Tag Archive | Outsgamie County Master Gardeners

Seed Starting

Seeds are amazing. These small packages contain everything needed to make a whole plant, and many also contain tiny sensors to tell them if the time is ripe for germination. Among those sensors is phytochrome, a pigment that is sensitive to certain wavelengths of red light.

Who cares? You will if you sow these seeds and cover them with soil. Seeds that need light, and often they are smaller seeds, will not germinate if they are buried too deeply. When a seed is struck by sunlight (or light from a regular incandescent bulb), the phytochrome changes. If the seed has warmth, moisture, and oxygen, the change in the phytochrome breaks the seed’s dormancy and allows germination. If the environment is not to the seed’s liking, the phytochrome slowly changes back and the seed waits for another blast of light when conditions are better.

Among seeds that need light to germinate are ageratum, California poppy, gaillardia, coleus, columbine, love-in-a-mist, snapdragon, Shasta daisy, strawflower, sweet alyssum, and sweet rocket. You can’t tell by looking, so following seed-package instructions is always a good idea.


Seeds vary in the texture and thickness of their seed coat, which affects how fast water can penetrate. The presence of water in turn allows germination.

Some plants, among them flowers like morning glory, lupine, and moonflowers, have rather thick seed coats. To get them going, suppliers often recommend that they be scarified — nicked, scraped, or chipped — to create tiny breaks in the seed coat. With these cracks, moisture can penetrate easily and the plant will spring to life more quickly.

What happens if there’s no human around to do this job? Nature has methods, but they take longer. Thick seed coats are eventually worn away by soil fungi, bacteria, the elements, or a trip through the digestive system of a bird or other animal.


Good seed germination depends on more than adequate light and moisture. It’s also affected by soil temperature.

Different plants have different needs in the temperature department, but almost all of them will do okay at 70º to 75ºF.

Because cold tap water can lower the temperature considerably, use tepid. And don’t forget that temperatures warm enough to keep the soil in the 70s will probably make the air above the soil too warm for the seedlings when they do come up. The solution? Either supply bottom heat only, using a gardener’s heat mat or heating cable, or put the flats on top of the fridge until about half of the seeds have sprouted and then move them to the windowsill.

Seed Storage

Chances are good you will have leftover seeds when you’re done planting annuals. Not all of them are worth saving; asters and larkspurs, for instance have very short storage lives. But most will be perfectly usable next year if they are stored dry, cool, and dark.

Date each packet and reseal it with tape. Put the packets in a glass jar with a screw cap, or in a thick-plastic freezer-storage bag. Put the jar or bag in a cool place or in the freezer (away from the coils if it a self-defrosting model). When you’re ready to use the frozen seeds, remove the packets from the jar or bag and spread them out flat before letting them thaw, so they don’t get wet from condensation.

A few seeds will die, no matter how carefully they are stored, so plant saved seed a little more thickly to allow for the reduced germination rate.

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

Moon Gardens

by Tammy Borden

As a person who works full time and often doesn’t get home until early evening, I sometimes feel like I’m missing out on the prime hours for enjoying my garden blooms. By the end of the day many flowers can look tired, and some, like morning glories, have already shriveled up in the day’s sun and heat. So, when I discovered flowers that saved their best show for the evening hours, it intrigued me. Now, many of these late-day bloomers are on my list of favorites.

Typically, flowers classified as those fitting for a “moon garden” won’t open until night or late afternoon. However, there are others that may be open all day, yet release their intoxicating scent as evening approaches. This is one of the main reasons I love to grow some of these beauties in pots or near walkways, so I can enjoy their lovely scent as well.

Why do some flowers wait until darkness approaches to open? Well, there are several night-flying pollinators such as moths that feast on these beauties. It’s suspected that the alluring fragrance helps attract insects when low light conditions can make them more difficult to find. This may also explain why these types of flowers are often white. The light color is more likely to reflect the moonlight and advertise their beauty to passing moths and other insects. Personally, I feel white is underutilized in the garden and I love mixing it in with colorful annuals to make them pop. Here are the top five favorite moon garden flowers I’ve found through the years.

Moon Flower

Moon Flower

Moonflower (Ipomoea alba)

Moonflowers have large 6” flowers on 8-15’ vines that look similar to morning glories, which is understandable since it is a close relative. On a warm summer night you can literally watch the large blooms unfurl from their twisted bud in a matter of minutes. It’s often the subject of time-lapse photography for this reason. The blooms open at dusk, but close by noon the next morning. But not to worry, the vine will produce blooms in abundance from day to day. It is a tender perennial vine that is winter hardy to Zones 10-12, but grown as an annual here in full sun. It can grow to 70’ in more tropical climates. Start seed indoors about 6-8 weeks before last spring frost date. Starting seeds outdoors delays the onset of blooms until too late in the season to be fully enjoyed.

