Charlie’s Mid January Newsletter
It’s a rainy/icy Saturday in mid-January in our zone 5 garden, so a perfect time to write to you with my latest newsletter. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been craving some color this time of year. We’ve had a long stretch of cloudy weather, so the grays, browns, and whites are leaving me in a color deficit. Normally, I’d be planning a garden tour some where in the world, but that has all changed with Covid. So, for my sanity, and hopefully for your inspiration, I’m offering a video of my Tour of the Palaces and Gardens of the Loire Valley in France from a few years ago. Enjoy and here’s hoping we can start traveling again in 2021.
This year is also been deemed the Year of Monarda by the National Garden Bureau. I’ll talk about the various varieties of Monarda or bee balm, give some tips on growing them and offer some ways to keep them healthy in your garden.
I’ve also been focusing on easy to grow greens in winter. In this newsletter I talk about Asian greens. There are many types beyond Chinese cabbage and bok choi to grow and many are easy, fast growing and like cool weather. I talk about these, as well as some newer, more colorful varieties.
Perhaps it’s due to being home more this winter, but I’ve been getting into houseplants again. One of my favorite new purchases is a new variety of the Chinese Evergreen. The new varieties offer colorful red, yellow, and orange leaves on plants that grow in low to medium, indirect light. Check them out here.
I’ve been the guest on a number of podcasts talking about my new book, The Complete Guide to No-Dig Gardening. This book is all about creating edible and flower garden, raised beds that are easy to care for, productive and beneficial to the soil and ecosystem. It’s a simple concept with many variations. I highlight the many ways to grow No-Dig Gardening in my book including layering organic materials to build the bed, mulching 8-inches deep and planting right through the mulch, and simply filling your beds with a compost/soil mix. The key is not only making the bed, but caring for it so you don’t have to till or turn in fertilizers, weeds, and organic materials. Christy Welhelmi of Gardenerd recently did a podcast about my book. Give a listen to this 20+ minute interview here and check out my book.
Until next time I’ll be seeing you… in the garden.
Where to Find Charlie:(podcasts, TV and in-person)
- All Things Gardening on Vt Public Radio- This week; Houseplants RX Part 1
- Connecticut Garden Journal on Ct Public– This week; Climbing Houseplants
- In the Garden (WCAX-TV CBS)- This week; Large Sized Houseplants
- Where’s Charlie Speaking? February 9th, 2021 Gardening for the Birds, Barrington RI Garden Club
Monarda or bee balm is this year’s National Garden Burea’s Perennial Plant of the Year. This designation is really just a way to remind gardeners of some of the beautiful and productive perennial flowers available to grow. Many gardeners already grow bee balm in their gardens, but I wanted to highlight some unique varieties. The classic is the wild bergamot Monarda. This plant has pale purple flowers that bees and butterflies love. ‘Jacob Cline’ is a personal favorite. It has fragrant red flowers and the plants tolerate clay soil, mildew and deer damage. ‘Fireball’ is another red flowered variety, but this one grows only 1-foot tall with compact flowers. It’s perfect for small spaces or containers. ‘Petit Delight’ is another dwarf variety, but with rosy pink colored flowers.
Bee balm is one of the easier perennial flowers to grow. It’s not finicky about soil and grows in full to part sun. In fact, one of the problems with our bee balm is it loves to spread. Each spring we dig up clumps of spreading bee balm reducing the size of the main clump by 2/3rds to keep it in bounds. This gives us lots of new plants to share or plant in other areas. If you have a small space garden, consider growing some of the less aggressive, dwarf bee balms.
Another big issue with Monarda is powdery mildew. If you live in a humid climate, you’ll notice powdery mildew on many plants, such as phlox, lilac, squash and birch, come mid to late summer. It can be a difficult disease to control. One of the best solutions is to look for disease resistant varieties, such as ‘Jacob Cline’, ‘Gardenview Scarlet’ and ‘Violet Queen’. The traditional recommendation is to plant bee balm in areas with good air circulation to dry out the leaves sooner and reduce the incidence of powdery mildew. I notice one of our patches growing in a windier location does better with the mildew. Here’s more on powdery mildew controls.
Despite what some nurseries state, deer will munch on bee balm. A good fence or repellent spray may be necessary. Here’s more about deer controls in the garden.
