Tuesday, June 19, 2018

June 19, 2018 Kim’s Weekly Garden Blog

Hi Gardeners
Garden at Suncrest, Lapeer Mi.
We finally got some well needed rain and my plants are very happy after their shower, clean and no longer thirsty.  It’s nice to spend a day or two without watering.  On Sunday and Monday, we had very hot and humid weather, miserable weather for June.  Today the temperature isn’t bad although it’s still a bit muggy. 
Just a couple hundred miles north of us the rain was so hard and so much that it washed out roads and flooded everything.  Across the country we are seeing floods in some areas, drought in others. Some places are sweltering in unusual heat, others are still chilly.  There are tornadoes in places they don’t often have them and fewer tornadoes in places where they usually have lots.  The weather is a mess.  Climate change?
The poor plants are a bit confused.  First, we have August, then June, then August, then June and so on.  Strawberries are ripening but many people are talking about how small the berries are this year in Michigan.  It’s a combination of a hard winter, early heat and the dry spell. 
I have potatoes in bloom, we are getting a few of the early girl tomatoes and I have some peppers that are getting big.  The corn has been growing slowly, maybe the rain will give it a bump.
My seed grown campanulas are blooming nicely now, there’s several colors.  I was gifted a lovely campanula last night, Campanula glomerata ‘Superba’, (clustered bellflower), which has stiff stems with clusters of lovely purple flowers.  I hope it establishes well here.
Clematis are blooming, for some reason the bleeding hearts have put out a few new flowers, daylilies are beginning to bloom, coneflowers are starting bloom. The double Asiatic lily ‘Apricot Fudge’ is now blooming. Columbine and goats beard are blooming. The annuals are really beginning to put on a show.
The baby barn swallows in my barn are just about ready to fly.  The parents dive bomb me every time I enter that part of the barn.  I guess that’s better than what I saw on the news last night, where a hawk built a nest in a residential neighborhood that was attacking dog walkers and mailmen, leaving them with bloody wounds.
It’s hard to think about but June is almost over.

Summer solstice

Thursday, the 21st is summer solstice.  It’s the official start to summer.  I don’t like what it symbolizes, the days will now get shorter.   Go outside and look up at midday.  That’s the farthest north the sun will get in your area. It will now begin to swing back toward the south. As summer progresses where you have shade and sun in the garden may change as the sun declines in it’s orbit.

The day of summer solstice has been noted and celebrated since the earliest communities of man.   In the more northern countries the celebrations are more marked, probably because the sun is so welcome and vital in these climates and because at summer solstice in the far north the sun never seems to set.   Celebrations often include bonfires and making wreaths of flowers to hang on one’s door.  If you wash your face with the dew collected overnight on the wreath you are supposed to get beauty and a long life.

The Romans dedicated the month that the summer solstice occurs in (the month we call June) to honoring the goddess Juno, patroness of marriage and fertility in women.  Even today June is the month most favored for marriage. Interestingly a woman’s fertility is also highest at this time. Conception in June results in a baby born in March or early April, which in earlier times was a good time to give birth.  Food supplies would be more plentiful as the baby began to require more milk, the weather more moderate, and the wife would be recovered enough to help with spring planting. 
Midsummer’s eve is often confused with the summer solstice but is not the same.  It generally occurs a few days later than the solstice, on June 23 or 24.  It is supposed to mark the birth of John the Baptist, who is supposed to have been born six months before Jesus and is a product of Christianity adopting and adapting pagan celebrations.  But there is a great mixture of fairy visits and other magic associated with Midsummers eve in folklore also.

Color and the garden

Color is an important part of any garden, whether it’s from flowers or just foliage. You may have a good idea of what colors you like, or you may feel like you need help in choosing and executing a color scheme.  While some people do have an almost instinctive sense for color and design others seem to struggle to come up with a pleasing color and design scheme for the garden.  Remember though, if it’s your garden, it should be something you like, not something others tell you is right.

You may want the same basic color palette each year or you may like to change things up.  Perennial plants, whether they are in the garden for foliage or flowers, will maintain the same basic color scheme year after year.  Perennials usually have a set bloom period, most bloom for only a few weeks. If you want continuous color in the garden you’ll need to choose a variety of perennial plants that bloom at various times of the year or perennial plants like hosta, whose foliage provides your color. (A few perennials, like some roses, do have a long period of bloom.)  Even foliage plants may provide color only in certain seasons.

