Tuesday, August 15, 2017

August 15, 2017, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter

Hi Gardeners

The grass is getting a bit crunchy around here.  We had a brief rain last night of about 1/10 inch but it’s not really enough.  The rainfall pattern around Michigan has been really odd this year, with some people getting too much rain and others not enough.  I was 10 miles from home last Friday and it rained hard for an hour, but at my house nothing.  Saturday on a 2 hour trip to our son’s house we drove in and out of heavy rain several times.  But our house got only sprinkles.

I water what I can reach with a hose, but you know that watering never equals a good soaking rain.  My pumpkin patch is out of reach of my hose so it’s looking especially dry and sad.   A bullfrog has moved into my small water feature in the yard to join the 3 small leopard frogs that were there, his former home may have dried up.  Those smaller frogs better watch out, though he may be there for them.  Hopefully we have a good rain coming Thursday.

Despite the dry conditions I have crocosmia and my anemone coming into bloom.  I have a mum blooming too.  Phlox, black-eyed susans, coneflowers beebalm and roses are still in bloom.  The cutting garden flowers are doing very well, attracting tons of butterflies and bees right now.

The petunias are starting to look straggly and need to be cut back.  I debate on this every year, should I or shouldn’t I cut them back.  I’ll miss a couple weeks of bloom and our frost free season won’t last that much longer but some of them aren’t that attractive now anyway.  We’ll see.

I will be harvesting cabbage this week.  Our sweet corn harvest is about done.  We are getting lots of tomatoes, cukes and peppers right now and I made several quarts of pickles this week.  The blackberry harvest is large this year, I will be freezing those this week for winter cobblers.

In the fields goldenrod is beginning to bloom.  Here’s a reminder- goldenrod does not cause your seasonal allergies.  Its pollen is heavy and doesn’t travel well on the wind.  Ragweed is also blooming now, although most won’t notice its plain Jane flowers and it’s the cause of allergic symptoms for many people this time of year.  Stinging nettle pollen is also allergenic and it’s shedding pollen now too.  Goldenrod is very beneficial for pollinators and it’s a pretty plant so leave it alone please.

Reminder- the solar eclipse is next Monday, August 21st .  Take time out of your day to go outside and observe, at least a partial eclipse will be visible throughout the US and being out there observing it is better than watching it on TV.  Those of you in the path of totality or able to travel to the path will get a once in the lifetime experience (usually) and definitely should be out there.  Remember you cannot look directly at the sun unless it’s totally eclipsed or you will damage your eyes.  Camera lenses may also be damaged.

Lovely Lavender

No garden should be without lavender.  Lavender’s lovely purple flowers and crisp, clean aroma soothe the eye, delight the nose, and calm the spirit.   Lavender thrives in hot, dry places where other plants droop and requires little care when established.  The silver foliage of most lavenders blends well in the mixed border.  If you have any sunny spots in your garden you must fill them with lavender.

The Latin name Lavandula means “to wash.” The Romans used lavender in their bath water and to wash clothing and linins.  In the Middle ages washing ones body with anything was pretty much abandoned, but the use of lavender to scent perfumes and strew about rooms to cover up odors was continued.  Even today the use of lavender in perfumes, soaps and other cosmetics continues to be popular.   When asked to describe the scent of lavender most people use words like clean, fresh, or pine- like.  The different species of Lavender also have a slight difference in smell.  The scent of lavender is most heavy from the flowers but the leaves of lavender are also aromatic.

In the garden lavender is often used as an edging to walks and patios where brushing against it releases the heavenly scent. It is also good for sunny mixed borders. 

There are several species of lavender from which most garden varieties were bred. The species also cross freely, producing many hybrids.  The hardiest varieties are produced from English lavender,  Lavandula angustifolia and include ‘Hidcote’- silver foliage, deep purple flowers, ‘Hidcote Pink’- a light pink flower, ‘Munstead’- blue flowers, very fragrant, ‘Provence’- larger leaves, extremely fragrant, ‘Twickel Purple’- rosy purple, ‘Grosso’- deep purple and heavy in perfume oils, ‘Blue Cushion’- blue flowers on a dwarf, rounded plant, ‘Goldberg’- leaves edged with gold and deep blue flowers. English lavender varieties vary in zone hardiness, but some are hardy to zone 5.

Spanish or French Lavender (Lavandula stoechas) has a strange looking tufted flower.  It grows best in warm, dry areas. Most varieties of Spanish lavender are only reliably hardy to zone 8. The variety ‘Kew Red’ has fuchsia colored flowers.  ‘Silver Anouk’ is the hardiest variety, possibly to zone 5 and has deep purple flowers and silver foliage.
Spanish lavender
Lavandula dentate has broader toothed foliage with a wooly look. It also goes by the common name of French lavender.  It is only winter hardy to zone 8.  The flowers look like compressed wands or tiny purple cattails.  They have a slightly different scent than Lavandula angustifolia varieties.

Lavandula latifolia is also known as Portuguese lavender or broad leaved lavender.  The leaves are coarse and have a high oil content.  The flowers are pale purple and have a strong scent that is more medicinal than pleasant to my nose than English lavender.  It’s hardy to zone 6.

Lavandin, or the name  Lavandula. x intermedia,  usually refers to crosses of lavender species.  These vary widely in looks, smell and hardiness.

Most Lavender varieties have small, narrow leaves, of a gray green color.  Some varieties have wider, toothed leaves and some have feathery, fern-like leaves.  There are varieties of lavender that have variegated foliage. 

The flowers of lavender arise on long stems and consist of whorls of tiny flowers.   Flower colors range from deep purple to paler blues and shades of violet, pink and white.  The flowers have many scent and nectar glands and are very attractive to bees and butterflies.  If you want fragrance be aware that some varieties produce very little scent.

Growing Lavender

Lavender is usually propagated by cuttings or layering and gardeners will want to start with plants for most varieties.  Determined gardeners can start lavender seed although the germination rate for seeds is low and slow.  ‘Lady’ is the best lavender variety to try growing from seed as its germination rate is higher and it will bloom the first year from seed.

