The light is softening, the mornings are dewy, and the flush of golden and purple flowers portend the end of a season. When the black-eyed Susan’s and goldenrod meet the purple phlox and New England asters you know summer is racing toward its end. There are still flowers to come, the mums, toad lilies and anemones but one can sense the end is near.
If you look carefully the color is starting to tinge the maples and sumac. The ditches are sporting fluffy plumes of phragmites and in the meadows the grasses are mellowing to golden, purple and red. Grapes and apples hang low on the vine and tree. Seed pods swell and the sunflowers hang their heavy heads. Crickets call loudly at night, hoping for love before the grand finale. Even though the fall equinox is a month away, the land knows it approaches.
Late summer is a lazy time for many gardeners. You can take a brief break from weeding and mowing chores before fall rains get the grass and weeds growing again. There may be harvesting to do, but by now many gardeners have wearied of plucking tomatoes and beans. Take a moment to sit in the sun while it still warms you. Close your eyes and listen to the birds and frogs before their voices are gone.
Take a little pause, a brief bit of time before the rush is here, back to school, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and let yourself enjoy nature and the serenity of your garden. You deserve it.
Examine your mature garden and get its measure. Start dreaming about changes you’ll make for next year based on the lessons you learned this season. Buy those bulbs for fall planting, decide where the houseplants will go when you move them inside, and what projects you’ll tackle when the weather cools.
Gardens are wonderful. But they are meant to be enjoyed by the gardener as well as tended. There’s not much time left, so get out there and enjoy.
Ragweed, goldenrod and your allergies
Goldenrod is beginning to bloom. Before you start sneezing and laying blame on it, please understand goldenrod does not cause your seasonal allergies. In late summer and fall, before a hard freeze, the primary culprit for seasonal allergies is ragweed, stinging nettles and amaranths. Goldenrod, a beautiful showy flower is not the cause of allergies.
Goldenrod pollen is heavy and doesn’t travel well on the wind. Goldenrod is very beneficial for pollinators and it’s a pretty plant so leave it alone please. But if you have allergies don’t cut goldenrod and bring it inside. Inside, in warm and dry conditions, the pollen dries out and may drift just enough to cause you problems.
There are several types of Goldenrod that can be found in the northeast but the two most common are Gray Goldenrod, Solidago nemoralis, and Tall Goldenrod, Solidago altissima. Both have the sprays of tiny gold flowers for which the plant is named. Gray Goldenrod is shorter, the flower sprays are not as wide and arched as Tall Goldenrod and each long narrow leaf has two short leaves by it where it attaches to the stem. Tall Goldenrod can grow to 5 feet high in good conditions and the flower spikes tend to from a pyramidal shape at the top of the plant. Both plants have rough, stiff stems and the leaves and stems are slightly hairy.
The sprays of gold are formed by hundreds of tiny yellow, daisy-like flowers which each have a nectar tube. This nectar is an important food for butterflies fueling up to fly south and bees preparing for winter as is the abundant, heavy pollen. Goldenrod begins blooming in late summer and blooms until a heavy frost. Goldenrod will grow almost anywhere, in sun and light shade, in moist or dry locations. It’s a common roadside and field wildflower.
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. Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) has a Latin name many associate with something delightful, but this almost unnoticed plant is anything but delightful to millions of hay fever suffers.
Ragweed was once confined to the east coast but has spread throughout the
. Ragweed is an annual plant which begins
growing from over-wintered seeds as soon as the soil warms above 50
degrees. Young Ragweed leaves have more
rounded points to their divided leaves and may be spotted with purple. They are hairy on the leaf surface. United States
As ragweed grows, the leaves become more sharply divided. Many people mistake the Ragweed plants for marigolds or tomatoes as the fern-like leaves are similar. In cooler fall weather the leaves may take on a reddish or purplish tint at the edges. Ragweed plants can get quite large, up to 5 feet high and branching many times.
In late summer, about the time goldenrod blooms, ragweed also blooms. The small greenish flowers are clustered in long wands at the ends of branches and don’t draw much notice. The pollen that they release into the wind and which can float for miles, does make many notice though. If you look at it under a microscope you could see the hooks and barbs each pollen piece carries, which can wreak havoc on human nasal and respiratory passages.
