Archive for the ‘Yard Talk’ Category

iPhone in the Garden

Icon Written by Wayne on August 1, 2010 – 12:01 am

Gardening information and information sharing has come a long way in a very short time. It use to be that the only way to share information was to write, telephone, or meet in person. Any search for additional information, called for a trip to the local library or university library. The high speed, electronic age of today has changed all that.

The computer and internet has put a wealth of information at the home-gardeners finger tips. What once took hours and days of research, could be found in minutes by anyone.

Garden societies around the world can now share information with each other instantly though emails, on line chatting, and blogging. University’s data basis are now open to anyone who has a computer and on line connections. Todays laptops has made this information even more portable as you can bring the computer to the garden.

Even more so is the freedom Apple’s IPhone brings to the garden. Now with your telephone you can look up information, take pictures, talk and text information to your friends, and even research plants and plant cultures as you work in the garden.

With over 85,000 apps on the IPhone you can find out anything you want in seconds, Want to know what that bug is eating your lilly or why your hosta looks sick? The answer is just a touch away. The world is truly in your palm.

Below are a couple apps we recommend:

  • Botany Buddy Apps is a tree and shrub finder, ideal for identifying plants in the field and selecting plants for a yard. This app is a collaboration of a veteran landscape designer and lifelong gardener, an innovative and creative technology team and a lifelong educator from Oregon State University. Botany Buddy is committed to building a growing community by providing them with online and mobile applications to bring users together with each other and the information they need to succeed. The app makes it easy to share images with as many “Botany Buddies” as you like. It is also great for home enthusiasts, nature lovers and garden clubs as well.
  • Garden Plants Database has over one thousand common garden plant names with detailed descriptions covering many common groups. This is an excellent pocket reference for farmers and gardeners, or anyone who is interested in learning more about gardening and plants. This app is a photo-based application showing a wide variety of garden plants, trees, and herbs, with horticultural and gardening tips. This application includes an advanced search for all garden plants. The top 150 plants are returned by the search engine. If you need a more finely-tuned search, simply add more terms into the search field. If you find plant data that needs revision, you can edit it using your on-screen keypad, or add your own interesting gardening data. You can also rate garden plants on a 5-star system. Once rated, the plant is much easier to access later since you can just tap on the “Top Rated” button in the “More” section at the bottom of the screen. It is truly amazing how far we have come in just a short time. Of course, this is only the beginning.
  • Landscaper’s Companion is your reference guide to trees, shrubs, annuals, perennials, and all sorts of plants. Contains information for over 1400 plants and 5700 pictures. The only complaint is you can not save any to your favorites or what is in your landscape.

Tips of the Month

Here area few other Apps that we found to be useful:

  • Botanical Interests at Botanical Interests, our goal is to inspire and educate so that you can create beautiful and successful gardens. This application is designed to help you achieve that goal!
  • Lacavore iPhone app will come in handy next time you’re at the market and want to know what’s actually being grown near you, and what is most likely to taste the best right now.
  • iGarden helps you plan and track your personal vegetable garden by providing you recommended planting dates for your specific climate zone. It also provides recommendations on how you should plant the seeds. Once your garden has been planted, you can use the garden tracker to measure your garden’s progress and prepare for harvest via the estimated harvest date.

Flower of the Month


Phoenix roebelenii ‘Pygmy Date Palm’

Feather Palm Small to medium sized palm, although older plants can be quite tall. Has very attractive dark green feather leaves, and spined petioles. Not self cleaning, so old fronds need to be manually removed. Moderate growth rate, single trunk. Pygmy date palm excels in containers of all kinds. Also looks great by patios and entry ways. Use clumps of these palms as specimens and to serve as focal point in a mass planting of annuals. Also nice combined with evergreen shrubs in a mixed hedge.

Web Site of the Month

Apps for iPhone

They are like nothing you have ever seen on a mobile phone. Explore some of our favorite apps here and see how they allow iPhone to do even more. Let them become your gardening partner.

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Taro in the Northern Garden

Icon Written by Wayne on July 1, 2010 – 12:01 am

taro-leafTaro, is widely grown in the tropics for food. In Hawaii, Taro is usually grown in pond fields, known as loʻi where the cool, flowing water yields the best crop of edible corms. The edible tubers are used in Poi and the young shoots are blanched and used as a winter vegetable.

Although, native to tropical Asia and Polynesia, Colocasia has given us lots of pleasure all Summer. With its huge, velvet or glossy, dark green, heart-shaped leaves lined with darker veins, Taro adds real drama to our shade garden.

We grow them in containers with little thought given to eating the stems or beating their roots to a pulp to make something that taste like bland wallpaper paste. Taro really work well around a garden structure or up against a stone wall. We like to use them with banana trees and potted palms.


Tips of the Month

Taro is best grown in fertile, organically rich, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. Full sun generally brings out the best leaf color. However, in the hot dry Summers the plants appear to do best in part shade. When growing plants in garden soils, provide regular moisture, especially during dry summer periods, and do not allow soils to dry out.

Plants may also be grown as pond marginals in up to 4-6 inches of standing water. These plants produce prodigious amounts of growth and appreciate weekly fertilization during the growing season.

Tubers may be left in the ground year-round in Zones 8-10. In Michigan, however, tubers should be planted in the ground in mid-spring dug up in fall after first frost and then overwintered in a cool dry place. We have had excellent luck planting taro in containers and just moving these in when Winter approaches along with our other houseplants. Plants grown in containers need to be re-potted on a yearly basis or at the end of the growing season.


Flower of the Month


Colocasia esculenta “Midnight“

It has the darkest leaves of any colocasia we have grown. Native to tropical Asia and Polynesia where it is considered an evergreen perennial tuberous herb. It enjoys part sun and in our garden has grown to over three feet tall. A very hardy plant but not hardy enough to withstand our Michigan Winters. A wonderful addition to the tropical garden we use it with Sago Palms and Musa velutina, the Pink Velvet Banana. It is also spectacular as a sturdy backdrop for perennials in the flower border. Excellent for water gardens when planted in a pot submerged in the pond.


