Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Pick a Plant Pick!

Around Christmastime the usual star performers appear on the scene… pretty poinsettias displaying red, ivory, pink or speckled bracts, with an occasional holly plant making an appearance.   Often a dramatic red amaryllis plant takes center stage.  But don’t exclude members of the supporting cast— your houseplants

Check the condition of each plant you are considering as a member of the supporting cast.  Only your best specimens should be exhibited with your holiday décor; they need just a little “holiday help” in order to perform well.   You might add a large bow for a pop of color.  My favorite inexpensive makeover is to pick a plant pick!  (You might already have a few plant picks tucked away with Christmas ornaments; they are easily reused from year to year.)  

If you choose to purchase new plant picks, they are readily available at floral gift shops and online.   Often plant picks are sold for under $10 each.

A wide variety of plant picks awaits you—each ready to sparkle and command attention when tucked into a potted plant.   Some picks feature glitter ribbon and other sparkly elements.  Some feature pine cones with red or green ribbons.  I even have a brown metal-art butterfly that makes a quick cameo appearance during the holiday season, by simply tucking it into an ordinary houseplant.

Plant picks vary in size from one to three feet tall.  Choose a pick that is proportionate to each potted plant; then find a special place in your home to exhibit those plants… separately or together, they will perform nicely for you!

Remember to water your plants occasionally during December… it’s easy to forget about them with all your extra activities this month.   Enjoy the Christmas season!

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

October's Peak Performers

The autumn season in Southeastern Wisconsin is usually pleasant and pretty… but the interesting color hues are usually attributed to a variety of hardwoods that thrive here.

Sugar maples, as well as a variety of maple cultivars, contribute to the fall landscape along with deep red sumac, oaks and an assortment of trees.
With all those trees donning their fall wardrobe, it might be easy to overlook other plantings in our autumn landscape.  Shrubs, perennials and annuals contribute color and texture at eye level and ground level; these plantings are also peak performers during October.  A few of my personal favorites:

In the shrub category, I’m impressed with blooms on Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bobo’ which is pictured here.  The genus Hydrangea has a variety of offerings for your enjoyment during autumn:  ‘Pinky Winky,’ ‘White Diamonds,’ ‘Little Limelight.’   Each cultivar produces white or light blooms during summer, but the dramatic colors arrive in autumn (shades of pink, burgundy, green, tan).   Dried blooms can be incorporated into floral arrangements as well—with or without a wisp of spray paint on the blooms!

In the perennial category, an obvious autumn charmer is Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ stonecrop. This plant is monochromatic during summer—usually a light green— but the stems are sturdy and support developing flower heads.  When fall arrives, the deep pinkish blooms appear and mature to a copper color.   Although I grow a few types of tall sedum, ‘Autumn Joy’ is my favorite during October.

In the annuals category, I can’t resist these dainty ornamental peppers called Capsicum annuum ‘Twilight.’  After purchasing seeds in New Mexico and planting those seeds in early MAY, I was impressed with their performance all summer long.  They formed tiny upright peppers in early JULY, which were purple and pretty!  Later, purple faded and red-orange colorants emerged; ‘Twilight’ provides a spark of color in the autumn landscape.  (After these peppers die from frost, I will toss them under our shrubs to deter critters from munching on stems during winter.  ‘Twilight’ is rated higher than 30,000 units on the Scoville heat scale.)

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

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Pleasing those Pollinators!

A garden can be a butterfly banquet, providing you offer a colorful array of nectar-and-pollen rich host plants for butterflies to feast upon. Butterflies (and other beneficial pollinators) provide a vital function in the garden, pollinating flowers and vegetables as they flutter among the plants.

This afternoon our backyard garden had a variety of winged visitors… hummingbirds, yellow swallowtails, and bumblebees. Each visitor was drawn to the Monarda blooms, which provide nectar and pollen for all. My favorite cultivar of Monarda is ‘Raspberry Wine’ (hardy to Zone 4) with its vivid magenta flowers that invite pollinators during the hottest weeks of summer. Monarda, also known as bee balm, stands nearly four feet tall and grows aggressively so requires some space in the garden. (It has square stems which can be an indication the plant will spread. The ‘Raspberry Wine’ cultivar thrives in a sunny location and is also resistant to powdery mildew.)

