Advice needed – quick!

Monday’s not my usual day to post, but I need your help.

I’m to present at a large garden symposium next week.  You know the usual syposium format: there’s a design talk, one on plant care, another on edibles in the landscape, and finally the plant-lust generating presentation (The Plant Talk). That’s my role in this particular symposium. My topic is very broad – new and underused annuals, perennials, and woodies.  Actually, it’s too broad, and it’s giving me fits.

Now, I’ve both given and sat through countless Plant Talks as I’m sure you have (and many of you have probably delivered said presentations). I will say I know to limit my list, as hard as that is  (only one hour to present).  Giant
lists can become mind-numbing, especially when little info is given
other than "Wow, look at this variegated foliage! Love it!" 

My issue is how to best arrange this disparate group of plants so that it makes the most sense to my audience. Currently, they’re grouped by plant type (perennial, annual, woody, ornamental grasses etc.) and alphabetically within. But I’m having second thoughts.

How you can help: think back to the most useful and efficient presentations you’ve heard…how were they organized?  As I have them (by type)?  Season of interest (spring blooming, fall color, etc.)?  Sun or shade? Alphabetically?  Other?  Eh? 

Please weigh in!

The Winter Weekend Garden Warrior

As Garden Professors, we are very careful regarding product endorsements. Actually, much energy is spent trying to bring to light weird/crappy/useless/money-wasting gardening products.

But when we feel strongly about the usefulness, quality, and utility of a product, it is our duty to pass that information along as well.

I didn’t mean to be a walking advertisement last weekend.

We were in the final throes of getting our garden cut back; Joel was laughing that I “needed another set of hands” when I came around the corner.  “Not with my fabulous Firehose Work Pants from Duluth Trading Company, I don’t!”  Thus the inspiration for this post.

All products noted are, variously: warm, waterproof, full of pockets, sharp, indestructible, dependable, and/or delicious.

Good Stuff

Boy oh boy, what a fun day!  People yelling at me from the left and from the right.  But hey, I didn’t start doing what I do to make everyone happy.  With that said….Nah, I don’t feel like attacking anyone today.  Instead, let’s look at a good renewable fertilizer: Cotton seed meal.  It’s got a reasonably good ratio of nitrogen to phosphorus and potassium — slow release of course.  Basically a waste product given a meaningful purpose.  And look at the label — no mycorrhizae or other gimmicks.  Just pure, unadulterated, cotton seed meal.  This is what I want on my garden.

The Return of Molasses Malarkey

Last time I posted I began discussing this link about horticultural molasses. Let’s continue with the dissection:

“When molasses is sprayed directly on plants, it is absorbed straight into the plant. Once absorbed, the sugar content of the plant goes up. If you need proof, go pour a Coke on a spot in your lawn, in a week you will see exactly what I mean. Simple sugars are how plants store energy for rainy days and winter hibernation. So, why is this important to you as a gardener? Aside from basically giving your plants a power boost, you are stopping bugs. “What?” you ask. Yes, it stops bugs. Insects are very simple creatures. They can only feed within a narrow window of sugar content. When the sugar content of plants is raised, insects can’t feed on them. They take one bite and move on.

“The second way molasses controls insects, is by being directly ingested by the insect. What most people don’t know is that only Sugar Ants and bees can process the simplest sugars. Insects have no way of expelling the gas that builds up from fermenting sugar and the vegetation in their gut (draw your own mental pictures please). Plus, they have exoskeletons and can’t get bloated. Their delicate internal organs are crushed from the inside out. All a bug needs to do, is walk through or try to feed on a molasses covered plant. Insects are constantly cleaning themselves. They will try to lick the molasses off their feet and swallow it. If they take a bite of a molasses coated plant, they will swallow it.”

Some specific observations and comments:

1) “If you need proof, go pour a Coke on a spot in your lawn, in a week you will see exactly what I mean.” I just don’t think I can do this comment justice, so I’ll leave it to your imagination as to what you might see and how it relates to a 1% molasses solution sprayed onto leaves.

2) “Simple sugars are how plants store energy for rainy days and winter hibernation.” Actually, no. Simple sugars are difficult to store as they contain a lot of water and they can be quite reactive. Plants transform simple sugars (monosaccharides and disaccharides) into polysaccharides for storage.

3) “Insects are very simple creatures. They can only feed within a narrow window of sugar content. When the sugar content of plants is raised, insects can’t feed on them. They take one bite and move on.” Obviously the author has never seen Men In Black.

Give me sugar…in water

4) “What most people don’t know is that only Sugar Ants and bees can process the simplest sugars.” Please explain this to the cockroach I once saw in a sugar bowl.

5) “Insects have no way of expelling the gas that builds up from fermenting sugar and the vegetation in their gut. Their delicate internal organs are crushed from the inside out.” Did you know that termites are significant producers of methane gas – a byproduct of fermentation? And they release it the old-fashioned way.

From NASA’s website on methane production

More next week!

You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps

Recently I spent a week in Oregon working on a Christmas tree genetics project along with my colleagues Chal Landgren( Oregon State University), Gary Chastagner ( Washington State University), and John Frampton (North Carolina State University).  The objective of the project is to identify superior seed sources of Turkish fir and Trojan fir for use as Christmas trees around the United States.   We refer to the project as the Cooperative Fir Genetic Evaluation or CoFirGE – remember, the most critical step in any experiment is coming up with a catchy acronym.    CoFirGE began with a trip by my colleagues to Turkey where they collected seed from 100 fir trees across a range of sites in Turkey


Turkish fir growing in western Oregon

Why are we interested in these species? Both Turkish and Trojan fir are closely related Nordmann fir, which is widely used as a Christmas tree in Europe.  These species make wonderful Christmas trees due to their symmetry and needle color.  In addition they may be resistant to diseases, particularly Phytophthora root rot, that plague Christmas tree growers from Washington State to North Carolina.

So, what was going on in Oregon?  After the seed were collected in Turkey they were sent to Kintigh’s nursery near Eugene, Oregon, where the seed were sown to produce seedling plugs.  The next step of the project will be to send the seedlings out to cooperators in five locations (Pacific Northwest, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut).  This is tree improvement on a grand scale.  In each region there will be two test plantings and each planting will include 30 reps of 100 seed sources or 3,000 trees.  Multiplied by 5 regions and 2 plantations that’s 30,000 trees total that we will collect data on for the next 8-9 years.


30,000 seedlings ready to be sorted and shipped


Each seedling is individually labeled with a bar code for identification


Sorting into to boxes to send to cooperators around the country

But step one is getting the seedlings from the nursery to the out-planting sites.  That means lots of tagging, sorting, and bagging.  With help from technicians and students from WSU, OSU and NCSU and staff from Kintigh’s we were able to get all the seedlings sorted and bagged by mid-day on Thursday and start them on their journey to their new homes.  Next  step: Planting…

The Strawberry, And What Do You Do For An Encore?

 

Once upon a time, a long time ago (around 1714), a spy, posing as a merchant, was dispatched from France to Chile to investigate the defenses which the Spanish had installed there.  While there, he also had the opportunity to see some truly amazing plants, but he was most impressed by the strawberries.  Strawberries of one sort or another are native throughout most of the world, but most are just little bitty things.  They may taste good, but you’ve got to get quite a few of them together to make a decent snack.  These were mega-bruisers.  Five or six could fill a small plate.  The name of this spy was Amedee Frezier (which is a variation of the word for strawberry).

Anyway, being a top-notch spy, he managed to get his hands on six strawberry plants and make away with them back to France.  Sacrificing fresh water needed by both himself and his shipmates to ensure that the plants made it safely across the ocean, he finally arrived in France with his precious cargo, no doubt very proud of himself.

There was only one problem.  These strawberries never produced much fruit.  Still, the plants were pretty enough, so they were kept at various botanical gardens across Europe and propagated using the runners which they naturally produce.  But the scientific community never could figure out how to make them produce fruit on a regular basis.

Enter Antoine Duchesne, a great scientist of the 18th century.  Duchesne figured out that the problem that the Chilean strawberries were having was that they were female.  Sure, they had fruit when Frezier saw them, but when he brought them to Europe they were never placed near male strawberry plants to provide pollen.  So Frezier mated the Chilean strawberries with male strawberries native to Europe and Bang!  There were the big beautiful strawberries that Frezier had seen in Chile.  And in 1764 he presented a bowl of them to King Louis XV.  Duchesne was seventeen at the time.  I wonder, was the rest of his life a letdown?

Living with lichens

 

We often hear that the US needs to boost its investment in science education to keep up with rest of the world.  While we often think in terms of physics and chemistry when we think of science, we need to remember biology and ecology fit in the mix, too.

 

I bring this up because of a call a received a while back from a homeowner.  The gentleman was concerned /borderline distraught that he would have to remove a prized maple tree from his front yard because it had “peculiar growths all over the trunk”.  I told him it was difficult to diagnose a tree problem sight unseen but if he could send me some images, it might help me out.  

 

The photo did indeed make ‘the problem’ obvious.   

 

 

The growths were lichens.  Lichens do not harm trees but I’m sure an unscrupulous tree service could have easily convinced the homeowner his tree needed come out had he not contacted me first.  Lichens are actually two organisms; a fungus and an algae that form a symbiotic relationship and function very much like one organism The algae part of the lichen is photosynthetic, and therefore they are able to produce their own energy and do not take any resources away from the tree. In fact, lichens often grow on non-living substrates such as wood, concrete, tombstones, benches and so on. If a homeowner observes a dead tree or dead branch covered with lichens on it, this is a coincidence; the lichens did not cause the branch or the tree to fail. The tree trunk or branch simply provides a porous surface for the lichen to attach. Lichens are often fairly inconspicuous, but in some moist areas, such as the Pacific Northwest, they may form a mat that completely coats branches. 


Fast facts about lichens

Lichens grow in some of the most inhospitable places on earth from deserts to tundras.

Lichens are commonly grayish-green, but may also be yellow or red, depending of the type of algae associated with the fungus.

Lichens are sensitive to air pollution, and researchers are investigating their use as a bio-indicator of air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and ozone.

Lichens are fascinating organisms, if you are taking a liking to lichens try these websites:
http://www.nmnh.si.edu/botany/projects/lichens/
http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/fungi/lichens/lichens.html