Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Horticulture During December ?!!

At first glance the topic of horticulture may take us to flower gardens, planting seeds, and growing herbs and veggies in summer.  But the month of December is a strong contender in the annual cycle of growing and harvesting.  Living Christmas trees and freshly cut trees are all plants grown for the purpose of giving joy.

Horticulture manifests itself OUTDOORS in various ways. Christmas tree farmers harvest all trees ready for market.  During their decade of developing into the perfect trees to display treasured ornaments, those evergreens were watered and cared for, as all trees deserve.  

After harvest is completed the soil will be rejuvenated with nutrients, and young tree seedlings will be planted to begin the cycle again. (More trees to generate oxygen for our environment… always a good thing.)

During December, horticulture manifests itself INDOORS as well.  Garden centers and florists provide an array of plants to use as gifts or to enhance indoor décor.  Poinsettias, amaryllis, holly, kalanchoe and other succulents are adorned with tiny bells and bows, pine cones and brightly colored ribbons.  Pine cones (large or small, natural or painted) can become part of holiday décor, displayed in baskets.

Wreaths are often comprised of branches from a single evergreen, like boxwood (genus Buxus) while others are a mix of several species.  My favorite wreaths include a blend of branches from white pine, balsam, cedar, juniper (with blue berries) and spruce.   The addition of a large bow, sprigs of holly and sparkly ornaments will complete the wreath (although I have seen feathers and other unusual bling used.)  Non-traditional wreaths can be quite stunning!

Although it may seem unlikely, a horticulture theme permeates the month of December.  Nature surrounds us—especially after a winter storm when evergreens are covered with sparkly white blankets of fresh snow.  Enjoy the season!

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Seasonal Surprises!

The word “seasonal” usually refers to some aspect of summer, fall, winter or spring.

In this context I’m referring to the GROWING SEASON—that time of year gardeners eagerly anticipate in springtime, and usually finish in October here in Wisconsin.  Let me share a few seasonal surprises encountered in GROWING SEASON 2019:

Surprise #1:  During summer I learned a destructive caterpillar infestation can destroy foliage on an American cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum) and a redtwig dogwood (Cornus sericea ‘Isanti’) in just a few day!  I never encountered this grey and yellow caterpillar before this summer; it is evil and apparently is attacking deciduous shrubs (mainly the Viburnum genus) throughout southern Wisconsin.

Surprise #2:   Since I am fortunate to have a plethora of pollinators visiting my garden, the zucchini harvest is usually abundant.  My preference is harvesting zucchini when fruits are 4” – 8” in length.  Gardeners know that sometimes a large zucchini is lurking beneath the foliage—well camouflaged— but I never realized one fruit could grow to fourteen pounds… surprise!

Surprise #3:   A friend shared some seeds with me for an annual producing yellow and orange blooms; she did not know its name.  I grew these seeds in a full sun location and learned they are sulphur cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus.) They grew four feet tall and flowered all summer, attracting various pollinators the entire time.  As seeds formed, I collected them for next year; sulphur cosmos was a sweet surprise!


Surprise #4:  
Japanese beetles are a
plague to gardeners in recent years.  Five years ago, there were NONE in my garden.  Last year I dispatched over 600 (using the soapy water method) and this season, more than 1,100 (a nasty surprise!)  These beetles lay their eggs in lush turf grass in SEPT/OCT.  Three years later, the eggs hatch as adult beetles with a voracious appetite for all the delicacies awaiting them in the garden.  They love raspberries, corn, green beans and 300 species of assorted trees, shrubs and flowers.  This growing season I found some beetles tangled in the corn silk in our small corn patch.  Sometimes the corn silk was eaten away—the surprise: When corn silk is destroyed during development, the kernels of corn WILL NOT FORM!   

Surprise #5:  Waking up this morning to an inch of fresh SNOW on the grass!  October 29 is the earliest snowfall I have witnessed in my lifetime… although it provides a bit of nitrogen for turf grass and other plants, it is not a pleasant surprise.

