Tuesday, June 20, 2017

June 20, 2017, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter

Hi Gardeners

It’s a beautiful day here, defying the forecast which said we would have a showery cloudy day.  Seventy degrees and sunny, that’s my kind of day.  We have had in the last 4 days just shy of 3 inches of rain.  So we really don’t need more, although it’s forecast for almost every day this week.

I was at a gathering of great gardeners last night and we had a booming thunderstorm and heavy rain to talk over.  Luckily we had a roof over us.   It was the 35th anniversary of the Lapeer Horticultural Society.  It was great to see so many of you gardeners again.  I wanted to take pictures of the nice garden at the Garden at Suncrest, but was only able to get a few pictures between rain showers.  If you have a chance to join a garden group near you, do it.  It’s fun to talk to other gardeners in person.

In my garden the hydrangeas are beginning to bloom.  Harebells, helanthemum, evening primrose, and common daylily are some things joining the roses and clematis in bloom.  Annuals are starting to fill in and look nice.  The calla lily in my ornamental pond is blooming.

The fireflies are flying now.  I remember as a kid we never had fireflies up here in the north.  We had to go down south to visit relatives to see them and collect them in jars. Whether they just took a while to spread north (maybe in jars hidden in the back seats of cars?) or it’s a sign of climate change I don’t know.

Potato beetles are now out and about. They are small, long beetles with yellow stripes.  You can protect your potatoes with spun row covers if you get it on before the beetles arrive.  Handpick beetles or use a pesticide otherwise.  Potato beetles will also attack eggplants. 

My strawberries are ripening and the blackberries are in bloom.  When I was a child my siblings and I would go to the fields along the railroad tracks and pick wild strawberries by the bucket and my mom would spend a lot of time hulling them and making shortcakes out of bisquick.  It was a special treat if we had ice cream or whipped cream to go with them.

I have my own strawberry patch now but I must admit I am not keeping it up well and the bed is full of grass.  I think I will rip it all out and renovate it when they quit blooming.  I may move the plants to a raised bed closer to the house I think.

The mulberry tree at the back of my garden is ripening its fruit and it’s literally covered in birds much of the day.  You don’t want to have clothes on a line when the mulberries are ripe.  The trees are messy when they drop fruit but I let one stay because the birds love them so.  It’s the only time I see many cedar waxwings.  You hear them twittering before you see them.  They talk constantly as they eat.

The yellow flower blooming all along the roadsides and in fields is yellow rocket.  It’s a biannual and dies after setting seed.  The little lavender daisy like flower with the yellow centers that’s blooming everywhere is Daisy Fleabane.   The fields around here are also filled with Ox Eye daisies.  Field corn and soybeans are coming up and many farmers are cutting hay for the first time.
Cedar Waxwings in mulberry.

Summer solstice

Tomorrow is the summer solstice, the official beginning of summer.  In a society where people spend more time indoors than out the solstice may have become insignificant to many but the day has been noted and celebrated since the earliest communities of man.   In the more northern countries the celebrations are more marked, probably because the sun is so welcome and vital in these climates and because at summer solstice in the far north the sun never seems to set.  

Different cultures celebrate summer solstice in different ways.  Solstice festivities almost always include fire, with bonfires a requisite of most celebrations.  Oak wood is commonly used in solstice bonfires for luck and magic. People jump over the fires for luck and make talismans of the ashes.  The ashes of solstice fires are spread on crops to bring a good harvest.  However the astrological sign Cancer, a water sign, begins at the time of solstice so water also figures into many solstice festivities.  In ancient cultures burning wheels were often rolled into water or bark boats filled with flowers and herbs were set on fire and floated down rivers.

Wreaths of flowers and herbs are included in many solstice celebrations.  The wreaths are worn on the head and hung on doors and are said to bring good luck.  Rue, fennel, roses, rosemary, foxglove, lemon verbena, calendula, mallow, elderberry, St. John's Wort, vervain and trefoil are plants associated with these wreaths and summer solstice.   Often the flowers or wreaths were left outside to gather the dew on the night of the solstice.  Washing your face with the dew collected on the night of the solstice was supposed to make you beautiful and delay aging. 

The Romans dedicated the month that the summer solstice occurs in (the month we call June) to honoring the goddess Juno, patroness of marriage and fertility in women.  The goddess of the hearth, Vesta was also honored.  Common traditions include a couple jumping over a bonfire to make it known they were committed to each other and other rituals of fertility and marriage.  (Interestingly a woman’s fertility is also highest at this time.) Conception in June results in a baby born in March, which in earlier times was a good month to give birth.  Food supplies would be more plentiful as the baby began to require more milk, the weather more moderate, and the wife would be recovered enough to help with spring planting.  Even today June is the month most favored for marriage.

Native Americans of the plains tribes held the Sun Dance near the summer solstice.  This was a time of dancing around bonfires, prayer, fasting and tests of strength, depending on the tribe.  In some tribes young men were put through grueling rituals to enter manhood at this time.

Midsummer’s eve is often confused with the summer solstice but is not the same.  It generally occurs a few days later than the solstice, on June 23 or 24.  It is supposed to mark the birth of John the Baptist, who is supposed to have been born six months before Jesus and is a product of Christianity adopting and adapting pagan celebrations.  But there is a great mixture of fairy visits and other magic associated with Midsummers eve in folklore also. The point where the sun is farthest (yes farthest) from the earth, the aphelion, occurs on July 3 at 3 am.

You can start your own summer solstice tradition to celebrate the beginning of summer.  Think sunbathing, swimming and a great bonfire at night, or attend one of Michigan’s celebrations.  Kaleva, Michigan, population about 500, in Manistee County (near Interlochen), holds a solstice celebration in a county park featuring Swedish pancakes and strawberry shortcake as well as a bonfire that many tourists attend. 

Tips on taking advantage of plant clearance sales

It’s the time of year when many stores, nurseries and greenhouses are trying to clear out plants left over from spring sales.  You can get some great bargains this time of the year and I am fond of perusing the sales myself.  But don’t get carried away by low prices and buy plants that you don’t have the right conditions for or that are beyond saving.

Annual plants left in small cell packs that are overly lanky, yellowed or half dead looking should just be passed by.  They are too stressed to ever do well and you’ll spend time and money on them better spent elsewhere.  Annuals that are still compact and in good shape may be worth buying if you have a spot for them.  Annuals in 4 inch or larger pots that still look good are worth buying.  Check plants over carefully for diseases and pests as stressed plants in poor conditions are more likely to get diseases or pests.

Vegetable plants on clearance should be carefully checked for signs of disease and pests too. You don’t want to bring that home now as your garden begins to produce.  Like flower plants if vegetables are in small cell packs and quite tall, yellowed and lanky they aren’t worth buying because they will rarely make productive plants.  Plants like tomatoes in large pots that still look healthy are fine to buy, but if you intend to transplant them into the garden you’ll need to be able to water them frequently because hot weather and lots of top growth will make it harder for them to re-establish themselves.

Perennial ornamental plants that are in pots can actually be planted all summer if they are kept watered as they get established.  If perennials look healthy, a clearance price is a good deal.  That’s if you have the right conditions in your garden for them.  Many perennials on sale will have already bloomed, which makes them less likely to sell at full price.  They won’t bloom again this year but can be well worth waiting for, if the price is right.

Don’t buy any bareroot, packaged trees or shrubs that are still left sitting in stores, especially if you see no green on them.  They aren’t still dormant, they’re dead.  Potted trees or shrubs without any growth showing are also dead.  You’ll have to make a judgement call on buying potted trees and shrubs that look half dead, with wilted or dead areas.  Some may recover with good care.  But the price should be low to reflect the uncertainty.

The biggest problem I have with clearance sales is seeing a good deal and wanting to buy the plant even if I don’t need it or don’t really have a place to put it.  Sometimes you are just going to do it, but try and convince yourself that isn’t really in your best interests.  Will power, save your money and space for something you really, really want.  When you don’t have a sunny spot for a sun loving plant buying one and then watching it slowly die just doesn’t make sense.  Or if you have to put an addition on the house just to fit all those tropical plants inside this winter it may not be a wise move either.

