September 29, 2015, Kim’s Weekly Garden Newsletter © Kim Willis
|One full window|
I spent the weekend moving my most vulnerable houseplants back inside- some 40 of them and I still have the hardier plants like geraniums to move back in and I estimate that’s about 30 more pots. I’ll be moving those inside in the next couple days. It’s a major undertaking but I love my houseplants. If you haven’t moved your houseplants inside better hurry. It’s going to get cold this week. Frost isn’t predicted for the next few days, but temps below 40 are- and a clear, calm night with radiational cooling may just get down to frost level- which doesn’t have to be freezing by the way. At least bring in the tropical plants and very tender perennials.
One of the biggest plants I had to move is my brugmansia. In March it was a tiny plant in a 2 inch pot. Now it’s a huge 4 foot tall plant covered in blooms in a huge pot. Finding a spot for it was hard. We have a cage full of parakeets in the living room now and the plant had to be far enough from them so they couldn’t possibly nibble it since it’s poisonous. But it still needs good light. The big window in the living room also has to have the other big pots, hibiscus, lemon tree, huge dracaena in it. I ended up buying a floor lamp with what is called a “sunlight” bulb and putting that over the brugmansia. I’m not real thrilled with the brightness of the light- we’ll see how the plant reacts. I do love
the wonderful smell of the brugmansia flowers in the evening.
|The brugmansia, still gorgeous.|
Every window in my house has plants, or will have them soon as I finish bringing them in. The porch holds things like tuberous begonias, pineapple lilies, rain lilies and so on that go dormant after a while plus my huge rosemary plant and the overflow of geraniums. Right now it also has a bunch of small spider plants that need to go somewhere. I planted my large spider plants in a big tub outside this year where they looked great. But they let down some tiny spider plant babies that rooted in the soil beneath the big tub. I couldn’t leave them to die. I also have a ton of cuttings and plant starts from the purple leaved filler plant Setcreasea pallida 'Purple Heart'. This plant produces tons of foliage stems but it’s very brittle and very hard to move or transplant without breaking off the long shoots. I must have a bushel basket of the stems in water right now. The “mother” plant looks a bit ragged right now but I have no doubt it will quickly re-grow. See an article about Purple Heart below.
I harvested my Japanese Hull-less popcorn yesterday. It still needs to dry a bit more before we attempt to pop it and see if the hulls are really absent. I am also harvesting a good crop of fall raspberries. I am keeping my eye on several nice watermelons in the garden, hoping they ripen before frost. I have a ton of small yellow winged gourds, the only gourds that grew from a mixed seed packet. The Jerusalem artichokes are blooming. Maximilian sunflowers, mums, dahlias, sweet autumn clematis, heliopsis, some landscape roses and the tall lovely “Only the Lonely” nicotiana are keeping the remaining annuals company.
Leaves are rapidly falling from the poplars and walnut trees and the other trees are really starting to show their colors. There’s a huge crop of acorns and walnuts this year. Maybe the squirrels won’t need to invade my porch and eat my geraniums this winter.
The birds are leaving soon, maybe tomorrow
Today is a transition day weather-wise as a cold front moves in. I can feel the wind through my office window has shifted to out of the north. Tonight and tomorrow night we will probably see a massive migration of birds from here going south. Birds are often triggered to migrate by a cold front and low pressure system moving into an area. A north “tail” wind speeds them on their way. Many species migrate at night, clouds of silent birds passing through the moonlit skies. In the day time the birds stop to feed and rest and birders may get to see many new species passing through the area. On September 20th this year birders reported large flocks of birds migrating through the night. On the 19th a mild cold front had occurred. This front will be stronger and colder.
|Cedar waxwings stay well into fall. sometimes through winter.|
Birds that leave our area and go south are red winged blackbirds, grackles, robins, bluebirds, orioles, swallows, most warblers, some sparrows and finches, most hawks and other birds of prey, turkey vultures, most ducks and other waterfowl, herons, and hummingbirds. A few stragglers of all species may stay late into fall, or even all winter. Not all birds leave in mass migrations after cold fronts, some leave at various other times, some singly or in small groups also. Some are already long gone, such as the killdeer, which leave at the end of August.
In Michigan birds often follow flyways that skirt the shores of the Great Lakes when they migrate. Great birding spots can be found at Whitefish Point bird observatory in Paradise in the UP, Lake Erie Metro Park, Pointe Mouillee State Game Area and Rouge River Bird Observatory in the eastern Detroit area, Tawas Point at Tawas Point State Park on Lake Huron, Sand Point near Caseville, Port Austin State park, Fish Point wildlife area between Unionville and Sebewaing, Wild Fowl Bay State park in the Saginaw bay on Middle Grounds Island. On the west side of the state Ludington and Muskegon State parks are good for birders.
