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Make Your Own Gin

Tired of the same old fruits and vegetables? Looking for a new challenge? Maybe you could try making your own gin. The plant you need is the common juniper, Juniperus communis. Although the drink is a Dutch invention — the word ‘gin’ is a corruption of the Dutch name for juniper — the British embraced it with great enthusiasm in the eighteenth century and turned it into a major business.

Juniperus_communis_conesAlthough common juniper is a single species, this shrubby evergreen varies widely in its growing patterns, from a ground cover to a tree that tops 36 feet. The growing needs of the cultivars are equally various, but almost all of them are tough customers that will adapt to a wide range of soils and climate zones.

Various parts of the pungently aromatic plants have long been used medicinally and are mentioned in countless legends, primarily as aids for warding off evil spirits. But it is the plant’s berries that provide an essential ingredient in gin (as well as providing flavoring for marinades and sauces).

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Juniper with both ripe and unripe berries

Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants, so you must have both if you want berries. The 1/4-inch fruit take two years to ripen, turning from green to bluish purple. Both the immature and mature berries may appear on the plant simultaneously, so take care when you gather your harvest.

Junipers grow easily as long as the soil they are in is well drained. While at their best in dry, sunny spots, they will tolerate light shade. Nobody’s perfect, though, and junipers are favorite prey for a number of pests and diseases. Before you buy one that catches your fancy, ask the nursery about its ability to fight off these afflictions.

Harvesting juniper berries: Juniper berries should be harvested when they have ripened to a handsome, dark purple-blue. Ripe and unripe berries may be on the plant at the same time, but harvest only the ripe ones. Before you add the berries to your soups or stews, air-dry them until they shrivel and turn black.

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Beyond the Blooms

by Jess Wickland

When you think of landscaping or putting together a small flower garden, many people don’t think past the flower colors and bloom times. However, there are many different aspects that plants provide that will increase interest in the garden, whether it’s seedheads, or different leaf textures, or (my favorite) fall berries and fall color. When the green foliage bursts forth in spring and gives life to the boring winter landscape, I often breathe a sigh of relief. And while flowers do provide plenty of color in the landscape and often leave me giddy with excitement over their blooms, nothing can compare to the breathtaking yellow, orange and red hues of a sugar maple tree in the fall.

Speaking of blooms, there are two shrubs that wait to hold their flowers until almost everything else has gone dormant for the season: witchhazel and seven-son flower. Witchhazel is a native shrub that grows quite large — almost 15 feet tall — and waits until October to send out its spiderlike yellow blossoms. Many times, the blooms occur as the shrub’s foliage has changed to the bright yellow color, or has dropped off already. Seven-son’s fragrant flowers blooms white in late September or early October, but perhaps the best show isn’t the blooms, it’s the pale red calyces that appear after the flowers have dropped off. This is also a fairly large shrub, growing to 15 feet tall and wide as well, and grows best in part shade conditions.

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The bright red berries of the Hawthorn stand out against the frozen branches

Many shrubs get berries as well, clinging to the branches and giving the landscape splashes of color throughout the fall and winter seasons. I always enjoy watching the hawthorn berries develop and change color in late summer. The red berries aren’t often eaten by birds in summer (they’re too busy devouring the serviceberries), and persist into the winter. After a fresh snowfall, I enjoy photographing the vibrant red berries blanketed by the glittering snow. An added bonus: hawthorn trees have a variable fall color, ranging from orange to red to maroon. Another fantastic red berry is found on Ilex shrubs: holly and winterberry. While holly are a little more finicky about growing conditions (though it can be done!), winterberry are tough shrubs that wait until the rest of the landscape is dormant for their moment to shine. In fall, clusters of bright red berries cling to the upright branches. They are offset by the yellow fall color of the shrub. Both holly and winterberry look like a picture off of a Christmas card after a new snowfall.

Chasing fall color throughout the state used to be my grandparents’ favorite thing to do in October, and I think I inherited that gene from them as well. I can’t believe the different shades of red, orange and yellow that erupt as the daylight hours get shorter. I can’t wait to go outside to see what I might capture on my camera’s memory card. Perennials aren’t just for flowers anymore, either. Gillenia trifoliata, a native perennial commonly known as Indian Physic, isn’t very showy throughout the summer. The green foliage set underneath the star-shaped white flowers may cause a passerby to glance at it a second time. In autumn, however, the foliage changes to a pale orange that gives the plant a whole new look. Mukdenia rosii also changes from emerald green to dark red and even maroon, rivaling its cousin, Heuchera, in color wars.

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Fothergilla blazes it’s colors during Fall

My favorite shrub for fall color is Fothergilla. While the fragrant white spikes of flowers and robust foliage (tinged just a hint in blue-green) are attractive, I haven’t met someone yet who didn’t fall in love with it in the fall. The foliage is much the same as a sugar maple, keeping us guessing as it changes from yellow to orange to red. It’s like watching a 4th of July fireworks show; many people “ooh” and “ahh” at the beauty cast by this wee shrub (the dwarf species only reaches 3 feet tall and wide).

