29 April 2010

Free Plants

I got a couple of free plants off my route this week. The first was a large pot of ornamental grass - nothing about it looked as if it should be trash, but many people throw out plants when they are redecorating or they just don't want it anymore. The other was a fatsia - it's a Japanese evergreen that has a very tropical look to it. It also has white flowers/fruit in the winter. That wasn't in a pot, but it did have roots. After I picked it up, I really needed to get it in a pot of soil. It was trash day so I figured I would find a pot somewhere. And as for soil - I really didn't want to do it but - Dollar Tree sells bags of soil for a dollar. I figured it was only temporary.

I found a few plastic pots in someone's trash and as I'm grabbing one, a landscaper lives on the same street stops me. He tells me that he has lots of pots if I need them. I explain what I'm doing and he mentions he has soil in the back of his truck. He gives me some soil to put the fatsia in later and we started talking free plants. He's always removing plants from people's yards. He tells me he's getting some sweetgrass later this week and he'll give me some if I want it. I think I might have made a great connection as far as free plants goes!

25 April 2010

Garden Update

A number of things not significant enough for their own post have been happening in the garden and I thought I would lump then all together here.

It turns out the irises growing in the pond filter are two different types. The other type is the same as the one in the bog. In my walk around the yard today, I noticed that one of the irises from the Spontaneous Craigslist Roadtrip is actually blooming. I really need to do something with those.

My collection of canna that was in a plastic bag is growing again this year - the second in a row. I decided today I need to plant that somewhere too.

There's new growth on our cactuses large and small and one of our yuccas out front is about to bloom.

I found some carpet last week and brought it home to smother bamboo. I let it sit in the driveway for a couple of days until I heard it was going to rain. It was heavy enough for me dry - I definitely didn't want to deal with it wet. I got out there that evening and laid it out. I also took the carpet I was saving in the garage and did the same thing. Almost the whole area behind the garage, with a few exceptions, is bamboo free. Now we're one step closer to doing something with that area - like getting chickens. I just have to put up a fence, trim some trees and build a hen house.

Seed Flats

I've tried a lot of different containers in which to grow plants. I didn't like plastic ones originally, because it always seemed like they got used once and thrown away. When I found out about making seed pots out of newspaper - by rolling it around a can and flattening the bottom - I was sold. It was free and eco-friendly at the same time. It didn't turn out to be so great. Once wet, they were very flimsy and hard to handle. I think the idea is to use something like a tray with low sides and cram these pots in and don't remove any until the seedlings are almost root bound. That seems like the only way these pots would be very good. The other drawback was making the number of pots that you might need - it could be a massive undertaking.

Something sturdier seemed to be using cardboard tubes from paper towels, toilet paper and wrapping paper. Once again it's a numbers issue - most people will not use enough of these products to have enough tubes for their seedlings.

This year I pulled out the seed trays I had collected last year or the year before. It looked like I had a lot, but once I started planting, I ran out fairly quickly - so I've had to prioritize a little and do some succession planting in my seed flats. I did splurge and buy biodegradable seed trays from Lowes - 4 8-pot trays for less than two dollars. At that price it didn't feel like a splurge at all.

After using those trays, I'm not very happy with them. Like the paper and cardboard, they get a little flimsy after a while, and the other thing I'm having problems with is that they dry out so quickly during the day. Almost none of the seeds I've tried to start in them are sprouting. My Better Boy hybrid tomatoes are growing, despite being dried out every day. It's all I can do to keep them alive.

So, I can say with certainty that I'll be using recycled plastic seed trays until I try peat pellets and soil blocks. When I try those - next spring maybe - I'll let you know how they work.

Front Yard Garden

I was glad to be off this past Wednesday, because I still had plants I wanted to get in the ground - and it took me longer than expected. I was expanding the vegetable garden into the beds in the front yard and had to move the plants that were there. After taking Ella to school, I went by the recycling center to get some compost, but they were out. I thought this was a little strange, but it was Earth Week and there is a sale on compost during April, according to Ken Burger's column in today's paper. It was also raining sporadically, so with two strikes against working in the yard, I took the morning off.

