The art and science of gardening

by admin
Comments Off on How to Grow Smoke Tree from Seed

How to Grow Smoke Tree from Seed

smoke tree

The smoketree (Cotinus obovatus) is native to the United States where it can be found growing in rocky soils in Oklahoma, Alabama and up into Tennessee and Kentucky. This is actually classified as a shrub, although it can be trained to grow as a tree and it will grow from 15 to 30 feet high.

The best part of growing the smoke tree are the flowers from hence comes its name. From a distance, when the shrub is covered in them, it appears to be smothered in smoke. Smoke trees also offer interest in autumn with lovely fall-colored foliage.

Smoke Tree Seeds

They’re tiny and you’ll need to wait until after the last frost date (in fact, wait until there is absolutely no danger of frost) to plant them.

Place the smoke tree seeds in a bowl and pour warm water over them. Allow them to soak for 24 hours. Change the water with clean, warm water after the first 12 hours. Allow the seeds to completely air dry.

While you’re waiting for them to dry, choose a sunny spot in which to germinate the smoke tree seeds. They not particular about the texture of the soil in which they are planted, only that it be well-drained. Pour a 3-inch layer of sand over the planting area and mix it to a depth of 8 inches.

Push the smoke tree seeds 3/8 inch into the soil, 12 inches apart. Water the area with the fine mist setting on your hose until the top 2 inches of soil is moist and ensure that it remains moist during germination. Be very careful when you water. As mentioned earlier, the seeds are quite small and will wash away if you don’t exercise caution.

Germination of smoke tree seeds is slow and variable; it may take up to two springs.


Image: Daydream” Smoketree Cotinus coggygria taken by Greg Hume/CC by SA 2.5

by admin
Comments Off on The Oh-so-Prolific Quaking Aspen

The Oh-so-Prolific Quaking Aspen

What Happens if you don’t Remove the Suckers

We received an emailed question today from "Paul."

My neighbor has two quaking aspen. The roots send suckers up in my yard 
unmercifully. How can I control those suckers? I have tried round-up 
concentrate. It kills the suckers but the roots do not seem to be affected. This 
has been going on for years. His yard does not seem to be affected by new 
sprouts shooting up in his lawn or flower beds.

And how about the rapid growth rate of those suckers?! I wish my hair grew that fast.

Quaking aspen has a very shallow lateral root system and any damage to these roots will trigger the tree to send out suckers. So, if you aerate your lawn you may be hitting the tree’s roots ― even a lawn mower can trigger the production. You may also see increased sucker production if the homeowner next door prunes the tree or it is damaged in any way. It’s a result of the tree producing certain hormones when damaged, telling it to reproduce quickly.

For you, I don’t have good news.

Next time a sucker pops up, dig down to find the lateral root from which it’s growing. If it’s not too deep, you have one rather labor-intensive option: root prune as close as possible to your side of the fence and then trench and install a root barrier along the perimeter of your yard and the neighbor’s. The barrier will deflect lateral root growth into your yard.

Beyond that physical barrier, try spraying the rascals with Ortho’s Weed B Gone or Bonide® Sucker Punch. Cut the sprout before spraying it. Both of these products take some time to work (perhaps up to two weeks) so don’t give up if the suckers don’t die immediately. Alas, this is not a permanent solution. You will want to repeat the application per the instructions on the label. And repeat. And repeat. They will keep coming back, but in different locations.

If you don’t want to spray, you’ll need to be vigilant mowing, pulling or cutting the sprouts as they appear.

The good news here is that the quaking aspen is a short-lived tree. Patience, my friend.





by admin
Comments Off on Fertilizing Raspberry Plants

Fertilizing Raspberry Plants




“Raspberries05” by User:Fir0002 – Own work. Licensed under GFDL 1.2 via Commons

While most raspberry (Rubus spp.) cultivars are hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 7, some tolerate warmer temperatures and reduced chill hours. “Autumn Bliss,” (Rubus idaeus “Autumn Bliss”), for instance, is hardy to USDA zones 3 through 11. No matter where in the world you grow raspberries, for maximum yield, provide the plant with the right nutrients at the right time. Don’t worry, they don’t require anything exotic, just your basic N-P-K.


