Gardening – Fall Cleanup

We’ve been too busy lately to chat about gardening and now the frost is thick on the ground. We still have a few chores to finish.

1.    A big job for our little nursery which grows many cut flowers is digging the less than hardy bulbs and tubers. Dahlias are gorgeous, but must be lifted each year and stored out of the cold. Daffodils stay in the ground as perennials. Paper White narcissi are not hardy in most zones above seven. Tulips are often dug and stored to keep them from reverting to their original colors. They will return but often are smaller and less colorful. Deer love to nibble tulips and think they are spring salad.

Our Dahlia House

Our Dahlia House

2.    You’ve raked leaves into your perennial beds to offer them extra protection. You’ve packed away the rest. Here in Western NY, living on acreage, we use the lawn mower to mulch the leaves and almost never rake. When chopped, the leaves do not cling together creating an optimum environment for leave mold and unsightly grass mold, plus the nutrients are returned to the soil. Not to mention it’s much easier than raking. Don’t let them pile up too big before you cut or the mower will just push them forward.

3.    Be aware if you prune spring blooming shrubs now, you are cutting off many of the blossoms for the next season. Trim these shrubs only after they bloom next spring.

4.    Spring bulb planting is still possible as long as you can dig the ground. You know the usual daffodil, tulip, narcissi, but are you acquainted with the smaller bulbs and corms which are a delight and surprise for eyes tired from only white snow? Here are a few: Anemones (blanda types), short, daisy-like in pink, white and blue, bloom almost before Crocus so plant close to the sidewalk so you can spot them. Very charming.  Galanthus, better known as ‘snowdrops.’ Deer do not eat. Scilla siberica are lovely blue and bloom just before Muscari (grape hyacinths). I like to intermingle them so as one fades the other takes over. There are others, but these will delight you with their faithfulness year after year.  Use a commercial bulb fertilizer.

Gardening Q & A – Tomatoes

Q: Hi Emma,
My tomatoes produced very poorly this season. Out of four plants we didn’t get more than thirty fruit. I live in Northwest Indiana. Our summer was kind of dry, but I watered at least twice a week. The soil is poor so I mix bagged manure in with potting soil at a ration of 1:4. Any clues what’s wrong? The onions were bad too as they didn’t grow beyond walnut size.

A: Thanks for the question, Sloane. Lots of home gardeners are disappointed about their tomato crops the last couple of years. Blight is the usual culprit, but it doesn’t sound like that’s what happened to you. Your clue when you are struck by the evil blight is one day your tomato plant is healthy, the next it is dying, and the poor plant is totally gone by the end of the week. Water or fertilizers do not help. There are several kinds of blight and I do not profess to be an expert on the subject. (Early, middle and late blight.)

For home gardeners there’s not much you can do except to avoid planting in the same spot the next year and carefully clean up and destroy any remaining infected debris. I always think it best to leave the serious pesticides to the commercial growers who are licensed and provide our nation’s food crops.

Here I plan to divulge a secret, hopefully not so secret now, supplier who has studied these problems. We have had the very best luck with their products. You will readily notice they concern themselves with the environment and most products are organic. Perfect for the home gardener! The website is http://www.GardensAlive.com Even if you don’t order from their catalog, it’s a fun adventure to read about all the products they offer. They have two fertilizers I regularly afford: “Tomatoes Alive!” and “Flowers Alive for Perennials!” (and Annuals). I see on page 19, they advertise “Soap-Shield Flowable Liquid Copper Fungicide” which controls a wide range of diseases including tough fungal diseases, I haven’t used it but I do trust their products. I see on page 38 there is “Root Crops Alive! Fertilizer.” Perhaps that will boost your onion crop. I am not paid to advertise Gardens Alive. They don’t know that I’m alive, but I do recommend their products to all my customers at the shop and I’ve learned so much just reading their catalogs. Have fun and happy next season gardening.

Gardening Q & A

liliesQuestion: How can I tell which plants will survive in my agricultural zone?

Answer: Most plant catalogs will give the coldness/heat zone in the cultural information adjacent to the photograph of the plant abbreviated with a Z.

When you buy a perennial (a plant that survives winter and stays with you for years), be certain it matches your hardiness zone. Here in Western NY, my zone is 4-5 which limits some plants I would dearly love to grow. Annuals grow from seed and only last for one season. Even there, cold/hot summers are a consideration. Zinnias, for instance, love hot dry summers but are prone to disease in very persistently wet days. Impatiens will curl up their toes and fade away if the nights dip below 40’s. The same goes for the popular herb basil.

In lieu of catalog information, check with your local nurseryman. They know the area best and can give invaluable information. Best to be forewarned to save you disappointment and money.

Courage for High Bush Cranberry and Authors

One of my favorite North American shrubs, which grows no more than twelve feet high, is a viburnum trilobum, common name “High Bush Cranberry”. The attractive red berries make great jams and jellies, presumably used similar to our cranberry sauce. Left on the shrubs, the birds feed on them all winter.

I voted the viburnum as number one in usefulness: lovely white flowers in the spring, sparkling red berries late summer and glorious red foliage in the fall. I happily encouraged every seedling that volunteered on my property.

That was before I heard about the dreaded viburnum leaf beetle and its larva. One summer it seemed every shrub was infested by this dreadful beetle. In two years every single bush was destroyed. Other members of the viburnum family also bit the dust, but I mourned only the high bush. This story has a happy ending. Last year I discovered two bushes with red berries. This year they are thriving. Why they were missed I have no idea but I admire the courage for their come back from severe adversity.

In my last post, I mentioned how sensitive, creative writers must grow a skin as tough as an alligator’s. When they get a submission rejection by a publisher or agent, they find the courage to pick their wounded egos up and start again. One of the best ways to do this is to remember everyone is not going to like, approve or accept your offerings. The task is to find those who do. Reading submission requirements is probably the best way to find a fit for your work. Key word here is “fit”. A rejection is not necessarily a commentary on your work. It may be just a poor fit for that month, year and day. Or it may be that your work stinks. 🙂  In either case, it’s back to the computer to rework your story, just in case. It takes courage, stamina, and a propped up ego, but success will be well worth it in the end.

Through My Window

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStories that live in my imagination now have windows of opportunity. I’ve loved writing all my life. Why then did I wait so long to sit down and express my imagination formally? Could it be lack of confidence? It takes nerve and sheer determination to complete a novel. After that it gets difficult. Writing is hard work, but sending stories out to be judged and reviewed is terrifying. Authors are sensitive people and the tough skin one needs has to be cultivated for survival. There’s lots of advice out in the world about handling reviews, unkind comments or worst, nothing at all. (Hint: if you have a friend who writes, please do an honest, but kind review for him/her and post it. Anyone who reviews and posts for others is a friend of all authors and readers everywhere).

Looking through my window you may see my back “kitchen” garden. At the breakfast table I gaze out at the wild flowers blooming in high summer. Since I work in a plant nursery, you may wonder why I cultivate wild flowers. I love them. Simple as that.  The yellow blossom is a plant called Elecampane, a medicinal herb still in use in some sections of the world. It’s a tall stately plant with large, dignified leaves. It will reseed but very slowly. I leave the seeds on for the birds, mainly gold finches, who visit in the winter. More on the view out my window next post.

Sweet Joe Pye

It’s said that when Sweet Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) blooms, summer is half over. I’ve noticed it’s definitely in bud. joe_pye_weedIt’s difficult for me with my other love to concentrate only on writing. I’m part owner in a plant nursery and our busy season is summer, of course. Still, ideas come to me when I’m out watering, selling plants, greeting customers and making bouquets for farmers’ markets, all labors of love.

Once while planting datura, an evil short story blinked into my conscious mind almost totally intact. I couldn’t wait to get home to get it all down. When I gave it out to a couple of female friends for quick beta reads, they loved it.

They still ask about it, but I haven’t found a proper home for it to be released as yet. Datura has lovely trumpet shaped blossoms but, for the uninitiated, is poison (all parts of the plant), so you might suspect a murder mystery.

Nature is a recurring theme in most of my stories. Authors write what they know and love. My Regency Romance ladies are out gathering herbs even as they plan their gowns for their coming out balls. The young women learn from their mothers how to use the “still” room to concoct formulas for household uses. Where do ideas come from for our stories? Authors borrow from real life and then take a twist or two from our imagination. It all works out somehow.

Emma Lane
soon to be released ~ THE DUKE AND MISS AMABEL HAWKINS