Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

July 2012


The natural appearance of this stream disguises its role in recycling stormwater runoff.

When it’s 103 degrees F in the shade, water in the landscape looks mighty inviting! That’s the situation I found myself in last week in Milwaukee while visiting the Boerner (pronounced BURN-er) Botanical Gardens. Lucky for me, the garden has a state-of-the-art rainwater harvesting and recycling system that doubles as a beautiful landscape water feature and serves as a cooling respite on a hot summer day. The system harvests rain from the parking lot and the roof of the visitor center, diverting it to the stream you see above. The water flows into a reservoir with two submersible pumps. One recirculates the water through a sediment trap; the other through the riparian wetland. The plants in the stream help filter the water, gulping extra minerals, reducing the iron content of the water enough to prevent staining of limestone sculptures in the garden. The system can capture 35,000 gallons of water at a time, saving up to 2.5 million gallons of irrigation water per year.

Part of a public art project at Boerner Botanical Garden, this carved limestone piece is one of eight in a series of sculptures by artist Susan Falkman entitled "Passage". Each represents a different element of the cycle of life through the seasons in the garden.

The foliage of Jade Princess ornamental millet glows in the sunlight. It is one of the plants on trial in the All-American Selections display garden at Boerner Botanical Gardens.

While hiking through the bog garden at Boerner, I came across a flock of wild turkeys, including four adults and bevy of half-grown poults.

Des Moines is suffering under one of the worst droughts in decades. My garden has received less than 1/2 inch of rain in the past month. That, coupled with days on end of temperatures exceeding 100 degrees F has created extreme stress on plants. I seldom water established plantings, but this year I’ve resorted to rescue watering for most of the plants in my yard. I’m not trying to keep everything in photo-shoot-ready condition. I’m simply trying to make certain the plants will survive.

Perennials, trees, and shrubs planted within the past two or three years are most vulnerable, but many well-established plants are also showing signs of drought stress. The shrub pictured below is growing on the south side of a parking garage. Reflected heat off the concrete wall creates a desertlike microclimate in this spot. The shrub should have been watered long ago. At this stage, it likely will suffer dieback of the growing tips. But if it gets water right away, it likely will resprout from the base.

Because water is in short supply during a drought, it’s important to water efficiently. Sprinklers can spread water over large areas, but they lose some water to evaporation as they sprinkle. And usually they also over spray onto sidewalks and driveways, where the water will simply run off. If you don’t have large expanses to water, consider using soaker hoses that ooze water the full length of the hose. For trees and shrubs, you can fashion a drip watering system by drilling a few holes into the bottom of a five-gallon bucket, filling it with water, and placing it near a tree to slowly distribute the water to the root zone. For large, well-established trees use several of the bucket to deliver more water.

What drought-defying tricks do you use in your garden?

Drill several holes in the bottom of a 5-gallon bucket to create a homemade drip irrigation system for trees and shrubs.

Wind a soaker hose around perennials such as hosta to get the water to the roots without wetting the foliage.

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to take a trip to OFA Short Course in Columbus, Ohio. It’s one of the best experiences I’ve had all summer! What makes the Short Course different than most events is that it combines all layers of the horticultural industry — you see folks who build commercial greenhouses, who sell high-tech machinery to big growers, plant breeders, plant growers, distributors, and the like.

It feels tailored to plant growers and retailers. In fact, there were lots of cool displays (the one shown here was in the lobby of the convention center) to help give garden center owners ideas on how to set up their shop. And my favorite, there were displays of hot new plant varieties (look for them to be profiled here on BHG.com in the upcoming months!).

It’s a big show, and many fantastic companies where there, including:

Watch for us to write about new plants, products, and trends inspired by the show here on BHG.com!

I’m fresh back from a trip to Oregon where I had the pleasure of meeting the folks at Fall Creek Nursery. The nursery is a large wholesale nursery that provides a ton of blueberries to both garden centers and commercial blueberry fields and they’re located just outside Eugene, Oregon.

Fall Creek Nursery hit my radar earlier this year when they announced a new variety would be coming out for spring of 2013: ‘Raspberry Shortcake’ raspberry. It immediately captured my full attention: ‘Raspberry Shortcake’ is a dwarf thornless raspberry bred for growing in containers. You can have fresh raspberries right on your deck or balcony and not have to worry about scratchy thorns or a crazy raspberry patch.

Happily, this cool advance in plant breeding didn’t come with a sacrifice in flavor: The fruits are juicy and delicious! (Our hosts at Fall Creek Nursery served a big bowl of them at lunch. Yum!)

I took the photo here on the patio where we had lunch — though the fruits on this one weren’t ripe yet (the plant had been cut back in the spring to delay fruiting) others at the nursery were bursting with fruit.

