Tuesday, May 23, 2017

May 23, 2017, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter

Hi Gardeners
Hardy Gloxina

It’s that time of year when I always feel like I’m rushing. There’s all the new annuals to plant, the vegetable garden to get in, the houseplants to be moved outside, the garden beds to be weeded and edged and so much more.  For a month or so I feel like I’m always behind.  My husband does housework this time of year; he has to if he wants something done.

The weather we are having warm, overcast days followed by good rains is perfect for planting.  I managed to get most of my seedlings for the cutting garden planted, with a few things left to go.  I’ve got some annuals planted in containers, still two flats to go.  My sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, cukes, celery, and the rest of the potatoes are planted.  I have one bed to get prepared yet for melons and cabbage, some onion sets to plant here and there and a popcorn and pumpkin patch to get done. The romaine lettuce is almost ready to harvest.

Slowly some houseplants are getting moved outside.  My water garden has some new plants and is starting to look better.  I still need to get the solar fountain in it.

Its purple plant days, with Dames rocket, alliums, wild geraniums and early iris in bloom.  The tulips are almost gone but the shrub roses are beginning to bloom.  Common Lilacs are dropping all their flowers now but the Korean lilacs have yet to bloom.  Lilies of the valley are blooming and flowering dogwood.  The Mayapples are blooming.

I have one bud on my 2 year old, 3 feet high magnolia, its deep pink.  I thought it was supposed to be white but I’ll take it. This is the first year I have grown hardy gloxinia (Incarvillea).  I planted some in the ground and kept one in a pot.  The potted one is beautiful right now in flower. I really like these plants, the flowers are larger than I thought they would be.  I’m hoping the plants really are hardy. 

I am still missing bees here.  There are no bees floating in the hummingbird feeders.  No bees on the autumn olive and dames rocket flowers or on the comfrey which is beginning to bloom.  And that’s really starting to bother me.

I solved a mystery last night.  The grape jelly in my oriole feeder was disappearing at a rapid pace.  I set a trail camera on it last night and caught a big female raccoon standing on her hind legs on the rail of the handicap ramp, where she was able to scarf down the jelly and also munch on sunflower seeds from the other feeder.  I have to decide where to move the feeder now to stop this.

Moving houseplants outside

It’s that time of year when many gardeners in zones 5-6 are thinking about putting the houseplants outside for the summer.  Those of you in higher zones should consider it if you haven’t done so already.  Most houseplants enjoy a vacation outside and it makes things easier for us gardeners at a busy time of the year, at least once we get them moved outside and situated.  If the danger of frost has passed in your area consider moving houseplants outside.

Many houseplants that appreciate all the light you can give them inside will quickly sun burn if you move them directly outside to full sunlight.  Some plants can be killed if you don’t move them to the correct location outside.  All plants need a period of adjustment to outside light levels and wind.  Move them outside to a covered porch, under trees or some other shaded, sheltered area for a few days. Then you can move them to brighter places according to their needs.

I’ve had plants sunburn before and it’s not nice to look at. I like to look for a stretch of weather coming that’s going to be cloudy, even rainy, and mild to put the plants outside.  Even so most don’t go into full sunlight right away. 

Decide where you’ll place your plants before you start moving them, both in the acclimation period and after.  If you have gorgeous houseplants in expensive containers you might want to consider if theft could be a problem.  Think about what could damage them too, playing kids, pets, wildlife, spouses with mowers, and so on.   And you may need to decide how to move them; do you need a hand truck or a strong guy or gal to help?  Make sure it’s easy to get water to them in dry spells.

The only plants I put in full sun after adjustment are my citrus and pomegranate trees, the over wintered geraniums, mini roses and rosemary. Sometimes a few spider plants go in sun too, they are hard to kill.  My hibiscus, jasmine and brugs go on the deck where they get morning and late afternoon sun but some shade in the middle of the day. 

The Norfolk pines, jades, kalanchoes, streptocarpus, rex begonias and most succulents go in light, dappled shade.  Other houseplants like peace lily, stepmothers tongue, pothos, and philodendron go in full shade.  Spider plants can go inn full shade as well as partial shade or sun. If a plant was in low light in the house, and doing well, it needs shade.  If the plant was in a sunny window and doing well it probably needs partial or dappled shade outside with a few exceptions.

You may be able to put cacti in full sun after a few days adjustment but I have found that most succulents like holiday cacti, echeveria, burro’s tail, and so on like light shade or dappled shade better.  You’ll be amazed how they grow in these conditions.

Water the plants well after you get them outside. (Watering before a move makes them heavier.) You may want to remove saucers under plants so you aren’t dumping them after every good rain.  All plants outside in the weather MUST have good drainage.  Keep a careful check on soil dryness in houseplants outside, especially those root-bound ones.  They may get dry very quickly in hot windy weather or too wet in rainy weather if they have saucers that collect water.

Don’t re-pot plants just before a move outside.  That makes it even harder for them to adjust to outside conditions.  But after a month outside it’s probably fine to re-pot those that need it.  And give them at least a couple weeks after re-potting before you move them back inside. 

If you want houseplants to grow and/or flower while outside, fertilize them regularly with water soluble fertilizer.  Things you don’t want to get bigger are best not fertilized.

Shelter from wind may be needed for plants whose stems snap easily.  Tall plants that could blow over may need to be tied to a fence or post or put against a wall.

I like to try and mix my houseplants into other flower beds or containers. I use some spider plants instead of “spikes” in containers.  They also make good filler for bare areas in ground covers or large containers.   My Norfolk pines are set in among ferns and their pots disappear.   My streptocarpus bloom in sunken pots along a shady path.  Every year I try to find some new way to blend the houseplants into the rest of the garden. 

