Mowed lawn for first time this year

>> Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Last year the first mowing wasn't until April 13. So, this is what about two weeks earlier. The grass was pretty tall because I waited as long as I could due to my lawn service spreading fertilizer and crabgrass preventer on top of the grass. It was already long at that point. I watered the lawn twice to get it all down as deep as I could before cutting it.

I got four full bags of grass. I put it all near the compost pile and spread it out so that any fertilizer and weed killer could be leached out before putting it on the compost pile.


More plants arriving

>> Friday, March 23, 2007

Received three Dianthus 'Zing rose' (3) and Echinacea 'Magnus' (3).

The Dianthus worries me a bit. I think that this hot dry climate might prove to be a bit too much for these delicate plants. I have seen them in containers around the neighborhood, but I'm putting them in one of the perennial beds in the front yard. Hopefully, with the improved soil texture they will keep watered well enough.

The Echinacea can take dry spells quite easily so it will go where I took the Rose 'Honey Perfume' from in the back yard by the shed.

The Forsythia is blooming! Beautiful yellow leaves on long arching branches.


Hummingbird feeders

>> Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hung one hummingbird feeder today. I want to see how early they begin arriving. We hung several feeders last year starting in May when we first saw them flitting around the yard.

This year I want to be prepared for when they first get here.


First bulbs of the year

>> Sunday, March 18, 2007

I planted a bunch of bulbs in a temporary spot last Fall, because their permanent spot has not been worked yet. This would be Allium 'Sunny Twinkle', Allium 'Alpine Rosy Bells', Iris 'Beauty Dutch Mix', some Daffodils, Grape Hyacinth, and Crocus. One of the Allium ‘Sunny Twinkles’ has sent up shoots.

Tulips and Daffodils are coming up as well.

The larger of the three Lilac bushes is blooming! Flower buds are about ½”. This is especially exciting because this is the first year it has bloomed, the other two were purchased and planted at the same time and they have not yet bloomed. It is from Stark Brothers Nursery and called 'Fragrant Purple' which is a bit peculiar because I cannot find anything about it anywhere online except for Stark Brothers and then only in the catalog I first ordered it from two years ago. I can only guess that it is a hybrid that only they have. The flower color is dark purple.


Planting pansies

>> Saturday, March 17, 2007

This has become one of my most anticipated Spring 'chores'. It has been, the last two years, my first trip to the nursery after the long winter months. I go, ostensibly, to purchase Pansies. But the real reason is to be able to walk among all of the beautiful greenery and colorful flowers that provide the proof I need that Spring has indeed arrived. Nothing rejuvenates me more. I think my wife is in on this little guilty pleasure of mine because she lets me go by myself so I am not 'pressured' with the need to hurry. I get lost in all of the choices of everything there is to offer. I haven't yet ventured into anything other than Pansies but I am certain that, in the future, after all of my plots are finally up to snuff and able to provide the support these plants need, I will be tempted to bring home something I had not gone to the nursery planning to buy.

Oh happy day when I can finally place that crabapple tree and the crepe myrtle I have been eying. The Hydrangea will certainly be one of the first shrubs to go into the perfect spot I have picked out for the perennial bed in the back yard next to the deck.

For now I have to be satisfied with the few beds that are already growing plants.

You see, I have been building up three perennial beds in the back yard and two in the front yard for two years (2007 is the third year) and have a few plants here and there as 'testers'. Sort of the 'canary in the coal mine' if you will.

I'm not sure if I have put enough compost into these plots to over come the clay. I have been frightened by the horror stories of how water-logged clay soil kills plants. I have been keeping careful records of how much compost I have added to these plots to combat the clay and if these plants survive then I will feel more confident in buying more expensive plants.

Last winter I bit the bullet and bought a starter Butterfly garden from Bluestone Perennials. Every plant I have purchased from them in the past has survived and arrived looking healthy enough that I feel confident I can plant the 51 plants that will arrive next month.

I must admit that I am a bit apprehensive and nervous about having to put that many plants in at one time, but I have at least gotten to the point to where I believe I have a reasonable chance to make it work.

