July 09, 2012
Bees of all kinds are feasting on the billowing, off-white blossoms of Cotoneaster lacteus right now. Honeybees, yellow jackets, tiny black bees, flies, wasps and more can’t resist the bountiful nectar and pollen this easy-to-grow, rose-family evergreen shrub provides this time of year.
Later, all of these pollinated flowers will ripen into orange-red fruits that will feed wild birds late in winter. The fruits must not be the birds’ very favorite, but after they’ve fermented and once most other food sources are long gone, the Parney cotoneaster berries will be a last-ditch meal for hungry garden wildlife. And, until the robins and starlings finally munch them down, these reddish fruits will add colorful interest in the garden well into the dark days of winter. Popping against the deep evergreen leaves, this red really helps chase away the dreary winter blues.
Need a small evergreen tree or shrub for your garden? If you’re in zones 6-8, this may be the tree for you. Keep in mind that it can get weedy by producing lots of seedlings, but they’re easy to pull. If you have a particularly early or late harsh winter, this plant can see significant tip dieback, but usually it will bounce back beautifully. Just cut out the dead! Too, be sure to train it while it is relatively young. These shrubs put on growth at a rapid clip and can get gangly. A bit of strategic clipping while they’re developing can help you create a fantastically formed shrub that provides wildlife forage, evergreen foliage and year-round interest for the garden.
Oh, and on the toe-may-toe/toe-mah-toe line of thought…avoid giggles from the horty world by pronouncing Cotoneaster Ca-tone-E-aster, not Coton-Easter.
February 20, 2012
If you haven’t started already, now’s the time to start your vegetable garden. It is also time to be wrapping up any dormant pruning of your edible trees, shrubs and vines. (Think: blueberries, raspberries, apples, pears & the like.)
Buds are beginning to swell and break open. Seeds – including self-seeded weeds – are beginning to emerge from the soil. Birds are beginning to migrate and nest. And, slowly but surely, days are getting longer. And when we’re really lucky, those days are even feeling slightly warmer than just a few weeks ago.
In my own garden, I began seeds for plants like cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, cauliflower, watercress, fava beans, snap peas, mizuna, beets and chard several weeks ago when we had that sunny run of 60F days. I have an unheated greenhouse where they germinated rapidly. In a few days, I’ll be moving several of these from overcrowded sterile mix containers to individual pots where they can grow on a bit more before moving to the garden.
As in years past, this past weekend, I even seeded a few warm season crops (think tomato) in the greenhouse. If they take off, bully for me. If they don’t, I can try again indoors under lights in a few weeks and still have plenty of time to bring them to fruition later this summer. (I also started carrots, chinese cabbage and some flower seeds this past weekend.)
So, if you’ve got onions to place, seeds to sow, soil to test, berries to prune or weeds to pull, there’s no time like this very moment to get out there and get started. Even if your soil is frozen, sowing seeds now indoors or in a protected outdoor spot, will mean your garden will be well on its way by the time the Spring thaw comes. Find ideas for inexpensive season extenders here.
Thinking you need help planning, designing or installing your garden? Pretty sure you need a lesson in how to prune those fruit trees, shrubs and canes properly so you don’t kill them in the process?
Don’t keep waiting. Get in touch now to get your project scheduled and your education underway. If you wait until Spring to reach out for help, you’ll be waiting much longer to get your garden growing!
June 28, 2011
I can’t believe we’re just days away from the 4th of July. The weather and the garden haven’t really prepared me for the fact that summer really is here. It’s been all leafy greens — up until today.
Yep! Finally, snow peas, sugar snap peas and even a few strawberries were ready to harvest this morning. In most years, all of these crops would be on the wane — or at least mid-way through their big harvest period.
This year, not so much.
We’ve been trying to stay happy with lots of salads filled with kale, lettuce and chard. But as much as we love these nutritious, generous foods, they do get tiresome after a while.
