Mint – a multi-purpose plant

Ah, summer is here, at least that is what the calendar says. My idea of summer is sitting on the porch with a cool glass of any iced drink to which mint has been added. No matter how hot it is,  mint makes it feel so much cooler.

Mint is very versatile. It enhances food, is used in cosmetics and medicines, and is often considered a weed as it is so easy to grow. No matter whether mint is native or hybridized, it is easily recognized by its fragrance and its unique square stem. The most popular, of course, are spearmint (Mentha spicata) and peppermint (M.piperita), though Applemint (M. suaveolens) is rapidly catching up to the first two.

USING MINT

In Kentucky, the most familiar use of spearmint is as the mint in Mint Julep at Derby Time. One preferred variety is actually called “Kentucky Colonel.” Spearmint is preferred over peppermint for its more subtle flavor, which accounts for its widespread use in foods from the Middle East, such as Lebanon and Iran, to this country.

Other flavored mints include Chocolate mint (a hit of spearmint, mostly used for desserts), Basil mint, lavender mint, licorice mint, and these fruity mints.

  • apple – less invasive and sweeter than most;
  • citrus – lemony, used in Asian dishes;
  • ginger – spicy, spearmint-like’
  • orange – strong flavor
  • grapefruit – subtle flavor
  • pineapple – variegated green and white foliage, mostly ornamental.

There is also pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), for which the Pennyrile Region was named. An American plant in the area is called False Pennyroyal (Hedeoma pulegioides) and resembles the European species. Both can be lethal if ingested and yet are very soothing to the skin. In fact, rub any mint leaf on a bee sting and it will ease the pain. 

Liberally cut mint for fresh use or freeze any time of the year. Its essence peaks just before it starts to flower.

GROWING MINT

Mint is not a large family in the Plant Kingdom, but it is found world-wide. That means that different mints have different needs: some require wet soil and are often found along creek banks, pools, and lakes, while others  need well-drained or even very dry soil. Some like full sun; others like partial shade. Most have long, serrated leaves, though leaves may be oval or fuzzy.

The commonly grown varieties of mint prefer damp sites. Online catalog companies are generally sold out of seeds, but the more common plants still are available. Here are some ways to propagate it:

  1. The simplest way to propagate is pull up a handful of mint, cut in half, break the soil surface, water well, place the roots on the soil, cover with soil, and tamp down.
  2. Or, cut the top six inches, remove all but the top two sets of leaves, and stick in water. When root begin to form, plant in a container. Place the container on a hard surface and repot when roots grow out of the pot.

Be careful, though: Mint stolons (the root system) can spread 20 feet or more. Plant different varieties far apart or keep in pots, otherwise they will cross-breed and cancel out each other’s flavor.

Sources

  • Friends
  • local nurseries and garden centers (currently limited varieties)
  • Growers Exchange (thegrowers-exchange.com) mints listed above, native herbs, etc. $6.95. Ships in late August

Gardening Tips for July

“If it rains on the first ‘Dog Day’ (July 3), it will rain for forty days.”

From Secrets of a Kentucky Gardener by Karen Angelucci


15 Minutes gardening

Prevent herbs from going to flower or seed. Snip a handful of herbs, rinse, chop, fill ice cube trays and freeze to use in summer drinks or winter stews.

Garden

  •  Deadhead to force flowering plants to fool the plants in producing more flowers.
  • Daylilies: As they cease blooming divide and replant.
  • Ivy: Thicken ivy by watering it with a mix of ¼ teaspoon ammonia to a gallon of water every two weeks.
  • Hollyhocks: Condition hollyhocks by putting the cut stem in boiling water for a few seconds.
  • Container Gardening  Keep container plants moist. Watering at night  allows the plant to soak up water and start the day well hydrated. Bury the end of one end of wet cotton rope in the container plant’s soil and the other in a container of water. Place ice cubes on container plant soil to give it slow release water.
  •  No more moth balls: Once a popular animal repellent, never use moth balls around plants to control or repel animals. They are EPA-certified only for use in a sealed container for clothes moths only. The ingredients are not initially poisonous but can cause serious problems that can be lethal.
  • Beware of commercial compost: Do not use commercial compost if you garden organically. Insecticides may have been used on the composted plant material and they may break down or not.
  • Conditioning hollyhocks and dahlias, immediately place cut stems in water. Recut, dip in boiling water and then singe the stem ends.

