It’s a wonderfully mild day here for late November, 65 degrees and partly sunny with a strong southern breeze. That will change soon of course, this time of year the weather changes dramatically from day to day and a cold front is predicted late tomorrow. For those of you in the eastern half of the country be aware that the national weather service long range forecast is predicting a polar vortex air flow in the first week of December although where it will be exactly and how strong it will be, is still unknown. But many of us could get some real winter weather soon.
There’s not much to say about the garden. Everything is pretty much gone. I have let the chickens have free roaming rights through the front gardens as there’s not much they can hurt now. I have the solar lights strung around the evergreens to deter the deer. I am removing the squishy pumpkin and gourd decorations from the deck to the compost pile. The grass is still green though.
Inside I still have a lot in bloom. Nothing makes a dreary winter day nicer than a window lit by bright sun lamps and full of flowering plants. You should try it.
I’m supposed to get my new computer today. I hope by next week it will all be set up and things will be running smoothly again.
What I’m learning -again- about healthy eating
I am learning a new way to eat again. A couple of years ago my husband and I decided that we would follow a low carb diet and it suited us fine, we both lost weight on it and I was doing well controlling my blood sugar on it. But during my recent hospitalization my blood was tested for almost everything and according to the hematologist I am deficient in B12, folate and iron. (I was already taking supplements for potassium and magnesium because those were low.) That surprised me because our low carb diet is heavy on protein from meat, which is a source of both B12 and iron.
But as the doctor explained, people over 60 often lose the ability to absorb some vitamins efficiently and my diabetes medicines also contributed to the loss of some vitamins. Our diet also included dark leafy greens and vegetables and fruits, sources of folate, but it obviously wasn’t enough.
It's always better to eat foods that supply all your nutrients instead of taking supplements if you can. I am supposed to eat less dark leafy greens and things like broccoli because they promote blood clotting. I found out that 2 eggs a day, if I was processing folate normally, would only account for about 15% of normal folate requirements. If I ate 6 ounces of liver everyday I might meet my folate requirements and maybe my iron requirements but that isn’t going to happen since I can’t stand liver.
So how are people like me supposed to get all their nutrients from their diet? In 1998 the US government recognized that many people were not getting enough folic acid and B12 in a normal diet, especially since the trend is away from eating lots of meat and eggs. And then there are people like me. The USDA required grain products, such as flour, cornmeal, bread, cereal, pasta and rice be fortified with these nutrients. Iron is also added to many fortified foods. In the US deficiencies of folate and B12 are now rare, unless you are like me and don’t eat carbs and have nutrient processing problems. (Labels don’t always mention folate and B12 levels but if the product uses enriched flour, cornmeal or rice, it’s there).
It’s much easier for me to add some fortified food products in carb form than to try and devise a low carb diet high in the nutrients I am deficient in. I’ll be back to eating carbs- I am still trying for whole grain products but they have to be fortified. And for a while at least I’ll be on supplements. People may knock the USDA and moan about what’s in our country’s food supply, but we still have one of the safest and best food supply systems in the world.
Should you start cuttings in water?
The answer to the question above is maybe. There are many plants, especially many tropical plants we use as houseplants, that can be easily rooted in water. But is this the best way to start new plants? If you intend to keep the new plant you start in water for most of it’s life and it’s a plant that will root in water go for it. There are many plants that can live in water indefinitely. Some people have collections of pretty bottles, each with a plant in them.
If, however, you want to move the new plant you are starting into a pot with potting medium eventually, you may want to re-consider starting it in water. When roots are growing in water they are more delicate, “crisper” and more easily broken or damaged than roots grown in soil. They haven’t had to push through soil to seek water and nutrients. Plants that prefer to have a symbiotic relationship with fungi in the soil won’t be able to develop that fungi collaboration growing in water.
