Fascinating Foliage

I don’t know about you, but when it’s cold out, I tend to pull in on myself—shoulders go up, chin comes down—it’s as if I’m trying to make myself smaller in order to  stay warmer. I thought of that recently as I’ve been observing the fascinating foliage on the P.J.M. rhododendron near my front door.

As the season changes, the rhododendron has been telling me how cold it is outside each morning. On chilly days — say in the teens or 20s — the leaves of the rhododendron are turned down and rolled in, sort of like a tube. If the weather is warmer—high 30s or 40s—the foliage is in its usual flat shape.

It was 18 degrees the morning I took this picture.

Rhododendrons are broad-leaf evergreens. Unlike deciduous shrubs, they do not lose their leaves over the winter. The buds for next year’s flowers and the leaves hold on through most of the winter. According to the University of Minnesota, the curling action is a way to hold onto water during the dry, cold parts of the year.  Sometimes curling is caused by disease, but that often happens during the growing season and this rhodie looked fine all summer long.

Rhododendron at 25 degrees

We’ve had a wet fall and this is a long-established shrub, so I don’t think it is struggling for water either. It’s perhaps just upset about the suddenly cold weather we’ve had! Are the leaves on your rhododendrons curling too?

Rhododendron at 40 degrees

Earliest Ever First Bloom

Iris reticulataSunday (March 13) I noticed this little Iris reticulata blooming in my front garden. This plant is often the first one to bloom in my Minnesota garden, and 2016 is the earliest ever for it to bloom.

In 2012, a notably warm spring, the plant bloomed on March 15. However, in many years, it is well into April before it blooms. Here are the bloom dates I have noted in the blog in the past:

2009 — April 16
2010 — March 25
2011 — April 4
2012 — March 15
2013 —  April 22
2014 — after April 20 (no exact date noted)
2015 — last year I dropped the ball and did not note when the iris bloomed.

As you can see, there has been almost six weeks in variation when the iris blooms. I’m actually hoping we get some cooler weather over the next couple of weeks—spring needs to slow down. One thing I remember from 2012 is that the fruit trees bloomed early. Later there was a freeze, causing devastation for apple growers around the state.

Is anything blooming in your garden yet?

 

 

 

The Garden in Spring

While mowing the yard the other night, the vibrant green of the lawn and all the plants in the garden beds seemed to radiate growth. We’ve gotten about 2 inches of rain over the last week or so, and the plants have responded with enthusiastic growth.

Borage has dainty blossoms on a monster plant.
Borage has dainty blossoms on a monster plant.

The borage I planted next to my vegetable garden last year shot up about a foot overnight, going from a pleasant, if nondescript, mound of green to a monster herb in full bloom. I’m glad it’s happy in its place.

Tree peony blooms are brief but beautiful.
Tree peony blooms are brief but beautiful.

Nearby, the Jacob’s ladder has been covered with purple-blue blooms for almost three weeks now. Its variegated foliage perfectly compliments the Garden Glow spireas in front of it. The tree peony nearby finished its flush of bloom shortly after the rain this week. That is the nature of peonies, a splash of rain and they melt. But before that happened more than 20 big, fluffy deep pink/red blooms with yellow centers covered the plant. The bees were very happy.

A little out of control, but great food for hummingbirds and bees.
A little out of control, but great food for hummingbirds and bees.

Up front, the weigelas have more blooms than I’ve seen before, pink trumpets covering the plants. The chives, as always, bloom prettily this time of year and I will be needing to thin them shortly. For now, I let them run wild. Hummingbirds have been visiting them the past few days. One of them buzzed my head the other night — I think I was between the bird and its meal.

My new bigroot geraniums are living up to their reputation of being super hardy. The bright pink flowers were a surprise for me — I bought them mostly as a foliage groundcover.

Finally, the baptisia, which for reasons I can’t figure out are more contained than usual, are just beginning to open up. This is another favorite plant of the bumblebees.

Spring has definitely sprung in my garden. How about yours?

 

A Sea of Poinsettias

It was a great Thanksgiving weekend, with visits from family, Black Friday shopping with my daughter and her friend and lots of food, including a pie made with cranberries and the last of my homegrown cherries. It was topped off with a visit to the Bachman’s greenhouses in Lakeville Sunday afternoon, courtesy of my friend Gwen and her husband, John, who works there.

 

My camera fogged up a bit when we first got to the greenhouses. They felt so warm, compared to the cold outside.
My camera fogged up a bit when we first got to the greenhouses. They felt so warm, compared to the cold outside.

Bachman’s grows about 65,000 poinsettias each year. Many are sold at the Bachman’s stores and the rest are grown for organizations that sell them as holiday fundraisers. The greenhouses (I think we were in three different ones during our walk through) are enormous and two weeks ago, they were completely full, John said. Now, many of the poinsettias have been shipped, but the ones remaining look like a sea of red, pink and white.

These tall poinsettias were striking at about 4 feet tall.
These tall poinsettias were striking at about 4 feet tall.

