Tuesday, April 27, 2010

This Weeks Gardening Article

Growing and Caring for
Rhododendrons and Azaleas 

by Michael J. McGroarty 
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Azaleas can be either evergreen or deciduous. Deciduous Azaleas are known as Mollis or Exbury Azaleas. They bloom in the early spring with vivid orange and yellow colors. They can be grown from seed if the seeds are collected in the fall and sown on top of moist peat at about 70 degrees F. 
Evergreen Azaleas are known as broadleaf evergreens because they are do not have needles. They bloom later in the spring, and are usually propagated in the fall over bottom heat, discussed in detail at http://www.freeplants.com Rhododendrons are also broadleaf evergreens and are also propagated over bottom heat in early winter. 
The best time to prune Rhododendrons and Azaleas is in the spring right after they bloom. These plants start setting next year's flower buds over the summer, so late pruning will cost you some blooms next year, so get them pruned as soon as they finish blooming. It’s also a good idea to pick off the spent blooms so the plants don’t expel a lot of energy making seeds, unless of course you’d like to grow them from seed. But keep in mind that they don’t come true from seed. 
Seeds from a red Rhododendron are likely to flower pale lavender. Cuttings ensure a duplicate of the parent plant. 
How do you prune Rhododendrons and what does pinching a Rhododendron mean? These are frequently asked questions. 
Pinching is a low impact form of pruning that is very effective for creating nice, tight full plants when you are growing small plants from seeds or cuttings. Typically a Rhododendron forms a single new bud at the tip of each branch. This new bud will develop into another new branch, another bud will form and the process will continue. If left alone this will produce a very lanky plant with a lot of space between the branches forming a very unattractive plant. 
So if you are starting with a plant that is nothing more than a rooted cutting all you have to do is pinch off this new growth bud as soon as it is about 3/8” long. Just grab it between your fingers and snap it completely off. When you do this the plant usually responds by replacing that single bud with two, three, or even four new buds in a cluster around the bud that you pinched off. Each one of these buds will develop into branches and eventually a single bud will appear at the tip of each of these branches, and of course you should come along and pinch each one of those off, forcing the plant to produce multiple buds at the end of each of these branches. 
The more often you pinch off these single buds, the more branches the plant will form, making a nice, tight, full plant. This is especially helpful with young plants such as rooted cuttings or young seedlings. 
But what about larger plants, how do I prune them? I prune mine with hedge shears!!! I just have at it and trim them like I would a Taxus or a Juniper, and guess what? The result is a very tight compact plant loaded with beautiful flowers. My Rhododendrons are so tightly branched that you can not see through them, and that is the result of vigorous pruning with hedge shears. Sure you can use hand shears, and you’ll have a nicer plant because of it, but I just use the hedge shears because that’s the tool that I happen to have in my hand as I am going by. 
Keeping Rhododendrons and Azaleas healthy and happy is a simple as understanding what they like. First of all they like to grow in a climate that suites their tastes. Many varieties of both don’t like it in the north, and to prove the point they will up and die as soon as extreme cold weather hits. Buy plants that are known to be hardy in your area. 
Here in zone 5 (northern Ohio) the following Azaleas seem to do well. Hino Crimson (red), Stewartstonia (red), Herbert (lavender), Cascade (white), Delaware Valley (white), and Rosebud (pink). Hardy Rhododendrons include Roseum Elegans (pinkish lavender), English Roseum (pinkish lavender), Nova Zembla (red), Lee’s Dark Purple, Chinoides (white), and Cunningham’s (white). 
How should you fertilize Rhododendrons and Azaleas? These broadleaf evergreens are laid back and like to take it slow and easy. Do not fertilize them with quick release nitrogen fertilizers, it could kill them. Instead give them an organic snack, like Millorganite or well rotted cow manure or compost. Millorganite is an organic fertilizer made of granulated sewage sludge. 
No it doesn’t smell any worse than other fertilizers, and plants like it because it is plant and soil friendly. It won’t burn the plants, and it actually reactivates the micro-organisms in the soil. That’s a good thing. Most full service garden centers carry Millorganite. 
A long time ago somebody let the word out that Rhododendrons are acid loving plants, and people are always asking me if I think their struggling Rhododendron needs more acid. The answer is no. Your struggling Rhododendron probably needs a great big gulp of oxygen around its root system. 
Rhododendrons do not like wet feet. They don’t even like high humidity let alone wet soil around their roots. They like to be high and dry, and like an unobstructed flow of oxygen to their roots. You can accomplish this by planting them in a bed raised at least 10” with good rich topsoil. They will be smiling from branch to branch. 
A few years back my friend Larry and I had several hundred small Rhododendrons that we were going to grow on to larger plants. We planted most of them in Larry’s backyard which is fairly good soil, but a little sticky. We didn’t have room for all of them so we planted the last 105 down the road from my house in a field we were renting. (Never heard of anybody renting a field? You should get out more.) 
This location had absolutely no water for irrigating and the soil was very dry and rocky. Other plants at that location often struggled during the dog days of summer due to the lack of water, but those Rhododendrons were as happy as pigs in mud. They outgrew the ones at Larry’s house by twice the rate and we sold them years earlier than the others. 
My point? Rhododendrons don’t like wet feet. They do well in the shade, but contrary to popular belief they do even better in full sunlight.
Michael J. McGroarty is the author of this article. Visit his most interesting website, http://www.freeplants.com and sign up for his excellent gardening newsletter.  Article provided by  http://gardening-articles.com. If you use this article the above two links must be active.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Free Gardening Articles