Many plants root easily in water but then suffer and decline when moved to soil or potting medium. Many people try to add soil to the water cuttings are growing in gradually, thinking the plant roots will adjust to it. However this doesn’t do much good and may even set the plant back or kill it. A little soil in the water isn’t harmful, it’s when the soil added to the cutting container becomes like saturated, over watered pots in the house or garden that problems occur. The plant can’t use its water roots effectively to absorb oxygen anymore and the soil is too saturated for oxygen to be present in the pore spaces of the soil.
Some plants manage to persevere and as many gardeners will tell you, they overcome the difficulties of adjusting from growing in water to growing in soil. But if you intend for a plant to grow in a pot with potting medium or in the garden it’s better to start cuttings directly in potting medium of some type. And if you did start a cutting in water and want to transplant it to a pot don’t add soil gradually to the water, simply pot the rooted cutting in moist but not saturated soil and hope for the best.
Plants that root easily in water often root quickly in soil or potting medium also if cared for properly. It’s easier to just plunk those broken pieces of plant into water (and it’s a good way to keep cuttings alive until you have time to pot them), but rooting cuttings in potting medium is generally better for the plant.
Here’s how to optimize your success in rooting “soft” cuttings. First begin with plants that will grow from cuttings. There is probably a way to grow most plants from cuttings but some plants require extensive care and time to root from cuttings and they certainly won’t grow if a piece is plopped in water. Take hosta for example. They rarely start from cuttings, rather they are divided at the root system or started from tissue culture. Many plants with a “crown” (leaves growing from a central point near the ground), type of growth pattern, don’t grow well from cuttings. This incudes plants like daylilies, hosta, Chinese evergeen (Aglaonema), alocasia, amaryllis, anthriums, Cast iron plant (Aspidistra), ferns, prayer plant (Maranta tricolor) and palms.
Other plants with a single woody or semi-woody trunk might start from a cutting off that trunk but it would probably destroy the look of the plant. In houseplants I’m thinking of plants like dracaena and some ficus, such as rubber plants. If these plants get too lanky the top is often cut off and rooted, although that procedure is tricky.
Some woody and semi-woody garden plants and some woody houseplants can be started from branch cuttings or tip cuttings. This generally requires researching what time of year is best to take the cutting and what rooting procedures to follow. Roses and many landscape plants can be started from cuttings. For landscape type plants consult a reference or experienced nursery for rooting procedures.
The best plants to start from simple soft tissue cuttings include many plants with a vining habit, or those with multiple fleshy stems. Sedums and succulents usually start well from soft cuttings. Plants that produce pups, small plants at the base, (like aloe) or aerial plantlets (think spider plants) can be started easily from those plant parts. Some will even root in water.
Most plants need at least 2 nodes on a cutting to start a new plant. Nodes are points on a plant stem where there are cells that can start new plant parts. They are where leaves grow out of the stem and may be seen as scars or raised areas on a stem. You need one node to form the new plant’s roots and one to form the above ground parts, so each cutting must have at least 2 nodes. You can have more than 1 node above the potting medium and more than 1 in the medium but don’t make cuttings too large. Cuttings with 4-5 nodes usually root the fastest and easiest.
There are some plants that can form adventitious roots from plant parts other than nodes. That’s why rex begonias and African violets may be started from a single leaf and no nodes. I’ll discuss them another time.
Some plants root better if the cutting is kept orientated in the direction the plant was growing, that is the nodes closest to the bottom of the original plant should be inserted into the potting medium or water. To remind yourself which way is up cut the stem cutting on an angle for the bottom- or down, and straight across for the top or up. Do not cut into the node though, or damage it.
Trim cuttings so that there’s a little bit of stem left above the top node, as a kind of handle, and trim on an angle as close as possible to the bottom node without damaging the node. Remove all leaves that will be below the water or in the potting medium. If there are many large leaves on the part of the cutting that will be above ground, remove some of them or cut them in half. Remove all flowers or buds on a cutting. This makes it easier for new roots to support the plant. Here’s a tip- succulents root better if the bottom node dries out a bit and forms a callus. Let the cutting sit in a warm dry place for a day or two before planting it. Succulent cuttings will often still root a week or more after being removed from the plant.
