Tuesday, October 17, 2017

October 17, 2017, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter

Hi Gardeners
Pumpkin on a stick and mums
It was a very chilly morning around here, especially since our furnace isn’t working.  It’s warmed up nicely today, 68 degrees and sunny.  It’s the kind of day I’d like to curl up and bask in the sun like all my cats are doing.  I’m thinking how lucky I am compared to all those gardeners who lost their gardens to hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and fires this year.  I’m hoping everyone has a better garden season next year.

I think we had a light frost last night, although there doesn’t appear to be much damage.  I moved some pots of the tender bulbs inside yesterday and managed to get my geraniums potted up for winter and moved inside between rain storms this weekend.  Now my porch is as full as the rest of the house and I still have to cram a few more things inside, like my rosemary.

I cut most of the dahlia blooms that were left last night, anticipating frost, but it looks like they may still get to bloom some more.  But the shorter days are taking a toll on the flower beds, many annuals are now through blooming.  The landscape roses are still going strong, an iris is blooming, some petunias, the salvias, marigolds, tithonia, zinnias and calendula.  Butterflies are still visiting.  The butterfly I pictured here last week was identified by an expert as a Painted Lady butterfly.

I picked some cute little pumpkins on a stick this week.  See the article on them below.  It’s time to pick those pumpkins, gourds and things to dry for decorations if you haven’t already.  I’ll be collecting seeds this week to save as it’s supposed to be sunny and dry.

All of my new bulbs have arrived for planting and I managed to get some planted before the rains came last weekend.  I’m planting around 400 bulbs this fall, down from last year’s count.  This year I’m trying a rare bulb- Fritillaria camschatcansis (chocolate lily), Fritillaria persica and some Camassia quamash as well as new varieties of old favorites. 

I like to try things I’ve never grown before.  Sometimes I have to try several times before something actually grows but it’s worth it.  I hope you too are busy planting bulbs so you will have lots of spring flowers to look forward to.

Questions about planting spring blooming bulbs answered

I love spring blooming bulbs and I plant hundreds each year.  You can never have enough spring flowers. If you don’t plant bulbs in the fall for spring flowers, why not?  It’s easy to do, although there is some work involved like in all garden endeavors. And most bulbs are inexpensive. If you are hesitant to try bulbs I think my many, many years of experience in planting bulbs can answer some questions gardeners may have about planting bulbs.

When should I plant bulbs?

In zones 4-7 bulbs can be planted from September until the ground freezes. In zones 8 and higher you’ll need to plant pre-chilled bulbs and wait until the soil cools down, probably November and December.  You can plant all bulbs as soon as you get them in the mail or buy them at the store but if your time is limited here are some guidelines for prioritizing.

 Always plant lily bulbs and the tubers or rhizomes of things like peonies as quickly after you get them as you can.  These do not store well and every day you wait decreases the chance you’ll have success with them. Lily bulbs are not generally mailed to you until later in the fall but when they do arrive plant them immediately. Lily bulbs found in packages in stores usually don’t perform as well as those that were dug and shipped directly to you from a mail order source. 

Plant the smaller bulbs, like crocus and snowdrops as early as you can.  They bloom early so they need to get started early.  They also have the tendency to dry out in storage.  Hyacinths, daffodils, and narcissus should be next, with tulips last.  Tulips actually like cooler soil.  While bulbs can be planted until the soil freezes they often do not do as well as those planted earlier.

Where can I plant bulbs?

Almost all bulbs like well-drained soil.  Never plant bulbs where water stands in early spring.  Most bulbs also like to be planted in sunny locations.  However small bulbs that bloom early can often be planted where the shade of deciduous trees will be later in summer, as most of their growth will be done before the trees cast much shade.  A few bulbs and rhizomes do like partly shaded locations, lily of the valley, trout lilies, trillium, some true lilies are examples, so do some research and make sure you are giving the plants the location they need.

Remember that you will need to leave bulb foliage to dry up before you remove it if you want the bulbs to return well the next year.  Planting bulbs where later emerging perennial foliage will hide the dying bulb foliage is a good plan.  I like to plant bulbs among hosta, ferns and daylilies.  Oriental and other tall lilies do well planted with ferns or daylilies as an understory; they won’t bloom until later in the season but they like their feet in the shade. Just leave a small clear area over each bulb, don’t plant directly on top of the bulb.

How do I plant bulbs?

Most bulbs should be planted about three times as deep as their height, but there are exceptions to this rule.  Read package directions or look up the plant requirements if you are uncertain.   In general plants with rhizomes or tubers instead of bulbs will be planted less deeply.  (Rhizomes look like stems with buds and have roots attached.) If you aren’t good at estimating depth in inches use a trowel that’s marked with inches or mark a small piece of wood with inch measurements and use that to guide you.

Plant the bulbs with the pointed end of the bulb up.  If you can’t find a pointed end, look for a round scar on the bulb.  This is where roots were last year and it goes down in the hole.  Rhizomes should have budded areas on top if you look closely.  If you absolutely have no idea what is top or bottom plant the bulb on its side.  Most bulbs will then be able to adjust themselves as they grow.  I notice many sellers send directions with those “tricky” bulbs that now say plant sideways.

Package directions will tell you how far apart to space bulbs.  Generally large bulbs should be about 6 inches apart, small bulbs 2-3 inches.  Arrange your bulbs in a staggered way, not in straight lines for a more natural look.  Small groups of the same color or type of bulb look better than single bulbs.  Bulbs can be layered- plant larger bulbs deep and smaller bulbs less deeply, but don’t place small bulbs directly over the large, just close by.


Should I remove the brown papery stuff on bulbs or divide bulbs?

Try not to remove any papery covering bulbs have, but don’t worry if some of it falls off. Don’t separate the scales- or sections – which lily bulbs have and don’t try to divide daffodils with double or triple “noses”.  Yes, experts propagate bulbs that way but it isn’t as easy as it seems and your best bet is to plant the bulbs as they came.  You’ll get larger flowers this way.

