Archive | July 2017

Showers of Blessings – Life Lessons from the Garden

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

downloadPouring rain. I peered out the small window to see the ominous clouds, thunder, lightening and a small lake quickly forming in front of the building I had found as a shelter from the storm. Safe. The ground was already saturated from an overnight rain of an inch or so only two days earlier, and several days of stormy weather the week before. It was the middle of July, usually the driest month of the year. But this year it proved to be the wettest July ever on record. I was at a large outdoor event when the rains came and I found myself peering out that window. Several others had gathered with me, some friends, some strangers. It was about 3:00 in the afternoon and families of all ages were caught somewhat unexpectedly by the fast moving storm. Most made it inside before the drenching rains began so that they could wait it out. In my mind, all could think was, “Enough, already! When’s this rain going to end?” I recalled a friend telling me how her basement flooded. Another told me of how his garden was beneath four inches of water a few days earlier, and I thought about how this dousing rain might be the final blow. I was more fortunate since I lived on higher ground, but still couldn’t escape the wrath of the rain. Everything had flopped over. Slugs were seeking and destroying. Powdery mildew reigned. Tomatoes were rotting on the vine. Weeds were taking over. And the mosquitoes! Need I say more?

It’s hard to make sense of it sometimes. Storms often put a damper on our plans and our parties, as was the case with the event I was at. Where only a half hour earlier I saw crowds of laughing and singing people, now there were huge puddles and a sea of scattered lawn chairs tossed around by the fierce winds. The people inside along with me waited impatiently, talking on their cell phones or trying to sit clumsily on the floor as they tried to get comfortable. Needless to say, there was an air of disappointment. That was, until I looked out the window again. I could barely believe my eyes. A group of teenagers had gathered, running through puddles, laughing hysterically as they tried to battle the piercing wind and rain. Though there wasn’t any audible music aside from the heavenly rumbles, they danced to a melody that seemed to spring up from within them. They splashed around like carefree ducks in a pond, drenched from head to toe, arms outstretched and faces pointed towards the sky. Suddenly my high and dry surroundings didn’t seem like a safe haven any more, seeing their freedom and joy compared to the sullen faces surrounding me. Where I once felt sheltered, I now felt captive. I contemplated for a moment, “Should I go? Do I dare?” I brushed off the silly notion and stayed inside along with all my newfound companions, choosing to remain every bit as ill-tempered as them.

funny-life-sayings-quotes-15I regret not dashing out the door to frolic in the rain that day. I have no doubt in my mind that I would have experienced a joy far greater than those who hid inside. But fear kept me from going. Not just fear of getting wet or even fear of the danger. But more so, it was the fear of wondering what people would think of a forty-something year-old woman trying to do the slip-n-slide through a 6″ deep river that had formed nearby. Staying inside was dry. Staying inside was expected. Staying inside was … safe.

I wonder how often we see the storms of life as curses instead of blessings. We find it hard to see the good in something that has the potential to cause so much damage. Yet often, I believe we purposely hide ourselves away from the storms of life and try to protect our souls from the blessings that can be showered upon us in the midst of it. We peer through the window; catching glimpses of what it could be like on the other side if only we’d put aside our fears and reservations. We keep up appearances so those around us, who may be equally as miserable, don’t think of us as imprudent or childish. We choose to remain ill-tempered. Rains come. Winds blow. The storms of life are inevitable. Will we stay safe? Or will we take the risk to experience life in all its unpredictability, yet all its fullness. I hope to have enough courage the next time a storm comes, if that be from the weather or life. Will you join me? Step away from the window. Walk through the door. Stretch open your arms. And dance.

Ripe Fruit

by Sharon Morrisey, consumer horticulture agent for Milwaukee County

Many summer fruits ripen from July through fall. Summer raspberries (Rubus) are next to ripen after June-bearing strawberries (Fragaria ananassa). They are ready to pick when slightly firm, aromatic and flavorful. Pick all ripe berries every couple of days. Overripe fruit attracts picnic bugs, which are no picnic when they feast on your fruit.


Vineyard swathed in netting to protect the ripening fruit

Grape (Vitis vinifera) varieties often look ripe before they actually are. It may take an additional two to three weeks on the vine for the full sugar content to develop. They do not continue ripening after picking, so do not pick until they taste perfectly ripe. Then, use as soon after harvest as possible because they don’t store well.

Stone fruits (Prunus spp.), such as plums, cherries, apricots, and peaches that survived the winter, should not be picked until they are ripe, either. Unfortunately, the birds seem to know the exact minute that occurs. They can devour an entire cherry crop in one afternoon. The only ways to prevent this are to either cover the entire tree with bird netting as soon as the fruit begins developing or use a chemical repellant spray.

As soon as the larger fruits are ripe, birds begin pecking holes in them. A friend of mine checks them daily and at the first sign of pecking, he harvests the entire crop, thus avoiding the use of chemicals and the hassle of bird netting.


Beautiful, freshly-picked apples

Like grapes, apples often look ripe before they really are, since the outer color often develops first. Start by knowing when the varieties you are growing are supposed to ripen. There are varieties that ripen from early August through October.

