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Archives for November 1, 2014

Gardening myths and tips for success

One of the most common statements I hear from people is that they cannot grow anything under a spruce or pine tree because the ground is too acidic and it burns everything. This is a big myth. The fact is that evergreens have the majority of their root systems within the top 2 feet of soil. These roots are fibrous and dense, using up most of the soil’s moisture. Secondly, the tree’s canopy is also dense allowing very little light to penetrate through to assist in plant growth. Lastly, in our alkaline soils, it is nearly impossible to create an acid base so strong as to inhibit plant growth. If you want to try growing something under a spruce or pine tree canopy, try planting a shade and drought tolerant plant and see how they progress. (Lamium species are the perfect example.)

The most common question I have heard so far this year is, “How do I know when a melon is ripe in the garden?” Well, this is a more complicated question, as most melons ripen at a different rate and have different signs of maturity. Most articles you read will teach you about the “thump test” where you thump the rind to listen for that hollow thud or that solid sound. As easy as this may sound, everybody has a different sense of sound and what that means to them. One of the sure signs of maturity is the demise of the curly tendril at the base of the stem. This tendril is located right at the point where the stem of the melon joins the vine. When this tendril begins to shrivel and dry on a healthy vine, it is the main indicator that a melon is ripe. This mainly is true for watermelons, musk melon, cantaloupe and honeydew melon. Some other helpful signs of maturity are that the musk melon, honeydew melon and cantaloupe will emit a sweet scent from the rind when they are ripe. The watermelon develops a dull sheen to its rind indicating it is ripe. Honeydew melon rinds are often lightly hairy until maturity when the rind becomes smooth and shiny.

Often I hear people say things such as their chrysanthemums and iris are not hardy for the area, as they rarely come up the following season. There is fact to part of that statement if varieties are planted that are outside of our zone standards. However, if the varieties are said to be hardy for the area, the most likely culprit to them not returning the following year is that they are planted in a location that is too wet and their roots are rotting during the spring season. Try planting these hardy varieties in soils that are more sandy with better drainage and they will tend to come back reliably year after year.

Another common question I hear is, “When is the best time to divide perennials?” I always answer, “When you have the time!” But seriously, it is best to either divide in the spring or fall season. Perennials will indicate to you when it is time to divide in many ways. The most common is when they begin to die out in the center of the plant and only the edges seem healthy and vigorous. Another cue is when the plant no longer blooms much during the season. Dividing most perennials in the spring or fall will result in some blooms the following year and many again in the second season.

When is the best time to plant trees and shrubs? Usually planting them when they are dormant or going into dormancy is the best time. During the spring season, purchase bareroot stock that has not budded yet and plant it as soon as the ground thaws. These will take off quickly and grow without any transplant shock that you may get from container-grown stock. In the fall season, it is best to have evergreens planted by Sept. 15 so their roots can establish and absorb as much moisture as possible before the winter season. For deciduous trees, the rule of thumb is to plant them by Oct. 15 to ensure good root structure before the ground freezes up.

Of course, weather questions come up time and time again. “Will a late frost hurt my spring blooms?” Rarely will this occur as spring blooms close up at night and remain tight during the cold temperatures and the petals tend to be thicker than annuals. “What happens if the trees bud out in the spring and then we have a killing frost? Will my tree die?” The answer to that question is no. Trees and shrubs have secondary buds that will sprout in the event this should happen to prevent serious injury to the plant. If this happens repeatedly, this could cause stress on the tree and make them more susceptible to other problems, but a season that severe has yet to occur. One downfall to a late killing frost would be the demise of fruiting bodies if the tree or shrub happens to be in the flowering stage at the time.

Of course there is always the perennial question of “What kind of winter are we going to have?” Well, that answer to that is cold, windy and snowy! That is always a given in our area, yet subjective in many ways. The weather is a prediction in all cases with not much accuracy outside of 24 to 48 hours, so I tend to think of it as a crapshoot. However, there are plenty of stories about the pig’s spleen and its reliability of the winter’s severity. There is also the woolly caterpillar with the thick coat in fall that would indicate a cold winter or a thin coat that would indicate a warmer winter. I like to take a little reliability with the beaver’s activity along the river. Animals seem to have a keen sense of what is in the future when it comes to the weather. Last year the beavers were voracious in their appetite for food and began cutting down trees in August and continued until the first heavy snow. We ended up having a long and cold winter. Maybe they knew they needed an abundance of food to make it through a long winter. This year there is virtually no beaver activity along the river. I am thinking we will have a shorter, milder winter based on that observation. We will know for sure in about six months … so stay tuned!

