Rain-soaked garden

Clematis 'Fireworks' Rain-soaked garden

Most of Oklahoma got rain night before last. The rain-soaked garden woke up yesterday morning to singing birds, crawling caterpillars and me stalking it with my camera. There is nothing more pleasurable than spring in an Oklahoma garden, except, maybe fall, but spring is being extra good to us this year.

I almost always approach the back garden from the French doors leading out onto my deck. This week I got all of my pots plants except one that held a blueberry bush. I was trying to see if it was alive. Blueberries often go dormant here, and it now looks dead. I'll replace it with something from Bustani Plant Farm on Monday.
I almost always approach the back garden from the French doors leading out onto my deck. I’m getting ready to skip down the stairs and out onto the gravel paths. This week I got all of my pots planted except one that held a blueberry bush. I was waiting to see if it was alive. Blueberries often go dormant here, but it definitely looks dead. I’ll replace it with something from Bustani Plant Farm on Monday.
Rain in Oklahoma is cause for celebration, and it looks like we're in a stormy pattern for the… Click To Tweet

Rain in Oklahoma is cause for celebration, and it looks like we’re in a stormy pattern for the next week or so. We need those spring rains to ready the garden for our hot and dry summer. So far, so good.

[Click on photos in the galleries to make them larger.]

Let’s chat about garden chores and what to do now. I’m also linking this post to Garden Bloggers Bloom Day hosted by Carol Michel at May Dreams Gardens.

Intenz celosia which is one of my favorites will grow quite a bit larger. It blooms all summer and is tropical meaning it won't come back.
‘Intenz’ celosia which is one of my favorites will grow quite a bit larger filling part of this space. It blooms all summer and is tropical meaning it’s not perennial and won’t come back. Isn’t that black pipe ugly in back? I better cover it up with a grass. Oh wait! I did.

So, what to do now? You can plant almost anything you want. I’m going to do another post on Monday after I get back from Bustani Plant Farm–if I get the chance–and give you a plant list of reliable garden performers. There’s really no worry of freezes unless something weird happens.

I’ve been watching the weather closely. I think we’re out of danger even though we’ve had a freeze as late as May 1 once. However, that was a really cool spring, and we’re not having one of those this year. In fact, the weather has been nearly perfect.

New foliage on Rosa 'South Africa' against the variegated leaves of Aer palmatum 'Peaches and Cream' Japanese maple. I do love Japanese maples and plant them every chance I get. They are so delicate in form and are easy to grow in the right spot with fertile soil.
New foliage on Rosa ‘South Africa’ against the variegated leaves of Aer palmatum ‘Peaches and Cream’ Japanese maple. I do love Japanese maples and plant them every chance I get. They are so delicate in form and are easy to grow in the right spot with fertile soil. The east side of the house is the best place. Peaches and Cream is located in the flower border next to the garage. The leaves turn the most scrumptious orange and white in fall. ‘South Africa’ rose is a very hardy Hybrid Tea that blooms yellow.
  1. So, plant with abandon! I have.
  2. Mulch with something biodegradable like shredded bark, shredded leaves or compost, although compost will degrade into the soil faster than the other two options.
  3. Pull weeds or use a weeder like the CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator. I’m also a huge fan of the DeWit Right Hand Dutch Hand Hoe. You need to get ahead of the weeds before they get too large.
  4. If you haven’t already, lay soaker hoses and put them on timers. Also, hook up your containers to a simple drip irrigation kit like Raindrip R560DP Automatic Container and Hanging Baskets Kit. It is similar to mine. Hook all systems up to timers, and your garden watering is mostly worry free.
  5. Burn off weeds in gravel paths, or if you’re not organic you can spray with one of the weed killers. You can also use natural sprays, but my experience is they only do top kill and don’t get the roots. However, you will damage them enough that when the sun gets fierce, many weeds still dry up and blow away.
  6. Plant shrubs, including roses, and trees, but make sure they have consistent water to get established.
  7. Plant tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant along with other hot weather plants. Plant all of your herbs now too, including basil, parsley, and others. It’s probably too late for cilantro which bolts at the first opportunity. For salsa, I just buy cilantro at the store. You can buy great transplants at many of our nurseries and even the box stores. I’m growing several new tomatoes and peppers this year that I started from seed. I’ll detail my selections in another post.

Bill, my son, Brennan, and I are building raised beds this weekend. This time we decided to buy corners to make our lives easier. With corners, you can place the boards into the corners and voila! You have raised beds. We’re putting the raised beds where my tilled garden was the last couple of years. I’ll grow more vegetables and cutting garden flowers in this spot. We may add more beds in the future, but are only doing three for now. I’ll post about the raised beds next week and get pictures for you this weekend.

I have our regional daylily garden tour in June so I’m buying plant tags and such to identify everyone. It’s a must for daylily enthusiasts. I hope I figure out the i.d. on all of my plants before visitors arrive. I may need some “Unknown” tags for oldie goldies I love, but no longer remember their names. My garden is really about what looks good with daylilies. Although I have many daylily plants, I’m not a true collector anymore. I like so many plants.

Above, we’re down in the bottom of the back garden again. The back garden is, by far, my favorite part. I love the back garden because it’s mature and mostly takes care of itself once I get everything cut back in early spring. I weed it, plant a few annuals/tropical for more color, and then let it do its thing. I don’t even need to do much pruning because I no longer have many roses back here. I do have one ‘Belinda’s Dream’ rose, but that’s about all. Most succumbed to Rose Rosette Disease, but that gave me new opportunities especially on the arbors. I tried several plants to replace my climbing roses, but found I love orange ‘Major Wheeler’ coral honeysuckle on the back arbor. [See the photos above.]

In the middle portion of the back garden is another arbor. It was my first arbor, and this is one of the original parts of the garden planted over twenty-five years ago. Once upon a time, I had ‘Cl. Old Blush’ on this arbor, but it also died so I planted ‘Tangerine Beauty’ crossvine and ‘Dropmore Scarlet’ coral honeysuckle. Please don’t confuse crossvine with trumpet vine. They are different plants. Crossvine is native, and trumpet vine is invasive. I caused quite a stir on Instagram and Facebook last week when I posted an afternoon photo of crossvine. People asked me where to buy it. Well, last week, I saw five plants of ‘Tangerine Beauty’ at TLC Nursery. I wonder if they had a run on the plants yet. Maybe they still have some. It is beautiful and beneficial to hummingbirds and an early pollinator nectar source.

Please don't confuse crossvine with trumpet vine. They are different plants. Crossvine is… Click To Tweet

 

‘Dropmore Scarlet’ is a well-behaved honeysuckle that would make a great vine for any garden. I find American honeysuckles very easy to grow. The only thing they lack is fragrance, and you can plant other fragrant plants. Whatever you do, don’t plant Japanese honeysuckle. I have been trying to eradicate the start Bill brought over from his mother’s garden for nearly thirty years. I still have it in two corners of the garden, and yes, I used brush killer on it even though I hate using chemicals.

Whatever you do, don't plant Japanese honeysuckle. I have been trying to eradicate the start… Click To Tweet

Because we’ve had rain and nearly perfect temperatures this spring, the shade gardens are showing off. I believe the single-flowering Japanese kerria is one of my best easy-care plants. I’ve given tons of it away over the years, and my first plant was from Wanda Faller. Wanda also gave me my maidenhair fern and ‘Annabelle.’ These are the backbones of my shade gardens.

However, this year, my old hostas look splendid. I couldn’t ask for better foliage. I place pecan hulls around my hostas to discourage slugs. In Oklahoma, we don’t have as many slug problems as some other gardeners, but in spring, when it’s wet, we do see the little slimy boogers. I hate them. They hate pecan hulls and eggshells. I enjoy the thought that they are in pain as they slide across these sharp objects.

Yeah, I’m mean like that.

As for hostas, I don’t often recommend them for central Oklahoma. Tulsa gardeners grow beautiful hostas, but they often get more rain and have more shelter than we do because of their rolling hills. However, if you find hostas with substantial leaves, they will often perform well even in central Oklahoma in the shade, especially the blue-green ones. Even the less substantial ones are happy this spring and last, and for the first time, ‘Empress Wu’ is looking really good. She’s substantial, but slow growing in my garden.

We are replacing the split-rail fence around the back garden soon because it is wearing out again. We removed the chicken wire and will replace it with flat fence panels. It will be much easier to maintain.

Ok, with that, I’m going to leave you. I want to go outside and do a little mulching while the weather is cool and rainy. Blue skies this afternoon make this red-dirt girl happy. What’s blooming in your garden this fine spring day?

Garden editing, i.e. weeding

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio glaucus) on passalong Phlox paniculata.

Late summer is the season of garden editing especially in a year with consistent rain and moderate temperatures. Consistent rain and moderate temperatures in Oklahoma? Yes, indeed. The summer of 2015 reminds me of the summers of my youth. There’s heat, but only a few days over 100F, and it’s rained every few weeks throughout June, July and August.

Rudbeckia hirta 'Chocolate Orange' weeding
Rudbeckia hirta ‘Chocolate Orange’

I am overjoyed by this turn of events until I think of my garden blogging friends out west. In case you haven’t heard, California is drying up and on fire. Washington and Idaho are also going up in flames. Because I’ve blogged since 2007, I have friends in all of these places. I see their shares on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and my heart hurts for them. Oklahoma is frequently dry and on fire too so I empathize. I am praying for that Godzilla El Nino with a vengeance even though it will mean mud slides because of a lack of vegetation.

Echinacea 'Powwow Wild Berry' has very erect stems and bright color.
Echinacea ‘Powwow Wild Berry’ has very erect stems and bright color.

Because my friends are such good and generous people, I know they don’t begrudge Oklahoma finally having a decent summer. They’re far too kind. Usually, by the end of August, my garden is very, very dry. Not this year. In fact, more rain is forecast this week, and we had beautiful storms two days ago. I am still watering, but not as often, and for once, the gardens at my church, which I care for, are in pretty good shape.

Butterflies aren't the only winged beauties in the garden. This White-lined Sphinx moth, Hyles lineata, has wonderfully patterned wings.
Butterflies aren’t the only winged beauties in the garden. This White-lined Sphinx moth, Hyles lineata, has wonderfully patterned wings.

At home, where I can watch things day-to-day, summer gardening is all about editing. Weedy grasses want to take over any space left bare. Late summer is an easy time to pull/dig weedy grasses because they elongate, and you can spot them from their inflorescences (blooms/panicles.) Even so, try to reach down and get grasses and other weeds where they grow. Otherwise, they will just break off in your hands. Weeding is all about getting to the root of the problem.

'Becky' shasta daisy with Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm'
‘Becky’ shasta daisy with Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm.’ If you deadhead, leave some of the stem because some small native bees lay eggs in these stems, and their young emerge in spring. If you don’t mind having more plants, you can leave the seed heads for birds like the American Goldfinch too.

My garden, in a good year, is packed to the gills with plants. Part of this is that I’m a girl who just can’t say no, but there’s also method to my madness. A garden full of growing plants crowds out many weeds by throwing shade.

Four o'clocks, coleus, asiatic lilies make this border sing.
Four o’clocks, coleus, asiatic lilies make this border sing.

A visitor in spring asked me what I spray for weeds especially in the gravel paths. I use regular vinegar, not the stronger horticultural type, but plain old vinegar set at 5% acidity. It will kill smaller weeds and weaken larger ones, but mostly, I just pull weeds and smother others with mulch or even black plastic on a warm day. Weeds in the gravel paths are at their worst in early spring when we have moderate temperatures and rain.

Cup plant, Silphium perfoliatum, in all of its eight-foot-tall glory.
Cup plant, Silphium perfoliatum, in all of its eight-foot-tall glory.

If you’d like to read more about natural versus chemical weed control, check out the recent discussion between Jeff Gillman and Margaret Roach on her blog, A Way to Garden. Note, I don’t use the epsom salts/vinegar mixture they discuss, but their talk gives you good insight about chemical methods versus organic ones. I only use plain vinegar on my paths, but vinegar doesn’t kill the roots of most perennial weeds. In spring, when the weather isn’t as dry, I also use a propane gas torch to kill weeds. Over the years, I’ve improved the soil in the garden beds and borders so it’s pretty easy to pull weeds. I know most people don’t work from home like I do, but if you weed thirty minutes a day after work, you’ll find you have a lot fewer weeds, and you won’t need so much herbicide, organic or not. Remember, weeding has a meditative quality too.

Rain lilies and purple heart because we've gotten rain this year.
Rain lilies and purple heart because we’ve gotten rain this year.

As the weather gets hotter, there are fewer weeds in the paths because the rocks are really hot and dry. I pull weeds in the gardens and in the paths everyday. With certain weeds like the ever-present Bermuda grass, you have to dig down into the soil to get the larger roots. In another bed, I have a stand of Johnson grass,which is worse, because I swear, those roots go all the way to China. I will probably spray it with vinegar, being careful not to overspray other plants, and then work on digging it out a few days later. I find a garden digging fork is my best took in the fight against weedy grasses. Will I ever completely rid my garden of Bermuda and Johnson grass? No. To achieve root kill on nutsedge, Bermuda and Johnson grass, I think you’ll have to use a chemical spray designed for that purpose. However, I’m organic so I just beat things back all the time. I do a lot of digging.

A new gardening friend visited and asked how I amend the soil. This is where I tell you should first get a soil test. I no longer get soil tests every few years because I’ve worked out my methods of soil amendment. If I’m having a problem with a particular bed though, I would then get a soil test to see what’s lacking. This spring, because I’m working hard on prepping new daylily cultivars for the regional tour in 2017, I did a lot of work on the soil, and the garden really responded. I used Back to Nature on the beds in March and April. It took two weeks to weed the garden and put down BTN wherever I’d weeded. One of the things I like about BTN is that when I place it on top of the soil as a mulch, it initially seems to stop some weed seed germination. If you tilled it into your soil, it wouldn’t have this effect. Further, this effect is simply based upon my observation over the years. To sow seeds in a certain location, I would cover them instead with shredded leaves for best germination. I waited a few weeks to let the earthworms till the BTN into the soil and once it decays to half its original size, I placed either shredded leaves as mulch, or fine pine, wood mulch. I used fine pine because it is very small and will degrade within a season. It provides better weed control than the shredded oak leaves. Think about it. In the forest where leaves fall to the ground, they provide a perfect soil amendment for understory plants. They do the same thing in your garden. If you don’t have fibrous leaves like those from our oak trees, you don’t even need to shred them.

Different view of the garden. The potager is on the left, and the vegetable/cutting garden is on the right.
Different view of the garden. The potager is on the left, and the vegetable/cutting garden is on the right.

I was also asked what I do about bugs and insects in the garden. I don’t do much to discourage them. Instead, I work to provide a haven for birds and all types of wildlife excluding deer of course. Deer visit anyway, and if they’re hungry enough, only a large fence, or large active dogs will stop them. I don’t have a large fence, but I plant large grasses and tall plants around the exterior of the garden because deer don’t like to venture into a space where they can’t see all around them. It’s not a perfect system, but it works pretty well. Maddie and Tap also patrol outside and reduce some of the nightly visitors like skunks, deer, opossums, raccoons, armadillos, etc. I still have damage here and there especially if I forget that deer love a certain plant and put it in the gardens further from the house. I’m thinking of the variegated oyster plant I grew for a day or two before the deer found it in the bed next to the street. Whoops.

Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm' needs a lot of editing in a moist garden.
Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ needs a lot of editing in a moist garden. It spreads by roots and seeds.

In addition to the weeds, there are also plants that need editing. Some plants, especially passalong favorites like Phlox paniculataRudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm,’ goldenrod, Physostegia virginiana (false dragonhead) and some asters, must be pulled out. You can wait until next spring, but by then, they will be even more entrenched. I pull many of these volunteers away from other established plants. It gives everything a bit of breathing room. I pulled large piles yesterday. I may remove Verbesina alternifolia, yellow ironweed, because it is trying very hard to take over the lower beds. I do love its tall stature though at the end of the garden so maybe I won’t. I also have an aster that’s run amok, and I’ve pulled it, smothered it with plastic and sprayed with vinegar. It loves a wet clay area of my garden and is a real problem there. We all have our problem children, ‘er plants in the our gardens, don’t we?

My husband calls this area the zinnia garden because there are more zinnias in the cutting garden than anything else. It's wonderful. I can't capture the true nature of the colors.
My husband calls this area the zinnia garden because there are more zinnias in the cutting garden than anything else. It’s wonderful. I can’t capture the true nature of the vivid color.

Well, the morning is cool so I’m off to do more editing. The skies are cloudy, and I’ve got people coming to visit on October 17. Wish me luck that I get things tidied up by then.