Thursday, November 23, 2017

November 21, 2017, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter

Hi Gardeners

Have a great Thanksgiving like this turkey
You may be wondering why I didn’t post my usual weekly blog on the 14th and why this blog is late.  It’s a combination of two things, me almost dying and my computer actually dying.  I suffered a pulmonary embolism and spent a few days in the hospital.  I am doing much better, but I came home to find that without me my computer had withered and died.  I am writing this on an old laptop, so it isn’t as long as usual and there may be fewer pictures than normal. 

I think of myself as a person who plans for emergencies so it was a bit disconcerting to find that when a trip to the ER turned into a hospital stay I wasn’t as prepared as I thought. I was out of chicken feed and my houseplants were due to be watered. My husband is in a wheelchair, there are things he can’t do, and I don’t like leaving him alone a long time.  With the help of our sons’ things managed to get accomplished but it taught me a lesson.  Always have an extra bag of chicken feed on hand and leave directions on houseplant care somewhere, (along with device passwords, directions for feeding the pets and chickens and leaving the husband with some cash money to send with people on errands).

Luckily the outside work has dwindled to almost nothing this time of year.  We have had a lot of cold weather and there is nothing left blooming in the garden. There’s hardly anything with leaves left in the garden.  However some of the roses and the snapdragons are still green.  I was able to get some nice fresh sage picked today for my turkey on Thanksgiving.  Fresh sage has a slightly different taste than dried sage, a slightly citrus note.  I’ll chop it and add it to the chicken broth I baste the turkey with.

Inside I still have many things in bloom, hibiscus, fuchsia, Christmas cacti, the bidens basket and several streptocarpus. Everything survived a few extra days without water. While waiting for a prescription I found a color of Christmas cactus I didn’t have so I treated myself to a new plant.  There’s barely room to squeeze anything else into this house but I managed.

Hopefully my regular computer will be repaired or replaced soon and my blogs will once again be posted on Tuesdays.  I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and finds much to give thanks for.  I know I am feeling very thankful. 

Growing herbs on the window sill

If you are a cook you know that the best tasting herbs are fresh ones, plucked right from the plant just before using.  But if you live in a spot where herbs aren’t available in the garden during the winter your source of fresh herbs is limited to what you can purchase in a store- and those herbs are never the same as fresh picked.  The good news is that some herbs can be grown indoors during the winter either on a sunny window sill or under grow light.

Not every herb is a candidate for indoor growing and the conditions in your home will also limit what you can grow.  If you have a cool (45-60ºF) but very sunny spot you will have success with more types of herbs.  All common herbs need good strong light so if you don’t have a south facing window (and it doesn’t have to be a kitchen window) you may need to supplement your light with a grow light.  A few herbs may grow well on a west facing window sill.

Some herbs are perennials and they can be grown in pots that are set outside in the summer and returned to the house in the fall each year.  Most perennial herbs do best in that cooler, sunnier environment mentioned above.  They will rest during the winter for a few months but can still furnish you with fresh herbs for cooking.  A sunny unheated porch or sunroom or an unused room where the heat is turned down are excellent places for most perennial herbs.

If you don’t have a sunny window sill you can use a grow light to keep your herbs healthy.  It will need to be about 18 inches above the top of your herbs.  Temperature is still important; some herbs need cool winter temperatures, others like warmer temperatures that are similar to the ones we are comfortable in.

Herb varieties for indoors

Chives are one of the easiest herbs to grow on a window sill.  They can do well on a south or west facing window sill.  Chives can be started from seed in late summer for indoor use or you can dig a clump from the garden in fall and pot it.  Chives are sometimes sold in pots in the produce section of stores too.  You can put chives outside in the summer in the pot or plant it in the ground as it is a perennial and it can survive winter outside in most areas of the country.  Chives grow best in cool conditions but will do all right in warmer rooms.

Don’t over water chives inside; let them dry a bit between watering.  In March you can fertilize the pot of chives lightly to promote flowering.  You can snip the chive leaves off for cooking at any time but try to remove less than a third of the plant at a time.  Chive’s purple flowers are also edible.

Mustard and watercress are herbs that are sometimes grown to sprinkle on salads and other dishes for a tangy zip of taste.  Mustard and watercress are grown from seeds. The seeds can be mixed together or sown separately.  You harvest these plants while they are young and tender so you need to make several sowings each winter.  Simply fill shallow trays with a good potting medium that has been well moistened, sprinkle on the seeds and press down lightly so they have contact with the soil.  Cover the tray with a plastic bag and place it in a warm spot until the plants sprout.  After the seeds sprout remove the bag and put the trays in a sunny window or under grow lights.

Mustard and watercress prefer cooler, sunny areas.  Keep them moist but not sitting in water.  Trim or pinch off leaves when the plants have several sets of them.  You can also pull the whole plant and trim off the roots before using.  Start a new batch of seeds about 2 weeks after the first one sprouted so you will have a continuous supply.  Discard the first batch as the new one gets ready to harvest.  These plants do not do well indoors when they get larger and can’t be transplanted outside with good results.

Rosemary is a delightful evergreen, perennial herb. In planting zones 6 and higher it is hardy outside in the garden through the winter.  In some mild dry winter climates you could harvest it from the garden all winter.  However, for those gardeners who live in zone 5 and lower and those who have snowy wet winters you will need to pot a plant and bring it inside for the winter.  Rosemary is often sold around Christmas in pots sheared to look like a small evergreen tree.

