How to rake the lawn

Over the years, even a well-maintained lawn produces thatch. It is made of undecomposed grass stems, blades, roots and rhizomes, which collect between the green vegetative part of the lawn and the soil. Several factors make for a faster build-up of thatch – heavy, compacted soil, inadequate soil preparation prior to seeding, excess of undecayed organic matter, grass sown too densely, incorrect fertilisation and mowing. The build-up of thatch starts when dead grass and other organic remnants accumulate faster than they decompose naturally.

A thin layer of thatch causes no particular damage, quite on the contrary – it traps moisture thus reducing the need to water the lawn. It also reduces soil temperature fluctuations. However, an excessive layer of thatch prevents water from penetrating the soil, absorbs nutrients, impedes growth of new grass, all of which affects the lawn, and it often stays yellow for a very long time in spring. If the soil is very heavy and compacted, thatch only worsens the situation – it sticks to the soil thus creating a solid layer, which is impermeable to water and air. Grass roots start to grow more shallowly, lawn becomes susceptible to traffic damage, frost, drought and riddled with diseases.

vejos_sukavimasAn excessive layer of thatch must be raked and removed every year. Special rakes or scarifiers (electric, petrol) are used for this purpose. These are compact machines, which resemble  lawnmowers, and are often wrongly referred to as aerators. Special blades rake out thatch and moss, cutting up any lumps in the process.

Rake the lawn in early spring, depending on the weather (late March to early April) before the growing season. This must be done in dry weather, since wet grass sticks to the rake tines or the scarifier blades. If grass was not mown in the autumn, now it has to be cut on the lowest setting. The scarifier blades have to be lowered so that they would remove thatch and slice the soil simultaneously. Lawns are almost never completely even, so the height of blades must be constantly monitored and adjusted. The raked out thatch is collected into a special scarifier container, so if thatch is very thick it fills up quite quickly. It might be a better idea to rake out thatch without collecting it and leave to dry for a while. Raked out and dry thatch can be easily collected with an ordinary garden rake. Collect it into bags and remove from the garden, or else you can put it on a compost heap.

Having removed the thatch, fertilise the lawn, which is best done just before the rain. If the soil is very compacted and heavy it is advisable to aerate it as well. A household scarifier costs in the area of 600 lt, and since it is used only once a year, budget-minded gardeners might consider renting scarifiers and aerators. Most companies trading in garden tools and machinery often offer them for rent.

© Giedra Bartas, 2011

Rhododendrons: sun or shade?

white rhododendronThe larger leaves the evergreen rhododendron has, the shadier location will it require. The small-leaved evergreen rhododendrons adapt well, grown in exposed locations, as long as they receive ample moisture. Deciduous rhododendrons feel comfortable growing in open, sunny positions. Although the leaves of Catawba rhododendron (Rhododendron catawbiense) and Rhododendron smirnowii are evergreen and large, they can take quite a lot of sun, provided they get sufficient moisture. In the wild they usually grow on the edges of moist, deciduous forests, in blazing sunshine, yet in damp soil. The native habitat of Rhododendron caucasicum is high in the Caucasus mountains, where large groves flower profusely every year in full sun. The rhododendrons of this species flourish in similar conditions in our gardens, too.

[banner] Several species of rhododendrons (Rhododendron degronianum ssp. yakushimanum, Rhododendron decorum, Rhododendron ponticum, etc.) are native to the areas, where damp and cool period is far longer than the sunny period. The plants of these species feel more comfortable planted in light shade in our climate.

 Rhododendrons, which receive sufficient light, grow stronger, set more flower buds, and are less vulnerable to winter freeze, diseases and pests. When grown in full shade, their shoots grow lanky, the leaves become sparse and they flower less. On the other hand, too much sunlight will cause their leaves to turn yellow, and numerous brown spots will appear along the veins and the edges of the leaves.

 The evergreen large-leaved rhododendrons are best planted on the north side of buildings, in a sheltered position. The areas on the east and west sides are also suitable, since these locations are shaded for a part of the day. The rhododendrons set the flower buds for the next year in summer. In our climate, this usually occurs in July or August, so plenty of water and sunlight are essential during this period.

