Showing posts from July, 2009

Joseph E. Meyer - Herbs for Your Garden and Kitchen Pharmacy

Growing herbs is popular and deserves to be more popular. Many annual and perennial herbs grow well in Oklahoma, their flowers provide nectar for butterflies and they are useful in the kitchen.

Photo: Black and Blue Salvia, Jewels of Opar and Basil bloom together in a nectar garden.
Before science brought us modern chemistry, the scarcity of physicians and money led to self-medication using herbs.

Today, many people sip mint tea to calm their stomach, drink basil tea to calm ulcers and nerves, apply an Aloe Vera leaf to a burn, and eat garlic as an antibiotic.

Chicago botanist Joseph E. Meyer (1878-1950) founded the Indiana Botanic Garden in 1925. There, his family, including 8 children, harvested, dried and packaged herbs.

His 1918 book The Herbalist described herbal remedies known at the time. Then, from 1925 to 1979 his company published a free annual Herbalist Almanac based on customer testimonials and recipes. His son, Clarence reprinted 50 years of the Almanacs in The Herbalist Alman…

Pollinators = Pollination = Seeds

Joe Benton of Oklahoma State University Extension wrote a column about saving seeds that had some fascinating tidbits in it. Benton is an extension educator for Pottawatomie County.
Benton said that we should collect seeds from non-hybrids because hybrids do not come true from their seed.
The best candidates for seed collecting include: beans, broccoli, dill, corn, chives, leeks, muskmelon and garlic. They are bee pollinated except for beans which are self-pollinated and corn, which is wind pollinated.

Maybe you knew all that, though I did not.

Here are a other few facts that were new to me.
"Most flowers are pollinated by bees, butterflies and moths. Bees can't see red, so the flowers they pollinate tend to be yellow, or sometimes blue. Some of these have ultraviolet landing patterns which they see also. Butterflies see well, and red, but have a weak sense of smell. So most of the flowers they pollinate have little or no fragrance. Moths are nocturnal, so the flowers they polli…

Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars

The beautiful black Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly has been in our yard for weeks and evidently found the spicebushes (Linderabenzoin) we planted for them. The University of Florida has plenty of information about them here. The U Florida site says they are Papiliotroilustroilus.

Yesterday I noticed that the leaves of the bush were shredded but thought it was from the storm we had the night before. But they were so raggy that I took a closer look

So, on closer examination I found the caterpillars!

Here's a closer look.

Also from U Florida's site: "First instar larvae bend a leaf edge over and silk it down. Older larvae spin a silk mat on a leaf that contracts to curl the two lateral leaf edges upward and together to form a leaf nest. Larvae usually hide in the leaf nest during the daytime and to molt when birds and other predators are unlikely to see them. They come out to feed at night. Young larvae are bird-dropping mimics, and mature larvae with their swollen thorax and …

Encourage A Child's Interest in Gardening - No Child Left Inside

Teaching children to love nature, plants, gardens and the outdoors in general is a responsibility we love. Giving a little one some seeds to plant, letting them pick flowers and participate in a vegetable harvest are experiences they deserve. Something so simple can make a difference.

A site called India Parenting mentions the fact that even most parks are too manicured to give children a real feel for unstructured nature as we knew it.

The Children and Nature Network exists to help reconnect children with the natural world. Click on the "get involved" link at the top of the page for tips on what you could do in your community.

The best selling book, The Last Child in the Woods is already in its second edition. From author Louv's site, "nature-deficit disorder" ... has created a national conversation about the disconnection between children and nature ..."

State Legislatures around the country are launching No Child Left Inside initiatives.

Carol Zelaya is wri…

Butterfly Gardening and Fall Planting

We grow butterflies. We plant plants the adults enjoy for nectar and we grow plants for the babies to eat when they hatch. There have been 4 hatches of Monarchs this summer in our yard. The swallowtails are going crazy on the fennel. Each plant is taller than I am and several of them are tucked between tomato plants. Others are near shrubs so they are all reasonably well protected from the birds. I put this one in my hand so you could enjoy seeing how big they are growing.
In this photo you can see the tomato plants protecting the caterpillars.
Several great companies are having sales right now on fall planted bulbs - don't miss out.
Home Garden Seed Association sent out a reminder that it is time to plant our fall gardens with calendula, beets, salad makings, peas, radishes, cilantro, etc. On that topic, Pinetree is having a summer clearance on garden stuff, including an interesting item used to root woody shrubs - right on the plant. It's called a Rooter Pot. The other item of …

400 Trees and Shrubs for Small Spaces by Diana Miller

The middle of summer is a good time to assess what is thriving and where the bare spots are in the garden. Also take a look at what could be replaced. The shrubs we put in ten years ago are now thick-stemmed green blobs that no longer inspire.

