It’s Time to Get off the Couch and Plant Those Potatoes!

If you’ve been sitting on the couch watching TV all winter, then it’s time to get off the couch and plant those potatoes! Potatoes are an easy and fun crop to grow and one that is especially good if you have children because of the fun they’ll have digging in the dirt to harvest them. Follow a few simple instructions and you’ll have a harvest to be proud of!

Begin by selecting good, firm seed potatoes. There are many varieties which do well in our area- Kennenec, Yukon Gold, Durango Red, and Red Sangre to name a few. Potatoes grow in average soil so you don’t really need to do much preparation, if your soil is fairly good. If not, be sure to work it well to loosen it up. You may want to add some top soil, peat moss, compost, or other amendment to help to loosen it, if you have very heavy clay soil. Remember, potatoes are a root crop and those roots need room to grow. Don’t use manure or lime- those will cause scab which may make them inedible. However, the addition of a good, balanced vegetable fertilizer tilled into the soil will help enormously. Till the soil to a depth of about 10-12″.

If the potatoes you have chosen are small, you can plant the entire potato. If they are larger, then cut them into pieces being sure that you have two to three “eyes” in each section. Let the sections callus over by letting them dry for a couple of days before planting.

Plant your potatoes several inches deep. A good rule of thumb is to plant them as deep as the size of the piece you are planting. In other words, if your piece is about three inches across, plant them about three inches deep. Make sure they stay covered and many folks will add soil to the top after planting as the season goes on and the plant begins to grow. This is called “mounding.” Often several pieces are planted in one mound, and soil is added as the potatoes develop. If they are not kept covered, they may work their way to the surface and that’s when the green color develops that you sometimes see on them. The green is not poisonous, contrary to popular belief, but does make them undesirable because of the bitter taste.

This information is from the Idaho Potato Commission:

“The green color that potatoes sometimes turn is not poison, here an explanation of what is going on:  The greenish color sometimes seen on potato skins occurs when the potatoes have been exposed to natural, artificial, or fluorescent lights.  This can also occur if when a potato is growing a crack in the soil exposes the potato to sunlight.  This is mostly discovered before being sold.

Greening happens a lot more than it used to because supermarkets are often open for longer hours so their displays receive more direct light.  However, it can also happen at home if you store your potatoes out in the open where they are exposed to light.

The green color on the potato is chlorophyll developing in the skin and along with this change, increased quantities of solanin are also formed.  Solanin is part of the flavoring complex that gives the potato its taste.  This is concentrated close to the potatoes surface and is easily removed when peeled.  Only if the potato has prolonged exposure to light will the bitter taste and color penetrate deeper into the potato.

We recommend that you don’t eat the green part of the potato because of its bitter taste.  Just peel away the green sections before preparing the potatoes and serving to your guests.”

Keep your potatoes watered, but remember that potatoes are like people- neither like wet feet! And, since they are a root crop, overwatering is easy to do. Generally, water a couple of times each week, depending on the outside temperatures and wind.

Potatoes are fun because they are one crop that can be harvested at different times. If you favor  new potatoes, then harvest them early- generally when the plant begin to flower. If you want a fully developed potato, then wait until the vines turn yellow or have died back in the fall. Store potatoes in a dark, cool spot – temperatures at about 40 degrees are ideal.

Aaaayyyy… it’s cool!

