Time To Divide Your Bearded Irises

Spring brings so many pleasures!  Warmer weather, longer days and the bonus…flowers.  Spring bulbs put on their show, then come the irises and peonies.  What a disappointment when there are no blooms!  How can you ensure plenty of late spring color?  Possibly it’s time to divide those over grown bearded iris!

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Irises of all kinds are a standard for most perennial and cottage gardens.  They seem to take care of themselves, only requiring some dead heading after bloom.  Japanese and Siberian iris have thinner foliage and more matted, stringy roots.  Bearded varieties, on the other hand, have roots called rhizomes.  They are hardy for as low as zones 3.  Their large blooms bring drama and vibrant color to the landscape.  The spear shaped foliage offers a contrast to the usual mound-like foliage of other perennials.  Dwarf iris, a smaller type, are great for rock gardens.  Just provide a sunny spot for them.

Bearded iris.
Bearded iris.

In addition to promoting blooms, dividing bearded iris can eliminate weeds that grow in the middle of the plants.  This situation can turn the iris roots into a matted mess and the roots can wither or even die off over time.  Division also gives you the opportunity to propagate more plants.  The best time for dividing is in late summer or fall when the plant is in a dormant state.  Seeds should not be allowed to form because they tend to sap energy from the roots.

A weedy mess!
A weedy mess!

To divide the iris, plunge a garden fork in under the clump.  Pry them gently from the ground.  The rhizomes may come free easily but if not, cut them apart with a sharp knife.  Better Homes and Gardens magazine actually recommends sterilizing your knife with a 10% bleach solution between cuts.  This may seem a bit unnecessary but can cut down on disease.

Plunging the fork into the ground.
Plunging the fork into the ground.

At this point, weeds can be pulled from in between the roots.  Some sort of grass had taken over mine.

The iris are ready to be divided.
The iris are ready to be divided.
A healthy iris rhizome.
A healthy iris rhizome.
Trim foliage to 4-6".
Trim foliage to 4-6″.

Cut all foliage to about 4-6″.  This is generally called fanning.

Rhizomes.
Rhizomes.
This will amount to 3 or more clumps.
This will amount to 3 or more clumps.

Next, weed the area that you have excavated.  Plant some of the rhizomes in a shallow hole.  These roots do not like to be covered with soil or mulch.  Place some soil around the roots.  It’s okay to plant them with their ‘shoulders’ sticking out of the ground.

Depending on the size of your bearded iris clump, you may get three or more new clumps to replant.  They can always be given to a friend or used to expand you garden space.  By placing an iris in every part of your landscape, you will increase your bloom power throughout the yard.

A bearded iris in full bloom!
A bearded iris in full bloom!

Bearded iris benefit from a yearly topdressing of compost.  If you are feeling generous, add some granular fertilizer.  Otherwise, the iris in your garden will require little from you.

Some of the iris even smell like citrus!
Some of the iris even smell like citrus!

Bearded iris can suffer from rot from time to time.  These soft, hollow roots should be removed and destroyed.  Borers can also be an issue.  If you see any holes in the rhizomes, be sure to destroy any of the fat, white worms if you see them!

Burgundy is a nice contrast.
Burgundy is a nice contrast.

We have 3-4 different bearded iris on our property.  They make stunning additions to bouquets and pair well with peonies.  Bearded iris go good with allium and lupine.  The color variations are seemingly endless.   If you have iris that are suffering in your gardens, why not divide them this fall season?  They will repay you next spring with a bounty of blooms!

Iris in the landscape!
Iris in the landscape!

Hope you learned something about bearded iris this week!  I know it seems like spring is a long ways away but this is the time to do these seasonal chores.  As always, thank you so much for joining me!

Hilary|Everlongardener

 

 

 

Build Your Soil This Fall

Fall is an excellent time to build up your garden soil.  As you clear the garden for next year, a few additions to the soil can make all the difference in the garden beds.  Whether vegetable or ornamental, soil health is the foundation of a successful and productive garden.

