Pegplant’s Post May Giveaway: Foxgloves Gardening Gloves

I have been using Foxgloves gardening gloves for years now; currently I have three pairs. They fit like surgical gloves so I am able to grasp small seedlings and wiggle my hands under the soil to pull out stringy weeds. Mine are the Originals, wrist-length and made of cotton. They are very comfortable in the summer, they do not make my hands sweaty like plastic does. Plus, I can wash the dirt out in the washing machine and hang the gloves up to dry.

Foxgloves were designed by a woman horticulturist and landscape designer/architect. She was searching for a glove that would protect her hands without impeding her sense of touch. She liked the way the old-fashioned, elbow-length silk gloves fit but knew the delicate material would not last and could not be washed. Using Supplex® nylon and Lycra® elastane, she was able to create a strong yet snug fabric. In 1999, she launched her glove business with the Foxgloves Originals. Since then she has designed different types of gloves and other gardening products.

The giveaway for the May issue of Pegplant’s Post is one pair of the Foxgloves Originals. The winner can pick the size and one of 8 muted colors. Only subscribers can enter to win the giveaway so subscribe now to Pegplant’s Post, a free gardening newsletter for the Washington DC metro area.

Edith J. Carrier Arboretum: A JMU Gem

trillium, a wildflower in the oak forest

If you are a parent of a high school senior like me and find yourself with the prospect of driving down to James Madison University, you have to visit the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum. A week ago, I spent several hours walking through the wooded sanctuary, taking photos of the wildflowers and daffodils. Although it was a rainy day, the wood-chipped paths made it easy to transverse and the staff were delightful.

The Edith J. Carrier Arboretum is part of James Madison University, across from the JMU Convocation Center on University Boulevard. There is so much to see now in April and there will be even more with each season. After I dropped my daughter off at the Convocation Center, I parked at the Arboretum and walked into the Frances Plecker Education Center. Serving as the visitor’s center, this very modern looking building also houses the botanical library, staff offices, and rooms for meetings, workshops, and events. It opens out to an expansive deck with a pergola and picnic tables where they also have events such as plants sales.

Frances Plecker Education Center

As I picked up the self-guided walking tour brochure, Jan Mahon, the director, entered. She was very gracious about spending time with me even though I had not made an appointment. She explained that the Arboretum’s mission statement is to inspire outdoor engagement in a woodland sanctuary. It is a public (free admission) urban garden and forested greenspace that preserves native plant species. They are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year and to celebrate they have chosen the theme “Year of the Trees.” They will have tree-related programs, wellness activities, native trees for sale, and forest bathing and sound bathing classes. She even had bookmarks made from actual trees with the tree name on the backside. I picked up Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), which serves as “year-round cover and nesting space for wildlife.”

A view of Frances Plecker Education Center from across the lake

The JMU faculty can use the grounds for teaching, the local schools can bring children for field trips, and the public can either walk around on their own, take a self-guided tour, or participate in docent-led tours. Throughout the year, the Arboretum has workshops, lectures, plant sales, wildflower walks, children’s programs, volunteer opportunities and even weddings and private events.

The Arboretum is named after Edith J. Carrier, wife of JMU President Emeritus Ronald E. Carrier. However, the inspiration and vision comes from former JMU botany professor Dr. Norlyn Bodkin. In the early 1960s, Dr. Bodkin began to use the “College Woods” to teach botany to his students. In the 1970s, he advocated for an Arboretum. In the 1980s, then JMU President Carrier and the University Planning and Development Commission approved the plan and the Arboretum opened to the public in 1989. During Ronald Carrier’s presidential tenure, 1971-1999, Edith Carrier served as a hostess for visiting dignitaries and as an event planner for JMU thus the name honors her service to JMU. The Bodkin Oak-Hickory Forest, a woodland tract in the Arboretum, honors Dr. Bodkin who not only created the Arboretum but served as its first director.

bluebell buds

Covering 125 acres, the Arboretum has developed tracts near the Frances Plecker Education Center and undeveloped forested areas further away. Near the Center are small gardens or collections punctuated by educational signs. When I finished talking with Jan, I walked out of the Center toward a very large lake.

