The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook – Plant Selection

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“Heucherella” – I am including this photograph to illustrate a point… This was an empty pot when I got it… Tagless and destined for the dumpster… An inspection of the roots revealed life and a crown was clearly evident after some minor digging… I took a chance on it and several others…

Plant Selection

This post is part of a larger body of work titled ”The Guerrilla Gardening Guidebook”. For the introduction and table of contents please click here

A tough subject to write about for the guerrilla gardener, often the deciding factors end up being cost and availability. Given the high likelihood that the garden will be destroyed faster than it was created, I recommend starting with the cheapest plants available. A garden that survives through the first or second year can then be considered for nicer plants, but only after passing the test of time. Trust me when I say that if someone really wants to mess with your garden, there is very little you can do other than use plants that can survive regular abuse.

Stick to the tried and true plants, do not choose the newest cultivars or craziest colors. Plants that are considered tough in their original “un bred” state, can become extremely finicky when you get into the special cultivars. An example of this is Echinacea, look through any catalog and you will find dozens of colors and bloom styles. Although the Native Echinacea purpurea is a “bomb proof” plant perfectly suited to the harshest conditions you can throw at it, almost all of the new cultivars are extremely finicky and have little resistance to all but the most controlled garden environments. These finicky cultivars should be avoided until you have a good idea of the space you are gardening, if some “old school” flowers survive and flourish in the location, then, and only then should you consider adding some flair.

Plant acquisition is a surprisingly straight forward task, step one is taking all of the plant magazines you receive in the mail and throw them straight in the garbage. Plant porn has no place here! Step two is being patient, greenhouses and box stores order much more stock than they could ever possibly get rid of. Given the recent surge in dumpster diving hipster trendiness, dumpsters are being padlocked or waste stored indoors until right before pick-up. My suggestion to you is to find a manager and ask if he would be willing to sell you any plants destined for the dumpster at a discounted rate. More often than not they will be happy to do this, and will typically let things go for pennies on the dollar. This method is typically most effective in the off-season, in the peak sales season discounts are much less due to demand.

SingleRed

“Single Red” – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – With bulb planting season mistakenly thought of as being only the month of October… Discounts can be found anywhere that stocks them…

Guerrilla gardening often forces a gardener to perpetually study plants, in doing so we often learn tricks pertaining to specific plants and planting methods. Fruit trees for example can be bought for next to nothing anytime other than early spring, I am always asked if it is possible to plant a fruit tree in the middle of Summer… Of course you can… If the choice comes down to leaving a tree in a pot until spring or just planting it as soon as possible… The answer will always be plant it…

For my permaculture based article on rehabilitating discount plants click here

Seeds are another method of getting plants, about mid-summer the prices drop to next to nothing. Not many people realize it, but seed packets have expiration dates on them. A secret about that date is it is really only there to force the stores to buy new seeds each year, think of it as a sell by date. Although seeds lose viability with age, many are perfectly viable long after the expiration date.

The last source of plants I am going to quickly talk about is friends sharing. Gardeners are typically proud of what they have, many of us love our plants so much we won’t throw out our divisions. Those divisions often only cost the time it takes to tour a garden, an early lesson you will learn is people like to share plants. Trading can also be effective, always have a few divisions potted up just in case opportunity comes calling… A plant given away today often returns ten fold in the future…

The next few chapters will each deal with different types of plants and their uses in the guerrilla garden…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

This site… And all the photographs and information presented within are provided free of charge by the author… I am not affiliated with any product or business… Only myself… Writing this blog takes a ton of time… If you find any of this information helpful, please consider purchasing a print from my online store… It is obviously not a requirement… But it helps…

I sell prints of my photography here – http://www.society6.com/chriscondello Or you can contact me directly at c.condello@hotmail.com for commissions or locally/personally produced prints… Thank you for reading…

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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Practical Permaculture – Caring for Herbaceous Perennials

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“My Walkway” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Heliopsis literally means sun “helios” appearance “opsis” in Greek…

July is the time of the year I switch out of planting mode… Although I will still do some planting as the summer progresses to fall… My main priority is now focusing on maintenance…

As with any plant… Perennials have their likes and dislikes… Some are more adaptive than others… However… For the best results… Provide a perennial with its preferred growing conditions, paying particular attention to the soil type and sun exposure. Water your perennial beds if rainfall is scarce… Mulch the soil well to retain moisture, slow down weeds, and keep the flowers and foliage free of dirt. Fertilization should also be considered, it should be done once or twice a year for best results.