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What Does Your Soil Need?  

We live in an instant gratification society.  We want fast veggies and endless flowers.  But try to think of your garden as a long term project.  Every year you build upon the next.  Adding to the soil to make a better growing environment for our produce.  As things decompose, add more.

Any self-respecting garden book usually starts with a chapter on soil.  Trying to use quick-fix chemical solutions to plant problems is just a band aid.  Why not start with working on soil quality first?  I’m reading a book by Charles Dowding right now called How To Create A New Vegetable Garden.  This book provides a whole new concept in starting a garden.  His advise is to feed the soil not the plants.  Not a new idea but few do this.

My favorite gardening book, The Garden Primer, has a wonderful opening chapter on soil.  The concepts are so logical, copying nature.  Decomposing matter feeds the soil as it breaks down giving nutrients a place to be useful for the tender new plants.  New additions of soil amendments introduce new biological organisms.  This brings balance to the garden soil unlike artificial remedies.

The result of great garden soil!
The result of great garden soil!

If you have poor soil quality, you may want to consider doing a soil test through your local Cooperative Extension Office.  This can cost around $40 and may be a bit cheaper during the colder months.  Most garden centers sell soil test kits for a few dollars.  I got our soil tested a number of years ago.  The results showed that I needed to add organic matter.  Not too hard to fix!

Rich garden soil.
Rich garden soil.

Have you seen the jar test?  It’s a method of adding your soil to a jar of water then allowing the layers of different soil types to form.  A thorough explanation can be found at Preparednessmama.com.  I love the idea of analyzing your soil just by looking at it in a jar!

Fall top dressing of your garden beds can be very beneficial.  A few inches of compost or aged manure can do wonders.  Soil improvement can help retain moisture in the garden also.  If you are in the habit of cutting and cleaning up your beds in fall, follow this with a layer of good stuff.  You can get some delivered or purchase some in bags.  In the spring, your garden will be all ready for you!

When it comes to bagged compost, not all products are that great.  Some often even have very little to add to the garden.  Bagged manure can be somewhat sterile and there is no guarantee of what is  actually inside.  Often, it’s a case of ‘you get what you pay for’!

Commercial bagged compost.
Commercial bagged compost.

Building Soil On A Budget

You may want better soil but have very little money to invest in your garden.  You could start by improving one area at a time.  Do you live near a farm?  Some farmers give aged manure away although this could introduce new weeds.  Make sure whatever you pick is well aged and don’t forget to ask about their farming practices.  Just because something is free doesn’t mean it’s good for your garden.  Hay fed to livestock that was treated with herbicides can potentially produce a dangerous mix for your garden.

Ingredients for compost or a worm bin.
Ingredients for compost or a worm bin.

Mulching

There is way more to mulching in the garden than bark mulch.  When it comes to vegetable gardening, the choice of mulch can do wonders for the soil.  Some people use pine needles, hay, compost, grass clippings or autumn leaves.  Whatever you choose, make sure you do some research first so that you know the pros and cons.  Many of these items are either inexpensive or free.

This compost pile needs turning!
This compost pile needs turning!

Start A Compost Bin

Not composting yet?  There is no simpler way to deal with kitchen and garden waste than by building a basic compost bin.  One big pile can work or you could try a more elaborate three bin system for larger quantities of plant matter.

In fall, turn pile over and sift what is in the bottom.  Last year we sifted my pile and got six wheel barrow loads of homemade compost!  A reward for all those trips out to the pile.

Winter rye seeds.
Winter rye seeds.

Cover Crops or Green Manures

One other fall friendly soil building technique is growing a cover crop.  These may include alfalfa, winter rye, hairy vetch and buckwheat.  The roots of these quick growing plants work the soil and leave behind beneficial nutrients.  They can also be helpful in eliminating soil erosion, holding the soil against fall rains.

Sowing winter rye.
Sowing winter rye.

