Inch by inch, row by row

2010 - Inch by inch, row by row


Should you be looking for the year 2009, well, then you're looking in vain: no such item.  2009, a year in the garden to forget.

Trouble started in spring: at least 20 collection plants were killed by an early hot period, followed by a prolonged cold spell, with heavy frost.

From then on there was just to much to do in to little time; every morning I leave at 6.45 and I usually get back at 7 in the evening.  Time to pick up the kids, have a bite to eat and the day is over.  Weekends are a little better, but with two kids who have to sports and youth movements, there's not much time left at all.

I have to admit the rest of spring wasn't all that terrible: a large number of container plants got a place in the garden, and the largest seedlings were moved to a raised planting bed; for the rest of the year they kept thanking us with vigorous growth.

But then summer arrived, hot and dry.  The lack of time was taking on dramatic proportions: plants dried and shriveled, weeds were taking over, container plants, in desperate need of new potting soil looked terrible, due to a lack of food and water.  As if things were not bad enough already, the Hosta Mill was invaded by masses of vine grape snails.  In some areas all that was left of the hostas were the petioles and some threads where there used to be veins. 
I didn't even manage to keep my records on new acquisitions up to date.  I just couldn't find the time to make decent new labels.  So I used pieces of aluminum window blinds.  In the end these turned out to be a favorite pass time for the cats.

For the first time I was glad when winter arrived. It meant the end of a disastrous year and the chance tot look forward to 2010.  The focus will be on recovery and tying up loose ends. And on a realistic, time saving planning.

2010 Planning

Over the past years, I usually bit of more than I could chew.  So I'll try to make a more realistic planning for 2010.  Every once in a while, I'll check if I'm living up to my expectations.

  • Putting an end to time consuming DIY activities.  No more assembling of home made plant markers.  These are great for a rather small collections, not when you have 600+ cultivars. An order will be placed for decent Rose labels, a good combination with the P-touch TZ labels.  No more hand mixing of potting soil, as it takes forever to repot an entire collection this way.  Two big bags of a good standard soil are waiting for me, as is 1 m3 of fine bark.

  • Repotting of the entire collection as soon as possible.  Newly bought plants will be repotted on arrival.  Special attention on providing the correct amount of the correct nutrients.

  • For the containers plants, 3 wooden frames have been constructed, lined with sturdy plastic, the kind farmers use to store winter food for cattle. This way I can take full advantage of the rain.  Of course there is a draining hole, to prevent flooding an drowning.  Keep a vigilant eye on this new construction.

  • The bulk of the time has to be reserved for weeding and pruning, an activity that has to be carries out the year round.  The eventual goal is to eliminate persistent root weeds and to prevent other weeds from setting seeds.

  • Regular watering.

  • Checking plants that were put in the garden last year.  If they are not growing as they should, find out why and solve the problem.

  • Drawing a final garden scheme.  This includes an evaluation of the areas with ground cover (Waldsteinia ternata, Pachysandra).  The actual execution is scheduled for late autumn.

  • Tackle the snail problem drastically with every means it my disposal.  I'm aware there will be a lot of damage in the early season, but things should improve rapidly as the season progresses.

January-February 2010

I remember welcoming winter, but now it seems like it's going to last forever.  The first snow came just before Christmas, and it hasn't really stopped since. 

February is nearing the end when finally we can get in the garden again.  No more snow, now the rain just won't stop.

We start removing dead leaves an cutting back ornamental grasses, to make sure as many hide outs as possible of my slimy friends, the snails.  Their favorite spot last year was a patch of Pachysandra. I don't want to remove this ground cover, we'll try to catch as many as possible by hand.

As much as I would like to start repotting (about 600 containers to "process', it's to soon still: most of the soil is still frozen solid.

March 2010

Winter isn't over yet; the battle on the snail is raging in full force.  In the Pachysandra patch, about 500 have been caught and disposed of.

Repotting has taken a flying start: about half of the pots (300) have been done.  The process is a lot more straight forward than it used to be.  Removing the old soil and all weeds, potting up, adding coated fertilizer on top, covering the surface with fine bark. This way I can do 4 times as many plants as last year in the same time.  The bark topping is added to reduce evaporation, slow down weed growth and just because it looks more tidy.

April 2010

Time for the inevitable set back: a couple of weeks of good weather has woken up most of the plants and the leaves were unfurling at an incredible pace. Then came three nights of severe frost.  The seedling bed, looking extremely pretty before, looks like a mess afterward: mushy dead leaves everywhere.

Once again a number of plants in the collection have fallen victim to those terrible changes from warm to freezing.  I'm starting lo learn by trial and error.  Trial: putting plants up a three level wooden construction.  Error: looks pretty during spring and summer, an absolute nightmare in winter.  The top level in particular should not be used during the winter.  It was full of seedlings, including a number of nice H. 'Amos' offspring, about 30 of them.  Not a single one did survive.  I should have known: not only were they exposed to the harsh winter conditions, but they were fully exposed to the wind as well.

The snail count has risen to about 750, but the plants are still under massive attack.  New shoots are damaged even before they have had the chance to unfurl.

Repotted about 450 plants so far: the end is near.

May 2010

Weeding is the main goal this month.  It has been the coldest month of May for more than a century in Belgium.  Plants are growing slowly, en there is always the threat of night frosts.  Like a famous Dutch soccer player used  to say: "every disadvantage has an advantage".  Weed growth is very slow to.  Apparently all plants that were put in the garden last year have survived.  With some it's clear they need a longer time to settle, and they've returned smaller than last year.

I've finally been able to start the snail battle systematically.  A solution of 1 part ammonia on 10 parts of water is sprayed on the plants.  This is done in the middle of the night, as the snails have to be active.  The effect on slugs and snails is instant an absolutely lethal.  Every single one that comes in contact with the ammonia dies there and then.  Most of the time they don't even have the time to drop of the leaf; the next morning blackbirds are having a feast.  One week after the first application the results show.  There is some minor damage from the solution on leaves that had been damaged before, by frost or snails, and some plants have lost the waxy coating, but in general things are looking a whole lot better than before: the snail population, judging by new damage and visual observation at night, has been decimated.
You may wonder if the ammonia isn't poisonous or bad for your soil; it's only active for a brief period of time.  After that, it is broken down and becomes nitrogen, thus making an extra food supply for the hostas.

The first new plants have arrived and take a prominent place in the quarantine area.  They have been repotted and are waiting for the new labels to arrive: I've ordered 1000 Rose Markers in the USA from Paw Paw.  As this is way to much, I've found a couple of hosta friends that do want some as well.

A number of plants in the garden do not grow as well as they should.  For most of them the problem seems to be poor soil conditions.  I'll gave to get a load of fine compost, dig up the plants, amend the soil and put them back.  Another problem are ground covers that just grow to strong.  Removal of these plants and soil improvement must do the trick for them.

This must be for the first time since work on the Hosta Mill garden started that I'm on schedule.  Ah... the benefits of a good, realistic planning.  As the first flower scapes start to show - H. 'Empress Wu' is the very first, I realize that maybe this is a good time to start hybridizing again.  The Empress will almost certainly make a good pollen donor for bringing some size into the longipes- and pycnophylla-type seedlings I want to create.

I have to set op a small "nursery space", not for selling plants but to nurse a number of hostas that did not make it through winter as well as they should.  This way I can give them the extra care they need.  What the problem with them.  They are young plants, purchased in the fall of 2008 and the spring of 2009.  A combination of a potting soil that was way to heavy, not enough water and to many weeds in the containers almost killed them.  This cost them a large part of their root system and reduced them to a fraction of the initial size.  Luckily most of them were repotted in the fall of 2009, a fact that may have saved them.  But now they really needs the extra care.

I've also found my second HVX infected plant ever: H. 'Paradise Red Delight'.  This was removed carefully and destroyed; there will be no hosta in that same spot for the rest of 2010. A less severe, mainly aesthetical problem is a fungus infection of which many plants show the signs: the leaves get covered with small roundish brown spots.  Where the centre of such a spot is situated on a main vein, part of the leaf dies.  The cause is a combination of factors: small lesions caused by late night frosts, followed by cold, damp weather is all the fungus needs to thrive and spread.  Leafs that have appeared over the last weeks are very much less affected.

The last decision I had to take was the hardest one.  I had made all the necessary arrangements to have H. 'Mill' reproduced in TC, but given the state of the garden and the work that has to be done this year, it's better to put these plans on hold for at least a year.  I simply don not have the time and accommodation to raise 500 plug plants right now.

June 2010

Although Hosta photography is a new project for 2010, and should be high on my priority list, I haven't found the time yet to publish a single picture on the website. I'll start to make up for it from today on.

Relabeling the collection with the Paw Paw Rose-labels has started, and I have found out that my repotting activity earlier this year, although very beneficial to the plants, has an unwanted side effect: I've done the repotting in order of container size, the smaller ones first, the large one last. Now I do not have a clue where most of the plants have ended up.

In my experience, this is the most critical period of the year for the garden, success or failure depend on the work being done in June and July. The garden is almost cleared of weeds now, but they are starting to reappear rapidly. The weather is getting better, it's warmer and humidity is high, ideal for plant growth, especially the native ones. If nothing is done, they will take over the garden again in a matter of days. Weed control is the top priority for the next 8 to 12 weeks. If they get out of control again, like they did last year, the garden will not only look a mess, but, even worse, the space, water an nutrients the hostas need will go to the weeds, that will reward me with creating the perfect hiding places for slugs and snails. And if they manage to set seeds again, I'm in for the same trouble next year. I must not forget the container plants, clean them up on a regular base.

The last area I cleaned up was the “woodland” ‘(5 trees). The hostas I put there last spring didn't do great, but I'm happy to say they all survived. Most of them are still very young, but after the slow start all the hostas had this year, they seem to have taken of and show some good growth. This is the “species” area.

July 2010

Finally we got some decent rain.  From mid June through the third week of July we had a terrible drought.  The worst time was a heat wave that lasted for over a week.  As the soil in the Hosta Mill is very sandy, I had no choice than to supply extra water to all the plants every second day.  Plans are to set up a small irrigation system in the fall.  The only problems are with the plants that did not come out of winter unharmed.  They needed a calm, wet year to recover, but some of them got hit again by the heat.

I'm proud to say I managed to stick to plan: never have there been so few weeds in the Hosta Mill

August 2010

To bad for those who chose to spend their holidays in Belgium, because August was the wettest month in a long time.  The regrowth of the plants is simply stunning.  Weeds and snails consider this a good time to try and take over the garden again, but this time they don't stand a chance.

The "woods" have had a complete makeover.
In fact it is no more than a small patch in the back corner of the garden, about 40 m2 with 5 trees and a massive prunus hedge on 2 sides.  Last year it was partially filled with about 30 hostas, some ferns and a few other perennials.  Now I cleared the whole area, making sure it was absolutely weed-free.  After that it was covered with a 5 to 10 cm thick layer of compost.  Finally about 60 hostas, 10 ferns and a few Cimicifuga were planted.  The center is reserved for species and cultivars from the wild.  It's looking quite nice already and will only improve as the plants mature.

September 2010

 Alongside the house is the Hosta lane, a straight dolomite path with a planting bed on both sides.  The bed next to the house has taken some serious battering this year: as the very poor soil was exposed to the sun for most of the day, conditions were really arid.  On top of this came the snails.  To make matters even worse, this bed got visited by voles.  Like the woods, the bed was first cleared of all plants and weeds. 15  cm of the very poor top soil was removed and replaced with 10 cm of compost. Thus the ground level is a bit lower than the pathway, so watering the plants is much easier now.  So far it has been planted with some 20 hostas, mostly plants acquired in 2010. As the compost was applied before planting, compost and soil are nicely mixed.

Late September isn't the best of times to look for hostas in their prime, and it certainly isn't this year in the Hosta Mill: snails, slugs, voles, cold and hot spells have taken their toll.  Time to make up the balance, in order to make 2011 even better.

Working systematically has proven to be the way to go.  Therefore I will start with making a table, containing the worst problems, probable cause make and a solution.

Problem Cause Solution
Plants dying at the end of Winter Overwintering location unsuitable No longer keep plants for overwintering on the shelves I built.  One of the shelves will be removed completely, the other one will only have 2 levels instead of 3.  The 3rd level has proven to be to cold in winter and to hot and dry during summer
    Plant out cold sensitive plants, they will no longer be kept in pots (all Hostas with rectifolia and sieboldiana genes
    Temporarily cover hosta beds during cold spells in April and May
Plants damaged by animals Snails and slugs Continuously keep fighting them with ammonia solution and slug pellets, picking by hand
    Remove ALL dead plant material during Autumn
    Preventive weeding all year round.  This not only destroys hiding places, but also kills many of the eggs
    In April, drench the soil with ammonia solution, especially those areas that were the worst affected this year.  This will probably kill overwintering snails below the surface and, even more important, their eggs.
    Reserve an enclosed part of the garden for (young) hosta.  This area will have to be kept completely free of weeds.  The plan is to plant out the young plants in raised beds, that have to be at a reasonable distance from the surrounding plantings. Around the beds I'll put a copper "fence", a double copper tape barrier. Hopefully this will prevent slugs and snails from getting into the beds.
    Keep enough distance between ground covering plants and hostas.  A copper ring around individual plants should keep away most of the snails
  Voles Try to eliminate them on the first signs of activity or damage
Burned plants Heat wave, not enough protection, to dry The new Hosta area has to be bordered with hedges to provide shade.
    Systematic soil improvement with compost
    Keep young plants in raised beds with a soil that retains water