Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: Get Mom a vine, she'll thinks it's fine

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Jack had his beanstalk and Harvard and Yale have their ivy, but I think your mom would find clematis or climbing hydrangea to be a vine that is divine.

I recall my own mother being fond of morning glory vine. Every spring she would sow seeds of morning glory at the base of a broad and tall stump. There were many such stumps around our village as the only "arborist" in town was a handy man with a chain saw and a penchant for cutting off tree trunks at three feet above ground; his name was Walter, but it should have been Stumpy. Nevertheless, my mom's tree stump was the most colorful as she trained the morning glory vines to cover the stump so that it eventually looked like a huge blue and green beach ball.

Camouflaging an unsightly object is just one of the uses for vines. I'm sure many of us can recall seeing vines, with large overlapping heart-shaped leaves, coiling their way up wires strung between the railing and roof of a porch as a means of casting shade on porch sitters. The flowers on this vine resemble the old-fashioned meerschaum pipes once favored by smokers in Holland, hence the vine's popular name: Dutchman's pipe.

Vines are classified as being annual or perennial. Among the annual vines are morning glory, climbing nasturtium, annual sweet pea and scarlet runner bean. These are true annuals, that is, they grow from seed to maturity in one growing season. However, in the annual category are placed tender perennial vines, most of which are of tropical origin; they do not survive our winters. These include black-eyed Susan vine, passion flower, purple hyacinth bean and my personal favorite, cup and saucer vine. Among perennial vines, there are the afore-mentioned clematis, climbing hydrangea and Dutchman's pipe, as well as wisteria, trumpet vine and our native honeysuckle vine.

Needing a gift for mom on her day, give her a vine; even if a day late, she'll think it's fine.

My attempt at rhyme is intentionally perturbing in hope you'll find this list of tasks less disturbing:

- Learn the cultural requirements of plants you intend to buy. This includes the light requirements, soil pH and texture preference and moisture needs.

- Plant garden mums now. Though usually planted in fall when they can be bought while in glorious bloom, mums planted now will have an entire growing season to develop a strong root system and improve the winter survivability of the plants.

- Plant bergenia as a ground cover under shrubs. They are especially effective beneath mock orange and other top-heavy shrubs that are open around their base. The broad leaves of bergenia do a super job of retarding weeds. A couple of hybrids that I've particularly liked are 'Bressingham White' and 'Silberlicht'.

- Stop `em from floppin. Set out plant stakes in the perennial border now to keep tall perennials from being blown over by wind or rain. For shorter perennials, such as lupine, coreopsis and hardy asters, insert twiggy branches in the ground near the plants. For delphiniums, foxglove and other tall-stemmed perennials, use bamboo stakes. The stakes should be about three-quarters the height of the mature plant stem. With peonies, use a circular wire stand, or insert short bamboo stakes around each plant and create a grid with attached strings.

- Avoid mowing down spent spring flowering bulbs that are growing in lawn areas until their foliage dies back. In order to sustain bloom year after year, these plants need time to replenish the nutrients consumed in the flowering process.

- Plant some perennial vegetables in the garden. Asparagus, rhubarb, horseradish and Jerusalem artichoke are examples of perennial vegetables. Plant these along the periphery of the garden where they'll be less disturbed.

- Examine potted herbs for signs of mealybugs, aphids or other tiny beasts. Never apply chemical insecticides to these plants if regularly using snippets (technical term for healthy plant parts) in cooking. Instead, slosh plants in a solution of soapy water. Let stand for 15 minutes, and then rinse plants in clear water.

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