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An Equal Opportunity University College of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Agriculture, and Pennsylvania Counties Cooperating

October December 2010 Vol. 12, No. 4

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. - Albert Camus

Straw Bale Gardens
Linda Antonacio-Hoade, Horticulture/4-H School Enrichment Program Assistant, Penn State
Montgomery County Cooperative Extension

This year we decided to try something different in The
Learning Gardens - it is called straw bale gardening. It is appealing for
a number of reasons including it is inexpensive and it is easy to
assemble. Quickly assembled raised beds can be formed in a variety of
different ways. Your straw bale garden is as creative as your garden
mind. Many schools want to garden and develop an Outdoor Classroom
for their students. With tight budgets, straw bale gardening makes this
possible and also incorporates recycling and composting into the

What we did: We stood four bales on their cut sides with
potting mix in the center and planted a 3 Sisters Garden - corn
(ornamental variety), beans and squash. Another straw bale garden has
several different kinds of tomatoes plants, a few different types of
peppers, basil, chives, eggplants, carrots and some bush beans. A
dinner in the straw! And a third straw bale garden is strictly ornamental with flowers, sweet potato vine,
impatiens, coleus and morning glories climbing up a ladder to a tree.

How to make a straw bale garden: Materials needed include bales of straw, fertilizer, and soilless
media/compost, strong twine and plants or seeds. The straw bales can be arranged in a variety of ways.
They can be laid out on cut ends, on their sides or even in rows. You can use bagged potting mix,
compost or a compost/soil mixture for growing medium. You can use the area within the center of the
bales or the bale surface for planting. It is recommended the bales be tied together for stability. A co-
Index: Straw Bale Gardens
Winter Vegetable Gardening
Indoor Air Quality Can Be Improved
Time to Plant Trees and Shrubs
Care of Holiday Plants
Educational Opportunities
worker was kind enough to send photos from Ohio State University where they were more elaborate and
used many more bales, creating an entire growing area, in circles, square and other shapes.
It is suggested that at least 10-12 days
before planting you begin conditioning
the bales. After you have them placed
where you want your garden, apply a 1/2
cup of nitrogen-rich fertilizer to each
bale. Water this in well, youll want to
start cooking the inside of your bales. Do
this every other day with the in-between
day of only watering your bales well. On
the last day, apply a balanced 10-10-10
fertilizer. Now the cycle of composting
has been started and the breakdown will
continue. As the bales breakdown, they
will continue to feed the plants growing
in them. When it is completely broken down, it will serve as potting medium for the following growing
season's bales This is a lesson in composting as well as recycling.

You are ready for the potting medium, seeds or plants. Do not be alarmed if you begin to see
mushrooms growing on your bale. That means your bales are doing what you want and breaking down.
You may grow veggies or ornamentals in these bales, the choice is yours.

It was an easy fix to a bare area. Straw Bale Gardening is a great addition to an Outdoor
Classroom in schools. It's easy as well as educational. I may wrap them with twine on the outside to see if
I can get 2 growing seasons from the bales. Of course, I will need to rejuvenate the potting medium come
next season

As these gardens grew through the season, photos were posted on the Extensions Horticulture
Facebook page (PSU Extension Montgomery County Horticulture). The vegetable and Three Sisters
straw bale gardens can be seen at the Penn State-Montgomery County Cooperative Extension Office/4-H
Center at any time. They are located inside and just outside the Universal Garden. All The Learning
Gardens gardens are opened to the public from dawn until dusk, 7 days a week.

Tip of the Season: Dont leave the garden bare for the winter. If it is too late to plant a cover crop
in your garden, spread straw, old hay or other organic material over the bare ground. This will break
down and add organic matter to the soil, helping to build soil structure, add valuable nutrients, increase
soil microbes and worms. Erosion is a potential problem even in a small garden. Wind picks up the
topsoil and dumps it elsewhere, lost from the garden forever.

Winter Vegetable Growing
Mary Concklin

Its fall, the weather has turned cold, leaves are rapidly dropping off trees, the vegetable garden
has been put to bed for the winter and images of fresh vegetables sprouting from the garden next summer
are streaming in your dreams. But wait a minute, there is little reason to wait. You can grow fresh
vegetables this winter in your house. OK maybe not sweet corn, but many others will do well. Allow
enough room for the vegetables to grow without being crowded. You dont have to have a greenhouse but
you will need at least six hours of light for adequate plant growth, more is better.

