What is Deer Resistant, Blooms in the Winter, and is Evergreen?

collage of helleborus

Gardeners and Hellebores

I think that Hellebores are a well kept secret of garden enthusiasts. What other plant resists deer, neglect, likes shade-even deep shade, is evergreen, arranges beautifully, and is stunning?  Did I mention that it blooms for 3 months of the year?  That was not a misprint- Hellebores bloom for at least 3 months, sometimes longer, starting in mid February for me in the mid-Atlantic region, and soldiering on until at least April or May. I have seen them for sale at Trader Joes and other unlikely places, so I think people are waking up to the value of this flower. Frost resistant and poisonous, deer turn up their nose at these beautiful plants.

Hellebore with down facing flowers

So, why isn’t this plant in more gardens? Several reasons come to mind.  First they are pricey.  Retail prices can be around $15 to $30 a piece, though more common varieties are cheaper. Second, when most people are browsing the garden centers in the spring, the plants have mostly finished their blooming show and people move on to fresher blooming plants. Third, Hellebore flower colors are usually subtle greens, pinks, and whites, and many gardeners want something brighter and flashier. But hybridizers are working on that with increasingly colorful flowers being released every year.

For bee and nature lovers, this plant is so important because it is an early nectar source for pollinators. There isn’t much blooming when they are in their glory and I am sure to see the flowers filled with bees on a warmer day.

Bee in hellebore flower

Bee in hellebore flower

 

 

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

Plop your flowers in a pretty bowl and they will last for a week

Plop your flowers in a pretty bowl and they will last for a week

Another drawback other than their high price, and I warn my clients about this when I include them in a garden design- they take a while to establish. To get a nice size blooming clump, it will take about 5 years. So, in this day and age of instant gratification, this can be a deal stopper for some people.

Lenten Rose

The common name for Hellebores is Lenten Rose, obviously because they bloom around the season of Lent. Hybridizers have latched onto Hellebores and created beautiful new flower colors, such as yellow, burgundy, spotted, and pictoees.  The downward facing flowers have been tilted so instead they are upward or outward facing and are just begging to be admired. Hybridizers have also turned their attention to the leaves, breeding for variegation and silvery sheens. All these efforts must have paid off as they are flooding the nurseries and the prices are top dollar.  I have seen Hellebores for more than $50 a piece.  They are getting as expensive as some hybridized peonies!

Helleborus flowers

Stinky Plants

Helleborus foetidus is another member of the Hellebore family and one of my favorites.  The common name is Stinking Hellebore or Dungwort!  This plant needs a makeover! Nobody is going to buy a plant with such an unpleasant name. It really doesn’t stink, only when you crush it.  So, don’t crush it! Just enjoy the chartreuse green flowers and finely cut foliage. I am fond of green flowers, so grow this one, but it won’t appeal to everyone.

Culture

The culture of Hellebores is so easy that if you just plant them in a shady or partly shady spot, you are done! I use them as a ground cover under large trees where deer are prone to browse. For more shady ground cover choices, go to Made for the Shade.

A flock of Hellebores!

A flock of Hellebores!

Hellebores will set seed all around the plant and when the seedlings appear, dig them up and scatter them around. You will have large clumps in no time that last for years and years. In late winter, nip the outer older leaves off so the new stems and leaves can come up in the center.  That is it for maintenance!

Hellebores covering a bank

So, gardeners of the world-Are you listening?  Tell all your friends and neighbors about this plant. It should not be a secret any longer. If I were on a deserted island and could just have one plant? Hellebores or orchids, I can’t decide!!!

Hellebore flowers from Wikipedia

Hellebore flowers from Wikipedia

Posted in Plant portraits | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Bee Nuc or Bee Package? Primer for New Beekeepers

Nucs ready to be picked up and placed in a beekeepers hive body

Nucs ready to be picked up and placed in a beekeepers hive body

Spring Start-Up

After a hiatus of having no bees in my yard, this spring I will end up with three hives- 2 nucs and 1 package. For beginning beekeepers, there are different ways of starting your own hive and here are three options: Packages, nucs, or buy an existing live hive. To get an overview of Beekeeping, it’s costs, benefits, and problems, go to my post, Beekeeping Start-Up, Jump into the World of Beekeeping. To see how to hive a package, go to Bee Packages Are Here!

2 packages of bees in the back of my car

2 packages of bees in the back of my car

 

Options for Starting Your Own Hive

  1. Live Hive- This is probably the most difficult to purchase. Never buy a live hive until it has been thoroughly inspected by a state apiary inspector and given a clean bill of health. This might be a good approach, but you have to find a beekeeper willing to sell a complete working hive and it is unlikely to find one unless the beekeeper is retiring or has passed. Very few beekeepers want to sell a good, live hive and there must be a compelling reason to do this. However, when you purchase a live hive, you are also purchasing all the existing problems such as small hive beetles, tracheal mite, varroa mites, wax moths or diseases such as nosema, American Foul Brood or European Foul Brood, etc. For small hive beetle controls, go to Small Hive Beetles to see how to combat these pests.
Great frame with lots of brood (capped larvae)

Great frame with lots of brood (capped larvae)

2.  Packages- Packages have been the way beekeepers in the North have received bees from the South for over 100 years.  By shaking bees out of three different hives, a package is formed which is housed in a screened cage for transport. Sometimes it may take shaking bees out of three different hives to equal three pounds of bees (about 10,000), the standard. Then, a new queen not related to the worker bees

Queen cage with attendants
Queen cage with attendants

is placed among the bees in a separate cage, along with a can of either hard candy or sugar syrup. Some considerations which might cause a problem with this method are:

  •  Will the queen be healthy and properly mated? 
  • Since they are from the south, could there be a chance of Africanized genetics, making a more aggressive hive?
  • Shipping stresses, such as too much time in the package and excessive temperatures can weaken both the bees and the queen.
Hiving a package of bees

Spraying sugar water on a package of bees to calm them

 So, while this is the “industry standard” and has been for a century, it is not risk free or fail safe. I can attest to this as a good percentage of my packages have failed.

Transferring 5 frames from a Nuc hive into my hive body

Transferring 5 frames from a Nuc hive into my hive body

 

3.  NUC- A nuc is a short expression referring to the nucleus of a live hive. The nucleus, or nuc, usually contains four or five frames from a complete hive. The frames include brood in various stages and frames mixed with honey, pollen and brood. The queen has already been accepted and is the mother of all the bees including the brood in the frames. This is a bee hive in miniature – a working and laying queen is included along with her daughter worker bees, brood, pollen, and eggs. 

A swarm of bees from my apiary

A swarm of bees from my apiary

 Advantages of a nuc:

  • The frames are from a proven, successful existing hive
  •  The queen is up and running and has been laying eggs in cells for some time, enough to have quantities of capped brood
  • You receive the existing frames of comb, honey, pollen and brood. You do not have to wait for the bees to draw comb(this is labor intensive)
  •  It is easy to transfer the frames into your own equipment
My nuc is set up in a deep hive body with an empty super on top which contains a feeder

My nuc is set up in a deep hive body with an empty super on top which contains a feeder, as well as entrance feeders

Disadvantages of a nuc:

  • Are not usually available until June (I got 2 recently in early April because of my Beekeepers Association who ordered them from a breeder last year)
  • You receive comb from another beekeeper that could contain pests or diseases
  • More expensive- For example, I paid $145 a piece for 2 nucs and a package costs about $115 a piece

Here is a video of my bee club installing nucs into nuc boxes with feeders and queen excluders. It is really important to remove and install the frames in the exact order that they are in the original box. When you remove the frames, it gives you the opportunity to look for brood, honey storage, and the queen.  A chilly wind was blowing, so the frames were quickly put in without inspecting. Later, in about a week, the frames will be inspected carefully, and the queen will be located along with an assessment of the health of the colony.

