10 THINGS THIS GARDENER IS THANKFUL FOR

Beneficial syphid fly on ‘Jelena’ Witch Hazel

Since the start of the new year I’ve been pondering a few of my many blessings…

1. Friends who visit my garden and don’t see any weeds

2. The song of wind in the trees

3. Kneepads and gloves

4. The fragrance of Sarcococca

5.  Raindrops on spider webs

6. A breath of fresh, moist, winter air

7.  Harvesting vegetables in winter

8.  The electric green fuzz of mosses

9.  The Witch Hazel in bloom honoring our kitty Hazel (RIP)

10.  The kind people who read my blog–THANK YOU!

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CYA (Cover Your Actinomycetes*)

*Actinomycete–filamentous bacteria that give healthy soil its characteristic “earthy” smell.

I just got around to covering my empty vegetable beds to safeguard my soil. Quite often I miss the late summer/early fall window to put out cover crop seed and have it germinate and fill in thickly.  Sometimes its because I have a few straggling veggies I’m waiting to harvest through September (this year was a good tomato year, for instance).  Other years I’m busy with other things, and certain years it’s not a bad idea to give my tendonitis a rest from the late winter effort of turning under or chopping back a cover crop.

landscape weed barrier used to cover vegetable bed for winter

It’s not too late to get out and do the same for your bare soil, regardless of what your fair weather intentions were.  What do you have in the garage or shed? You can use tarps or rolls of plastic you might already have.  If you like free and repurposed items, ask your local lumber yard if they’ll give you some of the “lumber wrap” that their product is delivered in to save it from the landfill. 

When talking about the cons of using a landscape weed barrier fabric in a class I gave a few weeks ago, my friend Laura suggested a good use for it was to cover bare soil for the winter. Her comment reminded me that I had a roll of landscape weed barrier fabric that I was given by a neighbor who moved into a condo with no garden.  It worked perfectly to cover the surface of my raised bed.

I overlapped pieces of the fabric to cover the bed completely, securing the layers to the ground with a landscape staple.  I placed a small square of repurposed thick plastic or nylon under each staple to prevent tearing from heavy wind.  Staples, as well as flat rocks in the centers and around the edges should help keep it secured until its time to plant my late winter crop.

Landscape staple with nylon underneath where two layers overlap

Benefits of covering your soil over the winter:

–Maintain soil fertility by preventing the leaching of nitrogen in particular

–Protect soil texture by preventing the erosion and compaction that occurs from heavy rain

–Covered soil will warm up faster in late winter/spring, the better for seed germination

–Keep new weed seeds from blowing in and existing seed bank of cool season weeds from sprouting

More information about building and protecting healthy soil:

WSU Extension Publications|Cover Crops for Home Gardens West of the Cascades (Home Garden Series)

WSU Extension Publications|A Home Gardener’s Guide to Soils and Fertilizers (Home Garden Series)

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Prettiest Mulch EVER!

And not just pretty mulch, but FREE mulch. Easy mulch. Nature’s mulch.

Bigleaf Maple and it’s lovely blanket of leaves

How I love the bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) trees along my driveway! Looking up into the canopy at any time of the year brings on a rush of gratitude. In autumn, its the the fresh carpet of golden leaves below that makes my heart soar.

A fluffy blanket of leaves is a gardener’s gift. It’s nature’s way of recycling plant material into organic matter, of feeding the soil and its denizens. Fallen leaves prevent erosion, insulate roots from extreme temperatures and help the tree through the dry season. I appreciate how the thick layer prevents most weeds from germinating.

True: the driveway must be cleared. Yet a rake or blower allows us to direct the leaves where their winter cover is most useful. Walking around gently tamps them down to keep them in place, especially after a soaking rain.

Any deciduous tree’s leaves can make a fine mulch–it doesn’t have to be maple. Enjoy what you have! An exception might be leaves from fruit trees, or if your tree has a serious foliar disease that is known to spread through fallen leaves. In those cases it might be best to either collect and trash, or use a layer of arborist chips for mulch instead.