The soil was really easy to dig in this Spring in the few plots I have been building up so I added a little more just to be certain.

So, with Pansies and trowel at the ready, I come home to plant that one perfect 'welcome mat' to what will most assuredly be the best gardening season ever.


Pruned roses

>> Thursday, March 15, 2007

Gave the roses their annual Spring pruning. I always look forward to this part of Rose maintenance with trepidation. First of all, I know that it is necessary for their health but I am still such a rookie that it just seems I am killing them when I trim them back as harsh as what is recommended. Secondly, I have seen what incorrect pruning can do to rose bushes and it isn't pretty!

In speaking with the neighbors I learned that the bushes had not been pruned for the last several years before we moved in, (the family was going through their own personal turmoil which I won't get into here) just suffice it to say the roses took a back seat for a couple of years.

Having pruned them now for a couple of years and seeing that they are still growing I guess I’m doing okay by them. It’s difficult to follow a book for instruction because I don’t have the perfectly shaped rose bushes to start with. I just cut off all of the winter damage and don’t worry too much about creating show quality shrubs.

When we moved into this house in the Summer of 2004 there were four Roses, I don't know for certain what kind, my guess is they are floribundas, but shrubs anyway, not climbers, with lots of small, deep red flowers. They looked really sad. Anyone could see that something had to be done to save them. They are planted in full sun (which is good), too close to the house (which is bad due to lack of air circulation), without any mulch (which is bad due to loss of water in Summer months), in hard clay (which is amazing they have survived!)

The flower color is beautiful, (this hto was taken last year). Aphids had misshapen the flowers petals, there were spots on the leaves, which I have learned is black-spot and some grayish powder which I learned is powdery mildew. All of these three problems have detracted greatly from the overall beauty of the bushes. So, not only was I faced with learning how to start dead heading them properly, I was now faced with having to learn how to stop these three very common maladies of Roses. The internet is a wonderful tool for these two purposes as well the public library.

That first summer my wife and I decided that two of the four bushes were just too far damaged to save and we were afraid that in keeping them we would be jeopardizing the healthiness of the other two. They were all planted within a 100 sq ft plot. We pulled those two out and began to nurse the other two back to health. I knew my first course of action was to get some mulch on the ground to help keep the roots cool. After dumping some small bark mulch and spreading it to about three inches deep (being careful to keep it away from the main stems) I began reading up on the control of aphids. That part was pretty easy, just spray the bushes with a hard stream of water but I read that insecticidal soap works well and thought that they might need this because they have had such a big head start in building up their colonies.

Next, I began reading up on pruning and controlling diseases of roses. The first thing I was surprised to learn was that the way you dead head determines how a rose bush blossoms. I thought this was predetermined by the type of rose you have. I don't know about most people but I really don't have a huge preference towards fewer, large flowers or more, smaller flowers and since these had not been dead headed by the previous owner these bushes produced a lot of smaller flowers. Plus, since they had not been well-cared for, I was also surprised that they had so many flowers!

Two years ago, Spring 2005, was the first time I had the opportunity to put what I had been reading on pruning to the test and I must confess I was afraid to cut them back as hard as they really needed. We began using Safer Soap whenever we saw aphids, we were careful to water them only in the morning, dead head them as soon as the flowers were fading and added as much compost as we could to help break up the clay.

We were confident enough that we were doing everything right that we bought two more floribunda roses to replace the two that we threw away. We went with Jackson and Perkins 'Tuscan Sun' and 'Honey Perfume'.

Tuscan Sun

Honey Perfume

In the Spring of 2006, we pruned the two older roses a lot harder than we did in Spring 2005 and I was astonished at how quickly they grew back and at how much fuller they looked. Within one month, there are a lot of leaves and new branches.

The two new roses were not to be pruned the first year so we just let them go. The aphids don't even get a chance to get fat any more because we spray those bad characters off as soon as we see them. We stopped using the insecticidal soap, we just spray the bushes with a hard stream of water and use Bayer Advanced 2-in-1 Rose and Flower Care Granules.

I learned that feeding them well and at the correct time works wonders in controlling black-spot I also add Epsom Salt to get the leaves shiny. We spray the plants regularly with a milk-based spray to control the powdery mildew. And, I'm sure that the regular application of clay busting compost has had a lot to do with their overall health. After all of this routine care we were rewarded with flowers even more beautiful than we had imagined.

But something was wrong with the 'Honey Perfume'. It was planted the same day as the 'Tuscan Sun' but on the South side of the shed in the back yard instead of the South side of the house in the front yard. To me, the sitings were identical so there must have been something else going on. It bloomed nicely, at first, but towards the end of the summer the blooms were not looking as good as they should have. I can't figure out what it is but I decided to move it to the South side of the house with the other three roses before it just dies off. Hopefully I am doing the right thing because leaving it there is definitely not the right thing. So, I have to wait and see and keep my fingers crossed. It looks really quite sad. There are three gray sticks reaching up to about one foot tall and there are holes in the center of each stem. I learned that Rose Cane Borers could have created the holes. I put Elmer's Glue over the holes hoping this is the right thing to do. I don't know if they over-wintered there (maybe putting the glue on will suffocate them) or if they ate all of the life out of the plant and moved on already. But one important thing I have learned about nature is to never give up! I have seen plants come back from sticks before and I'm not as ready to give up on these sticks as I was three years ago with two of the original roses at this house.


First lawn treatment of the year

>> Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Received a call yesterday from my lawn care people saying they wanted to do a weed and feed now. I told him I thought it was a bit early and my grass is still long from the winter. I like to leave it long so the soil doesn't dry out too much in our dry winters. He said it is best to get the treatment down as soon as possible and that the grass length shouldn't matter.

Well, I let him talk me into doing it against my better wishes. They spread granulated crab-grass preventer and feed and I can't figure how they expect ti to get down to the ground when the grass is long. Now if I cut it I will be pulling up everything they laid down. Doses anyone have any thoughts on this?

If I shouldn't worry about then fine I won't but it just doesn't sound right.


Fire blight on pear trees

>> Saturday, March 10, 2007

Learned on a local radio gardening call-in show that now is a good time to prune out Fire Blight from Pear trees. Fire blight is one of the most destructive bacteria that affects pear and apple trees and is very difficult to control.

The Ohio State University Extension has a great fact sheet here on the symptoms, cause and treatment of Fire blight. I’m sure many university and state agriculture extensions have good information as well.

Fire blight is caused by a bacteria that overwinters around cankers on the trunk and branches. When spring temperatures get above 65F and there is enough moisture, from rain or high humidity, Just one active cankers can produce enough bacteria to infect an entire orchard. The bacterium is spread by splashing rain or insects to open blossoms.

If twigs appear water-soaked, then turn dark brown or black, and bend over, resembling a shepherd's crook or an upside down "J" the tree is probably infected with Fire blight. As the fire blight bacteria move through blighted twigs into main branches, the bark sometimes cracks along the margin of the infected area on the main branch causing a distinct canker and droplets of ooze appear.

Prune 12” below the infected area with disinfected shears. Use a 10% bleach solution to wipe the blade after every cut.

This time of year is still a little early for major pruning of pear trees but you can safely prune to get rid of this stuff.


Robins have returned

>> Friday, March 9, 2007

The true ambassadors of the bird world. When these guys show up everyone knows Spring has arrived! Welcome back.


Today's theme is soil improvement

>> Wednesday, March 7, 2007

With clay soil, this theme will be repeated over and over, every year, for a very long time.

First, the easy part, I plan on starting a routine spreading of Nutri-Mulch into every bed. This is actually Turkey manure. Utah has a very large number of Turkey farms about 50 miles south of where I live. I like buying locally so this works out real well. the NPK rating is 1.75-1.0-1.25 and it is loaded with trace minerals that all plants need.

I'm starting with the four raised beds, which measure 4' by 4' and are 10" deep so I'll add about 1 cu ft each and mix in well.
I built these beds in March 2005 for vegetables. The soil stayed loose over the winter without being covered and is very nice and workable. I'm thinking of making row covers and a cold frame to extend the season in spring and into winter.

