Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Is your Garden worth the Time?

By Christina VanGinkel

A friend of my daughter is staying with us for a few days while she is in town. After watching my husband and myself in the garden for quite some time the other evening, she asked me if all of the work we put in to the flowerbeds and other plants is really worth it. I just smiled and responded with a quick yes, that yes it was. Sitting with a cup of tea a few mornings later, I thought a bit more about her simple question and realized just how accurate my quick answer was.

It is worth every minute of planting, weeding, watering, and pruning. From that bit of work come uncountable pleasures. To start, I always have an enjoyable spot to have an early morning or any time of the day cup of tea. If the weather is hot, I can enjoy an icy cold glass of lemonade or Kool-Aid. While doing so, I can watch the resident chipmunk fill his cheeks in a never-ending round of stealing the bird's sunflower seeds. I can also watch as a single pair of small brown birds, defend their house they chose to raise their family in. A pair of starlings would like to steal it from them, and for the last couple of summers the score stands at two to one, with them giving up last year and allowing the starlings to win.

If I am struggling with a line in one of my books, I know I can walk around my garden to clear my head, or go put in some physical time pulling weeds or pruning. Activities such as these are the quickest way to get me through any sort of writer's block that I might be experiencing. The same tasks are also good for clearing my mind of everyday stumbling blocks. It is really difficult to worry about life's mundane little worries when you are breathing in the fresh scent of an overgrown peony!

If I am having a bad morning, taking a walk with my young grandson, and letting him pick a bouquet of flowers for his mother is sure to brighten my mood, no matter how bad it is. Watching my husband chase same grandson out of his walkway edgings is always good for a few smiles too. Small note here: If you have toddlers in your life, do not plant soft, squishy looking plants anywhere that these toddlers might normally walk beside, as the temptation will just be too much, and sooner, rather than later, you will find that they can no longer resist the temptation and they will try to step into these squishy looking plants! My husband has taken to telling him to 'pet' the plants instead of stepping on them, but through it all, it has been fun to watch.

A garden has so much to offer those who care for it. It can be a breathing room for life of sorts. A friend that was going through a divorce once told me that her garden was the one spot that she could always go to and seek refuge, and there was never a critical word from those who resides there. Her ex would never seek her out in her garden either, simply because he found her flowering vines and bushes too smothering. Go figure. She went on to say that even when a plant is not thriving, when it is in obvious need of care beyond what the other plants are calling for, it will not shout at you or demand anything from you.

When your home is almost as calm a place as the garden is, as my own home is, then it works as an extension of that space. It allows you to live your life in more space than the walls of a home. It takes those walls and extends them out into the world.

Yes, the time I spend in my garden is well worth it. I am even sure there must be some statistic somewhere, which says that years are added to a person's life if they garden. I know each day I set among my flowers, breathing in the scent of flowers, watching my husband smile and laugh with my grandson, is a day that is well worth gardening, a day worth living.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Moss Rose Meanderings

By Christina VanGinkel

Moss roses are usually a very prominent part of one structure in our garden. Being an annual, when we first planted some years ago, being new to gardening, we assumed that we would have to replant them each year. We went so far as to discarding them come fall, when they were looking like they had well outlived their days. Then a friend who gardens told us that if we left the plants in the ground, and let them become very dry (in our part of the country, dry equals frozen!), we could then just trim off some of the growth, leaving much of it to become a sort of mulch back into the garden bed. She swore that come the following summer, this annual would grow back on its own, much like a perennial. Surprisingly, this worked, and for several years in a row, we would be treated to moss roses from one planting.

Last year, my husband treated this garden with a weed spray that was used just between the larger flowering plants. We rarely use any products such as it, but chose to do so, on this particular raised garden, because it was difficult for either of us to weed it continually, without having to actually step into the bottom layers. We noticed immediately that it seemed to be killing off the moss roses right along with the weeds, even though he never came close to the root structure with any of it.

Now, a year later, when our moss roses should be coming up as they have for years, we noticed that not a single moss rose was growing. We have since discarded the empty bottle of the weed product we used, and cannot remember the name. What we have come to believe though, is that the weed product attacked the root structure of the potential weeds, and in doing so, leached across the garden killing off all the roots save for the very large plants, which all seem to be doing fine.