I don’t recommend dumpster diving for plants.  Sometimes the plants were ordered destroyed by state inspectors, because a disease or pest was found.  State agricultural inspectors randomly inspect stores or inspect when they suspect or know of a problem occurring.  When I ran garden stores this sometimes happened.  I had our condemned plants compacted, and people didn’t get a chance to rescue them. Some stores don’t do this; they simply toss them in dumpsters. You don’t know why the plants were discarded.  If you rescue them and take them home you could bring a serious disease or pest into your garden and worse into everyone else’s garden or even into farm fields.

Happiness with hosta

When modern gardeners plant hostas it’s not about the flowers, although hosta flowers can be spectacular. Fifty years ago hostas were called Plantain Lilies or Funkia, and they were grown for their late summer flowers. Today, while hostas are the most popular perennial sold in the world, most buyers are not looking for flowers. Hostas are grown for their wonderful range of foliage color, shape and texture, and for their ability to glamorize those shady spots in the garden. Hostas are easy to grow and thrive across the United States, from zone 3-8.

Hostas are good plants to combine with spring flowering bulbs under deciduous trees.  When the bulbs finish blooming the trees will leaf out and shade the hostas, which will cover the dying bulb foliage.  Hostas also mix well with ferns, astilbe, heuchera, goatsbeard, tiarella, and woodland wildflowers.

Hostas are native to China, Japan and Korea and have been cultivated in those countries for thousands of years.

Growing Hosta

While hostas are known as shade plants, they will not do well if the location is very dark, such as under evergreens with low branches. Dry shade is not a good location. Hostas do best in moist soil rich in organic matter, in light shade or dappled shade. Many hosta varieties can take some sun if they are kept moist, especially in northern zones.  Sunny dry areas are not suitable for hostas.  They also do not do well in sunny areas where heat is reflected off a wall or pavement.

Spring is the best time to plant hostas. Gardeners should start with plants, you can find them as dormant roots or as potted plants.  If the hosta is potted wait until after the last frost in your area to transplant it into the garden.  Dormant root clumps can be planted outside a few weeks before the last frost is expected. Plant the hosta crown just at soil level. Keep the soil moist around hostas but don’t plant them where they will sit in waterlogged soil as they will rot.

Hostas can be grown by seed and sometimes seedlings come up in the garden if the seed pods were left on the plant.  But they don’t come true to variety by seed so most hostas are propagated by dividing clumps or by tissue culture.  Some gardeners enjoy collecting hosta seed and planting it just to see what form and color they get.

Hostas are slow to emerge in the spring so be sure to mark where you plant them so you won’t disturb the clumps when planting or working in the garden. As hostas begin to emerge, you can work a slow release fertilizer, or a few inches of quality compost, into the soil around them. This is helpful in areas where the hostas compete with tree roots. Hostas in deep, rich soil may do well without any fertilizer. Be patient with hostas. Hostas may take several years of growth in a location before the adult form and color of the variety is evident. 

Hostas flower in mid to late summer. When hosta finish flowering, the old flower and its long stem should be removed. This concentrates the hosta energy to the foliage and not to producing seeds. However leaving the seedpods or just a few of them doesn’t hurt the plants. Some hosta varieties do not form seed pods as they are sterile hybrids

Remove dead or yellowed leaves from hosta during the growing season and after they are killed by frost in the fall. In zones 5 and above it is helpful to provide a layer of mulch to hosta crowns after the ground freezes. Straw, pine needles, oak leaves or other mulch that doesn’t matt down is best.

Hostas have few disease or pest problems when grown in the right location. If the edges of hosta leaves turn brown and crisp, the plant is probably in too much sun or it is too dry.

Slugs are a major problem of hostas in some areas. Slugs feed at night and eat holes in the leaves. If you have slug problems you should remove all mulch and debris around the hostas. Remove the leaves on each hosta where the leaf blade touches the ground. This allows the soil surface to dry and removes hiding places for slugs. You can also try mulching with sharp, small gravel such as baby chick grit or use diatomaceous earth around the hosta plants. There are slug poisons on the market but be very careful using them around children and pets. Hosta varieties with thick, wrinkled leaves are said to be less appealing to slugs.

The easiest way to propagate hostas is through division- dividing a mature plant into several smaller ones.   Hosta rarely grow from cuttings, although a piece of the plant with a bit of the basal area of the crown may grow under ideal conditions.  But hostas can be grown from seed; it’s the way many new varieties are produced.  And many hosta are now reproduced through tissue culture.

Choosing varieties of hosta

There are literally thousands of hosta varieties on the market. When new varieties come on the market they are usually quite expensive. If you see a hosta that you like but can’t afford, look around, chances are that there is an older variety that is very similar and much less expensive.

Hostas range in color from almost white to golden green to deep green, from light blue gray to deep blue-green, and with leaf variegations combining those colors. There are some hostas with red or purplish stems. Hostas flower color ranges from white to shades of lavender and blue. The shape of hosta leaves range from small and almost round, to heart shaped, oval, long and strap like, ruffled, wrinkled and smooth. The size of hosta varies from plants that mature at only a few inches high to those that become 3’ or 4’ high.

The name of the hosta variety is not as important as it having growing characteristics that suit your garden space. A mixture of leaf texture, color and plant size is usually best if the area is to be planted only in hostas. If other plants are in the garden you must consider whether the hosta you select will be hidden under them or crowd them out, and whether the foliage color and texture complements what is already planted there.  If you are going to plant hostas where they will be in sun for some part of the day, look for varieties that are marked sun tolerant.  White or mostly white hosta do not do well in full sun, while many sun tolerant hosta are lime green or yellow. 

There are too many varieties to list when it comes to hosta colors and leaf shapes and most people choose by selecting the ones that attract their eye in the garden shop.  Just make sure to check the tag for size and other considerations to make sure that variety is a good fit for your garden.  Buying assorted, unnamed mixtures of hostas that many places offer can be a good way to get a lot of hosta inexpensively, if you are not concerned with knowing variety names.

Growing hostas for their flowers

Hosta flowers come in two color varieties white and shades of lavender. Some hostas also have fragrant flowers.  Flowers can take several forms also, from trumpet shaped to bell like, and are produced in clusters on a stem called a scape, above the crown.  Like their foliage some hosta varieties have flowers that are large and on tall scapes or stems, and others have smaller, shorter flowers.  Hosta begin blooming in June in zone 5 and continue through August, with each variety having a different bloom time.  Mature plants with many crowns produce the best flower show.  Hosta plantaginea varieties and hybrids with them usually have fragrant flowers.  Hosta flowers are a favorite of hummingbirds by the way.

Here are some hostas known for their pretty flowers.  'Fragrant Bouquet', has white, fragrant, flowers and has spawned many color sports, ‘Fragrant Dream’ with white flowers, 'Guacamole', fragrant, pale lavender flowers, are two. 'Regal Splendor'  has 5 feet high spikes of lavender flowers. 'So Sweet' is a small hosta with white, fragrant flowers. ‘Raspberry Sundae’ has red flower stalks and buds, flowers open lavender. ‘Honey Pie’ is a gold foliaged hosta with lavender, fragrant flowers.  ‘Aphrodite’ has large, double pure white, deeply fragrant flowers on 2 foot stems.  ‘Venus’ is similar with single white trumpet shaped flowers. ‘Diamonds are Forever’  has purple striped flowers. ‘Grape Fizz’ has fragrant purple flowers.  Hosta 'Purple Lady Finger' has narrow purple flowers that don’t open up. Hosta 'Strawberry Yogurt' has pretty purple flowers on reddish scapes.  Hosta 'Tickle Me Pink' has red scapes and fuchsia buds and bracts that open to reveal reddish purple flowers.

Hosta Venus

I have a hosta that was given to me and I was told it was the variety ‘Lemon-Lime’, which is known for the number of flowers it produces.  The true ‘Lemon–Lime’ has a mound of flat, narrow, chartreuse leaves with loads of 18" scapes of bell-shaped, purple-striped flowers.   Mine must be a sport or mutation of the variety since the leaves of mine are lime green with a lemon yellow edge.  But it is loaded with purple flowers in mid-summer.  Another named sport is Hosta 'Twist of Lime'  which is quite compact – 4-5 inches tall - with narrow chartreuse yellow foliage edged in green and deep violet flowers in late spring.  

