Picture Snob

December 31, 2010

Celebrating the Madrone

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A California wildfire swept through my place six years ago, killing most all of the trees and burning down a just restored barn. I had many lovely madrones on my land, some three hundred years old and all of them died. Madrone bark is thin and provides no protection from fire while some of the big pine and fir trees survived. But amazingly enough, the madrones immediately resprouted from the roots and now many of them are 8 or 9 feet tall and thanks to a friend of mine have been shaped into a tree. The sprouts come out so thick that the madrones after the fire look like shrubs, but with some skillful pruning can be encouraged to begin a tree existence sooner than nature would allow.

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The Madrone is a lovely tree, evergreen, with large shiny green leaves and pink or red bark that peels off in the spring to reveal a satiny green new bark which in turn turns reddish. It has sweet smelling flowers in the spring that come in white droops and later a red berry forms which feeds wildlife, birds, deer, bear among others. I'm so happy my madrones are making a come back. They are notoriously hard to transplant and really thrive only in a Mediterreanean climate with hot summers and wet cool winters. If you're interested in trying to grow this lovely tree, you best start with a seed and plant it where you want it to grow. If you can't find a source of seeds, let me know and I can send you some this summer when the berries come ripe.

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December 30, 2010

Transplanting Peonies for summer blooms

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I'm digging three holes around the new house and transplanting the peonies from pots to the holes. I found some good advice from the "Gardner's Helper". The best time to plant peonies is in early fall. (early September until mid October are ideal) so they will have time to become established in the soil before winter. I"m assuming because mine are in pots this will not be a problem.

Mature plants will reach a diameter of three feet or more and so it is important to give them enough room to grow and develop. The planting hole should be at least 18 inches deep and about 18 inches in diameter. At the bottom of the hole, add a 4 inch layer of organic matter such as compost, pine bark, or well-aged manure. A half cup of a good organic plant food (10-6-4), bone meal or superphosphate should be mixed into this layer. You should avoid adding fertilizer to the soil that will be in direct contact with the roots.

Fill the hole half way with a mix of garden soil and compost, and then set the root division in place with the eyes facing upward. Spread the roots outward and evenly. Water thoroughly. Watering will not be a problem as it has rained and is supposed to keep raining for at least a week.

Make certain that the eyes will be no deeper than two inches when the planting is completed, or your Peony may fail to bloom. If potted peonies are being planted, plant them at same level as they are growing in the pot. I'm using potting soil and also returning some of the clay I dug for the hole. The rest I'll make a circle dam around the plant for easy watering in the summer.

After the division or plant is in place, work the soil in around the roots, finish filling the hole, and then water again. If root divisions are planted in the spring, they may not bloom for up to two years. However, peonies which are potted and already growing may bloom for you the first year when planted early enough in the spring.

"If childhood memories include gorgeous pink peonies from your grandmother's garden, ones with lots of full blossoms and perfume that made you swoon, there's a very good chance the variety was Monsieur Jules Elie. First introduced in 1888, this peony has graced countless gardens, edged thousands of driveways and been the featured flower on dining room tables across America for generations. Monsieur Jules Elie is an early bloomer with large, fully double rose-pink blossoms and plants that grow to almost three feet with a two foot spread. Deer resistant."

At Peony Monsieur Jules Elie - One 3/5 Eye Rhizome

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December 29, 2010

Pruning season has begun

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Home grape growers don't prune their vines enough is the word from Oregon State University. I am never sure what to do about my table grapes which are mostly Thompson Seedless. I didn't prune them last year and they were covered with more grapes than ever before.

However this bulliten has totally different advice. "When gardeners prune, they should remove the majority of wood produced the previous season - until about 90 percent is pruned off," The time to prune grapevines is from January through the first of March, when the grapes are dormant.

There are two types of grape pruning--cane pruning and spur pruning. Mature plants should be pruned yearly to remove all growth except new one-year-old fruiting canes and renewal spurs.

Grapes are produced from buds that will grow into shoots on one-year old canes. The most fruitful canes will be those that were exposed to light during the growing season. These are thicker than a pencil in width and as close to the trunk as possible (when cane pruned), explained Strik.

To cane prune, select two to four new fruiting canes per vine. Cut back each of these to leave about 15 buds per cane. For wine grapes, leave about 20 to 30 buds per plant. In table grapes, leave 50 to 80 buds per plant. Leave a one-or two-bud spur cane near the fruiting cane with one or two buds each. These "renewal spurs" will produce the fruiting canes for the following year and thus maintain fruiting close to the trunk. All other cane growth should be pruned off.

Most table grapes produce the highest yield of good quality fruit when cane-pruned.

To spur prune, prune along main canes to leave two- to three- bud spurs, each four to six inches apart. Leave no more than 20 to 80 buds per plant, depending on the type of grape. Remove all other one-year-old wood.

If you want help with pruning grapes as well as other plants and trees, this book should help you.

At The Pruning Book: Completely Revised and Updated [Paperback]

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December 28, 2010

A tulip tree is the first choice for fast shade and beautiful flowers

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Tulip trees are native to the eastern United States and for some reason I always thought of them as small, decorative trees. But a friend of mine came by and looked at my lack of shade and suggested the tulip tree as a solution. I discovered that they are a fast growing, large shade tree with lovely flowers in the spring.

The tree can grow to 60 feet high and loves sun or partial shade. The flowers are pale green or yellow and in the northern range, they flower in June. It is fast-growing, without the common problems of weak wood strength and short lifespan often seen in fast-growing species so it sounds like the right choice. I'll have to be careful to keep the soil around it moist and will mulch it well. I will have to wait until spring plant it and use one the well drained holes already dug.

At Stokes tulip tree

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December 23, 2010

The Yard Butler comes in very handy for planting bulbs

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This drill works well for bulb planting, for tree areation and other jobs where small holes are needed in difficult places. The advantages of using the Roto Planter is that it digs holes up to 22-Inch deep and 2-Inches wide. It can also be used for electrical or sprinkler installations under sidewalks. It can help with deep watering around trees, aerate and fertilize trees and shrubs. It digs for you. You insert it into any 3/8-Inch or larger electric or cordless drill.

Reviews say that this auger will dig even in heavy clay soils and will rip through small roots if the drill is strong enough. This is an important element if being satisfied with the product. Many people who tried it with small cordless drills in heavy clay had an overheating problem which cleared up when they switched to a heavy duty drill. This auger can save your back and also save plenty of time if you're trying to get the bulbs in a break between winter storms.

At Yard Butler RP-3 24-Inch Roto Planter

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December 22, 2010

A beautiful book about trees! Trees: A Visual Guide

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Everyone raves about the pictures in this book as well as the information included. For someone who loves the outdoors and loves trees, this is a great gift and a great coffee table book. The book is divided by chapters describing the form, types, location, and use of the many varieties of trees.

Each page hasf text which is enhanced with color photographs. The book includes trees from around the world. Although this should not be considered an identification guide, there is a section entitled "Remarkable Trees of the World" where 99 trees are described by height, type, occurrence, habitat, division, and family. Additional text discusses the unique features of each variety and is illustrated with either a photograph of the tree, flowers, or leaves.

It's a great book to thumb through and for someone like me, who is hunting for beautiful and practical trees, it supplies illustrations of tree, leaf, flower, and fruit shapes, and small maps showing the types and major forests of the world. There are also four pages of charts describing the largest families and genera of trees. . The text is clear and written in nontechnical language and has a wealth of information about the evolution of trees and their habitat.

At Trees: A Visual Guide [Hardcover]

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December 21, 2010

The tree holes revisited after a week of rains

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I had four tree holes dug around the new house and this winter I hope to plant some shade trees. Last month I did a bunch of posts on what some possibilities were. The trees I plant need to be hardy enough to survive in mostly heavy clay soil and few nutrients other than the ones I'm going to supply when I plant. I'll add potting soil, fertilizer, green sand and other amendments, hoping to give the trees a good start.

