With so many garden chores still tugging at my skirt, so to speak, I am grateful for the lengthening days as that gives me an hour or so after dinner most nights to plant, weed, mulch, prune and so on. This week I am working on vegetable garden number 2 which is adjacent to my white garden. As daylight fades, the white or near white moon garden blossoms almost glow in the evening light.

While I try to have something white blooming all season long, June seems to be the month of most copious blooms. There are a few more shrubs in this garden than there is room for (they were so small 30 years ago and I was going to keep up with pruning!). The dwarf fothergilla has just finished blooming and right now the spirea and my year-round favorite, a variegated drooping leucothoe, is in full bloom.

Drooping leucothoe in bloom
Variegated leucothoe in bloom. Photo by dmp2023

I love irises of all kinds and have a small clump of Japanese iris with its broad 6-inch flowers that always appears to struggle. This species of iris likes wet feet and while the white garden is in a lower lying area of the yard, I suspect competition from other perennials as well as several shrubs and a blue spruce keeps this iris drier than it likes to be. Fortunately, Siberian irises are quite happy, and clumps have grown in size and more blossoms are produced each year.

White Siberian irises
Siberian irises. Photo by dmp2016

Thinking that ground covers might be nice and cut down on the need for mulching while at the same time keeping the ground covered and weed pressure down, I planted tiarella, sweet woodruff, lily of the valley and vinca. I only don’t regret planting the tiarella (foam flower). The rest behave like thugs, grabbing every inch they can get and being very insidious and resistant to removal.

Foamflower in bloom
Tiarella (foamflower) and white English hyacinth in bloom. Photo by dmp2023

Years ago. a former boss and dear friend who recently passed, gave me a couple of gas plants (Dictammus alba). She figured the best way to start seeds was to just leave them in a protected area over winter and having received their stratification (cold temperature) requirements, they germinated the following spring. I came away with two plants and settled both into the white garden. The one placed in full sun with little competition didn’t come back one winter but the second planted in a site with more shade and competition has been blooming reliably for 20+ years. I have not found any seedlings, however.

White flowers
Gas plant, camassia, coral bells and leucothoe. Photo by dmp2023

I love this white woodland phlox given to me by a fellow garden club member. It is so prolific in bloom. There is a slight but pleasant scent, and it is a very well-behaved plant that just increases slightly in size each year but does not roam.

A most pleasant wanderer, but one that does not stray that far from home, is the white geranium (G. sanguineum ‘Album’) I believe. The flowers and foliage are delicate but tough. I find a few self-sown plants each year and move them into the area at the base of the white beauty bush where I have also found a few Japanese painted fern progenies.

White gardens are not for everyone but offer peace, solitude and beauty to many gardeners, especially those that rely on evening hours to get gardening tasks accomplished. Keep in mind that many white summer bloomers like flowering tobacco, garden phlox, white heliotrope and moon flowers exude the most pleasant scents and can be enjoyed in garden beds and containers.

 Even if you are not contemplating creating a white or moon garden, be sure to look for the full ‘Strawberry’ moon this Saturday – weather permitting, of course!

Dawn P.

Ask any gardener what their worst chore is, and the majority would agree that weeding nears the top of the list. It’s a never-ending battle of pulling out unwanted plants while protecting plants they aim to grow. But it’s an important part of gardening. Weeds compete with flowers and vegetables for water and nutrients. In addition, they can attract unwanted pests and diseases.  Mulch and weed barriers can offer some preventive measures but eventually weeds will return and while herbicides are effective there is a risk of damaging desirable plants when killing the unwanted ones. Not only do weeds grow in garden beds; pathways and patios are notorious for growing weeds between pavers. All this can take a physical toll on the back and knees. But there is a method that is gaining popularity with home gardeners: flame weeding.  

weed in garden
Weed in garden. Photo by Marie Woodward.

Flame weeding is the killing of weeds with intense heat produced by a fuel-burning device. For the home gardener, flame weeding usually relies on a portable propane tank attached to a hand-held torch to produce a carefully controlled and directed flame that briefly passes over the weeds. The goal is not to completely burn them to the ground but to destroy the plant tissue, which causes the plant to die. Annual weeds die pretty fast but perennial weeds may take a couple of treatments to destroy them, however, it’s the most organic and environmentally safe way to control weeds in the garden, on pathways and patios. It can also be used for broadleaf weeds in lawns. This is because mature grass blades are protected by a sheath.  Unlike some chemicals, it won’t harm edible plants, contaminate groundwater or have a negative effect on the environment and it’s easy to use. However, be aware that some towns have restrictions on flame weeders. Check with your local fire department for any restrictions and keep an eye out for any local fire danger warnings before you consider using them.  

Flame weeding on patio. Photo by Marie Woodward.

