Fool Proof Summer Color

Summer is a tough time for me.  As someone that likes to be out doors, the oppressive summer heat makes it a whole lot less enjoyable for me to be outside.  While the heat is a bit of a problem for me, I can adjust.  I can always get up earlier or wait until the evening to do my gardening chores.  My plants, on the other hand, are stuck wherever they are and they have to either adjust to the heat or die.  Since our extreme climate makes it impossible for many of the beautiful flowering plants that we love to grow in the spring die by July, it can be a bit of a challenge for we Texas Gardeners to keep our beds and borders looking alive, vibrant and inviting.TurksCap6

A few years ago I was talking about my search for no fail summer color with my buddy Morgan McBride of Tree Town USA.  Before he started selling trees, Morgan worked as a landscape maintenance supervisor for over 20 years in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.  According to Morgan, the businesses he serviced wanted attractive landscapes at the lowest cost possible.  To fill these requirements, he relied on three very common plants to ensure colorful commercial landscapes throughout the hottest parts of summer –sweet potato vine, purple fountain grass and lantana.

After my visit with Morgan I realized I was looking for color in all the wrong place.  Instead of trying to brighten my beds with colorful annual flowers I should get my summer color from the many of the perennials that do well for us despite our oppressive summer heat.  Thanks to his advice I have finally come up with my short list of Texas tough plants that will reliably provide tons of low maintenance and low water color in your summer landscape.

Foliage Plants

Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’) – Purple Fountain Grass is one of many grasses that do well in our climate.  However, it is the only one that will add a lovely burgundy color to your landscape.  Combine that striking color with the lovely and graceful flower spikes and you have a very showy and useful plant that can be used in mass, as a specimen and even in pots.

Purple Fountain grass is so versatile that i grow it in pots.

Purple Fountain grass is so versatile that i grow it in pots.

Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoae batatas) – With its rapid growth rate and varieties that come in colors that range from almost black to the brightest chartreuse, there is no better way to bring a lot of color to your summer landscape than with this cousin of the edible sweet potato.  Sweet Potato Vine is incredibly easy to propagate and it tells you when it needs water.   If you want more vines simply snip off a piece and root it in water and if you see your vines wilting, give them a little drink.  Sweet potato vine is great as a ground cover, spilling over a wall or tumbling out of a pot.  If you live where winters are cold and wet, you can dig up the tubers and store in saw dust for next year.  Otherwise you can leave them in the ground for years of beautiful foliage.

Coleus (various species) –   I love coleus and grow several varieties every year.  Coleus are one of the few plants that you actually have to work very hard to kill.  Coleus can take a lot of drying.  If you forget to water your coleus they will wilt down pretty quickly.  However, you can take some very wilted coleus, trim them up a bit, water them and watch them miraculously bounce right back.  Coleus work as well in the ground as they do in pots.  Group them together for a very colorful display.

Artemisia (var Powis Castle)- Artemisia is a woody perennial plant that is known for its gray, feathery foliage and its distinctive smell.   There are many artemisias out there but the variety Powis Castle is the best one for most of Texas.  Powis Castle loves full sun, high heat and well-draining soil.  A single plant will create a silver mound that is three feet tall and five feet wide in a single season.  With its lovely silver-gray color, Powis Castle is the perfect companion for plants in a variety of colors.  It is lovely when paired with pink Knock Out roses or pink antique roses like “Old Blush

Powis Castle artemesia has lovely silver foliage that pairs well with a wide range of plants. Here is pairs nicely with "Hotlips" salvia

Powis Castle artemesia has lovely silver foliage that pairs well with a wide range of plants. Here is pairs nicely with “Hotlips” salvia

Setcreasea purpurea ‘Purple Heart’ – In my mind, Purple Heart is one of the most versatile, yet underutilized plants in the Texas landscape.  Talk about color!  This plant is all purple!  While it does get lovely, small, pink flowers in the spring, Purple Heart is used for its lovely purple foliage.  I love this plant and I grow it in mass as a ground cover.  While it can get aphids and spider mites it is a mostly carefree plant that loves full sun and crowed conditions.  Purple Heart will spread rapidly by sending out runners up to 3’ long.  Plus, it is so easy to propagate.  If you want more purple heart just break a piece off, stick it in moist soil and it will root.  Truly an awesome plant for bringing lots of color to your landscape!

Nothing brings in more intense color to a summer landscape than a mass of Purple Heart

Nothing brings in more intense color to a summer landscape than a mass of Purple Heart

Flowering Plants

Lantana – There is really nothing bad to say about lantana.  This mounding perennial starts blooming in the spring and blooms and blooms and blooms well into winter.  Right now I grow a yellow variety called New Gold.  However, I have grown many others through the years.  One of my favorites is a red and yellow variety called “Dallas”.  Lantana is the ultimate hands off plant.  While I water, most varieties will survive on annual rainfall.  If you water it occasionally, it will reward you with flowers for six to eight months of the year.  Then, when the freeze does finally get it, just cut it back to about six inches and wait for spring.

If lantana can thrive in the middle of an HEB parking lot, it can certainly thrive in your yard. In my opinion lantana is the most versitile, tough and pest free color plant you can use in your Texas landscape.

If lantana can thrive in the middle of an HEB parking lot, it can certainly thrive in your yard. In my opinion lantana is the most versitile, tough and pest free color plant you can use in your Texas landscape.

Salvia greggii-There are many salvias that thrive in our climate.  One of the more colorful and more reliable is Salvia greggii.  Salvia greggii is a woody, bushy perennial that gets about three feet tall.  Its upright braches are covered in little muted green leaves.  However, the little flowers of this hardy plant are what make it a standout in the summer garden.  Salvia greggii comes in many colors including red white and pink.  However there are other variants available.   A red variety called Cherry Chief is one of my favorites.  However, I am also found of a variety called Hot Lips.  Salvi greggii is a mannerly bush that stays where it is planted.  Besides its almost year round flowering, the best thing about Salvia greggii is the fact that hummingbirds absolutely love it.

Salvias are great color plants for Texas. Many of them are native to the Southwestern United States so they bloom all summer long on annual rainfall.

Salvias are great color plants for Texas. Many of them are native to the Southwestern United States so they bloom all summer long on annual rainfall.

Gomphrena (Bachelor’s Buttons)– Talk about a showy plant!  Gomphrena grows into three foot mounds of foliage that are covered with round, button like flowers.  You can find gomphrena in most colors.  I have a lot of yellow flowering plants in my yard so I use two shades of purple.  Gomphrena is a self-seeding annual.  That means if you leave it alone the seeds from those hundreds of flowers will fall to the ground and remain dormant until spring.  I like this plant because it does not really start blooming until most of my other flowers have faded.  Look for blooms in June and enjoy them until the first good freeze.

gomphrena

I love gomphrena. This Texas Tough self-seeding annual blooms just as things begin to really heat up and then keeps blooming right up to the first freeze!

Celosia (Cock’s Comb) – When you are a gardener you just kind of assume that everyone knows as much about plants as you do.  Each year, my celosia reminds me that this is not true.  I guarantee that each time I use celosia in an arrangement someone is going to ask me what it is.  Celosia comes in two types – the big velvety brain like varieties and the plume type.  I love them both.  I grow several colors and several varieties.  These unusual flowers are also self-seeding and, like gomphrena, the start to bloom in June and then go all the way up to the first freeze.

