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Forcing The Issue

Forcing The Issue

Spring Blossoms

Spring Blossoms

If you have a firm case of the winter doldrums, here is a little antidote for your blues: Force a few branches of flowering shrubs and trees into bloom! Many different types of woody plants can be coaxed into an early floral display by cutting them and bringing them indoors.

Pussy willows are perhaps the easiest to force. Trim a few branches, plop them into a vase of tepid water, and Presto! Instant spring! Others are a bit more challenging and take a little more prep work to trick them into flowering. But, don’t let that discourage you. Just read on a little more to learn how to successfully force branches into bloom.

Most buds are set on woody plants during the fall of the previous year. After a period of winter cold dormancy, they will flower the following spring. One rule of thumb is to harvest cuttings closer to the plant’s normal bloom season for quicker and easier forcing. For example, if you cut the branches of a lilac in January, chances are you will have a difficult, if not impossible, chance of forcing this early May bloomer into flowering. However, if you cut the branches of early-blooming forsythia in February, your chances of successfully forcing the buds into flowering will significantly increase.

Mid to late winter is an ideal time for taking branches for forcing. This is when many of those who garden in the Southern Great Lakes region tackle pruning chores. Instead of taking those clippings to the compost pile, take the thinned cuttings of fruit trees, shrubs, and ornamentals indoors to force. Here is the general technique that works for most of these branches:

1. Prune during the warmest part of the day and on a day when the temps are above freezing. Force these branches no earlier than about six to eight weeks before their normal bloom period. For example, if forsythia normally blooms for you by late March, then wait until very late January on to harvest the branches.

2. Cut and prune just above a bud or node. Take care to prune using good technique and sharp pruners to avoid injury to your plant. About 12 inches is a good length for your cuttings.

3. Avoid withered-appearing cuttings or those with dried buds. Flower buds should be firm to the touch. These are generally larger, plumper, and more rounded in appearance than leaf buds. Once again, the closer to normal bloom time, the quicker and easier the branches will be to force.

4. Once indoors, recut the stems, about a half-inch, under warm water. You can also hammer the ends of the branches to splay them open to receive water. Immerse them in 3 to 4 inches of very warm water for about 1/2 hour. Place in a vase. Fill with warm water and add a few drops of household bleach or hydrogen peroxide to to prevent bacterial contamination. Plan on replacing the water with more of the same solution every two days

5. Keep the branches in average warmth but away from bright light. Mist the stems to prevent excessive moisture loss. It might take between one week and a month for them to respond, depending upon the type of cutting and when it was harvested. Continue to follow this routine and they should break dormancy and bloom!

6. Once the buds are swollen and they begin to break, move them into bright, indirect sunlight. Enjoy the preview!

A Timetable For Forcing Branches For Indoor Bloom
(The Southern Great Lakes Region)
Plant When To Take Cuttings
Forsythia Harvest cuttings from late January on
Plum and
Pussy Willow
Harvest cuttings from early February on
Witch Hazel Harvest from early February on
for winter or spring flowering varieties only
Viburnum Depending upon species, cultivar.
late February to early March
Rhododendron and
Harvest cuttings from late February on
Apricot and Peach Harvest cuttings from last week of February on
Redbud and
Flowering Almond
Harvest cuttings from last week of February on
Pear, Apple, or Crabapple Harvest cuttings from early March on
Dogwood and
Harvest cuttings from early March on

For The Gardener: Online/Mail Order Shopping Tips

For The Gardener:  Online/Mail Order Shopping Tips


Garden Catalogs

Garden Catalogs

Winter here in the north is a tough season for many gardeners. Outdoor gardening chores slow way down this time of the year and it’s easy for us outdoor types to go a bit stir crazy. This time of year would be a true Purgatory here on Earth  it were not for the wonderful mail order catalogs and the retail gardening sites found on the Internet. Indeed, one of the most pleasant “gardening” activities during these cold months is browsing through the various mail order catalogs as they arrive in the mail or surfing the online nurseries and planning the additions for the coming year’s garden.

Mail order and online ordering can be a blessing or a curse, so it pays to go forth armed with a little knowledge and wisdom before making purchases. Here are a few tips to help you when you do decide to order those newest additions for your yard and garden:

Be aware that most of these catalogs and updated web sites are coming right at the time when we crave getting back into the swing of gardening the most. I always try to set a buying limit before I even open a link to a site or open one of those tempting catalogs that arrive in the mail. I also try to refer to my gardening journal for ideas on what I need or to refer to my wish list for what to add to the gardens. Definitely set a budget and try to refer to your wish list before viewing an online site or opening up a single page of a catalog!  Also, set your spending limit on the high side. You will probably go over the limit a bit, at least I do. But, the shock to the pocket book will not be as severe as it would be with too low of a shopping budget or no budget at all.

