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Dallying In The Dirt, Issue #351 - Colchicum and Autumn Crocus should never be confused.
October 21, 2019
It’s autumn and that means that I get on my soap box and try to educate anyone who will listen. There are two wonderful blooms appearing in my garden as autumn progresses and they are often confused and that could have tragic consequences. The first to bloom are the Colchicums. They have large blooms on naked stalks because their foliage appears in the spring. An interesting fact about the Colchicums is the presence of their ovary underground. The pollen has to travel the length of those above ground stalks and the seeds will appear with the foliage in the spring. There are several varieties commonly available, the single pictured here, a double in the same colour and a white flowered form. There are a few other species that are not that common in trade. They have their own botanical family Colchicaceae. Now here is the problem. 2 or 3 weeks after they bloom the much smaller Autumn Crocus bloom and the
two are often confused. They shouldn’t be. The Crocus belong to the botanical family Iridaceae. One autumn species Crocus sativus produces Saffron, that expensive spice that is made from the dried stamens of that Crocus. The stamens are something that should help us to sort out the confusion. As you can see in the pictures, Colchicum have six stamens and Autumn Crocus has three. Why should we care other than for botanical correctness.
This a strange picture. There is a large section of very dead, hopefully dormant, grass in the middle of the picture. It started to go in that direction in mid August when we had little or no rain for an extended period. Why in that particular area, I asked myself, until I looked up. It very closely matches the drip line of the large Black Walnut tree. The grass normally grows quite happily there but it would be my educated guess that the Walnut was a better competitor for the limited supply of water forcing the grass to go dormant, or dead? In the middle of that dead patch there is now a small and growing patch of bright green Glechoma hederace which we know as Ground Ivy or Creeping Charlie and apparently it does not require the same moisture as the grass. It spread rapidly over the dormant grass as soon as some autumn rains arrived. It is easy to find pages of information on dealing with this weed or other pages extolling its virtues as a wild edible that contributes flavour and nutrition to various recipes. I continue to see it as an invasive weed but must look at those other references and see if I can change my mind, by adding it to my kitchen repertoire.
Want a little heat in your life then try growing these Super Cayenne peppers. They love to grow in containers that keep their soil warm through the season. It’s something else that I must get out and harvest before a frost tells me that I was too late. I have two methods for storing that heat for the winter. Hanging the fruit to dry and then grinding it into powder is one. My favoured technique is to make hot oil. The cleaned Peppers are boiled in some good vegetable oil such as sunflower to extract the heat and then that oil is kept in a labeled bottle beside the stove so that I can splash it into a pan for stir fries or any other recipe that requires a little kick. It will keep quite happily for a year until next year’s batch is ready. Just putting pretty red peppers into a bottle of oil will not transfer any noticeable heat to that oil.
For a blast of fall colour in the yard nothing quite competes with this Burning Bush. Euonymus alatus is a hardy woody shrub who’s common name comes from the brilliant red fall colour. There is the regular form of it, pictured here, that will grow to 2 m tall and at least that wide. Its wide horizontal branching is it’s most significant feature during the growing season. There is also a dwarf form for smaller gardens that want to have that autumn colour but can’t devote as much space to a single shrub. It has interesting winged branches and often a good crop of colourful berries. It has always been one of my favourites despite its lack of colourful flowers. I just like its form and am always out in the yard admiring the colour at this time of year.
Now it’s time to answer a few of my reader’s questions. To ask a question just “reply” to this ezine. Don’t forget to check the front page of the Website for frequent short ideas for current gardening activities.
Ann Asks? You mentioned those dreaded Japanese beetles. Mine were later showing up this summer but then took over my back yard, on the roses, grape vines, climbing hydrangea, raspberry canes, and veggie beds, so much that I don't know what to do for next year. I have too many plants to cover with a bucket of soapy water to knock them into; I would be at it all day.
Would it be smart to spray some nematodes this week? We did in early summer, but I'm not sure they were meant for this type of pest. I've heard mixed reviews on the pheromone traps
Everything is beautiful. My potatoes were eaten by a visitor, so next year I will plant them in a container.
I was raking the leaves on my lawn and a person passing by said not to rake the leaves as they are very good for the grass. Please let me know if this is correct. Should I leave the leaves and mow the grass with them.
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