Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How to Buy Plants

How to Buy a Plant

There are a few guidelines to use when buying a plant at a nursery. The first is, if you are selecting a flowering plant, the best choice is a plant that is not in flower. For annual bedding plants, this may be nigh onto impossible. Growers know that most people like to see their flowering plants in flower- it is attractive to see rows of flowers and makes it easier to pick out colors. So, what is wrong with this? Generally, plants in flower were forced into flower for sale and are often root bound. In addition, they are more likely to be somewhat stunted in their growth, though there are exceptions: I have luck with petunias, though marigolds that look like a little plant topped by a flower ball are likely to be stunted, in my experience, and will not produce a satisfying display. Another exception is tomatoes- these plants can root along the stem, so being root bound is not as much of a problem. So pick out a plant with few flowers, small buds or no buds at all.

Second rule- when buying a plant, tip it out of the pot if you can. If there are roots snaking out the bottom drainage hole, or into another pot, try to avoid buying that plant. What you want to see are some fine roots near the edges of the soil in the pot- you want good root growth. What you don’t want to see is many roots, wrapping around and around the perimeter of the pot- this is a root-bound plant. It will probably not thrive.

Third rule: check for bugs- scales or eggs under and on the plant leaves or stems (scale bug), webbing (spider mites), a dusting of white when you gently brush the plant (white flies). This is especially true for house plants- bring one infested plant into the house, and the others will get infested too. Of course, also avoid plants with excessive wilting (infested, diseased or under watered), that are dripping unless recently watered (overwatered or water logged), with yellowing, dead leaves or leaves with holes in them. Don’t buy plants with obvious mold or fungus or mushrooms growing in the pots (they were probably often overwatered and may have root rot). Try to avoid those “bargain shelf” plants, unless you know what you are doing- they may transfer disease or may be poor performers.

Happy gardening!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Potato update

Potato Update
Above (top) is a photo of my potato bin-I wrote about this earlier in my blog. It’s a attempt to foil to voles from eating the potatoes and seems to be working so far! The plants look nice and healthy. The bin is made of garden (or hardware) cloth and cardboard, filled with compost and soil. I did something similar with sweet potatoes (also pictured) but it is in ground, as follows:

The soil has finally warmed up enough to plant sweet potatoes (also pictured above) and I did so on 5/14. Sweet potatoes are a tropical vine and like warm soil, they react badly to chills. The last time I planted sweet potatoes, I was so excited when I dug them up to see the gorgeous, large sweet potatoes- that had been completely eaten from below by voles. This time, I had plan. I dug a trench (well, I dug half, my husband the other half) and lined the trench with hardware cloth (square wire fencing with small openings). This same technique has worked to keep the voles away from my tulip bulbs. I pressed the wire into the shape of the trench and back filled it with soil mixed with peat (yes, this is the last peat I am buying- it is a non-renewable resource) and a little compost. Sweet potatoes prefer sandy soil, but this stuff was light enough for them. You can see the edges of the garden cloth in the photo and the little potato slips in the center of the bed.

To start sweet potato slips, in early April take a sweet potato (or do this with two) and stick toothpicks in it to suspend it above a jar of water. Arrange it so you submerge about one third of the tuber into the water. Place it on a sunny windowsill and in about 2 to 4 weeks it will start to grow leaves. When the vines are about 4 inches long (the longer the better to a point). They are ready to plant. Some garden books recommend pulling the slips (sprouts) off of the potato and planting these, others recommend cutting with a sharp paring knife. I do the latter, with a bit of potato skin attached and plant these. This is a fun experiment for kids to do, even if you don’t intend to grow sweet potatoes.

I like to fertilize every few weeks with diluted liquid fish emulsion.

Hope I get a decent crop! I’ll keep you posted. Just Say “No” to Voles!

Happy gardening!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

Mother’s Day and Plants: 2009

(Photo: what is blooming today in my garden- the Edith Wofford iris)

I was teasing my husband about Mother’s Day lasting the entire weekend, but it was just a tease. I feel that “my cup already runneth over” with love, affection, gardening….and kale! As local readers know, we’ve recently had a long rainy spell (kind of refreshing after the dry summer and fall, though it has kept me out of the garden). This has prompted a lot of growth on certain plants, and I have an abundance of greens. I love greens. My husband likes greens. My son will eat greens, as long as he can joke about it afterwards (not a bad trade at all!).

Anyway, about that cup running over? I am a lucky person- a life of love, friendship, a wonderful balance of work and personal interests, enough money and food and health, a chucklehead of a dog…but the best thing I can think of right now, is that I am lucky enough to know I am lucky and to appreciate it.

Gardening has brought great joy to my life. Not much else matters when I am in the garden. When I am tired and achy, I go out to putter in the garden and the pains fade away. Nothing cures that frazzled feeling than to pull weeds for an hour! Sometimes I just sit in the garden and….do nothing….

So, for this Mother’s Day, get out there and nurture a plant, be it a houseplant, a little pot of basil or an entire garden…

Happy Mother’s Day and Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

High School Plant Sales!

High School Plant Sales: Atlee High School
(photos: dahlias with cannas in background, perennials and herbs and veggie plants at Atlee HS)

If your local high school has a horticulture prgram, they might just have a plant sale! Locally, Atlee High school's spring plant sale is today, May 6th, 2009 though May 9. They have great plants and good prices and sales benefit the program! Look to your local high school for plants!
Happy Gardening!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

How Many Should I Buy?

How many should I buy?

A friend recently asked me “I bought a raspberry cane and planted it, but we hardly got any raspberries. Why is that?” “Let me tell you a story” I said. “When I ordered asparagus roots, I ordered 50, even though the catalog suggested 10 plants for a family of our size. When I ordered strawberry plants, I ordered 50. When I ordered raspberry canes, I ordered 25…then 25 of another variety. This gives us raspberry lovers enough for gluttonous fresh eating and making into jam. You got few berries because you only had one plant.”

A problem most people have when they order plants or bulbs, tubers, or rhizomes, is knowing how many to get, but the general answer (unless you are a very experienced gardener) is often way more than you think. When you go to a garden center or home store, you see rows of pre-packaged raspberry canes, for example, and think that all you need are a few (and honestly, well cared for raspberry canes will spread, but it will take a few years for one to spread into enough canes to make a big difference).

The same holds for flowers. As I go through my daily routine, I see little clumps of 10 daffodils in yards, hard to notice amid the grass. When I order common bulbs, I do not order less than 100 (one fall I planted 775 bulbs) (though I would not do this with very expensive bulbs). The goal is to have a large swath of color in your flower beds. The same goes for perennials and annuals- I buy a dozen of the same variety (unless they are pricey, are replacement plants to fill in a small area and/or can be propagated easily). One flowering plant is nice, but a dozen provide a larger visual wall of color. Another exception is when you only need one or a few plants for accent or emphasis. Of course this does not apply for huge plants or shrubs, where one is quite likely enough.

One other guideline is how many plants to buy is the rule of odds. Some landscape designers feel that 3, 5, 7, or 9 plants are more visually interesting than 2, 4, 6, to 8. So, buy in odd numbers (except for bulbs which you buy in large number- 250 is no visually different from 251). This rule especially holds true for shrubs and perennials.

So Happy Gardening and THINK BIG!