Thursday, November 1, 2012

Recognition, etc.

Recently, the following "thank you" was published in our local newspaper on behalf of the Hospital Garden.

These are a couple of items recently added:  A mailbox (repository for holding garden gloves, hand tools, a journal, etc.) and
a lovely new trellis!  

Envision beautiful clematis here next year!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Plantings at the Maasdam Barns Saturday

 It was a beautiful day and a good troupe of Master Gardeners were available to clean beds, dig holes, and bury bulbs and plant plants! 

One of the first orders of business was "the pulling of the marigolds!"   With so many helping hands, it didn't take long at all!

 Have you noticed Julie in the photo above and below?  

She's pulling out bags (100 in each) of tulip bulbs.  

Yes, she's found a total of seven (7) bags!

 Enter ladies with tools!  Hand trowels and electric drills with bulb augers are as slick as can be!

Bulbs to the right of me, bulbs to the left of me . . .
and bulbs in front of me!

 Bulbs in sidewalk beds, bulbs in flower beds and bulbs around the huge horse "poster!"

Back at the Maasdam house ... on the north side ...
there's some heavy-duty planting going on!

 You might notice a climbing rose surrounded by Siberian Iris, Lambs Ear, and some Bearded Iris,
amongst other things.

But this is the lady that wins the prize for bringing her tiller!!

Nice job, everyone!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Meeting at the Maasdam Barns Saturday

Meet us for the big Bulb Plant-in!  Kim has received her order of 700 tulip bulbs.  Meet at Maasdam Barns at 1:00 Saturday (October 20). 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Jefferson County Health Center Garden

This is a photo that will soon appear in the Fairfield Ledger.  Thank you, Ginny!

Just think!  This was Year Number One!  We can hardly wait until next year!  :-)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

DEAR IRIS Hyacinth bean vine gets ‘wow’

By Gerri Lyon, Master Gardener intern | Sep 13, 2012
PHOTO SUBMITTED The hyacinth bean vine, a really fast grower, has large, heart-shaped deep-green leaves and sickle-shaped, burgundy colored bean pods.

While spending the day in the Amanas with a friend last fall, I made a great discovery. At the entry area to a shop, grew a thick, heavily foliaged vine with lovely, purple flowers that looked similar to pea blossoms. But what really caught my eye were stems of glossy, burgundy curved pods. It was labeled, Hyacinth Bean Vine. This interesting specimen was added to my “imagine” list for this years’ garden areas. As I looked for seeds, most catalogs said there was a limited supply. Fortunately, my order arrived!
The lablab purpureus is a fast, really fast grower. I started the seeds in pots, and transplanted them to the ground in three different locations. The earliest bloomers are in full sun, the nicest foliaged plants are receiving six hours of sun. I had concerns in mid-August about flowering, but finally buds appeared and all the plantings are in full bloom at last! Many seedpods are setting on. I will let them fully mature and dry for sharing and planting in 2013.
Hyacinth beans are used as a common food source in Africa and Asia. My research tells me that the beans are poisonous when mishandled. The beans should be boiled two times with a water change to be safely eaten. The flowers can be eaten, also. Honestly, I appreciate them as an ornamental, attractive vine in the gardens with no edible purpose intended. They are a wholesome food source for hummingbirds and butterflies. Hummingbirds are bypassing the syrup feeders to fill up at the hyacinth bean vines! Almost nonstop feeding occurs for the birds, but I haven’t seen many butterflies.
In the Discovery Gardens Pergola at the Iowa State Fair, the Master Gardeners planted this vine. It had covered the pergola entirely with its really fast growth and was just showing buds. Many admirers had gathered with questions on blooming time.
I watered all of the vines because of the intense heat and drought. I used liquid Miracle Gro when I fertilized. Be sure to give the vines a strong place to grow like a woven wire fence, large trellis that is secured, pergola, etc. It will grow 10 to 15 feet high if given the space! If pods are allowed to mature and remain on the vine after frost, I feel confident that volunteer plants will grow next spring. I won’t disturb that area by hoeing or tilling to allow growth.
The bean stems with pods are a popular addition to fresh flower arrangements. The burgundy color adds a punch while the sickle shape of the pods adds the unusual touch. The color is delightful in fall bouquets.
This vine has been a wonderful addition to each planted area. Blooming started at a time when I needed the color! It has large, heart shaped leaves that are a deep green. Did I mention how fast it grows? Hyacinth bean vine is a great performer that gets a WOW response from visitors!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

DEAR IRIS Passion Flowers pop in early May

By GERRI LYON, Master Gardener intern | Sep 06, 2012
PHOTO SUBMITTED Passion Flower is a vine that produces “May Pops,” so-called because of the way the flowers pop out in early May.

Delightful, fragrant, stunning, unusual, beautiful, and amazing are some of the words used to describe Passiflora incarnate. Passiflora, or Passion Flower, is a vine that produces “May Pops”, so-called because of the way the flowers pop out in early May. The Passion Flower is a common roadside weed in the southeastern United States.
May Pops were renamed by missionaries in the 1500s; they believed that several parts of these exotic flowers represent Christ’s crucifixion. Ten petals represent 10 apostles present at the crucifixion, Peter and James being absent. The corona or crown represents the crown of thorns or thought to be emblematic of the halo. Five anthers are suggestive of the five wounds or emblematic of hammers used to drive nails. Three stigmas are representative of the three nails piercing the hands and the feet. Now I am really impressed and understand the reverence to these flowers. It has become my favorite “new” find for this gardening season.
My Passion Flower is growing in the ground, next to a potted purple fountain grass that has a background trellis. It has managed to intertwine around the grass and trellis, covering the front and back. I have coaxed it off the ground although I believe it would continue growing in the rocks. I now have two new plants which explains why it is a weed elsewhere! I’m watching attentively for the new plants to bloom. My plan is to transplant these new starts and give them a home in the field house for the winter.
As I researched the May Pops, I discovered many colors and variations. Some varieties develop fruit. So far I have no fruit, just fragrant, lovely blossoms that last one full day. The plant itself is deep green with pointed, veined leaves. They need sun exposure of six hours in fertile, well-drained soil. I have fertilized regularly with a 2-1-3 solid type fertilizer. Diluted liquid type (Miracle Gro) would produce more foliage and fewer blossoms.
The Passion Flower is widely used for medicinal purposes from anxiety relief to lowering blood pressure. No wonder I feel so happy to have “found” this amazing plant! It’s a real pleasure each day to see how many flowers open. Fragrance lingers at various times attracting me and many bumble bees! The bees bury themselves in the throat for a feast and leave acting dizzy and full!
Conversations have been interesting when friends and family have visited. Apparently, Passion Flower is not common here; no one else has known its history of reverence or its name. With its many unique qualities, at times it looks like it came from outer space!
If you enjoy unusual finds in your yardscape, add the Passion Flower to your “imagine” list for 2013. Even on the hottest of days of this summer past, May Pops endured.