 

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

A Garden Visit with Carolyn Williams by Patty Leander

Peggy-Martin-Rose

Reve d’Or’ and ‘Peggy Martin’ roses spill gracefully from a trellis in Carolyn’s backyard. ‘Peggy Martin’ is the rose that survived Katrina (see postscript).

When Jay told me at the beginning of the year that he wanted to start a regular feature on gardeners from around the Lone Star state – not necessarily professionals, he said, but regular people who just happen to have a garden instinct and a green thumb – I immediately jotted down the names of several people. Right near the top of that list was this month’s featured gardener, Carolyn Williams.

Carolyn-Williams

Carolyn and her husband, Michael.

Hailing from a line of Texans five generations long, Carolyn has a certain credibility and contentment in her role as a gardener. She is not just a good gardener but a fun gardener, with a deep love for her family, her roses and tomatoes, her Texas roots and her Longhorns.

Garden-shed

A labor of love – the garden cottage that Michael converted from an old cinder block storage area.

Our paths first crossed in the spring of 2000 while attending the training course for the Travis County Master Gardeners. At the time Carolyn was the office manager and travel coordinator for the University of Texas Longhorn Band. Can you imagine the logistics involved in such a job? From booking travel and lodging for the band to locating misplaced uniforms, she shepherded thousands of students through the frenzied and demanding season of marching band and football, all the while lending a supportive ear to their queries and quandaries. And as fate would have it one of those band kids was my oldest daughter, Katie, who earned a spot on the UT drumline in the fall of 2004. During those years Carolyn would occasionally lend ME a sympathetic ear; but as quickly as I could voice a concern over Katie’s studies and other responsibilities outside of band, Carolyn would calm any worries with comforting assurance of the organized, cooperative and capable environment of the band family.  

Potting-shed

A peek inside the garden cottage reveals items recycled from work projects, salvaged goods and freebie finds.

When she retired they had to hire two people to take her place – that tells you that Carolyn is a take charge, get-it-done kind of person, and after retiring from the Longhorn Band she eagerly began to transform her backyard, utilizing the knowledge gained as a Master Gardener to give her garden new life.

Carolyn-Williams-Garden

Crushed granite paths invite you into the garden to explore or just relax

As Carolyn says, “It’s so much better when you have a garden that sings to you rather than one that moans to you.”

Name:  Carolyn Williams

Location:  Austin, Texas

Years gardening:  50+, started helping my grandmother in her garden when I was young.

Years gardening in this garden: 37

Favorite thing to grow:   Spring – roses & tomatoes; fall – salvias/sages/roses, etc.

Tomato-Tasting

Serious business – a tomato tasting in the garden cottage.

Best growing tip:  Learn what grows naturally or easily adapted in your area! Amend your soil with compost every year. Keep records and learn from your mistakes.

Best pest control tip:  Empty all water in the summer for mosquito control (somewhat), pick tomatoes when they first start turning pink or the birds/squirrels will eat them. If you have deer, make sure you research what plants they (mostly) will not eat.

Best weed control tip:  After a rain and/or watering an area, pull up weeds in order to get the roots out or you’ll just have to redo a week later.

Biggest challenge:  To maintain a large yard/garden and try to improve it along life’s path.

Medicine-Wheel

The four openings of the “Medicine Wheel” herb garden, built with salvaged bricks from an old Texas ranch house, represent birth, youth, maturity and end of life.

Favorite soil amendment:  Compost always first, followed by a good overall fertilizer.

Preserving your harvest:  This year I put up some Purple Hull peas and by the end of summer I will put up some fresh tomatoes to use for soups/stews during the fall and winter. Always freeze cut-up basil & oregano with olive oil and then pop them into freezer bags. Great for using throughout fall and winter!

Favorite advice: Gardeners make great friends to share life’s bounty with!

carolyn-williams-garden-shed

A view from inside the cottage shows Carolyn’s favorite thing about the cottage project – the heart with their initials carved by Michael.

Postscript: Though Carolyn bleeds orange, I believe she has a little soft spot for the Maroon and White. The beautiful ‘Peggy Martin’ rose that survived Katrina would never had made it to the retail trade – and Carolyn’s backyard –  without the concerted efforts of retired A&M horticulture professor and rose expert Bill Welch. Read the story here: http://aggiehorticulture.tamu.edu/southerngarden/PeggyMartinrose.html.

And she would not have had the opportunity to become a Master Gardener in the spring of 2000 if it hadn’t been for an Aggie – Skip Richter – Travis County’s Extension Horticulture Agent at the time. With an earnest desire to become a Master Gardener, Carolyn contacted the organization to sign up for the spring class only to be told that it was full. Because of her UT obligations taking a fall class was not feasible so she contacted Skip to plead for a spot in the spring class, explaining her involvement with the Longhorn band. This was just a month or so after the Aggie Bonfire tragedy in November 1999, and when Skip realized Carolyn’s connection with the Longhorn band and their moving halftime tribute at that year’s post-Thanksgiving game (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rLj3vw5fwI) he arranged for her to take the class. A wise decision on his part as she went on to lead the organization as President and continues to be actively involved 15 years later. As I said, she is a get-it-done type of person, with a kindhearted and gracious spirit – just what we need more of these days.

Dealing with Early Blight by Patty G. Leander

Though I am still singing hallelujahs for the abundant rains earlier this year (lakes are full and, for now, exceptional drought is a faded memory), the moist environment did contribute to an unfortunate outbreak of Alternaria solani, known in gardening circles as early blight, or EB for short.

Early-Blight

Warm, wet conditions encourage the spread of early blight.

Early blight is a fungal disease that afflicts members of the nightshade family and though it’s never been a problem on my eggplant or peppers, tomatoes are especially susceptible. The fungal spores can be introduced into the garden in a number of ways – they can arrive on infected transplants, can be carried by wind, rain, people or equipment and can also overwinter in the soil. If you have grown tomatoes for several years you probably have fungal spores in your soil. Infected fruit that is left in the garden can transmit the disease to seeds yielding volunteer seedlings that carry the spores and perpetuate the cycle.

Early-Blight-Symptoms

Infected leaves have dark, dry spots surrounded by a yellow halo.

The fungus starts as a small dark spot on the leaf; round or angular in shape and often surrounded by a pale yellow halo. A pattern of concentric rings may be observed as the lesion enlarges.

Early-Blight-SideBySide

The fungus generally strikes lower leaves first, infecting healthy foliage as it spreads up the plant.

Symptoms generally appear on the oldest leaves at the bottom of the plant and gradually progress upward. If conditions are favorable, meaning wet leaves and warm temperatures, spores can multiply rapidly and spread.

Early-Blight-SideBySide-2

Diligently removing infected leaves may slow the progression of the disease and prolong the harvest slightly but a stressed plant facing summer’s heat without good leaf cover is a no-win situation.