I passed the Viette Perennial Garden where purple-red peony stems and green daylily foliage were emerging. Famed horticulturist and nurseryman Andre Viette donated the perennials for this particular garden. As I headed toward the Herb Garden, the bluebells (Mertensia virginica) were just about to bloom, with clusters of tiny, pink and purple pinched buds. The Herb Garden is quite large; the plants are on short, retaining walls. A variety of herbs were coming back to life in early April. I could see purple-tinged anise hyssop leaves and valerian’s lacy green foliage. Across the way daffodils were peeping through a band of gold and red-twigged dogwoods (Cornus sericea).

yellow and red twigged dogwood with yellow daffodils peeping through

As I walked back down the path ribbons of yellow splashed across the April Walk Daffodil Garden. There must have been thousands of daffodils weaving in drifts under the leafless hardwood trees. I walked toward the wooden Pavilion and sat inside at a picnic table, taking a short break from the rain. Because of the rain, no one was outside so I had the pleasure of having the Arboretum all to myself.

ribbons of daffodils

I spent quite a lot of time in the Bodkin Oak-Hickory Forest and the Wood Wildflower Garden, taking photos of wildflowers. It was a treat to see the majestic trilliums with sessile, mottled leaves and mahogany-red flower buds. Most of the buds were not open yet but the leaves were large and gorgeous. The white blood root flowers (Sanguinaria canadensis) were closed but that might have been because of the weather. There were fields of Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) creating a fern green carpet with white, pendulous flowers.

Dutchman’s breeches, up close

As I walked towards the front of the Arboretum I passed the McDonald Azalea and Rhododendron Garden and the Mid-Atlantic Chapter for the American Rhododendron Society and Native Azalea Garden. I saw a few flowers, it is too early yet, but I can imagine how beautiful this place will be in a few months. There are flowers in every season here — even a large paperbush, (Edgeworthia chrysantha ‘Gold Finch’), had pendulous golden flowers left over from the winter.

The Edith J. Carrier Arboretum is a must visit next time you are at JMU or even in Harrisonburg. The next time I bring my daughter to JMU, I plan to see the labyrinth, the Fern Valley, the Monarch Waystation, and the blooming azaleas, rhododendrons, and perennials. Edith J. Carrier Arboretum, 780 University Boulevard, Harrisonburg, VA 22807; (540) 568-3194.

Volunteering at Public Gardens in Washington DC

April is National Volunteer Month and this week, from April 7 to 13, is National Volunteer Week. I originally posted this article in December 2018 but in honor of National Volunteer Week/Month, I am re-posting for you to think about volunteering at one of DC’s public gardens. The Washington DC area has many opportunities for people with a passion for plants and gardening to volunteer. This article focuses on three opportunities where the entities are not non-profits, they are actually part of the federal government. Thus, they share several unique characteristics.

This article provides a broad overview and compares and contrasts three places. However, it is best to reach out to the organization that interests you for more detailed information. Opportunities to volunteer are like the tide, they ebb and flow depending on the season and annual events. To learn about additional organizations that may need volunteers, view this list of public gardens and contact them directly.

U.S. Botanic Garden

The U.S. Botanic Garden (USBG) was established by Congress in 1820 and is one of the oldest botanic gardens in the country. The USBG is comprised of the Conservatory, the National Garden, and the Bartholdi Park. It is administered through the Architect of the Capitol. It is a prime tourist attraction, open every day of the year, and within walking distance of metro stations.

“Volunteers are vital to the support of the Botanic Garden,” said Elizabeth Barton,Education Specialist and Volunteer Coordinator, who oversees about 250 volunteers. People interested in volunteering at the USBG should first complete the application form on the USBG website, which gives Elizabeth a sense of timing, availability, and interests. After she receives the application, she calls the applicant to set up a meeting with her and possibly another staff person. Applicants can apply between January and early October.

U.S. Botanic Gardens’ production greenhouses

The USBG has a public programming team and a horticultural team. Volunteers who work with the horticultural team work with the plants either inside the conservatory, outside with the gardens and grounds crew, or at the USBG production facility in Maryland (large production greenhouses). Volunteers who work with the public programming team assist with the public programs, such as lectures and children’s programs, answer questions at the visitor’s desk, manage the Discovery Carts, or serve as docents.

