Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Plant Profile: Calycanthus floridus / Carolina Allspice

There's nothing more enjoyable than spotting a beautiful, not so common shrub among the familiar.

Having visited the Toronto Botanical Gardens today, I had the privilege to take some photos of the grounds and I stumbled on one of my most favourite flowering shrubs: the Carolina Allspice.  Calycanthus floridus has such lovely, unique blooms which catch your eye and thankfully I came for a visit just when they were at their peak.

Rich, maroon red flowers that are held in tight buds to begin - reaching to at least 10 cm in diameter when fully opened. Depending on the light, sometimes the flower colours can range to dark pinks.

As the name suggests, allspice and or a strawberry like fragrance is emitted when smelling the flower and crushing the foliage.

In my experience, I've seen them grow to at least 8-10 feet tall and about the same in width. Growing both in full sun to quite a bit of shade. In shadier areas, they can get a bit leggy - stretching for what ever light they an reach.

Zone hardiness is between 5-9. Flowering time, between May-July. Yellow fall leaf colour. Great seed pods that provide winter interest and craft making opportunities. I used to play with the seeds which often smell a bit like red wine.

When we have brutal, harsh winters here in Toronto, they are known to die back some, but rebounding really well if they are situated in rich, loamy soils. In warmer climates, they can sucker and self-seed quite a bit. Easily remedied by pruning and removing the seed pods in August.

If I had the space, this would certainly be in my garden!

Saturday, July 08, 2017

DIY - Making Your Own Potting Soil for Herb Containers

If you want herbs to grow well in containers, then I can't stress it enough - making your own potting soil can't compare with store-bought bags.

The old adage: you are what you eat. It bears a lot of truth, especially when it comes to container planting. To have success, plants need to draw up water with nutrients and minerals. Most potting soils available on the market are soil-less mixtures. Peat mainly, with added vermiculite and or perlite. With soil-less mixtures, you will have to add synthetic or composted fertilizers to keep nutrients available to the roots, before several waterings will leach them out.  Ah, no thanks... I rather use more nutrient retaining soils.

In my experience, a mix of several elements is key. Herbs have significant properties we rely on and you want the plant to thrive and bear the flavours and medicinal goodness and flavours that we need. So why plant them in soil-less mixtures and expect good results? That just doesn't add up.

I compost. Not all kitchen scraps, but a LOT. Coffee grounds, veggie skins...egg shells, anything that will break down relatively quickly - for next year's batch. I also compost all my plant cuttings, autumn leaves and grass clippings. This makes a fabulous compost mixture that is fortified. But, I also balance other aspects too.

This is my potting soil recipe:

First: grab a wheel barrel or large vat (if you're lucky, you may even have a potting bench). Start by adding 1/3 compost, 1/4 sand, 2 cups perlite, 1/2 cup mycorrhizae for herbs and vegetables, and an 1/4 cup organic vegetable fertilizer. If you're like me, and plant herbs in a pot year to year, I reuse about 1/3 of the pot's original soil. Beneficial living organisms from the year before are still contained in there. You want to keep that cycle going by inviting them into the new mix.

Last year's old plant material. Removed all the roots, and dead bits, but kept half of the soil in the wheel barrel. NOTE: if you had diseases and problems with your planters last season, then DON'T reuse last year's soil. Begin with new soil.

This is how the various additives look:

Mix thoroughly together.

One key aspect of growing herbs, if you're going to plant several together, plant similar sun/hot to shade/moist selections together. I like planting "hot herbs" in terra cotta pots. Terra cotta pots heat up in the sun. You want a dry, Mediterranean conditions, and they will heat up if you keep the pots on hard landscaping surfaces.

Plastic pots work well to retain moisture and I use them for "cool herbs".

Here are some groupings that grow well together:

Hot/Dry:   Rosemary, Thyme, Sage, Oregano, Marjoram - these all like drying conditions and less waterings.

Cool/Part Sun: Basil, Chives, Parsley, Coriander - these all like moist conditions and can tolerate a bit of dappled shade.

With the hot/dry loving plants, you may want to even add more sand, to promote drainage.  The amount of sand may vary, depending on your compost. The more organic material that hasn't broken down, the more sand you will need. These hot plants hate roots standing in water.

Place pots in a sunny position. Place water trays beneath to catch water from leaching out too much fertilizer when you water.

Every 3rd watering I add compost tea that I make  (here's the link to that post) for an added boost.

Pinch segments back for your culinary needs and try not to let the plants bolt - meaning, not let them go to seed.

If you have noticed, I have several other little plants that have hitch-hiked their way into my soil. This year I had morning glories, tomatoes and bidens germinate from seed. Hey, why not! They add some colour and joy to this little spot by the kitchen entrance.


Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Helpful hint: Dahlias

Dahlias are at their peak now. I can't stress it enough - you MUST deadhead them to help keep them blooming. Keeping them from going to seed is quintessential but even more importantly...

...deadheading the old blooms prevents un-opened flower buds from getting any fungal infections.

With all this rain, sometimes the old flowers close up and leave wilted petals incased in the flower's sepals. This is a perfect place for moulds, and fungal spores to develop.

The smaller varieties like this one, you just pinch back with your fingers. With the dinner plate varieties, I would use a set of pruners or scissors to cut them back.

You can always easily tell which are the old flower seed head. When you pinch them, they are soft.

Enjoy endless blooms, with a good water soluble feed every two weeks: compost tea, fish emulsion or 10:52:10.

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