­­ Gerri Lyon is a Master Gardener intern.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

DEAR IRIS Growing Moonflowers

By Aleta Mottet, Master Gardener | Aug 30, 2012
PHOTO SUBMITTED Moonflowers open about dusk and stay open until the first light of morning so they can be polinated by night-flying moths. The flowers fill the garden with a heavenly scent.
I grew Moonflowers (Ipomoea alba) for the first time this spring and was amazed by how the very small plant I started with turned into one of the largest and loveliest plants in my flowerbeds this year. The reason the plant did so well is because they are heat-drought resistant, deer and insect resistant. They thrive in nearly any soil condition from very poor to very rich. Which is very much in the gardeners favor after the past two summers we have dealt with.
Moonflowers open in the evening about dusk and stay open until the first light of morning so they can be pollinated by night-flying moths. Like most many moth-pollinated flowers, the moonflower is white with large trumpet shaped flowers, but there are also pink ones. They have a beautiful twining vine that grows fast in really hot weather. They are a close relative to the morning glory, which open in the morning so bees and other insects can pollinate it during the day. Moonflowers only bloom once before they fade, but the plant produces many new blooms during its growing season. It has a heavenly fragrance that permeates the whole garden. They need to be planted in full sun and are an annual in our zone 5, blooming mid to late summer. They are very easy to grow with very little care, but you want to have a large space for them because they grow up to five feet tall and four feet wide and can be invasive. A trellis or along a fence is a good place to plant them. Warning: they can be toxic to domestic animals and children if eaten, but just touching the plant is not harmful.
The seeds are easy to harvest for the next years planting; just leave some blooms on the vine after they fade. The wilted flowers will drop off, revealing seedpods that hide at the base of the flowers or you can snip the wilted flowers from the vines with a pair of scissors. Then drop the pods into a brown paper sack and wait for them to turn brown and dry. Place the sack in a cool, dry place for the pods to finish drying. The pods can take up to a month or longer to dry. When the seeds have completely dried, open the pods and the seeds will drop out. Place the seeds in a paper envelope, date and label them.
Before planting, nick the seeds slightly, and soak them for eight hours. This will enable faster germination. You can plant them indoors or directly in the ground after the weather warms up in the spring. They do need some watering to get them started.
Moonflowers can be found as an established plant in garden centers also.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

DEAR IRIS Gardening ... with chocolate?

Rodgersia 'Chocolate Wings
 By Kathy Tollenaere, Master Gardener. | Aug 23, 2012
Have you ever heard of the Chocolate Flower - Berlandiera lyrata? A couple of summers ago, my sister, sister-in-law and I visited a nursery near Swaledale, Iowa, and we each walked out to the car with a plant! It was described as an exotic annual. This is how I treated it, but after reading the information from BHG, I see I could have mulched it to see if it would return. And, I see, it might have been the perfect plant to endure both last year’s and this year’s drought conditions!
Plant Encyclopedia at states: “You’ll be searching for a chocolate bar after catching a whiff of chocolate flower. A fragrant North American native perennial, chocolate flower blooms with gusto nearly year-round in warm climates and from May to October cool-climate regions. Its small daisy-shape flowers exude a fresh-baked-brownie fragrance. At home in meadows, wildflower gardens, and beds and borders, chocolate flower grows best in full sun and well-drained soil. It prefers slightly dry soil and will flop over if the soil is too moist or rich with nutrients.
“Note: While chocolate flower is hardy, gardeners in the Midwest, Northeast, or Northwest may have trouble overwintering this plant if it stays too moist and rots.
Light: Sun, Part Sun; Zones: 4-10; Plant Type: Perennial; Plant Height: To 2 feet tall;
Plant Width: To 2 feet wide; Flower Color: Yellow/Gold; Bloom Time: Spring, Summer, Fall;
Landscape Uses: Containers, Beds & Borders, Slopes; Special Features: Flowers, Fragrant; Drought Tolerant”
Have you ever heard of Chocolate Cosmos - Cosmos atrosanguineus?
The Garden states: “Dark maroon flowers appear on wiry 18-inch stems from June until frost and produce a pleasant chocolate scent, especially on warm evenings.
“Growing Requirements for Chocolate Cosmos Plants: The Chocolate Cosmos plant is a tuberous perennial that is hardy in USDA zones 7-10, but with excellent drainage and heavy winter mulching it will often survive the winters in zone 6.”
This description tells me I should plant this cosmos as an attractive annual. I’m sure it would complement the more common yellow and other colorful varieties we grow here. However, you’ll note you might try saving and propagating your own plants with the information below.
“Chocolate Cosmos should be planted in full sun, in rich, well-draining soil. Apply a good all-purpose fertilizer when new growth appears and again at mid-season. Always remove the spent flowers promptly for continued blooms. If you have doubts about the plant’s survival (through the winter season), you can dig the tuber just as you would with Dahlias. Once the foliage has died back, carefully dig the clump, cut the stems back to within 2 inches of the tubers, and store them in slightly moist peat moss in a frost free place.”
The article continues with information as to its propagation, which is by division of the tubers. Every tuber must have an eye (as does the potato) to grow a new plant. Use a sharp, clean knife to carefully separate the tubers, discarding those that are damaged and/or without an eye. Place in a bed of sawdust or vermiculite, inside a cardboard or wooden box, and store in a dry area at a temperature of about 40 degrees F.
Do remember to check the tubers periodically. Should you see signs of shriveling, moisten the storage material. If you see signs of mildew, treat with a dry fungicide. Plant Chocolate Cosmos tubers 6 inches deep and 12 inches apart in the spring.”
I may place this on my “2013 Wish List” after-all!
How about Chocolate Wings - Rodgersia Rodgersia pinnata?
A chocolate SHADE loving plant? Yep! I planted this particular Rodgersia in September of 2008. It was in bright to dappled shade, and in a spot I thought might hold water for awhile following a rainfall, as it enjoys moist conditions.
It performed pretty well until last year’s drought. I didn’t remember to keep it watered and the plant didn’t return this spring. However, I’d really like to give Rodgersia another try!
From chocolate flower comes the following information: “With its bold, divided leaves this forms an exotic-looking clump that adds a unique foliage accent to any moist border. It produces big plumes of deep-pink flowers in early summer. Leaves begin deep cocoa bronze in spring, later changing to dark green. Plants prefer a moist, dappled shade setting, but will grow in full sun at the waterside or any other constantly moist site. Useful as an architectural specimen plant. Water during dry weather. USPP: unlicensed propagation prohibited.
“USDA Zone: 4-9; Sun exposure: Full Sun or Partial Shade; Early to mid-summer foliage color: Bronze; Height: 27-35”; Width: 35-39”; Growth rate: Slow; *Rabbit-resistant.”
Lastly, have you tried cocoa bean hull mulch? It’s not so good in shady areas due to mold/mildew problems; however you can spread a very thin layer over the ground, for the chocolate aroma! It is a great mulch in sunny spots, as it will dry out after a rainfall and/or watering. Cocoa bean hulls are a rich addition to the soil, as well. They do break down fairly quickly.
If you’ve been a discouraged gardener again this year, perhaps something “chocolate” might peak your interest and revive some gardening spirit!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Dear Iris - Dash lavender in foods

