Thursday, November 02, 2006

Tipsy Paperwhite Daffodils

It is often a problem finding ways to keep your forced paperwhite daffodils from growing so tall they tip over and ruin the effect. Here is a great tip from Cornell Cooperative Extension on how a little booze might do the trick.
By Susan S. Lang
Those paperwhites and other daffodils sure could use a drink -- a little whiskey, vodka gin or tequila could keep them from falling over.
A new Cornell study finds that a touch of booze is a great way to keep certain houseplants from getting too tall by stunting their growth. "Dilute solutions of alcohol -- though not beer or wine -- are a simple and effective way to reduce stem and leaf growth," said William Miller, professor of horticulture and director of the Flower Bulb Research Program at Cornell.
"When the liquor is properly used, the paperwhites we tested were stunted by 30 to 50 percent, but their flowers were as large, fragrant and long-lasting as usual," added Miller, whose new study on how alcohol inhibits houseplant growth will be published in the April issue of HortTechnology, a peer-reviewed journal of horticulture.
Miller will be working this spring to see if a little booze works for amaryllis and such vegetables as tomatoes and peppers, as well. His work with tulips so far has been promising but not yet definitive: "I think with a little jiggering -- no pun intended -- of the system, the method will work for tulips, though I think it will not be as simple as with paperwhites."
Last year, Miller received a call from The New York Times about a reader who had written to the garden editor claiming that gin had prevented some paperwhite narcissi from growing too tall and floppy and asked if it was because of some "essential oil" in the gin.
Intrigued that dilute alcohol might act as a growth retardant, Miller and former Cornell student Erin Finan '05 conducted experiments with ethanol (1, 5, 10 and 25 percent) and "Ziva" paperwhite narcissi (Narcissus tazetta), and later with about a dozen kinds of alcohol, including dry gin, unflavored vodka, whiskey, white rum, gold tequila, mint schnapps, red and white wine and pale lager beer, on paperwhites.
"While solutions greater than 10 percent alcohol were toxic, solutions between 4 and 6 percent alcohol stunted the paperwhites effectively," said Miller.
To control stem and leaf growth, he suggests waiting until paperwhites or other daffodil shoots are several inches long to drain the water and replace it with a solution of 4 to 6 percent alcohol -- hard liquor or rubbing alcohol.
To get a 5 percent solution from 80-proof liquor, which is 40 percent alcohol (such as gin, vodka, whiskey, rum or tequila), add one part liquor to seven parts water. To use rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol), which is 70 percent alcohol, dilute one part with 10-11 parts water.
Why does booze stunt plant growth? "We don't know, but we're working on this," Miller writes in a fact sheet available on the Web called "Pickling Your Paperwhites" (available at
"We think it simply might be water stress, that is, the alcohol makes it more difficult for the plant to absorb water, so the plant suffers a slight lack of water, enough to reduce leaf and stem growth, but not enough to affect flower size or flower longevity."
But don't serve beer or wine to plants -- the sugars wreak havoc on their health.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Don't Buy Cypress Mulch

Mulch Madness
TOWERING cypress once covered much of southern Louisiana — 1,000-year-old trees darkened ancient, moss-laden, water-saturated forests. These wetlands not only gave the bayou its flavor, its culture and its mystery, they also acted as critical natural “speed bumps” for major storms.
It’s been estimated that every 2.7 square miles of wetlands reduces storm surge by a foot, and yet over the last century Louisiana has stripped away 1,900 square miles of swamp, an area the size of Delaware. Evidence shows that such improper land management, reducing the cypress-tupelo swamps to a small fraction of their original grandeur, worsened flooding in New Orleans during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
Yet at a time when the nation should be investing billions to restore the Gulf Coast’s wetlands for protection against future storms, these cypress swamps continue to face many challenges, including development, saltwater flowing in and rising water levels. The most dangerous threat of all, however, may be garden mulch — the stuff that gardeners usually use to protect their plants.
As they exhaust the cypress forests along Florida’s coast, mulch companies are moving into Louisiana with shady operators among them grinding up entire cypress forests, 70 percent to 80 percent of which will never grow back. This is hurricane protection lost forever — habitat and flood control converted to quick cash, one bag of mulch at a time.
The Environmental Protection Agency has finally begun to require permits for logging in southern Louisiana, which has still not stopped the wholesale clear-cutting of cypress forests.
The situation was further exacerbated by a Supreme Court ruling this summer ordering government agencies and lower courts to undertake a painstaking, case-by-case analysis of waterways, with only those wetlands determined to be of special significance afforded federal protection. It’s a move that could effectively stymie preservation efforts.
So in the meantime, the safety of our nation’s already depleted wetlands comes down to sellers and consumers of cypress mulch.
Big mulch retailers — like Lowe’s, Home Depot and Wal-Mart — have been slow to take real action about the mulch in their stores. But all three companies should put into place formal, meaningful policies that guarantee their cypress mulch comes from sustainable sources rather than the imperiled swamps of the Gulf Coast. Many retailers have done so with lumber and they can do it for cypress mulch.
Until then, consumers would do best to avoid cypress mulch altogether, switching instead to mulches made from pine bark, pine needles or straw. These work just as well and do not have the same environmental impact.
Already, several Florida municipalities, after witnessing the destruction of their wetlands, have banned the use of cypress mulches. In Louisiana, Gov. Kathleen Blanco is exploring her authority to carry out a broader moratorium.
Consumers need to remember that their mulch purchases may be leaving New Orleans and other coastal communities vulnerable. Every bag of cypress mulch for you could mean another sandbag for someone else.
Steve Fleischli is the executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Great Peony Mystery