( By the way: If you’d like to be one of the first gardeners to try ‘Raspberry Shortcake’, a limited number is being offered in the BHG Garden Store that will ship in the mail this autumn. If that’s of interest, you can order it here.)

One of the worst garden pests out there, IMO, is the Japanese beetle. And it’s Japanese beetle season again (sigh). You West Coasters can count yourselves lucky. All of us east of the Plains, buckle up.

In the immature stage, we know them as grubs, the kind that attack your lawn. It’s actually pretty easy to keep them out of your turf. The problem is that the adult beetles are very good fliers, and can travel miles. And they have a seemingly supernatural ability to find the foods they love. So regardless of what you do to prevent them in your own yard, you’ll still have to deal with the hordes that zoom in from surrounding areas.

Contech Japanese beetle trap

There are two things you can do: spray the plants they favor (beans, linden trees, wisteria, hibiscus, and rose, to name a few on a very long list); and use beetle traps. Actually there’s a third thing: many recommend knocking the beetles by hand into a bucket of soapy water. Conceding that the soapy water DOES work on the few dozen or hundred that you might actually succeed in capturing, that still leaves the other 4,568,342,721 to deal with. If you have a mild infestation, you’re lucky, and soapy water might be a viable solution. If you have a bad infestation, well, you know what I’m talkin’ about. Call out the bombers. Or move to another state.

What I’ve started doing is using traps. I know of the research that says they draw in more than they actually catch. But in my case, I’m not so sure. I know this much: when I DON’T use a trap, the beetles do a number on my garden. When I DO use a trap, there’s still a goodly amount of damage, but I think it’s a little less. It certainly isn’t any worse. Meanwhile, as I see it, every beetle in that trap is one less that’s out eating my green beans, and laying eggs for next year’s hatch.

I have used several different traps. They all work. In fact, you would not believe how they pull in beetles! They use a pheromone that gets the beetles in the mood, if you know what I mean. So that would explain why they’re so effective.

It’s what happens after that that sets the traps apart. You see, these things can catch a LOT of beetles. So the capacity of the trap becomes a pretty big deal. But another issue is how easily the trap empties (because they do fill up). And yet another issue is ventilation and drainage holes. Guess what happens when it rains and you get a pile of dead beetles fermenting in warm water of the bottom of a bag? Yeah, it’s as repulsive as it sounds. You better have a cast iron stomach if you want to clean that out without wretching. So…..that’s a problem.

All things considered, the trap I like best is a Contech model. The plastic basket unscrews easily, is vented and drains (not perfectly, but well enough), and it’s heavy enough that it doesn’t flap around in the breeze (which is another thing I don’t like about some other brands). The big problem is its capacity. Often, I come home to an overflowing trap. The other day, I decided to keep emptying it, all day long, to see how many beetles it could capture. And the total was (drumroll, please): 3.4 pounds. Yes, seriously, I weighed it. If the trap could hold a gallon of beetles, it would be the perfect unit. Unfortunately, it only holds about a quart. You can’t have it all, I guess.

3.4 pounds of Japanese beetles -- One day's haul

This all leads to a problem I never considered until I started trapping beetles. What do you do with them all? First you have to kill them. If you don’t, they eventually escape from whatever you hold them in. Usually, a few minutes on hot pavement does the trick if they’re trapped in a bag. Unfortunately, once they’re dead, they stink. Bad. So I have started keeping them in plastic bags on the ground outside our garage (so they don’t smell it up), then I throw them away on trash day. The wife wasn’t real happy about bags of beetles sitting around. She reminded me that our neighbors are trying to sell their house, and bags of dead beetles in the yard next door might be an impediment. Could be she has a point.

But the dilemma remains: what the heck do you do with 20 pounds (a weeks harvest, give or take) of Japanese beetle carcasses? There’s no easy answer.

All I can say is, thank goodness beetle season only lasts a few weeks!

The other day, the folks at Heartland Gardening asked me to do a guest post on the Better Homes and  Gardens Test Garden. I went out, grabbed a couple of shots, and typed up my post.

While I was out in the garden, which is right here at Better Homes and Gardens headquarters (downtown Des Moines, Iowa), I was amazed at how beautiful everything was looking considering how strange the weather’s been.

I was also surprised at some of the things blooming. The Russian sage looks glorious; the phlox are in their fragrant glory, the Shasta daisies are looking their cheery best and are perfect accents to the warm, rich colors of yarrow and gaillardia. Of course, the coneflowers are looking amazing, too! And this despite two weeks of hot, humid weather.

If you’ve never visited the Test Garden, now’s the perfect opportunity. It’s open to the public Fridays from 12-2 p.m. from May to October.

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