Garden Talk: December 31, 2009

From NGA Editors

Balloon Flower Trial

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Balloon flowers (Platycodons grandiflorus) are beautiful summer-blooming perennials that come in a range of flower colors including, pink, white, and blue. They grow to a height of about 3 feet and thrive in full sun on well-drained soil.

The Chicago Botanic Garden trailed 19 different varieties of balloon flowers in their USDA zone 5 gardens. They evaluated plants for bloom period, flower color and size, growth habit, disease and pest problems, and winter survivability. Varieties were given a 1 to 5 overall rating, with 5 being the highest.

After five years of evaluating balloon flower varieties none of the varieties tested scored an average of 5, but 12 varieties were in the 4 category. Some of the best were ‘Astra Blue’, Baby Blue’, and ‘Sentimental Blue’. The Fuji and Hakone series all averaged scores of 4 regardless of the flower color. For example, ‘Fuji Blue’, ‘Fuji Pink’, ‘Fuji White’, ‘Hakone Blue’, and ‘Hakone White’ were all top performers.

For more information on this balloon flower trial, go to: Chicago Botanic Gardens

New California Lilac Has Colorful Foliage

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Ceanothus is known as the California lilac. This shrub is hardy only in USDA zones 8 to 10. However, in those areas it grows 8 feet tall and wide and produces lavender-colored flowers from summer until fall. This drought-tolerant shrub makes an excellent screen or hedge plant. (Unfortunately, the flowers don’t have the signature lilac scent.)

Now comes a new variety of California lilac that features uniquely colored foliage. Ceanothus ‘Tuxedo’ has the same attractive flowers and vigorous growth habit as other California lilacs, but the foliage is a dark purple making for a dramatic contrast with the lavender flowers.

For more information on this new California lilac, go to: Tesselaar Nurseries.

Smelly Compost Pile? Just Add Water

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Composting is a great way to reduce household and yard organic waste and create a good soil amendment for your garden. While the materials in a well constructed compost pile will break down quickly and effectively with few problems, sometimes active compost piles can smell of ammonia, depending on the type of manures and materials used. Researchers in France sought out ways to reduce the ammonia and nitrous oxide emissions from compost piles, while still making them effective.

Researchers experimented with compost piles made from cattle manure and hay and turkey manure and straw. They found that most of the emissions, and smell, were emitted when the piles were constructed and, again, when they were turned. Their remedy was to add water so the dry matter content went from 55% of the pile to only 33%. Initially the temperature of the pile went down, but it recovered in a few days and the pile continued to cook. However, the ammonia, nitrous oxide, and smell were significantly reduced.

For more information on this compost research, go to: Science Direct.

Illustrated Guide to Gardening Now Organic!

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The Illustrated Guide to Gardening has been a gardening bible for many for years. Originally published in 1970s, this book has been the mainstay for many a gardener across the country. The All New Illustrated Guide to Gardening, (Reader’s Digest, 2009), features yet more improvements on the original book and previously updated texts. The biggest difference in this guide is that all the cultural procedures are organic. It includes more than 700 plant selections, 2500 full-color photos and illustrations, and many Earth-friendly gardening practices.

I’ve always appreciated the line drawings and illustrations in this text. In addition to the detailed descriptions of gardening practices, the illustrations give you a clear and concise way to learn about basics gardening techniques, such as planting, pruning, dividing, and propagating your plants. The book includes expanded features on xeriscaping, rain gardens, wildlife gardening, and invasive plants. Of course, the Plant Disorders chapter has detailed illustrations of problems with all-organic solutions. It a great book to add to your gardening reference library.

For more information on The All New Illustrated Guide to Gardening, go to: Amazon.com .

 
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