October 27, 2009

The Manure Experiment of 2009

I have been adding composted manure to my gardens ever since I listened to my college professors expound, extensively and repeatedly, on the miracle that humus enacts on soil structure and plant health. But in 2009 I went a little farther with it than usual. Above, a hellebore leaf.

It started when WalMart reduced their prices on 1 cubic foot bags of composted manure blend. Or maybe it started way back when the builder spread 'sandy loam' over our clay-and-river-rock native soil. Sandy loam drains well but doesn't retain nutrients or water well enough to keep many plants happy. So compost was needed - lots of compost. Peony leaves showing their fall colors.

Ninety-seven cents for a bag of composted manure seemed like too good of a deal to pass up. So I picked up 20 or 25 bags each time I was in the vicinity of WalMart's garden center. I stopped counting at 200, but I think I ended up with between 250 and 300 bags of manure by September, when they stopped stocking it. I know that's when they finished because I was disappointed when I tried to purchase just a few more bags. Apparently buying manure can be addictive. Maiden-hair fern dances above various leaves in the shady garden.

This manure blend was composted well enough that it didn't have much of a smell. We spread several inches of it all over our beds and veggie garden. We even spread dusty, smelly manure from Lowes all over the front lawn, but that's another story (a success story, so I might do it again next spring). I kept spreading a few more bags here and there as the season progressed. Jack Frost brunnera leaves sparkle in the shade.

I learned a few things along the way. First, 3 inches of manure only works as a short-term mulch, because it rots into the soil within a few months. Second, worms LOVE manure. Some people pay lots of money for worm castings; I just ramped up the worm factory in my garden by laying out a manure feast for them. I dug up a grundle of worms every time I used my shovel. Lady's mantle grew like gangbusters in the amended soil.

Third, manure plus regular 10-10-10 Miracle Grow gives plants too much nitrogen and can lead to floppy growth. Especially for english roses that tend to have weak stems anyway. Next year I'll supplement my manure with a low-nitrogen fertilizer, like bone meal or Miracle Grow's 'Bloom Booster' (shh, don't tell the organic gardeners). Manure makes great leaves, though, which is why I have illustrated this post with leaf photos. Leaves of heuchera 'Green Spice' in autumn's late afternoon sun.

Overall, the manure spreading of 2009 was a strong start to the long process of creating great soil. I'm still dreaming about digging into 'chocolate cake' soil like what Dee has in her veggie garden. That requires years of amending when you start with as poor of soil as I have. But I've got help in the form of a worm army, plus the billions of beneficial microbes at work. We'll get there someday. Brookside geranium leaf.

October 19, 2009

Dahlia Debacle and Redemption

This year I really enjoyed these no-name dahlias from Lowes, despite the fact that they're kind of (gasp) orange.

I was planning to store the tubers and replant them next spring, hopefully with a few extras from tuber division.

Swan Island Dahlias says that you should dig dahlia tubers two weeks after the first frost, which gives them time to harden off for storage.

It frosted on October 5 around here. I marked my calendar to dig on October 19 (today).

Unfortunately, we had some unusually low temperatures soon after that first frost. On October 11, less than a week after first frost, it hit 16 degrees. Brrr.

Several other days were nearly as cold.I thought my dahlias were goners for sure. Good thing I had snapped all these pictures in late September.

In the middle of writing this post, I figured that I should probably exhume the corpses and post a picture of frost-killed dahlia tubers.

I quickly walked outside, yanked up the plants, pulled away the dirt and found . . .

healthy-looking tubers! Now that's a beautiful sight - see the picture below. I guess the cold temps didn't stick around long enough to do in the tubers.

Now I'll follow the directions from Swan Island to see if they make it through storage. Click here to see their dahlia growing and storing instructions.

October 13, 2009

A Pure White, English Style Groundcover Rose

One of my favorite 'English' roses is actually a French rose. Meidiland White is a creation of the House of Meilland in France (obviously our US spelling of the rose's name is creative or just incorrect), but it has an old-fashioned character that fits in well with all my English David Austin roses.

I didn't purchase this rose; it was given to my by gardener friend Sandy. I often think of her when I admire the blooms, and that makes them even prettier. One thing I like about these roses is how well they hold up in a vase. The petals are thicker than those of most Austin roses, which makes them sturdier for cutting.

With a height of less than 2 feet and a spread of 3 to 5 feet, all depending on pruning, this rose is classified as a groundcover rose. The gorgeous dark green foliage makes a pretty groundcover even when the rose isn't in bloom. As you can see above, the new leaves have a bronze-maroon color before darkening to pure green.

