Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Weather Does Odd Things

The Weather Does Odd Things
I hope we all have been enjoying this gorgeous weather, because as we all know it won’t last forever. I have a PJM rhododendron growing near the Endless Summer hydrangeas that croaked earlier this summer and the yews that formerly grew nearby. Rhododendrons and azaleas are broadleaf evergreens that require a little TLC in our climate. A bit more on that later.
They bloom early in the spring on blossoms that set the previous fall, but sometimes the weather fools them. Remember the cold snap we had back in September? Well, that was just enough to make my rhody think winter had come and gone and it was time to bloom. I took this picture last week and now there are even more blooms.
Care of Broadleaf Evergreens
Rhododendrons, azaleas, and boxwood fall into the category of broad leaf evergreen, as opposed to evergreens with needles. The broadleafed evergreens usually prefer cool climates and acidic soils. They grow really well in the Northwest. Sacramento, CA (my hometown) touts itself as the "Camellia Capital," another member of this family that is not hardy here. Because they do not go dormant in the winter, they are subject to dessication, a fancy word for drying out and must be protected. They do prefer shadier spots in the garden and should be planted in protected areas. Late in the fall, spray with Wilt-Pruf and/or wrap with burlap. The Wilt-Pruf puts a waxy coating on the leaves that keeps them from drying out.
My co-worker, Marge the "Bow Lady" also reports an odd phenomenon: Her iris is now blooming. Again, I have to chalk this up to the weather. And finally, Ann Larson from the greenhouse wanted me to mention that her John Paul II hybrid tea rose, that was ravaged by Japanese beetles earlier this summer, has made a remarkable come-back and is now blooming up a storm. She told me today that stems she cut last 2-3 weeks and were very fragrant.

Tips for Winterizing Roses
Winterizing roses actually begins in August, when you should do your last fertilization and stop dead heading. My roses continue to bloom as well but I am opting not to cut them but instead am allowing them to form rosehips. This tells the plant that it is time to quit growing and get ready for winter. Any cutting done now will produce weak, spindly stems that will not survive the winter.
It is too early to put on rose cones, since most roses would need to be pruned to fit into the cones. Instead you can use rose collars. The collars wrap around the base of the plant and are back filled with black dirt or garden soil. The whole purpose of either the cone or the collar is not too keep the plant from freezing, but keeping it cold after the ground has frozen. This way the odd warm-ups we sometimes have in January or February will not trick the plant from coming out of dormancy prematurely.
Other News from C’Side
We have all been busy transforming the store into a Christmas wonderland. Our department is in charge of the artificial trees, wreaths and garland and we have lots of new styles this year. Our wine tasting this year is Friday, November 9 and our open house is November 17 and 18. Hope to see you soon!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The End of the Season

The End of the Season

I am now spending some time doing fall clean-up. There really isn’t much to do at this point, except rake leaves, skim leaves out of the pond and work on killing some of the perennial weeds such as dandelions that seem to be ever-present. We don’t recommend cutting things back in the fall, so that’s one more thing to cross off the list. Plants shouldn’t be cut back until they are really dormant, which doesn’t happen until late November or even later and who wants to be outside then when you could be snuggled up to the fire with a hot toddy.

I am, however, taking a close look at the garden to determine what worked and what didn’t and what changes I want to make for next year. Actually, I will be making a lot of changes because I will be moving and will have a clean slate from which to work. But it’s good to note what I liked about this garden and more importantly, what I didn’t, so I don’t repeat the same mistakes. Although at my advanced aged I probably won’t remember any of it anyway.

The one thing I was really disappointed with this year was a mass planting of torenia under the crab apple tree. We sell this annual as a plant that will bloom in the shade. Well, guess what, it didn’t. The tag says full to part sun and I think it definitely needs more sun than it got. Michael reported the same results in his garden, so I know it wasn’t just me. I think if I am here next spring to plant, I will plant begonias. The begonias we had at the store looked fabulous even at the end of the summer. Begonias are a great plant that don’t ask for much and bloom profusely whether in sun or shade.

My Endless Summer hydrangeas came up beautifully early this summer but all of a sudden wilted and died. They were established plants and I am still perplexed as to what happened.
Another plant that did not perform as expected were the caladiums I had planted behind my pond. I have a small amount of perennials planted behind the pond but since I use a lot of tropical plants in the pond I wanted to carry that same theme into the background. I had planted white variegated hypoestes, an annual that is also sold as a house plant, in mass and then the white caladiums behind that. The caladiums just never grew and then I think our rabbit ate what was there. (She also cut quite a wide swath through the hostas back there and is now confined to quarters.)

Well, thus ends another gardening year. I am looking forward to gardening in my new house on Douglas Avenue. It will be quite different from this garden as it is mostly shade and much smaller. There is a large deck off the house and I hope to do lots of container gardening. Working with Michael these past few years has given me quite an appreciation for this form of gardening.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

I Guess It's Really Fall

The Last of my Tomatoes

Last weeks warm weather caused the last of my "Sprite" grape tomatoes to ripen. Unfortunately the rotten chipmunk that lives nearby got them before I did. Oh, well, I guess chipmunks have to eat, too. I grew these in a half barrel along with some basil. I didn't have any problems with blight or other diseases. Using such a large container reduces the need for constant watering.


I've been meaning to write about clematises all summer but other things always came up. This fall my sweet autumn clematis bloomed wonderfully. I thought this would make an interesting article. I had originally planted this along my split rail fence in the front of the miscanthus grasses. I thought it would be cool to have the clematis wind its way along the fence and through the grasse, but it never had the look I was hoping for. The blossoms got lost in the grass and it just never really stood out. So I got the great idea to plant it at the base of a crab apple tree and have it grow up the tree. This particular crab is prone to apple scab and usually by the end of the summer it really doesn't look good. I could spray it but I don't. It has taken a few years for the clematis to get established and for me to figure out how to get it to do what I want. The first year I didn't cut it back and the second year it bloomed so high up in the tree you couldn't even see the blossoms. This past year I cut it back hard early in the spring and it bloomed through out the tree just like I wanted it to.

We get alot of questions about pruning clematis. Basically, there are three groups of clematis (clemati?): Those that bloom on new wood, those that bloom on old wood and those that bloom on both. Clematis that bloom on new wood can be pruned back hard in the spring. Those that bloom on old wood should be pruned immediately after blooming or just selectively pruned early in the spring. Just cut out the dead stems. Be careful, although it is a woody plant, the stems are very fragile. Follow this same pruning advice for the type that blooms on both old and new wood. It is important to properly prune in encourage blooming and to promote plant health. If you don't know what variety you have, you can figure it out by seeing when your clematis blooms. If it blooms early in the season, it is most likely blooming on old wood. Plants that bloom later in the season are probably blooming on new wood. Clematis are heavy feeders and should be fertilized regulary with a general purpose perennial fertilizer.

Here some pictures I took last week of our chrysanthemums

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


We have been "mum"ified here at Countryside. Every year we grow around 15,000 (yes, that's right) mums of just about every color, bloom-time and plant growth habit. We also provide mums at a discount to many community organizations here in McHenry County for their fund-raising efforts, so even if you don't come by the store, if you have bought mums through your local school or club, you have probably bought Countryside mums.

Mum History-- The Chinese wrote about chrysanthemums as long ago as the 15th century BC. It was cultivated as an herb and was believed to have the power of life. The mum appeared in Japan around the 8th century AD and they were so taken with it, they incorporated a single flowered chrysanthemum into the crest and official seal of the Emporer. The mum finally made it to the West by the 17th century. Since then it has been hybridized to the plant we know today. The National Chrysantheum Society (proving once again there is a club for everyone) divides bloom forms into 13 types but basically they can be summed up as: cushion, daisy, pompon, and spider, quill or spoontip. The spider or quill types are not hardy in our zone and the spoontip is the closest one.

Early, Mid or Late Bloomers-- I was a late bloomer myself. Really, I feel like I'm just coming into my own (and I'm 50) but that may be because my kids are all off at school and Mr. Ross just asked for a divorce BUT lucky for you mums bloom alot sooner than that, although is is all relative and dependent on the weather.

We list our mums as early, mid, late or season extenders. Mums are short day plants, meaning they bloom when the days become shorter (like we needed to be reminded of that!). The early mums will start to bloom around 1 September with the season extenders not blooming until mid to late October. Warm weather in August can delay bloomtime by a week or so. However, once opened warm weather will shorten the life of the bloom, while cooler, overcast weather will lengthen it. As long as the buds are not open, frost will not hurt the bloom.

Most people I think use mums as annuals but if you want to use them as a perennial, here are a few tips: 1) Do plant them as soon as possible. Don't put them in a container, then plant them in the ground at the last minute; 2) Do plant them in a sunny location in well draining soils; 3) Do use a fertilizer high in phosphorus and low in nitrogen when planting, but once established (i.e. next spring) fertilize monthly. Phosphorus is stimulates root growth, which is important any time you plant, but especially in the fall. ; 4) Do water thoroughly once a week until the ground freezes, usually in November; 5) Don't cut them back in the fall. Leaving the stems on provides winter protection. Also, mulch if you remember; 6) Left to their own devices, mums can get quite tall. Cut them back by about half no later than 30 June.

I forgot to take some pictures so hopefully when I get to work tomorrow we'll will still have some left and I'll add them later.