Last week on Vox Pop a caller told of a "wild" peony plant that came up on its own near the peony plants she planted a few years ago. I was stumped because I've only experienced peony propagation by crown division. I searched the Web and found a great site for peony propagation by seed.
I am pretty convinced that this is what happened to the caller since her wild sprout has produced flowers of a completely different color, which makes sense since peonies by seed usually are not the same color as their host plant. Here's the site:

Plants to Grow Near Black Walnut Trees

Black walnut trees (Juglans nigra L.) are beautiful and useful trees of the forest and often suburban neighborhoods. But the tree does give off juglone, a toxic substance that can make it difficult to grow many plants within a 50 to 60 foot radius of the trunk. Ohio State University Extension has compiled a list of plants that will grow near black walnut trees.

Plants Observed Growing Under or Near Black Walnut Trees

Japanese Maples, Acer palmatum and its cultivars
Southern Catalpa, Catalpa bignonioides
Eastern Redbud, Cercis canadensis
Canadian Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis

Vines and Shrubs
Clematis 'Red Cardinal'
February Daphne, Daphne mezereum
Euonymus species
Weeping Forsythia, Forsythia suspensa
Rose of Sharon, Hibiscus syriacus
Tartarian Honeysuckle, Lonicera tatarica, and most other Lonicera species
Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia
** Pinxterbloom, Rhododendron periclymenoides
**'Gibraltar' and 'Balzac', Rhododendron Exbury hybrids
Multiflora Rose, Rosa multiflora
Black Raspberry, Rubus occidentalis
Arborvitaes, Thuja species
** Koreanspice Viburnum, Viburnum carlesii, and most other Viburnum species

Pot-marigold, Calendula officinalis 'Nonstop'
Begonia, fibrous cultivars
Morning Glory, Ipomoea 'Heavenly Blue'
Pansy Viola
Zinnia species

Squashes, Melons, Beans, Carrots, Corn

Fruit Trees
Peach, Nectarine, Cherry, Plum
Prunus species Pear-Pyrus species

Herbaceous Perennials
Bugleweed, Ajuga reptans
Hollyhock, Alcea rosea
American Wood Anemone, Anemone quinquefolia
Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum
European Wild Ginger, Asarum europaeum
Astilbe species
Bellflower, Campanula latifolia
**Chrysanthemum species (some)
Glory-of-the-Snow, Chionodoxa luciliae
Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica
Crocus species
Dutchman's Breeches, Dicentra cucullaria
Leopard's-Bane, Doronicum species
Crested Wood Fern, Dryopteris cristata
Spanish Bluebell, Endymion hispanicus
Winter Aconite, Eranthis hyemalis
Snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis
Sweet Woodruff, Galium odoratum
Herb Robert, Geranium robertianum
Cranesbill, Geranium sanguineum
Grasses (most) Gramineae family
Jerusalem Artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus
Common Daylily, Hemerocallis 'Pluie de Feu'
Coral Bells, Heuchera x brizoides
Orange Hawkweed, Hieracium aurantiacum
Plantain-lily, Hosta fortunei 'Glauca'
Hosta lancifolia
Hosta marginata
Hosta undulata 'Variegata'
Common Hyacinth, Hyacinthus Orientalis 'City of Haarlem'
Virginia Waterleaf, Hydrophyllum virginianum
Siberian Iris, Iris sibirica
Balm, Monarda didyma
Wild Bergamot, M. fistulosa
Grape Hyacinth, Muscari botryoides
Sweet Cicely, Myrrhis odorata 'Yellow Cheerfulness,' 'Geranium,' 'Tete a Tete,' 'Sundial,' and 'February Gold'
Sundrops, Oenothera fruticosa
Senstitive Fern, Onoclea sensibilis
Cinnamon Fern, Osmunda cinnamomea
Peony, **Paeonia species (some)
Summer Phlox, Phlox paniculata
Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum
Jacob's-Ladder, Polemonium reptans
Great Solomon's-Seal, Polygonatum commutatum
Polyanthus Primrose, Primula x polyantha
Lungwort, Pulmonaria species
Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis
Siberian Squill, Scilla sibirica
Goldmoss Stonecrop, Sedum acre
Showy Sedum, Sedum spectabile
Lamb's-Ear, Stachys byzantina
Spiderwort, Tradescantia virginiana
Nodding Trillium, Trillium cernuum
White Wake-Robin, Trillium grandiflorum
Tulipa Darwin 'White Valcano' and 'Cum Laude,' Parrot 'Blue Parrot,' Greigii 'Toronto'
Big Merrybells, Uvularia grandiflora
Canada Violet, Viola canadensis
Horned Violet, Viola cornuta
Woolly Blue Violet, Viola sororia

