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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

You Might Be A Gardening Geek: Halloween Edition

You might be a gardening geek on Halloween if…

1. Your kids decide to dress up as scarecrows, raid your closet to get some old clothes, and then you realize they picked out the exact clothes you were just wearing this past weekend while working in the garden. Bonus points if you once dressed as a scarecrow at Halloween.

2. Your favorite Trick or Treaters are the little ones dressed like lady bugs, bees, sunflowers, daisies and garden fairies, and you sneak them extra treats. Bonus points if you ever dressed your own kids in these kinds of costumes or posted about plant-themed costumes.

3. You came up with a Halloween costume that allowed you to finally wear your gardening clogs to work. Bonus points if you came up with a costume that also allowed you take one of your hoes to work with you.

4. The pumpkins decorating your front porch are from your own garden. Bonus points if you paint faces on them because you don’t want to carve them until you are ready to make pie with them. Triple bonus points if you grew a pumpkin over 50 pounds and used that as your jack o’lantern.

5. You have at least two other types of homegrown gourds and a shock of corn, all from your own garden, decorating your porch. Bonus points for three or more varieties of homegrown gourds.

6. You think it might be fun to give each Trick or Treater a tulip bulb with instructions on how to plant it instead of giving them candy. Bonus points if you have actually done this. (Honestly I don’t think anyone is that geeky about gardening!)

7. You spend your Halloween evening attending the first regular season basketball game for the Indiana Pacers. Oops, don't know how that got on the list, that's not about gardening at all!

Are you a Halloween kind of gardening geek?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Alpha Trees, Dogs, Gardeners, and Crafters

Have you ever heard of an ‘alpha tree’?

My sister had an arborist come and trim some of her trees and he looked through a small wooded area in their back yard to make recommendations on thinning it out. The area is a triangle shape and the three corners are anchored by a sugar maple (Acer saccharum), pictured above from a week ago before the leaves started to turn, an old spruce (Picea abies) and an American beech (Fagus grandiflora).

Between the sugar maple and the spruce is a ginkgo tree (Ginkgo biloba) and the rest of the area includes an old black pine (Pinus nigra) and at least one spruce that is completely dead.

The arborist said the sugar maple was the alpha tree in that corner wooded area.

I’ve never heard anyone refer to an alpha tree before but I assume that it means that it is the dominant tree in that area. The sugar maple is probably the tallest tree there, though the beech might be just as tall. And it was probably one of the first trees planted in the back yard some 45 years ago.

What does it mean to be the alpha tree? Does the alpha tree get all its nutrients first? Do the other trees in an area know or sense in any way which one is the alpha tree? If you have to thin out a wooded area, do you leave the alpha tree? What if the alpha tree dies? Does another tree become the alpha tree or do the trees mourn the loss of the alpha tree and ‘pine’ away. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) What if all the trees are of similar size? Then is the alpha tree determined by species? Is there a natural order of things in the tree world that we can only imagine?

Has anyone heard of this concept of an alpha tree? If you have, let me know, as my brief online search didn’t provide much insight. I even looked in a couple of books on trees and came up with nothing.

In my own back yard, the current alpha tree, if there is such a thing, is probably the honey locust, (Gleditsia triacanthos) since it’s the tallest tree. On the side yard, the new ginkgomust be alpha because it is the only tree over there.

We have some other ‘alphas’ in our family besides this sugar maple.

My ten year old niece Sophie is the ‘alpha dog’ in her household, in a good way. The actual dogs follow her around because they know she’s the boss of them. I don’t know how this came about, but that’s how it is.

I’m pretty sure I’m the ‘alpha gardener’ in the family. My siblings usually ask me their gardening related questions. They like to know what I’m planting and why. When I posted that I was going to get a Carolina Silverbell tree, my youngest sister (Sister with the Homestead) commented that she wanted one, too, and I got an email from my oldest sister asking about it and should she get one. (I talked them both out of getting one because of the acidic soil requirements).

My oldest sister is the ‘alpha crafter’ of the family. Quilting, spinning, weaving, knitting, crocheting, she does it all. She has a big loom and makes us all indestructible kitchen towels on it and knits socks and sweaters. Last year at Thanksgiving, I over heard her say that she didn’t think she had spun enough yarn to finish knitting a sweater she was working on. Only an alpha crafter would say that.

Even though I’m not the alpha crafter in my family, I’m going to post someday soon about some hand made gifts for the gardener that anyone (nearly) can make. Really, maybe tomorrow.

Are there any ‘alphas’ in your garden or family?

(This is Muncie, one of Sophie's pack.)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Gardening After The Frost: Get Started, Pile High, Make Decisions

We've had a killing frost.

We know it's over. We know we can't go back.

We can't undo the frost.

Today in the garden was a time to get started on fall clean up, to pile high the compost and make decisions on what goes and what stays as the gardening season now rapidly winds down here at May Dreams Gardens.

We've had a killing frost.

Get Started

The first thing I did today in the garden was to clean up some of the bigger rocks that I found while digging holes for my new trees on Friday so I could use them in the miniature garden as edging.That may seem like an odd task to start fall clean up with, but it needed to be done. Does it really matter what you do first when doing fall clean up as long as you just get started and it all gets done? Plus, this was one task that I was able to start and finish quickly, giving me that sense of accomplishment, that joy that people of my type experience when they check something off their 'to do' list, even if that list is in our heads. Just get started, do something, don't lament what was, get started on cleaning up the garden to prepare for what will be. Get started.

Pile High

After I got started and finished up my first task, I turned my attention to clearing up those plants that were clearly killed off by the frost.I pulled out impatiens, corn stalks and all the pepper and tomato plants, and piled them up in one of my three compost bins. Don't be afraid to pile up the plant material as high as you can. Now is definitely not the time to scrimp on the compost pile and start bagging plant material to put in the trash. My compost bin sides are about three feet tall and this new pile rises above the sides by at least two feet. Compost will happen and before you know it, this pile will be half the size it is now. Really, it's like a miracle. Pile high.

Make Decisions

While cleaning up one of the planting beds, I found this catnip where I thought I had dug up all the catnip to give to my sister.
As you clean up the garden, you'll have to make a lot of decisions, like what to do with this catnip. Should I weed it out or let it stay? I also found more ribbon grass and a bunch of four o' clock seedlings nearby. I definitely pulled those out. Then I decided to leave the catnip so I can transplant it someplace else next spring. As I go from bed to bed, I'll be faced with a myriad of similar decisions to make. Cut something back or leave it be? Dig out unwanted seedlings or let them go to transplant in the spring? Add compost or leave bare? Make decisions.

And before I know it, after just a few more days of working in the garden, I'll be ready for winter. I'll just keep reminding myself to get started, pile high and make decisions. Repeat after me... "Get started, pile high, make decisions".

And don't forget to plant the bulbs.

(Someday soon, I'll post about handmade gifts for the gardener.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Checking on Stuff in the Garden

The day after you plant new trees, do you go out and check them, just to make sure they are still there, to make sure they haven't fallen over or something?

You don't? Okay. Never mind.

As you walk around the garden, are you checking those last blooms trying to figure out if you'll have anything still blooming on the 15th of November for the next Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day?

I am. Today I found this last little violet blooming along with some Stella D'Oro daylilies, a bunch of shasta daisies, one tall phlox, and a spiderwort or two. There's even a confused hosta trying to bloom again.

Who knows what the next few days will mean in the garden? There is the strong possibility of frost in my area and throughout the midwest early Monday morning. After that it looks like it could be a week or longer before there's another chance of frost.

