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Jim's Towing Service
September 6, 2002     Cape Gazette
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September 6, 2002

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JOURNAL Tend this plant from the second floor Thousands of years ago, the an- cient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) was the first to sci- entifically study the dolphins. In his "Historia Animaliunl'" (The Histo,'y of Animals), Aristotle was the first to correctly notice that dolphins were mammals like us. Aristotle noted that like humans, dolphins bore their young alive, suckled their young, breathed air and communicated vocally. Also like humans, dolphins are playful and smart. Dolphins fascinated the sea-go- ing Greeks so much that when they came upon a flower whose buds were shaped like a dolphin, they bestowed it with the name it has today, delphinium. Later, the English would see in the same flower, not dolphins but flowers that resemble the spur Of a lark's foot, the larkspur. We usually classify the perennials as delphini- ums and the annuals as larkspur. Delphiniums are tall flowers with many florets clustered along the spikes. The individual flowers usuallyhave a darker "'bee" on them that contrasts with the usual colors of white, cherry, lilac, dark blue and light blue. Delphiniums can reach upwgrds of l0 feet; indeed, in Alaska there are reports of delphiniums grow- hag to the rooftops, allowing gar- deners to tend the plants from the second story window. A more likely height is between 5 and 8 feet. Such tall flowers can add height and interest to your beds, even if you live on the ground floor. These sentinels are best used in sheltered spots to avoid wind damage. There are several good mixes of delphiniums such as Pacific gi- ants, a justifiably popular and reli- able strain that blooms in the sum- mer from an early sowing. It pro- duces strong spikes of mostly semidouble blooms across a wide color range. Pacific fountains bloom early summer and reach 3 CAPE GAZETTE, Friday, Sept. 6 - Sept. 12, 2002 - 57 GARDEN & FARM I Delphiniums are tall flowers with many florets clustered along the spikes. The individual flowers usually have a darker "bee" on them that contrasts with th6 usual colors of white, cherry, lilac, dark blue and light blue. to 4 feet tall or even taller. You can grow delphiniums by seed, division and cuttings. Take softwood cuttings in spring. The plants really don't divide well, but sometimes your luck will hold and you can gently split an existing clump with a spade. So you can either start with potted plants that are usually available in spring, or start your own seeds. To grow from seeds, it's a good idea to pre chill the seed for about a week in the refrigerator. Also be. sure your seed is fresh, seeds that are even two years old might not germinate. Sow the seeds indoors in fiats 10 to 16 weeks before you want to set them out. You can also sow directly in the garden after all danger of frost has passed: It will take about two to three weeks at 70 to 80 degrees for the seeds to sprout. Total darkness is neces- sary for germination, so be sure the seed is lightly covered with soil. Indoors, always use a disease tree special potting mix to prevent diseases. Delphiniums like rich, well- drained soil. Add lots of compost and aged manure such as sheep manure. Delphiniums prefer slightly alkaline soil with a pH be- tween 6.0 and 7.0 but will tolerate most soils. You might want to top dress with lime and compost every spring. Delphiniums are heavy feeders which means lots of fertilizer throughout the season. For best results, you'll want to keep their feet cool, so mulch thickly. Use straw, leaves or what have you, three or four inches deep. Deeper if the mulch is very loose. The mulch will keep the roots moist and cool but not wa- terlogged. In cooler climates the plants prefer full sun, but tolerate half a day of sun. Where summers get very hot, above 95 degrees, use some sort of shading to protect the plants from the hottest part of the day. Planting under large trees al- s o helps cool the ground. Since these flowery sentinels get quite tall you will probably want to stake them. Cut back after their first bloom and you will get another bloom in the fall. Cut each spike down to about six inches above ground af- ter flowering. Reduce water, but don't let them dry out. When new growth starts, gradually increase watering and give them a boost of liquid or- ganic fertilizer. Avoid fertilizing late in the season so that the del- phiniums can get ready for winter. In the fall, simply cut back to about 6 inches and mulch heavily with four or five inches of straw or leaves. Whether for indoor blooms or as accents in the-garden delphini- ums are stately perennials that once established are actually easy to grow. They even respond well to gardeners who talk to their plants, and if the days are espe- cially cool they, like their name- sakes the dolphins, just migh t talk back. Paul Barbano writes about gar- dening and farming from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Address questions or comments to him c/o the Cape Gazette. Backyard compost bins are available Folks who are tossing vegetable scraps from the garden into the kitchen trash or gathering grass clippings for the weekly garbage pick up are throwing away a valu- able commodity that can help the soil's structure. Leaves, grass clippings, yard debris, used tea-bags and coffee grinds, vegetable scraps and soapy water from the dishwater basin can be mixed in the back- yard making your present soil bet- ter for growing plants. Composting these organic ma- terials from the yard and house- hold is good for the environment. Composting enhances the natural breakdown or decomposition of these renewable natural resources. Adding this dark brown earthy material to your landscape can help sandy soils retain more mois- ture and heavy, clay soils become less compact, enhancing drainage capabilities. Compost helps to control surface soil erosion, sup- presses weed growth, helps con- serve moisture, protects plant roots from sun and wind damage, and makes vital nutrients more easily available to plants during their growing process. To help turn organic matter into a soil amendment instead of adding bulk to our municipal solid waste landfills, the Mid-Atlantic Composting Association is offer- ing backyard composters to all in- terested individuals. These round lightweight black plastic bins are made from recyclable materials and measure about three feet tall and three feet in diameter when fully assembled. Small bolts, pro- vided with each kit, help secure a circular structure. The entire wall area is perforated with holes pro- viding internal/external air ex- change. Each compost bin sells for $10 and can be obtained al:th University of Delaware-Kent County Cooperative Extension of- rice, just south of the DelDOT ad- ministration office in Dover, Route 113. Oxygen, or air, is a critical com- ponent needed to help break down organic matter into finer sub- stance that can then be added back into the garden or yard iricreasing the nutrients needed for plant growth. Other critical compo- nents that help organic material decompose into compost are: wa, ter, nitrogen and carbon. Water provides for a moist environment and can be eitfier slowly added by hand if the composting material becomes too dry, or is provided naturally when 'live' plant materi- Continuedqn page 58 ! I