Once I made it outside, I started clearing the bed of plants - mostly lilies, but also a citrus that survived the winter that I had to pot up. After digging up the six or seven clumps of lilies - crinum asiaticum(I think) - I decided that, since I didn't know where they were going yet, until I do, I should pot them up for now. I was thinking about doing a mass planting somewhere, but don't know just yet. And while I'm digging, I figure I should go ahead and divide the clumps - they're quite large. I spent the rest of the morning and through lunchtime dividing and potting the lilies, ending up with 35 of them, some having multiple bulblets too small to divide.

I had an afternoon of non-gardening activities to do, so it was early evening before I got back to work. I worked some compost from a near-empty raised bed into the front garden and laid out three hills for squash, a place for watermelon to roam and room for supports for cucumbers and gourds. I planted nine Early Prolific Straightneck squash in the three hills and four watermelon vines, but I still need to get supports for the cukes and some for beans as well.

We had some much needed rain this weekend and the corn I planted a week ago is coming up, So everything is going well.

23 April 2010

Blooming Potatoes

Last spring was the first time I had ever grown potatoes - I didn't know what to expect. I watched an empty garden, what was going on below ground. Eventually they began growing - I was so excited. After a while I started wondering when I could dig them up. I was told that when they were blooming, you could harvest "new" potatoes. I waited and waited but no blooms - I heard that sometimes they don't bloom - so I started digging. We ate a lot of new potatoes last spring, before torrential rains came and ruined the potato crop.

This year is different - I've got raised beds which means no flooding, and I've got three kinds of potatoes and my red ones are blooming. It really surprised me, since none of them bloomed last year, but those are the only ones. I don't know whether or not the others will - we'll see.

20 April 2010

Power of the Pepper

I mentioned before about harvesting ornamental pepper seeds, and my friend, Darren, wrote about how hot peppers can get here. And I've read things like don't touch your eyes nose or mouth after handling peppers. I've always had a hard time believing that, but no more.

The morning of the plant swap I was looking at everything I had in the driveway. including the dead ornamental pepper. I squeezed one of its dried fruits to see if I could get any seeds out of it. It broke open and some seeds fell out. At that point I decided that I would collect these soon. A little while later, I started to notice that the outside edge of my nose was starting to burn - I couldn't figure it out. Then it occurred to me that I touched the pepper and then touched my nose. I was really surprised by this.

So when it came time to harvest all the seeds, I was ready. I sat down with the fruit on a paper plate and got all the seeds out. As I'm breaking open all of this dried fruit, my eyes and nose feel like they're about to water - I wasn't sure if it was real or I was imagining it. Once I was finished, I put the seeds in a small envelope, scooping them up with tab and letting them fall inside.

Despite what happened before, I still had a hard time believing how potent peppers could be. I dared to lick the glue and seal the envelope. It turned out to be pretty hot and still quite unexpected. After my experiences the past couple of weeks, I have learned to respect the power of the pepper.

19 April 2010

Weekend Gardening

All week I was looking forward to Sunday - I was planning to work in the yard, planting corn, pulling weeds, etc. When Sunday rolled around, I was feeling lazy. I decided that I would pull up the lettuce and spinach and prepare that bed for the corn, even though it wasn't the bed I wanted them in.

After I composted the lettuce, I put the spinach in the fridge for later. Once the bed was empty, I took a look at it and decided something need to be done. If you remember from before, this is the first bed I built and it's a little different than the other beds. I decided that I needed to fix that - it was just one concrete block longer than the others. Once I pulled the soil away from one end, I moved and leveled the blocks. The extra soil plus some compost went into my newest bed - one that was built, but not yet filled.

Since I filled the new bed, I planted corn there - where I wanted it to begin with. I planted two varieties - Early Sunglow Hybrid and Silver Queen Hybrid. I was having the gardener's version of writer's block - I couldn't decide what to plant in the other empty bed. I considered bush beans or cow peas, but ultimately I decided to transplant the three Razzelberry Hybrid tomatoes from one of the seed flats. With half a seed flat free, I put some sunflower seeds in it to germinate - I need more seed flats!

