Slugs and Beer: Not So Fast, My Friend…

[To those new to our blog, there are many past posts of scientifically-proven garden advice and research results…so pardon if we slip off the wagon just briefly.]

In response to the previous post:
Dr. Gillman, I’m simply shocked at your sloppy “materials and methods”.
What is that, a Frisbee? And you drink a beer called Moose Drool? Sounds intriguing, but probably too hoppy. No wonder the slugs were simply mocking your feeble attempts at attracting them.

BEHOLD the well-researched and insightful slug trap:

One 12″ plastic pot saucer + 10 oz. Pabst Blue Ribbon = 28 slugs in one night.

Not unlike college students, results indicate there’s obviously no accounting for the slug’s taste (or lack thereof) in beer. Hmmm…that gives me an idea for a grant proposal…

I *heart* My NRG Pro Transplanter

[Disclaimer: I do not endorse any particular product over another, nor do I receive ANY compensation (darn it), free stuff, etc. from any companies, whether recommending or dissing their product.] 

Seeing Linda’s favorite mulch fork prompted this post – scroll on down past the Great Root Debate (rowr)!  I remember first laying eyes on this beauty at a local garden center…shiny stainless steel,comfy chartreuse handle, large step area, nice and solid…”I must have eet!” But it’s the functionality that makes me reach for it every weekend. I’m tall (6′) and was a bit concerned that the short handle would compromise my leverage. Not the case! The round handle allows you to grip it most anywhere, reducing repetitive stress on wrist, elbow, and shoulder joints. The unique tapered blade – probably 5″ across at the tip – make it perfect for working around established plantings, removing king-sized gobs of crabgrass, and ideal for planting 1 gallon or smaller perennials or annuals.  I must have dug 400 holes in the frenzy of planting that followed our agreeing (idiots!!!) to be on the local garden tour this summer. But I was darn comfortable and stylish while doing it. These puppies have been on the market for a few years, so this may not be news to you. But I just had to share my affection – two thumbs up. Wish they made a mulch fork!

A Brief Discussion on the Wisdom of Barberry as Median Plant

We never know who to blame (or, rarely, thank) for roadside or median plantings. State D.O.T.? Local municipality? Subcontractor to either of the previous?

A few years ago, this appeared in the median of the Highway 460 bypass – the main road leading to Virginia Tech:

I am somehow reminded of Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons…

Two hedge rows. One of  green Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii, cultivar unknown); the other of the purple form (Berberis thunbergii var. atropurpurea) Side by side, they make their way up the median, alternating from the right-hand side of the culvert to the left, like two caterpillars in love.  Ooooh, lovely! Or at least SOMEBODY thought so.

Issues: 1) Barberry is a prolific fruit-setter and has made several state’s “Invasives” list.  It’s outright prohibited in Massachussettes (can’t buy, sell, or import it).  In our Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia, it is popping up with startling regularity in state forests, road sides, open fields, etc. Interestingly, most of what I’ve seen is the purple form.  2) It’s very thorny. Which means most of the time it is adorned with plastic bags and other perforatable garbage.  3) They are actually mulching, pruning, and weeding this mess, which stretches for at least 2 miles. Best use of state budget/manpower??

I realize purple Japanese barberry is one of the bread-and-butter staples of many nurseries and garden designers. Folks just love the deep reddish-purple foliage.   Virginia Tech’s school colors are maroon and orange, so this is the go-to shrub for campus landscapers and ardent alumni desiring that particular color scheme (see below for our “living VT”). Very fun!  Growing next to a trillium on our section of the Appalachian Trail? Not so much.


Approximately one gazillion people get their photo made next to the VT logo each year – pretty good public relations for a noxious weed.

Fabulous Sporobolus!

“Where have you been all my life?!!”

Every once and a while, I come across a plant and simply fall in love.

I  am not alone on this particular species, and the bandwagon is getting mighty crowded.  Sporobolus heterolepis is the object of my affections…it even has an intriguing common name – Prairie Dropseed. It’s native to much of North America, short of the West Coast.  Though most widespread in the Midwest, there are isolated populations in Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. It’s even hardy up in the Arctic North (where Jeff and Linda live).


Sporobolus  shows off some  fluffitude while Echinacea tennesseensis look on in amazement.  Author’s garden.

Now on to the juicy description: fine, green foliage forms fluffy mounds or tussocks up to one and a half feet tall and up to two feet wide.  I describe it to my students as “pet-able” – one just wants to run their fingers through the flowing locks… The tiny, fragrant  flowers appear in late summer form a fluffy cloud above the foliage and wave about on slender stems, even with the slightest breeze.  I think the flowers have a coriander scent, have also heard buttered popcorn and vanilla.  Seeds form and then drop to the ground around the plant (hence the common name), at which point the birds scarf them up.  There is very little actual germination; the species is in fact endangered or threatened in several states (USDA Plants Database).  As the weather cools, the fall color can range from bronze to orange to apricot – just gorgeous – and then turns to a tawny buff for the remainder of the winter.

Newly-planted in the Hahn Horticulture Garden at Viginia Tech – check out that fabulous fall color!

As with many prairie natives, this a very tough character once established – puts up with lousy soil,  little rainfall, and is definitely drought-tolerant. We’ve added more than 100 of them to our campus meadow garden.  At my favorite public garden, Chanticleer (Wayne, PA), they’re planted in huge drifts and are managed in the “natural” way, with controlled burns in the early spring.

