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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tap Into Garden Outreach at Tagawa's

The wonderful folks I work for at Tagawa Gardens aren't the type to toot their own horn. So I've made a command decision, and I'm going to do it for them. Here goes: Tagawa's has the most extensive Garden Outreach program in Colorado, and quite possibly, in the entire country.

And what is "Garden Outreach?" As Tagawa's Garden Outreach Ambassador, I'm glad you asked.

Garden Outreach is Tagawa's way of taking the amazing expertise of our staff, about 700 years total gardening experience among our year-round employees. We combine that with examples of the plants and products we carry and offer the whole package to the community as Outreach.

Schools, church groups, garden clubs, private businesses, service organizations, retirement homes, senior centers... You name it, and my Garden Outreach partner Mary Ann (a.k.a. "Grandma Mimi") and I have done it. We visit many of the places for free. It just depends on the type of organization. Businesses, for example, pay a small fee. With non-profits, there's usually no charge. If you're a 501c3, the trip is on Tagawa's dime. Neat, huh?

What ever do we talk about?

Easy! We demonstrate and talk about pretty much any gardening or nature-related topic you ask for. (I did one time decline an invitation to discuss phytoplancton. Not my strong suit....)

Mimi and I have traveled as far north as Broomfield, as far south as Monument and as far east as the wilds of Elbert County. (I'm crazy about the terrific folks in Elbert County. They couldn't be nicer!)

Garden Outreach programs don't have to be "out." If space is available, we're happy to host interested groups right here at Tagawa's. The work of a garden center will continue around you. There may be a little noise from a load of plants going by, or occasional pages on the P.A., but that's part of the fun! We think of it a genuine garden center ambiance.

Tagawa's Outreach program also has a growing history of helping service organizations raise money through our Garden Outreach Gift Cards. Groups can plan a class or demonstration and sell gift cards at the same time. And it's way easier than organizing a bake sale!

Topics, please....

Okay, I'm going to take a deep breath and list just some of the items from our Garden Outreach "menu." Here goes: Indoor Holiday Plants, Holiday Porch Pots, Holiday Baskets and Decorations, Late-season Container Gardens, Growing Veggies in a Pot, Indoor Herb Gardening, Low-water Gardening, Fairy Gardens (for kids of all ages), Composting in a Worm Bin, Helping the Honey Bees, Coping with Wildlife, and Birds, Bees and Butterflies. The list goes on and on. And we're wide open to "special requests," too. Just ask (as long as it's not about phytoplancton).

Mimi and I also do several classes just for school-aged kids. Good Bugs and "Bad" Bugs, Backyard Birds, Pond Life, Animal Defenders and many more. We can incorporate topics the kids are currently studying at school with "real life" lessons. And for the pre-schoolers, I have a cast of zany puppets that can keep the kids smiling and learning at the same time.

Why do we offer Outreach?

Beth, Tagawa's general manager, is quick to answer: "Tagawa's takes pride in offering the best plants, products and service possible. But we also want to be the best neighbor we can be for our community and our environment. It's a priority!"

Our Outreach Program played a role two years ago in helping Tagawa's become the first Veriflora certified sustainable garden center in the county.

Plan ahead!

We at Tagawa's are proud of the fact that our Garden Outreach Program is proving to be a great success. The enthusiasm we've seen and heard from the groups and organizations we've served comes through loud and clear.

So we take it as good news that groups now need to plan ahead if they want to reserve a particular date on the Outreach schedule. Making the arrangements is easy. The person at the helm of Outreach is Michelle. She can juggle a calendar like no one I've ever known. You can reach her by calling Tagawa's main number: 303-690-4722, extension 107. Ask for Michelle in Outreach or leave her a message. She'll take excellent care of you. She can also fill you in on the Outreach Gift Card can help your group raise money.

Don't be shy!

We'd love to hear from you at Tagawa's. If you're tired of booking the same old topics for your organization, do something different!! Let Tagawa's Garden Outreach program help make your next gathering shine!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Time for Amaryllis and Paperwhites

Whether you go all out with your holiday decorations, or not so much..... the beauty of amaryllis and paperwhites is hard to beat. They'll add charm to an elaborate holiday display, or a bright touch of elegance to a more low-key setting. And there's a bonus: both amaryllis and paperwhites are easy to grow, and waiting for you now at Tagawa Gardens. This is a perfect time to start them!

