Thursday, September 27, 2012

All about Roses: Types Available and How to Care for Them

When many people think of flowers, roses are the most frequent flower to come to mind. The rose is much loved throughout the world. It has been found in fossil records 30-40 million years old. Wild roses from Europe were crossed with newly introduced roses from China in the 18th century. As hybridizing methods improved, many new types of ever-blooming roses became available. By 1829, some 2,500 varieties were listed in just one catalog! And it hasn't stopped since as newer varieties are being developed every year.
No matter whether you want to grow roses for color in the garden, for their beauty and fragrance, to cut and bring into your home, to dry, or to give to friends, there’re many types available to meet your needs.

There are 3 main classes of roses:    
  •  Wild roses: A natural species. 
  • Old garden roses: Widely grown before hybrids became available. Many have been found in old cemeteries and brought back into the market. Examples:  Maiden's Blush, Lady Banks, and Tuscany Superb. 
  • Modern roses: There are many different types, including hybrid teas, grandifloras, floribundas/polyanthas, climbers/ramblers, miniatures, English/Austin, shrub, and ground covers. 

Rose plants can be purchased in two different forms: 
  •  Bare root roses: Available by mail order and at the nursery. These should be planted early in the spring before growth begins. The plants should be soaked in warm water a few hours before planting and planted in loamy soil. Dig a wide hole, build a soil cone in the hole, and spread the roots over the cone. Fill with soil. Make a basin by mounding a circle of soil 3 -6 inches high and about 18 inches wide around each plant, and water well. 
  • Potted roses: Can be planted later in the season. Plant late in the day or on a cloudy day to avoid the hot sun, which stresses the plant. Plant at the depth the rose grew in the pot, gently tease the roots loose as you plant. Make a basin with soil around the plant to hold the water, and water well.

What to do now that you've selected your rose and planted it? Ongoing care of roses isn't complicated. Just be sure to follow these basic maintenance guidelines: 
  • Mulch: Organic mulch helps prevent loss of moisture, moderate fluctuations in soil temperature, prevent weed growth, provide nutrients and organic matter, and provide a neat appearance. Choices include wood or bark chips, rotting leaves, compost, and pine straw. Immediately after planting, place 3 to 4 inches of mulch around roses, avoiding contact with canes. Mulch may need to be replaced during the growing season. A 6-inch mulch during the winter season is recommended. 
  • Fertilizer: The pH of the soil should be between 5.6 and 7.2 in order for the plants to utilize fertilizer. Roses need fertilizer even when grown in the best soil. The best rose fertilizer is a complete and balanced one, such as 10-18-10 or 6-12-6. Begin in the spring and stop in the early fall, feeding every 4 to 6 weeks during the growing season. 
  • Pruning: Early spring is the best time to prune. Always use clean, sharp pruners and wear gloves. Pruning is important for the overall health of your plant. Be sure to remove older, dead, diseased, and damaged wood. Deadhead all spent flowers. If a plant is too large, you can cut it back by about 1/3 without causing injury. 

What else do you need to do? Most important of all, plant disease resistant roses. Select healthy plants and provide good growing conditions with full sun, good soil, room for growth, and adequate food and water. When watering, avoid getting water on the foliage, or water in the morning so that the foliage dries quickly. 
Anything else? Watch for common diseases, such as black spot, powdery mildew, downy mildew,and rust, and for insect pests, such as aphids, Japanese beetles, and spider mites. Call your local Extension Office for recommendations for treatment of diseases or pests. You will receive help in identifying problems and treating your roses.

If you have not planted roses before, you may want to try one of the disease-resistant, hardy roses for color, fragrance and beauty. It’s hard not to love a beautiful rose. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Growing Ferns in the Home Garden

Ferns are one of the oldest living plants and also one of the most fascinating. Long before we arrived on earth, there were great forests of giant ferns. The forests are long gone, but many descendants of those prehistoric ferns still thrive. In fact, over 12,000 species have been identified to date. 
Ferns make a fine background for many flowering plants, and they give a delicate, airy quality to shade gardens.  They can vary widely in appearance – creeping or billowy, delicate or coarse, tall or short, etc. Some ferns, such as the Christmas fern, are evergreen.

Interested in growing ferns in your home garden? Then site selection is critical. Ferns prefer sandy soil or soil rich in humus with excellent drainage. They also prefer indirect light, thus making them ideal plants for woodland gardens or other shady areas.

How to plant ferns? In general, ferns with spreading roots prefer to have their roots barely covered, while central-crown types prefer to have the crown exposed or just above the soil line:

·         Begin by checking the pH of the soil to determine if it matches the requirements of your fern. While most ferns prefer slightly acidic to neutral soil, some are happier in more alkaline soil.

·         Dig a fairly deep hole and add a mixture of leaf mold, sand, and loam. Oak leaves and compost are good substitutes for leaf mold.

·         Place the fern in the hole and add soil around it.

·         Water thoroughly.

·         NOTE: if you’re moving a fern during the active growing season, cut the fronds back by half to help minimize stress from water loss.
So, the next time you buy plants for your garden, don’t overlook ferns. These low-maintenance plants are invaluable for shade gardens and will make your landscape look mature and lush.


We’re so used to depending on honeybees for pollinating crops and for honey that we often forget that they’re not native to North and South America. Honeybees (Apis melifera) were introduced by European settlers. While most families used to keep bees for personal use, beekeeping isn’t as common today. It’s still a great hobby, however, and it’s not hard to get started.
What to do first? The best way to start is to purchase an established hive from a reputable source. Just be sure to buy a unit containing a hive body and one super or frame in which the bees build their comb. Even better, purchase two hives so that you can combine the equipment if a problem occurs with one of your hives.

The best time to begin beekeeping is in the late winter or early spring. This allows you to complete an entire beekeeping cycle from spring startup until harvest in the same calendar year. Starting anytime through June will allow the bees to become established here in Virginia. There is an old bee saying that is worth remembering: “A swarm in May is worth a load of hay. A swarm in June is worth a silver spoon. A swarm in July - let ‘em fly.”
Beekeeping equipment can be simple or high tech. You can start with the basics -- a veil, smoker, gloves, a hive tool, a bee brush, bees, a hive and super, and foundation wax. As time goes by and your beekeeping operation expands, you’ll want additional equipment.  An extractor, for example, is useful if you have more than several hives.

Interested in learning more about keeping bees? Then it’s time to talk to an established beekeeper. Most enjoy sharing information and like to show others all about their craft. Your local extension agent should be able to help you contact a local beekeeper. Welcome to the world of beekeeping! It’s a fascinating hobby and the rewards are just so, so sweet.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Preparing Your Garden for Dry Weather

 After this year’s hot, dry summer, most of us gardeners are looking for ways to protect our plants from the next drought. Here are some good gardening practices that will help.

1.       Make sure our gardens have soil that is rich in organic matter so that it will absorb and hold nutrients more efficiently. What to do? Add several inches of compost, shredded leaves, or other organic matter to you soil on a regular basis until the soil is easily-tilled loam. Set up a compost pile so that you have a ready supply of organic material. Yes, it’s true; compost is “black gold.”

2.       Select the right plants, in other words, those that are native to our area and have adapted to the growing conditions here. Native plants are best suited to dealing with the local climate and insects. Check with your local nursery for suggestions. For example: daylilies, ornamental grasses, black-eyed Susans, butterfly weed, witch hazel, yucca, golden rain trees, and junipers. What else to do? Group plants in the garden according to their drought tolerance.  It’s always easier to water one area than lots of small ones scattered throughout the garden.

3.      To look their best, lawns can require lots of water. To have your lawn and still be a frugal user of water, be sure to plant a variety of grass that is well suited to this climate. Keep the amount of lawn in your garden to a minimum, and don’t mow the grass too often or too short – about two to three inches isgood for fescues.

4.       When you do have to water your garden, do it wisely. Water early in the morning to reduce evaporation. Water deeply and not very often to promote deep root growth. Consider using soaker hoses or drip irrigations systems since these systems waste less water than sprinklers. Need an extra source of water? Install rain barrels under your downspouts to collect water for use when rain is scarce.

5.       What else to do? Mulch, mulch, mulch to keep weeds under control and conserve moisture. Keep insect pests and diseases under control too since both will stress your plants and increase their need for water.