Whether shopping from a mail order catalog or online, try not to gamble:  Shop from reputable sources. Most vendors are honest, but go with established companies. If you do buy from a small specialty source, order only one or two items to see what the quality of the plant material is, to see if that transaction has gone smoothly, and to see if the plant has lived up to your expectations. Definitely make a journal entry so that in the future you can refer back to the experience you’ve had with that company and its plants.

Be aware of descriptions and enhanced photos. It isn’t unusual for a vendor to post an enticing photo of  a plant and a persuasive description. They are, after all, trying to make a sale. A good salesman will always sell the sizzle, not the steak itself. A case in point are photos I’ve seen of  “blue” daylilies. Almost everyone who is into daylilies knows the Holy Grail for a daylily aficionado is the elusive true-blue daylily.  Genetically, this is the only color daylilies cannot produce. Breeders have come close, but there is always a pink or red tone to the blue–more a mauve or purple. Yet, it isn’t uncommon to see enhanced photos showing a true blue tone to a particular cultivar.  This is particularly true of less than reputable vendors.

Along with that, beware of vendors who use catchy names for plants. An example is for creeping thyme. I’ve seen it called, “Walk on me plant”.  Common names are fine, botanical names are better. Often the vendors with catchy, uncommon names for a plant are also not known for good plants, products, or service.

Read the policies of the company. Often this information is on the same page as the order form. See if there is a daytime phone number you can call if you have any questions before you place your order. For online shopping, find out if there is a phone number and/or an e-mail address. Clear up any questions before you commit to a purchase! Read plant guarantees carefully. Some firms will not guarantee a plant after the first growing season. Some will offer money-back guarantees, others want the culprit plant shipped back to them, and finally, others will offer replacement plants or credits. One other thing: You must follow the rules exactly. If you drown a plant or fail to plant it promptly or in conditions that are contributing factors to its demise, you most likely won’t receive a refund, credit, or replacement. Most if not all nurseries and garden centers will only honor their guarantees if the gardener has followed planting instructions and expected cultural practices.

Use wisdom and care. You must be aware of your zone and your particular growing conditions. If a plant loves zone 7 conditions and you live in South Bend, Indiana, you are on your own. Yes, we all push the zone limits, but seasoned gardeners who do this are very realistic and are aware that the plant is out of its normal range. Overall, gardeners are gamblers. But, we hedge our bets and offer the best possible conditions and protection for that plant. Most companies state the zone conditions of a particular plant with the plant or seed descriptions. If you live in zone 5 and order zone 7 plants, you might not get a refund or replacement. Also don’t buy a ton of out-of-zone plants for your garden. One or two, here and there only. Stick with plants that will do well in your zone. Along the same idea, try to buy from sources that share a similar growing climate, particularly for shrubs and plants. A saucer magnolia grown in Georgia may not be able to survive a winter in a zone 5a to 6a region. However, bend the rules. You sometimes have to buy a plant that was grown in an area of warmer or dramatically different climate or growing conditions. Do grow that plant in a protected bed for the first two or three seasons to get it acclimated to your area before placing it in its permanent position.

Shop locally. Many garden centers and nurseries offer the same stock or items found online and in catalogs. For example, if you can find Burpee seeds on a rack locally, purchase them locally. If you can find a particular perennial, shrub, or tree locally, ditto. Reserve shopping online and via mail order for new or unusual plants and varieties. However, if you are on a budget and can’t afford a large shrub or tree grown locally and you simply must have it, then it makes sense to buy a smaller plant via mail order or online.

Check out the bottom line dollar figures for shipping and handling as well as the quantity, size, and price of your chosen plants or seeds. Do comparison shopping between the different catalogs and online sources. Also check for early bird specials, quantity discounts, and discounts for the amount spent.

Many print catalogs are also available online. Often a catalog that costs a few dollars via mail will be offering the same stock online and you can save the cost of paying for a catalog. Many offer PayPal or other alternatives to credit card purchases as well.

Keep a copy of your order and any order numbers, the contact person you have spoken with in any telephone conservations, and copies of your canceled check, credit card statement, money orders, or PayPal transactions. You might need all of this information in case of a refund request or dispute.

Fill out your orders on a separate sheet, before filling out an order form. Put it aside for a few days. If you have really blown your budget, go back to the orders every few days and take a long, hard look to pare it down a bit. After you feel comfortable with your order, mail it out or complete the online order. Sit back, relax, and wait for the adventure of “Christmas in April” when all of your plant purchases start to arrive!

One last point: Read reviews of different mail order/online businesses before purchasing. One of the best sources for consumer reviews is the The Garden Watchdog. Gardeners are quick to praise or criticize a nursery or garden supplier based on their experiences. To find out about a particular company, go to this link:  Garden Watchdog

Part of the fun of gardening is mail ordering and online shopping. It is often the best way to find seeds or plants that are not available locally. Use a little wisdom and common sense. You can prevent the possibility of an unpleasant shopping experience and still be able to have that showcase garden of your dreams!