Here are the tools needed for flame weeding:  

  1.  A propane tank, which can be a 20-gallon tank used for gas grills but there are small camp size tanks.   
  2.  A torch or wand (called a flamer), which can be bought at any big box store. 
  3.  A flint striker to light the torch or a long stick lighter. 
  4.  Protective equipment to protect from burns like thick work gloves and work boots.  
Controlling weeds in stone wall. Photo by Marie Woodward.

Operating Flame Weeder Safely. 

  1.  Read the instruction manual before using and follow any safety recommendations.  
  2.   Have a fire extinguisher or garden hose nearby to extinguish any accidental fires      
  3.  Never use it on extremely hot or windy days
  4.  Keep flamer away from the hose that connects to the propane tank.  
  5.  Always be cautious when lighting the flamer. Although the handle is cool the tip is extremely hot and can cause serious burns. Keep the flame away from people and pets.  
  6.  Never use flame weeder on poisonous or toxic plants. It can cause contact dermatitis or if inhaled cause very serious health problems, which could require hospitalization.

Basic operating Procedure 

I like to place my 20-gallon tank in a wagon to make it easier to move when operating the flame weeder.  Holding the flamer about 6 inches away, us a slow sweeping motion over the weeds. Remember, the goal is not to burn up the weed. The goal is to destroy the plant tissue with extreme heat, which will kill it.  This should only take a split second. For best results, wait for the weeds to grow about 1-2 inches before flaming.  

Propane tank in wagon. Phot by Marie Woodward.

Using a flame weeder is an effective way to control weeds without the physical toll of bending down and pulling or digging. Once you start getting comfortable using the flame weeder, you’ll wonder how you ever gardened without it. 

Marie Woodward

Male red-winged blackbird singing

“Some old-fashioned things like fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat.” Laura Ingalls Wilder

This spring has been one for the books, and I do not mean comic books. We had a week of 70 and 80 degree days with one day that was over 94 degrees. Then we went down to the 40’s and perhaps 50’ since then. Crabapples bloomed a little earlier than normal, with rainy or cloudy cold days with less bee activity. It is unclear how pollination was affected by these cold, cloudy days, as many fruit trees also were in bloom. Flowers are fading now and it is still relatively cold. Perhaps the more robust queen bumblebees will have taken up the slack.

Crabapples in full bloom on a cold, foggy day this May
Red oak flowers and new leaves

An unusual non-native spring- flowering plant, barrenwort, blooms from spring into summer. This plant can endure dense shade and droughts, and it is sometimes called Bishop’s hat. Large panicles have a profusion of colorful, dangling flowers that are very unusual. They have four sepals with the long, tapering slender, true petals forming a cup with the stamens inside.  


Unusual flower of barrenwort

Native wildflowers like trillium and bird’s foot violet should be in bloom now, and lady’s slippers, and columbine will flower shortly. Blue flag irises occur in wetlands, often in colonies. They are easily identified by the distinct blue to blue violet delicate-looking flowers. Their falls have white centers often with fluted yellow fringe.

Blue flag along a pond bank
Red trillium flower just before opening
Red (purple, wake robin) trillium flower and leaves

Insects in general have not been abundant due to the cold and cloudy weather conditions. Many pollinators have been absent from the abundance of dandelion flowers we have had this year. We finally had a warm, sunny day in early May and bees and other insects came out to celebrate that big event. One of them was the orange- collared scape moth,

Finally a bee!
The aptly named Orange-collared Scape Moth Cisseps fulvicollis

Peculiar- looking fruiting bodies are often seen on red cedars and some junipers this time of year. Small, woody galls form on twigs of the host evergreens the previous year. During wet weather, these galls produce orange, gummy horns that make them look like the head of Medusa. Spores will be released from these horns and infect crabapples and apples as they are windblown to their new host plant.

These are the orange, gelatinous fruiting bodies or telial horns of the cedar apple gall on a native cedar
The horns have dried up

We experienced a mini-drought this spring that came with forest fire warnings. Hiking along a large pond with a grove of white pines, my sister and I came upon proof that this warning was not for nothing. During the single thunderstorm we had during this time, lightning must have struck two dead pines and their was evidence of a small forest fire that was doused quickly by rain- no needles on the ground were burned.

Migrating and returning birds are slow to arrive or pass through, but this week they are here in abundance. Soon the woods will be full of the songs of veerys, wood thrushes and vireos, among others. A Wilson’s warbler was seen in scrub brush as it was passing through on its way to northern parts.

Wilson’s warbler
A pair of hooded merganzers in a woodland pond
Somebody cut off the bittersweet that choked this tree- I thank you and the tree thanks you!