Should you use rooting hormone on cuttings? Many plants don’t really need it but if you have a rare or unusual plant, or something that balks at rooting from a cutting, you may want to use it. You can buy it in many garden stores or on line. Cinnamon is not a rooting hormone, nor will it aid rooting success. Aspirin and other home concocted formulas are also useless. If you don’t use rooting hormone, don’t use anything else on cuttings.
When you have a cutting from a plant ready to go you can plop it in water or take the more professional way and place it in a potting medium. You can start numerous cuttings in one pot or use separate containers. They must have good drainage. For the best results use a well-draining potting medium, not garden soil or compost. Moisten the soil before filling the containers. Use something like a spoon handle or pencil to make a hole for the cutting, don’t push it into the soil. Try to handle the cutting by that top little handle so you don’t damage the nodes.
After inserting at least one node into the potting medium push the soil back around the cutting. Place the container in a plastic bag unless you are trying to root sedums or succulents. Place the container in good light, but not direct sunlight. If too much moisture builds up on the inside of the bag, open it and let it dry out a bit. Keep the potting medium moist but not soggy.
Not all cuttings will root and begin growing, no matter what you do. That’s the nature of the game. But as you gain experience you’ll have better success at getting plants to root. You won’t need to put them in water to grow healthy vigorous plants unless you want to keep them in water.
I have more Jade plants than I need, and that’s because this plant is incredibly easy to start from a cutting. Every time I move a larger plant the stems snap and I stick the piece in a pot of soil and soon I have another plant. Jade plants, (Crassula ovata), also called Dollar or Money Plants, are in the stonecrop family, which also has many hardy species. Jade plants, which are native to South Africa, are usually kept as houseplants, although in plant hardiness zones 10 and above they can be planted outside.
|Young jade plant|
Jade plants are readily available on the market and are one of the easier houseplants to grow. There are some closely related species of crassula that can also be purchased from greenhouses on occasion and these are cared for in a similar manner. Jade plants are long lived – they can live for at least fifty years in good conditions.
Jade plants are succulents with thick, shiny, rounded dark green leaves arranged opposite each other on thick stems which, with age, become woody looking. In many Jade plants the leaves are edged in red. In the variety ‘Hummels Sunset’ the leaves are orange and yellow with a touch of red. In the variety ‘Tricolor’ the leaves are marked with cream and pink.
In the home Jade plants can grow to 3’ tall and wide. In a greenhouse or heated sunroom they may grow even larger. There are some cultivars that don’t develop a strong main stem and tend to sprawl or weep.
In the right conditions Jade plants will bloom in late winter- early spring. The blooms are clusters of tiny, star shaped pinkish flowers with a darker center.
Jade plant care
As a succulent Jade plants need to be planted in a well-drained planting medium. Use a cactus mix or mix 1part clean sand with 2 parts of a good houseplant potting medium. All pots must have good drainage.
Jade plants tend to have shallow root systems and often become top heavy. The plant may need to be staked so that it doesn’t topple and pull itself out of the pot. Heavy clay pots may help anchor the Jade plant and keep the pot from tipping over. If the plant does topple over simply replace it in the pot and firm the soil back around the roots. You can also prune the Jade plant with pruning shears to help balance the plant.
The leaves and stems of Jade plants are brittle and break easily. They need to be placed in locations where they don’t get bumped or handled often. Also make sure the Jade plant is not in a draft or directly above heating or air conditioning vents.
Jade plants prefer full sun such as a south or west window indoors but do fairly well in bright indirect light. They can be moved outside after all danger of frost has passed but place them in the shade first and gradually move them into more sun. I have found that full sun is often too much for them outside and will result in scorched leaves. Morning or evening light or filtered sun is probably best. Turn the pot every time you water so the plant doesn’t lean toward the light.
Let the Jade plant dry out between watering, but don’t let the leaves shrivel. When you water, add water until it drains from the pot bottom. Be sure to empty saucers under the plants after watering. Over watered Jade plants will shrivel just like a dry Jade as the root system rots so make sure to feel the surface before watering. In the winter Jade plants will need less water. Outside in the summer make sure to check frequently so that the plants don’t get too dry.
