Neighborly Garden News
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Try growing some fancy Begonias this season!
A rose is a rose is a rose, right? But what if you don’t have the optimal conditions for growing roses? Or you garden on a terrace or windowsill? If you want the beautiful shape of a full rose, and knockout punch of color they bring to a garden, but sadly have only shade; try growing Begonias this year.
Begonias are grown for both their foliage and flowers, offering the best of both. They have been hybridized into upright and cascading forms. The semperflorens type of Begonia, commonly known as ‘Wax Begonias’ or fibrous rooted Begonias, are frequently used as bedding plants. Their flowers are available in shades of pink, white or red, with green or bronze colored leaves. Another type of Begonia that is readily available is the tuberous Begonia. Like their name suggest these wonderful plants grow from a tuber; which is a thickened, modified stem from which the flowering buds arise. From your initial investment in the tuberous Begonia plant, you can lift and save the tubers in the fall, and replant them the following growing season. All Begonias are sensitive to cold temperatures, and are not hardy overwinter in our area. Tuberous Begonias have charming large flowers that do resemble rose flowers. You can also buy Begonia tubers that grow with a trailing habit, and will work great in hanging pots, or window boxes, wherever a cascading bounty of blooms would please your eye. Tuberous Begonias are available in scrumptious shades of apricot, pink, yellow, cerise, and many two-toned shades.
Cascading Tuberous Begonia
Begonia x bonariensis is the ‘Whopper’ Begonia. It is one of the most versatile landscaping plants, in my opinion. It lives up to its name; growing 30-34” tall X 24” wide. The Whopper is so easy to grow and will flourish in either full sun or shade, and is in bloom constantly. They have no pest or animal issues that I’ve ever encountered; they are a ‘bullet-proof’ plant. These Begonias do not develop a tuber, so you cannot save them from year to year as easily as the other species. But, they do root very readily from cuttings placed in a glass of water, and I have been able to save mine this way for several years. They will bloom indoors on a sunny windowsill, for weeks of color during the dead of winter. You may have seen some of our plantings around Williamstown with the large Whopper Begonias; they are very bold and beautiful plants!
Red-Flowered ‘Whopper’ Begonia
You may opt to grow your own tuberous Begonias. Start your tubers in April on a sunny windowsill, in shallow trays. The tuber itself will resemble a hollowed out potato; place the hollow side facing up in the tray. Do not cover them with soil, just gently push them into the soil leaving the hollow part exposed. As the shoots develop, you can lift and then plant the tubers into individual pots. Gradually accustom your Begonias to the outside, once the weather warms; you may have to bring them in and out a few times until our weather settles. Once you begin to see flower buds forming begin feeding your Begonia plants every two weeks with a high Potassium type fertilizer (the K component, of NPK).
All Begonias will flower, but Rex Begonias, Begonia rex-cultorum, will grow incredibly striking leaves too. Their leaves have striking markings, crimps and frills; and they also will perform well as house plants. They can develop into a large mound of off-centered, heart-shaped leaves. Depending on the variety, they can grow 8-24” tall. Rex Begonias grow from a rhizome: a horizontal underground stem which will sprout lateral growing shoots and adventitious roots along its length. They will grow their best in a large, yet shallow pot. Because Rex Begonias store water in their rhizomes, they are tougher and more tolerant of neglect than some other Begonia species, just be aware they have less need for water, and require a well drained soil mixture.
Rex Begonia ‘Escargot’
Most Begonias, except for the Whopper variety, prefer bright indirect light. They like to dry out a bit between watering; you might need to feel the soil surface to gauge when to water, until you get to know their culture. If you grow them inside overwinter, only water then enough to keep the leaves from wilting. Most houseplants prefer to be slightly dry, than too wet during the winter. One way to keep your Begonias happy is to grow them standing on a saucer of pebbles; this raises their humidity without adding more water to the soil. Be happy, grow a Begonia or two.
April’s ‘to-do’ list
It’s that time of the year again; the big cleanup after the wild and windy days of winter. You can begin to get your gardens and plants ready for the new growing season. You may find yourself pulled in several directions, as different chores beckon. Don’t worry, with our variable weather this month, the advance of spring tends to start and stop quite predictably; and everything will get done.
If you haven’t yet pruned your summer and fall blooming shrubs, there is still time to do it, even as they break bud. Be sure to prune out any dead or broken branches, and fine tune your pruning to direct new growth where you want it to grow. Look for a prominent bud that is facing outward, not in towards the center of the shrub. The new shoot that will emerge from that bud, will grow in this direction. Make your pruning cut just above (1/8”-1/4”) the bud.
Early spring is a excellent time to divide your perennials. Daylilies, Asters and tall garden Phlox, are just a few varieties of perennials that benefit from regular division. It’s helpful to have a cutting tool, like a garden knife or box cutter, to help cut through the tougher roots. I like to use a spading fork to help pry smaller clumps out of the larger mass. When you’ve finished you may re-plant the pared down perennial clumps, or pot up any extras to pass along to friends or neighbors. Now give everything a good drink, and consider this a job well done.
If you grow roses, yearly pruning is important to maintain the vigor and beauty of the plant. Roses put out a lot of growth each season, and we must channel this energy into flower production. Plan your task by having both a hand pruner and a lopping shears ready, to complete the job. Remove any branches smaller than a pencil in diameter right down to their base. Eliminate any dead wood, and cut back any broken branches; again looking to make your cuts just above a prominent outward facing bud. Lastly thin the plant to 3-4 main branches, and cut those back to about 8-12” above the ground.