I for one gardener am ready to get on with it. Let it frost. Without the frost, I'm whistling along thinking I have all kinds of time to do the fall clean up, and I know I don't really. So if it frosts, I'll get going on the clean up. Let it frost.

Do you cover plants when it frosts this late in the fall? I don't. When it's over, it's over, whether that be in early October or early November. But this year, oddly enough, I'm actually thinking about covering that little hosta that's trying to bloom again. That hosta may be my only hope of having something blooming outside in November, at least something besides pansies. Otherwise, I may just have "frozen blooms" for Bloom Day on the 15th.

"Frozen blooms" are those flowers that are still technically there, on the plant, but are frozen in time, caught off guard by a frost after an unusual warm spell. They are flowers that don't really have a chance to fade and set seed, since they got zapped by a frost, or worse, were encased with ice or snow.

But if frozon blooms are all that you have for the next Bloom Day on November 15th, count them and post about them!

Oh, and by the way, I did check my new trees this morning. They're fine. They didn't fall over in the middle of the night or suddenly drop all their leaves or anything like that.

Here's a picture of the Carolina Silverbell that I didn't post yesterday.
You can see behind it there's a red maple (Acer rubrum) changing colors, finally. A good frost ought to help it get going. That other smaller tree, with leaves as green as the grass, is a Redbud (Cercis canadensis). It should have yellow foliage any day now.

And here's the ginkgo also still standing tall.
I'm hoping it will also have some pretty yellow leaves in a few days.

That's what I'm checking at May Dreams Gardens, what are you checking in your garden?

(Tomorrow... hand made gifts for gardeners, that anyone can make, maybe.)

One other thing... I got an email that the book 'Backyard Giants', that several garden bloggers read and reviewed this fall, will be included in a story about giant pumpkins that will appear tomorrow, October 28, on "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood." I can't believe the size of some of those pumpkins!)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Buying and Planting Trees

Trees are generally the most expensive and long-lived plants a gardener will buy. Well-chosen, well-placed, and well-planted, they add structure and definition to the rest of the garden and provide decades of enjoyment. Poorly chosen, poorly placed or poorly planted, they can become a nuisance and source of frustration.

I hope the trees I bought today will provide me with decades of enjoyment. I hope they appreciate that I took a day off from work to go to the nursery, personally select them, and then bring them home to carefully plant them.

Follow along with me on my big 'tree holiday', my personal arbor day.

I went in the morning to a nursery clear on the other side of the city because I wanted to have a nice selection of trees to choose from. At the nursery, they wrapped burlap around the trees to protect them for the drive home, since my route home took me on the interstate.

They also gave me a 30% discount for waiving the one year guarantee. The trees looked pretty healthy to me, so I think my risk of them not living at least a year is pretty low. I always ask if they are offering discounts when I buy expensive shrubs or trees. Sometimes they say no, but sometimes they'll offer a discount, like today.

When I brought my new trees home, the sun was shining. By the time I finished lunch and changed into some 'tree planting clothes', the skies had turned threatening.
But I don't let threatening skies keep me from working in the garden. After all, it could be hours before it starts to rain.

The first task was to clear out the sod where I planned to plant the first tree.I was able to easily remove the sod by first scoring the ground with a 'half moon' edging shovel, and then hand digging out the sod with my hand digging hoe. I used the sod to fill in bare spots elsewhere in the lawn.

Then I planted my new tree.Would anyone like to guess what kind of tree I bought?

At the nursery I walked around and looked at nearly every tree they had. Hawthorns, serviceberries, crabapples, tree lilacs, sassafras, dogwoods, magnolias, maples, oaks. I checked them all out one by one.

And then even though I had decided I wasn't going to get one because my soil is alkaline and they prefer acidic soil, I bought a Carolina Silverbell, Halesia carolina 'Arnold Pink'.

What happened, you ask? Why did I change my mind? Well, I'll tell you... as I stood there in the nursery and looked at that Carolina Silverbell, I decided that life is too short not to at least try to grow a tree I've wanted for nearly 30 years, ever since I first learned about it when I took a course in Woody Ornamentals in college. I'll just have to amend the soil to try to provide the acidity the tree wants. That sounds easy enough, only time will tell if I am successful.

I placed my tree in the garden so that over time, it will block the open view of the neighbor's deck. Where it is planted it will also guide anyone who comes through the gate to turn left as they enter the back yard. I don't like 'straight shot' paths and views into the back yard, I want someone to look through the gate and wonder what else is back there.

What else is back there? Eventually there will be a big planting bed back there that includes the Carolina Silverbell as well as all the other trees that are planted on that side of the yard.

Though I did go to the nursery to buy just one tree, I also came home with a second tree.
It was a spur of the moment purchase. They had just gotten these ginkgo trees in and they looked as good as any I've seen. I did not let the fact that I didn't know exactly where I was going to plant it stop me from buying this second tree because I knew I'd find some place for it.

So after I planted the first tree, I walked around the yard with my new ginkgo to see where it might fit in. Finally I decided to plant it in the side yard, near where I had cleared out and renovated some foundation plantings earlier this fall.

This particular gingko is Ginkgo biloba 'Princeton Sentry', a male tree, and it will grow so slowly that it will be a long time before it shades the plants near the house or drops its golden yellow leaves into the gutters in the fall.

In a few years, I think I'll expand the bed around the ginkgo to follow the property line and provide for another garden area. In the meantime, it will just be there all alone, serving as a 'sentry' in my side yard.

Did I mention that it was overcast and threatening to rain the whole time I was planting my trees? By the time I finished planting the ginkgo, it had already started to rain.
And it has been raining off and on into the evening. This makes me very happy. I hope it pleases the new trees, too. Overcast skies, cool temps, and gentle rains. What better conditions could these trees have for starting out in a new garden?

(Tomorrow... hand made gifts for gardeners, that anyone can make.)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Gardening Geek's Guide to Gift Giving

With just two months to go until Christmas, I'm already picking up hints from my mom and others that I should be putting together a list of what I want for Christmas. Hints like, "what do you want for Christmas?"

Let's not rush the seasons. I just harvested the last of the peppers and a few more tomatoes today!

But since the stores are already putting the Christmas candy out right next to the Halloween goodies, I decided it isn't too early to provide a list of gift suggestions for other gardeners. I've included only items I already own and have experience using and any links to sources are provided freely without compensation to me in any way.

A Gardening Geek's Guide to Gift Giving

1. Felco pruners. It is so much easier to dead head, gather flowers to bring indoors, or cut back that occasional stray or dead branch when you have a good, sharp pair of pruners. I personally use a No. 8 Felco pruner, and I own the holster, too.

2. Hand digging hoe. This is still my tool of choice for digging out sod or hoeing up a small area. If you get one, remember the good ones are nice and sharp.

3. Cape Cod Weeder. I once thought the hand digging hoe was "it" for weeding in the flower beds until Annie in Austin tipped me off about the Cape Cod Weeder. I had to try it, because there are very few gardening tools I won't try at least once. I'm glad I did because now it's my favorite tool for weeding.

4. A good trowel. I've mentioned before that any hobby or vocation involving tools is much more enjoyable if you use well-made tools, and gardening is no exception. If you can splurge, get a good trowel, one that won't bend or rest, and is easy on the hands. It doesn't have to be this one, but get a good one. And while you are at it, get a matching hand cultivator.

5. Hand scrubbing brushes. If you like to garden bare-handed, these brushes really do a good job of getting the ground dirt off your hands.

6. Garden trug. Yolanda Elizabet has the trug I really want, but this one that I have is good for carrying a big load of vegetables in from the garden. (If you go to that site, you'll have to enter "garden trug" in the search to find it, no direct link was available). Since this trug is made of plastic, it is easy to keep clean. Mine is over ten years old and seems to be indestructible.