A window facing south, south-east or south-west with no light impediment (trees or shrubs)
should provide at least 6 hours of sunlight. As plants grow turn the container often to prevent
phototropism plants leaning or growing toward light.

If a good natural light source is not available, place your vegetables under grow lights or
supplement window light with artificial light. Keep the lights about six inches above the plants to prevent
leggy growth. During the growing season outdoors, vegetables receive twelve to sixteen hours of
sunlight. Under the lights you are trying to recreate those conditions. Optimum temperatures for most
vegetables is 70
F 75

In the winter, the air in our homes is often dry with a lack of air movement. Placing plants close
together raises the humidity in their micro-climate. High humidity with a lack of air movement has the
potential to create an environment conducive for mildew development. If you grow a lot of vegetables
close together, using a small fan to keep air moving will help reduce disease.

Insects can still be a problem in the home. Keep an eye out for whiteflies and aphids and wash
them off as soon as they are seen. Hanging yellow sticky card traps will help with monitoring as well as
control. These can be purchased at most garden centers or on-line.

Dont overwater. Instead of routinely watering often, check the soil first. Stick a pencil or other
instrument into the soil. If it comes out wet or damp, hold off. It is better to have the soil a little dry (not
bone dry) then too wet. Vegetable plants do not grow well
in saturated soil roots may die from a lack of oxygen or
will rot.

Salad mixes (leafy greens, carrots and radishes)
and many herbs are probably the easiest to grow in the
home. Vegetables that require pollination get a little tricky
indoors but maybe this will be the year you learn to
manually pollinate plants. Give it a try.

Not only will you be able to enjoy fresh home grown vegetables, you will feel better as well
mentally and physically. For many of the same reasons you enjoy outdoor gardening, youll enjoy indoor

Tip of the Season: Test your soil if you havent had it done in the past 3-4 years. Fall is a good time
to adjust the pH and to add non-nitogenous fertilizers in fruit and ornamental plantings.

Indoor Air Quality Can Be Improved
During the cold months of late fall and winter when windows and doors are kept
closed to keep the heat in, the air in homes often times begins to smell stale. Previous
articles in The Bloom N News have talked about the positives of plants in the workplace
and on mental health. The following article, written by Deborah Brown from the
University of Minnesota, is based on research done by NASA on plants that cleanse the air
an important issue in a closed environment.
Our space program has led the way to a fascinating and important discovery about the role of
houseplants indoors. NASA has been researching methods of cleansing the atmosphere in future space
stations to keep them fit for human habitation over extended periods of time. They've found that many
common houseplants and blooming potted plants help fight pollution indoors. They're reportedly able to
scrub significant amounts of harmful gases out of the air, through the everyday processes of
photosynthesis. Some pollutants are also absorbed and rendered harmless in the soil.
Plant physiologists already knew that plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen as part of
the photosynthetic process. Now researchers have found many common houseplants absorb benzene,
formaldehyde and trichloroethylene, as well.
Chances are, all houseplants are beneficial in this regard, at least to a certain degree, though they
haven't all been tested. Of those tested, not all have proven equally efficient cleaners. Nor can we assume
all harmful pollutants can be removed in this manner.
Some houseplants are better at removing formaldehyde from the air, while others do a better job
on benzene; none is much help when it comes to tobacco smoke. But there are enough known plants that
do a good job of removing pollutants from the air we breathe to cause us to view houseplants as more