I've been dieing to get my squash, cukes and watermelon in the ground. I took another look at our front bed to see what I needed to move. I'm thinking about moving the phlox in front of the hedges and maybe do a mass planting somewhere with the asiatic lilies. I could put the Rose of Sharon somewhere else and I want to put the citrus back into a pot. It's starting to come back to life, but I don't know when.

While I was messing around the back yard, I decided to take a look at the plants we got at the plant swap. One of the things was a dried apple gourd. I thought I'd harvest the seed to grow my own - the birdhouse gourd seeds I'm trying to germinate haven't sprouted yet. While I was at it I went ahead and picked the dried fruit from the ornamental pepper, so I could get the seeds later.

All and all, it was a productive day. I got a lot done and I know what I have a plan for the near future. Hopefully, I have Wednesday off and I'll get the veggies planted in the front bed.

The Queen Bee

Several weeks ago I ran across a neighbor's blog about her adventures in beekeeping. My curiosity was piqued - it's been in the back of my mind as something I'd like to do for a couple of years. I've read a little about it, but there's equipment to buy and bees sting(!), and I had other things to do in the meantime. After reading Kristen's blog, The Queen Bee - that's her in the photo, I think I might get into beekeeping sooner.

Until I get a hive, enjoy Kristen's blog and I'll keep you posted.

16 April 2010


Recently, as flowers began blooming, I was surprised how many different kinds of irises we had. Well, I only have five, but they are of a wide variety. I've been considering planting irises in the yard lately, although I've been told how finicky they can be. It all seem like a Catch-22 to hear about. If you don't divide irises every few years, they will stop blooming - or when you divide irises, they may not bloom the next spring. I think there is some truth to these statements. I have seen irises get overcrowded and they definitely don't bloom as much - I walked by the house tonight and there only one bloom out of probably close to a hundred irises. I have also had experience with irises not blooming until the second spring after they were divided - and I've also had ones that bloomed the next spring. I think it really depends on how soon after they finish blooming do you divide them. The soon the better, probably.

The first iris we had was here when we bought the house. The first spring there were only a few, so they didn't get much attention. A couple of years went by and I noticed them again - I really liked them for some reason. I looked them up and found out they are Yellow Flag Irises - Iris pseudacorus. I was pointing them out to my grandmother and she was very familiar with them. She said when she and my grandfather would go out in the boat, she would see them growing on the banks. I dug some up and put them in the bog as an experiment, but it was a bust. Not that they did badly - it was just the end of their blooming and they got droopy and I didn't have the patience for it. Last year I marked the handful (less than ten) we had so I could dig them up later and move them, but that didn't happen - I haven't decided where to put them. They came up this year and I had about fifty of them - talk about invasive! Yes, they are on a number of invasive species lists around the country, but I'm keeping them.

I've got two different bearded irises, but I don't know what kind. I tried looking up some of the irises and there were just too many that I gave up. These two are a good representations of how finicky irises can be. The first one I got because someone was throwing them out. It was October 2008 and someone was selling/buying a house on my route. The junk started to pile up on the street, including a rotting half whiskey barrel planter full of irises. I threw it in my truck and took it home. I spent the evening digging and dividing the irises, ending up with at least forty plants. I found a spot in the yard for them and planted them within a couple of days. Much to my surprise, they bloomed the following spring.

I'm not sure when I got more bearded irises - it seems like it wasn't too much later than I got the others. One of my coworkers brought them in and left them in the break room for someone to take. They sat there several days before I decided to take them. They may have sat at our house for a while longer before I found a place for them in the yard. Maybe it seems like I got them so much longer ago, because they didn't bloom the first spring. I finally started noticing buds on them before Easter just recently. When we got back from vacation, they were in full bloom - sort of a creamy white color.

