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

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