Gardening by Phone

Article by A. Goldman

Phone photo

With the plethora of new gardening gadgets, there is one that pretty much everyone has in their pocket or purse; your phone…or more specific the camera on your phone.

Since we are winding the garden season, now is a good time to document both your garden and also your purchases for the 2019 season. 

When purchasing plants throughout the season, I group the plant tags together and snap a picture just in case they are lost.  If you are extremely diligent, this can be done for specific planters, especially if the combos are ones you like and want to replicate next year. 

I also document plants that I might want to buy in the future but may not remember the name or cultivar.  You can also research a plant easily while still in the store using any search engine.  This may or may not save you money! Flowerchecker  is an app for handy identification as well as NatureGate which will ID plants, birds, fish, and butterflies. 

Everyone’s garden goes through many changes both good and bad so take a few pictures of areas that you are really pleased with, plant combos that worked out, plants you think you should buy more of or need to repeat again for a continuous look, areas that could use some spring, summer, or fall bulbs, or maybe even some garden art to spice things up. 

Areas of your garden that are looking peaky (rundown), overgrown or in need of something different, having a picture with you can help you make wise decisions when shopping those fall ½ sales!  Just looking at a picture sometimes will give you a fresh perspective on what that area needs.

Once the garden season is over and winter sets in, download and establish files for plants and sections of your garden for future reference.  Winter is a good time to start your lists for next season’s garden, which can easily be done with your phone’s apps.  When the 2020 garden catalogs start arriving, I sometimes snap a picture of a new variety to be on the lookout for.

Your phone can help you in the garden in many ways but try not to lose it in the garden.  It will be of no use then. 

Master Gardener Second Saturday Review – Colonial Medicine

Article by Barbara Raczkowski

Photo courtesy of Clarissadillon.info

Did you ever meet anyone, who owned their own still?  Then…..you discover that the owner of this apparatus is an 86yr. old woman, attired in period clothing, who has a PhD. in history from Bryn Mawr College.” Oh, my….this is going to be interesting.”

This was my experience when I met the speaker at the Master Gardener’s “Second Saturdays” event, which was held on Aug. 10.   Her name is Clarissa F. Dillon, whose scholarly knowledge covers two continents….North America and Europe.  She talks about 17th and 18th century housewifery. Standing behind her still, which she calls her penguin as it does indeed look like a copper bird, Clarissa began her lecture talking about “Dr. Mom”. Colonial women besides being wives and mothers were also doctors, nurses and apothecaries.

The lecture was illustrated by a table filled with colonial artifacts….tool, syrups, compresses and herbs, referring to different objects Clarissa lead us through a mesmerizing and fascinating lecture.

Our colonial ancestors evolved from the belief that an evil life style caused  disease, (the devil made me do it…..blood letting anyone?) to a more enlightened and scientific approach of cause and effect.

What I found particularly fascinating was that Clarissa goes back and studies first hand, original documents.  She told us that it was customary for colonial women to notate their experiments and their results and very often the “successful cures” would be passed down from generation to generation and often from friend to friend.  She has researched hundreds of these documents from ordinary citizens.  In addition, she jokingly told us her PhD and scholarly acclaim have also given her access to some colonial celebrity healers such as  Ben Franklin’s first wife….whose name was Guilelma Springett.

Even more fascinating is the fact that she then goes back like the scholar that she is and duplicates all the receipts (recipes) which she researches.  She shared many interesting things including the fact that there are three different plants which, when applied to a bleeding human body, will stop the blood flow.

If you are interested in learning more about her, you can go to her web-site: Clarissa Dillion.info

And just for the record, Clarissa has a permit for her still, which holds less than a  gallon of liquid…..and uses it for scientific and historic purposes only…..and she never served us any “refreshments” although Second Saturdays are always accompanied by tasty treats !  Hope you will join us for some upcoming events……

End of Season Plant Sales

The good, the bad and the ugly

Those end of season plant sales can be very exciting. The prices are so great, you can finally fill all those “holes” in your landscape.  But how can you tell if a great price is also a great value? Here are a few things to consider.

Make sure the plant in question matches the planting conditions you have, is hardy in your zone and will fit into your landscape. Its not a bargain no matter the price if you can’t grow it well in your yard.

While you can expect some leaf and branch damage by the end of the season, wilting or burned plants, or rotting ones, that have obviously not been cared for are risky. Extremely stressed plants may not survive in spite of your best TLC.

