Thursday, October 17, 2013

Companion Planting With the Marigold

Marigolds are a versatile and lovely addition to most growing areas. They come in an array of color, height, and bloom size ensuring a marigold to suit every preference and growing space. Marigolds are believed to be one of the earliest cultivated flowers. Ancient Greeks used marigolds for their strong coloring ability to create makeup, and dye for both food and clothing. They are edible and have been used in cooking for centuries. In addition, marigolds have been and in fact still are used for many medicinal purposes. The marigold is known to have strong antiseptic properties and to be both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. Marigolds have been used to treat cuts, scrapes, measles, stomaches, toothaches, urinary problems, and diaper rash. These are just a few of the many benefits of fully grown marigolds, but marigolds actually have benefits from the time they begin to root.
The benefits of marigolds when growing make them an exceptional choice for companion planting. This is a system of polyculture that has been used for thousands of years, throughout the world. Companion planting allows the benefits of a growing plant to be utilized by a plant and all of its neighbors. The benefits of a plant can be exceptionally varied. Some plants have evolved built in protection against pest. Other plants can fix their own nitrogen into the soil. Each variety of plant has its own benefits and drawbacks that are carefully considered when adding them to a companion planting system. By placing marigolds near the plants that will benefit the most, the entire garden becomes more productive.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Harvesting and Using Rose Hips for Tea

Rose hips, or rose haws are the fruit that forms from a pollinated rose. They are high in Vitamin C and antioxidants and many gardeners love to use them in teas, marmalades and oils.

Rose hips or rose haws have been used by people around the world for centuries. They are high in many nutrients and their use is a great preventative of colds and respiratory ailments. Since the early days of history, rose hips, in one form or another were used as laxatives, astringents, diuretics, nuitrients and love potions. During WWII wild rose hips were gathered by the people of England and Scandinavia and made into syrup to replace the Vitamin C rich citrus fruits that were unavailable because of the sea blockades. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Unexpected Places to See Beautiful Fall Foliage

The shortening days and lengthening nights of autumn set off a series of events that result in the beautiful fall foliage many of us enjoy each year. A moist growing season followed by a dry fall, warm days ending with cool nights, and plenty of sunshine also play a role in the amount of striking colors we see.

Our country has some exceptional spots for fall color: Vermont, New Hampshire, Virginia's Skyline Drive, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, for example, all offer magnificent displays. However, there are many other options for viewing fall colors in America. Here are five places in five different parts of the country you may not have considered.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Matchstick Bromeliad

Many times I chance upon a plant that provides beautiful surprises. Such is the case with matchstick bromeliad. I had always thought bromeliads were tropical beauties that required special care and protection. Most of my bromeliads are put in containers and moved to the greenhouse come winter.

One winter quite by accident, I left the matchstick bromeliad outdoors. I found it the following spring, all healthy and undamaged by the ravages of my Zone 8B winter. With this encouragement, I planted the bromeliad outdoors underneath a tree. Even now, ten or so years later, the matchstick bromeliad flourishes. Very little damage has been inflicted on the foliage, but the flowers are sometimes damaged by a freeze. This is unfortunate, for late fall and early winter is when the flowers bloom.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Popular Ornamental Grasses for Fall Color and Texture

Ornamental grasses are an adaptable, easy to grow addition for your landscape. Your fall and winter landscape will look more appealing with added texture and color that ornamental grasses provide.

Ornamental grasses really give you bang for your landscaping buck. Most will give you year round beauty, texture and color, and they require very little maintenance. What could be better than that?

Many ornamental grasses are tolerant to any soil type. They come in various heights to fit in any type of landscape or garden. You can even grow them in pots to create seasonal decorations that you can change as you desire and display them indoors or out.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Preserving Winter Squash

Winter squash like butternut, acorn, and turban are gorgeous vitamin-filled fruits that are adaptable to a variety of recipes and uses. The plants are easy to grow and will usually reward the gardener with a wheelbarrow full of beautiful gourds. Winter squash store for up to three months in a cool dark location. For longer storage they may be oiled or waxed to prevent small rot and mold spots from taking hold in any imperfection on the skin. The surface of the skin needs to be washed and completely dried before waxing or oiling. Each squash will need just a light coating of your preferred preservation formula.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The History of the Bayberry Candle

One of the most important autumn tasks of the colonial American housewife was candle dipping. Probably few candles were as pleasant to work with as those made from bayberry wax.

