by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
When we are considering what to plant in our gardens, we often forget to include herbs. Have you tried cooking your favorite dishes using fresh herbs? Nothing smells or tastes more wonderful than homemade pasta sauce with fresh basil simmering on the stove. Herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow, in pots or in your vegetable garden, and they have so many uses! They can be used fresh or dried for cooking in your recipes all year long. Here are several varieties for you to try!
Basil (Ocimum spp.) is a favorite in Asian and Italian cooking and it grows wonderfully in containers. You can grow basil from seeds or plants, both of which are readily available at your local garden center. To harvest, just pinch off the tips of the stems; be sure to do this regularly to encourage the best growth, and at the end of the season, simply freeze or dry what is left. Very common in almost any Italian dish, you can also make a wonderful vinegar. Simply heat white wine vinegar and pour over fresh basil; after 24 hours, strain and discard the leaves, and use as vinaigrette or marinade...delicious!
Thyme (Thymus spp) has lovely purple, pink or white flowers and silvery foliage; it likes containers at least 6 inches deep. Be sure to avoid overwatering and pinch back the tips to encourage bush growth; thyme does well in full sun and well-drained soil. For cooking, try using thyme with sweet corn: simply add snippets to the butter before putting it on a freshly cooked or grilled ear for a wonderful taste.
Thyme is a lovely in any garden or pot, with its delicate flowers; mix it with butter to rub on sweet corn ears for a real treat!
Sage (Salvia officinalis) does equally well in borders, beds and containers. Its gray-green, chartreuse or dusky-purple foliage is an eye-catching accent to any planting. While we usually add sage to turkey or chicken stuffing during the holidays, it is also a great addition to couscous, quinoa and many other grains.
One of the easiest herbs to grow is Apple Mint (menthe suaveolens); it is a natural for containers or small spaces, but be sure to keep its wandering stems in the pot or a controlled area, as it can be invasive. Mint flavor is refreshing, and the fruity tones in apple mint add to the overall taste. Add crushed mint leaves to ice water for a refreshing summer drink, or steep the leaves in hot water for a very tasty tea.
Apple mint is easy to grow and makes a delicious addition to ice water on a hot summer day.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is an edible yet substantial shrub which will fit beautifully into any yard. Grow it in containers or in the garden; in our area, it can even be trimmed as a hedge. If you plant rosemary in containers, use pots that are at least 8 inches deep. In the kitchen, add rosemary to any poultry dish for a real crowd pleaser, or use the edible flowers in salads, herb butters and cream cheese spreads. Rosemary stems also make a wonderfully fragrant herb wreath; simply tuck stems in a small grapevine wreath and hang to create a lovely scent.
Rosemary is very tasty in any poultry dish, but it also makes a wonderfully fragrant wreath!
While Dill (Anethum graveolens) grows well in the garden next to your tomatoes and sweet peppers, it does need space to flourish. It is easy to grow in full sun, but likes to reseed itself, so keep that in mind when you plant it. Of course, our favorite use for dill is to make pickles, which are a delightful summer treat on a hot day.
All of these herbs grow well in containers, but make sure you use ones with proper drainage; place a coffee filter over holes to prevent the soil from spilling out. Use any potting mix available at your local garden center, but don’t use garden soil in your pots as it does not provide good air circulation and drainage for your herbs. Place your plants in their pots, water, and watch them grow. Then line up your favorite recipes and get ready to cook with fresh herbs!
by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Ever looked in a garden, yard, or park and had no idea what the plant is in front of you? Fortunately, there are plenty of great plant identification apps out there that take all the hard work out of the process. Here's a look at eight of the best options for iOS and Android.
01 Best App To Identify Plants: Plantsnap
If there's only room in your life for one 'name that plant' app, PlantSnap is the one. It's very simple to use with a neat tutorial guiding you through the paces. Its accuracy level is pretty good even if it occasionally makes the odd misstep that a professional gardener would avoid. Quick and easy to use, its only true downside is that you'll need to pay to be able to use it frequently and to unlock certain other features such as the ability to view other people's snaps. It's worth it though. Available for IOS and Android
02 Simplest Plant ID App: iPlant
Skipping past the need for community features or anything too complex, iPlant gets right to the point - snap a photo of a plant and it'll (eventually) tell you what it is. It's very accurate too providing you with a Wikipedia link and more to learn more about it. It's just unfortunate then that it's a little slow on the uptake when uploading photos, and it's only available for iOS.
03 Most Accurate Plant Identification App: LeafSnap
LeafSnap performed admirably in tests, generally proving to be the most accurate Plant ID app out of all the ones tried. That comes at a small cost with a lot of very intrusive video ads that encourage you to upgrade to the premium build of the app, but it's worth it for such good results. If it also included extra information on plants besides existing Wikipedia knowledge, it'd be the best of the bunch. As it stands, it's still well worth using. Available for IOS and Android.