One of the basic concepts of plant pathology is the plant disease triangle. In order for disease to occur there must be a pathogen, a plant host and a suitable environment. Remove any one of these factors and voilà – no disease.  In the case of tomatoes we have a host and most likely a pathogen already present and if the environment is conducive the disease will occur.

disease-triangle

Developed by: University of Kentucky Multidisciplinary Extension Team

Controlling the environment thus becomes our primary way of controlling the disease. If early blight was a problem in your garden this year, here are some steps you can take to minimize its effects in future plantings:

  • Space tomato plants 2-3 feet apart to provide adequate air circulation around plants. Fungal spores will germinate and reproduce on wet leaves so the quicker leaves dry out after a rain event the less chance that spores will spread. Also cage or stake tomatoes to encourage air flow and minimize foliage contact with soil.
  • Plant in full sun for optimum photosynthesis and to insure that wet leaves dry quickly.
  • Mulch around the base of the plants to prevent soil (and potential spores) from splashing up onto the leaves.
  • Avoid overhead watering. Use drip irrigation or soaker hoses to minimize wet foliage.
  • Rotate nightshades to another part of the garden for a minimum of 2 years.
  • Fertilize and water tomatoes as needed to maintain healthy growth; stressed plants are more susceptible to disease.
  • Remove and discard infected plant debris and volunteer seedlings which may harbor plant pathogens. Weed the garden regularly as weeds can also harbor disease-producing spores.
  • Seek out tomato varieties that have resistance or tolerance to early blight, indicated by the capital letter “A” (for Alternaria) after the variety name on plant tags or seed packet descriptions. A few varieties to look for include ‘Iron Lady’, ‘Jasper’, ‘Mountain Magic’ and ‘Big Beef’.
  • Purchase seed and transplants from a reputable source.
  • Use a fungicide. Most fungicides work by altering the environment (in this case the leaf surface) to prevent development or spread of disease. They are most effective as a preventive control and should be used as soon as symptoms appear – once the disease takes hold it is dang near impossible to get it under control. Products recommended for control of early blight include Serenade®, sulfur or copper based fungicides, potassium bicarbonate and fungicides containing chlorothalonil. All are considered organic except chlorothalonil. For maximum control continue to treat plants as long as environmental conditions are favorable for disease development. According to Dr. Joe Masabni, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Vegetable Specialist, chlorothalonil is the most effective; potassium bicarbonate is the least effective. If the thought of using a non-organic control concerns you it may be worth noting that the dilution rate for chlorothalonil concentrate is low; one tablespoon product to one gallon of water. Whether to use organic or synthetic products is your choice, but no matter what you use, read the label and apply according to the directions.

    Natural-Gardener-Tomatoes

    These healthy tomato plants are mulched, staked and have plenty of room to grow.

Watering, fertilizing, mulching and otherwise tending tomatoes through the heat of summer can become a full time job, even more so if they have lost their healthy spring vigor.  If yours have succumbed to pest or disease it is better to pull them out than to let them fester in the garden.  Harvest the healthy fruit, dispose of the diseased foliage, enjoy a plate of fried green tomatoes and start thinking about plant rotation and tomato varieties for the 2017 season.fried-green-tomatoes

Fried Green Tomatoes

This is a non-traditional take on a Southern classic from the folks at Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.

6 large green tomatoes, sliced ¼” thick

White flour

Pat tomatoes dry and dip both sides in flour to absorb moisture. Set aside.

Batter

1 package (12-14 oz) silken tofu

2-3 Tbsp water

Crumble tofu in blender and blend, adding water gradually until the mixture becomes creamy. Pour batter into pie plate and set aside.

Breading

1 cup panko bread crumbs

½ cup cornmeal

2 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes

1 tbsp onion powder

1 tbsp garlic powder

1 tbsp turmeric

½ tsp cayenne

½ tsp salt

Parsley flakes

 

Stir all ingredients together and transfer to a shallow pan. Dip tomatoes in batter then into panko mixture, patting the breading onto tomatoes so it adheres well. Heat about ¼” of oil in a cast iron skillet and fry tomatoes on both sides until browned. Serve warm.

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Eat, Drink and Soak Up Summer by Patty G. Leander

Summer living is casual and easy but it’s also sweaty and dehydrating. Every day we perspire, respire and excrete water and as the season progresses and the temperatures rise we need to make sure that we replenish that loss. Thirst is an excellent gauge but in summertime we need to be more conscious of our intake. Elderly people, especially, tend to have fewer fluid reserves often coupled with a reduced sensation of thirst so they may need to push their fluid intake even when not thirsty.

infused-water

Slice, chill, drink and revive – use your favorite fruit and herbs to make infused water.

For years the recommendation to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day has been promoted like the 11th commandment but that doesn’t mean we need to literally swallow 64 ounces of H2O a day, or even worse, drink and toss 4 of those 16-ounce plastic water bottles.

water-bottle

Ditch the plastic bottles of water.

Yes, it’s important to stay hydrated, but other beverages and many foods that we eat contribute to our total fluid intake. Think about seasonal summer produce – cucumbers, watermelon and papaya, for example; they are more than 90% water, so whether you are eating them raw, adding them to a salad or using them to make a refreshing beverage they will help you meet that daily fluid recommendation.

watermelon-boy

Seasonal produce helps meet your body’s water needs.

It’s easy to be lured by the marketing hype of colorful sports drinks, detox brews and vitamin water with clever names and flavors but water is really what our bodies crave – it’s free, it’s safe, it’s readily available and contains no calories. Boost the appeal of the water you drink at home by infusing it with the subtle flavor of summer’s produce. Below are some tasty and easy combinations for DIY infused waters:

 

Strawberries + basil + lemon

Blueberries + orange

Pineapple + orange + mint

Cucumber + lime

Watermelon + lime + mint

Pear + ginger

 

Slice the fruit into a one quart Mason jar. Add herbs, fill the jar with water and chill. For a more robust flavor muddle the fruit and herbs before adding water. I refill my jars once or twice, but after two days the fruit goes into the compost pile and I start a fresh batch.herbal-infused-water

There is no set recipe for making this refreshing drink, but it is an easy way to take advantage of your garden’s bounty and hydrate yourself in the summertime. Experiment with other fragrant herbs from the garden that suit your taste, including lemon balm, lemongrass, peppermint, spearmint and lemon verbena.infused-water

Another way to embellish your summer beverages is to freeze fruit (watermelon cubes, whole grapes, pomegranate seeds and cantaloupe or honeydew balls) and add it to a glass of water, sparkling water or even a sparkling beverage like Prosecco. It’s summertime – drink up!!

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Its American Flowers Week !!!

Its American Flowers Week !!!  That means it is time to celebrate American flower farmers, the beautiful products they grow and the talented people that turn them into the stunning arrangements that will brighten your dinner table, adorn your wedding, let your sweetie know you care or comfort the family of a dear friend at their passing.

American Flowers Week

A lot of people don’t know this, but most of the cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imported.  Each time you buy a bouquet at the supermarket or order an arrangement, there is an 80% chance that the flowers came from overseas.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with that fact, more and more Americans are making a choice to ensure that “the flowers at the center of [their] table [are] as fresh, local and sustainable as the food on [their] plate” (quote courtesy of the American Grown Field to Vase Dinner press release).

Lovely view from the Big Big Barn at Texas Specialty Cut Flowers in Blanco, Tx. Photo credit: Whitney Devin for Field to Vase Dinner Tour.

Lovely view from the Big Big Barn at Texas Specialty Cut Flowers in Blanco, Tx. Photo credit: Whitney Devin for Field to Vase Dinner Tour.

