We’ve had some cool nights but fairly nice spring days and flowers are bursting out all over. The flowering quince and the beach plums are blooming. I was pleased to see the beach plums were covered with honey bees today, the first honey bees I have seen. The apricot has just about finished blooming, but the redbud, pears and apples will bloom in a day or so.
I have windflowers, daffodils, early tulips, bloodroot and Spanish bluebells in bloom. Brunnera, perennial Forget me not-is blooming. A few crocus linger on. I see color on the lilac buds. The yard is filled with yellow dandelions, purple violets and purple deadnettle. (Dandelion recipes below).
I have been potting up the new bulbs I ordered. I’m trying some new little bulbs I have never grown before, planting them in pots. My bulb order arrived with 7 packages instead of the 8 it should have had. One of the things I have never grown before is Incarvillea (hardy gloxinia). I had a package marked Incarvillea but it looked like dahlia tubers, which I ordered but that didn’t seem to be present. I thought there might have been a mix up but after talking with the nursery I guess I do have Incarvillea, the dahlias I ordered are being re-sent to me. Anyway it will be interesting to see what happens when the tubers sprout. Anyone out there growing Incarvillea?
The potted bulbs are in my little greenhouse, along with lots of seedlings. I like to give things like dahlias a head start before planting so they bloom sooner. We’ve had a couple of nights with freezing temperatures but so far everything has been fine in the greenhouse even though it’s not heated. I just wish I had a bigger one.
We’ve mowed the lawn for the first time and I have been busy weeding. I ran into some little stinging nettles yesterday. I hate those things, and I don’t care how great of an herb they are, in my garden they are compost material.
My big task will be weeding out the strawberries this week. I can’t believe how fast the grass grows in a strawberry patch. And I have to get in one of my front beds and weed out all the little alliums that are coming up, those things spread like crazy. I think the whole allium family is a bit aggressive.
Still no hummingbirds here, but I expect them any day now that more things are in bloom.
One more mosquito repellant that doesn’t work
After last week’s blog someone wrote to me asking about another mosquito remedy, this one for spraying around the yard. It was a mixture of “cheap mouthwash”, Epsom salt and beer. I don’t know where people come up with this stuff. There’s no basis for any of those products to repel mosquitoes, in fact the smell of beer actually attracts some species of mosquitoes.
The mention of Epsom salts in any home remedy for the garden should be a clue. You can count on 99% of the remedies for the garden that use Epsom salt to be useless. The only legitimate use for Epsom salt in the garden would be to correct a magnesium deficiency in soil, which is a rare problem most home gardeners will never encounter. Oh, and it’s great for soaking your tired feet after a long day of hauling mulch around.
The article that was sent to me claimed the concoction kept mosquitoes away for 80 days! What a joke. Alcohol in beer and mouthwash would quickly evaporate. Epsom salt would be washed into the soil in the first rain. Even the best and most effective commercial mosquito repellants don’t last that long. Who dreams these things up? Don’t waste your money and time mixing up this mess.
I think some of these products seem to work because of the placebo effect. You spend time and money making the remedy and you feel virtuous because you didn’t use any “horrible chemicals”. You think you saved money but unless you got the products free you probably didn’t. So your mind tells you after you went around spraying the yard that there were fewer mosquitoes. If your mind could keep mosquitoes from biting you that might help, but I haven’t seen any evidence that works with mosquitoes.
There have been lots and lots of research on what repels or kills mosquitoes. None of the mentioned products kills or repels mosquitoes. If you don’t want to use chemicals in the yard, and I don’t fault you for that, don’t use them. Keep all sources of standing water emptied or treat them with Bt, a natural product that kills mosquito larvae, so you don’t breed mosquitoes. Wear long sleeves and pants when outside in the times of day when mosquitoes are most active; dusk, dawn and cloudy damp days. Use a good mosquito repellant on your body and clothes. A good strong breeze keeps mosquitoes away. When sitting on the deck or porch a fan can be used to provide good protection without chemicals.
Sometimes we need to weigh the risks against the benefits. Mosquitoes can carry serious life threatening diseases. Some areas of the country have more problems with mosquito borne disease and some people are more vulnerable to complications of those diseases. Modern mosquito control products for personal use carry extremely low risks to people using them. Make an educated decision based on that.
Do you have moss in your lawn or on your roof? The good news is that moss isn’t harmful, and just indicates that suitable conditions for moss are present, which may not be the right conditions for your lawn or roof. If you change the conditions the moss will disappear.
