How Long Do Seeds Last?

by Sandy SwegelHow long do seeds last?

That’s a great question that comes up every year during our end-of-the-year Fall Sale. Everybody wants a good deal but are afraid the seeds won’t still be good next year.

The answer is as expected…”It depends.”

If you can keep your seeds in a cool dry place, your seeds can last for years.

Here are the seed killers:

Excess Moisture. The year we had catastrophic flooding in Boulder the seeds in my storage area sprouted right in their packets up on a shelf from the high humidity from only one inch of water on the floor in September. The seeds were well packed out of the water, but the temperature was 85 degrees and the humidity 100%. If you live in a humid area, you can save all those little silica gel packets to reuse.

Excess Heat. Seeds do survive better in cooler temperature. A cool basement, a cold closet, or a freezer. The actual temperature is a little less important than keep the temperature consistent.

Light. Some seed germination is triggered by light (lettuce is an example) so keep you seeds dark by storing in a dark bag or box.

Rodents. It seemed like a good idea to keep the seeds in a shoe box in the unheated garage. Cool and dark. Then in early Spring I discovered little mice had chewed right through the cardboard box and chewed the seed packets to get at the yummy treats inside. Ewww.

What works for me is to put the seeds in mason jars that I keep in a cool dark basement closet in a closed box.

Once you know you can keep the seeds cool and dry, then the only thing to consider is seed longevity. Some seeds last easily for years. Others only last one year before the germination rate goes down. Below is a chart from the Chicago Botanic Gardens on longevity in vegetable seeds. Some of the really good “keepers” are ones you only need a few of every year such as tomatoes and squash.

 

How long do seeds last?

 

Photo credit http://my.chicagobotanic.org/tag/seed-viability-chart/

 

Garden and Grow Flowers all Winter Long

by Sandy Swegelwinter gardening

For gardeners foolish enough to live where winter takes hold and the ground freezes, the time between first frost and last frost can be very long. Some gardeners are wise enough to welcome the break from the work of the garden and enjoy the natural flow of the seasons. Others like me start longing for a greenhouse or dream of living in warm tropical climates. I fantasize about building a mobile greenhouse I could drive down south to grow all winter and drive back to Colorado next Spring. I mourn the dying of geraniums in beautiful pots and the brown frozen leaves of basil.

Before you lug dozens of plants into your living room where they mostly suffer until they succumb to low light and pests, make a plan for how to garden your indoor area.

If you have good indoor southern exposure…

Blooming plants like geranium, hibiscus, bougainvillea and mandevilla will put on winter-long displays of flowers. Often by January, the dry air and lack of circulation will cause aphid explosions, and you’ll need to give the plants a quick shower or deal with the aphids in some other way before they get completely disgusting. Fragrant plants like rosemary will also thrive and even bloom if you keep them well-watered. Plants that didn’t need much water outdoors have different needs indoors and will probably need to watered twice a week.

winter gardening

Low light windows…
Winter is the time to move cyclamen and African violets out of the direct winter sun to the north or east windows to keep them happy. Begonias also do well in lower light.
Cuttings of coleus bring in lots of foliage color. Coleus are so attractive in pots but expensive to buy. Simple jars of water will keep the coleus happy and grow roots so you have plants next Spring.

Herbs…
The rosemary is in the southern window. You can harvest the thyme from outdoors all winter as long as you can push aside leaves or snow. Tender herbs like basil and oregano are another story. I haven’t had much luck bringing them indoors…they bolt or get buggy. I have had great luck seeding narrow windowsill pots densely and enjoying the young leaves as microgreens.

Forcing bulbs…
Amaryllis are great to start now. Setting aside a few bulbs from Fall plantings can occupy your gardeners’ heart for weeks in January and February. Not all bulbs force so there is some experimentation here and some bulbs will need a cooling period in your frig or cold garage. But little daffodils inside in late January give great joy.

winter gardening

Forcing stems…
Make a mental note now of what spring flowering trees and shrubs there are in your yard or neighborhood. In late winter after a warm spell, you can see the new buds swell on woody stems. Cut those stems and bring them indoors.

Winter doesn’t have to be long and gray. You can garden inside all season long.

 

 

 

 

 
http://www.hiddenvalleyhibiscus.com/forum/index.php?topic=144.0
http://picklesandcheeseblog.blogspot.com/2009/11/bright-red-geraniums-in-big-black-pots.html
Miss Priss the Bougainvillea, Good To Grow, Liza’s plants

 

Quit Working so Hard This Fall

by Sandy SwegelFall work

The old adages say cleanliness and hard work are virtues. That may be true in your kitchen, but in the garden, a little sloth canFall Work save many lives and make your life a little easier.  Mother Nature isn’t just messy when she clutters up the Fall garden with leaves and debris….she’s making homes for her creatures.  Old dead leaves may look like clutter that needs to be tidied up, but it’s really nice rustic sustainable homes for many of a gardener’s best friends.

Here’s who is hiding in your garden this winter if you DON’T clean up.

Ladybugs in the garden beds next to the house.  Ladybugs want a nice sheltered home safe from wind and exposed soil. I most often find them under the leaves and dead flower stalks in the perennial garden.

Butterfly larvae (aka caterpillars) in leaf bundles. Sometimes in winter you’ll see a couple of leaves looking stuck to a bush or tree or in a clump on the ground.  Often there’s a butterfly baby overwintering there.

Lacewing at the base of willows or in the old vegetable garden.  Insects don’t work very hard in the fall either.  Often they are eating happily on the aphids in your vegetable garden or your mini forest and just go through their life cycle right there.  They lay their eggs on the bottom of leaves and the leaves fall to the ground.  If you clean up too much, you’ll clean up all the beneficial insects eggs

Slugs in your hosta garden. Even slugs are a good thing to leave for the winter.  They will be plump food for baby birds nextFall work Spring.

The bottom line is don’t do a good job of cleaning up in the Fall.  Take away any very diseased leaves.  Clean up the thick mats of leaves on the lawn so they don’t encourage lawn fungus.  But leave the flower stalks with seeds and the leaves in the beds.  They insulate and protect plants and insects.

Another good reason to be a little lazy this Fall.

Photo Credits http://www.nashvilleparent.com/2013/07/fall-for-fun/http://antsbeesbutterfliesnature.blogspot.com/2009/11/overwintering-caterpillars.html

 

Free Peony Bushes in Ten Minutes

by Sandy SwegelPeony

In the last post, I talked about Grandma’s method for making rose bushes. Today, I have a method for peonies taught by my older friend’s great-grandmother who was born in the 19th century. It’s not a method I’ve been able to find on the internet but it is VERY reliable.

Most people propagate peonies by digging up the roots, dividing and replanting. That definitely works but often the peonies go into a sulk and don’t bloom the next year. Plus an old root ball is huge and it takes a lot of effort to dig it up and cut it up.

Peony

Great-grandmother Pat’s method was to take a sharp shovel and cut through the peony root around the edge to grab a small chunk of eyes and the roots that go with them. I usually aim for 3-5 eyes and am sure to push the shovel deep to get their attached roots. This may seem brutal to the mama peony plant, but I have done this for years and every time, the mama plant puts out even more new eyes there the next year. On a big old root you can take several cuttings from different sides of the crown.

 

 

 

Peony

This process takes ten minutes because it is worth your effort to prepare the soil for the new peony and make sure the soil is loose and fertile. I mix in some compost. I usually have a spot at least twice the size of the peony roots. It is important if you want blooms in the future to plant the rhizome so the eyes are 2 inches or less from the surface. I do mulch for winter protection here in zone 5 but pull the mulch aside in spring.

The new plant doesn’t always put out a bloom the first year and not every transplant survives, but most survive and manage to put out a few blooms. In another year, the peony looks fully developed. The best part is that the original mama plant is completely undisturbed by the process and looks as gorgeous as ever.

Simple. I think these old methods are so effective because our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were too busy working without all the modern conveniences to have time to be fussy with their gardens. They needed simple fast methods to make their gardens beautiful.

 

 

Photo credits
http://www.theplantexpert.com/peonies/PlantingPeonies.html
https://www.gardenia.net/guide/peonies-that-do-not-require-staking

 

Free Rose Bushes in Less than Five Minutes

by Sandy SwegelFree Rose Bushes

 

This is going to be a short post because it only takes moments to act now to have free rose bushes growing in your yard next spring.  No lights, heaters, no fussing.

The internet often calls this method of rose propagation “Grandma’s Mason Jar Method” because it’s how pioneer gardeners brought their favorite roses across country.    And that’s how I learned it from a grandma and  esteemed rosarian years ago.

What you need:

Free Rose Bushes

A cutting from the end of mature rose cane.  About 8 inches.  (Not the soft green growth of late summer but a cane that had a rose on it. )

A quart mason jar or plastic jar.

Some mud.

Some water.

Decide where you want the rose to grow.  You’re going to put the cutting exactly where you want it. No transplanting needed.  Put some water and mud in the jar and swish around.  This is to make the jar more opaque. (Here in Colorado we have to worry about harsh winter sun frying the cutting.)

Prepare the place the rose is going to go…it should be decent garden soil. Water it if the soil is very dry.

Push the cutting about 3 or 4 inches into the soil and tamper in.  Put jar over cutting.Free Rose Bushes

Now leave it alone until next May or June.  Seriously.  No peeking or opening it up for air on warm April days.  Leave it alone.  Water the area if the soil dries out terribly.  Let leaves drift on top of it.  Just let nature do what nature does.

Not every cultivar of rose propagates easily, but many do.  Do lots of cuttings, each with their own jar, to increase the odds of success.  My gardening friends have used this technique in harsh Colorado weather and it’s just a miracle.

Free Rose Bushes

 

 

 

Photocredits and more info

http://www.rose.org/the-rose-whisperer/

http://scvrs.homestead.com/cuttings1.html

Starting Rose Bushes From Cuttings

 

Food for Fall Pollinators

by Sandy SwegelFall Pollinators

Fall is a great time for birds and bears.  Gardens and natural areas are full of seeds and berries for getting the calories needed for winter.  Pollinators like bees, flies, butterflies, moths and insects need nectar and pollen food sources.  When I was in the foothills this weekend I noticed that native sources of nectar weren’t very evident. We haven’t had much rain so some late season flowers finished earlier.  There were still tiny white aster blooms and stray late blooms of penstemon, liatris and gaillardia, but this is nothing like the abundant feast of spring.  Poor pollinators…Fall must be a difficult time…addicted to sugar all summer and then have it all cut off.

 

Fall is one time when it’s good to have nice irrigated areas with annuals and non-native plants so that you can feed the pollinators of fall who are still active.  In home gardens this week I saw dozens of butterflies, bees and moths on late season annuals like verbena bonariensis, cosmos, zinnias.  Our love of home gardening is very helpful to pollinators.Fall Pollinators

 

Cornell University released a study this year about monarch butterflies.  While it is true that milkweed is the only food of the caterpillars, adult butterflies eat from all flowering plants.  This time of year the monarchs need a lot of nectar and pollen to give them the strength to migrate back home.  The monarchs can find nectar in areas gardened or farmed by humans.

 

So for those of us who love pollinators, providing some fall habitat with blooming flowers is very helpful to butterflies and all the pollinators. The longer in the season they eat, the better the chance they’ll survive winter.  To get ideas for what to grow, notice what might still be blooming in wild areas and where the pollinators are actively feeding in gardens.   Each year I give out awards to the plants I know for things like “First Bloom of the Year” or “Best Season Long Performer.”  The last award of the growing season is “Last Bloom of the Year.”  Sometime in November long after hard frost there is still some little single perennial flower that had several bees visiting it.  Most years it is blue scabiosa, but borage is putting up a last-minute burst into bloom.  Who win the last bloom of 2016 in your habitat?Fall Pollinators

 

 

 

http://monarchbutterflygarden.net/are-native-only-wildlife-gardens-starving-fall-pollinators/

http://diet.yukozimo.com/what-do-honey-bees-eat/

 

Fall Berries

Fall Berries

Chokecherries

Fall Berries

 

We think of maple leaves when we think of Fall color, but berries that ripen in the Fall offer vivid color that lasts well into winter.  They also provide food for birds and small mammals when there’s not much else to eat in winter.  Words cannot adequately describe the wild colors you’ll enjoy once all those showy leaves fall.  All these plants grow in Zone 5 with some irrigation.  (Some are quite xeric but then stay small.)

 

 

Orange and red berries
Pyracantha, mountain ash, cotoneaster, hawthorn

Fall Berries

Hawthorn

Fall berries

Cotoneaster Berries

Fall Berries

Mountain Ash

Fall Berries

Pyracantha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blues and purples and blacks

Chokecherries, viburnum, juniper

Fall Berries

Juniper

Fall Berries

Viburnum

Fall Berries

Chokecherries

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, the outrageous pinks!!!

Beauty berry

Fall Berries

Beautyberry

 

 

 

Photocredits

http://extension.illinois.edu/ShrubSelector/detail_plant.cfm?PlantID=421

http://www.sunset.com/garden/flowers-plants/plants-with-beautiful-fall-berries

 

http://www.onlinenurseryco.com/mountain-ash-trees/

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Juniper_berries_lush.jpg

http://lathamsnursery.com/?product=viburnum-blue-muffin-3g-viburnum-dentatum-christom

http://www.onlyfoods.net/chokecherry.html

 

 

Apples

by Sandy SwegelApples

Two things I learned about apples this year.

Reduce codling moths in your trees.
A few years ago, I started following the advice of a local organic farmer to pick up the bad apples under my apple trees. I’ve always left them there to compost in place or waited until they were all down to pick them up. My delicious McIntosh apple tree had lots of codling moths which left unappealing frass in the apples as well as the occasional worm. The tree was too tall to spray clay and I didn’t want to use anything toxic. So I did start religiously picking up the apples as they fell. Now, some five years later, I’ve notice that while codling moths still attack the apples, they are MUCH fewer in number affecting maybe only 10-20% of the apples. What a difference sanitation made.

Apple larva

Bake awesomely easy gluten-free Apple Crisp
The second thing I learned came from the new “problem” of what to do with so many apples. If you pick up the apples soon after they fall from the tree, then you notice the apples are in pretty good shape if you cut out the bad parts right away. So now I had a surplus of apples. The freezer was full of sauce and still the apples came. Fortunately I gave the apples to a baker friend who made a gluten-free apple crisp that was better than anything I had ever had. And that’s when she taught me a professional secret. You have to bake the apples first before you put the crisp topping on. When you just layer apples pieces in a pan and sprinkle with your crisp mixture, you can end up with apples that are too crunchy and/or a burnt crisp top.

 

 

So here’s the basic recipe:Apple Cobbler

Cut up apples into pan. Bake until mostly soft.

Crisp topping:
Oats, cinnamon, nuts (almond meal, tiny pecan pieces) Optional: butter, brown sugar.
Sprinkle topping on baked apples. Put the pan back in the oven until the crisp is browned and crispy. Twice-baked apples melt in your mouth (without lots of extra sugar) and the topping is crispy delicious. The perfect foil for vanilla ice cream.

So now I spend more time working to clean up apples…..but am rewarded with more apple crisp!

 

 

Photocredits: http://utahpests.usu.edu/ipm/htm/fruits/fruit-insect-disease/apple-pear-control03
http://allrecipes.com/recipe/229088/apple-crisp-with-oat-topping/

 

Fall Blooming Bulbs and Corms

by Sandy Swegelbulbs

Colchicums! These huge flowers of Fall are still some of my absolute favorite flowers that I look forward to each year. They grow with virtually no attention and have thrived in a shady, pretty dry hosta garden that lacks color so much of the year. It’s been seven years since I planted them and I’ve never lifted them to divide because they look better and better every year! The only problem with colchicums is that you have to plan ahead and order them usually by mail order no later than August. Few garden centers stock them because they are so eager to bloom, they often bloom right in the box.

Colchicum Water Lily is the biggest and showiest and sells out every year from all the bulb catalogs. I first planted it in a shade bed next to a pond with water lilies because it looks just like a giant water-lily rising above the shady ground covers. It’s a fun plant because most garden visitors have never seen it and gasp breathlessly with “What is that flower?!”

A second colchicum I love is “Giant.” It has big single flowers and comes up sooner. Garden blogger Kathy Purdy made the most beautiful display of Giants I’ve ever seen by planting them densely along a low stone fence. In the fall garden with foliage changing and leaves falling, you need big showy flowers to catch attention.

Colchicums come in a range of colors including whites that are luminescent under Fall full moons…but the purpley pinks have my heart.

10-03-16-saffron saffron

Finally, my third favorite Fall bloomer, also purple but much more diminutive, is crocus sativus. This is among the smallest of the fall crocuses, but you get real saffron from it. Not a lot, but ten bulbs I planted four years ago in heavy clay soil have multiplied to twenty and provide enough saffron for about three meals. It’s another delightful plant of fall that I watch with great anticipation for its surprise entry every September.

 

 

 
Photocredits

Sandy Swegel