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Welcome to the Paul Parent Garden Club 2014 Newsletter
 

 

In late January or early February when you are sure that spring will never get here, there is one plant that has a surprise for you! The surprise is that this plant will begin to flower in winter, and the flowers will last until March. The witch hazel is a winter garden surprise for those of us with cabin fever at this time of the year. One of the hybrids, 'Arnold Promise,' will have yellow flowers, and its sister 'Diane' will have red flowers. 'Arnold Promise' was voted Plant of the Year just a few years ago. This hybrid was introduced to gardeners at Arnold Arboretum in Massachusetts, where it was developed, hence its name.

The flowers of witch hazel are either in pairs or two pairs together. When the bud opens, four petals will develop and they will resemble straps about one inch long and often slightly twisted. If you're able to get to the plant in the snow cover in the garden, you will be in for a second treat--it is fragrant. Plant this shrub close by, so you can see and smell it during the long days of winter. On days that the weather is cold and windy, the flowers just coil up like New Years horns. Blow on a flower and it opens; stop and the horn will roll back in place. This keeps the petals lasting longer. The leaves appear in May and are dark green and two to four inches long.

Plant witch hazel in a full sun location for the best flowers--but I have seen them growing in partial shade and they looked good. They love a rich soil, so when planting be sure to add plenty of organic matter such as peat moss, compost and animal manure. They will do best in a moist soil that is well-drained and never has standing water. Fertilize spring and fall with Plant Tone fertilizer for the first couple of years to get off to a good start. After the plant is established, fertilize once a year to help it make flowers for the next year. Sunny locations that are hot, dry and exposed will slow down the growth of the plant and give you fewer flowers. So give them a little shelter with evergreens as a background and the flowers will be more noticeable.

Wichhazel will grow 10 to 20 feet tall and as wide, so I prune them to control the size in April before the foliage develops. That way the plant has time to make new growth and flowers after you prune it. If you see new shoots that grow quickly straight up, remove them, as they are suckers and will not flower.

In the fall, another treat for you--the foliage will turn to a rich yellow to orange with some red. I love this plant when it has the ground around it covered with English ivy or Pachysandra and the flowers appear. Like the background effect, the flowers become more visible with a ground cover. Great for a wildflower garden, Japanese garden, or a spot in the yard where you can see it from the kitchen window during those long days of winter--it will help you cope!


 

Boston ivy is the ivy of the "Ivy League." The many buildings at universities and colleges that are turned to soft green buildings with foliage growing on them are covered with Boston ivy. Boston ivy will grow on any surface without training and is hardy all over the Northeast states. Next time you go to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox play baseball, look at the walls on the outside of the park--they have Boston ivy growing on them. This wonderful fast-growing vine will do wonderfully to hide a wooden stockade fence or an old stonewall. Boston ivy will quickly fill in a chain link fence to give you privacy from the neighbors during the summer when you are in the yard.

The foliage is light green during the spring, dark green during the summer and scarlet red during the fall. During the winter, the leaves fall from the plant and you can enjoy the interesting pattern the vine makes while growing on the building. The foliage keeps the building cool during the summer, as the foliage absorbs the sunshine and heat. During the winter the foliage is gone during the cold days and the heat from the sun is absorbed into the building, warming it and saving energy. The plant grows close to the structure with the short stems of leaves sticking out. The leaves are tree-pointed, looking like a small maple leaf four to eight inches wide. English Ivy does flower, although the flowers are hard to find on the plant, as they are green. The flower produces a small cluster of blue black-fruit that is seldom noticed, until the foliage falls from the plant in the fall of the year. Once berries are visible, the birds will quickly eat them before winter arrives.

The fall red color is best if the plant grows in full sun. In heavy shade, it will change to yellow. Unlike most vines that you may grow, the Boston ivy will adhere to any surface with suction cup-like devices resembling discs. The tendrils do not cling to the surface; they stick and are thus much stronger and more secure.

When planting to cover a south facing wall or structure in an area where your soils tend to dry out during the summer heat, plant it on the east or west side of the structure and train it to grow on that surface. Using this method, you will have less of a problem with the roots drying up during drought periods. Always plant in large holes filled with a lot of organic matter such as compost and peat moss. Fertilize spring and fall with an organic slow-release fertilizer for the first few years. Keep well-watered the first year that you plant, so the roots can get established faster.

Once the plant is established, do not be scared to prune it, as it will grow several feet each year. If it's growing on a building it will cover the windows if not pruned back. Small birds will make nests on mature stems and on a nice day in the spring you will be able to watch the new birds grow up and sing for you.

Plants are available at your local nursery in the spring in one or two gallon pots. Plant them three to six feet apart to cover the structure and in just 2 to 3 years, the structure will be covered with beautiful foliage. The Boston ivy will grow easily 15 to 25 feet high.

The only bug that may be a problem is the Japanese beetle and even it is nothing to worry about.

 

This spring, if you're looking to try a fun project in your back yard please consider growing grapes. Grapes for fresh fruit, desserts, homemade juice or maybe if you're adventurous, even make your own home-made wine. Grapes will grow well in most gardens, and with a bit of help from your local garden center or nursery to select varieties that will be hardy in your area, you're on your way. Here are a few things to consider if you want to grow grapes in your garden.

First of all, grapes are pollinated by the wind, not bees, and most varieties are self-fertile, which means that you are more likely to have fruit no matter what the weather is like. Like other fruits, the crop will be better if you plant at least two plants in the same area.

Grapes are available in the spring as a potted plant and actively growing from your local nursery. Or you can buy plants bareroot (no soil around the roots) from catalog companies and they will ship them to you in the mail while the plants are dormant in the early spring. If you buy plants from a catalog company, make sure plants are for your growing area--and once you receive them they must be potted or planted immediately, or the roots will dry out and you will lose the plants.

If you have a choice, always select varieties that are seedless. These plants are kid-friendly and it's easier to process the fruit for juices, fresh fruit, and desserts. Go on the internet and look up fruit and berry catalogs to get more information on variety choices, taste, uses, and hardiness for your area.

Now let's look at the soil in your yard and see if it will grow grapes. The roots of the grapes grow deep and wide in the soil and are able to thrive in most soils. The exception is heavy clay types that hold a lot of water and hold that water for a long time. Soils that are well drained, sandy, and stony or dry out quickly will grow grapes, as long as you can provide water during the heat of summer. The best soil is one that is well drained and fertile; if your soil is not, you can condition your soil before planting this spring to help the plant grow better.

Dig a big hole 2 feet deep and 2 feet wide and fill with conditioned soil to help get the plant off to a good start. Once the plant gets established in the prepared soil it will adapt to the soil around the plant easily. Grapes grow best in a soil with a PH of 6.0 to 7.5 so adding lime around the planting bed yearly will help the plant to perform better. It will take 2 to 3 years for the grapes to really produce, so be patient, as they can last for 25 years or more in your garden.

Several years ago I was in France and our group did visit a vineyard. To our surprise, the entire vineyard was covered with 2 inches of stone as mulch. The stone mulch kept weeds out but it started the plant growing 2 weeks earlier in the spring for a head start on the season and extended the fruit-ripening season by 2 to 3 weeks in the fall for sweeter tasting fruit. The results were a better tasting wine--and they could sell the wine for more money. Better profit with the crop. If you live where the season is short, you may want to try this on your plants after you plant them this spring or on established plants in the garden.

The location to grow grapes has to be full sun; stay away from areas that set low on your property, as they may be frost pockets. Location should have good air movement but away from strong windy areas. Keep grape plants away from areas where you have in-ground irrigation, as constant irrigation on the foliage will cause disease problems and encourage insects on the plant.Watering is important; grapes newly planted or grown against a wall will need regular watering during the spring and summer. Grapes grown on wire trellis or arbors, as well as those grown in the open areas, will require less water. Grapes need regular feedings in the spring, but do not get carried away or the plants will grow too rampant and you will have just vines. In the spring, check plants often to make sure birds do not make nests in vines or they will eat your fruit when the grapes are ripe. I did not do this when my grapes got established and one year the birds ate the grapes, not me!

Now get yourself a good fruit and berry garden book that will explain how and when to prune the grape vine. The pruning will depend on how you grow them, on what type of device such as an arbor, fence , or on wire support and the type of grape you chose to grow for fruit, cooking, juice, or homemade wine. Like anything else it will take some work and time but is well worth the effort on your part. Insect and disease problems are minimal if you follow these rules. Read the fruit and berry book now before you plant in the spring so you know what you are going to experience. Have Fun!



Join The Paul Parent Garden Club for The Grand Tour Of France July 31 through August 12, 2014. With special 70th Anniversary tours of the Beaches of Normandy and Monet's Garden.

   
Featured Recipe Of The Week
 
Easy Ham & Cheese Wraps

1 lb sliced spiced or regular ham from the deli

1 lb sliced swiss cheese

1 package of flat fajitas [tomato & basil works best]

1 jar honey mustard

aluminum foil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place a flat fajita on the cutting board, put a teaspoon of mustard on the top part of the fajita and down along the sides.  Spread the mustard out and gently fold in 1/4 of the sides of the fajita.  With your eyes cut the fajita in half and only work with the bottom half.  Place a slice of ham, a slice of cheese, another slice of ham and another slice of cheese all on top of one another.  Put a dollop of honey mustard over the top layer of cheese.  Fold up the bottom then roll to the top.  Wrap the fajita in aluminum foil, and place on a baking sheet.  Continue until all fajitas are rolled.  Place in oven for 20 minutes.  Let rest, unwrap foil and cut in half!  Enjoy the easiest and most delicious wraps you will have have!  This is one of Paul's favorite recipes!
 
  
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