Vegetables

  • Watermelons contain lots of water, but do not need excess water as they originated in arid areas and are adapted to storing water. Reduce water are they start to mature and avoid getting leaves wet as to reduce rot.
  • Garlic: Cut flowering society garlic to the ground to prevent going to seed. The seed have a high germination rate and soon will invade other plants. Cut flowering stems to dry readily for fall decorating.
  • Harvest herbs by cutting back at least 1/3. Sweet marjoram, oregano, sweet thyme and thyme respond to cutting to the ground. Gather bunches with elastic to hold them as the stems shrink and using a drapery hook, hang in a cool, airy, dark place to dry.
  • Tomatoes need 6 hours of full sun for best production. Big Girl tomato plant (Burpee) requires only 5 hours of sun.
  • Plant pumpkin (90-120 days to mature) until July. Soak the seed 6-24 hours before planting to soften the hard-shelled seed. As the fruit grows, inscribe a design or drawing for special Halloween decorations.

Lawn

  • Replace mower blades and have the old sharpened. Keep beds clean and cut grass from piling up around trees, mow away from the tree trunks.

Trees

  • Protect the trunks: String weeders are wonderful when edging beds and walks but can be deadly to trees when they break the bark, permitting insects and disease to enter. To prevent damage, place a one-liter plastic drink bottle around the base of the trunk. Cut off the top and bottom of the bottle, and slit along one side. Secure in place by mounding mulch or dirt on the outside.
  • Crape myrtles: Now is the time to start planting crape myrtles as they love hot soil. The Crape Myrtle Company (crapemyrtle.com) recommends feeding them now and early August with 10-10-10 as they are heavy feeders.
  • “Ann” Magnolia soulangeana (tulip magnolia)is a rebloomer. Not as many blooms as in the spring, but still a delight to see.
  • Pruning: Finish pruning spring flowering plants by the end of July.

June Garden Tasks

THINGS TO DO

15 Minute – Cat Gardening (plus 10-14 days of growing time)– Cats are known to nibble on house plants that may not be safe for them. While barley, oat, rye, and wheat aid their digestion, they  may contain ingredients that are not necessarily safe for cats. Pet store kits are much more reliable and contain seeds, soil, and potting container.

Garden – Those pesky weeds still are out there and multiplying overnight. Leave some iris stalks for fall designs.

Sharing flowers with friends is a thoughtful gesture but to avoid allergies or COVID, call first. As an alternate, send pictures of individual flowers and bouquets.

Trees and shrubs – Warm and wet spring have produced fast-growing branches.  Privet is a fast-growing, dramatic shrub when in bloom in May and June. When blooms start to fade, cut back to shape and prevent setting seed. Each flower produces a seed that will readily germinate, and this plant is on the invasive species list for Kentucky. If you like to prune, this is the hedge for you. Even if you cut too much, it will regrow readily.

Prune the bloomed-out branches of bush honeysuckle and spirea  to keep their shape and produce buds for next year. Dig or pull up tree saplings. Dig buckeyes straight down to get the entire tap root. If some remains, it will regenerate before you can blink your eyes.

Vegetables – Keep a record of plants that attract insects, those that don’t, and little tricks to improve their growth and harvest. Companion plant radishes, and spread wood ash around onions to deter onion maggots. Check for slugs, and place strips of copper or builders sand around the plants they enjoy. Replace plants with those that insects don’t like: with basil, parsley, sage, and beans, corn, chard, pumpkin, and sunflower.

An old gardeners’ adage is that perimeter plant the garden with marigolds to deter insects. It is lovely, but it is not an effective insect repellant. However, daffodils will deter ground burrowing animals as the bulbs contain toxins. The first year the burrowers will discover the bulbs, and thereafter they will avoid.

Hanging Baskets

When Mother Nell (Mrs. James Smith) lived in her home Bide-a-Wee in Paducah a century ago, she was the first to have hanging baskets of Boston ferns on her front porch. To all who travel through Paducah today, her home is best known as Whitehaven Welcome Center (I-24, exit 7).

Nothing adds more welcome to a home quite the same as hanging baskets. The secret is that they are hanging at eye level much as you would hang a picture, and that immediately gets guests’ attention, who don’t have to look down to enjoy colorful beds. For you, it’s easy to change out their colors and designs and to maintain them.

Create a several-month basic design with seasonal plants can be replaced. Select tall, vining and fluffy annuals and perennials that can be changed during the season. Include Iva Lace, sweet potato vine, or creeping thyme to hide the container. The volume will give the impression of a larger container than it really is. Hardy plants give different texture in the winter.

Plants should be have the same environmental requirements. For sunny locations, plant verbena, moss rose, geranium, marigold, bacopa (and shade) for its delicate blooms. For shade, plant tuberous begonia and impatiens, and of course, ferns.

A Garden of White

To get the greatest value from your landscape plants, they should contribute to the beauty of the yard at least three seasons of the year. To increase the yard’s usage beyond daylight hours, you can add a ‘third’ season that extends use into the evening.

Of all of the attribute of plants, it is color that gets and holds our attention. In the early to middle 1900s, English gardener Vita Sackville-West promoted planting what she called ‘grey, white and green plants’. She included in her list whites that open pink or turned a light pink as they matured and plants with variegated foliage.