7. Garden clogs. I got my first pair of these garden clogs 15 years ago, long before anyone had ever heard of Crocs. Now I have three pair and don't ever want to go without them. And yes, for me, this is the only brand, the one with the plaid insert!

8. A chipper/shredder. I was very happy to find this electric model last year, as I hated the gas-powered one that I had before this one. It's easy to roll around to wherever you want to use it, easy to use, and easy to store. If you have a lot of garden refuse and compost bins, you might also enjoy an afternoon or two of chipping and shredding.

9. A garden journal. Yes, a simple notebook would work for a garden journal, and if you aren't sure you'll keep up a journal, get a simple notebook. But if you keep a garden journal already or think you would faithfully update one, consider this one. It has room for ten years worth of notes, so it is easy to compare what you did from year to year. I started mine in 2001 and so in a few years, I'm going to need another one.

10. A good hoe. Don't make me choose which hoe is the perfect hoe to give a gardener. They all are good in their own way. If you really want to give someone a hoe, or want to buy one for yourself, leave me a comment or send me an email on what type of gardening you do, and I'll be happy to make some suggestions.

So there you have it, some of my ideas for gifts for the gardener, based on my own experience and what I use in the garden. I'm not in cahoots with any of these companies that I've linked to, I just like these things for gardening and thought others might, too.

Now I need to think about what I don't have so I can come up with a list to give my family. Any suggestions? What gift would you give a gardener for Christmas?

(It's nearly Halloween and daisies are still blooming in my garden... they are in for a surprise on Monday, when we are supposed to have a good frost.

Tomorrow... hand made gifts for gardeners, that anyone can make.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Do You Test Your Soil?

When plants in my garden don't do as well as expected, I like to figure out why. This year, I planted two containers with Argyranthemum frutescens.

I bought the plants from the same garden center where they were probably growing side by side. I planted them with the same basic soil mix and though one was in the front garden and one was on the back patio, they were both out in the open so they got equal amounts of sun.

When I watered in the front, I watered in the back, so they got the same amount of water.

Yet, the one in the front clearly did much better than the one in the back.

What could have caused this? The only difference I can find is the size of the containers. I used a smaller container for the one in the back but I have a hard time believing that the size of the container made that much difference. What else could it be?

A few years ago I bought what I thought was a Red Oak (Quercus rubra) that never lived up to its potential. It always looked a bit sickly and showed signs of iron chlorosis, which is quite common in Pin Oaks (Quercus palustris) grown in alkaline soil. In fact, the whole reason I chose the Red Oak over the Pin Oak was because I figured my soil was probably alkaline. Most of the soil around here is.

After a few years of looking at the yellow leaves of that oak, I decided that once again I had purchased a mis-identified tree and this one was probably a Pin Oak.

In fact the more I looked at this tree, the more I was convinced that it was a Pin Oak. Why didn't I realize that in the garden center? At one time in college, I was able to identify 10 or 12 different oaks commonly planted in the home landscape. But believe it or not, we were taught to identify them by their buds, and this one was all leafed out when I bought it. I was aware of the general leaf shape of Pin Oaks and Red Oaks, but they are somewhat similar. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it. (And in case you are wondering, no, after all these years I could not identify a red oak from a pin oak by its buds. If you don't use that kind of knowledge, believe me, you don't remember it.)

Anyway, for a season or two, I tried to fix the soil for the Pin-Red Oak by adding sulphur to the soil around it but the results were mixed. I finally cut the tree down and put it out of its misery.

I've been thinking about that oak tree and wondered if the soil pH was really the problem or was it just a sickly tree?

I've never tested the soil in my garden, even though all the how-to gardening books seem to suggest that is the first step to a successful garden. I've always assumed my soil was alkaline and planted accordingly.

Soil pH, what does it matter?

It matters a lot to the plants.

So I found an old soil test kit I had bought years ago but never used, and tested my soil this evening.
It's a bit hard to tell from this picture, but guess what? Just as I suspected, and really knew all along, the soil pH around here is high.

Will the confirmed knowledge that my soil is quite alkaline influence what plants I buy? Yes, it will and it already does. I would never have deliberately planted a Pin Oak, and I've avoided planting Rhododendrons and other shrubs that are known to prefer acidic soil, even though they are sold in the garden centers around here, where nearly all the soil is alkaline.

And it means that I'm going to give up on the idea of planting Halesia carolina, Carolina Silverbell. When I was doing my final checking to see if this was for sure the tree I wanted to get, I discovered the one thing I'd forgotten about it, it likes acidic soil.

Given my experience with the Pin-Red Oak, and the price of the tree, I don't think it is a smart choice for my garden.

Instead I'll go to the nursery as planned and just see what trees they have. But I'm taking one of my tree books with me, so I can do on the spot research before I buy a tree I'm not all that familiar with, even if that makes me look like a gardening geek.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

More Fall Clean Up Tips

Gray skies are going to cheer us, we have a happy face...

What? Those aren't the words to the song??

They should be, at least around May Dreams Gardens here in central Indiana. It's been raining off and on since yesterday afternoon and the skies are overcast. My garden has gotten way more than one inch, but not quite two inches, of rain, near as I can tell.

Once the rain ends, I am hoping for some cool, sunny weather so I can start stripping the sod off the area where I want to plant a new tree and add a big planting bed.

I'll use the sod pieces to fill in some bare spots that invariably show up in the lawn after a dry summer. It's an easy way to get rid of the sod without filling up the compost bins. Just drop the sod piece in the bare spot and stomp it down with your foot. Stomp, stomp, stomp. The ground is nice and damp now so I won't even have to water those spots. Then by spring you won't even know where I filled in the bare spots.

And I'll get going on some real garden clean up, too, even though I am not behind in my fall clean up. There's plenty of time, so I can take it nice and easy and following my own clean up tips.

Here are ten of those tips that I've come up with after cleaning up my Zone 5 gardens in the fall for ten, twenty, more than twenty years. (Your tips may vary depending on your climate.)

Tip 1. Clean up and compost any perennials that get all mushy after the killing frost, like hostas.

Tip 2. Leave the dried up perennials that didn't turn to mush after the frost, especially if they have seed heads for the birds to eat or you are short on time. Or you can cut these perennials back if you are concerned about self-sowing or just like a tidy garden in the wintertime. The exception is hardy mums, like those pictured above. Wait until spring to cut mums back, to give them their best chance of wintering over.

Tip 3. Don't compost the peonies. Peonies can be infected with botrytis blight which can be spread through the compost. In fact, don't compost any plants that look diseased. Throw them out. An exception might be powdery mildew. I don't think it matters what you do, if a plant is likely to get powdery mildew, it is going to get it, regardless of what's in the compost.

Tip 4. Pull out and compost all annuals. They're done after the first frost anyway.

Tip 5. Empty the soil from containers. For bigger containers, I sometimes empty just the top several inches and leave the rest for next year. The exception is if the plants in the container were diseased, then definitely get rid of all the soil and clean the container thoroughly.

Tip 6. Clean up garden ornaments, furniture, and containers before you store them for the winter. I've learned that if this stuff is dirty when you store it, it will still be dirty when you get it out in the spring.

Tip 7. Carry heavy items as short a distance as possible when you put them away. Save your back! I used to haul all the stuff on the back patio around the side of my house to the garage. Then one fall I was pulling a cart with a big clay pot on it and the pot rolled off and broke in half. This was at about the same time that I realized that I had acquired more stuff than would fit in the garage anyway. So why was I trying to haul heavy stuff all that way? Now I stack up most of the back patio 'stuff' in one corner of the patio and throw a big tarp over it.

Tip 8. Toss a few moth balls under the tarp to keep the animals out. When you store stuff outside with a big tarp over it, some critters like raccoons may want to set up housekeeping under the tarp. The moth balls seem to keep them out.

Tip 9. Weed the garden and flower beds. When you trim back perennials and pull out annuals, you'll find some weeds that were hiding, hoping to winter over unseen until spring. If you weed a little now, it will save time in the spring.

Tip 10. The last time you mow the lawn, take it nice and slow and savor the moment. Kidding! I know some of you don't share a love of mowing. The real tip is when you mow the lawn for the last time, lower the blade and cut it about an inch shorter than normal. This assumes you follow the good advice of "mow high".

I think that's a good start on some fall clean up tips. Do you have any other tips to offer?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Who's Behind in Their Garden Clean Up? Five Lessons for Fall

Are you feeling a bit behind in your fall garden clean up work? Do you think that you just can’t get it all done before the snow flies, or the rains come, or whatever happens in your neck of the woods to signal the end of fall and the beginning of winter?

Is there a sense of panic starting to overtake you every time you look around your garden and see all that you still need to do to get the gardens ready for winter?

Did seeing how Bev and Lost Roses woke up yesterday to snow on the ground in Colorado nearly send you over the edge, or send you out to the garden trying to get more cleaned up?

I have to admit that yesterday when I was outside, even though it was sunny and 79 degrees, I felt this sense of being behind in fall clean up. That feeling was slowly creeping up on me as I saw leaves still on the trees, tomatoes and peppers still growing in the garden and not a single perennial cut back or annual pulled out or container emptied. Something whispered in my ear, “You’re behind, you’re behind, winter is coming, have you bought that new snow blower yet?”

You know what I did to silence that little voice? No, I didn’t clean up the entire garden in one day and then go buy a new snow blower. But that’s a good guess.

I looked in my garden journal to see when I did the garden clean up in past years.

Here’s what I found:

2001 – Most of the big fall clean up, emptying the containers and putting away the garden ornaments, was done on November 4th.
2002 – November 3rd was a big clean up day, though it appears I did a lot of vegetable garden clean up on October 27th.
2003 – I was early that year, doing a lot of clean up on October 30th.
2004 – I split up the container clean up and garden ornament stowing between two days, October 30th and November 6th. That could be an indication that I had increased the numbers of those so it was no longer possible to do it all in one day.
2005 – Isn’t this fascinating information? I cleaned up the containers on October 29th, what an early bird I was that year, but I finished it up on November 4th.
2006 – Last year I once again split the container clean up/garden ornament stowaway between two days, October 28th and November 4th.

In all years, I was still trimming up and cutting back perennials and finishing up the vegetable garden clean up well into November.

Whew! Now I am all relaxed, whistling and humming along, because I AM NOT BEHIND.

Do you still feel like you're behind? What useful information can you get from this look back through my garden journal?

Here are five lessons I've learned about cleaning up the garden in the fall.

1. Find your own pace and rhythm for your garden. Just because it snowed in Colorado or someone posted triumphantly on their blog that they finished getting ready for winter in their garden doesn't mean garden clean up needs to be done in your garden.

2. Don’t try to get all the clean up done at once. As your garden grows, it is likely that what once took a day, may take two days or longer.

3. Keep your own garden journal/records, unique to your garden. Sometimes the information is useless; other times, it’s a good reminder of what works in your garden and when you generally do most tasks.

4. Relax and enjoy the fall season. Enjoy the process of garden clean up, the process of creating that clean slate for next year’s garden.

5. Don’t clean up the garden too soon, or you’ll miss late bloomers and rebloomers, like the clematis above, blooming yesterday in my sister’s garden.

Now do you still feel like you are behind?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Quick Post - Is the Bad Blog Thing Really Gone?

A few days ago I posted about the bad blog thing stealing all kinds of garden related posts:

"There is a weird blog-thing ripping off all kinds of content from my blog and from others' blogs as well. I can tell because I often put links in my blog to old posts, and when this blog-thing rips off my content, it shows up as a link to my blog in Technorati. I don't want to put a link to the blog-thing here, so I'll spell it out: "gardening DOT maxblog DOT eu". The posts are always 'by Carlos'. Funny thing is that when I try to click on this blog address, I always get "page not found". I did a search on "maxblog" and got a hit on a site that looks like it is where you can go to set up a "maxblog". There is an email address, admin AT maxblog DOT eu, on that site, but I am afraid to send something to it, for fear that my email address will be compromised and I'll start getting a bunch of spam email. Has anyone else noticed this bad blog-thing? Any advice on what to do about it?"

I sent an email to the admin at maxblog this morning and got a quick answer back to send links to examples of stolen posts. I sent three recent examples. Then I got another email back saying the "account has been removed".

As I seem to have been blocked from seeing this "bad blog thing", perhaps by my IP address or something, could someone(s) try to get to it, who got to it before, and see if it is really gone?

I'd be forever grateful.

And then if it is gone, we can celebrate... at least until such time as the next thief comes along.

Update... the blog thing appears to be deleted. Gone. For some reason, I'm reminded of the movie, The Wizard of Oz, and the part when the munchkins all found out that the wicked witch was dead. Time to celebrate (I hope not prematurely) in the garden blogosphere...

First Estimate on Making a New Planting Bed

My original title for this post was going to be "$1.07 Won't Even Buy Me A Glass of Iced Tea".

A while back, I posted about how I was taking back some overgrown planting beds, reclaiming them from various mis-behaving plants so I could replant with something better. I also commented in that post that I was going to call a landscaper to get an estimate on helping with those overgrown beds and digging up a new planting bed in the back yard.

If you are keeping up with what's going on here at May Dreams Gardens, you know that I have already reclaimed one of the two beds on my own.

I'm half way through digging out the other bed, where the forsythia is, but still need to do quite a bit more to fully reclaim this space for other plants.

And I did call a landscaper to get an estimate for digging up the new bed.

When he got here, I used some orange marking paint and painted the outline of the new bed. I asked for a quote for them to remove the grass, dig up the area, add some compost and leave it basically ready to plant. He estimated that the new bed would be about 500 square feet. Then he went to his truck to do some ciphering and calculating while I waited around, puttering about, dreaming of what I would plant in that new bed.

Any guesses on the estimate for digging that new bed?

About $2 per square foot. Put that way, it doesn't seem like a lot, does it?

The total estimate was $998.93.

Which means out of One Thousand Dollars, I would have $1.07 left over, which isn't enough to buy me my daily Venti Unsweet Iced Green Tea, No Water, No Ice at the local Starbucks. (I don't, by the way, drink it like that. I take it to work and pour it over ice and then it lasts me all day.)

I'm making no judgments on if that is a fair price for digging up a new planting bed. I think it is probably the going rate. In his estimate, the landscaper included two applications of Round Up, rototilling the area four times, bringing in four cubic yards of compost, and tilling all that in again. I would assume at least two guys would do the work and it would take three trips, two trips for the Round Up, one trip for all the tilling.

I really didn't give it much thought once I saw the price. It's not the money as much as I know I can do that work myself, albeit at a much slower pace. I have to pay for enough things that I can't do myself, so it bothers me to pay someone to do something that I can do. After all, I was able to do the work on the retaining wall myself and I am halfway on my way to reclaiming the forysthia bed.

So I'm going to dig this new bed myself, too. As I work, I'll keep telling myself how much I am saving and how many plants I can buy with those savings.

It will take me awhile, but taking it a section at a time, I know I can do it. What's the big rush, anyway? I've been looking at that unplanted area for ten years already, so even if I takes me another year to gradually dig it up, that's okay. I think it is mostly a matter of just getting started. And if it is next spring and I still don't have that bed dug up like I want, I've got at least one nephew who might be willing to help for far less than the landscaping crew would charge.

There's too much rushing around these days anyway. Everyone wants everything right now. Instant gratification! Not me. I want to continue to enjoy the process of gardening as long as I can, hopefully for many more decades. And that process involves not just weeding and planting and deadheading, but digging, too.

One square foot at time, I'll get this new bed dug eventually!

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Art and Science of Raking Leaves

What's your technique for raking leaves in the fall?

I was on the phone with a co-worker today who was working from home. She started out by saying, "I'm watching my husband working out in the yard, and I'm worried that he is nuts."

I had to ask.

She thought he was nuts because of how he was cleaning up leaves in their yard. First he vacuumed up all the leaves. Then he mowed the lawn. Then he vacuumed up the leaves again. I asked what he did with all the leaves he had vacuumed up. "He takes them across the street and dumps them in the vacant lot".

Turns out, by the way, that they have no trees in their yard (yet) and all the leaves he vacuumed up came from the trees in that vacant lot across the street.

Wonder what is going to happen to the leaves he dumped over there? I'm guessing they are going to blow right back into their yard.

He must like to vacuum up leaves.

So that's one technique for cleaning up leaves in the fall, vacuum them up and dump them across the street in a vacant lot. Repeat.

When I was growing up, it seemed like every weekend in the fall we were forced to rake leaves. When my parents moved in to our house, there were no trees, but my Dad planted a lot of sugar maples and other trees and then watered and fertilized them all the time so they grew big fast. Thus it seemed that right at the time when we were old enough to be able to rake leaves and old enough not to want to do it, we had a lot of leaves to rake.

We learned to rake the leaves on to big sheets of plastic and then drag them back to the vegetable garden where my Dad did one of three things with them, depending on his mood.

In the early days, before the practice was banned, he burned the leaves. All the neighbors did. The fall air on the weekends was thick with the smoke of burning leaves.

Some years he dug trenches in the garden, or had us help dig trenches, and then we dumped the leaves in the trenches and buried them.

Other years, we spread the leaves out over the surface of the garden and he roto-tilled them into the soil.

That's still mighty rich soil where he had that garden and where my sister now has her vegetable garden.

Every year, of course, we also jumped into the piles of leaves at least once. The temptation was just too great!

In my current yard, I don't yet have enough leaves to worry too much about. But I do have two leaf rakes already, one metal, one plastic, so I'll be ready when I do have a lot of leaves.

(Yes, I do seem to acquire a lot of garden tools, not just hoes, but apparently now rakes, too.)

My current technique for leaf removal is just to mow over any leaves when I mow the lawn so they are chopped up a bit and will enrich the soil right where they are. But it is going to be a few more weeks before I have any leaves to mow over.

See, my Red Maple (Acer rubrum) is just barely starting to turn.

So what's your technique for raking leaves? Is leaf raking an art or a science? Do you prefer plastic or metal leaf rakes? Do you vacuum the leaves up or just mow over them? Or do you just leave them right where they fall?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Good Stuff, Bad Stuff

Good stuff first!

We have a new Hoosier garden blogger! Lisa at Greenbow has finally started her own blog, Greenbow. Lisa is located in the southwest part of Indiana and has been leaving comments here and there around the garden blogosphere for awhile now. It's nice to see her garden pictures and read more about what she is doing in her own garden. She's published three posts as of this writing; the first one was for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day a few days ago.

We got over an inch of rain early this morning! That's going to help ensure that the trees and shrubs go into dormancy just a little more hydrated. I won't have to try to water trees again this weekend.

I've almost finished weeding the vegetable garden so I won't have that hanging over my head as something I need to do this weekend, either. Well, maybe I just have to do a little bit of weeding. I put two full trash bags of purslane out for the trash collectors two nights ago. By the way, it is not necessary to tell me that purslane is edible and full of healthy good things like Omega-3 oil. Around here, it is a weed.

Bad stuff, unfortunately.

There is a weird blog-thing ripping off all kinds of content from my blog and from others' blogs as well. I can tell because I often put links in my blog to old posts, and when this blog-thing rips off my content, it shows up as a link to my blog in Technorati. I don't want to put a link to the blog-thing here, so I'll spell it out: "gardening DOT maxblog DOT eu". The posts are always 'by Carlos'. Funny thing is that when I try to click on this blog address, I always get "page not found". I did a search on "maxblog" and got a hit on a site that looks like it is where you can go to set up a "maxblog". There is an email address, admin AT maxblog DOT eu, on that site, but I am afraid to send something to it, for fear that my email address will be compromised and I'll start getting a bunch of spam email. Has anyone else noticed this bad blog-thing? Any advice on what to do about it?

We may be getting some bad weather tonight, as a cold front moves in to collide with the warm front that is already here. We are under a "tornado watch" until midnight, even though right now it is calm outside and still warm. We could get thunderstorms, hail, twisters, strong winds, oh, and rain. I'll take the rain but the rest is not welcome! Because of the watch, I decided not to go after work to the nursery clear on the other side of town to look for a tree. I probably won't have another chance to go there until late next week.

Always finish with good stuff...

The last few days it seems like the trees are finally starting to show some fall color. Check out the Indiana Leaf Cam to see how beautiful autumn in Indiana can be. But remember these are live web cams, so check them in the daytime, not at night like I just did. In the dark, its hard to see the leaf color...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mis-labeled Tree - What Should They Have Done?

One of the first trees I purchased for my new yard ten years ago was a fruitless Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua). I wasn't actually planning to buy this variety of tree but decided when I saw it at a garden center that a Sweet Gum tree that had all the good attributes of a Sweet Gum, but no fruiting, would be a good tree.

Without going into all the details, it turned out that this sweet gum was far from fruitless and in fact is very heavily fruiting most years.

I still have the receipt and the tag, both of which say "fruitless".

About six years ago, I decided to go back to this garden center with pictures of all the sweet gum balls hanging on the tree and copies of the receipt and tag. I wanted them to know the tree was mis-labeled and I was disappointed. I wasn't going to ask them to remove the tree so I could plant a tree that I really wanted or anything like that. I just wanted them to do something to show they cared and were sorry about it.

Oh those lucky garden center employees! I made their day. I don't think anyone had every come back with proof that a tree they sold was mis-labeled. And by the way, it seems to have been mis-labeled by the wholesale nursery first.

They looked at my picture, copies of the tag and receipt, and me and deferred the whole problem to "the manager" who was conveniently not in. But they assured me, promised me, that he would call me!

Six years later, I'm still waiting for that call and I've only gone to that garden center once or twice since then. That hasn't been as hard to do as it sounds because this garden center is not on my side of town.

But when people ask me where to go to buy trees, I tell them about the mis-labeled tree that I got at this garden center, because they should be aware that such a thing can happen to anyone.

What would you have done? What should the garden center manager have done?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Buying A Tree is Like Getting a Puppy

I've begun my quest to complete task number 5 on my Saturday To Do list, the one I started last weekend.

Task number 5 is "Go buy a tree. Plant a tree". Easier written down than done.

There is much to consider in buying a tree. Where do you want to plant it? Are there utilities overhead that it might interfere with? How about underground? Are there other trees nearby that it could interfere with?

Are you planting for shade? For spring flowering? Do you want brilliant fall foliage? What about seed pods or other fruit? Should the tree be decidious or evergreen? Is it to be a focal point or part of a mixed border?

Is it one that local nurseries actually sell?

