Winter Plant Care

Some of my plants under grow lights in the basement

Since I just brought in a lot of plants for winter, I have been getting questions about how to help them make it through winter. I have an ideal set up at my house. I have a basement and two large grow carts, so my plants are in a good environment for them.The basement will be more humid than the rest of the house. Since Ohio winters have little daylight, the artificial light makes a big difference.

An added advantage is I will be able to harvest fresh herbs all winter.

You can keep plants alive in your house, outside of the basement, but it is trickier.

Creating the right environment it critical to the survival of any plant. In the winter this is a little harder than during the summer. Still, with a little planning you can have plants that will last for years.

Plants all need: Water, air, food and light

Pick out plants that are likely to be happy in your home. Remember, your plant has probably come from a greenhouse under ideal conditions, or it has been outside, getting plenty of natural light. It is normal for new plants to go through a period of adjustment.

Pick plants with low-light requirements if your home does not have a lot of windows.

If you don’t like to water plants often pick plants like cacti and succulents that don’t need to be watered often.

The air  in your house will be pretty dry in winter. If you get sparks from static electricity your house is dry. Misting plants will only provide moisture for 30 minutes or so. Place plants on trays, filled with rocks. Then fill the tray with water. This gives your plants moisture. Be sure the plants are above the water level, not sitting in the water. That is the reason for putting rocks in the trays. The plants sit on the rocks above the water.

Assuming you don’t have artificial light…..

1. During winter months when light is less, reduce the amount of water plants receive and use little or no fertilizer.

2. Place plants away from drafts and heat sources.

3. Do not allow plants to touch windows.

4. Do not allow plants to stand in water.

5. Keep the humidity up around the plants.

6. Consider supplementing natural light with artificial light.

7. If you set plants outdoors for the summer, bring them in when indoor and outdoor temperatures are the same.

8. Always check plants that are outdoors for insects before bringing in. You can give them a spray of water before bringing them in, to wash off insects.

9. Keep any new plant away from your other plants until you are sure it is disease free.

10. As the days begin to lengthen you can start to use fertilizer again.


Again, artificial light is a great idea. If you can’t provide it, then let your plants be semi dormant during the shorter days of winter.

Plants for Sale

Chameleon Plant- Hauttunyia Cordata

Chameleon Plant- Hauttunyia Cordata

I have been teaching cooking classes all week in Mentor. Every day this week as I pull out of the parking lot at Wildwood after class I pass a house with a Plants for Sale sign out front. The sign says .50-$1.00. I decided to stop today after class. What a fun time I had. It isn’t a business, just a person selling a few plants. They have mostly perennials, many that like shade. Daylilies, hostas, several different ground covers, giant marigolds. Most things are in the 1-2 dollar range, some are 50 cents.

I got a plant called the Chameleon Plant. It is a shade and moisture loving ground cover that by some accounts can be invasive. I have a friend who has grown it for years and says it is not a problem for her. It is also edible. I am planning on making a shady area I have more edible plants so adding hosta and more daylilies to my yard.


The lady was very nice so I thought I’d pass on the info if any of you are interested. I don’t have the exact address. Pretty sure it is 7742 Little Mountain Road in Mentor. Its just across the street from Wildwood and has a big sign so hard to miss even if the address is wrong.

Mulberries and the Squirrel

He's watching them ripen

He’s watching them ripen

I was so excited to see how many mulberries I have this year. The tree is pretty tall now so I’ll need to get out a ladder to get many of them, but there are still plenty at arm’s reach. I had visions of mulberry pie or tart. Perhaps some jam or jelly. Yum. I was out taking pictures of the higher fruit when I spied a little visitor. The squirrel was just sprawled out all cozy. He obviously had no interest in going anywhere. All I could think of was that he had the same thing on his mind- those berries. Well, most aren’t ripe yet, but I’ll scale down my dreams of a big berry harvest. I have a funny feeling the squirrel is going to be enjoying them, too. I only hope he will keep his harvesting to the ones up high and at least let me get the lower ones!!!

Some of my mulberries. How many will I get?

Some of my mulberries. How many will I get?

