summer 2013

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Herbs and Propagation

Welcome to Malaysia!!      #25

Well, we had a surprise early snow last week.  I quick as a bunny ran out and took cuttings of some herbs I know will not make it through the winter.  During our Master Gardener training we had a whole class on propagation.  I learned how to take cuttings from different plants and root them to make a clone of the original  plant.  I really wanted to save a lot of my pineapple sage plant.  It is beautiful and has a distinct pineapple fragrance when you rub the leaves.  In early fall, it gives a show when it flowers.  Striking red flowers, unfortunately it is an annual in our area.

It is best to start with a well hydrated plant.  No problem there.  We have had so much rain lately.  Use a clean, sharp tool to cut of a twig of new growth.  There is less chance of success using the woody sections.  Remove the bottom leaves and dip into a rooting powder.  This is a plant hormone that stimulates root growth.  I try to include at least 2 nodes.  A node is the part of the stem that new growth emerges from.  The space between the nodes is called the internode.  A stem is divided into nodes and internodes.

not my picture

Leaves removed from bottom 2 nodes

I used a mixture of peat moss and vermiculite. I actually had to buy a small bag of peat because my large bag kept outside was alive. Literally!  After I wetted a batch, all the insects woke up and put on quite a show!  Needless to say, I dumped that batch into an area I am going to plant in the spring.

 Vermiculite is a natural mineral that is heated.  The vermiculite expands up to 30 times its' original size.  It is lightweight and helps with soil aeration and retention  of moisture and nutrients.   The technical name is hydrated laminar magnesium-aluminum-iron silicate. (In case you really wanted to know:)

When you use peat moss,  wet the mixture before you fill your pots.  Otherwise the water just runs off.  I fill a large bowl with the mixture add water and mix until it become the consistency of a sponge.   I did use some old terra cotta pots that I scrubbed with soap and water with a stiff brush and then ran through the dishwasher to sterilize.  Some people use a bleach solution, which is fine, but I have a good dishwasher that will work just as well.  You really don't want to chance bringing any  disease or pest into your home. I also scrubbed some plastic pots for this demonstration.  A coffee filter at the bottom on the pot will stop the mixture from escaping from the container.

After dipping the stem in the rooting powder, simply place in the vermiculite/peat mixture.  Clip the existing leaves to lessen the water demands of the plant and cover the top of the pot with a plastic bag to retain moisture.  I use a zip lock bag to make this a mini green house.   I put several cuttings into each large terra cotta  pot.  When they develop good roots, I will then place into separate pots for replanting in the spring.  I will check the root growth in about 4 weeks.

clipped leaves

mini greenhouses

I also decided to grow herbs in my basement this winter.  I may even try lettuce.  I have a great set up for seed starting.  A warm room, lights on timers, and a little knowledge of growing things.  I brought in my oregano plant from my deck and bought some herbs from a local nursery.  Purple sage, spearmint and bay leaves.  For the rest,  I have plenty of seeds.  Dill, parsley, thyme, basil,  and cilantro.  I have learned to put a marker in every container I plant.  You think you will remember what you planted - trust me, you won't.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Our backyard neighbor decided to replace a pretty wooden fence with a 6 foot plastic wall.  Really?

example of old fence   5 feet high

white plastic - 6 feet high

Listening to a fellow Master Gardener, I took some wise advice.   Betsy (our native plant go to person)  told me that she gardens for herself.  If she looks out her window, she wants to see a beautiful garden.  It doesn't matter if anyone else  (neighbors) sees  it.  Even the part everyone else sees is beautiful,  of course!

This fence was the view from my kitchen window for the last 4 or 5 months.

After staring at this plastic wall all summer, my husband and I started talking about ways to cover it up.  I of course wanted mostly native plants.  Maybe a fig tree?  (not native)    A Paw Paw?  Growing fun fruit sounded good too.

Took a ride over to a local nursery that also carries a nice selection of native plants.  Stadler Nursery.  When we pulled up, there it was, a sign that said "50% off everything!"  They meant EVERYTHING!  Walking back, we saw large groupings of plants and trees that had already been sold to landscapers.  I think this is a yearly sale that people in the business know about.  Luckily my husband was with me,  he is the money person in our family. He gave me a limit and off we went.  Here is a list of what we bought:
(Again, don't be bored, this is for MY record keeping.)

