Can Anybody Tell Me How to Grow This?

     Quotes about the rosy side of failure are not hard to find. ”Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently,” wrote Henry Ford. John Dewey wrote that “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.”
    No, Mr. Dewey; in gardening, at least, failures are more instructive than successes. Put a seed into the ground and that seed has millions of years of evolution prompting it to grow. True, you can fail if starting with old seed, or soil so cold that the seed rots before it grows, or compacted clay soil that suffocates the seed. But generally, gardening is not that difficult. And generally, it’s hard to fail. So success is the norm, no matter — within reason — what you do.

Jasmine -- no flowers, again

Jasmine — no flowers, again

    For someone who pays particular attention to their gardening (and writes about it!), occasional failures are surely opportunities for learning and for success. Not so, for me! With my jasmine (Jasminium officinale) plant, at least.
    I’ve grown this jasmine for many years. In its early years, the plant was a snowball of sweet-smelling white blossoms in late winter. Over the years, flower production has petered out, to the point where the plant coughs forths just a few blossoms here and there.
    Many plants need a cold period to induce flower buds. Over the years, my jasmine has spent fall outdoors or in my cold basement (near a window) or in my cold greenhouse (minimum temperature 37°F).
    Many plants need a dry period to coax on flower buds. Over the years, the soil in which my jasmine grows has been kept through fall just moist enough to keep the plant from wilting.
    Some plants need a period of both cold and dryness for flowering. Check.
    Besides all these treatments, I have tried various suggestions from others, including professionals who sell jasmine plants awash in bloom from their commercial greenhouses. No pruning after August. No artificial light in autumn. Generally good growing conditions all through summer. High phosphorus fertilizer. Check. Check. Check. Mmm-check. (I’ll admit I neglected the high phosphorus fertilizer. With ample compost, my potting soil has ample phosphorus, or so I assume.)
    Now, in its thirteenth year here, jasmine has again not bloomed. I’ve learned nothing. Again, I’m threatening to walk it to the compost pile, counterbalanced by inklings of desire to give it one more try. (The phosphorus fertilizer, perhaps.)
    My one possible consolation comes from reading a quote by George Bernard Shaw, “My reputation grows with every failure.”

Cardoon Futures

Cardoon I saw in Oregon

Cardoon I saw in Oregon

    Enough self-flagellation. Let’s balance that out with a couple of successes, one the result of my doing, not driven by millions of years of evolution.
    I’ve written previously about cardoon, a so-so vegetable but a fine ornamental. (True, many other people sing passionate gustatory praise for cardoon.) As a perennial, cardoon grows only leaves its first year from seed, which is fine if your eating it, because the leaf stalks are the edible part. The tall, spiny, olive green stalks, like a Mediterranean celery on steroids, also are dramatically ornamental in their own right.
    The flowers, poised like cerulean bottlebrushes atop their tall — five feet high, or more — flower stalks are the real show, though. And, in that second year and beyond, you still get the whorls of giant leafstalks rising up from around the base of the plant.
    Cardoon can’t tolerate winter cold below about 10 or 15°F, so it’s not winter cold-hardy here.  Too much moisture around the crown of the plant might also help do it in during winter.
    Last fall, after cold had settled into the ground, with about an inch depth of frost in the soil (towards the end of December) I cut back the top of the plant, then piled dry leaves over it. An overturned, 2-foot-diameter, plastic planter over the leaves kept them in place and added a bit more insulation and, also important, kept rain and snowfall off the plant. The drainage holes around the bottom (now the top) of the planter’s side allowed for some air movement within.
    A week or so ago I tipped off the planter and untucked the leaves from around the plant. It was important to get to the plant before warmth got it growing, in which case the once-shaded, tender leaves would burn in the sunlight and be susceptible to frost. The leaves, just starting to emerge from the decapitated plant, looked healthy and ready to stretch out and grow after their winter’s rest. I look forward to the flowers.

