Tuesday, January 19, 2021

January 19, 2021 plant books and baths

 Hi Gardeners

The holidays are over and winter doldrums are setting for many of us. Many of us have been home for way longer than we have ever been in our lives. To ease the boredom, pull out those garden catalogs or go online to see them, and start planning that next garden. Or you may want to pick up some gardening books, see the article below, to prepare yourself for a new year of gardening.

As I mentioned last week, it’s too early for most gardeners to start most types of seeds. If you must get some seeds planted, try something unusual that takes a lot of time to mature. But for things like tomatoes and marigolds, patience is your friend.

I miss getting outside away from everything (like my husband’s TV) for hours at a time. I do try to get outside for a little bit every day.  But my arthritic joints do not appreciate work outside in cold weather. I’m lucky enough to have lots of plants inside to putter around with. And at this time of year- deep winter- the inside plants can always use a little attention.

I have 3 different hibiscus in bloom today. The fuchsia in my office room is blooming like crazy and I have 2 others blooming in another room. I have begonias, geraniums, streptocarpus and holiday cacti in bloom. An impatiens plant came up from seed in one pot and is now blooming.

The pothos in the living room window has grown tremendously and is creating a dilemma. It sits on a shelf up high on the window and is growing downward. It’s rapidly covering all the space in front of the window and is cutting down the natural light for some other plants. Should I cut it back or let it continue its conquest of the space? It’s a living curtain. I’ll never get it outside in the spring.

The diascia I brought inside didn’t make it. It bloomed nicely for a while but then fizzled out and died. So that experiment is over. I am thinking about buying a bay tree-Laurus nobilis. It’s actually a shrub that is easily kept pruned. It’s the plant we get bay leaves for cooking from, but I am using bay leaf for another reason. Recent research has found that bay leaf helps regulate blood sugar and lower triglycerides.  

You don’t hear much about bay leaf as an herbal remedy, so I am experimenting on myself. I’m using high quality powdered bay leaf in gelatin capsules I fill myself. I do believe it’s helping with the blood sugar, I’ll have to wait until my next bloodwork to check on the triglycerides.

I’d like to grow my own bay tree, supposedly the Romans kept it as a houseplant 2,000 years ago. It’s supposed to do well in cool sunny conditions inside. But I’ll have to see how much bay I would have to grow to get the amount of powder I need to see if it’s feasible.

Why not try your own experiment this winter with plants?  Not necessarily bay leaf or even a medicinal herb. But something unusual to grow, something everyone doesn’t have. Winter is a good time to research ideas and start such an project.

Laurus nobilis

 Gardeners need reference books

Thirty years ago, when people wanted answers to gardening questions, they usually picked up a reference book and looked up the information. Today when people want an answer they go online and ask some social media group. Now if they are asking the right group, people with knowledge of the subject and using science-based facts and not folklore, they may get good answers. But so often that’s not the case.

In many of these posts the answers are as varied as the folks writing them.  Some folks know what they are writing about others are parroting junk information they picked up somewhere else. Folk remedy solutions to problems, often useless, sometimes harmful, abound. And there are whole websites built around attracting “hits” which are filled with bad information even though they may seem professionally done. These are often the sources quoted by people answering questions.

It’s not possible to get all the information you need on starting a vegetable garden for instance, by asking on a garden FB page “Can you tell me how to start a vegetable garden?”  This type of question requires a much longer answer than a FB post can give.  And if you are new to gardening how do you pick out answers that are accurate from those that are not?

Even asking for plant identification is hit and miss on social media. Any post like this will often have dozens of different answers. And don’t count on apps to identify plants either, especially if you don’t know how – or can’t take a good clear photo. Those apps are rarely more than 50% successful.  Identification of pests, diseases and other problems is probably even less accurate from most social media and apps.

So, if you are a gardener with a plant problem or want to know about how to grow a certain plant where do you go for information?  Well, you might want to head back to those reference books. Garden and plant reference books should be in every serious gardener’s home. If you choose books by reputable authors your chances of getting good advice and answers to problems are much higher than asking on a FB page.

Every gardener should have several plant reference books to look up answers and to help them identify plants.  Good gardeners know the names of the plants they own, maybe not the cultivar name, like “Blueberry Sundae” daylily, but the species and common name, like Echinacea, or coneflower. There are books that can help you identify common garden plants, houseplants and weeds. 

Before you buy a plant, you should know what planting zone it’s hardy in and what growing conditions it requires. But many plant purchases are impulse buys, and the gardener will need to find this information after they get the plant home. Plant tags are helpful, but often don’t provide enough information. Books that help you with site selection, culture, growing tips, pruning and problem solving are invaluable.

Personally, I rarely buy fiction books in paper formats anymore but when I buy a reference book, that’s what form I prefer. Ebooks are harder to find information in and sometimes not available when you need them. But even electronic book versions are better than random social websites.

I have a whole shelf full of plant reference books and I still use them, especially for identification of plant species I don’t commonly see. Even if you are an experienced gardener a good reference book will teach you something. I’m going to list some books I have or that I know are good reference books.

Most of the books below can be found on Amazon and at many other bookstores.  You may want to look for them at book sales or resale shops. You can get some of them at a library, although having your own copies is always nicer. There are other good books on gardening and plant identification out there and if you have one you like and it isn’t listed, you can list it in comments below.

Just as social media has made it easy for everyone to seek and give advice, self-publishing books has given lots of people the ability to write a book – and some of these aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. A pretty cover is easy to do now, so don’t rely on that when picking books.

When you are looking for plant reference books check to see if the book has been published by a well-known publisher. Commercial book publishers usually print information from people they have determined are knowledgeable. The books are also edited so you aren’t wading through misspelled words and terrible grammar. Rodale Press, Storey Books, Penguin Group, and Wiley Publishing are some publishers known for nonfiction books about gardening.

Also check book reviews to see what others think of the book. Older books have a lot of valuable information so don’t pass up good deals on them. (Do remember that over time, research can change what is considered the best cultural practices).  And some of the better seed catalogs also have a lot of good information on culture- especially for those interested in vegetables.

Other sources for learning about plants are garden classes, like Master Gardener classes or classes sponsored by public gardens and arboretums. Sometimes these classes will even give you reference books with the class fee. Your local County Extension office may have a garden hotline or a horticulturist which can give advice.

I’m not saying you should never ask for advice on a garden webpage. There are many times when people like to hear other people’s suggestions, tips and opinions. But for basic care and identification of plants reference books can educate you so that you can determine what advice is probably sound and factual rather than myth and misunderstanding.

Reference books

The Houseplant Expert Dr. D.G. Hessayon

Practical Houseplant Book-  Zia Allaway and Fran Bailey

The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual: Essential Gardening Know-how for Keeping (Not Killing!) More Than 160 Indoor Plants-Barbara Pleasant

Gardening Under Lights: The Complete Guide for Indoor Growers Leslie F. Halleck

The Kew Gardener’s Guide to Growing House Plants: The art and science to grow your own house plants (Kew Experts)

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible 2nd edition – Edward Smith

Vegetable Gardening For Dummies-Charlie Nardozzi and The Editors of the National Gardening Association

Homegrown Herbs: A Complete Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying More than 100 Herbs- Rosemary Gladstar and Tammi Hartung

Caring for Perennials: What to Do and When to Do it- Janet Macunovich

Designing Your Gardens and Landscapes: 12 Simple Steps for Successful Planning- Janet Macunovich

The Well-Tended Perennial Garden-  Tracy Disabato Aust

Manual of Annuals, Biennials and Half- Hardy Perennials – Alan Armitage

Flower Garden Problem Solver – Rodale Press

Garden Insect, Disease and Weed Identification Guide- Rodale Press

Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs- Michael Dirr

Native Woody Landscape and Restoration Plants of the Eastern United States-Michael L. Dorn


Houseplant tips- cleaning your houseplants

Do you dust and bathe your plants? In the low light levels of winter dust on a plant’s leaves can impact it’s ability to absorb light and make food. Take the time to dust off plant leaves if they look dusty.

Many houseplants would love a shower occasionally if you can arrange it. If you can put them in a tub or sink and spray them off it is very beneficial to the plant. This can help a lot if you have trouble with spider mites, which like dry environments. It removes dust and dirt and acts like a good rainstorm outside does to perk up plants.

Use mildly warm water and no soap in that plant shower. If you worry about the potting medium getting too wet slip a trash bag over the top and tie it around the plant base. If your pot has good drainage it won’t be a problem if the potting medium gets wet.

Do not use leaf shine products, milk, oils or anything else on your plants leaves. These products can clog stomata – the pores in the leaf that regulate the passage of water vapor and other gasses. This can be harmful to your plants.

Should you trim off yellow or browned leaves? If the plant has a lot of leaves and a few are yellow or brown just trim them off. It’s not unusual for healthy plants to have a few yellow leaves. All leaves eventually die and are replaced. Dead crunchy leaves and stems should be removed. They aren’t coming back and don’t help the plant. It’s also ok to trim off any brown tips on leaves, which are common in houseplants in low humidity environments.

There are some people that feel if a plant has few leaves and is struggling to survive, that any leaf that still has some green left in it should be left.  They believe that the plant needs those remaining green areas to produce food. It’s a judgement call I think, because removing dying leaves also stimulates the plant to produce new ones. And in some cases removing dying leaves also removes insect pests.

If you have corrected the problem that caused the yellow or browning leaves, then removing the yellow and brown leaves will stimulate the plant to produce new, healthy leaves. If you aren’t sure what caused the problem, and the plant has few leaves left, leave any that still have some green until new leaves appear. Once new leaves appear remove the dying leaves.

It’s also important to remember that in some plants leaves remain green for a while after they die. Norfolk pines are an example of this. If the leaf or branch snaps easily or your touch makes it fall off the plant, it’s dead. Usually, close inspection will reveal the dried, dull looking state. Those leaves may have some dull green left, but they aren’t producing any food, and should be removed.

 Let’s talk about winter seed sowing.

The modern trend of winter sowing generally has a gardener sowing seeds in something like a milk jug. Then the containers are set outside.  In earlier times the seeds were simply sown in the ground in the fall or in a cold frame. Almost any plant that will self-seed in the garden can be sown in the fall right in the ground.

I suggest gardeners use a cold frame, rather than milk jugs or other small containers if you want to try “winter “ sowing. Those small containers can work if you are lucky, but they are much more prone to wide temperature fluctuations and they don’t give plants much room to grow.