Over the last couple of decades the American floral industry has seen several changes.  One of the most pronounced has been the beginnings of what is now called the “Slow Flowers” movement.  The term “Slow Flowers” was coined by my friend Debra Prinzing.  Debra is the author of the of the best-selling  book “The Fifty Mile Bouquet – Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Flowers”.  Debra was the first person to begin telling the world about the amazing American floral producers who have decided to win back market share from foreign competitors by doing something the foreign growers can’t – locally growing the highest quality, environmentally sensitive floral products available on the planet.

Debra Prinzing, the mother of the Slow Flowers movement, enjoys the great local flowers, the great local food and the company of many passionate flower lovers at the recent American Grown Field to Vase Dinner in Blanco. Photo credit: Whitney Devin for Field to Vase Dinner Tour.

Debra Prinzing, the mother of the Slow Flowers movement, enjoys the great local flowers, the great local food and the company of many passionate flower lovers at the recent American Grown Field to Vase Dinner in Blanco. Photo credit: Whitney Devin for Field to Vase Dinner Tour.

Since writing “The Fifty Mile Bouquet” Debra has been adopted by these local farmers to spread their message.  These flower farmers and their amazing, high quality products inspired Debra to start a journey that has led her from the flower fields of America all the way to the Whitehouse.  In the past few years she has worked to build growers coops, organize and promote field to vase dinners, create an on-line resource to connect those that want to buy locally with those that produce, promoted flower farmers through regular interviews available on podcast  and written extensively about the “Slow Flower”  movement in publications like the New York Times, Sunset Magazine and Country Gardens Magazine.  Her advocacy for the American flower farmer recently resulted in an invitation to speak about “Slow Flowers” and the importance of the American farmer at the annual “First Lady’s Luncheon” ( a gathering of all of the spouses of our elected officials in Washington, D.C.).

American Grown's Field to Vase Dinners are a great way to show your support of the American flower farmer. Photo credit: Whitney Devin for Field to Vase Dinner Tour.

American Grown’s Field to Vase Dinners are a great way to show your support of the American flower farmer. Photo credit: Whitney Devin for Field to Vase Dinner Tour.

I recently attend a local Field to Vase Dinner in Blanco as Debra’s guest.  The dinner was a very special event for me.  Not only was it a beautiful event that featured local food, local beer, local wine and the beautiful locally grown flowers of Slow Flower pioneers Frank and Pam Arnosky, it was a chance to gather with old and new friends that love American grown flowers as much as I do.  The night was an unbelievably beautiful and tasty tribute to the work being done by these passionate growers of American flowers.

Photo credit: Whitney Devin for Field to Vase Dinner Tour.

Photo credit: Whitney Devin for Field to Vase Dinner Tour.

If you are already a passionate believer in the work being done by these American farmers, or you would like to learn more about them, I highly recommend attending one of these Field to Vase events when they come to your area.  Each year American Grown sponsors several of these events all across America.  Be sure to click here to see when they are coming to your part of the country.

FieldtoVaseDinner-6

Market research has shown that, when given a choice between an American product and an import, the vast majority of US consumers would choose to buy American.  In a market that is flooded with foreign products, it is often difficult to find a local alternative.  Thanks to the hard work of these pioneering American flower farmers, their advocates and educational programs like American Flower Week you now know you have a choice when it comes to buying fresh cut flowers.  The next time you need an arrangement, why not head over to the Slow Flowers website and spend your dollars in support of American agriculture.  By buying American from these visionary farmers, florists and designers you will ensure that the flowers you purchase will be as fresh, local and sustainable as the food on your plate.

American grown flowers are grown and sold locally so you get the freshest, most organic products available.

American grown flowers are grown and sold locally so you get the freshest, most organic products available.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (of the 2016 Spring Garden) by Patty G. Leander

You’ve probably heard the saying that the weather in Texas is one long drought interrupted by occasional floods. It’s also a series of El Niño (wet) and La Niña (dry) weather patterns that affect the temperatures and precipitation. Here in Austin we are coming out of an El Niño which contributed to delightfully mild spring temperatures and the wettest May on record at Austin-Bergstrom Airport – 15.82 inches.

The resulting rains promoted vigorous – I’m inclined to call it rampant – growth in the vegetable garden. An interesting season for sure. Here are some observations that some of you may relate to: the good, the bad and the ugly, with a weird and a wonderful thrown in for good measure.

sliced-tomatoes

Even when juicy heirlooms and big, round slicers fail cherry tomatoes produce generously.

THE GOOD

My Water Bill: The lowest in a long time!

Vegetable-containers

Spring-planted containers thrived without supplemental water until early June.

Containers: It was a great year for my spring “pot” garden. I used large containers (mostly 7-10 gallon) and planted compact varieties of green beans, tomatoes, cucumber, squash and okra in late March; by early June I was harvesting from every container. Then it got really hot, really fast and the rains turned off. All I have now is ‘Baby Bubba’ okra, ‘Peppermint’ Swiss chard and okra, but that’s ok because I’m ready to give the pots a rest until cooler temperatures return in fall.

Heirloom-corn

Country Gentleman’ (left) and ‘Glass Gem’ (right)

Corn: No raccoons – that alone is a minor miracle in my backyard! They tend to show up every year for the corn but not this time. Maybe the rain deterred them or perhaps they didn’t care for the varieties I chose.  This year I planted an old-fashioned shoepeg variety called ‘Country Gentleman’ (an heirloom from 1890); I also made room for a small section of ‘Glass Gem’, a beautiful, jewel-toned flint corn carefully selected for its vibrant colors by a seed saver and corn grower from Oklahoma named Carl Barnes.

Carl was part Cherokee, and he was devoted to preserving the colorful, traditional corns of Native Americans. The sturdy stalks of ‘Glass Gem’ are 8-9 feet tall which makes the individual ears look disappointingly small, but once you pick them and pull the husk back the striking colors and translucent sparkle will make your jaw drop. I never knew Carl Barnes but I thought about him when I planted my ‘Glass Gem’ seeds in March and was thankful for his lifetime fascination with corn. He passed away a month later, on April 16, at the age of 87. You can help keep Carl’s legacy alive by planting ‘Glass Gem’ in your own garden. Seeds are available from Victory Seeds (www.victoryseeds.com), Baker Creek (www.rareseeds.com) or Seeds Trust (www.seedstrust.com ). The kernels can be ground or popped but frankly they are so stunning I plan to just admire mine for awhile.

growing-quinoa

Cherry Vanilla’ quinoa got off to a great start but quickly rotted in the wet, rainy environment.

THE BAD

Quinoa Fail: I picked up a packet of quinoa at a garden show thinking it would be fun to try.  It takes 90-120 days for the seed heads to form and dry.  I planted seeds in mid-February and it grew impressively during March and April, developing beautiful crimson blooms, then it rained and rained and rained some more and the beautiful pink flower heads rotted under the constantly moist conditions. One packet contains plenty of seeds so I will try again, perhaps this fall.

garden-snails

Snails were everywhere! This bucket o’ snails was brought to the June meeting of the Austin Organic Gardeners by a member who presented a brief show and tell on how to collect and prepare snails for the dinner table…I think I’ll stick with vegetables and more familiar protein sources.

