Tuesday, September 19, 2017

September 19, 2017, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter

Akebia - it's delicious
"Leaves fall,
the days grow cold.
The Goddess pulls her mantle of Earth around Her
as You, O Great Sun God, sail toward the West
to the land of eternal enchantment,
wrapped in the coolness of night.

Fruits ripen,
seeds drip,
the hours of day and night are balanced."
-   Mabon Sabbat and Lore

Hi Gardeners

Sadly, it’s almost here, the fall equinox, the beginning of autumn.  It’s Friday September 22, when the days and nights will both be close to 12 hours long.  After that the days get shorter more quickly and the sun slides lower on the southern horizon.  It’s a cool and kind of misty day here today but we are actually supposed to get some much above normal heat by Friday, with temperatures in the mid 80’s.

We badly need some rain here.  It’s very dry and my plants are covered with white dust from our limestone gravel road.  Everything looks kind of old and droopy.  I have been watering and watering and I am ready for some fall rains.  The forecast looks dry though, unless one of those hurricanes out there throw some rain far enough west to help us.

Last week I said there was nothing left for first bloom in the garden except my cup and saucer vine but I forgot about the colchicum, the fall crocus, which popped into bloom this week.  The flowers are pretty and much larger than spring crocus but they still kind of get lost in all the mature vegetation in my beds.  I also forgot about the tuberose, which are in a pot, and also began to bloom this week. 

I have a Lycoris radiata, red spider lily, which is sending up shoots finally.  It’s in a pot too, because it isn’t quite hardy here. With the warm weather coming it just might have time to bloom.  And that cup and saucer vine opened one flower today.

I think the hummers have begun to leave for the south.  I’m only seeing one, rather than 6-8 at a time and the feeders aren’t emptying out in a day anymore.  Suet consumption has dropped a lot too; I guess there are lots of things for birds to eat right now.

I have been watching the small leopard frogs that invaded my little water feature this spring.  There are at least 6 of them and they sure gave grown over the summer.  They started out little tiny things, now some of them are 3 inches long.  I hope they grew big on mosquitoes.

The Farmers and Old Farmers Almanacs came out last week.  I enjoy reading the almanacs but I don’t believe their weather predictions are very accurate.  I keep track of the weather, daily precip., and minimum –maximum temps and have done so for 5 years at least.   Last winter when bored one day, I compared my weather stats to my collection of old almanacs and found that they were not even near being accurate.

The almanacs both claim they have secret formulas to predict the weather but they have to have those predictions at least 18 months in advance for the almanacs to be published on time and there’s just no way predictions that far out can be accurate.  Indeed several research projects that compared weather from across the US to both almanacs predictions found them to be right only about 50% of the time, which is about the same as a random guess.  I check the official NOAA weather forecast each day- and it often changes from day to day.

Here’s how to predict your own weather, with results just as accurate as the Almanacs.  Take out a coin; decide which side of the coin will stand for rainy or snowier than normal weather and which for drier than normal.  Assign one side of the coin for colder than normal temps and one for warmer than normal.  Get out a 2018 calendar.  For each month flip the coin for once for the precipitation and once for the temperature and mark your results on the calendar.

Then you’ll need to look up the average temperatures and precip totals for your area for each month also.  The national weather service has that information.  (They also make long range predictions but warn they aren’t too accurate)  Put your averages on the calendar next to your predictions from flipping a coin. Now you can just wait and observe the weather as it happens and compare your predictions from coin flipping.  Chances are you will be as accurate as either of the Almanacs. (You might want to keep this formula locked up in a safe or metal box like the Almanacs say they keep theirs).


Eating akebia

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I had Akebia, (chocolate vine), fruit on the vine and was hoping that they would ripen before frost.  Well I lucked out.  I was walking by the garden this weekend and saw that the fruit had ripened to a lovely lavender color and was beginning to split.   I picked it and brought it inside- after getting some nice pictures of it. 

The fruits are shaped somewhat like small bananas.  They split along the bottom seam to reveal a roll of white jelly like stuff, with clumps of small white threads sticking out all over. It certainly does not look terribly appetizing, I posted a picture on Facebook and most people thought it looked like a large grub or someone said a sea urchin.

I worked up the nerve to taste it – and made my husband taste it.  Surprisingly it was very good, sweet with a flavor hard to describe, maybe melon mixed with passionfruit.  The texture was jelly like.   It did not taste like chocolate, although I had already read that it didn’t. It’s the smell of the flowers that it gets the common name from- although I didn’t think they smelled like chocolate either.

Akebia harvest
The biggest problem with it was the seeds; the jelly is loaded with small black, hard seeds, about the size of a BB. The only way I could find to eat it was to try and pick out the seeds with a fork or swallow a bit and spit out seeds.  I looked up “how to eat Akebia” but all I found was information that it was a delicacy in Korea and other SE Asian countries and expensive to buy.

I suppose one could push the jelly through a colander, which was what I eventually did to separate out the seeds to save.  I used warm water to rinse off the remaining jelly and then I spread the seeds out on a paper towel to dry on the window sill.

As soon as I set the seeds on the window sill a yellow jacket wasp appeared out of nowhere- yes in the house- and he picked up a seed and began climbing up the window screen with it.  It was too heavy for him to fly with. Evidently there was a gap somewhere along the window frame because he got above my head and disappeared with the seed.

