Thursday, March 25, 2021

Sweet Bunnies, Bold Bunnies!

During March it seems grocery store shelves are well stocked with edible, sweet bunnies… white chocolate, milk chocolate, foil wrapped.  

Gift shops also are well stocked with an assortment of delightful bunnies… furry, soft, cuddly… bunnies seem to be everywhere. 

All of these adorable, desirable bunnies bring smiles to the faces of children and adults.

The bunnies that are NOT so adorable are those that frequent our gardens during every season, particularly winter and spring.  Even when shrubs are deep in snow, cottontail rabbits roam the landscape and boldly chew any exposed branches.  This chewing results in straggly, uneven branches when the snow melts exposing an unsightly shrub or plant.

This spring a bold bunny attacked my Japanese Barberry shrub, covered with tiny thorns; this bunny consumed several inches of top growth from each branch.  This barberry carries the botanical name Berberis thunbergia ‘Orange Rocket’ and it is a specimen plant next to our front entrance.  

Its dramatic coral colored foliage in spring looks striking against the terra cotta shades of our brick, and in past years, it was quite attractive. (‘Orange Rocket’ turns from coral to shades of green in summer with burgundy foliage in fall.) This winter several 24” stems were chewed down to barely 6” which I will manually prune to encourage new growth.  This plant normally has a vertical growth format, but with all the auxin hormone gone from each stem tip, it might grow in an erratic shape this season.  

(Although this bush has been planted in same location since 2015, this past winter was first evidence that a bunny could consume its thorn-covered branches.)

    Another shrub called Euonymus ‘Emerald Gaiety’ had a     similar fate from bold bunnies.  Footprints in the snow        leading up to this shrub were unmistakably bunny               prints. 

    This plant is a broadleaf evergreen; a bold bunny feasted     on branches and left most foliage fall to the ground.  

    In the genus Sylvilagus, the cottontail has a ravenous        appetite for several species of shrubs and plants. 

Cottontails also love to gnaw tender foliage of newly emerged tulips; these can be protected by placing a cylinder of 18” tall hardware cloth around each clump of tulips.  Even when tulips are in bloom, they can be admired through the hardware cloth. 
Since I don’t wish to place chemicals around tulips to deter rabbits, this cultural practice works well.  

Although we need to coexist with creatures in the natural world, gardeners also need to protect plantings that will beautify the world around us.

M. Lynn Schmid,   Certified Master Gardener

A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Stop the Snow Mold this Spring!

 The Spring weather has begun! The sunshine is back, temperatures are warming up and the birds are singing! It makes you want to get out and rake up your yard, right?!

One of the best things you can do in the beginning of Spring is to clean-up your yard & get out in that sunshine! Grab your rake & help your lawn, while getting some exercise in also!

Take a good look at your lawn, look closely and spot the snow mold.

There is no more snow out there... so what is snow mold?

Snow mold is a fungal disease that appears after the snow melts off the lawn. It was a long winter, with alot of snow - a long time on our lawns. It's time for your grass to breathe!

Look for straw colored spots or areas where your lawn is matted. It could look like a cobweb in the grass. There is gray snow mold and even pink snow mold - but it's not pretty.

Snow mold can cause allergies & asthma attacks - so it's best to clean-up, rake and clear it up early in the season.

Gently rake areas to lift the mold and help the grass to dry out. There's been much snow and moisture sitting on your grass since the beginning of the year. Raking your lawn will also clean up excess leaves, branches and debris that Winter left behind. There's always plenty of that when the snow melts too!

If the snow mold sits on the lawn too long, it will begin to kill the grass and areas will die off. If this happens, the bare areas will need to be overseeded after your raking is completed.

Pick up a good quality soil & compost mix to scratch the bare areas and add the soil mix too. Overseed with a quality grass seed & make sure the areas are watered. Many times the Spring rains will give your lawn a great jump start for the season. An application of Milorganite organic fertilizer will also give your new & existing grass the nutrients it needs to take off into Spring!

Questions on snow mold or products to help your lawn become stronger this season? Give us a call at 262-677-3010 or stop in this Spring! We're here to help you enjoy your yard :)

What are you waiting for... the sun is out & your rake is calling! Have fun cleaning up your yard :)

Sheila Yoder, Horticultural Manager


Sunday, February 28, 2021

Weird but Wonderful: FROST!

As we turn our calendars to March and the coming of spring weather, we can look back at a weather phenomenon that many Wisconsinites experienced in January & February.

There were several weird-but-wonderful FROST events early in 2021 in various locations throughout our State of Wisconsin.  Frost is actually water vapor which turns to a solid.  Typically, areas that have high humidity and lots of fog are prone to heavy frosts.

National Geographic online offers the following explanation: “Frost forms when an outside surface cools past the dew point. The dew point is the point where air gets so cold, the water vapor in the atmosphere turns into liquid. This liquid freezes.  If it gets cold enough, little bits of ice, or frost, form.  The ice is arranged in the form of ice crystals.” 

