Archive | October 2015

Halloween Gardening

The infamous Venus Fly Trap

The infamous Venus Fly Trap

In anticipation of Halloween, I thought it would be fun to find as many plants as possible with names that you would associate with Halloween. As I started doing my research, I found that many others had had the same idea so, rather than repeat or plagiarize information that has already been posted on the web, I thought maybe a link to some of the more interesting articles would be better.

From the London Telegraph, we get some of the weirdest and creepiest plants I’ve ever seen, many of which are deadly as well as just plain ugly. I may get nightmares just from seeing some of these plants, which include the Venus Fly Trap, the Corpse Plant, and the Black Bat Flower (totally creepy):

Then, we have a list from Earth Rangers compiling plants with names or shapes that make you think of Halloween. For instance, Wolf’s Bane, Witch Hazel, and Devil’s Claw. The Dracula Orchid is the one that makes me say “Ewwwww”.  Check out this fun list compiled on a website aimed at getting children interested in the outdoors and the environment:

Devil's Tooth

Devil’s Tooth

Another creepy-looking plant is actually a fungus:  Devil’s Tooth (Hydnellum peckii). This gross little blob of a mushroom isn’t an edible plant — not that you’d want to. But it’s a beneficial fungus that attaches itself to host tree roots and gives out minerals and amino acids in exchange for tasty carbon. It grows throughout North America. When moist and healthy, it bleeds droplets of bright red juice that inspired its other nickname, “strawberries and cream.”

Chinese Lantern

Chinese Lantern

I think maybe I’ll just stick with Chinese Lanterns — a beautiful and harmless addition to any Halloween or Autumn gathering!

Written and posted by Vicki

Yes, You Can Grow Your Own Garlic

planting-garlic-telefloraIt’s very easy to grow garlic (Allium sativum), and now is the time to get it in the ground. Like a tulip, garlic is a bulb that needs the cold of winter and, like tulips, garlic can be planted almost anytime in the autumn as long as the ground is workable. The bulbs come in clustered segments that need to be separated before planting and, like all bulbs, must be planted pointed side up. Plant about an inch below the ground in well-drained soil. Full sun is best, but garlic can manage as long as it gets six hours of sun a day.

The hardest part of growing garlic is finding a good garlic farmer or bulb supplier. The garlic bulbs found in supermarkets have been treated to keep them from sprouting so you need something organic. It’s preferable to source your bulbs locally because it will have adapted to your area. For Zones 6 and higher, softneck varieties work fine, but choose a longneck variety if you’re planting in zones 5 or lower. To maintain warm soil temperatures, mulch with an 8-inch layer of shredded leaves or straw. Remove the mulch in early spring to allow the sun’s warmth to penetrate.

garlic-blog-3The plants are ready to be lifted from the ground when the leaves turn yellow — usually July or August.  Dry the plant thoroughly in an airy, covered spot; remove leaves and store garlic bulbs in a cool frost-free place.

Written and posted by Vicki

Storing Apples

Apple harvest, Autumn

Apple harvest, Autumn

The Outagamie County Master Gardener Association is proud and lucky to be affiliated with the University of Wisconsin Extension and the educational resources of The Learning Store. From one of the publications at The Learning Store (“Growing Apples in Wisconsin”) comes information on storing your precious fruit after harvest.

I remember being a child and going into the basement (or “cellar” as we called it then) to get fresh apples, each of which had been individually wrapped in newspaper in the fall to keep the skins from touching one another during storage. Not sure if the generations of today would even understand the concept of gathering and storing apples for the winter, but this publication offers the following advice:

“Fall- or winter-ripening applies, which ripen in September and October, will store well for 1-5 months. If you plan to store the apples, harvest them before the peak of maturity while they are still firm. Discard or use any blemished, diseased, or damaged fruit. Store only the best fruit. Overripe or bruised apples will not only store poorly, but the ethylene gas they produce will shorten the life of sound fruit.

Cool apples promptly and keep them constantly cold. For short-term storage, refrigerate at temperatures below 40ºF. For longer storage, temperatures of 32º-34ºF and high humidity are required. Don’t allow fruit to freeze. Keeping fruit in plastic bags with small holes in the bags will help avoid water loss and shriveling. Check the fruit occasionally and remove soft or damaged fruit.”

The 24-page booklet covers information about growing apples such as site selection, planting, weed management, pruning, insect pests, and diseases, as well as much more information. The publication can be purchased as a pamphlet for $4.00 from The Learning Store, or you can simply download the entire publication as a .pdf file to your computer by clicking here. Take advantage of university-based research and education by utilizing the many publications available through The Learning Store by following this link:

Written by Vicki

Cut down on that raking!

Such a beautiful time of year with the colorful leaves huddled together in the trees. Unfortunately, they don’t stay on the trees, leaving us with the chore of how to dispose of the leaves. Some people choose to leave them on the ground until spring, which is a wonderful idea for your gardens but can kill the grass on your lawn. Here are some ideas for using the leaves:

  1. When they’re completely dry, rake them into a big pile and have your kids or grandkids P1050466-500x375run and jump into the pile. Remember how much you enjoyed that when you were a kid?! I grew up in the country and we could also burn leaves; I still miss that smell of burning leaves and branches.
  2. Using your lawn mower, mulch the leaves onto your lawn thereby providing a wonderful source of nutrients as the leaves decompose over the winter and spring. Better than buying expensive fertilizer each year!
  3. Gather and mulch the leaves to use in your compost bin or compost pile. You can use whole leaves, but shredded leaves will break down more quickly to provide that ‘black gold’ compost to use in the spring. Note: continue to add your vegetable scraps and egg shells to your compost heap through the winter. You may not be able to turn the pile as often in the winter, but the nutrients will be there as the snow melts into the pile. Never add meat by-products, fats, animal waste, or leaves or stalks from diseased plants.
  4. Remove the leaves from the lawn and put them around your shrubs and perennials in the garden. They’ll help conserve moisture around the plants, and also stabilize the soil temperature to reduce the fluctuations of freeze and thaw that tear plant roots and heave them from the ground. A 2- or 3-inch mulch of autumn leaves will at least partially decay over the winter, releasing vital nutrients and improving soil structure, but be sure to rake away any leftovers in the very early spring before the perennials and bulbs start peeking up. Large piles of whole leaves will provide great insulation, but they can also turn into soggy mats that smother emerging plants.
  5. Finally, if you must, rake the leaves into the street for the municipal removal teams. Note: the city knows what to do with all of that garden and lawn waste they pick up around the city:  they turn it into compost and mulch!


Written and posted by Vicki

Bringing Your Houseplants Back Inside

image_1We’ve had a lovely long warm spell and I know many of you have delayed bringing your houseplants back inside. Here are a few tips for making the transition easier.

Most need to be back indoors before the night temperature drops to 50ºF, and though some hardy ones could stay out until it regularly approaches 40º, most of them will do better if they can start readjusting before the difference between indoors and outdoors becomes too great.

Before bringing in the plants, get the house ready by washing your windows (Ugh! I know, but clean windows let in a lot more light). If possible, while the plants are still outside, move them into shade ahead of time to prepare them for the drop in light in the house. As you bring the plants indoors, soak the pots up to their rims in a sink full of water to force insects to the surface, which you can then dispose of properly rather than finding them crawling on your floor later.

It’s best to leave repotting until just before the new growing season begins in early spring. Moving to larger pots means more growing medium, which holds more water. With lower light levels, and shorter days, overwatering is more dangerous than being a little potbound for the winter.

And quit fertilizing! They worked hard at growing all summer, so give them a rest until they start actively growing again in late winter/early spring.

Written and posted by Vicki