Later in the evening after the house was quiet I heard noises in the kitchen and went to look.  I caught a glimpse of a mouse scurrying away – and saw he had eaten some seeds or carried them away.  (A trap was set for the mouse; in our old house mice aren’t uncommon.  Maybe Akebia seeds would be good bait.)

In nature it seems Akebia seeds are carried away by ants and other insects and taken to their burrows where they eat off the jelly and effectively plant the seed. The seeds must have a very compelling scent as they seem irresistible to critters. I have saved some seeds for sharing and planting.

The rind of the akebia fruit was thick, like the rind of a melon and was so pretty, the lavender outside and shiny white inside, that I tried to save and dry the rind but that didn’t work well so they went to the compost pile. 
Akebia showing seeds

I got 6 fruits this year and according to other gardeners who grow the vine I was lucky as in northern areas they often don’t set fruit.  It will be interesting to see if it fruits next year and equally interesting to see if I can get some of these seeds I saved to sprout.  (By the way there's an article about growing Akebia to the right of this blog.)

Praying Mantis- Are they good for the garden?

You often see egg cases of praying mantis for sale in garden catalogs and some gardeners believe that the little creatures are the answer for problem insects in the garden.  But are praying mantises really beneficial for the garden?  Most entomologists would tell you their presence in the garden is neutral- the benefits are erased by the costs. 

Praying mantis, probably Chinese
Praying Mantis should really be called preying mantis, because they do far more preying than praying.  These odd looking creatures are the source of folklore around the world and are even kept as pets.  There are several native species of mantis, the most common being the Carolina Mantis, (Stagmomantis carolina) which is found throughout most of the eastern half of the US and even south into Mexico.  The European mantis (Mantis religiosa), and the Chinese mantis (Tenodera sinensis), were introduced into North America with the hope they would clear out garden and crop pests.  Both of these species are fairly common across most of the US and all species are called by the common name Praying Mantis.

A mantis has a large head shaped like a triangle with a distinct “snout”.  There are two large prominent compound eyes and 3 small simple eyes most people don’t notice.  The head also has 2 antenna.  Most mantis species have a flexible neck and can rotate their heads almost 180 degrees.

Mantis have 2 large forelegs, with spikes and a claw at the end that allow them to firmly grasp their prey.  They also have 2 other sets of legs close together in the middle section of their body.  (Like most insects there are 3 segments to the body.)  Mantis have long bodies that are slimmer in males and in both sexes end in 2 cerci, tail like appendages many people think of as “pinchers”. Females usually are larger with plumper abdomens.  The Carolina Mantis can be 3-4 inches long.   

All of the common mantis species mentioned have 2 sets of wings, an outer tough, colored set and an inner, thin almost clear set.   Once adult, mantises don’t do a lot of flying, especially the heavy females. Mantis colors range from brown to green and tend to match the surroundings so they blend in and are camouflaged from their prey and things that might prey on them.

The Carolina mantis can be brown or green.  The wings of the male reach to the end of the body, while those of the female end about ¾ of the way down the body.  The females of this species are very large and plump when mature.  The European mantis is usually green, with distinctive black spots on the underside of the first body segment (chest), some of which may have a white center.  The Chinese mantis is usually slimmer and smaller than the other two.  It can be either brown or green but has a light green stripe running along the edge of the outer wings.  It can be difficult to tell the species apart, especially when they are young.

Praying mantis are predators, eating all kinds of insects and even small frogs, toads, lizards and the occasional small bird, like hummingbirds.  Usually they lay in wait for their prey, moving with remarkable speed when the victim is close enough to grab. Sometimes however they stalk their prey, moving slowly and carefully until they are close enough to grab it.  They usually begin munching the head of the victim first.  They have strong mandibles (jaws) to crush insect shells. 

Praying mantis can bite a human if provoked, but it’s not poisonous, is only a tiny prick and won’t happen if you leave them alone.  You cannot catch diseases from a mantis and they will not attack you.  The old wives tale that mantis can spit into your eyes and blind you is just that, an old wives tale.  While mantis may produce some brown discharge from the mouth when scared, they don’t spit and the discharge won’t harm you.

Because they do not specialize in any type of insect praying mantis also eat many beneficial insects including bees and butterflies which is why most experts consider their status neutral for pest control.  For every pest insect they consume they probably consume a helpful insect too.  They also eat each other so you usually won’t find many mantises in the same area.  When people buy egg cases to hatch out in the garden, many mantises may hatch and then turn on each other, leaving only a few in the garden.

Praying mantises are also eaten by other things, birds, frogs, and small mammals. When attacked they often stand up their back legs, spread their wings and wave their front legs in an effort to look larger and intimidate their enemy.

Praying mantises live about 1 year, one season in colder areas of the country.  Mating season is in late summer- early fall.  Yes, female mantises may eat the smaller males when they mate.  But it’s not as common in nature as the stories would suggest.  In captivity cannibalism during mating is about 90% but researchers found that in nature the odds of a male being eaten during any single mating are only about 25%.  However since males generally mate with several females their odds of escaping death during the mating season are probably low.

After mating females lay eggs that stick to objects like twigs, posts, and garden ornaments.  They then produce a brown foamy substance that covers the eggs and quickly hardens into a protective case.  (I think it looks like the foam stuff you spray into cracks that expands and hardens to seal them.)  In cold climates the eggs don’t hatch until warm weather in the spring. Egg cases are called ootheca.  You can collect and move them to the garden and they will be fine.

