Taking care of your holiday rosemary plant

Although nowhere near as popular as poinsettias, rosemary plants are becoming a favorite holiday plant.

Rosemary trimmed to a conical shape bears a striking resemblance to a miniature Christmas tree. Though it may look like it, rosemary is not related to pine, spruce or any other evergreen trees. It belongs to the mint family of plants which includes basil, thyme, mint and sage.

Just brushing against the leaves of  a potted rosemary releases its signature fragrance that can fill a room.

In most cases, fresh sprigs can be cut from a potted rosemary and be used in recipes calling for this herb. I say in most cases because sometimes plant growers apply systemic pesticides to their rosemary crop. In that case the rosemary is intended for ornamental use only and not for consumption. Always read the plant tag before assuming your plant is OK to use in the kitchen.

 

Plant tags often contain more information than just the name of the plant.
Plant tags often contain more information than just the name of the plant.

Don’t be tempted to water your plant and let water stand in the saucer or wrapper thinking that will supply even moisture. Standing water will drown and kill rosemary roots and eventually the entire plant.

On the other hand, don’t let the plant dry out. The stiff foliage doesn’t appear to wilt much when the plant gets dry, but damage can happen pretty quickly from lack of water.

Place your rosemary into a container of water and allow the entire root ball absorb water.
Place your rosemary into a container of water and allow the entire root ball absorb water.

Try this little trick: try to gauge how much your rosemary weighs before you water it. After the plant has drained in the sink, note how much heavier it feels when you pick it up. After a few times you’ll be able to have a good guess at how dry the plant is. If you’re not comfortable doing that, use a moisture meter — they’re relatively inexpensive and make a great Christmas gift!

Finally, be sure your plant gets as much direct sun as possible — a south window is almost mandatory. We’ve been setting ours outside during these mild days to help the plant get more sunshine.

Bob

Protect fruit trees from mice damage

Now that the fruit trees are all dormant, disease and insect pests have also gone dormant and won’t be bothering the trees until spring. That doesn’t mean the orchard is completely safe from pests.

There’s another kind of pest active out in the orchard during winter; meadow mice, or more accurately, meadow voles.

Voles look very much like mice and are about the same size. They act much like mice too, especially in the way they gnaw on things.

During the winter when the ground is snow covered, voles build tunnels under the snow. The tunnels are built to help hide them from predators and to help keep them warm while they search for food. They travel through those tunnels over and over through the winter.

So far, our mild beginning to winter means that voles haven’t had to worry much about finding food, but that could change as winter drags on.

Meadow voles eat a wide variety of grasses, seeds and other kinds of plant material. Unfortunately, they sometimes develop a taste for the tender bark of young fruit trees, especially if the vole population is large and their other food sources become scarce.

I’ve lost a few fruit trees from voles through the years. One way to keep voles from damaging vulnerable trees is to install a physical barrier around the trees.

Installing a cylinder of wire mesh — hardware cloth — around each fruit tree, keeps voles from gnawing on the tender bark. It’s like having a miniature fence around each tree.

I use 18 inch wide hardware cloth and form it into thin cylinders about six to eight inches in diameter around each tree trunk. This gives the trees plenty of protection in case there is a lot of snow cover. The mesh size has to be one-half inch, less is even better, otherwise voles will crawl right through to get to the bark.

Hardware cloth
Full service hardware stores will cut hardware cloth to any length you need. Other stores sell it in pre-packaged lengths.

There’s a plastic tree-wrap rodent barrier on the market. It’s easier to install at first but needs to be removed each spring and re-installed each fall. Even though it’s designed to expand, if left on, the plastic material will keep the bark from developing properly.

A hardware cloth cylinder can be left in place for a few years until the tree matures and has developed coarse bark that is less appetizing to vole.

Bob

Paw paw tree from seed

I’ve heard experts, farmers and others say for decades that paw paw is on the verge of becoming the next “in vogue” fruit. They may be finally right.

Since current paw paw varieties are so difficult to handle and are impossible to ship because of the soft fruit, only local paw paws are ever available.That makes them well positioned to become popular with locavores and other foodies.

Five years ago I planted eight seeds from a paw paw fruit and ended up with a half dozen seedlings happily growing in pots. Unfortunately, they were lost during a move and I never pursued starting any more. Since it takes five to seven years for a paw paw tree to begin producing,  by now, I probably would have had a small crop to pick this year.

A few weeks ago, I was given a paw paw fruit. I was inspired once again to save the seeds and start all over again with my future paw paw orchard.

Like most trees native to this area, paw paw seeds must be stratified before they will germinate. Stratification involves exposing seeds to cold temperature and adequate moisture.

I case you've never seen one, this is a paw paw.
In case you’ve never seen one, this is a paw paw. It contains about a dozen seeds.

In this case, paw paw seeds require 90 to 120 days at 32°F to 40°F while being kept moist. The vegetable crisper of a refrigerator is just the thing to meet those conditions. Just rinse off the seeds, and place them in some moist peat moss in a zip-lock storage bag. Toss the bag in the crisper and forget about it until spring. Don’t let them dry out or freeze, either one will kill the tiny paw paw tree embryo inside the seed.

Next spring plant the seeds into pots of good potting mix. If all goes well, the seeds will sprout in about two and a half to three weeks. Then re-pot as needed in order to give the new seedlings plenty of room to grow.

The most difficult part of the whole process may be finding a paw paw fruit in the first place.

Bob