Friday, June 02, 2006

Great Northeast Fruit Trees

Recently on Vox Pop on Northeast Public Radio/WAMC, a caller from New Hampshire was getting ready to plant his first fruit tree orchard and wanted some advice. Here is some information that was good for him and will be good for any of you who are thinking of doing the same thing.

Choose the cultivars that are proven to be disease resistant, cold hardy and produce an abundance of good fruit. Cornell Cooperative Extension's list of best apple trees includes Williams Pride, Sansa, Gala, Jonamac, Freedom, Priscilla, Liberty, Empire, Golden Delicious, Keepsake and Gold Rush. Most of these are resistant to the dreaded apple scab disease which produces black spots on the leaves and the fruit.

You can also grow apricots, sweet and tart cherries, nectarine, peaches, pears, and plums here in the Northeast. Remember that only peaches and sour cherries do not need a pollinator, meaning you can have one tree of each of these and still get fruit. All the others need two trees of different cultivars to get the best fruit production.

Plant the trees in spring in an area not prone to late spring frost, mulch around the trees to keep weeds at bay and keep your orchard clear of brush and leaves that can be a breeding ground for pests and diseases.

For a more complete package of information on growing all kinds of fruit, here is a link to Cornells' guide to growing fruit;

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Larry Speaking Summer 2006

I will be speaking to a variety of groups this spring and summer. I would be happy if you came by to say hello.

Saturday, June 17th, 7 p.m. at the Landis Arboretum Summer Solstice Soiree Garden Party. Music, garden strolls through the Van Loveland Perennial Gardens fundraiser for the Arboretum. call 518-875-6935 for details. Esperance, NY.

Wednesday, July 12, 7:30 a.m. New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Terrace Restaurant on the SUNY New Paltz campus. call 845-255-0243 or go to

Tuesday, July 18 12:00p.m. Germantown Garden Club. call 518-537-4868 for details.

See you there!

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Planting a Salsa and Gazpacho Garden

Summer is that sultry garden time when the oozingly ripe tomatoes and cucumbers are hanging on the vine, when the hot and sweet peppers are bright with color and flavor, when garlic, onions and herbs are at their peak. In short, it is time to make your own homegrown salsa and gazpacho.

But if you want all of that garden bounty in August, you have to get started now. You can grow all the ingredients for these two summer favorites right in your own backyard. You can easily grow tomatoes, cucumbers, fiery jalapeno peppers, cilantro, onions and garlic. You can even grow the exotic tomatillos if you want to make salsa verde, the green sauce popular in parts of the American southwest and Mexico. The only ingredients you cannot grow are limes and olive oil. Not too bad!

Everybody knows what salsa is because we buy more salsa than ketchup in the United States. But store-bought salsa cannot compare to home-grown and home-made. Your own salsa will be fresher and the taste of the vegetables will be much more pronounced if you grow your own.
Gazpacho is a thick soup of uncooked raw vegetables including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions and more. There are many different variations on gazpacho. In Sevilla it is more of a pureed bread soup with chopped vegetables sprinkled on top. but all gazpacho begins with garlic and olive oil spiked with vegetables. Since it is uncooked, only the freshest vegetables make the best soup.

Your salsa and gazpacho garden needs to be located in a spot that gets at least 8 hours of sunlight per day. It also needs to be a spot that is well-drained, where no water stays puddled up two to three hours after a rain storm. A 100 square foot spot (10 ft. X 10 ft.) is all the room you need to grow enough vegetables for all your salsa and gazpacho needs with some left over.
All of these vegetables need a deep fertile soil to thrive. Dig your soil to a depth of 8 inches. Spread a 2 to 4 inch thick layer of compost or other organic matter over the soil and dig that in, as well. Rake it all smooth and you are ready to plant.

Here’s a list of the vegetables for your salsa and gazpacho garden and how to grow them starting with the first to plant: Garlic. Fall is the preferred time to plant garlic here in the Northeast. But you can plant garlic this spring and you will get heads of garlic this summer. Gardeners in the Northeast grow stiff neck garlic. One to two heads of garlic separated into cloves will produce enough garlic four your small garden. Plant the cloves 2 inches deep and 4 inches apart. Green shoots will appear first followed by strong stems. Plant as soon as the ground can be worked and harvest in about 120 days.