Rosemary needs a cool, sunny place to do well indoors.  Let it dry out between watering.  You can place the pots outside in the summer and keep your plant for many years.  It will often bloom indoors in late spring or even in the fall just after you bring it in.  Repot the plant each spring before you put it in the garden, give a light dose of fertilizer and watch it get bigger each year.

Snip or pinch off young leave tips from your rosemary and never remove more than a few sprigs at a time.  Rosemary is used to flavor meat dishes, soups and stews and sprinkled on bread dough before baking.

Thyme is another perennial herb that can be grown in a pot in a cool, sunny area inside for winter harvests and placed back in the garden each spring.   Make sure to get a culinary type of thyme, there are dozens of ornamental varieties.  Let it dry between watering and keep it trimmed fairly short inside.  Harvest young leaves or whole tender shoots.  Thyme is used on meats and in soups and stews.

Bay and lemon verbena are tender perennials that form shrubs or small trees in warm climates.  In planting zones 8 and lower, they need to be potted and placed outside only after the danger of frost has passed.  These two make pretty houseplants and prefer warmer sunny rooms.  Leaves are plucked off and used as needed.

Basil is sometimes grown inside. However, it is somewhat finicky and prone to disease.  It is started from seed.   It likes warm, sunny conditions and should be kept evenly moist. 

Parsley also does better outside but may do fairly well in a cool, sunny place inside.  It is slow to germinate so start seeds in late summer in pots for indoor use.  Discard these plants in the spring.

Sage and oregano have been grown in the house but don’t always do well.   They need a cool but sunny spot and to dry out between watering.  Make sure to get culinary (cooking) types of sage or oregano.  Start with small seedling plants in the fall.  You can transplant these into the garden in the spring but start with new young plants every fall for indoor use as younger plants adjust better to indoor conditions.

Mints of various flavors will grow satisfactorily in the house.  As with sage and oregano start with young potted plants each fall.  They can be grown in hanging baskets.  Cool, sunny conditions are best and keep them pruned or pinched back to prevent them from getting straggly.  Let them dry between watering.  They can be transplanted to the garden in the spring.

If you have other herbs that you favor in cooking you can always try to grow them inside.  Even if they survive only part of the winter you will have extended your fresh herb availability.  Some medicinal herbs, such as catnip and chamomile can also be grown inside but results vary as many of these prefer a cold winter rest.

Japanese Maples

Japanese maples are popular with gardeners and will make an interesting addition to any partly or lightly shaded garden.  They dislike full sun situations, but some varieties can take the sun if kept moist. Japanese maples are grown for their lovely leaf colors, shape and interesting bark.   These versatile trees can be also be grown in containers, or as bonsai plants.
Japanese maple
Japanese maples, Acer palmatum, come from Japan, from the temperate mountainous regions of the country, where they have been cultivated for hundreds of years.  A few sub-species also come from China and Korea.

The Japanese took the genetically diverse Japanese maple and turned it into hundreds of different forms.   While some older cultivars have disappeared from the market new cultivars are always being introduced.   Japanese maples are excellent plants for collectors with deep pockets, as there are nearly 1000 varieties available.  The average gardener can find a number of good varieties at reasonable prices, but some are still a bit expensive.


There is much variation in Japanese maple species and varieties.  Most are small trees or shrubs in form.  There are weeping varieties, upright forms, dome shaped forms, multi-trunk and single trunk forms. The leaves are generally lobed, many have lobes that are deeply or completely divided except at the base.  The lobes can also be divided until the leaf takes on a lacy, fern like appearance.  Japanese Maples lose their leaves in the winter.

Color of the leaves is also extremely variable.  Gardeners seem to prefer red and purple shades, but there are golden, cream, and variegated leaves as well as all shades of green.  Some have leaves that take on a different color each season.  Trunk color also varies from brown, to red to golden or green.  

Japanese maples have typical maple seed pods although the size and color can vary here too.  It’s called a samara, two winged seeds joined at one end, like an upside-down v.

The names of cultivars are often confused in the nursery or garden store and if you are looking for a particular type of Japanese maple it’s always wise to see it when it is leafed out, so you know what you are getting.

Finding the right place

Japanese Maples come from moderate climate zones.  Most varieties will not do well in zone 4 or lower or in zone 8 and above.  They dislike extreme winter temperatures but need at least several weeks of temperature below 45 degrees to do well.  If they do not get a dormant season they will decline after a few years.  Always check the zone rating before buying and be careful with new varieties just coming on the market whose hardiness may not be known.

Most Japanese maples should be planted in light shade, or dappled shade.   They are under-story trees in their native habitat.  Some Japanese maple varieties tolerate more sun if they can be kept evenly moist.  They do well under deciduous trees that allow filtered light to reach the Japanese maple or on the north sides of buildings.

Japanese maples prefer deep, loose soil rich in organic matter.  They have relatively weak root systems and suffer in compacted soil or heavy clay.    They also need to be kept moist, so sandy soil is not the best location.  They do not grow well where the soil is always wet however.