Crunch, crunch; buzz, buzz: The snails and mosquitoes came out in full force with the wet weather; I could hardly walk to my garden without hearing the crunch of a snail shell below my shoe or the buzz of a mosquito around my ears. Now that the rains have tapered off so have the snails, but no matter how often I empty standing water or replenish the mosquito dunks in collected rainwater the mosquitoes just keep buzzing. Be sure to eliminate all sources of standing water – even the ones you don’t think about or see, like shallow plant saucers, gutters, depressions in plastic tarps or folds in bags that might hold even a small amount of water.

When working outside follow the four D’s: DRAIN (standing water), DEET (apply repellent to clothes and exposed skin), DUSK & DAWN (stay indoors at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active) and DRESS (wear long sleeves and long pants).

early-blight-tomatoes

Blight-infected tomatoes were a common sight in many gardens this year.

This was an especially bad year for early blight in tomatoes, a soil-borne fungus that appears as small dark spots on the lower leaves, which gradually turn yellow and dry up. The fungus spreads quickly, moving up the plant, infecting healthy green leaves as quickly as you can remove dying diseased foliage. Unfortunately, once plants are heavily infected no amount of fungicides, fertilizer or magic sprays will save them so at this point in the season it may be best to cut your losses. Harvest remaining tomatoes (fried green tomatoes, anyone?), remove infected plants and plan to rotate the next round of tomatoes to another spot in the garden. We’ll have more on early blight in a future post.

THE UGLY

squirrel-damage

How can such cute critters do such an ugly deed?

Critters: I’ve always heard that squirrels and birds eat tomatoes because they are thirsty, but not in this case. There was water everywhere yet they still opted for the red, juicy tomatoes. Squirrels always seem to go for the best tomatoes so at least you could say they have good taste.

THE WIERD

Tromboncino-Squash

These squash truly grow inches overnight – be careful or their vines will take over!

Tromboncino Squash: This vigorous Italian heirloom starts out green like a zucchini and ends up tan like a butternut squash. Eating quality is best when fruit is less than 12 inches long, but it will quickly and effortlessly reach 3 feet in length – especially with lots of rain! It’s crunchier than zucchini and perhaps a little nutty – I have heard its flavor described as walnuts combined with pumpkin and a touch of artichoke. It can be sautéed, grilled, baked, eaten raw in salads or spiralized into zoodles. It is supposed to be less susceptible to squash vine borer, however in my experience the borer still gets in but the vines quickly outgrow it. And if you like squash blossoms this may be the squash for you – they are big, beautiful and plentiful. Sources for seed include Territorial Seed (www.territorialseed.com) and Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (www.southernexposure.com).

THE WONDERFUL

mom

One of five siblings born to a farmer and a teacher in Burlington, North Carolina, my mom definitely has some strong stock in her genes. She catered weddings, cooked Wednesday night church suppers and helped start the Meals on Wheels program in Midland. A Registered Dietitian, she was usually wearing a white uniform, white shoes and a hairnet and was often known as Liz-The-Whiz-The White-Tornado.

Happy 90th Birthday, Mom!!  We celebrated my mom’s birthday earlier this month. She has always loved purple – growing up in Midland we were “the house with the purple door”. So at age 90 we went all out with a purple party. I even presented her with purple beans, purple eggplant, purple tomatoes, purple potatoes and a big, purple artichoke bloom. All fresh from the garden. She picked out her favorite purple shirt to wear that day – the one that says “It’s all in the attitude”.

Her stamina for physical activity has dwindled over the last couple of years but she’s great at shelling. She lives close so I do my best to supply her with butterbeans, cowpeas, pecans, peanuts, shrimp and anything else that needs to be shelled. She works so fast that by the time I get home she’s calling me saying, “Your peas are done, do you have any more?” Those farming genes run deep…sometimes I think I ought to hire her out.

Gardening with Delightfully, Daffy Ducks

A couple of years ago we adopted two pairs of Peking ducks – sort of.  In reality the ducks adopted us.  The children of a deceased friend put her ducks on the 56 acre lake behind us.  Soon after the ducks arrived on the lake they started showing up at our house.  At first they simply waddled up to the house, ate whatever fell out of the bird feeders and then went home.  However, it wasn’t long until they discovered the chickens (and all the food they wasted) and their visits grew longer. Now, two years later, these ducks are an adorable part of our daily routine.

peking-ducks

We truly love our adorable, adopted ducks

Each morning around daybreak the ducks line up single file and waddle up to our house from the lake.  They spend their days hunting bugs, eating bugs, breeding (they do a lot of this in the spring), laying eggs and finally resting.  Our favorite duck behavior happens each time we drive up to the house.  When they hear our car coming they run quacking to the driveway.  They sit outside the car and they quack and quack and quack and wiggle their little tails until we follow them to the coop and feed them.  After their evening meal they lounge around a little more and then finally line up again and waddle back to the lake.  Yes, my wife and I have really fallen for our adopted ducks.  Their goofy antics are just downright enjoyable to watch plus, their love for bugs and nut grass (I have heard they love to eat nut grass but I have not actually seen them do it), makes them just as practical and useful as they are adorable.

Each morning our adopted ducks march up from the lake in a single file line

Each morning our adopted ducks march up from the lake in a single file line

While I am sure this will bring some comments, we have slowly come to the realization that ducks are much better pets for gardeners than chickens.  Don’t get me wrong, we still love our chickens.  However, if you love your gardens and you have free range chickens you will quickly understand why I have come to this conclusion.

Over the past three years I have been shocked to learn just how much damage chickens do to gardens.  Most of the articles I read before we got our chickens mentioned their “digging and scratching” behavior.  However, the articles I read kind of glossed over this.  Some tried to sell the behavior as “soil aeration” and other made it sound cute. Let me assure you, it is not cute.   The first thing a chicken does when it leaves the coop in the morning is head to your vegetable garden or flower beds to dig and scratch and dig and scratch and dig and scratch some more.  While I had hoped that my chickens would be different, they were not.  A chicken is gonna do what a chicken has to do.  So, after three years of fighting to keep them from destroying my gardens, I am throwing in the towel.  I have finally accepted the fact that chickens and gardens really do not mix.

chicken-proof-garden

Here you can see some of the defensive measures I have empoyed to try and prevent my chickens from digging up everything in my garden

Over the last three years I have watched our chickens turn newly tilled and mounded rows in flat, shapeless messes.  I have seen them eat freshly planted seeds, new sprouts and dig up every ornamental and vegetable transplant I set out.  I have also watched them kick fresh mulch out of my beds almost faster than I could put it down. I quickly learned that if I was going to have free ranging chickens and lovely gardens I would literally have to change the way I gardened.