If you like to experiment and change things every year or you want continuous color, annual plants can be the workhorses in your garden. Most annuals bloom for a long period of time. Many gardeners use perennials, woody plants and annual plants combined to provide pleasing, continuous color in the garden.  Perennials and woody plants provide the “bones” and annual plants provide the pop and sizzle.  This allows you some flexibility from year to year in what colors are showcased in the garden.

In my garden I have a lot of color that is provided by perennial foliage, many colors of hosta and heuchera, Japanese forest grass, variegated Jacobs ladder, various colored evergreens, and ferns.  There are perennial flowering plants like daylilies and iris, phlox, clematis, sedums, coneflowers and other things.  But every year I enjoy choosing a color scheme with annuals to fill in around the perennials and for porch and accent pots. 

My color scheme is usually chosen when I walk into the greenhouses in the early spring and find some annual plant, like a petunia or salvia, that I just love the color of and must have.  I then choose other things to complement it.  This year it was a salvia, ‘Wendy’s Wish’, which is a mixture of pink and purple and a sort of magenta.  And that’s my color scheme for most of my beds this year.  Where I have flowering perennials that would clash horribly with those colors I have used a few other colors.

Understanding color

If you have ever tried to pick a color to paint a room from a selection of paint chips on cards you know there can be hundreds of variations of a color.  Hues are considered pure colors, they are the primary colors on the color wheel, red, blue, and yellow.  When you combine two of these colors equally you get the secondary colors of orange, purple or violet, and green.  When you combine a secondary and primary color equally you get what is called a tertiary color like red-orange, or magenta (purple and red) and so on.

From hues we go to tints, which are paler versions of any of the hues, and shades, which are darker versions.  Why do you need to know this? Because it can help you pick colors that go well together.  In general, a hue and its tints and shades will go well together.  This is called a monochromatic color scheme.  Some gardens are built around a single color such as white or blue.

From there you need to look at a color wheel.  Colors opposite each other on the color wheel generally go well together.  This is called a complementary color scheme.  An analogous color scheme is made using hues and their tints and shades that are adjacent to each other on the color wheel.

Some people like a mixture of all colors in a garden.  This is called polychromatic.  It’s usually an informal, cottage style look.  This kind of garden sometimes takes a little bit of removal or transplanting or addition of transition colors to improve a glaring color clash, but then some people will be happy with any combination.

While it might not work on your walls all colors go well with green in the garden.  White and silver or gray also seem to go well with all colors and they can be used between colors that may not look well together. Black seems like it would go with any color but in flowers black is usually not really black but deep red or purple.

Of course, if you can just hold up blooming plants close to each other, as when choosing annuals, you’ll probably be able to choose colors that go well together.  If you are color blind you may want to ask a friend for help.  It’s your garden though, so choose what you like.

Other things to consider about color

Warm colors like red, orange and yellow jump out at you from the landscape and are good for gardens that are viewed from a distance. They make the garden seem closer.  It takes less of these colors to make a statement. Cool colors like blue, green, and purple are less obvious from a distance.   Gardens with a lot of these colors seem to recede.  It takes more of a mass of these colors to make an impression.

Very dark colors often disappear when viewed from a distance, appearing like a hole in the landscape.  These very dark colored plants look best when they are an accent color in a lighter pastel or white color scheme or when they are against a light wall or fence.

An accent plant of a contrasting color does bring interest to the garden but too many accent plants causes that “pop” to disappear.  A chartreuse or yellow foliaged shrub here and there among darker shrubbery or a purple one among lighter greens is interesting but too many yellow or purple foliaged plants together are not as appealing.  Many gardeners associate yellow foliage with unhealthy plants, and this feeling increases when there is a lot of it in the landscape.

Consider the colors of buildings, fences, and other hardscape that may be near when choosing colors for the garden.  I have found that that orangish clay brick walls are hard to work with.  Many colors seem to clash with them.  Try white, pastel yellows and some shades of peach.  White, green and gray walls can go with just about any colors.  Blue walls look good with pastel colors of just about any hue, unless they are a very pale tint, when deeper color would be better.

To keep some color in the garden all season you should work to incorporate different foliage colors and choose perennials that bloom at different times of the year.  If you don’t use annuals there will probably be some weeks with little, if any, color.  Also bloom times of perennials can be affected by weather and they may bloom earlier or later than expected some years.

Don’t choose your perennial flower color scheme by holding up blooming plants in the nursery.  Often these plants are not blooming at their natural time.  What looks beautiful together now may never bloom again at the same time in your garden.

Be wary of color descriptions, and especially photos, in catalogs and on line.  The color most often altered is blue, with what looks blue in the photo being actually lavender or some shade of purple.  Chocolate and “black” colored flowers are often not the same in the garden as in a photo.

You can vary your color scheme by season too, by choosing plants that bloom at various times and plants whose foliage may change in fall to provide color.  For example, you could use bright pastel colors in spring flowering bulbs followed by blooming plants with primarily white flowers until fall when brightly colored mums and woody plants with “warm” fall color foliage will carry the garden into winter with a blaze of color.

White and pastel flowers are good for gardens that get used a lot in the evening as the colors stand out in dim light.  They also attract night flying moths which can be interesting to watch.  But all white gardens can look washed out in the sunlight.  Add a few deep accent colors here and there to make the garden more appealing.  White flowers planted in dusty areas, such as near dirt roads, tend to look grimy and unattractive.

A monochromatic garden, all blue, all pink or whatever, always looks more interesting when a few splashes of contrasting color are added.  These can be flowers, like a red poppy in a sea of white flowers, or a piece of garden art or hardscape such as a deep purple chair among your all shades of pink garden.

If you are planning your garden for pollinators bees prefer yellow, white, orange and shades of purple and blue.  They can’t see red.  Butterflies like most flower colors but are not very attracted to blue.  Hummingbirds like red flowers best but many colors are visited, tubular flowers are favorites.

Remember you don’t have to have flowers to have color.  Foliage color is especially nice in shady areas.  There are many types of plants with interesting foliage color, both for shade and sun.  (Foliage color may change through the seasons and weather can also alter foliage color.)  Garden art, containers, furniture and other hardscaping can also provide some of your color.

For the new gardener taking a good look at public gardens, the gardens of friends and photos in magazines and books will help you decide what colors you like in the garden and what plants can provide those colors.  If you don’t get it quite right, you can usually do some tinkering the following year to get closer to your goal.  Don’t be afraid to experiment and if you love it, that’s what counts.

Ostrich fern- Matteuccia struthiopteris

The ostrich fern is a fern most gardeners should be able to grow. It’s hardy from zone 3-7, it doesn’t do well in the deep south. Tall and beautiful, it’s also an aggressive spreader so whether you should grow it is something you’ll need to debate with yourself.

The ostrich fern is native to North America, Europe and Asia.  It’s an old soul that has survived though the millenniums.  It’s a deciduous fern, losing its graceful fronds in winter. It’s a bit slow to begin growth in the spring, but when it does it grows rapidly, becoming a huge plant in just a few weeks.

The Ostrich fern has a mostly upright, vase shaped form. The fronds (leaves) are medium green.  In wet, mild summers I have had these ferns easily reach 5 feet in height in my garden, although they average about 3 feet high. The plants have a bulb like condensed crown that the fronds are produced from. Mature plants can spread to about 3 feet in width.  The plant spreads by root stolens to make huge colonies if not controlled.

Down at the base of the plant the sexual fronds, the fronds that produce spores for sexual reproduction, will form in late summer. These are short, thick and dark brown.  These fronds persist over winter.  The plant can spread by spores, which are released in early spring, but the usual method of spreading is through the root system.
Brown sexual fronds and fern crowns in early spring

Ostrich ferns will grow in full sun if kept constantly moist, and in partial or even full shade. In full shade they are smaller.  They prefer rich, organic soil and plenty of moisture.  They will do fine in clay soil and wet areas and are a good plant for rain gardens.  However, if summer gets hot and dry and they can’t be watered the fronds will dry up and disappear.  Windy areas can tatter and flatten the plants also.

Ostrich ferns do not need fertilization.  They have no known pests and deer and rabbits usually don’t eat them.  I know of no disease problems.  Ostrich ferns look good in masses and can make a good tall groundcover in shadier areas.  Ostrich ferns combine well with larger hosta, astilbe, toad lilies and heuchera if you are careful to keep the ferns from over powering the other plants. You can remove fronds without a problem if they are hiding other plants.

A good use for ostrich fern is to plant it with woodland ephemerals, wildflowers or bulbs that bloom early in spring and then disappear, like trilliums, bloodroot, crocus, grape hyacinth, winter aconite and similar plants.  These bloom before the fronds begin growing and then the emerging fronds cover their dying foliage.  In sunnier areas tall lilies like the orientals and vines like clematis are good companions.

Gardeners may have a hard time finding plants to buy.  They are sometimes sold as dormant roots, other times a potted plant is sold.  If getting a start from a friend try to get it in early spring, before the green fronds emerge.  Look for the brown spore fronds and dig up the bulb like root structure.  Ostrich fern doesn’t seem to transplant well when the fronds are large.

In my garden I am constantly fighting with ostrich ferns so that other plants can be seen and so that they don’t clog every bit of available soil.  But I still find the plants beautiful with a soothing woodland feel. Just be aware they can soon become dominant in the landscape.

In some areas the early curled fronds of ostrich fern, called fiddleheads, are gathered and cooked.  Don’t eat them raw, as it can make you very sick.

Help-my squash blooms but won’t set fruit

One of the common problems of new vegetable gardeners is when things like cucumbers, squash, melons and pumpkins seem to be blooming very well but the gardener isn’t seeing any fruits.  If this happens to you don’t panic.

Most of the vining crops, melons, cukes, squash, and pumpkins have separate male and female flowers on each plant.  The female flowers have a tiny melon, squash, pumpkin or cuke attached to the back of the bloom.  The male flowers look similar, but they don’t have the tiny fruit.  Only the female flowers can turn into fruits, but you do need both sexes.
This is the female flower of a gourd, with the baby gourd
at the back of the flower.
Almost always male flowers are the first to open.  Why this happens we don’t know. It may be that the plant doesn’t have enough resources yet to support fruit.  But soon the plant will produce female flowers and if they get pollinated you’ll start seeing those tiny fruits enlarge.  There are some varieties of plants that have been selected to produce only female flowers.  These are called gynoecious. These produce more fruit. But there still must be some plants with male flowers somewhere nearby to pollinate them.

Sometimes weather and lack of pollinators can cause poor/no pollination. Cucumbers, melons, squash and pumpkins need insect pollinators. High temperatures, especially at night and plants under stress will result in more male flowers.  But if the plants keep blooming, you are good, you’ll eventually get fruits.

Salmon salad

This is a meal not a salad in my mind.  It’s healthy and tasty at the same time and great for summer meals.  It’s better not to use canned salmon in this recipe.  Cook some fresh or thawed frozen salmon for this salad.   You can grill it or bake it.  Remove any skin.

Orzo is a pasta that looks like grains of rice.  It cooks quickly.  You could substitute other pasta but use something small.


1 pound of cooked salmon, skin removed, broken into small pieces
1 pound of orzo, cooked and drained
1 red and 1 green bell pepper, washed, cleaned and diced finely
½ cup chopped green onion
1 cup creamy Italian salad dressing
1/3  cup sour cream
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste


Place the salmon, orzo, peppers and onion in a large bowl.
In a smaller bowl mix together, salad dressing, sour cream and cheese.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Pour the dressing mix over the salmon mixture and toss lightly until mixed.
Chill at least one hour before serving.

Have fun in the summer sun, but remember June is the most fertile month.

Kim Willis
And So On….

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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

June 12, 2018 Kim’s Weekly Garden Blog

Hi Gardeners
Hibiscus 'The Path'
I was at the hardware Saturday.  It had been raining all day, if you could call it that since it totaled less than a 1/10 of an inch, and the day was gray and gloomy.  A farmer and I were discussing how we wanted it to really rain not spit.  The clerk said, a bit grumpily; “Why do you want more rain?”   The farmer said; “because rain makes grain” and I chimed in “and flowers.”
Most of Michigan seems to be on a pretty normal soil moisture/rain scale but here in Michigan’s thumb we seem to be right on the northern or eastern edge of the systems coming through and our soil is dry.  I know a lot of you across the country are getting more rain than normal and you probably want to send some my way, so please do, if you can. Our grass is getting brown and there are places I can’t water well that I’m starting to worry about.  And a good rain always beats watering with a hose.
But the good news is that we have eaten the first ripe tomato from the garden.  It was an Early Girl, my garden always has that variety as did my grandfathers, and it was only slightly bigger than a golf ball, but it sure tasted delicious.  Garden tomatoes are 100 times tastier than those from the supermarket.  We also had a few ripe strawberries.
Lots of flowers are blooming, evening primrose, clematis, cornflowers, love in a mist and wisteria have joined the palette.  The orange ditch lilies are also starting to bloom. I am anxiously waiting for a row of campanula I grew from seed to bloom, they’re almost blooming after two years, and I am waiting for a new Fritillaria to bloom that has had huge buds for what seems like forever. 
I found an old bottle gourd in my junk room and put a hole in it and hung it on the front porch.  A day later a wren was building its home inside.  There are baby birds begging everywhere around here.  By keeping suet out in the feeders through summer I get to see lots of baby birds as the parents bring them to eat it.  But I am going through more than 5 pounds of suet a week. 
My new front garden is progressing nicely.  All the sod has been removed, many things planted, although there is more planting to do. This week’s project will be setting up a fountain/ bird bath there.  I’m going to use a solar pump in an old wash tub painted black and filled with pea gravel, I have a vision of what I want that I hope I can translate into something that works.  It’s a fun project, isn’t that what gardening is about?
Gardening mistakes- it’s how we learn

Every gardener makes mistakes. It’s how we learn. Let me tell you about one of mine.  I have a pot of the vining Jasmine stepanese.  I bought it as a little tiny 2.5-inch pot, with a stick-like plant. I planted it in a 10-inch hanging basket, I don’t know why- maybe because it fit inside the tomato cage.  You see I purchased some tomato plants in large pots with cages last year.  The cage went around the pot, with the bottom wires folded and welded together and the pot sat on top of that.  I had taken the tomato plant out and planted it in the garden.  Instead of using the 2 gallon pot the tomato was in I stuck a 10 inch basket inside the cage and planted the jasmine.

The first summer, summer 2017, I sat the jasmine on the deck and as it grew I wound the vines around the tomato cage, and that worked pretty well.  It made the set up compact and easy to move inside for winter.  This winter it sat under a grow light where it grew quite vigorously, stretching far above the tomato cage and twining itself around nearby plants. That was the first problem, I spent an hour untangling the vine when I wanted to move it outside this spring. 

Once I got it outside this year I set it on the edge of the deck, against the house.  Looking at it I knew I had to get that root system out of that 10-inch basket and into something much larger.  But the vine was firmly wrapped around the tomato cage in such a way that unless I clipped it back to nothing I was not geting that cage out of there and that basket/pot was inside the cage. And now there were cascading vines that I had unwrapped from the plants inside to deal with too. I had to think about it and there was plenty of other pressing garden tasks that needed doing.

This weekend, with a cloudy, cool forecast I decided it was time to tackle the jasmine problem.  When I went to move the pot- which had sat there about a month, I found my problem had multiplied. A nearby clematis had snaked a vine into the jasmine wrapping around it and the cage and had buds ready to open.  And a pesky native vine called ground nut had also risen out of the nearby garden bed and merged with the jasmine.  Its leaves are very similar to the jasmine and that made determining which was which difficult.

So, I had to spend about 30 minutes unwrapping vines, so I could move the jasmine.  I wanted to preserve the clematis, so I did that unwrapping carefully.  I traced the ground nut vines to where they came out of the flower bed and snipped them off, then carefully unwound them so as not to break the jasmine.

Now there was the problem of changing the pot, which was inside a tomato cage which was wrapped in the vine.  Here’s what I did.  I found a big pot, bigger than I really wanted, but that I knew the tomato cage would fit inside.  I wiggled the root ball of the jasmine out of the hanging basket, lifting the basket carefully up the inside of the cage until the wires were spaced far enough apart to slip the basket out.  The root ball of the jasmine now sat on the bottom of the cage.  I picked up the entire cage, with vines wrapped around it and planted it in the big pot, the cage bottom is now under the potting medium.  The roots should be able to grow out and around the wires.

I added 3 bamboo poles to the pot and clipped the cascading pieces of vine to them using what is known as claw clips, they are used for hairdos and are quite cheap in the dollar stores and come in a variety of sizes.  They are a quick and easy way to “tie up” a plant.  Now the plant can continue to grow and hopefully, after all the work, it will reward me with it’s beautiful, fragrant, pale pink flowers.
Jasmine stephanese
Picture from Select Seeds.com

So what lessons did I learn from my mistakes?  First, one must think ahead.  It was a stupid move to put that small pot inside a tomato cage then plant a vine that gets quite large and train it to wrap around it.  Not planning ahead and taking the mature size of a plant into consideration is a common mistake gardeners make.   How many times have you seen that cute little blue spruce grow until it touches the house and blocks the window?   Everyone has seen the oaks and maples butchered with a crew cut because they were planted under power lines.

When plants are small we often plant too many of them in a space, thinking only about how they look now.  Later we are faced with transplanting or removing some of them so the remaining ones can remain healthy.  This isn’t always good for the plants involved, the remaining plants may have distorted growth patterns or bare areas. Gardeners should look up the mature size of perennial plants and trees and plan accordingly.

When one is considering houseplants, you have to also think about their needs and how large they are going to get.  Yes, pruning is possible but for some plants it’s an impractical and disfiguring event.  Try to chose houseplants that you have room for and the proper lighting, heat and humidity conditions for them to thrive in. In my case it means planning how I am going to get a huge pot with 8 feet or so of jasmine growth back inside the house this fall. (Jasmine isn’t hardy here.)

Another lesson learned from my mistake is that we must always pay attention to what’s happening with our plants.  I might not have been able to predict that the clematis and ground nut would for some reason decide to climb into the jasmine, but if I had been paying attention I would have noticed when they first began to creep into the jasmines space and intervened.  Often being observant saves us time – and plants.  Noticing a plant is wilting means it needs checking on- and watering maybe or dumping excess water or taking it out of full sun.  Noticing a pest may mean getting a jump on controlling it before it kills the plant.

Try to look at all of your plants each day.  Sometimes we look and don’t really look, if you know what I mean.  The jasmine was right next to the door I go in and out of several times a day, but I didn’t notice the other vines climbing into it.  Most of us are busy people and we are always going to miss something, but we need to practice being observant. 

And listen when other people observe something and comment on it. Sometimes when you are close to a problem you just don’t recognize it, it takes a new eye to see the problem. Gardening friends should mentor each other and provide that friendly “new eye.”

When you make a mistake, let’s say you kill a plant, (and that happens to all gardeners too), analyze why it died.  What should you do different?  Now granted sometimes it just wasn’t your fault that a plant died.  But if you kill several in a row something is wrong.  If you keep buying the same plant and killing it, you aren’t learning.

People aren’t born with a green thumb.  If someone seems to have great luck with plants, it probably isn’t luck at all.  It’s attention to details, the curiosity to learn about those details plus experience that make a green thumb.  Taking a Master Gardener class or another type of garden class won’t give you a green thumb, although it does help you learn those details and it gives you the shared experiences of other gardeners.  Having a green thumb simply means learning from your mistakes.

Help my peony doesn’t bloom

Peonies are hardy, long lived plants.  You’ll see them growing through the weeds on abandoned farms.  But one of the common problems with peonies is failure to bloom. If the plant is spindly, yellowed or otherwise unhealthy looking it probably won’t bloom. You need to examine your cultural practices and possibly have the plant diagnosed for disease.  If the plant looks healthy but just doesn’t bloom, there can be several causes.

Peonies need full sun to bloom well. If the peony once bloomed but doesn’t bloom now it may not get enough sun.  Sometimes we don’t realize that an area has become partly shaded over time as trees grow or buildings are built.  The solution would be to move the peony, or trim trees to allow more sunlight. This will help the peony bloom the following year.

If a peony has never bloomed and it looks healthy and is in full sun it may just be immature.  Peonies need several years of growth before they bloom.  If you planted a smaller, younger peony plant, it may need a year or two to grow before it blooms.

Peonies don’t like transplanting.  The year of transplanting and maybe the year after they may not bloom.  If you are a gardener who constantly moves plants around you may not see your peony bloom.  When you do have to transplant a peony do it in early fall or very early spring.  Be very careful with the root system, try not to break it.  Plant the peony no deeper than it was growing before and keep it watered until it adjusts to the new area.

By the way, peonies don’t need dividing even if they have formed a large clump, unless you are planning on moving the plant. A very large, old peony should be divided into several pieces if you must move it.  Division is how peonies are commonly propagated but after division peonies may not bloom for a year or two.  Peonies should be divided in early fall.

If your peony never blooms it may be planted too deeply.  Peonies have areas called “buds” on the top of the root system, these are modified crowns. They generally look reddish. These buds should never be planted more than 2 inches below the soil line.  If the peony once bloomed and doesn’t now check to see if soil or even mulch was mounded around the crown at some point and remove some of it.  You may be able to do this with a plant that was planted too deeply also but you may need to remove the peony and replant it.

Too much nitrogen can also cause failure to bloom. The plant produces lots of healthy foliage but no flowers.  This is sometimes seen when peonies are planted in heavily fertilized lawns. Lawn fertilizer is high in nitrogen. A light application of a fertilizer for blooming plants, something with lower nitrogen, can be used in early spring when you see the first red shoot buds popping up but don’t add fertilizer if the peony is getting fertilizer from a lawn application.

A drought the previous summer may cause poor bloom or no bloom in peonies the following year.  Peonies normally don’t require a lot of water in summer but if summer is very dry deep soak the peonies a couple times during the drought.
Make sure to leave the foliage on peonies until fall.  The foliage may not look so great but it’s making food for the plant so it can produce flower buds for next year.  Removing foliage early may cause few or no flowers.

