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

Friday, May 1, 2020

Potted Partners (in painted pots)

Early May brings a few breaths of warmth to Wisconsin… warm breaths from Mother Nature are appreciated by gardeners everywhere.  Sunshine and warmer days mean we can get our gloved hands into the soil and DIG IN!

A favorite activity in early May is assembling annuals and perennials into decorative containers.  Often garden centers will have an abundance of annuals and perennials available to fulfill the container design of your choice.  Yes, perennials can be utilized in containers too—just be sure to disassemble container plantings in September and place perennials into the soil (removed from their pots) to winter over properly.

The term “potted partners” can mean a single large pot contains a few different genus and species that are compatible (sun lovers with sun lovers, drought tolerant with drought tolerant, complementary color hues.)  “Potted partners” can also mean you will choose a single variety for each pot—then group the planted pots together to form an interesting array of colorful blooms and textured foliage.  (I have seen this design technique utilized at botanical gardens, and it was quite attractive.)

My first container of “potted partners” was completed this afternoon.  A clean, painted container filled with compost and potting soil will be the perfect home for a few herbs.  Since chives and garlic chives (perennials from the Allium genus) have emerged in my garden, I transplanted a clump of each into a large pot. A clump of parsley (a biennial) partners nicely with the chives and this container can remain outdoors, even if we have a few freezing nighttime temps in May.  (During June I can add more tender herbs to the container, like sweet basil.)

Painted pots—a fun project for adults and older kids; use leftover acrylic latex indoor paint, latex primer, paint brushes, large plastic flower pots (do NOT use terra cotta or clay pots.)  First, while wearing disposable plastic gloves, wash insides of all pots with a diluted bleach solution; one tbsp bleach to one quart water.  Rinse pots thoroughly after washing; dry with an old towel.   Second, paint one coat of primer paint on OUTSIDE of each pot.  Third, using leftover acrylic latex indoor paint, I suggest painting TWO COATS once the primer has dried.  Fourth, allow to dry completely before placing soil and plants into each pot. 

(Please see my repainted plastic pot of geraniums here.)

You will be proud of how pretty your potted partners look in repurposed painted pots!

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

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Winter's Over? ... or Wintered Over?

In late March in Wisconsin, gardeners would love to say “Winter’s over.” But it is fairly commonplace in this state to receive a substantial early spring snowfall in late March or early April.  (One storm on April 11, 1973, was especially crippling to the Southeastern Wisconsin area… since we’re already coping with the COVID-19 crisis, let’s hope we won’t have to deal with excessive snow in the weeks ahead!)

While we cannot safely state “winter’s over,” we can enjoy plants that were wintered over!  In September/October in Wisconsin, gardeners often remove and destroy countless plants that are still lush and lovely.  We know a killing frost is coming soon, so we cut back perennials and dig out annuals and discard them into our compost piles.  While this is an appropriate action for annuals that look tired and withered, there is an alternative for annuals that are truly thriving late in the growing season

Healthy annuals often can be wintered over!  Just a few necessities…

1)     adequate light (artificial fluorescent bulb fixture with a timer set to 10 hours minimum OR a few south or west-facing windows)

2)     infrequent watering (just twice per month, thoroughly water each potted plant)

3)     clean plastic or clay pots with saucers or trays to prevent water spills

4)     fresh potting soil (commercial soil with time-release fertilizer is acceptable)

5)     insecticidal soap spray (in case a few hitchhikers travel indoors on plants)

6)     timing: most plants can winter over indoors from early OCTOBER through MAY (when moving outside, slowly acclimate plants to a part-sun environment)

Pictured are a few examples of plants I like to “winter over” at our house.
The succulent is in genus Echeveria. I originally purchased two single rosettes of this plant a few years ago; it has multiplied many times over, which allowed me to share with friends.  (It requires well drained soil and a pot with drain hole.)

This annual ivy is commonly called German ivy.  The genus Senecio thrives in sun or part sun, indoors or out.  This ivy makes a lovely addition to container plants and exhibits an ideal trailing habit.  
(This ivy should be sprayed with insecticidal soap before bringing indoors 
to discourage hitchhikers.)

Geraniums (genus Pelargonium) are easy to winter over; they need bright light and well drained soil. If light is adequate, the stems will NOT become leggy or spindly.  I can use these mature plants in containers during late April when I begin assembling new spring containers for outdoors.

Wintered over plants are just another form of recycling—try it!

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

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Resolutions for Gardeners

By late January many New Year’s resolutions and good intentions have been filed away in our minds as a distant memory.  That could be a good thing if those resolutions and intentions were too aggressive; small lifestyle changes that are embraced are more valuable than dramatic changes which aren’t realistic.  
Recently, I read approximately 50% of Americans don’t bother to make New Year’s resolutions at all.   Since it is a long-standing tradition to embrace a new year (and new decade) with an element of change, consider creating a short list of resolutions relevant to GARDENING. 

Suggestions follow:
Grow ONE plant from seed that you normally would purchase as a seedling; veggie or flower, you choose.  (some examples of plants that germinate easily and perform well from seed: marigolds, cilantro, morning glories, swiss chard)

Learn the Latin name (genus and species) for two of your favorite plants… tree, shrub, perennial.   I learned a tip in horticulture class that Googling on a plant name using the genus and species will yield more detail than using the common name. (Often typing in the common name will direct you to a website to PURCHASE the plant, when you are actually trying to learn more.)  Simply type in the Google search:  genus red maple (You will learn it is Acer rubrum, which will allow you to further search internet using those words in your search engine.)

Plant something new and different in your garden space; it might be a new cultivar—just released—OR a flower you have never tried before.  It might be a culinary herb you have not grown in years past.  You might choose a new annual, bulb or perennial.  

Be BOLD, have FUN!

Choose a PPP (Pollinator Pleasing Plant) a specimen that attracts desirable insects to your garden space.  This can be as simple as planting Italian flat leaf parsley which often attracts yellow swallowtail butterflies to lay their eggs; I’ve witnessed this twice—the female selects the TALLEST leaves and uses her ovipositor to insert eggs into each leaf.  Since the parsley patch is also used for culinary purposes, I harvest only the LOWEST leaves from each stem.   Each swallowtail caterpillar I find on these plants is a gift; I plant enough parsley so they can eat all they wish, and there is still enough for my cooking needs.

Our 2020 gardening season commences soon (depending on where you live)… embrace change, try something BOLD and BEAUTIFUL!

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