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Charlie’s Early July Newsletter

Milkweed for Butterflies, Oh Okra, Lovely Black Raspberries and Japanese Knot Weed

Buffalo on prairieWe just returned from a family trip to Southern Montana and Yellowstone National Park. What a beautiful part of the world. Not only were the scenery, temperatures and low humidity a welcome relief, I really liked the high elevation wildflowers that were still blooming. The combination of graceful prairie grasses and wildflowers made for a lovely landscape.

But now we’re home in high humidity and more rain. One plant that seems to thrive in any weather is milkweed. While many gardeners are growing milkweed for Monarch butterflies, it’s important to choose your milkweed wisely or you’ll be dealing with an invasive milkweed mess. I talk about growing milkweed for Monarchs and which are the best to grow in this newsletter.

wildflowers in grasslandsWarm season veggies are loving the weather we’ve been having lately in Vermont. I swear our popcorn grew 3 feet while we were away for a week. Okra is a vegetable some people love and others hate. I think it’s all about how you cook it. I grow some of the dwarf varieties that mature fast and I harvest the pods on the young side to avoid the chewiness and sliminess. I talk about growing okra, even now, in this newsletter.

Our bramble season is upon us. The first bramble in our garden to mature are the black raspberries. They’re first mostly because I mow down our red raspberries in late fall and only harvest a fall crop from them. I talk about growing and loving black raspberries because they are tasty and easier to manage than other brambles. Read more here.

japanese beetles on leavesI’ve been getting questions about weeds in the garden and none is more perplexing than Japanese knot weed. It’s a tough, exotic, invasive to control but I give you some tips here on at least, stopping its spread. Learn more in this newsletter.

My webinar of the week in this newsletter issue is appropriately Organic Gardening Pest Controls. There are lots of insect, animal and disease pests around this time of year and many times we don’t know where to start to control them. I lay out a basic IPM schedule including to identify, rotate plants, grow resistant plants, and decide if the damage is bad enough to act. Then I offer various insect, disease and animal controls using barriers, traps and finally organic sprays. Check out my Organic Gardening Pest Control Webinar here.

Until next time, I’ll be seeing you in the garden.



Webinar of the Week: Organic Gardening Pest Control Webinar

It wouldn’t be summer unless we had some problems in our gardens. On top of the usually rabbit, deer, birds and Japanese Organic Pest Control Webinar slide of deerbeetle issues, we’ve had lots of slugs and snails due to the rains and some rotting of perennials probably due to poor water drainage. I know I’m not alone. That’s why I created this Organic Gardening Pest Control Webinar. In this webinar I try to make pest control easy to understand, safe for you and the environment and effective. In this webinar I talk about selecting pest resistant plants and varieties, design Ideas to reduce the chance of pest damage, and using fencing, netting, row covers and other barriers. I also discuss traps and do they work, which home remedies work and which don’t work, using targeted organic sprays for insects and diseases and spraying animal repellents and how to use them.

If you need some help with pests in your vegetable, flower, fruit, herb and tree and shrub gardens, check out this webinar. I cover many of the most common pests with some helpful solutions.

Check out my Organic Gardening Pest Control Webinar here


Until next time, I’ll be seeing you in the garden.



Where to Find Charlie: (podcasts, TV and in-person)In the Garden TV tips

Growing Milkweed for Butterflies

monarch butterflies on milkweed Many gardeners love butterflies and want to attract more to their landscape. The prize is the monarch butterfly with its bright orange wings. As many gardeners know, monarchs have a special relationship with milkweed plants. They lay their eggs on milkweed leaves, the larvae feed on the leaves and the adults eat the pollen from the flowers. So, having some milkweed in your yard is a good way to invite some monarchs to stop in. But you have to be careful which type of milkweeds you grow.

orange butterfly weed flowersIn large meadows you can grow the common milkweed and let it spread. But most gardeners don’t have a large acreage to do that. The solution is to grow some of the other types of milkweed. They are equally as attractive to monarchs and they don’t spread as aggressively. Swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) grows 3- to 4- feet tall in moist, wet areas. It has fragrant, rose-pink flower clusters atop sturdy stems. Bees and other pollinators like it as well as butterflies. ‘Ice Ballet’ is a white flowered version. Butterfly weed (A. tuberosa) is a great, tame, garden plant that has orange flowers on only 2 foot tall plants. It looks attractive in any full sun perennial garden and attracts all types of pollinators, including monarchs. ‘Hello Yellow’ is a golden flower colored version. There is also Whorled milkweed, Purple milkweed and Showy milkweed that can be grown to attract monarchs and aren’t too aggressive in the garden.

monarch butterfly larvaeAll milkweeds have a milky sap that deters other animals from eating it. Once the monarch ingests the sap it also becomes a less than desirable food for birds and other predators. The sap doesn’t seem to bother the monarchs. Plant milkweeds in full sun on well-drained soil. Some milkweeds, such as swap milkweed, can tolerate wet soils while others, such as Purple milkweed, tolerate dry soils. Choose the best species for your yard.

Plant milkweed in groups so it’s easy for the butterflies to find them. In the garden, group milkweeds with other good pollinator plants such as echinacea, salvia, rudbeckia and asters. Yes, even these other species of milkweeds will spread. Each spring thin out the patches to keep them from slowly taking over. In meadows help them get established and they will spread on their own.