Planting and care

Proper planting is one of the best ways to keep a Japanese maple thriving. Plant Japanese maples in the spring or in the fall about six weeks before the ground freezes.  Avoid planting in the heat of summer.  Always remove anything around the tree roots such as burlap, peat pots, cages, strings and wires before planting. Check the root system by gently washing away any soil covering the roots and look for circling roots.  Circling roots should be trimmed at the point where they begin to curve.  Loosen and spread out the roots if they form a tangled mass.

Find the top lateral (or sideways growing) root.  The tree should be planted so that this root is just a couple inches below the soil surface.  Trees that are left in burlap balls have often had this root buried deeply and if you leave soil and burlap on the root system you won’t plant the tree at a good depth.  Trees need a root flare, a widened area, at their above ground base to develop trunk strength and grow properly. 

Do not use fertilizer in the planting hole or amend the soil you back fill the hole with.  Always refill a hole with the soil taken out of it, no matter how terrible you think your soil is.  Research has shown this is the best way to achieve quick root establishment and get a tree off to a good start.  Don’t let salespeople talk you into a bag of peat or topsoil to add to the hole.  After planting, you can work some compost and a small amount of slow release fertilizer into the soil around the tree if you wish.

Japanese maples should be mulched with organic matter, bark chips work well, after planting.  Don’t mound the mulch up like a volcano and keep it from touching the tree trunk. The trunks should be protected with tree wrap or a wire screen.  A trunk that will receive the south or west sun on it in winter should be protected with white tree wrap or shaded in some other manner to prevent frost cracking.

Keep the tree well-watered as it establishes the root system. If planted in the fall you may want to consider burlap, a tree tube or another type of protective screen for the first winter to keep it from drying out in the winter wind.

Each spring, fertilize Japanese maples with a slow release fertilizer.  Japanese maples, like other maples, may suffer from iron or manganese deficiencies.  The symptoms are pale or yellowing leaves, sometimes with darker veins.  Don’t confuse this with color variations of some Japanese maple selections. Have the soil tested and apply remedial nutrients if needed.

Keep the tree mulched and the trunk protected from animal and weed wacker/mower damage.  Japanese maples often leaf out very early in the spring and these leaves are susceptible to frost damage.  If the tree is small you can cover it with a protective sheet when frost threatens.  Most frost nipped leaves will drop off but a healthy tree will replace the leaves.

Keep Japanese maples well-watered until the ground freezes.  The edges of the leaves may brown and curl in hot, dry weather even if the tree is well watered.  This is called leaf scorch. It’s more likely to happen with some varieties than others and with trees in more sun.  As the tree establishes itself this should become less frequent.  If it doesn’t you may need to move the tree.

Aphids can become a problem with young Japanese maples.  A strong rinsing of plain water or an application of insecticidal soap (not a dish soap concoction!) may help.  You may also need to apply an insecticide that’s lists control of aphids on its label.

Pruning Japanese Maples

Japanese maples vary by cultivar as to the rate of growth and the ultimate size the tree will obtain.  However, they do grow, so plan for a larger tree when planting them.  Most grow to about 20 feet high and wide at maturity. They are easily pruned to the shape you desire.  The Japanese way to prune is to thin out the canopy so the structure of the branches can be seen.  The way you want the tree to look will determine how you want to prune it.

Prune Japanese maples in late winter, just before the buds begin to swell.   Prune a little each year; never remove more than twenty percent of the tree.  In general, remove dead branches and branches that obstruct vision or protrude into paths and then work on shaping.  Prune branches that cross each other and rub and ones that grow inward.  Examine the tree carefully and take off what think will give you the height and shape you desire.

Cut the branches just above a bud or back to the branch collar against the trunk.  Use sharp, clean pruning shears or a saw.  If your Japanese maple must be cut during the growing season you may want to treat large cut surfaces with an antimicrobial pruning sealer, especially if it is a rare and expensive variety. Normally it isn’t recommended to seal pruning wounds, but in this case it may be helpful.

A healthy Japanese maple is an asset to most garden settings but don’t try to force a tree into an unsuitable environment.  Do your homework and carefully select a variety of Japanese maple that best suits your zone and growing conditions.  Once established the tree could live for hundreds of years and bring joy to many generations. 

Decorating with live plants for the holidays

Combine your love of gardening with holiday decorating by using live potted plants as part of the decorations.  You can use nice potted plants that you have around the house or use holiday decorating as an excuse to buy more exotic house plants.   Potted plants also make great office decorations and gifts. 

Many stores feature gift plants such as mums, poinsettias and Christmas cacti around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, but these aren’t the only plants that can be used as decorations.  With a little imagination a beautiful plant can become the center focus of holiday decorating and remain after the holidays to lift the spirits all through winter.

Almost any green plant can be made festive by adding a brightly colored pot, a bow or even tiny decorations.  For Thanksgiving you’ll want to decorate with harvest colors but after Thanksgiving the same plant can be re-decorated with Christmas colors, and the palette of colors used at Christmas has expanded in recent years from red and green to many other color combinations.

Common houseplants like Boston ivy, palms, ribbon plant, ferns, philodendron, spider plants, Norfolk Island pine and jade plants make excellent decorations in pretty pots with ribbons.   Pots of the herb rosemary make excellent holiday plants, fragrant when brushed.  Sometimes you can find them sheared into a Christmas tree shape. 

