Dried Arrangements

Take a walk in the fall and you will discover the interesting dried forms of familiar plants along the trails and water’s edge. These can be combined in vases or baskets to make long-lasting arrangements. Walk into an uncultivated field and you will likely have long enough stems for an arrangement in a bushel or large decorator basket. Use a laundry basket to keep plants upright and sharp scissors or pruner to cut stalks. Do ask permission before cutting on private property, though it is rare that a landowner will object. Be wary of roadside cutting if there is a chance of a weed control spraying program in the area.

04 Dried Arrangments

What a weed gives a floral arrangement is a sense of authenticity: “This really had a life somewhere that wasn’t on purpose and hasn’t had a human intervention.” Emily Thompson, floral designer.

Without traveling, you can also use the spent flower stems from your backyard garden if you allow them to age gracefully instead of continuing to deadhead after late August. Especially attractive are coneflowers (yes, they keep their petals but turn a semi-sweet chocolate brown), bee balm (round ball shape), and sunflower varieties (no petals and seeds may drop, but the residual texture in the seed head with a triangular fringe is spectacular). Often you can find pampas grass or hops at fall farmers’ markets.

Consider using dried grasses as filler much the way a florist uses ferns at the back of the arrangement to add height. Pick one or two significant stems to anchor your arrangement and repeat in another size elsewhere in the bouquet. Use vegetation of another size or density to fill in around the special stems. Do strip leaves that will be below the height of the container. A pleasing arrangement doesn’t just happen: It’s an artful blend of harmony, balance, and scale … a mixture of foliage tints, tones, and shades plus — perhaps — an added selection of pods, cones, and grasses. We have an abundance of cattails and milkweed pods in our immediate area and they can add texture and height.

You can also add a single bloom or twig of colored leaves for emphasis. If you use foliage that is still alive, you will need to use a container that holds water and change it often. Always remember that the best arrangements are approximately twice the height and width of their containers. Experiment! Have fun!

~ Submitted by Elizabeth Waddington

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Asclepias syriaca (Common milkweed)

Common milkweed is a member of the Asclepiadaceae (milkweed) family.

It easily adapts to growing in a variety of soils from rocky to clay to sandy to chalky and is often found near the banks or flood plains of lakes, ponds, and waterways, in prairies, forest margins, roadsides, and waste places. In Montana it is often found at the edges of fields near ditches. In other words, it is prolific once it gets established. A single pod normally releases 50 – 100 seeds attached to a white, fluffy coma (“parachute”) that allows wind dispersal.

Common milkweed is nature’s mega food market for insects. Over 450 insects are known to feed on some portion of the plant. Numerous insects are attracted to the nectar-laden flowers and it is not uncommon to see flies, beetles, ants, bees, wasps, and butterflies on the flowers at the same time. Milkweeds contain various levels of cardiac glycoside compounds which render the plants toxic to most insects and animals. (Humans should not ingest!) For some insects, the cardiac glycosides become a defense. They can store them in their tissue which renders them inedible or toxic to other animals. Monarch butterflies use this defense and birds leave them and the caterpillars alone. What the birds do not know is that northern monarchs feeding on common milkweed accumulate relatively little of the toxic compounds and probably would be edible.

Monarch butterflies can be helped by encouraging existing patches and planting new ones. It is the only plant the monarch caterpillar eats, and eggs are laid on the underside of its leaves. The plant grows readily from seed and spreads quickly by deep rhizomes. Because common milkweed can be weedy and difficult to remove, care should be used to establish the plant only in places where spread can be tolerated. If you want to add milkweed to your yard, propagation by cuttings of the tuberous rhizome is easy and reliable.

Less well-known human uses include historical Native American medicinal concoctions for everything from ringworm to temporary sterility and as a source for making strong fiber string. Milkweed is collected in the autumn after the leaves have begun to fall off, the stalks turn gray or tan, and the plant dries up. If the milkweed stems will break off at the ground, it’s time to harvest. The dried stalks are then split open and the fibers are twisted into string. Breaking off as many stalks as possible (or burning) encourages re-sprouting in the spring.

03 Milkweed 2Dried milkweed pods can add interesting lines and texture to a fall flower arrangement so take a walk and look for this prolific plant as Montana’s vegetation dries and turns golden.

Submitted by Elizabeth Waddington

Dandelions

by Elizabeth Waddington

Do you love sunflowers? Then you should embrace the pesky dandelions in your lawn since they are in the same family. Both are cheery yellow, can be used as accents in floral arrangements, especially if you have grandchildren picking the dandelions, and are

JAS 13

artwork by Elizabeth Waddington

attractive to pollinators for your garden and fruit trees. The family is Asteraceae (Asters/Sunflowers) and the Species is Taraxacum officinale (Common dandelion). The name (recorded from late Middle English) comes from French dent-de-lion, translation of medieval Latin dens lionis ‘lion’s tooth’, because of the jagged shape of the leaves.

What is your tolerance level for these non-native plants, aka “weeds” in your yard? If you don’t mind them, leave your dandelions to attract the pollinators who help with our neighborhood fruit and vegetable crops. You may have a good reason to not have them blooming for special events; I will be nipping off the yellow blooms when my toddler grandchildren come to visit, but otherwise leaving them until they go to seed (no, I don’t want THAT many, thank you!)JAS 14

But what can you do if your tolerance level is zero dandelions in your prized putting green turf? You can use a commercial weed and feed granular mixture in a drop or broadcast spreader when they are actively growing which will cover your entire lawn. You can spot treat with a weed killer that only targets broadleaf plants and will not harm the lawn (usually in a spray container with a nozzle). Or you can manually extract them with devices designed to pry them up by the root. Note that you need the whole root in order to eradicate the plant and that is easiest after a heavy rain. The small blue and white JAS 15digger is simple to use but takes skill to get deep enough to remove all of the root. The large red and silver “jumper” is like using a pogo stick on the dandelion. Or, as my husband asked, “What ARE you doing?” It does take a hunk of sod out with the weed so consider it to also be an aerating tool. You can always hire a commercial yard care company to maintain your lawn, but does that give you satisfaction?

Ostrich Ferns

Matteuccia struthiopteris has the apt common name of Ostrich Fern because its fronds resemble the elegantly graceful plumes of the ostrich. Native to North America, once established, this Zone 3 fern performs well under conditions that few garden plants prefer, while offering a culinary spring treat to boot. Ostrich ferns in the wild thrive in rich moist soil in part to full shade, yet they are one of the best performing ferns in our area. They tolerate our drier alkaline clay soil and with a little love will colonize an area with a northern exposure that few plants, much less ferns, will enjoy. Better still, they survive with benign neglect: no pruning and the deer and rabbits seem to leave them alone. If you have a difficult shaded area on the north side of your house, this plant will take that spot from barren to lush in a few years’ time.

When planting ostrich ferns, choose a site that will shelter the delicate fronds from burning sun and the strongest winds. It’s also a good idea to prepare the bed with an addition of sphagnum peat and compost. This will lighten the texture, provide nutrients and improve water holding capacity. In future years, a nice topdressing of compost and an occasional feeding will keep them happy. Plant them 18 to 24’’ apart, making sure to keep the crown just above the soil level, mulch lightly to hold moisture and prevent weeds and water in well. They will need regular water, especially in the first season, during which they should never be allowed to dry out. After they are established, they will survive with consistent but less generous amounts of water, while still appreciating a little extra during periods of drought. The first year or two they will work hardest on establishing a strong root system, spreading underground by rhizome. The fronds may appear shorter than the expected 36 to 48 inches and a little sparse. Don’t worry, in a few years’ time, your patience will be rewarded with a lovely soft colony of lush, almost tropical looking ferns. (Ostrich ferns can be feisty in wetter climates, but our dry conditions limit their ability to spread more than we want them to.)

They provide a graceful backdrop for other shade loving plants such as Dicentra and Hosta. It’s also fun to mix in early spring woodland plants that go dormant for the summer such as Dodecatheon, known commonly as Shooting Star. Although the leaf fronds die to the ground in autumn, once the ferns reach maturity, they will produce shorter, fertile spore-producing fronds which remain standing attractively through the winter.

Historically used by Native Americans, fiddleheads are a treasured wild forage food which appears fleetingly in restaurants and farmers’ markets in the spring. Once your002 ferns have established a healthy colony, you too can harvest the early unfurled leaves. Remembering to never take more than half of the shoots from a crown and only the early sterile leaf shoots, the fiddleheads must be tightly coiled at harvest, and must be washed and husked of their brown papery covering, then fully cooked before being consumed. When steamed for 10-12 minutes, they are reminiscent of asparagus. I have also boiled and pickled them successfully, which is an easy way to preserve them for later. They are especially tasty when boiled for 15 minutes then drained and quickly sautéed in bacon drippings with a little garlic. They can also be served cold on a salad by boiling them and chilling in an ice bath. A quick Google search will return lots of recipe ideas but, however you choose to eat them, make sure that you are eating Matteuccia struthiopteris and not a similar looking fiddlehead.