Despite the head aches they caused me, we really loved those silly chickens — so I adapted.  For the past three years I have built fences, I have covered my freshly planted rows with chicken wire to keep them from scratching and I have built wire frames to protect transplants and new sprouts.  While I understand this is what chickens do, I have finally arrived at the point were I am tired of trying to beat them.  The good new is, ducks don’t do any of these things.  All they do is roam our gardens and eat our bugs.  Because of that, if I switch to ducks for my free ranging pets, I will never again have to cover my freshly planted rows or build wire frames or temporary fences.  In short, if I confine my chickens and let my ducks roam free I can garden they way I used to.

buff-orpington

Sally and I love our chickens! However, since they are so destructive I am afraid their free ranging days are coming to an end

Before these four adorable birds literally arrived on our doorstops, my wife and I knew absolutely nothing about ducks.  However, since they adopted us, we have become such big fans of these gentle, affectionate and somewhat goofy birds that we have decided to let them be our only free ranging bug catchers and keep our chickens confined to the very lovely and luxurious coop and yard that I built for them when we got them.  If you are a gardener (and I assume you are since this is a gardening blog) and you are considering raising chickens, I highly recommend investigating ducks too.  You can raise and house them in almost the exact same way as you raise chickens.  They lay pretty decent eggs (which make wonderfully dense and moist cakes) and they eat your garden pests without destroying your plants or garden beds.  I have also heard they love nut grass!  If that turns out to be true then everyone I know should get themselves a whole flock of ducks!!!

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Chicken-Coop

Don’t feel too sorry for the chickens that will soon be confined. They have a very nice coop, run and yard that is more than adequate for their needs

Breed Your Own Daylilies

May is undoubtedly the prettiest month of the year in my garden; and the thing that makes my garden outstanding this time of year is the daylilies.  I grow an old fashioned variety of daylily called Hyperion.  My wife’s grandmother got these daylilies sometime in the 1950s.  For the next several years they thrived and reproduced so successfully in her Garden Oaks yard that she divided them and took them to her ranch in Lovelady, Texas.  My wife’s grandmother passed away 15 years ago.  However, the daylilies she planted over 60 years ago are still thriving at her east Texas ranch and now, in our Brenham yard.

Thanks to my old-timey daylilies, May is the prettiest time of year in my yard

Thanks to my old-timey daylilies, May is the prettiest time of year in my yard

While daylilies make my yard pretty, my yard pales in comparison to the hundreds of feet of daylilies that line Highway 290 just west of Brenham on Magnolia Hill Farms (5059 HWY 290W, 979-251-4069).  My buddy Nathan Hanath is an organic farmer and a commercial daylily grower.  He currently has over 800 named cultivars for sale and hundreds more cultivars that he has bred.  Right now they are all in bloom and a visit to the farm will literally blow your horticultural mind.  While Nathan loves growing organic produce, his zeal for breeding daylilies is contagious.

Magnolia Hill Farm in Brenham has 0ver 800 cultivars of daylilies.

Magnolia Hill Farm in Brenham has 0ver 800 cultivars of daylilies.

According to Nathan, you do not need to be a professional to breed and grow beautiful daylily hybrids.  With just two or more cultivars, a few horticultural skills and some basic documentation skills, home gardeners like you and I can create daylilies that are just amazing as the pros.

Breeding:

Botanically speaking, daylilies are perfect flowers.  That means they have both male and female organs inside each flower.  The male parts are called stamens.  There are six of these in the center of the flower and they are topped with the pollen you will use to make your cross.  The female parts of the flower are collectively called the pistil.  Pollen is applied to a part of the pistil called the stigma.  In the daylily this is a single, long curved structure that is generally noticeably longer than the six stamens.  To make your cross, gently remove a stamen from the first plant you want to breed.  Then use it like a small paint brush to gently paint the pistil of the mother plant.

In this lovely daylily you can clearly see the stamens covered in pollen and the stigma that receives the pollen

In this lovely daylily you can clearly see the stamens covered in pollen and the stigma that receives the pollen

When the flowers open in the morning their pollen is slightly sticky.  In fact, according to Nathan, some daylilies have not even made their pollen by the time their flowers open.  Because of this, the best time to pollinate daylilies is around 10:00 am.  His experience has shown him that you will be much less successful with your crosses if you breed too early in the morning or too late in the afternoon.

Documenting Your Crosses:

While paperwork is not necessary to cross breed flowers, it will provide you with the information you need to understand what crosses work and which ones don’t.   Some daylilies have 11 set of chromosomes (diploid) and some have 22 (tetraploid).   “Dips” and “Tets” (as they are called in the trade) will not cross.  Since it is almost impossible to determine if your flowers are dips or tets, good documentation will allow you to understand which plants you can cross and which ones you can’t.

It is a good idea to make a permanent tag that notes the pollen plant and mother plant when crossing daylilies

It is a good idea to make a permanent tag that notes the pollen plant and mother plant when crossing daylilies

Good documentation will also allow you to begin to understand which plants do a good job of passing on their genetics.  As you get better at breeding, your documentation will allow you to begin to understand which of your plants will more likely create good results when crossed with others.

Once you place the pollen on the stigma, immediately make a record of the cross.  When Nathan crosses daylilies he attaches a little plastic tag to flower he just crossed.  His tag lists the name of the pollen cultivar first and the mother plant second.  These tags will not only help you remember what plants you have crossed but they will also be a visual reminder of which pods have the hybridized seeds at harvest time.

Here Nathan applies pollen to the mother plant

Here Nathan applies pollen to the mother plant

Growing your Crosses:

If you made a successful cross, your plant should produce seed pods in about 3 days (as soon as the spent blooms fall of the plant).  The seeds in those pods will be ready to harvest when the pods dry out, turn brown and begin to open.  For most cultivars this happens from mid to late June.  Most pods have 6 to 8 seeds in them but some will have more or less depending on the cultivar.  When the seed pods open the seeds are ready to plant.  However, if you will be saving them for a while, you need to lay them out in a warm dry place and let them cure further for a few days.  Once this final drying is done Nathan takes the seeds and places them in small, clear ziplock bags.  Nathan cuts the tag that was on the flower down and slips it inside the baggie with the seeds so he knows what he has.  Once your seeds are packed, place them in the crisper draw of the refrigerator.  This will provide the the seeds the chilling hours they need to germinate.

The tags Nathan applies at pollenation will follow the seeds into the bag that holds the seeds and finally into the seed starting trays

The tags Nathan applies at pollenation will follow the seeds into the bag that holds the seeds and finally into the seed starting trays

Nathan plants his seeds around Labor Day.  He fills 50 cell planting trays with a high quality potting mix and wets it thoroughly with a water/hydrogen peroxide mixture that is mixed at a rate of two tablespoons of hydrogen peroxide per gallon of water.  He places 1 seed in each cup and lightly covers them in soil.  He then uses this solution to water his plants until he moves the seedlings to his beds in early October.

Seed pods begin to form as soon as the spent flower falls off

Seed pods begin to form as soon as the spent flower falls off

While many people put their seeds under grow lights, Nathan sprouts his seeds in an enclosed back porch.  Once the little seedlings sprout he moves them outside under shade.  While most of his seeds germinate in a week or two, he has seen some cultivars take over a month to sprout.  Once the sprouts reach 2 to 3 inches tall, Nathan plants them in partial shade beds that are well worked with compost.

With a few skills and a little practice, the average gardener can breed exceptionally beautiful daylilies in their home garden.

With a few skills and a little practice, the average gardener can breed exceptionally beautiful daylilies in their home garden.

If you are going to be passing through Brenham you really need stop at Magnolia Hill Farms and visit with Nathan. His knowledge and enthusiasm for daylilies is infectious.  I have grown daylilies for years.  However, until I saw 800 cultivars side by side in a single place, I never understood why over 6000 people were members of the American Hemerocallis Society (AHS) .  After visiting with Nathan I finally get it.  Most gardeners enjoy creating things.  While it is fun to design and install a new bed or border, nothing could be more fulfilling than filling your design with beautiful flowers that you also created.