 To provide rhododendrons with light shade, plant them adjacent to the trees and taller shrubs. Any plants with deep roots make good neighbours for rhododendrons. Large trees with surface roots will inhibit growth of rhododendrons with their shallow roots, and they will go into decline. Rhododendrons dislike being planted near any species of limes, beeches, poplars, bird cherries and maples. Crowns of these large deciduous trees are very dense, which subjects rhododendrons to an unwelcome protection from rain.

 Rhododendrons grow well alongside pines, hemlocks, fir, oaks and other deep-rooted trees. Since all rhododendron species need varying light levels, there is a variety to suit any location – sunny, semi-shaded or fully shaded. Evergreen large-leaved rhododendrons will grow well in semi-shade; deciduous varieties with small leaves will tolerate exposed sunny conditions, but prefer cool semi-shade; and deciduous rhododendrons are best planted in open sunny locations, but will adapt to growing in light shade.

© Giedra Bartas, 2011

Building a dry-stone wall

dry_stone_wallDo you often dream of mountains and rock gardens, while your own garden looks like a plain sheet of paper? If so, then maybe you should consider erecting a dry stone wall by yourself. All you will need for such an undertaking are some stones of various sizes, either natural or dressed, gravel and planting soil for the rock garden plants.

A dry stone wall is built without mortar holding the stones together. It is not only beautiful, but also durable and impervious to rain ar cold. The wall slightly settles and shifts in time, and the individual stones do not crack or deteriorate in response to frost heave. Stone walls also offer a charm that no other material can equal, and are especially beautiful when planted with summer flowering alpine plants.

A standard freestanding wall is usually 60-120 cm high, slightly tapering towards the top with a slope of at least 5 degrees to a face. A wall may be any height, providing the base width is around half the total wall height (so if you are building a wall 1 m high, the base of the wall should be at least 1.2-1.5 m wide). The wall is made up of two parallel faces of coursed stones with its centre carefully filled with a mix of crushed stone and soil.

The following steps will help you create a stone wall that will beautify your property for a long time. For the wall base, dig a shallow foundation trench to the depth of 30 to 50 cm. The depth of the trench depends on how well drained the site is: the more waterlogged it tends to get, the deeper trench will you need. Fill it with building rubble, crushed stone, gravel and sand. However, if the trench is shallow enough, sand will suffice. Rake and tamp it down. The base of the wall should be below the original soil level by 3 to 6 cm, so do not fill the trench to the very top. This will greatly increase strength of the wall, and will also give it an appearance of being bedded into the ground. Bind the stones with some planting soil mix, which should be loose, fertile and free draining, ideally made of 2 parts of compost to 1 part of sand.

For the base of the wall lay the stones to span the whole width of the wall. After a few courses have been built in this manner, continue building the wall as two parallel faces. Fill the gap in the middle of the wall as you go with a mixture of crushed stone and soil, and compact it firmly.

The courses are stacked with 1-3 cm gaps between the individual stones, using planting soil layer as a jointing material between the courses. The soil mixture also fills all the voids, allowing for a better fit between the stones, without having to cut them to size. However, use the soil mixture sparingly, otherwise rain water will flush it out. The stacking process is not unsimilar to that of bricklaying, where a layer of mortar is troweled on a row of bricks before another course of bricks could be bedded.

A stone course is laid on top of the previous one, each stone being placed so that it overlies the joint between two stones on the lower layer. More courses are then laid on top, setting each higher course of stones back by a couple of cm, creating a continuous back-leaning face, so that the wall is narrower at the top than at the base.

As you stack each course, place several large “through-stones” with their length running across the the width of the wall to tie the two wall faces together. Keep moistening the infill of soil and gravel within the wall to help the mixture settle.

Finally, the top of the wall could be finished off by a row of large flat stones. Alternatively, you could fill it with planting soil. Water well to compact the soil and eliminate any gaps. After the wall had a thorough soak, plant the rockery plants.

For a slightly different purpose, you could build a dry stone wall for a shady and damp garden spot. However, choose a more appropriate stone for such an undertaking such as granite or basalt. Before long the shady dry stone wall will be covered in mosses and lichens, giving the wall an aged look. The voids and crevices in a dry stone wall, when filled with a mixture of peat and fertile loam, provide a perfect habitat for a wide range of shade-loving plants – ferns, hostas, saxifrages, alpine lady`s mantles, anemones and primroses.

