Charlie’s Mid April Newsletter
I’m officially trying to ignore the weather. As my Vermont garden gets covered with ice and snow in mid-April, it’s hard to stay optimistic about spring. Oh, it will come to my zone 5 garden, but it probably will be short-lived with summer right on its heals. Such is life in the Northeast this spring.
But, there’s still time to start tomato seedlings, or buy them locally, for planting in many gardens. While red is the color of most tomatoes, I like experimenting with the yellow, orange, black and purple varieties as well. I talk about some of my favorites here and how to grow them.
Foxgloves are quintessential English flowers. They can be biennial or perennial depending on the selection. And they grow in part shade. I review growing them in this newsletter.
Edible landscaping or Foodscaping has become all the rage. If you like the idea of growing edibles in your yard without sacrificing beauty check out my Foodscaping book. The queen of edible landscaping is blueberries. I talk about the latest varieties and how to care for them in this article and video.
Finally, corydalis is a spring wildflower that covers part shade areas with white or pink blooms. It’s an easy to grow plant in the garden, under deciduous trees or around shrubs. I talk about this spring beauty here.
Time to go shovel snow. Ugh…. Until next time I’ll be seeing you… in the garden.
- Vermont Garden Journal Radio- This week; Cornelian Cherries
- Connecticut Garden Journal Radio- This week; Lupines
- In the Garden (WCAX-TV CBS)- This week; Growing Pansies
- Where’s Charlie Speaking? April 18, 2018, Wellfleet Library, Wellfleet, MA
Tomatoes are far and away the most popular vegetable in the garden. While many have already started their tomatoes for the season or are growing them in the ground, others may still be contemplating their summer crop. Also, even if you’ve already planted, there’s always room for a few more in the ground or a container!
I like experimenting with different colored tomatoes. While many gardeners are familiar with ‘Green Zebra’, ‘Yellow Pear’ and ‘Cherokee Purple’, there are other colorful selections, too. ‘Copia’ is a orange and red striped slicing tomato with excellent flavor and color. ‘Jaune Flamme’ is an orange, French heirloom variety that looks and tastes like a bigger version of ‘Sungold’ cherry tomato. I love the flavor on this one. ‘Pink Boar’ has red, wine colored fruits with metallic green stripes. The fruits are a little larger than cherry tomatoes and tasty. ‘Black Cherry’ is a purple-black colored cherry tomato with an earthy flavor. It looks great in salads with yellow, red, and orange cherry tomatoes.
Depending on where you live you may still be starting seedlings or already have them in the ground. Move tomato seedlings into the garden after all danger of frost has passed. Harden them off by bringing them outdoors for a few hours each day over a 1 week period. In cold areas, mulch the soil with red or black plastic to warm it before planting and help prevent blight disease from starting on the leaves. In warm areas, mulch with straw or chopped leaves and untreated grass clippings.
Stake or cage your tomatoes from a young age. Use large circular or square metal cages or set up a trellis system with poles. Keeping the fruit off the ground will reduce insects, slugs and disease damage. Side dress with fertilizer monthly and enjoy the colorful, delicious fruits.
The story goes a fox was having a hard time raiding a chicken coop because every time he got close to the chickens, they would squawk and the farmer would come out with a gun. One day a woodland fairy was chatting with the fox and told him to put an opened bloom of the digitalis flower on each paw. He did and quietly crept in and stole some chickens for dinner. That plant is called foxglove.
Whether you believe the story or not, foxgloves are great plants in the garden. There are biennial versions that drop seed in summer to flower next year and can remain in the garden for years. Try varieties such as ‘Candy Mountain’ with rose colored blooms, ‘Camelot’ with lavender colored flowers, ‘Apricot Beauty’ with peachy colored flowers, and ‘Foxy Hybrids’ with a mix of colors. These all grow 3- to 4-feet tall with large, upward facing blooms that are favorites of bees, hummingbirds and butterflies.
There also are perennial foxgloves such as the Digitalis grandiflora, that come back each year. Although only a short-lived perennial, this yellow foxglove is short and colorful in the flower garden.
Although they can grow from seed, it’s easiest to purchase transplants and plant around the last frost date for your area. Foxgloves grow well in full sun in the North and part shade everywhere. Plant foxgloves in groups for the best visual effect and to help support the taller flower stalks during windy weather. After flowering, deadhead and usually you’ll get a second flush of blooms in late summer. Let the blooms set seed in late summer to insure you have seedlings and new plants to flower next year. Foxgloves contain the chemical, digitalis, which is used as a heart medicine and is poisonous. They have few pests and diseases, so are a carefree flower in the garden. The biggest problems I’ve seen is too many foxgloves. Every spring we’re weeding out extra foxglove seedlings, so be diligent about thinning out the patch. Not only does this stop them from spreading everywhere, thinning allows the flower stalks that remain to be bigger and the flowers larger.
With a heighten interest in edibles and Foodscaping, blueberries have become very popular, even in small space gardens. These beautiful, long-lived shrubs have attractive white flowers in spring, delicious berries all summer and outstanding red fall foliage garden. They are the perfect edible landscape shrub.
When choosing varieties remember their height. Highbush and rabbiteye blueberries can grow 6 feet tall and wide. Look for early, mid and late season varieties to extend the fruit season. For small spaces, try some of the half-high blueberries such as ‘Blueberry Glaze’, North Sky’ and ‘North Country’. They only grow 2 to 3 feet tall. Some, such as ‘Peach Cobbler’ are small enough to fit in a container making excellent patio plants. Check out Bushel and Berry for some nice dwarf selections.There are even low bush blueberries that make great groundcovers.
The key to successful blueberry growing is the soil. Blueberries need an acidic, well-drained soil that stays consistently moist. Lower the pH to below 5.0 by adding sulfur in spring and fall. Select a site with well-drained soil or plant blueberries on raised beds or in containers. Amend the soil with compost, fertilize each spring with a balanced organic fertilizer and mulch well with bark chips, pine straw or wood chips. Blueberry roots are shallow, so they will need supplemental watering the first few years to grow and stay healthy. Only prune off dead, diseased and broken branches the first 5 years. Then remove older branches when they start producing fewer flowers and fruits.
The biggest pest of blueberries are the birds. Cover blueberry fruits with netting as the berries start coloring up. However, don’t just drape the netting over the plants. Every time you go to harvest and remove the netting, you’ll end up stripping some leaves and fruits. Create a structure so you can enter to pick without damaging the plant. You can also use reflective tape, aluminum pie tins or scare eye balloons to ward off birds. Check out this video on protecting fruit from birds.
In My Garden: Darling Corydalis
Corydalis is an early spring blooming perennial that resembles its cousin the bleeding heart. This low growing perennial is hardy in zones 4 to 7, loves part shade and spreads aggressively when happy. It’s the perfect plant to grow in an open deciduous forest area, shade garden, rock garden or in a border with a variety of shrubs. Corydalis self sows readily so watch for seedlings each spring. We have some in our garden and let it slowly expand, but not take over. It’s okay, actually, if it does spread a lot, because it’s easy to pull out once done flowering in spring.
The wildflower version (Corydalis solida) are usually white, lavender or pink flowered. These are the most hardy. The yellow (C. lutea) and blue (C. flexuosa) corydalis are stunning flowers and plants, but are only hard in zones 5 to 7. Corydalis likes the cool spring temperatures and dies back in summer in most areas. It’s not a great plant for the hot and humid Southeast. The yellow and blue selections also make beautiful container plants.
So, check out the wildflower versions that may be growing in your area this spring and look for some cultivated varieties in garden centers and make corydalis part of your low growing flower ensemble.