By Aideen Vega-Van Auken, Master Gardener | Aug 09, 2012

Wikipedia says: ”The lavenders (botanic name Lavandula) is a genus of 39 species of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae.”
Every year I have purchased a lavender plant and thought this year I’ll manage not to kill it! I’d be embarrassed to admit how many seasons passed with that thought in a corner of my mind while I watered the heck out of it. Last year a basic concept finally penetrated my apparently thick skull. Lavender is a Mediterranean native meaning it requires stony, well drained soil and prefers arid rather than humid conditions.
Once lavender is established, it is extremely drought resisitant. So far this year weather in our area has really imitated the Mediterranean region. For most Midwest gardeners, the greatest success seems to come from growing the Hidcote and Munstead varieties. Coupled with my vigilance to water my Munstead lavender sparingly every third time I water most other plants, it is still alive at the end of July!
To encourage new growth prune your lavender with care in the spring. In our area, never consider pruning until you see new growth at the base of the plant. Short varieties may be pruned a couple of inches or cut back to the new growth. Taller varieties shouldn’t be cut back more than one third of their height.
Gardening aspects aside, when someone mentions lavender, I immediately think of my grandma and it comes as no surprise to me that research has shown smelling lavender produces a soothing, calming effect which certainly helps if you are having trouble sleeping, are stressed or suffer from anxiety. Lavender is frequently used as an ingredient in perfume, body and hair care products, incense, and massage oils. Numerous studies are also showing that lavender is beneficial in combating alopecia (hair loss) and postoperative pain, and is an antibacterial and antiviral agent.
As you can see, lavender is very versatile. The buds and stems can be dried and used in flower arrangements, as fairy wands, as a sachet in your drawers for the fragrance and to ward off moths and mice, in a small cloth “pillow” placed under your bed pillow, or in your bath water, among other things. The fresh flowers and leaves may also be used for those and other purposes as well, and perhaps most daringly for those of us that don’t venture beyond using salt and pepper, with food. Teas, desserts, breads and main dishes frequently benefit from a dash of lavender.

Lavender Jelly
3 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup dried lavender flowers
Juice of 1 lemon (approximately 1/4 cup)
1 (1 3/4-ounces) box powdered Pectin or 1 pouch (3-ounces) liquid pectin
4 cups granulated sugar
In a large saucepan over high heat bring water to a boil. Remove, stir in lavender, and let steep for 20 minutes. Then strain and discard the lavender. Stir in lemon juice and pectin until dissolved.
Over high heat, bring this to a boil and add sugar. Bring to a hard rolling boil for 2 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. (2 minutes - soft gel; 4 minutes - medium gel)
Transfer jelly into hot sterilized jars. Fill within 1/4 inch of the top, wipe tops if any spilled, seat the lid and tighten the ring around them.
Makes 5 1/2 pints.

Aideen Vega-Van Auken is a Master Gardener.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


 July 26, 2012

While what happens in lawns and gardens during hot, dry weather isn’t perhaps as critical to the economy of most of us as is what happens in the fields around us, it is still shocking and worrisome to see leaves falling off your trees 2 or 3 months ahead of schedule. The current situation is widespread across the region and people’s livelihoods are at stake. If you have a lawn care business, that has suffered, as have the golf courses. Orchards, corn and soybean growers and more are adversely affected as well. I am merely concerned for my trees and hostas, which survival is not important to my business. Losing them, however, would affect me economically as I would have to replace them at major cost. Irrigating is in itself an
economic factor. If the drought worsens, communities could see reductions in water availability. I have 2 well-established trees that have browned and are losing leaves and my river birch, planted 5 years ago, has yellow falling leaves. Probably your trees and mine will survive, unless they were in poor health to begin with or have only been planted within the past three to five years. Trees planted more recently than that need to be watered deeply every week to 10 days, in a normal year. The newly planted trees don’t have the root system to cope in abnormally dry years and need to be watered to survive. Once you start watering you cannot stop until 1-inch rains become common. Only you can decide whether to lend a hand or let Mother Nature determine the outcome.

Some trees, like the river birch, cope by shedding their leaves to conserve moisture while others may just appear to be dying. Indeed, they may be dying if your tree is unhealthy even though it appeared to be fine. The added stress of drought will speed up the decline of these trees according to Jesse Randall, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach forester. It is always difficult to lose a tree, especially if it is a good shade tree, so precautions can help eliminate or reduce losses. Watering in early morning or late evening is best, giving the tree a good soaking.

I attended the drought webinar at the extension office last week, which attempted to answer the questions of whether or not to intervene. In a nutshell, it is best to protect your investment in trees if they are under the age of 7 years. For mature trees, forget it. How much water, you say, and how often? Normally, a watering one to three times a week for the first few months when they are first planted is sufficient. The area under the canopy should be slow watered daily on the surface in extreme conditions, such as we are experiencing,
with 2-4 gallons per inch of trunk caliper. This can be scaled back according to time of year and weather. The hotter and windier it is the quicker the plant loses water. Trees with insufficient water will experience increased insect and disease problems and even root death. Mulching helps conserve moisture as well as enhancing your landscape and keeping the weeds at a minimum. Mulch around your trees also keeps lawnmowers and other potentially damaging equipment away from the trunk.

In general, whether you are watering your lawn, vegetable garden, flower beds or trees, a schedule that allows 1-1½ inches of water per week to each area is best carried out in the early morning hours from 6-9 a.m. This allows for most of the water to soak in deeply with the least amount of evaporation. Midday watering is less efficient, especially when using a sprinkler, due to increased evaporation and stronger winds that can carry the water away from where you want it, causing uneven watering and waste. Watering in the evening can increase disease problems. When watering the lawn, if you choose to do so, a single application of 1-1½ inches of water allows the roots to penetrate more deeply into the soil than does frequent shallow watering. Shallow rooted turfgrass is more susceptible to pests and is also less drought tolerant. If you are
sprinkling, place 2 or 3 containers or rain gauges within the spray pattern to judge the amount of water you are applying. According to Dave Minner, a webinar presenter on turfgrass, there is no one good answer as to whether or not to water. Most lawns are just dormant from the drought, but could be dying in some cases. Dry, brown grass with roots in thatch may die, as well as roots in sand. For dormant lawns during drought, Minner recommends watering with 1” of water every 3 weeks and if you are mowing, cut grass no shorter than 3-1/2” in height. One other thing to consider is planting more drought-resistant types of grass, such as turf type tall fescue, especially if your lawn dies and you need to replant.

