Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Indian Strawberry

Indian Wild Strawberry is a wild flower which has a bad reputation. I thought this invasive groundcover was poisonous, but around the world many eat not just the berry but the whole plant. The internet is full of information on the plant’s health and medicinal benefits. Duchesnea indica has many common names. Indian Strawberry, False Strawberry, Mock Strawberry, and She Mei are a few of its nicknames. In fact the plant is now placed in the Rose Family with the scientific name of Potentilla indica, (poh-ten-TIL-ah inn-DEE-kuh). The Rosoideae (Rose Family) has been subject to reorganization based on recent genetic analysis. It has been shown that both the wild strawberries (formerly Fragaria) and the Indian strawberries (formerly Duchesnea) are actually all part of the larger Potentilla within the Rose Family. This miniature plant looks like a common edible strawberry plant except for size and a yellow rather than white flower. This wildflower will grow anywhere from shade to full sun. The perennial herb is naturalized throughout the U.S. and found growing in shady and sunny places in woods and grassy slopes. The low, trailing vine has roots at the nodes. These matted roots send out runners to set new plants. The plant is invasive with quickly spreading runners and many seeded fruit. Since the plant is more or less evergreen in southern ranges; it provides a lovely groundcover for difficult areas. Leaves are alternate light green and trifoliate, each leaflet being serrate and ovate, entire plant is finely haired. The small, yellow flowers have 5 petals, first flowers bloom in April and blooms throughout the summer till fall. If the weather is mild; the plant will bloom all year. The fruit is small, about ½ inches round, with many seeds. The plant originated in Asia and Europe and is popular in India as a powerful medicinal herb. Harvest young edible leaves in spring and fruit as soon as it ripens. Gather entire plant in late summer, dry for later herb use. The fruit is 3.4% sugar, 1.5% protein and 1.6% ash. It has 6.3 mg of Vitamin C per 100 ml of juice. The fruit’s taste ranges from tart to tasteless to mild watermelon flavor. The fruit is used to cure skin diseases. The entire plant is edible and medicinal. The leaves can be included is a stew. The whole plant is used as an anticoagulant, antiseptic, depurative and febrifuge. An infusion of the flowers is used to activate the blood circulation.. Indian Strawberry is used extensively in China as a medicinal herb and is being studied for its ability to stop the HIV virus and some forms of cancer from spreading through the body. For years I’ve spent hours zoning away while I pull up this tiny wildflower. A habit I must break and instead direct my destroying energy to wire grass. For additional info: and Also

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Jerusalem Artichoke (Heliantus tuberosus)

This is a wildflower weed that I am always trying to eradicate from my yard. I break off the seed tops and dig up the roots to no avail. This monster is called a Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus). However, the plant is not related to the artichoke or Jerusalem, but is a species of sunflower. Classified in the sunflower family the plant is distinguished from other species of sunflowers by underground tubers. In August bright yellow flower heads are produced at ends of the stems. Each flower contains 8 to 20 outer yellow flowers or ray flowers that enclose the dark yellow to brown disk flowers. The first leaves are opposite and covered with short hairs. These large leaves range from 4 to 10 inches long and 1 ½ to 5 inches wide. Mature leaves are longer and taper to a point with the upper leaves alternate on the stem. All leaves have toothed margins. The Jerusalem artichoke is also called sunroot, sunchoke, earth apple or topinambour. The tuber is used as a root vegetable. This perennial may grow up to 10 feet tall and is found throughout the eastern half of the United States and along the Pacific coast. The wildflower was first cultivated by Native American. In 1805 Lewis & Clark dined on the tubers. A French explorer noted that the edible tuber tasted like an artichoke. In the 2002 Nice Festival for the Heritage of the French Cuisine the Jerusalem artichoke was awarded the “best soup vegetable”. The tuber can be thinly sliced and added to a salad or steamed in a stew. The tubers may cause flatulence. Unlike potatoes, they do not contain starch, but inulin, a fiber, that changes into a natural sugar. The tubers are highly nutritious. Jerusalem artichokes have 650 mg potassium per 1 cup (150g) serving. They are also high in iron, and contain 10-12% of the US RDA of fiber, niacin, thiamine, phosphorus and copper. I have bought sunchokes in grocery stores in California. In Germany the tubers are used to make a spirit called “Jerusalem artichoke brandy”. You might want to try Jerusalem artichokes tubers. However, the quality of the edible tubers degrades unless the plants are dug up and replanted in fertile soil. Better to wait until Jan. or Feb. before digging up the tuber. This gives time for the tuber to become sweeter. Beware; a small piece of tuber will grow if left in the ground, making the hardy plant a potential weed. Even a piece of a root can make an additional 75 to as many as 200 tubers by fall's end. Jerusalem artichokes can be used as animal feed, but must be washed before being fed to most animals. Except pigs, which forage and safely eat them directly from the soil. Does anyone have some pigs they can lend me? For additional info "http://" and ""

Sunday, March 25, 2012


We all have chickweed growing somewhere in our yard. Chickweed, also called Starwort, the Latin name is Stellaria media.

