No bugs........with Dr. Doug @ Shepherd Glen*
         No bugs........with Dr. Doug                                                                          @ Shepherd Glen*

For Midwestern home gardeners and naturalists, just for fun!                                                               All my observations, photos, musings etc. on this website are centered on our 10 acres (named Shepherd Glen) in Jackson County Missouri, but I have found that observations (and frustrations) in our area translate pretty well throughout the Midwest.

Contact: askdrdoug@gmail.com

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My Musings

February 6, 2024

 

Frustrations of Winter in the Midwest!

 

Gardening in the Midwest can be very frustrating, especially as it relates to trying to move forward in improving the home landscape, whether suburban or rural. Not only can winter be very harsh, but wildlife does its share of damage.

 

Desiccating cold winds, and at least a week of sub-zero temperatures results in shrub and tree dieback which needs to be pruned out in Spring. It is difficult for many woody perennials to make any headway toward becoming a specimen plant or even holding back new plantings from becoming established. When I would rather be designing new flower beds, adding new plants, or mulching,  I am spending a lot of time in Spring pruning out the dieback, tamping down metal edging, that has frost-heaved, and sadly digging up those perennials lost to the savage winter, or succumbed to a  prolonged wet winter.

 

We moved to acreage not only to enjoy the serenity, but to also enjoy the wildlife. Although gardening can be harsh and challenging, I feel like I do make some progress every year. However, dealing with wildlife is another story – Mother Nature usually wins! Come Spring, I find that the Paw Paw  tree that was about ready to produce fruit has had it barked rubbed off by deer, or the lower limbs of an Eastern Red Cedar have just disappeared (ending up in beaver dam?), or the needles on the slow-growing Loblolly Pine have been eaten down to the nubs!

 

Winters in the Midwest are very challenging and gloomy, but that makes the contrast to Spring with its beautiful and mood-improving burst of color, so much more dramatic. As you can see, I am not yet ready to be a year-around “snowbird.”

 

 

October 16, 2023

 

Oh, I Miss the Fall Color!

 

We enjoy our 10-acre wood, with its 30-some different native trees, shrubs, and vines. However, the dominant native tree species in our west-central Missouri area are elm, ash, black walnut, honey locust and Osage orange; none of which show any of the bright orange or red fall foliage that we grew up with in Ohio – just some vague yellows. Unfortunately, the only plants that show bright colors are some of the “bad guys” - poison ivy and Virginia Creeper vines that take on a bright red hue in the fall.

 

Since I am trying to keep these vines from over-whelming trees, which can cause branch breakage, this red color is a good pointer to where I need to focus the pruning shears (if I am brave enough to cut poison ivy). However, I hesitate to cut down the only fall color we have, so I probably will mark them and prune after the leaves have fallen. I am such a softie!

 

 

September 3, 2023

 

Insects have their Favorite Foods Too!

 

I have always found it interesting that certain insects have their favorite (and sometimes exclusive) host plants. You cannot grow eggplant without hosting flea beetles, squash bugs always show up on the cucurbit family of plants, Japanese beetles have a fondness for plants in the Rosaceae family, and I’m sure many more examples.

 

This held true yet again when we were harvesting the hops. Every fall inenviably there will be walking sticks among the bines. No other insects, just a few walking sticks. Not sure what is it about hops, because I never see walking sticks among any of our ornamental or garden beds, except on the hops. Maybe they are awaiting the beer to be made.

 

One of the many mysteries of nature.

 

 

August 5, 2023

 

Fishing for Patience

 

Patience has always been associated with fishing; expectantly waiting for that tug on the line indicating that you got the big one. But patience for a grandpa helping his grandchildren fish has its own forms of patience.

 

It is challenging enough to encourage them to learn that fish aren’t always biting, and that one must wait and watch. However, the biggest test of grandpa’s patience is when, in a split second, their line gets tangled, and they are eagerly awaiting for grandpa to immediately untangle it so they can get fishing again. 

 

Yikes - what stress!

 

 

 

July 19, 2023

 

Don't Give Up on me - said the "Chaste" Bush!!

 

“Never give up” has been a credo for our family, because if you keep on trying, then you won’t have any regrets. However, sometimes it is difficult to find the strength to not “throw in the towel” when it seems like all hope is lost. I found myself in this situation with the Chaste bush (Vitex agnus-castus) in our landscape. The Chaste bush is a lovely spreading perennial bush with upward-growing long panicles of purple-blue flowers, that are very attractive to pollinators.

 

The Chaste bush is usually winter hardy to USDA Zones 6-9, but in 5 and 6, it may die back to the ground, and (hopefully) re-sprout the next summer and bloom. Since we live in zone 6, it immediately died back at the first killing frost. I cut back the dry branches in spring, but it showed very little life underneath. I let it be, kind of forgot about it, and had mentally written it off as another plant located out of its appropriate plant zone. Then in late Spring, when I was raking leaves from the perennial bed, I saw a few SPROUTS. It took a while to get started, but it grew fast, and by mid-July it is now 2-feet across and high, and full of blooms!

 

I should have remembered our family credo, and not given up so quickly. I will be more confident next Spring!

 

 

July 12, 2023

 

Life Always has its Decisions

 

I like to grow pots of various herbs. By putting them in pots I can keep them under control (especially mint), and can easily keep them watered. However, no facet of life moves forward without tough decisions.

