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Originally published June 23, 2010 at 7:00 PM | Page modified June 24, 2010 at 2:59 PM

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Giant feather grass — Stipa gigantea — adds color and texture to the garden

Garden writer Ciscoe Morris suggests planting giant feather grass (Stipa gigantea). After the summer solstice gardeners can cut back a bit on watering garlic. It is about time to harvest cole crops.

Special to The Seattle Times

Invite a graceful giant into your garden.

Ornamental grasses are known to bring texture, softness and movement to the mixed border, but one of the most striking and unusual of ornamental grasses is so spectacular, it can stand alone as a specimen.

Giant feather grass (Stipa gigantea forms an 18-inch graceful hummock of arching evergreen gray-green leaves. Then in late May to early June, flowering spear-like stems shoot up to over 6 feet tall before opening to reveal airy 10-inch golden panicles that glow in the sun and shimmer in the slightest breeze.

Native to dry, sun-baked mountainsides in the Spanish Pyrenees, its no surprise that this tough but beautiful grass is drought tolerant and prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Plant giant feather grass where it gets back lit by the sunset and watch the feathery flowers light up like golden torches.

Reduce watering on garlic

The size of the garlic bulb is determined by how many leaves grow in spring. Hence starting in March, it's important to keep garlic well watered and fertilize regularly with high nitrogen fertilizer, such as fish or bone meal, every two weeks to promote rapid growth.

After summer solstice when the days begin to get shorter, however, leaf growth ceases and bulbing begins. Stop fertilizing and reduce the frequency of watering to about once per week.

Cut off any flowering stems to prevent them from stealing energy from the forming bulb. As the bulb increases in size, individual leaves will begin to die off and it's time to harvest when three to four leaves remain on the stem. If you wait to harvest until only one or two leaves remain, the covering may get too thin and allow soil to get in between the cloves making it hard to store and use for cooking.

After harvest, cure the bulbs by drying them on a screen or hang them in bunches in a moisture free, well-ventilated shady area for about two weeks. After that, you can braid softneck garlic into bundles or in the case of hardneck garlic, remove the stems and hang in mesh bags in a dry location at room temperature.

Softneck garlic is generally milder, and can be stored for up to six to eight months, while hardneck has a higher zing factor, but usually lasts for only around four months in storage.

Harvest broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage on time

If you planted your cole crops in April, it should be about time to reap your rewards.

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Harvest broccoli when the florets are good sized, but before the flower buds begin to open revealing the yellow flowers within. Cut the stem 5 or 6 inches below the floret at a 45-degree angle. Side shoots will form from just below where you made the cut to form smaller heads for prolonged harvest.

Cauliflower should be harvested just when the florets begin to separate and have a rice-like appearance. Don't wait too long to harvest or the head will be tough and less flavorful.

In the case of early maturing cabbage, you need to squeeze it once it forms a head. When the head feels firm, it's time to harvest. You'll know you waited too long if you see the head burst open in the garden. Rather than digging up the plant, cut just below the head with a sharp knife. Early maturing cabbage often grows smaller side heads that you can harvest when they become firm.

Ciscoe Morris: ciscoe@ciscoe.com. "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING-TV.

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