17 June 2018

Achilleas Love Heat

Achillea or Yarrow is a friend of the summer garden since it blooms consistently throughout the hot months. 

Yarrows are part of the Aster family which is very well represented in Oklahoma gardens during the summer and fall. Achillea was named for the Greek mythological Achilles whose soldiers used yarrow to heal their war wounds. Yarrow has two common names that refer their healing properties:  Allheal and Bloodwort.

Yarrows grow to about 2-feet tall and wide in a sunny border. The naturalized-native and most common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, has white flowers and has been known to pop up in gardens and yards without any effort on our part.  A. millefolium can spread by seed and by rhizomes.

Achilleas do well in unfertilized, moist to dry soil, in full sun to part-shade. Poor soil is fine if it does not stay wet. They even tolerate humid nights and late-summer droughts. If they get tall enough to flop over, just prune the stems back so they will bush out.

 The most colorful Yarrows, the hybrids, are less likely to spread and have stronger stems. Rozanne and Friends (www.geraniumrozanne.com) is a good place to look at the color varieties before you order or purchase.  There are several yellow, gold, red, violet and white colors available.

Yarrows are deer and rabbit resistant, cold hardy in zones 4-8, and are recommended for rock gardens, prairie garden beds, borders, containers and butterfly gardens.  They are often planted with roses and make long-lasting cut flowers for bouquets.

The Achillea Ritzy Rose in the photo is a 4-year old plant in our sidewalk bed that receives minimal attention and has hot concrete next to it. Its companion plants are Joe Pye Weed and fall asters (Aster tartaricus). That little corner attracts bees, butterflies and other pollinators until the first freeze.

10 June 2018

Muskogee Land in Trust

Sustainability, conservation and preservation have been trends in gardening  for several decades and many gardeners make an effort to use best practices such as fewer chemicals to improve the bit of earth they have to work with. 

Imagine being the environmental steward of 170-acres of natural landscape with rock formations, native plants, waterfalls and a manmade lake. Over the past 30-years, Ken Laubenstein has worked to sustain the legacy of his land, making improvements that continue the progression toward sustainability for wildlife.

Laubenstein’s property, Forest Lake Preserve is in Muskogee’s Gooseneck Bend. He is professionally retired but is an active Oklahoma State University, Muskogee County, Master Gardener. The land he lives on is permanently protected from destruction and development because he put it into trust with the Land Legacy which is a regional version of the Nature Conservancy. Land Legacy has 30,000 acres in trust in OK.

The 6.5 acre lake was on the property when Laubenstein purchased it 30 years ago, but he has consistently improved and upgraded it to attract and support wildlife. In addition to pulling out trash, he built four islands where water foul nest and make their homes. The pond is brimming with fish and turtles.

Four-wheeler trails run throughout the property for maintenance and there are several strategically placed benches where he can sit and watch wildlife. He said that every year he observes more and more bird species as the land becomes more established as a refuge.

On a recent tour, we observed native trees such as Pine, Cedar, Ash, Bald Cypress, Sassafrass, Locust, several Oak varieties, Ash, Elm, Redbud, Dogwood, etc. Native wildflowers are present all along the paths and walkways. 

The property is busy with regional wildlife, including beaver, skunk, deer, lizards, roadrunners, raccoon, armadillo, possum and rabbits. Since it is protected, hunting is not allowed.

Preserving a place for wildlife is a gift to future generations that few will take on. Laubenstein hopes that his Forest Lake Preserve will be used for research and education as well as environmental recreation.

03 June 2018

Prune and Water Thornless Blackberries Now

Our blackberry row
Thornless Blackberry plants are beginning to make fruit even as the plants continue to produce more blossoms. They are also sending up the canes that will bear next year’s fruit. All this activity on the plants’ part is a signal to home gardener that it is time to do some maintenance. 

There is plenty of advice available about selection, planting and care. Oklahoma State University Fact Sheet 6215 about growing blackberries in the home garden is at https://bit.ly/2L2nyAp. Another good resource is at https://bit.ly/2sfgDg3

During fruiting season blackberries need 2 to 4 inches of water a week. Their roots are shallow so watering more frequently at ground level rather than a deep soak or watering overhead will give the best results. A mulch made of organic material such as straw can be spread around them to keep the moisture level consistent.

The fruit should be harvested every other morning and only the dull-black ones should be picked. Shiny berries aren’t ripe yet. The fruit from thornless blackberries does not keep well so refrigerate soon after picking.