I haven’t found that houseplants suffer from insects or disease very often when moved outside.  In fact some insects that bother houseplants, like spider mites, will disappear when plants are in more natural conditions.  But do watch over the plants and try to catch any problems early.

If your houseplants are looking tired and straggly give them a vacation outside. You’ll probably be amazed at how lush and tropical they look by fall.

Poison Ivy Primer

Oh the attention this plant gets when garden season arrives.  After a bad reaction to contact with poison ivy people may be very wary about getting near it again.  Because poison ivy can be a master of disguise people can be unsure which plant caused their anguish and even contact it again without knowing it. 

The two species of poison ivy in the US are Toxicodendron radicans, usually a vine or ground cover, and  Toxicodendron rydbergii, the non- vining more upright form.  The two species of poison oak are Toxicodendron pubescens Atlantic poison oak and Toxicodendron diversilobum, Pacific poison oak.  These species are closely related and share the same irritating substance- urushiol. Even experienced naturalists can have trouble telling the species apart.  Thankfully some general identification tips apply to all the species and help distinguish them from other plants.
poison ivy

Poison ivy vine on tree
Poison ivy is probably more common than poison oak, especially in the north and east.  It can form a vine, a low spreading groundcover type plant or a small bush.  In the southeast poison oak generally forms small bushes and on the west coast poison oak is either shrub-like or a vine.   These plants can grow in open sunny areas or partly shaded woodland edge conditions. 

Both poison oak and poison ivy have “leaves of 3”, which are actually 3 leaflets forming one leaf. Poison oak leaflets do look like oak leaves, with distinctly lobed leaflets, while the look of poison ivy leaflets varies quite a bit.  Generally however poison ivy leaflets have more of a mitten shape, with one small lobe or “thumb”.   Or they have no distinguishable lobes at all and are just oval in shape.  Poison oak has fine hairs on both sides of the leaflet, poison ivy leaves are smooth.  The leaflets can have margins which are smooth or toothed.  Leaflets may look shiny, especially when young.  They are the same color, top and bottom.  Young leaves have a reddish tinge and leaves turn red in the fall. Leaflets are 2-6 inches long.

The leaflet at the top or end of the cluster has a longer stem than the other two.  The leaves attach to the stem in an alternate pattern.  Stems are smooth and do not have thorns.  Usually stems are green or slightly reddish.   When poison ivy vines climb trees or posts and become older they turn dark brown and look hairy and twisted, much like a rope.

The flowers of poison ivy and oak are produced on stalks coming from the area where the leaf joins the stem. The tiny greenish white flowers are in clusters but not very noticeable.   They turn into white waxy berries in poison ivy and a tan berry in poison oak.   Berries are lightly grooved. Birds love the berries, but humans should never handle or consume therm.
Poison oak fall color

The plants most often confused with poison ivy and oak are brambles, Virginia creeper and young Box Elder trees.  Brambles include raspberries, blackberries, and dewberries.  Brambles have 3-7 leaflets but the leaflets are rougher, have toothed edges, and are lighter colored on the underside.  Brambles have thorny stems, which poison oak and ivy never do.  Brambles have larger white flowers which turn into red or black colored berries.

Virginia Creeper has 5 leaflets to a leaf, not three.  It is a vine that sprawls on the ground or climbs on trees and other objects.  It too can be reddish in spring and turns brilliant red in the fall.  It has purple black berries rather than white or tan.  Some people get an allergic rash when they handle Virginia Creeper but the rash isn’t as bad as the rash from poison ivy/oak and is caused by a different chemical.

Young Box Elder trees also have 3 leaflets to some leaves, 5 leaflets on others. Leaflets can be a bronzy red when young, but fall leaves are generally yellow.  Box Elder is a member of the maple family and grows upright like a tree.  The leaves attach to the stem opposite each other, in pairs.  Stems are greenish blue and have a white waxy coating when young.  Older stems start to get bark and look like tree branches or trunks.  Box Elder produces winged seeds, the familiar “helicopters” of the maple family. 

(Poison sumac (T. vernix), is related to poison oak and ivy but the leaflets are quite different.  There are 5-7, smooth velvety leaflets to a leaf.  Stems are reddish and grayish berries hang in long clusters.  It grows only on swampy ground as a bush or small tree.  Unless you are standing in a swamp you probably aren’t in contact with poison sumac.)
Virginia Creeper

That awful rash

Interestingly only about 75% of people will get a rash when exposed to urushiol for the first time.  Urushiol is the oily toxic chemical found in poison ivy/oak and it’s in all parts of the plant at all stages, even when the plant is dormant.  The rash which consists of raised red weepy painful blisters doesn’t start immediately; it begins some 4- 48 hours after contact.  That can complicate looking for the plant; because when a person starts getting the rash they may not remember everywhere they handled plants.

Doctors and botanists believe that almost everyone will eventually develop a reaction to poison ivy/oak if they are exposed often enough.  So people who do not get a rash the first time they know they contacted poison ivy/oak shouldn’t continue to handle the plants. 

The rash from poison ivy cannot spread from person to person, although if a person still has urushiol oil on their skin or clothing that could cause a reaction in someone who is in contact with the oil.  Pets and livestock can have the oil on their fur and spread it to people and tools or other items can also spread the oil unless they are thoroughly cleaned.  People may come inside before the rash develops and handle door knobs, cabinet handles, and so on and spread the oil.  Someone can pick up clothing or shoes that have the oil on them and get a rash.