Minner’s bottom line, “Pray for rain, but prepare for drought.” Ajay Nair spoke on fruits and vegetables, saying first “There are major vegetable issues. First there was the April frost, Japanese beetles in some areas and now the excessive heat and drought.”

The heat and lack of rain affects crop establishment, plant growth and development. Temperatures over 95 degrees significantly reduce pollen count and viability. Poor pollination equals poor quality crops. At those temperatures, or with water stress, vegetables such as beans, tomatoes, peppers, and peas will drop their flowers. One product on the market is a cooling spray called Surround, which reduces canopy temperatures, though it may need to be re-applied every 7-14 days.

Taking a soil sample at the beginning of the growing season to determine if extra calcium fertilizer needs to be applied is a good idea. A lack of calcium, not enough water to move the calcium even if present, too much nitrogen, inadequate moisture or high soluble salt concentrations in the soil near the roots can result in blossom end rot. These issues can be determined with a soil sample, and steps taken for prevention.
Managing fruits in drought is a bit more complicated and watering needs depend on several factors including soil texture, soil depth, rooting depth of the crop, crop development and factors affecting the need for water (heat, light, humidity and wind) Soil moisture content should be at 50-80% for optimum growth. Below 50% plants show stress.

For example, strawberries have a rooting depth of 1 inch and should be watered to a depth of 6 inches; raspberries, blackberries, gooseberries and aronia berries have a root depth of 2 inches and need water at 12-15 inches. Tree fruits and grapes have 3-foot roots and need water at 24-30 inches. There is not “one size fits all” answer to the irrigation issue for fruits, and is a lengthy subject deserving its own column.

For fruits and vegetables as well as flowerbeds, a soaker hose or drip irrigation system is more efficient and causes fewer disease problems than sprinklers. Also, keeping weeds at bay is as important as water management, as the weeds compete for both water and nutrients. Yes, hot and dry conditions are troubling on many fronts, but for those of us who like to grow things it is especially difficult when the gardens start to go downhill. However, gardeners are optimistic, as are farmers, and surely next year will be better.

To get an answer to a specific question there are specialists available at or you may call 515-294-3108. The Yard and Garden FAQs website at is a good place for answers to tree and other yard and garden questions.

Julie Johnston, Master Gardener intern

Dear Iris

Repelling garden pests naturally 

Jul 26, 2012

Did you know that the metabolic rate of rodents (squirrels, voles, muskrats, beavers, chipmunks, woodchucks, gophers, mice, rats, and shrews) is so high that they must eat almost constantly to sustain themselves? They are the most numerous of Iowa’s wild mammals and share ranks with birds, moles, rabbits, raccoons, and deer as unwanted garden visitors. Repellants, scare tactics, traps, and barriers are all natural ways of repelling your varied garden invaders.

Repellants: Everyone has heard of blood meal or human hair sprinkled around the garden, but have you heard of bars of strong smelling soap such as Irish Spring spread helter skelter on the ground or in little net bags or formerly discarded plastic berry containers from the store? Carnivorous human male 1st urine of the day or predator urine or any other strong offense odor on a rag here and there on the garden fence or distributed around the garden perimeter is a strong deterrent as long as it is reapplied every two weeks and after every rain. Cayenne pepper liberally sprinkled on wet leaves will deter even the most determined garden pests. The very tall and pretty but lethal castor bean plants and seeds deter birds, moles and deer. Always wear gloves when handling any root, leaf, flower or seed from this deadly plant!

 Scare tactics: Reflective items such as aluminum foil or discarded cds/dvds randomly startle intruders. Fake owls or toy snakes here and there in the garden that are periodically moved around tend to keep birds and small animals at bay. A scarecrow will also keep those smaller animals away and sometimes the larger ones as well. Noise makers such as chimes, dogs, radios on timers or empty plastic bottles over garden stakes also chase away intruders.

Traps: Trap crops are plants sacrificed so the intruder will stay away from the crop you really want to harvest, such as planting some lettuce near invader burrows. With a bit of luck, rabbits and woodchucks will eat “their” lettuce instead of yours. Conventional traps whether kind or harmful are also options.

Barriers: Barriers include netting, natural barriers and fences. Draping a net over fruit trees/bushes/plants or over hoops secured over rows in the garden work well to protect from birds, and less adventurous animals. Shrubs or an old fashioned moat will deter many walking pests. Fences seem to work best for most people for most types of garden invaders. If the bottom edge of the fence (at least 10”) is buried underground and the rest (3’ for small animals and 8’ for deer) is above ground, the number of pests in your garden will be substantially reduced. To increase the chances of keeping out all deer, place another fence no more than 3 inches inside of the outer fence because they will not have enough room to land from the first jump and make the second one.

Every tactic you undertake involves time and perhaps also money, so it is important to first identify who your garden invaders are and then “chose your weapons.” Remember that your unwanted visitors are shrewd. If you periodically change your tactics using any combination of the suggestions here or in part I printed May 31 in The Fairfield Ledger, your efforts will be rewarded and your plants will be the healthiest and happiest you’ve ever grown.

Aideen Vega-Van Auken is a Master Gardener.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dear Iris - Tomatoes

 Recognizing tomato problems

Jul 19, 2012
Tomatoes are the most popular vegetable crop in Iowa. Many diseases and disorders can affect tomatoes during the growing season. Some of these include Septoria leaf spot, early blight, and Anthracnose.
Septoria leaf spot, caused by the fungus Septoria lycopersici, is the most common foliar disease of tomatoes in Iowa. It first appears as small, water-soaked spots that soon become circular spots about 1/8 inch in diameter. The lesions gradually develop grayish white centers with dark edges. The light-colored centers of these spots are the most distinctive symptom of Septoria leaf spot. Spores are spread to new leaves by splashing rain. Heavily infected leaves turn yellow, wither and eventually fall off. Lower leaves are infected first. Defoliation can be severe after periods of prolonged warm wet weather. Infection can occur at any stage of plant development but appears most frequently after plants have begun to set fruit. The fungus survives the winter in tomato debris.

To control Septoria leaf spot, a combination of cultural practices is often needed:
• Plant disease-free transplants far enough apart that the plants will not be crowded after they are full grown. This will allow air to circulate and the foliage to dry rapidly.
• Water at the base of the plants, and in the morning rather than the evening, to minimize the amount of time that the leaves are wet.
• Remove as much plant debris as possible in the fall and promptly plow under or bury the remaining residue.
• Avoid working with plants when leaves are wet.
• Rotate crops so that tomatoes are not grown in the same area of the garden every year.
Early blight, caused by the fungus Alternaria solani, is common in Iowa tomato plantings. Premature loss of lower leaves is the most obvious symptom of the disease. Brown to black spots, 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter with dark edges, appear on lower leaves. Spots frequently merge, forming irregular blotches. Dark, concentric rings often appear in leaf spots, resulting in the “target” appearance. Warm, wet weather favors rapid spread of early blight.

