February 23, 2019

Snow, and Some of Its Uses

From one day…

Right at the end of my last post I mentioned the difference in snow between this year and last. Namely, last year by this time there was none! That certainly has not been the case this year. As much as I want spring to hurry up and come already, I have to remind myself that we desperately need the water here in our desert state. Who wants to try growing flowers in a drought? Nobody, that’s who.

…to the next.

I’m recalling a poem about a red wheelbarrow, glazed with rain. So much depends on it, you know?

So what is all this snow good for, anyway, besides helping us out of a drought? For one thing, it can tell you where to plant your spring bulbs next year.

Ok, I guess technically it’s the LACK of snow that will tell you where to put in some bulbs. As we come inching along into spring, keep an eye on the areas around your yard that melt the quickest. These are great places to tuck in a few early spring-blooming bulbs. For instance, I have one very sheltered corner on the east side of our house that has been down to just grass almost all winter. It gets the sun and it’s protected from the wind. I am happy to report that I have already been planning to put a new flowerbed there come spring. (Actually, the new flowerbed was supposed to go in last summer, but got pushed to the bottom of my to-do list one too many times! This year, though, it’s going to happen!)

What I expect will happen, as it did in my Washington garden, is that any spring bulbs planted in that protected spot will grow and bloom much earlier than their counterparts in other spots in my yard, by as much as 2-3 weeks. It’s a great way to get the spring flower show to last a bit longer!

You can do this in your yard, as well. Just keep in mind that you’ll have to wait to mow that spot until all the bulb foliage has died off, if you want your bulbs to return the next year. In your lawn you will probably want to stick with the smaller bulbs, like scilla, puschkinia, crocuses, and possibly dwarf versions of some of the other bulbs, like dwarf irises and mini daffodils. I’ve noticed right along our sidewalk/front walk there’s consistently a thin strip of grass that melts off—probably due to the concrete absorbing the heat.

These are some scilla I had growing in Washington. They are so dainty!

This would be a perfect place to put in some scilla or puschkinia—little bulbs that would blend in with the grass, but give just a bit of something to smile about as you walked down that snowy pathway. The great thing about spring bulbs is that they can take the cold! If it snows again, it’s usually no problem for them. As soon as it melts off, they’re lifting their heads up again.

Anyway, another good thing about snow: it’s a wonderful insulator. I actually worry less about my shrubs and perennials surviving the winter when there’s a generous layer of snow on top. It protects them from drying winter winds, and it also protects them from the freeze-thaw cycle of snowless winters, which can lead to sunscald on shrubs and trees.

Sunscald is basically a sunburn on your tree. On a sunny winter day, sometimes the heat—either direct or reflected from the snow—can cause the bark of the tree to break dormancy, but once night comes again with its freezing temperature, WHAMMO! The newly “awake” bark tissues die. The dead bark looks ugly and can become an entry point for bugs or disease later on. So, not good.

Where was I? Oh yes, snow as an insulator. If the cold won’t kill your plant (which it won’t, since you have only planted things that can live in your zone, right?!), then the snow will definitely help it make it through the winter. In particular, I’m thinking about my roses out front that I wish I had planted deeper. Since the snow has covered them completely now, I guess I will stop worrying.

Finally, for those of you with little ones at home, nothing beats a snow day for fun outside play, followed by snuggly inside time. Right here on this blog, I’ve got a list of picture books to read when it’s snowy outside.

Thinking warm thoughts! 

February 16, 2019

Let's Talk About Anemones!

 Wait—anemones? Aren’t those a kind of sea creature?
Well, yes.
Sponge-like tentacles that sting, often with clownfish living inside. Remember “Finding Nemo?”
 Yes. Anemones.

Gorgeous purple anemones...that I purchased.

As it turns out, there are also flowers by that name.
Anemones—the FLOWER—are cool weather lovers, which is another way of saying “hardy annuals.”
They don’t mind the cold, which is awesome for us in northern climes!

They come as corms—shriveled-looking little brown lumps, that don’t look like anything special in the least. I am learning that they do better with pre-sprouting, so I did that. First, you soak them for 4-6 hours, then put them in a tray filled with a couple inches of dirt, making sure they are completely covered. After about 10 days, they are supposed to grow roots. At that point, you pull them out and plant them for real this time—spacing them about 4” apart.

So, about 12 days ago I started the pre-sprouting process. Well, today I dug around in my tray o’ dirt and pulled out several. No sprouting yet. I had them in the garage at first, which I think was too cold. So after about 5 days I moved them to the floor of the laundry room, which may have been too warm. They like it cool—55-60 degrees F. They are now in the back pantry, which I’m hoping is JUST RIGHT. I guess I’ll check them in another week.

