Category Archives: Blog

Fighting the Blues

St. John the Baptist, the New Testament healer, lends his name to St. John’s wort, which blooms during summer near the time of the feast of St. John. This short, yellow-flowering herb, botanically known as Hypericum, has been used since ancient times to treat all nerve-related problems, including depression, a disorder of the central nervous system. The species Hypericum perforatum is said to have the greatest amount of active ingredient for medicinal purposes, but many of the perennial species have at least some.

The aboveground portions of the plant contain the essential oils from which the medicinal qualities of St. John’s wort are derived. Ground-up flowers of St. John’s wort suspended in vegetable oil are used to relieve pain from neurological disorders like tennis elbow and sciatica. When made into a tea, St. John’s wort has been known to relieve symptoms of ulcers, gout, and arthritis. But St. John’s wort is best-known for its effectiveness in the battle against depression, and because there are no recorded side effects from using St. John’s wort, it is fast becoming an alternative to prescription antidepressants.

St. John’s wort is easy to grow and is well suited for a healing or wildflower garden. Its mid-green to blue-green foliage provides an attractive backdrop for the bright yellow flowers with their prominent yellow stamens. Choose a sunny spot in the garden with moist but well-drained soil, and expect your plants to reach two to three feet in height with a spread of at least two feet. With this sunny-yellow healer gracing the garden, you’ll find it hard to keep singing the Blues!

Gardens That Heal

Planting medicinal herbs is an ancient practice. Earliest accounts date back more than 6,000 years, when the Sumerians, a now-extinct civilization, recorded herbs and their medicinal properties on clay tablets. Ancient Chinese, Greek, and Indian healers depended on herbs to prevent and correct imbalances in the body. And the Greek physician Hypocrites, whose oath has been taken by medical practitioners since early times, believed that nature itself was healing. His herbal was filled with plants such as burdock for arthritis and healthy kidney function and blessed thistle for increasing circulation and strengthening the heart and lungs. Pilgrims brought herbs with them to plant in their gardens in the New World and learned from Native Americans how to grow and use the land’s herbal bounty. Today, many people are turning to herbal remedies to avoid the sometimes harmful side effects of prescription drugs, and scientists are increasingly focusing on the natural world for cures for some of our most serious diseases.

Growing your own plants for herbal remedies such as teas and ointments makes the healing garden useful as well as beautiful, and the range of plant material available is surprisingly large. By definition, a healing herb is any plant or part of a plant that can be used to increase health and alleviate distress. Therefore, many plants we don’t traditionally call herbs, such as peonies, apples, and cabbage, are herbs in the medicinal sense because they promote healing. Healing gardens can be large enough to accommodate trees such as ginkgo, whose leaves are said to be effective in improving concentration and easing the symptoms of PMS, and willow (Salix), from whose bark aspirin is derived. Small healing gardens are best filled with perennials like catnip (Nepeta cataria), which when made into a tea relaxes and calms digestive system illnesses. The roots of coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) can be made into a tincture to speed healing of burns or diluted into a tea for help with arthritis pain and toothaches. German chamomile (Matricaria recutita), usually made into a tea, eases tension and reduces fever. The common garlic plant (Allium sativum) has been shown to be effective in reducing cholesterol, ginseng (Panax) guards against stress, and St. John’s wort (Hypericum) relieves depression and also the pain caused by neurological disorders. The list of healing plants is long and varied, and with some research, a veritable pharmacopoeia can be planted in your own backyard.

The healing power of plants is truly a marvel. As the medicinal qualities of some plants can be quite potent, we encourage you to educate yourself before experimenting with herbal remedies. Even if you never make one tea or salve from the plants in your healing garden, the simple acts of planting and working in the garden relieve the stresses of everyday life and impart a positive feeling and sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. It’s no wonder that gardening is America’s number-one hobby.

Plant a Bee-autiful Garden!

