Having plant problems? What to know before you shop for a cure

Having plant problems? What to know before you shop for a cure

by Carolyn Hasenfratz

If something is going wrong in your garden, there may or may not be a product available that treats it. A customer came in the other day and wanted to know what to do about a certain plant that is supposed to be evergreen turning brown in some areas. This could be a sign of a pest or disease, but it could also be a symptom of an environmental issue such as salt exposure, pollution, lack of water or sun scald, just to name a few examples. The cure may not be a product, it may be a different cultural practice. A little research before you go shopping might help you save some money or make better purchases.

If you don’t know exactly what the problem is, I suggest that you try an images search in your favorite search engine and try searches like “Diseases of Name of Plant”, “Name of Plant Pest Symptoms” or “Name of Plant Blight”. You may see an image that looks like the condition you are dealing with. Go to that web page and see if there is enough information to diagnose the issue.

Missouri Botanical Garden can help identify your problem in four ways.


    • Send them an email with an attached photo requesting identification.


    • Call the Horticulture Answer Service at (314) 577-5143.


    • Bring a sample to the Kemper Center Plant Doctors at Missouri Botanical Garden. On this web page are guidelines about what to bring and forms to print out to bring with you.


If you’re not sure what kind of plant you have, they can help with that too!

Gardening Sustainability

Seed Saving and Trading

Seed Saving and Trading

by Carolyn Hasenfratz

Do you find yourself with leftover seeds after doing your spring planting? When I have leftover seeds I usually put aside some for next year in case this year’s crop fails. Even if the germination rate won’t be as high next year it might be better than none at all. Some of my plants are so prolific that I have many more seeds than I can use in two seasons. I occasionally even have extras of commercial seeds because the packet I bought contains more than I need. When that happens I like to give the seeds away or trade them. Local gardening clubs and online groups sometimes host seed swaps.

A major advantage to acquiring seeds at a local swap is that you are trading with people who have grown the plants in similar conditions and soil as your own. The plants that survived well enough to produce seed are likely to grow well for you too. Whether the seeds are saved for your own use or for trading, keeping good records is important. I keep a three-ring binder with a page for each plant that I grow. I write on the page all the information I have for the source of that plant. If I grew it from commercial seed, I tape that packet on the page so I can refer back to it. If I acquired the seeds through a swap, I record as much information as possible. If the trader included the species name, you can look up the rest of what you need to know, but sometimes traders include growing tips also which is very handy.

The ideal way to package seeds for a swap is in a paper envelope with information about the plant written on it. Species name and cultivar name (if any) and date of harvest I would say is the bare minimum of information you should include. Plastic bags and empty film containers are sometimes used. These are not as good for storage as paper since they hold in moisture. If the seeds were not dried thoroughly before packaging, that could cause a mold problem. If you get seeds packaged in a plastic container and are not going to plant them right away, I recommend transferring them to a paper envelope as soon as possible.

Decorated homemade seed packet'
You can purchase small paper envelopes to store your seeds or download and print out some free templates from the internet. I do a lot of paper crafts so I had some fun making my own more decorative versions. Here are instructions for these seed packets if you would like to make some like them. We also have a pre-printed PDF template you can download to make more utilitarian looking seed packets.

As this year’s growing season progresses, you may want to start saving and storing some seeds for the 2017 season. Every plant is not a good candidate for seed saving, for example hybrids will not breed true from seed. Some hybrids don’t produce seed at all. Some cultivars are stable and some are not.

I suspect that these Columbines, the parent plants having been acquired through a seed swap, are the descendants of hybrids. The swapper labeled these as blue and red but they and their descendants came out pink and purple. I would have rather had blue and red, but these are nice too so that’s ok. It’s hard to grow anything where I live so I’m not going to turn up my nose at something that is pretty and grows really well for me! You never know what is going to come out when you plant the seeds of a hybrid or of a plant that is likely to cross-pollinate with other plants in the vicinity. You might find this uncertainty part of the fun of gardening or an annoyance depending on what you are trying to do. This year I have a bunch of seedlings coming up that came from a Columbine plant that I know is a hybrid because I have the seed packet and it says so. I don’t know what the resulting plants are going to look like. If I don’t like them I just won’t save their progeny. Each year I grow petunias that are descended from seeds that my Mom and Dad got in a pack at Aldi in the 1980s. I don’t know from year to year if the flowers are going to be white, purple, magenta, or pink but that’s part of the fun for me! They’re all pretty so I don’t care. If you’re growing food or trying to breed plants for specific traits you need to know a lot more about where your seed stock comes from and what pollen it’s exposed to. For example if you’re growing one type of vegetable and your neighbor is growing one that is similar but not the same they could cross-pollinate. If that is a concern it’s good to know how your plant is pollinated and how to prevent cross-pollination. If you are not sure whether your plant is a good candidate for seed saving or how to do it, it’s best to look up the recommendations for that particular plant.

Aside from some of my Columbines, my garden has few hybrids. In my case one reason is so that I can reliably save seeds so I have some trading stock or when I want to grow more of a particular plant. Species plants are often more attractive to wildlife than hybrids, and wildlife is an important part of my garden. I also am not allowed to grow vegetables where I live (unless they are in containers on the deck) – I mostly concentrate on herbs and wildflowers. Wildflowers are good candidates for seed saving because they need to reproduce without human help and can be open pollinated. Many herbs if you get the species plant and not a hybrid will grow true from seed. I harvest when the seeds are brown and starting to get loose and the pod if there is one is starting to come open. When I cut the pods or seed heads to save them, I store them in paper bags that I have labeled with the species and date of harvest. I hang these bags from a chain in my closet for at least a month – then they are dry enough to separate the seeds from the chaff. I sometimes don’t bother to separate the seeds until I’m ready to plant them or put them in envelopes for trading. I collect the seeds from the healthiest plants and try to mingle the seeds of several parent plants together so the genetic diversity is greater. I’ve never noticed any strange mutations but if you get one you might be able to start a new variety!

If you’re a beginner to seed saving, here are some suggestions of plants I have had good results with:

Swamp Milkweed
Bronze Fennel
Blackberry Lily (flower color varies – can be red-purple, red-orange, or yellow)
Yucca filamentosa
Lemon Balm
Purple Coneflower
Agastache rugosa
German and Roman Chamomile
Evening Primrose
Queen Anne’s Lace
Yarrow (white)
Blue Mistflower
Rose of Sharon (not cultivars)
Grape tomatoes

If you don’t have any of these plants take a look at what reseeds itself and breeds true in your own garden and try those first!


Test your soil now to assess your fertilizer needs

Test your soil now to assess your fertilizer needs

by Carolyn Hasenfratz

During the upcoming growing season you may need to fertilize your lawn or garden. You will probably want to add Nitrogen in some form on a consistent basis since it does not stay in the soil long. If you add Nitrogen in an organic form it will be slow-release so you don’t need to worry about adding too much. If adding Nitrogen in chemical form it is important to get the timing and amount correct. For all the other soil nutrients you should get a soil test to make sure there really is need – there is no point in spending time and money to apply something you already have. A soil test is also important to find out the PH – it needs to be in the right range for what you are trying to grow. Even if the nutrients are present, if the PH is not right the plants won’t be able to make use of them.

Here is how to prepare a soil sample. Go to 10 to 15 places in your yard or garden and dig up consistently sized samples from the surface to six inches down. Collect the samples in a clean plastic bucket. Spread them out to air dry then mix together thoroughly. If you have distinct areas such as a lawn vs planting beds, prepare a separate sample for each area. You might want to do separate tests for the front or back yard, or sunny vs. shady areas also. Put one pint of each sample mixture into a clean plastic bag, label it with your name, address and sample location, and take it to a lab.

For information about the University of Missouri Extension testing service, see their web site. This web page on the Missouri Botanical Garden web site will tell you how to utilize your test results after you get them.

DIY Gardening Good Eating

Impatient for home-grown greens? Try some sprouts!

Impatient for home-grown greens? Try some sprouts!

by Carolyn Hasenfratz

Seed Sprouter from Botanical Interests
There are a lot of health claims associated with eating sprouts. I know for sure that they taste great and can be ready to eat just a few days after starting so if you’re ready for something green and yummy to eat you won’t have long to wait. I purchased a Seed Sprouter from Schnarr’s and I’ll be giving it a try shortly. Schnarr’s carries some seeds from Botanical Interests that can be used for sprouting. We might not have everything listed on the Botanical Interests web site but we have some of them. You can also get seeds for sprouting from the Whole Foods bulk section.

Did you know you can let some of your seeds grow two or three weeks past the sprout stage and cut the tops off to use them in juices or smoothies? Wheat Grass and Oat Grass work well for this because they are easy to grow indoors and they germinate pretty quickly. When they are long enough you can use them in your favorite recipe. I sowed my seeds in seed starting potting mix, harvested a first cutting and got a second smaller cutting off of them later before turning them over to my pet birds. Apparently European Starlings don’t need to be told that sprouts are good for you! They rapidly ate the stems, leaves, roots, and still-attached seeds with gusto! I think I remember reading somewhere that if you observe birds pulling up young seedlings in your garden, they are not just engaging in wanton vandalism, they want the extra nutrition from the sprouts. My own birds’ instinctive behavior around sprouts would seem to reinforce that idea.


Oat Grass and Wheat Grass


The Oat Grass is mainly marketed for cats while the Wheat Grass is marketed for human consumption. Both are nutritious for humans but the fibers are not digestible for us. You can get some of the nutrients from wheat and oat grass in a smoothie by thoroughly chopping the grass in a blender with the liquid that is going to go into your smoothie. Then strain the grass pieces out of the liquid and discard the fibrous parts. (I left some pieces in one of my smoothies as a test and I did not notice any digestive upsets but some people might not react well to the fibers). I don’t have a juicer and I’m not familiar with how they work but Wheat Grass is more commonly known for use with juicers.

According to the website WebMD, Wheat Grass contains vitamins A, C and E, iron, calcium, magnesium and amino acids. WebMD states that there is not enough evidence to support most health effects other than nutrition although people do attempt to treat some health conditions with it and rates it LIKELY SAFE consumed in food amounts. WebMD has no listing for Oat Grass but other web sites I looked at state that it is also nutritious for people though perhaps not as much as Wheat Grass.

Here is a delicious smoothie recipe to try.

1/2 cup milk (any kind)
Handful of cut wheat and/or oat grass
1 frozen banana
1 cup frozen cucumber pieces
1 scoop Vanilla Flavored Whey Protein powder*
1 heaping TBSP Matcha Green Tea Latte powder*
*available at Trader Joe’s

Blend milk and grass pieces together in blender until well chopped. Strain grass pieces out of milk with a fine strainer. Return milk (now with a green tint) to blender and add all other ingredients. Mix well until smooth. Enjoy!


Start Some of Your Spring Planting Right Now! Part 2

Start Some of Your Spring Planting Right Now! Part 2

by Carolyn Hasenfratz

The following seed starting tips come from my Master Gardener class and are general for a wide variety of seed starting. Some of the information you may need to germinate seeds is specific to the type of plant you are trying to grow. Check the seed packet or other resource to find out if there are any specific instructions for that particular seed.

Seed Starting Mix

1. Choose a seed starting mix that is loose or lightweight, porous, fine-textured, holds water, and is free of pathogens or weeds. It can contain fertilizer but doesn’t necessarily have to. Pre-made mixes like the Miracle Gro Seed Starting Potting Mix* are easy to use. You could also make your own blend containing some or all of the following – peat moss*, perlite*, vermiculite*, compost and bark. Do not use field soil or sand. Peat pellets* can also be used in place of loose medium.


Seed Starting Kit

2. Next select a container. It can be a plastic container with drain holes* in the bottom or a plant able pot* made of biodegradable material. If you have used the container before it’s a good idea to soak it in a 10% bleach* plus water solution and scrub it to make sure it doesn’t harbor pathogens.

Boot Tray

3. Fill the container to the top with planting medium without packing it down. Set the container in a tray* of water and let the water soak through from the bottom up. The reason for watering from the bottom is to avoid packing down the planting medium. If you are using peat pellets soak them in water until they expand.


4. Dig little holes or trenches in the medium at the proper depth for that particular seed. If you are not sure plant it at about twice as deep as the diameter of the seed (3-5 times outdoors). Cover seeds with medium.

5. If the container comes with a clear plastic cover, put the cover on. If you don’t have a cover, use a clear plastic bag and seal the bag to keep in moisture. You shouldn’t need to water for at least a week or so, unless you see the medium looking light colored and dry around the edges. When you do water the seeds, do a thorough job.

6. Place the seeds in a warm spot or on a seedling heat mat* until they sprout. 75 to 80 degrees is a good temperature range unless your seeds have other requirements. After that you can remove them from the heat source and remove the plastic covering. Keep seedlings away from a draft or heat vent.

7. Some seeds need light to germinate but for other seeds you can wait until they sprout to put them under lights. Some light from a window is helpful but it won’t be enough by itself. Artificial light can be either fluorescent or incandescent but you might prefer the fluorescent because it does not give off as much heat. The lights need to be very close to the plants and there is less danger of overheating the plants if you use a light that doesn’t get too hot.

Warm and cool also can refer to light color and that is important to mention here. Plants use both red and blue light wavelengths for photosynthesis so you can use either warm or cool light or both together if you want. You don’t need special grow lights but if you see any that are meant to simulate a daylight spectrum those are a good choice. The brightness of the light, or lumens is more important than the color of the light, or kelvins. We have a wide selection of bulbs at Schnarr’s – talk to us about your lighting needs and we’ll help you select the right product.

8. 3-4 weeks after seeds have sprouted, you can start adding liquid fertilizer* at 1/2 strength.

