Is My Gingko Tree a He or a She?

I think my Gingko tree is having an identity crisis. You see, Gingkos can be male or female. I bought the tree from a reliable plant nursery with the guarantee that it was a male Gingko. Female Gingko trees produce a weird looking fruit. When this fruit falls to the ground and rots it smells like the nastiest thing you can think of. On a rare occasion, a male Gingko can be hit with a late spring freeze which changes it from a male tree into a female tree. The tree coming close to death causes it to try to produce fruit in order to reproduce. It is an amazing thing and apparently from all the information I’ve gotten does not happen very often. Of course this would happen to my tree – nothing in my life is ever normal.

Gingko leaves in the fallSo, you might ask me why would I buy a Gingko tree to start with. Well, it is one of the most beautiful trees in the fall. The yellow coloring is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Then the tree drops its leaves almost all at once, leaving you with a circle of bright yellow fallen leaves under the tree. With a large Gingko tree, it is an amazing sight. I have heard there are many old Gingko trees at the University of Georgia campus and one day I’m going to go see them in the autumn. There is a beautiful example of a large old Gingko in our little town and every autumn I always plan my daily route around that particular house. But, unfortunately, my little guy turned girl is only seven feet tall and doesn’t seem to want to grow faster or taller.

Gingko leavesWhy am I talking about a problem that happens in the fall? Because for the past few springs I have stood next to the tree, begging it to not make fruit. However, my pleas of “Please don’t make fruit!” have failed, and once again I see the beginning of tiny fruit on its branches. I have come to the conclusion that I will have to cut it down and replace it with a different tree. For now, however, there is very little fruit for me to pick up in the fall but I worry that when it grows large I will not be able to keep up with it’s stinky fruit production. I think it has to go. I’m sad. Does anyone have an opinion? Should I keep it or cut “Stinky” down?

Spring Is Finally Here!

A Dogwood blossomThere is nothing better than spring! I love the look, the feel, and the smell of spring. It brings a renewed energy to my body and my demeanor. My six year old once asked me what blue smelled like. I don’t know. But I do believe green has a smell and it is the smell of spring.

I love walking through my garden every day and just noticing what is blooming or in bud or just beginning to have a few leaves. It seems everything wakes up from winter at different times. I am always mesmerized by it all.

Every year in spring, I am so thankful that I have herbs growing in my garden. One of the first plants to awaken in spring is my lemon balm. I step into the flower border, and into the lemon balm to baste myself with it. It’s aroma attaches itself to my pant’s legs and stays with me most of the day. Lemon balm tea is used by many people for its relaxing benefits. It is reported to help with insomnia. The native Americans rubbed it on their bodies to repel insects. I have harvested a huge batch of it to dry for tea. I took a huge mixing bowl outside and filled it to overflowing. Then brought it inside, washed it and dried it with paper towel. I made little bundles – four or five stems each and attached the stems together with rubber bands. I hung them all up to dry for a week. I am excited to taste the tea.

Mint drying on my spice rack

Another herb I really like is called pineapple sage. I thought I had lost all of it but suddenly I see it popping up in the border. It seems to be telling me, “You shouldn’t have worried. I’m still here.” There are so many wonderful things about it. First, it smells like pineapple when you crush its leaves. Second, it blooms in the fall the most wonderful shade of scarlet. I know many people have trouble integrating red flowers in a flower border. I suggest we stop worrying about it and enjoy the electrifiying color of red. When pineapple sage is in bloom and the maple trees are wearing their red leaves the combination is breathtaking. I wonder if it could make a pineapple flavored tea?

Every year I fall in love with herbs all over again. Yesterday, I looked over an old herb book while eating my bagel for breakfast. It was so wonderful viewing the pictures of beautiful herbs growing in overflowing gardens. How lucky we gardeners are to have such riches. When you fall in love with gardening it never leaves you!

