Spring has Sprung, They Say

Azalea Blossoms

Azalea Blossoms

Today is March 20th and the first day of Spring. We’ve been remiss in these cold weather months to keep detailed notes on our garden plants because normally, nothing exciting happens in South Carolina winters. Leaves fall, pinecones fall. That’s about it. However, this winter, we had ice. I’ll show you some pictures in an upcoming post. It was amazing to see this type of ice sitting on our plants, but they all managed to survive.


Since today is the first official day of spring, I took a few snapshots of our newly sprouted azalea flowers. Nobody has told our dogwoods yet about spring, but our azaleas are starting to get the word out. So, are your plants realizing that spring has official sprung?

Travertine Terraces….I wish this were in my garden

Blue cyan water travertine pools at ancient Hierapolis, now Pamukkale, TurkeyPamukkale, Turkey is the home of an amazing geological feature – travertine hot spring water terraces that cascade down a hillside. Pamukkale translates to “Cotton Castle” and if you see photos of this area, you will understand why. Travertine, a form of limestone sedimentary rock, precipitates from the hot spring water and forms these amazing ledges where the water accumulates. Your can read more about this stunning feature at the Mini Me Geology website.

Blue John’s Cavern Novel Released


Blue John’s Cavern is a new book from the owner of Mini Me Geology. Mixed with adventure and a little science fiction, this new novel is perfect for young readers.

             BLUE JOHN’S CAVERN
A Crystal Cave Adventures Novel

Emma and Brody are two normal thirteen year old kids living in the small town of Diamond Falls, West Virginia. When Brody introduces Emma to Mr. M, a famous geologist who lives across the street, they have no idea that their lives are about to dramatically change. Mr. M is preparing his prized rock and mineral collection for display at the state museum. One night, he arrives home after dinner to find his house open and his samples destroyed. Eager to help restore the collection, Emma and Brody offer to find new samples for the aging geologist. Mr. M accepts their offer but little do they know that he is about to send them through a time portal in a crystal cave back to Castleton, Derbyshire, England in 1775, to recover the rare Blue John Fluorite. With the help of a young girl named Max, the kids have to get the fluorite samples without being seen by the gun-carrying soldiers that guard the cave and then find their way back to the present before they are imprisoned forever. This adventure will be a test of their courage and bravery, but also their mystery solving skills as they try to figure out a secret that entwines Mr. M and Max. Trust me when I say this though, it won’t be easy.

Successfully Split and Replant Peonies in Your Garden

peonyPeony shrubs have large, fragrant flowers and live for many years. As they become crowded, you can split and replant the divides in your garden.

Peonies are perennial flowers that live many years. Large, fragrant flowers that bloom with a in a variety of colors characterize these plants. Common peony colors include white, cream, pink, rose, red, yellow and coral. Over time, these plants will grow large and begin to crowd the adjoining shrubs or perennials. When overcrowding occurs in your garden, you can split the peonies and plant part of the plant at a new location.

When to Split Peony Plant

Peony plants can become crowded in their original locations after 10 to 15 years of growth. Generally, these plants do not like to be split or replanted; however, if you need to reduce overcrowding, split the plants between August and October. Peony plants need time to establish their root system before the winter cold so that they can bloom the following spring. If you do not allow enough time between splitting and the winter months, the plants may take two seasons to begin to bloom again because these flowers take a long time to establish themselves in the garden.

How to Split a Peony

You can successfully split and transplant a peony using proper planning. Before you begin, pull the topsoil from around the plant and inspect the shrub for pink nubs, called “eyes.” The eyes are the new shoots that will grow and produce flowers the next season. Plan your split so that each portion of the new plants has three to five eyes. To create the split, dig around the plant to loosen the roots. You can dig the hole up to 12 inches away from the plant to ensure that you do not damage the roots. Use a sterilized shovel or knife to cut the plant into sections such as halves or quarter, depending on its size.

