Here in zone 8 my blueberry shrubs are loaded with fruit! I have five different shrubs, each a different variety of blueberry and they’re all ripening at different rates! I couldn’t have planned it better. Each morning and evening I pull in a handful or two of delicious berries. Looking at the shrubs I’ll manage this for another month at least!! Delightful.
Just the word builds mystery and fantasy in our minds. An ancient German forest blanketed in thick, dark green moss and black-barked trees. A tumbling of boulders, capped with orange-and-silver mosses, scattered like dominoes throughout a cheerily trickling mountain stream. A winding forest path carpeted with soft, vibrant moss leading off into the fog.
Well I can’t promise any of the above, but who knows, if you work hard enough and keep planting a few trees every year, you can achieve anything!
But this is how to achieve a moss garden. Let’s start…small! (Like moss! Come on, it was clever.)
Step One: Acquire MOSS!
Look, I know, I know. But it’s easy! I bet there’s some growing in your yard, or on the sidewalk, or on your foundation, or in your favorite park, etc, etc. Moss is EVERYWHERE! That’s part of why we love it! Just go find some moss, and gently work underneath its edge until you can pry it free of its resting place. Be nice! Moss doesn’t have roots, but it does have clinging-bits, and you don’t want to break these if you can help it. That hurts!
Also, be mindful that you don’t take all the moss from one colony. Take some, and leave most to re-populate. After all, even the tiniest of moss supports an even tinier ecosystem!
Step Two: Choose your container and layer it!
Various websites I looked at recommend a terra cota or clay container. I chose some larger, shallow plastic drip trays that I had lying around. You do you. Just make sure it’s a shallow, wide container. It doesn’t necessarily need drain holes, because moss doesn’t need to be soaked.
For your bottom layer you want something that’s going to prevent the top layer from holding too much moisture. Otherwise the moss rots. You don’t want rot, you want moss. Various websites I looked at recommend gravel or, like, tiny rocks. I didn’t have that on hand, but I DID have akadama on hand from my bonsai pursuits, so I used that. You do you. Just keep that soil layer off the bottom of the container.
For your top layer you can do some soil! It’s nice, plants like it.
Step Three: Lay down your kidnapped moss!
Yep, that’s really it. Moss doesn’t have a proper root system. It feeds by photosynthesis and by drawing nutrients from the air and the water, which it just….absorbs. Moss, man. You’ve got soil because it holds some water. There ya go. Kinda press it in gently, with the brown bit down and the green bits up. Mist with water!
Step Four: Enjoy your Moss Garden!
Isn’t it great?! Your kidnapped moss will fluff back up as it hydrates and adapts to its new surroundings. And eventually it’ll propagate by spores and fill out the container! Delightful.
Yesterday I sowed 16 Eastern redbud seeds in these containers. I scarified and stratified them and this is the final step. Last year I sowed them in March, so I’ve tried them in February this year to see if they benefit from the last throes of winter. Fingers crossed that I haven’t wrecked the whole group!
So, yes, this year is CES Jr’s fourth winter, I think. Something like that. I potted her up this past season so she’s got plenty of space for roots and insulating soil. And yes, last winter I kept her in the garage. And this winter I figured she’d probably grown enough to be okay outdoors.
And then I got scared. Tonight’s forecasted low in my area is 37 degrees Fahrenheit, and where CES Jr currently sits is shaded by the house for most of the warming afternoon sunlight time. This means it will probably get cooler there than the forecasted low, and let’s be honest how accurate are those ever, really. So I figured there will probably be some frost around or on her in the morning. But I still wanted to keep her outdoors this winter. Sooooo…….
I put a translucent plastic bag over her, container and all. In theory this should provide a greenhouse-like effect. And then, because maybe I was panicking a little, this happened.
This container holds the bonus blackberry plant that split from the larger shrub’s rootmass when I potted up all of my berries last week. I also grow blueberries and blackberries, you know. But that’s a different story. Check out my Instagram page if you want to see more about that. https://www.instagram.com/nicolerordway/?hl=en
Anyhow, I also covered up the wee bonus blackberry. You’ll notice it’s next to, but not in, my cold frame. This is because the container area I had set aside within for this winter is already full to capacity. I wanted to grow plenty of kale. Looks like, in exchange, I might have compromised some tiny plants in containers. But hopefully it’ll survive. Blackberries are notoriously good at surviving.