Really Red Deer Tongue

    Winter lettuce in the greenhouse is my other success. While many lettuces have begun to go to seed, especially those sown earlier in fall, the variety Really Red Deer Tongue just keeps making new leaves in spite of it’s having been sown in early September of last year. The leaves, as the names says, are red and, I suppose, the shape of a deer’s tongue. I don’t normally eat deer tongues, but these leaves taste good.Lettuce, Really Red Deer Tongue


 Beds Ready for Spring Planting, Figs and Lettuces Readied for Cold

Much colder weather has been sneaking in and out of the garden but leaving traces of its presence with some blackened leaves on frost-sensitive plants and threatening to brazenly show itself in full force sometime soon. This fall I vow to put all in order before that event rather than, on some very cold night, running around, flashlight in hand, gathering and protecting plants.

Before even getting to the plants, drip irrigation must be readied for winter. Main lines and drip lines can remain outdoors but right near the spigot, the timer, the filter, and pressure reducer must be brought indoors where they won’t freeze. I plug the inlet for the drip’s main line to keep out curious insects. At the far end of the line is a cap that I loosen enough to let water drain out. Opening all other valves along the line leaves no dead ends in which freezing water could expand to break lines.

Begonia, amaryllis, Maid of Orleans jasmine (Jasminium sambac), and other topical plants are next in importance. Being near the radiating warmth of the house has spared them recent slightly frosty nights. Colder temperatures would not be so kind. I snap the stems off the begonias right at ground level and put the pots in the basement where cool temperatures will keep the tubers dormant to wait out winter. Amaryllis plants also go into the basement. Cool temperatures and lack of water for a couple of months give these plants the rest period they need so that, brought upstairs to a warm, sunny window, their blossoms can show off their bright, red color against the achromatic winter landscape beyond.

Maid of Orleans jasmine right away gets a prominent place in a sunny window to share its nonstop, sweet fragrant blossoms.

Figs, Pomegranates, & Subtropicals Readied for Cold, But Not Too Much

Fig, pineapple guava, Chilean guava, and pomegranate are subtropical plants that tolerate temperatures down into the ‘teens so can remain outdoors for weeks to come. Still, many of these plants are in large pots, not something I want to be lugging around following at last minute threat of frigid temperatures. So I’ll gather them together in a convenient location for quick dispatch indoors when needed.

Potted subtropical plants are getting ready for colder -- but not too cold -- weather

Potted subtropical plants are getting ready for colder — but not too cold — weather

The guavas, as well as kumquat and common jasmine (Jasminium officinale), are evergreen subtropical plants. The leaves are important to these plants both for beauty and for function so they’ll make the move indoors before the other subtropicals to make sure their leaves go into winter undamaged.

Common jasmine stays out longest because some exposure to cold is needed to get blossoms in winter.

Cold Weather Vegetables for Weeks to Come

The vegetable garden is still green with endive, kale, lettuce, turnips, Brussels sprouts, arugula, and other cold-hardy vegetables. Soon, though, their cold tolerances will be tested. I’ll pre-empt that testing by covering some of the beds with tunnels of fabric (“fleece” to the Brits, “floating row covers” to us colonists) or clear plastic. No need yet to cover the plants but better to have the metal hoops which support the fleece or plastic in place and ready for the covering before that frigid night to come.

Metal hoops readied to support covers for lettuce.

Metal hoops readied to support covers for lettuce.

Not all hardy vegetables get covered; just the leafy ones — lettuce, mustard, arugula, and endive — for fresh salads in the weeks to come. Brussels sprouts and kale are so cold hardy that they can go for weeks without protection, and, anyway, they’re too tall to cover. Leeks also can stay outdoors unprotected until December, or later, then get dug up and packed together in a box or large pot to store in the basement and use as needed.

Carrots, beets, turnips, and winter radishes enjoy the protection of the earth. With a deep mulch of leaves or straw, they could remain tender and unfrozen all winter. More convenient for eating is to dig them up just before really frigid weather descends on the garden and pack them in boxes with dry leaves to store in the cool temperatures of the basement. I’m putting off deciding which option to choose.