This weakly stemmed wildflower is many branched and usually grows along the ground in thick masses. Chickweed prefers to grow in lawns and disturbed areas which contain some shade and moisture. Its height is from 3 to 8 inches with trailing stems up to 16 inches long. Small white flowers are in terminal clusters or solitary. The fruit is a many seeded capsule with seeds that germinate in the fall. Flowering is from February through December. The range of this annual is throughout most of North America except Arctic.

This edible weed was introduced from Eurasia and is a favorite food of chickens and wild birds. Chickweed is also eaten worldwide as a salad or cooked.

They are as numerous in species as they are in region. Most are succulent and have white flowers, and all with practically the same edible and medicinal values. They all exhibit a very interesting trait (they sleep) termed the 'Sleep of Plants,' every night the leaves fold over the tender buds and the new shoots.

Chickweeds are Medicinal and edible, they are very nutritious, high in vitamins and minerals, can be added to salads or cooked as a pot herb, tasting somewhat like spinach. I’ve added chickweed to salads and omelets – delicious. The major plant constituents in Chickweed are Ascorbic-acid (vitamin C), Beta-carotene (vitamin A), Calcium, Gamma-linolenic-acid, Flavonoids, Hentriacontanol, Magnesium, Niacin, Oleic-acid, Potassium, Riboflavin, Rutin, Selenium, Triterpenoid saponins, Thiamin, and Zinc. The whole plant is used in alternative medicine.

New research indicates its use as an effective antihistamine. A extract is also used externally to treat rheumatic pains, wounds and ulcers. It can be applied as a medicinal poultice and will relieve any kind of eczema and is effective wherever there are fragile superficial veins or itching skin conditions.

To make sure you are using the correct plant the stem should not have a sticky milky sap. If you look carefully at the stem; there is a small line of thin hairs that run up one side. When the line of thin hairs run into a pair of leaves the line of hairs switch to the other side of the stem. Another defining characteristic is to slightly bend the stem and slowly pull apart. There will be a small thread running through the stems that is somewhat elastic.

Lawn lovers, according to Green Deane who writes a blog on edible weeds, “… have given chickweed a bad rap. Instead of lawn lovers pulling out a clump of chickweed and having it for dinner, they spend a lot of green to get rid of the green. Its demise is a million-dollar business, which is a large expense and a waste of food. Raw, it tastes exactly like corn silk, if you’ve ever tried that. Cooked it is similar to spinach though the texture is different. It can be added to soups or stews, but not until the last five minutes to prevent overcooking. Unlike many wild edibles, the chickweed’s stems, leaves, flowers and seeds are all edible. It does hold nitrates and people with allergies to daisies might want to pass it by.”

Chickweed Pie is best hot; it will keep one to two days in the refrigerator and can be reheated in a microwave oven.
One 10-inch pie crust
3 cups chopped chickweed
1 cup diced slab bacon
½ cup finely chopped onion
3 large eggs
1½ cups sour cream
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 10-inch pie dish with crust and make a raised border around the rim to prevent filling from overflowing during baking.
To prepare chickweed, remove all leaves, twigs and root ends, reserving only the greenest, leafiest parts. Rinse thoroughly in a colander and gently dry with paper towels. Bunch the chickweed together into a ball and chop it with a sharp knife until reduced to a confetti texture. Measure, then put chickweed in a large bowl.
Fry diced bacon in a skillet until it begins to brown, then add onion. Cook about 3 minutes, or until onion wilts. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon and onions to bowl with chickweed. Discard drippings from pan.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs until lemon colored, then add sour cream, flour and nutmeg. Add egg mixture to chickweed, onions and bacon. Spread filling evenly in the pie shell and pat down firmly with a spoon. Bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until pie has set in center and top looks golden.
—Adapted from Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking by William Woys Weaver (Abbeville Press, 1993).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Panicled Aster - an autumn flower

The Panicled Aster or Eastern Lined Aster is a member of the large family Asteraceae. The Latin names are “Aster lanceolantus” and “Aster simplex”). Aster is a Greek word for star which describes the radiate heads of the flowers. The Latin word “lanceolatus” means lance-shaped which describes the long thin leaves. The plant is commonly found along wet stream banks in wooded areas and can grow in good and poor soil. I found this still blooming plant two day ago growing on the bank of our driveway under cedar trees. Even though the plant has lovely white daisy-like flowers it is considered a pesky weed.

The Panicled Aster can be distinguished from its other numerous family members because it blooms in autumn from September to November. The flowers are smaller than a quarter, around ¾ inches across. The white flower petals, which number 20-40, are white and curl up as the flower dies. The white or sometimes violet tinged petals surround a yellow center which turns brown from age. This perennial prefers partial sun and grows from one to 3 feet tall. The alternate leaves are smooth or slightly toothed along the leaf edge.

The Aster family contains 20,000 species worldwide. It and the Orchid family are the two largest plant families. Asteraceae has been known as the daisy or sunflower family (Compositae). Several members of the Aster family have been used historically and are presently used as medicine and food. The Eastern Lined Aster was used by the Native American tribe Mohawk for treating fever.