Ragweed will grow in almost any soil, although it prefers heavy, moist soil. It likes full sun but will tolerate some shade. It is found in crops and gardens as a weed, on roadsides and in un-mowed fields. The seeds of Ragweed can survive for more than 80 years in soil, waiting for the right time to germinate, so the plant is hard to eliminate.
Giant ragweed, (Ambrosia trifida), a relative of common ragweed, has 3 lobed (sometimes 5) palmate (hand like) leaves that remind some people of marihuana, hence the common name wild hemp. The margins of the leaflets are toothed, but not as obviously as those of true marihuana, and the leaflets much broader. And giant ragweed leaves do not have any of the pleasant qualities of marihuana. The leaves are arranged opposite each other on the woody stem. Both stems and leaves are covered with fine hairs. The leaf stem is winged near the main stem. Some plants may have several large branches. Plants have a short taproot and a large fibrous root mat.
The flowers of giant ragweed are greenish white and inconspicuous although the pollen they produce and release into the wind can cause much distress to hay fever sufferers. Male flowers are produced on spikes at the top of the plant, so the pollen is better distributed into the wind. Female flowers are below them in short clusters in leaf axils. Each female flower makes a single seed.
The woody stems and seed pods of giant ragweed will persist well into winter. Plants will grow in sun or partial shade and prefer fertile, moist soil although they can pop up in many places. They grow from seed. It is a native plant and found throughout much of the US and Canada.
Stinging nettle pollen is also allergenic and it’s shedding pollen now too. I know a lot of herbalists rave over stinging nettles and there’s much folklore involving cures but if you keep some around at least keep the flowers trimmed off so there won’t be pollen or seeds.
Stinging nettles is a tall (3-7 feet) sturdy perennial plant. The leaves are dark green, 1-6 inches long and heavily toothed on the edges. Leaves are arranged oppositely on the tough, squared stem. The plants usually aren’t branched.
|Stinging nettles in flower|
The surface of the leaves and stems are covered with hairs, some of which are larger and contain the poison that causes such misery. These hairs, called trichomes, are hollow, with a bulbous base that contains acetylcholine, histamine, 5-HT (serotonin), moroidin, leukotrienes, and possibly formic acid. They act like a needle to inject the poison as a defense. These hairs are meant to protect the plant from animals eating them and they do a good job. They also break off in human skin causing welts, stinging and itching. When the plants are dried or cooked the poison disappears.
Stinging nettle flowers come in male and female versions on the same plant. They are small clusters of greenish white and appear in the leaf axils throughout the summer. The female flowers produce tiny egg-shaped seeds of tan to brown.
Amaranths, pigweed and others
Pigweeds, of which there are several types, began flowering in late June and bloom on and off until a hard frost. They can cause allergy symptoms when pollinating. Pigweeds belong to the amaranth family. This diverse family has some edible seeded varieties and some ornamental varieties such as Love Lies Bleeding, which allergy prone gardeners may want to avoid. Lambsquarters, Chenopodium album, another common weed that blooms in late summer and fall can also cause allergy symptoms
|Love lies bleeding|
Other than ornamental grasses and amaranths, most garden plants in the late summer garden do not cause any serious nasal allergy threat. However, when some flowers are cut and brought indoors, the pollen dries out and has a greater tendency to cause nasal allergies, especially if allergy sensitive people are close to the cut flowers. Lilies, members of the daisy family and as mentioned, goldenrod are frequent culprits here.
After a hard frost most pollen shedding will stop. However, another nasal allergen trigger may cause problems. Mold often causes allergies and moldy tree leaves can trigger nasal allergies. Plants that have heavy infestations of white fly, aphids or scale insects often develop sooty mold. Sooty mold grows on sweet secretions or excrement from insects eating plant sap. Houseplants often have these pests and then can indirectly cause nasal allergies.
If your allergies peak in late summer, don’t blame goldenrod. Instead look for the sneaky weeds that are the real culprits.
Be safe while foraging and using herbs
It’s the season for gathering wild plants and experimenting with garden plants to make salads, teas and medicinal products. Some people equate “natural”, herbal or “homegrown” with safe to use, and that isn’t necessarily so, as any poison control hotline can tell you. Every year we have serious illness and even deaths attributed to people who are gathering foods from the wild or mixing up herbal medicines from the garden. Experimenting with wild foods and herbal medicines and teas can be fine- if you keep some basic things in mind.
Positive identification. There are many extremely dangerous plants that look remarkably like harmless and helpful plants. Queen Anne’s lace looks like hemlock for example. If you don’t absolutely know what the plant is that you are considering consuming, don’t eat it or put it on your body. Use good reference books or take classes with experienced people until you are sure you can identify plants you want to use. Even using some plants on the skin can cause problems as some harmful plant compounds can be absorbed through the skin. This is more of a problem with wild gathered plants, but even garden plants can be misidentified.
Tasting a plant is never a good way to identify it. Classifying plants by how they taste, bitter, sweet and so on, is inaccurate and unsafe. And because animals and birds consume a plant doesn’t mean it’s safe for humans, or even your pets. Different animals and birds can tolerate different plant products.
It is extremely important to use care and properly identify mushrooms before using/ eating them. Mushrooms can be very tricky to identify. Make sure an expert helps you with identification. Some mushrooms can kill quickly with a few bites. Others don’t seem to produce symptoms for days, until they begin to destroy your liver and kidneys. Be absolutely certain of your identification when it comes to mushrooms and make sure you keep children and pets from consuming any mushrooms they find. Even some so-called experts have died from eating mushrooms they thought were safe.
Use the correct part of the plant and know how to prepare it. In some plants the fruit may be harmless but the leaves or roots deadly and vice versa. For example, ripe elderberry fruit is edible when cooked but other parts of the plant can cause serious illness. Tomato fruit is excellent eating, but other parts of the plant will make you very sick.
You can eat the shoots of pokeberry plants if you boil them in water, discard the water and cook them a second time (usually fried). But if you eat the shoots raw or eat the berries of the plant you will get very sick and possibly die. DO NOT EAT POKEWEED BERRIES! Despite what some ill-informed people will tell you online, pokeweed berries are poisonous even if cooked and have even caused deaths.
Before you consume any new plants make sure you know what parts are considered safe to eat and how those parts should be prepared. Start slowly with any new plant you consume because you could have an allergy to it.
Realize that overdosing and side effects can occur with medical plants. The medicinal compounds in wild or garden gathered plants can vary greatly depending on where the plant is growing, what soil nutrients are available, what the weather has been like and many other factors. A dose that was safe from one patch of gathered plants may not safe from another because certain chemicals in the plant may have been enhanced by environmental conditions. The way that you prepare a medicinal plant may also concentrate its effects.
An overdose of some herbal medications can cause death or serious health problems and some safe doses may be as small as a drop or two. All herbs and wild medicinal plants can have side effects also, some serious or deadly. The most common side effects are digestive, vomiting and diarrhea, but even those can be most unpleasant. Without a laboratory analysis it’s impossible to determine the strength of herbal preparations. That’s why caution, careful measuring of doses and lots of study and mentoring by experienced herbal practitioners are important.
If you use prescription or over the counter medications, you should consult with a doctor or pharmacist before using wild plant or herbal remedies. That includes herbal teas used for pleasure or common problems like indigestion. Most medical professionals today have some knowledge of what drug interactions can occur with herbal medications and conventional medications and can advise you.
You don’t want to find out that your birth control medication failed because you consumed certain herbs, or you have heart failure or kidney damage because of some interaction. If one doctor or pharmacist seems to dismiss all herbs as harmful or useless you can always consult a more up to date one. There is good information online as to what herbs interact with what medications but start with a medical professional.
Start with small amounts and monitor your reactions. Any herbal medication or edible plant can cause an allergic reaction and some allergic reactions can be deadly. If you have many other allergies it’s especially important to play it safe with new plant foods or herbs. For example, people who have “hay fever” or ragweed allergy often have an allergic reaction to chamomile.
Use one herb or new food at a time so you can properly judge your body’s reaction to it. Using a mixture of herbs will make it hard to decide what caused the reaction. You may want to apply the herb/plant to your skin before consuming it as many plants will cause an allergic reaction this way as well as when you consume them. If you have redness, rash or hives where you apply the plant product, don’t consume it.
Wait for at least 2 hours after consuming a small amount of a new herb/plant before consuming more. Most allergic reactions will have occurred by then. Shortness of breath, throat swelling, heart racing, red eyes, itching, vomiting, diarrhea, hives or rash can be allergic symptoms. If you have any allergic symptoms, even minor ones such as a rash, never consume a second dose as the second reaction could be much worse. Get medical attention if you have trouble breathing or other serious symptoms.
Plants with inulin, like Jerusalem artichokes, can make some people awfully uncomfortable with gas buildup especially if they are first time consumers. While not deadly, some people’s digestive systems simply can’t handle inulin well. There are other plants with similar effects so go slow when trying new things.
Now that it’s legal in many states, let’s talk about marihuana, one of the greatest herbal plants ever discovered. The marihuana produced today is nothing like the pot people used in the 70’s. If you are new to marihuana use or haven’t used it in 30-40 years let an expert guide you. Some strains are stronger than others and have different effects on the body. Marihuana won’t kill you if you overdose but the experience might be unpleasant. New users should start with small amounts, including edible things like gummy bears to see how it affects you.
Stick with modern medicine for some problems. If you get a deep puncture wound no herbal preparation can prevent tetanus. Get a tetanus shot if you haven’t had one recently. If you are having a heart attack or stroke don’t reach for the medicinal tea, go to a hospital. While some herbal medications may be helpful for serious problems like diabetes and high blood pressure you should also consult with a doctor and consider modern medicines.
While many plants are being studied to cure cancer, there are no herbal remedies known to be totally effective yet. You may want to use both spectrums of care, herbal and conventional, with the advice of your doctor. Never stop taking conventional medications for serious problems without consulting with your doctor and careful monitoring of your condition on any new herbal remedy.
If you use a little caution and common sense and do your research you can benefit from natural remedies and enjoy nutritious, tasty treats from the wild, but just because something grows wild or in your garden doesn’t mean it’s safe or right for you. Never rely on just one source of information (including this one) - study, research and safely experiment until you find what’s right for you.
And don’t be the person that turns their back on all modern medications and treatments. People are living longer, healthier lives because of modern medicine, and sometime those medicines are even made from plants. While we constantly hear of drugs that are dangerous, or overused (like antibiotics), we shouldn’t assume that all modern drugs and medical treatments are bad or useless.
It bothers me that many people are turning away from science and going back to folklore for treating medical conditions. There is no doubt that herbal medicines are helpful in some cases. But people need to remember what the death rate was for common illnesses and conditions before we developed modern medicines. Yes, drug companies like to make a profit and costs certainly need to be contained, but all modern medicines weren’t developed simply to make money. They were developed because we needed medicines that actually worked.
Now is the time to examine houseplants and see if they need re-potting. While plants are outside it’s a good time to repot them and keep the mess outside. If your plants are still inside, you can take them outside to repot them without worrying they will get cold. Just work in the shade so they won’t get sunburn. It’s also a good thing to give plants several weeks to adjust to new soil and pots before their environment is changed, such as being moved inside.
Over time soilless potting mixes, we use in container plants tend to compact or break down. You may notice the plant has sunk down in the pot or roots are on the surface. Your plant may be straining at pot edges because it’s produced many new roots and shoots or has multiplied with new plantlets. Water may be running out the bottom immediately when you water because the plant is so root bound it doesn’t have soil left to absorb water. These are all signs re-potting is needed. And sometimes you may just want to put the plant in a more attractive container.
|Housplants on vacation|
Move plants up to a pot that’s only an inch or two wider and/or deeper. Pots that are too large for the plant often don’t get watered correctly. If you have limited space for huge plants don’t keep repotting them into larger pots. Instead consider pruning top growth and replenishing old soil with fresh every few years. This helps limit size.
You may want to divide some plants and start new pots, so get some extra pots ready. Some plants like jade plants will surely lose some branches in the re-potting process but they root easily so have some pots ready for the broken pieces. It’s not necessary to root all broken pieces, indeed some won’t root. Give away the pieces or toss them.
Make sure all containers have drainage holes. Use a good container potting medium and not garden soil or compost. Get the soil good and moist before you are ready to re-pot. Some potting mixes have fertilizer in them. If they do, you won’t need to fertilize the plants for a few months.