Soon trees will be leafed out, birds will have started building nests and raising their young, days and nights will be warmer and gardens will be filling up with flowers. I am hoping we have a less hot and droughty summer than we had last year, but will deal with what we get. I cannot control everything that can go wrong in my gardens and nothing much less in nature. I must strive for the better way and not think so much about the bad, because I tend to get distracted from all the good things going on, too.

‘In acceptance, is peace’- Amy Carmichael.

Do you just really not want to mow? I do not know of any bees that eat dandelion seed heads…

Pamm Cooper

As Shakespeare once wrote, “what’s in a name”? What we call a weed is simply a plant growing where we don’t wish it to grow. In May of 2010, Joan Allen wrote a post for our blog on why dandelions, Taraxacum officinale, do not deserve the bad reputation they receive. Thirteen years later, dandelions deserve another moment in the spotlight!

A plant that some might consider an unwanted weed, others may consider benign or even desirable, depending on the person and context. For example, my mother lives in South Florida and has many saw palmetto, Serenoa repens, growing in her yard. She considers these to be weeds because they make mowing her yard difficult. Others however, especially people not living in her area, appreciate saw palmetto as a “beachy” ornamental, attractive potted plant, or as a plant that produces a useful product (its fruit). Dandelions can have this same quality for those that wish to consider their many unique attributes and uses.

Dandelions are flowering herbaceous perennials, meaning they return each year. They are very hardy, tolerating a wide variety of soil types and partial shade. They produce latex which is particularly noticeable in their stems and taproots. Because their taproots are strong and capable of breaking through compacted soil, they are often some of the first plants to colonize disturbed sites and begin the process of remediating and “rewilding” vacant lots. Note: Those wishing to remove dandelions from their lawns should be sure to remove the taproot with the leaves and flowers or the plant will most likely grow back.

Figure 1: Here’s a fun challenge for anyone (particularly in the Eastern US) looking at photos of lawns/landscapes in the spring: can you find a photo without any dandelions? The photo above was taken by the author as a “before and after” to show mulching around some hostas and daylillies. Can you spot the six dandelions peeking through?

Now found ubiquitously along roadsides and in yards wherever there is sufficient moisture, dandelions were originally introduced to be used as a food crop. Though the entire plant is edible, young leaves and flowers are considered the most palatable to be eaten raw. Similar to collards and other greens, older leaves are best sauteed, steamed, or cooked in some way as they can be quite bitter when eaten raw. Roots can be dried, baked and ground to produce a product that is used as a decaffeinated coffee substitute. The stems, fruits, and their attached pappi (modified calyx for wind dispersal), are edible but not particularly palatable raw or cooked.

Following their rejection and disdain in favor of the Great American Lawn, in recent years, dandelions have been having a renaissance in the culinary world. High in potassium and other nutrients, dandelions have found their way onto the menus of food shares, brunch cafes, and fine dining establishments. Bees and other pollinators have never shied away from the humble flower, which provides nutrient-dense pollen and nectar after a long winter.

Not looking to drop $30 on a plate of “glorified weeds” before knowing if it’s something you’ll like? Feel free to try some plants from your own yard! Only eat plants that have been thoroughly washed and not sprayed with any pesticides. For those looking for a more refined treat, consider using your dandelions to make dandelion wine (see Joan’s 2010 article) or jelly, following a recipe such as the one found here. Bonus points for infusing flavors from other edible flowers in the garden, such as lavender or lilac!

Nick Goltz, DPM

More and more I find an increasing concern for how my daily activities are impacting the environment. Gardening, of course, is no exception. Although a lot of our gardening activities go right into the ground, there are some that require substantial amounts of material to make it there.  Some of our seeds we direct sow with almost no waste at all, like beans for example. I am always shocked to go to a garden center and see sprouted bean plants for sale in flats. These are literally the easiest plants to grow from direct seeding. Many other seeds, like tomatoes and peppers, are best started six to eight weeks ahead of the planting date inside. What you use to start your seeds can have a greater or lesser impact on the environment, but there are other things to consider as well.

Various seed starting supplies
A collection of seed starting materials including both disposable and reusable plug trays, and a bottom tray. Photo by mrl2023.

The first consideration is how many plants you will be starting. Now this is both in number of species (tomatoes, peppers, marigolds, etc.), and the quantity of each needed. It is not uncommon to see lots of “seed starting kits” available in the store at this time of year. These kits come with a bottom tray, plug tray (think mini pots, or packs), and a humidity dome (more on this in a minute). I have even seen kits where the soil is already filling the plug tray, further minimizing the time needed for set up! This is great for the home gardener who only starts a few plants.  Many people who purchase these start their own tomatoes, for example. If you need more than this, it would get to pricey to purchase all you needed in this configuration.