Composting the Easy Way

by Michael J. McGroarty

Having an ample supply of good rich compost is the gardeners' dream.

It has many uses, and all of those uses will result in nicer plants. However, composting can be time consuming and hard work. I place a reasonable value on my time, so spending hours and hours turning compost piles doesn’t qualify as a worthwhile exercise, at least in my book. Nonetheless, I do compost, but I do so on my terms.

I built two composting bins. Each bin is five feet wide, five feet deep, and four feet high. I built the bins by sinking 4” by 4” posts in the ground for the corners, and then nailed 2 by 4’s and 1 by 4’s, alternating on the sides.

I left 2” gaps between the boards for air circulation. The 2 by 4’s are rigid enough to keep the sides from bowing out, and in between each 2 by 4 I used 1 by 4’s to save a little money. The bins are only 3 sided, I left the front of the bins open so they can be filled and emptied easily. Photos of my compost bins are on this page: http://www.freeplants.com\composting.htm

I started by filling just one of the bins. I put grass clippings, dried leaves, and shrub clippings in the bins. I try not to put more than 6” of each material on a layer. You don’t want 24” of grass clippings in the bin, you should alternate layers of green and brown material. If necessary, keep a few bags of dry leaves around so you can alternate layers of brown waste and green waste.

When we root cuttings we use coarse sand in the flats, so when it’s time to pull the rooted cuttings out of the flats, the old sand goes on the compost pile. In our little backyard nursery we also have some plants in containers that do not survive. Rather than pulling the dead plant and the weeds out of the container, and then dumping the potting soil back on the soil pile, we just dump the whole container in the compost bin. This adds more brown material to the mix, and is a lot easier than separating the soil and the weeds.

Once the bin is full, the rules of composting say that you should turn the material in the bin every few weeks. There is no way that I have time to do that, so this is what I do. I pack as much material in the bin as I can, before I start filling the second bin. I pile the material as high as I possibly can, and even let it spill out in front of the bin. Then I cover all the fresh material with mulch or potting soil, whatever brown material I can find.

Then when I’m out working in the garden I set a small sprinkler on top of the pile and turn it on very low, so a small spray of water runs on the material. Since I have a good water well, this doesn’t cost me anything, so I let it run for at least two hours as often as I can. This keeps the material damp, and the moisture will cause the pile to heat up, which is what makes the composting action take place.

Once I have the first bin completely full, I start using the second bin. As the material in the first bin starts to break down, it will settle, and the bin is no longer heaped up, so I just keep shoveling the material that I piled in front of the bin, up on top of the pile, until all the material is either in the bin or piled on top of the heap. Then I just leave it alone, except to water it once in a while. The watering isn’t necessary, it just speeds the process.