Cultural and chemical controls for early blight are the same as for Septoria leaf spot.
Anthracnose, caused by the fungus Colletotrichum coccodes, is probably the most common fruit-attacking disease of tomato in Iowa. Symptoms first become visible on ripe or ripening fruit as small, circular, indented spots in the skin. As these spots expand, they develop dark centers or concentric rings of dark specks, which are the spore-producing bodies of the fungus. In moist weather, these bodies exude large numbers of spores, giving diseased areas a cream to salmon-pink color. By this stage, decay has penetrated deeply into the tomato flesh. Anthracnose appears most commonly on overripe fruit.
The fungus survives the winter on diseased vines, in the soil and in the seeds. Weeks before the fruit ripens, anthracnose can become established on the leaf spots caused by other fungi or by insect-feeding injuries. Spores are spread by rain splash. Warm wet weather causes the disease to spread and the symptoms to develop.

Control measures for anthracnose are the same as for Septoria leaf spot. In addition, harvest at frequent intervals and pick all ripe fruit at each harvest.
Other problems are not caused by infectious microorganisms but rather by environmental stresses on the plant. Some of the physiological problems are blossom end rot and fruit cracking.

Why are my tomatoes cracking?
Fruit cracking is a common problem on tomatoes. Cracks usually appear at the top or stem end of the fruit. Cracks radiate out from the stem or circle the fruit in concentric rings. Fruit cracking is associated with wide fluctuations in soil moisture levels. A heavy rain or deep watering after a long, dry period results in rapid water uptake by the plant. The sudden uptake of water results in cracking of ripening fruit. Generally, fruit cracking is most common on the large, beefsteak-type tomatoes. Fruit that has reached the ripening stage during dry weather may show considerable cracking if the dry period is followed by heavy rains and high temperatures. Mulching and avoiding heavy applications of nitrogen fertilizer should help reduce fruit cracking.

Why do my tomatoes have a spot of rot?
Blossom end rot is a very common problem of green and ripe tomatoes. It first appears as a sunken, brownish black spot 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter on the blossom end of the fruit. Although blossom end rot itself causes only local injury, secondary organisms frequently invade the lesion and cause complete rotting of the fruit. It often occurs in rapidly developing fruit during hot, dry weather. To avoid blossom rot, water consistently and mulch around the plants to conserve soil moisture. Remove the affected fruit so that later-maturing fruit will develop normally.

Sharie Leazer is a Master Gardener Intern.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dear Iris

Cultivating Friends, Making Memories
By Kathy Tollenaere, Master Gardener | Jul 12, 2012

Gloriosa Lily - Gloriosa supurba

If you were to ask me to name a few favorite plants in my gardens, I would say without reservation that many of the “Number-One-Top-Favorites” are those received from special people in my life. Gardening lends itself to the creation of memories: memories of “plant forays” to nurseries, trips to interesting and/or notable places, and most especially, cultivating relationships with friends and relatives.

For example, my parents have shared many plants (what about that large-flowered, pale yellow daylily my dad and I purchased in Mason City many years ago? Upon returning home, we divided the plant so we could share it!) Not only did I receive daylilies, phlox, Virginia Bluebells and several other herbaceous perennials over the years, but also raspberries, asparagus, strawberries and rhubarb.

My Aunt MEA also has shared many plants over the years including: two varieties of phlox, several hostas, lily bulbs, a fern leaf peony, two varieties of Ginger, Blood Root and Geum triflorum (commonly called Purple Smoke).

Following a quick walk around the yard last night, I found I’ve received daylilies from Joan, Clustered Bellflower from Marty, Ostrich fern from Chris, Bleeding Heart and Glory Lily Gloriosa supurba from Kris, Hosta from Neil, Gooseneck Loosestrife from the church, and Heuchera from Connie. I hope I haven’t left anyone out!

A few very special items have been received from fellow Garden Bloggers. Because I’ve maintained a garden blog for over five years, I’ve “met,” through our posts and communications, gardeners not only from many states, but also several countries. We share information, inspiration, seeds and plants (we trade!). I’ve received seeds for Tennessee Coneflowers from Gail (Tennessee resident), Ligularia seeds from Jim (Ohio), Queen-of-the-Prairie from Kathleen (Colorado), Monarda plants from IVG of Des Moines, and several unusual plants from Iowa Boy of Iowa City.

“Landmark memories” might include nurturing the love of gardening in a child, the year of hardscape and landscape improvements, memories may involve such things as weather conditions or a battle with “critters.” What about garden parties, birthdays, graduation and wedding celebrations?
Whatever your interests or activities, take a walk around your yard. Perhaps you’ll find you’ve already created some pleasant, long-lasting memories. Gather some friends, share some plants, and make a few more special memories.

Happy gardening!

Kathy Tollenaere is a Master Gardener.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

JCHC Garden Tonight

Watered today...

 Liatris is now blooming!

As well as Clematis 'City of Lyon' (or 'Ville de Lyon) and Coreopsis 'Full Moon' below:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Dear Iris - Heuchera

Did someone say ‘Heuchera?’  Do I say ‘gesundheit?’


 By KATHY TOLLENAERE, Master Gardener | Jun 21, 2012

The genus Heuchera (pronounced hoo-ker-a) of the family Saxifragacea contains at least 50 native species. These are an herbaceous perennial native to North America commonly called coral bells or alumroot. Plants you find in nurseries will most predictably be modern cultivars. Depending upon the individual variety, coral bells will thrive in zones 3 through 9.
Since the mid-1990s an “explosion” of sorts has occurred with regard to the development of new hybrid varieties. You can find hybrids with varying leaf size, shape, and color as well as flower stems varying in heights (up to 2.5 inches) and blossom color of white, pink, salmon, coral, or red bell-shaped flowers. You might enjoy a trip to an area nursery as well as a search on-line to view the variety of hybrids available. Most plants would be best suited to either the front of the garden or just behind it.

Generally, coral bells do best in light shade or dappled shade, at least during the hottest part of the day. Planting in full sun runs the risk that the foliage may discolor by scorching or die back during very hot spells in the summer. Most of my coral bells receive direct sunlight for up to four hours in the afternoon with dappled shade at other times. I have placed other plants in conditions receiving only dappled shade with very little direct sunlight. As a contrast, however, I’ve given “Green Spice” an especially large challenge, as once the deciduous oak tree leaves appear, it never sees sunlight. It doesn’t flourish as it would under better conditions, but it has continued to do fairly well during the past eight years, and it offers a nice contrast in foliage to the surrounding plants.