In lawns moss is most often a problem in compacted soil, shady areas, wet areas and in acidic soil with low fertility. If you correct the conditions favoring moss it will disappear. Aerate the soil and limit travel on those areas if compaction is a problem. Have a soil test done to see if the soil is acidic or low in fertility and correct those conditions. Improve the drainage in wet areas- or simply wait for drier conditions to happen.
Shade is trickier. You may not want to remove a nice tree to keep moss from growing under it. But grass is not going to grow in shady places where moss grows anyway. Moss doesn’t look bad and some people have cultivated it under trees instead of using mulch or ground cover plants. Moss is easily removed by sliding a trowel or shovel under it and then you could replace it with mulch or find a ground cover plant for your shady conditions.
|Moss in the lawn|
Moss on the roof is also caused by favorable conditions, generally a roof that stays damp because it’s shaded. If you can remove the shade and increase airflow by removing any tree branches hanging low over the house the moss will probably disappear. There are products you can buy to clean moss off roofs but be very careful if you decide to use them. Some can wash off and harm plants on the ground below. Too vigorous scrubbing of moss can damage shingles too. Soap and water solutions generally don’t work very well and one should never apply them while on the roof, since they are slippery.
Moss is actually a rather neat plant. Each patch is like a miniature forest, take a look under a microscope and you’ll see tiny insects and snails living in it, the moss plants looking like tiny trees. Hummingbirds use bits of moss and lichens to line and hide their nests. Moss provides nitrogen to some environments, through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria. There are some 12,000 species of moss.
Mosses have their own special division of the plant kingdom, Bryophyta. They are plants without a vascular system and reproduce by spores instead of seeds. There’s no real root system, moss absorbs water and minerals through its leaves. Moss can grow on a variety of surfaces from soil to roofs to stones but a moist environment is crucial for moss.
Some people collect moss and use it in miniature gardens and terrariums. It’s been used as a lawn substitute. And of course gardeners know the value of peat moss, the dried mosses from bogs. Native people used dried moss as diaper lining, as wound compresses and in shoes. Moss is used on green roofs and was once used to fill the gaps in log homes. Some northern cultures even made a type of bread from moss when food was scarce. Its even used in the production of Scotch wiskey.
Layering as a propagation technique
If you are out in the garden this spring and decide you’d like to have more of a certain plant why not try a simple method of propagation called layering to get some new plants?
Layering is a method where a low branch of a plant, usually shrubby types of plants, is covered with soil while still attached to the plant. Under the soil new roots develop and after the new plant is well established it can be removed and planted elsewhere. Layering is a slow but pretty effective means of multiplying many plants.
Plants to try layering on include: roses grown on their own roots, forsythia, rhododendron, azalea, honeysuckle, honeyberry, boxwood, euonymus, privet, wax myrtle, lilac, spreading junipers, caryopteris, lavender, rosemary, blackberries, raspberries, grapes, and any plant with woody or semi-woody stems that are close enough to the ground that they can be bent to touch it.
Don’t layer plants that are grafted, the roots of the new plant will not be hardy. Don’t layer plants that are herbaceous, that is all the above ground parts die back to the ground each winter. Most larger trees like maples and oaks cannot be layered. Remember you can keep trademarked or patented plants you propagate for yourself but you cannot sell them without a license.
When my grandmother wanted to propagate some plants she simply took a low branch, cut the underside with a pocket knife, pushed it to the ground and put a big rock on top of the cut area. It worked for her many times. But here’s a better way.
Layering is best done in early spring or fall but you can give it a try anytime. In the spring look for a new green branch that’s close enough to the ground you can bend a good part of it down to touch the ground. (I have mounded soil up on occasion to facilitate this.) The branch should have buds or new leaves signifying it’s alive and growing. In the fall look for a branch that developed this year or a branch without heavy bark and layer it in early fall before it gets too cold.
The bending alone will cause some plants to put out hormones in that area to start root production, but wounding the branch makes root simulation more likely. On the bottom of the branch where it will touch the ground take a sharp clean knife and make a small cut, not more than halfway through the branch. Make the wound far enough down on the stem so that at least 4-6 inches remain to the tip of the branch.
Many times wounding is all that needs to be done. Bend the wounded area just a bit so the wound gaps a little. Sometimes a toothpick that’s moistened, rolled in rooting hormone, (which you can buy in garden stores), and placed crosswise in the cut to keep it slightly open, will help more stubborn plants make new roots.