You can plant any bulb sections or tiny bulbs that fall off bulb clumps and hope some of them also bloom.  It can take another year or two in some cases.

What about moldy or mushy bulbs?

A little mold on bulbs that still feel firm will not harm them.  Just plant them as normal.  Mushy or rotted looking bulbs should be discarded. If the bulbs arrived that way I would contact the company you bought them from and ask for a refund.

What should I add to the hole when planting bulbs- bonemeal?

Don’t use fertilizer or bone meal in the bottom of your hole.  Bone meal should not be used at all.  Old books suggest it and some new references just copy that but in our times bone meal is steamed and processed for safety and little is left in the way of nutrients. It also attracts some animals, which dig up your bulbs looking for it.  Using a general purpose fertilizer is fine, but mix it with the soil you are back filling with or sprinkle it on the soil surface, don’t dump it in the hole.  This can burn roots.

Never add peat or compost to holes for bulbs.  These can retain water, especially if the native soil is clay, and bulbs do not like that.  They may rot before they root.

What do I do after I plant the bulbs?

You probably won’t need to water bulbs after planting.  If it’s very dry all fall a good soaking before the ground freezes might be indicated. Don’t add thick mulch after planting as this may impede the bulbs emergence.  A light mulch of 2 inches or less is ok and helps disguise the planting area from animals. If thick layers of leaves blow over planted bulbs remove some of the matted leaves in spring so that bulbs don’t struggle to emerge.

Mark the spots where you planted bulbs with labels so you know where they are.  Some fall planted bulbs and rhizomes are slow to emerge in the spring and you don’t want to damage them or plant over them.

When bulbs just begin to emerge in the spring a small amount of slow release granular fertilizer sprinkled on the soil around them, especially if you can do it just before a spring rain, will improve their vigor and size.  This practice may help bubs that aren’t reliably perennial return the next year too.  And if spring is dry make sure to water your bulbs.

What do I do about animals eating or digging up bulbs?

Narcissus, daffodil, and allium bulbs are not eaten by animals, although they can be dug out of the ground and left to die.   If you have problems with animals like deer eating the flowers in the spring these bulbs are also good choices.

If you have trouble with animals digging up bulbs to eat you can lay a piece of wire fencing over the planted area until the ground is frozen.  Make sure you remove it early in the spring if you don’t remove it in the fall.  A piece of lattice, with 2 inch holes can be placed on the ground and the bulbs planted through the holes.  This discourages widespread digging, such as from pets, which really aren’t after the bulb to eat.  You can leave it and disguise it with mulch or remove it before the plants get very large.

Moles do not eat bulbs, but their tunnels attract other animals which do and their tunneling can sink bulbs too deep to emerge.  If you have lots of moles you can plant bulbs in pots, which you sink in the ground to their rim.   The pots should be deep enough for the type of bulb planted in them.  Several bulbs can be planted in each pot if there is enough space.

Folk remedies like sprinkling red pepper or mothballs on the ground do not keep bulbs from being dug up.  Some birds and other animals actually like red pepper and it’s quickly washed away in fall rains.  Mothballs are very poisonous to children and pets, and add harmful chemicals to your soil when they dissolve.  They should never be used outside.
What if I forget to plant bulbs and the ground is frozen?

If you look outside one morning and snow is on the ground don’t despair.  Plant the bulbs in a good potting soil mix in containers and keep the containers cool, in the refrigerator or on an unheated porch or garage.  The ideal temperature is between 30 and 40 degrees. Water lightly every couple weeks.  After 8-10 weeks of cold the pots can be brought into a warmer, sunny place and they will probably bloom for you.  Plant the bulbs outside in the early spring.  They may or may not bloom the next season but at least you had them this spring.

Don’t try to keep bulbs in a dormant state until the next fall or until spring.  While peonies and lilies can be spring planted holding over plants or bulbs you bought in the fall isn’t a good idea. 

There’s still time to buy bulbs on line for most gardeners.  See the list of garden catalogs to the right of the blog if you need links to online sources.

Natures gift- fall leaves

I used to embarrass my son greatly when I would stop on our drive home from school to pick up garbage bags of leaves people had left by the road.  He could never understand why I considered those leaves so valuable

When the leaves are beginning to fall the first instinct of many gardeners is to get out the rake.  But stop right there.  Thinking fallen leaves look messy is learned behavior, a construct of civilization.  Instead think of fallen leaves as a beautiful blanket provided generously by nature. A wise gardener knows that those leaves are a gift, a valuable gift to you from nature and they learn how to use that gift wisely.

Here’s why leaves should be considered a gift.  All summer long the tree has been drawing nutrients from the soil and creating food from sunlight and now some of those nutrients are in each of those leaves decorating your lawn. Not all of the nutrients of course.  Before the tree formed that abscission layer that caused the leaves to drop, it reabsorbed some of the nutrients in the leaves. But some nutrients along with valuable organic matter are left.

You can choose to throw those nutrients and valuable organic matter away, spending hours of time raking and bagging leaves, or worse, using a gas guzzling, noisy, emission spewing leaf blower to move them somewhere else. Or you can choose to keep nature’s gift and return those valuable nutrients to your soil. Smart gardeners keep the leaves.

Some people worry that if they let leaves lay on the lawn they will smother the grass. It is true that a heavy, thick layer of wet leaves can cause some patches of lawn to die. Nature seldom lets this happen because the leaves get stirred around by fall and winter winds and rarely make thick layers in a natural situation. If this worries you or you don’t like the “messy” look of leaves on the lawn the solution is simple. On a dry day get out your lawn mower, preferably with a mulching blade, set it to mow about 3 inches high and make a couple passes over your lawn.  If leaves have gathered against a fence or building your rake can get some use as you pull them out to where the mower can chop them up.

Leaves that are cut into small pieces by the mower will settle into the lawn and soon be decomposed, returning those captured nutrients to the soil and the trees that shed the leaves. In a very short time you will never know they were there. You can wait until all the leaves have fallen, or mow every few days, depending on how many leaves you are given.

