Catrina's Garden

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Salsa Gardening – Time to Harvest

This is Part 4 in a series.

Read about choosing varieties and starting seedlings indoors in “Before the Thaw”.

Then learn more about how to grow the other ingredients for your salsa in “Grow Your Own Fresh Ingredients”.

Help your plants do well by reading “Getting them in the Garden”

Now you are ready. The fruits of your labor are hanging on the vine.

Wouldn’t it be nice if all of the vegetables and herbs were ready at the same time?

Unfortunately it doesn’t usually work that way.  Some herbs are ready early and the peppers don’t usually show up in Wisconsin until quite late, while the tomatoes usually trickle in over a 2 month period.

Tomatoes should be picked when they gain full or nearly full color and begin to soften.  Pick them with the “cap” on (a small part of the vine), they keep longer that way.  In hot weather fully ripe tomatoes don’t last long on the vine.  They will ripen nicely on your kitchen counter.  Don’t put tomatoes in the refrigerator.

Peppers can be picked when they reach a nice size, but leave them on the vine longer so that they change to their fully ripe color to add extra color to your salsa.  Peppers do not continue to ripen once you pick them.

Be sure to thin your onions (you can eat the small green ones too) so that they have plenty of room to reach full size.  Make sure to water them or they will never really fill out.

Harvest your herbs when they are on the young side and preserve them by drying or freezing until it it’s time to make your salsa.  Really, herbs can be snipped any time you need them, but ideally you would pick them in the morning after they were watered the night before.  You can store your herbs for up to a week with the stems in cups of water on the counter or in the refrigerator.  Don’t put basil in the refrigerator.  It will turn brown.

Tomatoes can be blended or chopped and frozen until you get enough to make a batch.  Go ahead and add some of the herbs now, it’s easier than freezing them separately.  Dice up some of the peppers too and freeze them if you get too many of them before it is time to make your salsa.

Have fun watching your Salsa garden grow!

Tomato seedling

Salsa Gardening – Getting it in the Garden

This is Part 3 of a series.

In Salsa Gardening – Before the Thaw we talked about tomato and pepper varieties and getting your seedlings started indoors.

In Salsa Gardening – Grow Your Own Fresh Ingredients we talked about other salsa ingredients and how to grow them.

Hurray, we’re full into spring and it’s time to plant your salsa garden outside! If you followed this series and started with seedlings indoors…I hope you’ve got a great crop started! If your first attempt at starting indoors was less than successful, that’s okay, stop by your local garden center and embellish your seedlings with purchased starter plants!

Then you may have read about “growing your own fresh ingredients” so you can pick up seeds and herbs while you are at the garden center if you have not already grown them.

Getting your Salsa plants planted:

  • Choose an area with at least 6 hours of full sun and a nearby water source.
  • Loosen your soil and add compost in early spring, working it in, and top dress with compost again after planting. If you want to use fertilizers, it’s best to have your soil tested first to see what it needs. Testing your soil is never a bad idea but you can’t go wrong by adding compost.
  • When planting your tomatoes, plant them deep again like you did when you moved them to the bigger pots, or lay them down in a trench to plant so that only the top sticks up (this illustration is from the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension). Also, tomatoes are subject to disease. To prevent this, choose a different place from where you had them last year.
  • Wait to plant tomatoes out until danger of frost has passed in your area. (This map is from the Wisconsin State Climatology Office) There is lots of advice out there on how to get your plants out sooner and protect them, but really if you just wait a bit, the ones that you planted later will easily catch up to the ones planted earlier. Especially for the peppers and basil; just wait until it is good and warm out.
  • Give your plants space: 3-5 feet between tomatoes and 2 feet between peppers.
  • Use mulch around your plants to ward off weeds and disease by preventing soil from splashing up on the plants. Black plastic will warm the soil, but straw or other organic mulches work well, too and eventually add more organic matter and nutrients to your soil.
  • Provide support. Keeping the plants off the ground also prevents disease and makes them easier to work with while preventing the fruits from laying on the ground and getting bad spots.
  • As they grow pinch off suckers (new branches that grow in between the main stem and the leaves). This illustration is from dummies.com How to Grow Tomatoes. Be ruthless!! Some of the suckers will be small as shown in the first picture and some (especially those growing near the bottom of the plant) will be quite large as shown in the second picture. Preventing all of that green growth will force your plants to produce more fruit.
  • Weed, water and harvest weekly. This task will remind you why you were supposed to start small! Consider using a soaker hose as it conserves water and prevents disease by decreasing the amount of soil that splashes up on the plants. If you use a sprinkler, do it in the morning so plants have a chance to dry before the cool evenings.  Consider using a raised bed. This will help the soil warm up faster in spring, prevent the soil from becoming compacted and can be easier to keep weeded.

Salsa Gardening – Grow your own Fresh Ingredients

In part one of Salsa Gardening – Before the thaw, we talked about getting your tomatoes and peppers planted.

So what other plant “ingredients” can you add to your salsa garden?  I should also mention that all of the “salsa plants” need sun so be sure to choose an open area.

Onions – You can start seed along with your tomatoes but I recommend starting with sets. Plant them in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. Kids love planting these “big seeds”.  Or you can use “Winter Onions”.  Here is some more information on winter or “walking” onions.  My very favorite onions are Cipollini onions.  These flat heirloom onions are so sweet and delicious when caramelized.  Here are a few more onion growing tips:

  • You can plant them kind of close but only if you intend to thin them to use for green onions. They need room once the bulb starts to swell.Cipollini onions
  • Onions are heavy feeders so add plenty of compost.
  • Make sure the soil is loose. The bulbs can’t fill out in a heavy or compacted soil.
  • Keep the area weeded. This is even more important than the rest of your garden.  The onions won’t fill out with competition from weeds.

