Tag Archive | Plants

Amaryllis Story

by OCMGA Master Gardener Rich Fischer

amaryllis 2I honestly don’t know much about amaryllis and I only have one plant, but it is an interesting plant with an interesting story. 

This plant I got from my mother-in-law in, Gertrude Lenore Armbruster Taipale, when she moved from her apartment in Superior, Wisconsin, into an assisted living home about 8 years ago.  Gramma Gertie as I lovingly called her died two years ago but I think of her often. 

When I got this plant I didn’t quite know what to do with it so I planted it in the vegetable garden where it grew for the summer and it seemed to like it there.  Then Gertie told me to put it in a small pot with some potting soil and store it in the basement for the winter.  The next spring I brought it up from the basement and found a nice place by a window in the house for it.    

 This year I brought this plant up from the basement two weeks before Memorial Day and watered it.  The plant had one little sprig poking out of the pot at that time.  Then when I had a house full of Fischers over for a cookout on Memorial Day it was in full bloom.  What dumb luck!    Not only did it make a nice table setting, but also made me think of Pat’s mom on the very day when we’re supposed to remember the dead. 

amaryrillis 1The amaryllis shoots up 1 or 2 very tall scapes with a large red flower on each scape.  They are beautiful, but only last about a week.   When the flowers start to shrivel I cut off the scapes.  Then about 4 to 6 large iris like leaves shoot up and grow all summer.  I no longer put the plant in the garden, but leave it in the smallish pot and water it just like all the other house plants. Around October the leaves start to whither and I put the pot on a shelf in the basement until next spring.    

That is my one and only amaryllis story.  Never read a word about amaryllis care except what Gertie told me.  She’s gone now but her memory and her beautiful amaryllis live on. 

Rich Fischer 

Return to Reverence – The Marigold

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

Early on in my marriage I wasn’t exactly a gardening diva. In fact, I had very little interest in gardening. But my husband’s father, Louie, had gardening in his veins. I fondly remember going to his house and weaving my way through narrow passageways of seedling flats in his garage. Soon, the flats were transferred to a small greenhouse set up in his driveway. It wasn’t long before friends, neighbors and strangers were stopping in to buy his plants and engaging in some of the most colorful conversation they had ever had.

download (1)Louie, the ultimate salesman, always touted each variety of flower he grew, but none seemed to rival his affection for marigolds. Yes, I said marigolds! It’s not just the marigold’s distinctive scent that causes many seasoned gardeners to turn up their noses. What is it then, that brings many to dismiss them? Could it be that we have become gardening snobs, believing we have progressed too far in our botanical knowledge to extol such a lowly flower, as though it is only reserved for the commoners and unsophisticated gardeners? I hope not. I long to bring marigolds back to their once revered reputation. It’s name alone expresses how admired and respected it once was. In fact, marigold or “Mary’s gold,” was named after the most revered of all women in history, the Virgin Mary, and were believed to bring good luck. Originally discovered in Central America in the 16th century by the Portuguese, it was brought back to Europe where it grew in popularity. Today in South Asia, yellow and orange marigold flowers are grown and harvested by the millions to make garlands used to decorate statues and buildings. In Mexico and Latin America, marigold flowers are used to celebrate All Saints Day and All Souls Day, and flower heads are scattered on relatives’ graves. So, it stands to reason that they should receive an honored place in our own gardens. Through the years many hybrids have been developed to bring out the most desirable characteristics like large flower heads, various plant sizes and unique colorations.

Perhaps the furthest advances in breeding, however, have been in diminishing one of its most notable qualities: its scent. Many people find the scent offensive. I personally find it’s something that one needs to learn to appreciate. I like to think of it like coffee; when I first tried coffee, I couldn’t understand why anyone would drink such an awful concoction. But with time I came to acquire a taste for the brew and now I love to greet each morning with a hot cup of coffee. And likewise, I love to greet each spring with marigolds.

Many use marigolds to outline garden beds or vegetable plots, believing they help keep out rabbits, deer and insects. While marigolds can deter some pests, they are not the all-purpose pest and plant repellent that people have been led to believe they are. Yet the marigold itself is virtually pest and disease free, with the exception of their arch-nemesis, earwigsfrench-marigold-1225611__180, which like to nestle and munch inside its tightly clustered flower heads. Despite countless breeders’ attempts, very few new color varieties of marigolds have been developed. The most common remain the yellow, gold and orange varieties seen in garden centers and catalogues. You will not find a pink marigold… yet.

Burpee’s Seeds, however, has done exceptionally well with developing unusual white varieties of marigolds. ‘French Vanilla’ is my personal favorite. It’s scent is light and pleasant, and is one of Burpee’s earliest triumphs in hybridizing white marigolds. It grows to 2’ with large 3½” flower heads and deep green foliage. The blooms are white with a hint of cream. Other notable white varieties include ‘Snowball’ and ‘Snowdrift’. Burpee’s Seeds played a major role in making the marigold among the most used flowers in America. After sweeping over Europe and Asia in popularity, David Burpee saw the promise in marigolds. In 1915 he took over the seed company founded by his father, W. Atlee Burpee. Young David felt that marigolds held promise and decided to feature them in his catalog and fund research. If you love giant flower heads, try the ‘Inca’ or ‘Inca II’ varieties. These giants produce 4-5” flower heads of bright yellow or orange on stocky 20” plants. If you’ve driven down South Oneida Street in Appleton during the summer, you’ll notice this variety lining the streets of Marigold Mile. Many other great varieties are available. Here are the three most common types of marigolds:

 

  • African or American Marigolds: These plants grow to 3’ in height with large globe-shaped flowers. ‘French Vanilla’ is among these beauties.
  • French Marigolds: These plants generally grow from 5-18” tall. Flower colors include red, orange and yellow, as well as bicolor varieties. Flowers grow to 2”across. A great new variety is called ‘Fireball,’ a unique combination of yellow and reddish orange with a large flower head.
  • Signet Marigolds: Recognized for their finely divided, lacy foliage and clusters of small, single flowers. The flowers are yellow to orange colored and are edible, having a spicy tarragon flavor. The foliage also has a pleasant lemon fragrance. A popular variety is ‘Starfire,’ with petite, bushy plants that boast hundreds of small florets.

downloadThe marigold. It’s no fuss, easy going, with a bright and sunny disposition. It may not be the flashiest of flowers or even the most impressive. It’s good at highlighting others around it, and is reliable, strong and simple. But I suppose that is why I love the marigold so much. Its attributes, character and charm remind me of Louie, who has sadly since gone on to meet the Master Gardener of all gardeners. It is partly because of him that I am so passionate about starting my own seeds, and I will always grow ‘French Vanilla’ marigolds in his memory.

Rhubarb Season is here

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tom Wentzel

UntitledThis is my first rhubarb harvest this year. There was one more, but I ate it. We all have bunches of recipes for using rhubarb so I won’t go there.

Chinese records from 2700 BC record its medicinal use. Marco Polo documented its use, but I’m not sure if he introduced it to Europe. A while ago, I visited Old World Wisconsin. In one of the Germany heritage houses there was a string of, what I thought, were chicken bones. It was dried rhubarb! Many of the historical uses that I have read seem to be medicinal, rather that culinary.

My first picking didn’t have that lip puckering sourness of later season harvests. The sourness is due to the pH (acidity) which is in the range of 3.1 – 3.2. For reference, fresh lemon juice has a pH of about 2. Adding sugar doesn’t “neutralize” the acidity, it simply covers it up.

Rhubarb leaves have a reputation as being toxic. This is due to the relatively high concentration of oxalic acid. Oxalic acid’s primary effects can be stomach irritation and kidney problems. Ten pounds of leaves would be required to deliver a lethal dose. Kitchen pot cleaners such as Bar Keepers Friend and ZUD use oxalic acid as the primary active ingredient.

Uses for Rhubarb leaves:

  • Use them as a mulch.
  • They can be composted in limited quantities.
  • GREAT for leaf castings
  • I have seen recipes for rhubarb leaf concoctions as insecticides and repellents. These have been anecdotal, their effectiveness has not been verified.

I will break my promise not to talk recipes. Here’s mine: Peel, then eat.

All-Purpose Fertilizer for Vegetables

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Nice, rich compost

Every year, we get the same questions in a variety of formats:  why won’t my vegetables grow? What should I do to grow more tomatoes? Do I need different types of fertilizer for my different vegetables? The answer to all of these questions is the best fertilizer for your soil and vegetables: compost! Compost is the all-purpose answer to everything, and if you have enough of it you won’t need much of anything else. Though different crops have different needs, they will be able to serve themselves from the smorgasbord provided by healthy soil with plenty of compost in it. Once you start adding specific fertilizers, you start having to pay attention to each individual diet.

Salad greens, for example, want lots of nitrogen to promote the fast growth of leafy tissue. Peppers, on the other hand, are more eager for the potassium that promotes flower and fruit development. Although they too need nitrogen, they’d make great big green leafy bushes with nary a pepper in sight if you gave them a lettuce-appropriate dose.

And major nutrients like nitrogen and potassium are just the beginning. There are dozens of micronutrients, such as boron, calcium, and copper, that plants must have — in different amounts — to thrive.

In practice, it can be hard to create soil so fertile that no amendment is necessary, especially when growing vegetables in a small space. But before you break out the fertilizer cookbook and start concocting special meals for all the crops you want to grow, make sure the soil is well drained and well aerated, and that the pH is between 6 and 7 (the best range for most vegetables). Ensuring these conditions exist may be all you need to do. If the soil is bad or the pH out of whack, it won’t matter what you put on the table, the vegetables won’t be able to eat.

by Vicki Schilleman, OCMGA Master Gardener

Small Garden Design Tricks

On April 1, we hosted our annual Garden Conference with huge success. Our speakers were so engaging and provided so much information that I thought it would be fun to follow up with a couple of blog posts on the same topics.

This image from Vialii Garden Design show the effectiveness of a well-placed mirror in a garden to make it look larger.

Master Gardener David Calle talked about garden design principles, with lavish photographs of gardens from all over the world. One of his points dealt with providing a focal point at the back of your garden and another talked about providing a welcoming entrance. (Visit David’s blog at thegoodgarden.com to enjoy David’s design tips and stories of his trips.)

Both of these points reminded me of the woes from gardeners with small spaces. But, those of you with small garden spaces, be of good cheer! Fooling the eye seems to be a continuing goal of small-space gardeners, and a serpentine path might be just what you need, especially if it’s also slightly narrower at the far end of the garden. Another method of achieving a false perspective is to plant species with large leaves, like hostas or rhododendrons, close to the window or viewing point, and those with small leaves, like liriope or cut-leaf maples, toward the rear. This is a favorite devise in Japanese gardens. Artfully positioned mirrors also help to make gardens feel larger.

From smartdecorpainting.com, the arbor and painted image on the doors of this potting shed is an example of trompe l’oeil.

Trelliswork is an effective and practical way to add an illusion of space, especially when designed with the false perspective known as trompe l’oeil. The secret of trompe l’oeil trelliswork lies in diagonal lines that appear to radiate from an imaginary vanishing point — much like the perspective of railroad tracks. Because mirrors add brightness as well as the illusion of depth, nothing beats a mirror-trellis combination when it comes to improving a small, dark garden.

You can build a simple wall trellis yourself by using a horizontal and vertical grid, or attempt a more elaborate plaid of double slats, diagonal, or diamond pattered (don’t forget that you’ll have to paint whatever you build). If your talents do not lie in the area of construction, look for prefabricated panels at local garden centers or hardware stores, and in mail-order catalogs.

To weatherproof a mirror for outdoor use, with or without the trelliswork, glue it to marine-grade plywood and seal the edges with silicone caulking.

by OCMGA Master Gardener Vicki Schilleman

 

Recycle Your Christmas Tree

Christmas trees are too often tossed unceremoniously onto the curb right after the holidays. But there’s no reason holiday evergreens can’t be allowed to serve long after the merry-making is over.

For a splash of instant green, cut the branches of pine, fir, spruce, or other needled evergreens and add them to barren window boxes or containers.

You can also use branches to protect dormant plants. A think cover of evergreen limbs helps keep the surface layer of soil moist, and also helps to stabilize soil temperature, reducing the rapid cycles of frost and thaw that can heave perennials and shrubs from the ground and rip their roots.

Christmas greenery also can be used as tracery on trellises and arbors. Held in place with plastic ties or string, cut boughs give plants like climbing roses, and vines like grapes or clematis, a good-looking shield from drying winter winds and sun.

In addition, leftover evergreens are useful for augmenting the natural foliage around a bird feeder or bath. Wild birds like protection and aren’t choosy whether their evergreen screen is living or dead.

There is an art to denuding a Christmas tree, though, and pruning shears or loppers are a must. Heavy gloves make it easier to handle the rough bark and the needles. If you must cut up the tree inside, cover the floor with a plastic sheet to prevent a mess of needles and sap.

Remove the evergreen boughs from gardens and planters when the tips of early spring bloomers, like crocus or snowdrops, have pushed about an inch out of the ground. Where no bulbs are planted, leave the branches until mid-April or whenever spring seems securely in place.

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.