Not as many birds lately

>> Tuesday, October 30, 2007

For some odd reason I haven’t seen as many birds as usual around the feeders and bird baths for the past several days. I get an eerie feeling when I walk out back and don’t see them flocking around as they normally do.

These photos were taken at 2PM, here is the cherry tree, these feeders are usually empty by 1PM.

And this one is in the apple tree.

It isn’t that cold weather is coming on because these House Finches and Mourning Doves and have stayed at these feeders every day for the past three years, right through winter.

When I go out to refill the feeders just after dark, the feeders in the backyard are almost full. I always fill them to the top so some of it is being eaten.

Today, the feeder in the front yard, just outside my office, was half full at 4 PM. This feeder is usually empty by 1 PM.

I have seen cats come around, and I know their usual hiding places. But they always come around and after I chase them away the birds come back.

The Doves are still coming around in the morning and sitting on the top of the chain link fence at the back of the yard. It is the spot that first gets the morning sun, so they warm up there.

I see Finches in the tree tops throughout the day and they do occasionally come down to eat.

I don’t remember this happening last year. It is just so quiet without hearing their usual chirping. I don’t know what to think.


Looking for a few good shrubs

I still have some extra space to fill. Conventional wisdom says you should start any landscape with a good solid foundation, in the case of gardening that foundation is trees and shrubs. I have never found convention to pave the ‘sunniest’ path to happiness for me. Aside from the occasional vine, rose bush and raspberry cane, I have not broken through the three foot height barrier that most perennials live in. Now, I find it is time to reach a little higher into the stratosphere with shrubs. I have fruit trees that should satisfy my need for height, but somehow, the fact that they were a part of this landscape before I was does nothing to fulfill my need to grow a tree and a shrub.

I really should use drought tolerance as a major decision factor since we are undoubtedly heading for a warmer drier climate. That being said, I still want lush growth, fruit for the birds and/or flowers that attracts butterflies, hummers and bees and needs to have at least three seasons of color. Is that asking for too much?

The list of drought tolerant shrubs is fairly short and is usually lacking in at least two of what I consider desirable.

The only shrubs that come close are Butterfly Bush, Red-Osier Dogwood, Viburnum, Purple Beautyberry.

Butterfly Bush-I already have one, and I’m still waiting for the butterflies to come flocking to it. This one is Black Knight.

Red-Osier Dogwood, aka Red twig dogwood- a Utah native, very drought tolerant. The dark red branches make a nice winter accent. There are several varieties of dogwood available that will grow anywhere from 2 to 12 feet high. Beautiful in winter.

Viburnum Aurora-aka Korean Spice, 4 to 6 feet tall and wide, water need is listed as medium, whatever that means. blooms March-April, not much said about winter interest. Attracts birds and butterflies and is fragrant.

Viburnum Red Wing-aka Highbush Cranberry, 8’-10’ tall and wide, good fruiting and flowering

Purple Beautyberry-attracts bees, butterflies, birds, blooms mid0summer, 4’ to 6’ tall and wide, berries in fall, yellow or purplish autumn color.

All of these shrubs have lush growth and attracts wildlife. As far three seasons of color, well, I guess that is asking for too much. These five shrubs are all very nice looking shrubs for my zone 5 conditions and overall I’m pretty pleased with these.


Recycling urine?

>> Sunday, October 28, 2007

Average rainfall in Utah is around 1” per month. June and July are the lowest at .7” and March, April and October are the most at 1.3”. By comparison, Georgia’s lowest rainfall is in October at 3.1 which is almost two and a half times more than Utah’s highest month.

If you have been watching the weather, as most good gardeners do, you will know that Georgia is under strict water restrictions due to lack of rainfall.

At this rate, the Southeast is quickly becoming the new Southwest as far as aridity goes.

Utah received less rain than average this year but we did not suffer any water restrictions. Hopefully this winter will bring heavy snowfall because we depend more on our snow pack than we do on rain to help fill our reservoirs.

Reservoirs are very low, well, I guess it’s the same everywhere.

But did you see what NASA has come up with?

NASA has worked out how to recycle urine into drinking water.

Take a deep breath.

Okay, I know we need to do something to conserve water, and I am perfectly willing to cut back some when ever I can. And if I have to I will cut back a little more so I don’t have to drink my urine.

Are we really at this point? Please, say it ain’t so.


Bulbs are up, oops, wrong season

While weeding yesterday I discovered that the Irises and Grape Hyacinths having broken ground! I don’t recall this happening last year but it seems odd that they didn’t wait through the cold first. Do they have to have that cold spell before they come up? and will this affect them coming up next spring?

Grape Hyacinths


It is possible that I did not plant them deep enough. But what I have read says they should be planted shallower in heavy clay soil. I worked this soil to about 8” deep before planting the bulbs and put them in about 4”-6”.

My research shows me that a little top growth is to be expected as bulbs settle in for winter; flowers now are unlikely. Once the weather cools off, this growth will subside; don't expect it to continue too much longer.

The bulbs were planted in November 2006 and came up this past spring.

I also discovered that established grape hyacinths put up top growth in late summer which can stay evergreen through winter. I did not know that.

This top growth should not affect the spring flowering, so I guess they are okay.


Is this a compost pile?

