Tuesday, July 18, 2017

July 18, 2017, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter

Hi Gardeners

Why does summer seem to fly along and winter just crawls?  The Asiatic lilies are almost finished blooming, thankfully the trumpet lilies and Orientals are adding color.  The Hens and Chicks are blooming, still have lots of hosta in bloom, rudbeckia, beebalm and coneflowers are blooming.  The roses have a new flush of bloom. The water hyacinth is blooming and the black-eyed susan vine.  Annuals of course are at full peak.

We’ve been getting Early Girl tomatoes regularly and today I picked my first cucumber.  Baby pumpkins have set on the vines.  Raspberries are ripening.  Unfortunately the lettuce is going to seed and tasting pretty bitter.  I think it’s now chicken food.  The potatoes are blooming- baby potatoes soon.

While I’m still not seeing any honey bees the plants have been buzzing with small native bees and bumble bees.  The comfrey is loaded with them as well as the beebalm.  Gizzy keeps trying to catch them.  He hasn’t gotten stung yet but I bet its coming.

The Rudbeckia laciniata var.hortensia (Golden Glow) has reached 7 feet in height and finally has begun to bloom.   Bees and Japanese beetles like it.  I’m hoping the Japanese beetles choose it over my grape vines, which they are eating up.

Danger!  Birds and Japanese beetle traps

Its Japanese Beetle season and many gardeners are putting out yellow sticky traps to control them.  But social media sites are showing how this can be a problem for birds.  Some of the traps are shaped like bird feeders and small birds like chickadees and sparrows are getting stuck to them.  Some birds die from this.  It can be very hard to remove those birds stuck on the traps.

Make sure sticky traps are enclosed in netting or wire that will only allow beetles through not birds.  If you find birds stuck to such traps any vegetable oil will help release the birds from the sticky substance.  Pour it around the stuck bird.  However the birds will then need to be washed with something like Dawn dish detergent to get rid of the oil before being released.  You might want to take the whole trap and the birds stuck on it to an animal rescue center as quickly as possible.

Cleome or spider plant vs. marihuana

On social media people asking for identification of cleome are often told to their consternation (or maybe glee) that they are growing pot.  The plants have leaves that somewhat resemble marihuana leaves.  I’ve read stories that law enforcement people have also mistaken the plants for pot, which can be a problem.  In some cases people have been arrested or their plants destroyed before they could prove they didn’t have pot.

Cleome and pot both have strong distinctive odors, but to my nose anyway they are not the same.   It’s the leaves that an inexperienced person gets most confused about.  Both plants have palmate leaves – leaves with leaflets arranged in a circle.  Cleome generally has 7 leaflets though and marihuana 5.  Cleome stems are full of thorns and marihuana stems are not.  Cleome also has distinct showy flowers of pink, purple or white, with long “whiskers” off each flower.  Pot flowers are not very large or showy and are usually yellowish green, although there are some purple tinged ones.
Cleome not pot
If you have cleome in pots or planted in gardens in the public view you may want to label them to help dispel the notion you are a pot grower.  I have had people ask me with a wink what I’m growing and before the plants start flowering I sometimes think they don’t believe my answer.  Labels might not help in all cases.  You may want to keep a catalog, plant tag or other resource around to show people if you grow cleome.  I continue to grow it because it self-seeds and comes up everywhere.

And no, the cleome plant does not get you high if you smoke it.  People have actually tried it.  Dumb people.  People who got a good stomach ache instead of a good buzz.

Discovering a hardy orchid with high qualities

While weeding this spring I came upon a plant I had never seen before.  I didn’t plant it.  It was among the lilies of the valley under an oak tree, in a partial shade garden. The leaves were similar to lilies of the valley at first glance. I first noticed it when it began to send up a stalk full of tiny buds, quite unlike lilies of the valley.  I decided to put off identifying it until it bloomed.

It took several weeks for the flowers to begin opening.  I was amazed to see the teardrop shaped dangling buds open into tiny orchid like flowers of purple and green.  With the idea that it belonged to the orchid family I searched through my plant ID resources until I came upon its name, Epipactis helleborine.

Epipactis helleborine
It turns out this tiny orchid is native to Europe, Asia and North Africa.  It’s been in the US since the early 1800’s, the story goes that it was brought here by garden groups for its medicinal purposes.  I’ll get to that in a minute.  Poor Man’s Lady Slipper or Weed orchid, if you go by common names, has actually been in Michigan for about 100 years, although it hasn’t been recorded in my county yet.  This hardy orchid has managed to naturalize across the northeastern part of the US and southern Canada.

Imagine my amusement when I came across a stern admonition from some Michigan “conservation” group warning that Epipactis helleborine  is one of those nasty invasive plants that must be eliminated at all costs.  Its major crime is that it occupies space that in some minds must be reserved for native species.  If you read my blog often you know I don’t subscribe to the notion of plants causing the extinction of other plants, especially when they simply just move into disturbed habitat and prove to be a good fit.  Nature puts the best species she can find in an environment, regardless of origin.

Some other states also classify Epipactis helleborine as invasive but most simply list it as naturalized, the same status as dandelions, chicory, and other common plants brought here and which have no major impacts on the environment.  I don’t intend to remove it from my garden because it’s a fascinating little plant.

What it looks like

So let’s examine Epipactis helleborine.  The perennial plants like woodland edges, partial shade and good, loamy soil.  They exist in both dry and wet environments.  A mature plant with flower stalk will be about 12-18 inches high. The leaves are blade shaped with distinct parallel veins and they clasp the stem in an alternate pattern.  The plant has a root system of thin, narrow rhizomes and is considered a terrestrial orchid; it gets nutrients from the soil.  Plants are hardy to zone 3.