Part of the appeal of an amaryllis is watching it grow. Once they start sprouting, the giant bulbs can easily put on an inch of growth in a single day. I used to send a bright red amaryllis to my grandfather every Christmas. He was frail and didn't get around much, but he was always anxious to tell me that if he stared long enough, he was sure he could actually see that stem get taller and taller. It had been a long time since he'd been able to garden, but the amaryllis brought some of the old joy of gardeneing indoors.

Amaryllis come in a wonderful variety of colors: red, salmon, pink, white and stunning bi-color mixes. The giant flowers look like lilies. Each bulb will produce one or two hollow stems. Three to four huge flowers will emerge from the top of each stem. What fun!!

So where do you start? At Tagawa's, of course!

Tagawa's has a wide variety of amaryllis bulbs to choose from. Some are sold loose in bins, so you can pick exactly the bulb you want. Other amaryllis come boxed with a pot and soil included, and make a great gift.

The bigger the bulb, the bigger the flowers it will produce. Makes sense. And the planting takes about two minutes... no more!

Amaryllis like to be a bit crowded, so a pot just a couple of inches larger than the bulb is perfect. The pot has to have good drainage. Soggy soil is a sure way to rot the roots of an amaryllis.

You can set the pot with the drainage into a nice designer pot. The heavier container will give the plant stability as it gets taller, and more inclined to tip. Just remember to take the amaryllis out of the designer pot when you water it and let the excess water drain away before you put it back on display. This can help protect your furniture, too, and avoid the need for a saucer.

Amaryllis do best in good quality potting soil.... something loose and airy.
Fill the pot half way with the soil, set the amaryllis into the pot, then backfill with the remaining soil until only one third of the bulb is still showing. Water the bulb well, then set it in a warm room and don't water it again until the first shoots are a couple of inches tall. Bright light will keep the plant from getting leggy. Give the plant a quarter turn each day to keep it straight.

Next you wait... but not for long!

You should see your amaryllis begin to grow within a couple of weeks after planting. Depending on the size of the bulb, your amaryllis will take about eight weeks from planting to flowering. Larger bulbs take a bit longer. The bud stalks usually emerge first, followed by the leaves.

Water your amaryllis when the top of the soil is dry to the touch.... always remembering never to let it sit in standing water. Once the flowers have begun to bloom, keep the plant in slightly cooler conditions, even if it's just overnight, to help the blossoms last longer.

And there's more, if you choose....

When the flowers finally begin to fade, remove the stalks with a very sharp knife an inch or so above the bulb. Continue to nurture the leaves with bright light and feeding a gentle fertilizer (5-10-5, for example) twice a month. The amaryllis can even go outdoors in the summertime to give the leaves a chance to "bulk up" the bulb for next year's show. You may need to stake the leaves they get floppy.

Once the leaves die back on their own, store the bulb, pot and all, in a cool place for a couple of months. Water it just a bit to keep the soil from completely drying out.

And next fall, start all over again!


You can also choose to enjoy your amaryllis this season only, and then toss it out. If this is your preference, why not grow an amaryllis in a special glass vase that lets you see through to the lovely tangle of roots.... one more way to enjoy these fascinating plants.

Paperwhites are just as easy!

Tall, elegant paperwhites have been a winter and holiday tradition for years, and for good reason. It's easy and inexpensive to start several paperwhites in a shallow bowl of small rocks, marbles or decorative stones. The reward comes four to eight weeks after planting, with petite white flowers that look like tiny daffodils.

Tagawa's sells pre-rooted paperwhites for no additional charge. Gently transfer the bulbs to your own pot or tray, and watch them take off! The bulbs can sit on top of the pebbles an inch apart, just barely nestled in. Leave the bowls of paperwhites in a bright, cool room until the shoots appear, then move them into direct sunlight to keep them from getting leggy.

You water them with what?

Another trick to keep the leaves and stems slightly more compact: booze!
Specifically, any of the clear distilled spirits like gin, vodka or tequila.
The alcohol serves as a growth regulator that keeps the plants more compact.

Kris, one of Tagawa's amaryllis and paperwhite experts, offers the following instructions: Water the paperwhites normally for seven to ten days. Once the shoots are two- to three inches tall, replace the plain water with a diluted alcohol solution.

With any clear distilled spirit ranging from 40 to 80 proof, use one part of alcohol to seven parts of water. Use this solution for all further watering of the paperwhites. Kris says the result will be plants that are about one-third more compact, with flowers just a large, long-lasting and fragrant as usual.

Why not plant now?

Amaryllis and paperwhites can be grown indoors so easily. The only challenging part is making sure that you buy the bulbs while they're available, like now, leading up to the holiday season.

Whether you grow them for you own home or give them as a lovely holiday gift, amaryllis and paperwhites from Tagawa's are a terrific way to make the season an especially sweet time of year.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Do your lawn a favor. Aerate and fertilize!

The timing couldn't be better. Mark-the-Aerator-Man has a date with my lawn this week. And right on cue, Mother Nature has delivered a nice soaking storm. The moisture in the soil will help Mark's machine (and Mark, of course...) pull lots of lovely aeration plugs of out of the lawn.

If your area didn't get this weekend rain and snow, a deep soaking from your sprinklers will work just fine. Either way, the lawn should be well-watered to make the aeration effective.

We want holes in our turf? You bet!

A deep core aeration will help open up the top few inches of this lovely Colorado clay that so many of us like to complain about. That means less compaction and more air for your lawn's root zone. A little "breathing room" can be a very big deal if you're a root.

Increased air circulation helps fight the different types of fungus that can be so hard on our lawns. Greater air flow near the soil surface reduces the higher humidity that the fungal spores need to thrive. The spores are there in our lawns anyway. That's a given. Our goal is to make the spores' job of reproducing as tough as possible, and aeration can help us do just that.

And there's more!

There are lots of benefits from aeration besides increased "breathing room" for your lawn's roots. For example, when you apply your fall fertilizer after you aerate, those helpful little grains of nutrients can reach even farther into the soil when they drop down into the aeration holes. It's as if you're giving them a two- to three-inch head start.

As long as your lawn is still green, it's a great time to ferilize. Tagawa's Garden Experts at Dick's Corner can recommend just the right lawn food. There are several that do especially well here. "Colorado's Own" and "Richlawn Winterizer" are among Tagawa's recommended choices. They're slow-release, which is just what your lawn needs. Apply the fertilizer at the recommended rate, then water it in well. Fall fertilization is a big deal, so don't neglect that piece of the puzzle!

Aeration can also be helpful if you're over-seeding a lawn. Again, the aeration holes can capture some of the grass seed and help "baby" it a bit so it doesn't dry out as quickly. Tagawa's has several kinds of grass seed in bulk so you can buy just what you need for your particular setting.

By the way, there are two schools of thought re: the aeration plugs. Do you leave them where they fall or rake them up? I'm adhere firmly in the "leave 'em" approach myself. The plugs have lots of nutrients that will break down and go back into the soil. Besides, I can always find more pressing gardening chores than raking plugs. But gathering up the plugs and recycling them to another part of your landscape is fine, too.

Spring and fall, that's all!

My first couple of years as a Master Gardener convinced me that aeration is one of the best things we can do for lawns here. I make a point never to aerate in hot weather. That would be too much air circulation and moisture loss during an already-challenging time. But Mark-the-Aerator-Man knows to expect my calls every spring and fall, when the weather is cool.

Despite a host of other challenges.... less than ideal soil, hot dry winds that make gardening "interesting," and more dog traffic than I care to mention, my lawn rarely has problems.

I'm convinced that the secret to having a strong, healthy lawn starts with some T.L.C. in the fall and the spring. Good care in between (including winter watering, which we'll talk about down the road a bit) is important, too. But if you've had problems with your lawn, and don't aerate regularly, you might want to change your routine. There's a very good chance your lawn will thank you.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Wonders of "Plant Select"

Any chance you're interested in perennials that are colorful, but still Colorado tough? Trees and shrubs that look right at home with a Rocky Mountains backdrop, but still have enough eye appeal to turn heads? How about ornamental grasses that seem exotic, but perform like veterans in this challenging climate? Details of these gardening temptations and dozens more are the focus of Plant Select.

What is Plant Select?

Plant Select is a remarkable program run jointly by Colorado State University and Denver Botanic Gardens along with in-put from landscape and gardening professionals, like our experts here at Tagawa Gardens.

Plant Select's goal is to find plants that thrive from the High Plains to the intermountain regions. The program is now in its fourteenth year of promoting plants that are under-used, under-appreciated, and in some cases, virtually undiscovered until they enter the Plant Select evaluation process.

Most of the Plant Select winners need only moderate to very little watering, once they're "established." That generally means they need a couple of seasons of growth to develop the robust rootsystem that will help them become drought-tolerant. The Plant Select varieties are largely low-maintenance and fairly pest-free.

For example....