Frost formations can be quite different from each other; there is rime frost, and hoar frost as well as the one-dimensional frost that forms on a single-pane window. Each type of frost has different characteristics.   Hoar frost usually forms on clear, cold nights with minimal air movement (virtually no wind); it sometimes coats the edges of foliage and branches and is white and bright!

Rime frost forms quickly in cold wet climates; it can even form during windy weather. It has feathery ice crystals and clings to branches… it’s another form of frost that beckons you to take pictures.  

HINT: Frost photo ops can disappear quickly; when wind speed increases or sunshine warms the air, those unique frosty-and-glittery photos can be lost.  When you wake up to fresh frost formations, grab your phone or camera and enjoy the outdoors! 

(When you come back indoors, enjoy some tea or hot cocoa and check on line for more info on frost.  Google on “images” for hoar frost and rime frost for more examples. Breathtaking!)

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Autumn Foliage ... Autumn Strong!


Although the year of 2020 has provided numerous issues and disappointments for many, our autumn season this year is NOT a disappointment!  Fall foliage remained on many trees through October, and a few trees are still holding their foliage in place in early November.  Despite severe winds many days, the trees held foliage longer than normal, and we were able to enjoy those rusty golds and peachy orange shades for several weeks. (In southeastern Wisconsin, we have also enjoyed several 70-degree days in November—quite unusual!)

On a hiking trail during October, I encountered an amazing red oak (Quercus rubrum) with deep shades of brick red against the blue sky. Soil acidity and nutrients must have been perfect for this tree—it was truly in a happy place!

In my home garden, some plants performed nicely into early November:  Heuchera ‘Cherry Truffles’ has lovely deep burgundy leaves and is still going strong today, despite a few snow flurries and -30 degree temps some nights.

American cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum) was also so special this autumn; the lime green foliage turned various shades, and leaves are lovely against those striking red fruits.  (This shrub has persistent fruit so it will remain on the bush all winter through April/May; then the migrating cedar waxwings will discover it and usually consume all fermented fruit in a single day… great fun to observe!)

Most geraniums are considered summery plants, but I have one variety of Pelargonium with lime green/brown foliage.  It is attractive for fall décor as well. This plant needed to be covered during some cold nights, but it was dazzling throughout October.

I’d like to mention one additional great performer this autumn: dry leaves!   Teaching a toddler how to gather up handfuls of leaves and toss them in the air is a perfect stress reliever for anyone.  (When you’re finished, those leaves can be tossed into your compost bin to decay in months ahead and create organic matter for future gardening.)  

Hope you have found ways to enjoy the outdoors throughout this magnificent, colorful season.  

This fall deserves to be called Autumn Strong!

M. Lynn Schmid – Certified Master Gardener
AAS  Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Purely Pumpkins!

As August offers cooler nights and we turn our calendar page to September, it signals the arrival of our Un-Official Pumpkin Season!  So many of us love pumpkins of various kinds, for a variety of reasons.  There are pie pumpkins to lend flavor and texture to pumpkin breads and pies; you might add a teaspoon or two of my favorite pumpkin pie spice blend (recipe below) to enhance your culinary creations.

There are specialty pumpkins in shades of blue-gray and blotchy orange patterns.  Of course, traditional ORANGE pumpkins can be found at every farmers’ market, grocery store or pumpkin farm! But my favorite in recent years is the PURE WHITE PUMPKIN.   White pumpkins often sell out quickly, so the solution to this shortage (in a year of excessive shortages everywhere…)  I grew them myself!

Pumpkins are in the genus Cucurbita, and they do grow true to seed.  This means the seeds I saved from an 8-inch diameter white pumpkin last year were planted in MAY 2020, and they will produce white pumpkins.  I planted just ten seeds in MAY that I had rinsed off and placed on a paper plate late last year.  I like to write directly on the paper plate since I don’t wish to mix up my seeds: “white pumpkin for 2020.” Then I stored the paper plate in a cool, dark place till planting time in spring. Vines emerged quickly, and soon there were orange pumpkin blossoms in the pumpkin patch, being pollinated by bumble bees.  (Blossoms are the same shade of orange, whether they produce WHITE or ORANGE pumpkins.  Nature is full of surprises!)

As pumpkins develop on the vines, they turn a deep green shade, and gradually transition to a creamy white.   I like using white pumpkins for both indoor AND outdoor fall décor starting in early September.   Sometimes summer floral container planters can transition to fall with the addition of a pumpkin or two, and a clump of dry grasses or corn stalks. (I often remove the annuals that look tired or have dried up; then add dry grasses, corn stalks, mums and pumpkins to container.)

Enjoy every aspect of autumn this September:  pumpkins, harvesting veggies, farmers’ markets, pumpkin farms AND especially autumn baking!

Lynn’s Pumpkin Pie Spice Blend:  

Stir ingredients together with a fork; store spice blend in glass jar in freezer. Can use in pies, breads and in vanilla milkshakes too!   

3 TBSP. ground cinnamon (I prefer Indonesian cinnamon; just use your favorite.)

2 tsp. ground ginger, 2 tsp. ground nutmeg, 1-1/2 tsp. allspice, 1/2 tsp. ground cloves

M. Lynn Schmid,   Certified Master Gardener

A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Autumn Display


Sunday, August 2, 2020

Corn and Cukes in Small Space Gardens

Corn and Cukes in Small Space Garden

Driving throughout Wisconsin in July/August, you may observe huge cornfields sprawling over hillsides and flatlands in our State.  But actually CORN can be grown in small spaces as well; our backyard corn patch is 5’ x 5’ and will provide a few dozen ears of delicious bicolor organic sweet corn (genus: Zea)   I will enjoy the added benefit (a second harvest) of dried corn stalks for creating autumn displays. 

If you wish to try growing sweet corn in your small space next season, I suggest you purchase just a single packet of corn seeds (kernels).  Plant the seeds in mid to late MAY if possible, depending on your area.  Never plant just one row; corn requires multiple rows in order to be properly pollinated. We also learned that the Japanese beetles (arriving in early July) cause less damage to the corn foliage if the leaves are thicker and more mature at that time.  Mealtime Tip:  when serving corn with your meals, remember corn is a GRAIN—not a vegetable.  

Cukes/cucumbers can also grow well in a small space.  This season I planted just (16) seeds, four at each corner of our square-base wooden trellis.  They are in a raised bed so the entire patch is just 3’ x 3’.  As of late July, I have harvested just a few burpless cucumbers, but bumblebees visit every day and are busy pollinating; we should develop many more cukes in coming weeks.  SUGGESTED SUPPORT FOR CUCUMBER VINES: I often use black electrical tie wraps; encourage each vine to crawl up legs of trellis and use tie wrap to loosely fasten to trellis.

Cucumber beetles will likely arrive soon… those cursed little yellow polka dot or striped beetles! Since I utilize organic gardening practices only, these beetles pose a problem for my plants.  Someone suggested placing sticky paper cards tucked into the cucumber vines; this sounds like a bit of extra work but may be successful—worth a try!

This summer Southeastern Wisconsin has experienced lots of warmth to help veggies grow and thrive.  Many veggies love warm days, but warm nights as well… we have been fortunate to have warmth and rain in June and July—veggies are growing strong!

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

Monday, June 29, 2020

Wild Things! (in the garden)

Wild Things! (in the garden)

Backyard gardens provide a venue for flowers and herbs and veggies, but consider all the wild things that are attracted to those tempting plants.  If you include cabbage or cauliflower plants with your veggies, you will attract the cabbage white butterflies which will adorn your precious plants with hundreds of eggs.  When the eggs hatch, tiny green hungry caterpillars will begin to devour every leaf in sight unless you intervene with an insecticide. (Can install row cover fabric to protect each plant instead.)  Cabbage white butterflies are an unwelcome “wild thing” in the garden.

Cucumber beetles are tiny but destructive… another unwelcome “wild thing.”  They are attracted to cucumber plants, but also will enter zucchini blossoms; you might find several congregating within a single zucchini flower.  These beetles spread mosaic disease causing the leaves to become deformed; it will produce deformed, warty fruit.  (Remove entire affected plant; burn it or bury it—do not compost any plant showing signs of mosaic disease.)

 Earth worms cultivate soil underneath plants—a welcome “wild thing.”  Jumping worms are an invasive that is destructive and can spread easily—an unwelcome “wild thing.”  Jumping worms (a.k.a., Asian worms, crazy worms) were discovered in Wisconsin in 2013. They destroy soil structure and feed upon the same organic matter within garden soil that your plants need. (Learn more about jumping worms online so you can identify them in your garden; simply Google on jumping worms.)

Recently my granddaughter witnessed her very first hummingbird moth—she was so excited and shared her picture with me.  Hummingbird moths (a.k.a., sphinx moth) are in the Order of Lepidoptera, just as other moths and butterflies are.  Sphinx are considered excellent pollinators and feed on the nectar from plants like bee balm (Monarda).   They are a welcome “wild thing” in my Monarda patch each July.  But beware—this amazing pollinator creates a hornworm caterpillar that can decimate an entire tomato plant in a day or two. (Not a welcome “wild thing” on tomato plants!)

Butterflies and birds are welcome “wild things” in most gardens… but many gardeners who raise fruit crops do not consider visiting birds an asset.  Birds may eat lots of insects each day, but they can devour a fruit crop as well.  Some gardeners utilize netting placed over their berry bushes to deter birds from stealing the fruit.

When you select plants for your backyard garden, consider you are extending an invitation to a host of “wild things”… some you will welcome, some you will NOT!

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