Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dear Iris - Published February 23, 2012

  DEAR IRIS   -  Companion planting helps growth, taste

Vegetables, fruits, herbs and even flowers that enhance the growth, taste and productivity of each other is an enticing concept, isn’t it? Root secretions and odors share the honors in the attraction and companionship game between plants.

Luckily, we don’t need to dig and sniff roots in order to determine if a carrot is best planted next to a cucumber. Gardeners for ages have been documenting which plants seem to grow well together and which plants seem to dislike each other as evidenced by their stunted growth, meager productiveness, unusual taste and/or by being overrun with insects or disease.

Determining which plant is beneficial or which plants are mutually beneficial is an ongoing process and sometimes perfecting the ratio of one plant to another plant is key. Below is a beginner’s list of favorites that are mutually beneficial and others they especially dislike:

Radishes like kohlrabi, bush and pole beans, nasturtiums and mustards ... dislike hyssop.

Peas like aromatic herbs, corn, cucumbers, beans, carrots, radishes, turnips and parsnips ... dislike gladiolus, garlic and onions.

Sweet corn likes potatoes, peas, beans, cucumbers, pumpkin, squash and odorless Mexican marigold ... dislikes tomatoes.

Bush beans like cucumbers, strawberries, parsnips, summer savory, celery, Mexican marigolds and corn ... dislike fennel and onions.

Pole beans like corn, summer savory and radishes ... dislike onions, beets, sunflowers and kohlrabi.

Potatoes like nasturtiums, Mexican marigolds, flax, beans, cabbage, corn, horseradish and eggplant ... dislike tomatoes, apples, pumpkin, raspberry, squash, cucumber and sunflower.

Cabbage (brassica family: broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, rutabaga and turnip) likes onion family, beets, spinach, potatoes, celery, thyme, dill, rosemary, sage, peppermint and chamomile ... dislikes pole beans, strawberries, and tomatoes.

Tomatoes like asparagus, gooseberries, onion family, parsley, Mexican marigold, nasturtium, carrots, borage and garlic ... dislike brassica family, potatoes and fennel.

Onions (allium family: shallot, chives, leek and garlic) like carrots, apples, celery, brassica family, beets, strawberries, tomatoes, lettuce, summer savory and chamomile ... dislike peas and beans.

Lettuce likes strawberries, cucumbers, carrots, onions and radishes.

Sweet and hot peppers like basil and okra.

Cucumbers (cucurbit family: squash, melons, pumpkin) like corn, beans, peas, nasturtiums, borage, sunflowers, onion family and icicle radishes (let go to seed) ... dislike potatoes and aromatic herbs.

Swiss Chard likes beans, brassicas, onions, tomatoes and roses.

Carrots like onions, rosemary, sage, peas, leaf lettuce and tomatoes ... dislike dill.

Spinach likes strawberries.

Eggplant likes green beans.

Strawberries like borage.

Roses like parsley, onion family, Mexican marigolds and a tomato leaf spray.

Why don’t you give companion planting a try? It is far from an exact science, but it just might boost faith in your green — or greening — thumb.

Aideen Vega-Van Auken is a Master Gardener intern.

Dear Iris - published February 16, 2012

DEAR IRISGardener says keep ‘imagine’ list growing

It’s a new gardening year, and it brings the long-awaited mail delivery of garden catalogs! Wow, my favorite ones are here, full of new varieties in every category imaginable. Sure, I’ve been browsing on the World Wide Web since last fall, looking for a hard-to-find pumpkin variety, but there’s nothing like a hard copy in hand with surprises on each page!

Now, today, is the time to IMAGINE the whole growing year ahead. Let your mind run wild ... mine fast forwards from early spring crocus to late fall turnips and chrysanthmums. Beginning to end and all that’s in between! For the early vegetable garden, radishes, carrots, leaf lettuce, peas, beets, zucchini squash and cabbage can tolerate cold temperatures of soil and air. These start my garden list of needed seeds. I’m trying a new watermelon radish and Parisian globe carrot. Repeat plantings of these early vegetables can be made every couple of weeks if wanted and weather allows. Of course, I get some sweet corn planted as soon as my farming family, decides it’s time to plant field corn. Potatoes can be planted now, the old ritual of planting on Good Friday was always observed by my family. From the planting, to hilling and finally digging, we had a good crop of our favorite staple using the holy day date.

Add to the garden seed planting list, warm soil-temperature varieties. Green, wax, lima and horticulture beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, winter squash, longer varieties of sweet corn and my personal favorite — pumpkins.

Remember ... now is the time to IMAGINE. By the simple work of planting cucurbita varieties, the fall season will be filled with color, unusual shapes and textures in harvest settings. When the seed catalogs arrive, our grandkids pick out the kinds of pumpkins they want for decorating their porches and front yards! Some are warty, bumpy, white, deep ribbed, bright orange Cinderella’s, peanut and blue-gray. So many varieties to choose from.Oops, we almost forgot to order a regular jack-o-lantern! Gourds, Indian corn and maize join the group for fall decorating — just IMAGINE!

Sweet potato plants can be planted in late May. Plants can be purchased at nurseries, but are sometimes hard to find. I start my own in February by choosing the best looking sweet potato in the grocer’s produce department. Do a good scrubbing, slice a small section from an end, stick toothpicks in sides to hold it upright, then place in a jar of water. Soon roots and leaves will appear. These slips can be broken off and then rooted in water. After acclimating to outside temperatures, they can be directly planted in the garden.
Don’t forget the faithful, long-blooming plantings of zinnias and marigolds directly sown in the soil. No pampering needed, they work hard all summer for your pleasure.

