Thursday, February 28, 2013

It's that time of year again--Pruning Time!

The following is an articale by Cindy Meredith, proprietor of The Herb Cottage March 2002!

March 2002
Being too busy to prune.....

I discovered this week how being too busy to tend to a gardening chore actually helped my plants. I finally got around to trimming back my big lemon grass plant and Mexican Mint Marigold (Tagetes lucida or Sweet Marigold, Texas or Mexican Tarragon) this afternoon when I realized something. I had wanted to get those plants cut back earlier--about 3 weeks ago, actually. But, I just got around to it today. Well..... that dead looking foliage actually helped protect the new shoots coming from the root ball.

We'd been experiencing a definite warming trend thinking spring had really arrived when WHAM! -- we were hit with the coldest temperatures of the season. In fact, we hadn't experienced temps in the low 20's and teens in several years. Many plants had started putting out new growth, and the ones I had cut back earlier lost all that new growth. But, the ones I cut back today had their new growth protected by the mass of dead foliage.

Both plants I cut back today are considered tender perennials. In Zone 7 and above neither the lemon grass or Mexican Mint Marigold is winter hardy. See, that's why we're so spoiled. To us here in the southern part of the state, cold weather is something that arrives for a few days, gives us something to complain about, and then the winds turn around from the South, and we're warm again. Our plants really like it that way. But, a plant can be tricked by prolonged warm weather in Jan. or Feb. and start sending out new growth. The next cold snap kills that new vegetation, and the energy that went into making those new shoots is lost from the root system.

Companion Planting

This year because of the late freeze and last summer's drought and prolonged extreme temperatures there are lots of areas in my planting beds to be filled. I've decided to interplant the flower beds with herbs and vegetables. Now, there are herbs already in my flower beds: rosemary is a mainstay by the path to the back door so I can run my hand along a branch as I enter or leave the house and have than refreshing fragrance on my hands. And, I usually grow a big Hibiscus sabdariffa for tea in the flower bed.

Since my vegetable patch shrank this year even more due to a new grow house and lack of time for a big vegetable garden, I've decided to really mix things up and plant peppers in my flower beds and flowers with my tomatoes, beans, cukes and such and plant more herbs wherever I can. In my reading, I've learned that pests are better kept at bay with mixed plantings because their targets are spread out. And, mixed plantings help keep the good bugs nearby. I also think I'll take better care of things if I have vegetables in mixed plantings as I often seem to leave my vegetable garden for last. This idea might not be practical for a person who grows a large vegetable garden, but for our needs, the idea seems perfect.

I think vegetable plants are very attractive. The glossy green leaves of peppers, the soft green leaves of eggplants and the different shapes and colors of the bean leaves all add to the interest of vegetable plants. Beans, cukes and melons can be grown on trellises in the garden to add height or to shade a tender plant. Then, of course, there is the great variety of shapes and colors of the fruit: purple and green beans, bright red or yellow peppers and tomatoes, dark green cucumbers.

So there is no reason not to plant some peppers near my stand of red and green cannas. Both plants like full sun and water. I plan to plant basil and Tagetes lucida (Mexican Mint Marigold or Texas Tarragon) among my tomatoes. The basil looks great with tomato plants and is convenient for harvesting there, and the Tagetes family helps repel nematodes that attack tomatoes. It is said plants in the onion family help repel red spider mites, so a few chive plants could go in around the tomatoes, too. It is said chives or garlic planted near your roses will help them repel aphids better, too.

I like to grow hardy hibiscus since it does so well here in our hot summers as long as it gets enough water, and it's a bushy plant. It would look good with fennel - green or bronze- as a neighbor. The fennel plants are hosts to the swallowtail butterfly. Even if the larva eat some of the foliage, it's worth it to have those beautiful butterflies around. The flowers of the fennel also attract other butterflies and beneficial insects. I already mentioned Hibiscus sabdariffa, also know as Jamaica or Roselle, which is an annual and grows into a huge bush in one season. It looks great with the bronze fennel late in the season as the Roselle flowers are blooming.

For tea, use the calyx of the Hibiscus sabdariffa flower. Pick the flowers when in bloom, or just as they're fading and remove the petals. The part the petals are attached to is the calyx. Pour just boiled water over the calyxes and steep for tea either alone or with mint, lemon grass, lemon verbena, green tea....... you get the idea. Your tea will turn red and have a delicious flavor. You can also dry the calyxes for later use.

Some more ways to use herbs in mixed plantings is to border a bed with curly parsley or with the little spicy globe basil, which makes little topiary like balls all by themselves.... no pruning by you. The red and purple basils are extremely attractive planted with summer annuals like zinnias, marigolds, and celosia or annual salvias. Almost any herb would be at home in your vegetable patch. And, why not plant some flowers nearby, too? They'll help the diversity needed to attract beneficial insects and keep the pests in check.

So, go to your herb books and really look at the form, color and cultural requirements of different herb plants. Plant varieties of herbs and flowers that have the same cultural requirements. Think about how different the bright orange marigolds we plant each year would look with purple ruffled basil as a companion. Or let fennel or a pepper plant fill in after your gladiolas or iris are through blooming. In cooler climates where you can grow lettuce all summer (unlike here in Texas where lettuce is finished in late April), use lettuce mixed with parsley as a border for your flower bed. It's pretty and useful.

Let your imagination be your guide. Choose color combinations and forms that please you. And, if you want to tap into the benefits of companion planting in your garden, two books I recommend are Roses Love Garlic and Carrots Love Tomatoes by Louise Riotte. Both these books are full of beneficial companion planting ideas and also warns you about combinations that are unfavorable to one or the other crop. These books are available at many book stores and on-line.

Have fun in your garden this spring. Enjoy the warm sun and soil. By planting a seed you are putting your faith in the laws of nature and the future.

Good Gardening to You All.

Until next time, from the garden notes of
Cindy Meredith, proprietor of
The Herb Cottage

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