Time to ...

Posted: August 11, 2012

Rest and read. It may be too hot to read out in the garden, but here's a good book for the screened porch: Amy Stewart's Wicked Bugs, which I just finished. It's a fascinating look at creatures that have affected man over the course of history, and the author's chilling stories made me realize how vulnerable we are if we don't understand the world around us. Stewart recommends many websites at the end of her book, such as Pesticide Action Network North America's www.panna.org, which suggests alternatives to pesticides. If you're visiting remote places this summer, click on the World Health Organization's site, www.who.int, for information and updates on insect-transmitted diseases worldwide.

Check for ozone damage. In the last several weeks, ozone damage has been identified on many sensitive plants, including vine crops in our area. Among the most susceptible is watermelon, which exhibits chlorosis (yellowing) on older leaves and black flecking or spotting on new leaves.

Ozone damage is caused by air pollution, high heat, and inversions in air masses, along with chemical changes that poison the plant. There's no known remedy. It can weaken and kill annuals and damage perennial plants if the weather pattern persists.

Some crops, like sweet potatoes, are less likely to be damaged, but melons and sugar maple trees are particularly at risk, especially in the city. For information, go to agdev.anr.udel.edu/weeklycropupdate/?tag=air-pollution-injury.

Consider echinacea; there'sstill time. I love this plant! While attending the Woody Plant Conference at Villanova University in July, I noticed amazing goldfinch activity around the echinacea and other campus plantings. If you don't already have coneflower in your garden, it's still available in garden centers and big-box stores. I like to install Echinacea purpurea, the eastern North American native, in sweeps or large patches because the more you have, the more goldfinches and pollinators will come to entertain you.

Many of the new double varieties don't seed up like our native, but there are other echinaceas that work as well. They include E. pallida var. angustifolia (narrow leaf, purple flower) and E. pallida (pale purple coneflower). All three have medicinal value and are called purple coneflower.

For information, go to http://tinyurl.com/9k6zlof

Prune "Hydrangea macrophylla." Cut and dry the heads and stems for later use by hanging them upside down. I like to cut the heads as close to the first leaf set as possible and put them in a large basket. They dry beautifully and you have an instant arrangement. If you prefer a wreath, make a wire frame by wrapping two pieces of 21-gauge wire with floral tape and shaping it into a ring. Tape the hydrangeas to the ring with 26-gauge spool wire. (When the heads are fresh, they can be easily manipulated.) When the wreath is complete, lay it flat or hang it up to dry. The secret to making a great wreath is to pick the hydrangea heads at the perfect time, which is now.

Harvest before vacation. A friend asked recently, "What do I do with all my produce when I'm away on vacation?" My answer: Harvest as much as you can before you go away; that way, you'll have another crop on your return. Peppers can be cleaned, cut into long slices, bagged, and frozen. Tomatoes can be quickly cooked down or pureed and frozen in portion sizes for soups and sauces. Zucchinis can be shredded and measured to accommodate zucchini bread recipes. You can also egg and bread the slices and freeze on cookie sheets, then transfer to plastic containers, for fried zucchini during fall and winter.

If there's just too much to stow away, give the overflow to neighbors or your local food bank. And if you're not planning any more vacation time, consider taking some courses on food preservation.

Here are two: www.kitchen-workshop.com/ and extension.psu.edu/home-family/food-safety-preservation

Eva Monheim is a certified arborist, master floral designer, and fulltime lecturer in horticulture at Temple University Ambler; she is also an instructor at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square. Contact her at emonheim@temple.edu

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