Help Save the Monarch Butterfly with Asclepias Tuberosa, Butterfly Milkweed

Save the Monarch Butterfly, Plant Butterfly Milkweed

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias Tuberosa) is a native plant that creates a wonder area of your garden for monarch butterflies. The Growers Exchange wants to encourage our gardening friends to set aside a sunny space in their gardens to help these majestic butterflies thrive and slow the decline of their population.

The bad news: there can be no question that natural habitats, areas where monarch butterflies live, are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Habitat destruction, defined as changing an area in which a plant, animal or other organism lives to the point where that species can no longer survive. The destruction is generally described as either actual destruction, degradation or fragmentation. In the case of the Monarch butterfly, the major threat to their survival is the loss of milkweed habitat, which is an essential plant in their life cycle. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the counts of Monarch butterflies are trending down sharply, and their migration is now under threat.

The good news: restoration of habitat can be achieved with very little effort on the part of concerned gardeners. You can easily offset this loss of a critical host plant in your own yard by planting milkweed, the vital host plant for Monarch butterflies. (more…)

Planning and Growing a Kitchen Herb Garden

Herb gardens are generally defined by the plants that are grown in them, so once you decide on the purpose of your garden, the next steps should flow fairly easily. After 30+ years of growing and selling herbs, we know that the majority of our customers are using their herbs in the kitchen, so we will start there!

tips for growing a kitchen herb garden

Your Herb Garden Placement

The first step is deciding where to put your garden.   The one rule of thumb that we always abide by: put your garden in easy reach of your kitchen. You are less likely to add that tablespoon of fresh marjoram if you have to trudge across the yard to the garden that you’ve tucked out of sight, behind the garage. Make use of the space right outside of your kitchen door; it should be as easy for the cook to head out of that door as to head into the pantry for the dried version of your herb. You don’t need a lot of space, and if you are really limited, then grow these culinary herbs in pots. A nice variety of culinary herbs can be grown in a 6’ x 6’ plot, although if you’ve got the space, go bigger and add some variety with annual flowers and veggies to make a real statement!   In addition to location, you need to make sure that your garden will get enough sunshine as herbs need at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. Good draining soil is crucial, as well as healthy soil. And make sure that you have easy access to water. (more…)

Protect Your Garden… Naturally

protect-garden-naturally

You have put a lot of hard work into your garden, and now it is time to protect it!  The biggest pest problem you face is insects, and the easiest way to prevent insect damage is to create an ‘unfriendly environment’.  Your best defense is a HEALTHY GARDEN.  Here are a few tips:

Clean up:  make sure that you keep your plants clean by picking off any dead or dying leaves and stems.  Make sure to get rid of weak plants and take all of the plant material away from the garden area.  You want to keep weeds and debris out of the garden as that is a perfect spot for insects to breed.  Keep your tools clean, and disinfect if you have been working with infected plants.

Dry Foliage:  We want you to provide your plants with water, but it is important that you water in such a way that you keep the foliage dry.  Wet, soggy foliage encourages fungal growth, as well as insect infestation.  The best time of day to water is in the early morning, as that allows the foliage to stay dry for the majority of the day.  Drip irrigation is a great method to water the root system while leaving the foliage dry.

Feed Them:  We recommend a diluted feeding of seaweed fertilizer once a week.  Although it is a bit smelly, seaweed contains trace elements of iron, barium, calcium, sulfur, zinc and magnesium to encourage healthy growth and give them the strength to fight any potential disease.  Our favorite product is made by Neptune’s Harvest:  http://www.neptunesharvest.com/fs-191.html

Use Them:  The more you use them, the better.  Spending time pinching back, pruning or harvesting is time well spent.  Routine inspection of your herb plants is a good means of not letting anything get out of control, and it is also a great way to relax.

Plant Based Insecticides:  In the event that you need use an insecticide, we recommend using a plant based product.  Plants actually produce many powerful chemicals to defend themselves against insects.  Pyrethrum is a safe and natural insecticide made from certain species of chrysanthemum, has relatively low toxicity and breaks down quickly.