I’ve had a neighboring gardener see me raking and ask: “You going to use those leaves?” I smiled and answered “Oh yes! But funny you should ask…” That was the year I played matchmaker (leaf broker?) for a friend with a tiny yard buried in maple leaves who hated to see them end up in the yard waste bin, or worse, the landfill.

The generous maple leaves have come in handy to mulch new garden beds in other areas of my yard, to bolster the brown component of my compost and as stuffing inside burlap to wrap and insulate potted plants during extreme cold spells.

Now, I’ll leaf you to appreciate your own trees and the free mulch they provide.

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THANK YOU, CLASS ATTENDEES!

WISHING YOU MORE TIME IN YOUR ADIRONDACK CHAIR

Thanks a bunch to those of you who joined me for my zoom class “It’s all in the Design: The Low-Maintenance Garden” last week. I hope that my 5 key concepts for designing a landscape that won’t run your life was helpful and enjoyable.

Please comment using this post if you have suggestions or comments about the class, or things you’ve done in your own garden to make it easier to care for. If you use the Garden Evaluation sheet that was part of the class handout, please share how you liked it, or what might make it easier to use.

It was rewarding for me to see so many friends’ faces and hear the great questions and comments you had. Have a lovely autumn and may the forest be with you!

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Reminder: LANDSCAPE DESIGN CLASS NOVEMBER 4, 2020

We all say we want one, but what is a low-maintenance garden anyway? In this one hour class on Zoom, Colleen will share 5 key concepts for designing a landscape that won’t run your life. 

Looking to make your existing garden easier to care for? Colleen is doing the same with her own landscape and has real-life examples of how to accomplish just that. See stunning photos of low maintenance gardens done right, AND real situations that could use some improvement–including from her own, current garden to-do list.

Whatever your motivation: lack of time, physical limitations, changing interests… this class will help you examine your own gardening practices and spaces for updates that will free up your time. You’ll get ideas for changes (small and large) to consider for a satisfying, personalized and easier garden. A helpful handout to use in evaluating your own landscape will be provided.

Want more time in your adirondack?

Colleen Miko has enjoyed a varied career in horticulture, including being the former Horticulture Educator for WSU Kitsap Extension, where she taught nearly 300 Master Gardener and Rain Garden Mentor volunteers.  In her work as landscape designer, she created winning  gardens for the NW Flower & Garden Show and HGTV show “Landscaper’s Challenge”. She is a Certified Professional Horticulturist (CPH) and freelance garden writer who journals to document and enjoy her garden and life experiences. 

Join me on November 4th and support the WSU Kitsap Master Gardener Program at the same time!

Zoom presentation begins at 10:00 AM
$5 Master Gardeners, $15 General Admission

To register:
http://bit.ly/LowMaintenanceGardens

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Ghosts in the Salal

The Salal leaf that started it all (thank you, Carol!)

It all started for me when my neighbor, with glee, presented the animated salal leaf she found while gardening. My first thought: “How funny! My second thought, “What insect did this?” 

I ran through scenarios in my mind: a variety of caterpillars or sawfly larvae could have randomly chewed what looked like a grimacing face.  Loopers or inchworms, perhaps? 

Sawfly larvae and leaf damage

Not a weevil, a type of beetle known for the ragged notches it chews, usually starting from the outside edges of evergreens like rhododendron. Weevils are often unseen, feeding at night.

Root weevil damage: tell tale notches

Not a beneficial leafcutter bee, whose characteristic damage is smooth and circular, starting from the margin, swooping inward. 

Rounded, smooth cut outs created by beneficial leaf cutter bees

A disease perhaps? Shot hole and other fungus can cause holes in leaves that once the brown, dead tissue disintegrates and falls away, there may be no hint that a disease caused the damage.

Leaf spots on salal with diseased tissue fallen away

Or maybe it was not biotic damage after all (caused a living thing), but rather abiotic (a non-living factor such as weather conditions).  Could it have been randomly punctured by sharp sticks as the tender new leaf expanded in the spring or as a dead branch fell on it from above?  Torn in a hailstorm?

