Monday, April 20, 2009

Pretty Yellow Flowers

There is nothing like a splash of color in the landscape after a long dreary winter. So you’d think that folks would be excited and happy to see Lesser Celandine, Ranunculus ficaria which started blooming a couple weeks ago. It is still blooming now. You will most likely see it in low lying, moist areas such as stream banks. For a close look, go to the park in Edison along the Neshaminy Creek or the North Branch of Neshaminy Creek where it crosses Rt 611, south of Plumsteadville.

Besides the eight petaled, yellow flowers that rise slightly above the foliage, you’ll see that the very dark green, shinny leaves are kidney/heart shaped and somewhat waxy. Below ground you’ll find finger like tubers. Late in the season, cream colored aerial bulblets will form along the stems. You’ll only see it from March until June; then it fades away. It is often found in large, expansive masses. Once you have an eye for Lesser Celandine you’ll see it in other places. A friend’s entire small back yard is composed of it at this time of year.

This exotic (not native), invasive plant is called a spring ephemeral. It emerges before the hardwood trees leaf out, grows enough foliage to store energy in underground tubers, produces flowers and above ground bulblets and then fades away.

Ephemeral. But very invasive and does not play well with other plants. It will out-compete less aggressive ephemerals. The pretty tout lily is emerging now too and it does not appear to have a chance to win a battle for space and light with lesser celandine. That’s the problems with these invasive exotics. They are better adapted to their new home than the natives.If you see an isolated lesser celandine plant, kill it... or plan to enjoy it forever.

If this plant is getting the better of your landscape, you can apply glyphosate (Roundup, other names) now and get some control. If there are infestations near-by or if you live along a steam you’ll probably get re-infested via aerial bulblets. In drier, isolated landscape settings you might will the battle. Where very small infestations exist, just shovel it out. Be sure to get the tubers.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Some crops are ready earlier than others. Horseradish is the first thing my garden yields each spring. I dig dormant roots from the garden and join some fellows who have a spring ritual of grinding up the roots in a food processor with a bit of vinegar and salt. That’s it. You’ve got a very unique condiment. (oh, peel the roots first). Excellent on ham or beef. A friend says she puts it in egg salad. A staple at a Seder. You can take it neat for a cheap thrill.

We processed this year’s crop last week. The 2009 vintage seems to be a bit milder than 2008, but with fruity hints of plum and licorice. I’m kidding…but it does seem a bit milder this year. Maybe that’s because we had to resort to using some store bought roots.

Horseradish may be the least demanding of the vegetable crops. It will grow almost anywhere. I’ve got mine in a soggy back end of the garden. A place where nothing but weeds will grow because it is so wet. Since all we want are roots, even some shade is not a problem. I guess the only potential problem is that since it is perennial it may become weedy. It has creeping underground roots.

If you can’t find a friend to give you a few pencil diameter roots about 6 inches long, you can mail order them from the same places that sell rhubarb and strawberries. Make a planting trench about five inches deep and lay the roots in with the top near the surface, spacing individual roots a least a foot apart. Cover the trench. I have even established new plants from just the crowns of roots that were harvested. As I mentioned, horseradish is a weed. In a year you’ll have roots to harvest. The better they grow, the thicker the root. Warning: The plants are big, coarse and ugly.
There are a few subtle details to horseradish making. Not much more on the growing. I found more advice than I could use on-line.
Next up, rhubarb!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Grow Your Own Fruit

Interest in home food production is booming. Maybe it’s the economy. Maybe it’s an interest in locally produced food. Hey, even the president (or his wife and kids) now has a garden!
Most folks start with a vegetables and then graduate to fruit production. All of the fruit producing plants are perennial. This means more planning and more attention to site details. And complications such as cross pollination and rootstock emerge. Let’s face it… anyone can grow a tomato. It takes dedication and skill to produce your own apples, blueberries and peaches. But it can be done.
Before I get into details about some specific fruiting plants, here’s some good news. Penn State has produced an outstanding publication called Fruit Production for the Home Gardner. You can read the whole thing on line, order a copy from Penn State (814-865-6713) or stop by our office and pick up a copy for twelve dollars. Its 186 pages packed with practical fruit growing information.

If you are itching to try your hand at fruit production, here are some suggestions.

1. Start small. Make your mistakes on a small scale and add more if things are going well.

2. Make a realistic assessment of your site. You’ll need at least 8 hours of sunlight a day and soil that does not retain excess moisture. How can you tell? The sunlight part is easy. As for moisture… if your site has standing water for more than 24 hours after rainfall it’s probably too wet for perennial fruiting plants.

3. Think about deer. Deer will absolutely destroy new fruit plantings. If not in the growing season, then during the winter. Do not underestimate them. There are no shortcuts to deer control. If you have deer pressure only an 8 foot fence or hot lead will stop them. Don’t think about fencing individual plants. Think about fencing the entire fruit planting. Not always a pretty picture. If deer pressure is low to moderate, the odor repellents offer some temporary help.

4. Use dwarfing root stocks to control plant size wherever it make sense. Good size controlling rootstocks exist for apple, pear, and sweet cherry. Not so for peach and other tree fruits. I know, they sell them….but we don’t recommend them. You can control peach size by proper pruning.

5. Consider the brambles (raspberry and blackberry), blueberries, currents and strawberries before the tree fruits. They require less space, yield very well and come into production more quickly. They event tolerate a little shade.

6. Soil test, adjust soil pH and nutrient levels and work in organic matter into the entire planting site prior to planting. Dropping some amendments into the planting hole does not do the job. Spend the time and money to prepare the site well, even if this means delaying your planting one year. In the long run, you’ll be ahead.

7. Our local garden centers are great places to by many kinds of plants and supplies… but in my opinion, they are not the place to buy perennial fruit plants. Buy directly from the best mail-order nurseries (not those listed in the Sunday newspaper). The Penn State fruit publication has an extensive list of good nurseries.

8. Plant as early as possible in spring. Frosts are not a problem for the plants. Frosts will potentially affect bloom … but that’s down the road a bit.

9. Be realistic about pest control. Strawberries, blueberries, currents and the brambles have minimal pest problems and they are generally manageable with organic or low impact pest control measures. The tree fruits and grapes are a different story. Be prepared to make multiple pesticide sprays on these species or you will not be rewarded with anything edible.

10. Pay attention to cross pollination needs. There is not enough room here to go into the details. See references for guidance. Don’t worry about bees. Plant it and they will come.