24 June 2009

Prickly Survivor

I don't remember how it got there, but there is a low growing prickly cactus in my parent's yard outside Binghamton New York. Every summer it blossoms in yellow flowers, then takes the rest of the season to grow new sections. It survives the New York winters, nestled in its small micro climate along the south facing side of the house.

Last year, I received a few sections of the cactus, thinking they would be great for the new south-facing side yard garden where the platforms to the deck are now built. The plan is to create a small garden of succulents and cacti in a small micro climate, and maybe try some zone 7b and 8 plants (hey, with global warming and all...) This would be the charter member to join the yucca and agave already on the wish list.

With fall chores in the garden turning into indoor chores for the holidays, the cactus remained in its soil-less pot outside during most of the winter - no roots, collecting water and snow, freezing, thawing, and in a 'droopy deflated' appearance. In February, it was finally planted with little expectations.

This month, after settling into its new home, it is sending out lots of new growth along with three blossoms. It would be good to find out the name or variety of this cactus. I did see many similar types on my Grand Canyon hike four years ago, surviving the winters in the high desert, and growing along side some similar magenta-flowering types. If I can only find some of those to keep my yellow one company, the cactus garden will be off to a great start.

For The Record:
• No fertilizer
• Full sun
• Somewhat heavy soil on a slope that drains

Garden Calendar:
• Blooming: salvia, corepsis, some hostas, alyssum, coneflowers, asian lilies,
     loosetrife, daylilies, white nicotiana
• Harvested: 1 broccoli head

07 June 2009

Tale of Two Yards

Starting last fall, a tale of two lawns developed - the front yard and the back yard. The front lawn was relatively attractive, with some patches of coarse 'cowgrass', and a constant battle with crabgrass every summer. The rear yard had its overabundance of exploding bittercress, and some bare areas beneath the star magnolia due to heavy shade and lots of roots.

With the completion of the new cedar deck and an elimination of many overgrown photinia, fall was time to start the rehab of the rear yard. A soaking with Roundup was made to kill off the grass and weeds. After two weeks, I was left with amber waves of grain punctuated with healthy green garlic and weed clusters. The grass died but nothing else. A stronger application of Roundup finally accomplished the goal.

Next, a rototiller was borrowed and work began. They look so easy to use in the tv commercials, slicing through all that soft rich moist soil. After two weeks of clay soil and a third of the yard tilled, I realized the truth about rototillers. Additional work was going to be needed to smooth and refine the soil for my grass seed. The cavalry was called in.

A landscaping company shaved off the skin of dead lawn in the rear yard. I dug up the remaining garlic clumps. I spread manure-humus, gypsum, lime, and peat and planted the seed. I bought rolls of degradable woven grass starter mats to protect the seed planted, to keep it moist and to discourage weed germination. Another idea gone bad. They blew around like billowing sails every time the wind blew, which only happened when it was raining. Chasing these around the yard in the rain was not my idea of starting a new lawn. After stomping on the new seed to retrieve and reposition the starter mats, the seed germinated and winter set in. However, I am pleased with the results thus far even if there are lots of bare spots to fill in, and lots of weed seeds beginning along with the grass. Soon, it will be time to begin edging. It makes a great looking photo though, if taken from the upper bedroom.

While the landscapers were shaving the rear yard, a spur of the moment decision was made to also tackle the front yard, so sod was ordered. The sod was laid after the old lawn was shaved and rolled up. With virtually no work on my part since, the front lawn looks marvelous. That's it - no muss or fuss and no weeds. The front yard sod was affordable, being so much smaller than the back yard. Both were reduced in size from their former - the rear lawn is about 85% as large and will be smaller yet when edging around the perimeter beds is complete; the front about 95%.

For The Record:
  • Organic fertilizer (Milorganite) and manure-humus in spring

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: poppies, salvia, corepsis, some hostas, alyssum