Note to self: remember!

Part of the reason I have this blog is so I can remember things that I've done in the garden, both the good and the bad. Late winter is a time of much dreaming, planning, and optimism in my garden, and it's easy to forget about some of the problems from last year. I'm writing today as a reminder to myself.

Yes, I love the cypress vines, almost as much as the bumble bees and hummingbirds do. Their lacy foliage, their bright red (or white, or sometimes pink) flowers spreading color and cheer wherever they grow. Yes, I admit they look quite good growing up the veggie garden fence...


Trying to guess

Late winter once all of the harshest weather is past us is the time that those of us gardeners who have bitten by the "bamboo bug" and live in colder climates try to assess the condition of our most-loved plants. I've already shown how at least one of my bamboos has been affected by our cold, windy winter, and other ones are pretty obvious:

This ground cover species (Pleioblastus viridistriatus) is completely top-killed and will be mowed down soon. This is expected every year with this species, and it will produce new shoots and lush foliage once it warms up, so there's no worry about this plant. For the plants that I want to size up each year and produce thicker, taller culms, there can be some guessing and worry though.


An update on the Semps

Just under two weeks ago I received a large order of new plants: a few sedums and two dozen sempervivum species and hybrids. I potted them up right away and put them on my growing table indoors under lights. They were shipped bare root and were a little dehydrated, but it didn't take them long for them to wake up after potting.

Although each of these varieties of "hen and chicks" are nice plants on their own, when viewed together their differences in colors and textures are really enhanced.


Still tiny, getting an attitude: cactus seedlings

It's already been a week since my last cactus seedling update, although it seems like I just wrote that post. There has certainly been some action, so I'm going to jump right in and show you.

You can see that each tiny plant now has a little spot of fuzz on it. That photo was taken on the 21st. If I had a bionic eye or a good magnifying glass I might be able to see what's happening better...


A project comes off the list -- sort of

Every gardener has a list of projects that they'd like to do each year, don't they? I know I do. In fact, my list of "things to do this summer" seems to stay quite similar every year, as I never get around to all of the items. One task that's been on that list for a few summers is "make more hypertufa pots". Hypertufa is a lightweight concrete that is easy to work with and great for lots of different garden projects.

A couple of years ago I made these small balls out of hypertufa, and they add a nice sculptural element to one of my planting beds. But I want to make something more useful, and what's more useful than pots? I never have enough sturdy pots.


Seeing green, so easy

This is the time of year -- late winter -- where even though there's a lot of brown in the yard, there are touches of green mixed in, and they're a welcome sight. Sort of. I'm not talking about budding trees and shrubs, spring-flowering bulbs, or any other desirable early-wakers of my garden. No, I'm talking about weeds.

This is a great time to walk around the yard and see what sort of weed problems there are. If your garden is anything like mine you're going to have a really hard time finding any weeds at any time of year (cough, cough) but it's worth a look right?


Bamboo: not indestructible

Most people who have only a casual acquaintance with bamboo think that it's indestructible, that you can use bamboo cane for almost anything. Certainly that's true to a point, because they do build pretty impressive structures out of bamboo (not in the US, but in other more bamboo-centric parts of the world). Houses, scaffolding, bridges -- there's almost nothing you can't build with the right bamboo canes.

The key though is knowing which canes are the right ones. Bamboo culms (they're typically called "culms" when still attached to the living plant, but "canes" when they're cut and removed) may seem quite strong right away, but  it takes time for them to harden and strengthen.


Tiny garden discovered, tiny garden maintained

I've got a lot of different planting beds in my suburban garden: veggie beds, perennial beds, plantings of bamboo, huge ornamental grasses. Many of them are pretty large beds, but I've got some small areas too, like the planting pockets around the stream. My smallest "garden" though has to be the cracks between stones of my flagstone patios. I've never really thought about them as a garden until recently -- they've just been the gaps between the stones before.

Which is a strange oversight on my part, because I've put much effort into making these crevices more than just something to hopefully not trip on. I've planted mosses, thymes, and most recently sedum in the hope of softening and greening up these hard stretches of rock.


Applying some elbow grease toward rhizome control

I don't really know exactly what the phrase "elbow grease" is supposed to mean, except that it means to exert a bit of physical effort, and that's what I did today. (It doesn't make much sense to me, sort of like keeping your "eyes peeled". Um, okay.) Anyway, some focused exertion is what is needed to keep the rhizomes of running bamboo in check in a suburban garden.

Today I did some of that. You won't see any photos of the process of my digging as it's quite difficult to swing a mattock and shoot a photo at the same time.


A cute, fuzzy caterpillar?

