28 February 2015

Bill Welch Tulsa Mar 7 and Oklahoma City March 8

Free and open to the public -
The Oklahoma Horticultural Society annual winter speaker will be Dr. Bill Welch. Dr. Welch is presently Professor and Landscape Horticulturist for Texas A&M University. 

He is a native of Houston, Texas, has an undergraduate degree in Landscape Architecture from LSU and did doctoral work in Horticulture and Extension Education there as well. 

Dr. Welch writes about gardening in Texas and the South and has several books that have been popular references including Perennial Garden Color, Antique Roses for the South, The Bountiful Flower Garden (with Neil Odenwald), Heirloom Gardening in the South (with Greg Grant) and The Bulb Hunter (with Chris Wiesinger). 

Welch writes a monthly garden column for Southern Living Magazine and Neil Sperry's Gardens and has had his gardens in Louisiana and Texas featured. Welch has been instrumental in the movement to collect and reintroduce old southern garden favorites into the modern plant palette. Roses have been a special interest, and he help found The Antique Rose Emporium near Brenham, Texas.


Saturday night, March 7th, Dr. Welch will present "The Southern Heirloom Garden" at the Tulsa Garden Center, 2435 South Peoria,6:30 p.m.

On Sunday, March 8th he will speak on "Time Tested Plants and Design Ideas for Oklahoma Gardens" at the Will Rogers Park Garden Exhibition Center in Oklahoma City. The program will be from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. The address is 3400 N.W. 36th Street in Oklahoma City.

Attendance is free and copies of all his books will be available for purchase and signing. The sales of his book Heirloom Gardening in the South (with Greg Grant) will benefit The Oklahoma Horticultural Society.

For more info, contact Joe Howell at 918.592.1270 or Allan Storjohann at 405-823-2792.

26 February 2015

Beneficial Insects manage garden pests

Julia Laughlin
Individuals making the gradual move toward organic gardening practices can look to Cuba for encouragement. The trade embargo and financial crisis led Cuba to convert to organic gardening beginning in 1989 since there was little money for fossil fuels or agricultural chemicals.

Cuba’s food crisis led to restructuring its food growing practices. Large monocultures were converted to small, local, organic farms that used lower cost organic inputs.

By 1994, 8,000 farms were being grown in Havana where front lawns, building lots, school and office gardens were converted to organic food production. By 1998 those plots grew over half a million tons of fresh, chemical-free, food for local residents.

Practices they use to keep crops healthy and productive include inter-planting food crops with plants that attract beneficial insects, growing compost worms for the worm casting fertilizer they contribute, and leaving crop compost on the soil after clearing.

According to Oklahoma State University professor emeritus, Julia Laughlin, most of the insects we do battle with here have zero impact on humans. In fact, only 15% of insects affect us at all. Of those, 12% are beneficial and only 3% can be considered pests.

Water and pollen providing plants
Laughlin said that on her organic farm, Belle Verde Gardens in Choctaw, OK, they watch for beneficial insects and encourage them by planting more of what they like, providing water sources and shelter.

Plus, she said, gardeners should learn which insects cause most of the problems (the 80/20 rule applies) and find out what natural strategies will keep them away from vulnerable plants.

Important to remember is that most insects are host specific. Grasshoppers and powdery mildew are not particular but many other bugs and diseases need certain plants or conditions in order to thrive.

Laughlin thinks the worst pests in her organic growing business are caused by the aphid/ant mutualism. Here are the steps she recommended to prevent and combat aphid problems.

Use crop rotation, plant disease resistant varieties, practice garden sanitation, cover plants with row covers and other insect barriers, vacuum insect families off of plants, stop tilling, start mulching, time the crop correctly to have strong plants, never use overhead irrigation, diversify the crops you plant, use trap cropping and companion planting, recognize and encourage beneficial insects.

For disease control, Laughlin said gardeners need to understand the disease triangle: a) host, b) pest, and, c) environment. All three are necessary for diseases to run rampant through your garden beds.

Gardeners can help themselves by being able to identify these beneficial insects: Praying mantids, ladybird beetle (adults, eggs and larvae), spined soldier bug, black and yellow garden spider, crab spider, damsel bug, assassin bug, wheel bug, big eye bug, syrphid fly and larvae, minute pirate bugs and green lacewing larvae.

Ground beetle larvae live in the soil and eat slugs, cutworms and root maggots.

The beneficial predators include: Tachinid fly, Brachonid and trichorammatid wasps.

Lady beetle larvae and adults eat aphids, scale, thrips, mealybugs and mites. Most gardeners cannot recognize the lady beetle caterpillars since they barely resemble the familiar beetles’ adult stage. Green lacewing adults eat flower nectar but when their young are in the caterpillar stage they are aphid predators.

We can also plant an insectary strip to increase the population of good bugs. Include in that planting:  Anise hyssop and zinnias to attract pollinators plus alyssum and carrot-plant family members such as Queen Anne’s lace, fennel and cilantro to attract parasitic wasps.

Other plants that attract beneficial insects: Yarrow, all clovers, vetch, sunflowers, cosmos, all milkweeds, calendula, basil, Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), asters, catnip, comfrey, coneflowers, evening primrose, mint, and ironweed.

Disease resistant plant varieties are on the OSU Fact Sheets page at http://pods.dasnr.okstate.edu.

Laughlin’s radio show, “The Garden Party” is Sat 11:00 on KTOK-1000




Free online book, “Pocket Guide to the Beneficial Insects of New Mexico” at http://hort.li/1EfL

“Good Garden Bugs: Everything You Need to Know about Beneficial Predatory Insects
by Mary M. Gardiner, published 2015 Quarry Books.



21 February 2015

Balloon Milkweed was Asclepias physocarpus now Gomphocarpus physocarpus

Monarch butterflies are endangered due to applications of round up and similar products, the clearing of land in Oklahoma and extensive tree removal in Mexico.

Family Jewels pod
We are all being asked to help by planting milkweed. Any variety will do as long as it is planted in swaths large enough to feed caterpillars. The plants don't have to bloom as long as you have water/mud and other nectar providing flowers available for the adults to eat and drink.

Balloon Milkweed inside the pod
In our yard-garden I've seen the adults nectaring on many different flowers but they do seem to love the weedy, native flowering plants more than the tidy ones.

Of all this plant's names, I think I like Family Jewels the best since in addition to the appearance of the pods (ahem), I imagine that the plants will be jewels in our garden, feeding lots and lots of caterpillars this summer.

Swan plant seeds

We usually plant tropical milkweed, Asclepias Tuberosa, as it's the variety I've seen the most caterpillars on. In our garden shed there are flats of seedlings plus a few planted seed trays that will hopefully sprout even more plants.

Today I planted the seeds of a milkweed that is new to me, Balloon Milkweed which is a South African native (zones 8-10). It used to be known as Asclepias physocarpus but now has been reclassified as Gomphocarpus physocarpus.

Whatever its name, Monarch caterpillars eat it and it is a viable choice for our gardens. In fact, according to joyfulbutterfly.com, Gomphocarpus physocarpus is more robust and relisient to the caterpillars chomping than other possible choices.

Our plant friend, Jerry Gustafson sent the four pods that I broke open today to plant. They are to be surface planted with just a bit of vermiculite on top so the seeds get light but are anchored into place by something. We were out of vermiculite so I dribbled Stall Dry on top.
Gomphocarpus physocarpus pods

These are tropicals. Germinate best at 69-75 and can take as much as 30-days to pop up. Argh that's a long time for me to wait to see if I'll get any. Oh, well.

If we get a few, I'm promised that they grow 4 to 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide. Perfect for one of the sunny beds in the back of our 2.75 acre lot.

18 February 2015

Desert Bluebells - Phacelia campanularia

My friend, Ronn Smith sent some seeds from his planting of Phacelia campanularia last summer. This winter I planted them in the garden shed. Today, here's how the seedlings looked - tiny!
Smith lives in Phoenix and these beauties are drought tolerant and perennial in zones 7 through 10.

