Garden Talk: January 26, 2012

From NGA Editors

Cool Peppers for Cool Climates

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Peppers are heat lovers, no doubt about that. They relish a long season of warmth. But gardeners in areas with short growing seasons love peppers, which is why many are always on the lookout for pepper varieties that have been bred to mature quickly.

An exciting new offering comes from High Mowing Organic Seeds. 'Sprinter F1 Hybrid' (pictured) is a bell pepper that consistently ripens a high percentage of bright red, large, blocky, four-lobed fruits, even in short season areas, with high yields over a long harvest window. The compact plants have good leaf cover to prevent sunscald and are resistant to blossom-end rot and russetting. Fruits are ready for picking green in 62 days from transplanting; ripe red fruits are ready in 82 days.

For a vibrantly colored Italian type pepper with a sweet flavor and high yields of ripe fruits, even in short season areas, try High Mowings's new 'Oranos F1 Hybrid' pepper. The medium-size, slender peppers are delicious raw in a salad and have thick walls that make them great for stuffing. Ready for picking green in 60 days, orange in 75 days from transplanting, 'Oranos' had the highest total yields and the highest numbers of ripened fruits in High Mowing's 2010 variety trials in their cool Vermont gardens.

Start pepper seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the set out date. Hardened off transplants can go out in the garden once the soil is warm and all danger of frost is past, usually a week or two after the last frost date. Floating rows covers kept in place until plants begin to flower will help give plants in cool climates an early season boost.

To find out more about these peppers and High Mowing's complete selection of organic seeds, go to: High Mowing Organic Seeds.

Peak Phlox Performance

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Garden phlox, when well grown, is one of the glories of the midsummer garden, its large heads of flowers adding color, fragrance, and stature to flower beds as the many early summer blooming perennials are fading into foliage. Unfortunately, this North American native has an Achilles' heel -- its susceptibility to powdery mildew, a fungal disease that can leave its foliage disfigured with an ugly white coating.

To help gardeners select phlox varieties and cultivars that make the best garden performers, the Chicago Botanic Garden recently concluded a multi-year evaluation of a number of types of border phlox. Border phlox is a category that encompasses the familiar garden phlox, Phlox paniculata, as well as the similar but earlier blooming meadow phlox, P. maculata, and the hybrid P. x arendsii, which shows greater resistance to mildew than P. paniculata.

From 2001 to 2009, 78 Phlox cultivars were evaluated in the Botanic Garden's Zone 5b gardens. They were grown in full sun and were given minimal maintenance, in line with what they'd likely receive in the average home garden. Plants were rated on a scale of one star (very poor) to five stars (excellent).

Only one cultivar garnered a top five-star rating, Phlox paniculata 'Shortwood'. This 50-inch tall cultivar was covered from mid-July to early October with large, rosy-pink heads of flowers, showed excellent resistance to powdery mildew, and had no problems with spider mites, another common border phlox woe. 'Shortwood' is a chance seedling of the white, mildew-resistant cultivar 'David', itself an excellent garden performer that strangely is missing from this evaluation line-up.

A further twenty seven cultivars received a four-star ″good″ rating, including such readily available choices as P. paniculata cultivars 'Katherine', 'Laura', 'Robert Poore', and 'Orange Perfection'. The uniquely colored garden phlox 'Peppermint Twist' with pink and white striped flowers also received four stars.

To read the entire comparative study of Phlox cultivars, go to: Chicago Botanic Garden.

Project BudBurst

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It may still be cold in many parts of the country, but we've turned the corner toward springtime and the days are getting longer. It won't be too much longer before buds are bursting out all over.

So now is a good time to be thinking about participating as a citizen scientist in Project BudBurst. This project relies on individuals from all over the country using their observational skills to collect important ecological data on the timing of the leafing, flowering, and fruiting of plants. Scientists can then use this data that has been collected in a consistent manner across the country to learn more about how various plant species respond to changes in the climate, both locally and nationally.

Begun in 2007, Project BudBurst is managed by the National Ecological Observatory Network and the Chicago Botanic Garden and partners with a number of institutions and organizations around the country. Volunteer participants can sign up to be regular observers, selecting at least one plant and submitting data regularly, or can add single reports if they are not able to make an ongoing commitment. There are also materials designed specifically for educators to use to implement observations as a classroom project.

Visit the Project BudBurst website to find out how to sign up up and choose plants to observe, as well as for information on why this study of the timing of changes in plants and the rest of the natural world, called phenology, is important as scientists try to track and understand the effects of our changing climate.

To find out more about Project BudBurst or to sign up to participate, go to: Project BudBurst.

Celebrating Urban Birds

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Want to learn more about how you can help birds in urban environments, participate as a citizen scientist in the study of these feathered creatures, or simply celebrate their presence amidst all the concrete and buildings? Check out the Celebrate Urban Birds website, a project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

You can start by leaning about sixteen species of birds. Then pick a time and place, watch for ten minutes, and submit your observations online. Lots of observations from lots of folks provide scientists with data that can help them assess and promote the health of urban bird populations.

But there's a lot more to the site than data gathering. One of the goals of the site is to encourage the celebration of nature in the city, help people feel good by getting outside and interested in the natural world, and give them ideas for ways to connect with other celebrants and make the urban world a little more welcoming for its avian residents.

Find ideas for ways to celebrate birds in schools, libraries, community gardens, and home school families. Of special interest to gardeners is a section on Urban Gardening for Birds, full of ideas for planting ″Little Green Places″ to support and attract birds in urban settings.

To find out all that this website has to offer, go to: Celebrate Urban Birds.

 
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