Starting Spring Herb Plants

The Growers Exchange greenhouse staff is busy starting all the herb plants needed for our customer’s gardens this spring. Different plants are started by 3 different methods. Annual, biennial, and some perennial are easy to grow from seed. Basil, cilantro, arugala are examples of some herbs that grow quickly from seed. Italian parsley is slow, up to 3 weeks to germinate and another 4 weeks to grow to transplant size. This herb takes a long time grow from a seed, but there is no other way to obtain new plants. Anise Hyssop, Catnip, and Bergamot are examples of perennial herb plants that may take several weeks to germinate, but are still considered easy to grow from seed. A germination chamber is used to force seeds to sprout before their designated time; parsley goes from 21 to 5 days in the chamber. Seed flats must be taken out immediately after germination, as seedlings quickly die in the high humidity. Technically germination begins with the emergence of the radical. This is the first little white shoot tip to penetrate the seed shell, then germination is over and seedling growth begins. It doesn’t sound like much, if you think about it; emergence of the radical is one of the magic moments in nature. No one can fully explain or replicate a hard little thing that turns into a plant when water is added. Sowing seeds does leave the mind time to wander. And wonder!

Herbs that grow as a shrub, such as rosemary, lavender, and germander could be grown from seed, but would not produce a transplant for 1 or 2 years. To avoid the long seedling stage, Stem cuttings are kept under mist and have a heat source below keeping the root zone warm. The stems soon grow roots and a miniature version of the parent plant is soon ready to transplant. Other herbs such as Costmary defy these methods. Bible leaf plants grow from a rhizome which is divided into new plants by cutting a piece of root with a leaf bud. These divisions also grow a clone of the parent plant.

All these herb plants are on a schedule with someone’s garden. We time our plants to be ready for their new home early this spring.

Growing Herb Plants in Winter

We get many calls from people concerned about the foliage of their herb plants. Each herb is different as has different growing requirements and characteristics. Overall, it is safe to say almost all herb plants prefer full sun all day long as well drained soil. Meeting these two basic requirements will eliminate most problems growing herb plants.

The amount of sun needed for growth cannot be met in a window during winter months. The declining number of daylight each day signals that it is time for the plant to go dormant. Each plant has its own type of dormancy. Some die back to the ground and have no green showing at all until spring.

Lemon Balm, mints, and lovage are examples of herb plants that die to the ground in winter. Shrubby plants like rosemary, lavender, sage and thymes are green in winter, but growth is stopped until spring. Leafy plants such as parsley and cutting celery must be grown large enough before fall to sustain winter cutting. Keeping herbs in a sunny window in winter keeps them close by for cutting as needed; make sure to have enough plants to last until spring.

Watering herb plants is simple. Water your herbs as little as possible. Wet soil will cause root rotting fungus to grow; never let herb plants stand in a saucer of water; water logging will drown the roots. When the soil is dry all the way to the bottom; water sparingly – just enough to dampen the soil.

Propagating Sweet Grass

Sweet grass (Hierochloe odorata) is a Native American grass used in prayer and purifying ceremonies. It is one of the four herbs sacred to Native Americans. Growing Sweet Grass is not difficult once you have a plant, but obtaining that first plant can be difficult. The seed does not store well, or maybe not at all. Purchased seeds come many times with a guarantee of only ten percent germination. From my experience purchasing Sweet grass seed, zero germination is more accurate.

If you have a Sweet Grass plant that is thriving, there are two ways to increase your number of plants. The easiest way is to sow fresh seeds harvested from your plant. I keep an open flat of potting soil next to potted sweet grass. As seeds mature and turn brown, I gently cut the stalk and then strip it of seeds over the soil. Spread the seeds evenly over the surface and gently water. Sometimes the stem holding the seed is still green, but make sure the seeds are completely brown before harvesting. Germination will begin in one to two weeks; allow the seedlings to grow a few inches before transplanting to pots. The seeds ripen over time, so you may have to leave the flat with the plants and harvest ripe seeds as they mature.

Division is the next best way to obtain more sweet grass plants. This is best done in fall or winter to plants that are dormant. Sweet grass spreads in clumps with rhizomes. These shoots can be separated from the mother plant once they have formed new roots. To protect the mother plant, remove side shoots and leave the main clump together. This method can only produce a few new plants at a time and requires some plant skills The fresh seeds of Sweet Grass germinate readily and the plants produce plenty of seed, so this is the easiest method to increase Sweet Grass.