Gardens are for…

Patience….how long will it take for the tomatoes to ripen? It seems like they have been hanging here, green on the vine, for weeks!

And then this morning I saw this….

“They will come and shout for joy on the height of Zion, and they will be radiant over the bounty of the Lord…” Jeremiah 31:12


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Dividing an Iris Can Multiply a Memory…

I will always have a cluster of purple iris in my garden.  As far back as I can remember, there was always purple iris blooming in the springtime in my mother’s gardens and now it is true in mine. It’s one of those things in life that I haven’t stopped too much to think about. It’s kind of like looking back in your childhood and assuming everybody had a wool WWII army blanket in their car to keep them warm when traveling on cold winter nights (my dad’s from the war) or everybody ate spicy meat and grape jelly sandwiches.

Yesterday I dug up and divided my purple iris clusters. It was time. I found this spring that the flower heads were not as big, not as showy, and that the stems were falling over more easily than usual. As I dug, divided, and replanted I thought of my mother out in the garden in her housecoat early in the morning before the school bus came, picking me irises, wrapping the stems in a wet paper towel and then tin foil, so I could bring a bouquet to my teacher. I also thought of all the iris bouquets that traveled in our car to the cemetery on Memorial Day for Grandpa’s grave. I hope you grow iris in your garden, too.

Although there are more than 300 species of iris around the world, in my garden and in many others the bearded iris hybrid is the most popular. It can be as tall as a yard stick or as short as only a couple of inches; the flowers are notable for their six petals – the three that arch upward to form the center (the standards), and the three that cascade downward and also have the “beard” (the falls); aptly named for Iris, the goddess of the rainbow, the flower comes in many shades of almost every color – there really isn’t a green iris and the breeders are working on a true red.  

Here’s how to divide the bearded iris.

Looking at this cluster of iris in my garden, you can see a lot of rhizomes crowded together. The rhizome is actually a modified part of the iris stem from which the roots, the leaves, and the flower stem immerge. It is a fleshy tuber which lies horizontally close to the surface of the soil and it multiplies over the years. You really should divide the rhizomes every 3-4 years. I’m guessing it’s been more like 5-6 years since I have divided these. They can be dug up and divided anytime after the blooming is finished, but the best time is probably between the middle of July until the first of September. There should be at least 6 weeks before the ground starts to freeze so they can become established. I took a garden fork and carefully started to lift the rhizomes up and out of the garden.

Gently pull them apart using your hands.

I ended up with a heap of rhizomes!

I washed them off with the hose, pulled off any brown or spotted leaves, trimmed the leaves down 3-6 inches, and began to cut them into individual sections, each with at least one fan – you can also see a few buds on the sides.

Throw away the big old sections – they are done producing. (Can you see the red arrow in the picture – that is what you throw away.) Throw away any pieces that are soft or squishy or if you see any holes bored into them. I dipped the knife in a 1 part bleach to 9 parts water solution to prevent any spread of disease. I also dipped the rhizome in the solution for good measure. I looked around to see what else I could dip in it but didn’t find anything.

Then I stopped and took this picture of the kitty enjoying herself in the garden. 

Dig your soil up a bit, add compost or peat moss at this time if you think it needs it. The iris likes a soil that drains well, otherwise there can be a concern of root rot. Iris should also have at least 6 hours of sunlight per day.  At this point you don’t need to add fertilizer, you can apply that in the springtime.   

Now it’s important to plant the rhizomes so that about a third of the top of the rhizome is showing – at the most only about an inch of soil should be covering the rest. Dig a hole big enough to spread out the feeder roots (the fat roots, you can trim them down to around 2-3 inches if you want), put a ridge of soil along the middle of the hole on which you will set the rhizome, bury the roots, and slightly cover the rhizome. They can be planted 8-12 inches apart in drifts where the fans are all pointing in one direction, or you can plant them in a circle, as I like to do, and then you plant them a little closer together. It creates a nice effect in the garden. Water them in well.

Well, that’s it for dividing iris. Now take all those extra rhizomes and hand them out to neighbors, friends, family, bring them to church and give them away. (They kind of become like zucchini after awhile…you might have to put them in a grocery bag, hang them on someone’s mail box, and drive away as fast as you can.)

But once you get someone to plant them, they will begin to cherish them, and they will become apart of their garden memories.

I wish I could say this is my garden – do you know whose famous garden it is?

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Gardens are for…

My sweet neighbors whose idea it was to weed the garden for our other neighbor.

Gardens are for many things…today a garden was for letting a neighbor know we care about them. The garden needed weeding; we needed to do something to help a friend; a friend who now knows the pain of losing a father… kneeling is a natural position for picking a weed…and for praying.

There’s a fun side to weeding as well! Who can resist a water sprinkler!

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Red Aphids!

This is the third year that I am dealing with red aphids on my perennial sunflower plants. (genus -Helianthus)

” I don’t know why, I never had them before… I only know now that I have them,  I don’t want them no more.”  (Sorry, it just came to me. Sing it along with me, if you like.)

Aphids have piercing sucking mouthparts and cause tender young leaves to curl and yellow, thus reducing plant vigor and growth. The little creeps also secrete what is called a “honeydew” like substance which is sticky and attracts ants and can cause sooty mold growth on the plants. It’s not attractive.


You usually find them on the underside of a leaf and along the stem of the tender new growth of the plant.

This is a little out of focus, but it gives you a pretty good image of what they look like. Not that you really want to know. On their rear end, they have two pointy things. These are called cornicles and no other insect has them. The honeydew is secreted from the cornicles. Now you really know more than you probably wanted to know.

There are FIVE ways of getting rid of, or more realistically, reducing red aphids, that I know of.  Well, I just thought of another one, but it requires squishing them with your fingers and watching your fingers turn all red from their juices…takes too long, anyway.

  1. Let nature take its course and hopefully you have enough natural predators that will take care of them, such as lady bugs and lace wings. If it looks like a losing battle go to number 2.
  2. Put a sprayer attachment on the end of your hose and give them a good pressure wash. You can knock many of them off, watch them go hurling off into the air, and I’ve heard they can drown in the water/mud at the base of the plant. I’ve done this, but usually they returned within a day or two. I guess if I repeatedly did this, it could work. Consider number 3.
  3. Early in the season, usually before the flower buds can be seen – at least this is when I like to do it – I cut off the tender tops that are being infested. Here are some pictures.

    Cut off the infested tender shoot.

Toss it into some sort of old, recycled plastic bag.

Throw in as many as you want or as many as will fit.

Seal up the bag and get rid of it far away from your garden. You can stomp on it first or squish it up with your hands, if you’re that kind of person, but then get rid of it. Just don’t throw it in your neighbor’s yard. That’s not nice.

This methods works pretty well, and I use it early in the season so the plants still have plenty of time to set new flower buds. If the aphids return, here is number four.

4.  Soap. You can use insecticidal soap. I don’t. I’m not saying it’s bad or it doesn’t work, I’m just saying I use the natural dish soap we use on our dishes, and it works, so I’m not going out to buy the insecticidal soap. Now, I have read you can use dish soap but not dish detergent, and I have read you can use either. What is the difference? I looked it up for you because I wasn’t sure. I found out that soap is made from natural ingredients such as vegetable oil or animal fat. Detergents are made from petroleum products.  So, I’m going with the soap.

My two weapons of mass aphid destruction.

O.K., as I was looking at my bottle of “soap” I found that the word “soap” was no where to be found. It is called “natural dish liquid”. Hmmmm, I wonder if you have to have a certain ingredient or there has to be a certain way of processing something  before you can legally name something “soap”.  This “natural dish liquid,” however, is made of plant derived cleaning agents, and I know from past experience that it has been safe on my plants with this ratio of water/”soap” – 1 tsp. of “soap” per cup of water. So, with my 32 oz.  spray bottle, I put in 4 tsp. (or 1 T. and 1 tsp.) of “soap” and filled the rest with water.

Aim and shoot. You probably will have to lift up leaves.

Really soak them with the soap. It’s mild enough it won’t hurt the leaves. Do a test run on a small section of the plant if you are uncertain.

O.K., so I did kind of feel badly about doing this to the aphids. Aphids are small and soft-bodied, so the soap works on disrupting their cell membranes and causes dehydration. It’s a quick death, however, from my observations.  Fortunately, this soaping down doesn’t work well on all insects including lady bugs, lace wings, or bees. (I feed the lady bugs that I find in my kitchen during the winter – did you know they love a fresh slice of apple?) I have seen this soap method work well, especially if it is applied each time you see the red devils increasing once again in population. (Did you know aphids are born already pregnant with the next generation? It’s true, I’m not making that up.)

5. The last way of getting rid of or reducing the red aphid is through some type of chemical insecticide.  As mentioned already, aphids have piercing sucking mouth parts vs. chewing mouth parts. One type of insecticide that can be used is a systemic insecticide that is taken in by the plant and then is sucked out with the plant juices by the aphid. You can apply the systemic insecticide to the soil at the base of the plant. I don’t use chemical insecticides, so I’m no longer up on what is recommended. Go to a  good garden center and ask questions about them or read labels carefully  if you think you want to use them.

Well, I hope you do well with reducing the red aphid in your garden. By the way, aphids come in all sorts of colors, are found on all sorts of plants. Wooly aphids are the most weird – they look like somebody put a glob of marshmallow cream on their body and then pulled it out into strands. Start looking and most likely you will find an aphid somewhere in your yard. Not all are going to warrant reduction. Insect populations also cycle, meaning you might have a heavy population of one kind for a couple of years and then you won’t see them around for awhile, and then they will cycle back again. So, don’t despair. Overall, I think we can live pretty happily side by side. As long as it’s not in my garden.

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Welcome to the Parsonage Garden!

Why the parsonage garden? It’s pretty simple – my husband is a pastor of a church and we live in the 70 year old cape-code style parsonage – which I love.  My gardens are my attempt to express my love of creation and a way to give thanks and praise to the Creator. He gets the glory, not me, I’m just using His plants, and I get to tell that to whoever comes by and compliments the gardens.  So, come by often, learn about plants, and hear more about the Creator!

My gardening kitty. Her name is Pippa. (Don’t say anything about her weight – it bothers her – she’s on a diet and doing very well.)


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