In July (in Michigan) Epipactis helleborine sends up a flower stalk.  The buds are teardrop shape and dangle from a short stem.  Flowers begin opening on the bottom of the flower stalk.  They are a typical orchid flower shape, about a ½ inch across, with a pouch on the bottom that contains nectar to attract insects.  There are two petals and an odd shaped fused sexual organ on top and 3 colored sepals that look like petals on the outside of it all. Flowers are widely variable in color, according to the literature, but generally green and purple or pink, a few with white flowers have been found.  The one in my garden is a light lavender pink and green.

Epipactis helleborine is said to spread both by its tiny seeds and by rhizomes.  Some people say it spreads rapidly, others say it only slowly spreads.  Location is everything, as they say.

Now the plants aren’t especially showy unless you see them up close and maybe you wouldn’t want them to spread through your entire garden. But they are interesting, (I’m getting to that), and the foliage left after the flowers fade should be no less attractive than lily of the valley or brunnera foliage.  Those are the plants near the Epipactis helleborine in my garden.  If you needed a groundcover in the shade it seems they would make a pretty good one.  A hardy orchid groundcover- that’s unique.

I doubt it would make a good houseplant but you never know.  Maybe someone should experiment with that idea.  If mine sets seed this year I may try to germinate it indoors and see what happens.

The interesting thing about Epipactis helleborine

There are over 100 chemicals in the plant and its nectar.  The orchid produces scented nectar that attracts insects to its pouch, where they imbibe and become tipsy and drowsy.  Drunk, doped insects tend to move slowly and stay on the plant or its nearby relatives for a long time, which favors pollination. The nectar contains among other things vanillin and eugenol for scent and ethanol, indole, and a chemical identical to OxyContin, a morphine derivative, for making insects woozy and feeling good.

Now before some of you start seeing dollar signs with growing a legal source of a drug, you’ll want to know that the nectar also contains some other toxic chemicals that are hard to remove, like “furfural”.  Believe me I came across lots of drug culture sites in my research where people talked about how to separate the OxyContin from the more harmful stuff and it was a difficult, time consuming task requiring a lot of complex knowledge of chemistry from what I could see.

The nectar from each flower is a minute quantity and although some plants have 100 flowers the harvest from all of them would still amount to a few drops.  To make a profit from producing Oxycontin from Epipactis helleborine you’d have to grow acres of the plant, harvest the tiny flowers and drain them of nectar some way and run the nectar through a lab with lots of expensive equipment.  Then you would still have an illegal product. 

Now some of you may remember that I said the plants were brought over here for their medicinal qualities before they escaped.  Some evidence suggests the plants were used to treat insanity, headache and gout.  It’s suggested that the roots were used in these remedies, although modern herbals don’t cover this plant.  I suggest you don’t experiment with ingesting the plant, especially if you are drug tested for your job.

I intend to leave the little alien orchid in my garden. I enjoy interesting and different plants.  If it spreads I may share some.   There’s some links below for more reading on the chemical properties of the plant and one where you can buy seed, although it seems few people know how to get that seed to grow.

Love in a Mist- the delightful blue Nigella

Whether you call it Love in a Mist, Devil in the Bush, Love-Entangle, Jack-in-Prison, Bride in Hair , Lady in the Green, or one of its many other common names, Nigella damascena   is an interesting plant for the garden.  If you like blue flowers, cut flowers, easy cottage garden plants, or plants for dried flower arrangements Nigella is the plant for you.

Love in a Mist, or Devil in the Bush

Nigella is native to southern Europe, northern Africa and southwest Asia.  It was being grown in English gardens by 1570, where several cultivars were developed over the centuries.  Thomas Jefferson grew it in his gardens at Monticello and the famed garden architect Gertrude Jekyll used it in her cottage garden designs.

Nigella has odd threadlike leaves, airy and fern like, especially at the top surrounding the flowers.  The “Mist” portion of one of its common names come from the way the leaves look surrounding the flower. It grows 12-18 inches high but each plant is narrow.  They look best grown in masses, which also keeps them from flopping.  They have a taproot.  Plants are short lived but in longer growing seasons they often reseed and a second generation will bloom in the same year.

The species has true blue colored 5 “petal” 1 inch flowers but cultivated varieties have larger flowers with more layers of petals and also come in rose, pale pink, white and several shades of blue.  The petals of Nigella are actually its sepals; the true petals are hidden in the center of the flower, under the stamens.  The flowers are surrounded by the ferny leaves, a pretty “misty” backdrop for each one. The flowers are good cut flowers and were often used in bridal arrangements or in a bride’s hair, accounting for another common name.

Flowers turn into 5 chambered seed pods which look like little red or purple striped balloons.  The pods have “horns “ on top and bristles along the sides. They can be dried for flower arrangements.  Children enjoy popping them like popping bubble wrap.  The pods are filled with tiny black seeds.

Growing nigella

Nigella is a fast growing annual so almost all gardeners can grow it.  It prefers full sun and well-drained soil but is not particularly fussy about soil pH or texture.  In the wild it is often found in rocky areas.  It will tolerate dryness but grows better when watered moderately.  It is said to be deer resistant.  The plants have no insect or disease problems.  Bees are attracted to the flowers.

If you want to grow Nigella you’ll probably have to start with seeds.  They are available from many heritage type nurseries, a couple links are provided at the bottom of the article.  You can start them inside about 6 weeks before your last frost or plant the seeds where you want them to grow in early spring.  They can be sown in the fall in the garden for spring germination too.  Seed should be sown on top of the soil and lightly pressed into it.

Most references say that Nigella does not transplant well because of its taproot.  I sow several seeds in paper cups, (you could use peat pots), inside in late spring then transplant the whole pot into the garden with great success.  Plants will bloom in about 3 months from seed.

If you are not interested in the attractive seed pods you may want to keep the nigella plants dead headed so they don’t spread too much in the garden.  I don’t find them invasive and I save some seed to start inside each year just in case. Other gardeners have reported that nigella shoots those tiny seeds into the wind and plants come up everywhere.

