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.