Winter Gardening

Winter Gardening

Winter Garden

The Winter Garden

It might seem surprising to some, but as gardeners living here know, winter is not a static time for garden-related activities in the southern Great Lakes region.Along with planning this year’s gardens, there are many tasks that need our attention during the winter season.

It’s a good time to sharpen tools and to check and tune-up power equipment such as mowers and trimmers. With winter in full force, one can beat the rush and be well prepared for the start of the spring season.

January and February are the best times to order seeds, plants, and supplies from mail order sources. The selection is better and the gardener can take advantage of early bird specials. By ordering early, we are in good position to get exactly what we want to plant and grow this year.

Winter is the time of year when thaw and heave cycles can wreak havoc with perennial plants. On days when the snow has receded, we can stroll the grounds and check plants for heaving and place them back into the ground. Placing more mulch over the plants will prevent further heaving. This helps to keep the ground at a constant temperature, and it prevents premature dormancy break. Mulch can be removed in the spring.

An ideal time to spray broadleaf and newly planted evergreens with an anti-transpirant is when the temperature is above 35 or 40 degrees. This will help prevent “dehydration” from arid winter winds. If woody plants have been in the yard less than a year, it won’t hurt to take out the hoses and water these new shrubs and trees if the ground is too dry. The roots are still becoming established and the plants will need to take a drink despite the cold. Just remember to disconnect the hoses from the faucet to prevent damage to plumbing and hoses when watering tasks are done!

As the season progresses, there are pruning chores that can be undertaken. Many ornamentals, fruiting trees, and grapes are best pruned in late winter while still dormant. Prune for shape and to remove watersprouts and suckers from fruit trees. Try to maintain an open framework to these trees, to allow sunlight to reach in. Train your grapes, remove excess vines and cut back the best growing limbs to the buds that will grow this year’s crops. Remove old fruiting branches. Refer to a pruning guide or contact your county extension agent for the best method and time to prune these plants. Be careful when pruning: You don’t want to prune away too much and sacrifice blooms on those plants that flower on old wood!

Dormant oil spray can be applied to ornamentals and fruit trees before dormancy breaks. Late winter is an ideal time to do this. Dormant oil spray helps smother scale and other overwintering insects. Remember to read the application directions for the proper method and time/temperature for applying this.

When there are significant or heavy snowfalls, remove snow loads from evergreens by gently brushing off the newly fallen snow. Do this by brushing upwards to prevent breaking limbs and branches. After ice storms and other bad weather, check for torn limbs on trees and bushes. Cleanly prune away those branches.

You can get a jump-start on the growing season by starting seeds. Seeds require different starting times. Some require pre-chilling or heat, light or dark, for germination to take place. Refer to the instructions on the seed packets for successfully starting seeds. Learn what your average last frost date is, and count back from that point to determine the number of weeks of growing that needs to be done indoors before hardening off and planting outdoors.

We need to look after our gardening partners, the birds. Don’t forget to keep birdfeeders filled during these cold months and well into spring. Birds also need a constant and dependable source of water. Try to keep an open source of drinking water handy. A birdbath heater is a worthwhile investment for this purpose.

Above all else, don’t miss an opportunity on balmier days to take a walk through your winter gardens. The winter garden has a stark beauty not seen during the rest of the year. It is always surprising to see how many plants are still green during this season! There is a great joy and hope when seeing the sprouts of the crocuses and daffodils pushing their way out of the ground, of hearing birds sing, and of the freshness of the crisp winter air.

The 2011 All-America Selection Winners

The 2011 All-America Selection Winners

All-America Selections are plants that have been rigorously tested in display gardens across the US. These plants are tested in different climates, soils, and growing conditions. They are then evaluated for performance. The best of the best is awarded the AAS endorsement annually. Look for these winning selections in garden centers and through mail order seed and plant retailers.

And now, sound the turmpets! Here are the 2011 AAS winners:

Gaillardia ‘Arizona Apricot’
2011 AAS Flower Award Winner

Gaillardia ‘Arizona Apricot’

Gaillardia ‘Arizona Apricot’ 2011 AAS Flower Award Winner

Gaillardia ‘Arizona Apricot’ is a new agaillardia featuring an all-new apricot color, edged in yellow. The plants are only 12 inches tall and compact, making this a great border or container flower choice. The foliage is a bright green which contrasts with the flowers quite nicely. The flowers range from 3 to 3.5 inches acrss. Bloom time is from early summer to autumn. The first flowers form in about 90 days from an indoor sowing. The plants are literally covored in blooms. Removing faded blooms will encourage a continued show.

Ornamental Kale ‘Glamour Red’
2011 AAS Cool Season Bedding Plant Award Winner

'Glamour Red' Ornamental Kale

Ornamental Kale ‘Glamour Red’ 2011 AAS Cool Season Bedding Plant Award Winner

‘Glamour Red’ is the first kale awarded the  All-America Selections award. The leaves are waxless and the colors are very intense. The leaf form is fringed and the flower head size is about 10 to 12 inches across. Average time to bloom is about 90 days from sowing. The heads will develop good color when early fall arrives and the night temps drop below 55 degrees. ‘Glamour Red’ shows good frost and disease tolerance and is sure to be a hit in the fall border or container gardens.

Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Red’
2011 AAS Bedding Plant Award Winner

Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Red’

Salvia ‘Summer Jewel Red’ 2011 AAS Bedding Plant Award Winner

Salvia ‘Summer Jewel’ is a dwarf and extremely branching plant. At full maturity, it remains about 20 inches tall. Great for the hummingbird garden, the flowers are a brilliant red color and each flower spike is covered with 1/2 inch blooms. The leaves add a dark green contrast to the intensely red blooms. Flowering isabout 50 days from sowing and the flowers hold through wind and rain. ‘Summer Jewel Red’ will add an accent of bright color to containers or gardens. Use in a grouping for dramatic impact.

Viola ‘Shangri-La Marina’
2011 AAS Cool Season Bedding Plant Award Winner

Viola ‘Shangri-La Marina’

Viola ‘Shangri-La Marina’ 2011 AAS Cool Season Bedding Plant Award Winner

For people who love their violas and pansies, this year’s winner, Viola ‘Shangri-La Marina’, offers a beautiful addition to the cool season border and containers. This viola blooms early and prolifically and sports a 6 inch mound of color with a 12 inch spread. The blooms are light blue with a dark blue face and each bloom is rimmed in white. Flowering in just 70 days from sowing, ‘Shangri-La Marina’ will provide a long season of color if sown early indoors and will also offer additional impact to fall garden displays. More resistant to frost than many others, this viola offers extended blooms during the fall and often into the following spring. Use in the garden or in containers and pots.

Pumpkin ‘Hijinks’
2011 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

Pumpkin ‘Hijinks’

Pumpkin ‘Hijinks’ 2011 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

‘Hijinks,’ is a new pumpkin with 6 to 7 pound uniformly round fruits. Great for small jack-o’-lanterns, painting, or in fall displays, this pumpkin will be a hit this fall! The vines spread to 15 feet and show great resistance to powdery mildew and high yield of fruits. ‘Hijinks’ is ready to harvest earlier than many other pumpkins, about 100 days from an indoor sowing or 85 days from transplants.

Tomato ‘Lizzano’
2011 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

Tomato ‘Lizzano’

Tomato ‘Lizzano’ 2011 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

‘Lizzano’ is an excellent cherry tomato suited to the container or hanging basket. It is a strongly growing semi-determinate tomato. Ultimate height is 16 to 20 inches with a spread of 20 inches. The fruits are small, about 1 inch in diameter, and are sweet and prolific. The fruits set continuously for extended harvests. The plants start to produce about 105 days from sowing or 63 days from transplant.

Tomato ‘Terenzo’
2011 AAS Vegetable Award Winner

Tomato ‘Terenzo’

Tomato ‘Terenzo’ 2011 AAS Vegetable Award Winne

‘Terenzo’ is a very sweet, standard sized cherry tomato with fruits of about 1-1/4 inch diameter. Its height is similar to ‘Lizzano’, about 16 to 20 inches tall. This tomato is excellent for container or hanging basket growing. It is a bushy or determinate variety and its fruits are resistant to cracking. Expect a high yield of fruit throughout the summer.

Spotlight Plant Of The Month For December: Christmas Cactus

Spotlight Plant Of The Month For December: Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus

Christmas Cactus

December offers many wonderful plants to grace our homes and to offer  the gardener on our holiday lists. One of the most interesting and beautiful of plants is the Christmas cactus. This plant has one of the more unusual of botanical names, though: Schlumbergera bridesii. No matter which name we use, common or botanical, this native of South America is quickly becoming a very popular plant to add to our indoor plant collections during the holiday season and beyond. It is a most fitting plant to feature as December’s spotlight plant.

Christmas cacti come in various shades of pink, white, and near-orange, or salmon. They offer color and a touch of the tropics when many of our homes are starved for durable blooming plants. Not a true cactus, but a succulent by nature, many make the mistake of under watering this plant.

Unlike poinsettias, which can quickly turn leggy and die, the Christmas cactus is a bit more durable. After the blooms cease, withhold water for about five or six weeks. It needs to “nap” a bit. Repot with fresh soil which is light and fertile. When new growth resumes, fertilize with a weak organic fertilizer every three weeks.

This plant likes shade in the summer and constant moisture. Not sogginess, but moisture. It makes an excellent porch plant in the shade. When the kids return to school, start to decrease the amount of water that you give it. Let it go thirsty in October. In November, keep it in a humid area, or place it on a bed of moist pebbles that do not “wick” into the pots. Water, but not too much or too often, just to keep it moist. This plant appreciates a bit more light indoors than out, but not the sunniest spot in your home.

