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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pruning Grapes, Sage, Muscadines

Ozarks Gardening Feb 16, 2011
Jim Long

Garden Fever

It may not feel like it with all the deep freeze cold and snow we’ve had, but it’s garden planning time. Mid-February to mid-March is the best time to plant peas, onions and potatoes if you want the best growth and the fewest insect problems. Ozarks tradition dictates peas be planted by Valentine’s Day, but I didn’t accomplish it this year. My garden was still under several inches of snow that day. Next week will be soon enough.

Potatoes, as I’ve mentioned in this column every winter for almost two decades, will tolerate a lot of cold in the spring. The earlier they are planted, the better you will avoid potato beetles. Onions too, benefit from early planting.

February is also the ultimate month for pruning grapevines and muscadines. Why so early? Because as soon as the daytime temperatures start easing upward, the sap rises in grapevines. If you wait too long to prune, the vines will “bleed” sap, sometimes gallons a day, for a week or more. Early pruning while the weather is still cold will prevent that.

This is also the month to prune back sage and lavender plants. Both herbs should be if cut back by two thirds in early spring before new growth begins to prevent die-out of the center of the plants. Hard pruning also encourages more vigorous growth and blooming.

Getting rid of garden debris such as last year’s old tomato plants, cornstalks and squash vines is good to get done now, as well. Last year’s pests have over wintered in the garden debris, so take them off of the garden space and burn or compost them. If you can till up the soil now it will help expose some of the Japanese beetle grubs, squash bugs and other pests that will soon awaken and start gnawing away at your produce.

I scatter my first planting of lettuce and radishes at the end of February, with additional seeding every two or three weeks. That way I have a continuous supply of salad greens and when planting early, the pests aren’t a problem, either.

You can find links to past columns, photos and previous Ozarks Gardening columns from this newspaper at my on-line blog (a blog is a web diary): Happy gardening.

Pruning Sage, grapes, lavender

Ozarks Gardening
Jim Long

February is the Month to Prune

It was warm on Saturday and I felt the need to be in the garden, even if for a short while. Sunshine in the garden is always healing to me, and with Valentine’s Day coming up, I wanted to observe that long standing Ozarks tradition by getting my peas planted before February 14.

With the potato fork, I dug a row at the base of the cattle panel where I had Missouri Wonder beans last summer. I emptied the peas into a can with some water to get the seed wet, poured the water off and put in a tablespoon of compost and jiggled the can to coat the seed. This works as well as buying the seed inoculant the seed companies recommend, and either one improves the germination. Then I planted a double row of peas, one on either side of the cattle panel. This particular variety, “Mr. Big” is much like Mr. Lincoln in that the vines get about four feet tall and need some support. Next I will plant Laxton’s Progress and Wando, two old favorites.

I turned my attention to the grapes, which are trained on an overhead arbor near my herb shop. The main trunks of the grapes are about seven feet high and I cut the vines back to those main trunks each year. February is the time to trim grapes, and with a pair of Fiskars loppers it only took me about ten minutes to do that job.

This is the month, also, to prune sage, lavender, green and gray santolina (sometimes mistakenly called “lavender cotton”) and winter savory. I could prune all of those plants while sitting on the edge of the raised bed.

I stuck a yard stick in the garden sage and photographed it and the pruning process is posted on my garden blog. The sage plants were twenty four inches tall and I pruned them back to seven inches. Lots of new growth is coming up at the base and by pruning the plants each spring, they never die out in the center like they do if left unpruned.

The lavender plants got the same treatment. I also posted a photo of the pruning of those on the blog, as I get lots of questions from readers about just how far to cut these plants back. Generally people are too timid in their pruning and wind up cutting an inch or two from the ends of the limbs, which is not nearly enough. If you look at the photos on the garden blog, you will see the lavender plants started off being nineteen inches tall. I cut everything  down to the newly emerging growth. The photo shows the newly pruned lavender has been cut back to seven inches tall, the same as the sage.

Then I trimmed back the rest of the sage and lavender plants and had just enough energy left to prune the winter savory. It clings to the edge of the rock wall where my herbs grow and it, also, was about nineteen inches tall. When I finished pruning, it was down to just five inches in height.

Now as the days begin to warm and lengthen, these newly pruned plants will put out new growth and in summer they will bloom well. In a few weeks I will scatter some compost and about one half cup of lime around each plant, being careful to not dig it into the soil as the roots of all of these are near the surface and easily damaged. That’s all the care they need for this year except to sit back and watch them grow. But I’d used up my energy and had to take a nap.

If you want to see the photos of how these plants are pruned, go to this address on the internet:  Questions and comments are always welcome by contacting me at Happy gardening!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Indoor Plants

Here's what the garden looks like today (above). And  yesterday. And the day before. All week it's been frozen. It all looks pretty bleak.
Some of the plants I'm growing: Allspice, Cinnamon, Kaffir Lime, Curry Tree and others.

But if I step back just a few feet from that view, here's what I can see, so I thought I'd write about some of the indoor plants I grow. I'm working on my Keynote presentation on Cutting Edge Plants that I'll be presenting to the Michigan Herb Associates conference in Michigan next month and will use some of the photos of the plants you see here.
Dancing Tea Plant (Codariocalys motorius X Ohashi leguminosae)
Some of the plants I grow are rather hard to come by, such as the Udorn Dancing Tea, above. This plant is known for its ability to move when sound is nearby. If you search YouTube for the words, "Dancing Tea" you'll find videos of a dancing tea with a radio nearby playing music. The top leaflets of the plant, "dance" in motion with music (or speaking). It's a medicinal tea plant from Thailand and is not the happiest of plants indoors but so far is hanging on. It likes part shade in the herb bed in summer. You can watch the video here.

This is an unusual bush variety of Piper nigrum from Thailand. Most black peppers are vines.
The black pepper plant has pepper berries about to start ripening. Yes, the same peppercorns you use when you sprinkle black pepper on your breakfast eggs.
True Curry Tree (Murraya koenigii) is used in Indian cooking and usually fried in hot oil.
I learned to appreciate the curry tree when I was in India a few years ago. It's essential to many Indian dishes.

Leaves of Kaffir Lime (Citrus hystrix) are used in cooking.
Kaffir lime isn't especially rare but it's also not a common houseplant. It will accept regular pruning and you can freeze the leaves for use later, although the fresh ones are best. I learned to use kaffir lime leaves in both cooked and uncooked dishes when at the Bopai Cooking School in Bangkok.
Allspice and Lemon Bay Rum
The allspice and bay rum will grow into small trees, about the size of a small redbud tree or a large lilac bush but I keep mine pruned to indoor size. In the summer they go outdoors on the deck. I like to crush the leaves and season dishes, especially desserts or whipped cream.
Culantro (Eryngium foetidum), also known as Vietnamese Coriander
You'll find the leaves of culantro next to a dish of pho in a Vietnamese restaurant. The plant is native to the Americas but it has found its way into many Asian countries' cuisines. It requires constant moisture from underneath and heavy shade. It's a biennial and you can see the seed clusters at the top so I'll save seed and replant. If you like cilantro, you will also like culantro, and like cilantro, is used fresh, not cooked.

There are quite a few more plants in another plant window, cinnamon, Okinawa spinach, lemongrass, and others, but you might find these interesting:
 I brought this Pin Cushion Plant (Nertera granadensi) back from Florida.
Money Tree (Pachira aquatica), once the source of paper for currency in Asian countries.
Every time I write about tropical or indoor plants in my newspaper columns I receive questions about keeping them insect free. Here's what I use, which is a kind of super fine oil spray. I take my plants outdoors about once a month and spray them all, stems, leaves, tops of soil and edges of plants, with the oil spray at the rate recommended on the label. The oil isn't toxic to humans or pets, is approved for organic uses, and simply smothers the insects and their eggs, including: white fly, scale insect, red spider and mealy bugs.
It's only available in quarts and will make about 12 gallons of spray (as I recall). There are 2 mail order sources that I know of: and Green Island Distributors.

Nearly all of my plants are seasoning or food plants, although the Money Tree and Pincushion Plants aren't. Here's one more, that as far as I know isn't edible, although it does eat other things itself, like flies and gnats.
This is in the Nepenthaceae plant family. The little pitchers should be kept half full of water to help attract insects.
So while the snow melts, I'm looking indoors at the greenery and life that will eventually move outdoors. I'm glad there are people who like snow and winter. White has never been a favorite color and falling down and sliding down the driveway on my backside has never been a favorite activity, either. Happy gardening!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Renee's Garden Fundraiser Project

Ozarks Gardening
Jim Long

Renee Shepherd of Renee’s Gardens told me this week she’s started a new seed project aimed at school gardens and other nonprofit groups. It’s a really great idea and I thought some of our readers might be interested.

Around the U.S. there are many schools that have added school garden projects, specifically in grades K-6. Schools are being pressured by parents and interested groups to change the school lunch programs in an effort to fight obesity. The schools are trying to offer healthier meals that aren’t deep fried junk food, but that include fresh fruit and vegetables.

I recently ran across a Magnate School in Jonesboro, Arkansas that has raised beds in which the children grow a variety of vegetables. (The school’s focus is health and nutrition). In a dozen 3 by 10 feet beds the children are growing lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, squashes, herbs and lots more. There are additional raised beds, as well and the school has a teaching kitchen with work tables and stove, sink and refrigerator, where each of the six grades learn about preparing what they grow.

This new project of Renee’s is meant to support schools like the one in Jonesboro as well as other nonprofit groups around the nation. What she offers is this: go to her website and click on this link: and sign up your organization for the fundraising project. You’ll receive a very brief form asking the name and purpose of your nonprofit organization, and who will be responsible.

Once you have signed up, you’ll receive your own coupon code for the organization, along with a press release you can use to advertise your project. Your organization refers your members, or the public, to Renee’s website. Your organization then receives 25% of the price of all of the seed ordered using that coupon code. (What a deal! You’re going to order seed anyway, why not use your purchase to support your own organization’s fundraiser?)

This is a year around fundraiser so you can promote it in your organizations’ newsletters throughout the year. If you have not visited before, check out her seed varieties. I especially like her selections. She does something that most seed companies fail to do, which is offering mixtures of seed. For example, she includes yellow, white and green bush squash together in one packet. Radishes include several colors in one package; lettuces can be ordered as individual varieties or several in one packet. I’ve used her seed for years and highly recommend her offerings. And this new fundraiser program is a great idea for just about any kind of nonprofit organization wanting to raise money for their group.

Here is the information from Renee's Seed:
Fax to: 831-335-7227
Email to: (put "Fundraiser" in the subject line)
Mail to:
Fundraising Program
6060A Graham Hill Rd.
Felton, CA 95018