Not content to have this garden without moss roses, we headed out yesterday to shop for replacement plants. Our first stop netted us not a single moss rose. The young girls working clearly did not know what we were looking for, so we ended up walking through several greenhouses in search of some, but came up empty handed. We then stopped at another smaller greenhouse, and while the person working knew what we wanted, she did not have any. Wal-Mart was actually our next stop. We figured they would have at least some flats of smaller ones. They also did not, and an older woman that I know was working and she replied that they had had several people in asking for moss roses, but for some reason, they had yet to get any in, and she did not think they were.

At this point, we had all but given up hope of finding any, when I suggested we stop at Home Depot. This proposal was more out of a last ditch effort type of commiseration for my husband than anything. We had been to Home Depot over the last few weeks for several other unrelated shopping trips, and I recalled that they had a large greenhouse in the parking lot, set up next to their regular garden center.

We did find some at Home Depot, but not a large selection, nor a healthy one. We came away with two eight-inch pots that I separated several large moss rose plants out of, and one small eight piece flat of tiny, but healthy moss roses. The remaining plants looked like they had been frostbit, and were dry to the pint that even a moss rose could not thrive, and they like sun and dry conditions.

We went home, where my husband removed much of the soil in the garden where he had used the weed killer, avoiding the areas around the larger plants that were growing. We planted the moss roses we found, and I hope that in a few weeks I will be able to report to you that they are thriving, growing, and spreading out, as they should.

If we have learned anything from all of this, it is that if you are not use to using weed killing products, as we are not, then I would suggest that you be very cautious when doing so, reading all of the attached labels. If not, you might end up killing more than just weeds, just the same as we apparently did.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Controlling The South Florida Millipede Problem

If you live in an area of South Florida with a lot of growth, like Coconut Grove or similarly lush areas, then you likely have developed a problem with invasive millipedes, also frequently referred to as centipedes or worms. These dark millipedes looks like black worms or earth worms, are quite unattractive, and will find just about any crack in a home, then enter it. Some people wake up every morning to find them climbing their walls and curtains and falling from the ceiling. Yuk!

I have a solution. It is an old solution to a different but similar problem, that of pests climbing fruit trees, only to consume and/or infest the fruit. Use what fruit tree growers have used for years, a pest barrier sticky glue, available at many garden supply stores. Simply spread this stuff under your doors or around the perimeter of the area in which you wish to keep these critters out and, shabam, they're history!

Does it work? I know someone who uses this and swears by it. He had a huge problem with these centipedes previously. Every morning he would wake to 30 or 40 in the lower level of his home. Now he has none - quite an improvement.

For most homes, a couple of tubes should be enough for the initial application. Depending on the area, however, you may want to apply more later.

Believe me, you will want to thank me. Well, guess what. I'll tell you how. Tell you friends, and again send them to this page. Appreciate it.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Assessing a Potted Plant's Pot Size

By Christina VanGinkel

While I was recently hospitalized, a good friend dropped off at my home a beautiful hanging plant, an ornamental geranium in a pot that was about eight inches across, which was abundantly overflowing with flowers. My husband, the true gardener in the family, hung it out on a cast iron hanging bar we have situated in the yard just for such a plant. He watered it, and a few days later, he even thought to add a bit of plant food. He then paid it no more attention for the next few days as he was busy with the mundane chores around the house that I usually handle, along with visiting me in the hospital.

When I arrived home a few days after the plant was delivered, it was still in its original lovely condition. Then, about two days later, my husband, and I both realized that it was not weathering all that well after all. The leaves were turning yellow, and the flowers that had already bloomed were dropping off quickly. The leaves that were still green looked wilted, and the buds not yet opened did not look in good shape either. The problem did not appear to be a watering issue, as the soil around it did not appear to be overly wet or too dry. We did come up with two issues, seemingly related to each other, that upon further reflection, we felt were the cause of the problems.

The first issue was that the pot that the plant was in was too small for the size of the plant. While it came to us in beautiful condition, the root structure was obviously too large, and was running out of soil. Yes, there was still soil in the pot, but when we really examined it up close, we realized that the root structure was taking up all of the soil space, and even edging out and over in some spots, as it searched for room to expand. The greenhouse that sold the plant I am sure felt that the eight inch sized pot only worked to highlight how big and blooming the plant was, where transplanting it to a larger pot, say one that was twelve inches across, would have made it appear not as full and lush.

Secondly, we ran into an issue that seems to relate to the first issue somewhat. My husband had hung the plant in an area that was full sun. From the minute the sun rose, until it set, the plant was never in shade. While some flowering plants flourish under such conditions, as should this one have as an ornamental geranium that called for full sun on its accompanying stake, with the pot size so small, and even though it was receiving, what we thought was adequate watering, it was not. With most of the soil space being used up by the root structure, there really was not enough soil to retain moisture. This caused the plant to react the same as if it should not have been in full sun.

We treated the problems by temporarily hanging the potted plant in a somewhat less direct path of the sun, under the eave of our small back porch, and then repotting it to a larger pot. In just a matter of days, it is regaining its glorious foliage and the buds are once again opening and look beautiful. It has been moved back out to its original location where it can receive an almost continual dose of sunlight, which this time it appears to be thriving in.

I would have felt terrible if the next time my friend stopped by for a visit; the plant she had given me had died or even looked as bad as it did when we noticed how sadly it was weathering. If you are struggling with a potted plant's health, even one that is a new purchase, and that you would think would be in an adequately sized container; be sure to assess the situation yourself, as they may not be in large enough containers after all. Secondary conditions such as the sun and the amount of moisture the current pot is able to hold can make a container that would otherwise be large enough, not big enough in reality.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Butterfly Time Once Again

By Christina VanGinkel

In my email inbox this morning, was a picture of a leaf. Upon reading the email that accompanied it, that was from a good friend, I looked at the leaf again and that time saw a tiny speck on it. I can be assured that over the coming days and weeks, this friend will send along more pictures of this and other leaves, as the speck of the egg grows and devours the leaves on its way to becoming a Monarch butterfly. We happen to live in an area where the Monarchs migrate to from down south of the border. When they arrive back up north, we can always expect to be front seat spectators to the wonders of life in one of its most simple forms. The butterflies lay their eggs; the eggs then grow into caterpillars, and eventually turn into adult Monarchs, in time to migrate back down south so that they can make the return trip next year in this continuing trip of evolving life.

As usual, whenever I see my first hint of the Monarchs return, I am reminded that it is time to double check that my garden is in prime form to both attract and keep these amazing creatures as standard visitors in my yard and garden. One of the biggest mistakes that many gardeners make when they plant a garden full of what they presume will attract them, is that they do not take the time to make sure that they have enough variations in the timeframe of when the flowers in their garden will be productive. Monarch love nectar, and even if you have a garden full of nectar procuring flowers, if they are all in full bloom at the same time, there will soon be nothing left to keep the butterflies around. For this simple reason alone, it is important to make sure that you plant enough variety that you will have flowers blooming from early spring through late summer. To backtrack a bit here too, no garden will ever be home to an egg laying Monarch, no matter how bountiful the nectar-filled flowers are, if it does not contain milkweed. Monarchs must have milkweed for which to lay their eggs. You might end up with a few visiting Monarchs without the milkweed, but some of the most joy I have ever received from watching these miraculous little wonders, is when they alight atop a milkweed plant to lay an egg and the evolution of life starts all over again.

I once explained this to a friend who was new to gardening and wished to make her garden as attractive to butterflies as she could. The following spring, she called me up in a panic that her milkweed was being all chewed up and she wanted to know what she should spray on it to kill all of the bugs. I calmly explained to her that her chewed up milkweed was exactly what she wanted. It meant that she had succeeded in attracting egg lying Monarchs, and the tiny 'bugs' were actually the eggs. Every time I think of how close she came to spraying some insecticide on her milkweed I cringe, and it also reminds me how too often new gardeners are so quick to spray whatever it is they do not believe belongs in their garden.

Monarchs also love to sit on rocks and other structures early in the morning, so having some prominent rocks or statues placed about, out where the early morning sun can reach and start to warm the stone early is an ideal way of making sure you have the utmost possibility to see the Monarchs that are about. If they have no place to sit and stretch their early morning wings, they may soon be moving on to more friendly gardens.

Water is also a good addition. While they will most commonly get the water they need from the dew from your plants, fresh water in a birdbath or two placed about will only add to the positive attraction of your garden to the butterflies.

If you are interested in attracting Monarchs to your garden, check out a book on the subject, such as Butterfly Gardening: Creating Summer Magic in Your Garden, put out by the Smithsonian Institution and available through outlets such as Amazon.com.