Hosta breeders are working to improve the flower show of various species of hosta, creating varieties with pretty foliage and pretty, fragrant flowers.  I think we will soon see hostas with red-purple or pinkish flowers on the market.  I like to choose hostas that have both pretty foliage and nice flowers but it’s sometimes hard to find information about the flowers when looking at the descriptions in plant catalogs.  I am hoping that will change as more people become interested in hosta for their flowers.

My version of hosta Lemon Lime

Starting hostas from seed

If you have a garden full of beautiful hostas or even one spectacular plant you may be wondering if you could reproduce that plant from seed.  Many hostas cross breed easily and if you let them form seeds, you can grow a variety of new plants and maybe find something special among them.  You can even hand pollinate flowers to experiment with producing new plants.

Different types of hosta flower at different times so even in a mixed group of hosta some plants won’t be able to cross.  But even if all the hosta plants nearby are the same variety the plants grown from seed they produce will probably not look exactly like the parent plants. 

Bees and hummingbirds may pollinate the plants.  You can also distribute pollen from one plant to another with a small paint brush if you want to cross certain plants.  Pollen is the yellow dust like substance found inside a hosta flower.  Rub your clean paint brush on it then take the brush to the plant you want to be the female parent and brush the pollen on the stigma.  The stigma is usually in the center of the flower.  It looks like a fleshy stem with a flat, sticky top. 

After pollinating a flower you should tie a tag on the flower stem with the name of the plants you crossed written on it.  If you want to be really professional you will also cover the pollinated flower with a small paper bag for a few days so bees can’t add pollen from other hosta.

There are complicated genetic rules about what type of plants can produce what kind of babies.  Crossing green hosta and green variegated hosta usually produce 100% green plants. Cross two variegated varieties for the  best chance of variegated babies.  If the seed pod produced by the cross is streaked, the chances of seedlings producing variegated foliage is higher.

Crosses of blue and gold hosta with green hosta or each other may produce a small percentage of blue or gold plants. Crossing white variegated hosta may produce hosta with all white leaves, which may die shortly, as they can’t produce food.  The white hosta seen on the market usually darken to pale green in summer, so that some chlorophyll is producing food.  There are more genetic “secrets” you can learn if you look up hosta breeding.

Collecting hosta seed

Wait until the seed pods are dark brown and dry.  This is usually about a month after blooming. Don’t wait too long or the pods will split and the tiny seeds will scatter. Collect the pods and shake them in a bag to split the pods and release the seed. When the pods are almost dry you can cut off the flower stem and put it in a brown paper bag to finish drying and to collect any spilled seeds.  Label each bag with the names of the plants you crossed or at least the name of the plant you took them from.

Be ready to plant the seeds soon after they are collected.  Hosta seed has a lower germination rate than most plants and fresh seed germinates better than stored seed.

(Although germination will be lower you can also save the seeds for later planting.  Let them thoroughly dry then put them in a tightly sealed container in a cool place.   You can start seeds inside over the winter under lights, then transplant outside in the spring.)

Starting hosta seed

You can sprinkle hosta seed in a prepared bed directly in the ground in a protected spot.   Or you can use only sterile seed starting medium in clean pots or flats to start the seed.  Moisten the medium and fill the containers.  Sprinkle the tiny hosta seeds over the moist medium and press lightly into the soil.  You can spread the seed thickly because of the low germination rate.   Mist the medium and seeds and cover flats and pots with a plastic bag or top.

Hostas germinate best with warm soil and cool air conditions, rather like fall conditions.  Placing flats on the warm ground in a semi-shady spot outside can work as well as sitting the containers on a seed starting heat matt in a cool room. 

The trick is to get the plants up and growing before winter weather and then getting them to over winter successfully.  If the plants have a good set of leaves started and are in the ground or can be planted outside before a hard frost to develop a good root system in the ground, they can be covered with mulch and will probably over winter well. 

If the plants aren’t very developed before a hard frost it may be better to keep them in containers and over winter them somewhere just above freezing, such as an unheated garage or porch.  They’ll need at least some light and careful watering so they don’t get too wet or dry out.  Don’t try to grow them on a window sill in a warm room although a cool greenhouse can work.  Plant them outside again when the hosta in the garden have a few leaves emerged.

All new hosta varieties have to come from somewhere so if at first you don’t succeed keep plugging away.  Discard the plants you don’t like or give them to friends.   It can be a fun hobby that may pay off big if you produce something unusual.

Other uses for hosta

I’ll mention it here although it seems ridiculous to me, hosta are edible.  If you get too many simply eat them like salad or cooked like spinach.  They taste “green.”   If you eat too many leaves you will damage the health of your plants.  There are many other more suitable plants for salad use, but some people just like to eat everything.  Maybe their edible qualities will convince a spouse to let you buy some.

Hosta leaves can be added to bouquets or used as decoration.
Almost every garden has a spot for hostas and these reliable plants are loved around the world.  Don’t hesitate to plant some in your garden.

Let’s talk about sex

Look at all the beautiful flowers, swaying in the breeze.  The plush, vivid colors and intoxicating scents are begging sex servants to visit them, vibrating, stroking, licking and penetrating their sex organs to assure continuity of the species.  Yep, flowers are sexy.  In the season of optimal plant sex it’s time for gardeners to review their knowledge of sexual reproduction in plants.

Nature developed flowers to allow immobile living things to be able to mate and share genetic material.  Most flowers that are showy and/or fragrant are meant to attract pollinators, which are little sex servants to help plants mate. Flowers are the sex organs of plants.  Since plants can’t move to the mate of their dreams they use flowers to attract helpers, or to distribute their male genetic material in the wind or water.

Flowers use rewards to lure insects and other animals to them.  The rewards can be real like nectar or pollen, or illusionary. Some flowers are tricksters, using their shape to fool an insect into thinking it’s another insect, or producing pheromones to make an insect think a mate is near.  Some plants use heat, like the skunk cabbage, to lure insects into a warm flower for protection in colder weather.  Some collect water in their flowers for thirsty animals to drink. 

Some flowers can use just about any species of animal to pollinate them.  Others can only be pollinated by one family of animals like bees or butterflies and some by only one specific species within that family, such as a certain type of moth.   Each species of orchid can only be pollinated by one species of insect, one particular moth or bee for example.

Pollinators are not always insects.  Small animals, birds and bats can be pollinators.  Elephants pollinate some plants in their environments which collect water in large flower “basins”, with pollen floating on top.   And humans can pollinate flowers deliberately using a brush or other means or accidentally when you stick your nose in one flower and then another. 

Sexing flowers

To sex a flower you can just look inside it.  The sex organs are generally in the middle and are prominent if you know what you are looking for.  Some flowers have only one type of sex organs, male or female.  Some flowers have both male and female parts.  In a plant that has flowers with both sex organs in each flower, the plant is hermaphroditic.  

A plant that has separate male and female flowers on the same plant is called monoecious.   If a plant has only flowers of one sex, either male or female, it is called dioecious.  The flowers of dioecious and monoecious plants are incomplete flowers.  A flower is called a complete flower if it has male and female parts, sepals and petals.  Whew, but we aren’t done yet.

The male sexual organ of a plant is called the stamen.  It is made up of anthers, thick cushiony rod shaped areas where pollen is produced and filaments, which are the little “stems” that attach the anthers to the flower base.  Each flower can have one stamen, many stamens or no stamens.  A flower with only male parts is called staminate. 

Pollen is found on the stamens. Pollen is composed of “packets” of male genetic material combined in many cases with things that attract pollinators. It is similar to the sperm of animal species. Each species of plant has pollen grains with their own distinctive shape. The identification of pollen may be part of forensic evidence. 
Lily with sexual parts marked
Pollen is commonly yellow but may be many different colors.  Wind pollinated plants have small, light pollen grains so they can float on the breeze.  It’s that pollen that most often causes allergies.  Insect pollinated plants have heavier pollen that is enriched with fats and proteins to better attract insects who want to eat it.  The pollen sticks to feet and backs of insects or beaks of birds and is carried from plant to plant.

A plant often produces nectar, a sweet sticky substance, to attract pollinators to flowers.  Some flowers have glands which produce nectar at their base. Nectar glands are sometimes found in leaf joints or along stems too.  When pollinators visit plants looking for nectar they collect pollen grains on their feet or backs and then carry it to the next plants they visit.  It’s an interesting fact that most bees, like honey bees, tend to feed on one type of flower the whole day.  This is nature’s way of preventing pollen from being wasted by it being transferred to a plant of another species that it can’t reproduce with.

