Recently a friend forwarded me a link to a New York Times article talking about how botanists have just discovered that some plant grow better when they are pruned or eaten by animals. Apparently this was totally unknown to science before this and botanists thought that any damage to plants was detrimental.
I was incredulous!
Where have these so called botanists been hiding? In the greenhouse and the laboratory? Obviously not out in the field where the plants grow. Anyone who has spent time outside knows that many plants grow better when they have been eaten or pruned.
Hundreds of ‘how to’ articles are written about as many plants that include phrases like ‘pinch out the tops to create bushing’ or ‘cut plant down to ground to encourage strong growth’.
Botanists don’t think this is damage?
Anyone who has grown up in the countryside where there are grazing animals will have seen how many plants get stronger usually shorter and bushier when animals eat them. I grew up in rural England and I noticed this by the time I was six years old. Many plants, especially those you did not want like thistles grew stronger when the sheep and cows eat them. It was common knowledge everywhere. Now I live in the United States I see how many plants in our fields grow stronger and bushier after the deer have been through and eaten them off. Horseweed especially gets bushy and produces far more flowers than if left alone to grow tall and produce just one flower stalk. I just wish the deer would eat the plant to the ground rather than letting it grow into a bush. Top browsed plants are a lot stronger and much harder to pull out than the non eaten ones.
It is true that many plants don’t do well with browsing. These tend to be the ornamental plants that we bring home from the nursery. Ones that have been bred to have large flowers and no defenses. They are grown in our gardens which are not areas where they are native so they don’t know how to cope with the local herbivores.
For most people this is never a problem since they put there plants into suburban gardens and they bloom wonderfully enhancing the landscape and making the garden beautiful. These plants never see a predator (large plant eating animal) so these plants are soft. Put the same plants in a rural area where there are deer or rabbits and they will get eaten to the ground and most likely not recover. They are not used to it. Some will come back stronger but not that many. If this is where the botanists have been concentrating their knowledge then of course they will think that plants don’t like being eaten. But like all scientists they should get outside the laboratory and look at the real world. Any farmer who has livestock will tell you that a lot of plants grow strong and bushy if eaten. Most often they are not ones that the farmer wants but they still know about them. It’s something you just learn, it does not take a degree to figure out, I suspect, like me, they see it from a very young age and just accept it as part of the plants life.
Many plants we grow also fall into this category. Often people prune shrubs and certainly herbs to make them bush out and produce more bulk. This includes a lot of herb plants. Most people know that if they cut down their basil or parsley plant it will grow back up again. Cut many plants to the ground and they will come back stronger. It’s common garden knowledge.
So how come the botanists think they have just discovered something? I guess it would never occur to them just to ask any keen gardener or a farmer.
It’s midsummer so it’s been pretty hot and sunny in recent weeks but of course this is the time when most farm work has to be done. After one particularly hard harvesting day earlier this week I was relaxing with my workers under the tree eating some lovely cold watermelon and enjoying the quiet. I mentioned how quiet it was to the guys.
One of them waved up at the trees with his fork and said.
”Trees not singing.”
I knew immediately what he meant. There were no cicadas singing in the trees. We usually have cicadas singing my mid July and with all the hot weather we have had this year which would speed up the larva development into adults they should have been out sooner but here we are in early August and still not one singing tree.
Where have all the cicadas gone?
Gone the way of the bees and the other insects , no doubt about it. Since these new pesticides came along the number of insects we have good bad or indifferent has plummeted. While we are go well beyond organic farming and use absolutely no chemicals at all that does not mean that our neighbors dont use them.
The problem is that bugs fly around. That can be a good and bad thing. Its bad if you dont want a pest in your garden or in our case farm and dont want them flying in from outside to infest your crops. However the flipside is that if you have good and beneficial bugs or bees on your property you dont really want them flying off to some other farm to get zapped by their nasty chemicals. Sadly unless you have a really BIG farm which these days are only owned by massive corporations who dont care about the bees, then its impossible to have enough land to keep the good insects on your property and not straying into areas that are dangerous to them.
The farmer on our eastern side is a soy bean farmer. He plants soy beans every year, and has done since we bought the farm. Never gets a really good crop from it (surprise, surprise) but he dutifully puts on his chemical fertilizer and then sprays his field later in the year. Even though we have a thick line of trees and vegetation between us and his field if he chooses to spray on a day when the wind is blowing then something is likely to reach towards us. Plus bees and other insects are bound to go and investigate the flowers once they start to bloom.
A new farmer has started working on the other side of the road too. Fortunately he is farther away from our fields because I suspect he uses more and different sprays than the soy bean farmer. So if our healthy bees and bugs fly around and if they decide to go check out his field when he sprays or go anywhere near it or get caught downwind of it then they are gonna die.
Is this a good thing? Personally I dont think so. Sure we get rid of a few pest species and produce absolutely perfect looking vegetables and fruit but what is the true cost? Killing every bug for a mile around your spray area is not good practice. There are a lot more helpful and useful bugs than there are harmful ones and even though most people dont like creepy crawly bugs we really could not live without them. Bees are only the tip of the iceberg. We have no idea what the repercussions of killing a lot of other different species off will be to us. What I see happening is the tough unwanted insects that often do more damage, like ants, survive and the more delicate, beautiful and useful ones are wiped out.
Think carefully before you use chemicals in the garden.
Dont assume that its all farmers doing this damage to the insects. Homeowners are a major use of chemicals and toxic products and often use them in much higher concentrations that farmers do. Sadly so many people have no idea how dangerous and damaging such chemicals can be. Just because its freely available purchase and easy to come by does not mean its not toxic to humans, pets, wild animals and all the other bugs not just the few that you are trying to kill. Please think very carefully before using any chemical on your plants. Dont just spray the plant as a precaution or because it looks sick. Make sure you know what is wrong with it and how to treat the particular problem before reaching for the chemicals. Dont just kill bugs because they are there. Not liking bugs around your property is not a reason to grab the chemicals and kill them. Dont spray just because you can and NEVER spray if there is any wind at all. It can get the chemicals on you, your family as well as your neighbors and even homes half to a full block away. One person with a can do a lot of damage with a single spray bottle of toxic chemicals.
If you have planted a diverse garden less chemicals or often no chemicals at all will be necessary. The more different flowering plants you have the more likely it will be that you dont get pests other insects are only too happy to come and eat them up. Most bugs are not interested in you and just want to go about their little lives without bothering anyone, or in a lot of cases joyfully chomping down on the nasty pests that are in your garden. Remember also that those annoying caterpillars that eat your plants can turn into beautiful butterflies so think hard before you pick them all of you plants and kill them.
Our farm is just not the same in the summer without the singing of the cicadas. To me they are the sound of summer and working in the fields to a orchestra of cicada song makes the job more enjoyable. Cicadas dont do any damage to crops, most people never even get to see one since they live up in the trees. Most people are have more experience with cicada killer wasps, and often are afraid of these gentle creatures that do us no harm and just prey on cicadas. I have seen a lot around the farm this year but they all look frantic with erratic flying patterns. These animals will most likely die out this year since there is not food for them. What other creatures also rely on the cicada or the wasp or other parts of the cicada life cycle. We have no idea what damage we are causing by eradicating just one kind of bug and most likely wont know for years until we discover a whole part of our ecosystem has collapses and its too late to rebuild it.
I miss my singing trees but sadly cicadas dont usually fly that far so once they are destroyed in one area it could take a lot of years before they repopulate my trees and they sing again. Perhaps they never will.
Could your potting soil or pots be detrimental to your health?
Quite a few potting soils today use Coconut Coir Fiber instead of sphagnum peat moss as the base for their mixes. It’s that fibery stuff that comes between the outer shell of the coconut and the inner bit that you eat. This material is trumpeted as better since it is a renewable resource from coconut trees and it is easily sterilizable. Once hydrated it can hold almost nine times its weight in water and then allow the rest of the water to drain away without getting waterlogged. It can be milled fine to be used in seed starting mixes or left with slightly longer fibers for use in potting mixes for larger plants.
Most gardeners are probably more familiar with Coconut Coir Fiber being used as hanging basket planters and small biodegradable pots. These have been gaining in popularity recently for two reasons: first they don’t break down quite as fast as peat pots making them easier for many people to handle, and again they are trumpeted as a renewable resource.
But sadly they are not renewable. Not any more.
Maybe you have heard of it, maybe not. It’s called Coconut Lethal Yellowing Disease (LYD)and it’s killing the world’s coconut population. It has already decimated the trees in many countries. The hardest hit so far are those in North America, especially Mexico and the Caribbean. It has also hit Africa, parts of India and the Pacific Islands. Many of these small countries rely on the coconut industry, it is one of the staples of their economy. In some places over 90% of the native palms have been exterminated by this disease. [1,2]
The problem is there is no cure. There are just two choices.
1. Cut down and burn any infected trees to stop the spread of the disease.
2. Treat the trees with antibiotics. Mostly oxytetracycline (OTC) is used. The antibiotic is injected into the trunk of the tree. This has to be done every 4 months for the life of the tree. It won’t cure it but it will keep the disease at bay so that the tree will live. [3,4,5]
This second method is being used extensively in resort areas. Most areas that rely on tourists want to keep their palm trees. After all that’s what the tropics are about. How can you have an exotic tropical resort without the palm trees? No one wants to be around a bunch of ugly dead tree stumps.
Areas like Florida also use OTC on their ornamental trees. Over the last 40 years Florida has lost a huge number of palms especially coconuts to LYD so using antibiotics to keep the ambiance in places like the Florida keys is essential. They also put out leaflets warning everyone NOT to eat the fruits (coconuts) of the treated trees . A fairly high level of antibiotics is needed to keep the trees ‘healthy’ a lot of that is going to get concentrated into the fruit. You really don’t want to eat that.
WHO IS USING ANTIBIOTICS?
The crisis of the coconut is massive, but the demand for coconut products is still rising. With the advent of coconut water in the last few years heralded as the ‘latest super food’ demand is increasing not decreasing. While research into the problem continues trees are being fed antibiotics. In countries where the coconut is the main agricultural staple providing most of their export products financial ruin may occur if all the trees die and their crops are decimated. Whether these plantations use antibiotics to stave the disease off their trees is unknown, it’s unlikely they are going to advertise the fact to anyone. Perhaps the fruits are not being incorporated into our food chain but what about the fiber? This is not a food so it would not come under the same rules. There is nothing to stop anyone grinding up the fiber from treated trees and selling it as potting soil or using it for plant starter pots.
Is this safe?
Digging into the research on antibiotics and OTC specifically gets a little concerning. The stuff is used quite a bit in veterinary medicine so there is research about it’s stability which is fairly high. There is even research about it’s stability which is fairly high. There is not a lot of research about how stable it is in soil and how long it will last but piecing together lots of different studies it appears that:
1. It’s fairly stable in soil and can last around 10-15 days on it’s own in cool soil..
2. It’s not affected by heat, it’s even more stable. Can take being boiled for 30 minutes before it starts to break down at any point. 
3. Much more stable in the dark.
4. Breaks down in more alkaline conditions but in ph neutral or slightly acidic conditions it can last over 60 days or more. 
5. Breaks down in sunlight much faster. 
What does this mean for your starter pots.
Since OTC breaks down in sunlight its probably fine for hanging basket liners where they are exposed to the sun a lot. If using coconut fiber starter pots make sure that the pots have a lot of sun exposure from the moment that they are used. Do not crowd them together or put them in an area where they don’t get a lot of light.
What about the potting mix?
Its hard to determine exactly how long the antibiotics are going to stay around in the soil. It could be a few days or it could be up to 60 days. The research that does exist on antibiotics and OTC in the soil all states that there is a reduction in soil biology and activity. Basically it kills off all the good stuff in the soil that you really need to make your plant healthy. The only way that they were able to improve the soil biology again was to add manure which basically reintroduced a lot of the microflora that they had just killed off.
If these substances are as stable as some research suggests then these substances are going to be transferred to your garden when you transplant the seedling. This means it could spread the problem to a larger area of your soil. The intention is to build and create a good soil microflora to keep your plants healthy and strong. Killing all this off with antibiotics achieves the complete opposite of what we want. [11 – 14]
Is OTC taken up by the plants?
There is little to no research being conducted on the uptake of antibiotics by plants. What little there is has reported that there was a change in the carbon source utilization and content.  Others reported that soil respiration was vastly decreased, meaning basically everything in the soil is dead. Others reported that there was a decrease in the growth of the tested plants, most likely due to the death of any soil microbes. 
There is no doubt that if the antibiotics survive in the soil that the plants will come into contact with them. How they are treated by the plant and if they are taken up is unknown. [17, 18]
So Is it safe for me and my family?
The simple answer is no one knows. For safety refrain from growing anything that you intend to eat in soil that may have antibiotics included. Flowers and other plants that are not intended for consumption are most likely fine but bear in mind that you may be destroying your soil biology when planting this material in your garden.
 Association Efficiency of Three Ionic Forms of Oxytetracycline to Cationic and Anionic Oil-In-Water Nanoemulsions Analyzed by Diafiltration
Authors Sandra L. Orellana,Cesar Torres-Gallegos,Rodrigo Araya-Hermosilla,Felipe Oyarzun-Ampuero,Ignacio Moreno-Villoslada
Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences Volume 104, Issue 3, pages 1141–1152, March 2015
Unusually early plant growth is susceptible to changes in the weather.
It’s been an usual winter, the temperatures have been high across quite a bit of the country. Here in the northeast its been in the high 60’s low 70’s for almost a week.
The plants think its spring!
Lots of plants are starting to come out of their winter hibernation and starting to show growth. Others are even flowering. For us our beautiful Japanese Apricots are in full bloom. If you have never seen one of these fairly rare trees you are missing out. Their blooms are wonderful. Trouble is this year they think its spring and its not. Blooming in the sunshine of 70° weather is one thing but then the temperatures are going to drop down below freezing overnight. You may have the same problem.
What to do about it?
Low Ground plants. Close to the ground and showing shoots early can be covered in mulch to keep them warm during the cold temperatures. You may want to move the mulch back again if the temperatures rise again or it will force them higher sooner to get around it. Then you will need more mulch for the next cold snap, it’s a vicious cycle.
Medium sized plants that are flowering or budding.
If they are small enough cover them with plastic grocery bags. I had to do this one year when we had a late cold snap and all my impatiens were in. The garden was festooned with plastic bags, but hey the plants survived. You can do the same, just cover the plant with the bag weigh it down with a few stones and presto a mini greenhouse. Remove the bags when the temperatures rise.
Larger plants can be treated the same way if you have a bag that is big enough. Use plastic garbage bags. Its best to use white or light colored ones DON’T use black ones unless you get the bag off early the next morning. Black will heat up fast and can fry the plants inside if they are not removed. Same will go for transparent ones if they are left in full sunshine.
Trees and other large plants.
Well if it’s a big tree there is nothing you can do. Our maple trees are flowering but they just have to take their chances there is nothing to do for a big tree.
Smaller trees can be covered in fabric. You can buy row covering fabric sometimes called floating row cover. Don’t get the really thin stuff it tears easily and is a waste of money. Get something a little tougher and either wrap the tree or if you have a sewing machine turn it into a large bag that can be dropped over the tree and tied around the trunk. That’s what we did for our apricots. It was a two man job to get the things sown as there was so much fabric it keep trying to pull out of the sowing machine, but with one person holding and the other sewing it was pretty easy. If you are a sewer and intend to do this, use clothes pegs to hold the fabric together not sewing pins, it’s a lot easier to work with.
Floating row fabric is fairly inexpensive but you need to buy it in advance so you are ready to use it. Greenhouse megastore has a nice selection. You may need to buy more than you need as it comes in fixed lengths but its fairly inexpensive. Once you have some its easy to get out and use every year and you will be happy you did, its got all kinds of uses to keep the plants warmer in cold snaps or extend the season a little in the fall. Its always good to have some on hand. We buy it by the roll so we have enough to do any job on the farm in a hurry.
If you don’t have any row cover any kind of fairly lightweight fabric will do. Old sheets, curtains and such like can be put to use. Its never a good idea to throw out old sheets they can be easily pressed into service as plant covers. We used to do this all the time before we bought real row cover. If you have nothing on hand see if there is an inexpensive fabric store near you. Some Wal-Mart’s still have cheap fabric available. So it might have transformers or ninja turtles on it the plants don’t care. Keep the fabric around it will last for years and keep your plants warm and cozy during cold snaps. Fabric needs to be tightly woven if you can see through it or it has an open weave then it wont do the job. If possible pick a lighter color but any color will do. If you buy a bolt of it you can just wrap it around the tree to cover it all up. I used fabric and old sheets for years before we bought row cover its more expensive to buy fabric but if you need it in a hurry it’s the best option. Now I have too much that needs protection to use fabric and buy row cover by the roll.
If it gets REALLY cold.
Most of the time once plants have begun to flower the temperatures just go down a little below freezing. However if the temperatures go down a LOT then the fabric might not be enough to keep those precious plants warm. Then you certainly need plastic for the job. If you live in an area where there are commercial nurseries you will notice that their hoop houses are all covered in white plastic for the winter months. This is to keep their plant pots from freezing. This is the kind of thing you need to do for your plants. The same methods described above can be used to cover plants in plastic rather than fabric.
You need white or light colored plastic to let the light in. Not black the poor plant gets no light, and not clear. Putting the plant in a transparent plastic bag will get it really hot in the sunshine and encourage it to grow and bloom even more. Then it will be really out of sync with the ‘real’ world temperatures and may go into shock if you take the bag off at the wrong time.
We use the white plastic left over from our winter hoop house to cover individual trees. This was our first year doing this and our design needs a little more work but it’s a good start. Most years hopefully we wont get such massive swings in temperature as to need to do this.
If you are in a hurry.
Head to home depot and pick up some of their thin white plastic drop cloths. These are ideal for short term plastic fabric. Ideally you need something a little thicker but they will work well for a while. The major problem is that they are very thin so if the wind blows you could get holes poked in them by plant twigs and branches.
If you are covering bushes or small trees make sure that you either take the coverings off when the sun comes out and the temperatures rise or at least open the bags up so that the air can get in and the plant does not get too hot. While white plastic will keep plants a lot cooler than transparent it can still get hot under there when the full sun is hitting it. Remove the covering when temperatures rise to a reasonable night time level, but be ready to put them back on again if the temperatures fall again.
With a little care plants can be coddled through this strange weather and come out in spring with no harm done.
Do you know where your packet of seeds has been? Do you know how they have been treated before you buy them? Are you sure they were treated well so that they will be as viable as they possibly can be when you plant them? If you can’t answer these questions then perhaps it’s not your fault that your seeds did not germinate. It could well be that your seeds were dead when you got them.
I am sure that at one time or another you have bought a packet of seeds, planted them, waited and nothing has happened. For many, they consider that they did something wrong, sometimes you do. Some seeds are finicky about their growing conditions. If they need light to germinate and you covered them, then they wont grow. Its always important to follow the growing instructions for seeds to have success. Some seeds are also very particular about temperature, light, moisture and other factors, but a great many for the most part will grow if you stick them in the ground and water them correctly. That is if you have viable seed to begin with. If your seeds were not treated well before you buy them then they most likely wont grow.
Most seeds are fairly tough. They have a protective coating that helps to keep them moist inside and guard them from the rigors of the world. Most have to endure winters outside and hope they have fallen a an area that is favorable for them to grow the following year. However tough does not mean invulnerable. Treating seeds with care and storing them in the best way to keep them viable for the greatest length of time will help ensure that they will grow into healthy plants. Indeed that they will grow at all.
First lets look at the life of a seed in the wild.
It grows on the mother plant, it ripens and then gets dispersed in some manner. It then falls to the ground and waits. In most cases this means waiting though the cold winter months for spring and moisture to arrive so it can hopefully sprout. The seed lays dormant while it is cold. Therefore storing seeds in a cool to cold environment will keep them in that dormant stage for long periods of time. Indeed this is how all seeds are stored in seed banks the Svalbard Global Seed Vault is located high above the arctic circle. Scientists have long known that keeping seeds cold, dark and low humidity will keep them viable for long periods of time. So obviously keeping them under other conditions is not going to be good for their viability.
So where has your seed packet been?
Now let us consider that packet of seeds you might buy in the store. This could be a big box store, hardware store or garden center.
First where is it when you see it? On a rack with lots of other seed packets in a nice warm heated store. It’s stuck up in the air with lots of warm air circulating around it. Is this a good environment for seeds? NO.
How long has it been on that rack?
If you are fast you might be able to get to the seeds when they first arrive on the rack. Then they won’t have been out in the warm store for that long. However most people come to get their seeds long after they have been sitting on that rack. How long have they been there, weeks months? All that time in a warm store.
Where is the rack located?
Good stores will put them far inside the store where the temperatures are fairly even, but I have seen many stores put them in windows where the sun beats down on them during the day heating up the seeds, or in the greenhouse section of the garden center. Is that seed going to be viable when you do plant it? Unless it’s very tough, probably not.
How did your seed packet get to the rack in the first place?
Most likely it came in a truck. Packed in a box. That might be fine but it depends on where that truck has been. Has it been moving through sunny hot climates before it got to your store? It’s possible that box could have been left on the loading dock in the sun for hours, maybe longer getting hotter and hotter. Seeds don’t like that.
How far has it travelled to get to your local store. Or even your online store?
Don’t assume that the seeds you buy are grown here. Most are not. Most seed companies won’t tell you where their seeds come from and their websites often talk about their garden centers or such like but their seeds are not grown here. A large proportion of seeds come from Holland, Germany, Poland and China. Yes, I was surprised too. Often the seeds are travelling very long distances across oceans before they reach the wholesaler, who may then repackage them into those colorful packets that you buy in the stores. In some instances it’s not even clear what year the seeds were grown in before they reach you.
How was the seed processed and stored to begin with?
A large proportion of seed companies don’t store their seeds in cold conditions. Having been to many different seed conferences and talked to other seed growers I am always shocked to find how they store their seeds. Many small companies just keep them in boxes in their house, others have a commerical building but because they are using it all the time it’s heated. A lot of times these are metal buildings and they get darn hot in the summer months. This might be fine if you can sell your seed on very fast to your buyers but it’s never a good place to keep seed for even a few days.
Is your seed dated?
Surprisingly most seed packets don’t have any kind of date on them. They don’t even tell you what year the seed you bought was grown in. This means that you could be buying packets that are years old. Just where has that seed packet been stored and for how long? One of the reasons that some seed companies do this is because the seed may be several years old if it has traveled the world before it got to your seed packet. Another is so they can sell on last years stock and not take a loss on seeds that were not so popular. That might be OK to do IF the seeds were stored in the right conditions in the meantime, but most of the time they are not, just stuck in some warehouse somewhere that is usually not climate controlled to keep it cool in the summer.
What Floral Encounters does.
We grow all our own seeds. Yes, we do buy seed to grow, it’s the only way we can get new and different plants to grow. Mostly these won’t be organic when we get them so we need to grow them on at least two years before they are producing organic seeds for us. We have to buy seed from overseas because mostly they are not produced here. Even those times I bought from a ‘local’ dealer I found that the seeds were actually coming from overseas and being sold on by those companies. Surprisingly a large number of seed companies do this.
Once our plants are established we then collect our seed from the field and store it in a cool seed storage barn. Ours is located under dense tree cover so it stays as cool as possible throughout the year. Once the seeds material arrives it may be laid out on racks to fully dry or if already dry stored in bins until we have the time to process it. We then do as much bulk processing as possible. This removes as much large material as we can, then we store the remaining material in a cooler atmosphere.
As soon as we have time the seed will then be sifted to remove as much material as possible from the seed. As we state in are FAQ it takes an enormous amount of effort to remove all the material from the seeds unless many thousands of dollars are spent on seed cleaning machines which we cant yet afford on our little farm.
We remove all the material we can then our seed is stored in bulk in refrigeration units that are designed to keep a constant humidity and temperature. All our seeds remain there until they are sold directly to you.
We package our seeds for each order. This ensures that all the seeds you buy have been stored at the best possible temperature for the longest possible time thus keeping the seeds in the best possible condition before they are sent to you.
We also date our seeds with the year that they were harvested so you know how old the seed you are getting is. In almost all cases we use seed grown in year before so 2016 seed would be used in 2017. Occasionally we use older seed if we did not grow that seed in a particular year or if the harvest failed, which does happen on occasion but its very rare with such a diverse farm. Dating seed ensures that you know exactly how fresh the seed you are getting is and when it was grown.