Spider PlantThis month, I want to share a sweet story. Many of you who are of a certain age remember the TV show “Happy Days” and the character of Arthur Fonzarelli, aka “The Fonz” or “Fonzie” character played by Henry Winkler. What I didn’t realize until I spotted a recent article in the Washington Post, was that there is a fascinating story that connects him with the plant world.
Henry Winkler’s family immigrated from Germany during World War II. In fact, most of his extended family died, but his parents barely managed to escape in 1939. It was a close enough call that his uncle, who decided to wait a day for his suit jacket to come back from the dry cleaners, didn’t make it out. They settled in New York, amongst a community of German exiles that included a woman named Tanta Erma. Erma had been smuggled out of Germany in a coffin and in that coffin, she had at her feet her valuable possession- a spider plant.
Many stories have been told over the years of how people survived those terrible years and how they escaped Nazi Europe. For instance, Winkler’s father, Harry, melted chocolate over the family’s jewels in order to get them out. When they got to the border and were asked if they had any valuables, he replied “No” and then left with the box of chocolates safely under his arm.
For Tanta Erma, the way out was by pretending to be dead, lying in a coffin, with the spider plant at her feet. Imagine the miles that stood between her home in Germany and her new home in New York and that this plant traveled! Though Erma wasn’t a blood relative, she became part of Winkler’s extended family in his New York neighborhood of German immigrants as often happens when people move from place to place.
Erma gave pups from her spider plant to members of her extended family to root and grow and Winkler tells the story of how the plant has gone with him through his life, no matter where he’s lived. Starting in his childhood home on West 78th Street in New York, to  his present home in Hollywood, the spider plant has always been there. Today it’s in a hanging basket outside of his kitchen door.
Winkler had a difficult childhood and he struggled terribly with dyslexia. The only problem was that no one knew what that was back then, and he spent every summer in summer school trying to pass his classes. The problem followed him into the entertainment world as he struggled with reading scripts. He was finally diagnosed in the 70’s. Once fame hit for him, he returned to New York to pack his few treasures, but took the time to take a cutting from the spider plant. He claims that he did it on instinct, not for any particular reason. Having heard the stories from childhood, he thought it was his responsibility to make sure it survived. For him today, the plant lives on as a symbol of perseverance, grit, and determination. It links him to his past and now he’s passed pieces of it on to his family to continue the plant’s legacy.
Like many things, plants connect us in unexpected ways. Why not start the same kind of tradition in your family this year? A few generations from now, they’ll be glad you did! As the Fonz would say, “Aaaayyy… it’s cool!”

Sometimes All You Need is the Air that You Breathe!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Houseplants

If you know anything about our family, you know that there’s been a connection to NASA for a long time. My father built the tools that went to the moon on the Apollo mission that scooped up the first moon rocks. Those tools are now on display at the Smithsonian in the Air and Space Museum. Our son Christopher had his first experience with NASA through an online program and then an internship at the Johnson Space Center in Houston when he was in high school. So naturally, anything connected with NASA is of interest to us.

There is also a connection to NASA for Vic, myself and the garden center through their Clean Air Study that was conducted many years ago. If you are interested in reading the entire study, you can find it by clicking here. Since the topic for the month both in the newspaper columns and in this e-news has been houseplants, it seems like a good time to talk about the effect they have on the reduction of indoor air pollution.

It’s really true that sometimes all you need is the air that you breathe, but with closed up homes resulting in reduced fresh air exchange and better insulation, the winter house air often isn’t good. Tightly sealed buildings and poor ventilation are known to cause health issues in some cases and that can easily be remedied with the addition of the functional decorations of houseplants.

The benefits of plants are varied and many and have been proven over and over again in countless studies. For instance, Dutch researchers found in a 2008 study that the addition of plants in hospital rooms lowered the stress levels of patients. Chemicals such as benzene, trichloroethylene, and formaldehyde and others are often found in homes from the building materials or other things such as paint, furniture which have been brought into the home. I won’t get into all of the gasses and chemicals that the addition of houseplants reduces, or the technical data here, but instead want to share some of the best houseplants that will help to de-stress your home and purify your air.

Aloe vera tops several lists as one of the best houseplants to have in your space. It clears formaldehyde and benzene and is a great plant to have for it’s gel which helps heal burns and cuts. Put an aloe plant in a bright sunny window to keep it happy and healthy. An interesting note on aloe plants- they are also a good barometer of the air in your home. When the harmful chemicals become excessive, the plant will begin to display brown spots. You’ll need to be careful with these though, because they are toxic to dogs and cats.

English ivy was NASA’s number one best air-filtering pick because it was the most effective one that filtered formaldehyde. It’s easy to grow and works well in a bright window.

