Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Spring -Time to Plant the Summer Bulbs

Bulbs are pretty amazing things. They have the ability to survive harsh environments and then when conditions are right they awaken and grow.   Summer flowering bulbs have been sitting in a warehouse all winter and are now in stores ready to plant.  Care must be taken to select live healthy bulbs.  You have experience in doing this because the most popular bulb in the world can be found in the supermarket- the onion.  Avoid bulbs with cuts, bruises and soft spots and beware of bulbs that may be too dried out.  I like to shop for bulbs at places that let you rummage through a box of loose bulbs and pick the ones you like.
Ok, now for the technical stuff: I have been using the term bulb rather loosely. The botanical term is geophyte which includes corms, rhizomes and tubers.  I like the word geophyte. It literally means earth plant.  It is easy to spell and pronounce, which is rare in the field of botany.  Now back to the fun stuff !
The only problem around here for bulbs is poor drainage during the dormant season.  Long periods of wet soil can lead to bulb rot.  Also underground voles will eat some geophytes.  If you do not have a cat you might want to try a product called PermaTill.  This stuff looks like kitty litter but is kilned slate. The particles have a rough surface which voles and moles hate to dig in.  Mix a generous amount in your flower beds and it will improve drainage and aeration too.
Here is my short list of bulbs to try around here.
Calla Lilies Zantedeschia are native to the marshy areas of South Africa and are related to Elephant Ears (Alocasia). They need full sun and rich moist soil in the garden. Plant the bulbs so the top of the bulb is about one inch below ground with added compost.  Feed them every 2 weeks with 20-20-20 liquid fertilizer. Stop feeding the first of August. The White Callas are the most fragrant.  Pink and purple callas do better in part shade. Callas make good potted plants and some callas have interesting spotted foliage.
Pink Rain Lilies or Pink Fairy Lilies. Habranthus robustus is a relative of our native Zaphyranthes atamasco. These dainty flowers are native of Brazil and are happy on our island. They often pop up and bloom after the first summer thunder storm. The light green foliage comes up in the spring before the flowers bloom. Rain Lilies are easy to propagate from seeds and dividing clusters of bulbs. Collect seed pods when they turn yellow and then scatter seeds where you want them. They can be planted with other small bulbs like daffodils ‘Tete a Tete”, or ‘February Gold’. Try other rain lilies too.  The white rain lily Zypheranthes candida, and the  yellow rain lily Zypheranthes citrine do well  with little care.
Gladiolus are the workhorse of the florist industry and what funeral would be complete without them. These South African iris cousins come in a rich selection of colors and shades from purples, reds, yellows pinks and whites and many are bicolored. They also come in a good selection of sizes too. I like the dwarfs or nanus because they do not need staking. For the giant glads, I recommend planting them deep, in a circle and use a tomato cages for support. If you are using them for cut flowers, don’t plant them all at once. I have planted them as late as August for October blooms.
Dutch Irises are also a favorite of flower arrangers. They are one of the few bulbs that can be planted in the fall and spring. They do not store well or take the summer heat, so plant them as soon as you get them. The foliage will die in the summer heat but return in the fall.
Lillies are a big group with several different types. They have done very well for me here and I don’t know why they are not more popular. Longiflorums are the Easter lily types. They come in white and pink. You can plant those leftover potted Easter lilies in your garden. Just cut off the dead blooms and they will bloom next year but rarely on Easter. The Asiatic Hybrids are smaller, hold up better in the garden and make great cut flowers.  I recommend starting with these. Flower colors include yellows, whites, pinks and bi-colors. The Oriental Hybrids have very big flowers and will need some staking. Colors are whites, pinks and bi-color. They often have spotted petals.  The Trumpets are tall with large flowers and a good selection of colors.  They will need support. To add to the confusion, hybridizers have crossed all of the above lilies with some interesting results including striking color patterns. If you like natives there are a number of species and wild forms available too.  Although it is recommended that lilies get full sun, I have had good results in filtered sunlight. 
My secret to planting bulbs is a power tool. I use an 18 volt rechargeable drill with a 2 3/4 inch bulb auger. None of this getting on my hands and knees with a hand trowel for me.  I can plant about 50 bulbs in about 15 minutes. First, I drill all the holes, then toss in some fertilizer and PermaTill, drop the bulbs in the hole and kick the soil over the holes with my foot.  If I need a bigger hole, I just wiggle the drill back and forth.  I also use the drill to plant annuals and vegetables.
There are plenty of other geophytes that are worth trying, and if you are looking for something new then check out the International Bulb Society website at

