By Terry Barrett, Outagamie County Master Gardener
The time between Christmas and late May can be a long one for gardeners in Wisconsin. I find myself spending lots of time browsing plant and seed catalogs, daydreaming about getting my hands dirty planting my first new plant of the year in the garden, or just, generally, goofing off (it’s good to be retired). One of the ways I take up some of this time is to begin the process of forcing bulbs.
I love Amaryllis bulbs. I had known about Amaryllis for years, but really never paid much attention to the detail of growing them until my wife and I moved to Alabama. Our
first spring there, I noticed that our neighbor across the street seemed to have dozens of Amaryllis planted in his garden that he treated like perennials. When I asked him about his Amaryllis, he said he had planted them over the years and they just kept coming back year after year, bigger and better every year. In fact, there are reports on the internet of bulbs more than 50 years old that still regularly produce flowers!
He also had some other bulbs in his garden he called “Naked Ladies”. These are also perennial in Alabama but have a different blooming cycle. Whereas, his Amaryllis bulbs would produce a flower spike in the early summer followed by frond-like leaves later, his Naked Ladies produced frond-like leaves in the spring. These leaves die back and disappear, and then in August a tall flower spike appears.
This second type of bulb is this is the real Amaryllis. Technically, the correct name for his “Naked Ladies” is Amaryllis Belladonna. The bulbs we call Amaryllis are actually classified as Hippeastrum. I started acquiring a few Hippeastrum bulbs to plant in my garden. I loved the size and color of the blooms and the wonderful leaf structure of the plant. Overall, I found Hippeastrum to be a great addition to my perennial garden IN ALABAMA. Of course, once we moved north of planting zone 8, planting Hippeastrum in my outdoor garden was out of the question. But I had fallen for Hippeastrum. So what to do?
After Alabama, we moved to Ohio and I started the process of building a garden all over again. I figured that since I couldn’t treat Hippeastrum as perennial, I would use them as indoor plants. I had dug six different varieties (one of each) of Hippeastrum from my Alabama garden and replanted them in individual pots so I could bring them with me to Dayton.
Based on my research, I stopped watering the plants in August, put them in the garage and let them go dormant. They need about eight to 10 weeks in a cool, dark place, but not below freezing. Around November 15, I repotted two bulbs in fancy display pots so that 1/3 or so of the bulb was showing above the potting soil. I watered the two pots and put them under a grow lamp at normal indoor room temperature. Two weeks later I did this for the next two bulbs and two weeks after that I did it again for the last two bulbs. It takes only a few weeks under grow lights for the plant to produce its blooming flower spikes. At this point I moved the pots to the most desired locations in my house for display. This routine gave me several weeks of beautiful Hippeastrum flowers during the dreariest part of the year.
Once the flowers had run their course, I cut the flower stalk off just above the bulb, put it back under a grow light and treated it like any of my other house plants until after the last frost date. Then I planted each of my Hippeastrum in a sunny spot for the summer to enjoy the frond-like leaf structure. In August, I dug up the bulbs, repotted them and stored the pots back in the garage. In early November, I started the process of forcing the bulbs all over again.
If you are interested in growing Hippeastrum, buy the biggest bulbs you can find. Bigger bulbs generally produce more than one flower stalk while the smaller ones only produce one stalk. For a deal, wait until after the holiday season to shop on-line for bulbs. They are usually discounted by 50% or more after the holidays. But don’t wait too long to look for your bulb, every grower I know will quickly sell out their stock. Have fun, and for heaven’s sake, don’t throw the bulbs away. With just a little effort, that Hippeastrum bulb will bring you years of glorious flowers in the darkest part of the winter.
The word ‘cabbage’ occurs once in the works of Shakespeare, in Act I, scene i of The Merry Wives of Windsor, when Falstaff exclaims: “Good worts! good cabbage. Slender, I broke your head: what matter have you against me?” [Translated into modern English: Falstaff is making fun of Slender for saying worts instead of words. Worts was a type of vegetable, which is why he said cabbage.] Not sure the humor translates well to modern English.