Increasing The Shrubs In Your Garden

Gardening can be an expensive hobby with buckets, watering cans, and shovels to buy. By the time you have invested in a few good tools, you find you have very little money to spend on plants. A great way to save money on plants is propagating what you already have in your landscape. Especially if you have a plant that you think is really terrific and you want more of it. It is by far the best way to save money in the garden and a lot of fun to boot. And if you have children, it’s great to get them in on the act, too. My 9 year old son has been gardening with me since he was a toddler.

There is nothing like planting a shrub that you have started from a cutting, nurtured, and then planted in the garden. The simple act of pruning a shrub to maintain size or shape can provide you with plenty of shoots to root for cuttings. Unfortunately, the more difficult a plant is to propagate, the more expensive it is in the nursery. Luckily, the majority of shrubs are easy to root from cuttings and this is the subject I will cover here.

Types of Cuttings: Soft, Half-ripe, and Hard 

Cuttings are the most commonly used method for increasing shrubs. There are three different types of cuttings you can take from your shrub: soft cuttings, half-ripe cuttings, and hardwood cuttings. Many gardening books and manuals will often tell you touse one type of cutting for one type of shrub and another type of cutting for another type of shrub. In all honesty, this does not always work that way. I have taken many different types of cuttings from a plant, been successful with some and then tried to duplicate my process the following year only to fail miserably. My best advice is to try soft cuttings first, then half-ripe and finally hardwood cuttings and judge for yourself which is working best. A pot containing a dry, dead stick or a mass of green mush will tell you how well you’re doing. And by the way – experiment – that’s how to become a good gardener. Experiment and fail and learn from your mistakes. Many famous and legendary gardening gurus when interviewed have said the secret to their success has been that through their failed experiments they have learned to more closely observe the plant – its needs and temperament.

Soft Cuttings

Trim below leaf nodeThese are cuttings taken from the growing tips of the branches and trimmed just below a node (a node is the point at which leaves occur on the shoot). The best time to take soft cuttings is during late spring and early summer. If success is achieved and roots form, you could have a well-established plant by autumn. The easiest way of taking the cutting is to remove it from the parent plant by cutting it off with hand clippers. Select a shoot 3-8 inches long. Clip the branch off just above a set of leaves. This allows the shrub to continue making future shoots from this cut area. Then take your cutting and trim the branch off just below a leaf node. Discard this bit. Next remove all leaves from bottom 2/3 of shoot. I sometimes leave only a couple of leaves on the top of the shoot for photosynthesis purposes. The bottom one inch of the cutting can then be dipped in rooting hormone. Studies have shown an excess of rooting hormone can actually retard the rooting process so use only a very small amount. I have two small children toddling around my potting bench so I choose to not use any chemical rooting helpers. My rate of propagation is probably not as high as it could be, but my children and I are not breathing in anything potentially harmful.

Inset cutting into soilAfter you have prepared the shoot, insert it into a small pot of potting soil. First, make a deep hole in the soil with a pencil or your finger, then insert the shoot. Only bury half of the shoot in the soil. It is important that the bottom of the cutting be in contact with the soil. Firm it in by inserting your finger or pencil to the side of the cutting and pack the soil around it. A mixture of potting soil heavy on Perlite will work well in rooting cuttings. I add a heavy dose of sand to the soil which can also help.

The problem with soft cuttings is just that – they are soft and delicate and prone to wilt. To prevent this it needs to be kept in humid conditions. A clear, plastic bag covering the pot works well to keep in moisture. Be sure to support the bag off of the shoot with sticks poked in around the edges of the pot. Without plastic, I have arranged cuttings in their pots under a big leaved shrub. It tends to be moist, shady, and humid under there and can work well to protect them. I am currently housing five or six cuttings under a large hydrangea bush and they all seem to be doing rather well.

Check the cuttings regularly. If any show signs of rot, remove them from the other potential cuttings and discard. The cuttings may root in as little as a few weeks or may take a couple of months. Some may not be well-rooted until spring the following year.

