June 8, 2012

Watering 101

It's hot here again. And no rain for quite awhile. A good time to talk about proper watering.

It's always better to water a few times at length rather than every day for a few minutes.  True for gardens and lawns.  True if by hand or by irrigation system.  You do not want the roots coming up to the surface for water. Deep watering encourages roots to go deep to get moisture and nutrients, and stay cool. Plus after a drought the ground is hard and a light watering, or rainfall, will just run off.  Don't be fooled by our increasingly hard but brief rainstorms. 

Containers should be allowed to absorb water slowly. A pool of water on top won't get down to the roots. Water, let it sink in, then water again - or maybe three times. Remember, moisture attracts moisture.

June 6, 2012

"Everyone must leave something behind when he dies... a child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you're there. It doesn't matter what you do as long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching... the lawn cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime."

--Ray Bradbury Fahrenheit 451

March 18, 2012

Nature's Clock

The forsythia are blooming here in Chicago,  They appeared to pop open overnight.  It's quite possible with these extremely warm temperatures all week.  It has been in the high 70s and it isn't even officially spring yet.  Forsythia shrubs are known for their early bloom and bright yellow splash of color.  The flowers bloom before the leaves appear, making for a showy display. 

Besides being a bright yellow indicator of spring (normally), the forsythia clock is useful for planning other garden tasks. It indicates the soil is at least 55 degrees.  If needed, you should use crabgrass preventor now since the seeds are ready to germinate. Crabgrass must be treated with a pre-emergent in early spring even though the evil weed shows up in summer.

And forsythia blooms mean it is time to prune your roses. Best to forgo fall pruning and do it now while the leaf buds are starting to swell. Don't forget to feed them now too with a rose fertilizer and maybe a shot of seaweed or fish fertilizer.  If you don't have forsythia around you, look for the crocus blooms.

Traditionally, you can plant peas on St. Patrick's Day.  Of course the weather varies year to year.  It was cold this time last year and my peas took awhile to emerge.  But when the daffodils bloom, it is time.  Mine opened this week so the peas went in today.   

Lilac shrubs are supposed to tell time for several tasks depending on their progress.  Plant lettuce when they leaf out, beans when in full bloom, and cucumbers when blooms fade.  I am going to test it out this year. 

These are easier reminders for me than remembering to check a calendar or the seed pack notes. And likely more accurate season to season.  I can be gently reminded daily by Nature herself as I walk my dog or do my gardening.

March 1, 2012

2012 Chicago Flower and Garden Show - And Seed Swap

This year's Chicago Flower and Garden Show at Navy Pier will run from March 10th to the 18th.  The theme is Haute Couture.  There are numerous garden displays, floral arrangement ideas, seminars, workshops, and cooking demonstrations.  Also, there's the marketplace for seeds, plants, tools, and more.

New this year is a seed swap organized by our own Chicago garden blogger, MrBrownThumb.  It's The Great Chicago Seed Swap and will take place on Sunday, March 11, at 3pm.  If you have never been to a seed swap, it is a fun time and educational, too.  You never know what you might find to grow this spring.  Something needed or wanted or just something different! 

Hope to see you there! 


February 18, 2012

Midwinter Microgreens

If you are chomping at the bit to start seeds in winter, or just crave some fresh greens, try growing microgreens in recycled containers.  It is easy and quick and doesn't require special equipment or even fertilizing.  Microgreens are a great way to introduce yourself or someone else to seed starting because of the high success rate and quick germination.  It is empowering and fun.  Plus tasty and nutritional.  Experienced gardeners can experiment with their own mixes and unusual choices. 

I tried a spicy mesclun mix that was so easy.  But so hot.  Too much for me, but if you like that, be sure to grow cress or arugula.  Milder lettuces and spinach, as well as aromatic cilantro and basil, also do well.  I have last season's parsley and chives growing in their containers inside but I bet they would do well from seed, too. 

The attached blog post from Botanical Interests gives step by step directions on how to grow microgreens, and includes a list of plants the blogger has grown with good results.  I have stuck mine under lights for a quick start but you don't really need to do that.  When I need the grow light space for long term seed starting I skip it and yet can still grow more plants in a limited space.  

I also have not always covered my containers and they have done fine with misting, but it certainly does help keep the moisture in.  It is a matter of what containers you have and how much you care how they look.  Cute ones on the sill or recycled ones from the bin.  I do both.  Just be sure whatever you use has drainage holes.

I hope you try this and have fun with it.  I would love to hear what seeds you sow inside and how they did.  Based on this list I am going to give cabbage a try - a new plant for me to grow this year.  Might as well start now.


February 5, 2012

In The Mood....

A recent study suggests scientific support for the emotional enjoyment we get from gardening.  A specific bacteria in the soil may be a mood enhancer, and exposure to it can lift our spirits. 

I always credited the joy of gardening to a combination of things: being in touch with our agrarian past (it just feels so right to dig in the soil); a connection to nature and the cycle of the seasons; the rewards we get from nurturing our plants; and the satisfaction of a completed job (even weeding) or a creative one.  I think these are indeed psychological factors that can positively affect our physical chemistry, but it is intriguing to think that there may be a purely physical cause that can create this effect. 

My gardening friend told me years ago that in winter she loves to go to a greenhouse and just smell the soil.  I thought that was brilliant and have to say when I have done it the effects were immediate.  The smell of fresh damp soil evoked memories of warmer gardening weather and the excitement to start again.  Part of it, at least for me, is feeling the humidity we lack indoors in winter.  But clearly Nancy was on to something big.

Here's a link to a story about the study.  I would take issue with the term "dirt" since "soil" is what plants love and what we gardeners work to create for them.  Ideally it is crumbly and teams with microbes and beneficial fungi.  Sounds like a good subject for a separate post.  Meanwhile, keep this trick in mind even if you can't get outside or work the land.  It appears we can still benefit from just being around the soil.


January 28, 2012

Temperature Trumps Calendar

With the warm weather we had last week, some perennials are popping their heads through the soil.  I have seen daylilies and some spring bulbs.  Daylilies are tough as nails.  Hard to kill them even if you wanted to!  I have seen them survive under standing water.  Aquatic daylilies.  Maybe a new breed.  So no worries if yours are waking up early.

Daylilies in January

Those delicate looking spring-flowering bulbs are pretty tough little numbers, too.  I know it is tempting to bundle them up against the returning winter chill, but that makes them even warmer and cozier, and therefore more likely to grow.  Leave them be unless you see flower buds forming.  Do cover them up with some leaves or mulch.  They may get frost nipped anyway, but the bulbs should go back to sleep, and rebloom in spring when we need them most.