Featured Web Site


Brent and Becky’s Bulbs

They are a third generation bulb grower and hybridizers of daffodils in Gloucester, Virginia. They are launching a new specialty mail-order flower bulb business, via the internet, where we are offering selections of the bulbs, some old favorites and new introductions.

They are creating display gardens and hope to create an educational foundation in which we can help educate school groups, Master Gardener groups or the general public about the ways to incorporate and grow bulbs amongst other perennials, annuals and woody plants. They are excited about their ideas and dreams and we look forward to pursuing them and sharing our experience with you.

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Wildflower Gardening for Wildlife

Icon Written by Wayne on June 1, 2010 – 12:01 am

DeerWildflower Gardening is a must for those gardeners interested in attracting wildlife. Whether your interest lies with butterflies, moths, birds or other critters the surest way to attract them into your gardens is by planting what is familiar to them. No self respecting White-Tailed Deer would be caught dead in a bamboo cane break. Also you would not find many American Bullfrogs feeding on insects in a sunny cacti garden. If you provide wildlife with the right food and shelter they will come.

Some gardeners worry about wildlife doing damage to their plants. Unfortunately, many uninformed gardeners actually go to great lengths to discourage natures critters. We have found that if you provide plants that wildlife naturally feed on, they will do little damage to your other garden plants. Sure you might have a few plants nibbled on, particularly in times of stress, but this is a small price to pay for having wildlife around.

Last Spring we were fortunate to have twin White-tailed Deer born in our wetland area. We watched the “twins” grow from cute little spotted fawns to full size deer through the Summer. Some of our plants became a little tattered from their nibbling and we definitely did not have to cut back our roses in the Fall, but what fun we had watching them grow up. We would not have traded the experience for all the plants in our gardens.

MonarchSimilarly, the Monarch Butterfly larva can eat a lot of Pink Swamp Milkweed foliage, but what wonder it is to watch an adult emerge from its Chrysalis. We are only too happy to see butterfly and moth larva feeding on our wildflowers as we know soon adults will be drifting about laying more eggs for the next generation.

file3How we remember the times when pesticides were so over used that it was rare to see any butterflies and moths. Fortunately, today we realize how important all of natures creatures are and how they interact with each other. Knowledgeable gardeners now plant to encourage their presents, and why not, what would gardening be without them.

Fortunately Wildflower Gardening has enjoyed an increase in popularity as gardeners have discovered their importance and how to use them effectively. Wildflowers are not only finding their way into the traditional garden but, are being used increasingly as a replacement for the traditional lawn, all but eliminating mowing. States are turning to wildflowers along highways to reduce maintenance costs. While large well groomed lawns and roadsides may be attractive to some, they are actually a very barren natural environment.

Successful urban wildflower gardening requires careful planning, soil preparation, and seeding. Pick your site carefully. Make sure that the area receives plenty sunlight, 6-8 hours for most wild plants. Usually site preparation will take one to two years using a combination of cultivation and herbicide applications to eliminate existing growth, roots, and weed seeds.

Your task will be made easier if you choose a site that does not border areas of aggressive weedy plants. You will also have to allow for the soil type in site selection. For example, many plants hate heavy clay soils while others cannot stand to have their feet wet.

Select a variety of wildflowers including some of our native grasses. You want to have a variety, not only for color but to maintain bio-diversity. By providing plants occupying different parts of the soil, you help insure that wildflowers will squeeze out competing weeds. This is one of the secrets to having a low maintenance garden.

file11While wildfowers have become more widely available today, do not expect to buy a packet of seeds at the corner drugstore, sprinkle them around, and magically have a field of flowers. By all means avoid buying seed at your local nursery unless you know that they specialize in wildflower gardening. Most pre-packaged seeds are not worth the effort to plant. It might be nostalgic to use “North Manitou Island Wildflowers” or “Yellowstone’s Buffalo Blend”, but the chances of the seeds growing into something beautiful are slim.

Make your seed selection carefully. Look not only for flower type but also purity of seed. We recommend using nothing less then 95% pure seeds. We strongly suggest that you visit Prairie Nursery and Wildseed Farms web sites before starting. Both sites have a tremendous amount of helpful information on site selection, preparation, and plant selection. Both sell top quality seeds that the home gardener can depend on.

With a little planning and some up-front work, you too can have something that will last for years with little maintenance. We consider wildflowers just that, native plants for the wildlife to enjoy. Hopefully, we all have had our enjoyment out of them. If they are tattered, worm eaten, and grazed over by the end of the season it really does not matter. The butterflies, birds, and other wildlife will love you too. We know that the “Twins” sure loved our roses.


Tips of the Month

Wildflowers come in many shapes and colors, what is found growing in one part of the word as wild is probably being cultivated somewhere else. Many of our native plants have made the jump from being called weeds to being nurtured as prize specimen plants. Probably this is not better illustrated than the life of our native prairie Coneflowers and Black-Eyed Susan. We recommend the following plants, all of which can be found in our Plant Data Base:

