Week 4 – April 20, 2006
Every year the National Gardening Association conducts a survey about gardening in America. This year’s biggest surprise is that the industry experienced an 11 percent increase in the number of people who participated in gardening in 2005.
From the tremendous growth in container gardening to all things color-coordinated for the patio, America is waking up to the expanded use of our outdoor living rooms. Even that phrase is new and refers to the trend to decorate these outdoor living spaces much like we do our homes.
America’s Best Flowers is filled with ideas to help you do just that. We are particularly excited about our expanded fountain and pottery selections. Come in and let us help you enlarge your home by utilizing the outdoor spaces you already have.
There is no better time to come see us. Our Annual Open House starts today and runs through April 30, including two weekends of free fun and food. Our staff is excited about seeing you and showing off our wonderful plants and garden accessories. We will be Focusing on Herbs, with free recipes and information on how to grow and use herbs, as well as a few tasty herbal bread samples.
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The weather has been cooperative the last few days. The warm sunshine and spring showers have caused our flowerbeds to pop with spring bulbs and perennials. But we must remember two things. It is still April, and this is still Wisconsin. Now is the time to plant trees, shrubs, and perennials. The soil is just right for digging.. Get your other chores taken care of, and try to remain patient for just a few more weeks before buying your summer-flowering annuals.
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This week’s Success Tip for Your Garden – Herb Garden in a Strawberry Jar
Herbs can be grown in any type of container, but perhaps one of the more interesting presentations is the strawberry jar. Today’s selection of strawberry jars includes vibrant colors in a variety of sizes. Planting the jar is fun and easy. You will need a good quality potting mix, a piece of 3” PVC pipe or cardboard tube at least six inches longer than your container is high, and some pea gravel. Center the tube upright in the pot and fill around it with soil up to the first row of pockets. Add plants in the holes, gently inserting the root ball into the pot. Add soil, gently firming it around the plants. Fill to the next row of pockets. Tap the pot firmly to settle the soil. Continue until the soil is one inch from the top of the pot. Fill the PVC pipe with gravel and then gently pull the pipe out. Plant herbs in the top. This is a good place for your lavender or basil, which both grow taller than many herbs. Slowly pouring water down the center of the pot will allow it to seep throughout the jar. Once your plants are established, you can begin harvesting. The rule of thumb is to never harvest more than 1/3 of the plant at a time. For best results, fertilize with a water soluble fertilizer every two weeks.
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“Where are your daffodil and tulip bulbs?” Every spring, when bright yellow blossoms of daffodils are popping up everywhere, we are asked this question. Daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths are some of the bulbs that are known as fall bulbs, because we plant them in the fall so we can enjoy their blossoms in the spring. These bulbs are readily available around Labor Day. The bulbs we sell now are called spring bulbs. These bulbs are planted in the spring to produce blossoms throughout the summer. There are several advantages to planting spring bulbs. Fall bulbs are in the ground 8 long months before we get to appreciate the blooms. Spring bulbs bloom just 6 – 10 weeks after we plant them. Fall bulbs have a relatively short, though totally glorious, bloom period. Many spring bulbs will bloom from June or July through the first frost. Dahlias are a good example of this. Once up and growing, you can enjoy beautiful blooms for many weeks. In fact, the more you cut bouquets of these big, bright blossoms, the more blooms the plants will produce. Most spring bulbs are planted more shallowly than fall bulbs, making the job easier to do. The one disadvantage to spring bulbs is that they are not cold hardy like the fall bulbs. This means that if you want to keep the same bulbs going year after year, they must be dug out of the ground before the first hard freeze. While you can dig the bulbs up and store hem in the root cellar, the easiest way to deal with them is to think of them as annuals and buy more next spring – much like we do with geraniums.
“What should I do with my forced hyacinths after they quit blooming?” Another way people enjoy the spring-blooming bulbs is by buying pots of forced bulbs. There is a broad selection available just about anywhere flowers are sold, including America’s Best Flowers. These bulbs are forced into a premature bloom cycle by storing them in climate controlled facilities. If you want to keep these bulbs after they have completed their bloom period, it is necessary to keep their foliage green as long as possible so they can store up the energy necessary to produce bloom in the future. Because these plants have been grown inside, it is necessary to acclimate them to the outdoor temperatures before you plant them in the ground (see next question). Once they are ready to plant, dig a 6 – 8 inch deep hole, stir bulb food or bone meal into the bottom, gently remove the pot from the soil ball, and plant. Water well. Keep in mind that the natural cycle of these bulbs has been disturbed so it might be two years before they return to their normal bloom time.
“I’ve read that I should harden off my plants before I plant them. What does this mean?” Hardening off is a term used to describe the process we use to prepare a plant to move from its warm cushy life in the greenhouse to what can be the cold cruel reality of the garden. A plant is much like we are. When we spend our first warm, breezy spring day outside, we often get a little sun and wind burned. The same thing will happen to plants. While we don’t have sunscreen to spray on them, we prepare them to live outside by a gradual process of exposing them to the harsher elements of the garden. The best way to begin this process is to choose a moderately warm, calm, overcast day, and set your plants outside in a protected area for a few hours, just to get them exposed to the outside conditions. Bring them in for the rest of the day. Repeat this process two or three times, increasing the time as well as the amount of sun and wind you expose them to. If the nights are sufficiently warm, you can leave them outside the second or third night. America’s Best Flowers does a lot of this work for you. We harden off many of our plants by moving them outside as soon as we can. They will then be ready for you to take home and plant directly in the garden. If you are unsure whether a plant needs to be hardened off, just ask. We will be glad to help you.