Peace lilies or spathiphyllum have grown in popularity over the past few years and are known for their easy care and are also one of NASA’s top pick for filtering the big three toxins. I like this plant because it tells you when it needs water by visibly drooping, so it’s an easy choice for a beginning houseplant owner. As popular as they are, be careful with them around your pets because these are also toxic to dogs and cats.

Bamboo palms thrive in shady indoor spaces which is what makes it a good choice over some of the others, particularly if you don’t have a very bright space in your home. You’ll often see these in photos from the Victorian era, as they were as popular then as they are now. They prefer drier soil, so if you are often forgetful about watering, these are a good choice for you.

Philodendron are one of my favorites because I love their pretty, heart shaped leaves. A workhorse at removing the toxins in your home, they aren’t a good choice if you have children or pets because they are toxic if eaten and since they vine, that often puts them in easy reach of both kids and pets. However, they are low maintenance, easy to grow and are particularly good at absorbing formaldehyde.

Spider plants are one plant just about everyone has had in their home at one time or another and with good reason. These are super easy to grow and also easy to reproduce. Just take some of the little “spider pups” that grow off of a mature plant and place it root side down in a pot of soil. Spiders are great at fighting pollutants, and prefer dry soil. A resilient plant, this one is difficult to kill and a good one to have if you have pets because they won’t harm them if they nibble on the foliage.

Dracaenas, particularly the red-edged varieties, also made NASA’s list of top houseplants for filtering toxins. These prefer bright light and can get quite large- as tall as 15 feet- so they need a bigger space in which to live. Take heart though- they are slow growers and will take quite some time to reach this height.

Golden pothos is another one of my personal favorites. Although it is also one that is poisonous to pets and children, it’s cascading green leaves are great for tackling formaldehyde. An interesting fact about this plant is that it will stay green, even when kept in the dark, so it’s a great plant for homes with low light.

Finally, snake plants or mother-in-laws tongue, are just like their namesakes. They don’t need much light or water to survive and is one of the best for filtering toxins, particularly formaldehyde. An interesting note about these is that they work in reverse of most plants by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen at night, so they are a great choice for bedrooms.

Air purification is best accomplished with one plant per 100 square feet of home space. So if your winter air is feeling a little stuffy, then clean up your act with the addition of some new houseplants!

 

 

Snow, Glorious Snow!

From the dumping we received to make it a very White Christmas, to the recent snowfall this past week, it’s been a great season for snow so far! And while anyone who lives in the West understands the necessity and importance of a good solid snow pack for the coming season’s water needs, there are other benefits for gardeners as well.

The first thing that snow provides is insulation for your plants, and it’s an excellent insulator. While that sounds a little odd- how could something be insulated when it’s buried in the frozen stuff?- it works particularly well. Without it, our subzero night time temperatures will work to freeze the ground more deeply which can damage the root systems of trees, shrubs, and perennials. Along this line, it will also serve to even out the temperatures when our daytime highs and nighttime lows swing too much and protects plants from the freeze/thaw cycles that can literally heave them out of the ground.

A good snow pack helps to not only ensure a good supply of water for next season, but also works to preserve moisture that is already in the soil. When we have mild winters, or springs that are especially windy, a good deal of moisture is lost simply through evaporation. Snow cover will help conserve what is already there.

Called the “poor man’s fertilizer,” snow works in an interesting way. As it falls through the atmosphere, nitrogen and sulfur are picked up and attach to the flakes. When it melts in the spring, these element are released into the soil and will be used by your plant. Remember N-P-K? Nitrogen is the N in that formula and is essential to good plant growth.

It’s been said that roses flower better after a hard winter and that apples and pears set more fruit. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but we will certainly have the opportunity to test it this year! The snow cover is great for those bulbs you planted last fall too. The cold temperature provides the cooling period they need to bloom well come spring, and the slow melt will help to water them.

But as much as I love snow, it’s not all good. Heavy, wet snow like we had during our last storm can weigh down branches and snap them quickly. Go out and gently shake the snow off when we have a storm like that. Even though it’s lovely to look at, it can be harmful, or even deadly, for your trees, shrubs, and perennials. Watch out for ice as well. Daily freezing and thawing, especially if they are under a roof edge where the water runs off the warm roof but then freezes once it hits the tree or shrub if the air temperatures aren’t above freezing can cause excessive ice build up and break the branches. If a branch splits or is broken off, prune it back to give it clean cut and minimize the amount of tissue exposed for the rest of the winter.

While snow is great for us for many reasons, moles, voles, mice and other critters will use it as a cover for their tunneling activities. Rabbits, deer and others will be looking for more easily available food sources, so may be more likely to graze in your yard. Since the snow is deep in some areas, it’s easier for them to reach previously unreachable branches too.

There are some visual landscaping effects that I particularly enjoy during a snow winter. The contrast of a red twig dogwood against the white landscape. Ornamental grasses like Pampas Grass that have been left for the winter. Take a look around your yard!

But my most favorite “picture” in my wintry landscape is the abundance of birds that are at my feeders. We have a huge juniper next to our house and several hundred birds have found their home there. Situated on the south side of the house next to a stucco wall, it’s warm during the day and protected at night. We’ve hung two feeders in a weeping cherry tree in the garden about ten feet away and it’s fun to watch the variety of birds that congregate there each day. I can hear them singing right outside my home office window as I am writing this. So my final tip for the winter snow is to use birdseed as anti-skid material instead of salt. Using salt can damage your garden when it melts and runs off in the spring. Birdseed is not only safer, but your bird friends will thank you as well!

Be safe, enjoy the snow, and remember that January is a time to dream of warmer gardening days to come!

The Non-Poisonous Poinsettia

Poinsettia Weekend is coming up from November 27-29th and nothing screams “Christmas” like a poinsettia. Decades of hybridization have produced the wonderful variety of colors which characterize the poinsettia today and there’s one for practically every home decor.
Brought to this country in 1825 from Mexico, by Ambassador Joel Poinsett, the poinsettia was originally a Mexican wildflower. The star like shape is supposed to be a reminder of the Star of Bethlehem.
A Mexican legend tells of a poor girl who picked some poinsettias along the roadside because she had no other gift to offer the Virgin Mary. When she placed them before the Virgin’s statue, they burst into brilliant red blooms.
The common misconception about poinsettias is that they are poisonous and therefore should not be around pets or children. Fortunately, this simply isn’t true. The national information center for poision control centers, POISINDEX, says that a child would have to ingest 500-600 poinsettia leaves to exceed the experimental doses in which no toxicity was found.
Although it is a non-food product and not intended for consumption, it is absolutely NOT poisonous. So purchase your plants with the peace of mind knowing that neither small children or animals will be harmed by this lovely holiday decoration. However, some holiday plants such as mistletoe, are poisonous and should be avoided if there are small children or pets around.

 

Purchasing the Perfect Poinsettia

Choose a plant that is healthy looking and does not show any signs of insects or disease. Check to see if the flowers are still on the plant. The poinsettia flowers are the golden yellow clusters at the center (cyathia), not the brilliant red leaves, commonly called bracts.

When taking your plant home, be sure it is sleeved or covered and protected in some way. Cold temperatures, even for a very short time, will harm this tropical plant. Plants purchased from mass retailers may have been in their sleeves for quite some time and therefore, after opening, the bottom leaves may yellow and drop off. Locally grown plants from a reputable source are always a better bet.
After arriving home, take your plant out of its sleeve. Always remove the poinsettias from the bottom of the wrapping, pulling downward, so as not to break the bracts and branches. Place your plant in a spot that will give it bright natural light, but do not expose it to direct sunlight, especially in a south facing window. Do not put it near a heat source such as a radiator, on top of a television set, near drafts or ventilation ducts.
Let your plant dry slightly between waterings. Plants are like people- neither like wet feet, so don’t let your plant stand in a saucer of water between waterings. When watering, do so until the water runs through the bottom of the pot, then wait to water again until the soil feels dry to the touch, or the plant looks droopy.
Although some people consider a red poinsettia a dandy Valentine flower, most throw theirs out after the holiday season has passed. Poinsettias can be kept, however, and planted outdoors in the summer as an annual, although with our cool nighttime temperatures it probably won’t do very well. Some homeowners try to hold on to theirs to reflower them a second year and although this is considered a “gardening challenge”, it can be done. Be advised, however, that this is a difficult task at best as they are very sensitive to day length and a strict regime must be followed in order for this to happen successfully. Generally you are better off to simply throw the plant away once you are tired of it and purchase a new one the following season.
Enjoy your holiday poinsettias this year. There are so many wonderful ones from which to choose, anyone who wants a brighter, more cheerful holiday home should be able to find the perfect poinsettia!

Golden Opportunities

The question that has been most often asked in the garden center this week has been, “Can I still plant? Isn’t it fall and that means its time for things to die and me to clean up my garden?” The answer to that question is, yes, fall is when your garden traditionally is put to bed, but a bigger, resounding YES to the question as to whether to still plant or not. With the changing of the leaves to gold, golden opportunities abound for fall planting!

Garden centers nationwide have run a popular “Fall is for Planting” campaign for the past several years, but it seems like while it’s a catchy phrase, not many people really understand what the fall planting season is all about or why it is really a better time to plant many things than in the spring.

So here’s the scoop. Springtime planting is great for many things. For annuals springtime planting is a must- there’s no other time to plant these. But the problem with planting everything in the spring is that it is a very difficult time for plants to adjust and become established.

To begin, the ground is still cold. Plants usually won’t throw out many roots until the ground warms up somewhat and in this area, that’s usually hedging into summer, depending on the year. Once they are planted they are subjected to great swings in temperatures as we can easily have snow one day and warm, sunny weather the next. It’s sometimes a struggle for even the most hardy plants to get a good start.

When you plant in the fall, the ground is already warm and that is a big boost for plants who need to send out roots to become established. Daytime and nighttime temperature differences are usually not as severe and since the ground is already warm, it gives the plant some protection against the cooler nighttime temperatures. The survival rate of things planted in the fall is often greater than those planted in the spring.

Next comes the question of when and what to plant. Check the usual freezing dates of the ground in your area. This isn’t the frost date, but instead the actual date that the ground usually freezes. In the higher elevations this date is probably early October, depending on the year. In Cortez and the lower elevations, it is probably up until mid or even late October, or perhaps into November, again, depending on the weather that particular year.

The best time to put your fall plantings in is right about now- or approximately six weeks before the ground freezes. This allows the plant to become established and let the roots begin to spread and look for water before the ground begins to freeze and the plant goes dormant.

Many plants are suitable for fall planting. It’s a great time to install new lawns. Grasses love the cooler weather and will establish themselves quickly under fall conditions. It’s also a perfect time for planting perennials. Many of these are fall blooming anyway, adding a final burst of color to your yard.

Trees and shrubs do much better when planted in the fall. Plant nursery stock now, mulch them well and water according to recommendations throughout the winter and you will be surprised how well they will do!

If you like having fresh vegetables, or haven’t quite filled your freezer, fall gives you one last shot at a garden. Cold crops, usually associated with early spring planting such as lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, radishes, spinach, cauliflower and others can all be sown now for one more taste before winter. Remember the soil is still warm, but the air is beginning to cool off and that’s what they like in order to grow well. You may have to cover plants as we get further into the season, however, so keep an eye on those temperatures if you decide to try a fall vegetable garden.

And of course it’s a perfect time for fall mums and pansies. Not many people know much about fall pansies and it’s such a shame for they are one of the most versatile little plants. Plant fall pansies now, they will bloom until freezing, but then they don’t die. Instead they winter over, similar to a perennial, only to be some of the first bloomers in your spring garden, provided they receive adequate moisture. The more snow we have, the better, as this provides insulation and moisture for them. This past winter, the fall pansies I planted at the garden center came back huge and beautiful and folks were amazed that they hadn’t been planted in the spring along with all of the other annuals. Try some this year in your yard!

If you want more immediate gratification in your yard, consider planting fall mums. They will provide instant color throughout the fall and are available in a large variety of colors and types. From huge football type mums to wiry spider mums, there’s a look and texture for any yard. . Mums are available as both perennials and annuals, so be sure to recognize which you are purchasing so that you can make wise planting location decisions. Mums tend to grow large though, so keep this in mind when planting. They are easy to grow. Cut them back after flowering to a height of about 6-8″ to prepare them for the winter and the next growing season.

And finally, what everyone thinks of in the fall- bulbs. Buy your bulbs now for best selection, but hold off a bit to plant them until the weather cools down more. If you plant them now you may end up with October tulips! One exception would be fall crocus which can be planted now.

Think about where you want to place them and the impact they will have in the spring. Masses of color created by planting many bulbs in one area generally create a better show than spacing a few out here and there. Daffodils and narcissus are wonderful to use if you have deer problems as they tend to prefer other plants to these and therefore usually leave these alone.

Bulbs are also fun for those households that have children. Kids like to plant them- they can’t hurt them as there is no foliage to harm, and watching for them the following Spring is like a great mystery unfolding in the yard. Consider allowing your children to have a place of their own in the garden for the bulbs they’d like to try. Visit your local garden center and let them pick out several varieties taking care to stagger the blooming times and they will have a wonderful bulb garden throughout the spring.

View the upcoming Fall season as a time of great opportunity to try new things in the garden. With the warm, sunny days and the slight nip in the air, it’s a great time to get out in the yard and plant!

The Importance of Trees

The spill at the Gold King Mine last week reminded me how fragile our trees and environment really are. It also reminded me of the importance of the plants and other living things that surround and live in that ecosystem. It’s no different in your yard.

One of the best things you can do is plant a tree. I’m not saying that just as someone who owns a nursery. The facts are indisputable.

Planting trees means improved water quality. Less runoff and erosion allows more recharging of the ground water supply. Wooded areas also help prevent the transport of sediment and chemicals into streams. Sound familiar?

It’s been proven that homes with attractive, appropriate landscaping sell for an average of 10-30% more than those who are not well landscaped.

Trees are cool. Homes shaded by trees enjoy 10-30% savings on air conditioning costs compared to those without shade. Trees which are properly placed around buildings can result in a 20-50% savings in energy for that building. A healthy tree cools the air equivalent to 10 room sized air conditioners, operating 20 hours a day. If you plant a deciduous tree (one that loses its leaves each winter) the leaves will shade your windows in the summer but warm your home in the winter once the leaves have fallen.

Trees can lower your grocery bills. Fruit trees provide apples, peaches, pears, cherries and other natural flavors to grace your kitchen table. One of my staff members had a bumper crop of cherries this summer and every one of us enjoyed them!

Trees make you healthy. One acre of forested area absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen. And in laboratory research, visual exposure to trees has produced significant recovery from stress within five minutes. So if you are spending money on tranquilizers, save it. Plant a tree instead.

But what kind should you plant? Obviously there are some that are better than others, depending on exactly where in our area you live. These are just three of my “tried and true” and should do well just about anywhere.

Autumn Blaze Maple- If you absolutely love fall color, this is my number one favorite and is the one in the photo on the email. Classic red in the fall, it provides great shade throughout the summer months. This tree is wind resistant which also makes it a great choice and at about 40 feet tall at maturity, it makes a statement in your yard.

Quaking Aspens- Everyone who knows Colorado is familiar with aspen trees. Their rich, golden color in the fall makes them unique and recognizable everywhere in the mountains. Aspens are good for shade- I have them planted in front of windows that I want to shade in the summer, but during the winter when they’ve lost their leaves, that room is warm and sunny. Please don’t go dig them from the forest! Many people don’t realize that the aspen root system is among the largest in the world and an entire hillside can all be connected. By digging an individual one to take home, you are breaking that root system and your chance of survival for that tree is small. Instead, choose a container grown aspen from your local nursery. If you can’t wait for a large tree, visit with us at Four Seasons and we’ll share with you our secrets for success. We can put 6′ of growth on an aspen in a single growing season with leaves as large as my hand!