For whatever reason, the tree I want to add to my garden, a Carolina Silverbell (Halesia carolina), doesn't seem to be all that common around here.

I called a garden center near where I work. The person who answered the phone had never heard of a Silverbell, and did not recognize the genus.

I called a nursery way on the other side of town. They checked and lo and behold, they have two of them, in 15 gallon pots, about eight tall. Sounded perfect, but they are clear on the other side of the city. I asked if I they were in good shape, and could I just buy one over the phone and have it delivered.

"Sorry", the very helpful person said, "you have to come and see it first." At this time of year, the best time of year to actually buy and plant trees, trees don't look their best and therefore, the nursery won't sell a tree to a customer unless they go there and actually see the tree first. I suppose they've sold trees over the phone before and the person refused it when they tried to deliver it, so they don't do that any more. I agreed, I really should see the tree first.

Did I mention that nursery is way on the other side of town. Even if I go there, I'll still have them deliver it.

Then after work I stopped in at a garden center that I pass on my way home. They were quite helpful, quite willing to get me a Carolina Silverbell, once I told them what it was. They pulled out their reference book to determine that it was commercially available, and then checked the catalogs from all three of their supplies. Three strikes, no Carolina Silverbell.

So way on the other side of town are two Carolina Silverbells, and one of them could be mine. I just have to figure out when I can get there to see them, and buy one, if I like it.

In some ways, buying a tree reminds me of buying a new puppy.

You do want to see the tree first, just like you would want to see the puppy before you got it.

With both the tree and the puppy, you want to see if it is healthy, understand what kind of care it will need, and read up on how big it will eventually get.

You have to decide if it would it be happy in a little garden or does it like a lot of space, to spread its limbs if it is a tree or to run if it is a puppy.

You want to know if the tree is likely to be messy and drop leaves or seeds or nuts all over the yard or if it is neat and tidy. You want to know if the puppy is likely to shed fur all over the place or is one of those breeds that doesn't.

With a tree, you have to decide if you want a named variety, like the red maple, Acer rubrum 'Autumn Blaze' whose leaves are pictured above, or would just a plain red maple be suitable. With a puppy, you have to decide between a purebred or a mutt.

And with both a tree and a puppy, you have to remember that you are forging a long-term relationship. You will have the dog for whatever years its natural lifespan is and you will have the tree for as long as you have your garden.

Yes, buying a tree is like buying a puppy.

Did I mention that I don't have a dog?

But I am looking to get a new tree!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Gardener Bloggers' Bloom Day, October 2007

Welcome to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day at May Dreams Gardens.

This is the tenth month for bloom day which started way back on a cold, snowy February day. I've thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the different gardens from around the world as we've moved through late winter, spring, summer and now fall.

Thank you to everyone for making this a monthly tradition of the garden blogging community.

In my USDA Zone 5 garden, I rely on container plantings to provide a lot of the fall color, as there is less and less blooming in the garden.

Above are some Chrysanthemums purchased a few weeks ago to brighten up the front walkway.

Other 'brought in' flowers include some pansies in a nearby window box.

All the pansies 'pouted' a bit in the unseasonably, record high, warm weather we had before last week. But as temperatures have returned to normal, they are starting to perk up.

I don't try to winter-over the pansies, so I get them in colors I think of for fall, like this nearly black pansy.
The Gerber daisies, though bought in the spring, seem to have brightened up in the autumn light which is not as harsh as summer's glare.

A nearby Potentilla has a flush of rebloom for fall.

As does the one and only rose in my garden, a white Flower Carpet rose.

Elsewhere in the garden, blooming with the last of the Shasta daisies are false sunflowers, a few tall phlox, the occasional balloon flower, some veronica, a couple of 'Stella D'Oro' daylilies, sedum, and two large clumps of asters. Here and there are a few stray sprigs of more asters, peaking out from under and around other plants where they hid and escaped the gardener's attempts at weeding.

In the vegetable garden, the zinnias and marigolds cling to their last blooms, and the peppers are bright red and yearn to be picked before the killing frost.

The trees have just started to change their colors; I think we are still a good week or so away from the trees putting on their big show.

Finally, hidden behind the hostas, claiming some of the only shade in the garden, are the last new flowers to appear in my garden, Toad Lilies.

What's blooming in your garden? Please join us for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day by posting about what is blooming in your garden on the 15th of the month, and then leave a comment here on my GBBD post so we can find you.

All are welcome!

“We can have flowers nearly every month of the year.” – Elizabeth Lawrence

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Why I Didn't Harvest More Compost Today

My compost bins sit half-emptied, exactly as I left them yesterday. The bin on the right is the one I emptied first, and then I put the top layers of uncomposted material into that bin. Then I moved on to the center bin and started to shovel out and sift the compost in that bin.

As I was doing that, out of nowhere comes... a yellow jacket. Since I was stung earlier this fall by yellow jackets, I was a little concerned. But not enough concerned to stop what I was doing, because I was so happy about all the compost.

I swatted the yellow jacket away a couple of times, and then got into a wild jousting match with it, which resulted it in getting caught up under the cuff of my glove and, you guessed it, stinging me.

Stung again! This time, I didn't stop what I was doing, I just went about my business, since it was close to the time I needed to stop, anyway.

Later in the evening, I noticed that my hand was 'slightly swollen' and a little bit itchy where I had been stung. I got to thinking about the cumulative effect of being stung. I've heard that the more you are stung, the more likely it is that you will have a strong adverse reaction to being stung.

Then this morning I was thinking about how several people had commented on my previous post about running into yellow jacket nests while trimming or mowing, so I know yellow jackets can and do nest near the ground.

And I thought about it some more and wondered if perhaps there is a yellow jacket nest in or near the compost bins?

So I went out to the compost bins this afternoon and stood there for awhile to see if there were yellow jackets coming and going in that general area. I didn't see any, but still decided to be cautious and wait until colder weather to harvest more compost. In the meantime, I mowed the lawn, which wasn't on my To Do list, but I added it so I can get credit for doing it and have the satisification of crossing it off my list as 'done'. And I know I'm not the only one who has done that!

One other good thing came out of working in the compost bins yesterday, besides all that good compost.

I solved a mystery! I found the gloves I lost last summer, that I swore the garden fairies took when my back was turned. They were in the bottom of the compost bin.
They were weeding gloves that have the rubberized fingers. All the cotton parts composted, the rest was 'well on its way' to composting. Hey, idea! Maybe someone should promote that their garden gloves are compostable when worn out? That's right! Instead of throwing away your garden gloves, throw them in the compost bin! I know it would work with all-cotton gloves.


Here's a final look at my To Do list for this weekend.

1. Straighten up the garage enough so I can start to bring in garden ornaments, pots and summer flowering bulbs that would not make it outdoors in an Indiana winter.
2. Harvest some compost from the compost bins, prep them to be filled again. (On hold until colder weather sets in or the source of the yellow jackets found.)
3. Weed and clean up the vegetable garden, pick tomatoes and peppers. (I did weed two raised beds but decided to wait until after it rains tomorrow to do any more harvesting.)
4. Water trees (which I can do with a sprinkler, so it won't take much time.)
5. Go buy a new tree. Plant the tree. (I've decided to call the best tree nursery in town and see if I can buy a Carolina Silverbell over the phone and have it delivered. Second choice may be a Katsura tree, recommend by Caroline Gail. I'll see what they have.)
6. Check for moles>. (Still didn't trap any! On Sunday I moved the trap.)
7. Take pictures for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. (My post will be up later this evening.)
8. Read a chapter or more in the current selection for the Garden Bloggers' Book Club, Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perényi. (I'll do this tonight before I go to bed.
9. Start to put some stuff away in the garage.)
10. Empty the worst of the container plantings that are more eye sores than anything else. (I didn't empty any, but I did water them all.)
11. Inventory all bulbs purchased for fall planting and determine where to plant them. I won't plant them for awhile yet, and no, it is not helpful for anyone to point out that planning should have been done before buying. (I did buy 50 more tulip bulbs and 25 iris bulbs because they were marking them down 40% as I went past a display of them earlier today while grocery shopping).
12. Dig out the forsythia that came back after I cut it down to the ground.
13. Mow the lawn. (Added so I could get credit for it!)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Frost and Compost Happened

When the weatherman yesterday said we had a chance of "patchy frost", I didn't catch when. This morning I figured out that "when" was today. These impatiens were slightly touched by the frost.Really, it would have been a "mercy killing" if the frost had killed these two impatiens, with those clashing colors. But, it wasn't a killing frost, so by afternoon, the impatiens looked mostly okay.
Except they still clash with each other.