There are annual and perennial green manures.  Perennial types may be harder to deal with.  A fall cover crop can be easily worked into a yearly crop rotation.  If you have an empty bed in fall, plant out your cover crop and let it grow through the fall.  Be sure to mow or cut plants before they go to seed.  In the spring, the debris can be turned into the garden before planting.  These kind of soil building cover crops practically do the work for you!

The makings of great worm compost!
The makings of great worm compost!

Worm Composting

Ever thought of starting a worm compost bin?  I did this past spring and I have been collecting the manure ‘tea’ from the bottom of the bin.  Soon, I will harvest the castings for use in my greenhouse.  It is a fast way to deal with kitchen compost items.  For a simple bin design go to Getting Started With Worm Composting.  Just check and feed your worms weekly.

These are just a few ideas for building your soil this fall.  I hope that some of them will be helpful to you and your garden!

In parting this week, I leave you with a few garden photos. There are so many pictures that I take that never get shared.  Just having a little fun with light and morning dew!

'Limelight' hydrangea turning color!
‘Limelight’ hydrangea turning color!
Nasturtium leaves.
Nasturtium leaves.
Hydrangea with dew in the morning.
Hydrangea with dew in the morning.
Greens growing in the fall garden.
Greens growing in the fall garden.

As always, thanks for checking out this weeks blog.  Want to keep up to date with Everlongardener?  Subscribe for free in sidebar for weekly blog posts and catch my daily garden photos on Instagram @everlongardener!

Hilary|Everlongardener

A Friends Garden

Inspiration is all around us.  Sometimes, it’s not where you would expect it to be.  In the wake of the urban garden revolution, I have a friend who was urban gardening before urban gardening was cool. On a small shaft of land in the heart of town, there is a sweet little garden that we like to visit!  A friend’s garden.

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Even if you only can measure your land in feet instead of acres, a bit of food self-sufficiency can be attainable.  By adding small fruits along with vegetables and herbs, an immense amount of food can be produced.  Our friends garden has achieved this, making big things happen in a not so big space!

Clematis pushing through the weathered fencing.
Clematis pushing through the weathered fencing.

As you walk through the garden gate, the arbor is draped by a clematis coated in tiny purple blooms.  Rosy pink hydrangeas guard each side of the gate.

Pink hydrangeas grace the entrance of the garden.
Pink hydrangeas grace the entrance of the garden.

Portulaca are flowering on each side of the walkway.  Blooming in all shades of fuschia, orange and red.  Spilling out of the beds in all of their succulent beauty.

Portulaca from the walkway.
Portulaca from the walkway.

Potatoes don’t have to just be grown in the ground. Two different methods of growing are at work here.  A home built potato tower and a planter made from fabric and wire fencing.  Think of going vertical instead of directly in the ground.  These methods can save a ton of space and work.

Tomatoes and zucchini are scattered through the garden area.  A happy mix of veggies and herbs.  Bean trellis’ are attached to the out buildings for strong supports.

A lot packed into a small space.
A lot packed into a small space.

The garden water feature adds sound to the air. Splashing and bubbles make the garden come alive!  The sheds are all fitted with gutters that either flow into the rain barrels or the ‘pond’.  Need some water?  Just go to the hand pump!

The water feature.
The water feature.

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On the east side of the property, along the fence, red and golden raspberries arch out into the walkway.  I had never tried the golden ones before and they are delicious!  More of a honey flavor than the red raspberries.  They are actually overtaking the red.  At the end of the bed, huge blackberries are still pluming in the sun.  Nearby, high bush blueberry bushes are turning their fall red color.

Just falling off the vines!
Just falling off the vines!

This visit has inspired us to clear an area for some of these on our own property.  I’ll have to find out what variety they are.

The plump golden raspberries!
The plump golden raspberries!

Many of the flowering herbs attract bees and pollinators of all kinds. Mint, allium, dill, sage, lavender and thyme.  All pouring out of the raised herb beds just ready for the picking.

