Plant Purple Fountain Grass Like an Annual

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It’s the purple cultivar that got everyone excited about big bold ornamental grasses in backyard gardens.  Purple Fountain Grass is the ideal accent and filler that gives even the dullest landscape a whole new life. The arching flower heads of Pennisetum setaceum ‘Rubrum’ are so light and graceful they come alive under the slightest breeze. This is a vigorous fast growing grass that’s native to the tropics of Africa.  The purple variety is different from all the other Pennisetums in that it’s rather sensitive to winter cold.  More often than not the grass simply does not come back again the second year no matter how large it became in the first.  Only in the most tropical climates, much like that of its native homeland, will it make consecutive annual showings. To really use this grass effectively in your summer garden, you must treat it like an annual.  Buy in inexpensive quarts to fill your garden or a set of matched containers with this fabulous plant.  One gallon containers are ideal in ground because the plants grow so fast they’ll reach full size by summer’s end when you want to see an abundance of flowers.  Larger five gallon containers are expensive and not worth the extra money because later in the year the smaller plants will catch up.  Add some lawn fertilizer to really force them to grow lots of purple foliage early on, which will develop a large crown capable of pushing up droves of blossom spikes.  At season’s end allow them to die with the frost and retain their purple coloring deep into the fall.  You can also collect the seed shed by the flower heads to grow a new batch from scratch come spring.  

Get Your Garden Foxgloves Planted Early

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Few spring flowers rival foxgloves for color and majestic impact.  But only if you buy big plants and get them in the ground early will you share in their fabulous beauty.   Foxglove are actually biennials, just like hollyhocks.  That means that the first year from seed they have a disappointing bloom.  The foxgloves need that first year to grow strong roots underground to support the magnificent blooms to come the following spring.  When you shop for foxgloves this spring knowing they are best in the second year, look for well established one gallon container sized specimen plants.  This container size ensures you’re getting those in the peak of their life cycle ready to put up the towers of tubular blossoms that make foxglove so beloved.  It’s important to know that medicinal herbs have long been used in the English countryside to treat cardiac edema, a killing condition for which the doctors had no remedy.  Yet wise folk healers using recipes handed down from mother to daughter could relieve the symptoms. Finally the active ingredient in these recipes was isolated, it was the foxglove.  That is why the genus name for foxglove, Digitalis, is also the name of one of the most important cardiac drugs of the 20th century.  Keep in mind that this plant is potent and toxic to both pets and children, illustrating the fine line between what cures and what kills.  

Tips for Successful Garden Seed Starting

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Turning a seed into a flourishing garden plant can be a trying experience.  But it’s a lot easier if you start on the right foot.  Too often you’re doomed to failure by simple oversights that can be easily avoided.   Corn from the largest most vigorous plants are dried and saved for seed to sow the following year. Sow at the proper depth.   Sowing seed too shallow or too deep can spell its demise.  It’s easy to know how deep when you plant from a seed packet.  But what about seed you saved from last year’s crop or that collected from wild plants?  The rule of thumb for sowing seed is to cover it with twice its diameter.  For example, a 1/4″ diameter sweet pea seed would be planted 1/2″ deep.  A tiny speck-like poppy seed is barely sprinkled with fine soil. Avoid over sowing.   Too many seeds crowds the seedlings.  If you thin over sown seedlings you can disturb and uproot the ones you leave behind slowing their progress.  When sowing fine seed mix it with sand to thin out the sowing. Water gently to keep seed in place.  Washing away the seed when you water is one of the most common destroyers of properly sown seed.  My solution is to water new seed from the bottom up by putting its tray or pot into a pan of water and let the peaty starting soil wick up the moisture slowly.  This ensures no dry spots exist deeper down and will never disturb even the weakest sprouts. Use a sterile medium.  Native soil, even many potting soils are tough on seeds.  Diseases, pests and inability to evenly absorb moisture and tendency to compact make these hostile mediums.  It pays to purchase a bag of sterile seed starting medium from the garden center and start your seed in that for healthy, disease free starts.

Instant Raised Bed Gardens The Easy Way

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Discover how simple and easy it is to have a veggie or flower plot this year, even with a rock hard soil or weed infested backyard. Gardeners Supply offers raised beds let you import perfect soil and garden above those pesky weds for instant rewards of flowers and food. Click on Gardener’s Supply in our Cool Links to order the easy to use hardware described below: Raised beds are easy and affordable. The right hardware makes them quick to install, and if you’re a renter you can take them with you when you move!  What makes them expensive to buy is the size and weight of the lumber sidewalls.  So why order heavy lumber when you can buy it locally for a fraction of the price.    2×6 and 2×8 fir, or longer lasting cedar and redwood are stocked at home improvements stores everywhere.  You can also buy the much heavier recycled Trex or composite deck boards which are completely decomposition resistant, unlike the wood side boards. These do not discolor, check, crack or rot, and become as portable as a waterbed – just disassemble and move whenever you want.  We tested the Gardeners Supply hardware on my TV show, Weekend Gardening, and found them easy to use and very long lasting well made connectors.  There are two types available, each for a slightly different application explained below.  Raised Bed Corners #36-643 These dark colored aluminum connectors are designed for a single coarse of boards in a basic square or rectangle giving a soil depth of about 6 inches.  If you spade up the soil under this bed, roots will pass down into the native soil once mature giving more rooting depth overall.  These corners are hollow so you can buy interior connectors that extend the height to a two board depth. Stackable Corners High impact frost proof plastic make these corners easy to use #34-602.  They are wonderfully versatile so you can stack them multiple tiers high, or create a step-back pyramid, with each tier slightly smaller than the previous.  These are also adjustable angles allowing shapes not quite square or rectangular to maximize plant-ability in odd spaces. With the Mo stamp of approval, this is the perfect way for a first time homeowner or renter to grow a beautiful delicious garden TODAY.   

Mo Is Off to Boise Flower and Garden Show


I’m off to another garden show today, this time in Boise Idaho. On Saturday I’ll be giving two presentations on country gardens and native plants of the west. Be back next week for more great ideas, shopping tips and plant recommendations!  –Mo

Prepare to Transplant Moss in Spring


As the snows melt away and the forest floor comes to life, it’s the mosses that make everything look so green.  Moss is a truly global plant, its microscopic spores rising high into the atmosphere to travel around the world before they settle.  So the moss growing on the north sideyard of your house and that of the forests in China may be virtually identical species.    Moss is quite transplantable because its roots are so shallow.  You can peel it up from dense clay, a tree trunk or from the surface of large boulders with your fingers.  These slabs, if kept moist and not crushed will transplant easily into your garden.  They are perfect for making the shaded nooks and crannies of a rock waterfall look eons old, provided you do not chlorinate the water.  It also disguises the man made the edges of a naturalistic water garden.  You can also cover ground in a Japanese garden to give it the patina so coveted for that style. Try to match the exposure of the new location to that of the site where you harvested the moss.  It will require some degree of shade and consistent moisture to survive.  If the new surface is sterile, paint fresh fish emulsion on like an organic glue to hold the moss slab in place and give it nutrients.  Mist the moss daily to prevent dehydration until its established. If you don’t have a local source for moss, you can buy it online at Moss Acres  Check out the Moss Acres Photo Gallery for great ideas on where and how to use mosses to make your garden appear old and established even if it’s brand new.  

Mini Potted Landscape Gardens for Apartment Dwellers

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For cash strapped apartment dwellers, a new form of miniature garden combines Japanese bonsai and Chinese penjing into a new American art.  Two Green Thumbs Garden Center creates this fun and charming way to capture larger gardens at pint size for pennies on the dollar. A mini Stonehenge, park benches and pebble paving illustrate easy to create gardens for balcony, fire escape and window sill.  Their display at the Northwest Garden Show demonstrated how this whole idea works.  To me I see it in its infancy and as the trend spreads across our urban world the options and diversity will blossom with new applications.  Heavy Asian pots with thick walls allow artists to create mosaics of paving as simple to make as a trivet, allowing the soil area to be broken up with graphic surfacing.  Adding mosses and pint sized furniture lends a truly gardenesque feel to these table top landscapes. Utilizing pebbles, mortar and edging, this diagonal paving strip turns a square pot into a graphically pleasing composition. Planting for these gardens is divided between smaller succulents and dwarf conifers.  Utilizing moss and dwarf evergreens such as tiny berry laden cotoneaster as well as virtually all bonsai candidates gives a diverse palette.  Since this gardening art is in its infancy, there’s no end to what you can dream up. Explore the doll house furniture at your local crafts store for mini items to decorate your garden.  Keep in mind that anything glued together will eventually fall apart from the moisture.  Use only plastic or well made items that you can remove when you water and replace afterwards.  This is the brain child of the folks at Two Green Thumbs Garden Centers.  Log on to learn more, see more and get a ton of ideas for your project. Check out their mini decorative accessories for your garden