With Memorial Day fast approaching my thoughts have turned to poppies because a paper Red Flanders Poppy (Papaver rhoeas) is often worn to remember and honor those who have fought for their country. In many parts of Europe the plants are still to be found growing in cornfields and along byways in large masses and, although in some places they have been declared an agricultural weed, most people secretly love them.
The poppy family, Papaveracae contains 25 genera, and over 100 species which generally emanate from the temperate latitudes. Many have wonderfully flamboyant flowers such as the well-known California poppy, (Eschscholzia california) with its saturated orange flowers which clothe many dry hillsides of the state in spring, to the exquisite sky blue Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia) which is tricky to grow at the best of times and would hate the dry atmosphere in the Owens Valley.
However there are many garden varieties of poppies which are easy to grow here and it is hard not to love their vibrant crepe petals.
California Poppies now come in a wide range of colors such as pale cream (White Linen), burnt orange (Mikado), yellow (Chrome Queen), and purple (purple gleam). They are perennials but can be grown as annuals where there is a long season. They have a long taproot and resent any attempts to transplant them, so the seed needs to be sown where they are to grow. Water to keep moist until germination has occurred after which occasional watering should suffice, although they will flower for a longer season if given a more regular supply.
Shirley Poppies (P. rhoeas) are annuals and do well here if sown in the fall to will bloom in the spring. They grow about 3 feet tall and about 1 foot wide, and come in a variety of colors apart from the original red – white, pink, salmon, and lilac, sometime with a contrasting white edge. Bees love them for their early supply of pollen, and I have often witnessed them almost fighting around the anthers.
Oriental Poppies (P. orientale). These perennials are perhaps the most striking with huge flowers held on strong stems in late spring or early summer. They grow a clump of hairy leaves early in the year before the flower stems develop. Large clumps of flowers each up to 7 inches in shades of scarlet, white, coral or pink with a large black blotch at the base of the each petal can make a spectacular show in May, after which the foliage dies down in the summer in response to hot weather. They are also loved by bees for their black pollen. Unfortunately the roots are also irresistible to gophers!
Papaver soniferum, an annual variety that has been in cultivation for hundreds of years, comes in a wide range of colors and forms. I love the original single violet flowers which have darker splotches at the base of the petals but now they also come in double varieties (which are not attractive to bees and can look rather like a mop head), and fringed versions. The colors range from very pale pinks to almost black. Unlike a lot of other poppies the leaves are grayish-green, and smooth.
A plant that has done exceptionally well in my high desert garden is P. atlanticum. This is a smaller poppy which produces a prolific crop of soft orange semi-double flowers and which arise from a clump of perennial foliage. It has a very long blooming season if it is regularly deadheaded. It is difficult to transplant, but volunteers readily and comes through our winters with ease. The large black native carpenter bees are particularly attracted to this flower and look ridiculous as they try to collect food from these delicate flowers.
In the deserts the native prickly poppy, Argemone intermedia, is just coming into bloom. An annual or biennial, it has large crinkly white flowers the delicacy of which belies the prickly plant's tough nature, so unless you have an area given over to plants that like dry rocky terrain, you probably would not want to plant this in your garden. It is much loved by insects of all sorts.
Another native plant with similar flowers and no prickles is the shrubby Romneya coulteri the blooms of which look like fried eggs with their crepe-papery petals surrounding a boss of golden stamens. It is native to the Californian coastal regions, and is probably borderline hardy in the Owens Valley but I have seen a spectacular hedge of them growing in West Bishop. They are quite tricky to get established since they require fire for the seeds to germinate, and have rubbery roots that do not hold a ball of soil well for transplanting. The best method is to find a rooted sucker and try transplanting that. However, once established in ideal conditions these plants can spread rapidly and reach 6ft-8ft.
There are many more types of poppies, both native and cultivated and seeds of these available, both from suppliers of native plant seeds and catalogs such as www.edenbrothers.com/PoppySeeds that specialize in garden varieties.
It is hard to find flowers that give so much reward for so little effort.
Some of the most rewarding plants that I have grown in recent years came from a packet of “Cottage Pink” seeds (Parks Seed Co.) which I ordered for no other reason than I needed a small purchase to get free shipping on a vegetable order!
These pinks, Dianthus plumarius, are traditional cottage garden flowers from Europe where they have been cultivated for hundreds of years. They belong to the Dianthus genus which contains over 300 species together with numerous hybrids including such favorites as carnations and Sweet Williams.
I planted the seeds in late winter and had an exceptionally high germination rate. I was careful not to overwater the seedlings, and they grew well and transplanted easily. Although perennials, they all flowered in their first year.
Cottage pinks are characterized by perennial mats of gray needle-like foliage up to 12 inches wide, although the growth habits of individual plants are not completely consistent, some being very tightly growing while others are more lax. Strongly perfumed single flowers in shades of pink or white with varying petal structure and flower patterns are held upright on 6”-8” stems. These are long lasting, and each flower has a couple of dormant buds immediately beneath it which provides a long flowering season which lasts, with regular deadheading, from April to September in the Owens Valley. They don't flop, and so far I have never had any pests or diseases bother them.
All my plants have now survived several winters in Bishop (USDA Zone 7b), but just one of the plants goes extremely brown in winter and looks as though it has died, only to come back very vigorously when the temperatures rise, although that particular one blooms later than the rest.
My only problem was that until they flowered I did not know which would produce the most interesting flowers, and since I had run out of space in the borders I was forced to plant them out in the vegetable garden!
Some nurseries carry named varieties, often heavily marked or with stronger colors e.g. 'Firewitch', or related species such as Dianthus gratianopolitanus, and D. Alwoodii both of which perform well.
Cottage Pinks are hard to beat – long bloom season, perfume, good cut flowers, neat foliage and not prone to pests and diseases. I highly recommend them!
As those faithful harbingers of spring, the daffodils, hyacinths and tulips fade it is time to get deadheading. This is done in order to prevent the plant from wasting its energies producing seeds and to divert the food that the leaves continue to produce towards the bulb so as to enlarge and strengthen it for next year's flowers.
The spent flowers should be cut off just below the swelling seed pod as soon as possible after the flowers fade. Tulips and daffodils are obligingly easy since the flower heads snaps off quite readily. It is a rather tedious business but I discovered that it was a job that my small children seemed to enjoy doing (for pay) once they were old enough to do it safely, and this gave them an appreciation of how plants grow and engendered a certain amount of competition so the job got done very quickly!
Bulbs will not produce a second flush of bloom, but other plants that come later - annuals and perennials -will often rebloom more than once in a season if they are prevented from producing seed. After all, from nature's point of view flowers are produced purely for the purposes of reproduction of the species, so if seeds are not allowed to form the plant will continue to keep trying.
To know exactly where to cut off the dead flowers can be a bit of a challenge until one has some experience of different species:
- Petunias, pansies, California poppies etc – dead flowers are pinched off just below the flower head.
- Roses: Prune back to a five-leaflet leaf, making a slanting cut as you would for winter pruning. Carpet roses can be lightly sheared, cutting just below the spent clusters.
- Perennials e.g. dahlias, asters, delphiniums, dianthus. If the flower stem also has leaves or obvious buds, cut back to just above those since that is where further growth will start from. With these plants if just the flower head is removed it leaves an unsightly spiky stem, but by taking the stem down to the first set of leaves it looks more natural.
- Plants with flowers held on naked stems, such as daylilies are cut back to the base.
- Lilacs, viburnums and hydrangeas: These need to be cut just below the flower head, and should be done as soon as the flowers fade since the plant will rapidly be preparing the buds for next year.
Remember to take a container around with you to receive the dead flowers – there is not much point in cutting these off and then leaving them around on the ground where they could harbor disease!
Nothing detracts from the overall appearance of a flower bed more than dead or dying flowers. Often one is tempted to leave a cluster if there is just one floret with some color remaining, but it is much better to cut off that inflorescence and get a replacement growing.
- Author: Dustin Blakey
In case you hadn't noticed, our region is a bit different than most of California. For one thing we have this thing called "winter" to deal with. Although we may not get as much precipitation as we would like during the winter, we still have to deal with the effects of prolonged exposure to cold. In this way we are more like Missouri than California.
Recently I was asked about overwintering dahlias and gladiolus from the community garden. These are 2 plants that should not be left in the ground through the winter. In the case of gladiolus, in some winters many cultivars will survive but why risk losing your corms? (Corms are what gladiolus "bulbs" are really called.)
I was going to write a detailed post on overwintering glads and dahlias, but since I'm lazy, I checked to see if there wasn't something out there already written that would work. Fortunately Purdue's Cooperative Extension has a good fact sheet on keeping begonias, dahlias, geraniums, cannas and gladiolus through the winter.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, I'll just point you to this good resource. ⇒ https://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/HO-085.pdf It mentions fungicides in the fact sheet. If you're in California, you should ignore those parts.
- Author: Jan Rhoades
“You can't grow Canna Lilies here. They are tropical plants, not meant for our zone.” This was a recent statement made by a “dyed in the wool” British gardening friend. If you are an adventuresome gardener, like me, you recognize a challenge when you hear it.
When you go plant shopping at a nursery or garden center, most plants will have a tag that shows the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Hardiness Zone. Hardiness Zones were created in order to guide growers and provide gardeners with an easy way to determine which plants are most likely to thrive in any given location. The Zones are defined by the average annual minimum winter temperature. They are then subdivided into sections A and B, based on 5-degree F increments. If you visit the Agriculture Research Service (ARS) (http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/) web page, it is simple to enter your zip code and find your Zone.
Charlie Mazza, Senior Horticulture Extension Associate at Cornell University, put it best when he said, “In the real world, we garden in microclimates, not hardiness zones.”
A microclimate is the climate of a small area that is different from the area around it. It may be warmer or colder, wetter or drier, or more or less prone to frosts. These areas may be quite small – a protected courtyard next to a building, perhaps, – or it may be quite extensive, an area extending several miles inland from a large body of water, for example. In general, large bodies of water tend to moderate air temperatures of adjacent inland areas - low temperatures in winter are not as extreme, and these areas are less prone to late spring and early fall frosts. Smaller bodies of water, like a pond in your yard, have the same effect, just to a lesser extent.
Another example is urban areas which tend to have less extreme low temperatures that the surrounding countryside because buildings and paved surfaces absorb heat during the day, then radiate it back into the air at night. These buildings also offer protection from the wind.
Topography also has an effect on micro climates. Cold air flows downhill and collects in low spots so hilltops may not suffer as much from frost or cold temperatures. For example, here in Bishop, it is generally colder down at the airport by the Owens River that it is up at Apple Hill Ranch in Wilkerson. Of course, north facing slopes are slow to warm up because they receive less direct sun compared with south facing slopes.
Large scale micro climates dictate how our area is USDA Zoned. There is not much one can do about these effects except to be aware of them and let them guide plant selection and garden timing. However, you can look for smaller scale micro-climate effects at work in your yard and take advantage of them. Just like urban areas, your house absorbs heat during the day and radiates it back at night. It also offers shelter from prevailing winds and presents areas of shade and warmth. Fences, walls and large rocks can provide shelter and radiated heat. Raised beds, terraces and balconies can, like hillsides, offer a warmer, well drained space for growing. Paved surfaces, trees and soil types also offer opportunities and challenges, depending on what you might like to plant.
In addition to the USDA Hardiness Zone, other things that must be taken into consideration when choosing plants include its needs for light, moisture and care throughout the growth cycle. There are also environmental factors such as wind, pollution and localized microclimates.
Be aware of driveways, sidewalks, patios, and paved paths that can absorb heat during the day and re-radiate it at night, moderating night-time temperatures. If impervious, these areas can't absorb water, and may create wet spots if the water that flows off of them goes into one, concentrated area. The same can be applied where water flows out of downspouts and gutters or off of roofs.
Focus, also, on height, spread, and orientation of trees and current plantings. Tall trees can create excellent micro climates on your property by shading and protecting plantings, but they can also prevent rain from reaching the ground and provide too much sun protection in the summer, too little in the winter, especially if deciduous. Another consideration about trees: competition for water and nutrients created by the roots may make it problematic to grow less-competitive plants around the base.
Remember, no hardiness zone map can take the place of what you know and have observed in your own garden and yard. For instance, I made the mistake – some years ago – of planting a sapling cherry tree in what I thought was a fine place – and now I realize that it is in the shade of my large, old apricot tree, so it doesn't get much sun. By the same token, I have learned to plant my lettuce in the shade of other, taller vegetables so that I can have lettuce all summer, right along with my tomatoes!
While we cannot easily arrange and rearrange structures, hard surfaces, and trees on our property, we can incorporate a number of so-called season extenders to add productive days to the normal frost-free growth cycle for your Zone and create microclimates to our advantage:
- Raised beds and containers promote early growth, since they warm up sooner in the spring than the rest of the ground, especially if one edge of the bed or pot faces south. They can also provide optimal soil conditions.
- Use row covers. Woven polyester row covers have the advantage over clear plastic covers because they allow air circulation around the plants. Structures that surround plants...help store heat during the day and release it at night to protect plants from frost.
- Incorporate mulches to create desired micro climates by warming the soil (black plastic), cooling the soil (alfalfa and/or wheat straw), controlling weeds, and conserving moisture.
Let's say you want to have lettuce for your sandwiches and spinach for your salads outside of the “normal” growing season for these vegetables. You can tap into the benefits of creating microclimates in your vegetable garden to accomplish this goal. By utilizing south-facing raised beds in full sun you can get your seeds planted a week or two earlier in the late winter. By planting in containers you can move to a shaded area in the summer, you can extend the productive period for these cool season crops. And, by using winter-weight row covers in the fall, you can protect these tender plants from the falling temperatures...often extending well past the first frost.
Or, maybe you want to grow a canna lily in Zone 7b. Creating a micro-climate by planting in a pot and moving it to favorable locations according to the season is one solution. I chose to put mine in a sunny south facing corner by my house. The corner is protected from the wind and a warm toasty place in any season. I used mulch to keep the roots moist and covered the rhizomes with more mulch to make it through the winter. A raised bed might also be helpful in the future.
Gardening by using the concept of micro climates is, of course, a risk. We shall see what happens if the El Niño winter that is predicted comes to pass. All gardening, in the end, involves risk. And, the more I observe my garden, throughout the day and throughout the seasons, I can see where the microclimates exist, so that at least the risk is calculated!