Native Aster plants need little care, bear lovely flowers, and attract butterflies.
Roaming the internet I came across Thomas Elpel’s fascinating description of Asteraceae. The uniqueness of this family is that what appears to be a single flower are many flowers. This is easier observed in a sunflower head than in the small flower of the Eastern Lined Aster. If I had a magnifying glass with me you could view the many flowers in the yellow head of the Eastern Lined Aster.

Many species of Asters have been developed into horticultural ornamentals such as marigold, Zinnias, etc. Other species have been developed into edibles, such as, artichokes, sunflower, etc.

The Aster family can be divided into a Dandelion Subfamily and an Aster Subfamily. Under the Aster Subfamily are nine tribes. Some of them are the Artichoke Tribe, Ragweed tribe, Chamonile Tribe etc.

This is amazing but a little confusing so I will stop for now.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Tufted Knotweed

The wild flower called Tufted Knotweed (Polygonum caespitosum var.longisetum) or long-bristled smartweed is in the buckwheat family (Polygonaceae), which is also known as the knotweed family. Polygonum is Greek for many knees or many joints.

Leaves are arranged alternately along the stem, lanceolate to elliptic in outline, approximately 3/4 to 3 inches long and 1/2 to 1 1/4 inches wide. Older leaves are usually only slightly hairy. The leaves taper to short petioles, which have an ocrea which encircles the stem. Leaves often, but not always, have a purple spot in the middle of the leaf.

Knotweed has fibrous roots with a shallow and branching taproot. The stems are branched, often reddish in color and swollen at the nodes. A thin membranous sheath called an ocrea encircles the stem at the base of each leaf petiole. The ocrea's of tufted knotweed have stiff hairs arising from the top of the ocrea, which are from 5 to 10 mm long.

The blooming period occurs during the summer and early fall, and can last 2-3 months for a colony of plants. Flowers are clustered in terminal spikes at the ends of stems. Individual flowers are small and are dark pink to red in color. Each flower is replaced by a 3-angled seed that is black and shiny, tapering to blunt points at the upper and lower ends. This plant can reproduce by forming rootlets near the ochreae of the leaves. It also reproduces by reseeding itself.
This weedy plant isn't fussy about growing conditions. It can be found in full sun to light shade, moist to dry areas, and various kinds of soil, including those containing loam, clay loam, and rocky or gravelly material. Some of the lower leaves may shrivel away during hot dry weather. This smartweed withstands regular lawn-mowing better than others because of its low-growing habit.

There are about 35 species of smartweeds found in the east. Three smartweeds in our area are similar except for the stiff hairs on the ocrea or knee. The elliptic to lanceolate leaves with a purple spotted 'lady's thumb' print in the middle and distinctive ocrea with stiff hairs are all characteristics that help to distinguish tufted knotweed from other similar weeds. Pennsylvania Smartweed (Polygonum pensylvanicum) is very similar in appearance and growth habit, but does not have hairs on the knee like that of tufted knotweed. Lady’s Thumb (Polygonum persicaria) is also similar in appearance and growth habit, but has hairs on the knee that are much shorter (2 mm) and has generally smaller leaves and dark pink to red flowers.

As a wildflower smartweeds are a lovely blooming addition to your yard. Birds that eat the seeds of the Smartweeds include the Mourning Dove, English Sparrow, House Finch, other songbirds, and ducks.

Leaves, stems and flowers are edible, but very hot. Try a small part of leave about ¼ size of your little finger nail. Wait a second or 2 then you will taste the heat. Good substitute for pepper or wasabi in your cooking, but use sparingly. The plant can be used fresh or dried. It’s a fine plant for seasoning while camp cooking, but can overwhelm like cayenne pepper. Also be careful because some people can develop dermatitis from it.

There is a tradition, quoted in old Herbals, that if a handful of the plant be placed under the saddle, a horse is enabled to travel for some time without becoming hungry or thirst.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Weed or Miracle Plant?

Plantain is a perennial herb with basal leaves and inconspicuous flowers in spikes or heads.  These wildflowers probably can be found in everyone’s yard or field.  The plant was introduced into the new world by colonist from Europe.  So it first common names were “Englishman’s foot” or “White Man’s Foot”.  The most common species in North America are Plantain major, the broad-leaved or common plantain, and Plantain lanceolat, the narrow-leaved English plantain.

In the spring the plant sprouts from its taproots or seeds.  From early summer to late fall leafless flower stalks arise from the center of the rosette of leaves.  The tiny flowers are greenish white and become a seedpod of 10 to 20 seeds.   Most people treat this plant as a weed; since it grows everywhere in most soil and light conditions.

However to many this is a miracle plant.  Native Americans used the powdered roots of Plantain as anti-venom for rattlesnake bites and the plant earned the name of “Snake Weed”.   In Europe the plant was used for skin diseases and bites.

The very young leaves can be used in salads or cooked as greens.  The larger older leaves are used for tea.  The leaves are high in beta carotene (vitamin A), vitamin B1, riboflavin, calcium, and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).

