Sunday, September 9, 2018

Welcome Late Bloomers

Magnolia 'Jane' bud
As a comment on my last post, my fellow Kansas blogger Br. Placidus asked if my garden had "burst into bloom like a desert after a storm?" following the recent rains.  Yesterday, as I was mowing, I saw that it was indeed coming alive, new growth perking up here and there, and of course, weeds and more weeds everywhere!  I'm trying to stay ahead of the weeds, but the crabgrass is advancing on a massive front and I'm being flanked and overrun left and right.  There are a few sporadic roses blooming, primarily 'Polar Ice' and 'Iobelle', but many are showing a few buds and suggesting I should have hope for a late September R. rugosa rampage.

Lagerstroemia 'Centennial Spirit'
Oddly though, the plants that are the most visible bloomers right now are plants that I wouldn't have even tried to grow in my garden two decades ago, those I would have been afraid to attempt when I was solidly Zone 5.  The crape myrtles in the garden are all presently blooming profusely, beacons of color spotted around the garden.  In fact, Mrs. ProfessorRoush, peering from the gloom of the house during one of the recent rains, asked me if the bright red plant 80 feet away was a red rose.  Nope, Honey, that's 'Centennial Spirit', which annually reaches around 4-6 feet in my garden (4 feet in this drought year). and then dies back every year.  Thankfully, crape myrtles are one flower that rain doesn't seem to blanch or destroy.

Lagerstroemia 'Tonto'
The other crapes that I have, red and short 'Cherry Dazzle', tall and slender white 'Natchez', a lavender crape myrtle saved from a city bed destined for destruction, and squat purple-pink 'Tonto', are all blooming now as well.  'Tonto', pictured at right, sits as the lone tall plant in a bed of daylilies, anchoring the bed for me and drawing attention away from the weeds among the daylilies at this time of year. 

The most surprising bloomer however, is magnolia hybrid 'Jane', one of the 'Little Girl' ‘hybrids developed at the National Arboretum in the mid-1950's by Francis DeVos and William Kosar.  A cross between M. liliiflora ‘Nigra’ and M. stellata ‘Rosea’, 'Jane' blooms about two weeks later than M. stellata in my garden, usually profusely in early April and usually just in time to get its petals browned by a late frost.  What most printed sources don't tell you, but I've seen several times, is that 'Jane' will repeat bloom, albeit less prolifically, in the fall. I've seen occasional blooms on my darker-pink 'Ann' as well, although she seems to be lacking them this year.  I did find one forum entry that discussed reblooming of liliacs, and one of the respondents indicated that M. stellata, M. liliiflora, and M. loebneri may rebloom in summer.  Since 'Jane' and 'Ann' are hybrids of the two former species, I guess it makes a little sense to see them rebloom.  Sporadic though they might be, that brief promise of magnolia fragrance in the off-season is a welcome gift from my garden. 

Monday, September 3, 2018

When a Kansas drought ends.... really ends.  If you've been wondering where I've been, I've been in Garden Depression-land, with only time to spare on weekends for watering everything that I didn't want to die.  It has been bad between the drought and the winds that took out several trees in my yard, among them my beloved ornamental Red Peach tree.  The only bright-side of my summer has been that I only mowed once from mid-July to late August.  Dry grass is tolerable when the mowee, i.e. me, doesn't have to sit on a roaring lawn mower for several hours each week.  

Two weeks ago, I happened to look in the local newspaper at the weather snapshot, to find out that, as I suspected, around 12+ inches of rain had fallen in Manhattan this year and we were 10+ inches lower than average.  So we had half our normal rainfall and all of our normal hot July temperatures by the middle of August.  I have been collecting weather radar pictures of storms going north and south of us all summer for the purpose of blogging about it, but couldn't bring myself to include you in my depression.  

And then, surprisingly, it started to rain.  Yes, here, in the Flint Hills!  In the past two weeks, we had several 2-3 inch rains that probably totaled 10 inches so I thought we were back on track, although the paper yesterday said that we were still 6 inches behind normal.  I forgot that annual rainfall is a moving target but at least we were catching up.  Suddenly everything is green again and I've had to mow weekly the past two weekends.
But last night the skies fell in!  From midnight to 6 a.m., the rain overwhelmed all my gauges, including the 5" gauge in the front landscaping on the blue hummingbird pole (2nd picture from top) and the 7.5" gauge in the back of the house at the top right. If you can't tell tell from the pictures, both are filled to their rims.   I have no idea how much rain we really had.  The pots with plugged drainage holes, above and to the left, also filled up to their brims, but at that point they were probably splashing out more droplets than were staying in them.  So your guess is as good as mine.  All this water was dumped into what is known as the "Wildcat Creek Basin," flooding an apartment complex, the town soccer fields, and a shopping center on the west side of Manhattan.  We even made the national NBC news tonight!  And now, some chances of rain are forecast 6 days of the next 7.  Can somebody please control the spigot better?

So, I'll try to blog from time-to-time again, since I have a garden and it seems to be green in places.  But I might get caught up in a whole series of new experiences.  For example, this morning, as I walked from the front yard around the house to the back, I was hearing the sound of a waterfall.  Waterfall>? Wait, what?  And then I realized; my neighbor's pond, which doesn't hold water and has been dry all summer, had filled up and was overflowing around the edge.  I, of course, rushed inside immediately to tell Mrs. ProfessorRoush that I had finally gotten her the garden water feature she's been wanting!
Incidentally, I thought about titling this blog entry, "When it rains, it pours."   Too cliche though, right?