In the spring as the sun grows stronger, they heat up rapidly, the seeds sprout and begin growing. Then we have a cold snap, with cloudy weather or the nights fall to very low temperatures and the plants die. Plants can also be cooked in those plastic containers during warm spells.  And the sun and heat rapidly dry out the soil in the containers, which may kill the plants. If they are left open they may get too much water.

A cold frame is simply a box on the ground with a clear lid, and sometimes a clear south side. You can also use hoops or tunnels to promote early seed starting. A gardener can simply construct a wooden box with a Plexiglass or glass lid or make a lid covered with heavy clear plastic film. Old windows can make good cold frame tops.

The box should be at least eighteen inches deep to allow plants to grow. The walls should be thick or well insulated. You can add a floor or simply have them sit on the ground. Cold frames should receive full sun all day.

Some people add soil and plant directly in the box, but plants transplant better if started in pots. Square pots use less space. Don’t start seeds or plants in a cold frame too early in the spring. The weather should be ready for them to be planted in the garden when they outgrow the frame. Planting in a cold frame can usually begin six to ten weeks before your last expected frost. Or you could sow the seeds in fall inside the frame, and leave it open until near spring.

The most important thing to remember about cold frames is that even though it is in the upper thirties outside on a sunny day, it will be much warmer inside the box with the lid closed. If temperatures get too hot the plants will die just as quickly as if they got too cold. On sunny days the lid must be raised at least a little. That’s where those devices that will raise the lid when the temperature gets to a certain point inside and lower it when it drops are handy. They can be purchased in garden supply stores.

If you do not use a thermostatically controlled opener you must be diligent in raising and lowering the lid depending on weather conditions. If extremely cold weather threatens after seeds sprout the whole cold frame can be covered with a blanket.

Winter seed sowing is not a bad idea. It mimics natural conditions for many seeds. Some seeds need cold, moist conditions for several weeks before they will germinate. But sowing the seeds in small, enclosed containers like milk jugs is not a good way to go about it. Even in a cold frame care must be taken so seedlings don’t get too hot or cold.

Just sowing the seeds in the place you want them to grow in the fall, and marking the spot, is probably the best solution. You may need to cover the area with row cover or fencing to protect the seeds from critters. The seedlings may come up a little later than those in cold frames, but they generally catch up quickly.


The color of springtime is in the flowers; the color of winter is in the imagination.

Terri Guillemets


Kim Willis

All parts of this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without permission.


And So On….


Find Michigan garden events/classes here:


(This is the Lapeer County Gardeners facebook page)


Newsletter/blog information


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 blog 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


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

January 12, 2021 Too Cold for Hippos

 Hi Gardeners

No hippos only warthogs
We finally had a few days where the sun shone for a few hours.  We haven’t had a lot of snow, but the gloom lets you know it’s winter. I’ve been looking for seeds and plants I want to buy in catalogs and online, so it helps keep the spirits up.  And boy- there are a lot of things out of stock already and the season has just begun.

Another thing that keeps the spirits up is plants blooming inside. Green is good but flowers are better. I love tropical hibiscus as blooming houseplants, even though they are large plants. I have a beautiful big pink double flowered one blooming today.

Also good for inside blooms are fuchsia, I have 5 different ones and 4 are in bloom right now. Streptocarpus and geraniums are good blooming indoor plants as are the fibrous begonias and gerbera daisies. And of course, the various holiday cacti, I have “Christmas” cacti in bloom much of the winter.

Many of you may have received amaryllis for Christmas and you’ll have blooms from them soon. If you treat them right, they’ll bloom many times for you- but they need rest periods before each bloom period. If you want more information on them here’s a link.


The birds are flocking to the feeders now as they deplete the wild seeds available. Many people are talking about robins and bluebirds that haven’t gone south. When there isn’t much snow these birds tend to linger. If we get a big snowstorm some more of them may leave. They don’t normally eat seeds, but bluebirds may eat suet. You can help them out with berries and fruit or expensive dried mealworms if you like.

Deer are wreaking havoc on many evergreen shrubs now. They may also prune your roses and some other plants. Don’t feel sorry for them and feed them. This makes your problem worse and things like corn aren’t good for deer digestive systems. Don’t get them used to being up close around your home and then cry about your flowers in the spring. You may need to bring bird feeders inside at night because they will empty them if they can reach them.

I guess deer pests are better than hippos. I was reading a news story about how hippos have become a problem in Columbia, after a drug dealers private zoo was emptied. They have multiplied and are destroying crops, rare native plants and threatening people. In Africa where they are native, hippos are considered to be the most dangerous large animal and they kill many people each year. I’m glad it’s too cold for hippos here, one advantage of winter.


Two resolutions for every gardener

There are two pieces of information every gardener should know and if you don’t know these things, make a resolution today to learn them. Those things are your growing zone and your average first and last frost dates, which gives you the length of your growing season. This information is critical for gardening.

You can find your growing zone by looking at the map below.


Knowing your growing zone will let you buy perennials, shrubs and trees that are hardy in your area. Almost all catalogs and plant tags list this growing zone information.

Knowing the length of your growing season- first and last frost dates- helps you chose varieties that will mature before frost in your area. It also helps you know when to plant frost tender plants in the spring. When you are starting seeds inside the package will tell you how many weeks to plant them before the last spring frost. These dates can only be averaged, because weather conditions at the time will pay a big role in whether you get a frost or freeze.