Plant Spacing and Depth of Split Shrubs

Choose a new location for your peony that is approximately two to three feet from adjacent shrubs. Dig a new hole that is up to 12 to 18 inches deep and 18 inches in diameter. The depth of your hole will depend on the size of the roots. For soils that do not have sufficient nutrients and organic matter, you can add up to four inches of organics and one half cup of a balanced fertilizer into the bottom of the hole. The soil amendments should fill approximately half of the planting hole. Place the new peony plant into the hole so that they eyes are no more than two inches below the land surface then backfill the hole with soil. Water the peony after planting and keep it watered as the roots reestablish themselves in the new location.

Planting Tip for Successful Splits

Peony plants do not usually like transplanting, but there are a few things to do as you split your shrubs to ensure success. Before you replant the split, remove any dead branches and apply a fungicide to roots. The fungicide will help protect the plant from fungus and root rot. Choose a location for your new plant that has good drainage, full sun exposure and a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Watch your peonies closely as spring arrives for new flowers. If your plant does not begin to flower, the eyes may be too deep. You can remove some of the topsoil to assist blooming. You can also plant your split shrubs in containers. Just like garden shrubs, keep the containers is a cold area during the winter months to encourage spring flowers.

Image courtesy of USDA.gov

Growing Black Raspberries in Your Home Garden

Black Raspberry Image_2Black raspberries are a popular garden fruit in home gardens across the country. These Blackcaps produce abundant sweet, medium-sized berries in the summer.

Raspberries are popular garden fruits. Black raspberries, Rubus occidentalis, initially grow a red color that changes to black as the berries ripen on the vine. Native to North America, many black raspberry cultivars have smaller berries with more seeds than the other raspberry color varieties and a sweet and strong aroma. The tops of the black raspberry leaves are green while the underneath and stems are white with many prickles. Some black raspberry plants are called Blackcaps in the northern states.

Area Location and Hardiness

Black raspberries are not as cold hardy as other color varieties of raspberries. While varieties of black raspberries grow in most states, they grow better in warmer climates. Most black raspberry plants are summer bearing plants that are hardy in USDA Zones 5 through 7. If you live in areas with harsh winters, plant your black raspberries after the last frost and protect the plants in subsequent years from cold winter weather. Temperatures that dip below five degrees Fahrenheit may cause the plant to become damaged or die.

Position in Your Yard

Choosing a garden area for black raspberries in your yard may require a little planning. These raspberries enjoy a sunny location that has a slightly acidic soil with ample nutrients and good drainage. Before you plant the black raspberries, collect and analyze soil samples from your yard to determine the best location. If none of your potential garden areas have the correct pH and organic matter content you can amend the soil. Ideally, your garden soil should have a pH of 5.5 to 6.5 with at least three percent organic content. If necessary, you can add organic matter such as sphagnum peat or lime to raise the pH and sulfur to lower the pH. Add fertilizer if the nutrient levels in your soil is low according to the soil test. Generally, a 10-10-10 fertilizer is appropriate for black raspberry gardens.

Planting Space

The garden area in your yard should be large enough to accommodate the plants. Black raspberries grow suckers from the base of the plant and, therefore, do not spread as other color varieties of the fruit. Before you plant the black raspberries, measure your garden to ensure that you have adequate spacing to plant the raspberries 2.5 to 4 feet apart and in rows that are approximately 8 to 12 feet from one another. If desired, you can use a low, hill system trellis to support the plants and improve production.

Popular Black Raspberry Cultivars

New varieties of black raspberry plants were introduced in the early to mid-1900s. Today, you can plant several popular cultivars in your home garden. Popular varieties include the “Jewel,” “Early Sweet,” “Blackhawk,” “Allen,” “Haut,” “Bristol,” and ‘Munger.” Black raspberries produce crops in the summertime and ripen just after many of the red varieties. These raspberry plants produce sweet tasting fruit that is medium in size, attractive, and good for recipes and freezing.

Image courtesy of USDA.gov

Splitting, Propagating and Pruning Your Hydrangeas – Controlling Growth and Expanding Your Garden

Hydrangea bushYou can expand your hydrangea garden by propagating or splitting your shrubs as they grow. You can propagate the shrubs using an existing plant. To propagate the hydrangea, choose a branch that is close to an open area in your garden. Strip the bark from the branch in a 1-inch wide strip all around the branch. The stripped section should be 6 to 12 inches from the end of the branch. Bury the exposed part of the branch in the soil and allow the end of the branch to extend out of the soil. A new shrub will grow from this buried branch. This method works best for Bigleaf hydrangeas.

You can also split your hydrangeas by digging part of the large plant out of the ground and replanting it in the garden. You can split moderately sized plant in half or split very large shrubs in quarters. Use a sharp knife or shovel to cut the shrub through the root area. Follow the original planting instructions when you replant your splits.

As your hydrangea grows, you can prune the shrub to control their size. Many hydrangeas grow on old wood, so pruning immediately after they finish blooming in the summer will help the hydrangeas develop old wood between early fall and the next spring. Take care as you prune your hydrangeas that you remove less than half of each branch. If you prune the hydrangeas too much, you might damage the plant and inhibit their ability to bloom the following summer.

Image courtesy of USDA.gov

Caring for Your Hydrangeas – Planting, Watering and Feeding Your Flower Shrubs

Hydrangea Ruby FlowerHydrangeas grow well if you plant them in the fall so that they have time to establish themselves in the garden before spring growing and flowering. If you are planting new shrubs, follow the spacing and planting method recommendations provided by the grower for best results. Hydrangeas slowly establish their roots after planting; however, the grow speeds quickly after the root system is in place. Ideally, choose a shady location for hydrangea bushes. If you cannot avoid sun, choose a spot that has morning sun and afternoon shade.

Hydrangeas benefit from regular watering and feeding. You can use commercially purchased fertilizers, such as a complete 10-10-10 or use an organic fertilizer such as manure. Yellow leaves on the plant indicate that the hydrangea is low in nutrients and will benefit from an application of fertilizer.

If you have Bigleaf hydrangeas, keep in mind that fertilizers that are low in phosphorous will allow the hydrangea to absorb aluminum and produce blue flowers. Ideally, applications in May and July will help your hydrangeas produce the showiest flowers throughout the season. Place the fertilizer along the drip line around the circumference of the shrub. Water the hydrangea shrubs after you apply the fertilizer and every week during the summer if your area does not received at least one inch of water routinely. Older hydrangea bushes may become moderately drought tolerant, however, you should continue water the plants for maximum growth and flower production. Beginning in August, hydrangeas begin to prepare for the fall and winter months. Therefore, do not apply fertilizer to the shrubs after the fall preparation begins.

Image courtesy of USDA.gov

Hydrangeas – Beautiful Flowers for Your Home’s Exterior and Interior

Hydrangea_USEHydrangeas are a group of deciduous shrubs, vines and trees famous for large clusters of showy flowers. These fast growing plants are so versatile that they can serve as single specimens, in a group or as container plants in hardscaped areas. In zones 4 through 10, you can grow beautiful hydrangeas in your garden to add color and texture to your property then pick a few to use indoors fresh or dried floral arrangements.

Bigleaf hydrangeas, also known as French Hydrangea, have large clusters of pink or blue flowers that can change color depending upon the pH of the soil. The pH affects the availability of aluminum in the soil and alters flower color. Acidic soil, with a pH of 5.5 or lower the flowers will be blue. Hydrangea flowers with a pH of six or greater with have pink flowers. These hydrangea shrubs grow to heights of 3 to 6 feet and have a mounded appearance. The weight of the flower clusters may weigh down the branches, adding to its rounded look. You can find these hydrangeas with two distinct flower clusters types. One type is a ball-shaped cluster of small flowers and the other is a lacecap with a ring of flowers around a fertile flower center. Bigleaf hydrangeas bloom from late spring to early summer.