In zones 5 and lower you may need to experiment with different varieties of lavender as some do better in some sites than others.   Check the zone requirements before purchase, not all lavenders are hardy to the same zone.   In zone 5-6 lavender survives best when it is protected from winter winds, by fences, buildings or other plants.  Do not cover lavender with mulch in winter however, as it tends to rot the plant. 

Leave plenty of room around lavender plants to increase airflow in the summer. Lavender is native to the Mediterranean areas, and likes sunny, dry conditions.  Wet winters and high summer humidity can cause problems for the plant.  

Lavender prefers loose, well-drained soil.  It does well in soils with low fertility; a soil on the “lean” side produces more flowers and a stronger fragrance. Fertilizing lavender is generally unnecessary. 

Although lavender requires little water when established, new plants should receive regular watering.   Lavender rarely suffers from disease and has no important insect pests.

Lavender can make a large shrubby bush in ideal conditions.  It is semi-evergreen, with the leaves persisting through winter.  It is hard to tell in the spring what parts were winter killed and pruning should be delayed until new leaves begin sprouting on the branches.  Once you can tell what has survived you can make decisions on what needs to be pruned.  Prune off dead wood and if you want to shape or shorten lavender, late spring is the time to do it.   If your lavender plant has become very dense and woody you may wish to shear off about half of the plant to promote fresh growth.  After about 5 years many lavender plants look very straggly and need to be replaced.

You can harvest lavender flowers at any stage, but flowers that are left on the plant should be removed when they have finished blooming.  These are still very fragrant and can be used to scent potpourri.  

Herbal and other uses of lavender

The dried flowers of lavender are placed in drawers and closets to repel insects and scent the material.  The scent of lavender is said to repel flies.  Lavender is used in aromatherapy, the scent is calming. The oil and dried herb are used in many cosmetic preparations, including soaps and perfumes.   Lavender is used to make lemonade and flavor ice cream and sometimes used to flavor pastry and sweets.

Lavender essential oil is used as an abortifacient, antibiotic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative and emmenagogue.  Externally it’s used for wounds, infections, insect stings, and burns.  It’s a traditional remedy for headache, the oil is rubbed on the forehead.  It’s taken internally for digestive problems and to induce menstruation.

Cautions:  Lavender oil shouldn’t be rubbed on young boy’s skin.  It has some hormonal actions and may cause breast enlargement.  (Women rub away.)  Pregnant women should be very careful using lavender as it may cause abortion.   It’s recommended that lavender not be used for 2 weeks before a scheduled surgery because of its effect on the nervous system.  Lavender taken internally can cause constipation.

Don’t be afraid to try lavender in your garden even if your conditions seem less than ideal.  Lavender is tough and adapts to many sites.   If you don’t succeed the first time try again.   And lavender is just one of those plants a gardener needs to grow to call his or her self a gardener.

Herbal terminology

In the above article on lavender I mentioned some terms you may be unfamiliar with when I wrote about herbal uses of lavender.  I try to explain or use simpler language when discussing medicinal uses of plants but it’s sometimes faster to use one term rather than a descriptive phrase.   In this article I am going to give definitions of some of those terms so when you are reading this and other articles you’ll know what I mean.

Next week I’ll define some other herbal terms, such as tincture, which are used to process herbs into medicines.

Abortifacient, - to cause abortion, empty the uterus
Analgesic- pain reliever
Antioxidant- are substances found in foods that inhibit the formation of “free radicals” which are known to cause cancer and inflammation. Although they are assumed to be good for us, there is a lot of debate in the science community whether trying to get more of them from supplementation is actually helpful.
Antibiotic- kills/inhibits bacteria  
Antihelmintic- kills intestinal worms
Antipyretic – prevent or ease fever
Antiseptic, - cleaning, bacterial destruction and pain relieving
Antispasmodic, eases cramping, generally referring to the bowels, uterus
Antiviral- kills viruses
Aperient- mild laxative
Aromatic- the smell alone causes medical action, clearing sinuses, chest congestion and so on- think of Vicks vapo-rub or smelling salts
Cathartic- strong laxative
Carminative – to relieve gas in the digestive system
Demulcent- coats and soothes, oily
Diaphoretic- promotes sweating by dilating blood vessels
Diuretic- causes urination
Emetic- induces vomiting
Emmenagogue- helps start menstruation
Emollient- softens skin
Expectorant- cause the expelling of phlegm (snot, mucous)
Febrifuges- ease fever
Nervine- reduces nervousness and anxiety
Purgative- strong laxative
Rubefacient- something that increases blood flow/circulation
Styptic- stops bleeding
Tonic- a general term for something that makes one feel better, increases immunity, invigorates or stimulates.
Vermifuge- kills and expels worms.

Are you illegally trading or selling plants?

If you belong to any plant groups on social media or if you shop on line you have seen people offering to trade, sell or give plants, cuttings and seeds to other people.  This seems like a wonderful way to get plants especially if you are getting them free or trading for some of your own plants.  But if you do this are you breaking the law?

The answer is – you may be breaking the law, depending on what plant, plant part or seed you are sending or receiving, whether you are a licensed and inspected nursey or not, and how you package the plant or plant part for shipping.  Now I know some of you are saying  “ I don’t care about the law” or “they won’t care about me shipping this plant to my friend, it’s a gift.”   If you don’t care about laws then you accept the fact you may be punished for breaking them.  And somebody just may care about the little cutting you sent to a friend, depending on what it is.

There are reasons why we have rules about buying, selling, trading, giving away and transporting plants.  The most important one is to prevent insects and diseases from entering an area that could seriously harm existing plants or humans and other animals. Some plants may have the potential to rapidly spread and become a pest.  Some plants may be poisonous.  And rules and regulations also help prevent fraud by sellers of plants.

