass of pot and soil helps moderate soil temperature  in extreme weather, too.

2.  Feed the soil with compost; organic amendments like Plant Tone and Osmocote; coffee grounds (high in nitrogen), and organic liquid feeds like Neptune’s Harvest.  Most potting mixes are nutritionally sterile, so the plants must be fed to perform well.

 

This large pot of Geraniums also supports Moonflower vines on a trellis.  This pot hasnt' moved in the four years since we placed it here.

This large pot of Geraniums also supports Moonflower vines on a trellis. This pot hasn’t moved in the four years since we placed it here.

3.  Site the pot, then choose the plants.  Know first of all where your new pot will go in your home or landscape; then select plants which will grow with the level of light and exposure to the weather that location offers.

You may have the same pot in the same spot for many years, but the plantings will switch in and out seasonally.

4.  Select a ” community of plants” which will grow together harmoniously for each pot.

Sometimes it works to have several of the same plant growing together in a pot.  Here, several cultivars of Caladium share the space.

Sometimes it works to have several of the same plant growing together in a pot.  Here, several cultivars of Caladium share the space.

Choose plants which share similiar needs for light and water, but  will “fill” different spaces so they weave together into a pleasing composition.

5  Select plants for contrast.  Choose plants whose differences create an interesting composition.

Dahlia and Purple Heart, Tradescantia pallida, grow near purple basil and a Jasmine vine.

Dahlia and Purple Heart, Tradescantia pallida, grow near purple basil and a Jasmine vine.  This planting was inspired by Becca Given‘s comment on the “Eggplant” post about her sister in law’s eggplant and turquoise kitchen  color scheme.

 

Contrast color of foliage and bloom to create an interesting, and maybe a dramatic, visual statement.

 

Geraniums and Fennel.  Fennel, Dill, and Asparagus fern all give a large, airy cloud of foliage to a pot.

Geraniums and Fennel. Fennel, Dill, and Asparagus fern all give a large, airy cloud of foliage to a pot.  Variegated, textured  foliage also creates contrast and interest.

Contrast foliage texture and shape, and choose plants which will grow to different heights and proportions so there is a balance of tall, trailing, airy, flat, round, and spiky.

6.  Study nature for inspiration.  Analyze how plants blend into communities in the wild.    Notice what you like, and what you don’t. 

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Do you enjoy wide expanses of a single species growing to a fairly uniform size?  Do you like  grasses mixed in among the flowers?

Do you like lush vines covering structure?  Do you want a classically symmetrical static look, or an asymmetrical spontaneously evolving look?

These differences matter, and you can achieve them all in pots.

Ornamental Pepper with Creeping Jenny and a cutting of a scented Geranium.  The cutting will eventually grow quite large over the summer.

Ornamental Pepper with Creeping Jenny and a cutting of a scented Geranium.  The cutting will eventually grow quite large and fill out this pot  over the summer.

7.  Develop a mental image of what you hope to create in the pot before going to the garden center to purchase the plants.

Have an idea of what you hope to create, and which plants you want to use.

Lantana always attracts butterflies and hummingbirds.  Drought tolerant, it grows into a small shrub and blooms until frost in full sun.

Lantana always attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Drought tolerant, it grows into a small shrub and blooms until frost in full sun.

I often take a list with me.  Others take photos.  With a smart phone, you might even bookmark some photos online which are similiar to what you hope to purchase.

Now, it is a rare treat when the garden center actually has in stock everything on my list.

But, if you know your parameters for light, moisture, size, color and price; you can often make brilliant substitutions.

 

This pot, in full hot sun, is designed around a fig cutting which rooted over the winter.  It will grow with other heat loving and drought tolerant plants, including Rosemary, Sedum, and Graptopetalum.

This pot, in full hot sun, is designed around a fig cutting which rooted over the winter. It will grow with other heat loving and drought tolerant plants, including Rosemary, Sedum, and Graptopetalum.