Bees are everywhere!
Bees are everywhere!

Several mason bee houses are in the center of the raspberry patch.  As we watched, wild bees came in and out of the small holes in the houses.  This is a simple way to get more pollinators in your garden.

Attract native bees to your garden for extra pollination.
Attract native bees to your garden for extra pollination.
The bees have been busy!
The bees have been busy!
A mason bee house nestled in the raspberry patch.
A mason bee house nestled in the raspberry patch.

Along the back fence, huge bunches of yellow day lilies stand in front of his buoy collection.  These lobster trap buoys were scavenged over the years from the nearby sea shore.  A trademark of the Maine coast.

A nice place to sit!
A nice place to sit!

You just can’t help but feel like taking a seat in this small but abundant garden.  So much peace can be found by a short rest in this garden space.

Grapes hanging from the fence.
Grapes hanging from the fence.

In addition to the berries, the grape arbor is overflowing with grape clusters.

Chinese lanterns!
Chinese lanterns!

In the back corner, Chinese lanterns have put on their paper flowers.  This seems to be a sure sign of fall in the air.   Several beds are dedicated to strawberries.  In berry season, our friends can just go out in the morning to get berries for breakfast.  Just a quick stroll out the front door.

We love visiting this garden!
We love visiting this garden!

We adore our friends garden!  A little patch of farmland where you wouldn’t expect it.  We come to enjoy a few berries and get a little inspiration for our own garden.

Thanks for going on this garden tour with me.  If you like posts from my Reflections & Ramblings category, you might enjoy Beauty In Forgotten Places.  This week I was able to harvest a full bowl of greens from the fall garden.  It’s worth it to do this late planting after all.  As we gear up for fall, I will be discussing season extension and planting garlic.  See you next week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

Quick Food Preservation Tips

Ever feel like you simply don’t have time to deal with your harvest?  Sure, you may have time to pick the tomatoes and snip that basil but, what if you have no time for canning?  Below you will find a few quick food preservation tips for the busy gardener.image

Tomatoes

Once these babies start coming they never seem to stop.  I don’t know about you but my kitchen windowsill becomes a tomato storage unit this time of year!  The smaller cherry or grape types come first.  Then the medium sized tomatoes start to ripen.  Bring on the BLT’s and Caprese salads! Still too many tomatoes?  No time for canning?

All shapes and sizes!
All shapes and sizes!

Have you ever heard of freezing whole tomatoes? I’ve been doing it for years after seeing it on a local cooking show.  All you have to do is wash the tomatoes and cut out the stem.

Cut out blossom end.
Cut out blossom end.

The next step is to toss them in a zipper bag and push the air out!  It’s as easy as that.

Place tomatoes in zipper bag.
Place tomatoes in zipper bag.

When you have a recipe that calls for a can of diced tomatoes, simply take out a few from the freezer bag and place them in a saucepan.  Add a little water and cover.  Simmer over medium heat until thawed.  Use a potato masher to crush them and remove the skins with a fork.  This can easily be done while you cook.  When cooking chili for instance, brown meat and prepare the rest of the ingredients.  When you are ready for the tomatoes, they should be done.  This way you can avoid canned tomatoes all together.  Of course, if you don’t have freezer space, traditional canning methods may be for you.

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Basil

When I get around to harvesting my basil, I usually have a ton of it all at once.  Making pesto is simple and it freezes well.  Most of you probably know of the old ice cube tray trick.  Just make a batch of pesto, scoop it into the ice cube trays and freeze.  After they have completely frozen, remove from trays and place in a freezer bag.  Now you have individual servings of pesto.  This works great for me since I’m the only one who eats it around here!

Basil in the salad spinner!
Basil in the salad spinner!

Throughout the year, it’s wonderful to have fresh basil on hand.  When I have an abundance, I prepare it for the freezer.

Wash and spin the basil leaves.
Wash and spin the basil leaves.

