Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Glove of the Fox

I had a good friend of mine the other day send me a message and asked if I had ever heard of Digitalis. She also said it might be a good topic for a blog article, I figured she might be right. The more I researched it, the more "right" she became.
Digitalis purpurea, the common Foxglove, belongs to a genus of about 20 species of herbaceous perennials, shrubs, and biennials.
Folklore suggests several origins of the name "foxglove". The plant may have originally been called 'folk's glove' with 'folk' referring to woodland fairies or little people. One interesting story suggests that woodland elves and fairies distributed the plant to foxes to wear as gloves during raids on chicken coops. The different spots on the flowers helped farmers identify the guilty fox when the chickens disappeared.
The earliest known form of the word is the Anglo-Saxon 'foxes glofa' (the glove of the fox).
It actually derives its common name from the shape of the flowers resembling the finger of a glove.
As you can see, the flowers are produced on a tall spike, are tubular, and vary in color with species, from purple to pink, white, and even yellow. Foxgloves thrive in Zones 4-10 except in Florida and along the Gulf Coast. They are easily grown in average, well-drained soil in full sun to part shade. Preferring moist, organically rich, acidic soils, which must not be allowed to dry out.
They are native to Western and South Western Europe, Western and central Asia, and Northwestern Africa. Growing 4 to 5 feet tall, Foxgloves are considered biennials, which means the normal life of a Foxglove plant is two seasons, but sometimes the roots, which are formed of numerous, long, thick fibers, persist and throw up flowers for several seasons. However, after flowering, plants can become somewhat scraggly by late Summer, you may want to consider removing them from the garden as soon as they release their seed. An incredible number of seeds are produced, a single Foxglove plant can produce from one to two million seeds to ensure its propagation. Who wants to talk about the possibility of an invasive plant now!?
The flower is a favorite with bees and is visited by other smaller insects, who may be seen taking refuge from cold and wet weather in the drooping blossoms on chilly evenings, that, I guess, is why the invasiveness is overlooked.
The major problems these plants have are Powdery mildew and leaf spot, if it is left untreated, it will damage foliage considerably by late Summer. Dense crowns may rot in soggy, poorly-drained Winter soils. Potential insect pests include aphids, mealy bugs, slugs and Japanese beetles.
I mentioned how the flowers resemble the fingers of a glove, each individual flower fits the human finger almost perfectly. A child can hardly resist poking their fingers into the blossoms that seem almost designed for that purpose. The flowers, leaves and seeds are highly toxic however, and care should be taken when growing this plant to prevent accidental poisonings. Even with this being said, Foxglove is grown commercially as a source of the heart drugs digoxin and digitoxin.
The man credited with the introduction of Foxglove (digitalis) into the practice of medicine was William Withering. He was born in Shropshire, England in 1741.
Digitalis purpurea in Witherings 18th century was a blessing for people with dropsy (An old term for the swelling of soft tissues due to the accumulation of excess water, better known as Edema today). At the same time, Foxglove concoctions began to appear in an attempt to cure, albeit unsuccessfully, illnesses such as asthma, epilepsy, hydrocephalus, insanity and others. The 18th century brought Foxglove into medical light, but it would take several hundred years before its true healing powers could be harnessed completely.
This is a beautiful plant and I had briefly thought about bringing some into my yard as a bee magnet. After doing this research, I am very weary of introducing it here now. The way my luck runs and with as many edibles that I have in my yard, somebody would come along along and figure that these can be eaten too. I really am not in the mood to be put in jail because of the stupidity of somebody else.
Happy Growing!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Another Alien Invasion??

My phone rang the other day and it was my good friend Dennis. He said he needed to pick my brain.
Okay, whatcha got?
An alien is growing in my yard.
I wasn't sure I completely understood what he said. So I asked him to describe it.
It is red, slimy and has tentacles coming out of it. It also has an egg shaped body and it is growing in my yard.
I had NO idea of what in the world it was. It was coming out of some mulch, that he had made out of some pine trees from his yard. I figured it was some kind of fungus, but had never heard of anything that looked like what he was describing. I asked him to send me some pictures and I would research it and maybe touch base with some of my fellow garden folks.
Well, a little while later he sent me a text telling me what it was, he found it online.
It is a Starfish Fungus, also known as Anemone Stinkhorn and Sea Anemone Fungus. Botanically it is known as Aseroe rubra, meaning (literally) ‘disgusting red’.
Here are the pictures he ended up sending me:

