Archive | July 2017

Drought Tolerant Plants for Wisconsin Summers

As I write this, we just had two major rain storms pass through the area — one of them bringing high winds and doing a lot of damage. However, having lived through Wisconsin summers, I know there is a high likelihood that we may see little or no rain through July and August. If that’s the case, you’ll want to have these plants in your garden because, being native Wisconsinites, they’re used to living through droughts!


Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) prefers well-drained sites in light to medium shade. Hummingbirds love this flower.

If native plants are chosen to match your conditions, they will thrive with minimal watering where others fail. To gain the full environmental benefit of lower water usage, it’s absolutely necessary to choose the plants that thrive in the conditions at your location. All native plants are “water-wise” to some extent, but to maximize their full potential, choose those naturally adapted to your specific conditions — soil, sunlight, and moisture.

Native plants create a naturally balanced ecosystem. When you plant natives in the landscape, birds, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators will soon follow. Because these plants and animals evolved together over thousands of years, they have developed interdependent relationships. Monarch butterfly caterpillars safely consume the toxic sap of the milkweeds. Karner blue butterfly larvae rely solely on leaves of wild lupine. Fritillary butterflies need violets for their larval food source. These are only a few of the necessary relationships between our native flora and fauna. The variety of species that even a small-scale native garden attracts is often amazing!


Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.) is tough and beautiful! As other plants die off during a drought, Rudbeckia retains its beautiful colors.


Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) grows 3 to 4 feet in sand, loam, or clay. Full to part-sun.










Some additional species to try in your garden:

  • 0_Baptisia_australis_(Y)

    Blue False Indigo (Baptisia australis) grows 3 to 5 feet in sand, loam, or clay. Full to part-sun.

    Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

  • Sky Blue Aster (Aster azureus)
  • Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata)
  • Purple Prairie Clover (Dalea purpurea)
  • Smooth Penstemon (Penstemon digitalis)
  • Royal Catchfly (Silene regia)
  • Prairie Blazingstar (Liatris pycnostachya)


Yes, you can eat your flowers…

if you plant the right ones! Edible flowers add such a unique elegance to your table! 570A0E6A-14D8-006C-41E6-A482834206B4-4797Many fruits, vegetables, and herbs have edible flowers, performing double duty in the garden. Not only do they add beauty and bounty, but also flavor and whimsy to the table.

It’s surprisingly easy to grow edible flowers in your home garden, but there are a few simple things to keep in mind.

  • First, make sure you know what you’re tasting. Check a reliable source for proper identification and to ensure the flowers are fit to eat or use as a garnish. For instance, check this article by the University of Minnesota extension.
  • Make sure that children understand that they must never sample a flower or berry they don’t know without checking with a knowledgeable adult first.
  • Some flowers may simply taste unpleasant, but others may contain chemical substances that are actually toxic to ingest. For example, foxglove is a striking flower but it contains a compound used to make the drug digitalis, a heart medication. Eating the flowers can have an adverse effect on the heart. Exquisitely scented lily-of-the-valley flowers are quite toxic if ingested, as are the berries.
  • Don’t assume that because the fruit from a plant is edible, the flower is also edible. Bean and pea flowers are perfectly edible but eggplant, tomato, potato, and pepper flowers are toxic.
  • It’s important never to use pesticides on plants from which you will harvest flowers. Even if you use a particular type of pesticide on your vegetables, don’t assume that it’s okay to use it on the flowers. Usually, a strong spray of water will rid you of the insect problems. If it doesn’t, just don’t eat those flowers.
  • Finally, don’t use flowers from a florist unless they were specifically grown for eating. You can never be sure that they don’t have preservatives or insecticides on them.

Most edible flowers simply need well-drained soil, usually full sun and plenty of water. You can grow edible flowers in garden beds with other plants, in raised beds, single containers, and even hanging baskets. Consider using herbs for their flowers in other places than an herb garden.

To capture best flavor, harvest edible flowers early in the morning just after they’ve opened. Rinse the flowers in cool water and pull out the stamens, which are often bitter. Store them between paper towels in a plastic container in the refrigerator until ready to use in your gourmet meals!

A Few Suggestions

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) – Very mild flavor; tastes like it smells; sprinkle bright yellow and orange petals on endive salad.


Beautiful and tasty Nasturtiums


Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) – Flowers and leaves have peppery flavor, a nice contrast to a vinaigrette-dressed salad or a chicken salad sandwich; garnish cheesecake with fresh raspberries, mint leaves and bright red and yellow nasturtiums

Marigold (Tagetes spp.) – Flavor is overwhelmingly pungent; signet marigolds have a citrus-like flavor; nice in a glass of iced tea; the bright colors complement pastas.

Violets, pansies and Johnny-jump-ups (Viola spp.) – Add an old-fashioned, whimsical note to salads and vegetable dishes; freeze Johnny-jump-ups into ice cubes for punch; candied violets are a beautiful decoration on a white frosted cake. Add a deep blue violet to a glass of sparkling water.

Rose (Rosa spp.) – Some roses are more flavorful than others; petals add a soft, romantic flavor to honey for glazing chicken; red rose petals make soft pink vinegar for a floral salad; rose sorbet; scent the sugar bowl for use in tea.

Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.) and squash (Curcubita spp.) – Dip the blossoms in batter and fry; stuff with crabmeat or chicken salad; float a zucchini squash blossom in a bowl of cucumber; use as a dipping bowl for cream cheese dip.

Shredded Wheat Straw for Vegetable Garden Mulch

by OCMGA Master Gardener Rich Fischer

Shredded Wheat Straw

One of the things I love about master gardeners is that we are always willing to share our experience and knowledge with other gardeners.  While at the last master gardener meeting someone mentioned to me that they bought bags of shredded wheat straw from Ace Hardware on Northland Avenue to use as mulch around their vegetable garden.   So being the curious gardener that I am I had to check it out.   I wish I could give credit to who told me this, but alas old age has affected my memory, or maybe it was too much partying in my wayward youth. 

Bag of shredded wheat straw

She was so right.  This shredded wheat straw is awesome.   Way easier to spread around the tomato plants than any other kind of ground cover.  It easily allows the water to get through and keeps down the weeds.  And at the end of the gardening season no need to rake it up, just let it decompose as an organic soil amendment.      

Like many vegetable growers I have tomato fungal disease carry over from year to year despite my best efforts to rotate the location.  It is either early blight or Septoria leaf spot or both.  The tomato plant leaves turn wilt, turn brown and die from the bottom up.  But we still get enough tomatoes and the fruit is just fine.  Hopefully the shredded wheat straw mulch will prevent soil splash and reduce the blight this year.   I have also been cutting off and disposing  the effected lower leaves at the first sign of wilt in hopes of slowing it down.

I am grateful for the information we gardeners share with one another and hope you find this gardening tip helpful.      

Rich Fischer

Rich’s tomatoes before and after applying the mulch:

Another New Weed!

Gesnouinia_arborea_(Tree_Pellitory)_seedlings.Thanks to OCMGA Master Gardener Mary Learman for discovering this information.

Keep an eye on your garden and your lawn. As though we didn’t have enough weeds and invasives to watch, the University of Illinois Extension warns of Pellitory (Parietaria pensylvanica) appearing in the midwest. Funnily, the leaves remind one of peony plants or, perhaps, dianthus before it blooms. Don’t be fooled, however, as it’s aggressive enough to take on your whole garden and flexible enough to grow out of cracks.

For more information, follow this link to the article published by the University of Illinois Extension.