Gardening Thieves

I have struggled recently with the moral issues of obtaining plant cuttings through trespassing on land not belonging to me. I think every gardener eventually lusts over plants they see in other people’s yards, store parking lots and even highway exit ramps. Once you develop a technique for taking cuttings and propagating new plants, you begin to look at the world with a whole new view. Suddenly, a plant nursery is not the only place to obtain new plants. You must reign yourself in or before you know it, you have a mini-nursery of your own with baby plants to take care of. I am very aware as a parent that we are examples to our children and asked my husband recently if I am a bad example by taking plant cuttings in this manner. We came to the conclusion, that as long as I am not running amuck in someone else’s yard maybe it’s okay. Maybe I’m not contributing to the delinquency of a minor. My poor children have sat in the car on more than one occasion with their nose pressed to the window watching mom “steal a plant cutting.” 

The rules and regulations put forth in our family state: Bushes behind the dry cleaners are fair game, but perennials in front of the neighborhood library are not. Roses in front of the abandoned supermarket are game, but the coleus next to the city police station are not. The previous example should be self-explanatory due to the “Arresting” nature of the situation.

I still wrestle with the moral implications of what I am doing. Many gardeners I have seen interviewed on television have come straight out and admitted their weakness for taking a tiny bit of what didn’t belong to them. One such gardener even admitted taking seed from a plant at a national historical home and garden. I think if the park rangers had caught him in the act, they wouldn’t have been happy.

Whenever I “take” a cutting from some other place, I always think of an article written by the prestigious Irish gardener Helen Dillon. She wrote of returning to her home, after a trip, to find two women in her front garden.They were dividing up the cuttings they had just taken from her plants. Helen writes,”They didn’t even have the modesty to divide the loot upon return to their own homes.” She then states she had to “lay down with a cool compress for the remainder of the evening.” I’m sure I would feel the same way.

And so I stick to my self-proclaimed rules for stealing. I don’t venture into other people’s gardens and I try to be a good example for my munchkins. I wonder what philosophy other gardeners have created for themselves. Let me know. Happy gardening!

Increasing The Shrubs In Your Garden

Gardening can be an expensive hobby with buckets, watering cans, and shovels to buy. By the time you have invested in a few good tools, you find you have very little money to spend on plants. A great way to save money on plants is propagating what you already have in your landscape. Especially if you have a plant that you think is really terrific and you want more of it. It is by far the best way to save money in the garden and a lot of fun to boot. And if you have children, it’s great to get them in on the act, too. My 9 year old son has been gardening with me since he was a toddler.

There is nothing like planting a shrub that you have started from a cutting, nurtured, and then planted in the garden. The simple act of pruning a shrub to maintain size or shape can provide you with plenty of shoots to root for cuttings. Unfortunately, the more difficult a plant is to propagate, the more expensive it is in the nursery. Luckily, the majority of shrubs are easy to root from cuttings and this is the subject I will cover here.

Types of Cuttings: Soft, Half-ripe, and Hard 

Cuttings are the most commonly used method for increasing shrubs. There are three different types of cuttings you can take from your shrub: soft cuttings, half-ripe cuttings, and hardwood cuttings. Many gardening books and manuals will often tell you touse one type of cutting for one type of shrub and another type of cutting for another type of shrub. In all honesty, this does not always work that way. I have taken many different types of cuttings from a plant, been successful with some and then tried to duplicate my process the following year only to fail miserably. My best advice is to try soft cuttings first, then half-ripe and finally hardwood cuttings and judge for yourself which is working best. A pot containing a dry, dead stick or a mass of green mush will tell you how well you’re doing. And by the way – experiment – that’s how to become a good gardener. Experiment and fail and learn from your mistakes. Many famous and legendary gardening gurus when interviewed have said the secret to their success has been that through their failed experiments they have learned to more closely observe the plant – its needs and temperament.