For an even quicker look, here’s a shout out to the website that taught me all about propagating redbud trees by seed: https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/newsletters/hortupdate/2010/jun/tree_seeds.html
I’ve noticed several people on a Facebook group I’m part of –
Ugh, this is like those recipe pages where people write a freaking novel about why they made the dish they made before they paste the recipe card square and fuck off. So I’m just gonna get to the point…WITH PICTURES!
Step ONE: collect pods! Collect the pods in autumn when they turn brown and crispy. I always collect what I can from my height and leave the rest for the critters. After all, one of the many great things about redbuds is that they feed our wild seed-eaters in the winter when other food is scarce. This technique is called responsible foraging!
Step TWO: Pop the seeds out of the pods! Sometimes you’ll be lucky and there will be a couple of seeds in a pod. Sometimes there won’t be a single fucking one! But that’s nature for you.
Step THREE: scarify the seeds! Scarifying the seeds allows moisture to enter the thick husk and hydrate the seed meat itself. You can do this after the cold period (called stratifying, more info to come) with a knife by nicking the husk gently, or with sandpaper by scraping the husk gently. OR, if you’re A PYRO LIKE ME, you can dump the seeds in just-boiling water for about a minute BEFORE the cold period (“stratifying“). I prefer this method because there is heat involved and, as mentioned, I’m a bit of a pyro, AND ALSO BECAUSE this allows you to immediately determine which seeds are viable and which ones aren’t. Seeds that FLOAT are not viable and aren’t worth your time nurturing. Seeds that SINK are viable and should germinate. After a minute in the recently-boiling water I scoop the non-viable seeds out with a spoon and drain the water from the rest in a fine colander.
(PS, I always thought colander had two L’s, but Spellcheck just informed me it sure fucking doesn’t, so we’ve both learned something today.)
Step FOUR: stratify the seeds! Get a plastic baggie or other airtight container. Dump the seeds in the baggie. Dampen your fingers under the faucet and flick a sprinkle or so of water in the baggie. Seal that fucker and toss it in your fridge and FORGET ABOUT IT until you need that sausage that you’ve been saving for a stew. Check to make sure there’s a smidgen of moisture in the baggie, and if there isn’t then repeat the bit with the fingers and the faucet, and FORGET ABOUT IT AGAIN. See, redbud seeds need a period roughly 3 months long of cold temperature (NOT FREEZING, we’re talking fridge temps not freezer temps) to properly germinate.
4A: KEY NOTES ABOUT THE BAGGIE: So listen, don’t be an idiot like me the first time I did this. Grab a Sharpie or other permanent soft-tipped marker and notate the date that you fridged the seeds and the species of tree they are on your baggie. This way you won’t come across a long-forgotten baggie in the back of your fridge years from now and wonder what the fuck these seeds are. Maybe they’ll still germinate. If they’re like my pumpkin seeds that I did this to, maybe they will. But maybe they won’t. Practice good propagation and label your baggies. Luckily redbud seeds are pretty unique-looking.
Step FIVE: sow your seeds! When the last frost has passed and your seeds have been in the fridge for at least 3 months (90 days minimum, don’t fuck around with this part), sow your seeds in individual containers of soil. You can also sow them straight into the ground, but in my zone (8A) we sometimes get a random frost that forgot it was supposed to be springtime. Having my treelings in containers enables me to bring them indoors if I need to protect them from a random frost. A cautionary note with REDBUDS: These trees develop a long taproot pretty quickly, so if you sow them in containers plan to start them in a 1 gallon size and pot up within the first growing season. I don’t have a picture for this step because I didn’t take any last year and obviously I can’t sow my seeds yet as it’s Nov 29 and they’re stratifying right now. But I trust my dear readers of horticulture and propagation tips can imagine what seeds in containers of soil look like.
And that’s it! I promise! Follow these steps and in the spring you’ll have oodles of redbud treelings in pots! For really realz! And if this somehow doesn’t work for you, please comment below so we can figure it out together.
So for me, I enjoy the growing part of gardening fine enough. But the most exciting bits are the beginning and the end: germination and harvest. And even more rewarding is being able to use what you’ve grown from seed. This year I grew (among other things) onions for the first time. I’m happy to report that the early harvest I took of the green onions has stored well in the freezer and I used it and our carrots (freshly harvested) in a bison stew.
I also harvested some larger onions later and cured them in the fridge. Today I opened the paper bag to discover that not a single one had rotted. More, they’re potent and delicious. I’m using the fresh ones in a bison skillet tonight. (I really prefer bison over beef.)
Do you grow vegetables in your garden? What do you use them in? Do you store them or use them fresh? I’d love to hear your experience! For me, I’m excited to dig into our acorn squash which should be almost done curing in the fridge.
…literally! If you have a garden in the ground or in raised beds you should consider sowing a restorative ground cover or layering the surface with thick mulch for the seasons in which your garden is dormant. For example, this year I grew acorn squash, which choked out the turf over which the vines grew. This was actually a desired effect so that I had less grass to mow. Now that the harvest is complete and the vines removed to the compost pile, there are bare patches of earth in my yard.
Bare patches of earth are bad for the microbiome in the soil and are dead zones for the precipitation cycle. They can also allow for a greater chance of disease or pests when it comes time to sow next year’s garden. Plus they’re ugly! In order to restore the depleted soil and maintain a healthy microbiome, you can apply a thick layer of mulch or, my preference, plant a beneficial cover crop.
I did the latter, and the cover crop I chose is Dutch mini white clover. Clover fixes nitrogen in the soil, which is a nutrient that squash (and all plants) consume a ton of while they’re growing. I chose the engineered “mini” clover because it will never grow tall enough to want mowing, and if you’ve noticed there’s a trend in my gardening style which is to eventually never need to mow my yard ever again.
My clover has started to germinate and it is developing very well!
I made a mistake when sowing and watered before I had pressed the seeds into the soil. This caused some of them to wash off the big bare patch of hard, dry earth and collect at the edge of the turf. But that’s okay! That just means I get to sow more clover seed!
You can leave your cover crop for just the winter if you want and then dig or till it into the soil when you plant. Gardens love clover though! It helps to prevent the soil from drying out between your other plants, and like I mentioned it fixes nitrogen. This means it draws nitrogen from the air and the minerals of the earth and makes it available for consumption in the soil. All plants need nitrogen but few fix it, which makes clover extra special. Next time you see some clover in your yard, thank it!
So you know the repotting was a success. And if you don’t, there’s a post a month or so ago about that; scroll for it!
So you know my CES Jr (or Camellia effing sinensis II) had tons of flower buds on it.
But you haven’t seen the results yet! And they’re delightful, wondrous results of big, clunky, nonscented, messy flowers that are truly beautiful to me.
And it’s looking like the best flowering season she’s had yet! Repotting this Camellia effing sinensis Jr made her very happy indeed. Here’s the picture proof:
You know, seeing the success of CES Jr now going into her…fourth year, I think, or fifth…I can’t help but think of her predecessor, my first Camellia sinensis, which didn’t make it through its first winter. There’s a line in the Witcher TV show that I think readily applies here: “Sometimes the best thing a flower can do for us is to die.” I learned a lot from my first Camellia sinensis. Heck, she didn’t even get a cute nickname like CES Jr, but she did teach me a lot about growing tea plants. I almost dishonored her memory by waiting ALMOST too long to pot up CES Jr, and then we’d have to have a CES The Third and that just doesn’t roll off the tongue as well, you know?
But just look at those glossy green leaves piling in together in a mad rush to GROOOOW. Just look at those chunky white petals and the yellow stamen (stamen? pistils?) so thick that they bust those petals right open to scream COME AT ME, YOU BEES! FEAST UPON MY NECTAR! Here are some lovely perfectly round spherical flower buds and then BAM STAMENS ALL OVER THE PLACE HAHAHAHAHA.
It’s rather a rude plant, now that I think about it. But that’s why it’s Camellia EFFING sinensis, Jr.
There’s a moral here somewhere. If you’re a budding gardener (HAHAH!) don’t be discouraged if/when your plants die. They will, you know. Guaran-fucking-teed. But don’t be discouraged. Learn from it. I learned from my first Camellia sinensis how to get my second one through its first winter; and its second winter, and its third winter because I was scared okay?! But now that she’s potted up, I think she’ll be alright through this next winter.
Nah, no, I’ll still bring her inside if it looks like a random frost. Because she’s in a pot! Yeah. Not because I’m scared. Anyway, learn from your dead plants. They’ll be very helpful ghosts.
Got some old seeds around and not sure whether they’re viable? Me too! I kept ignoring these pumpkin seeds in their mason jar for roughly 4 years and first tested them about 2 weeks ago by soaking then for a few hours. They all floated, which supposedly means they’re not viable. But I wasn’t totally convinced and figured I’d try another method: the paper towel test!
The idea here is that you moisten two paper towels and lay out the seeds between them. Seal these in a Ziploc and place somewhere warm but not in direct sunlight. I left them alone like this for about a week, and came back to surprising results!
Success! I sowed these wee plants this morning and we’re now sitting under a tropical storm warning with rain starting 2 hours before it was supposed to. They’re off to a marvelous start!