18 reasons to grow CINNAMON BASIL.

Ocimum basilicum ‘Cinnamon’

  1. It’s a really pretty plant. Even if you don’t want to eat it.
  2. It makes a wonderful ornamental
  3. Very easy to grow from seed
  4. The flowers are really pretty unlike other basils where the flowers can get spindly
  5. Has a lovely color. Bright green leaves with purple stems
  6. The flower stalks are dark burgundy and really contrast with the leaves
  7. Smells wonderful!!!!
  8. Tastes great, with a real cinnamon flavor
  9. The deer don’t eat it, unlike Genovese basil which they seem to like.
  10. Rabbits and woodchucks don’t eat it either.
  11. Can be harvested all season long and comes back strongly.
  12. Does not grow as tall as sweet basil, It’s more compact, does not get leggy if left untended.
  13. More bushy nature
  14. Can tolerate some shade and still produce great leaves and flowers
  15. Will stay producing leaves until killing frost, often tolerates light frost.
  16. Leaves can be frozen for later use. Just wrap in cling film and freeze
  17. Can be grown as an indoor pot plant. Needs bright window.
  18. Great for decks and hanging baskets.

Like all basils cinnamon basil does not refrigerate well. All basils tend to wilt and go brown when refrigerated so use immediately or freeze leaves for later use.

Detailed information about growing cinnamon basil

Cinnamon basil seeds.

Dealing With Japanese Stiltgrass.

A nasty invasive you dont want in your yard.

Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) is a nasty invasive plant that is taking over huge tracks of our countryside. It prefers semi shaded and shaded areas so it is has less other plants to deal with and is effortlessly replacing them all as the main woodland undergrowth. For those who dont know its dangers it looks pretty amazing. Walk through a woodland and you see all this lush green grass growing under the trees. The trouble is that is all you will see. There is absolutely nothing else growing there but Japanese stiltgrass. It takes over everything and smothers out all the native plants that should be growing in the woodland.

Japanese Stiltgrass has totally taken over this woodland.
Japanese Stiltgrass has totally taken over this woodland.

The other problem is that native animals, mainly deer, dont like to eat stiltgrass. They prefer the native species. So they will wade through the stiltgrass searching out the few remaining pieces of native vegetation and eating that. This is great for the stiltgrass since it ensures that any competition that it might have is removed and it has a free rain to take over without much chance of being eaten. Before long all our woodlands in the northeast will have nothing but stiltgrass as undergrowth.

Native grass woodland, what it should look like.
Native grass woodland, what it should look like.

Stiltgrass will also invade lawns. This always happens from the shady edges under trees shrubs or at the edge of woodlands. Stiltgrass will begin to encroach on a lawn and can eventually take over these areas entirely. Stiltgrass is rarely a problem in full sun areas as it always prefers the shade.

Stiltgrass is semi shaded woodland area.
Stiltgrass is semi shaded woodland area.

Stiltgrass is an annual plant. Think of it like a really invasive crabgrass. It flowers drops seed and then comes up again next year just like crabgrass. While crabgrass spreads out in a circle stiltgrass spreads by jumping It creates a long stem with a bend like an elbow joint in it. Where the elbow touches the ground new roots sprout and the grass moves across the ground. This is why its called stiltgrass. Left alone stiltgrass will grow to about 3feet in height but can reach 4 or more and produce an airy fluffy look that can be quite attractive. Often homeowners find the grass growing in their woodland areas, think its nice and are often happy that something is growing on the ground there. Its left alone and before long its marching out to take over the lawn, by that time its too late to control it.

Stiltgrass flower
Stiltgrass flower

Like crabgrass stiltgrass produces a lot of seeds, but they are pretty tiny and not as easy to see as crabgrass. One plant can produce as many as thousand seeds in a year. These seeds fall to the ground and can then remain viable there for five or more years. They are also pretty sticky they will attach to shoes, pet fur, and wild animals and are easily transported over fairly long distances to reach new areas to colonize. Seeds are produced around August in zone 7 (New Jersey), but can be earlier or later depending on your location.

Once in a good spot they will germinate in the early spring, about the same time as crabgrass. Like crabgrass stiltgrass seeds need light to germinate this is why they do so well in forests where there is usually quite a lot of bare ground during the springtime. It’s also why crabgrass cant do well on a healthy lawn. If the grass blades are close together the seeds can’t get to soil that light falls on and they can’t germinate.

Controlling stiltgrass is a lot more of a problem because it tends to come in from the shady parts of the lawn and from under the trees. Lawn grasses tend not to do as well in such areas and the grass is often spotty and there is more bare ground for the stiltgrass to germinate on. Once it takes hold it will smother out other grasses. Mowing the stiltgrass down only makes it strong and forces it to flower at a much shorter height. It does not remove the problem.

Controlling stiltgrass.
Its most likely going to be a never ending problem. Once you have a woodland area that is prone to stiltgrass unless you can find a ground cover for your woodland, then its going to get more stiltgrass coming in. If you live next to or near a wild area that has a stiltgrass infestation then you will most likely be battling stiltgrass forever. There is no known way to eradicate it.
There are however several techniques you can use to keep it out of your garden.


There are several options.
1. A pre emergent crabgrass killer can be applied to stop the seeds from germinating. The problem with this method is that nothing else will germinate either. If you are intending to plant the area with more mature plants or plug plants this method may work well. It will take some time and the pre emergent may have to be applied for several years to ensure that all the seeds are inhibited. It is also important that the area around is monitored if there is stiltgrass close to your location then it will re-infect the area constantly unless the ground is well covered with vegetation.

2. Hand pulling. Allow the stiltgrass to grow to a reasonable height then go through and hand pull. It is important that this be done before the plant has set seed. This method will need to be applied over several years to ensure that all the seed has been removed but eventually it will be eradicated provided it is not reintroduced from other areas.

3. Flame Weeding. A flame weeder can be used to burn off the plants when they are small. However if you chose to use this method there are several safety factors to consider.
a. All ground vegetation must be removed. Using a flame weeder amongst leaf or pine leaf litter will set the whole woodland on fire.
b. Use only when the stiltgrass is very small. Flame weeders do not work well on larger weeds they must be small. Using on a large plant again, may set the woodland on fire.
c. Always ensure you have a good supply of water with you to put out any fires before they start.

4. Weed killer. While many sources will suggest the use of weed killers its not the best option. The most common weed killer is roundup (Glyphosate). This material while effective at killing weeds is very toxic, it has been proven to cause cancer in humans and it not only kills the weeds that you put it on but kills everything in the soil that it is sprayed on. This basically sterilizes the soil making it very hard for any other plants to live there. It does not make for a healthy lawn, garden and especially not a healthy woodland.
While there are other weed killers available none seem to have much effect on stiltgrass.


In ideal locations Japanese Stiltgrass can reach four feet in height.
In ideal locations Japanese Stiltgrass can reach four feet in height.

Shady areas and woodlands.
Controlling the stiltgrass in woodlands will take quite a lot of effort but it can be achieved.

If the stiltgrass has totally taken over the woodland its going to be hard to stop it. If there is just some stiltgrass then hand pulling each plant as it appears is the best option. If there is a large infestation then hand pull any plants that appear outside this to prevent it from spreading.

During the winter months when nothing is growing go into the woodland area and rake the ground. It is important to remove any dead branches, large twigs and leaf litter at this time so that the area can be worked in the summer months without danger of falling over obstacles that cannot be seen through the stiltgrass vegetation.

Remove the stiltgrass using one or more of the above options. Remember this may have to be repeated for several years before all the stiltgrass is eradicated.
In a woodland setting the important consideration is what to cover the ground with once the stiltgrass is gone. If the ground remains bare then the stiltgrass will take hold again. This can be quite difficult since a lot of native woodland plants tend to come up in the spring and then vanish once the leaf canopy unfolds and the light levels reduce. Stiltgrass does not so finding something that will grow at this time is not always easy especially if you want to keep your spring flowering natives.
Often this can be achieved with the use of native grasses, ferns or other material. See if you can find a native plant nursery in your area and talk to them about what plants would be best to us. Once your new plants are installed ensure that the area is constantly checked and any small stiltgrass plants are removed to ensure that a new infestation does not occur.

Shady Lawns.
If you have a lawn that is in a shady spot that is getting overrun with stiltgrass then you may have to consider removing the lawn. Most grasses, except stiltgrass, dont do well in shady areas. Its almost impossible to create the dense thick covering that is required to stop stiltgrass from germinating. The best option is to replace the grass with something else.

Short mown stiltgrass. It has still taken over this area and beaten out all other grasses.
Short mown stiltgrass. It has still taken over this area and beaten out all other grasses.

You can try seeding the area with some other low growing plant or adding other plants to your lawn such as clover. While this will not give you the monoculture you might desire it will help to keep the ground covered and with clover it will also fix nitrogen that will help feed the lawn grass and make it stronger and thicker.

Remove the lawn entirely and replace it with a ground cover plant. Things like pacasandra work very well. It produces a dense canopy that the stiltgrass cannot penetrate and provides a low growing cover that will keep the stiltgrass at bay. If you dont like this plant they talk to your local garden center or nursery and see if they can suggest something else that will grow in your area.

Semi shaded lawns.
For areas that are on the edge of sunshine it may be possible to re-establish a good grass lawn. Provided that the shade area behind it has all the stiltgrass removed from it.
Mowing down the stiltgrass will not control it just cause it to set seed as a much lower height. The plants must be removed. Use one of the methods above to remove the stiltgrass. We tend to recommend the use of a flame weeder as being the best option. These can be purchase fairly inexpensively at Harbor Freight stores. Just take care when using one and ensure that there is no combustible material that can cause the garden to catch fire.

Ensure that you have a good grass seed that will grow in a semi shaded area. Work on and seed your grass in the fall NOT the spring. This will allow the grass seed to become established over the winter months are reduce the amount of bare ground that the stiltgrass has to grow on. In spring allow your grass in this are to grow slightly longer than normal to help shade the ground and to show up any stiltgrass plants that grow. Pull these out by hand. It may be tedious for the first few years as all the seeds germinate but eventually it will be eradicated.

Whatever method you choose to remove stiltgrass the main thing to remember is that this invasive is here to stay. If you dont want it in your garden they you will need to be vigilant. If it is here now then it will return from wherever those first seeds came from. Now you know what to look for you can walk around and spot the plants as they come up and quickly remove them. This is going to be an ongoing battle that will never end. You can never truly win but you can keep it under control.


Pycnanthemum virginianum

  1. Will grow almost anywhere.
  2. Produces lots of flowers later in the year than many other plants
  3. It’s a perennial, comes back every year.
  4. The bees and other pollinators love it
  5. Butterflies love it too
  6. It gives pollen and nectar at a time of the year when there is not a lot else for them to eat.
  7. Its edible.  Leaves taste like slightly mild peppermint
  8. Can be used instead of peppermint.
  9. Flowers are also edible and can be used to decorate salads,  desserts etc.
  10. It’s a native American plant
  11. Grows taller than regular mint, around four feet.
  12. Will take semi shade, but does like full sun.
  13. Flowers first year from seed.
  14. Flowers for long period of time (usually 1-2 months)
  15. Don’t need to water it
  16. It does not spread and take over like regular mint
  17. Stays fairly compact, plants increase in size over time.
  18. Does not need much maintenance once its established.  (Cut down when dies back in fall to make next year look smarter)
  19. Not fussy about soil type, will grow almost anywhere
  20. As long as the soil does not get waterlogged it will grow
  21. Hardy to zone 5, some reports say zone 4
  22. Deer don’t eat it
  23. Rabbits don’t eat it.
  24. Coyotes don’t eat it (they will decimate real peppermint)
  25. Will self seed but not very prolifically
  26. Great for back borders
  27. Great for areas where not a lot else grows.
  28. Good for meadows too
  29. Ideal for any garden.  Plant it , leave it and enjoy the flowers.

Detailed growing information and seeds.

Cascade of flowering mountain mint plants (Pycnanthemum virginianum ) in our field.
Cascade of flowering mountain mint plants (Pycnanthemum virginianum ) in our field.
Close up Mountain Mint flowers (Pycnanthemum virginianum )
Close up Mountain Mint flowers (Pycnanthemum virginianum )

18 Reasons to grow BUTTERFLY WEED

Asclepias tuberosa interior

  1. It has amazing orange gold flowers that really stand out.
  2. Blooms last quite a long time.
  3. It’s a perennial will come back year after year
  4. Deer don’t eat it, neither do rabbits.
  5. Hardy to zone 3 it’s a tough plant.
  6. Butterflies love it
  7. Native bees like it too
  8. Humming birds adore the flowers
  9. Makes a good cut flower
  10. Grows almost anywhere in full sun provided soil is well drained
  11. Fairly drought tolerant
  12. It’s a native plant to North America always good to grow natives
  13. It needs almost no care once you planted it
  14. Just plant and leave it alone, does not like to be moved has a large tap root.
  15. You can eat the shoots like asparagus (make sure you cook them don’t eat the raw)
  16. It’s also a food source for Monarch butterflies so don’t pick off any caterpillars. Save the Monarchs!
  17. Sap from this plant is clear and non toxic so it’s safe for children and pets (unlike some other milkweeds)
  18. The flowers are wonderful (oh yeah, I mentioned that but they are really great!)

Detailed growing information and seeds.

If you love plants then you gotta see this!

Sculptures made totally of living, growing plants.

It’s called Mosaiculture. It’s the art of making sculptures from all living, growing plants. These exhibits tend to be on for a fairly long time so keeping the plants strong healthy and most importantly trimmed so that they don’t overgrow the sculpture is a full time job for a whole bunch of garden staff.

Mosaiculture is a very different from any other form of gardening or sculpture it combines the two. It’s not topiary which is forming sculptures and animals from living shrubs that are pretty much permanent. Mosaiculture is temporary for the most part and a corroboration of both sculptures, metalworkers and horticulture.
First there is the design. This can be anything from a man on a horse to a giant woman’s face. Once the design is decided then the ironworkers determine how to create the structure, the build a steel framework welded together. For smaller sculptures this is all one piece. For the larger ones they are created in several pieces and a crane is used to move the heavy sections together at the exhibition site. They are then bolted together to form the whole sculpture.

Canadian Mountie on his horse sculpture
Canadian Mountie on his horse sculpture

Once the structure had been created it is wrapped in water holding material usually a sphagnum moss mixed with soils and nutrients which are covered in a cloth that is stapled in place with very heavy staples. Some structures also contain complex irrigation systems within the sculptures to water and nurture the plants. However supplemental surface watering is also carried out especially in hot sunny weather.
Once the structure has been completed the painstaking task of installing all the living plants begins. From trial and error over many years Mosaïcultures Internationales de Montréal (MIM)  has determined the best plants to use. These are usually annuals that come in a variety of different colors but also grow well when kept short and can be easily trimmed and maintained to ensure that the sculptures always look their best. MIM is one of the only companies in the world that does this work so its not surprising that most of the exhibits tend to be in Canada.

Fox and her kit mosaiculture
Fox and her kit mosaiculture. The use of grasses for the fluffy tail is delightful.

This year the Mosaiculture exhibit is in Ottawa Canada. Well, actually it’s in Gatineau which is right across the river from Ottawa. So if you want to visit and fly in then Ottawa is where you want to head for. This year is Canada’s 150th anniversary so to celebrate admission to the exhibit is free! Usually there is a charge to see such amazing sculptures so this years a really great deal. If you have never been to Ottawa then there is a treat in store too. It’s a totally enchanting city with masses of things going on and some majestic buildings and museums.

This is our forth Mosaiculture exhibit and its always a joy to see. If you choose to go, please take the time to appreciate the wonderful work that has gone into these superb sculptures. Its not just the design of the actual sculpture its also all the plants that surround it. These plants create a scene.

Lobster fisherman at sea
Lobster fisherman on sea. Note how well the plants have been used to create frothing waves.

One of my favorites this year was the lobster fisherman. The detail that went into creating the boat and the fisherman and lovely but the sculpting of the earth to plant the Scaevola and blue petunias that mix with dusty miller to form waves on the sea. The whole concept makes the sculpture come alive and is truly delightful.

The delightful use of the long fluffy grasses to create the coat of the musk oxen makes the whole sculpture that much more delightful. Who doesn’t want to take this fluffy thing home with them?

Musk Oxen on tundra
Musk Oxen on tundra

Another of my great favorites was the tundra scene dominated by a large inukshuk, (pronounced in-ook-shook) which is an Inuit (once called Eskimo) creation. These stone monuments are created by the Inuit to help guide them through their arctic wilderness. Here the inukshuk is depicted with a wolf howling up at the northern lights spread across the face of the inukshuk. The whole sculpture is lovely but is made even more so by the wonderful tundra that has been created for it to sit upon. Using red moss roses dusty miller, grasses and other plants to create a colorful landscape it gives the sculpture far more drama. I loved the tundra landscaping here almost as much as the sculpture itself.