There is one good reason to rake leaves and that is to use them for compost or organic improvement for your vegetable and flower beds. (Raking leaves off walkways and porches is also a good idea, since they can be slippery when wet.) Better yet, use the bagged leaves your neighbors have spent all that labor on and just mow yours. Leaves can go directly into compost piles, whole or shredded. They can also be piled on bare vegetable beds. Leaves can be left in those plastic bags and stored dry somewhere to add to compost piles in the spring and summer when dry matter is needed to balance wet matter.

Before using leaves to mulch dormant perennials, most leaves should be shredded. Oak leaves and leaves that are very small already, such as honey locust leaves, are an exception. They can be used “as is.” Other leaves may matt and mold if used whole and in quantity. You can buy leaf shredders or you can place a layer of leaves in a large trash can, insert a “weed wacker” and chop them up. Wear safety goggles and keep your face away from the can opening if you do this in case foreign objects were in the leaves. Shredded leaves can be used generously to mulch perennial beds.

If you are thinking of building a new flower or vegetable bed in a turf area next spring the smothering effect of large amounts of whole leaves can be used to your advantage. Outline your new bed, mow the existing vegetation as short as possible and pile on the leaves, a foot or more high. You may want to lay some fence wire or burlap across the leaves and weigh it down to keep the wind from stealing your leaves over the winter.

Never throw a gift away.  Nature gave you the leaves so use them wisely.

Pumpkins on a stick-  Solanum aethiopicum, and Solanum integrifolium

If you like to grow something different, like fall decorating or like to experiment with medicinal herbs then this odd little plant called pumpkins on a stick or Chinese scarlet eggplant may be just the thing for you.  I love the tiny pumpkin shaped fruit because they make long lasting fall arrangements.  And pumpkins on a stick are as easy to grow as tomatoes or eggplants- because they are an eggplant, not a pumpkin.
Pumpkins on a stick

I was shopping at a farmers market many years ago and a vendor had these tiny little dried, pumpkin-like fruits.  She said they were some kind of pepper.  It looked like orange color may have been added to those fruits and they had a rather papery type skin.  I added some to the fall decorations on my desk and then tried to grow some of the seeds inside the next spring, with no success.

In my search to find those intriguing little fruits again I came upon a seed packet labeled “Pumpkins on a Stick” and thought I had found my plant.  I didn’t, pumpkin on a stick actually has prettier, shiny orange fruits that are larger than the fruits I found at the farmers market.  I think I like the pumpkins on a stick better, they are pretty on the plant and off.  And at only about 2 inches wide they still are smaller than the smallest true pumpkins.  (However I continue to look for those original little pumpkin like fruits I saw that time at the farmers market.)

As mentioned above pumpkins on a stick are actually an eggplant. They are native to Africa, but have become naturalized in China and other Asian countries where they were introduced thousands of years ago. I had to do some deep researching on the correct species of eggplant.  It seems that there are actually two eggplant species in the horticulture trade that are given this common name or the name Scarlet Chinese eggplant  and they are Solanum aethiopicum, and Solanum integrifolium. They are very similar and many authors tend to say either name is correct and refer to the same plant.  However a DNA analysis proves there are two distinct species called by the common name.  Here’s a link to that research: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00022555

I noticed that many descriptions of pumpkin on a stick included leaves with prickles and purple stems.  My plants had neither of those things but the fruits looked identical to pictures of those plants.  It seems I have Solanum integrifolium, it is Solanum aethiopicum which has prickles on the leaves and stems and purplish stems.  When you order seeds of pumpkins on a stick or Scarlet Chinese eggplant you may get either species, depending on what that company is cultivating.

Both species have leaves typical of eggplant, broad triangles with wavy edges.  Solanum aethiopicum has prickles sticking up through the surface of the leaf and on stems.  The plant has a sprawling habit, more like a tomato than a domestic eggplant.  Solanum aethiopicum stems have a purple color.

The flowers of both species of pumpkins on a stick are white.  They turn into clusters of green, ribbed 2 inch fruits that mature to orange and look very much like a ribbed pumpkin in miniature.  The seeds inside are much like pepper seeds, flat and white.

You can harvest the fruits by picking the fruits off individually or cutting stems off.  To dry the fruits hang stems of fruit upside down in a dark warm place.  The orange fruits store well, lasting weeks as a fresh decoration similar to real pumpkins.  For anyone who grows things for fall farm markets the pumpkins on a stick could be an excellent crop.

Growing pumpkins on a stick

Gardeners will probably have to start with seeds.  I bought mine off a seed rack in a grocery store this year but several seed companies carry them.  Start the seeds inside about 8 weeks before your average last frost date.  The seeds germinate best in warm temperatures of 70-80 degrees and plants like warm growing conditions also.  Don’t transplant outside until the weather is warm and settled.

Pumpkins on a stick need the same care as tomato or eggplant plants and you will probably need to stake or cage the plants to keep them off the ground.  Plant pumpkins on a stick in full sun.  Water during dry spells.  It takes about 75 days from transplanting outside to get ripe fruit.  Frost kills the plants, if your fruits haven’t ripened before the first frost is predicted you may want to cover the plants to give them more time.

Pumpkins on a stick are disease resistant; their genes are being introduced into the species of eggplant cultivated for food to make them resistant to fusarium wilt and other things.  Insects like flea beetles may chew foliage but rarely do significant damage.  Like most plants in the solanaceae family (peppers, tomatoes, eggplant) pumpkins on a stick are rarely eaten by deer and rabbits.

Other uses of pumpkins on a stick

In Asia the fruit of pumpkins on a stick and also the leaves are used in cooking.  The fruits are harvested in a green or yellow stage and used in various cooked dishes.  If left to turn orange they become very bitter and even green fruit is pretty bitter, try a bite if you grow them.

Leaves are also used as a vegetable when very young, boiled in a change of water like poke leaves.  All parts of the plant would be poisonous if eaten in large quantity and personally I think I would pass on the leaves.