What to do if you think you touched poison ivy

If you wash quickly and thoroughly in the right way you can avoid a painful rash.  Even if you think you aren’t susceptible I’d make washing a priority after knowing or suspecting you handled poison ivy/oak.  Even if the rash is starting to develop a good washing may limit your reaction.  Until you can wash keep your hands away from your face and “private” parts.

The oil of poison ivy/oak can be washed off if you use a lot of warm, not hot water and soap.  Wash any part of your body that may have had contact with urushiol oil from the plants vigorously with any soap, dish soap may help remove oil.  Scrub with a soapy washcloth.  Don’t use oily cleaning products and don’t use hot water, which opens skin pores. 

Before you get to washing yourself, get your clothes and shoes off.  Put the clothes in the washer with hot water and soap and wash off the outside of the washer with the same.  If shoes can’t be washed, wipe them with a soapy rag including the soles.   Wipe off anything you touched coming inside, and anything in your car if you drove home after contact.  Clean any tools you were using including handles.   Now get to washing yourself.

If you can’t get to soap and water right away alcohol based hand cleaner or wipes can help.  But do wash with soap and water as soon as possible.  A good wash will stop almost all rashes from forming.

If you get the rash

If you didn’t realize you contacted poison ivy/oak and you develop that nasty rash there are products that can help.  Most people can handle the rash with calamine lotion, oatmeal poultices and over the counter poison ivy meds until it heals but some people with severe reactions may need to see a doctor.  There are prescription meds that can help.  The rash should be gone in about a week, if not see a doctor.

There are herbalists who recommend a poultice of mashed jewelweed, (Impatiens capensis), for poison ivy rash.  Scientifically it was found that a poultice of whole, fresh jewelweed helped a little.  But jewelweed tinctures, teas, bottled potions and creams didn’t help at all.  No jewelweed or other herbal products taken by mouth help.  No other herbal products have been found to help when applied to skin.  If you have no other options you could use fresh mashed jewelweed if you know where to get it.  But jewelweed and poison ivy/oak often grow near each other and you could contact more poison- so be careful.  Many other remedies are much more effective and easier to use than jewelweed.

Destroying poison ivy

Although it’s a native plant, it’s not one you want in the garden, near play areas, paths and other occupied areas.   You can suit up with gloves and other protective clothing and pull smaller plants, but large plants and vines may need to be killed with herbicides.  Strong concentrations of glyphosate will work, read the label to see if poison ivy/oak is listed for control.  Other weed killers can also be used if they list poison ivy/oak on the label.   These products cannot touch plants you want to keep.  You may want to paint the products on. 

For vines growing on trees you’ll need to cut through the vine and put the weed killer on the end of the piece closest to the roots.  Even after poison ivy/oak has been killed the plant may still have enough oil to cause you grief.  Dormant plants also have the oil, so there’s no safe season to handle the plants.

Goats are sometimes used to eat the plants in large areas.  Be careful handling the goats as they get the oil on them.  Goats also eat everything else in the area.   No homemade “natural” weed killing concoction has ever been shown to be effective in killing poison ivy/oak.  Vinegar does not kill the roots.

Do not burn dead plants and vines or use flame throwers on them.  The smoke from burning plants can damage your lungs and will cause a rash on any body surface the smoke touches.  You won’t want to use a weed whacker or mower on the plants either.  They’ll throw tiny pieces of the plant everywhere and it’s hard to clean the oil off the equipment.

Dispose of pulled plants by burying them deeply or double bagging them in black plastic bags and sending them to the landfill.  It’s not a good idea to compost poison ivy/oak.  If you used tools to cut or dig poison ivy/oak they must be cleaned with hot water and soap before being put away.  The oil can linger on tools for months.

Never ever eat any part of a poison ivy/oak plant, including berries.  Don’t  believe people who tell you to consume the plant to build immunity to it or cure other diseases.  You can seriously and very painfully damage your esophagus and stomach this way.  That’s another good reason not to sample plants and berries you can’t identify.  Goats can eat the plants and birds eat the berries, but people can’t.

Remember soap and water is your best defense against getting a poison ivy/oak rash.  Use them quickly and abundantly after contact with the plant.

Orange petunia controversy – FDA recall

Last week I wrote about petunias and this week talk about orange petunias has been spiking on social media.  People are talking about the FDA recall of several genetically modified or engineered petunia varieties.  The petunias identified so far are these:African Sunset’, ‘Trilogy Mango’, ‘Trilogy Deep Purple’, ‘Trilogy Red’, ‘Trilogy ’76 Mix-Liberty Mix’, ‘Fortunia Early Orange’, ‘Hells Bells Improved’, ‘Petunia Salmon Ray’ and ‘Sweetunia Orange Flash’.

It’s important to note that these GE petunias are not harmful to people, animals or the environment.  They are only being recalled because the producers did not get the permits needed to sell these GE plants.  All GE/GM plants must have FDA approval before sale.  The FDA says that people that have the plants do not need to do anything but they are asking producers in the US to remove them from sale.
Petunia African Sunset

Petunia ‘African Sunset’ was an AAS bedding plant winning selection in 2014.  Many universities have trialed some of these varieties in their annual flower trials.  Thousands and thousands of these petunia varieties have been planted across the US and in other countries and no harm has come from any of them. The seeds for most of these now banned varieties have been sold by a number of well-known seed companies, both retail and wholesale, for a few years.  Many gardeners may have purchased them and grown their own plants.  This may throw a kink in the claims of some seed companies that there are no GM seeds in their inventory.

The genes in the orange petunias come from corn and in the purple varieties I believe from reading some research papers, the genes may have come from delphiniums.  However the genes in the other colors may have been inserted for other reasons.  The ‘Trilogy’ series is different because of its very compact, mounded shape.  These are plants already in cultivation and pose no risk to people, pollinators and other animals.  Most petunias are treated as annuals, allowed to die each year from cold.  And there are no native plants that petunias will cross with in the US. so gene transfer cannot occur.

There is a suggestion that more GE varieties will be found and I may be going out on a limb here but I suspect it won’t be just petunias that are found to be out there as unannounced GE/GM varieties.  The genetic modification of ornamental plants has been going on since the late 1990’s. Some modifications are for color, others for things like cold hardiness, disease resistance, shape and other traits.  People have been modifying plants for thousands of years; we just have different tools to use now.

Personally I’m not afraid of these petunias and I can’t imagine how they could harm wildlife as the hysterical are now claiming. How can an orange color gene from corn harm a bee for example?  And to prove it I went out to a greenhouse that shall remain unnamed and purchased a 6 pack of well grown ‘African Orange’ petunias.  I now need to find some other plants to go with them, orange can be hard to color coordinate, and plant them somewhere prominent so people can admire them.  Then I’ll inform them they are GM plants.

While I remain a little suspicious of inserting animal genes into plants or vice versa, I think there’s nothing wrong about inserting genes from one safe ornamental plant into another.  That’s especially true if the plant is unlikely to share its genes with a native relative.  I think sites that are fear mongering that orange petunias will harm wildlife need to provide some proof that this is so, that it’s even possible.

We need to be careful about genetic modification of food crops, but let’s face it, at least 90 % of US citizens are probably eating some GM foods and don’t realize it.  And it isn’t harming them.  It may have been prudent for the FDA to hold the sale of these petunias until the genetic modification was examined but since they were being sold for years, maybe a fine on those who bypassed FDA rules would be more appropriate than destroying the plants and taking them off the market.

Here’s the FDA link

Lime use in the garden

Do you automatically add lime to your garden each year?  If you do you could be harming your soil and plants.  Lime should only be added to soil when a soil test indicates you need it.  Lime reduces soil acidity, and makes soil more alkaline.  It can also help correct a calcium deficiency. But lime is not fertilizer, and won’t help plants grow unless the soil pH (a measure of soil acidity) is too low or calcium is significantly low. 

Soil pH is measured on a scale of 0-14, with 7 being neutral and numbers below 7 indicating acidic soil, numbers above 7 equal alkaline soil. Most vegetable plants like a soil that’s neutral or slightly acidic, a pH value of 6.5 -7.  Perennial flowers vary as to their needs in soil pH.  The soil pH determines how much of other elements in the soil plants can take up.  Neutral and slightly acidic soil support a wide range of plants and most plants will adjust to minor soil pH fluctuations.  Some plants require more specific soil pH to do their best.  For more about soil pH read my article on it in the page listed on the right of the blog titled Soil, Compost, Potting Medium and Fertilizers http://gardeninggrannysgardenpages.blogspot.com/p/soil-and-fertilizer.html

In some areas of the country the soil is acidic but if lime has been added for many years it probably isn’t needed anymore.  Soil that is too alkaline can affect plant growth negatively, which is what will happen if you keep adding lime when the soil doesn’t need it.  You may have gotten away with adding lime to the garden for many years but eventually you may change the soil pH to where you begin to harm plant health.

So how do you know if your soil needs lime?  Get a soil test done.  Contact your county Extension office and ask how your state Extension handles soil tests.  Usually a soil test done when you begin to garden a new area will be all that’s needed for many years.  If you have never had a soil test done consider getting one done this year.  It’s really better to get the test done very early in the season, because if the soil does need amending it can take a while before amendments like lime work.  Your soil test results should indicate what and how much of a soil amendment you need to add to correct an imbalance.

Most things gardeners do to soil, like adding compost and fertilizer don’t significantly alter the soil so a soil test isn’t needed every year for home gardeners.  But if your garden experiences unexplained problems another soil test may be indicated.  If you needed a lot of amendments you may want to redo the test the next year to see if you corrected the problem.

Lime is an unnecessary expense and time is wasted applying it if the soil doesn’t need it.  You can make your soil too alkaline for good plant growth if you apply too much lime too often.  So don’t add lime to the garden unless a soil test indicates you need it.

Lemon Buttermilk Pie

Local fruit may still be scarce in your area but here’s a pie you can still make.  I have been doing some cooking with buttermilk recently, since I bought some to make buttermilk pancakes and needed to use up buttermilk.  This is a great use of buttermilk and a yummy dessert.


1 ½ cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
2 extra egg yolks
1 tablespoon flour
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 unbaked pie crust


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put all the ingredients except the pie crust in a food processor or mixing bowl and mix until well blended.

Pour the mixture into the pie crust.

Bake until the filling has set, but will still jiggle when moved, about 50 minutes. 

Cool before eating. This pie can be eaten chilled also.  Refrigerate left over pie.

Hope your purple flowers are lighting up the garden too

Kim Willis
 “He who has a garden and a library wants for nothing” ― Cicero

© Kim Willis - no parts of this newsletter may be used without permission.

And So On….
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

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

May 16, 2017, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter 

Hi Gardeners
Tulips will soon be done blooming

The hummingbirds are back!  At least one is hanging around my feeders.  I am more worried about the bees now.  Many in my area are reporting few bees and I am noticing that also.  Usually there are dozens hanging around the hummingbird feeders and they aren’t there this year.  I am worried about the apples and other fruit being pollinized.  I guess time will tell if we will get fruit.

