Saturday, April 7, 2012

Project Updates: Seeds, Frog Ponds, and Bulbapalooza

I've realized recently that I love being in the middle of a project. I love the finished result even more, provided the project actually comes out the way I want it to. But I love the creative process and problem solving that comes with it almost as much. Here is an update on two projects I started a few months ago as well as the frog pond I created last fall.

Project: I decided this winter to set up my own mini-greenhouse on my kitchen counter and grow a few plants from seed. Salpiglosis, a beautiful annual that sounds like a diseased body part and ground cherries were on the menu. I started two small trays of seeds using traditional fiber pellets and two trays using a product called No Damp Off.

Since I'm home this week on Spring Break I've been taking the seedlings outside for the natural light and to start hardening them off. These are zinnia seedlings.

The ground cherry seedlings are still tiny but I have ten sturdy seedlings so I'm hopeful I'll have enough plants to keep me well supplied. I'll pass the extras on to friends and other gardeners.

Results: The No Damp Off was hard to keep watered and the plants grew weird. If I had watered it with a spray bottle every day, however, it might have worked better. They also germinated slower than the seeds in the fiber pellets. I ended up giving all the No Damp Off and the seeds to my worms and planted zinnias in the extra trays. The salpiglosis seeds needed darkness to germinate but must have germinated before I realized it because they grew tall and skinny. Worm food! The ground cherry seeds planted in the fiber pellets are growing well, even though they're still tiny. I read they don't like cool weather and will put out more growth once it warms up.

I put Texas Tufa's advice to good use and put up foil between the grow lights to reflect as much light back on to the seedlings as possible. It works really well!

Was It Worth It? Yes! Now I don't have to wait until July for my zinnias to bloom and will hopefully have ground cherry plants this summer. Plus, I get to start my day checking on my seed trays while drinking my morning vat of coffee.

Project: I planted 260 discount daffodils and Dutch iris in January, thanks to a ridiculously warm winter. I extended the width of my front garden beds by three feet to accommodate the bulbs and my ongoing redesign of the front landscaping. I'm planning on filling the bed with annual vinca this summer.

Results: Some of the bulbs are up, but not all of them. Those that don't come up this spring will hopefully come up next spring. A few of the daffodils are blooming and more are pushing up every day. Now that we're almost past daffodil season, I love the surprise of unexpected blooms.

There are still a lot of daffodils pushing foliage up through the soil. Purple Dutch iris are interplanted with the daffs. Naked lady lilies are planted at the very end of the bed near the lamp post.

Was It Worth It? Yes!! Even though the bed definitely doesn't look the way I had imagined it last January, I'm confident it will be bursting with bloom next spring. The work is done and I have years of enjoyment ahead of me. Plus, it was incredible to get to work in the garden in January!!

Project: I really wanted a pond in my garden but didn't have access to an electrical hookup to power a pump. I considered a container pond but didn't have a way to winterize the container and didn't want to risk cracking  an expensive ceramic pot with our usual winter weather. The solution was to sink a container into the ground and create a tiny in-ground pond. It was also exponentially cheaper than a regular pond. I bought muck buckets and feed scoops at a farm store, dug a big hole, lined the hole with carpet squares, and stuck in the buckets. I submerged bricks into the pond and added potted plants that would grow to cover the edges of the buckets. My goal was to attract frogs to the garden and grow aquatic plants.

Variegated water celery, dwarf horse rush, and a 'Fried Green Tomatoes' lobelia live in the frog pond. I'm hoping the water celery will spread to the point that it covers some of the edges of the muck buckets. Feed scoops hang over the edge of the buckets and provide a 'shallow end' for the frogs. This summer I'm going to float tiny balls of barley in the water to help control algae. Hornwort lives submerged in the water to keep it oxygenated.

Result: The pond and the plants all made it through the winter. Yay! A friend who lives close by brought over a bunch of  frogs that have been hiding a lot but making enough guest appearances that I think they're still in the pond. I also added mosquito fish that I think may have been eaten by the frogs. On the advice of one of the plant specialists at our local garden center, I added guppies to the pond to eat the mosquito larvae. Guppies get along well with frogs and won't go after tadpoles. But between our low night temperatures and several blackbirds who have been using the pond as their own personal fishing hole, I think the guppies have been eaten or froze. The pond is definitely a work in progress.

A chartreuse heuchera brightens up the edges of the pond. It survived total neglect in a pot last summer and I needed to find a spot for it in the garden so I stuck it between the rocks and soil at the edge of the garden bed near the dog run. I'm not sure the name of this cultivar, possibly 'Lime Rickey' but it's tough as nails!!  When I was filling in the hole around the buckets, I created areas for the frogs and toads to hibernate under the ground cover sedum and heuchera.

Was It Worth It? Yes!!  I love having aquatic plants in the garden and can add more guppies when it warms up. When the water is warmer they'll be faster and better able to evade the blackbirds. I was really excited to see the native leopard frogs peeking out the water and sunbathing on the rocks. I turned the driest, most inhospitable spot in my garden into a teensy frog pond. Even the little birds like to hop around its edges. I love it!


  1. Great progress on your projects, and your delight in creative experimenting is infectious! Those daffodils will fill in and spread next year and beyond, and I completely get the effect you're going for. It will be such a bright early spring spot. Here's hoping your frogs are happy.

  2. I never thought of something like that for a pond. Great idea! I'd love to get some frogs here also. You've been very busy with your seed starting. Hadn't heard about the foil before but that makes a lot of sense.

    Cher Sunray Gardens

  3. I love your little pond idea. We have a large pond by our garden, and the frogs are the best garden helpers! They love snacking on all those pesky bugs that like to munch on my veggies.

  4. Well done with your projects. I've had frogs in the garden for a number of years now. I always presumed that they came from a nearby pond. But last year I discovered they were home grown, when I found some frog spawn in the bottom of a self-watering trough. Love your Dicentra, by the way.

  5. I would love a little pond for frogs! I too have been stymied by lack of an electrical outlet, so your idea interests me. I like the new extension to your front garden beds. Gardens do have a way of growing, don't they? I am always delighted to see a daffodil, especially this late in the year here.

  6. Thanks for the update on your pond. I was curious how it made it through the winter and it looks like it's a roaring success. Even though the birds ate the fish I would still count that as a positive because the birds have obviously found the water and are making best use of it. Once the plants grow too they'll hide the fish a little better.

  7. I like your little pond in the ground. I've thought about that too, but I'm not sure I could make it work. I have whiskey barrel "ponds" on my deck that are favorites of the birds and, oddly enough, racoons, but no frogs (not surprisingly). Mosquito fish work for me and survive better than the goldfish I originally had (some got eaten and at least one committed fish suicide by jumping out of the barrel!)

  8. You're having wonderful success with your garden projects, aren't you? I love your variegated water celery. I've seen it at the nursery but never bought it. Maybe this will be the year. Thanks for the inspiration!

  9. You have such a fun approach to gardening! I like the resourceful way you used a plant pot, wine(?) bottle and other miscellaneous objects to help prop up one of your lights in the seed starting experiment.
    Gardening is always a bit of trial and error isn't it? Yesterday, I was working around our DIY fountain and noticed, with dismay, that there was a very foul smell is emanating from the reservoir pond under the fountain. It is definitely time to clear it out! We located the fountain in the semi-shade, which was in hindsight, a bit of a mistake. I seem to have a problem with dark mould growing on the damp concrete. Like your little pond, this project is turning into a learning experience.

  10. Love your Bleeding Hearts at the top of the page. I am so lazy when it comes to seed sowing. I did do some winter sowing outside this year, first time. The flat blueberry containers were too bright and they dried out too plants. The milk carton and vinegar bottled ones did well. Will have to collect some more cartons/bottles for next winter.
    Be careful with that variegated water celery...had some in VA and boy did it spread!

  11. Casa Mariposa, great review of your projects! Your seedlings look strong and healthy and I am sure they will bring you much joy this year. A bed full of bulbs is just wonderful. Your naked lady lilies look really good, mine are way smaller and have less leaves. Last but not least having a pond in a garden is great and is certainly attracting wildlife. We only have an unloved swimming pool (didn't build it, came with the house!), but it is used by two ducks as a pond since a couple of days :-)! Looking forward to seeing how your projects evolve even further!

  12. I love the mini-pond! Maybe that's the best size water feature for me, too. Great idea! Beautiful specimen of a Bleeding Heart at the top of your blog, too! Mine are just starting to bloom and I wonder what three nights of frost will do to them. I can't cover everything, so I decided to focus on the Peonies. I love Dicentra, so I hope they make it through.

  13. I appreciate the update of your projects. Your zinnias will be up in no time! I love what you did with the pond and it sounds like the frogs do too. My friend has a pond and while having dinner in her backyard w can hardly hear each other for the frog orgy going on! Never a dull moment in a garden :).

  14. CM, I am so excited qbout the way the pond turned out. I have been wanting a pond and frogs but it seemed daunting and I wasn't sure where to put it. A little one like yours, still hospitable to frogs, and even simple enough for a unconfident dumb at anything except actual gardening person like me to be able to do. So thanks for the inspiration. The rest is up to me ... cheers, cm

  15. Your bleeding hearts are gorgeous! Love your idea for the little ponds for the frogs. I'm going to have to try that. Hope you're having a good week.


  16. You have been very busy. I like starting things early as well to get a jump on the growing season. We have been thinking about adding a pond...we go back and forth. A friend of mine installed one last year, and she loves it. Someday I would like to get a greenhouse big or small. I may start with a cold frame. I like your set up very much...may even be easier.

  17. Flower bulbs and creative gardening = happiness. :) Your Japanese Bleeding Heart is spectacular.


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