Monday, March 30, 2009

When the Forsythia Blooms, Prune Roses

Photo by seeks2dream on

I'm happy to report the forysthia are blooming in Idaho. That means it's time to prune the roses.

Pruning roses now rejuvenates the plant after a period of dormancy and stimulates growth. Before grabbing your clippers, however, keep these six simple steps in mind:
  • For smaller rose canes, use a good quality scissor type of hand pruner, not the Anvil type. For cutting larger canes, use a pair of lopping shears with 18" handles. Clean equipment with a solution made of one part household bleach to nine parts water. Or, swab shears with 70 percent denatured alcohol. This will reduce the spread of disease in your garden.
    • Always prune roses at a 45 degree angle about 1/4 inch above the nearest outward-facing bud. The American Rose Society offers good illustrations. Wearing long, heavy duty gloves will help you avoid injuries.
      • Remove dead, diseased or broken canes first. Also remove any suckers, which grow from the root section below the bud union. Then working from the bottom, clean out the middle of the bush to encourage good air circulation. Age isn't appreciated with rose canes. So, prune out the oldest canes at the base to encourage strong growth of the younger canes. Clean up old leaves and debris where pests and pathogens may have overwintered.
      • Different types of roses require different pruning methods. Hybrid teas, for instance, typically need more pruning than floribundas or climbers, according to Texas Cooperative Extension. Miniatures like to be pruned a few inches from the ground, and need to be divided every couple years.
      • If your roses bloom once a year, always prune them after they bloom. Normally, they bloom on old wood, so you don't want to cut off future flowers. I learned that lesson the hard way.
      • Do you live in Florida, where roses grow year round in much of the state? If so, here's what the University of Florida recommends.
      For more tips, don't miss the Rose Society of America's section on pruning.

      Thursday, March 26, 2009

      Weather Like a Lion or Lamb?

      Weather predictions are common in March and have been for centuries. Consider this old English weather proverb:

      "If March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb,
      If it comes in like a lamb, it goes out like a lion."

      What are you experiencing now -- the lion or the lamb?

      Wednesday, March 25, 2009

      Happy Lady Day, Happy New Year

      While you're out enjoying your spring garden, consider this cool fact. Today was the start of the year for many gardeners in past centuries.

      It's true. From the twelfth century until the calendar changed in 1752, March 25 began the year (not Jan. 1) on the Old Style calendars in England and Ireland. In the Italian cities of Florence and Pisa, this day held the honor until 1749.

      Today is also called 'Lady Day' or the Feast of the Annunciation. On this day, it was said the Archangel Gabriel proclaimed to the Virgin Mary that she would bear a son nine months later. In the ancient Roman calendar reformed by Caesar, this day was mistakenly considered the spring equinox

      When you look around the garden, it's easy to see why so many different religions and cultures have celebrated new beginnings around this time. Seeds are sprouting all over the place right now.

      Speaking of seeds, have you started yours yet? Prefer hybrid seeds? Or heirlooms? Want to see what seeds I'm sowing in 2009? What's growing in your garden?

      Update: See some of the seeds I'm sowing in 2010.

      For more information on seasonal folklore, consider the two sources used for this blog post:

      Tuesday, March 24, 2009

      17th Century Garden Tips for March

      "In March, the Moon being new, sow Garlic, Chervil, Marjoram, white Poppy, double Marigolds, Thyme and Violets. At the full Moon, Chicory, Fennel and Apples of Love. At the wane, Artichokes, Basil, Cucumbers, Spinach, Gillyflowers, Cabbage, Lettuce, Burnets, Leeks and Savory."

      Gervase Markham, The English Housewife, 1683

      Keep in mind this advice was written for seventeenth-century England. To learn the proper dates to plant herbs, vegetables and flowers in your garden, contact your local nursery, Cooperative Extension service or Master Gardeners.

      Friday, March 20, 2009

      Spring Equinox 2009

      Spring began officially in the Northern Hemisphere with the spring equinox at 5:44 MT this morning. (That's mountain time, which is what we follow here in Idaho.)

      From this point forward, the days will grow longer than the nights until the summer solstice on June 21, 2009.

      Considering it's the start of spring, it's especially exciting to announce that President Obama announced yesterday that they will grow a Victory Garden at the White House. Learn more about this exciting initiative.