Eggs hatch into mantis nymphs, wingless but looking like small versions of the adults, and then rapidly become winged adults.  Praying Mantises usually don’t fly far from where they hatched.  But because they consider each other food, only a few mantises will survive from any egg case you place in the garden. 

Praying mantises are fascinating to observe in the garden but in reality they probably won’t do much to control insect pests since only a few will be able to co-exist in the garden.  If you see one around your hummingbird feeder I would remove it to another part of the garden.  I have heard bee keepers complain that they sometimes hang around hives to eat bees.  Buying several egg cases for the garden is probably wasted effort but it can be fun for children to watch the insects hatch and catch their prey.

Toad lilies (Tricyrtis species)

If you are looking for something different for a shady spot why not try some toad lilies? These interesting plants with their dainty, exotic, orchid like blooms in late summer add color to the shade when few other shade plants are blooming. They are perennial plants and relatively easy to grow.  They are also deer resistant but rabbits are said to eat them.
Toad lilies
No one knows how Tricyrtis got the common name toad lily.  It might be because it likes to grow in shady damp areas where toads might be found.  Or it could be because of the splotched and spotted flowers although they look nothing like the spots on toads.  Despite the name toad lilies are charming. They are relatively new to the modern garden scene- probably first seen in garden stores in the early 1990’s.

Toad lilies are native to Eastern Asia, China and Japan and into the Himalayans.  There is a great deal of confusion still in the market place as to the proper labeling of the different species, some 20-22 of them- and the many hybrids coming on the scene don’t help matters. Toad lilies are members of the lily family (well, most agree on that). 

Tricyrtis likes cool, moist areas and does best in zones 5-7 (some species hardy to zone 4). It can be grown in warmer zones if it is in a very shaded location and kept consistently moist.  In the north partly shaded or lightly shaded areas are ideal.

Tricyrtis sends up 1-3 foot stems from rhizomes just under the ground. The oval leaves of Tricyrtis clasp the stem and partially surround it.  Some species have leaves only on one side of the stem; others look fuller, with leaves on both sides of the stem. The leaves are dark green in most species but there are now many cultivated varieties of toad lilies with variegated leaves.  In some species the stems are slightly hairy.

Tricyrtis blooms in late summer and early fall and the blooms appear at the end of the stems. The flowers of toad lilies are quite interesting and most face upward so you can admire their beauty more closely. (Some Tricyrtis species also have dangling bell shaped flowers.)  Despite the attempts of many catalogs to make them appear larger, the flowers are only an inch to 2 inches long. There are six long narrow petals.  (Actually like most members of the lily family there are actually 3 petals and 3 sepals which look like petals.)

The toad lily flower stamens are fused together in a cone in the center of the flower and three feathery pistils, or female parts are prominent in the center, these are often forked or lobed at the ends and dotted with color like the petals.  Some flowers are solid colors in white, lavender, yellow or pink but most toad lilies are known for their speckled and spotted flowers.

An interesting new development links the spotting and blotching in some varieties of toad lilies to a virus similar to Mosaic Bean virus.   The University of Minnesota did some tests on blotched and spotted toad lilies and found the virus.  The infected plants seem to grow normally otherwise and more work needs to be done to see how the virus affects the various species.

What Tricyrtis needs

Toad lilies need a shady moist area to do their best.  They prefer a rich, organic soil. They are plants that need several years to fulfill their best potential.  They normally bloom the first year but often on only one stem.  They may need several years to spread and form a nice vigorous clump to make an impact.  Heights vary from compact varieties about 8 inches tall to species ranging about 2 feet tall.

Toad lilies must have consistent moisture or the leaves dry on the edges and look ratty.  Too much sun will also cause the drying.  They benefit from the addition of compost and a good slow release fertilizer in the spring and again in mid-summer.  They are best planted in the spring.

The plants can be propagated from cuttings, seeds or dividing the rhizomes. Dividing takes some care, as a new growth bud must be on each division of the crown.  Tricrytis seeds germinate easily if they are given a cold, moist treatment for several weeks before planting.  Most gardeners will want to buy their toad lilies as bare rhizomes or as potted plants. The plants spread slowly in the garden and are not considered to be invasive.

Remember the flowers are small, and to be seen and appreciated, toad lilies need to be close to the front of the bed or along a woodland path. They are charming in naturalized settings.

Choosing Varieties

There are new hybrids, varieties and species being offered each year as the plants become more popular.  Here are some named selections.

‘Togen’ is one of the oldest varieties on the market.  It has white petals with lavender edges. ‘Taipai Silk’ has purple flowers with white edges.  ‘Sinonome’ has white flowers with purple specks and the leaves are on both sides of the stem, and the plant is compact.

‘Empress’ has the largest flowers of the Toad Lilies, they are white dotted with purple. ‘Raspberry Mousse’ is a solid wine red.  ‘White Towers’ has solid white flopwers.

‘Golden Leopard’ is a shimmering yellow with brown spots. ‘Moonlight Treasure’ has rounded, variegated leaves and large golden yellow flowers. ‘Lightning Strike’ has tall arching stems of golden foliage with green markings and light lavender flowers.  ‘Imperial Banner’ is a sport of ‘Empress.  It has the same flowers but the leaves have a broad white streak down the middle and are slightly wavy.  ‘Gilt Edge’ has leaves outlined in gold. ‘Lunar Landing’ is a hybrid toad lily with silvery, velvet like leaves, each bordered in dark green, reddish stems and purple flowers.