Onion. Red, white or yellow onions are all good for salsa and gazpacho. Plant onion sets (they look like little bulbs) four inches apart with the sprouting end slightly below soil level as soon as the ground can be worked in early spring and begin harvesting in 80 to 90 days. It is very important to keep the weeds pulled where both garlic and onions are planted. They don’t like to be crowded or shaded.

Parsley. Both Italian flat leaf and curleyleaf parsley are good for these dishes. Both are biennial, which means they will produce edible leaves for two years before they die. But I plant new parsley every year because the second year never produces good leaves. Parsley seeds are way to difficult to start, so, buy parsley plants in flats and plant them about 8 inches apart in early spring.

Cilantro. Cilantro is the pungent feathery leaves of the coriander plant. They are easily grown from seed every year with seeds planted in late April till the first of June. Look for the slow bolting varieties such as “Santo” from Johnny’s Seeds ( to get more leaves for salsa than seeds for baking. Plant the seeds about 4 to 6 inches apart and cover with 1/4 inch of fine soil. Keep moist until germination in about 10 days. Harvest by pinching off the largest stems which will allow new stems to develop.

Tomato. Set transplants plants out in the garden in spring after all danger of frost has passed, usually between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day. There are so many good tasting and robust growing varieties on the market that if you cannot start the seeds yourself indoors, you can easily buy wonderful tomato plants at farm markets and garden centers in May and June.
Any homegrown tomato will be good in these dishes, even cherry tomatoes or plum tomatoes. Rutgers and Celebrity varieties, a.k.a. Jersey tomatoes, are quite nice as are any variety of beefsteak tomato. Marmande, Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter and other heirloom tomatoes have a particularly fine flavor. Yellow and orange tomatoes are just as flavorful as red and can give your recipe a certain accent.

Pepper. Salsa needs some type of spicy pepper to add zip to the recipe. Jalapeno is easy to grow and very productive but the smaller Serrano chile and the exceptionally hot habanero are good, too. Both salsa and gazpacho need a sweet bell pepper to add body and flavor. If you really want to make your dishes different form your friends, use chile ancho, a.k.a. chile poblano. This mildly hot green pepper has a uniquely smoky flavor that is indescribable.

Tomatillo. Sometimes called Mexican green tomatoes, these tangy little fruits do resemble tomatoes albeit they come wrapped in their own papery little husks. You grow them just like tomatoes and they will be ready for harvest 60 days after you set them out in late May. You can chop them and add their tart fruity flavor them to any tomato or fruit salsa or leave out the tomatoes and make the delicious salsa verde with them.

Plant your tomato, pepper and tomatillo plants after all danger of frost has passed, usually after Mother’s day because a frost at night will kill these tender tropical plants. Dig a hole large enough to hold the root ball of the plant. Sprinkle ½ cup of natural organic fertilizer in the hole, stir it in with some of the dirt and set the plant in the hole and cover the root ball with soil. Firmly press the soil around the plant and water. Spread mulch around the plant to keep the weeds down and water weekly.

Cucumber. This is one of the key ingredients for gazpacho. Cucumbers grow on long trailing vines that make growing them in small spaces more difficult. But not if you grow them vertically. Train your cucumber vines to grow up on a trellis, a flat fence or in a cucumber cage, a 3 to 4 foot long length of fencing wire formed into a cylinder.
Cucumber seeds will not germinate in cold soil. Plant the seeds in the ground at the base of the fence, cage or trellis between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day. Plant seeds or transplants that you know are resistant to anthracnose, wilt and other cucumber diseases.

Making your own fresh garden salsa and gazpacho is really quite easy. The very best versions of both of these dishes are made with vegetables that you finely mince by hand with a very sharp knife. This is a little more time consuming, but if you are handy with a knife and your knife is sharp, this yields a slightly chunky product that is even more authentic. The other option is to whir everything up in a blender, not a food processor if you can avoid it. A food processor beats up the vegetables too much for my liking, while the blender leaves them a little more chunky.

Fresh Garden Salsa 2 cups chopped fresh tomato 1 cup seeded and chopped red, green, yellow or orange bell pepper or poblano pepper ½ cup seeded and chopped jalapeno pepper 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped 1 to 2 medium cloves garlic, peeled and chopped The juice of one lime 1/4 cup washed cilantro or parsley leaves or a combination 1 teaspoon sugar ½ teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper

Finely mince by hand or whir all the ingredients in a blender. Let the salsa sit covered in the refrigerator for two hours for the flavors to mingle. Stir every 15 minutes, taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary. To make a truly unique salsa, substitute tomatillo, watermelon, peaches or cantaloupe for all or part of the tomato. Serve as a dip for chips or spoon over broiled fish or shrimp.

