News from the Mo Zone

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  Dear Readers: The Mo Zone will be on hiatus till the end of the month.  I’m off to Holland on a tour of the gardens and horticultural industry there.  Rest assured I’ll return with lots of great stuff to share with you. Until May,  –Mo

Start Garden Kale Early When It’s Cool

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The collard greens of the deep South are among the most nutritious crops you can grow.  They are just one of many members of the cabbage family known as “brassicas”.  Collard is more tolerant of heat than many of these cool weather lovers.  In fact, many of the kale group are staple fare in the northern temperate regions around the globe.  Unlike other greens such as lettuces which are eaten fresh, these kale “pot greens” are typically stir fried or stewed before eating.    Curly leaf kale can be a real producer in spring and summer.  Its leaves are fast growing and thrive in cool springs like this year.  While heat loving crops will be struggling to start up, greens are the staples that kept folks alive and fed during the difficult weather years of the Middle Ages.  It is said that repeated crop failures in Europe set civilization back many centuries.  Russian kale is distinguished by its red or purple leaves.  These plants produce a flatter open, more cabbage like clump.  Like curly leaf types, once established you can use scissors to cut some leaves to add to everyday meals without sacrificing your plants.  They are exceptional dropped last minute into hot soup! Grow kale from seed, or if you’re lucky specialty garden centers may have starts from local organic farms.  Because they germinate so readily it’s cheap and easy to grow a whole mess of greens in any yard, even if its sun challenged.  Kale, like all brassicas will bolt and go to seed with the expanding day length.  Heat also causes them to bolt so enjoy them during the cooler months.  Once they bolt the plant will die.  However, don’t forget to replant them again from seed at the end of summer.  They’ll mature by late fall and keep producing into the winter.  Kale can survive a surprising amount of frost, which is said to make the leaf and stem much sweeter.  Without expanding days they may never bolt and hang on until ice and snow finally do them in.   To find seed for a variety of kales for a backyard taste test this year, and for other tasty pot greens online, go to The Cook’s Garden at http://www.cooksgarden.com/searchprods.asp

Fresh Herb Gardening Tips and Ideas at MoPlants

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Discover the most rewarding herbs suited to the widest variety of uses at MoPlants.com.  Among these are many highly fragrant plants.  But those that look good in the garden, offer culinary uses AND materials for crafts, you get the most for the least effort.   Click this link to check out the Food and Flavor section of our Archives for three terrific articles that will help you choose plants for this year’s garden.  http://www.moplants.com/archives/index.php Achilles Herb is all about the family of Yarrows which offer ”everlastings” or flowers already dried that can be easily cut and preserved to keep their color indefinitely.   Strewing Herbs looks at those plants grown in old England to mask unpleasant odors in the “age of the great unwashed”.  Herbal BBQ is will help outdoor grilling fans find and plant the best herbs for their unique culinary needs.

April Snow Brings May Frost Damage

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A reader writes:  We had unusually cold snap in Tennessee last week. I am concerned specifically about hydrangeas and crepe myrtles. I covered smaller plants for 4 nights in a row but these were too large to cover. The leaves are turning black. What do I do? This past week unseasonable weather and heavy snows in the north has wrecked the cherry blossoms, crushed tulips and put spring off indefinitely.  These late season anomalies of cold are particularly problematic when trees are leafing out and the snow builds up on branches too deep.  They snap easily under the weight.  Frost burn like this is also the case as new leaves emerge in their most delicate state.  The degree of damage will take a week or two to reveal itself.  With the hydrangeas, wholly burned leaves will dry out and fall off.  Those partially burned will remain on the plant and look terrible.  You can take scissors and cut the damaged parts off to get rid of the blackness, but only if the frost period is passed.  Cutting too early makes the new edge more vulnerable to more frost than if it was protected by the dead cells.  The most important thing is the apical meristem.  This is the part at the tip of every branch where there is the most cell division.  New growth and especially that which supports the flowers originates here.  If this meristem tissue is frozen it too will turn brown or black and the tip of the branch will die.  If this is the case it’s best to cut this off and force new meristems to be formed via the upper most buds of that branch.  But don’t cut until you’re SURE its dead.  Finally, it’s time that tells you what to do.  Wait for the weather to calm down before making any decisions.  Too often premature efforts to get rid of ugly frost damage causes more problems than the frost itself.