A few birds will be returning to Michigan from points farther north this fall instead of leaving. Michigan Audubon will host its annual Crane Fest at the Environmental Interpretive Center, Baker Sanctuary, University of Michigan-Dearborn at 4901 Evergreen Road, Dearborn on October 10-11th. Hundreds of people gather each year to watch sandhill cranes return to the sanctuary. The sanctuary is about six miles northwest of the intersection of I-94 and I-69. The festival runs each day from noon until dark. Festival activities include speakers, nature exhibits, an art fair, and fall themed food concessions as well as watching hundreds of cranes fly back home. The best crane viewing is usually 5 pm until dark. Admission is free but there is a small fee for parking. For more information go to: http://www.cranefest.org/
Other birds that use Michigan as their “south” will be showing up at bird feeders soon. This includes white throated and tree sparrows, junco’s, Northern Goshawk, Snowy Owls, Red Breasted nuthatch, Brown creepers, Golden Crowned kinglets, Snow buntings, purple finches, and pine siskins.
So fill up those seed and suet feeders and get ready for a new season of birds. If you don’t feed the birds all summer, starting now with feeding will help some species fuel up for the long flight south and attract those arriving from the north. You may get to see some unusual species as they migrate through at your feeders. Other good places to look for fall migrants other than the observation points mentioned above include ponds, lakes and wetlands, and areas with lots of berries or standing fruit.
I personally keep my hummingbird feeders filled until the end of September. I saw a hummingbird Thursday, the 24th but haven’t seen any since. I suspect they may have left before the cold front rush, smart birds. I saw turkey vultures yesterday and heard robins, so those birds have yet to leave. The robins usually don’t leave here until they have stripped the Autumn Olives of their berries.
Growing Purple Heart or Setcreasea pallida
Purple Heart is an easy to grow, pretty plant that has a variety of uses. It’s purple and pink toned foliage and trailing stems makes it a good “filler” or “spiller” in containers or hanging baskets. It makes a good houseplant too. The purple foliage tones go particularly well when combined with golden leaved plants. Setcreasea pallida is also known as Tradescantia pallida in older references and common names include spider plant (we have far too many plants named this) and purple spiderwort.
|Purple Heart in a container.|
In its native Mexico Purple Heart is a rather invasive ground cover and it can perform that function here too. It’s only hardy to planting zone 7 and then only when well protected. But since it grows rapidly gardeners in colder zones could plant it in spring for good ground cover by mid-summer.
Purple Heart is purchased as a plant. Seed is almost never produced or available but the plant is very easy to start from cuttings. The stems of Purple Heart are succulent and sprawling, with prominent leaf joints, up to 18 inches long, and are purple or violet in color. The leaves clasp the stem and are narrow and pointed. Leaves range in color from purple to pink and may be variegated in various colors of pink, purple, violet and lavender. Color of the foliage is best in brighter light conditions. Tiny, pink flowers appear on branch tips occasionally.
Care of Purple Heart
|Pink variegation of Purple Heart.|
Purple Heart is extremely forgiving of most conditions and most gardeners should have no trouble growing it- and sharing it with friends. It will grow in full sun or partial shade. In the house Purple Heart should have bright light conditions to keep the plant from getting spindly. It likes even, regular watering, but its succulent characteristics make it able to survive short dry conditions. Containers or soil that Purple Heart is planted in should be well draining, because too moist conditions will rot the roots and stems. If you want even more abundant, rapid growth give it a light feeding of all-purpose garden fertilizer several times a year.
Purple Heart has few insect or disease problems although it may be eaten by slugs and snails outside. Purple Hearts biggest drawback is its succulent stems which break off easily. They grow back quickly in good conditions but it makes the plant a chore to move or transplant. You’ll want to keep it out of windy areas or places where it is frequently bumped. You can pinch off the tips of long shoots to make the plant branch more, but the shorter plant stems are still quick to snap off. Prune it to any length you need to keep it out of the way.
|Purple Heart flower.|
Purple Heart will root incredibly easily so all of those broken stems and pinched off tips don’t need to be wasted. Stick them in a pot of moist soil, with at least one leaf joint under the soil and you should have plants to share in no time. Instead of bringing in a large plant for the winter you may want to bring in cuttings. Be aware when handling Purple Heart stems that some people get mild rash/reaction from the fluid that leaks out.
As a plant that grows easily and can be shared easily too, Purple Heart is a winner for containers outside or a trailing houseplant inside.
