Early Spring Planting

April 19, 2014 (2)Planting containers for early spring has its pleasures and its pitfalls.  The overriding concern is always the cold.  We planted containers for a client in downtown Detroit Thursday and Friday of last week-a dicey move, considering the overnight temperatures were very cold.  One night-22 degrees.  How to best avoid cold damage in early spring is to be sure you are using plants that have had the opportunity to become accustomed to, or the inclination to tolerate the cold.

April 19, 2014 (8)Very few plants thrive in cold weather.  That does not mean that they will not adapt and tolerate it.  This project was planted solely with plants that had been sown and grown to a good size last fall, prior to being wintered in a cold but not freezing house.  The pansies had had months to become accustomed to cooler conditions.  Placing them outdoors in cold April weather did not send them into shock.

April 19, 2014 (31)Gardeners who start their own vegetables from seed indoors know that those seedlings need to be hardened off before placement in the garden.  Hardening off is a process of exposing seedlings to the reality of seasonal weather, a little bit at a time.  A few hours a day in a shady place, then the day outdoors in the sun.  Then a planting in the garden.  Early vegetables that are sown directly in the garden do not experience transplant shock.  Pea seeds can be sown when the soil is workable, and the soil temperature is 45.  However, peas that that has been germinated or grown in a warm greenhouse will react poorly to a drastic change in environment.  Easy does it.

April 19, 2014 (22)The same would be true for spring flowering perennials.  Some growers  winter their plants in tunnel houses with no heat, so they are subject to the same cold conditions as perennials already planted in the garden.  Other growers pot up bare root perennials in early spring, and bring them on in a warm greenhouse. A hothouse grown perennial may react poorly to being put outside without a hardening off period.  Forced pots of hyacinths need some limited exposure  to the elements before they are placed in a spring container.

April 19, 2014 (27)Lime leaved heucheras do not have much tolerance for cold.  The leaves will bleach, and go limp.  However the heuchera Creme Brulee  seems to shrug off the cold.  I have had angelina survive the winter in a small pot I had forgotten to get in the ground.  But moved outdoors from a warm greenhouse to a cold garden will cause the needles to color up orange and red.  This not so spring like look results from the plant’s inability to absorb potassium from the soil, due to cold.  If your zonal geraniums have red tinged leaves, they are out in the garden too early.

April 19, 2014 (24)There are plenty of plants that can handle the transitional season known as spring.  And having good success with them becomes easier if the plants have been properly hardened off.  The hellebores we had in our greenhouse in March were kept at just below 50 degrees overnight.  Once the season moderated, we moved them outdoors on carts for the warmest part of the day.  When we moved them outdoors for good, we placed them underneath our benches, in the shade.  Even a sunny greenhouse is not near the light intensity of a full sun location outdoors.  Plants exposed to the sun too abruptly can be scorched by sun and wind.

April 19, 2014 (17)Any plant that is already outside at a nursery is good to go for a spring container.  Small spring flowering shrubs are great in containers, and provide some scale.  Twigs and dry or preserved materials can add some heft and presence.  Perennials that look good in spring containers include hens and chicks, lady’s mantle, brunnera, columbines, coral bells, angelina, lavender and hellebores.  Spring vegetables and herbs such as peas, lettuce, cabbages and kales, bok choy and chard, rosemary and parsley, look great in pots.  Pansies, violas, ivy, sweet peas, alyssum, and fuchsia can provide so much color and fragrance.  If in doubt, harden off.

April 19, 2014 (15)My summer pots usually go on long into the fall.  They have the opportunity to get accustomed to the coming of the cold over a long period of time.  Petunias, verbenas, million bells, creeping jenny will look great until frost, having been planted in late May.  If you want to plant them in the spring, give them some time to adjust to the outdoors before planting.  Some gardeners cover their spring plantings for a week or so with floating row cover.

April 19, 2014 (14)A quick introduction to weather that is too cold can set some plants back such that their growth is stunted.  Some never recover.  Much better to celebrate each season, in season.

 

 

The Spring Fair

Spring fair 2014 (30)Detroit Garden Works hosted the first day of its annual spring garden fair yesterday.  In 2010, we decided to sponsor a spring fair for a a few good reasons.  Rob has shopped overseas for Detroit Garden Works for 18 years.  In fact, we just had a container from Belgium arrive a few days ago.  In his travels, he has had occasion to attend garden fairs in a number of different countries, in spring summer and fall.  The European fairs feature growers of plants, vegetables and fruits.  Some fairs have chickens for sale, or mushrooms in season. People of a gardening persuasion have a chance to gather over a coffee and a little something to eat.

Spring fair 2014 (36)We are firmly behind celebrating the spring season.  Michigan winters are long and hard.  This past winter was a record breaking heartbreak.  Once nature suggests that the winter is about to be over, we like to celebrate.  Last year’s fair proceeded as scheduled despite very cold temperatures, and snow flurries. 11 vendors representing topiary plants, spring flowering shrubs and tree peonies, cut flowers, spring container plants, herbs, wildflowers, spring flowering perennials including an extensive collection of hellebore cultivars, tools, succulents, spring wreaths, dry and preserved materials-I believe I even saw a strelitizia in bloom.