A less common plant called Frosty Fern is available only near the holidays.  This lovely plant looks like the tips of its fronds are frosted white.  Frosty Fern, Selaginiela Krausianna Variegatus is a club moss, a fern relative.  It tolerates the low light decorative plants are often subjected to and looks lovely in a red pot.  Rabbits Foot fern is also a good decorating choice.
Frosty fern

Other great choices for exotic potted plant decorations include blooming orchids, gardenias, tropical hibiscus, and potted citrus or pomegranate trees.  Miniature roses can often be found in stores.  These tiny roses can bloom all winter in a sunny window.

Check any store that sells houseplants for an endless variety that could become holiday decorations or gifts.  The nursery that sold you plants in the summer may sell houseplants and exotic tropicals in winter.

 For Thanksgiving some artificial pumpkins or even small real gourds could be added to the pot.  You can hollow out a small pumpkin and insert a plant in its pot.  A large wicker basket with several green plants inserted then surrounded by mixed nuts in the shell, or bittersweet sprays, or artificial leaves in bright colors would be pretty.

For Christmas add artificial birds, or put tiny elves in the pot. Spray a few twisted branches with fake snow and insert in the pot. Try setting the potted plant in a bowl that’s larger than the pot and filling the bowl with glass Christmas ornaments.  Insert a smaller pot into a clear glass vase or jar and totally surround the pot with tiny glass ornaments or even beads in your color scheme.   Plastic confetti, tinsel, or plastic ribbon shreds could also fill the clear container.  There is glittery plastic snow that you scatter on Christmas displays that could fill a container or even dust the top of a pot.

A clever party favor would be to glue a small wood square on the bottom of large glass Christmas balls to make them sit upright. Then remove the top of the ball which is usually a piece of metal held in place with tiny spring wires.  Fill the ball with water and insert starter plants such as a small spider plant, which will grow in water for a while.

Wrap pots in colored foil and tie with a bow.  Or use gift bags with the plant peeking out the top.  Plants will need to be watered so if the item you wrap the plant in could be damaged by water, put the pot in a plastic bag or waterproof container first.

Take good care of your green decoration and it will survive the holiday.  Try to place the decoration in good light or keep it only a few days in poor light situations.  Water the pots when they are dry.  Keep them out of cold drafts.  Keep brown leaves pulled off and browned tips of leaves trimmed off.

Don’t use lights or heavy ornaments on green plants.   Keep them away from candles and fireplaces or anything that gives off excessive heat.   Don’t use spray on flocking or “snow” on live plants.  When the holidays are over remove fancy coverings and place the plant where it gets the proper lighting for its type.

Forget the difficult to save poinsettias and use plants meant to survive in the house for holiday decorating.  You’ll love the results.

Weiner schnitzel

Americans tend to think of Weiner as having to do with hot dogs but Weiner in German means ‘from Vienna’ or Viennese and the dish is a lightly battered and fried veal cutlet. If you don’t eat veal you can make this recipe with a pork cutlet or regular beef.  In fact, Weiner schnitzel is much like chicken fried steak.  

Pounding the meat is important to the recipe, you want a flat thin piece of meat.  The pounding helps tenderize the meat too.  Lay a piece of waxed paper over the meat and pound it with a wooden mallet or rolling pin.  Try not to make holes in the meat.

If you are tired of turkey leftovers Weiner schnitzel will give up something different to break up the holiday week.  It’s a comfort food prepared at home for many but also served in the finest restaurants.  This recipe will make about 4 servings. 


2 eggs
½ cup flour
¼ teaspoon white pepper (black pepper is also fine)
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
4 veal cutlets, pounded to 1/4" thickness
Frying oil 

Put the eggs in a bowl and beat them until fluffy.

Mix the flour and spices together in another bowl.

Put the bread crumbs in another bowl.  You now have three bowls of coatings.

Using a fork or tongs dip a piece of meat into the flour.  Flip it to coat both sides.

Now dip the coated meat into the egg mixture, turning to coat both sides.

Next dip the coated meat into the bread crumbs, flip to coat the other side.

Repeat these steps with the other pieces of meat.

Heat about a ½ inch of cooking oil in a large frying pan to 350F.  You need enough oil to float the meat pieces, they shouldn’t sit on the pan bottom.

With a spatula carefully lower the meat pieces into the hot oil. Watch for grease spatters.  Leave room between the meat pieces, don’t crowd them in the pan.

Fry the meat about 3 minutes until it looks golden brown, then flip the pieces gently and fry 3 more minutes.

Place the cutlets on a plate with a layer of paper towels to absorb grease for a few minutes then serve warm.

Wiener schnitzel is usually served with gravy over it.  A good side dish is German potato salad or mashed potatoes.

Have a wonderful holiday everyone.

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….

Find Michigan garden events/classes here:
(This is the Lapeer County Gardeners facebook page)
An interesting Plant Id page you can join on Facebook

Here’s a seed/plant sharing group you can join on Facebook

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.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

November 7, 2017, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter

Hi Gardeners

"Most people, early in November, take last looks at their gardens, and are then prepared to ignore them until the spring.  I am quite sure that a garden doesn't like to be ignored like this.  It doesn't like to be covered in dust sheets, as though it were an old room which you had shut up during the winter.  Especially since a garden knows how gay and delightful it can be, even in the very frozen heart of the winter, if you only give it a chance."
-   Beverley Nichols-

It’s starting to feel like winter is near around here. We may get flurries later this week; some of you may already have had snow.  There’s not much left in the garden, although sweet alyssum and a few straggly petunias are still blooming. I brought in a hanging basket that had a petunia and some bidens (small yellow daisy-like flowers) left blooming.  I don’t know if they will continue to bloom under the grow light or not.  I said I wasn’t going to rescue all those tender perennials this year but here I am, bringing in polka dot plants and bidens.

