3 unusual (and creepy) plants for your fall garden
And protecting spring bulbs from hungry critters
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While most folks are focused on last-minute costume ideas, party plans and whether or not they’ve stocked enough candy, I’m thinking about my favorite spooky plants.
Instead of (or in addition to!) decorating with Jack-o-lanterns and scarecrows, why not plant some living decorations? Talk about a treat! Here are some of my favorites.
DOLL’S EYE PLANT
White baneberry, or doll’s eye plant (Acmella oleracea), pictured above, is about as scary as it looks: Brush up against it, and you’ll break out in blisters; eat it, and you’ll probably die. Its red stems bear white fruit with black “pupil” centers, making this not only the plant to watch out for — but the plant that watches you. On second thought, maybe don’t plant this one.
PUMPKIN ON A STICK
They’re not real pumpkins, of course, but the close relatives of tomatoes sure look like they are. I guess that’s the trick.
Plant the low-maintenance tender perennials in well-drained soil in a sunny spot, and they’ll grow to 2-4 feet tall and wide with large blue-green leaves and dark brown stems.
Then clip and bring stems indoors, where they’ll hold up in water for up to a month. Or set them out to dry and keep them in dry arrangements indefinitely.
The ghost plant (Monotropa uniflora), aka Indian pipe, looks as creepy as it sounds. The blueberry relative is pure white because it doesn’t have any chlorophyll like other plants do, and it can grow in complete darkness. Even creepier, it turns black when you pick it, so it’s best enjoyed in the ground.
📬 Ask Jessica
DEAR JESSICA: My friend has a bunch of bulbs -- hyacinths, daffodils, tulips -- she wants to plant, but she also has a ton of critters that inhabit her yard. They always seem to dig up and devour her bulbs. Any advice or tips? —Liane Guenther, Oyster Bay, NY
DEAR LIANE: There are plenty of animal repellents on the market, but most offer only limited control, and they need to be applied repeatedly.
The only surefire way to protect bulbs is with a barrier.
A sheet of chicken wire placed right over bulbs and under a layer of soil or mulch is best. Sprouts will find their way through the openings and out of the earth.
If burrowing animals like moles and gophers—and to some extent, rats, mice, etc.— are a problem, a sheet of chicken wire under the bulbs in addition to on top of them, will do the trick.
If your friend is planting a small grouping of bulbs, premade steel bulb cages might be more practical. Just place the bulbs in the cage and bury the whole thing.
💡 If you do one thing this week…
Install wire guards around newly planted fruit trees to protect against chewing rodents over the winter.
👏 Sunday shoutout
Debbie LaGattuta of Tinton Falls, NJ, sent in this photo of her beautiful 2020 fall container garden display, which included celosias, petunias, salvias, mums, Rudbeckias, pumpkins and cabbage.
Send in your photo, and you could be featured next!
📰This week in my Associated Press gardening column
I write a weekly gardening column for the AP, so you might have seen my byline in your local paper (or news website) — wherever in the world you happen to be. In case you miss it, though, I’ll post the most recent here every week.
ALERT! Recently, I wrote about an invasive pest we all need to look out for, especially during this season of plant swapping. The Asian jumping worm is no joke — it threatens to destroy the soil’s very structure. I spoke to researchers who provided tips for recognizing the worms and the damage they cause—and avoiding inadvertently spreading them to other areas. Give it a read.
And if you’d like to learn how to care for mums so they return for you every year, click in to get my tips.
Before that, I wrote about planting and growing garlic, saving flower seeds, saving vegetable seeds, fall houseplant care, dealing with stressed lawns, harvesting potatoes, starting a hügelkultur garden, attracting birds, saving Monarch butterflies and a lot more.
You can read all my AP gardening columns here.
📚📺🎵 📚📺🎵 📚📺🎵 📚📺🎵
Some random things I enjoyed this week
SideKick, the free lifestyle newsletter from the folks at MorningBrew. A recent edition included an inventive cocktail recipe, holiday decorating ideas and a debate about written thank-you notes. It’s delightful.
“Flush,” by Bryn Nelson, Ph.D.: Written by a former newsroom friend and colleague, this eye-opening plunge into the science of “an unlikely treasure” — in a word, poop! — is told in Bryn’s personal, witty, entertaining manner. The part about using biosolids as a super-nutritious fertilizer is especially relevant to us gardeners.
Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy explores the food and culture of a different region of Italy every week. As a foodie, avid traveler (pre-Covid, anyway), and second-generation American, this show is high on my list. Most recently, I caught up with the Season 2 episode about Calabria, my father’s birthplace, and learned about Tropea onions, which are so sweet, Stanley eats one straight out of the ground.
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📧 How’m I doing?
I welcome your comments and suggestions, so please send them along — as well as any topics you’d like to see covered and questions you’d like answered in the Ask Jessica section.