Garlic music, shatili, bogaryrGarlic – you may have to add this one next year because its best if planted in the fall. You can plant it in spring in areas with a longer growing season. Order some or get them from the garden center. Avoid grocery store garlic as it’s been treated so it won’t sprout.  There are lots of varieties of heirloom garlic for you to try. Here are three of my favorites; Music, Shatili and Bogatyr.  Try some white German porcelain (hard neck) varieties which store really well and some red Rocambole types which are great for roasting and are easy to peel. My favorite is Spanish Roja. Garlic is in the allium family so all of the tips for onions apply for garlic too. Here are a few more growing tips.

  • Separate the bulbs and plant the cloves individually. Keep the husks on. You will get the larger bulbs from the bigger cloves.
  • I have seen different recommendations for how deep and how far apart. I like to do them about 4 inches apart and 6 inches deep. Some recommendations are as little as 2 inches deep. I think deeper is better in the north.
  • Keep them watered during development but not overly wet. Let them dry out before harvest.
  • Garlic scapes, flowers and bulbils are all edible (more on that later) but remove them so the energy goes into producing larger bulbs.
  • Harvest when about half of the leaves have dried out.
  • Hang your garlic and let it dry and cure in a warm area and then store it in a cool, dry place but not in a sealed container.

 

Tomatillos – these are optional, for Salsa Verde. They are grown just like tomatoes except for a few major differences.

  • You will need at least two plants. One plant will not pollinate itself and you will not get much fruit.
  • The plants will get large and sprawl just like tomatoes, but I don’t usually prune them like tomatoes. Just cage them up.
  • The fruits have a papery outer cover that will need to be removed before using. They are ready when they fill out the shell. Leave this on for storage.

 

CorianderHerbs – Many people have a separate herb garden. You can still have that too, but put some herbs with your vegetables too. They attract pollinators and can help repel insect pests. They are also pretty and having them together makes harvest easier.

  • Oregano – make sure you get the Greek oregano which has white flowers. It tastes much better than Oregano Vulgare which has pink flowers and can be invasive. Having your herbs near the peppers and tomatoes will help with pollination because they draw bees.
  • Marjoram is similar to oregano but it is an annual. Pinch back often. You can read “Oregano can be confusing” for more on Oregano and Marjoram.
  • cilantroCilantro and Coriander are the leaves and the seeds of the same plant It will have to be planted more than once as it is a “quick plant”. I keep cilantro seeds in a waterproof container in the garden so I can replant whenever I harvest. Or, let the plant go to seed; it will self sow. The leaves can be used in fresh salsa, but they lose their flavor when used in salsa that is cooked down for a long time. For this type of salsa use ground coriander instead.
  • Cumin – This herb is grown for the seed which is ground to make the spice. You can grow it if you like but if you do start seeds indoors along with the basil because it takes a very long season to mature. It is difficult in northern areas so it is okay to buy this one. It does make a great addition for the way it attracts beneficial insects, even if it never ripens.
  • Basil is not usually used in salsa, but you can make some Bruschetta, too! Basil is an excellent companion plant for tomatoes. I think it actually helps them taste better…and it repels bad bugs like white flies and aphids. Plus, it draws bees to help with pollination.
  • Borage; although I have not used it in my salsa, it will help repel the tomato horn worm.
  • Thyme, Parsley, Dill, Garlic Chives and Chives could also be added to your salsa garden.

Some other fruits and vegetables that will add a delicious twist to your fresh salsas include:  watermelon, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, pomegranate, mango, peach, apples, cranberries, black beans, corn, jicama, cucumber, pumpkin and avocado.

There are also some common salsa ingredients that will probably not be grown in your garden. Of course no two salsas are alike so these are just suggested additives…You don’t have to use them all.

  • Salt and Pepper
  • Chili Powder – You could make your own if you want. There are many types to experiment with including cayenne, chipotle and paprika.
  • Hot Sauce – Here’s another project you could try.
  • Cinnamon – Just a little
  • Sugar – just a little; or consider trying a “better” sweetener like honey, maple syrup, agave or stevia.
  • Lime or Lemon Juice
  • Citric acid powder
  • Vinegars like apple cider, red or white wine or balsamic
  • Oil of various types
  • Various nuts or pepitas
Big Zac

Big Zac

The miracle of planting a seed and watching it sprout is sure to give a kid “ownership” of his or her Salsa garden.

“Getting it in the Garden” will be featured in next blog. Happy growing!

Oregano Can Be Confusing

Greek OreganoEveryone loves Italian food, and of course, the most common spice in it, we all know, is OREGANO.

But what does that mean?

The botanical name for oregano, Origanum, comes from the Greek words “oros” for mountain and “ganos” for joy; a reference to its plentiful growth along the mountainous regions of the Mediterranean.

Oregano HeracleoticumThe oregano that we all know and love from our pizzas and spaghetti is Greek Oregano (Origanum heracleoticum). To add to the confusion some sources have renamed it Originum vulgare hirtum.  It has white flowers. This is the easiest way to tell, when at the nurseries, if you are getting the best culinary oregano.  This one is only hardy to zone 5 so it sometimes lives in our gardens, but often not. If you want to try and grow it make sure that your site has excellent drainage. Avoid cutting it down until spring and provide winter cover if there is no snow.