  1. Echinacea pallida Pale Purple Coneflower blooms in early summer, 2-3 inch, pale-lavender, slender ray flowers droop gracefully on this lance-leaved prairie native.
  2. Echinacea pupurea Rubinstern is a medium tall coneflower with glowing red flowers with horizontal petals on robust plants. Stands out immediately when first seen.
  3. Echinacea purpurea Fragrant Angel is a white coneflower that others can only aspire to. Grows just like ‘Ruby Giant’, with large, fragrant, and horizontal flowers with layered, overlapping petals and huge yellow cones.
  4. Echinacea purpurea Magnus is a native found in open woods and on prairies. It grows to three feet in height and has long stiff stems with one large cone with showy purple ray flowers.
  5. Echinacea purpurea Art’s Pride is a coneflower comes from the breeding program of Dr. Jim Ault of the Chicago Botanic Garden. The lack of summer orange in the garden has been cured. Each two foot wide clump of slender green foliage is topped starting in late June and continuing through the summer with spikes of rustic-orange flowers.
  6. Echinacea simulata Glade Coneflower or Wavyleaf Purple Coneflower is a very showy coneflower with long stalks and long drooping dark pink petals around a dark brown, dome shaped central disk.
  7. Rudbeckia grandfloria Black-Eyed Susan has long-stalked leaves, hairy stems, robust form and gold daisies with dark eyes are characteristics of this drought-tolerant species.
  8. Rudbeckia laciniata Herbstonne is a delightful plant with drooping warm yellow petals relaxing around a green central disc. A large plant that really stands out when in full bloom.
  9. Echinacea purpurea Kim’s Mop Head is single, white-flowered selection with a greenish disc. The “mop head” description refers to the petals that are fringed . This compact selection makes a great addition to the front of sunny borders, and glows along paths in the evening garden.


Flower of the Month


Rudbeckia amplexicaulis Clasping Coneflower

A hardy annual native to the southeastern United States, and has naturalized throughout most of North America. The identifiable black, cone-shaped heads are surrounded by bright yellow, drooping reflexed ray flowers. Often forms dense colonies in moist areas. A very heavy reseeder.


Featured Web Site

Easyliving Native Perennial Wildflowers

It is a site for and about wildflowers native to the Midwest. Beautiful Native Wild Flowers for Home Landscaping and Prairie Restoration can be found here. Seed for wild flowers that are easy to grow, resistant to drought and pests, and provide unlimited pleasure by attracting butterflies, hummingbirds and other critters. This site has loads of information, photos, and resources for the home gardener

Our Favorite Peony “The Intersectional”

Icon Written by Wayne on May 1, 2010 – 12:01 am

Last Summer we planted our first intersectional peony and fell in love with it immediately. Intersectional peonies are supremely satisfying plants – breathtakingly beautiful, rugged, deer proof, drought tolerant, and trouble free. The intersectional peony is a stunning hybrid that goes dormant to ground level and buds like a herbaceous peony but has flowers and foliage like a tree peony. The foliage is robust and pointed at the leaf tips, rather like the tree peony, and develop slightly woody stems towards the end of the growing season.

Intersectional peonies are the result of crossing two different species of peony, the tree peony and the herbaceous peony. The resulting plants combine the best qualities of their parents. They are vigorous growers, growing anywhere the herbaceous peonies are grown. Strong, sturdy stems hold the flowers upright, with most flowers reaching up to ten inches across. These new peonies offer vibrant colors unavailable before in the peony family. The foliage stays green and lush until frost when it can be cut down to the ground where they will grow next spring from underground eyes.

The first crosses produced a whole new group of bright yellow flowered peonies that the home gardener had wanted for years. Today, hybridizers have created new intersectional peonies in other colors including pink, orange tones, striped, splashed, flared patterns and varieties that change color from dark pink to yellow as the flower ages. The flowers tend toward semi-double and many are fragrant. Often they have more than one bud per stem. The blooms greatly resemble those of the woody parent, many of them being double. The flowers do not fall over in the rain like herbaceous peonies, and their opening is staggered over a six week period.

Summer care is minimal for your intersectional peony. Water dry periods of the growing season. Fertilize with a balanced time release fertilizer. Avoid late fall applications of fertilizer. Remove spent blooms.

More difficult to propagate than herbaceous peonies, intersectional peonies can be still hard to find. Propagation of named cultivars is typically by crown division. Grafting of above ground stems as one would do with woody peonies, and grafting of below ground buds have both proven successful. As more growers discover the merits of these plants it will become easier for the home gardener to enjoy them.


Tips of the Month

Intersectional peonies are easy to grow and hardy to at least zone 4. They survive our frigid Michigan winters just fine. These peonies will grow anywhere herbaceous peonies will grow. When planting consider the following:

  1. Intersectional peonies grow best in full sun in fertile well-drained soil. We recommend at least 8 hours of sunlight.
  2. Keep in mind these plants live for decades and can grow up to 4 feet across.
  3. After selecting your site, we recommend you amend your soil. Prepare a soil mixture using: two parts top soil, two parts compost, and one part peat moss. Good drainage is very important.
  4. Dig a hole two feet deep and two feet across. Place your root so that the crown is 3 to 4 inches below the soil level. Fan the roots out while adding soil. Firm the ground as you go. Once you have completely filled in the hole, water your peony thoroughly enough to settle the soil.
  5. Mulch with straw-type mulch or wood chips. Leaves are not recommended because they tend to matte down. The main function of mulch is to keep your peony root from thawing and refreezing during the winter season.
  6. Never allow the newly planted specimen to dry out. Remove any competitive weeds near peonies to help with moisture.
  7. A slow release balanced fertilizer should be added at planting time to ensure rapid root development.
  8. Probably the most important thing to remember is the importance of site selection. Always remember that this plant is very long lived!


Flower of the Month

bartzellaPaeonia ‘Bartzella’ (Bartzella Intersectional Peony)
Paeonia ‘Bartzella’ is the Rolls Royce of peonies. This stunning hybrid goes dormant to ground level and buds like a herbaceous peony but has flowers and foliage like a tree peony. Developed by peony breeder Roger Anderson of Wisconsin, established clumps can reach three feet tall and three feet wide with up to eighty, nine inch wide, fully double yellow flowers. The flowers do not fall over in the rain like herbaceous peonies, and their opening is staggered over a six week period.

Intersectional peonies make excellent cut flowers. They can be cut anytime after the bud is soft like a fresh marshmallow. For best results, place the flowers in fresh water immediately after cutting. You can cut the flowers as long as you like as long as you leave the lowest branch stem on the plant. You should not cut more than 1/3 of the total stems so the plant has enough leaves to re-grow for next year.