 

As a tribute to my mother, I always grow parsley. She ALWAYS insisted on having a sprig of parsley on the meat plate when we had family dinners. I have tried to keep that tradition going, eventhough the next generation likely won't value the history. 

 

However, parsley, and other herbs in this plant family, are the favorite hosts of the Eastern swallowtail butterfly larvae (see photo). These ravenous larvae can devour a whole pot-bound plant almost over night! What is a nature-lover to do? The jig is up, I take a chance and let them continue to feed, and bet on the parsley to regrow after the caterpillars are done. I am such a softy!

 

 

June 9, 2023

 

Update on Sweet Potato Trial!

 

The trial of holding over the ornamental sweet potato vine tuber this winter was very successful.  The critical issue appears to be, as one would suspect, is to select a good firm tuber, store and store as you would bulbs. I didn’t plant until I saw some little sprouts.

 

 

May 11, 2023

 

Sweet Potato Vine Experiment

 

If I can, I like to experiment with carrying-over perennials (and annuals at times) inside throughout the winter. When I was cleaning up the flowerpots at the end of the year, I happened upon a rather large tuber (see picture) of a sweet potato vine that was used as a foliage addition to our flowerpots. I wondered if it would carry over, and resprout in spring. I saved it and stored it along with our Elephant ear tubers. Sure enough, sprouts have appeared, and we planted it to see if it makes it. If storage conditions are right, I think many more tuberous plants could be carried over from year to year.

 

 

May 20, 2023

 

Oak blooms are more than an allergen.

 

I often complain in the fall that my neighbor’s wide variety of trees send all their leaves to my yard. Although oaks don’t shed their leaves until spring, their flower parts are a spring annoyance! I don’t have respiratory allergy problems from oak pollen, but I just have an aversion to problems that the oak flower parts cause by rolling up into a midwestern “tumbleweed” and have to get out the rake yet again in the spring.

 

 

April 15, 2023

 

Spring has sprung, ............and so have the jobs!

 

I have always had mixed feelings about Spring – good and bad. I enjoy the eruption of color and a renewed hope as new growth and colors burst forth from the dreariness of Winter. [This hit home one year when my niece, who has always lived in Florida, visited us at Christmas. She had forgotten how “gray” everything is in Winter in the Midwest.]

 

The reason I have mixed feelings about Spring is that with the rejuvenation of plant growth also comes a never-ending rush of urgent jobs – pruning out dead wood, edging and mulching beds, applying crabgrass preventer, rototilling the garden, and planting cool season crops, ad nauseum. I feel pressured to get it all done, so that things don’t quickly get out of control, and harder to rectify.

 

However, I constantly remind myself that gardening is not an exact science, and it is best to move a little slower and enjoy the wonders of nature…….there is always next year to get it right!

 

 

March 19, 2023

 

Harbinger of Spring?
Not so Fast!

 

Since we don’t have any Spring Beauty wildflowers (Claytonia virginica) in our woods, the earliest ephemeral, I have always considered the emergence of the crocus bulbs to be our “harbinger of spring.” However, it seems like for the last few years that their emergence is more of a warning shot that Ol’ Man Winter is not willing to give up its icy grip on us quite yet. When the crocus flowers burst through the gathered leaves, I know now that we are due for one more snowfall before Spring really arrives. It happened again this year!

 

 

March 8, 2023

 

Annoying Cardinals

 

Although we enjoy the beautiful red of the northern cardinals, against the drab sky of winter, once the weather breaks, the male cardinals can be really annoying! They do the same two tones, repeatedly, for HOURS – from sunup to sundown! Cardinals make this call when warning off intruders to their territory or when predators are nearby. One Spring, there was a male so close to the house that it woke us up every morning, even with earplugs in! If you search the internet, there are all kinds of home remedies to chase them away, but seldom does anyone claim 100% success. Most experts just say you have to live with it, and you will start to block it out, just like those people that live near train tracks.

 

 

February 17, 2023

 

How did the pioneers survive?

 

I have always found gardening in the Midwest very challenging with our extreme temperatures, clay soils and irregular moisture patterns. As I recall, gardening in the mid-east, where I grew up, was so much easier. In Missouri, I can’t seem to make any headway – it seems like progress is 2 steps forward and 1 step back. I am still working on establishing landscape plantings, but no matter what I do, the cold desiccating winter winds suck the life out of exposed woody ornamentals like my boxwood and Leland cypress trees. It sets back their growth every year! And what about the fluctuating winter temperatures that cause freezing and thawing? A spring ritual has been to fix emerged landscape edging, and hammering down the surfaced metal pins that hold down the landscape fabric in my rock garden. I guess I should consider moving to warmer climes, or just quite complaining!

 

 

December 28, 2022 

 

Not a "berry" good choice!

 

At the end of the growing season, I was looking for bargains to help fill out our landscape. I could not resist 3 holly bushes. The cheap price clouded my judgement. They have established quite well. However, I did not think it through, and they are all male plants. Hollies are dioecious, meaning male and female flowers appear on separate distinct plants; there must be both nearby to produce the traditional red berries. Rarely (I don’t recall ANY tags on my plants) are plants marked according to sex, especially if purchased from a big box store. Therefore, buyer beware. Bargains are not always what they appear to be.

P.S. Since these bushes are near our front door, I stuck some fake berries in the shrubs for the holidays. They must have looked real as the birds tried to eat them (see picture)!

 

 

 

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