2  Dogwood trees   "Cherokee Princess"   Cornus florida     2" diameter trunks.  Good size - very heavy!
1  Oakleaf hydrangea        "Snowqueen"
1 Winterberry         Ilex verticillata      "Sparkle"
1 Winterberry   Ilex verticillata      "Winter red"
1 Winterberry  Ilex verticillata    "Apollo"     male  - need this shrub for female to have berries             
1 Viburnum   "Winterthur"      Viburnum  nudum    white flowers in spring and blue berries for birds in fall - this will also need a pollinator to set fruit (berries)  I will add one in the future if needed.

Spent only half of my budget.  Not to worry, perennials will be planted in the spring.

In time, this wall will be gone.  The dogwoods are already large enough to tower over the wall.  The hydrangea will top out at 8 feet, the Viburnum 6 feet, winterberries  6-12 feet.

We bought large plants because we don't think we will be here 10 or 20 more years to see everything mature. In the spring I will add perennials to fill in the open areas.  I already put in New England aster.  This is a late blooming perennial.  I want constant color, so I will be growing most of my perennials from seed over the winter.

New England aster.  Very important for monarch butterflies in fall.  They need a food source for their journey to Mexico.  Bees love them too.

Also, earlier this fall I planted smaller natives around the yard that were purchased at a native plant sale.

Gaultheria procumbens      winter green  a ground cover
hydrangea                          pee wee
Asimina triloba                  paw paw
Cercis canadensis              red bud
Calycanthus floridus          carolina allspice  (native further south but too pretty not to have)
Lindera benzoin                 spicebush
Chlethra alnifolia               summersweet
Comptonia peregrina         sweetfern
Itea virginica                     virginia sweetspire
Celastrus scandens            American bittersweet - a vine

Most of these are in the front yard.  We have mature White pine trees that make growing grass difficult because of the shade.  I have chosen not to fight this. Where the grass has stopped growing well, I am converting these areas into woodlands.  Understory plants and trees and mulch.  This also means no more raking or mowing leaves and pine needles.  I have planted lots of ferns this year (2 not native, japanese painted fern.)  I already have hostas established there.

I haven't made a decision about edging yet.  I have different hardscapes I laid out to see which I prefer.  The bricks have been in our yard for about 25 years.  The stone about 12 years.  I also have dead logs from trimming trees.   I hate plastic and metal edging.  I may end up just having mulch against grass - we'll see.


old log in front of Viburnum nudum

brick in front of winter berries

Now I have a prettier  view from my kitchen window.  Anyone who lives knows they spend a lot of time at the kitchen sink.  Here is my view now.

starting to get dark

Now to keep Bear out of the new mulch bed.  I have seen his face almost black from digging in the dirt!

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Fall Garden

I headed up to the garden yesterday with every intention of pulling out all the tomato plants and cleaning up the bed.  I found a bunch of healthy plants with lots of green tomatoes.  I decided to just trim up the plants so I could walk easily between the beds and give them another week or two.  Who knows, they may have time to ripen on the vine.  If not, I will pull them off before the first frost and put them in a paper bag in the garage.  I do this every year and usually I get ripened tomatoes a few weeks later.

I lost most of my tomatoes to stink bugs this year.  The cherry tomatoes held up the best.  I am getting some roma tomatoes now that don't seem too affected by the bugs.

I did find a lot of potato plants popping up.  Any small tuber left has started the process over again. I pulled them up, here is what they look like in the ground.

I have lots of fall crops coming up.  I planted kale, broccoli, turnips, parsnips, beets, carrots, spinach, lots of lettuce and carrots. I have never eaten a parsnip or turnip, but when you grow your own food, it is fun to try something different.



lettuce on left, broccoli on right

 Time to plant garlic.  Don't plant the kind from the grocery store - it is usually treated to not sprout.
You simply break off the cloves and plant them 4 to 6 inches apart and about 2 to 3 inched deep.  They will be ready around July.

garlic - now is the time to plant.
a hard neck variety - better for our climate

I was shocked to see my broccoli I planted last spring has finally given me a crop.  Next year I will research a quicker producing broccoli.  The plants I put out for the fall/winter I bought at Dutch Plant Farm in Frederick, MD.  I expect them to flower after frost.

broccoli and peppers

pole beans

I have row covers to put over the plants when the frost comes in.  It consists of lightweight white material supported by wires.  I will post a picture when I put them up.  This will help to extend the growing season.  I will also put a lot of straw mulch on top of my root crops to hopefully extend the season into winter.