The female sexual organ of a plant is called the pistil.  It consists of the ovary, which is attached to the base of the flower and is filled with one or many eggs, the style which is a stem of varying lengths between the ovary and the organ at the end of the style, called the stigma. 

The stigma is where pollen, containing sperm cells, is deposited.  It is analogous to the vagina of animals or cloacae of birds.  In some flowers the stigma is large and showy, often a vivid color contrasting with the petal color.  It may have several lobes or sections.  In other flowers the stigma is barely visible at the end of the style. A flower may have one or many pistils or no pistils if it is a male flower. A flower with all female parts is called pistillate. 

Plants which have flowers of only one sex need a plant of the opposite sex near them to reproduce.  Only female flowers or flowers with both male and female parts can produce fruit and seeds.

Tropical hibiscus- the stamens are yellow, pistils red.

Sexual frustration

Even when a flower has both sexual organs inside it, they may not be able to self-fertilize.  Sometimes the pollen and egg cells mature at different times in the same flower.  Sometimes the sexual parts are arranged within the flower so they are unlikely to fertilize each other.  And other times the plant produces a hormone that prevents fertilization by a plant with too similar genetic material.

When pollen from an apple flower lands on a receptive stigma, the stigma may not allow it to complete the fertilization process. (We don’t know quite how the plant stigma “reads” the pollen genetics.)  If the pollen is genetically similar to that of the plant that produced the stigma it is rejected.  So a McIntosh apple cannot breed with itself or another McIntosh apple but might breed with a Red Delicious apple.  That’s why you must have 2 different varieties of apples fairly close by to get fruit. 

Nature made flowers so that plants could share genetic material between plants, which insures genetic diversity and allows for changes over time through natural selection.  But some flowers are able to self-fertilize if they have both sexual organs or if the plant has both sexes of flowers.  The plant prefers to use this as a last resort, when unfamiliar pollen isn’t available.

Other flower parts

The colorful petals of a flower are part of the sex organ, meant to lure insects by their color.  Sometimes they have markings on them that direct insects to their reward of nectar or pollen, and the flowers sex organs.  While eating, the insect or other animal picks up pollen and deposits pollen from other plants.

Look at the “cats face” on a pansy for example.  All of the little dark lines are pointing towards the center of the flower where it is hoped the insect will travel, picking up pollen and depositing some from another plant.  Many flowers have a bull’s eye pattern on them that gets darker closer to the source of nectar or pollen.

Insects learn to recognize patterns on petals that direct them to food quickly.  It saves time for everyone.  Sometimes petals are marked with ultraviolet patterns that the human eye doesn’t see but some insects see very well.

Petals also protect the sex organs of the flower before they mature.  Some close around the sex parts in bad weather or at night.  Some petals may restrict the type of pollinator that gets near the sex organs, if a plant prefers one pollinator over another.  The sex organs and nectar or pollen may be at the end of a petal “tube” that only certain insects fit in or have a tongue long enough to reach down.

Sepals are the generally green leaf-like parts on the base of the flower.  They protect flower buds and help hold up or support a flower.  They protect the ovary at the base of the flower with immature seeds inside.  In some species of flowers the sepals have evolved to look exactly like petals.  Lilies and tulips have sepals that look like petals. 
Notice the markings on this viola that direct a pollinator to the prize.

How flowers mate

When male flower organs are mature and ready to mate their pollen becomes fluffy, sticky, and easily detached from the anther.  It may change color, from greenish to bright yellow or from pink to dark red for example.  It’s ready to be picked up by a visiting insect or other animal.

Pollinators visiting flowers may accidentally pick up pollen on their bodies or deliberately collect it for food like bees do.  Plants have many methods for ensuring that pollen leaves with a pollinator.  Some trap insects inside them for a while.  Some make them run a gauntlet of anthers to reach their reward.  Some anthers are spring loaded and strike the back of an insect that lands on a stigma.  Some flowers even intoxicate insects so that they buzz around crazily and lounge around in a flower for a while.

Some flowers dangle their male parts in the wind or drop their pollen into water so it can make its way to a female plant.  Usually these flowers are not showy; many people fail to recognize them as flowers.  Consider the corn plant.  On the top of the plant is the tassle, a group of all male corn flowers who dangle their sex organs downward toward the female corn flowers, which are the “silks” at the end of each ear, (also not very flower-like). Their hope is that the wind will shake pollen down on the female flower or carry it to another corn plants female flower.

When a female sex organ on a flower is mature and ready to accept mating the stigma becomes covered with a clear sticky fluid, the better to grab and hold pollen grains.  Sometimes the stigma swells or changes color also.

If all goes well something carrying pollen from another plant of the same species will land on a stigma open for business.  Mating in a plant is called pollination. It’s when the mature pollen from a flower lands on a receptive stigma of another flower.  Some flowers produce pollen or remain receptive to pollen for only a few hours, others will carry on for many days.

Just like every animal mating does not produce offspring every pollination event does not produce seeds.  It’s only when the genetic material from sperm cells in the pollen unite with egg cells in the ovary of a flower that fertilization happens and possibly a new seed will form.

A flower sex worker

Making babies

Each grain of pollen contains 3 cells.  One cell is responsible for boring a tube from the top of the stigma where the pollen grain lands through the style down to the egg inside the ovary of the flower.  One cell carries the genetic material, similar to an animal sperm cell, which forms the embryonic plant when it unites with the egg.  The other cell will make the food supply around the embryo, which we call a seed.

Each type of plant has a threshold at which it will allow a fertilized egg to turn into a seed with its enclosed embryonic plant.  In a plant with a single seed in the ovary one sperm cell uniting with an egg will probably set seed making in motion.  In an ovary with many egg cells a certain number of eggs may need to be fertilized before the plant will begin forming a fruit around them and seed completion is allowed.

Making a fruit around a seed or group of seeds is energy intensive for a plant.  Fruits protect seeds and act as dispersal mechanisms in many cases.  But if a certain number of seeds aren’t fertilized within the ovary the plant decides the energy expenditure isn’t worth it and aborts the fruit and immature seeds.  

In a watermelon, for example, about 100 seeds will need to be fertilized in a flowers ovary for a watermelon fruit to form and the seeds mature.  That means at least 100 grains of pollen had to fall on that watermelon flowers receptive stigma.  See how important our pollinators are?

(Note: We have bred watermelon varieties and other types of fruit to need less pollination or no pollination to make fruit producing “seedless” watermelon/fruit.  There are actually immature seeds, technically unfertilized eggs, in such fruits.)

Some plants have even fussier pollination/fertilization requirements.  An apple flower has a stigma divided into 5 lobes or sections.  Two grains of pollen need to fall on each lobe and successful fertilization occur before an apple begins forming.  Slice open an apple and you can see the 5 sections of the ovary divided by thick membranes with 2 or more seeds in each section.

With all the complications involved in plant sex it’s a miracle that we get the abundance of fruits and seeds that plants produce.  When you are out walking in the garden admire the flowers not only for their beauty, but for the extremely complex organs of reproduction that they are.   

Poppy sex organs

Traditional strawberry jam

A candy or jelly thermometer, found in most stores, is advised for jam making.  Don’t double jam recipes, the flavor is better if jam is made in small batches because it doesn’t need to cook as long.

First clean and sterilize 8 half pint glass canning jars and new lids.  Place the jars into a large kettle of boiling water, making sure they are filled and covered with water and boil for ten minutes. Drop lids in just before the time is up.  Turn off the water but leave jars covered with the hot water until ready to use.  You can also use a dishwasher to sterilize jars if it has a sterilize cycle.  Keep jars in dishwasher until ready to use.

Clean and slice about 16 cups or 4 quarts of fresh berries.  Measure out 8 cups of berries after slicing and place in a large saucepan with 6 cups of white sugar.  You must use this ratio to get a good “gel.”

Crush the strawberries with a potato masher or large spoon until you get lots of juice and stir until most of the sugar is dissolved.  Bring the mixture to a boil slowly, stirring constantly.  Then turn the heat to a medium setting and cook the mixture about 35 minutes, stirring frequently to keep it from sticking to the pan.  Check the mixture often with the candy/jelly thermometer - or leave it in the pan attached to the pan rim with a clip.   Turn off the heat when the temperature reaches 220ºF.

If you don’t have a thermometer cook until the jam is thick and shiny.  Jam gets thicker as it cools.  You can check for the right consistency by placing a spoonful in a freezer and testing in 5 minutes.   If it is as thick as store jam it’s done.  You can turn off the heat under the jam while you are testing.  Bring the pot back just to a boil before filling jars if it’s thick enough.

Don’t overcook jam, it will get grainy and may taste like burnt sugar.  Jam that is too thin can be cooked a bit longer but overcooked jam can’t be fixed.

When the jam is the right consistency/ temperature pour it hot into your sterilized jars.  (Drain out water first).  Fill to 1/4 inch from the jar rim, wipe the rim of the jar and then add the lids, first the flat piece, seal side down, then the screw band.  Tighten screw bands.

Place the jars in a water bath canner.  A water bath canner is a large pot that will hold all the jars with about 2 inches of water over the top of them. This can be the pot you sterilized the jars in.   A rack that holds the jars is advised- it keeps them from knocking together or turning over.   These are found with canning supplies.

The water should be brought to a boil, and then timed for exactly ten minutes. Turn off the heat, lift the jars out with tongs and place on a dishcloth set on a table or counter.  Don’t handle the jars until you hear a ping, or see a depression in the center of the lid, meaning the jar has sealed. 

Label the jars with the contents and a date.  Then store in a dark place where temperatures remain above freezing.

You can avoid all the canning hassle by pouring your jam into freezer containers and freezing it.  It must be stored in the freezer until used.  Thaw before use. All opened jam should be stored in the refrigerator, including canned jam.

Remember to collect that dew tomorrow morning so you can wash your face and delay aging.

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

June 13, 2017, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter

Hi Gardeners
Ninebark flowers

It’s a warm and humid day here in Michigan but not as hot as yesterday, when we had temperatures in the low 90’s.  Here in the thumb we are getting a north wind off the Saginaw bay, which has cooled temps to the mid 80’s but is also keeping any rain away, which we need.  All my plants are getting covered in dust blown off our gravel road.  I’ve had to water everyday which subtracts from my weeding time.

I actually don’t mind weeding that much.  It’s kind of therapy for me.  I like to work in the evenings; I’m not a morning person.  I’ll stay out and work until dark some days.  But around here there’s always someplace that needs weeding, when you get that last bed weeded and edged it’s time to start over.  Right now the strawberry bed is calling to me.  I’ll probably work on it tonight, after I finish watering.  I think I should find some ripe berries among the weeds.

Despite the heat and dryness things are still pretty around here.  Peonies and roses are in full bloom. The clematis’s are in bloom.  Along with the ninebark (article below) which is so pretty and loaded with bees, bristly locust, spirea, mock orange and weigelia are blooming.  Some of the cosmos, while still small, are beginning to bloom. The earliest true lilies, the martagons, have begun to bloom.  These are tiny, dainty lilies that I like to tuck in sunny or partly sunny spots in my front yard among the hostas.

I still have only one small, early, heirloom daylily in bloom (Gold Dust), but the rest will be blooming soon as will some of the Asiatic lilies.  Interestingly my Empress Wu hosta which is easily 4 feet high this year has big buds showing.  It bloomed several weeks later last year.

The sweet corn didn’t germinate evenly; there are gaps in the rows.  But the vine crops have taken off in the heat and I even have some tomatoes starting to color up on the Early Girl plant.  We are harvesting lettuce and green onions, although I’m afraid the lettuce will soon bolt and become bitter in the heat.

Mystery pot solved

Last week I commented on a mystery pot of plants that I have.  Well I know people read this blog because one of my long time readers reminded me that I planted some peacock orchids (Gladiolus Acidanthera) last year.  And yes, I went back and looked at some pictures from last year and sure enough there was the pot with peacock orchids in it.  They aren’t hardy here so when frost killed the tops I picked it up and carried it inside to store.  It sat in a corner and almost got dumped this spring because it looked like an empty pot of soil. (Thank You Debby from Lapeer for jogging my memory.)

Peacock orchid
When I noticed a shoot I sat the pot outside and watered it and there are a number of shoots now.  I repotted it into a slightly larger pot and labeled it. I should have flowers for a second year. I have a bunch of tender bulbs in pots this year, just to see what the flowers are like.  I’ll have to remember to carefully label the pots when I bring them in for storage.

The hardy gloxinias (Incarvillea delavayi) I planted in the ground are now blooming. They are one of my bulb experiments this spring, although the root system looked like a dahlia tuber rather than a bulb. There are white flowered ones as well as the pink flowered variety I had bloom in a pot.  I sure hope these beauties are hardy here and return to bloom again. Some references say hardy to zone 5 but others say zone 6 so it will be touch and go.  I’ll save the potted one inside.  These are a nice edition to a partly shaded bed.

Remember to keep feeding the birds

My bird feeders are going through two cakes of suet a day.  I sometimes don’t have a refill on hand but I try to keep enough suet cakes so they don’t have to go too long before one or the other feeder has suet.  Suet seems to be the preferred food for a whole lot of baby birds.  The parents bring them near the feeders where I can watch their begging.  And then I watch their clumsy attempts to get their own suet.  The jelly feeder is also popular now.

If you don’t keep food out for the birds in summer you are missing out on some good bird watching.  Many species are around in summer that aren’t here in the winter.  Helping parent birds feed their young helps keep the bird population flourishing.  Don’t worry that the birds won’t learn how to find their own food in the wild.  Bird feeders are basically supplements to most bird diets, but they are an important supplement to young birds that help get them off to a good start.

I keep sunflower seed, suet blocks, jelly and sugar water for the hummingbirds out all summer.  Not all bird species visit feeders but many do and it’s a great way to photograph them.  I don’t keep water out all the time, my one bird bath is basically decorative and I fill it if I am watering plants near it.  But my property has several natural watering places.  If your area doesn’t have natural ponds or other water sources a bird bath is also a good way to see birds and very helpful to their survival.
Downy woodpecker and friend

Orphan baby birds and bird nests

While we are talking birds I am also going to mention baby birds that fall out of nests or nests that get dislodged for some reason.  If you accidently knock or cut a nest out of a tree and the babies or even eggs are ok, then simply try to put the nest back as close to the old location as possible as quickly as possible.  The birds will generally go back to the nest, especially if there are young in it, if they can find it.  Baby birds will make noise if they sense the parents are near which help the parents find the nest.  The birds won’t care if you touched the nest or babies. 

I have known people to wire/tie branches they cut out that had nests on or in them back to the tree or shrub they pruned and the birds return to them.  Yes the branches will die, but baby birds mature quickly and two to three weeks is generally all that’s needed to get them out of the nest.

If the nest falls out because of a storm and you don’t even know where it came from or it’s too high to reach you can still try to replace it in the tree or shrub it was found near.  Nests with eggs can just be discarded in this case; the eggs probably wouldn’t hatch if they fell very far, even if not cracked.  The bird will build a new nest and lay more eggs. 

But if the nest had baby birds and they don’t seem injured try putting the nest back as high as possible in the tree or shrub, in a way that it won’t easily be dislodged again.  You may need to use twist ties or wire, just make sure it doesn’t prevent the bird from sitting on the nest or feeding the babies.  If the birds hear or see the babies they will probably continue to care for them.

If you see a ground nesting birds nest when you are mowing or clearing brush just leave it alone.  Leave a bit of cover around the nest and in just a couple weeks or less the eggs will hatch and the birds will be gone.  If the cover around the nest is gone, maybe a teepee of brush or stalks of some kind could offer enough cover.  Most ground nesting birds have babies that move around and feed themselves shortly after hatching, like baby chickens.  If you see these babies just leave them alone.   Take or chase cats and dogs away for a while, that’s all that’s generally needed.  Some birds like wild turkeys may attack you if you bother their babies.

It’s an old wives tale that if you handle a baby bird the parents won’t care for it.  They will take it back even if the dog picks it up in its mouth. If you see a tiny baby bird and can see where came from try to put it back in the nest.  Birds have no way to carry a baby back to the nest but if you can get it back they will care for it.  This applies to tiny birds which are featherless or have only a few feathers.

If a baby bird has most of its feathers and you find it out of the nest it’s probably fledged, which means mom and dad want it out of the nest.  They’ll continue to care for it even if someone touches it.  If it’s in danger where it is, you can move it to a tree limb.  They can flutter and hop higher into the tree.  The parents may be frantically buzzing your head or they may be unseen but they are probably around.  Once the baby is up high and safe, leave the area or observe from a good distance.

If you take a baby bird away from a cat or find one that is injured it’s probably best to humanely kill it.  Birds that have been bitten or even scratched by a cat almost always die from infection.  Even vets may not be able to save them.  An animal rescue organization may or may not accept injured birds.

While handling a baby bird won’t make the parents desert it, it doesn’t mean it should be handled more than absolutely necessary.  That’s especially true of small children handling the bird.  Don’t let them keep it for a few hours or try to feed it. They need frequent feeding by their parents to remain healthy.  The wrong food or food placed in their mouths the wrong way will kill them.  Small hands have a tendency to squeeze too tightly and it doesn’t take much to kill a baby bird.  Dropping baby birds is also quite harmful.  Make sure children wash their hands very well after handling a wild bird as they carry many diseases.  Never let them kiss them or put them against their faces.

You shouldn’t try feeding a baby bird unless it’s a last resort either.  More baby birds are killed by inexperienced people feeding them than are helped by it.  If you are sure the baby is abandoned try to find a wildlife rescue organization that will take the bird.  Call a nature center, a vet, or your animal control department to find a place to take the baby.  Keeping some species of baby birds may even be illegal in your area.  A pet store may know someone who hand feeds domestic baby birds and that person may also be able to help you.

If you must feed the baby do not use pieces of worm, bread crumbs, dogfood or birdseed.  First you must determine what species of baby bird you have, as different species have different needs.  You can then look up on line what type of food to mix up or buy for it.  Use information from a wildlife rescue, nature center, or experienced bird breeder not just random people recounting experiences or something they heard.

In a pinch little pieces of hard boiled or scrambled egg would be a good thing to try until you get a proper formula for your type of bird.  Pet stores sell powdered baby bird formulas for feeding domestic birds and one of the formulas may work for your orphan, but I warn you they aren’t cheap. 

Taking on the feeding of a baby bird is a big commitment, at least for a few weeks.  Tiny babies need hourly feeding and larger ones need feeding every 2 hours from sun up to dark.  You have to be very careful not to stuff the baby and block its breathing or get the crop, the pouch that holds food before it goes to the stomach in birds, impacted. As they get bigger you have to know how to transition them to eating natural foods.

I know everyone has heard stories about someone who raised a baby robin on earthworms or a sparrow on bread crumbs but those are exceptions.  More than 90% of wild baby birds that untrained people try to feed die.  Try to resist the urge to keep the baby bird you find and find an experienced person to care for it.  The cuteness and novelty wear off quickly.


Ninebark Summer Wine
Ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius, is everything most gardeners could want in a shrub.  It’s native to central and eastern North America, has beautiful fragrant flowers in spring that bees and butterflies adore, seeds that birds like, good fall color and interesting exfoliating bark for winter interest.  Many cultivated varieties also have colorful summer foliage. 

Ninebark is a shrub, the native species is about 10 feet high by 10 feet wide but more compact and shorter varieties have been developed so almost any gardener can fit one in somewhere and they are well worth including in the garden.  Native wild type ninebark is hardy from zones 2-8 and while they like full sun in the north will grow in partial shade further south.  Ninebark is drought tolerant once established and will grow in almost any kind of well-drained soil.

Ninebark is tough and fast growing, blooming when 2-3 years old.  It has few pests or disease problems; powdery mildew sometimes hits the wild form and some cultivars but doesn’t seriously harm the plant.  Many cultivated varieties have good powdery mildew resistance.  Some nurseries and garden writers list ninebark as deer proof but in my garden deer did prune the plants somewhat for me, although they only ate the branch tips.  Ninebark will also grow close to black walnut trees.

Ninebark generally forms a multi-stemmed, rounded, somewhat arching or weeping shrub.  Older stems will have bark that peels in strips, revealing layers of different colored bark, which is where the name ninebark is supposed to come from.  The bark is visible in winter.  Ninebark sometimes suckers, but is not considered to be an aggressive spreader. 

Ninebark has oval, 3-5 lobed leaves, which are thick and somewhat rough, with toothed edges.  Many cultivated varieties have finer foliage.  The species has plain green leaves that turn yellow in fall.  But there are many cultivated varieties with maroon, purple, or golden foliage that is pretty in summer and has lovely fall color.

The flowers of ninebark are beautiful as well as fragrant.  Some writers describe them as spirea- like, but I see nothing spirea about them, except that they bloom close to the same time.  The shrub is covered in late spring- early summer with rounded clusters of small five petaled flowers.  The clusters range from golf ball to tennis ball size.

In the species and golden leaved varieties the buds are light pink and the open flowers white.  In dark leaved varieties buds are darker pink and the open flowers are white flushed with pink.  In newly opened flowers the cluster of stamens in the center have red tips, which darken as they age.  Bees and butterflies flock to ninebark in bloom, attracted by the light sweet scent and abundant nectar the plant produces.  If you pull the petals from a flower you’ll see drops of nectar in the cup of the remaining sepals.

The flowers turn into reddish inflated seed pods in dangling clusters.  Songbirds enjoy eating the seeds and the capsules themselves provide some winter interest until the birds eat them.

Varieties of ninebark

‘Dart's Golden’ ninebark is a variety with golden yellow spring foliage fading to lime or chartreuse in summer, which becomes golden tinged with orange in the fall.  It’s a bit more compact than the species at 6 feet tall and wide. It’s hardy in zones 3-8.

'Nugget' Ninebark  is a compact variety, growing 5 to 6 feet high and wide. The leaves are a bit more finely-textured than the species, golden yellow in the spring maturing to lime green foliage. Zones 3-8

‘Amber Jubilee’ or 'Jefam' Ninebark is also a compact variety, 5 to 6 feet high and 3 to 4 feet wide.  Spring growth is yellow orange, summer color lime green and fall color is purple.  Zones 3-7.

‘Center Glow’ ninebark has purple foliage with a gold center in spring, fall color is purple red.   It’s a full sized ninebark- 8 or more feet high and wide.  Hardy in zones 3-7.

‘Coppertina’ ninebark is a full sized ninebark with coppery purple spring foliage, purple summer foliage and red-purple fall foliage.  Hardy in zones 3-7.

‘Diabolo’ or ‘Monlo’ ninebark is a large ninebark with deep burgundy purple foliage all year.  It has some mildew resistance.  Zones 3-8.

‘Little Devil’ or'Donna May' ninebark is a dwarf selection of Diablo, with fine textured very deep purple foliage all year.  It grows 4 feet tall and wide and is mildew resistant.  Zones 3-7.

‘Summer Wine’ or  'SWPOTWG' ninebark is compact , growing about 5 feet tall and wide.  It has good purple foliage all year, pink tinged flowers and is quite resistant to mildew.  Zones 3-7.

Tiny Wine® is one of the newer and smaller varieties at only 3-4 feet high and wide.   It has fine-textured, deep purple leaves  and is mildew resistant, and would be excellent for smaller gardens.  Zones 3-7.

Planting and care of ninebark

Ninebark is usually purchased as a plant, especially if you want a cultivated variety.  These are generally started from cuttings.  Seed from ninebark is relatively easy to grow but you probably won’t get seed grown plants that look like their parent unless you are using the seed from wildtype plants.  Plant seeds in pots in the fall after they ripen and leave the pots outside through the winter for best germination.  Ninebark suckers can be dug up and transplanted.

In planting zones 2-6 I would try to place your ninebark in full sun. In higher zones they will do well in partial shade.   They need well drained soil but aren’t fussy about soil type. Don’t amend the soil in the hole when planting.  Back fill with the soil you removed, no matter how poor you think that soil is.  One application of a general purpose fertilizer for shrubs should be given at planting and then once a year in early spring.  Don’t over fertilize.

Keep the ninebark watered during the first year as it establishes itself. After that they rarely need supplemental water unless it’s very dry for long periods.  Ninebark doesn’t do well in wet soil areas.

Ninebark can be pruned to shape it and control height but it must be pruned immediately after flowering, no later than July 1, if you want flowers the next spring.  If you have a badly overgrown and wild looking ninebark you can prune it back to a foot from the ground but expect it to take two years before it blooms again.