One ounce of cress boiled down will produce enough cyanide to kill two mice.
The only natural habitat of the coco de mer tree is on Praslin in the Seychelles. The sex of the tree cannot be determined until it is twenty-five years old. More coconuts come from Indonesia than any other country.
The French for dandelion is pissenlit, of “piss-in-bed.” The English used to refer to the plant as pissabed too, referring to its known qualities as a diuretic. When apothecaries prescribed dandelion extract for that purpose, it was offered under the name Urinaria. The English word “dandelion” comes from the French dent de lion, or “lion’s tooth,” referring to the shape of the leaves.
Chinese gooseberries come from New Zealand.
The first recorded conviction for drunken driving while in charge of a lawnmower was in Norway in 1995. A 54-year old man had been cutting grass for the southwestern town of Haugesund when police caught him driving a small lawnmower from one garden to another. Police just stopped him as part of a spot check and found that his blood alcohol level was well over the limit for motorized vehicles. He was fined and sentenced to twenty-four days in jail, but the sentence was suspended on the grounds that the lawnmower’s top speed of about 10 mph was too slow to do any damage.
There are more than sixty species and 8,000 varieties of grapes, and they can all be used to make juice or wine. The wine business has made grape-growing the largest food industry in the world, with twenty-five million acres of grapes worldwide producing 72 million tons of grapes. The average person eats 8 pounds of grapes a year. Botanically, grapes are not fruit but berries.
On August 28, 1988, the Yantlee Polyclinic in Bangkok published a claim that you can get rid of hunger by pressing lettuce seeds into your ears ten times before meals. [Hope it doesn’t start growing!]
There are about 800 million olive trees in the world, of which about 20 million are in China. Olive oil is mentioned 140 times in the Bible.
In Japan, bathing in coffee grounds mixed with pineapple pulp is supposed to remove wrinkles.
Botanically, rhubarb is a vegetable, but in 1947 the U.S. Customs Court ruled it to be a fruit, since that is how it is normally eaten. Rhubarb first became known in England in the 16th century for its medicinal properties. It did not begin to appear as an ingredient in cookery books until the beginning of the 19th century. On January 11, 1770, Benjamin Franklin sent a consignment of rhubarb from London to John Bartram in Philadelphia. This was the first rhubarb in the United States.
A gun-firing scarecrow was patented in 1913 by John Steinocher of West Texas “for scaring off birds, animals and such like as tend to prey upon or devastate crops, stock or like property.”
Slugs are hermaphrodites; vitamin B stunts their growth, shortens their lives, and inclines them toward cannibalism. The record speed for a slug is 0.2 mph. A slug can smell a mushroom up to 2 miles away.
There are nine main varieties of tomato: beefsteak, globe, plum, green, cherry, pear, currant, purple, and striped. The first tomatoes imported into Europe were golden in color, which led to them being nicknamed “golden apples.” The Italian for tomato is still pomodoro — “apple of gold.”
The first recorded watermelon harvest took place around 5000 years ago in Egypt. Pictures of the fruit have been found in paintings on the walls of ancient buildings. The seedless watermelon was developed in 1939. Cordele, Georgia claims to be the watermelon capital of the world. The average American eats over 17 pounds of watermelons per year.
Saving seeds can be very easy and fun and don’t forget that there is joy in learning. Saving seeds can take your gardening experience to a higher level. By doing a little research in regards to isolation distances, pollination requirements and drying techniques, you will be on your way to a rewarding experience towards self-sufficiency, saving money and growing better yields.