Finding the first and last frost dates is a little more complicated. I suggest contacting your nearest Extension office, almost all counties have an Extension office which is affiliated with a land grant college. An older experienced gardener may be able to tell you.  There’s a link to the average last spring frost below. It will get you started.


Another way to find the information is to search online using “when is my first and last frost date” plus your zip code. Keeping a close eye on the weather forecast near the average dates is recommended.

Gardening you can do in January

Check your outside trees and shrubs and protect them from deer, vole and rabbit damage if you haven’t already done so.  A barrier around the plant of small wire mesh, 3 feet high is recommended for the trunk.  If deer eat the tops of evergreens surround them with a barrier of deer netting.  If you can’t get poles in the ground you can drape it over plants.

Fruit trees and grapes can be pruned this month, if you are good working outside in cold weather.

Cut up live, discarded, Christmas trees.  Use the branches to cover perennials or chop them into smaller pieces and compost. If you have a large pond with fish throw the trees in or on the ice. They make good spawning spots for fish.

Keep the bird feeders full.

Build new planters, birdhouses and other garden crafts. Paint old garden accessories new colors.

Check the houseplants for signs of insects or disease. Trim off dead leaves and dust leaves if needed.  Rotate plants next to windows to keep them growing straight. Start cuttings or root leaves from houseplants like jades, aloes, Christmas cacti, African violets, Rex begonias, spider plant, pothos and other vining plants.

Start tuberous begonia bulbs inside in a warm place. They need plenty of time to mature and start blooming before the last frost in spring.

Check summer bulbs and tubers in storage. If any are soft and molded, discard them. If they look shriveled add a little moisture to the material you are storing them in.

Seed starting can be done for some types of plants in some growing zones. More on that below.


When to start seeds

There has been an unusually early number of questions relating to what seeds can be started now. Everybody needs to relax and slow down a bit. Planting seeds too early is a waste of time and money.  And in most of the country it’s too early to start all but a few types of seeds.

If you do start seeds now you need a grow light. In the northern areas even a heated greenhouse will need supplemental lighting to start seeds now. Northern days are just too short and the sun too weak to grow seedlings well.  Windowsills definitely will not work.

Seeds to be started in January and February in zones 5 -7 include begonias of all types that can be grown from seed, impatiens, coleus, geraniums, petunias, and lisianthus. Start pansy and viola seeds early because they can be planted outside quite early, before the last frost. Some perennial plants might be started early if the seeds have had the proper chilling requirements met. But even with perennials it’s better to wait a bit longer. If you are in zone 4 and lower, late February is probably best to start the above species.

If you have seeds from indoor type plants they can be started.  Also, tuberous begonia bulbs, calla lily, banana and elephant ear bulbs can be started in pots early.

Most other species of plants should not be started in zones 5-7 until March or later. The seedlings will get lanky and require a lot of room to grow well if started too early. There is a great opportunity for diseases, insect pests and poor conditions to destroy the plants before it’s time to plant outside.

If you are in zones 8 and 9 some vegetable plants might be started inside now, and some annual flowers. Check catalog descriptions or seed packet instructions to find out how many weeks before your average last frost you should start seeds.

Growing weed

One plant you can start from seed now- if it’s legal in your state- is marijuana. If you are itching to grow something from seed start some pot. If you don’t enjoy smoking it the plants are very attractive to pollinators and a nicely grown plant is an interesting ornamental.

It can be tricky to find the seeds and I am not going to list any sources because in some states this is illegal. But if you search for the seeds online, you’ll find an abundance of places selling them. The seed is expensive, maybe a friend who grows has some seed they can share.

You don’t have to get an elaborate grow system and use all kinds of chemical concoctions to grow marihuana, although it can become an elaborate and expensive hobby. I grew it in regular potting soil using rose fertilizer and I ended up with huge, nice plants. I just used growlights that I raised as the plants grew- and believe me, they grow fast. It’s not called weed for nothing.  My plants went outside after the last frost.


Young pot plant under grow light

Buying seeds- don’t worry about GMO

Every year as people start ordering seeds for spring someone asks- “where can I find non-GMO seeds for my garden?”  The good news is that you can find non-GMO seeds everywhere. Home gardeners rarely have to worry about genetically modified seeds (GMO), because almost every seed offered to gardeners is not genetically modified.  GMO varieties of seed are almost always crop seeds: seeds of field corn, soybeans and so on. There are just two types of common garden crops that have GMO varieties, sweet corn and squash, but you will rarely, if ever, find them in the retail market. And if you did find them, they would be labeled as GMO.

Seed companies that advertise in bold letters- NON GMO SEEDS!- are just playing on public fears and ignorance.  And it’s ridiculous that almost all companies are now doing this because their competitor’s seeds are not GMO either. Seeing “non-GMO seeds” in a garden catalog means absolutely nothing. One catalog that shall remain nameless boasts “ non GMO seeds since 1876” .  What a crock.  Don’t choose a catalog to buy from because it say’s non – GMO.

If you want organically grown seeds, that’s a different matter. Organic seeds are seeds harvested from plants that were not treated with pesticides.  There are many places that carry some organic varieties of seeds. The only reason to buy organic seeds is to support people who grow organically. Your own health will not be affected in any way regardless if you buy organic or non-organic seed.

