About the SFMGA

Saturday, April 26, 2008

3 Mulching Tips

  • Pull the mulch 3-6 inches away from tree trunks.
  • Thin the mulch so it is no more than 4 inches deep.
  • Loosen the mulch periodically to improve air and water penetration.

Summer Recipes with Herbs

by Janet Hirons, Master Gardener

A quick guide to drying herbs

For the most pungent flavor, pick herbs early in the day. Remove dead or discolored leaves. Choose a drying area dedicated to the drying as it can take a few days to a few weeks for most leaves, stems or flowers. Good air flow with a low humidity level is essential for decreasing the chance of powdery mold developing. Tie together small bunches of stemmed herbs and hang them upside down, or loosely spread them out on a large screen.

You can freeze herbs right from the garden in plastic bags. Use them in soups and stews as you would use fresh. Another quick but costly drying method is to bury herbs in silica crystals.

Once the herbs are dried, they can be crushed and stored. Because light and oxygen are the biggest culprits in destroying the potency of herbs amber glass or ceramic containers are best.

Buttermilk Herb Dip

  • 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup thinly sliced fresh chives
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh dill
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbs. cider vinegar
  • ¼ tsp. Tabasco
  • 1 ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 ½ tsp. coarsely ground black pepper

Whisk ingredients together. Season with more Tabasco, salt, and pepper to taste. Let sit for 15 minutes, then serve. Yields 3 cups dip; serve with fresh vegetables.

Citrus Marinade

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbs. finely chopped shallots or green onions
  • 2 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme, tarragon, dill or sage
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ ground black pepper
Whisk ingredients together; use immediately or refrigerate in a tightly covered jar for up to 2 days. Makes about 1 cup, enough for 2-3 lb. veal or pork chops, steaks, fish, or chicken.

What is a weed? I have heard it said that there are sixty definitions. For me, a weed is a plant out of place. -Donald Culross Peattie, The Flowering Earth

White Wine Marinade

  • 1 bottle, about 3½ cups dry white wine
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tb. chopped fresh thyme, rosemary, or tarragon
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. ground black pepper

Whisk ingredients together, use immediately, or refrigerate in a tightly covered jar for up to 2 days. Makes about 5 cups, enough for a whole chicken.

Dividing Perennials

Keep an eye out for clumps that have grown 2-3 times their size within 2-5 years. Any overgrown clump or any clump that has simply exceeded the space allotted is a candidate for division.

Early spring is a good time for division, when the plants have begun active growth but not so well developed that the root system can't take a little disturbance.

A few things about trees

How to choose the best tree

The most important tip in tree planting

Loosen and break up the soil at least 3 feet out from the trunk of the tree, to a depth of 1 to 1½ feet. This will allow feeder roots to move easily through soil and allow water to percolate down to those roots.

  • strong, straight trunk
  • no cuts or trunk damage
  • evenly spaced branches along trunk
  • no split or broken branches
  • full leaf canopy unless dormant
  • mostly green, healthy leaves unless dormant
  • no diseases or insects present
  • no roots growing out of root ball or container
  • firm, round root ball
  • no roots circling top of container
  • no weeds growing in container
  • moist soil in container

An excellent website for tree information

Here is an excellent site on basic tree, shrub and groundcover information. It includes a pictorial section on practice pruning to help identify pruning needs. University of Florida Professor Ed Gilman on Landscape Plants: http://hort.ifas.ufl.edu/woody

Hypertufa Planters

The look like stone, but you can make them yourself. Create custom shape and size containers for miniature landscapes or for special plants or placement or for a birdbath.

What you need

  • Plastic sheeting or heavy trash bags
  • Molds (start small with plastic bowls and tubs, foam coolers or boxes covered with plastic)
  • Disposable gloves and dust mask
  • Large mixing tub or pail and trowel
  • Measuring container (coffee can, etc.)
  • Sifted peat moss
  • Vermiculite or perlite
  • Fibermesh (fiberglass reinforcing fibers)
  • Cement coloring (optional, add ½ cup per 1 quart cement or experiment with it)
  • Portland cement
  • Wire brush
  • Dowels (½-1") or drill for drainage holes

What you do

Set up your mold or form upside down on a piece of plastic with enough overhang to cover it. The mold should allow your planter to be at least 5 or 6" deep. Cover mold with plastic to facilitate removal. (Or line the inside of the mold and form the planter in the inside shape.) Work in a place out of direct sunlight where it will not freeze and where the planter will not have to be moved for a few weeks. Large containers will be heavy, so you may wish to make them where thy will eventually be placed.

Put on your mask and gloves and mix on part perlite and one part peat in your tub with the trowel. Next add one part Portland cement and color if you wish. Proportions can vary. Combine well. Begin to add water slowly along with a handful of fibermesh. Stir well and thoroughly before adding more water. Mixture should be slightly damp and stick together when you squeeze it. Remove your mask when there are no more hazardous dusk particles in the air.

Beginning at the bottom, press small handfuls of the tufa mixture against the mold about 1" thick. If your mold is more than 12" in diameter, make the walls 2" thick. Too thick is better than too thin. Pat and tamp well to remove air bubbles and to bond tufa mix. Work your way up the mold and cover the top (which will be bottom when you turn it right side up) with 1" to 2" of the mixture, keeping what will be the bottom surface flat. To form the drainage hole now, use your finger or a dowel to poke holes.

When you have the shape and thickness you want, wrap the overhanging plastic around the tufa covered form. Mist it to keep it moist if necessary depending on weather conditions. After 2-7 days it will be firm enough to remove the mold, but it will be several weeks before it is fully cured. The longer you allow for the curing stage, the stronger it will be. Keep planter covered with plastic to slow drying until thoroughly cured.

When the planter is dry, use the wire brush to do any additional shaping or texturing. Any fiberglass that shows on the outside can be burned off with a blowtorch. Because concrete is highly alkaline, it is best to let the planter weather for a few more weeks outside so that the lime can be leached by soaking with a hose or from rain before planting. Cover drain holes with landscape fabric or plastic window screening before adding soil appropriate to your plants.

Your planter should last for many years outside.

Building a Desert Rainwater Garden

©Robert Dailey, Editor, http://desertgardens.suite101.com/

Even with a few inches of rainfall a year, desert gardeners can build a rain garden. Rain gardens are simple, economical ways for desert gardeners to collect rainwater and place it exactly where they want it to go.

When rainwater (or melted snow) runs off a roof, it generally goes down a gutter, onto a splash plate or a French drain and then is shunted away from the house.

For gardeners (and anyone interested in water conservation) there are simple methods to use that water immediately on plants or collect it for later use. The gardener also gets instant gratification the first time it rains.

Building a rain garden

Do you know where your rainwater is?

In general, runoff from a flat roof is 600 gallons of water per inch of rain per thousand square feet of catchment area. Here is the basic formula for calculating the potential amount that can be collected: Multiply the catchment area of building by inches of rain by 600 gallons. Then divide the answer by 1000 to give you the approximate gallons of water coming off your roof.

Example: a 1000 square-foot roof times 2 inches of rain times 600 gallons = 1200,000 divided by 1000 = 1200 gallons of water

Any collection system needs a way to catch runoff. By far the simplest way is to construct a holding area in the landscape: build a rain garden. That's simply a concave area in your yard, garden, hillside, or any other area that will collect any runoff directed to it.

Instead of building a complex drainage system, simply place the collection area where gutter-fed water from the roof will drain into it. Gravity will do the rest.

Next, build a small bermed edge around the concave area. This will help retain more water long enough for plants to absorb the water. Remember that the concave area doesn't have to be circular. It can be elongated (like a dry streambed), irregularly shaped (kidney-shaped for example) or it can meander through other plantings.

Plant the concave area with native vegetation. If you'd like, use true desert plants that tend to bloom when watered by irregular rainfall.

How big do you make your rain garden?

The size of your rain garden depends on the size of the roof or surface area from which the water is drained and the amount of precipitation you receive.

And a rain garden doesn't have to be gargantuan. It can be a few feet or larger in diameter or length.

Rain gardens can also be developed on hillsides. Channels, streambeds, ditches and swales can be built to move and retain water.

A small hillside garden a few feet in diameter can help stabilize a slope. Eventually the vegetation planted there will colonize other areas around it.

Other rain garden catchment areas

Another example of a catchment is the area directly below the drip line from an eave. Make it slightly concave so rainwater will tend to collect along it. Then plant it with vegetation.

Even a slightly sloping sidewalk can be used to direct water into a small holding area where it can nourish plants.

If you've got a paved driveway, this is another opportunity to create a small rain garden at the base of it.

How to use companion plants

Companion planting has been round for centuries. In the days when chemical pesticides did not exist, farmers had to find more natural ways to keep harmful bugs from infesting their crops. Over time they began to realize that certain plants did better when planted with each other, sharing in their fight against harmful bugs, while others fared badly if placed too close together. Modern gardeners have continued to use and perfect this technique, called companion planting.