Slide those pot bound plants out of their pots and examine the root system. If the roots are wrapped around and around at the bottom of the pot trim those roots off straight across the bottom. Gently wash or shake off most of the old soil on the roots. Gently swish them in a bucket or use a gentle stream of water to wash roots. If you have a plant that has many crowns or off- shoots divide them after you can see the root system well (if you want to divide them.)
Put some fresh, moistened potting medium in the bottom of the pot. Now settle your plant in the pot. Notice where the old soil level was on the plant, you won’t want the new soil any higher than that. But you will want an inch or so of space below the pot rim, so you’ll have a place for water. Adjust the height of the plant by adding or removing soil on the bottom. Then fill in around the roots with new soil. Water well to settle the soil and add more if needed. Some plants may need stakes for a brief time until they develop new roots.
If the pot size seems right for the plant but the pot has lost soil and there are several inches of space from the soil level to the rim of the pot, you could try this. Lift the plant gently and add soil to the bottom of the pot. You do want about an inch of space from the soil level to the pot rim, to hold water.
Even if the houseplants don’t need re-potting it’s a good time to prune off dead branches or leaves, dust the leaves or give the plants a shower. Check them carefully for pests too, as warmer weather and new plant growth often brings a pest outbreak.
You can treat blooming plants with contact pesticides just before they are moved inside, and you won’t have to worry about bees being harmed by visiting the flowers once they are inside. Contact pesticides only last a few weeks on plants. Some active ingredients in contact pesticides are bifenthrin, cyfluthrin, azadirachtin, and spinosad. Insecticidal soap, not dish soap, is also a contact pesticide.
If the plant doesn’t bloom in the summer outside, and you are worried about insect pests being brought inside, you can treat the plant with a systemic pesticide for houseplants. These might last in the plant until next spring, which is why using them on plants that will bloom outside next year, like geraniums could be a problem. But blooming plants like Christmas cacti are not visited by pollinators as a general rule and could be treated systemically.
If you repot those houseplants now while you can do it outside you’ll save yourself a mess and make the plants happy too.
The best way to cook sweet corn
First you need to start with good, fresh sweet corn, preferably picked the same day. If you are buying it at the farmers market look for ears where the husks still look green and moist, not yellow and dry. There should be dry brown silks at the tip. Ears should feel plump and full. Lots of people peel back the husk a little to look at the kernels. Sellers don’t appreciate this but usually tolerate it. Kernels should look plump and not shriveled.
If it’s your garden corn you can do this test. Peel back the husk a little and poke your fingernail in a kernel. Corn ready to eat will have a white milky juice. Corn too green will have a clear fluid in the kernel. If you get no fluid, just a doughy look, it’s old and past eating prime. Don’t poke fingernails in farmers market corn unless you buy the ear.
If it’s more than a few hours between harvesting or buying the corn store it in the refrigerator wrapped in a damp paper towel. It’s best to eat sweet corn the same day you buy or harvest it. That’s why grocery store corn never tastes as good as fresh corn, it’s always a few days old.
Husk your corn right before you cook it. To help get the silks off you can rub the corn ear lightly with a damp paper towel. Rinse corn under cold clean running water. Trim off bad areas, unfilled tips, and break in half if needed.
Add a cup of water per ear of corn to a pot. Get your water boiling then add a stick of butter and a cup of milk, (for 6-8 ears) and then the corn. Cook for 6-8 minutes with a lid on the pot. The corn will come from the pot tasting buttery delicious. Just sprinkle with salt and you are good to eat. It’s much less messy than buttering it after it’s cooked.
Since we eat corn a lot when it’s in season, I think a stick of butter every time we cooked it is a bit expensive and wasteful. So, after I take the corn out, I save the water with the milk and butter in the refrigerator and use it to cook corn a second night- it is just as good. And then I give the liquid left to the barn cats who love it.
Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.
— May Sarton
And So On….
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(This is the Lapeer County Gardeners facebook page)
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I write this because I love to share with other gardeners some of the things I come across in my research each week. It keeps me engaged with people and horticulture. It’s a hobby, basically. I hope you enjoy it. If you are on my mailing list and at any time you don’t wish to receive these emails just let me know. If you know anyone who would like to receive a notification by email when a new blog is published have them send their email address to me. KimWillis151@gmail.com