If you want to save the seed pods cut them before they are fully ripe.  Put the green pods in paper bags to dry in a warm place.  Your car sitting in the sun is a good location.  After they are dry many people spray them with clear hairspray or a craft spray to help preserve them.

I plant nigella in my cutting garden, beside the bachelor’s buttons, 4 o’clocks, zinnias and cosmos.  They will blend well in informal cottage gardens.  Keep them to the front so you can admire the unique looking flowers.

Herbal and other uses of nigella

Love in a Mist is a close relative of black cumin, Nigella sativa, whose seeds have culinary uses like poppy seeds.  Some references claim that Nigella damascene seeds can be used the same way and that they taste like nutmeg.  The seeds are pressed and made into an essential oil that is used in perfumes and possibly has medicinal uses.  It is said to smell like strawberry jam.

Nigella sativa has some uses in herbal medicine but it’s unclear if Love in a Mist, Nigella damascene can be used the same way.  Some references list the seeds and oil of Love in a Mist as toxic when ingested.  When I was reading up on the plant in herbal references it was often clear that the two species had been confused.  I would suggest growing the plant for its flowers and seed pods and not for culinary or medicinal use.

Here are some sources for buying nigella

The Marigold Myth

I remember my grandmother reading her Organic Gardening magazine and laughing at an article where people were urged to plant marigolds (we are talking Tagetes erecta here not calendula) around their plants to keep harmful insects away.  My grandmother was trying to produce a white marigold to win a contest being offered at the time, (by Burpee I think), and she had lots of marigolds around her gardens.  She knew they didn’t deter bugs one bit.

As a young adult with my own garden many, many years ago I too fell victim to the hype about marigolds, despite remembering what my grandmother felt about it years before.  I was taken in by the pseudo-science being spouted by popular garden books and magazines at the time.  I quickly came to the conclusion my grandmother was right.

Now that doesn’t mean you won’t occasionally find marigolds in my garden.  I like marigolds, especially the large flowered “CrackerJack” types.  But I plant them because they are colorful and attract pollinators to some extent, although there are better flowers for that purpose.  But I am not planting them to deter harmful insects, repel rabbits or deer or control soil nematodes, (there may be a small effect on nematodes), all things attributed to the marigold, because I know that is all a myth.

Marigolds that we grow in our gardens are actually native to Mexico and Central America, despite often being called African or French marigolds.  They are flowers associated with the dead, bodies are washed with infusions of marigold petals and they are planted on graves.   Native people also used them for making yellow dye and there are some medicinal uses for the plants, mainly for skin problems.  The flowers are edible.   Modern uses include feeding the petals to chickens to produce egg yolks or meat with a yellow color and to shrimp to improve their color.

So how did the myth of marigolds deterring insects get started?

There are some old studies that have shown that when marigolds were planted thickly as a cover crop and then after a season plowed under, soil nematodes were greatly reduced for crops planted after the marigolds. The studies were done on agricultural crops like soy and corn. Nematodes are tiny worm-like creatures that feed on plant roots.  Gardeners seldom have to worry about nematodes.  If you have the problem you would plant only marigolds in the garden for a season and then the following year plant your garden where they grew and hope for the best.

Somehow these ancient nematode studies became mangled into the popular belief that marigolds repel or kill insects.  Gardeners were urged to plant marigolds among vegetable plants, in rows around the garden as a barrier and around plants like roses.  There are no scientific studies that back this up and as many gardeners have found out marigolds may actually attract harmful insects to the garden.  Japanese beetles will eat marigolds and like the bright yellow and orange colors many marigolds have.  Spider mites also like marigolds.  Aphids and some leaf hoppers are attracted to marigolds.  Planting marigolds in the garden may attract these nasty pests.  Slugs eat marigolds, so no, they don’t repel them either.

Marigolds are said to repel cabbage moths but no studies have ever proved this.  They don’t repel mosquitoes or tomato hornworms or bean beetles or basically any insect.  From repelling insects marigolds suddenly jumped in the press to becoming repellants for deer and rabbits.  While they may not be their favorite food both animals will sometimes eat marigolds and planting them around a garden will not keep animal pests out.

One could use marigolds as a trap crop.  That is you would not plant them around and among plants you want to protect, but far from them so insects will be attracted away from garden plants.  This may work to some extent to lessen insect damage on crops or valuable plants.

Hundreds of articles have probably been written about marigolds repelling pests but that doesn’t mean that it’s true.  These myths piggyback on each other.  Gardeners want very much to believe in easy safe solutions to problems so they accept the advice without question.  Many soon learn it’s not true and accept the fact; others attribute the failure of the plants to do as promised to the type of marigold, which doesn’t matter, the weather, or some other irrational explanation.  Some people get lucky and have few pest problems the first time they grow marigolds among vegetable or other plants and help perpetuate the myth.

In some cultures planting flowers for their beauty alone was frowned upon.  But if a gardener could claim some benefit from the flowers for food crops the flowers were then allowed.  If a gardener liked the colorful marigolds he or she would certainly proclaim their value in the garden loudly, even if not quite truthfully.

In short marigolds are pretty flowers that would liven up any garden.  They may attract some pollinators.  But they won’t keep harmful insects away or animal pests either. 

Delightful Dill

I remember going into my grandfather’s basement in late summer and almost being overpowered by the smell of dill from his various crocks of fermenting pickles.  I do like the smell of dill however.  Most people are familiar with the way dill smells and tastes, you only have to open a jar of dill pickles to get the spicy aroma.  Dill is native to the Mediterranean region and has been used as a flavoring and as a medicinal plant for thousands of years.

Dill, (Anethum graveolens), is a pleasant, common herb that is quite easy for the average gardener to grow.  A few plants can be tucked into the back of a flowerbed, where they will look pretty while giving you dill flowers and seeds.  Often dill reseeds itself so you may not need to plant more the following year.  Dill also is the larval food of black swallowtail butterflies and can be planted in butterfly gardens to attract it and other species.

