Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Work Table

Like most gardeners, this is an exceedingly busy time. April is transplant month, begin-to-mulch month, make-the-lists month, start-to-weed month, etc, etc. One of my favorite things to also do is pot up garden surplus for the Bethel Garden Club Plant Sale, to be held this year on the morning of the 16th of May, at the old Train Station.

Garden Club plant sales are a win-win for all involved. The gardener gets to thin out the herd, the purchaser obtains plants guaranteed to grow, because they were just dug up from a local garden. Town beautification projects benefit from the proceeds. And the prices! You'll not find a better deal.

But it can be a lot of backbreaking work readying potted homes for all those little lilacs, buddleia, forget-me-nots, columbine, and assorted other beauties. It's no fun to be bent over pots and soil and little plants in the hot sun. So several years ago I asked Jerry to fix me up a temporary potting area under the deck. For the month of April I store all the fixins ---pots, soil, scoops, water, plants, etc. The table is simply a piece of plywood placed on two sawhorses, oriented so I can see out over my Patio and Backyard gardens. I can listen to the finches while I divide the peonies. The first butterflies waft while I pot up the buddleia. And at the end of the month, POOF! The whole mess goes away, I get out my hammock, sweep away the mess, and enjoy my scant leisure time.

I rest secure in the knowledge that I've prepared some 50 (sometimes more!) choice plants from my garden for their new homes, and in the process, supported both my Garden Club and my town.

What could be better?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What's the Difference?

Nope, this isn't a quiz. But the similarity between scilla (on the left) and chionodoxa, also know as glory of the snow (above) has puzzled me for years. Apparently, and accidentally, I grow both. But I couldn't tell 'em apart. Both of these low-growing spring beauties produce nodding blue flowers in early April. Both reproduce with wanton abandon. Both make lovely delicate bouquets.

It nagged at me....which was which?

Last week, when these guys sprang up once again in several areas in my garden, I decided it was time to teach myself a lesson. I grabbed my garden journal and plunked myself down nose-to-nose with a cluster of each. I wrote down their peculiarities , paying close attention to flower & leaf color, size, angle of flowering, stamen & pistil and stem. This is what I learned:

Scilla are a deeper shade of blue, and look downward. Chionodoxa are more of a pastel blue, and they look up.

I decided that's all I need to know. It's probably all you want to know, too. Both these flowers are super easy, not tasty to critters, and will carpet your garden with early spring color, then decorously disappear, leaving room for later courses. Plan to purchase the tiny bulbs by the bagful come autumn. Give them a semi-shady home and fertilize yearly with Bulb-tone. In gratitude, they'll jump about your garden to unexpected locales, but try to contrast them with daffodil 'Tete-a-Tete' for a feast for the winter-weary eye.

Not all gardening questions must be answered. Perhaps ascertaining the difference between scilla and chionodoxa is one of those questions.
Let's just enjoy them.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Rejuvenating Houseplants

As if you didn't have enough to do outdoors in the early spring, this also happens to be a perfect time to repot houseplants. Scrutinize your ferns, philodendrons, peace lilies, coleus, etc. If they look peaked or off color; if they wilt quickly after watering, or if their roots are peeking out the drainage hole, they may need repotting. If you'd like them to still fit into the same pot they're currently living in, here's a way to do it:

Gather supplies, including a supply of good-quality potting soil. (I like Miracle-gro, which already has fertilizer). Find the watering can. If working indoors, cover the work surface with plastic or toweling.

Select the new pot; fill it partway with moistened potting soil. Grab your overgrown plant and haul it out of its pot (if it's root bound, this is easy to do---just poke your finger in the hole at the bottom of the pot and push. There IS a hole in the bottom of the pot, isn't there?) Or gently grab the topgrowth and pull. Or wedge a narrow spatula or trowel in between the soil and the pot.
Now lay the potless plant sideways on the table. Take this opportunity to trim off dead dangling leaves & stems.

Here comes the interesting part: Pick up a heavy-duty serrated knife and slice off the bottom quartile of the root ball. I know, I know, this is serious stuff! But if Mother Nature's in active growing mode, as she is in early spring, the plant won't mind a'tall. Set the slice aside for the compost pile. Now plunk the rest of the plant into the fresh potting soil at the same level it was previously growing, and water. Give it a day or so of shade to recuperate from its minor outpatient surgery, then put it back where it lives. Voila! The grateful plant will stick its roots into fertile soil, and thrive.

Now wash your hands, shush the spouse who's complaining about the mess, and congratulate yourself on giving your houseplant a new lease on life.

P.S. This technique may also be used for patio pots come midsummer, when your lovelies are looking tired and have grown so much that you just can't keep up with the watering.
P.P.S For those of you interested in more gardening tips, please see my monthly e-newletter. The most recent issue was sent Tuesday, April 7th, from Morning Glory Gardens. If you're not a subscriber and would like to be, send me an e-mail at & I'll put you on the list!

Monday, April 6, 2009

New Life for Old Geraniums

It's time to start thinking about what annuals will decorate our gardens, porches and patios this year. Impatiens, zinnia, or lantana? How about morning glory, coleus or ageratum? Going to try snapdragons or browallia? Many of us will choose stalwart potted geraniums. They're sturdy, come in a variety of vivid colors, bloom continuously 'til hard frost, and even make a decent cut flower bouquet. But gosh, $5.00 or more a plant?! And starting them from seed takes forever. What's a frugal gardener to do?

Save 'em from last year! Easy to do, and quite au courant in the midst of a recession. Here's the necessary steps:

  1. Purchase and enjoy your geraniums this season.
  2. Just before frost next October, trowel out healthy plants you'd like to save.
  3. Shake the dirt off their roots, and lay flat in an unheated, dark space. (I put mine on shelves in my garage.) You need a dry location where the temps don't drop below freezing. If you want to keep the colors straight, label them. Believe me, you'll never remember which is which without labels.
  4. Don't even look at the poor things until the beginning of March. By then you may see little green shoots erupting from the dead-looking stems.
  5. Drag out the pathetic objects, prune to about 3-5", pot 'em up and place in good light & some warmth. I put mine in a bay window until daytime temps are reliably above 40. Keep from freezing. Most of those scraggly plants will reward you with new growth in a couple of weeks. Harden them off as spring progresses. Geraniums are cold-tolerant, so may be planted in the garden generally by late April.
  6. You'll lose some plants, but soon there'll be a new crop from what used to be throwaways.

Congratulations! You've learned to recycle one more thing.