Powdery mildew can be avoided by placing plants where they get good air flow and planting resistant varieties. 

Medicinal and other uses of ninebark

The inner bark of ninebark is powdered and used as a laxative tea.  Indigenous people used a cooled tea as a vaginal douche, said to cure infertility, delayed menstruation (which suggests it may be an abortifacient) and infections.  All plant parts are toxic and only experienced herbal practitioners should use it.  Ninebark bark was mixed with cedar bark and used as a brown dye.

Ninebark is a great shrub for a blooming and colorful hedge.  You could alternate plants with different color foliage.  Smaller cultivars look good in butterfly and bee beds or mixed perennial plantings.  One of the nicely colored cultivars could be used as a specimen plant or garden focal point.

Putting an edge on it

One of the pieces of advice I used to give people whose wildflower or pollinator garden plots were drawing the ire of neighbors because they looked messy was to put a nice edge/border on the garden.  Putting a neat border around even a weedy looking patch suddenly improves the looks and says “yes this is a garden.”  Unless your garden is surrounded by pavement it will look better if it is edged, no matter what type of plants it holds.

Edges define a garden and set it off from lawn areas.  They are pleasing to the eye and provide that finishing touch many gardens need. And edges that are maintained help keep grass and weeds out of the garden.  The width of the edge should be determined by the width of the flower bed, the height of plants in the bed and what appeals to you.  In general wide beds need wider edges and taller plant material also looks better with wider edges.

My gardens tend to be messy and crowded.  I use natural things for edging, old timbers, stones or a simple bare strip of ground.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money buying edging for your garden but if you like a more formal garden with plants discreetly placed rather than jumbled together you may want a more formal type of edging material also.

The simplest type of edging is the trench edge or bare strip.  This is one of the oldest methods of putting an edge on a garden.  A trench provides an air barrier from spreading grass roots.  A bare edge can accommodate a lawn mower wheel and keeps weed whackers from getting too close to plants.
Start your edge a couple inches from the base of plants in the bed.     Extend it beyond the spread of mature plants to your desired width.  If you are uncertain about how wide to make the edge make it narrow and then enlarge it if needed.  Stand back a bit from the garden and eyeball it to see if it looks in proportion to the bed size.  You’ll want the outer side of the edge to be straight and even or follow a curved bed in an even manner.

Start by removing a strip of sod the width of your desired edge.  Simply push a shovel in the ground at the outer edge to cut the sod.  Then slide the shovel under the root system of the sod toward the garden.  You may have to wiggle and shove it to cut under the sod.  Lift off pieces of sod like pieces of carpet and discard them in the compost pile.

If you want a trench cut down with the shovel in a V shape about 6 inches deep and 6 inches wide at the top.  Make sure trenches won’t cut into plant roots by placing trenches at the edge of your cleared space. Mound the soil you remove on the garden side of the trench and smooth it out a little. 

If you simply want a bare strip just remove the sod.  You want to make the bare strip is wide enough so that the wheel of the lawn mower can roll on it, without the mower hitting plants, and the mower blades will keep the edge of the strip neat.  Bare strips will probably need to be wider than a trench to keep grass out of the garden.

Other types of edges

If you don’t like the looks of a bare soil edge around your garden you can use woodchips or shredded bark on that bare edge around the garden.  Resist the urge to lay down layers of newspaper, cardboard, carpet or landscape fabric under the mulch.  I used to recommend that too, to help keep weeds down, but research has shown its not good for the soil, and educated professionals are discouraging the practice.  Mulch helps preserve water but it also needs to be replenished from time to time.

In my area, because there are lots of stony farm fields, many people surround gardens with stones.  This can look very nice if you take care to place rocks with their size in proportion to your plants and bed width. Bigger plants and wider beds need larger rocks to look right.  The drawback to rocks is that weeds and grass will grow among them.  This can be tricky to weed.  Some people place a weed barrier strip under the rocks.  Rocks tend to settle in the ground each year and will sometimes need excavating and resetting.

I don’t recommend white gravel or any kind of gravel as edging or mulch.  It looks nice at first but litter quickly collects in rocks and it starts looking messy.  You can use a leaf blower to blow out debris but it’s an extra step to take with a gas polluting engine.  Gravel also gets into lawn areas and becomes projectiles when mowers pass over them.  Many weeds will grow through gravel also.

Lawn timbers, railroad ties, or small straight logs can be used as edging.  You won’t want to use treated lumber as an edge for edible plants but for ornamental plants its fine.  These items can be hard to fit around curved or circular beds.  I find that when I have used logs around beds, which slowly decompose, I get a lot of ant colonies setting up near and under the logs. They can make things quite miserable when you are down there weeding.

Paving stones and concrete edgers look good in more formal garden settings but they can be expensive.  There are all kinds of ways you can make a border with these items, laying them flat, stacking them, turning them on edge and so on.  Recycled rubber and plastic edgers are available, some look nice, and some are cheap and flimsy.

How about plastic edging, the kind you bury with just the rolled lip above ground?  This might keep grass out but it just doesn’t look nice.  It might work on the outer edge of a strip covered with mulch.  And what about low fencing?  This can look nice at the outer edge of a bare or mulched strip but that fencing can be a pain to weed around.  It’s good for areas that people might be tempted to walk on.

Whatever you choose to edge your garden with, do give it an edge.  The right edge or border puts the finishing touch on your garden.

Rose chafer
In my zone 5b-6a garden rose chafer beetles are beginning to show up.  Some of you may already be experiencing rose or other plant damage from them.  They feed on a wide variety of plants including grapes. You can read more about them and how to control them here.

How long does a perennial actually live?

If you are a gardener that shops for plants that are perennial because you want to plant them once and have them forever, you may be wondering why some plants sold as perennials fail to return after a few years in a garden.  You may blame a hard winter, the nursery that sold you the plants or bad luck for the plants death when in truth it may just have lived out its normal life span.

Phlox and coneflowers
When gardeners begin to take an interest in plants as something other than decorating material they learn that plants have various lifespan categories, assigned by botanists as perennial, biannual (biennial) or annual.   Annuals are those plants that live one season; they bloom and produce seed in their first year of life, then die.  Biennials make some foliage growth in their first year, bloom the second year and then die.  Perennials are plants that live more than two years.  

The problem is that some perennial plants barely make it past the two year mark, and some of them are common garden plants.  There are just some species of plants whose lifespan is short, even though they are classified as perennial.  While they may give you a good show for a year or two they will need to replaced far more often than other types of garden plants.  Gardeners need to be aware that not all perennial plants will last for a long time in the garden.

Culture and conditions contribute to plant longevity

While the normal lifespan is indeed a factor in how long a plant lives other things can also affect a plants lifespan.  Plants that are at the edge of their tolerance range for cold or heat will probably live a shorter life than those that are in an ideal climate.  Make sure to check the planting zone rating for the perennial you are considering.   While most plant tags or descriptions will give you the cold tolerance rating very few list heat tolerance ratings for plants.   A few nurseries now list heat tolerance but in general if you live in an area that gets very hot for long periods each summer you’ll want to look up heat tolerance ratings for non-native plants.  Some plants won’t bloom without a certain number of cold days also.  Tulips and daffodils are examples.

And don’t just check the zone for the species in general.  Some cultivars or varieties of common garden plants may be less hardy than others.  For example buddleias and lavender each have varieties that are quite hardy, surviving in Zones 5 or less, but they also have varieties that need warmer zones to thrive.  Sometimes perennials or varieties of perennials that are not in the right zone will live for a year or two but then die when there is a colder winter or warmer, more humid summer.

Some climate factors other than temperature may have to be considered also.  Plants who originate in regions that have dry winters may suffer and have a shorter life in wet snowy winter areas. Many plants that come from the Mediterranean areas, like rosemary, and some bulbs, like tulips, don’t like wet winters.   Plants can also have varying tolerances for windy areas or long periods of drought.

When garden plants are hybrids of several species that have different lifespans in the wild or come from vastly different climates, some of those hybrids may have a shorter or longer life in the garden or perform better and last longer in some places than others.  An example of this was the red coreopsis that was being offered several years ago.  These hybrids rarely lasted more than the first season in the garden.  It can take several years after a new hybrid of an old garden favorite is put on the market for its hardiness and longevity to be established.