For the most part, Heuchera desire well-drained, neutral to rich soil. They do, however, tolerate many soil types. Plants in rich soil will be quite different looking – taller, and lusher, than they would in leaner soil. Under ideal and/or good conditions, these plants have few disease or pest problems. A problem I have experienced is “frost heave,” resulting in a plant that has been forced out of the soil when spring arrives. My answer to that problem seems to have been resolved by either of two solutions: 1) Adding additional soil and leaf mulch in the autumn, or 2) Adding additional soil and replanting in early spring.
Remove the old, unattractive leaves in the spring to encourage new growth. Deadheading (removing) spent flowers and their stalks encourages re-blooming over the course of the summer. Re-blooming is always a pleasant bonus!
Heuchera are truly quite complimentary plants. I do recommend your research and purchase. They don’t take much room! For “richness” in appearance, a gardening approach might be to plant several plants together. I would also suggest not only planting several of one variety, but also to plant different varieties together as a contrast in both leaf and flower. If planted as an “edger,” that is, a row of them at the front edge of your flowerbed, they are quite effective.
Heuchera is not the sound of a sneeze, but I’d accept your “Gesundheit!” any day!

Kathy Tollenaere is a Master Gardener.

A Garden Walk in Washington, IA

Sunday, July 8, 2012 from 1:30 to 5:00 P.M.

(Actually, this is part of my own backyard...)

Five gardens:
Shirley Steele 609 South 3rd Avenue
Gary and Jeanne (Prochaska)Kos  615 West Adams Street
C.J. (Griff) and Vivian Griffith  1512 North 3rd Avenue
Steve and Tammy Roth  914 South Iowa Aavenue
Sunset Park Flower Beds and Log Home Tour

Price $8.00

Tickets may be purchased at any of the five gardens
or in advance at the two shops below:

Wolf Floral - 105 West Washington
Jaz It Up - 121 West Washington

All proceeds for restoration of the DAR Alexander Young Log House

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Garden Tour - Check It Out!

ISU Extension Linn County Master Gardener Garden Walk - Cedar Rapids/Marion, Iowa

Saturday, June 23, 2012 from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.
 $5 per adult or $10 per family
Explore 5 diverse Linn County Master Gardener gardens that will inspire you with ideas you can apply to your own garden or landscape or simply provide you the opportunity to tour beautiful private gardens.  Gardens will include ornamental grasses, conifers, vegetables, perennials, containers, rain gardens, raised beds & will range from a facility garden to an acreage garden.  You will also see ideas for landscaping even the most difficult of terrains.   Master Gardeners will be at all of the gardens to answer your horticulture-related questions.

There are Five Gardens, for your inspiration and enjoyment, on the tour.  You may begin at any garden and proceed from there.  Grab some friends and have a Wonderful Day!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Dear Iris - Garden Pests

Garden pests can be repelled naturally

By Aideen Vega-Van Auken, Master Gardener | May 31, 2012
Deer, rabbits, raccoons, rodents, birds and insects. Not many of us automatically include insects when we think of wildlife, but they certainly don’t knock on your door and ask if they may chow down on your tomatoes, do they? Crop rotation, companion planting, interplanting, biodiversity, attracting beneficials, hand picking, barriers and spraying are all natural ways of repelling insects that invade your garden.
Crop rotation is not planting the same crop (green beans), crop family (soybeans) or similar crop (peas) in the same spot as last year because the soil nutrients needed for this year were depleted by last year’s planting. In addition, you’ll avoid soil borne diseases and pests that congregated and ate that crop last year.
Companion planting is growing two or more different types of plants together that like and/or enhance each other. Interplanting is growing different crops at the same time in the same space. Trap crops are sacrificial plants so the intruder will stay away from the crop you really want to harvest, and a good example is zinnias distracting Japanese beetles. Biodiversity is a blending of interplanting, companion planting and trap crops on a grander scale by planting a wide variety. Unwanted insects are confused by something they will not touch being planted around something they love to munch.

Remove troublesome insects via sprays, handpicking, trapping, barriers or introducing beneficial insects. What to spray on plants depends on which insect is attacking. If it is a chewing or biting insect like caterpillars, cutworms or grasshoppers, garlic, onion and pepper sprays may work. Sucking insects such as aphids, squash bug nymphs and flies are asphyxiated by soap solutions. Trap slugs under damp boards or with a saucer of beer. Earwigs can be trapped in dark places such as an upside down container full of shredded paper. Barrier examples: tar paper collars around brassicas for cutworms or white maggots and Vaseline for ants. Consult an insect book to make sure what is on your plant is an unwelcome guest before picking them off. Sometimes an insect is unwanted or beneficial depending on the stage of growth.Yarrow, lavender, bee balm and the aster, carrot, onion and mint families attract beneficial insects that’ll make meals of the pesky ones.

Following is a list of plants and sprays that chase off unwanted insects.
Ants do not like pennyroyal, spearmint, or tansy. Catmint, garlic, nasturtium, nicotiana, artemisia family, spearmint, stinging nettle, soap or garlic spray will take care or aphids and pot marigold will ward off the asparagus beetle.
Plant mint or wormwood to guard against black flea beetle, and black horehound or stinging nettle for black flies.

Cabbage worm moths do not like anise hyssop, mint, rosemary, sage, thyme or Artemisia and Carrot rust flies do not like sage. The Colorado potato beetle will be kept at by with catmint, eggplant, flax or green beans while radish, nasturtium, zinnia and aster are plants that the cucumber beetle does not like.
Rue or tansy will keep flies away. Datura, grapes, white roses and white geranium are some plants that Japanese beetles don’t like. The Mexican bean beetle will avoid potatoes, and mosquitoes don’t hang around legumes.
Lavender, mint, sage and stinging nettles deter moths. Potato bugs avoid eggplant and flax.
If you sprinkle your plants and surrounding soil with dried and ground hot peppers, root maggots will leave them alone.

Diatomaceous earth or lime keeps slugs and snails away from susceptible plants.
Squash bugs don’t like catmint, nasturtium or tansy spray, while borage and dill guard against tomato cutworm/hornworm.

Weevils won’t eat garlic. Perhaps they don’t like the smell.
None of these are foolproof, but they do make your gardening against pests easier.
Part II of repelling garden pests naturally will cover deer, rabbits, raccoons, and rodents.

Aideen Vega-Van Auken is a Master Gardener.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Missing - Hardy Geraniums...

Wanted: Plant photographers, not plant thieves

By MARSHA LAUX, Master Gardener intern | May 24, 2012
Have you ever walked through a park or along a neighborhood flowerbed and wanted to pluck a beautiful, fragrant flower? “Just one,” you rationalize to yourself, “the owner wouldn’t mind if I picked just one of those pretty flowers.” You might have enjoyed it so much, that you just couldn’t resist, so you plucked, “just one” or “just a few” of those pretty flowers. “What does it hurt to help yourself?”

Stealing is stealing. When you help yourself to something that isn’t yours, it is in fact theft. Why is it that taking a live plant (or part of it) is any less a theft than the theft of a neighbor’s bicycle, a stranger’s car, a fish when trespassing, or morel mushrooms from a private wooded acreage?

