Central Virginia Organic Gardener

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

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Need a soakin'


It has been dry here in central VA. Here is the pattern: we get a prediction for a good chance of rain and...as I watch the radar online, the rain clouds skirt my town.  Time to drag out the soaker hoses!
I hope you already know that overhead watering is very inefficient, for this reason: most of the water is lost to evaporation.  Very little of it actually goes into the ground.  In addition, when you use a sprinkler in your garden, much of the water goes onto the paths.  Soaker hoses, which emit drops of water across their length, are far more precise and are better at getting the water where you want it to go.  My mistake this season was I did not lay the hoses when I was doing the initial planting:  this would have saved me a lot of grief. Laying hose while planting is easy, but laying it around large existing plants is tedious.  When you do use a soaker, leave it on for two or more hours.  You will use less water, use it more efficiently and your plants will reward you!  Soaker hoses are not expensive, last for seasons and are a good investment.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Pretty, but Invasive: Purple Loosestrife


On a recent trip up north, I again noticed the plant above in wetland areas, especially in the NJ wetlands. Very pretty, this plant is the highly invasive purple loosestrife,  Lythrum salicaria.  The sale of this plant is banned in many states, but I have seen it for sale at flea markets, yard sales and small-scale, charity plant sales or swaps.  AVOID IT AT ALL COSTS!  Loosestrife infestations are costly to manage, hard to eradicate and actually decrease the sites available for nesting water fowl.  (If you see this plant, differentiate it from the native Winged Loosestrife, Lythrum alatum, before you eradicate it. "As compared to the native plant, purple loosestrife has wingless stems, a larger size, and slender willow-like leaves that often have hairs" from:  http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/31778/#ixzz36FN21Y7O )
 For additional information, go to: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/plants/weeds/aqua009.html

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Field Trip: Lily Pons Water Gardens

Lily Pons

Top left clockwise:  Formal display garden, lotus pond, water lilies for sale, 
lotus bloom, slender cattails.

The lotus pond and garden store in the background
From:  http://www.lilypons.com/our-garden-store

I have been purchasing from Lily Pons Water Gardens (named for an opera star born in 1898) since I had my pond built 4 years ago.  I was pleased with the plants and materials I purchased and, on a recent trip up north, I took a short detour to visit.  Lily Ponds is situated on 250 acres in Adamstown, MD. The garden center is in a colonial building on the property (see second photo from top) and is full of practical and ornamental items for the water garden. Immediately outside the garden you will find long, narrow ponds from which you can select plants for purchase.  Immediately behind the building, under shade of a lean-to, are the tanks holding koi and other aquatic creature for sale (Lily Pons started under another name to sell ornamental fish).  Surrounding the building are production ponds stuffed to the gills (pun?) with water lilies, lotuses, large and dwarf cattails and other amazing plants.  Their large koi pond is home to koi of all sizes, and you can buy a bag of fish food to feed them in the garden center building.  In addition to production ponds large and small with beautiful flowers and plants, there are many display gardens scattered around the property, plus picnic spots in sun and shade.  If you are in the area, or are a water garden fan, pack a picnic lunch and visit!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Must Protect The Pond!

We are having some work done on our house.  Right by my precious pond. So, time to protect it!  In the past, after work was done, I found things in it that likely did not blow or fall in (e.g. cigarette butts), so this time I want, at least, the visual signal of "no trespass" or "leave it alone!"  It will look ugly for a couple of weeks, but, it will hopefully protect the plants, water and stone walls.

Happy gardening!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pond Update

This is the prettiest part of my yard (despite the ugly shed door).  My pond has really matured. Installed 4 years ago, the plants are thriving, and frogs and birds have made it their home.  I planted the pond shelves and beds around it to have changing color schemes: pink, purple and white in spring: white and red in late spring: yellow, red and orange in summer and fall.
Happy gardening!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Container gardening


I have written about container gardening before, and my use of containers in vegetable and flower gardening has only increased since.  The photo above is an example of one area, on my driveway, where I have containers (I likely have 50 outside right now).  Here is what I grow in containers:
1. Tropical plants, like bananas, that I want to overwinter and grow again next year.  These plants are either brought into unheated shelter, like my garage (for example, plants that grow from bulbs and die back) or live out the winter in my heated, but cool, attic under florescent lights (citrus, bananas, coffee, mangoes, hibiscus, Indian curry leaf tree).
2. Plants I have not yet planted that need a temporary home.
3. Plants that I will use in my botanical drawings (in the photo above I have white milkweed, mullein, and cotton plants for this purpose).
4. Peppers:  for some reason, bell and hot peppers do better for me in pots than in the ground.
5. Plants that look lovely in pretty pots: dwarf Japanese maples, voodoo lilies, and "Snow on the Mountain" dwarf pine.

Some containers I use are are more utilitarian (for annual veggies), other more ornamental (for permanent plantings).  A few tips with containers:
-Unglazed terracotta pots dry out fast, they wick away moisture.  Plus, they may crack if left outdoors over winter.
-Annual veggies, like tomatoes and peppers, need all the growing space they can get: do not fill the bottom of the pot with styrofoam peanuts, gravel or broken pottery.  If your soil is good, they don't need extra drainage.
-Saucers under pots can cause root rot.  One sign of over-watering is guttation:  this is when water drips from the leaves: it is the plant's attempt to get rid of excess water in the soil.
-Plants that winter outdoors in cold climates need protection, as do ceramic pots. Perennials need a generous-sized pot, lined with bubble wrap on the sides (not the bottom) to protect the roots from freezing. Draping or wrapping the pot with burlap also helps protect the pot and provides further insulation for the roots.
-When you bring pots in for the winter, check for bugs. I douse the soil with a BT solution (it's organic: a naturally-occurring bacteria that kills insects) to kill fungus gnats and I spray the plants with commercial insecticidal soap spray.
Search this blog for other postings on containers!
Happy gardening!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

An Experiment with Surround (tm)

I am sick of cucumber beetles decimating my cucumber crop just as they really get going.  I had some difficulty finding an organic method to prevent or discourage them (after all, most organic methods reduce or control pests, don't fully kill them).  This year, after two years of no cucumbers, I first covered then with floating row covers, a barrier method that allows the plants a good head start before the cuke beetles arrive. Even though these are "greenhouse" cucumbers (they set fruit without pollination) eventually they grow too big for the cover, plus the covers should be removed during scorching temperatures (as we are having now). So, to further control cuke beetles (which spread cucumber wilt that kills the plants), I sprayed with plants with Surround, a trademarked barrier spray made of finely milled kaolin clay (think kaopectate- same stuff!) that discourages the critters from feeding.  However, it does turn the plants sort of white. One concern I have is that this may reduce photosynthesis too much, but it is an experiment, so we will see.  I will have to reapply after a heavy rain.
Cukes with Surround
I am also experimenting with my eggplants: first row covers, then Surround as they get too large for the covers.  Note I sprayed half of each plant, to see if the Surround really reduces flea beetle damage (they eat tons of tiny holes in the leaves).
Keep posted for the results!
Happy gardening!