© Giedra Bartas, 2011

Chocolate trees

Chocolate treeCocoa (Theobroma cacao) is native to tropical forests of Central and South America. It eventually attains the height of 12 m, and continues cropping for 100 years. The cultivated varieties of cacao are much smaller and more fertile. Recently cocoa trees have been introduced to Africa, where they keep flowering and cropping year round due to favourable growing conditions.

The fruit of cocoa resembles a large pod and weighs from 0.5 to 1,5 kg. The seeds, which are called cacao beans, are used to produce chocolate. When fresh, they are whitish, odourless and acrid. After picking, the pods are left to ferment. During this process, the fruit, which surrounds beans, softens, while beans harden. After fermentation, beans are separated, sorted and air-dried. After that they are picked over, cleaned and roasted. The husks are removed during roasting. Then the beans are ground and solid cocoa oil or butter is extracted, which is the main ingredient for chocolate production.

More than 22 species of plants belong to the genus Theobroma. One plant of the genus, known in Brazil by the name of [banner] Capausu (Theobroma grandiflora), can be grown as a houseplant. It is a small evergreen tree with bright green leathery leaves, which are up to 35 cm long and 10 cm wide. It produces flowers all year round. The flowers are large, star-shaped, held singly or in racemes of 3-5 flowers, and are normally pollinated by bees and other insects. If you want to have a lot of fruit, it is best to grow at least two plants at home, and to cross-pollinate them, which will ensure that the plants produce fruit. Pods are large and heavy, weighing around 2 kg, and measuring up to 25 cm long and 15 cm wide. Their skin is semi-woody, reddish brown, and the pulp, holding some 20-40 seeds, is juicy and fragrant. In native habitats, the seeds are distributed by birds or monkeys which are very fond of the fruit. When grown as houseplants, they bear smaller fruit, and it takes 4 to 5 months from flowering to ripening. A 4 to 5 year old plant can yield from 10 to 30 pods a year.

The fruit of the Cupuasu are valued not for the seeds, but for the juicy and fragrant pulp, which comprises about a third of a fruit. Its taste is exotic and very aromatic. It is used to produce juice, jams, yoghurts and delicious ice cream.

cacaoIn their native range Cupuasu crops all year round, yielding the majority of fruit in the period between February and April. Ripe fruit fall down from the trees and rot fast, so they should be picked regularly. Unripe fruit, when picked too early, usually do not fully ripen – they either rot, or loose their taste and fragrance.

The seeds of Cupuasu make a fifth of a fruit. After fermentation there is no way to tell them apart from the true cocoa beans neither by the taste nor by the smell. However, chocolate produced from these beans does not melt in the mouth, and is considered to be inferior, and therefore cheaper. Traditionally, when making chocolate, no more than 10% of cocoa butter can be replaced by the butter of Cupuasu.

Cupuasu trees dislike full sun, since it scorches their leaves. Young plants are especially vulnerable. When grown as houseplants, they should be kept lightly shaded by curtain and at some distance from the heat source. They feel most comfortable when temperature keeps around 22-27oC all year round. Cupuaçu thrives when planted in fertile and free-draining soil, and responds well to generous watering, but it should not be left in standing water. Starting with spring, feed the plant with diluted or liquid complete fertilizer containing microelements. This plant dislikes dry air, which results in browning of leaf edges, so it grows best when kept in a damp conservatory or next to an electric air humidifier. For the best results, spray plants with water often or keep the pot on a tray with a layer of clay granules on the bottom.

Propagation is from seed, by cuttings or grafting. The seedless cultivars are normally propagated by cuttings. These plants grow more compact, they adapt better to being grown inside, and some of them are self-pollinating. Seeds are available from the seed shops abroad. Prior to sowing, they should be soaked for a few days in water (changing water every day) and kept warm. Most seeds will normally germinate in 2-3 weeks at temperatures of 25-30oC, but it may take up to several month for some of them. Transplant seedling into individual pots without delay.

© Giedra Bartas, 2011

In the shade of the coconut palm

Borneo wild beachThe coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) instantly evokes visions of golden beaches and azure skies – as seen in postcards or experienced during exotic holidays.  This is a true epitome of ultimate holidays. Most of people, who dream to stretch out on golden sand underneath this majestic palm, know very little about this plant – all they know, is that the palm casts a welcome shadow on a beach, while the coconut provides sweet “coconut milk” and the edible white flesh.