To promote blooming fertilize with a houseplant fertilizer for blooming plants once a week in late winter through spring. Jade plants are more likely to bloom when they are in full sun conditions in warm, moderately humid rooms. Gently wipe the leaves of Jade plants from time to time to remove dust. Do not use leaf shine products or home shine concoctions on them.
Jade plants occasionally get mealy bugs, small white fluffy looking clusters at leaf joints, or scale- brown bumps on the leaves or stems. These can be wiped off with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol or you can use a systemic pesticide labeled for houseplants. Do not use insecticidal soap or dish soap concoctions on Jade plants as it will damage or kill the plants.
Propagating Jade plants
Jade plants are usually started from cuttings and the plant will look just like its parent. Jades are easy to start from cuttings and a single leaf can start a new plant. If leaves break off the plant or you need to prune it to keep it from toppling over, the removed pieces can be used to start new plants. Some jades will actually start growing clusters of tiny roots at some nodes along the stem while the stem is attached to the plant. This may happen at a bend in the stem or if a stem is touching soil. These pieces can be removed and will root easily.
If you don’t have a piece broken off the plant remove a side stem with two or more sets of leaves just below the second leaf section. Or remove a single leaf to start a new plant. A large stem section of the plant that has broken off may be divided into several cuttings. Jade plants are one of the few plants that will root pretty easily even if a large section with many nodes is used, so you don’t need to cut up the piece if you don’t want to.
If you are cutting up a larger stem keep the orientation the same as the parent plant by making the bottom cut (point closest to the main stem or soil level) on a slant just below a leaf node. (Nodes are where leaves attach to the stem.) Remove the leaves at the bottom node. This goes into the potting medium to form the roots. The top cut should go straight across the stem just above a leaf node. Let the cutting sit on a counter for 2 days to make a callus at the cut. This encourages rooting.
Use an appropriate sized pot for the cutting size filled with moistened cactus mixture or a vermiculite and potting soil mixture. Large, older stems you are attempting to root should have larger pots. Make a small indentation in the soil mix and either insert the base of a leaf or remove the lower set of leaves from your stem cutting and insert the stem in the potting medium to just below the old leaf site (node). Larger stems should have at least 2 nodes inserted into the potting mix. Firm the soil around the cutting. You may need to stake the cutting to keep it from falling out of the pot.
Do not enclose the cutting in plastic or glass. Let the soil dry slightly between watering. When you see new leaves on the Jade plant it means it has rooted. You can share the plant with a friend or fill another window spot.
A Jade plant is a beautiful, classy addition to the home or office yet it’s easy to care for. Like all houseplants it makes a room more inviting and calming. Every room needs a plant and a Jade plant is an excellent choice for sunny rooms.
Protecting trees for winter
Before another winter hits it’s time to check your trees and shrubs and protect them from winter winds and hungry animals. Here are some tips to help your woody ornamentals make it safely through winter.
First if you haven’t had much rain this fall in your area and the soil seems dry, it’s a good idea to deeply water trees and shrubs before the ground freezes. Trees and shrubs that go into winter dormancy with good reserves of water are more likely to survive the winter with minimal damage. Lay a hose near the tree and let it slowly run for a few hours. Or place large garbage bags or large buckets full of water with a few small holes near the bottom that allows water to seep out near them. After the ground freezes plants can no longer absorb water.
Broad leaved evergreen plants like rhododendrons especially suffer because the broad leaf surfaces still evaporate off moisture on sunny winter days. If we have a brief thaw in winter it’s helpful to pour a bucket of lukewarm water around the base of broadleaved evergreens, especially if the leaves have rolled up.