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Digging Dry Taters

Fourth of July found ProfessorRoush out digging up some early potatoes.  I only planted 10 potato halves this year, to provide just a hill or two of taste at a time, and Mrs. ProfessorRoush wanted fresh sweet corn and new potatoes for a 4th of July dinner.  I could provide the potatoes, but since I had planned a corn-less garden year, the nearby market had to provide the corn.  Anyway, two plants worth of potatoes later, we had a nice  mess of fresh potatoes to eat.

Yes, I planted only blue potatoes this year.  I'm tired of 'Red Norland' and 'Yukon Gold' around here.  Blue potatoes are supposed to be "healthier" if you listen to all the hype,  but I suspect they're just another potato, a little more starchy and gimmicky than most.  I didn't know until recently that there were different varieties of blue potatoes, from heirlooms to 'Royal Blue' to 'Adirondack Blue', the latter bred and released by a trio of provessors from Cornell University in 2003.  The things you learn while blogging; because it retains color when cooked, the 'Adirondack Blue' variety is used by the Penn State Alumni to sell potato chips in the Penn State colors.   You would think that Cornell wouldn't allow that, Ivy League rivalries being what they are.  Maybe the 'Adirondack Blue' variety is secretly bred to decrease the testosterone of rival football players.  Never put anything past a University professor.

ProfessorRoush knew that it was dry around here, since every lawn-mowing this summer  is essentially a dust storm where I come back in looking, as my daughter said, like I "work in a coal mine."  The lack of serious rain since last Fall has been obvious in the sparse bloom and winter-kill of many plants this spring and summer.  But the garden soil, when I planted this spring, had been moist and workable enough and I had watered these potatoes regularly when they were young.  Digging them out now, however presented me with a different story.  The ground is rock hard, essentially concrete sans gravel.  On the right is one of the holes I dug, complete with a few potatoes that I haven't yet picked up at the top of the photo.  There are monstrous solid dry clods that the fork can't pry loose without extra effort.  Thankfully, I've got soaker hoses running to the tomatoes and melons, but this dirt caused me to give all the shrubs and roses a good deep soaking this Sunday morning.  Three and a half hours later, I think it will all might just survive another week.  A week that is forecast in the high 90ºF's and 100ºF's with no rain in the next 10 days.  We probably won't see rain again until September, so this morning's hand-watering will be likely repeated weekly for awhile.  So much for weekend rest.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Eight Ex-Beetles

ProfessorRoush is NOT, of course, referring to a mythical reunion of Paul, Ringo, George, and any ex-band members who may exist, because if I was, I would have spelled the noun of the title as "Beatles."  Instead, I'm obviously referring to to the barely-visible rear end of the demonic chitinous lout on the lower right side of the white flower here (and not the other long-snouted insect to the left).  Do you see the hiney of the Japanese Beetle in the lower left of the flower?  Look closer.  Click on it to blow up the photo if you need to.  See the bristling patches of white hair along the edges of its abdomen?

I was simultaneously amused and alarmed eight days ago, when, as I visited a local commercial horticultural facility, I overheard a gardening couple asking a store clerk what they could buy to kill Japanese Beetles.  Thus alerted that the blankety-blank beetle season was upon us, I vowed to be ever-diligent over the next few days, and, sure enough, on July 1st I found the first Japanese Beetles of 2018 on 'Snow Pavement', 'Fru Dagmar Hastrup', 'Polareis', and, of course, 'Blanc Double de Coubert'.  The first two victims can be seen at the left, taken moments before I squished them into beetle pulp.  In fact, I found and squished eight beetles on that first evening.  The Ex-Beetles of my garden.

In another more typical picture of the damage that Japanese Beetles can cause to a beautiful bloom, I give you the traumatized bloom of 'Earth Song' that I discovered this morning, seen in the photo at right complete with the Japanese Beetle hiding in the center of the flower (please ignore the Melyrid at the bottom.  I see the latter insects all the time and they don't hurt the flowers).  By the morning of the second day of the 2018 invasion, my total kill is now 14 squished beetles.  Unfortunately, it should have been 15 squished beetles (one male escaped this morning by leaping off the edging brick before I could lower my foot in his direction).

With a little research however, I just tonight discovered that, despite my vaunted prowess as a Japanese Beetle Terminator (Hasta la vista, beetles!), I'm winning a small tactical skirmish, but losing the strategic war.  As if Rose Rosette Disease and Japanese Beetles don't cause enough damage in my garden, the long-nosed brown insect to the left in the first picture above is NOT a harmless flower beetle.  The Internet informs me that it is a Rose Curculio Weevil (Merhynchites bicolor), another flower-eater and civilization destroyer sent to my garden by the demons of hell.  I should be just as diligent handpicking these little snouted monsters as I am the Japanese Beetles, and yet I knew not of their existence prior to this.  It seems to not be enough that I have one beetle enemy, the crunchy critters  have now enlisted allies.  Saints preserve my roses!


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