Like all unsolved plant mysteries, the ghost in the salal haunted me. I began regularly scanning the swaths of salal on hikes, and in my garden.  Nothing, until…

Ghosts in the Salal

This month the ghoulish faces began to reveal themselves to me in great number.  Bizarrely, while strolling in a well travelled park amidst huckleberry, and other native plants, I collected 4 salal leaves with haunted faces on the 1 mile path.  Who haunts this forested park?  Could these faces be markers of good places to find chanterelles–un-noticed by those who don’t know to look for them?

Good mysteries are often never truly solved.  My neighbor’s curious salal face was indeed random. However, I think I can say with confidence the other leaf spooks are the result of a biotic agent: a trickster hiker who likes a good autumn mystery.

Research based links from WSU and PNW Pest/Disease Management Handbooks on identifying various insect and disease damage to leaves, some with pictures of types of damage:

Loopers and inchworms:

Root Weevils:

http://hortsense.cahnrs.wsu.edu/Search/MainMenuWithFactSheet.aspx?CategoryId=13&ProblemId=6026

https://pubs.extension.wsu.edu/Product/ProductDetails?productId=4116

Leaf cutter bee damage:

https://pnwhandbooks.org/insect/hort/landscape/hosts-pests-landscape-plants/maple-acer-leafcutting-bee

Leaf spots:

https://pnwhandbooks.org/plantdisease/host-disease/salal-gaultheria-shallon-leaf-spots

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LANDSCAPE DESIGN CLASS NOVEMBER 4, 2020

We all say we want one, but what is a low-maintenance garden anyway? In this one hour class on Zoom, Colleen will share 5 key concepts for designing a landscape that won’t run your life. 

Looking to make your existing garden easier to care for? Colleen is doing the same with her own landscape and has real-life examples of how to accomplish just that. See stunning photos of low maintenance gardens done right, AND real situations that could use some improvement–including from her own, current garden to-do list.

Whatever your motivation: lack of time, physical limitations, changing interests… this class will help you examine your own gardening practices and spaces for updates that will free up your time. You’ll get ideas for changes (small and large) to consider for a satisfying, personalized and easier garden. A helpful handout to use in evaluating your own landscape will be provided.

Want more time in your adirondack?

Colleen Miko has enjoyed a varied career in horticulture, including being the former Horticulture Educator for WSU Kitsap Extension, where she taught nearly 300 Master Gardener and Rain Garden Mentor volunteers.  In her work as landscape designer, she created winning  gardens for the NW Flower & Garden Show and HGTV show “Landscaper’s Challenge”. She is a Certified Professional Horticulturist (CPH) and freelance garden writer who journals to document and enjoy her garden and life experiences. 

Join me on November 5th and support the WSU Kitsap Master Gardener Program at the same time!

Zoom presentation begins at 10:00 AM
$5 Master Gardeners, $15 General Admission

To register:
http://bit.ly/LowMaintenanceGardens

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Plumbago Will Rock Your Equinox

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (Plumbago or leadwort)
Ceratostigma plumbaginoides with variegated yucca

If you’re looking for a plant to spice up the fall garden, try the late, great Plumbagos (Ceratostigma).  By “late, great” I don’t mean RIP, but rather blooming its head off when little else still is.  The electric blue flowers are stunning and unusual.  You could say that it will “Rock your Equinox!” (Autumn, that is).

Cerotostigma plumbaginoides, is a rhizomatous ground cover that has formed a thick, cheery colony in a drier part of my garden, reaching 12-18″ tall.  The patch is now about 10′ x 3′ after about a decade in the ground, skirting woody shrubs, taller perennials and bordering my driveway.   I’ve divided the plant many times, digging out chunks to grow throughout my garden.  I sheer the lifeless, deciduous stems back in late winter and the foliage returns thick and fresh by early summer.

willmotanium-smallCeratostigma willmottianum (Chinese Plumbago) is shown at right flanked by silvery foliaged Halimium and glowing yellow Berberis thunbergii ‘Aurea’ .  Chinese Plumbago is a taller, wispy but woody plant with very similar flowers, but an upright countenance of 3-4′ tall.  Its lower branches skirt the ground so I’ve had success propagating it by layering the branches along the soil and waiting for it to root.  Unlike the ground covering species, this plumbago should not be pruned back when dormant.  Wait until leaf break to address errant stems or dead branches since live wood is very difficult to distinguish from dead.

plumbaginoides close up smallEasy to grow in part to full sun and well draining soil in zones 6-9, the stems and leaves of Ceratostigma color up reddish purple as the weather chills, which happens to also be flowering time.  Those tints will compliment the deep red color of the spiky tubes that hold the blue flowers and look like little bristly pom-poms when the blooms are done.

Both these plumbagos (also referred to as leadworts) are deciduous perennials that are showy late into autumn and slow to liven up in spring.  In fact, they leaf out so late that its easy to confuse them for dead.  Their bare, slender and seemingly lifeless twigs will give you pause because almost all other perennials will be up and growing. 

However, the patient gardener who lets them be, is treated to the punch of blue that starts in the end of August and coordinates fabulously with other late flowers like ‘Lemon Queen’ Helianthus (sunflower) and ‘Crown of Rays’ Solidago (goldenrod).  Good Plumbago companions can have yellow, silvery-blue, variegated and most certainly–purple-red foliage.  Its not easy to find, but fall is the time to look for these choice perennials at your local nursery.  Happy hunting!

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What You Learn by Looking at Your Feet: Alder Flea Beetle

alder leaf small

Skeletonized alder leaf

Werner Herzog said, “The world reveals itself to those who travel on foot”.  Taken figuratively, walking encourages reflective, creative thinking that can reveal the true nature of things that bedevil us.  Literally speaking, walking allows us to slowly take in our surroundings in ways that cannot be noticed, experienced or sensed with speedier forms of travel.

This post is about what I notice when walking and hiking: things I learn by looking at my feet.  I enjoy a good walk, whether in my neighborhood, or on a mountain trail. When hiking, the terrain is changing, unstable, and often steep.  Thus, looking down is mandatory for sure footing and safety.  On a paved street, following one’s feet is a more meditative exercise–seeing and feeling the uniformity of steps and the stretch of pavement.

In watching my feet as I plod along, I discover things–keys to learning and wonder.  What can you see at your feet? Roots, plants, fallen leaves, soil, rocks, fungi, insects.  What one sees under their boots doesn’t just inform about what is below, but what is above and all around.  For instance, a fallen leaf, fruit or cone is an identifier of the species of trees whose towering canopy is too high above to see well.

The quality and make up of the soil, rocks, penetration of roots and the level of moisture on which I tread says things about hydrology and geology.  When hiking around Mt. St. Helens last week, the trails revealed pumice, ash, and tenacious pioneer plant species like lupine (introducing nutrients to build the soil for a new forest). Under my feet was a demonstration of the power and beauty of natural forces.

alder sky small

Chewed and skeletonized alder leaves

One of the things I have learned this summer by looking down, is to recognize Alder Leaf Beetle.  My neighborhood walk is punctuated by many lovely Red Alder (Alnus rubra) trees whose fallen leaves–some still green, others totally brown and crisp– were skeletonized.  An insect had eaten the tender tissues only, leaving a lacey framework of veins.  I gazed into the canopy to witness most leaves etched out; the silhouette of ragged patterns remarkably artistic against the sky on all the alders I came upon for 2 miles.

Up until this week, I had not actually seen the culprit itself on my regular walks, only their damage.  But to my elation, on a shady, tree covered stretch, I noticed an army of tiny black crawlers barely perceptible on the dark asphalt.  I crouched down to collect some for identification.

larvae small

Alder flea beetle larvae–about 1/4 of an inch long

I typed “WSU Red Alder leaf pest” into the search engine (using “WSU” in an initial search is my tactic to bring up local, science-based info, with “edu” bringing up a broader set of sources) and I found several links with pictures and descriptions of the Alder (Alnus) Flea Beetle (Macrohaltica ambiens).  I was able to confirm that this indeed was the mystery skeletonizer.  Lucky chance, as it very well could have been an altogether different insect that wasn’t responsible for what I had been seeing, or something less common and harder to research.

