Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thankful for An Awesome Autumn

AAAAn Awesome Autumn!

Our amazing 2014 autumn season is fading here in Southeastern Wisconsin, but the scene was quite awesome for the past two months.   Many claim their favorite season of the year is AUTUMN, and fall of 2014 was an affirmation of that claim:  lovely leaves on our trees…crisp cool days…an abundance of sunshine!

Our autumn experience is enhanced by the Sugar Maple tree, adorned with fiery fall colors (I photographed this foliage at a nearby botanical garden). Wisconsin selected the Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) as our State tree years ago; the visual display every autumn is reason enough to be chosen, but this species also provides shade during summer, and a special treat in early spring:  maple syrup!

Delicious maple syrup sap is acquired by tapping into the sugary liquid within the tree’s trunk.  In cold climates, trees store starches (carbohydrates) within their root systems over winter.  When warmer days of springtime arrive, the xylem layer within each tree conducts water, nutrients and carbohydrates from the root system, to the top of the tree. This xylem sap is extracted and will be transformed into maple syrup, which is naturally rich in the sugar, sucrose.

To achieve just one gallon of this “sweet gold,” FORTY GALLONS of watery liquid must be simmered to evaporate the water component; this reduction method yields just ONE GALLON of syrup.  Maple syrup is traditionally used to enhance waffles, pancakes and oatmeal; however, it has additional culinary applications. Often chefs and creative cooks incorporate a touch of maple syrup in their savory dishes; it adds a delightful flavor component to the dish!

A colleague of mine, Horticulturist Brian Karth of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, participates in the maple “sugaring off” ritual each spring.   He thoroughly enjoys the process and demonstrates proper techniques to others.  Centuries ago maple syrup was collected and used by our Native Americans, who also shared their techniques with the European settlers who arrived here.   Maple syrup is just one more reason to be thankful on Thanksgiving Day.   Our Thanksgiving holiday is the unofficial conclusion of autumn… and this year, it was an awesome autumn!

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

Friday, October 24, 2014

Sea of Sparkles at Sunrise

A sea of sparkles at sunrise

A crisp October morning… I awake to a sea of sparkles coating the grass and the flowers in my garden… a frosty finish for most annuals residing there!   Some landscape designers refrain from including annuals in their designs because of their temporary qualities.  But often annuals are strong performers during the entire growing season, 4 – 5 months; should they be dismissed so easily

If you choose to exclude annuals, you might be missing a favorite of mine, the genus Osteospermum, shown here.  (aka,  South African Daisy… more than 30 different species are available.  In its native homeland, it can perform as a perennial… but not here in Wisconsin!)   

The cultivar I chose for my garden this year is called “Summertime Blueberry,” and I was quite impressed with its deep lavender blooms and blue-violet centers.   I enjoyed this display from mid-May through mid-October.   A single plant is a full 24” wide and despite a few frosty mornings, is still green and growing in late October… a pretty impressive performance!

Pockets of annuals nestle nicely among groupings of perennials and shrubs; annuals definitely qualify as compatible plantings.   While annuals might flower continuously 4 -  5 months, many perennials and shrubs produce blooms for a brief 2 – 3 week period.  Annuals provide an ongoing “pop” of color; annuals also can be used as cut flowers and in container plantings.

I’m not suggesting you plant annuals exclusively, but you might give them a space in your garden design for next season.   Added bonus:  the brightly colored petals of annual flowers  serve as beacons for your local butterflies!

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

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Twilight of Tomato Season

The Twilight of Tomato Season

October begins… tomato season ends.   This is the phenomenon we experience in Southeastern Wisconsin every autumn.    Occasionally we receive temps in the mid-thirties during late September, which brings the tomato growing season to an abrupt conclusion.  This year some tomatoes are still actively growing during warm autumn days and ripening on the vine; sadly, we are in the twilight of our tomato season.

A common complaint this season was the shortage of warm nights which encourage tomatoes, peppers and other veggies to mature faster with warm temperatures.  Although some performers were “ripe and ready” in August, many varieties were not ready until September—but they were worth waiting for!