A Few Tips
You should always choose open-pollinated varieties for seed saving. Open-pollinated (OP) plants are non-hybrid plants with seed that is true generation after generation. A hybrid is the offspring of a cross between two parent varieties. Its seed will not be true to type if saved and replanted. Hybrid varieties will be labeled in catalogs and on seed packets as “Hybrid” or “F1.” There are two main types of open-pollinated varieties: self-pollinating and cross-pollinating. The easiest crops to save seed from are peas, beans, tomatoes and peppers, all of which are self-pollinating crops. Self- pollinating plants pollinate themselves usually before the flowers open. The seed that you save from these plants and grow the next year will yield plants just like the original ones. To maintain the
plant’s genetic diversity you should ideally grow and save seed from multiple plants. If you save seed from only one self-pollinating plant, the plant will reproduce, but you are narrowing its genetic diversity.
Think ahead and create specific goals as you save seed. Consider the qualities you’d like to preserve. For example, if you save seed from the first lettuce plant to bolt, you are selecting for lettuce that bolts early — not a good trait so it’s better to wait for a hardier plant. If you save seed from your tomato plants that did not succumb to blight, you are selecting to improve that variety’s disease resistance. If you want to try more advanced saving, then you’ll need to research cross-pollinating such as brassicas, corn, carrots, beets, squash, cucumbers and melons. These must receive pollen (usually via wind or insects) from other plants of the same variety to produce viable, true-to-type seed. Cross-pollinating seed crops need to be isolated from other varieties of the same species so do your homework. The simplest solution is to grow only one variety of a given species.
When saving seeds, good record keeping is essential. Label your seedlings, your dated planted rows and your stored seed with as much information as possible. Store dried seed in glass jars, glass is best as it does not allow moisture into the seed. Plastic bags or paper envelopes are fine, but enclose them in a larger glass jar for protection. Store seeds in a cool, dry place — ideally at less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit and at a relative humidity level of less than 50 percent. Ideally, you end up with more seed than you can use.
Behind The Seed Scene
Seeds are the genetic thumbprint and uniqueness of our vegetable seed heritage which resides principally in three places: (1) the USDA seed bank and other seed vaults, (2) small specialized seed companies, and (3) small family farms. Unfortunately, these are all at risk. By growing and saving our own seed we can reverse the trend of seeds being controlled by large companies and take back responsibility for the quality and sustainability of our own food supply. We need to teach ourselves and those around us that stewardship of our seed resources is a community responsibility that begins on the local level. A few good reasons for the revival of seed saving is that when you save seed from the best-performing plants grown on your own land and with your unique cultural conditions, you gradually develop varieties that are better adapted to your soil, climate and growing practices.
Note: Kari was instrumental in creating the Appleton Seed Library in 2016. We did an information piece about her efforts and the Seed Library in an earlier blog post. Read it here.
This article originally appeared in our Fall 2015 newsletter by OCMGA Master Gardener Lucy Valitchka. The information is just as relevant today as it was then.
This edition of our newsletter brings us to the end of the harvest season and preparations for fall. Hopefully all our readers had a successful season. It would be fun and helpful to hear from anyone who had great success with some vege- tables or fruit as well as frustrations encountered in growing certain crops. I didn’t get our garden planted until the first week of June, but surprisingly it has pro- duced very well so far. The tomatoes look good at this writing with few signs of disease so far! The squash borer has not made an appearance in the zucchini, so guess what we are sharing with others?
On the other hand, the weeds have had a ball carpeting the rows between vegeta- bles. If I had one full week to concentrate on weeding maybe that issue would be solved. In the Volunteer Vibe, which I received August 19th, Diana Alfuth, Pierce Co. UW-Extension Horticulture Educator, gave some excellent suggestions about dealing with weeds. I know the soil should be mulched, so the seeds don’t have light to grow. It also helps to not till the soil more than necessary because it brings up dormant weed seeds. I have the mulch, but need something called time to get the job done. I have learned that at this time of year a gardener is almost like a juggler. Weed, mulch, harvest, preserve. What do I do first? I’m a big believer in harvesting and canning as soon as possible. That means the canning gets done before the weeding. My hat is off to all of you who have battled the weeds and won!
Here are guidelines for the vegetable/herb garden in late fall taken from the Madison Area Master Gardener’s Association garden journal which is no longer published. The tips are still valuable.