To induce blooming, give Christmas cactus bright, indirect sunlight, and keep it in a temperature range of 55 to 60 degrees. If you have a cool, bright room, this is ideal. If the temps have to go higher, as it does in most of our homes this time of the year, keep it in a dark closet until bloom buds start to develop. You can start this process as soon as you bring the plant in from its summer vacation.

So, if you want a little different plant to share your digs with for the holidays, pick a Christmas cactus or two. I think you will be pleased.

December Gardening Calendar

December Gardening Calendar




December is, as it is everywhere, a festive season in the Southern Great Lakes Region. It is a busy time for all: Shopping, decorating, and entertaining all take top billing this month. Fall changes officially to winter this month, but with the winter holidays, one hardly notices the official passage into winter.

Generally, our region has already experienced a good snowstorm or two by the official turn of the season. Some years, however, autumn lingers long into the month. By now, planting chores and winter prep are completed with the garden and yard. Many of the leftover chores are hold-overs from last month’s list. Yet, there are a few other things we can continue to do in the home, yard, and garden this month:

1.  Purchase some Christmas Cactus, Kalanchoes, Cyclamens, and Poinsettias to make your home more festive. Be sure to remove any foil wraps on the containers. These can hold water in the pots, which might cause the plants to rot from excess moisture. Make sure these plants are well wrapped before leaving the store for the trip home.

2.  Buy some amaryllis bulbs to grow on the windowsill. Depending upon variety, some staking might be required.

3.  Houseplants can suffer from the lack of humidity. Growing plants in pebble filled trays and saucers can help maintain humidity around plants. Set your plants on the pebbles, and fill the saucer or tray with water to just the top of the pebbles.

4.  If your roses aren’t protected, do so early in the month. Spray anti-dessicant on any exposed canes when the daytime temps are above 40. Mound soil, mulch, and leaves around the base of the plants to about 18 to 24 inches above the base of the bushes. this is especially true of hybrid teas, floribundas, and roses that have been growing in the yard less than two years, and any other marginally hardy rose. Some of the bush roses, such as the Explorers, Rugosas, Mordens, and Buck’s roses can overwinter successfully in our zones 5a to 6a region without protection. Again, if any variety was newly planted this past season or has been in the ground less than two years, protection would still be a good idea.

5.  Continue watering outside when the weather is above freezing, if there has not been sufficient precipitation and the ground has not frozen. Drain hoses after removing them from the faucets to prevent damage to hoses and plumbing.

6.  Try to take a daily walking tour of your yard, as the weather permits. Observe frost patterns in your yard in early morning. See where frost lingers, where frost does not hit, and write this down in your diary or journal. Often a surprise plant or two will be blooming in a protected spot. These are indicators of microclimates, and you can use this information when planning on where to site plants.

7.  Check the coldframe for any problems. Make sure plants are overwintering without the problems of standing water, field mice, disease, insects, or excessive cold. Prop it open on days that are sunny and above freezing to prevent excessive warming of your plants.

8.  Continue to keep birdfeeders filled. Birds offer a lot of winter interest, and by making your property attractive to birds, these helpmates might decide that your place would make a good home next year. Many birds migrate to the region from further north, but many birds make our region their year-around home.

9.  Take cuttings of holly and evergreen boughs indoors for Christmas decorating. Also fill outdoor window boxes with Christmas greens and decorative bows.

10. Keep fresh-cut Christmas trees in a cool, not freezing location. After bringing a tree home, cut 1 to 2″ from the base and plunge it into a bucket of tepid water with preservative added to prevent the cut end from sealing over. Don’t let the water run dry! When bringing a tree indoors for decorating, allow it to rest in the stand with water in it for several hours to allow the tree to “relax” its branches as it becomes acclimated to indoor warmth. Then decorate.

11. Gardening catalogs should start arriving this month. Start a list of items that you want to purchase for planting next spring. This is also a good time to take out any pictures you have taken of your gardens during the past growing season. You can see what you might need to add to your gardens and yard.

12. Potted Christmas trees should be placed in a cool, not freezing, area until brought indoors for decorating. These trees should not be brought in for extended periods. A day or two before Christmas and a few days after will not harm them. If kept too long indoors, they will break dormancy. After Christmas, take the tree out to the area where you prepared the planting site earlier (see October’s calendar), and plant it. Water well and mulch.

13. Continue to keep bird feeders full. Word will get around, and you will be amazed at how many visitors will come to call during the winter months if you provide a steady supply of suet and seed!

14. Remove any stray leaves that may have blown in around your plants. If they are not shredded, they can mat down around your plants and smother them or promote rotting.

15. Continue to apply mulch to your flowerbeds as the ground freezes to prevent freeze/thaw heave and premature breaking of dormancy.

16. Have a gardener on your gift list? A gift certificate to a nursery or garden center would be appreciated. You can also “gift” him or her with a gift certificate to a gardening-related mail order source. Another good idea would be a gift subscritption to a gardening magazine.

