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by Judi Lloyd
What are microgreens?
By Judi Lloyd
Sprouts, microgreens, and baby greens are very young, tender plants, used as salads or garnishes on many types of dishes. Each of the names- sprouts, microgreens, and baby greens are all considered different products, as the plant is harvested for eating at different times. They can add color, texture, and interesting flavors to meals.
Microgreens, in particular, are gaining popularity among chefs and more farmers are growing them. These are easy to grow and sprouts and microgreens can be grown indoors at home. Sprouts are the youngest of the three. They are exactly as the name describes—seeds that have just germinated. They may not have any green color to them. Typically, the entire plant is eaten including the shoots, the roots, and the seed, which may still be visible. Popular seeds for sprouting include mung beans, alfalfa, sunflower seeds, lentils, peas, mustards, and others.
Sprouts can be grown in a simple sterilized jar, covered with a couple of inches of water, and then by a food grade cloth The real key with sprouts is sanitation. There is a risk of contamination with Salmonella and E. coli, which is often the result of contaminated seed. Growing them at home does not mean they are safer since seeds are often the source of infection. It is very important to purchase seeds that are sold specifically for sprouting and that have been tested for the presence of microorganisms. Wash hands thoroughly before setting up your sprouting operation.
Microgreens are the next size up from sprouts. Many edible plants make excellent microgreens, including plants whose greens are not often consumed, such as carrots. Lettuces do not make good microgreens because they are too delicate. Common choices are broccoli, dill, basil, arugula, beets, and mustards. They each add a unique flavor and texture to any dish. The flavors are often similar to the mature version of the plant but tend to be more subtle.
Growing your own microgreens at home is easy. Microgreens are grown in soilless potting media, such as a peat moss-based mix with vermiculite or perlite. To grow your own, put potting media from ½” to 1” into a sterile tray with drainage holes. Broadcast seeds across the entire tray or plant in rows and gently press into the media. Some harder seeds, like beets, will germinate more easily if they are soaked in water before sowing. Keep the seeds moist with by misting until they germinate. After germination, keep moisture in the media from below the tray with a solid tray that holds water. Avoid watering the microgreens directly because this can encourage disease to develop. Because they grow in media, do not eat the root. Instead, harvest microgreens by cutting the plant above the soil line when they are approximately 1.5-2.5” tall. Use clean scissors to cut them and gently scoop the harvested handfuls into a clean receptacle.
The different plants used for microgreens vary in time from planting to harvest, but typically the process takes 7-21 days. It is easiest to sow only one cultivar in a tray but if you would like variety, consider planting cultivars that germinate and reach harvest stage in the same amount of time. Baby greens are the next size up. Plants used for baby greens are typically more familiar to us as greens- baby spinach, lettuces, kale, beet greens, and others. We only eat the leaves from baby greens and they are often used in salads.
Next time you’re out at a restaurant or farmers’ market, look for microgreens and give them a try! If you like them, and enjoy growing things at home, consider growing a tray yourself, to add variety to winter cuisine.
Winter is not a time to forget about your garden
By Judi Lloyd
Here are some tasks that should be taken care of over the winter.
Trees and shrubs: Keep leaves raked off lawn and around shrubs as they can create a hiding place for pests.
Lawns and ornamental plantings: Over-seeding with annual rye grass may make for a green lawn over the winter, but it is harmful to lawns, especially centipede. Clean and winterize your mower for the season. Drain gasoline or add a fuel stabilizer.
Flowers: Plant spring flowering bulbs between Thanksgiving and Christmas. And, don’t forget the Master Gardener bulb sale at the Farmers Market! A 2–3” blanket of mulch will protect overwintering perennials and help minimize weeds. Label plants with durable markers and consider mapping flower beds as backup.
Vegetables: Hungry for fresh greens? Start a micro-greens garden on your window sill. Sow micro-green seed mixes in shallow trays of potting soil and harvest when seedlings are 3–4” tall. You can start a new crop each week to continue getting your “salad” all winter. The average crop-time for most micro-greens is 7-10 days from seeding to harvest. Kale, cabbage and collards are the hardiest crops. You can continue to harvest them throughout the winter. Carrots can be left in the ground and harvested as needed. I’m even trying some out on my back deck in pots this year. If temperatures are expected to dip in the mid-20s, cover lettuce, broccoli, spinach and beets to prevent cold injury.
Fruits: Remove any unharvested fruit from trees. Citrus trees, including lemon, grapefruit and mandarins are not hardy outdoors in zone 8, but can be grown in large containers that are brought indoors for the winter.
Houseplants: Cut back on watering for the winter. Allow tap water to come to room temperature before using to water house plants. Because municipal water is treated with chemicals like chlorine or fluoride; it’s a good idea to let the water sit in an open container for 24 hours prior to watering. Place poinsettias in a brightly lit area where temperatures stay above 55°. Remove them from the foil wrappers before watering. If you force amaryllis bulbs to bloom for the holidays, cut back the stems after flowers fade. Place plants in a brightly lit area and water as needed. These bulbs are hardy and can be set outside in April.
– This is good time to take soil samples to send to NC State (there is a $4.00 fee for processing from November until the end of March) to see what you need to do to improve next year’s lawn and garden soil. Note: this should be done every 2 to 4 years.
– Check bird feeders and refill as needed.
– Drain and store hoses and sprinklers.
– After your mums have finished blooming, cut stems back close to the ground and dispose of leaves and stems.
– Winter damage to plants results from drying, freezing and breakage. Keep plants watered during dry spells.