Went out this morning, 9 AM, 41F, and emptied all of the containers I had sitting on my back deck. Every time I walk out there lately it seems they are taunting me with their half-hearted growth of lettuce, chives, carrots, radishes, chamomile and parsley. As if saying “I’m not getting any better, so you may as well toss me out before we freeze to death!” They all sprouted okay. It’s just that I haven’t done justice by them by putting together a workable ‘thriving’ schedule, just a ‘surviving’ schedule of the occasional watering and feeding. It is definitely an aspect of gardening I want to work on. Just like I want to work on having a compost pile.

I dumped seven containers of soil and plants onto the ‘compost pile’, if I may be allowed to call it a compost pile. That term may not be accepted by people who have ‘real’ compost piles. The soil I dumped on it was potting soil and full of roots so I think it is a worthwhile addition.

I started the ‘pile’ three summers ago with a little soil and a lot of good intentions of starting a compost pile. It’s been sitting on a 9’x12’ concrete slab that looks like it might have been planned for a shed.

Since then the pile has languished through the heat of summer and the freeze of winter slowly collecting grass clippings of a yard that has been sprayed with weed killer and whatever feed that my lawn company has been using. I also throw the occasional small trash can of shredded paper. When I think about it I’ll dowse the pile with water and if memory serves, I even threw a 5 lb bag of Blood Meal on it once, thinking I would actually start actively working the pile for its intended purpose. But, that didn’t work. The part about me working the pile, that is.

I haven’t been brave enough yet to throw kitchen scraps on it. For one thing we don’t seem to generate much in the way of useful kitchen scarps. It just doesn’t seem that what little we do produce would add much to it.

It isn’t a trash pile, I mean, I don’t throw anything on it that shouldn’t be thrown onto a full fledged compost pile. I guess this is what you would call a ‘passive’ compost pile. More passive than I would like.

As for the ‘tainted’ grass, my thinking is that the bad stuff in it will leech out and it would not harm my garden plots, if I wait long enough. How long is long enough? I’ve heard that with rains and regular watering the grass should be usable in about two months. I have also heard that it is okay to throw this tainted grass onto a compost pile but it is not okay to put the clippings directly on the beds.

I’ve toyed with building a couple of bins so that the pile can be easily tossed from one to the other as a means of turning the pile. The pile is by no means big enough to use in every plot I am working so it’s not like I would benefit a lot by having a compost pile. I guess that what little bit I get out of it would help a little.

One of these days I’m going to have to turn it all over to see if the stuff at the bottom has turned into anything useful. In the meantime it is going to sit there looking, to the casual observer, like I know what I’m doing.


Michigan Bulb Co order

>> Saturday, October 27, 2007

Here’s another order to help fill up my beds and my insatiable need for more. Michigan Bulb Co usually offers a one cent sale and their selection isn't as exotic as some, but they have a good selection of plants and fair prices.

This order was packed liked they care. I love it when a nursery uses extra packing to protect their plants. I'm not crazy about the 'peanuts' but the Hydrangea is the only plant that received this treatment. The box was slightly damaged in transit on one end, and I expected to see some internal damage as a result. Everything inside was unaffected which attests to the care they put into the packing material.

Everything else came in plastic which completely encased the plant. The leaves are very healthy, when I looked at the roots of several of the plants at random they are very well-developed and healthy as well. This protection scheme is one of the best so far.

Dianthus Maiden Pink.
Grows to 6” tall and 12” spread. Loves neutral to alkaline soil which is any clay area so it should do marvelously here in the Utah valley.

When I search for Maiden Pinks I get info on a long list of plants called Maiden Pink. For instance, Zing Rose, Flashing Light, Confetti, Brilliancy, etc. The catalog I ordered these from just calls them Maiden Pinks so I don’t know which plant from this long list this one is. I can eliminate some of them because they are white but the others are all bright pink to rose-red to crimson-red. So it will be a mystery. This photo from the internet calls it Maiden Pink.

Dianthus in general confuse me. Some people call them carnations, pinks, Sweet William. I wonder why so many cultivars use the same generic name. Most other flowers are pretty specific with their names.

Campanula Glomerata. Commonly known as Bellflower.
Here’s another plant whose name could get you a wide variety of cultivar. When I search for Campanula Glomerata I can get Clustered Bellflower, Clustered Bellflower Joan Elliott, Clustered Bellflower Superba, Campanula Glomerata Caroline, etc. Some of these plants look so similar that I don’t see how they can be differentiated. Some are blue, some are white. The catalog I ordered this one from just says Bellflower. It is beautiful though, regardless of the name.

Hydrangea Annabelle.
Now this one is very distinct in its name, size, shape, color etc, so that when you ask for Hydrangea Annabelle you know exactly what you are going to receive. The white blooming heads are over 10” in diameter (sometimes up to 12") and bloom no matter how they are pruned. This is my kind of plant. The perfect beginners shrub.
I just learned that this shrub can live up to 50 years! I never thought about how long a specific plant lives I just figured that they always leave seeds behind to continue their line.
There are several categories of Hydrangea, this one is a “smooth”.
This is the one shrub I want most to grow. My Grandmother had one of these and it was HUGE! I have my doubts as to whether or not Utah is the correct climate for it. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Veronica Red Fox.
Aka Speedwell. Flowers from June until September 15” tall by 18” spread. These are quickly becoming some of my favorite plants. They are very widely grown because they compliment so many other flowers and they attract bees like crazy. I have three other Veronica varieties, all blue, so I am looking forward to seeing these rosy-pink spikes. They say these are not as invasive as other Veronica but I'll probably add more, just in case they are not.