If broad leaved evergreen plants are exposed to wind they may winter burn. It helps to wrap a shield of burlap around these exposed trees and shrubs. The proper way is to put some stakes in the ground a few inches away from the branch ends and then wrap the burlap around the stakes. The burlap should extend a few inches above the top of the plant, but the top should be left open. Even young evergreens with needle-like leaves can benefit from a wind break if they are in an exposed area.
Don’t wrap trees and shrubs like a mummy and don’t use plastic around plants to shield them. It creates a greenhouse effect in the sun, warming the plant and causing condensation which quickly freezes when the sun goes down. Landscape fabric can be used in place of burlap.
Products are sold in garden shops to spray on trees and shrubs which slow the loss of water from leaves. They may need to be re-applied in mid-winter for best results.
Newly planted evergreens may not have re-grown enough of a root system to keep the tree from pulling out of the ground when strong winter winds blow. It’s a good idea to stake evergreens in exposed areas if they were planted this fall. Ideally the stakes should be installed when the tree is planted and should be on three sides of the tree. Where the wire touches the tree it should be covered in plastic, foam, or old pieces of garden hose slid over the wire. This is so wind moving the wire doesn’t cut the tree trunk. Tighten the wires enough that the tree doesn’t move much. Remove the stakes and wires in late spring.
In the winter animals like rabbits and voles often feed on the bark of thin barked young trees like apples and maples. If they chew the bark off around the whole stem the stem will die above the girdled area. This damage often goes unnoticed until spring when the owner notices the trees aren’t leafing out or that they leaf out and then quickly die.
To protect trees and shrubs from animals eating the bark in winter you need to enclose the trunks in a cage of small mesh wire. The wire should go right to the ground and extend 3 feet or more from the ground. Snow often allows rabbits to nibble high on the trees. Plastic spiral tree wrap doesn’t always stop hungry animals, use wire to be safe. Keep the wire a few inches away from the trunk.
If the snow gets deep it can be helpful to shovel a circle around prized woody plants even with wire mesh protection. Voles, a relative of field mice, often burrow under deep snow to nibble tree trunks. They dislike crossing a bare area where owls and hawks can pick them off. Lowering the snow around the tree, especially if it drifted against the tree, can keep rabbits from reaching over the top of your wire protection to damage the tree or shrub.
Deer can also be a problem when snow is deep and food is hard to find. They can reach quite high to nibble off the ends of branches and can mow some shrubs right to the ground. You’ll need higher fence to protect trees from deer or use electric fence. There are products that you can spray on trees that repel deer but they often aren’t effective in the deep of winter when deer are very hungry. To help protect trees from winter damage don’t feed the deer near your home and discourage them from hanging around your property.
Another problem that can occur on any tree with thin bark that has a side exposed to the southern or western winter sun is frost crack. On sunny days the trunk absorbs the suns heat and expands then cools quickly and contracts after sun-down. This causes the trunk to crack vertically, which in the spring can leak sap and may attract insects, which in turn can carry diseases. White spiral tree wrap can be used to reflect the sun or the trunks can even be painted with white latex paint.
Adding a thick mulch of wood chips or even leaves around trees and shrubs after the ground is frozen can keep them from being heaved out of the ground when soil freezes and thaws. Try to keep the mulch from touching the trunk of the tree or shrub and make sure your wire cage extends under the mulch. Critters can burrow through the mulch to reach the trunk.
We often forget about the larger plants in our environment when preparing for winter. Taking some time in the fall to prepare your trees and shrubs for winter can make the difference between survival and death.
Do I need to heat the chicken coop to get eggs this winter?
Yes, this isn’t gardening but hey, lots of gardeners have chickens and after all I wrote a book on chicken keeping so here’s some information you might be interested in.
If you have production type hens, those bred for egg laying, such as Isa Browns, Shaver Blacks, Leghorns, Cherry Eggers and others, they do not need heat in the average winter in order to keep laying. Some other breeds of hens, the dual purpose and fancy breeds have varying degrees of winter egg laying success but it rarely has to do with how cold it is.
What the hens do need is a dry place out of the wind that has enough room, minimum 2 square feet per bird, to move around inside. Hens don’t like being outside in winter weather and outside runs and pens won’t be used a lot. And that inside space has to be well lighted for 14 hours a day. Light is much more crucial to winter egg laying success than heat.
Using an inexpensive timer to turn the lights on at and off around on a regular schedule is a wise investment. A nightlight left on all night is fine but there should be a distinct difference in the lighting of the coop from day period to night. If your schedule puts you in the chicken coop later than or earlier than you can adjust the light to suit you as long as 14 hours of continuous bright light is used.
Don’t count on natural daylight to light the coop in northern winters, which are notoriously dark and gloomy, for even part of the day. Use either incandescent bulbs, which do give off some heat, or the screw in fluorescents (CFL) and leave them on for 14 hours.
Another important factor in keeping hens laying through the winter is to make sure they have enough water. Warm water brought to the coop twice or more times a day will work as will a heated water dish that keeps water from freezing. You can buy heated water dishes at feed stores.
Older hens are more inclined to slow down laying in winter regardless of the breed. This is normal and not related to the cold. When the weather gets below zero for a few days all hens may slow down egg laying but should resume when the weather warms up.
Corn and other carb rich grains do not make the chickens warmer as some people who don’t understand biology believe. Neither does added fat, such as various oils that are often recommended. If anything, it takes more energy – and hence produces more heat – to burn additional protein. But changing the ration isn’t necessary. Keep them on their laying feed except for occasional treats of green leafy vegetables. If you start feeding a lot of supplemental stuff you will get their diet off balance and that will affect laying. You may need to feed a little more than you do in the summer as the hens need more food in the winter for maintaining body weight.
If you do decide to warm the coop don’t warm it above 40 degrees and watch for moisture and ammonia build up. Those things harm the chickens more than the cold. Good ventilation is a must, although the chickens should not be exposed to strong drafts at floor or roost level. One heat lamp over a part of the roost area may be enough to keep the hens comfortable.
Be very, very careful in using heat lamps or other sources of heat in your chicken coop. Many disastrous fires are started by these items in barns and coops. Use heaters rated for dusty areas, make sure heat lamps are firmly tethered so they can’t fall and that they aren’t where water can be splashed on them. Keep heat sources away from combustible items like straw and wood shavings. If you are using a propane, kerosene or gas heater you must have good ventilation, so carbon dioxide doesn’t build up and kill your birds.
Keep the floor of the coop dry and make sure the hens can perch up off the ground. If you can, provide a box of sand for winter dust baths. A pumpkin, head of cabbage or lettuce, or large squash will provide a treat and help with boredom. Your hens should continue to provide you with eggs throughout the winter with good care and no added heat. For more information on keeping chickens laying please see this book Raising Chickens for Dummies, which has all the latest chicken information.
Want a way to use up some left over cranberry sauce? The USDA says cranberry sauce or jelly will keep in the refrigerator about 2 weeks after your Thanksgiving feast. If you have some lurking in the frig now’s the time to use it up. This recipe works best with cranberry sauce- chunks of cranberry – rather than cranberry jelly. It makes one loaf.
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 egg, well beaten
3 tablespoons melted butter or oil
1 ½ cups cranberry sauce
½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 tablespoon grated orange rind
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
Mix together the flour, sugar, orange rind, salt, baking powder and soda.
Add the egg, butter, and cranberry sauce and stir just until all ingredients are moist and blended.
Fold in nuts.
Grease the bottom of a loaf pan and pour the batter in it.
Bake at 350 degrees about an hour. The top should be golden and sides will be pulled away from the pan. A toothpick inserted should come out clean.
Cool 10 minutes before cutting.
I hope the weather is beautiful for you today and you had time to enjoy it.
“He who has a garden and a library wants for nothing” ― Cicero
© Kim Willis - no parts of this newsletter may be used without permission.
And So On….
Find Michigan garden events/classes here:
(This is the Lapeer County Gardeners facebook page)
An interesting Plant Id page you can join on Facebook
Here’s a seed/plant sharing group you can join on Facebook
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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