Saturday, October 29, 2011

Today I Learned (TIL)

Today I learned how to clone plants. (cue evil mad scientist laugh)

It's true -- plant propagation from cuttings is a bit like cloning a plant. By taking a part of a plant and rooting it, I can create a completely new plant, genetically identical to the "parent." Pretty cool, huh?

Virtually any plant can be propagated from cuttings. In class, we practiced our newly learned propagation skills using cuttings from coleus, mums, salvia, rosemary, shrimp plant and jade plant.

When propagating plants from cuttings, it's important to use sharp, sterilized pruners to make clean cuts below leaf nodes and prevent transferring pathogens from plant to plant. Bleach or rubbing alcohol can be used as a sterilizing agent. The right type of soil-free, fertilizer-free rooting media or "potting mix" is important, too; "Sunshine Mix" is one popular variety, but every gardener has a favorite blend. Another key to success is just the right amount of moisture: not so wet that the cuttings rot, but not so dry that the cutting can't generate roots. Indirect bright light is best for rooting cuttings. Woody plants benefit from a bit of scraping off of the brown outer covering on the stem. Some cuttings benefit from an application of rooting hormone at the cut tip, while others (like succulents) don't like that at all. Finally, all the flowers and half the leaf surface must be removed from the cutting to force its efforts into root formation.

We learned how to build little greenhouses from 2-liter soda bottles and quart-sized plastic pots to keep the cuttings moist until they root.
Soda bottle greenhouses

We also learned how to make self-watering rooting dishes from 9" bulb pots and a small 2" terracotta pot plugged up with non-toxic hot glue.
Self-watering rooting dish

For more information on cloning plants (bwah ha ha), visit the Texas Agrilife Extension Service webpage on asexual plant propagation. The Travis County Master Gardeners also offer a seminar on plant propagation at least once a year; find out more at the TCMGA Educational Seminars page.

(Today I Learned features a nugget of information I learned during training to become a Travis County Master Gardener.)


Words and photos © 2009-2011 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

ENDS TONIGHT! Last chance to win nursery gift certificates!

Microb Brewery compost tea house
In honor of Support your Independent Garden Center Month, these eight garden bloggers are holding contests for wonderful prize packages at eight local Austin nurseries. And ALL you have to do is leave a comment on the contest pages linked below. Enter one or enter all eight, but hurry: the contests end TONIGHT at 11:59 p.m.

Sharing Nature's Garden -- $50 gift certificate from Emerald Garden Nursery and Water Garden
J Peterson Garden Design -- $50 gift certificate from The Great Outdoors
Go Away, I'm Gardening -- $100 gift certificate from Sunshine Landscape and Garden Center
Great Stems -- $50 gift certificate from Hill Country Water Gardens & Nursery
The Whimsical Gardener -- $25 gift certificate from It's About Thyme
Rock Rose -- $50 gift certificate from Shoal Creek Nursery
Digging -- $100 gift certificate & a Fall Power Package (valued at $50) from Barton Springs Nursery
Growing Optimism -- $25 gift certificate from the Natural Gardener


Words and photos © 2009-2011 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

October GGW Picture This! Photo Contest - "Fill the Frame"

This is my entry for Gardening Gone Wild's Picture This! Photo Contest for October. This month's theme is "Fill the Frame" and the judge is Saxon Holt.

Plumbago auriculata
Plumbago auriculata

You can enter a photograph, too! But you'd best hurry -- the deadline is 11:59 PM Eastern time on Tuesday, October 25.

Words and photos © 2009-2011 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

The secret life of insects

"There's some good eats on this salvia," said the spider to the bee.

Spider & bee on salvia

Words and photos © 2009-2011 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Today I Learned (TIL)

Today I learned how to tell the difference between bacterial plant infections and fungal plant infections.

During our 6 hour class on plant pathology, Dr. Kevin Ong, Director of the Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, explained that both bacteria and fungi can cause blight, wilt and leaf spots, but there are some visible differences between the two, if you can catch the disease early on.

Fungal leaf spots tend to spread across the veins of leaves, while bacterial leaf spots start off as angular-shaped lesions confined within leaf veins. Other clues: spore accumulations may be visible in fungal infections, while bacterial infections more commonly have a wet appearance. And if a cut section of a leaf or stem is placed in water, a bacteria-infested plant is more likely to ooze a gummy substance than a plant suffering from a fungal infection.

Fungus on coreopsis

I wish I'd known this a year and a half ago, when a mystery disease struck and killed an established Salvia greggii, a Mayfield Giant coreopsis and a Pringle's Bee Balm. Dr. Ong says that fungi are responsible for 85% of common garden diseases, so when the culprit's in doubt, it's probably a fungus. Looking back at the photos, I think my suspicion of a fungus was probably correct. The leaf spots on my coreopsis spread across the leaf veins and I could see what looked like visible black spores on the leaves. I detected no angular leaf spots confined by the leaf veins, and the spots didn't look wet. But if such a calamity were to happen now, I'd cut off a stem or leaf, stick it in water and look for ooze, and I'd dig up the roots to look for root rot or nematodes. I might even send off a specimen to be tested for $35.

And the white growth I saw underneath the Bath's dianthus that spring? Probably benign. Dr. Ong says that of the 100,000 known fungi, only 8% are pathogenic; the other 92% are innocent bystanders.

For more information on the Texas Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab, visit their website or their Facebook page.

(Today I Learned features a nugget of information I learned during training to become a Travis County Master Gardener.)