Edible Flowers



I’ve been cooking a lot with flowers lately. I often add them to salads, infuse vinegars and make jelly with them. You can also use them to decorate cakes or other desserts, in salad dressings and marinades, floating in tropical cocktails, in punch bowls and in ice cubes. Flowers can also top off dips, cheese, fruit trays and other appetizers, be used to make teas, infused in honey or mixed with soft cheese and spread on crackers or toast. Add some to baked goods like quick breads, cookies and muffins or in yogurt, cottage cheese or sorbet. Wherever your food needs a little color or flavor flowers make it special. Below are 2 lists- one of edible flowers- the other of flowers that are poisonous. Be sure you know what you are eating-and only eat flowers that have been grown pesticide free.

Some Edible Flowers

Calendula, Chives, Daylily, Mint, Nasturtium, Pansy, Rose, Sage, Signet Marigold, Squash Blossoms, Anise Hyssop, Apple, Arugula, Basil, Bee Balm, Borage, Broccoli, Chamomile, Chicory, Chrysanthemum, Coriander, Dandelion, Dianthus, Dill, Elderberry, English Daisy, Evening Primrose, Fennel, Garlic Chives, Hibiscus, Honeysuckle, Hyssop, Jasmine, Johnny-Jump-Up, Lavender, Lemon, Lilac, Linden, Marjoram, Mustard, Nasturtiums, Nodding Onion, Okra, Orange, Oregano, Pea, Pineapple Guava, Pineapple Sage, Radish, Red Clover, Redbud, Rose of Sharon, Roselle, Rosemary, Runner Beans, Sage, Safflower, Scented Geraniums, Shungiku, Society Garlic, Sunflower, Sweet Woodruff, Thyme, Tuberous Begonia, Tulip, Violet, Winter Savory, Yucca

Some Poisonous Flowers

Aconite, Anemone, Anthurium, Atamasco Lily, Autumn Crocus, Azalea, Baneberry, Black Locust, Bloodroot, Boxwood, Burning Bush, Buttercup, Butterfly Weed, Caladium, Call, Carolina Jasmine, Castor Bean, Cherry Laurel, Chinaberry, Christmas Rose, Clematis, Daffodil, Deadly Nightshade, Death Camas, Delphinium, Dogbane, Dumbcane, Elephant Ears, False Hellebore, Four O’clock, Foxglove, Gloriosa Lily, Golden Chain Tree, Goldenseal, Heavenly Bamboo, Henbane, Horse Chestnut, Horse Nettle, Hyacinth, Hyacinth Bean, Hydrangea, Iris, Ivy, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Jerusalem Cherry, Jessamine, Jetbead, Jimsonweed, Jonquil, Kentucky Coffee Tree, Lantana, Larkspur, Leopard’s Bane, Lily of the Valley, Lobelia, Marsh Marigold, May Apple, Mescal Bean, Mistletoe, Morning Glory, Mountain Laurel, Nightshade, Oleander, Periwinkle, Philodendron, Pittosporum, Poison Hemlock, Potato, Privet, Rhododendron, Rock Poppy, Schefflera, Spring Adonis, Spurge, Star of Bethlehem, Sweet Pea, Tobacco, Trumpet Flower, Water Hemlock, Wild Cherry, Wisteria, Yellow Allamanda, Yellow Oleander, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.
Neither of these lists in meant to be complete. Most important of all is to be sure you can identify these plants. If you are unsure plant identifications can be done at your local Extension office, garden center, nursery, arboretum and botanical garden. When in doubt, err on the side of caution. There are more than enough easy to identify flowers out there to enjoy without taking chances.


Tomatoes and Tobacco

IMG_0647No, this is not a new recipe post. There is a connection between tomatoes and tobacco that you might not know about. It is really good to know if you grow tomatoes and are also a smoker. Some of the tobacco in cigarettes contains a disease called tobacco mosaic virus. Tomatoes are susceptible to this disease. If you are both a tomato grower and a smoker it is important that you wash your hands before going out to the garden or you could transmit this disease to your tomato plants.


Some hybrids are resistant to the virus. If there is a letter “T” after your tomato’s name it means it is resistant. Roma tomatoes are resistant. Hybrids will often have other letters after their names like VFNT. Means they are resistant to Verticillium wilt, Fusarium wilt, Nematodes and Tobacco mosaic virus. That is what those letters mean.

So, if you smoke wash your hands before going out to the garden.