LeafSnap is considered one of the most accurate plant identification programs.
04 Best App for Plant Care and Identification: PictureThis
PictureThis is a fantastically comprehensive plant identification app. It takes seconds to identify plants before giving you a near overwhelming amount of information on it and how best to care for it. For some users, it'll be excessive but for those keen to cultivate their green space, it's a huge help. It even identifies if a plant is toxic and warns you accordingly. Bear in mind, you'll need to subscribe if you plan on using it for any length of time. Keen gardeners will be happy to do so as its near encyclopedic knowledge is very useful. Available for IOS and Android.
05 Best Community Focused Plant Identification App: Garden Answers
If you don't mind signing up to a new community, Garden Answers is a great way to get in touch with horticultural experts, discover exciting plants near you, as well as identify plants around your garden and surroundings. The interface feels a little dated by modern standards but ads aren't too intrusive and Garden Answers tells you the basics about each plant without overwhelming you with too much detail. Being able to connect to like-minded souls is a nice extra touch too. Available for IOS and Android.
Garden Answers is considered one of the best community focused plant identification apps.
06 Best Location Aware Plant Identification App: PlantNet
Designed with a worldwide appeal to it, PlantNet immediately presents you with images of plants from all the different continents. You can submit your own right down to the location by quickly snapping a photo and waiting for the app to identify the plant. While the app is reasonably accurate, spotting other people's entries can have some issues with the need for the community to validate how authentic the results are. Still, it's a fascinating insight into the green world and not just your local surroundings. Available for IOS and Android.
07 Best Plant and Insect Identification App: Seek
Want to turn plant identification into a game? Seek does that almost feeling like a form of Pokemon Go. It even allows you to identify bugs and other insects you might see in your garden. In all cases, you need to take fairly good photos for it to identify accurately, but it's worth taking that extra time when you gain new badges and achievements for doing so. If it had a little more information on plants and leaned into its gaming side more so, it'd be the ultimate plant identification app. Available for IOS and Android.
08 Fastest Plant Identification App: Plant Identification++
In a rush and want to immediately know what plant you're looking at? Plant Identification ++ is the fastest of the bunch taking seconds to show up with highly accurate results. Typically, it offers a couple of different results giving you the ability to determine what seems right to you. Other information is a little sparse but if you simply want to know a name quickly, it does the job well. It's just unfortunate that you need to pay to gain unlimited plant identification. Available for only IOS.
I must offer this disclaimer about these applications. This is not an endorsement of any particular application. There are many opinions about which application is best, and you will need to determine for yourself which one you prefer. The basis for this article came from Lifewire, but there are many other articles on the web that offer other diverse opinions. It is up to you to try and choose the application which works the best for you.
by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
As gardeners, we all know that there are benefits of having good bugs in our yards, and it seems that bugs are plentiful this year, since the heat came on early. However, most insects, spiders and other bugs are beneficial and we really do want them in our gardens! Here are details on these critters and why they can help!
First, among the hundreds of thousands of species of the Coleoptera (beetles) and Hemiptera (true bugs) insect orders are many predatory creatures which dine on their plant-eating relatives. Tiger, soldier, ground and ladybird beetles, along with assassin and pirate bugs are just a few of these beneficial creatures you should welcome in your garden as residents because they eat “bad bugs”. For example, the ladybird beetle’s favorite meal is aphids, which we definitely do not want on our plants!
The assassin bug provides great benefits in your garden by eating insect pests.
Bees are another beneficial species we want to keep around, because all of them are pollinators; they are largely responsible for the successful development of seeds, nuts, berries, fruits and other plant foods which feed both people and wildlife. You will also want to welcome wasps and ants as well; as avid predators, they constantly patrol and pick our gardens clean of pests. Also, only female wasps sting and that is usually because their nests have been threatened.
Butterflies and moths are attractive and wonderful to see in the landscape as they flutter about sporting beautiful colors. They are also important pollinators; even better, their caterpillars attract birds into our yards. Did you know that over 95 percent of backyard birds rely on caterpillars as a primary food source for their young. So, attracting these insects to your garden means that you will have more birds, which also eat insects.
Spiders can be scary-looking, but they are actually some of the most helpful garden invertebrates; although they are often hated or feared, they consume many insects. All spiders are predatory and hunt using a variety of techniques. For example, the orb-weaver garden spider uses skillfully woven webs. Tarantulas and trap-door spiders use ambush to catch their prey, and the wolf and jumping spiders use the method of stalking.
The orb-weaver may look dangerous, but is completely harmless and keeps pests down in your garden.
