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The Happy Garden Newsletter - April 13, 2006

Volume 1, Number 12, April 13, 2006


I hope everyone is having a good spring in their garden so far. If you have any gardening related questions, don't hesitate to ask...


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Today's Photos

Old Chair for Container Gardening

Many household objects can be used as containers in the garden. I love to use old chairs in the garden to add height and interest to an area that might be otherwise plain without it.


Many can be found on trash day, free for the taking. This one was without a seat, so I stapled a wire basket to the underside of the chair and added a cocoa liner. A layer of newspaper in the liner helps to retain moisture as cocoa liners can dry out easily in the heat of the summer. Fill with plants and good quality potting soil that contains a slow release fertilizer and moisture holding crystals.

Chair with Flowers (Garden Decor)

By Dottie Baltz from Pennellville, NY

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Today's Tips and Articles

Get Started Growing Gourds
By Ellen Brown

If you've had success growing pumpkins or squash, you might want to consider trying your luck with gourds. Since most gourds have a long growing period (from 90-130 days) now is a great time to start them indoors. They aren't very good to eat, but they are notoriously easy to grow. And if history is any indicator, you'll find plenty of other uses for them. Turn them into birdhouses, bath sponges, bowls, scoops, centerpieces, Christmas tree ornaments, trinket boxes-even jewelry.


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3 Tier Flower Planter

Q: I have purchased a 3 tier, 37" flower planter. What would be the most attractive flowers to put in each tier? It will be in the sun at all times.

Hardiness Zone: 8a

Thank You for your help.
toehead from Loranger, LA

A: Toehead,

A good rule for container design is to position plants at several heights (low, medium and tall). You can apply this principle to each of the containers in your tiered planter, too. Tall plants will go in back, short in front and medium will fill in the middle and cascade down the sides. Try to choose plants with similar growing requirements. Here are several ideas for combinations:

1) Blue or violet colored salvia (tall) with white sweet alyssum (short) and a variety of petunias in pink, purple and red (medium/cascading).


2) Red geraniums, white snapdragons and white petunias, with cascading red ivy-leaved geraniums.

3) A monochrome combination of all white flowers using geraniums, ivy-leaved geraniums, salvia and alyssum.

4) blue and yellow pansies, yellow snapdragons and blue lobelia.

5) Three different tiers of wave petunias.

6) White Shasta daisies, rose verbena and violet sage. You could also try ornamental peppers with rose, orange, white, and/or yellow portulaca.


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Starting Dried Bulbs

Q: Does anyone know what's the best way to start my dried elephant ear and canna bulbs? Should I start them in water inside until they re- hydrate? Or do I put them straight in the ground? I've herd that people will soak them in warm water with miracle grow, has anyone tried this? I pulled them out of the closet today and a few of them already have fresh starts on them.


Hardiness Zone: 6b
Delbert from WV

A: Delbert,

It isn't necessary to soak your bulbs before planting, especially if some of your them already have fresh starts. To get earlier blooms, you can pot them up in a soil-less potting mix and start them indoors about 5 weeks before your last frost. Otherwise plant them directly into the ground at the usual time. When planting, make sure they have proper drainage and mix a little compost in with the soil. You can top-dress the planting holes with an organic fertilizer, but the bulbs themselves shouldn't come in direct contact with any fertilizer.


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Something to Plant in Cracks in Pavement

Q: I have just moved into a rental property which had grass growing in all the cracks in the pavement and drive way. I have pulled up all the grass and I would like to plant something in the cracks by seed preferably (large area) that will either look pretty, or smell good when you tread on it. This would also keep the grass from growing back. I need something very hardy as it will have foot traffic. Any suggestions? I was thinking mint or Johnny jump ups.

Hardiness Zone: 11

Sally from Sydney Australia

A: Hi Sally,

If your looking for blooms with a nice fragrance that will stand up to foot traffic, you might consider miniature wormwood (Artemisia viridis). It has interesting pale green foliage, small gold/cream flowers and a pleasant smell. It's also drought tolerant and seems to stand up to plenty abuse. You may also want to try creeping oregano (bright green), creeping golden marjoram (golden green) or mounding marjoram (darker green), which has a minty fragrance and small pink flowers. All should be hardy to your zone and stand up to moderate traffic. Creeping thyme, carpet bugleweed and star creeper are also all fragrant with lovely little pink, purple or white flowers. Here are three web resources to explore:, and Good luck!


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Buying Bedding Plants
By Ellen Brown

One of the best parts of spring is taking that first trip to the nursery or garden center to shop for bedding plants. If you're like me, walking into a greenhouse that is overflowing with green plants and colorful flowers is exhilarating and even a bit overwhelming-especially after a long winter. Here are a few things to keep in mind before you fill up your backseat with bedding plants.

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Buying Creeping Zinnia Seeds

Q: I saw the beautiful picture of the creeping zinnia and I would love them for my garden. The problem is I can't seem to find plants or seeds anywhere on the web. Does anyone know where I can get them?

Hardiness Zone: 5b

JILLSAVES from Shavertown, PA


A: If you search the web using the terms "Sanvitalia seeds" or "Sanvitalia procumbens" you'll find a lot more resources then if you try searching for creeping zinnias. Also, in seed catalogs, creeping zinnias are sometimes listed under specialty annuals rather being grouped with traditional cut flower zinnias. Most of the larger seed companies like Burpee and Gurneys sell them.

Prices seem to vary widely so it pays shop around. From the few web sites I checked out, Stokes Seeds ( offers the convenience of being able to order different quantities of the three most popular varieties, "Yellow Carpet," "Aztec Gold" and "Mandarin Orange." Their prices also seem in line with other seed companies (maybe a bit better).

For cheap or even free seeds, I would recommend searching garden forums or seed exchanges. Most gardeners are more than willing to share their seeds or swap them for something they don't have. It's a great feeling knowing that somewhere out there, seeds from your garden are adding to the beauty of someone else's garden.


Editor's Note: Be sure to check out ThriftyFun's Seed Swap. You can find it here:

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Caterpillars Killed My Plant!

Q: I had a sweet broom in a ten gallon pot. There were little caterpillars on it. No big deal, right? I just picked them off. Later in the month I noticed more, lots more. They took over the whole plant and killed it. What were they and where did they come from? This pot was on my concrete patio with no other plants, trees, or grass around.

Hardiness Zone: 9b

Beachers from West Covina,CA

A: Beachers,

Without seeing them, it's hard to say what they were. It sounds as though either they hatched from the underside of your plant's leaves, or somehow they spread the word quickly about your Sweet Broom. Kudos to you for trying to remove them by hand, too bad they got so out of control. Let's hope you have some lovely butterflies or moths in the coming weeks to make up for the loss of your plant. A common control for caterpillars is Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis). It is available at most garden centers. Bt is in an insecticidal bacterium that you apply when caterpillars are small. When used as recommended, it is not harmful to pets, people or the environment. Bt contains spores of a lethal bacteria that germinate in the gut of a caterpillar after ingestion and causes them to stop feeding-and eventually kills them.


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Do hummingbird vines die out during the winter?

Q:Do hummingbird vines die out during the winter? I have nothing on my vines.

Hardiness Zone: 9a

Otis from FL


Depending on the zone they are planted in, hummingbird vines will typically begin to bloom in the spring (May) and continue to bloom throughout the summer and into early fall (September). Not coincidentally, this 5-month period is when most hummingbirds are around. Each flower usually lasts for around 3 to 5 days. In the fall the vine's leaves begin to die back, revealing long pods that contain numerous paper-thin seeds. Once vines are well-established, they will easily reseed themselves. Hummingbird vines can become invasive in many areas if allowed to freely self-seed. You can help control them by collecting seeds each fall and pruning the vines back. Seeds need to be cold treated before they will germinate, so if you intend to save seeds for the following year, place them in a glass jar and keep it in the freezer or outside over winter. You can start new vine indoors 4-6 weeks before transplanting, or sow them directly in the ground after danger of spring frost has passed.


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Growing Herb Indoors

Q: I was wondering if anyone had advice on growing herbs indoors. I was thinking of growing them in the lower half 1/2 of a 2-liter bottle. I would also like to grow aloe. I would also like info on where is the cheapest and best place to get seeds or any other way to start growing these herbs. Which herbs grow best indoors?

Thanks for the help.