than just an attractive feature in decorating the interior environment.
These are three of the worst offenders found in relatively new homes and offices. Newer
buildings are constructed largely with man-made building materials and furnished with synthetic
carpeting, fabrics, laminated counters, plastic coated wallpaper, and other materials known to "off-gas"
pollutants into the interior environment.
The advent of the "energy crisis" a number of years back has increased the problems associated
with indoor pollutants. Newly constructed buildings are better insulated and sealed tightly to conserve
heat or air-conditioning. While it does save both money and energy, this new found efficiency has its
downside in that pollutants may be trapped indoors and have less opportunity to dissipate to the outside.
The phrase coined to describe this unfortunate result is "sick building syndrome."
If your home is old enough to be leaky and drafty, you may not need to worry about "sick-
building syndrome." But if you live in a newer, energy-efficient home with windows and doors tightly
sealed, or you work in a building where the air feels stale and circulation seems poor, the liberal use of
houseplants seems like an easy way to help make a dent in the problem.
NASA scientists studied nineteen different plant species for two years. Of the specimens studied,
only two were primarily flowering plants; chrysanthemums and gerbera daisies. Though commonly used
to bring a touch of color indoors, particularly for holidays and special occasions, these plants are
generally not kept indoors very long. After they're through blooming they're usually discarded or planted
Most of the plants tested are "true" houseplants, kept indoors year-round in our climate, though
they may be placed outdoors during warm summer months. One is the common succulent, Aloe vera
(now renamed Aloe barbadensis), also known as "medicine plant." Many people already have one in a
bright kitchen window because of the soothing, healing properties its viscous inner tissue has on burns,
bites and skin irritations.
Most of the plants listed below evolved in tropical or sub-tropical forests, where they received
light filtered through the branches of taller trees. Because of this, their leaf composition allows them to
photosynthesize efficiently under relatively low light conditions, which in turn allows them to process
gasses in the air efficiently.
Soil and roots were also found to play an important role in removing air-borne pollutants. Micro-
organisms in the soil become more adept at using trace amounts of these materials as a food source, as
they were exposed to them for longer periods of time. Their effectiveness is increased if lower leaves that
cover the soil surface are removed, so there is as much soil contact with the air as possible.
Best results were obtained with small fans that pulled air through a charcoal filter in the soil,
cleaning more than foliage could alone or in combination with a "passive" pot of soil. Even without the
fan and filter, however, houseplants did remove trace pollutants from the air.
The NASA studies generated the recommendation that you use 15 to 18 good-sized houseplants
in 6 to 8-inch diameter containers to improve air quality in an average 1,800 square foot house. The more
vigorously they grow, the better job they'll do for you.
The bulk of the list of plants NASA tested reads like a "Who's Who" of the interior plant world.
They are:
Chamaedorea sefritzii Bamboo palm
Aglaonema modestum Chinese evergreen
Hedera helix English ivy
Ficus benjamina Weeping fig
Gerbera jamesonii Gerbera daisy
Dracaena deremensis Janet Craig Janet Craig
Dracaena marginata Red-edged dracaena
Dracaena fragrans Massangeana Cornstalk dracaena
Sansevieria trifasciata Laurentii Mother-in-laws tongue
Spathiphyllum Mauna Loa Peace lily
Dendranthema morifolium Pot mum
Dracaena deremensis Warneckei Warneck dracaena
Musa oriana Banana
Philodendron scandens oxycardium Heart leaf philodendron
Philodendron domesticum Elephant ear philodendron
Chlorophytum comosum Green spider plant
Epipiremnum aureum Golden pothos
Philodendron selloum Lacy tree philodendron
Aloe barbadensis Aloe

