Monday, April 27, 2015

Building a Tree

Building a Tree or Shrub

The first photo is of an Althea or Rose of Sharon bush or small tree. I took a seed from my mom's yard and raised or built this shrub. It has taken 12 years for it to get to the 6 feet it is now and covered with blooms as it was last summer. It has been a long, drawn out project but very satisfying. The second photo is of my cherry tree blooms this spring, followed by some apple tree blooms. I planted the cherry and apple trees about 10 years ago. I bought them from a local nursery when they were in 5 gallon pots, only about 3 feet tall and had slender small trunks. Now they are about 12 feet tall and the trunks are about 8 inches across. They are just now getting big enough to have lots of blooms and hopeful another crop of fruit as we got about 2 years ago. Last year the fruit froze during a late freeze. This year we lost the cherries but it looks like we might get some apples. The small pink flowers in the 3rd photo are of one of my favorite trees called a Redbud. There are several different verities at nursery's but there are wild trees over many states like Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana and others. In the early spring they have tiny orchid shaped blossoms that cover the tree in this nice shade of pink. Later they grow large heart shaped leaves that make for good shade. In the fall the leaves turn a nice shade of yellow. They are easy to grow and I have one that I let grow fro a seed and kept in a pot for a long time making a nice container plant. The last photo is of one of my lilacs another favorite shrub. I have 4 lilacs. 2 came from the nursery in small 1 gallon pots and only about a foot tall. In the 10 years I have had them they are now fairly good sized and bloomed beautifully this spring. The other 2 bushes came from root cuttings I took off of my mom's lilacs. Lilacs spread rapidly and can get aggressive in the wrong areas but are easy to start new plants from. Remember never to prune your lilacs in the early spring. If you do you won't get any blossoms, prune them in late summer.

Many people look at growing a tree as they would raising a child or caring for a pet. They think they have to sweet talk the plant, play music for it, pet it, give it special TLC. For some people this might be the proper approach for growing trees or plants, but not for us builders.

Don't just plant that new tree or shrub. Build it. Any people seem to be afraid of the idea of growing or raising a plant. Working in a nursery I hear so many people complain that they can't raise anything. People make comments saying they don't know why they're buying a tree as it won't grow for them. I say, “Have confidence in yourself.” Build that tree or shrub.

The dictionary defines 'grow' as 'start to increase in size, develop, to reach maturity, to expand.' To 'raise' is 'to cause to move upward, to make greater in size, to build.”

To Build! To develop or expand. Maybe we should stop thinking of growing or raising plants but of building plants.

The same people who say they can't raise or grow plants, frequently are builders. These are people who are architects, and engineers, who build homes, offices and bridges. Or they're mechanic who build or repair cars, trucks, lawn mowers, or all kinds of engines. They can be carpenters, who build or make furniture, and they may be electricians who build or develop computers or cell phones. I can grow a tree, but I would be as lost trying to build a computer as builders would be growing a tree.

We as people 'build' lots of thing including trees, shrubs, vegetables and houseplants. So the next time you start to plant that new tree think of it as a building project.

First you excavate a hole and build a proper foundation by adding peat moss and compost to the existing soil. Insert the tree into the hole in the foundation. Add the right ingredients (a baker 'builds' a cake) of lots of water, the required amount of root stimulator and maybe a stake and tire straps if needed. You want the tree to develop at the proper pace. To increase in size. You want to build this tree.

Remember, this isn't one of those quick, one day projects like painting a room, but an expanding, ongoing, never-ending project, like raising a child. Over the years the tree will expand and mature because you will add the required amounts of water, fertilizer, and mulch. You can help the tree by the occasional fixing or removal of a branch that forms wrong or doesn't look good. Your tree will require cleaning and improvement just as your home, your car or computer does.

Next tine you are looking for a new project – give this a try. Build a Tree!

Good Morning Glories

Good Morning Glories


Good Morning, - Glory,” is one of my friend's favorite greeting, and it's one of my favorite flowers. They are fantastic, easy to grow vines that have masses of large, heart-shaped leaves and big, bright, eye-catching blossoms that really do seen to shout out “good morning.” I've spent many an early, summer morning with a good cup of coffee or tea watching these delicate flowers unfold to the sunrise, all the while knowing each one will be gone by mid-afternoon. But not to despair, as there will be another group of blossoms opening the next morning.

I plant morning glories. I plant them in every corner, in every spot in my yard that doesn't have something else growing there. I plant them to grow on the fence along my back yard, and around all the trees in the yard. They are a great sight planted around a mailbox along the curb. I like to see them climbing the trellis near my back door. I don't have a very big flower or vegetable garden by there are lots of volunteer morning glories every where in my yard. I have mounds of them around trees, bushes, and the large pots most of my veggies and flowers are planted in.

As a child I resented having to do any yard work but I quickly learned to admire the fast growing vines with their large heart shaped leaves and beautiful flowers. I was taught to grow it as a child and let my son grew them when he was a small child. I consider it one of the best flowers to introduce children to gardening. The seeds are large enough for small hands to be able to hold and the child to see easily and the plants grow fast enough that children can begin to understand how they grow.

Last summer I read everything I could find about morning glories and decided to do some experimenting with them. I bought as many different kinds as I could find seed for and planned to grow them in the ground and in pots.

Morning glories or Ipomoea come in several different colors. Heavenly Blue is the all time favorite, it's flowers being four to five inches across, and is a sky blue in color. There is also Scarlet O'Hara in red, and Pearly Gates in white. The three make a beautiful red, white, and blue showing for the Fourth of July. Other colors includes different shades of pink and purple. If you don't plant seeds each year most glories will throw back to the basic pinkish-purple color.

Morning Glory vines are considered annuals, meaning they only last one summer season. In the fall when you are pulling out the dead vines you will see hundreds of little black morning glory seeds falling everywhere. These seeds will usually sprout the next spring but don't always come back to the color they were the previous year. To get a certain color you need to plant from seed which is best done directly in the ground or pot were you want the vines to grow. This should be done after all danger of frost is past or they can be started in pots about six weeks ahead of time in peat pots that can be put directly into the soil of the flower bed without disturbing the roots. They can be a bit difficult to transplant so I just plant them where I want them. If the roots are disturbed the plant won't do as well if at all. Seeds should be planted ½ inch deep after being soaked overnight or for about four hours to soften the seeds so they sprout better. I found it is not necessary as some books and seed packs recommend that the seed shell be scarified or nicked with a small file or fingernail clippers before soaking. To do this hold the seed between thumb and forefinger and nick the pointed end. Avoid damaging the rounded end as that is where the baby plant embryo is located.

I have had good luck with out soaking them, also, but it may take a day or so longer for the first leaves to appear. Remember first leaves will not be the heart shape of all other leaves so don't think it is something other than a morning glory. First leaves are more round but still larger than most first leaves of flowers. Give it a chance.

Morning glories are called twiners, meaning they go round and round the first upright support they come in contact with. They have growing tips that are very sensitive to tell them where to climb. Strangely enough, they usually grow in a counter-clockwise movement. If the tip finds a horizontal or lengthwise object, it will try to avoid it and “feel” for a vertical object to climb. And climb they do. They try to climb on anything and everything but do best with a little help. Chain link or open wooden fences work well, as do trellis, lattice work and even chicken wire. Special nails or hooks with glue can be used on cinder block walls and houses, along with a grid of criss-crossing string. Or if you prefer glories make a nice ground cover if they can't find anything to climb on. They grow very quickly, reaching twelve to fifteen feet in a season. If allowed to climb up a tree you will see glory flowers all over the tree confusing the neighbors as to what kind of tree you have.

In one of the books I read about glories it said that during World War Two, in parts of southeast Asia, morning glories were used by the British to camouflage ammunition dumps and gun emplacements to hide them from the enemy. You can use them to screen unsightly garbage cans or fences or your neighbors yard for a few months. In the southern states the vines will last almost year round while in the colder areas only during the warm months.

Remember that morning glories don't like rich soil. Living in New Mexico I already knew that they did well in our hot dry climate with its poor sandy, soil. They should do well anywhere they do not get to much water. I add a little compost from my compost pile, that is mostly horse manure and kitchen vegetable trimmings, to the area where I want to grow the flowers. But not a lot, as you would with most other flowers, trees or shrubs. Don't fertilize, either, or you may find you have long vines with wonderful leaves, but no flowers. The same with watering your morning glories. They prefer low to moderate watering, and will rot and die quickly if over-watered. Living in the desert I have to water about every other day and sometimes everyday if they are wilted. In many states if there is enough rain you won't have to water them at all.

I have never been overly bothered with any kind of insect pest on my morning glories, which is great for all gardeners especially those of us that are organic gardeners. No spraying, or bug picking. I did have a friend who said she had some problem with powdery mildew in humid weather. I have not encountered this problem here on the desert.

If you think you want to try morning glories, but don't want the vines, I found several seed packets for plants in a dwarf or bush style. They are usually pink, blue, or red with a white throat, and are really showy in pots or hanging baskets. There is one vine called a Moon Flower that is white and blooms at night with a sweet odor.

After you have planted your morning glories, sprinkle a packet of portulaca, cosmos or marigold seed in close to where the glories are planted These annual flowers will add more color and take about the same care and watering as the morning glories do. One year I planted sunflowers with some morning glories. The sunflowers provided support for the vines and the blue and gold mixture of flowers were very colorful at the end of one of our long summers when everything else seemed to have weathered and dried out from the heat.

I'm searching the seed catalogs for new verities and color for this year and next. Hope you'll try a morning glory garden, too.


I used to work in a plant nursery and I frequently got asked what is an easy flower to grow. A flower that kids can grow. A flower that will attract birds. A flower that will bloom in late summer when everything else is starting to die back. The answer to all those questions is the Sunflower.

The sunflower or Heliarthus is a true American flower. It is the state flower of Kansas. Indians were raising it for the seeds long before the Conquistadors came to America. Indians and early pioneers used the petals to make a yellow dye for clothing. The Incas revered the sunflower as a symbol of the sun. Not only are the seeds eaten by people, animals, and birds, the oil fro the seeds is used in some salad dressings, margarine and soaps.

