Friday, January 28, 2005

Foaming at the Trowel

I don't know how else to say it: the local meteorologists around Dallas are either really stupid, or just plain cruel.

Their weekend forecasts are routinely, miserably off, usually in a bad way. They go from happily predicting a sunny weekend with temps in the 60s to overcompensating with proclamations of unending clouds and enduring showers. They are like the over-protective parent who paints a beautiful false picture of the world, then crumbles into apocalyptic hysterics the first time you skin your knee.

Well, maybe that's a bit drastic. Can you tell I had gardening plans for the weekend, only to have Mother Nature throw a rusty trowel in the schedule?

It's unnerving, really. I feel so...unappreciative of the fact that I live and garden in zone 7B (or 8a, depending on which map you use). I mean, after all, I've already started tomato seeds. Our last freeze date is only six weeks away. What the heck am I griping about?

I'll tell you why I'm griping. I am a gardener. I belong outside, with the sun on my neck, compost caked on my knees, and a mattock in my hand. I want to look over my shoulder and see a curious mockingbird waiting for me to unearth a tasty grub for him. I want to pull aside some mulch and find new growth on my Orange Meadowbrite Echinacae. I want to -- once again -- run out of decent gardening gloves because I've dirtied or poked out the fingers on all of the ones I have.

Most of all, I just want to be outside. Every year, winter seems harder to endure. The enticing, colorful gardening catalogs that fill my mailbox are just a cruel reminder of all the fun stuff I could be planting. Of course I realize the need for winter, for dormancy, in plants.

Maybe it'd be easier if people went dormant every winter. If we all just got fat and hibernated for a few months. Heck, I've got a headstart on that, considering the extra 7 lbs. I put on around Christmas.

What would my boss say if I announced I was taking off the next six weeks to, you know, just sort of snooze? Hmmm....

Nah. I'm sure I'd spend the time just sitting around the house, gazing out the window, wistfully wishing I could be outside gardening.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Dahlias, Dahling or...Obsession Meets Possession

Since taking up gardening a few years ago, I've developed periodic obsessions. First it was growing veggies from seed. Then it was buying every lavender strain I could get my hands on. Last year, orchids.

This year, the bulbs are taking over. Lots of new irises, some additional arums, but most of all...dahlias.

Gardeners kind of cringe when you try to talk about growing dahlias in nether regions of Zone 7 and beyond. It's too dry. It's too hot. But dammit, I'm going to try.

Y'see, I've got a new yard with lots of individual beds. One mostly sunny bed on the West side currently houses about five or six very worn out, very boring old rose bushes. My plan is to have the bushes ripped out and to put bunches of dahlia bulbs in.

Considering I've already ordered about 45 dahlia tubers, I think my plan is pretty much of an involuntary "go" at this point. Either that, or I'm buying bunches of containers.

But I digress. Dahlias can be grown nearly anywhere in North America if you're willing to provide them with a little extra TLC when needed. Lots of compost and other organic matter added to the soil prior to planting. At least 5 hours of sun a day (morning sun in the South). Stakes installed at planting time for support. Deep weekly watering. "Disbudding" to encourage central growth.

Yup, it's going to be labor-intensive. But I'm looking forward to gazing at this, this and this from my kitchen window every morning in August.

Want to know more about growing dahlias? Here are several do's and don'ts from some knowledgable folks in Everett, Washington on good dahlia care. HGTV's Paul James has also hosted periodic episodes with dahlia growing tips and instructions.

Take advantage of some of the online specials and coupons being offered by companies like Dutch Gardens and Breck's. Click on the ad links at right to go straight to their sites, and save some money too.

Looking for a certain dahlia? Check The Big List or the Dahlia Buyer's Guide to point you in the right direction.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Giving New Meaning to A Bowl of Oranges

ABC News: Researchers Seek Plastics From Fruit

A fascinating -- and encouraging -- story of how alternatives to plastic are being created and tested. I have to wonder how biodegradable and/or recyclable this plastic would be, however, if it contains CO2.

Of course, organic gardeners have been familiar with citrus products, and specifically limonene, for some time as a fabulous natural pest controller.

Reading the last part of the article mentioning corn plastics made me feel like a pioneer, as I'm already patronizing these products. I recently purchased some BioBags at this site for collecting dog poop.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Make Like a Tree and Leave

Here I am, trying to drum up readership...and I neglect to update for several days.

Actually, I'm in the middle of some behind-the-scenes prep in the form of entering all of my plants for 2005 over at Dave's Garden. It's a daunting task, for sure, but will be well worth it when finished.

I've been doing a little gardening as the weather allows. We seem to be on a continual one week warm, one week cold type of weather pattern here in North Texas, so I try to take advantage of the warm spells when they're here.

I finally got my two biggest Magnolias planted in the front yard. "Jane" had been in a pot for over a year (and been through a couple of re-pottings in the process) but I firmly believe she's just fine, and will probably flower beautifully in the spring.

The Sunspire I got from Wayside (at half price) also looked a lot better after I potted it up, but it was really time to get it in the ground. (FYI: When Wayside marks plants down, it's common to receive potbound plants in need of some TLC. That being said, most are still healthy overall.) I also think this columnar yellow magnolia will put on a lovely show come May.

In an effort to avoid a traffic jam on the way home this evening, I ducked into Calloway's and finally indulged in one of their half-price conifers that've been tempting me for the past couple of months: a gallon size Arborvitae 'Blue Cone' for just $12! Ah...I love a bargain.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A Little Hanky Panky

Hosta enthusiasts across the country are busting open their piggybanks as some new exciting varieties are hitting catalogs -- and wallets -- in a big way.

I keep waffling on whether or not to order the new 'Hanky Panky' (pictured at left, and available online from either Plant Delights or Naylor Creek)...but $35?!?!

Someone needs to remind me that most hostas don't really like the dry, blazing North Texas summers.

(Now...where did I put my wallet...?)

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

When It Rains...It Pours Into a Rain Barrel!

My latest gardening item hunt is two-pronged:

  • I want to find and/or set up a cheap, attractive rain barrel system.
  • I want to find a cheap under-leaf sprayer (cheaper than this, at least)

    For the rain barrels, I may have located two...that's TWO...old wine barrels from the Texas-based Llano Estacado Winery for a mere $50. I'm trying to find out whether the barrels are even water-tight. An important prerequisite for a rain barrel, yes?

    The barrels themselves are located just an hour to my north, so pickup wouldn't be a big deal. However, $50 for two big, authentic wine barrels is an awesome deal.

    The under leaf sprayer is available from many online farm places, and is better known in livestock circles as...(drumroll please)...a teat sprayer. Yup, it's original use was for cleaning and disinfecting animal udders. Since then, gardeners have discovered its benefits for applying liquids underneath leaf surfaces, where many pests like to loiter.

    Before I order online, I'm going to contact one of my local faves, Wells Brother's Farm Store, to see if they carry 'em in-house.