Friday, May 17, 2019

True Blue: Siberian Bugloss

True Blue” is an old expression often used to describe a lasting friendship or relationship.  Merriam Webster website tells us “true blue” can be an adjective describing someone who is extremely loyal, devoted or dedicated to a person or a cause.  
There is additional information on the significance of flowers in the color BLUE… these blooms may signify qualities like trust, long term commitment, desire and love.  How lovely that the tiny blooms on the perennial Siberian Bugloss are “true blue” (AND beautiful!)

Early May in Wisconsin offers gardeners pockets of color in the garden; colorful spring daffodils and tulips remind us that winter weather MIGHT actually be finished for the moment.  But in early MAY most perennial plants are pushing new growth and foliage—not flowers.  

One exception: Siberian Bugloss, which flowers perfectly in a partial sun environment.  The individual flowers are teeny, but a vivid shade of BLUE!  Away from direct sunlight, the dainty blooms may appear to be a fluorescent BLUE. 

Siberian Bugloss is a terrific companion planting—shown here paired with Solomon’s Seal in our backyard.  In our front garden Siberian Bugloss complements Berberis thunbergii ‘Orange Rocket.’  (This compact shrub is rated as hardy in USDA Zones 4 – 9, and pushes coral colored foliage in spring; later this foliage shades to green, and in autumn—a deep burgundy.)

Although the BLUE flowers of Siberian Bugloss are tiny, they last a few weeks. Even after blooms fade, no deadheading is needed.  This plant has grown well in our home garden several years, and its lime green foliage remains until frost. 
Brunnera macrophylla is described as a clump-forming, shade-loving woodland garden herbaceous perennial, but it thrives in a part-sun environment as well.  
Apparently, it is distasteful to rabbits and insects since I have never observed plant damage from any pests.  It thrives in well drained, rich, organic soil. 
Rated as a USDA Zone 3 – 8 plant, it can tolerate a wide range of temperatures.

Purchase a plant or two of Siberian Bugloss soon, and next spring, you’ll be enjoying those dainty “true blue” blooms!

M. Lynn Schmid,   Certified Master Gardener
 A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Sunday, May 5, 2019



As we move into MAY and winter weather releases its grip on Southeastern Wisconsin, plant lovers here are eager to work their fingers through the soil on a soft, sunny day. They are anxious to plant a few cool-weather veggie seeds (like radishes and peas) to officially commence our 2019 growing season.  

Veteran gardeners are so ready to begin the plant-nurture-harvest season once again… but what about those who are novice gardeners?  

Those individuals might appreciate a few guidelines from an experienced gardener—suggestions that will help ensure success as these new gardeners accept the challenge of growing edibles and ornamentals this season.  

Here are some thoughts to encourage a new or novice gardener:

Think SMALL … when you select a new garden space.  Soil prep, weed and turf removal for a large area can be overwhelming for a new gardener. 

Think GARDEN ART… a few well placed pieces will enhance; too many pieces may appear tacky (less is more; you’ve heard this before!)

Think SEEDS… not every plant needs to be purchased in a plastic pot. You can purchase seed packets, or participate in a seed exchange with friends. (Some libraries also offer participation in seed exchanges—check your library.)

Think SWAPPING… early spring is usually ideal for dividing perennials, especially plants in the Hosta genus.  You give a portion of your perennial to a friend, and they provide you with something from their plant collection.

Think LOCAL… perennials grown in or near Wisconsin are more likely to transplant successfully and should thrive in our soils and climate.

Think BUTTERFLIES… these beauties will visit your yard more often if you “invite” them with tempting, colorful blooms.  (Butterflies have distinct preferences, whether they are feeding on nectar or laying eggs.  Look up a few butterflies on line and plant some of their favorite flowers to increase chances of butterfly sightings in your own garden.)

Think BLOOM TIMES… select annuals and perennials that bloom at various times, keeping your garden vibrant and attractive, spring through fall.

Think RIGHT PLANT, RIGHT PLACE… sun lover or shade lover?  rich, organic soil? gravely, well-drained soil? Choose wisely to keep plants happy.

Think SUCCESS… enjoy learning new skills, have confidence in your abilities!

M. Lynn Schmid,   Certified Master Gardener
 A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Thursday, January 31, 2019

A Wicked Wisconsin Winter!

January closes with weather extremes southern Wisconsinites have not experienced in decades.  Intensely harsh winds accentuated extreme sub-zero temps as people (and plants) struggle to survive.  

As we tackled huge snow drifts with shovels and snow throwers, we likely weren’t thinking of our plants’ root systems beneath the snow.  Often plant survival depends on a thick layer of “insulating” snow cover to reduce effects of wind damage and piercing sub-zero temperatures.  
Also, a healthy plant (not a weak, stressed plant) stands a better chance of survival through winter—just like healthy humans!

When spring arrives in Wisconsin (eventually gentler, warmer spring days WILL come…) our trees, shrubs and perennials will reveal any damage sustained over winter.  Often the deep cold is NOT the problem; some trees and plants can survive even if their entire root system becomes frozen.  

More problematic are numerous freeze-thaw cycles that springtime brings.  
These alternating patterns of freezing temps, followed by warmer temps, followed by more freezing temps… send mixed messages to our perennial plants.  As they emerge from dormancy with blissful sunshine and warmer temps, they are vulnerable.  Dropping below freezing again can shock these plants, or kill them.  

Some prevention methods are effective, but must be done in autumn before bitter cold days arrive.  Lightly wrapping large plants in plain burlap fabric can protect against sunscald and windburn.  The 3 - 4” layer of shredded hardwood you had placed around plants (to reduce moisture loss and deter weed seeds from germinating) also helps insulate plants’ root systems against freeze-thaw cycles.

Rodent damage
Voles (genus: Myodes) are often active in winter beneath the snow.  Voles are rodents related to mice, but not the same; easy to identify with a flatter face than mice, as well as a shorter tail and smaller ears. There are more than 150 species of voles throughout the world. Voles are destructive with tiny “needle teeth” and can easily girdle a tree trunk or shrub beneath the snow.  Voles also eat succulent roots and roots of ground cover. (I snapped this picture  last summer when a vole accidentally found its way into a mouse trap.) 
Voles are often eaten by a variety of owls, so do NOT place poison to reduce their numbers.

As we enter February, each day is one day CLOSER to spring!  Keep warm!

M. Lynn Schmid,   Certified Master Gardener
A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

MINT... container plant or crop?

Aromatic spearmint and peppermint (both herbs in the genus Mentha) are personal favorites; flavoring in the form of oil or extract will transform plain salt water taffy into a magical sweet treat!  Either oil or extract can be used to flavor icing for cookies or cakes, or you could add a few drops to vanilla ice cream and milk for a frosty, cold milk shake. 

In the confectionery industry mint “natural flavor” is a component used often in hard candies and chewing gum.  It is utilized heavily by pharmaceutical companies in toothpaste and mouthwash, as well.  Who supplies these industries with all the flavoring extracts needed?

Mint is grown as a crop, here in our home state of Wisconsin… what a surprise!

Having lived in Wisconsin most of my life, I’m aware of corn and soy bean fields as I travel through our State.  Cranberry marshes, cherry and apple orchards are prevalent in certain areas, while cabbages, peas, potatoes and other veggies grow well here too.  
Our growing season is long enough to support all these crops, but learning that Wisconsin ranks No. 5 in the nation for mint oil production… amazing!  Mint also adds some diversity to the Wisconsin agricultural scene.

The publication Growing Wisconsin (2018-2019 edition) from our Wisconsin Dept of Agriculture provides interesting data about the mint crop harvested each year:
80,000 acres of mint are cultivated in the USA every year
Mint farmers can expect 50 – 60 pounds of oil per acre planted
Mint fields must be rotated periodically to prevent contracting verticillium wilt (the same soil-borne fungal disease that can kill sugar maple trees)
Harvest of mint takes place during JULY/AUG when it is cut and dried in the field
Processing mint includes two hours of distillation, which extracts desirable oils

Although some Wisconsin farmers choose mint as a specialty crop, I prefer to grow spearmint as a container plant.  I use it as a trailing plant along with potted flowers in a large container; mint roots and stolons are tenacious and need space! 

NOTE:  I suggest you refrain from planting mint in the ground… unless you wish to produce an entire crop of mint!  It spreads aggressively; be cautious!

M. Lynn Schmid,   Certified Master Gardener
A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Monday, September 10, 2018

Perennial - not Permanent!

Perennials have a reputation… for dying back in the fall… for sending up new foliage each spring… for blooming year after year.  Most perennials live up to this reputation, but this does not mean they are a permanent addition to your backyard garden!

Some perennials (like Columbine) are considered short lived.  They may bloom for a few years, coming back on the same root system but eventually they will die.  Since Columbine is a prolific re-seeder, you can allow the beige seed pods to fully dry and drop their tiny black seeds into the same patch. 
(Often new plants will emerge from these seeds the following year, and you will have a thriving Columbine patch consisting of new seedlings.)

Often perennials are placed in one spot in your garden, and it becomes “their happy place.”  Plants may thrive for years in one location, but don’t be shy about relocating a perennial if it isn’t performing well.  A friend of mine who works at a botanical garden commented some perennials are relocated three or four times until they find “their happy place.” 

Some perennials can be be divided periodically so you can enjoy the original plant, as well as share a division with a friend or neighbor.  An example of this is Siberian bugloss—with its heart shaped leaves and bright blue flowers in June—it handles division and transplanting very well.

My favorite way to display a not-permanent perennial is to include it in a container arrangement.  A lime green hosta pairs nicely with a grape-and-lime colored coleus; both prefer a mostly shaded location, so they are quite compatible growing in one pot all summer long.  
As autumn approaches, simply take cuttings indoors for the coleus plant, and place in water; next, return the hosta to your backyard garden so it can set roots before winter.

It’s early September so you might want to “autumn-ize” your summer container plantings.  My Persian Shield annual is still doing well, so by adding a white pumpkin and some purple ornamental peppers, the container transitions nicely into fall.  
Get creative with your summer container plantings… it’s time to “autumn-ize” them to enhance your fall d├ęcor!

M. Lynn Schmid,   Certified Master Gardener
A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Portable, Pot-able Herb Garden

Culinary herb gardens are versatile; some are planted in the ground, some in small pots indoors.  This summer I changed it up a bit… one big container, filled with young herb plants, placed on a rolling wooden platform to allow portability.  Why?  I wanted a large, substantial container so it wouldn’t topple over during wind storms.  This resulted in a rather heavy pot, so my husband built a cedar platform with sturdy casters to allow easy movement. 
Culinary herbs love sunny locations, so this portable garden can easily be moved about on the deck or patio as the sun moves. (Locating herbs where they might actually be USED is super sensible!)

Grilling and smoking foods during summer months is a popular pastime here in Wisconsin;  foods take on enhanced flavors when using grills and smokers.  

Try a new technique this summer by building a “nest” of assorted fresh herbs on a wire rack.  Spray herbs lightly with olive oil or canola oil; place your favorite cuts of raw (salted and seasoned) chicken on top of the herbs, and place rack into smoker.  (If using a charcoal or gas grill, use indirect heat to prevent charring those delicate herbs.) 

Cook chicken until juices run clear, and breast meat registers 160 degrees.   
Enjoy the subtle flavors imparted by the variety of herbs you selected, coupled with the smokiness of your grill or smoker. 

Suggestion:  an assortment of savory herbs like green or purple basil, oregano, rosemary, parsley, sage, thyme (skip the spearmint for this recipe… save that for making herbal tea!)

Enjoy remaining days of summer… each day is a special gift!

M. Lynn Schmid,  Certified Master Gardener
A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Monday, May 7, 2018

Geraniums for Grandma

Grandma loved geraniums, especially those with red blooms.  Each Mother’s Day, I honored Grandma’s passion by giving her red geranium plants for the garden. Grandma’s ice-blue eyes would sparkle when I presented them, so I think of her now when I see red geraniums flourishing in anyone’s garden bed. Although I truly share Grandma’s love for geraniums, I prefer plants that bloom in shades of pink, burgundy or white. 

There are dozens of cultivars and colors available each spring, but they are quite compatible and can be combined effectively in a sun-garden design or large container.  Light pink with bright pink, burgundy with white, red with white… a plethora of Pelargonium (the actual genus for these sun lovers, which thrive on 5 or 6 hours of daily sunshine.)

In a container setting, geraniums work well with a variety of sun-loving plants—including succulents.  Pelargonium geraniums originated in South Africa, and they are drought tolerant once established.   

TIPS: Overwatering causes more issues than underwatering; try not to wet the foliage while watering.  Also note even sun geraniums might take a “time out” during hottest weeks of summer; they likely will push new buds when temps cool down.  Don’t be tempted to fertilize during hot weather. A nitrogen rich fertilizer will encourage foliage growth but discourage new blooms.

Another variety is known as an ivy geranium (Pelargonium peltatum), which exhibits trailing stems rather than upright.  I have grown this herbaceous cascading plant with red blooms, as well as a burgundy cultivar; their leaves have a slight sheen and they prefer a part-sun environment.  Ivy geraniums look amazing trailing over edges of a large container, or a hanging planter.

With Mother’s Day approaching, consider purchasing a small basket and placing a few geranium plants in it, filling in the spaces with dried moss.  

Give it to your Grandma (or your Mom) … then watch her eyes sparkle!

Happy Mother's Day!

M. Lynn Schmid,   Certified Master Gardener
 A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture