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What Your Plants Need to Grow Healthy
November 15, 2010

What a glorious past week weather wise here is Southwest Michigan.

Much of the week gave us high temperatures in the mid to upper 60's and mostly sunny skies.

Most of the yard work is done except raking a couple more times and a possible mow job.

I managed to find an afternoon, or made time to visit Lake Michigan one more time.

In November?

Yes, November as I have a couple of pictures to show you.

If you live on or near a large body of water, you may take it for granted.

For me, the one hour trip is always worth it.

There is something about the Big Lake that sooths the soul and recharges me.

It also makes me yearn for more.

I can really enjoy the Big Lake and sandy shores when few people are out and about.

Okay, enough of that.

I also manage to find some beauty and artistry in spent flowers and seeds heads.

Some of the pictures (shared) are from a walk or two in the fields and near the pond.

Next time you're out and about, pause a moment and admire the simple, yet complex beauty the 'Nature' provides all the time and no matter where you may be.

Well, the cabinets came, but the new kitchen counter is still wrong.

We may go into Thanksgiving with our kitchen scattered about.

With a late Indian summer this year, many more people are out and about doing yard work.

Along with fall colors, smells, and festivals, Autumn also offers up a few sounds.

In early Autumn, I can expect the familiar sounds of Sandhill cranes high in the sky as they meander their way south.

I hear the cranes first and then look up.

Canada geese fill the fall sky as they practice flight and so on.

Every so often I get to catch a near mid-ail collision or wings scraping together.

It makes a person wonder how often do they get hurt when flying so close to others or when another batch crosses paths.

Nice days allow for windows to be open and that means bird sounds.

The call of a Tufted-titmouse in a nearby woods.

The squawk of a Blue jay at the feeder and Northern cardinals as they flit around the yard.

The familiar "chick a dee-dee-dee".

The soft, noises or sounds made by the nuthatches (Red and White).

American robins that visit for a drink, feed on a berry or maybe a worm.

Sounds we appreciate a bit more this time of year even if they aren't the melodies of spring and summer.

The warm November weather blessed me with the the chirping of a cricket or two this past week and a surprise visit by a Red Admiral butterfly that was disturbed from hibernation by the warm sunny days.

We appreciate them more now because they aren't heard as often and we may not hear much for the next several months.

You get the idea.

Another sound is the raking of leaves and sometimes kids jumping in piles and having fun.

Growing up, there was one sound I totally related to Autumn.

It was the sound of the 'Feed Mill' running at the 'Co-op' in the small farming community of Dorr, MI where I grew up.

Anyone that grew up in, or lives near a farm town knows exactly what I am referring too.

Other sounds, you may have to wait for or have some good timing.

These sounds are from migrating birds.

Birds that move under the safety of night.

Darkness offers protection from most predators.

Most of the time you wont see the birds fly over, but you may hear the sounds made by hundreds or thousands of wings as they fly over head.

Many times you may hear peeps and sounds from several birds as they maintain contact with the flock.

Many autumn nights I will stand outside for periods of time, just to listen for migrating birds.

This past week I was blessed to hear the familiar chats of several robins as they flew overhead.

I believe that is a first for me, hearing robins in a migration flight that is.

From September through November and into December, I will hear the sounds of Migration.

You can too.

Bundle up if it is needed, grab a cup of coffee, tea or hot chocolate, relax and simply listen.

Sometimes the quiet is all I hear, but that is enough.

On a clear night, you may see a satellite or two fly over, I usually do.

For me, it is the sheer number of aircraft I see in the night sky.

You know, the planes that fly so high you don't hear a thing.

I know it depends on where you live, but it truly amazes me on the number of aircraft that is in our skies on any given moment.

By 9:00 PM, 'Jupiter' is almost do south in the night skies.

A couple of hours later, you will see 'Orion' the hunter well up in the eastern sky.

If you live where there is little light pollution, you can see a fuzzy spot in the sword sheath with the naked eye.

This is the 'Great Orion Nebula'

Suburbia folk like me, need a pair of binoculars to have it stand out.

There are several other stars and constellations to look for, while you wait for the sounds of migration.

From mid to late autumn through to early spring, is the best time for star gazing as winter nights are facing toward the Galaxy and more stars to see, while summer nights face out into the universe.

You may even realize the vastness of the 'Milky Way Galaxy', Indeed, the Universe.

The infinite beauty and power of our 'Creator'.

Remember to check your Christmas memories, Christmas Favorites will be here soon.

Two weeks ago I discussed how most gardeners are familiar with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Plant Hardiness Zone Map.

By using the map to find the zone in which you live, you will be able to determine what plants will "winter over" in your garden and survive for many years.

Plants that are cold hardy.

Last week I discussed 'Heat Zones' and the 'Heat Zone' map.

As we all know, cold isn't the only factor determining whether our plants will survive and thrive.

Particularly during seasons of drought, we are all aware of the impact that heat has on our plants.

The effects of heat damage are more subtle than those of extreme cold, which will kill a plant instantly.

Heat damage can first appear in many different parts of the plant.

Flower buds may wither, leaves may droop or become more attractive to insects, chlorophyll may disappear so that leaves appear white or brown, or roots may cease growing.

Plant death from heat can be slow and lingering.

The plant may survive in a stunted or chlorotic state for several years.

Often we look for fungus or diseases as the problem instead of it possibly being to hot or dry for your plants.