They bloom 12 weeks from planting, and the more you cut them, the more they bloom, so I’ve heard. I don’t have field or garden space for them this year, but what I do have are some great big pots, and at least 1 bulb crate. My plan—assuming they do eventually sprout—is to plant them into the pots and the crate. As they strongly dislike heat, maybe I could even move them to a spot that gets part-shade come early summer so they can keep producing for me for awhile.

I started these in hopes that I would have some blooming for my niece's wedding at the end of April, as I am providing the flowers. So far, it’s not looking too good for that deadline.

As always, so much to learn. I’ll keep you posted!

p.s. I just found this photo from Feb. 15 of last year. No snow whatsoever and grape hyacinths 6 inches tall. WHAT?! (Alright, alright, I know last year was a drought year and so I am very grateful for all the many MANY inches of snow this year. Sigh.)

February 9, 2019

A Bit Seedy

So, 2 weeks ago I got all of my seeds organized. It was good and bit overwhelming, I’ll be honest! I have so many! More than 70 varieties, just counting the flowers—not herbs, or vegetables. I am determined to be surrounded by flowers for the entire growing season this year!

Not ALL of those are completely different types, you understand. I went a little crazy with buying poppies and at least 10 of those packets are several different varieties of poppy seeds. I’ve got 4 or 5 rudbeckia, probably that many echinacea, handfuls of this and one or two of that. About half of them are perennials—the flowers that are supposed to come back every year—and if I can just get them to grow, just think how much money I will save this year! (Instead of going to the plant nursery and buying theirs, I mean!)

I bought some to fill out our home landscaping—the various flowerbeds around. A large percentage are for cut flower production, of course, and the rest…? A whim? Momentary seed madness? It’s hard to say, really. If I successfully grow every single seed in those packets, I will be swimming in flowers! Mwah-ha-ha-ha! Ahem, where was I? Oh yes. As I was saying, there are at least 5 more I NEED. Ammi (False Queen Anne’s Lace), 2 types of snapdragons, and 2 types of sunflowers. And then I’ll be done. Probably. For now.

No, for real though. I plan to get my Nurseryman’s license this spring, which will allow me to sell plant starts for people to put in their own gardens. So, I guess I figure that I’ll either make room for them here, or sell the babies on to other people. Nice work, if you can get it.

Are you Ready to Organize Your Seeds?

  1. Find your frost zone. The USDA has a nifty interactive map you can use here. Take note of this zone. Ours is zone 5b. Many of the plants you buy will say something about “winter hardy to zone 4,” for example. The zones get warmer as the numbers get higher, so in general, you want to buy things that will live in your zone, or colder. This is especially helpful if you’re buying perennial seeds, because if you go to all that trouble to start them from seed they had better last through their first winter outside!
  2. Next, find your last spring frost date, first fall frost date, and figure out the estimated length of your growing season, in days. Our growing season here in zone 5b is medium length, at approximately 113 days. You can google “first and last freeze dates by zipcode.” Several different sites will come up that provide this. This is good information to help you figure out how early to start your seeds. Most of the flowers I’m growing will need longer than our usual summer to grow up and produce flowers for me.
  3. Many seed packets very kindly note how many weeks “before last frost” that you should start the seeds indoors, usually with a range. For example, it might say start 6-8 weeks before last frost. Unless it’s something that germinates very quickly, like zinnias, I usually go for the longer number of weeks, because the countdown toward “Days to Maturity” doesn’t start until germination. Many of these seeds take a week or two to germinate—or more. Safe side, you know.
  4. Count back on your calender from your last frost date the appropriate number of weeks. Mark down what you should be starting then—or like I did, put the seed packets in groups based on when they should be started.
  5. As far as timing goes, the final thing to look at is if they needed any special treatment prior to sowing. Some might need to be put in the fridge for 2 weeks, or soak in water overnight, etc.. If it’s more than a day or two, get that date on your calendar as well—or bump your seed packets to an earlier sowing date in the old shoebox!
  6. Get your seed starting equipment ready to go BEFORE that date rolls around. :)

Got it? Clear as mud? Feel free to comment with any questions!

So now my seedbox is neatly organized. I’ve got all the seeds that are supposed to be direct sown in “very early spring, as soon as the soil can be worked” in a bag. I’ve got all the ones to start inside put in my nifty little baby shoe-box (the baby is now 9 years old), with yellow notepaper sticking up to tell me the date that they need to be started.

The reason all this matters? If you start them too early, they’ll get long and leggy under your lights before the weather is warm enough to get them outside and into the ground. The leggy ones don’t usually fare as well. Too late? Well, you may not get flowers at all if they’re some of types that need a really long growing season to produce.

With all of that, there were only a few I started with this very week: hostas and sweet peas.

Let the seed-starting adventures begin!

Hostas ‘New Hybrids Mix,’ because everything I read about growing them from seed said that they take a very long time—months even—for the little darlings to grow big enough to plant outside. Hostas are so easy to divide and increase your stock that way—if you already have hostas, just do that instead! I don’t have any growing here yet, and they are SO expensive to buy from the nursery! So this is kind of just for fun, to see if I can get any to grow. I have nothing to lose. According to the scanty sources I could find, the seeds germinate much better after soaking them in water, in the refrigerator, for 2 weeks first. So the hosta seeds are currently in the fridge!

Secondly, I started sweet peas. I had a baggie of quite a few that I had saved from my Washington garden, and another unopened packet from last year. These, I read, you are supposed to soak in lukewarm water for 24 hours prior to sowing. You may wonder why I jumped on this so early—after all it has been snowing all week here! So, despite the fact that you can direct seed these guys outside, I wanted to get some started, so that when that elusive “very early spring/late winter” day arrives—I’m thinking mid-March—I’ll have some ready to transplant and some seeds to put directly in the ground. The recommendation was to start them indoors 4-6 weeks before you aim to plant them out….which would be now. So here we are. I’m starting the saved ones and will directly sow the seeds from the packet.

The square pots were a little bigger than the standard 4 inchers, so they each hold 4 seeds, while the pots in the middle all hold 2-3 seeds each. This is a tray of approximately 40 seeds right here!

I’m laughing at myself, though. I failed to count those saved sweet pea seeds. I estimated (very badly, as it turned out) that I had around 50 seeds. Even 3 to a pot, my seeds were not diminishing much at 50! Friends, there were almost 200 seeds!! Hoo boy! I have been scrounging for 4-inch pots to put them in. 

I’ve called 2 of my gardening neighbors and begged for pots and I have used every last one of my own I could get my hands on. 200! I guess we’re doing sweet peas in a big way this year!

Are you planning to start any seeds this year?

If not, do you want to buy some starts? HA! If the rest of my seed-starting goes like the sweet peas, I should have quite a selection to offer! :)

Happy seed packet dreaming—I mean, organizing!

February 7, 2019

Saffy's Angel, by Hilary McKay

My oldest daughter was home sick from school this week, and so we had a chance to do some reading together. It was my turn to pick the book and I was so delighted to share one of my all-time favorites with her.

Saffy's Angel, by Hilary McKay

5 stars: If you haven't read this one, you're in for a treat!

The Casson family are all artists, to one extent or another, and live in the Banana House (so named because it's inscribed over the door, though no-one knows why). Well, all except Bill--the father. Bill lives in a studio apartment in London during the week, being a proper artist, and only comes home on weekends (and for certain midweek emergencies.) Eve, the mother, prefers to paint in the garden shed in the backyard. She has always believed her children are more clever and capable then herself, and thus lets them do exactly as they please.

All of the children are named after paint colors. Cadmium Gold, or "Caddy," the oldest: taker of many, many driving lessons--but not the test, fixer of her siblings problems, mother hen, and guinea pig breeder. Saffron--Saffy--comes next. Her world is rocked when she finds out she was adopted as a 3-year-old, and that her siblings are actually her cousins. Indigo: the only boy, dreams of being an explorer despite his many fears; fiercely protective of his sisters, who make up his pack.  And then there's Rose. Permanent Rose; stubborn, completely self-assured, sensible (in her own way), Rose.

When Saffy learns of an angel--the angel in the garden--left to her in her grandfather's will, it sets in motion a chain of events that brings a new friend into her life, takes her to Italy and back, and helps her finally discover her place in her family.

* * * * *
I have adored this book ever since I first read it, and all of the times since. It's not very long, but it has so much heart! That was really cheesy. I stand by it. It was just magical to read it with my 9 year old daughter. She laughed--with me--in all the right places! It was one of those books where the characters are drawn so well, that at the end, you say things like, "Well, that's Rose for you." We couldn't decide if our favorite parts were the driving lessons, or Rose's notes, or the trip to Italy, or... I'm so happy to have read it again, and so SO happy that my sweet daughter shared in that experience with me.

There are 6 books total in there series: a prequel, Caddy's World, followed by this one, then Indigo's Star, Permanent Rose, Caddy Ever After, and Forever Rose.

If I can remember that far back, it seems like I liked this one and Forever Rose the best.