24 November 2015

Caterpillar Rescue

The day before the freeze, I harvested all the figs, snow peas, lettuce and kale that was ready. Then, I started collecting some fennel and dill in case it didn't survive.

Hanging out on the dill I found a Black Swallowtail caterpillar. It is first instar, too tiny to survive 24 degree night. That's what I assumed, anyway.

So, out came our handy butterfly box to the rescue. It was made by someone in OK but I can't recall who it was. He said it was the last one he had and that he wouldn't be making them anymore. And, that was 5 years ago.

It's really well constructed and has held numerous caterpillars over the years.

The tiny black dot in the middle-right is the caterpillar on a jar full of dill. The garden shed is heated and its in the sun so everything should go well until night time temperatures rise enough to put it back outside in the dill patch.

As of this morning the lettuce, kale, fennel and dill all look like they survived the freeze quite nicely.

22 November 2015

Yellow Iron Weed is erbesina alternifolia

Yellow Iron Weed is one of the tall, native beauties we have planted our gMuskogee garden to feed flying wildlife and to shelter crawling wildlife. We picked up ours from a plant sale someplace - it spreads with delight so many gardeners are happy to divide theirs for your garden, too.

If you enjoy learning about wildflowers, subscribe to the Arkansas newsletter, "Know Your Natives" at http://anps.org website where you will find the subscription form on the right side.

Here's their article about Yellow Iron Weed. Click here's a link to the article itself. Sid Vogelpohl's informative article and spectacular photos are worth congratulations. Tip of the Trowel to Sid!

Yellow wingstem or yellow ironweed (Verbesina alternifolia) of the aster (Asteraceae ) family is found in the U.S. from Texas to Nebraska to Wisconsin and thence east and south.  
In Arkansas, the species is found throughout much of the state, though is less frequent in the Mississippi Alluvial and West Gulf Coastal Plains.  The genus name perhaps alludes to a Verbena-like appearance, although the exact etymology is unknown, while the specific epithet refers to the plant’s mostly alternate leaves (note, though, that some plants may have a few or primarily opposite leaves).  The common name “yellow wingstem” may be confused with other species in the genus (see end of article for a short discussion on the other species).
Yellow wingstem is an herbaceous, erect, clump-forming but sometimes rhizhomatous perennial that reaches heights of 4 to 8 feet.  It occurs in fertile, sandy to rocky mesic soils of floodplains, woodlands, thickets, ditches and prairies. Its scabrous (rough-hairy) stems may be winged, partially winged or without wings. Stems are light to medium green with purplish coloration at leaf nodes or along entire stems. Stems are branched in the inflorescence only.  Upon flowering, stems can become less erect.
Lanceolate to narrowly ovate leaves, about 10 inches long and 2½ inches across, taper from mid-leaf to both an acute to acuminate point and a narrowly winged petiole.  Lower leaves may be opposite while upper leaves and those in flowering branches are usually alternate.  Leaf margins are smooth below mid-leaf and slightly serrated above mid-leaf.  The upper surface is dull medium-green and scabrous while the lower surface is light green and less rough with white hairs along major veins.  When stems are winged, narrow bands of leaf blade tissue extend down the stem (decurrent) to the leaf directly below.  If stems are not winged, leaf blade tissue stops at the stem (sessile leaf) or a petiole may be present.
Yellow wingstem - Verbesina alternifoliaPhoto 1:  This yellow wingstem plant, which does not have wings, has a scabrous stem with purple nodes and upper stem.  Also on this plant, lower leaves are opposite.
Yellow wingstem - Verbesina alternifoliaPhoto 2:  This winged plant is nearly hairless.  Purple coloration between green wings extends along leaf rib.
In late summer to early fall, stems have a loose panicle of composite flowers on branches near the top of the plant.  A few to a half-dozen or so flower heads on scabrous peduncles occur on each branch.  Flower heads are 1 to 2 inches across, each with up to 10 reflexed, yellow ray florets (ligules) and several to 30 fertile disk florets.  Rays, rather haphazardly arranged, have a notch at the end.  Disk florets consist of five-lobed, tubular extended yellow corollas that have sharply reduced green bases.  Disk florets, with five stamens with white filaments and purple anthers, are tightly compressed so that they appear to be one.  Stamens initially totally enclose the pistil so that, when stamens emerge from the corolla, the pistil is not evident.  As a flower further matures, stamens wilt back into the corolla tube, the pistil emerges from the corolla, and the stigma becomes bifurcated (divided).  Corolla tubes of matured flowers, with enclosed wilted stamens, quickly drop off the inferior ovary to expose developing green fruits.  Each flower head is surrounded by a calyx-like involucre composed of several rows of loosely arranged, elongated, acuminate phyllaries (bracts).  Flower heads, excluding the rays, have a spherical shape.
Yellow wingstem - Verbesina alternifoliaPhoto 3:  Long, widely spreading branches of the inflorescence and extended disk florets on spherical flower heads are characteristic of the plant.
Yellow wingstem - Verbesina alternifoliaPhoto 4:  Flower head on left displays haphazard ray floret  arrangement, tubular disk florets, compressed stamens and forked stigmas.  Flower head on right (upside down) shows phyllaries of involucre and developing one-seeded fruit (red arrow) just after corolla tubes dropped off.
A single indehiscent (not splitting), one-seeded fruit (achene) is produced by each disk floret.  Achenes have a flattened ovate shape with tapered ends, side wings and two short awns (bristles) at the tip.  Mature achenes can be easily removed by brushing against the awns.  Loosened achenes may be dispersed by strong wind or carried by birds and other animals.
Yellow wingstem - Verbesina alternifoliaPhoto 5:  Spherical nature of flower head remains as achenes mature.  Drying achenes easily brushed off head are at upper center of photo.
For a garden, this plant can be easily grown from seed.  Considering the plant’s height and its tendency to sway over with flowering, yellow wingstem is probably best suited as a background planting in a larger natural garden.  It does best in moist soils, but can survive some dry periods.  It is a good food source for insects and birds.  It is not favored by deer.

Five species in the genus Verbesina are found in Arkansas, several having common names that may cause confusion.  The three common species are:
  1. Yellow Wingstem or Yellow Ironweed (Verbesina alternifolia) which may or may not have wings and blooms in late summer.
  2. Yellow Crownbeard or Yellow Wingstem (Verbesina helianthoides) which is always winged and blooms in early summer.
  3. Frostweed or White Crownbeard (Verbesina virginica) which is always winged and has white flowers.
Two other species are rarely encountered:
  1. Rayless Crownbeard or Walter’s Crownbeard (Verbesina walteri) is a rare native found on Rich and Black Fork Mountains in Polk County; it resembles Verbesina alternifoliabut has white flower heads and lacks ray petals.
  2. Cowpen Daisy or Golden Crownbeard (Verbesina encelioides) is a western species believed to be introduced to Arkansas at a few widely scattered locations; it is a yellow-flowered, short-stature annual with auricles on the leaf bases and lacking stem wings.
Leaves of Verbesina alternifolia and Verbesina helianthoides have a similar appearance.
Yellow wingstem - Verbesina alternifoliaPhoto 6:  Upper and lower leaf surfaces: #1 – Verbesina alternifolia, #2 – Verbesina helianthoides and #3 – Verbesina virginica.
Article and photographs by ANPS member Sid Vogelpohl

19 November 2015

Loropetalum - Chinese Fringe Flower Shrubs

Loropetalum chinese
mid-Nov in our Muskogee garden
Loropetalums (Loropetalum chinense), known as Chinese fringe-flower, come in a wide variety of flowering shrubs to be grown as specimen plants, in hedge rows and for winter interest in a flower bed. Their Fringe Flower name comes from the spider-like, frilly flowers that the shrubs produce in spring, summer or fall, depending on the variety.

These members of the Witch-hazel plant family can take full sun but prefer some shade to protect them from our intense summer heat. They are native to the woodlands of the Himalayas, Japan and China but have been hybridized by US plant breeders to be well-behaved.

The earliest Loropetalum introduction in American gardens (1880) had green leaves and white flowers. The shrubs’ current popularity came in the 1990’s when the new varieties with purple leaves and pink flowers came into garden centers.

There is one native Fringtree, Chionanthus virginicus White Knight. It is cold hardy to zone 4 and matures at 5 ft. tall and wide, with fragrant white flowers.

These shrubs are free of disease and insect problems and most are hardy to zone 7 or 8. Some gardeners prune them up into small tree form but no pruning is necessary.

Give them acidic, gritty soil that drains well; they have minimal water requirements after root establishment. Add compost to the soil when planting and allow leaf litter to decompose around the roots. Root rot can occur in clay soil or standing water.

Loropetalum (Loropetalum Chinese rubrum) all have pink, red or plum flowers and purple-green leaves. 

There about 50 named varieties. Here are a few to consider -
Blush, Razzleberri, Monraz, Piroche, Daybreak’s Flame – compact and dense, bronze new growth, 8 ft. tall and wide.
Burgundy – red-purple-green leaves, 6-10 feet tall and wide
Crimson Fire – red leaves, cold hardy, 2 ft. tall and wide
Darkfire –5-6 ft. tall and wide
Daruma – deep plum leaves, 2-5 feet tall and wide
Ever Red – burgundy leaves, red flowers. 6 ft. tall and wide
Jazz Hands Bold – purple leaves, 6 ft. tall and wide
Jazz Hands Dwarf Pink – purple leaves, 2-3 ft. tall and wide
Jazz Hands Mini – purple leaves, 1 ft. tall and 3-ft wide
Jazz Hands Variegated - New growth splashed with pink and white
Little Rose Dawn –8-10 ft. tall
Pizazz – purple leaves, plum flowers. 6-8 ft. tall and wide
Plum Delight – rose-purple-bronze leaves, 6-8 ft. tall
Purple Daydream –3 feet tall and wide
Purple Diamond – 4-5 feet tall and wide
Purple Pixie – deep purple leaves, 2-ft tall and 4 ft. wide. Cascading form for container or wall
Red Diamond or Shang-Red – red flowers, 6 ft. tall and wide
Ruby – 3-5 ft. tall and wide, compact form
Zhuzhou Fuscia, Pippa’s Red – black-maroon, oblong leaves, the most cold hardy, best selection for tree and espalier pruning, 10-20 ft. tall

White flowering Loropetalum varieties have green leaves and include:
Ashford – tree form with gold-tan bark, 10-20 ft. tall and 15 ft. wide
Carolina Moonlight – late winter flowers, 4-ft tall and 5 ft. wide
Emerald Snow or Shang White– new growth is lime green, 4 ft. tall and wide
Jazz Hands Dwarf White –2-3 ft. tall and wide
Snow Dance – 8 ft. tall, 10 ft. wide
Snow Muffin – round mound form, winter flowers, 2 ft. tall and wide

In most varieties, Loropetalums have round-ish leaves that are 1-2 inches long. The four-petaled flowers are in the leaf axils. The bark is an exfoliating rich brown.

Michael Dirr suggests using tall and short, pink, red and white flowering varieties to form a screen. Dirr also feather prunes the mid-size shrubs to use as an airy, loose screening.

Although nothing is deer-proof, Loropetalums are deer resistant.

16 November 2015

Winter Care of Houseplants

Frosty weather has already arrived on one or two nights and more is on its way. We've been dragging plants into the shed but have all the plants on front and back porches yet to bring in. In case you are preparing your plants to spend the winter in the house, here's a good article -

The Iowa Department of Entomology - Horticulture and Home Pest News published this in their newsletter this morning 
Environmental conditions indoors during the winter months are difficult for many houseplants.  Good care during the winter months can help houseplants deal with the stressful conditions during this time period.


Most houseplants prefer daytime temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit and night temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit.  Temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit or rapid temperature fluctuations may harm some plants.  Keep houseplants away from cold drafts, radiators, and hot air vents.  Also make sure houseplant foliage doesn't touch cold windows.

Relative Humidity

Many houseplants prefer a relative humidity of 40 to 50 percent.  Unfortunately, the humidity level in many homes during the winter months may be only 10 to 20 percent.  Humidifiers are an excellent way to increase the relative humidity in the home.  Simple cultural practices can also increase the relative humidity around houseplants.  Grouping plants together is an easy way to raise the humidity level.  The water evaporating from the potting soil, plus water lost through the plant foliage, will increase the relative humidity in the vicinity of the houseplants.  Another method is to place houseplants on trays (saucers) filled with pea gravel or pebbles.  Add water to the trays, but keep the bottoms of the pots above the water level.  The evaporation of water from the trays increases the relative humidity around the plants.


In general, houseplants require less frequent watering during the winter months than in spring and summer.  Watering frequency depends upon the plant species, composition of the potting mix, environmental conditions (temperature, light, and humidity) and other factors.  When watering houseplants, continue to apply water until water begins to flow out the bottoms of the pots.  Discard the excess water.


Fertilization is generally not necessary during the winter months as most houseplants are not growing during this time.  Indoor gardeners should fertilize their houseplants on a regular basis in spring and summer when plants are actively growing.


Dust and grease often accumulate on the leaves of houseplants.  The dust and grease not only makes them unattractive, it may also affect plant health.  Cleaning houseplants improves their appearance, stimulates growth, and may help control insects and mites.

Large-leafed plants may be cleaned with a soft sponge or cloth.  Wash the foliage using a very mild solution of dishwashing soap and tepid water.  Another method is to place plants in the shower and give them a good "bath."  Be sure to adjust the water temperature before placing the plants under the shower head.

15 November 2015

Silver Bells Bulb Planting - ornithogalum umbellatum

Ornithogalum angustifolium
Silver Bells have a bad reputation because there are two or more, very similar, flowering bulbs. Some that can become invasive in our zone 7, sort of temperate gardens; others are better-behaved.

Ornithogalum nutans &
 umbellatum side by side
Star of Bethlehem is a member of the lily plant family, Asparagaceae. It has received plant of merit awards and screams of invasive, depending on the writer.
As usual, part of the problem is the lack of in-depth research. Ornithogalum nutans is from Asia and can become invasive. Ornithogalum umbellatum, from Europe, does not. Both are called Star of Bethlehem, Dove's Dung and Silver Bells so check to be sure you plant the one that suits your needs.

I ordered O. umbellatum from Old House Gardens Bulbs and planted them in a little spot that has not been cultivated before. The bed is opposite the vegetable garden though so we are over there quite a bit from early spring cultivating through January when we are harvesting Russian kale for the table.

Native to Europe, from the Mediterranean to Britain, O. umbellatum leaves are grass-like and the eventing blooming flowers are white-cream and green. They are deer and rodent resistant

O umbellatum are cold-hardy to zone 5. The self-fertile hermaphrodite flowers bloom in the spring and are pollinated by insects. The seeds ripen in June-July. 

The bulbs are planted 4-6 inches deep and apart. They like ground that is on the dry side or gravelly so don't mulch them. 

Although heavy rains wash my plant tags to nearby locations during good rain years, I always mark them anyway. We use old mini-blinds (Tip from Sharon Owen, Moonshadow Herb Farm) that are easily cut with scissors and print adhesive labels with a $10 Brother label maker (Tip from Jerry Gustafson). 

09 November 2015

Teucrium, Germander, Cat Thyme

Purple Tails
Teucruim Hercanicum
in our garden late May 2015
Teucriums have several names but whatever they are called, we love the ones in our garden. The most common names include Germander and Cat Thyme.

Teucriums are host plants for certain moths but in the 5 years we've grown the plants, we've haven't seen any chewing on the leaves.

The list of Teucriums is impressive and we've only grown the ones we have so far from seed, though we probably should try a few more.

Mountain Valley Growers has the Creeping Germander that you may want for a rock wall or xeriscape garden in zones 5 through 11.

The plants are perennial here in zone 7 but they are not evergreen as they are advertised in warmer zones.

Re-potting seed-grown Purple and Pink Tails
 When the flowers faded and seeds set, I collected the seeds by wrapping my hand around the stem and lifting, stripping the entire stem.

 After collecting the seeds, I sprinkled them onto moist, sterile potting soil and pressed them in. The containers were put into filtered light in the garden shed.

These three photos are of the seedlings that resulted from that seed planting a couple of months ago.

The seeds were started in re-purposed strawberry clamshell containers. The root system you see on the right was removed from the clamshell with a re-purposed Popsicle stick.

Each seedling now has its own container and I'll keep them protected in the shed over the winter.
Next spring they will go out into the garden to replace the Purple and Pink Tails plants we've lost over the years.

Pase Seeds sells Teucruim Hircanicum seeds.

05 November 2015

Frost on the Pumpkin - Muskogee

Frost on the Pumpkin Festival in Muskogee

Nov 13 from 9 to 5 and Nov 14 from 9 to 3 Frost on the Pumpkin Festival: Arts, Crafts and Vintage Show will be held at First United Methodist Church, 600 East Okmulgee, Muskogee. Lunch is a fundraiser for youth groups. Information www.frostonthepumpkin.org, and 918.682.3368 or 918-869-6210

The organizer of Frost on the Pumpkin, Francie Wright said, “We try to include vintage vendors.”

Campers that have been dolled up after gutting and remodeling will be set up outside. Those vendors will sell clothing and repurposed crafts, crocheted items, and jewelry.

Wright said, “Their stuff is so creative that it’s hard to know what to call it. They create upcycled gifts using recycled bits and pieces that are made into something new.”

Visitors will find home décor, jewelry, clothing, hand crafted items, candles, belts, art by Louise Bishop, handmade cards, inspirational signs, folk painted brooms and papier Mache bowls by Pat Ghormly, etc.

Food will be available at the FUMY Café. Breakfast, lunch and snacks will include cinnamon rolls, cupcakes, hot dogs, nachos, grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken and dumplings, etc. Come early to get the items you want!

03 November 2015

Blue Purple and Gray Our Early November Garden

Just a picture show of what's going on in a few places in our back yard. Enjoy the photos and if you use them please credit my blog or me. Thanks.

West side of the veg garden - outside the fence - pollinators' heaven
Basil flowers feed lots of native bees daily
Vegetable and herb bed from the east side
Rue - host plant for Giant Swallowtail butterflies

Blue Salvia
Anise Agastache always loaded with bees
Siam Queen Sweet Basil
Sage Salvia


Lamb's Ears

Carols and Crumpets - Tulsa

December 5 from 8 to 3, Carols and Crumpets: An Herbal Craft Fair will be held at the Tulsa Garden Center, 2435 S Peoria Ave. Lunch at the holiday-decorated Snowflake Cafe will be served 11 – 2. Information http://tulsagardencenter.com, 918-746-5125, patsywynn@cox.net. 

Tulsa Herb Society sponsors Carols and Crumpets each year and I visited them last week during a crafting session to see what they are working on for the sale.

Herb Society member Lou Ann Gray constructed a felt tree that will be decorated with homemade gingerbread cookies and a Christmas skirt.  Her tree will be a raffle prize.

“I usually make the trees out of old Army blankets,” Gray said. “First the wool is boiled to felt it. Then, I cut it into strips and cut the strips again. Using a dowel, floral tape and wire, I wind the wool and let it dry. Holes are drilled a large dowel and the branches are individually attached.” 

Pat Ernst and Betty Muratet showed me how the Christmas tree bulbs are transformed from clear to beautifully painted tree and wreath decorations. 

At another table the cooking group was making Bouquet Garni sachets.

Mary Dillion said, “We combine black peppercorns, parsley, basil, rosemary, oregano and other herbs and fold them into a food-safe muslin packet that we tie with cotton string.”

“For the herb vinegars, chutneys and dried arrangements, members contribute the bounty from their own gardens”, explained Frankie Fostercatts.

New items include peach chutney and strawberry-basil jam which Dillon described as light, tart, fruity and crisp.

“Chutney is a combination of herbs, spices, fruits, vegetables, sugar and vinegar”, said Fostercatts. “The most popular items include cranberry holiday jam. Fresh, local peaches, strawberries and pears were also used as ingredients this year.”

Tulsa Herb Society members meet three days each month for a year in order to make hundreds of holiday decorations, herbal vinegars, wreaths, chutneys, dried floral arrangements, hypertufa planters, penny felted items, Christmas tree decorations, soaps and lotions. They also bring in a room full of evergreens boughs that are sold in bundles for home decoration.

Other vendors at Carols and Crumpets include: Kirk’s wood-carved Santa’s, Utopia Gardens, Prigmore Pottery, Garden Deva, Artistry and Old Lace, Laughing Rabbit Soap, Basket Sensations, 3 Peas in a Pod, Clear Creek Farm, etc.

30 October 2015

Duck Eggs Daily: Raising Happy Healthy Ducks ... Naturally

This book, Duck Eggs Daily: Raising Happy Healthy Ducks, is a fun read even though we can't possibly raise ducks here.

Lisa Steele's first book, Fresh Eggs Daily, gave readers an equally informative view of raising chickens. The duck book though, is one of a kind. Steele's YouTube channel has 43 cute, cuter, cutest video clips of their feathered friends.

Ducks are a different breed of bird, and, while Steele assumed that they could be raised together, she found that they were better if given their own individual space. Most notably because ducks play in the chickens' water dishes!

Chapter Four: "A day in a life with ducks" explains the ducks' need for routine and how to be sure they are comfortable if you have to be away from home.

Facebook Duck Eggs Daily
What fascinated me is their nutritional needs. In addition to feed, ducks should get grit, egg shells, oats, probiotic powder, seaweed/kelp, brewers' yeast, garlic, dried herbs (fennel, marjoram, nasturtium, parsley, bee balm, dill, oregano, thyme, cilantro, oregano, sage, tarragon, alfalfa, basil, dandelion, marigolds, spearmint, chervil, celery seed, dill). And, they eat earthworms, grubs and all manner of insects they can get their bills on.

What a healthy diet! We should all take advice for our human dinner table from that list. Well, if you substitute whole grain for grit anyway.

Ducks' bedtime is between 5 and 9 pm depending on the position of the sum - summer vs winter.
They are quiet fowl, laying eggs without a squawk, waking up without a yowl, wandering the yard without a peep, making them better than chickens for people who live in neighborhoods.

Ducks are great pets for children/families, and, they are cute to watch with their head bobbing and tilting, walking in rows, mud dabbling, foot stamping, surfing, preening, one-leg standing and sleeping with an eye open.

And, there are recipes for these nutritious eggs. Mayonnaise, pasta, curd, Cheesecake, soup, etc.

The book is easy to take along for reading or reference - it's one of those hardcover, 7 by 7-inch books, about 150 pages. $14 at online book sellers. Published by St. Lynne's Press, Oct 2015.