18. Most of all, have a Blessed Holiday Season, one and all!

Celebrating Thanksgiving with the foods & plants of the Americas

Celebrating Thanksgiving with the foods & plants of the Americas


Thanksgiving Dinner

New World Foods: Thanksgiving Dinner

Many plants we take for granted that originated in the New World have become such important food staples and have affected nearly every culture’s cuisine. So much so that we often forget that foods we associate with different countries had their origins in the Americas.

The same can be said for many ornamental plants now grown in gardens around the world.

So, I think it would be fun this Thanksgiving to look at some of the foods we eat for this holiday and the plants we use to decorate our homes, all of which makes this a truly American holiday and tradition.

The feature of the Thanksgiving Day Menu is, of course, the turkey. The largest game bird in North America, the turkey did not originate in Turkey, as some believe. So, how did it get its name? The Spaniards came back to the Old World with numerous plants and animals, including the turkey. At that time, many goods came to the rest of Europe via Constantinople, a major distribution center that was strategic in its location on the trade routes between Asia and Europe. The North American bird we now know as “turkey” eventually worked its way East and was distributed to the rest of Europe through Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul. Because almost anything coming out of Constantinople in Turkey would have a tag of “Turkey” attached to it, like Turkish rugs, etc., the name attached to the turkey by the English was Turkey coq, later shortened to turkey.

If we proceed down through the menu, probably the most universally featured side dish on the Thanksgiving Dinner menu would be mashed potatoes.

Although we often associate potatoes with the Irish and Ireland, potatoes actually originated in South America. They are an important food staple around the world, so much so that the country of Ireland adopted the potato as its own, both to its benefit and its downfall. The potato was such an important crop that it allowed the Irish to thrive and helped to contribute to a population explosion in Ireland. The Potato Famine of the mid-19th century, which was brought on by Potato Blight,  so obliterated the crop that many in Ireland moved to North America in a vast migration that left more Irish in the US and Canada than in Ireland itself.  So, if you have Irish ancestors, when you sit down to grub on those mashed potatoes, consider how you and your family have come to celebrate an American holiday this Thanksgiving.

Another featured item on the menu is the cranberry. Whether in relish, whole sauce or jellied, cranberries are  purely North American in origin. Previously, cranberries were pretty much used only around the holidays. With the many health benefits as an antioxidant and a urinary tract cleanser,  the cranberry is a staple as juice or a food source year-around.

Candied, mashed or baked or in a pie, sweet potatoes are another staple on the Thanksgiving menu.

A distant relative of the regular potato, sweet potatoes also originated in South America, but in the more tropical, frost-free regions. Columbus found the local Native Americans growing them in the Caribbean islands he discovered, so they were already spreading from their countries of origins even then.

Other items commonly found on the Thanksgiving Day menu include green beans or corn prepared in different ways. Often the corn is prepared in a casserole also featuring another New World food: diced sweet  peppers.

Of course, Thanksgiving would not be complete without the traditional pumpkin pie. Pumpkins, a member of the squash family, are also a very American food.

Now, the decorations at the Thanksgiving table might include pumpkins and various leaves in arrangements including the leaves of the sugar or red maple, various gourds, cattails.  And if you are lucky,  the arrangement might also include American Bittersweet, which is a plant so rare that it is on the endangered species list.

Another plant that you might find around this time of the year is the Thanksgiving Cactus, a relative of the Christmas Cactus that originated in Brazil.

So, there you have it!  Celebrate the food and plant contributions of the Americas this Thanksgiving, and a Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

Talking The Talk

One day I was idly surfing the net when I came across a German gardening site. Now, I will usually click on foreign sites since they often offer English language versions of their information. This one did not. But, instead of clicking off the site right away, I lingered for a bit because something struck me about the plants named: While I could not understand a lick of German, I could understand the names listed with the plant photographs! It occurred to me that this is the reason why I needed to write this article.

The scientific names that are assigned to plants are not there to impress anybody, or to confuse the average gardener. These names are to help provide a standardized nomenclature, or naming, of the vast array of plants that we encounter in our gardening efforts. It pays to understand a few things about this naming system, more properly known as binomial nomenclature, in order to communicate on the same level with other persons who have an interest in plants.

Why else should the Average Joe/Josephine gardener bother learning the scientific names of the plants that he or she grows?

There are two good reasons why we need to understand the proper names of plants. One is to be on the same wavelength with other plantsmen and gardeners and to avoid confusion. For example, Impatiens is known as Patience Plant, Balsam, Busy Lizzies, Sultanas, and, of course Impatiens. There are other instances where plants can be called the same exact name, but be entirely different plants: Balsam can be two different annuals or a type of tree. Also, regional differences can occur when describing a plant. By learning scientific nomenclature, we can all understand each other and what we are describing immediately. If we need to go to a plant expert for help and information, by knowing the proper name for a plant, we can get the help we need and cut down on some of the confusion.