We come from the earth, we return to the earth, and in between we garden. "When the world wearies and society wearies and society ceases to satisfy there is always the garden." -M. Aumonier

When planning your garden, simply keep this chart in mind. The following list suggests good and bad companion plants:

  • Good: marigold, pepper, tomato
Beans (bush):
  • Good: beets, cabbage, carrots, celery, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, marigold, pea, radish, savory, strawberry, tansy
  • Bad: fennel, onion
Beans (pole):
  • Good: carrots, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, lettuce, pea, radish, savory, tansy
  • Bad: beets, fennel, onion
  • Good: beans (bush), kohlrabi, lettuce
  • Bad: mustard, beans (pole)
Broccoli and Cabbage:
  • Good: any strong herbs, beans (bush), beets, celery, marigold, nasturtium, onions, potatoes
  • Bad: beans (pole), strawberry, tomato
  • Good:beans (bush and pole), lettuce, onion, peas, radish, sage, tomato
  • Bad: dill
  • Good: beans (bush and pole), corn, lettuce, marigold, nasturtium, onion, peas, radish, savory, sunflowers
  • Bad: any strong herbs, potatoes
  • Good: beans (bush and pole), spinach
  • Good: beans (bush and pole), carrots, cucumbers, onions, radish, strawberries
  • Good: beets, cabbage, carrots, celery, cucumber, lettuce, pepper, savory, squash, strawberries, tomato
  • Bad: beans (bush and pole), peas
  • Good: tomato
  • Good: beans (bush and pole), carrots, corn, cucumber, radish, turnips
  • Bad: onion
  • Good: onion
  • Good: beans (bush and pole), carrots, cucumber, lettuce, melons, peas, spinach, squash
  • Bad: broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, kohlrabi, turnips
  • Good: cauliflower, celery, eggplant
  • Good: corn, onion, radish
  • Good: carrots, celery, mint, onion, parsley
  • Bad: cabbage, cauliflower, corn, fennel

Make your own organic soil mix

The organic soil mix is nice for those gardeners who want to know precisely what is going into their soil and garden. To prepare it, blend 2 parts vermiculite, 3 parts fine peat moss, 2 parts perlite, 2 parts manure, 3 parts topsoil, ½ part bonemeal. For an easy general purpose mix, blend 1 part commercial potting soil, 1 part vermiculite, and 1 part peat moss.

The Basics to Planting Tomatoes

Choose a variety that will perform well in your area. The easiest way to do this is to purchase seedlings from a knowledgeable local nursery or garden center. Knowing which varieties work well in Santa Fe climate is the best way to start.

Choose the right place to plant tomatoes. These plants will require at least 6 hours of full sun and rich fertile soil to grow successfully. Scout out your yard, keeping in mind how the sun moves across the sky and how shade from buildings, sheds, carports and trees moves throughout the day. Even the worst soil can be amended with compost, fertilizer and tomato plant food to provide a successful environment.

Tomatoes like plenty of room, at least a foot and a half in all directions. Keep this in mind while you are considering number of plants and location.

Planting Instructions:

Dig a trench at least 1 foot deep. Amend the soil by dumping in equal amounts of compost/fertilizer and soil. Add the recommended amount of plant food. Mix well, keeping the soil loose and friable without large air pockets.

Look at your plant. Pinch off all leaves except for the top cluster (usually 3-6 leaves).

Dig a hole in the amended soil deep enough so as much of the stem as possible is under the soil. The more stem you get under the soil, the better the root system will be. Backfill the hole with soil.

Water slow and deep, allowing the water to soak in slowly. Add a cage or stake to help support the plant, as it grows taller. It should be at least six feet tall and driven about 6 inches into the ground, making sure the stakes are well out of the area of the root ball. Ground cover, like mulch or leaves, can be layered on top of the soil drying out in between watering.

Tomato Growing Advice

Tomatoes take about 12 weeks to grow from seeds to the blossom stage and another 8 weeks to produce ripe fruit. They want overnight temperatures consistently above 55 degrees or protection from cold.

Care instructions:

For the first week, water every other day, making sure it's a deep and slow watering. After that, water once a week, deep and slow. Whenever you water, pull any weeds and survey your plants for any pests.

As the plant grows, you may have to tie the plant to the stake or cage with a bit of yarn or twine, to help provide more support, especially when it begins to bear fruit. Add plant food as directed, making sure to water well after application. Tomato plants are voracious feeders so don't skimp on feeding. When the plant begins to produce, check every other day for ripe fruit and to make sure pests are not "snacking" on your reward.

Transplanting Cacti

When transplanting cacti, position them so plants face the same direction as they did before they were planted. South and southwest sides of plants have been exposed to more direct sunlight and have become toughened and resistant to sunburn. The north and east sides of the plant are more tender and more likely to sunburn and scar or even rot if exposed to intense sunshine. Before transplanting, mark the north side of each plant with chalk or ribbon and replant so that side will again face north.

All about roots

by Janet Hirons, Master Gardener

Most plants absorb very little moisture through their leaves. Almost all the water they need has to get absorbed through their roots. So the more roots they have, the better equipped they are to find and absorb moisture. A well-developed root system with lots of little sponge-like root hairs is a plant's best insurance for survival in drought conditions.

Rainbows and butterflies, cattails and dandelions, waterfalls and rainforests, puppy dogs and dragonflies, sea foam and orcas, sunshine and comets, snowflakes and ice cycles, wildflowers and gardens. The universe thinks of everything.

For a plant to develop a good root system, the roots need to be able to push out into the soil. And to do that, they need to be working in a loose, friable soil—not one that is hard and compacted. Gardeners can help create good conditions for root growth by breaking up hard-packed soil mechanically and/or by adding organic matter. Mixing organic matter in with native soil loosens up the soil and makes it much easier for roots to move in all directions.

Organic matter—such as compost, peat moss, and shredded leaves—makes soil more porous, reducing runoff and helping soil retain water, making more moisture available to roots for a longer time.

Absorbing moisture is the task of the youngest, most tender part of a plants root system—the rooting tips and root hairs. When moisture conditions alternate radically between wet and dry, these root hairs get stressed and damaged. Covering the soil surface with a thick layer of mulch reduces water loss due evaporation, and just as importantly, helps maintain a consistent moisture level in the soil to keep delicate root hairs healthy.

Gardening for Hummingbirds and Butterflies!

by Joy Mandelbaum, Master Gardener and Audubon Project Leader

Flower nectar provides an important part of the diet for both hummingbirds and butterflies.

Think gaudy for hummingbirds — red, yellow, orange and hot pink long tubular flowers.

Plant in masses, stagger the blooming season, and keep bee-attractive plants separate from hummingbird-attracting. For the Santa Fe area, try:

  • Crabapple trees
  • Honey Locust trees
  • Redbud trees
  • Butterfly bushes
  • Lilac bushes
  • Trumpet vines
  • Wisteria vines
  • Agastache
  • Bleeding Hearts
  • Columbines
  • Daylilies
  • Heuchera
  • Kniphofias
  • Lobelia Cardinalis
  • Monarda
  • Cleome
  • Desert Four O'clocks
  • Impatiens
  • Mexican sage
  • Morning Glories
  • Pineapple Sage
  • Salvias
  • Scarlet Sage

Butterflies have somewhat indiscriminate lifestyles. They love a variety of food and nectar sources in a very sunny location—a mud puddle (the pool), some rocks on which to sun (the beach), overripe fruit (dinner) and some of Rover's dung (dessert). Top that off with open-faced flowers in blue-purple and yellow-orange shades. Pupal and larval stage butterflies need food provided by plant leaves and stems. Plants that attract New Mexico's skipper, monarchs, and fritillaries, include:

  • Butterfly bushes
  • Lilac bushes
  • Spirea bushes
  • Wisteria vine
  • Aster family
  • Blanketflower
  • Butterfly Weed
  • Coneflower
  • Cosmos
  • Daisy family
  • Goldenrod
  • Heliotrope
  • Marigolds
  • Mexican Sunflowers
  • Scabiosa
  • Sweet Alyssum
  • Verbena
  • Zinnias

Visit the Randall Davey Audubon Center Master Gardener Wildlife Demonstration Garden to see some of these plantings and enjoy the birds and butterflies!

Tips for Transplanting in Hot Weather

  • Water the garden plants to be dug and/or transplanted that day.
  • Transplant when it is overcast or during the cooler evening hours.
  • Never leave the roots exposed to sun, heat or wind. Soak roots in a bucket of water if possible during preparations.
  • Prepare plants one at a time.
  • Water the hole before you place the transplants into it. Allow the water to settle around the roots and then finish filling the hole. Lightly firm the soil around the transplant.
  • Once again, water the whole plant, leaves and all.
  • If possible, shield the new transplant from direct sunlight for 3-5 days.
  • Check the plant daily for the first couple of weeks. Transplants will need watering every day, if not more.