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Monthly Archives: August 2016

About Balloon Flower

Balloon flower will prosper whether you begin with seeds or plants. Seeds are easy to start, but because plants do not flower well until the second year, you may want to save time by buying container-grown plants.

To start seeds, barely press them into moist seed starting mix, enclose the containers loosely in a plastic bag, and keep them at 60oF and in moderate light. Seedlings should appear in about two weeks and can be shifted to larger containers a few weeks later. In my zone 7 garden, I keep seedlings outdoors in pots through their first winter, then set them out in the garden when they are a year old. Plants need at least 6 weeks at or below 40°F to flower, but flower best with at least 12 weeks at these temperatures.

Balloon flowers develop heavy gnarled storage roots, so it’s easy to move plants if needed. And, should you want to propagate them, simply take a heel cutting in late spring, when the new stems are about 2 to 4 inches long. Gently dig down to where the stem joins the roots, and use a sharp knife to nick off a stem with a 1/2-inch chunk of root. Pot the cutting, keep it constantly moist, and it should quickly take off. I get close to 100 percent success with this method, compared to only about 50 percent survival of tip cuttings dipped in rooting hormone and set to root in a sandy potting medium.

Care and Feeding

To get the most prolific bloom, situate plants in a well-drained site and fertilize them to support strong growth. In my very average clay, I scratch a controlled-release fertilizer into the soil around the plants in spring; in summer I apply a 2-inch-deep organic mulch. In fall after trimming off the dead stems, I add a little more mulch and then put the wire support ring back in place. Plants are a little late to show themselves in spring, so marking their location keeps me from accidentally digging too close to them later on.

Light deadheading helps to extend the bloom time, and in some years the plants inexplicably produce a second flush of flowers in early fall. If you cut flowers to use in bouquets, sear the stem ends the moment you sever them from the mother plant. Otherwise their vase life may be limited to one day.

Balloon flowers make great neighbors to other plants because they don’t spread and only need dividing about once a decade. In sun, I like to flank them with yellow plume celosia or orange Cosmos sulphureus. In large decorative pots, pair dwarf ‘Sentimental Blue’ with red verbenas. In partial shade, use balloon flowers as accent plants placed among foxgloves, hostas, or lamb’s ears.

Allan Armitage, perennials expert at the University of Georgia, suggests teaming plants with tall yarrows such as ‘Coronation Gold’. He also notes that balloon flower is one of the lowest maintenance and most rewarding of perennials. Plant reviews don’t get much better than that. I give it four stars.

Peanuts Care

It’s a good idea to hill peanut plants when they’re about two-thirds their full height of 1-1/2 feet. Hilling makes it easier for the peanut pegs to bury their tips into the ground.

To hill, use a hoe to pull up the loose soil around the stems of the peanut plants. Once you’ve hilled the plants, don’t disturb them with any tools, including hoes. If the plants need weeding, do so by hand, allowing the roots and pegs to remain undisturbed.

Hilling peanut plants buries and kills weeds around the plants and takes care of most walkway weeds as well. It also creates a natural irrigation ditch by pulling soil from between the rows up around the plants and helps heavy soils to shed water. Hilling keeps the soil better drained and more productive because the earth isn’t packed around the plants. The biggest advantage is that it allows the pegs to penetrate the loose soil easily.

Mulch

Mulching peanut plants can be a little tricky. Because the peanut pegs penetrate the soil, they’ll first have to penetrate the mulch. Therefore, if you decide to mulch, make sure you put down a very thin layer of a material the pegs can easily penetrate, such as grass clippings or straw, rather than an impermeable one, like plastic or floating row covers. Grass clippings help condition the soil by adding nutrients, but if you use them, first spread out the clippings in the sun and let them dry for a day or two.

Watering

Although peanuts are relatively tolerant of dry soils, it’s a good idea to check the amount of moisture in the soil before planting. Dig a hole and if the soil feels moist one foot down, you probably won’t have to worry about watering until after your plants start to bloom.

Even though the plants don’t need a regular supply of water, the critical times for moisture are when the plants bloom and when the pegs enter the soil. A shortage of water at these times will reduce your yield and affect the size of your peanuts.

Be careful not to water the plants when harvesttime draws near. Peanuts may not mature if the soil is too wet, or mature nuts may sprout.

Weeding

Young peanut seedlings can be injured or killed by tools, so it’s better to weed by hand. As the plants grow, continue to control weeds and loosen the soil so that pegs can penetrate the surface easily. When you’re weeding, be extremely careful not to cover branches and leaves with soil; this could kill the plants’ leaves and interfere with flowering. The best time to get rid of weeds is after a rain once the plants have dried off.

Clay Soil Tips

If your garden has heavy clay soil, you know what a challenge it can pose to plants, not to mention gardeners. Heavy clay drains slowly, meaning it stays saturated longer after rain or irrigation. Then, when the sun finally comes out and the soil dries, it forms a hard, cracked surface.

On the bright side, clay soils are usually richer in nutrients than sandy soils are. And clay’s tendency to hold water tightly can be an advantage.

Here are some tips for making clay soil more manageable and easier to work.

Tools and Materials

  • Soil test kit or commercial test
  • Organic mulches: compost and aged manure, straw
  • Wheelbarrow or cart
  • Shovel
  • Rake
  • Cover crop (wheat, rye, clover, or oats)

Test soil pH, and adjust as necessary. Clay soils are rich in nutrients, but if the soil is too acidic or too alkaline, those nutrients won’t be available to the plants. Use a home test kit or send a sample to a soil testing lab, then follow the recommendations for adjusting pH. For most garden plants, a pH of 6.3 to 6.8 is ideal. Find a lab near you by checking in your telephone directory, or by calling your local cooperative extension office.

Add organic matter. This helps improve drainage and lighten heavy soil. It also provides nutrients for beneficial soil microorganisms which will, in turn, also help improve the soil. Before planting in spring, add compost and aged manure. A 2- to 3-inch layer worked into the soil to shovel depth is a good amount. Throughout the growing season, mulch with organic materials like grass clippings, shredded leaves, or additional compost. Since soil microorganisms literally “eat” organic matter, make a habit of continually adding it to your soil.

Build raised beds. Because clay soils hold water, creating raised beds can help improve drainage by encouraging water to run off. Raised beds can be a simple mound of soil, or can be constructed out of wood, brick, or stone. To lessen compaction, size the beds so you can reach the middle without stepping in the bed.

Mulch beds over the winter. Driving rain can really pack down bare soil, so keep beds mulched with organic matter both during the growing season and over the winter. A layer of straw over the beds will protect the soil from compaction and reduce erosion; it can also help minimize weed growth. In the spring, transfer the mulch to the garden paths.

Plant a cover crop. A cover crop is like a living mulch. Different cover crops are appropriate for different regions. In the north, winter wheat and winter rye are popular choices; in warmer regions, crimson clover and oatsare commonly used. For a winter cover crop, sow after the last crops have been harvested. The following spring, simply till the plants into the soil, adding yet more precious organic matter.

Tips

Improving soil takes time, so don’t expect overnight results. On the other hand, if you follow the above steps you should notice some improvement each year. Within a few years, you’ll have rich, plant-friendly soil.