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Green Thumb Nursery
March 22nd, 2012 Newsletter

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To make clean easy, spread a tarp under the shrub you are pruning. Simply drop the clippings directly onto the tarp. No raking or bending necessary! When you are finished, drag the tarp over to the chipper for preparation for the compost pile. If you don't have a chipper, cut the trimmings into small pieces before adding to the compost bin for faster composting.

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by Liz Forsyth

Gardeners are incorporating more and more succulents into their gardens and homes.  They thrive on sun, are drought tolerant, and are incredibly easy to grow.  These beautiful and strange plants will catch every eye that passes.

Succulents have thick, fleshy organs that store water, in their leaves, stems, or their roots.  They have adapted to exist in arid conditions, from Africa to the deserts of North America, which is lucky for us as this ability to adapt has resulted in a vast array of fascinating plant forms, including paddle leaves, tight rosettes, and bushy, trailing columns of teardrop leaves.  The color range of succulents is also appealing, from orange to red to yellow to pink.  They do not need much care, and do not like too much water.  Some species love the hot direct sun, while others will scorch if exposed to direct sunlight, so check with one of our garden experts as to the most desirable light conditions.  If they aren’t getting enough light, a succulent will begin to stretch, with an elongated stem and widely spaced leaves; this is known as etoliation.  Ideal daytime temperatures vary from 70 degrees Fahrenheit to 85 degrees; nighttime temps should be between 50 degrees and 55 degrees.

Let’s address some of the more popular succulents.

  • Sedum (Sedum spp.) or stonecrop is ubiquitous, as it is hardy from USDA zones 3 to 9.  This gardener’s particular favorite is ‘Autumn Joy’ which reaches its peak beauty with its fall bloom.  The leaves are grayish-green and the flowers are pink to dark rose to coppery and russet.  If you are looking for a completely low-maintenance ground cover that will quickly pay off with its low, thick stems, light green leaves and bright yellow spring flowers, then go for the Sedum Acre, also known as Gold-moss.  An evergreen groundcover that is rabbit and deer resistant, tolerant of humidity yet also tolerant of dry hot sites, salt tolerant, and a butterfly attractant, it spreads rapidly, and can be propagated by simply taking a few trailing strands and placing them on top of soil, then dusting the top lightly with a little more earth.  The roots will quickly form and take hold.  They are a wonderful way to keep down on intruding weeds, while providing visual pleasure.

  • Kalanchoe, pronounced “collin-co-wee” is a member of the Crassulaceae family which makes it a relative of the jade plant.  Featuring a centralized cluster of delicate flowers in hues of orange, red, pink, or white blooms, this Madagascan native ranges from 2 inches to tree-sized.  The popular house plant is generally 2 to 4 inches in height and width.   The thick succulent leaves vary, and the foliage tends towards coarseness with hints of red or purple on the margins.

  • The wonder of succulents exists in part in their versatility.  Take, for instance, the ice plant (Lampranthus), a groundcover with gorgeous purple flowers that is an ideal accompaniment to alpine and rock gardens, as a border to perennials, and in xeriscape gardens.  As a drought-tolerant succulent that is less than fussy about the soil in which it grows, it has gained a reputation as an invasive; however, as it has no need for roots, and if planted like the sedum acre will quickly spread, why not use it to cover a hill, a rocky area, or a corner of your garden that just doesn’t seem suited to anything but a groundcover?

  • One of the most popular of succulents is the Sempervivum or ‘Hens and chicks.’  Evergreen perennials that produce low, compact rosettes of thick fleshy leaves, the parent rosettes (hens) send out numerous offsets (chicks) thus forming a dense colony.  Latin in origin, the name Semper means forever and vivo means live; this is a plant that keeps its leaves in winter even when the temps go below frost level.  As with most succulents, hens and chicks thrive in full sun to partial shade, as long as the soil is well-draining, thus making them perfect for hot, dry, sunny locations.  They shun rich soil and micro-managing, so do not excessively water or fertilize.  However, they do suffer in humidity.  A slow grower, to create an effective groundcover, space plants closely together.

  • Of the approximately 400 species in the Aloe genus, the most famous is aloe vera, used medicinally for centuries.  Survivors, a single plant can live for 25 years; they are drought tolerant, shade tolerant, fireproof, and unaffected by rough handling.  Medical research has discovered a compound from the aloe vera that when administered, literally enhances the diffusion of oxygen molecules in the red blood cells, requiring less blood to support the tissues of the body.  This is hoped to prove effective on patients experiencing severe trauma and blood loss; a medical miracle when applied to a military scenario.

Planting succulents along and within stone steps, dripping them from stone retaining walls, or adding them for texture to your patio or seating area will visually enhance each locale, while allowing for heavy traffic.  They are also a terrific addition to your container gardens and vertical gardens.

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Cilantro

by Liz Forsyth

Actually, all four are varying names for the same herb . . . just different parts of it.  And the accompanying tastes are used in Mexican and Chinese cuisine, baking and dessert-making.  Coriandrum sativum is a multi-usage herb; cilantro refers to the leaves of the plant, and coriander references the seeds. The seeds (coriander) taste of citrus, becoming tangier with age.  They may be used whole or ground, for marinades, dressings, chili sauce, guacamole, cakes, or with cheese and eggs.  The coriander seed is used as a flavoring for liqueurs and gin, and in sugared confections known as comfits.

The leaves (cilantro) have a bold taste that combines sage with sharp citrus, similar to but tangier than parsley. Whole or minced, cilantro combines nicely with meats, vegetables, soups, sauces, beverages, and again, guacamole.  The citrusy tang of cilantro has become a popular addition to Mexican cuisine, while Chinese, Thai, and Indonesian cuisines use both cilantro and corianderThai curries incorporate the chopped leaves of cilantro, while Indian curry powders owe their aromatic quality to ground coriander.

Coriander has been found in Egyptian tombs dating back 3,000 years.  The ancient Hebrews used cilantro root as the maror, or bitter herb, during the symbolic Passover Seder meal; the harsh flavor of the herbal root symbolized the suffering of the Jews in Egypt, as described in the Book of Exodus in the Bible.  The Roman conquests of Europe and Asia introduced the use of cilantro as an aphrodisiac in China during the Han dynasty (207 BC – 200 AD); such usage is mentioned in The Tales of the Arabian Nights.  But most notably, the visions of sugar-plums which danced in children’s heads on the night before Christmas, originally referred to sugar-coated coriander.

The seeds, when chewed, freshen one’s breath; when coriander is used in ointments, rheumatism may be relieved; the essential oil is considered an aid in improving memory; and because of cilantro’s powerful scent, it has a reputation for attracting beneficial insects and deterring harmful ones.

Also known as Chinese or Mexican parsley, this herb is also a member of the parsley family.  This gentle little herb with lacy, fern-like leaves is a social creature, requiring other plants growing around it to aid in holding it up on its spindly stems that can reach 2+ feet in height; excellent companion plants are caraway, anise and dill.  Cilantro/coriander thrives in moderately rich, light, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.6, in full to partial sun. It is best sown where it will grow to maturity, as taproots (like parsley) are long, and seedlings difficult to transplant successfully.

In ideal conditions, cilantro (leaves) will last about 8 to 10 weeks before flowering.  To ensure such conditions (this herb is not a friend of weeds), mulch to keep the roots cool and weed-free. Once the herb flowers, producing a delicate white to lavender display, seeds will form; harvest them immediately upon the leaves and flowers having turned brown, but prior to the seeds dispersing.  To do this, cut the entire plant and hang it to dry upside down in paper bags.  Occasionally shake the bags to thresh the seeds, but be certain that they have fully dried; coriander seeds can be bitter if only partially dry.  Once you have harvested the dried seeds, roast them in a frying pan over low to medium heat, frequently shaking the pan.  Cool, then crush with a mortar and pestle just before use; this will release the flavor, and the trademark lemon-scented odor.  The wise herb gardener will retain some of the seeds prior to drying for replanting every few weeks to guarantee a continuous supply.

When picking fresh cilantro, choose the small, young leaves (which are the tastiest) and cut with the stems on.  Rinse well, and place the bunch, stem ends down, in a small glass of water as if you were displaying flowers.  Cover with a plastic bag, securing with a rubber band, and refrigerate.  Change the water daily, and your cilantro will last much longer.

It truly does not matter what you call this tiny miracle herb; by any name its attributes are just as admirable.  And just as essential for any herb garden, particularly a Californian one.

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What you’ll need:

  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 pork tenderloin, trimmed, thinly sliced and cut into ½” strips
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 bunch scallions cut diagonally into 1” pieces
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 can (16 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 1 cup whole kernel corn, drained
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • Salt to taste
  • 3 cups cooked Mexican rice

Step by Step:

  • Heat oil in a large skillet or wok until very hot; stir fry pork with the chili powder until lightly browned.
  • Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  • Add onions and garlic to drippings; stir fry 30 seconds
  • Add beans, cilantro, tomatoes, corn, lime juice, salt; stir fry 2-3 minutes.
  • Stir in pork and heat through.
  • Serve over rice.  We also recommend a side salad with a variety of greens, topped with cilantro dressing.

Serves 6

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