Even if they never make it into your kitchen, ostrich ferns are a beautiful plant for a difficult location in your garden.

http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?
kempercode=e180

Bulletin #4198, Facts on Fiddleheads


https://food52.com/blog/6583-fiddlehead-fern-a-controversial-coil

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Submitted by Ann McKean

Brassicas

There are many vegetables in the cruciferous family that we can grow in Montana. Kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi, and Brussels sprouts are some of the more popular ones. (Did you know arugula is also a brassica? Its nickname is rocket because it is quick to bolt in the heat, so remember to plant early and in succession for a longer harvest time.) Brassicas are some of the most nutritious vegetables you can grow. All members of the brassica family have similar nutrient profiles and contain calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorous, beta carotene, folic acid, vitamins C, E, K, and iodine. They have powerful anti-oxidants and they are beneficial eaten raw or cooked.

Here in the harsh climate of Montana, timing is important and the shorter season vegetables and their cultivars will be the most likely to come to full fruition. Most brassicas do best in soil pH of 6.5-7.5, so a little elemental sulfur can be helpful. They prefer firm, very fertile, well-drained soil with plenty of compost and additional food during the growing season. They require full sun, which is at least 5-6 hours of sun a day and do best in soil temperatures of 50-65 degrees. They do not thrive in hot weather and therefore do better on the shoulder seasons. In fact, they not only tolerate light frost but often become sweeter after a little nip of cold. Furthermore, most brassicas need the stimulation of cold weather to form heads; Brussels sprouts in particular need cold to form the sprouts. Seeds are usually planted six weeks before the last frost. Transplants should be set out in the garden in the middle of May. The following Montguide is invaluable for determining the planting time of all veggies. http://msuextension.org/carbon/documents/yggarden.pdf

Working your garden in wet conditions, which we usually have in the spring, is harmful to the texture of your soil, and compaction is difficult to reverse, so it’s best to prepare your beds in fall so you can get into your garden and plant early without causing damage. It’s also best to plant brassicas from transplants that are started indoors, not only to get a jump on the season but to reduce the risk of disease and insect attack. Set your seedlings deep enough to cover the stalk up to the first set of leaves and make sure your hole is deep enough to keep the tap root straight. Press the soil around them gently and water in well. Remember to check your spacing for the different varieties so they don’t grow too close together.

A tip that I have found to be very helpful is the addition of mulch. Using mulch around your plants not only prevents weeds, it also keeps the soil cooler, retains moisture, reduces compaction from the rain, and keeps your plants cleaner. Along with cool soil and lots of nutrients, brassicas need consistent moisture, so remember to water regularly. Eat some of the lower leaves as the plants mature and remove any yellowing lower leaves to provide good air circulation and reduce the risk of fungal disease.

Insects and furry critters can be a real annoyance when growing brassicas. (Think cabbage moth and deer among others!) The least invasive defense against insects is a good squirt of water to the leaves, preferably done in the morning so they have time to dry before nightfall. This will disrupt the life cycle of soft bodied insects without using chemicals. If you are still struggling but don’t want to use chemicals, a floating row cover prevents insect attack and as a bonus keeps the deer and rabbits off too. This is best applied soon after planting to be most effective.

If you grew kale this season, you have probably already been harvesting for a month or more, but if you got a late start like I did, your Brussels sprouts may just be forming. Remember to be patient and keep your brassicas going through our early frosts for a longer, fuller and sweeter harvest! There are so many wonderful varieties of healthy veggies to try; if you didn’t plant any cruciferous vegetables this year, prepare your bed this fall and get ready to enjoy the glorious fruits of your labor next year! Some of the following reference links are live and some are not:

http://www.johnnyseeds.com/growers-library/vegetables/brassicas-timing-temperature-fertility.html

http://msuextension.org/carbon/documents/yggarden.pdf

http://mt.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Brassicas.pdf

https://www.gardenguides.com/96425-vegetables-grow-montana.html

https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/04/04/brassica-vegetables_n_5091657.html

https://www.healwithfood.org/list/healthiest-brassica-vegetables-benefits.php

 

Respectfully submitted by Ann McKean

Hunting Asparagus in the Wild

Asparagus is easier to spot in late summer when its tall ferny stalks turn a brilliant canary yellow. However, asparagus can be very hard to spot in the spring when the young shoots start popping out of the ground and I find that those lucky enough to have found a patch are very reluctant to divulge the exact location. From what I have been able to gather the best place to look for asparagus in our area is in sunny moist areas along the river, on irrigation ditch banks, on road sides and at the edges of farm fields. If wild asparagusyou are lucky enough to find asparagus to harvest, it is best to cut the spears at ground level and to leave a few stalks so the plant will remain healthy and spread a few seeds. It is also interesting that the asparagus plants we find in the wild are not native plants but are cultivars that have escaped from peoples’ gardens. Another tip that I found online was that the best time to search for asparagus spears was in coordination with the time lilacs bloom.

By Elaine Allard