According to Webster’s definition, theft is the act of stealing, specifically: the felonious taking and removing of personal property with intent to deprive the rightful owner of it. Also, when you take plants from a garden (or a node), whether public or private, you are not only stealing, but you are vandalizing. Vandalism, according to Webster is “willful or malicious destruction or defacement of public or private property.” Those are crimes, and as such are punishable in a court of law.

Within the last few weeks, someone stole some hardy geraniums, dug them up, roots and all from a downtown public garden area! Whether public or private, the plants stolen did not belong to the thief. Yet, there are gaping holes in the ground where someone just couldn’t resist.

A gardener carefully chooses the plants, creates a design based upon the colors, textures, heights, dates of blooms and on various stages of plant cycles. Like an artist with a palette, the gardener paints the earth. The medium is natural, rooted in the earth, dependent upon sun, rain and soil compatibility. The art form is even more challenging than the sculpture’s clay or the painter’s watercolor on canvas, as it constantly evolves over time and needs continual tending. It is a masterpiece that is created with foresight, care and hard work. The garden designer must understand the soil types, the scale and the proportion of the plants in relation to the hardscapes, the buildings and the open spaces where they are planted. Plants are grouped and visual interest is achieved by using an array of various colors of blooms or leaves, and attention to the minute details such as texture and the characteristics of the plant materials.

The manner in which we choose to show our appreciation for the beauty in nature is important. Instead of just plucking out the blooms, consider that taking away those few bursts of yellow or red will change the overall effect of the masterpiece. That plant often will not have another bloom. It cannot be replanted until the following year and have the same impact. The growth cycle has been disrupted, and the symphony of the garden has been irreparably altered.

As a new Master Gardener intern, I have a new appreciation for the work and planning that it takes to keep public places looking nice. The ambiance of our cityscape and our landscapes are greatly enhanced by the use of shrubs, trees and flowers. It is those living plants that connect us to the earth; that we all walk past and truly enjoy, (and that a few just can’t resist taking for themselves).

If you are going to take, I’d like to suggest taking a photo instead of the bloom or the plant. As an amateur photographer, I’ve found that photographing nature is very rewarding. A photo lasts longer and is something you won’t have to water or weed, and it won’t die on you. Taking photographs is easier, especially with cameras in many cell phones. Take a photo (it’s free) and submit it to a contest, frame it, share it with a friend, but find a way to capture the beauty that doesn’t take away from the beauty. Leave the artist’s plants the way you found them; carefully chosen and artfully placed in the living masterpiece that it is.
Marsha Laux is a Master Gardener intern.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Questions are welcome and can be directed to Master Gardener Intern and Ledger photographer Julie Johnston at

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Dear Iris - Master Gardener Awareness

By GERRI LYON, Master Gardener intern | May 17, 2012

I am relatively new at being a Master Gardener, but have always had a love of gardening.
Maybe it’s in my blood, or it could just be the country way of life and the desire to provide for yourself. Growing vegetables has provided delicious, healthy food as we raised our family, while landscaping and flowers have given our homestead the curb appeal! There have been many moments while gardening that I have asked myself “is this the right way to do it?” That was the driving force for me to take the Master Gardener training. The next rational reason was, enjoying the beauty at parks, city gardens and nodes, arboretums, botanical gardens, etc. and realizing that volunteers make it happen or contribute to the upkeep.
That’s what Master Gardeners do: learn and help. We learned accurate applications from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach for planting, maintenance, pest control, animal ecology, turf grass management and much more. Then we are equipped with training and experience and a willingness to help others.
The course class schedule lasted for two months, September through early November. The three-hour classes were one or two nights a week, which got us through 40 hours of instruction.
We had two formats, Adobe Connect, with the class viewed via Internet and given by ISU horticulture professors, or live presenters. The last class was a day-long class held on the ISU campus at the Horticulture centers. Overall it was a great experience!
Kim Keller is the Jefferson County coordinator, with so much educated knowledge and enthusiasm to share. Kim is very passionate on every horticulture level! I’m partial to Kim; she grew up near us on “Quality Avenue.”
I also want to mention that you don’t have to reside in the county where you take the Master Gardeners course. Van Buren County, where I live, didn’t have enough interest so I signed up in Jefferson County.
Our group had a desire to stay connected and work together so we formed the Jefferson County Gardening Club. We meet once a month at the Jefferson County Extension Office. Our officers are Sandi Dimmitt, president; Julie Johnston, vice president; Colleen Bell, secretary; Gerri Lyon, treasurer; Julie Wetrich, historian.
Some of our projects include the Maasdam Barns along Highway 1; adoptions of Fairfield city nodes; courtyard gardens at the Jefferson County Health Center and more.
We also write a column for The Fairfield Ledger titled “Dear Iris.” Our correspondence is via email with work times and locations.
We come from all walks of life. There is a young librarian, dental employee, retired teachers, organic farmers, a photographer, etc.
No matter your age, gender or occupation, the goal is the same: a desire to share information and volunteer. Kathy Tollenaere keeps a gardening blog going at
In order to become a certified Master Gardener, 40 hours of volunteering is required, as well as six hours of continuing education in the first year following your training. After these requirements are met you are certified.
To maintain your certification 12 hours volunteer work and six hours continuing education are all that is required. There are many ways to achieve each of these areas through organizing events, manual work, writing, plant sales, etc. Continuing education can be attending seminars, workshops and clinics that involve horticulture.
More information is available at With enough interest, there will be a Master Gardener Training scheduled for the fall 2012.
The gardening and landscaping industry is very popular and thriving in America. It is so desirable on many levels: to provide food, beauty, and economic value. Because Iowa can produce many challenges with weather, diseases, insects and, of course wildlife, we all need more knowledge. Enjoy your space, watching all great things grow!

Gerri Lyon is a Master Gardener intern.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Maasdam House Progress

A few photos:

A new "hosta bed"

Another new bed

Blue Star or Amsonia (thanks Colleen Bell!)

Look at the hostas next to the house!


Looking good!

Dear Iris

Peonies: old component of gardens

By JULIE JOHNSTON, Master Gardener Intern | May 03, 2012 

(Photo below borrowed from Doug Green's Garden - click title for link) 

“These Are a Few of My Favorite Things.”  Sound familiar? Even if you are not into musicals or even music, nearly everyone recognizes the song from “The Sound of Music.” 
I translate this theme to my garden, which has many of my favorite things. It seems though, that all of my favorite blooming flowers bloom in spring. My very favorite is the lilac, closely followed by peonies, iris, tulips and daffodils. Then, of course, there are the magnolia, rhododendron, flowering crab, flowering dogwood, redbud, serviceberry and ornamental pears. All are beautiful and bring us a sense of hope in spring. Today, I am going to concentrate on peonies, which are blooming already in some gardens, though they usually don’t bloom until later in May.
Paeoniaceae is the botanical family name for the peony, the luscious, fragrant spring blooming flower common in many Iowa gardens. I have peonies and love them. The only drawback is that their bloom time is far too short to suit me! I think I shall get more of them, perhaps some of the newer varieties and colors.
For those who are not overly familiar with peonies, in addition to Paeonia officinalis or common peony (known to gardeners as the herbaceous peony) there are also the Paeonia suffruticosa or tree peony, which isn’t really a tree, and the more recent addition to the peony family, the intersectional peony, a hybrid of the tree and herbaceous peonies. I only heard of the latter just recently.

I was privileged to hear Roy Klehm of Klehm’s Song Sparrow Farm and Nursery speak at the Iowa Arboretum Spring Fever Symposium. Klehm is a third-generation peony hybridizer whose grandfather Charles Klehm was a charter member of the American Peony Society formed in 1903. Local teacher Corey Klehm doesn’t think they are related. There aren’t a lot of Klehms spelled that way, so maybe he is a branch of that family tree.

It was not only interesting, but exciting as well to hear of the work hybridizers are doing in the peony world. Hybrids are the result of crossing two peony species resulting in colors of salmon, peach, coral, clear pink, fire-engine red and soft moonlight yellows. Some hybrids also improve standability, pest resistance and drought tolerance.

Peonies are a very old component of country gardens and mixed borders. As a cut flower, they have no equal. Alluringly fragrant blooms, lush foliage and a wide range of growth habits are key features. Success is guaranteed if you give the plant adequate sunlight, well-drained soil and sufficient moisture during the growing season. Peonies have a high degree of drought tolerance as well as pest and disease resistance, including deer damage. They are recommended to be hardy in USDA Zones 2-8. It is no wonder they have flourished in the Midwest and plains states. They are sturdy, hardy and require very little work to keep them happy for years.

The Intersectional or Itoh (ee-toe-ah) Hybrids were named in honor of Toichi Itoh, the originator of these unique hybrid peonies. They are the result of crossing the two main groups of peonies: the herbaceous and the tree or woody shrub peonies. Ornamentally, Itoh hybrids achieve the best of both parental worlds with the beautiful flowers and foliage of the woody tree peonies displayed on an herbaceous plant. Strong healthy plants form attractive dense, neat rounded bushes, shorter in stature than most tree peonies. Flowers are displayed above the handsome foliage that remains greener longer than their herbaceous parents. Intersectional hybrids are somewhat hardier than tree peonies and more tolerant of heat and humidity. They are recommended for Zones 4-8. Southern Iowa is Zone 5.

Klehm suggested that for cut flowers, you cut the stems long, bearing in mind that cutting more than one-third of the plant’s foliage and stems may affect the overall vigor and health of the plant.
Peonies can be cut when the first true color is evident on the bud. It is best to cut them in early morning and immerse immediately in water. Cut 0.5 inch off the stems UNDER WATER as you arrange them to prevent air blocking the intake of water. Be sure to remove any foliage that will be under water and change water daily to reduce bacteria. You might want to use a commercial flower food. Refrigerating will slow maturity while putting them in warm water will hasten the blooms. DO NOT refrigerate with fruit, as fruits emit methane gas, harmful to most flowers.

Peony fragrance is intensified after bringing indoors, perhaps the main reason peonies are one of my favorite things. Once you are familiar with these generous plants, they will be one of your favorite things, too.

Julie Johnston is a Master Gardener intern.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Dear Iris

Cardboard helps transform lawn into planting space

By COLLEEN T. BELL, Master Gardener Intern | Apr 19, 2012
Photo by: JULIE JOHNSTON/Ledger photo  
Trees are being planted at the Maasdam Barns using the cardboard method.

My goal is to phase out turf grass except for pathways between beds of a wide range of edible fruit and nut trees, berries, herbs, and flowers (some edible). It’s easy to transform lawn space (or just about any flat space that’s a good garden site) into planting space with little to no digging and no rototiling. Use cardboard!

Why cardboard? Cardboard blocks light and air from turf so it dies. It does let water in and that helps the grass break down. This creates a 4- to 6-inch layer of compost, which attracts worms that will eat the wet cardboard. It’s amazing how loose and “plantable” the soil is within a few months. The worms naturally aerate the soil, which makes it easier for things to grow. The roots need oxygen. (When we rototill, it not only destroys any worms, it breaks down the soil structure, and it takes a long time to build up again. It causes compacted soil.)

This is especially useful for fruit trees because their young roots grow laterally just below the surface. Take away that competition of turf to give them a good start in their new home.

How to do this? If planning ahead, water the area for the new growing space. Mow as close to the ground as possible. Then layer and overlap the cardboard over the entire area to be planted. Leave no grass showing, please. Be sure to remove tape and staples that won’t decompose with the cardboard. Water thoroughly.

The second step is covering the cardboard with about 2 to 4 inches of compost if possible and topsoil if necessary for weight. Water again, thoroughly. This facilitates decomposition and holds the cardboard down.

The third step: Cover area with a layer of mulch to retain moisture until your living mulch is established. This mulch will vary depending on what you are planting.

When you plant in the new bed always leave at least 3 to 6 inch breathing space between cardboard and stem. Don’t let wet cardboard be up against any growing thing, please! Pull the cardboard away from the tree trunk or plant. Tear it out or tuck it under.

If you haven’t done this technique ahead of the time of planting your tree, it’s OK to do it all at once when you plant the trees or soon after. Follow the tree planting instructions as usual. Then mulch with cardboard!
This technique also is useful for making a new flower or vegetable bed. Follow the same instructions for any size bed. If there are a lot of smaller plants in a row just cut a strip out to plant. Then I use folded multi layers of newspaper to go between the small plants because its easier to work with around small plants.

Here is how to use it for fruit trees:  Create a circle about 5 to 6 inches in diameter. Figure the center and measure a 3-foot string and draw a perfect circle to be covered with cardboard. Ideally when you plant your fruit or nut trees, plant a circle of daffodils around the trunk. They are poisonous, so the critters won’t burrow up to the trunk to snack. Do this when you plant the tree. Transplant them from places where they have gotten too crowded. Once you have planted, don’t walk in that circle. It compacts the soil. If you need to get close use a board or stepping stone.

Now the tree needs some company! Plants that will support and aid in its growth and survival! Permaculture design uses the term guild to describe such a group of plants. Comfrey is a good example that fills several functions. The Fairfield Public Library has several books on permaculture and edible forest gardening.

Colleen T. Bell is a Master Gardener intern, a graduate of the permaculture design program and owner and manager of Earth Wisdom.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Maasdam House This Spring

There has been some wonderful Master Gardener work done out here at the Maasdam House lately!  Just look at those tulips!  (Yes, everything is very early this year.)

Waiting to be planted 
(I have it on good authority that these bushes are now "in the ground!"

Plantings, weeding and mulching is being accomplished by the Jefferson County Master Gardeners.