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.