Tomatoes  (Solanum  lycopersicum )  are available in a kaleidoscope of colors, especially some of the heirloom varieties.  You may encounter tomatoes with tissue and skin in shades of purple, orange, yellow and numerous shades of RED.  Each tomato fruit offers a variation in taste, color, and texture and can be used in your culinary creations, in sauces and salads.  (Shown here are two varieties from our home garden:  Beefmaster and Orange Oxheart.  When diced and seeded, they make an attractive addition to your favorite salsa recipe.)

Of course, each passing day brings us one day closer to a killing frost… but for now, I want to bask in the warm temperatures of the day, along with my tomatoes!  

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

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Are your plants ready for the Transition?

It’s TRANSITION TIME…  Summer into Fall!

Late August in Wisconsin... time to harvest and preserve those home-grown tomatoes… time for children to think about reuniting with school friends… time to transition those summer container gardens into the new fall season!

Some of the container gardens shown here could have a quick “wardrobe change” and would adapt to the new season nicely.  Annuals like deep-hued coleus and other foliage plants can be retained in the container; simply change out any flowers or herbs that seem tired or past their prime.    
(Scoop them out gently and add them to your home compost pile.)  

The next step is to add some autumn bling to your container; a clump of ornamental grasses works well.  Add a small mum or two in place of the annuals you removed.  If you have a plant stake or ornament with an autumn theme, add it to the mix.   When gourds are available, you can tuck in a few amidst your plants.  Tie up a bow made of burlap if you like, and place it near front of your container.  

Make it pretty—make it yours!  A little imagination and a bit of bling will keep your container plantings enjoyable for another month or two.  

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

Saturday, August 9, 2014

It's a BUG's Life - The Good, the Bad, the Ugly!

The GOOD… the BAD… the UGLY!

On this sunny, warm August day I am writing for Goodness in the Garden using the laptop in our camper, currently located at a campsite in scenic south central Wisconsin.  Surrounded by mature evergreens and deciduous trees… and INSECTS, it is fitting to pay homage to some of the insects that inhabit our environment.   While all insects serve a function in nature—except, perhaps, mosquitos—the insects featured in today’s blog are not often seen close up.   But whether studying people, animals or insects, we never know when we might encounter the GOOD… the BAD… or the UGLY!

I was fortunate to be able to photograph these insects, due to the keen eyes of our Lammscapes Landscape Technicians; these young ladies work at various job sites and encountered the unusual slug shown here.  Just last week they captured a living emerald ash borer from the bark of a tree they had diagnosed as a victim of EAB.  After all the EAB research and reports I did during my horticulture training, I was actually able to hold a living specimen in my hand (secured inside a plastic bag, see photo).  When researching EAB on line, photos are greatly magnified; it’s useful to understand the iridescent green borer’s true size.

The GOOD:  A popular pollinating insect in Southeastern Wisconsin is called a hummingbird moth, a sphinx moth or a hawk moth (genus Hemaris, family Lepidoptera).  This fast-mover hovers in our gardens, pollinating as it goes.  You might witness it on bee balm (Monarda) or tall garden phlox.  It is often mistaken for a tiny hummingbird, but is actually an insect with antennae and a proboscis.  (The specimen I found had died, but was fully intact for my photo.)

The BAD:  Emerald Ash Borer (alias “EAB) a known killer!  Agrilus planipennis is a destructive force in our Wisconsin landscapes, decimating millions of ash trees (genus Fraxinus) located in our State—one tree at a time! This evil insect is an undesirable import which came from Asia, and is unwelcome here. Despite chemical treatments and strict legislation regarding the removal/disposal of infected ash trees (debarking, incineration, etc.), it has not been eradicated. This insect is deserving of its BAD reputation!

The UGLY:  The leopard slug shown here (Limax maximus) is a pretty ugly insect in my opinion!  The specimen brought to me by our Landscape Technicians was 3” long, but can attain 4” in length. The photo I shot comes complete with slug AND its slime trail!  (For some interesting facts and photos, just google on “leopard slug”)   This insect might eat your landscape plants, but is also carnivorous!  It hunts smaller slugs when it gets really hungry…  pretty ugly!

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

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A Beacon for Butterflies... in YOUR Garden!

A Beacon for Butterflies…   in YOUR garden!

