Tag Archive | choosing plants

Authors in our Midst and at our Garden Conference – #2

Author Stacy Tornio

Stacy Tornio was my inspiration to become a Master Gardener. At the time, she was the editor of Birds & Blooms and a Master Gardener herself. Since then, she has branched out to pursue her goal of being a published author — and has been wildly successful. With 15 published books currently available on amazon, Stacy was the keynote speaker at our Garden Conference several years ago and a vendor this year.

Stacy’s most recent book, Plants You Can’t Killwas written with an eye toward inexperienced gardeners but there’s a wealth of information in the book for those of us who can’t figure out what we’re doing wrong! Loaded with beautiful photographs, it’s a book that should be in every gardener’s library.

From the amazon page:

“I kill everything I plant.”

Does this sound like you or someone you know? Give yourself a pat on the back because admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery. And lucky for you, you can easily turn your brown thumb into a green one with the help of Plants You Can’t Kill.

Seriously—it doesn’t matter how many plants you’ve killed in gardens past. It’s time to put those experiences behind you and finally grow something in your empty and bare spots. This is the only gardening book you’ll ever need with more than 100 plant picks for every situation. You want veggies? We have ’em. You need to fill a big space? We have shrub ideas for you. You just want something pretty? We have plenty of that, as well.

The plants in Plants You Can’t Kill have been vetted by an amazing and famous panel of horticulture experts (this is just a fancy way of saying they went to college for gardening), so feel confident you’re not wasting money on yet another gardening book. These plants will actually survive your well-meaning, yet sometimes neglectful ways.

Ready for the most resilient, hardcore, badass list of plants known to gardeners? Find them and grow them with the help of Plants You Can’t Kill.

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

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Planning for next year

When growing season is done and the garden has been put to bed, it’s time to start planning for next year! I love tea and drink it the way many other people drink coffee. I have an area in my flower garden devoted to herbs, and I’m thinking about adding something new:  tea.

downloadTrue tea (white, black and green) comes from one plant species: Camellia sinensis, hardy in Zones 6 to 9. This plant isn’t finicky (slightly acidic soil, a sunny location and plenty of water will keep it happy), but it grows slowly from seed. It can take three years to get a harvest and cuttings are challenging, so purchasing a plant seems like the right approach. Like me, you may already have herbs in your garden, such as mint and lemongrass, that you can use for tisanes, or herbal teas.

When using herbs for tea, it’s important to research which part of the plant is used for making tea, such as the leaves of the mint plant, the buds and flowers of chamomile or the outer stalks of lemongrass. Freshly picked herbs can be brewed right away. You can also dry herbs to keep the cupboard stocked.

Herbal tea

imagesThis hot beverage is not actually tea (not being made from the Camellia sinensis plant, but from herbs), but is called tea and is wildly popular. Some of the possible plants to use:

  • Bee balm
  • Bergamot
  • Lavender
  • Lemon Verbena
  • Raspberry
  • Rose Hip
  • Sage
  • Strawberry
  • Yarrow

Gently tear or crush herbal leaves, buds or roots to release essential oils and boost flavor, and you might consider a tea infuser or ball instead of a strainer for a simpler brewing process to avoid having a cup full of leaves.

Kalanchoe can rebloom!

kalanchoe-blossfeldianaThe ubiquitous Kalanchoe (pronounced kal-an-KO-ee) is at almost every grocery store that has a floral department, and getting one as part of a get-well or birthday celebration is as common as getting a card! However, the plants are always blooming beautifully upon receipt, but when the blooms begin to fade the plant tends to look straggly and is often discarded.  Not necessary! There is nothing quite like coming in from a bitter winter’s day and seeing the mass of bright red flowers. Even the variations on red that are available — the softer apricot, deeper magenta, or singular yellow — brighten both the room and your soul. Compact, bushy, and about a foot tall, kalanchoe is common in winter, but once the flowers disappear, many people abandon them. That’s a shame, because with very little effort, they can be forced to bloom whenever you want.

Kalanchoe is what is known as a short-day plant, but it is really the length of the night that matters. For kalanchoe to set flower buds, it needs six to eight weeks of days with 14 to 16 hours of uninterrupted darkness. And uninterrupted means exactly that, so you’ll have to put it in the closet every afternoon — over in the corner where your poinsettia spends the fall, as it needs the same treatment. Pick the right closet because anything in it you might need won’t be available until morning. About a month after the dark period ends, color should be showing as the buds begin to break.

Other than that, kalanchoe is a cinch to grow when given lots of sun (except when it’s in the closet). It thrives in warmth, 65ºF or more, although it tolerates temperatures just above freezing. It should have the chance to go a bit dry between waterings, and it likes a general fertilizer every two or three weeks when new leaves are growing.

When it gets too big it can be cut back pretty hard, leaving only three leaves on each branch. If you do cut it back, wait until it has at least three pairs of new leaves on each branch (about two to three months) before tossing it back in the closet to initiate flowering.

Overwintering Geraniums

8387268_origSometimes you have a perfect summer with conditions that have contributed to the most beautiful container of geraniums you’ve ever had. What to do in the fall — let them die off and try again next year, or attempt to keep them over the winter? If you’re tempted to keep them, you have some options.

The perfect solution would be a cool, damp basement (can you say cellar?), where you could just hang them upside down. Shake the excess dirt from the roots, but leave all that clings. Loosely tie a string around the neck area, where the stem meets he roots, and use this to hang them from a rafter or beam. They should get good air circulation; be sure they don’t touch each other or anything else.

A dry basement — as long as it is cool (35º to 45ºF) — is a distant second choice. In that case, you will need to pot them up and they will need a place that’s light. They should be watered thoroughly about once a month, but let them go dry in between — they’re hardly growing.