Oregano-vulgare-300x225 (2)The oregano that is most often sold in nurseries is Origanum vulgare. Just to confuse you they often call this Italian oregano, but there is a different type of oregano frequently called Italian oregano that is a cross between Origanum vulgare and Marjoram. This one has pink flowers and although it is pretty and attracts bees, it has little culinary value and if it likes where it is place it can become a garden thug.  Origanum vulgare is fully hardy, however. I should probably put the fact that it is invasive in bold print. If you want to grow it you may want to contain it like mint.

Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana) is also in the oregano family. It is only hardy to zone 8 so must be grown as an annual here. To confuse you even more it can have either white or pink flowers. Marjoram as cooks know is also great in Italian food.

Oreganum tyttanthumThere are 44 other plants that go by the name oregano.  An interesting one that is very high in the flavor compound carvacrol is Russian Oregano (Origanum tyttanthum). This one is not very common, but I’m going to give it a try if I can find it.  Much shiner leaves. Not hardy…of course.

Carvacrol, a creosote-scented phenol, is the signature chemical responsible for the sharp, pungent flavor of the culinary oreganos, and can be found in plants from other genera. That is why many plants from south of the border also have the common name Oregano.

Oregano cuban vatigatedThese herbs are not true members of the oregano family but contain the same chemical components that give oregano its distinct taste. One is Cuban Oregano, which is actually a Coleus (Coleus amboinicus). Again, just to confuse you it has another name, Plectranthus amboinicus. The large, fleshy light green or variegated green & white leaves grow on a thick stem and resemble a Jade Plant in its growth habit. This is one of the few herbs that will grow well indoors in a container. It is not cold hardy at all. Pinch out the flower spikes and top set of leaves occasionally to give it a strong, sturdy base to support itself and place in bright, indirect light, away from direct sunlight. You can also break of stems and easily root them to make new plants, just like other plants in the coleus family.

Black Beans with Cuban Oregano

Makes 2-3 servings

1 12 oz. bag black beans
2 cups water plus more as needed
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. Cuban oregano, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small onion
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tbsp. cilantro, chopped

  1. Add the black beans and water to a medium saucepan, place over medium heat.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat.
  3. Sauté the onion until caramelized.
  4. Add the Cuban oregano and garlic, sauté until garlic is lightly golden.
  5. Add the onion, Cuban oregano and garlic to the black beans.
  6. Add bay leaf, salt and pepper.
  7. Cover beans and simmer for 30 minutes.
  8. Check and stir the beans frequently to see if you need to add more water so that they don’t burn.
  9. Serve black beans, and garnish with cilantro and green onion.

Oregano Mexican 2Two plants share the same name of Mexican Oregano. One is Poliomentha longiflora, a woody shrub, 3-5’ tall, with pretty pink tubular flowers that bloom spring to fall. It is used quite extensively in xeriscaping. The other Mexican Oregano, Lippia Oregano Mexicangraveolens, has small, rough textured foliage, much like a lantana, and small, whitish clusters of blooms. Its leaves are more widely spaced on the stem and it needs regular pruning to give it a nice shape.

Oregano Kent BeautyOregano goldenOregano variegatedThere are also many ornamental varieties of oregano to choose from; like Kent Beauty, golden, variegated, Saso, Hopley’s Purple, and Rosenkuppel just to name a few.

Now that “Oregano” is clear as mud for you I hope you will cook up a nice fresh sauce in the near future. Remember, white flowers, that’s the one you want.

All About Bearded Iris

MDB IrisBoo

MDB IrisBoo

Irises are classic garden plants. There are more than 200 species around the world but most gardeners are only aware of a few of these species. Most common is the large tall bearded iris (Iris germanica). You can find an iris for any climate from deserts to swamps. They also live in the Far North and the Deep South. The biggest requirement is sunlight. Iris come in every color of the rainbow and those that study Greek mythology know that the name “Iris” comes from the Greek goddess of the rainbow.  You can find an iris in nearly any color; blue, purple, yellow, pink, white, black, orange, red, brown and combinations of these colors blended together. There is nothing like the classic, elegant shape of the iris. It has been a symbol of royalty since very early history.

Iris Neglecta (3)1Other types of Iris that are not “Bearded” include bulbous irises like Dutch, English, reticulated and Junos iris. Then there are irises with rhizomes, which besides the bearded iris also include beardless iris like Japanese, Siberian and Louisiana Iris. There are many native and species iris growing around the world. Our own native iris is the “blue flag” (iris versicolor). Another iris not mentioned so far is the crested irises.

Bearded Irises have been popular for a very long time. Studying historic iris is an interesting pastime. They have stuck around because they are so easy to grow and one of the easiest flowers to hybridize, yielding an ever increasing array of rainbow colors shapes and sizes. Beardless irises don’t cross breed as easily but bearded irises will often produce fertile seedlings from crosses between different species. They are persistent and although it is best to keep them weeded they will survive neglect for many years. Thousands of bearded iris varieties exist.

1Iris TB Beverly SillsThe variation in size is also extraordinary, ranging from a few inches to over 40 inches tall; tiny flowers or 7 inch blooms.

In general, the smallest ones bloom first, beginning in April here in Wisconsin and continuing through June. Each variety blooms for around 2 weeks but having different types will greatly extend the season. It is difficult to get Iris to re-bloom this far north but some will bloom again in fall in some parts of the country. When we do occasionally get a fall bloom we really appreciate it.

Our modern “Bearded Iris” hybrids come from a wide variety of species especially pumialie for the smaller iris and elatae for the large ones. Iris are classified by the American Iris Society into six groups; miniature dwarf, standard dwarf, intermediate, miniature tall, border and tall. Then to throw a wrench in there are the arilbred irises which are Oncos and Regelias iris interbred with bearded irises.