In the United States it is common in Hawaii and occasionally in South Carolina and North Carolina. It is also widely distributed in Australia from southeastern Queensland through New South Wales and eastern Victoria. Apparently there have also been reports of it in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, so it is unknown whether it has actually been introduced or is native to certain areas.
This type of fungus is Saprobic, meaning it survives on decomposing dead or decaying organic material.
The Aseroe rubra was the first species of fungus to be collected and described from Australia. Jacques Labillardière (1755-1834), a member of the D'Entrecasteaux expedition, collected the specimen on May 1st,1792 at Recherche Bay in southern Tasmania and published an account of it in 1800.
It Starts out as a partly buried whitish egg-shaped structure 1.25 inches in diameter, it bursts open as a hollow white stalk with reddish arms that erupt and grow to a height of 4 inches. There are some species that start out as pinkish to purplish or brownish egg. It then matures into the reddish star-shaped structure with 6 to 10 arms up to 1.5 inches. If this wasn't creepy enough, the 6 to 10 arms then divide, kind of like this:
The top of the fungus is covered with dark olive-brown slime, which smells of rotting meat, which attracts flies and other insects, who then disperse the mushroom's spores.

It apparently likes acidic soil, hence why my friend found it growing on Pine mulch. Through they smell terrible they are not considered poisonous, in fact I have read that they are edible when in their egg stage of development. On many other websites it is considered inedible, why somebody would want to even consider eating one, I don't know.
If the smell bothers you, try digging up the eggs (immature fruiting bodies) and disposing of them before it becomes a problem. This is quick, but temporary. Hardwood mulch could be a longer term solution. I kind of like the looks of them, I have thought about pretending to be a fly and propagating one in my yard.

There is much argument as to where this thing actually came from. My friend had never seen one before nor had I. We figure that a fly from some exotic land must have come by ship and left a present in his yard.
The last thing that Dennis said to me was, we really need to close and protect our borders!
Amen Dennis, Amen
Happy Growing!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Getting Downy on the Mildew

Here we are, the middle of April already. Spring is not even a full month old yet, my apologies to anybody reading this where there may still be snow on the ground, but we already have our first confirmed problem in the garden or at least potential problem.
Cucurbit downy mildew has been found on yellow Summer squash and zucchini plants at a Home Depot store here in Charleston, SC. Some plants were likely sold between the dates it was first discovered on Wednesday, April 6th and confirmation of the disease on Sunday, April 10th. The remaining plants were pulled off of the shelves on the day of confirmation. The plants were at bloom stage and being sold in one-gallon pots. The disease was on about 25% of the leaves. Some of the spots were even beginning to produce spores which would lead to further spread. The plants were grown in Miami, Florida which is the only area in which cucurbit downy mildew has been reported so far this season.
Downy mildew is one of the most important leaf diseases of cucurbits and is caused by the fungus Pseudoperonospora cubensis. The Cucurbitaceae or cucurbit family includes such economically important food plants as pumpkin, cucumber, watermelon, muskmelon, Summer squash, Winter squash, and gourd.
Typically, symptoms begin as small yellow areas on the upper leaf surface. As lesions expand, they may become brown with irregular margins.
They will look like this:
A fine white-to-grayish downy growth soon appears on the lower leaf surface.
This growth will look similar to this:
This is the sporulation of the pathogen or how it reproduces.
In most years the disease is an annual, late-season problem on squash and pumpkin in the Eastern and Central US, however, since 2004 it has become one of the most important diseases in cucumber production. The pathogen must overwinter in an area that doesn’t experience a hard frost, such as Southern Florida. That is why discovering it on transplants this early in the season can cause great headaches. It will probably visit soon enough without it getting a toe hold now.
The fungus is easily carried by wind currents, rain or irrigation splash, tools, or the hands and clothes of gardeners. It is favored by cool to moderately warm temperatures, but tolerates hot days, even though long periods of dry hot weather can stifle the spread of the disease. Unlike powdery mildew, it requires humidity to flourish. Therefore, downy mildew is most aggressive when heavy dews, fog, and frequent rains occur. Spores are blown northward each season as favorable seasonal conditions advance. As a result, the disease is most common on late Summer plantings and is infrequently seen on Spring cucurbits. Remember, basically only the leaves are infected. However diseased leaves results in two major effects:
1) Reduced yields and a greater number of mishapen fruit (especially in cucumber)
2) Sunscalded fruit due to increased exposure to direct sunlight (especially in watermelon and Winter squash as the leaves die off).
Controlling downy mildew requires use of resistant cultivars. There have been some developed for cucumber and cantaloupe and to a lesser extent for squash and pumpkin.
Here is a partial list of some of the resistant, or in some cases tolerant of, downy mildew:
Cantaloupe- Mission (tolerant)
Cucumber- Ashley, Burpless, Poinsett 76 and Supersett (resistant)
There may be others out there, it may take a little diligence on your part to find them.
Fungicides are available for the home vegetable garden if the disease becomes severe enough to warrant chemical control, just please make sure that it is labeled for the crop you are wanting to spray and you follow the label directions, it is the law!
There are a few cultural controls that will assist you in preventing or at least delaying the onset of this disease. Choose planting sites with good air movement and without shading. Avoid overhead irrigation in early morning when leaves are wet from dew or late in the day when leaves will not have an opportunity to dry before dew forms.
The disease is sometimes called “wildfire” because of how rapidly it progresses, as if the plants have been burned by fire.
Photo courtesy of NC State University, Department of Plant Pathology
There is a website out there that will assist you when downy mildew is present in your area. It will tell you when to start spraying a preventive fungicide and give you all kinds of other information. It can be found here: Downy Mildew Tracking
It is free to sign up and only takes a couple of seconds.
If nothing else, this whole episode should serve as a reminder to always inspect your plants that you are purchasing. Make sure there are no weird spots or splotches on the plants. Always look for insects, eggs, or insect damage. You should also be aware of diseases that are prone to a particular plant or a particular part of the country.
Luckily, this one was caught early enough and hopefully there were not too many sold.
Here's to a long, happy, healthy gardening season for everybody!
Happy Growing!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Cheap Way to Start