 

8.  Be realistic about what you can grow.  Apologies here for the downer… but realism at the beginning saves later disappointment.

Know, in advance, what you can sustain.

This simple, neat basket features a Fuschia, just coming into bloom, and impatiens.

This simple basket features a Fuschia, just coming into bloom, and impatiens.   We grow Fuschia to draw the hummingbirds close to our windows.  The only safe place to grow these plants is on our deck, where the deer can’t reach them.

I know I can’t grow certain plants where deer or squirrels can reach them.  I learned that I can plant tomatoes all I want, but no net or screen will prevent squirrels from stealing them as they ripen, even on the deck.  I know that certain plants, like impatiens, left in reach of deer will be grazed.

Sedum, heat and drought tolerant, requires little care.  I was surprised to find it grazed by deer last summer, as it is supposed to be "deer resistant." This one grows on the patio,, right against the house.

Sedum, heat and drought tolerant, requires little care. I was surprised to find it grazed by deer last summer, as it is supposed to be “deer resistant.” This one grows on the patio,, right against the house.

Maybe you can’t water hanging baskets of Petunias every day in summer, or you don’t have enough light to keep them in bloom where you have space to hang baskets.

Once you learn and accept the parameters of your current gardening situation,  it allows you to find beautiful  alternatives.

Starting pots with cuttings and small starts is economical.  Plants grow rapidly during summer, and pots fill in very quickly.

Starting pots with cuttings and small starts is economical. Plants grow rapidly during summer, and pots fill in very quickly.

 

9.  Let time be your ally.  Plant slowly and carefully, leaving sufficient room for each plant to grow.

Remember to use some combination of rooted cuttings, seeds, tubers, bulbs, and actively growing plants.

Unless you’re planting for an immediate show or competition, plan for the arrangement to evolve during the season as the plants grow, peak, and fade.

 

This basket of Petunias requires daily water.  Someone who travels during the summer might not be able to keep the basket alive.  Like a pet, it requires daily care.

This basket of Petunias requires daily water. Someone who travels  a lot during the summer might not be able to keep the basket alive. Like a pet, it requires daily care.

 

Different plants will take over as “stars of the pot” at different times during the season.

Plants will grow at different rates, and some will try to muscle out others.  You will have to referee with your pruners from time to time.  That is OK, and makes it more interesting.

10.  Treat your potted plants like pets.   K now their names, know their needs, and give consistent loving care.  Expect to learn continuously when you garden.    There is always more to know; and the more you know about each plant you grow, the better care you can take of it.

The green Brugmansia in the center grows to 5' tall.  It came as a rooted cutting weeks ago.  Gradually, it will grow to  dominate this pot before it blooms in late summer.

The green Brugmansia in the center grows to 5′ tall. It came as a rooted cutting weeks ago. Gradually, it will grow to dominate this pot before it blooms in late summer.

Plants need to be appreciated to grow well.  Visit each regularly, and take care of its needs.  Whether it needs water, pinching, training on a support, turning, or simply a kind word; remember that is a responsive living being.

And, a bonus:

Our plants love for us to share with them.  You give your dog toys, don’t you?  Plants respond to our love just as animals will.

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What can you share with a plant?  I dilute leftover tea and coffee, and use it to water potted plants.  Tea and coffee are high in nitrogen and other phyto-chemicals.  (The same pot doesn’t always get the tea, and there are plenty of “plain water” waterings so the soil doesn’t get too acid.)   I use finished coffee grounds and rinsed egg shells  as mulch in large pots around fruits or vegetables.

When making a pea gravel mulch, I often include something beautiful such as a shell, agate, glass marble, or crystal resting on top of the soil.

A friend scatters trimmed hair around her plants, which also helps keep deer away.

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As you work with each of the plants in your potted garden, you will learn to know what it needs, and to provide for those needs.  You also learn which plants grow well together, and which will not.

The real difference between someone with a “brown thumb” and someone with a “green thumb” comes down to how much attention the gardener pays to providing what each plant needs to fulfill its potential for beauty and productivity.