Tip of the Season: For summer bearing raspberries, remove the spent raspberry floricanes those
canes that had berries this year in late fall. Wait until the primocanes (those that were vegetative) have
lost their leaves in late fall or winter to thin the row.

Better a $5 plant in a $10 hole than vice versa. - Author unknown
Time to Plant Trees and Shrubs
Jeff Iles, Department of Horticulture, Iowa State University

You've probably seen newspaper advertisements and attention-getting
banners displayed at local nurseries and garden centers proclaiming "Fall is for
Planting." But is it really wise to plant trees and shrubs at the end of a growing
season and so close to winter? The answer to this question is a qualified yes.
Fall planting can be successful as long as the planting season is not extended too
late into the fall, if difficult-to-establish species are avoided, and if proper care
(watering, mulching, staking if needed, etc.) is administered after planting.
For good reason, most people think of spring as the preferred planting season. Landscape plants
installed in March, April, and May benefit from generous rains and the long growing season that
stretches ahead. But more often than not, we receive too much precipitation that makes planting difficult,
especially on poorly drained sites. Furthermore, the sudden onset of hot, dry weather that typically
displaces an often too-short spring, can injure tender new plantings. Because of these difficulties,
increasing attention has been given to fall planting. During the period from mid-August to mid-October,
moderate and relatively stable air temperatures prevail, and soil temperatures and moisture levels are
usually in a range that promote rapid root development. But if the fall planting season is extended into
November and December, or if slow-to-establish species are chosen, root growth may be poor and
planting failures can occur.
Most container-grown and balled and burlapped deciduous trees and shrubs sold at garden
centers are excellent candidates for fall planting. Because these plants usually possess well- developed
root systems, and because the roots of many landscape plants are capable of growing even when soil
temperatures cool to 45 F, the prospects for successful plant establishment are quite high throughout the
fall season. Conifers, such as pine and spruce, benefit from a slightly earlier start, preferring the warmer
soil temperatures (60 to 70 F) common in late summer to early fall (mid-August through September).
If plants from a nursery can be planted in the fall, what about moving or transplanting established
trees and shrubs from one locale to another? As you might suspect, severing the roots of a plant (up to 95
percent in some cases), hauling it out of the ground, and moving it to a completely new site is a stressful
operation, regardless of the season. Still, transplanting can be successfully carried out if it is restricted to
those plants with a proven track record of surviving such a move in the fall.
Why is it that some plants can be planted at almost any time of the year while others are saddled
with much narrower windows of opportunity? Reasons for these differences are a subject for debate, but
the commonly held belief is that plants with shallow, fibrous roots can usually be planted with greater
ease than those with fewer, larger roots. Prime examples of difficult-to-plant trees are magnolia and tulip
tree; both have thick, fleshy roots. Other slow-to-establish species that are better planted in spring
include fir, birch, American hornbeam, American yellowwood, ginkgo, larch, sweetgum, hophornbeam,
oak, willow, bald cypress, and hemlock.
Notable tree species that can be successfully planted in the fall include maple, buckeye or
horsechestnut, alder, catalpa, hackberry, hawthorn, ash, honeylocust, Kentucky coffeetree, crabapple,
Amur corktree, spruce, pine, sycamore, linden, and elm. Most deciduous shrubs are easily planted in fall;
however, broad-leaved evergreens like rhododendron and narrow-leaved evergreens like yew prefer to be
planted in the spring.
Fall planting takes advantage of favorable soil temperatures and moisture conditions that
promote the root growth needed to sustain plants through their critical first year in the landscape. If
healthy, vigorous plants are chosen, if proper post-planting care is given, and if slow-to-establish species
are avoided, fall planting of trees and shrubs can be as successful as spring planting.
Did you know? Compaction of soil under trees (especially by bulldozers working an area, and by
repeated parking of cars, pickup trucks, and trucks by construction people) is almost as deadly to
trees as covering their roots with soil. The compaction deprives the feeder roots of oxygen. (from
PSU Urban Forestry News, V 16, # 1)

Care of Holiday Plants
William Fortney, Penn State - retired ; Dr. Kathleen Kelley, Penn State Department of Horticulture;
Mary Concklin

Easy to grow:
Christmas cactus and Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera hybrids)
require cooler temperatures and need to be watered less frequently in the fall for
buds to develop. Once flower buds have formed, temperature and watering
regime should be increased. After the plant stops blooming, keep it in a cool,
sunny location out of direct light. In summer, put it outside in light shade and
leave it there as long as possible into the fall to promote new shoot development.
If you must bring the plant inside before outdoor temperatures decrease in the
fall, leave it in a cool, light area in the basement. Place it in a bright location as
soon as buds are noticeable. If buds start to drop, it may be an indication of one of
three things: 1) the plant may need repotting; 2) the light intensity may be too
low; or 3) the temperature may be too high. These plants seldom flower well at temperatures above 70F.

Plants which are more difficult and challenging to flower again:
Gardenia (G. Jasminoides) is an attractive flowering and foliage plant and it grows best in a
cool, sunny window. If the window is hot during the day, provide some shade. Nighttime temperature
should be 60F, while day temperatures should be 10 warmer. The key to an attractive gardenia plant in
the home is high humidity. A gardenia grown in low humidity may form flower buds, but they will
blacken and fall before opening. To maintain a high humidity, mist leaves daily or place the container
over a tray containing pebbles and water. The bottom of the container should rest on the pebbles, which
are above the water level.

Gardenias are similar to rhododendrons and azaleas and grow
best when the potting mix is mildly acidic. To achieve this, incorporate
large quantities of peat moss into the potting mix. You should use
fertilizers especially designed for acid loving plants. If the leaves become
yellow and drop, the potting mix may not be acidic enough, the humidity
or temperature may be too low, or the plant may need repotting.

In summer, move the gardenia outdoors to a lightly shaded area.
Never let the potting mix dry out so that the plant wilts. Maintain the regular fertilizer schedule and bring
the plant back indoors before heating is needed in the fall.

Cyclamen (C. persicum) is one of the most difficult winter pot plants to keep for more than a
few weeks in a home. The key to a long-lasting plant is cool temperature. If the night temperature is
much above 50F, the leaves will turn yellow and the buds will die. If the light is also poor, the leaves
will die quickly. Large amounts of indirect sunlight and cool temperatures are essential to the life of your
cyclamen. Water the plant as soon as the potting mix is dry to the touch on top. Avoid getting any water
into the crown of the plant by immersing the container in room temperature softened water until the top
of the potting mix appears wet. Then remove the container, let it drain and
return the cyclamen to its location. Given proper care, your cyclamen should
bloom until March.

After the plant stops blooming, gradually reduce the amount of water and allow
the plant to dry. Remove the corm from the potting mix and store it in sand,
peat moss, or vermiculite to keep it from drying out. Store the corm in the
basement at 50F. In June repot it in a new potting mixture of one part peat
moss, one part garden soil, and one part sand. Be certain to keep the upper half
of the corm above the soil surface to help prevent rotting. Water the plant and
in about three weeks, move it out to the garden to a shady place. Fertilize the
cyclamen about twice a month with a solution of teaspoon general garden fertilizer, such as 5-10-5, to
a quart of water. Before frost, bring the cyclamen back indoors to a cool, sunny window. The blooms will
not be as large as the first year, but there should be as many.

Plants to be discarded after they flower:
Christmas begonia (B. cheimantha) will last for several months if it is purchased with a large
number of buds. As with most of the flowering plants, the best location for it in the home is a cool, sunny
window, avoiding temperatures above 70F. If you let the plant become dry, the life of the flowers will be
greatly shortened. This plant is almost impossible to grow in the home; therefore, it should be treated as
an annual and discarded after it is finished blooming.

Primrose (Primula spp.), calceolaria (C. herbeohybrida), and cineraria (Senecio cruentus) all
tolerate the same conditions in the home. Purchase plants that have both open flowers and buds. To get
full color in the buds as they develop, the plant must be in full sun and have plenty of water. A cool
temperature of 50F at night is also preferable. Keep the faded flowers picked off. Since these plants are
annuals, they should be discarded after blooming.

All issues of the Bloom N News and an index of topics are available on-line at:

Educational Opportunities

Rock Gardens & Small Space Gardens: An Organic Gardening Guide with Ron Kushner. Tuesday,
October 5. 10:30 am 12 noon. Morris Arboretum. For additional information or to register call 215-
247-5777 ext 125.

Gardening for Fall and Winter Interest with Leslie Bass. Thursday, October 7, 7:00 pm, Radnor
Memorial Library. Call 610-687-1124 x 21 for additional information.

Exciting Fall Perennials with Peggy Rastiello. Tuesday, October 12, 7-8 pm. Montgomery County
Community College Blue Bell. To register call 215-641-6397.

Harvesting Herbs with Peggy Rastiello. Saturday, October 16. Toby's Treasure Barn, 404 Privet Road
Horsham, Pa. For additional information call 215-675-4044.

Ground Rules, Ground covers, mulches and more with Kathy Klein. Tuesday October 19, 7-8 pm.
Montgomery County Community College Blue Bell. To register call 215-641-6397.

A Morning in the Gardens with Master Gardeners. Saturday, October 23, 9 am 12 noon. Choose 1,
2 or 3 classes to attend: Backyard habitat, Seed starting, Gardening for plant earth, Using natives to
attract birds & wildlife, Composting, Ground covers, Putting the garden to bed, Using your harvested
herbs, Butterfly ID. For a brochure or additional information, call the Montgomery County Extension
office at 610-489-4315 or download the brochure at

Composting with Karrie Hontz. Tuesday October 26, 7-8 pm. Montgomery County Community
College Blue Bell. To register call 215-641-6397.

Vermiculture with Wayne Brunt. Monday, November 1, 7 pm. Whitemarsh Township
616 Germantown Pike, Lafayette Hill, PA 19444. Call 610-825-3535 for additional information.

Native Plants with Marc Radell. Tuesday, November 2, 7-8 pm. Montgomery County Community
College Blue Bell. To register call 215-641-6397.

Thanksgiving Centerpiece with Stephanie Bennett. Tuesday, November 16, 7-8 pm. Upper Dublin
Township, 801 Loch Alsh Ave, Fort Washington. To register on-line go to Or call 215-643-1600 for additional

Fresh Green Wreaths with Stephanie Bennett. Wednesday December 1, 7-8 pm. Upper Dublin
Township, 801 Loch Alsh Ave, Fort Washington. To register on-line go to Or call 215-643-1600 for additional

Herbal Dip Mixes with Peggy Rastiello. Wednesday, December 15, Ambler Library, 209 Race St. Call
215- 646-1072 for additional information.

Mary E. C. Concklin Andrew D. Frankenfield
Writer and Editor Extension Agricultural Educator

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