Shawnee News-Star Weekender Feb 2nd 2019 Becky Emerson Carlberg Happy Groundhog's Day.   Groundhog Day falls exactly between the solstice and the spring equinox. Did Punxsutawney Phil see his shadow at Gobbler's Knob in western Pennsylvania at exactly 7:25 this morning?   He's been poking his head out to check on winter every February 2nd since 1886. […]

Shawnee News-Star Weekender Feb 2nd 2019

Welcome says the parrot

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Happy Groundhog's Day.   Groundhog Day falls exactly between the solstice and the spring equinox. Did Punxsutawney Phil see his shadow at Gobbler's Knob in western Pennsylvania at exactly 7:25 this morning?   He's been poking his head out to check on winter every February 2nd since 1886.  If the rodent saw his shadow, six more weeks of winter.   Leave it to the Pennsylvania Dutch.   In Germany it had been called 'Badger Day' but our immigrants decided on the groundhog.   Smart.   Badgers can be so testy.

Closest thing I have to a groundhog, my hedgehogs

Today, the chosen groundhog is treated like royalty, but not so in earlier days. Seems the groundhog became the entrée for the celebration.   No one fesses up to how many groundhogs have served in the prediction position, but groundhogs in captivity have a lifespan of about 10 years.  This means 13 groundhogs have been Punxsutawney Phil.

Don't worry about lonesome Phil.   He lives with his wife Phyllis in the Punxsutawney town library.   Phil speaks Groundhogese which only the 15 members of the Groundhog Club Inner Circle can understand and translate.   Phil is never wrong.   The president just mis-interprets Phil's predictions from time to time.

The pros were at Gordon Cooper last Saturday.   Gardening professionals.   Four uber-knowledgeable plant people gave presentations at the 21st Annual 'Gardening with the Experts.'   Marilyn Stewart opened with 'Attracting Monarchs and so much more with Native Plants.'   A person after my own heart.   She exclaimed that Monarchs have carried the whole burden of pollinators on their little shoulders.   The Monarch is a specific feeder because the caterpillar only eats milkweed plants.   Pictures were shown of the various stages of a Monarch and ended with the butterfly having just emerged from its 'Jade Earing' chrysalis.   Before it could fly, the butterfly had to rest for about an hour to allow the wings to dry and stiffen. Note: Butterflies create hard and smooth chrysalises; moths weave cocoons with silk coverings.

If there was one Monarch plant to have, Marilyn recommended the Bluevine Honeyvine (Cynanchum).   In her opinion, it is why we still have autumn Monarchs.   Every milkweed plant hosts a community of up to 46 species, from assassin bugs and praying mantises to the Monarch mimic the Queen butterfly. 'Plant it and they will come.'

Marilyn told stories about butterflies as she presented a list of plants with their respective insects. The Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar looks like a puppy dog.   You can hear them eating pipevine plants: crunch, crunch, crunch.   Sassafras or spicebush attracts the snake-head caterpillar of the spicebush butterfly. The larva has two large eyes on each side, one real and one fake.

Woolly Croton is a magnet not only for the Gray Hairstreak but the Goatweed Leafwing. The caterpillars cut and fold leaves over themselves like a burrito.   These butterflies overwinter as adults in camouflage.   The undersides of their wings resemble expired dry leaves.   If bothered, they 'play possum' and fall over as if dead.

It is so important to provide native nectar plants.   They have co-evolved with insects over eons.   Don't use pesticides.   Aim for diversity.   Birds need insects that need native plants. Final thought: Alfred Russel Wallace was a 19th century naturalist and explorer who observed 'All living things were not made for man.'

Next was team Lindsay Goodson and Carla Smith.   Lindsay is the food environment expert for the Pottawatomie County Blue Zones Project.   Carla is the Oklahoma State University (OSU) Horticulture Educator for Pottawatomie County.   Can't get any more local than that!   Lindsay began with the Blue Zones 'Well Being Initiative', a program designed to help people make healthy choices.   Five areas in the world are longevity hotspots (blue zones).