It is a California desert native, can grow in  sunny, tight spaces, and enjoys taking the spotlight at the front border of a flower bed in the spring. When selecting the right place for them, remember that they thrive on the dry slopes in their native Southern CA.

The entire plant is under a foot tall but has bright blue flowers with yellow stamens for a month.

Photo: Ronn Smith
They want gritty soil that drains well. Although they are annual plants they can reappear from seeds dropped after the first frost.

They are part of the Boraginaceae family and if you love Borage but can't grow it, this is your plant. I love Borage but it is too hot and humid here in zone 7 NE OK. It blooms and then dies within a few weeks.

The flowers attract bees and butterflies so plant them where it's OK to have buzzing. At Sarah Raven's wonderful site, she says it was the number on favorite plant of Vita Sackville-West.

15 February 2015

American Bluehearts are hemi-parasitic Buchnera americana


American bluehearts are native to about half of the US, from TX, OK and KS east to NY and FL, usually along wet places and in limestone and sand as well as open woods.

It is important to know what they look like so we don't inadvertently speed up their extinction. They are considered threatened and endangered now.

The distinction hemi-parasitic means they are able to grow independently without a host but grow best when attached by parasitic roots called haustoria. During droughts they tend to multiply their activity to the extent that they can actually damage small trees.

Bluehearts favorite hosts are white oak, eastern white pine, green ash and cottonwood. Buckeye butterfly caterpillars use American Bluehearts as a host plant.

Click over to this post on the Arkansas Native Plant Society to read more about these fascinating plants - by Eric Hunt.

12 February 2015

Sustainable practices for home gardeners

Andy Qualls speaking “Conservation, organic methods and cover crops in the home garden”
Muskogee Garden Club Feb 26, 9:30 to 11
Kiwanis Senior Center 119 Spaulding BL
Information – Susan Asquith 918-682-3688
The first slide of Andy Qualls’presentation at Muskogee Garden Club next week says that deficient soil can only produce deficient vegetation, deficient vegetation can only produce deficient nutrition and deficient nutrition will always produce deficient crops, livestock and wildlife.

“Healthy soil has sufficient nutrients to produce healthy plants and crops,” said Qualls. “It also has the necessary biological, chemical and microbiological balance and physical properties that allow the plants to have access to soil nutrition.”

Qualls is the technician and information coordinator for Muskogee County Conservation District. He works with land owners, growers and gardeners to help them convert from chemical-based growing methods that require a lot of supplemental water.

“A lot of these methods started years ago and in other parts of the world where there is less moisture,” Qualls said. “The concept of healthy soil has been around forever. What it comes down to is four keys: 1) Limit soil disturbance such as tilling; 2) Cover, shield or protect the soil from wind, rain, erosion, compression and heat; 3) Increase the diversity of soil organisms through gardening practices; and, 4) Keep live roots growing in the soil at all times.”

Although Qualls uses commercially available fertilizers and does not think we should all completely stop using them, his primary recommendations are compatible with organic gardening methods.

“Organic methods are rewarding because you are building the soil rather than just using it up,” Qualls said.

He pointed out that when gardeners use the put and take method of putting in seeds and taking out produce they lose the biodiversity needed for healthy ground. In the end all they are left with is grains of minerals that the wind can blow away.

The methods he recommes are not only sustainable and good for the earth, but will require less water, rarely require fertilizers, and will produce greater yields of whatever is planted.

“Grow a mulch-cover in your garden by planting peas, beans, vetch or rye,” said Qualls. “Do not pull it up by the roots but roll it down, leaving the roots in the ground. Then, plant through the mulch created by the knocked-over plant material.”

When asked about the use of fertilizers, Qualls said that following these practices will eliminate the need for them after a few years but that all gardeners should have a soil test done to see what is actually needed to bring their soil nutrients up to healthy levels.

“In particular, phosphorus is a water pollutant and is being removed from all fertilizers available to home gardeners,” said Qualls. “In my mind the simple answer to covering most garden situations is adding compost on an on-going basis. Compost is the number one answer to fertility problems.”

Most plant-root diseases are caused by soil that is too wet. Adding compost helps build air passages in the soil where earthworms and microbes live and where water is both retained and drained after the plant roots take what they need.

Qualls said, “A one-percent increase of organic material such as compost or cover crops residue is equal to the retention of 19,000 gallons of water per acre.”

Gardeners can easily make their own compost pile and create a high-quality compost to add to flowers, herbs, vegetables and trees. Purchased compost will never measure up to the quality of home-made according to Qualls.

“Not all insects and weeds are bad,” Qualls said. “Find a balance. A diversity of plant life brings diversity of animals and arthropods that benefit the garden.”

Arthropods include what we think of as bugs, insects, butterflies, moths, etc. There are 1,170,000 described species. They account for 80% of all known living animals. Learn which methods attract the good ones.
Download free copy of book
“Building Soils for Better Crops” at

08 February 2015

Iberis Sempervirens Snowflake is Candytuft

Candytuft seedlings are ready for transplant in the shed. Planted on Jan. 9th, it took them almost a month to grow the first set of true leaves.

This reliable perennial beauty prefers cool weather and fades in the heat of summer. Plant them where they can be in full sun in the spring and then partially shaded in the fall. When the foliage fades in the summer, it can be pruned back to keep the plants compact and more attractive.

We're putting an entire flat of them on the berm of the new bio-swale. Over there they will be in sun in the spring because the Osage Orange trees nearby leaf out very very late in the spring. Drainage is key to success so they will have a home in the gravel-sand mix that was dug out to make the swale.

Nurseries usually propagate by taking cuttings but we're big on trying everything from seed before we purchase anything. They are cold-hardy in zones 3-8. Rabbits, deer and drought don't bother the plants since they are woody-stemmed.

In Europe the Candytuft they plant is Iberis umbellata. They are great edging plants and will spill over walls as they mature to their full-size.

Surprisingly, Candytuft is related to cabbage, therefore the dislike of summer heat.

Iberis sempervirens spreads to 2-feet across and 8-12 inches tall.

The flower clusters bloom for a few weeks and are white as the name indicates.

The genus Iberis was named by Linnaeus for Spain's Iberian Peninsula where they were discovered. It translates to evergreen. The Iberis sempervirens varieties you'll find include Autumn Snow, Alexander's White, Purity and Snowflake.

Missouri Botanical Garden rates it as one of their "tried and trouble free".  The roots are significant after only a few weeks!

04 February 2015

Earliest Daffodil - Rijnveld's Early Sensation

Rijnveld's Early Sensation daffodil started blooming about a week ago and is still sending up shoots and flower buds. It is planted at the northern base of the roots of an Osage Orange Tree.

Rijnveld's Early Sensation is only 6 to 8 inches tall with the classic yellow trumpet shaped flower. Since they don't mind snow and freezing temperatures, they bloom with the Crocus bulbs, making a sweet late-winter display.

This variety does not multiply very rapidly, taking its sweet time to fill a space. If a clump stops blooming, mark the spot for dividing and transplanting at the end of the summer. I use strips of narrow Venetian blinds for markers. They stay in place pretty well for a season.

For the most part, we don't prune daffodil foliage but if you like to tidy the garden, wait until after the leaves and stems all turn yellow.

Unlike some Daffodils, Rijnveld's Early Sensation are inexpensive to start, and they are easy to find at online vendors.

They are cold hardy in zones 3 to 8. Get a few to plant this year. For cheering up winter, they can't be beat.

01 February 2015

Vegetable seed planting pods?

At Lowe's today, I saw these seed pods by the seedracks. 

All the Miracle Grow seed pods in the display are for plants that require heat to germinate and I wondered immediately how many Lowe's seed shoppers would know to put a heat pad under the pods in order to be successful with them.

There were tomatoes, basil, cilantro, eggplant and a few others. If the ones on display were the other possible choices from the Gro-ables line, it would have made more sense in late-January.

For example, the lettuce, snap peas, and others that like cooler temperatures would have been a better selection.

At any rate, it's an expensive way to plant seeds though could be an ideal for some - children, beginning gardeners, anyone with arthritis in their hands, or anyone who prefers to keep their hands as clean as possible while still planting from seed.