“Do you have your tomato plants in yet?”
With the exception of trees, shrubs and some perennials, we grow most of what we sell. So whenever we are asked if we have something in yet, the answer will be yes. It’s been here, in many cases, for several weeks, growing in its special spot, just waiting for you to come and buy it. So perhaps the question really should be “Can I plant my tomatoes yet?” And generally, the answer to that is no. The frost-free date for southern Wisconsin is May 20. Tomatoes are very susceptible to cold. One cold night is all it takes to wipe them out. Over the decades there have been many different devices invented to protect tomatoes so they can be planted earlier. Wall O’Water was popular for a while. This is a plastic sleeve with circular compartments designed in such a way so that when filled with water it can keep the plant inside warm. Many gardeners have used these with varying degrees of success. Other cloches are also available. A milk jug with the bottom cut out works just as well. After planting your tomato, place the milk jug over it. Stick the cut edges down into the soil about 2 inches to keep it in place. The key to this method is the cap of the jug. It is necessary to put the cap on each day in the late afternoon to trap the day’s heat inside the milk jug. It is even more important that you remove it the next day if the sun is expected to shine. If you don’t, you will cook your tomato plant. This method for growing early tomatoes requires closely watching the weather forecast. If cold temps are predicted, put a 5-gallon bucket or a cardboard box over the milk jug, creating a layered thermal effect. The box method has a few problems if there is much wind or rain. Beware! Babysitting plants in this fashion is a big responsibility. Many a gardener, after days of diligence, has lost his/her whole crop because of unexpected cold, or a bit of forgetfulness regarding those all important caps. So if you want to try it, exercise moderation. Try a couple and see how it goes. Choose early varieties, like Wisconsin 55 or perhaps a cherry tomato for your experiment. And don’t get attached. If it works, you will be eating the fruits of your labor in late June or early July. If it doesn’t, you will be eating your first tomatoes a few weeks later.
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MIXED ROASTED VEGETABLES
An Italian herb marinade makes your favorite veggies roast to tender sweetness. It makes an easy vegetarian entree, when tossed with 8 oz of cooked pasta.
1 medium eggplant, cut into 2" chunks (1 1/2 lb)
1 medium green bell pepper, cut into 1" pieces
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1" pieces
1 medium onion, cut into 8 wedges and separated into pieces
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1" pieces
1/2 lb. whole fresh mushrooms
1/3 c chopped fresh basil leaves
3 T olive oil
2 T red wine vinegar
1 t dried oregano
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper
cayenne, to taste
1 medium tomato, seeded and cut into 2" pieces
Grated parmesan cheese, if desired
Heat oven to 350
Place first 6 ingredients in 3 qt. casserole. Sprinkle evenly with the basil.
Mix oil, vinegar, oregano, salt and peppers. Drizzle evenly over veggies.
Bake uncovered for 30 minutes. Add tomato; toss to coat. Bake uncovered about 15 minutes longer or until vegetables are tender. Serve with cheese.
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We are Focusing on Herbs during our Open House. Below are just a few easy ways to bring the flavors of herbs into your daily menus.
Herb Butter is delicious on bread, vegetables, potatoes and pasta. Soften butter to room temperature. Add one or two tablespoons chopped fresh herbs per stick. Experiment with different herbs, either alone or in combination. Dill butter is great on warm rolls. Try chives on potatoes. Basil, oregano and marjoram team up to make your pasta wonderful. The possibilities are endless.
Core a tomato, scoop out the pulp, fill it with cottage cheese and sprinkle generously with chopped herbs of your choice. Refreshing!!!
Enjoy scrambled eggs with zing. Add one teaspoon finely chopped fresh chives for every two eggs. Top with salsa, if desired. Garlic chives are particularly good for this.
Toss two cut-up potatoes with 1T olive oil. Place in baking pan. Sprinkle generously with your favorite herb(s). Bake at 375 for 35-45 minutes until tender and golden brown.
For dessert, generously line the bottom of a greased cake pan with mint leaves (chocolate mint is great for this). Pour prepared chocolate, white, or yellow cake batter over. Bake as directed. Remove from oven. Invert cake on plate after cooling for ten minutes. Remove leaves before frosting. The mint infuses the cake with a subtle flavor.
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Plants to Ponder
You probably won’t be surprised that I’ve chosen perennial herbs as this week’s plants to consider. While there are many herbs we can grow in Wisconsin, not all of them are hardy in our climate. One of the most commonly grown is chives. Available in regular and garlic, this is one of the easiest plants there is to grow. From the time it begins to green up in early spring, you can harvest chives to your stomach’s content. It will keep on producing. And then it will bloom – a beautiful purple ball. Other easily grown perennial herbs include thyme, and oregano. My favorite is mint. A broad family, you can choose from spearmint, peppermint, or chocolate mint. This vigorous plant earns its place in the garden by providing leaves all summer long to flavor tea, garnish plates and enhance your baked goods. A good way to handle its aggressive nature is to plant it in the garden inside a large pot or bucket with the bottom cut out. Although it is a bit of work to dig a hole deep enough to fit the bucket – be sure to leave at least 2 inches of it sticking above ground level to discourage side growth – I’m sure you will be delighted with the results. If it starts to branch sideways, cut it back. The leaves can be dried for winter use. This containment method works well for almost any of the more aggressive perennial plants.