Archive for March, 2011

If you want a taste of the tropical in your garden this year or just want to make your friends gasp and ask “what on earth is that?” just pot up a few taro roots (Colocasia esculenta.) Known as elephant ears, these plants can reach 3-5 feet and have huge, heart shaped leaves as big 3 feet long and 2 feet wide.  The large roots (tubers) are bigger than your fist and are sold singly. They appear at garden centers at the same time as gladiolus, dahlias and begonias do, which means right about now. I’ve bought mine locally at the Keene Agway in the past.

These plants are heavy feeders and prefer soil on the wet side. They like wet soil so much in fact, that they are an excellent choice for bog gardens in more temperate zones. When I grow them I buy a couple of bags of composted (not dehydrated) cow manure and mix it half and half with potting soil. After the tubers have been planted during the first or second week of April, I soak the soil until water runs from the pot and then keep it constantly moist to the touch.

The stubby end of the tuber should show small holes indicating where roots once grew, and this is the end that should be planted down in a pot as least three times the diameter and depth of the tuber. The other more pointed end may show rings where leaf stalks once grew, and should be at or just above the soil surface. If there is any doubt just plant it on its side and it will still do fine.  Keep it in a warm place and in no time you’ll see shoots start to appear. Keep it inside in bright light but out of direct afternoon sunlight until all danger of frost has passed. The plant can then be acclimated to the cooler outside temperatures (hardened off) by placing it in a room where a window can be left open slightly during the day. After about a week move it outside. I usually put mine out during the first week of June.

Elephant ears grow very fast and will need plenty of space, but since they’re grown in pots it’s easy to rearrange them. Native to tropical regions, they prefer partial shade (direct morning sun only) and warm, humid temperatures.

In the fall, store the tubers just as you would any other tender bulb, like gladiolus. After drying in a protected location, the tubers can then be stored in peat moss or sawdust for the winter in a well ventilated area that stays between 40-60 degrees. A cool corner of a basement is ideal.

Though I’ve grown only green varieties, there are purple/black and white/green variegated varieties. “Black Magic” is supposed to have dark burgundy/black foliage. Whatever variety you grow, you’re sure to hear plenty of gasps.

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Today is cold again; barely 35 degrees and the soil has refrozen in the shady areas. In spite of that, I went out and poked around in the yard. I found the daffodils about 4 inches high, and it was a welcome sight after having snow banks higher than I am tall.

The lilac and forsythia buds have started to swell, but the forsythia isn’t showing any color yet. I expected to see damage to my shrubs because December was a month with virtually no snow, but cold temperatures and a lot of wind. So far, I haven’t seen anything to really worry about. The dwarf evergreen azaleas and flowering crabapple are just sitting, waiting for warmer days, but look to be in good shape.

One thing I was very happy to see that I must have missed last fall was flower buds on one of my rhododendrons. Years ago I worked for an elderly widow who had some beautiful rhododendrons with blossoms that started out deep purple and then slowly lightened to a more pink-purple shade with an even lighter, almost white throat. I had seen thousands of rhodies, but I hadn’t ever seen this particular variety. With her permission I layered several branches by cutting a small slit through the outer bark of each one, bending them down to the soil level and then covering them with soil and pinning them in place. A year later I had 4 or 5 new but very small, well rooted plants that I brought home. They were little more than seedlings, but now one of them is finally going to bloom after what must be 10 years. I can’t wait to see it; she was always one of my favorite clients and it’s going to bring back fond memories of her every time I look out my kitchen window. 

Every time I do something like layer a rhododendron or start shrubs from cuttings it reminds me not to complain about the prices of nursery stock. I’ve waited 10 years or more for those plants to bloom; nurturing, watering and fertilizing them the entire time. Imagine what it’s like to own a nursery with thousands of them to care for. I once worked for a nursery where we grew ten thousand chrysanthemums each year and it took one man all day, every day just to water them. Pinching them to make them bushier can take several men several days. Nurserymen work very hard, long hours for their money.

Though they didn’t dry out the shrub foliage, the strong winter winds did knock down a forest of small branches from the hemlocks, so I have a lot of raking and hauling ahead of me. The snow didn’t start flying until January but we still ended up with the fourth snowiest winter since 1888, so I also have plenty of plow damage and ruts to repair. I’d better go buy some grass seed.

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It’s spring, more or less

Spring has arrived here in New Hampshire-more or less. Last week we had temperatures in the sixties and this week we are back into the forties with rain and snow. Still, the sun is higher in the sky and spring is happening. You can always be sure when our 5th season, mud season, arrives. “Dirt” roads can quickly become car swallowing quagmires, and people everywhere are seen kicking mud off their shoes. Pot holes and frost heaves get the vehicles that aren’t swallowed by the mud and car mechanics reap the benefits of our politicians being “fiscally responsible.” Ball joints, leaf springs, tie rods, and shock absorbers all take big hits in the spring, but we New Hampshire-ites are a resilient lot and we take it all in stride. After all, it all means once again that everything is happening as it should; just as it has every spring in the Granite State for as long as I’ve been around.

Everything that is, except for one thing. What really lifts me out of the winter doldrums each year and lets me know that spring is really here is hearing the mating call of the Black-capped Chickadee. His early morning call of fee bee…fee bee…is somehow plaintive and beautiful at the same time, and I can’t seem to fully shake off winter until I hear it. Buds are swelling, geese are returning, and red robins are bobbing but somehow, it just isn’t spring until the search for Phoebe has begun.

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I enjoy reading gardening books almost as much as I do gardening. I recently found an excellent book on weed identification and, since it snowed yesterday, I took the opportunity to sit down with it for awhile.

Though I’m well past having to look up most common weeds to identify them, I still like to have good reference books on hand. This book, Weeds of the Northeast, published by Comstock Publishing and written by Richard C. Uva, Joseph C. Neal, and Joseph M. DiTomaso, is one of the best I’ve seen recently.

What makes this book stand out from other weed identification books is that it is specific to this region. At nearly 400 pages, it includes every weed that I could think of looking for in it.

Weeds of the Northeast is well laid out, with easy to understand descriptive text to the left and good sharp photos to the right. One other thing that makes this book stand out is the inclusion of photos of weed seeds and seedlings in addition to the adult plants. Since gardeners are supposed to get after weeds before they become full grown, photos of what they look like as seedlings is a great help.

Though the book also includes photos of weed flowers where practical, the identification method is based on vegetative characteristics. This means that one is able to identify a weed whether it happens to be flowering or not. A vegetative key and shortcut identification table in the front of the book makes finding a specific plant quick and easy, and another pull out identification table in the back helps identify grasses, which often appear very similar.

This book would make a great gift for any gardener.

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If you covered your garden beds with evergreen boughs, straw, pine needles, or any other material last fall, remember that now is the time to uncover them. Remember-the point of covering beds is not to keep them from freezing, but to keep them frozen once they do freeze. This is so the freeze / thaw cycle won’t heave plants from the soil.

I find that a long handled, 3 tine cultivator works best for removing evergreen boughs and straw, because you can gently lift and drag the covering off plants without stepping in the beds. If your beds are wet like mine are and you have to walk in them, put down a plank and walk on that. This will distribute your weight more evenly and won’t compact the soil quite as much.

Remember, plants need air spaces around their roots and compacted soil means plants will struggle. Now is also the time to gently press any plants that have heaved from the soil back into place.

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Hello! You’ve reached the blog of New Hampshire Garden Sloutions. This blog is going to be about gardening in general, but to start us off I’d like to talk about Mt. Monadnock. Here in Cheshire County, in the southwestern part of New Hampshire, Mount Monadnock is highly visible no matter where you may be. This mountain is famous all over the world, and is said to be the second most climbed mountain after Mt. Fuji in Japan.  Many famous people have climbed to its summit, including Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson liked it so much that he wrote a poem about it, titled “Monadnoc.”

At 3,165 feet, Mount Monadnock is nearly 1,000 feet higher than any mountain peak within 30 miles and rises 2,000 feet  above the surrounding landscape. The word monadnock is an Abenaki-derived word used to describe a mountain. Loosely translated it means “mountain that stands alone”

My daughter Amanda took the picture of the mountain that you see at the top of this page and the pages of New Hampshire Garden Solutions.

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