Fresh Lettuce ‘Til When?

Someone recently told me that they gardened maniacally all summer and now they are finished for the season  . . . which reminds me of some more things that I still have to do. Plant garlic. I planted cloves back in early September; a second planting, now, will give some indication if early or late planting is better. Mulch blueberries as soon as their leaves all drop. Sift compost and garden soil into buckets to store for making potting soil in late winter. Cut down asparagus plants after the tops yellow, and mulch the bed. Clean up spent vegetable beds of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants and spread them with an inch depth of compost. Mow hayfield and lawn to expose rodents to predators and, in the hayfield, to keep blackberry, sumac, and autumn olive from taking over. Plant bulbs (a large, naturalized planting of alliums; more on that some other time).

Metal hoops readied to support covers for lettuce.

Beds readied for spring, and lettuce readied for winter

I’d also like to divide older plants in a flower bed and dig out weeds that are starting to think they’re home. And build a rustic fence to hid the propane tank for the greenhouse.

I’m not yet ready to throw in the trowel for this season.

Nothing To Do

If the garden, indoors and out, has no need of my attention at any time of year, it is now. I probably shouldn’t even be writing anything about gardening because pretty much nothing is going on. So I’ll make this brief.
Lack of light, warmth, and/or enough cool temperatures are keeping plants quiescent or dormant. The bonsai weeping fig, the Maid of Orleans jasmine (Jasminum sambac), the rose geranium, and other

Bonsai weeping fig, biding its time, for now

houseplants aren’t waiting for warmth. They’re indoors. These tropical plants never experience true dormancy; they’re quiescent, just sitting and waiting for better growing conditions, in this case more light.

My amaryllis bulbs aren’t waiting for brighter days. They’re now leafless, so can’t see the light anyway. Like the above houseplants, the amaryllis bulbs are now also quiescent, in this case from lack of warmth. Yes, it’s warm in my home, but not in the basement where the potted bulbs have been residing. I’ve brought the first pot of amaryllises upstairs where warmth — and water, the lack of which also has kept the bulbs purposely quiescent — can prod the bulb awake.
What about lack of enough cool temperatures to kickstart plants? That’s the case, now, with trees and shrubs outside. These plants are dormant, held back not by lack of warmth or water but by their internal physiology that needs to be switched before they’ll respond to good growing conditions.
No petals will unfold nor buds expand into young shoots until these plants are convinced that winter is over. That recognition comes after the plant experiences a period of cool — not frigid, temperatures — in the range of about 30° to 45°F. Winter’s “over” for these plants after about 1,000 total hours of exposure to cool temperatures, although the amount can vary among kinds of plants, even varieties of the same kind of plant. Also, a spell of midwinter warm weather can have the effect of removing hours from the “chilling bank.”
So what’s a gardener to do now? Nothing.
Okay, not everything green is just biding its time. Some tropical flowers take the opportunity to blossom this time of year, even if the plants might be otherwise quiescent.  Hence, we have holiday poinsettias and Christmas cactii sporting their red, pink, or white blossoms.
Not that poinsettia and Christmas cactus flowers will blossom willy nilly. As with trees and shrubs outdoors, these tropical flowers can be prodded to blossom with certain environmental conditions. They don’t know from cold, except that it damages them, so what they need to flower is a change in photoperiod. For late December blossoming, poinsettia needs 6 weeks of 15-hour-long nights uninterrupted by any light at all. Even a table lamp or a flashlight.
Christmas cactus behaves similarly, with an additional wrinkle. If temperatures are cool, in the 50’s, daylength (or, more properly, nightlength, because it’s the length of dark period to which the plants are responding) is immaterial. Plants will flower. If temperatures are warm, in the 70’s, daylength is similarly immaterial. Plants will NOT flower. With temperatures in the 60’s, plants will flower only after a period of 11-hour-long nights.
After a number of years of annual bloom, my poinsettia died, last summer. I got rid of my Christmas cactus many years ago to prevent its infestation of scale insects from spreading to other houseplants. I’ll eventually replace both but for now, there’s still nothing for me to do, gardenwise.
One plant that responds to some environmental condition, but I’m not sure what, is my orchid, the botanical mouthful Odontoglossum pulchellum. Every winter, sometime between the end of December and

February, my potted plant sends up thin flower stalks along which sprout white flowers whose thick petals look as if they were carved from wax and from which drifts a delicate fragrance. Blooms persist relentlessly, for weeks. The plants only flower in winter, but I’m not sure what exactly brings on the flowering.

After petals finally fall, the plants can take a rest, so need very little watering. The same goes for poinsettia and Christmas cactus plants. By then, of course, it’s late winter so seeds need to be sown and seedlings transplanted indoors, trees and shrubs need pruning, and there’s plenty of other stuff to do, gardenwise.

Holly Needs Sex

•Jan. 9: Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association, Minneapolis, MN, “Weedless Gardening”, “Luscious Landscaping, with Fruiting Trees, Shrubs, and Vines”
•Jan. 23: Long Island Horticultural Conference, Ronkonkoma, NY, “Pruning Shrubs”
•Jan. 25, Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, Saratoga Springs, NY, “Growing Figs in Cold Climates”, “Espalier Fruits”
•Feb. 6, Indiana Museum of Art, Indianapolis, IN, “Multi-Dimensional Vegetable Growing”
•Feb. 15, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, Burlington, VT, 
“Grape Expectations: Everything From Choosing Varieties to Eating the Berries”, “Pruning Fruit Trees, Shrubs, and Vines”
•Feb. 20, Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention, Niagara Falls, CA, “Uncommon Fruits with Commercial Potential”
•March 1, Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut, Danbury, CT, “Growing Figs in Cold Climates”, “Multi-Dimensional Vegetable Gardening/ Farming”
•March 15, Connecticut Master Gardener Conference, Manchester, CT, “Fruits for Small Gardens”
The problem is obvious: No sex. No sex, no berries. Oh, did I mention that I’m writing about hollies, my hollies? Now, after a number of years, the plants have grown lush with spiny, forest-green leaves. But no red berries.
A holly berry, like any other fruit, is a mature ovary, which is a home for a seed or seeds. Seeds are what stimulate development of a fruit, but seeds themselves usually can’t get started without sex. Sex happens in plants when male pollen lands on the female part of a flower, called the stigma, and then grows a

pollen tube down the style, which is attached to the stigma, to reach and fertilize an egg. The product of successful pollination and fertilization is a seed, the development of which induces the surrounding floral part to swell to become a fruit.

Why all this concern with holly’s sex life? After all, I don’t give sex a second thought when growing tomatoes. I plant whatever varieties I want and then reap plenty of swollen ovaries . . . er, fruits . . . as well as, incidentally, seeds.
Holly is special because its pollen is borne on flowers that are strictly male and its eggs are contained within flowers that are strictly female. Each tomato flower, in contrast, is botanically “perfect,” with both male and female parts, so can take care of itself, sexually speaking. Similarly self-sufficient are rose flowers, peach flowers, sunflowers, and the flowers of many other plants.
Holly is not alone in having single sex — botanically, “imperfect” — flowers. Many nut trees, for example, share this trait. But holly goes one step further sexually, with whole plants being either male or female, a trait shared by ash and persimmon trees, among others.
The long and the short of it is that I need an all-male holly tree or bush if I’m going to deck my halls with (berried) boughs of holly from my all-female holly tree or bush. A male plant, all leaves and no berries, is not as showy as a female, so it’s fortunate that a single male can sire a half-dozen or so females.
Adding to their sex problems, or, rather, our problems with their sex life, hollies are not all that promiscuous. A few different species supply us with berried boughs — notably American holly, English holly,

My sex-less hollies

and Meserve holly — but, generally, each keeps fidelity to its own species. (An exception is that English holly can pollinate Meserve holly, which is a hybrid offspring of the English species.) Further compounding hollies’ sex problems, some males within a species cannot even adequately pollinate some females within the same species because their bloom times do not overlap.

Breeders have come up with a number of virile male varieties whose genders are obvious from their names: Blue Prince and Blue Boy Meserve hollies, and Jersey Knight American holly are examples. These males, as you might guess, are particularly good mates for the varieties named, respectively, Blue Princess, Blue Girl, and Jersey Princess.
The hollies that I planted were Meserve hollies. I’m pretty sure that I planted a suitable male for my 5 females, with the male sufficiently close to do their thing with the females. So, why no berries?
One possibility is that my hollies had sex, but that late frosts caused fertilized flowers to abort. But every year? My hollies have never sported berries. One hundred percent frost damage every year is unlikely, and especially so this past spring.
The nursery could have mislabeled their plants. The only way to sex the plants is to peer closely at the small flowers early next May and look for those with male or female flower parts. I’ll do that.
Sex is no problem for my jasmine (Jasminium officinale) plant; its problem is sexuality. The plant lacks flowers, and flowers are all I ask for from this plant. This plant, commonly known as poet’s jasmine, is supposed to sport oodles of deliciously fragrant, starry, white blossoms about now. (Now that I think of it, perhaps the hollies have never flowered no flowers, no sex, no berries.)
Like amaryllis, Christmas cactus, and many other winter-flowering plants, poet’s jasmine initiates flower buds in response to changing conditions such as exist in late summer and early fall. To whit, shortening days,

My flowerless jasmine

cooler temperatures, and/or, in some regions, drier weather. I’ve tried them all with my poet’s jasmine, and every year about midwinter, buds begin growth on the plant that keep stretching out into lanky, twisting shoots that try to grab onto whatever they can twist around. But no sign of flowers or flower buds.

It’s time to threaten the plant. No flowers this winter and into the compost you go, my little jasmine. (I’ve also tried threatening in previous year, to no avail.) Any suggestions??

Blueberry Challenge and Aromas Good and Bad

Book Giveaway: AND THE WINNER IS: Andrea Jilling. Andrea, please contact me about mailing out the book. Everyone, stay tuned for more book giveaways in future weeks.
Blueberry-growing used to be so boring. Each autumn I’d spread soybean meal beneath the plants as fertilizer and top it with 3 inches of leaves, wood shavings, or other mulch. Late each winter I’d prune. In late June, netting would go over the top of the plants and from then on, into September, I’d harvest oodles of blueberries.
Earlier this year I knew things could get interesting. Spotted wing drosophila (SWD), a new pest fond of many fruits, showed up last year in the area and an encore was predicted. And then, starting in early August, my harvested blueberries began to soften quickly and were soon swimming in their own juice. The culprit, SWD, was here, in numbers, with plenty of enticing berries still weighing down the branches.
“Drosophila” might sound familiar from experiments in your high school biology class; it’s a fruit fly. SWD differs from other fruit flies in not waiting for fruit to be ripe or overrripe. This impatient bugger lays eggs in unripe fruit.
Blueberry harvest is an almost daily affair and my blueberries are organic, sustainable, green, artisanal, (very) local, etc., etc., so I couldn’t just start spraying any old pesticide. Fortunately, there is one pesticide, called Entrust (derived from a bacterium collected from the soil of an abandoned sugar mill in the Virgin Isles), that is “organic” and effective against SWD. I did spray and now, despite the mildness of this material, we have to wait 3 days for the spray to dissipate before harvesting berries. Restraint is needed with Entrust because one generation to the next for SWD can take less than 2 weeks, leaving ample opportunity for resistant strains to evolve, especially if the pest overwinters locally (which is not known at this time).
After two sprays of Entrust one week apart, I should and will try something else, in this case a 1% oil spray — also “organic” and relatively benign. In laboratory settings, at least, oil has been effective.
What about all the berries on the plant with SWD eggs in them that are and will hatch into adults? Harvesting them and whisking them into a refrigerator at 34° for 72 hours will kill eggs and larvae. Same goes, of course for freezing them. Another option is to immerse them in that 1% oil mix for 5 to 10 minutes.
The battle against SWD should not — does not — end there. Fine netting encasing the plants could keep flies at bay, as long as it’s put on before SWD arrives or, if resident ones exist, after an early spray of Entrust. Thorough cleanup of infested fruits will keep populations down. We’re throwing soft fruits into a bag which goes into the freezer, and then it’s a dish of fresh frozen eggs and larvae and blueberries for my chickens. Mmmmm.
You might detect some flippancy in my attitude towards this serious pest. That’s because we already have 69 quarts of sound blueberries in the freezer.
(Thanks to Peter Jentsch and Cornell’s Hudson Valley information for much of this information.) 

        UPDATE: Two sprays of Entrust and one spray of horticultural oil, each spray a week apart, seem to have brought SWD under control. Once the berry harvest is over, we’ll let our free-range chickens access into the “Blueberry Temple” too clean up fallen fruit and resident SWD larvae.
Garlic has been harvested and, as usual, my yields and bulb sizes are nothing to brag about. “You should have cut off the scapes,” suggested more than one person, the scapes referring to the curly, bulbil-topped stalks that emerge from the centers of hardneck garlic plants.
I’m skeptical about scape removal. After all, that greenery does photosynthesize and, hence, help nourish the plant. And while seed development can drain a plant of energy, a scape is capped by small bulbils, not seeds.
A little research yielded widespread recommendations for scape removal, but hard data backing up that

recommendation was generally lacking. What I did learn was: 1) benefits of scape removal depend on the soil and variety of garlic; 2) benefits are greatest in poor soils; 3) benefits may be in terms of yield or bulb size. The most consistent reason to remove the scapes is that they are edible if harvested when just developing.

I don’t like the taste of the scapes so won’t bother removing them. I’m also not a big fan of garlic flavor so tend to plant them outside the garden in out-of-the-way locations where they’re never watered and the soil is not particularly rich. Hence, my poor showing of garlic.
The garlic is now curing as it hangs from the rafters of my front porch where it, fortunately, keeps its aroma to itself. Along the path leading up to the porch are a few plants whose aromas are a lot more welcome on the way to the front door. Those plants have clustered there not by some grand plan of mine, but just by chance.
Let’s see, first on the way to the door is Jasmine ‘Maid of Orleans’ (Jasminum sambac) whose flowers emit a pure, sweet aroma. The plant has been blooming more or less all summer but you do need to put your nose right up to the flower to smell it. Next comes jimson weed (Datura spp.) and angel’s trumpets

(Brugmansia spp.), both vespertine plants with 6-inch long, trumpet-shaped blossoms that appear sporadically. I’m always enjoying rose geranium, mint, and rosemary, next in line, because its their leaves that are aromatic; a pinch can send me to olfactory heaven anytime I wish, day or night.

Nestled in among these last-named plants is one small pot of alyssum. Alyssum blooms nonstop through summer and into autumn so the honeyed scent can be enjoyed whenever I pass, as long as I stick my nose down into the flowers.

A Giveaway, Dragons, Seedlings, and Aromas

I purchase vegetable and flower seeds from a handful of seed companies. All offer high quality seeds, organically grown when possible, and at reasonable prices. High Mowing Organic Seeds of Wolcott, VT is one of those companies. 

      And now for the giveaway: A “High Mowing” cap and their boxed set of seeds for heirloom vegetable lovers. The box includes packets from such old-time favorites as Brandywine tomato, Red Salad Bowl lettuce, Detroit Dark Red Beet, Red Russian Kale, and others. To enter this giveaway, in the “Comments” box below tell us about some of your favorite heirloom vegetables. Winner of both the hat and the box of seeds will be selected randomly and contacted for mailing by email.


        There must be a converse to the saying, “Be careful what you wish for . . . “ And if there is, I’ve realized it. I wrote, a couple of weeks ago, about the so-called hardy orange, Poncirus trifoliata, which, with warmer winters, now seems hardy in my garden. I’m looking forward to fragrant flowers and “oranges” that have a citrus-y smell even if they are too tart and bitter to eat.
Last time, I also mentioned one especially striking variety of hardy orange, Flying Dragon. This variety has the thorny, evergreen stems of the species, but the stems wriggle and squirm and twist every which way. It’s very ornamental, and also, like the species, will have fragrant flowers and orange fruits to come.
I saw a Flying Dragon sitting in a pot at a consulting job last week and mentioned my affection for the plant. “Take it,” I was told, “it’s an extra.” I did, and am now the proud owner of a 3 foot high Flying Dragon.
You can imagine how congested Flying Dragon could become, with with all the twisting stems and — I forgot to mention — thorns that curl backwards. Those ornamental assets made the pruning, which my new plant needed, all the more difficult. I hope, in years to come, that the saying I associate with this plant won’t become “Be careful what you wish for because it might come true.”
The march of vegetables is on its way. With decades of growing vegetables under my belt, I have a schedule for sowing seeds indoors, transplanting seedlings, and sowing seeds outdoors. It’s not a schedule writ in stone, though. Each year it gets tweaked as my experience grows, and to account for recent years’ earlier warming springs.
My schedule is applicable to other gardens with average date of the last killing frost in spring of mid-May. It’s even applicable to gardens elsewhere by merely shifting sowing and transplanting dates forward or backward by the same number of weeks they differ locally from the May 15th, last frost date at my farmden.

Here, then, is my schedule for sowing and planting some vegetables (after June 1, all plantings are outdoors):

•Feb. 1: onion, leek, and celery seeded indoors;
•Mar 1: broccoli, cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, eggplant, and pepper seeded indoors;
•April 1: tomato seeded indoors; peas seeded outdoors;
•April 15: onion, leek, broccoli, cabbage, kale, and brussels sprouts seedlings transplanted outdoors; carrots, turnips, and beets seeded outdoors;
•May 1: cucumber and melon seeded indoors; celery seedlings transplanted outdoors;
•May 15: beans, squash, okra, and corn seeded outdoors;
•May 21: tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings transplanted outdoors;
•June 1: cucumber and melon seedlings transplanted outdoors; second seeding of corn;
•June 15: broccoli, cabbage, and kale seeded for autumn harvest; second seeding of cucumber and bush beans; third seeding of corn;
•July 1: second seeding of summer squash; fourth seeding of corn;
July 15: third seeding of bush beans.
The nice thing about having this schedule is that the weather no longer pushes me around. A warm, sunny day in the middle of April might tempt me to plant corn — except if I look at my schedule. The year before last, the last spring frost was in early April, so corn could, in fact, have been planted earlier. Last year provided greater temptation with a spate of 70 degree temperatures in March. The mercury plummeted in mid-May, which would have snuffed out the corn sprouts.
I have a similar schedule for the autumn and winter garden. But no need to look at that right now. (A more detailed schedule for all sowings can be found in my book Weedless Gardening, available by clicking on the cover image at right.)
Shoots terminated in branching stems with round buds hinted at flowers to come and now, after a long, slow buildup, flowers have finally opened on my poet’s jasmine (Jasminium officinale). For many years this plant has disappointed me with no or paltry flowering, to the extent that I threatened to walk it to the compost pile if this year was a no-show. That threat was made easier because I now have another kind of “jasmine” (Cestrum nocturnum) that blooms more freely (with a different aroma).
The threat evidently was effective. At least that’s my only explanation because I can’t put my finger on exactly what I did differently this year. Sun, water, and fertilizer kept the plant growing well through summer and some thirst and a spell of exposure to near freezing temperatures in autumn were supposed to make for abundant blooms. Or so I’ve been told. But I’ve heard that and done all that for years.
Then again, last year I did pinch out the tips of growing shoots through summer, something I haven’t done previously. Perhaps that’s what brought on the better, but still hardly abundant, flowers.
So the plant gets pinched, and gets to live — for at least another year.