Web Site of the Month

Adelman Peony Gardens
They grow a large collection of peonies covering about nine acres near Salem, Oregon. Adelman’s have more than 160 varieties for sale in our online store. Their goal is to give a customer a wide selection of select peonies not found anywhere else. The most recent excitement at Adelman’s is intersectional peonies, produced by crossing tree peonies with bush peonies, resulting in exciting new colors and outstanding plant habit. They ship bare-root peonies to customers across the country in the Fall.

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Landscape Mulches Revisited

Icon Written by Wayne on April 1, 2010 – 12:01 am

For the home gardener probably the most important task they can perform each Spring, is applying a good mulch to their garden. This one project, if for no other reason than the time it will save you, will lift your garden to the next level. We have talked about this before, but we just cannot stress it enough, mulch, mulch, and more mulch.

Why should we mulch? In the first place, itis a good conservation practice. Thick mulch helps prevent loss of top soil from wind and water erosion. Mulching reduces soil compaction, decreases water loss from the soil through evaporation, and lessens soil temperature fluctuations. Mulch tempers the effects of heat and cold. In the winter months the soil in a garden heaves between the combined effects of freezing, thawing and then refreezing, which also can damage plants and shrubs.

Organic mulch decomposes and becomes part of the soil, improving drainage, organic content, and texture. Microbes work by the millions to break down the organic matter and turn it into humus, this buffers the soil pH and improves the soil. A continuous supply of mulch means the bacterial and fungal activity can crowd out the bad stuff. Mulching enriches and protects soil thus, helping to provide a better growing environment.

Organic mulch is also important from the visual perspective. How others see our garden is very important to most gardeners. Mulch keeps our gardens neat and trim. Mulch is useful for weed suppression and control. We would apply mulch for this reason alone. In this day and age who has time to weed?

Mulch comes in a variety of colors and textures to meet your needs. Gone are the days of wood chips and pine bark. Many companies now offer wood and bark chips that have been colorized to match a gardens decor. Colleges and universities now have their landscape areas mulched to match their “school colors. As we said before, ” What true Nebraska “Husker” Fan would be without his or her own perennial bed mulched in red and white.

Inorganic mulch like rubber mulch, stones, black plastic and landscape fabric are also useful tools. Stones and marble chips do the same job as organic mulches. They lend a more formal look to a landscape and help prevent weeds. While inorganic mulches have their place in the garden, they lack the soil improving properties of organic mulches. We have found that the use of plastic sheeting or landscape fabric is in most cases a waste of time and money as weeds quickly grow on top of it. An inorganic mulch may also be difficult to remove if you decide to change your garden plans later.

In choosing a mulch, consider first what is available in your area. The best place to look at different types of mulch is at a garden center. A mulch with course particles remains loose and lasts longer so it’s a better choice. A mulch with fine particles can become compacted and will decompose faster.

Mulching is one of the simplest and most beneficial tools you can use in the garden. So get out there and mulch.


Tips of the Month

Our favorite mulch is 100% pure shredded sawmill bark that has been double ground. This has excellent uniform texture, color, and decomposition rate plus we like how it sets off our plants. A shredded double ground hardwood mulch with bark would be our second choice. We try to avoid soft woods and fruit woods because, as a rule, they contain a lot of resins.

Mulch, provides an insulating barrier between the soil and the air thus moderating the soil temperature. This means that a mulched soil in the Summer will be cooler than an un-mulched soil. If you are using mulches in your perennial garden, it is best to apply them after the soil has warmed up in the spring. Also, wait until the soil has warmed completely in the Spring to add additional mulch to existing perennial beds.

In the winter, the mulched soil may not freeze as deeply as unprotected soil. Mulches used to help with winter temperatures, can be applied late in the fall after the ground has frozen. Applying mulches before the ground has frozen may attract rodents looking for a warm Winter home.

Types of mulch:

  1. Bark chips – biodegradable, apply 2-3 inches. Advantages: Attractive, good for permanent mulch, and reusable. Disadvantages: May hinder water penetration. Decomposes slowly unless composted first.
  2. Brick chips – will not decompose, apply 2-3 inches. Advantages: Cheaper than stone mulch and non-flammable. Disadvantages: Not readily available, high moisture retention, and no organic matter added.
  3. Compost – biodegradable, apply 1-2 inches. Advantages: Contributes nutrients, turns quickly to humus. Disadvantages: Needs heating period to kill off weed seeds and diseases and may have unpleasant odor.
  4. Corncobs and cornstalks – biodegradable, apply 3-4 inches. Advantages: Readily available in most areas and good weed control. Disadvantages: Water cannot penetrate well and may generate heat.
  5. Cottonseed hulls – biodegradable, apply 2-4 inches. Advantages: Fertilizing value similar cottonseed meal. Disadvantages: Very light, wind scatters.
  6. Grass clippings – biodegradable, apply 2-3 inches. Advantages: Improves soil by adding organic matter. Disadvantages: Absorbent, may carry weed seed.
  7. Hay – biodegradable, apply 4-6 inches. Advantages: Legume hays (alfalfa) add nitrogen. Disadvantages: First cut hay full of weed seeds and offers poor weed control.
  8. Leaves – biodegradable, apply 2-3 inches. Advantages: Contain many trace minerals, best food for earthworms. Disadvantages: May become soggy and pack, hindering water penetration.
  9. Paper – biodegradable, apply 5-6 pages or 4-6 inches, shredded. Advantages: May add trace minerals, decomposes readily. Disadvantages: May pack and hinder water penetration.
  10. Peanut hulls – biodegradable, apply 2-3 inches. Advantages: Adds nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and decomposes rapidly. Disadvantages: Not readily available in North.
  11. Peat moss – biodegradable, apply 3-5 inches. Advantages: Clean and free of weed seeds and improves water retention when tilled into sandy soil. Disadvantages: Extremely absorbent, water penetration hindered and expensive.
  12. Pine needles – biodegradable, apply 3-4 inches. Advantages: Light, usually free of weed seeds, absorbs little moisture nor does it pack. Disadvantages: Decomposes very slowly.
  13. Polyethylene – will not decompose, apply one layer. Advantages: Retains but absorbs no moisture, black is effective weed control. Disadvantages: Weeds grow under clear plastic and rain will not go through easily.
  14. Rock – crushed gravel or marble chips, will not decompose, apply 1-2 inches. Advantages: Relatively inexpensive, not absorbent, water penetrates, and non-flammable. Disadvantages: Poor weed control and adds no organic matter to soil.
  15. Salt marsh hay – biodegradable, apply 4-6 inches. Advantages: Usually weed-free; available in marshy areas or along coast, very long lasting. Disadvantages: Not available to everyone. Expensive if purchased.
  16. Straw – biodegradable, apply 4-6 inches. Advantages: Adds nutrients and lightens soil when tilled under. Disadvantages: Can be a fire hazard.
  17. Vermiculite or perlite – will not decompose, apply 1-2 inches. Advantages: Totally sterile, so will not carry disease and no weed seeds. Disadvantages: Expensive, very light; scatters, and hinders water penetration.
  18. Cocoa bean shells – biodegradable, apply 4-6 inches. Advantages: attractive color and smell. Disadvantages: Poor water retention, will float out in heavy rains, and makes you want to eat a chocolate bar.
  19. Rubber mulch– is better then any other mulch available in the market today for use in playground areas. Its durability, elasticity, and non-moisture absorbent are some characteristics making it suitable for almost any purpose.


