Archived webinar available

We had a decent turnout on the webinar yesterday – saw a few names from our blog readers there.  I hope everyone was able to see and hear the presentation and didn’t have any technical difficulties?  If you did, please let me know so we can fix them for next time. For those of you who weren’t able to attend, it’s been archived for viewing at your leisure.

I used suggestions that readers suggested on the blog to demonstrate how to search academic databases for science-based information on products and practices related to gardening.  So if you’re curious to know whether wireworms can be controlled naturally using bait traps, or whether hydrogen peroxide as a soil drench will prevent damping off off seedlings, or whether mowing leaves into the lawn is a good practice…you’ll have to watch!

Possum 1, Garden Professor 0

It was a dark and stormy Wednesday night.

Joel opened the porch door and whispered “you’ve got to come see this.” He’d taken the dogs out for their 9:00 p.m. constitutional, and there was apparently some excitement under the old apple tree.

“There’s a possum, and I think she’s playing dead.”

I grabbed the flashlight and hustled out.  Got around the corner to the tree, and sure enough, there was a rather large blob of silver and white mammal.

But as I got closer, my heart sank.

She was curled up, head askew, front leg sticking out at an odd angle.  Lips (?) pulled back , teeth and gums bared in a terrible grimace, tongue hanging out the side.  I shined the flashlight right into her eyes. No movement, no pupil dilation.  Being from a farm in Georgia, I claim the most possum and raccoon experience. Thus, my verdict. Deader than a doornail. Which made me sad.

“Aargh. Thanks. Now I’m upset.  Guess she got hit by a car and made it this far before expiring.  Could you put her out at the end of the garden? The soil’s pretty soft there.”

Joel apologized and went to get the shovel.  I scuffed back inside to finish the dishes, feeling awful for the little critter.  Thanks to our impenetrable hen stockade, we live in pretty good harmony with our country cousins, and hate to see harm come to them.

Ten minutes later, Joel was back at the door, shovel in hand.

“Um, I think it was faking.”

“No way. That possum was graveyard dead.”

“Well…it seemed to be o.k. enough to be sitting up and eating an apple.”

We hiked back out to the tree – no possum to be found.  My wildlife cred was blown.

“Looks like she was playing possum” I offered, helpfully.

Joel muttered “But I just dug a three-foot-deep hole.”

Aphids Marching

Was out enjoying the last of the SW Virginia fall color from our deck, the day before we got our dose of Sandy…the wind was picking up and the barometer and temperature were dropping

Twenty-four hours later, we had an inch of snow and 40 mph winds. No more fall color.
Looked down at the railing and the ENTIRE length of it – 45′ – had aphids streaming back and forth.  They were absolutely pouring off a Clematis terniflora vine (the same species that attracted all the blister beetles this summer – what a prize) that had clambered up over the deck. It was like two lanes of traffic, going in each direction, and at a (relatively) high rate of speed.  I’ve never seen aphids move so fast. But to where??

I believe it’s time to re-stain the deck.

We also had the interesting phenomenon of congregating swarms of lady beetles (the Asian species – Harmonia axyridis) a couple of weeks ago. The south side of the house and my Jeep were covered.  At least there’s an upside to that infestation – I’ve noticed lots of larvae around.

As you know, lady beetle larvae are very effective predators of aphids, and were out in full force amongst the aphids…I counted 30. But they couldn’t make a dent in the thousands of aphids streaming along the rail. Upon closer inspection, they were actually trying to avoid the aphids.  They had obviously had their fill and could barely move. I swear they looked nauseous.

“No thanks, we’re full.”
So – any thoughts on why the aphids were so active?

Something different to end the week

Thanks to Neil H. for sending this my way.

This is from The Tree Whisperer:

ALERT!  HOW TO HELP THE TREES. Hurricane Sandy is coming to the East Coast, USA

If you are inclined to talk with trees–and aside from the practical things you can do–here is another way you can help your trees through the storm: Hurricane Sandy.  (Or send help, if you are elsewhere.)  

Go outside and walk among your trees and plants on your property.  You may also touch them.

In your heart, say the following phrases to all your trees and plants. 

(If you are elsewhere, ask your trees to send these wishes to the trees on East Coast USA.)

  1. I care for you.  There is a big storm coming.
  2. Roots, please grip soil and earth with all your might.
  3. Trunk, branches, and stems, please be supple and bend like a dancer.
  4. Leaves, please drop if you can, or become slippery and turn on edge so the wind-driven rain slips past you or any snow slips off.  
  5. Community of Green Beings, please tighten your web of connections.
  6. Ecosystem, please become connected and interconnected. 
  7. Element of Earth, please hold roots tight.
  8. Element of Air, please caress, not assault. 
  9. Element of Water, please flow smoothly over.  
  10. Element of Fire, please give strength to the whole. 
  11. Spirit of the Land, please meet the Spirit of the Storm with serenity.

Please do this more than once in the coming days, if you can.  


When the storm arrives, see to your own well-being first. Continue to send these messages to your trees, even from inside the house or from afar.  


Ecosystem services: Am I going to get a bill?

Spent last Friday in a departmental faculty retreat – you know, the “vision thing”  – S.W.O.T. analysis, where are we going to be in five years, etc.  But we actually got some things accomplished. One of the more interesting aspects was discussing trends in horticulture, both popular and practical, and how we could respond. One of the reoccurring themes throughout the day, especially related to urban agricultural/horticulture, was ecosystems services. I’ve heard the term mostly from environmental science and urban forestry folks.  But also seems fairly appropriate for us horticulturists, who are constantly trying to explain what, exactly, we do.

The definition offered by the American Institute of Biological Sciences (“Bringing biology to informed decision making”) is pretty good:

Ecosystem Services are the processes by which the
environment produces resources that we often take for granted such as
clean water, timber, and habitat for fisheries, and pollination of
native and agricultural plants. Whether we find ourselves in the city or
a rural area, the ecosystems in which humans live provide goods and
services that are very familiar to us. [They include:]

  • moderate weather extremes and their impacts
  • disperse seeds
  • mitigate drought and floods
  • protect people from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays
  • cycle and move nutrients
  • protect stream and river channels and coastal shores from erosion
  • detoxify and decompose wastes
  • control agricultural pests
  • maintain biodiversity
  • generate and preserve soils and renew their fertility
  • contribute to climate stability
  • purify the air and water
  • regulate disease carrying organisms
  • pollinate crops and natural vegetation”

Horticulture, as a discipline, touches on so many of these areas.

My question to our readers: does the term ecosystem services mean much to you? Or do you consider it jargon, best kept to grant proposals and impact reports?

Clever Things I Saw This Summer, Part 1

I’ve been wanting to share a few silly things with you from my travels and travails this summer. But I’ve been a bit hesitant, due to the gravity of recent posts, comments, and related hoo-ha (I was completely unaware there was a cornmeal controversy).

I sure appreciate and admire the guts and grace with which my GP colleagues present their cases and engage our readers.  Important topics, all.

Which makes this segue even more awkward…Look! A jellyfish made from succulents!!!

Start with a fabulous assortment of Kalanchoe, Echeveria, Sedum, Aeonium, etc.

Turn wire hanging basket upside-down. Stuff with sphagnum moss. Cut a circle of mesh and wire across the bottom (was the top).

Plant with little succulents (I’m sure that’s how they started out).  I think the tentacles are Crassula species. Hap, our man from Cactus Jungle, would know the species (segmented one might be C. muscosa, but the curved one really made them look tentacle-y).

Add a hook and chain. Slap on a $200 price tag (yow!).
Voila! A jellyfish.

If ever near Alexandria, Ohio (just east of Columbus) stop in to visit Chris Baker and the gang at Baker’s Acres.   Greenhouses are chock-full of amazing plants and ideas such as this one, plus the restroom decor is worth the trip.

So that’s why they’re called blister beetles…

I’ve had several discussions with gardening folks in the region on one of our more annoying pests, the blister beetles.  Big appetite, eats lots of things we value, and darned hard to get rid of.  Someone invariable says “yep, they bite, too” and “be careful – you’ll get blistered.” However, I’ve yet to hear any first-hand experience with the personal-injury aspect of blister beetles.

I’ve suffered from the heartbreak of blister beetles for two summers in a row.  They’ve eaten ALL the foliage from the fall-blooming Anemone (leaving flowers on a steeck), badly damaged our chard and lettuce, and have turned their attention to the sweet-autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora).

Perp: Epicauta funebris (Margined Blister Beetle) – chock full of Cantharidin, a caustic terpenoid.

