Catrina's Garden

A place for gardeners, foodies and garden inspired artists.

Tag: Spring

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.

 

 

 

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

Pasque Flower for Easter

Easter is tomorrow. Let’s remember that the resurrection is for the garden too. Spring brings the waking of the natural world after the dead of winter. The tradition and symbolism associated with Easter in the Northern hemisphere is very much a spring festival, and we think of the Christian resurrection, but also of life and rebirth in general.

Easter LilyThe Easter Lily

The Easter lily is the most popular Easter flower in America. Millions are grown each year. They are usually forced in greenhouses to assure that they bloom at the right time. Long before the advent of Christianity, the Lily was considered a symbol of life and was associated with various goddesses of fertility. For Christians, the white lily stands for purity, and the Easter lily has become a symbol for us of the resurrection of Christ. The most commonly grown lily, that is called “Easter Lily” is the Bermuda lily (Lilium longiflorum). However, other white cultivars are also grown as Easter lily. In many areas you can plant your lily outside Lily regale (tetraploid)1after it has served as an “Easter Lily”. In future years it will not flower at Easter time. I guess I don’t personally care for Easter Lilies, and they are not hardy here in far northern Wisconsin. We did, however, have them growing in our garden when we lived in southern Wisconsin. Here is my “Easter Lily”; it is the “Regal Lily” (Lillium Regale). It is much taller than everyone else’s “Easter Lilies” at about 4 feet and has a pink cast. It blooms in late July, not at Easter time. The original “Easter Lily” was probably the exquisite Madonna lily (Lilium candidum), which grows wild in the Mediterranean, but not in Wisconsin. Madonna lily looks a lot like our modern Easter lily but it also is a lot taller.

Pasque flower white (2)1The Pasque Flower

The pasque flower is another plant closely associated with Easter. It is from the genus Pulatilla, which is sometimes considered a subgenus of the Anemone. The pasque flower blooms in the spring and its name comes from the French word “Pasque” which means Easter. It has also been known as the “pash flower” or “passion flower”. Although it is more obscure; for me, this is the best flower for Easter.  It blooms naturally at this time and is fully hardy. There are native and hybrid varieties from Europe but there are also closely related North American natives. The botanical name also has references to Easter, the genus, Pulsatilla, means “beaten” (as in Pasque Flower1beaten by the wind, or “wind-blown”). This may refer to the way that the wind treats these early flowers, but it also reminds us how Jesus was treated. Meanwhile, vulgaris means “common.” European and hybrid varieties can be lavender, dark purple, reddish-purple, cream or white.

Pasque flower or Pulsatilla vulgaris is a member of the buttercup family (Ranunulaceae). Closely related is Pulsatilla Patens (sometimes classified as Pasque flower - Pulsatilla1Anemone Patens) this is the one that is native here in North America. Patens means “spreading”.

It is perennial and grows to only about 8 inches high. Pasque Flower forms a clump that spreads over time, but not quickly. This little beauty is found across the Great Plains and into Alaska and Siberia. The solitary flowers come up first from each basil cluster. There are 5 to 8 petals which are not actually petals but “sepals”. They are fuzzy on the outside but not on the inside. They can be lavender, blue or white. The Pasque Flower 21pistil terminates in what looks like a purple fuzzy button. The color may vary according to the flower color.

This is surrounded by 150 to 200 stamens with yellow anthers. My favorite thing about them is that the leaves, stems and undersides of the flowers are covered with silky hair. These “fuzzy” plants then develop beautiful wispy seed heads that are as nice if not nicer than the flowers.

Another bonus with pasque flowers is that animals like Easter bunnies and deer Pasque Flower 41don’t eat them. There are not very many flowers that bloom this early. Snowdrops, crocus and other spring bulbs compliment the pasque flower and the Lenten rose or hellebore actually precedes it, blooming even earlier than Easter. There is something special about those first flowers to greet you in spring after a long hard winter.  Sometimes they even bloom through the snow here in Wisconsin.

Plant Pasque flower in full sun to part shade. It likes well drained sandy or loamy soil.

Pasque Flower - Pulsatilla patens (2)1The plant is now generally considered to be poisonous and is not recommended to be used externally either as it will raise blisters on the skin. It was, however, used in the past by Native Americans to induce labor and for skin lesions and arthritis. Other medicinal uses are also mentioned by various sources.

Pasque flower is sometimes confused with Prairie Smoke (Geum Triflorum). The seed heads look similar but are more reddish than Pasque flower and the flowers are also reddish.

 

Easter’s coming makes me think of all these flowers popping out. As Christians

Prairie Smoke

Prairie Smoke

celebrate the resurrection of Christ we also mark the return of spring. With more than a foot of snow falling on Holy Wednesday this year it will seem more miraculous and more to be celebrated this year than ever. The flowers were peaking up before the blizzard so when spring finally comes – as soon it will – it will truly seem like a rebirth.

Click here for Early Spring Flowers

For Early Spring Bulbs Click here

Heartsease a favorite spring flower.

Maple Sugarin’

Early spring in Catrina’s Garden means maple sugarin’ time. We’ve been sugarin’ for 20 years since moving “up north”, beginners by the standards of our neighbors. We are not a large commercial operation. We do it for fun and currently tap around 30 trees each year. We do it the old fashioned way, making actual maple syrup “liquid gold” to feast on.

We look at maple sugarin’ as a time to celebrate the changing of the seasons, spend some time in the woods and use the sweet gifts that the trees around us provide. After the first year; experiencing the magic of turning a byproduct of nature into a delicious treat, we have done it year after year. We consume it ourselves and give it as gifts. We also use it to “barter” for other products from nature that we love….like morel mushrooms. It’s a great activity for kids, or a chance to invite the neighbors over.

sugar Maple Acer saccharum in fall

sugar Maple Acer saccharum in fall

The trees most commonly used to make syrup are Sugar maple (Acer saccharum), but other maple species and even walnuts or birch can also produce syrup, though it is not commonly thought to be as good. I am often asked how to tell them apart from the red maple which also grows in abundance here. Look at the leaf margins; the area between the lobes of the maple leaf. A sugar maple will have a smooth U shaped leaf margin Maple Syrup Sap sign in the snow1and a red maple will have a slightly serrated V shaped leaf margin.

Maple Syrup drilling holes1Maple Syrup Pounding in taps1Maple Syrup Sap Dripping 21The ritual starts in March when those first lovely warm days roll around. Usually our modern weather people can predict these days. That way we can start getting ready ahead of time, but when we start seeing signs in the snow like this, we know it’s time to start tappin’. Simply drill a hole, stick in the tap and hang the bucket. You drill in at a slight upward angel, about an inch and a half to 2 inches. Be careful not to pound too hard when inserting the tap or you could split the tree. Use trees that are at least a foot around and if you have a really big tree you can place more than one tap.

1Maple Syrup Sap Dripping 5When the days are warm and the nights are cold this is when the clear sap begins dripping….or pouring from the trees. It’s a lot of work. Sap is collected daily or sometimes more often. We have no “lines” like the big guys and since we don’t tap too many trees we store the sap until we have enough to “cook”. It’s a lot of work. You can burn of that winter fat. The sap must be kept cold. We keep 40 or 60 gallon cans packed in snow on the north side of the shed where it slides off the roof.

So what makes a “good tree”? I think more than anything it is placement.  If the sun shines on the trunk it runs well. Some years when we are lazy and the snow is really deep we just tap the trees that are near the driveway and we do fine.

Filter the sap when you put it in the pan and again when you take it off to remove impurities and debris. Rain is your enemy. If you use open buckets you may have to dump some sap if you have a lot of rain. A sugar shack is nice for cookin’ but if you don’t have one cover the pan and wait till it stops if you have a hard rain.

It’s time to cook when we have about 150 gallons.  It roughly takes 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup. Sap is usually around 2-3% sugar and syrup is 62% sugar.

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We add nothing to the sap but heat; lots of heat. We cook in a shallow pan over a wood fire. We cook….and cook….and cook….for days. Sometimes foam will develop. Skim that off. This is a good chance to “make wood” too! What else are you going to do while you are standing around waiting for the sap to cook? If it was a hard winter you may need some more wood to cook the sap, because you are out, and you may as well put some up for next year so that it can age.

1Maple syrup in jarMaple Syrup on spoonWhen it starts to get thick you better watch it closely. We used to “finish it” in the pan but we lost a few batches by burning it, having it turn to rock candy or spilling it on the ground when “taking it off” in the middle of the night. Now we cover it when it is getting close and let the fire go out; getting to bed at a reasonable hour, and finish it the next day in a turkey roaster. I wouldn’t recommend finishing it in your kitchen though some people do it. The cupboards and floor stay sticky for a very long time. Keep a 5 gallon bucket of sap on the side that you can add at the end if necessary. Sometimes it can “turn the corner” quickly.

The old timers can just tell when it is done. We use a hydrometer to measure the viscosity of the syrup; to make sure that it is perfect every time. Bottle and enjoy!

Salsa Gardening – Before the Thaw

Child with tomatoGetting the family involved in gardening is a popular quest. The challenge is how to get the kids interested. Have you ever thought about planting a SALSA GARDEN?! Although your children may not love tomatoes and peppers (and onions, garlic and herbs) individually – once they realize when you put them all together it makes salsa – their interest will peak! Growing the ingredients to make this delicious dip will be rewarding whether you have little hands helping or not. Imagine the delight of your friends at a picnic gathering when you tell them your salsa was not only made from scratch, but you even grew the vegetables! How “green” of you!

Seed packets 2This fun project lasts all year, from planting to eating! So let’s get started–in our northern Wisconsin climate, your tomato and pepper seedlings should be planted now, indoors! You could have actually started the peppers a while back because they don’t outgrow their pots as fast as tomatoes.

Let’s talk tomatoes today. The best tomatoes for Salsa are paste types. Everyone is familiar with the old standard–the Roma–but there are dozens of heirloom paste tomatoes available. Great varieties to Tomato (10)1Corno-De-Toro-Pepper-225x300look for are: Amish paste, Opalka, Long Tom, Principal Borghese, San Marzano, Oxheart or Bull’s Heart (a really large paste tomato). Gildo Pietroboni is a little hard to find but this Italian paste is twice as big as a Roma and well worth the search when it comes to flavor. Add some fun to your tomato quest by making your salsa different colors with: orange, yellow or black Oxheart; Black Prince; Yellow, Green or Cream Sausage; Speckled Roman; Orange Banana or White Wonder tomatoes.

Next, the peppers; some great pepper varieties for a milder salsa are any of the Marconi’s, Hungarian Wax peppers, Poblano’s, Bermuda’s, or Ortega’s. You can get the crunch and look of a Jalapeño without the heat if you use Fooled You Jalapeño’s.  If you like it hot(!), consider using Cayenne’s, Tabasco’s, Serrano’s or the hottest…Habanera’s. Many of the ornamental pepper varieties that have variegated leaves like Fish, Trifetti, Masquerade and Black Pearl are also quite hot.

Now, the growing! Growing your seedlings is easy, really! The key is to start with the right ingredients.

  • Clean your potsUse jiffy mix or another super lightweight soil especially designed for seed starting. This will help prevent your seedlings from rotting; otherwise known as “damping off”. You can also use one of the prepackaged seed starting kits.
  • Start small. It’s easy to end up with way too many plants. But if you do, just share the extras with your family, friends or neighbors!
  • Very important. Clean your pots if you are reusing them. Seedlings are very susceptible to damping off, which is a fungal disease that causes them to simply rot and fall over. This is how I do mine, but you can wash them by hand if you wish.
  • Sprout seeds with bottom heatMost important, the seeds; needless to say, I LOVE SEEDS, they have such potential. Don’t you just marvel in how a huge plant can spring from this small piece of life?
  • Use bottom heat to get the seeds to sprout. Any warm place like the top of the refrigerator or an old-fashioned radiator will do. I use the bathroom floor as I have heated tile. My hubby wanted to know why I need the heating cables under the sink.
  • Water from the bottom too. Place water in the bottom tray, not on top of the soil.
  • Spring Seedlings1Move the seedlings to a bright window or under artificial lights as soon as they sprout (shop lights work well but lower the lights so they are just a few inches from the plants).
  • Thin the seedlings so they’re not crowded as they grow and move them to a bigger pot when they start to get big. Be ruthless; I know it’s hard. No one wants to kill their babies. Give some to your friends if you can’t do it.
  • Every time you transplant tomatoes plant them deep so only the top of the plant is sticking out of the soil. They’ll develop roots all along the stem and become strong. 7. Don’t plant your plants outside until it’s good and warm–but gradually set them outside to get them used to the outdoor weather. Bring them in on cold nights. Pepper plants are more susceptible to cold weather.

If you don’t want to take care of seedlings all winter never fear! It’s okay to purchase your seedlings. Be sure to check back and see what other ingredients you will need for your salsa garden!

Heartsease

pansy-very-dark-redI had heard this term before moving “up north”. But when I got here one of the first friends that I made used this as her “computer name” so I became more accustomed to the name.

This diminutive little pansy known to all as Jonny-jump-up, love in idleness or herb trinity is call heartsease because it is said to mend a broken heart. Shakespeare makes reference to this in A Midsummer Night’s dream. Oberon dispatches Puck to gather the “little western flower that maidens call Love-in-idleness”. Cupid’s arrow falls upon the plant that is “before milk-white, now purple with love’s wound”. Oberon and Puck are able to control the fate of other characters in the play by using heartsease; “on sleeping eyelids laid, will make or man or woman madly dote upon the next live creature that it sees.”

