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I always look forward to Tuesday evenings.  

Why, you may ask?

Well, every Tuesday we all get into the car and make the 5 minute drive over to Double S Farms, which is where my mother, my sister and her family live.  

In addition to hanging out with everyone, including my very cute nephews, Finley and Oliver, we also get to enjoy a delicious dinner that my mother prepares.  I just love not having to cook dinner one night a week 🙂


While we were there, I decided to take a look at my mother’s vegetable garden.  

The last time I saw it a few weeks ago, it looked like this….



Did you know that unused vegetable gardens are a great place to play with trucks and tractors?

Well, the trucks have now left the garden and it is now newly planted with transplants from our local nursery.


Leaf lettuce, dill, cauliflower, basil and other vegetables are already growing.

Interspersed in between the rows of vegetables are two flowering plants that my nephews picked out for the garden…
Finley and Oliver’s petunia plants make great companion plants for vegetables – especially leaf lettuce  broccoli, potatoes and squash.  

Did you know that petunias repel aphids and beetles?  


As the sky began to darken, we made our way inside to see the newest additions to the Double S Farms family….

They have four new chicks that are growing very rapidly and are almost ready to be moved into their new coop outside.

My sister, Chicken Farmer, likes people to hold them often so that they learn to be friendly with people.


I don’t mind holding them….they are awfully cute.  Especially, the ‘Naked Neck’ chicken, Francie.


My son, Kai, got to hold the friendliest chick, Lottie, who is a ‘Buff Orpington’.

Well, the chicks were getting tired, so the kids decided to hang out with grandma and see some fun Halloween games on her computer…




***************

I hope your week is going well so far.  As I am writing this, we are experiencing wind, thunder, lightning and delightfully cool temperatures.

Which reminds me that I need to buy a pumpkin…..




**You can read more about my sister’s new chicks here.

All of us (I hope) have experienced the benefits of having a good friend.  A good friend is someone that you can enjoy good times with, but they are also there to lean on in times of trouble and provide support.


Well, don’t you think your vegetables deserve the same benefits that friendship offers?



Now at this point, some of you may be thinking that I have finally turned into a crazy plant lady…..seriously – vegetables need friends?  Well, the answer is yes.  Vegetables do best when special ‘companion’ plants are planted among them.

Okay, so what does a companion plant do?  Well depending on the kind of plant, they can repel damaging insects and/or attract beneficial insects.  If you add companion plants interspersed throughout your vegetables, they will be much healthier and you will have fewer headaches due to fewer insect problems.


Here are some of my favorites…..

Alyssum (Lobularia maritima), not only has a beautiful, sweet fragrance, but they also attract butterflies and ladybugs which are important pollinators.  Insects that eat mealybugs, scale, thrips and spider mites are also attracted to the alyssum and will help to keep those damaging bugs away.

 
Bachelor’s Button (Centaurea cyanus), also attracts pollinators that are so important to the formation of your vegetables.  They also attract insects that will prey upon damaging insects such as scales and thrips.
Now who doesn’t love the bright flowers of Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus)?  Well your vegetables would love to be friends with them.  In addition to attracting insects that will feast upon mealybugs, Cosmos also serve a general deterrent to insects.

Pelargoniums commonly called Geraniums not only beautify your vegetable garden, but their distinctive smell deters many insects.

Anytime you encounter Lantana in full bloom, you may also notice butterflies hovering above, which serve as pollinators in the garden.  Lantana are also a magnet for the irritating whitefly.  By planting some Lantana in close proximity to your vegetables, the whiteflies will be so busy with the Lantana that they are more likely to leave your vegetables alone.  Try to think of it as a choice between eating an ice cream sundae or broccoli 😉

 I just love Lavender and now I have a reason to include it in my garden.  It serves as a great repellent for ants, aphids, fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and silverfish.  In areas where I used to work, it was one of only 10 plants that the rabbits and javelina would leave alone.  Butterflies and bees do not seem to share the same aversion to Lavender…..they love it.
 
Petunia hybrids are a very popular flower and it is easy to see why with their large, bright flowers.  But they also make great companions for vegetables (& roses) as well because aphids do not like them and tend to stay far away.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) isn’t just for cooking.  When in flower, bees are attracted to this wonderful herb and will often stick around to pollinate your vegetable flowers (yes, vegetables do flower and need to be pollinated).  It is thought that the aromatic fragrance of the Rosemary messes with the ability of damaging insects to detect delicious plants in the vicinity.
Anyone who has grown Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus), knows that bees are drawn to them.  Well, if you didn’t already know this…..bees are vital for a healthy garden.  Sunflowers also offer another benefit to the vegetable garden.  When planted on the west side of the vegetable garden, they will provide shade in the summer for your vegetable garden.
These are just a sampling of companion plants (and the only ones that I had pictures of).  There are many more wonderful companion plants:
 
Basil

Calendula
Catmint

Catnip
Chives

Coreopsis 
Dill

Fleabane
Marigold

Mint
Nasturtium

Sage
and 

Thyme
 
I currently have both Marigolds and Nasturtium growing inside my vegetable garden.  I am also (meaning my husband) in the midst of building a flower garden which will surround my vegetable garden.  I will include many of these companion plants as well as some purely ornamental flowers.