Colorado Blue Spruce- Another staple in the Colorado landscape, this is an evergreen which stays lovely all year. Often used for Christmas trees, this is a great one to use for that purpose then plant in your yard after the holidays to enjoy for years to come. It’s also another tree that can grow quite large, so be sure to give it some room.

There’s an old saying that reads, “The best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago; the next best time to plant is today!” That’s especially true because of the season. Many people don’t realize that planting in the late summer and fall is sometimes better than planting in the spring. The ground is warm from the summer sun, so the roots have time to get established. Think about it like putting your feet into a bucket of ice water when you plant in the spring, versus putting them into a warm water bath when you plant now. They like that warm soil and since the nighttime temps have begun to cool, there is less transplant shock. So no matter how you view it, whether you’re looking for a way to beat the heat, lower your bills, or simply add oxygen and enjoy it’s beauty, it’s a great time to plant a tree!

 

 

Liquid Sunshine

Liquid Sunshine is what has been falling over much of our area this spring. While we are so grateful for it, there have been days I’ve longed to see the sun shine for one entire day, uninterrupted by the daily shower. It’s turned our high, dry, desert southwest into an oasis. I was driving through Arizona about a month ago and was delighted at the abundance of cactus flowers in bloom. Another day I was coming back across the Reservation and was able to see both ends of the rainbow for the first time! (Too bad I couldn’t see the pot of gold too!) Rainwater truly is Mother Nature’s gift!

So what makes it so good for your plants and in your yard? Lots of things!

First of all, and perhaps most important… it’s free! No high water bills over the course of the last month and that has been a very good thing for many people. But there are lots of other benefits too.

Rainwater is free of toxins like chlorine and salts that are found in other water sources. The salt free water increases the uptake of nutrients and improves water retention in your plants. It increases the effectiveness of detergents so you can use less, and it minimizes mineral build up found in our hard water here.

You’ll find a good many beneficial nutrients in rainwater to help your plants. These include nitrogen, sulfur, and microorganisms, to name a few. Since plants draw nitrogen from the soil, rainwater helps to replenish and increase that in the soil. Plants use sulfur to form amino acids necessary for their growth, and microorganisms help to fertilize the soil.

So is there anything bad about rainwater? Yes, there can be. Pollutants are always a concern, though not so much in this area. Acid rain is generally a problem in larger, more populated areas. But overall, in our part of the world, rainwater is far more beneficial than detrimental to your plants.

There is one downside, however, to all of this wonderful rain. Have you noticed a gray, fuzzy substance on the leaves of some of your plants? It’s most likely powdery mildew. Powdery mildew is caused by too much rain, too much humidity on leaves that aren’t able to dry off before evening. Because of the very wet spring, we’ve noticed this on our plants for the first time in a very long time. Coming from the humidity laden East Coast, we’re unfortunately familiar with this though. Treat powdery mildew by using Copper Fungicide or Infuse. You may also have success with Neem. While it isn’t pretty, it is easily treated if caught early, so keep your eyes peeled for this in your garden.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the very green spring this year, but if you haven’t, don’t worry ~ monsoon season is just around the corner!

It’s Anticipation Season!

Here are some of our new favorites for 2015, but this isn’t all of them! Visit us throughout the season as more and more things arrive and begin to bloom. It’s going to be a great gardening year!

More new Annuals you will love in 2015!

Flash Mob Redtastic

Flash Mob Petunias- Easy to grow, great in baskets or containers. Nice mounding habit. These come in a variety of colors. Pinkceptional and Redtastic are two of our favorites!

Cha Ching Cherry Petunia

Cha Ching Petunias– bright and eye catching with jewel tones of red and white with a star pattern in the middle. good for baskets, containers and beds.

 

Cranberrytini

Verbena Espadrille Series- With fun names like “Cranberrytini,” “Merlot,” and “Peach Schnapps” how can you not fall in love with these new verbenas? Good growth habit with bright flowers atop green foliage makes them a winning choice for baskets and planters. Verbena love the heat of our Southwestern climate too!

Crazytunia Cherry Cheesecake

Crazytunias are another new introduction from our friend Jim Monroe at Hort Couture. More fun names like “Cherry Cheesecake” make you want to eat this series up! Good habit, bright and colorful, this striking petunia will do well in beds, baskets, or containers. Add some pizzazz to your planters this year with Cherry Cheesecake!

And the best of the Perennials!

Phenomenal Lavender

My favorite new perennial is one from an old friend in Pennsylvania, Lloyd Traven. You have   to know Lloyd in order to appreciate this new lavender. Lloyd is a little bit 1960’s hippy, a lot   2015 savvy and his Phenomenal Lavender is getting rave reviews across the county. Great growth habit no matter where it’s planted, we think this is going to be a killer plant for our area!

Bordeaux

Bordeaux Lily of the Valley is a great new Lily of the Valley. For those of us that love this     plant, you know that the fragrance is wonderful and they are among some of the first to bloom   each spring. This one carries on the tradition but is larger and more vigorous than previous    ones.

Peek a Blue

Peek a Blue Russian Sage is a wonderful new Russian Sage. Russian Sage does so well in our area anyway. This one has an exceptionally long blooming time but its nicest attribute is that it stays compact at just about 2′ tall. So if you’ve loved Russian Sage but haven’t been able to plant it because you haven’t had a large enough area, this is the one to try!

Plan Bee

Pollination in your garden is mandatory if you want great flowers and good vegetable yields, and most of us don’t think much about how this process happens. Pollen can be spread by birds going from flower to flower to feed as in the case of hummingbirds, by wind or by insects such as bees.

There’s been quite a bit of attention paid to bees in particular lately because of the effects chemicals and pesticides are having on the bee population. And while the thought of bees in your garden might bring back unpleasant memories of being stung as a child, that doesn’t have to be the case. Blue Mason Bees, or Orchard Mason Bees are extremely beneficial and great to have as garden friends.

The Blue Mason Bee works in your garden just like any other bee in the way they pollinate going from flower to flower to feed. In fact, if you have a small garden or lot, these are the ideal garden helpers for you. They are about the same size as a honeybee, but there are a couple of distinguishing characteristics that will help you tell them apart. First, they are a dark, metallic blue (hence the name Blue Mason Bee), not the striped brown and orange like honeybees. They can often be mistaken for flies because they are small and have that metallic sheen. Although they are found across North America, they are most commonly found in the Pacific Northwest.

Non-aggressive  and completely safe to have around pets and kids, they really are quite wonderful to have around. They don’t live in hives, they don’t make honey, and they won’t attack. Even though they do have a stinger, it won’t be used unless threatened, so you and your children are very safe in observing them as they work in your garden.

They are solitary and each has its own brood rather than the more typical structure of having a queen and worker bees. They do like the company of others however, and build nests next to one another in a compound like situation. When they build their nests they seal each egg chamber with a tiny brick of mud that divides it from other chambers, hence the name “mason.”

Blue Mason Bee season begins in early spring to coincide with the blossoming of your fruit trees. As a pollinator, they are especially beneficial to stone fruits like cherries, peaches and plums but also like apples and commercial fruit growers and those with orchards love having them around. The female will collect the pollen and nectar, bring it back to their nests and knead it into a ball. Once the food supply is large enough, they lay an egg on top of it, then seal off that chamber cell. Then she builds a mud wall and starts gathering food for the next chamber. This goes on until there are five to eight cells in each tube, then the entrance is sealed. These eggs grow but won’t emerge as adults until the next spring season.

Interestingly enough, those cells in the back of the chamber develop into the female bees, while the ones near the entrance are the males. The theory is that males need to emerge first to wait for the females during mating season the following spring, and since the females are more valuable for perpetuation of the species, they are the more protected eggs towards the back of the chamber.

We have Mason Bees for sale this year at Four Seasons, along with their houses and a small book if you want to know more or you have a young gardener that you might like to share them with. These bees do important work in guaranteeing your gardening success, so we hope you will give them a try. Along with ladybugs and praying mantids which are a natural way to control pests in your garden, these bees are a natural way to safely pollinate your way to gardening happiness!