Light requirements can be crucial to longevity too.  If you plant a shade lover in full sun or vice versa you will probably shorten the plants lifespan.  Soil type and soil pH (acidity or alkalinity) are also factors.  A plant that likes acidic soil for example, may survive in alkaline soil for a few years but it probably isn’t a healthy, happy plant and will be more susceptible to disease or insects or just disappearing from the garden.  The old adage of right plant in the right place gives each plant the greatest potential to reach its normal lifespan.

How long a plant takes to reach maturity and how it handles competition from other plants may also affect its lifespan.  In general a plant that is slow to reach maturity will live a long time when it does manage to reach that stage.  But these plants may take a little extra care in getting them established or they will die out early.  These plants will need to have more rampantly growing species around them kept from overtaking them or competing for light and water until they are large enough or well established enough to fend for themselves. 

Plants that fool you

Sometimes plants that have been in your garden a long time are not the original plants you planted.  But they are so successful in spreading or seeding themselves that the lifespan of the individual plant is less important.  Hollyhocks for example, are biannual plants, but they reseed so freely that once established in the garden you almost always have them.  Plants that reseed freely such as comfrey and columbine may not have long lived individuals but persist in the garden.  Even some annual plants may reseed and seem to be perennial in the garden.

In general plants that spread quickly through rhizomes or tillers (underground stems) are short lived individually but long lived as a species in the garden.  Bearded iris put out new rhizomes each year but the old rhizomes die after blooming.  A bed of irises may persist 50 years or more.  Plants that produce “daughter” plants around the original plant and make large clumps of plants, such as hosta, are also long lived, sometimes as individual plants or sometimes as a “family” or colony. 

Plants that have woody or semi-woody stems are also longer lived than plants that die to the ground each winter.  Plants that remain evergreen (retain leaves) in the winter are generally longer lived than other types of plants. 

So which plants live the longest in the garden?

When plants have everything they need to thrive and excellent care from you some will still live longer than others.  There is a natural lifespan for each species, hamsters have shorter lifespans than dogs, coreopsis has a shorter lifespan than hosta.  A perennial is considered short lived if it lives 2 to 4 years on average.  It is medium in lifespan if it lives 5 to 8 years and long lived if it lives on average 9 years or more.  Some plants, like peonies, may live longer than 50 years if they are in the right spot.

Long lived perennials (averages more than 8 years in the right conditions)
These lists are for non-woody perennials.

Acanthus mollis- (Bears Breeches)
Aconitum spp.(Monkshood )
Alchemilla mollis (Lady's Mantle )
Amsonia orientalis(Blue Star)
Anaphalis  triplinervis (Pearly Everlasting)
Aruncus dioicus (Goatsbeard )
Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly Weed )
Baptisia australis (False Blue Indigo)
Centaurea montana
Chelone oblique- Turtleshead)
Cimicifuga racemosa (Snakeroot)
Crosmia spp.
Dictamnus albus (Gas Plant)
Ferns (various species)
Filipendula rubra ( Meadowsweet)
Geranium spp.(Hardy Geraniums)
Helleborus spp.( Hellebore)
Helenium autumnale ( Sneezeweed)
Hemerocallis spp (Daylily)
Hosta spp
Iris sibirica (Siberian Iris)
Liatris spp (Blazing Star)
Lunaria rediviva (Money Plant, Honesty)
Narcissus spp (Daffodil, narcissus)
Nepata x faasenii ( Cat mint)
Ornamental Grasses (most perennial species)
Paeonia spp (Peony)
Papaver orientale ( Oriental poppy)
Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower)
Pulmonaria spp (Lungwort)
Rudbeckia fulgida (Black-eyed Susan)
Sedum spp ( Stonecrop )
Veronicastrum virginicum ( Culvers Root)

Short lived perennials (3-5 years)
Aquilegia spp (Columbine )
Coreopsis grandiflora (Tickseed)
Delphinium spp (Delphinium )
Dianthus spp (Pinks)
Echinacea spp.( Coneflowers)
Gaillardia x grandiflora (Blanket Flower)
Gypsophila paniculata (Baby's Breath)
Heuchera spp (Coral Bells )
Hyacinthus orientalis (Hyacinth )
Leucanthemum spp.(Shasta Daisy)
Linum perenne (Perennial Flax )
Lupinus hybrids (Lupine )
Lychnis chalcedonica (Maltese Cross )
Monarda spp. (Bee Balm)
Papaver nudicaule (Iceland Poppy)
Scabiosa spp.(Pincushion Flower )
Tanacetum coccineum (Painted Daisy )
Tulipa spp (Hybrid Tulips )

You’ll notice that some popular garden plants are relatively short lived.  (Some reseed or sucker though.)  Remember this if you are spending large sums of money on a new variety of one of these species.  Some common garden plants aren’t listed because they fall somewhere in between long and short lived or that they have so many varieties and hybrids with different life spans.   Roses for example can be very long lived in some species or hybrids and short lived in others.
Echinacea, short lived but pretty
This doesn’t mean that you should avoid certain perennials, just that you will need to replant some varieties if you want the same display in your garden each year. Some short lived perennials are popular because they are great performers in the garden while they last.

So if a plant has disappeared over the winter don’t assume it was killed by disease or something you did. It could just have reached its natural lifespan. Plant another one and garden on.

Strawberry  shortcake waffles

One of the best ways to use up some of those great strawberries from your garden or from a wonderful farm market is to make strawberry shortcake.  Another great way is to put strawberries on waffles.  So why not combine the two?   Break out that waffle maker and don’t worry about heating up the oven on a warm summer day, your waffle maker can make shortcakes quickly while you stay cool.  If you don’t have a waffle maker this batter can be cooked like pancakes too.

First prepare the strawberries.  They need to sit at least an hour, overnight is better.  Wash the berries and remove the leafy caps.  Slice or half the strawberries.  For every 2 cups of sliced strawberries add a half cup of sugar and toss the berries in it.  Refrigerate until ready to use.  This will make a light syrup as the sugar draws out the strawberry fluid.  If you like your strawberries sweeter you can add a little more sugar.  Two cups of sliced berries is enough for 3-4 small waffles.  For the recipe below you may need 4-5 cups of sliced berries to cover all the shortcake waffles.

Next you’ll need to prepare your shortcake-waffle batter.  Actually you can use any recipe for plain waffles, the results will be fine.  But this shortcake batter with a touch of lemon is delightful.


2 cups of baking mix, such as Bisquick® or Krustav®
1 lightly beaten egg
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons of melted butter
1/8 teaspoon- (few drops) lemon extract

4-5 cups sliced strawberries in syrup
pan spray or melted butter for waffle maker

Read your waffle maker instructions again if you don’t remember how to use it!  Then blend all the ingredients, adding milk gradually, add just enough milk until the mixture is thin enough to pour easily.   Spray or coat the waffle maker with oil or butter and add batter.  A gravy ladle makes a great batter spoon.  Smooth batter evenly in waffle imprints.   Just barely cover the bumps in the waffle maker with batter, don’t overfill. 

It generally takes just a minute or two to cook a waffle.  Your waffle maker may have lights or other signals to tell you when the shortcake-waffle is done.  Otherwise cook until lightly brown.  Re-coat the waffle maker with pan spray or melted butter for each batch of waffles.

Remove shortcake-waffles to a plate and top with strawberries and then a dab of whipped cream or ice cream.   Depending on shortcake-waffle size this recipe makes 6-10 shortcake-waffles. You can also freeze unused waffles for quick snacks or breakfasts later.

Frozen, thawed fruit can be used when the local fresh fruit is gone.

June is like a beautiful girl on the cusp of womanhood

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

Join the
LAPEER AREA HORTICULTURE SOCIETY on our 35th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION, JUNE 19th at 6 P.M., SUNCREST DISPLAY GARDENS, behind the Lapeer County Medical Care facility, 1455 Suncrest Drive, Lapeer, Mi.

All Past, Present, and Prospective members are invited to attend this special event. This will be a special time to meet old friends and share some of our memories of the activities of this group.

Guests are welcome.

Displays will be set up showing past activities, as well as old newsletters of the group. Refreshments provided.

For more information contact:
Dave Klaffer at 810-656-7770 or 664-8912

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