Once you have provided the ideal growing conditions for your perennial plants, and annuals for that matter, there is little else you can do for your plants. Perennials are not difficult to grow, but they will be extremely rewarding for years to come if you just take a few simple steps to ensure that they look and perform their best.

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“Brightening Blight” – © chriscondello 2013 – The Garden Table Urban Garden – Rebecca Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Daylily are not the fastest selling plant a nursery typically stocks… It is not uncommon to purchase a potted plants that is so root bound it appears as if the soil is gone… The secret to dividing this plant is to put the root ball on the ground… And with some pressure roll it back and forth… This will typically untangle the root mass in just a few moments…

Staking

Some perennials need to be staked so they grow straight and tall instead of flopping over on their neighbors. Staking also prevents plants from being broken by the wind and rain or weighted to the ground with heavy blossoms. The staking method should depend on the form of the plant. The best stakes are inconspicuous and easy to install… Green or brown material look best. Position the stakes early, before the plant needs them, so the foliage grows up and around the stake, making it inconspicuous.

Tall plants with slender, unbranched flower stalks, like foxglove and Delphinium, call for individual stakes to support each stem. Drive a bamboo or wooden stake into the ground besides the stem and loosely fasten the stem to the stake with a loop of twine. As the plant grows, add more ties at one foot intervals. The length of the stake should be three-quarters of the plants final height.

Clump-forming plants with many bushy, branched stems, such as aster, Shasta daisy, and chrysanthemum, can be supported with a ring of twine that’s attached to three to five steaks positioned around the clump. As the plant grows, add higher rings of twine in one foot intervals. The stems and flowers will bend outward and rest on the twine, covering it naturally. As another alternative, support the plants with small, twiggy branches cut from small trees or shrubs, a strategy called pea staking, or brush staking.

Staking your plants really isn’t an exact science, tons of products are available on the market including many “tomato-cage” style products. In all honesty, the tomato cages bought at the store are great for staking herbaceous perennials and annual flowers… But not tomatoes… My favorite tomato cage product is heavy-duty rebar mesh available at any construction supply store. This stuff is heavy-duty, will last five to ten years, and is tall enough to actually support a tomato plant throughout the entire year.

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“Tomato Soup” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – Once established… These plants are extremely drought-resistant thanks to the fact that this plant can send a rather beefy taproot deep into the soil… I have seen Echinacea grow upwards of four-feet tall when grown in more shade than sun…

Cutting Back and Pruning

You can help tall, lanky plants grow more compactly and possibly avoid the need for staking by pinching them back. In spring, when summer bloomers such as balloonflowers or milky bellflowers are about eight inches tall, break off the growing tip of each stem by snapping it between your fingers or cutting it with handheld shears.

Late-summer and fall-blooming plants, such as asters, can be cut back twice. To make them bushier and lower, cut them back by half… First when they are four inches tall and again at sixteen inches tall. Chrysanthemums need to be pinched at two-week intervals until midsummer for prolific blooming and to keep them compact… Simply use your fingers to break off the tips of the stems above the first or second set of leaves.

You may also want to prune back some perennials after they bloom to tidy up or simply reduce their height. If a plants foliage looks shabby from mildew or exhausted after blooming. Cut it back to the base as long as you see new growth. The new stems will produce healthy, fresh foliage. Use hedge shears to cut back masses of stems and foliage.

Pinch or rub off side flower buds or branches of perennials such as peony, chrysanthemum, and hibiscus to channel the plants energy into a few large blossoms rather than numerous small ones. Remove the extras while they are mere suggestions of buds. This debudding practice creates larger, showier blossoms.