The second reason to understand the scientific name of a given plant is to decipher or glean a bit more information about the plant itself. Not only does the individual learn what genus a plant belongs to according to its classification, other information such as color, origins, and other characteristics can be gleaned.

Here is a brief list of some of those prefixes and suffixes we see attached to many of the descriptive names of plants:


Alba, Albo = White
Aurea, Aureus = Yellow-Green or Yellow
Caerulea = Blue
Chrysantha = Yellow
Glaucus = Slivery-Blue
Lutea = Dark or Deep Yellow
Nigra = Dark, often nearly black
Purpurea = Purple
Roseum = Pink
Rubra = Red
Sanguinea = Dark Red
Virdis, Vireus = Green


Alpinus = From Alpine regions; from the Alps
Canadensis = From Canada, or from the northern US, generally east of the Mississippi
Campestris = From fields or meadows
Chinensis = From China
Helvetica = From Sweden
Hibernicus = From Ireland
Japonica = From Japan
Koreanus = From Korea
Maritimus = From regions near the seas or oceans
Montana = From the mountains
Occidentalis = From the New World
Orientalis = From the orient or eastern Asia
Planus = From the plains
Sylvestris = From the forests or woods

Other Descriptives, Including Growth Habits

Aborescens = Like a tree
Angustifolia = Having narrow leaves
Contorta = Being contorted or twisted
Decidua, = Deciduous, or drops leaves in the fall
Edulis = Something that is edible
Fruticosus= Something that is shrubby
Glossis = Being tongue-like
Grandiflora = Having large flowers
Grandifola = Having large leaves
Macrophylla = Having big leaves
Maculata = Being spotted, usually leaves
Nana = Being dwarf
Odorata = Having scented flowers
Officinalis = Being an herb
Paniculata = Flowers having panicles
Pendula = Hanging or drooping
Procumbens = Spreading or prostrate
Pubescens = Having hairlike covering, such as on leaves
Racemosa = Flowers having racemes
Repens = On the ground, creeping
Reptans = On the ground, creeping or hugging the ground
Rugosa = Having wrinkled-appearing leaves
Scandens = A climber, climbing
Sempervirens = Being evergreen
Tomentosa = Having a down-like covering, such as on leaves
Variegata = Having variegated leaves, or leaves with more than one color

This is just a sampler of some of the more common descriptives. You can see that by picking apart the names of many plants, you can obtain much information.

Once you start to use the “official jargon”, you will begin to understand what a plant is all about! It’s not at all hard once you get the hang of it, and by using the proper names of plants, you will become a much more informed person. Besides, you will be able to understand what those high-falutin’ gardening show hosts are talking about! So, be in the know and start “talking the talk”!

Spotlight Plant Of The Month For November: Cranberries

Spotlight Plant Of The Month For November: Cranberries


November is a time when outdoor gardening slows down and the attention shifts to the indoors. This is the beginning of the holiday season and the biggest food fest of the year, Thanksgiving, is the season opener.  Many of the foods that we traditionally associate with this holiday have their origins in the New World: potatoes, sweet potatoes, green beans, squash, corn, and pumpkin come to mind. This is the time of the year when the cranberry, Vaccinium macrocarpon, finds a featured spot on our holiday menus. This most American of fruits is steadily gaining in popularity, and it is not unusual to see the products of the cranberry in shopping carts any time of the year. We buy bags of cranberries, we buy cranberries in cans, but most of us do not know much about cranberries or how they grow.

Cranberries are a wonderful fruit. They are a rich source of Vitamin C, and have long been used medicinally for holistic treatments. Its uses as a natural diuretic and as a urinary tract antiseptic in particular comes to mind. Cranberries are also thought to provide some protection against cancers. The cranberry is a powerful antioxidant, great for boosting the immune system during the flu season, and is a good source of many vitamins and minerals and provide dietary fiber.

Cranberries are nigh on to impossible to eat “out of hand”. Extremely sour and tart, they transform into a wonderful, sweet-tart delight when sugared and cooked. One of the first uses for this ruby red fruit was as an addition to pemmican, a type of preserved meat used by the Native Americans/American Indians, and later adopted by European settlers. Cranberries preserve very well, and were thus a valuable food source in the pre-refrigeration and processing days. Wildlife is wild for the cranberry, and if you decide to devote a patch for these native fruits, be sure to save a few for the birds and other critters to scavenge.

You can grow cranberries without a bog. The main reason we associate cranberries with bogs is that in commercial plantings, cranberry fields are flooded to assist in the harvest and to prevent damage when frost threatens. The berries float, so it is easier for the commercial harvester to comb the fields and retrieve the floating fruits. At home, a bed devoted to cranberries would be rather small, so flooding would not be required. The soil needs to be acidic and well-drained, yet moisture-retentive. Mulch or protective floating row covers can be used when frosts threaten the harvest. In a small bed, hand picking will do. Cranberries do have runners of sorts, so it would probably be a good idea to maintain them in their own contained bed.