Not all roots are created equal

>> Thursday, October 25, 2007

While looking at my desk this morning, my eyes stopped on the stack of reading material that has been growing since, well, the last time I whittled it down to manageable size.

I spotted a planting guide pamphlet and I opened it. There on page 4 was a little box separated from everything else and entitled Root Types.

Okay, now, I know there are basically two types of rooting systems, bulbs, with all of its various shapes, each with its own name, such as rhizomes, tubers, corms and cormels, and then there are, well, roots. But I never realized there are actually five different root types, each with its own method of planting and growing.

When I put a plant into the ground I’ve been concerned only with spreading out the roots, once I’ve pull them out of their little containers, and simply plopping them into a well prepared mix of potting soil and time released fertilizer, and then pressing them in until their crowns are at ground level. And of course watering them well after that.

Now I learn, that since there are five different types of roots, I need to pay a little more attention to how I set the plant into the ground instead of just plopping it in. It seems I may have caused the little buggers some undue stress.

Here’s the lowdown: there are fibrous roots, long taproots, rhizomes, roots with eyes, and fleshy roots. This mix still looks like bulbs and roots to me.

Bulbs are pretty easy to figure out, and curiously missing from this list. Anyway, place them 2-3 times their diameter deep, pointy side up, and cover with soil. Pretty straight forward.

Roots however are a bit more, shall we say, particular. Fibrous roots (carnations, mums, phlox) want to spread downward and not be cramped. Don’t we all. Their crowns want to be at or slightly above the soil. Rhizomes (bearded, Japanese and Lilliput irises) want the same thing, their top should be slightly visible above the soil.

Long taproot plants (hollyhocks, hibiscus, columbine, etc) need to be placed just below soil line so they don’t rot.

Roots with eyes (peonies) and fleshy roots (daylilies and hostas) like to sit on a cone shaped mound with their roots spread around the mound. Roots with eyes should be lightly covered with soil while fleshy roots like to be covered and then firmly pressed in.

I hope my phlox, irises, columbine, hostas, etc will forgive my ‘barbarian’ assault on their roots by planting them all at ground level and firming them in. I don’t think I’m going to go back and replant them just to satisfy these rules. May the plant gods forgive me.

I guess planting perennials is different from planting vegetables. Unless I learn that I have been doing that wrong too. It seems their needs are a bit more refined than vegetables.

Hmmm, I should read a little deeper through this pamphlet and see what else I have been doing wrong. But then, why stress myself? I'll learn as I go.


Winter mulch

>> Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Here’s what I discovered in reading about mulching for winter.

What is the difference between summer mulch and winter mulch anyway? I mean, you mulch to protect your plants, right? Something I never considered was timing. I was just going to throw a couple of inches of mulch on everything before it snows, much as we throw on a blanket on cold winter nights to keep us warm. Well imagine my surprise when a neighbor told me to wait until the ground freezes before mulching. I must have looked at him as if he were crazy or just pulling my leg. I told him that it would be too late then, that the tender roots of my newly planted plants would freeze to death by then.

So, I went to the internet to do some research. Not that I doubted what he told me. Well, alright, I did doubt him. After being told I should cut my Butterfly bushes to the ground in the spring so they will come back more beautiful and fuller than ever and that action led to their deaths, I decided for my own peace of mind that I’m going to have to double-check everything I hear.

What I found really made sense. The time to apply mulch is after the temperature is consistently below freezing. That’s right, wait until the ground freezes and then apply the mulch. This is because the plant needs to be dormant and winter mulch allows the plant to remain dormant until the spring sun can warm it up again. If you apply it too soon then you create a layer of warmth that could cause the plant to produce new growth and if this happens then the tender new buds will be killed when it does freeze.

Also, by applying mulch before the ground freezes you can smother a plant that is still growing. Because it is still growing and needs air circulation you are actually creating a perfect environment for diseases. So, wait until the ground freezes before mulching.

Typically, 2”-4” is adequate. Organic material, such as stiff leaves, straw, pine needles, hay or bark chips, is best because of two reasons. One, is that this bulky stuff allows some air circulation, whereas anything that mashes down creates a soggy mess that completely seals the plant which leads to, again, that perfect environment for diseases.

Now when I say stiff leaves, what I mean is Oak or Beech because they won’t mat down. Softer leaves such as Maple pack down and blocks air and water from passing through.

Okay, the second reason to use organic materials, as opposed to inorganic, is because it will break down into the soil, while inorganic materials won’t. The reason this is beneficial is because it will allow the soil to become more coarse which facilitates the flow of air and water and prevents clay soil, like I have here in Utah, from packing down into a brick.

Another thing I didn’t consider is the soil needs to be protected from the freeze/thaw cycle that can cause damage by heaving. So again, it makes sense to wait until the soil freezes and then the mulch to keep it frozen. Heaving pushes plant roots up out of the ground and is most harmful to shallow-rooted plants and any newly planted specimens that have not yet rooted.