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“Anne Arett” – © chriscondello 2013 – Micro Hosta – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – So my girlfriend and I collect Hosta… But we especially love the mini and micro varieties… This particular flower is from the “Anne Arett” Variety… It is lime green… And the leaves are thin and frazzled like the famous “Electrocution” variety… Which we also grow…

Deadheading

After perennials bloom, cut off faded flowers or flower stalks unless they will produce decorative seed heads. Deadheading keeps the garden tidy and directs the plants energy into its roots and leaves than into seed formation. If you are trying to propagate your plants, let them go to seed and do nothing… Nature will take over… Cut leafy flower stems right above the foliage for a neat appearance… Cut off leafless stems at ground level.

Removing spent flowers encourages more flowers… For example, pinching off the blossoms of balloonflower and coreopsis as they fade encourages more flowers to appear on the same stems, lengthening the blooming period. Cutting off the entire spent flower head on garden phlox or delphinium encourages side branches with a flush of new flowers a month after the first. If you don’t know if a plant will rebloom after deadheading, try it for crying out loud… That’s how I’m learning… Oh yeah… Then send me an email…

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“Green Jewel” – © chriscondello 2013 – Whitney Avenue – Wilkinsburg, PA – An all green variety of Echinacea… Just one of the many colors of Echinacea that are being released every year…

Dividing Perennials

Most perennials, with a few exceptions, slowly decline in vigor unless they are divided every few years. Plant division rejuvenates the plant, and it provides more plants. Replant the divisions near one another so they make a dramatic drift. Or, plant them in a different location and establish a new bed.

As a general rule of thumb, divide spring-blooming plants immediately after they flower. Divide summer and fall bloomer in early spring when they have around three inches of fresh top growth. However, in the south, southwest, and Midwest, it’s advantageous to divide spring and summer bloomers in the fall so they can readjust in the cooler weather as opposed to the blistering heat associated with summer in these particular localities. Wherever you live, divide plants at least four weeks before stressful weather arrives, so their roots can have a chance to resume normal growth.

Some plants, such as Shasta daisy and chrysanthemum, have shallow, fibrous root systems. Once the clump is dug up, you can pull it apart into many sections with your hands. Other plants, such as astilbe, have tough, woody roots that grow in a tangled mass. Study the top growth to locate the individual crowns, then drive the tip of a spade between the crowns, cutting the clump into sections.

To minimize the damage to the root systems of fleshy-rooted plants such as daylily and hosta, use garden forks to divide them. Insert the forks back-to-back in the middle of the clump, then pull the forks outward, prying the clump into two pieces.

Fast growing plants will need to be divided more frequently than slow growers. A plant’s appearance tells you when it needs dividing. A clump resembling a doughnut, with active growth on the outer edges, but a dead center… Needs to be divided.

Before replanting the divisions, replenish the nutrients in the soil. Fork over the soil and add organic material if available… Basically, just don’t put the plant back in the same soil that caused the problem. Plant divisions as soon as possible to protect them from drying air and sun. If you can replant immediately, “heel in” the division in a temporary site or a pot… Covering the roots lightly with moist soil… Until you can plant… Water newly planted divisions and mulch the soil around them…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

I now have prints available to purchase online… You can find them here – www.society6.com/chriscondello – This site… And all the photographs and information presented within… Are provided free by the author… Me… At one time I had considered asking for donations… But that’s not me… So I have decided to sell prints of some of my photography… It is by no means a requirement… But it helps… If you have a few minutes to check them out… Then by all means… Please do…

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Practical Permaculture – The Art Of Planting A Fruit Tree

Plum

“perfectly Plum” – © chriscondello 2013 – Hamnett Place Community Garden – Wilkinsburg, PA – Plums may have been one of the first fruits domesticated by humans… Three of the most abundant cultivars are not found in the wild… Only around human settlements… Plums have even been found in Neolithic age archeological sites along with olives, grapes and figs…

 I have touched on the subject of planting fruit trees before…

https://chriscondello.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/practical-permaculture-planting-and-early-care-of-fruit-trees/

That is the article if you are interested in reading it. This post is meant to be a detailed description of all of the steps involved on the actual day that your tree will be put in the ground. Given the popularity of my last couple of tree related posts, I figured a new post about trees would be a suiting 20,000 views celebration.

So when is the right time to plant a tree? I typically answer with 10 years ago… But the second best time is right now… That statement is surprisingly accurate… Though there are “best”, or recommended times to plant trees, it is always best to put a tree in the ground instead of letting it sit in the pot. I am a realist, I recognize that not everyone is able to purchase, yet alone plant a fruit tree in February. I want to be very clear here, you can plant a tree anytime of the year… There are times of the year that are better than others though… But regardless of season… You can plant trees…

Trees come from the nursery in three common forms, bare root, balled and burlapped (B&B), and potted.

Bare root trees are commonly purchased through the mail to facilitate cheap shipping. I have found that when you order a bare root tree, they will only ship it early in the spring in accordance with the proper planting time. If you happen to receive your bare root trees before you can plant… You can put it in a bucket of water for a short period of time… Like a week or two… Any longer than that and I would recommend potting it up… Or burying the roots in a temporary mound of soil… Don’t leave it to long though as it will take root and become very difficult to remove…

Balled and burlapped trees are dug from a field taking care to not damage the roots, afterwards the roots and soil are wrapped in burlap for transport. As long as the rootball is kept moist they can be held for a year or two… Though I don’t recommend that, it is possible. Balled and burlapped trees can be planted anytime of the year, anytime you plant a tree with leaves on it you can expect some stress… Every effort should be made to ease the trees transition when planting off-season… Or anytime other than spring before the tree has leaved out…

Potted plants are probably the easiest way for the home gardener to buy trees, when the roots slip out of the pot easily, stress to the tree is at a minimum. Often times, nurseries will run sales on trees during the middle or end of the summer. For me to tell you to hold that tree in the pot for the entire winter would be a joke… No matter what form you buy your trees in, just plant the thing.

Choosing the proper location for your fruit tree is a relatively easy process, though much of the literature available tends to convolute the shit out of it. If you follow a few general rules, you will plant it in the right spot each and every time.

Start your observations early in the morning, pay attention to where the sun rises in your specific location. In urban environments, all day sunshine is at a premium, the choice is almost always between sunshine in the morning or sunshine in the afternoon. Morning sunshine is always better as the heat has a chance to accumulate all morning, then slowly dissipate in the afternoon and night. Afternoon sunshine on the other hand only starts heating the surface around lunchtime, this results in solar warmth affecting the tree for the latter half of the day, this energy is then quickly zapped from the earth after the sun goes down. Whenever it is an option, always choose morning sun… Always…

A common question I am asked is whether or not a tree can be planted in shade, and as always my answer is yes. But it is extremely important to remember that a tree intended for sun, will never produce as much fruit as that same tree would produce had it been planted in full sun. Some permaculturist would argue with me until the cows come home, but many old-timer farmers would agree with me 100%… In my own personal experiences with gardening and farming… When given the choice between “old-world” and “new-age”… Always go with the old-world… They knew their shit…

I was at one time going to write an article about how to dig a hole, believe it or not, people google it all the time. Well, you start with a shovel, and you end with a shovel… Depending on location, you may need an axe for roots, or a pick mattock to remove stones and bricks. Either way, you just stick a shovel in the ground and move dirt… Remember… Manual Labor is not the president of Mexico… A little old-timer advice for yah…

Tree planting depth is another common question, although the answer is simple… There are a few variables to consider. Seed grown trees will develop a root flare where the trunk meets the soil. Regardless of how deep you think you should plant that tree, if a flare is present, that needs to be at the surface of the soil.

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“DogLeg” – © chriscondello 2013 – Hamnett Place Community Garden – Wilkinsburg, PA – This is a photo of the graft union on a pear tree… The bottom is the root-stock and the top is the scion… This union needs to stay exposed for the life of the tree… As this tree grows… This union will eventually look like a straight trunk… But it will still need to remain exposed…

Grafted trees are a little different though, they have a special requirement that is absolutely detrimental to the overall survival of the specific tree. A grafted tree is made up of two distinct parts, a rootstock and the scion, or top of the tree. The rootstock is an entirely different tree than the top part on a grafted specimen, typically a tree that does not produce good fruit… But instead is dwarfing, disease resistance, or a combination of the two.