Decorating with gourds
Gourds are abundant and inexpensive and they may be your solution to a holiday decorating dilemma. Gourds can be used in a variety of ways for the holidays and your imagination is the only limit. Gourds are safe, natural decorations and can usually be bought locally, making them a “green” choice.
There are many types of gourds; from huge bushel basket size round gourds to tiny colorful crescent shaped ones. Gourds and pumpkins are closely related, but gourds have thinner flesh that dries better than pumpkins. Small pumpkins can be used for temporary decorating, but they usually mold or rot instead of drying nicely like gourds.
Start by picking gourds that appeal to you or that give you immediate ideas for decorating. If they aren’t dry yet, you will need to give them a couple of weeks of drying time before cutting them or painting them, but they can be used fresh in baskets or bowls for immediate color. If you are growing gourds they are ready to pick when they detach easily from the vine. Light frost won’t hurt the gourds but pick them before a freeze. If you can let them dry naturally on the vine it’s great, but if fall weather is cool and rainy they may dry better indoors.
Wipe newly acquired gourds with one of the bleach saturated kitchen wipes or with a cloth dipped in a solution of 1/3 cup bleach to 1 cup water. Then dry with a clean cloth. This helps prevent mold. To dry gourds place them in a spot that’s bright and warm, but not in direct sunlight. Gourds are dry when you can hear the seeds rattling around inside. If you cut into the gourd for your decorative idea, remove the seeds. Otherwise it’s fine to leave them inside.
A glue gun and a drill with hole cutting attachments will help you turn your gourds into exciting decorating items. Gourds can be painted with acrylic craft paints if the natural color isn’t suitable. A clear acrylic craft sealer will keep colors fresh and help prevent gourds from molding or rotting.
A simple way to use gourds is to pile attractive colored gourds in a basket or dish. Dried flowers or artificial flowers can be tucked in the container, as well as such things as pine cones, nuts and seed pods.
Larger gourds can have holes drilled in them large enough to accept small vases, or votive candle holders. Never put water directly in gourds or use candles in them without glass or metal holders. Dried or artificial flowers can be inserted directly into dried gourds. Larger holes could hold candy or snack bowls.
Cutting gourds with a drill and attachment can be tricky, put the drill on a low speed to avoid cracking and splitting. Draw guidelines or a pattern on the gourd to guide you and practice on less desirable gourds until you master the skill. Some people drill a small hole and then cut out the rest of the hole with a knife or small hand saw.
Gourds can be painted but make sure the gourd is thoroughly dry before painting or mold is likely to develop. Place them in a warm place to dry after painting. Paint helps protect the gourd, but you may also want to spray or brush on a clear sealer coat.
A glue gun can help you bind two or more gourds together. A space left in the center can hold a vase for fresh flowers, or a dried arrangement. Glue guns can also attach small gourds to larger ones, if both gourds are dry. To attach fresh gourds to each other use short pieces of toothpicks or wooden skewers. Small screws can also be used with fresh or dried gourds.
Your gourds can last several years if properly stored. Wrap them in unprinted paper, not plastic and store in a dry location. Newspaper or other printed paper may transfer print to the gourd’s surface. Plastic may hold too much moisture and cause mold.
Gourds can make good Christmas or even spring decorations as well as Thanksgiving or Halloween décor, you just need to change the colors. Here are a few more suggestions.
Cut the top off a large round gourd to form a bowl shape. Paint the gourd brown or add a sealer to protect the natural color. Place a plastic bowl inside and fill with cheese corn or caramel corn. Paint the gourd red or green and add a bowl of colorfully wrapped chocolate kisses, tiny candy canes or other candy. Small round gourds could hold a cupcake paper full of candy.
Paint a round gourd deep blue and pile it full of small, gold glass Christmas “balls”. Or make it forest green and gild pinecones with gold paint or glitter and fill the bowl. Handles can be attached or a clever person can carve the handle out of the top of the bowl instead of cutting straight across.
Several small gourds glued together can hold a place card, or a rolled napkin. They can form a tripod for a single small pumpkin, a pretty glass Christmas ornament, or votive candle.
Odd shaped gourds can be painted to resemble snakes, penguins, swans, lizards, mice or whatever your imagination comes up with. Painted small gourds can actually be hung on the Christmas tree for natural ornaments. Drill a hole at the top and insert a ribbon or wire to hang them.
Taller gourds make excellent vases. You may need to glue a small piece of wood on the bottom to make them sit flat. Prescription pill containers or plastic cups make good liners to hold water for fresh flowers. Fill the gourd with dry rice to anchor dried or artificial flower arrangements.