Now, we are nearing the end of the growing season list of seed needs. Our long-time neighbor shared a saying about growing turnips: “Sow on July 29th, wet or dry.” It works. By now, any seeds can be planted again, depending on moisture and weather patterns. Fall gardens can be very successful. Hopefully you are busy by now canning and freezing all of the wonderful vegetables.

From beginning to end, the most rewarding time is watching it all grow! Whatever you grow, just IMAGINE ... and keep that never-ending list “down to earth.”

By GERRI LYON, Master Gardener intern

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Dear Iris: Hosta

Friendship Plant Known for Foliage

Dear Iris - By JULIE JOHNSTON, Master Gardener intern | Feb 02, 2012

While the plant seen in many gardens has many names, the real name for the plant grown mainly for its foliage is Hosta. Other names are Friendship Plant, Plantain Lily and Funkia. Hostas are easy to grow, shade tolerant, herbaceous perennials. Hostas are grown by some because they are pretty much care free, but I grow them for their beautiful foliage. The “Friendship Plant” name came from the sharing of divisions among friends.
Hosta leaves come in a wide range of shapes, colors, sizes, and textures. Some have ruffled edges, some leaves appear to be quilted. The leaves may be streaked, speckled or splashed or have a different colored edge. Plants range in size from the dwarf at 4 inches tall and 6 inches across, to giant, standing 28 inches tall and perhaps 5 feet across. Some cultivars have scapes — the flower stem — as tall as 60 inches.
Some hybridizers have made it their goal to increase the size or fragrance of the Hosta flower, resulting in some lovely lily look-alikes. Others focus on the shape or size of the leaves or the coloring of the leaves, which range from deep dark green to rather bluish to pale gold. Many of the newer cultivars have deep red petioles — stems — with some of the red creeping into the leaves as well. I like all of them, and my garden will never have enough Hosta to suit me.

Native to Japan, Korea and China, Hosta were first imported and grown in Europe in the late 1700s. By the mid-1800s, Hosta were growing in the United States. Collectors still visit the Far East in search of “new” species, but most new cultivars come from the efforts of Hosta hybridizers. Today, there are hundreds of species and thousands of cultivars available to the home gardener as a result of hybridizing and tissue culture propagation.

If you receive a Hosta from another gardener, it will come from crown division, which is the way all Hostas used to be propagated. This is a slow process if large numbers are desired. Today’s market needs of many Hosta and Hosta cultivars are met by tissue culture, which is now the preferred process of propagation. This has brought about a growing problem known as Hosta Virus X because it can spread much more quickly through propagations methods.

While primarily trouble-free, Hosta have two problems of which you need to be aware. One is HVX mentioned above and the other is foliar nematodes.

HVX shows mottling of the leaves, which ultimately become brown spots. This disease is spread through use of unclean utensils, so sterilized equipment is a must. More on this disease is a column by itself.
Foliar nematodes are disease-causing organisms that attack the plant above ground. The most common symptom in Hosta is the development of linear lesions between the leaf veins, which become brown and eventually turn black. Other symptoms may be stunting, bunching of leaves around the crown, multicolored leaves, lack of flowering and death. In addition to Hosta, some of the most common hosts include anemone, strawberry, phlox, verbena, zinnia, carnation, impatiens, begonia, fern and African violet.
For Hosta lovers like me, the garden never big enough, causing us to continually dig up the turf found in our yards to make room for “just one more” Hosta. I only have about 90 different cultivars, but some collectors have hundreds. One garden I visited during the American Hosta Society convention in Minnesota boasted more than 500 cultivars and more than 1,500 plants.

If you are interested in learning more, contact me at The Ledger or take a look at the American Hosta Society website at And if you are lucky enough to obtain one of these beauties from a friend, you will indeed have a “Friendship Plant.”
Julie Johnston 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, February 2, 2012

2012 Think Spring Garden Seminar

You'll find the pertinent information here . . . 

From Plant to Plate: Growing and Using Herbs

Susan Appleget Hurst is a former garden editor at the Meredith Corporation.  She is currently co-host of Gardening Today, a live radio show on WHO 1040 A.M. every  Sunday morning.  Her website is   Click the link at left.

Monday, 6:30 - 8:30 P.M., February 27, 2012 at the  Rural Health Building at IHCC (on immediate right as you enter from the Alta Visit entrance).

See more here . . .

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Henry County Master Gardeners Symposium

Area Attraction!  Head to Mt Pleasant, IA  March 5th!

Copy and Print!
See more here . . . 

Last Minute News - Last Minute News - Last Minute . . .

Garden Club hears about Asian Garden Tours

On Monday February 6, 2012 Wapello County Master Gardeners Club will have the great good fortune to hear retired educator Dr. Tom Stanley, currently of Pella Iowa, speak about his work as a walking tour guide in Japan for 5 months of the year.

Dr. Stanley lived most of his life in Asia after moving there at the age of 10. After completing a PhD at the Universityof Arizona, he taught in Japan, Hong Kong and other Asian universities for over 20 years.  While teaching there, a research project developed into a travel company, Walk Japan Ltd. (  Upon retiring in 2008, he moved to Pella from where he travels to Japan 2 or 3 times a year to conduct tours.

The program will be held at the Rural Health Education Center on the Indian Hills Campus in room 110.  beginning at 6:30.  The public is invited. A $5 fee is required for non MG Club members.