Life is Gourd

Back when I was a kid and there were “only” 3 channels to watch on TV, we would wait with great anticipation for “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” to make its seasonal appearance. The initial broadcast took place on October 27, 1966 preempting the long running classic sitcom “My Three Sons” that night. I would have been 6, just a few weeks shy of my 7th birthday so I had to be part of their prime demographic target as an audience. I remember being struck how Lucy picked out a large pumpkin and then made Linus carry it. He is dismayed upon learning Lucy intends to “kill it” by making it a Jack-O-Lantern. It being fall, has to include Lucy’s continued antics as she entices Charlie Brown to kick a football with less than supportive intentions. Linus meanwhile is writing his annual letter to the “Great Pumpkin” despite mockery, laughter, Patty calling it “fake news” and Lucy’s threat to “pound” him. Only Sally who is smitten with Linus believes him.


Despite the struggles 2020 has thrown at us, it appears to be a good year for pumpkins. To celebrate I thought I would carve out some interesting facts for what some call a fruit and others call a vegetable. And I am the “Pun-king” so to speak. From Peter Pumpkin Eater to Cinderella, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow and yes….Charlie Brown, pumpkins have a rich harvest of legend, lore and history.

Let’s get “glowing”

Pumpkins are as much as 90% water.

Sorry, at the original Thanksgiving feast of 1621the Pilgrims did not have pumpkin pie. The Pilgrims did like Pumpkin beer. It’s not exclusive to the recent craft beer craze as at that time there were a lot of pumpkins around and they served as an easily fermentable sugar. Use Pumpkins like a Sugar Pie pumpkin variety for making pumpkin pie not the varieties bred for size and carving.

Pumpkins despite taking a lot of ground space to grow are efficient in that all parts are edible….skin, flowers, pulp, seeds and even the stem.

Let’s give them pumpkin to talk about

Pumpkins originated in North America and are a “home-grown” fruit as an important food staple for Native Americans.

Pumpkin seeds make a great snack and the average-size pumpkin contains about 1 cup of seeds. A good size pumpkin can have as many as 500 seeds.

Pumpkins have guts

Pumpkins grow almost everywhere around the world including Alaska. Don’t look for them in Antarctica however. It is argued that Illinois, specifically Morton Illinois is the pumpkin growing capital of the world.

Pumpkins are technically a fruit but why argue? If they are savory to the taste many people want to call them vegetables. They are a winter squash in the family Cucurbitacae which includes cucumbers and melons.


I Just Wet My Houseplants

In my book ‘I Just Wet My Plants’ I note that water is the number one killer of houseplants. Usually too much. We kill them with kindness. I took the following pictures to illustrate a couple of easy tips to improve your watering practices that maybe you haven’t considered. As an example it is a popular practice to put a houseplant in a coffee mug for desk, office or kitchen counter. Avoid planting directly into the coffee mug.

Use a cache pot with drainage holes inside the coffee mug

Coffee is hot. The coffee mug for obvious reasons has no drainage holes. Good for coffee but no so much for your plant.  A cache pot is a decorative container that holds a potted houseplant. Think of it as a  pot inside a pot. The cache pot does not have drainage. The “grower pot” inside the decorative pot has drainage holes. By using a cache pot combined with a grower pot with drainage holes the plant will be healthier and it will make both watering and maintenance easier for you. Everybody wins.

An additional watering tip is to avoid making the mistake I often see people make. They give up trying to figure out when and how much water to apply to their houseplant. What they end up with is what they believe is a compromise. They pour on a “little” water frequently. They meet their desire to water on a schedule (frequently aka kill it with kindness) and the end result is the soil in the upper half of the pot remains wet. The roots in the upper half of the pot rot while the roots at the lower portion of the pot dry out. The plant quickly displays its displeasure with browning leaf tips and decline. The sight of the plant suffering causes the owner to water even more which speeds up the decline. The appropriate way to water is when the plant needs it (indoor plants like outdoor plants have seasonal needs). In winter lack of light, day length and humidity causes the plants to “slow down” compared to their vigor in spring and summer.

For smaller pots you can tell if the plant needs water based on the weight of the pot. Pick it up. You can learn to tell when it’s time to water. Then when you water, water thoroughly so the water is available to the soil at the top, in the middle and at the bottom of the pot. Because you have provided for drainage with your cache pot grower pot technique, the excess can drain out the bottom. Now allow the soil to dry and wait until the plant needs water again. Remember in winter you will be watering far less frequently than when the days are longer and the light is bright in spring and summer.

Example of grower pots inside a decorative cache pot (click on image to enlarge)



Fall is simply Mumbelievable for gardening

People ask me…..Rick why do you always say Fall is one of your favorite times of year to garden? Well first…. I like Autumn….that makes me the fall guy. But a more important reason is it is one of the most efficient and effective times of the year to plant. It’s also a time for the Mumbelievable, playful Pansies and fabulous foliage. That’s why they call it Awwwtumn. And Mums the word for instant color! Mum Ma Mia! Chrysanthemum is coined from Greek words chrysos meaning gold and anthos meaning flower. They are Mumbelieveable!

For instant color they are simply Mumbelievable!

1. Plants in Fall put their efforts into establishment (roots) instead of a focus on top growth (spring)
2. In Fall the soil is warm compared to spring making it easier to work with….and again great for root establishment.