Flower of the Month

2744370614_b989dbe74dWinter rye Secale cereale , a green manure cover crop, is living mulch that provides organic matter to your garden and protect your valuable soil. It a has high cold tolerance, moderate to high shade and drought tolerance and is fast to establish. It prefers a slightly acid soil and sandy loam to loam soil type. Rye grows very tall and plant residues have a high C:N ratio. Because of its cold tolerance, it is the best choice for late fall plantings, providing excellent winter erosion control and removing excess soil nutrients.
In the spring, you will want to turn the cover in at least two weeks before you plan to work the area. This can be done by rote-tilling, plowing, or using a spading fork if the area is small. It is often helpful to mow the crop before tilling. The nitrogen held in the Green Manure’s tissue will now be available to future crops through decomposition.


Web Site of the Month

Pennsylvania Horticultural Society
They are located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are a non-profit membership organization founded in 1827 to encourage and advance horticultural interests. Their Green Scenes Magazine is an excellent publication. Their Yearly Gold Medal Plant awards it often underused but exceptional plants is very useful to the discriminating gardener.

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The Hawaiian Lei Flower

Icon Written by Wayne on March 1, 2010 – 12:01 am

Plumeria or Lei Flower is the most beautiful flower that you will find in Hawaii. It is used in most leis that are given to visitors as they arrive in Hawaii. It is, however, not native to Hawaii but to Mexico like the Monkey Pod Tree. The flowers are found in colors of white, yellow, pink, red, and multiple pastels. In Hawaii one of the best places to view plumeria is at the Koko Crater Botanical Garden – a 60-acre basin inside Koko Crater on the eastern end of the island of Oahu. 


Plumerias can grow to be large shrubs or even small trees in mild areas like Florida. In tropical regions, Plumeria may reach a height of 40 to 50 feet. Their widely spaced thick succulent branches are round or pointed, and have long leather, fleshy leaves in clusters near the branch tips. Leaves tend to fall in early 

Winter since they are sensitive to cold. Without their leaves and flowers, the trees are very ugly!

p2130054Fortunately, the large leathery leaves appear in Spring and are up to 20 inches long and 3 inches wide depending on species or selection. Medium green and oblong in shape, they are arranged alternately on the squat branches. The leaves cluster at the branch ends where they form the perfect backdrop for the plant’s feature attraction – deliciously fragrant, delicately sculpted flowers.

dsc00986tIn  early Summer through the early Fall months, when very fragrant clusters of showy, waxy flowers appear the real reason for growing Plumerias become apparent. There is absolutely nothing like the sweet fragrance of Plumeria in flower, with fragrances of jasmine, citrus, spices, gardenia, and other indescribable scents. Flowering can last up to 3 months at a time producing new blooms everyday. Once picked, a bloom can last for several days without wilting if kept in water. These flowers are treasured by everyone, young and old and have become a symbol of Hawaii.

For those of us not living in Hawaii or Florida, Plumeria can be grown in containers, making beautiful potted plants for the patio. In milder climates, plumeria can be grown outdoors in the ground, where they make a small beautiful landscape tree. When the temperature, cools, they may be carefully dug up stored over winter in a heated basement or garage where temperatures are kept above freezing. Once the temperatures rise they can be brought out and planted again. We have been told that they will begin to grow as if nothing happened.

For container planting use a coarse, well draining potting soil, similar to what would be used for palm trees. You should consider using a large container on a plant dolly to make the job easier moving indoors as Winter approaches.

Water Plumerias deeply, but infrequently, let soil dry out somewhat before watering again. Begin to reduce the frequency of watering in mid-October, as the cool season approaches. Stop watering after the plant enters its ugly faze and has gone dormant. Resume watering in the Spring as new growth begins.

Plumerias should be fed with a high nitrogen fertilizer beginning in spring when growth begins. To encourage the most blooms, a switch to a high phosphorous fertilizer in early May and fertilize every 2 to 3 weeks through the end of August. Although the branches are muscular in appearance they tend to be weak and easily broken.

In addition to the seven or so Plumeria species, there are dozens of cultivars available that differ in flower color and size and all of them are spectacular. Some of the largest Plumeria collections are actually grown in cold northern climates in greenhouses. The flowers are truly gorgeous and well worth the extra effort.


Tips of the Month

Here is a simple how to list for making your own lei:


Jar of Vaseline

3″ or 4″ Upholstery needle,

4 to 8 Pound Fishing Line or strong thread.