Laws about buying and selling plants vary from state to state and country to country.  Transferring plants from one country to another is much more complex than transferring plants within the same country and home gardeners and small nurseries should probably avoid importing (receiving) and exporting (sending) plants between countries.  But every state in the US also has specific laws prohibiting certain plants being brought into the state, no matter how they get there.

Water hyacinth, beautiful but not always legal.

Every state requires people selling, trading and giving away plants and plant parts from perennial plants that could survive outside all year in that state to have a nursery license and plant inspections.  There are generally some exemptions from licensing for annual plants, plants that can’t survive outside through the year and seeds.  Most states don’t want to get into the business of regulating trades between two gardeners in the state, small plant swaps, and the occasional trade by mail, but they reserve the right to do so.

When I inquired about the rules for holding plant swaps in Michigan I was told they wouldn’t require an inspection and license if the sale was a one day event and no one brought plants that are prohibited in the state. (Caution, this is just one official’s interpretation of the law and what’s generally done.)

Sales of plants for charity may also get a pass, but the organizers should call and check with the state before having the sale. (I was given permission one time for a charity sale and denied without an inspection another time.)  Things like bulbs and plants purchased or donated from a licensed nursery like mums or poinsettias probably won’t need inspection or a license/permit but check with your state.

If perennial plants are being sold for profit you need a nursery license, no matter how few plants or how often you do it. Even if you are selling annual plants or non-hardy plants on a regular basis you will probably need a regular business license.

There are certain plants that you can’t sell, trade, import or give away in every state.  The list varies by the state. In this case it doesn’t matter whether you are giving the plant to a friend, trading on line, selling the plant or parts of the plant.  If you get caught you’ll be facing a fine and possibly jail time.  Any plant listed on the federal list of endangered species is also illegal to sell, trade or give away.

Even with generally accepted plants there may be restrictions as to where you can buy or get the plant from or send a plant to.  You may have seen notations in plant catalogs saying they can’t ship certain plants to certain states.  This is generally because the state the plant is being shipped from has a disease or insect pest another state does not want to spread into their state.  Violating these restrictions is not ethical, and often gets you in more trouble than other violations.

To find out the laws on plant sales and trades and what plants are prohibited in your state you can go to this site;

You can plug your state name in a search bar and get your state’s list of prohibited plants and also the regulations in the state for buying, selling and trading plants. Here’s Michigan’s statement on plant material shipped into the state:

Any nursery stock shipped into Michigan must bear a statement or a tag or other device showing the names and addresses of the consignor or shipper, and the consignee or person to whom shipped, the general nature of the contents, as well as labels upon each variety as to the name and grade as approved by AmericanHort. Such stock shall be in live and vigorous condition and of the grade specified, together with a certificate of inspection of the proper official of the state, territory, or country from which it was brought or shipped.  Any nursery stock sold or given away in this state shall bear an exact copy of the person's valid certificate of inspection.
For Federal regulations go here;

The legal way to mail/ship plants

Here’s a summary of the US postal service instructions on the legal way to use their services for shipping plants whether you are selling, trading or giving them away.  Fed X and UPS have similar rules.

The package must be marked in legible manner, in a conspicuous place with the exact identification of the product- meaning in this case live plants or plant material. If you don’t do this and the postal service suspects you are sending plant material the package will be opened and you will be fined, or the contents destroyed.  It’s my understanding that seeds don’t need to be labeled.  However some seeds may be prohibited from entering the country or a state too.

The package must have valid, complete, addresses for both the sender and receiver.

If the package is sent Priority Mail Express™ service (domestic or international), Priority Mail® service, First-Class Package Service™, or an international letter package it should have a statement on it giving permission for the package to be opened and inspected, along with the live plant label.  If this permission statement isn’t given and the postal service wants to inspect the package it will hold the package until it contacts the sender or until it gets a search warrant.  That’s not real good for plant material.

If the package is sent by other forms of mail service the post office can open it without permission.  Every post office has a list of prohibited plant species for that state or country.  The post office looks at both federal and state restrictions.  They’ll be inspecting for restricted plants and also for plants that have insects or look diseased.  Not every post office has inspectors, the main postal hubs do and others can call for inspection if needed.  

Zebra grass

Not every package is inspected.  Some sellers have their nursery license number or state inspection certificates attached to packages, which makes them less likely to be opened and inspected. Shipments from known large volume sellers with good records are less likely to be inspected.  Shipments that were inspected by US customs service as they came into the country may not be inspected again.  But any package CAN be inspected.

Post offices may have drug sniffing dogs come in too, and your package might be opened if the dog alerts on it.  Packages coming from certain states going to certain locations may raise more suspicions, a package coming from Colorado to Joe’s Hydro-Grow Smoke Shop in Michigan for example. (I hope that’s not a real store.)

Each plant or bundle of plants or cuttings in the package needs to be labeled with the scientific name of the plant.  They need to be packaged in such a way that they can be easily inspected without harming the plant.  This makes inspection quicker and the person receiving the plant will be happier too.  When plants can’t be identified or they appear to be diseased or have insects, or they are prohibited the sender is usually contacted and a determination of what will be done is made.  Some things may be returned to the sender and the others destroyed.
For the whole set of rules go to this link;

In short you probably shouldn’t worry if you attend a plant swap or occasionally swap plants with friends through the mail, although you could still be breaking the law and face fines.  However if you regularly send plants or cuttings through the mail or sell or trade from your home on a regular basis you should get a nursery license and educate yourself on prohibited plants in your state. Houseplants, annuals and seeds will cause you fewer problems but you should still consult your states list of prohibited plants and seeds.  Also look up the list of prohibited plants in the state where the other party lives if it’s not the same and avoid sending or receiving those plants.