Half-ripe Cuttings

Half-ripe cuttings are taken between early summer and early autumn. This type of cutting is generally easier to root than soft cuttings. They are much less likely to wilt. Although the bottom of the cutting is stronger the growing tip is still soft and delicate. Take these cuttings from the parent plant exactly the same way as in soft cuttings. Prepare the shoot, trim it up, and use hormone powder if desired. However, these cuttings do not need as much warmth and humidity as softwood cuttings. They can be placed on a bench in the shade.

Hardwood Cuttings

These are the easiest of all cuttings to root. Take these when the leaves have fallen, using current seasons growth which is ripe and woody. Cut these branches 6-12 inches long and discard the soft tip part of the branch. The top cut you will make needs to be just above a dormant node and the bottom cut just below a dormant node. Prepare a pot with potting soil, as before, and insert cutting. Keep this in a sheltered spot and by late spring or late summer you should have a well-rooting cutting.

Beautiful New Shrubs

Finished cutting potted upWhen you start, remember rooting plants from cuttings is easy. I have a lovely new hydrangea all thanks to my husband and his paint brush. While painting the trim on our house, my husband hacked at a hydrangea branch that was in his way. After being handed the sad, tattered shoot I frowned at him. My husband is a wonderful man but in no way a gardener. I took the shoot, trimmed it up, and prepared it in a pot of compost. If it didn’t root, I would not have been upset. In fact, I was so busy I didn’t really check on it for a month or more. The happy end of my story is I planted a beautiful new hydrangea in another area of my garden. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Have fun gardening!

Have any questions? Please contact me.

Ouch! Mosquitoes!

I don’t think there is anything I hate, in this world, as much as mosquitoes. I bet there is no one in America that has tried as many things as I have to rid my garden of mosquitoes. Especially, since I am allergic to their itchy bites. I swell up like a softball wherever I am bitten. It amazes me when I talk to people that are hardly ever bitten by mosquitoes. I don’t know if it is because of my natural red hair, but I feel most of the time like I have a bull’s eye tattooed to my forehead for them to find. Now, after many years of painful (and itchy) research, I have found some ways to at least control this problem. Let’s talk about a few of the many things that didn’t work and a few that I have found that do.

First, let’s talk about sprays. I have tried many different body sprays to ward off mosquitoes. Unfortunately, I have found the sprays that contain DEET seem to work the best. I try to be health conscious and not put anything toxic or dangerous on my body. It goes without saying I don’t put this stuff on my children either. A lot of “natural” sprays that do not contain DEET either do not work at all, or if they do, it is for a short period of time. You must reapply. You must reapply. You must reapply. Apply, apply, apply – Argg!

Second, let’s talk about mosquito candles, lanterns and tiki torches. Citronella candles can work fairly well but I have found you need a lot of them in a small area. Also, lanterns will work but, the little cartridges in them constantly need to be replaced and constantly dry out. Tiki torches work well but you need a lot of them so you better love the tiki torch look.

Next, let’s talk about those huge, propane guzzling monsters. You know the ones – costing a fortune and promising to rid your entire yard of the little blood sucking beasts. Well, they do exactly as promised. They act as a “magnet” for mosquitoes. Just as women are drawn to shoe sales, every mosquito in your neighborhood will be drawn to this machine. You can’t stand near it to change the propane tank (which you have to change every 21 days!!!) without getting eaten alive. I know from experience, I had one for two summers. The only way I can see this being effective, is if the family has a large property and puts this on the edge of their land far away from any sitting areas or the house itself. Most of us nowadays have small yards and gardens. I do not recommend these machines for anyone with a small to medium sized yard (or bank account).

