Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Playing in the Dirt

It's no secret I'm a country girl.  Grew up and currently live on a farm. The smell of freshly tilled dirt is one of the best things about spring. I'm happiest when I can be outside getting dirty and sweaty.  No joke.  Gardening can be fabulous exercise, whether you are digging holes, squatting to pick fruits & veggies, weeding, climbing ladders to reach fruit, etc, etc, you're bound to get dirty and sweaty.  Win-Win in my book!  Spring has sprung and I'm itching to get out and get stuff planted.  I have spinach and lettuce in the ground now.  It's been so warm I hope they aren't bitter from the start.  I'm ready to get my hands in the dirt!


I love flowers and decorative plants.  I can't say I necessarily have a green thumb; I read the tags, put the plant in the dirt, sprinkle a little water and some fertilizer every so often, and enjoy the fruits/vegetables/flowers of my labor.  My garden always looks amazing until about July 4.  The plants are all small enough I can still maneuver around them with the garden tools and get to the weeds easily.  After that point it seems we always get busy, go on vacation for a few days.  When we return the plants (and weeds) have grown 3 feet and everything is out of control. And that's how it stays.  Weeds make me itchy. I dislike being itchy.  I should suck it up but whatever.  

Hydrangea is one of my favorite flowering plants.  They re-bloom all summer long when pruned correctly.  The colors vary from violet blue to green to pink.  The blooms are huge and not too fragrant to cause allergy issues.  Cut blooms last for days and dry well for a touch of summer all winter long.  I had to work on mine to get it to survive the first couple of years.  They are finicky little suckers.  Honestly, I considered digging it up and giving it away for a while.  I just couldn't get it to bloom right.  There happened to be an article in our monthly electric co-op magazine about Hydrangeas a few years ago.  Turns out the advice I had been listening to was all wrong. Did you know that soil type can change the bloom color?  You can actually change the acidity of the soil, and therefore change the color of the blooms from pink to blue, by placing my used coffee grounds around the base of the plant.  10-10-10 is a fantastic fertilizer as well.  I can never manage to get my soil acidic enough.  The first blooms will be blueish, but never a true blue-purple color like I would like.  I really love the deep pink I get out of them anyway.  I don't think I'm going to try so hard this year to get them to be blue.  Plus I've not been keeping my coffee grounds like I did last year.  I never fertilize after they start blooming anyway and usually just hit it during the off season (late fall and early spring). It seems to work.  For me. 

From my July 4th BBQ last year

Pruning should be done in the spring once the stalks have begun to put on leaves.  Pruning before winter can actually stunt it's growth in the spring.  The dead looking stalks can actually re-bloom in the spring so if you cut them off it takes more energy (and a really long time) for the plant to regrow the stalks, put leaves on, and so forth, therefore using the necessary energy to bloom.  Makes sense, right?  Dead stalks can often be plucked out without even needing to be cut.  Maybe I leave mine on too long and they rot off?  Whatever it is, it's easy to tell which ones need to be removed.  Snip, snip, done.

Wintering & Weather:
Hydrangea plant base need cover during the colder winter months.  We have heavy mulch around ours, but I also try to make sure there are plenty of leaves around the base as well.  Our are also close to the north side of the house so the direct exposure to damaging wind and elements are reduced.  The plant closest to the edge of the house gets the most exposure, and usually takes the longest to put on leaves and flowers.  It also gets the more sun than the other plant to the east of it.  It tends to have more sunburn issues on the leaves, needs more water, but has fewer bugs.  I have one on the east side of the house along the retaining wall that gets sun almost all day long.  It's tiny compared to the other two (all 3 were the same size when I planted them), but the blooms do well.  The sun bleached pink is one of my favorite blooms to cut for the table.  

Give 'em a drink on hot days. They like to be hydrated, but not over hydrated.  Soil should stay damp, but not have standing water.  Dry heat is not kind.  Direct sun is not kind.  Honestly, where I live isn't the ideal environment.  Mine look fine.  I'm sure they could be better, but they bloom and look healthy so I'll keep doing what I'm doing.  Warning:  It's best to soak the soil around the base of the plant rather than spray the leaves and blooms with the hose or a sprinkler.  Cold water from the tap directly on a plant on hot afternoon will shock the plant and it could die. This goes for any plant.  We have soaker hoses buried under the landscaping fiber and mulch in many of our beds for this reason.  Well, that and we have the hoses on a timer during the hot months.  You can get any of these things, hoses and faucet timers, at the local hardware store or Walmart.  I usually pick them up after the season when things go on sale.  I'll talk about the negatives to the soaker hoses under the fiber in another post....

Want to know more about Hydrangeas?  I googled it and found a TON of sites.   One I really liked was  Hydrengeas! Hydrengeas!   They have listed several varieties that aren't prevalent in my area.  I love seeing new things to add to my future gardens!

Happy planting!

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