The most commonly grown is the Mammoth Gray Stripe that can reach ten feet tall, and be eight to twelve inches across the flower head One flower can have up to 1,000 seeds or more. (I didn't count them. I'm just quoting from a book on annual flowers.)

Sunflowers are usually grown from seeds as they don't transplant well as seedlings. On checking the seed racks in several stores, I was surprised to see how many different finds of sunflowers there were. I found a whopping twenty different varieties, in all sizes and heights, plus more are mentioned in books. Color ranged from the almost white of Vanilla Ice, through every shade of yellow

like Lemon Queen, Cutting Gold and Sunspot. There were shades of red and rust browns, too. I liked the ones called Autumn Beauty, Sunset, and Chianti. The orange of Tethona or Mexican Sunflower is an eye-catcher in any garden even though the flowers are small compared to the big Mammoth sunflowers.
There are, also, wild sunflowers in many areas of the United States that are considered by many people to be weeds. I let a few of these weeds grow in my yard as they take no care and the goldfinches love the seeds as they are small enough for these small yellow birds to eat. The seeds from the Mammoth sunflowers are too big for some small birds to eat. The photo at the top of this post is of a wild sunflower.

It is best to plant them in the spring after the last frost. I usually plant mine toward the mid or late April, but have planted seeds around the end of June and had them bloom in the fall here where I live in New Mexico. Several plantings will give a more continuous blooming season. Although they can be grown in our native dirt, the addition of some well composted soil will help. But not to rich or to much fertilizer or you'll have big leaves and small flowers.

While planting add some blue morning glory seeds with the big sunflowers. The morning glories will climb up the sunflower big thick sunflower stalks and make for pretty blue and yellow flowers together. With the smaller verities of sunflowers, like Teddy Bear, drop in some marigold or nasturtium seeds for a great contrast.

Keep the seedbed moist until the seeds are several inches tall but sunflowers are not as fussy about water as many flowers and may be more forgiving about an occasional missed watering.

Do keep a lookout for some of the birds that will dig up the seeds for food. Cover the seedbed with a close meshed net if the birds cause to much trouble.

Don't be surprised to find your sunflowers attracting lots of bees. They are especially popular with the bumble bees. I've spent many an enjoyable time watching and photographing bumble bees on a newly opened sunflower. Don't be afraid of the bees. As long as you don't move to quickly or grab hold of one they won't hurt you. I've never been stung by a bee in all my years of gardening. (Yes, I have been stung by wasps. That is a whole different critter.)

I grow sunflowers for the birds, as well as the bees and my own enjoyment. It's fun to watch birds hanging onto a swaying sunflower head and eating the seeds. If a sunflower head is to heavy and bends over to much, I'll cut it and lay it on the ground so it's easier for the birds to get to the seeds. Of course squirrels like the seeds, too.

As you watch your sunflowers grow and flower don't forget to cut a few for flower arrangements in the house. A single flower by its self or in a group can be stunning. Or try a couple with several other kinds of cut flowers.

So when buying your seeds this year add a package of sunflower seed. Try a different variety, or two, or three, or four........

Wood Violets


One of my favorite flowers is the wood violet. It may not be very big but it certainly sends out a lot of very fragrant, heady perfume. Not only do violets have this wonderful odor, they bloom and smell good in winter in the southwestern states, and in early spring in other parts of the United States. In fact I found my first one this winter on New Year’s Day. One doesn’t expect to find flowers, let alone such a wonderful perfume, from such a small, usually unnoticed plant.

There are lots of different kinds of violets, or violas, which are kin to the pansy, and they come in several different colors from white, and yellow to light purple and dark purple. Wood violets seem to have the sweetest odor of any I have smelled. I got my start from my mom and she got hers from her mom, and that’s going back some fifty years so I couldn’t say for sure which verity it actually is. They grow rapidly from seed and are easy to start from division of clumps. Some people think that violets can become a pest if not kept under control. I try to keep mine in beds or containers where they won’t choke out other plants that I want. Wood violets are larger than the wild violets but not near as big as a pansy and are a deep purple in color.

Violets of all kinds do well in containers or pots. Wood violets, by themselves, take very little care except for water in the summer. They do prefer a bit of shade for part of the day as they are not real fond of the hot sun of the southern states. A few annuals added to the container, or bed of violets can add color and height during the summer. Before you plant your violets add some bulbs to the pot like windflowers, or grape hyacinths that will come up year after year along with the violets. They may not bloom at the same time but the violet leaves will add verity to the container or flower bed that you plant.

Wood violets make a nice cut flower for a tiny vase or with other flowers. A pot of violets makes a great gift at any time especially for the beginning gardener. I have heard of people picking violets and candying them to make decorations for cakes and cookies, but have never tried it myself.

I have let my wood violets take over a small flower bed right by my front door. I know that this wonderful little flower will greet me and my visitors with a lovely sight and a profusion of perfume for about 6 weeks each spring. Following the spring blooming period violets put on lots of heart shaped leaves. These leaves look nice in the flower bed, and can add interest to a bouquet of flowers.

Wood violets might be the right flower for you to consider adding to your flower collection.