For roses, it is best to mulch after the first hard frost by mounding soil over the crown, usually 6” deep. This is especially important for grafted roses. As I learned the hard way, a grafted rose is a rose of a specialty color that has been grafted onto a root stock, usually a red rose because they are most common. If the rose dies back to the ground and the root survives you will be greeted with a very different rose than the beautiful yellow or white rose you had last year.

Just as a side note, own-root roses do not suffer this problem.

Remove winter mulch in spring as soon as new growth begins. Pull it away from the base of the plant by about 3” to allow air circulation.

Now that was an especially informative trip to the internet and I told my neighbor he was absolutely right and I will believe whatever he tells me in the future. Well, only after I verify it first.


My ‘to do’ list is burying me

>> Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Over this spring and summer I have been making a list of all the cool ideas I have seen in magazines, books, blogs, websites, etc that I would like to put into my yard and garden.

Last week, I took a look at that list. Then, after stepping back, taking a deep breath, and developing a very skeptical frown, said to myself "There is no way you are going to get all of that done!" I may have created a monster. One that will most assuredly demand every free minute of my time. I know me well enough to know that I won’t do all of this. Hmmm, maybe if I break it down into smaller pieces so it doesn’t look so overwhelming, I can get it done. I am a hopeless optimist. Time management will definitely play a huge roll if this list is going to be completed.

1-Replace grass under the fruit trees with groundcover so I don’t have to mow under them.
2-fill low areas in lawn with top soil
3-replace west gate with new gate, trellis and plant bed
4-replace grassy area at east gate, next to garage/shed with brick pavers in a lattice design (with thyme growing in the open areas)
5-build a cover over the deck, to block out sun, and to hang plants from
6-build trellis over B3 perennial bed to provide some relief from the intense sun
7-build a ladder trellis for containers to set on back deck
8-build shelves in back shed to store pots, plant trays, etc
9-lay a flagstone walkway to back shed
10-install walkway lights along driveway and front/back walkways
11-design an herbal bed and make herbal vinegars, potpourris, teas, etc
12-design and build a row cover system to extend growing season
13-design and build a cold frame
14-paint bird bath and shed doors deep blue?
15-make edging more permanent with bricks or stone
16-make hose guides for garden hoses until irrigation system is installed
17-build another tower for runner beans
18-build a better trellis for tomatoes, those wire jobs are just not strong enough
19-install irrigation system, tired of dragging garden hose around, timer would be a life saver
20-design a trellis for front of house to grow clematis and or honeysuckle

I am sure the list will get longer before it gets shorter. I find so many great ideas from reading garden blogs, etc that I can't help but want to try them myself. Maybe I should just learn to restrict myself a little. Oh, where's the fun in that?


Where does our food come from?

>> Friday, October 19, 2007

I found an interesting article on the website Grist. The article tells of how Iowa has traditionally been the “bread basket” of the U.S. producing a variety of foods for humans but since the advent of synthetic fertilizer and pesticides the number of farms has diminished and food production has become specialized in other parts of the country. Iowa has turned to being the biggest provider of livestock feed instead of human food.

The article tells how local farmers are beginning to return to the small local farms of years past, when they produced their own natural fertilizer, shunned synthetic pesticides and produced healthier more natural foods for humans.

The article is part of a series on food and farming and deserves a read.


Gardening is a learning experience

I am grateful for finally having the space to garden as I always knew I could. And I am grateful for being healthy enough to get out there and do it.

I am grateful that gardening is such a popular activity. Its popularity has made possible the wide variety of plants and the nurseries that make them available.

I am grateful for the variety of media available to give me ideas, to spark my imagination and to answer my many questions either through websites, bulleting boards, blogs, podcasts, books, magazines, and to a lesser extent radio and television.

I want to take this opportunity to send my heartiest thank-you to each and every one of my wonderfully talented, generous, caring fellow gardeners who take the time to blog their experiences so beginners like me can learn.

And I have learned a lot this past Spring and Summer. About how plant colors interact with one another. How to put color combinations together to design a ‘cool’ setting or a ‘hot’ setting. About how some colors give the feeling of depth, and how texture can give the illusion of movement. I have also discovered that there are no hard and fast rules. That it is okay to experiment to find your own unique style.

I have begun to learn ‘nursery speak’, the hidden meanings behind words like creeping (invasive) or airy (long and thin).

About what plants won't grow in 'full sun' areas like I was told they would. Without casting too much discredit onto nurseries trying to sell their wares, I realize they look at ‘full sun’ from the view point of warning potential buyers to give the plant at least six hours of direct sun. My experience has now shown me that more than six hours of full sun can be detrimental to the plants health. I probably should have watered more for those particular plants, but I don’t know which plants need more water in the ‘full sun plus’ areas just by reading the warning that they need full sun. Communication is a wonderful thing, but only if all pertinent information is properly conveyed.

I have learned how valuable it is to have someone you can count on to actually water everything when you are on vacation.

I learned I need to start seeds indoors earlier than I did this year. As well as the fact that I can actually make it work.

Another thing I learned is that this can be a pretty expensive hobby if you let it get out of hand. The rewards are far greater though. Being outside in the sun, exercising your knees and back, and shoulders and legs, and neck, and oh, what a workout!