More and more gardeners are anxious to plant a bee garden. By planting a bee garden, you too can do your part to help the bees by adding to the shrinking inventory of flower-rich habitat in your area.  In return, the bees will pollinate your flowers, providing a bountiful harvest of fruits, seeds and vegetables as well as the joy of watching them up close. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind as you grow your bee garden:

RETHINK YOUR LAWN

Replace part or all of your front lawn grass with flowering plants, which provides food and habitat for honey bees, bumble bees, solitary bees, butterflies and other pollinators. 

SELECT SINGLE FLOWER TOPS FOR YOUR BEE GARDEN

…such as daisies and marigolds, rather than double flower tops such as double impatiens. Double headed flowers look showy but produce much less nectar and make it much more difficult for bees to access pollen.

SKIP THE HIGHLY HYBRIDIZED PLANTS

…which have been bred not to seed and thus produce very little pollen for bees.

PLAN FOR BLOOMS SEASON-ROUND

Plant at least three different types of flowers in your bee garden to ensure blooms through as many seasons as possible. This will provide bees and other pollinators with a constant source of food.  For example:

  • Crocus, hyacinth, borage, calendula, and wild lilac provide enticing spring blooms in a bee garden.
  • Bees feast on bee balm, cosmos, echinacea, snapdragons foxglove, and hosta in the summer.
  • For fall, zinnias, sedum, asters, witch hazel and goldenrod are late bloomers that will tempt foragers.

BUILD HOMES FOR NATIVE BEES

Leave a patch of the garden in a sunny spot uncultivated for native bees that burrow. Some native bees also need access to soil surface for nesting. For wood- and stem-nesting bees, this means piles of branches, bamboo sections, hollow reeds, or nesting blocks made out of untreated wood. Mason bees need a source of water and mud, and many kinds of bees are attracted to weedy, untended hedgerows.  You can also support our Sponsor-a-Hive program, which places solitary bee homes (and honey bee hives) in school and community gardens across the U.S.

ONLY USE NATURAL PESTICIDES AND FERTILIZERS

Avoid using herbicides or pesticides in the bee garden. They not only can be toxic to bees but also are best not introduced to children or adults that visit your garden. Ladybugs, spiders, and praying mantises will naturally keep pest populations in check.

CREATE A “BEE BATH”

Bees need a place to get fresh, clean water. Fill a shallow container of water with pebbles or twigs for the bees to land on while drinking.  Make sure to maintain the container full of fresh water to ensure that they know they can return to the same spot every day in your bee garden.

LIVE IN A HOME WITHOUT A GARDEN?

You need only a small plot of land for a bee garden—it can even be a window container or rooftop—to create an inviting oasis for bees. Every little bit can help to nurture bees and other pollinators.

https://thehoneybeeconservancy.org/plant-a-bee-garden/

Got Milkweed? Butterflies love this plant and you should too!

MILKWEED BASICS

Milkweeds (Asclepias) get their name from the sticky white sap that oozes from the leaves when they are damaged. More than 100 species of this herbaceous perennial are native to the U.S. and Canada. Many have adapted to different regions of the country and a wide range of climates and terrains, from deserts and rocky areas to marshes and open prairies. Some species grow exclusively in specific regions while others will thrive in just about any habitat.

Types:

Three species of milkweed are good all-around choices for gardens in most regions of the country: common milkweed (A. syriaca), swamp milkweed (A. incarnata), and butterfly weed (A. tuberosa). The last two are highly ornamental and available in a variety of cultivars. To help sustain monarchs and other butterflies, you should plant at least a few milkweed species that are native to your area. Download this milkweed information sheet from Monarch Joint Venture for regional recommendations.

Flower characteristics:

The petite, star-shaped flowers of milkweed are exquisitely designed for pollination. They grow in clusters of five nectar cups, each with incurved horns above the petals. When an insect lands on a flower, its feet slip between the cups and the pollen sacs attach themselves to the legs. When the insect moves to the next flower, the horns collect the pollen. Equally well designed are the large, fluff-filled seed pods that develop from the fertilized flowers. In the fall, these proficient self-sowers split open to release hundreds of seeds borne on silken parachutes.

Height:

2 to 5 feet, depending on the species

Zones:

3-9

Why it’s a must for monarchs:

Milkweed is both a food source and a host plant on which the monarch lays its eggs, depositing them on the underside of the leaves. The larvae then feed on the leaves after hatching, but cause no permanent damage to the plant. In turn, the toxic chemicals contained in the sap of milkweed plants make both the caterpillars and adult butterflies unappetizing to predators. “[During monarch migration] flight is fueled by nectaring on the flowers and is punctuated by laying eggs on milkweeds. To grow and sustain each generation, milkweed is the only food needed,” says Agrawal.

Milkweed’s highly fragrant and nectar-rich flowers are an enticement for other pollinators as well. Frequent visitors include native bees, honey bees, many other types of butterflies, and hummingbirds. Read more about the best perennials for pollinators.

GROWING MILKWEED

Where to plant:

Most milkweeds require full sun (at least 6 to 8 hours a day). Because they self-seed readily, locate your plants in a part of the garden where you can better control their rampant spread, such as at the back of the border or in a corner. A spot that’s protected from the wind will also help prevent the spread of seeds while providing a more hospitable environment for butterflies.

When to plant:

If you’re planting milkweed from seed, sow the seeds outdoors in the fall, which will give them the period of stratification (exposure to cold, moist conditions) they need to encourage spring germination and ensure a good display of flowers the following summer. If you purchase starter plants, plant them in the spring after the danger of frost has passed.

Soil:

The best soil type for milkweed often depends on its native habitat. Most varieties are extremely forgiving and will grow well in average garden soil. Swamp milkweed is an exception and requires moist, humus-rich soil.

How to plant:

To ensure successful germination of milkweed seeds, plant them in a smooth, clump-free soil bed worked to a fine consistency using a rake or rototiller. After you’ve sown the seeds, compact them into the soil (but don’t cover them) to provide good soil-to-seed contact. Keep the planting bed moist until the seedlings become established. As your plants begin to take off, thin out any plants that are spaced too closely together so they don’t compete for sun and soil nutrients.

Spacing:

To attract multitudes of monarchs to your garden, plant milkweed in groups of six or more, spacing plants or thinning seedlings to about 6 to 24 inches apart, depending on the species. Monarchs are very good at finding a milkweed plant, but the more you have in your yard, the more likely they will find it and lay their little eggs all over it. Plant as many plants as you have room for.

Propagating:

Many milkweed species can readily be grown from root or rhizome cuttings as well as by seed. Take the cuttings during the late fall or early spring when the plant is dormant and has more energy reserves. New sprouts will form from the cuttings when the weather warms and will often produce flowers the first year.

MILKWEED CARE

Like most wildflowers, milkweed is easy to grow and requires very little pampering. Most species are not seriously bothered by heat, drought, deer or other pests. And because milkweed is a native plant that tolerates poor soils, fertilization isn’t necessary.

Mulching:

You can mulch milkweed if you want to control weeds or retain moisture, but not all varieties will benefit. Swamp milkweed will appreciate your water-retention efforts, but milkweeds that prefer dry soil, such as common milkweed and butterfly weed, are usually better off with no mulch.

Pruning:

As with many flowering perennials, pruning the flowers soon after they have withered will result in new buds and may extend the blooming period for several weeks. Clipping spent flowers to stimulate new growth will also prolong the availability of nectar for monarchs and other pollinators.

Pest control:

Some plant pests such as aphids, whiteflies and milkweed bugs are immune to the toxic effects of milkweed and may feed on the leaves and seed pods, but they rarely cause significant damage. Also remove leaf litter and spent stalks in the fall to eliminate overwintering sites.

How to control spreading:

If you don’t want milkweed to take charge of your garden, remove the seed pods in the fall before they split open and release their contents or tie them closed with string. For plants with rhizomes, thin them out by hand by pulling the entire plant, including the roots, removing as much of the rhizome as possible. This will be easier to do when the plants are young and before the roots are well established.

Handling precautions:

Be aware that the toxic alkaloids in the sap of milkweed that help protect the monarchs from predators can cause eye and skin irritation and are poisonous to pets and other animals when ingested. Take the appropriate precautions and wear gloves, long sleeves, and long pants when working with these plants.

https://www.gardendesign.com/plants/milkweed.html