The next two irises are both water irises - sometimes they are called Japanese Irises, or Louisiana Irises - I'm not really sure. There was a lot of non-specific information on irises that I found. The first water iris I bought from Dream Gardens in March 2008, right after I finished the bog. I bought it a little too late, because it had just finished flowering for the year - I had to wait until spring 2009 to see it flower, and when it did, it was so nice to see - sort of a deep purple flower - the woman at Dream Gardens said that you can tell the color of the flower by the color on the leaves. In this case she was right, but I don't know if that's true all of the time. It's putting out buds again this year and about to bloom. I'm planning to divide it afterward and find someone who wants some of it. (In the photo, the flower isn't open completely. To see a photo from last year, click here.)

The other water iris I don't know much about. I got some small plants that looked like irises at a koi club plant swap summer 2008. They never bloomed and I took a few to one of the Park Circle plant swaps, where an old lady questioned whether they were really irises at all. All I could say was, "don't they look like irises to you?" I planted them in a few small pots and put them in the top of my pond filter/waterfall where I've ignored them until recently. I was looking for something to do in the yard the other evening when I decided to clean the dead stuff out of the pond filter. I was pulling dead iris leaves and water hyacinth out when I noticed buds on the plants. Once again I was completely surprised that they were about to bloom. I had written them off, but it seems that over the last couple of years, they've matured into large irises that have almost taken over the filter. These need to be thinned out too - but not until they finish blooming. I've seen these flowers for the first time and they are a paler purple than the other ones.

I take it back - that I only have five different irises. It just occurred to me that I was leaving some out. I just remembered that this past summer that Robin and I took a "Spontaneous Craigslist Roadtrip". I may be the first person to use this term, but not the first to actually do this. Imagine reading a craigslist post titled "Curb Alert" - someone has thinned out their irises and put them on the curb. Robin comes home and I say, "how do you feel like driving to Summerville to get plants off the side of the road?" Robin replies, "when do you want to go?"

We put them in shopping bags so we didn't get too much dirt in the car, and when we got home I put the bag in the back yard, intending to do something with them in the near future. I haven't touched them since! They've obviously rooted in the ground now and they're putting out new growth, but they're in the same place I dropped the bag more than six months ago. I've got some yard work to do this weekend, like pulling weeds in the back yard - I'm planning to do something with those irises as well.

Yucca vs. Landscapers

There are a few interesting yuccas in front of an apartment building on my route. I've been interested in them the past few years. They're not just green - they're more pale and a little blue. I did some research and, to the best of my knowledge, they called yucca pallida. Last year, one of them started to produce a flower spike. Once it straightened up, the small stems that hold the flowers started to pop out, and just as the flowers were about to open...the landscape maintenance crew chopped it off! That's how life goes sometimes.

When I got back from vacation last week, I noticed that all three of these yuccas were forming flower spikes and I thought I would document this - including when they get chopped off again. I managed to get a few photos, but it was with my cell phone, so they're not the best. This is just a little something I wanted to write about and I'll post an update if (when) they get chopped off.

13 April 2010

Spring Park Circle Plant Swap

This past Saturday was the Park Circle Plant Swap. We had been out of town for spring break earlier in the week, so I didn't have a lot of time to get my plants together. I had a good idea what I wanted to take, but after our winter there wasn't a lot around to take. The morning of the swap, I sorted through the plants in the driveway, deciding which to keep and which to swap. I ended up taking some sago palms, Mexican petunia, wild garlic, dwarf papyrus, a few cactuses and a handful of daffodils. Oh, and some plant I got off the side of the road, divided and repotted. It turns out it might be a wax myrtle.

There were definitely a lot more people at the swap this time - it just keeps getting more popular. Unfortunately, the plant selection wasn't thrilling. I say that, but I should mention that the plants were a lot of what I already have. There was nothing I was extremely excited by.

I did get some interesting things - a loropetalum (a shrub that we probably won't plant and it will die of neglect), Chinese lantern, peppermint, sugarcane, daylilies, succulent (for the desert garden), dried apple gourd (for the seeds), and a few other things. In hindsight, it was a nice morning. I have some things I like - I think I just have too much to do in the yard.

