Garden Talk: February 28, 2008

From NGA Editors

Snow Pea With a Touch of Gold

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Springtime is pea time in the vegetable garden. There’s nothing like the taste of freshly picked English, snap, or snow peas. Although peas are grown mostly for their flavor, now these edible delights can be grown for their beauty, too.

An heirloom snow pea variety from India is now available that features pink and purple bicolored flowers and golden pods. ‘Golden Sweet’ snow pea grows 6 feet tall and has bright yellow pods that form 67 days after seeding. Their flavor is sweet and nutty. The yellow color fades as the pods mature, so they’re best harvested while small.

For more information on this attractive snow pea variety, go to: Seed Saver's Exchange.

New Look in Foxgloves

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Foxgloves (Digitalis) are popular biennials and perennials with 1- to 4-foot-tall bloom spikes in colors ranging from white to purple. They have colorful mottling in the center of individual flowers, but unfortunately this is usually hidden from view because the blooms face downward. A new variety, ‘Candy Mountain’ (Digitalis purpurea ‘Candy Mountain’), finally shows its face.

‘Candy Mountain’ is the first foxglove to feature upward-facing blooms. This variety grows 3 to 4 feet tall and features rose to mauve flowers with white mottling in the centers. The flowers are symmetrically arranged 360 degrees around the sturdy flower stalks, making for ideal viewing from any angle. ‘Candy Mountain’ is hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9, and grows best in full sun in the north and part shade in the south. This biennial readily self-sows. The flowers complement other early-summer bloomers in the perennial garden, and they make excellent cut flowers.

For more information about ‘Candy Mountain’, go to: Wayside Gardens.

Fabric Pots Offer Advantages

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Every year there are more types of containers on the market. While the trend is toward more decorative and fashionable pots, these may not be the best ones for your plants. Dark-colored plastic containers can heat up in summer, harming plant roots. Ceramic containers are better at insulating the soil from hot temperatures, but they may not have adequate water drainage for good root growth. An ingenious new container made from black fabric avoids some of these problems.

Smart Pots were developed by the tree industry as a better way to grow and ship trees without harming their roots. They are made from a porous woven fabric that’s lightweight and strong enough to hold soil and plant roots. Because the pot breathes, the soil stays cooler in summer and better drained year-round. The manufacturer claims Smart Pots also air prune plant roots, creating a more fibrous root system that's better for the plant. Plants can even be grown in the sides of the pot by simply cutting an X in the fabric and inserting a transplant.

To learn more about these new pots, go to: Smart Pots

New Book Plumbs the Truth About Organic Gardening

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As organic gardening becomes more common, there are many assumptions about its safety that get promoted by the media. It’s hard to know which organic gardening techniques and products are effective and safe.

Jeff Gilman, horticulture professor at the University of Minnesota, has researched many of the claims about organic gardening, and he shares his findings in The Truth About Organic Gardening (Timber Press, 2008; $13). Gilman gives a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to many of the practices and products used in soil building and in weed, insect, disease, and animal control. He also includes a chapter on the claims made by the organic food industry.

Some of his findings confirm, and some contradict, conventional knowledge. For example, he found garlic is an effective repellent for a large number of insects. The organic pesticide rotenone is dangerous to beneficial insects, aquatic life, and humans, and is more toxic than many synthetic pesticides. Japanese beetle traps tend to attract more beetles than they trap. He found that a better solution for these beetles is beneficial nematodes, which can kill up to 80 percent of the Japanese beetle larvae in lawns where they are applied.

For more information about The Truth About Organic Gardening, go to: Timber Press

 
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