Green fruits and sometimes leaves are used in indigenous herbal remedies to lessen pain and inflammation, for stomach complaints and for swollen lymph nodes.   Modern medicine has found anti-inflammatory and other benefits in the plants.  For more recent medical research results try this link;

Pumpkins on a stick are a plant every gardener should try at least once, just for the fun of it.  They are great for those who love fall themed decorations and are attractive in the garden as well.   Some of you may want to add pumpkins on a stick to your medicinal gardens also.

Cinnamon in the garden

Gosh I must have missed it.  All those hours of botany and biology classes and no one ever told me about all the benefits of cinnamon in the garden.  I guess I should have been on line so I could read all those helpful articles by people who probably aren’t even gardeners.  I hope you realize this is sarcasm.

How did all these “cinnamon does everything” articles get started?  Just the way the Epsom salt articles did, by someone with little scientific knowledge interpreting a scientific study somewhere and jumping to erroneous conclusions which then spread like wildfire through social media.  Someone tries a home remedy suggested and by chance or the placebo effect, their plant/garden seems to improve.  But I think half of the remedies passed around the internet don’t even get tried by those spreading them.

So let’s talk about cinnamon.   After a review of scientific literature I think I know how the power of cinnamon myths got started.  Social media stories attribute these qualities to cinnamon; it cures fungal disease on plants and soil, it kills or chases away insects and/or animal pests, it improves plant vigor, and it’s a rooting hormone.  Most social media articles eagerly suggest you go out to the dollar store and buy a big container of cinnamon powder.  But you may want to save your money and protect your children and pets health, (more on that later), by not buying that economy jar of cinnamon.

Most scientific studies on plant compounds isolate chemicals from plants they feel might be useful.  They then use those specific chemicals in their studies.  Whole plants contain many different chemicals, and those chemicals can vary tremendously from plant to plant of the same species depending on growing conditions, harvesting techniques and other variables. Using whole plants would make it hard to replicate experiments, which is a requirement for good scientific studies, and we wouldn’t know what chemicals in the plant provided helpful results.

In the case of cinnamon a few studies isolated chemicals in the plant that could control fungal and bacterial diseases, mainly cinnamaldehyde.   All of the studies on cinnamon used concentrated cinnamon oil, not powdered cinnamon.  Here’s the summary of what concentrated cinnamon oil is good for: protecting harvested fruits and vegetables from rot and being used in coatings of food storage containers to help prevent spoilage.  One study found that paper coated with a wax infused with cinnamon oil would repel ants.  Cinnamon oil has been used in coatings on rice containers for insect repellency, and control.  (I hesitate to include these studies because someone reading this will start sprinkling cinnamon powder to repel ants.  Don’t.)

Studies were indeed done with concentrated cinnamon oil, (not powder) on plant fungal diseases.  In the lab, on petri dishes of fungus, cinnamon oil worked well to control the diseases. Someone read that part and the legends took off.  However when cinnamon oil is applied to living plants in a concentration high enough to control fungus it causes severe phototoxic damage, (the leaves burn in light). Those eager article writers missed that part.  Therefore using it to control fungal diseases or repel insects isn’t a good idea.  And the concentrated cinnamon oil used in the studies is not the cinnamon essential oils you buy in stores.

There are no science based uses for cinnamon powder in gardening.  Cinnamon powder will not prevent dampening off when sprinkled on soil; it won’t cure fungal disease or kill insects when sprinkled on plants.  And it is not a rooting hormone, and no evidence exists that it can help prevent cuttings from bacterial or fungal rot.  The only thing powdered cinnamon is good for is baking.  Get it out of the garden.

Human medicine

Cinnamon, as a spice, the powdered bark of several types of  Cinnamomum species trees, has been used for thousands of years.  Cinnamaldehyde is an aromatic oil found in cinnamon bark that gives it that distinctive smell and taste.  The cheaper form of cinnamon, called Cassia cinnamon, also contains the chemical coumarin, which has been widely studied in human medicine.

Cinnamon has been studied in human medicine for lowering blood sugar by increasing insulin sensitivity and for lowering blood cholesterol. Some studies found cinnamon helpful in these cases, others found no benefit.  Animal studies for cancer and other ailments have shown mixed results also.  But these studies are outside the scope of this article.
Here’s a link to several human medicinal studies.

Cinnamon may not be safe

There is another good reason not to use cinnamon powder in the garden.  People widely assume something they can eat as a spice is harmless but in the case of cinnamon that isn’t true.  Cinnamon in large quantities is damaging to the liver and can cause cancer.  (Eating it in baked goods is generally fine, you get small amounts.  Some doctors will warn certain patients to avoid cinnamon however.) Cheap cinnamon also has a pretty significant amount of coumarin in it which can cause excessive bleeding.  Doctors are now warning about self -medicating with cinnamon powder capsules for various ailments.

Inhalation of cinnamon powder can cause severe lung damage.  This happens when people try to eat the powder dry, as in the infamous cinnamon challenge that peaked in 2013-2014 or when a curious child gets its hands on the powder as happened in 2015- resulting in the death of the child from lung damage. Inhalation of cinnamon powder can cause lung fibrosis even years later.  http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/131/5/833.full.pdf

When people start thinking of a product as safe and using it for all kinds of things it wasn’t meant to be used for, problems occur. (Look, mom has a big bottle of cinnamon in the shed, let’s try the cinnamon challenge.) Cinnamon belongs in the spice cabinet, out of the reach of kids and not masquerading as a safe, natural garden product, which the manufacturers of cinnamon powder never intended it to be used for. 

I am going to list some more links to cinnamon research here.  People should realize that when they read one research study they shouldn’t jump to conclusions that a product is safe and effective especially if you substitute some common product for the specialized product used in the research, for example using cinnamon powder in place of concentrated cinnamon oil.  And many studies need to be done before safety and effectiveness can truly be determined.

Since cinnamon has been used for thousands of years it would seem logical if there truly were benefits to using it in the garden that practice would be well known by experts in the field of horticulture and agriculture. A quick search of my older garden books, even organic ones, does not reveal any references to using cinnamon.  This is a fairly new bit of misinformation fed by social media.