Coconut palms grow up to 18 m tall and truly belong to distant beaches – where the air is damp and the sunlight is plentiful. They are immune to salty water, and they do not mind poor growing conditions. Miniature coconut palms can be successfully grown indoors.

When we come across coconut palms sold in garden centres, the coconuts are usually planted on their side. However, American growers advise to plant them vertically. According to them, the coconut should be planted with its pointed end down, while the end which was attached to the tree should be left above the surface by a third. Other coconut palm growers maintain that the coconut should be laid on a flat surface or floor – it is supposed to roll on the side, whichever is the most appropriate for planting.

The planting mix should be light and well-drained – a mixture of compost and sand (1:1) is ideal. The pot should be by 5 cm larger than the coconut, and sufficiently deep. Prior to planting, soak the coconut in water for 2 to 3 days. Having planted the coconut, keep it warm (23-30oC) and moist. Spay the coconut often, or place a plastic bag around it to ensure humidity. Water the soil as necessary – it should be constantly moist, not too dry and not too soggy. If too dry, the coconut will not germinate; if too wet – it will rot. If the air is very dry, the coconut may burst. Do not exclude light, since it encourages germination.

[banner] Fresh seeds germinate in 3 to 4 months, but sometimes it may take half a year or even more. At first, cotyledons appear through one of the three “eyelets” of the nut. If conditions are warm, damp and sunny, the true leaves will soon replace them. Usually, the leaves grow first, and only then the roots sprout (they at first develop inside the coconut, just like the leaves). In the first year the seedling is fed by nutrients which have been accumulated inside the nut, but later it will needs additional feeding. It grows relatively fast, and in some 5 to 6 years it starts developing trunk. In 5-6 years time, the coconut palms growing in their natural environment, start flowering and bearing fruit. Most of the fruit will fall, while small. One palm usually yields up to 50 coconuts.

Penang spicy gardenMany cultivars of coconut palm have been introduced, which differ in their growth rate, yield and purpose of cultivation. Some of them are grown in plantations for coir, while others – for coconuts. Compact, up to 2-3 m tall self-pollinating coconut palms are often grown as houseplants (e.g. `Red Spicata Dwarf`, `Fiji Dwarf`). Their coconuts differ in taste, fragrance, “hairiness” (whether they have husk or not), size and color (green, yellow, orange, brown). They are readily available from seed shops abroad. The shop-bought coconut palms usually do not flower, and even if they do, they do not bear fruit. Coconuts sold for food have their husks removed; therefore they germinate poorly or do not germinate at all.

For a coconut palm to thrive it needs a sunny position, as close to the window as possible, and plenty of space to spread its leaves. They dislike dry air, therefore should be sprayed every day. Ideally, air humidity should be no less than 60% (these palms feel best near air humidifier). They should be transplanted every 5 years.

© Giedra Bartas, 2010

Pomegranate on the windowsill

In the olden days the fruit of the pomegranate was considered to be divine, since the calyx, which holds the fruit, resembles a crown. The pomegranate (Punica granatum) is native to the region from the Caucasus Mountains to the eastern China, and nowadays is commonly cultivated in the horticultural industry as a valuable fruit tree.

Pomegranate will crop abundantly only in long, dry and hot summers. Therefore even a reasonably warm climate does not ensure a substantial harvest. Just like our apple or pear trees, pomegranates grow into tall trees. According to scientists, when climate was warmer in ancient times, pomegranates were evergreen and yielded fruit year-round. Now they are deciduous trees, which shed their leaves in autumn and break into new growth in spring. When grown inside a house or a warm conservatory, pomegranate retains its leaves all throughout the year.

Pomegranates, grown from seeds collected from a consumed fruit, are not likely to flower, or they may start flowering very late. Their fruit are unpalatable; some even do not ripen because of the shortage of warmth and sunshine. On other hand, there are cultivars of compact-growing pomegranates (e.g. ‘Nana’) whose seedlings start flowering in 3-4 years. They grow into relatively small trees (1-1.5m), which flower and fruit profusely.

In warm climate the flowering of the pomegranates extends between May and September. When grown as houseplants, they may start flowering any other time. At times they may keep producing flowers all year round, provided they get sufficient warmth and sunshine. However, most growers recommend to give pomegranates some rest, to let them shed their leaves in autumn, and to move plants to a cellar or somewhere cool (2-6C) for 2-3 months. When kept on a cool windowsill (8-12C) or in an insulated balcony, the pomegranates will drop their leaves only partially, while in a warm spot they will stay evergreen throughout the year.

Pomegranates love spending summer outside – this way they naturally get prepared for overwintering, shedding leaves in due time, and all that remains to be done is just to move them to a cellar. Flowers of species pomegranate are usually red, while those of cultivars can be variable – fully double, scarlet, edged in white, pink and white. The tree yields fruit – pomegranates. They are full of seeds, surrounded by sweet and juicy arils, which are edible. Pomegranates, which are cultivated industrially, are classified according to their taste – sweet, semi-sweet and sour. Sweet fruit are consumed fresh, while others are used for juice making. If fruit are picked in dry weather, they can keep in the fridge for several months. The skin of pomegranate fruit, bark of the stems and roots are used in pharmaceuticals industry.

Unfortunately, pomegranates cannot be grown outside in Lithuania. When temperatures drop to -12-15C, tree tops and the first-year branches of mature trees suffer freeze injury, while young plants die altogether. However, it may be possible to cultivate them in a greenhouse, swaddled in horticultural fleece and heavily mulched for winter.

Pomegranates prefer well-draining, fertile, acidic soil. Young plants are transplanted each year into  narrow and deep containers, using fresh potting mix.

Propagation is by cuttings and from seed. The softwood cuttings are normally taken in June-July. They root best when planted in moist peat and kept sheltered from strong sunlight. They are very reluctant to root, however, the hardwood cuttings strike readily. A cutting taken from a flowering pomegranate may start flowering within 1-2 years. Seeds should be stratified before sowing – mix them with dry sand and keep in the fridge for a month or two. If you have freshly collected seed, sow them immediately. Use porous and moist medium for seed starting, and keep them warm. Germination is erratic, extended over a period of 1-1.5 month.

Compacts cultivars of pomegranate are very suitable for being grown as houseplants, the most popular of which is ‘Nana’. It feels most comfortable on a sunny windowsill, and it does not require a dormancy period. It starts flowering and cropping at an early age. This cultivar is often used as a subject for bonsai training. The ‘Nana’ pomegranates in fruit are readily available in major shopping centres or flower shops.

Pomegranates need copious watering, when grown in warm and sunny location. Reduce watering slightly in winter, but the soil should never dry out. After the leaves drop, pomegranates should be moved to a cellar or somewhere cool. The watering should be minimal only to keeping the soil damp, and usually one watering a month is enough. Pomegranates hate being kept bone-dry. Whiteflies and scales are their worst enemy.

© Giedra Bartas, 2010

Heathers extend the season into autumn

Heathers are native to the Baltic countries, Scotland, Germany, Poland, Russia and Belarus, where they can be found growing in pine forests, dry birch woods or wastelands. They grow a mere 1.5-2 cm a year, and live for 30 years. Garden forms of heathers are faster-growing, so leave enough space for their expansion when planting – miniature heathers are best planted at 20cm intervals, while taller ones need to be spaced at 30-50 cm.

Currently, there are more than 500 heather varieties with light to dark green, silver, yellow, grey or purple leaves, and flowers, which are as colourful, often frilly and fully double. Their flowering extends from July to November. Frilly flowers resemble tiny roses, and carry on blooming for a very long time – up to 10 or 12 weeks. The flowers may turn brown but they still remain on the plants over winter, keeping the planting ornamental all year-round.

Heathers look particularly good grown in groups among stones, in alpine gardens, but they are at their best planted alongside ericas and conifers. They are melliferous, so insects swarm around them all the time – bees, bumble bees, various flies and butterflies. These are sun-loving plants, which dislike neighbourhood of more vigorous plants. Avoid planting them under trees and even next to the trees, unless the trees are small-leaved or sparse-crowned, and do not cast heavy shade.

Colorful groupings of heathers attract attention, looking like colorful islands in flowerbeds. They associate well with low-growing carpeting plants: pinks, thymes, fescues, Chinese astilbes. Compact or matt-forming conifers and deciduous trees (mountain pines, dwarf forms of Norway spruce, creeping junipers and cotoneasters) and rhododendrons make perfect partners as well. By the way, species pinks, thymes, fescues and junipers make the best of neighbors to heathers in the groves of Dzukija (south region of Lithuania with beautiful pine woods), where they enjoy the same growing conditions. Heathers can also be paired with taller plants, such as yarrow, sages and asters.

virzisOrnamental heathers are often confused with ericas. They both belong to the same family of ericaceous plants, but heathers normally flower in the second half of summer and autumn, while ericas bloom in spring. The most widely planted ericaceous plants in Lithuania  are various cultivars of spring, cross-leaved, grey and tree heaths with pink, red, lilac or white flowers. Cross-leaved ericas and several other species flower in autumn just like heathers.

Heathers and heaths prefer slightly acidic (pH less than 6.5), poor soils. Mycorrhizal association with soil-born fungi is essential to these plants: they receive water enriched with mineral salts, while fungi benefit from the organic matter synthesized by the green leaves. If there the relevant fungi are absent from the soil, heather will perform poorly. They are best planted in a mixture of acidic peat, compost and sand from pine wood.

Anyway i didn`t make any special conditions for heathers, only mulched with minced pine bark. And they are growing well. They are planted with the conifers.

Spring heaths can be grown in neutral planting soil made of compost, sand and neutral peat. When grown on heavy clay soils, heaths grow poorly, unless the planting site is improved with an addition of sand and compost.

It is advisable to mulch ericaceous plants, since in their natural habitats they grow under a thick layer of leaves, bark chips, twigs and conifer needles. Mulch helps by preserving moisture and warmth, therefore plants get sufficient moisture even in very dry summer. This also helps plants to overwinter and prevents from being overtaken by weeds. Mulch heathers with a 3-5 cm layer of spruce and pine needles, soaked pine bark chips, or wood shavings.

Trim plants in autumn, removing spent, diseased or dry twigs, so that they would flower next year even more spectacularly. Newly planted plants are best left undisturbed.

© Giedra Bartas, 2010

Moving cacti to a rock garden

opuntia2Cacti and succulents, growing outside, are a common sight in warmer climates, however, they are still very exotic here. But perseverance of gardeners is legendary, as they take pains to grow plants which by default cannot be grown in particular climate. And so it happens, that cacti are moving from cozy window sills into the flowerbeds. Cold hardy cacti become increasingly popular, and the number of amateur growers is on the up, too.

Most cacti and succulents are fairly cold hardy, and easily withstand temperatures down to -20C, or even -30C. But only provided they overwinter completely dry. Continuous winter thaws and cool damp summers are lethal to cacti – low temperature and soggy soil will finish them off in no time. The rule of thumb is simple – if weather is warm, moderate moisture is fine; is weather is cold, cacti should be bone-dry. These are the main requirement for growing succulents outside, and ‘warm’ means 25-30C, rather than 16C.

Cacti should not be planted in a hollow, and planting on a flat surface is not a good idea either (there should be a slight slope from the plant). They grow best in rock gardens, dry walls, on slopes or in large flat containers with a southern exposure. Even in ideal conditions a thick drainage layer is required (about 20-30 cm). The planting mix, made of garden loam and sharp sand at a ration of 1:1, is spread to a thickness of 30 cm. Cacti are planted into small planting holes without disturbance to their root balls. When planting, leave the neck of the cactus exposed, and then fill the gap with sharp sand or gravel to ensure perfect drainage, so as water could drain freely away from the plant to prevent it from rotting.

During summer showers or wet autumn and/or spring cacti are best covered with miniature cloches, made of plastic or glass. There should be a 10-15 cm space between the cover and the plant. You will not need any cloches, if the plants are robust, the summer is dry, and winter is snowy and cold without any thaws. If winter thaws or prolonged showers in summer are forecasted, the cloches might come useful. If plants are less robust, the cloches should stay during the whole winter. In a cold but snowless winter, glass or plastic should be insulated. After a heavy snowfall, remove snow from the cloche to prevent it from caving in. In spring cacti, growing outside, should be protected from scorching sun, just like the evergreen conifers or deciduous plants would be. When subjected to cold, opuntias soften, wrinkle and lay flat on the ground, which makes them very easy to cover for winter even in an advanced age.