Each pot, each season, teaches us something new.  

We continue to grow, just as our plants do.

 

A hanging basket of various Begonias.  Richmondensis, in the foreground, is a tough Begonia which grows vigorously in baskets.

A hanging basket of various Begonias. Richmondensis, in the foreground, is a tough Begonia which grows vigorously in baskets.

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

Painted Leaves

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We were told a story, when I was a child, about a mythical character who came out on autumn nights to paint all of the green leaves in bright colors.

His name was Jack Frost. 

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In picture books he was shown as a little elf carrying pots of paint and a huge paintbrush.

 

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He painted all of the green leaves so they turned bright yellow and orange, scarlet and gold.

 

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This, or course, was an attempt to communicate to a very young child the scientific understanding of how frost, or freezing temperatures, causes green leaves to change colors.

 

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Years later, I learned that frost killed off the chloroplasts, and thus the chlorophyll which gave leaves their green tint.

Once the chlorophyll was killed by the cold, the true color of the leaf was revealed.

 

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But what of these gorgeous leaves?

 

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They open in kaleidoscopic colors.

 

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Looks like Jack Frost has already painted each leaf as a perfect masterpiece of line, color, and form.

 

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But these  leaves are dressed in their summer finery.  No frost has touched them.

 

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Their brilliant pigments are able to carry on photosynthesis, and sustain the life of the plant, with a minimum of green.

Are they using different wavelengths of light?

 

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What a beautiful mystery.

 

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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After the Rain

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I can remember a time when the weather was just the weather.

We didn’t check in with The Weather Channel several times each day.

We didn’t need to.

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Rose, “Easy Does It”

Summer thunderstorms weren’t agents of mass destruction.

Our winter storms weren’t named, and we rarely broke a temperature record, summer or winter.

Tricolor annual geranium

Tricolor annual geranium

The weather was just…. the weather.

We had something each day, but rarely did it make the news.

Coleus with Columbine and a newly sprouted morning glory vine.

Coleus with Columbine and a newly sprouted morning glory vine.

Oh, I remember going to watch the  badly flooded James River rip through Richmond after Hurricane Camille caused severe flooding.

It was only a tropical storm as it crossed Virginia, but our family still went down to the Nickle Bridge to watch white water on the James.

Lamb's Ears are just beginning to flower.

Lamb’s Ears are just beginning to flower.

But it was such a rare event…. we didn’t worry about our cities flooding multiple times each year.

Sinkholes didn’t swallow homes and roads, and we didn’t see fresh footage of terrible tornadoes each day for weeks at a time.

Our weather is so extreme these days.

The rose scented geraniums have just begun to bloom this week.

The rose scented geraniums have just begun to bloom this week.

This week Alaska endured wildfires while families living around the Great Lakes had their Memorial Day picnics next to icy beaches.

Children taking a dip in the lake were actually taking a “polar plunge” into water cold enough to still be filled with chunks of ice.

Caladium

Caladium “Postman Joyner”

Landslides from too much rain have become commonplace in many states, while other areas are grappling with crippling droughts.

There is too much suffering and loss attributed to the weather these days.

All of us in coastal areas are now paying attention to news about how quickly sea levels are rising.

And we’re watching stories on our local news about  neighbors caught in urban flooding,  just driving from home to work.

The stump garden is filling in.

The stump garden is filling in.

As a gardener, (and a human being,)  I just want a nice balance. 

Let there be enough rain to support our gardens.

Japanese Painted Fern

Japanese Painted Fern

Let the summer be mild enough that we can stand to go outside to mow the grass and pull the weeds.

Let the winters be cold, but not too cold for too long.

And please, no destructive storms. 

The fern garden

The fern garden

Yes, I’m nostalgic for the days before extreme weather became the norm.

We never talked about climate change, or geo-engineering, global warming or weaponized weather when I was young.

It felt like a far simpler world back then.

"Golden Celebration," a David Austin English shrub rose.

“Golden Celebration,” a David Austin English shrub rose.

I love the rain soaked garden after a summer shower; when the plants are glowing and basking in the cool, moist air.

I love raindrops clinging to leaves and petals, the freshness of the breeze, and the feeling that all is right with the world for another day.

Dusty Miller growing against Lantana, which survived our winter.

Dusty Miller growing against Lantana, which survived our winter.

A simple pleasure, to walk in the garden, after the rain.

Caladium, "Candidum"

Caladium, “Candidum”

May you enjoy these simple pleasures, too.

Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2014

 

Luminous

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“Light is creation.

Darkness is the space necessary to create.”

Erica Jasmin Cartaya

 

Peony bud

Peony bud

“May it be a light to you in dark places,

when all other lights go out.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

 

Clematis

Clematis

 

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness:

only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate:

only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Rose

Rose

“Pointing to another world will never stop vice among us;

shedding light over this world can alone help us.”

Walt Whitman

 

Perennial Geranium

Perennial Geranium

“I will love the light for it shows me the way,

yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.”

  Og Mandino

 

Coreopsis

Coreopsis

“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark;

the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

Plato

 

Comphrey

Comphrey

 

This Memorial Day weekend, our garden in luminous. 

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It is cool enough to enjoy working out in the garden, and so we have been out there doing things from early until late.

Whether the task at hand is pulling weeds, mowing the lawn, or re-potting plants; it is done with appreciation for the opportunity to have a hand in this beautiful garden.

Rose scented Geranium

Rose scented Geranium

We  remember that the garden, like ourselves, is made of light.

The plants feed off of light, just as we draw our own energy from light.

Annual Geranium

Annual Geranium

To observe the plants as they grow, basking in the light reflected from leaf and petal, is the chief reward  a  a gardener may enjoy day to day.

Assorted Geraniums, Coleus, and Moonflower vines share a pot on the patio.

Assorted Geraniums, Coleus, and Moonflower vines share a pot on the patio.

Each new leaf unfolding itself out of a stem, each cluster of petals opening to reveal the beauty of a flower makes this light manifest as matter.

Coleus with a new Dhalia in its pot, Creeping Jenny and Sedum.

Coleus with a new Dhalia in its pot, Creeping Jenny and Sedum.

Our world is luminous, and we are also made from a fabric of light.

Heuchera

Heuchera

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Caladium

Caladium

Spring Annuals

Petunia

Petunia

Now although my favorite plant catalog has as its motto, “Friends don’t let friends buy annuals;”  we have been shopping for annuals this month.

I love the little starts, already blooming themselves silly, in bright fresh colors.

Salvia and Ageratum

Salvia and Ageratum

Annuals are the “over-achievers” of the plant kingdom, living their short lives with great beauty and gusto!

annual Ageratum

annual Ageratum

Choosing annuals each year is a little like re-painting a room, or choosing a new comforter for an old bed.  It is  an easy way to “redecorate” the patio and the deck with a fresh palette of color in pots and baskets.

So long as they remain well fed and watered, they will bloom from now until frost kills them in late autumn.

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On our last two trips to our favorite Homestead Garden Center, owner Joel Patton has been there, and has most generously given me some little annuals to grow out and trial for him.  So I will definitely be showing you those little plants as the season progresses.

Petunias

Petunias and Bacopa on the right, one of the plants given to me to trial

The Patton family grow many of the herbs, annuals, and perennials they offer at their nursery in far western James City County.  Everything is organically and loving grown, and absolutely fresh and healthy.

The selection is just mind-boggling at this time of the year, and the Pattons stock cultivars you can not find anywhere else in the area.

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And so my great fun at the moment is to construct fresh arrangements of annuals and hang them out onto the empty hooks on the deck, celebrating a new season of growth.

Such amazing colors surrounding us now that the weather has warmed!  I have a  tired back, but a happy heart!

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Photos by Woodland Gnome, 2014

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