The young flower stalks of common plantain may be eaten raw or cooked and taste like asparagus.  The seeds may be added to food or ground into flour.  You may be familiar with Metamucil.  This laxative’s primary ingredient is from the seeds of a related species (Plantain psyllium).

There are medical benefits from all parts of the plant.  A tea made from the leaves or the whole plant can treat lung disorders, stomach problems and skin diseases and irritations.  Chewing on a leaf not only refreshes your breath, but may discourage your desire to smoke cigarettes.

According to the School of Pharmacy at the University of Oslo, Norway “the leaves have been used as a wound healing remedy for centuries in almost all parts of the world and in the treatment of a number of diseases apart from wound healing”.  So, if you are outside and receive a bug bite or sting; chew a leaf and place on your sore.

Plantain ointment and Plantain extract may be ordered online from several vitamin companies.
This plant also provides food for butterfly caterpillars, rabbits, deer, grouse, and other birds. 

I used to constantly remove some of my numerous Plantain plants, keeping the larger ones, which are easier for me to grow than the flamboyant slug attractant Hosta.  I look forward to this coming spring when I will be picking the young Plantain leaves for a salad. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Flora of Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Archipelago is a volcanic group of islands in the East Pacific Ocean. About 97% of the islands comprise the Galapagos National Park which is surrounded by a Marine Reserve. I visited during the Hot Season which lasts from December until May. This is the tropical time of year with calm seas, tropical showers and warm humid days. Temperatures range from79 to 85F with water temperatures around79F.

Charles Darwin in 1835 developed the Theory of Natural Selection after his voyage to Galapagos on the H.M.S. Beagle. He observed new species which had developed due to environmental forces. Examples of these new species are Darwin’s finches, the Galapagos mockingbirds, the giant tortoises, the flightless cormorants, and the Galapagos penguins and cactus from the genus Opuntia and plants from the genus Scalesia. These new species were developed due to isolation (the Galapagos are 612 miles from South America continent), adaptations, and mutations which created a new species found nowhere else in the world. These new and unique species are called endemic.

Most well-known are the endemic bird and animal species, but there are also many endemic plant species. I will talk about a few of the endemic plants. The most notable are the cactus. There is an endemic Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia galapagensis) which has soft short spines. The fruits are eaten by finches, land iguanas and tortoises. Another endemic Prickly Pear Cactus is Opuntia echios var. Gigantea which has long sharp spines and can grow 5 feet tall. Marine iguanas and tortoises eat the fleshy part around the trunk of this cactus.

Growing in the lava fields is the Lava Cactus (Brachycereus Nesioticus). This small endemic cactus grows in clumps.

The Candelabra Cactus (Jasminocereus Thouarsil) is a large endemic cactus which grows to heights of 23 feet.

Mangrove swamps which cover the coastline of many islands provide food and shalter for many animals, birds, and marine species. The salt tolerant trees and shrubs thrive in shallow and muddy saltwater or brackish waters. Their root systems extend above the water and the vertical branches filter the salt out and allow the leaves to receive fresh water. The Black Mangrove (Avicennia germinans) has the highest salt tolerant leaves and grows to height of 65 feet. The Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle) is the most common in the Galapagos.

The Button Mangrove or Buttonwood (Conocarpus erecta) is not a true mangrove. The fruit buttons which dry to a brown color are used for decorations.

White Mangrove (Laguncularia racermosa) is a shrub with aerial roots close to the water.

Galapagos cotton (Gossypium darwinii) grows wild through many of the islands. The Muyuyo (Cordia Lutea) is an endemic tree with lovely yellow blooms.

In the Highlands the lowest of the humid zone is named for the daisy tree which grows between 970-1970 feet elevations. This endemic “daisy tree” has evolved into a host of different species in a direct parallel to the Darwin finches. The Scalesia is one of the few trees in the Aster Family and its trunk and branches are covered with moss, lichens and orchids.

This is a small example of the endemic plants which number around 200 plants. Galapagos plants are hardy plants which successfully cross oceans and manage to establish themselves in the often hostile environment of these volcanic islands.

The Galapagos National Park, Naturalist Guides, the Charles Darwin Research Station, and the people of the Galapagos strive to protect the Galapagos Archipelago.  Rules of the National Park are to walk only on trails, do not disturb wildlife or remove plant or rock material, do not feed animals , do not smoke on islands or any boat,  do not buy souvenirs made from native Galapagos species (except for wood).  The Guides are there to educate guests and protect the environment.  The locals and tourist ships recycle their plastics, glass, metal, and cardboard.
I traveled in the Galapagos with Mary Crowley.  This was her eighteenth trip to the islands!  She is the director of Ocean Voyages (, which places people on ships throughout the world..

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Another Frigid Month

I would like to start by quoting from my Jan. 2007 report. “No need to force blooms from your shrubs and trees this month. Due to our warm winter, daffodils, hellebores, daphne, forsythia, and cherry trees are already in bloom. Also, my Easter lilies are popping out of the soil and my flowering quince is flowering.”

Well that certainly isn’t happening this Jan.! The only good thought is that maybe this cold weather is killing all the nasty insects which harm our plants and us.

If the cold lingers on; then plan a visit to a garden show to uplift your spirits. The nation’s oldest floral show, the Philadelphia International Flower Show runs from Sunday March 6 through Sunday March 13. The theme for 2011 is “Springtime in Paris”.

The San Francisco Flower and Garden Show is March 23 through 27 at the San Mateo Event Center. Experience cutting-edge garden design, new plants, 200 vendors selling outdoor living products, 75 seminars and films. NEW this year is the "Garden To Table" cooking demonstrations with famous Bay Area chefs headlined by Alice Waters, 6000 sq. ft. of Edible Garden displays with hands-on advice, an expanded children's section, a wine garden, and a film premiere.

The Chelsea Flower Show 2011 dates are May 24 to 28 2011. The Chelsea Flower Show is one of the best known flower shows in the world. Run by the Royal Horticultural Society in England and takes place every May in the central London borough of Chelsea.

In spite of the weather the birds are gorging on seeds etc. and checking out bird houses in preparation for their future families.

In this cold weather cuddle up to a hot cup of tea. Peruse your garden books, seed catalogues, and dream of your future garden.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

December cold

 December 21st is the Winter Solstice the shortest day and longest night of the year and the official start of winter. With our recent cold temperatures and snow flurries, winter didn’t wait for its official start. With the shorter periods of light plants die or stop producing new growth. Average daily temperature below 43F (6C) will also cause plants to stop growth; so the leaves, stems, and flowers die. However, the roots of trees, shrubs and some plants are storing energy for spring growth. After Dec. 21st we can look forward to days starting to lengthen; and nights shortening.

During freezing weather, water is more important than food to birds and animals. Birds need to drink and bath to survive. If your outdoor water source is frozen; pour in hot water. Or provide a water fountain since running water tends not to freeze.

Chrysanthemums plants can be increased by taking cuttings from shoots found below the soil round the old stems. If you don’t have time to take cuttings, just leave your chrysanthemums in their pots or in the ground. In spring the plants will start growing new shoots for fall blooms.

When the weather isn’t too bitter; build a rock garden, repair garden fences, clean and sharpen garden tools. To build a rock garden on a small slope make sure there is good drainage. Start with a layer of small gravel or grit then add topsoil. The border rocks should be placed so they slope backwards, so that rain drains off. Sandstone will make your soil more acidic; whereas limestone creates an alkaline soil.

After weeks of the Xmas frenzy I am ready to nest in my home and read the garden books I’ve been stockpiling all year, but haven’t taken the time to read. So while your garden is resting; envision your dream garden for 2011.

In “Remarkable Trees of Virginia”, author and lecturer Nancy Ross Hugo, Virginia Tech Department of Forestry extension specialist and Professor Jeff Kirwan and photographer Robert Llewellyn beautifully document the oldest, tallest, most historic and best-loved trees in the Commonwealth. This large coffee table book will help you enjoy your time inside while you peruse magnificent photos and fascinating description of beloved Virginia trees. In fact come spring you might want to plan a visit to some of these fascinating trees.

“The Wise Old Gnome Speaks, How to Really, Really, Really, Care About Your Garden” by James W. Smith is a small paperback bursting with practical info. In the third grade the author was in charge of the class vegetable garden. After managing plant nurseries he became an assistant Professor of Ornamental Horticulture at Cal Poly, the head gardener for several private estates, and a plant breeder.

As James writes “This book will save you time and money…will demystify gardening”, will enable you to understand plants. This is a fun and informative Xmas gift for the experienced and novice gardener.

END Copyright: Louisa Preston 2010

Friday, October 1, 2010

Drought & Rain

We can all see that we are in a drought. The wind, bright sun, and lack of rain dry out the plants and trees. Yesterday I spent most of the morning watering. The earth sucks the moisture down like a shower drain. Better to water your plants in early morning or dusk. Use a garden hose or water bucket to water at the base of your plant. A sprinkler will waste your water as the water droplets will be absorbed into the dry air.

Well that was two weeks ago.  Now the rain has been falling for 3 days and there are flash flood warnings.

The crape myrtles, butterfly bushes and other flowering plants and shrub were beautiful this summer. As are the butterflies they attract. My vegetable garden has all sizes of caterpillars, which I handpick and squash. Another insect pest is grasshoppers. Put a large jar with a water and white vinegar mixture in your garden. The grasshoppers and crickets will jump in and drown. One person told me he kills his grasshoppers with a bb gun.

Prepare for a winter garden by buying seeds of arugula, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cilantro, kale, leek, lettuce, spinach, swiss chard and sage. Also consider planting a cover crop, such as crimson clover, vetch or ryegrass. The cover crop is good for erosion control and nitrogen building. Till under in the spring. As soon as we get rain, plant your veggie and cover crop seeds.

Today I have a “show & tell”. This small plastic bin is a worm bin I made by drilling air holes into a plastic container. The red wiggler worms are my new pets. Every couple of days I check to see if they need more kitchen scraps. They eat vegetables, fruits, pasta or beans. No meat, fish, citrus peels, onions or garlic. My worms seem to prefer ripe cucumbers.