A Jump on Spring

I got a jump on spring yesterday and started pruning hardy kiwifruit vines. The fruit is a kissing cousin of fuzzy, market kiwis, except, with smooth skins and small size, they can be popped whole in your mouth like grapes. Hardy kiwis are also cold-hardy, which their cousins are not.
The vines need yearly pruning to let light and air in among the stems for productivity and plant health, to keep fruiting stems within easy reach, and to stimulate new stem growth each year off which grow fruiting shoots the following year.
My plants are trained on 5 wires strung between T-trellises, one wire down the middle of the trellis flanked by 2 wires on either side of that central wire. Each plant’s trunk rises up to the middle wire and then divides into two cordons, or permanent arms, that run in opposite directions along the middle wire. Fruiting arms, which are 1-year-old stems, grow off perpendicularly to the cordon to drape down over the outside wires.
As I approached the vines with shears, lopper, and small saw in hand, the vines looked back at me like an intimidating, tangled mess. Three steps in pruning brought everything in order. I first cut back all fruiting arms to within a foot or so of the outside wire and shortened each cordon back to where it began growth last year. Arms bear fruiting shoots near their bases so don’t need the whole of their lanky stems. As to the cordons, if they were allowed to grow longer and longer, one plant would tangle into the next plant down the row.
Next, the hardest part: I reached into the remaining tangle to cut back fruiting arms that have, over the years, begun to originate further and further off the cordons. These got shortened so that new shoots, for fruit 2 years hence, would originate closer in to the cordons. Left to their own devices, as they are in the wild on the edges of Asian forests, the vines would be climbing 100 ft. high on anything on which they could grab hold.
Finally, I thinned out most of the remaining fruiting arms so that they are about a foot apart. I’ll do a final pruning in spring, thinning more where needed and shortening all fruiting arms to their final length of about 18 inches long.
I’m left now with a pile of prunings. Their intertwining stems make nice decoration. I could also save some for my cat. Kiwi stems have a pleasing effect on the cats, similar to catnip. In Asian zoos, they have been used to calm “large cats.”
What joy a mere sprout can foreshadow! Late last summer a gardening friend gave me some sprouts from her Maid of Orléans jasmine (Jasminum sambac). By the end of summer, a few of the cuttings had rooted and even flowered.  The plant or its flower wouldn’t win (or lose) any beauty contests, but is well worth growing for its unabashed fragrance. The aroma is sweet and rich and not at all cloying, even after the flowers fade.
What’s more, this jasmine flowers freely. As a matter of fact, it just finished its second round of flowering. Contrast this behavior with my two plants of common jasmine (Jasminium officinale). These latter plants occasionally cough forth a few flowers in late winter but nothing like the profusion of white blossoms they once did. I’ve tried everything, from starting new plants from cuttings to pinching shoots all summer until August to keeping them cool in until late winter to keeping them dryish until late winter to keeping them cool and dryish until late winter to keeping them in the greenhouse to . . .  you get the picture.
The only dark cloud hovering over my Maid of Orleans was the potting mix. Something seemed not quite right with it, having me worried that the plant might not grow or, worse, expire (as did the plant from the gardening friend from whom I got the cuttings). Not that this is a time of year to expect growth from any plant.
But now, that cloud has moved on. The new sprout looks happy and healthy and foretells of a fragrant future.
I mixed up a new batch of potting soil, which I’ll need anyway in a couple of months for indoor sowing of the first seeds of next season. Into a 5 gallon bucket went finished compost and soil, equal parts, sifted. Into another 5 gallon bucket went peat moss and perlite, equal parts, sifted. I tipped the contents of both buckets together into the garden cart, sprinkled on 1 cup of soybean meal and a handful of kelp, and repeatedly slid a flat-bladed shovel under the pile and turned it over and over. Once everything was thoroughly mixed, I shook and forced it again through the 1/2-inch sieve and packed it away into buckets.
This potting mix will be home to the roots of seedlings and houseplants, as well as large, potted fig trees, roses, and pomegranates. Also, to Maid of Orleans, as soon as she outgrows her present quarters.