Harvest Loaf

This quick bread is moist and deliciously full of fall harvest flavor.  It’s the perfect thing to warm up your house and your belly on a chilly day.  The recipe will make 2 large loaves or 3 small, so you can freeze your cake and eat it too.

2 large apples, peeled and cored
1 cup of pumpkin puree- (not pumpkin pie mix)
1 box pumpkin spice instant pudding mix (can use vanilla)
3 cups unbleached flour (plain white flour is fine, but less healthy)
1 ½ cups packed brown sugar
1 ½ cups sour cream
½ cup butter, melted
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon apple pie spice, or pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans - optional

Grease the bottoms only of 2 large or 3 small loaf pans.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the apples and pumpkin in food processor and blend until smooth.

Note: you can continue the recipe in the food processor if it’s large or move the puree to a mixing bowl and use the mixer to blend ingredients.

Add eggs, blend well.

Add brown sugar, baking soda and powder, salt and spices, blend well.

Add the pudding mix, sour cream, vanilla and melted butter, blend well.

Add flour and nuts if using and blend until smooth.

Pour batter into pans, divided equally.

Bake at 350 degrees about 45 minutes, until tops are brown and a knife inserted comes out clean.

Decorate this pretty brown loaf with orange cream cheese frosting for an elegant dessert.

Staghorn Sumac 

Brilliant blue skies, soft light, orange,yellow, red and brown, fall. 

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

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

If you would like to pass along a notice about an educational event or a volunteer opportunity please send me an email before Tuesday of each week and I will print it. Also if you have a comment or opinion you’d like to share, send it to me or you can comment directly on the blog. Please state that you want to have the item published in my weekly note if you email me. You must give your full name and what you say must be polite and not attack any individual. I am very open to ideas and opinions that don’t match mine but I do reserve the right to publish what I want. Contact me at KimWillis151@gmail.com

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, October 10, 2017

October 10, 2017, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter

Hi Gardeners
Who is a butterfly expert? 
Is this Gorgone Checkerspot?
Well summer continues here in Michigan, we have had warm temperatures and pretty dry conditions.  We did get 6/10 inch of rain this weekend but we could use more.  You can tell by the angle of light and shorter days that it’s fall but if you sit outside midday you would swear its June.  We are running about 10 degrees above normal.  I hope that trend continues all winter.

Outside I have petunias, impatiens, violas, calendula, mums, landscape roses, sedum, geraniums, tuberous begonias, cleome, zinnias, tithonia, dahlias, Maximillian sunflowers, Jerusalem artichokes, cannas, cup and saucer vine, clematis, marigolds, bearded iris and salvia still blooming.  I even have blooms on the pepper and tomato plants left standing.  I think I have more still in bloom this fall than I’ve ever had before in October.

Inside I have hibiscus, fuchsia, bouvardia and spider plants blooming.  There are large buds on the “thanksgiving” cactus.  I also have a problem with tree frogs.  Yes indoors.  Some people think having frogs in the house is scary, I don’t mind except that I think they need to be outside before winter so they can properly hibernate.  But try finding and catching these little buggers.  I can hear their very loud calls but seldom see them.

In our bedroom there is a very ting spring peeper with a big mouth living in a pot that has a small variegated weeping fig underplanted with setcreasea (purple heart).  Several times I have seen the little guy sitting on the soil in the pot but I can’t get my hands in among the plants to catch him.  I gave him a saucer of water since there are no bird cages in that room for him to find water in but I don’t know what he eats.

In the living room another frog is residing among the large plants. I can’t find him.  He sounds like he’s close to the bird cage where there’s a big dish of water but it’s like a jungle in that room, no hope of finding him.  And I heard one in my office, there are only 4 pots on the shelf I heard him calling from. I took each down and examined them but I can’t find that one either.

I have never had this many frogs come inside before. Since they all sound alike I think they are all spring peepers like the one I see in the bedroom.  It’s not like the singing they do in the spring, it’s a loud sound like a dog squeaky toy.  I don’t know if there was a frog population boom this summer or if they are on the plants because they were getting watered regularly and it was dry.  I would be fine with them living in here all winter if they could find something to eat but I doubt they can. 

I love being able to be outside in the sun this October.  There are still lots of butterflies and bees even though the hummers are gone.  I just got some pictures of a butterfly I think may be the rather rare Gorgone Checkerspot, not recorded yet in this county.  Take a look at the photo at the top of the page if you know butterflies and tell me what you think.  I am going to submit it to entomology at MSU and see what they think.

Cup and saucer vine- Cobaea scandens

If you like interesting heirloom plants Cup and Saucer vine should be in your garden. Another common name is Cathedral Bells. This vigorous vine is native to Mexico and is grown in most of the US as an annual vine, although it is a perennial in planting zones 9 and above.  It is also grown in heated greenhouses and sunrooms as a fall and winter blooming vine often used as a screen or “curtains”.  It is perennial and evergreen inside or in planting zones 9 and higher.

If you need something covered Cup and Saucer vine may be the plant you are looking for. It’s equally good on a trellis or chain link fence and will also climb into trees and shrubs if you let it.  If you live in colder zones say zone 7 and lower you’ll probably want to start plants inside 2 months before your last spring frost to get maximum coverage before first fall frost.  But this vine grows quickly and branches out to cover a large area.  It can easily grow 10-15 feet in just the summer.  In warm areas or inside the vine can eventually cover 40-70 feet of space.
Cup and saucer vine
Cobaea scandens has compound leaves, consisting of 4-6 oval leaflets.  It climbs by tendrils that are often forked and have a hook at the end.  It grows upright as a seedling until it finds suitable support then will branch to cover a wider area.  Stems are a reddish purple color when young.

The flowers of Cup and Saucer vine are said to look like a teacup in a saucer but I find that quite imaginative.  The flower starts with odd looking 5 sided pale green buds which then opens and shows off the frilly inner cup like flower. The cup has a light center spot, markings along the petals pointing to the nectar in the center, darker veins and long protruding clusters of stamens. When it first opens the flower cup is pale greenish white, over a few days it darkens to pale purple and then becomes deep purple after the flower loses its pollen.  The flowers are said to have a light sweet scent, although I have never noticed it.

