Time to Grow More and Work Less

Is It Dead Houseplant Season?

Spider Mite Damage (Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org)

Spider Mite Damage (Clemson University – USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org)

Every winter I get questions about the leaves of houseplants drying out. A good part of that is the low humidity in our homes in winter. Once the windows close and the heat clicks on, the moisture level plummets.

Houseplants need less water during winter. Most actually go semi-dormant, although they remain green. However they still need some water. You don’t want to leave the soil bone dry or run into the problem of the soil pulling away from the sides of the container, allowing all the water to run out the bottom before soaking the soil.

Okay, but I Do Water and They Still Dry Out

Assuming you are watering and your plants are still getting dried out leaves, the problem is usually insect pests. How these little buggers can find a plant that is safely tucked away in your living room has always boggled me. Yet they can. Continue Reading

Self-Fertile Plants Need Love, Too.

Apple-BlossomsEvery year I get several questions from gardeners about why their squash plants aren’t very productive. Usually it’s because they only have one squash plant and squash flowers need to be pollinated multiple times to produce viable fruits. With only one plant, your chances for success are minimized.

But something we don’t often consider is that even with plants that are self-fertile or self-pollinated, you get a much better yield if you have 2 or more plants and often 2 or more different varieties. This is true of tomatoes and peppers and many other vegetables that can self-pollinate. It’s even more apparent when you’re growing tree fruits.

That’s Nice, But Who has Room for an Orchard?

Since fruit trees take up considerable real estate, we don’t all have room for two trees of a particular fruit. Apples, pears and sweet cherries do an abysmal job of fruiting if left on their own. Sour cherries and peaches look like good alternatives. The trees are small and you only need one. But if you have the room, consider planting in pairs, for an even better harvest.

Can’t squeeze in two? You could always plant one of those multi-grafted trees with 3 or more varieties on a single trunk. Or try this trick my former neighbors did with their sweet cherry trees. Cherry-TreesThey planted the young trees side by side and trained them around each other. Then they spread the trunks apart into a “V” and allowed them to grow slightly outward. Each tree has room to expand and gets plenty of sunlight. Plus they are close enough to cross pollinate easily.

Rethinking Offcinalis

Lambs-EarWe all seen botanical plant names with the species “officinalis”. Lots of them, probably. I always thought it was a designation of the original or more common species of a genus. Kind of the boring, coarse variety. One step above vulgare. Turns out I was wrong.

Silly Me

Admittedly my knowledge of Latin comes mostly from the old Catholic mass. I know several  ways to lament my many sins, but they weren’t big on descriptive phrases. Officinalis isn’t derived from the word official. It’s derived from the noun “officina” which rolled through many meanings from a healer’s workshop or laboratory to a pharmacy. Used as an adjective, “officinalis”, it means healing or used in medicine. In other words, an herb.

Peony roots have been used to treat a multitude of conditions, from gout to stress.

Peony roots have been used to treat a multitude of conditions, from gout to stress.


There are a lot of plants out there with the species officinalis that we don’t think of as herbs, certainly not medicinal herbs. But the next time you see Stachys officinalis or Paeonia officinalis or Cornus officinalis, I know I’ll be trying to imagine what on earth they were used to cure.

Getting a Handle on Garden Chores

PruningThis is such a simple tip, I don’t know why I didn’t hear about it before. I came across it reading one of my favorite books, by one of my favorite authors, Sydney Eddison’s Gardening for a Lifetime. Or should I say I “gleaned” it?

We all have to do lists, although some are just in our heads. Wherever they’re kept, they keep getting longer and more overwhelming. To get a handle on all you have to do, write down as much as you can remember. Then next to each item, write down how long you think it will take you to get it done. Now before you feel daunted, take a look at the nagging little tasks that would only take 15 – 20 minutes to complete.

 Chore Time Done
Side vegetables with compost 30 -40 minutes  X
Check cabbage plants for egg sacks 15 minutes  X
Mulch flower beds 60 minutes  
Collect seeds from poppy pods 10 minutes  X
Divide crowded daylilies 1-2 hours  
Build compost bin 4-6 hours  

Now whenever you have only a few minutes to garden, do one of those tasks instead of just pulling a weed here or a deadhead there. Get an entire task done and you can scratch it off your to do list. Doesn’t that feel good? As your list gets smaller, those big task might still look out of reach.

Chop Them Up

Most big jobs, like building a compost container, can be broken down into smaller tasks:

 Chore Time Done
List materials needed 15 minutes  X
Shop for materials 45 minutes  
Measure and mark boards 30 minutes  
Cut boards 30 – 40 minutes  
Drill holes 20 – 30 minutes  
Assemble 60 minutes  

Yes, it takes a few minutes of pre-thought, but it sure helps get organize your thoughts into a plan of attack.

Fall Divisions

DividingThey always say fall is for planting, but if you live in a cold climate, don’t wait too long. You want your plants to settle in and become established for at least 4 – 6 weeks, before the ground freezes.

I like to get as much cleanup done in the fall as I can, because spring can go by in a wink. Even so, I’m hesitant to do a lot of late dividing of perennials. You can never be sure when a frost is coming and loosening the soil in fall seems to be an invitation to every vole in the neighborhood.

What the Heck

But I’ve always been one to push my luck. If you’re like me, here are a few perennials that seem to handle the disruption late in the season. Focus on these first. Continue Reading