Next, there are exterminating companies that will come and spray your yard. (I know because we hired a company for a couple of years to do this.) It works well. And will last about a month. They will come back and spray again – every month. I have no complaints about the effectiveness of this – it does work, but at what cost to you, your family, and the wildlife around you. The exterminating company will tell you it’s safe for birds and some insects, but I notice they do not recommend this for gardens with ponds. It will indeed kill your fish. And it will strike a significant blow to your bee population. I have sadly walked out into the garden the day after a “spray” and literally had a dead bee fall out of a rose blossom onto the ground. It really made me think and grieve for what I was potentially doing to the world around me. Not to mention, how could I ever eat food out of the garden with this going on. I started vegetable gardening in containers and draping them with old bed sheets when it was time to spray the garden. The last straw was a surprise visit from the exterminating company. They were supposed to call to give me notice a day before they were coming. It made me look suspiciously at all of my beautiful ripe tomatoes hanging on their vines. They were beautiful, but I wouldn’t eat them for fear they had been sprayed with the mosquito repellent.

Now that I’ve discussed a few of the things that didn’t work very well, here are a few successful items.

First, do not underestimate a ceiling fan. That’s right! Companies have made fortunes convincing us of the need for “usable” space underneath our decks. Under deck weatherproofing is installed and a seating area is then established. Put an outdoor ceiling fan in these areas. Mosquitoes do not like to fly in the wind caused by the ceiling fan. Also, if you have a deck with a pergola over it, think about adding a ceiling fan to it. On our family deck, I have gone as far as plugging in a box fan and pointing it toward our outside table and chairs. This has been very effective.

I’ve already told you that I don’t like to put toxic sprays on myself, but I have found a mixture of essential oils to be very effective. I use a mixture of Lavender, Peppermint, Citronella, Lemongrass, Thyme, and Cedarwood. These can be bought individually from a health food store or sometimes you can find them pre-mixed for this purpose.

How about a safe, effective, and organic substance to spread on your grass that repels mosquitoes and other biting insects? Well, I have found it, and tried it this year in my garden. It’s called Mosquito Beater Granules by Bonide and it seems to work very well. We spread it over the entire lawn area and flower beds, too. Its effect lasts for 4-6 weeks. The only down side is your yard will smell like an ethnic restaurant for a few hours, but then the smell dissipates. The odor is due to the ingredients: Citronella Oil, Garlic, Cedar Oil and Lemon Grass Oil among others, which mosquitoes seem to hate. The effectiveness lasts even after the smell is gone.

Well, I hope I have given you some field tested suggestions to help you rid your garden of mosquitoes. As for me – what’s next to try for mosquitoes? I have heard of a product called ThermaCELL that hunters love. It is powered by a butane cartridge and dispenses a small amount of repellent into the air over a long period of time. It claims to create a 15 x 15 feet mosquito free zone. After I try it, I will tell you my honest opinion. As always – have fun gardening!

Have any questions? Please contact me.

My Top 6 Favorite Lemon Scented or Flavored Plants

Lemon BalmLemon Balm – can be used in cakes and cookies

Lemon Grass – use to flavor chicken or fish

Lemon Thyme – can be planted in rock gardens

Lemon Basil – great for Italian cooking and pesto

Lemon Verbena – use to make lemon tea, desserts

Lemon Mint – a great garnish, or to flavor iced tea

All of these are super easy to grow and readily available. Have fun gardening!

Redhead Garden is now on WordPress.com!

It’s raining outside. If it wasn’t raining I would be outside deadheading my daisies. It’s annoying to sit inside and think of all the gardening chores I need to do. Am I the only crazy person, with my nose on the window, planning where I’m going to plant the new shrub I bought yesterday?

Well at least I get to set up my new blog with my wonderful, smart, and silly 12-year-old son. Without him I would be lost and these sentences would not have enough commas. I am very excited to be using a new site and will be able to post more often what is going on in my garden and maybe in my home.

We are currently waiting impatiently for the birth of a litter of tiny turtles. The mother turtle chose our garden to dig a hole and place her delicate eggs here. Unfortunately, it was identified as a snapping turtle. Ouch!!! We hope to direct her brood back into the forest next door. We will keep you posted on the birth and any subsequent injuries. Have fun gardening!