Dragonflies and damselflies offer a double threat in your yard. These aerial acrobats as adults feed on many flying insects, from mosquitos to biting flies and gnats. As larvae, they inhabit water and devour larvae of these same pests. Did you know that adult dragonflies can consume hundreds of mosquitoes in one day? They are valued as predators, since they help control populations of harmful insects. Adult dragonflies do not bite or sting humans, though nymphs are capable of delivering a painful but harmless bite.
There are three bugs you do not want in your garden, though. First, discourage mosquitos from your yard, as they spread diseases; eliminating stagnant water and cleaning clogged gutters will help to prevent them. Fire ants, introduced in Alabama over 100 years ago, are proliferating! They have a very painful sting and they have displaced many native ant species. Be sure to avoid their large mounds, and call an exterminator to remove them. Finally, because of our deer population here in Oklahoma, ticks can really create a problem in your landscape, because they spread diseases, and ticks are particularly bad this year. To fight them, avoid areas of tall grass and mow pathways in your garden. Also, wear long pants that are tucked into socks and be sure to check yourself and your pets after outdoor time.
Call an exterminator if you have fire ants in your yard!
To encourage beneficial insects, what can you do to attract them? First, plant native species which can support 60 percent more native insects that exotic ornamental plants. Second, don’t be too tidy; a natural garden design will provide hiding and hibernation spots, as well as food and places to nest. Finally, reduce the amount of pesticides you use; while they can be a useful tool, ultimately they kill all insects including the beneficial ones you want to promote in your yard!
As you prepare and enjoy your gardens this year, think twice about stepping on or spraying that spider, wasp or caterpillar! You will reap big benefits in the long run!
by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Have you noticed hummingbirds have arrived back in our landscapes recently? Hummingbirds are fascinating creatures, delightful to watch and always welcome visitors in our yards. If you don’t have hummingbirds, there are many things you can do to make your garden a haven for hummers.
Three species of hummingbirds are regularly found in Oklahoma; two species, the Ruby-throated and the Black-chinned, nest in our state and are here during the summer months. The third species, the Rufous Hummingbird, does not nest in Oklahoma, but migrates through our state during the spring and fall.
Measuring 3-3/4 inches and weighing only 2.5 to 3.5 grams, the ruby-throated is Oklahoma’s smallest bird. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in character. Its flying agility is matched by no other in the animal kingdom and its chief competitor for food is not other birds, but nectar-loving insects.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the most common hummer found in Oklahoma.
It is also interesting to note that the hummingbird’s metabolic rate (the rate at which it uses energy) is the highest of any warm-blooded vertebrate except the shrew. They must consume over half their weight in sugars each day to fuel this high metabolism. In fact, a hyper hummer’s wings beat 70 times a second while hovering and up to 200 times a second during the diving, erratic flights of courtship. So they do need to eat often!
Hummingbird feeders are a great way to entice these beautiful little flyers to your neighborhood; feeders are plentiful in local stores and nurseries, and they are generally inexpensive. You can hang them anywhere, on eaves of your roof, on a shepherd’s hook in your garden, or even from a tree. You don’t have to buy special nectar to fill them – just mix 1 part sugar to four parts water (one cup sugar to 4 cups water, for example) in a pan and bring to a boil to dissolve all the sugar. No red food coloring is necessary – simply cool the liquid, fill your feeder, hang it in the yard and enjoy the show.
You should place your feeders out in mid-April (think tax time!) and maintain them until late October (think Halloween!) Nearly all hummingbirds have migrated south by the first of October, but occasionally stragglers, especially young birds, may be seen throughout October and these birds benefit from the energy boost you provide by keeping hummingbird feeders.
Hummingbird feeders are inexpensive and provide a good source of energy for hummingbirds in your garden.
Invite hummingbirds into your yard by creating an environment of flowers that they love. If you have a small yard, you can still attract hummingbirds to it by using containers of their favorite flowers. A wonderful combination to put in a pot for your patio includes two colors of Superbells, calibrachoa, Grape Punch and Miss Lilac, and some sweet potato vine for foliage. Plant this combination in a 12-inch pot and place it in full sun. Another combination of plants includes Summer Snapdragon, angelonia, blue or purple variety, and Superbells, calibrachoa, Dreamsicle, a peach color. Add some purple petunias and some lime green coleus for foliage, and you have a gorgeous assortment of plants hummingbirds will not be able to resist. This combination of plants should be put in a 16-18 inch pot and placed in the sun.
Hummingbirds will stay around until at least late September and they need lots of nectar to survive, so help them out – plant their favorite flowers, put out some feeders and enjoy the display!
Bee balm is easy to grow in Oklahoma and a favorite flower of hummingbirds.
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