  • Lodi – 1st week in August
  • Redfree – 3rd week in August
  • Gala – 2nd week in September
  • Honeycrisp – 3rd week in September
  • Nova Easygro – 3rd week in September
  • Empire – 1st week of October
  • Liberty – 1st week of October
  • Jonathan – 2nd week of October
  • Golden Delicious – 3rd week of October

The best indicator of ripeness is the color of the seeds. When they are completely shiny brown, the fruit is ripe. You may end up sacrificing an apple every couple of days this way, however. Another indicator is more subtle, but involves a change in the shade of green in the skin at the stem end of the fruit. When it turns from a bright, green-apple green to a lighter shade, it’s time to check the seeds for uniform color.

Miniature Neighbors

20170709_152219OCMGA Master Gardener Colleen Reed recently undertook a project to remove a small pond that had been in her yard, and replaced it with a whole new group of neighbors!

As Janit Calvo says in her book Gardening in Miniature, “What is it that draws the heart and eye to things smaller than real life? Perhaps the fact that anything miniature reminds us of play. After all, childhood toys were our first miniatures.”

Whatever the reason, gardening in miniature (or, creating mini-wonderlands) has become a huge industry. Once you are bitten by the miniature garden bug, there’s no turning back. The miniature industry is the biggest segment of the toy and hobby market, and the sheer number of sizes and scales is mind-boggling.


To ensure the realism that creates enchantment, these critical elements are necessary: plants, accessories, and a patio or pathway. The planned, intentional aspect of a patio or walkway immediately signals to the viewer that this is no ordinary planting, teasing them to come in for a closer view.


Creating your own little world is a lot of fun once you have the right parts, plants, and pieces all together. So collect the ingredients and tools, pour a favorite beverage, and enjoy some creative time with a new hobby!

Amaryllis Story

by OCMGA Master Gardener Rich Fischer

amaryllis 2I honestly don’t know much about amaryllis and I only have one plant, but it is an interesting plant with an interesting story. 

This plant I got from my mother-in-law in, Gertrude Lenore Armbruster Taipale, when she moved from her apartment in Superior, Wisconsin, into an assisted living home about 8 years ago.  Gramma Gertie as I lovingly called her died two years ago but I think of her often. 

When I got this plant I didn’t quite know what to do with it so I planted it in the vegetable garden where it grew for the summer and it seemed to like it there.  Then Gertie told me to put it in a small pot with some potting soil and store it in the basement for the winter.  The next spring I brought it up from the basement and found a nice place by a window in the house for it.    

 This year I brought this plant up from the basement two weeks before Memorial Day and watered it.  The plant had one little sprig poking out of the pot at that time.  Then when I had a house full of Fischers over for a cookout on Memorial Day it was in full bloom.  What dumb luck!    Not only did it make a nice table setting, but also made me think of Pat’s mom on the very day when we’re supposed to remember the dead. 

amaryrillis 1The amaryllis shoots up 1 or 2 very tall scapes with a large red flower on each scape.  They are beautiful, but only last about a week.   When the flowers start to shrivel I cut off the scapes.  Then about 4 to 6 large iris like leaves shoot up and grow all summer.  I no longer put the plant in the garden, but leave it in the smallish pot and water it just like all the other house plants. Around October the leaves start to whither and I put the pot on a shelf in the basement until next spring.    

That is my one and only amaryllis story.  Never read a word about amaryllis care except what Gertie told me.  She’s gone now but her memory and her beautiful amaryllis live on. 

Rich Fischer 

Powdery Mildew

by Diana Alfuth, horticulture educator for Pierce and St. Croix counties UW-Extension


Powdery mildew on Begonias

Around midsummer, we start to see a whitish coating on leaves of many plants, caused by powdery mildew, a fungal disease. In the vegetable gardens, we see it on vine crops, including squash, pumpkins (Cucurbita) and cucumbers (Cucumis sativus). Landscape plants affected include bee balm (Monarda spp.), perennial Phlox and lilacs (Syringa spp.).  [Editor’s note: this year I also had in on my peonies.] Although the exact fungal disease organism that affects each plant is distinct, the fungi are closely related and appear in response to similar environmental conditions.

Most fungi like rainy, wet conditions, but powdery mildew prefers dry, humid conditions, exactly what we see in mid-summer! Luckily, on most landscape plants, powdery mildew is mostly a cosmetic issue. On vining vegetable plants, however, it can result in significant leaf loss and possibly plant death.


Powdery mildew on squash vine

Vine crops should be treated as soon as symptoms appear to reduce spread. If you have a landscape plant that gets powdery mildew every year, you should preempt it in future years by using a fungicide before symptoms appear. Many commercial fungicides are labeled for use against powdery mildew. Caution is required when using fungicides because of the damage they can do to bees. Always read and follow label directions of the product you use.

You can also make a solution using baking soda. Spray the plants every seven to 14 days, beginning when they start leafing out. As always, its a good idea to pretest a small area to be sure your solution does not damage the plant.

  • 1/2 tablespoon baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons lightweight horticultural oil
  • 1 gallon water

To reduce problems with powdery mildew, choose resistant varieties of plants and space them far enough apart to encourage air movement, which results in lower humidity. Also, since spores can overwinter on plant debris, be sure to remove the destroy any material that falls to the ground at the end of the season.