Place the wounded branch with the cut side down on soil that’s been loosened. The branch remains attached to the plant. You’ll need to securely pin it to the soil in some way. I use a piece of stiff bent wire over the stem and into the ground. But the rock is an old and true method. Place the pinning item just past the wounded area toward the main plant.
Bend the tip of the branch upward gently; you don’t need a sharp angle, just a gentle curve up. Place a stake next to it and attach the branch tip. Now you mound soil over the cut area, 6 inches deep is fine. If you get heavy rains or the soil is very light you may want to cover the mound with a piece of netting or burlap to hold it in place.
Layering is a slow method of propagation. Do not dig down or otherwise disturb the new roots for at least one year. For example if you layered a rose in early spring, you may be able to remove and plant it the following spring. If the branch was layered in spring it should develop leaves and grow over the summer but remember it’s still attached to the mother plant, so it may not be growing roots. If the branch was layered in the fall, it may bud out in spring but not have roots yet also.
After a year carefully remove some of the soil mound and look to see if new roots have developed. If they have you can cut the plant away from the mother plant and transplant it to where you want it to grow. Make sure to keep it watered as it establishes itself.
|Layering, picture adapted from wikimedia commons|
Tip layering, suckers and water sprouts
A few plants will root if branches bend over and touch the ground. Willows and forsythia come to mind, but any shrub with a “weeping” form might be a prospect. Where a branch tip touches the ground you can mound a little soil over it. If you can weigh the tip down or tether it in some way it has a better chance of rooting. Normally wind moves branches around a lot and this prevents rooting.
If a plant puts up suckers, like lilacs do, (that’s small plants that pop up a short distance from the plant), you can simply dig up the suckering pieces, cutting the roots attached to mother plants. Let suckers grow a year or two to develop a good root system. Suckers that grow up around a grafted plant will not turn into plants that look like the mother plant and may not be hardy.
If you cut down a shrub or even a tree and it throws a bunch of shoots or “water sprouts” up from the trunk you can mound soil over these shoots and let them develop their own root systems. Wounding them near their bases with a small cut will make them more likely to develop their own root system and not keep using the old plant roots for sustenance. Only propagate these water sprouts if the original plant was healthy. And if the original plant was grafted the plants growing from the sprouts won’t look like the original tree and may not be hardy.
Sometimes living trees will put out water sprouts near the base of the tree. Do not mound soil around these as it may rot the trunk of the original tree and allow disease and insects inside.
Should you only plant native species in your garden?
Here I go again. I saw a post on line where someone wanted a plant with pretty purple flowers identified, and the poster mentioned that hummingbirds loved the plant. The plant was identified and then people went on rants about not growing the plant because it was a non-native “invasive”. I mentioned that it must have value in the environment because the hummers loved it. Then people began the litany of this non-native disrupting the ecosystem because it took resources away from natives. I guess they thought if hummers like this plant they wouldn’t go to native plants. Or maybe it was just the occupying of space that concerned them. This is what makes me so angry.
There are a lot of plants not native to North America that bees, birds and other animals are very fond of, and that contribute to their well-being. There’s never been any proof that a plant introduced into an environment caused the extinction of a native plant. And hummers, bees and butterflies rarely abandon natives; they just use non-natives as supplemental feeds, or nesting spots, maybe in an area where native plants no longer sustain their populations. This is a good thing, not a bad thing, because more species are being saved.
It seems ironic to me that the most invasive, environmentally destructive, non-native plants in this country are plants that benefit humans. All that wheat, soy, rice, oats, cotton, lettuce, cabbage, apples, citrus, those honey bees, in fact most food crops, are not native. But they feed us, humans, so they get to stay. And those crops have been the cause of more harmful changes to the environment than any non-native ornamental plant in a garden.
So why is it wrong to let plants that feed or house other species stay? Why do we decide its ok to root out and destroy plants that birds, bees, butterflies, and other animals like because they aren’t native? If people in North America started eating only native North American species and destroyed all those non-native crops maybe they would have a change of heart. Believe me, bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, songbirds, and other animals don’t care where a plant comes from if it feeds or shelters them.
But are native plants easier to grow?
And as far as the idea that native plants are easier to care for, more suited to the environment and so on – well it’s mostly crap, to put it mildly. If you are new to gardening don’t let people tell you to only plant native plants because they will need less maintenance and are more likely to grow for you.