Oakleaf Hydrangeas are characterized by large, oak leaf shaped leaves and clusters of white flowers that change colors in the fall. These hydrangeas grow to heights of six feet, with 8-inch leaves and clusters of flowers that can reach almost a foot in length. The leaves turn from green to a bronze color in the fall while the white flowers turn to shades of pink. The Oakleaf hydrangeas have a similar round shape as the Bigleaf varieties and bloom in early to mid-summer.

PeeGee Hydrangeas can grow as a shrub or a tree. As a shrub, the plant can grow to heights of 10 to 15 feet. Tree PeeGees can be up to 25 feet tall if you prune them into a tree shape as they begin to grow in your garden. PeeGee hydrangeas have 5-inch leaves and large cone-shaped clusters of white flowers that are heavy and weigh down the branches. Similarly, to the Oakleaf varieties, PeeGee hydrangea leaves change to bronze color in the fall and the flowers change to pink. This hydrangea variety often blooms after the Bigleaf types.

Climbing Hydrangeas also have 6 to 10-inch clusters of white, lacecap flowers. The climbing vines have small, 2 to 4-inch round leaves. The vine bark will begin to peel as it ages and has a dark orange hue. The fragrant flowers grow along the vine, which can reach lengths of 60 to 80 feet. Hydrangea vines can grow along brick walls, wooden fences or masonry building materials.

Smooth Hydrangeas are one of the smallest hydrangea plants standing at only 5-feet in height. These shrubs have oval leaves that are 4 to 8 inches in length. The flower white clusters are very heavy and will bend the branches toward the ground. You can provide support to the flowers to keep them off the land surface. Smooth hydrangeas bloom throughout the summer.

Image courtesy of USDA.gov

A Yummy Geology Lesson

This post originated over at www.MiniMeGeology.com and we thought it was a fun idea to pass along to you! This is a yummy geology lesson that you can do with your kids while it’s too cold outside to start planning this year’s garden.

chocolate chip cookie with a bite outWhat can be yummier than chocolate chip cookies?  Well, they are a cool metamorphic rock experiment too!  Baking cookies is a great way to observe what can happen when a rock is metamorphosed because of high heat (like contact metamorphism).

This experiment is an easy way to describe metamorphic change to children because they can see that the raw and baked dough are the same ingredients that are changed by heat. All you need is your favorite cookie recipe. Each ingredient is a “mineral” that is mixed together with other minerals to create a cookie rock. When you expose the cookie dough to high heat in the oven, the dough turns into a metamorphic rock cookie!

This experiment is included in our Metamorphic Mystery Rock Detectives Kit.

Cranberries: More than Just a Tasty Salad Ingredient (but it is that too!)

public domain photo by Keith Weller | USDA-ARS

Harvesting Cranberries. Public domain photo by Keith Weller | USDA-ARS

As you sit down at the Thanksgiving table this week, you probably know where and how most of your food is grown and prepared. One part of the meal that always baffled me is the cranberries. Those guys in the Ocean Spray ads stand in water surrounded by cranberries, but certainly, I thought, they don’t just float there and grow. So I decided to do a little research and find out for myself how those morsels of yummy goodness found their way into my marshmallow and whip cream salad.

As it turns out, it all began with glaciers! Yes, that’s right all of you fellow geologists out there. We can thank those big ice sheets for our cranberry salad. Many, many years ago, glaciers carved out areas and deposited layers of clay, gravel, peat and sand. Many of these areas are now wetland bogs and marshes that are full of fresh water. The North American variety of the cranberry is named Vaccinium Macrocarponis and is grows on a trailing vine in these bogs. The plants are rooted in the glacial deposits in the base of the bog and the vine floats on the top of the water.

Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin grow the most cranberries in the country. While many growers will tend to their bogs by adding layers of sand every few years, the cranberry vines are perennial and can live for years. You can read more about the growing and harvesting at the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association.

So, enjoy your Thanksgiving and your cranberries. And, you need my Grandma’s cranberry salad recipe with marshmallows and whip cream, just give me a shout.

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