Right now the shrubs are producing next year’s fruiting canes and they must be pruned or tipped to about 4 feet tall. The lateral branches should be pruned to 12 to 15 inches long to keep the plants upright and full of berries next year. A Texas grower made a video illustrating how he prunes the 700 plants on his farm (https://bit.ly/2sg8wQp)
Tip-prune the non-fruiting canes now
Remove all the dead branches to prevent disease. While doing maintenance you will see new plants emerging a foot or two from the main plant. Remove these suckers and plant elsewhere or put them in containers to share with other gardeners. Leaving the suckers in place will create wide rows that are challenging to take care of.

Thornless blackberries are planted in Feb. Four plants will supply a family of 4.

27 May 2018

Herbs are Easy

Herbs are so easy to grow they are among the plants that are ideal for young gardeners because they will have success from their first attempt. 
Winter protection helps herbs survive cold temperatures

Herbs add scent in bouquets and their flavors create delicious beverages, salads, vegetables and meats that rival any restaurant fare. 

Patsy Wynn of Tulsa Herb Society said that since most herbs are ancient, they add history to the garden. Wynn said she cooks with basil, rosemary, thyme and oregano mostly.

“Mediterranean herbs are the easiest to grow,” Wynn said. “Give them average soil, plenty of sun, a little fertilizer and average water. The biggest mistake is keeping them too wet.”

Herbs and vegetables can be interspersed
To create an easy-to-grow container, Wynn suggested an airy, tall, fennel plant for the middle, golden oregano or sage for the center and parsley or thyme for the low growing plants. Just be careful to not over-water.

The kitchen herbs we grow come from the parsley and the mint plant families. From the parsley plant family: Dill, Celery, Caraway, Fennel, Cumin, Celeriac and Parsley itself. From the mint plant family: Oregano, Peppermint, Sage, Monarda, Thyme, Basil, Lavender, Rosemary and Lemon Balm.

In our area, many herbs are annuals and have to be planted every year. We plant basil, parsley and dill from seed every spring. The ones that live all winter outside in an average or mild winter, include: Rosemary, Lemon Balm, all the mints, Sage, Lavender, Thyme, Oregano and Fennel. In a really cold year, many of those will struggle unless they are protected with cover.

Grow herbs for their flowers, scent, kitchen flavors and bouquets
Pick up some herb plants at farmers markets and garden centers. They will add fragrance, flavor and pollinators such as butterflies to your life.

Tulsa Herb Society meets monthly on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Their schedule is posted on the Tulsa Garden Center website attulsagardencenter.com under the Event-calendar tab.

20 May 2018

Comfrey the Power Plant

For herbalists and organic gardeners Comfrey is considered a power plant for its healing properties. 

Wild Comfrey, Cynoglossum Virginian is a short plant that populates wooded areas from Texas to New York. The name Cynoglossum is Greek for hound’s tongue, referring to the shape of the 14-inch long leaves. 

The sun-to part-shade comfrey in our garden, Cynoglossum officinale, is also called Symphytum officinale and Hound’s Tongue in the plant trade. It grows into a fairly large plant and forms colonies. The dangling clusters of blue flowers make it recognizable as a relative of the culinary herb Borage. 

Comfrey is cold hardy in zones 3 to 9, disease and insect resistant. It can grow 3 to 5 feet tall with large, fuzzy leaves. It is not suited to formal or small gardens.

Biointensive gardeners cultivate comfrey as a compost crop since the leaves provide a highly desirable, nutrient-rich biomass. Called a wonder plant by permaculture growers, comfrey draws minerals from 10-feet deep, is made into liquid manure, attracts beneficial insects, can be used as a mulch and as a weed suppressant on garden paths (seewww.tenthacrefarm.com).

Comfrey’s medicinal uses come from its function of increasing cell production, enhancing the body’s ability to heal and knit injuries. The plants’ healing properties have earned it names of knitroot and boneset. On the internet dozens of homeopathic products called Symphytum are available. 

The plant in the photo came from Moonshadow Herb Farm at the Muskogee Farmers’ Market. Horizon Herbs is an online source http://www.horizonherbs.com/ that is reputable. If you would like to grow comfrey and prefer a variety that does not spread, look for Bocking 14 or Russian Comfrey, Symphytum x uplandicum. 

Seeds are also available. They take a few weeks to come up and prefer 45 degrees for germination.

17 May 2018

Garlic Scapes - Harvest Now

Garlic Scapes
Garlic scapes are the flower stalks and flower buds of hardneck garlic, leeks and onions.

If they are not trimmed off before they flower two things happen: 
1) the plants' energy goes to producing flowers, inhibiting the growth size of the garlic heads underground; and,
2) the pollinators enjoy the pollen of the garlic flowers and tiny garlic plants come up everywhere in your flower beds the next year.

How do I know? because more than half of the scapes in the red colander are from our flower beds.

The scapes must be picked young if you want to use them. If not harvested now, they dry up and become tough/stringy and horrible to use in pesto. Definitely harvest them before they form flowers.

This year we also grew leeks and they are now forming scapes, too. They will get used in the same recipe. But there are lots of other recipes
 Garlic Scape Carbonara – Sarah’s Cucina Bella
Garlic Scape Pesto – Dorie Greenspan
White Bean and Garlic Scape Dip – The Kitchn
Pickled Garlic Scapes – Not Without Salt
Garlic Scape Pizza – Herbivoraceous
Asian Pickled Leek Scapes – A Baking Life

Here's what I do with ours. I use scissors to cut them into pieces that easily fit into the food processor bowl and turn it on. Then, I add enough olive oil to make a slurry. After that add lemon juice, salt and 2 cups of walnuts. Run the food processor until it's all smooth.

The result is a creamy spread or aoil that I freeze in small containers. Last week I used some of last year's production on a vegetable side dish. So good. 

Our farmer's market also has scapes at some of the vendor tables. Don't miss out on these wonderful spring greens!

14 May 2018

Gillenia trifoliata, Indian Physic, Bowman's Root Porteranthus, fawn's breath, Ipecacuaha vinginiana, American ipecac,

Bowman's Root or Indian Physic
The flowers in the photo belong to a native perennial that is attractive to butterflies but not eaten by deer or rabbits. Called Indian Physic and Bowman’s Root, Gillenia trifoliata has loose clusters of star-like white flowers on dark red stems from late spring to early summer.
Gillenia is a sub-shrub of the rose family or the spirea family, depending on which expert you consult. Native from the east coast to OK, Bowman’s Root is disease and insect free and cold hardy in zones 3 to 8.
Since they prefer filtered shade and grow two to three-feet tall and wide, they are suited to the front of a shrub row or native plant bed. Bowman's Root is also widely used in bouquets and dried for arrangements. It only flowers once but the blooms last up to three-weeks.
After the flower petals fade and fall, the red sepals (outer part of the flower) stay for a while. In the fall, the leaves become red-orange, adding another season of appeal.  The seed heads remain into winter.
Indian Physic spreads by underground rhizomes and tolerate tree root competition for moisture, if they are mulched to protect them from drying out. Bowman’s Root can also grow in rocky locations if it is watered during the first two years.
Bowman’s Root should not be fertilized but it has to be cut back in late winter.
If Gillenia sounds like an ideal addition to your garden they are available as plants or you can plant seeds in the fall. Catalogs list them as Porteranthus trifoliatus, fawn’s breath, Ipecacuanha virginiana, or American ipecac.
The naming confusion is because Conrad Moench named it Gillenia in honor of German botanist Arnoldus Gillenius, but another of Gillenius’ fans named a different plant Gillena in his honor. Then, a Professor Britton renamed Bowman’s Root Porteranthus trifoliatus in honor of his friend Thomas C. Porter.

06 May 2018

Butterfly Gardening

Some of the most beautiful and watchable life in our gardens include butterflies, moths and skippers. To attract them to your garden, provide flowers with nectar for the adults, plants for caterpillars to eat, muddy places for the males and a pesticide-free environment.

Our butterfly habitat 

Generally, butterflies are more likely to gather in  mass plantings. A bed full of zinnias or petunias will attract dozens, if not hundreds of skippers and butterflies while they are in bloom.

White flowers attract night feeders such as moths. Red, orange, pink, purple and yellow flowers attract butterflies.

Some nectar plants:
Spring: Carrots, violets, native cherry, vetch, clover, lilac, lunaria, catnip, coreopsis, blackberry, sweet pea, sweet William, daffodil, Dame’s rocket, and hyacinth

Summer: Dill, Queen Anne's Lace, pentas, goldenrod, lemon balm, milkweed, butterfly-weed, coneflower, petunia, mint, marjoram, bergamot-Monarda, sage, marigold, black-eyed Susan, mallow, passionflower, pipe vine, yarrow, honeysuckle, privet, cosmos, heliotrope, lantana, tithonia-Mexican sunflower, verbena, leek, chives, daisy, daylily, bachelor buttons, fleabane, feverfew, blazing star, lily, sunflower, veronica, hyssop, borage.

Fall: Aster, basil, moonflower, fennel, thistle, obedient plant, sedum, sneezeweed, Joe Pye weed, yarrow, ironweed, globe amaranth, zinnia.
Monarch caterpillar in our garden

Eggs are laid only on the plants that each caterpillar can eat when they hatch. If you want to help the butterflies raise their young, you have to let them eat the leaves of your plants.

The plants they eat, called host plants, have leaves that look chewed while the caterpillars are growing. You can watch the caterpillars daily as they change their appearance, shed their outer skin and form chrysalis.

Caterpillar food: Dill, aster, spicebush, fennel, parsley, passion vine, flowering tobacco, cabbage, milkweed, mallow, sneezeweed, alfalfa, nettle, hops, partridge pea, sorrel, cress, pipe vine, leadplant, clover, vetch, thistle, violet and rue.

To learn about the 135 native Oklahoma butterflies, moths and skippers go to  Butterflies and Moths of North America - http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org.

29 April 2018

Shade Plants for Zone 7 Gardens

Many gardeners consider the space under trees, next to solid fences, and close to buildings difficult to use because they lack of full sun. There are, however, many beautiful perennial plants and shrubs that can succeed in part-shade..

To increase the amount of sunlight available under trees, remove the lowest limbs and prune out some branches, allowing light to shine through to the ground.

Tree roots and building foundations absorb a lot of available moisture and can also stress plants. Improve the soil moisture retention by adding organic materials and top dressing the area with mulch to reduce evaporation. A drip irrigation system can also be a big help.

Five Star Hibiscus
Shade-loving plants usually have roots, rhizomes, tubers or stems that store water plus they tend to lose less moisture through their leaves than other plants.

The leaves of low-light varieties usually emerge early in the season before the trees leaf out above them.

Garden centers plants have tags indicating whether they can thrive in half or full-shade. Also, you will notice that shade plants are placed under protection and sun-loving plants are displayed in sunny parts of the store.

Two popular shade plants:
  1. Hostas thrive in shade and are available in green, blue-green, green with gold, cream or white leaves, and vary in size.
  2. Hydrangeas are mid-size woody shrubs that have become one of America’s favorite plants. The north side of a building usually provides the right amount of light for them.

Other shade plants include Ajuga, Ginger, Five-star Hibiscus, Bottlebrush Buckeye, Dragon Arum, Viburnum shrubs, many fern varieties, Beautyberry shrub, Azaleas, Oxalis, perennial succulents, Strawberry Begonia, Brunnera, Clematis vine, Abutilon, Solomon’s Seal, Pachysandra, Summersweet and Knotweed.

Visit your local plant suppliers and ask what has worked for other gardeners. They can usually direct you to an entire section of possibilities.

23 April 2018

Sage Salvia Ornamentals for Your Garden

Salvia Azurea seeds started Nov 2017
Salvias are one of the best plants for my big back yard because they are reliable perennials that bloom in blues and reds that make me stare.

There are at least a dozen Salvias that will make you stare at their little flowers this summer. And the butterflies love them so butterfly watching is part of the joy.

Salvia Azurea

I've posted photos of my best ones - the ones that are reliable in our Muskogee yard with minimal care. I'm sure other gardeners grow more and you are invited to share which Salvias work well in your gardens.

Pineapple sage is one I received as a plant so I take cuttings at the end of every summer to ensure its continuation in the flower beds.
Pineapple Sage

My other really successful Salvia is another tall blue one with large leaves. I started them from seed several years ago and they return both from the roots and from seed.

Blue Salvia

Hot Lips Salvia does really well here also. So well in fact that one of my plants came from a plant share at Muskogee Garden Club when a member divided hers.

If/when you are ready to dive into exploring more of these wonderful annual and perennial plants for your flower beds and butterflies, check out Robin's Salvias website and "The New Book of Salvias" by Betsy Clebsch.

There are at least half a dozen blue Salvias that I've grown one or two years but they proved too difficult to keep going in my yard without special attention. One that everyone else seems to love and have success with is Black and Blue Salvia. I've planted it three times and have not had luck. Also there's an incredible biennial that I grew from seed one year because the leaves are as big as a mini-car but it didn't return.

Then there are the culinary sages ... .