* available at Schnarr’s.

Check the Schnarr’s Calendar for suggested St. Louis area planting times, we have many plants listed on there. Stay tuned for future tips for transplanting the seedlings!

Backyard Wildlife DIY Gardening Sustainability Upcycling

Making a Pollinator House – Part 1

Making a Pollinator House – Part 1

by Carolyn Hasenfratz

It’s becoming increasingly common to see structures called “Bug Houses” or “Insect Hotels” in gardens. Some people get squeamish at the mention of bugs or insects so perhaps the most appealing way to label such a structure is “Pollinator House”. Such structures are provided as a nesting and sheltering area for beneficial insects.

Most people are familiar with the pollinating actions of honeybees, bumblebees and wasps. Social bees and wasps are beneficial to the garden in many ways, not only by pollinating but in the case of wasps eating garden pests.

It’s understandable to be nervous about the idea of having colonies of stinging insects living in your garden because some of these species are very aggressive about defending their homes. If you want more pollinators in your garden fortunately there are other bees and wasps that are easier to co-exist with peacefully. If you fear you have attracted the wrong kind of bee or wasp to your garden, I recommend getting help from an expert before deciding how or if to deal with them.

I don’t mind bees and wasps because I can identify them and know how close I can safely get to them. I also don’t have any serious allergic reactions to stings. I work in the garden alongside Honeybees, Carpenter Bees, Bumblebees, Cicada Killers, Mud Daubers, Potter Wasps and others with little apprehension. Honeybees often land on me and I just stay still until they fly away. I steer clear of Yellow Jackets because I know from experience they will sting if you inadvertently disturb their nest (happened last summer in a client’s garden). I don’t attempt to eliminate them unless they are really in the way or other people are in danger. Even though I’m in the garden a lot I only get stung once every several years or so. The consequences for me are some brief anger, localized soreness and itching for a few days. The consequences for others could be far more serious and even deadly so use your best judgement.

Many of the solitary species of bees such as Mason and Leafcutter Bees like to nest in hollow plant stalks or holes in old wood. We take away many of these potential nesting sites by cleaning dead plants and old wood out of the garden. Some amount of cleanup is necessary for human safety, aesthetics and homeowners associations but we can mitigate the effects of a too-clean garden by building a Pollinator House. As an added benefit you may get other desirable insects such as ground beetles and butterflies hibernating in the structure.

Insect Hotel at Missouri Botanical Garden
Here are some suggestions about what materials to use:

  • Stones and bricks
  • Dead leaves
  • Twigs or twig bundles
  • Corrugated cardboard rolls
  • Dried seed pods
  • Paper straws
  • Hollow reeds – preferably 6-8 inches long, closed on one end
  • Drilled pieces of wood – variety of hole diameters, 3-6″ deep

The structure should be sturdily built to avoid toppling.

Where to place the house:

  • Protected from high winds
  • Partly in sun and partly in shade to meet a variety of species preferences
  • If possible near water and mud for drinking and nest building

Dad's fence is falling down
You can have a lot of fun designing your Pollinator House by creatively using materials, limited only by your imagination. I started a simple one for my Dad’s garden, custom designed to solve two problems for him.

Problem 1 – Decorative garden fence is falling apart and sagging
Problem 2 – Lots of sticks lying around from deadfall and pruning

Propping up fence with cinder blocks
I bought 12 cinder blocks and used them to prop up the ailing fence. Then I filled some of the spaces with twigs and short segments of hollow, dead plant parts from the garden. I drilled some holes in some pieces of scrap wood. A variety of hole sizes and depths are good for different species. As we get more material we’ll keep filling in the spaces in the blocks.

Filling the blocks with nesting material
The result is practical and may not score high marks in the aesthetics department. However the fence is located in the middle of a mint patch (also a superb beneficial insect attractor) and it will be partially concealed by vegetation for much of the year. If Dad agrees I think I will add shelving to the top for containers of trailing plants which will help disguise the blocks. I will probably have to work on the bases of the cinder block towers to make them straighter since the ground here is soft and did some settling after I stacked the blocks.

Dad is pleased that his fence is at least upright again and he’s happy to do his part for invertebrate conservation. Dad’s garden was designed with wildlife in mind and already supports an abundant population of beneficial insects.

Hopefully my condo association will approve a Pollinator House in my garden. I don’t know what my chances are but I do know that my Pollinator House is going to have to be pretty to even have a prayer of getting approved. I guess I will have to make it portable so I can sell it if they say no! They have previously said yes to a bird house but a bug house might be a harder sell. Stay tuned for a more aesthetically pleasing Pollinator House plan in a future newsletter!

More information about bees, wasps and insect shelters: