Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

January 2010

Could petunias be carnivorous? Researchers at the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens think so. Most of us are familiar with meat-eating plants such as venus flytrap, sundews, and pitcher plants. 101434602aIt turns out that petunias also may be more murderous than we thought. Unlike Audrey II, the plant in “Little Shop of Horrors” who thrived on her caretaker Seymour’s blood, plants with sticky hairs–think petunia, potato, nicotiana, and catchfly–may be cryptic carnivores. The sticky hairs trap insects. When the ensnared insects die, they fall to the ground and break down into nutrients such as nitrogen that the plant can use as fertilizer.

101468076aEven if the devious deathtrap theory isn’t the full answer, petunias do make for killer combinations in the flower garden. Vista Bubblegum petunia was a favorite in my garden last summer. Its shimmering pink blooms glowed with a silvery sheen in sunlight. The mounds of rosy flowers reached 18 inches tall and spread over 2 feet wide. I planted them with white sweet alyssum and ‘Redbor’ kale in the boulevard area next to the street, where, despite punishing growing conditions, they looked great all summer long. I didn’t need to deadhead or trim them back to keep the nonstop display attractive.

This summer I plan to plant even more petunias. Maybe they’ll keep the mosquitoes under control.

W101366238Counting is one of my quirky character traits. As a young girl, I would silently count my footsteps on a mountain path, the number of petals on a flower, the stars as they first appeared at dusk. It was only natural when, as a 10-year-old novice naturalist, I put this skill to good purpose by making tally marks with dates in the page margins of my first field guide to birds.

With the self-designated title “Counter of All Things” on my resume, I feel more than qualified to join fellow bird enthusiasts in the Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual four-day event in which folks from every region of the United States and Canada record the number of birds spotted in backyards, in city parks, in woodlands or fields…anywhere we choose to look. This year, the event takes place on February 12-15, just before spring migration. Data is compiled online by the project’s co-sponsors, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society.

A lot of environmentally important information is gleaned from this grassroots effort, such as how winter’s cold and snow influence bird populations; how the timing of migrations compares to previous years; how bird populations differ among suburban, rural, and natural areas; and which bird species are declining because of disease or habitat loss.

You don’t have to be an expert to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. You need only to be able to identify the common birds of your region. An excellent online resource is The Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds. One of my favorite take-along reference books is Field Guide to Birds of North America, by Kenn Kaufman. For iPhone and iTouch users, a great new interactive resource is Audubon Birds, A Field Guide App to North American Birds, created in alliance with the National Audubon Society.

To help you keep a tally of the birds in your area, fill out a printable bird checklist for your state or province. Online data entry for 2010 will be available beginning February 12. It’s that simple. Start counting!

Garden gleanings from around the blogosphere and the rest of the web. These should help you start thinking about your garden for 2010.

Adrian Higgins of the Washington Post writes about the joys of having your own greenhouse. (Registration required to read the article. But you can go directly to Adrian’s blog for the text of his online chat about greenhouses from Thursday.)

The Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle (long one of our favorite February events) is getting set to kick off next week with new management. The Seattle Times home and garden page gives a preview.

This is not how we would recommend getting new plants for your garden.

Did you know that it’s illegal in some states to gather rainwater for use in your garden? Lawmakers in Utah are trying to change that in their state – while keeping all parties happy. Apparently, that’s not easy.

Another tasty tidbit from the Washington Post – this one about gardening in a small space from a favorite writer Barbara Damrosch.

Lots of people are looking for ways to hurry up spring. This delightful one comes from the Edwardsville, IL, Intelligencer.

Earth Times passes along this news release about garden wrist and knee braces made to fit women.

Live in the city and don’t think you can grow your own fruits or vegetables? Check out City Farmer News and you may be surprised to find you can garden successfully in town.

I love the BBC on gardening, even if some of the lessons don’t translate well to my place in central Iowa. Here’s Pippa Greenwood on spring cleaning.
And our friends in the American South can make us jealous. Take this article in the Macon, GA, Sun News, entitled “Gardeners, start your veggies.”