– Store clay and cement planters in a cool, dry location to prevent damage from freezing.
– If you have a pond, prepare it for winter by removing and cleaning filters and pumps.
Is Mistletoe the romantic plant we think of?
By Judi Lloyd
We all think of a romantic encounter when we think of mistletoe. However, mistletoe is actually a semi-parasitic evergreen shrub or plant.
While most plants will root in the ground, when a mistletoe seed lands on a suitable host plant (typically a tree), it sends out roots that penetrate the tree limbs and draw on the trees nutrients and water. As a green plant, mistletoe does contain chlorophyll and is able to make some of its own food, so it does not completely deplete its host tree. But a severe infestation of mistletoe can kill a tree by robbing the tree of its nutrients. There are at least 100 different trees that are susceptible to a mistletoe infestation, but typically the infestation will appear on hickory, pecan, oak, red maple and black gum trees.
Mistletoe is most easily seen in winter. Look for ball shaped green masses up to 3’ wide connected to otherwise bare tree branches. Each mass in a tree is an individual mistletoe plant and a single tree may host only a few or many mistletoe plants. Birds are responsible for spreading mistletoe by seed. They relish its white berries, which ripen in early winter. When birds feed on these berries, the seed inside the berry passes through the bird’s digestive track surrounded by a sticky film that helps the seed stick to tree branches.
Mistletoe spreads and grows relatively slowly and is rarely considered an immediate threat to tree health. Healthy trees are able to tolerate a few mistletoe plants with little harmful effect. Trees that are heavily infested with mistletoe may become less vigorous, stunted, and can possibly be killed if subjected to additional stress from drought, extreme temperatures, root damage, insect infestation, or disease. If mistletoe is growing on trees in your yard the best thing you can do for them is to provide extra water during drought and a 2”-3” layer of mulch or ground leaves around trees from the trunk out to the edge of the canopy. This will reduce competition from grass, conserve moisture, and protect trees from injury by mowing equipment.
If there are trees on your property where mistletoe growth cannot be tolerated, you can simply cut the mistletoe back flush with the branch. Although this will not kill the parasite, it will help slow its growth. Removal of infested branches should be done 1-2 feet below the point of attachment. But if this is going to result in a huge pruning wound, then long term you’re creating additional problems for the tree.
In a tree where many branches would have to be removed to rid it of mistletoe, simply letting nature to take its course is the better option as removing multiple branches is harmful and often fatal to trees. Pruning trees to remove mistletoe is best done in winter by a certified arborist.
Like many organisms that at first appear to only be pests, mistletoe also has some benefits. It is tremendously valuable to wildlife, particularly birds and insects. For most property owners, the presence of mistletoe should be considered a sign of a diverse ecosystem rather than a threat to tree health.
How do I prune my drift and knockout roses?
By Judi Lloyd
Roses can be intimidating for many gardeners. But truly, roses are tough customers that can stand up to a good pruning and even tolerate mistakes more readily than many other plants. Pruning is vital for plant health. It helps protect against diseases and encourages continued blooming for the types of roses that will repeatedly set buds. It also helps shape the plant and opens up the interior for better air flow, preventing fungal diseases. Another reason to prune your roses is to keep them from producing seeds, which will sap their energy and can prevent further blooming.
Basic rose pruning involves removing dead, damaged, or diseased branches and can be done at any time of year. Damage often occurs on crossing branches, where wind causes thorns to rub against adjacent canes.
There are several types of pruning:
Spring Structural Pruning – The purpose is to shape the plant once the threat of frost is past; spring pruning removes dead wood and any damaged wood that may have died back over the winter. It’s better to prune late than too early and suffer unnecessary dieback.
Summer Pruning– Make your cut lower than the first leaflet to manage shape and growth. Both deadheading and shaping can be done from June through September.
Deadheading – This is a good practice for all roses. Make the cut at the 1st set of leaves that have five leaflets on the stem. Normally this is the second or third set down the stem.
A few basic tips for good, general pruning are:
Make your pruning cuts at a 45-degree angle, about 1/4 inch above the bud of an outward-facing leaflet. By pruning at a leaf with 5 leaflets, the buds will grow branches that will produce more flowers. Pruning above that, where there are only 3 leaflets on the stem, can produce non-flowering stems.
Pruning to an outward-facing bud promotes outward growth, opens up the plant to air circulation, creates more pleasing shapes and helps to resist disease.
Look at the overall shape and health of the plant, but begin pruning from the base of the plant. Remove any weak or twig-like branches thinner than a pencil. Removing spent blooms will tidy up the plant and spur further blooms.
Buy the best pruning tools you can afford. Bypass pruning shears are best because they cut cleanly using a cutting blade against a non-cutting edge. You’ll also need bypass loppers or even a small saw for large rose bushes. Good puncture-proof gloves are a must to protects your hands from sharp thorns!
Sharpen your pruning tools periodically and wipe them after each use with a soft, lightly oiled rag to prevent rust. Store tools in a dry area.
Now that you have some tips on pruning your roses, hopefully you’re feeling more confident to take on this task that you may have been avoiding in your garden. It’s easier and less risky than you might have thought. Like anything else, practice makes perfect. So, go ahead, pick up a pair of pruners and give it a try. It’s okay to make mistakes – your rose bushes will forgive you. Remember, it’s better to have a healthy, blooming plant that may experience a rough cut or two than one that, without any pruning, will grow increasingly unattractive and unhealthy.
Information in this article is cited from Monique Allen’s blog in The Garden Continuum.