The red wiggler or Eisenia foetida is a more efficient and quicker processer of food waste than earthworms. The worms produce dark compost (vermicompost), which is a rich soil additive which can be added to potting soil, seed beds, and gardens. Or mix with water for a worm casting tea – for your plants; not you to drink.

The worm bin should be kept inside in temperatures between 60 and 80 degrees. Kitchen, garage, basement or mud room will work. Keep away from vibrations such as from a refrigerator or washing machine. The vibrations make them uptight.=

Moist shredded newspaper with a small amount of soil works as their bedding. Also straw, peat moss and/or sawdust can be added to the bedding. If you have bad odors; the bedding is too wet, there is too much food, or not enough air.

My red wiggler worms were given to me at the Hanover Cooperative Extension booth during the Heirloom Harvest Festival in Charlottesville. Several sites on the internet sell red wiggler worms.

Monday, May 24, 2010

"CowPots" & Mulch

This spring I’ve been growing small seedlings by planting seeds in dirt in small containers, which I place in a sunny location in my house. After they have grown two sets of leaves, I transplant them to a larger pot. I’ve found “CowPots” perfect for my seedlings. These pots are made from composted cow manure. When the seedlings are ready for transplanting to your garden, place the “CowPots directly into the soil. Therefore, the roots are not damaged by removing the plant from a pot. The young plant roots easily penetrate the sides and bottom of the pot. As the composted manure biodegrades, the seedling is fertilized from the manure.

“CowPots” come in two different sizes, 4 inch or 2 inch. I bought these at Southern States. Oh and they don’t smell!

Mulch improves the appearance of our gardens. The other reason to mulch is to protect plants, conserve water, suppress weeds, and nourish soil. Mulch is an organic substance which is a by-products of forest harvesting. Best not to use mulch until it has begun to decompose. After I receive wood chips from a cut tree, I wait a year or so before using the pile of chips. As mulch ages, it becomes darker in color.

For acid loving plants, like azaleas and rhododendrons, use a mulch that releases acid, such as pine straw or pine bark. Hardwood mulches tend to become alkaline and are good for most other plants.

Do not use mulch which is made from recycled wood pallets and woody construction debris which has been dyed or stained. The dyes and stains will leach into your soil.

Apply mulch in 3 to 5 inches layer on your garden. Do not place mulch directly to base of plants. Especially, do not place against tree or shrub trunks because it can cause basal rot. Replenish mulch when there‘s one inch or less or it. Usually top off every year.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Prevent Slugs from Eating Your Plants

Earth Day has passed. I had planned to write in this blog to celebrate, but I’m fighting auto-immune diseases and some days/weeks just sleep away.

Are slugs eating your plants? An improvement over the dish of beer in your garden is a 16oz plastic container with lid. Cut holds in upper 1/3 side of the container. Bury up to the bottom edges of the holes.  This prevents the container from being knocked over. Add beer and place on lid.  The lid prevents evaporation and dilution by rain.  I've drowned in beer more than 50 slugs last month and my plants thank me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

First Day of Spring

The first day of spring arrived yesterday, Saturday, March 20th. The day was sunny with temperatures in mid 70s. The daffodils, crocuses, and forsythia blooms are prettier than ever thanks to the snow’s moisture and minerals.

The average date for the last frost for Richmond is April 27th. About 4 weeks before the last frost, which would be around March 27th, is the time to plant dormant roses and bare-root shrubs. Dogwoods and magnolias should only be planted in the spring.

Perennials such as hostas, liriope, Shasta daisies, and daylilies can be divided before new growth starts. Separate the plants and place back into the soil at the original depth. Water well and mulch. Plant the extras in containers for gifts.

Even with the cool days you can plant petunias, snapdragons, marigolds, nasturtiums, and dianthus.

Fertilize lilies, clematis, lilacs and bearded iris with bone meal or 5-10-5 plus lime. Also fertilize pansies and houseplants. Do not begin fertilizing peonies until after they have been planted for 2 to 3 years. A great all around fertilizer is liquid seaweed.

Vegetables that can be planted before the last frost are lettuce, kale, spinach, cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Plant onions, potatoes, peas, radishes, asparagus, and turnips near the end of the month. Seedlings started inside will appreciate fertilizing at half strength every two weeks.

Add mulch to asparagus, artichokes, bramble fruits and fruit trees. March is too early to remove mulch from your other plants. The ides of March can bring surprises such as last year when we had an 80 degrees week followed by two frosts.

March is a good time to repot houseplants into larger containers. Leggy plants should be cut back. Root your cuttings for our plant exchange in May. The secret to rooting coleus and wax begonias is to cut the top 6 inches of a leafy stem below a leaf node. Then remove the leaves from the bottom 3 inches and place the cutting in water adding a few drops of bleach. Place in a partially sunny window. Place in soil after roots have developed.

One way to celebrate spring is to attend the free Arbor Day Workshops and Exhibits on April 3rd at Byrd Park. Stay Co2ol with Trees, is on a Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Carillon in Richmond’s Byrd Park. During the festivities, Richmond,VA will receive Tree City USA recognition from the Arbor Day Foundation for the 19th straight year.

There will be a free tree giveaways, workshops, kid activities and music. Attendees will be able to purchase compost bins at a discount through the Clean City Commission.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Orchids, Virginia Historic Garden tour & Amaryllis

Did you miss last weekend’s Orchid Show at Strange’s ( in Richmond, VA? The show was presented by The Virginia Orchid Society ( with orchid displays and vendors. Free lectures both days and free repotting.

Orchids provide lovely indoor bloom during the barren winter months. To find an orchid show in your area visit the American Orchid Society (

By April the snow will have disappeared for the 77th anniversary of Historic Garden Week in Virginia ( & which is April 17th thro 25th. This is when Richmond and the surrounding counties are ablaze with blooming azaleas, lilacs, cherry trees, daffodils and tulips.

Free guidebooks are available at certain garden centers. Tickets may be purchased in advanced or at the houses or gardens during the day of the tour. Expect to wait in long lines to enter the historic private mansions and gardens.
Call the Virginia Tourism Corporation at 1 800-545-5500 for travel accommodations info, a free travel guide, and a state highway map.

Hope this is the end of our snow. Last year at this time the crocuses and daffodils were blooming. Now my daffodils are staying close to the ground and the buds are green.

I decided to google for info on the continuing care of my Amaryllis (Hippeastrum). I was amazed to find more than 250 sites. One site only sells Amaryllis bulbs. For “after blooming care” cut off only the dead flowers. The flowering stem should not be cut until it starts sagging. After our last frost the pot can be placed outside in full sun. To provide food for the bulb you should continue to water and fertilize all summer.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Finally we have a break in the frigid weather and can work in our gardens. Prune the seed capsules off the tips of your crepe myrtles to give larger bloom clusters this summer. Prune the dead blooms from Rose of Sharon. Prune butterfly bush down to about a foot from the ground. Even in the winter weed.

Clean your fireplaces and place the wood ashes around lilacs, roses, peonies, clematis, daffodils and vegetable garden. The ashes add both lime and potash to the soil. Do not put the ashes around your acid-loving plants.

The holidays are over, but don’t throw out your forced bulb flowers with the Christmas tree. Cut off the dead flower heads and place plant in a sunny indoor location. Every second watering add a half dose of fertilizer to the water. In the spring place your potted amaryllis outside and plant the other bulbs in your garden.

Poinsettia plants can also be reused each year. Keep the plant in a sunny location where the night time temperature is no colder than 60 degrees. The soil should be kept damp and fertilized lightly when new growth appears. When the temperature is warm enough, cut back the plant and place outside. In early October bring the plant indoors for 12 hours of darkness a day and in December the bracts will turn to color for Holidays.

It is not too soon to start forcing blooms from flowering shrubs and trees. Forsythia is especially easy. Also try crabapple, peach, plum, pussy willow, quince, winter jasmine and witch hazel.

Start planning your spring vegetable garden. Sow seeds of cool season vegetables, such as arugula, in indoor pots or trays. Also start seeds of lavender, chives, dill, rosemary, thyme and parsley. Seeds of peas (soak over night), lettuce, spinach and chard can be planted in your garden if protected with a cover of black fabric.

Also indoors start germinating seeds of Petunia, Portulaca, Salvia, Snapdragon and Verbena. All take 8 to 10 weeks before their seedlings are ready to be planted in your garden.=

Attend a flower show. The Maymont Flower & Garden Show is Feb. 18th through Feb. 21st at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. For more info 800-332-3976 or

Feb. 28th through March 7th is The 2010 Philadelphia Flower Show “Passport to the World. Displays will represent India, Brazil, the Netherlands, South Africa, New Zealand and Singapore. For more info

Study your garden catalogues and plan for the arriving warm weather.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


We recently experienced a beautiful snow storm.  The snow cover will protect your plants from freezing and will provide moisture. Sprinkle bird seed (the birds will love you), sand or kitty litter on icy walks. Do not use salt which will burn your plants and shrubs and will eat away at bricks. Don’t forget to gently scoop fresh snow off boxwoods and evergreens for the snow may freeze and break branches.

Dec. 21st is the Winter Solstice the shortest day and longest night of the year and the official start of winter. With the shorter periods of light plants die or stop producing new growth. Average daily temperature below 43oF (6oC) will also cause plants to stop growth; so the leaves, stems, and flowers die. However, the roots of trees, shrubs and some plants are storing energy for spring growth. Tomorrow, days will start to lengthen; as nights shorten.

Check your plants you have brought into your home for the winter. The plants may harbor insect pests, such as aphids, which will quickly multiply in the warm environment. If you find infestations; wash the plant then spray a non-toxic soap insecticide on your plant.

After weeks of the Xmas frenzy I am ready to nest in my home and read the garden books I’ve been stockpiling all year, but haven’t taken the time to read. So while your garden is resting; envision your dream garden for 2010.

