The trend of Set-Abouts

The trend of “set-abouts”
By the time April rolls around we are ready for some spring, soil and nature. It’s time to enjoy gardening again. It’s only natural our patience has “gone to pot.” April is the perfect month to practice your container gardening skills. Pots give us the chance to get our hands dirty and plant something. If a frosty night tries to spoil our garden party we can move the pots under cover. This gives us a chance to get a jump on the season. What plants do I use to get that kick in the plants? I would recommend considering the following in containers for the early spring season:
• Frost tolerant Pansies
• Herbs (mixed planters)
• Succulents
• Vegetable plants, understanding if the nights get frosty they will have to be rolled inside or covered. Generally our last frost date is not until May. Some vegetables like broccoli can handle a light frost. (Plants in the Brassica family known as Cole Crops)

Pansies are great for cool season containers!

When it comes to containers succulents are the perfect adaptable plant for indoors or out. With great variety and interesting texture it is no wonder succulents are a very popular trendy plant right now. Recently I went to the dollar store to buy some soup ladles. I planted Succulents and Tillandsia in the ladles and posted this picture in social media.

Succulent and Tillandsia Soup Ladles

I was amazed at the response and shares the post received! I call it the trend of “set-abouts”. Plants in a variety of containers used to brighten our corner of the world both inside and out. Recently attending a show in Florida I snapped these pictures of succulent “set-abouts” that took the idea to the extreme. It points out however that container plantings come in all forms limited only by your creativity.
Another means of “set-about” is to purchase early season plants at the garden center and “baby sit” them for a few weeks indoors. This can also be done with seed starting in containers. On nice days when the air is calm they can be set out to begin “hardening off” to the great outdoors. Come May after you’ve had your early spring gardening fix, they will be ready to make it on their own outdoors.
As with all container planting remember to allow for growth, use a good quality potting soil, and provide for drainage out the bottom.

May Day

May Day May Day
It is ironic that May Day is an emergency word used internationally as a distress signal in radio communications that we have seen used in the movies. It is ironic, because the arrival of the first day of May is a celebration of flowers and spring. May Day was celebrated on May 1 by some early European settlers to North America with May baskets. These are baskets that were filled with flowers or treats and left at someone’s doorstep. The giver rings the bell and runs away. The person receiving the basket tries to catch the fleeing giver; if caught, a kiss is exchanged. Good idea to wear running shoes that day so you can catch the ringer and “plant” one on them!
Today the arrival of May usually means the last frost days are passing and tender flowering plants can be enjoyed in our gardens and landscapes. Mother’s day is a weekend to give and receive flowers to celebrate both Mom and the promise of a new gardening season. Later in May as we celebrate the Memorial Day holiday, plants and flowers play a big role in remembrance as well as our home gardening enjoyment.
I read recently that “a weed is a flower with an advertising budget”. Today plant breeders have developed flowering plants for our landscapes that bloom longer, brighter and more reliably than the blooms enjoyed years ago. Dahlias, Pansies, Gerbera Daisies, Calibrachoa, Coleus and Petunias are great examples of how we have come a long way baby.

Gerbera Daisy
Gerbera Daisy

Container gardening popularity has driven the development of reliable, continuous blooming and colorful plants that you can enjoy all summer long in your little corner of the world.
An easy container to design is a mono-culture container. Choose a single variety for your container along with an attractive container. Next mono-color combinations use two different shades of a color, but because you are using the same color you don’t have to worry about the colors clashing…they blend in shades. Analogous colors are next to each other on the color wheel and mix together easily. These can be effective and very colorful combinations of pink and red, pink and orange (a favorite of mine) yellow and orange, orange and red, violet and red, blue and green, and blue-violet. My favorite approach is using complimentary colors. On a color wheel, complimentary colors are directly opposite of each other…like red and green, orange and blue, or yellow and violet.

Complimentary colors Purple and Yellow
Complimentary colors Purple and Yellow

Finally you might want to try your hand at a three way combination color scheme. I call it a triple play, some people call it a triad. This combination uses 3 colors that are spaced equally on the color wheel – the points of a triangle. Examples would be a red-yellow-blue or violet-orange-green combination. Try a red-yellow-blue or pink-yellow-blue triangle combination.
Here are two quick pointers for your May Day combinations. Remember that pink is a great color to include because it plays well with almost any color including orange and red. Also remember for best success plant your container working from the inside to the outside of the pot thinking “Focal, Filler, Edger, Trailer”.

Pink and Orange combination
Pink and Orange combination

What’s “Growing” On?

Purp tulips
Could it be….spring is arriving?

(Garden Trends 2015)
The activity of gardening is synonymous with a healthy lifestyle. People see their outdoor space and activities as an extension and reflection of themselves. Not only is the outdoor area a living space, it is also a reflection of our personalities and a healthy lifestyle.
The Millennial generation (18-35) is leading the charge for change including front yard gardens and goats in cities and suburbs. In some cases this includes movements to change neighborhood ordinances. Recently we posed the subject of the return of the clothesline to the yard on my radio show. The phone lines lit up with wide and varied opinions. As a kid I remember the clotheslines in the neighborhood and the sometimes embarrassing public displays of garments flapping in the breeze. Many Baby Boomers like me have these memories including the smell of line dried sheets on the bed at night. For others they couldn’t imagine having to hang laundry in the yard and dealing with weather, bird droppings or airborne pollen.
Young men today are a demographic that has inspired the backyard to be an entertaining area with food to grow, grill, and a place to play games with their young children. They are a group with tremendous influence and buying power customizing their outdoor area to suit their needs including what is being called “Garden-tainment”.

If you're lookin you ain't cookin...let's get grilling!
If you’re lookin you ain’t cookin…let’s get grilling!

Interest in soil health is well “grounded” as we continue to grow “local food” and understand the need for healthy soils. Planting trees is making a comeback including community trees to enhance urban living. Trees experienced a downturn in planting during the economic struggles the past 8 years but as the housing market improves so does the interest in the benefit of healthy trees to the value of a property and a community.
Edible plants, berries, herbs, vegetable plants and “farming” your deck or patio with containers to grow in “bite-sized pieces” has great appeal to time pressed but health conscious gardeners. The concept of the garden no matter how small is aligned with the sense of living a healthy lifestyle. An “urban farmer” so to speak that cultivates and works the small piece of land they own. Along the lines of “bite size pieces”, reckless gardening is out. In other words if you have the money to put in a high maintenance garden and landscape then you probably have the money to have someone take care of it for you. Few people do, and what’s the fun in that? Workhorse plants that are easy to grow and give 3 seasons of interest are in great demand.

Viburnum is a workhorse in the landscape providing 3 to 4 seasons of interest....easy to grow and attracts wildlife!
Viburnum is a workhorse in the landscape providing 3 to 4 seasons of interest….easy to grow and attracts wildlife!

Demand for new varieties that bloom longer or are attractive with little care continue to drive the trends in the landscape. The resurgence in interest in succulents or air plants like tillandsia for example is a result of water conservation awareness and low maintenance trending. Everything including your phone and car are “smarter” today….why not your garden?
Finally color in the garden to express your personality. There is less concern about what the current trending color palettes are, and more about inspirations that allow you to express your personality.

Early season “dirty” thoughts on gardening

I had a friend of mine tell me it’s OK to have “dirty thoughts” if you’re a gardener. This made me laugh because I love the smell of soil. When we reach March and the frozen tundra begins to thaw our thoughts turn to the smell of good clean dirt. When we’ve been cooped up inside all winter in dry forced air and a confined space, we discover how much the rich healing texture and smell of soil and sunshine influences how we feel. I’m convinced that soil, fresh air and foliage are significant contributors to how we feel and our overall health. Don’t take my word for it, I’m not a doctor, just an “entre-manure”. A bag of potting soil this time of year can have big remedial effects for the winter blues. Remember as we move into the spring season we do know that there is a direct correlation between the health of your soil and the healthy produce, flowers and herbs you are able to grow in your garden.

Our Backyard Oasis awaits
Our Backyard Oasis awaits

I enjoy reading the Garden Media Group’s report on gardening trends at this time of year. There is a real and “growing” interest in backyard gardening as the yard today performs double duty. Your yard is your oasis for relaxation while also being the hub for social activity and entertaining. Among the numerous trends they point out you may find these to be interesting:
-A trend of “Glamping” which is a great way to describe pitching a tent with some at home glamor. Think throw pillows and a sofa in the tent and you get the general drift.
Pitch a tent in the backyard and bring the bed and sofa out there? You may be a candidate for "Glamping"
Pitch a tent in the backyard and bring the bed and sofa out there? You may be a candidate for “Glamping”

-Interest in staying grounded. Recycling food scraps (11.7% of U.S. waste is food scraps) and making landscapes not landfills starting with your own personal compost pile.
-Edible gardening including “drinking your garden” with the interest in hops, berries and vegetable and herb foliage to create smoothies.
-A “tree”-mendous reversal with a renewed interest in planting trees. With housing starts on the rise after a long slump and the awareness of the loss of millions of trees nationwide in the last 10 years….people are thinking tree planting again.
-Men in the 18-34 age demographic are a big and growing group interested in backyard living. From grilling to taking the youngsters out to play in the yard these young Dads have a real interest in outdoor living.
-“Bee”-neficials is what they call the interest in planting blooming native plants that are pollen rich to support a declining bee population vital to pollination.

Your houseplants have had a long winter. They have cabin fever, are tired of the dry air and whether in the office or the home have probably collected a little dust on their foliage. Lack of light is already a problem throughout winter so don’t compound the problem with dusty dirty foliage. Using some warm water and a pair of soft cotton gloves, dip your hands gloves and all in the warm water and gently using your fingers wipe (don’t pull or tug) the foliage. This is a quick gentle easy way to clean the foliage and improve photosynthesis.
Are you tired of winter about now and want to force the issue? You can force landscape branches into bloom indoors in March to deal with your cabin fever. Spring flowering trees and shrubs need a period of cold dormancy in order to bloom. By February and early March they’ve experienced sufficient dormancy to bloom. A close look in the landscape reveals swelling buds of lilac or forsythia. Look for swollen plump buds on healthy young branches. Cut the branches at an angle with a good clean by-pass pruning shear. Cut the branches long enough to display in a vase, usually 12 to 18 inches is a good length. Plunge the freshly cut branches immediately into water. We don’t want the branches to dry out. You will see best results if you do not place them in a direct sunny window. The warm indoor temperatures will stimulate the buds to wake up without “blasting” them in a window with direct sunlight. Bright indirect light will work best. Contingent on the species you’ve pruned you can expect the buds to swell and open within 1 to 3 weeks. When the buds begin to open you can display them in the vase or use the branches as supplements to a floral arrangement. Forsythia, Pussy Willow, Witchhazel, Honeysuckle, Cornelian Dogwood, Cherry, Juneberry, Crabapple and Bridal Wreath Spirea are all relatively easy spring bloomers to force into bloom indoors. If you’re feeling creative some Quince, Deutzia, Lilac, Red Twig Dogwood, Wisteria, Magnolia, Peach, Pear or Rhododendron might be fun to try.

Free Fertilizer

You can’t beat saving some green while greening your plants. Free fertilizer while you sleep. I’m talking about those wonderful overnight April thunderstorms where the next day everything outside seems greener. It’s not a “fig-leaf” of your imagination. Lightning provides the kick in the “plants” to the spring landscape. Nitrogen plays a critical role in photosynthesis and plant growth. We are surrounded by nitrogen in our atmosphere, but plants must secure their nitrogen in a “fixed” form. This can be done synthetically by the homeowner  picking up a bag of fertilizer at the garden center. It can be done biologically through decay or micro-organisms and bacteria in the soil in association with nitrogen fixing plants or legumes like clover.

Nitrogen fixing clover and the grass as well as other plant life show their green after a spring thunderstorm

It can also be done in an abiotic or atmospheric way via a good lightning storm. Air has nitrogen gas but it is inert and can’t be used by the plants until lightning converts unusable nitrogen into fixed nitrogen. Super charged lightning ionizes the air and the nitrogen oxides are carried by the rain as usable form of greening power. That faint ammonia like odor in the air after lightning is the atmospheric “hotline” answering nature’s call for more greening power in the form of “fixed” nitrogen. Plants can receive and use the greening power of nitrogen as nitrate ions, ammonia or urea. Even though atmospheric nitrogen generated by lightning may produce only 5 to 10 percent of a plant’s nitrogen needs, it is a dramatic way to light up the landscape in green after a spring storm!