Dill flowers

Growing Dill

Dill is an annual plant; it completes its life cycle in a season and dies.  However if you let some go to seed you will seldom have to plant it again after the first time, it will pop up everywhere the next season.  Dill seeds are small, hard ovals with 3 ridges on them and the seeds smell distinctively like dill.   Plant the seeds shallowly, after the danger of frost has passed and the soil is warm.  Thin the plants to about 8 inches apart.  A gardener seldom needs more than 2 or 3 dill plants for home use.

Dill grows in almost any soil but prefers a sunny location.  It is tolerant of dry conditions but should be watered if it wilts and will grow larger if watered moderately. It generally does not need fertilizer.  Dill has few pests or diseases but does not compete well with weeds when young.

The dill plant generally consists of a single, hollow stalk with scattered feathery leaves along it.  The plant can grow to 3 feet tall or more in a great spot.  If you are unsure if you are growing dill you have only to crush a feathery leaf to smell - all parts of dill smell just like dill pickles!

In mid-summer dill plants begin producing flat umbrella shaped clusters of tiny yellow flowers.  These flowers quickly turn into hard brown seeds.  If you want to collect the seeds cut the drying heads before they are completely brown and store them in a warm, dry, dark place until the seeds easily shake out of the seed pods.  If you wait too long to cut the drying flower clusters, the seeds may be scattered on the ground and lost.

Using Dill

Dill flowers are used in pickle making as are the seeds.   Whole dill flowers are picked and added to jars of cucumbers or other vegetables before processing.  Dill seeds are also used in pickles and to flavor other dishes.   Dill leaves are sometimes used to flavor dishes such as fish also.  Dill flowers can be saved for a few days in the refrigerator by keeping stems in a few inches of water.

To obtain dill flavor soak the crushed seeds in vinegar or add to a small amount of boiling water and let steep.  You can put them in a bag and bang them with a hammer to crush or run them in a food processor for a few seconds. Dry dill seed is sometimes ground like black pepper and added to spice mixes.  Commercially oil is distilled from dill seeds that can be used in flavorings. 
I like to add a little dill pickle juice to coleslaw.  Dill seeds can also be used in salads and in dishes like German potato salad.

Dill has a long use as a medicinal plant to calm gas and nervous stomachs.  Seeds were given to children to chew on and dill tea or a few drops of dill oil were given to infants to soothe colic pains.  Dill tea can be used for heartburn and chewing on dill seeds will freshen the breath.

One caution - pregnant women can safely eat dill pickles and dill flavored foods but should avoid dill in concentrated amounts such as teas and chewing on seeds.  Dill was used to start menstruation in earlier times and may, according to some herbalists, bring on contractions.

Dill Refrigerator relish

Here’s a good way to use up some fresh garden produce and make an easy side dish for a meal or potluck offering.  It can be used on foods like hot dogs too.  This dish takes at least 2 hours to chill before serving.

4 cups of unpeeled thinly sliced or coarsely chopped cucumbers- if you want to use the relish on foods chop the cukes, if using as a side dish slice them.
½ cup of chopped onion
½ cup chopped green pepper
¼ cup chopped red sweet pepper
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cup of sugar
½ cup of vinegar
½ teaspoon dill seed
½ teaspoon celery seed
½ teaspoon mustard seed

Put the dill, celery and mustard seed in the vinegar, add the sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves.  Set mixture in refrigerator.

Put the vegetables in a bowl and sprinkle the salt over them and toss to mix it in.  Set the bowl in the refrigerator.

After one hour combine the bowls and mix well.  Cover bowl and return to the refrigerator for at least one more hour.  The relish will be stronger flavored the longer it sits.  It will stay fresh for at least a week in the refrigerator.

Enjoy summer while it lasts! The days are getting shorter.

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, July 11, 2017

July 11, 2017, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter

Hi Gardeners
Daylilies in my garden

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday and had some time to get out and actually enjoy your garden – like sit and admire the flowers type of enjoyment. Everyone needs that. 

It’s warm and muggy here today; we had some rain yesterday and are supposed to get more tonight.  Luckily we haven’t had the heavy storms I know some of you have had. We have just the right amount of heat, humidity and rain although I could do without the humidity.  The gardens are progressing well and even the grass is still green and growing.

We have been harvesting Early Girl tomatoes and will have cucumbers in a few days.  The other varieties of tomatoes have set lots of fruit.  There are lots of little peppers, dill and potatoes are blooming, corn is beginning to tassel.  A bumper crop of blackberries is taking shape and it looks like lots of grapes too.

Lily blooming season has arrived, true lilies and daylilies.  The deer have eaten the buds off some of the day lilies and even some of my true lilies but there are still a lot of them blooming.  Asiatic lilies, some OT hybrids, and longiflorums and one trumpet variety are blooming.  Still to bloom are the tiger lilies and Orientals. 

Also blooming in my gardens now are Rocket ligularia, astilbe, hosta, lavender, coneflowers and helenium.  The annuals are blooming well, zinnias, dahlias, marigolds, bachelors buttons, cosmos, 4 o’clock, calendula, and of course the tuberous begonias, geraniums, petunias, snapdragons, impatiens and various salvias.  The Jewelweed, which is trying to conquer the world, is also blooming.

I bought a dahlia assortment this spring to plant in my new cutting garden.  So far two varieties are blooming and I am quite pleased with those.  They aren’t too large flowered but that’s ok.  There are buds on many of the others and it will be fun to see what I get.

The trend to smaller plants

What I don’t like is all the plants being made shorter or smaller.  I know there are lots of smaller gardens and containers are all the rage but I like the traditional size of some plants and those varieties are getting harder to find.  I didn’t check the label for size on some cosmos I bought; I wanted the tall ones for a particular spot and instead got short squat ones, with smaller flowers.  Luckily I found some cosmos coming up from seed from last year’s plants and was able to transplant them, although they aren’t the color I wanted.