Assessing Winter Casualties

Since the weather has warmed up so much, I've been meaning to assess all the damage that our unusually cold winter did to our plants. I will say that most things came back as expected. Daylilies are thriving, bog lilies and hostas too. Most of our winter casualties are not too surprising. I had a majesty palm I bought 15 months ago and overwintered it original in the garage. Temporarily I dug a hole by the pond and put the whole thing, pot and all, in the ground, intending to plant it later that year- I put it in the hole, because it kept blowing over. I was concerned that it was a little too tropical to be outside all year and I was right - at least this past year. It shows no signs of life.

Most of my original shade garden died back, including the ferns I got off the side of the road, the ferns I got from the woods and the hostas that I divided last year. After dividing it last April, I had four plants until the other day - I only saw one coming back, but as of now all four are back, and I'm glad. Another plant that's back are the ferns we got out of the woods last summer. They're sprouting again with more foliage than before.

Almost a year ago I rescued some sort of pine that Lowe's sells during Xmas - It's evergreen and they put red and gold bows and decorations on it like an Xmas tree. This pine had certainly been neglected, but it didn't look half bad. I repotted it and it thrived during the summer in the partial shade near the back of the house. When fall came, I tossed the African daisies that were in a planter near the front door and put this pine in it - I figured it would be something good for the fall and winter. After the cold winter we had this year, it just got burned and the needles turned brown. I just assumed it died from the cold, it looked so bad. At that point it wasn't worth saving.

Another plant you could say I gave up on was my Black Magic Taro. It sat all summer and fall in a tub of water in the driveway, waiting to be planted in the bog. Needless to say it didn't survive, if I'm writing about it here. While the elephant ears in the bog were coming back to life, I waited on the ones in the container to do the same, but no such luck. If I really want more, I can always get some from the people I gave some to.

Lastly, a few thing I got at the fall plant swap didn't make it. This always happens - usually by neglect, because I always have so many plants that I can't take care of. However, these were more winter casualties. Fairly early in the fall we had to bring in the "Black Pearl" ornamental pepper - apparently it doesn't like anything below 60 degrees. Our house is a death trap for most plants - ironic, isn't it? We just don't get much sunlight. After several years I've adapted to this. We have a peace lily, cast iron plant, a pteris fern and an African violet, and they're all doing fine.

04 April 2010

Victory Gardens

Since the "Great Recession", a lot more people have started vegetable gardening. Lowe's has been a big supplier of seeds and plants to novice vegetable gardeners or those people who only grow vegetables in the summer. (I don't want to sound like I'm an expert or above those people in any way) I was impressed in the last couple of years when I saw onion sets there in the spring. I felt like they were broadening their customers' horizons. This spring I saw it get even broader - Lowe's had a couple of different products that were like gardens in a box. One had a half dozen potatoes, onion sets, asparagus crowns, strawberry plants and something else. They had a larger version that included a couple of varieties of potatoes, as well as other plants. On a later trip, I saw similar, but more specialized products - one had three or for different types of potatoes, one had garlic, leeks, shallots and onions. It was very interesting, and it was timed right as far as when to plant them goes.

I started thinking of the different type of vegetables you can grow and in conversations with people, I realize that a lot of people don't know when you can grow different types of plants. People are surprised to hear that I was growing vegetables this past winter - our lettuce was planted in November and we made a salad from it today. This lack of knowledge and the vegetable seeds available at Lowe's made me think. I was browsing seeds, looking for watermelon and pole beans, when I saw onion and broccoli seeds alongside tomato and squash seeds. I started wondering how many people would try to plant vegetables at the wrong time. Wouldn't it be a good idea, and a way for Lowe's to reach out to the community, if they had a few signs - local vegetable planting guides prepared by master gardeners from the Clemson Extension?

This is just a thought I had when I was at Lowe's the other day and thought I would share it. Happy gardening!