Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Pistachio Shells for Compost

I'm constantly thinking of ways to add bulk to my compost (outside of adding twigs/branches, etc). I enjoy eating pistachios and I only buy natural, unsalted pistachios. There's a ton of shells leftover after I've munched on them... I thought - I'm going to use them for the garden.

Only use them if they are UNSALTED, or the salt will kill off the natural bacterias and microorganisms in the compost.  Pistachio shells take ages to break down.

This shell was in my planter soil. Still hasn't broken down.
Two ways I use the shells:  First, I lined some of my pots with the shells, to lessen the need for more soil. Second, I added them to the compost. I have already seen their benefit in my planters which I filled two weeks ago with my 7 week ready compost.  (Follow up from my Starting Compost post and its update). Each one of my planters has my compost mix with shells half broken down.

Benefit: they help retain water and make the soil lighter!  I'm so impressed. Yay!

Try it!

Around Christmas time, I crack walnut, almond, hazelnut, chestnut, Brazilian-nut shells. Instead of tossing them out with uncompostable kitchen waste, I'll be composting them too.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Year of the Aphids

It's been a month of Aphid invasion here in the Greater Toronto Area. Their sheer numbers at this time of year is quite threatening. I've seen them feast on everything, from trees (especially Maples, Locusts and Horsechestnuts) to Burning bush, roses, Acquilegia, Spirea, Coreopsis....etc.

Here you can see the adult and instar (younger) stages of Aphids
Their first evidence is shiny leaves. They excrete "honey-dew" excrement which rains down on foliage below, giving leaves a shiny luster. This is quite visible on shade trees. Other evidence is their sheer number count. They are clearly visible when 20 to 30 congregate on leaves/stems. Sometimes they have distinctive colours. Black, green, yellow, and white/wooly appearances. Then there's the winged stage of life cycle. You'll notice them flying about when their previous in-star white skeletal remains are left on leaves below. Adults birth mini-me's and they begin to feed voraciously.

Victim: Rose  White skeletal remains can be seen here.
I believe their numerous presence is due to the unseasonal dry and warm temperatures we've endured already this spring. I cannot recall a May where evening sounds are permeated with the hum of airconditioners instead of birds.  Closed windows at night are rare this time of year. It's been hot!

I use 3 natural methods to keep aphids at bay in my garden.

1) Squishing them with my fingers (ok, for those of you who say - eeew, please....just use gloves then). They're just filled with plant juice, so it's a no-brainer. I just run my fingers on the cluster of aphids and squish away. I rinse the area with a light spray of water to dislodge any remaining hanging on.

Gently squish without damaging new growth.
2) I spray with a nettle and dish-soap mixture when I see them everywhere. (Steeped nettle leaves in water [it takes 2 days to steep]. Strain and pour water with 1 teaspoon dish-soap in a spray bottle). I use this mix especially where I can't squish aphids, in fear of damaging newly forming leaves. This takes time to prepare in advance, so on the spot care - just take your hose and spray the infested area, (not too hard to damage the foliage) to dislodge them from the plant. They will drop to the ground and eventually dry out from a lack of food source.

3) Prune off the worst of it. This reduces their populations and removes the succulent new flushes of growth they LOVE to feast on. This is a last resort method. Otherwise, you may be removing flower buds forming or stunting growth. But, it is a true winner for reducing their numbers.

Preventative measures:
No biggy. It washes off, folks. :)
Watch - keep your eye on new growth. Aphids love tender young foliage. Looking closely once a week will enable you to take quicker action before population levels increase to where you need chemical controls.

Ants - when you see them climbing on your plants, they are after the honey-dew. They harvest it, by coaxing the aphids to poop more. (Gotta love bugs.) Ants devour their sweet remnants and perpetuate the cycle.

Keep your plants hydrated, by watering the in the morning hours. Spraying the new growing foliage with water isn't the best way to water your plants, but it certainly wouldn't hurt to reduce aphids from multiplying and causing damage. Hose off in the morning hours - this allows foliage to dry out during the day, preventing powdery mildew and other fungal diseases from also forming.

When there are sheer numbers as in my photos, you'll find a Lady Bug (Bird, Beetle UK) or it's larvae form feasting on them, among other predatory insects. I usually leave them a leaf full of Aphids for them to enjoy.

This is not the first time I've seen Aphid populations being so abundant. Cycles in precipitation and weird weather patterns facilitate these blips on the richter-scale of bug life. Not to be overly concerned. Your trees won't die with Aphid attacks, they will however weaken if it is an on-going situation each year. The good thing, as Aphid populations increase, so do their predators. If your tree looks further sickly by summer, contact a reputable arborist to take further action.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Edible Ornamentals

My garden is too small to have a separate veg patch. Last year I decided to add my veggies in between my ornamental plants and I was happy how they blended in with my perennials. I'm tired of plants only looking good. In the last couple of years, I'm quite glad to see garden design trends here in Canada including plant material that have edible benefits, outside of a solitary vegetable patch hidden in the corner.
Strawberries in bloom, great ground cover.

If you're interested in adding edible ornamental alternatives that come back each year, here are many perennials and woody shrubs that I could think of here for my zone (5b, 6a). Offering visual interest and edible benefits for any front or back garden borders:

Hardy overwintering edibles:
  • Blueberries - fruit and wonderful fall colour
  • Gooseberries - fruit bearing in a leafy shrub border
  • Red and Black Currant - great bush for borders or informal hedging
Few more weeks....then....mmmm. :)
  • Allium - chives with tall texture and lovely purple flower tops
  • Strawberries - ever-bearing white flowers with red leaves in fall - great ground cover
  • Serviceberry Trees - white flowers, lovely edible berries and great fall leaf colour
  • Garlic Chives - white flowers and edible leaves
  • Asparagus - ferny foliage, spring harvest
  • Quince - beautiful flowers, great fruit
  • Elderberry - flowers and berries useful for cordials and sauces
  • Violets - flowers are edible, great for salad
  • Rose species (Rugosa and Villosa), rose hips for canning or tea
  • Mahonia - Oregon Grape, yellow flowers, glossy foliage and blue-black edible fruit
  • Lavender - herb uses 
  • Thyme - great ground cover

Here are some annual (non hardy) plants that add visual interest while providing edible qualities:
  • Carrots  - ferny foliage, great in clumps instead of rows
  • Nasturtium - flowers are edible, great for salad
  • Purple Ruffles Basil - great contrast colour and useful in cooking
  • Parsley - coarse ferny leaves
  • Cilantro - coarse ferny leaves
  • Red Russian Kale - leafy texture and attractive colour
  • Bright Light Swiss Chard - leafy texture with brilliant stems
  • Sweet Pea - sugar snaps, lovely flowers and great vine
  • Red-leafed lettuce - contrasting red foliage
  • Oregano - ground cover, purple pink flowers
  • Rosemary - rigid growth which look similar to lavender

I decided on more containers this year and will be adding nasturtium, sweet peas, cilantro, russian kale, swiss chard, red-leafed lettuce into my annual displays.  Their unique foliage colour, texture and growth habit camouflage the fact they are actually edible. At least this way you enjoy your garden more with fruitful yields, adding visual interest as well.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Perennial planters

Sometimes buying annuals every spring for planters can be quite costly - especially when you have many containers as I do. I end up only using a few annuals this way and divide perennials that I have in my garden. Because divisions need to be done earlier rather than later, I began this process in late April. I placed divisions into the container, them gradually filling up to become quite full.  I find it gives my containers a bit of life before the threat of frost is gone.

It's amazing how in 3 weeks, this container has filled out already.

I used:
1 Astilbe
2 Hostas (1 taller, 1 shorter - contrast colours)
2 different Lamiums
1 Rudbeckia goldstrum

I plan to add 2 begonias for a splash of colour.  Easy enough, and cheaper on the pocket book.

For sunny containers I divide:

Salvia may knight (earlier flowering)
Sedum (late summer to fall flowering)
Lamiastrum (trialing - usually overwinters in my containers from year to year)
Rudbeckia (mid summer to Sept flowering)
Echinacea (mid summer)
Sedum Purple Dragon (trailing)

For shade loving spots:

Japanese Painted Fern
Astilbe (late spring, early summer)

With perennials, I find regular potting soil isn't rich enough to help keep the plants growing and filling out the container. I use 1 part potting soil to 1 part compost (triple mix is perfect too).  This adds a denser medium that will encourage the perennials to beef up - and the potting soil added won't bake rock hard during the summer.

Going away for weekend getaways doesn't cause as much worry with these containers, as less watering is needed.  It gives longevity to my pots come fall too, with initial frosts not damaging the foliage much. I also love the textures, the leaf colour and the difference in look compared to what you see everywhere else.

Leaving a pocket here and there for annuals helps to finish it off, when a spot of bloom (colour) is needed.

In close proximity to seating areas, I have incorporated my foliage veggies.Great way to harvest and enjoy texture too.

If you are wondering how this planter overwinters, I will say it's a hit and miss. Lamium, hostas and Rudbekia have overwintered well in my pots. I place them in a sheltered spot, next to a brick wall for insulation - watering them til freeze up. In my front yard, I just tuck them into the garage to store once the frost has killed off any herbaceous growth.

I love doing this, as it solves my perennials getting too large for their "britches". I don't have much room to divide and add to my garden. This way, I am spreading the plants around in other ways. It's a great gift idea too, for new home owners (they can add them to their garden), or just a lovely idea instead of the common gift.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Scarlet Lily Leaf Beetle

At work this week, my eye caught swiss cheese holes throughout leaves of some of the Asiatic Lilies we have emerging in our perennial borders.

Here's evidence of their damage.  The Scarlet Lily Beetle (Lilioceris lilii) can devastate your lilies in a matter of days if not taken care of when you see this sort of damage.

Lily foliage with marginal holes
One method to control these beetles is a proper fall clean up of any leaf litter, and good cultivation of the surrounding soil all around the area where the lilies are situated. Reducing debris, will prevent their success in finding adequate a home for the winter. Adult beetles rest and hibernate, so to speak - in dead, decaying matter close to their hosts. Fritillaria plants are often plagued with Scarlet Lily beetles.  It's suggested not to plant Fritillaria and Lilies in close proximity.

Here they are breeding
Control right now:  picking the beetles off and squishing them. (They are hard to squish with your fingers.) It's the best way. Since their hard shelled bodies are not easily harmed without extreme chemical pesticide usage. Flick at the lily foliage, and they will drop to the soil where they are easily seen. If there is a substantial bird population, placing the beetles on a sidewalk, drive, paved stone - you'll see sparrows and robins come and collect them for lunch.

Look for red little eggs, laid in a row too. These beetles are aggressive in breeding, they reproduce rather quickly.

Neem oil is a great alternative to controlling eggs and their larvae stage. Unlike the adult stage, Lily Beetle larvae have soft bodies. Neem oil coats them, when sprayed on contact and penetrates through their soft skin, killing them off.

Beetle larvae (1cm long)
Larvae can be anywhere from brown to an orange-red colouration.
The damage usually happens on the lower leaves first. Lift up the leaves and check their undersides for any hiding adults and any eggs. Be vigilant and get as many as you can see. Keep an eye on the plant for weeks later. They are pesky and can return, only to eat the flowers next.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Species Tulips

Autumn displays overpowered with photos of new hybrids and dramatic sized tulips do one thing: encourage impulsive purchases. (At least I am tempted)  However great the impulse is to buy, their repeat bloom is never equaled to the first year. :(

Having a small garden, I can't waste space taken up by Darwin hybrid tulips. I instead I look for species choices.

One I purchased last year and have had much success in my previous garden is: Tulipa clusiana 'Chrysantha'

Their narrow leaves and later blooming time is welcome in my garden. Once their flowers fade, I cut their stems down and I find planting them near another perennial camouflages their fading leaves late May. They stand shorter (10inches) and flower for a lengthier time than many of the Darwin hybrids.

So cheerful!
Species tulips also bloom better over the years. At least in my experience. They also tolerate part shade. Well worth it.

The size of species bulbs are nearly a third of the Darwin hybrids. If you have limited space to plant groupings, this is your best bet!

Darwin is about 2 x's taller.

Here you can see the difference between the Darwin size and this Chysantha. My neighbour kindly gave me 5 bulbs last fall as a gift, and I couldn't say no thanks. I find in small spaces, Darwin's just take over. I will find them a new home later this month. ;)
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