I like the tall marigolds with large flowers.  Now most large flowered marigolds are on little short stems which makes them look top heavy if you ask me. Try finding tall salvias or snapdragons now. Even perennials are being “compacted”.   You have to watch the labels on things like Echinacea, coreopsis, rudbeckia, baptisia, and monarda if you don’t want dwarf versions.

And the trend is really apparent with woody ornamentals.  The buddleia I can find on the market now get lost behind my beebalm and daylilies. Most flowering shrubs are now downsized.  That’s fine for those with tiny gardens but for those who don’t want them to get lost in a larger landscape it’s not.  I like large, lush plants not teensy tiny things in most locations.

Making plants more compact to make them sturdier and less likely to flop is one thing.  But making tiny versions so you can stuff them in a container is another.  There are lots of naturally tiny plants.  And let’s not stock the stores with dwarf stuff in exclusion of all else.  Leave the gardeners who like traditional sized plants some choices.

Are you on my email notification list and not getting the notification?

For many years I have maintained a mailing list of people who are interested in when I post a new blog/newsletter.   It gets sent with a link to the blog right after I publish it.  Recently some people have told me they aren’t getting the notification.  If you are reading this I guess you got to the blog from a link I posted on a garden Facebook page or just by checking the site.  But if you want the email notification first check your spam or junk mail box.  Your security system may have sent it there.  You’ll need to set it so that the emails from me are accepted.  If the notice isn’t in your junk/spam box let me know, I’ll see what I can do.

Send me a note using the email address you want the notification sent to at kimwillis151@gmail.com
If you aren’t on the list and want to be also send a note to that address.  For some reason the subscribe feature on the blog won’t work. I’ve looked into it and got the answer that the blog address is too long but it seems I can’t change the address now without creating a new blog. 

Those of you in the Lapeer, Michigan area

I have been asked to mention that the Lapeer Master Gardeners are having a garden tour, starting at the Garden at Suncrest, 1455 Suncrest Drive, Lapeer on July 22nd .  The tour will cover five additional gardens you can visit between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.  Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 the day of the tour and are available at MSU Extension (in the Lapeer County Health Dept. Building), Burke’s Flowers in downtown Lapeer and Campbell’s Greenhouses in North Branch Township in advance or at the Garden at Suncrest on the day of the tour.

They are also hosting a contest for the best fairy/gnome miniature garden on that day which is free to enter and for which you can win a nice prize.  For more information you can contact Marlene at 810-664-8317,  gardenfairy50@aol.com  Entry form is available at www.lc-mga.org.
It looks like snow in July from falling catalpa flowers.

July almanac

This month’s full moon is called the buck moon or hay moon, depending on whether you are a farmer or hunter I guess.  It’s called buck moon because the buck deer’s antlers begin to show this month.  The full moon in July this year was the 9th.  Hay has already been cut a couple times around here as it normally has been – so I don’t get that name.   I did see hay being cut and baled this weekend though.  Wheat harvest is this month – it will begin soon if it hasn’t already and I think we should call it wheat moon. 

The moon perigee is on the 21st  .   Apogee was the 6th.   This month’s flower is the sunflower- very appropriate and the birthstone is the ruby.

It’s National Blueberry, Eggplant, Lettuce, Mango, Melon, Nectarine and Garlic month as well as National Hotdog and Vanilla Ice Cream month.  Why isn’t it National Cherry month?  And for those secret bare naked gardeners out there the second week of July is nude recreation week.  Have fun.

There are the Delta Aquarids meteor showers on July 27-30th.  Best viewing will be after midnight to about 3 am.  Look to the south.  These meteors continue into early August.

Instructions to Gardeners for Summer

On a summer morning when the light is still soft and the dew glitters on your flowers, go outside with your camera to capture some summer memories. Pick a bouquet to bring inside while the flowers are fresh and perky. Perhaps a handful of blackberries or a juicy peach can serve as breakfast.

In the heat of the noon sun watch the bees busy with the anise hyssop and comfrey then find a cool spot to sip your tea, add a sprig of lemon balm for flavor.  Mid- summer days are meant to be slow and languid.  All too soon these days will pass; take time to savor a few.

In the shade of a tree, spend the afternoon reading a book you have longed to read for some time.  Take time to look up into the tree and wonder at the marvel of it.  Think of the thousands of gallons of water it is pumping from the ground up to the very top leaf.  Each leaf is a little green factory, laboring and sweating in the summer sun to produce food for the community of tree.  Its labor cools you beneath it as it releases its sweat upon the air.

Later in the day the pungent, clean scent of lavender and the strong, sweet smell of lilies drift on the heavy summer air. Make sure you dry a few sprigs of lavender to tuck among your stored sheets and other linens to keep the smell of summer lingering long into winter.

Pluck some golden and orange calendula or nasturtium flowers, some tender greens and slip some sun warmed tomatoes from the stalk.  Search until you find a tiny cucumber hidden in the vines.  Go to the house and make a salad that welcomes the tongue.  Chill it while you cook a bit of chicken with fresh rosemary and lemon thyme sprinkled on it. Get some water boiling and go back to the garden for a few ears of plump, sweet corn.  Then slip the ears into their bath for a few minutes, remove and drench with butter.  Add a dish of vanilla ice cream layered with blackberries and dinner is done. 

Just before the light is gone in the evening take a walk in your garden.  If you have had the foresight to plant some woodland nicotiana, with its stately towers of fragrant white trumpets, you can watch the antics of the hawk moth. Like a burly hummingbird instead of a hawk, it hovers among the blossoms sipping nectar. If you have no moths to watch perhaps the swallows will entertain you as they dip and swoop over your head collecting mosquitoes.