If your crops are lagging, don’t despair. The salad days of our never-ending cool, wet spring are nearly over. Other slow growing yummies will start rolling in soon, and you’ll probably end up with a huge harvest rush when they do. Keep a close eye on early berries and peas. If you don’t snatch them up, wildlife will. And, the more you pick, the more the plants will continue to produce for you!
Savor all the sugary sweet goodness that comes with early summer harvests from spring-bearing plants that have enjoyed loads and loads of fresh water from the sky — not the hose!
Oh, and try not to squeal too loudly as you find these goodies in the garden. All that dependable kale, lettuce and chard you’ve been enjoying for months now might hear you, feel a bit insulted and decide to bolt. Then you’ll really be sorry (or not).
April 18, 2011
When we prune trees as they are are exiting dormancy, sometimes we see the trees leaking fluid from the cuts. And, that’s okay.
In spring, when trees begin to leaf out, their vascular systems become very active. Water and nutrients begin to travel up from the roots quite readily. Think about tapping Sugar Maples to get delicious Maple syrup. This is done in early spring when “the sap is rising”. That’s the same thing that happens, though perhaps without the same tasty flavor, when our garden trees show seeping moisture from our pruning cuts. Don’t worry about the plant “bleeding” from cuts. It is already working to wall off the points of injury and should be just fine.
Now, two things you do want to consider when pruning trees with rising sap.
First, some trees, like Birch may end up showing oozy stains from the rising sap trickling down their otherwise lovely bark. Some choose not to prune birch and other showy bark trees this time of year.
Second, be sure that what you see oozing is actually just “rising sap”. If your tree has cracks in bark or strange fissures emitting gunky, gelatinous oozes, that may actually be a fungal infection spreading its spores. If in doubt, be sure to have an arborist check it out!
April 04, 2011
By now gardeners are either shopping for cold hardy crops at nurseries and plant sales, or they’re finding that their seedlings are ready to go into the earth. Even if early season crops can handle cool, wet temperatures, a hardy hail may destroy them.
To protect tender, young starts from the snow, hail, wind and even birds that peck away at newly planted tasty goodness like broccoli, kale, chard, lettuce, and rabe, consider adding some sort of hoop or cloche to get them started.
Although floating row cover (aka horticultural fleece) is a nice protective layer that will also raise soil temperatures a bit and keep out flying pests, but it won’t do much to keep the plants from crashing under the weight a rapid-fire hailstorm.
Instead, something like a plastic hoop house or a glass cloche over your new plantings will help keep out the flying pests, raise temperatures to speed up growth and provide transitional protection for plants just out of a greenhouse, and scatter any pummeling ice hammering down from the sky.
Keep in mind that hoops can end up raising temperatures too much if days get really hot and sunny, so be sure to check and vent them regularly. Venting will also keep up airflow, which helps deter fungal damping off, which will kill your seedlings just as rapidly as a good icy beating.
Also, be sure to check soil moisture. By sheeting your crops water-repelling substances, you may be sheeting water away from their roots too. Open your hoops on days when the rain is gentle; close them at night and when freezing rains sleet down to earth.
March 17, 2011
The earliest of the spring flowering trees are awash in clouds of pink, purple & white all over Seattle. These are the trees best loved by solitary Mason bees, which are beginning to emerge from their cocoons to pollinate, forage, mate, and lay eggs for next year’s brood — all in just a few short months before summer.
Most people miss out on these tiny, black bees. They’re out in the garden doing their good works even in cool late winter weather. They are essentially stingless and definitely non-aggressive.
In my garden, I sponsor a space for Dave Hunter’s Orchard Mason bees to spend their active season. Just a week ago, I picked up my kit for the season. Last Sunday, Bob put the first tube out in their box on our warm, south-facing side of the house. (We’ll be moving tubes filled with cocoons out of the chilly fridge to the bee box over the course of several weeks with the hope being that the bees have a better chance of survival even if we have a cold, wet horrible spring.)
Today, the sun came out. The south side of the house warmed up. And, I spotted the first mason bee lurking on the edge of the box — likely a male waiting for his first potential date to emerge to do the dance of love with him.