A good link from the US Forest Service (a nice source for research-based information) refers to the Alder flea beetle as a “Forest Defoliator” found also on willows and sometimes poplars.  The adult beetle is tiny (up to a quarter of an inch long), shiny, and blackish-blue and chews larger holes in the leaves.  I still haven’t witnessed the adult form. It was the wee, black larvae on the move amongst my footsteps that answered my gentle query, “what’s eating the alders?”  The larvae are the skeletonizers–devouring the tender tissue of the upper leaf surface between the veins.

The Alder flea beetle doesn’t typically harm the alders, even when they are in great enough number to completely defoliate a tree, which happens rarely.  According to the USFS Management Guide for Alder Flea Beetle: “Some have suggested that outbreaks of this insect are actually beneficial by reducing the amount of cover on a site and enabling regenerating tree species to receive direct sunlight.”  Another thing I learned through looking at my feet!

To see images of the adult Alder flea beetle, and to learn more:

USFS Management Guide for Alder Flea Beetle

Pacific Northwest Pest Management Handbook Alder (Alnus) Flea Beetle

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The Other Foxgloves

D lutea small in bed

Yellow foxgloves look great with blue (West Hills Hebe foliage and Sapphire Blue sea holly flowers)

Yellow Foxglove (Digitalis lutea) is a hummingbird magnet!  I know, it surprised me, too.  After all, aren’t hummingbird plants supposed to be red? Turns out, that any tubular shaped flower with sweet nectar can appeal to hummingbirds. I frequently see them, along with bumblebees, visiting yellow foxglove during its long bloom season of mid-June to mid-July, about the same time frame as their more common pink brethren.

When I first moved to Washington, I fell in love with everyone’s favorite weed: common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea).  Since it thrives in my garden sans care, I reasearched foxglove species, suspecting that there would be others that were similarly easy.

purple and yellow small

I purchased seed of yellow foxglove and another species, Rusty foxglove (Digitalis ferruginea). I successful started both from seed and now I they are established in many parts of my garden–gleefully volunteering. Both grow in part or full sun, average soil and don’t need fertilizer or staking.

Both yellow and rusty foxgloves are short lived perennials.  Like common foxglove, each basal leaf rosette takes a year of growth and establishment before they bloom.  The second year they elongate into a tall raceme with flowers that open from the lower part of the stalk to the top over several weeks.  Rusty foxglove blooms after the other two, beginning in mid to late July and reaches up to 40″ in a graceful, narrow spire.  Yellow foxglove is shorter than the other two, usually topping out at 3′ in flower.

ferruginea close up small

Rusty foxgloves

I have found that yellow and rusty foxgloves are longer lived that the purple type, which exhibits a typical biennial habit, usually not living more than 2 or 3 years.  I have some clumps of yellow and rusty foxgloves that are going on 5 years old, by which time they can produce more than one flowering stalk and sometimes one that branches bountifully. In my experience, they start to peter out after that but that’s when the next generation of seedlings is up and blooming.

Since the basal clumps of leaves don’t take up much room vertically or horizontally, its easy to accommodate multiples.  I always let a few produce seed, wanting to have plenty for succession, feeding pollinators, flower arrangements and to share with my gardening friends.

It is easy to tell these foxglove species apart when it comes time to thin volunteers.  Yellow foxglove leaves are smooth, not fuzzy and have a yellow-green hue (middle image).  Rusty foxglove leaves are smooth on top, a little hairy underneath, dark green and decidedly more linear than common foxglove (right).  Like D. purpurea (left), the other species are very poisonous if ingested.  This can be an advantage to preventing garden predation and pests, but something to be aware of if you have toddlers or pets.  Thankfully, something in the garden undeterred by deer, rabbits or slugs!

bumblee bee D lutea smallD lutea flowers smallferruginea small

Left--yellow foxglove with a pollinating visitor. Middle–groups of yellow foxglove; great for cut flowers and mass impact. Right–tall, stately rusty foxglove budded up and ready to start blooming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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