Caution: All parts of the Tricyrtis plant are poisonous.

Heath Aster, Symphyotrichum ericoides

For those of you who like native plants or those who need a little color in the late fall garden the heath aster may be a good choice.  The heath aster produces a froth of tiny white daisy like flowers that lend an airy elegance to informal beds in fall. 

Heath aster
Heath asters are suitable for planting zones 5-8, are a hardy perennial plant and drought tolerant.  They will grow in full sun or partial shade and will grow in most types of soil.  They are common along roadsides and in abandoned fields but you can also buy plants from native plant nurseries or start them from seed.  Heath asters survive fires well and are one of the native prairie plants that may benefit from periodic burning.

Heath asters have one or more stems with narrow, long leaves about 3 inches long and a ¼ wide at the base, and leaves get smaller and narrower farther up the stem.  Near the top of the stalk the leaves may have a short spine at the tip. As the stalks grow the lower leaves are shed. Leaves are arranged alternately.  Stems are hairy near the top and become brown and woody with age.  The plant stems branch by the end of summer, forming an open bush shape about 2 feet tall.  Plants die back to the ground each winter.

In late summer and until frost heath asters produce abundant clusters of tiny white flowers about a ½ inch across.  There are about 8-20 white ray flowers and a cluster of yellow disk flowers in the center, a typical “daisy” flower. As the flowers age the disk turns reddish.  The back of the flower is surrounded with rows of narrow blunt tipped bracts which may curl back away from the flower.  The flowers have no scent.

Heath aster flowers produce flat brown seeds, each with a tiny bit of fluff to help move them to new locations.  Plants can be started by sowing seeds where you want them to grow in fall or early spring.  They need a period of cold stratification to germinate.

Heath asters have rhizomous root systems and can be aggressive spreaders when they like the location.  I pull all but a few plants from selected areas of my garden beds in early spring.  If you let them multiply too much the bed will become a matted mass of aster plants.  You can divide the rhizomes and share plants if you like.

The flowers of heath aster are popular with bees, flies, beetles, and butterflies.  The tiny flowers make good cut flowers and can be dried for arrangements also.  Some plants have thick, short clusters of flowers, forming more of a wand shape and others have looser clusters.

The plants are the larval hosts for the silver checkerspot butterfly and several moths.  The plants may be eaten when young by deer and rabbits or livestock but are avoided as they get older.  Hay is considered unusable if it has too much heath aster mixed in it.

Native Americans used the heath aster as an aromatic herb in sweat lodges.   It was used to revive people who had fainted or who were unconscious.  From what I can gather a smoldering piece is held close to the patient for this purpose.  

Zucchini Bread

So what is summer or fall without some zucchini bread?  If you grow zucchini you almost always too much zucchini and personally I think this is the absolute best way to eat zucchini.  You can vary the spices in this recipe to suit your personal taste.  This makes one large loaf.

If you don’t have time to bake some zucchini bread this fall you can freeze shredded zucchini to use later.  To freeze zucchini shred it with a shredder or food processor.  Blanch the shreds in boiling water in a colander until they turn clear. Pack your shreds in freezer bags or containers and set them in ice water.  When they cool move the containers to the freezer.


2 cups shredded zucchini (thawed and drained if frozen)
1 cup crushed pineapple
1 cup shredded coconut
1 cup melted butter or vegetable oil
3 eggs
3 cups flour
2 ¼ cups sugar
¼ cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon nutmeg

In a food processor place the eggs, oil, vanilla and sugar and blend until smooth.  (You can also use a bowl and hand mixer.)

Blend in salt, baking powder and baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Add the flour 1 cup at a time, blending well after each addition.

Add the zucchini, pineapple, pecans and coconut and blend just until well mixed.

Pour into a greased large loaf pan and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.  Insert a toothpick to see if it comes out clean.  Cool before slicing.


When the turkey vultures leave fall is truly here

Kim Willis
 “He who has a garden and a library wants for nothing” ― Cicero

© Kim Willis - no parts of this newsletter may be used without permission.

And So On….
Do you have plants or seeds you would like to swap or share?  Post them here by emailing me. You can also ask me to post garden related events. Kimwillis151@gmail.com

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Newsletter/blog information

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I write this because I love to share with other gardeners some of the things I come across in my research each week. It keeps me engaged with people and horticulture. It’s a hobby, basically. I hope you enjoy it. If you are on my mailing list and at any time you don’t wish to receive these emails just let me know. If you know anyone who would like to receive a notification by email when a new blog is published have them send their email address to me.  KimWillis151@gmail.com

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

September 12, 2017, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter

“-here and there a yellow leaf shows itself like the first gray hair amidst the locks of a beauty who has seen one season too many."
-   Oliver Wendell Holmes

Fall is here, even if the calendar doesn’t say so yet.  At least here in Michigan it is, the leaves are beginning to turn and everything looks a bit old and jaded.  The light is softer and weaker, the mornings shrouded in fog.  We’ve had some really cold nights here 38 degrees one night, but I won’t let my husband turn on the heat just yet.  I still want the windows open too so I can hear the crickets and smell the wood smoke in the air.  I want to squeeze every bit of summer out of the season.  So I just get out my warmest nightgowns and sweaters.