Remove newly set tomato blossoms and new growth because fruit won’t have time to mature.
Sow annual ryegrass or oats for winter cover and place green manure in beds that won’t be planted until late spring.
Remove all weeds from garden before they go to seed
Remove the growing points at the top of Brussels sprout stems so bottom sprouts will reach maturity.
Dig and pot parsley, chives, and tender herbs for transfer indoors to sunny window.
Harvest carrots, beets, and turnips before first frost kills foliage.
Gather squash, pumpkins, and gourds when ripe and before damaged by frost. Leave 2-inch stem on vegetable for better storage.
Clear garden beds immediately after harvest. Destroy any diseased plants by burning, composting in a hot pile, or sealing in containers for disposal.
Prepare vegetable garden soil for early spring planting. Remove old stalks to prevent insect and disease problems next year. Spread manure, incorporate into soil and mulch with straw.
Rejuvenate rhubarb by dividing into quarters and replanting.
Mulch brussel sprouts to prolong harvest.
Water plants well for more cold tolerance.
Plant garlic in rich, well-drained soil five inches apart and one to two inches deep. Select larger cloves for large bulbs. Break bulbs apart into individual cloves. The end of the clove that was broken from the bulb should be planted down. Cover with five to six inches of straw mulch.
Plant Jerusalem artichokes. (Note; I have never planted these. Has anyone tried them?)
Mulch carrots, parsnips, and leeks with a foot of straw or marsh hay for winter digging. Mark rows with tall stakes.
Mulch asparagus bed with chopped leaves or straw to protect crowns from frost.
Drain gas from tiller.
Harvest the last of the hardy vegetables such as Chinese cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale. These will continue to produce until a hard frost below 25 degrees F.
Every year I say I’m going to plant garlic in my garden, and every year (so far) I have forgotten to do it. Because it needs to be planted in the Fall and overwintered here, it’s not something that I readily think about when putting my garden to bed. This year, though, I’m going to remember! (Famous last words)
Garlic is one of the oldest cultivated crops. It was fed to the builders of the Great Pyramid of Cheops in Egypt in the belief that it gave them strength. Garlic may repel vampires but it attracts leeches. Experiments show leeches take 14.9 seconds to attach themselves to a hand covered with garlic, but 44.9 seconds to such blood from a clean one. In view of this, it may be wise to know that a recommended way to get the smell of garlic out of your hands is to rub them with salt and lemon juice and rinse; to banish garlic breath, chew on fresh parsley or a coffee bean.
The average American eats over 3 pounds of garlic a year and the habit is clearly an old one. The city of Chicago is named after garlic: “chicagaoua” was the Indian word for wild garlic.
The word ‘garlic’ occurs twenty-one times in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and only four times in the entire works of Shakespeare.
The longest continuous string of garlic contained 1,600 garlic bulbs and was almost 120 feet long.
When I moved to the country and a home surrounded by beautiful, mature trees, I was thrilled at the prospect of filling each corner and pathway with beautiful woodland perennials. I thought I found my paradise for growing what had become my obsession — hostas. What could be better for growing this tough, shade-loving perennial than towering trees that provided high, filtered shade? So, with shovel in hand, I began digging. In some areas, the soil was a beautiful, rich loam. But, to my surprise, I had difficulty slicing through the ground with my spade in some locations. While the soil was still beautiful, there was a mass of fibrous roots. Despite my concern, I decided to plant my beautiful established hostas that I brought from my previous home.
Within two years they shrank to one-third their size in the new location. The competition from the tree roots was too much for my beloved hosta to endure. Through the years I became accustomed to this battle in certain areas of my yard and have made adjustments with some success. Here are a few tips that will hopefully help if you battle a similar problem.
Cobalt blue containers make a beautiful counterpoint to the hosta leaves
I have a new fondness for hostas in containers. I am especially fond of cobalt blue containers, which contrast beautifully with the many shades of hosta leaves. I am overjoyed at the results. If you choose to plant hostas in containers, make sure you give
them enough room, keep them well-watered, and after they have died back in the fall, bring them into your garage. I had some hostas double in size in one season using this method. I love placing them out in the garden among other perennials. The added height and color of the containers adds interest and a great focal point.