The important thing for any garden situation is to choose plants that suit the conditions, whether they are native species or not. Those are the plants that are going to be easiest to grow, the ones suited to the soil, weather, light conditions and so on. Those are the plants you’ll be most pleased with. If you have a garden that you like, and that suits your idea of a garden that’s the garden that will be a pleasure to care for.
If you want peonies or poppies or roses and your conditions are suitable for them don’t let people guilt you into planting native plants instead. And when it’s your personal garden space don’t be afraid to choose ornamental qualities of non-natives over “native ” if both plants are equally suited to the conditions. Consulting with experts is great, learning about what different species of plants need is essential, but don’t let other people dictate to you what plants you should grow.
Most garden environments and even larger pieces of land have changed over time from their original conditions either because they were modified by human activity or climate change. So plants that were once native to that area may struggle to grow there. Many non-native plants, conventional garden plants grown for hundreds of years in gardens, are going to be more suitable for your conditions and easier to care for than native plants. You are more likely to have success growing them and success in anything generally encourages you to do more of it. Growing any kind of plants is better than growing no plants at all.
|Rudbeckia and monarda, native plants.|
Sure there are hardy and adaptable natives that grow almost anywhere and those are great for your garden or landscape. I recommend you use some of them. I’m thinking coreopsis, rudbeckia, monarda, chelone, echinacea, goldenrod and helenium, all pretty adaptable and easy. And many other native species may be perfect for your conditions and showy enough for the garden too. But many native plants aren’t going to grow in your conditions and don’t let anyone tell you because you live in the “northeast” that all of the northeastern native plants are the most suitable ones for your garden, because many won’t be.
There are, of course, some species of animals, butterflies in particular, that need certain plants for reproduction or food. Monarch butterflies need milkweed plants for their caterpillars to eat for example. So if you can tuck some of those larval-host species in the garden or allow them to grow somewhere on your property you are encouraging and protecting those species and that’s a good thing.
Some native plants are hard to get established even in good conditions for them. You can’t just plop them in the ground and walk away. They won’t all stay looking nice without pruning and other care. Some native plants can also become a nightmare in the garden, overrunning everything and becoming almost impossible to control. And most native plants have a short bloom period and then many don’t look especially attractive after that.
Native plants propagated responsibly for sale can be more expensive than equally suitable non- native species. And the fad for native plants is actually leading to the destruction of populations of some species as unscrupulous dealers harvest them from the wild.
It’s not wrong to plant either native species or non-native species- it’s wrong to plant the wrong plant for the conditions and for the expectations you have for a garden.
Did you know that the dandelion is not a native plant? They were brought here by early European colonists as an herbal plant and escaped to live happily ever after. Lawns lit up with gold splashes are so pretty after a long winter how could people hate them? Its likely more people would tolerate dandelions “naturalized” in the lawn if they didn’t turn into those white fluff balls of seed.
The bees appreciate dandelions too. They are an important source of nectar and pollen in early spring, and get bee colonies off to a good start. Birds like the seeds of dandelions even though they are small. Some farm animals don’t care for dandelion foliage as it’s rather bitter and the plants are often left to flower in pastures to the delight of the bees.
Dandelions are interesting plants. The leaves are grooved and arranged to funnel water to the roots and the root itself is a long sturdy taproot capable of storing water so the plant survives drought well. The dandelion begins flowering when the day length is slightly below 12 hours, stops flowering when the day gets to its longest point and then begins flowering again in autumn when the day length is about 12 hours again.
Dandelion flowers are actually masses of small flowers bundled together and these flowers do not need pollination to set seed, although they appreciate and reward bees for helping with pollination. Dandelion flowers close at night and when rain is coming. The dandelion seed floats away on a tuff of fluff to start new colonies. Dandelions are perennial and if you dig down beneath the snow you can find the leaves still green in winter.
Herbal and edible uses of dandelions
All parts of the dandelion are used in herbal remedies or for food. Young dandelion leaves are used for salads and are grown commercially for that purpose to include in “green mixes.” The buds of dandelions and even open flowers can be used in salads also. The young greens are cooked like spinach, although they are best mixed with other greens as they are bitter when cooked. The flowers of dandelions can be breaded and fried.
Dried dandelion leaves are used as a tea to aid digestion. Dried dandelion leaves, dried nettles and yellow dock are turned into an herbal beer once popular in Canada. The leaves are high in calcium, boron, and silicone and modern herbals suggest them to aid in treating osteoporosis. Dandelion flowers contain high levels of lecithin and choline, two substances modern herbalists use for treating Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders
Dandelion flowers are used to make dandelion wine. (Recipe below).
