Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bloom Day April 2014

This morning I risked frost bite to take my bloom day photos. Indeed, my shutter finger is still defrosting as I type. Thanks to a good cup of very hot tea, I'll be right as rain in no time.

Despite the frosty start to the day, the morning sun and clear blue skies lured me outside to see what was blooming. This tropical mandevilla vine was left outside in the cold to fend for itself while lows dipped into the 30's. I was expecting a sad little plant, but it looks okay to me.

Oxeye daisies always seem cheerful no matter the weather.

I've been getting an excellent return on my investment of this Gaillardia, 'Goblin'. I purchased one package of seed and have been rewarded with almost year round flowers. 

I live in a woodland setting and nothing seems more at home here than Lyreleaf Sage (Salvia Lyrata). This plant is a traveler that goes where it wants. I've tried to tame it, but I think it creates a better display if I let find it's own way.

Another woodland plant that seems right at home here is this dappled shade darling, Cedar Sage (Salvia Roemeriana). 

The bugleweed is blooming wonderfully this year. Even this variegated form Ajuga reptans 'Burdgundy Glow' is finally showing it's stuff.

I was surprised to see this meadow sage thriving. I purchased several of these, but this one is the lone survivor. This plant does not like our hot, dry summers, but apparently, a burst of cool spring time rain was just what the doctor ordered.

October flooding washed out my meadow and left the area a soggy mess. Some of the seed I planted washed away, but the display is still better than last year. My goal over time is to introduce more and more seeds and plants to the space while eliminating some of the more invasive weed species. This summer I plan to solarize a patch of bermuda grass I discovered while planting last fall.

The big bloomer in the garden today is roses. I've been training this Souvenir de la malmaison to grow up over the top of my fenced chicken run. When I say my chicken pen smells like roses, I won't be lying.

I always thought crepuscule was an odd name for a rose until I found out the word means twilight. Named for it's orange, pink, salmon and yellow petals, this rose can really vary in color. In the picture below the unopened bud looks more pinkish in the morning light.

Though they don't have the fragrance of the antique roses, the knockout roses make up for it by shear volume of flowers and no fuss attitude. This plant always seems to be blooming. It's really quite amazing. 

My pink knockout rose was such a great performer that last year I decided to purchase a white one. I can't say enough good things about this rose. It's a real survivor. 

I hope you've enjoyed my contribution to Garden Blogger's Bloom Day. Spring is flower time, so check out May Dreams Gardens for more blogs showing off their bloom day flowers!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tons of Transplants

Wasn't this winter crazy? The cold weather seemed to go on and on. While the arctic cold fronts lined up for the chance to visit Texas, I stared out at my garden anxious to get started on my spring planting. Very soon impatience won out and I decided to take matters into my own hands.

If spring was going to be late this year, I was determined to be ready when it got here by starting my seeds in the house. It helped that I already had a home-made seed growing rack. The rack shown below can accommodate 4 seedling flats. It's assembled from PVC and uses inexpensive shop lights hung on adjustable chains.

Indoor seedlings grow best under full spectrum light bulbs with the lights just above the seedlings. I use chains and s hooks to adjust the lights to just the right height. A light timer is real handy to make sure the seedlings get 14 hours of light daily.

This sweet basil seems pretty happy under the grow lights.

A sunny spot, a container, soil and some seeds are all that is needed to get started growing seeds indoors. For me, success has come from trial and error. When something went wrong, I researched the problem and decided how best to solve it. For example, did you know that seedling's stems are made stronger by air currents? Running a ceiling fan or other low powered fan will help the seedlings develop stronger stems.

Not all seeds will germinate, so I always grow more than I need. This seed starting system can accommodate 72 seedlings at once. The two trays sit in a reservoir which allows the seedlings to wick up water from below. This three piece tray and reservoir system is reusable. If taken care of it will last multiple seasons.

Seed starting mix is a very fine soilless mix specially suited to starting seeds. I like mixes that contain worm castings. These specialty mixes are very pricey compared to other soil mixes, which is one reason why seeds are started in small cells and then moved up to larger containers later.

Grower's medium is a courser soilless mix that is generally either peat based or coir based. The mix I'm using contains mycorrhizae bacteria which assist plant roots in taking up nutrients. 

Grower's mix does not usually contain a fertilizer, so it is up to the grower to decide how to fertilize the plants. I like to water with a diluted liquid fertilizer, so the plants get a steady supply of food.

With a little luck, the seedlings will be healthy like the okra and cucumbers shown below.

With a little more luck, there will be an abundance of seedlings. 

Like I was saying earlier... It was a long winter.

I'll be selling my excess seedlings online at the Yard to Market Co-op website. The plant mugshots I took for the online catalog are shown below. 

I hope to fit one of all these varieties into my garden this year, but considering I'm already out of garden space that might be tricky. But wait, I have an idea. I'm going to try grow bags this year. More on that to come.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Loudest Buzz

The wisteria is in bloom! The flowers drip from the arbor in a display that is both eye catching and nose arresting. The scent is unmistakable and alluring, so I approach for a closer look and a deeper intake of the wonderfully perfumed air.

That's when I hear the sound. The loudest buzz you will ever hear. My shoulders instinctively come up to ears and my head sinks down deep into my clavicle. That's the buzz of dozens of carpenter bees as they zip from one flower to the next.

The buzz isn't just for show. The carpenter bee has powerful thoracic muscles that literally buzz the pollen right out of the flowers. 

Carpenter bees are often mistaken for bumble bees, but one good look at their shiney hiney will let you know that they are carpenters bees.

The eastern carpenter bee moves from flower to flower giving me an opportunity at a few sequential shots.

Most of the other bees are not so considerate, but my camera and I are on a mission. 

I thought this black bee might be a mason bee, but on closer inspection, I'm not so sure. He seems kinda pudgy for a mason bee. He may be a mountain carpenter bee, but who knows. With over 700 species of carpenter bees, it would probably bee-hoove me to do more research. 

Bee good and have a fun spring!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dwarf Flowering Almond

For 20 years the dwarf flowering almond (prunus glandulosa) has been a harbinger of spring in my garden. The double pink flowers open early and have excellent staying power. Since I'm awful at remembering plant names, the flowering almond simply became known as the pink fuzzball tree around our house. I think you can see why.

I'm not sure where or why I originally purchased this shrub. I probably saw it in a big box store during it's spring flush of pink fluffiness and snatched it up in a moment of impulse. I'm glad I did because it's turned out to be one of my best purchases.

Various web sites describe the flowering almond as needing full sun and moist, well-drained soil. These days I rarely plant anything requiring "moist" soils, but I have to say this plant is very drought tolerant once established. It lived quite happily between a lantana and an ornamental pomegranate until it was relocated last May. 

The mature height of the flowering almond is supposed to be 4-5 feet. Mine stands about 3 feet tall. Perhaps it is smaller due to lack of water and care. I never pampered it. I don't even remember ever fertilizing the poor thing, but every spring the tight little pink buds form and then burst into flower.

This is a plant I can truly count on to get my spring off to a good start!