Because I don’t turn the pile, I can’t expect all of the material to rot completely. The material in the center is going to break down more than the material on the edges, but most of it does break down quite well. The next step works great for me because I’ve got a small nursery, so I keep a pile of potting soil on hand at all times. But you can really do the same thing by just buying two or three yards of shredded mulch to get started, and piling it up near your compost bins. If you do this, you will always have a supply of good compost to work with.

Shredded bark, left in a pile will eventually break down and become great compost. The potting soil that I use is about 80% rotted bark. I make potting soil by purchasing fine textured, and dark hardwood bark mulch, and I just put it in a pile and let it rot. The secret is to keep the pile low and flat, so that it does not shed the rain water away. You want the mulch to stay as wet as possible, this will cause it to break down fairly quickly.

So I keep a pile of rotted bark mulch near my compost bins. When both bins are completely full, I empty the bin containing the oldest material by piling it on top of my rotted bark mulch. I make sure the pile of rotted mulch is wide and

flat on top so that when I put the material from the compost bin on top of the pile, the compost material is only 5 to 10 inches thick.

My mulch pile might be 12’ wide, but it may only be 24 to 30 inches high. Once I have all the compost on top of the pile, then I go around the edge of the pile with a shovel, and take some of the material from the edges of the pile and toss it up on top of the pile, covering the compost with at least 6” of rotted bark. This will cause the compost material to decompose the rest of the way.

Once you get this system started, you never want to use all of the material in the pile. Always keep at least 2 to 3 cubic yards on hand so you’ve got something to mix with your compost. If you use a lot of compost material like I do, then you should buy more material and add to your pile in the late summer or fall, once you are done using it for the season.

Around here many of the supply companies sell a compost material that is already broken down quite well. This is what I buy to add to my stock pile. But I try to make sure that I have at least 3 yards of old material on hand, then I’ll add another 3 yards of fresh material to that. Then in the spring I’ll empty one of the compost bins and add the compost to the top of the pile.

The pile of usable compost will be layers of material, some more composted than others. Kind of like a sandwich. So what I do is chip off a section of the pile from the edge, spread it out on the ground so it’s only about 8” deep, then

run over it with my small rototiller. This mixes it together perfectly, and I shovel it onto the potting bench.

Having a pile of rotted compost near your compost bins is great because if you have a lot of leaves or grass clippings, you can throw some rotted compost in the bin in order to maintain that layered effect that is necessary in order for the composting process to work well.

Sure this process is a little work, but it sure is nice to have a place to get rid of organic waste any time I like. Then down the road when I have beautiful compost to add to my potting soil, I am grateful to have done the right thing

earlier, and I know that I have wasted nothing.

Michael J. McGroarty is the author of this article. Visit his most interesting website, http://www.freeplants.com/ and sign up for his excellent gardening newsletter. Article provided by http://gardening-articles.com./ .

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Poor Girls Nursery questionnaire

1. Where do you live... Just the state and your zone...

2. When do you start planting your flower garden...

3. What grows best in your area.. Type of flowers, shrubs, ornamental grasses, trees, succulents,

4. Do you have a heavily  landscaped yard, or just a few beds of flowers.

If it would be easier to answer this in word pad, just copy and paste the questions into word pad, answer your questions, copy and paste them back into the comment box... 

Please leave your answers as a comment.  

We  appreciate this very much...

Monday, April 5, 2010

Getting this blog up and running

My sister cindy and i are on a mission. We are going to start a nursery.. We will have many great plants to offer and at a great price too. Just takes a while to get it all going. Our Maiden names are POOR.. So we are calling our nursery 'Poor Girls Nursery"   Yes it is a catchy little name.. Please keep your eye open for our great deals on your favorite plants.

We are planning on starting our own plants by rooting them from cuttings of plants we already have.  There will be all different kinds from dogwood trees to japanese red maples.  There are so many different kinds to chose from.  This is a venture I have been wanting to do for some time now and my sister to.  If anyone has a preference of plants that they like ask us and we will see what we can get for you.  It will probably be at least a year before we have our nursery up and running but it will be fun along the way.