Go here to learn more about Growing Milkweed

American Meadows Ad with wildflowers

How to Grow: Okra

okra pod on plantOkra is traditionally a Southern vegetable treat, but that doesn’t mean Northern gardeners can’t grow and enjoy it, too. The keys to success with okra is warm soil and air and enough moisture. If you haven’t grown or even tried fresh okra from the garden before, don’t get swayed but popular stories. Some gardeners hate the chewy, stringy, slimy nature of okra. But, if you pick okra pods when they’re very young, you’ll avoid all those problems and get a tasty vegetable that’s great in stews, soups, sautted and fried. If you’ve grown okra before and didn’t like it or if didn’t produce well, give it another try. I’ll tell you how.

okra flowerFirst, start with dwarf varieties such as ‘Jambalaya’ and ‘Baby Bubba’. These okras only stand 3 feet tall and can fit in a small garden or even a container. Wait until the temperatures warm consistently into the 70Fs to grow okra in a garden. That’s key with okra. It doesn’t like cold soils and air. In a container you can start earlier. Even in the North, you can start some okra today and with the warm, summer weather get it growing and have a crop in 2 months.

The other key to okra growing is water. It’s in the hibiscus family and likes a good drink. As the song lyrics go, “the okra won’t grow if the water don’t flow”. So, keep the soil fertile with compost and evenly moist all summer.

okra foodOkra is a versatile plant in the garden. Even if you don’t like eating it, the beautiful hibiscus flowers and tall stature make is a good addition to the back of a flower garden. Some varieties, such as ‘Burgundy’, have dark maroon colored leaves and stems. Some varieties grow 6 feet or more tall, so they’re hard to miss.

Okra has few pests and animals seem to leave them alone. Watch out for pill bugs and slugs when the plants are young.

Start harvesting the pods when they’re less than 4 inches long. They’re tender, soft and tasty at that stage. You can even eat the flowers, too. Older pods get stringy and seedy, making them less flavorful. Use hand pruners and gloves to harvest as some people get rashes from the leaves.

Go here for more on growing Okra

How to Grow: Black Raspberries

black raspberries on plantMany gardeners grow red and yellow raspberries, but I think black raspberries, or black cap raspberries, should be added to everyone’s list. While blackberries and other raspberries spread by underground rhizomes and runners, black raspberries stay in a more clumping form. While they will spread like other brambles, they aren’t as aggressive. This makes black raspberries perfect for a small vegetable garden and even a flower patch.

black raspberry harvestThe first step is to choose a good variety of black raspberry. Most varieties are hardy in zones 5 to 8. We grow ‘ Bristol’ since it’s one of the hardiest types. You can also try ‘Jewel’, ‘Mac Black’ and Niwot’. ‘Niwot is an ever bearing variety that produces in summer and fall. ‘Tahi’ is the first thornless black raspberry variety available.

Plant black raspberries in clumps or rows in full sun on well-drained soil. Because of their clumping nature, you can trellis them on a wire or just stake the plants individually. Staking allows you to tuck in black raspberries into the corner or back of a garden. Keep the beds weeded and watered. I like to mulch with wood chips annually and that seems to solve both problems.

black raspberry plantBlack raspberries have long, arching canes. A wire trellis or staking will help keep the canes off the ground. Prune out the fruiting canes after bearing in summer. Pinch off the tops of new canes in summer as they start to grow long. This will make the canes more manageable and produce better berries next year. Treat the everbearing black raspberry varieties as you would everbearing red types.

Black raspberries are rounded fruits that slip off the center pit. They have a great flavor with fewer seeds than blackberries. Wait until they are totally black to harvest for the best flavor. Enjoy them on ice cream, in pies and just as a snack eaten out of hand.

Go here to learn more about Raspberry growing


In Our Garden: Japanese Knot Weed

Japanese knotweed floweringIf there’s one weed that perplexes many gardeners it’s Japanese knot weed. This Asian import spreads prolifically by under ground rhizomes, seeds and stems that root in moist soil. It truly seems indestructible. While gardeners in Japan eat the young shoots as greens, most North American gardeners would rather just be rid of the plant.

Japanese knot weed grows particularly well along streams and in wet areas. This only adds to the spreading when flooding moves pieces of the plant down stream. It also makes it hard to control the plant with herbicides because of the harm to the streams and stream side creatures and plants. Use herbicides only in areas away from water.

japanese knotweed shootBut there are some things you can do to help control this aggressive weed. You can certainly try to weaken the roots by continuously mowing it down. If mowing isn’t an option, you can try to smother the plant. First, you have to be patient. This techniques may take years to be effective and you’ll still have to be watchful for young sprouts.

The New Hampshire Department of Agriculture has a good web page on the smothering technique. It also includes information on using herbicides on Japanese knot weed. Here are the basics for smothering the plants.

  • Allow the knot weed to grow uncontrolled in spring
  • The first week of June, cut the knot weed to the ground and remove the top. This will weaken the root system. Dry the tops on pavement to kill them.
  • Cover the stumps and area with grass clipping, leaves and/or hay.
  • Cover the area with a thick plastic tarp. Lay it 5 feet beyond where you saw the knot weed all around the area you are trying to control.
  • Cover the tarp with wood chips to protect it from degrading in the sunlight.
  • Weigh the tarp down with stones, boards and bricks
  • Wait 5 years!

japanese knotweed young plantEven after 5 years you may still have young Japanese knot weed sprouts emerging from the soil. But they will be far fewer and easier to pull. However, if you have other knot weed plants nearby, you’ll have to dig a deep trench and put in metal edging to prevent it from encroaching on your “cleaned” area.

Learn more about Japanese Knot Weed controls here

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