Flowering Tobacco

Flowering Tobacco

Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris)

I have grown this towering heirloom variety for several years from seed. It’s hard to imagine that the dust-like seed can grow to become this stately 5-6’ plant. It is often referred to as Woodland Tobacco, and has 3-4″ hanging trumpet-shaped white blossoms. Once again, it is a tender perennial, grown as an annual. The white blooms open towards evening with a delightful light scent. It prefers average to fertile soil and may need staking in windy sites. It may reseed, but I’ve not had a problem with it becoming invasive. The leaves are very large at the base, forming a rosette of dark green, from which the tall spike of dozens of white trumpets grow. It does well in light shade.

Four o’clocks (Mirabalis)


Four-o-Clock Flowers

As their name suggests, these beautiful tender perennials open late in the day on bushy plants with lush, glossy foliage. It is also known as the Marvel of Peru, also a very fitting name, since the Latin definition of its genus name means “amazing, wondrous, or remarkable.” A fifitting name for the tubular trumpet-shaped flflowers that just keep coming day after day in abundance. In Wisconsin it is grown as an annual. Even so, the plant grows quickly and can almost appear shrub- like for use as a small hedge, growing to three feet. Unlike many other night bloomers, these trumpet-shaped flowers are available in a number of beautiful colors ranging from red, yellow, pink, blue, white and even some beautiful marbled varieties. They prefer full sun. Their fragrance truly is outstanding. I had a plant in a large pot near my front door and loved sitting on the steps taking in the heady perfume.

Angel's Trumpet

Angel’s Trumpet

Angel’s Trumpet (Datura alba)

This plant can become quite large, resembling a small shrub or bush with medium sized leaves having a bluish hue. The flowers are large, facing upright, and opening towards evening. The name Angel Trumpet may refer to the angel of death, however. The plants are poisonous, so care should be taken in handling them. Daturas are so lethal that they have been used throughout history and literature as a means of killing a person. The cosmic-looking 2” seed pods with their bristly shell appear as from another world and have been known to reseed themselves. Despite its obvious faults, it is a beautiful flower, that properly placed, can add interest to your garden.

Casa Blanca Lily

Casa Blanca Lily

Casa Blanca Oriental Lily (Lilium Casa Blanca)

Technically not a night bloomer, the Casa Blanca Oriental Lily is readily incorporated into moon gardens because of its fragrance. In fact, it is one of the most fragrant flowers I have ever grown. One need not bend down to smell it, as its scent can be appreciated from yards away. Unlike most moon garden flowers, its blooms can last for more than a week, but each day its fragrance intensifies towards evening. Its immense 10″ flowers are so large that the thick stems may need some staking in windy locations. If you choose to grow one lily, this should be it. In my book, it’s a must-have.

Be sure to try some of these beauties in your moon garden and enjoy their intoxicating beauty and fragrance.

Attracting Visitors to the Garden

Love those visitors that fly in! Lantana is a favorite plant of the yellow swallowtail butterfly so I make sure to plant it especially with them in mind. Lucky for me, I have discovered that the yellow swallowtail is usually quite willing to feast while I snap away!

IMG_2622 yellow swallowtail

Written by Pam, Posted by Rachel

Follow Up on Air & Soil Temperature Experiments

You may recall from a previous post that we have installed a hoop house/cold frame in The Learning Garden.  As part of this project we are following the air and soil temperatures.  Those temperatures are summarized in the graph below.  We compare the soil temperature inside the hoop house (orange) to a similar bed without a hoop house (green).  The hoop house does consistently increase the soil temperature by about 5 degrees.  The fluctuations are largely due to the amount of sunlight on the particular day that the readings were taken.  The high temperatures during the day are also dependent on the amount of sunlight.  On bright sunny days the high temperatures approach 80 degrees.  Venting keeps the heat from building up to excessive levels.  The low air temperatures probably are similar to the outside air temperature.  The hoop house if just too small to hold heat through the night.  On April 7 radish and lettuce seeds had germinated.

Hoop House

The other temperature study that is going on is black vs clear plastic mulch laid directly on the ground.  It is very clear that clear plastic, the green line, heats the soil faster.  The temperature difference is 10 degrees.  The soil temperature is similar to the hoop house temperature.  It was a bit of a surprise that black plastic did not affect soil temperature compared to no covering.  Although the sun does heat the plastic, that heat is not transferred to the soil.  We will be continuing this study through the summer.

Plastic Mulch

Written by Tom Wentzel

Posted by Rachel

Meet the Bloggers: The Bev Edition

As Master Gardener Volunteers there is a whole village of us helping put this blog together! Here’s a little information about Bev:

I have been a Master Gardner since 2011 with my initial interest in sun-loving perennial flowers.  I have started to experiment with vegetables and herbs.  My favorite herb is “Genovese” basil that I use fresh and frozen for pesto.  My biggest surprise working as a Master Gardner, was learning that even though you received training,  and you plan and prepare for your garden and plants, a large portion of gardening is trial and error, which then provides you with the wisdom to share with other gardeners.  I also really enjoy the comradery volunteering with other gardeners.

B.KindschyLR 50 copy

Written by Bev

Posted by Rachel