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The familiar sugar Maple leaves

As you may have guessed by how much I’ve brought it up, my favorite tree for fall color is the sugar maple. Serviceberry isn’t far behind because although the berries are long since picked off by hungry robins and cedar waxwings, the fall color still rivals the maple in terms of orange and yellow coloring. An interesting plant for fall color is the larch, or tamarack. It’s a deciduous evergreen, meaning it has needles, but sheds them each year. The golden yellow needles in fall are gorgeous, especially near the end of the day when the sunlight hits them just right.

I hope I’ve inspired you to think beyond the blooms, and try to plant a few trees, shrubs or even perennials

Putting Your Garden to Bed

by OCMGA Master Gardener Holly Boettcher

garden-waste-1047259_960_720After a long summer of enjoying your garden, it is time to put it to bed for the winter. This task may not be as joyous as the excitement that you experienced in the spring, but believe me, if you properly tuck them in, your springtime gardening will be a much easier transition if you follow these easy tips.

Vegetable Garden

Carrots, potatoes, & beets can be left in the ground and then harvested in early winter. You may want to mark them with a stake so you can find them. Pull all plants such as tomatoes, peas, beans, and squash, and add them to the compost bin. Do the same with weeds. Take extra steps to eliminate disease by either burning or bagging anything suspicious and disposing of properly. By lightly turning over the soil, you will help to eliminate a lot of pests that would overwinter in your soil.

A Good Time for Soil Test

Why not take a soil sample to your nearby county extension office or coop? This is a great time to learn if your soil needs to be amended. As a last step, either add compost such as leaves or well-rotted manure, or consider a cover crop of winter rye which will add nutrients to your garden.

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This is the time of year to discontinue fertilizing your rose bushes. They no longer need to be fed in order to encourage blooming. It is time for them to go to sleep for the winter. Do prune back any damaged or dead canes. Mulch generously just above swollen area (sometimes referred to as the onion.) Protect your rose bushes from rabbits and voles by using a type of lightweight wire fencing which you can find at a garden center.

Perennials

After the first frost, your hosta plants will shrivel and be easy to clean up. Wear some waterproof garden gloves because they will feel a bit smarmy. And the stalks of day lilies should be removed although you can keep up with this during the summer too. Once the lily plants go dormant, they can be cut back to about 4 inches.

Trees

Don’t forget to wrap the trunks of young trees to protect them from rabbits and other nibblers.

Give Them a Drink

Be sure to water generously. My gramma always said it is good for the plants to go to bed with their feet wet!

55d70e9ac4dd4d4eb3843097d66bcaa0--winter-plants-winter-gardenNot Everyone is Ready for a Winter Nap           

My preference is to leave coneflowers, aster, goldenrod, and ornamental grasses over the winter so the goldfinches and other birds can feast on the seeds.   An added bonus is by not cutting back your grasses as well as shrubs such as hydrangea, you will smile as they peak through the glistening snow adding a splash of winter interest!

Watch out for Frost

Sad to say, but summer is over and it’s time to start thinking about extending your harvest by watching those overnight temperatures. Do you know when to expect those cold temperatures or do you wait to hear it from your friendly TV weatherman? Knowing an approximation of your growing season helps when you plant in the spring and when you’re trying to get the very last of your harvest in the fall.

Take a look at the Frost Chart for the United States as provided by The Farmer’s Almanac:

https://www.almanac.com/content/frost-chart-united-states

Note: it’s alphabetic by state, not by city.

Another useful article comes from Botanical Interests as it provides information on which plants need more TLC when the frost moves in, and which ones are a bit more hardy for the later hard frosts.

www.botanicalinterests.com/articles/view/26/Frost-Tolerance-of-Vegetables

You’ll only be able to extend the season for a short amount of time before Mother Nature decides that it’s time for our gardens to rest, but getting just one more tomato or another handful of peas is worth the time and effort!

Bringing Plants Indoors

by Diana Alfuth, horticulture educator for Pierce & St. Croix County UW-Extension

IMGP9966It may seem like summer only started yesterday, but in northern Wisconsin, the time to watch for first frost is right around the corner. Whether you gave your houseplants a summer vacation outdoors, or have some nice container plantings you’d like to enjoy indoors for a while, keep your eye on the weather and bring the plants in before they experience chilling or frost injury.

Before you bring them in, clean off any dead or dying foliage. Look under the leaves and on top of the soil for any insects, pupae or other critters that may be hunkered down in the container. Even small frogs have been known to hitchhike indoors, and go hopping across the floor! Quarantine plants for a few days. Wasps or other insects emerge in the warmth of the house, and pests such as aphids, can spread to other houseplants.

Even though you put the plants in front of bright, sunny windows, shorter days and weaker sun will cause all houseplants to slow down growth for the winter. Therefore, don’t fertilize (which may encourage spindly growth) until late February, when a plant’s activity increases, and water only when the top half-inch of soil gets dry. You can expect some leaf drop as the plants adjust to the lower light conditions. Pinch plants back when growth picks up again in late winter to encourage bushy, robust plants, ready to enjoy inside or outside next summer!

Dividing Hostas

by OCMGA Master Gardener Holly Boettcher

HostaThe million-dollar question for serious gardeners is whether it is better to divide your hosta plants in late fall or the early spring. At our vineyard, we have massive perennial gardens which are home to hundreds of hostas. When you see me staring off into space while relaxing in one of the many sitting areas on our property, what I am really doing, is contemplating which hosta need to be divided, and where the gardens will expand into the next season.

From past experience, I have learned it is easier to “wrestle” the plant in early spring, when those tender buds are swelling through the warm spring earth. If I divide at this time, I don’t feel as though I am committing an act of violence against them. BUT, early in the spring, it is difficult to remember what that hosta looked like. You see, I am one of those gardeners who obsess over planting hostas so their colors, variegations, and shapes, will both contrast and compliment those around them.

For that reason, I am with the divide in the fall group! Yes, you will most certainly damage some leaves, and it may seem as though the plant suffered a setback, but in the next season they will “spring back” to put you in awe of the project which you completed.

Here is what you will need to get started:

  • A wheelbarrow, shovel, cutting tool, some organic matter, and water. Start out by assessing which plants need to be divided, then decide where you will plant them. Keep in mind that hosta leaves will scorch in full sun, so be sure to select an area that gets only a few hours of morning sun.
  • Next, dig around and below the hosta being careful not to damage too much of the root system. Lift the entire plant out of the ground and don’t be shy about asking for help if it is too heavy. With a garden hose, rinse as much of the soil from the root system.
  • Now is the time to get tuff. You can take your shovel or cutting tool, and slice all the way through the roots, and divide the plant into one or more sections. If the roots are not too tangled, it is best to pull the sections apart by working with your hands.
  • Next, add the organic matter or compost in the hole and replant one of the sections where you just dug it up. Place the other sections in your wheelbarrow and take to the area you will plant. Dig holes at least twice the size of your root system. Again, add organic matter or compost to the hole, and fill in around the plant.
  • Be sure to water all generously and regularly.Hosta33Another tip when planting is to either plant a “specimen” or in groups of 3 or 5 for an attractive look. If you have room, consider adding some companion plants such as Astilbe, Baptisia, Bleeding heart, Dianthus, or Pulmonaria (lungwort.)Above all, be patient. The hosta may not look very attractive at this time, but after it has had a long winters nap it will emerge in the spring looking as beautiful as ever!

Plant Peonies in Fall for Spring Beauty

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

DSC_0235Peonies are harbingers of spring. Their vast array of colors, shapes, and sizes are among the many reasons they are treasured by gardeners. Add the incredible fragrance of many varieties and you’ve won me over.

Fall is the ideal time to plant or transplant peonies. According to Nate Bremer, owner and grower at Solaris Farms in Reedsville, WI, peonies make almost all of their root growth in the fall of year, even after frosts and leaves have fallen off the trees.

“The plants themselves may look dead above the ground,” said Nate, “but the roots are busy growing and expanding their territory.” He says that planting in the fall allows the new plantings to grow roots for the coming year. If peonies are planted in the spring, they must depend upon roots that were grown the previous year to support them through the summer season, which often causes them to use up their stores of energy and ultimately weakens them.

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Peony ‘Roselette’

Nate should know. His business specializes in peonies. I personally visited his garden center of field-raised stock in spring of last year and was wowed by an early blooming variety called ‘Roselette.’ Its crisp, coral-pink, bowl-shaped blooms were 7” across and caught my eye from 75 yards away. I had to have one. Imagine my disappointment when Nate told me I couldn’t pick it up for another six months! For an instant gratification gardener, it was almost more than I could bare. But I patiently waited until October when I could finally claim my purchase. And I was rewarded this spring with some of the most amazing blooms I’d ever seen, pictured here.

“Peonies may look like they are doing very little during the hot days of summer, but they are busy storing food for the next year,” said Nate. “In autumn many of them produce leaves of gold, orange and red, adding to their value as a three season plant.”

Be sure to cut down herbaceous peonies and remove the stems and foliage in fall. Peonies are susceptible to a fungal disease called botrytis. You may have seen this on your plants. It shows up as black areas on stems and leaves during damp or wet weather. Removing the plant material helps minimize this disease the following growing season.

Nate also shared how nurseries that sell containerized peonies usually plant them in their pots during the fall season or during late winter weather and the peonies do their rooting then. When the containerized peonies are purchased and planted during the spring season the plants have completed their rooting for the year and are susceptible to many problems like drought, soggy soils, disease and heat.

If you’ve considered transplanting peonies, fall is the ideal time for that as well. Rather than transplanting a large clump, Nate recommends dividing larger clumps into 3-5 eyes. Larger clumps generally do not transplant as well. In either event, do it now and don’t be temped to wait until spring. Chances are you will be disappointed.

Thanks to Nate Bremer for sharing his expertise. For information on his unique garden center, which also specializes in Lilium and Day Lilies, visit his website at www.solarisfarms.com. Many more growing tips on peonies can be found there as well.