Scandinavian or Baltic summers are not sufficiently sunny and warm for cacti and succulents, grown outside. Plants feel best, planted with southern exposure, on a slope or a hillside, next to the house wall, hedge or other vertical surface, which reflects warmth. A choice planting site is next to stones, which absorb heat; the soil around cacti could also be mulches with dark bark chippings.

The outside-grown cacti are plagued with numerous pests and disease, which do not trouble them when grown on a windowsill. One of the major irritants is the perennial weeds, which should be painstakingly removed prior to planting cacti. Mice are also partial to nibbling on cacti.

One of the more simple ways to have a planting of cacti outside is to plunge cacti in their pots in a designated spot. This method is especially convenient when cultivating less robust species of cacti. Come autumn, they can simply be lifted, pot and all, and moved under a roof or somewhere cool. Be careful, when lifting cacti from their place – if the plant enjoyed its summer outside, it may have developed roots, which extend through the drainage hole into the soil. If you plan to transplant the cactus, trim the roots carefully or cut the plastic pot and move the plant into a larger one. In other cases cut the roots and disinfect the wounds. If there has been a recent shower and the soil inside the pot is moist, keep the cacti under the roof in full sun so as the root ball would dry completely. Only then the cactus should be moved to its overwintering place. If you move a damp cactus into a cool location, it will certainly rot.

Grafted cacti can also be grown outside in summer, however, they are best moved inside for winter. According to their cold-hardiness cacti are divided into several groups.

The group of most frost-hardy cacti includes the majority of opuntias (Opuntia darwinii, O. erinacea, O. fragilis, O. howeyi, O. Imbricata, O. littoralis, O. macrorhiza, O. phaeacantha, O. polyacantha, O. rutila) and Maihuenia poeppigii.

The second group includes Austrocactus bertinii, A. hibernus, A. patagonocus, Echinocereus chloranthus, E. engelmannii, E. reichenbachii, E. triglochidiatus viridiflorus, Escobaria missouriensis, E. sneedi, E. vivipara, Mauhuenia valentinii, Opuntia arenaria, O. basilaris, O. clavata, O. nicholii, O. platyacantha, O. violacea, O. whipplei, Pediocactus knowltonii, P. simpsonii, Sclerocactus polyancistrus, S. whipplei.

A number of other succulent plants, which are much more adapted to our climate, can be grown outside – houseleeks, sedums, lewisias, acenas, yuccas and rhadiolas.

© Giedra Bartas, 2010

Wax begonias – modest and beautiful

Begonia semperflorens

Wax begonias (Begonia semperflorens Link et Otto) arrived to Berlin botanical garden from Brazil in 1821. They were propagated from seed and cultivated in parterre borders. They endeared themselves to the gardeners with their non-stop flowering. In warmer climates they truly are ever-flowering.

The first pink wax begonia was selected by the German gardener Russel in 1879. A year later the white flowering Schmidt’s begonia was introduced from Brazil. And since then, the spectacular hybrids of Schmidt and wax begonias have become the mainstay of gardens all around the world. In Lithuania these annuals have been named ‘lollipops’.

Many connoisseurs and hybridizers of wax begonias are based in Denmark and France, where these plants are especially popular. Currently there are listed more than 600 cultivars of wax begonias, which are divided into two groups: typical wax begonias with large, glossy, green or brown leaves and thick stems; and Gracilis group begonias with small, slightly drooping leaves, soft stems and larger flowers.

Leaves of these begonias are usually green, sometimes with a contrasting margin, or brown (at times muddy green). According to their height, wax begonias fall into 3 groups: tall (26-35cm), medium (21-25cm) and low (8-20cm) growing. Flowers come in a variety of colours, ranging from white to dark red, yellow being the only exception.

Wax begonias prefer being grown in full sun, or else they become straggly if planted in shade. Cultivate them on light, fertile, slightly acidic soil (pH 6.2). They do not perform well in alkaline conditions, where their growth is poor, and they become vulnerable to chlorosis and pests. The soil should be cultivated to the depth of 15-20 cm, since these plants have dense, although shallow, roots.

Poor soil should be enriched with peat, compost, well-rotted manure or leaf mold (20-25 kg per sq.m.). Heavy soil should be amended with sand (2-3 kg per sq.m.). Apply mineral fertilizers prior to cultivating the soil – 100-200 g of ammonium nitrate, 250 g of superphosphate and 100g of potassium salt per square metre, or alternatively use complete fertilizer in quantities as recommended on the package. When planting wax begonias in window boxes, use fertile universal planting mix. Since begonias respond well to the microelements boron and manganese, dissolve 2g of boron and 1g of potash permanganate in 10 l of water, and use this solution to water plants occasionally.

