A few of the various Plant Societies which I belong to have seed exchanges, and I made a pledge to myself to get my seed collecting done, cleaned, sorted and packaged into little envelopes to meet this year’s deadline, which is usually Nov 1. Time always has a way of getting ahead of you, so I was relieved to learn on the Hardy Plant Society’s webpage that they have extended the deadline this year to Nov 15, and I can fill out the donation forms online and mail the seed in later! The North American Rock Garden Society is not being so lenient; they want the list of seed being donated by Nov 1st, although they will allow a grace period until Dec 1st to package and send your seed in.
Yes, it does take time to process and save seed, but let me tell you why it is worth all the trouble. First, if you want to grow more of the plants, especially the annuals, which you enjoyed in your garden this year, why not collect the seed and save yourself a few dollars. Second, you may not be able to find a particular seed variety next year. I have found this true when it is an unusual variety that commercial growers do in limited numbers, or more likely their source dried up or had a crop failure. Third, you are bound to collect more seed that you can use, so why not share the bounty by participating in a seed exchange? Most seed exchanges work this way: You become a member of the group, such as the Hardy Plant Society, which collects and pools the seed, then makes the seed available to its membership at a very inexpensive price ($.50). A big plus: seed donors get first dibs at the selection, and get to select an extra 10 packets for their efforts. Groups like the Seed Savers Exchange allow you to purchase seed without becoming a member, but membership has its perks….lots of information, discounts and member’s only offerings, plus you’re supporting an important organization.
There’s a lot to know about collecting seed, but it is beyond the scope of this blog post to get into a lot of detail. Besides, there is so much information now on the internet that you no doubt will find answers to particular seed questions in a web search. I just want to pass on some basic tips.
- Collect seed on a sunny dry day. Wet seed pods can harbor spores which may encourage mold ands spoil the seed.
- Label your seed correctly, especially if you plan to donate to a seed exchange.
- If you grow several varieties of certain plant and they are within close range of each other (for example: several different forms/colors of zinnias) your seed will not come true to type. You may get some interesting variations and colors, but you should label it as such. Also, seed from most F1 Hybrids will not come true.
- Watch seed pods daily for maturity. You want to capture them just before they explode all over your garden.
- Store the seed in paper bags in a dry spot until you have time to clean and sort.
- Separate the chaff from the seed when packaging.
Here are links for more information on joining a few Plant Societies.
I have a confession. I am obsessed with pumpkins and gourds, and can’t drive by a farm stand without stopping and selecting a bushel full to add to my collection. To me, they are sculpture in an amazing array of forms, sizes, shapes and textures. Those of you who have followed this blog or have visited Avant Gardens know that one of my other obsessions is succulents. I wasn’t the first arranger to think of combining these obsessions, but clearly gourds and succulents pair well.
Timing couldn’t be better. With frost imminent, I have just dug dozens of succulents out of pots in the garden and will soon run out of space in the greenhouse. As an advocate of the “Slow Flower” movement, extolled in Debra Prinzing ‘s book by the same name, I’m always looking for ways to use plant materials in arrangements which are in season and on hand in my garden or windowsill. Thinking that you might want to create your own succulent arrangement, I’m passing on this quick tutorial.
Materials needed: a pumpkin or gourd, dry long fiber sphagnum moss, floral pins, spray adhesive and tacky glue, plus an assortment of succulents in an array of shapes and sizes in coordinating colors (that’s not hard..most coordinate so well with each other.)
First, use the spray adhesive on the top of the pumpkin so that the sphagnum moss can cling to it, and loosely extend the moss over the crown. (Note: I didn’t do it here, but would recommend removing the pumpkin stem). The moss acts as the “planting medium”, and will later be sprayed with water to hold moisture. Next, using floral pins and if necessary, tacky glue, secure the trailing succulents onto the moss.
Next begin to add the larger succulent cuttings, like the rosette forming Graptoveria shown here. Apply a little bit of the tacky glue to the base of the stem and carefully arrange in the moss, using a floral pin to secure in place. Continue with the smaller succulents to fill in the bare spots. It will take awhile for the tacky glue to securely dry, so let the arrangement rest overnight, and check the next day to see if the cuttings seem well attached. If a few stems are loose reapply glue. Carefully transfer your pumpkin to a spot where all can admire it.