Spring fair 2014 (33)Spring was in the air. Yesterday was the best weather we have had in 6 months. The day was marked by lots of sunshine, warm temperatures, and lots of smiles.  Even though we provide valet parking as so many people attend  this event, lots of people parked blocks away and walked. The day was that nice.  If you plan to come to the fair today, and park your own car, be advised that no cars can be parked blocking the bike path that is a bridge over Telegraph.  When in doubt, let the valet people park your car.

Spring fair 2014 (26)Of course there was plenty of talk about the ruins of our winter, but there is nothing like an incredibly bad winter to make the experience of the first spring day so welcome.  Liberating.  We had as many people outdoors walking the shop grounds as indoors. We’ll be open today from 14 to 4.  If you have a mind to, come to the fair.

Spring fair 2014 (8)parrot tulips

Spring fair 2014 (19)pots of grape hyacinths

Spring fair 2014 (5)bunches of sweet peas

Spring fair 2014 (32)spring fair

Spring fair 2014 (9)daffodils and hyacinths

Spring fair 2014 (10)Juliet roses

Spring fair 2014 (25)potted pansies and violas

Spring fair 2014 (28)spring container planting with dianthus and violas

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgCome to the fair!

Spring fair 2014 (15)box of daffodils

Spring fair 2014 (6)cut pale pink parrot tulips with variegated leaves

Spring fair 2014 (3)the Weed Lady booth

Spring fair 2014 (4)cineraria and moss phlox from Bogie Lake greenhouse

Spring fair 2014 (12)pots of miniature daffodils

pansies and lettuceSpring it on.

Moss It

DSC_9020The signs of spring in my area are still few and far between.  I do have a few crocus just coming into bloom now – in April, for pete’s sake. My garden cannot be cleaned up yet, as a layer of ice still covers most of it.  I have winter pots still so frozen in place I cannot take them apart.  But I have other options for spring.  As in planting pots for spring.  We are in the process of planting lots of them for the shop.  Shortly we will be planting spring pots for clients.  I do have a love for mossed containers.  Nature represented in both the top and the bottom is a very good look. Lining moss baskets has always been about the art of patching.  Florist’s moss comes packed in cases of pieces.  Some moss pieces are big and thick.  Rob calls these moss hides.  Some pieces are thin and small.  A wirework basket may need a number of pieces of moss, stitched together via a puzzle of overlapping pieces.  Any natural material comes in all manner of natural shapes, sizes and thicknesses.

DSC_9021One of our suppliers had the brilliant idea of attaching moss to a biodegradable backing.  Don’t ask me how they do this-I have no clue.  But I do know that mossing a wire basket just got a whole lot easier.  For a round wirework container, Rob rolls the container in a natural arc across the moss mat.  He marks that radius with a nursery marking pen.  The marks describing the top of the container, and the bottom.  That pair of lines create an arc.  He cuts that arc big and wide- oversized.

DSC_9025That arc derived from the top and bottom of the container means that the moss mat fits smoothly inside the basket.   Of course there is a lot of fussing.  Anything in the garden that means much to a gardener requires the work of a pair of hands.  A pair of hands on a shovel, or a hose, or a rake.  As for my gardening efforts today, I am putting my hands to planting containers for spring.

DSC_9026Not that I do as good a job as Rob does.  He has infinite patience.  He eases the moss mat into place.

DSC_9028The bottom of this wirework container is filled with drainage material. By a third.  Container plantings require more drainage material than soil.  Waterlogged plants never prosper, unless you plan to pot up bog plants.  A seasonal pot planting does well with bark as drainage material. Making sure that water can drain from a container is essential.

DSC_9031After the bark, the container is filled with soil.  We use a soil mix that is custom blended for us.  Lots of compost.  A big dash of sand.  And soil.  We do not use peat based growers mix in our pots.  Soilless mixes are perfect for professional growers who can manage the fertility levels and water to a tee.  For gardeners, we recommend a soil based mix. We like dirt.

DSC_9033The upper side of the moss mat gets folded over. A rolled moss edge looks generously finished.  That thickness contrasts beautifully with the thin wire that describes the shape of the container.   That roll also helps to keep the soil right where it belongs-inside.

DSC_9034Once the wirework container is moss lined, it is time to plant the plants.  For this pot, white tulips, white English daisies, and white variegated ivy.

DSC_9038Planting a pot no doubt involves design.  Color, texture, mass-and a vision about the mature shape of the planting.  But planting a pot is also about that magical moment.  An idea. The plants. The dirt.  The act of planting.

DSC_9043This mossed wirework basket-an expression of spring.  An expression of spring?  I expect both nature and every gardener to be making news, soon.

A Sunny Window Sill

DSC_8638I was shocked to see that a post I wrote just about this time last year featured the same dirty snow and cold temperatures we are having right now.  It’s easy to forget that as a winter month, March can be only slightly more moderate than February.  As a spring month, it is stingy with both the sun and moderating temperatures.  March can go either way, and neither way is particularly wonderful. This year, I still have my nose pressed to the glass, looking from the inside out.  It was 12 degrees this morning, and barely better by 3pm. But we have had more sun the past few weeks than all of January and February.  We have a little warm and sunny weather streaming through the windows.

DSC_8671

Our helleborus festivalis held over the past 3 days drew lots of gardeners looking for some sign of spring.  Many commented that the greenhouse smelled like life.  My observation?  I could hear gardeners exhaling their dry winter air.  The shop smelled fresh.  Sun was streaming in every window.  Lot’s of hellebores went home to good gardening families.

DSC_8669I have never been a fan of plants in the house.  In my opinion, plants belong outside. Whether in the ground or in pots, plants need fresh air, the sun and rain from the sky.  A plant stuck indoors is a plant longing for another time and situation.  But this very cold and still snowy late March is a situation few plants could endure outdoors.  Indoors, they make the lack of a garden for me to tend a little easier to endure.  Handling garden plants indoors is different than handling tropical plants indoors.

DSC_8646My house is hot, dry, and dark, by plant standards. The heated house air has just about no humidity.  The light inside my house largely is courtesy of the miracle of electricity.  That light is miraculous for people, but not so swell for plants.  I might be able to get some tropical plants with a very low light requirement to live. But tropical plants don’t so much interest me.  I am ready to garden. Can garden plants live indoors long enough for me to take them, and me, outside? I do have some sunny window sills. Given my need for some signs of green life, there are plants that will oblige.

DSC_8655I would not say that any plant loves to be grown indoors.  I would say that a fair number plants tolerate life indoors.  Some low light tropical plants have the ability to adapt to interior conditions for years.  The successful culture of tropical plants indoors is not my expertise.  My interest in plants inside the house is confined to living through the madness I call March.  Some garden plants will tolerate a short stint inside on a sunny window sill, providing certain cultural conditions are met.  Spring flowering bulbs, once their requirement for cold has been met, will send forth leaves and bloom stalks in a low light too warm interior environment.  Don’t expect them to love the house for long.  Luckily, lots of nurseries carry pots of forced bulbs.  Buy lots, and stock your sunny window sills.  Restock when you need to.

DSC_8627

Lemon cypress is not hardy in our zone.  Hardiness zones refer to the hardiness of the roots of a plant-not the tops.  Lemon cypress can actually tolerate a good bit of cold.  Should you see a lemon cypress now that you have a mind to grow on this summer, chances are you can bring it along on that sunny window sill until the night temperatures are warm enough to move it outdoors.

DSC_8643Helleborus orientalis, and its hybrids, are incredibly cold tolerant.  They stir in late March.  They send up flowering stalks in April.  They are glorious in bloom, in late April.  In May, and in to June, the green tepels still look great.  Can you hold them indoors until the ground is ready to be worked?  Sure.  Give them the sunniest window sill you have.  Enjoy those gorgeous flowers.  Go easy on the water. Garden plants do not transpire or grow so much indoors.  If they are not growing so much, they don’t need so much water. Though they appreciate some sun, they would not appreciate the cooking heat from a radiator or heat duct.

DSC_8653I have kept ivy topiaries in the house over the winter plenty of times.  I err on the side of dry.  I give them the best sun I have.  A sunny window sill indoors is but a small shadow of a sunny place outdoors.  For plants lacking sun, dial back the water.  Plants in full sun outdoors transpire a lot, and need a regular drink.

DSC_8658Myrtus communis is an evergreen shrub in zone 8.  They like full sun, but will tolerate some shade.  What they will not tolerate is getting too dry.  As they are willing to be trained and pruned into topiary forms, they are a popular garden plant for indoors for the winter season.  Garden plants that are being grown indoors are not so much growing on.  They are holding on until they can get back outdoors.  This makes growing myrtle topiaries indoors dicey.  They need just enough water, not too little and not too much.  They are much easier to kill than grow.  As for the table in the above picture, do not try this at home!  Myrtle topiaries may look great on your dining room table or mantle, but they cannot be grown in the dark.

DSC_8665Myrtles grown indoors are great on an interior table for a party, or a weekend, but any longer that this in the dark will bring trouble.  Plants need light to survive.  Some gardeners buy myrtle topiaries in pairs.  One sits on the kitchen counter while the other has a sunny cooler sill.  Once every 3 or 4 days, the plants switch positions.  Forced spring flowering bulbs are much easier to keep indoors than a myrtle topiary.  Once they start to grow, they are programmed to bloom.  They will do their destiny unless impossibly challenged.

DSC_8667English daisies are available now.  Their small scale makes them a great choice for the average shallow window sill.

DSC_8676

The idea is just to have a small sign of the garden inside the glass.  Long enough for the season to turn.

DSC_8679My office has very deep window sills, and faces south.  There is room on them to bring on some rare hellebores that were only available as very small plants.  The windows are very tall, so the space is light.   I have to look in on them over every day, watching the water, and turning the pots so every side gets some of that sun.  What started out being a chore has become a ritual I am enjoying.

DSC_8663They are saying 50 degrees here next week.