 

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!

Poppies, Potatoes and Protecting Squash by Patty G. Leander

Patty-Leander-Spring-Garden

I sure don’t need a calendar, computer or even a meteorologist to tell me it’s spring. Anytime I am outdoors I can see it, hear it, feel it and smell it. Not to mention the chirp of crickets in the house!

There is so much happening in the vegetable garden this time of year that it is hard to narrow it down to just one topic but here are three that are currently at the top of my list.

POPPIES: Jay has written about poppies before (http://masterofhort.com/2012/11/remembering-our-veterans-with-poppies/) but they are so lovely in spring they deserve another mention, especially since this is when we gather seeds for sowing next year. Poppies start to look a little ratty if left long enough to reseed themselves but a few seedpods will give you hundreds, if not thousands, of seed for sowing and sharing, so it’s not necessary to let ALL your blooms go to seed. Choose a few for saving and let the seedpods dry on the plant, long enough so you can hear the seeds rattle. Carefully snip off the seedpods (keep them upright so the seeds don’t scatter to the ground, unless that’s where you want them), remove the seeds and store them in a cool, dry location. Sow seeds in the fall for a spectacular spring display in 2017.

Patty-Leander-Poppies

Save seeds from spring poppy blooms to plant in the fall.

POTATOES: Potatoes are growing everywhere in my garden – under mulch, under hay, in cages and tucked in between other plants. My garden is big but it’s not big enough to grow bushels of potatoes and still have room for other favorite vegetables so I usually grow a few reliable favorites, like Yukon Gold and Red La Soda, along with a few less common selections. This year I have planted 8 varieties: Red La Soda, Austrian Crescent, Red Thumb, Russian Banana, Purple Majesty, Purple Viking, Russet Nugget and Lemhi Russet.

Patty-Leander-Potatoes

Potatoes go in where carrots came out, flanked by celery and tomatoes (left); on the right a fingerling variety grows under straw in a cylinder lined with fine mesh screen.

It sounds like a lot but I only purchase a pound of each variety since I am growing them more for fun and discovery than to fill a larder. I usually order my seed potatoes in December or January from Potato Garden in Colorado; they are one of the few places that will ship potatoes at the time we need to plant them here in Central Texas, which is mid-February. And they have an amazing selection of potatoes and growing information on their website (www.potatogarden.com).

Patty-Leander-Potatoes-2

More potatoes tucked inside an A-frame constructed for pole beans and sugar snap peas (I wouldn’t recommend this unless you are petite in stature and into lots of bending, crouching and squatting – hey, this is how I get my exercise!). You can see their rapid growth from April 6 (left) to April 22 (right). As soon as the sugar snap peas on the right are done producing they will be removed to provide easier access to the potatoes.

Most of my potatoes were planted on February 26th, a little later than I would have liked, but the potatoes seem to be making up for lost time. Potatoes like people weather – mild days, cool nights, not too wet and not too dry – and so far Mother Nature has obliged.

Patty-Leander-Potatoes-3

From left to right: Purple Majesty, Russet Nugget and Red Thumb on 4-10-16

Patty-Leander-Potatoes-4

Growing by leaps and bounds: Russet Nugget (center) catches up to Purple Majesty and Red Thumb by 4-22-16

Growing potatoes means lots of surprises since you don’t get to see what is going on below ground. As the season progresses it’s hard for me to resist the temptation to dig around the base of the plants feeling for swollen tubers. Last week, much to my surprise and delight, I harvested 3 pounds of new potatoes from a planting of sorry looking Red La Sodas left over from my fall harvest.

Red-La-Soda-Seed-Potato

They may not look like much but these Red La Sodas had plenty of life yet to give

If you are growing potatoes be sure to keep the base of the plants mounded with soil, mulch or hay as they grow – it’s ok to bury some leaves in the process. The goal is to keep the tubers covered so they are not exposed to the greening effects of sunlight. And if you decide to start digging around to harvest some baby spuds remember that they do not store as well as mature tubers so eat and enjoy!

Red-La-Soda-New-Potatoes

Surprise and delight: a little bit of careful digging yielded three pounds of new potatoes eight weeks after planting Red La Sodas left over from my fall harvest

SQUASH: Squash vine borer is a perennial problem for many gardeners but there is a new product to help battle this annoying pest. It is called Micromesh, and after using it the last couple of years I find that I like it better than floating row cover. It is available through the Territorial Seed catalog (www.territorialseed.com) and I have also seen it at The Natural Gardener in Austin. If you have seen this product at other Texas nurseries please share in the comments below.

Micromesh-Squash-Vine-Borer

Micromesh: a new product to battle squash vine borer

Micromesh is a fine mesh netting used to keep bugs off of plants. It still allows water and light to pass but it is more see-thru than standard row cover and provides better ventilation, an important factor as the warm season progresses. I cover my squash plants as soon as they emerge and don’t uncover until I see female flowers. You can recognize a female flower because it has a small, immature fruit attached at the base of the petals. Once the flower gets pollinated the baby squash starts to develop, but if no pollination takes place the flower and the fruit shrivel and fall off. If you choose to keep your squash covered after female flowers appear you will have to perform the role of pollinator. Jay covered the how-tos in a previous post: http://masterofhort.com/2013/01/hand-pollinating-squash/.

Patty-Leander-Squash

All types of squash produce both male and female flowers on the same plant; the male flowers generally appear first, followed by female flowers which have a tiny, immature fruit at their base

Hope you are having an awesome spring season in your vegetable garden! People pests (mosquitoes-grrrr),  plant pests, diseases and heat are lurking and soon enough will make their presence known, but for now we can give thanks for the rain, revel in the mild temperatures and watch in amazement as a seed becomes a plant and a plant becomes a harvest.

Grow Better Caladiums

Caladiums do well in the shady, sub-tropical yards of Texas and the Gulf South because they originated in the shady tropical forests of Amazon Basin in South America.  While these beautiful foliage plants have a reputation as shade loving plants, breeders have developed several strains that do well in part to full sun.  Today there are more than 1000 named cultivars of caladiums for growers to choose from.

Caladium-Border

Caladiums make a lovely statement on their own, but they also play well with other perennials. Thanks to Classic Caladiums for sharing these lovely pictures.

While the color patterns are quite varied, caladiums come in three distinct types and each performs slightly different.  Before planting your caladiums decide which type will best fit your need.  Fancy leaf caladiums produce large heart shaped leaves.  Most of these varieties like the shade and do best when planted in the ground.  These large scale plants make a huge impact when massed around a tree trunk, combined with perennial shrubs or mixed in beds with impatiens and begonias.  Strap leaf caladiums produce smaller plants with smaller foliage that is shaped more like a “spear point ” than a heart.  However, smaller does not mean less beautiful.  Strap leaf caladiums take the heat and sun better than the fancy leafed varieties.  Because of this they are a great choice for those of us in the more tropical parts of the South and they also work well in containers.  They also do extremely well in the ground, especially in areas that get six or more hours of sun.  Dwarf caladiums have heart shaped leaves but do not get as large as the fancy leafed varieties.  While beautiful in their own right, they pair well with the strap leaf varieties.  All three types of caladiums can be planted and cared for in about the same way.

Tiki-Torch-Caladium-Full-Sun

Tiki Torch is a Classic Caladium creation that can withstand full sun. Thanks to Classic Caladiums for sharing these lovely pictures.

Your caladiums will do best if planted in some shade, especially the fancy leaf varieties.  Caladiums planted in deep shade will actually get taller than those that are planted in dappled shade or sun.  While all caladiums appreciate some shade, most can take more sun than they are given credit for.  In fact, almost all commercially grown caladiums are grown in fields under full sun.  Caladiums grown in full sun will produce more vibrant colors.  However they will also require more frequent watering than those grown in shade.  If caladiums receive too much sun they can develop small holes along the veins and brown around the edges.  For this reason it is best to try and select a spot where the plants will get no more than 6 hours of sun a day.  It is better if this sun comes in the morning.  The hot evening Texas sun is hard on all plants.  It is especially hard on these large leafed beauties.

Mixed-Caladium-Border-3

Caladiums also pair well with many annuals. I really like the pairing here with the chartreuse coleus. Thanks to Classic Caladiums for sharing these lovely pictures.

If you are buying caladiums for the first time you need to realize that almost all caladiums are infected with one or several viruses.  While these viruses will not stop the tubers from producing well the first year, the size and color of subsequent years growth will diminish with each succeeding year.  To avoid this, ask your retailer if they buy their bulbs from Classic Calidiums.  Classic Caladiums has spent considerable time, effort and money to develop bulbs that are as disease free as possible.

When selecting where to plant your caladiums remember that caladiums like rich, moist, well-draining soil – but they don’t like to stay wet.  Caladiums also like organic matter as much as the next plant, so mix in some finished compost about a month before planting.  This will also help drainage if you have heavy clay soils. Caladiums grow best in slightly acidic soils.  Because of this they will benefit from a monthly sprinkling of bone meal.  If you use commercial fertilizers, be gentle.  Too much nitrogen will damage the tubers and affect the color of the foliage.  Slow release fertilizers like Osmocote work well.

Potted-Caladiums

Caladiums make excellent potted plants. Thanks to Classic Caladiums for sharing these lovely pictures.

If you are planting in containers, select a good quality potting mix.  While there are many mixes out there you want one that has a good amount of peat in it.  If the mix also has perlite or vermiculite in it, all the better.  All of these components increase the soils water holding capabilities.  That will be very important in July and August when you are trying to keep the soil moist in our 100 degree temperatures.  You should also mulch with pine needles or other high quality organic mulches to help regulate water loss.

If you are planting in containers, or you just want to get a jump on the season, you can purchase potted plants.  You can also get a jump on the season by starting your tubers inside four to six weeks before the last frost date.  If you are going to grow from dormant tubers look for firm roots that feel rubbery when squeezed.  Spongy roots are damaged and should be avoided.

Caladiums have one or more eye that is noticeably larger than the others.  These eyes will produce larger shoots than the other eyes.  If you want a nice rounded plant where all of the leaves are uniform in size, you will need to remove these.  De-eyeing is a relatively simple process.  You can take a small, sharp knife and remove about an 1/8th to 1/4th inch of material from the center of the large eye.  This is not brain surgery so you do not have to be incredibly accurate.  You just want to remove enough tissue to destroy the eye.  When doing this, be careful not to damage any of the surrounding smaller eyes.  If you damage too many eyes you will defeat the purpose.  Improperly de-eyed bulbs produce straggly plants.

Sangria-Leaves-Caladium

Mass caladiums like “Sangria Leaves” together to make bold color statements in your beds and borders. Thanks to Classic Caladiums for sharing these lovely pictures.

Caladiums tubers are generally sold by size.  If you have a choice, which you may not, (the garden center that sells me my tubers only sells one size) buy the largest tubers they have.  These will be called Number 1’s.  Quite simply, bigger bulbs perform better.  However, that doesn’t mean the smaller bulbs will not do well for you.

Once you have selected and de-eyed your tubers you are ready to plant.  Caladiums should be planted after all chances of frost have passed.  Even then you don’t want to plant them until the soil has warmed to at least 55 degrees.  If caladiums are planted too early they will rot.  Many caladium growers will tell you that you should never plant before Mother’s Day.

Plant your caladiums eye side up 1 ½ to 2 inches below the soil.  This is the same for both in ground plantings and in containers.  With smaller tubers it is often difficult to decide which side of the tuber is up.  If you cannot determine which side is up don’t worry too much about it.  Caladiums will grow regardless of which side you put down in the hole.  If the bulb is upside down it will just take longer for it to sprout.

Add caladiums to your potted arrangements to making stunning floral displays

Add caladiums to your potted arrangements to making stunning floral displays. Thanks to Classic Caladiums for sharing these lovely pictures.

One of the wonderful things about caladiums is how little maintenance they require.  Once you have planted them, all you have to do is keep them moist.  Because it gets so hot here, keeping soil moist can often be a challenge.  Because of this it is a very good idea to mulch your caladiums.  Earlier I mentioned mulching with pine needles.  As pine needles break down they will help lower the pH of your soil.  This is good as caladiums prefer a pH of 5.5 to 6.5.  However, if you don’t have ready access to pine needles, use any good organic mulch.  The important thing is applying enough mulch to cut your water loss.  Many people grow their caladiums in pots or hanging baskets.  Since both of these containers can dry out very quickly it is very good idea to deeply mulch them.  Regardless of how you grow or how much you mulch them, be aware that for optimal performance you will want to keep an eye on your soil moisture.  Caladiums do not like wet feet but they also should never be allowed to completely dry out.

Like other bulbs, corms and tubers caladiums are perennial.  However, they are perennial with a catch.  If you live south of Interstate 10, you can leave your caladiums in the ground year round, especially if you mulch.  I live just north of that line.  Since we had such a mild winter this year I probably could have left mine in the ground this year.  However, I didn’t.  Each fall I dig my tubers up and then store them for use next year.

"Aaron" looks lovely with impatiens.

“Aaron” looks lovely with impatiens. Thanks to Classic Caladiums for sharing these lovely pictures.

Most people dig their caladiums in late September or early October.  You will know it is time when the colors in the foliage begin to “fade” and the stalks begin to noticeably droop.  When this happens, take your spade or shovel and carefully remove the tubers with the leaves still attached.  Once you have them out of the ground find a covered place to lay them out and let them dry for several days.  Sometimes five days works but sometimes it takes up to two weeks before the leaves dry up and turn brown.  When the bulb is ready for storage the leaves will easily separate from the tuber exposing a dry and cured node where the leaf was attached.    Once the tubers are dry you can store them in sand, sawdust or peat.  Try and keep them around 60 degrees throughout the winter.

Few plants are as beautiful and carefree as caladiums.  These tropical plants are ideally suited for the Texas climate.  Even though they have a reputation for being shade lovers, breeders are constantly developing new varieties that make these reliable and pest resistant beauties available to a wider range of gardeners.   If you have never grown them before now is definitely the time to give them a shot.  New production methods and a certification program from Classic Caladiums will ensure that the tubers we buy this year will continue to thrill us now and well into the future.

I share these posts on Our SimpleHomestead Blog Hop.  Be sure to stop by.  The “hop” has tons of great information from gardeners and homesteaders all over the world!