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sowing Seeds and Saving

Adding plants to your garden does not have to be expensive.  Planting seeds is the most economical way to add flowers and vegetables to your garden.   There are two methods – direct sowing in the ground and starting seeds indoors. 
The advantage to starting inside is getting a little head start on spring. This can be a little tricky if you do not have a greenhouse.  The air in most houses is too dry for successful seed germination. Covering seed trays with a plastic cover or mini greenhouse will help, but this creates a second problem--poor air circulation. In commercial greenhouses, there are always fans running. Air movement prevents fungal diseases, so turn on your ceiling fan. Be sure to take off the plastic cover after the seeds have sprouted.
     If the weather is nice, one of the best places to start seeds is on a porch. The roof will keep the rain from washing away your seeds.  There will be plenty of fresh air and sunlight but bring the seed trays in at night to keep them warm.   Use a professional potting mix for seed starting. This should contain plenty of sphagnum peat moss and a little vermiculite.  One mistake beginner gardeners often make is planting seeds to deep.  Most seeds barely need covering, check the directions on the seed package. Some seeds require no covering of soil.  I like to use a plastic sand sifter (sold as a beach toy) to cover seeds with a light dusting of soil.
    Small seeds are best started indoors and larger seeds can be safely started in the ground.  Petunias, impatients, vinca, portulaca, salvia, alyssum and celosia are some flowers that can be started indoors.  Small seeded vegetables like peppers, tomatoes and basil should also be started indoors. 
When the soil has warmed up, seeds can be started directly in the garden.  Flowers with large seeds like marigolds, sunflowers and zinnias can easily be planted directly in the soil. Zinnias are surprisingly easy. If the soil is warm, they will germinate in 3 days. Large seeded vegetables and herbs like cucumbers, squash, dill and parsley can be sown directly outside.  The old rule of thumb is to plant a seed no deeper than the width of the seed. 
    When buying vegetable seeds select for disease resistance. ‘Big Beef’ is one of the most disease resistant tomatoes on the market.  ‘Spacemaster’ cucumber is great choice for small gardens or large containers.  Almost all types of peppers do well on James Island. My picks for flowers are any of the small types of sunflowers. Giant sunflowers typically produce only one flower and the cardinals love the seeds. ‘Lady in Red’ Salvia is an easy to grow flowers that will draw hummingbirds and butterflies to your garden.  
    Perennials and wildflowers do better is started in the fall. Buy the seeds now and store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.  If you wait till fall to buy them, they could be sold out. 

Part of the fun of gardening is trying something new and growing from seed is a great way to do just that.  

Friday, November 29, 2013

Paper Whites: A Christmas Tradition

I can remember my Poppy sending us to the store for “Paper White” Narcissus bulbs in November. We would plant them on Thanksgiving Day. When we returned to my grandparents’ house on Christmas day, the bulbs would be in full bloom.  In four weeks, the bulbs grew about 12 inches tall with small star-shaped flowers whose fragrance would fill the room.  
“Paper Whites” are Tazetta Daffodils and they are descendants of fall blooming daffodils from Spain. They are not very cold hardy and commercially they are grown in Israel.  Some popular cultivars are “Ziva,” ”Bethlehem,”   and “Nazareth.”  Also there is a double one call “Erlicheer” and a yellow cultivar called ”Grand Soleil d’Or’” and for those find the fragrance of the a little too strong there is “Inbal” that is almost fragrant free.

The bulbs can be planted in regular potting soil or in a dish with pebbles or glass beads. Just make sure the bottom of the bulb touches water. Keep them in a cool but sunny place until they bloom. To have bulbs blooming all winter, buy about 2 dozen bulbs and plant every few weeks. Store the bulbs in a cool, dry place until you are ready to plant. This fast growing bulb is a great flower to teach children about plants.  As a child, it seemed to me the “Paper White” was a real Christmas miracle.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Cicadas are Coming !!!

We have had folks coming in lately ask us how to kill the cicadas. We recommend leaving them alone. They do not sting or bit and the adults only live about 2 weeks, they sing, mate, lay eggs and die. That's it. The young feed deep in the ground on large tree roots. They may harm young newly planted trees, so hold off any tree planting till Fall. We started a Facebook Page for the 17 Year Brood 2 Cicada and invite you to add your stories and photos of this rare natural event. We hope you find it informative and entertaining. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Potting Soil Sale

NOW on Sale- BACCTO ® Professional Planting Mix  1 cu. bag reg.$7.99 now $ 4.99. Until May 30, 2013, while supplies last.
BACCTO ® Professional Planting Mix is the same high-quality growing media used by commercial growers to ensure optimum growth potential. This special pre-moistened mix is blended in a special system that provides uniformity, easy handling, and the highest possible consistency. It's formulated to enhance the growth of bedding and potted crops in flats, pots, and hanging baskets where higher moisture reserves and shelf life are needed. With Professional Planting Mix, home gardeners can grow like the pros.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ready For Romaine

Did you know Romaine Lettuce is a very nutritional vegetable and can be compared to raw Spinach.  Romaine actually has more Vitamin A (82%) and C (19%) than Spinach and they both have about 15% Folate. But remember it’s the green part of the leaf that has the most Vitamins and Minerals.
Leaf lettuces are easy to grow from seed. They are a cool season crops and can be grown in early spring or fall. Ideal temperatures are between 45 and 80 degrees F. In the summer they can be grown in the shade of taller vegetables like tomatoes or peppers but hot weather can make them bitter.  Set out transplants about 1 month before the last frost of spring and 6 weeks before the first fall frost.  Don’t plant all your seeds at once, plant for 3 successive weeks and thin them as you harvest. Parris Island Cos was developed in South Carolina and names for the Famous Military Train Ground.  It is slow to bolt and hold up better in the heat.  Red Romaine is also available but colors up better in the cooler months. You should be able to start picking outer leaves in about 30 days or cut the whole head in 60-to 70 days. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Growing Tomatoes in Pots

One Tomato plant needs at least 5 gallons of soil- more is better.  There are Potting Mixes especially for tomatoes and other vegetable plants.  Try Pro-Mix Ultra Organic with Organic Garden-Tone Fertilizer.  Robin recommends ½ Shrimp Compost and ½ Pro-Mix Potting soil. The shrimp compost has calcium which is important, Calcium deficiency will cause Blossom End Rot in tomatoes.   Adding a handful of Gypsum (Calcium Sulfate) to plants in a pot or in the garden will prevent Blossom End Rot if you are not using shrimp compost.  It is also important not to let your soil dry out completely this will cause cracking in your tomato fruit, use a self-watering containers or pots with large saucers.   Bush type tomatoes and cucumbers are perfect for pots.  Try these Better Bush, Husky Red, Bush Early Girl, Patio, Bush Goliath and Bushmaster Cucumber.