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

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Gardens… to mulch, or not to mulch?



March and April are ideal months to tweak your garden plans for the upcoming growing season.  Visit your favorite local garden center to gather ideas and ask questions, even if it is too early to place plants in the soil in your region.

Whether you’re planting natives, perennials, evergreens, edibles or ornamental annuals, each will benefit from selecting an appropriate mulch.  I recently checked various online sources and was quite surprised to find how much BAD ADVICE is being perpetuated regarding MULCH!  Think about the specific type of plant you intend to mulch; then let that plant’s needs guide your selection.

Evergreen trees and shrubs NEED and WANT acidic mulch over the entire root zone, if feasible.  Those sparkly white landscape stones are not acidic and create reflective heat; heat rises.  You will likely “toast” the bottom branches of your evergreens! 

 Instead, utilize shredded hardwood mulch, which eventually decays and provides nutrients.  If you wish to top-dress the root zone with organic matter/compost prior to covering root zone with 2-3 inches of shredded hardwood, your evergreens will thrive. The same top dressing and shredded wood mulch is great for perennials and shrubs.

Rubber mulch?  Fine for playgrounds to prevent injuries, but NOT fine for placement around herbs and veggies.   Rubber tires are repurposed into rubber mulch; aren’t rubber tires a petroleum-based product?  Keep this away from edibles, please!  (If you must use rubber mulch somewhere on your property, be certain your edibles are planted uphill from the rubber mulched area to prevent runoff during storms.)

Grass clippings?  Best to keep them out of your gardens entirely; either mulch them into your lawn to provide extra nitrogen for the grass, or place in compost bin with veggie kitchen scraps, straw, and used coffee grounds to create rich organic matter.

Landscape fabric?  Use ONLY under landscape stone or river rock.  Placing it beneath shredded hardwood (or softwood) mulch is a poor choice; shredded wood eventually will decompose ON TOP of the fabric, creating a comfortable nesting place for weed seeds.  This creates a larger task for a gardener to remove both weeds AND fabric!

Herbs and veggies? Mulching might be unnecessary, but if a plant has a large footprint in your garden--like zucchini or tomatoes—then I like to use a light covering of straw (NOT HAY—too many undesirable seeds in hay will cause weeds!)   

The bottom line:  MULCH WISELY!  Your plants will be happier and healthier.

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

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Lemon Tree (very pretty!)



Lemon pie.  Lemonade.  Lemon sherbet.  Lemon bars.  Lemon drops.  Lemon cookies.  Lemon zest.  Lemon water. Lemon pudding.  Limoncello.  Lemon basil.  Lemon thyme.  Lemon balm.  Lemon marinade.  Culinary dishes, both sweet and savory, utilize the tart, delicious juice and zest of lemons.   

Is there another citrus tree that produces fruit as versatile as the sunny-yellow lemon? 

Besides a variety of sweet treats, lemons contribute hints of tartness to savory dishes as well. Lemon juice can be drizzled over a hot tuna casserole for some extra zing.  Lemon juice can be sprinkled over a tossed salad in place of a high-calorie creamy dressing.  Lemon juice is a key ingredient when I make guacamole; although I’ve tried making guacamole with lime juice, a friend suggested using lemon juice instead… I’ve never gone back!

Lemon zest is a creative way to add the sweetness of lemon to a dish—without adding tartness.  Whether you use a lemon zester or Microplane® grater to harvest the zest, be sure to keep the lemon whole before proceeding.   Remove outermost yellow layer only, leaving all white pith remaining on the fruit (pith tends to be bitter and can offset the sweetness of the zest).  Lemon zest can be sprinkled over blueberry muffin batter; stir, then bake as usual.  Lemon zest can be mixed with freshly grated parmesan and sprinkled on your favorite hot pasta dish.

Lemon juice mixed with warm or cool water is an easy beverage to start off your day; this is especially beneficial for those trying to reduce caffeine intake.  Lemon juice mixed with baking soda can be an effective, low-abrasive cleanser; try it with a stiff brush to remove stains from sinks, or pots and pans. Versatile lemons are also incorporated into various cleaning aids, like dish soap and furniture polish.

Although lemon trees originated somewhere in Asia, China or India, they are surely here to stay. They thrive in southern states of the US and recently I was able to pick lemons from a tree in southern AZ.  Green, glossy foliage adorned each tree; the elliptical yellow fruits were ripe and ready!  
Citrus limon, you ARE my SUNSHINE!



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

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Texture and Movement in Winter’s Garden


Winter in southeast Wisconsin might be seen as a time of rest for our garden plants.  December days, filled with frost and freeze, cause most plants to die back, or at least change clothes.  The lush, colorful foliage of summer and fall often becomes brown and crunchy as wintry weather prevails.  

One plant in my garden that held its color well into December was Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ (shown here nestled in ice crystals.)  This perennial is a solid performer most of the year, and has delightful purple tinted undersides on its foliage.


But most winter-interest plants aren’t about vibrant colors.  Movement and texture provide much of the visual appeal in winter’s garden.  Ornamental grasses make a statement in the winter landscape, so do not cut back during autumn. Tall sedum covered with fresh snow provides texture in the garden, although the dried sedum stems alone are beige and bland.  A fresh coat of sparkly snow makes all the difference!

Evergreens of all kinds are often the stars in winter’s garden.  
Their branches sway in the winter wind, providing attractive movement in the  garden. When planting evergreens, consider a red-toned planting in the foreground.  It might be a crab apple tree with persistent fruits.  

An American cranberry bush is planted in front of my Colorado blue spruce tree, and the spruce offers a textured backdrop for those orange-red berries.   An alternative planting is Cornus sericea, redtwig dogwood, which looks amazing in the winter garden, especially when coupled with  an evergreen. 

Texture and movement pair well in the garden... these elements contribute significantly to the overall garden design.

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



Monday, October 30, 2017

Celebrating Pumpkins!


How do we celebrate those bold orange (or white) creations every autumn?   In preparation for Halloween, we carve our pumpkins, or paint them, and embellish  with bling to create cute or scary faces.   We use mini pumpkins in fall décor, both indoors and out.  Pumpkins are the theme for autumn hay rides as children and adults trudge through fields to find that perfect pumpkin treasure.


Pie pumpkins (or canned pumpkin puree) can be used to create culinary delights, like pecan-pumpkin bars or traditional pumpkin pie.   Pumpkin flavors are used extensively in a variety of beverages, and even have invaded the realm of doggie treats!  Another way to celebrate our fascination for pumpkins is to roast the seeds—low and slow in the oven— and eat them plain or toss on salads.  Simply rinse seeds thoroughly, place in a bowl and stir in some canola or olive oil to lightly coat. Spread in single layer on cookie sheets.  Sprinkle with sea salt; roast in oven at 250º for about an hour, or until seeds are dry and starting to brown.

Celebrating pumpkins (genus Cucurbita) is a widespread tradition across the USA.  At a botanical garden in New York, an October celebration spotlights humongous, giant pumpkins with some weighing over 2,000 lbs.   (While Americans are often  obsessed with losing weight, we want our pumpkins to be plump!)






Growing pumpkins in the home garden is another way to celebrate pumpkins.  In years past, I have grown mini pumpkins and jack-o-lantern pumpkins; this summer I grew white pumpkins for the first time, and they provide interesting possibilities for autumn décor.   Pumpkins are considered heavy feeders, so frequent fertilization is needed.   When pumpkin season draws to a close (after seeds are removed for roasting) the fleshy shell can be used for composting—lots of nutrients available that will give back to the soil for next year’s garden!

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


Friday, September 1, 2017

"Guests in the Garden!"






“Guests in the Garden” might conjure up images of inviting close friends over for a summer evening— then dining al fresco in an intimate backyard garden.  This is NOT the image I’m writing of today… instead, I’m paying homage to hundreds of “guests” who visited our backyard garden during recent months.   
These guests either flew (or crawled) into our garden to partake in a feast of pollen and nectar, fruit and foliage. 
Some were welcome guests - some were not!
Finding a large dragonfly sunning itself on a young corn plant was a pleasure; I never before saw a dragonfly with a mauve-pink abdomen!  (The dragonfly allowed me to get quite close for a photograph, so I can share this pic with you.)
A variety of bees are often guests in our garden— sometimes more than one bee will occupy a single zucchini blossom, collecting nectar and escaping the heat of the day.  Often large bumblebees are visiting our Monarda blossoms, and I simply stay back and let them work.    Apparently bees tolerate my presence in the garden; after four decades of working this land, I have never been stung while working in my garden space.


We truly enjoy a host of other guests in our garden… swallowtails, monarchs and an occasional sphinx moth… all are welcome!  Sadly, there are many UN-wanted guests who also frequent our space!  Japanese beetles loved our raspberry foliage and fruit, even though I battled them daily during July and August.  Of course, those darling chipmunks aren’t so darling when they devour several green tomatoes, leaving unwanted portions on the ground.   Numerous baby bunnies seem to appear throughout the growing season, eating whatever they choose. 




Since we utilize organic gardening practices in our veggie and herb garden, I often say the UN-wanted garden guests likely spread the word to one another, “Lunch at Lynn’s today!”    

With due diligence, we can still harvest sufficient produce from our garden each summer to make this effort worthwhile.  I can only hope someday the UN-wanted garden guests will dine al fresco somewhere else!

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

Friday, July 7, 2017

Funky and Fun Foliage


Fall foliage (in early July) is only a distant promise on the horizon… but summer foliage is dazzling as it adorns container gardens in our landscape!  Foliage plants, when used in containers, might be considered “filler.”  But some foliage leaves are so intricately shaped and brightly colored, they can become the focal point of a container garden.  An assortment of delicate foliage plants might stand alone in a container without the inclusion of flowering plants.

One of my horticulture teachers taught us to view a container garden as a landscape design in miniature.  Similar design techniques are utilized when creating a container garden or a backyard garden.    A plant with height… a plant that spills over… dainty floral or foliage plants as filler… a focal point… dramatic colors… subdued colors…  all play nicely together in a rustic or classic container.

Who can resist the funky and fun foliage produced by sweet potato vines?  Coloration is varied for Ipomoea batatas: some lime green, some deep purple, some with nearly black foliage.  A favorite of mine is ‘Sweet Georgia® Light Green’ which offers a bold pop of color, and it also spills over the edge.   Sweet potato vines pair nicely with plants in Coleus genus; this genus covers a huge variety of intricately shaped leaves in dramatic colors.  Although Coleus plants will produce a tiny flower cluster at the tip of each branch of leaves, the flower is considered insignificant and is often pinched off.  With Coleus, it’s all about the leaves!

Funky and fun foliage also makes an appearance in the genus Pelargonium (commonly known as an annual geranium.)  A favorite of mine is shown here with lime green leaves, accented with brownish-red center on each leaf.   Although the blooms are cherry red, I enjoy this plant mainly for its foliage.  This year I’m also growing a Pelargonium with a tri-color (cream-purple-green) leaf; even without flowers, it makes a statement.  

When you’re considering a selection of plants to containerize, include some funky foliage and YOU will make a statement!



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