"400 Trees and Shrubs for Small Spaces" by Diana Miller provides help with selecting, placing, pruning and propagating small trees and shrubs. Of the 215 pages, 134 are descriptions of evergreen, flowering and deciduous trees, shrubs and vines for all growing zones.

Miller, who lives in England, points out that hedges add fruit, flowers, wildlife habitat, privacy and a background for your perennials. But she also reminds us that if we want to reduce the amount of work in the garden, we can have beautiful spaces by selecting the correct shrubs and trees.

Dwarf shrubs are supposed to grow to one and one-half feet tall. For example, Mini Crape myrtles or Lagerstroemiaindicta, grow to one or two feet tall ( Dwarf…

Today's Harvest

Peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes are the harvest at this time of year - well, in the years we are lucky enough to have a harvest. The peppers are an assortment of varieties we started from seed in late winter/early spring plus a couple we got from Blossoms Garden Center when they ran their pre-season-order-ahead special in the Muskogee Phoenix.
This 6-inch tomato is one of the first to come from the Blossoms' plants. There are many more green ones on the vines.

These are Johnny's Orange King tomatoes - we started the plants from seed in February in the shed. Lights and heat provided by Oklahoma Gas and Electric of course.

Not bad for one day of picking - after 6 months of effort of course. What's more fun the growing or the harvesting? What's growing and blooming in your garden?

Late July Garden

Tennessee Cushaw Sweet Potato Squash is called a winter squash since they are harvested in the fall and keep well over the winter.
A few seeds came to me from Tulsa World garden writer Russell Studebaker through his friend Felder Rushing. Russell wanted the heirloom preserved so I grew the plants and distributed them to a few gardeners.
This flower is a male - no fruit attached at the base of the flower - and it had 6 bees in it at the same time. That pollen must be divine food.
The book, Renewing America's Food Traditions, from Chelsea Green Publishers, has a bit of information about it. Click here to read.

I'm becoming a Salvia collector of sorts. A former garden writer for the Muskogee Phoenix, Ronn Smith, gave me my first plants and seeds of Lady In Red.
Then I started looking for perennial Salvias. Betsy Clebsch's book on Salvias is a great resource.
Another friend, Sharon Owen introduced me to her favorite salvia resources and we started ordering plants together. We adde…

Trees and Shrubs for the Southwest by Mary Irish

Recently I read an online book review complaining that a plant reference described plants that would not all survive in zone 4 and colder.

Unlike that reviewer, I enjoy reading books that cover a variety of zones and regions because we often encounter plants in catalogs and garden centers that are not exactly perfect for our region. And, we buy them.

The upside of having a variety of references is that you can look up those plants to see how they could work for your garden.

Such is the case with Mary Irish's "Trees and Shrubs for the Southwest". Irish describes 200 plants for hot, dry situations in the arid and semi-arid southwest United States. The map for her selected plants includes Las Vegas, Austin, El Paso, Tuscon, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Diego.

In addition, low rainfall, sandy soils and high winds contribute to the dessication of plants in that area. Irish is the director of public horticulture for the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

In the Introduction, I lea…

Seeds Started Now Come Up Quickly!

The package of broccoli seeds that the back of the envelope said would take 7 days to emerge have emerged and have been transplanted into individual pots. They seem to love the heat.

Rudbeckia hirta is the Latin name of Black Eyed Susans. I bought two new varieties and planted the seeds this week.
The RudbeckiaHirta Cherry Brandy seeds were predicted to take 2 to 3 weeks and came up in less than a week.
Ditto for the Rudbeckiahirta Chocolate Orange. Almost every one of the 50 seed cups has a green tip in less than a week.
Slow by comparison is the Heuchera Marvelous Marbles. They have not emerged. Not a one. They are supposed to take 10 to 60 days but the way things are going I expect them to be up soon. says "Marvelous Marble is the first Heuchera with very short flower stems. It is a gorgeous foliage plant, performing well in spring, summer and autumn. In the spring, the foliage is a nice purple and during the year, the leaves change to green with very distinct dark v…

Ornamental Grasses Tall and Short

Ornamental grasses are popular in large commercial settings such as airports and hospitals. They are equally at home in large pots, small ponds and garden beds.

The variety of grasses range from ones that can be used as a lawn substitute to those that grow 8 feet tall and remain standing throughout the cold months adding winter interest to your landscape.

Many of the plants we call ornamental grasses are actually Cyperaceae or sedge family and Juncaceae or rush family. Mondo grass is Ophiopogon and Liriope is lilyturf. True grasses are in the plant family Gramineae.

Annual, biennial and perennial ornamental grasses grow easily in average soil. Many can be grown from seed and most are insect and disease free. Popular annual grasses include big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), switch grass (Panicum virgatum), and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans).

Perennial grasses can take a couple of years to become established so plan to put annuals in the planting spot that first year to fill in.


Harvesting Worm Castings and Making a Trench Bed for the Just-Planted Leeks

The tiny leek starts went into their little trench this morning. As they grow we will fill the trench to make the white part of each one longer so there is more to roast.

The soaker hose to the left will be run down the center. Leeks cannot ever dry out. To give the plants a great head start, one of the worm compost bins was harvested.I spread out sheets of newspaper in the shade and dumped the bin upside down. Then I tore enough newspaper to fill the bin and wet it down, turned it and let it drip out the bottom holesThen, I broke up the bin of castings to encourage the worms to go to the bottom of the pile.After a half hour, I could sort through the castings, move the worms to their refurbished digs and use the remaining black gold to fertilize the leeks, the Louisiana Sweet Potato Squash and some tomato plants, too.
The leek starts are plants we started from seed in the shed last January.

Really Green Fashion

Artist Nicole Dextrascalls herself a mixed media artist and indeed this dress made of leaves and flowers meets that description.
The ecology news site, Inhabitat, reported the story that the show Weedrobes by Dextra is showing in Albuquerque NM at the Richard Levy Gallery.

Click over the Inhabitat site to see lots more photos of the Weedrobe items. It will inspire your creativity for making garden art or art out of garden stuff.

Reuters Reports Potato Fungus in US

Not to get on a soapbox about seed and plant varieties, but ...
One of the reasons places like Seed Savers and preservation catalogs like Sand Hill exist is because the food source has become so concentrated that they are worried about a plant or animal disease rapidly running through the entire food system.

Photo: Oregon State University Julie Steenhuysen of Reuters reported this piece Late blight, which caused the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s and 1850s, is killing potato and tomato plants in home gardens from Maine to Ohio and threatening commercial and organic farms, U.S. plant scientists said on Friday.

Late blight has never occurred this early and this widespread in the United States, said Meg McGrath, a plant pathologist at Cornell University's extension center in Riverhead, New York.
She said the fungal disease, spread by spores carried in the air, has made its way into the garden centers of large retail chains in the Northeastern United States.

Wal-mart, Home Depot, Sears, Km…

Safely Preserving Your Work

Growing fruits and vegetables is a satisfying activity that can yield a bumper crop. After all the work of planting, weeding and harvest, we prefer not to toss extra produce on the compost pile.Most of us give friends and family a considerable amount of cucumbers, squash, tomatoes and corn. Gospel Rescue Mission (326 S 2 and 918-682-3489) welcomes produce donations to feed local families in need.
When it comes to preserving and storing some of the extra to use over the winter, gardeners each have a preferred method.
To keep food safe and nutritious, four problems must be conquered. (See Piers Warren reference below.)
1) Enzymes cause food to begin to lose nutritional value and to spoil quickly. Extreme heat used for canning stops enzyme action, as does freezing.
2) Bacteria cause most food poisoning and their growth can be stopped through freezing, high heat, and high concentrations of sugar, salt or acid used for pickling.
3) Yeasts cause the kind of food spoilage seen when jam ferments.…

How Much Heat Can Tomatoes Take?

We are just home from a week on the road and my neighbor came over and said the tomatoes should be covered to protect them from the next series of 100-degree days.

Is that true? Do you know? Do you cover your tomato plants in the heat? Sunscald can be a big problem for tomatoes. Kansas State University says that they will develop a leather like skin and rot inside (here).

One horticulture science site, Acta, says that shading tomato plants has these results: Increases the fruit yield, produces heavier and prettier fruit, and reduces sun scald.

Clemson University agrees here - cover the plants because the green fruits are vulnerable to hot humid weather.

Oklahoma State University Extension fact sheet - here - says that tomatoes need 2 inches of water a week to survive our heat. Pick them weekly when they are pink and let them ripen.

I know that many gardeners take cuttings now to start new plants for fall and I've never done that before either.

Do you take summer tomato plant cuttings to…

Busting Up Clods of Garden Myths

Can you tell fact from fiction when it comes to healthy happy plants and soils? Most of us can't.CColorado State University Extension (here) has a piece called Beware of Gardening Myths. For example, Gypsum does not break up clay soils. And vitamin B1 in formulations guaranteed to jump start transplants has zero effect. But we hear gardeners state with confidence that these things work for them.A completely different list of myths is at the Skagit County Master Gardeners site here. For example, uncomposted wood chips spread pathogenic fungi and bacteria to healthy plant roots.
most important to re-learn is to STOP using chlorine bleach as a disinfectant. Use isopropyl alcohol, Listerine or Lysol.

C. L. Fornari, the Gardenlady gives a memorable presentation on busting gardening myths. Her Gardenlady website is great to browse, too. You can read my 2007 column about Fornari here. My favorite on C.L.'s list is about pruning tomatoes - don't bother.

Washington State University…

July in the Garden

It's time to pull and dry the garlic.

The first bulbs we pulled had to come out so we could plant the Tennessee Sweet Potato Squash plants. Now the tomatoes are getting so big that the rest of the garlic has to be pulled to make room for them. And, so we don't walk on garlic when we tend the other summer veggies.

Then, the next joyful chore is a month of blackberry picking. We only grow the thornless varieties developed at Arkansas State University for our humid summers.

The weed cloth on the beds has been in place since 2000. Over the years the suckers have punctured the weed cloth and tall weeds take hold in those places. Late fall and early winter the neighbors will see us out there digging out the extra plants and replacing the weed cloth.
No end to the fun at our 2 acre health club. Send me an email at and let me know what's happening where you grow.

Coneflowers - Echinacea - for Every Garden

Coneflowers are showing up everywhere, blooming in open fields, roadways and flowerbeds. Their humble origins aside, there are now dozens of colors to choose from. And, all have the same preference for making their best flower display on hot, dry summer days.There is some confusion about Echinaceas among gardeners because sometimes Black Eyed Susans are called Coneflowers. The brown centered orange-yellow wild flower is actually a Rudbeckia not an Echinacea.

Both are members of the perennial Aster family that includes chrysanthemums, sunflowers and Asters. The botanical name Echinacea is from the Greek word echinos meaning hedgehog, referring to the appearance of the center cone.
Large stands of Echinacea used to be common across the central and eastern parts of North America ( ).
The perceived herbal medicine benefits of Echinacea roots and stems have led to the plants being illegally removed from the wild and sold to pharmaceutical compa…

July Chrysanthemum Care

July seems like an odd time to think about your fall blooming Chrysanthemums. However, you will benefit from pruning and fertilizing them before the middle of this month.

In mid-July, mums form their fall flower buds. The hours of dark that increase as fall comes, trigger the flowering. Pruning them after mid-July reduces the flowers.
Photo: Viceroy butterfly on Chrysanthemums from Texas Aggie-Hort - (Texas A & M Extension) -
a great resource for all things gardening. The main page of their site is here.

When summer pruning your mums, cut just above a leaf node, leaving at least one set of leaves on each stem. Think of the letter Y as a leaf node and snip just above that.

Ohio State University has a fact sheet on mums here.
And the National Chrysanthemum Society has growing tips here.

If your weather does not include rain in for the next two months, be sure to water your mums. They will reward you with fall color when the rest of the garden is beginning to fade.