The color change in the flowers makes sense because in its native habitat Cobaea scandens is pollinated by bats.  White or light colors are more easily found in the dark, even by bats.  When the flower no longer needs pollination it turns dark, and hopefully the bats will leave it alone and concentrate on plants that still need pollination.

Flowers are about 2 inches wide and begin blooming in late summer.  They will continue blooming until frost outside.  People who grow the plant inside say it will continue blooming well into winter.  There is a variety of Cup and Saucer vine that stays white that is sometimes offered in catalogs but I find the color changing variety more interesting.

If flowers get pollinated a round seed capsule develops in the center of the “saucer”.  Inside are numerous flat seeds with “wings” that help distribute them.  Because seed pods sometimes form in areas outside the range of pollinating bats night flying moths or other insects may also pollinate the plant.

Growing Cup and Saucer vine

Cup and Saucer vine prefers full sun.  I have had the plants do well in light shade also.  Inside it would need the brightest conditions possible.  It’s not fussy about soil.  In areas colder than zone 9 it’s generally grown outside as an annual.  In planting zones 6 and lower you will probably want to start the seeds inside about 2 months before your last spring frost because it takes a long time to begin blooming.

Plants are seldom available so you’ll probably have to start Cup and Saucer vine from seed.  Soak the hard seeds overnight and then either plant where you want them to grow or in pots inside.  Most catalogs recommend you plant the seeds on their sides.  Germination can take 10-30 days.  Keep seedlings in a warm area with very strong light.  Transplant outside after all danger of frost has passed.  Make the plant will have something to climb on.

Outside in reasonably good soil you won’t need much fertilization.  I work in some granular slow release fertilizer at transplanting time. If you grow it inside it will need regular fertilization from late spring through its bloom period.  The plant does better if watered during dry spells, evenly moist soil produces the most growth. Disease and insect problems are rare outside. 

The toxicity of Cup and Saucer plant is a bit confusing.  It’s listed in the FDA Poison Plants data base but not on most other poisonous plants lists.  I have heard reports that chickens can eat it without problems.  There’s no edible uses listed for the plant that I can find and only one herbal use, a tea made from leaves is used as a cough remedy in its native range.  I would suggest not eating the plant.

If you like unusual heirloom flowers and enjoy vines, the Cup and Saucer vine should be in your garden next year.

Houseplant tips for fall

Fall is a time for transitions.  Many people placed their houseplants outside for a summer vacation and have now brought them back inside.  There’s a period of adjustment for both the plants and their owners.  Even if your plants stayed inside all summer the lower light levels, shorter days and differing temperatures may cause changes in some of your plants.  Here’s a few things that commonly come up in the fall concerning houseplants.
Re-potting too much

Whenever someone posts a picture of a sad sick plant on line and asks for advice you’ll find many people telling the plant parent to repot the plant.  But that’s only good advice in a few limited circumstances.  When a plant is stressed by something the last thing it usually needs is more stress from repotting. 

Many houseplant owners repot their plants far too often.  Many plants actually do better and if you want blooms, bloom better, when slightly root bound.  (Slightly root bound means the roots fill the pot but don’t wrap around in layers on the inner wall of the pot.) In the house where space is limited keeping the plant slightly root bound helps restrict its growth without harming it.  When a plant reaches a size that is optimum for the space you have, stop repotting it to a bigger pot.  Prune the top growth to keep it in bounds if needed. 

A plant that is in too big of a pot for its root size may stop doing well.  Usually it doesn’t get watered correctly in this circumstance, there’s too much water or too little water given because the owner is watering the pot not the plant.  When repotting only increase the pot size by an inch or so in diameter and a couple inches of depth.

Most healthy plants do not need repotting more than once a year.  If you want the plant to grow larger repot it in spring or early summer, if it’s healthy.  Optimum growing conditions will help the plant quickly recover from the disturbance.  If you already have the plant in a pot that’s large for the plant size, skip repotting. Try not to repot a plant immediately before a change in location and conditions, give it a couple weeks in the new location first if you can.

Unhealthy plants are probably not that way because of the pot size or even the planting medium.  If a plant is unhealthy from disease, insects, cold or heat damage repotting it just adds more stress and may mean death for the plant.  Repotting plants generally doesn’t stop a fungus gnat infestation either.  You need to treat the pots with mosquito bits or products specifically to control the gnats.

If the plant has been over fertilized and has a large salt build up you’ll need to remove all the potting medium, wash plant roots and refill the pot with good potting medium.  The roots may recover.  (Salt burned plants may have reddish discoloration, browned leaf tips, yellowing and there may a whitish crust on the top of the potting soil. Other things can cause these conditions.)

If the plant has been over watered, the potting medium will look wet and there will be a swampy smell.  But if you know the pot drains well simply stop watering it.  Dump any saucers and elevate the bottom of the pot so it drains freely if needed. Putting the plant into a pot with dry planting medium probably won’t help it.

There are good reasons to repot a plant. If the pot is too large for the plant repot it in a more suitable pot.  If roots are breaking the pot, it’s time to repot.  If the pot is broken you will of course need to repot.  Sometimes a plant gets so root bound that there is virtually no room for water in the pot, it drains right out and the plant constantly wilts.  You’ll need to repot and possibly do some root pruning. 

Just because you see roots on top of the pot or roots are even climbing out of the pot doesn’t mean the plant needs repotting.  In some plants this is a normal behavior.  Check a reference to see if this is normal for the species.  If you do repot don’t place the plant deeper than the level it was growing just to cover the top roots.  A very light layer of potting medium, we’re talking a dusting, can be used to cover the exposed roots. 

If the potting medium seems to have settled in the pot and the plant has sunken down into a half filled pot you can slide the plant out and add soil to the bottom of the pot.  This happens when potting medium is washed out of the pot through watering and when organic matter in the potting medium decomposes. 

If a pot doesn’t have bottom drain holes and you can’t add them that’s a good reason to repot a plant.  Putting gravel or other things in the bottom of a pot in place of having drainage holes just doesn’t work well.  Nine times out of ten the plants will end up not doing well at some point because there is no drainage and a perched water table develops at the soil–gravel line. This will cause root rot.

