Bringing Hibiscus Indoors

Over-wintering large, flowering tropical plants like Hibiscus rosa-sinensis is always a challenge. They never thrive in the living room the way they do outdoors. Leaves turn yellow and drop, flowers seldom appear. Assorted pests do appear — in droves. No wonder gardeners dream of exiling these shrubs to the basement, where they can be out of sight and out of mind until spring.

This kind of hibiscus never sleeps, however, and trying to store yours as though it were dormant may give you a rude awakening. If you want to try it anyway, keep the plants cool, 45º to 50ºF. Expect them to drop all their leaves. They will likely get bugs. And they will still need to be brought into light well before summer planting time.

A better choice is a room that gets lots of light and is cool enough to slow growth, 60º to 65º. If you must put hibiscus plants in the living room, keep them in the sunniest place, away from direct heat and far enough from the window so they don’t suffer big temperature swings from night to day. There is no point in misting, but if you don’t have a humidifier this would be a good excuse to get one. Keep the soil barely but consistently moist, and don’t feed unless flowers appear. Watch out for aphids, whiteflies, and red spider mites. If you see them, treat promptly with insecticidal soap.

Hibiscus is tough. The plants will not be glorious inside, but they will survive. Cut them back in late April, removing leggy branches and working to create a pleasing shape. New growth should start almost at once. It is tempting to set the plants out as soon as the danger of frost is past, but hibiscus is a heat lover that will be happier inside until it is warm out day and night — late May or early June.

Alternatively, treat hibiscus as an annual indulgence. While they are still beautiful, give your plants to somebody with big windows and no qualms about getting rid of ailing ornamentals. Enjoy a carefree winter, and get new ones next year.


Canna Cuisine

by OCMGA Vice President Tom Wentzel

I love cannas.  They are easy to grow and make a striking statement in the landscape.  I usually plant 10 – 15 at various points. This adds continuity through the landscape.  These plants yield enough rhizomes to start maybe 75 plants next spring – more than enough to supply the Master Gardener plant sale.

What other uses are there for this prolific plant?  Food?

There are a lot of references stating that the plants are edible.  Not surprisingly there is little specific information on how to prepare them and no information that I could find on what they taste like.  I thought I’d find out for myself.

The following link does contain a lot of information how the plant is used.  Cannas are native to Central America and their use in the local diet goes back in time.  All parts of the plant are edible. The leaves are used as wrappers like banana leaves, typically to make tamales.  I would think they could also be used for a luau style pork roast.

This article out of Texas discusses a few more uses and goes into a bit more detail about preparation.  Canna rhizomes are very high in starch. But still nothing about the taste.

IMG_6187Here are my findings.  Because my quest started after the freeze, all I had to work with were the rhizomes.  I used 3 preparation methods raw, boiled and baked. The same way potatoes would be prepared.  (Yes, potatoes are very good raw.) The texture of the raw rhizomes was similar to the pleasing crispiness of jicama.  The baked and boiled rhizomes had a texture roughly similar to potatoes.

So what about the taste?  With all 3 preparation methods the taste was bland.  My wife just looked at me like I was crazy and, wisely, did not partake in this side dish.  Would I try the rhizomes again – probably not? Using the leaves as a wrapper is intriguing.  It will depend on my whims next summer.

The Value of Manure

Nutrient values of manures vary greatly, depending on the diet and age of the animals, and the nature and quantity of bedding in the mix. There’s also freshness to consider: the older the manure, the fewer nutrients it will contain. On the other hand, the older it is, the sooner it will be safe to use and the less fragrant it will be.

These variables make precise nutrient listings impossible, but there are significant differences between manure types that are useful to know.

Poultry: Hen dressing, as it’s known in the country, is higher in nitrogen than other common manures. It also contains a significant amount of phosphorus, and some potash. Chicken manure from a farm where birds run around in straw will be considerably less potent (and probably less full of antibiotics) than manure from an egg factory where birds live crowded together in wire cages. Chicken manure is famous for burning plants if it is used when too fresh.

Sheep: Comparatively high in nitrogen, an excellent source of potash, with moderate phosphorus. Manure from sheep fed hay and grain will be more potent — and more likely to be available — than manure from animals that live on pasture.

