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Forcing The Issue

Forcing The Issue

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!

Plum Blossoms

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 four seasons areas of the country 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
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
Honeysuckle
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
Magnolia
Harvest cuttings from early March on

 

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The Cutting Garden

The Cutting Garden

Mention a cutting garden, and perhaps the vision of orderly rows of flowers in a corner of the vegetable patch spring to mind. Certainly, this is how cutting gardens originated, but cutting gardens can easily be incorporated into an existing perennial bed or border.

The Cutting Garden

Flowers for the cutting garden

The plants used in a cutting garden are lovely to behold, and the flowers used offer double-duty both in the display bed and in the vase.

You probably are already growing many plants that work well in arrangements. Shasta daisy, tall coreopsis, and garden phlox are a few examples of plants that many of us grow that work well in flower arrangements. No surprise, peonies and lilacs can also double as extras in the cutting garden.

The principles are the same as when planning any garden site: Prepare the soil, add tons of organic matter and compost, use a balanced organic fertilizer, water, and mulch.

When harvesting flowers from the cutting garden, or areas of your perennial bed that have flowers you are going to harvest for arrangements, remember to cut blooms during the coolest part of the day, in the early morning. Keep a bucket of lukewarm water handy to plunge the cut ends of the stems in the water immediately. Some flowers begin to seal over the cut almost immediately, which will definitely shorten the lifespan of the flower in the vase. You don’t need to add a floral preservative at this point, just keep the stem ends immersed in water until you get back inside to arrange them in the vase.

Here are a few plants to consider for the cutting garden:

Ammi, Bishop’s Flower Asters Astilbe
Achillea, Yarrow Bells of Ireland Bachelor’s Buttons
Celosia plumosa Celosia, Cockscomb Carnations
Coreopsis, taller types Cosmos Calla lilies (tender bulb)
Garden mums Campanula, Bellflowers Digitalis, Foxgloves
Delphiniums Daisies Dianthus, Taller pinks
Echinops Echinaceas, Coneflowers Gypsophila
Gladiolus (Tender Bulb) Gaillardia Helichrysum
Heuchera, Coral Bells Heliopsis Lilies
Larkspur Liatris Lavender
Nicotiana Nigella Peonies
Snapdragons Statice Scabiosa
Sunflowers Sweet Peas Salvias, Taller Types
Tulips Tithonia Zinnias

A few things to keep in mind when selecting plants for a cutting garden: Choose plants that are taller varieties. For example, if a label states a snapdragon is a good bedding plant, it might be a smaller or shorter form. Tall varieties are what we are generally looking for. Another thing is to plant a large grouping of a particular plant. It is better to grow only three or four particular plants for cutting in a larger mass than a little bit of this and that!

Try adding a few annuals to the border that are also good for cutting. When spring comes, sow seeds of some zinnias, annual bachelor’s buttons, and other flowers for cutting among your perennials. Not only will they be there for your indoor bouquets, they will also help to carry over the color show as the different perennials finish their bloom cycles.

Once you have your flowers indoors, cut another quarter inch of stem off and plunge them into a 50:50 solution of lemon-lime soda and water with one or two drops of bleach to the gallon. This same solution can be used to feed the flowers in the vase, and will keep well in the refrigerator. Change water daily, and be sure no leaves or flower buds are left underwater in the vase to decay.

Grow your own flowers for arrangements! Cutting gardens are a great way to enjoy your flowers in the home as well as outdoors, so share your place and space with a few flowers for cutting!

January Gardening Calendar

January Gardening Calendar

January is a quiet month for gardeners in the Southern Great Lakes Region. The flurry of the holiday season has passed. Long nights and short days bring out the urge in some to nestle in and wait out the worst of winter weather. Others relish the season with outdoor activities: Ice hockey, ice fishing, skiing, and tobogganing are among the activities that residents of the region take pleasure in. For indoor types, college and high school basketball rules. For armchair quarterbacks, there are the playoffs leading up to the big Superbowl weekend.

While not much is happening outside, there are still gardening and maintenance chores that can and need to be tackled this time of the year:

1.  Trim the branches off your Christmas tree and use the boughs for mulch. Or, you can set the tree outside and add fruits and suet balls and other goodies for the birds and other wildlife to enjoy.

2.  Avoid walking on lawns when there is snowpack to prevent compaction and snow mold later in the season.

3.  Avoid the use of salt-based products on sidewalks and drives. Sand or cat litter provides good traction on slick spots without damage to lawn, ornamentals, or concrete.

4.  Inspect tree trunks for rodent and winter damage. If you haven’t already done so, time’s a-wastin’ to add tree wrap and mesh guards to prevent girdling and other damage by rabbits and rodents.

5.  Cleanly prune any storm-damaged branches from trees and shrubs.

6.  Inspect flowerbeds during the January thaw for signs of frost heave. Place the plants back into the ground, and when the ground refreezes, apply mulch.

7.  Check the cold frame for signs of trouble. On warm, sunny days, vent the cold frame.

8.  If the winter is not particularly snowy, check plants such as rhododendrons and other broadleaf evergreens for signs of dehydration. If the temperatures are above freezing and these plants are dry, water them. Also, reapply an anti-desiccant to your evergreens to prevent excessive moisture loss. Do this on a day above 40 degrees.

9.  Gently remove freshly fallen snow from evergreens to prevent limbs from breaking.

10. Start bringing in a few pots of forced bulbs for a touch of spring.

11. Remove snow dams from eaves to prevent damage to your eaves and roof.

12. Start ordering early from mail order sources for best selection.

13. Check seed-starting supplies. Replace old fluorescent or grow lights before the seed starting season begins.

14. On warm days, take a look at the bare bones of your garden structure. See where plants can be placed, which plants might need to be moved, and write down your thoughts and ideas for future reference when the planting season begins.

15. Check houseplants for heat stress. Maintain adequate humidity and light levels. Water appropriately.

16. Houseplants, especially tropicals, might suffer cold injury if they are placed too close to window panes during the winter. Move them back a few inches, and make sure their leaves are not touching the glass.

17. Continue to feed the birds! Think about adding a birdbath heater to the birdbath so birds can find a source of fresh water to drink.

18. Inspect summer tubers, corms, and bulbs. If they look like they are drying, spritz them with a little water. If they are in a medium such as sand or peat, moisten that as well. Discard any diseased or dead bulbs, etc.

19. Can’t afford a trip to Florida or Hawaii? Find out where you can take a day trip to a conservatory. Many large and medium sized cities in the region have indoor botanical gardens that offer a nice escape for those of us who need to see some green and smell the organic scents of growing plants and soil.

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

 

Holly

Holly

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:

Color

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

Origins

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”!

The Southern Great Lakes Gardener

For nearly 10 years, I’ve had a website on gardening.  This year, I let the web hosting lapse. I figure it isn’t cost worthy to have a personal website any longer.  Blogging is a more up-to-date and effective way to say what I want to say.

So, under the category of Domestications, you’ll see a sub-category of Digging In The Garden.

I am moving my articles and links over there and over time and will be adding new gardening articles as well.