Sunday, January 27, 2013

Is Your Mailbox Full of Seed Catalogs?

New seed catalogs come while I am busiest with the activities of Christmas, and I always look forward to post-Christmas peace and time to sit before the fire and read them.  It is easy to let my gardening dreams grow out of proportion to the real limits of my time and space as I peruse the beautiful photographs and eloquent descriptions of perfect vegetables. 

My favorite catalogs remain the same year after year.  I usually order seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, at or 877.564.6697.  They give cultural information and sell many disease-resistant tomato seeds. Heavenly Seed LLC ( or 864.209.8283), based in Anderson, provides the least glamorous catalog but the most generous amounts of seed for the money; I buy most of my seeds from Heavenly Seed.

I may order from Territorial Seed Company, or 800.626.0866 this year; they have some heirloom tomato varieties that are grafted onto disease-resistant rootstock.  The rootstock is supposed to resist many of the diseases that plague my garden, while the heirloom tomato variety grafted onto the rootstock will give me great tomatoes. 

 Three years ago, I ordered some fruit trees and bushes from Stark Bro’s ( or 1.800.325.4180) and I am pleased with their products and service.  Last fall, I ordered, for spring delivery, some grape vines from Ison’s Nursery ( or 800.733.0324) in Georgia. 

I do not think I have room to cram in any more perennials now, but perennials from Bluestone Perennials, ( or 1.800.852.5243) fill my garden. The catalog gives cultural information on nearly any perennial commonly grown in the US.

Peaceful Valley Farm and Garden Supply ( or 1.888.784.1722), is a California company with nearly every gardening/farming item imaginable.  Peaceful Valley’s catalog is good for information, obscure organic pest control products, and season-extension products. 

I sometimes order seeds from Seed Savers Exchange, ( or (562) 382.5990), a nonprofit organization from Iowa which sells exclusively heirloom seeds and John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds ( or (860) 567.6086), a catalog that is a work of art and provides detailed planting and culinary information.  I may also order from Renee’s Garden ( or 888.880.7728).    
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, (417.924.8917 or, has one of the largest collections of heirloom seeds around.  Pinetree Garden Seeds (207.926.3400 or sells small, inexpensive packets of seeds that are useful for small gardens or for trying out many varieties of seeds. 
Visit these websites and request catalogs, or peruse the catalogs online, and you will be able to imagine and to plan the garden of your dreams, unmolested by insects, disease, heat, or drought. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Prune Your Shrubs

The recent warm weather notwithstanding, January and February are usually the correct time to prune shrubs.  Pruning shrubs encourages them to grow, and so it’s best to wait for consistently cold weather before pruning them so they don’t put out new growth that cold weather will kill.  The weather forecast indicates that cooler weather will arrive later this week, and I hope the poor confused plants will remain dormant.  However, the honeybees enjoyed the weather and the blooms on my Mahonia over the weekend, and I have enjoyed the fragrance of my tea olive. 

According to my own experience and according to the Columbia Garden Club’s book “Gardening Notes for South Carolina,” January and early February are a good time to prune trees and shrubs that do not bloom in the spring such as evergreen shrubs and crape myrtles.  Do not commit “crape murder” by rounding off the top of the tree; crape myrtles are attractive trees both in the summer and in the winter as long as you allow them to retain their natural form.  I prune mine by cutting off branches that cross or are diseased or broken, but I leave the long graceful form of the branches alone.  I also thin the tree by cutting off branches at the trunk.  Thinning the tree allows air to circulate and helps prevent mold. 

“Prune after bloom” is a good rule of thumb, so do not prune forsythia, hydrangeas, azaleas, and camellias, among other spring-blooming shrubs, until after they bloom.  If you prune them before they bloom, you will cut of the flower buds and will have to wait until next year for blossoms. 
I prune this ligustrum topiary several times a year

Because shrubs are dormant now, you can prune them without worrying that the pruning will spur new growth that the frost might kill.  On any shrub or tree, at any time of the year, you can remove dead, diseased, or broken branches.  You may have difficulty determining whether branches on deciduous trees or shrubs are dead or just dormant.  Bend the branch gently; if it is pliable, it is alive and if it snaps, it is dead.  Also, you may gently scratch the bark with your fingernail; a live branch is green inside and a dead branch is gray or brown.

Use hedge trimmers to shape boxwoods and hollies into squared-off shapes, if you prefer it, but please do not prune azaleas, camellias, forsythia, loropetalum, and other shrubs with graceful, flowing branches into little squares or balls.  Flowering shrubs are much more attractive, and easier to maintain, if you allow them to maintain their natural form.  Reduce size by cutting off entire branches with loppers, not by giving them a haircut with hedge trimmers. 

If you must prune shrubs several times a year to keep them under control, the repeated chore is a sign that you have a shrub in the wrong place.  It may be too big for its spot, or it may have an unruly nature in a place where you would like a neat shrub.  I prune most of my shrubs once a year.  The only shrubs that require trims that are more frequent are my ligustrum topiaries, but I expected the high maintenance when I purchased them.  Now is the best time to move any shrubs or trees; dig up as big a root ball as possible when you remove it, and water the shrub well throughout the winter and the coming summer.  I have moved large shrubs with success.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Chickens in Chicken Heaven

The temperature is in the seventies here in South Carolina today, and I let the chickens out while I moved their pen. They haven't had a proper dust bath in awhile because it's been rainy, and because I have had their pen in a place that lacked dry, loose soil. One found the ideal dust-bathing spot, and they all came for a dip. Chickens in confinement don't get to enjoy this perfect chicken-happiness. Mr. Cuteypants, the guinea who comes across the screen about midway through the video, enjoyed his (her) dust-bath earlier.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Book for the Chicken-Loving Gardener: "Free-Range Chicken Gardens" by Jessi Bloom

As I have bemoaned many times in this blog, chickens can make a mess of your flowerbeds.  They remove the mulch from around plants with astonishing speed, and they love to  peck holes in green leafy plants faster than Japanese beetles can chew holes. 
Free-ranging chickens may interrupt dinner

When I began my garden, I did not plan to have chickens, and my main concerns were keeping out the deer, minimizing weeding chores, and conserving water.  I put plants in my garden that deer dislike and put down heavy layers of mulch to retard weeds and retain moisture. 

Fortunately, many of the plants deer dislike are also unpalatable to chickens.  However, beds with thick layers of mulch covering earthworm-rich soil are chicken heaven.  Because of the mess they create, my chickens do not free-range all the time; instead, I keep them inside portable electrified netting that I move every couple of weeks.

In her book, Free-Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard, Jessi Bloom tells the reader how to create a garden that welcomes chickens.  With planning, gardeners can incorporate chickens into their gardens, and can allow them to roam free while also minimizing damage to the plants. 

Bloom advises the gardener to think about which areas will be chicken-friendly, and which areas need constant protection from poultry.  A permanent fence encloses my vegetable garden, and I can allow my chickens into sections of my vegetable garden when no plants are actively growing in the area, or when I have a mature cover crop in the area, but close the main gate to the garden to prevent unrestricted access.

New plants, especially seedlings, are most vulnerable to chicken attack; a chicken could kill newly sprouted zinnia plants in seconds, but they might peck at a few leaves of a mature plant and move on.  Chickens could dig up newly transplanted perennials in search of a new dust-bathing spot, but they won’t remove established plants.   

Chickens can roam the fruit orchard most of the year, but they need restriction from ripening fruit within chicken-jumping range.  Bloom tells gardeners to use plastic poultry netting and temporary stakes to keep birds out of sensitive plantings.

Ground covers, according to Bloom, can retard weeds and conserve moisture, but, unlike mulch, chickens cannot scratch it into a mess.  I plan to put out more ground covers in lieu of mulch.

One remaining problem is the chicken poo.  In the garden, it quickly decomposes into wonderful fertilizer, but on the patio chairs, it is not pleasant.  A squirt of water washes it away, but if you are planning a new garden that will include chickens, it is helpful to plan a way to keep the chickens off the patio.  Motion-activated sprinklers may help deter chicken activity in undesired areas.
Filled with pictures of happy chickens roaming in beautiful gardens, as well as useful suggestions about managing the chicken’s needs, Bloom’s book offers the gardener many ideas about incorporating chickens into the garden.