Besides butterflies, bumblebees hover over the Monarda blossoms, gathering nectar and pollen granules continuously. I watched a yellow swallowtail for several minutes, gathering nectar from various flowers; she wasn’t deterred by the bumblebees. These bees have velvety bodies which are ideal for collecting pollen and moving it from blossom to blossom. If you watch closely, sometimes bumblebees use a vibrating technique to loosen pollen granules, allowing them to collect more pollen.
Each gardener can assist our bees, hummingbirds and pollinators by planting pollen-rich plants, as well as host plants for female butterflies to deposit eggs. Ideally, a succession of blooms throughout the growing season will keep these desirable pollinators coming back to YOUR space. (One of my horticulture instructors taught us to include flowering perennials within the borders of the veggie garden. This keeps pollinators coming back to your garden. Thanks for the great tip, Ms. Laurie Weiss!) Here are a few pollinator attracting plants: coneflower, milkweed, geranium, liatris, hyssop, lavender and… monarda!

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Join us for our Fireflys & Fairies event TONIGHT! 5-8pm

Join us for a summer evening in our gardens! Wear your wings, play some games, see the trains & get your face painted too! 
Create your fairy garden at our workshop with your family!

FREE admission to this event :)
See u soon!

Monday, June 20, 2016

'Tis the Season.... for Japanese Beetles

With the onset of hot summer days, our trees, shrubs and flowers are lush and lovely, beckoning us to savor the beauty each provides for our viewing pleasure.  
Of course, hot summer days also mark the arrival of adult Japanese beetles to our landscapesthese insects with their voracious appetites do NOTHING to enhance our summer gardening experiences!  

Adult Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica) can decimate blooms and foliage of more than 300 species of plants (they cannot be considered picky eaters!)  Some of their favorite deciduous trees are in the genus Tilia.   The foliage of Tilia cordata (little leaf linden) and Tilia americana (American linden or basswood) are extremely attractive to adult Japanese beetles.   However, I also encountered an infestation on the thick foliage of Quercus bicolor (swamp white oak).  These beetles can skeletonize foliage on ANY plant they visit from June through August! 

The genus Rosa provides another culinary delicacy for these adult insects; in the photos I took at a botanical garden this week, the beetles were congregating on Rosa floribunda ‘Cherish.’  Rose bushes provide a perfect gathering place where they meet and mate all summer long!  These gorgeous ‘Cherish’ blooms have no defense against the ravages of a Japanese beetle infestation.  

Even the buds are a favorite gathering place for these little destroyers 
“Little” is a relative word.  Popillia japonica is much larger than a lady beetle or ladybug Measuring 3/8” (10mm) long by 1/4" (7mm) wide, Japanese beetles sport iridescent rust-colored wings and barbed black legs. Beneath their wings a patch of iridescent lime green appears, but it’s not apparent when wings are closed.  Japanese beetles are classified as arthropods in the order of Coleoptera.   Adult females often deposit their eggs in lush, irrigated turf throughout summer and early fall.   The larvae, when hatched, feed upon turf roots causing brown, dead patches of grass.  These larvae are “C” shaped white grubs with brown heads. 

Originally from Japan, in the early 1900’s the Japanese beetle was introduced into the USA accidentally from plants brought to NJ.  The beetles have found ways to migrate to other states, and in 2015 for the first time, they found my raspberry patch in Southeastern Wisconsin.  I captured and drowned dozens in soapy water (the preferred method for organic gardeners to kill this little destroyer.)  However, they ate most of the tender buds, preventing berries from developing.   Result:  a scant yield of twelve raspberries from nearly one hundred canes!  

Keep containers of dish soap/water solution in covered containers in your garden areas.  Scout for Japanese beetles often; new migrations can arrive daily.   Drown in soap water—do not “squish” them— or a pheromone is released that will attract more beetles to your garden!  