      Cool trivia about the spring equinox:
      • Some believe the spring equinox is when the days and nights are exactly the same length. That's not exactly true, according to National Geographic.
      • Easter and the spring equinox have more in common than you may think. Easter falls on the Sunday on or after the full moon that follows the Equinox. Many of Easter's symbols (eggs and rabbits, for example) are spring fertility symbols that date back to pre-Christian times.
      • The spring equinox is now considered the official start to spring. But in traditional calendars, spring's emergence was typically celebrated in early-February.
      Here in Boise, we're having one of those warm, sweetly scented days that illustrate why people get "spring fever."

      For those of you, who believe spring will never come. Consider these words from Henry Van Dyke:

      "The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between the two is sometimes as great as a month."

      Keep the faith, spring will arrive for you too.

      Tuesday, March 17, 2009

      Peas on Saint Paddy's Day

      It's Saint Patrick's Day. A day to celebrate your Irish heritage -- even if your name happens to be Fong or Feinstein. A day to wear green -- or get pinched. And a day to plant your peas -- if you live in a temperate climate.

      I actually planted my peas a week ago in raised beds, because my Boise garden (USDA zone 6B; Sunset 3) is walled in and stays warmer than most. In about 60 more days, I should be snacking. Meanwhile, this lovely photo from Isabel Gomes shows snap peas from my coastal California garden a few years back.

      Cool facts about peas:
      • Nitrogen Fixers: As a member of the legume family, peas are nitrogen fixers. So, they feed the soil and plant by adding back nitrogen. How do they accomplish this feat? By forming a symbiotic relationship with bacteria called rhizobia found in root nodules. Encyclopedia Britannica shows this process here. Note: if you harvest your peas, the nitrogen will be used to feed the plant. If you want to feed your garden instead, cut up and incorporate the entire plant back into the soil before it flowers, according to New Mexico State University.

      • Pea Inoculants: Sometimes your peas need a little extra help to germinate properly and fix nitrogen, especially if you haven't grown legumes in that spot before. Consider dusting your seeds with inoculant before planting to introduce commercially prepared rhizobia bacteria into soil. You'll increase your yields and have stronger plants too. Note: Each legume species requires a specific species of rhizobia, reports Colorado State University. So pick the right one.

      Looking for growing tips for peas? Check out this advice from Burpee.

      There's also a great article by Weldon Burge in the March/April issue of Gardening How-To Magazine. Even if you don't subscribe, you can still find good plant suggestions.

      Want ideas for building pea trellises? has a nice article with photos from last year.

      Monday, March 16, 2009

      Alice Waters on 60 Minutes

      In case you missed it, Alice Waters was on 60 Minutes last night. One of the nation's most important voices for organic, locally raised foods, Ms. Waters first gained fame for her renowned Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif.

      In addition to authoring several books, she has worked tirelessly to promote an "edible schoolyard" curriculum that's become a model for the nation. Last night, she again urged President Obama to build an organic vegetable garden at the White House.

      Incidentally, another hard-working advocate of a White House garden is Roger Doiron, founder of Kitchen Gardeners International. Learn more about his "Eat the View" campaign.

      During last night's program, Lesley Stahl asked Ms. Waters whether her critics were correct in believing her emphasis on organic foods and eating local was "elitest."

      The slow-food maven replied, “I feel that good food should be a right and not a privilege, and it needs to be without pesticides and herbicides. And everybody deserves this food. And that’s not elitist.”

      Amen to that.

      Saturday, March 14, 2009

      Regional Spring Chores

      Say "spring" to gardeners in Southern California and it means something completely different than to gardeners in Vermont. That's why it pays to focus on what applies to your particular growing zone.

      Here's what these regional experts say are the most important gardening chores in spring:


      Wednesday, March 11, 2009

      Seven Spring Chores

      As the weather warms, it's time to roll up the sleeves and start gardening. Here are seven spring chores to remember:
      • Catch up on any fall chores you forgot last year. Pull back the mulch and clean fallen leaves, broken branches and other debris in the garden. They often are home to pests and pathogens who overwintered there. Now's also a good time to scrub out pots, clean tools and organize garden sheds.
      • Feed soil with a couple inches of compost, aged manure, worm castings and other natural amendments. They improve the soil structure, add valuable nutrients and strengthen your plants' ability to grow -- to name just a few benefits.
      • Apply organic plant food to your garden beds, based on the individual plants' growing needs. Be sure to water well afterward. Remember a little goes a long way, so pay attention to recommended amounts. Over-fertilizing has killed many an innocent plant. For best results, consider having your soil tested by your local cooperative extension service for a nominal fee.
      • Dig up and divide perennials like asters, daylilies, hostas and other plants that have grown too big. As new growth begins to appear, dig up the plant and divide into sections with a sharp knife. Make sure divisions have several shoots and some of the root system. Then replant immediately and keep well watered. Share the extra plants with your friends and neighbors.
      • Prune perennials, ornamental grasses and summer-blooming shrubs now. Be sure to prune off any damaged or diseased stems or leaves. Don't prune your spring blooming shrubs until immediately after they bloom. But do prune before mid-July or you'll prune off next year's flowers.
      • Plan to irrigate your gardens. Troubleshoot sprinkler systems for potential problems. Check drip lines for leaks. Install drip irrigation systems. Clean out gutters. And give some of those plants a long drink, especially if you've had a dry winter.
      • Finish other chores. Order seeds. Make labels for new plants. Turn the compost pile and add fresh ingredients. Pull any early weeds from the garden. Make all the finishing touches to get your garden ready to grow.
      That's one of the nice things about gardening. There's always something to keep you busy.

      Want specific information for your region? Go here.

      Thoreau on Seeds

      "Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders."

      Henry David Thoreau

      Seed Sources

      Looking for seeds? Here are just a few of my favorite seed sources:
      • Seed Savers Exchange: This wonderful non-profit organization is preserving our culinary heritage by saving and sharing heirloom seeds from across the planet. More than 25,000 endangered plant varieties are maintained at Heritage Farm -- the organization's 890-acre headquarters near Decorah, Iowa. Their four-color catalogue is a feast for the eyes.
      • Johnny's Selected Seeds: You'll find a wide array of the exciting heirlooms and hybrid seeds here. Lots of helpful growing information is featured in their catalog. Don't miss the garden tools developed by renowned Maine gardener Eliot Coleman.
      • Kitchen Garden Seeds: Lovely illustrations and interesting plant descriptions fill this catalog. I'm sowing several seeds purchased from this well-known company.

      Tuesday, March 10, 2009

      Why Hybrids?

      Trying to decide between growing heirlooms or hybrids? Well, there are several reasons to consider hybrid seeds:
      • A hybrid is produced by breeding at least two different plant varieties to create a "new and improved" version.
      • A hybrid may offer better yields, improved disease resistance, smaller sizes, etc... than an heirloom.
      • A hybrid can be easier to grow for some gardeners. For those who don't save seeds, hybrids can be a good option.
      • A hybrid is typically easier to find in your gardening center than more unusual heirloom plants.

      Why Heirloom Seeds?

      Excellent flavor. Colorful histories. Funny names. Unusual varieties. Heirloom seeds offer these benefits and more. Here are just a few reasons why you should consider heirloom seeds:

      • Heirlooms are open-pollinated plants with seeds that reproduce true to type year after year – unlike hybrids.

      • Heirloom seeds can be saved for the next growing season – unlike hybrids. So, when you plant heirloom seeds, you are actually helping to preserve our vanishing garden heritage for future generations.

      • Heirloom plants offer a much wider selection of unusual plants than hybrids. You can grow everything from white egg-shaped tomatoes to purple carrots and candy-striped beets. Not your typical edibles.

      • Heirlooms are bred for their superior flavor. Unlike common hybrids that are typically bred for shipping and traveling long distances – not flavor.

      • Heirlooms can be quite old. Some experts believe heirlooms must be more than 100 years old. Others 50 years. Still others believe heirlooms can be created from crossing two or more heirlooms. These are called “created heirlooms.” Here's what the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension had to say on the topic.

      Need another reason to grow heirloom seeds? Well, planting heirlooms helps ensure the survival of some very special plants. What could be better than that?

      Sunday, March 1, 2009

      A Few Seeds I'm Sowing

      "Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap,
      but by the seeds you plant."

      Robert Louis Stevenson

      From purple beans to candy-striped beets to carrots of all colors, I've selected a number of unusual vegetables for my garden this season. Many are heirlooms known for their exquisite taste and striking appearance. Here are just a few seeds I'm sowing:
      Cool Season Vegetables
      Warm Season Vegetables