White or light blooms and light or variegated foliage reflect ambient light in the nighttime garden, extending the beauty and use of the garden without adding more plants.

A full moon on white, silvery or light blooms will shine as though spotlighted. The Cornus kousa (Korean dogwood) is in full bloom backed by dark green foliage. Even with moderate light it needs no spots to show off at night. Dwarf Spirea ‘Limelight’ foliage is light green, but it is enhanced by vivid purple iris, and its deep green foliage is a perfect foil for the spirea.

Sackville’s “White Garden” balanced white with a wide variety of green, from soft mossy grey to pure green. She believed in clumps of foliage to allow the eye to focus on the whites. Among her favorites were candytuft, moon flower, calla, Thalia daffodil, and fragrant snowdrop, all of which are easily obtainable and grow well here. Also, Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’, Clematis ‘Duchess of Edinburgh’(Springhill Nursery), Thymus ‘Silver Posie’, To achieve the same effect as  her large border plants,  add hydrangea and peonies.

A white garden does not add more work or plants, but rewards you with a spectacular evening garden, especially on a moonlit night.

Things to do in your yard in May

15-Minute Gardening– Save coffee pods for seed starters. Empty grounds, rinse, fill with damp starting soil, sprinkle seed and cover with a thin layer of mix. Place in a clear plastic container in which holes have been punch for a green house. Use a permanent marker to write the name and planting date on the handle of a plastic fork or knife.

For a child’s plant starter, super glue the bottoms of two pods, poke holes in the ‘bottom’ of one pod, draw a face on the other, thread a pipe cleaner through for arms, and plant.

Mother’s Day – Gardening is a healthy form of exercise. Share your love of gardening without sharing disease. Order certificates, plants, containers, and/or tools for Mother’s Day or special friend. Many online and local nurseries are having weekly spring discounts

Garden – Weed. If the ground is dry, water the day before. Pinch the weed at ground level and gently tug.  Taproot weeds need to be dug out or torched. Use a small propane torch to wilt the foliage that will dehydrate the roots killing the plant. If it is not killed in a few days, repeat.

Houseplants – Still too cool to cold to leave houseplants out overnight. If not too burdensome, take out each day that will be in the 70s, place in a wind protected area and bring inside each night, or cover with a sheet.

Lawn – Mow a different direction each time you mow. Mow in late afternoon and no more than 3 inches off the grass blades each time to reduce stress.

Carolyn Roof, the Sun’s gardening columnist, at carolynroof02@gmail.com

Caring for Roses

It seems as though for the past few years, spring has snuck up on most of us – it is not supposed to happen in January or February, and then it is catch up time the rest of the year. Daffodils were gorgeous, but came two to three weeks early, followed by all spring flowering bloomers and weeds at the same time while avoiding coronavirus.

Coronavirus has had a major impact on gardening and the flower industry, from spring planting to social events (proms, weddings, Mother’s Day, etc.), just as it has been shut down just as so many other imports have.

If you want to give Mother and other ladies cut roses for their special occasions, it may be too late by now. Don’t despair, however; present her with a Patio, Miniature or other container rose instead or along with a single rose(s).

We just are cool enough that bare root roses can be planted (40-60 degrees). Dig the planting hole using a pointed spade, dig the hole deep enough that a small mound of soil/compost/well-rotted manure can form a mound in the center. In the meantime, soak the roots several hours to one day to rehydrate. Place in the hole so that the new growth is just at the soil level, fill, water and add more mix the next day if needed.

Prepare the planting hole for container roses the same way. Remove the rose by tapping on the container edges, cut into the root ball and roots starting to girdle, splay out and place on the mixture mound.

Patio and Miniature roses may be grown in appropriate-size decorative containers one to two sizes large that the rose’s container. Line with moist moss and ‘plant’ in the decorative container. A friend gave his wife a Patio rose for Mother’s Day and put a new bow on it each Mother’s Day. She loved it.

Gardening Tips – April

15 minutes– Install a rain gauge and keep record of the weekly amount of rain in your garden journal. It is a great project for school children. Most plants need at least 1” of rain a week, more during droughts.

In Your Garden

  • Many spring flowers are early and dying due to heat. Deadhead by cutting back to a leaf bud.
  • Daffodils – Cut daffodil stems (for the flowers only) to the ground and allow foliage to die back to 2/3rds and yellow before cutting. Do not fold or braid the foliage as flowers die; the foliage is producing buds for next year.
  • Order spring bulbs for fall planting. A good sources are brentandbeckysbulbs.com and scheepersbulbs.com.
  • Prune back last year’s perennials. If more than 2/3rds of the plant is dead, remove and plant replacements. Sow morning glories.
  • Prune roses back to live canes, remove winter mulch, and fertilize established plants when leaves are 2” long leaves. If black spot was a problem last year, remove any dropped leaves and start black spot spray program.
  • Install soaker hoses and cover with mulch to hide the hoses and keep the ground moist.
  • Make a list of gaps that need filling with shrubs, perennials and bulbs. Take you ‘need list’ with you when visiting your nursery or ordering online. It will save you time and avoid mistakes.
  • Purchase bedding plants that are compact, typical foliage color and with a few flowers to indicate flower color. Plant tags are not always accurate.
  • For Your Lawn: Mow at the highest setting when the ground is dry enough that the mower wheel do not leave impressions in the soil.