Neonicotinoid treated seeds

The only problem with “non-organic seeds” is if the seeds themselves were treated with one of the neonicotinoid pesticides.  Many types of seeds are treated with these products to prevent insect damage in storage. Since the seeds take up these pesticides the neonicotinoids also protect the seedlings as they begin to grow. 

As the plants get older, if no neonicotinoid pesticides have been applied since the seed treatment, the amount of the pesticide in plant tissues continues to decline. However, studies have shown that a small amount of pesticides can remain in plant parts, including pollen and nectar for at least a year.

Neonicotinoid pesticides are very safe for humans, other mammals and birds and that is why their use is so popular. The problem is that along with harmful insects, neonicotinoids can kill or weaken pollinators and other helpful insects.  There is ongoing research on this subject, but it seems that seed treatments or treating seedlings with neonicotinoids can affect pollinators when those plants bloom, weeks or months later.

Plants grown from seed treated with neonicotinoids will not harm you, only pollinators and other insects. If you are going to plant things that you consume before they bloom, such as lettuce, carrots, beets, broccoli and so on, then the infinitesimal amount of pesticide left from a seed treatment should not be any problem. If you used organic growing practices your food is very, very close to organic, although legally you may not be able to label it as such.

Plants like trees or shrubs that will take several years to bloom from seed will not have any pesticide residue left to harm bees. Whether you choose to grow neonicotinoid treated seeds for plants like beans, sunflowers, squash and flowering plants attractive to bees that bloom the first year, is a personal choice. At this time research suggests there may be some damage to pollinators with some species of plants whose seeds were treated.

If you follow organic garden methods your garden produce will be virtually indistinguishable from those who used organic seeds even if you start with seeds that weren’t grown organically. If organic seed is more expensive than non-organic, I don’t buy it.

Other seed terms

Open pollinated seeds (OP)-are seeds that are not hybrid and are offered by many seed companies.  Open pollinated seeds are generally older varieties or heirlooms. The only real advantage to open pollinated seeds is that if you isolated that variety from other varieties of the same species, you can save seeds to grow for next year. And with those seeds you will get a new crop very similar to the parent plants. 

If you don’t isolate your plants such as tomatoes and peppers by variety, the seeds you save from this year’s crop are likely to be hybrids- insects and the wind distribute pollen between varieties. The resulting plants grown from those seeds will be all over the scale as far as vigor and taste.

Seeds that are hybrids are not genetically modified in the accepted definition of the word; it’s just means that two different varieties of a plant were crossed through sexual reproduction, (getting pollen from one plant to the stigma (female part) of another plant).  The varieties that are crossed to produce the hybrid are known to reliably produce seeds that will grow into a certain type of plant.  But if you save seed from hybrid plants and grow them the offspring will have all sorts of variations, some good, some bad. 

Hybrid seed that is deliberately produced is usually more vigorous and disease resistant than open pollinated seed. You’ll usually see such seed marked as F1 or with the word hybrid in the name. Hybrid seed can produce vegetables and flowers every bit as healthy, tasty, and safe as non-hybrid seed.  And seed can be both organically grown and hybrid.

Most seed comes from the same place

It may surprise gardeners buying seeds to learn that many seed companies offering seed in small packets are all buying from the same seed growers or wholesalers. A few companies do grow some or all of the seeds they offer, but a great many companies just buy bulk seed and simply repackage it.  The seed grower sells seed to wholesale seed companies, they in turn sell seeds to smaller wholesalers or retailers, who package the seeds in paper or foil packets for the home gardener.

If you read a seed catalog carefully and pay attention to the small print you may be told what seed growers the company contracts with, or what wholesaler they buy from and who they are affiliated with or are owned by.  If you ever thought certain catalogs looked a lot alike and offered similar things check their mailing addresses. Some come from the same company under different names. These different catalogs from the same company may have different prices for the same item too.

Shop around. When buying garden seeds make sure to compare the size of the packet and the cost of shipping to see where you get the best deal. The same seed variety can vary widely in price from one company to another.


For lots of information about seeds and starting seeds click on the page below.




A surprising way plants can obtain new genetic material

An interesting research paper was just released that might explain how new species of plants form and how plants can adapt to changing conditions.  Researchers have found that genetic material in the nucleus of a plant can be passed from cell to cell.  And if two plants have a graft union that genetic information can then pass from plant.

In nature plants sometimes graft together at their root systems and parasitic plants such as mistletoe also tap into the host plants at a cellular level. Scientists have shown that genetic material can pass from plant to plant at these natural grafts and also at human made grafts. It’s theoretically possible that genes from one plant that can survive drought for instance, can be passed to another plant by a parasitic plant like mistletoe, or by roots grafting together.

This raises some interesting questions.  Not all grafts between plants will survive, the closer genetically the plants are the better the chances for a graft to “take”.  Species within the same genus can often be grafted together but plants in different genus or families are unlikely to form a graft.

But if you can find a related species of a plant that has some desirable quality you would like another species to have, such as disease resistance or flower color, it’s possible that a graft of the two might let the plants exchange the genes to pass the desired quality along.

It’s going to take some more research, but we may have discovered a new natural way to genetically modify plants.   

Here’s a link for more reading:



“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” 

– Anne Bradstreet


Kim Willis

All parts of this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without permission.


And So On….


Find Michigan garden events/classes here:


(This is the Lapeer County Gardeners facebook page)


Newsletter/blog information


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 blog 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


Tuesday, January 5, 2021

January 5, 2021 trends and awards

Hi Gardeners

Hibiscus 'The Path'
It’s time for those New Year resolutions.  I hope yours contains the resolve to do more gardening unless you were overwhelmed last year, then maybe you should do less gardening.

My own garden resolutions are to downsize a bit. The vegetable garden is going to get smaller. I plan to rework the raised beds to make 2 taller beds from the four I have, so it’s easier for me to weed and care for them. I have decided not to grow corn this year. I love sweet corn from the garden, but it is a deer magnet, and it takes a lot of space.

But the downsize will take some work. Making raised beds is pretty easy, filling them is not. I am also considering redoing the garden space between the house and my husbands handicap ramp. It used to have more sun, but the oak tree has gotten larger and the area now is pretty shady. Lilies aren’t doing as well there, and I need to move what’s left of them.

Indoors I have been making some changes too. I moved most of the plants I had on the unheated porch inside this past week. We are having our roof replaced and I think I mentioned that the roofers broke a window on the porch. Its patched with plastic and cardboard but still lets cold air in.

Then they removed the soffit and fascia around the house and left for the holidays. On the porch that left cold air pouring in under the eaves and since there is no dropped ceiling there, right into the porch. I had to move pots of plants to where it was warmer. The problem is I probably won’t be able to move them back since they will have adjusted to warmer temps.

It’s amazing how one can shoehorn plants into tight spaces when needed. But it’s really, really crowded in my house right now. Plants are sitting on the laundry room floor and on top the microwave and freezer.

Even though it’s been cloudy and gray here almost everyday I have had a lot of plants in bloom inside. My hibiscus’s have been blooming like crazy.  I had 7 blooms on my braided trunk hibiscus one day this week and one hibiscus, named ‘The Path’ had a bloom the size of a dinner plate. I have gerbera daisies, geraniums, fuchsia, Christmas cacti, begonias, and streptocarpus in bloom too.

For me, houseplants that bloom are necessary in winter. My resolution next year though is to try and have fewer plants inside or to add some more windows. LOL-


Garden trends 2021

Food gardens soared in popularity during 2020 due to the pandemic and there’s every indication that food gardens will again be popular. Many new gardeners are ordering vegetable seeds and if you need seeds, I suggest you order early, as there were shortages last year. People were hoarding seeds, as if in the future seeds would not be available. That fear may have eased a bit. But if you are someone who likes the rare or unusual varieties it would be prudent to order early.

Food gardens in the front yard is an ongoing trend but before you decide to do this check with your local government to see if it’s allowed. Don’t put time and effort into a garden that you may have to remove before you harvest it. If you do it keep it neat and orderly and add some flowers for color.

Houseplants are once again a hot trend. Plants that are fuzzy, or have beautiful foliage patterns are in. Succulents are still a hot item but beware- there is a lot of fraud from sellers of succulents right now. Remember succulents include plants from a wide variety of plant species and they don’t all require the same care, nor are all of them easy to grow.

These houseplants are considered to be among the top 10 in 2021- Fishbone Cactus or Ric Rac cactus (Cryptocereus anthonyanus (syn. Selenicereus anthonyanus), Bunny Ear Cactus (Opuntia microdasys), Blue Star Fern (Phlebodium aureum), Mistletoe Cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera), Velvet Calathea  (Calathea rufibarba), String of Hearts (Ceropegia woodii), Happy Bean Plant (Peperomia ferreyrae), council tree, (Ficus altissima), monkey tail cactus (Hildewintera colademononis) and African Milk Tree (Euphorbia trigona


String of hearts- from Etsy 

Native plants are starting to wane in popularity a bit but are still quite popular. The native plant fad has always been marred by people not quite understanding what constitutes a native plant. All plants are native somewhere. Not all plants considered wildflowers are native to your area. And being native to North America doesn’t mean a plant can be considered a “native” species in your area.

Don’t feel guilty if all the plants in your garden are not native. Adding even some native plants helps and there are many non-native plants that are excellent for pollinators and wildlife.

Bundling (several different species for the same environment) of plant types and collections (various cultivars of one species or family) of various species of plants are very popular. Instead of having to find and choose plants with similar needs, growers are bundling up collections of plants for new plant aficionados to buy. Succulent collections are one of the most popular but technically might better be called bundles since they encompass a variety of species.  

Make sure to check and see if collections and bundles specify how many different species/cultivars are included. Check to see if plants purchased separately might actually be cheaper.

In mentioning collections and combos, I need to mention the new seed pellets which combine several colors or varieties in pellets that you sow in pots or beds. You can have a beautiful basket of color coordinated petunias or a patch of garden greens without buying a number of different seed packages. Many seed companies are offering a variety of these pellets now.

Colors also have trends. This year cheerful colors like yellow and sunny oranges accented with deep blues, seem to be trending both in plant color palettes and furnishings.

Vertical gardening and living walls are very popular. Vertical gardening can be done with food plants or flowers. Vertical gardening means growing plants up trellises or stakes or in a staggered system of gutter like, long containers and is a good plan when space is tight. Garden supply companies are now offering a wide range of supports and systems to make vertical gardening easier.

Living walls mean different things to different people. For some it’s a decorative collection of containers secured to a wall and filled with plants. These are eye catching but can be a bit tricky to keep watered and looking good.

Living wall at the San Diego Botanic garden admissions booth

For other people a living wall is more of a hedge, something that creates the garden “rooms” or offers privacy. This can be done with conventional hedge plants like arborvitaes, boxwood, or lilacs but people are becoming more inventive and training vines or espaliering fruit trees to make screens.

Outdoor living spaces were made popular by the pandemic. They are places with comfortable furnishings like hammocks and cushioned chaises. Firepits and patio heaters are warming those spaces. Outdoor kitchens are included in many designs.

Outdoor rooms make entertaining safer in pandemic times. And they can offer safe havens from crowded homes when someone just needs some time alone. Some people are even setting up home offices outside in the garden.

Two types of garden styles are trending. Belgian design style is described as simplicity with a touch of luxury. Everything looks neat and orderly but inviting. Colors are muted and containers and art pieces sleek and sophisticated looking. Plants with braided trunks, bonsai, and topiary plants are often included.

Belgian design style

Other people are turning to what is being called naturalistic design. For those who like native plants this is what many of you will prefer. Naturalistic gardens are a bit messy and disorganized, with plants being allowed to mix and mingle freely. There is an attempt to mimic a natural setting. Multiple colors and textures are mingled, and borders are soft and uneven. Furnishings and art pieces are rustic.

Naturalistic style

Technology is present everywhere so why not in gardens? All kinds of garden chores are being automated such as watering, determining soil moisture and pH, and identifying plants. There are complex hydroponic systems and timing systems for lights.

Many garden tools like pole pruners and edgers are now battery powered and the newer batteries last longer and do a better job than previous models. Battery powered tools are often quieter and cleaner.

And people are buying plant apps. There are garden planning apps, identification apps, and care, instruction and pruning apps.  (Personally, I haven’t seen a plant identification app that’s accurate more than half the time). A few app links are below.

GrowIt!   Homegrown  GKH Gardening Companion http://leafsnap.com/

http://www.iscapeapps.com/  Perennial Match app

http://gardenplanpro.com/  https://www.growitmobile.com/



Cameras are all over homes now and why should the garden be an exception? New wireless, waterproof cameras are being sold specifically to keep an eye on your garden, whether to detect pests or just to see how things are growing. Some can take time lapse photos to watch flowers unfold.

Weather stations, battery powered plant pollinators, automatic mowers by Husqvarna similar to Roomba vacuums, sensors that you stick in pots that send messages to your phone when the plant needs water, (the Plant Link sensor can be programmed with the species of plant so that it supposedly judges when to water by that species preferences for soil moisture)and smart sprinklers are some other garden tech items.

Automatic mower

A heavy-duty bag with a spigot that you put in a wheelbarrow or cart and fill with water is low tech that could make watering containers easier. Plastic floating “tiles” shaped like cobwebs that interlock and can be placed in ponds to keep out pests are another new low-tech item.

Containers have also been modernized with flexible grow bags becoming very popular. Air pots, pots which have tiny holes along the sides, are being offered now for those growing plants that tend to have circling roots. The side air holes help prevent that.


Ekkia water bag - Amazon

Plant of the year awards -2021

The plant of the year for the florist/ houseplant group is The red maranta prayer plant, Maranta leuconeura red.

Red prayer plant 
Arium Botanicals

The Perennial Plant Association has chosen - Calamintha nepeta ssp. Nepeta or Catmint as the plant of the year for 2021.

The National Garden Bureau choses plants from five categories and they have determined that it is the - Year of the Hibiscus, Year of the Garden Bean, Year of the Hyacinth, Year of the Monarda and Year of the Sunflower.

The International Herb Association has chosen Parsley -Petroselinum  crispum as the herb of the year.

All American Selections gets more complex each year but here are the Gold Medal picks Celosia Kelos® Candela Pink, Leucanthemum Sweet Daisy Birdy, Zinnia Profusion Red Yellow Bicolor, Echalion (shallot) Creme Brulee (BGS-270) F1, Pepper Pot-a-peno F1, and Squash Goldilocks F1.

Pot a peno pepper

The American Gardens Rose Selections™ (AGRS) testing program has announced its selections for 2021. The AGRS™ testing program recognizes roses that are easy to care for, disease-resistant and suitable for different regions of the country. In addition, awards are given for fragrance to help guide consumers who desire roses for their fragrance.

The 2021 AGRS™ winners are:

• Brick House™ - Regional Choice Award Winner in the Northwest, Northeast, and South Central Regions. Bred by Meilland®. Introduced by Star Roses & Plants.

• Brindabella Purple Prince™ - Regional Choice Award Winner in the Northeast, South Central, and Southwest Regions. Bred by Sylivia E. and John C. Gray. Introduced by Suntory Flowers in partnership with Dig Plant Company.

• Easy to Please™ - Regional Choice Award Winner in the Northeast, Northwest, South Central, and Southeast Regions. Bred by Christian B├ędard. Introduced by Weeks Roses.

Easy to Please - Weeks Roses

• Sweet Spirit™ – Regional Choice Award Winner in all regions and Fragrance Award Winner. Bred by Meilland®. Introduced by Star Roses & Plants.

• Top Gun™ - Regional Choice Award Winner in the North Central, Southeast, and Southwest Regions. Bred by Tom Carruth. Introduced by Weeks Roses.

