Bits and Pieces and In-Between

I think I have entered that part of the season that I call “in-between.” Summer is coming to a close and Autumn is not really here yet. In the southern part of the United States, it is still very humid and hot! Our little ones are going back to school and fall clothes are still packed away, waiting for chilly weather.

In the garden, it’s a little like the end of a school play. Everyone has witnessed the drama and now everyone is standing around with a cup of punch and a cookie, waiting to go home.

A lot of my perennials have bloomed like mad and are now waning. Flowering trees have done their thing and are setting fruit. Due to the large amounts of rain this summer, some of my annuals didn’t get deadheaded properly, so they are underperforming. Weeds are unfortunately prolific, also due to the ongoing wet weather.

But…there are some interesting things going on.

My lemon grass grew to a huge size. The pictures below are of when I first bought it and today, respectively. I also made sure to use the exact same pencil for scale. I was warned that at the end of a season it could approach the size of a Volkswagen. I was unhappy with the taste of it. It was not pronounced enough for me. It might be due to the overwhelming amount of water it received.

I also noticed that a lot of my plants acquired red or orange leaves due to stress. I have seen this happen in a very hot, dry summer but never due to a deluge of rain.

My Meyer lemon has lots and lots of fruit. Just like the Italians, who grow citrus in pots and move them inside during the winter, I have lemons until the middle of December. People visiting around the Thanksgiving holidays, at first think they are fake. A holiday decoration. They are so sweet and luscious, I try to think of special things to do with them other than just using them for tea.

ZinniaZinnias are one of my favorite annuals and it performed well this year. When I see them, I always think of my oldest son, Nathan. He convinced me to grow them one year. I used to be a Zinnia snob, thinking they weren’t as sophisticated as salvias, roses and coneflowers. They won my heart, pumping out brightly colored discs. The butterflies and birds agree with me.

Catnip in the compostCatnip sprang up in one of my homemade compost bins. After witnessing how well it worked as a mosquito repellent (see my previous post), I didn’t have the heart to rip it out. I hope it reseeds itself around on the ground and anywhere else it wants to grow in the garden.

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Mosquito Defense Update

A mosquitoI’m happy to update my previous post due to new information about the war on mosquitoes.

I hate mosquitoes. I think the little creatures came from the pits of hell to annoy us. I believe I have tried every possible solution to rid my garden from mosquitoes. I’m unlucky enough to have a chemical makeup that is allergically sensitive to their hateful bites, so when I am bitten the area around the bite swells to the size of a baseball.

In my previous blog post, I talked about many different ways of dealing with them. Sprays and lotions that contain DEET are reported to work well, but recently DEET has been reported to be a neurotoxin (damaging to the central nervous system). We need to stay away from products that are dangerous to our health. Citronella candles, tiki torches, and lanterns work well, but I have found you need quite a lot of them in a large area. Next, let’s talk about those huge, propane guzzling monsters. You know the ones – costing a fortune and promising to rid your entire yard of the little blood sucking beasts. Well, they do exactly as promised. They act as a “magnet” for mosquitoes.

Now that I have pointed out dangerous and ineffective products, let me tell you about really successful things I have tried.

Catnip! Hooray for catnip! Yes, once again we find an incredible use for a herb! What an incredible group of plants. Herbs! Hooray for herbs! An article on Science Daily reported a scientific finding by researchers at Iowa State University. It turns out that catnip repels mosquitoes more effectively than DEET. Why are we not hearing this shouted from the rooftops?! No animal or human tests are yet scheduled for catnip, although researchers are hopeful that will take place in the future. If subsequent testing shows the essential oil in catnip is safe for people, it should not be difficult to commercialize for an insect repellent.

I would like to offer up my own findings as a human guinea pig for the good of mankind and all mosquito haters worldwide. I have rubbed catnip all over myself in an attempt to try an experiment of my own. As you know, I love herbs, so I do have a pot of catnip growing beside our back deck. Does it work? Does it repel mosquitoes? Yes, yes it does! Once again our exceptional Creator has given us a plant to solve a problem. I have tried this experiment probably 12 times so far this summer. It really does work! And from experience it seems to last quite a long time, maybe even a couple of hours.

I have even felt safe putting it on my children. Many naturopaths suggest catnip tea for children with an upset tummy. My family and I have experienced no skin irritation or problems of any kind. I do recommend caution in trying this as everyone is different in their own chemical makeup, but I am really encouraged in how well this worked.

Herbs have microscopic oil glands all over their leaves and stems. These oil glands contain the natural chemicals which give the plant its particular scent. Simply rub the catnip leaves on your skin to release the oil from the plant. The oil will stick to your skin. It does not feel sticky or greasy like lotions and sprays.

I hope to see insect repellent made from catnip on our store shelves sooner rather than later. My plea to the scientific community: please, don’t take years to research this compound.

While we are on the subject of herbs, let’s talk about lemon balm. It is wonderful for mosquito bites. Rub lemon balm on a mosquito bite and it will reduce the itching and in my case some of the skin swelling associated with the bite. I suspect the oil in the lemon balm, the same one that makes it such a relaxing tea, helps as a sort of anesthetic on the bite. Another wonderful herb to solve a problem!

I’d like to comment on the ThermaCELL that hunters love to use. It is powered by a butane cartridge and dispenses a small amount of repellent into the air over a long period of time. It claims to create a 15 x 15 feet mosquito free zone. Our family bought this last year and tried it. It does work, and works well. I would recommend not sitting where you may breath in the repellent being dispensed into the air. As with any chemical repellent, it is a trade-off. I don’t like using chemicals, but I also hate being bit. Our family uses this about 6-8 times a year when we are having a barbecue or working on a large outdoor project, such as when my husband and I built our fruit cage. I recommend caution when using this, as it is a chemical.

How about a safe, effective, and organic substance to spread on your grass that repels mosquitoes and other biting insects? It’s called Mosquito Beater Granules by Bonide and it seems to work very well. We spread it over the entire lawn area and flower beds, too. It’s effect lasts for 4-6 weeks. The only down side is your yard will smell like an ethnic restaurant for a few hours, but then the smell dissipates. The odor is due to the ingredients: citronella oil, garlic, cedar oil, and lemon grass oil, among others, which mosquitoes seem to hate. The effectiveness lasts even after the smell is gone. The only down side to this product is scheduling. You must reapply after heavy rains, so schedule your application when you have at least 3-4 days of upcoming dry weather.

Things are looking up for mosquito sufferers everywhere! My sympathy to all the red, itchy bitten people out there. I know how rotten it feels. Try catnip and tell me what you think. Happy gardening!

Mosquito picture was taken by Alvesgaspar and is available on Wikimedia Commons.

How To Keep Cats Out Of Potted Plants or The Case Of The Prickly Paw

I love cats. I really do – I have two of them. But there is nothing that makes me angrier than finding a pile of dirt next to my beautiful ficus tree. Or even worse, a “present” inside the pot. Keeping cats out of potted plants is a frustrating task. Some cats won’t give the time of day to a houseplant, while others love the smell of rich, earthy potting soil better than any catnip. I’ve tried many things to keep them at bay and I’ve finally come up with the best idea. Not only does it work, but it’s quite stylish, too. Pinecones! They are prickly on Fluffy’s paws and she will look elsewhere to do her digging. If your cat dreams of being Rambo and nothing will stop him – wire the pinecones together in a long swag. Then, drape them in a circle on top of the potting soil. Luckily, pinecones are cheap to buy or free if you go collecting with your whole family. Give your kids each a canvas tote bag and see who collects the most. Have fun collecting and have fun gardening.