Remove leaves from the basil stems, wash and dry, then put in a freezer bag.  Squeeze out all of the air and freeze immediately.

Basil in a zipper bag, ready for the freezer.
Basil in a zipper bag, ready for the freezer.

To use, just quickly take the bag out of the freezer. Use your hand to crush some of the leaves and sprinkle into your dish.  The aroma of fresh basil permeates the kitchen and you have the closest thing to fresh basil going into your meal!  Make sure to put basil right back in the freezer.  Use this frozen basil in soups, stews, sauces and on pizza!

Herbs

At our house, we have quite a few perennial herbs growing in the gardens.  Oregano, thyme, mint. Rosemary is usually planted in with the basil for convenience.  As the summer slips by, I try to run out and harvest some for winter use. I don’t have a designated herb drying area yet.  I just grab an unused window screen from the basement and put my herb cuttings on it to dry. Placing the screen on top of my upright freezer ensures that they go undisturbed.

Make shift herb drying rack!
Make shift herb drying rack!

When herbs have dried, store them in an airtight container.  Rosemary and thyme are aromatic additions to many meals.  Mint can be used for tea. When you purchase and grow perennial herb plants, you can save money on buying dried herbs at the store.

Cucumbers 

They all seem to come at once if they come at all! The crunchy, refreshing cucumber.  I love to make pickles, especially Bread and Butter pickles.  But, the work involved can take hours. Fermented pickles or refrigerator pickles can be a lifesaver in these situations.  Fermented pickles are made in a crock or jar and are left for several months until they are ready. Refrigerator pickles are stored in the fridge and used much sooner.

Refrigerator pickles on the left, fermented pickles on the right!
Refrigerator pickles on the left, fermented pickles on the right!

For the refrigerator pickles I used a recipe from theprettybee.com but added some crushed red pepper flakes.  There are so many recipes out there.  Just look up a few and see what appeals to you.

Cut fresh cucumbers into spears.
Cut fresh cucumbers into spears.

The recipe I use for fermented pickles came from my mother-in-law.  I know many people use this and I’m sure the original recipe goes way back.  I broke it down for a one quart jar.  This way I can make one jar at a time if I like.  The recipe is actually for a gallon size jar.

Place sliced cucumbers in jar.
Place sliced cucumbers in jar.

Sour Mustard Pickles

1/4 cup Kosher canning salt

1/4 cup dry mustard

1 cup sugar

White vinegar for filling jar

Add ingredients to the jar.
Add ingredients to the jar.
Add the vinegar to the jar.
Add the vinegar to the jar.

Fill jar with 5% acidity white vinegar.  Leave about a half inch of head space.  Rotate jar a bit to mix ingredients.  Place in a dark, cool cupboard and wait a few months.  Some feel that these type of pickles come out mushy.  Make sure to use firm, fresh cucumbers for the best results and don’t keep them forever.  Eat them up!

Remember that farm stands usually sell tomatoes and cucumbers in bulk this time of year.  Even if your garden has been less that productive, you still have the chance to preserve some of the harvest!

Thanks for stopping by Everlongardener today.  I hope these quick tips are helpful in preserving your harvest in these busy times!  Our fall garden that I discussed in Plant Your Fall Garden Now! is coming along.  I’ve picked greens twice so far and it’s only been planted for about three weeks!  I’m getting ready to plant more greens for winter so some garden space is getting cleared.  Have a great week!

Hilary|Everlongardener

5 Perennials For Fall Color

As summer goes on, the flood of summer flowers dwindles to little spurts of color here and there.  What can you plant to add more color to your perennial border this fall?  I’ve picked five hardy favorites to try for fall color!

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Rudbeckia

Good old black-eyed Susan’s!  Well, not the roadside version but, the cultivated perennial known for its long bloom time.  Like their wild relatives, they have a tough-as-nails reputation.

They make a wonderful, late summer statement.
They make a wonderful, late summer statement.

Today, there are so many colorful varieties to enjoy!  Check out this plant, with it’s old fashioned charm.  It’s a excellent cut flower and blooms for many, many weeks.