Trees and shrubs

Do not prune boxwood until after last change of a hard freeze. Late April check foliage for leaf miner and spray with an insecticide if adults are present. Treat larvae late June with a foliar insecticide.

Dispose of cedar-apple galls on junipers before they produce a jelly-like sticky orange spore-producing substance. The galls are not harmful to junipers but do spread rust disease to apples and other apple family members.

Vegetables – Planting by Phenology

Instead of planting by the calendar, use phenology (plants whose activities usually coincide):

  • When lilac leaves are the size of mouse ears,  plant peas and lettuce.
  • When dandelions are blooming, plant spinach, beets and carrots.
  • When daffodils bloom, plant peas and direct plant Swiss chard, sweet corn and mustard.

Garden Tips – February

Ice and Snow and cold

  • So far, we have experienced one of the lowest winter snow accumulations, but we still have two months of possible snowfall. If we get enough snow to weigh down branches, remove it by using a broom underneath to repeatedly but gently lift the branches. If branches are weighted by ice, allow the sun and temperature to melt the ice to avoid snapping the branches. It may take a while for the branches to recover, but they will.
  • Open coldframes when the temperature is over 45 degrees and close at night.

Garden 

  • Look for ‘February Gold’ daffodil to emerge by mid-month, along with other early blooming spring bulbs.
      • When a freeze is predicted, cover with a loose layer of leaves or a light-weight sheet overnight.
      • Pull back matted leaf mulch to check on spring bulbs. If its foliage is white to pale, remove the leaves to expose the new foliage to the sun.
  • Cut back last year’s perennial stems.
  • Remove ivy from brick structures as it damages the mortar. Repair trellises and other support structures.
  • ROSES: Order bare-root roses to plant mid-March to mid-April. Add 3” woodchip mulch to roses to keep the soil warm.

Houseplants

  • Take cutting of geraniums for planting in May. Continue to mist and check for insects.
  • Cut back poinsettias to 4-6”.

Trees

  • Order northern-grown deciduous and evergreen plants to guarantee hardiness. Plant when the ground is workable.

Vegetables

  • Thomas Jefferson’s initial planting of English peas was February 1, with harvest mid-May. Successive seeding gave him peas to mid-July.
  • To know when to seed, check the seed packet that notes the number of days from seeding to planting out. Count back from mid-April, our last average frost date, to determine when to plant indoors.
  • Mid-February, plant spinach.

GARDEN TIP

When using a potting soil that contains sphagnum moss, wear gloves or wash your hands often, as the moss carries a fungal disease that enters the skin through cuts and scratches.

Garden Tips – Winter Work

Outside in the Garden

  • Neaten up the garden and edge beds.
  • Rake soil and scatter collected seeds.
  • Make notes as to plants to replace and areas to fill in this spring.
  • Place pines and other evergreens prunings (except holly that dries prickly) on beds to protect plants and give a cleaner look.
  • If fully dormant and in the wrong place, roses may be transplanted through January, if the ground is not wet or frozen and temperature above 32 degrees. Cut canes to 3-4 feet, pre-dig the new site, plant and mound 8-12 inches around the base. Cut back rose canes to prevent whipping, then mulch.

Houseplants

Fiddle Leaf Fig is a great architectural addition to any style home. The tropical plant requires little attention, loves our warm homes, bright light, water when the top layer of soil is dry, and fed (10-4-6) during the growing season (March through October). It is vulnerable to the usual houseplant pests. At first sign, wipe the waxy leaves with1/2 teaspoon to 1-gallon water mix, and to clean the leaves occasionally. Fertilize miniature roses in bloom monthly with 20-20-20.

Trees and Shrubs

Location! Trees and shrubs grow. Take into consideration the maximum height and width when planting. Always read the planting label for dimensions as well as other environmental requirements. Do not plant anything wider than the strip between the sidewalk and street, nor plants under power lines that will reach 15 feet tall. Consider line-of-sight when planting either side of the drive and the corner. Plant 10-15 feet from the street depending on the maintained or mature size of the plants.

In winter, the soil is often workable enough to pull or dig seedlings and saplings under trees and shrubs. Repot or transplant useful ones, winter over by mulching with leaves and securing with bird netting. In the spring, share with friends.