I just love the seeds I get from Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine. Here’s a piece from their blog about what’s new at their farm.

escoverThe current issue of Garden Ideas & Outdoor Living has a piece that is near and dear to my heart: The Frugal Gardener, 30 Ways to Save Money. Here are a few examples from the story:

• Grow a cut-flower garden behind the garage or in some other out-of-the-way spot where you won’t notice wholesale harvesting. Bring the bouquets to work in lieu of store-bought arrangements (they’re great conversation pieces) or present them to loved ones as “thinking of you” gifts.

• Collect pine cones to use as ornamental toppers for potted plants. They’re also great for starting campfires.

• Use rapid-growing perennials such as Jerusalem artichoke, Joe-Pye weed, and boltonia for instant height while waiting for smaller trees and shrubs to mature.

And here are some other tips, courtesy of the National Gardening Association (garden.org).

Plant Four-Season Shrubs — Select shrubs that look interesting four seasons of the year. Viburnum and serviceberry are both shrubs with alluring spring flowers, attractive summer fruits, colorful fall foliage, and striking bark texture and color. Avoid plants like forsythia that are stars for one just season and nondescript during the rest of the year.

Share with Your Neighbors — Consider renting a tiller, lawn aerator, or chipper shredder with a neighbor. Buy bulk compost or bark mulch together and split the load. Coordinate what you plant in your vegetable gardens so you can share the extra produce in winter.

Divide, Conquer, and Share — Growing perennial instead of annual flowers reduces your seasonal expense of buying new seeds and plants. To expand your perennial garden divide overgrown plants, such as daylilies, iris, and hosta, and make new flowerbeds. Trade extra perennials with friends or organize a plant swap in your neighborhood.

Visit Yard Sales — Well-maintained tools can be used for years and they’re often inexpensive at yard sales. You may find containers and other garden supplies, too. Also check out craigslist.com and Goodwill.

Collect Rainwater — In areas where water is expensive and scarce, invest in rain barrels (or old garbage cans) to catch the water off your roof. Rainwater is free, and it has no municipal additives (which may harm some plants).

Mulch with Cardboard and Newspaper — To reduce the amount of mulch you buy, spread layers of newspaper or cardboard on garden paths. Then top with free wood chips you’ve obtained from municipal dumps or local arborists.

Hot new plant alert!

Munstead Wood, a new rose from David Austin Roses, has really caught my eye. And that says a lot because while I’m a big plant geek, I have to confess that roses rarely make the top of my list.

Why am I eager to try this particular rose? First off, the color. Dark, velvety flowers like this blend well with the blues, purples, and whites I fill my garden with. I can just imagine how this plant would look tucked in among lavender, ‘Rozanne’ perennial geranium, and white veronica.

But the plant hosts more than just pretty flowers. It offers excellent disease resistance (which is important to me because I don’t spray my garden with traditional or organic products), a nice rounded habit (usually about 3 feet tall and 2½ feet wide), and a warm, rich scent.

If you’re a rose lover, don’t miss our slideshow of other new varieties for 2010!

wHere in Iowa the days are still short and dreary. An unexpected storm is supposed to give us a few extra inches of snow today, and that follows a rainy weekend.

Even though spring still seems a long way off, you can make your yard sparkle in winter.

One way is to invest in some dwarf conifers. Grow a couple of rounded plants with a couple of columnar or cone-shaped varieties for a fun contrast that looks good all year.

Dress up your hanging baskets by stringing them in white lights. They’ll add holiday appeal during that season, and will continue to feel appropriate afterward.

Or add a splash of color by spray-painting the dead stems of your favorite perennials that are still in good shape.

Do you have tips for keeping your garden looking great in winter? Share them by commenting below! (Especially you lucky warm-climate gardeners who are enjoying fresh blooms right now.)

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