Fall is for planting (click on image to enlarge)

3. You can effectively feed woody plants in Fall. Even though air temperatures drop the soil stays warm often all the way to Christmas! Hoe Hoe Hoe. The plant can take in the fertilizer and will get next spring off on the right foot!
4. We generally get plenty of natural rainfall in Fall. That’s why they call it rainfall!

Fall is a great time of year for perennials

5. Autumn provides great comfortable weather for people to work in the yard.
6. You can often get end of season bargains in Fall.
7. It beats watching your favorite football team frustrate you….again.
8. It’s the perfect time to fix your lawn….September and October is the ideal time to seed a new lawn or reseed or repair an existing lawn.
9. An ideal time to control weeds! Winter annual weeds (like Henbit or our friend Harry Bittercress) are establishing in the yard so get them now before they bloom next spring and produce seed. Perennial weeds (Dandelions) are like the trees shutting down for winter so when you spray them with an herbicide it is more effective getting into the root system for total kill versus the top kill only you often get in spring. Take me to your weeder!

Fall is the perfect time to establish or repair a lawn

10. Bulbs! Dig drop and done. Bulbs are easy and when the tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, allium, crocus and more bloom next spring you’ll be glad you invested in Fall!

Fall is for planting Spring Flowering Bulbs!

11. It’s a great time of year to move plants. Cooler temperatures means less stress AND a moved plant gets a dormant time of rest (winter)…..not like a spring planted plant that has the heat of summer to follow.

If you’re going to move some plants Fall is a great time to do it

12. You don’t want to leave roots above soil level (in pots) so get them in the ground. The plants may be winter hardy but the roots will freeze if left in the pots above the soils surface. If you don’t have the planting area yet, plant them pot and all temporarily to be moved next spring.
13. You can even plant “Annuals”. Ornamental Kale, Pansies, Swiss Chard, Snapdragons will tolerate frosts to bloom this Fall.

Plant some annuals for Fall color like Ornamental Kale

Hooray for Hibiscus

When it comes to the word “Hibiscus” it can cause a hubbub of befuddlement for some understanding the broad descriptive terminology for what is a “Hibiscus?” It is a diverse genus of hundreds of species that are deciduous, perennial or tropical.
You then hear “Rose of Sharon” or “Althea” thrown into the mix and soon the bewilderment. The primary types of “Hibiscus” we enjoy in our yards and gardens are a “woody” hibiscus, an “herbaceous” perennial hibiscus and a “tropical” hibiscus. When they bloom in the heat of summer it’s “hooray for Hibiscus!” Here is a brief tutorial with pictures.

In August the giant dinner plate blooms of herbaceous Hibiscus moscheutos or “Mallow” hibiscus are stunning and a real showstopper. The plants grow to 4 to 5 feet tall and the blooms can be 6 inches to a foot across. They die back to the ground in winter and start slow in spring. But once warm summer temperatures arrive they are off to the races to wow admirers to their impressive blooms.

In July and August the “woody” type of Hibiscus blooms in abundance on trees and shrubs and is known as Hibiscus syriacus. It was given the epithet “syriacus” because it had been collected from gardens in Syria but is native to Asia. People commonly refer to them as “Rose of Sharon” or Althea. Good for late season flowering (July to September) it can get “leggy” as a woody landscape plant so it responds well to pruning.


And last but not least is the “tropical” Hibiscus we put out on our decks and patios or around the poolside in summer. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. The word “tropical” should clue you that we enjoy it outside in summer and have to bring it indoors as a “houseplant” in winter or grow as an annual and replace next year.


A “Seedy” Operation

In the midst of the 2020 pandemic we now receive unsolicited nondescript packages of seeds showing up in the mailboxes of homes across the United States. It only makes sense in the year of “sow what’s next?” My seeds were in a nondescript black and white package containing seeds sent from Suzhou JiangSu China. The seeds inside my package looked like tiny mustard seeds. Not everyone received the same seed. The news spread faster than a bindweed vine with some theorizing it was an act of agricultural bio-terrorism. A “seedy” operation.

Nondescript unsolicited mailings of seed packets from China

Government officials lack concrete leads to explain the seed distribution freebies, they suspect a scam that “may involve some shadowy seed agent leaving enthusiastic “reviews” on some e-commerce website in your name. Ugh. Do NOT plant them and do NOT to dump them in the trash or flush them so they have an opportunity to sprout elsewhere. Do not plant any seeds “from unknown origins,” because doing so could introduce invasive species. Our state agricultural department MDARD Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development was working on it when I called them and it has quickly became a federal and international investigation. The USDA, Homeland Security and APHIS, Animal and Plant health inspection service, all became involved due to the gravity, seriousness and consequence of invasive species to the agricultural and livestock industries.

A valid packet of seeds showing dates and seed lot

I immediately noticed on the packages sent there was no date stamp for when they were packed, on sell by date and no lot number. A seed lot can be defined as a quantity of seed with every portion or every bag uniform within permitted tolerances. The seed lot or group is defined as the percentage of pure seed, inert matter, other crop seed, germination and dormant seed, weed seed, and rate of occurrence of noxious weed seeds. So stay tuned….it will be interesting to “seed” where it goes from here.