Yesterday was another very successful plant swap! There were lots of plants and lots of people. Other than the fun these things are, I have a feeling that plant swaps are gaining momentum because of the current economic situation. Plants, Gardening and Landscaping can be expensive. If you divide your plants or plant seeds (which are relatively inexpensive) you have a lot of bartering power. Hence the power of the plant swap.
I noticed yesterday also that there were a good many vegetable seedlings. This too can be caused be the economy. Many people are trying to grow their own food, again, trying to save money.
If you are cheap like me, (read also poor), I am always trying to find ways to do things cheaper. I love to swap plants, find deals and propagate cuttings from friends plants. I also make my own cheap, easy, permanent plant tags from trash. Check out that blog here:

Seeds, like I mentioned above, are a cheap source of plants. You can get them just about anywhere for a couple of dollars and in theory you can get many, many plants. Sure, you can start them in any container with some good potting mix. You can go out and buy the pricey peat pots or peat pellets. I am here to show you that you can go into your kitchen or bathroom and have some of the materials needed to start high quality plants from your trash!
Basically you only need a few things to start any seed. The seed is a good start. After that, you need, soil, water, humidity/heat and something to put all that in. We will start there, what to put them in?
Go into your bathroom or kitchen and find those cardboard tubes that the toilet paper or paper towels come on. You know, like these:
Yes, we are going to grow seeds in your trash.
After you have saved up a few of these, it will depend on how many seeds you want to start as to how many you will need.
The next step is to cut them up:
About 2.5-3 inches wide is good. You should get 3 out of a toilet paper roll and 6 or 7 out of a paper towel roll.
Pretty easy so far, right?
Then you need to locate some kind of tray. I usually have a dozen or so of the old black trays laying around. Anything that will hold the little seed pots in will work.
For instructional purposes, I have used an old bowl and one seed pot here:
If you only want to start a couple of seeds, this is the easiest way to do it.
Fill the "pot" with some kind of potting mix. Just as a side note, this is actually going to be the most expensive part. Get a good bag of potting mix, the best you can afford. The better the mix, the better the plants will be, it will pay for itself in the long run.
After you fill the "pot", plant two seeds. The reason for two? Just in case one of them is bad, you are hedging your bets that at least one will germinate. If both do, you can either just let both grow, or cut one of them off at the soil line. You can try to separate them, but I advise against this because you can tear too many of the roots and you might lose both seedlings.
Next, you want to water gently so you do not displace the seed or wash the soil out.
A mister or spray bottle is great for this step.
I mentioned heat/humidity earlier. My next trick for you is to create a greenhouse, again, out of your trash.
Take a 2 liter soda bottle, cut it about half way up. The cap end is the side you want. Place it over the bowl like this:
There you go, instant greenhouse. You want the cap end so that you can mist the seeds occasionally. Just unscrew the cap, mist, replace. Again, this is great for only starting a couple of seeds. If you want to start a flat of them, there are plastic seeds trays available. I am a cheap person remember? Use an old plastic tray as the base. Use some uncut toilet paper rolls for the columns and cover the whole thing in Saran Wrap. If you happen to dry clean your clothes, the plastic bag they come home in will work also.
Place the whole kit and kaboodle in a bright warm place. I have seen people use the top of the refrigerator for the warmth. When they see the seeds pop out, they move them into a sunny spot. Be careful of the greenhouse effect though, it can get very hot under there and will cook your seedlings.
After the plant has gotten a few inches tall and a couple of its first true leaves, it is time to plant them in the ground or container.
This is where it gets easy. Gently pick the whole thing up and plant as is, pot and all can go into the soil. The paper pot will disappear and become compost for your plant. The roots will grow right out through the moist cardboard. Why go through all this? When plants are young, they are very fragile. The less you have to handle or expose the roots the better. Being that pot and all get planted, you accomplish not exposing the roots or disturbing them. There is also the thought out there that peat is eventually going to disappear. Whether you believe that or not is up to you, but the thought is out there.
So, there you go, you have gotten rid of some of your trash, saved a couple of dollars, handled the roots almost nil, possibly saved a peat bog, and have some of the healthiest plants on the block. What more can you ask for?
Happy Growing!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

2011 Charleston, SC Spring Plant Swap...How to guide

This coming weekend is the date that has been on a lot of peoples calendars, I hope!
My annual Spring plant swap.
With the economy the way it is, finding ways to save some money is very high on every body's list. Gardeners are no exception. There has been a lot of talk about plant swaps and seed swaps lately, I have been doing mine for 8 years now! Apparently, it's the new IN thing.
Organizing a plant swap is actually very easy. For all you folks in the North, right now would be a great time to start organizing one. You can still do one here in the South, but you better hurry if you want to include some veggies. This also works well in the Fall, I will be doing my Fall swap later this year.
How do you get started?
First off, locate a good place to have one. A city park, somebody that has a really large yard or even a vacant parking lot. The key elements here are, easy parking, lots of room for plants, bathrooms, tables for food (more on that later) and if possible something for the kids to do.
Okay, you have the perfect spot, let's say a city park. Call the city and see if you need any kind of paperwork, most of the time you won't but better to check anyway. Find out if you need to have someone open the bathrooms or if they are always accessible. You might want to check on the parking situation. Somewhere in here you also need to pick a date and time. That way when you call the city you can ask if there is going to be any conflict. When considering the time, figure on set up, the actual swap and clean up. I have people start coming at 10am. They can bring their plants, mill around a little and look at the other plants and ask questions. The swap then starts at 11am. The way I do it, the whole swap is over in about 30 minutes (if that long). You can usually tell the city you will be long gone by 1pm.
Okay, you have the place, date and time. The next step is the big one. PUBLICITY!
I spend a total of about $2 on publicity. LOTS of time, but very little cash.
HOW you say?
First, start with websites. Gardenweb has places for swaps. and are also two very good places to post. There might be others that I haven't heard about.
You can go to your local extension office. Every state has a Master Gardener program, touch base with them. Ask them to post it on their website or news bulletins. The local newspaper might have a Gardening Calendar that will post for free. Check to see if you have any small neighborhood newspapers, they might even do a story on it for you. Check with your friends and see if they belong to any Garden Clubs or Horticultural Societies, that is a great way to get the word passed around. Facebook, Myspace and any other Social Networking website is a good source for advertisement. Fliers, this is where I spend my $2. I create a flier, go to Staples and print out 25 or so. Post these at Libraries or any place that you see Yard Sale Signs. Make sure you have all the pertinent information on it, Date, Time, Place, What it is, how it works and a contact e-mail or phone number. You can also put directions on it if it is hard to find.

