Tomato Takes Root in Fall

Here’s something cool. One of my tomato plants sprouted roots all along its stem. I discovered this Saturday while pulling the tomato up. It was a Beam’s yellow pear tomato plant I bought at the Farmers’ Market and planted late in the season. In July, we had a hail storm. The hail split the plant right down the middle at a point where the two main stems intersected. The stems were barely connected and I thought the tomato was a goner. I didn’t even bother to stake it. I just left it alone in hopes that one side would recover. Both sides continued to grow and produce fruit, and now I know why.

While surprising to uncover the mass of roots under the stems that rested on the ground, it does make sense. Many times people who have leggy tomato plants will plant them very deeply or even lay the leggy stem underground to encourage root growth. You can do this with other plants as well, although tomatoes are especially good at laying down roots. St. Paul gardener Philippe Galandat, who was featured in the November/December 2007 Northern Gardener, uses a method called layering to propagate shrubs. He pulls a branch down, nicks it slightly, then pins it under dirt with a clip. When the new plant roots, it can be separated from the parent plant. Galandat, a frequent garden lecturer and owner of Swiss Gardens, has propagated a hedge of black currant bushes using this method.

Garden Product Reviews: Gloves and a Weeder

One of the unexpected perks of blogging is that occasionally a company will send me a product to try out. I’ve received liquified worm poop fertilizer (highly recommended) and a bunch of books on gardening and design.

About 6 weeks ago, the folks at Ethel Gloves™ sent me a pair of their Jubilee gloves. Ethel gloves are like cashmere sweaters–pricey, but wow! The palms are covered with synthetic leather and the backs of the gloves are a stretchy, but breathable fabric. They fit snug, but not too snug, and the elastic around the wrist keeps dirt out. Mine got fairly dirty after a few weeks of use, so I threw them in the washing machine and the dryer, and they came out looking fine. They are also rather cute. They cost $18 a pair retail–which is a lot for garden gloves–but if you are the kind of person who does not lose their gloves and you work in the garden a lot, Ethels may be a good bet.

The second product I want to let people know about is the CobraHeadĀ® Weeder and Cultivator. This was not a freebie. I bought one of these from a vendor at the Midwest Master Gardener Conference in July. It’s advertised as an all-purpose garden tool and I’ve used it to dig holes for transplants and to loosen soil, but its best use is in pulling weeds. The cobrahead is basically a sharp hook with a handle. On small weeds, a couple of quick passes with the cobrahead unearths the weed. On bigger weeds, you slide the hook under the crown of the root, making it much easier to remove the entire root. Yesterday, I pulled a bunch of weeds from my front garden in about 5 minutes with the Cobrahead. The short-handled version I have is $24.95 online. There is a long-handled version for a bit more.

Taking Better Garden Photos

Many gardeners like to take pictures of their gardens, partly to keep records of how things look and partly out of the parent-like pride people rightly feel about their gardens. Getting good garden shots is not easy–as I have certainly discovered while keeping this blog. Some photos look washed out, some too bright, sometimes the main subject looks great, but there is that annoying branch or house in the background.

Donna Krischan, a professional garden photographer from Big Bend, Wis., offered tips to gardeners at the Midwest Regional Master Gardener Conference last week. Donna is a regular contributor to Northern Gardener, and one of my go-to photogs that I contact when we need specific images. There isn’t room here to go through all of her suggestions. If you want to go deeper into photography, Donna occasionally teaches courses on the topic. The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum also offers periodic garden photography courses, usually taught by Two Harbors-based John Gregor. Here are my top three tips from Donna:

  • Move in close. Simpler images have more power and nothing is more simple or powerful than the amazing forms and colors of flowers. Think Georgia O’Keeffe.
  • Focus on the stamens. Where do you focus when you take shots of people? Most people focus on the eyes. Stamens are the eyes of the flower. If you can get those in focus, your subject will look its best.
  • When shooting in sun, force the flash to fire. Bright sun is tough to shoot in, and for that reason, I try to take my garden shots at sunset or early evening. (Many photographers swear that dawn is the best time to shoot, but I’m not that much of a morning person.) If you must shoot in bright sun, force your camera’s flash to fire. This will light your main subject and give more details to your shots

I was so excited after Donna’s talk that I returned to Boerner Botanical Gardens, which we’d toured the previous day, to try out some of her techniques. The photos above are from that shoot, and I think they turned out pretty good. Thanks, Donna!

[Photos from top left, a bee foraging (appropriately) on bee balm (Monarda); my Georgia O’Keeffe impression with a Memorial Day™ rose; and Charmaine daylily, which I used to practice focusing on the stamens, which is tougher than you’d imagine.]

Don’t Put Holiday Lights on Your Trees

img_0477.jpgThe activity level in my neighborhood was high this past weekend as everyone put up their holiday decorations. We take a subtle approach–which in my youngest daughter’s opinion is just plain boring. My husband hung our lighted Christmas wreath and wrapped lights around a metal sculpture in our front bed, which looks like a tree when lit up. I circled a pillar at the front door with pine garland and put some boughs in a decorative pot. In a moment of inspiration, we also added lights to the pergola.

We don’t put lights on outdoor trees–mostly because it’s a lot of work–but I found out recently that our laziness is good for the trees, too. In a recent column in Northern Gardener, Stefan Fediuk and Jim Kohut, who oversee the huge Canadian gardening web site, northscaping.com argue that the heat from light bulbs, followed by rapid cooling when the bulbs are turned off, promotes breakage and other damage to evergreens. The danger is greatest with young trees because evergreens grow fastest when they are young.

img_0479.jpgThey recommend lighting the house instead of trees. If you want to light trees, they suggest you pick a large, more mature specimen and use the new low-wattage LED lights. My next-door neighbors put lights on their trees, and these large evergreens are very healthy. (I couldn’t resist taking a picture because we had such a pretty sunset this evening.) However, my neighbors light the trees only during the holiday season, which is another way to minimize damage.

The Smother Method

Apologies for the tiny images from 2007, but the info here is good!

The smother method of starting a new garden is simple in theory. Layout your bed, mark it with flour or a landscape spray paint, mow inside the bed to the shortest height on your mower, then spread several sheets of wet newspaper on top of the area you want to kill, cover it with black landscape fabric, weight it down, then go inside, have a beer, and wait several months. As is often the case with garden projects when I undertake them, this wasn’t quite as easy as it should have been.

First, due to important family obligations, I needed to do the project on the one day of the weekend that was windy, coldĀ  and otherwise misearble. . Second, I failed to follow my dear, departed father’s cardinal rule of projects: make sure you have everything you need before you start. Consequently, not only did I need to make a run to the local home improvement store to get a pile of cheap bricks and an extra roll of landscape fabric, I also had to ask several neighbors if they had extra newspapers. (Thanks Paulette, Karen, and Dave and Wendy!)

watering-bed.jpgIt took two or three times longer than expected–not to mention about five pairs of garden gloves–but I did finally get the bed covered. I added the extra step of throwing some composted manure on the area, just to give it a head start on nutrients. I also discovered the most important ingredient in the process is water–lots of water. You water the grass after it’s cut, water the newspapers before you lay them down, water it all when you are done, and I’ve watered it once since Saturday because it looked dry already.

front-bed-finished.jpg

For aesthetic reasons, I plan to cover the bed with a mulch of reed canary grass, which is like hay but has fewer weed seeds. That last step will have to wait until the wind stops blowing. After that, I’m hoping for a nice snowy winter and an early spring.