All volunteers attend a general volunteer orientation. Starting in 2019, all volunteers will attend an accessibility awareness training where one learns to interact with people who have special needs and disabilities. There may be further training depending on the assignment. “None of the volunteer duties require prior horticultural knowledge,” explained Elizabeth. “We work with you where you are. The horticultural team loves working with people who have horticultural experience but they also love working with people who have no horticultural experience but have enthusiasm. As long as you have the enthusiasm, we can teach you about the tasks.”

Docents obtain additional training on how to give a tour and basic botany and plant morphology. Docents focus on a particular area of the Botanic Garden to learn about those particular plants. For example, a docent who leads tours of the National Garden outside would get additional training on the National Garden before leading a tour.

Elizabeth emphasized that there is also the opportunity to explore a special interest. A volunteer can present an idea to USBG staff who will discuss it to see if the idea fits with current programming. She explained how a volunteer had an interest in conifers and thus developed a conifer Discovery Cart. (Discovery Carts are informal, pop-up educational opportunities on specific topics such as conifers, chocolate, or poinsettias.)

Volunteers need to commit to 100 hours per year, which could be a 4-hour shift every other week or 2-hour shift every week or a condensed number of weeks. It varies because some people live nearby and can easily commute to work a few hours at a time while others live further away and prefer infrequent trips and a longer day.

A well-known volunteer giving a lecture at USBG

Because USBG is part of the federal government, volunteers need to go through the background security check and fingerprinting process that is required of all feds. If you are a current or retired government employee, you would have been through this process before.

Volunteers not only benefit from helping others, they learn more about horticulture and gardening. “Volunteers learn a lot no matter what they are doing here,” said Elizabeth. “They also are able to give back to the community, that is, the USBG is a great resource to the community.”

USBG staff host two volunteer appreciation events every year for the volunteers, a holiday and a spring social event. If volunteers have volunteered for a set minimum number of hours, they are able to attend a one day educational and appreciation event hosted by the Horticultural Consortium of the Greater Washington area (HCGWA). The HCGWA is a group of local organizations that depend upon a cadre of volunteers. Each year, one of the organizations hosts and develops the agenda and invites the volunteers from the other organizations.

Smithsonian Gardens

The Smithsonian Institution was established by an act of Congress in 1846 and is a unique public-private partnership that receives federal funds. In 1972, the Smithsonian Gardens was established to manage the Smithsonian museum grounds and is comprised of the Grounds Management Operations, the Greenhouse Nursery Operations, and the Horticulture Collections Management and Education. The outside gardens are open every day of the week and there are several nearby metro stops.

Alison Kootstra, Volunteer Program Coordinator, explained that even though they have a small volunteering program, less than 100 volunteers, they have a very high retention rate. As with the USBG, applicants need to first complete the volunteer application form on the website. Alison reviews the application and contacts the applicant to set up an in person interview. Interviews are conducted at the Smithsonian Gardens office on Maryland Avenue (next to L’Enfant Plaza metro station) or at the Suitland, Maryland, production greenhouses, depending on the location of the volunteer opportunity.

There are three different types of opportunities: grounds maintenance, greenhouse, and docents for exhibitions. Alison most frequently recruits for the grounds maintenance position where volunteers work alongside staff horticulturists in the Smithsonian gardens. Tucked among the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall are 13 thematic gardens.

Volunteer at Smithsonian Gardens event
Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Gardens

Volunteers are asked to commit to working from April to October, one day per week. Because staff work Monday through Friday, volunteers also work during the work week and not on the weekend. Recruitment occurs every year and three to eight people are chosen to work in specific gardens. “Experience is not required,” explained Alison. “It is more important that the person has enthusiasm, the willing to learn, and the ability to follow instructions.”

The Suitland greenhouses are not open to the public so the environment may be quieter than the public gardens, which are frequented by tourists. Tasks include planting, transplanting, and taking care of orchids and tropical plants. This opportunity is less frequent because volunteers tend to stay for a long time. Again, since volunteers are working with staff who work weekdays, the opportunity is also on weekdays.  