Butterflies adorn our gardens every summer in Wisconsin—but they don’t often appear if uninvited!   Our “invitations” are host plants that will attract different species of butterflies.   Providing vividly colored, nectar-rich flowers will entice adult butterflies to visit your garden… those flowers serve as a beacon for butterflies.   Females may wander into your garden, and if they encounter the kinds of plants they need for their offspring, females may lay eggs there.  A new generation could develop on your plants… in your backyard garden!

Examples of edible herbs that will satisfy the appetites of some butterfly species:   dill, parsley, fennel, nasturtium, anise and tarragon.   
Examples of nectar-rich herbs that will attract butterflies:   coneflowers, lavenders, mints, bee balms, sages, rosemary, oregano, and nasturtium.

Gardeners, don’t forget to provide some Wisconsin native plants when landscaping for caterpillars!   Local species have evolved with our native plants and are adapted to those natives.  All caterpillars will need “edibles” so you can plant a few of their favorites to assist in their development.

When shopping for perennials and annuals for your home garden, check each plant tag to verify whether that plant attracts butterflies. (Some plants are not considered “edibles” for humans, but can supply nectar sources for butterflies.)

Last week I found the lovely caterpillar (see photo) munching its way through my parsley patch; I plant plenty of parsley so I can share with these butterfly babies

To protect the butterflies in your locale, please don’t spray or spread insecticides unless absolutely critical for a specific insect infestation.   Include some native plantings in your garden design.    You might also provide some flat, smooth rocks within your garden space to encourage butterflies to linger and sun themselves.

NOTE:  At Lamm Gardens in Jackson, WI, we provide a butterfly habitat in our gardens.  The native milkweed plant shown here—an essential plant for Monarch butterfly reproduction—grows freely in our Lammscapes gardens.   Butterflies frequent our vibrantly colored gardens, and we gladly provide host plants to attract them throughout the season.

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

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Springtime! - Season of the Mud & Muck!

Springtime… season of the mud and the muck!

Our parents and grandparents often proclaimed the old adage, “April showers bring May flowers.”   Were they serious?!!?   It’s the end of April, and my garden offers precious few mini daffodils to enjoy, but plenty of mud and muck!

As winter releases its hold on our gardens, we may be tempted to walk in them, but our soil structure will suffer!  Each footprint we put into the soil diminishes soil pores below, which encase wisps of oxygen for our plants’ root systems.   As my foot presses the soil down, compaction occurs—the enemy of healthy, desirable plants.  In my Landscape Maintenance class, I learned the ONLY plants that don’t mind compacted soil are WEEDS!   Dandelions and other broadleaf weeds can thrive in compacted soil—but desirable plants, trees and shrubs WANT and NEED adequate air pockets amidst their roots in order to extract their oxygen, water and nutrient requirements from the soil.

Soil structure is more fragile than some gardeners realize.   A well-intentioned gardener handling a roto-tiller can easily overdo the tilling process, creating tiny “peds” or particles of soil that are too fine and easily form a crust of compacted soil after a pounding rain.  Further, precious few oxygen pockets can exist in soil that is over tilled.  Instead, a tiller should be used only to break up the surface, creating desirable “soil aggregates.”  These aggregates form soils that are less susceptible to erosion.   Bacteria plays a critical role in forming soil aggregates, since bacteria produce organic compounds called polysaccharides; these are more stable and resist decomposition long enough to hold soil particles together, forming soil aggregates.  Most herbaceous plants can thrive in nutrient rich soils which also provide a structure comprised of soil aggregates of various sizes.

Enjoy springtime in your garden, but try NOT to walk in the mud and the muck!

(Sources:  numerous soils classes along with four decades of backyard gardening.   University of Western Australia website summarized details regarding aggregates, pores and bacteria’s role in forming soil aggregates)   http://www.soilhealth.see.uwa.edu.au/processes/aggregation 

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

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Healing Gardens - as Unique as You!

A personal healing garden… just for YOU!

Healing gardens frequently are utilized by large hospitals and cancer treatment centers… they provide an alternative therapy, contributing to the healing of mind, body and spirit.  Their focus becomes the garden’s potential ability to help each person alleviate stress and focus on wellness in the moment, as well as striving toward future wellness.  

Healing gardens are not a new concept… Japanese Zen Gardens have been in existence for centuries.   Surely all healing gardens are therapeutic and offer a calming atmosphere; but each garden also stimulates with sights and scents of pretty and peaceful plantings.

But the healing garden I’m suggesting is a small, personal healing garden.  For someone going through a health crisis that could span several months, it is beneficial to plant a small assortment of colorful flowers, or a collection of scented herbs for aromatherapy.   If someone is living a health crisis, the act of planting gives testimony to those around them: “There IS a future, and I plan to be part of it!” 

Your personal healing garden could simply be a large container, filled with soil and annuals that give you pleasure.  Maybe planting flowers that attract butterflies would be therapeutic for your personal healing journey.   If you enjoy bright, vibrant flowers, PLANT THEM!   If you prefer gentle whites and soft pinks, PLANT THEM!  The plantings you choose for your healing journey are ALL ABOUT YOU… make selections that will please you and help you get through another day.

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

Sunday, February 2, 2014

For February - Think Flowers!

Flowers for February

Although RED ROSES seem to garner most of the attention during February, there are other flowers we can enjoy during winter months.  Consider any of the plants shown here to bring indoors in autumn, or purchase a flowering houseplant or two.  Observing buds form-- and later burst into bloom-- is a lovely pastime during cold, wintry weather.  Try your hand at growing any flowering plant, and you will be rewarded with vibrant blooms indoors, long before your spring bulbs emerge.

In September bring in a few medium sized geranium plants; they will lose some foliage as they acclimatize to conditions inside your home, but the plants should produce several blooms for you to enjoy.  Suggest you water sparingly… the annual geranium Pelargonium (origin, South Africa) won’t thrive if overwatered.

Orchids are fun to grow at home and can be obtained in a kaleidoscope of colors.  My orchid began blooming again on January 27; last year it bloomed for five full months before it completed its bloom cycle.  (Although watering orchids is controversial because there are many fans of the “ice cube” method, I prefer the “drench and drain” method, using room-temperature water.  The Orchid Society states, “With the proper care, they will surprise and delight you for many years.”

Kalanchoe plants are succulents which produce tiny bright clusters of blossoms that last several weeks.   Easy to grow, easy to find…. easy to ENJOY!
Amaryllis bulbs can be planted indoors on different dates so they will bloom at different times.   (I like to plant the first one on January 1st  each year.)
Force-bloom a few tulips or daffodils for indoor enjoyment during winter months.   

Whichever blooming plants you choose to surround you during February, you will be reminded that springtime is approaching soon!

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

Sunday, January 12, 2014

"Twinkle Lights & Bright Lights" - Brighten your Day! :)

Twinkle Lights and ‘Bright Lights’

As I leave behind the twinkle lights used in December décor, I savor the slightly longer daylight hours that January brings.  Those few extra minutes of sunlight each day are welcomed by plants AND people.  In the coming weeks, our daylight hours will be noticeably longer, and sun beams will stream through our window panes to brighten our homes and provide a light source for our houseplants.

There is another bright light that comes to mind… a leafy green vegetable called Swiss Chard ‘Bright Lights.’   Although tolerant of hot weather, this chard grows best in spring and fall—it loves cool weather and often can be harvested through the month of November (even in Southeast Wisconsin).  ‘Bright Lights’ is a cultivar of Beta vulgaris and offers essential fiber and Vitamins A, C and K in its deep green leaves, plus attractive petioles (leaf stems) in shining bright colors of  yellow-orange, white,  burgundy and scarlet.

Young boys and girls would enjoy planting ‘Bright Lights’ seeds in a children’s garden since the chard grows quickly and their petioles provide an enticing array of vivid colors.  Leaves with stems can be harvested young and used raw in salads.  If cooking is preferred, roughly chop larger leaves and finely mince stems before steaming or sautéing.  A bit of butter or olive oil and fresh minced garlic is all you need in your pan; cook for one minute, then add chopped ‘Bright Lights’ to the garlic butter.  Cook for 2 – 3 minutes while stirring; serve immediately.

The vegetable garden area at Chicago Botanic featured a section of ‘Bright Lights’ last summer, and I grew it in my garden as well.  If you wish to add a splash of color to your sun-loving veggie and herb garden next summer, include ‘Bright Lights’ in your garden design.   

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