Feeder full of sugar water on top of hive

Feeder full of sugar water on top of hive

Feeding

Sugar water is fed to the bees for the first couple of weeks until they can easily find nectar sources. Supplementary feeding is critical to the success of your colony. There are sparse nectar sources in early April, and I like to feed until I see plenty of flowers out there, probably in about 3 weeks.

Helleborus flower with bee, an early source of nectar

Helleborus flower with bee, an early source of nectar

 

Any of these options should work for you, but for me I much prefer a nuc as the queen has been laying eggs for a while and you are ahead of the game because you aren’t starting from ground zero.  With a package, your queen might not be accepted by the bees and you could be left queenless with 10,000 bees.

My package is being shipped in a couple of weeks and this is my opportunity to compare the two- nucs and packages side by side. Stay tuned for my post on the package.

 

Posted in beekeeping | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Frugal Gardener-Growing on a Budget

No matter what you hear about growing your own veggies or flowers, you are not going to save a wheelbarrow of money as some people claim. Start up costs and ongoing costs usually are an unpleasant surprise for beginning gardeners. You have outlays of seeds and plants, soil, stakes, tools, watering costs, containers, mulch, and fencing for pests. On the plus side, you do have the satisfaction of growing something for yourself that is healthy and free of pesticides, and the often overlooked benefit of being outdoors and keeping active.

There are some penny-wise strategies on gardening which you should consider before plunking down a whole bunch of money, or till up a huge patch of virgin soil and become frustrated by the heat, the bugs, and lack of rain.

Here are some tips on cutting costs so you can have healthy food and decorate your home with fresh-cut flowers all season long.

Starting Seeds-Waste or Savings?

Grow light with PVC stand

Grow light with PVC stand

Yes, starting seeds will save you some money if you do it right. But think of your startup costs – grow lights, heating mats, growing medium, containers, seeds, fertilizer, space, and unexpected happenings like forgetting to water for a few days. See my post on To Seed Or Not To Seed to see how to use recyclables for containers and how I start my seeds. Also go to Art of the Seed to see how to make newspaper seed starters for ways to cut your costs.

Recyclables for starting seeds

Recyclables for starting seeds

So many garden forums tout the cost savings of starting plants from seeds, but beginners beware-It ain’t easy! Do you really want to tend the seedlings for months, and battle damping off (fungal disease), commitment of  house space, and if you don’t have a grow light- leggy seedlings? And once you get them outside and  don’t acclimate them in a cold frame, the seedlings wilt from the unaccustomed wind and hot sun, and months of work just melted away! If I sound pessimistic about starting seeds inside, I still struggle after 30 years. Go to newgardenerblues to check a fellow blogger’s post on starting seeds at Will I Ever Start Seeds Again?

Using newspaper to make seed starters

Using newspaper to make seed starters

There are some plants that are a waste to buy; cucumber, corn, beans, melons, squash, lettuce, and some herbs. For those veggies, direct seed them when the soil warms up. For flowers, direct seed zinnias, poppies,cosmos, sunflowers, marigolds, and tithonia as they grow easily from seed and it would be throwing money away to buy plants of these. Usually the larger the seed, the easier it is to germinate. Also, direct seeded plants will outstrip transplants as they are already rooted in.

Swiss chard is easy to direct seed and delicious

Swiss chard is easy to direct seed and delicious

For 17 easy-to-grow seed varieties, both veggies and flowers, go to http://www.mnn.com/your-home/organic-farming-gardening/stories/17-easy-to-start-seeds-for-beginner-gardeners

For veggies, grow what your family likes and will eat. And try to grow things that are pricey at the market, such as asparagus, fancy mixed greens, artichokes, tomatoes, and peppers. Also, you have the opportunity to grow things that you can’t buy at the market. If space is a premium, don’t grow things such as pumpkins, corn, and winter squash which eat up the ground and produce too little produce for the room invested.

 

Berry Investment

Blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are a great investment. We eat a lot of berries and they are so easy to grow and pick. Go to Blueberry Bonanza and Rolling In The Blackberries to find out the best way to grow these. I still have blueberries in the freezer from July.