The late night air is filled with the songs of crickets and the shrill of cicadas. A nighthawk adds its distinctive grating call as it swoops in the dark sky hunting moths. The glow of lightning bugs mimics the flashes of heat lightning on the horizon. Take time to sit on a porch after dark on a sultry night and enjoy the concert.

I ask you to spend one summer day, or most of it in the garden, without your cell phone.  It’s nude recreation week  so clothing is optional.  Life is short and each year’s garden is unique and will never come again. Enjoy your life and garden while you can.

Problems of squash and other vine crops

It’s the time of year when people are looking forward to their harvest of cucumbers, squash and other vine crops.  It’s also the time when problems begin happening with those plants and I’m getting lots of questions about these crops. 

Here are some answers to common problems with vine crops.

Why are my squash/cucumber plants blooming and not making fruit? 

Why aren’t the flowers on my squash/melons/ cucumbers making any fruits? Every year new gardeners ask this question when it seems like their vining crops are blooming and blooming but they aren’t getting any “fruits”.  Most vining plants like squash, pumpkins, melons and cucumbers need a long growing season and warmth to do their best.  They also need full sun.  But if they are flowering here is where the confusion begins.  The plants have lots of flowers but the gardener isn’t finding any fruits.  Don’t worry its normal. 

All of these vining plants produce two types of flowers, male and female.  They look similar except that the female flowers have a baby “bump” at the stem end.  This looks like a tiny quash, pumpkin and so on.  Male flowers do not have the baby bump.

Male flowers usually begin blooming first on a plant.  They will bloom and die, because they can’t produce a fruit.  But if conditions are right female flowers will soon start appearing along with the male and if there are pollinators around, the baby bumps will begin growing.  The withered blossom often hangs on the developing fruit for a short time.  Most of the vining crops grow their fruit at a fast rate.  Some like cucumbers and summer squash will be ready to eat in just a couple weeks, as these crops need to be picked when they are still small for the best eating.
Female flower on a gourd.  Pumpkin will have tiny green pumpkins,
cukes will have tiny cukes and so on

So when you see both types of flowers on a vining plant you should expect to see the fruit begin developing soon. (By the way you can take those male flowers, dip them in batter and fry them for something to eat before the fruits develop.)   Some melons, squash, gourds and pumpkins can take a long time to begin blooming – they need long seasons to make fruit.  So check the maturity dates on these types of plants when you buy them or seeds for them and in Zones 5 and 6 stick to those that say 120 days or less to maturity.

Why don’t my squash/melons/ cukes look like I think they should?

The fruit of vining crops may not look like what you expect when they first begin developing but don’t panic.  Cantaloupe develops the netting on their skins later in development.  Many squash, melons, gourds and pumpkins have a different color from when they are mature- melons and gourds may develop spots later for example.  Pumpkins start out green like many squash and then they develop color later.  Cucumbers should be green when picked unless you are growing one of the rare white or lemon varieties.  They will change color to orange, yellow or brown when mature but those mature fruits don’t make the best eating.

It’s not unusual for plants you thought were one type of squash or melon to turn out to be something else.  Plants that look similar like pumpkin and squash sometimes get mislabeled in nurseries.  Also pumpkin, squash, and gourds can hybridize and the saved seeds may produce something unusual.  Different melons may also hybridize. You may get one of these seeds in a seed packet.  

Even when you are growing them close together in a garden the fruit vining crops produce this season should be as expected, the variety of pumpkins or Hubbard squash or cantaloupe you planted, unless you got that odd seed in a seed packet.  Because they are crossing in the garden this year does not make the fruit different.  If a poodle mates with a beagle neither parent changes, but the puppies will certainly be a surprising mix.  It’s the same with vining crops. If you save the seeds from your crop for next year the resulting plants grown from that seed could surprise you.
This is a baby muskmelon.  It will develop netting later

Squash Vine Borers

Watch out for squash vine borers as the moths are flying now.  A squash vine borer moth looks a lot like a wasp. It has an orange lower body with black spots.  The moths lay eggs on vine crops which hatch into larvae that bore into the vine’s stems and cause them to wilt. Squash vine borers also attack pumpkins and to some extent melon vines.  If your vine crops are wilting look at the vines near the base of the plant for a hole with some “sawdust” possibly under it.
Squash borer moth.
Flickr xinem
The larvae of squash borer
wikimedia commons

Pesticides do little to control this moth.  One suggested home control is to paint a bucket or bowl yellow including the interior and fill it with water to a few inches below the rim.  The moths are attracted to yellow and many will drown in the bucket.  Kill any of the moths you see on the plants, they look like wasps but cannot sting you.

Once the larvae are in the vines they may or may not kill the vine.  You can take a piece of wire and probe into the hole in vine and try to puncture the larvae inside.   Find several places where the vine is touching the ground out beyond the hole and heap some good garden soil over the vine.  Some vines will then put out new roots there and the vine will recover.

Downy mildew

Downy mildew is a serious disease of cucumbers and melons, and also damages squash and pumpkins.  It is different from powdery mildew, which is a common problem but less destructive. 

Symptoms of downy mildew are light green turning to yellow spots on the top of leaves and the bottom of the leaves will have black, water soaked looking areas, then a purple-brown dusty or dirty appearance to the bottom of leaves when spores appear.  Cucumber plants quickly seem to dry up and die. Downy mildew is carried to crops by the wind and usually begins in hot, wet or humid weather.  Once in your garden it will spread rapidly. 
Downy Mildew on cucumber - Cornell University

Cucumber plants rapidly die from the disease.  Melons have greatly reduced production.  Squash and pumpkins survive but grow more slowly and are less productive.  The best thing to do is to prevent Downy Mildew by applying protective fungicides.  Look for home garden fungicides that have chlorothalonil or mancozeb in the ingredients and apply as directed.  If caught early fungicides may help crops that are lightly infected. Heavily infected crops won’t be helped.