Zulu Bow String Plant for Modern Gardens

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Sanseveria is native to the South African bush with its long dry season when many months pass without a drop of rain.  When not a blade of grass is left standing you can see their little green leaves poking out of the dust.  As succulent plants capable of storing large amounts of water in their tissues, these are often the only green thing for miles.   Inside the leaves are tough fibers once extracted by the Zulu tribal warriors to twist into bow strings. Many varieties of Sanseveria can be found in your home improvement store or garden center house plant section.  They’ll thrive out in the garden all summer long in shaded locations.  Chameleons of the plant world, they can be adapted to modern, tropical and Spanish style gardens depending on where and how they are planted. Its history in the bush is why this age old houseplant remains so cast iron, because it literally thrives on neglect.  Also known as mother-in-law’s tongue, it’s been rediscovered as a patio plant that can be brought indoors to enjoy througout the winter.  Sanseveria was a signature plant for midcentury modern homes due to their uniformity and architectural forms. The growth habit of Sanseverias is much like that of bearded iris or cattails, which spread via thick, fleshy underground rhizomes.  Once established they quickly fill in a pot or planter creating a tightly packed colony of succulent, upright, sword shaped leaves.  To propagate your root bound plants, simply break apart the rhizomes at their naturally weakest points, then allow the pieces to sit in the open air for a few days while the wound ends dry out before replanting.  This seals them against moisture that could rot the rhizome before it becomes established in its new location. The plants caught on in tropical Mexico where they are still planted in red clay pots.  Rows of identical pots and plants set against hot colored walls distinguish many hacienda landscapes.   

Protect Praying Mantis Egg Cases In Spring Gardens

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Praying mantis are the gardener’s best friend.  They feed on the pest insects that damage our plants in the summer.  In early spring the egg cases laid the year before are vulnerable to our winter’s end clean up in the garden.  So keep a sharp eye out because you don’t want to lose these natural pest controls that keep your garden in perfect ecological balance.   Though frightening to look at, the adult praying mantis is a harmless beneficial.  They travel from plant to plant consuming pesky aphids, damaging caterpillars and many other problem pests.  With a good population of them in your organic garden, they keep the ecological balance of predator to prey.  But without them you’re vulnerable to explosions of pest populations called infestations, which cause serious damage to ornamentals and food crops.  If you find an egg case on a stick or board, save it in a protected sunny place in your garden until weather warms and the nymphs hatch out.  Then discard it.  The mantis egg case is often found on bark, twigs, fences and masonry.  The case sticks fast to the surface and is hard, like a fingernail.  When temperatures rise high enough the near microscopic nymphs inside begin the hatch out.  Nymphs are miniature versions of the adult insect. Each nymph will begin feeding immediately after hatch.  They’ll go after microscopic pests such as spider mites that cluster on the undersides of leaves to suck away their vital juices.  This single egg case may produce a dozen nymphs or more to inhabit the summer garden.  If you don’t have praying mantis in your garden, you can order egg cases online to create a new population at The Beneficial Insect Co:   http://www.thebeneficialinsectco.com/praying-mantis.htm  

A Tested Garden Favorite Multipurpose Viola

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It’s easy to love the tiny violas known as Johnny-jump-ups.  They are old British and European flowers that stand up to inclement weather like this year’s delayed spring.  It’s probably because they are very close to the original wildflower strain and grow just as easily, self sowing in gardens everywhere. Johnny-jump-ups like all violas bear edible flowers.  Pluck them and add to salads or as garnish for plenty of color in the kitchen.  Buy this seed online at Gurneys http://gurneys.com/default.asp These are just one of the many varieties of viola you’ll see today.  Unlike overly large flowers of pansies that can’t hold their own weight and flop in the mud when it rains, smaller violas are more well behaved.  In difficult weather years they’re more likely to survive late cold or snow than the high bred pansies.  Yet because their flowers are smaller they’re too often overlooked.  Tiger Eye Viola looks more like an exotic orchid than an ordinary garden flower.  Grow your own from seed purchased online at Park Seed (See Cool Links). From the Park Seed Catalog come a couple of really stellar new cultivars that illustrate what’s happened to violas over the past few decades.  They also illustrate what exotic looks you can find if you grow your own from seed, which is quite easy. A small flowered Viola ‘Bowls Black’ is an old heirloom varieties that doesn’t appeal to everyone.  But grow these to pluck and press in old books to later add to cards and letters for your own personalized correspondence.  This seed and many other fabulous old flowers are available from an excellent heirloom catalog:  Select Seeds and Antique Flowers  http://www.selectseeds.com/