Gazpacho 3 large tomatoes, peeled and seeded 2 medium sweet bell peppers, seeded and chopped 3 medium cucumbers, peeled and seeded 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped 2 large cloves garlic, smashed and peeled 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley 3 to 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon sherry or red wine vinegar ½ teaspoon each salt and freshly ground black pepper

Finely mince by hand all the vegetables or whir them coarsely in a blender. Add the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, Stir to blend well. Let the soup rest, covered, at room temperature for 60 minutes for the flavors to mingle. If you must refrigerate it, bring it back to room temperature before you serve.

Serve with crusty, country-style white bread that is rubbed with garlic, drizzled with olive oil and lightly toasted on your outdoor barbecue grill. Add a glass of cold fino sherry, a bowl of olives, a platter of dry sausage and you have a complete Mediterranean feast right in your own backyard.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Gardening in Containers

Containers are the city gardener's very best friend. With pots, planters and window boxes made of terra cotta, wood, plastic or metal small space gardeners can fill their outdoor surroundings with vegetables, herbs and flowers and even trees, fruits and shrubs.
Almost anything you can grow in the ground you can grow in a container, as long as the container is large enough to hold the roots firmly in place. Terraces, plazas and roof top gardens throughout the area sport trees greater than twenty feet tall growing in containers. But even if you have room for only one small widow box, you can make that your garden and make it grow with perennials, annuals and trailing vines that can give you pretty flowers and edible herbs from early spring till late in the fall.
Now is the time to buy your pots, soil and plants to make your container garden come alive. The cold weather is over and it is time to move outside. According to the National Gardening Association, container gardening is the fastest growing segment of the lawn and garden industry. A plethora of pots and boxes in all types of sizes, materials and prices are pouring into the market at garden centers, in catalogues and over the Internet.
Prices range from a few dollars for terra cotta or earth-tone plastic pots to hundreds of dollars for stone or concrete urns in classic shapes. There are self-watering containers and whole container gardening kits complete with soil and plants that can be bought for as little as $12 and as much as $130.
Choosing the Right Container
Size is your first consideration. The pot needs to be large enough to hold the plant when it is fully grown. A tomato plant seedling might look good in a one pint pot, but when it is fully grown, that plant needs to be in a two gallon pot.
Plants need drainage so make sure your pots have holes in the bottom so excess water can drain out. If there is a hole-less container you just must have, you can always drill holes in the bottom to create drainage.
Terra Cotta is beautiful and old-fashioned but it is also heavier and more prone to breakage. Moisture evaporates faster out of clay pots meaning you might have to water a little bit more often.
Plastic pots have taken on a whole new look in recent years. They've been redesigned to look just like terra cotta. They are lighter weight, hold water better and don't break as often.
Wood is a durable material for planters and window boxes, especially if you buy rot resistant cedar or redwood containers. Avoid treated wood that contains creosote or penta that may give off plant harming vapors. Ordinary wood lined with heavy plastic sheeting does a fine job.
Metal containers, especially those made from galvanized steel, make excellent containers. Be sure to drill holes in the bottom for drainage
Soil Mix and Fertilizer
Ordinary garden soil or top soil is too heavy for containers. It also gets compacted over the season making it more difficult for the roots of your plants to spread out and flourish. Instead, plant your flora in a light weight, soil-based potting mix that contains the likes of sandy loam, peat and sand. This readily available product gives your plants the right balance of drainage, organic matter and stability your plants need.
Your container plants are very dependent upon you for food. Some soil-based mixes have fertilizer already mixed in. But you can do the same by mixing a granular, slow-release organic into the soil before you plant. This dose will feed your plants for 8 to 10 weeks. After that, you may need to add a liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion as a supplement.
Watering and Care
During the heat of the summer you may need to water your containers as often as once a day. There are several self-watering containers on the market with built in reservoir that will cut your watering duties down to once a week. Water slowly and gently until small amounts of water drain out the bottom. I place saucers under most of my potted plants that hold water the plants call on later in the day and to keep the porch cleaner and dryer.
Mulching your container gardens is both beneficial and decorative. Spread a thin layer of shredded bark or other favored mulch to help keep the soil cooler and hold in moisture.
You don't want your container plants to be constantly buffeted by wind. Build a windbreak or fence along your terrace or roof top to cut down on too much damaging wind.
All of the annuals and most of the perennials you grow in your containers will not survive the winter. Simply plan to replace them each year. Most trees and shrubs will survive if you can move them to a more protected part of your outdoor space. You can also wrap them the containers in burlap or bubble wrap to help protect the root system from extreme winter cold. Do keep the plants occasionally watered over the winter if they don't receive any rain or snow.
Never use the same soil twice. Soil borne diseases like mildew can be passed from plant to pot. Each year empty the pots and wash them out with a chlorine and water solution to kill diseases. Add a little fresh soil mix to your permanent pots of trees and shrubs each year to replenish the soil.
Good Plants for Containers
The range of plants you can grow in your container garden is limited only by your imagination and by sunlight. If you have a shady spot, you should rule out tomatoes, marigolds, roses and other sun-loving plants that need 8 to 10 hours of sunlight each day to produce flowers and food. But there are plenty of plants to choose from and one of the beauties of containers is that you can move them around, even during the day, to take advantage of what sunlight you do receive.
Basil, rosemary, thyme, parsley, chives, savory and other herbs are some of the best plants you can grow in containers. In their native habitat, most herbs grow in rather difficult conditions to begin with. Plant them in individual pots or in one big one and snip off what you like to add to your favorite recipe.
Tuberous begonia, impatiens and coleus are three shade loving colorful annuals that I frequently grow in my window boxes in deep shade. Viola is another colorful annual I use in dappled shade window boxes in early spring.
Heuchera 'Palace Purple' and H. sanguinea 'Coral Bells' are perennials with richly colored foliage and delicate flowers that both grow well in containers in full sun to partial shade. Bells Foliage is another good choice for containers.
Even though you can grow plants of almost any size in containers, plants of smaller size are better best because they have smaller root systems. Smaller plants fit into containers more comfortably that larger plants.
Regular and scented geraniums, nasturtiums, marigolds, snap dragon, wax begonia, lobelia, petunia, low-growing dahlia, salvia and swan river daisies are good selections that will fill your planter with flowers in bloom in full sun for most of the summer.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Things to Do in the Garden This Week