Maple leaf tar spot disease

Trees have been on the minds of many gardeners this year.  It seems like our landscape trees are under assault from all directions.  Some of you may have noticed maple trees are losing leaves early, and many of those leaves are marked with large black spots, which look like someone splashed paint or tar on them.  The name for this condition, Maple Leaf Tar Spot disease, actually reflects that. But relax, the tree will not die from Maple Leaf Tar Spot disease.
Maple leaf tar spot disease

Maple Leaf Tar Spot is caused by at least two types of fungus in the genius Rhytisma. The fungus over winters on fallen maple leaves.  In the spring during wet weather the fungus sheds spores into the wind, which then infect maple leaves as they open.  The fungus has been on the leaves all summer, in midsummer yellow spots could have been seen on maple leaves with close inspection, but its late summer when the fungal disease really gets noticed. In late summer Maple Leaf Tar Spot Disease matures into large black spots.  If leaves are heavily infected they usually turn yellow or brown and fall from the tree early.

Gardeners are usually quite alarmed when the leaves start falling early and they notice the spots.  However the trees health is not greatly impacted at this point in time, even if it loses many leaves.  Maple Leaf Tar Spot disease only affects maple trees, including box elder trees, which are actually in the maple family.  It can affect any type of maple although some species are less susceptible than others.

There is nothing gardeners can do at this stage to stop the disease or leaves being shed.  The fungus actually attacked the tree in early spring and any sprays applied now are useless.  Next year fungicide sprays can be applied in early spring as the maple leaves emerge from the buds.  It requires a through spraying from top to bottom and repeat sprayings every 10-14 days until leaves are mature size.  Most homeowners don’t have the capability to do this for large trees, although you could protect smaller trees.  Since Maple Leaf Tar Spot Disease is primarily a cosmetic problem spraying isn’t recommended, except for those in the business of selling trees, where looks count.

What homeowners can do is rake up any maple leaves from infected trees and remove them from under the tree.  This will help prevent the fungus from over wintering under the tree and infecting leaves in the spring.   But since the fungal spores are windborne if there are other maple trees close by your tree may still become infected.

The infected maple leaves can be composted, shredded and applied to lawns and gardens where there are no maples, or if your community allows it, burnt.  There is no worry about the infected leaves being applied under other types of trees or other types of leaves being under maples.  Leaves are valuable for the stored nutrients they contain and should be returned to the soil.

If your tree was heavily infected it can benefit from deep watering if you have a dry fall and after a hard freeze the trees can be fertilized.  Root growth takes place for many weeks after trees shed their leaves and appear dormant.  Apply about 3 pounds of a tree fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of root zone. The root zone is measured from the trunk to about three feet beyond the drip line of the tree, all around the tree.  Fertilizers formulated as 18-6-12 or 12-4-4 or something similar is best.  For maple trees look for a fertilizer that contains iron and manganese.

There are many ways to apply fertilizer.  Read and follow the label directions for the fertilizer you purchase.   Don’t get fertilizer on hard surfaces, where it might wash away and contaminate surface water.  Don’t fertilize trees in the fall before they have shed their leaves and we have had a hard freeze. 

Maple trees can get other diseases at the same time they have Maple Leaf Tar Spot disease and some of these could be more harmful to the tree.  But if your tree looked good for most of the season and then suddenly developed black spots on the leaves and early leaf drop you can relax.  Think of it as a bad case of acne for the tree. Your tree will be fine. 

Freezer slaw

Several people have asked me for the freezer coleslaw recipe I posted in my blog last year so here it is again. We had this all winter at various times and it’s always good.

Do you need a way to preserve some of that cabbage growing in your garden?  In my grandfather’s day the whole plant was pulled up and hung by the root in a root cellar.  That actually will keep cabbage edible for a couple of months.  However few of us have root cellars anymore and warm homes don’t always keep cabbage nicely.  You can ferment the cabbage into sauerkraut but not everyone likes it, and it can be a trick to get conditions right to get a good batch.  Cabbage doesn’t normally freeze well so when I tried this recipe I found in an old book I was pleasantly surprised to find it actually stayed crispy.

This recipe is not only crunchy out of the freezer but has a nice sweet-tart flavor that will complement many meals.  It’s a great way to quickly and easily preserve some of that excess cabbage from the garden.  The cabbage will turn translucent like sauerkraut but stays crisp and has a different flavor. Here’s the recipe.

1 medium cabbage, shredded, chopped or sliced
1 carrot, grated, chopped or julienned
1 green pepper, diced
1 sweet onion, diced
1 cup white vinegar
¼ cup water
1 ½ cups sugar  (Do not use artificial sweeteners)
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon canning salt

Wash and prepare the cabbage and carrot as you like them for coleslaw.  Dice the onion and pepper.

Freezer coleslaw
In a large bowl toss the cabbage and salt together.  It seems like a little salt for a lot of cabbage but it will work.  Let the cabbage sit 1 hour.

Put the vinegar, sugar, water, mustard and celery seed in a pan and bring the mixture to a boil.  Boil for 1 minute stirring.  Let cool to room temperature.

After an hour pour any moisture formed off the cabbage.  Squeeze the cabbage a bit to get out any excess moisture  and drain off.  Add the onions and pepper and mix well. 

Pour the cooled syrup mix over the cabbage and mix well.  Divide into freezer bags or containers in the portions that best suit your serving needs.  The recipe will make about 4 pint sized containers.

Freeze the coleslaw.  After 2 or 3 days you can try a batch.  Defrost for 8 hours in the refrigerator before serving.  Keep leftovers refrigerated.

Ah, those lazy, hazy days of summer, enjoy them while you can

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

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

And So On….
Do you have plants or seeds you would like to swap or share?  Post them here by emailing me. You can also ask me to post garden related events. Kimwillis151@gmail.com

Find Michigan garden events/classes here:
(This is the Lapeer County Gardeners facebook page)
An interesting Plant Id page you can join on Facebook

Here’s a seed/plant sharing group you can join on Facebook

Newsletter/blog information

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

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

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

August 8, 2017, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter

Hi Gardeners

Tiger swallowtail on tithonia
I’ve been out in the garden picking blackberries and hopefully have enough for cobbler tonight.  We’ve been eating sweet corn from the garden and I’ve made my first quart of refrigerator dill pickles.  We’ve got a pumpkin turning orange, that’s kind of scary. 

My brugsmansia finally has buds. The peace lily that’s summering outside is blooming. The coral drops I planted in a pot also have buds; I am waiting to see what they actually look like when they bloom as they are a new plant for me.  The tithonia is blooming abundantly (tithonia article below), and it’s attracting tiger swallowtail butterflies like crazy.  I actually saw my first monarch butterfly this year on the tithonia. Just one and I haven’t seen it since; hopefully it found all the milkweed around here and laid some eggs. The zinnias are also attractive to butterflies. 

The groundnut vine is blooming; it has interesting chocolate colored flowers.  The Japanese lanterns are beginning to bloom; I’m growing them and the Love in a Mist for dried flower arrangements.   Woodland nicotiana has started blooming, it self-seeds and has come up in a number of flower pots I had outside last year.  I even transplanted some out of the little greenhouse last week where it had come up in pots I thought were empty.

I whacked most of the Golden Glow rudbeckia down because I couldn’t stand it’s floppy mess and I’m pretty tolerant of messy garden plants.  As I was cutting it the bees were still trying to get to the flowers so I put all the flowers in a bucket and set them on the deck.  Then Gizzy and I could sit and watch the bees and hummingbird moths visiting them.

As a gardener you learn something new all the time.  I actually wasn’t aware that peppermint flowers smelled like peppermint.  I know when you brush the plants and bruise leaves you smell peppermint, but today I was sitting near some blooming peppermint and noticed the smell. I pecked a flower and yep- peppermint smell. Most mint flowers are attractive to bees and if you are trying to help pollinators it’s good to tolerate some of the mints in your garden even if they can be a bit invasive.

I’m getting plenty of catalogs for spring blooming bulbs right now.  I am really tempted by those catalogs but I am running out of room unless I want to start some new beds and I am running out of time and energy to care for any more beds.  I’ll have to be really selective in what I buy.  If you want more tulips and daffodils and other interesting spring bloomers now is the time to buy them, when the selection is good and sales are going on.
The flopping Golden Glow had to go.

Cross Pollination and deformed fruit myths

Every year about this time people begin showing odd fruits and vegetables to others and asking what happened.  It may be that the fruit looked misshaped or was a color the grower didn’t expect or maybe it didn’t look like what they thought they planted.  But almost invariably someone will respond and say the odd fruit/vegetable was because of cross pollination.

Technically that may be so – but the cross pollination happened the year before and the odd plant grew from seeds resulting from that cross pollination the previous year.  It did not happen in the gardeners plot this year.  With one exception common garden plants do not show a change in their fruit due to cross pollination in the year the cross pollination occurs. 

If two types of tomatoes are next to each other in your garden and they happen to cross pollinate, let’s say a cherry tomato and a beef steak type, the fruit the plants produce this year (the part of the tomato we eat is a fruit) will look like cherry tomatoes on one plant and beefsteak on the other, they won’t change the looks of their fruit because they had sex.  But if you planted the seeds from one of those tomatoes having crazy sex this year, let’s say from the cherry tomato, the fruit that grows on those plants next year could be very different from the typical cherry tomato.

So unless you are going to be saving seeds for planting next year it doesn’t matter if you plant various types of tomatoes, peppers, squash and so on next to each other.  This year’s fruit should look exactly like the variety you planted and if it doesn’t something besides cross pollination occurred.  We’ll get to that in a minute.  Cross pollination does not affect leafy plant parts or roots either, in the current year plants. 

The one exception to the changes in this year’s fruit coming from cross pollination in the same year is in sweet corn.  If you plant yellow kernel corn varieties next to white kernel corn varieties this year’s corn ears may have both colors of corn kernels on each cob.  Cross pollination in corn may also affect the flavor of this year’s corn.  Field corn, popcorn, or ornamental corn varieties pollinating sweet corn will leave the sweet corn tougher and tasting less sweet.

In addition some hybrid types of corn need to be kept from cross pollination with other corn, even other sweet corn, if the true flavor of the hybrid is to be achieved.  Varieties with se, syn, sh2, or SSW after the variety name need to be isolated from other types of sweet corn, or field and ornamental corn.

So what does happen when you get a deformed or odd looking fruit?

A number of things can cause changes in fruit as it develops.  Sometimes weather conditions, mechanical injury, insects feeding, plant diseases, or pesticide exposure can result in fruits looking odd.  There may have been a true mutation in the genes of the seed that produced the plant.  There may have been undetected cross breeding the previous year, resulting in seeds that were hybrid and the fruit from plants grown from those seeds have mixed genetic traits.   

Sometimes insufficient pollination will cause deformed fruit.  Some plants require a certain number of pollen grains to land on the female stigma and be successful in fertilizing eggs in the ovary before fruit begins developing.  When only 4 pollen grains land on the stigma instead of the optimum 5 grains as an example, fruit may sometimes begin developing but will be lopsided or not formed perfectly.  It would not matter though whether the pollen grains came from a different variety as long as they could fertilize egg cells.  

In the vast majority of cases, with the exception of pesticide exposure or possibly radiation exposure, the odd fruits would be edible. (Remember anything with seeds is a fruit.)  In many cases not all the fruit on a plant will be affected, and the problem is a temporary one.  Enjoy the oddball, take pictures but don’t worry too much.

Many times when a gardener gets a fruit he or she wasn’t expecting it’s because the seed variety or seedling wasn’t properly labeled.  How many times have you seen people shopping in greenhouses removing plant tags from the cell packs seedlings are growing in?  They don’t always get put back in the same place.  Sometimes the greenhouse/nursery accidently mislabeled them.  Sometimes a stray seed from one variety gets mixed in with another variety.  If you saved the seed yourself, you may have mixed up the varieties, or back to cross pollination- your plants last year may have bred with other plants and the seeds have a combination of the traits.

People don’t always read the description of seeds or plants they are choosing carefully.  I remember a gentleman bringing in a white colored eggplant fruit to my office and he was so excited to have found a new variety.  But when I explained to him that there were varieties of white eggplant on the market and we discussed it, we figured out that he had planted a variety with white fruit, not the typical purple.  He was unaware that eggplant fruits came in various colors.

It’s easy for gardeners and nursery employees to mix up plants with similar leaves, like squash, gourds, and pumpkins.  Inexperienced gardeners who aren’t familiar with plants can even mix up things like beans and cucumbers or tomatoes and peppers, by forgetting where they planted what or by buying mislabeled plants and not recognizing it.

Sometimes the plant is performing exactly as the variety should but the gardener has harvested the fruit at the wrong time.  I have had many people complaining to me that their “green” pepper was actually red or purple.  Bell peppers are generally picked when they are young and still green.  If they are allowed to mature the fruit color changes to red, yellow, orange, purple or other colors depending on variety.  And if you want red bell peppers and are only seeing green, just be patient, the color will change, hopefully to red.

Generally cucumbers turn yellow or reddish when they are completely mature, which is not when most people prefer to eat them and not what you see in the grocery.  Muskmelon starts out with smooth green fruit that develops the brown netting near maturity.  Pumpkins start out green and mature to orange, (or other colors).

When it comes to flowers, a change in color may be caused by weather conditions, soil conditions, flower age or plant age.   Some plants have slightly different looking flowers the first year they bloom from what the flowers will look like in following years.  Other types of plants also have flower color changes as flowers age.

Usually cross pollination does not affect flowers, although in some plants any form of pollination may cause a subtle color change in the flowers.  Pink apple blossoms turn very pale pink or white after pollination for example.  White is less attractive to bees, keeping them focused on the pink ones that still need pollination.

Many times when someone thinks a flower has changed color from the previous year or even from earlier in the season it’s because the flower is from a different plant.  Many plants reseed in the same location and the seeds can produce plants with different colored flowers.   When a rose or other grafted plant seems to have a flower color change it’s often because the grafted part has died and the plant is producing flowers from the root portion.  And then of course, there’s always memory problems, and I confess, that’s why I take pictures and keep records.

In short- the type of fruit, flowers, roots or vegetative parts a plant has this year (with the exception of corn and maybe a few other uncommon plants), has nothing to do with who it is sharing pollen with.  When a beagle mates with a poodle you don’t expect it to start growing long curly hair.  Any genetic phenotypes (looks) the plant has this year will not be changed by it having sex.

Good reasons to keep weeding the garden

When it’s hot and plants are mature enough to compete well with weeds, gardeners sometimes give up on weeding.  Besides the fact that weeds shade garden plants and compete for water and nutrients, there is another reason to keep weeds out of the garden. Some weeds also bring disease and harmful insects into the garden.

Common lambsquarters, pigweed and nightshade all get some of the fungal diseases that tomatoes and potatoes get.  These are extremely common weeds in home gardens.  They can serve as a source of infection for early and late blight and also septoria leaf spot.  Nightshade is a perennial and some fungal diseases may over winter in its living tissue.  (Petunias, while not a weed, can also carry some tomato-potato diseases.  Don’t plant them near those crops.)
Dandelions and wild carrots or Queen Anne’s Lace, growing near garden carrots may be a source of “aster yellows” a disease that infects garden carrots.  They are spread to carrots by an insect called a leafhopper that feeds on both types of plants.

Many viral diseases are spread by aphids, leafhoppers and beetles feeding on infected weeds and then moving to related garden plants.  Tobacco mosaic virus of tomatoes and peppers, cucumber mosaic virus and powdery mildew are some diseases that can be spread by insects from weeds to garden plants.  Pests like the tomato hornworm may begin feeding on nightshade and then move to tomatoes.

Other weeds that are important to remove from your garden to help control disease and insects are;  prickly lettuce, sowthistles, Canadian goldenrod, ragweed, shepards purse, purslane, yellow rocket, dayflower, deadnettle, teasel, heal all, chickweed and bur cucumber.
Redroot pigweed

If you grow raspberries or blackberries in the garden all wild brambles should be removed for 100 feet around your plot.  They serve as a reservoir for rust and other diseases.

Despite a trend to naturalize gardens to sustain beneficial insects, you must carefully choose which of those “natural plants” you allow to grow in or close to your garden.  You are more likely to end with a problem rather than a natural solution if you chose the wrong plants. 


If you want a plant that attracts butterflies try some tithonia or Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia).  These stately plants are a magnet for butterflies and other pollinators and also look great in the border.  They are large plants, easily 6 feet or more tall and 2-3 feet wide so make sure you leave plenty of room for them.

Tithonia is related to the sunflower and is native to Mexico and Central America.  It’s an annual plant so it can be grown in almost any garden although since it’s a late season bloomer northern gardeners may want to start it inside 6-8 weeks before the last frost.  ( In frost free areas tithonia is a short lived perennial.)

The leaves of tithonia are oval to triangular in shape, rough feeling, with hairs on the backside.  Some leaves may be lobed, and the leaves have a serrated edge.  The plant makes thick stalks with several branches.  In moderately fertile soils, with full sun and on the dry side the plants generally support themselves.  In wetter, very fertile soil some staking may be needed.

The flowers of tithonia are daisy like and normally bright, flaming orange, although yellow varieties exist. (Tithonia diversifolia has yellow flowers and is sometimes found in catalogs.) They are about 5 inches across and have a raised center clump of yellow stamens.  They begin blooming in mid-summer and bloom until frost.  Tithonia seeds look like small sunflower seeds and are enjoyed by birds.

Tithonia seeds are easy to start and in many areas plants are hard to come by so gardeners will probably need to start them from seed.  You can start them where they are to grow or start them inside in pots 6-8 weeks before your last frost is expected.  Plant tithonia seeds or plants outside after the danger of frost has passed.  Thin plants to at least 2 feet apart – they grow quickly and become quite large.