Wax begonias are usually planted outside or into containers in late May or early June, after all danger of frosts has past. Wax begonias should be planted in a way that their root necks are flush with the surface. Begonias are best planted in borders in 2 or 3 rows. The rows should be spaced at 13-15cm, with 10cm intervals between the plants. In island beds begonias look best when planted in groups. Tall plants should be spaced at 10-12cm, while 8-10cm is sufficient between the low – growing plants.

Water begonias with tepid water in the morning or in the evening. Mulch plants with peat to help conserve moisture within the ground. Feed begonias every 10 days with mineral fertilizers compounded for flowering plants.

Before the first frosts wax begonias can be transplanted into pots and moved inside. They will sulk for a couple of days, and may drop a few flowers, but later they will pick up and continue flowering for a long time. They can be grown as house plants – when fertilized continuously (a spoonful of fertliser to 10 l of water) wax begonias carry on flowering year-round, if only getting a little straggly in winter, when short of light. Begonias are transplanted in March or April, and their leggy shoots are shortened at the same time.

© Giedra Bartas, 2010

Lawn daisies

daisy3These are annual or perennial herbaceous plants. Their leaves are arranged in rosettes. The flower heads of species daisies are 1-2 cm in diameter, while those of the cultivars are 3-8 cm wide. They flower in April and May, but if lawn is regularly mown (which prevents plants from blooming in due time) the flowering can extend throughout the summer. Lawn daisies usually set seeds, and they often self-sow. Seeds remain viable for 3-4 years.

Many garden forms of perennial daisies (Bellis perennis L.) are widely cultivated, which are most often grown as biennials. The plants are 10-30 cm tall, with small ovoid or spoon-shaped evergreen leaves. In the first year daisies grow the leaf rosette, producing flowers in the second year. They send up 15-30 cm tall flower stalks with numerous yellow-eyed flower heads in white, pink or red, and sometimes in other colours. Leaves and buds, which have been set late in the season, overwinter well and start flowering in April, weather permitting, or in May. They flower most profusely in spring or early summer, however, if summer is cool and rainy, they will keep sending up flower stalks until the autumn frosts. During a very hot spring flowers will usually be smaller, and the flowering will be over soon.

Fully double daisies sometimes mutate and self-sown plants come back as single daisies.

[banner] Garden forms of daisies are numerous, and they are classified into groups by anatomy of the flower, and by fullness of their blooms – fully double, semi-double or single. According to the size of the flower, daisies can be small-flowered (2-4 cm wide), medium-flowered (4-6 cm) or large-flowered (6 cm and more).

Lawn daisies grow quite well in open sunny locations, but feel more comfortable and flower for longer in semi-shade, especially if the weather is hot. They are not particular about the soil, but they produce larger flowers when grown in fertile free-draining soil. Daisies can be transplanted even when in flower.

In dry weather daisies require additional watering, otherwise their flowers become smaller, and fully double forms start to mutate. If you want to prevent daisies from producing seeds and to extend their flowering, remove spent flowers. If daisies are grown in the lawn, feel free to mow them. Daisies grown in the lawn do not need additional watering or feeding, since they receive sufficient moisture and fertlisers along with the grass. These flowers dislike soggy soil in late autumn. If daisies are grown in flowerbeds, and the winter is snowless, or if the snow cover has been blown away, protect plants with dry leaves and conifer branches.

Daisies are propagated from seed, by cuttings and clump division. Seeds are sown in late June or early July directly into the flowerbed, and germinate in 7-10 days. Seedlings are thinned to every 10 cm, and are usually transplanted into the flowering position in August at 20 cm intervals.

Daisies suit large and small gardens alike. They are easy to cultivate as pot plants. Containers planted with daisies can be placed near a water feature, on lawn edge, next to hedges, or they can adorn a garden bench, a table or a patio. They can be used as an early accent to decorate balconies in May. In moist and fertile places daisies can be grown as lawn replacement, eventually spreading into a flowering carpet. They associate well with hyacinths, tulips, forget-me-nots and pansies.

© Giedra Bartas, 2010