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

Saturday, April 30, 2016

SPRING & Tulip Time have arrived!

Gardeners and homeowners in Southeastern Wisconsin hunger for spring flowering bulbs to appear during April; this hunger can be appeased only when sunny days in April warm the soil and air, creating an ideal environment for tulips (and other bulbs we planted last autumn) to emerge. 
Initially the tulips’ strap-like leaves emerge.  Next, we watch patiently awaiting some pointed buds to appear; we wait… and we wait.

The deer and rabbits are also waiting for tulips to emerge; the genus Tulipa is a crowd favorite for deer and rabbits, who will unmercifully munch on foliage and buds, even before blooms have opened.  Commercially produced deer and rabbit repellants are available at garden centers, with mixed reviews on their effectiveness.  
Some gardeners sprinkle bits of human hair (from a recent haircut) around tulip clusters; sprinkling bottled hot sauce around the foliage also can serve as a deterrent.

As you can see from the park-bench-tulip-patch photo I snapped at a botanical garden, tulips planted in large masses create a dramatic splash of color in the spring garden.   
This small cluster of tulip buds shows the status of tulips growing in my yard—still tightly closed due to our cold days and nights during April

Although a few April days provided spectacular weather, most days were snowy, cold, damp, misty, windy or cloudy.   In addition, during the evening of April 25 this area experienced a WWP (Weird Weather Phenomenon!)  All occurred within a five minute time frame:  wind, heavy rainfall, sunshine, an intense rainbow AND hailstones which measured 1-1/2” in diameter!    (I even took pictures of the hailstones, since I never before witnessed such large hail—it was a bizarre April day in Wisconsin!) 
Thankfully, most tulips were still closed during this storm so none were damaged.  The next time I am impatiently awaiting the opening of our tulip blossoms, I might look to the skies to see if another WWP is headed our way! 

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

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Grape Gum in the Garden??!?

Although our “Goodness in the Garden” blog primarily addresses growing conditions in Southeast Wisconsin, outdoor plants aren’t yet blooming in SE Wisconsin!  For a change, let’s feature a plant which thrives AND blooms during March in the Southwestern part of our country (sadly, it only grows in USDA  Zone 9-11 but it surely is a delightful plant to see and smell.)
This plant is known by various names:  
Texas mountain laurel or mescal bean

The genus of this woody evergreen was changed some time ago—currently it’s known as Calia secundiflora (formerly Sophora secundiflora).  This heat-hardy plant is classified in the Fabaceae family; it forms brownish gray pods, but its seeds are poisonous.   
Texas mountain laurel captures attention when it blooms in spring and emits an intoxicating aroma, which reminds me of grape chewing gum; others claim it smells like grape soda!

Texas mountain laurel is a total sun lover and adapts to modest amounts of moisture.  Its blue violet blooms are a deep hue, fading to light purple and white as they age.   The plant appears in botanical gardens in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico, but also thrives on rocky ledges where only the most tenacious plants survive.  (I saw several specimens growing in the wild, on steep, rocky slopes in New Mexico.   It seemed happy there!  Since this plant does NOT handle severe pruning, it might be happier on the side of a mountain than in a formal garden.)

Much like the lilac bushes we grow in Wisconsin, the flower buds begin to develop around August, but those beautiful, aromatic purple blooms emerge in spring.   Although I’ll have to be content with growing lilacs in Southeast Wisconsin,   I have never smelled a lilac that compared to the unique, grape-gum aroma of the amazing Texas mountain laurel!

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

Monday, February 29, 2016

Hot Peppers, Ornamental Peppers... a New Adventure for your Garden!

A special note to our loyal readers… You have helped us achieve more than 8,000 views during past four years (FEB 2012 – FEB 2016).  Thanks for allowing us to share our passion for gardening with you every month!      Keep on planting, “Goodness in the Garden” Staff

HOT Peppers, Ornamental peppers… a new adventure for your garden!