Before we get to the work list, let me tell you about what's blooming in my garden right now.
In the new woodland garden, the hellebores is blooming nicely. Two weeks ago the Hepatica was blooming. Also, the Mertensia (Virginia bluebells) is up and growing and is getting ready to bloom.
In the sunny perennial garden out front, the daffodils have almost all gone by, as have the tulips. The season for my bulbs is just way too short.
But, on the bright side, the Mertensia is in full bloom and the Pelomonium (Jacob's ladder) is just setting its lovely blue/purple flowers.
Time to plant dahlia, gladiolus, tuberous begonia and other tender summer bulbs. By next week if the warm weather continues, you can plant annual seeds and put out annual plants such as marigolds and wax begonia. Naturally, you can plant perennials.
Lawn Care:
Grass seeds won't germinate well until lthe weather wamrs the soil. Between Mother's Day and Flag Day, I am going to plant grass seed. This weekend, I am going to spread lime and organic fertilizer. I am seriously looking to get rid of my moles so I will look to spread an organic mole solution such as Mole Med.
Herbs and Veggies:
The snow peas and the English peas are already planted and so is the arugula, mache and mesclun mix. I am waiting for all of them to germinate. Between Mother's Day and Memorial Day I will plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, rosemary and leeks. I usually wait until early June to set out basil, it just doesn't seem to like cold weather at all.
By the way, my chives are up and I am eating them on everything!

Beautiful Easy Roses

A lot of people don't grow roses because these beautiful blooming shrubs have a well-earned reputation for being fussy. They are attractive to insects, black spot and mildew, they require frequent fertilizing and pruning and they often die over the winter if the weather gets too cold.
All of the criticisms are valid if you are growing the wrong type of roses. Hybrid tea roses, the ones with the beautiful fragrant flower shop blossoms, the ones with names like "Princess Diana" and "Peace," are the fussy ones that need the extra tender loving care.
But the new trend in rose growing is to return to the more cold hardy, disease-resistant, low maintenance roses that are even more beautiful and often just as fragrant as any dolled-up hybrid tea.
And now is the time of year when people should be ripping out their problem roses, replacing them with easy-care varieties and pruning the good ones they already have. Early spring is the best time plop your new roses in the ground and give them a trim when they are still dormant, well before the leaves begin to form. Now is also when lawn and garden centers will have the best selections of roses and before the mail order catalogues are all sold out.
Anyone can grow a rose bush as long as they have a somewhat protected, well-drained site that receives at least six hours of sunshine each day. Roses don't grow well in windy and dry conditions, they don't like soggy soil and they don't like shade.
If you want glorious flowers for your landscape or a delicate bouquet for the table, and if you prefer to spend your time admiring your roses rather than sweating over them, I advise you to grow the newly rediscovered old-fashioned looking shrub and climbing roses that are now widely available.
Here's a list of the easy-care roses you will enjoy:
Rugosa roses
are best known in many people's minds as the beach roses along coastal New England. They are cold hardy even in Canada, they are fragrant, bloom all summer long and produce rose hips for the birds in fall on shrubs that will grow four to five feet tall.
Some of the prettiest rugosa roses include 'F.J. Grootendorst,' 'Hansa,' 'Therese Bugnet,''Henry Hudson,' 'Blanc Double de Courbert,' 'Fru Dagmar Hastrop,' and many more.
'Betty Prior' is a cold-hardy floribunda rose, which mean they produce clusters of blossoms on bushy shrubs. This variety is also quite resistant to black spot and mildew. It will grow four to five feet tall and produce pink flowers all summer long. "Carefree Wonder" and "Bonica' are two reliably ever- blooming, disease-resistant shrub roses that will easily survive our coldest winters. They both produce medium-pink clusters of beautiful roses.
English roses are a new line of old-fashioned looking and often quite fragrant roses developed over the last 20 years by breeder David Austin. They have blended the voluptuous charm and old roses including damask and gallica and the vigor and repeat blooming of modern hybrids.
They are reasonably resistant to powdery mildew and black spot and they are cold hardy to all but the most mountainous locations in the New York metropolitan area.
There is no doubt they are incredibly beautiful with old- world names like ‘Cottage Rose,'‘Brother Cadfael,'‘English Elegance,' ‘Fair Bianca' and many more.
For really small garden spaces people should think about growing "The Fairy' a 2-foot-tall polyantha rose bush that is covered with small, light pink flowers from June until late September.
Climbing roses can add great dimension to a small urban garden by rambling up on flower-packed canes that can reach 20 feet long. All you need is sunlight and a sturdy support like a trellis or an arbor. Two of the very best easy care climbing roses are ‘New Dawn' and ‘Climbing Cecil Brunner,'
Once you are ready to plant your rose, be sure to dig a hole twice as wide and twice as deep as the root system of the plant. This gives you room to really spread out the roots.
You are going to plant the rose about one inch deeper in the whole than it was in the nursery for a potted rose, and for a bare root rose, deep enough so the beginning of the root system is one inch below surface level. This depth helps protect the root system from winter cold.
Place a bare root rose on a little mound of soil in the bottom of the hole, spread the roots out, set the plant so the crown is one inch below ground level.
Barely cover the roots with soil and fill the hole with water. Fill in the hole with the remaining soil and firm down with your hands to get rid of any air pockets. Water your roses once a week for the first year and as needed after that. Try not to get the leaves wet as this can promote the growth of fungal disease.
For new and existing roses, spread a handful of Epsom salts (a good source of magnesium) and a handful of natural organic fertilizer at the base of each rose bush in early June. Spread a two to four inch thick layer of compost or composted manure around the bush and the bulk of your maintenance duties are complete.
All of the roses I mentioned are resistant to the two main rose diseases of black spot and powdery mildew. If you have these diseases with your existing roses, spray them with a sulfur-based fungicide from a catalogue or garden center or with a homemade solution of one tablespoon baking soda, one tablespoon ordinary liquid dish soap and one gallon of water.
Bugs are another matter. Aphids and Japanese beetles are roses' two biggest insect enemies. Insecticidal soap and Neem, both available in garden centers and catalogues, are quite effective. Lady bugs feast on aphids and I enjoy controlling Japanese beetles by paying my kids to pick the bugs off by hand and stomping on them or dropping them into a container of soapy water.
Roses need a little pruning every year to remove dead canes, control their size and to promote good flowering. Prune in early spring when the forsythia is in bloom by cutting out any crossing branches and by snipping off up to a third of any canes length by making a cut 1/4 inch above an outward facing bud.
Good sources of roses include: The Roseraie at Bayfields, P.O. Box R, Waldoboro, ME 04572-0919, 207-832-6330,; David Austin Roses Ltd., 15393 Highway 64 West, Tyler , TX 75704, 903-526-1800 (Catalogue $5) or; Wayside Gardens, 1 Garden Lane, Hodges, SC 26965, 800-845-1124,
If you cannot decide which roses to grow, you should without a doubt visit two of the finest rose gardens in the world: The Cranford Rose Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Ingrained Ignorance

This may not exactly be a gardening article, but it is about turf grass and by golly it is about golf.
Reprinted with permission from Turf Magazine.

Living in a northern climate, I enjoy watching golf on television during the winter. Just seeing people in short sleeves in stunning locales like Hawaii, the coast of southern California and Scottsdale, Ariz. is heartening. But increasingly, I seem to do it with the sound turned off as the announcing just gets more trite and ludicrous with each passing year.
The number of overused meaningless clich├ęs, the constant deference to Tiger's skills, the desire to fill up every second with commentary and the forced collegiality between announcers is almost enough to switch to an NBA game ... almost.
If the networks would spend more time miking the surf and the birds, or even just showing stunning outlooks where the trade winds blow, I think they would please a larger segment of the audience. If I hear, "he'll be lucky to get this within 20 feet," or "he's lost that one to the left," right before Vijay or Ernie muscle it out of the rough and land it softly 4 feet from the pin again, I'll scream.
However, my favorite demonstration of the announcer's ignorance is when they start talking about grain and how it ruined Phil's otherwise perfect putt. This must make superintendents want to kill, considering grain virtually disappeared from any putting surfaces the PGA Tour visits in the first Clinton administration.
Although all the big name announcers have knelt at the altar of grain, Johnnie Miller seems the most captivated by the ancient concept. Miller can apparently see grain in a marble table, because he's always telling us how it will rocket a ball off toward the ocean, or the setting moon or the halfway house by the tenth tee. Did he enter a time warp when he shot 63 at Oakmont, never to emerge in the modern era of golf course maintenance?
The GCSAA notes: "Much has been said and written about grain and how it impacts putting. Because superintendents rotate mowing patterns, a single pattern of grain generally is not established. At professional championship competition where greens are mowed to 1/8 inch, the short leaf blade exhibits no (or insignificant) grain pattern that would affect putting."
That was clearly written when greens were only being cut at 1/8 inch-today a PGA Tour green is more likely to be shaved to 1/10 inch for the final round. And to think that in a few hours the poor tortured grass plant can grow toward anything at that height is absurd.
In a November, 2005 article titled "Grain on the Brain," John Foy, director of the USGA Green Section's Florida Region nailed the problem. "Historically, grain has occurred with all putting green turfgrass, but it tends to be especially pronounced with stoloniferous turf species such as the creeping bentgrasses and bermudagrass. In the plant world, the stimuli of sunlight and gravity are the primary controlling factors affecting growth habit and bending movements. Thus, while turfgrasses are not considered to have strong phototrophic responses like sunflowers and follow the sun across the sky each day, grain formation in an east-to-west pattern can occur."
Granted that at your local course where turf on the greens is allowed to grow long enough to be healthy, there may be grain. But most of the players who frequent those courses can't get a putt on the perfect line often enough to notice the swirl of crop patterns, much less grain.
Foy goes on to write about the bermudagrass greens he grew up on that were once cut at a quarter of an inch. "There is no denying that, in the past, grain was a factor on putting greens. Beginning in the early 1980s and continuing through today, much more intensive putting green management has been employed in pursuit of faster speeds, but a reduction in grain and its influence on ball roll is a benefit of the advances that have been made in putting green management. Routinely changing the direction of mowing patterns, using grooved rollers on the mowing units, verticutting, brushing, groomer attachments and frequent, light topdressing are some of the standard practices for promoting an upright shoot growth character and in turn minimizing grain.
"There is a consensus among the Green Section staff and golf course superintendents at facilities where professional events are hosted that the biggest reason why the effect of grain is not a factor today is the extremely low heights of cut being practiced. At very low heights of cut, there is simply not enough leaf surface area in contact with the ball to affect its roll."
In light of this, will someone please tell the announcers how ridiculous they sound?
Bob Labbance is Turf's golf editor and a frequent contributor. He resides in Montpelier, Vt. He can be reached with your ideas and comments via


Friday, April 07, 2006

Things to do in the Garden This Week

It is early spring here in the Northeast and in my garden at least I can see tulips, and daffodils peeping through (in fact, the daffodils are beginning to bloom) More importantly for me, my hose in hose primrose are coming back. They have become my favorite spring flower. The forsythia is in bloom and a great many of my perennials are beginning to show signs of life. In the herb garden, good old reliable chives are up at least four inches and the parsley is gaining ground. Here is a list of things you might want to do in your garden over the next couple of weeks:
Perennial bed:Clean out the beds of any stalks you didn't get last year. Apply organic fertilizer. Plant shrubs and perennials as soon as the frost has left the ground.Dig and divide perennials, place the min post for an upcoming plant sale or replant them in a new place.
Herb and Vegetable garden:Add organic fertilizer and compost and till the soil when it is no longer damp.Plant peas, onions, lettuce, arugula, mache, radishes as well as thyme, chives, tarragon, lavender,winter savory, oregano and other hardy perennial herbs. It is not too late to start tomatoes, peppers and eggplant seeds indoors to plant in the garden after Mother's Day. Shrubs:Prune rose bushes and hardy hydrangea such as H. arborescens 'Annabelle' which can be cut flat to the ground if necessary and will still produce blooms this summer.Prune fall blooming clematis and butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii)Cut forsythia branches and bring them indoors as a bouquet. Trim the remaining branches for better shape.
Enjoy your garden!

Welcome to My New Garden Blog


I'm Larry Sombke, host of Northeast Public Radio's "Gardening with Larry Sombke" heard every other Thursday at 2:00 p.m. on Vox Pop with Susan Arbetter. If you are anywhere within a couple hundred miles of Albany, NY you can hear us at 90.3 FM.

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I have my own Web site where I have posted tons of great information about gardening and lawn care, but I really wanted the immediate information flow of a blog so I could bang out good garden information at the drop of a hat.

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Stay tuned and happy gardening!