Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Year in Review













Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I've got a crinum too.

Nell Jean started it, then Janie blogged about hers. I've got one too.

It came in a package from San Antonio, TX that arrived in late May 2009. Kathy had mentioned on GardenWeb that she had a pink brug she could send me cuttings of. As it happens so often in these kinds of trades, she also had two pink crinum bulbs and some Eastern redbud seedlings. You're not supposed to say no to free plants when they're offered, so I accepted. In return, she got a cutting of Kongmansia and a couple of Sweet Shrub seedlings from my wintersown batch. I don't have the greatest memory, so I had to search for the emails documenting this trade.

My crinum is planted near the brick chimney on the Southern side of the house. It's a sunny spot in winter, moderately shady in summer, and the soil is fast draining since it's on a bit of a slope. Crinums aren't completely cold hardy here in my zone, but this one still hasn't died back. It hasn't bloomed yet, planted only this past June. After seeing Nell Jean and Janie's flowers, I'm suddenly curious about this bulb again. It's been ignored since the day it was planted.

There are gardeners that spend oodles of money on new plants. There are others who only grow from seed. Still others add to their gardens by propagating through cuttings. There's a customer at the store who brought me a few twigs of various plants this summer. She handed them to me and said, "Stick that where you want it to grow." I did. And some have. I love trading with other gardeners. I love to propagate plants. I'm a sucker for a clearance rack at the garden center, but nothing compares to plants passed down to you from others who have grown them. They can provide knowledge and insight far beyond what those generic little tags tell you on the plants you buy.

Today, Carla and I are taking a trip to her former house. It's a few miles away in Norwood. When she lived there, she planted a Black Mission fig. I'm going to be bringing back a few branches to root later this winter. I'll be sure to give one of the new plants to her as a thank you gift for helping me acquire the cuttings. It's the least I can do.

It's 28 degrees and cloudy this morning. When I opened my eyes, the sky from my bedroom window had the most beautiful streaks of pink and orange. By the time I was dressed and outside, the light had mostly faded.

Other plans today include preparing more containers for wintersowing, making more tags for those containers, and hauling more of the split firewood into the basement. Rain is likely tomorrow. I need to get it inside to dry.

12:56pm - Lunch is done. I spent the morning at Carla's helping her plant 100 daffodils and 60 muscari. She hit the same clearance rack sale I did a few weeks ago. We took a ride to her former house in Norwood. There, I got some fig branches to turn into cuttings and a few cuttings from a very fragrant pink rose. It's still blooming. I'm hoping to get at least one or two rooted plants from 8 cuttings.

The rose. Lots of thorns, very fragrant.

The fig branches, most likely a black mission. It was there when she moved in. She says it's a heavy bearer. Of course, delicious.

I've already cut the majority of the branches into cutting sized lengths. The smallest pieces will be potted into 3 gallon containers and stuck in the hoophouse. I'm giving them a couple hours to dry out. The sap is flowing heavily. The rest will be refrigerated for sticking later in the winter.

The excess branches will be stuck in the ground where I want this fig to grow. If they root, great. If not, I have these for a backup. The bushes I took from were huge, easily 8-10' across and tall.

Now it's time to haul firewood into the basement. I've already stuck the rose cuttings in the cloner using the same method as the knockouts I did earlier. I'm just going to ignore them from here on out. This evening, I'll take down the Christmas lights on the outside of the house and pack away all the indoor ornaments. The window boxes will remain empty for a month or so.

It's 37 degrees and sunny. The hoophouse is 68.

3:55pm - Christmas has been returned to the attic for another 11 months. The basement has been reconfigured using a few extension cords for lights. The fluorescent lighting that used to illuminate my work tables when I had a business of my own are spread out to provide good coverage for the whole space. Even the garage area has a light. It looks so different with every nook and cranny visible. Laura would be so proud.

I'm pretty much done for the day aside from a few dishes and some groceries. Deciding what to have for dinner will be the hardest decision I've made all day. There's a chance of wintry precipitation overnight. 70-100% chance of rain with temperatures falling to near freezing by 2am. Maybe I'll wake up to a white yard tomorrow.

It's 43 outside. 53 in the hoophouse. It's been cloudy for a couple hours.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Broken Record.

Remember when music came on large round sheets of vinyl? Remember when one of those black discs got a scratch and repeated the same couple seconds of music over and over? That's what the 10 day forecast reminds me of. More of the same, over and over. Somebody bump the jukebox, please.

In the basement, the cloner cuttings have responded well to fresh water.

The Confederate Rose cuttings taken from Carla's neighbor's yard are leafing out, finally. I wasn't sure they would make it. Seems they might actually be rooting after all.

It's 25 degrees and clear. The hoophouse dropped to 27 overnight. The sun has finally topped the trees out back. We're up to 28 already. I'm thinking I need to hit the thrift stores this week looking for a couple of old quilts. A little extra nighttime protection wouldn't hurt. I might even install some Christmas lights. I bet the neighbors will love that, a big green glowing tunnel in the backyard.

More firewood will be split before work today. At 6pm, it was 69 degrees upstairs with no electric heat being used. It's currently 64.

12:06pm - It's 39 degrees and windy, again. The hoophouse is at 77 and still rising. By 2pm, a little shade will fall across the surface causing the temperature to reverse and fall.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Making plans for the gully.

This morning, I spent a couple hours cutting more wood from the dead oak tree in the gully. I was finally able to remove all the pieces of wood from the neighbor's property. There are still a lot of branches and small limbs from other trees that it took out when it fell this summer. Because this is such back breaking work, I can only give it a couple hours at most before I am just completely tuckered out. I made some nice progress though. Still a lot of wood to cut/split and burn this winter.

I've known for some time now that I need to address a situation that this dead tree has created. There's now a very walkable path from my garage door to the neighbor's property. As the wood is split and removed, it's getting easier to imagine all sorts of vagrants slinking through my backyard late at night. They'd have to be nuts, but I know the type.

Standing on the neighbor's furthest corner, Brown Ave, full of rentals and undesirable elements, is just a quick skip through a very thin border of privet.

Crossing over the privet hedge, one can see my house and the backyard. The privacy I've spent the past couple of years creating vanished in a single afternoon in July.

Where the cut wood currently sits, there used to be a creek. Years ago, I'm told the city blocked off the creek and installed drains on 7th street to funnel rain water into this gully. Prior to that, this entire area was used as a neighborhood garden. The woman that owned the house next door collaborated with the former owner of my house to keep the garden open for everyone to use. Twenty years later, the trees have taken over again. Ivy and periwinkle has covered nearly every inch of soil. Privet has sprouted and blooms, reseeds, and sprouts again every year. When it rains, as it's done a lot lately, the gully collects water. It absorbs slowly in our heavy stone and clay soil. Even in the middle of summer, it's not uncommon to find water in the lowest spots of the gully. Today, there's a bit of running water under the wood I cut into manageable logs.

It's already been suggested that I create a rain garden in this area. I've certainly got plenty of seeds for swamp mallow, lobelia cardinalis, and other bog loving perennials. As I remove the wood over the next few weeks, the size and layout of the rain garden should become more apparent. I don't plan to dig anything. I don't plan to move any earth aside from what is necessary to plant. I want to leave everything pretty much as it is, just adding some blooming interests and food sources for the native wildlife. I need to do some research on NC plants suited for wet locations.

The final plan for the gully includes a Magnolia grandiflora that I planted two years ago in the backyard. It's currently in the shrub island. I found it in the woods one fall day. A branch had fallen from another tree and pinned it to the ground. The stem had grown some large white roots under the leaves from the previous fall. I snipped it free from the mother and moved it a couple weeks later to its current location. I knew when I built that bed I would need to move the Magnolia. I had hoped to give it away, but the fallen oak tree gave me reason to rethink that idea. I'll be moving the magnolia in a couple of months. The hole it is planted in was once an anchor post for an old clothesline. I've cleared out a lot since this photo was taken in June 2007. The dog wasn't happy about my being there, let me tell you.

Standing in the same spot, you can see the magnolia exactly where the clothesline post was. The old crape myrtle is to the right and has regrown many new branches. I cut it down in the summer of 2008. I committed crape murder.

I'm sure the magnolia has a massive root system already. I hope to move it in early March if the weather cooperates. I'll plant it directly in the path that has been created by hauling wood from the neighbor's property. Other wintersown shrubs and cuttings will be used to create a physical barrier along the property line. The surveyor's tape is still visible along the rear of the wild. I'll be well within the bounds of my property so no one should complain.

It's now 45 degrees. Inside the hoophouse, it's 81. I placed the other half of a wireless thermometer in there this morning. I'll use it to keep track of the temperatures over the next couple of weeks. Too hot, and I'll need to think about venting. Too cold at night, and I'll look at other ways of capturing the sun's heat. The larger hoophouse will need some tweaking over what I learned last year with the smaller one.

Progress in the cloner

Last night, I cleaned the cloner. All the cuttings were removed and set aside. The white top allows me to see when it's time to clean. Small areas of green algae and black mold-like spots were visible. The humid environment is ripe for the growth of mold and algae.

One of the rose cuttings has developed nice firm roots. Unfortunately, they were growing through the foam material I use to hold them in place. One snapped off while gently trying to remove it. Along with all the others, it was placed back into the cloner to grow more roots.

Two other cuttings have developed large calluses, but no visible roots. If the wood heater wasn't in use, I'd pot them up now and use a plastic bag to keep them moist. I'd rather leave them in the cloner for now to see if they will actually root. I've gotten to this stage with roses many times only to have them start to rot from above.

Christmas Day, I snipped the pods from Gomphocarpus. I've rooted a single cutting in the cloner, so I figured I had little to lose. After drying, the seeds are smaller than most milkweeds. I'm not sure if this is normal or if the seeds are not viable. I might do a paper towel test soon.

This morning, I've got to cut and split more firewood. I have three pieces left in the basement. It's currently 30 degrees and clear. The high today should reach the mid 40s. I'm going to need a lot more wood.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Sun Came Out.

And it's still shining. Not a cloud in the clear blue sky. It's amazing what a little sunlight will do for the soul. It's 41 degrees.

The perennial bed from the front walk. In a couple months, new plants will be going in from the wintersown containers that will go out on Friday/Saturday.

Last year's plants are still blooming. This one is Mountain Bluet.

By the front walk, the 25cent heucheras and dusty millers have created a nice combo.

In the basement, 260 quart/six inch pansies are drying out. I spent a grand total of $2.89. Sales tax is 8%. You do the math. These will be my containers for some of the annuals to be sown in April. They needed to leave the garden center. My boss made me a deal I couldn't refuse.

Will have to spend a few minutes after work picking up more firewood for the night. The cloner will be cleaned and refilled. More firewood will be split on Monday and Tuesday before work. Rain is expected for the later part of the week. Tonight, more below freezing temperatures. December has been colder than normal. Wetter too.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A long day.

The nights may be getting shorter, but it was dark for the longest time when I woke up this morning. It was cloudy all day. The high was near 50. It's 45 and cloudy now. Tomorrow, we might see some late afternoon sun. Tonight's sunset was near perfect. I was at work and my camera was not.

On Sunday evening, I'm planning to clean the cloner. Some brugs and other things need to be pruned Monday morning. They're getting too large under the lights. One of the knockout roses has rooted.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Day and I am alone.

Finally. When the whole clan gets together, it's a little much sometimes. I'm more accustomed, living alone, to a quieter nature than my family allows. The barking dog, the screaming nephew, the loud voices of my mother and sister, the snoring from the recliner in the corner where my dad sleeps the day away, it's just too much sometimes.

There was lots of food, some of which I brought back in Tupperware containers for the next couple of days. There were gifts, greatly appreciated because I needed or wanted them. There was a lot of rain. One and a half inches fell while I was away. The wood heater is getting fired up again to dry the water that collected in the basement from the leaking concrete walls.

When I got home, the second thing I did was to take a quiet walk through the backyard. I clipped a few butterfly bushes and stuck them where I want them to grow. I did the same thing last year with great results. I also collected the seed pods from the Gomphocarpus. Inside, lots of brown seeds were found. I hope they're viable. I'll wintersow them in a couple months. It's a host plant for the Monarch.

Tomorrow is a work day. I'm sure we won't be busy. 66 Christmas trees need to be sold at $1 each to fishermen who place them in their ponds or favorite spots in area lakes for Crappies to raise their young. I've got a couple seed trades to get out now that things are getting back to normal. Next week, I'll cut some more firewood and get it split for two coldest months ahead.

What started out as a cold Christmas has turned into a pleasant day. It's 57 degrees and cloudy. I'm beat.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

Another heavy frost is covering the yard this morning. The basement wood heater went out completely over night. I thought I had filled it with enough wood to last. I was wrong. That's the first time it's gone out completely since it was installed on Saturday. I'm working on getting it going again now.

I'll be working this afternoon at the store. Last minute shoppers are frantically searching for meaningless gifts for their friends and family. Most of the Christmas items are gone. We still have some fresh cut trees left. I doubt we will sell any today. A few sad poinsettias remain too. There are about 100 Christmas cacti on one shelf. I didn't order them. The grower shipped them to us on a day when I was off. We're stuck with these things. Even at $1, we can't get rid of them.

After work, I'll drive to my parents' house. I'll get to bed around midnight, up again at 6 thanks to my nephew. I'll eat too much, open a few gifts, and drive back Christmas Day so I can be back at work on Saturday. Retail is hell. But it does pay the mortgage.

Here's to hoping everyone has a Merry Christmas. It's 27 degrees and clear. The first rays of sunlight are appearing among the trees out back. The nights are a minute shorter with each passing day. 85 days til Spring 2010.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Regarding the cloner.

It's been nearly a year since I built my homemade cloner. I've learned a few things. Green, new growth from almost any plant will root in a matter of weeks. Hardwood cuttings fail. Always.

The last time I cleaned the cloner, I nearly filled it up with late fall cuttings of buddleia, knockout roses, salvias, and lantana. A few cuttings turned brown and died, probably due to lack of sterility than the method overall. Many more rooted and have been potted up into small containers destined to spend the winter under lights in the basement. The lantana previously known as Miss Huff has done the best. It's actively growing under lights. Cotoneaster and buddleia are just sitting there. If they survive til spring, they should become strong, healthy plants with a little care in hardening them off.

I've still got a few things that need to be potted, mostly lantana taken just before the hard, killing frost.

As a test for rooting roses, I took several Knockout rose cuttings. I don't plan to keep these cuttings as I don't need more of these plants. I just wanted to see if the cloner would help to root them. I seem to lose more rose cuttings than anything else using soil. Again, the sterility of the medium is my biggest obstacle. The knockouts have formed large calluses. No roots are visible yet. I'll give them another week to impress me.

Overall, I've been fairly successful with this contraption. In a few weeks, I'll trim the tender new growth from the overwintering brugmansias. It roots in only two weeks in the cloner. I'm also going to try Confederate Rose. The cuttings I rooted in water have been potted up for a few weeks. They've put out some firm growth, but are getting too large under the lights. Pruning them back will keep them in check for the next 3 months.

But before that, I'll need to sterilize everything again. I use a 1:10 bleach solution. The rollers soak overnight in the same mixture. The foam often has algae in the cells after a successful cutting is done. I wish I had a closed cell foam to use for the holders. Maybe I'll take another trip to the dollar store this weekend.

It's currently 27 degrees with a heavy frost covering the yard. The forecast calls for a high of 54. It's 66 degrees in the basement and rising slowly. When I went to bed, it was 81. Upstairs, it was 68 with no electric heat. I'm pleased.

12:02pm - 46 degrees and sunny. It doesn't feel that warm out, even in the sun. There's a definite chill in the air. I've got an hour before I leave for work. I've sorted and printed my wintersowing labels for the first round. I have 116 varieties I'm planning to sow next week. I need 20 more two-liter containers prepared by then.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Red and Green

Two of the colors of Christmas.



Bloody Dock.


Knockout Rose.

Burford Holly.

Mr. Lincoln.

Japanese Blood Grass and Clover.

Pineapple sage in the basement.

It's clear and 36 degrees. The overnight low was 24. The birdbath is still frozen. High today of 50.