Apple blossoms are beginning to fall.  The lilacs smell beautiful but they are at full bloom and this warm weather we are having will quickly wind up their bloom time.  Tulips are also fading. The trilliums are turning pink, a sign they will soon be gone.  Coming into bloom are the alliums and Dames Rocket.  Sweet Woodruff is a carpet of white. Columbine, Jacobs Ladder, and bleeding hearts are blooming. Chives are blooming.  I see buds on the Siberian iris, roses and peonies.

I am slowly moving the hardier things like rosemary, canna and miniature roses out of the house and greenhouse into the yard.  The dahlias are planted out, some are sprouted and some not.  This week I begin transplanting all the seedlings like zinnias, tithonia, marigolds, bachelors buttons and 4 –O-Clocks into my new cutting garden.  It’s going to be tedious work but hopefully worth it.  I am also hoping to get the first sweet corn planted, by the time it germinates frost chances will hopefully be gone.

Weeding and edging are taking up a bit of my time too.  This time of year gets very, very busy.  I also added some new baby chicks into the workload, my replacement layers for the year.  But I wouldn’t trade spring for any other time of the year.

I was down at my pond the other evening, without my camera unfortunately, when I saw an unusual sight.  There was a brown duck on the pond that had a big golden red crest.  She had several tiny ducklings with her.  I thought it was a female wood duck at first, but it didn’t look quite right so I consulted a bird ID guide.  Turns out it’s a Hooded Merganser female.  They nest in tree holes like the wood duck.  My tame ducks were swimming around the family but didn’t seem aggressive to them.  If they stick around I am going to try and get pictures of them. 

We have a cardinal nest and a mourning dove nest in the yard now.  I attached an old newspaper holder, the kind the companies put by your mailbox, to a fence post in the back and I notice the tree swallows are checking it out.  I have a hen sitting on eggs in the barn and two tame ducks sitting so spring is definitely here.

We’ve been able to sleep with the windows open the past couple nights.  Last night we had a little rain and its warm and humid today.  Storms are forecast on and off for the next few days but all in all, it’s nice weather.


Are you a plant snob?  I once heard someone remark disdainfully that someone else wasn’t really a gardener because she planted petunias.  When shopping at a nursery one time with petunias in my cart I had an acquaintance come up and ask me why I, of all people, was buying petunias.  I was buying petunias because I like petunias and there are so many beautiful ones out there.  I can’t help myself, I buy some every year and I’m proud to plant them.

Cherry Cha Ching

There is nothing wrong with having petunias in your garden.  Yes they were once the most common garden annual planted.  Older varieties of petunias had to be dead headed and pinched back to keep them blooming all summer and rainy weather turned them into a mess.  But that doesn’t mean petunias don’t belong in modern gardens and modern varieties are much easier to care for than your grandmothers petunias.

Modern petunias trace their genetics back to two major native species, P. axillaris which has large white flowers and is pollinated by moths, and P. inflate which has small purple flowers and is bee pollinated.  Another petunia, P. exserta, has small, true red, star shaped flowers that are pollinated by hummingbirds.  It is sometimes sold by nurseries.  A close relative of petunia, the Calibrachoa, is also gaining in popularity.
Starry Night

Through centuries of domestication and hybridization we have the beautiful petunias we know today.  Petunias belong to the Solanaceae family, which includes peppers and tomatoes.  They are native to South America.

Petunias are excellent choices for containers in sunny hot places, in window boxes and hanging baskets and as a groundcover in sunny areas.  Hummingbirds are attracted to some petunias; I always set out a pot of red petunias, Petunia exserta if I can find it, for them.  Bees and butterflies are moderately attracted to the plant.

Petunias are generally grown as annuals; actually they are short lived perennials in frost free climates. In a heated, well- lit greenhouse you might  be able to over winter a petunia but they don’t over winter well in household conditions.  Gardeners in the far south, zones 9 and above, have reported petunias over wintering in the garden.
Rose Star
Petunias have pointed oval leaves.  The leaves and stems are covered with tiny white hairs, and the foliage has a sticky feel to it.  The flowers have fused petals forming a funnel shape.  Flower size ranges from 2 inches across in some varieties to 6 inches across in others.  There are also double flowered varieties. Some petunia flowers are fragrant, particularly purple and blue colored ones.

Cultivated petunias originally came in two colors, white and purple.  They now come in every color imaginable, even a very dark red purple that looks black.  There are star patterned and striped petunias and the newest color pattern is spotted, the petunia ‘Night Skies’  which is deep purple with white spots is an example.  I am old enough to remember when the first true red petunia came on the market, and then the yellow and orange varieties.

Multiflora, Grandiflora, Milliflora, Floribunda, Supertunia, Wave, Surfina, Sweetunia, Tiny Tunia, are some of the “classes” of petunia flowers.  The first four are older types and are the kinds most often planted in the ground in mass.  These can still be found in flats and cell packs for purchase.  Newer varieties are most often used in hanging baskets and containers and are often sold in individual pots. Most petunias have a cascading, vining habit. 
Black petunias

Cultural needs

Petunias need full sun conditions in the north to do their best.  In the south they may do fairly well in partial or light shade.  Petunias are known for being tolerant of heat and drought when planted in the ground.  In containers however they must be watered regularly.  Petunias planted in the ground probably won’t need watering unless it’s been very hot and dry and they are wilting.  Petunias prefer slightly acidic conditions in their native countries but modern varieties adapt to most types of soil.

Most gardeners will want to start with small petunia plants.  Petunias grow rapidly and small plants quickly become larger.  If the petunias are in small cell packs the best plants to pick are compact ones just starting to bloom.  Lanky petunias with many blooms in a cell pack are stressed and may not do well for a while after planting.  In pots petunias that are full yet compact, with a few blooms are the best choices.  Do not plant petunias outside until all danger of frost has passed.

Gardeners can start petunias from seed.  You need to start about 12 weeks from your last expected frost for good sized plants to transplant outside.  Petunia seed is very fine. Sprinkle it on a sterile seed starting mix that has been moistened.  Press seed lightly into the medium but do not cover as petunia seed needs light to germinate.  Bottom heat is recommended for germination, as is watering from the bottom. Seedling petunias need to be in a sunny warm greenhouse or under grow lights.  They rarely develop well on windowsills.

Good and Plenty Orange

When planting don’t place the plants deeper than what they were growing in the original container.  Use a slow release granular fertilizer mixed into the soil at planting.  Modern petunias need regular fertilization to do well.  If you don’t use slow release fertilizers you’ll need to fertilize weekly with water soluble fertilizer.  Do not use Epsom salts on petunias.

Modern petunias don’t need dead heading (picking off dead flowers) to keep blooming but they may look better, especially in containers if you do so.   This is especially true of double flowered varieties. Older multiflora and grandiflora varieties may begin to look straggly in late summer and a light shearing back will rejuvenate them for a few more weeks of bloom.

Gardeners seldom run into disease problems with petunias.  Really rainy weather for long periods and water logged soil can cause various rots and fungal disease as can over watering in containers.  Powdery mildew is an occasional problem.  Good air flow helps prevent this.  If the plants are covered with powdery mildew you could cut them back to 2-3 inches and they may regrow quickly and hopefully without powdery mildew.  Deer and rabbits do like petunias for dessert so be mindful of that.
Petunia exserta

Some writers list petunias as edible plants.  I would not recommend eating foliage; they are members of the nightshade family like tomatoes.  I would not eat many flowers either, although using them as a garnish probably wouldn’t hurt.

Sweet Corn planting tips

There is nothing better than sweet corn you just picked from your garden.  Have some water boiling, go out to the garden and pick the corn, husk it over the compost pile, come inside and put it in the boiling water with a cup of milk in it for a few minutes and then slather with butter.  Until you taste really fresh sweet corn you don’t know what you are missing.  You’ll always want to grow your own corn after that.

Sweet corn is different than field corn and should only be planted after all danger of frost has passed and the soil is warm.  The more wrinkled the seed corn kernel the warmer the soil should be before planting.  The lowest soil temperature that you should plant sweet corn at is 65 degrees F.  You can use a soil thermometer or judge planting time by looking at phenological signs.  The soil is generally warm enough when lilacs are in full bloom and oak trees have good sized leaves.

If you are going to push the soil temperature limit you should buy corn treated with a fungicide, which helps keep seed from rotting in cold wet soil.  These fungicides are usually brightly colored to let you know the seeds are treated.  Don’t let anything eat this treated seed but by the time you are harvesting those delicious ears of corn the fungicide will be long gone and the corn perfectly safe.

You can plant sweet corn inside in flats a few weeks early but I have found that really doesn’t give you much of an edge over seed planted directly in the ground in optimum conditions.  Transplanted corn generally shows a slow-down in growth for a week or two as it adjusts to garden conditions.  Don’t start inside too early, small plants transplant the best.  You must be able to water transplanted corn as its planted and for several days if it’s dry.

Because corn is pollinated by the wind you should plant it in blocks rather than one long row.   Space seeds 6 inches apart and about an inch deep, 2 inches in light sandy soil.  Space the corn rows 18 -24 inches apart.  I have a piece of molding with inches marked on it and I use it when planting.  (You can use a yardstick too.)  This will keep you honest and stop you from either stretching out the seeds too far or jamming them in there to use up the seed packet.  If stooping over a row is hard for you use a piece of plastic pipe to drop seeds down right over the spot you want to plant it.

I soak the corn seed for about an hour in warm water before planting.  After planting I soak the planted area well.  Take a look around after you’ve planted corn seed and make sure no kernels are showing above ground.  If birds see any kernels they’ll be right there looking for more.  If birds, including your own chickens, are a problem you can cover the planted area with netting until the corn has sprouted.

Corn needs lots of nitrogen to grow well.  I always fertilize at planting and again just as tassels are starting to form on the corn.  Use a fertilizer where the first number is the highest, 10-5-5 for example.  Here’s a tip- you can use lawn fertilizer, which is high in nitrogen, on corn- it is a grass after all- just make sure there are no weed killers or pesticides for grubs in the fertilizer you choose.

Corn is the only common garden crop that will have its flavor changed if it is pollinated by the wrong kind of corn.  If a farmer near you is planting field corn your sweet corn may become tougher and less sweet.  If you plant incompatible varieties near each other the corn you harvest for the table may have a less appealing taste.  Near each other means less than 25 feet apart for home garden varieties, about a hundred feet from field corn.  In a small garden you can sometimes get away with two different varieties of corn not intermingling pollen if they pollinate at very different times, such as a very early 60 days to maturity corn and a late variety, 90 days to maturity, corn.

Seed catalog descriptions will help you decide what corn varieties shouldn’t be planted together.  The seed may be marked, su (normal hybrid) se, sh² or sh²/se which refers to the amount of sweetness the variety has and the type of hybrid it is.   Su and se varieties don’t need isolation from each other but sh² and sh²/se should be planted away from other corns.  If they pollinate each other you’ll get edible corn, but not as nice tasting as if you isolate.  Planting old fashioned open pollinated corn or popcorn close to other varieties may also change the taste of both.

To keep your corn harvest going, plant small amounts of corn every two weeks or plant varieties that mature at different times.  I recommend both tactics because just staggering planting times of one variety is rarely successful for me. The later planted batch seems to catch up to the first batch with only a few days difference.  Unless you are selling, canning or freezing it, a lot of corn at one time can overwhelm you.  Corn at every meal is only good for a few days.

When you do plant more than one variety of corn plant each variety in its own section.  That’s because each will be releasing pollen at a different time and you want to maximize pollination so you will have full ears.  Don’t alternate rows of different varieties or alternate different varieties of seed in a row.

If the weather is hot and dry when you plant keep the corn patch watered if possible, until you see the plants have popped up.  Corn should germinate in less than 2 weeks.  Once it’s up watering can be scaled back.  I only water if it’s been very hot and dry and the corn leaves have been rolled up even in the evening. (Corn rolls its leaves when it’s too hot or too dry.)

Keep your corn weeded, especially when it’s small.  When corn is 3 feet or so high you’ll probably not find many weeds still competing.  Some people go down the rows when corn is about 2 feet high and mound soil up around the base of the stalk.  I do some years but others I don’t and it seems to make little difference. 

What about the 3 sisters planting method?

The 3 sisters method is a supposedly Native American style of planting where corn is planted in a circle with beans and squash, sometimes sunflowers are thrown into the mix.  The corn is supposed to be the support for climbing beans, which aid the corn by producing nitrogen and the squash keeps away critters with its prickly leaves and shades the ground to preserve moisture.  It’s usually enthusiastically endorsed by people who have never tried it.

This method sounds great and makes a cute story about native “wisdom”.  I have read a lot about indigenous systems of planting from the actual descriptions of early Europeans observing their agricultural practices. While there was some crop intermingling, most groups of people did not use this method.  Corn was sometimes planted in circles or in mounds of soil but beans and squash were generally separated into their own fields or mounds, which makes tending them and harvesting easier. 

You’ll find that separating the plants will work better in your garden too.  Believe me, I have tried the 3 sisters method in kids gardening programs and it’s rarely as successful as planting each type of plant separately. The type of corn grown in earlier times had stronger and taller stalks for one thing, than our modern corn varieties and might support beans better.  On modern sweet corn beans climbing the stalks inhibit the corn’s growth and make it more likely to “lodge” or fall over in the wind. Some squash varieties will overwhelm and shade young corn too much.  It’s difficult to harvest corn while not stepping on and smashing those prickly squash vines.

Beans cannot give the corn all the nitrogen they need if the soil is deleted in the first place.  Native people either moved gardens to new ground each year or so or if they were a settled agricultural community used other sources of nitrogen such as cover crops or animal manure on corn. 

The “3 sisters” method of gardening is for novelty, to engage kid’s imaginations and interest in gardening, although I wonder if we are doing them a service by teaching this method.  If you are extremely limited on space it might give you a small harvest of each crop if you did this.  But gardeners wanting to get a good harvest in the most practical manner should not try this method.

Rose rosette disease and Knock Out® roses

If you grow roses you may have heard of rose rosette disease a deadly viral disease that infects roses.  And if you have been on social media sites related to gardening you may have heard people warning others about Knock Out® roses being the cause of the problem.  That’s a false rumor that should be put to rest.

Knock Out ®roses, are a brand name for a series of easy to grow, hardy landscape roses were introduced to the market less than 2 decades ago.  Rose rosette disease has been around since at least 1940.  While Knock Out® roses are very susceptible to rose rosette disease,(who coined that name?), so are most other roses.   Since Knock Out® roses are very popular and are widely sold throughout North America, they may be the variety of rose that more people see with the problem, but they are not the source of the problem.

It’s perfectly fine to plant Knock Out® roses in your garden, as long as they are healthy plants.  Any rose you plant should be examined for signs of rose rosette disease because any kind of rose could introduce the disease.
Rainbow Knock Out

The non-native rose, multiflora rose is also cited as the source of rose rosette disease.  Whether the mite that carries the disease was brought in with multiflora roses or brought in later to control that plant is debatable.   It is true that rose rosette disease is very deadly to multiflora roses.  This suggests to me that the disease and the multiflora rose did not originate in the same place as normally if the two co-existed somewhere the rose would have developed immunity.  The idea that multiflora rose is a reservoir for the disease also seems odd.  Something being a reservoir for disease usually means that that plant is able to continue to survive, even if in a weakened state, while carrying the disease.  From what I can read in the scientific literature multiflora rose succumbs to the disease very quickly, usually in the first winter following infection.

There’s no doubt multiflora rose can be invasive and a problem in some areas.  But it was introduced to this country for some of its attributes, it had pretty fragrant blooms that bees love and tiny rose hips loved by birds.  It was used because it spread quickly and formed a thick hedge or ground cover.  And if these roses exist in wild areas near you and they are infected by rose rosette disease the disease could spread to your garden roses.  But the multiflora rose had to get the disease from somewhere; it doesn’t just produce the disease.  Chances are equally good it got the disease from someone’s garden roses as it getting them from other multiflora roses, especially if the disease is new to the area. 
Multiflora rose

So if your roses get the disease it could have come from nearby wild multiflora roses.  Or it could have come from a rose you recently bought and planted in your garden or from a neighbors rose.  Removing multiflora roses and any native species of rose in wild areas around you might give you a protective barrier if no one else is growing roses near you.

Rose rosette disease

Let’s discuss what rose rosette disease looks like and how it’s spread.  The RRD virus is carried from rose to rose in one of several ways.  Tiny mites, not visible to the naked eye are the most common route.  These mites can crawl from rose to rose or worse, because they are so light, blown for long distances on the wind.  They carry the virus in their bodies and transmit to roses when feeding on them, much the way a mosquito carries West Nile virus to humans.  The virus can also be transferred by unsterilized pruning tools from plant to plant.  It can be transmitted during a grafting process, many hybrid roses are grafted on to other roots.  There is some debate on this but some researchers also believe the RRD virus can be transmitted between the roots of nearby roses through root grafting.

Rose rosette disease (RRD) is a viral disease and as a virus, is incurable. It only infects roses.  It causes “witches brooming”, thick multi stemmed clusters of stems, and very red leaves and stems that are thicker and more succulent that other stems.  Caution:  many roses have new foliage that is red, especially in cool weather.  If foliage greens up and looks normal in a few weeks it’s not infected.

The stems infected with RRD are usually covered in tiny soft thorns, which make stems look bristly or hairy.  Some roses get yellowed, distorted leaves that look like pesticide exposure.  The roses are weak and sick looking, and do not bloom well.  The plants lose their winter hardiness and generally die over winter if they make it that far.  Some sickly plants do make it to spring though.

RRD can be tricky to diagnose.  Before ripping out plants I suggest you contact your local Extension office, there is one in nearly every county in the US.  Any local USDA office may also be able to help.  Ask them how to submit a plant sample for diagnoses.   There may be a fee, depending on your state.

While keeping mites off the roses is a good idea, killing the mites with pesticides will not help the problem if the roses are already infected with RRD.  Pesticides, including systemic products, cannot cure the viral disease. 

Most experts recommend you don’t even try to save plants.  If you happened to catch the symptoms quickly it’s theoretically possible to prune off the infected stems well down below the reddened area and halt the progress of the virus.  Then treatment with pesticides for mites might save the plants if they quickly kill them before re-infection occurs.  However trying to keep plants with RRD alive is probably a bad idea since they would become that infamous reservoir of disease.

RRD infected roses should be dug out of the garden, making sure to get all roots.  Plants can then be burned or placed in plastic bags and sealed tightly and removed from the site.  Don’t plant roses in the same spot for a few years, other plants are fine.   If you have other roses without symptoms spray them with pesticides that kill mites, (and this is the time to use conventional pesticides and not organic brews,) and watch them carefully.   Epsom salt, baking soda, beneficial bacteria, milk sprays and so on are absolutely useless for treating RRD.

Prevention of RRD

Examine new plants carefully for signs of RRD.  You may want to avoid dumpster diving for plants; even plants that aren’t roses may have mites on them if roses are sold at that location.  Trying to rescue sickly plants on clearance sale carries a risk also.  Isolate all plants like this away from your garden for several weeks if you decide to do these things.

When you visit other gardens, particularly private ones that have roses, you may want to remove your clothing and shoes and clean them before going into your own garden.  Florist rose bouquets probably won’t be a problem, but home grown rose bouquets given to you could pose a risk.

Clean pruning shears after pruning each rose; you can keep wet wipe type products in your garden tool bucket for that. Don’t plant roses where they touch each other and using other plants between roses is also a good idea. If roses die, remove all the plant, including the roots.

Many experts recommend several sprays of horticultural oil or insecticidal soap in late spring/early summer.  May and June are the months when mites are most likely to be present in most of the country and these sprays can kill them.  Many rose experts also recommend cutting back roses severely in the spring, 2/3 of each cane, to try and remove any overwintering mites.  In the north this may be too drastic of a pruning if there has been a lot of winter die back.

Keep a close watch on your roses, and have suspected plants diagnosed quickly. Remove infected plants immediately and dispose of them as described previously.  Since wind can bring in mites that carry RRD from long distances even removing wild roses from a huge area around your garden may not prevent the disease.  However if the disease is known to be present in your area removing wild roses might be good move.

Spinach Soup

Do you have a lot of baby spinach to use up?  It’s that time of year.  Here’s a recipe you try.

8 cups of spinach, chopped and/or sliced
4 cups of chicken broth
10 green onions, sliced thinly
½ cup grated carrot
3 cups cream or half and half
6 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper


Combine the broth, onions, carrot, salt and pepper in a large pot and simmer for about 15 minutes. 

In a pan over low heat wisk the flour into the melted butter until smooth.  

Add 1 cup of cream, stirring continuously until smooth and thick, about 2 minutes. 

Slowly pour the cream mixture into the broth, stirring continuously and blend until smooth.  Add the rest of the cream, stir and cook 2 minutes.

Add the spinach and orange zest to the pot.  Cook just until the spinach wilts. 

Serve hot, great garnished with cheese and croutons.  Makes 4-6 servings.

Get the sunscreen and mosquito repellant out, the battle is on

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

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(This is the Lapeer County Gardeners facebook page)
An interesting Plant Id page you can join on Facebook

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Newsletter/blog information

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I write this because I love to share with other gardeners some of the things I come across in my research each week. It keeps me engaged with people and horticulture. It’s a hobby, basically. I hope you enjoy it. If you are on my mailing list and at any time you don’t wish to receive these emails just let me know. If you know anyone who would like to receive a notification by email when a new blog is published have them send their email address to me.  KimWillis151@gmail.com