Smiling through winter, an update

My hyacinths on the windowsill bring me happiness and joy.

After last week’s post, I implemented my seven ways to smile through winter plan. This quiet season covers at least five months of the year in Oklahoma so smiling through winter is vital. Like Demeter, we gardeners pine for Persephone until she returns from Hades, and green shoots push forth from the earth once again.

A yellow kalanchoe brightens my day as I sit on the sofa and read.
A yellow kalanchoe brightens my day as I sit on the sofa and read.

How did I implement my plan? First, I went to three four local stores–TLC Nursery, Whole Foods, Lowe’s and Under the Sun–and bought four or five six or seven indoor plants including a variegated airplane plant. The 1970s are alive and well my friends.

The airplane/spider plant is in the greenhouse video below. Consider it horticultural retail therapy.

New rugs for the living room and two orchids help too. I move the plants in and out of the windows so that they get light. You can't treat a plant like a piece of furniture.
New rugs for the living room and two orchids help too. I move the plants in and out of the windows so that they get light. You can’t treat a plant like a piece of furniture. It will die.

I returned home and transferred said plants into beautiful pots. Beautiful containers and sparkling glass do a lot to help improve a supermarket plant.

Beautiful containers and sparkling clean glass do a lot to improve a supermarket plant. Click To TweetI always keep decorative containers on hand, and I collect blue and white porcelain including the flow blue platters on the mantel, above. Beautiful containers and sparkling clean glass do a lot to improve a supermarket plant.

Joanna Gaines of Magnolia Market and Fixer Upper fame would agree. If you notice on the show, she cuts a lot twigs and branches and places them in glass vases. She even had cottonwood leaves in last night’s show! I followed her lead with this cotton boll arrangement in my dining room. That reminds me–I think I’ll grow cotton next year. Bustani Plant Farm carries an ornamental pink cotton.

Cotton bolls in a crystal vase ala Joanna Gaines and Fixer Upper. These remind me of stark winter.
Cotton bolls in a crystal vase a la Joanna Gaines and Fixer Upper. Looking at my Oklahoma sign in this photo reminds me I want to hang it above the china cabinet and retire that iron display rack for awhile.

I placed plants in spots where I could see them while I write, read books, clean house, etc. They, along with my forced bulbs, are in every window in my house. If you’d like to see more pictures of my indoor plants follow me on Instagram. I usually post once a day.

Click on the images in the gallery, below, to make them larger and see the captions.

I then decided to go outside and face my greenhouse. I haven’t written much about the greenhouse this winter because we had quite the early season disaster. My greenhouse is composed of wood and three-ply poly, so it swells and contracts depending upon the humidity. We’ve been very dry. Oklahoma is in a drought again. Of course, it is.

A huge cold front came through in December while we were away, and my son went out to check on things. God bless him for caring. If you don’t slam the greenhouse door hard enough, it can pop open especially when the air is very dry, The wind from the front nearly whipped the door off its hinges. We came home to the greenhouse standing wide open in 18-degree F. weather. Everything inside got either nipped by the cold wind, or frozen depending upon where items were inside. It was a scientific experiment in microclimates, and as in our gardens sometimes, there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the freezing. I lost several plants, and Mother Nature painfully pruned others. I’m grateful I put the coleus cuttings at the back of the greenhouse. They weren’t killed. However, my beautiful ‘Republic of Texas’ orange tree was so injured I lost half of it, the rest of the citrus were also burned, except surprisingly a kumquat on an elevated surface. The heater nearby must have kept that one warm enough.

To say I was sad about all of this would be an understatement. I was heartbroken, and after that first evaluation, I didn’t go outside and assess the damage again. I couldn’t face it, so Bill went out every couple of days and watered giving me reports. The orange tree already had ripening oranges on it when the storm hit. My beautiful dark red mandevilla died too. Maybe I can find a replacement at Under the Sun this spring. They carry the Sun Parasols® brand. Mine was a trial plant I’d overwintered twice. It was quite large.

After the post last week, I decided to go out and see what I could salvage. I took clippers in hand and began trimming away the orange tree’s dead limbs. The live video from Facebook, above, shows the results. Don’t you love how videos always catch you at your worst when they stop? Half the tree is gone, but of course, after I pruned the damaged bits, it began to perk up. I also took off the remaining oranges which did ripen but were also pithy from the freeze. As for the other trees, we’ll see if they put on a crop from their damaged blooms. It’s been warm enough this week I set the greenhouse top to open because nearby honeybees love to pollinate the citrus. One lesson I learned is there’s still a lot of good left in my greenhouse.

One lesson I learned is there's still a lot of good left in my greenhouse. Click To Tweet

The same is true about our world. You find truth in whatever you focus upon, good or bad. I choose to stand in the light.

I bought seeds this week. Because we’re having the regional daylily tour in June, I won’t plant the large vegetable/cutting garden this year. It’s too much to care for it, travel, have a wedding, get two children graduated, etc. I just can’t do it all. But, I wanted to show you these seeds from Hudson Valley Seed Company. I love their art packs. They are so beautiful. I bought their calendar too. It’s comprised of the art from the seed packets.

I’ve also kept doing videos for my YouTube channel, and as I wrote above, this is a live video on Facebook. I also read two books last week. If you’d like to know what I’m reading, follow me on Goodreads. I started a bullet journal. I’ll write a post about it another time.

I stepped up my exercise too. Thank goodness! I’m walking most days, but I also contacted a friend who is a trainer and asked her to create a weight training plan for me. I have osteopenia, and I definitely don’t want osteoporosis. Weight bearing exercise is all important.

That’s what I’ve done so far. What are you doing to improve your winter days?

July garden chores

Hydrangea paniculata 'Little Lime' and Senorita Rosalita cleome

The page on the calendar has turned. It’s already July, which came in on a flood in Oklahoma. Today is gray, but I don’t mind. Gray skies bring cooler weather. July will be hot and humid soon so enjoy it while you can and get those July garden chores done.

July garden chores. Sun Parasol Garden Crimson mandevilla with Surdiva Blue scaevola in a blue pot. I haven't a clue what that white thing is on the container, but the plants were sent to me from Suntory.
Sun Parasol Garden Crimson mandevilla with Surdiva Blue scaevola in a blue pot. I haven’t a clue what that white thing is on the container–maybe a sticker? Suntory sent the plants to me. I like them both.

It’s a completely different garden this year. Some plants have died from too much rain and Oklahoma’s clay soil. I thanked them for their service, ripped them out and moved on. Plants die. I’ve lost several things in this weather, including my tiny ‘Troll’ ginkgo. Yes, it’s sad, but the little guy just couldn’t handle the heat wave we had before the last rain. So, I’m replacing it with a purple fountain grass like ‘Fireworks’ until I decide on something more permanent. Grasses grow quickly and fill in bare spots. Thank goodness.

Earlier in spring, I moved my Hydrangea angustipetala ‘MonLongShou’ Golden Crane® to a new border with terrible drainage. I didn’t know how bad the drainage was until it started to suffer. By the time I figured out what was happening, it looked very, very sad. So, I returned it to its former spot. All of this moving may kill it, and I’ll have to try again. I’m telling you this because every gardener makes mistakes and has failures. It’s okay, if sometimes frustrating and expensive.

I thought I would share my July garden chores with you. They’re listed below.

Several containers on the back deck. In the pot on the left is 'Princess Caroline' grass, 'Henna' coleus, purple scaevola, Superbells® Coralberry Punch calibrochoa and alternanthera.
Several containers on the back deck. In the pot on the left is ‘Princess Caroline’ grass, ‘Henna’ coleus, purple scaevola, Superbells® Coralberry Punch calibrochoa and alternanthera. All of these are tropical plants so they don’t mind the heat as long as you remember to water.

Try tropical plants for summer. Tropicals are so happy with Oklahoma’s current hot and humid weather because these conditions replicate the plants’ native environment. If you have holes in the garden, consider plunking a tropical plant in the empty spot. No, they aren’t perennial, but anything that blooms abundantly, or struts an interesting leaf when the mercury hits 100°F isn’t going survive an Oklahoma winter. Consider tropicals your little black garden dresses for summer.

'Trailing Plum Brocade' coleus would look great spilling over a wall or a container.
‘Trailing Plum Brocade’ coleus would look great spilling over a wall or a container.

Some great tropical plants to try are:

  • Coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides. syn. Solenostemon scutellarioides). Make a place for those that can handle the sun including: ‘Henna,’ ‘Indian Summer,’ ‘Songbird,’ Colorblaze® KeystoneKopper, ‘ColorBlaze® Sedona, ‘Wasabi,’ ‘Religious Radish,’ ‘Big Red Judy,’ ‘Saturn.’ ‘Kingswood Torch’ and ‘Orange King.’ Remember, sun resistant types can also be grown in shade, but coloration will be different. The thicker the leaves, the better they perform in extreme sun and heat. For shade, choose one of the Wizard series, ‘Fishnet Stockings (can handle partial sun), ‘Black Dragon,’ or one of the excellent, large-leaf ‘Kong’ series. You can’t go wrong with Kong.

    Two different varieties of Kong coleus.
    Two different varieties of Kong coleus.
  • Almost as large as the coleus group is the genus alternanthera. It’s a diverse clan including A. ficoidea ‘Red Threads,’ A. dentata ‘Purple Knight’ (which can be grown from seed,) ‘Little Ruby’ and ‘Brazilian Red.’ Then, there’s green and pink A. ficoidea ‘Partytime’ and ‘Raspberry Rum,’ a dark red and pink with larger leaves.

    In late summer of 2011, the only border that looked good that dreadful summer was the one by the garage planted with tropical plants. Here, variegated oyster plant, 'Peter's Wonder' coleus, alternanthera and heliotrope make a very pretty picture.
    In late summer of 2011, the only border that looked good that dreadful summer was the one by the garage planted with tropical plants. Here, variegated oyster plant, ‘Peter’s Wonder’ coleus, alternanthera and heliotrope make a very pretty picture.
  • Tradescantia bermudensis ‘Variegata’, variegated oyster plant, aka Moses in the cradle, is a great tropical accent plant especially if you choose one of the variegated ones. Note that the golden variegated one isn’t as sturdy as the ordinary one or the white and green variety.
  • Some salvias are also tropical. Salvia elegens ‘Golden Delicious’ pineapple sage has been a huge hit here in recent summers. The regular pineapple sage is pretty too.

    Salvia elegens 'Golden Delicious' pineapple sage in front of my red fountain. #nofilter
    Salvia elegens ‘Golden Delicious’ pineapple sage in front of my red fountain last fall. No filter, just backlit with beautiful October sunlight.

Shop for crapemyrtle shrubs and trees. You can plant crapemyrtles in full sun in this weather, and they will do fine as long as you remember to water them. If you forget, they will let you know. Why shop for them now? Because they are starting to come into bloom. Don’t just fall for a pretty flower though. Make sure the crapemyrtle you choose is the best one for its location. Before you buy, look online to see if your variety will grow too large for its space. Buy the right sized crapemyrtle, and you won’t need to perform surgery on it every spring.

Put out more Nolo Bait™ and Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt.) This will be my third application of Nolo Bait™. I normally only put it out twice, but the rain washed it off both times. As soon as this rainy spell is over, I’ll put out another application. Also, I have some Bt. spray for the Checkerspot Butterfly caterpillars. They’ve destroyed several of my black-eyed Susans. I don’t mind sharing some plants with them, but they are voracious this year. These are both organic controls only applicable to the particular pest. They won’t hurt other creatures including humans. By the way, I only put Bt. on the plants being hit the hardest. I don’t spray the whole garden because I don’t want to hurt other caterpillars like those of the Monarchs and other butterflies. Bt. also helps slow down the redbud leaffolders on The Rising Sun® redbud. For some reason, this cultivar is a leaffolder magnet. The tree was nearly destroyed in years past.

Pink Velour® crapemyrtle that died all the way to the ground  in the winter of 2011
Pink Velour® crapemyrtle that died all the way to the ground in the winter of 2011. It bounced back in 2012.

Click on the gallery below to see more photos of the garden. I walked around the outside to get some different angles this time.

Mulch. If you mulched with quick-decaying matter like shredded leaves or fine pine, you may need to add to it. We’ve had a lot of rain that has taken a toll on mulch that floats. The rain has been rushing in instead of falling gently. I don’t know about you, but not only is some of my mulch at the bottom of the hill, but the gravel from my paths is too. Also, when it isn’t raining, the weather is hot, muggy and buggy. In hot weather mulch decays faster. I’ll be adding some shredded leaves to my beds this week around the plants, especially anything new. It’s really the wrong time of year to plant new things, but the weather has been so rainy, I take chances.

The border where Hemerocallis 'Desert Flame'  resides is quite swampy in places. I'll be adding leaves to set the earthworms to work.
The border where Hemerocallis ‘Desert Flame’ resides is quite swampy in places. I’ll be adding leaves to set the earthworms to work.

Add shredded leaves to swampy borders. The new border next to the house has a section that is full of clay. Not only that, the border within the retaining wall drains into this bed. After the five to six inches from a few days ago, along with last night’s rain, I now have a swampy mess in the middle. I’ll work some shredded leaves into this swamp with the hope that earthworms will break up the nasty clay. I won’t plant anything there until next spring. I’ll probably add some chicken manure to it too.

Fertilize with an all-natural liquid fertilizer. The garden could use a mid-summer boost so I’m going to put a hose-end fertilizer sprayer on and spray organic liquid fertilizer all over the garden. It will smell like a lake for a couple of days, but the plants will be all the better this tonic. Make sure your organic fertilizer has fish emulsion and molasses (or some other natural binding agent), I like John’s Recipe from Lady Bug Brand a lot. I also like Jobe’s Organic All Purpose Fertilizer which is granular. You can just throw it down on the soil and cover with mulch. Don’t forget to fertilize your containers too. A lot of water runs through those containers so they need all the help they can get.

Deadhead blooming plants. Any plants that have finished blooming can be deadheaded now to encourage more bloom. I don’t deadhead my hydrangeas because I like to leave the blooms intact and watch them turn to a beautiful brown or dark pink. Later, in fall, I might cut some of them to bring inside. However, I vigilantly deadhead my roses, lilies, daylilies, daisies and echinaceas so that their energy goes back into the plant instead of into forming seed. Also, you might cut back your asters again. I only cut back my mums once, but my asters are crazy this year. I cut them back three times, and some still bloomed. I’ll cut them back again because I want fall flowers.

Continue weeding. Weeding is ever constant, but it gives me time to let my mind float while I still get something accomplished. As I weed, I ponder all of the blessings in my life. Blessings like all of you who read this blog.

Okay, that’s all of the July garden chores I can think of. Guess I’ll go have a glass of iced tea and watch the sun set–if I can find it in all of these clouds.