Your arrangement will look terrific for weeks. The succulents will hold up well for awhile without water, but you can mist the arrangement with water if they become a little shriveled. The sphagnum moss will hold just enough moisture to keep the arrangement fresh. Since you are not hollowing out the pumpkin, the fruit will not quickly decay (as hollowed out pumpkins tend to do). The little pin pricks from the floral pins do minimal damage. Keep the arrangement in a bright cool spot (too much warmth and darkness will encourage decay).
You may find 6 weeks from now that your gourd or pumpkin is beginning to go bad, but the succulent cuttings are still fine. Remove them from the arrangement and try to root them in a tray of sand and perlite. Keep them in a sunny window and you just may have a collection of plants for next year’s garden.
Purchase Cuttings for Arrangements.
Very soon, a frosty night will be threatening. If you haven’t already, now is time to think about which tender plants you want to preserve for next year. You may have limited space and if you have collected a lot of plants, you will want to prioritize your selections. Here are links on recent blog posts on wintering over tender plants.
Those of us who live in colder climates may be thinking it’s time to rehab last year’s tender succulent containers. Over the winter, these planters have been trying to soak up as much sun as possible on windowsills and in sunrooms, but it’s a sure thing that by mid spring many of the plants have become unbecomingly leggy. You have two options: disassemble the planter, plant by plant, then cut back and replant in fresh soil, or if the planter is not too overcrowded or out of proportion, you can see if just trimming back is the answer.
I’m encouraging you to be ruthless when you cut back. After cutting off their heads these plants won’t look happy immediately, but the alternative could become down right ugly (and, any cuttings that are pinched back can be stuck in sand and rooted for more plants). You may find that some of the spreading succulents have exceeded their bounds and need to be lifted and divided…but you can use these pieces to tuck in around the container where their are “plant gaps”. Fertilize your planter …we use a seaweed/fish emulsion. It will take a number of weeks and some warm sunny weather for your planters to start to perk up.
Vertical Succulent Gardens are often in need of cutting back and editing. We usually leave our vertical planters horizontal on benches during the winter, to minimize stretching. Still some plants such as the rosettes of Sempervivum or Echeveria may have become overwhelmed by creeping Sedum and Delosperma, and need to be replaced. We take fresh cuttings and secure them in place with floral pins. Fertilize with seaweed/fish emulsion , keeping the wall planter flat while the new cuttings root in, and move outside as soon as nights stay in the 50′s or above. In a few weeks, growth will begin to fill in the empty spaces, and then you can hang.
If you’re like me, once the snow retreated you walked about your garden searching for hints of growth. For me the first signs came from the snowdrops and now the crocus are showing color, as well as the narcissus which are sending forth their green pencil shoots. We’ve cut back the old Epimedium and Helleborus hybridus foliage. Ah yes, there they are: the tightly curled flower buds just waiting for a bout of milder temperatures.
Our conifers are all looking okay, and right now the tropical looking Trochodendron we planted last summer is looking pretty darn good (fingers kept crossed). On the other hand the Bamboos, both the Fargesia rufa and Phyllostyachys aureasulcata, took a real beating. The browned foliage will be replenished with new growth, but the thing is that won’t happen until mid May…. can we really stand looking at it for that long? We have no choice but to live with our brown Phyllostachys forest, but we may just have to cut the Fargesia to the ground and spare ourselves the view of winter’s scourge. It means we’ll sacrifice some height this year, but I’m sure we’ll get at least 3’ of it back this summer, and next year the Fargesia should reach 6’ or more.
It’s still too soon to tell with most perennials. Unless the evidence is an obviously mushy crown, it’s really just a wait and see. We’ve had many a plant resurrect itself from deep roots in late spring, once the earth has sufficiently warmed. Good news is the Beesia deltophylla, covered with a blanket of fallen leaves for the winter is promising growth.
Here’s what I recommend. Take pictures of the what your garden looks like now, and then document again in 6-8 weeks. Keep these images as a record of reference for the future, so when things look skeptical in early spring, you have hope.