This is what mine looks like:

Come swap all those extra plants you have
April 9th 2011, 10am setup
Park Circle, by the Gazebo

More Information:

The Specifics
10am set-up and browse....11am swap...immediately afterwards...LUNCH!
Bring ALL your extra plants, if it grows, it will go!
Including Houseplants! Also any garden related items, Hoses, Garden Art, Containers, Etc.
We are having it at Park Circle in North Charleston, by the Gazebo. There are picnic tables, bathrooms and LOTS of room for kids to play and even more room for plants, parking and food.
Pretty much everybody in Charleston is familiar with Park Circle....there are numerous ways to get to it, depending on which way you are coming. If you want or need directions, e-mail me, I will get it and respond ASAP.
The way we swap will be the basic Free For All. I will say go, everybody will grab ONE (1) plant and take it to their hiding area. After everybody has a plant, we repeat the process. Nice and Simple!
We will have plates and napkins and such, Please bring your own drinks and a covered dish for as many as you can. We like to do a Pot Luck style picnic and encourage everybody to stick around and participate. The socializing afterwards is as much fun as the swap itself, please try to give yourself enough time to stay and enjoy yourself!

Very straight forward. I couldn't get the clip art to show here, but, I have a picture of a woman handing over a plant.
You can also contact your local radio and TV stations, sometimes they are looking for local fun news. I actually did an interview with our local radio this year, the more the word gets out the better.
Okay, the place, date, time and publicity is done. How exactly does the swap work?
I am sure there are numerous ways to do these things. I do mine quick and easy. The general free for all. This will sound chaotic, but I promise it works, remember I have been doing this for 8 years.
As the plants start arriving, put them all spread order, no groupings. Kind of like this:

This was just the beginning. Make sure you leave room in between plants for walking around room. Just keep spreading them around until everybody is there, right up to designated start time. Let folks wander around and look at all the goodies. Just before start time, ask if there are any questions about a specific plant. The person that brought it can probably tell you anything that is needed to know. You might be able to label some of the more exotic or lesser known plants. Having Master Gardeners around can be very useful here. I bring a magic marker and some extra labels to mark the plants that I bring home so I know what to Google when I get home.
Then, if there are no more questions, have everybody step back a pace or two. Give them ready, set, GO! Have everybody take ONE plant. That is what the milling around is for, to find the first plant they want. Have them take it to a safe place, by their vehicle or just someplace away from all the action.
After everybody has grabbed a plant, do it again. After three or four rounds, have them grab two plants. Keep on going until all the plants are gone.
Sound like Chaos? It is to some degree, but it is also a lot of fun.

You will probably get some of the following questions:
How many plants should I bring?
A) As many as you want. I always bring lots of extras and usually take home very few. I have strange tastes and there usually isn't much that I want or need.
What should I bring?
A) If it grows it goes! You will see everything from showroom plants to stuff people just pulled out of the ditch. Houseplants, Bulbs, Perennials, Shrubs, Etc. I have seen some of the most dreadful looking plants be the first to go. It all depends on what they are, ugly rare will go before gorgeous usual.
I don't have very many plants, what else can I bring?
A) Garden Art, extra hoses, pots and containers, Garden Tools, anything Garden related. I have seen Chicken wire show up and be one of the first things snatched. They were going to make a compost bin out of it.

I also have anybody that wants to stick around afterwards and eat to bring food. Think Sunday social or picnic. Covered dishes. Tell them to bring enough food for themselves and a couple of other people. We have never run out of food. Have somebody bring plates and silverware. That's usually my mothers job. Also have them bring their own drinks, though we usually bring extra bottled water. The socializing after is as much fun as the swap itself.
Another tip is to get everybody's e-mail address.....use this for next year in the publicity department.
This what you are striving for:

I know this sounds like a lot of work, and it is, but the benefits and the appreciation from all the attendees will be worth it. Mine has been steadily growing every year, word of mouth is your best publicity you can get...and it's FREE!
What might be some of the benefits? It will be amazing what your neighbor down the street is growing that you had no idea would grow where you are and the friendships that can develop because of a plant swap. Plus, you might just pick up that plant that you didn't even know you couldn't live without!
If you have any question, go ahead and ask....I am more than willing to help.....besides, if you are close enough to me, I might just show up to your swap!!
Happy Growing!