5 Things That Didn’t Work In 2010
February 21, 2011

Looking back on 2010, there were some things in the garden that didn’t work so well:

1. Guerilla gardening. Remember this? Yes. It got thrown out two weeks later. Anyway: I’ll try some guerilla gardening again this year! I got a primrose gifted last week and I’m looking forward to planting it outside when it’s done blooming and the weather right.

2. Underplanting tomatoes: Epic fail. I underplanted my tomatoes with basil, marigold and begonia and none of them continued to grow. They just stopped. ’till I threw them out, like, 5 months later. I’m not gonna try it again.

3. Leaving dead leaves on the soil. What might work in a garden in the ground in this case doesn’t work for container gardening at all: There are no worms or bugs to decompost dead leaves, so they just stay on top of the soil, keep moisture and hence are perfect for any kind of soil born diseases: mold, fungi, you name it.

4. Keeping the oleander pest-free. Didn’t work this winter – again. Spider mites infested my baby once more and it looks pathetic now.

5. Overwintering herbs outside. Well, now I can tell that most – if not all – of them are dead. I tried to leave them outside because I know that they’ll only get ugly and leggy inside. Although I put them to the window sill (outside) where it’s the warmest, when the temperatures hit -10°C, they must have froven through. Well, it was worth a try.

I’m reviving thig blog – so stay tuned for more!

Plant Portrait: Marigold
September 12, 2010

I have to admit: I didn’t like marigold (Tagetes) until i started growing them myself. I always thought they were boring and dull. I was so wrong! The truth is there is a broad range of marigold varietys available. They come from Mexico and are used there to decorate tombs for the famous “Day of the Dead”. A special variety, Tagetes lucida, is even considered to have psychotropic effects. But I wouldn’t count on it… another variety, Tagetes tenuifolia, is cultivated not only for it’s beautiful looks but also for use in teas and perfume (mainly in Asia). Tagetes minuta is the most potent variety for seasoning, but has only tiny flowers and grows tall and spindly.

Marigold and lizard. Marigold died later, guess the pot was just too small. Lizard is doing well.

When we go to garden centers, what we see are usually cultivars of Tagetes erecta (African marigold) with huge flower “balls” or T. patula (French marigold) with smaller, often bicolored flowers. They grow about 10-100 cm tall and from very pale yellow to deep red-brown almost any blossom color is possible. Besides for gardening , they are cultivated in China, India, Thailand and South America, mostly for the perfume industry or festive and religious purposes, but also for the pharmaceutical industry. Marigolds contain lutein which might help prevent macula degeneration (a certain loss of sight affecting elderly people).

Marigolds are often used for companion planting: They repell white flies, nematodes (creepy worms living in the soil) and aphids. They also seem to have a fungicide effect, at least that was proven in labs. Marigolds companion well with plants from the nightshade family that can be particularily prone to pests.

Flowers just picked

When grown in the ground, marigolds can be a slug’s favourite food – so be careful! Start them indoors (or outside in a pot, far off the ground) and plant them outside when they are strong and big enough. I’d recommend you to plant them on a cloudy day when no rain is forecast and the soil is dry, that will keep the slugs away for some time. When the plants are well established, the can’t be eaten up easily. Marigolds like full sun and a well draining soil, but will grow in other conditions as well. Just try it! They don’t need to be fertilized. Blooming starts in May or June and continues until the last frost. Marigolds are annuals, but you can easily pick seeds: Just let the flowers and seed pods dry completely, then pick and store airtight and cool (a jar in the basement will work just fine). My dad and I have been doing this for years now. I think the last time we bought marigold seeds was in the 1990’s. The colors of the flowers may vary every year.

In containers, marigolds also grow very well. They don’t need a lot of space to become huge, so be careful that they don’t outgrow other plants. They will do well on sunny and part-shade balconys. They can also take some wind. Just be careful not to let them dry out too often, they can take some drought but not regular. Although they may bounce back.

Branch that was ripped off during a storm

As an edible flower, marigolds offer a nice color for salads: Cut off the petals and add them to a fresh salad. The petals can also be used to color oil and vinegar. I personally like to dry them and add them to tea. They give a herbal tea a nice yellow-orangish hue and add a tangy but floral taste. Marigolds kinda taste like they smell, just not so strong. I prepare the petals for drying:

Collect some nice flowers

Cut off the petals

Be careful that nothing "green" is in the petals. And no bugs of course

You'll end up with something like this

Spread evenly on a paper and lay out to dry (bright, but no direct sun)

About a week later, they'll be dry

Well, not the best picture ever taken of my hand, but anyway: put the dried petals in a jar. You're done!