Blackberries

Blackberries

 

Bulbs

Tulips blooming through creeping phlox

Tulips blooming through creeping phlox

Add bulbs to your garden every year, and you will get years of enjoyment from them blooming in the garden, as well as cut flowers in a vase. For example, a King Alfred daffodil bulb at a big box store is about .90 a piece.  Daffodil bulbs will multiply many times over while in the ground and you would recoup that investment in no time. Bulbs are the gift that keeps on giving! Be wary of planting bulbs like tulips that attract deer and are tasty treats for squirrels. But planting daffodils is like money in the bank.

Cut bouquet of daffs

Cut bouquet of daffs

Compost-Creating Fertilizer

Composting kitchen scraps

Composting kitchen scraps

Composting all your organic table scraps and yard waste is a huge savings for me in fertilizer costs. Compost adds valuable nutrients to your soil, and keeps it healthier than using chemical fertilizers. Have you checked the prices on fertilizers lately? Expensive! Go to Here’s the Dirt on Composting to see ways that you can compost in your kitchen or in your yard.

compostables

Don’t bag up those leaves for the landfill this fall. Dedicate a corner in your yard as a compost heap where you can dump all your organic debris. It could be an open air pile or one of the enclosed composters on the market if you are a neatnik.

Composting week poster

Composting week poster

Composting is the sustainable way of gardening, plus saves you money!

Tools-Get the Right Ones

A digging knife is indispensable
A digging knife is indispensable

You don’t need anything fancy or expensive. If I were on a desert island and could just have three gardening tools, I would pick a digging spade, a digging knife, and a rake. Oh, and my Felco Pruners! A digging knife will outlast any trowels that you can buy, will cost a little more initially, but will never break or bend like trowels do.

Be a good housekeeper in your garden shed and to ensure that your tools last, clean and oil them in the fall so they don’t rust while not in use.

Rain Barrels

A set up with double rain barrels

A set up with double rain barrels

Water is expensive and can add a lot to your gardening bill, especially if you have a large vegetable garden. Make or buy some rain barrels for each of your downspouts. I picked up my empty barrels from a cola bottling plant for $7, and with a few pieces of hardware, converted them into rain barrels. Go to my post Rain Barrel Eye Candy and see how easy it is to make one in about an hour. Easy, even I could do it!

 

Rebar

I love Rebar (reinforcing bar) which is used for concrete strengthening work. Made in different lengths and available at Home Depot, you can make just about anything with it in the garden. Stakes, fences, gates, arbors- the possibilities are endless. I place rebar across my pond in the late fall and drape a net over it to keep leaves from falling in. Rebar is a couple a dollars a piece and will last forever, unlike those wimpy bamboo stakes that always need replacing. Another idea is to simply stick rebar in the ground and wrap snow fence around it for a compost pile.

Rebar has many uses in the garden

Rebar has many uses in the garden

 

Posted in gardening | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Chilling Discoveries-Assessing Winter Damage

 

Trees toppled over and took out the utility box

Trees toppled over and took out the utility box

Having experienced the coldest winter in recent memory, people are starting to look at their landscape and finding that there is widespread winter damage to many plants. Since we have had milder than normal winters the past couple of years, plant cultivars have been moving farther north with many new introductions being untested for cold hardiness. Camellias, new Buddleias, ever blooming Azaleas, Crepe Myrtles, new Hollies- especially the new Red Holly Hybrids, and Loropetalum, are just a few that have marched north.

Hot Alaska, Cold Atlanta

The Polar Vortex inverted the weather this winter with warmer temperatures in northern states, most notably Alaska. Here are some surprising winter statistics.