Warm wishes for a peaceful, happy, and healthy Holiday and New Year.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Preparing for Winter

The holly trees, decorated with red berries, remind us of the approaching holidays. If you have holly trees and no berries; you need a mate – for your holly trees. Hollies are dioecious. The female holly tree bears the berries and the male tree provides the pollen. One male holly tree will serve many female holly trees. If there is nothing better to eat; deer will munch on young holly trees.

Ginkgo trees also are dioecious. The female ginkgo produces a smelly and messy fruit, which is a delicacy in China. The ginkgo has beautiful fan shaped leaves which turns a brilliant yellow after the other tree leaves have already fallen. The falling yellow ginkgo leaves signify the end of colorful autumn.

We have plenty of dead leaves, but only the oak leaves should be used for mulching your garden. Oak leaves are pest resistant and retain moisture. Magnolia and beech leaves should remain under the tree; since they create their own fertilizer. Throw the rest of your leaves on your compost pile.

Are you considering a live Christmas tree this season? Then dig a large hole where you plan to plant your tree after the holidays. Fill the hole with your fallen leaves. When the ground is frozen; you will be thankful you were prepared.

Wisteria should only be fertilized after their leaves have fallen. This will give you more bloom and less growth next year.

Fertilize your bulb beds. Continue to water newly planted bulbs. In order to discourage voles; do not mulch around your bulbs until the ground is frozen.

Don’t sanitize your garden. Though some plants, such as Iris and peony, should be cut back and their dead leaves removed. Also roses should have their fallen leaves removed. However, many perennials are attractive and useful in their dormant state. They provide food and protection for birds and protect new growth. Especially, your chrysanthemums or mums will start to look messy as the flowers fade and the leaves fall, but the old stems will protect new growth. The result will be healthier plants next fall. So leave some of your garden clean-up till spring.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

October Gardening Notes

October is a good time to plant bulbs, both in your garden and in pots. If planting bulbs in clay soil you should work bone meal, top soil and hardwood mulch into the soil. Use bulb-tone if you have animals which will be attracted to the bone meal and dig up your newly planted bulbs. Do not plant your daffodil bulbs until after the first hard frost. After the second hard frost, plant tulip bulbs. Follow with muscari and crocus bulbs.

For indoor pleasure, force daffodil, tulip, crocus, and hyacinth bulbs. Place your potted bulbs in a dark and cool location until green life appears. Then move to a sunny location where you can enjoy the blooms during the winter gloom. After blooming, let the bulbs dry; then store in a cool dark place. Plant these bulbs in your garden the following spring. Forced paperwhites usually do not bloom after being planted in your garden. However, I still plant them each year. So far with no luck, however, a friend has one batch of paperwhite bulbs which bloom every spring. We think one reason may be that the bulbs are planted close to a black top driveway, which keeps the soil warm in the winter. Do you know how to get paper whites to re-bloom?

October is the time to winterize your roses by applying potassium. Stop deadheading your roses so rose hips can form. The rose hips signal the roses that this is the time to go dormant. Give the roses a final deep water then mulch to protect their soil from freezing.

When the tree leaves start to show color begin to transplant and plant roses, shrubs and trees.

Mid-Oct should be your last fertilizing of shrubs and trees. Only fertilize English box every two or three years.

During the winter your garden mulch will continue to break down, improving the soil’s nutrient value and structure. However, as the shredded bark mulch decomposes it will deplete the nitrogen in your soil. If you used shredded bark as your mulch; you will need to add cottonseed meal or blood meal to your soil. Another way to add nitrogen to your garden is to plant a winter cover crop of clover or rye.

Before the first frost, dig up your sweet potatoes. Also pick your green tomatoes. Put up wind protectors if you have planned a winter veggie garden. Winter veggie gardens are my favorite. No insects. No foraging animals – except deer. Weed less. No sweating.

Enjoy the color of the dying leaves which was brought to us by last weekend’s cold weather.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Climate Change

There are actions we can to do to improve the environment for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren. Recycling, green gardening, and a decrease in consumerism will improve the water we enjoy, the air we breathe and the stress we experience. It is not necessary to believe in climate change to want to improve life on earth.
Recycle newspaper by using as mulch for garden and by adding to our compost pile.

Add more flowers and vegetables to your lawn to decrease the amount of grass area which demands more work and fertilizer. Use beneficial insects and nematodes rather than toxic insecticides.

Drive less; carpool, bike, and walk more. Support alternative energy: wind mills, solar, and hybrid cars. Support thrift stores, yard sales, and farmers markets.

Today I’m participating in Blog Action Day (Oct. 15th) as one of the numerous ways to help.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Chiggers cont.

A friend makes a rinse out of water & cider vinegar which she puts on her dogs to wash  away chiggers.  This rinse remains on the coat.  Also beneficial for dog's skin.

If allowed to roam; Guinea hens and chickens eat ticks and chiggers.  But then you most be around to care for your fowl. 

Shortly winter will take care of the chiggers, which are inactive at temperatures below 60oF and die when ground temperatures fall to 42oF.