Doubt you’d find it at a big box store, but it should be available at an independent garden center near you! Please note this one of those species that does NOT look very exciting in the pot, especially in the spring (green, grassy, that’s it).  But give it a season or two in your garden and…[cue romantic violins…].

What I Learned This Summer (part 2): Pot Recycling, a Photo Essay

A big “score” at a great garden center or nursery results in guilt. Not about the money I spent, but the giant pile of pots and tags left in the wake of the planting frenzy. I plan to provide a more thorough review/discussion on this topic in the future – but for now, I want to share what I learned in a visit to the Missouri Botanical Garden’s (MOBOT) recycling center in St. Louis (part of the Perennial Plant Association’s annual conference).  As one of the public gardening world’s leaders in conservation and sustainability, their program is truly revolutionary and apparently very successful. In place since 2006, they’ve kept hundreds of thousands of pots out of the landfill.

Dr. Steve Cline,recycling guru and dynamic Director of MOBOT’s  Kemper Center for Home Gardening, explains the system to our group.

Start with your basic pile o’ pots, knocking out loose soil, beer bottles, whatever they’ve accumulated.

Deliver them to either a participating garden center (there are several) or the garden’s recycling location and place in the appropriate bin.

If off site, pots get hauled to the garden’s Monsanto Center for recycling. Garden staff and volunteers then send them off to the great and loud Pot Chipper in the Sky…

resulting in pot confetti…
Woo hoo! (flings in air)

…which gets shipped to manufacturers of cool things like plastic lumber!

Voila.  Guilt relieved; IF you garden in the greater St. Louis area. I’ll be talking about alternatives for the rest of us in a future post!

What I Learned This Summer (Part 1)

Just flew in from St. Louis and boy are my arms tired! [Baadum – ch!]

I have very diverse responsibilities and interests, but all in one way or another relate to this thing called Gardening. I recently attended two very different conferences, both in St. Louis but thankfully scheduled back-to-back. The first was the Perennial Plant
Association (PPA): a colorful, enthusiastic, slightly eccentric group of growers, breeders, designers, and geeks of the highest order. Bus tours and talks centered on plants, glorious plants….of which we simply cannot get enough.

  Paul Westervelt is so excited...PPA visits Missouri Botanical Garden

Hot plants!!! Paul Westervelt expresses his enthusiasm during the PPA tour of the fabulous Missouri Botanic Garden.

The second was the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS) annual conference. Not so colorful. Lots of data…even presented some myself. But very necessary – especially in our realm (publish or perish). “Horticulture” is a ridiculously broad umbrella, under which falls food crops, ornamentals, biotechnology, econom cs, and some social sciences.  There were speakers and posters on a mind-boggling array of topics – from horticulture curricula to stress physiology; tropical fruits to public horticulture. Some of this research and information is ready for “technology transfer”, that is, with a bit of tweaking,
the results are directly applicable, whether to a nursery grower or a consumer.  Much of it is not; and will exist only in that “researcher to researcher” ether.

My point: there are many outlets for the information shared at PPA, i.e. hot new plants on the Terra Nova website, design articles by the various garden writers in attendance, the newest book from Timber Press, etc. For ASHS, not so much, unless you subscribe to HortScience and receive the 1000+ pages of abstracts from the meeting.

This is where we can help. Jeff Gillman has done a yeoman’s job at translating science to gardeners, and now all of us involved in this blog are going to chip in.  Call it “insider
information” or the less-glamorous “stuff that’s technical/boring to read but with
hidden nuggets of usefulness”.  The one thing we hope makes this useful to you is that we all consider ourselves gardeners, and though our day jobs certainly inform how we manage our own little piece of heaven, you’ll get a good dose of adventure, frustration, triumph, plant lust, and humor.

My next few blog contributions will be “things I learned in St. Louis”.  Not least of which is the hoppy goodness of locally-brewed Schlafly Pale Ale.

Introducing Holly Scoggins

Greetings from the southernmost member of this squad!  I’m an Associate Professor in the Department of Horticulture at Virginia Tech and Director of the Hahn Horticulture Garden, our fabulous 6-acre teaching and display garden on campus. Blacksburg is in the Blue Ridge mountains of southwest Virginia, USDA Zone 6-ish,  elevation of 2,080 feet. I teach Herbaceous Landscape Plants, Greenhouse Management, Floriculture, and  a Public Gardens course. My research focuses on nursery and greenhouse production of perennials. In both sharing my research and in learning what’s new and improved, I interact extensively with the state and regional green industry – growers, plant breeders, landscapers, and garden centers. I love the business side of things – and am a rabid plant shopper, so this works out well!

I’m originally an Army brat but spent most of my formative years (the 80’s and 90’s) in Athens, Ga.  My B.S. (Agricultural Economics) and M.S. (Horticulture) are from the University of Georgia, and my Ph.D (Horticulture) is from North Carolina State University.  So lotsa Zone 7 experience under my belt.

Professional credentials aside, I guess I would describe myself as a card-carrying plant dork (actually, I’m just a dork, period). Love, love, LOVE to garden, whether at work or at home. My partner and I have a 19-acre farm stuck on the side of mountain – we have four acres of u-pick blueberries along with Christmas trees, honey bees, chickens, a small greenhouse, veg gardens, and lots and lots of ornamentals, of course.  Just in case you were wondering where I was coming from. I’m so pleased to be working with such talented and clever folks on this blog!