Now that I"m back at the house and it has rained for several weeks steadily and on and off, I went out to inspect the tree holes. The picture above shows one that is still holding water after three days of dry. The other holes look empty and fine. So the drainage in this hole is going to have to be fixed, if possible. I'm thinking a French drain might work. French drain was not created in France as I had always thought, but by Henry French in Concord, Massachusetts. My idea is simple. I would dig out a small piece of the wall of the hole, down to the bottom. Then insert a small piece of 2 inch pipe, put gravel over the pipe and the bottom of the hole and then pack the dirt back in to fill in the wall again.

I hope this works as the tree hole that is not draining is right at the sunniest corner of the house and I need shade there badly. It would be a real bummer to plant there and have it die in the first rains.

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The Solstice is a time for quiet contemplation

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It's always a good idea during this holiday season, to take time for quiet reflection and the winter solstice provides that opportunity. The garden has usually been put to bed, the days are short, and the growing season over. It's important in the our life as well as the garden's life to take time to think over the year, it's gains and losses, the successes and failures and assess the everyday projects and activities that keep us going. It's most important of all to JUST STOP DOING ANYTHING AT ALL and feel what it's like to be at rest.

We can learn a lot from gardening about nurturing, about persistance, about fruition and about being still. The earth, the soil and our efforts need a time of rest. It's something our culture does not value, but it is essential to life and health that every once in a while, we stop trying and sit quietly. Just stare out the window for a while or shut your eyes, or be grateful for what you have. So you might use this solstice as such a time. I wish you many more such times over the holidays and in the new year.

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December 20, 2010

Solar lights will light your way in the dark of the year

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These lights are a great gift and a very attractive and handy way to light the paths and sidewalks, patio and yard without the expense of electicity. The lights are solar powered and nicely mark the edge of a driveway or sidewalk, garden steps or swimming pool perimeter. There is no maintainance! You just stick them in the ground where you need extra safely or illumination and the sun does the rest for you.

It doesn't take much sun to power up the lights and the soft glow in the dark is very pleasing to the eye while lighting a path or indicating the edge of a pool. When they first made their appearance in Costco and other hardware, ten of these lights were selling for $100 so the price has come down by half.


At SUNergy Grandview Solar LED Accent Garden Yard Lights Black

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December 17, 2010

Frosty Fern is a good winter plant

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My granddaughter and i found Frosty Ferns on sale at Whole Foods and on impluse bought them. Frosty Fern is a lovely plant, dark green with the tips light cream which is where the plant gets its name. Its Latin name is Selaginella krausianna variegatus, and it grows to 12". It is a fast-growing, creeping house plant. Its stems quickly reach a foot long or more and the stems root whereever they touch the soil, forming a dense mat. Although not a fern, it does produce spores instead of seeds, like a fern.

This plant likes moist soil and indirect light. The more light it gets, the faster it grows. It is only hardy to about 10 degrees so it can be succesfully grown indoors during the winter and moved to a shady location outdoors during the summer. If you want the plant to get bigger, fertilize regularly with a diluted, balanced fertilizer. The yellowing of the fronds is an indication of lack of nutrients or overwatering and underwatering. Selaginella kraussiana is a native of Africa, the Mediterranean Region and the Azores Islands

At Frosty Fern Club Moss Hanging Basket.

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December 16, 2010

Papillio Amaryllis makes a unique gift for the holidays

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Amaryllis grows well indoors in the winter and you can buy a kit provides everything needed to produce huge, brilliant colored flowers to brighten your or a friend's home. The flowers can be 8" across and there is choice of red, white, or appleblossom. You can get successive year's blooms. I've grown these many times and never been disappointed. They make a great gift and are lovely at Christmas.

This particular amaryllis is really spectacular. Papillio, French for "butterfly", produces flowers that actually appear capable of fluttering away. The most famous of the exotic amaryllis, Papillio makes an amazing houseplant, growing larger as the seasons pass with the addition of smaller side bulbs. Snowy petals with maroon brushings and stripes, tinged with lime green. Flowers are 6" across and numerous.

Mature bulbs for the true Papillio amaryllis tend to be smaller than other amaryllis. This size is big enough to deliver the gorgeous burgundy striped blooms Papillio is justly famous for. The plant will have probably 1 or 2 flower stalks, rather than more. Many of this year's Papillio bulbs have a "baby" stuck to the side of the mother bulb, a jump start on the multi-bulb clump this amaryllis can develop into over time. So this particular bulb has the potential to be a year round pleasure surviving for many years.

At Amaryllis Papillio Butterfly - 20/22cm Bulb (True Papillio)

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December 15, 2010

A garden tool set and stool make a perfect gardener's gift

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This is a great gift for the gardeners on your holiday list. I nice set of tools comes in a carrying case and attaches also to the light weight stool which can be easily moved from place to place. There are five tools included--a rake, a trowel, a spade, a weeder and a fork. The tools are steel with wooden handels and the stool has a polyester canvas seat.

It's all very compact and convenient and the reviews are very positive.


At Picnic Time Gardener Folding Chair with Tools

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December 14, 2010

Southern Exposure Seed catalog is the first to come

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I got the Southern Exposure newletter that says my catalog is on the way! They say, "It's not winter yet, but we hope you'll accept the season with open arms once you're cozy at home with our new seed catalog, dreaming up next year's garden." The newsletter mentions several conferences that will be taking place this winter season with an invitation to join others to discuss gardening techniques and seed saving.

What I like about this catalog is that it explains their perference for open polinated and heirloom seed and their rejection of GMO crops even though if people save the seed they buy from Southern Exposure, they have no reason to buy seed the next year. The price of the seed is comparable to other major seed stores and the planting information is extensive and very helpful. For example, with the open pollinated corn seed, they include tips on using mineral oil on the silk to discourage corn ear worms.

At Southern Exposure

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December 13, 2010

Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre inspires and informs

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If you have a big back yard or enough room, this book should get you going on growing your own food and raising enough to sell at Farmer's Markets. The book provides infomration on how to grow 85 percent of the food for a family of four and earn an income. It talks about earning $10,000 in cash annually while spending less than half the time that an ordinary job would require. That might be a best case senario, but even if you have never been a farmer or a gardener, this book covers everything you need to know to get started. It describes how to buy and save seeds, how to start seedlings and establish raised beds. It tell you how to increase soil fertility, how to composting, and how to deal with pest and disease problems. It covers crop rotation, farm planning, and much more.

Because self-suf´Čüciency is the objective, subjects such as raising backyard chickens and home canning are also covered along with numerous methods for keeping costs down and production high. Materials, tools, and techniques are detailed with photographs, tables, diagrams, and illustrations.


At Mini Farming: Self-Sufficiency on 1/4 Acre

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December 10, 2010

A Greenhouse is a great gift

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This greenhouse is a blowout gift for the gardener in your life(or your own garden). It is easy to assemble, sturdy and durable and will extend the growing season and give healthier veggies, more vibrant flowers, and abundant herbs year-round. It uses solar heat and the glazing resists fogging. The roof is strong enough to hold a snow load and the greenhouse makes a beautiful accent to the garden. Here is a great way to protect seedlings from frost for an early start. So if you want to splurge on a loved one or on yourself, this is the item to choose.

  • Hobby greenhouse with sliding door
  • 100 percent UV protection: protects glazing, plants, and gardener from harmful rays
  • Classic apex roof design for head room; roof vent for proper ventilation
  • Aluminum frame, powder coated galvanized steel base;
  • Measures 6 by 8 feet, manufacturer 12-year warranty

At Rion Greenline 6- By 8-Foot Backyard Hobby Greenhouse

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December 6, 2010

Snow throwers are so very helpful in the north

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As much as I dislike the noise of a gas powered machines(unless I happen to be using them in which case I understand the need), a snow thrower is a great boon to those in Massachusetts and above. My son-in-law uses his as soon as the snow flies and avoids the problems with getting the car out of the driveway and clears the sidewalk for the kids. The whole family goes out to simaltaneously play and work to make getting to school and work possible.

Removing the snow also avoids the problem of the snow melting some during the day and then freezing again at night, or a freezing rain coming and making walking a real hazard. So I have come to accept the usefulness of the gas engine. So if you live where snow is a problem, you might consider this gift as a holiday surprise for whoever takes care of the shoveling. It's a four cycle engine that runs on gas and involves not gas/oil mix. The handle collapses for easy storage and the chute is clog resistant.

At Murray 1695537 21-Inch 190cc 4-Cycle OHV Briggs & Stratton Snow Series Gas Powered Single Stage Snow Thrower

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December 3, 2010

Christmas Cactus is a great gift for the Holiday Season

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Hirt sells these Christmas Cactuses through Amazon and is offering a great deal if you order three. They make great holiday centerpieces and will bloom in a sunny window all winter with little care needed. They come in a variety of colors, orange, fushia, white and pink. Yellow is a rare color and is also offered.

These plants were originally tropical forest plants which grew as epiphytes on trees and derived there nutrients and moisture from the air and sunlight, but did not damage the host plant. The present day varieties are hybrids and are quite easy to propagate by removing a single segment and planting it a quarter of its length deep in a pot filled with slightly sandy soil. It helps to put some kind of rooting hormone on the base of the cutting. Place the pot in a well lit area (but not in direct sunlight) and keep the soil moist. The cutting should begin showing signs of growth after two or three weeks.

In order to bloom the plant needs three or four weeks of cool weather. They do best in indirect bright sunlight and evenly moist soil. If well taken care of, the Christmas Cactus can last years.

At Christmas Cactus Red Variety

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December 2, 2010

Winter Holiday time is poinsetta time

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For those of you thinking ahead to the holiday season, now might be a good time to get a poinsetta whose bracts and flowers will last several months, perhaps right into February. Poinsettas are native to Mexico and have been cultivated for Christmas flowers since the 16th century. Their bright color comes not from their flowers, but from the bracts around the flowers which are noted for their brilliant red, but can also be green, pink and yellow.

One of the most common questions after Christmas is "How can I care for my poinsettia so that it will bloom again next Christmas?" While this can be done, it's a very fussy, exacting process. When you bring the poinsetta home, you should place it near a sunny window. Poinsettias are tropicals and will appreciate as much direct sunlight as you can provide. Temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees F are good during the day. However, cold drafts or allowing the leaves to touch a cold window ca injure the leaves and cause premature leaf drop. Water the plant whenever the surface feels dry to the touch. Water until it drains out the bottom, but don't let the plant sit in water.

If you follow these simple guidlines, your poinsetta will last and bring you some cheer all winter long.

At Poinsettia Plant - Large

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December 1, 2010

The River Birch shade tree sounds promising

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The River Birch tree, Betula Nigra, is a very handsome tree and it seems like it doesn't mind wet soil which I have an abundance of in the winter. It has a light reddish brown cinnamon bark that peels and flakes to give that beautiful look that the birch family is noted for. It has dark green summer leaves and turns a golden yellow in the fall. Plant as a specimen, or as a windbreak, plant 20' apart in the row.

It is excellent in wet soil. but will survive dry soils. It has graceful branching, and is easy to transplant. This Birch tree can withstand extended periods of flooding, and is beautiful in the summer and winter, is widely adaptable, and heat tolerant. So it sounds like it has all the qualities I need. An interesting side note is that Native Americans used the boiled sap as a sweetener similar to maple syrup, and the inner bark as a survival food.

At Fox Valley River Birch Tree - Betula -Outside or Bonsai

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