The big drawback to this rose is its susceptibility to blackspot. If you have a big blackspot problem and don't spray, then this rose isn't for you. In areas with less severe blackspot problems (like my garden in California), the rose only needs a spray or two each season to stay healthy. It does have good resistance to rust, as it was planted near my rust-magnet Abraham Darby rose in California, and Meidiland White's leaves never had more than a small smattering of rust while Abraham turned entirely orange.

In drier climates like mine, Meidiland White performs beautifully and looks nice near the front of the border. Above you can see the nice backdrop created by its dark leaves; the purple delphinium really stands out in contrast. The rose takes a little break from blooming after it's heavy first flush, then puts out a smattering of blooms through the rest of the season. It only gets partial sun in my garden and would more profusely in full sun with regular deadheading and plenty of nutrients and water.

In the cold temperatures of fall, Meidiland White blooms take on a touch of pink near the base, but they are usually pristine white. With those dark glossy leaves and elegant blooms, this rose is a beauty and a keeper for my garden.

October 6, 2009

Icy Fall Garden

Note to self: next fall turn OFF the sprinklers before the first frost so you don't create a man-made ice storm. Above, a delphinium spike curves under the weight of ice.

Icy drops on these Japanese iris leaves sparkle, while the hydrangea leaves on the right of the photo are melting, melting.

The dogwood trees didn't mind the frost or the ice, but our veggie garden turned to green-brown mush early Monday morning. From the wreckage of their vines, I picked 6 gourds, 7 watermelons and 0 pumpkins (another note to self - if you don't get the pumpkins planted in May next year, just forget about them).

The opened roses turned brown around the edges, but several blossoms have opened since the frost and are beautiful.

The weather around here abruptly turned fallish - brrrr - last week, so I should have been paying attention to the weather report and expecting frost. Above, Juncus 'Unicorn', aka corkscrew rush, is encased in ice.

But I've been a poor caretaker lately, just letting the garden languish into fall and ignoring the weather report. Doesn't the bright pink of this 'Eflin Pink' penstemon seem out of place in ice?

Hey, do you think my little ice storm will kill the aphid eggs on the roses for next year? Probably not, knowing that Murphy's Law applies especially to rose plants.

These iced Siberian iris leaves look like hands reaching . . . for winter? For spring, seven months away? Despite the calendar, it doesn't feel like spring around here until mid-May. I've gathered photos of the summer garden and stored them away for the cold months, now it's time to find out if I'll have enough to illustrate this blog through the winter. I may have to look at grey skies and snow for months on end but that doesn't mean you want to!

October 3, 2009

Roses, Virus and William Shakespeare

When things go well with roses, no other flower can compare. Especially with David Austin's english roses, like 'William Shakespeare 2000', pictured above and below. Despite it's young age - I planted this shrub earlier this year - it gave me quite a few scrumptious blooms throughout the summer.

Is this rose red or crimson or pink? All three, depending on the day. It smells exactly the way a rose should smell, or so my friend Robyne said when I made her sniff it. Old rose fragrance + deep crimson coloring + english rose shape = Romance with a captial 'R'.

Unfortunately, when things go wrong with roses, they can go Wrong with a capital 'W'. Above is a picture of the star-crossed 'LD Braithwaite', another red english rose that arrived at my doorstep with an incurable virus. At first I couldn't figure out what was causing the strange yellow coloring on the leaves. I've seen iron deficiency (chlorosis) before, but this didn't look like that.

I studied pictures of rose virus like this one, but wasn't sure of the diagnosis until I emailed my pictures to Dr. Malcolm Manners, a rose expert and horticulture professor at Florida Southern College. He confirmed that it was virus, a 'classic case' with dramatic coloring.

Apparently a huge percentage of grafted roses have been infected with rose viruses that were carried by the rootstocks (grafting seems to be the only way to spread the virus). I read some estimates that a few years ago, nearly all of the roses sold in the US were infected with rose viruses, though many of them didn't exhibit dramatic symptoms like mine. Viruses reduce the vigor of roses even when the leaves aren't discolored, and there isn't any way for home gardeners to cure the problem. Reportedly, rose companies are cleaning up their stock now, and own-root roses rarely have viruses.

After sending a few emails and a bunch of pictures and Dr. Manner's diagnosis, David Austin Roses finally agreed to replace the rose next spring at no charge. Meanwhile I'm enjoying my friend Shannon's 3 'LD Braithwaite' roses, none of which appear to have a virus. I'm looking forward to more healthy red roses for arrangements like the patriotic one above, with true-blue delphinium and Meidilland White roses (another favorite of mine).