Indoors the hibiscus are blooming their heads off.  The Thanksgiving cactuses are also blooming as well as the fuchsia and streptocarpus.  I am lucky I still have flowers.  I also have tree frogs that are still alive and calling.

Even though I really do not have any more room for plants I bought an amaryllis bulb and potted it up.  I wanted a deep red one and they had big bulbs at the grocery store for a very good price.  Shame on grocery stores for selling houseplants, they feed my addiction.

How can a gardener not have houseplants?  How can anyone go all winter without having a green space inside?  How can one give up the smell of wet soil and bruised leaves and even the scent of flowers?  Some people are lucky to have homes where there is some gardening outside all year round but if you don’t you must bring the garden inside.

Birds are back at the feeders in abundance.  When I go out in the evening I hear the sounds of geese and sandhill cranes calling.  They are migrating south and stopping in farm fields to feed.  I saw a little buck deer standing at the gate that separates the pasture from the yard last evening.  He was a foot away from one of our dogs who was barking at him on his side of the fence.  I think he was eyeing some fallen apples in the yard.

November Almanac

This month’s full moon (4th) is called the full beaver or full frost moon.  In earlier times beaver traps were set about this time and of course a large part of the country has now received killing frosts. In Europe November is known as the 'wind month' and the 'blood month'.  It was the traditional month for butchering, hence the blood moon/month. Moon perigee was the 5th.   Moon apogee is the 21st.

November is named for the Latin word for nine as it was the ninth month of the Roman calendar, March was the first month.  In ancient times it was also called the month of the dead.  The Leonids meteor shower is this month.  It peaks on the 17th and 18th.  The best time to see “falling” stars is after midnight.

Both topaz and citrine are considered to be birthstones for November. November's birth flower is the chrysanthemum.  It’s National Adoption month, Native American Heritage Month, Peanut Butter Lovers month, American Diabetes Month, National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month, and Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

November 11th is Veterans Day, the 13th is Sadie Hawkins Day, World Diabetes Day is November 14, World Toilet Day, whatever that means, is November 19th, November 23rd is Thanksgiving. Black Friday, which is an actual holiday in some states, is the 24th.  The 28th is a busy day, Abe Lincoln and Robert E Lees birthdays, (isn’t it odd they share a birthday?) and American Indian Heritage day.

Things to do before it snows

Winter is fast approaching and before you know it most areas of the country will have snow falling.  The gardener is now scurrying around to finish the last minute tasks.

If you haven’t dug up the tender bulbs, that should be your first priority.  Don’t let the ground freeze around them; even if you can still get to them they may be ruined.  Collect any seeds or dried flowers and seed heads you want to save.  Get those bulbs planted. It’s not too late if the ground isn’t frozen.

Garden at Suncrest, Lapeer, Mi
You will want to clean up the vegetable garden thoroughly. Make sure to remove all old fruits and plant parts to prevent overwintering pests and diseases. Put away tomato cages and trellises.  Fallen apples or pears should be removed from underneath trees to help prevent diseases and pests.

In the perennial beds you may want to clean up a little, cutting down unsightly stalks and doing a last weeding.  Leave seed bearing stalks for the birds unless you don’t want the plant to re-seed in the garden.  If time is limited just leave perennial beds.  I don’t do much clean-up of the flower beds until spring.  The stalks and dying foliage help catch snow which, along with the discarded foliage, insulates plant crowns.  I cut down some of the tallest lily stalks and other tall plants to about a foot above ground but that’s all.

Prune cautiously in the fall.  Don’t prune woody plants until they have gone dormant, as pruning may encourage new growth that will expend some of the plants reserves it has stored for winter.  This new growth generally will not harden off enough before winter to survive and is wasted effort for the plant.  Don’t prune spring blooming shrubs or trees now. Buds will have formed for spring and early summer flowering plants and pruning now will leave you without flowers next year.

Plants also experience winter die back from the tip toward the center of the plant.  The dead wood at the tip offers some protection for living tissue farther down. The more you can leave, the more living tissue may survive until spring. 

Should you mulch perennials heavily for winter?  It depends on the species.  Some species such as lavender, like dry winters and mulch may keep them too wet.  Other plants marginally hardy to your zone may need mulch to survive. Strawberries do better if mulched in winter.  Most perennials with the exception of Mediterranean native herbs like rosemary and lavender won’t mind light mulch. 

If you do apply mulch wait until the ground freezes.  The mulch is meant to keep the ground frozen, not warm, and keep plants dormant until spring.  It also prevents freezing and thawing cycles which heave plants out of the ground. Let leaves that blow into the beds remain.  You may want to add leaves, especially if you can shred them, or chopped straw.  Pine needles are fine mulch and don’t acidify the soil.  If something really needs protective mulch you may want to place some netting or fencing over the lighter mulches and weigh it down.  Or use wood chips that are less likely to blow or wash away.