When desiccation reaches a high enough level, the enzymes that control growth are deactivated and the plant dies.

Today we discuss other issues.

Although some plants are naturally more drought tolerant than others, horticulture by definition means growing plants in a protected, artificial environment where stresses are different than in nature.

No plant can survive becoming completely dessicated.

Heat damage is always linked to an insufficient amount of water being available to the plant.

Herbaceous plants are 80 to 90 percent water, and woody plants are about 50 percent water.

Plant tissues must contain enough water to keep their cells turgid and to sustain the plant's processes of chemical and energy transport.

Don't forget the amount of water that transpires from a plants daily growth.

Watering directly at the roots of a plant-through drip irrigation for instance-conserves water that would be lost to evaporation or runoff during overhead watering.

In addition, plants take in water more efficiently when it is applied to their roots rather than their leaves.

Again I preach the importance of watering new plants, even if the tag says drought tolerant.

Roots need to grow and establish for any plant to have a chance.

Mulching will also help conserve water.

There are other factors that can cause stress to plants and skew the heat-zone rating. Some of them are more controllable than others.


Light affects plants in two ways.

First, it is essential for photosynthesis-providing the energy to split water molecules, take up and fix carbon dioxide, and synthesize the building blocks for growth and development.

Light also creates heat.

Light from the entire spectrum can enter a living body, but only rays with shorter wavelengths can exit.

The energy absorbed affects the temperature of the plant.

Cloud cover, moisture in the air, and the ozone layer-factors gardeners can't control-affect light and temperature.

However, you can adjust light by choosing to situate your plant in dappled shade, for instance, if you are in its southernmost recommended heat zone.

Day length:

Day length is a critical factor in regulating vegetative growth, flower initiation and development, and the induction of dormancy.

The long days of summer add substantially to the potential for heat to have a profound effect on plant survival.

In herbaceous perennials and many woody species, there is a strong interaction between temperature and day length.

This is not a controllable factor in most home gardening situations.

Air movement:

While a gentle spring breeze can "cool" a plant through transpiration as it does us, fast-moving air on a hot day can have a negative effect, rapidly dehydrating it.

Air movement in a garden is affected by natural features such as proximity to bodies of water and the presence of surrounding vegetation, as well as structures such as buildings and roads.

You can reduce air circulation by erecting fences and planting hedges.

Surrounding structures:

If the environment is wooded, transpiration from trees and shrubs will cool the air.

On the other hand, structures of brick, stone, glass, concrete, plastic, or wood will emit heat and raise the air temperature.

Gardeners wanting plants to produce early or survive in cold zones will often plant them on the south side of a brick wall.

Obviously, this would not be a good place for a plant at the southern limit of its heat zone!

Soil pH:

The ability of plant roots to take up water and nutrients depends on the relative alkalinity or acidity of the soil.

Most plants prefer a soil close to neutral (pH 7), but there are many exceptions, such as members of the heath family, which prefer acidic soil.

The successful cultivation of any plant requires that it be grown in a medium within a specific pH range.

While it is possible to manipulate the pH of soil with amendments, it is easier to choose plants appropriate to your soil type.


Plants vary greatly in the ratio and form of elements they need for consistent, healthy growth.

When these are present in appropriate quantities, they are recycled over and over again as the residue of woody material and dropped leaves accumulates and decays, creating sustainable landscapes.


I really feel that this is often ignored or forgotten subject matter.

We grow up hearing how plants take in carbon dioxide to make oxygen, we rarely hear that plants require oxygen.

Plant cells require oxygen for respiration.

Either too much or too little water can cut off the oxygen supply to the roots and lead to a toxic situation.

There is a proper technique for a health plant.

You can control the amount of oxygen your plant roots receive by making sure your plants have good aeration-adequate space between soil particles.

When you pile up dirt and mulch around your trees, you are choking off the oxygen the roots take in.

Compacted soil will have the same effect (choking roots).

Plain and simple, plants breathe oxygen through their roots and a good fluffy, nutrient rich soil helps.

This is still another advantage of a good natural mulch you feed your soil and plants, but not so much that you choke them.

That is it for now.

As you can see, there is a lot more to a healthy garden than you may have ever imagined.

Why did I share with you now when very few of you still have a growing season?

It is simple.....................................

You have all winter to plan or replant your gardens.

You may plan on planting like plant needs in a certain area.

Don't plant a dry plant among others that require lots of moisture.

Figure on dry sunny beds further from the house and higher maintained plants closer water sources and where you will see them.

Keep soil lose so roots can breathe.

Air circulation,

Hours of daylight.

Direct sun, filtered sun, shade................

Mulch works wonders for many reasons.

Check your soil pH.

When to feed or not to feed.

Follow these simple rules and use zone maps (as a guide only).

If you have a brown thumb, it will turn green and soon.

Now that you know, "grow in peace".

Well, it is time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.

A mother should give her children a superabundance of enthusiasm, that after they have lost all they are sure to lose in mixing with the world, enough may still remain to prompt and support them through great actions.

Julius C. Hare (1795-1855) English Cleric

Fathers and grand parents need to teach and encourage their children also.

Society will try to take it away, don't let that happen.

Dare to be enthusiastic.

Dare to march to a different beat.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

Exodus 20:12 (New International Version)

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise— “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth."

Ephesians 6:1-3

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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