Top Gun- Weeks Roses
rosette disease resistant

• Tropica - Regional Choice Award Winner in the Northwest, North Central, Southwest, and South Central Regions. Bred by Ping Lim. Introduced by True Bloom™ Roses.

The Proven Winners National Plant of the Year program highlights a hydrangea of the year, a rose of the year,  flowering shrub of the year and landscape shrub of the year, in addition to its perennial and annual Plants of the Year. 

These are Hydrangea of the Year: Tuff Stuff Ah-Ha® Hydrangea serrata, Rose of the Year: Oso Easy Italian Ice® Rosa, Flowering Shrub of the Year: Pugster Blue® Buddleia and The 2021 Landscape Shrub of the year is Kodiak® Orange Diervilla.


Kodiak Orange Diervilla

January Almanac

January’s full moon, which happens on the 28th is called the Wolf Moon or Old Moon. It’s late because the last full moon was December 29th. Moon perigee is the 9th. Moon apogee is the 21st. 

The perigee is when the moon is closest to earth in a monthly orbit cycle.  There is a slight increase in the moons gravitational pull at this time.  Apogee is the farthest point the moon is in its orbit from the earth.  Research has proven that there can be slight influences on earth’s weather near these moon events.  When either a new moon or a full moon occurs near perigee the chances for seismic activity, (earthquakes or volcano eruptions), increase.  Eclipses or other planetary alignments occurring near this time increase the chances of earthquakes and volcanoes even more. The full moon also looks slightly larger when it occurs close to perigee. 

The January birth flower is the carnation. In the language of flowers, the carnation is supposed to portray love, fascination and distinction. If you send a striped carnation to someone it means your regret that the love isn’t shared. A white carnation means pure love, a red carnation “carnal” love.  A pink carnation means friendship and a yellow one means rejection. An alternative birth flower is the snowdrop.  It has a lot less colors to worry about. The birthstone is the garnet.

January is National Blood Donor month, National Hot Tea month, National Oatmeal Month, and National Soup Month to name a few.  The 10th is Houseplant Appreciation day, the 13th is International Skeptics day, the 15th is National Hat day, as well as Penguin Awareness day and National Buttercrunch Day, the 18th is Winnie the Pooh Day, the 19th is National Popcorn day, the 21st is Martin Luther King Day, the 22nd is National Blond Brownie day and the 23rd is National Pie day. Chinese New Year is the 25th. The 27th is National Chocolate Cake Day and the 28th is Fun at Work Day. The 31st is Backward day and Inspire Your Heart with Art day. 


 "January brings the snow,
Makes our feet and fingers glow."
―Sara Coleridge


Kim Willis

All parts of this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without permission.


And So On….


Find Michigan garden events/classes here:


(This is the Lapeer County Gardeners facebook page)


Newsletter/blog information


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 blog 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


Tuesday, December 22, 2020

December 22, 2020 message for the new year

 Hi gardeners

We have survived the year; the ones who read this. The natural year has ended and today is the first day of the new year. The calendar year lags of course, man always feels compelled to tame nature in some way, to order it to his thinking. But that is inconsequential in the web of life.

And what a year it has been for gardeners and non-gardeners alike. Maybe some of you had more time for gardening this year, certainly some of you did not have time for gardening. And for those of you who gave up your precious gardening time to heal and care for us, I deeply thank you.

Gardeners experienced scarcity this year, seeds hoarded away, garden stores closed, contact with gardening friends curtailed. But they persevered, as gardeners do. Some had their first garden this year. I hope your experience left you wanting more and ready to tackle a new garden season.

Gardeners are people who hope. To plant a seed or tender plant and trust that it will grow and feed us or give us beauty to contemplate, takes hope. Hope and trust, faith in natures cycles. That the sun rises and sets, and rains come, and things are born and then die.

We lost gardeners this year too, as in every year. But this year the ravages of a disease we can’t control took so many. Many gardeners had their last garden, something they neither planned or expected, and won’t see the gardens bloom in spring. The gardens they tended may languish, the tidying hand stilled, the planter of seeds gone. We mourn. But we hope so we go about preparing for another spring.

It is a new year, a new start. Mourn for what was but prepare for what will come. Plan the garden, hone the tools, buy the seeds. Let the sun climbing in the sky pull your spirit up with it. Persist.

May you have a wonderful new year. My best wishes for the best garden you ever had in the coming year.




New garden blogs will be posted beginning in January 2021. I’ll see you then.



“Now is the time of fresh starts
This is the season that makes everything new.
There is a longstanding rumor that Spring is the time
of renewal, but that's only if you ignore the depressing
clutter and din of the season. All that flowering
and budding and birthing--- the messy youthfulness
of Spring actually verges on squalor. Spring is too busy,
too full of itself, too much like a 20-year-old to be the best time for reflection, re-grouping, and starting fresh.
For that you need December. You need to have lived
through the mindless biological imperatives of your life (to bud, and flower, and show off) before you can see that a landscape of new fallen snow is THE REAL YOU.
December has the clarity, the simplicity, and the silence you need for the best FRESH START of your life.”

― Vivian Swift, When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler's Journal of Staying Put


Kim Willis

All parts of this blog are copyrighted and may not be used without permission.



Find Michigan garden events/classes here:


(This is the Lapeer County Gardeners facebook page)


Newsletter/blog information


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 blog 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.

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.  Contact me at KimWillis151@gmail.com