When shipping our seeds we take all our orders directly to the post office and post them inside the building. This ensures that they stay as cool as possible for as long as we can manage. We don’t place them in hot mail boxes or give them to open air mail carriers. This is especially important during hotter summer months. In this way the seeds we offer are as fresh and viable as they can possibly be.
So our seeds are shipped directly to you from our cooled storage giving them the least possible time in less than idea conditions. So if you buy our seeds you know exactly where they have been and how they were treated until they were sent to you.
We always recommend that you place your seeds in the refrigerator as soon as they arrive and that you keep them their until planting. If you don’t use the whole packet then put the rest back. Use them again next year, they should be fine.
The snow melted yesterday and there under the snow were the bright yellow buds of the winter aconites (Eranthus hyemalis) Two days later the sun came out and the flowers opened and turned their little yellow faces to the adoring sun and laughed at winter.
Winter aconites are really tough little guys and even though everyone says that snowdrops are the first sign of spring mine have yet to even show a leaf. If you want early spring color in the garden to cheer your spirits then winter aconites are the way to go. These lovely little yellow flowers grow low to the ground they produce a starburst of flat green leaves with one yellow flower in the center. Aconites grow from tiny bulbs about the size of a pencil eraser but they will self seed nicely once they are established. Collecting seeds is tough though, we tried it, it’s extremely time consuming and not at all cost effective. This is why the plants are usually sold as bulbs, which at present we don’t sell.
Aconites thrive in areas where there is summer shade. So planting them under deciduous trees where they get lots of winter sunshine but are shaded during the summer is ideal. The lovely rosette leaves last into the early summer providing a nice ground cover in the first part of the year. After that the bulbs go dormant during the summer months.
Don’t plant under bird feeders since they come up at the time feeders are most active they just get pecked to death. Birds don’t care about plants they care about the seeds around them.
Aconites are a cold loving species they are hardy from zones 3 -7 so they won’t grow in the warmer areas, but heck you don’t need spring indicators in the south! They will tolerate some moisture all year around but do like well drained soil. They thrive in sunshine or semi shade but not under pine or fir species. They like a rich humus soil which is found under deciduous trees. Left alone they will self seed and form a carpet of yellow flowers in early spring, then a ground cover which can be mown back by early to mid summer so they are ideal in a grassy area under trees or mixed with later growing perennials.
Winter aconite flowers open and close with the sun. when the sun is shining their petals open and they bath in the bright rays, when it goes down or on cloudy days the petals stay closed. The flowers can last for several weeks. More if there are a lot of cloudy days and less if there is lots of sunshine and warm temperatures.
I started my winter aconites with a dozen bulbs about 25 years ago, planted them outside my living room window they grew and proliferated. It was wonderful looking out the window every spring at the constantly increase carpet of early yellow flowers.
When I moved this farm twelve years ago I dug up as many as I could which turned out to be a several hundred. Not all of them survived the journey but a lot did. I planted these under trees and in flower beds that I can see from my dining room and living room windows. I think its important that you can see them from the house windows, it’s the first sign of spring in cold weather when most people are not working outside. Being able to appreciate them from the house lifts the spirits and see proof that spring is just around the corner. Back at my old house there is still a carpet of aconites every spring so I obviously only got a few of them.
Now I have a large clump on the berm under some of my Kousa Dogwood trees. These are always the first to flower as they get the most winter sunshine. The ones outside my living room window are located in a sheltered northern exposure and come up about the same time but don’t open as quickly. The ones in less sheltered northern exposures still have not shown themselves yet. This is fine by me. It means that my enjoyment of the yellow flowers is extended. The ones of the berm get mown over during the summer as they are in shade loving grass. The ones in the flower beds are mixed with Hostas which come up later in the year, about the time that the aconites are going down. So I get a carpet of yellow flowers followed by bright green ground cover with new Hosta leaves growing through them. By time the Hosta leaves are growing large the aconites are going dormant. It’s perfect.
Very early flowers are also important to pollinators especially honey bees. On warm late winter days they can come out of the hive for a fly around and a bathroom break. (bees don’t ‘go’ in the hive so these gals have been holding it all winter!) Finding some flowers while they are out is always a great bonus for them and an extra energy boost.
I love my aconites and always suggest that any gardener plant some. Brighten those winter blues with yellow flowers!
Plant zones are also called Hardiness zones. Basically it’s the temperature at while a plant will survive the cold. Decades of observation and experimentation have shown what temperatures each plant will live, thrive or die in. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) first developed this method but it has since been adopted by many other countries.
What they did was divide the country up into bands of average temperatures so for example zone 7 would be from 0°F (17.8°C) to 10°F (12.2°C). These are the average low temperatures for that area. Of course then it got more complicated and they decided to have 7a and 7b which breaks the zone down a little more finely.
Every plant grows within a certain temperature range is assigned to a the lowest zone in which it will survive. That does not mean that it will flourish wonderfully there but it will survive. When you look at buying a plant most growers and seed companies will list what zone the plant is hardy to. Using this information along with which zone your home is located in you can determine if a specific plant will grow in your area.
The USDA has an excellent website with country wide maps and state maps. You can even put in your zip code and it will tell you what zone you are in.
The climate zones were updated in 2012 to take into account the warmer temperatures that the world has been experiencing in the last two decades. So if you thought you knew what your zone was it’s a good idea to check it again as it might have changed now. Our zone went from 6a to 6b and then on the latest update to 7a with the ever changing maps its looks as if we are creeping closer to 7b!
Other countries have also adopted the USDA idea and have produced zone maps for their own countries. If you search for hardiness zone and your country you should be able to find it.
Higher Or Lower Zone Which Is It?
This can be very confusing. Higher zones refers to a higher number so its hotter. Zone 10 is higher than zone 6. It does not refer to the location on the map so although Maine is ‘higher’ up in the United States it has a low zone number.
Cold Is Not The Only Thing That Determines Plant Growth .
More recently it has been recognized that cold hardiness is not the only factor that should be taken into account when growing plants. Some plant can’t tolerate heat. Examples would be Maral root which is a Siberian native and wont grow in warm climates. Rowan trees are another example they cant tolerate high heat. I have seen magnificent rowan trees in Nova Scotia and Maine but I cant grow them here its too hot.
To that end the American Horticultural Society have created a heat zone map and thousands of plants have been coded to it. Unfortunately since this was created by a non-government body the map is only located on their site and its quite small. If you want more detailed information they ask you to purchase one of their maps. The small map they show is fairly valuable at determining your zone and their site does explain its use in detail. The only drawback is that most nurseries do not code their plant labels to use the heat zone map so you need to look the plant up on the AHS site or a few other sites that do reference this map.
Zones are not everything. There are many other factors for growing plants. You may live in a very sunny area with a south facing wall that is sheltered from the wind so while you may be in zone 6 you can grow plant there that are listed to zone 7b. Its also possible to create sheltered pockets and grow warmer plants
Snow cover is also a factor. Snow is a great insulator. If plants are covered in a thick blanket of snow from early winter until the spring they will often survive in lower zones than it is listed for because it was kept warm by the snow all winter. In areas where the snow falls then melts then falls again the plants are subjected to a far more extremes of temperature and need to be much more hardy than in areas where snow persists all winter long. We certainly tend to loose more plants in winters that are very cold when the snow falls and melts than when we have a blanket of snow all winter long.
For the most part perennial plants are always listed with a hardiness zone on the label. Annuals are not since they are expected to die at the end of the season anyway. However many plants that are treated as annuals are not really. A good example is Impatiens which are grown in a large portions of the country since they can tolerate some shade. These plants are treated as annuals and left to die at the end of winter, however they are in fact perennials but they don’t tolerate low temperatures. Brought into the house they will live happily as perennial house plants.
Always check the label for the plants zone.
All the perennials that we sell at Floral encounters have a zone listing with them. Make sure to check the zone listing on any plants that you purchase at your local garden center. Just because they are selling it there and its outside in the summer months does not mean that it will survive the winter months there. Its quite common for garden centers to sell plants that will not survive the winter but neglect to tell the buyer this when they purchase the plant. Always check the label, if it does not say on the label, but cautious it often means it won’t survive winter in your zone.
What you need to know before deciding on which seeds to buy.
Its cold and maybe snowy outside. There is not much chance of getting anything done in the garden.
But this is the BEST BIT.
Now you get to decide what you are going to grow this coming year.
There are several ways of going about this.
1. Decide exactly what you want to grow, then go and find the seeds (or plants) for it. 2. Have a general idea then browse the catalogs to find things that fit your theme or idea. 3. Have no idea so browse catalogs and online to find thing that take your fancy. 4. Combinations of the above.
I have to admit that 1 and 2 are what I do but occasionally something else comes up in my wanderings across the internet and I add it to my list of things to grow.
Whatever your choice winter is the best time to do this. You can curl up with a catalog, or browse online in your favorite way. Check out all the great plants that you could grow and make your choices.
It’s a great way to spend the winter afternoons. Or all day if you feel like it.
There are a few guidelines that you should work with however when choosing your seeds and plants.
1. Where are you going to put them?
This tends to be the biggest problem for a keen gardener who wants all kinds of plants but then finds there is not enough room to fit them all in the garden. Heck I have an 8 acre farm and I still have this problem. I think I would still have the problem if I had 40 acres. You tend to expand to fit the space you have.
Plants also tend to take up more space than you expect them too so plan for less and then they can grow into it.
2. What is your climate?
This is really one of the most important factors. You cant grow tropical plants outside in Northern latitudes and you cant grow cold loving plants in warm southern latitudes. There are always exceptions. If you have a heated greenhouse then of course you can grow tropical plants in cold areas, you may also be able to grow them as annuals if your summers get hot enough. However if your summers are cool then picking something that likes a lot of heat is never going to work for you. Picking a plant that likes cool climates wont work in Florida or a tropical country either.
Always know what climate zone you are in. I will have an article on climate zones later this week so check that out if you are unsure what it means. There is a lot more to a zone map than just hardiness of plants.
Make sure you check your heat AND cold zones. This is very important when choosing plants. If for example you are zone 6 then trying to grow a plant that liked zone 8 is not going to work for you. Most seed catalogs will show the zone that the plant is hardy to. Annuals usually don’t have zone listings since its expected that the plant will die off during the winter anyway. However if an annual likes hot weather you still need to make sure that you have enough heat during the summer to grow it well.
3. Know your soil type.
Quite a lot of plants will only grow on certain soil types. This is why when you travel to a different area you will find plants that you don’t see around your own home. Sometimes this may not be very far at all if the soil or rock type changes dramatically. There are many plants that will only grow on limestone and chalky soils. If you don’t have this type of soil then the plant will not survive unless you import soil specifically for it. The same is true of many other plants. Some like rich loamy soils, other like sandy soils some even like clay and waterlogged soils.
If a plant you are trying to grow is not doing well, do a little research and check out the soil type it prefers. It may well be that you are trying to grow it on a soil that is not suitable.
Many good seed catalogs will tell you what kind of soil the plant prefers. We always ensure that the plant seeds we sell state the preferred soil type. Trying to grow something on a different soil type might work but its not going to be as happy and healthy as the type it really prefers. So when choosing plants try to pick those that will work with your soil type.
4. What kind of sunlight do you have?
If you have full sun most of them time then your options are pretty wide. If you have a lot of shade then your options are more limited. You can still create a wonderful garden with shade but its going to take a bit more work, at least to start with. Check what kind of light a plant needs before you choose it. If you don’t have a lot of sun picking sun loving plants is going to end in disaster. If you put a shade loving plant in the sun its also going to end up dead. So determine what areas you want to plant, and what the sunlight levels are before you start. All catalogs will tell you how much sun a plant needs. Don’t ignore this its there for a good reason.
5. What kind of height do you want?
Some plants can grow very tall, others are very short creeping groundcovers. Make sure you know what your chosen plant is going to do. It’s a nasty surprise if you put in a plant thinking its going to be short and find it grows to 6 feet in height! Plant descriptions usually tell you how tall they will grow. If it does not then check another source until you know for sure not knowing can cause a lot of trouble in the garden later on. If creating a border then you will most likely want some that are fairly tall for the back, some middle height for the center and short ones for the front. Check out any professional garden border or photo and you will see this arrangement.
6. Decide what kind of plant you want.
Do you want perennials or annuals? Since were are talking about seeds here I will stick to those and talk about shrubs and trees in another article. While these can be grown from seed, and often are, its not the most common seed choice for gardeners
Perennials take longer to establish but then you don’t have to plant them every year, you just have to maintain them and divide them when they start to outgrow their area. However perennials tend to flower for short periods of time, the rest of the time you just get leaves.
Annuals you have to plant every single year which is more work. However annuals tend to flower profusely for much longer periods of time giving a lot more color and show.
Most people go for a mixture of both for the best results.
NOW MAKE YOUR CHOICES.
So now you have a good idea of how much space you have, what kind of soil, sunlight levels and climate zone you are in. Now its time to pick your plants. This can be the hardest part, there always seem to be so many interesting plants that you want to grow and not enough time or space to put them.
Best option is to make a list of all the plants you have found that you like. How you organize this is up to you. Me I tend to open a browser tab for each plant, use post it notes in paper catalogs and make a paper list. The list is always long, much longer than I have space for.
Then comes the hard part. Cutting down the list. Crossing off the ones that you cant have, Noting the ones that you cant live without this coming year. Cutting the list down until it’s a reasonable size and the cost is not overwhelming.
A FEW THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING. 1. If you are picking a plant for a particular reason say a herb that you need for health, then of course it should come top of the list. 2. Things that have really taken your fancy or you have seen and loved should be next. 3. There is always next year. You may need to make a second list of ‘what I will buy next year’ if you don’t have room for everything this year. Of course this will change next year but it gives you a foundation to work on. 4. Cross off anything that you can live without this year.
List of plants.
5. Make sure that you choose MORE than you think you will be able to grow. The reason for this is that not everything ever goes as planned. Some seeds that you buy may not germinate, others may do poorly or you may have a disaster, perhaps one set accidently did not get watered and died. Having grown plants from seed professionally for over 25 years I find that this happens to me a lot more than I would like. Sometimes plants just don’t thrive or a rabbit gets in and eats a whole crop row down to nothing. Now suddenly you have a large hole in your garden having some extra plants of a different kind to quickly fill the hole up is a lot easier than either having a large gap or having to run to the garden center and find something, which of course will cost far more than if you raised it yourself.
6. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Seeds are inexpensive compared to plants. So go ahead and try something new. IF it does not work out move on to something else. Gardeners are forever experimenting, trying new things and learning. Growing more plants that you have room for is far better than not growing enough and staying safe with a few plants from the garden center. So go wild, order lots of seeds and dig in. It’s a inexpensive way to enjoy life and its healthy for you.