Iris Terminology

Sometimes when reading plant descriptions it is difficult to understand what the growers are talking about. I will review for you here basic Iris terminology. Click on the links to see an example of the term or refer to the line drawing. Use the back button to return to this article.

Iris Line Drawing 2Parts of an Iris

Beard – The fuzzy hairs on top of each of the falls.
Falls – The lower three petals of the flower. These are the petals that hang down.
Flounces – a small petal-like appendage that extends from the end of the beard. Not all irises have them.
Hafts – the top parts of the fall on either side of the beard that is near the center and connects to the stem. This is the heart of the iris.
Horns – when the end of the beard is raised from the fall and turned upward like a spike but is not long enough or ruffled enough to be considered a flounce. Not all irises have them.
Iris Line Drawing 1Lace – When the edges of petals are serrated.
Rim – A thin edge of color around falls or standards.
Ruffles – Flower edges are fluted or wavy.
Shoulder – Another name for the haft.
Signal – A patch of color at the top center of the falls, coming out from the throat and surrounding the beard. This area is often white or yellow.
Spoons – much like a horn or a flounce except that it is spoon shaped. This appendage extends from the tip of the beard.
Spot – A different colored area on the falls; it may cover most of the fall or be smaller.
Standards – The upper three petals of the flower. These stand upright.
Style Arms – These are the 3 small upright structures found in the heart of the iris bloom above the beard.

MDB Iris Wood's

MDB Iris Wood’s

Other Iris Terminology

Form – Referring to the shape of the flower. Good form means they have good balance and proportions.
Rebloomer – an iris that blooms in any other season than after normal spring bloom, usually summer or fall. Just because an iris is listed as a rebloomer does not mean that it always will. Irises are more likely to rebloom in warmer areas that have longer seasons. Extra water and or fertility as well as “nice” weather that is not to hot or too cold can also encourage rebloom.
Substance – The thickness of the petals. “Good substance” can help the flowers stand up to wind and rain.
Texture – Sheen or finish on the surface of the petals. Texture can also include other descriptive words like diamond dusted which means that it sparkles in the sun or satiny, shimmering or velvety.

Bearded Iris Size Line DrawingTypes of Bearded Iris

Tall Bearded (TB) – over 27.5 inches tall usually with 2 or more branches and at least 7 flowers, Most are taller than this however, 38 to 40 inches is not unusual. Usually the flowers are bigger than other iris too. These are the last irises to bloom but there are earlier and later bloomers within this category also.

Border Bearded (BB) – These irises are again the same height as IB and MTB iris coming in at 16 to 27.5″ tall. What makes these different than the other 2 classes at this height are, first, they bloom late, along with the later tall bearded iris. Next the flowers are larger than IB or BB iris. These flowers can be up to 5 inches across and 8.5 inches tall.

Iris Honorabile 2Miniature Tall Bearded (MTB) – These are the same height as the IB irises at 16 to 27.5″ tall. They bloom in the mid-late season alongside the earlier tall bearded iris. The difference is that they whole plant is smaller including the flowers. They are also sometimes called bouquet iris or astable iris. The flowers are smaller and they are carried on slender stems. They also tend to be fragrant.

Intermediate Bearded (IB) – These irises are generally 16 to 27.5″ tall. They bloom in between the standard dwarf bearded and tall bearded irises. The branched stalks are usually taller than the leaves unlike MDB and SDB iris. Most flowers are between 3.5 and 5 inches wide.

Standard Dwarf Bearded (SDB) – This class is usually 8 to 16″ tall, some varieties are branched, but many are not. The flowers are generally less than 4 inches wide many are smaller.  These little beauties are early also, usually starting right after the peak of the MDB’s but before the Intermediate irises.

MDB Iris Grandma's Hat

MDB Iris Grandma’s Hat

Miniature Dwarf Bearded (MDB) – These are the smallest and earliest they can be up to 8″ tall, but many are shorter. The flowers are usually about 1.5 to 3 inches wide. They usually bloom in April here in Wisconsin. MDB’s have no branching so they don’t bloom as long but they are a nice early addition to the bearded iris family.

Median – This is not actually a class, but you may hear this term. It includes iris in the following classes: Border Bearded, Intermediate Bearded, Miniature Tall Bearded, or Standard Dwarf Bearded.

Iris SDB What Again

Iris MDB What Again

Iris color terminology

Amoena – White or near white standards with colored falls.
Bicolor – Light or medium standards and deeper contrasting falls.
Bitone – The standards and falls are different shades of the same color. The falls are usually but not always darker.
Blend – A combination of two or more colors with one of the colors always being yellow. The colors can be even or unevenly applied.
Broken Color – The flower has random splashes of color.
Glaciata  – The flower is a very clear white, yellow or pink with no purple or red shades.
Ground Color – This is the main color seen under any spots or veins. This term is usually used with plicatas.
Luminata – The style arms & hafts are white or yellow; and the rest of the flower is a solid color including the beards. There may be veining on falls but there should be no plicata marks.
Neglecta – This is a blue or violet bitone iris, where the standards are lighter than the falls.
Plicata – These have a stippled, dotted or stitched margin color on lighter ground color, or on white.
Reverse – Any of the other mentioned colors, except that the standards are darker than the falls.
Iris Wabash and Lupine (2)Rim or Edge – This is a thin line of color around the falls and /or the standards.
Self – This is what you call an iris that is one solid color.
Variegata – These irises have yellow or near yellow standards with falls that are a deeper color like purple or brown. The falls may be solid or mixed colors.
Veins – These are lines usually emanating from the throat that are a contrasting or darker color or darker color than the falls.

Now that you know “all about Iris” you can amaze your friends with your beautiful flowers and your awesome knowledge.

To learn about care and culture of bearded iris click here.

To see all of the iris offered by Catrina’s Garden click here.

Care and Culture of Iris

MDB Iris Wood's

MDB Iris Wood’s

There are many types of Iris. This article will focus on the types of iris that grow from rhizomes. They can be different in their size; from miniature to tall bearded, but what they have in common is the rhizome.

Planting your new Iris

Iris Neglecta (3)1Irises are really tough. In fact you will sometimes see them growing on old farmsteads long after the buildings have crumbled to rubble. Iris will thrive in most types of soil but the main key to healthy irises is drainage. Planting on a slope or in a raised bed can improve drainage if you have heavy soil. You can add course sand or compost to improve your drainage also. The ideal pH is a slightly acidic 6.8 but they are not too fussy about this. Please don’t attempt to adjust pH with lime of sulfur unless you have had a soil test that tells you how much to add. You can easily add too much.

1Iris Beverly Sills (2)It is best to plant new iris after they have bloomed. This is why we prefer to ship your iris in July, August or September. We sometimes bend the rules on this to save on shipping if you are ordering other types of perennials and want to save on shipping. Moving iris after bloom is really best for the plant though, and also, if we ship after bloom then we can be absolutely sure that we are sending you the right plant. We don’t recommend moving iris later than September because they must get their roots set before winter sets in, or they can easily be heaved from the ground. If you live in an area with very mild winters we possibly could extend shipping into October. They should be planted at least 6 weeks before the first hard frost in your area.

Light

Iris need at least 6 hours per day of full sun in order to bloom well. Even more is better, but some shade may help if you live in a very hot climate.

Iris RhizomesWhen planting Iris, the top of the rhizomes should be exposed and the roots should be spread out and directed down into the ground. They should look like this:

If you live in a very hot area or have very light soil you could put a little soil over the rhizome; no more than an inch. Firm the soil to remove air pockets and then water well. Plant your iris about a foot apart. You could put them a little closer but you will have to thin them sooner.

Iris Wabash, Mme Henry Cayrux and Grandma Bass

Iris Wabash, Mme Henry Cayrux and Grandma Bass

Watering

Irises that have just been planted should be watered frequently until their roots are established. After they are established, it is better to water deeply, less often than to water frequently, but shallow. Really, unless you live in a very dry area or are having a bad year, iris do not need supplemental watering. If you over water they could rot.

MDB IrisBoo

MDB IrisBoo

We do not fertilize our iris, but if you do wish to fertilize use a low nitrogen fertilizer. This would mean that the middle number should be higher than the first number. If you use high nitrogen fertilizer you will be rewarded with nice leaves at the expense of flowers. It is, however, normal for them not to bloom well the first year after transplant.

Caring for iris

Iris I Do

Iris I Do

Iris can live nearly anywhere because they are very tough plants, but they will do the best if you keep their beds weed free and remove debris that lay on top of the rhizomes. If you use mulch, keep it off the top of the rhizomes, and as it decomposes, check to see if the rhizomes need to be lifted a little to keep them at surface level. Sometimes I use forks to do this by going underneath, without completely digging up the plant…just lifting it and pressing it back down.

Cut off the bloom stalks down to near the ground when all of the buds are done. Remove individual flowers and branches as they finish. Don’t cut the leaves if they are healthy looking. Do cut if they are browning or showing insect damage or leaf spot. In fall trim them to around 6 inches. Irises do not need winter mulch when they are established. If you live in the far north they could benefit the first year as their roots may not be as well established. If you do it use something like straw or evergreen boughs that will allow air circulation rather than something like leaves that will pack down and become a wet mess. Wait to apply winter mulch until the ground is frozen. Remove any winter mulch in fairly early spring.

Iris MDB What AgainThe biggest problem that Irises can have is rot. The best treatment is prevention. Make sure the soil is well drained and debris is removed. This will prevent them from being too wet and prevent rot. If you do get some rot it is important to remove the rotted part right away. You can stick a serrated knife right in and cut it away, or try a spoon. Sometimes it is necessary to dig up the rhizome. Irises put on new growth each year so the “old part”, the part that is away from the leaves, may eventually shrivel up or rot. Remove these spent “middles” if they are no longer firm. If you have the plant dug up, allow the fresh cuts to dry for a few days before replanting.

Iris Alene's other love

Iris Alene’s other love

Dividing

Overcrowded irises stop blooming. Depending on the variety and the growing conditions, Iris may need to be divided every 4 or 5 years. They are also more likely to have rot problems if they are crawling on top of each other. Please refer to “planting” above for when and how to divide. I like to leave “forks” (one rhizome with to leaf clusters) attached and if there are small side shoots leave those attached to the main rhizome.

Bring the colors of the rainbow to your garden with these classic and care free  beauties.

To read “All About Bearded Iris” Click here.

To view all of the irises that are available through Catrina’s Garden click here.

Moss Rocks!

Moss (2)1I often hear gardeners bemoaning the fact that they have moss in their gardens. I will have to say I really don’t get this sentiment. I love moss. It brightens up your garden in early spring with its lush bright green appearance, and softens the edges in your rock garden all year round. Moss gives your garden a rustic, aged appearance.

There are thousands of varieties so if you would like to “encourage” your moss you could end up with a beautiful patchwork, displaying different shades of green and maybe some yellow, blue or even red.

When I can I use bricks and or rocks Moss (6)1that already have moss on them, but I find that if you put a few bricks in a shady area that already have the moss it will spread to the ones that don’t.

It is pointless to try and kill moss and grow grass. Just give up please. If you have moss it is too shady for grass. Either learn to love the moss or plant other shade loving plants…like hosta. If you must grow grass in that spot, you need to look at the reasons why grass won’t grow there. Don’t try and kill the moss. Instead try and make the grass grow better.  These are the most likely reasons why your grass is not growing well.

  • Compacted soil – Is the moss growing where you usually walk or drive? Maybe you should aerate or work up the soil and then put a path or stepping stones there.
  • Too much moisture – let me guess the moss grows near your downspout or where your hose faucet is. The answer is to improve drainage or how the water runs off.
  • Too much shade – you can increase the sunlight by pruning trees and shrubs but if it is the shade from your home there is not much you can do.
  • The soil is too acidic – you could try adding a little wood ash, but be careful. It would be best to get a soil test and then they can tell you exactly how much to add. It’s easy to add too much and then you have a bigger problem where nothing will grow. It’s not so much that moss likes acidity but that grass doesn’t. Moss grows fine in neutral soil.

Moss (5)1There are places where even I need to kill the moss. Here is an example: this is my front walk. I don’t mind the way it looks on the cobbled sidewalk, but it is a slipping hazard.

The safe method that I use is to sprinkle plain old baking soda in the area where the moss is not desired. It is safe for humans, insects and most plants. Wood ash works too but be careful not to wash it into your garden. Both of these work by changing the pH. Wood ash is stronger. Baking soda can even be used on the roof and then the water used to water plants; even edible plants. If it is not a large area you could also try using boiling water or a pressure washer. Since this is “only water” it is also safe for garden creatures and plants.

Most moss killers contain copper, zinc or iron which can be toxic; especially to fish and aquatic life, but garden plants and insects won’t be happy either. Many sources recommend using bleach or vinegar. Vinegar is a little safer, but it will kill nearby plants by changing the pH too much. Chlorine bleach is incredibly toxic to nearby plants, soil life, amphibians, and human lungs. Did you know it was used in WWI as a deadly weapon? When it breaks down it forms cancer-causing dioxins.

If you want less moss in the actual soil of your garden beds, just add compost. This will balance the Ph of your soil and help the change the composition of the soil from fungal (which is what moss likes) to bacterial. It also works by making the surface of your soil uneven which is why mulch will also help in gardens.  Moss likes to grow on flat surfaces. Remember these guys are tiny a stick or acorn lying on the ground is like climbing up a mountain for them. Increasing light and air circulation in the area will also help decrease moss.

Moss (3)1So enough on how to get rid of moss; what we really want to talk about is inducing you to like moss in the right situation. Don’t automatically kill it. Really, it can be very beautiful.

Moss1

sun loving moss

So what should you do to grow moss? Well, you don’t really have to do anything. Moss happens in the right conditions. There are even certain types of moss that will grow in the sun. Basically, all you need to grow moss is other moss. It will help if the surface that you want to grow moss on is smooth and free of weeds. You can place slabs of moss where you want it to grow. Pat it down well, and if you have a large area to cover and just a little moss to work with you can break it into pieces and let them grow together.

Moss needs moisture to increase but not to stay alive. Some mosses even require dry periods to do well. If you are trying to get moss started (as opposed to just letting it happen) you should keep the area a little wetter than you would your normal garden, but once moss is established you will not need to water it any more than the rest of your garden. Moss does not need deep watering, just a light mist every so often, because it doesn’t have roots. It actually requires a lot less water than grass.

Moss and semps (2)1So, what exactly is moss? Like a fern, moss grows from spores. The spores develop green threadlike structures called protonema instead of roots. They push into the ground a little or attach to surfaces but they serve only as anchors and do not take up any nutrients or water. If you are collecting moss to grow in your garden try to get some of the dirt attached or in the case of rocks scrape with a sharp blade so that you break off fewer of the protonema. Mosses eventually develop a tiny flat leave. Moss is actually thousands of plants growing together rather than one big plant that makes up a matt. Moss gets everything it needs from the air which is why it can grow on rocks…cool right?

Moss (7)1So what about this pH thing? Well, moss is not particularly fussy about this. They do fine on most soils but prefer a slightly acidic soil. Most moss will not survive if the pH is higher than 6.5.

Contrary to popular belief buttermilk does not help moss grow. It can actually mold and then not smell very nice. Water works just as well. Mosses do not Moss and semps (4)1use nutrients so the idea of feeding it with buttermilk, beer or other liquids is simply false. Moss is easy to grow which is why this method sometimes works for people. You are better off using “pieces” instead of putting it in a blender which is sometimes recommended. Then use anything that will help the moss stick to the surface where you want it to grow. Mud works well. The most important factor is Moss and semps (3)1that the moss is firmly touching the surface where you want it to grow. So if you want to grow moss on a vertical surface like a pot or a wall it is best if you can lay it horizontal until the moss attaches. This is why methods like buttermilk (or mud) may work, because it helps the moss stick instead of falling off. “Sticking techniques” are not necessary for horizontal surfaces.

Moss and semps1Spring is the perfect time to enjoy the moss in your garden. It is in fact one of the stars of the season before your other plants begin to fill in. Please, don’t think of moss as a weed. Instead think of it as the little runt, the underdog, which takes an opportunity where it finds it and ends up succeeding famously.

 

 

 

More Early Spring Bulbs

I talked about my favorite early spring bulbs on Sunday. Since then the snow is melting and the sun has come out. They are so cute that I just had to show you some more. This is a gallery so just click on one of the photos and then click in the grey area when you are finished.

To read the article that goes with these pictures click here.

Read about two of my favorite spring flowers: heartsease and pasque flower.

Keep Deer From Eating Your Garden

White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Minnesota, USA

White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Minnesota, USA

With spring really warming up we are seeing more deer in the garden.  I actually see the doe bringing her young into my garden and teaching them what is good to eat. Are you tired of your plants looking like this?

Daylily bitten off by deersmThere are a number of strategies that you can employ.

  • A tall fence – This would be the best, but I still haven’t been able to afford it. The fence must be at least 6 feet tall to keep deer out.
  • A big dog – This works, but the dog must be well trained. You don’t want them chasing the deer, especially if you do it outside of your property. Our dog is gone now, but we trained her to circle the edge of the property a few times a day and let the critters know she was there. Then even when the dog is in the house the deer become more wary…We really need to get another dog.
  • Plant resistant plants – notice the word resistant…not that this is sure fire plan. They will taste almost anything. Deer love daylily and hosta. Here is a nice list of resistant plants from Cornell University.
  • Long border 2013smAnother technique that I use that seems to help is the old over stimulation technique. I inter-plant (thickly) my nice plants that the deer like to eat with taller, less appealing plants. For example in my daylily border I have the nice yummy daylilies and other plants that they like in the front and or center of the garden. Along the back where the deer tend to enter I have a lot of tall prickly plants like rudbeckia and other tall natives. They will still come and nibble, but they usually try the tall stuff first and then go eat in the field when they don’t like what they are getting in their first few bites. It’s not fool proof but it helps.
  • Try a repellent. There are commercial repellents available. The one that has worked the best for me is plantskydd. Here is a link to their website: http://www.plantskydd.com/ . This product was developed in Sweden. It contains no synthetic additives, is non-toxic and is not harmful to animals, plants or the environment. Its main ingredient is dried blood but it has ingredients that bind it to the plants so that it won’t wash off.  Another bonus is it that is serves as a foliar fertilizer.
  • If you would like to make your own here is a recipe that I have tried that seems to work. The eggs and oil help it stick to the plants to some extent but it is best reapplied after a rain.

deer what cha gotCathy’s Deer repellent

  • 3 raw eggs
  • 3 tbsp. hot sauce
  • 3 tbsp. garlic juice
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 tbsp. cooking oil
  • 2 tbsp. dish soap
  • 1 bunch green onion tops
  • 2 Beef bouillon cubes

 

Early Spring Flowers

Crocus yellow (5)1I’m up early on Easter morning. The snow outside makes it seem like it is still winter, but I’m dreaming of warm, soft breezes and signs of spring.

After the winter it’s natural to look toward the rebirth of spring. Many consider the crocus to be the first spring flower, but there are lots of little bulbs that bloom even earlier.

These little bulbs are sometimes called the “minor bulbs”. They are usually very small. But they can be just as effective as the larger flowering bulbs that come later, like tulips and daffodils. The key is to plant them in mass. Sometimes just one or two here and there are nice too; kind of a little surprise when you take the time to look.

Snowdrops (2)1Little beauties like crocus, snowdrops, glory of the snow and early spring iris are especially important because they give the gardener that little reminder that “spring is coming”, when they need it the most. They effectively extend the season to a time that, here in Wisconsin, sometimes even still has snow on the ground giving us a “jump on spring”.

Just like the later blooming daffodils, the little spring bulbs needed to be purchased and planted in fall. There is always next year; my favorite garden saying. Really, you can plant them any time up until the ground freezes. I think they are easier to plant than the large bulbs because they don’t have to go down as deep, usually about 3 or 4 inches. You can even plant them on top of the other bulbs to save garden space.

Crocus with snow (3)1The biggest mistake that I have made with these little gems is not getting them uncovered early enough. We live in a maple grove so we get a very thick layer of maple leaves in the garden. If you don’t get the leaves off early enough the little cuties will bloom under the leaves and you will never see them. Or, if they do manage to poke their little heads through the leaves they will become spindly and won’t last as long. If you then decide to get the leaves off, when you remember them, you will sadly end up tearing them apart. In recent years I have made a better attempt to get most of the leaves off in fall. It’s a good excuse to get out there and get some exercise. You have to do it sooner or later, and really, don’t you have enough to do in spring? Then in spring it is an easier clean up, really just a touch up to get the ones that blew in over the winter, and you can concentrate on the areas where you know the little bulbs are coming….that is if they aren’t still covered with snow.

Snowdrops with snow (5)1Speaking of snow, don’t worry if they get dumped on. They are used to it and they can take both snow and cold temps. They just close up and wait until the sun comes out again.

Early spring bulbs enjoy sunlight, but it will be fine if you plant them under deciduous trees because they will not have leaves at this time of year.

One other thing to remember; just like the bigger bulbs, don’t remove the foliage when they are done blooming. They need this to store energy for next year. Don’t worry; the rest of your garden will start to grow and you will forget all about them. If you have your bulbs naturalized in the grass, wait a week or two longer to mow the first time. Your spring bulbs will reward you for it. Many times when planting another perennial I dig them up by accident. This is not a problem, just replant them. It probably will help increase them as after they have been in the ground for a few years they tend to grow in clumps.  This way you can divide them.

So let’s look more closely at some of my favorite “minor bulbs”:

  • Scilla mischtschenkoana (2)1Glory-of-the-snow -Chionodoxa luciliae

Glory-of-the-snow comes in blue, white and pink. They are very hardy (zone 3 to 8) and are perfect for naturalizing, along the edge of the border or in rock gardens. The flowers are star shaped with a white or light yellow center. Bloom time is usually late March here in Wisconsin and they only grow to about 4 to 5 inches. The white and pink varieties will be a little taller; up to 8 inches.

  • Snowdrop – Galanthus nivalis

 

Snowdrops1Snowdrops seem to be on their own schedule. If you get a warm snap they may bloom earlier some years than others. Further south they may bloom in January but it is usually late February or March “up-north”. The stems of the common variety are about 4 inches but there are also some slightly bigger varieties. They have solitary, drooping, white flowers with green spots. Plant them near a walk or on a raised bed. Somewhere that you will notice them popping through the snow. It is amazing to see these frosty-white beauties on a sunny, but still cold and snowy afternoon.

  • Dwarf Iris 

There are lots of types of Dwarf Iris and most of them do grow in early spring; some earlier than others. The genus “Iris” was the name of the Greek goddess of the rainbow. I’ll briefly tell you about some of my favorites. As with most early spring flowers they are small; some only 3 inches and most under 8 inches.

Iris cristata is one that steals my heart. This is a native wildflower that spreads by undergrIris Cristata1ound rhizomatous stems. There are different varieties ranging slightly in size and they come in colors from purple to blue to white. They have yellow crested markings…so cute, and are super hardy and carefree. The rhizomes should be planted near or at the surface just like their larger cousins. Mimic their natural wooded habitat, which includes moist, well-draining soil and iris cristata will be happy. Adding a little leaf mold will make them sing.

Iris Reticulata (2)1Iris reticulata is another cute easy to grow miniature iris. These little ones can be purple, white or yellow. Their foliage is grassy. It will grow a little taller after the flowers fade. Lightly-scented flowers are usually violet to purple, although white, yellow, and light-blue cultivars are available. Foliage is delicate and grassy. They multiply rapidly and are excellent for rock gardens and sunny borders. The reticulated iris group consists of a number of small bulbous irises whose bulbs have netted or reticulate bulb coverings (tunics) on the dry bulbs. All species of Katherine Hodgkin Iris1reticulated iris are native to western Asia. Iris reticulata (purple) and Iris danfordiae (yellow) are two of most commonly known species in the reticulated group. My favorite from this group ‘Katherine Hodgkin’ is a reticulated iris hybrid, whose parents are Iris winogradowii (pale yellow flowers) and Iris histrioides (pale blue flowers). Intricately marked pale blue flowers of this hybrid have distinctive deep blue veining with a purple-spotted yellow blotch at the base of each fall. This hybrid was introduced in 1958 by E. B. Anderson and named after the wife of rare bulb enthusiast Eliot Hodgkin. These bulbs tend to generally decline for me. I think there are 2 possible reasons. First many of them, including Katherine, are listed as zone 5. They do however live through the winter and multiply in many years. Or, possibly it is because they don’t like to be wet in summer. They like it moist in spring but then need dry conditions or they will not multiply.

Miniature Dwarf Bearded Iris (MDB) is another favorite of mine. Though they are not really common, there are hundreds of varieties. This is one of the more recent things that I have been collecting, so watch for them to become available from Catrina’s Garden in future years. They are just like the large Standard Dwarf Bearded Iris except that they grow no taller than 8 inches and bloom earlier. Some are only 2 inches tall. Here in WI they bloom in late March or early April. MDB iris does best in climates that are cold in the winter. They are great in rock gardens or raised beds. It is nice to have them raised a bit so that you can smell them, because many of them are fragrant. Here are some of my new babies (click on a picture to see a slide show then click in the gray area to return):

  • Crocus

Crocus Purple 121Crocuses are among one of the most popular of the early spring bloomers. There are many different species and cultivars but there are 3 main groups: C. chrysanthus (Golden Crocus), C. vernus (Dutch Crocus) and the third group is varied types of botanic species crocus. There are Crocus species that flower in autumn also. This is the type of crocus that saffron comes from. Golden crocus are very small and flower the earliest. Dutch crocus have larger flowers that are later and tend to be more pastel. This is the most common type. They naturalize nicely, or can be grown in the rock garden or somewhere that you will see them often. Crocus come in a wide range of colors from different shades of purple, blues, pinks, Crocus White (4)1whites and yellows. There are even striped crocus. The foliage is grass like and some species have a silver strip down the center of each blade. They are actually corms rather than bulbs. Be sure to plant them with the point up and the roots down. Well actually even if you plant them upside down they will adjust. Crocuses love cold climates like zones 3 to 7 and will not do well where it is hotter. They like to be in the sun and will actually close up when it is cloudy. They do best in a sandy or gritty soil; something that will drain well. Animals like voles and mice will sometimes eat crocus. If you have a problem with this planting them away from the house or in areas without a lot of cover may help. Some people that have real problems with this put them inside little wire cages under the ground.

  • Siberian Squill – Scilla Siberic1Siberian Squill – Scilla SibericScilla is one of the earliest spring flowers to bloom. Flowering for a remarkably long time they bear clusters of bloom spikes that offer scented deep, true blue nodding bell shaped flowers. Theay are exquisite when planted under spring flowering shrubs such as forsythia, azaleas, rhododendrons, and magnolias. They are also one of the easiest bulbs to naturalize because the foliage matures quickly and is not as sensitive to mowing. They will eventually form large drifts in your lawn because they multiply by seed as well as the little bulbs producing offshoots. They tolerate more shade and a wider range of soil conditions also. You may find them popping up in unexpected places once they are established in your landscape because birds spread the seed.

Crocus with snow (2)1This time of year it seems we can have it all. I enjoy skiing and our ski hill here is still open, and the conditions are amazingly good, but we can also enjoy these little “signs of spring”; just about the time that we begin to think that winter will never end.

 

More pics of Early Spring Bulbs,

Two more early spring beauties: Heartsease and Pasque Flower

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