Wolf howling at the northern lights up the side of large inukshuk
Wolf howling at the northern lights up the side of large inukshuk. The foreground tundra is superb and so colorful.

The tundra area ranged over a larger area to encompass the musk oxen, polar bear (not pictured here) and the Indian drum dancer as well as the inukshuk. Like to ocean scene earlier in the walk encompassed several different sculptures such as the whale shark, puffins and ships discovering Canada with the horses bursting from the sea as the made their way to the shore.

Horse bursting from the water having swam ashore from the boat that carried it to Canada.
Horse bursting from the water having swam ashore from the boat that carried it to Canada. The dusty miller and Scaevola make stunning foaming ‘water’ cascading off the horses back.

Of course there is always Gaia the mother earth goddess. This sculpture appears in some form in every Mosaiculture exhibit it’s the recurring theme and the most commonly depicted and shared. Its certainly impressive but on its fourth iteration I am far more impressed by other newer offerings.

Gaia the mother goddess a recurring theme at Mosaiculture
Gaia the mother goddess a recurring theme at Mosaiculture. Makes use of petunias and red and lime green potato vines to create her cascading hair.

Mosaiculture is also beloved in China where many of the techniques originated and each time there is an exhibit the Chinese usually produce a sculpture. This year they produced two very complex and totally magnificent ones. The first from Beijing really needs to be studied to understand it.

Dragons in the Rocky mountains
Complex sculpture depicting Dragons in the Rocky mountains

The first impression of course of the giant dragons that reach skyward rising high above the rest of the sculpture. Beneath are the dragon dancers holding the dragons aloft on long sticks just as in real life in dragon dancing. These dancers however are interwoven with small mountain peaks which depict the rocky mountains where a great many Chinese worked to create the railways that were so important to early America and Canada. This railway is depicted in red and white begonias emerging from a tunnel in one of the mountains on the left side of the picture.

Pair of mosaiculture lions from Shanghai exhibit.
Pair of mosaiculture lions from Shanghai exhibit.

Then there are the lions from Shanghai! Wow what a display! A massive complex Mosaiculture to rival anything I have every seen. The largest one at the exhibit it has nine Chinese lions in various poses on stylistic clouds, one dancing on a ball along with a Chinese circle with decorative swirls all fronted by lovely flower beds. This display is truly awe-inspiring. It uses far more plant variety that the other sculptures with the use for fluffy grasses to depict the lions fur and even the unseen underbellies of the lions have been planted with more shade loving annuals. The time taken to create this exquisite sculpture is mind boggling. While I really liked a lot of the other sculptures this was my favorite because of its size, complexity and delightful use of so many different plants to create such a wonderful sculpture, plus I really like Chinese lions.

Large group of Chinese lions is massive mosaiculture display from Shanghai
Large group of Chinese lions is massive mosaiculture display from Shanghai. This stunning sculpture is enhanced by marigolds and begonias in the foreground giving it even more color.

While not the most impressive Mosaiculture exhibit I have seen yet – that prize must go to Mosaïcultures Internationales Montréal 2013 at the Montreal Botanical Gardens. This exhibit was much larger and more impressive, plus the setting the botanical gardens offered much better backdrops to the sculptures where there is no distraction of high rise apartment buildings, hotels and bridges.
The first mosaicultures were held at the Montreal waterfront with a backdrop of grain silos, but somehow this seemed better and more fitting that apartment blocks. However focus on the sculptures and the buildings don’t matter.
Sadly almost all the Mosaiculture exhibits tend to be in Canada, most often in Montreal. Others have been held in China (2006), Japan (2009) and Turkey (2016). The only exhibit in the U.S. was in Atlanta botanical gardens in 2013-14. Most commonly these exhibits seem to be held every 2-3 years so if you want to see one then head to Ottawa this year. Next time it may be a lot further away and less accessible. Only some of the exhibits are pictured here so go see the others for yourself.  It’s really a site worth seeing and should not be missed.

Killer whale
Killer whale
indian drum dancer
indian drum dancer

14 REASONS TO GROW VALERIAN. (Valerian officinalis)

Plant of the Week.

  1. It’s a perennial comes back every year.
  2. It’s very easy to care for, needs almost no attention once its established.
  3. It’s easy to grow from seed often flowers in the first year.
  4. It’s tall adds a lot of drama to the garden
  5. Has tons of wonderful little flowers that can be seen from way across your neighbors yard (maybe even the end of the block)
  6. The flowers smell wonderful!
  7. The foliage smells pretty good too.
  8. Flowers in late spring early summer.
  9. Attracts butterflies – lots of butterflies.
  10. Good pollinator plant help to save the native bees.
  11. Great medicinal properties – if you are willing to dig up the roots
  12. Cats love the roots too, often more than catnip.
  13. Deer and rabbits don’t seem to eat the plants.
  14. Leaves can be eaten in salad but small quantities at a time recommended.

Detailed information on growing Valerian
Buy seeds

Potting On Your Seedlings.

How to transform your seedlings into great plants.

Once your seedlings have grown to a good size in their seeding trays then its time to transplant them into larger pots so they can grow to a large size before planting them out in the great wide world. Starting seeds in either plug or seed trays allows seeds to be intensely cared for while they are starting their life. Once they start to grow strongly then they need to be moved to larger pots to allow them to keep growing to a larger size before being moved outside.

Can’t I plant directly outside from a plug tray?
That is going to depend on how large the plugs in your tray are. If the cells are 1 ½ – 2” (3.8 – 5 cm) across with individual plants in them then most likely you can. If the cells are smaller the plants usually cannot reach a large enough size to be planted outside with certainly that they will survive. This is especially true now that temperatures are fluctuating so much due to global warming. In past times temperatures in spring did not reach the 90’s as they do now. Little plants cannot survive well in such temperatures and tend to fry very quickly. If you are going to make all the effort to grow your plants from seeds its all wasted if they are put in the ground too small and die.

Pots for potting on.
First thing to do is to secure a supply of reasonable sized pots. Here we use 2 ½” (6.35 cm)square pots. The reason for this is that square pots are easier to stack in a seed tray and deal with little or no wasted space. We have found this size pot is ideal for all our potting on needs and 32 fit exactly into a outer seed tray or carrier tray. You can choose whatever size or shape pots that you prefer but using square ones to minimize space is always a good consideration. We use all plastic pots these can then be washed and sanitized with bleach so they can be used time and again for many years. This is the most economic way to pot plants on.

Potting mix.
Potting mixes can be purchased in bags from most garden centers or big box stores. See How To Choose A Potting Or Seeding Mix for details on choosing a mix.
If you need quite a lot of potting mix and have company near you that supplies plants to garden centers you can always call and ask if they sell their potting mix. Most of these companies create their own mixes for their use and will often sell bags of it to the public. IN most cases you do need to buy several bags at once or they may have a minimum value order. Don’t call and ask if you only want one bag, you will need to be considering at least 5 or more bags before they will even consider you.

Mixing your own.

Choosing a base.
If you need quite a lot of potting mix you can create your own if you choose. If doing this you will need a supply of ‘base mix’ that is the main ingredient to the potting mix. In some cases this will be sphagnum moss or coconut core but you can also use well rotted and seasoned compost that has been well screened and was created at high enough temperatures to kill all the weed seeds. There may be many other local sources that you can use.

mushroom compost base for potting mix
mushroom compost base for potting mix

Here at Floral Encounters we use mushroom compost. Simply because it is cheap and readily available. This will not be the case in most parts of the country but we live near the major mushroom growing areas and they have tons of spent compost moving through their houses daily. We buy well rotted (for one year after leaving the compost house) screened organic Ph balance compost by the truckload. We then use it on our fields and for making our own potting mixes. Whatever you choose ensure that this material is MOIST before creating your mix. Not wet but just moist all the way through so when you grab a handful it feels slightly moist but not wet. The material you choose should separate easily and be slightly fluffy to the touch.

DO NOT use soil from your garden. This is always going to be too heavy and it will contain lots of weed seeds and other material that could be detrimental to the growing of your small plants. This may seem strange since you are going to put the plants in the soil later but soil outside in the ground behaves very differently to soil in pots in a tended location such as indoors, in a porch or on a windowsill. Outside is a whole different ecosystem but in a tended location pathogens, weeds or pests dormant in the soil can become active and kill off you seedlings very fast, so always use a sterile mix not garden soil to pot plants on.

Adding the mixture.
Once you have chosen your base and ensured that it is all moist then its time to mix in the other ingredients.
In almost all cases these are
For more detailed information on these ingredients please see How To Choose A Potting Or Seeding Mix.

potting mix ingredients ready to mix
potting mix ingredients ready to mix

The best results usually have about 15% of each perlite and vermiculite in a mix. These ingredients can be purchased in small bags from most garden centers or big box stores. If however you intend to use a lot of the material you may want to see if you can find a commercial source. Most greenhouse supply companies sell this material in large bags. Check your area to see if you can find one then call and ask if they will sell to the public. Many will not sell to you unless you have a business license. Bear in mind however that any business license will usually suffice it does not have to be horticulture.

mixing potting mix ingredients together
mixing potting mix ingredients together

Never work with these materials without using a face mask. Perlite especially is extremely dusty and will not to your lungs any good at all. Put on a face mask before opening the bag and moving the material. Use a plastic scoop to move material from the bag to your potting mix once the material has been added than you can mix it all together. Take a look at the result and adjust the amount of any of the ingredients until you have something that looks right. Time and experience is the best for this using your own chosen materials. Small batches can be mixed on a potting table larger batches can be made directly in a wheelbarrow.

completed mix should look something like this
completed mix should look something like this

Filling the pots
Once the mix is finished the pots can be filled. Scoop the moist material into each pot and stack in the tray. When all the potting mix has been used or enough pots have been filled then water all the pots. If you have a stack of trays like we do then move all the trays around so you can water each one well then restack them ready for planting. Its important to ensure that the potting mix is well moistened before you begin potting. Using the ‘shower’ setting on your hose pipe is the ideal way to do this. Make sure you don’t spray water all over your potting area in the process as potting mix tend to cling to everything and you will trample it everywhere.

Making ‘holes’.

making holes in mix ready for plants
making holes in mix ready for plants

Seedlings need a hole to be planted into if they are a plug or bare rooted they will still need a hole. The best way to do this is with your gloved finger. (Its going to get really messy if you are not wearing gloves while potting). Stick your finger into the center of each pot to make a hole in the mix. If the hole does not stay there when you pull your finger out but crumbles and falls in then your mix is not moist enough. If it goes ‘squelch’ then its too wet and you need to let it dry out a bit before planting.

When to repot.
Check on the root ball of your little seedlings. If they roots are starting to show out of the bottom of the plug trays then it is the ideal time to repot. The best time is when the roots have filled the cell so that they hold the soil together while being moved to their new home. This ensures the minimum disturbance to the roots. IF the roots are still small and the soil falls away from them then they are more prone to failure on repotting. If the roots are so large that they have created a mass of roots below the seeding tray then roots will be damaged on repotting and plants will have a harder time. They may recover but it will take longer for their roots to regrow before they can start creating more leaves and getting larger.

Moving seedlings.

This is going to depend on how your seedlings were planted.
Plug trays.
Assuming you have one plug per tray its going to depend on the size of the tray as to which tool you use to remove the plug from the tray. We use a variety of tools. For our larger plugs we use a stainless steel ‘mini gardening tool’ that are actually sold for indoor gardening but work wonderfully for this task. The long pointed ‘shovel’ of other mini tools works just as well.

tray of plug plants ready for potting on
tray of plug plants ready for potting on

For small plug trays it’s a matter of pushing the plug out the bottom of the tray. For this we use a plastic rod. This one I got recycled from a pair of shoes that came with ‘shoe holders’. Usually its trash to be thrown away but farmers are the ultimate in recycling.

plant plug removed from tray
plant plug removed from tray

Whatever tool you use to remove your little seedling from its original home make sure that the roots come up cleanly in one lump of soil try for as little root disturbance as possible when repotting. Sometimes the soil will fall away from the roots in these cases make sure that the roots are neatly tucked into the hole you created for the plant and gently pull the soil in around the little plant.
With plug trays there is usually no reason at all to grab the plant when repotting all the work should be done with the root ball this reduces the stress on the plant.

placing plant plug in prepared hole in larger pot
placing plant plug in prepared hole in larger pot

General seeding flats.
In seeding flats is more difficult to move plants without disturbing the roots. Plants need to be ‘dug out’ of the seed tray. Again the best tools are the mini gardening tools sold for indoor gardening. The shovels are ideal for this task. If you don’t have one try a very small teaspoon. (no all teaspoons are not the same size).
Carefully remove each plant ensuring you get all the roots. IF plants have grown together carefully and cautiously separate the roots from one another trying not to break any roots. Transplant to new pots. You may need larger holes and more time and care placing each plant to ensure that all the roots are carefully in the pot and covered well with soil.
IF there are any plants that are much smaller than the rest but have had their roots disturbed by moving the larger ones you have the choice of leaving them in the seeding tray or transplanting them at the same time. It is often better to transplant unless they are very small as this means the roots will only be disturbed once rather than twice. If the smaller plants roots are nowhere near the plants you dug up then leave them to get bigger before transplant.

Holding seedlings.
When moving seedlings from general flats and sometimes with plug trays you have to get hold of the seedling. Some seedlings are very small and fragile so great care must be taken. The main rule is.
NEVER GRAB THE SEEDLING BY THE STEM. You get that stem broken and it’s the end of the plant. It cannot regrow a central stem it’s the only one it has. ALWAYS hold a seedling by one of the leaves. I know that is not always that easy, but it can regrow a leaf it cannot grow another stem. For seeds with fragile stems like balsam, impatiens, peppers and such like be very careful as the stems snap very easily. Some plants have much more wiry stems and are easier to handle, but often they don’t like it and if you grab the stem the plant may not survive anyway so take care.
Another way to handle seedlings is using broad plastic tweezers to hold the plant leaves while transplanting. This ensures that you have a good grip on the plant without causing it too much harm. Fingers can be a little large and clumsy when dealing with little seeds but plastic tweezers can work very well. Make sure they have a broad end not a point. Metal tweezers are usually too harsh. We used this method a lot before we changed to using plug trays.

Plants with tap roots.
While many sources say that you cant grow plants with tap roots in pots to begin with, its not true. It just means that you need to be very careful not to disturb the roots when transplanting. There are several important factors here.
1. Know that the plant you are dealing with has a tap root. Its surprising how often people just treat all the plants the same and then wonder why the ones with tap roots did not survive.

2. Always make sure that the plants are transplanted without disturbing the root ball. That means, DON’T grow them in open flats use plug trays or individual pots. When transplanting plugs make sure they are moved before the roots come out the bottom more than just a little showing. Transplant the whole ball without disturbance.

3. When planting out use the same methods as for plugs. Keep an eye on the pots and move them out as soon as the roots start to show out the bottom.

Once the plants are in their new pots.
The first thing to do is water them. Now using the misting nozzle on you hose or the misting bottle you have been using. Make sure there are well saturated.
Move the trays to a good location.

Locating your potted seedlings.
In many cases the pots can go back into the same area that you had the seed trays. However they are now going to take up a LOT more space than they did before so plan accordingly. In most cases the weather outside is not yet suitable to put the pots out so find a good location inside or in a very sheltered area out of the sun. Although daytime temperatures may be good enough often the temperature drops too low at night. So if putting plants outside keep a good eye on the overnight lows and move the plants inside if they get below the high 40’s.
Inside a window in full sun is acceptable or under grow lights. Find your own best space. We used to use a large window in full sun to grow our seedlings and our potted on plant them move them to a cool greenhouse as they acclimatized. Now we have a new potting greenhouse with white plastic to ensure that they plants to not fry in the hot sun.

Trays of recently transplanted seedlings in our new potting house
Trays of recently transplanted seedlings in our new potting house

As the seedlings grow.
Do not place any newly potted on plants outside in full sunshine. They will need time to acclimatize to their new home and get their roots established. Once they are reestablished and the temperatures rise sufficiently put the plants outside in a shaded location off the ground. A shaded bench or table that does not get sunshine during the day is best.
As the seedlings grow they can be moved to dappled shade then full sunshine. Never move any plant from the shade to direct sunshine all at once it will burn just like you would. Take it gradually. Once the plants have hardened off and are used to the sunshine they can be moved out to their final position in the garden. More on that in a later article.

Want Garden Drama? Grow Maral Root


If you want drama and beautiful flowers in your garden at this time of the year then Maral root is for you.  Exclusively for northern climates though, as Maral Root does not like really hot weather, but heck we need big dramatic plants in cooler climates.

I just love this plant. Beginning in late April the thick flower stalks start to rise from the large leafy base. Its hard to stay away from them as the stalks get longer and thicker with a big rounded dome of a flower on the top. Finally the flowers open to show these large purple flowers that can last for several weeks. These flowers are so big and showy that they draw everyone to see them.

Maral root plants flowering
Maral root plants flowering in our field

Nothing much else is flowering at this time of the year. Most spring flowers have finished and the summer ones are still thinking about gearing up so Maral root fits nicely into that gap where there are few flowers except shrubs in the garden. If you have the space its well worth having and everyone will admire (and possibly covet) your plants. Once established they take very little care at all, some water and a little feeding to keep them in top shape and remove the dead leaves in the winter. That’s about it.

The downside is that they do like cooler weather as they are a native of Siberia. Most likely won’t grow well below zone 7a but above that right up to zone 2 and most likely zone 1 if it’s well mulched over the winter.

It’s a tough perennial that will flower from seed in the second year and then keep flowering and growing bigger as the years go along. It has large tough roots which can be very hard to dig out once established so choose your location well.
Its fairly easy to grow if you start the seeds early and keep them cool. Zones 6 and 7a plant in a semi shaded location lower number zones full sun should be fine but don’t put them in suntraps where they may overheat.

maral root flower with US quarter
Maral root flower with US quarter

The only problem is that other mammals also like Maral root. Deer seem to really enjoy the leaves, we think the rabbits eat them but since the deer do its hard to tell. The only managed to flower after we put them behind a deer fence, but even with deer browsing the roots refused to give up and die.
Voles are another problem. These plants produce big fleshy roots which are used in herbal medicine well the voles like them too and will eat the roots out from under the plants. Controlling voles may be very necessary if you want to have good Maral root plants. Or plant something else the voles like better (like Angelica) and let them eat that instead.

Detailed information on growing Maral root
Buy Seeds.

Take Care When Buying Plants

Make sure you don’t bring home more than you expect.

No matter if you are buying plants in the garden center or from a mail order company, check your plants before you buy or plant them.  They could have bugs or disease that you don’t want to bring home.

While most plant companies do their best to supply good healthy disease free plants that is not always what happens.  An excellent example is impatiens downy mildew that decimated the Impatiens growing in the northeast several years ago.  Working the master gardener hotline we were inundated with unhappy gardeners who found their Impatiens dying on them.  One day the plants were fine the next they were just stalks.  This disease was brought in on plants grown outside the area and looked fine when they were sold but soon developed the disease and all of them died.  Since this disease can live on in the soil for many years it now means that we can no longer grow Impatiens in our area a devastating loss for those who loved color in shaded areas.

Just last year I had a man call our Master Gardener Hotline and ask how to deal with a pest on his plants.  After some questioning the story unfolded thus.  He had found some plants at a big box store on heavy discount.  They had bugs on them, he could see that but he thought he could  ‘save them’.  So he bought them and brought them home.  He planted them in his garden then sprayed them with something.  Now he is calling me because his spray did not work and the bugs have spread to all the plants around is ‘saved’ plants some of which are now dead and others are on their last legs.

Moral of the story.  Don’t bring home diseased plants and try and ‘save’ them.  Pass them right by and go for the healthy ones only.  It might sound like a bargain but if it takes off in your garden it could cost you dearly in other plants.

Mottled leaf of kiwi vine
Mottled leaf of kiwi vine. All the leaves looked like this one. Not a healthy sign

How to inspect plants before you buy.
Always look carefully at every plant you buy in a garden center.  For the most part good garden centers are very careful with their plants and only sell ones in excellent health but small numbers of bugs or lurking diseases can get through as cased by the impatiens disaster.

  • Look at the leaves are the mottled, do they have streaks.
  • Look at the underside of the leaf,  this is where bugs hang out most of the time so you should be able to see them if they are there.  They may be little spots tiny bugs
  • Are the leaves shiny and sticky?  This is a sure sign of leaf sucking bugs.  Check the plant but also look up.  Sometimes the plants have been put under trees or other plants which may have the bugs on them not the plant you want to buy.  Check all the leaves just to be sure.
  • Check the buds.  Often bugs like to hang out on the newly formed bugs since they are young and tender.  Look to see if there are any extra lumps or spots.
  • Look at the stems or tree bark .   Are there any bumps.  Can those bumps be wiped off with your fingers?  If so its got scale you don’t want it.  Scale is very hard to get rid of.
  • Look for any downy, powdery or white splotches on the leaves.  Mildew is common on quite a few plants you may get it in your garden anyway but don’t take home extra.
  • Look at the overall plant.  Does it have black or dying leaves, leaf tips or shoots.  This could be a problem too.
  • Go with your gut.  If the plant just does not look healthy, leave it behind.  Find another garden center that has better plants.  You may have to pay more but its worth it not to kill the rest of your garden.

Buying plants by mail.
Most nurseries that sell by mail do a wonderful job.  We have bought plants many times from different companies.  Sometimes there is no choice if you want a specific plant then you have to.  However you should always check all material that comes in.  Don’t just assume that its fine.

Recently we purchased some new kiwi vines (long story for another blog entry).  One of our interns started to unpack them until I yelled at them to stop.  The leaves of the plants were all mottled, an obvious sign that something was wrong with the plants.  I looked under one of the larger leaves and was shocked to see hundreds of spider mite eggs.  This plant was totally infested!

Underside of kiwi vine leaf
Underside of kiwi vine leaf showing masses of egg cases

I have never had such a plant sent to me before. I contacted the company and they issued a refund since their whole greenhouse was infested they could not send me clean healthy plants.

The questions this raise in me were:

  • How come they did not notice when they packed the plants?
  • How come no one was scouting the greenhouse and noticed that there was a huge infestation of spider mites? This was one of the worst I have seen.  This should have been spotted in the greenhouse long before it go this bad.
  • How could you try and send me such an infested plant?
  • How many other people had they sent infested plants to?
Masses of Spider mites and eggs of kiwi vine leaf
Masses of Spider mites and eggs of kiwi vine leaf

Hopefully other gardeners who received such plants also complained and got refunds.  Never accept any material that has disease or bugs on it.  You introduce that into your garden and it could infest all your other crops.  Always inspect any plant that arrives are your door before you plant it.  Make sure there is nothing wrong with it.  If unsure then isolate the plant somewhere away from all other plants the may in any way be similar and grow it on it a pot for a while to see what develops.  This is what all commercial nurseries do.  They are always buying material in from other nurseries.  They have a ‘quarantine’ area where all new plants go for a while to be checked out and ensure that they don’t have any problems before they are moved into the ‘general population’ of the main nursery.  Commercial growers don’t ever want to introduce something into their plants that is going to cause a problem because it could cost them a great deal of money.