In February 2012, when our “Goodness in the Garden Blog” was created, I wrote a blog entry about cayenne peppers.  This blog reminded readers that the capsaicin component of a pepper can be beneficial to heart health; pepper plants are also a striking addition to the garden, especially late in the season when each cayenne begins to turn from green to a vivid shade of red.  With varied culinary uses, as well as potential health benefits, the cayenne pepper is a WIN-WIN for home gardeners in Wisconsin and throughout the USA.

In February 2016, I was fortunate to spend an afternoon with a Specialist at New Mexico State University on the Las Cruces campus.  The Chile Pepper Institute staff informed me “The Chile Pepper Institute is the only international, non-profit organization devoted to education and research related to Capsicum, or chile peppers.”   Their passion is “Educating the World” about peppers, as stated on each seed packet.   (

We discussed the Chile Pepper Institute’s methods for seed propagation to ensure each variety remains pure and “true to seed” each year.  
Since the genus Capsicum is open pollinated, it is challenging to keep each cultivar from cross pollinating with others, so precise techniques are utilized by the staff.   I purchased four varieties of Capsicum annuum that will be new to my garden in Southeast Wisconsin.  Some will be ornamental, but also edible (… and all quite HOT!) 

For those who don’t wish to eat these hot little beauties, remember peppers can also add a delightful dash of color to autumn floral arrangements.   In Southeast Wisconsin, the peppers planted in late spring should be turning vivid colors just in time for autumn décor.  

Try some new varieties of peppers in YOUR garden this season… let them take you on a new adventure!

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

Saturday, January 30, 2016

A New Year ... A New Garden!

January of each year provides motivation to improve our lives in some manner by altering our lifestyle, or redirecting our energy to a new cause.   Although many New Year’s resolutions are already discarded and forgotten by late January, we are still energized by the concept of making changes in our lives.  Some of this energy might be directed toward planning a new garden for spring.  Garden designs should never seem tired or stale—they might simply need a new design element, or some unique new cultivars to continue looking fresh and intriguing.

You might wake up your garden space with any of the following design elements:

Ornamental vegetable garden:   Veggies are usually grown in rows when produced commercially, but YOUR garden can exhibit a more interesting layout.  Try your hand at planting assorted veggies in clusters within your garden; create pathways around these clusters made of stepping stones or straw (not hay, which contains seeds).   Include some new cultivars so your veggie ornamental garden has something colorful at every turn.  Even green beans aren’t ordinary anymore—some are deep purple when raw (but turn green when cooked.) 

Salad garden:  This section of your garden could include new varieties of leaf lettuce—some tasty and tender varieties are now red or bronze toned— and make an interesting addition to any tossed salad.   You could include radishes, carrots, spinach and kale in this section also, but I would dedicate a separate space to your tomato plants.  (Some indeterminate varieties of tomatoes can grow over six feet tall and will shade neighboring crops.)

Culinary herb garden:   Herbs… always a favorite, even for a novice gardener.  Herbs are suitable for small-space gardens, since you need only one or two plants of each variety.  Choose a sunny location with fertile soil enriched with organic matter and compost; your herbs will be happy there!   HINT #1:  some herbs, like certain oregano and mint plants, are perennials and might overtake your designated space; grow those herbs in large terra cotta pots.  HINT #2: don’t forget to USE the herbs you grow!  They taste best before plants produce flowers.

Fairy garden:   This would not require a large portion of your garden… fairies are tiny, right?  The mantra for a fairy garden design is “THINK SMALL!”   Some figurines and accessories can be purchased, but often household items can be cleverly incorporated into a fairy garden to add charm.  Flowering annuals like alyssum work nicely, as well as creeping thyme and other plants with dainty features.  NOTE: If you wish to introduce the joy of gardening to young children, a fairy garden might be the answer!  You will want to assemble your plant selections and small rocks and accessories in advance.  Then enjoy the sparkle in their eyes as your children see their fairy garden come to life!
M. Lynn Schmid,   Certified Master Gardener
 A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture