Category Archives: In the Garden

Helping Frogs Survive the Winter

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In the winter, frogs might seek refuge in your pond.  Being ectothermic or cold-blooded, frogs regulate their body temperature by exchanging heat with their surroundings.  These surroundings can be mud in a deep plant pocket or a potted plant located in a deep area of the pond, preferably below the frost line.   The soil in the pocket or pot provides the needed warmth to assure a warm overwintering for your amphibious friends.

As with fish, it is equally important to keep an opening in the ice for frogs.  This allows for the release of harmful gases and the replenishment of fresh oxygen.

There are several options to accomplish the opening in the ice:

  • One popular option is a floating pond de-icer.  De-icers are designed to maintain a small hole in the pond ice.  Most are thermostatically controlled to insure a worry-free solution for your pond fish.
  • Another option is to move your existing pond pump close to the water surface to create water movement.  There are pumps that are marketed towards this versatile option.   Aquascape markets their AquaForce® for this very solution.  Depending on the extremity of the weather, this option might be successful.
  • Another option is pond aeration.  You may already have aeration located at the bottom of your pond.  However, winter applications for pond aerators are not recommended to be placed on the bottom of the pond as this can disrupt the natural thermocline of the deeper portions of the pond.  Most successful winter applications involve placing the aeration discs 1 to 1-1/2 feet below the water level.   Always consult your owner’s manual for the manufacturer’s recommendation of winter applications.

Colocasia gigantea “Thailand Giant”

The first year (2012)
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The second year (2103) with weekly fertilizer

It was love at first sight when I first saw this plant. Living in Indiana, I love to have that tropical feel in my backyard during the summer. I bought this plant online and planted it in a pot after the threat of frost was past. It was a beautiful addition to my patio.

Keep in mind that in its native habitat, it reaches heights of 9 feet or more. My plant, however, only reached a height of maybe 3 feet.  The leaves were truly gorgeous though. You can see plant in the above picture, which is directly behind the standing woman (me!).  I’m confident that with a longer growing season plus more fertilizer would have made this plant grow exponentially more than it did. I will be experimenting with that next summer.

Overwintering
With its native habitat being Thailand, it prefers zones 8-11. This is important information when considering your overwintering needs. After some research, I learned that not all species of the Colocasia genus are quick to grow corms. And this happens to be one of those. For my growing zone, this particular plant should be brought indoors during the winter and placed in a cool location (45-60°F) with bright light, being careful not to overwater as this plant will be semi-dormant. I have chosen to overwinter this plant in my garage under a grow light.

Harvesting the Seed
As Autumn approached, the plant produced several inflorescences, I wanted to try my hand at propagating it. Inflorescences are essentially the complete flower head, shown in the picture below, consisting of the spathe and the spadix.  The spathe is the white thin bract that surrounds and protects the spadix.  While the spadix is the spiked center portion, which contains the male and female portion.
Pollination occurs when the male portion of the spadix produces a powdery-like build-up of pollen. In nature, the pollen can be transported with the help of insects. Hand pollination can be achieved too, especially if your plant is contained indoors.
Individual seed pods are located towards the bottom of the spadix, which is the female portion (see picture).   Each seed pod will be about the size of a pea when ready for harvest and the individual pods are full of seed. An entire seed head may have up to 100 or so individual seed pods. So, there is a potential for thousands of seeds!

Seeds shown settling to the bottom of the bag

When is the seed ready?
You will want to wait until the white portion of spathe actually falls from the plant. The seed will develop in the lower (female) portion of the flower. After 3-4 weeks, cut the flower completely off at the base of the female portion. You can then peel that surrounding green portion that is around the female part and you should see the swollen seed pods containing seed.  Take the entire seed pod, soak it in a Ziploc-style baggy with 1/3 water and all the air pressed out. Let the seed pod soak for a couple of hours to soften. Once soft, massage the entire seed head and you should be able to see the tiny seed. Try to get the seed to sink to the bottom of the bag (see image below).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Alternate Method
Now I’ve also read where if the spadix is left alone, the female portion of the spadix will eventually rupture open full of seed.  From there, the seeds can be extracted.  I have yet to try this technique.  However, I have successfully extracted seeds with the prior technique.  I then dried the seeds and will propagate in the Spring.

Anyone have any thoughts or experience to share?  Please feel free to share your knowledge.

New Plant Hardiness Zone Map Reveals Warming Trend

 

 

The USDA released their new version of the Plant Hardness Zone Map in January 2012. The new map is generally one 5- degree Fahrenheit half-zone warmer than the previous released map back in 1990. This mostly is a result of using temperature data from a longer and more recent time period. More specifically, it uses data measured at weather stations during a 30-year period from 1976-2005. The 1990 map used data from a 13-year period of 1974-1986.
Another change with the new map is the addition of an interactive “find your zone by ZIP code” function. Click here to see the new USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

Rain Gardens

While forests and agricultural land are replaced with urban areas, it’s easy to see why increased storm runoff from these impermeable surfaces becomes a problem.  Storm water runoff picks up pollutants from streets, sidewalks and lawns.  It’s then rushed off to storm drains and to our local waterways and lakes.  The end result is flooding and added expense due to municipal treatment that is needed on this polluted water.  One solution that many homeowners are opting for is a rain garden.

Rain gardens are landscaped areas planted with native vegetation and wild flowers that soak up rain water received from impermeable areas, like your roof, sidewalks, and driveways.   Rain water is diverted to the rain garden and is slowly filtered into the ground instead of a storm drain.

In addition to solving the residential flooding and water pollution problem, rain gardens also help enhance our yards and neighborhoods, while providing a valuable habitat for birds, butterflies and many beneficial insects.

Think you might be interested?  Here are a few more items to consider:

  • The rain garden should be at least 10 feet away from the house, on a gentle slope that catches downspout water.
  • Do not place directly over a septic system.
  • Do not put the rain garden in an area that already ponds.  You want an area that infiltrates.
  • It’s better to plant the rain garden in full or partial sun, as opposed to under a big tree.
  • Typical residential rain gardens range from 100 to 300 square feet.  It can be almost any size but time and cost should be factored in to your final decision.

For more information on rain gardens, the reference article listed below is an excellent source.

Reference: “Rain Gardens: A How-To Manual for Homeowners”, University of Wisconsin

GreenScaping Part 5: Practice Natural Lawn Care

Just  a recap in the Series of GreenScaping: The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard

 

Mow higher, mow regularly and leave the clippings

Mow more frequently and mow higher when your grass is growing actively.  A good rule of thumb is to never cut more than one-third the height of the grass.  This minimizes the amount of grass clippings and helps to reduce thatch buildup.  The grass clippings will be recycled into fertilizer.

Use “natural organic” or “slow release” fertilizers

These fertilizers reduce nutrient run-off and leaching.  Use fertilizers sparingly by keeping it in your yard and off the street and pavement.

Water deeply , but infrequently, to moisten the whole root zone

Let your soil dry between watering to prevent lawn disease and save water.  Lawns only need about one inch of water a week in the summer, including rain, to stay green.

Overseeding can improve the quality of your lawn

A few great steps to consider:

  • Core aerate in the fall to improve root development and water penetration
  • Follow by overseeding thin areas of your lawn with grass seed blends recommended for your area
  • “Top Dress” by raking in a quarter- to half- inch of compost to cover the seed and improve the soil
  • Repeat these steps annually as needed to improve poor lawns

That completes the series “GreenScaping: The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard”.  Read the entire article here.

GreenScaping Part 4: Adopt a Holistic Approach to Pest Management

Just  a recap in the Series of GreenScaping: The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard

 

Continuous pest problems in your yard are often a sign that your yard is lacking a requirement needed to keep itself healthy.  While pesticides used for pest, weeds and bug killers can be effective means of control, correcting the underlying problem is the best remedy.  A holistic or integrated pest management approach is the most effective way to manage pests.

Start with Prevention

  • Maintain healthy soil with the use of compost and mulch
  • Select pest-resistant plants and place in their desired location (sun, shade and soil conditions, etc.)
  • Diversify your plant selection so if there is a pest infestation, your entire garden won’t be compromised.
  • Mow higher.  It’s recommended to mow as high as 2 – 3 inches.  This promotes deep root growth and thicker leaf surface, which helps to choke out weeds.
  • Remove and destroy diseased plants immediately.
  • Pull weeds before they go to seed.
  • Remove dead plants so pests have less hiding places.

Identify the Problem before Acting

It’s hard to effectively manage a problem without knowing the cause.  So identify the bug, disease, weed, etc. and determine the best action from there.  Remember many bugs are beneficial!  Monitor your area for pests but don’t spray immediately.  Nature may be able to control it for you.

Using an integrated approach may solve the problem if a weed or pest problem develops.  Try some of the following suggestions:

  • Instead of pesticide, use some “elbow grease” by pulling out dandelions with long-handled weed pullers.
  • Mulching, as stressed many times throughout this series, reduces weeds in your garden beds.
  • Crop rotation techniques help to minimize plant’s susceptibility to pests and diseases.

 

GreenScaping Part 3: Practice Smart Watering

Just  a recap in the Series of GreenScaping: The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard

 

Water Deeply, But Infrequently

Most plants do best when their roots are allowed to dry out between watering.  Learn the signs of when its time to water.  For example, your lawn is in need of watering when footprints remain after you walk across it.  Vegetables and other annuals will show signs of wilting, but other established perennials will only need watering if they remain wilted after the evening cool-off.  Trees and shrubs, once established, won’t need watering unless for extreme cases of drought.

Make Every Drop Count

Having a healthy and beautiful lawn and plants doesn’t have to jack up your water bill.  Consider some of these water saving activities:

  • Help retain moisture and reduce evaporation in your soil by adding compost and by mulching.
  • Select low-water-use plants.  Once established, they thrive exclusively on rainfall.
  • Soaker hoses and drip irrigation on beds are huge water savers.  They save as much as 50 percent compared to sprinklers.
  • Incorporate a water timer.  This will assure the correct amount of water and the appropriate time of day for watering.
  • Water in the early morning.  Watering mid-day actually allows for evaporation and evening watering allows for mold and other plant diseases.
  • Water lawns separately from other plantings.  Ensure the sprinklers are properly aimed and aren’t watering the pavement.

Let the Rain Soak In

Utilize your rain.  If not used, the rain flows from roofs, pavement and compacted soil.  It eventually will cause flooding downstream, which in turn, causes erosion and pollution after picking up pollutants along the way.

  • Direct downspouts to your yard, or into rain barrels or rain gardens.
  • The use of compost and mulch can help retain this rain and help prevent erosion.
  • Use open pavers or gravel instead of pavement to allow rain to seep into the soil.

 

GreenScaping Part 2: Plant Right for Your Site

A few days ago, I introduced the series Greenscaping and discussed step 1 of 5, which was titled, “Building and Maintaining Healthy Soil”.  Greenscaping, in essence, is a set of landscaping practices that can improve the health and appearance of your lawn and garden while protecting and preserving natural resources.  Today brings step 2 in this series.

Step 2: Plant Right for Your Site

Know your yard so you’ll know what plants can go where.  What spots are sunny, shady?  What is the pH of your soil? What type of soil do you have (e.g. sandy, clay)?  All of these questions will help determine what plants can go where.  Also, determine the location of plants, play areas, privacy, etc.

Choose the Right Plant for the Right Place

Based on the questions you answered above, select plants that do well in those conditions.   Choosing native plants is equally as important because they have evolved with this environment over many years.  Always envision the mature height and width of any plant before placement, especially near your house, driveway and power lines.

Choose Plants That Resist Pests

Some plants are more pest- and disease-resistant than others.  Always research your potential plants before planting.  This can save you time and money on pest control.

Give Plants a Good Start

Incorporate one to three inch layer of compost into your planting beds before planting.  Follow instructions on proper planting instructions.  A good layer of mulch atop your newly plantings, along with consistent water the first few years will help to build the deep roots that are desired.

Make Space for Wildlife

Invite birds, butterflies and other wildlife into your yard, protect streams and fish and make a more attractive yard.  Some ideas include:

  • Plant native plants.  Consider varieties with berries, fruits and flowers.
  • Plant in layers (e.g. ground cover, shrubs and trees) to mimic the forest.
  • Don’t plant invasive plant species.  Check with your local Cooperative Extension Office for a list of invasive “noxious weeds”.
  • Use pesticides only when necessary to minimize harm to birds, beneficial insects and fish.  Always follow the label directions when using.
  • Provide a bird bath or similar water source.  Make sure to change the water frequently to avoid a mosquito breeding ground.
  • Leave wild “buffer” areas of native plants along ravines, streams and fencelines.

Learn more about attracting butterflies and hummingbirds.

GreenScaping Part 1: Building and Maintaining Healthy Soil

GreenScaping, as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, is landscaping practices that promote the health and appearance of your lawn and garden while protecting and preserving natural resources.  A great article by the EPA titled, “GreenScaping: The Easy Way to a Greener, Healthier Yard”, will be summarized here and will encompass five posts due to the length of the article.

By practicing these activities, you can:

  • Save money by eliminating unnecessary water and chemical usage
  • Save time by landscaping with plants that require less care
  • Protect the environment by conserving water and by using chemicals responsibly so they don’t contaminate our waterways and drinking water sources.

How can this all be possible?  Working with nature in five steps, the first post of this series will focus on:

Step 1: Build and Maintain Healthy Soil

In nature, soil recycles dead plants into nutrients used for new plant growth.  This circle of life helps to maintain the approximately 4 billion organisms found in a teaspoon of healthy soil!  These beneficial organisms help create a loose soil structure which allows for proper air and water circulation, as well as, aide in proper plant root growth.  Other good deeds include: the storing of water until plants need it and protecting plants from pests and diseases.

Soil Test

A good starting point towards achieving healthy soil is a soil test.  A soil test will give you a good baseline on determining the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and lime your soil contains or possibly needs.  Contact your local Cooperative Extension office for more details.

Compost

Compost is a critical part of healthy soil.  It helps to feed the beneficial soil life so that it can, in turn, feed and protect the plants.  It also retains nutrients and water for sandy soils and helps to loosens clay soils.  Every spring and fall is an ideal time to add between a quarter to half-inch of compost to your existing lawns or beds.

Mulch

Mulch is a layer of organic material, such as leaves, aged wood chips, or grass clippings.  Mulch helps to stabilize the soil temperature, prevents weeds, and retains moisture.  Spring and fall is an ideal time to assure mulch levels are adequate (no more than 3 inches).

Slow-Release or Organic Fertilizer

If needed, look for fertilizers that contain “natural organic” or “slow-release” ingredients.  These will fertilize plants slowly and evenly and allow for strong root systems.  “Slow-release” types will help to reduce nutrient run-off into the ground and surface waters.

Remember, healthy plants grow in healthy soil!

 

Next in the series:  GreenScaping Part 2: Plant Right for Your Site

Got Frogs? Toads?

Got Frogs?  How about toads?  These amphibians are considered by many specialists to be excellent indicators of the overall environmental stability of their local ecosystem.  These sensitive creatures are usually the first casualties in an endangered ecosystem.

Their existence is important in both their predator and prey roles.  When traveling to Panama a few years ago to help with golden frog rescue efforts, Zoo Animal Care Supervisor Jeff Landry commented, “I was so surprised at how quiet the rainforest was and how much algae was growing in the ponds, this was due to the lack of frogs in the rainforest and the frog tadpoles that feed off the algae. With no frogs reproducing, there are no tadpoles, which have big consequences on the environment.”

Frogs and toads feed largely on insects, so it’s quite easy to see their importance in our environment.  The frog shown in the above picture is a Bull Frog that visited my pond last Spring.  Their diets differ from other species in the fact that they eat fish, small ducks and other frogs; making them not as desirable in your serene pond environment.  Attracting the insect loving frogs and toads can be done with a few suggestions from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources:

  • Leave some leaf litter under your trees, shrubs and in the garden.
  • Encourage native ground covers, grasses and wildflowers.
  • Build a burrow for their protection.   This can be as simple as a punching a hole in a flower pot, place the top opening on the ground in a shaded, moist garden area.
  • Ponds with natural vegetation and rocks are welcoming to them as well.
  • Erecting a toad light that is no taller than 3 feet and is located near the border of a garden or rocky area.  This light will attract insects at night, which is when they feed.
  • Discourage children from catching and caging of frogs and toads.
  • Minimize the use of fertilizers and pesticides.

 

 

References for this article:

http://www.hoglezoo.org/meet_our_animals/conservation/year-of-frog

http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,1607,7-153-10370_12148-35095–,00.html