Do get those young deciduous trees protected from varmints before snow falls.  Surround trunks with wire cages or tree tubes up to at least 3 feet high.  Deer, rabbits and voles call kill trees and shrubs by gnawing on the trunks in winter. You may also want to protect shrubs and trees from deer damage by surrounding them with deer netting.  Place it on stakes a foot away from what you are protecting and make it at least 4 feet high so deer can’t lean over it to reach shrubs.  Deer netting is fairly inexpensive.

This isn’t a science based recommendation but I can tell you what has helped me avoid deer damage to my evergreen shrubs and other things in the winter.  I string solar powered “Christmas lights” around the things I want to protect on stakes a foot away from them.  I set the lights to flashing or chasing mode. I think this is important because it’s the simulation of movement that keeps deer away. The lights are inexpensive to buy, you can find them for less than $10, and because they are solar powered cost nothing to run.  They come on automatically at night. 

Even in cloudy Michigan the solar lights work each night as long as snow is kept off the solar panels so it doesn’t block light.  This may or may not work for you and you have to consider if the blinking lights will annoy a neighbor.  I have used different colored lights and color doesn’t seem to matter.  For me the lights worked quite well, keeping deer away from my euonymus and cedars whereas the trees I didn’t protect with lights were eaten. I also used them with success to protect tulips in the spring.

Should you put burlap shields around evergreens to prevent winter leaf burn?  This depends on how hardy the plants are for your zone and where they are planted. Plants at the limits of their growing zone or where you are trying to “zone cheat” might survive better with a shield.  And plants in areas subjected to strong winter winds may need a shield.  Broad leaf evergreens are more susceptible to winter damage than needle type evergreens. Leave some space between the shield and the plants and don’t put the shields up too early.  Never use plastic for shields – you want the air to flow through and keep plants from becoming too wet.  Plastic also causes plants to warm too much on sunny winter days.

Rose cones are used by some people to protect hybrid tea type roses.  Cut the roses back only enough to fit under the cones.  Wait to put up the cones until the ground is frozen and cold weather is predicted to remain. You can insert a sturdy tomato cage over the rose while the ground is unfrozen, and then fill it with leaves or straw after the ground freezes.  You may need to wrap the cage with burlap or netting to keep the mulch in place.

It’s a good time to lay new mulch down around landscaping and on paths.  It’s cooler and things like wood chips are often on clearance.  You may want to remove sod for new garden beds you plan for next year.  You may want to measure areas where you intend to place new beds to help with your planning decisions during the winter.

Put away the tools, lawn chairs and grills as snow approaches.  Empty mowers of gas or add gas stabilizers to the tanks. Empty ceramic, or cement bird baths and pots so they don’t crack.  You may want to bring in glass hummingbird feeders and ornaments.

When all the chores are done you can catch your breath and not worry about waking up to a foot of snow covering everything.  Now it’s time to concentrate on those indoor gardens and planning for next year.

Garden at Suncrest, Lapeer Mi.

Growing Aloes- Aloe vera or syn. A. barbadensis

Aloe is one of those plants that folklore ascribes almost magical properties to.  Common names include burn plant and medicine plant.  In most of the United States aloe is kept as a houseplant although it can be planted in the ground in zones 8 and higher. The native origin of Aloe vera is somewhat hazy, it is thought to be North Africa, but it has naturalized in many parts of the world.  Aloe vera has been domesticated for thousands of years.

Besides the common species Aloe vera, which is the one used in herbal remedies, there are several other aloe species which are used as ornamental houseplants.  A. variegate has broad triangle shaped leaves with a white edge and dark horizontal bands. A. humilis is a dwarf species with narrow blue-green leaves edged with white teeth. A. arborescens forms a trunk with 9 inch leaves and looks like a small tree.  Other species are sometimes available.

Aloe vera leaves are fleshy, thick and triangular or rounded, and vary from green to a green-grey. The insides are gel-like and it’s that gel that is usually given medicinal properties. There are usually splotches of lighter green, yellow or white on the leaves. The leaf margin has small white “teeth”.  Plants grow as rosettes of leaves with “pups” or small plants being produced around the mother plant.  The aloes are plants that use mycorrhiza on their roots to help them obtain water and minerals.

Aloes produce flowering stalks with dangling yellow tubular flowers on occasion. These flowers will turn into seed pods if pollinated but seeds are rarely seen in ornamental plants and plants are generally propagated by removing one of the pups the plants produces.

Aloe vera

Growing conditions

As a houseplant aloes like a light, well drained potting medium.  You can use a cactus type soil or mix some clean sand with potting medium-about 1 part sand to 2 parts potting medium.  Inside they prefer a bright sunny window or grow lights.  However use caution when moving plants outside in the summer and do not put them in direct sunlight without acclimating them gradually or the plants leaves will scorch.  If an aloe is getting too much sun the leaves will look reddish or bronzy.  Aloes that don’t get enough light will be pale green and lanky/floppy.

Let the aloe plant dry out before watering.  If leaves are plump and crisp the plant is healthy and being watered correctly.  Leaves that are shriveled, mushy or blackened are a sign the plant is being over watered or sometimes under watered.  Aloe leaves often have brown or broken tips and this usually just means mechanical damage, as when one breaks off a portion to use.

Fertilizer is rarely needed with aloe plants although you may lightly fertilize with a houseplant fertilizer in summer.  Keep the plants away from cold drafts and from touching cold glass.  Pests of aloe are few; they sometimes get aphids, scale or mealy bugs inside. 

What about aloes medicinal uses?

At one point in time aloe seemed to be in just about every personal care product imaginable and was being consumed in all kinds of food products from smoothies to desserts and also used medicinally.  Medicinally it is said to cure just about everything.  Like most things claimed to be a cure-all much of the information is hype without any proof.

However, aloe has been declared an animal carcinogenic (causes cancer) and a possible human carcinogenic substance when it is ingested. Ingested aloe may also cause birth defects and liver and kidney failure.  In 2002 the FDA regulated laxatives with aloe for that reason.

Small amounts of aloe ingested over a short term may not cause any harm.  However long term ingestion, (eating) of aloe and use of large quantities of aloe, could be harmful.  That’s the general conclusion of most scientific studies of aloe to date. 

Studies linking aloe to lowering blood sugar, lowering cholesterol, causing weight loss and curing AIDS have either been inconclusive or have proven to be false. Some actual benefits of aloe extract are also known but as with most medications risks must be weighed against benefits.  Benefits may be antibacterial/viral actions, laxative properties and soothing, emollient properties.  There may be some use for aloe in skin and wound care.

Aloe is used in one of three forms, whole leaf extract, gel or latex.  Research has shown the gel applied topically (to the skin) is the safest use of aloe.  It has a few minor side effects such as skin irritation.  It has soothing qualities for minor burns and rashes, but studies have shown it doesn’t really influence healing.  It is not a sunscreen and should not be used to prevent sunburn. Studies have shown it does not cure genital herpes or psoriasis as some herbalists suggest.  Ingesting the gel is not recommended.

Aloe latex is already regulated by the FDA and has some limited medical qualities when standardized and carefully administered.  It’s primarily used in laxatives.  Anyone who is allergic to latex should avoid aloe latex.

Whole leaf extracts when consumed are the most dangerous aloe product to experiment with. Aloe extract contains anthraquinones, which are known to have liver and kidney toxicity, may cause excessive bleeding, interact with many other medications, and may cause cancer and birth defects.

The toxicity of aloe extract is determined by measuring the “aloin” content.  The recommended safe dosage for short term medical use is less than 10 ppm (parts per million) and for nonmedical use the recommended limit is 50 ppm or lower.  A person preparing aloe extract at home has no good way to measure aloin content and may take or administer a toxic dose. Decolorized and purified extract is the safest since much of the anthraquinones are removed in the process.

A small amount of decolorized aloe extract used in foods and drinks as a flavoring is considered safe.  I can’t see how aloe taste would improve a food product, I think adding it is seen as a “healthy food” selling point and nothing more.  The small amount added doesn’t provide any significant nutritional boost or medicinal value.  “Juicing” aloe or drinking pure aloe juice would certainly expose one to toxic levels of anthraquinones if done often.

The argument that aloe has been used medicinally for thousands of years and therefore is safe has no merit.   Aloe doesn’t kill immediately or cause immediate adverse effects other than diarrhea so such things as kidney and liver failure, cancer or birth defects were unlikely to be associated with it in earlier times but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.

Aloe is also toxic to pets, although they rarely consume enough to cause serious problems.  Vomiting and severe diarrhea would be the primary symptoms.  If a pet kept ingesting the plant however, kidney or liver problems might occur as well as cancer or birth defects in offspring.

So your aloe plant on the windowsill can be used to treat minor burns and rashes without any harm.  Don’t squeeze the gel out of a broken leaf however. This releases the latex, which is a yellow fluid found just under the plants “skin”. The latex is actually a skin irritant.  Instead slit a leaf length wise, lay it open and carefully remove the gel away from the outer layer of plant.  This is what is applied to the skin.  But please skip consuming aloe in any way unless a medical professional administers a purified product.

Here are some reference to studies on aloe toxicity

Preventing hunting on your property

Some gardeners never have to worry about hunters straying on their property and some gardeners might want deer hunters to take a few shots at the deer on their land.  But even though you may think that hunting is a great sport, you may want to keep hunters off property that you own.  You may be worried that your pets, livestock, crops or kids will be harmed or you may want to save all the chances of bagging a big buck for yourself.

We only allow hunting on our property by people we know and only archery hunting.  As a land owner you have the right to restrict who hunts and how they hunt on your land.  There may be liability issues with allowing people to hunt on your land; you may want to have a formal written agreement. You should also check any zoning restrictions against hunting in your area.  

And regardless if it’s your land or not most states restrict hunting to legal hunting seasons, with a hunting license and legal hunting weapons and hunting regulations as determined by your state. The rule of thumb is you own the land but the state owns the game animals.

How to post your land

Every year as hunting season approaches the no trespassing/ no hunting signs fly off the hardware shelves as people try to keep unwanted hunters off their land. Here’s what you need to know about posting your property. (I’m not a lawyer and I’m not giving legal advice here. I’m most familiar with Michigan law but most states have similar laws on posting land and hunting regulations.)

While farmland and woods connected to farmland are automatically protected by law from trespassing, many hunters don’t know this. It’s best to post all property, even fenced property and crop land, which you want to keep hunters and other trespassers away from.  

Even if you think hunting on your property is fine, you should probably post the property and restrict access to those hunters which you select, and not allow general public access to hunting on your property.  Your signs should state - hunting by written permission only - and give a number or address to contact.  This gives you some control and helps prevent illegal hunting or damage to your property.