If buds appeared on your peonies but they didn’t open the cause could be a late hard frost, or disease. Botrytis blight is a fungal disease that causes peony buds to shrivel, blacken and fail to open.  It occurs in wet cool weather. By the time you notice it there’s no cure. Remove the dead buds and destroy them.  Insects like thrips, aphids and even early Japanese beetles may sometimes damage buds.

By the way peonies DO NOT need ants to bloom. That’s a myth.  Ants are neither harmful or helpful, they are just there to eat nectar produced by peony buds.

Help my wisteria isn’t blooming

Wisteria are wonderful plants in the right locations - when they bloom.  Of all the garden plants it seems wisteria is the most capricious in whether it will ever bloom for you. There are wisteria vines that will never bloom.  They are called duds or mules.  (Some say seed grown plants are less likely to bloom than those grown from cuttings.) They can be frustrating plants for gardeners, since you won’t know if you got a dud, a non-bloomer, for many years.  And by that time the wisteria vine will be almost impossible to remove, trust me.

Wisteria also varies highly in what type of scent it has.  Some wisteria are highly fragrant, with a sweet scent.  Others have little or no smell or a slight musky smell.  This is another area where you lay Russian roulette with wisteria.

There are two native species, American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens) and Kentucky wisteria (Wisteria macrostachya). There is also Chinese (Wisteria sinensis) or Japanese (Wisteria floribunda) wisteria, but it seems all of the species can be particular in whether or not they bloom.  And many wisterias sold aren’t labeled with the scientific name, so you may not even know what species you have.  If you buy a named cultivar and not a generic wisteria you will get a wisteria grown from a cutting, which is more likely to bloom in the right conditions.

But when your wisteria does bloom it can be beautiful.  So, lets discuss why your wisteria might not be blooming- but might be capable of blooming.  First wisteria need full sun, especially in northern areas. They are difficult plants to transplant so make sure you get the location right when you plant.  They are also going to need a very sturdy support to climb on.

Wisteria needs lots of time to mature, seed grown plants can take up to ten years before they bloom.  The small nursery plant can take 5-6 years to bloom.  So be patient before deciding your plant is a dud.

Wisteria buds are produced on “spurs”, little short stems off the main vine.  Spurs are encouraged by training the vines horizontally instead of letting them grow straight up.  The right pruning also encourages spur formation.  In summer locate the thin, vining stems and cut them back to 2 nodes or buds.  Wisteria should also be pruned to control height, taking out the top vertical growth promotes lateral growth and more of the vining stems.

There are many complicated ways of pruning wisteria, such as forming it into a tree or a bonsai plant and many methods of renewal pruning but these are too complicated to get into in this article.

Too much nitrogen can limit flower formation.  This is more likely when wisteria is grown in lawn areas that are fertilized heavily. When plants are young a fertilizer for blooming plants can be used in early spring, but experts recommend dropping the fertilizer when plants are 5-6 years old, because wisteria can grow in nutrient poor soil and seems to bloom better in less fertile soil.

Extremely cold winters and late frost can cause failure to bloom.  Wisteria is hardy to planting zones 4 and 5, but blooming is often less frequent in these zones and may not happen every year.  In colder zones choose native species of wisteria for a better chance of bloom.

Wisteria is a plant where benign neglect or even stress seem to make it bloom better.  When a plant is at least ten years old, healthy looking and it still hasn’t bloomed you may want to try the trick of “root pruning”. This is stabbing a sharp shovel into the soil around the plant about 3 feet from the trunk.  You are cutting some of the roots and decreasing the nutrient level for the plant, producing stress.  Stress induces bloom in some plants.   This will hopefully cause blooming the following year.

Growing crocus from seed

Most gardeners pay little attention to crocus after their early bloom has ended.  When other vegetation in the flower bed gets growing the crocus plants may be buried beneath them.  But down there on the ground something interesting is happening.  The crocus pods are popping.

Not all crocus produce seed pods every year.  Crocus blooms very early, when pollinating insects are few.  If the weather is cold and wet when the plants bloom, there may be no pollinators around and hence no seed pods. An observation of mine, and I can’t say if this is what’s happening for sure, is that when crocus flowers get covered with snow for a day or so the pods are more common later.  It may be that the pollen gets moved around by melting snow.

Crocus plants are unusual in that their seed pods emerge from the ground.  Some species keep their pods underground, but most poke the pods slightly above ground.  You’ll find these pods in May and early June in most places.  If you want to try growing crocus from seed, you’ll need to look for the pods now.  They may look like the sprouts of plants emerging from the clumps of crocus foliage.
Crocus seed pods circled in red.