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Gardening Tips: Time to bring in tender plants

Matthew Stevens

Matthew Stevens

Posted: Friday, October 31, 2014 12:25 pm

Gardening Tips: Time to bring in tender plants

By Matthew Stevens

The Daily Herald, Roanoke Rapids, NC


Cold nights are coming! As I’m writing, it’s predicted the temperatures are going to dip into the 30s on Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights, making it highly likely we’ll have our first widespread frost of the year. Take some time to bring in any houseplants that are still outdoors and protect any tender plants you want to try to squeeze a few more weeks of enjoyment out of. Inspect houseplants before bringing them indoors, to make sure you’re not carrying along any undesirable pests with the plants themselves.

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Friday, October 31, 2014 12:25 pm.

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IF SWEEPING up leaves has left you downhearted, plant bulbs to remind …

It is all too easy to look upon autumn as the end of things in the garden, but in a strange sort of way it can just as easily be regarded as the beginning. Granted, the leaves are turning to gold or scarlet and tumbling from the trees, but although it may be the end of one growing season, it is also the start of another.

So when the sweeping up of leaves and the tidying of borders leaves you feeling downhearted, plant some bulbs to remind yourself that spring is not too far away and that the garden will once more leap into life at the start of a new year.

Daffodils, narcissi, crocuses, dwarf irises and the like are all readily available in nurseries and garden centres now, and since the soil is warm and – after the October rains – damp, it is in a perfect state to plant. 

Dry soil, such as that we experienced in September, makes bulb planting fiendishly difficult – especially in turf where desiccated soil can be irritatingly unyielding. 

But now it is much easier to lift it from the hole with a trowel or a bulb planter.

The most common mistake people make when planting bulbs is not putting them deep enough. 

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Learning to Grow: Garden queries – Tips, tricks to helping perennials survive …

Q: What should I leave until spring to provide food or protection for birds?
Everything! Everything you leave in your yard will be used as shelter or food, whether it’s berries or seeds. I planted some beautiful winter coral berries (Symphocarpis) to feed the birds and provide color against the white snow. But remember that you may be attracting unwanted guests. Even in downtown Batavia, I have deer coming to my yard to “trim” my bushes, and rodents love all of the shelter we leave in the yard.

• Jody Lay is an University of Illinois Extension master gardener for Kane County. Call the extension office at 630-584-6166 for more information.

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Fall and winter garden tips, tasks and events

Just because it’s the garden’s offseason, there’s no need to stay indoors. Fight cabin fever with this list of tasks, tips and garden-related events.

Also: It’s not too soon to turn attention to spring garden


• If the ground is not frozen, you can still plant cool-weather ornamentals early this month — colorful kale, ornamental cabbage, or pansies if you enjoy having flowers in the landscape in winter. Place transplants close together for best color impact, and firm the soil around them to keep freezing and thawing soil from pushing them out of the ground (a process called “heaving”). Add mulch for more winter protection.

• If your landscape is blessed with large trees, leaf removal may be your biggest garden task this month. Fall leaves are a great addition to the compost. Find information from Metro Public Works about yard waste disposal and backyard composting at

• Nov. 2: Daylight Saving Time ends: You have fewer hours to spend on outdoor garden tasks, but more time to spend indoors reading, planning and dreaming about next year’s garden. Set your clocks back one hour and enjoy the season.

• Nov. 8: Fall Colors Bike and Hike at Shelby Bottoms: A bike/hike outing from the Nature Center to Stones River Farm (7 miles from the Nature Center) to enjoy fall colors, led by naturalist John Michael Cassidy. 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Participants should be comfortable riding 15-plus miles. Registration required for this ages 12-and-older activity. 615-862-8539.

• Nov. 8: Beekeeping 101: Workshop and overview of hobby beekeeping and how to start your own hive, and a presentation on bee biology. 9 a.m.-noon at Warner Park Nature Center. Call to register for this adult-level workshop. 615-352-6299.

• Nov. 15: Great Gourds: Learn about this ancient, multipurpose vegetable. 2-3 p.m. at Shelby Bottoms Nature Center; registration required for this all-ages program. 615-862-8539.

• Nov. 18: The Perennial Plant Society meeting guest is Erica Glasener, host of HGTVs “A Gardener’s Diary.” Meetings are in Cheekwood’s Botanic Hall; refreshments and plant swap at 6:30 p.m., meeting begins at 7 p.m. and is open to the public.

• Nov. 22: ReLeafing Day with the Nashville Tree Foundation: Volunteer to plant trees in the Cleveland and McFerrin Park neighborhoods in East Nashville. Tree planting is 8:30 a.m.-noon. Meet at Glenn Elementary on Cleveland Street. To learn more or to volunteer, visit www.nashvilletree

• Nov. 28: Holiday at Cheekwood: This annual event opens with a full schedule of holiday-themed events, including workshops on live greenery design (Dec. 4) and wreath-making (Dec. 7), and a live poinsettia tree made up from more than 500 individual poinsettias. Holiday at Cheekwood runs through Dec. 31. The complete schedule is at


• Dec. 4: Organic Gardening at Warner Park Nature Center, 9-10:30 a.m. Naturalist Deb Beazley leads a session on how and when to begin planning, planting and growing an organic garden. Call 615-352-6299 to register.

• Dec. 5-7: Tennessee Local Food Summit: With “Barefoot Farmer” Jeff Poppen at Vanderbilt University, hosted by Vanderbilt’s Health Plus. Seminar topics range from backyard gardening to nutrition, cooking and climate change. Complete details at

• Dec. 6: Craft Fair and Poinsettia Sale at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville,1808 Woodmont Blvd., 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Ceramics, woodworking, handmade jewelry, ornaments, cards, soaps, candles, baked goods, and poinsettias in 4½ and 6½-inch pots for sale. Storytelling and cookie decorating for children 12:30-2 p.m. Child care is provided during that time. Learn more at

• Dec. 20: Winter Solstice at Warner Park Nature Center, 3:30-5:30 p.m. to watch the sun set on one of the shortest days of the year, enjoy a campfire and a luminary-lit walk through the woods. Call 615-352-6299 to register for this all-ages program.

• If you bought spring-flowering bulbs but haven’t put them in the ground, rest assured that it’s still not too late to plant them. Even planted this late, they’ll be better off in the ground than in the bags you brought them home in!

• December is a good month to plant shrubs. Dig a wide hole that is only as deep as the shrub’s root ball, place the shrub in the hole and fill in the soil. Be sure to firm the soil around the shrub’s root ball, water well and add several inches of mulch.


• Begin a garden journal for 2015. Jot down the successes and challenges you had in the past year and make notes on what you want to plant or change in the coming seasons.

• If you buy new houseplants, keep them covered on the trip from the store to the car, and the car to the house. Cold air could harm plants that are not accustomed to the chill. Inside, watch for mealybugs, aphids and scale on houseplants and outdoor plants that are wintering indoors. If you find evidence of these or other pests, take action right away.

• If landscape plants are uprooted by freezing and thawing soil, tuck the roots back into the soil and cover with a layer of mulch.

Meetings: The Nashville African Violet Club will meet at 2 p.m. Jan. 4 at Grace United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet. The Tennessee Gesneriad Society will meet at 2 p.m. at Cheekwood in Botanic Hall on Jan. 11. For information on both, call 615-364-8459.


• With outdoor gardening on hold, you can spend more time tending to your indoor plants. Trim dead foliage and flowers of houseplants and outdoor plants that are indoors for the winter. Clean the leaves, and repot plants as needed. And, of course, continue watering, remembering that houseplants need less water in winter.

• Do you enjoy the birds in your garden? The annual Great Backyard Bird Count helps the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society learn more about how birds are doing and how to protect them. The 2015 GBBC is Feb. 13-16. Anyone can participate by noticing and noting the birds in your yard for as little as 15 minutes or as long as you want during that time. Find the information at

• You’ve made it through another winter, and it’s time to begin thinking about spring. As soon as the soil can be worked, begin planting early-spring vegetables — lettuce, spinach, carrots, cabbage and other cool-season favorites. February is also a good month to prune crape myrtle and other summer-flowering shrubs.

Meetings: The Nashville African Violet Club will meet at 2 p.m. Feb. 1 at Grace United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet. The Tennessee Gesneriad Society will meet at 2 p.m. at Cheekwood in Botanic Hall on Feb. 8. For information on both, call 615-364-8459.

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Specialty gardening: Bonsai – The News

With cooler weather in Southwest Florida, outdoor events abound — fall festivals, pumpkin patches, weekend gatherings.

And for a touch of the exotic, there’s the ninth annual open house at Wigert’s Bonsai Nursery in North Fort Myers.

Owners Erik and Andrea Wigert display dozens of the artistic trees on their six-acre site, some more than 50 years old. They say theirs is one of the few nurseries in the nation and the only one in Florida that specializes only in bonsai, selling pots, accessories and trees all over the world.

The free event showcasing this ancient art will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Sunday at at 2930 South Road. It attracts hundreds of visitors from near and far and will feature more than 100 bonsai trees on display.

Among the guests will be bonsai master and author Min Hsuan Lo, who will conduct workshops and free demonstrations.

“Every year, we choose a different expert. We try to choose a big expert in the bonsai community. Last year we had a guy from South Africa; this year Min Lo is coming from Taiwan,” Andrea Wigert said. “He’ll be doing demonstrations and workshops where people will get a chance to work with him.”

Andrea and Erik, who is a bonsai artist, met Lo at a convention in Mexico. The plant material he works with on a regular basis in Taiwan is similar to that found in Southwest Florida, so it’s a good fit, Andrea said.

“He’s somebody in the community that people recognize,” she noted. “These masters, they’re all over the place. They travel all over the world teaching.”

The open house will also feature John Powell leading discussion of Japanese garden design for the third year. The expert from Texas studied Japanese garden design in Japan and will be designing a garden feature at Wigert’s as part of his visit and will speak today and Sunday about Japanese garden design.

Powell and Lo are among bonsai fans around the world who travel extensively for education and competition in their chosen hobby,

“My big question (to visitors) is, ‘Where are you from?’ We do see a lot of people from different states,” Andrea said. “Today, I had somebody from Pennsylvania.”

Last year’s open house drew about 500 visitors per day, she noted. Bonsai is a hobby that appeals to a broad range of enthusiasts.

“It’s very peaceful to work on them. It’s something a lot of people will do if they have a very stressful job,” Andrea said.

Bonsai artists strive to recreate what they see in nature. A spectacular tree seen on a memorable vacation can become part of your home with the right lessons in growing and designing the trees.

“We teach classes here all the time that people have to pay for. This is the one time of the year we offer something free back to our customers,” Andrea said.

“It’s a good weekend to get your feet wet or, if you’re into it, you’ll get to watch the artists.”


What: Wigert’s Bonsai Nursery ninth annual open house, which will feature bonsai demonstrations, hands-on workshops, more than 100 trees on display and raffles. There will also be plenty of demonstrations and workshops featuring Min Hsuan Lo of Taiwan. The bonsai demonstrations are free; inquire about workshops and cost. The open house will also feature discussion of Japanese garden design.

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Sunday

Where: 2930 South Road, North Fort Myers.

Cost/reservations: Admission to the open house is free but workshops range in cost.

Information: 543-2234 or


It’s existed for more than a thousand years, but the ancient Japanese art of bonsai has changed little since its beginnings as the Chinese practice of creating landscapes in containers

Bonsai, a Japanese word that means “tray planting,” can range in price from about $25 to several hundred dollars. They are full-sized trees, not hybrid dwarfs. They are grown in special soils in small, low-sided pots, carefully pruned and shaped regularly, personalized by the horticultural artist, and some live for hundreds of years.

• Moss, accent plants, containers and rocks serve important purposes in bonsai.

• Bonsai can be developed from seeds or cuttings, from young trees or from naturally occurring stunted trees.

• Most bonsai range in height from 2 inches to 3.33 feet (1 meter).



The Bonsai Society of Southwest Florida was founded in Fort Myers in 1973. The club meets the third Saturday of each month at 9 a.m. at 6281 Metro Plantation Road, Fort Myers.

According to its website,, the club is involved in various activities throughout the year. It holds an annual show, participates in two home and garden shows, enters the annual Strolling Flower Show, performs demonstrations for various groups around town, takes various field trips and hosts traveling speakers from Florida and beyond.

For more information, visit

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