Echinacea

Echinacea Need more late summer perennials to extend your season?  Purple coneflowers will continue to bloom until frost then go dormant for the winter.  Showy 4" rosy purple daisies are lightly fragrant and make good cut flowers for bouquets.  The clumps spread slowly and can be carefully divided after 3 or 4 years.  There is also a beautiful white variety called White Swan.  If faded flowers are left in place, the bristly seed heads provide food for finches in winter.  

The herb echinacea is derived from varieties of this flower.  E. angustifolia is used nowadays as a fortifier of the immune system, mainly to prevent flu and minor respiratory diseases by increasing the body’s production of interferon.  The roots are the part of this plant used for medicinal purposes.   Echinacea was used by Native Americans more than any other plant in the plains states.  It’s antiseptic properties were used to treat snake and insect bites, to bathe burns and to help cure the “sweats.”  They chewed the plants roots to ease the pain of toothache.  It was also used by the Native Americans for purification.  The leaves and the flowers can be used in teas as well.

Gloriosa Daisy ‘Prairie Sun’

Gloriosa Daisy 'Prairie Sun'

Late summer color can be an opportunity to add new plant that will bring beauty to your garden right through fall.  Many summer annuals are leggy and in need of cutting back about now.  If you like spending time outdoors at this time of year take advantage of this glorious weather and make sure your garden has lots of colorful flowers. 

Golden yellow perennials like gloriosa daisies, coreopsis and golden mums stand up to strong sun now, and later in the season burn like embers under gray skies.  You’re probably familiar with the traditional Black-eyed Susan with a prominent purplish black cone in the center.  There are many varieties of this type with russet, bronze or mahogany bands.  But a gloriosa daisy I especially like has huge 5" golden yellow blooms with pale yellow tips and sports a light green central cone instead of the familiar brown one.  Prairie Sun looks stunning with any shade of blue or lavender like asters, Russian sage or salvias.  Try it in front of the sky blue flowers of cape plumbago for a breathtaking combination.

Gloriosa daisies make good cut flowers and are tough and easy to grow.  They are descended from wild plants native to the eastern US and require only moderate water once established. 

Things to do in the garden in August

Here are some reminders of things to do in your garden in August.

  • Cut back  berry vines that have produced fruit.  Canes of the current season should be trained in place.
  • Spider mites are especially prolific during hot, dry weather.  Sometimes you don’t even know how bad  the infestation      is until all your leaves are pale with stippling.  Periodically rinse dust and dirt off leaves with water.  Spray the undersides of infected leaves with insecticidal soap, switching to neem oil if they build up a resistance to one of the pesticides. 
  • Start cool season veggies seeds now so they are ready to put in the ground in 6-8 weeks when the  weather is cooler.  You can start broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, chard, lettuce and spinach seeds in containers.  Carrots, onions, peas, beets and radishes can be sown directly in the ground. 
  • One last to do:  Make a journal entry celebrating the best things about your garden this year

See-through Plants in the Border

So often we design a border with short plants in the front, medium-size plants in the middle and large or tall plants in the back.

Sure, you can see and enjoy all the plants this way but the garden may feel static with the arrangement. Adding lacy, medium to tall plants to the front or middle of the border entices the viewer to move closer or wander into the garden for a better look at the plants that are slightly obscured.

Not every plant that you can see through will be successful in the mid or foreground. An ideal see-through plant has delicate foliage. The flowers have a loose growth and the stems are fine enough to see the plants behind them. Strong stems that don’t flop or need to be staked are a must. The best plants are usually at least 3 feet tall. The width of the plant doesn’t matter as you can use more or less of them as needed.

Place see-through plants at intervals that provide a rhythm or flow to your bed and invites the viewer to pause. Start them at least a few feet down from the beginning of the border. The corners of the bed usually need a plant with a denser habit to mark the beginning or the end.

