Gardening expert Ciscoe Morris offers tips on a hot ornamental grass, growing potatoes in a garbage can and using alfalfa meal to fertilize flowing plants.

Share story

Look for this great new ornamental grass at local nurseries this summer. Fortunately, it’s much easier to grow Muhlenbergia lindheimeri ‘Garden Leader Muhly Blue’ than to pronounce its name.

This drought-tolerant and trouble-free grass is stunningly beautiful. The 2-foot-tall fountain of soft bluish-gray foliage is attractive in its own right, but the real show stopper comes in fall when the leaves disappear under a bushy mass of 5-foot-long, arching purplish-pink flowers. Resist the urge to cut too many flowers off the plant even though they make great, long-lasting additions in floral arrangements. Left on the plant, the flowers turn shiny gray as they age and stay good-looking all winter. The hardy foliage remains semi-evergreen in most winters but will die to the ground in excessively cold conditions.

Try growing spuds in a garbage can. It’s fun and it’s a great way get kids excited about gardening.

Begin by drilling plenty of drain holes in the bottom of a clean, plastic garbage can. In early April, fill the bottom of the can 6 inches deep with potting soil. Plant seed potatoes just below the soil surface about 5 inches apart and water them in. As soon as the vines reach 4 inches, cover all but the top inch with soil, straw or compost. Continue the process of covering the vines every time they grow an additional 4 inches. That will encourage potatoes to grow all along the vines. Water enough to keep the soil evenly moist all season, and fertilize every two weeks with a soluble houseplant fertilizer such as Miracle-Gro. When the vines grow out of the top of the can and begin to bloom, fish around in the can for potatoes.

These “new potatoes” won’t keep, but they taste great. In the fall when the vines die back, cut them off at the top of the can. Wait a week before dumping out the can. Make sure the kids are there for the harvest because it’s always a blast to see what you get. Most years I get a bumper crop of good-sized spuds, but one year, the entire harvest consisted of only six spuds, five dinky ones and one the size of a VW Bug!

Fertilize your flowering plants with horse food. Alfalfa meal, available at nurseries, is a standard horse food, but it’s also great fertilizer. It doesn’t contain high amounts of the main nutrients usually listed on the fertilizer bag, but it’s packed with micronutrients, growth regulators and amino acids that tell your plant, “Bloom you fool, bloom!” Alfalfa meal will result in massive flower displays on roses, dahlias, clematis, day lilies and other long blooming perennials.

For a guideline, work 2 cups of alfalfa meal into the soil around an average size tea rose, and apply it every six weeks beginning in March.

Precautions: Don’t breathe the meal; it’s dusty and can clog you up. Also, be aware that alfalfa meal is somewhat alkaline, so don’t apply it to acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons, camellias or blueberries. Finally, keep the bag in a metal can in your garage or garden shed. Every mouse in Western Washington once spent the night in my garage enjoying a gourmet treat at my expense. The good news is that alfalfa meal won’t attract rodents once it’s worked into the soil.

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com. “Gardening with Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on King 5.