You can also use the leaves, they are supposed to go well with meat. I’ve never tried it myself, but in case you did, let me know how it tastes!

If you want to know how to save marigold seeds, MrBrownThumb has got a great post about it!

New roommates
May 24, 2010

Once upon a time, two lady bugs found their way onto my balcony. One of them vanished the next day, but the other one stuck around quite a long time. I transferred it from one aphid infested plant to another, and trust me, it had some good meals out there. After some time this lady bug vanished as well.

Today I realized that my lavender in heavily infested by aphids. Who thought lavenders are resistent to aphids? Think again. They enjoyed it and must have been there for quite some time, but just on the back side of the plant (the side facing the wall), so I didn’t spot them earlier. After some brushing of I took the plant to the shower, where masses of aphids came off. I left the plant and did some cleaning on the balcony. As I sat by the table for a break, some gross black bug appeared on my leg. I panicked, of course. As I filled the watering can, I saw another of these bugs swimming there. And suddenly it hit me: lady bug larva! I rescued it and put it immeadiatly onto the lavender. Then I searched the balcony for the other larva, found it and put it on the lavender (showering only got part of the aphids) as well! There they are, munching happily.

Spider mites’ damage
April 15, 2010

I spent the winter term in Italy, in the meanwhile, my boyfriend took care of my plants. Amongst them a beautiful oleander. I got it last spring and since then it doubled in size. The blossoms are salmon (I don’t like the pink ones) and not filled – just a plain beauty. But already during the summer I had some problems with spider mites, because it’s always dry on the loggia, for even the strongest storm doesn’t reach to the door, where I put the oleander. I sprayed pesticides, quite successfully. In September, before I left for Bologna, I put the oleander in, close to a window (facing east) in the staircase. I don’t exactly remember how it happened, but somehow I found out that the oleander had spider mites again. Maybe I saw it on a photo in my bf’s blog. I advised him to first of all put the oleander into the shower and rinse the leaves. Well, you can see here how it looked.

Spider mites don’t like water. However, as soon as it’s dry, they spread like crazy. Plus they like it warm. Our staircase is very dry and quite warm (not the ideal conditions for overwintering an oleander, but he didn’t mind). So you should first of all try to create the conditions they don’t like, which would be cold and wet. Put your plants into the rain, away from your radiator, in the cold basement or – if you can’t do any of them – into the shower. And shower. And shower. After some showering, I advised my bf to put back the oleander, make a mixture of 2 tsp of dishwashing liquid, 2 tsp of oil (rapeseed) and mix it with 1 lt water, then put it into a spray bottle and spray the mixture onto the plant every day.

What it does: First of all it creates a wet environment. Second, the dishwashing liquid (you can take soap water as well) helps the oil to mix with the water. Plus it helps the oil stay on the leaves and mites. The oil itsself is supposed to kill the mites. I’ve had very bad experiences with spider mites and have to say that even this mixture might fail, but not, if you spray and spray and spray consequently and every day. Sometimes even twice a day. During the whole process be careful that the liquid doesn’t drop onto the soil, put newspaper or a plastic bag over it. And spray a lot, not just a few times, but ’till the liquid drops off the plants’ leaves. And try to reach the bottom side of the leaves, because that’s where the mites eat them. Pay special attention to the new shoots, they are softer and more delicious to spider mites, so that’s where they normally start. Apply the liquid for about 10 days every day. If you see that there are less mites, don’t just stop, but continue spraying about every three days. A mite goes through different stages of development, and not in every stage they are visible and exposed to the spray. So keep spraying every 3 days for about 2 weeks, then switch to once a week. I kept spraying mine ’till the end of winter (which means: ’till I put it onto the balcony again) once in two weeks. No more mites. That wouldn’t have worked if my bf wasn’t soooo great! Thank you, Thomas!

Anyway, the damage the spider mites once did will stay. As I said they eat the leaves, or rather put their tiny sting into the bottom side of the leaf and suck out the cell that they just struck. Then they move on to the next cell. And the next. And so on. So the damage looks like tiny little spots where the leaf just turnes white. To give you an idea:

That’s my oleander, yes. You see the heavy damage best by the difference to the new leaves. I don’t know if the white leaves affect the chlorophyll production, but I guess they won’t change it for the better. So my plan is to cut every year some of the oleander’s stems, so it will thrive anew, with new leaves. I don’t want to cut the whole oleander at once, because than it won’t bloom at all for a year (or maybe even two). According to my plans I’m gonna have a whole new oleander within three years. At least as long as I’m able to keep away the spider mites…