You don’t want that either. It may not be your livelihood riding on the plant disease but the beauty of your garden is.  So check your plants out.  Make sure they are strong and healthy before you get them anywhere near your other garden plants.  Never ever bring home a sick plant and try to ‘save’ it.  It could cost you your whole garden.


Time to plant your Cilantro

A great herb for the kitchen and for health.

Cilantro is a charming and very versatile herb which many people often find difficult to grow. I am probably asked more questions about growing this than any other herb. It’s not really hard to grow, you just need to know it’s secrets then it’s pretty easy. Here is how.

Cilantro is a interesting two in one herb. The leaves are used in cooking and called Cilantro, while the seeds – actually they are ‘nutlets’ not seeds but we will get to that – are also used in cooking and are known as coriander. So you can grow this and get two herbs for the space and price of one.

Most people tend to want and use the leaves of this plant so we will refer to it as Cilantro here. This plant likes cooler weather and does not like hot sun, so if you planted your seeds or transplants in full sun for a summer harvest you are going to be very disappointed. The poor little things will just wilt and die.
The need to be planted in spring and fall for a good harvest. You can get away with planting in the early summer if you choose a location in your garden that stays cooler. Perhaps it gets a nice breeze from across the lawn or is sheltered by some trees. The location will also need some shade from the hot noonday sun to get any plants growing past late June.

As we said before Cilantro seeds are not really ‘seeds’ they are called ‘nutlets’ this is because each ‘nutlet’ contains several seeds in together. Don’t try and crack them apart to plant separately they really don’t like that.
This means that you will get several little plants growing in the same space. This is just fine, in fact its best if you plant several nutlets in the same area so you get a nice little bunch of leaves growing in a clump. This makes them much easier to harvest when you want them.
Cilantro is one of the plants that you do want to direct seed it does not do well in transplants and you get much stronger plants if they are direct seeded.
Cilantro grows quite quickly so don’t plant more than you can deal with in one go. It might be best to plant a few every week or so. That way you get a continuous supply of leaves to use for a longer period of time. Don’t expect to get any in the summer months in hot areas though.

Growing Cilantro.
Prepare the chosen area for the cilantro. I like to use a ground cover mulch with holes cut in it. This keeps the weeds down to the small area where the cilantro is growing and reduces the amount of work needed. However you can use all kinds of things to keep the weeds down, several layers of newspaper with holes cut in the right spots will work.  A heavy layer of mulch around the desired planting ‘holes’ is also an option although take care that this is not creating warmer ‘wells’ in the mulch as the plants won’t like the heat.  Or you can just leave it and pull out the weeds, it’s your choice. Do not use clear plastic, it heats the ground up too much.  Plant at least 4-6 nutlets in each patch of ground. Spacing at around one foot apart. Keep the plants watered. This is an ideal use for a soaker hose run between the plants so you can water them every day keeping the ground moist.

Cilantro plants growing in plastic mulch
Cilantro plants growing in plastic mulch

Once the leaves have reached the desired size cut the plants down to the ground with scissors or floral snips. This is usually around 8-10” tall (20-25 cm). If left any longer the plants will start to bolt tall stems for flowering and the leaves are not as easy to harvest. Once cut the plants rarely regenerate leaves, they are basically spent and need to be replaced if there is still enough cool weather ahead, if not pull them out and plant something else.

Leaving for seed

Flowering Cilantro can reach 5-6 Feet in height
Flowering Cilantro can reach 5-6 Feet in height

If desired leave a few plants to go to seed so you can collect more nutlets for your next sowing or use the coriander in cooking also. Plants can grow pretty tall up to 5-6 feet (152-183 cm) in height so make sure you have space for them. They are really quite pretty delicate plants and make an interesting addition to the garden. Once its gone to seed wait for the seeds to turn just brown, and then cut off the seed heads before the nutlets start to fall. (it wont reseed for next year, they don’t like cold winters.) Spread the seed heads out to dry away from the bleaching sunshine then rub them to remove the nutlets from the stems. This can be quite a fiddly time consuming task which is why most people buy their coriander rather than collect their own. Getting all the stalks out is a real pain. Once you have your seeds keep them in a cool dry dark location for cooking. If keeping for seed its best to store them in the refrigerator for maximum viability.

Cilantro is a strongly scented and flavored herb and is not usually bothered by wildlife but rabbits will sometimes take a bite. This usually means snipping the plant off at the base, then deciding they don’t like it and dropping it. This is extremely annoying. If this happens you may need to put a small fence around your plants.

cilantro flowers
cilantro flowers

Why grow your own.
Well if you are Italian or Indian then cilantro is a major part of cooking. Growing your own is an ideal way of getting your own organic herb since most supermarkets don’t offer organic herbs. Some do but they, of course, not inexpensive.

Cilantro is a great health herb.
Cilantro is the go to herb for helping to pull heavy metals from the body. It’s the main reason that I grow so much of it. I use it myself and encourage my everyone else to use it too. This is especially important if you eat things like tuna, which is known to contain heavy metals especially mercury. Consuming a lot of fresh cilantro on a weekly basis can help pull any heavy metals and possibly other toxins from the body. It’s a go to herb that everyone should use in today’s world.

More information on growing cilantro.
Buy seeds (nutlets).