31 December 2012

Black Soldier Flies are Hermetia illucens

Black Soldier Flies are popular with home-composters and organic gardeners in USDA zones 6 and above. If you don't have the larvae in your compost yet, it might be worth finding out about them, how to attract them and how to feed them so they stay around.

The Black Soldier Fly blog at http://blacksoldierflyblog.com provides plenty of information  that is easy to read. It's the larvae that eat compost and any harmful insects in your bin. If you aren't squeamish, check out this YouTube video of the larvae mowing through cucumbers.

They seem to prefer coffee grounds and those are readily available from your local coffee house. They are tan and ridged as in the photo below.

The site called Black Soldier Fly Farming: The Next Generation of Composting calls them nature's own ultimate food recyclers. The larvae is also called phoenix worm, a high protein(40%)  food used to feed pets, chickens and livestock.
More photos at BugGuide.net http://bugguide.net/node/view/7646/bgpage

The U FL Featured Creature says, "The black soldier fly, Hermetia illucens (Linnaeus), is a sleek looking fly that many confuse with a wasp. However, like most flies, the black soldier flies only have two wings (wasps have four) and does not possess a stinger. Although the loud buzzing they create when flying is enough to concern many people, adult soldier flies pose no danger.

So! We rarely see the adults because they do not eat during their 5 to 8 day life. They breed and die. As you can see from the photo they resemble small wasps. Unlike houseflies they are not disease carriers.
In that short lifetime, a female can lay up to 900 eggs.

At the Bipod,
"The average egg case includes approx. 400-600 eggs; the tiny 1 mm eggs hatch in a little over 100 hours. If environmental conditions are favorable and there is adequate food, the cream colored larvae can reach full maturity in 2-4 weeks. This period may be extended to several months if temperature and nourishment are less than optimal. The tough and leathery chitin-skinned juveniles pass through 6 stages of growth called instars. The last of the instars is distinguishable by a color change from cream to dark gray-brown. The pupae develops within the protective, darker-colored skin of the 6th larval instar, which is referred to as the puparium. Larvae over winter in a sheltered dry location, with pupae development slowing considerably during the coldest months. Depending on a multitude of environmental triggers, pupation occurs irregularly throughout spring and summer, so that the emergence of adults is spread out over an extended time period. There are approx. 2500-2550 mature grubs per pound."

To provide a place for the females to lay eggs, add corrugated cardboard to your insect habitat, compost pile or line a bucket with it.

The claim to fame for the larvae is that they will eat through a compost pile in 3 days.

If you prefer a more complex approach, go to The Walden Effect to see what they built at a school in Virginia.

Either way, encourage them to come and stick around your compost bin. They do lots of good and no harm.

27 December 2012

Walking down the primrose path

The English Primroses made famous by Shakespeare grew wild in shady meadows. Since then, primroses have faded from cottage gardens but new hybrids are helping them make a come-back.

There are over 400 Primula species that bloom in early spring on stalks above rosettes of crinkly leaves.  Common primrose, Primula vulgaris has single flowers on 6-inch stems. They are related to cowslips (Primula veris) and oxlips (Primula elatior).

P. sieboldii Mac Gradens
Primula sieboldii goes dormant in the summer though if they are mulched and watered the rhizomes will spread to send up even more the following spring. The flowers are pink, white, purple or mauve on 12-inch stems.

Polyanthus primroses are easy to grow hybrids. They need to be divided every few years as they spread. They have large clusters of red, purple, yellow, white, pink or blue flowers on stems that can grow to a foot tall. Plant them with spring flowering bulbs and cut them back by half after they finish blooming.

Drumstick primrose (Primula denticulata) will self-sow and spread in the right conditions. It blooms early with lavender and purple flowers on 2-inch stems.

Primroses are cold hardy in zones 4 to 9 and cannot thrive in warmer zones.  In half-shade locations where they are watered, primroses will become perennials. They can also be used as houseplants and as annuals outside in containers. They like soil amended with composted leaves, manure and other composts.

All primroses are insect, disease, rabbit and deer resistant, though not deer proof. Heat stress can bring spider mites. If they are planted too close together they can get leaf spot. In the summer, mulch with chopped leaves or other organic material to protect them from the heat.

P. obcondia Thompson Morgan Seeds
Plants will be available in garden centers in early spring;  the seeds are started in January. German Primrose, Primula obcondia, seeds produce plants with large, fragrant, single flowers on 10-inch stems. Flower colors include lavender, red, pink and white.

Plant seeds in potting soil and barely cover them with vermiculite. Put the pots outside on the north side of a building where they are exposed to weather but protect them from direct sun, wind and strong rainfall. During drought periods, water from the bottom and let them drain.

When the seedlings have two sets of leaves, move them to flats with their seed starting soil. You can keep them in pots over the spring and summer and transplant them into a permanent garden spot in the fall.

For spring plants, start the seeds in January but keep them inside a greenhouse or under lights when they emerge.

When planting in the spring or re-planting divisions in the fall, keep the crown above the soil level and do not press them into the ground.

Pink Ice Skagit Gardens
The Double Primula vulgaris Bellarina series is a collection of new hybrids grown from cuttings. The flowers look like roses and come in several colors including: Pink Ice, Nectarine, Cream, Yellow and Cobalt Blue.  They are hardy in USDA zones 5 to 11 and bloom a long time because they do not produce seed.

Midnight Garden
Companion plants include other part-shade-loving plants such as Hostas, Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata) and ferns.

To grow Primroses as houseplants, keep them on a bright windowsill but out of direct sunlight. Water them regularly and let them drain after watering. Keep them away from heat sources such as furnace vents. Fertilize with liquid fertilizer mixed at half strength when flowering.

Photos of primroses are at The American Primrose Society (www.americanprimrosesociety.org) and www.primulaworld.com.

 Primrose plants are available from Bluestone Perennials (www.bluestoneperennials.com) and seeds are available from www.swallowtailgardenseeds.com  and www.thompson-morgan.com. Primula obconica Libra Blue seeds are available from www.hardyplants.com.

26 December 2012

Oklahoma Prairie Country - online resource

A wonderful find! Oklahoma Prairie Country is a website dedicated to the author's photos of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, Oklahoma history, and conservation.
Here's a link to his site -  http://www.okprairie.com
Here's a link to the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve site (the largest preserved tract of tallgrass prairie).
The Kansas portion is introduced at http://www.nps.gov/tapr/index.htm

The author's bio "I am 83 years old and a retired research chemist. The mystery and beauty of nature have always been high among my interests. After retirement I decided to devote part of my time working as a docent (volunteer) at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve near Pawhuska, Oklahoma. It is owned and operated by the Nature Conservancy, a wonderful organization dedicated to the scientific preservation of plants, animals, and natural communities by reestablishing and protecting the ecosystems that they require for survival.
To be an effective docent and to satisfy my curiosity I have studied diverse subjects such as wild flowers, bison (commonly called buffalo), Native American (Indian) history,history of the ranching business, oil industry history, etc. I have concentrated on botany the last four years to be able to identify the many plants and wild flowers found on the prairie. I have taken photos of many of the wild flowers found on the prairie. I have to confess that I am still very much a neophyte at this.

I enjoy meeting and talking to the many visitors to the prairie. Amazingly the visitors come from every state of the union and many foreign countries. I present some of the history of the Chapman-Barnard Ranch, Osage Indian history, conservation objectives of The Nature Conservancy, the bison, etc. It astonishes me that people from outside of Oklahoma, and especially from foreign countries, find out that The Tallgrass Prairie even exists. I have met people from distant states that have the Tallgrass Prairie as their main destination. Some visitors have special interests, such as the bird population, or the bison, or the immense open spaces of the prairie, or the history of the West and Native American tribes. I feel truly blessed that I can do this at this stage in my life."
His enthusiam has made me put the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve back on my bucket list. Locals warn to avoid it during tick season - they brought home dozens of ticks each.

23 December 2012

2013 Garden Trends - the Zen of weeding

2013 Garden Trends have been announced and I've cut the article down by half. To read the entire report, click over to http://www.gardenmediagroup.com/clients/client-news/278-garden-media-reveals-its-2013-14-garden-trends-report

Here's my abbreviated version -

In its 12th annual Garden Trends Report, Garden Media Group spots a positive trend revealing people are re-evaluating values, re-defining happiness and re-considering how gardening and caring for Mother Nature bring joy and satisfaction.

Global trends expert Li Edelkoort explains the ‘Year of Bliss’ takes its cue from nature, finding expression in bright colors, nature inspired products and tactile experiences. She notes as a society we’re slowing down, seeking authenticity and well-being, and tuning into now.

1. Lifestyle Forces New home pioneers are influencing urban planning with easy access to services, and sustainable lifestyles. We want to know where our food comes from.

2. Wellness Forces Health and wellness are the #1 reason people select the products they buy and herbs, including medicinals, are topping the list in the edibles category.

3. eCono Forces Suburban homes are getting smaller, professionals and retirees are moving back into the city.

4. Color Forces From bright  blues and shades of green, colors mimic nature and in turn, evoke positive emotions.

5. Natural Forces From eco-scaping to native plants, we need natural ways to conserve and methods to safely control weeds and pests.
6. Ground Forces People are purchasing products that sustain, boost and heal the soil.

7. Air Forces Air plants are the new terrariums and are popping up in fashion and interior décor. 

8. Aqua Forces The need to reduce water consumption is driving the demand for drought tolerant plants, including succulents, ornamental grasses and natives. Fountains and ponds are getting smaller.

9. Light Forces White plants give a luminous reflection at night in gardens. Light features that blend low energy and solar powered lighting allow people to extend their time outdoors.

Biowall at Queens U 
10. Inner Forces Living green walls and indoor houseplants reduce stress, speed healing, lower blood pressure, bring peace of mind, promote healing and increase concentration.

11. Micro Forces The growing demand for miniature containers and plants, like mini cacti, succulents, lucky bamboo, mini  gardens and mini meditation gardens are springing up.
12. Shared Forces The new shareable economy is giving rise sharing sustainable living spaces, plant swaps, community gardens, CSA’s and Farmers Markets.

Every day bliss can come from turning gardening tasks into a Zen experience.

21 December 2012

Soil from each state make a U.S. map

A Canadian created a US map by requesting soil samples from each and every state and attaching it to a single page.

Kansas declined but retired PR art professional Les Gregor's friend sent a bit for the artist's work.

Here's a link to the whole dirty story -

20 December 2012

Stacked books as art in nature

Thanks to ASLA for passing this on -

As part of the International Festival des Jardins de Metis, which is held annually in Quebec, Berlin-based landscape architect Thilo Folkerts, 100 Landschaftsarchitektur, and Canadian artist Rodney LaTourelle created a fascinating 250-square-meter garden using about 40,000 books to show how “culture fades back into nature.”
The Jardin de la connaissance, which was actually installed in 2010, was designed to change and decay. According to Dezeen, old books were piled up to create walls, rooms, and seats. Books laid on the forest floor created platforms.

Then, eight varieties of mushrooms were introduced and “cultivated on select books” in order to spur the decay of the book landscape.

Recently, to update the piece, the designers amplified the sense of decay by applying “sampled moss from the forest” to the walls of the garden as a “paint mixture.” They call this “moss graffiti.” Folkerts writes: “The cover of moss material will aesthetically expedite the slow disappearance of the garden back into the forest.”

Here's one of the photos of the project (right). Click over to the
DeZeen Magazine at http://www.dezeen.com/2010/08/12/jardin-de-la-connaissance-by-rodney-latourelle-and-100-landschaftsarchitektur/
for more photos and details.

and then if you are still curious,

Click over to Jardin de la connaissance at
for a 360 view (left side of the page).

18 December 2012

Muskogee Master Gardeners get a new community garden

Mandy Blocker and Mark Wilkerson
With Oklahoma State University master gardener classes starting in late January, Mandy Blocker met with the director of the Parks and Recreation Department, Mark Wilkerson, to discuss how they can work together.

“When the master gardener classes are completed in the spring, the members of the class need meaningful projects where they can earn the 40 volunteer hours required for certification,” Blocker said. “We are going to have a horticulture hotline at the Extension Office where they can volunteer, but some of them will want outdoor hours, too.”

Blocker and Wilkerson met last week at the new “Papilion, a place for butterflies” in Honor Heights Park to discuss ways their two organizations could collaborate. They decided that the perfect solution would be to create a new community garden in Chandler Road Park. (The park is near York Street and Chandler Road, where Okmulgee Avenue jogs a bit and becomes Chandler.)

“When that park was built, it was intended for adults in wheelchairs and children, so the raised beds were put in,” Wilkerson said. “With the master gardeners adopting a community garden there, we can develop plans to include concrete sidewalks, new fencing and additional beds. That way it will still serve citizens who need raised beds in order to grow their own food.”

The Oklahoma AgrAbility Project (http://ok.gov/agrability) provides education and assistance to those who have a disability or debilitating injury that limits their ability to perform essential farm and garden tasks. Blocker said she can foresee integrating AgrAbility education and support into the Chandler Road Community Garden.

If you are interested in participating in the master gardener classes and have not already called, you can be added to the list by calling Blocker at (918) 686-7200 or sending email to mandy.blocker@okstate.edu.

“The construction project at Honor Heights Park is complete except for installing the butterfly house,” Wilkerson said. “The area of the fenced gardens and event lawn measures 120 feet by 200 feet. The event lawn itself is 120 feet by 40 feet.”

The butterfly house will open during the Azalea Festival in April, although it probably will not be warm enough for butterflies and flowers until Mother’s Day, Wilkerson said.

Thousands of tulips are being planted this week inside the Papilion’s fence, so it will be a dramatically beautiful scene by spring.

Wilkerson said the event lawn and the gardens will be divided and surrounded by boxwood hedges and flowering plants.

The water feature inside the pavilion has a continuously recirculating filter, making the above-ground pond useful for water plants and perhaps koi in the future.

The screened hoop house for butterflies will be a seasonal structure, open from Mother’s Day through the fall, when butterflies hibernate.

Wilkerson said that the raised beds in the garden are surrounded with decomposed granite, creating a natural feel to the space. Decomposed granite is used in driveways, sidewalks and public gardens and is compacted to meet handicapped accessibility specifications.

The parking spaces in front of the building (the former bath house) are being converted to a driveway where bus drivers can drop off groups of visitors. A new sidewalk will lead to the gift shop, where tickets for the gardens will be sold.

Wilkerson anticipates opportunities for volunteers at the Papilion. His ideas include conducting workshops, possibly opening a theater where short movies would be shown, using the outdoor pavilion next to the building as an outdoor classroom, and having volunteer garden ambassadors help visitors learn about plants and butterflies.

The event lawn is planted with zoysia grass and will be available to rent for weddings, parties and gatherings.

Information: Muskogee Parks and Recreation, (918) 684-6302.

16 December 2012

Charles Darwin - the complete works online

The Complete Works of Charles Darwin have been collected on a single website.

Here are some excerpts from the front page introductory comments -

Charles Darwin
"Darwin's "On the Origin Of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races on the Struggle of Life", was published on November 24, 1859, and sold out immediately. It was followed by five more editions in his lifetime. The expression "survival of the fittest" did not originate from Darwin's work. Herbert Spencer had already used it in his books about evolutionary philosophy. Though he later described our common ancestor as "a hairy quadruped, furnished with a tail and pointed ears," Darwin did not do so in the famous On the Origin of Species.      . . . .
Darwin home
Darwin's mother died when he was eight years old, and he was brought up by his sister. In 1827 he started theology studies at Christ's College, Cambridge. His love to collect plants, insects, and geological specimens was noted by his botany professor John Stevens Henslow. He arranged for his talented student a place a on the surveying expedition of HMS Beagle to Patagonia. Captain Robert FitzRoy needed a naturalist to serve as his companion and messmate on the tedious trip. Despite objections of his father, Darwin decided to leave his familiar surroundings."
. . . .
"From 1842 Darwin lived at Down House, Downe. In 1839 he had married his cousin Emma Wedgwood, and when not devoting himself to scientific studies, he led a life of a country gentleman. In the 1840s Darwin worked on his observations of the origin of species for his own use. He began to conclude, although he was deeply anxious about the direction his mid was taking, that species might share a common ancestor. When Alfred Russel Wallace, a naturalist living in the East Indies, sent in 1858 to Darwin his study containing the main ideas of the theory of natural selection, Darwin arranged his notes, which were presented to the Linnean Society, on July 1st, 1858. They were read simultaneously with Wallace's paper, but neither Darwin or Wallace was present on that occasion."
. . . .

Click over to read the rest. I found the page while researching Primulas and this page came up because Darwin wrote about primroses in his work, "The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species". That link is http://www.darwin-literature.com/The_Different_Forms_Of_Flowers_On_Plants_Of_The_Same_Species/index.html

A British resource for Darwin material is at http://darwin-online.org.uk/.
There is also a Darwin Online Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Darwin-Online/143922578989763


15 December 2012

World's Largest Collection of Opuntia (Cactaceae), prickly pear cacti

Prickly pear cactus
Flowering Opuntia fragilis, or prickly pear cactus, in the collection of WIU Department of Biological Sciences Professor Eric Ribbens.
The world's largest  collection of Optunia fragisis is in Illinois, USA!
I'm re-posting excerpts and you can read the entire fascinating article at  Outcome Magazine

 " Last June, as Eric Ribbens and I perused his collection of his Opuntia fragilis — probably the largest collection of its kind on the planet — located near the Western Illinois University School of Agriculture’s Farm in Macomb, the Department of Biological Sciences Professor and Fulbright Scholar told me about the unusual sex life of this rare and endangered prickly pear cactus.

“If you’re going to go through the work of having sex, the goal is to maximize the genetic recombination. Yet, in plants, it’s possible for pollen to move to the same plant. But for the Opuntia fragilis, these plants have some sort of a chemical recognition cue, and if they sense the pollen is from themselves, they shut it off and they won’t let it fertilize the egg. We don’t know exactly what is going on, but it turns out, in Illinois, at least — and I suspect throughout the rest of the Midwest, although we haven’t studied it yet — it doesn’t really matter if we take pollen from your flower or we take pollen from a flower nearby or pollen from a flower from a quarter-mile away, they all get shut off. So, somehow, the plant’s mechanism is saying, ‘All of this pollen is from me.’ Or that pollen is a mechanism that’s broken and not working right. We don’t really know what is going on.”

Based on his extensive research of the Opuntia fragilis species, Ribbens has provided strong evidence this species, in the Midwest at least, has forgotten how to have sex. It still tries now and then, though, he added with a smile.

“About 10 years ago, I applied for and received a grant from the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board to study Opuntia fragilis at the Lost Mounds site, a decommissioned munitions depot with a large Opuntia fragilis population covering about 100 acres,” Ribbens explained. “The grant provided funding for a graduate student research assistantship to investigate the population status and fungal infections. So, my grad student, Barbara Anderson, and I designed a project to determine turnover in pad production and to study flowering in this species of prickly pear cactus.

Considering its aversion to reproduction, one wonders how the Opuntia fragilis — which is sometimes referred to as the “brittle” variety — continues on? Ribbens asserts the fragility of its pads — hence, part of its eponymous scientific name, fragilis, and common name, “brittle” prickly pear—provides its survival mechanism.

The Making of a Midwestern Cactus Mission

For many, the thought of cactus plants can conjure desert scenes in drier, arid landscapes. But the Opuntia fragilis, which Ribbens began studying by accident, likes a chillier climate.

“This particular species grows on rocky outcrops, and it likes it when it’s cold. It is a small, northern species of cactus, growing almost as far north as the Arctic Circle. Although it is widely distributed across North America, in the upper Midwest it is rarer, and in Michigan it is a state endangered species,” he noted. “I got started studying Opuntia fragilis at my first teaching position at St. John’s University in Stearns County Minnesota. An undergrad student there found them growing. He thought it was a new discovery, but it turned out that a lot of people had known about it already. Still, it caught my attention.” According to Ribbens, at the time, he was looking for a plant species to try to study a particularly difficult problem in spatial plant ecology.

In spite of that, Ribbens continued his pursuit of the prickly pear.

“One of the fun things about it is it’s rare and endangered enough that people are somewhat interested in it, and there is a little bit of grant money out there for research possibilities. But it’s common enough that it’s not like I’m going to accidentally wipe it out,” he explained. “After I received tenure at WIU, I applied for a sabbatical, and for that, I proposed to attempt to locate every population of Opuntia fragilis in five Midwestern states. I searched herbarium records, contacted state natural resource departments or agencies, talked to cactus enthusiasts around these states and built a list of sites where we knew Opuntia fragilis had, at one point, grown. Some of those sites were gone and others certainly still existed, but for many, the status was uncertain.”

Ribbens said during two summer seasons he and crews of WIU students traveled around the Midwest searching for Opuntia fragilis sites. He said they were able to investigate all but four sites they had pinpointed.

Ribbens’ research and interest in Opuntia fragilis also garnered international interest, when, several years ago, he was contacted by the editor of a Polish cactus journal, Kaktusy.

Ribbens’ large prickly pear cactus collection near the WIU School of Ag’s University Farm indeed illustrates his dedication to learning about the plant. He not only has Opuntia fragilis specimens from all the sites he traveled to and investigated — as well as specimens from South Dakota, North Dakota, Colorado, Oregon and from Canada — he has also collected specimens of two larger species of prickly pears that grow in the Midwest.

Patterns and Pollination Plans

Over the next few years, Ribbens has specific plans to continue his prickly pear cactus research and collaborative relationships. In 2009, he traveled to Utah with a WIU undergraduate student Bill Schmidt (senior, biology, Mokena, IL) and met with cactus enthusiasts there, who showed him populations of Opuntia fragilis around the state, and in particular, locations where it seemed to be hybridizing with several other species of Opuntia fragilis.

“This was partially funded by a grant from the Cactus and Succulent Society of America. I have data, photographs and live specimens from that trip, and I am working on an analysis that I hope to publish,” he said.

Ribbens said this year has been an exciting one for his Opuntia fragilis plants, as it is the first one during which they produced flowers. Next year, he plans to try some pollination experiments among different populations to further explore what might be preventing Midwestern plants from producing seed. He also would like to locate five or six additional possible sites in Iowa for the bigger species and write, with Majure, an analysis of the Iowa-growing Opuntia humifusa and Opuntia macrorhiza.

While Ribbens admits he doesn’t necessarily enjoy providing the answer to the inevitable question about the subject of his work — “Just what are the Opuntia fragilis good for?” — he remains undaunted in his pursuit of knowledge about this rare plant.

Read the entire article at the link above.

13 December 2012

Holiday Plants that Pose Dangers to Children and Pets

Decorating for the holiday season often includes both live and artificial plants such as evergreen boughs, wreaths, Christmas trees, and holly.

Fresh greenery adds cheer and beauty but it is important to keep most live plants out of the mouths of children and pets.

Chewing leaves and berries can cause stomach upset or worse. Keep your family and friends safe throughout the season by knowing the name of each plant you bring into the house and whether it is toxic. For example, Christmas cactus and African violets are completely safe.

Heavenly Bamboo berries
Most plants with berries pose a danger, whether they are fresh or artificial. Berries from live greens are mostly toxic to children and small pets and plastic berries pose a choking hazard. Both live and plastic berries tend to fall onto the floor so they should be picked up at least once a day.

If you have to call poison control, you will need to know the name of the plant the child ate so keep the information handy as plants are brought in.

Everything on Amaryllis and paperwhite daffodils/narcissus is toxic when eaten. Pets can pull pots over and snack on the bulbs, leading to significant stomach problems.

The red berries of Brazilian Pepper make it a beautiful addition to holiday décor. Contact with everything from its shiny green leaves to its berries can cause rashes and breathing problems.

Holly has spines on its leaves so children and pets usually avoid it. The berries are so toxic to humans that it takes eating only 2 berries can cause illness and eating only 20 to cause death. The bark, seeds and leaves are also toxic.

The fruit of Jerusalem cherry looks like a cherry tomato. Sadly they are poisonous to dogs, cats and birds. The entire plant is poisonous to humans and children are especially vulnerable.

Accidentally eating any part of Mistletoe can cause nausea and worse. It is a good idea to put Mistletoe into a pretty bag before it is hung. That way if any part of it starts to fall, it will not hit the floor.

Poinsettias are not really the poisonous problem we have been led to believe. Eating the bracts will cause nausea, and contact with the sap can cause a rash in people sensitive to Euphorbias, but they are generally safe.

Beautifully flowering Cyclamen is poisonous to pets. Snacking on the tubers can cause convulsions and paralysis in small animals.

Caladiums are poisonous houseplants with pink, cream and green leaves and flowers. They are mildly toxic to children and pets.

Aloe Vera plants are grown inside the house to use for healing skin wounds but the sap can cause stomach upset if eaten.

Calla lilies (Prayer Plant) are often given as gifts during the holidays. The leaves, flowers and roots are poisonous if eaten. The symptoms include severe burning and swelling of lips and throat.

The berries of Heavenly Bamboo are especially toxic to cats so if you bring them in to use as decoration or in vases, just be sure to pick up the fallen ones daily.

A well-researched list of common poisonous plants is at the NC State University Extension site - http://bit.ly/Vt1u0h

It is a good idea to keep the Poison Control phone number handy 1-800-222-1222. When you call, be ready with the name of the plant, the part consumed (leaf or berry), how much was eaten, and the person’s age, weight and physical condition.

The ASPCA has an illustrated list of 445-pet-toxic plants at http://bit.ly/i3ibYD.

Safe, non-toxic plants you may have around the house include: African violet, Begonia, Christmas cactus, Coleus, Dracaena, Impatiens, Jade, Marigold, Petunia, Rose, Spider Plant, Swedish Ivy, and Wandering Jew.

11 December 2012

The Layered Garden by David Culp

David Culp's website http://www.davidlculp.com
explains that "The Layered Garden: Design Lessons fo Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage" is about his 2-acre PA garden called Brandywine Cottage.

A layered garden is one in which interplanting many species of plants in the same bed makes for continuous beauty. At least that's the plan.

The chapters are: The Layered Garden, The Garden at Brandywine Cottage, Signature Plants Through the Seasons and What is Beauty?

It is a book to sit down and read as well as to enjoy the pages and pages of professional photography.

His gardens are full, lush, and abundant. Culp is the Vice President of of Sales and Marketing at Sunny Border Nurseries in CT and trials as many new plants as his beds can hold. (You can read a few of his plant recommendations at

Every bed has an artistic touch and it is obvious that a lot of design, hard work and hours of labor have gone into the gardens over the 22 years he has lived at Brandywine Cottage.

Culp is a prolific, award-winning, writer and Hellebore breeder. Here's an article he wrote in 2010 for the Hardy Plant Society - http://www.hardyplant.org/articles/david%20culp%20brandywine.pdf.

This is a terrific book that will make you wish you could live there or at least have a few of those dozens of beds at your home!

The list price is $35 but it's on sale from the publisher this week and available from online vendors for $25. Go to www.timberpress.com for the sale.

10 December 2012

Grasslands Breathe CO2 Reducing Greenhouse Gasses by 5%

Environmental News Network http://www.enn.com/ecosystems/article/45308
reports that plants help humans breathe and the earth heal from human actions.

"Plants "breathe in" CO2 and create biological mass. This is a form of sequestration.

 Forests, grasslands and shrublands and other ecosystems in the West sequester nearly 100 million tons of carbon each year, according to a Department of the Interior recent report.

Grasslands occur naturally on all continents except Antarctica. In temperate latitudes, such as northwestern Europe and the Great Plains and California in North America, native grasslands are dominated by perennial bunch grass species, whereas in warmer climates annual species form a greater component of the vegetation.

Carbon that is absorbed through natural processes reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The 100 million tons sequestered in western ecosystems is an amount equivalent to — and counterbalances the emissions of — more than 83 million passenger cars a year in the United States, or nearly 5 percent of EPA’s 2010 estimate of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions."

Other major findings of the report included:

"Wild land fires generated significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions in the West, with such emissions equivalent to 13 percent of the estimated rate of the recent annual carbon sequestration by terrestrial ecosystems in the West.

Water bodies in the western United States emitted even more CO2 than fires. Emissions from water bodies are equivalent to more than 30 percent of the recent annual carbon sequestration rate of terrestrial ecosystems in the West."

Click over to the ENN link above to read their report or to USGS to read the entire 192-page "Baseline and Projected Future Carbon Storage and Greenhouse-Gas Fluxes in Ecosystems of the Western United States" at http://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/1797/pdf/PP1797_WholeDocument.pdf.

09 December 2012

From the least of us ... Protect Monarch butterflies

Benjamin Vogt at The Deep Middle (http://deepmiddle.blogspot.com) wrote about Molly Ginty's piece called "The Fall of the Monarchs". http://inthesetimes.com/article/14215/fall_of_the_monarchs#.UL9fqMupMBI.facebook

Ginty writes, " Scientists say that the downfall has been caused in small part by environmental factors, but mostly by two types of human meddling: the use of herbicides that are killing off milkweed plants in the United States, and the illegal logging of the pine and fir trees on which the monarchs make their homes for five months of the winter in central Mexico."

(By the way, not all scientists agree about Mexican logging being a contributing factor.)

But this is interesting, "Monarch butterflies warn of what might lie ahead for other wild creatures affected by overfarming and deforestation,” says Chip Taylor, professor of insect ecology at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, who founded Monarch Watch in 1992.
“It’s clear that this year’s total population is down, and that the overwintering group that just arrived in Mexico is among the lowest ever recorded.”

Vogt, "Says a lot we already know, but has new tidbits, too. Besides, can't harp on this enough. Reminds of the Bible quote that goes something like "what you do the least of these you do to me."
The devastating reduction started 15 years ago—very recently in the monarch’s long history. An estimated 250,000 years old, this species predates modern humans by 50,000 years....

In March, a University of Minnesota study linked 10 years of monarch decline to glyphosate, the most popular herbicide in the United States, used in brands such as Monsanto’s Roundup. An estimated 84,000 tons of glyphosate are applied annually to soybeans, corn and other U.S. commercial crops. On top of this comes 3,600 tons used in the home and garden sectors, and 6,800 tons used by private businesses and government agencies.

Though glyphosate may be a boon to farmers and landscapers, it is killing milkweed—normally among the hardiest and most stubborn of plants—in record numbers."
Do you have a Monarch waystation in your town, neighborhood or garden?
Three years ago we had dozens and dozens of Monarch caterpillars and births.
This year only a few.
Part of it I attribute to the second year of drought - they avoid our unusual heat and dry weather when it hits.
But the part about only half the number arriving in Mexico this year is indeed cause for alarm among butterfly hobbyists, scientists and environmentalists.
Please plant milkweed.

08 December 2012

Videos of Landscape Giants Darrel Morrison and Fletcher Steele

The Library of American Landscape History made two videos available online at

"Fletcher Steele and Naumkeag: A Playground of the Imagination"

Between 1926 and 1955, landscape architect Fletcher Steele and his client Mabel Choate created many new gardens for Naumkeag, the Choate family summer estate in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The new designs respected the layout of earlier gardens created c. 1885 by Nathan Barrett for the original Stanford White “cottage.”

A vibrant relationship developed between Steele and Choate, whose work began with Naumkeag’s Afternoon Garden and soon progressed to other features in the landscape: the South Lawn, Chinese Temple Garden, Blue Steps, and Rose Garden. Each of these designs reflected the tempo of its time and also connected visitors to the beauty of the Berkshire Mountains, visible from any part of the landscape. It is a magical site, truly a playground of the imagination.

This film was made possible by a generous gift from the Viburnum Trilobum Fund of the New York Community Trust, advised by Nancy R. Turner. All films in the series are created in association with Hott Productions of Florentine Films.

You can read more about Fletcher Steele’s design for Naumkeag in these LALH books: Fletcher Steele, Landscape Architect, A Genius for Place, and Design in the Little Garden.

ALSO at the same link you'll find an 11-minute video

"Designing in the Prairie Spirit" http://lalh.org/films/designing-in-the-prairie-spirit/

Designing in the Prairie Spirit features internationally renowned landscape architect Darrel Morrison, who reflects on his childhood in Iowa and the impact of Jens Jensen, Aldo Leopold, and others on his career.

Use the links to click over and enjoy!

06 December 2012

Azaleas have an Encore

Growing Azaleas is a tradition in the deep-south but can be challenging for gardeners farther north.

Many azaleas available are descended from Asian shrubs originally cultivated by Buddhist monks. Their plant family includes heath, rhododendrons, blueberries and pieris.

Introduced in Holland in 1680 as Indian azaleas, the original hybrids were greenhouse plants in Europe, and were first planted in Charleston SC in 1848. In addition, there are twenty-six Azalea species that are native to North America.

Azaleas are divided into two categories: Evergreen and deciduous (the ones that lose their leaves in the winter). 

Deciduous Azaleas are North American natives and their hybrids. Their leaves can be as large as 6-inches and the flowers range from white to purple, pink, red, orange and yellow.

Evergreen Azaleas are from Asia. Their leaves are as small as ¼ inch and the flower colors include white, purple, pink, red, and red-orange but not yellow. The flowers can be single colors and bi-colors, sectors, stripes and flecks.

The Azalea Society of America (www.azaleas.org) provides growing tips, plant sources, soil and moisture requirements, how to protect from extreme cold, heat damage, etc.

 Encore Azaleas are a hybrid that blooms in spring, late summer and fall, though with fewer flowers at a time than older, native, varieties have in a single burst in the spring. For several years, they have been sold as cold hardy in USDA zones 7 to 9 but cold hardiness tests have shown that over 20 varieties are cold hardy to zone 6.

A nursery grower, Robert E. Buddy Lee, crossed spring-blooming Azaleas with Taiwanese Rhododendron oldhamii and created Encore Azaleas that are evergreen in the south. His goal was to make an Azalea hybrid that would boom in the spring and fall in LA. The original group of six hybrids released in 1998 had pink, orange and lavenders flowers on compact as well as tall plants.

Lee’s growing advice includes: Raised beds for good drainage, moist, acidic soil amended with pine bark and mulch with pine straw. Plant the root ball 2-inches above soil grade and surround the exposed area with pine bark mulch.

 Encore Azaleas (www.encoreazaea.com) need 4 to 6 hours of full, morning, sun, followed by shade or filtered light after 2 pm.

Azaleas’ fall flowers are formed on growth that occurs after spring bloom. If the plants are watered and planting conditions are right, the new growth will produce a full fall bloom.

Here are some to consider for a morning-sun location in your garden next spring –
-          Autumn Angel has white flowers in spring and fall and glossy dark green leaves. The plants mature at 3 feet tall.

-          Autumn Belle grows to 5 feet tall and 4 feet tall wide. The flowers are double pink with magenta freckles in the center.

-          Autumn Carnation grows 3 feet tall. Its bright pink flowers are most abundant in late summer.

-          Autumn Coral matures at 2.5 feet tall. The spring and fall flowers are coral pink with a bit of fuscia in the center.

-          Autumn Embers grows to 3 feet tall with deep orange-red flowers in spring and fall.

-          Autumn Rouge is the original Encore Azalea hybridized by Lee. It grows 4 feet tall and wide with 2-inch wide semi-double pink flowers in spring and fall.

-          Autumn Royalty was the American Rhododendron Society Azalea of the Year. The plant will grow to 4.5 feet tall and wide with large purple flowers.

-          Autumn Twist is a popular purple and white striped flowering shrub. It grows 4.5 feet tall and wide. Can be grown in a container.

04 December 2012

Plan to Plant Your Live Christmas Tree

Here are some sensible ideas for planning ahead for planting your live Christmas tree -

" If you plan to have a live Christmas tree, dig the planting hole before the ground freezes.

Mulch and cover the backfill soil and the planting hole to keep them dry and unfrozen.

When you get the tree, store it outdoors in a cool, shady, windless area until the last minute and mulch the roots to prevent cold injury.
Don't allow the tree's roots to become dry and spray the needles with an anti-transpirant to reduce moisture loss. 

Set the tree up in your coolest room.

Don't keep the tree indoors for more than one week and plant outdoors promptly."

Gardening Calendar supplied by the staff of the William T. Kemper Center for Home Gardening located at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, Missouri. (www.GardeningHelp.org)

Printed in the MU IPM Newsletter today at

02 December 2012

Dec 2nd - Daffodils blooming

Narcissus papyraceus Ziva Paperwhite narcissus, Daffodil
When you read instructions for "forcing" daffodils in the house for end-of-the-year bloom indoors, writers always say to throw the bulbs out after they bloom.

I can't throw out bulbs. They are planted in the vast outdoors where they either come back the next spring or they do not - but I have to at least give them a fighting chance.

This year, on Dec 2nd, it is 80 degrees and sunny here in NE Oklahoma, zone 7 and last year's Paperwhites are up and blooming their little hearts out.

Other places in the back yard, the birds have been working over the seeds and berries.
Barberry Hawthorn, Crataegus berberifolia
A few weeks ago the Hawthorn trees were loaded with ripe red berries and now there are very few left. I know I'm supposed to cook with them but we put them in for the songbirds and they are free to eat their fill.

The lavender shrubs suffer in mid-summer but thrive at this time of year. They crawl and sprawl over a 4 by 4 foot area at the end of a planting bed where they enjoy being on a dry slope and protected from the worst of our summertime sun.

Photinia fraseri

The Photinia shrubs are about 30 feet tall and covered with these bright red berries. Thrushes, waxwings and starlings eat the seeds.

Our pear trees were so good to us this year, providing fruit for at least 7 families. Most of the leaves are gone and next year's buds are already forming.

01 December 2012

Beauty of Artificial Flowers

These are art museum quality artificial flowers we saw at botanical houses last year. In both situations, they were used to highlight water features.

The faux poppy and
faux water lily were both used
to good effect.

29 November 2012

Less Fall and Winter Cleanup is Better - to a point

The sunny days of late fall and early winter have homeowners and gardeners outside, armed with clippers and rakes, cleaning out planting beds, dumping flower pots and burning leaves.

These are time honored traditions that are being challenged because being a little less tidy helps wildlife and the environment. It is time to put down the tools and reconsider fall-winter cleanup.

Gardeners have always been advised that allowing leaves and fall plants to stay in the garden untouched will attract harmful insects, rodents and diseases. In some cases that is true but the other side of the story is that leaves, clippings and standing flower stalks help birds and beneficial insects make it through the cold months.

The same leaves, stems and twigs that we used to bag and dispose of can be transformed into habitat and soil amendment. Leaves can even stay on the lawn as winter mulch if they are first chopped with a lawn mower. Lawns that are mulched with chopped leaves and clippings need much less fertilizer and water to maintain them.

Pull all the weeds in the garden so they do not drop more seeds for rapid spring growth. If you plan to expand a growing area, put 10 sheets of newsprint down on the new garden space and pile it with those weeds and clippings.

Tomato and pepper plants should be removed completely. If they were healthy before the killing frost, put them into the compost. If they had blight or an insect infestation, put them in the trash so the problems do not get recycled back onto the garden in the spring.

Iris corms have to be cleaned off so they can absorb sun over the winter and bloom next spring. In general, fall planted bulbs benefit from chopped leaf mulch but early bulbs such as crocus and snowdrops are better off without mulch. I have noticed that whole leaves left on daffodil bulbs are like a wet washcloth on the bulb growth when it tries to emerge early spring. Under the winter-wet leaves the daffodil greenery is pale and yellow. 

Also keep mulch of any kind at least 6-inches away from tree trunks. Chewing insects, mice and voles enjoy living where they eat.

Vegetables to leave in the garden over the winter months include: Arugula, kale, chard, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, radishes, broad beans and other cool weather crops.  Wire worms and slugs are actually reduced by their presence but, do remove any plants that had significant numbers of flea beetles, or diseases like black spot, rust or powdery mildew.

Plants that need dry soil should be cleared of leaves and debris, such as sedums, creeping thyme, Artemisia, lavender and Lamb’s ears.

Prune any diseased, damaged or dead stems but healthy stems will sprout new growth where they are pruned, creating a potential problem. Wait to prune until the dead of winter.

Flower heads, seed pods, stalks and other untidy looking parts of the winter garden are food and shelter to lady beetles, butterflies, spiders and other beneficial insects. You can watch the birds over the winter as they scratch under leaf piles to find seeds and bugs to keep them going.

Doug Tallamy, author of “Bringing Nature Home” said, “96% of our birds raise their young on insects. No insects, no baby birds. No baby birds, no big birds.”

A small brush pile with leaves and flower stalks will help lizards, bees, frogs, toads, rabbits, and box turtles make it through the ice and snow. Any additional leaves and small twigs can be piled in an out of the way corner to make mulch for next summer.

22 November 2012

Thanksgiving Then and Now - It's about Being Grateful

  After the pilgrims arrived on Plymouth Rock in 1620, a drought year was followed by a good harvest. Guests were invited to share a meal where they could thank God for the squash, beans and corn that the Wampanoag Indians taught them to grow.

Chief Squanto spoke English so his help had saved the Pilgrims from starvation. The tribe also taught them plant-based medicine and how to identify poisonous plants.

On the day, General William Bradford’s men hunted wild duck and the Wampanoags brought deer. Without electricity or running water, four women cooked dinner for 150 guests at the three-day feast.

It is likely that the meal was spit-roasted meat, boiled fowl, lobster, fish, cornbread, sweetened stewed fruit and water. Bradford’s records include corn meal bread, fish, chestnuts, hickory nuts, onions, squash, beans, honey and maple syrup.

Since the Pilgrims came from England and Europe, Thanksgiving was partly based on English and European Harvest Home holidays. Ancient Romans celebrated Ceres in October, Greeks honored Demeter, goddess of the harvest, the Chinese festival is around August 15 and Jewish communities celebrate Sukkoth fall harvest festival.

After the Civil War battle of Gettysburg, in 1863, the editor of Godey’s Ladies Book convinced President Lincoln to declare a national day of Thanksgiving to establish a common tradition in a divided country.

Thanksgiving was declared an American holiday in 1941 and after WWII the poultry industry’s marketing teams turned turkey into a symbol of America’s abundance. Turkey is such a consistent symbol that the day is commonly referred to as Turkey Day and vegetarians eat a non-meat meal of Tofurkey, turkey flavored tofu.

The symbols of Thanksgiving focus on spending time with community, family and friends, and being grateful. Today, many families add other Thanksgiving traditions such as football, skiing, church attendance, a walk in the woods, a movie or Christmas shopping.

  Decorations for Thanksgiving include fall leaves, berries, gourds, pumpkins and cornstalks. Early European-Americans decorated with wicker scarecrows filled with fall harvested fruits. Corn husk dolls were used to represent the Harvest Spirit in Celtic Lughnasadh.

Colorful corn has been a popular decoration across cultures. Native Americans revered the Corn God that taught them to grow the crop and the tradition was passed on at the first Thanksgiving.

Cranberries, harvested in the fall, were originally called crane berries for the pink blossoms and drooping stalks. Pumpkins and squash were originally stewed over the fire with maple syrup. Today winter squash and pumpkins are used as ravioli filling, soup base and for pastries. Gluten-free stuffing made with quinoa, cranberries and vegetables is on the table with bread stuffing and wild rice.

Cornucopias overflowing with fruit, nuts, flowers, ribbons, and decorations date from 400 B.C. The word cornucopia means horn of plenty from two Latin words cornu (horn) and copia (plenty). Now they are made with crescent roll dough.

Thanksgiving is an opportunity to gather with friends, family and community, whether we are returning to a former home or developing deeper roots in our current home. Immigrants to America incorporate their traditional crops and decorations into the holiday, bringing a feeling of home to their new environment. 

On America’s east, west and southern coasts, seafood is served; in Alaska whale meat is the traditional meat centerpiece; and Irish immigrants serve beef.

Side dishes are regional, too: in Baltimore it’s sauerkraut, in the south greens, Italian-Americans serve lasagna, Mexican-Americans add mole, Ashkenazi Jews serve noodle kugel and in LA oyster pie is traditional. Vegetarians serve their stuffing in a baked squash, the Chinese serve moon cakes.

Whatever your traditions were in the past and however you spend the day, the heart of Thanksgiving is to be grateful.