The perennial beds pose a different challenge. I spread Nutri-mulch into the front two beds, F1 (100 sq ft) and F3 (64 sq ft), as well as one of the three in the backyard, B3 (262 sq ft), about 2 cu ft. The beds still need much more but this all I have on hand.

The large Wood Hyacinths are beginning to come up. I put these in last Fall and it is a welcome site for something to start showing.

I moved the floribunda Rose 'Honey Perfume' from its place in the backyard, in front of the shed, to a similar location in the front yard in front of the house.

I had planted this rose, in the backyard, the same day I planted the floribunda Rose 'Tuscan Sun', in the front yard but the 'Honey Perfume' did not like its home nearly as well. I think maybe the micro climate it was a little drier in front of the shed even though both locations are south facing, against vinyl siding and get full sun.

I probably need to incorporate a little more organic matter to the bed in front of the shed. There's that mantra again, 'more organic matter'. You can never have too much!

Tore out the Salvia Plumosa from the front perennial bed in F3 and threw it away. This photo was taken last July. By the end of the year it had gotten ratty looking and not very healthy. I liked it at first but I don't think I could give it enough room to spread like it wants to do.


Websites of Interest

In my constant search for knowledge of plants, gardening design and techniques, I have compiled a list of what I consider to be very useful resources. Hopefully these will help you as well. The list is updated periodically so come back often.

Backyard Gardener

Features a botanical encyclopedia, list of seed sources, gardening forum, a blog called Garden Ideas, and they boast the largest gardening store in the world with over 60,000 products.

Cultivating Life

Form their website: Cultivating Life explores how we’ve all moved out of our houses and into our backyards. Each week, we celebrate how Americans are reconnecting to the land. With easy-to-do projects and inspiring ideas relating to garden, home, table, craft, and land, Cultivating Life provides simple solutions and timely ideas for outdoor living, cooking, gardening, and entertaining.

Earthworm Digest

The #1 earthworm information website in the world. Where every article published includes something about earthworms.

Excerpt from their mission statement: “We are working together in a global context to disseminate earthworm information in a responsible way. We want to spearhead action in the world regarding earthworms that has genuine impact on the environment and issues of technology, scientific research, business, agriculture, literature and education.”

Eco Backyard

Your Guide to Restoring the Urban Environment

From the site: Although urban sprawl and habitat loss continue to happen throughout the U.S., I believe that we as urban dwellers can help to restore our environment so that wildlife returns, watersheds are protected, and the effects of urbanization are minimized. Thus, this site is a guide for those who wish to take a few simple steps to make a big impact on the environment, starting in your own backyard.

Farmers Almanac

Time-tested and generation approved, the Farmers’ Almanac is a compendium of knowledge on weather, gardening, cooking, remedies, managing your household, preserving the earth, and more. Anyone can give you advice -- Farmers’ Almanac goes beyond today’s experts and enlightens you with generations of perception, experience, and common sense.

Food First

The purpose of the Institute for Food and Development Policy - Food First - is to eliminate the injustices that cause hunger.

Greenview Calendar

A commercial landscape design company based in Illinois, I find their garden calendar very useful. They also provide information on a host of plants, trees, shrubs, groundcovers and bulbs you may not find elsewhere. There is a section called Plant Uses listing plants that offer food and/or shelter to wildlife, displays exceptional fall color, low maintenance plants, as well as plants with attractive fruit, foliage, bark or texture.


News about green issues and sustainable living doesn't have to be predictable, demoralizing, or dull. We butter the vegetables! And add salt! And strain metaphors! We exist to tell the untold stories, spotlight trends before they become trendy, and engage the apathetic. We're fiercely independent in our coverage; we throw brickbats when they're needed and bestow kudos when they're warranted. And while we take our work seriously, we don't take ourselves seriously, because of the many things this planet is running out of, sanctimonious tree-huggers ain't one of them.