There are opportunities for docents for exhibitions but this is less frequent, depending on the need or exhibit. Because the Smithsonian Gardens is responsible for an orchid exhibit that begins in February 2019, Alison just recruited 20 new volunteers to serve as docents. This exhibit is open every day so the opportunity to volunteer would be on the weekday or weekend and would require quite a lot of interaction with the public.

Alison ticked off the benefits of volunteering with the Smithsonian Gardens, which mirror Smithsonian employee benefits. Volunteers receive 20 percent off at Smithsonian gift shops and many of the public food eateries, access to behind the scenes tours or enrichment activities within the Smithsonian, discounts on some ticketed Smithsonian programs, and reciprocal arrangements with other museums across the country.  In addition, Alison plans an enrichment activity every other month such as a tour of another public garden or a trip to see a local museum exhibit. Like the USBG, if volunteers have volunteered for a set minimum number of hours, they are able to attend the HCGWA event.

Volunteer in the Smithsonian’s Ripley Garden
Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Gardens

Smithsonian volunteers must also undergo the background security check and fingerprinting.They must attend an orientation and an annual security training. There may be additional training as needed for specific positions, for example, grounds staff may have more safety trainings than docents.

U.S. National Arboretum

The U.S. National Arboretum (USNA) was established in 1927 by an act of Congress. According to their mission statement on their website, the USNA enhances the economic, environmental, and aesthetic value of ornamental and landscape plants through long-term multi-disciplinary research, conservation of genetic resources, and interpretative gardens and exhibits. The USNA is administered by the U.S.Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Services. Located in Northeast DC with entrances on New York Avenue and R Street, the Arboretum is made up of 446 acres and many plant collections. There is no nearby metro stop but plenty of free parking.  

 “We get inquiries from people interested in volunteering from our website or they walk in to the Arboretum and ask if there are volunteering opportunities,” said Carole Bordelon, Supervisory Horticulturist and Acting Volunteer and Intern Coordinator. Carole asks interested applicants to complete an online form. She looks at the applicant’s interests while asking staff how many volunteers they can support, and then tries to match the two.

Volunteers cleaning seed at USNA
Photo courtesy of USNA

“We have several different types of volunteers but the majority are working outside in the gardens and assisting staff with weeding, pruning, mulching, and planting,” said Carole. “Although the Arboretum is open to the public on the weekends, the staff work during the week so the volunteer positions are only available during the work week. In addition, depending on the collection, the staff horticulturist may want a volunteer to work on a specific day.”Currently, they have about 75 volunteers that come in on a regular basis and work in the various collections. They also have a need for volunteers to work indoors on the herbarium, archives, exhibits, image database, and public programs.

“There are some volunteers who have been here a long time so there is no need for volunteers in that particular garden area but in some areas they need volunteers for the spring/summer months and not the winter. There are some volunteers who work in one collection outside and then on bad weather days, work inside on the herbarium.”

They do require 4-6 hours per week, usually 4 hours. “We set up a schedule and most of volunteers who work outside are asked to come on a specific week day,” said Carole. 

Volunteers planting in the USNA’s Fern Valley Meadow
Photo courtesy of USNA

Volunteers learn about the plants in the collection and proper techniques, but they also enjoy the ability to meet new people. The Arboretum is a tourist attraction; volunteers may interact with visitors from all over the world. In addition, the USNA staff put on an annual volunteer recognition event where they invite a guest speaker and distribute service awards. Staff arrange outreach field trips to other public gardens and volunteers are encouraged to go to the Smithsonian In-Service Days in the winter months. Similar to the other two, USNA volunteers may attend the HCGWA event. USNA volunteers must complete the background check and fingerprinting.

Friends of the National Arboretum

Although the Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) is a non-profit organization, it is important to mention because FONA works in tandem with the USNA and FONA volunteers work on the Arboretum property. People interested in volunteering may find themselves at the Arboretum for one-time events or long-term projects managed through FONA.

To volunteer, applicants need to complete the online form at the FONA website. “Many of our opportunities are seasonal,” explained Melinda Peters, Volunteer Programs Manager. “For example, recruiting for volunteers for the annual Garden Fair and Plant Sale in April will start up later. Our busy time will start at the end of February and into March and that is when I will start contacting applicants.”