Planning and hoping for an interesting and fruitful GROWING SEASON in 2020…

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

Monday, September 23, 2019

Falling for Fall Flowers

Spring flowering bulbs provide relief after an intense winter… summer blooms are bold and beautiful…  but by mid-September, I can’t help falling for fall flowers!  

Thriving ornamental grasses sway in gentle breezes.  Ears of corn have been harvested, but who can resist bundling their tall, dry stalks and using them for outdoor décor?
Another solid performer in autumn is Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bobo’ which consistently produces multiple creamy white blooms during summer; in early September, those creamy petals transform to rose gold.  
Hydrangea blooms can be allowed to partially dry in place, and later can be pruned off and air dried.  (These dried plumes look amazing displayed in a basket lined with burlap or lace, or as accents in a holiday bouquet.)

This season’s “star” in my backyard was the lantana shown here.  It flowered constantly, spring through summer—no deadheading needed.  An added bonus, Japanese beetles never bothered the foliage, flowers nor fruit!  
This lantana deserved to be included in my autumn décor, so I placed it in a container with German ivy, white geraniums and a white pumpkin.  
(In Wisconsin lantana is sold as an annual, but my friends in Georgia grow the perennial shrub variety—it can grow six feet tall, and it produces bushels of blooms!)
Rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan) can be disease prone since it is in the Asteraceae family—am grateful the small patch of Rudbeckia in my garden seems happy. 
Foliage is clean and green, even in mid-September. The vivid yellow-gold petal color is truly compatible with autumn décor. 

Our days are a bit shorter; our night time temps, a bit cooler—fall is nearly here!

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

Monday, August 26, 2019

Midsummer Daydreams (in purple & pink!)

On the warmest summer days in Wisconsin, people enjoy daydreaming while watching puffy clouds change forms as they cross a deep blue sky. Daydreams are a pleasant past time, and are different for each individual.  My daydreams take form in the flowers growing in our garden in the middle of summer.  I’m sharing a few of my favorite blooms that provided pleasure in recent months… this is what dreams are made of for a gardener!

Clematis ‘Etoile violette’ 
These clematis vines are perennials that require a support structure so they can grow tall and strong; they are quite hardy and perform well in USDA Zones 4 – 8.  Deep purple blooms are plentiful each summer, and diseases don’t seem to bother them.  Although I had several hundred Japanese beetles munching on my plants this summer, they never seemed to bother flowers or foliage on this clematis.  
HINT: Clematis enjoy full sun, but need some shade to protect their tender root zone.  I placed a rectangular container filled with annuals to provide a “shade pocket” for the root zone; this worked well, the plant thrived.)   ‘Etoile violette’ is an old cultivar—developed more than 120 years ago—but it looks young each summer!

Astilbe chinensis ‘Vision in Pink’
When I’m in the mood to daydream in PINK, this plant is a vision to behold.  Flowers hold their soft pink color for a few weeks, and then I like to deadhead them to dry. When fully dried, these spikes can be spray painted and used in floral arrangements; however, they are lovely in fresh arrangements as well.  Astilbe is typically a shade lover, but where it grows in my garden it gets full morning sunlight; it is happy there.

Phlox paniculata

This prolific bloomer is tall garden phlox, and the soft lavender color beckons to swallowtails and monarchs throughout summer months.  It is a tenacious plant that doesn’t need pampering; simply deadhead expired blooms a few times in summer, and cut it back to four-inch height in fall.  Its foliage is prone to powdery mildew, but thru midsummer this season, it has not appeared.  
Since mildew/mold spores can winter over in foliage, I do NOT place dead stems in our compost bins.  Tall garden phlox blooms nearly six weeks in midsummer, and is rated USDA Zones 4 – 8.

Midsummer daydreams are a very good thing… I hope YOU photographed some memorable and beautiful flowers to create your own special daydreams!

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

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Peonies: Pretty & Pink

Warm June days brought bold-colored blooms to my garden… but of all the blooms I enjoyed, none compared with the biggest and boldest of all:  PEONIES!

Since I do small space gardening on a quarter-acre property, I can’t often accommodate plants with a huge footprint, nor plants that spread aggressively.  But the genus Paeonia offers several well-behaved cultivars and deserves a dedicated space in my garden.  It expands gradually over time, but remains in a tight clump.

For years I have enjoyed the hot-pink petals of cultivar ‘Raspberry Ice’ which opened its first blooms on June 17 this year.  (Although the fresh growth of peonies usually emerges in April, the blooms typically appear in June.)  Now at the end of June, many of those bodacious blooms have expired.  It is a short—but dramatic—engagement, performing every year.  (Repeat performance, expected next year in mid-June!)

The rose-pink petals of ‘High Adventure’ complement the bolder pink hue of ‘Raspberry Ice’ so these peonies appear side by side in the southeast exposure garden, adjacent to our house.  Peonies thrive there since they are somewhat protected from prevailing western winds and storms… harsh winds and rain are the demise of all peonies during bloom time.  As mentioned, the Peony Performance is a short, engagement during June—but so very special! 

The Paeonia genus is native to Asia, Europe and parts of North America.   It is a deciduous perennial shrub that dies back to the ground in fall.  When bloom time has passed, I prefer deadheading expired blossoms to prevent seed pods from forming.  (Too much of the plants resources are used up for seed production, but this energy is conserved if expired blooms are cut with a sharp scissors or pruner.) After blooms are removed, I enjoy its green, shiny foliage consisting of pointy compound leaves. Peony foliage generally remains clean and attractive until frost.

Gardener’s tips:  Suggest placing a wire support cage over each plant while stems are just a few inches long; it is awkward to install a support cage after foliage has formed. If you wish to divide a large plant, September is ideal in Wisconsin.  Dig deeply around section to be transplanted; plant in rich organic soil in sunny area.  Maintain same soil level around stems—do not add too much soil on top.

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

Friday, May 17, 2019

True Blue: Siberian Bugloss

True Blue” is an old expression often used to describe a lasting friendship or relationship.  Merriam Webster website tells us “true blue” can be an adjective describing someone who is extremely loyal, devoted or dedicated to a person or a cause.  
There is additional information on the significance of flowers in the color BLUE… these blooms may signify qualities like trust, long term commitment, desire and love.  How lovely that the tiny blooms on the perennial Siberian Bugloss are “true blue” (AND beautiful!)

Early May in Wisconsin offers gardeners pockets of color in the garden; colorful spring daffodils and tulips remind us that winter weather MIGHT actually be finished for the moment.  But in early MAY most perennial plants are pushing new growth and foliage—not flowers.  

One exception: Siberian Bugloss, which flowers perfectly in a partial sun environment.  The individual flowers are teeny, but a vivid shade of BLUE!  Away from direct sunlight, the dainty blooms may appear to be a fluorescent BLUE. 

Siberian Bugloss is a terrific companion planting—shown here paired with Solomon’s Seal in our backyard.  In our front garden Siberian Bugloss complements Berberis thunbergii ‘Orange Rocket.’  (This compact shrub is rated as hardy in USDA Zones 4 – 9, and pushes coral colored foliage in spring; later this foliage shades to green, and in autumn—a deep burgundy.)

Although the BLUE flowers of Siberian Bugloss are tiny, they last a few weeks. Even after blooms fade, no deadheading is needed.  This plant has grown well in our home garden several years, and its lime green foliage remains until frost. 
Brunnera macrophylla is described as a clump-forming, shade-loving woodland garden herbaceous perennial, but it thrives in a part-sun environment as well.  
Apparently, it is distasteful to rabbits and insects since I have never observed plant damage from any pests.  It thrives in well drained, rich, organic soil. 
Rated as a USDA Zone 3 – 8 plant, it can tolerate a wide range of temperatures.

Purchase a plant or two of Siberian Bugloss soon, and next spring, you’ll be enjoying those dainty “true blue” blooms!

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

Sunday, May 5, 2019



As we move into MAY and winter weather releases its grip on Southeastern Wisconsin, plant lovers here are eager to work their fingers through the soil on a soft, sunny day. They are anxious to plant a few cool-weather veggie seeds (like radishes and peas) to officially commence our 2019 growing season.  

Veteran gardeners are so ready to begin the plant-nurture-harvest season once again… but what about those who are novice gardeners?  

Those individuals might appreciate a few guidelines from an experienced gardener—suggestions that will help ensure success as these new gardeners accept the challenge of growing edibles and ornamentals this season.  

Here are some thoughts to encourage a new or novice gardener:

Think SMALL … when you select a new garden space.  Soil prep, weed and turf removal for a large area can be overwhelming for a new gardener. 

Think GARDEN ART… a few well placed pieces will enhance; too many pieces may appear tacky (less is more; you’ve heard this before!)

Think SEEDS… not every plant needs to be purchased in a plastic pot. You can purchase seed packets, or participate in a seed exchange with friends. (Some libraries also offer participation in seed exchanges—check your library.)

Think SWAPPING… early spring is usually ideal for dividing perennials, especially plants in the Hosta genus.  You give a portion of your perennial to a friend, and they provide you with something from their plant collection.

Think LOCAL… perennials grown in or near Wisconsin are more likely to transplant successfully and should thrive in our soils and climate.

Think BUTTERFLIES… these beauties will visit your yard more often if you “invite” them with tempting, colorful blooms.  (Butterflies have distinct preferences, whether they are feeding on nectar or laying eggs.  Look up a few butterflies on line and plant some of their favorite flowers to increase chances of butterfly sightings in your own garden.)

Think BLOOM TIMES… select annuals and perennials that bloom at various times, keeping your garden vibrant and attractive, spring through fall.

Think RIGHT PLANT, RIGHT PLACE… sun lover or shade lover?  rich, organic soil? gravely, well-drained soil? Choose wisely to keep plants happy.

Think SUCCESS… enjoy learning new skills, have confidence in your abilities!

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

Thursday, January 31, 2019

A Wicked Wisconsin Winter!

January closes with weather extremes southern Wisconsinites have not experienced in decades.  Intensely harsh winds accentuated extreme sub-zero temps as people (and plants) struggle to survive.  

As we tackled huge snow drifts with shovels and snow throwers, we likely weren’t thinking of our plants’ root systems beneath the snow.  Often plant survival depends on a thick layer of “insulating” snow cover to reduce effects of wind damage and piercing sub-zero temperatures.  
Also, a healthy plant (not a weak, stressed plant) stands a better chance of survival through winter—just like healthy humans!

When spring arrives in Wisconsin (eventually gentler, warmer spring days WILL come…) our trees, shrubs and perennials will reveal any damage sustained over winter.  Often the deep cold is NOT the problem; some trees and plants can survive even if their entire root system becomes frozen.  

More problematic are numerous freeze-thaw cycles that springtime brings.  
These alternating patterns of freezing temps, followed by warmer temps, followed by more freezing temps… send mixed messages to our perennial plants.  As they emerge from dormancy with blissful sunshine and warmer temps, they are vulnerable.  Dropping below freezing again can shock these plants, or kill them.  

Some prevention methods are effective, but must be done in autumn before bitter cold days arrive.  Lightly wrapping large plants in plain burlap fabric can protect against sunscald and windburn.  The 3 - 4” layer of shredded hardwood you had placed around plants (to reduce moisture loss and deter weed seeds from germinating) also helps insulate plants’ root systems against freeze-thaw cycles.

Rodent damage
Voles (genus: Myodes) are often active in winter beneath the snow.  Voles are rodents related to mice, but not the same; easy to identify with a flatter face than mice, as well as a shorter tail and smaller ears. There are more than 150 species of voles throughout the world. Voles are destructive with tiny “needle teeth” and can easily girdle a tree trunk or shrub beneath the snow.  Voles also eat succulent roots and roots of ground cover. (I snapped this picture  last summer when a vole accidentally found its way into a mouse trap.) 
Voles are often eaten by a variety of owls, so do NOT place poison to reduce their numbers.

As we enter February, each day is one day CLOSER to spring!  Keep warm!

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