Legal no trespassing signs must be at least 50 square inches and have letters at least 1 inch high.  The wording can vary from simply no trespassing to no hunting or trespassing.  If you don’t care if people come on the property for reasons other than hunting your signs can just say no hunting. But be aware that is much harder to enforce and prosecute hunting violators if the sign doesn’t say no trespassing. 

There is no required color for the signs.  Brightly colored signs do show up better against a dark background of trees or crops.   All kinds of signs are readily available in hardware, feed stores and even big box stores or you can make your own.

Your signs must be posted so that a person can see at least one sign as he or she approaches any point of entry into the property. That means that they will probably need to be every 10-15 feet apart on property boundaries.   It is illegal to post signs on other people’s property without their permission, no matter how tempted you are to add additional space to your buffer zone.  It is also illegal to remove posted signs, unless they were wrongly posted on your land.

The best signs are sturdy and waterproof and at least 8 by 10 inches.  Attach signs to fence posts or posts of their own.  They should show above any tall weeds or crops, but not be above an average person’s standing eyesight.  Attaching signs to trees can damage the tree.  If you have driveways or paths leading off public roads or they come from property owned by someone else, it would be best to place a rope or chain across that access point and attach signs to it.  If those access points have gates place no trespassing signs on the gates. 

If your property borders a stream, river or lake that people could enter from post signs along the shore. (In some areas there is public access allowed on rivers and lakes but people on the water cannot legally come off the water onto your property if it’s posted.) If you notice blinds, camps or other indications that people have been on your property post signs near that location too.  You can legally remove blinds and camps from your property if you did not give permission for them to be there.

When you find a trespasser

If you find trespassers ask them to leave.  If they don’t leave don’t threaten them, don’t try to bodily remove them or chase them out.  Remember some of these trespassers may be armed and angry words and guns are not a good match. Contact local law authorities, DNR employees won’t respond to trespassing on private property complaints, unless illegal hunting is also involved and even then, they probably can’t respond very quickly.  Unfortunately local law authorities may also put trespassing complaints on low priority. 

If vehicles are on your property or parked along the road and you think they belong to trespassers, get the license plate number.  If a trespassing hunter has a hunting license attached to his clothes try to get that number too. This will help law enforcement prosecute offenders.

A person who is convicted of a first offense of trespassing is generally fined or assessed damages, whichever is greater.  After the first offense additional penalties may apply.

A person who has lost a dog or farm animal has the legal right to enter property to retrieve it, even if it is posted.  He or she cannot be armed, and must only be on the land only long enough to collect the animal and leave.  A hunter does not have the right to track wounded animals onto posted property or retrieve dead animals from posted property.  However it might be kinder to the animal to let the hunter track it and finish it off.

I’m not against hunting in the right time and place.  It makes me very unhappy however to find a hunting blind on my property when I did not give permission for it to be there or have people on my land with guns that I do not know. I take care to wear hunter orange during hunting season when out away from the house, just in case.  When we had livestock we penned them up away from the woods until hunting season was over.  Most hunters are probably sensible, safe hunters but I take no chances.

Drying apples

The drying method is the same whether you want to eat or make crafts from your apples but there are some differences in preparing the apples.   For eating, select apples that have firm flesh and that don’t have soft spots or worms.  Wash, peel and core these apples.  For craft apples insects and damaged areas are less important.  However heavily bruised or rotting apples will not dry well.  Most people leave the skin on and cores intact for crafts.  

Slice your apples into 1/4 inch slices as evenly as you can.  Immediately dip them in a solution of 1/2 cup lemon juice to a quart of water.  Leave them in the solution for a few minutes.  This prevents browning of the slices. 

The slices can be spread in a single layer and dried in a food dehydrator- follow your dehydrator directions, or place slices on cookie sheets and put in the oven at 135-140 degrees.  It will take 6-8 hours to dry them in the oven.  Apple slices can also be dried in a single layer in the sun for 3-4 days.  This requires warm, sunny weather for those days. They must be covered with screen or cheese cloth to protect them from insects and placed where they are safe from larger animal pests.  Bring them inside overnight to avoid dew wetting them.

Properly dried apple slices will be dry in the center, but still pliable.  Store them in tightly covered containers with a spoonful of powdered milk twisted in a paper towel to absorb moisture.  If mold develops on apples for eating they should be discarded.

Four C’s- Cider-Cherry-Chestnut – Chicken

Here’s a yummy recipe that combines harvest goodies with the old favorite chicken.  This recipe makes a dish that’s both low fat and delicious.  Serve with brown and/or wild rice for a great meal. Serves 4.


Four boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
1 ½ cups apple cider
1 cup frozen chestnuts (quartered)
1 large apple, peeled, cored and cut into thin slices
½ cup dried cherries, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic (sliced)
2 chicken bouillon cubes
½ teaspoon tarragon
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the chicken, cider, bullion, garlic and seasonings in a large pan. Cover pan.

Poach chicken on low heat, turning occasionally, until the chicken is almost cooked, about 10 minutes.

Add apple, cherries, and chestnuts and cook 5-7 minutes longer, until chicken is thoroughly cooked.

Serve over cooked rice.

May the sun catch you and the snow miss you this week

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….

Find Michigan garden events/classes here:
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An interesting Plant Id page you can join on Facebook

Here’s a seed/plant sharing group you can join on Facebook

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