But soon enough, we'll have a true killing frost and then I can put these impatiens out of their misery. In the meantime, garden clean up began in earnest this morning. With temperatures barely in the mid-40's, I headed out to the garage to begin task number one on my Saturday to do list, cleaning up the garage enough so that I can start bringing in containers, garden ornaments, and tender bulbs. I was able to mark that off my list by lunchtime.

After lunch, I headed out to the compost bins to turn the contents, and dig out and sift any compost ready to harvest. I had in my mind that there wasn't going to be much compost this fall because I never turned any of it and I didn't try to add the right proportions of green (wet) and brown (dry) plant matter. I just threw in whatever trimmings and rotten vegetables I came across.

But once again I was wrong.

I lifted the top layer of plant material off the first bin, and wow, it was all compost underneath. After sifting through that, I moved on to the second bin. More compost! I only got about half way through that bin when I ran out of time and had to quit for the day. I'll work on it again tomorrow and maybe even a few days after work. There is that much compost!

I'm stockpiling that compost on one of the raised beds in the vegetable garden because I just wasn't prepared to have this much compost right now.

If you are a gardener and you don't have compost bins because you think composting is too complicated, think again! It's easy. Here's what I do.

I have three bins, each approximately three feet by three feet, one cubic yard.

I throw in whatever I have, paying no attention to what's green and what's brown.

I water the vegetable garden with a sprinkler and since that is where the compost bins are, they get "watered" about once a week, too, if we don't have rain.

In the fall, I remove the top six or so inches of plant material that hasn't decomposed, and then shovel the finished compost into a compost sieve that sits on top of my wheelbarrow. I made the sieve myself with scraps of lumber and hardware cloth. What doesn't go through the sieve goes back into a compost bin.

There are just a few things you should not do with compost. Don't put dog or cat poo, meat, or some weeds like purslane, into your compost bins. Don't try to compost in less then a three foot by three foot bin. You won't get good heat build up in that pile, which is necessary for the composting process.

That's really about it. Compost just happens! It's one of the many miracles of the garden.

Here's an update on my 'to do' list for Saturday.

1. Straighten up the garage enough so I can start to bring in garden ornaments, pots and summer flowering bulbs that would not make it outdoors in an Indiana winter.
2. Harvest some compost from the compost bins, prep them to be filled again. (In progress)
3. Weed and clean up the vegetable garden, pick tomatoes and peppers.
4. Water trees (which I can do with a sprinkler, so it won't take much time.)
5. Go buy a new tree. Plant the tree.
6. Check for moles. (Didn't find any!)
7. Take pictures for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.
8. Read a chapter or more in the current selection for the Garden Bloggers' Book Club, Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perényi.
9. Start to put some stuff away in the garage.
10. Empty the worst of the container plantings that are more eye sores than anything else.
11. Inventory all bulbs purchased for fall planting and determine where to plant them. I won't plant them for awhile yet, and no, it is not helpful for anyone to point out that planning should have been done before buying.
12. Dig out the forsythia that came back after I cut it down to the ground.

Guess what I am doing tomorrow?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Closure at May Dreams Gardens

I thought it might help those of you who deal with issues of "closure" if I provided some updates on recent events here at May Dreams Gardens.

Moles. As it turns out, I am as poor a trapper of moles as I am of rabbits. Once I set that mole trap last Saturday, the moles seemed to disappear. I've not seen a new mole tunnel show up anywhere. I checked with the neighbors on both sides and neither one has noticed any new evidence of moles in the past week. "Come out, come out, wherever you are, Mr. Mole, I spent $40 on that trap, just for you." If I don't trap the mole, I have to assume he's still out there, somewhere, and will be digging again soon. So, the trap remains set, waiting, and there is no closure, yet.

Time Capsule. I most definitely want to put together a gardener's time capsule and bury it or hide it someplace so someone either digs it up or finds it in about 75 years. However, there is a lot of seasonal work to do in the garden right now, so I'm making it a winter project to decide what to include, what container to put it in, and where to put it. Then I'll finish it up in the spring, because spring in the garden isn't so busy, right?

Vegetable Garden. It's been over a month since I posted anything about the vegetable garden, and nearly that long since I spent any quality time in it. I miss it, it misses me! I'm not much of a fall crop gardener, though I want to be. The vegetable garden is pretty much finished, except for some small-ish tomatoes and oodles of peppers. I pick enough tomatoes to eat, but since I'm not all that fond of peppers, I haven't been as faithful about picking them. I'm planning to do some more clean up in the garden this weekend, and will pick as much as I can because I heard the words "patchy frost" in the weather forecast, but I didn't catch when.

Terrarium. Many of you may not remember when I wrote about my terrarium, that has been sitting empty since I bought it. Sorry, I can offer no closure on this, either. I still haven't planted anything in it. But it did occur to me that if I am going to mail order some plants to put in it, I'd better do that soon before it is no longer safe to ship them to me.

Are there any other post topics that I need to bring some closure to? If you're curious about something I wrote about before, how it came out or whatever, leave me a comment or send me an email.

Now that it is actually like fall (much cooler temperatures), this weekend is the time to also start bringing closure to the gardens. My garden clean up begins in earnest first thing Saturday morning. Here's my list of what I need to do.

1. Straighten up the garage enough so I can start to bring in garden ornaments, pots and summer flowering bulbs that would not make it outdoors in an Indiana winter.
2. Harvest some compost from the compost bins, prep them to be filled again.
3. Weed and clean up the vegetable garden, pick tomatoes and peppers.
4. Water trees (which I can do with a sprinkler, so it won't take much time.
5. Go buy a new tree. Plant the tree.
6. Check for moles.
7. Take pictures for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.
8. Read a chapter or more in the current selection for the Garden Bloggers' Book Club, Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perényi.
9. Start to put some stuff away in the garage.
10. Empty the worst of the container plantings that are more eye sores than anything else.
11. Inventory all bulbs purchased for fall planting and determine where to plant them. I won't plant them for awhile yet, and no, it is not helpful for anyone to point out that planning should have been done before buying.
12. Dig out the forsythia that came back after I cut it down to the ground.

Then it ought to be time for lunch on Saturday.

Ha ha, kidding about getting all that done by lunch on Saturday. It will take me at least until evening. Ha ha, kidding again. I don't know how much I'll get done, but at least I have a 'to do' list. (And having provided you with a peak at the 'to do' list, did I just add another post to the list of those that might require some closure later? It's a vicious cycle, isn't it?)

What are you doing in your garden this weekend?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Our Thoughts Turn To Trees

Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos) on a cold, cloudy afternoon, the first tree in my garden to lose its leaves.