Where the rootstock joins the tree is known as a graft union, it will look like the knee of a dog. It is absolutely imperative that the graft union be planted a few inches above the soil line, and do not mulch above this line a few years down the road. The top of a grafted tree does not necessarily enjoy having to suck its water and nutrients through a foreign body, when given the opportunity, the top of a grafted tree will almost always attempt to root itself… If it happens to be successful… The tree will ultimately reject the rootstock… And all of the traits of the rootstock will be lost… An example would be a dwarf apple tree that is only supposed to get 11 feet tall… Could possibly grow to 40 feet… I have seen it happen on more than one occasion…

A common permaculture practice is to plant stuff under trees, a fine practice though I do have a caution to consider when planting under your fruit tree. Any plant that gets close enough to the trunk to touch it has the ability to cause great damage. Not only does the shade and moisture created heighten the possibility of fungus, disease or rot, it also greatly raises the possibility of your tree sending roots out from above the graft union. groundcover and thick vegetation will act the same as if you simply mulched over your graft union, this will almost always cause your scionwood to root… Ultimately rejecting your dwarfing root-stock…

If you are having issues sighting your tree planting depth, place a branch or board across the hole, then place your tree accordingly. Take into consideration mulches that will be applied in the future, you can never cover the graft union… ever… It is important to remember that a rootstock is just a rooted cutting, there is no root flare. As long as the roots are underground on a grafted tree, it will grow fine… You could technically plant a bare-root grafted tree with the union 12 inches above the soil line… As long as the roots are buried… Also a grafted tree does not send out a tap-root… So temporarily take that word out of your vocabulary…

When you put your tree in the hole, do your best to spread the root out around the inside of the hole. If all of your roots grow to one side of the tree, and that side takes on a heavy load of fruit, the tree will probably topple. I personally like to fill my hole with as much original material as possible, I may amend slightly, but never more than 20%… And I really wouldn’t do more than this unless it was completely stone.

My thinking behind this is simple… Lets say you are planting in 100% clay and stone… Extremely lifeless stuff… If you refill your hole with black gold… When the tree hits the clay it will go no further… Would you?.. I feel it is much better to only mix in a little bit of organic material to your fill, and let the tree get used to the conditions at hand. In the long-term, work on your soil with organic mulches and phytoremediation…

https://chriscondello.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/practical-permaculture-plants-and-phytoremediation/

A young tree should not be overly nursed, it should be allowed to settle into your location. If your soil is clay, then replacing the soil in the small hole you are planting it in is really doing your tree no favors.

Another scenario worth mentioning, I actually observed recently. A local nonprofit planted 500 trees in Wilkinsburg, many of which are planted in the hell strip next to the road. They actually brought in heavy equipment and excavated these areas, replacing the soil with what I believe to be the 40% manure to 60% topsoil mix available at Ag-Recycle in Pittsburgh… At first I thought this was absurd, then I remembered I could only manage to dig about 9″ into our local hellstrip… Then I hit solid slag gravel… Or fill… I then realized they had absolutely no choice but to do this… Moral of the story… If you can excavate and replace a large portion of the soil with an ideal replacement, then by all means… Dig away…

But for the rest of us, replace with what you have, and slowly add to the soil… occasional leaf mulching during the summer… Comfrey and other legumes… Yarrow… Hell… I already made a list…

https://chriscondello.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/practical-permaculture-planting-under-fruit-trees/

When you have finished planting your tree, water it immediately, and thoroughly. The tree will be entering into a period of stress, the simple act of moving a tree is enough to put it into shock. You see… Conditions in your yard are rarely the same as at the nursery, wind speed, temperature, sunlight and humidity changes will affect your tree negatively… Every attempt should be made to ease the transition from nursery to yard… A good rule of thumb is to consider your tree extremely vulnerable until it resumes active growth… When you see new leaves… You can expect equal root growth… A good sign that your tree is beyond the stress phase of its eventual journey to a pie on your table… Or as I like to call it… Fruit tree Nirvana…

To sum this post up briefly… Plant your trees when you can… Spring is best… But any time will do… Likewise… Sun is best… But shade will do… Just expect to alter your approach a bit… Dig your hole twice the size of the roots you intend to stick in it… And fill it with as much of the original soil as you can… Remember to keep the graft union exposed… And water immediately after planting… And until you notice fresh growth… Fertilizers should never be applied… If a tree or plant is absorbing high levels of nutrients during a time it cannot process them… They will build up and could eventually cause damage or death due to toxicity… And that is really all there is to it… Until next time…

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.