At Planting

Choose from a variety of products with which to amend the soil when planting your raspberry plant. Organic gardeners may want to use a well-rotted manure or compost, at a rate of 2 cubic yards per 100 square feet of planting area.

Not only do these materials add nutrients to the soil but they improve drainage as well. If you aren’t growing organically, use 1 cup of balanced organic fertilizer such as 3-3-3, and 1/4 cup kelp meal. Whatever you choose, blend the materials with the top 4 inches of soil.


First Year Raspberries

Appropriate care of the raspberry plant during its first year is critical to its future production. You do want lots of fruit, right? While it may not bear fruit in the first year, the plant is collecting nutrients to build strong canes. Watch it closely as it grows to determine if it requires more fertilizer. Canes that grow to 4 to 6 feet in height are receiving enough nutrients. If, on the other hand, the canes are only growing to 3 feet tall, apply .5 ounce of 16-16-16 fertilizer.

This fertilizer includes the three primary macronutrients — nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (N-P-K). Sprinkle the granules around the bush, keeping them at least 3 inches away from the base of the plant. Always water after fertilizing to soak it down to the roots.

Annual Needs

In spring of the raspberry plant’s second year, before new growth appears, apply 10 ounces of 5-4-3 fertilizer. This fertilizer is higher in nitrogen, which helps promote foliage growth.

The second number represents the percentage of phosphorus in the fertilizer, which promotes flowering and fruiting. Potassium, represented by the last number in the fertilizer analysis, plays a number of roles in the life of the raspberry plant, from regulating water intake to affecting the color, size and tastes of the raspberries.

Sprinkle the granules around the raspberry plant and use a rake to lightly scratch it in to the soil. Don’t forget to water. Provide another application of the fertilizer at the end of May and again at the end of June.


Fertilizer Precautions

Fertilizer that washes into area lakes, streams and rivers causes overgrowth of algae that takes up oxygen and can end up killing fish. Use caution when applying fertilizer to the raspberry bush so that it doesn’t end up in a storm drain or drainage ditch. Don’t fertilize on a day when heavy rain is expected — it may cause the fertilizer to run off into gutters, waterways and drains.

Sweep up any granules that spill onto the sidewalk or driveway.

by admin
Comments Off on Caring for the ‘Blue Girl’ Rose

Caring for the ‘Blue Girl’ Rose

The Blue Girl rose is actually lavender

By Hybrid_Tea_-_Blue_Girl_09_(cr). HomeinSalem derivative work: Anna reg CC BY-SA 3.0

If you’re looking for an interesting addition to your rose garden, consider Blue Girl. A hybrid tea, it  blooms in double flowers that are generally more lavender than blue. A compact shrub, the Blue Girl grows 2 to 3 feet in height, with a 2-foot spread. If grown in full sun in its USDA hardiness zones (4 to 10), the Blue Girl will bloom in spring and fall.

Like all roses, Blue Girl does best when watered weekly and deeply. During hot, dry periods you may need to supply more water. The best way to water the Blue Girl is with drip irrigation or a soaker hose that will supply the water slowly and deeply. Try to keep water off the foliage to avoid fungal disease.

Fertilize the Blue Girl monthly during the growing season with rose food, according to the rate suggested on the package.

Deadhead the Blue Girl rose bush periodically. The leaves on roses grow in clusters, count them and when you find a five leaf cluster, cut just above the cluster, using sharp pruning shears. Check the area around the base of the Blue Girl for suckers (small, immature growth) and break them off the plant or pull from the soil.

Prepare the rose for winter if you live in a cold region of the country. Stop fertilizing the Blue Girl rose in August and discontinue deadheading in October. Remove all foliage after the first hard frost and prune off all dead and diseased wood. Rake the planting bed to remove all plant debris. Add 5 inches of mulch around the base of the Blue Girl shrub and cover the entire plant with leaves or straw.