Dandelion roots are dried and ground and used in a number of medicinal ways. They are a mild diuretic and laxative and are said to help the liver. The dried roots are also used as a coffee substitute. The chopped, boiled and mashed roots are an old remedy for sore breasts and mastitis.
When you pick a dandelion flower the stem leaks a milky sap. That sap is an old remedy for warts and other skin conditions. And that sap can be turned into rubber too. In Germany a manufacturing facility began large scale production of rubber from dandelions a few years ago. They hope to have dandelion rubber tires on the commercial market soon. Besides tires the rubber will be used in many other applications that traditional rubber and latex are used for, such as latex gloves.
As you can see a lawn full of dandelions is like a giant herb and vegetable garden rolled into one! Of course when you pick dandelion parts for eating and herbal use pick them from areas that have not been sprayed with pesticides. Why would anyone want to pollute their lawn with weed killers to get rid of this valuable plant? Don’t hate this valuable and useful plant-think of it kindly and let some live.
Here are some other great things to do with dandelions.
This jelly is sweet and mild in flavor. It won’t be bright yellow though, unless you add a few drops of food coloring. For the best jelly the calyx, the green area on the back of the flower needs to be removed. Do this quickly with kitchen shears or pinch off the green area with your fingers. The petals will then be loose. This will make about 2 pints or 4 half pints.
1 qt. flowers, calyx removed
4 ½ cups sugar
1 ¾ oz. powdered pectin
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 qt. water
Food coloring if desired
Boil the flowers in water for 3 minutes, and then strain off 3 cups of fluid and place in a pot.
Add pectin and the lemon to the fluid you saved. Bring to a boil.
Add the sugar to the boiling fluid and stir to dissolve.
Boil 3 minutes, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens – or jelly stage.
Pour into hot, clean jars and seal.
My grandfather would make wine out of about anything. This wine recipe is a folksy one; there are more professional recipes for dandelion wine too. I kind of think it’s more citrus wine because of the fruit you use, but still it’s a good use for all those dandelion flowers. It’s a fun thing to try and may keep your significant other from trying to poison off all the pretty dandelions.
You’ll need a two gallon or larger crock or glass jar. Do not use metal or plastic that’s not food grade. Heavy food grade plastic buckets could be used. You’ll also need a strainer and some cheese cloth or some clean old nylon stockings.
Pick one gallon of open dandelion flowers, packed. This is a good family experience. It’s best to pick them early in the morning when they have just opened. Of course only collect dandelions from places where you know they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides.
Now sit there and remove all the green parts from the back of the dandelion flowers and save the petals. My grandfather just used whole flowers, but modern wine makers say that leaving the green parts makes the wine bitter and interferes with fermentation.
Put the flower petals in your two gallon container and pour boiling water over them until they are completely covered, about 1 ½ gallons water. Cover your container with cheesecloth or the nylons and let it sit at room temperature for three days.
Put a strainer over a big pot. Pour the fluid through the strainer. Squeeze and mash the flowers against the strainer to extract as much fluid as possible. Discard the mashed flowers.
Clean your crock or jar with hot water and soap and set aside. You’ll need it soon.
To your big pot of fluid add a 3 lb. bag of sugar. (7 cups)
Chop 4 lemons and 4 oranges up into small pieces, rind and all, and add them to the pot.
Boil the fluid in the pot for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, make sure sugar dissolves.
Cool the fluid to lukewarm and add a package of wine or brewers yeast or if you can’t find that, two packages of bread yeast, or about 2 tablespoons of yeast. Stir gently.
Pour into the cleaned crock or jar and cover the top with cheesecloth or nylons. Set the crock or jar in a dark area with an ideal temperature of around 70 degrees. Too cool or too warm conditions don’t allow good fermentation.
The mixture in the crock should bubble and smell yeasty. It’s normal for a scum layer to form on the top, leave it alone. If the mixture doesn’t bubble it isn’t fermenting. In about three weeks, when the mixture stops bubbling, the wine should be ready to bottle.
Pour the wine through cheesecloth or coffee filters to strain off solids. Discard solids. You can taste it now but it’s better to let it age a few months. Pour it into clean bottles or jars and cover with a balloon over the top. This allows some fermentation to occur without breaking the bottle. After a month or so you can cork the bottle/ cap the jar. Keep them in a dark, cool place. You’ll get about a gallon of white wine from this. Folk lore says it should be opened on winter solstice.
Open up the windows, smell the flowers, spring is here.
“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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