Gourds and your creative mind will make holiday decorating a snap.
Fall leaves are your gift from nature
Tree leaves are nature’s gift to you each fall. All summer long the tree has been drawing nutrients from the soil and creating food from sunlight and now some of those nutrients are in each of those leaves decorating your lawn. You can choose to throw those nutrients away, spending hours of time raking and bagging them, or worse, using a gas guzzling, noisy, emission spewing leaf blower to move them somewhere else. Or you can choose to keep nature’s gift and return those valuable nutrients to your soil.
Some people worry that if they let leaves lay on the lawn they will smother the grass. It is true that a heavy, thick layer of wet leaves can cause some patches of lawn to die. Nature seldom lets this happen because the leaves get stirred around by fall and winter winds and rarely make thick layers in a natural situation. If this worries you or you don’t like the “messy” look of leaves on the lawn the solution is simple. On a dry day get your lawn mower, preferably with a mulching blade, set it to mow about 3 inches high and make a couple passes over your lawn.
Leaves that are cut into small pieces by the mower will settle into the lawn and soon be decomposed, returning those captured nutrients to the soil and the trees that shed the leaves. In a very short time you will never know they were there. You can wait until all the leaves have fallen, or mow every few days, depending on how many leaves you are given.
There is one good reason to rake leaves and that is to use them for compost or organic improvement for your vegetable and flower beds. Better yet, use the bagged leaves your neighbors have spent all that labor on and just mow yours. Leaves can go directly into compost piles, whole or shredded. They can also be piled on bare vegetable beds. Leaves can be left in those plastic bags and stored dry somewhere to add to compost piles in the spring and summer when dry matter is needed to balance wet matter.
Before using leaves to mulch dormant perennials, most leaves should be shredded. Oak leaves and leaves that are very small already, such as honey locust leaves, are an exception. They can be used “as is.” Other leaves may matt and mold if used whole and in quantity. You can buy leaf shredders or you can place a layer of leaves in a large trash can, insert a “weed wacker” and chop them up. Wear safety goggles and keep your face away from the can opening if you do this in case foreign objects were in the leaves. Shredded leaves can be used generously to mulch perennial beds.
If you are thinking of building a new flower or vegetable bed in a turf area next spring the smothering effect of large amounts of whole leaves can be used to your advantage. Outline your new bed, mow the existing vegetation as short as possible and pile on the leaves, a foot or more high. You may want to lay some fence wire or burlap across the leaves and weigh it down to keep the wind from stealing your leaves over the winter.
Never throw a gift away. Nature gave you the leaves so use them wisely.
I'm glad everyone survived the blood moon.
“He who has a garden and a library wants for nothing” ― Cicero
Events, classes and other offerings
Please let me know if there is any event or class that you would like to share with other gardeners. These events are primarily in Michigan but if you are a reader from outside of Michigan and want to post an event I’ll be glad to do it.
Do you have plants or seeds you would like to swap or share? Post them here by emailing me.
Four inch pots of spider plant (house plant) absolutely free. Also cuttings of Purple Heart. If you want one contact me, (Kim)
An interesting Plant Id page you can join on Facebook
Here’s a seed/plant sharing group you can join on Facebook
Here’s a facebook page link for gardeners in the Lapeer area
Here’s a link to classes being offered at Campbell’s Greenhouse, 4077 Burnside Road, North Branch. Now open.
Here’s a link to classes and events at Nichols Arboretum, Ann Arbor
Here’s a link to programs being offered at English Gardens, several locations in Michigan.
Here’s a link to classes at Telly’s Greenhouse in Troy and Shelby Twsp. MI, and now combined with Goldner Walsh in Pontiac MI.
Here’s a link to classes and events at Bordines, Rochester Hills, Grand Blanc, Clarkston and Brighton locations
Here’s a link to events at the Leslie Science and Nature Center, 1831 Traver Road Ann Arbor, Michigan | Phone 734-997-1553 |
Here’s a link to events at Hidden Lake Gardens, 6214 Monroe Rd, Tipton, MI
Here’s a link to all the nature programs being offered at Seven Ponds Nature center in Dryden, Michigan. http://www.sevenponds.org/education/progs/springprograms/
Here’s a link to events and classes at Fredrick Meijer Gardens, Grand Rapids Mi
http://www.meijergardens.org/learn/ (888) 957-1580, (616) 957-1580
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. Please state that you want to have the item published in my weekly notes. 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.
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 local people and horticulture. It’s a hobby, basically. I hope you enjoy it. If at any time you don’t wish to receive these emails just let me know. If you know anyone who would like to receive these emails have them send their email address to me. KimWillis151@gmail.com