So why grow crocus from seed?  Crocus hybridizes easily, and you may get some beautiful surprises from the crocus babies when insects help with sex.  It’s also an economical way to increase your crocus bed.  Crocus does increase by producing new corms each year, but that’s an increase of one or two, whereas seed has the potential to produce dozens of new plants.  And some people just like to grow things from seed but never thought of growing crocus from seed.  It will take 3 years to get flowers from your seed grown crocus however.

When the seed pods are ripe they will feel hard and will split easily.  The pods are full of round pink or red seeds.  Most experts believe that crocus germinates better if the seed is planted as soon as it ripens.  The seed needs a period of warmth, (summer) and then a cold period (winter) before most species will germinate. If you want to save seeds for a while before planting save them in a warm dark place for at least 2 months, then move them to cold storage or plant them in a spot where they will get cold weather. 

The seeds should be planted by early September for the best germination. You can sow them in the spot where you want them to grow or sow them in pots. Use a light weight potting soil and just barely cover the seeds or sow them in a shallow furrow in the garden. If you sow them in pots the pots must be left outside for the cold period, perhaps in a cold frame, or put in cold storage like a refrigerator.

Keep the soil moist until germination. The seeds should germinate in February or March.  Some seeds will lay dormant for a year though, if the temperatures seeds were subjected to weren’t quite right.  The tiny seedlings that come up are very vulnerable to hard freezes and some light protection will increase survival rates. A tunnel of light row cover or putting seeds in cold frames can help survival.

If you leave the crocus pods in the garden you will get some seeds that germinate and survive if the area isn’t disturbed too much in summer and fall.  Sometimes ants will move the seeds to other locations and you’ll find crocus popping up in unusual spots.

Remember it will take 3 years to get the first flowers and the crocus need a good place to grow during that time.  The tiny seedlings are easily lost in a big bed so that’s why having a special spot for crocus seedlings to mature in is recommended.  When they bloom, and you see all those gorgeous flowers or you find a unique flower among the seedlings, it will be worth the effort.

Spice rubs for barbequing

When it comes to cooking outside on the grill spice rubs are all the rage.  You can use a good spice rub in the oven too.  You can buy spice rubs of course but why not make your own?  This way you can use the spices you like and avoid those that you don’t like or that you are allergic to. I’ll give you some spice rub examples below, but experimentation is fun, so don’t be afraid to mix and match.

Spice rubs are best pressed into the meat or veggies you are going to cook. You can rub them into meat with your hands. You can sprinkle the rubs on a piece of wax paper and press meat into them or use the back of a spoon. Spice rubs can be put on anytime before cooking, no need to let them sit.
Crush whole seeds of spices like celery seed in a blender or food processor before use. Make small batches of your spice rub recipes at first, to make sure you like it.  Store the excess in clean dry jars with tight lids.

Recipe one-Combine ½ cup coarse sea salt with ¼ teaspoon red pepper, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, ¼ teaspoon garlic powder, ¼ teaspoon onion powder and 2 teaspoons powdered Parmesan cheese. This is great on potato wedges or hamburgers.

Recipe two-Combine ½ cup of brown sugar, ½ teaspoon dry mustard powder, ¼ teaspoon red pepper, ¼ teaspoon cumin, ¼ teaspoon garlic powder, ¼ teaspoon onion powder, and ½ teaspoon salt. Good on beef or pork and oven potatoes.

Recipe three- Combine ½ cup of coarse sea salt, ¼ teaspoon red pepper, ¼ teaspoon crushed celery seed, ¼ teaspoon of crushed dill seed and 1 tablespoon of grated lemon (or lime) zest. Excellent on baked or broiled fish.

Recipe four- Combine ½ cup of coarse sea salt with ¼ teaspoon ginger, ¼ teaspoon ground cloves, ¼ teaspoon ground anise seed, ¼ teaspoon red pepper, and 1 teaspoon brown sugar. Use on vegetables or tofu.

Recipe five- Combine ½ cup coarse sea salt with ¼ teaspoon each of rosemary, thyme, sage, black pepper, garlic powder and a ½ teaspoon of crushed celery seed. Wonderful on chicken or pork.

Note if you don’t use coarse salt you’ll want to use less salt.  And salt is always optional.

June fulfills the promises of May, the buds turn into flowers, the air is mild and smells of roses, and strawberries ripen.

Kim Willis
And So On….

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