Saturday, June 23, 2007

Ways to Keep Your Garden In Color All Season

Trying to manipulate a sequence of bloom in the garden is part art, part science and a good part luck. Weather, grazing animals, and flowers that don't follow the calender can create lulls where no plants seem to be in peak performance. There are a few tricks to keeping pockets of color going throughout the summer. They take a little effort, but that's the fun of gardening, right? Implementing any one of these tips will increase the blooms in your garden and spur you on to do more.

1. Deadheading
Deadheading, or removing spent blossoms, is the easiest way to keep plants blooming. Annuals especially will benefit from a periodic deadheading. Flowers are just there to produce seed. Once the plant sets seed, it has no more reason to produce flowers.
Many perennial flowers will also rebloom if deadheaded. Exceptions are perennials that bloom on a single tall flower stalk, like astilbe or iris and perennial flowers that need a chilling period to set their flower buds.
2. Shering
Plants that produce multiple flower buds on their flower stalks can be a nightmare to deadhead. Rather than trying to deadhead every flower, wait until the bulk of the buds have faded and shear the plants by about 1/3. This serves to rejuvenate the plant. It will send out new fresh foliage and lots of new flower buds.
Newer gardeners have a hard time with this drastic approach, but give it a try. The plants recover quickly. Early bloomers start to look bedraggled by mid-season anyway. In fact, if you have plants like geraniums and Brunnera, whose foliage fades after flowering, shear the whole plant back to the new grow at the base and watch how quickly and how well they recover.

3. Step Pruning
A clever way to prolong the perennial blooms is to prune the plants in steps. Visually divide a clump of 1 type of plant into 3 sections: front, center and back. Once the plants get about 6-8" tall, prune the front and center sections of plants by 1/3 to 1/2. Let the whole clump grow another 6-8 inches and then prune just the front section by 1/3 to 1/2.
This type of pruning will result in your clump of plants turning into 3 levels or steps that will bloom in succession. Instead of one flash of bloom, the rear section bloom firsts. As it fades, the center section starts to bloom and hides the fading plants in the rear. Last to bloom is the front section, which will grow taller and hide all the fading plants behind it.
4. Re-Seeding
Annuals are touted as a great way to keep your garden blooming all summer. Given the right care, annuals will work their hearts out for you. But some annuals, like the cleome and tall verbena shown here, don't respond to deadheading. They bloom and run out of time before they can set more buds. To prolong their bloom, re-seed quick growing annuals about 4 weeks after the initial seeding. If you started your garden with seedlings, you can direct seed at the same time you plant the seedlings. The plants started from seed will grow and peak after the plants started from seedlings begin to fade.

5. Feeding
Plants expend a lot of energy flowering. The more they flower, the more food they need. Even if you added a controlled release fertilizer at the beginning of the season, your flowering plants will need a boost every 3-5 weeks.
A balanced all-purpose fertilizer will suffice, but if you really want to kick things into gear, try a dose of super or triple phosphate. Phosphate is especially good for root development early in the season and for boosting bud set. Follow the label directions. More isn't better. And Phosphate isn't a substitute for a balanced fertilizer, it's a supplement.

6. Cheat a Bit and Mix in Colorful Foliage
Flowers come and go, but foliage just keeps getting bigger. It just keeps getting easier and easier to have a riot of color in the garden without a flower in sight. Shrubs like 'Black Beauty' Sambucus, chartreuse and bronze sweet potato vines, screaming orange cannas and the pale pinks and cream of Weigela 'My Monet' can either complement, augment or even replace the flowers in your garden. And we haven't even mentioned the rainbow available in coleus. Sprinkle your garden beds with a few hardy shrubs and sprinting annuals and you'll never be without a spot of color.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Greenhouse for Cacti

If you're a cacti & succulent lover and collect many collections of those plants, you may need to have a greenhouse because the plants always want to be kept in the warm temperature. Sometimes, it's really impossible in your country. Meanwhile, the greenhouse can keep your plants from rain, humidity and even snow.


A greenhouse positioned so that the ridge runs in an east-west direction will receive more winter light, which could be useful if it is to house mainly succulent plants that grow during the winter. In either case, it is best to avoid locating a greenhouse where it will be in shadow for a substantial part of the day, to near to trees or in areas subject to strong winds. Positioning the door away from the prevailing wind will help to reduce drafts. Areas of land subject to local flooding should also be avoided. If the greenhouse is sited too far away from the house it may be difficult or expensive to provide supplies of electricity or gas.

Greenhouses either have an integral base, or need to be erected on a purpose-built base. A solid floor provides a clean surface under foot and helps to keep out pests. It is an advantage if a solid base slopes slightly to encourage water to drain away. Drainage channels may be moulded in to the concrete to direct water out of the building. However, if you want to plant larger columnar cacti into the ground, then foundations should be constructed around the planting area. Construction of the greenhouse frame needs some thought. For example, should it be made of wood or metal? Both types have their proponents. Wood has a "natural" look and blends in to a garden landscape, but may be subject to attack by insects, tends to rot in humid climates and therefore has a limited life and needs substantial maintenance. However, hard-woods such as cedar mitigate these problems.

Aluminium frames tend to conduct away heat and are therefore harder to keep warm than wooden greenhouses. However, they are relatively low maintenance and should last well. Some modern aluminium frames incorporate thermal barriers.The greenhouse is traditionally glazed with horticultural glass, which contains less trace colourants (such as iron) and transmits more light than ordinary window glass.

Newer materials such as UV-stabilised acrylic plastic are also suitable and conduct away less warmth than glass. However, some plastics may exude phytotoxic vapours, so always use grades designated as suitable for horticulture. Various double-skinned products are available, but these may reduce the amount of light available to plants, which is always at a premium in countries such as the United Kingdom. This is also a problem with wire-reinforced glass, often used as a roofing material.
As with the greenhouse frame, staging can be made of wood or metal, with similar advantages and disadvantages of the materials. After watering, plants become very heavy in their pots. Clay pots are heavier than plastic ones and a peat-based compost is usually lighter than one based on loam. Solid staging, while sturdier makes it easier for mealy bugs and other pests to gain access to plants. Slatted staging lets the air circulate, but pests can still move over it fairly easily. Slatted staging is unsuitable for use with capilliary matting or gravel.

There are several methods for heating greenhouses and cold frames during the winter. Electric fan heaters work well, but are expensive. They produce dry heat, so plants require spraying during the winter on sunny days. Tubular electric heaters are available but the plants need air circulation to keep them at their best. If electrical heating is to be used it is worth investigating Economy 7 or similar tariffs. Gas heaters are very successful, but need pipes laid from the house (or heavy cylinders) and installation can be costly. Paraffin heaters work well and are cheap to run, but can produce a paraffin smell, and need to be used carefully to avoid a fire hazard or sooty plants. Under-tray electric heating can be an efficient way of applying a little warmth to your plants, and a variety of commercial heating pads can be obtained from horticultural suppliers for this purpose.

Under-tray electric heating is not a complete answer to cold conditions as the roots receive the most heat and may be damaged. As the plants are warmer, they may need a little water to prevent excessive dessication. However, if water is supplied directly to the pots or via capillary matting, the warmed stage promotes evaporation with condensation in colder parts of the green house. Experienced electricians may be able to make use of ex-equipment fans which are readily available from surplus stores. Check the intended operating voltage, and make sure that you know how to run them safely from your local mains voltage. A small fan strategically placed in the green house promotes air circulation and encourages healthy growth.