Hardiness Zone: 8a
Jeggie from Elberton, GA

A: Jeggie,

I admit I'm a gardener geared toward instant gratification, so I always start out with purchased seedlings when growing herbs-especially perennial herbs.

Some fast-growing annual herbs, like basil, dill and cilantro work well when started from seed. You can also buy packaged seeds or obtain them cheap or free through an online seed exchanges.

To start them, push them gently into the surface of moist potting soil. Your bottle will work fine, just don't forget drainage holes. Cover them with clean plastic and put them in a warm dark place until you see them sprout. Remove the plastic and put them in a sunny window. Make sure they get plenty of air circulation and don't keep the soil too wet. Give them a half-strength fertilizer every two weeks during the active growing period. Most herbs prefer full sun and temperatures of 60-70 degrees. Turn the pots daily to insure seedlings get even exposure to light. Certain herbs like lavender, thyme, sage and rosemary grow more slowly, so you might consider buying young plants.

To start Aloe, simply ask around to see if any of your friends, family or co-workers has an offshoot they would be willing to give you. Place it in a windowsill with full sun in a pot filled with porous potting mix. In the summer, water as soon as the soil becomes fairly dry. From fall until spring, keep the soil moderately dry. A dilute fertilizer solution may be used during the summer.


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Help My Hydrangea

Q: I moved into a house with an established garden. It has plants and flowers that I have always wanted; hydrangea, lavender, roses, lemon trees, orange trees, etc. Unfortunately, the hydrangea and roses have not been cared for. The hydrangea has very little leaves and flowers. In the middle it has branches that look dead.

I have removed most of the dead branches which pulled out effortlessly, but now the plant has a gap on the inside and the sides are leaning apart from each other. It looks hideous and I don't know what to do. I spoke to the neighbor , she said the hydrangea was so beautiful and full of flowers before. I don't want to lose it. I am looking for advice on how to get it back to it's beauty.

Hardiness Zone: 10a

Beachers from West Covina, CA

A: Beachers,

Don't worry about losing your hydrangea. If yours has been recently neglected, then removing the dead, twiggy branches is bound to open up some bare spots. The good news is that returning them to a regular trimming schedule will encourage them to fill in with new growth and bring back big those blooms.

To determine when to prune, you will need to determine what type of hydrangea you have. Hydrangea either blooms on "old" wood or "new" wood. Ask neighbors or a nearby nursery to help you with identification. Hydrangea that blooms on old wood should be pruned only after they bloom in the summer, because next year's buds form on this year's growth. Hydrangea that blooms on new growth can be pruned to within 6-12 inches from the ground in the early spring. No matter which type you have, you can begin to reinvigorate plants by cutting 1/3 of the branches to the ground in the summer.

Most hydrangeas prefer rich, well-drained soil that stays consistently moist. To give them a boost, apply compost mixed with well-rotted manure or a balanced slow release fertilizer to the drip line of the bushes twice per year during the growing season. Remember, it may take a little time and patience, but your hydrangeas will eventually come back.


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Using Creosote Logs In The Garden

Q: Can I use Creosote logs for a flower bed or will the Creosote harm the plants?

Hardiness Zone: 8a

Sandra from Mississippi

A: Sandra,

Personally, I wouldn't recommend using poles, logs or landscape timbers containing coal tar creosote for gardening. The fact is that about 300 chemicals known to be toxic have been identified in coal tar creosote (common to landscape logs and poles), but it may contain as many as 10,000 other chemicals. Some of these toxic chemicals dissolve in water and move through the soil, eventually reaching our groundwater. Once in the groundwater, breakdown may take years. Many components that make up creosote are not water soluble, but will still leech out into the soil where they will remain in place in a tar-like mass. Breakdown in soil can take months or longer. Sometimes, small amounts of the chemicals remaining in the soil or water that take a long time to break down are still toxic to some animals and possibly to humans.

Once coal tar creosote is in the environment, both plants and animals can absorb parts of the creosote mixture. How much of these chemical components will be taken up by your flowers depends on a variety of environmental conditions. They may or may not appear to harm your plants, but the chemicals will be causing unseen damage to the environment whether your plants are harmed or not. The fact that products containing creosote cannot be sold to consumers in most European countries and that many hazardous waste sites slated for clean up in the United States contain creosote residues is a good indicator of its toxicity. These same concerns also apply to other chemically treated wood products.


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Brown Boronia Information

Q: Can any one tell me about "Brown Boronia"? And where to get them? My zone is 9-10 in Southern, CA. I'm told that they will grow here.

Hardiness Zone: 9b

Great Granny Vi from Moorpark, CA

A: Granny Vi,

I'm not sure where you can find seeds, but here are two California nurseries that specialize in native Australian plants. The first is Australian Native Plants Nursery in Ventura California ( They list Boronia megastigma 'Lutea' available in 1 gallon pots for $12.00 (plus shipping and handling). A second resource is California ( ) Follow the catalog link to their Australian Catalog. They list Boronia megastigma available in 1 gallon pots. Windmill Outback Nursery, in Louisa, VA, also specializes in plants and seeds native to Australia. Contact them at


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New Requests

Keeping Birds from Eating Cherries

Any suggestions on how to keep birds from eating the cherries before they are ripe? We have a HUGE cherry tree and have never had any ripe cherries left to pick. I tried pie plates and streamers when it was smaller to no avail. It is too big to net.

Hardiness Zone: 6a

Betty from Middletown, NY

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Squirrels Eating Flowers

My grandparents have a problem with squirrels. They're always in our yard, and eat my grandmother's tulips by breaking off the center of these flowers and then spit the petals. In doing so they destroying my grandparents favorite spot! What can we do to solve this problem?

Matt Santos-Drolet from Bristol, Rhode Island

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Growing Guides

Growing: Sanvitalia (Creeping Zinnia)
By Ellen Brown

Growing Hints: Sow seeds directly outdoors as soon as soil is warm or start indoors 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date. The seeds need light to germinate so do not cover them with soil, just press them gently into the surface of the growing mix. Use individual peat pots for easy transplanting in order to avoid disturbing roots. Seedlings should be spaced 14" apart. Grows great in regions with how summers.
Interesting Facts: The "Creeping Zinnia" nickname comes from the fact that Sanvitalia tend to "creep" along as they grow, and their flowers resemble those of zinnias.

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Growing: Sweet Pea
By Ellen Brown

Growing Hints: Sow seeds directly where they are to grow. Place them 6 inches apart and 1 to 1 _ inches deep. Soak seeds for 24 hours prior to planting to speed germination. Purchased seedlings should be spaced from 3 to 4 inches apart. Deadhead spent flowers for continuous blooming until leaving some for self-seeding the end of summer. If soil is high in nutrients, fertilizer should not be necessary. Over fertilization will result in poor flowering. Climbing varieties grow rapidly when given support.
Interesting Facts: Sweet Peas can survive frost and snow. So can their relatives the "Snow Peas", which is how they got their name. Sweet Peas are also popular with birds and a variety of insects, including butterflies.

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Growing: Salvia
By Ellen Brown

Growing Hints: Sow seeds directly into ground in early spring or start indoors 6 to 8 weeks before last frost date. Some need light to germinate and should not be covered, but simply pressed lightly into the soil. Seedlings are also widely available for transplanting and should be spaced 10 to 20 inches apart. Pinch off spent bloom clusters for continuous flowering.
Interesting Facts: Sage is in the genus Salvia. It is classified as both an herb and a flower.

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Growing: Shirley Poppy
By Ellen Brown

Growing Hints: As poppies go, these are the easiest to grow. Broadcast the seeds outdoors in late fall (in cooler zones), or early spring (in warmer zones). Mix the tiny seeds with fine-grained sand for more even dispersal. The seeds need light to germinate so don't cover them with soil. Thin poppies so they are 8 to 12 inches apart.
Interesting Facts: To use Shirley Poppies for cut flowers, cut them just before flowers open, sear the stem bottoms with an open flame and place them in very warm water.

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Growing: Sweet William
By Ellen Brown

Growing Hints: Sow Sweet William seeds in summer directly into soil. Don't pinch off spent flowers and they will reseed themselves for the next year. If planting transplants, space them 4 to 6 inches apart. When older flowers stop sending up new shoots, cutting stems back by half will reinvigorate them.
Interesting Facts: Sweet William is related to the carnation.

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