Some of my native flowers are blooming again!  Purple coneflower keeps coming up.  (I cut them down after they set seed and a new flower has emerged.)   Yarrow, gaura, liatris is still going strong. Coreopsis still attracting bees.

I  went to a lecture that mentioned an interesting fact about bees.  It seems it takes 20,000 to 40,000 honey bees to pollinate an acre of an apple orchard.  But only 250 native mason bees to do the same job.  Native bees are the first out in the spring and the last in in the winter.  The honey bee was brought over from Europe. Their benefit above pollination is their honey of course :)

bumble bee on liatris



echinacea  purple cone flower

Saw a wheel bug aka assassin  bug.   A beneficial that will eat lots of bugs you don't want in your garden.

October in Thurmont cannot be matched.  Took a walk in the woods.  Incredible!

Friday, September 16, 2011


Welcome to Fiji!   #24

I have been planning this page for several months.  I was introduced to the lowly milkweed plant last fall during our fall cleanup day at the demonstration garden.  I had never seen them up close, just from a distance when the pods had opened to release the seeds. This I usually observed from a car window while taking a ride in the country with my parents many decades ago.

I was shown that if you tear the leaf,  a white, milky liquid seeps out of the leaf.  This liquid is poisonous to most insects and birds.  Just a few insects feed off this plant.  It is also one of the few host plants for the Monarch Butterfly larvae and eggs.  Interestingly enough, these insects all have similar coloring.  Very bright orange and black markings to alert predators to leave them alone, as they will be toxic to eat.  There is another butterfly with similar markings that is not poisonous to birds.  The Viceroy Butterfly does not eat the milkweed, but the birds will steer clear because they mimic the Monarch so closely.

milkweed leaf

milkweed beetle

milkweed bugs working on making more milkweed bugs

Milk weed is a perennial, a Maryland native, and crucial to the survival of the Monarch Butterfly.  I was so surprised by how pretty the flowers were up close and how sweet the scent of the flower is.  The Monarch will lay her eggs on a milkweed leaf.  When the eggs hatch, the larvae hang around and eat the leaves.  This is their only food source at this stage.

Below is an early spring picture of our Master Gardener Demonstration Garden on Montevue Lane.
milkweed plants have the larger oval leaves.  Check out plant at 9:00
a group of milkweed at the MG Demonstration Garden

milkweed flower - Asclepias syriaca - Common Milkweed

seed pods
pods open and seeds are blown away by winds

I took a trip down to Brookside gardens today and got some incredible picture of the Monarch Butterfly at different stages of development.
information sign at Brookside

The small, round, cream color dots are Monarch eggs

Monarch caterpillar

caterpillar attached and starting chrysalis stage

chrysalis - you can see the outline of his wings!

when the chrysalis turns black, the butterfly is almost ready to emerge

would not cooperate and open wings fully

profile of Monarch

This is the last generation this summer of Monarchs in our area.  The group that is hatching now will travel to Mexico to spend the winter.  Along the way, the butterflies depend on late blooming flowers for their food source.  Asters, Ironweed, and Goldenrods are examples of some late blooming natives.

After their winter in Mexico, this butterfly will start the trip back.  It will breed along the way and its' descendants will return to our area in the spring.

Now, about host plants.  No host plants, no Monarchs. The Monarch Butterfly larvae will only eat a few plants.  It is classified as a Milkweed Butterfly.  With Suburbia encroaching on rural areas, we are losing a lot of our native plants.  The milkweed is not a plant of choice in a well manicured, suburban garden.  Let's face it, it gets ugly after the flowers are done blooming.  But, there are other options.  The butterfly weed is shorter and neater.

butterfly weed - Asclepias turberosa

 getting ready to release seeds

Below is a plant I found on my farm.  I didn't see him at the time, but if you look hard, in the upper third of the picture slightly right of center, you can see the stripes of the monarch caterpillar attached to the underside of a leaf.  I can't believe I didn't see him,  I even looked!

swamp milkweed in my boggy field by stream at farm  - Asclepias incarnata

Once the butterflies have emerged, they can feed off many flowers.  Even the butterfly bush, which has become an invasive plant in some areas.  In Oregon it is classified as a noxious weed.  I have planted a lot of natives this year to keep butterflies in my garden.   Rule #1  NO PESTICIDES.   Most pesticides don't care if you only want to kill certain bugs.  Most kill all bugs.

Well,  first cold day here.  It is now 46 degrees at 0824.  Will spend a few hours in the vegetable gardens cleaning up and removing old mulch and throwing into compost bins, and planning my fall and winter crops!