  • Not a single state set a record for its coldest winter on record, although seven states in the Midwest did make it into their top 10 coldest
  • More than 91% of the great lakes froze over – the most since 1979
  • During parts of this winter, 48 out of 50 states had snow cover at the same time
  • Stats for snow:  Ann Arbor, MI (92.2”); Toledo, OH (84.8”); and Fort Wayne, IN (72.2”), breaking all other records
  • This was on average nationwide only the 34th coldest winter on record!
  • This winter brought the western part of the US one of the worst droughts in history, and it was much warmer in California, having its warmest winter on record
  • Despite the cold temperatures in many parts of the US, 2013 was the 4th warmest year on record
  • Cold temperatures reached far south, like in Atlanta, but in far north Alaska they experienced high forties, even fifties, with rain that created unprecedented landslides and avalanches
  • Port Alsworth, Alaska reached a record 62 degrees Fahrenheit on January 27th!

So why did it feel so cold this winter? Because, our winters have gotten progressively warmer, and when we get hit with a cold winter, we don’t remember what a real winter feels like.

Camellias will be especially hit this winter

Camellias have been hard hit this winter

Lots of Damage

Here in Maryland in the central Atlantic region, we got hit pretty hard with many inches of snow cover and high winds. After out recent snowfall this past week, I hope that winter has done its worst on the landscape. And looking at mine and some clients shrubs and trees, there is a ton of damage out there. There is going to be plenty of work for landscapers, replacing mother nature’s victims. Anything that was marginally hardy will have had a hard time and probably won’t make it. In past years here in Maryland, we have been pushing the envelope with new cultivars, especially with Crepe Myrtles and Camellias, which 15 years ago, were planted very infrequently.

Broad Leaved Evergreens

Survival will depend on the location, the exposure, and the time that a plant has been in the ground establishing itself. Broadleaved evergreens were especially vulnerable, such as laurels, hollies, magnolias, viburnums, and nandinas. For these, wait until the spring advances, at least until May, and see if the shrub puts out new growth. If it does, cut out the dead branches, and wait for the new growth to fill out. If you see no new growth, plan on replacing the shrub.

Viburnum awabuki 'Chindo' winter damage

Viburnum awabuki ‘Chindo’ winter damage

I have pictures of an evergreen Southern Magnolia, planted in the fall preceding our hard winter. It is a ‘Brackens Brown’ variety where the undersides are a beautiful golden brown color. But when I photographed it recently, the entire leaf is a beautiful golden brown, proof that the tree is probably toast, an expensive plant to lose.

Evergreen Maganolia winter damage

Evergreen Magnolia winter damage

Needled Evergreens

Browning of tips of evergreen needles from winter damage

Browning of tips of evergreen needles from winter damage

For the most part the needled evergreens escape major damage because of the heavy cuticle that covers the needles. I see a little browning of some needles, but this should disappear as soon as new growth appears. Needled evergreens are some of the hardiest plants on the planet.

 

Deciduous Shrubs

For deciduous shrubs, you can scrape the bark to see if you can expose any green living tissue. Also, pinch the buds on the stems. If they are crispy, the bud is dead and if it feels pliable, the bud is alive. Prune off any dead parts, leaving viable tissue. Hydrangeas that formed their buds last season such as Hydrangea macrophylla, the most common big-leaved Hydrangea, can have the nascent flower buds damaged and fail to bloom this year. They might need a whole growing season to recover. So, don’t be discouraged if your Hydrangeas fail to bloom this year.

Big Leaved Hydrangeas, Nikko Blue

Big Leaved Hydrangeas, Nikko Blue

To check on the viability of Crepe Myrtles, scrape your bark and if you see green, it is more than likely alive, but there are no guarantees. It might leaf out later than normal, so be patient. One sure sign that the plant is in trouble is if the upper branches turn inwards. You might as well as write it off, if the crepe myrtle shows these signs.

Perennials

Any perennial that dies back to the roots is more likely to survive than a perennial that has evergreen top foliage. My Euphorbias look bad and I am going to watch them closely to see if they sprout new foliage before I do anything. Snow cover is actually a good thing, insulating the ground and preventing frost heave of perennials.

euphorbia with winter damage

euphorbia with winter damage

Solutions  

Going forward, to combat the damaging winter winds and cold, you can apply a product such as Wilt-Pruf which is an anti-transpirant. Sprayed on leaves in the fall, it is a chemical compound applied to plant leaves to reduce moisture loss. Wilt-Pruf is a natural pine oil emulsion that is organic and bio-degradable and forms a flexible shield surrounding the leaf, preventing moisture loss that can last from 3 to 4 months. For deciduous shrubs, you can make a burlap tent stuffed with straw or leaves to protect the stems from damage.

My wholesale nursery is already warning that there will be plant shortages because of nursery container damage. Prices are already high, so I am afraid to see what the spring increase will be.

Winter aconites in snow

Winter aconites in snow

Posted in Landscaping | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Happy Gnoming!-Home for a Gnome

Home for a gnome out of a broken clay pot

Home for a gnome out of a broken clay pot

Broken clay pot gnome gardens are one of my favorites to create and people love seeing those little gnomes getting the perfect home. One of my most popular posts on The Garden Diaries was Gnome Home over a year ago, and has gotten more hits than any other post except for Decorating the White House, so I know that they are popular!  This time, I thought I would delve deeper into the origin and history of gnomes and I came up with a few surprises.

The largest gnome is located in Poland at 17.7 feet high

The largest gnome is located in Poland at 17.7 feet high

Gnome Origins

Garden gnomes go way back to 1870′s Germany where they were first sculpted out of clay by Phillip Griebel, a sculptor of terra-cotta animals, in the town of Graefenroda. Gnome legends were very popular in Germany and Griebel made Gnome statues that spread throughout Europe. They are still being made there today by Phillip Griebel’s descendants and knowing that, I just added a stop on my planned Germany trip. I would love to see their birthplace! You can tour their production facilities and see their informative museum. To see pictures, go to http://gardengnomeshome.com/gnome-directory/gartenzwerg-museum.

Controversial Gnomes

Garden Gnomes are not without their controversy, and were banned from the high-class Chelsea Flower Show until just 2013. Accused of garden snobbery, Chelsea lifted their ban, caving to pressure, and started to allow these popular garden sculptures. Serious gardeners don’t seem to appreciate these cute creatures, so I guess that makes me an amateur gardener!

German gnome, by Wikipedia

German gnome, by Wikipedia

Also, gnomes are the subject of pranks, called gnoming, which is the return of gnomes to the “wild”. Many gnomes have been “liberated” or “kidnapped”, sent on trips around the world, and have become quite famous.  The best known example was a kidnapped gnome taken from a garden in California, and it ended up being photographed with Paris Hilton  in People magazine. These antics just add to the “tongue in cheek” appreciation of gnomes for me. I enjoy that people can have fun with gardening and gardening tchotchkes. There are many clubs and organizations dedicated to the prank of gnoming.

Protest Gnome from wikipedia

Protest Gnome from wikipedia

The best-known of these is the Garden Gnome Liberation Front. Their website is hilarious and says that, “For too long we have let our neighbors usurp the rights of these gentle woodland creatures“. They entreat people to report any gnome in captivity! Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WaEh8EABR-s to watch a moving video.

Polish Gnomes

The hot spot of gnomes is Poland. More gnomes are made in Poland and China than anywhere else on the planet, even in Germany. In the Wieliczka Salt Mine, called the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland, gnomes were carved underground out of salt.

Gnomes in Kunegunda Shaft Bottom of the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland, photo by Adam Kumiszcza

Gnomes in Kunegunda Shaft Bottom of the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Poland, photo by Adam Kumiszcza

Popular in Polish folklore, in Wroclaw Poland, gnome statues dot the city everywhere and have become a major tourist attraction. A legion of little people cast out of metals, are ubiquitous – in doorways, alleyways, and street corners, but easy to miss because of their size. You can actually do a tour of these gnomes which number over 250, and they have become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, more so than the magnificent cathedral.

Gnomes in Wroclaw Poland from Wikipedia

Gnomes in Wroclaw Poland from Wikipedia

Continue reading

Posted in Fairy and miniature gardens, Garden Oddities | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments