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Tales from a Plant Addict

Fun (& a few serious) facts, tips and tricks for every gardener, new and old.
Garden Grab Bag

Homegrown Tomatoes

Any tomato lover can relate to the statement that nothing quite matches the taste of a homegrown tomato. The factors that contribute to that delicious flavor may surprise you—or at least make you appreciate great tasting tomatoes even more! Tomatoes will not ripen properly in daytime high temperatures above about 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Researcher's evidence suggests that night temperatu...

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Chile Peppers

Language is a funny thing. Mention chile peppers, and many people assume you are talking about some burning hot pepper that only a mouth made of steel can tolerate. Technically speaking, the term "chile" includes all the fruits we call peppers, even those that are not considered "hot", like bell and banana peppers. Apparently the confusion stems from Christopher Columbus, who assumed th...

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Seedless Watermelon

While you celebrate the birth of our great nation this 4 th of July weekend, you may ponder this eternal question while enjoying a delicious slice of watermelon -- if seedless watermelons have no seed, where do you get the seed to plant it? Japanese plant breeders developed the first seedless watermelons over fifty years ago. Understanding the process requires basic knowledge...

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Each summer we look forward to seeing hummingbirds buzzing around our backyard. Hummingbirds are uniquely "American"; they are found only in the Western Hemisphere, in North and South America. There are between 325 and 340 species of hummingbirds in the world, depending on how the birds are classified. Most of these nearly 340 species live in the tropics. Seventeen species regularly nes...

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Slow Gardening

Modern life shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. If anything, modern conveniences allow us to pack more activity into each day, usually in the form of "multitasking". Science tells us that the brain can only perform one task at a time effectively, but still our modern sensibilities tell us we are not productive citizens unless we are doing five things at once! If we're not carefu...

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Wild Violets

As a young girl I had a different sense of what constituted a "weed". I would make gardens by transplanting various volunteer plants I found sprouting up in the garden or the yard. This got me into plenty of trouble! Most of the time what I cultivated was a carefully manicured garden of weeds, or occasionally flowers grown from seed. One of the plants I routinely transplanted from our y...

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Easter Lily-- Lilium longiflorum

This Easter, many people will buy an Easter lily or two. What do Bermuda, World Wars I and II, and Japan have to do with Easter lilies? As it turns out, they have quite a lot to do with the lilies we associate with Easter. Historically, lilies have appeared in art, mythology, and literature, particularly the Bible, as a symbol of purity, hope, and life. Traditionally, Christian churches...

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Passion Flower

My first encounter with a passion flower plant was back in high school when I succumbed to a display at my local garden center. The display promised beautiful passion flower plants easily grown from seed, and prominently featured was a gorgeous picture of a passion flower. I remember the seeds were packaged in yellow plastic eggs, and the package showed a cartoon of a very happy gardener and a...

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Florigraphy (the meaning of flowers)

When sending flowers for Valentine's Day, most people automatically think of roses. In the language of florigraphy, or meanings attached to specific flowers, the rose symbolizes love and passion. Different colors and numbers of roses have slightly different meanings. But maybe you want to do something new and different this year. Or maybe an often-expensive rose arrangement just doesn't fit you...

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Resurrection Plant or Fern

Nearly ten years ago, a sign advertising a "miracle fern" caught my eye at a garden center. The plant being advertised, Selaginella lepidophylla , doesn't look like much, just a little cluster of brown, dead looking leaves. But place it in a shallow dish of water, and overnight, like magic, the leaves unfurl, and become green. Take it out of the water, and as it dries it reverts to the...

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Mention growing Ficus , and many people assume you mean the houseplant that is a small tree native to Southeast Asia. But they're only partially right. Ficus is an enormous genus of plants containing over 800 species. Some species are trees, but others are shrubs and vines. The common name for this genus is Fig, which does include the species Ficus carica , comm...

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Master Gardeners Help Others Learn to Grow

The idea for the Master Gardener program began in 1971 with two overwhelmed horticulture educators from Washington State University Extension, David Gibby and Bill Scheer. Their jobs were to bring urban and commercial horticulture programming to the major metropolitan areas surrounding Seattle and Tacoma, Washington. They soon discovered that with the rapid growth of...

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Gifts for Gardeners

In my opinion, if you have a gardener to shop for this holiday season, you will find no shortage of ideas for gifts. There are many options out there, but my favorites are items that solve some common problems experienced by gardeners of any level. A great gift for your favorite gardener is a high quality pair of gardening gloves. A good pair will cost around $20 or more. I had a hard t...

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Mistletoe Part 2-- The Legends

There are lots of legends told about mistletoe, but the familiar association with Christmas has its roots in Europe. The ancient Druids used a golden sickle to cut mistletoe from their most-revered tree, the oak as part of ceremonies celebrating fertility that included human sacrifice. Looking to the Druids for a direct link to kissing your sweetie at Christmas seems a bit of a challenge....

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Mistletoe Part 1-- The Parasitic Plant

We may associate mistletoe with kisses during the holiday season, but mistletoe is a bully in the plant world. OK, technically it is a parasite. But practically speaking it is like a schoolyard bully looking for a victim to steal lunch money from. There is a lot more to mistletoe than I ever thought. Honestly, my experience with mistletoe is limited to the artificially-colored preserved...

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"Bonsai" trees appear in all sorts of stores as we near the Holidays. You may find them at a garden center, you may find them at the local big-box store or discount club. I was fascinated by bonsai the first time I saw some for sale at a local nursery in high school. They were as cute as could be—perfect trees in miniature. I surrendered $15 of my hard earned babysitting money and took...

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Black Walnut

Plants have evolved some pretty interesting ways of insuring their own existence in the world. One tactic that fascinates me is allelopathy, which means that one plant harms another with chemicals it produces. A common example, and one that plagues homeowners is the black walnut, Juglans nigra , a tree native to eastern North America, including Illinois. All parts of black walnu...

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Apple Cider

Despite the proliferation of all the "pumpkin spice" flavored foods this time of year, apple cider is another flavor that says fall is here. A common question I've received is: "What is the difference between apple cider and apple juice? Aren't they the same thing?" The answer is "It depends." I hated it when one of my favorite professors in grad school would answer questions with this...

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Garden Spider Argiope aurantia

There are certain topics that we field questions on quite regularly at the Extension office each growing season. Unusually large insects fit this category-- they are something that stop a lot of homeowners in their tracks and prompt them to bring us a specimen or send us a picture, usually with worried commentary about whether the creature is dangerous to them or their garden. As the gr...

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Bottle Trees

Like me, you've probably seen them in many gardening catalogs this year, and at craft fairs and art shows in the area. They seem to be the "in" thing for the fashionable garden in the last few years: bottle trees. The concept is simple—a metal tree-like form, or even a dead tree itself is the base to hang colorful glass bottles from. The history of these garden ornaments may surprise you....

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Daylily-- Hemerocallis

I am somewhat of a newbie when it comes to daylilies. Growing up, they were on my mom's "do not plant" list, so we never had them in our yard, and I never dared to plant any. She disliked them because the ones she knew only bloomed once, she didn't think the tall foliage was particularly attractive, and they tended to overtake areas. Since I have my own home now, I am free to plant dayl...

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Monarch Butterfly-- Danaus plexippus

The monarch butterfly is probably one of the most recognizable of all the North American butterflies. Undoubtedly most of us have seen monarchs gliding by on many a warm summer day and haven't given them a second thought. But these once common butterflies are becoming increasingly rare. In the mid-1990's, scientists estimated that there were approximately 1 billion monarchs in North Ame...

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Milkweed-- Asclepias spp.

I will admit, some of my best garden plants started out by pure luck and maybe a dash of laziness. Caring for my young son means I don't have the time to weed the garden as often as I probably should. Last summer, a large plant appeared in my garden next to our patio. Initially, I wasn't sure what it was. As it quickly grew, I realized it was common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca . My hus...

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Recycling & Repurposing in the Garden

In his book The $64 Tomato, William Alexander chronicles his quest for the perfect garden at the expense of his sanity and much of his money. Garden centers and catalogs all want to sell you the latest and greatest garden gadgets that promise you the perfect garden. But if one of your reasons to garden, particularly to vegetable garden, is to save money on food costs, buying special garden gadg...

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With spring being the season of Passover and Easter, it seems timely to write an article on hyssop, one of the "bitter herbs" mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. I was somewhat surprised to find that there are several plants commonly referred to as "hyssop", complicating identifying the true identity of this biblical herb. Hyssop is mentioned in several instances...

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