Prune the Blue Girl rose in early spring by removing all but four healthy, strong canes (stems). Cut the others at the base of the plant. Remove any winter-damaged canes and any that are crossing over others.

Add a fresh, 3-inch layer of mulch after spring pruning. Keep it 2 inches away from the wood and spread it out to 3 feet, completely surrounding the base of the Blue Girl bush.


by admin
Comments Off on How to Germinate California Pepper Tree Seeds

How to Germinate California Pepper Tree Seeds

Wait until the berries turn red

“Schinus Molle” by Squeezeweasel at en.wikipedia – Liz Upton, own work.

California pepper trees (Schinus molle) grow quickly to 25 to 40 feet in height with an equal spread. This is an evergreen tree in U.S.D.A. plant hardiness zones 8b through 11b. It bears peppery-scented foliage, and the female trees produce clusters of red berries that encapsulate the seeds. Ironically, this tree is considered invasive in California.

Fruit Collection

Handling of any part of the California pepper tree may cause dermatitis in sensitive individuals, so wear gloves when working with the tree. Wait until the fruit turns red to harvest and then lay it in the sun to dry for about a week. You’ll know it’s ready when the outer covering rubs off easily with your hands.

Store the seeds in a glass jar until you are ready to plant them. They remain viable for up to two years.


California pepper tree seeds require a loose medium in which to germinate, so perlite is ideal. Use cell trays or pots, whichever is more convenient for you, and fill them to within ½ inch of the rim with perlite. Water the perlite slowly to ensure that it becomes evenly moist. You may need to stir it as you add water. Allow the perlite to drain completely before planting the seeds.


You may notice that the California pepper tree’s seeds are coated with a sticky substance after removal from the husk. This substance needs to be removed before planting, so soak the seeds in room temperature water for 48 to 72 hours. Place the seeds on the surface of the perlite and cover them with a 1/8-inch layer of perlite or sand.

Care during Germination

California pepper tree seeds need to be kept slightly moist at all times during germination. The best way to accomplish this is by spraying the top layer of perlite or sand with water from a misting bottle. Keep the containers out of the sun both before and after germination. Expect the seeds germinate within 10 to 30 days.


by admin
Comments Off on How to Grow Butternut Squash

How to Grow Butternut Squash


Butternut Squash

“Cucurbita moschata ‘Butternut’ 3” by HalfGig. Licensed under CC BY 3.0

Butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata) is a winter squash, meaning that it is planted in spring, grows throughout the summer and is harvested in fall for storage or consumption in the winter. Not only is the fruit edible, but the leaves, flowers and seeds as well. The butternut squash plant produces both male and female flowers, a trait known as monoecious. There’s generally no need to start butternut squash seeds indoors; sow seeds outdoors after the danger of frost has passed and the soil warms to at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

Choose and Prepare the Planting Site

Butternut squash vines can spread up to 6 feet, so choose a site with lots of room. The plants also require a full day of sunshine so plant them in the sunniest area in the garden.

The soil should be nutrient rich and quick draining. You can satisfy both of these requirements by adding a 3-inch layer of compost to the soil and blending it in with the top 6 inches of soil.

If you are working with clay soil, add a 3- to 4-inch layer of composted wood chips and blend the material with the existing soil to a depth of 8 inches.

Also add 4 to 6 cups of 16-16-8 fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area and mix it into the top 4 inches of soil.

To expedite drainage and keep the roots warm, plant the butternut squash seeds in mounds that measure 6 inches high and 2 feet in diameter, spaced at least 5 feet apart. Carefully water the planting bed until the mounds are completely moist.

Plant the Butternut Squash Seeds

Plant four seeds, 3 to 4 inches apart, in each hill, pushing them 1-inch deep into the soil at the top of the hills. Keep the soil moist while the seeds germinate. The butternut squash seedlings should emerge within 10 days of sowing. When the seedlings reach 3 inches in height, it’s time to thin them so choose the strongest two plants in each hill and remove the others by snipping them off at the base. This is also a good time to apply mulch around the seedlings. Keep it 1-inch away from the main stem, and spread it out over the hill.

Water and Fertilizer

Butternut squash are thirsty plants, so ensure that the soil is consistently moist throughout the growing season. The best way to water is with a drip system that provides water slowly, but a hose set to a slow drip will work as well. Place the water at the base of the plant to avoid the fungal diseases that occur with wet foliage.

Apply the next application of fertilizer when the plants produce runners. Dig a 2-inch-deep trench, 3 inches to the side of each hill and sprinkle 1 to 2 tablespoons of 21-0-0 fertilizer in each trench. Cover the fertilizer with soil and water slowly to a depth of 4 inches. This type of fertilization is known as side-dressing. When the fruits begin swelling, side-dress the butternut squash plants again, using a 12-10-5 fertilizer at the same rate as the previous side-dressing.

Special Care

You will need to perform two pruning tasks on the butternut squash during the growing period. First, pinch 1 inch from the tip of the main shoot when it reaches 3 feet in length. This will encourage it to branch. Second, remove any large leaves that are shading the fruit.

Slugs and snails can devastate your butternut squash crop so start a preventive program as early as possible. Several companies manufacture organic slug and snail bait that is not only safe for use on consumables but safe for use around pets as well. Follow label instructions carefully and reapply the bait every two weeks.




by admin
Comments Off on A Boxwood Lover’s Guide to Propagation

A Boxwood Lover’s Guide to Propagation

Propagate Boxwood

“Buxus-microphylla-sinica” by Sten Porse – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0


The most popular plant among professional landscapers is boxwood  (Buxus spp.), according to a poll of Lawn and Landscape magazine’s readers.  Thus the versatile evergreen has been dubbed America’s most popular shrub.


Although there are about 150 cultivars and species available in nurseries, the most commonly grown is the common or American boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), and its cultivar, ‘Suffruticosa,’ also known as English boxwood.  Both are hardy to USDA zones 5 through 8, and propagation of the two is identical. The principal method of boxwood propagation is cuttings.


The best time to take a boxwood cutting is in July, but you will also find moderate success with cuttings taken after that, until December. The ideal time of day to take a boxwood cutting is early in the morning. This is when the plant’s stems have the highest moisture content and will be less likely to dry out.


Gather the following items:

  • Sharp pruning shears
  • Lysol
  • Coarse sand
  • Planting pot
  • 4 jumbo craft sticks, 9-inch long twigs or chopsticks
  • Plastic, sealable bag


Always disinfect your pruning equipment before using it. The easiest way to do this is to soak the pruners for five minutes in a solution of 1 part of water and 3 parts of Lysol. Rinse them well in clean water and allow them to air dry.


You’ll find gardening advice online, at sites such as EHow and others that recommend using bleach to disinfect your pruning equipment. NEVER use bleach, unless your pruners are disposable (is there such a thing?). It is highly corrosive and a health hazard. In fact, stop taking gardening advice from sites like that. I am shocked at what I read there. I linked to it, above, just to show you how absolutely uninformed these types of sites are.


Ok, off the soapbox. It’s important that you don’t allow the cutting to dry out during the process, so prepare the rooting container before taking the boxwood cutting. The size of the container isn’t important but it is critical that it has holes in the bottom for drainage. This helps avoid rot.


Fill the container with coarse, moist sand, to about ½ inch of the rim. Insert the craft sticks, twigs or chopsticks into the sand at the rim of the pot, evenly spaced. Finally, use your finger or a pencil to create a 2-inch deep planting hole. (refs 5)


Taking the Boxwood Cutting

Choose boxwood that is disease- and pest-free from which to take the cutting. From the tip of the stem, measure back 6 inches and make the cut with the pruning shears. Remove the leaves from the bottom inch of the cutting.


Expert opinions vary on whether or not rooting hormone is beneficial when propagating boxwood cuttings. The American Boxwood Society claims that results are the same, with and without the use of rooting hormone.  In his studies, noted horticulturist and professor Michael A. Dirr, Ph.D found that the use of Rootone 10 and several other hormones with boxwood caused burns and he suggests using Hormodin #3 instead.


Should you decide to use rooting hormone, pour a dime-sized portion into a small bowl, moisten the bottom inch of the cutting and roll it in the hormone powder.


Insert the cutting into the prepared container and pack the sand around the base. Carefully slip the container into the plastic bag, arranging it so that the sticks at the edge of the pot hold the plastic away from the cutting’s foliage. Seal the bag and place it in a lightly shaded indoor area where it won’t be disturbed.


Check the moisture content of the sand periodically to ensure that it doesn’t dry out. If it appears to be dry, give it only enough water so that the sand is moist, not saturated. The boxwood cutting should root within two to three months and it should be strong enough to be planted outdoors the following spring.


I highly recommend The Reference Manual of Woody Plant Propagation; Michael A. Dirr and Charles W. Heuser, Jr.






by admin
Comments Off on How to Care for Tickseed

How to Care for Tickseed

If you’re looking for garden cheer, consider filling it with tickseed flowers (Coreopsis spp.). With their charming, typically yellow flowers and fine, almost ferny foliage, these native perennial plants lend a meadow-like air wherever they grow. Tickseed is a pleasure to grow for its easygoing nature and its resistance to major diseases and pests when grown within their hardiness zones.

Light and Temperature Needs

A sunflower relative, tickseeds love as much sunlight as nature throws ther way, so plant them in the sunniest spot in the garden. The plants also thrive when the weather heats up. Although most are technically perennials and, depending on species and cultivar, are hardy to USDA plant hardiness zones 3 to 9, gardeners outside of these zones grow them as  annuals.

Water Requirements

Be careful not to overwater tickseeds. Drought-tolerant plants, too much water may kill them. As a general rule of thumb, water the tickseed once a week if it doesn’t rain and only if the soil feels dry to three inches deep. Water slowly, until the top 6 inches of soil is moist.

Feeding the Tickseed

Tickseeds are native wildflowers and adapted to growth in the wild. Too much fertilizer causes soft stems and the plants may become floppy. If you aren’t getting the number of flowers you want, plant additional seed – tickseeds bloom better when they are crowded. If you must fertilize, do so in early spring and use a 10-10-10 fertilizer. Not all fertilizers are alike so use the amount specified on the fertilizer label. Sprinkle the granules around the tickseeds and water until the soil is moist.


Deadhead tickseeds to prolong its blooming period. Either snip off the flowers just above the next bud or shear the plant to 1/3 of its size. Cutting it back like this may prompt the tickseed to produce new buds. If you want the plant to reseed, allow the flowers to dry in place.


Tickseed is such an easy grower that propagating it is a snap. If you’ve been growing it for a while you may want to divide the plant. Water the tickseed the day before performing the division. Drive a shovel into the soil about 2 feet away from a clump. Lift the shovel and insert it again, next to the first spot and continue this until you’ve sliced through the soil in a circle around the tickseed. Use the shovel to pry the tickseed from the soil and replant it in the new location immediately.


No soil preparation is necessary if you prefer to plant seeds.  Sprinkle them on the soil and cover with a very thin layer of soil – about 1/16 inch. It’s important not to bury the seed to deep, it requires light to germinate.  Keep the seeds moist while they germinate and water the seedlings to keep the soil consistently moist.

by admin
Comments Off on Growing the Red Tiger Abutilon

Growing the Red Tiger Abutilon


Call them bell-shaped or hibiscus-like, but one thing there is no denying is that the abutilon Red Tiger® (Abutilon vexillarium var. ATN RT5) produces some gorgeous flowers. When grown in USDA hardiness zones 8 through 10, the news gets even better: this abutilon blooms continuously from spring until fall. Red Tiger’s blooms are yellow with red veining and the plant produces the same maple-like foliage of all abutilons. Easy to care for, Red Tiger will add lots of interest to your garden.

Light and Temperature

Although it tolerates and will bloom in cooler temperatures Red Tiger does best when temperatures are warm – between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.  The amount of light required depends on how warm it gets in the summer in your region. In hot areas, provide the plant with afternoon shade, otherwise bright light all day is ideal.