Each spring we have a good opportunity to make repairs and corrections to our lawns. Most of the grass varieties planted in the northeast are ‘cool season’ grasses; making their best growth during cool weather. If your lawn is dry enough to walk on, begin the process of raking and de-thatching. If you’ve noticed that water ‘puddles up’ in certain areas, those places may have compacted soil. To aid in drainage, and boost good root development doing an aeration procedure will help correct these issues. If there are any bare spots in the lawn, April is a good time to reseed these areas. If you haven’t fertilized last fall, applying a fertilizer to the lawn now will promote strong new growth.
Prepare your compost pile so you can use that wonderful ‘black gold’! If it is dry and not frozen you can begin digging and screening the fresh compost; ready for spreading on your garden beds, tree rings, etc. Compost is also useful as garden mulch. I use the two pile method; Each season I’m adding to one, while the other is ‘cooking’; this way I’ve got available compost when I need it.
I just received my Seresto flea and tick collar for my hound dog, Cooper. He used to get ticks in odd places; his eyebrows, or under his ears or armpits. The collar really works to prevent ticks from attaching to him. Ticks will become active at temperatures above 39’F. They are most active between April and October; peaking June through August. Take precautions when working or playing outdoors; utilize long-sleeves, long pants, and insect repellent. Modify your landscape to minimize areas where the tick hosts will live, and where ticks can propagate. We offer several types of tick control products, designed to kill ticks and control their hosts. Please contact Scott Higley for more information. firstname.lastname@example.org
‘April showers bring May flowers’…Before spring rainy season, check gutter downspouts and drains to be sure they are clear of leaves and debris. If you wish to conserve water and utilize your rain-water runoff, consider installing a rain capture system to minimize your dependence on well or municipal water for your utility water needs, or create an eco-friendly rain garden to absorb excess runoff.
We can help lighten your load; start your garden beds, prune your trees and shrubs, and clean up your yard. Please give our office a call. (413) 458-5586 or email: email@example.com
6 Ways to get your gardening muscles in shape this season:
Before you begin the digging, lifting and planting, make sure you’re ready for the work ahead. Think about the kinds of movement you may be doing, and pay attention to strengthening these body parts. Areas to be aware of are your core and back, your legs and quadriceps. Start by warming up a bit; doing some stretches, not unlike the preparation before a workout session or run.
- Before heading out to the garden wake up your muscles with a walk around the block. Stand tall, keep your shoulders back and relaxed. Focus on your core muscles as you walk, as these will help to support your back.
- Strengthen your core by doing some simple exercises: Sit in a straight backed chair, and try to stand up without using your arms. See how many reps you can perform in 30 seconds.
- Stretch out your major joints gently and slowly, taking slow and deep breaths as you do. Shoulder rolls can help ready you for the heavy lifting; roll each should back and slowly lower it down. Repeat regularly while you’re gardening to keep those shoulders loose and limber.
- Tight hamstrings can hinder all the bending we need to do. Stretch out these leg muscles by lying flat on your back, with a pillow supporting your head. Grab behind your thigh, pulling your extended leg towards you; keeping your knee as straight as possible. Feel the stretch? Hold for a count of 10, and keep breathing! Repeat on your other leg.
- Hands need attention too! Limber up those wrists by touching your fingers to the thumb for several reps. Performing ‘planks’, supporting yourself in the push-up position, is great for building strength in the wrists and hands. You can also do ‘wall push-ups’ to achieve some good wrist flexion too.
- Building good balance can help prevent falls. Start by standing on one foot, you can do this while just brushing your teeth, or washing dishes. Practice leaning down and standing back up, use a chair for balance, and work up to doing it without holding on for support.
Utilizing perennial groundcovers as living mulch can eliminate the need for yearly application of bark mulch or chips. The initial investment of time and money will pay off with years of beauty as the groundcover becomes established. Many varieties produce flowers, and also have nice fall coloration; offering much more interest than plain mulch. Additionally, the flowering varieties will attract and benefit multiple types of pollinators. There’s a lot to love about these groundcovers.
Epimedium is called ‘Barrenwort’ because it blooms before the leaves come out. The flowers remind me of helicopter wings and come in shades of pink, purple, yellow or white. It’s a vigorous, deer resistant, plant suitable for dry shade. Grows 10-20” tall depending on the species.
Lamium galeobdolon or ‘Yellow Archangel’, the cultivar ‘Hermann’s Pride’ has silver and green metallic-like leaves that get more intensely colored in the shade. The butter-yellow tubular flowers are held on 12” spikes during mid-summer. This plant is a very adaptable groundcover, and deer resistant.
Lamium galeobdolon in flower
Phlox subulata or ‘moss phlox’, also called creeping phlox; blooms in May. Sometimes covering whole slopes; it can form a very dense carpet. Moss Phlox likes sandy, well-drained soil, is tolerant of low fertility, and wants full sun. Shades of blue, pink purple and white, and bicolor. Moss phlox grows to 6”, and is deer resistant.
Tiarella cordifolia is the ‘Allegheny foamflower’, a hardy native to our moist woodlands. The white or pink flowers look like frothy stars held up above the foliage on slender spikes. Tiarella blooms for 6 weeks through mid to late spring. Grows 12-15” tall, very deer resistant.
Sedums, also known as creeping sedum orstonecrops; are among the most versatile, drought-tolerant, and easy-to-grow perennials. Sedums will thrive in hot and dry locations, and actually prefer poor sandy soil. Once established they will require no supplemental watering. Grows 6-12” tall depending on the variety, and prefers a sunny and dry location.
Yellow-flowered Sedum variety