50 to 60 Plumeria Flowers

One 1 Gallon Zip-lock bag

Measuring Tape

1. Gather the flowers early in the morning and for best results use Plumeria flowers that have a thick waxy feel. Flowers that are thick and waxy will keep for two to three days.  

2. If you choose mixed colored flowers string them up in a pattern.

3. Measure and cut the string at about 48 inches.  

4. Thread the string through the needle’s eye, and either pull the string back or crimp it in place with pliers. Tie anything around the other end to keep the flowers from coming off.  

5. Dip the needle in the jar of Vaseline and thread the first flower going into the eye of the flower.  Slide each flower onto the string one at a time so as not to tear the flowers.  Re-dip the needle into the Vaseline as needed.

6 Once you’re finished stringing the flowers, cut the string from the needle and tie the ends.  Then cut off excess string from the knot area.  

7. Place the lei into the one gallon bag with a little water, close the zip-lock part way, then blow into the bag filling it full of air and zip it shut. 

8.  Store the lei in the refrigerator until you want to wear it.


Flower of the Month

cid-41c9623a-9e3e-48f7-b7aa-88239be5bbe3localPlumeria rubra ‘Lei Rainbow’ is a beautiful red to yellow tropical flowering  plant which can be grown in full sun to partial shade. While it is hardy to only zone 11, it can be easily grown as a container plant.

The flowers are very fragrant, attracting bees, butterflies, and even birds.  Ideal for cut flowers and of course leis.


Featured Web Site

The Dean Conklin Plumeria Grove is part of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens system.  It is located in  Koko Crater along the eastern side of Oahu. The plumeria trees surround the entrance to the garden and extend along the trail that lead to the crater. The plumeria  trees are planted close to each other which creates a beautiful rainbow effect when they are in bloom. The end of April appears to be a peak flowering time for these trees.  

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The Lobster Claw

Icon Written by Wayne on February 1, 2010 – 12:01 am

Lobster Claw

Lobster Claw

My wife’s favorite tropical flower is the Heliconia bihai, better known as the ‘Lobster Claw’ which she first saw at the Allerton National Botanical Gardens on the island of Kauai during our 2005 trip to Ha-waii. This widely cultivated variety grows from 5 to 16 feet high in full sun to light shade. The ones we saw had 4 to 5 banana-like leaves up to 6 feet long, with beautiful, long lasting inflorescences composed of showy bracts which contain the true flowers.

The inflorescence consists of 7 to 12 bracts which are light-to dark red with a yellow edge and a green top. The Lobster Claw is at its best from April to December when it is in full bloom. Individual inflo-rescences last for many weeks, even when cut, making them important for the floral trade. Within the flowers are the pollen-producing stamens and the pollen-receptive stigma on a long style. The pollina-tion is done by hummingbirds and bats, shinny violet seeds form in the bracts.

While hardy to only zones 9-11 they can be grown inside in large containers in colder climates. Being a tropical plant it needs high humidity and a temperature range from 70-85 degrees. Heliconia are an ex-cellent choice for plants that are grown indoors in the Winter and moved outdoors for the Spring and Summer. They do require a well drained growing medium such as a cactus mix. The usual way to propagate is to plant rhizomes, which are horizontal underground stems, in a well draining soil with the very tip protruding out of the soil. Water thoroughly and let dry out somewhat be-tween watering. If kept too wet, there is a good chance they may rot.
Spent flower canes should be cut to the ground. Every few years when the growth slows down, dig the clump out, and divide it. This is also a good time to amend the soil before replanting. They are heavy feeders, feed regularly with palm fertilizer. Except for the fact that they are much more tropical, Helico-nias behave much like Cannas. Once we have mastered growing Sago Palms, Plumairas, and Taro we are going to give the Lobster Claw a try.


Tips of the Month

Heliconia rhizome planting instructions:

  1. Upon receipt of rhizome or bare root plant, carefully unpack, plant quickly not to let rhizomes or roots dry out. Soak bottom 2/3 of rhizome or roots if visible for ½ hour at room temperature.
  2. Plant your rhizome as soon as you receive it using a well draining soil mixture. Do not use soil from your back yard as heavy, dense soils will hold too much water and cause the rhizome to rot. It is very important that your soil is well draining.
  3. After your first time watering we would not water in the future until we find that the surface soil is dry to the touch. It is very important that you do not keep the soil wet.
  4. Heliconia like warm temperatures and bright light to grow strong. An ideal temperature would be 75 degrees with humidity over 50 percent.
  5. The amount of light to provide full sun to 30 percent shade.
  6. Fertilize at least once a month during growing season.
  7. Daily misting of plants is beneficial if grown inside or in dry outdoor environment.


Flower of the Month

Lobster Claw

Lobster Claw

Heliconia bihai “Lobster claw” can be found abundantly in the tropical rain-forest of Hawaii growing to 16 feet tall and has up to five lancelet leaves, 6 feet long each. The bracts are light-to dark red with a yellow edge and a green top.


Web Site

The Allerton Estate and National Tropical Botanical Gardens on Kauai, Hawaii is a garden paradise extending over an area of more than 100 acres. The grounds were the mid-1800s summer cottage of Queen Emma, wife of King Kame-hameha IV, and the former home of Robert & John Allerton. They have been returned to their former glory, as have the surrounding stately gardens. The Allerton Estate is managed by the adjoining National Tropical Botanical Garden, a non-profit organization that conducts guided tours of the estate.


National Tropical Botanical Garden

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After Christmas, What Next?

Icon Written by Wayne on January 1, 2010 – 12:01 am

Those of you who have been following Yard Talk over the years know how special Christmas Time is at Martin’s Yard & Garden. It is a very special, magical time, a time for sharing with our friends and family old and new. 

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. Cookies grow stale, the brightly decorated presents are opened, family and friends go home, and all the decorations come down. Even the Santa Bears go into hibernation until next season. A very depressing time around our household, especially for people young at heart like Marty and I.