Squirrels in the Garden

Planters of pea seeds with cayenne pepper dusting

Planters of pea seeds with cayenne pepper dusting

I actually like squirrels. I think they are kind of fun to watch. The problem is that they can be very destructive in the garden. My problem is mostly with container grown plants this time of year. When the planters are freshly planted, squirrels love to dig them up.  I started some pea  seeds today for pea shoots. It is still pretty cold here so peas are one of the few crops I can safely plant outside right now. I filled 3 long planters with soil and seeds. I am looking forward to a tasty crop of pea shoots in no time. I’ll also leave some of them into produce peas. To keep the squirrels out I dusted the planters generously with cayenne pepper . Since it seems to keep them out of the bird seed it should work here, too. Birds are not bothered by cayenne so they still eat the bird seed in the feeder. We’ll see if it works. I’ll post updates from time to time to see if this does the trick. What do you find works to keep squirrels and other critters out of your garden? I think it is a problem for a lot of us and would love to hear what works for you.

The Challenge- Keeping it Green

Fresh Green Onions

Fresh Green Onions

Since I am not going to the grocery store these days I am trying to get the most out of what I do have. I had some nice green onions and when I used them rather than tossing the ends into the compost pile I stuck them in a small flowerpot. In less than a week I have lots of new growth and a steady supply of green onions when I need them.

It’s really easy to do. Just get a pot and put some potting soil in it. When you go to use your green onions just cut off the root, leaving about  1/4 inch of the white part. Place in the soil, water and wait. In a week I had some as long as 5 or 6 inches. When you use another onion- just add it to the pot. You can start celery and romaine lettuce pretty much the same way.

Freshly planted green onions

Freshly planted green onions

Growing Celery

Saw this idea a few weeks ago and decided to try it. I had cut off the stems from a stalk of celery. I placed the base of the celery plant in a pot with soil. Watered and waited. Now I have a new celery plant growing. Too soon to be planning the harvest but so far so good. Pretty cool, huh?

Basil in Bloom – Making Herb Vinegars

Basil flowers

While I look forward to most flowers in my garden the basil flowers are not my favorites. Basil is an annual and when the plants start to make flowers and eventually seeds the quality  and quantity of the leaves diminishes. It is imperative to keep after the blooms and trim them off as soon as they appear. Trim down to just above where you see smaller leaves or new stems emerging. Before you toss the blossoms into the compost heap they do have another use. Like turning lemons into lemonade you can transform the basil flowers into another culinary purpose. You can use other herb blossoms the same way. I flavor vinegar with chive blossoms, lavender, roses and even lilac blossoms.  You can later use them  in salads, marinades and well, anywhere you use vinegar in cooking.

It’s really simple. Just place clean blossoms into a clean jar. For every cup of blossoms add 2 cups of any vinegar you like. Be sure it is 5% acidity- the bottle will tell you and most vinegars are 5% acidity.  Put on the lid of the jar and store in a cool, dark place for a couple of weeks- or longer. Once aged enough, strain then filter the vinegar and store in bottles until ready to use. It can be stored at room temp- but colorful vinegars- like chive blossom- will hold their color better when kept cold.

Parker and the Gang of Four

Parker nodding off

There is something to be said for doing yard work on a cool day. I managed to clean out and prep the bed for greens and beets. Emptied out all the containers of compost I got from Carl yesterday at Blue Pike Farm. Thanks Carl. Worked them in to the herb garden and greens bed. Planted lots of basil, too. I have at least 24 in the ground and in large planters and still have more basil. Pesto for everyone!!!! Didn’t get everything done but this time of year there is always more to do.

I did get distracted for a while by Parker and his pursuits. Parker is going to be 13 soon. He is down to three legs and his remaining back leg gets a little stiff on cool days. When he is with me in the garden he generally finds a shady place and settles in. Today was different, though. Today there were squirrels. A rowdy group of 4 squirrels were having a big time row about something. They chattered and ran up and down the tree next door. Its branches hang low into my yard. Parker was so excited he ran and barked and bounced around like a dog half his age. They even ran along the fence several times with Parker in hot pursuit. The “Gang of Four” went on with their fight for over an hour seemingly oblivious to the dog barking below them.

Parker is now fed and happily nodding off.  All in all a good time. 🙂

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