I have learned the true value of a great pair of pruning shears over the economy of a good pair. Likewise with every other garden tool available.

Other rewards come later after you see all of your planning and hard work come to fruition and even if only one person tells you it looks great, then it was worth it. That’s the moment when you take a break, stand back and don’t look at your work with a critical gardeners eye but look at it for the beauty it is and say “You know, it does look good”.

When dozens of birds, butterflies and bees come around to visit, that is when it will really hit me. That I have actually created an environment that is natural enough for wildlife to nourish themselves, find protection and feel comfortable enough to nest here. That is when I know I have achieved something really important and worthwhile.

I already have more than my fair share of birds coming around to all of the feeders I have filled every day for the past three years. I’m used to, daily, seeing a variety of Finches and Doves. I am regularly visited by Hummingbirds, Starlings, Flickers, Mallards, Chick-a-dees and the occasional Red-tailed Hawk. Now I am to the point that I am anxiously looking for the never before seen birds that migrate through here.

This year there were more bees than last year. Next year I hope there will be even more. This year there were only the white cabbage butterfly and once I saw a red butterfly, but next year, there will be more, I’m just sure of it.

I learned that maintaining a garden bed is a lot of work. I was already in tune with the rhythm of digging, amending, planting, feeding, and weeding with vegetables. But this year it was different. This time it is with perennials. I have already gone through three winters of caring for roses and fruit trees and one winter of caring for a few other perennials.

This winter I will be caring for so many more plants than I ever have before and attempting to learn the timing of when to mulch and which plants should be covered and which ones should not that I am really looking forward to how they come through.

Gardening has taught me to accept nature on its terms, and if you can do that and provide its very basic needs then you will be rewarded by the simple yet complex beauty that only nature can provide.


End of one year, beginning of next

I can't believe it is time to start thinking of cleaning up the yard and garden for Winter in preparation for next Spring. Time flies when you are having fun? As I get older, time flies even if you aren't having fun.

I have to admit that overall, I did enjoy this year. I started four new perennial beds, which means 490 sq ft less yard to mow, yeah!. Two of them were started from scratch, i.e., grass into planted bed, and two from amended bare earth to planted bed. I added 20 new plants to four existing beds that were started last year. This brings the total new plants started this year to 124 and 67 bulbs. Wow! I did not realize I had started that many. I’m shocked and amazed.

Next Spring better look really good!

To satisfy my anal trait, I keep maps of each bed so I know where everything is planted. I also enter all pertinent information into a spreadsheet calendar linking each plant to a word document telling me everything I ever want to know about any given plant I have in my garden. I know, everything is online somewhere, but if I am ever without a connection to the internet, for whatever reason, at least I have what I need on my hard drive. Now I need to print it all out in case the computer breaks down.

The lawn mower needs to be maintained, i.e., gas treatment, wheels oiled, oil changed, air filter cleaned, blade sharpened. Tools need to be cleaned, sharpened and wood handles treated with linseed oil. Containers need to be emptied and cleaned with bleach solution. Weeds to be pulled, always! Perennials need to be divided, since this my first year I can put this chore off. Mulch needs to be added after ground freezes to prevent freeze/thaw cycle. Amendments need to be added and worked into soil. Annuals need to be pulled.

Still a lot left to do.

Well, the leaves are falling and just begging me to rake them onto the compost pile, so, as they say “Nature calls” and “Time waits for no man”.


Bumpy, rough lawns

>> Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I have one of these. It was bumpy when I moved here. It was bumpy, lumpy and treacherous to walk on. And mowing was no picnic either. Almost every neighbor I talked to about it told me the same thing. They told me that the lumpiness is caused by an over-abundance of earthworms. I believe earthworms in the lawn is a good thing. Earthworms anywhere is a good thing. From hearing them talk this soil should be rich enough to grow anything I wanted without having to add anything to the soil. I was thrilled to hear that this might be the case, but I found it difficult to believe that the noble earthworm was the cause of my bumpy, rough lawn.

Since I had never lived anywhere where I had to take care of a lawn, I was a lawn-maintenance virgin. And as such, I could not dispute what I was being told so I began reading and searching for other causes of bumpy, rough lawns.

There are several possible reasons for bumpy, rough, uneven lawns. Older lawns become uneven and bumpy as the Turfgrass gradually thins. These lawns have less foliar growth and cushioning effect than thick, dense Turfgrass.

When I first moved in the grass was browning and thin in some areas and so I thought this must be why this lawn is lumpy. The solution seemed clear, if I simply feed it and water it on a regular schedule I could ‘save’ this lawn by myself. This great delusion began in the Summer of 2004. By the end of 2005, after following the commonly prescribed practice of weed & feed at regular intervals, it was very clear to me that what I was doing was not working. After two Summers, two Autumns, and one Spring, I still had no idea how to save this lawn and I still had brown areas, thinning grass and a bumpy, rough surface along with ever increasing water bills.

During this time of indoctrination by fire, I had dug up the lawn in several places looking for these nefarious earthworms but never did find more than a handful. I didn’t find the rich mountains of castings that I was told was creating the ankle-twisting mis-adventures that I had come to expect from simply walking across the lawn.

Other reasons for lumpiness could be poor maintenance, shade, insects, diseases and other factors. I suspect it was poor maintenance. There was no way it was shade because the lawn is in full sun all day long except for under the fruit trees and the grass was lush and thick there. As far as insects and diseases, I didn’t see anything that convinced me that these were the causes. And there are the ‘other factors’. I don’t have a clue what these could be. Maybe moles, voles and other rodents but that is not the case. Never saw any of these here.

Everyone said I should aerate. That should level it out in no time. They reasoned that aeration helps open up the soil to allow air and water down to the grass roots and thereby create a more lush turf. I can’t help but think that if I have such an abundance of earthworms then my lawn is already very well aerated by them. But, I had someone come out to aerate anyway, because it is good practice to do so. The ground was so hard that it was basically a waste of time.

So, if the ground is too hard to aerate, then earthworms is not the cause of my lumpiness.

Spring of 2006 came around and I was not looking forward to fighting a loosing battle so I spoke with a lawn service guy and decided to let them take care of it all for a couple of years. I figured I would pay close attention to when they came around and make note of what they used and then I would be able to take it from there. It is now two years later and my lawn has never looked better. But, I still have lumps.

Their advice was pretty much the same as everyone else who has lived around here for years. Aerate. Is this just a commonly accepted ‘cure-all’ for lawn problems? Even though it obviously does not work.

Just today I read an article that mentioned the freeze/thaw cycle here in Utah. I suppose it is the same in every northern state but it never occurred to me that this might, if not cause the problem then at least it could be contributing to the problem. If this is the case then the only course of action now is to sprinkle top soil and reseed every year. This may have to be the way to go because I don’t think it will ever ‘cure’ the lumpiness.

I guess I am just going to have to live with it. Or, I could replace all of it with wildflowers and sell my lawn mower. Now that sounds like a great alternative.


Springhill Nursery order, part two

Received the Dianthus Desmond that was back ordered.

This completes the order from Springhill for this year.

The plants look to be in very good shape. Can't wait to see these in full bloom.

at maturity


Built new bed

Finally got this bed built. I have been planning this bed since we had the deck built two months after moving into this house in 2004.

Anyway, just finished it today and now I will need to have some soil delivered. It’s 14 ½’ long by 4’ front to back do that’s 58 sq ft. times 9” deep, so that’s, where’s my calculator, 522 cu ft. What? I must have done something wrong. D’oh! I mixed feet with inches. Try this again. 14.5’ x 4’ x .75’ = 43.5 cu ft. That sounds more like it. Wow, I used to be pretty good at math. Good thing there’s the internet to show me how. I found help at Do It

Other raised beds I have built in the past I used wooden stakes at the corners. They have held up pretty well but this time I opted for metal strips at the corners

and to hold boards together.

Hopefully the weight of the soil won't push it apart at the seams.

I already have plants ordered for it,
Monarda (Bee Balm) Scarlet, an herb,

Hardy Lavender, also an herb,

Geranium Birches Double,

Daylily Stella de Oro,

Delphinium Blue Butterfly, a dwarf at 14" tall,

Phlox Blue Paradise,

and Dianthus Maiden Pinks.

This leaves room for a shrub at one corner and I haven’t decided between a Caryopteris or a Spirea. That corner will be in all day full sun so either one will do.


Put out the Suet

Saw my first Flicker since last Spring.

While sitting in my home office a few days back, I heard a bird call that I hadn’t heard since April. I recognized it immediately. The Northern Flickers are back in town.

I went to the window and saw him pecking at the empty suet feeder. I hadn’t filled it yet waiting for signs that they were back. Last year was the first year I had seen one in my backyard. Coincidently, last year is the first year I hung suet feeders in my yard because we had a large population of European Starlings. They love the suet. In my journal I had recorded first seeing a Flicker eating the suet on January 23, 2007. And they visited regularly until sometime in April when I realized I didn’t see them coming around anymore.

They like open areas but mate in forested areas where they make nests by carving out a hole in a tree. They are slightly larger than Starlings and whenever one of the three I had seen here last year came to the feeder, the Starlings stepped aside an let them eat on their own.

The Flicker I saw four days ago flew away without eating but I knew it would be back. The next day I put suet in each of the three feeders, and that afternoon he was at the feeder in the Dogwood tree pecking the suet apart. After a short while, he flew over to the trunk of the Catalpa tree and stood there pecking at the bark. They like to eat ants, which is their main staple. After sitting on the side of the tree for a few minutes he dropped to the ground and began pecking there. And then flew away. I have since seen him in the backyard at one of those feeders early in the day.

They are the only woodpeckers that frequently feed on the ground. They eat fruits, berries, seeds, and nuts, their primary food is insects. Ants alone make up 45% of their diet. They use the acid from the ants to preen themselves because the acid helps control parasites.

There are two types of Flickers in the U.S., the ‘Yellow-shafted” is found in the eastern and northern regions of the U.S. and the “Red-shafted” is found out here in the West.

Real suet is the fat that surrounds the beef kidney, but it isn’t easy to find anymore so I buy the prepackaged suet cakes for birds. Most suet block manufacturers mix suet or lard with everything from sunflower seeds to peanuts to fruit when making bird treats. I have tried all of them and they like them all equally well.

If pure suet isn’t available in your area, fat trimmings, lard and peanut butter are good substitutes. I also hang stale bread layered with peanut butter and then rolled in fruit and nut pieces as a special treat that these and other birds love. Black-capped Chickadees are especially fond of the peanut butter.

Having Flickers come back is another reason why the change of season is so welcome. With all the birds I feed, I have very few problems with insects. So I am very happy to supply all the suet these guys want to eat.


Autumn colors-Alpine Loop

>> Monday, October 15, 2007

Finally was able to find the time to take a drive up into the mountains to see the trees changing colors. Beautiful as always.

Drove part of the Provo Canyon Scenic Byway, along the Provo River, gold medal trout fishing just so ya know.

The above photo was taken just downstream from Bridal Veil Falls, shown below. There used to be an aerial tram that you could ride up to the top of the falls. This photo was taken a few months ago when the water was flowing a lot better than it is this time of year.

After we got back into our car we drove a little further up the canyon to the turnoff to Sundance Ski Resort. Lots of activity up there, everyone anticipating this winters great skiing that Utah is famous for.

The mountains are sprinkled with Aspen trees and their golden yellow leaves never disappoint.
This is a shot of Mt. Timpanogos from about 7,000 feet. It stands at 11,749 ft. One of the tallest peaks here in the Wasatch Mountain range. The first snow arrived about ten days ago. It was a bit overcast so it was difficult to get a better shot of it being up in the clouds and all.
We took a short hike along the middle Provo River trail but didn’t see any fish. The river was running swift and deep and the water was extremely cold.
There were several fly fishermen in waders, I should have gotten some photos. No one I talked to had caught anything but there were a few fish about.

We did find this Eagles nest on this telephone pole. I guess they couldn't find a tall enough tree, although there were some around. Didn't get to see any Eagles but we did see a few Falcons and Hawks.

These signs are posted throughout the area and were put up after several sightings and near encounters earlier this Spring.
It says that if confronted with a bear and you can’t get away that you should yell, scream, kick, fight back and be aggressive. Whether or not this actually works, I will never know because I have no intention of testing the theory out.

The air was crisp, the sun was warm, the perfect mountain air for sight seeing.


Canadian Geese on the wing

The local Canadian geese are becoming more active. Their loud ‘honking’ draws my attention skywards where I am greeted with three flocks flying in their usual perfectly formed vee shaped squadrons. The three squads are flying in a southerly direction seemingly intent on getting out of here ahead of the cold winter that their instincts tell them is on the way.

Watching the geese fly and hearing their call always brings a smile to my face. I’m not sure why, but it gives me a feeling that everything is right with the world. Their instinct is a constant that marks the changing of the seasons and there is comfort in that inevitable change. Wildlife instinct is greater than any other force known to man. But, something different has been taking place to disrupt this clarion call. Not all geese actually fly ‘south’ for the winter to that warm, sunny retreat we all wish we could go when winters’ chill works its way to our bones.

Whether it is due to global climate change or not I am not sure, but some geese are electing to stay here in the U.S. in areas farther north than we are used to seeing them. Typically, when the ground begins to freeze and their food supply dwindles in the fall, they move further south to warmer areas, where food is still readily available. Studies have shown, and I can personally attest to the fact, that not all geese fly as far south as they used to.

The previous three winters that we have lived in Utah I have seen and heard these geese throughout the entire winter. Not in my yard but we have ducks that come in search of food when there is snow on the ground and the nearby canals have frozen over. I leave cracked corn for them which they greedily eat up and they seem to also like the sunflower seeds, husks and all, that the finches (who are also here all winter) scatter on the ground. Finches have very sloppy table manners much to the delight of the ducks who ‘clean up’ after them.

Humans here in Utah, as well as many birds, are blessed with no fewer than ten wetland/wildlife management areas on Great Salt Lake’s shores where literally millions of birds migrate to every summer.
Birds come from as far away as the Andes of South America (Wilson’s Phalarope, pictured here) to nest and multiply and build up their strength for their ultimate flight back home.

Some actually stay through the winter. Canadian Geese are some of those birds who stay.

On the northern and eastern edges of the Salt Lake are great freshwater expanses. The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, being the largest at 74,000 acres, is made up of marsh, open water, uplands, and alkali mudflats and supports a very large population of Canadian geese, as well as many other migratory shorebirds and waterfowl:

American Avocet,

the graceful Bewicks Swan

Black-necked Grebe

and Long-billed Dowitcher

We even have a bit of a celebrity living at the Great Salt Lake. Pink Floyd, the Chilean flamingo, escapee from Tracy Aviary in 1987, now lives in the wild, eating brine shrimp and socializing with gulls and swans. A group of Utah residents suggested petitioning the state to release more flamingos in an effort to keep Floyd company and as a possible tourist attraction. Wildlife biologists resisted these efforts, saying that deliberate introduction of a non-native species would be ecologically unsound and might have detrimental consequences. Pink Floyd was last seen in Idaho (where he was known to migrate to) in 2005. Unfortunately, He has not been seen since that time and is presumed to not have survived the winter of 2005-2006.

Canadian geese eat grasses, marsh grass, berries, seeds, pond plants, tubers, roots and algae. They also feed on crops like clover, alfalfa, wheat, rye, corn, barley, oats and grain left in farmers' fields after the harvest.

Since I don’t grow any of these type of food crops I seriously doubt I will ever see these beautiful geese in my backyard. Meanwhile I am satisfied just hearing them honking away as they fly overhead.


Springhill Nursery order, part one

>> Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Received part of my order from Springhill Nursery. The backordered plant is a Dianthus Desmond, siz of them, actually.

The way they packed these shows, to me, that they really care about them arriving healthy and unblemished. The plants are all very well protected and they all are in very good condition. The instructions with that came with them said they are to go into the ground immediately. And, so they shall. When I unpacked them the root systems were very well developed. I will definitely order from Springhill Nursery in the future.

Caryopteris Summer Sorbet

at maurity

I have two other Caryopteris, Dark Knight and Sunshine Blue, that I planted in April of this year and I love their easy growth habit and the beautiful blue flowers all over them, at the ends of their long graceful stems. Sunshine Blue has light yellowish-green leaves that really dictates where you place the shrub, it just doesn’t look real good where it currently is so I have plans on moving it soon. The Dark Knight has darker green leaves that allows it to go next to just about any other plant. This one, Summer Sorbet, shares both foliage colorings and it may work in places the Sunshine Blue won’t. I’ll have to try it to see for myself.

They all tolerate some drought, perfect for my dry conditions here in Utah. Intolerant of wet, poorly-drained soils, so my clay has to be worked really well with compost and I am a little worried about this winter’s snowmelt. It will be a true test to how well I have compensated with the compost.

As long as the roots survive Caryopteris will come back and flourish. At any rate, they can take hard pruning each spring which will promote vigorous new stem growth. And all of the blooms come on new growth anyway.

They are commonly called Bluebeard, Blue Spirea, and Blue Mist. I’m not sure I have ever heard of them before this year but, so far, I’m glad I did. They make really lovely shrubs, at only 2’-3’ tall and wide, and make a really nice focal point to the border.

A bonus is that it is aromatic when brushed against and they all attract butterflies, bees and other beneficial insects. What more could you ask for in a shrub?

Sedum Improved Golden

at maturity

This one is billed as one of the finest ground covers for sunny dry slopes and banks. I don’t plan on using it on a slope or bank but my yard has no shortage of dry sunny places so it should fit in everywhere. I planted a Sedum Autumn Joy this spring which grew into what could best be described as a stalk of broccoli. I wasn’t real impressed but the pictures of it in full bloom told me to have patience. Once it bloomed, after the weather began cooling off, I knew I just have to have some more. The coloring started as a light pink and soon turned into a brilliant red that simply complimented nearly everything around it. I love this plant. I don’t see it being used as a groundcover because it grew to be 10” tall. I picture groundcover as being only a few inches tall and spreading outwards. Autumn Joy is a stalk but I plan on buying more anyway.

Then I saw this little beauty. And when I learned that I would not have to wait until fall to see the flowers I was sold. This one blooms in late spring and early summer and grows to only 5”-9” tall, which is more in line with my ideal of a groundcover, yet still a little tall. I bought six of them and hopefully they will spread quickly without being too invasive. It is described as a ‘hardy’ creeper which I am beginning to understand in garden nursery parlay means it is a bit invasive. It is to be spaced 12”-18” apart so there is another sign of its invasiveness. But it does have such beautiful yellow sumptuous flowers, doesn’t it?

Hollyhock Brilliant Miniature

at maturity

I have always liked the look of a bunch of Hollyhocks in bloom but their lankiness and the prospect of having to deal with plant supports in the middle of a flower bed put me off. These little guys only grow to be 30” tall and seem like they just might be what I was looking for. They bloom all through summer so they will add a splash of red anywhere I need it.

Aster Snowdrift

at maturity

My three Aster Alma Potschke plants steadily grew this summer into nice looking shrubs, patiently waiting until the weather cooled off, and then they simply burst into a beautiful mound of pink flowers, seemingly overnight. I was so impressed with their proliferation that when I saw these Snowdrift with their blizzard of delicate white daisies I knew the perfect place to show it off. I am going to place six of these in front of and surrounding my two brilliant red rose bushes. I can’t wait to see this combination next September and October.

They grow 4”-6” tall and spread 20”-24” so this is my idea of a groundcover. It is a care-free and very hardy selection of a native American wildflower that is a favorite with butterflies.

You just gotta love it.

Liatris White

at maturity

I planted a Liatris Kobold this spring that sadly did not survive our hot dry summer. I really like the non-standard shape of this plant. It just isn’t rounded or mounded or bushy like the typical perennial with its spikes that reminds me of cattails I used to see around the lake I grew up near as a kid. They weren’t white, of course, but there is something about the shape that I want in my garden. Besides I am not going to let these hot summers tell me I can’t have one of these so I will try it again and this time put some groundcover to keep its roots cool.

I was surprised to learn that Liatris is actually a bulb. Another surprise is that they bloom from the top down. Two more things that take it out of the realm of ordinary flowering plants.

They say you have to be careful with where you place white flowers for fear of it washing out the other colors but I am going to put five of these in a narrow strip along the north border of my property to help hide a chain link fence, interspersed with red Hollyhocks. They only grow 3’ tall and the fence is 7’ tall but it’s a start. I’m planning on putting some sort of a vine to grow along the top of the fence to help cover the rest of it. Maybe a honeysuckle.


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