Horse: About half as rich in nitrogen as chicken, with a good amount of potash but only a modest dose of phosphorus. Amounts of bedding vary greatly, which means potency does, too. Horse manure can be a powerful carrier of weed seeds.

Cow: Cow manure has the lowest nutrient numbers, in part because there is so much bedding mixed with it. But that low nutrient concentration makes it safe to use in unlimited quantities. Try to find manure that’s mixed with straw or shredded newspaper, rather than the more common sawdust. If you get the sawdust kind, expect it to take a year before it starts to deliver results.

Specialty: Rabbit manure is very high in nutrients and less likely to cause nitrogen burn than chicken manure. Most rabbit owners know this and do not give it away. Bat guano is like supercharged chicken, but it’s hard to gather, getting rare, and priced accordingly. Zoos need the money more than you need hippopotamus droppings, but if you have enough land to pile weird manure until it’s composted, the charity you spread will improve your soil.

Tree Miscellany

Did you know that a tree was named for Benjamin Franklin? The Franklin tree (Franklinia alatamaha) was named for Benjamin Franklin, a friend of father-and-son botanical explorers John and William Bartram. The two discovered the plant in 1765 near Fort Barrington on the Altamaha River, near what is now Darien, Georgia. In 1773, on a second journey, William Bartram collected seeds. Descendants of those plants still grow in Philadelphia at the edge of the Schuylkill River in Historic Bartram’s Garden. The plant has not been seen in the wild since 1903, and “it is believed that all Franklinias today growing anywhere in the world are descended from those propagated by the Bartrams,” said Martha Wolf, the executive director of Bartram’s Gardens.

Barking Up the Right Tree – Though trees are seldom chosen for the splendor of their bark, it’s a design detail that deserves attention, especially in any climate where winter is leafless for longer than about five minutes. Possibilities range from the rich coppery colors of Amur cherry (Prunus maackii) to the dark ridges on Amur cork (Phellodendron amurense), from the scrolling sheets of glowing amber that peel from the milk-chocolate paperbark maple (Acer griseum) to the ghostly silver sheen of sycamore (Platanus spp.). These beauties do not appear until the trees are several years old, so you can’t go by what you see at the nursery. Photographs can help, of course, but for best results, take a few field trips to arboretums where you can see mature specimens. While you’re there, keep an eye out for paperbark cherry (Prunus serrula), katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), lacebark pine (Pinus bungeana), and shagbark hickory (Carya ovata). And don’t be shy about asking for hints. People who spend their days caring for trees tend to notice subtleties that a quick tour might overlook.

Bark for Canoes – The early American Indians were careful — in some cases worshipful — of the world around them, but that doesn’t mean they were unwilling to kill trees. When they needed a birch for canoe material, they took it down. Small amounts of the thin outer bark can be removed without harming the tree; it naturally sheds patches. But to build a canoe you need all the bark layers, including the cambium that is essential for life, and you want all the layers in one piece. The fewer seams you have to caulk (with spruce resin), the more watertight your vessel will be.

Do Trees Breathe Through Their Bark? It is true that gases, including oxygen, pass through the outer bark to and from the living cells of the inner layers of a tree. This is a form of respiration, or breathing. The gases move through them pores called lenticels, whose function is equivalent to that of stomata, or breathing cells, found on leaves.


Weeping Cherry Tree

Why do Trees Weep? The weeping tree form is a mutation, and scientists don’t really know why it happens. What they do know is that most “normal” plants have a single growing tip that remains dominant, and this is what causes the trunk of head in a vertical direction. In the weeping tree, this dominant control mechanism is somehow disrupted. Instead of developing an upright trunk from the vertical growing shoot, the weeping tree develops a downward form by superimposing one layer of horizontal growth on top of the previous one. The process by which weeping plants assume their pendulous position, deviating from the vertical, is called plagiotropism.


Find your Food

Want to live off the land? Playing a survival game? Or maybe you just want to see what all the ‘foraging’ fuss is about? All it takes is a little know-how to find your next feast.

blackberry-226824_960_720Before you forage on your own, take a walking tour or field class with a native plant expert or foraging group. Those in the know can help you locate and identify plants that are safe to eat, as well as offer advice on preparation. (Some have specific cooking requirements to make them safe and palatable.) Look to your local Native Plant Society to find an expert near you.

Familiarize yourself with what plants, bushes, and trees grow in your area, even in your own neighborhood. Invest in a quality field guide that offers detailed descriptions and color photos. Don’t be afraid to jot notes in the margins or include your own photos to help you remember where and what time of year you found a particular plant.

Popular Foods to Forage

Weeds: Purslane, stinging nettle, dandelion

Greens: Watercress, wild mustard, miner’s lettuce

Mushrooms: Morel, oyster, chanterelle

Fruits: Raspberries, rose hips, blackberries

Roots and bulbs: Wild leek (ramps), wild garlic, onion

Nuts: Acorns, black walnut, beechnut

Do’s and Don’ts

  • Don’t eat a wild plant without having it checked by an expert first!
  • Don’t eat plants from a questionable environment, like a golf course, farm field, parking lot, or manufacturing plant. It’s possible there could be chemical run-off or pesticides present.
  • Do go slow. It’s hard to know how your body will react. Eat only a little to check for an allergy or intolerance.
  • Don’t collect from nature preserves, harvest at entire area, or pick a threatened species.
  • Do only pick as much as you need — overharvesting can easily lead plants to extinction.
  • Do harvest in the morning after the dew dries, but before the heat of the day.

Transplant Shrub Roses

The best transplanting time depends on where you live. From the warmer parts of zone 5 on south, the shrubs will do best if moved in early fall, though early spring is also a possibility. In colder climates, the preference is reversed: it’s best to move the roses in spring, as soon as the ground can be worked, but you can also move them in the fall if you do it at least six weeks before hard frost is expected.

Assuming you move them to an area that has good soil, good sun, and good air circulation, relocation should be no problem. But digging up and moving plants does always create some stress, so for best results:

  • If possible, choose an overcast day for the transplanting operation.
  • Water the roses thoroughly two days before you plan to move them.
  • Be sure to prepare the new planting holes before you dig up the roses; the less time the roots spend enjoying the light of day, the better. Err on the side of generosity when deciding how big to make the new holes; filling in one that turned out to be too big is a lot easier (on the rose, anyway) than last-minute expansion of a hole that turned out to be too small. It’s also wise to have dampened burlap handy to cover the roots if they are going to be exposed for longer than a few minutes.
  • If you’re transplanting in spring, take the opportunity to remove weak growth and prune for shape. But if you are transplanting in the fall, wait until the following spring before pruning anything unless it has been injured.

Roses and Epsom salts

While Epsom salts belong on every gardener’s shelf, its primary use is in the gardener’s bath after a hard day of bending and digging.

There are many gardeners who swear by the salts for their roses or spinach. And perhaps it does help sometimes because Epsom salts contains magnesium and sulfur, two essential micronutrients. Magnesium is found in chlorophyll, which helps plants turn sunshine into food, and sulfur is used to make several proteins. If your soil were deficient in one of these elements, Epsom salts might do some good, but most specialists in plant nutrition say that average garden soil contains enough sulfur and magnesium in forms that are readily available to the plants to keep everyone happy and healthy.

Trick Your Weeds

by Sharon Morrisey, Consumer Horticulture Agent in Milwaukee County

sow-thistle-weedIn fall, weeds’ natural biology changes gears from growth mode to storage mode and they start moving carbohydrates into their roots for winter. By applying herbicides to weeds at this time, you trick them into doing some of the dirty work for you. They will carry the chemicals into their roots along with their carbohydrates where these products kill the plants, roots and all. Shorter days and a string of several evenings with temperatures in the 30s are the signals for plants to shirt to storage mode and for you to get out your sprayer.

Choose your weed killer carefully. Although some products can tell a dandelion from a blade of grass, they do not distinguish between that dandelion and your prized dahlia. That is why it is so difficult to use broadleaf herbicides in mixed flower and vegetable beds where the weeds and your precious plants are all broadleaves. Other herbicides kill everything green and living, dandelions, dahlias, and your lawn alike. Making this mistake for spot treating your lawn leaves dozens of little round dead spots where you sprayed.