Water Requirements

Like many plants, Red Tiger doesn’t tolerate soggy roots. It does, however, require consistently moist soil. When you water, soak the soil and then don’t water again until the surface of the soil is dry. Cut back on the amount of water you give the plant in winter, watering only enough to keep the soil from drying out completely.

Fertilizing Red Tiger

Watch Red Tiger for new growth in spring – that’s your signal to apply the season’s first dose of fertilizer. Mix 2 teaspoons of 20-20-20 fertilizer in 1 gallon of water and drench the soil with the solution at the rate of 1 quart for each square foot of soil space. Apply 1/8cup of 15-30-15 one month later.


The appearance of new spring growth is also a sign that it’s time to prune the Red Tiger.  Ensure that your pruning equipment is sharp to avoid damaging the stems and sterilize it by dipping in a solution of 1 part household bleach and 3 parts of water.  Red Tiger tolerates heavy pruning so don’t be afraid to cut it back as far as you like. You’ll end up with a bushier abutilon.


Red Tiger is attractive to aphids and slugs. Aphids can be washed off the plant with a strong blast of water from the hose. Getting rid of slugs is more of a challenge, however, because most remedies involve toxic chemicals that are attractive to pets. Get rid of the slugs’ daytime hiding places, such as rocks and plant debris. Get rid of slugs by handpicking them off the Red Tiger (ah, don’t be squeamish and wear gloves) or by applying snail bait. Avoid snail bait products that contain metaldehyde if you have children and pets. Choose baits with iron phosphate instead.

By the way, Red Tiger is the plant’s trade name, thus the trademark symbol.


by admin
Comments Off on Snow on my Sago Palm?

Snow on my Sago Palm?

Photo courtesy Texas A&M University

“Ew, what’s that white stuff on my sago palm?” asks a reader from Southern California. That, my friend is evidence of a huge infestation of what is commonly known as cycad scale (Aulacaspis yasumatsui). A type of armored scale, these guys would be harmless if they showed up by their lonesome. Instead, they come in gangs and may kill your sago palm if not controlled.

Description and Life Cycle

Sago scale is an armored scale but, because it may colonize even the plant’s roots, it is more insidious than others in this classification. While both male and females are tiny, the female is only 0.04 to 0.06 inches in length. Both are white, with an irregular shape. Sago scale eggs are orange and hatch within 12 days. From then, it takes only 28 days for the pest to reach maturity, with its entire life lasting only 75 days or less.


Before you see the “white stuff” on your sago palm you may notice yellow spots that turn brown and dry. As the infestation worsens, the leaves may be covered in white – both dead and alive – scale. Sometimes the scales will cluster only on the undersides of the leaves. The insects suck the juices from the plant and, like I mentioned, they will kill it if not controlled.

Control Surface Scales

Because cycad scale infests so many parts of the sago palm, it is difficult to control. Some of the insects may be hidden in the roots or in leaf petioles, ready to re-infest the plant just when you think you’ve got the problem under control. If lady beetles are present on the plant, prune infested leaves, bag them and remove them from the area. If the lady beetles fail to correct the problem, trim infested leaves and spray the remaining leaves with horticultural oil. Ensure that the entire plant, including both the top and the underside of the foliage is covered with the spray. Reapply every two weeks, three additional times. Even when the pests are dead they tenaciously cling to the plant but will eventually drop off.

Control Subterranean Scales

Since sago scale may be in the cycad’s roots, agricultural researchers with the University of Hawaii suggest using a systemic insecticide in addition to the oil spray. Choose an insecticide with the active ingredient dinotefuran ( Safari™) and use 1.5 teaspoons of the insecticide in 1 gallon of water.  If you have mulch around the sago, pull it back to bare soil. Dig a trench about 6 inches from the base of the sago and completely surrounding it — about 4 inches wide and 5 inches deep is fine. Pour the insecticide into the trench slowly, ensuring that you pour it evenly all the way around the plant. Fill the trench with the soil you removed. Replace the mulch but don’t water for a week or two.