There are no organic products that are effective for downy mildew.  Baking soda, milk, Epsom salts, dish soap and so on are useless.  If you can’t bring yourself to use a conventional fungicide then pull the plants once they are infected and bury them away from the garden or put them in plastic bags for the landfill.  Don’t mess around with home remedies, allowing the disease to continue spreading.  Don’t compost infected plants at home.  Don’t plant in the same spot next year and make sure all plant residue is removed from the garden in the fall.  Next year look for varieties that are resistant to downy mildew.

Powdery Mildew

One of the most common diseases to affect vining crops like cucumbers, pumpkins, melons and squash is powdery mildew.  It is caused by several different fungi species.  The leaves and stems of your crops will first get yellow spots and then get a white dusty appearance, then begin to yellow and eventually leaves turn brown and papery and fall off.  It doesn’t kill plants in most cases but greatly weakens them.  Older plants and older leaves will get the fungal infection first.  New leaves will continue to form in most cases.

Crowded plants and plants growing in less than full sun are more susceptible.  Temperatures between 68-80 degrees and high humidity favor infection.  This disease is generally blown into the garden or carried in on plants or equipment.  It can also overwinter in soil or debris and emerge when conditions are right.

If it occurs late in the season when most fruit has formed it won’t be as harmful.  Earlier in the season it can lead to sun burnt fruit, smaller fruit and fruit that doesn’t taste as good as unaffected fruit and fruits like pumpkins may not store as well.

Fungal infections can’t be cured, only prevented.  Give your vining crops lots of space, and keep weeds out so there is good air flow around plants.   Plant powdery mildew resistant varieties.   You can use preventative fungal sprays beginning when the crops begin to vine and continuing every 7-10 days or as the label directs.  If you start spraying when you first notice any symptoms you may limit the spread of the disease and help plants continue to grow.

Conventional fungicides include Daconil, Bravo, Echo, Fungonil and Nova and you’ll want to look for one of these ingredients; chlorothalonil, azoxystrobin, trifloxystrobin, myclobutanil in garden shop brands.  Always follow label directions and make sure the product is for edible crops. Note: pesticide recommendations can change from state to state and year to year.

Organic fungicides include copper products, neem oil, Potassium bicarbonate (not sodium bicarbonate or baking soda) and products with sulfur.  As with conventional pesticides follow the label directions and use products labeled for food crops.

Home remedies like dish soap, baking soda, milk, Epsom salt, compost tea and so on won’t work and in some cases make the problem worse.  Be sure to rotate where you plant vine crops each year to try and avoid overwintering fungi.

When you spray a fungicide on vine crops use a forceful stream to try and get under the larger leaves and the undersides of leaves so all parts are covered. After rain events fungicides need to be re-applied.

If you have a long growing season try planting your vine crops later in the season or in shorter growing season areas use fast maturing varieties, planted later in the season.  This seems to help a little.  Also if your crops are struggling with powdery mildew a little slow release fertilizer near the plant base may help them keep growing.

Bachelors Buttons

Bachelors Buttons
I remember my grandmothers Bachelors Buttons.  She had a huge patch of them that came back every year but sometimes she would order seed of a new color to add to the mix.  I remember her getting excited when a maroon color Bachelors Button came on the market and she took me to the garden to point them out when they began blooming.  My grandmother frequently made bouquets from her garden to give people and cornflowers (Bachelors Buttons) were often in them.  I was also allowed to pick the cornflowers whenever I wanted a bouquet.

The Bachelors button or cornflower (Centaurea cyanus), is an old fashioned cottage garden flower every gardener should grow even if you don’t make bouquets.  The lovely blue shades of the flowers that are common and the silvery foliage blend well with other cottage garden type flowers like zinnias, marigolds, nasturtiums, cosmos, and calendula.

Bachelors Buttons are native to Europe.   There they grow as weeds in corn (where all grain is called corn) fields which give them their other common name, cornflower.  They have naturalized in many parts of the world.  But the cornflower has also been popular with gardeners for hundreds of years.

Bachelor’s Buttons are hardy in zones 2- 11, so almost every gardener can grow them.  They are an annual flower, but they reseed freely and once you have them you may not need to replant them every year.  I don’t find them invasive though, they rarely come up far from where they were first planted.

Bachelors Buttons have narrow leaves of silver green and plants grow about 3 feet high, although some dwarf varieties exist.  Plants grow quickly and will bloom in about 10 weeks from seed.  Each plant is narrow and Bachelors Buttons look best when planted in dense groups rather than in rows.

Bloom time for Bachelor’s Buttons is from early summer to frost although really dry hot weather may halt blooming. The flowers are about 1 ½ inch across and consist of tubular 5 petaled florets arranged in a circle. There are a few narrow petals in the center, by the stamens. Common colors are all shades of blue, a good true blue rarely found in garden flowers, and they also come in pink, white, and maroon shades.

Bachelors Buttons have tiny seeds but the seeds are loved by birds, such as goldfinches.  The flowers are visited by both bees and butterflies.  They are a great plant to add to pollinator and wildlife gardens.  Cornflowers are said to be deer resistant, although one must assume any plant will be eaten by deer if they take a notion to do so.

How to grow Bachelor’s Buttons

You’ll probably have to start your Bachelors Buttons from seed.  I find most nurseries don’t carry the plants.  Many seed packets of cornflowers will be mixed colors, although you can order pure color varieties.  The seed germinates easily.  You can start seeds inside about 6 weeks before your last expected frost or simply plant the seeds where you want them to grow.  Bachelors Buttons can be fall sown, you plant the seeds in fall where you want them to grow and they will germinate in the spring.

Bachelors Buttons should be planted in full sun.  They are very tolerant of many types of soil.  They are fairly drought resistant but blooming will suffer if it gets too dry.  A light fertilization when planted may promote more blooms but generally isn’t necessary.  Plants grown in rich soil tend to be more floppy.  If cornflowers are thickly planted in patches they seem to hold each other up better than those planted thinly or in rows.   I plant my seedlings I start inside 2 inches apart in the garden.