Soft Cuttings

Trim below leaf nodeThese are cuttings taken from the growing tips of the branches and trimmed just below a node (a node is the point at which leaves occur on the shoot). The best time to take soft cuttings is during late spring and early summer. If success is achieved and roots form, you could have a well-established plant by autumn. The easiest way of taking the cutting is to remove it from the parent plant by cutting it off with hand clippers. Select a shoot 3-8 inches long. Clip the branch off just above a set of leaves. This allows the shrub to continue making future shoots from this cut area. Then take your cutting and trim the branch off just below a leaf node. Discard this bit. Next remove all leaves from bottom 2/3 of shoot. I sometimes leave only a couple of leaves on the top of the shoot for photosynthesis purposes. The bottom one inch of the cutting can then be dipped in rooting hormone. Studies have shown an excess of rooting hormone can actually retard the rooting process so use only a very small amount. I have two small children toddling around my potting bench so I choose to not use any chemical rooting helpers. My rate of propagation is probably not as high as it could be, but my children and I are not breathing in anything potentially harmful.

Inset cutting into soilAfter you have prepared the shoot, insert it into a small pot of potting soil. First, make a deep hole in the soil with a pencil or your finger, then insert the shoot. Only bury half of the shoot in the soil. It is important that the bottom of the cutting be in contact with the soil. Firm it in by inserting your finger or pencil to the side of the cutting and pack the soil around it. A mixture of potting soil heavy on Perlite will work well in rooting cuttings. I add a heavy dose of sand to the soil which can also help.

The problem with soft cuttings is just that – they are soft and delicate and prone to wilt. To prevent this it needs to be kept in humid conditions. A clear, plastic bag covering the pot works well to keep in moisture. Be sure to support the bag off of the shoot with sticks poked in around the edges of the pot. Without plastic, I have arranged cuttings in their pots under a big leaved shrub. It tends to be moist, shady, and humid under there and can work well to protect them. I am currently housing five or six cuttings under a large hydrangea bush and they all seem to be doing rather well.

Check the cuttings regularly. If any show signs of rot, remove them from the other potential cuttings and discard. The cuttings may root in as little as a few weeks or may take a couple of months. Some may not be well-rooted until spring the following year.

Half-ripe Cuttings

Half-ripe cuttings are taken between early summer and early autumn. This type of cutting is generally easier to root than soft cuttings. They are much less likely to wilt. Although the bottom of the cutting is stronger the growing tip is still soft and delicate. Take these cuttings from the parent plant exactly the same way as in soft cuttings. Prepare the shoot, trim it up, and use hormone powder if desired. However, these cuttings do not need as much warmth and humidity as softwood cuttings. They can be placed on a bench in the shade.

Hardwood Cuttings

These are the easiest of all cuttings to root. Take these when the leaves have fallen, using current seasons growth which is ripe and woody. Cut these branches 6-12 inches long and discard the soft tip part of the branch. The top cut you will make needs to be just above a dormant node and the bottom cut just below a dormant node. Prepare a pot with potting soil, as before, and insert cutting. Keep this in a sheltered spot and by late spring or late summer you should have a well-rooting cutting.

Beautiful New Shrubs

Finished cutting potted upWhen you start, remember rooting plants from cuttings is easy. I have a lovely new hydrangea all thanks to my husband and his paint brush. While painting the trim on our house, my husband hacked at a hydrangea branch that was in his way. After being handed the sad, tattered shoot I frowned at him. My husband is a wonderful man but in no way a gardener. I took the shoot, trimmed it up, and prepared it in a pot of compost. If it didn’t root, I would not have been upset. In fact, I was so busy I didn’t really check on it for a month or more. The happy end of my story is I planted a beautiful new hydrangea in another area of my garden. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Have fun gardening!

Have any questions? Please contact me.

Ouch! Mosquitoes!

I don’t think there is anything I hate, in this world, as much as mosquitoes. I bet there is no one in America that has tried as many things as I have to rid my garden of mosquitoes. Especially, since I am allergic to their itchy bites. I swell up like a softball wherever I am bitten. It amazes me when I talk to people that are hardly ever bitten by mosquitoes. I don’t know if it is because of my natural red hair, but I feel most of the time like I have a bull’s eye tattooed to my forehead for them to find. Now, after many years of painful (and itchy) research, I have found some ways to at least control this problem. Let’s talk about a few of the many things that didn’t work and a few that I have found that do.

First, let’s talk about sprays. I have tried many different body sprays to ward off mosquitoes. Unfortunately, I have found the sprays that contain DEET seem to work the best. I try to be health conscious and not put anything toxic or dangerous on my body. It goes without saying I don’t put this stuff on my children either. A lot of “natural” sprays that do not contain DEET either do not work at all, or if they do, it is for a short period of time. You must reapply. You must reapply. You must reapply. Apply, apply, apply – Argg!

Second, let’s talk about mosquito candles, lanterns and tiki torches. Citronella candles can work fairly well but I have found you need a lot of them in a small area. Also, lanterns will work but, the little cartridges in them constantly need to be replaced and constantly dry out. Tiki torches work well but you need a lot of them so you better love the tiki torch look.

Next, let’s talk about those huge, propane guzzling monsters. You know the ones – costing a fortune and promising to rid your entire yard of the little blood sucking beasts. Well, they do exactly as promised. They act as a “magnet” for mosquitoes. Just as women are drawn to shoe sales, every mosquito in your neighborhood will be drawn to this machine. You can’t stand near it to change the propane tank (which you have to change every 21 days!!!) without getting eaten alive. I know from experience, I had one for two summers. The only way I can see this being effective, is if the family has a large property and puts this on the edge of their land far away from any sitting areas or the house itself. Most of us nowadays have small yards and gardens. I do not recommend these machines for anyone with a small to medium sized yard (or bank account).

Next, there are exterminating companies that will come and spray your yard. (I know because we hired a company for a couple of years to do this.) It works well. And will last about a month. They will come back and spray again – every month. I have no complaints about the effectiveness of this – it does work, but at what cost to you, your family, and the wildlife around you. The exterminating company will tell you it’s safe for birds and some insects, but I notice they do not recommend this for gardens with ponds. It will indeed kill your fish. And it will strike a significant blow to your bee population. I have sadly walked out into the garden the day after a “spray” and literally had a dead bee fall out of a rose blossom onto the ground. It really made me think and grieve for what I was potentially doing to the world around me. Not to mention, how could I ever eat food out of the garden with this going on. I started vegetable gardening in containers and draping them with old bed sheets when it was time to spray the garden. The last straw was a surprise visit from the exterminating company. They were supposed to call to give me notice a day before they were coming. It made me look suspiciously at all of my beautiful ripe tomatoes hanging on their vines. They were beautiful, but I wouldn’t eat them for fear they had been sprayed with the mosquito repellent.

Now that I’ve discussed a few of the things that didn’t work very well, here are a few successful items.

First, do not underestimate a ceiling fan. That’s right! Companies have made fortunes convincing us of the need for “usable” space underneath our decks. Under deck weatherproofing is installed and a seating area is then established. Put an outdoor ceiling fan in these areas. Mosquitoes do not like to fly in the wind caused by the ceiling fan. Also, if you have a deck with a pergola over it, think about adding a ceiling fan to it. On our family deck, I have gone as far as plugging in a box fan and pointing it toward our outside table and chairs. This has been very effective.

I’ve already told you that I don’t like to put toxic sprays on myself, but I have found a mixture of essential oils to be very effective. I use a mixture of Lavender, Peppermint, Citronella, Lemongrass, Thyme, and Cedarwood. These can be bought individually from a health food store or sometimes you can find them pre-mixed for this purpose.

How about a safe, effective, and organic substance to spread on your grass that repels mosquitoes and other biting insects? Well, I have found it, and tried it this year in my garden. It’s called Mosquito Beater Granules by Bonide and it seems to work very well. We spread it over the entire lawn area and flower beds, too. Its effect lasts for 4-6 weeks. The only down side is your yard will smell like an ethnic restaurant for a few hours, but then the smell dissipates. The odor is due to the ingredients: Citronella Oil, Garlic, Cedar Oil and Lemon Grass Oil among others, which mosquitoes seem to hate. The effectiveness lasts even after the smell is gone.

Well, I hope I have given you some field tested suggestions to help you rid your garden of mosquitoes. As for me – what’s next to try for mosquitoes? I have heard of a product called ThermaCELL that hunters love. It is powered by a butane cartridge and dispenses a small amount of repellent into the air over a long period of time. It claims to create a 15 x 15 feet mosquito free zone. After I try it, I will tell you my honest opinion. As always – have fun gardening!

Have any questions? Please contact me.

Do You Have A Magic Swing?

Do you have Magic in your garden? Do you need Magic in your garden? No, I don’t mean garden gnomes. Magic – the kind of magic you get from a magic swing. What is a magic swing? It’s a swing in your garden that gives you the permission to sit and do nothing. Do nothing but look around and enjoy your garden. Everyone should have their own Magic Swing. A very popular gardening magazine recently took a poll and found that gardeners rarely sit in their garden and enjoy what they’ve created. What dummies we are! We spend so much time creating beauty and so little time enjoying it.
The Magic Swing
I have installed a swing in my yard that my son and I call “the magic swing.” We call it this because when you sit down, magic happens. You relax and forget the stress of the day. I try very hard, even in the middle of a busy spring, to sit and enjoy what I have created in my garden. So stop mowing, pruning, and weeding – at least for a little while – and sit in your “magic swing.” Gardeners are magicians – we take barren soil and turn it into a beautiful painting. My complements to you, the magician and artist! Have fun gardening!

How To Keep Cats Out Of Potted Plants or The Case Of The Prickly Paw

I love cats. I really do – I have two of them. But there is nothing that makes me angrier than finding a pile of dirt next to my beautiful ficus tree. Or even worse, a “present” inside the pot. Keeping cats out of potted plants is a frustrating task. Some cats won’t give the time of day to a houseplant, while others love the smell of rich, earthy potting soil better than any catnip. I’ve tried many things to keep them at bay and I’ve finally come up with the best idea. Not only does it work, but it’s quite stylish, too. Pinecones! They are prickly on Fluffy’s paws and she will look elsewhere to do her digging. If your cat dreams of being Rambo and nothing will stop him – wire the pinecones together in a long swag. Then, drape them in a circle on top of the potting soil. Luckily, pinecones are cheap to buy or free if you go collecting with your whole family. Give your kids each a canvas tote bag and see who collects the most. Have fun collecting and have fun gardening.

My Top 6 Favorite Lemon Scented or Flavored Plants

Lemon BalmLemon Balm – can be used in cakes and cookies

Lemon Grass – use to flavor chicken or fish

Lemon Thyme – can be planted in rock gardens

Lemon Basil – great for Italian cooking and pesto

Lemon Verbena – use to make lemon tea, desserts

Lemon Mint – a great garnish, or to flavor iced tea

All of these are super easy to grow and readily available. Have fun gardening!

Redhead Garden is now on WordPress.com!

It’s raining outside. If it wasn’t raining I would be outside deadheading my daisies. It’s annoying to sit inside and think of all the gardening chores I need to do. Am I the only crazy person, with my nose on the window, planning where I’m going to plant the new shrub I bought yesterday?

Well at least I get to set up my new blog with my wonderful, smart, and silly 12-year-old son. Without him I would be lost and these sentences would not have enough commas. I am very excited to be using a new site and will be able to post more often what is going on in my garden and maybe in my home.

We are currently waiting impatiently for the birth of a litter of tiny turtles. The mother turtle chose our garden to dig a hole and place her delicate eggs here. Unfortunately, it was identified as a snapping turtle. Ouch!!! We hope to direct her brood back into the forest next door. We will keep you posted on the birth and any subsequent injuries. Have fun gardening!