May 17-June 6: Gardening weeks 19-21

Weather and pests: Spring in the south is over. Most days come close to 90 and we had 4 weeks with no rain. Humidity hasn’t yet hit its daily highs and watering has been very necessary. We have moved into daylily and perennial season. The poppies are dried up, the irises are done and the reds and yellows abound. With the dry weather, an increase in pests began. Whiteflies are all over my tomatoes and it’s been difficult to keep up. In addition to bugs, we have had 3 snakes in the garden. 2 we scared off, but the third was in a window box a story up on our deck. That one we netted and put out front.

Work: My work in the garden has been pulling of the spent spring poppies, dead heading, staking tall plants and putting in summer annuals. I have also been weeding crabgrass out of my beds nearly daily.

Purchases: On May 27 we hit up the Growers Outlet. It is a a plant outlet at rock bottom wholesale pricing that is open to the general public. For the most part, it’s the usual plants, but occasionally they have some unique finds. I came home with the following fun finds: miracle horizon hypericum (St. John’s wort with pink berries), dwarf Cavendish banana, prairie smoke geum, agapanthus everwhite, scaevola, Baptista, variegated abutilon, Kent beauty oregano, pink ground phlox and a few things for a friend.

A trunk of fun!

Blooming: it’s lily season and the dahlias are almost in bloom. below are some of the photos from these 3 weeks. I’m almost to the point where I’ll be inundated with tomatoes! Last year a hail storm took them out along with my grapes so I hope I’m lucky this year! I have hundreds of grapes and have bagged up 10 bunches to keep the birds off of them. This year I am trying determinate tomatoes which will finish up in June. I am doing this due to the difficulty in growing tomatoes into mid July due to leaf foot bug damage. Leaf foot bugs are throughout my back yard already, but have yet to find the tomatoes this year as I moved them to my driveway out front on the other side of a 6 ft fence.

A Grappoli d’Inverno
Martino’s Roma

Learning Moment: Patience is a Virtue and Money in the Bank (grow foxglove from seed!)

Starting or expanding a flower garden with purchased plants can be very expensive. Full grown perennials plants from a nursery are often sold in gallon pots and vary in price but hands down, these are more expensive than starting them yourself. Purchasing adult plants is not only price, it’s self limiting. You are offered only what your nursery has. Starting perennials from seed gives you many plants for the price of soil, pots and seeds. You can get so many plants you’ll be giving them away and with one season of patience, you will receive years of joy at a low cost. You don’t even need a grow light. Below I will walk you through the summer starts of foxglove with a discussion of how I started them, when I transplanted them and how much I saved. I also start perennials in winter, but this requires a grow light set up. Some people avoid the grow light by starting them outside in milk jugs or cold frames, but by far the easiest for me is a simple summer start for perennials.

When people ask me what perennials give the best showing for your buck, I suggest foxglove, echinacea, coreopsis, gaura and rudbeckia. In my zone, Gerbera daisy is also perennial and easily started from seed.

This post covers foxglove. Many foxglove are biennial and flower in their second year after a winter. Some are first year flowering so look at descriptions. I believe Camelot and Dalmation will flower year one. They reseed in the garden and make a big statement. I start them every year to add new varieties. Keep in mind that this plant and it’s seeds are poisonous so do not allow curious children or pets near them.

Let’s use Apricot Beauty as an example. For $3.00 I purchased 100 seeds. My soil was regular potting soil which cost me about $8. I used maybe 1/4 of the bag-so my expenses were in total about $5 for foxglove plus patience.

I do not bother with seed start mixes in general and particularly do not consider them for fast summer starts. Yes, professionals will roll their eyes, but in gardening you do what works for YOU and YOUR conditions, and I have my best luck using potting soil. I used 5×5 cells that I already had so spent nothing on containers. I broadcast the seeds thinly in the cells mid July and covered with a humidity dome until germination. These grew outside in flats on my shady deck and in September were slowly moved into full sun. I then planted individual strong seedlings directly in the ground in the garden.

With germination rate and transplant failure accounted for, I ended up with about 20 successful plants in my garden. If I were to pay $12 at least for a full grown plant at a nursery ( prices I’ve seen). I would pay $240 for what I grew for $5. You can see the payoff here. But the cost is patience. A mature garden isn’t built on a dime overnight.

Seed grown foxgloves