Words and photos © 2009-2011 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - October 2011

An inch of rain earlier in the month and a good mulching shortly after has brought forth purple, blue, yellow and pink blooms in time for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Normally I would have cut back the salvias in late summer to stimulate blooming, but held off as the plants were under severe drought stress. Turns out there was no need to prune.

In front of the house:

'Ruby Crystals' grass & 'Violet Velvet' salvia
'Ruby Crystals' grass (Melinis nerviglumis) and 'Violet Velvet' salvia (S. greggi 'Violet Velvet')


'Mealy Blue Sage'
'Mealy Blue Sage' (Salvia farinacea)


Non-native trailing purple lantana
Lantana montevidensis, a non-native variety


Winter daffodil
Winter daffodil or Southern Fall Crocus (Sternbergia lutea), an heirloom bulb from 1596.


In the back yard:

Barbados cherry
My Barbados cherry is blooming for the first time.


Barbados Cherry blossom
Close-up of a Barbados cherry blossom


'Sapphire Showers' duranta
Duranta repens 'Sapphire Showers'


Pink portulaca
Pink portulaca


Passalong buddleja
A passalong buddleja from my mother-in-law in Virginia


What's in bloom on October 15 in over 100 gardens around the world? Visit May Dreams Gardens and see.

Words and photos © 2009-2011 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

October is Support Your Independent Nursery Month

Pam Penick at Digging has declared it, and I concur -- October is Support Your Independent Nursery Month. And boy, do they need our support.

Dromgoole's Natural Gardener nursery
Orchard entrance at The Natural Gardener

Indie nurseries are hanging by a thread and some are closing up shop altogether, as the linked article describes (thanks to Diana at Sharing Nature's Garden for the link). Here are some of the reasons why we are at risk of losing our friendly local nurseries (or Independent Garden Centers, as they're known in the trade).
  • The stagnant economy. In a down economy, you might think that expenditures on do-it-yourself projects like gardening would rise. But with threats of a double-dip recession, inflation and a global economic crisis, consumer spending is down across the board.
  • Record unemployment. Job loss means budget cutbacks, even in two-income households, and niceties like gardening supplies are among the first to go.
  • The mortgage crisis. Many Americans have lost their homes and gardens. Those who are "under water" on their mortgages are naturally reluctant to sink more money into upgrades like landscaping.
  • People are driving less. Even if the car is paid for, gas, insurance, registration, and repairs are costly. Folks are parking (or selling) the car and getting around by bus, bike or scooter, or driving only when necessary. It's darn near impossible to haul home plants and garden soil without a car.
  • The weather has been terrible for gardening this year. More than 95% of Texas has been in an exceptional drought for months. Up north, gardeners are suffering from an exceptionally wet and rainy year, making the soil too wet to work and drowning plants.

3579teahouse
Compost tea brewhouse at The Natural Gardener

So if you are one of the fortunate ones, like me, with a house and a job and a car and a garden, please join me in supporting our independent nurseries! I have a list of my favorites to the right, under the title "Where I Get Stuff." Some on the list are located out of town, but most are right here in Austin, including one of my favorites, The Natural Gardener, which I blogged about in a 2009 post. We just had 7 cubic yards of their fabulous Sylvan Formula Mulch delivered to our house, and Jack is in the process of laying it down around every tree and shrub in our garden. This nursery's a bit of a drive from my place in North Austin, but well worth it. For quick in-town nursery trips, I frequent Shoal Creek Nursery at Hancock near Mopac, and Sledd Nursery on West Lynn in the Clarksville district.

Check out my blogroll, too - every Wednesday in October, bloggers are posting about their favorite local nurseries. Be sure to visit Digging, where Pam got this ball rolling, before heading out to visit your favorite independent nursery (or to explore one you've never visited)!

Words and photos © 2009-2011 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Today I Learned (TIL)

Today I learned that if soil is "worked" (tilled, turned or amended) when the soil is too wet, it turns into a brick-like substance that can take years to rehabilitate.

This weekend, Austin finally got a good, slow, soaking rain. So far, my garden's gotten a little over an inch of much-needed moisture, and some lucky ducks in Austin have enjoyed 2 or 3 inches. And after months of heat and drought, a gardener's first inclination is to run right out after a nice rain like this and turn those beds!

But as Dr. Mark McFarland, Professor and Soil Fertility Specialist at Texas Agrilife Extension explains, soil is amazingly delicate. Working a soil that is oversaturated with water alters its very structure, turning a loose, crumbly collection of granular soil particles into a compacted mass of plate-like soil particles. The damage may not be apparent until the soil dries into a thick, hardened layer of crust which is difficult for water, air, roots and seedlings to penetrate. (Walking repeatedly on soil, wet or dry, can cause the same sort of damage.)

Seedling
Pea seedling poking through soil that was turned 2 weeks ago, when dry

Once the damage is done, it's difficult to remedy and requires repeated tilling of organic matter into the hardened soil over several seasons to loosen it up again. So resist the urge and wait until the soil dries a bit before giving it a workout. With our limited rainfall and warm fall temperatures, it won't take long. You can tell when the soil is ready to work by digging up a bit of soil and forming it into a ball in your hand. If the soil ball crumbles when you squeeze it, go for it. If it's muddy or smears in your hand, wait a couple of days and test again.

For more information on soil from Texas Agrilife Extension, visit their Soils and Composting page.

(Today I Learned features a nugget of information I learned during training to become a Travis County Master Gardener.)
Words and photos © 2009-2011 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.