Clump forming perennial plants.
Clump forming perennial plants.

I started out with a small bunch of roots years ago and I have propagated them all over my gardens.  I prefer large clumps.  Just dig a few roots and move them to a spot where you need more end of summer color.  Rudbeckia puts out many volunteers but they are easy to manage.

Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm'.
Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’.

Helenium

Not as common as some plants on this list but so worth planting.  I have two varieties.  One is orange-red and blooms in July, the other is solid yellow with a bloom time from August to nearly October!  Clusters of small, daisy-like flowers bloom over a long period of time.  It also comes in a deep red shade.

Helenium, a vibrant fall bloomer!
Helenium, a vibrant fall bloomer!

This late bloomer’s common name is ‘sneeze weed’.  Don’t let that name fool you, it has not been known to directly cause allergies.

Helenium with tall phlox!
Helenium with tall phlox!

Taller varieties may need staking.  Many of the other perennials in my garden seem to hold the plant up. Flower bunches are a bright addition to late summer bouquets!

Helenium or sneeze Weed!
Helenium or sneeze Weed!

Japanese Anemone

This perennial is one of my all time favorites.  Whether white or pink, I can’t help but adore their leafy clumps with the tall, slender stems that end in delicate, single petal blossoms!  With the buds as cute as the blossoms, they are such a treat for the eyes.

The lovely Japanese Anemone!
The lovely Japanese Anemone!

These anemones tolerate shade or sun.  They also should be protected in winter with boughs to keep them coming back.  There are few plants that create such drama in the late summer garden bed.

Japanese anemone close up!
Japanese anemone close up!

If you are thinking of adding some class to your perennial border, try Japanese anemones!  Garden centers often have them on display this time of year.

Chelone 

Once you see this late blooming perennial, you will know why it’s common name is Turtlehead!  As summers flowers start to fade, watch out for these exotic flower heads poking up through the garden.

Chelone or turtle head.
Chelone or turtle head.

Actually a native southern wildflower, this naturalized plant works well in our climate.  This pinkish-purple plant tolerates shade and moist areas.

Chelone works well in the border!
Chelone works well in the border!

Turtlehead doesn’t bloom for a very long period of time, but I think there is a lot this hardy plant has to offer!

See the turtle-like flower heads?
See the turtle-like flower heads?

Sedum

Of course, not all sedums are late bloomers.  Many low varieties open early in the year, while others emerge at the height of summer.  One of the most popular of all is called ‘Autumn Joy’.  This plant is not just a joy in autumn.  It offers virtually four seasons of interest!

'Autumn Joy' sedum!
‘Autumn Joy’ sedum!

First, in spring, the small pale green rosettes are among the first plants to come out.  Throughout the summer, it offers lovely green foliage adding structure and softness to the border.  By late summer, the flower heads are entirely visible.

Dark red sedum attracting the bees!
Dark red sedum attracting the bees!

As they form, the pink tones get darker until the top of the plant is a soft burgundy.  As you hack away at the withering perennials, sedum keeps things looking great.  Leave them in the garden for the fall and winter, and you have four season interest.  They even dry reasonably well.

Sedum blooms in sturdy bunches.
Sedum blooms in sturdy bunches.

We have an all red variety that is not as prolific but very attractive.  It’s also a refreshing change from all of the green.  The bees love the sedums.  They laze about in late summer, sucking nectar from any plants left to offer any. Extending bloom time in the garden means extending the bees food availability.

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There are many more late blooming perennials that can bring color to your property.  These on the list are perfect for Maine zone 5 gardens!  For more flower garden ideas go to my post Bee and Butterfly Gardens.  I’m not only interested in extending the food harvest, but keeping the gardens that I work in full of color.  What are some of your favorite late bloomers?  I would love to hear!  Thanks for reading this week and don’t forget to subscribe!  Get out and soak up this weather!

Hilary|Everlongardener