Sunday
Jan222017

Flowering Quince for Early Blooms

In my Alabama garden, Flowering quince, or Chaenomeles, begins blooming in January on leafless stems, and the blooms continue for at least two months. In cooler regions, blooming begins later, in February or March. The brilliant blossoms are always a welcome harbinger of spring.Sometimes my blooms get zapped by hard frost, but more flowers quickly appear. Edible 2" fruits follow the blooms, though they are seriously sour-tasting. The fruits do make good jelly, however.

Not only is this the first shrub to bloom in my garden each year, but it also is among the most durable of my shrubs. When we moved here in 1985, we found several quinces buried under weeds and vines on a hillside next to the drive. I was alerted to their presence by the colorful blooms that peeked through the brush.We decided to move them to a better location. It wasn't an easy transplant. They apparently had been on that hillside for a very long time; their roots were deeply embedded in the clay and almost hopelessly ensnared by their environment. We hacked out as much of them as possible and moved the shrubs to an area bordering the front lawn. Released from bondage and with better soil, they have flourished ever since with minimal care. Once established, they have proven to be drought-resistent. One year they were attacked by white flies, but they responded well to a good spray of horticultural oil.

Chaenomeles speciosa is a deciduous shrub that grows from 5-10' tall and wide. A spiny tangle of branches makes good hedges, screens and security barriers. After blooming, it is not showy, but its mass of green leaves provide nice structure for the garden.

Flowering quince will grow in USDA hardiness zones 4-9 in a wide range of soils, though it does best in slightly acid, loamy soil. It needs full sun for best flower production, but it will also grow in partial shade. 

Chaenomeles japonica and various hybrids are also available. Some of these lack thorns, are fruitless, or are smaller in habit than speciosa. Different varieties produce blooms in shades of red, pink, salmon, orange, or white, and some are noted for their gorgeous double blooms. Use cut branches for beautiful indoor flower arrangements.

Flowers are produced on the previous year's growth.To promote flowering and maintain shape and size, prune in spring after flowering is finished, removing some of the oldest branches down to the ground and cutting others back by a third or more, staggering cuts to maintain a natural appearance. Then apply a layer of compost or else use a slow-release fertilizer.

Flowering quince is a wonderful plant for wildlife, providing both food and shelter for birds and other critters. It is noted to be deer-resistant. 

 

 

Saturday
Jan142017

Enjoy Success with Cool Season Vegetables

For years I struggled with my little vegetable garden. Every year I had renewed hopes for bountiful harvests of tomatoes, beans, squash and other summer vegetables. Then inevitably my beautiful plants developed holes, fried edges, rusty streaks, and black spots. I watched sadly as my hopes withered under blistering summer sun and stifling humidity. I gathered my harvests and was ashamed to admit how paltry they were, despite loving care and too much money. (I once read an article titled, "My Fifty Dollar Tomato." I can identify.)

Then a most amazing thing happened: I discovered cool season vegetables! Why, oh why, doesn't everyone grow these?!This wonderful cool season vegetable garden is located at Myers Plants and Pottery in Pelham, Alabama.

In my part of the world, winter temperatures drop below freezing but are unlikely to stay there long. Several days last week temperatures plunged into the low 20s. Today, people dressed in tee shirts and shorts were outside jogging and walking their dogs. This schizophrenic weather is typical of an Alabama winter. It can be hard on plants, which too often put out young buds just in time to get zapped by frost. But it also enables year-round gardening.

A host of hardy and semi-hardy vegetables do quite well in my climate. Most of them can endure short periods of frost, and some even taste sweeter for it. The best part is that bugs and disease rarely bother plants this time of year, and I don't have to put on 70+ sunscreen to check on them. (However, I do use a milder sunscreen, always, year round.)

This is far from a complete list, but here are some cool season vegetables to consider:

Hardy vegetables will endure temps down into the low 20s or high teens. They require 3 to 6 hours of direct sun daily. Many will go to seed or develop a bitter taste with rising temperatures. In warm areas like mine they can be planted from late summer to early fall for harvests in late fall, winter and early spring. In regions where winter routinely brings temps into the teens or below, plant these vegetables as soon as the ground can be worked in spring to enjoy a harvest before higher summer temps arrive:

Broccoli This was my broccoli last week after a winter storm left a layer of ice over many areas of the garden. Because these were so close to harvest, I did cover them overnight when the temps were the coldest. No harm done! Cabbage

CollardsI did not cover my collards, and they were crusted with ice after a wintry night of ice and snow. They seemed to enjoy the frigid bath.

KaleMy ornamental kale also came through the icy night just fine. You can eat ornamental kale, though I grow it to add color to the winter garden. I grow a less decorative type to eat, though it's deep bluish-green leaves are also beautiful in my eyes. It too had no problems with the ice.

Mustard greens

English peas

Spinach

Turnips

Onions

Semi-hardy vegetables can take temperatures at or slightly below freezing, 29-32 degrees Fahrenheit. They require about 6 hours of direct sun daily. In warm regions, plant in late summer or in late winter. In colder parts of the country, plant in early spring as soon as the ground can be worked, about 3-5 weeks before the frost date:

Carrots

Cauliflower

Celery

Swiss ChardBefore the frigid temperatures, my Swiss Chard 'Bright Lights' was gorgeous. I covered it up, and the hard frost did not kill it. But most of the leaves were wilted. Low 20's was too cold for its comfort!

Lettuce

Potatoes 

You can protect your cool season vegetables with a 2 inch layer of organic mulch such as straw or pine bark. Pull the mulch away from the plants in spring.