Like many annuals cornflowers will bloom longer if they are deadheaded, (keeping dead flowers cut off).  I do this quickly from time to time with scissors.  You don’t have to do this, and make sure to stop deadheading later in the season so some plants will set seed, unless you don’t want them to reseed.   You may want to save some seed to start inside next year.  Keep it in a dry, but  cold place, like a refrigerator produce drawer or unheated garage until you are ready to sow it.

Uses of Bachelors Buttons

Bachelors Buttons are excellent cut flowers and are grown for the florist trade.  They are often used in men’s boutonnière; a flower stuck in a buttonhole, hence the name Bachelors Button.

The flowers of Bachelors Buttons are edible and can be used in salads for color. Since the flowers are held together by a cluster of tough sepals I would pull the petals off and sprinkle them in salads. But whole flowers could be used for decoration on cakes. Blue cornflowers were often crushed and used to color sugar a pretty pale blue for sprinkling on confectionaries.

The dried petals of cornflowers are often used in teas, Twinings Lady Grey tea owes some of its flavor to cornflowers.  The teas are said to help digestion.  An infusion of flower petals was often used as a soothing eye wash. Flower extracts were also used in hair products. ( Hey is that where old ladies originally got blue hair?)  A dye or ink can be made from flower petals when mixed with alum, although dyes are said to be not very permanent.

Infusions of Bachelor Buttons plant parts are said to be antipruritic, antitussive, astringent, weakly diuretic, emmenagogue, and very mildly purgative.  They are used as a mouthwash for bleeding gums and mouth infections.  The seeds of Bachelors Buttons can be used as a mild laxative.

Whether you want it for bouquets, tea or its attractiveness to wildlife Bachelor’s Buttons makes a good addition to the garden.  Even if your garden has a more formal look you may be able to find a spot to tuck in some cornflowers.

Cherry Pie Filling and some ways to use it

Here in Michigan it’s cherry season and since Michigan is a top producer of cherries in the US, it’s probably cherry season for you too.  Here’s how to make some cherry pie filling or topping and how to use that filling for some yummy summer desserts.  The filling recipe is from my canning book, Knacks Canning, Pickling and Preserving and it makes about 6 quarts of filling.  What you don’t use up you can freeze or can.

You’ll need a colander or strainer and a large pot or two plus containers or jars to can or freeze the extra filling.  Clear Jel is found in the canning section of stores.  If you don’t use red food color your cherry filling will be a yellow-red but will taste just fine.  To make it a pretty red use a few drops of food color.

6 quarts of pie/tart cherries
7 cups of sugar
1 ¾ cup Clear Jel
9 ½ cups water
2 teaspoons cherry or almond extract
½ cup lemon juice
Red food coloring (optional)

Wash, remove the stems and pit the cherries. You can buy inexpensive cherry pitters if you don’t like using your finger nails.  A nut pick, crochet hook, or tip of a potato peeler can be used for pitting cherries.  A plastic straw can be used to poke the pit right through the cherry.

Fill your large pot with water and bring it to a boil.  Fill your colander with cherries and lower it into the boiling water.  Leave the colander 1 minute in the boiling water, then lift, drain cherries, put them in a bowl and repeat this until all the cherries gave been dipped in the water.  Keep them warm.

Next put your sugar, Clear Jel, water and extract in a sauce pan and cook and stir until the mixture is thick and bubbly.  Keep stirring so it doesn’t scorch.  Add the lemon juice and cook for 1 more minute.  If you want to add red food coloring to make the sauce prettier, blend it in now.

Pour the hot syrup over the cherries and fold them into the syrup.  They mix with the syrup better if they are kept warm.  You can use the filling immediately, can the filling or let it cool to room temperature and freeze it.

To can the filling pour it into clean hot quart jars to ½ inch from the rim.  Stir to remove bubbles, wipe the rims and add your lids.  Process in a water bath canner 35 minutes from 0-3000 feet altitude, 40 minutes 3001-6000 feet altitude, over 6,000 feet 45 minutes.

Uses for cherry filling

You can use a pre-baked crust or tart shells or make your favorite pie crust recipe.  Just pour in the filling.
Cherry chocolate cake
Instead of frosting pour cherry filling over your favorite chocolate cake after baking.  It’s delicious!
Cherry cobbler
Pour about a quart – 8 cups – of cherry filling in a 9 inch cake pan.  Mix a ½ package – about 2 cups of yellow or cherry cake mix with 1 egg, ½ cup melted butter and a half cup water until well blended.  Spread over the cherry filling in the pan.  Bake at 350 until the cake is browned on top and a toothpick inserted just into the cake portion comes out clean, about 30 minutes.
Cherry Cheese cake topping
If you have a favorite cheesecake recipe you can just use the cherry filling on top.  Or take a graham cracker pie crust and fill it with prepared cheesecake filling (sold by the cream cheese in supermarkets) and use the cherry filling on top.
Cherry pudding dessert
Fill a deep graham cracker crust about half full of vanilla (or chocolate) pudding.  Then fill the remainder with cherry filling.
Cherry Barb-b-cue sauce
Blend some cherry filling in your blender until smooth.  Some people also like to blend in a little red pepper.  I suggest ½  teaspoon red pepper to 3 cups of filling, taste it and see if you like the flavor or want more heat.  Use the cherry filling to baste meat; it goes really well with poultry.
Cherry dip
For a sweet dip simply blend your cherry filling with softened cream cheese.  Blend the cherry filling smooth first, or until it’s just slightly chunky.  Use 1 part filling to 2 parts cream cheese or whatever portions suit your taste. A bit of vanilla or cinnamon can be added.  Serve with chocolate graham crackers or cookies, chunks of cheese or fruit and vegetables. For a spicier dip blend in some red pepper with the cherry filling and cream cheese. 

 Or how about some sweet cherry wine?

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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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