Poinsettias are native to Mexico and the English name came from the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett. In Mexico, the plant will grow to 10 to 15 feet tall. (Bachman’s grows some poinsettias taller than the usual 1-foot or so size and they are stunning.) The Aztecs used poinsettia leaves as a dye and used the sap to reduce fevers. While poinsettias are not poisonous to humans, they can cause vomiting and other stomach upsets in animals. (They also taste terrible, according to this great poinsettia website.) A member of the spurge family, poinsettias have the botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima. The brightly colored tops of the poinsettias are not actually flowers. They are brachts (modified leaves) and the tiny yellow bits inside the brachts are the flowers.

These small poinsettias would be attractive in the office.
These small poinsettias would be attractive in the office.

With the right situation, poinsettias can survive the winter. Here are some tips for keeping your holiday poinsettia healthy.

  • Try to give it 6 hours of indirect sunlight a day. (That may be tricky in Minnesota in December, but choose the poinsettia’s spot with light in mind.) Many sites recommend a south, east or west window, but the plant should not touch the cold glass.
  • Check the soil in the pot daily and give it a good drink whenever it feels dry to the touch. You should make sure the pot has a drainage hole (poke some holes in the foil wrapping, too). When you water, give the plant enough that the water runs out the hole in the bottom. If the plant is on a plate to catch the drips, be sure to empty the water so the plant’s roots don’t get too soggy.
  • If you want to keep your poinsettia as a houseplant, give it a dose of all-purpose houseplant food after the blooming season and once a month through winter.

Will you be getting a poinsettia this holiday season?

flower closeup
The yellow bits in the center are the flowers of the poinsettia.
These pinkish white poinsettias would be a showy addition to your holiday decor.
These pinkish white poinsettias would be a showy addition to your holiday decor.
And more poinsettias
And more poisettias

 

Signs of Spring

Siberian squill ready to bloom
Siberian squill ready to bloom

Sunday’s gorgeous weather had me outside at last, flinging caution to the wind and raking a few spots in the lawn, cleaning out some of the beds I can reach from the sidewalk and looking for signs of life.

The Siberian squill, which have long been one of the plants I measure spring by, are just one day away from blooming and the miniature cabbage heads of sedum can be spotted under the leaf-mulch. I’ve been looking for them, but there’s no sign yet of the Iris reticulata that is usually the first plant blooming in my yard. Perhaps it is a victim of the long winter. It may still appear yet. Last year, it was April 22 when I first spotted them. They’ve bloomed as early as March 25 in the past.

With the forecast calling for decent temperatures and occasional rain this week, we could see a burst of bloom by next weekend. Here’s hoping!

 

Opening Weekend for Gardeners

pansy
For instant spring, plant some pansies. Garden centers are full of them now.

Imagine if the hunter or fisherperson in your household was told that the opening weekend had been moved back two, maybe three weeks? Anxiety? Disappointment? Lots of pent-up energy? Yes, to all that, as we gardeners well know having endured one of the most protracted ends to winter that I can recall. But, this weekend is it! The weather promises to be pleasant and warm. So, here’s what I plan to do:

  • Clean up the gardens you can reach easily. You don’t want to be tramping around the yard too much (something I’ve been guilty of already this year). And you absolutely do not want to rake — let the soil firm up and dry out. But, if you can reach a bed from the sidewalk or other terra firma, clean up spent perennials and uncover any of those plants that want to grow.
  • Buy some pansies! If you think you have been anxious to get out in the garden, imagine how nursery and garden center owners feel. Many garden centers will be open for the first time this weekend. Visit them, enjoy the beautiful plants they have in their greenhouses and buy some pansies to pot up for instant spring.
  • Plant a little lettuce. I’ve started some lettuce indoors and those plants have been moved to pots and put on the front porch. But it should be warm enough now to  plant out lettuce or even start some from seed. Hold off on tomatoes or any warm weather crops.
  • Prune Annabelle hydrangeas and other plants that bloom on new growth. Hold off on pruning lilacs and other spring-flowering shrubs until after they bloom.
  • Build a raised bed. Easiest garden project ever. I’ve built several and have a new one in the garage ready to go out to the vegetable area in the next week or so. (If you want to get really fancy, check out my brother-in-law’s deck garden.) You can fill your bed with compost and soil to create a fabulous environment for vegetables. If you are not sure what to grow, check out Chiot’s Run’s 5-by-5 Challenge, which gives you suggestions and planting tips to grow a simple 5-by-5 foot vegetable garden.

What will you be doing this beautiful weekend?

 

Our Fast-Forward Fall

fall 1

How fast has fall come on this year? Check out the three photos below, each taken about one day apart last week. I took the first one because it seemed the ash tree out my kitchen window had gone from green to gold overnight. Then the wind started blowing and the temperatures dropped and, in a little more than 48 hours, nearly all the leaves fell from the tree.

fall 1
Wednesday, Oct. 3, approximately 7 a.m.

 

fall 2
Thursday, Oct. 4, approximately 8 a.m.

 

fall 3
Sunsets on summer, Friday, Oct. 5, approximately 7:30 p.m.