Where I’m determined to plant hostas in the ground in competitive root situations, I have resorted to planting them in two gallon (or more) black plastic pots and burying them right in the ground. I left several in the ground over winter and they came up beautifully this spring. Obviously, this can eventually limit the size of your plant, so bury as large of a pot as you can and plan to lift it out every few years to divide. There are large pliable mesh containers used in the nursery trade that are coated with copper hydroxide on the inside. The chemical regulates and deters roots growth of the nursery stock planted inside the pot. When hostas are planted in containers that are turned inside-out (so the coating is on the outside), exterior roots from surrounding plants and trees are deterred from penetrating the mesh. Some online forums rave about this method and I hope to trial it this year.
Planting the Right Tree
If you plan on planting a tree with the hopes of beautiful perennials beneath its shady canopy, keep the following good and bad in mind.
The Good: Top picks for friendly tree roots
• Oak – White, Pin, Burr, and other varieties
• Ash – although the threat of the Emerald Ash Borer makes this a futile choice
• Japanese Maple
• Shagbark Hickory
• Japanese Chestnut
• European Larch
• Japanese Tree Lilac
• Pagoda Dogwood
• Honey Locust
The Bad: Trees with invasive tree roots • Box Elder
• Maple – Silver, Norway, and Red
• River Birch
• Hackberry • Spruce
If You Can’t Beat ’em, Join ’em
In some locations in my yard, I have become resigned to the fact that I cannot grow hostas. I have dug them out and relocated them to a friendlier location. Rather than abandon the perennial bed completely, I have found some plants that seem to coexist with those pesky roots. While these varieties don’t thrive, they do well enough to warrant their placement:
• Japanese Painted Fern
• Lady in Red Fern
• Lamium (ground cover)
• Sweet Woodruff (ground cover) • Perennial Geranium
Give some of these techniques and recommendations a try. I’m still battling in some areas, but I’m determined to win!
By OCMGA Master Gardener Steve Schultz (article originally appeared in our Fall 2015 newsletter
“The fattest and most scrumptious of all flowers, a rare fusion of fluff and majesty,” wrote garden writer Henry Mitchell. Of course, he was speaking about my obsession, the peony! I’ve lost count of the different peonies in my garden, but my guess would be that I have about 25 the last time I looked. And yes, I found a ragged Coral Charm peony at Lowe’s last week that cried for me to take it home. Now I have to find that open area to plant it. That could be a bit difficult.
As we come to the fall of the year, there are often questions about seasonal care. The care really depends on the type of peony you have.
If you have the type of peonies that your great grandmother grew, it is probably an herbaceous peony. In short, it dies completely to the ground each winter. After the first killing frost, you can clean up these peonies with your clippers. I leave about three inches showing so I know where they are in the garden. I have also left the dead foliage until spring and all seems fine. The only time you really want to get rid of the foliage is when you have any kinds of mildew during the summer. Then it’s important to dispose of the foliage to prevent the spread of the mildew. Do not compost or you will simply perpetuate the problem!
Steve’s Bartzella peony
Do you have intersectional peonies such as Bartzella? These are a cross with herbaceous and tree peonies. The care is identical to that of the herbaceous peonies. Simply remove the dead foliage and in spring you will see all new growth coming out of the ground.
Tree peonies have an entirely different kind of care. Do not cut them to the ground in the fall! Their leaves, buds and flowers come off the woody stems. I wait until spring to remove any stems that seem dead. This will be obvious because they will have no leaves and will look dried out. I also put chicken wire frames and mulch around my tree peonies right before the first snowfall or below zero temps. I think that the rabbits would love a mid-winter snack and I’m not go- ing to oblige them!
Taking care of your peonies this fall will prepare them for a nice nap this winter so you can rejoice in their beauty this spring!