Lesson taught

I've been seeing as many downy woodpeckers as hummers at my hummingbird feeders lately. I assumed it was just a single downy that couldn't get enough of the sugary drinks, but the other day while it was raining I got proof that it's at least two.


This juvenile (on the left) was being taught by its parent how exactly to work this liquid candy machine.

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Ahhhhh

We finally some relief from the drought. I think this is the first morning this summer that I had to cancel garden plans because of rain!


It started as a very light sprinkle in the morning, and I didn't get excited because this happens every week or so and ends up being nothing. Today though was different, as the rain kept building.

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Finally, a little pruning

I've got two 'Lady in Red' hydrangeas in my yard. The original in the front is a reasonable size and fits its space quite nicely. This one in back though, well, it's just too large!


I think it's been in the ground for four years, and I've finally decided to prune it. It's beautiful, but too much for this space!

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I normally don't like pruning shrubs, but will when they encroach on my paths or just get out of hand. This one is hanging way too far over the planting box:


The main thing though is it's blocking the view out from under the deck, and making it really dark under here:


Since the blooms have all pretty much faded (although I like them like this!) I can start cutting:


My pruning method is quite unsophisticated: just start cutting! With hydrangeas that bloom on year-old wood, pruning after all of the year's growth has stopped means you're cutting off all of next year's flower buds. Although there is some new growth I'll be cutting off, I think there's still enough time for the plant to grow more. But if not, it's not a tragedy to me if this doesn't bloom next year -- I just want it back under control!

Before I started cutting, I noticed this guy resting inside:


Closer look please!


It's a robber fly, specifically a "hanging thief" robber fly. I've seen these before in the garden, but they're still fascinating to me -- as most insects are.

Enough stalling, start pruning!

What I did was just picked a size that I wanted the plant to be next year, and then cut about 10" (25cm) lower than that to allow for growth. Maybe I should have gone lower, but I didn't want to be too crazy -- remember this is the first time I've pruned this or any hydrangea and wasn't sure what to expect.

I ended up taking a lot off:


Here's the final result, looking not too bad:



I was expecting most of the foliage to be gone, separated from the plant by my pruners, but it looks pretty good. The view out from under the deck is so much better too:


(By "so much better" I mean that it's actually possible to see out now.)

With so fewer leaves this plant will have lower water requirements now, another bonus in our ongoing drought.

Besides some of the older, woodier branches that were cut, some new growth was removed:


These are beautiful, but more importantly they're at just the right stage for propagation! The stems are just woody enough for easy rooting:


So I'll pot some of these up and see if they take. Hydrangeas are pretty easy to root -- the plant I pruned today was from a cutting I took from the original plant several years ago -- so I expect success.

Today though I'm happy that I finally stopped putting this little task off!

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Getting artsy again

Sometimes I end up with photos that although had potential, they just didn't make the cut. Maybe they ended up out of focus, or I couldn't get a framing I liked. It could also be that I just had too many photos of a single subject, or they just were lacking something.


Usually these will get deleted (even the biggest drives will eventually fill up, so no point in wasting space), but sometimes I'll experiment with different stylized filters, hoping that extreme processing will salvage the image.

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That's what you're getting today: a collection of images that were messed with until they became interesting or exciting, at least to my eye. Usually that means boosting the saturation (amount of color), or blurring, or both. I also like adding vignette to darken the edges of many of the shots.











Incidentally, these super-saturated colors remind me of the reason I stopped taking color film photos years ago: the processing labs always "adjusted" my photos for me, resulting in ultra-rich and completely unrealistic colors. Not to insult those who still use film, but thank you digital!

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More Malabar

I've posted before about Malabar spinach, a thick-leaved vine that I just love growing. In fact it was just a couple of days ago that I posted about the single-pole trellis I used because I didn't want to pull out some volunteer Malabar spinach seedlings.


I also have several of these guys in pots, from 2" seedling pots containing, well, seedlings, to gallon-sized pots with plants that are over a foot tall (or is the correct adjective "long"?). Plenty more than I can plant this year, but now I've got a couple more!

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You see, one of the reasons I like having so many extra plants is so I can experiment. Try plants in pots instead of in the ground, put them in different parts of the yard to see how they do relative to each other -- those are things all gardeners do to some extent, right?

Well I also like to experiment on overwintering the non-hardy plants -- not necessary with an annual vine like Malabar spinach -- but also love to figure out how to most easily propagate. That is, I love to make new plants from existing ones, especially of plants that I really like having in the garden!

So I'll often take cuttings. Since in this case the vine grows so easily from seed (and it dropped tons of seeds last year), why would I need to take cuttings?

Well, it can take a while for the seeds to germinate, even indoors under ideal conditions. Then it can take a few more weeks until the vine really starts taking off. If I can grow from cuttings, maybe that will shave some days or weeks off the process and I'll get bigger vines faster.

Since there are always so many "extra" tendrils formed by this vine:


I have no problem with taking a few off for cuttings. In fact, I need to prune to control these a bit, so might as well try to make new plants with the snippings, right?


I tried one cutting with rooting hormone powder in soil:


That one worked just fine -- besides seeing the top growth looking less droopy, the real test of success with cuttings is seeing roots poking out of the pot's drainage holes:


It's just a tiny white root tip, but it's proof!

The second cutting just went into a glass of water:



Success with this one too!


I wasn't expecting this to work, as the stems are so smooth and glossy, it didn't seem like there were any sites for root formation. Glad I was wrong!


(Note that the glass of water already contained some mint cuttings which were rooting. I'm not sure if those cuttings released any rooting hormones into the water or not, but just wanted to mention it in case you try this and it doesn't work. I'll try it in an empty glass of water next just to be thorough.)

So my next step is to see if potting these guys up results in plants that are faster to take off than the seedlings are.


Even if not, it's good to know that I can easily create new plants, in case I find some year that I've only got one of these growing -- although it will be very surprising to me if I'm not pulling up Malabar spinach volunteers every year forever.


I'll be giving away some of these seedlings tomorrow night (Saturday) at the Schlafly Gardenworks summer garden event. I want other gardeners in town growing this beauty of a vine, even if they don't eat it.

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Tropicanna

The Canna cultivar named 'Tropicanna' is a beauty.


A bit busy for some spots in the garden with all of the stripes and different colors in the leaves, but so striking!

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Just look at what it has to offer:
















(Good thing I photographed these blooms when they were fresh, as the heat of the day (105ºF/41ºC) spoiled them. They were severely curled at the edges and shrunken by evening.)

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Pond gets better, and fish!

The pond is getting better, as the algae problem is lessening. It may not look like it here, but it is.


Let me show you what I mean.

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As you can see, some of the string algae has started dying:


There's still plenty of it around, especially near the "beach", but it's definitely going away. The upper parts of this photo would normally be covered with string algae too, but there's none there:


I've been adding beneficial bacteria to the water twice a week for almost two weeks now, and it's been hungrily eating all of the extra organics in the water (from the leaves, maple seeds, and other things that have fallen into the pond that I couldn't remove). This stuff was providing the extra nutrients that the algae was thriving on.

Besides the algae being reduced, I have a feeling that deer have been wading into the pond and reducing my water lily:


Fewer leaves and bare stems usually indicates munching, and I don't envision rabbits or woodchucks taking a swim.

Something I do see taking a swim is....


The goldfish! See those three spots of orange?

This is all of the look I usually get: just a momentary flash of color, a bit of a tail:



These fish are wild and shy, and hide as soon as you walk up to the pond. They've never been fed, so they don't have the "human equals food" conditioning. They only relax and start venturing out of cover after you've been standing still for a little while.



If they've never been fed, what do they eat? I don't know everything that's in their diet, but I know they eat some algae. This one is nibbling it from the rocks:


So are these:


They also eat the duckweed that somehow found its way into the pond. The duckweed is the floating stuff that look a bit like clover:


You can see the last little bit of leaf sticking out of this guy's mouth before it goes down.

I was expecting the duckweed to take over, but there are only small bits of it around. I guess the fish have developed a taste for it and are keeping it in check.

They've at least doubled in size in the five weeks since I released them, so they're finding plenty to eat.


They must be eating mosquito larvae too as I haven't seen any, although there are nooks and crannies in the shallows where those pests could probably develop unharassed by fish. It's been so dry here in St. Louis that mosquito populations are down anyway, but I like to think these fish are helping.

Incidentally, I don't know exactly how many fish I've got. I've seen eight at one time recently, but that's the most I can confirm. I originally added 15, but a few of them died in the first week or so:



I think I've found four dead ones, which should leave 11.

The orange and white fish I can see quite easily. I've suspected that at least one of the less-colorful ones survived, but until today I never knew for certain:


It's my own bigfoot sighting photo: blurry and poor quality but so exciting to those who are into it!

So that makes nine fish that I know about... assuming that none have died since I saw those eight at once.

There are so many places to hide, it doesn't surprise me that I can't get an accurate count. The hornwort has grown so crazily, I wonder if any of it that I sank is still growing underwater or if it has all floated back to the surface?


Even though I don't get to see them very clearly, having these fish in the pond just makes the whole thing so much more enjoyable and worthwhile.

Gotta love a pond that's alive!

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