To help distinguish between the two, the Arboretum manages volunteers who work in the plant collections or in the Arboretum’s Administrative Building while FONA manages volunteers for annual events such as the Garden Fair and Plant Sale, summer concerts, and Full Moon Hikes and for long-term projects such as the Washington Youth Garden and the Springhouse Run restoration project.

Volunteer pruning in the Asian collection
Photo courtesy of USNA

For the past 2 years, volunteers have restored Springhouse Run which is actually two streams that run through the Arboretum and into the Anacostia River, the Springhouse Run and the Hickey Run. The stream has been restored to a more natural flow and volunteers have planted many native plants. The Washington Youth Garden helps DC’s youth learn to garden and volunteer opportunities exist from April to early November, Tuesday and Saturday mornings. The Full Moon Hikes are guided walks around the Arboretum in the evening, under a full moon,which requires volunteers to serve as tour guides. The Garden Fair and Plant Sale is an April weekend where many different types of plants are for sale to the public, either from the Arboretum’s holdings, local garden clubs, or nurseries. This is a purely volunteer-run event at the Arboretum managed through FONA.

Unlike the three federal entities mentioned above, FONA does not require a background security check and fingerprinting except for the Washington Youth Garden volunteers who have to complete a more extensive onboarding process. However, volunteers for one-time events may have to sign a liability form.

There is more flexibility in terms of hours if one volunteers through FONA. Volunteers can work on weekdays, weekends, and in the evenings, depending on the event.  Also, corporations that want to or universities that require service hours can work through FONA to complete one-time service activities such as mulching on the Arboretum grounds.

Volunteer cleaning up in USNA’s Azalea collection
Photo courtesy of USNA

As with all volunteering opportunities, the benefits are socializing, learning, and giving back to the community. “For single events, we provide snacks, tools,and training,” said Melinda. “It is safe to say that food is always involved somehow.” FONA volunteers are invited to an annual volunteer appreciation event and as with the other three entities, volunteers may attend the HCGWA if they meet the required hours. Melinda also explained that the Full Moon Hike leaders receive a stipend because they have to undergo a more rigorous training program and commit to a certain list of guidelines.

To summarize, there are many different opportunities to volunteer with these prestigious organizations, you just have to figure out which is the best match for you in terms of your time, interests, and ability. Some will require digging in the dirt while others will require public speaking. But with all, horticultural experience is not a requirement so do not hesitate if you do not have plant experience. Just show up with enthusiasm and a willing to learn and you will become connected to DC’s horticultural network!

Before You Buy That Plant, Answer Five Basic Questions

My teenage son introduced me to the phrase “talk to the hand.” Although “talk to the hand because the face ain’t listening” is clearly another way of saying be quiet (nagging mom), I, as a gardener, immediately thought of the five basic criteria for buying plants. A finger for each question! What a concept! This will make it easier for new gardeners to figure out what to buy or what to do after they have bought plants for their garden.

When shopping for plants, there are five basic questions to ask before you make a purchase. This is the very basic information you need in order to make a wise decision and to determine the best location in the garden for the optimal survival rate. Raise a finger and ask:

  • What is the plant’s environmental requirements? What is its preference for light, water, and temperature? This will tell you immediately if you have a place for it in your garden. Does it need full sun, or morning sun and afternoon shade, or shade all day? Does it need to be watered often, or can it take dry spells? Does it prefer the cool spring weather or must it be planted after the average last frost date?
  • What is its life cycle? Is it an annual, perennial, biennial, or tropical plant? In other words how much plant life will you get for your money? Many plant tags will phrase this in terms of the hardiness zone. A tag that says zone 4-9 means that it will survive our winters since we are in zone 6-7. A tag that says zone 10-11 probably means it is a tropical plant that will die with first frost.
  • What is its function in the garden? Is it going to serve as a groundcover, will it provide spring flowers, or will it have bright fall foliage?
  • What will be the ultimate size? If it only gets a foot tall, you probably have the space. If it grows into a tree, ask yourself if you have space in a few years.
  • What color is it? This is a placement issue. Know the color of the flower, fruit, and leaves in all seasons so you can plant it in a place where it won’t clash with other plants or your house.