Tithonia will grow in almost any soil, as long as it’s well drained.  They will tolerate partial shade in the south but bloom best everywhere in full sun.  They will tolerate dry conditions quite well.  Fertilization is seldom needed and plants that are fertilized or grown in very rich soil tend to be floppy and have fewer flowers.

Few insect or disease problems are noted in tithonia although Japanese beetles and slugs sometimes bother them.  Keep plants dead headed to prolong bloom.

Herbal and other uses of tithonia

Besides drawing butterflies and looking beautiful tithonia makes a good cut flower.  In Mexico the plants are fed to rabbits and goats.  There are no known human food uses and the taste of the plant is said to be very bitter.  Dried stems are used as fuel. Tithonia can be grown as a living fence and is said to be a good cover crop to improve soil.

Indigenous uses for the plant include a malaria treatment from leaf extracts.  Modern medical studies found that plant extracts killed 50-75% of malaria parasites in the blood.  Also an essential oil made from the leaves did have some effect on repelling mosquitoes.

An 80% ethanol extract of the leaves was found in one clinical study to lower blood glucose.  Leaf extracts were also found to have antibacterial properties.

Folk remedies for tithonia also include it’s use on wounds to reduce swelling and pain from inflammation, for constipation, stomach pain and indigestion and for sore throats.

Caution:  the reason tithonia extracts have not been widely used in modern medicines is that chemicals in the plant have been found to damage the liver and kidneys even in moderate doses.  Leave experimenting with this plant to experts.

What to do if your dog gets sprayed by a skunk

Skunks do not like dogs.  While a skunk may give a human a pass if they don’t bother it, a dog will almost certainly provoke an unpleasant reaction from a skunk.  Skunks are found throughout the United States, in the city as well as the suburbs and country.  If not scared they are pretty harmless critters, with only a whiff of odor to show they are near.  But surprise or scare a skunk and you will regret it for a long time.

When a dog gets sprayed by a skunk it’s a pretty unpleasant experience, both for them and their owners.  Your immediate response to a skunk sprayed dog will probably be to run far away, but if you love your dog you’ll want to help it and it will probably run after you anyway.  So here’s what to do to get your dog smelling like a dog again.

It’s rare that a dog that’s skunk sprayed will be able to sneak by you.  If the smell isn’t immediately overwhelming the dogs howling and crying will probably let you know what’s happened.  The first thing you’ll want to do is confine the dog somewhere it can’t rub and roll on furniture and rugs.  You’ll probably want to make this an outside place.   The yard, the garage, the barn or a shed or as a last resort the basement are suggested.  And you’ll want to cover your nose while you do it.  Then you will probably want to put on some old clothes before you deal with the dog.

As quickly as possible you should check the dog’s eyes.  Many times the skunk spray will get in a dogs eyes and it’s extremely painful.  The dog’s eyes will be red and watery and he or she will probably be pawing at them.  Try to wash the eyes out with plain, barely warm water.  You could also use eye drops for humans (or dogs), if it doesn’t contain a prescription medicine.  The dog may be agitated and in pain so be careful you don’t get bit.  Dogs rarely go blind from skunk spray but they are in pain.

Next you will want to mix up this solution.
        1 quart of warm water
        1 quart of 3% hydrogen peroxide ( found at any drug store)
        1 cup of baking soda
        2-3 tablespoons of liquid soap.  This can be dish or liquid hand soup or even shampoo.

Mix all of this in a bucket just before you plant to use it.  Don’t store it in anything that’s capped or sealed or you’ll get an explosion.  You’ll probably want to buy enough supplies to make several batches, especially if the dog is large.  Don’t make the solution stronger or you may irritate the dog’s skin too much or cause its hair to bleach out.

Massage your mixture into the dog’s coat, making sure to get the belly, tail, legs, anywhere the spray may have landed.  Cover the dog’s eyes as you work the solution into the head and ears.  Do not get this solution in the dog’s eyes!  Let the solution sit in the dogs fur for about 5 minutes, then rinse it out with warm water.  You’ll probably want do a second wash with the solution, especially if the dog has long dense fur.  Make sure to thoroughly rinse the solution out of the dog’s coat.  Throw out unused solution, it doesn’t save well.

This solution is slightly irritating to the dog’s skin but it won’t change the color of the fur.  You might want to follow with a cream rinse for dogs to smooth the fur.  In cold weather you’ll want to wash the dog and let it dry in a warm spot or at least use a hair dryer to get the coat dry.  You may notice a slight smell in the next few weeks whenever the dog gets wet.  You can do a follow up wash in a week or so with the solution or just use a deodorant shampoo for dogs.

Don’t waste your time washing a skunk sprayed dog with tomato juice, it doesn’t really work.  If you get sprayed along with the dog you can use this solution to wash yourself also but be very careful using it on clothing, furniture or other items as it may discolor them.  Try a small area first if you are desperate.

Avoiding skunks in the future

If you let your dog roam the countryside freely there’s a good chance it will have at least one encounter with a skunk.  If your dog gets sprayed by a skunk it may avoid all skunks and even things that look like skunks in the future but some dogs never learn.  If your dog gets sprayed more than once you’ll need to watch him or her carefully when they are outside.

Skunks are usually active at night, but dogs can and do find their resting spots in the daytime and will get sprayed in retaliation.  Skunks don’t truly hibernate but spend most of the cold weather sleeping in a snug den.  They may come out during warm spells to eat and mate in early spring. They are more active in late fall and early spring and since the days are shorter at this time there is more of a chance that your dog will be out and about when they are.

Healthy skunks do not attack dogs or other animals.  They may not seem overly concerned about you if you are without a dog but they will generally move away from you.  Any skunk that seems aggressive without being cornered or provoked may have rabies, particularly if it is out in the daytime.  You should avoid them and keep pets away.  Call your local animal control and report it.

Make sure dogs always have up to date rabies shots.  Usually a dog doesn’t get too close to a skunk before it gets sprayed and the spray sends it running.  But some dogs will catch the skunk and if it is diseased that can be a big problem.  If your dog actually catches and/or kills the skunk talk to a vet about any treatment the dog may need.

If you have seen skunks in your yard it’s a good idea to keep dogs from exploring under porches and sheds and in deep brush areas where skunks may hide.  Don’t leave pet food out at night to attract skunks and the mice they like to feed on.  Don’t set live traps for skunks unless you are brave enough to transport the animal to a safe release point.  Let a professional do it.

While skunks may do some damage to lawns looking for grubs they are a generally a beneficial animal, eating harmful insects and mice.  Leave them alone and they will leave you alone.

Ways to cook and preserve sweet corn.

My favorite way to cook sweet corn is to put some water on the stove in a large pot, go to the garden and pick and husk the corn and place it in the pot as the water begins to boil.  Add a cup of milk and some butter to the pot, how much butter is up to you, I add about 2 tablespoons.  Cover and cook the corn at a slow boil for 5-7 minutes depending on the size of the ears.  You’ll be amazed how the milk brings out the flavor of the corn.  Of course if you can’t handle any dairy you can use plain water.

You can remove much of the thick, dark green husks on the corn, leaving some of the light green- white husk attached.  Gently pull that down and remove as much of the silk on the cob as you can.  Then smooth the thin husk back over the corn.  Soak the ears in the husk in salty water for 10 minutes or so, then remove and let them drain.  The ears can then be put on the grill, on low heat, and cooked about 10 minutes, rotating the side against the grill frequently.  The ears in light husks can also be placed in the microwave for a few minutes.

Canning corn

If you have an abundance of sweet corn you can preserve it by canning.  You’ll need to cut the kernels from the cob.  You can buy hand held gadgets that help you cut the corn off the cob or you can just use a sharp knife. For food safety, corn needs to be canned in a pressure canner.

Some types of corn will brown during the canning process.  This is more likely to happen with super sweet varieties and corn that’s still quite immature.  Use your most mature corn for canning.  The browning doesn’t affect the flavor or keeping quality, it’s a cosmetic problem.  Some varieties of sweet corn are better for canning than others, if you intend to can a lot of corn look in seed descriptions for good canning varieties.

You’ll need about 20 pounds of corn in the husk to fill 8-9 pint size jars.  A pint is about the right size jar for a small family.  Gather 9 clean pint jars and new lids, a large pot and a large bowl and some non-iodized salt such as kosher or canning salt.

Here’s the process:

Husk the corn, remove the silk and trim off bad areas.

Get a large pot of water boiling.  Put a few ears in the pot and leave for 3 minutes. Remove and cut corn from the cob into a large bowl.  Repeat until you have cut the corn from all the cobs.

Measure out how many cups of cut corn you have and place it in a large pot.  For every 4 cups of corn add one cup of water to the pot.  Bring the pot to a boil, turn down to simmer and simmer 5 minutes.  Turn off heat.

Put a ½ teaspoon of salt in each jar.  Ladle corn and water into each jar to 1 inch from the rim.  Don’t can jars that you can’t fill, you can use the leftover corn up by eating it that day.  Swirl a butter knife or bubble stick through each jar to remove bubbles. Wipe the rim and put on the lid.

Put your filled jars in a pressure canner.  Make sure you read and follow the directions that come with your canner but here’s a brief description of the process.  For a dial gauge canner set the dial at 11 pounds for 0-2000 feet in altitude, 12 pounds for 2001-4,000 feet, 13 pounds for 4001-6,000 feet and 14 pounds above that.  For a weighted gauge pressure canner use 10 pounds for 0-2,000 feet in altitude and 15 pounds above that.  Process all pints of corn in the pressure canner for 55 minutes. (Note: you need to know what altitude your location is for proper canning.  You can ask your local county Extension office or the altitude is usually given when you choose a location on a National Weather Service forecast map.)

Follow your canners directions for cooling time, and then remove jars, label and store.

Freezing corn

You must blanch (cook) the husked ears for 3 minutes in boiling water before freezing whole kernels.  Remove from heat, cut corn off the cobs, package in freezer containers or bags and then freeze. 

Whole ears of corn can be frozen at home but the flavor of the cob often comes through.  Boil husked corn ears for 7-11 minutes, depending on the diameter of the cob.  Make it 7 minutes for 1 ¼ inch diameter, up to 11 minutes for 1 ¾ inch diameter. Remove with tongs and plunge ears into a bowl of ice water as quickly as possible.  The quicker the corn cools the less likely the cob flavor will come through.  Add ice to the water frequently.   Pat the corn dry before packaging to freeze.

Corn and pepper relish

Another way to preserve fresh corn is to pickle it as in this recipe.  This recipe only needs a water bath canner as it contains acid in the vinegar. You’ll need the canner plus 5 clean pint jars and lids.  The jars should be kept totally covered in a pot of simmering water until ready to be filled.


8 cups of corn kernels cut from the cob
3 cups vinegar
¾ cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 cup of finely chopped sweet peppers, use green and red for pretty relish
3 cups of finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons canning salt
1 tablespoon celery seed
¼ teaspoon red pepper

Put a couple tablespoons of the vinegar in a bowl and add the mustard, stir to make a smooth paste.  Put the rest of the vinegar, sugar and mustard paste in a large pot.  Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and mustard. 

Add the corn, peppers, onions and spices to the pot.  Cover the pot and boil gently for 15 minutes.   The mixture will be thickened.

Remove pint jars from the hot water and drain.  Ladle the hot corn mixture into them to ½ inch from the jar rim.

Swirl a knife or stick through jars to remove bubbles.  Wipe the rims and add the lids. 

Place jars in water bath canner and process for 15 minutes for 0-1,000 feet in altitude, 20 minutes for 1001-6,000 feet,  25 minutes for altitudes above that.

Cool, label jars and store.

Blackberry cobbler here I come

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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