Pansy Jolly JokerThe scientific name Viola tricolor tells us it is from the family violaceae (the violets) and tricolor because it is usually purple yellow and white. Violas are a close relative, but all of our wonderful longer lived pansies were developed from this plant. Pansy comes from the French – Pensee meaning thought or remembrance. Here is why in Shakespeare’s Hamlet Ophelia says “There’s pansies, that’s for thoughts”.

Some say all pansies can be called heartsease, but viola tricolor is the original one.  Pansies are among our edible flowers and are sometimes candied on fancy deserts, frozen into ice-cubes or thrown into salads.  Purple-and-white-pansy

They have been used forever as a mild treatment for pertussis and bronchitis due to their expectorant properties; cystitis, polyuria and dysuria due to their diuretic properties, and they are also a mild laxative, so don’t eat too many of these little cuties on your salad. They also contain salicylic acid, salicylates and rutin, so they have anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to treat gout and rheumatoid arthritis.

Used as a compress or ointment they treat eczema, psoriasis and acne. Although they are usually used in combination with other plants by herbalists, this is truly an amazing little plant.

So, what is the secret of growing Heartsease? There is none! Just ignore it and it will “jump up”. The fancier pansies will self-sow too, and will sometimes, but not always come true to seed. Of course you can find them at any garden center in early spring, but if you want a certain variety you may want to consider growing your own. If you do, keep these tips in mind; first start with fresh seed. Start early, I usually try to get mine going as soon after the holidays as I can.  They take 6-8 weeks to be large enough and can be set out quite early, as they are frost tolerant.  As with any seed starting use a soilless mix and keep them moist with bottom watering. But this difference with pansies; they should be kept cool (like about 65 degrees). No bottom heat for these darlings.  Another difference from many flower seeds is that they need darkness to germinate, so cover them with a little soil and throw the daily news on top of them until they sprout, then bring them into the light. Lastly, my favorite tip, grow them through spring as most people do, but then when summer comes and they start getting leggy and not so beautiful, don’t pull them out. Instead cut them waaaaaay back. They will all but disappear under your other flowers, but then in fall they will jump-up again for 3 more months of cuteness.

Walter Savage Landor says it all in this little poem.

Heartsease

There is a flower I wish to wear,

But not until first worn by you,

Heartsease of all earth’s flowers most rare;

Bring it; and bring enough for two.

 

Some may call this plant a “lawn weed”. But how can you not love a cute little plant that requires no care and heals a broken heart?

Catrina

Click here to read about Pasque Flower for Easter

Try this link to read about Early Spring flowers

If you would like a few more pics of Early Spring Bulbs click here

Promise of Spring – Start Now!

Layering Bulbs – Small garden or no garden – No Problem!

Tulips and daffodils are what most people think of when they talk about spring bulbs, but there are so many more to choose from.  Most bulbs require very little root space so they can be planted quite densely and thus are perfect for those that have small gardens. They also don’t take up a lot of space in the garden once they are growing because most die back after blooming and have tall straight stems. Because flowers are generally pretty large and showy compared to the amount of foliage, you get a lot of bang for your garden space buck. In a one to two square foot hole you can get a patch that will flower from early spring well into summer.

First step; pick your bulbs. Usually but not always bigger bulbs will have bigger flowers and little bulbs; you guessed it smaller flowers. The bigger ones generally, but not always bloom later. So, even if you don’t know the exact bloom time for your bulbs you can be pretty safe planting the bigger ones on the bottom and decreasing the size as you move up in your layers. Do your research on bloom time if you want to be sure that you will always have something in bloom.  There are many different bulbs that could be included but the main categories are:

• Lilies and Alliums (for summer bloom)
• Narcissi and Tulips (for spring bloom)
• Muscari, Scilla, Iris reticulata, Crocus and other early spring bulbs
These are the “classic” bulbs that are used but please; check out your catalogs for some more unusual offerings!

You don’t have to use all of these layers; just two layers would also be fine. Layering also works great over a larger area. You can mix and match your bulbs however you like…be creative. If you use 2 different types of tulips (for example) in a layer, you may lengthen your bloom time a little bit. Do use your “design sense” however. If you use too many different things in one area things can look a little bit chaotic.  Oriental-lily-Loreto

How many bulbs should you buy?  You have to think about if you care about next year’s show, or what you will see in 3 or 4 years. How often do you want to dig it up and redo it? Plant more to get a great show the first year, and less if you want to take the lazy way out and not have to dig them up so soon do to overcrowding. Here are some approximate numbers.  In a 2 square foot hole you could fit, about 5 lilies, 7-12 daffodils, tulips or alliums (or any combination of them) and 20-30 small bulbs. The size of the bulbs is also important. You can fit fewer big top size bulbs than small offsets…duh.
What colors should you use? Well, what colors do you like? Work with the colors of other things in your garden. Too many colors can cause the eye to jump around. Usually you don’t have to worry about this however because your bulbs will be blooming at different times.
All of your plants don’t have to be bulbs.  It is fine to use a ground cover such as a quick-growing annual or low growing perennial in the top layer.  Some ideas of things to use here are parsley, alyssum, creeping sedums, creeping veronicas.  These ground covers serve 3 purposes; they add beauty to your planting in-between the flowering of the bulbs, they “mulch” the soil, conserving moisture and preventing weeds, and they can help to hide the foliage of the bulbs when they are done.
Layering bulbs is similar to making lasagna.  Layers of drainage material, bulbs, soil and ground covers or mulch are used instead of sauce and noodles.

The first step is to find a bare spot in the garden.  Check out your perennials in the summer and mark the spot as it can be difficult to remember in fall when the perennials are finished.  Since you will be planting densely the spot really does have to be empty of other plants to begin with.
Another benefit of planting all of your bulbs in one spot is that it will be easy to find them in fall when you want to divide them.  Scilla-mischtschenkoana
Here is your step by step “How To”:
• Dig a deep hole at least 12″ but 14″ is better and at least 16-18″ wide (remember you can use a larger area). The hole does not have to be perfectly round.  An irregular sized hole will give you a more natural appearance.
• Remove the soil and mix it with lots of good compost and add any organic or other fertilizer that you choose to use. Move the soil mixture into a bucket.
• Place some drainage material like coarse sand in the bottom of the hole, 1-3 inches is good depending on how sandy or clay-like your soil is.
• Next fill in about 2-3″ of the soil mixture.
• Now you can start to plant. Large bulbs go first. Cover with about 2″ of your soil mix.White-Tulip
• Next plant mid-sized bulbs. You try to fit them in between the bulbs below but don’t worry, emerging shoots of the lower layer bulbs just bend around anything they hit sitting over their heads and keep on growing.  Again cover with 2″ of your soil mix.
• Then plant the smallest bulbs that are also the earliest blooming. Finally cover with the last of your soil mix. It should be about 2 more inches and the ground should be level.
• After the blooms have faded, be sure to let the foliage die back naturally because this is how bulbs build up their strength for next year. It is okay to remove the flower stalks when they are finished to keep the garden looking tidy. You can also remove old foliage when it starts to yellow. It is green foliage that is nourishing the bulb for next year. It’s okay to bend it down a little if you don’t like the way that it looks.
• Water a little more often in the first weeks after you plant your bulbs to help them form their roots.
Please be careful when removing foliage from bulbs or picking cut flowers.  Many bulbs especially daffodils, tulips and hyacinths can cause severe contact dermatitis in susceptible individuals. Wear gloves and be very careful not to drip the sap from the stems on your skin.  Many workers in the bulb industry will tell you that “lily itch” is no fun.

Don’t worry; certain bulbs may be planted a little deeper than they would if you just planted them by themselves. The stuff in the hole will provide better protection winter heaving and at worst they will bloom a little later than your neighbor’s.

Daffodil-tazetta-Canary-BirdMany people also use bulbs for layering in containers.  This makes a beautiful display for your porch or patio.  Here are some things to remember about planting bulbs in containers.
• The bulbs can touch each other but should not touch the sides of the container.
• In Wisconsin even hardy bulbs will probably not survive the winter in containers.  You will have to either say good-bye to them or plant them in the ground.
• Bulbs like tulips and daffodils need a period of cold to bloom so either put them in the refrigerator or you can try putting the whole pot in a very cold but not freezing garage or basement.
• This is a perfect way to use bulbs that are not hardy in our area like elephant ears, cannas, callas, caladiums, and tubers like dahlias.  Once the display is finished you can put the entire pot in a cool dark place in your basement and bring it out in spring.  This works best if you have a sunny place indoors where you can bring them out and get them going before the season starts.
• Bulbs in containers will need extra fertilizer.
• Your contained bulbs will eventually outgrow your pot; some quicker than others, and you will have to replant.
• Planting in a pot is a great idea for certain bulbs that are sometimes eaten by rodents like crocus, and tulips.
• Make sure your pots have drainage holes (very important) and add additional drainage material in the bottom of the pot.
• It’s not a good idea to leave valuable clay or ceramic pots outside.  Freeze thaw cycles can crack them or cause them to flake.  Cement or plastic pots are fine outside over the winter.

Happy planting!

Catrina

 

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