One other trick I use to keep bee balm’s size manageable and extend the flowering season is to pinch the new growth when plants are 10- to 12-inches tall. This forces the plant to bush out and stay smaller than the usual 3+ feet tall. It also forces the plant to flower a little later, so by pinching some plants and leaving others, you’ll be able to have flowers blooming for a long time. Of course, bee balm also responds well to dead heading by sending up more flowers later in summer.
Many of us have been growing Asian greens for years. I love these plants for their quick growth in cool weather, tasty flavors and now, for their colors. There has been new breeding of Asian greens to introduce some color to the common green leaves. This makes these greens not only tasty, but attractive in the kitchen and garden. Here are some of my favorite Asian greens with a colorful twist.
Mizuna is a great, cut leaf Asian green that is nice raw in salads or sauteed. ‘Central Red’ is a newer variety that features green leaves, but with bright red stems. It stands out in any dish. ‘Red Streaked’ mizuna has reddish-purple leaves. Although you can grow successive crops of mizuna, in our climate I plant in spring and it seems to hold well into summer. I even used it planted under tomatoes as a cover crop this last year.
Pak Choi is a favorite Asian green that produces juicy stems on fast maturing plants. ‘Rosie’ has strawberry red colored leaves making for a colorful stir fry addition. ‘Mei Qing Choi’ is a green variety but has excellent bolt resistance for warmer climate gardeners or those trying to grow pak choi in summer.
Mustard greens are another quick maturing green. They have a reputation for being very spicy, but I find that happens when they are stressed by lack of water, heat or attacks from from insects. Plant them now in warm winter climates or early spring while the weather is cool. They have a pleasant, slightly piquant flavor. There are many colorful, mustard green varieties available such as ‘Red Giant’ and ‘Ruby Streaks’.
Gai Laan is an Asian green that grows like a small broccoli, but you eat the whole plant. It has green leaves, red stems and a yellow flower. Harvest just before the flowers open, but if you miss a few, no problem. The flowers are edible, too. Like broccoli raab, it has a mild mustard flavor.
As you can see, Asian greens like cooler weather to grow and mature. Grow now in warmer climates and as soon as the ground thaws in colder climates. You can even start seeds outdoors in late winter in cold frame for a quick spring crop. You can eat the greens, such as mustard and mizuna, anytime after their true leaves form.
I purposely put the word “houseplant” in the name of this plant because it sounds like an outdoor plant. But the Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema) is actually a great indoor houseplant for those looking for extra color in a low to medium light room. This leafy, lush houseplant grows 3-feet tall, but many newer varieties can stay shorter. They make great countertop or tabletop plants. This foliage houseplant is native to tropical areas of Asia.
The typical varieties of Chinese evergreens have dark green leaves with white streaks or patches. What I’m excited about are the newer varieties of Chinese evergreen that are available in garden centers and florist shops. Varieties, such as ‘Golden Bay’ and ‘Red Gold’, have a mix of red, yellow, green and cream colored leaves. Since this plant can tolerate low to medium, indirect light in rooms, it’s a great way to brighten up a darker spot in your home. Plus, it’s the leaves that have the color, so you don’t have to wait for flowers to appear to get a show. You’ll get the best color in medium light conditions. Avoid direct sun.
Keep Chinese evergreen plants in a warm room, away from cold drafts. Mist the plant in winter to avoid infestations of spider mites. Water in winter only when the soil is dry to the touch. I like to periodically give the plants a shower to wash off insects and dust and add some humidity. You can also grow the plants on a pebble tray filled with water that evaporates increasing the humidity around the plant. From spring to fall, water a little more frequently and fertilize monthly with a houseplant plant food. If your leaves develop brown patches, it may be due to the tap water. Consider using filtered water or leave the tap water in an open container overnight to allow the chemicals to evaporate.
In Our Home: French Gardens
Many of us are not traveling much these days, which is sad. I have been leading two international garden tours a year for a number of years, but 2020 saw all that come to a halt with the pandemic. I’m not sure we’ll be traveling at all in 2021, but stay tuned.
During the dark days of January, I thought it would help your spirits, and mine, to show a video, from my YouTube channel, of one of my past garden tours; the Palaces and Gardens of the Loire Valley, France. This 20+ minute video also includes Monet’s garden at Giverny and some gardens around Paris. It’s a way to tour gardens virtually and get inspired about traveling again, someday. Thanks to Belinda Dickinson, one of our friends and travelers, who shot this video during the tour.
So, enjoy the gardens, via video, and let’s all hope we can be on the road again soon. Ciao.