You should have five fingers up by now. Much of this information should be on the plant tag but if there is no tag, ask nursery staff or look it up in a book or on the internet.

This isn’t to say you can ask more questions or there are not more criteria that are relevant to your area and your needs. For example, if you live in a deer infested area, you would want deer resistant plants. Make that your sixth question and look at your palm. Or you have small children who play outside in the garden and you want non-poisonous, child friendly plants you can make that your palm. But these are more specific to you and could change if you move or if your children grow up.

As the plant establishes itself and thrives in the garden, eventually you will learn additional information, such as fertilizing and pruning. These are maintenance questions. This could be the other hand, like a second tier of information. But for now, when you are considering planting peppers and peppermint together, in your garden, talk to the hand!

Pegplant’s Post April Giveaway: 21 packages of seed!

Cosmos, one of the flowers of the flower seed collection

For years I have been receiving the Kitchen Garden Seeds catalog as well as the newsletter. John Scheepers is a family-owned seed company that sells a large collection of vegetable, herb, and flower seeds. They produce a beautifully illustrated free catalog with detailed information on the plant itself and the varieties. This catalog is a great resource for beginner gardeners. Their website has horticultural information, an e-cookbook, and a blog. You also can subscribe to their free newsletter featuring particular vegetables, flowers, or herbs with sowing and growing information.

Borage, from the herb seed collection

The giveaway for the Pegplant’s Post April issue is three seed collections: vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Each collection has 7 packets for a total of 21 packages of seeds valued at $65.95. Only subscribers can enter the giveaway so subscribe now to Pegplant’s Post, a free gardening newsletter for the Washington DC metro area.


Photos courtesy of John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds

Sow-a-Smile: Grow and Give Flowers This Summer

For years I have cut flowers from my garden and brought them to my office. I am no flower arranger, I just stick the zinnias, marigolds, daisies, and cosmos in a vase and put the vase on my desk. My colleagues love them. Invariably they smile and strike up a conversation. Some ask me to bring in flowers for them; some are inspired to bring in flowers of their own.

Jeannette Haviland-Jones, Professor Emeritus with Rutgers’ Department of Psychology, has researched the impact flowers have on both men and women. In three different studies, she has proven that flowers are a positive emotional “inducer.” In the first study, flowers, when given to women, elicited the Duchenne smile. The Duchenne smile is a genuine smile, an indicator of happiness. The corners of the mouth are raised, the cheeks are raised, and the eyes are crinkled with lines. In addition, the women in the study reported more positive moods 3 days later.

In the second study, a flower or a pen was given to men and women in an elevator to see if flowers have the same impact on men and also to see if flowers (versus pens) would decrease the social distance in an elevator and increase conversation initiation. Men showed the same pattern of smiling when receiving flowers. When the people in the elevator were given flowers, they were more likely to initiate conversation thus closing the gap between them. In a third study, flowers were given to people in senior living residences. The flowers elicited positive moods and improved episodic memory.

Her research proves what we instinctively know: flowers trigger happy emotions and affect social behavior in a positive way. To celebrate the power of flowers, Burpee has started a sow-a-smile campaign. They are giving a free packet of flower seeds with each purchase of annual flowers (seed or plants). The seed packet has easy-to-grow annuals such as baby’s breath, candytuft, scarlet flax, red corn poppy, calendula, cornflower, zinnia, sulphur cosmos, gloriosa daisy, plains coreopsis, and catchfly. Burpee is encouraging people to grow and give a bouquet, capture the recipient’s smile on camera, and share the images on their Facebook site. A brilliant idea – share the love! If you want to see the Duchenne smile on your friends, family, and colleagues, give flowers!

Photos courtesy of Burpee.


Marimo: “Houseplant” for the New Generation

one small Marimo to take home, with googly eyes attached

Usually when I see or hear of something three times in a row, it peaks my interest. Recently I had seen images of Marimo on Facebook – green, moss-like balls in water. Last week, City Planter, a local plant business, was selling them at the Philadelphia Flower Show in water-filled plastic pouches. I did not buy one but I thought it would be a great gift for my kids as they move into college dorms this fall. This week, I received an e-mail from The Sill announcing they have Marimo as a “houseplant” in stock again.

Marimo are balls made up of green algae (Aegagropila linnaei). The algae is a filamentous form where the filaments grow out from the center in many directions. The rolling nature of the water in the lakes in which they are found mold the algae into spheres. This filamentous algae is found only in a few lakes, one of which is Lake Akan in Japan. Marimo is the Japanese word for the balls.

Marimo grows slowly, just a few millimeters per year. They are long lived in their natural environments, lasting over a hundred years and reaching a foot in diameter. The Marimo balls that are sold as “houseplants” are juveniles, only a few inches in diameter.

Marimo can be kept in glass bowls by themselves or in aquariums. However, some fish such as goldfish eat the balls so check with your pet store first. The balls photosynthesize just like a houseplant and prefer indirect light or aquarium lights. If separated or torn apart, they will not die. However, you may have to hand-mold them into balls again. They cannot be allowed to dry out or they will die.

individual glass container of one Marimo to bring home

In nature, Marimo are spherical because of the lake’s rolling water but in a glass tank they may lose this shape because the water is still. Simply hand roll the Marimo to retain the shape. This also allows other sides to receive light evenly. Because they come from cold lakes, they prefer cool, clean water which means the water in the glass bowl cannot be allowed to heat up (which will happen with sun or direct light) and has to be changed every two weeks.

Theoretically, Marimo balls will outlive you if you treat them right. Not like the goldfish I got for my kids when they were in elementary school. In the fall, as my twins head for college, I will buy them glass bowls of green Marimo balls, the low-maintenance “houseplant” for the next generation.

holding tank of many Marimo for people to purchase individually

All-America Selections: Clancy Potatoes From True Potato Seed

Clancy potatoes, photo courtesy of All-America Selections

Last week, I received seed packets of various All-America Selections (AAS), both National and Regional 2019 winners.  All-America Selections are plants, flowers and edibles, tested for garden performance by a panel of expert judges. The varieties that perform best over all of North America become AAS National Winners and the ones that perform well in certain regions are AAS Regional Winners. This is an independent trialing process to offer gardeners reliable new varieties. AAS has an excellent website devoted to gardeners, detailing each plant with growing instructions and beautiful photos.

All the seed packets that I received look very exciting–I cannot wait to plant them this year in my Virginia garden. However, the one seed package that really was different and new to me was Clancy potato seeds, bred by Bejo Seeds. Not seed potatoes mind you but actual seeds. These seeds are so tiny they are coated to make them easier to handle. Clancy is the first potato from seed that is an AAS winner. Clancy grows to about 3 feet in height with blue flowers and produces rose-blush to red skinned tubers with a white to yellow interior. These round to oblong tubers are about 4-5 inches in length and are good for boiling and mashed potatoes.

True Potato Seed is so small, is coated

Usually potatoes are grown from “seed potatoes” which are either very small tubers or parts of a tuber. These are planted in March in our area and eventually a bushy plant appears that produces more and larger tubers to eat. True seed comes from the resulting fruit of a potato flower. True potato seed (TPS) is resistant to diseases especially viruses and lasts much longer than seed potatoes.

Last year I grew seed potatoes in fabric containers from small tubers but I have never grown potatoes from TPS before. TPS needs to be started indoors under lights about 6 weeks before the average last frost (end of April in Northern Virginia). They are sown with a very thin layer of seed starting mix on top of the seed as light inhibits germination. The surface of the soil must be moist until seedlings poke through and then watering can decrease. After the seedlings have produced four true leaves, the plants can be set outside to harden off. I harden off my plants by putting them on the deck in the daytime when the temperature is about 50 degrees and back inside if frost is predicted or the evenings are too cold. When there is no more danger of frost, the plants can be planted in containers or in the ground. All potato plants need to be “hilled” which is a process of covering the plant with soil as tubers form so the tubers are not exposed to light. The top 6 inches or so of the plant is not covered to allow leaves to continue to photosynthesis. Potatoes require full sun with good drainage and loose soil which is easy to provide in a large container where I can add bags of potting soil. In the summer, the plants must be well watered. Clancy will probably be harvested in mid to late summer.

