Monday, October 24, 2016

Planting is Everything

Mr. Hedge-Head really wants you to understand this!

A plant's success depends greatly on how you plant it. There's not much more to it than digging a hole about the size of the pot the plant arrived in, and gently removing the plant and the soil from the pot, and gently lowering it into the hole. It's when we get fancy that we mess up.

Back-filling compost isn't necessary and might even be harmful.
Planting so low that that part of the stem or trunk is under the surface does not protect the plant.
Excess watering can kill a newly planted tree, shrub, or annual in hard clas soil just as surely as it can when the plant is in a pot

The most import thing to be aware of when planting is a part of the plant called the crown. It's the transition point between the stem or trunk of a plant or tree, and the roots. It must end up just at the surface of the soil, or any plant, with minor exceptions, will be compromised and even die at a young age.** Trees can live for hundreds of years, but they'll die in 5 to 10 years if planted too deeply. Keep an eye of for trees that rise up from the soil like phone poles. They are at risk. A healthy tree flares at the bottom.

Essential: When the plant and its soil are sitting in their new hole, the top of the soil that came with the plant should be a but higher than the surrounding soil. This allows for some settling once it's all watered in and recovered from the jostling that went on while you were taking it from its pot.

If the plant came from a pot that it had been in too long, its roots will be all you can see. It's helpful to most plants if you do some loosening. Some don't mind aggressive techniques like cutting with a knife. Others, like Bougainvillea, can't tolerate any disturbance of their roots.

** The exception is tomatoes. You can bury the few inches stem. New roots grow from the buried stem and give the plant extra capacity for taking water and nutrients from the soil

Plants' Life Cycles

Plants' Life Cycles: Three Broad Categories

ANNUALS (Most) wildflowers and sunflowers are called annuals. In less than a year, they come up from seed, reach maturity, flower, make seeds, and die. That's not the end for them though. Their seeds ensure another batch the following spring, if you allow it.

PERENNIALS Small, plants grown for color or interest that aren't annuals and aren't shrubs (or bushes) are known as perennials, but they're not the only ones. Shrubs and trees are very long term residents of the garden in which they are planted, so they're obviously perennials. Many ornamental vines, all cacti and most succulents are perennials.

Because they have to make it through winter, perennials are usually suited to one climate or another, but not all climates. Strangely enough, the romantic and delicate rose is tough enough for almost any winter weather. The exotic look of Calla Lily suggests a hothouse flower, but they thrive from San Diego to Seattle. Most vines are perennials. Think of them as horizontal trees. Some, like Campsis and Wistaria, can take down wooden structures eventually.*

BIENNUALS Brussels sprouts, foxglove, and hollyhock are all members of this group. The spend a ear maturing, do little in winter, and complete their live the next year--flowers,  seeds, and any fruit they might muster. Start seeds in the same bed every year, and there won't br a bloom free year after the first one.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

How to Choose Plants Wisely

Learn your soil type, because some plants won't grow in clay soil, and some plants do badly in loose, sandy soil, if they need a lot of water. They won't get it because water can spread away from where it is applied farther and faster  in loose soil than in clay soil and not be accessible to your plant for as long, and also can evaporate most easily.

Know where you have sun and shade most of the day, because these cannot be compensated for. It's almost like the difference between water and air for fish and land animals. Information about sun requirements is usually available wherever you acquire plants or seeds.

Decide how much you want to water. Some plants are stressed and won't thrive if they spend too much time in dry soil. Others do just fine, and some want to be bogged. And..some can't tolerate "wet feet." Their roots will rot. Low-water plants save water, time, money, and weeding. The less you water, the less you support weeds, too.

Know the ultimate size of the plant! Not having to control size is a big part of a low maintenance garden. Roses are fabulous flowers but horrendous shrubs. They're ideally cut back to a candelabra look once a year, or they'd be sprawling monsters and not bloom as much. There are varieties meant to be self-maintaining, but the flowers won't be the best.  They're called landscape roses.

Size is especially important with trees. There aren't many small trees. If you don't want the shade or to block a view, think about very large  shrubs instead. All trees are "messy." there are no exceptions, but there are degrees. Fruits and seeds that stick to shoes or hurt bare feet can ruin a sidewalk for the whole neighborhood for 100 years, so bear that in mind in a front or side yard. In a warm climate, Coral trees are pretty non-messy, and certain evergreens are not too troublesome for colder climates.

In choosing plants, consider pollinators (bees? birds? bats?), fragrance, toxicity, and food production, including herbs.  You don't hear much about serious cases of poisoning from garden plants, but I wouldn't grow Castor with children or pets around. Just in case. You can mix ornamentals and edibles in the same areas, and some edibles are nice-looking, such as artichokes.


*There's Wistaria in Sierra Madre, CA, that has been allowed to take down a house. It is the the world’s largest blossoming plant, and weighs:
a) 450 lbs
b) almost a ton
c) 250 tons

Sierra Madre's Giant House-Eating Wistaria

The Basics of Starting a Garden

Every garden is located in a climate, and every climate has a name. You might not know what yours is called, but you know things like how cold it gets in winter and when it warms up in spring. As a gardener, you must know these things, because plants are very sensitive to climate. Like snakes and lizards, they cannot regulate their temperature, but unlike those animals, they can't seek shelter from extreme weather.

Temperatures affect viability and performance. Whether a plant will thrive for you is strongly related to its cold tolerance and sun/heat tolerance. Cherries, apples, and pears need cold winters to make fruit (performance). Citrus and avocados will freeze to death or at least lose their crop if it freezes significantly (viability and performance). The amount and form of yearly precipitation is also important to plants, as is its timing. As gardeners, we can make up for inadequate precipitation, and many plants don't mind too much precipitation if the soil they're in drains adequately. Plants available in nurseries and garden centers near you are likely to be suitable for your climate, so you don't have to be an expert when you begin making selections. Of course the same is true if you exchange plants and seeds with your neighbors and friends.

If you're embarking on an outdoor garden for the first time, don't let any bad results you might have had indoors get you down. In a small pot, with only the light available through a window, plants kept indoors are somewhat like inmates of an inadequate institution. Failure to thrive might technically be your fault, but the conditions are set against you.

Still, you might want to keep things simply when it's time to make something of an expanse of bare soil in your hard or community plant, and for that, you can do no better than sow wildflower seeds. You will get a beautiful display out of a few ounces of wildflower seeds. They grow quickly and of sold for your local market, will be tolerant of the weather, no matter what it does. It's all good with wildflower seeds! Most climates will allow wildflowers to grow in spring and summer, they're low maintenance and their good for birds, butterflies and bees.

With a little help from you in the beginning, planting wildflowers will help to suppress weeds. A week or so before you sow your wildflower seeds, start watering the soil to a depth of a few inches. Don't let it dry out completely, and you'll soon see many green spikes poking up through the soil. You must ruthlessly kill them all! They're weeds. (What is a weed? A plant that likes to grow more than people like to grow it.) Pluck away weed seedlings as soon as you recognize them. If you don't, they will bloom and set seed, or spread horizontally with  runners or other fancy footwork.

Pay attention to the appearance of the weed seedlings. If you can recognize them you will always be able to eradicate them while preserving the seedings of the plants you want in your garden.

Keep those weeds at bay for a week or so, until the day comes when very few new seedlings appear to replace the ones you killed the day before. Then you may sow your wildflowers. If it's already hot, do it in the evening so they'll have all night to absorb water from the soil and can germinate in good condition when the time comes. It will just be a few days at most, and only a few weeks before something is blooming.

Plunk a few sunflower seeds here and there, considering the height when you choose their places. They are trouble-free, and definitely one of the happiest plants you can grow.