Don’t be surprised if perennials have been cut back. The stems may be shorter but they should still be intact. A gentle tug may tell you if stems are rotting. The exception to this are spring ephemeral perennials that are going dormant. These may have naturally lost many of their stems making it a bit more difficult to access the health of the plant. Nursery staff should be able to tell you if a plant is a spring ephemeral.

Check carefully for any pests or diseases you do not want to introduce into your garden. In some cases this can include noxious weeds (Hairy Bittercress – I’m looking at you!).

Don’t be afraid to carefully slip the plant from its pot and check the root system. There should be evidence of live roots. At the end of the season, you can expect some root wrapping around the pot edges, but if a plant is extremely root bound and feels hard as a brick, consider carefully. You will need to cut and tease those roots out in order to plant properly. This is difficult with extremely root bound plants.

Be aware that clearance plants may not have the same warrantee as full price plants, best to check with the nursery.

Try to plant your finds as soon as possible so they can begin establishing themselves. Mulch them, but do not fertilize.  You may be able to divide some perennials that have been growing in a pot all season when you plant.

Be sure to keep the plants watered throughout the fall.  Squirrels are notorious for digging up transplants in the fall so keep an eye out. Sometimes fall planted specimens are more susceptible to frost heave so be prepared to tuck them back in during winter thaws if need be.

Want more information? Check out this Penn State article.

Penn State Extension – Garden Bargain or Bust?

Plant Profile: Rudbeckia laciniata

A tall, native coneflower

Rudbeckia laciniata is commonly known as cut leaf coneflower or green headed coneflower.  It is a stately native perennial that can reach 9 feet tall under the right conditions but generally grows 5-7 feet tall. Its preferred location is full to part sun in moist soil. It naturally occurs in moist woodland clearings or along stream beds. It is adaptable to average garden soil, but may wilt during periods of drought without supplemental water.

Like many plants, there are both pros and cons to adding Rudbeckia laciniata to your garden.

On the positive side, this rudbeckia provides plenty of sunny flowers and has a long 2 month bloom time – July through September.  The size and bright coloration of this plant creates a strong accent in the garden at a time when some other perennials are starting to wane.

The flowers are attractive to bees (both native and domesticated) and butterflies, providing a late season nectar source.  They have attractive seed heads and the flower seeds provide food for finches in the fall.  This coneflower is generally pest and disease resistant and can handle hot, humid summer weather.  It is considered deer and rabbit resistant.

Because of its tolerance for moist soil and periodic flooding, it is a good plant for flood prone areas or rain gardens. Given space, it can create a (very tall!) groundcover. The root structure provides good erosion control.

However (here come the cons), in moist sunny areas this coneflower can spread somewhat aggressively by underground rhizomes. Plants should be edged or divided in spring to control the spread.

In fertile soils, more shade or windy areas the plants will probably need staking to keep it upright. 

While the plants will probably survive drought, the lower leaves will droop and brown. Drought stress can occasionally result in powdery mildew.

If you can give this plant a bit of moisture and some room to grow, it might be a great addition to a pollinator friendly landscape.

Want more information? Here are some links:

Missouri Botanical Garden plant profile – Rudbeckia laciniata

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center –  Rudbeckia lancinata

The Fall Vegetable Garden

Broccoli

Believe it or not, now is the time to start thinking about your fall vegetable crops. 

The fall vegetable garden can sometimes be a bit challenging in our climate because soils are often hot and dry in July and August. This can prevent seeds of cool season crops from germinating. 

One way to get around this is to start these vegetables indoors where the temperature and moisture can be controlled. Start the seeds in mid-July and then transplant the seedlings into the garden in mid-August. Be sure to properly harden off the seedlings before transplanting.

Plants that respond well to this technique include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, collards, kale, lettuce and spinach.

If you would prefer to direct seed all you crops in the garden, there are a couple things you can do to increase the chance of success.

Make sure the seeds are kept moist until the seedlings are well established. On very hot days, this may mean watering more than once.

If possible, provide some temporary shade for your seed bed until the seedlings are well established, particularly during the hottest part of the day. You may be able to plant some of the seeds in places where they get some afternoon shade from existing plants.

If some of your warm season crops (cucumbers, beans, summer squash) are looking a bit tired or worse for wear, you probably still have time to plant another sowing of seeds and harvest another crop.  Just look at the days till harvest on your seed packet and make sure you have enough days until the first expected frost. You can find the first expected frost date for your exact location here.

Want more information? Here are some links:

National Gardening Association – When to plant vegetables

Cornell Extension Vegetable Growing Guide

Delaware Cooperative Extension –Vegetable Garden Planning Schedule

Weed Watch: Japanese stiltgrass

A grassy invader

Stiltgrass

Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) is a non-native, invasive, annual grass. It has lance like leaves with a silvery stripe down the center, arranged alternately on a thin, wiry stem somewhat like a very miniature bamboo. It normally is 2-3 feet tall at maturity in late summer with seed heads at the top of each stem.  

Stiltgrass was probably introduced into this country as packing material in shipments of goods from China in the early 1900’s. Since then it has made itself at home in open woodlands, paths, roadsides and of course lawns and flowerbeds.

Stiltgrass has the ability to form dense stands that crowd out and smother native and desired plants. The stems root at the nodes, allowing a single plant to advance across the ground.  While stiltgrass is an annual and the parent plant dies in winter, it creates an enormous amount of seed and quickly builds up a bank of seeds in the soil. Each plant can produce up to 1000 seeds and they remain viable in the soil up to 5 years. The key to control is preventing new seed production and preventing germination of the existing bank of seeds.

Stiltgrass close

The plants are shallow rooted and can be pulled by hand. Plants should be removed before mid-August when the seed matures.  Cutting or breaking the plant stems earlier in the season may stimulate them to create and drop seed early, so try to remove each plant completely. The process of weeding may disturb soil and expose more seeds from the seed bank, encouraging new weeds. Mulching directly after weeding will help prevent germination of new seeds. Planting desirable plants densely to leave less open garden area may also help prevent stiltgrass germination.

Plants in a mowed lawn will still create seeds at the lower height. If possible, wait until just before the seed matures to cut large stands of stiltgrass so there is not enough time before winter cold for seed development.

There are some options for chemical control of stiltgrass.  This article from Penn State Extension describes those options.

Want a little more information? Here are some links:

Penn State Extension – Controlling Japanese Stiltgrass in Your Garden

PA Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources: Japanese Stilt Grass PDF

The Humane Gardener – How to Fight Plants with Plants

Plant Profile: Echinacea purpurea

a native pollinator favorite

Echinacea pupurea

Echinacea purpurea has the common name Purple cone flower.  It is a lovely herbaceous perennial that is native to eastern North America. Its showy blossoms usually appear in late June to early July and can rebloom through August. The blooms are very attractive to bees and butterflies making Echinacea a great addition to a pollinator friendly garden.  Gold finches will also visit the flower heads as they ripen to eat the seeds.

Echinacea grows best in full sun, but will take some shade. It requires well drained soil and is tolerant of drought and poor soil. It grows 2 to 5 feet tall depending on the cultivar and for the most part is self-supporting, but may need some support if grown in rich soil or too much shade.

Echinacea generally will continue to bloom whether spent blossoms are removed or not, but removing spent blossoms early in the season may make the plant look more tidy. Consider leaving some spent blossom seed heads over the winter as a food source for birds, but be prepared for some self-seeding around the base of the plant.  I consider this a bonus, and simply move the volunteer seedlings where I want them in the spring. Echinacea is also used as an herbal supplement to boost the immune system.

Echinacea flower

While called purple coneflower, the common version is more of a pinkish-purple and it has been hybridized into a variety of different colors including white, yellow, orange, red and even bi-colors. Some varieties are quite fragrant.

There are also coneflowers that have been hybridized with double or triple the petals to create a “pom-pom” effect, but note that these doubles and triples are not useful to pollinators because the hybridization process eliminates nectar sources.  These hybrids are also mainly sterile, so they do not provide seeds for birds.

Echinacea can be susceptible Aster Yellows. This is a disease caused by infection by a microorganism called a phytoplasma. The infected plant’s flowers will remain green and the cones will be distorted with leaf like projections.   The disease can be spread from an infected plant to a healthy one by leafhopper insects as they feed on different plants so it is important to remove any infected plants you find. There is no cure for Aster Yellows.

Echinacea are sometimes bothered by Japanese beetle which chew the flower petals but they usually out-grow “beetle season” and continue flowering.   

Want a little more information on Echinacea? Here are some links:

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center profile

Penn State Extension – Echinacea Diseases

Iowa State Extension: Yellows Disease of Purple Coneflower

National Institute of Health of Echinacea Herbal Properties