Although it's still unseasonably warm in St. Louis today, it's going to get cold again in a couple of days. Back to normal temps or slightly below, but it's going to feel pretty frigid after this heatwave. So I decided to get another couple of loads of firewood, in case I want to keep extra cozy when the temperature drops. Since the woodpile had a tarp on it and was undisturbed for most of the summer and fall, some mice had created a nest in there. (I saw them scamper away the first time I got wood this winter.)

They left a pretty interesting array of debris behind: dryer lint, feathers, grasses, plus food remnants like seed husks. Then there was this guy which I just discovered today -- the empty partial "shell" of a big black fuzzy caterpillar. I wonder if it was a woolly bear caterpillar? I like fuzzy caterpillars.


Cactus seedling update

It's been 6 days since I planted the cactus seeds, and I'm happy to say that there's progress to report. Although the package said 7-56 days before germination, the first seed sprouted after only 4 days, most likely because I soaked the seeds and kept them nice and moist.

I don't know which of the types of seeds have germinated, except that some of them are the small black ones. The large ones that I put in the separate container have not emerged yet.


Time to uncover the bamboo

It's been so warm lately. Much, much warmer than normal for February. Our normal high temps this time of year are 45ºF/7ºC, but today it reached 73ºF/22ºC, and the low temps for the next couple of days are also 30ºF above normal! This is fine unless it lasts too long and all of the dormant plants start waking up, but we're not quite to that point yet. My temporary greenhouse though -- getting way too hot!

That goes for the bamboos that I laid on the ground and covered with plastic too. Once the snow melted off of them, the sunlight heated them up pretty fast. So it's time to uncover them.


New plants part 2: Sempervivum

Yesterday I potted the sedums from my newly-arrived plant order. Since that only emptied five of the brown paper bags, there are many more to go today: 24 to be exact. They're all the same genus of cold-hardy succulents: sempervivum.

I didn't photograph every single one -- it already took me a couple of hours to plant them all up -- but there's still a lot to get to, so let's jump right in.


New plants part 1: sedum

Besides getting some seeds started inside the last few days, I also did another planting project. A week and a half ago I placed an order for some new plants, and received the package this past weekend. Yes, it's February, and yes, I live in a part of the country that won't be seeing spring for a couple more months, so what was any respectable nursery doing shipping plants in the middle of winter?

Well the plants I ordered were all cold-hardy succulents, and I let the grower know that I was planning on potting these up and putting them under lights indoors. He agreed that there would be no problem with shipping immediately, so that's what he did. I love dealing with small nurseries -- you get the best service, even if the grower is thousands of miles away.


Planting continues: bamboo seeds

Over the summer Brad from Needmore Bamboo emailed, asking if I wanted some bamboo seed. A couple of his plants were flowering and producing seed, and he had more than he wanted. Since I grew a few bamboos from seed last year, I was interested in trying a few more species, so I told him I'd take a few seeds.

Later that week an envelope arrived, absolutely bulging. Apparently Brad had so much seed, "a few" translated into "a few handfuls", and I had way more seed than I wanted. Good thing I did though...


Let the seed planting begin - with cactus!

Our warm weather and my newly-cleaned seed-starting table has inspired me to get some seed started. Since it's still too early for most veggies, I'll be planting stuff that will be staying in pots for a couple of years at least, so don't need to be timed to the calendar or weather patterns.

Today I'll be planting cactus seeds.


Beautiful Blonde Bamboo

As the temperature takes a turn toward the top of the thermometer for the next week, it's time to start thinking about the plants that might have suffered a bit this winter. I'm not saying that spring is here and we won't have any more cold days, because we will. Our last frost date is around May 7th from what I remember, and a few years back we had several days in mid-April where it got into the mid 20's F for three nights in a row. I'm just saying that during a warm spell a gardener can't help but get outside and take a look around the garden.

For those of us who grow bamboo in cold climates (or even warm climates, based on the weather they've had recently in Texas and other southern states) winter is a nervous time. Our goal with growing large bamboos is to get them to their mature large state, which isn't always easy where it's cold.


More tracks, before the snow is gone

It's been quite cold for the past few days, with lows in the 0-5ºF range, and highs in the teens, but warmer weather is on the way. In fact, it's supposed to be around 50ºF on Sunday, and the daily highs will stay at or above that level for a few days. What this means is that the hard-packed snow and ice on my driveway will finally be gone! It also means I'll have less opportunity for frigid mornings of fine snow dustings.

The powdery crystals are perfect for revealing what creatures have been visiting the yard, and this morning there seemed to be a larger number than usual.