In Sardinia Italy people follow a lean plant-based diet, laugh with friends and engage in walking. Okinawa Japan goes for gardens, especially the medicinal type, and the occupants rely on a plant-based diet.   Residents in Loma Linda, California (there is a McDonald's in the neighborhood) partake in regular exercise, eat more plants and consume meats in moderation. A higher number of Seventh Day Adventists live here. Family life is important in Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica, where light dinners are usual fare.   The Greeks in Ikaria enjoy beans and greens, herbs and mountain living.   Add herbs to enhance your meals.

Live Longer, Eat Veggies

Carla reminded us that one does not need a 5 acre in-ground garden; use containers!   Ornamental, culinary, kitchen, recycled nursery pots, smart pots, and even 5 gallon buckets are portable and much easier to maintain.   If all goes well, flowers, food and seeds will form.   Seeds can then be collected for next year. Make sure the seed is mature.   Use fine net muslin bags to hold seeds that tend to shatter, such as the Texas Bluebonnet. Paper or paper sacks can be used for flower storage.   After the seeds are sorted and cleaned, they should be stored in envelopes or breathable bags.   Label with date and name of plant. Storage needs to be in a cool, dry, dark location.

Camp T.U.R.F. (Tomorrow's Undergraduates Realizing the Future) will be held this summer for the 10th year if there are enough contributions from individuals and groups.   The camp focuses on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) programs for youth that develop interest and knowledge in the physical and natural worlds.

Greetings from OSU.   Steve Dobbs, Landscape Services Director of the OSU Facility Management was a speaker at the very first 'Gardening with the Experts' in 1999.   Despite the fact he has used the best fertilizers the past 20 years, it still did has not helped restore his hair.   The picture of a rock with words said it all: 'I'm not aging, I just need to be repotted.'

The 61 employees of the Grounds Department are in charge of 870 acres.   Steve has been there nearly nine years.   With 24,000 students each year, the gardens have become a recruitment tool.   The impression or 'branding' on a student is made the first 15 minutes after he or she steps foot on campus.   Although the gardens are formal in layout, native plant areas are now being developed. The eye-catching green cowboy boot topiary (over 7 feet tall) that awes visitors and students alike is hauled to the greenhouse every fall to overwinter.   It comes back in the spring.

Know your native plants.   Aesthetics: some are not so pretty. Alien invader or native?  Maintenance: no? yes?  It depends on the location and the native.   Microclimates can be created in urban settings.   Purist or generalist: What type person are you?   The native grasses are planted 'soldier boy' style in rows.   The tall Gaura grew well in a large pot with petunias below. Chinese Kousa Dogwoods, now becoming popular, support NO insect herbivores.   Native dogwoods are home to 117 species.

Tums for the Toms

The campus has heavy clay, but sandy topsoil has been added to the beds.   The soils are not  amended in the native gardens, but hardwood mulch is used to simulate natural mulch.   Cottonseed hulls are not recommended.   They hold too much moisture that leads to rotting.

The challenge:   How does it look in winter?   Southern Wax Myrtles and redcedar varieties are good landscape plants to add textures and colors around dormant grasses.   The red Winterberry Holly berries brighten up the scenery.

Forty-three garden tips were submitted that morning.   Third best tip: put food color in the bottom of a rain gauge to make it easier to read. Second: old lampshades make creative plant cages.   Winning tip:   When digging the hole to plant a tomato, drop in an antacid tablet, cover slightly with dirt, then plant the tomato plant.   The tablet is calcium and eliminates blossom end rot. Tums sweeten the tummy and tomato.

The door prizes, courtesy of several businesses and organizations, were phenomenal. I took home a colorful parrot welcome sign donated by Don's plants.  The seminar ended with a seed swap.

Thanks to:   Shawnee Community Beautification Committee, Bougainvillea and Hydrangea Sponsors.   Time to garden.