Monthly Archives: April 2014

Hardwood Bark Mulch Season

I don’t know if this is the case in the rest of the country, but here in south central PA, you know it’s spring when the bark mulch starts to be delivered and spread. I don’t ever remember seeing this mulch until I moved to PA. Here, bark mulch is ubiquitous. Every suburban house, every shopping center and every institution with landscaped grounds uses this brown mulch.

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I have to say that it does make beds and borders look neat and clean and it does a good job of preventing weed growth. There can be a few fungi problems like artillery fungus (Sphaerobolus), stinkhorn (Mutinus caninus), bird’s nest fungus (Cyathus olla) and slime molds (caused by a variety of fungi), but they’re just saprophytes breaking down the bark and living off of it. Personally I’ve never had a big problem with any of them. (This summer I’ll try to capture some pictures of these various fungi if and when they appear).

Over the years of mulching, I’ve learned a couple of tricks that make the job a lot easier.

In years past I wouldn’t put down the mulch until late May. By that time perennials has started to grow and annuals had been planted. There were weeds that needed to be pulled and it was hard to get the mulch around the plants. A lot of time was spent on my hands and knees working the mulch under the leaves of various plants.

One year I spread the mulch earlier (I don’t remember why) but since then, I always try to finish the yard by mid to late April. At this time in the growing season there are few if any weeds to pull. The perennials are just coming up so you can sprinkle the mulch on top of them and they’ll grow right through it. And as far as annuals, I just mulch the beds where they’ll be placed and plant them later, carefully pulling the mulch aside as I plant.

There is one down side to spreading mulch early – the soil won’t warm up quite as quickly. But in my mind, that’s a small price to pay in order to make mulching easier. Also, any effect it might have appears to be minimal.

Manure Fork

Manure Fork

The other “mulch miracle” that I’ve found is a manure fork. This tool is available in any hardware store. It usually has five tines and is the best way to scoop mulch into a wheelbarrow and the greatest tool for spreading mulch. The tines make it easy to scoop up the fibrous mulch (unlike a shovel) and the fork allows you to place the mulch were you want it or to sprinkle a layer over a large area.

What used to take weeks now takes days thanks to mulching earlier and using a manure fork. Seven scoops of mulch are spread and I have to say it looks nice. Now it’s really spring since the mulch is in place – I guess I’ve become a true Pennsylvanian!

Grecian Windflowers and Other Anemones

A few years ago I ordered some anemone tubers to give this plant a try. The kind of anemone that I planted was Anemone blanda or Grecian windflowers.

The plants have been a nice surprise. The tubers were small brown little blobs that looked like old raisins. There was no way to tell which part of the tuber was the top and what part was the bottom so I simply spread them above a bed of hyacinth bulbs.

Anemone blanda

Anemone blanda

The plants are only a few inches tall but the daisy-like blossoms that emerge early in the spring are a good addition to the garden. This anemone blossoms in shades of pink, blue and white but most of the tubers that I have are blue.

They tend to bloom at the same time as the hyacinths and the two plants make a nice combination.

Since planting them, I’ve learned a few things about anemones. When you plant the tubers in the fall, it’s suggested that you soak them in water for a few hours before planting. I didn’t do this but given the way the tubers looked when I planted them, it probably would be a good idea to do this.

Seeing the small clump of plants that I have, I’ve realized that this flower would look even better if it were grown in mass – i.e., hundreds of tubers in a large area. I could see these growing in a rock garden or planted between daylilies or other perennials. They would blossom early and then be out of the way when the perennials started to bloom.

A pleasant surprise is that every part of the anemone is poisonous so rabbits aren’t interested in eating them. For me, that’s always a plus!

Anemone coronaria (from http://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/)

Anemone coronaria
(from http://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/)

I hadn’t realized how many different varieties of anemones are in cultivation. There are spring blooming anemones that grow from tubers and others kinds of anemones that are fibrous rooted perennial plants that blossom in the fall. The tuberous rooted plants include the kind that I’m growing and also the larger Anemone coronaria which is the kind of anemone that you’ll find in flower arrangements. The fibrous rooted perennial plants blossom in September and October with white or pink poppy-like blossoms. Unlike the low growing Anemone blanda, these plants can grow to three feet tall and provide flowers during a time of the year when the choices of blooming plants is limited.

Fall Blooming Anemone (from http://www.csmonitor.com/)

Fall Blooming Anemone
(from http://www.csmonitor.com/)

I’ve been impressed with the Grecian windflowers and I think I want to try some of the other anemones that are available. They seem to be a sturdy species with a lot of variety. I’m especially interested in the fall blooming plants – it’d be nice to see something other than chrysanthemum blossoming in the fall flower garden!

Blooming Petioles!?!?

If you look at most plants, the stalk that supports the flowers (peduncle) emerges from somewhere on the stem. Sometimes the flowers grows at the end of the stems and other times them develop along the stem, particularly at the place where the petiole of the leaves (the stalk that supports the leaf) meets the stem.

Streptocarpus

Streptocarpus

Since this is the norm, I was surprised when I was looking at the streptocarpus hybrids that I have growing in the house. The plants have started to come into full bloom but where those blooms develop surprised me.

Streptocarpus hybrids leaves grow in a rosette. Instead of large spaces between the leaves (internodes) like tomatoes or peas, in plants with a rosette growth pattern, the internodes are very short. This cause the plants to grow their leaves in a tight circular pattern. Some plants that have this rosette form of growth are dandelions, agave and african violets. In these plants the flowers still emerge from the stem, short and compact as it might be.

That’s why I was so amazed with where the flowers develop on a streptocarpus. Instead of developing from the stem, in this plant the flowers develop along the base of the petiole. Usually there are two or three inflorescences that grow from each petiole, the first emerging closest to the stem and the subsequent ones developing further along the petiole away from the stem.

strepflower copy

As one who’s always looking closely at where and how the various parts of a plant grow, this is something I’ve never seen before. I’m sure there are other plants whose flowers grow from the petiole but I don’t know of any other than the streptocarpus.

This is just one more example of the amazing variety of plant morphology. Who knows what the evolutionary advantage is in having blooming petioles? All I know is that streptocarpus hybrids have them and it’s a difference from other plants that’s pretty cool!