Quick & Easy Tips

Denny Schrock

indoor plant projects add beauty

Written on February 16, 2012 at 9:49 am , by

If you’re ready for spring to arrive, but the weather isn’t quite cooperating, why not plan and plant an indoor garden project? During a photo shoot last week for an upcoming book on indoor gardening, I completed several projects featuring bromeliads and a couple involving converted indoor fountains. Use your imagination to come up with unique containers for terrariums and dish gardens. The results will enliven your indoor living spaces and help bridge the time until you can dig in the garden outdoors.

This former slate fountain now houses 'Bright Star' dieffenbachia and 'Brasil' philodendron. 'Millenium' variegated English ivy trails from the top of the fountain.

This wreath of air plants (Tillandsia spp.) is easy to make with a double-wire wreath ring, a hot glue gun, a collection of air plants, and a wreath hanger.

A former slate waterfall fountain cradles air plants (Tillandsia spp.) at each level. The plants need only water and bright light to thrive.

These air plants (Tillandsia spp.) were glued to a piece of wood and propped up in a tall vase that serves as a terrarium. The glass marbles prevent the stick from shifting.

Earth stars (Cryptanthus bivittatus) are terrestrial bromeliads. Here they're planted with moss and decorated with glass marbles in a shallow microwave baking pan.


Denny Schrock

a second life for tomato cages

Written on December 1, 2011 at 2:37 pm , by

Now that the vegetable garden clean up is completed, I face a dilemma. Where can I store the more than 20 tomato cages used to corral the tomato crop through the growing season? The garage is already full of extra pots, pruning tools, and power equipment. And I can’t afford to send the tomato cages to Florida for the winter tomato crop.

I should explain that these aren’t the common 3-ring stackable tomato cages sold at garden centers. I find those too flimsy to hold up under the weight of ‘Mortgage Lifter’ heirloom tomatoes or too tiny to contain a rampant ‘Sweet Million’ cherry tomato. These are homemade contraptions fashioned from a cylinder of rabbit fencing. I place the narrow mesh of the fence at ground level and the wider squares  at the top to make reaching in for harvest easy to accomplish. The cages are secured in place by weaving a plastic or fiberglass pole through the mesh and into the ground.

'Tomatoberry' cherry tomatoes spill out of their cage.

I’ve put the cylinders to work this winter protecting new shrubs and perennials from deer and rabbit damage. The cages slip over the top of small plants, preventing hungry wildlife from reaching tender shoots. By the time the plant is large enough that it won’t fit into the cage, I figure that the plant is established well enough to bounce back from miscellaneous munching. I’m also using one of the cages to hold in place several feet of fluffy mulch (ornamental grasses and leaves) to protect my hardy banana plant. (Yes, Musa basjoois a Zone 5 banana, provided that it gets winter protection.) The same technique would work for rose bushes that might need protection from winter winds and sub-zero weather.

Leaves and stems of ornamental grasses are contained in this cage, providing winter protection for a hardy banana plant.

Rabbits won't be able to reach this caged blue holly shrub.


Justin W. Hancock

Watch for Hitchhikers

Written on September 26, 2011 at 6:22 am , by

Mealybug on HibiscusEvery fall I bring into the house a large number of my favorite tropical plants from the summer season. Because I’m fortunate enough to live in a house with very large windows, I get enough light to keep most of my plants going through the cold months.

 

I’ve learned from experience that it’s vital to watch for pests — and treat them before they make it into the house. One of the most troublesome is mealybug. It looks like a little tiny white piece of cotton when young; it’s easy to miss. Mealybugs reproduce like wildfire — and just one hitchhiker can turn into a full-scale epidemic in just a couple of months.

 

Prevent pests from being problematic by:

  • Hosing off plants with a strong stream of water from the garden hose before you bring them in.
  • Carefully examining plants for the actual insects (a magnifying glass helps).
  • Spraying plants with insecticidal soap (available at your local garden center), making sure to get the tops and bottoms of the leaves.
  • Cutting plants back a bit, as many insects prefer to feed on the new growth.

Denny Schrock

frost on the zinnia

Written on September 15, 2011 at 11:48 am , by

The official low temperature this morning was 41 degrees F in Des Moines, but the frost on the narrowleaf zinnias, at left, prooves that it was colder in my yard. My home is in a frost pocket, despite its location at the top of a hill. Every time the weather forecast calls for “scattered frost”, it’s a sure bet that ice crystals will develop on exposed plants.

Last night I prepared for the cold by moving container gardens under the deck canopy, onto the front porch, or into the garage. I also pulled out the floating row covers to protect tomatoes, peppers, and some of the more cold-sensitive bedding plants, such as coleus. But Christo-draping the yard with fabric can only go so far. Inevitably, some annuals remain unprotected.

Floating row cover protects the coleus planting by the mailbox.