There are some plants that are so hardy that you could repot them every time you pass them and they would still thrive.  But unhealthy plants and some species that dislike disturbance will be harmed and may die if repotting is done too often.  Be conservative with plant repotting, less is probably better than more.

Dropping leaves

If you have just moved your houseplants back inside and notice a lot of leaves yellowing and dropping off, there’s probably no need to worry.  No matter how good the light level is inside it was probably higher outside.  Plants adjust to the new light level by dropping the leaves that grew in high light conditions (where they had high chloroplast levels to process the light into sugar) to leaves better suited to indoor light.  Some species of plants are more sensitive to this than others.

In some species of plants the cooler nights and diminishing hours of daylight will also trigger a leaf turn over.  Expect some dropping of leaves in plants moved back inside in the fall.  If you look at the plant stems you should see new leaf buds emerging and in a few weeks the plant will have replaced most of the leaves.  If the plant doesn’t regrow new leaves something else is wrong.  Make sure you check for insects and are watering correctly.  There are a few species of woody plants used as houseplants that will go dormant if they got too cold before being moved inside.  They may take longer to begin putting out new growth.

Fall watering of houseplants

When you bring the houseplants back inside in the fall or even if you left them inside all summer there can be an adjustment period for you and the plants in the watering schedule this time of the year.  You may need to water them less often or more often than you will later in winter.  If the days are still warm, sunny and dry outside plants will quickly dry out inside, often as quickly as they did outside.  But if conditions are cool, cloudy and damp plants will need watering less often.  Since the autumn season is known for its swings between the two extremes you may have to adjust your watering schedule from week to week.

Often there’s been an increase in rainfall just before plants are brought back inside and if pots are very saturated with water you may not need to water for a week or more.  When the furnace is being used conditions often become dry in the house and plants will need to be watered more often.   Once the weather has settled and the house is closed up and the furnace running most of the time your watering schedule will become more predictable.  Until then use the finger test to see if each individual pot needs water.

Perennial and Landscape tips for fall

For a great swath of the nation garden season is grinding to its end.  Most of us are still doing some garden chores though so here are some common concerns of fall perennial gardens and home landscape.

Planting potted mums

A lot of gardeners can’t resist buying pots of colorful mums this time of year and many of them want to know if the mums can be planted and survive for another year.  The answer is maybe.  I’ll explain.

Many potted mums being purchased this time of year are hardy in your garden zone.  But the intensive growing conditions they receive to get them into that mound of color for fall purchase often leaves them a bit stressed.  The longer into fall they bloom and the later they get planted into the ground the less likely they are to survive.

If you want landscape mums the best thing to do is to buy small plants in the spring to set out.  But if you want to try to save those potted mums you buy in the fall here’s what to do.  As soon as you buy them, remove the pot and plant them in the ground.  Mums need to be planted in full sun conditions. Do not fertilize them.  Keep them well watered. When blooming has stopped cut all the stems back by one half. Mulch the plants lightly with leaves or straw.  If it’s dry and the ground isn’t frozen water them from time to time.   Even after the foliage has died back do not trim it back any farther.

You have about a 50-50 chance the mums will survive the winter.  Slowly and carefully remove the mulch in the spring after hard freezes are unlikely.  Do not trim back dead stems and be careful working around the plants.  At the base of those dead stems, at the plants crown, are the new buds and they are easily broken off or damaged. Once you see new growth fertilize the plants.  New stems will grow up and hide the old dead ones.

The plants won’t have the rounded shape they had when you purchased them unless you do extensive pinching back through early summer.  But if you are lucky you’ll get the plant to bloom again next fall.

Bone meal and bulbs

This is the time to plant those spring blooming bulbs.  In many older books and often still recommended by other gardeners, is the advice to use bone meal in the planting holes.  However science says this is bad advice.

The bulbs you buy have been grown in very optimal conditions and have stored all the nutrients they need to put down roots and bloom in the spring.  They don’t need the minor bit of nutrients bone meal furnishes and adding bone meal encourages animals to dig up the bulbs.  They can smell the bone meal and are more attracted to those planting areas.  If animals don’t eat the bulbs they often leave them exposed to drying out and or freezing.

Bulbs generally do not need anything added to the planting holes except the soil you took out.  Never add peat to the holes either, this causes too wet conditions, bulbs must have good drainage.  If you must use something buy a bulb fertilizer, not bone meal and mix it with the soil you took out of the hole before refilling it.  Established beds of bulbs are best fertilized in the spring as new growth emerges with a general purpose fertilizer, not bone meal.

Fall tree planting – washing roots

Fall is the second best time to plant trees and shrubs. Most of the woody plant material you buy this time of year will be potted or balled and burlapped.  For the best chances of your new woody plants surviving and thriving here are some planting tips.

Remove everything from around the root system.  That includes pots, burlap, strings, wires, and cages.  If a seller tells you that will void the warranty you shouldn’t buy there.  For even better chances of tree and shrub survival new scientific recommendations say you should also wash the old soil off the plants roots.  Do this gently with a hose on low pressure or by soaking the root ball in a tub of water for an hour or so.  Keep the root system moist until you are ready to plant it, cover with damp newspapers or a damp cloth and plant as soon as possible.

One reason you remove everything from around the plants roots is so there is no impediments to the roots moving out into their new soil.  You want the root system to establish as quickly as possible.  When you remove everything, including the soil, you also get to see the condition of the root system.  You may be surprised as to what that root ball was hiding. You’ll also be able to see the best depth at which to plant the new tree or shrub, which may not be obvious looking at the root covered in soil.

Sometimes you’ll find almost no root system.  Other times you’ll find the roots have badly circled the pot or ball and if you planted them like that they are likely to keep growing in circles and cut off their own circulation which will cause them to fail.  You may find roots have been bent to fit in the pot or ball or that the root flare is set too deeply into soil in the ball and burlapped plants.