Okay, let's talk specifics. One of the 2011 Plant Select winners that's on the top of my "must have" list is "Grand Mesa" beardtongue. Here is the official Plant Selection description: "Stunning cobalt blue spikes in early spring last for nearly two months. Dense mat of evergreen rosettes turn a lovely orange-red in winter." I mean really. Who wouldn't want a few of these in their garden?

Like all Plant Select winners, Grand Mesa beardtongue had to survive a three- to five-year testing and review trial before it could even be nominated for inclusion. If the plants don't make the mark, they don't make the list.

Another 2011 winner that will find its way home to my garden: "Blonde Ambition" blue gramma grass. Plant Select calls it "An impressive highly ornamental form of Western native grass with tall, upright stems. Showy chartreuse, aging-to- blonde seed heads hold their straight shape and are displayed high above the foliage through the winter." Need I say more?

A Mix of Old and New

Some of the Plant Select winners have been around for a while, but simply haven't received the attention they deserve. One of this year's winners is Partridge Feather. It's soft and silvery, but tough as nails. My 110-pound black lab, ("Jake," just for the record) used it for years as a bed during his afternoon nap. Jake is gone now, but the Partridge Feather has never missed a beat. It's still big and thriving, and sends up tiny yellow flowers which you can keep or snip off, depending on your preference.

Let's not overlook Plant Select's great list of trees and shrubs. One of my favorites (now growing happily in my back yard) is "Hot Wings" Tatarian maple. What a stunner! It has brilliant red samaras. We called this sort of winged seed "helicopters" as kids. The Plant Select description says "Hot Wings' scarlet red samaras contrasting with the rich green foliage gives it a "Christmas in July" appearance. Slow-growing, but worth the wait.

Need design help?

You're in luck! Plant Select offers beautiful pictures of a variety of free, downloadable landscape plans and ideas. The illustrations help you see what plants play well with eachother, and show exactly how to contrast colors and textures for a lush, natural-looking garden.

Where to next?

Your next stop should be at the Plant Select website, http://www.plantselect.org/
Pictures of all of the winners, their latin names, their mature size and growing conditions and several landscape plans are laid out in a very user-friendly way.

Or just come see us at Tagawa's. We have dozens of the Plant Select winners, with plenty of advice and encouragement to help you get up and running on your own impressive Plant Select garden.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

What's a "Pack Trial?" Glad you asked!

If you've never heard the term "pack trial," no problem. The veteran plant experts and Tagawa Gardens know all about them, and they use that knowledge every spring to help make your Colorado garden the best it can be. Pack trials are special displays of thousands of new and improved plants... mostly annuals, but some perennials. The pack trials that are of the greatest interest to Tagawa's are held every spring in California. And what a show it is! This event is officially called the Spring Trials by the gardening association that organizes it. This year's trials have just wrapped up. Kris and Jere, Tagawa's Annuals and Production Managers, are now back in Colorado... their heads spinning with the names and images of "must have" plants for Tagawa's customers. More than forty plant breeders and growers hosted fellow members of the green industry this year. Jere and Kris picked the crem de la crem to visit during their week-long stay to see which new plants and planting ideas showed the most promise for Colorado gardens. Here are some things to look for, either this growing season or next. Both of our experts were impressed with a new tomato called "Tomaccio." Kris says it's a sweet raisin tomato with an intense sugary flavor. It can be picked fresh or left to dry on the vine. Wow! Even if the plants aren't available for this summer's garden, Kris hopes to have some samples of the fruit for "show and tell" during Tagawa's "Tomatopalooza" in late summer. I can't wait! Also impressive: a new pink poinsettia. "Big deal" you say? Well listen to this. The grower offering this poinsettia is hoping to see these pretty pink plants used at baby showers, wedding showers and in mixed containers. Stay tuned! Both Jere and Kris give a "hats off" to Proven Winners, an on-going favorite of Tagawa customers. Proven Winners is working on some new colors for their Callibrachoa Superbells, including a plant called "Cherry Star." The flowers are a dark cherry-pink with yellow stars at their center. And more Callie Superbells with names like "Sweet Tart" and "Tequila Sunrise" are in the works. A product you'll definitely be seeing at Tagawa's this spring is called "Wooly Pockets." It's vertical or up-right gardening as you've never seen it before. Wooly Pockets won the "Best of Show" award at last year's Independent Garden Center convention. Tagawa's staff will be happy to show you Wooly Pockets, then it's up to you to let your imagination run wild! Tagawa Gardens works closely with Ball Horticulture, one of the most innovative plant breeders in the country. Ball is always a favorite stop for our crew on their Spring Trials visit. Kris and Jere were both grabbing for their cameras when they saw Ball's garden bed of Osteospermum "3-D." Kris says these African Daisies do, indeed, look three-dimensional! They come in lilac, white and blue, and have large centers with double petals that don't close at night or on cloudy days. These will definitely be a "must have" for African daisy fans. Also this season or next, watch for a new Echinacea or coneflower called "Double Scoop Raspberry." They should be a perennial in Zone 5, which covers much of the front range. The list of great new plants on display at the Spring Trials goes on and on.. a bush-type portulaca or moss rose called "Happy Hour," a new gazania that is a perfect Bronco orange, a large begonia called "The Big Whopper," and a new petunia called "Pink Lemonade." Some of these plants may be available this season. For others, we'll have to wait 'til next year. But rest assured: Jere and Kris and many more plant experts at Tagawa's are always "out there," doing their homework, to make sure our customers can choose from the best and brightest ideas in the world sof gardening.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tagawa's "Enchanted Gardens"

Those of us who work at Tagawa Gardens routinely think of this as a magical place. But there's even more magic here than you might suspect! One section of our huge garden center holds the stuff of tiny fairies and gnomes and woodland spirits that can capture the imagination of kids... and kids-at-heart. I'm talking about Fairy Gardens.... miniature landscapes that require little more than a few plants, a few props and a sense of fun. Tagawa's has the plants and props. You bring your sense of fun and adventure, and you'll be amazed at what you can make. The tiny worlds we know as Fairy Gardens have been around for a while in up-scale settings and professionally-managed landscapes, but they've never been more accessible to home gardeners (and their children) than they are now. In fact, a Fairy Garden birthday party is a great way to celebrate your child's special day in a unique way. (Contact Tagawa's Outreach Department for details.) Tagawa's sells Fairy Garden kits that are ready to assemble, or you can pick and choose your own container and decorate it with accessories from our extensive display. Like any container garden, your Fairy Garden will need to have adequate drainage so the soil doesn't retain too much water. Shallow containers a few inches deep work best to keep the plants' root systems a little confined. That helps keep the plants from growing so big they're hard to manage. Make sure to use a top-quality soil. Tagawa's experienced staff can recommend brands of container soils that we know and trust. A variety of plants that fit the proportions of your container will make all the difference in creating a tiny garden that truly looks like a landscape in miniature. Choose plants with different leaf color and texture. A twelve-inch-square garden might have three plants.... one to give height and serve as your "tree," and maybe two or three more shorter plants to help fill things in and give your fairy hideout its personality: woodland garden, country garden, seaside garden.... whatever you like. Just make sure the plants you choose have similar requirements for light and water. In other words, don't put a cactus next to a fern. They won't play well together. Fairy Garden plants might be small houseplants or herbs.... low-growing groundcovers,,,, even moss. Our staff will be happy to help you with your selection. Remember that most Fairy Gardens will appreciate some bright light, though probably not strong afternoon sun, to be their best. Before you take your plants out of their tiny pots, arrange them this way and that until you find just the design that suits you. Remember not to put in too many plants. You'll want to save plenty of room for accessories that create just the right setting to please even the fussiest gnomes and fairies. Tagawa's has a delightful selection of charming fairy-sized tables and chairs, arbors, gazebos and gateways, fences, birdhouses and beehives. I promise: you'll have a hard time choosing! And by all means, don't forget the fairies and gnomes. Big... small.... simple... elaborate. Perch them on a little bench or next to a small "pond." Fairy-sized pets are welcome too. Tagawa's has tiny dogs and cats, frogs and turtles.... dragons and unicorns... a whole zoo of Fairy Garden critters. You can also add finishing touches from Mother Nature: tiny pinecones that look like trees, or rocks that appear to be boulders. Sticks and dried foliage from your "real" garden can look right at home in a fairy landscape,too. Your Fairy Garden plants will need watering whenever the top inch or so of soil dries out. Any watering can with a soft, gentle spray will work nicely. Avoid fertilizing your fairy plants. You want them to stay small and in proportion. Frequent trimming of the foliage will help keep them in check, too. As a finishing touch, how about a little "fairy dust," (also known as glitter...). Come see Tagawa's big Fairy Garden, complete with a castle and walkways tiny plants of every shape and size. And browse through our Fairy Garden display. Listen carefully, and you might hear some tiny voices, asking for a garden of their own in your home.