My hardy hibiscus are finally blooming, that’s it, there’s no more first blooms left unless you count the cup and saucer ( Cobaea scandens) vine that’s growing on the rails of the ramp.  I started it from seed and planted it in front of the ramp where a “spot light” of sun peeks through the mostly shaded area.  It’s grown like crazy and now has lots of buds but it looks like it will be a race between it blooming and frost.

Harvest is wrapping up.  Our apples are beginning to ripen; my husband picked the red delicious today.  This week I begin to tear up the vegetable garden, removing all that’s left but maybe the tomatoes and peppers. We are supposed to have a warming trend for a week or so and some more tomatoes and peppers may ripen.

I’ve got the chicken coop cleaned out and ready for winter.  Pullet eggs are beginning to be laid from the new batch of hens I’m raising.  The chickens are going to bed by 7 pm now, another sign the summer is leaving.

I worked this weekend to get the windows cleaned and new hangers up for plant grow lights.  I’m going to begin bringing in the houseplants that summered outside, a few at a time because it’s a major job.  I hate to bring them inside because they do so well outside, but I don’t like to be in a rush to do it, as when a frost is coming that night.

The remnants of hurricane Irma may brush us tomorrow.  We need some rain.  I really feel sorry for those of you who may have lost whole landscapes to Irma’s destruction.  All the stately old trees, the beautiful flower beds, destroyed by wind and flooding.  It hurts to think about it.  But plants grow back.  Some people lost their homes and even their loved ones. Those wounds are much harder to heal.  I’m hoping for sunny mild days and calm conditions and lots of help for those of you in Florida and other places Irma visited, so you can begin to re-grow your lives as well as your gardens.

Frost- why it happens and what to do

For most of us the first frost is rapidly approaching.  I narrowly escaped losing my indoor plants to frost on Saturday night.  I was waiting before bringing them in because the weather is supposed to warm again.  But Saturday night the temps lowered to 38 and the dew point to 36- and that’s getting close.  Luckily I can see no damage to my plants, even the tropical ones, from the cold.

Frost can occur when the air temperature is above freezing if the dew point is at 32 degrees or less.  The dew point is a measure of when moisture will condense out of the air and form dew or frost on objects that are as cool or cooler than the air. Drier air has a lower dew point. Things above ground, cars, roofs, your plants will be slightly colder than the air temperature and when the dew point is 32 and the air temperature 35 degrees or so the dew becomes frost. The surface of the objects with frost on them was 32 degrees even if the air was not.  Moist soil helps dew or frost occur, as moisture is drawn out of the ground. Plants also transpire or give off moisture.

A freeze occurs when the air temperature is 32 degree or less, regardless of the dew point.  Frost also occurs with a freeze if the dew point is 32 or below.  But you can get a freeze without having frost.

Wind, even a light breeze, can prevent frost from forming because it mixes warmer air from higher in the atmosphere into the colder air laying close to ground level.  When it’s cloudy and the temperatures are above freezing frost generally does not occur because the heat from the ground does not radiate off into the sky.  Clouds act like a blanket.

The best time to get frost is when the dew point is 32 degrees or lower, the air temperature in the 30’s, winds are calm and sky clear. Day temperatures will probably not have been above the 60’s.  Gardeners who are worried about bringing in or protecting plants should watch the weather predictions carefully on those fall days when they know it’s going down to 40 degrees or lower at night and clear calm conditions are predicted.  The National Weather Service will issue a freeze or frost warning but that sometimes doesn’t happen until the evening when the frost is predicted.

You should also know when the average first frost for your area will be.  I have provided a map from the USDA but you should also ask gardening neighbors or your local county Extension office for more exact information.  My average first frost is around October 1 so I like to have tender plants inside before then.  The weather in September is my guide though. 

There are also micro climates in every area which could be colder or warmer than the general area.  Your home area could experience frost before your neighbors.  Generally low areas and very exposed areas will be more susceptible to frost.  Areas next to house foundations or on higher ground are less likely to get frost early.

Frost and your garden

Many perennials hardy to your area will not be affected by the first light frosts.  But tender perennials and most annuals will be harmed by even light frost.  Some annuals will not be affected until a hard frost or freeze, this is when temperatures dip into the 20’s.  Frost damage generally causes blackened, wilted foliage.  It can show up in just a few hours after frost exposure.  After a light frost only the top leaves of plants may be affected and some plants will recover from the damage and bloom a while longer.

Frost damage

Move most houseplants and tender tropicals inside before the first frost, when temperatures start falling into the low 40’s at night.  There are some plants that are considered half-hardy perennials, like the horticultural geranium (pelargonium).  They will survive light frosts, the leaves may redden a bit, and keep blooming until a hard freeze.  You’ll want to bring them in before then if you want to save them.  Other perennials you may over winter inside because they aren’t quite hardy in your area don’t mind being out a bit longer and shrug off light frost.  In my case this is rosemary. I leave it outside until the ground is frozen the first time.

In the vegetable garden tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, melons and cucumbers will be killed by frost.  Cabbage, lettuce, kale, carrots, beets, will be fine through light frosts but should be harvested before a hard freeze.  You can throw an old sheet or some floating row cover over your tender plants if you want to prolong the harvest just a little longer.  This may be helpful if first frost is predicted earlier than normal.  If it’s late in the season it’s probably best to harvest what you can and let the plants die.

You can leave bulbs you store inside over winter, like dahlias, canna’s and gladiolus, outside until frost has killed the foliage but dig them before the soil freezes.  Tender bulbs in pots can be left until the foliage dies but bring the pots inside before they freeze solid. Things like pumpkins, gourds, and popcorn can be harvested after a frost, but pumpkins and gourds shouldn’t be allowed to freeze.

If you want to prolong the bloom of annuals or tender perennials like marigolds, petunias, impatiens, cosmos, and so on, you can cover them when the first frost is predicted.  Use a light weight cloth or spun row cover material, not plastic.  (I use old sheets.) You must remove the covering early in the morning before the sun heats things up very much.  This is best done when there’s an early frost and many more warm days are ahead, or you got caught off guard and don’t have time to move plants inside.  You can’t protect plants forever this way and it won’t protect them if the temps fall into the mid 20’s or below.

There are some annuals and tender perennials grown as annuals that will survive quite a bit of cold.  This includes violas and pansies, some salvias, diascia, wax begonias, and calendula.  Let them bloom until they die.  I have had the occasional petunia bloom until Thanksgiving here also.

Plants you can save for next year

I also have to mention here that some tender ( non- hardy) perennials people think of as annuals can make good houseplants if brought inside or at least will survive until you put them out again the following year.  This includes polka pot plant, Setcreasea pallida 'Purple Heart', “spikes” (various dracaena species), sweet potato vines, the small flowered fuchsias, the geraniums (pelargonium), many of the various ivies used as pot “spillers”, coleus, fibrous rooted and cane begonias, rex begonias, Joseph’s coat (Alternathera ficoidea), lantana, aloes and agaves, Cuphea (cigar plant), eucalyptus, Chinese (tropical)hibiscus, abutilon, bougainvillea, mandevilla, gardenia and lofos.

Don’t bring numerous plants of the same species inside unless you have tons of room.  You can start cuttings from the ones you save in the spring.  You could also take cuttings of many of these in the fall and keep them inside as small plants.

If you live in zone 6 or below you may want to bring any rosemary plants you have inside once freezing conditions arrive but keep them in a cool room.  Lemon verbena and lemon grass can also be wintered inside.  While tomatoes and peppers are tender perennials unless you have a greenhouse or a special grow area with intense artificial light don’t try to bring them inside.

True annuals such as zinnias, marigolds, cosmos and so on might bloom inside for a few weeks but they will soon die. Cold hardy perennials like hosta, echinacea, phlox and so on need a cold dormant period and won’t do well when brought inside.  Save your indoor space for perennial plants that can handle inside conditions.

So here’s the timeline-houseplants and tropicals before the first frost, when nights are getting into the 40’s, right before the first frost or after a light frost bring in tender perennials you’ll be saving, then bring in those almost hardy in your zone perennials before a hard freeze along with pots of bulbs gone dormant and dig up tender bulbs in the ground for storage.  Six months or so inside and we’ll be moving it all back outside.

Collecting and storing seeds

As the gardener strolls through the garden in late summer and fall he or she may notice a lot of seed pods hanging on various garden plants, maybe on some plants you never dreamed you could start from seeds. Wilderness hikers and people touring public gardens may also notice various seeds that they would like to collect.  Use some sense in these instances, many parks prohibit removing any plant material, and you should ask permission from someone in charge of a public garden before collecting seeds.  Gardeners want to help plant babies grow.  But collecting the seeds won’t help you grow new plants if you don’t know when to collect the seeds and how to store them.

Before you begin collecting seeds from common garden plants remember that many plants we grow in gardens today are hybrids.  The seeds you collect from hybrid plants will produce plants that probably will not look like the parent plant.  They may be excellent producers or have beautiful flowers or they may not be the best looking or producing plants.  Even if you planted several varieties of purebred “open pollinated” plants in the garden they may have cross pollinated and the seeds won’t produce plants like the parent you collected them from. It’s a gamble. 

Many times when seed from hybrid plants is collected and grown the next generation tends to revert to the wild or most common form of the plant.  Morning glories and phlox are two species that come to mind.  This reversion tends to get greater with each generation of seeds collected and grown.  You may have planted Heavenly Blue morning glories this year and collected their seeds.  Even if you only had Heavenly Blue morning glories in your garden the seeds will produce some plants that have blue flowers but also some with other colors, most often the purple of the wild morning glory.  When you collect seeds the second year the third years plants will have even fewer blue flowers. 

This doesn’t mean you won’t want to try collecting and growing seeds from hybrid varieties.  Sometimes you may get some truly interesting or beautiful plants from those collected seeds. 

Make sure they are ready

In most cases you want to collect the seed when the seed pod or fruit surrounding the seeds is fully ripe.  Since we eat some fruits before they are fully ripe, like cucumbers, you must know what a ripe fruit looks like for that plant and wait to harvest the seeds. A ripe cucumber is all yellow.  Corn should turn dry and hard on the stalk before saving seeds.  Melons should be mushy ripe and the seeds black or dark brown for watermelon before harvest.  Peppers must be fully ripe- and they can be many colors when ripe- and soft.  Tomatoes must be ripe to the rotting point.  Most flower seed pods or seed heads turn brown and dry when the seeds are ready to harvest. The opening of pods means the seeds are ripe.
Cleome seed pod splitting

Collect seeds on a warm, sunny dry day if at all possible.  It’s best to collect most types of seed before a heavy frost or freeze but collection after that can still work for many seeds.  The trick in collecting seed pods and seedheads to get the seeds is to not let them split or otherwise disperse the seeds before you collect them, but have them still be mature.  Keep a close eye on ripening pods and seedheads.  On a warm day a closed pod in the morning may have shot off the seeds or dropped them on the ground by evening. If seed pods and seedheads are almost dry and nearly ready to harvest you can cut them and put them in paper bags in a warm dry place to finish drying.  Separate the varieties and species because they may drop the seeds.  Label your bags! Or you can surround seed heads or pods with paper bags and tie them right on the living plant.