You wouldnt know it by looking out my window today, but this past Sunday afternoon it hit 50 degrees. I walked about the garden taking inventory, and just as I had hoped, buds were beginning to swell on spring flowering trees and shrubs. To my delight, the Hamamelis (witch hazel) blossoms were beginning to open. It was a perfect time to cut some branches for forcing indoors.
Forcing is not difficult, but it helps to understand a few basics. Many woody plants (trees and shrubs) set their flowering buds during the previous growing season. They must undergo a dormant period (about 6 weeks) of cold temperatures. A sustained warm moist spell following this dormant period will break dormancy. You need to mimic this warm moist spell to trick your cut branches into thinking it is spring.
1. Walk about your garden in search of subjects, observe, and prune
You can actually tackle some pruning as you search for stems for forcing. As you select branches, remember to consider the shape you want your tree or shrub to grow. Prune on a mild day, preferably in the afternoon. The day’s warmth will aid the plant in taking up water and sugars from the roots. Branches force more easily if they are less than 1/2 inch in diameter.
One of the easiest plants to break dormancy is Forsythia. Other plants to consider are Willows (Salix), Witch hazel (Hamamelis), Winter hazel (Corylopsis), Quince (Chaenomeles), Viburnum, Dogwood (Cornus), Flowering Cherry (Prunus). I thought I would experiment a bit while I was taking inventory , so I also cut branches of Spirea, Magnolia and Birch (Betula).
2. Hydrate your stems
After you have gathered your array, fill a deep bucket or large pan with warm water, (for really big branches a bathtub works quite well). Submerge your cut branches in the warm water and leave them in a warm spot overnight. You can add a small amount of lemon-lime soda or even Listerine (approx. 1T per quart of water) which will act as a preservative. The next day, under very warm running water, make fresh cuts to your branches. If you have thick branches (1/2 or more), you can split and splay the stems an inch or so for better water absorption. Begin to arrange, or keep these stems in a cool space (45-50 degrees) for a week or so, until you are ready to arrange them.
3. Create your arrangement
In a fresh vase of water with a bit of preservative, create your arrangement. Some branches will burst open immediately, but others will need more coaxing. Remember your first attempts are about experimenting. Branches which have an interesting shape or color will look fabulous even if they do not force (I’m thinking about the curly willow I used). Every week or two venture outside and select more branches. Take notes on what stems forced well in early February, and which ones might require more time outdoors as winter weather transitions into early spring.
I will post an image of this container in about a week, and you can see how successful I was.
Hinoki Cypress Wreath with Elkhorn Cedar. Love the little cones on the Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa) and the undersides of Elkhorn Cedar (Thujopsis dolobrata) are fabulous!
Mixed Greens Wreath. Dwarf Blue Spruce (Picea glauca ‘Montgomery’), Littleleaf Boxwood (Buxus sinica ‘Justin Brouwer’), plus several cultivars of Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa cvs. ‘Confucious’, ‘Crippsi’, and ‘Jade’)
Mixed Greens Wreath with Golden Berried Blue Holly (Ilex meserve ‘Golden Girl’), Littleleaf Boxwood (Buxus sinica ‘Justin Brouwer’), Various Hinoki Cypress
Littleleaf Boxwood (Buxus sinica ‘Justin Brouwer’) with Blue Holly (Ilex meserve ‘Blue Princess’ ) plus wreath making supplies
After 25 years of planting unusual evergreens on our property, I feel like now our plants have enough growth to afford plenty of interesting options for creating winter wreaths. This year’s crop provided me with lots of interesting material, and while I was taking cuttings I was also pruning at the same time.
I hate making the same composition twice, so each wreath has a character of its own. I’ve used various wreath making forms in the past, but this year I went back to using wire forms which I covered with moistened long fiber sphagnum moss secured with a 22 gauge florist wire.
Here are a few tips:
- You will need a lot of material for even a small form, especially if you want big fat full wreaths. The amount shown in the silver pan was just about enough to create a 16″ wreath.
- If your base is 12″ wide, expect the finish sized to be about 18″ (or more in diameter, depending how far out your branches extend).