Cranberries sugared and dried, a great treat! Cook them in a pan with sugar, listen to them pop, smell the pungent-tart aroma. Wonderful! Cranberry wine, soft, clear, jewel-like red, acid and sweet, marvelous in a homey sort of way, great with a turkey dinner! String them for the Christmas tree, place them in a wildlife wreath, these are a beautiful and colorful addition to holiday decorations. Cranberry relish, cranberry muffins and bread, wonderful, scrumptious cranberries!

November Gardening Calendar

November Gardening Calendar

November sees the waning days of Autumn. Most of the leaves are down, most of the perennials and roses have finished blooming. The chilly days and nights are here, and often rainy days abound. Flurries to full-fledged snowstorms often arrive in November. Nature is slowly putting things to rest for a long winter nap. Football games and hayrides, bonfires and late November holiday gatherings rule.

The wise homeowner takes advantage of the few balmy days that November offers to set up the outdoor Christmas display for the coming season, thus avoiding the unpleasant task of putting up lights and holiday displays during the blustery and damp days of December. The enterprising gardener takes advantage of those same balmy days to finish this season’s tasks of winterizing the garden and taking care of other gardening chores:

1.  Finish planting bulbs for next spring’s flowers.

2.  Continue to water broadleaf evergreens and young or newly planted trees, shrubs, and roses.

3.  If you haven’t had a soil test, get one done now. Add amendments, as recommended. pH takes three or more months to adjust, so now is a good time to add sulfur or lime, as recommended, to adjust your pH.

4.  Remove all leaves from rose bushes and any leaf litter from the ground around your roses. Later in the month after a hard freeze, mound up soil, leaves, and mulch around your roses to help them survive the winter, particularly for the less hardy ones or roses that were planted in the past two years. Spray the exposed parts of canes with an anti-dessicant to prevent them from excessively drying out this winter. Do this when daytime temps are in the 40’s or above.

5.  After they reach dormancy, give deciduous trees and shrubs a good balanced feeding of organic based fertilizer for start-up growth in the spring. They will take the feeding in as they awaken in the spring.

6.  Add burlap and stake plant guards around your broadleaf evergreens after you have applied extra mulch around the plants and have sprayed them with an anti-dessicant, again when daytime temps are in the 40’s or above. Secure the stakes into the ground about 6 to 12 inches to anchor the screening. Leave three or four inches of gap between the ground and the bottom of the burlap for air circulation and to allow a space for you to set the hose around the plant for late season watering.

7.  Cut the dead foliage of perennials back to within 4 to 5 inches of the ground. Do leave some seed heads of plants on for winter interest. Rake up or remove any damp leaves to prevent them from matting around plants. These can cause your plants to smother or rot.

8.  Continue to shred leaves and use as mulch, soil conditioner, or compost pile material.

9.  If you have a hydrangea macrophylla, now is a good time to add extra winter protection to it. One good way is to mound mulch or shredded leaves over the plant and apply burlap covering over the top. If the bush is small enough, cover with mulch or leaves, and invert a bushel basket over the top. Secure these firmly to the ground so they will not blow away. A brick or heavy stone or two on top will work if you are using a bushel basket. These bushes set buds this year for next year’s blooms, and you do not want to lose next year’s flower display to rough winter and early spring weather.

10. Continue to add root crops to a coldframe storage area, or in a cool area such as a basement or unheated garage. For crops that you will be leaving in the ground, add a thick layer of mulch and a tarp that is secured to the ground. You can extend the harvest of cold-tolerant crops into winter by doing this.

11. Set your mower down for the last mowing of the season. Cut the grass shorter than before.

12. Drain fuel or add a fixative for that purpose to mowers, tillers, and other gas-powered tools that will sit idle during these cold months. This is also an excellent time to get mowers and power tools in the shop for tune-up and other maintenance chores.

13. Continue to keep bird feeders full. Word will get around, and you will be amazed at how many visitors will come to call during the winter months if you provide a steady supply of suet and seed!

14. Continue to keep houseplants watered as they need it, and withhold fertilizer as their growth rates slows.

15. Assess your trees and shrubs for crossed branches and weak stems. Only prune those storm damaged branches and weak stems at this time that you missed while they were in leaf. Make a mental note of what trees will need to be pruned in late winter to early spring.

16. If you want to get one jump on spring, empty the soil from your container plants. Add the soil to your garden beds or to the compost pile. Clean the pots and sterilize them, put them away in storage. They will be ready to plant next year.

17. Disconnect hoses from faucets to prevent damage to your plumbing. Only reconnect them if your are going to do watering during above freezing weather. Drain hoses after use to prevent damage to them from freeze-thaw cycles.

18. Later this month, visit an indoor conservatory or greenhouse to enjoy the plants. Or, purchase a few plants to add to your indoor collection!