Thoughts turn to trees when it finally feels like fall.

Monday, we set an all-time October record with a high temperature of 91 degrees. Yesterday (Wednesday), the high temperature was 62 degrees.

Suddenly we need jackets and sweaters. Suddenly, it’s time to turn the compost and clear out the bins so they can be filled again. It’s time put away the delicate garden ornaments that won’t last long in an Indiana winter. It’s time to finish cleaning up the garden and it’s time to get out the leaf rakes.

It’s time to think about trees!

Fall is the best time to plant trees and look at trees.

I’ve been thinking of a couple of places where I might squeeze in another tree or trees. I just might head out to the nursery this weekend to see what’s available. I’d really like a smaller flowering tree, and have always admired from afar the Carolina Silverbell, Halesia carolina. Does anyone else have one? Do you like it?

I added a link to my sidebar, upper right, for the Leaf Cams that show fall foliage color around Indiana. May I recommend the Brown County leaf cam as probably the best one? We are still a few weeks from peak color, so check back later, too.

People alert me when trees are being abused.

I was minding my own business at work when a friend sent me an email asking if I had seen the workers “whacking back the trees by the back parking lot”. I get to work in the dark so I had not seen them. As soon as I read the email, I flew out of my chair and made haste to the nearest window, like a six year old who has just been told it’s snowing, and yep, there were the workers, hacking up a row of hawthorn (Crataegus sp.) trees. The trees look terrible now, and they aren’t done trimming. Tomorrow it looks like they will be in the front parking lot using their evil chain saws to disfigure more trees. There ought to be a law… and no, there really isn’t anything I can do about it.

I picked up two urgent tree-related messages yesterday.

One was from my mom, the other from my sister. They had an arborist trim a big sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and a big scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) in their front yard. They were pleased with the results, because he did it right. Then he checked out three pin oaks (Quercus palustris) in the new neighbors’ backyard and told them he though they had Oak Wilt and if they did, all of them needed to be cut down. Plus there was a chance if it was Oak Wilt, it could spread to the oak in my sister’s front yard.

Well, I hadn’t hear of Oak Wilt, so I looked up some information later in the evening and sent my sister an email recommending that they call their county extension agent and ask him to look at the trees to see if they really had Oak Wilt. I recommended this for two reasons. First, the county extension agent should be unbiased as he would have nothing to gain either way, and second if it was Oak Wilt, I assumed they would want to know and report it to the state.

I wrote a post about these pin oak trees last summer and noticed that a lot of people searching on “when is the best time to plant a tree” landed on that post. I’m sure they found it helpful that my first answer was “50 years ago”.

We would have all been heartsick if these trees did have Oak Wilt and had to be cut down.

But the news was good. My sister told me later today that they took leaf samples to the county extension agent who said it was not Oak Wilt. The symptoms were caused by drought. I suggested that they water the entire backyard thoroughly several times this fall, just to give these trees a little extra moisture for the winter. Then I think they’ll be okay. I think I’ll do the same for my trees. They all look pretty droopy.

I did wonder why I had never heard of Oak Wilt, having spent four years at Purdue University studying horticulture in another lifetime. Could I have forgotten that much? I know I’ve forgotten a lot, but it seems like I would have remembered Oak Wilt. Then I read on another web site that Oak Wilt was first discovered here in the Midwest in the mid 1980’s. That would be after, ummm, I graduated from college, so they wouldn’t have taught us about it.

Good! My memory is fine.

Now, what were talking about?

Oh, yeah, trees!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day and Blog Action Day on October 15th

Mid-October, and now it gets interesting to see who has what new blooms in their fall garden. Who has carefully planned to have something new as the season ends, like these toad lilies (Tricyrtis sp.) which are now blooming in my garden?

Even if you have old flowers still blooming, we would love to have you join us in posting what is blooming in your garden on Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day on the 15th of every month. Once you've posted about your blooms, just leave a comment here on my Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day post so everyone can find you. That's all there is to it.

Like many bloggers, I also plan to post about the environment for Blog Action Day, which is also on October 15th. How to manage this?

-You could post about your blooms on the 14th and make it look like the post was done on the 15th. That's what I plan to do, but I generally do that anyway to get my bloom day post out early enough for any other early posters to leave a comment. (Don't tell anyone!)

- You could do a combined post on the 15th about the blooms in your garden and the environment you've created in your little corner of the world.

- You could do two posts on one day, unless that's against your own blogging principles.

- You could post about your blooms a day late. There are always a few people who are traveling or busy or forgetful who post about their blooms on the 16th.

Rain or shine, snow or sleet, hot or cold, cool or warm or even on Blog Action Day, Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day goes on the 15th of each month. I hope you can join us!

“We can have flowers nearly every month of the year.” – Elizabeth Lawrence

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

African Violet Questions Answered

Welcome to May Dreams Gardens this evening.

Finally, the weather has changed and instead of record high temperatures, including a brand new record of two back-to-back 90 plus degree days in October, we have a seasonably warm evening with a decidedly cool breeze.

The weatherman has promised that every day for the rest of the week, it is going to get a little cooler.

I promise that I won't complain about the cooler weather. I'm ready for it. When it was near 90 degrees on Saturday, I went out and bought a new winter coat. Does that make me a realist or an optimist?

While you think about that, come virtually sit on the front porch bench and we'll talk about African Violets some more.

Yesterday, I posted about my African Violet rescue mission and offered to look up answers to any questions about African Violets in my book, 1,001 African Violet Questions Answered by Twelve Experts and see if we could stump the experts.

Lost-Roses asked "How can they afford to sell such a fussy plant at 4 for $5.00 at the grocery store?"

Too easy for our experts!

"Question 1: Why do you think African Violets are so popular? "..The nominal cost of plants is within everyone's means; for this reason, people have the opportunity of trying out a lot of them..." (Like four at a time!) By the way, Lost-Roses, according to the experts who answered these questions, "The African Violet is a friendly plant." They don't think they are fussy at all!

Kris at Blithewold asked, "I have an African violet that is supposed to have a white bloom with a dark watercolor wash of purple-blue. When it was new its blooms were reliably true to form. Now (years later and a baby from cutting does the same thing) it begins its bloom cycle blooming clear white and towards the end, the last few buds open with the purpley wash. I don't really mind although I think they're prettier with more color and just have been wondering - why?!"

Is this the answer?

"Question 885. Why do blossoms and foliage look so pale and faded? Probably this is an indication of lack of plant food or too little light."

While I was looking up the answers to these questions, I ran across this question and answer which might be on your mind, but you were afraid to ask.

"Question 751. As a new grower of African Violets I am scared to death. Must I expect to contend with the great list of pests and diseases I hear about? Goodness no, not if you use care and precaution. Get in the habit of spraying regularly and act quickly once you do see evidence of trouble. Knowing what the symptoms indicate helps a lot."

For pete's sake, I am not going to spray my African Violets or be afraid of them!

And one final question to sum up the African Violet experience, at least the experience in 1958 when this book was published. To put it in context, it is the last question in the book, and comes after 250 questions about the possible pests and diseases that can attack African Violets.

"Question 1,001. In spite of all of this, don't you think African Violets offer more pleasure than any other houseplant? Indeed I do. The African Violet offers so many possibilities. It satisfies the desire to possess, to dominate, and express maternal feelings to the fullest. It offers freedom of choice, a private little world of creation, opportunity to experiment, to prove theories, to study evolution, to meet people, to join clubs, win prizes in shows, learn parliamentary law, hold office, and start a business, large or small. It always offers something to talk about. In fact, the African Violet has something for everybody!"

Wow, that's a lot to expect from one plant! Or are they describing gardening in general?