To use see-through plants effectively in the garden it’s best to plant large splashy flowers or foliage behind them. Plants like roses, daylilies, Shasta daisies and hostas all qualify as backdrops. Subtle foliage plants get lost in the mix, instead use bold complimentary or contrasting colors.

Japanese anemones will soon be blooming and their loose form make perfect see-through plants. Graceful branching 2-4 ft high stems bear single or semi-double white, silvery pink or rose flowers. This plant is slow to establish but spreads readily if roots are not disturbed. Use in borders or partial shade under high branching trees with the vibrant purple of princess flowers in the back ground or a red flowering maple.

For a bed in a more sunny location, consider planting an ornamental grass in the foreground. Grasses are the perfect see-through plant contributing both upright form and the ability to sway in the wind. Other perennials that are blooming now and make good candidates for see-through plants are gaura, agastache, kangaroo paw and lobelia cardinalis.

Look around your garden for places that need something airy and try a new combination today.

The Dog Days of Summer

Despite how hot it’s been,  the "dog days of summer"  just came to an end August 11th.  Where did this expression come from?

Some say it signifies hot sultry days not fit for a dog, but the dog days are defined as the period from July 3 through August 11 when the Dog Star, Sirius, rises in conjunction ( or nearly so ) with the sun.  As a result, some felt the combination of the brightest luminary of the day (the sun) and and brightest star of the night ( Sirius) was responsible for the extreme heat that is experienced during the middle of the summertime.  Since Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky it’s reasonable to guess that it adds some heat to the earth but the amount is insignificant.

The name "dog star" came from the ancient Egyptians who called Sirius, the dog star, after their god, Osirus, whose head in pictograms resembled that of a dog.  They called the period of time from 20 days before to 20 days after the conjunction "the dog days of summer"  because it coincidentally fell at the time of  year when it was very hot.  We now know that the heat of summer is a direct result of the earths tilt. Now you know… the rest of the story.  

 

 

Containers

If your deck or patio needs some perking up about now, plant up a new container or add to your existing ones.  Almost anything goes when it come to combining plants in containers and nearly any type of container looks good with the right plant.  I have over 250 in a sprawling garden of containers arranged like a border on my deck, under trees, around my front door, down my driveway… places  where planting in the ground just isn’t possible.  I can move them farther apart, up, down, to the front or to the back to create a display that is always evolving.  I add spots of vivid color where I need it and texture where I want it.  I have the flexibility to remove anything past its prime or bring forward a fragrant plant when I want to really enjoy its scent up close.

So what looks great in containers?  One simple strategy I use a lot is to put just one plant in a pot.  A single perennial like a flowering maple looks good year round.  My asparagus meyeri really looks dramatic in a low ceramic pot. The princess flower and my enormous hosta sieboldiana (which I’ve named Bob) can be hidden behind other pots in the winter when they are dormant.  Succulents, like a large hen and chicks, are always real standouts in a pretty container as are grasses.   I have a Sango Kaku Japanese maple in a large cobalt blue glazed pot as the thriller in one vignette with chartreuse green barberry  and a fragrant heliotrope as fillers and lysimachia aurea and purple calibrachoa as spillers.  I like burgundy foliage so Sizzling Pink loropetalum  is one of my favorite background plants.  It looks great with Japanese forest grass and black mondo grass.  The purple leaves of oxalis triangularis works well in this color scheme, too.  My displays change every year and also as the summer progresses.  I live in partial shade but if you live in the sun try the rich colors of canna lily, black-eyed susan, kangaroo paw, aeonium and old fashioned variegated geraniums.

Although I take a more-is-merrier approach to container gardening, numbers alone don’t mean much.  Five pots are enough to create a dramatic composition on a porch or patio.  The trick is not how many pots you have, but what you do with them.  I use overturned nursery or clay pots,  boxes and plant stands to stage my plants so short but showy plants can be placed up off the ground at eye level.  Containers of plants placed in front hide the risers from view.  By elevating pots with various props, I create combinations that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.  

Staging can also be an effective way to display garden art like sculpture , fountains and handsome empty pots.  It’s easy to place ornaments where they look best -a place of honor – by raising them up in your grouping.

 
When planting mixed containers never use more than three plants colors, two is sometimes enough.  That doesn’t count green, unless it’s lime.  Skimpy pots are a miss, pack the plants so the pots are full when you’re done.  You want the pots to look good right away.  Big pots, at least 16" across are dramatic and make a nice contrast to matching smaller ones.  

Whatever plant or container you choose, you’ll enjoy the results now that the dog days of summer are over.

Harvesting and fertilizing apples, pears and plums

Time to take a break from heavy gardening tasks and enjoy the fruits of your labor.  Check vegetable gardens daily for ripe produce to be sure you are harvesting them at their peak.  Keep faded flowers picked regularly to prolong bloom.  Inspect fruit trees for luscious ripening fruit to be picked at just the right time.

How do you know when fruit or nuts are ready to harvest?  It’s not as easy as picking zucchini or tomatoes.  Take apples, for instance.  Apples approaching maturity may be broken off easily from the spur.  Do not pull an apple downward or you may damage the spur.  Twist it upward with a rotating motion.  When a few non-wormy apples fall to the ground, this is a sign that fruit is nearly ripe.  Check inside.  Apples are ripe when their seeds turn dark brown to black.  If you prefer tart apples, harvest them a little earlier.

 What about that plum tree loaded with fruit?  For best quality, plums should remain on the tree until firm-ripe.  This stage is often very difficult to determine.  The best guide to ripening is to watch for softening fruit that is fully colored.  When they are ripe, the plum stem will easily separate from the spur or branch when the fruit is gently lifted.  Early maturing  varieties like Santa Rosa should be picked 2-3 times per season taking the ripest at each harvest.  Late maturing varieties like Golden Nectar can be picked all at one time or at two pickings spaced about a week or ten days apart.  Burgundy plums have the best of both worlds.  Ripening in early July, the fruit holds well on the tree until mid-August and can be picked over a long period before it drops to the ground and is lost.

 
    Pears are unlike most other fruit.  They are best when ripened off the tree.  Pick fruit when they have reached mature size and are just starting to lose their green color.  Don’t let them soften or turn entirely yellow before harvesting.  Bartlett pears are usually harvested sometime in August.    This variety ripens on its own without cold storage.  Buerre d’Anjou , Bosc,  Comice,  Monterrey and other varieties are usually harvested in September or October, placed in a plastic bag and refrigerated for at least 2 weeks, then brought out to ripen at room temperature.  To harvest pears, lift up fruit until the stem separates from the spur; do not pull or twist.  If the stem does not break easily from the spur, allow fruit to ripen for a few more days.
 
    Each fruit and nut has an optimum harvesting time.  If you are unsure about your tree, email me and I can tell you about yours.  
    
    After harvesting, fertilize your trees one last time with an organic fertilizer formulated specifically for fruit trees.  All that fruit takes energy to produce.  Plants make their own food by photosynthesis, recombining carbon, oxygen and hydrogen atoms from water and air with energy from sunlight.  They also need small amounts of other elements, such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, just as we need certain vitamins and minerals in addition to protein and carbohydrates.  Feed your soil with compost and organics like blood meal, feather meal, bone meal, chicken manure, bat guano, alfalfa meal and kelp meal.  Organic fertilizers have soil microbes to help insure that more nutrients are available to your trees.  They contain mycorrhizal fungi– beneficial organisms which colonize the roots of most plant and become a natural extension of the root system.  These organisms serve to enhance the absorption of many nutrients as well as promoting drought resistance.  Organic fertilizers also contain humic acid that provides carbon for the microbes in order to help them propagate and do their work.

    Apple trees live for 60 years, plum trees can live for 40 years and pears for 75 years.  Take care of your trees and they’ll take care of you.  
 

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