I saw cactus one winter

Over the past decade I've made several trips to Los Angeles for business, but most of those trips were during spring or summer. Only one time did I leave the cold and snow of wintry St. Louis and get to enjoy the sunny warmth of southern California: in late January 2006. Luckily my wife and I planned ahead and booked an extra day so we could do something fun, and we chose to visit The Getty Center.

Perhaps January isn't the best time of year to visit, but we were more than pleased with the weather, and spent a really enjoyable few hours touring the museum and gardens before heading to the airport.


Watch me clean: a look at the growing table (part 1)

Although it's not quite time to start seeds -- even the types that need a big head start on the season like cardoon and some other seeds that have long germination times -- my growing table is really about as messy as it can be, and I thought I should get started on it now, rather than waiting until I need it to be clean. Since there's probably nothing interesting about watching me clean a table, I'm going to turn this into the first half of a look at my setup here, as some people have asked about it.

It's a homemade two-shelf table in my basement, with the top shelf reserved for overwintering plants and the bottom shelf for starting seeds. The bottom light isn't needed yet so it stays off, so I tend to use that lower table as a "temporary" storage area. Then days, weeks, and months go by and it's completely out of control.


A little update

A while back I wrote about some houseplants I was trying to save. Then more recently I potted up some clippings that had been languishing in water for too long. Today I'll show you what's going on with them. First up is this ZZ plant:

It's the last remnant of a good-sized plant I got a few years ago and completely neglected -- its single stalk healthy but all alone.


A different look at catalogs

Chances are if you garden you get garden-related catalogs in the mail. This is a result of either buying seeds or plants via mail-order (or Internet), subscribing to a gardening magazine of some sort, living in a house whose previous owners gardened, or just being "lucky". I don't know if the feeling is universal, but I really enjoy getting these catalogs, especially since many of them come during the coldest, snowiest, "when can I start gardening again" days of winter.

Seed company catalogs are the most prevalent, but there are also many nurseries producing plant catalogs, as well as garden supply and tool catalogs -- this post is not about what's in the catalogs though. This post is about the catalogs themselves.


Relieving some sleet-induced stress

After our recent day of ice and sleet, of course everything was covered in it and I've posted plenty of photos of the plants that were iced. I don't suppose I need to post a photo of a snow and ice-packed driveway, as pretty much everybody either knows what that's like, or lives somewhere where they never have to care. What I didn't post about is my temporary greenhouse. You know, the one that's built from PVC pipes and plastic sheeting.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "PVC and plastic sheeting -- that sounds strong!" Then of course you start laughing. Well I'm happy to report that the greenhouse was stronger than expected, and the other day I removed the 2" of ice and sleet from its roof.


I started some seeds earlier than I thought

Although most of my seedlings won't be started for a while, I'll be starting some seeds soon (mid-to-late February) for the plants that take a while to get going, like Cardoon. Little did I know that my garden had other plans.

It decided that I needed to be growing some seedlings now!


Another look at ice

I really wasn't planning on posting about ice again today, but on this crisp, cold morning the sunlight was just hitting the garden right. Everything sparkling, a thousand tiny suns. I just had to grab the camera and see what I could capture.

For the most part these were taken through the windows, but I actually went outside for a couple of them.


$@#& Snow!

Although St. Louis was spared from the extreme snowfall that hit much of the country yesterday -- we just got a couple of inches of sleet at my house, with a couple of inches of super-fluffy snow on top -- snowfall severity is really relative, isn't it? A couple of inches of snow in Chicago is just a heavy frost, while the same amount in Atlanta means school closings and multi-car accidents.

The same goes for size. A few inches of snow and we humans are wondering if it's worth the effort of putting on boots, while for some other creatures it changes everything.


I like this ice.

The front edge of a huge winter storm that was forecast to produce blizzard conditions in St. Louis came through today and coated everything in ice. As a grower of plants that don't necessarily enjoy being weighed down and stressed to the breaking point I'm not particularly fond of ice in general.

I do love looking at it though, especially up close.


Amazingly, time to cut the grass

When I was growing up in suburban Chicago, the only summer chore we had that was even remotely garden-related was cutting the grass. Maybe you call it "mowing the lawn". Whatever. The act of pushing a mower over the turf grass that covered your yard. Not a favorite activity of pretty much any kid. I remember only two things about cutting the grass in the summers of my youth: the self-propelled mower with the handle that would actually fold over the top of the mower if you pushed too fast (how did I never lose any toes?), and the after-mowing reward of an ice-cold glass bottle of RC Cola in the almost-as-cold basement in front of the Cubs game on TV.

All of that has almost nothing to do with today's gardening project, except that grass is involved. And cutting. Not turf grass though -- ornamental "purple fountain grass". In fact, the small plants that I've been overwintering. They're thriving now, as I expected.


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