Category Archives: Techniques

Mile-a-minute vine

Study up … this is serious.  Mile-a-minute vine – acronym MAM – is no joking matter.  Mile-a-minute vine (Persicaria perfoliata) came by its common name quite naturally – it can grow 6 inches a day.  This highly invasive vine, aka mile-a-minute weed or Devil’s tearthumb –has thumb-tearing barbs along its stem; it is a devil of a job to clear it away from any plant to which it has taken hold.

I’ve seen it and removed it from gardens I care for, but until now I was not aware of requests to report all possible sightings.  Mile-a-minute vine has been officially identified in 15 CT towns.  Horticulturists see it as a serious enough threat to devote a website to the identification, reporting, and eradication of mile-a-minute vine.

I’ve mentioned some of Connecticut’s invasive plants in previous posts.  Eradication of these non-native threats requires time and commitment – as does anything worth doing.  But first you need to know what is invasive and how best to remove and destroy each plant that threatens to overtake our native species.  I cannot urge this strongly enough.

I’m devoting part of this rainy, foggy day to throw on a raincoat, waterproof shoes, and a pair of sturdy gloves so I can scout for, remove, and report any  mile-a-minute  vines I find. But I’ll also be clearing bittersweet vines, Japanese barberry and multiflora rose.  I would like to think that my soon-to-be-born granddaughter will be able to enjoy the bloom of our native mountain laurels (Kalmia latifolia) when she is grown, just as we enjoy them now.  When you think of future generations, it tends to give you some incentive to protect the things we have.

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Suds for slugs

Slug-damage

Slug-damage

Slugs – slimy blobs of goo that feast on hosta, lettuce, and other leafy vegetation such as the horseradish leaf pictured here – are perennial problems for many gardeners.  The moist spring weather we’ve had in Connecticut has been a boon for the local slug population, but for an effective, low-cost method to reduce slug counts, think beer.

Slugs love beer.  Sink a saucer, adjacent to slugs favored plants, so the saucer rim is level with the surrounding ground, then fill the saucer with beer to “invite” slugs away from plants.  Fill the slug pools in the evening and awaken the next morning to – ewww – a dearly-departed saucy soup.

Another sure fire slug-depleting method is to sprinkle them with common table salt.  In reality, it’s not quite as touchy-feely as depicted in the following never-made-it cartoon, but it is effective.

I have to be pushed to use the salt-eradication method, but  I will happily reach for the salt shaker when I consistently find patios and decks slimed with slug trails or when slugs manage to position themselves exactly where my bare foot just landed – double ewww!

Still, I prefer the thought of them enjoying their last hop-enhanced moments, naively floating in a Bud- or Duff-filled basin, maybe singing along with Homer …

Oh yeah, use cheap suds for slugs … like Homer they don’t seem to have a discerning palette … save the good stuff for human’s with more discriminating taste.

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Quick notes … cold, birds, expo, swap

cold-protection-for-plants

cold-protection-for-plants

Connecticut gardeners still need to be aware of night temperatures.  Tender annuals, such as impatiens, coleus, and morning glories, and tender vegetables, like the eggplant shown here, do not like temperatures in the low 40’s.  It was 38 degrees to my south-central gardens the morning of June 1. 

This is an unusually chilly spring and it’s best to not become complacent – overnight cover with an overturned basket or an old sheet may be all that’s needed to protect tender plants.

baby-robins

baby-robins

Our baby robins are getting closer to flying off on their own.  I don’t see how they can get much bigger and still fit in their nest.  These, nested in a rhododendron, should be fledged by the time the blooms have passed and need deadheading.  Spring blooming shrubs are best pruned immediately after they flower, so now’s the time to deadhead and prune lilacs that are finished with thier annual show.

Siberian iris-geranium sanguineum-cranesbill

Siberian iris-geranium sanguineum-cranesbill

Stamford, Connecticut recently held a Sustainability Expo.  Read Debbie’s current and future posts on what she learned and had re-confirmed there.  Also check out the info on the plant swap planned for June 6 in New Canaan, Connecticut.  You may find perennials that become anchors in your garden.  Over the years, I’ve managed to fill my gardens with finds from similar local events.  The cranesbill and iris pictured above were two of my most prolific finds … I started with one small clump of each, but over the years have divided both plants to the point that they offer spectacular shows in the early spring.

Have you stretched your gardening dollars with plants from local sales and swaps?  Do tell!

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Corking-up containers

wine cork collection

wine cork collection

During a social occasion a few years back, my husband and I noticed a wine cork wreath hanging on a friend’s wall, made completely of corks saved from bottles our hosts had enjoyed.  Clever … and since I can be handy with a glue gun, we started saving our wine corks thinking I might eventually create our own wreath of wine memories.

As time progressed we stacked up a pretty sizeable collection.  But, as the saying goes, hell is paved with good intentions.  In other words, being handy with a glue gun does not mean I take time to actually use the glue gun.  So how does this relate to gardening?  Well, my plant junkie brain came up with a solution to reuse our ever-increasing wine cork collection – no glue gun involved.

You know those really large outdoor planters … the ones that will throw your back out if you try to lift them without the assistance of a fork lift?  A good way to minimize the heft of these containers – and save some bucks on potting mix – is to fill the lower third with a light-weight non-soil material.  Many gardeners use Styrofoam – in solid chunk or packing peanut form – but clean-up at the end of the outdoor planting season is a pain if you intend to separate the non-compostable Styrofoam from the compostable soil and plant material.  Either tiny pieces of broken Styrofoam mixes with the soil or you have to deal with tons of soggy, dirty peanuts.  Even plastic-bagged packing peanuts make for a messy clean up.

Instead, I turned to our wine cork collection.  Cork is light weight, does not absorb too much water, and does not spoil the soil.  Twelve-inch pots only need one layer of corks, while larger pots can handle a layer up to about a third of their depth.  At the end of the outdoor growing season I dump my planter contents – corks and all – into the compost pile.  In the spring and summer, when I screen my compost for various uses, it’s easy to pick out the corks – they do not compost down in one season – and reserve them for reuse.

Cork is a natural material of limited supply, so reusing or recycling cork makes good environmental sense. If my cork reusing method is too daunting a process, then consider recycling your wine corks – West Coast readers might find ReCork America a useful resource.  More craft oriented?  See 5 more ways to reuse wine corks or for crafty moms, Crafty Reuse: Ten Projects for Old Wine Corks.  Alternately, chopped up wine corks – not their plastic cousins – can be composted, but in my case this chore would likely end up in my “good intentions” pile.

 If none of these ideas float your boat, check out the cork-creativity of someone with access to lots of wine corks.

Or, let me know if you’re any good at using a glue gun … I still have a decent supply of saved corks waiting for a chance at wreathdom.  Any other ideas?

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Shabby-chic nesting

I love the look of hanging wire baskets filled with seasonal blooms … to the point that I use these baskets during all seasons.  During spring and summer these baskets hold blooming plants.  In autumn, I replace spent plants, but retain the liners and fill the baskets with gourds.  For winter they hold pine cones and evergreen sprigs, and catch seeds that fall from the suet feeders I hang over the tops of the baskets – this keeps seed from falling into my perennial beds.  Smaller birds feed from the seed drops, but their daily pecking severely frays the basket liners so that by spring the liners can look pretty shabby.  This year, my admitted tardiness in replacing the frayed liners brought an unexpected benefit … tattered basket liners seem to be just the thing female birds look for when building their nests.  I like to think of my oversight created an avian shabby-chic depot.

Female Baltimore Oriole? collecting nesting material

Female Baltimore Oriole? collecting nesting material

I first noticed lady robins filling their beaks with coir strands as their men-in-waiting chest-butted for control over the front yard feeding ground.  Then I spotted a pair of house finches harvesting coir fibers in their nest building pursuits.  I was ready to remove the unsightly coir when I caught a glimpse of a female Baltimore Oriole – at least I think this shaky photo is a female Baltimore Oriole … they don’t pose well for photos.  She too pecked and tugged at the coir threads, carting them beak-full by beak-full, to an as yet unidentified location high in a neighboring tree. 

female goldfinch grabbing nesting material

female goldfinch grabbing nesting material

A female goldfinch flew in for her share of the nest-building supplies as soon as the oriole vacated – and she proved to be a better model.

birds like basket liners - old or new - as nesting material

birds like basket liners - old or new - as nesting material

Watching these feathered feats has been as visually pleasing as peeking out at the neighboring basket of pansies, plus following the birds’ direction of flight helped identify their nesting locales. 

Robin eggs that hatched two days later

Robin eggs that hatched two days later

One robin built in the rhododendron next to my front porch which allows observation of her brood from an adjacent window.  I quickly grabbed this shot of her eggs while she was out feeding.  They have since hatched into pretty active little chirpers.

Knowing my tardiness helped my feathered neighbors’ home-building plans has given me a good excuse to further procrastinate with my own container planting plans.  Maybe I can even procrastinate until annuals go on sale?  Now, if only I can spot that oriole nest hanging high in a neighboring tree …

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My Sister’s Columbine

my sister's columbine

my sister's columbine

One of the better aspects of gardening comes from sharing seeds and plants, especially when the plants bring to mind thoughts of a loved one far away.  This happens in my gardens every spring when my columbine bloom.  You see, they are not really my columbine … the seeds originated in my sister’s northern California gardens.  Now my sister’s columbine have firmly established themselves under my care.

columbine bed

columbine bed

Their main base is under a large oak tree where they share a shady, stone-walled bed with ivy, Japanese fern, a few violets and lily-of-the-valley, and a handful of early daffodils.  Each spring, the pale-pink blossoms of my sister’s columbine draw my attention away from the computer screen and toward their home outside my office window.  As the flowers sway in the breeze I’m reminded that as long as my sister and I share our love of gardening, we will never be far apart.

potted white penstemon flowers grace a gargoyle

potted white penstemon flowers grace a gargoyle

This year I dug up a few columbine volunteers for transplanting elsewhere.  But rather than moving them to a more permanent home right away, I potted a couple of plants to brighten our shady back door.  Digging up ‘extra’ perennials and using them as potted deck, patio, and porch plants – as in the photo above where potted white penstemon offset and soften a gargoyle statue – is an economical way to extend your garden dollar.  It not only helps to thin established perennials, but using them as potted plants brings aspects of the garden within closer view.  As long as you have used care to dig up the root ball, or in the case of columbine the long feeder root, and keep the pots watered, most perennials can easily be transplanted to an in-ground spot once the blossoms have passed.

I usually have numerous potted perennials – purple coneflower, penstemon, lamb’s ear, thyme, mint, and bee balm to name a few – laying in wait on my porch or deck.  Sometimes I’ll sink these wayward plants – pot and all – into the ground to temporarily fill in a newly planted area.  Other times I keep them in an inconspicuous spot until I pick their new home.  Often I share them with friends and neighbors.

columbine

columbine

I may share some of my potted sister’s columbine, or just tuck them into a new shady spot at the back of the house, but as long as they are in bloom I’ll keep them close, so every time I enter and exit my house I have my sister saying hello.

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Enticing Edibles: Alpine Strawberries

Looking for an easy to grow plant that provides edible fruit, and holds it own next to flowering container and bedding plants?  Try Alpine strawberries.  I grew Fragaria vesca ‘Semper-florens’ (hardy to zone 4) for the first time last year as part of my continuing integration of edibles into a new – fenced in, deer protected – planting area.  I’ll not go without these prolific beauties again.

I purchased three good-sized (6 inch pots) nursery plants and potted them into a large shallow planter, but could just as easily have put them in hanging planters or mixed them with flowering container plants.  Since they were new to me, I kept my Alpine planters in a sunny spot (at least 6 hours) on my deck to ease observation.

My plants supplied enough half-inch-inch berries to dress many morning cereal bowls, and continued producing berries intermittingly throughout the summer – well after traditional strawberries had gone by.  The plants looked good into August, when I moved them into the ground.  Both while potted and in the ground, they required no more care than any other perennial.

Alpine strawberry 5-09_edited

Unlike traditional strawberries, which send out numerous runners in all directions after fruiting, Alpine strawberries grow in mounds, about 8 to 10 inches tall.  The photo above shows one Alpine strawberry plant in early May, after one season in the ground.

The mounding growth habit, combined with Alpine’s intermittent white flowers will make them a nice edging accent for my four established blueberry bushes, which is their planned permanent home.  The fact that Alpines attract butterflies only makes them more visually pleasing.

Alpines have similar scent, but slightly different flavor from traditional strawberries.  But Alpine berries are smaller and softer, making them best used immediately after picking.  The trick is to get to the berries before the birds.  I thwarted a fair number of thefts last season by picking ripe berries early.  It was a simple pleasure to watch visiting birds fly off, empty-beaked, as I enjoyed fresh picked berries on my morning cereal.  I hope that planting Alpines around my blueberries will ease netting them both from flying marauders.

potted Alpine strawberry

potted Alpine strawberry

Two weeks ago I dug up two plants – one pictured above – which now serve as early container accents on my deck.  These red-berry producers will soon go into the ground around the blueberries.  But I may choose some yellow-bearing varieties to see if their fruits are as luscious tasting as their red-fruited cousins.

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