If roots are badly circled you’ll need to trim them back so that they face outward or prune just before the point that they curve.  A big mass of curled, crowded roots at the bottom of the root ball can be trimmed lightly and spread out.  Bent roots can be gently straightened or even removed. You can’t do much about a small root system.  It may still be a healthy plant or if you are worried return it for a refund.

Once you can see the root system and have corrected any problems you’ll be able to plant it correctly.  Dig your hole twice as wide as the root system and only slightly deeper.  Do not add anything to the hole! No peat, no topsoil, no compost.  Research has proven that woody plants establish best when the holes are refilled with the soil that is taken out of them, regardless of that soil condition.

Set the plant in the hole so that the top sideways growing root will only be barely covered with soil.  On trees you look for the root flare, that’s where the trunk widens slightly at the base.  This needs to be above ground.  Planting trees too deeply results in poorly growing trees that are more prone to being damaged in storms. 

After filling in the hole don’t tamp down the soil with your feet.  Water the soil to settle it and add more soil if needed.  Leave a small depression around the planted tree so that a water “well” is formed, unless you live in a flood prone area. Keep the plant watered until the ground freezes.  Don’t fertilize until new growth begins next year.  Absolutely no Epsom salt! Don’t trim anything off the top of the tree or shrub unless it’s broken or limbs cross each other and rub together. 

A light mulch, a couple inches deep and not touching the trunk is recommended.  Staking is not recommended except for larger evergreens in their first winter and for certain weeping, grafted trees.  You’ll want to protect the trunk from rabbit and vole damage with a 3 feet tall wire mesh cage or a tree tube.   A properly planted tree or shrub will take off and grow quickly and is more likely to be healthy throughout its life.

Drying Gourds

Fall is a wonderful time to think ahead and dry some gourds for winter craft projects.  You may have grown gourds in your garden, but if you didn’t, gourds are often found at farm markets in the fall.  Gourds come in all sizes and colors.  The small, colorful ones require little more than drying to turn them into decorations, but the larger plain ones can be painted and cut and turned into several crafty items, including bird houses.

Pick your decorative gourds before a hard freeze. You can leave them in the garden until then; it is really better for them to dry in the vine.  Light frosts are fine, they will continue to dry after them, but freezing may turn them black or mushy.

Let the gourds dry in a sunny location a few hours.  Then brush off all surface dirt. Mix a solution of 1 part household bleach to 3 parts water and use this solution to dip rags or paper towels in and clean the gourds surface. Then allow to air dry. This helps prevent mold.  You could also use some of the handy “wet wipes” with bleach to clean the gourds.  

Then dry the gourds in a warm, dark place with good air circulation, until you can hear the seeds rattle inside.    The drying process takes from 2-4 months depending on the gourd and the conditions of the drying area.  You cannot hurry gourds by drying them in the oven or microwave unfortunately.  

Don’t worry if you want the gourds for a fall display this year.  They can continue to dry where they are displayed as long as they are not subjected to freezing or moisture and aren’t piled too deeply.  If you have gourds layered in a basket for example, you may want to rotate them from time to time.  Gourds that you intend to keep for a long time can be sprayed with craft sealing finishes, varnish or wax after they are thoroughly dry.

If you are using larger gourds for crafts wait until they are completely dry and you can hear those seeds rattling before cutting them or painting them.  A drill with a small bit is good for starting holes. Gentle use of a saw or drill is required to keep the gourd from shattering.  If you are making a bird house or something with a large opening, shake the seeds out.

Gourds can be painted with any acrylic craft paint.  If they will be outside they should be covered with a waterproof sealer after the paint dries. Gourds that are to be left in a natural color should be sprayed with a sealer also.  If the bird houses are just decorations use black paint to fake a hole.  If they are for actual use as a bird house research what size hole the bird species you want to attract likes and use that size hole.

Painted gourds can also have holes cut in them and small plastic containers set inside to hold flower arrangements, candy or small snacks.   Make a child’s rattle by drilling a small hole and inserting small jingle bells or beads, then seal the hole with a bit of putty and paint over it.   Children enjoy decorating gourds with paint and small glue on decorations such as macaroni shaped as letters, brightly colored beans and seeds and feathers.  There’s lots of winter fun with gourd crafts.

One pot Cheater Chili

Fall means it’s time for chili.  Chili is a quick and hearty meal for a chilly day and it’s nutritious too. This chili recipe features a number of shortcuts (cheats) that will give you perfect delicious results every time.  And if you can minimize the clean up by cooking all in one pot it’s even better. If the meat is defrosted you can put this meal together in about 30 minutes. 

One pound of ground beef (or venison)
1 medium onion diced
1 can of chili or kidney beans (dark or light)
1 quart jar of any spaghetti sauce
1 can of chili ready diced tomatoes (or plain diced if you don’t like spicy)
Chili powder to taste – start with a teaspoon
salt and pepper to taste
Shredded cheddar or taco blend cheese- optional
Crackers- optional

Place the ground beef and onions in the bottom of a 3-4 quart pot and cook until the meat is brown and onions soft.  You can season the meat with the salt and pepper to your liking.  Drain off any excess grease.

Add the kidney beans, spaghetti sauce and tomatoes to the pot.   Stir well.  Cook, adding chili powder a teaspoon at a time and tasting until you have achieved the right level of spice for your family. Let the chili simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes.  Do not add water.  The spaghetti sauce and juice from the tomatoes makes the consistency of the chili just right.

Serve chili with about a half cup of shredded cheese on top and crackers on the side.

This recipe will make about 6 servings.  If you want to stretch the servings you can add another can of kidney beans.   You can also double the ingredients for a big pot of chili.

Some variations to the basic chili recipe

Serve left over chili on corn chips the next day for a different twist to the meal.

If you like food spicy, use a spicy sausage instead of ground beef and add chopped jalapeƱo or other hot peppers.  Use a large jar of hot salsa in place of canned tomatoes.

Vegetarians can leave out the meat and add a can of black beans or navy beans and some frozen whole kernel corn.

Butterflies in October are a glorious gift. May you have them in your life too.

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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