Sometimes gardeners have a hard time distinguishing the actual seeds from the seed pods, or remnants of flowers and fruit.  Put the ripe seed heads or pods in paper bags, close and shake them.  You may see loose seeds in the bottom.  In most cases a ripe pod or seed head will split or otherwise open or drop its seeds, but in some cases even ripe pods must be opened. If you can’t decide if it’s a pod or an individual seed try opening one. Some flowers like Echinacea, rudbeckia, zinnia and others with daisy like flowers will have a bit of dried petal attached to the seed. Even when dry some of these flower heads must be pulled apart to separate the seeds.

Sometimes fruit needs to rot

In some cases for seeds to be properly stored and then sprout, the fruit must first rot or ferment.  While you can cut open a very ripe tomato and extract the seeds for storage, it’s better to let the tomato turn to a rotting, fermenting mush before separating out the seeds, drying them and saving them.  Germination rates will be higher.  Rotting fruit keeps seeds moist for a while.  And chemicals caused by the decomposition process may be necessary in some cases to soften the seed coat.

Many seeds are prepared for germination in nature by passing through some animal’s digestion system.  You can ferment or rot fruits in a nicer way though.  Simply place a ripe fruit in an open container and let it sit for a while.  You can cut the fruit in pieces if you want. Tomatoes, eggplant, grapes, berries, summer squash and cucumbers benefit from letting fruit rot and ferment before saving the seed.  Label the container if you have several varieties of something like tomatoes to ferment.  You’ll want to put the containers somewhere where you don’t smell them and the flies they attract won’t bother you.  Make sure animals can’t eat them. 

Let the fruit rot until it’s a watery, smelly unrecognizable mass.  Then put the contents in a fine wire mesh strainer and gently rinse with clean water until clean seeds are left in the strainer.  Spread the seeds on a piece of screen and let them dry in a warm, dark place until they look and feel thoroughly dry before storing.   If you spread the seeds on newspaper or paper towels they often stick to the paper as they dry and can be hard to remove.

Ligularia seeds

Storing seeds

When you do have the seeds separated from pods and fruit let them dry for a few more days in a warm dark location.  Almost all garden seeds need to be thoroughly dry before storing them so they don’t mold or rot.  Clean out pieces of stem, pod and other debris before storing.  It’s best to place seeds in paper packages, even a twist of tissue or fold of newspaper, before placing them in sealed glass or plastic containers. (A tip- cut junk mail up into small rectangles, fold them in half and tape the sides shut.  Fill with seeds and tape the top shut. ) Paper absorbs moisture.  You can add a bit of powdered milk wrapped in tissue to each container to absorb moisture too.  Once again- label containers and packets, there’s nothing worse than forgetting what kinds of seeds you carefully saved.  And I tell you that from experience.

After your seeds are packaged store the seeds of most common garden plants in the refrigerator crisper drawer or another cool, dry dark spot.  Most plants grown in temperate climates, both annuals and perennials, need a period of cold dormancy before they germinate.  Even if they don’t they will store better in a cool location.  Some tropical plant seeds may do better in warmer storage and some seeds may actually need freezing temperatures to properly prepare them for germination.  A few types of seed need to be stored moist.  If you are saving some unusual seeds you may want to research how to store them.

There are some seeds that should be planted soon after you collect them.  If they are cold hardy you can plant them outside. Otherwise plant them in pots inside.  The sooner they are planted the better germination will be. These plants include:
Anthurium, Asparagus species, Clivia, perennial Delphinium, Geranium (Pelargonium), Gerbera, Ginkgo, Impatiens, Kochia, Oriental lilies, Philodendron, Magnolia, onions, Passiflora, Potentilla, Salvia splendens, Tanecetum coccinium (or Pyrethrum).

Hosta and most types of lily seed other than Oriental have better germination if sowed as soon as collected but can be stored until late winter and started inside.  They should be kept in cold storage- refrigerator- until planted.

So have fun- get out there and gather those seeds.  You can trade with other gardeners for things you don’t have.

Peace Lily

Do you want a houseplant that will bloom without a sunny window?  Or a tropical looking plant for the shady porch or patio?  Why not try a Peace lily?  Spathiphyllum species are not true lilies and have been used as houseplants for hundreds of years. (A common name is spath lily). Peace lilies are great indoor air cleaners, removing harmful particulates from indoor air.   And best of all peace lilies are fairly easy to grow and are a great plant for beginning indoor gardeners.  They also make great patio container plants in the summer in shady areas.

There are some 40 species of peace lilies, they are native to South America, and southern Asia, and many are in cultivation.  They range in size from about a foot tall to over 6 feet tall at maturity.  Two small varieties are ‘Sonia’ and ‘Little Angel’.  ‘Domino’ and ‘White Stripe’ have leaves variegated with white.  One of the largest varieties of peace lily is ‘Sensation’ which often gets 6 feet tall and has huge leaves.  Most plants gardeners will find in stores will be simply marked “peace lily”.  They have green leaves, white flowers and get 3-4 feet tall.

Gardeners will want to start with a peace lily plant.  You’ll see seeds advertised, but peace lilies are hard to start from seed, slow growing and take years to bloom from seed.  Plants are propagated by division for quick growth and bloom.

The large, glossy green leaves of Peace lilies appear to rise right from the soil, there is no noticeable main stem.  This nice, glossy foliage is one of the best attributes of the peace lily, whether it’s one sitting on your desk or filling a shady spot on the deck.  There are a few varieties with white variegation in the foliage.

In spring and into summer peace lilies that are happy and healthy will have numerous white blooms similar to a calla lily bloom.  There is a rod shaped, white bumpy true flower surrounded by a big white bract, which most people see as a flower.  Large plants will bloom for 2 months or more, with several flowers blooming at a time.  When the flowers turn greenish, with browning edges cut the flowering stalk off.  The flowers are interesting but the plants foliage is pretty all year around. 

What Peace lilies need

Peace lilies like bright, indirect light.  They can be several feet from a west or south window, by a north or east window or even do well in brightly lit rooms without windows. If many leaves are turning yellow or looking browned on the edges or the leaves look bleached out the light level is too high.  Don’t let leaves touch cold windows.  When moved outside peace lilies must be kept in a shaded area, direct sun will quickly kill them.  My peace lily sits outside in the summer under a cedar tree, with sunlight only filtering through late in the day.  It absolutely loves it there and blooms all summer.

Peace lilies want temperatures about the same range as humans like, 65-85 degrees, with no cold drafts.  They will not survive temperatures that go below 45 degrees so wait before bringing them outside in the spring until it has warmed up and bring them back in before temperatures drop too much in the fall.  When they are outside keep Peace lilies protected from the wind. Of course they will gladly stay inside all year round if they are not situated over an air conditioning vent. 

Peace lilies have one special requirement, moisture- they need a fairly high humidity level and even soil moisture.  Keeping them in groups of other plants, giving them a shower once in a while, or using a humidifier in the home will help keep them glossy and happy.  Plants like growing by aquariums or water features also.  They are excellent plants for brightly lit bathrooms and laundry rooms.

Water the Peace lily as soon as the pot gets just a little dry, but before it wilts. When you do water, soak the pot well and let it drain from the bottom.  Wilted plants will generally recover when watered but don’t allow this to happen too often as it stresses the plant.  Using rain water, untreated well water or distilled water is better than chemically treated city water for all plants.

Use fertilizer sparingly on Peace lilies; start fertilizing in late winter using a flowering houseplant fertilizer mixed according to directions at every other watering.  Stop fertilizing in mid-summer.  Some growers claim Peace lilies are sensitive to artificial fertilizers and use only natural fertilizers like fish emulsion.  But others say it doesn’t make much difference what type of  fertilizer you use.  I use a commercial fertilizer that I use on all my houseplants and my peace lily thrives on it.

Peace lilies don’t require a lot of pruning or shaping.  Trim off any dead leaves or flowers.  Re-pot the plant only when it is so root bound that it needs very frequent watering or is splitting the pot.  They don’t mind crowded roots and bloom better when a little pot bound.  Use any light weight potting medium when you re-pot.  Aphids are occasional problems for indoor peace lilies.  You can treat them with an insecticidal soap spray or houseplant insecticide.

Peace lilies are mildly toxic to pets, keep pets from eating them (and the kids too).  They contain oxalate crystals which will cause a burning sensation in the mouth so pets rarely consume enough to be harmed.  If they did continue eating them they would begin vomiting long before they ate a toxic amount.

With a name like peace lily everyone needs one of these beauties in their home.  Maybe we should place them all over the senate and congress floors too.

Tailgate Apple cake

Let me make this clear- I don’t do tailgate parties. But this apple cake would be excellent for one or for a potluck or just a great dessert.  I make this a couple of times in the fall when apples are plentiful.  It’s a good way to use apples that aren’t perfect too.

6 cups of peeled and sliced apples
4 tablespoons of butter
1 cup of brown sugar, packed
1 spice cake mix
3 large eggs
1/3  cup oil or melted butter
½ cup water
1 jar of caramel ice cream topping


Melt the butter in a large skillet, add the brown sugar and apple slices, cover pan and cook on low heat until the apple slices are tender, about 5 minutes.  Stir the cooking apples frequently.

Spray the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 cake pan with cooking spray.  Instead of spraying a pan it could be lined with non-stick foil for an easy clean up.

When the apples are tender, pour skillet contents in the cake pan and spread them evenly over the bottom of the cake pan.

Mix together the cake mix, eggs, oil and water.  Pour the mix over the apples in the pan.  Bake the cake at 350 degrees until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean- 30-40 minutes.   

Let the cake cool about 5 minutes then poke holes evenly across the surface with the handle of a wooden spoon, skewer or similar item.   Pour the caramel ice cream topping over the cake evenly, it will be absorbed by the cake.

This cake is great served warm with cool whip or ice cream.  It also freezes well.

Soak up that sun; let your body store the goodness for winter
Kim Willis
 “He who has a garden and a library wants for nothing” ― Cicero

© Kim Willis - no parts of this newsletter may be used without permission.

And So On….
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