A number of years back, I started to get frustrated with the “chase” for the plug trays at the beginning of each season. The more plants I started, the more expensive it got. The annual cost for starting my seeds was becoming significant. Now I could have purchased the disposably plug trays in a large quantity, but I would have needed to buy them in quantities of 500 or 1000, which really would hurt the wallet. In addition, I realized I really don’t like the disposable plug trays. They are weak, hard to fill with potting medium, and I end up throwing them out every year and therefore contributing to the plastic paradise at the garbage dump!

As an alternative, there are a number of hard plastic, reusable plug trays out there.  I am not sure that any one brand is better than the other, although each company will have you believe that theirs is the best! They all have very similar designs, and are similar in size and configuration to the disposable ones. They are not as expensive as one would think. I found some for about $15 each, or in quantities of 10 for around $100 (plus shipping). The disadvantage of the reusable trays is that at the end of the season, you have to clean them. This is best done outside, with a garden hose, in the warm sun. Waiting until March and trying to clean them inside is not something I would recommend, so you have to manage your time efficiently or you may want to opt for the disposables. Another concern with the reusable plug trays is disease. If your crop the year before came down with something and your trays are not sanitized afterward, the disease could be passed on to next year’s crop. Most of the time this is not a problem as our plants are not in there very long, so they really don’t have much time to develop a disease. If you are hit with damping off fungus, for example, you would want to ensure this does not take the following year’s crop too. Either way, there are many cleaners out on the market that can be sprayed onto the tray to sanitize them. Better yet, use a recipe from the internet for making a household cleaner of your own.  If you know you have been hit with a disease, I would probably use a bleach solution. No matter what you choose, just make sure everything gets a good rinse afterward. I also like to dry my containers in the sun as this can have some slight sanitizing properties as well. The last remaining concern is the size of the reusable tray. If you are planting a whole flat of the same type of plant, this is not a problem, but if you only want to plant a few of something, you cannot break apart the large plug tray like the disposable kind. Recently, I have seen the reusable plug trays that are now coming in smaller six-pack size to remedy this problem, but I can imagine this will be a little more expensive to purchase. 

The plastic trays that go underneath the plug trays are another thing to consider. The most common size is what is called the 1020 bottom tray. This accommodates a flat of flowers or vegetables and is how our plants are most commonly sold at garden centers (by the pack or flat).  The two basic types of these differ only by the presence of holes or no holes. No holes work best while they are in the house. Then taken outside, there needs to be holes in the bottom for drainage. This all assumes the use of disposable plug trays. By using the hard-plastic plug trays, the bottom tray with holes is no longer needed outside for support, so money can be saved here.

There are sturdy, hard plastic reusable trays out on the market. They cost about $10 each. These have the same issues as the plug trays with reuse from year to year, but also can be easily cleaned and sanitized. Here is one place I actually prefer the disposable trays.  I find them to be sturdy enough to reuse from year to year. I bought a number of them years ago when there were only $1 each, but now their price has climbed to about $2.50 or so. At this point, they are getting closer in price to the much sturdier reusable ones. Since the disposable trays sooner or later wear out, I will probably replace them with the much stronger reusable ones. 

Seedlings in resusable plug trays
Some seedlings growing in the reusable plug trays and a disposable bottom tray (which gets reused for many years). Photo by mrl2023.

Humidity domes are the one place I cannot find an alternative for, but you do not need one. They fit nicely over the 1020 bottom trays and are about 2.5 inches high or so. Humidity domes help hold the moisture in while you are attempting to geminate your seeds. As soon as most of the seeds are up, these can come off, be left to dry, and be reused. Eventually, these turn yellow and brittle from the exposure to the light, but that will take many, many years. These are also about $2.50. There are now some that are much sturdier with vents in them. For larger plant propagation projects, there are humidity domes that measure about seven inches tall. The fancier you get, the higher the price.    

The only other option out there to save a bit of money involves using disposable plastic cups to start your seeds. I really don’t like this option as the cups get rather top heavy and fall over if you bump your seed starting table or shelf. An additional option is a peat pot. These can be round or square, and also come in square sections that fit nicely into the 1020 bottom trays. These can be advantageous for plants that do not want their roots disturbed before planting, like squash and cucumbers. The theory is that the peat pots will degrade when planted in the ground, thereby adding nutrients to the soil as well. Unfortunately, I have seen these pots still intact at the end of the growing season when tidying up the plant remains. Roots can, to some degree, grow through the peat pot, but they cannot spread in the same manner that plant roots in no pot do. On the occasion that I use these, I like to make a few slits down the sides and/or in the bottom so the roots can freely grow into the soil.  One must be cautious not to cut the roots or disturb the soil in the pot too much.

Similar to peat pots, I have seen plugs that are disk-like, and are basically soilless media contained in a mesh net. I do not care for these as they did not give enough stability to the plants, and sometimes the mesh degrades too quickly before I had a chance to plant them. As an alternative, with virtually no waste, is the use of soil blocks. There is a piece of equipment that will take your planting medium and make soil blocks out of it. The seed gets planted into these, and these then get planted directly into the field. I know there are some people that really like soil blocks. I do not use them as I find I am a bit rough on the handling of my plants, and if the block falls apart, you ruined all the benefit of it. Also, my seed starting space is limited, and the plug trays are more efficient with the use of space. The advantages of using soil blocks is that once you have the piece of equipment to make them, you have unlimited quantities of blocks.  Also, the roots tend to stop at the edge of the block (called air pruning), and not wrap around in circles like they do in the plastic plug trays. To get around this, the reusable trays have some slits in the sides that stop the roots from wrapping. The disadvantage of soil blocks is having to spend the money on the block making device. More importantly, it takes time to make all the blocks you need. There is a bit of art involved, as your soil needs to have the right moisture consistency for making blocks.     

No matter what methodology you choose, it is fun to start your own seeds.  This can ensure that you have the varieties that you want and relieves the stress of trying to fight the crowds in the garden center near planting time. I think we all need to do our part to reduce waste and be as sustainable as possible.

Matthew Lisy

A favorite homegrown vegetable of many are peas. Whether feasting on some lightly steamed shelling peas tossed with a bit of butter and salt, enjoying that stir fry bursting with snow peas or snacking on sweet, crunchy, sugar snaps right off the vine, few tastes can beat that of freshly picked and prepared peas. Those grocery store fresh, frozen, or canned peas pale in comparison.

Not only are homegrown peas absolutely delectable but they are very easy to grow. The key to success is planting early enough so plants mature before the heat of the summer sets in. Like just about all vegetables, peas grow and produce best with at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sun each day.

Peas climbing a fence
Peas appreciate some support. Photo by dmp.

Seeds can be planted in a well-drained soil with a pH in the mid 6s and amended with moderate amounts of organic matter. Most gardeners know that peas are legumes. As such, they have the ability to form a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship with certain species of nitrogen fixing bacteria. These bacteria can take nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form that both these microbes and later plants can use. In exchange for the nitrogen, plants share the end products of photosynthesis with the microbes.

Typically, these nitrifying bacteria would be present in healthy garden soil. If this is a new garden or your first-time growing peas, you might want to invest a few dollars in an inoculant. This black powdery substance contains nitrifying bacteria. Seeds would be moistened with water and rolled in the inoculant before planting. Select an inoculant labeled for peas.

Keep in mind, many organisms including bacteria and humans, are usually not going to waste energy on efforts that don’t produce some type of end result or reward. In the case of nitrifying bacteria, they will not go to the effort of taking nitrogen gas out of the air and converting it into forms that plants can use if you have supplied plants (and by proximity, microbes) with enough nitrogen by adding fertilizers or amendments that contain nitrogen. The bottom line is that if you want to encourage nitrifying bacteria to colonize your pea plants, do not overfertilize with nitrogen. Also, when pea plants either stop producing or become infected with powdery mildew, clip off the tops and dispose of them but leave the roots to decompose. Those roots with the nodules created by nitrogen-fixing bacteria will slowly decay making nitrogen available to the next crop planted in this location.

During dry springs like this years’, seeds might benefit from being soaked in water overnight before planting. Another option is to plant before rain is predicted or just go out and water your seeds every day or two or three depending on the weather to make sure the seed bed stays moist but not saturated.

Planting pea seeds
Plant seeds 2 inches apart and about an inch deep. Photo by dmp.

Typically, pea seeds are planted about 6 weeks before the last expected spring frost date so that might be from St. Patrick’s Day until mid-April depending on where one resides in Connecticut. There’s still time to plant most years until the end of this month. Plant seeds 1 inch deep and 2 inches apart. Most peas, even the shorter varieties appreciate some type of support they can latch on to. Pea brush (shorter twiggy stems) can be used to support short pea varieties but a fence, strings or netting is better for the taller types.

While there aren’t as many peas as pepper varieties, there are still a number of choices to pick for your gardens. I love to experiment, but peas are such a fleeting crop that I am more likely (but not always) to just grow my 3 tried and trues. For shelling peas, I like ‘Tall Telephone’, sometimes called ‘Alderman’. Not only is it flavorful when picked before pods take on that waxy appearance, but like its name implies it is tall and as I age, it gets harder to harvest short plants.

Peas in a pot and pea pods
English shelling pea – Tall Telephone. Photo by dmp.

‘Tall Telephone’ is an 1881 English heirloom that grows to 5 or 6 feet, which is perfect for the fence I plant it next to. The pods are 4 to 5 inches long and filled with 6 to 9 plump, sweet peas that are absolutely adored by my Goffin’s cockatoo.

While living in Oregon, I tried some of Dr. James Baggett’s introductions and a great snow pea that he bred is ‘Oregon Giant’. Plants only reach about 30 inches high but produce abundant 4.5-inch pods, great for stir fries or even fresh in salads.

For years now ‘Sugar Snap’ and then ‘Super Sugar Snap’ with it’s resistance to powdery mildew have been my go to’s for snap peas. This year I decided to shake things up a bit and planted ‘Spring Blush’. Pods reputedly have a pink tint, the flavor is said to be delightful and plants grow to 5 or 6 feet high – just my picking height. We’ll have to see how the flavor compares to ‘Sugar Snap”.

Pea seeds in hand
Rusty colored Spring Blush pea seeds. Photo by dmp.

Timely harvest is also a key factor in growing peas. They have such a short window of optimal taste that one has to check plants daily when pods are ripening less peas get too starchy. For snow peas, pick as soon as pods start to swell with seeds. Collect shell peas before the pods get that waxy look on them. Open up a few and taste them. They should be sweet and flavorful. Snap pea pods should be plump and filled with tender tasting peas. Pull a few from the vine and see how they taste. When they meet your satisfaction, it is time to harvest and enjoy your hard work.

Goffin's cockatoo eating peas
My cockatoo, Phanto, loves his peas! Photo by dmp.

Plant some peas today!

Dawn P.

While we all are aware that the big three, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) are needed for healthy plants, many of us don’t give much thought to the dozen or so trace elements that while needed in tiny quantities are also vital to good plant growth. One of them is chloride (Cl) which is needed for photosynthesis in plants. Cl is an essential anion in maintaining electoral balance in tonoplasts and cell turgor in stomates, which is important in nutrient uptake, storage, relocation, as well as water uptake. It is needed for the synthesis of proteins and growth regulators. Cl is also important in enzyme activities, lodging prevention in wheat, disease suppression, and physiological leaf spot control in cereal crops. Sufficient Cl availability can decrease the incidence of blossom-end rot and reduce injury of gold speck on tomato fruits.

The existence of Cl can impact plant nutrients uptake by interactive effects with other nutrients. There is an antagonism between Cl and nitrate (NO3) in plants. The uptake of chloride is inhibited by nitrate, and vice versa. There are possible benefits of partial nitrate replacement in the root environment by an equivalent chloride content. For example, increasing the Cl:NO3 ratio in the nutrient solution can decrease the incidence of blossom-end rot in tomatoes.

Unfortunately, it can also increase gold speck injury on tomato fruits. Some research has shown that Cl can enhance calcium uptake by tomatoes, which may explain the reduction of blossom-end rot. However, Cl toxic effects on tomato plants could happen in Cl sensitive varieties and this effect is dependent on accompanying ions, such as sodium (Na), potassium (K), and phosphorus (P). High Cl content in soil or soilless medium can impose a potential risk to negatively affect potato yield and quality.

Gold speck on tomato. Photo by Gerald Brust, http://www.extension.umd.edu

Another potential benefit from sufficient Cl supply is its interactive effect with nitrogen fertilizer applications on plant nitrogen uptake. Reducing the nitrate content of vegetables is important for human and animal health. Chloride can suppress nitrate accumulation in green leafy crops, such as lettuce without affecting vegetable yield.

Freshly harvested lettuce. Photo by dmp2022.

Cl deficiency in wheat has been reported in wheat producing regions of the U.S. and in Canada. Physiological leaf spot, the typical Cl deficiency symptom, is commonly observed in many cultivars of winter wheat in this region.

Physiological leaf spot in wheat. Photo by Dr. Richard Koenig, Washington State University

Grain crops yield can benefit from Cl containing fertilizer applications, however, the benefit is dependent on plant cultivars. If Cl deficient, 10-20 lbs/acre Cl should do the job for commercial crops. Home gardeners can select fertilizers that contain chloride.  Common fertilizer sources of Cl include potassium chloride (KCl), which is also referred to as Muriate of Potash and ammonium chloride (NH4Cl). Both the potassium (K) and Cl contained in the Muriate of Potash fertilizer are crop essential nutrients. If your soil is K deficient, Muriate of Potash fertilizer is a good choice because your crop can benefit from both Cl and K. Ammonium chloride contains both Cl and N nutrients and may be more economical when your soil is not K deficient. And there could be a positive interactive benefit between NH4+ and Cl making for a more abundant harvest.

Haiying Tao, PhD, UConn Assistant Professor, Soil Fertility & Health

A few months ago, I wrote about the American chestnut tree, Castanea dentata. Once a mighty giant of the eastern half of the United States, (their trunks could measure up to 10 ft in diameter), they numbered four billion by the start of the 20th century. Their chestnuts were a prolific food source for humans, wildlife, and livestock. The timber was rot resistant and straight-grained, making it perfect for building.  But in 1904, a fungus, Cryphonectria parasitica, chestnut blight, entered the U.S. through imported Asian chestnut trees. With no natural immunity, the four billion American Chestnut trees were functionally extinct in just fifty years. 

Since then, there have been numerous attempts to bring back that giant of the eastern United States, but with little success – until now. After more than 30 years of research and development, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) together with the American Chestnut Foundation, have developed a transgenic, blight-tolerant American Chestnut tree. This new transgenic tree – called the Darling 58 – has gone through in-depth testing and has proved to be functionally equal to the non-transgenic chestnut tree, but with the added benefit of tolerating the chestnut blight fungus. 

However, in order to release these trees back into uncontrolled natural settings, they need to be approved by three federal agencies. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and FDA (Food and Drug Administration). The good news is it may happen this year. Preliminary findings by the USDA suggest it will approve release of transgenic chestnuts as early as this summer. While waiting for approval, the New York Chapter of the American Chestnut Foundation is offering its members non-blight-tolerant seedlings to be planted as “mother trees”. The purpose of growing these “mother trees” is so that, upon maturity, they can be cross-pollinated with the  blight-tolerant Darling 58 tree to produce blight-tolerant hybrid offspring. These hybrid chestnut trees will increase the genetic diversity of the species in their new natural settings. 

I was fortunate enough to receive 16 of the non-tolerant American Chestnuts about a month ago. When they arrived, they had already begun germinating. Right away I went to work and planted them.

Germinated chestnuts as they looked when they arrived. Photo by Marie Woodward
Photo by Marie Woodward
Photo by Marie Woodward
Photo by Marie Woodward

It didn’t take long before the chestnut trees began to break through.

Photo by Marie Woodward
Photo by Marie Woodward

Needless to say, I’m very excited.  I can’t wait to transfer these baby trees to the outdoors, where they will continue to grow.  It will be around five years before I can cross-pollinate them with the pollen of the Darling 58 tree I will receive from Suny ESF.   When that happens I will be part of an important restoration project to return a great giant to the forests of the eastern United States. I hope and pray my grandchildren will be able to climb their branches. 

If you want to learn more about the transgenic Darling 58 Chestnut tree click

here:  https://www.esf.edu/chestnut/index.php

Marie Woodward

Have you ever heard of the squirting cucumber? It’s a fascinating plant that is known for its explosive fruit and its resemblance to a “pea shooter”. The squirting cucumber, also known as Ecballium elaterium, is a member of the cucumber family. It is native to the Mediterranean region, but it can now be found in many other parts of the world. This plant can grow up to two feet tall and has a distinctive yellow flower. The most interesting feature of the squirting cucumber is its fruit. The fruit of the plant is a small, green ball that is about the size of a walnut. When the fruit is ripe, it becomes highly pressurized, and even the slightest touch can cause it to explode. The force of the explosion can propel the seeds up to 20 feet away from the plant.

Ecballium elaterium. Els Poblets, Alicante, Spain. Katja Schulz from Washington, D. C., USA – Squirting Cucumber

But why does the squirting cucumber have this explosive property? It’s actually a survival and reproduction mechanism. When the fruit explodes, it scatters the seeds over a wide area, increasing the chances that they will find a suitable place to grow. This is especially important for a plant that grows in a dry, arid environment like the Mediterranean region. Unfortunately, this has allowed the squirting cucumber to become invasive in some places where it has been introduced.

By spreading its seeds over a wide area, the squirting cucumber increases its chances of survival. The squirting cucumber is not only interesting because of its explosive fruit, but also for its reported medicinal properties. The plant has been used in traditional medicine for centuries to treat a variety of ailments. The juice of the fruit has been used to treat headaches, earaches, and even as a diuretic. The leaves of the plant have been used to treat skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.

However, it’s important to note that the squirting cucumber can be toxic if ingested in large quantities. The juice of the plant can cause skin irritation and blistering, and ingestion can cause vomiting and diarrhea. So while it may be interesting to observe and learn about the squirting cucumber, it’s important to handle the plant with care. The squirting cucumber is just one example of the incredible diversity of plants that can be found in our world, and it reminds us of the importance of preserving and protecting these natural wonders.

Check out the video in the link below to learn more!

– Lou Chenghao

YouTube. (2021, July 2). Squirting cucumber: The plant that explodes. YouTube.
Retrieved March 2, 2023, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LLBg0In8Dtw

One of the most fun and interesting parts of the plant hobby is learning all the scientific names.  Many times, these names are hard to pronounce as they are in Greek or Latin, or Latinized names from other languages (when named after a person or place for example). One of the most frustrating things to experience, is when the names suddenly, without warning, change! All that hard work down the drain. Scientists are not doing this to make our lives difficult, however. It generally reflects some new learning or discovery. 

