How to Grow Artichokes In the Northwest

Artichokes (Cynara scolymus) are a treat both in the kitchen and in the garden.  They are a member of the thistle family and if allowed to bloom, produce gloriously large, purple flowers that bees will make a “bee” line to enjoy.  If you want to enjoy artichokes on your plate, you can harvest them as soon as they reach about the size of a softball, but before they start to flower.  Either way, they are a tall, architectural statement in the garden, reaching about 5 feet tall with dramatic spiky leaves.

In our area (South Puget Sound) it can be challenging to get this perennial to behave  perennial-ish.  But with a little careful planting and care, you can enjoy your plants year after year.

Artichokes need sandy, fast drain468ing soil in sun.  Because they are so tall, some shelter from high winds is also a good idea.  Aside from this, they require regular water, particularly if you are growing them for the fruit instead of flower.  When first planting, amend the soil with an organic compost.  Plant starts in late spring and mulch well with straw to protect the roots and crown.  As they grow, fertilize with a balanced all-purpose organic or fish fertilizer.  Artichokes should be spaced 3×3 feet apart to allow them room to spread out.  Be sure to keep them well weeded to avoid nutrient competition.

The following spring you can detach any healthy offsets from around the edges of the crown and plant them on (or share with lucky friends).

Then in the fall, when the leaves are turning yellow, cut the plant back to about a foot from the ground, tie the stalks over the root crown and mulch heavily to protect the plant from frost.

Artichokes do best in areas that do not have wide swings in temperature, but with a little extra care you can enjoy them here too.

How to Attract Pollinators to Your Garden

Pollinators, like bees and butterflies, make the range of flowers, fruits and veggies we enjoy possible.  Without them we would not be able to grow most fruits and vegetables and a large number of flowers would no longer be seen.  It is important to provide pollinators with what they need in our gardens.  We can do that by providing many types of flowers and bloom times that are attractive to bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.

What do they get from these flowers?  pollen and nectar.  Pollen provides proteins and fats for the pollinators and nectar is their source of energy in the form of sugar.  Hybridized plants maximize some characteristics of garden plants but in the process are often left sterile and useless to pollinators so select species plants whenever possible.

Because the different pollinators have different equipment and needs when foraging it is best to provide range of plants with different bloom times and flower shapes through the growing season.  There are over 4000 native bees in North America with different tongue lengths and plant preferences.  Bees are attracted to flowers that are blue, purple, violet, white and yellow (which they see as “blue”).  Butterflies prefer flat topped flowers like the umbriferous flowers (lady’s mantle, fennel, etc) so that they can perch daintily on the flower top while eating.  Hummers are drawn to red tubular shaped flowers that better fit their bills.

It is also important not to use pesticides in your garden.  It is a destructive force on pollinator population and the ecology of the garden in general.

Just a hint…bees love most flowering herbs.

Happy Gardening!!

Bugs Are Our Friends…Well, Some of Them

Unwelcome bugs munching on your lovely plants are an unfortunate reality for any gardener.  Take a stroll through most garden centers and you will find all sorts of chemical solutions to remove or discourage them from sucking and nibbling on tender leaves.  But what if you don’t want to use chemicals?  Is there an organic solution to insect control?

Yes there is, if you embrace the idea that some insects can actually be your friends in the garden.  Insects such as parasitic wasps, hover flies, lacewings, ladybugs, spiders (yes, I know…not an insect), nematodes and mantids can all help protect your garden.

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Putting the Season To Bed

Our first hard frost arrived a couple days ago, coinciding with a break in the rain.  Chilly early mornings with the sun glinting off the ice encrusted plants is beautiful, but for me it also signals the final end to the growing season.  After that frost, watching for new growth and late breaking blooms is pointless.  The plants are bedraggled and clearly ready for a long nap.  But until frost hits and the leaves blacken and wither, there is a little part of me that clings to the summer past, not quite ready to release the green year for the bare winter and admit that another cycle is done.

Now that frost has arrived it is the time to tend to the garden tools, protect plants with thick layers of mulch, and starting dreaming of the spring yet to come.  And all of a sudden, the reluctance to release the prior year gives way to anticipation of the coming.  Seed catalogs arrive and hours are spent pouring over the possibilities.  Drawings and garden journals reappear to be reviewed and updated while the garden sleeps.

For many people the conclusion of the year comes December 31st, or on the winter solstice.  For me, it is that first hard frost.


The Great Green Hunter

What looks like an alien, moves with the deliberation and grace of a martial arts master, and consumes vast quantities of the insects in your garden that you wish would graze elsewhere?  A praying mantis.  Just a few weeks ago you may have seen this interesting creature in your garden.  Hopefully, you left them alone to do their work.  Praying mantis got their name because of the way they sit with their front legs folded together, as if in prayer.  The name probably should have been preying mantis, because they excel at the hunt.

Mantids are carnivorous predators that feed on many insects in your garden such as beetles, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, aphids and flies.  They are one of the few insects that are fast enough to catch moths on the wing.  Unfortunately, they do not discriminate between pests and beneficial insects and will also eat lacewings and hover flies.  They do not, however, bite gardeners.  All in all, these curious looking insects are a valuable addition to the garden as a natural insect control.

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The Lion in Your Back Yard

It always amazes and frustrates me when I hear people go off about dandelion.  How has this attractive and useful plant become public enemy #1 at the garden center?  Okay, granted, those puffballs are an incredible seed dispersal system and they don’t always disperse where you might want them.  And I have to admit the root system on a dandelion is an engineering marvel.  But look at what else a dandelion has to offer.

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Prunella vulgaris: The little plant that can.

Self heal, or heal all (Prunella vulgaris), was blooming away along the trails of one of our favorite parks yesterday. Very simple lance shaped leaves and a slender stalk that are all but invisible until they flower.  Then what a show!  The plant spreads quickly.  So if you put some in a corner of your garden expect to watch it conquer new territory.  The good news is that it is easy to remove or relocate plants that appear where you rather they didn’t.  The plant prefers a shady, moist area to grow and you will often see it growing in disturbed edges of woodland, though I have also seen it spread happily through bark paths in my garden in full sun.

As the common name suggests, this plant has a long history of use to heal wounds and staunch bleeding.  It has been used as an alterative, antibacterial, antibiotic, antioxidant, antiviral, antiseptic, astringent, bitter, carminative, febrifuge, hemostatic, hypotensive, styptic, tonic and vulnerary.  The plant contains beta-carotene, vitamin B1, vitamin C, vitamin K, zinc, the flavonoids hyperoside and rutin, pentacyclic triterpenes, rosmarinic acid, essential oils and tannins.

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