Growth Spurts

Farmers Market Online. Great resource for a wide range of agricultural topics from how nitric oxide regulates plant growth to sudden oak death to racing the genealogy of popcorn.

Mother Earth News

America’s leading source about sustainable, self-reliant living. Covers green homes, organic gardening, natural health, modern homesteading, sustainable farming, etc.

National Gardening Association

The National Gardening Association (NGA), founded in 1973, is a nonprofit leader in plant-based education. Their fields of emphasis is plant-based education, health and wellness, environmental stewardship, community development, and home gardening.

Old Farmers Almanac

Since 1792, The Old Farmer's Almanac has published useful information for people in all walks of life: tide tables for those who live near the ocean; sunrise tables and planting charts for those who live on the farm; recipes for those who live in the kitchen; and forecasts for those who don't like the question of weather left up in the air.

The Almanac, North America's oldest continuously published periodical, comes out every year in September. The latest edition is on sale now wherever magazines and books are sold.

Organic Gardening

We've gathered the basics of organic gardening for you here. You'll be able to find where to get your soil tested, learn how to manage pests without using chemicals, and read growing guides for vegetables and flowers.

P. Allen Smith

Quickly becoming one of the most widely known authorities on home gardening, P. Allen Smith covers everything aspect of the home gardening lifestyle.

Victory Garden

A member of WGBH Educational Foundation for more than three decades, the website is the companion site to the popular PBS series.

More to come…


First entry

>> Monday, March 5, 2007

Temperature went a little crazy today, started at 6:00 AM at 45F and then slowly dropped to 36F as the day progressed and is predicted to be even lower, into the 20's by tonight.
Found Box Elder bugs crawling around the back shed so I sprinkled a little Carbaryl just inside the shed door, trying to keep them out.
I started prepping the garden for this years plantings by dumping some Nutri-Mulch over the Rose bed at the front of the house. It is supposed to help break-up the clay.


About Me

Being perpetual students of gardening and nature, my wife and I enjoy hiking, camping, fishing, bird watching, and witnessing the complexity in the simple beauty that is nature.

In the past, my inner steward-of-the-land had been given only fleeting opportunities to practice gardening because my job never allowed me to stay in one place for more than a few years at a time. I devoured everything I could get my hands on concerning: companion planting as a means of pest control, square foot gardening, intensive gardening, raised bed gardening, composting, etc. I used those brief moments to test everything I read about gardening but was never able to witness any long-term results.

Having the good fortune to be born and raised in Indiana exposed me to country living and instilled in me a great love of nature. I am proud to say that the mid-west work ethic of dependability, doing what is right for the common good, respect for others, and love of family drives me in everything I do. I learned a great deal from my grandfather and miss him everyday. He is one of the greatest self-made men I have ever known.

We chose to settle in Utah to be near family, even they are scattered across the country, and can now begin a perennial garden. With views of the Wasatch Mountains to the east of us ....

and the Oquirrh Mountains to the west, this valley affords some beautiful distraction when the garden isn’t blooming.

Since retiring, I tend to procrastinate more than I ever did and given my constant need to plan things out on paper and make lists, fueled by the limitless creative ideas I find on the wonderful garden blogs I follow, I am constantly challenged to decide on a final plan.

Growing within my mind is the most beautiful garden landscape possible. The biggest challenge to making that garden a reality is that it changes almost daily.

While my attempts at 'planning the perfect garden' evolves, I have decided to just start planting and see what grows. Some plants have died, but many have survived. I know nature has the final say as to what will grow here, but as long as I can keep learning from past mistakes, I will enjoy my role as student and embrace, and cherish, the lessons that come my way.

My philosophy is simple: Gardening is such a wonderful expression of ‘love of life’ that it simply must be shared, and that if you nurture it, it will nurture you. When we grow things we evolve from mere users of nature into Earth's stewards. So, go out and grow, not just for the beauty you can create for your own pleasure but for the lessons you can learn and for the health of Mother Earth.

I hope you'll join me in my journey deeper into gardening as I try to tame the clay and beautify our world one transplant at a time.


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