I am truly looking forward to growing Clancy but I am also looking forward to the other AAS winners such as Big Duck Marigold Gold, Viking Begonia XL Red on Chocolate, Holi Scarlet Zinnia, Melon Orange Silverwave, Pepper Just Sweet, and the many tomatoes cultivars! If you are looking for new plants to try with a seal of approval, look to AAS for flower and vegetable winners.

Various All-America Selections to try this year

March Deal: Discount on Growing Perennial Foods Book

Every month I list gardening books that have just been or will be published on my website, In addition, I link to this cumulative list in my monthly newsletter, Pegplant’s Post. This is a great resource for gardeners–you can keep abreast of current gardening trends and techniques, and you can use this list as a resource for gift ideas for fellow gardeners or just for you! This month, Stone Pier Press, publisher of Acadia Tucker’s book Growing Perennial Foods: A Field Guide to Raising Resilient Herbs, Fruits and Vegetables, is offering a 20 percent discount on the book. Acadia is a regenerative farmer who is concerned about global warming and believes that perennial foods can weather the climate extremes better than annuals. This book is for people who want to grow food, i.e., herbs, fruits and vegetables, and are concerned about climate change. To obtain the 20% discount, use the code PEGPLANT20 when ordering from the Stone Pier Press site. This offer is good from March 1 to 31, 2019.

Multiply Your Thanksgiving Cactus Through Cuttings

stem cuttings twisted off Thanksgiving cactus plant

Taking cuttings of your Thanksgiving cactus is easy and yields many more plants to give away as gifts. Now that the holidays are over and your plant has finished blooming, this is the perfect time to increase your holdings.

Line up a few clean, small plastic containers such as yogurt containers, fruit cup containers, or plastic cups and puncture the bottoms to allow for drainage. Fill with packaged seed starting mix and water each cup so water runs through the drainage holes.

To take the cutting, simply twist off a piece of stem about three to four segments long. The stems are made up of joined rectangular segments. Each segment is called a cladode. The length should be long enough to insert into soil and stand up. You want to twist so you have the end of a segment or cladode, not mid-way into a segment. Insert into the container, water again, and tamp to ensure the stem is standing upright. You can insert several per container or just one per container.

Place on a tray, in a well-lit place, out of direct sun. The room should be warm, “room temperature,” not a cold, drafty basement.  It is not necessary to place the container in a plastic bag or to fertilize.

stem cuttings planted on February 6

Some people insert the cutting directly into the soil while others wait a day or two for the cut part to form a callus. This is done to prevent rotting. I have never had a problem with rotting so I simply insert the cutting into the wet soil.

I do not use a rooting hormone because the plant roots easily. A Thanksgiving cactus is an epiphytic plant that grows on trees in Brazil’s coastal mountains. In their natural habitat, they have aerial roots, which is an indication that the cuttings will root easily without added hormones.

For the first few weeks, I water the containers often enough so the soil is moist but not waterlogged.  Because the containers are very small, the soil will dry out faster than a full grown plant in a large container. After a few weeks, I check to see if roots have formed by gently pulling to see if there is resistance. Also, if the plant is still turgid, there is a good chance it has survived the cut and is still trying to form roots. If the plant is obviously wilted or rotted, I throw away the entire plant and container into the trash. This is one advantage to having one cutting per container; if it does not work, you only lose the one cutting and container, not many cuttings in one container.

roots formed on cuttings on February 23

Eventually, the cuttings will form enough roots so you can transplant to a larger container with potting soil. For the cost of seed starting mix, cuttings are an inexpensive gift for friends and family. Makes a great teacher’s gift too!

close up of small white roots with seed starting medium attached

The Thanksgiving cactus is an example of a stem cutting and I will be talking about this technique as well as others at my “Plants & Design: Multiply Your Plants” workshop. Join me at Green Spring Gardens on Saturday, March 30, from 9:30 to 11:00 am as I demonstrate how to multiply plants through simple techniques that you can do at home. Learn how to take stem cuttings and divide plants to save money and enhance your garden. This is a hands-on, get dirty workshop so you can take home a starter plant plus handout. To register, call Green Spring Gardens at (703) 642-5173 or register online at using code 586.37E6. See you at Green Spring Gardens, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA.