Growing Ajuga

Bugleweed is another name for the easy to grow ground cover Ajuga.  It loves full sun unless you live in a very hot and dry climate, then plant it in the shade and full shade is just fine! The foliage will tend to grow smaller in full sun, but will produce more flower spikes then in shade. Ajuga tolerates clay soil that is dry or moist and a wide soil pH range as well.  It’s a semi-evergreen perennial, plus Ajuga is easy to propagate.  It’s hardy in zones 3 to 9.  So why not plant it?

Growing up, my mother planted ‘Bronze Beauty’ bugleweed all over the yard and now I know why…It did fantastic in that hard compacted clay soil and needed little care.  Ajuga was never a favorite of mine until I found a few varieties that really hit the spot and now I find myself poking them in areas that need a little ground coverage to fill in and soften the look.  I’m now hooked!  I have my favorites though, Bronze Beauty not being top of my list however…Perhaps because it is so common and I like a little twist on things.  Top favorite is ‘Black Scallop’.  It has dark, almost black, large succulent leaves that look like you could eat them.  The leaves stay glossy as well…even with our hard water!  But it really likes shade and stays beautiful in my HOT climate there.  Second Fav is ‘Burgundy Glow’. It has a variegated leaves with shades of greens, white and burgundy.  Truly a beautiful ground cover!  It will give you a little color splash in a shade garden.  ‘Chocolate Chip’ is a fun name for an Ajuga, but it’s more than that.  It has elongated leaves that are skinnier than others and it does have a chocolate color to it.

All these varieties do well in pots as a filler/spiller.  They will hang nicely over the edges in no time.  But keep Ajuga watered well in pots, as they are not as drought tolerant when grown in a pot as they are in the ground.  Ajuga will bloom from spring to summer, sending up flowers of blue, pink or white, depending on the variety.  Divide clumps in the spring or fall after two or three years.  Just find the new crowns around the mother plant and slice down between them lifting the dirt and roots together.  Share with a friend, neighbor or plant in a bare spot in the yard.  We have seen many lawns of Ajuga and people just mow them like a regular ole’ lawn in areas that may be hard to grow grass, such as under dense mulberry trees.   If non variegated foliage appears on variegated Ajuga, they should be removed to prevent the plant to reverting back to its original green form.  Adding a little compost and fertilize in the early spring is about all you need to get this easy ground cover off and running!

Anise Hyssop

Growing & Using Anise Hyssop

Anise Hyssop Flowering

It’s Fall!  Well not technically, but around here when the monsoons come in and the temps cool just a little and mornings are crisp, I know it’s time to start planting fall crops, whether it be vegetables, herbs, annual or perennial flowers.  Anise hyssop is first on my list.  It’s a member of Agastache genus and is a favorite herb to attract hummingbirds. But more than that it’s a great mosquito repellant plant (perfect for fall monsoon weather).  Bees love Anise Hyssop!  I see bees hover over its flowers more than any other herb in the garden.  Any help with pollination in the garden these days…I’m on it!

Agastache (Anise Hyssop) comes in a variety of colors from purple-blue to the ornamental varieties coral, apricot and pink.  Culinary Anise Hyssop makes a delicious tea.  The leaves and blossoms can both be used and they have the fragrance of anise.  Add the leafy stem to flavor a pitcher of water.  Scatter the blossoms over a cooked vegetable like beets, or a plate of slice peaches.  Add color to a lettuce salad.  Be creative.

Anise Hyssop is a very showy plant, blooming from June to September.  Giving a bit of care by deadheading will insure larger blooms for a longer duration.  Some plants will reach 32 inches tall or taller and they make a great accent in the background of herb or perennial beds.  Once established, Anise Hyssop is very drought tolerant and most varieties are hardy to -20 degrees Fahrenheit. This plant is a winner in my book because it’s soil needs are minimal.  Good soil drainage and a little compost upon planting is all it seems to need.  A great plant for dry-land gardeners.  You can also divide in the early spring with ease.

Anise Hyssop Tea: Bruise a small handful of leaves by crumpling them in your hand, then add to a teapot, pour boiling water over the leaves, cover the pot and let it steep for 10 minutes. Easy as tea!

Maintenance for Iron Deficiency in Fruit Trees

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Beginning of Yellowing from Iron Deficiency on Young Peach Tree

When we first planted our orchard twenty-five years ago we didn’t know much about our soil we were putting the new little trees in, or for that matter what we should have done to improve it. There had been orchards all over our valley for decades and they all seemed to be doing great. In fact 40 years before we planted our orchard, there was a huge peach orchard right were we put in our little fruit orchard. But, the topsoil had been scraped, probably removed and sold, perhaps other soils brought in and if there were any original soil left, it was depleted. Within a few short years some of our trees started to show signs of iron deficiency. Yellowing leaves with green veins with the tips showing signs of burn. This is the first tell-tell sign of iron deficiency.
In our area we typically have a high content of iron in our native soils, but because the pH range is generally on the high side, around 7.5 to 8.0, plants can’t take up many of the nutrients in the soil needed for healthy growth and tasty fruit.
We have incorporated tree care regimens over the years and our newer fruit trees are healthier than ever and produce the best tasting fruits.
Every Spring (When trees begin to bud) the trees get a feeding of Azomite,  Rock Phosphate and Gypsum sprinkled around the drip line with a heavy layer of compost, but not covering the trunk of the tree. Once the trees begin to leaf out we carefully watch for any yellowing, which seems to happen here once a year to every other year. While we give them all that tender loving care, they still seem to have an iron deficient issue on occasions. This is because of our high pH.  Not only the soil’s pH is high, but  our water is also high in pH, so yes, we have succumbed to the fact that we can do every thing to insure a healthy tree, but because we live where we live, we just have to do a little more maintenance to keep our trees at their best. The first sign of yellowing I sprinkle Ferris Plus Iron around the drip line of the trees (from the trunk, out to where the canopy of the tree stops) and water in thoroughly. Ferri Plus Iron is a chelated iron that the trees can take up very quickly. Generally within a week or less! You can use as a foliar spray, but I choose the easiest methods…or it may not get done. Follow the instructions on the label for each tree. Each tree will require a different amount of iron, due to their size, age and canopy. Trees that are deficient in iron will first show signs of yellowing with green veins. As the problems increases, leaves tips will look as if they have been burnt. If deficiency is left to get worse, branch die back can occur and the loss the tree is possible.

We have learned over the years of orcharding that just sticking a tree in the ground may work for a while, but giving it a great start to insure a healthier tree with more vigor, better tasting fruit and longer life is an investment worth putting time into. Trees we have planted lately have been healthier and less prone to bugs. Compost is always mixed in the native soil, but not more than a cubic foot for five gallon sized trees. Mychorrhizae is used as well to give them the best boost they can get. We could place fertilizer in each hole as well, but we feel the compost and Mychorrhizae is enough and then they get the regular feeding when the rest of the trees get treated.
Giving plants the proper nutrients will improve flavor of the fruit. We have found that iron and mineral deficient trees will have fruit that taste a little bland as well. A good example is we planted a Saturn peach years ago, and I threaten to yank it out every year. The fruit was not what a fresh peach should taste like. After starting a good fertilizing and fruit tree care program, amazingly, the fruit was sweet, juicy and delicious!

Pruning Tomato Plants

Pruning Heirloom Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes

Over the years I have evolved into a completely different gardener.  Maybe a little more disciplined in some regards and a little more unruly in others.  There are a few crops that have received much more attention, such as my garlic and heirloom tomatoes.  When I first started growing heirloom tomatoes I would not stake them or prune them, I just let them bramble about wildly, while losing a few of them to rot, due to them touching the ground and just plan out ‘losing’ them in the thick mass of foliage.   They did produce more, but took much more room and tomatoes were in deed smaller.   There was definitely good and bad to this method, but I am totally converted now to training and pruning indeterminate tomatoes. Pruning definitely takes more time, but I think it’s well worth it.

Pruning tomatoes increases air flow and allows me to plant a larger variety of heirloom tomatoes closer together.  While I have a fairly large garden, it isn’t big enough for all the varieties of heirloom tomatoes I like to grow so I trellis my plants on cattle panels, spacing them about a foot apart.  That’s close, huh? By pruning tomato plants, it will put more energy into a concentrated area, increasing the size of each tomato produced.  It increases light, which helps with ripening and air flow that will help prevent diseases.  I like to leave 2-3 main stems that start close to the bottom of the plant.  Stems that start higher up will create fruits higher up and makes the plants rather top-heavy.   You can prune to one main stem, but here in the desert our sun is hot and a little more foliage helps the tomatoes from getting sunburn.

I keep all boughs from touching the soil (about 8-12″ off the ground).    By doing this, it helps protect the plant from soil-borne pathogens that might splash back onto the leaves during watering.  Also we have had better success with conquering curly leaf virus by doing this.  Because the soil is exposed more by pruning and training this way, it tends to dry out faster, so I will plant nasturtiums and other herbs that both repel bad insects and attract beneficial ones while keeping moisture in.  Kinda like what a mulch would do.    Plus, it’s very attractive in the garden.

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Where to Prune a Tomato Sucker

Pruning tomatoes should really only be done to indeterminate tomatoes and not to the smaller growing determinate varieties.  Pruning means pinching off the shoots/suckers that sprout from the stem in the crotch right above a leaf branch.  A sucker left to grow, simply becomes another large stem with its own blossoms, fruits and suckers.  Pruning is best done with staked or trellised tomatoes.  As the weather warms up, new suckers pop up all the time, even in the same place you may have already pinched once before.  I find myself once or twice a week pinching and securing the vines to keep the plants tidy and the chore not so overwhelming.  Pinching is easily done by bending the suckers over when they are very small, but once it becomes the size of a pencil, you might want to use a pair of garden snips so you don’t hurt the main stem.  Be sure to wipe or spray your snipers with a simple disinfectant each time you move to a new plant to “be on the safe side” and not spread any disease that could possibly be present.  Never work with you tomatoes when they are wet as well!

You can pinch off the tip of the main stem above the top blossom of indeterminate tomato varieties to keep a flourishing plant from getting taller, such as when a plant out grows its support or toward the end of a growing season when a taller plant won’t help much with increased production.  Pinching at this point will put the plants energy into ripening the tomatoes already on the vine rather than producing new tomatoes that more than likely become large enough to save.