With nothing left but a mountain of bare stems, skeletonized leaves, and the occasional flower, the clematis was not adding to the general aesthetics of our home garden (unlike the 7′ tall poke weeds -whoops).  I began gingerly pulling the bazillion vines off the fence, but then thought of you (yes, you).  So what if one bit me or did whatever it does to cause a blister?   I could then speak authoritatively instead of “I heard…”

I went at the vines with gusto, gray and black beetles a-flying.  Sure enough, I mushed one against my arm in gathering up the vines toss in the cart.

Ouch.  First, a burning sensation.  Success! Then I watched with fascination as a bunch of welts popped out, at which point I ran and got my camera. The discomfort persisted through a couple of hours and a glass of wine. But by bedtime, my blisters were gone. No scars remain.

Oooh, lovely!

So there you have it. Yet another example of the things Garden Professors do – so you don’t have to!

Our first GP Google hangout

We just finished our first hangout on Google+. Jeff moderated the discussion, which was both lively and productive. He recorded it too and posted it on YouTube. (I’m trying to embed it here as well – may take me a few tweaks so bear with me. Once it’s on, I’ll delete this parenthetical comment.)

Stay tuned for our next hangout and feel free to join us – we don’t bite!

New and/or interesting plants/stuff

Worst post title, ever. Sorry. 

Attended the bazillionth annual OFA "The Association For Horticulture Professionals" Short Course in Columbus, Ohio last week. It’s a huge 1500-booth trade show with educational session featuring 150+ speakers. Of which I was one.  The focus used to be strictly floriculture, but has expanded to include some woodies plus lots of garden center items and marketing options. This a "wholesale" show – attendees are mostly growers who purchase propagative materials to grow on and sell to consumers.  It’s always interesting to see what’s out there…here’s a few things that caught my attention:

Sedum ‘Maestro’ from Proven Winners. They’re expanding their perennial offerings a bit, and this looks yummy.  Dark foliage and very intriguing bud/flower color combo:

Every company has loads of petunia and calibrachoa in every shade imaginable. Some new introductions are notable for their subtle, almost vintage shades.  All of these would be fun for combination planters:

‘Glow Mocca’ from the Dutch firm Florensis, now a partner with Ball Horticulture. Closest thing to a black and white petunia (or any flower, for that matter) I’ve seen.  So new it’s not in a catalog. This little photo doesn’t do them justice.

‘Suncatcher Vintage Rose’ from Ball FloraPlant.  I’m not a pink petunia person (certainly wouldn’t admit to it, anyway) but the soft rose shades and neat, small flowers were lovely.

Weird lighting in their booth makes this Ball introduction ‘Pink Suncatcher’ much more yellow than it really is – more of a straw yellow with pinkish margins.

Enough with the subtle:

This new Ecke/Dummen poinsettia didn’t catch my eyes as much as claw them out.  ‘Luv U Pink’ is indeed screaming pink, which sounds gross but actually looked pretty cool with some of lime green decor around it (kind of preppy). The distinctive small overlapping bracts are because it’s not a straight-up poinsettia, rather a hybrid with some other Euphorbia species (secret recipe!).

This fluffy ornamental kale ‘Glamour Red’ is from American Takii – an AAS award winner, grown from seed. You  just want to grab it and floof the foliage with both hands. Or maybe that was just me.  Proof that kale can be both glamorous AND delicious…

More floofiness: Dianthus ‘Green Ball.’  From Ball, of course.  An apetalous mutant for every garden!

In the "stuff" department, saw the usual assortment of greenhouse equipment, garden center supplies, etc. with one notable exception: the infiltrations of Fairies. Fairy Garden decor was everywhere.  I must have missed this memo:

Hardscaping including pavers and fences; patio furniture, trellises, etc. At least you don’t need a truckload of gravel and an entire weekend to lay a fairy patio.

Fairy plants. Especially selected for…teensyness? There really was no rhyme or reason. Just a different (and named) fairy on each tag (collect ’em all!).  My Little Pony meets Horticulture.

Here’s a completed fairy garden. That’s a container of Fairy Dust on the table. I think it’s the same as stripper glitter, just in a much smaller jar.  Missing from this tableaux? Two tiny martini glasses.

Hope you enjoyed your brief whirl through the tradeshow!