- Broadleaf greens such as Boxwood, Holly and Rhododendron desiccate quickly, especially if they are placed in a warm space or in a sunny spot. Using a base that has moistened sphagnum and tucking in the branch tips of the little bunches helps keep them hydrated. Mist or soak your boxwood or holly wreath often. Also, applying an anti desiccant helps prevent the leaves from drying out.
- Holly berries are often tucked along the inner lower branches. Try to position the cuttings so you can see the berries, then trim back as necessary.
- Repetition of your assorted bundles helps you create a balanced circle.
- After you create your wreath, hang it and step back to see where it may need editing. You can always trim back or tuck in more cuttings.
- Weather resistant ribbons add a touch of color to simple wreaths made from one or 2 plants, such as boxwood or holly. I prefer not to use ribbon when I have a lot of interesting leaves and cones to admire.
As much as gardeners quickly express frustration about weather, insect pests, or deer browsing, we really are a thankful lot. We are thankful more often than we acknowledge : for sunshine, rain, snow cover, good bugs, birds, rich earth….Most importantly, I think we are grateful for the plants which grace our gardens.
After yesterday’s much needed torrential rainfall (thankful!), this morning’s view from my window is tranquil except for the activity at the bird feeders. I’m viewing a corner of our garden which is designed with plants that provide winter interest: Hinoki Cypress Chamaecyparis obtusa, Japanese Forest Grass Hakonechloa macro, Little Bluestem Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Blue Heaven’ , Hellebores Helleborus ‘Golden Lotus’, a beloved Japanese Maple Acer palmatum ‘Katsura‘, a Wheel Tree Trochodendron aralioides (recently planted, fingers crossed…putting it through the hardiness test) plus the showiest plant right now, Winterberry, Ilex verticillata ‘Berry Heavy’ which like all of the hollies this year is heavy with fruit.
Soon the birds will pick off the winterberry fruit, and this picture will change as it will again and again throughout the year. I am reluctant to see blossoms fade and watch leaves fall, but then I realize I am truly grateful that this picture from my window is always changing. A new day, a new season awaits which will provide new gifts to be thankful for.
We’ve been asked recently if we had ever written a post on wintering over tender plants in cold climates. The answer is yes, we have, but it certainly would be convenient if we posted easy access links to the 3 articles for those who may have missed the postings or for those who want a quick refresher.
We plant up some pretty large non winter hardy succulent containers here at Avant Gardens, and we are always asked “Do you move that big pot inside for the winter?” Our answer: “No, we just take it apart and repot the plants which we especially want to save.” Yes, space is always an issue, and we have greenhouses.
Most home gardeners do not have a greenhouse, but have a sunroom or a bright indoor space that is south or southwest facing. Non hardy succulents do not need a lot of heat, and will be fine in spaces that stay above 35-40F degrees. This could mean a space in a cool attic, basement or in a garage that stays above freezing. Because available space is often limited, you may want to select the choicest, slower growing specimens (such as a large Echeveria or Aeonium) and not save every small clump of sedum or string of pearls.
Here is a brief photo essay demonstrating the dismantling of a big planter. Be sure to have on hand an array of different sized containers and a sharp draining succulent potting mix to pot up your specimens.
Your planters are probably looking spectacular in September, before nights start dipping into the 30′s.
Last October we were surprised one morning when temperatures dipped below freezing the night before, and realized it was time to bring our plants indoors.
Transfer the lifted plants into a handy wheelbarrow or cart.
You don’t want to use pots that are too big. Remember you probably do not have a lot of room, plus the pots (roots) will stay drier if there is not excess soil.
Do not fertilize during the winter, and water only as needed. The frequency will depend on how warm and sunny a space you have. Check for pests periodically. Mealybug has a way of suddenly appearing on plants indoors. A simple cure is using rubbing alcohol on a Q-tip or piece of cloth and rubbing off the offenders. Rotate the pots so that your plants do not lean in only one direction towards the light.
If at the end of the winter you have rather awkward, leggy plants, do not be afraid to cut them back sharply. The plants will respond with new tighter growth as longer days provide more sunlight. If you want more babies, let the cuttings heel and then stick on a slightly moist propagating tray of sand and perlite. Begin a light fertilizing program in March or April, as when plants and or cuttings show new growth. We recommend an all purpose seaweed/fish emulsion for succulents.