No matter which way you store them, remove buds and flowers, where the disease botrytis hides, and any leaves that turn yellow. Cut the plants back to 6 inches after planting them outside next year.

Even thought your geraniums appear healthy, they could have picked up at least one of the many diseases that affect geraniums during the summer. When they are ready to go back outside, the geraniums will be stressed from their winter treatment, but any disease organisms will be just fine so the plants may not be as healthy as you expect. Keep a little extra in the gardening budget for replacements.

Fire in the Fields

Sumac lighting up a hill in Wisconsin's autumn

Sumac lighting up a hill in Wisconsin’s autumn

It happens every autumn. Huge sweeps of straggly, undistinguished shrubs that grew unnoticed in unkempt fields are suddenly, gloriously, ornamental. The long almost palmlike fronds of leaves shine bright red with hints of yellow and orange. The branches spread like candelabra holding up huge crimson fruit clusters that keep glowing long after leafdrop, when all the world is gray. No wonder gardeners think about bringing sumac in from the wild.

Staghorn sumac in the summer before changing color

Staghorn sumac in the summer before changing color

Sumac grows everywhere, all the way from zone 2 to zone 9. It grows in dry soil, poor soil, moist soil, near-bog, bright sun, and part shade. It spreads by seed and by underground runners that can travel 20 feet or more in search of a good spot to make a new clump of sumac. But if there is also a lawn anywhere nearby, there will be adequate local control as long as you keep mowing.

Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) is the most common roadside attraction. It’s fuller and more readily clump-forming than staghorn sumac (R. typhina), named for the velvety down that covers every branch. Smooth sumac tops out at about 8 to 10 feet, staghorn at 12 to 16 feet.

Fragrant sumac makes a beautiful garden addition

Fragrant sumac makes a beautiful garden addition

Fragrant sumac (R. aromatica) is shorter, at 3 to 4 feet, and bushier, more like a garden plant. If you decide to bring sumac into your garden or prairie, no matter which type you choose you will need both male and female plants if you want fruits. Sumacs are available through nurseries that specialize in native plants, and some large garden centers will order them for you if you ask.

Note: it’s always a good idea to check whether a plant is considered an invasive species in your state before transplanting from an area where the plant is growing wild. In Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources provides a free guide to invasive species here:  DNR INVASIVE SPECIES GUIDE

 

When to Plant Trees

tree-planting-guide-diagramFor most trees, fall is the best time to plant. The soil is warm but not waterlogged the way it can be in spring, and trees without leaves make fewer demands on their roots to provide nutrients.

A few trees, however, including magnolia, birch, hawthorn, black gum, tulip tree, and most oaks, get downright cranky when planted in the fall. No one knows for sure, but researchers think that there is something that prevents the root structure from taking up enough water to overcome transplant shock, and that winter comes before the tree is ready for it.

Studies by Dr. Nina Bassuk at the Cornell University Urban Horticulture Institute in Ithaca, New York, show that transplanting these trees when they are smaller increases the success rate for fall planting. She has had much better results with trees that measure less than 2 inches in diameter at a point 6 inches above where the trunk emerges from the roots than she has had with larger trees. Be sure to water that new tree in well. Whether it has leaves or not, it needs water.

Watering also settles the soil and helps eliminate any air pockets. Dormant trees planted in October or early November should need only that one deep, soothing watering to last them the winter. But all that said, it is still better to plant magnolias in spring.

Like other things in life that aren’t what they used to be, burlap has changed. Whether for the better depends on your point of view. A single layer of plain old untreated burlap, now almost a thing of the past, rots away nicely and lets roots wander freely out of their soil ball. But you are just as likely to run into a plastic burlap-like material, or into burlap that has been treated with a rot-resistant chemical.

Both are popular in the horticultural industry for the same reason: they stay intact longer, through sunshine and waterings, as the tree makes its way from its growing site to you. But that perseverance presents problems for growing roots trying to find their way into new surroundings. Rot-resistant burlap takes years longer to decay than untreated does, and even untreated burlap presents a formidable boundary if wadded down in layers and left in place.

In both cases, these barriers restrict the diameter of the roots as they grow out. In some cases, the tree may even die. At that point, you can dig it up and use the original wrapping to take the dead tree to the dump.

To avoid such problems, after placing the tree in that nice extra-wide-but-no-deeper-than-the-ball hole, untie the twine around the trunk and cut away the burlap.

Note: some ideas are harder to kill than crabgrass. One of them is that when a tree is dug up to be sold, the branches should be removed to compensate for the loss of roots. The rationale is to balance root loss with the removal of an equal amount of top growth. The tree is then thought to be better balanced and better able to withstand transplant shock.

As logical as this sounds at first, it just doesn’t hold up. The human equivalent might be removing the right arm of someone who has just lost her left leg in an accident.

Transplanted trees need all the food they can produce to support the regrowth of those lost roots. The food comes from leaves doing their thing, so the more leaves, the better. The only branches that should be pruned are those that are dead, diseased, damaged, or rubbing against other branches.

Familiar Friend Can Add Drama

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tom Wentzel

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Rudbeckia Herbstonne is a very dramatic background plant. This specimen is 6 – 7’ tall and as you can see has the advantage of flower on the upper 1/3 of its height.   Therefore it does not interfere with foreground plantings.

It is a carefree plant. It does like rich well drained soil and will tolerate some draught once it is established. This plant in my garden was planted as two clumps about 5 years ago. The clumps have since grown together. Although it is does spread by rhizomes it general stays in its clump and is easy to control. Deer and rabbits tend to leave it alone but insects and birds love it.

With a little dead heading it will bloom from late July into fall. I leave the stalks in place for winter interest.