I may have salvaged some of the uncovered flowers by watering them early this morning before sunrise. After melting the ice out of the hose, I sprayed water on the icy plants to melt the frost. If the ice crystals were only on the surface of the blooms, this may be enough to rescue the frosty flowers. I hope so. I’d like to get another month of color from them. Mid-September is simply too early to call it quits on the gardening season, don’t you agree?

Tomatoes in cages and pepper plants covered for frost protection

Binder clips attached to the tomato cages work pretty well to hold floating row cover in place when it doesn't reach all the way to the ground. Otherwise, I use bricks or rocks to secure the row cover.


Everyday Gardeners

color on display

Written on August 12, 2011 at 10:01 am , by

Last week I visited the Gardens at Ball in West Chicago, IL, and spent the day photographing hundreds of gorgeous annual flowers, perennials, and shrubs. The gardens are open to the public, and definitely worth a visit to get ideas on how to combine plants for beautiful displays and to see side-by-side comparisons of flower varieties.

Cocktail Mix begonia in a background of Alternanthera spells out the Ball logo in this vertical garden display.

Cocktail Mix begonia in a background of Alternanthera spells out the Ball logo in this vertical garden display.

Although the gardens are large, they're arranged into "rooms" that mimic the scale of home landscapes. See below for a close up of this combo.

Although the gardens are large, they're arranged into "rooms" that mimic the scale of home landscapes. See below for a close up of this combo.

Zahara Double Fire zinnia, Henna coleus, Mahogany Splendor hibiscus, and Silky Scarlet Asclepias combine beautifully in this hot border.

Zahara Double Fire zinnia, Henna coleus, Mahogany Splendor hibiscus, and Silky Scarlet Asclepias combine beautifully in this hot border.

This pillar of Wave Purple Improved petunia and Wave Misty Lilac petunia brightens the patio outside the employee cafeteria.

This pillar of Wave Purple Improved petunia and Wave Misty Lilac petunia brightens the patio outside the employee cafeteria.

Here's a close up showing how the petunia tower was constructed. Basically, it's a ring of galvanized fencing lined with landscape fabric, then filled with potting soil. The petunias were planted through slits in the landscape fabric. This looks like a pretty easy do-it-yourself project!

Here's a close up showing how the petunia tower was constructed. Basically, it's a ring of galvanized fencing lined with landscape fabric, then filled with potting soil. The petunias were planted through slits in the landscape fabric. This looks like a pretty easy do-it-yourself project!

Here's an idea for taming a slope. Large culverts were filled with soil and planted with Madeira colocasia, Marguerite and Sweet Caroline Light Green sweet potato vine, Silky Gold asclepias, and Snow Princess lobularia.

Here's an idea for taming a slope. Large culverts were filled with soil and planted with Madeira colocasia, Marguerite and Sweet Caroline Light Green sweet potato vine, Silky Gold asclepias, and Snow Princess lobularia.


Denny Schrock

mountains of mulch

Written on April 1, 2011 at 10:29 am , by

mulchpileLast weekend I found a bargain on bagged hardwood mulch that I couldn’t resist. The pile you see at left is only a small portion of the 300 bags that I purchased and spread throughout the perennial beds in my yard. (For those of you who are wondering, that’s a bit over 22 cubic yards of mulch.)

It had been several years since I applied the original wood chip mulch on most beds, and I had two large new beds that never got mulched at all last year. So I was delighted to find such a good deal. The mulch will help keep weeds down, conserve moisture, and keep blooms clean. I find that if I spread it about 2 inches deep throughout the beds, the perennials and bulbs come up through the mulch just fine. This time of year, as the perennials are just starting to poke through the ground, and the early spring bulbs are beginning to bloom, is a great time to spread the mulch. I don’t need to be extremely cautious in spreading the mulch around individual plants; broadcast application works quite well.

To illustrate my point, take a look at these crocuses and irises that I shot in my garden after spreading the mulch. My only regret is that I didn’t buy another 100 bags of mulch, which would have been enough to mulch all of the beds in my yard!

Crocus sieberi 'Tricolor'. The gold and white center of each flower glows from within a lavender corona.

Crocus sieberi 'Tricolor'. The gold and white center of each flower glows from within a lavender corona.

Iris reticulata 'Harmony'. Deep purple falls are splashed with gold on this diminutive gem.

Iris reticulata 'Harmony'. Deep purple falls are splashed with gold on this diminutive gem.

Iris danfordiae. This tiny yellow iris makes a great companion for the yellow chrysanthus crocuses.

Iris danfordiae. This tiny yellow iris makes a great companion for the yellow chrysanthus crocuses.

Crocus chrysanthus 'Fuscotinctus'. I love the contrast of the deep purple streaks on the outer petals with the bright gold interior.

Crocus chrysanthus 'Fuscotinctus'. I love the contrast of the deep purple streaks on the outer petals with the bright gold interior.