Well, it does not have to be if you are lucky to be one of those people that still believe in the magic of having a real Christmas Tree. For you the fun is just beginning as you can now start decorating the tree all over again. I am not talking about covering it with Shamrocks or Easter Bunnies either!

Actually that is not such a bad idea but a more rewarding project would be to decorate the evergreen for our feathered friends. You do not have to use anything fancy, just edible.

Begin by driving a  4-6 foot metal pole into the ground then tie your old tree to it. Preferably, this should be done away from shrubs and trees that could  shelter animals which feed on birds such as cats and hawks. Once this is done, simply attach items which birds normally eat such as strung berries, suet cakes, fruit, or just spread peanut butter on the branches then sprinkle with sunflower seed. 

 Do not be afraid to experiment, believe me the birds will not care. Why not make it a family project and get everyone involved ?


Tips of the Month

Here are some of the wildlife decorations we have made through the years.

  1. Cover pine cones with peanut butter and roll in birdseed, hang by a string.
  2. Save your orange or grapefruit halves, fill with a suet birdseed mix and hang by a string .
  3. String cherries, cranberries, or blueberries on a string and hang as garland.
  4. Collect stale donuts from local bakers and hang from branches.
  5. Hang chunks of bananas, pineapple, or apples on the limbs.
  6. Popcorn can be strung on thread and draped over the tree.

Many companies such as Wildbirds Unlimited sell ready made decorations which can be purchased and hung on the evergreen. 


Flower of the Month


Abies concolor

Abies concolor “Lowiana” White Fir

It is an attractive conifer and outstanding landscape plant. It has a formal pyramidal shape. Its silvery blue-green foliage makes it an ideal candidate for use as a specimen or accent plant in the landscape. The 1 1/2 inch long needles are slightly flattened, curve up from the stem, and are soft to the touch. Prefers a rich, moist soil with good drainage. Tolerates drought and heat better than most firs. Full sun is best, but will tolerate some shade. 


 Featured Web Site

National Wildlife Federation’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat’s web site offers a lot of exciting information not only on decorating for the birds but other wildlife as well. We encourage you to visit and learn more about how you can landscape your home and at the same time help the environment. This site is fun for the whole family, we only wish we had young ones to share it with.

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A Christmas at Martin’s Yard & Garden

Icon Written by Wayne on December 1, 2009 – 12:01 am

Yard Decoration

Yard Decoration

Those of you who have been following Yard Talk over the years know how special Christmas Time is at Martin’s Yard & Garden. It is a very special, magical time, a time for sharing with our friends and family old and new. We welcome you once again into our home and gardens.



Our Christmas season begins a few weeks before Thanksgiving with Marty and I planning this seasons indoor and outdoor decorations. This is no easy task for over the years we have accumulated quite a collection of Christmas memorabilia. One that seems to multiply rapidly through the season, much like spearmint in the garden. Marty has an extensive collection of Dayton Hudson Santa Bears, with new ones arriving yearly. We both like Animated Holiday Figures, particularly Snowmen, which are displayed everywhere inside and out. This year we welcomed the Snow Triplets to our home along with Bernard, Brandon, and Bernadette.

All Lit Up

All Lit Up

The Friday after Thanksgiving we start putting up the outside decorations, this usually takes several days as it too seems to grow like weeds. Since I enjoy painting Christmas figures, much of the outside is centered around these creations. Of course, we also put up a few lights and garland.

Cookie Day

Cookie Day

The first Saturday after Thanksgiving is Christmas Cookie Day, a fun filled day involving anyone not afraid to measure, stir, bake and of course, eat a few cookies. Even Madison, our English Setter, gets involved, at least in the eating department. Since we usually bake between 900-1200 cookies, for friends and relatives, this happening lasts well into evening hours.

Between Outdoor Decorating and Cookie Day, Marty and I, choose the Christmas Tree. Some of our most cherished memories involve selecting just the right family Christmas Tree, by no means is this an easy task.  We have had Concolor Fir, Douglas Fir, Noble Fir, Fraser Fir, Balsam Fir, and White Pine.  The last two years we have had great luck with Black Hills Spruce which we highly recommend it for those looking for a more traditional look. 

We have to admit, we even have an artificial tree. This works perfectly for displaying Marty‘s extensive Christmas Egg Ornaments, many made by our son Geoff. The big advantage an artificial tree offers is that you can bend the branches to suit your needs, even to making it fit into a corner or flat against a wall. Besides I doubt if we could ever agree on two perfect trees!

Egg Tree

Egg Tree

Once the inside and out is decorated, cookies made and shared, and the trees are up, we put on some of our favorite Christmas Carols and wrap our family gifts. This is a time to kick back, relax with your loved ones, a time to count your blessings. Christmas is truly a time for sharing be it a simple cookie or song. We take comfort in the fact that in our own little way we bring joy into this world.


December Tip of the Month

While the best-selling trees are the Douglas Fir, Noble Fir, Fraser Fir, Balsam Fir, Virginia Fir, Black Hills Spruce, and White Pine, no one can pick the right tree for you! This is a very personal choice, a time to get the whole family involved. The best thing you do is just get out there, you need to look, touch, and smell the trees. A nation wide listing of many of these locations can be found at The Christmas Tree Network ( 

Here are some tips for caring for your tree throughout the holiday season:

  1. Select only the freshest, test for freshness by gently grasping a branch in your hand and pull it toward you. Very few needles should come off . Shake or bounce the tree on its stump. You should not see a large amount of green needles fall.
  2. If not setting up right away, store the tree in water if possible but make sure that the water will not freeze around the stump, we learned this lesson the hard way. An unheated garage, tool shed, chicken coop, or other area out of the wind and cold is an ideal location. We have found spraying the tree with WiltPruf makes the tree stay fresh longer.
  3. Cut off one half inch from the bottom of the trunk just before putting in the stand. 
  4. Be warned, inspect the tree before bringing it indoors. Insects, rodents, and other pests can enter the home on the Christmas tree and emerge in the warm house.
  5. Keep the tree’s stand full of water at all times, checking the water level twice a day. If the base dries out resin will form over the cut end and the tree will not be able to absorb water. The tree must then be taken down and a fresh cut made.
  6. The stand you use should hold at least a gallon of water. Trees may use several quarts of water a day. 
  7. Using plain tap water, slightly warm to the touch, is the best. 
  8. Place the tree well away from heat registers, space heaters, fire places, wood stoves, televisions, computer monitors and other heat sources. 
  9. Use UL approved electrical decorations and cords and unplug tree lights at night or while you are away. Miniature lights produce less heat and reduce the drying effect on the tree.
  10. Take down the tree before it dries out. Many fresh cut trees, if properly cared for, will last at least five or six weeks before drying out.
  11. Treatments are also available that can be sprayed on trees to reduce flammability. These contain borax or other flame retardants. 

Flower of the Month

Kalanchoe coccinea

Kalanchoe coccinea ‘blossfeldiana’ 

It is one of the prettiest succulent flowering plants to be associated with the Christmas season. It’s long lasting flowers can be forced to bloom quite easily while the fleshy, wide, oval-shaped leaves are quite attractive.

Kalanchoes are easy to grow, requiring minimum care. This plant does need plenty of light and moisture to grow. Their root system is extremely sensitive and you should use clay pots to allow  for better aeration of the roots. You can ensure excellent drainage by placing pebbles at the bottom of the pot and use light soil containing lots of peat moss, perlite and sand. 

Kalanchoes can be made to flower, like Poinsettias, by adjusting the length of daylight. Short days of less than 12 hours over a period of 2 to 3 weeks will trigger the formation of flower buds. Once the flower buds are formed, the natural daylight regime can be resumed. 


Featured Web Site

The National Christmas Tree Association is a wonderful site with loads of information on Christmas Tree selection and care. We also find it to be a very fun site for the whole family. There just is no way to describe this site and do it justice, you need to visit it at least once during the holidays.


Book of the Month

Family Blessings by Fern Michael’s

Fern Michael’s uses her keen insight into the emotional bonds between family members and the passions that bring men and women together to create an enduring novel that celebrates love, family, and forgiveness. It is a good family book for the Holiday season.

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Banana Trees in the Northern Garden

Icon Written by Wayne on November 1, 2009 – 12:01 am

Last Summer, while making a quick trip to Lowe’s to pick up some lumber, we happened to notice a display of small potted banana trees. We could not believe they were trying to sell these tropical plants in Michigan. What a joke, we thought, with our cool Spring weather much less our early Fall. There just was no way these tiny plants would ever have a chance to survive much less reach maturity.

Banana Tree

Banana Tree

Needless to say we ended up buying one. We planted it in what we call our “Tropical Garden” which consists of one Sago Palm and a few Taro plants. These we over-winter in the living-room in front of the French doors. In the Spring we bring them outside and plant them around a small water feature. Not a big problem, as they are only about the size of a large houseplant and require little care. Little did we know how this would change.

We started to worry a few weeks later when our “little banana plant” was almost three foot tall “and growing.” By September, we new we were in trouble as it was well over six foot tall “and growing.” In late October, when we were bringing in the taro and palm we resigned ourselves to the fact that our banana experiment was headed to a tragic end as it was now over eight foot “and growing.”

In November, with the first frost forecasted we said good bye to our friend the “ the little banana tree.” Alas we just could not do it, nightfall found us trying to fit a very large banana tree in the front door. The banana tree’s new home was next to the Sago Palm and Taro in front of the French doors, “ and was still growing,”

It is now late January and our little tree is “still growing.” Spring cannot come quick enough.

 Tips of the Month

We planted our banana tree on a lark! Looking back we have enjoyed every minute of it, even the mad dash to get it in before the first frost. You can practically see it grow as the leaves unfold. We are not sure what we will do with it next Fall as this unnamed specimen will be too big to bring in again, but we sure have enjoyed it.

That said, start by learning more about the available species than we did. A key factor to success when it comes to banana growing is to choose the right species. In our cold weather in Michigan you must choose a banana tree that will not get too big for your home.

The first priority to consider when growing banana is to use the proper soil. It is very important to use a well draining soil mixture Do not use heavy soils when growing banana such as potting soil, or soil from a yard. Plant the banana rhizome upright and be sure the roots are well covered and the rhizome has about 1/2 inch of the base covered with soil.

We advise that you water and fertilize banana at the same time using any type of balanced fertilizer to help grow banana. Bananas are heavy feeders so we suggest that you fertilize very lightly each time that you water. After your initial watering we would not water again until your soil is dry to a one inch depth. Please do not expect this to be a plant that you “water once a week”. Bananas like high humidity, hot, dry air will destroy the leaves.

Grow banana in bright light, 10-12 hours of light are ideal for most varieties. In northern areas grow bananas in containers remembering that they like to be root bound. Transplant to a larger container when your plant is quite crowded. Never plant it in a container without a drain hole.

Flower of the Month

Pink Velvet Banana

Pink Velvet Banana

Musa velutina “Pink Velvet Banana” is a hardy banana that is often found in the garden. Rarely exceeding six feet tall it produces many flower stalks near the top of the trunk, starting in late Summer. The colorful dark pink inflorescence and fuzzy pink fruits are great for flower arrangements. It likes rich soil and regular applications of fertilizer during the Spring and Summer. Keep well watered during hot periods. It prefers medium shade, but tolerates sun. Once established, they seem to be quite winter-hardy. Makes a nice focal point for a tropical or subtropical patio or courtyard. Excellent as a container plant.

Web Site

Plant Delights Nursery is a mail order firm specializing in unusual perennials. Their catalog features a wide variety of native perennials, as well as their Asian counterparts. The nursery opened in 1991 after years of plant collecting and selling at small back yard sales. The on-line catalog features well over 1000 different perennials. Many of the plants listed are their own introductions. Their plants are not just botanical novelties, but good noninvasive garden plants. We have never bought a bad plant from these people.

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