And so, if you have a vegetable garden that looks a little lonely, or if you are tired of the battle with damaging insects…..try bringing some ‘friends’ into your garden.  Your vegetables will thank you for it.

Today, I visited our local big box store to buy some summer annuals for my containers.  Each time I visit, I mentally prepare myself ahead of time because I usually get frustrated at the fact that they frequently sell the wrong plants for the wrong time of year.  I have posted about this before, which you can read here if you like.

In the meantime, I thought I would give you a pop-quiz.  I know, I know….no one likes pop quizzes.  In high school, those words would create a sinking feeling in my stomach every time.  But I promise, I will give you the answers and I am an easy grader 😉
 
The following are flowers that were offered for sale today.   Some are summer annuals for our area and some are winter annuals, which will soon die from the coming summer heat.  Are you ready for the quiz?  There are two possible answers for each question – summer or winter flower. 
 Petunias
Winter or Summer Annual?
  
Celosia
 Winter or Summer Flowers?
 
Vinca
Winter or Summer?
 
Lobelia
Winter or Summer Annual?
 
 
Verbena
Winter or Summer Flowers?
 
Alyssum
Winter or Summer?
 
 
Impatiens
Winter or Summer Annual?
 
Red Salvia
Winter or Summer?
 
Begonia
Winter or Summer Flower?
 
Portulaca
Winter or Summer Annual?
 
I told you I would give you the answers, so here they are:
 
Petunias – Winter
Celosia – Summer
Vinca – Summer
Lobelia – Winter
Verbena – Summer
Alyssum – Winter
Impatiens – Winter
Red Salvia – Summer
Begonia – Winter
Portulaca – Summer
 
How did you do?  It is not easy to tell looking at the flowers which one will do well in summer and which ones do best in winter. 
 
I do go to big box stores and buy plants because they are usually inexpensive.  BUT, I DO NOT rely on their advice or the fact that if they are carrying certain plants, that they are appropriate to plant at that time of year.  Shopping at big box store nurseries only works if you do your research ahead of time.  Just because they have a plant on display does not mean that it will survive for long in your garden.
For example, the big box store had winter and summer annual flowers displayed right next to each other (above).  There was no way to know that the one on the right would survive the summer and that the one on the left would soon be dead from the summer heat.
 
If you are uncertain about what plants to purchase, then I recommend doing your own research OR going to a local nursery, where you may pay a little more, but you can receive expert advice on the right type of plant to plant the right time of year.
 
I ended up buying two Radiation lantana for my front containers.  Lantana are great summer flowers and I then transplant them into my garden in the fall.
 
**Butterfly update – the caterpillars are still within their chrysalis.  I am hoping they emerge early next week.  I have had to bring them indoors the past two nights because the temperatures have dropped below 55 degrees.  I will keep you updated 🙂
 
I hope you all have a great weekend!

Geraniums

Last week, on a trip to our local big box store, I was greeted by the pallets loaded with beautiful, red geraniums.  This is a sight that made me angry.
 

You may be wondering why on earth the sight of beautiful flowers made me angry.  Well, I do love flowers, (obviously… I’m a horticulturist) –  so that is not what made me mad.

What if I told you that most of the annual flowers that were on display at the beginning of April, are the same kind of flowers that were for sale in September and October.

Petunias

Now, if you take a minute to consider this, you come to the conclusion that the annual flowers that the big box stores are being offered for sale in early April – just in time for summer.  That doesn’t make much sense does it?

Well, winter annuals are called “winter annuals” for a reason….because they grow in the winter, NOT in the summer.  They cannot handle our hot summers here in the desert.

You may think that this problem does not apply to you if you don’t live in the desert and your summers do not get as hot as ours.  Well, I hate to inform you that this problem occurs all over the US.  

Violas

I love Violas, but these beautiful hanging violas that were hanging outside of the nursery department will be toast, literally, in just a couple of months.  My violas that have been growing beautifully since late October, are starting to show signs of stress with the couple of 80+ days we have experienced last week. 

And so, this is what makes me angry this time of year, when I enter the nursery section of my big box store.  The winter annual flowers are beautifully laid out in order to entice shoppers as they enter.  You can see the shoppers envisioning how beautiful their gardens will be once they add some of these colorful flowers.  

 

Marigolds, Alyssum, and Petunias

 What they do not realize is that in two months, the alyssum and petunias, pictured above, will be dead and their money wasted. **Interestingly, the petunias and alyssum are placed alongside the orange colored marigolds, which usually will do quite well through most of the summer.  

Arizona is different from many parts of the country.  Our mild winters allow us to grow annual flowers that are grown elsewhere in the country in the summer. 

Stock

 
People put their trust in their plant nursery and believe that they would not sell anything that would not thrive in their garden.  They rely on their expertise to sell the right plant for the right time of year.  Sadly, this is not true of all nurseries, especially those at the big box stores.  People begin to believe that they cannot grow flowers or that they have a “black thumb” instead of a green one when their newly planted flowers begin to die soon after planting.
But do not DESPAIR….there is hope!

You can avoid being a victim and the solution is really quite simple….do a little research.  It can be as simple as doing a Google Search and enter the term….summer annuals for (your city or area).  You should be given a long list of plants that should thrive in your area.  
 
**For residents of the Arizona and California desert, I have done the online searching for you.  You can check out the following link for information on what kind of flowers to grow and when.

Each year, around the end of August, I walk into the plant section of our local home improvement store just to look at the colorful, flowering annuals


While I may be sorely tempted,  I don’t buy any; I just like to look.


BUT, I know that I am in trouble when the majority of the nursery shelves is covered in a sea of winter annuals – I feel like a kid in a candy store.  The vibrant colors and scents are almost intoxicating – to me anyway.

 

In the past, when I managed landscapes on golf courses, I would come to the store in our work truck and load countless flats of annuals for planting around the golf courses and the other buildings.  I loved planning ahead of time what I would plant and the color combinations that I would use.

Petunias, bacopa, and alyssum

In the low desert, winter annuals typically show up in the nurseries around late August, and it is so easy to get caught up in the excitement of fall being just around the corner along with the promise of cooler weather.  So before you know it, you buy a bunch of flowers and run home and plant them.  The problem is, is that it is often still too hot for them to survive.

 Red geraniums with bacopa
For years, I would tear out the summer annuals around the golf courses and plant winter flowers in late September, usually with good results.  Of course, I would have to be vigilant and replace a few plants that would fall victim to the warm September temperatures, but overall they did fine.  
 
That is until one year when we had higher than usual temperatures in early October.  The flowers kept dying despite my best efforts.  Each day on my way to work, I would have to stop by the nursery to buy replacement plants.  This got kind of old after 2 – 3 weeks and I would have to go from store to store to find the same kind of flowers that I needed.
 Blue Petunias 

So, I learned my lesson – no matter what, we would not plant winter annuals until late October.  I mean, it was silly to pull out the summer annuals in September when they still looked great.  I think people want to get a jump start on winter flowers because it makes us feel like the weather is cooler when it isn’t.  So unless you want to make extra visits to your local nursery, WAIT until mid-October.

Now, since I no longer manage landscape areas, I am only responsible for my annual pots.  Last year I planted hot pink geraniums with alyssum, and they did very well.  In the past, I have tried the following combinations with good results:
 
– Yellow Snapdragons with Blue (Deep Purple) 
– Petunias and White Alyssum
– Red Geraniums with White Alyssum
– Hot Pink Geraniums with Lobelia
– Yellow Pansies with Lobelia 
– Light Blue Pansies and Alyssum
– White Snapdragons with Pink Petunias and Lobelia 

 

Snapdragon

 PLANTING:  For containers (pots), I use a planting/potting mix, which is specially formulated for containers – not potting soil, which can become soggy.  

 
If you are planting annuals in the ground, then I add compost or potting soil to the existing soil at a ratio of about 1 part compost to 1 part existing soil.  


If you do not have a compost pile at home, you can buy bagged compost at your local nursery.  Add slow-release fertilizer, following directions on the label.  Plant your winter annuals, making sure that they have enough space between them to grow.
 
CARE:  Water twice a day.  I usually water in the morning and maybe late in the afternoon as the plants are becoming established (about two weeks).  You can then water once a day or every 2 – 3 days, depending on the weather.  


In a managed landscape setting, I would also fertilize weekly with a liquid fertilizer to promote maximum blooming.  At home, I usually fertilize every other week.
Viola
 

Now that we are in the second half of October, I am ready for planting winter annuals in my garden.  I have been thinking about planting violas.  I have not planted them since I was a little girl and I did notice some beautiful ones at the nursery back in August.  Those violas are probably dead from the heat of late August.  


Hopefully, they will have some new ones in now that it is really time to plant!