Taxonomy is the branch of science that names and groups organisms according to their characteristics and, more recently, evolutionary history. Naming has a long history, starting with Aristotle around 350 B.C. He classified things as either animals or plants, and there were three types of each. There was no thought of evolutionary relationships back then, as this phenomenon was not formally (and correctly) described until Darwin did in 1859. In the 1700s, Carl Linnaeus designed a system that grouped organisms into hierarchical categories based on morphology (shape). This is the familiar Kingdom, Phylum (Division in plants, fungi, and bacteria), Class, Order, Family, Genus, and specific epithet. Groups of international scientists have more recently tried to agree on one system. You no longer see Divisions in plants, for example. Each species has only one two-part name. This was all part of Linnaeus’s design. Just like many human names have two parts, first and last, scientific names consist of the Genus and specific epithet. This is referred to as “binomial nomenclature.” For example, the Red Maple is known as Acer rubrum.

In my example, notice that there were two ways to refer to one of our favorite trees. We had the common name, Red Maple, and the scientific name, Acer rubrum. Although common names may be easier to remember, the disadvantage is that they can vary around the world, or in different locales. Many times, when I was doing scientific research on native fish in Pennsylvania, you would go over a mountain and find the people in that valley referring to the fish with totally unique names. This made it very difficult to communicate and find the species we were looking for at the time. Scientists, and serious plant hobbyists, prefer the scientific name. These are the same throughout the world. This makes for more efficient communication and eliminates any confusion. When plant collectors pay a large sum of money for a new plant, they want to be sure they are getting exactly what they wanted. Once again, scientific names are the way to ensure this accuracy.

There are some additional names that can be used. There are more categories added to the Linnaean hierarchy from top to bottom. These names may include subspecies, subgenera Superorders, etc., all the way up. With plants, you may see variety names following the formal classifications. For example, our red maple has a variety called Acer rubrum ‘Autumn Flame.’  These cultivated varieties will show consistent phenotypes (physical traits) and are put in single quote marks.

So, if all this is true, then why do scientific names of organisms change? Well, simply put, because some scientist, somewhere, learned something new about our plants that changes their evolutionary relationships. These new discoveries may warrant name changes, which is like making corrections to a rough draft of a report. As a consequence, many times this results in a domino-effect resorting of our plant species. To the public, this just seems like a shuffling of the deck, but it is not. Once again it relates to the rules of Botanical Nomenclature set up by one of those international scientific committees. The new information necessitates the changes we see and produces a more accurate grouping of our plants. 

Some modern examples of this is the famous Christmas cactus. These were in the genus Zygocactus, which then was changed to Schlumbergera. Our good friends known as Pothos have undergone numerous name changes, and, if I had to guess, will continue to do so. The most recent victims are the beautiful African Violets! I was at the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show this past February and noticed the name changes there.  he African Violets, which were in the genus Saintpaulia, are now Streptocarpus, and the Streptocarpus are now Streoticarpus.

African violet in pot
A beautiful African Violet cultivar ‘Roulette’ seen by the author at this year’s Connecticut Flower and Garden Show. It was labeled with the new Genus name Streptocarpus, which used to belong to the Cape Primroses. Photo by mrl2023.

Normally, this is just a frustration to many people, but they quickly learn the new names. For super popular plants like African Violets, this can take a long time to fix. Many African Violet collectors I know were not even aware of the change. The only other time that name changes can be a problem is when the scientific name becomes the common name. This happens many times for our plants. One of the best-known examples is the Rhododendron. This is the genus name as well as the common name, but there has not been any change there.  Were those plants to undergo a revision which resulted in a new scientific name, I do not think the common name would change, which can cause confusion.

So why the sudden changes? Well, we (humans) are getting much better at telling the different species apart. DNA technology and further understanding of the genome of the plant of interest have us teasing out the subtle differences between closely related, phenotypically similar species.  Many times, the scientists knew the groupings were inaccurate, but no one had the time or evidence to separate them into species (like with the Pothos, for example).

A nice healthy specimen of Neon Pothos for sale at a garden center. The Pothos have undergone many Genus-level name changes over the years. Photo by mrl2023.

So, my advice? Enjoy the change. Look at it as human plant knowledge just got a whole lot more accurate. Occasionally, scientists do not agree on the changes due to conflicting evidence. This can be fun to watch them battle it out, but sooner or later it gets resolved. For my beloved African Violets, this will take some time. I will miss the old name I have known my whole life.  Streptocarpus are one of my absolutely favorite plants, and now that name resides with one of my other favorites – the African Violets. As us plant collectors get used to the new names, this will certainly provide some confusion. The Gesneriads, or plants in the family Gesneriaceae, like African Violets and Cape Primroses (using common names), have been the subjects of many revisions lately. I would expect some more, so try and roll with it!

Matt Lisy