The bayberry shrub, which the settlers also called the Virginia myrtle or candleberry bush, is a North American native shrub found mostly along the Eastern seaboard. Varieties of the bayberry, including the northern bayberry (Morella pensylvanica) and southern bayberry (Morella cerifera), grow from Maine to Florida, most abundantly along the coast of the Atlantic.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Southwestern Gardens Get Their "Second Wind" in the Autumn

Flourishing tomatoes
Yes, friends, it is the moment we in the Southwest have been waiting for: Autumn! Since moving here five years ago, I have come to look forward to the cooler days of autumn more than any other time of year. A cool breeze is carried on the morning air and everything in the garden is given fresh new life. All those plants that had been languishing in the heat seem to perform on queue and seemingly overnight colour abounds. During the spring I planted several tomato plants and my yield was well below average. After consulting with friends in the SW Garden Forum, this is not unusual. When planting tomatoes here in the spring, they must bloom, set fruit and mature before the temperatures soar into the upper 90s and dreaded 100s. You can increase your chance of success by planting cherry tomatoes and yellow pears. The 'Sweet 100' tomatoes supposedly do well here throughout the summer as well. Not in my garden, I am sad to say. I have mentioned before that growing tomatoes here is an art form I have yet to perfect. As the days of summer started coming to an end, I was told DON'T remove your tomato plants. Trim them back a bit, fertilize them and you will reap the benefits of a second harvest. Well, I have done just that. I trimmed dead vines, picked off a few tomato horn worms (cheeky buggers), added some epsom salts and fertilizer made especially for tomatoes and now I will wait. The foliage is taking on a lovely bright green and the thumbnail size flowers are making a welcome appearance. Time will tell if the delicious fruit will follow.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Thryallis - a Shower of Gold

Thryallis is not a plant in my repository of childhood memories. Grandmother didn’t have it in her garden, and I never saw it or was aware of it until a few years back when I saw it growing in a botanical garden. It struck my fancy then, and I looked until I found one for my garden.

Thryallis (Galphimia glauca), native from Mexico to Guatemala, grows as an evergreen shrub in the tropics where it attains a height of about 9 feet tall and wide. In my Zone 8B garden it often gets killed back to the ground by winter’s freezing temperatures and must produce new stems every year. Consequently, it tops out at about 6 feet and is mostly a fall bloomer. In the tropics and areas without freezing temperatures, some bloom can be expected at all times.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

How to Save a Tender Perennial Indoors

Focus your eyes on your summer garden or patio and you will likely be able to find a plant that has been purchased as an annual when it is really a perennial in its growing zone. Garden centers and nurseries bring in exotic flora to tempt and delight us with new and more amazing color, scent and form. This excellent marketing approach is difficult to resist after a winter spent inside, chafing to grow spectacular flowers, fruits and vegetables. Many gardeners chose plants that will not survive their winter temperatures as annuals, but some of these tender flora can be saved over the winter, indoors. The result is money saved, a vigorous plant with a developed root system and the satisfaction of caring for a difficult specimen.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Would a Pumpkin By Any Other Name Taste as Sweet?

Would a pumpkin by any other name taste as sweet? What if you discovered it was actually a squash? Read on to discover all kinds of surprising facts about the pumpkins grown in Central Illinois.

I live and work in central Illinois, so I'm accustomed to the idea of living in the Corn Belt, and in the Bread Basket of the Nation. To be more specific, I live only a few miles away from Morton, Illinois, which bears a more unusual nickname: The Pumpkin Capitol of the World.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Lovely Lamium

One of the up and coming stars in the ornamental plant world are spotted dead-nettles or Lamium maculatum. This multi-purpose plant is grown for both its flowers and lovely foliage display. Of low stature, this plant is useful for border edges, rock gardens, shady gardens and containers. This article will introduce you to the many cultivars which now exist.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Japanese Vegetables for Cool Weather Growing

The 12 month growing season in Georgia and my love for ethnic foods had me searching for a wide variety of vegetables I could grow all winter. After combing through many seed catalogs I discovered that some Japanese vegetables prefer cool weather – mostly those of the cold tolerant brassica family that are tastier with a touch of frost. They are delicious when young and tender in a salad, and terrific cooked when mature.

Since the vegetable bed area I installed is in the front yard, very close to the sidewalk, my goal was to make it look ‘pretty’ – I think vegetable gardens can be beautiful if one keeps in mind the leaf color, texture and size. I wanted my neighbors to see the food growing – and to consider where food comes from – and to also enjoy its ornamental appearance. Keeping it green all year was one way to make the garden look more presentable in any season. Cold weather greens fit the bill for taste, nutrition and presentablility. A big plus is that there are few or no pests to bother my crops!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Which Pumpkin Is Best: Canning, Pies, and Carving

By now, your garden is overflowing with bright orange squash, including the tried-and-true pumpkin. You've picked out a few to carve with the kids for Halloween. You've put a few aside for roasting to make Thanksgiving Day pie. And, you have a few small ones ideal for decorating. Even if you haven't thought this far ahead and selected the right pumpkins for your needs, it's easy to find most varieties available at most farmers markets and whole foods stores. The question is, though, which one is best for you?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Max of Perennial Sunflowers

The Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) used to be the last perennial, with the exception of monkshood, blooming in my garden in October. Admittedly, it can grow to 10 feet and holds most of its flowers very close to its stalk, for a decidedly gangly look. In my flowerbed, the lanky latecomer also tended to slouch against nearby plants or sprawl at somewhat drunken angles, since I never got around to staking it.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Trailing Coleus: Overwintering in a Basket

This ancient and versatile species of Coleus lends itself to hanging baskets which can be used to overwinter all your favorite cultivars.

After an exciting summer of acquiring and growing Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) the approach of cooler weather slows my active days. My first year of featuring Coleus in my garden is ending.There are no new varieties to look for and the last of the season’s annuals are now discounted in stores.Lower temperatures mean I will not have to water as often and the last fish emulsion fertilizer for the season has been applied.As the foliage colors deepen under a gentler sun into vibrant hues, I sit, relax and enjoy this culmination period. It is the time the coleuses are at the height of their growth maturity for the season. They are stunning and colorful as they bask in the dappled sun of a cool afternoon. I feel as if all the months of care that have goneinto their growth have paid off, and I am pleased.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Greater Glory of the Fringed Gentian

Like the lady’s slipper about which I wrote earlier, the greater fringed gentian (Gentianopsis crinita) is one of those wildflowers which should, theoretically, grow in my region. I say "should" because I’ve never seen one! With lovely blue to blue-violet petals edged with long fringes, this wildling frequently succumbs to people’s urge to pick it, and has become endangered in many states.

Its range covers the northeast and northern midwest in the U. S., as well as eastern Canada, though it can grow as far south as the mountains of Georgia. Part of the plant's problem is its finicky nature. It requires neutral, magnesium-rich, almost constantly damp soil in full sun, and doesn't tolerate competition. Since it refuses to grow where large shrubs or trees block its sunlight, it is mostly found in wet meadows and fens or along open riverbanks.

Monday, April 15, 2013

How to Force Spring Bulbs for Winter Color.

Many of us are seeing bags and boxes of spring-blooming bulbs in the stores right now, since autumn is a great time to plant them. While you’re tucking those tulips, daffodils and narcissus in to your perennial beds, why not force some for a bit of winter cheer?

The windfall of a free refrigerator started me thinking; why not force some spring bulbs to brighten up the gray days to come. It was a perfect excuse to indulge in several packages of inexpensive bulbs that had been beckoning me in their colorful kiosks each time I shopped in my local big box store, so I selected a basket full of likely candidates and triumphantly carried them home.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Edible Fall Centerpiece

Gardeners enjoy bringing the beauty of the summer garden indoors. During the fall it is no different. A table centerpiece is a nice way to add a touch of fall to the home. Centerpieces need not be high priced creations bought at the florist. It is possible to create an easy and relatively inexpensive fall centerpiece. Adding apples or other garden bounty will make it an edible display.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Antiquing With Tea

Sometimes you just want the look of a vintage houseware or clothing item, but you either can’t find the real thing – or you can’t afford it. If you are starting with a white fabric/lace piece, tea is an inexpensive way to add instant age to fibers. Antiquing with tea couldn’t be easier. Practically all you need is a container filled with good, strong black tea.

You do also need a mordant.This is a substance (typically an inorganic oxide) that "fixes" (makes more permanent) the tea stain to the cloth. One readily available and easy to use mordant as alum (I found mine in the import spice aisle of a local Hispanic grocery store). Alum looks a little like overgrown rock salt, and it is just as easy as rock salt to dissolve into boiling water.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Rue the Day

Rue, (also known asRutaor Common Rue or, more eloquently, ‘Herb of Grace'), is an interesting and lovely herbaceous shrub that will add a unique blue-green foliage accent to your garden.

A small evergreen semi-woody perennial that matures to about two feet tall and wide, rue has been used as a medicinal and "anti-magic" herb for centuries, and was even considered a reliable defense against witches. Keep that in mind as Halloween approaches!

Quite drought-tolerant once established, rue thrives in poor sandy soils and hot, dry sites that receive full sun. A bit of afternoon shade is probably a good idea in Southwest gardens, however. Excellent drainage is a must.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Wolves in the Garden

Halloween is the time to ponder on all things creepy. And these large, hairy predators are no exception. They are serious about hunting their prey. They creep about the environs, often in the night, in search of tender morsels such as cockroaches. Don't be squeamish. These hairy hunters are a gardener's best friend. We may not enjoy the fare they do, but their steady appetite of insects makes for excellent biological insect control.

Wolf spiders are hunters.  They do not spin webs to capture their prey.  Instead, they prowl along the ground in search of insects.  They will also eat other spiders since they are cannibalistic.  Wolf spiders are found everywhere.  In the wolf spider family there are over two thousand species worldwide.  Add these to the rest of the worldwide spider population and you have a huge insect eating army.  Their predatory habits are crucial to the health of our gardens.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Floral Design for Kids

Garden clubs take seriously their charge to work with children and teach them the joy and art of gardening and floral design. In this article I will share some simple techniques that can be used to create a plethora of designs with children of all ages.

Certain elements are present in all designs pictured in this article. The viewer will notice that plant material for each design includes three types: line, flowers, and transition. In addition to plant material, a container filled with soaked floral foam for fresh flowers is provided for each student along with any accessories to help interpret the theme of the design.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Hey, What's going on in there?

Have you ever wondered how a worm-like striped creature that crawls on many legs can transform itself into the 6 legged velvet winged beauty that is a butterfly? By what magic does this transformation take place? That magic is known as complete metamorphosis but exactly what is going on when we say that multi-syllabic word?

Like most gardeners, I love butterflies.
I plant host and nectar plants hoping they will visit my garden. I study my field guides learning their names and like most folk on DG, worry about plummeting numbers of species in the news. But the thing that fascinates me most about butterflies is metamorphosis, that bit of biological magic that transforms a striped thing that crawls with many legs into a beautiful aerial creature that floats above our blossoms like stained glass windows that can fly.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Stay Sharp – Fall Tool Care

In a throwaway culture, tool maintenance can be intimidating to beginners. But taking the time to learn a few basic steps is satisfying. It will help keep tools useful for a lifetime and give you more money to spend on plants.

In the Pacific Northwest where I live it is possible to garden year-round. My good intentions are often overcome by dreary, wet weather, though, and I gradually stop going out to the garden at all. The garden doesn't really suffer much for winter inattention, but neglect can be fatal for tools. Even if you're a more persistent winter gardener than I am, autumn is a good time to give tools a more thorough clean-up than most people have time for during the growing season. Properly maintained, good quality tools can last for decades, but if allowed to rust they can become unusable almost overnight.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Spinning, Dancing Gourds: Cute Fall Decor, Child's Toy and Mini Birdhouse Ornament

Gourds are always popular in fall decorating, and gourds are easy to grow. The tiny variety called "spinning top" or dancing gourd is an unusual heirloom type. Have a small garden or even a large pot with tomato cage? You can grow handfulls of these tiny treasures.

Warty, colorful decorative gourds attract attention at every farm stand in fall. There are the charming green and yellow smooth, striped ones, and the amusing small warted gourds.  Warted gourds have stepped aside recently to make room for those with bizarre wings. There are apple and swan and bottle shaped gourds. One of the cutest gourds, and not often seen around here anyway, are tiny dancing or spinning top gourds.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Up, Up and Away: Unmanned Drone Aircraft Uses in Agriculture

Many times certain innovations used in warfare can be adapted for peacetime use. That is the case of unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs. Farmers around the world are using this ttechnology to improve their growing methods.

I think most of us are familiar with unmanned drone aircraft. Frequently on the national news programs we hear about unmanned drones taking out terrorists throughout the Middle East. They have become a valuable asset in the war on terrorism without putting our servicemen or women in harm's way.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Witch Hazel and Aunt Bett

When Aunt Bett helped me cut some branches of Witch Hazel to place in water on my bedside table, she didn't tell me the seed pods would explode and shower my bed with tiny black seeds. There is nothing like a loud POP! to bring you out of a dead sleep. Since my room was upstairs and the window was right beside my bed, I consider myself fortunate to have lived to tell the tale.