Monday, December 29, 2014

January Workshops are Popular - Register Now!

by Carol Kagan, Master Gardener

This year as a Penn State Master Gardener I was on the Class and Workshop Committee. We have amazing programs lined up for 2015 almost all for just $10. To get on our e-mailing list send your address to Please feel free to share with your FaceBook and IRL friends, too.

Registrations are coming in for the January workshops and classes. All are held at the Ag Heritage Center, 181 Franklin Farm Rd, Chambersburg.  Register NOW and avoid the disappointment of a full class. Call 263-9226 to register.

This year "For the Birds" is adding an extra feature of a Make and Take bird feeder. This is a Family Friendly program and the cost if $10/1 adult & child or $15/family. Make sure to let them know when you register how many will attend so we have enough supplies.


Next up is "Winter Sowing," another Make and Take workshop. Astound your neighbors and friends when you start seeds in mid-winter and have an early harvest of tomatoes. This method of winter sowing eliminates the need for elaborate indoor set-ups and work. For only $10 you can create a seed starter to take home and the knowledge to make 20 more! This is not only a fun project but a good strategy for home gardeners.


The "Miniature 'Fairy' Gardens" class will teach the basics about these indoor or outdoor landscapes. Last year's class had a number of children interested in these fun projects. These gardens can by any world you want - from fairy gardens to "gnome homes," to Hobbit landscapes. Come and learn the basics and get a head start on the February Make and Take Workshop. This is very popular so register now.


Revisit Winter Blogs of Interest

by Carol Kagan, Master Gardener

Here are some links to past blogs that may be of interest, especially the one about de-icers. We are fast approaching a day when we will have to deal with ice - either at home or work.

Also be sure to check out our upcoming workshops and classes. January programs are taking registrations now. Call 263-9226.  E-mail and be added to our monthly notification of upcoming programs and events.

Check out these previous BLOGS for interesting and useful information. Most have additional links with even more information.

Winter Weather and Deicers
Salt Tolerant Gardens
Poinsettia Season
Poor Poinsettias

Landscaping for Fours Seasons of Interest

Plants for Winter Interest- Many plants in Iris Masters' yard showoff in the winter landscape (Crape myrtle, magnolia, oregon grape, birch trees, nandina, cypress, Japanese Andromeda).

Japanese Andromeda

The following blogs are part of a continuing series highlighting plants with winter interest. These are plants chosen by our Master Gardeners to provide color or interesting shapes during the winter season.

Winter Interest Pt. 1- Partridge Berry
Winter Interest Pt. 2- Snowdrops
Winter Interest Pt. 3-Stinking Hellebore
Winter Interest Pt. 4-Rattlesnake Plant
Winter Interest Pt. 5-Lavender
Winter Interest Pt. 6-Witch Hazel
Winter Interest Pt. 7-Paperbark Maple
Winter Interest Pt. 8-Teaberry
Winter Interest Pt. 9-Harry Lauder Walking Stick
Winter Interest Pt. 10-Coral Embers Willow
Coral Embers Willow in the Winter Landscape
Winter Interest Pt. 11-Corkscrew Willow
Winter Interest Pt. 12-River Birch
Ascot Rainbow’ Spurge - A Year-round Delight
Whimsical Winter Wonderland

Natural Materials Onaments Highlight Museum Holiday

by Carol Kagan, Master Gardener
Looking out from the second floor landing to the Brandywine River.
A side trip from our Longwood Gardens visit to the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, PA was a wonderful holiday destination.

The art galleries are a delight with N.C.Wyeth's Old Kris setting the stage for a holiday visit.

Old Kris by N.C. Wyeth (Courtesy: Brandywine Museum)
My favorite part, however, were the CRITTERS, ornaments handmade from natural materials, their big fundraiser. Each year in March, the "glue-gun gang" of 120 volunteers begins crafting these delightful ornaments from natural materials. By the opening of A Brandywine Christmas, they will have made nearly 9,000 critters-both for display and for sale.

I see a late autumn workshop in the making for Master Gardeners.
Most of the best ornaments were gone by our late December visit but I got a cute one. Also thinking a 4-H Garden Club craft project, too.
Mouse nestled in a milkweed pod
Here are a few others that were on the trees.
Teasel Teddy with bean paws, seed eyes and strawflower, too.
Bleached lunaria petals with a strawflower center.
Another feature for the holidays was a train display, complete with a drive-in movie playing Despicable Me2 (movie screen was a computer tablet!).

Definitely worth the visit and a good combo with a Longwood Gardens visit anytime of the year.

Wings Holiday at Longwood Gardens

by Carol Kagan, Master Gardener

It was cold and dreary but not yet raining during our recent visit to Longwood Gardens. They were dressed for the holidays and celebrating in so many different ways – indoors, outdoors, up in the trees, floating in the water, lighted fountains dancing to holiday tunes, local choral group singing and trains zizzing around outdoor tracks.

The theme is wings. Here are some inside highlights.
Red, pink and white poinsettias

Roses and more
A succulent wreath and others inside a warm and humid room.
Red wings and red and white flowers
Anthurium, dusty miller and more

Hand-cut paper feathers adorn the far viewed alcove

Lots of different wings
More flowers and decorations
Lots of white
Much more on display. Even on dreary days this is a good bet. Indoors is weather-neutral and outdoors is best enjoyed in the dark.
Before you go, Longwood now uses timed admission tickets. These are required and a limited number of tickets are available for each time slot. Take care of this online and you'll whoosh through the entrance. Otherwise you'll be in a long line negotiating when you can actually get in.
Once you are in, you can leave and return if you remember to get your hand stamped upon exit.
We opted for 3 PM. We took in some of the outdoor displays such as the train and some of the outdoor trees. We had time for a light meal in the Terrace Café. (Be warned! We went on a Monday, the non-peak times. We were told it is crowded, crowded, crowded in the café and the 1906 restaurant may have seating but be prepared for this to be your big-ticket meal for the outing.)
Check out more about Longwood Garden and their Longwood Christmas displays and upcoming ones such as the Orchid Extravaganza.




Monday, December 22, 2014

Winter Solstice- Out of the Darkness

by Carol Kagan, Master Gardener

Sunday at 6:03 PM (EST) was the Winter Solstice. This is an astronomical event that occurs because our world is tilted on its axis with respect to our orbit around the sun, a fact that explains the seasons in our temperate zones.

Late dawn. Early sunset. Short day. Long night. The shortest day and the longest night of the year. It marks a turn in the seasons as the length of the days get longer.

Courtesy of NOAA
If the days begin to get longer, why do the coldest days of the winter season fall after the Winter Solstice? According to the National Climatic Data Center the coldest days fall between December 1 and March 31 with 83% of those from December 20 to March 31.

The Washington Post’s Weather Gang reports that “even though daylight slowly increases after the solstice, many places don’t see their coldest days until mid-January. This happens because the Northern Hemisphere continues to lose more heat than it gains for several more weeks. The oceans – which take longer than land to heat up and cool down – play a role in this seasonal temperature lag. Only after the Northern Hemisphere starts to receive more solar energy than it loses do average temperatures begin their upward ascent.”

Doug Wenztel of the Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center says there’s a bright side as well. This is an opportunity to go out and explore your local areas and see a different landscape.

A walk along a favorite summertime wooded path reveals the shapes of trees and their branching patterns. Sit still and quiet for 15 minutes and soon you will see the birds that stay with us all winter. Discover mosses and evergreen ground covers nestled against the rocks near the path or check the edges of a pond for ice crystals.

You most likely will hear the rustle and rattle of dead leaves still clinging to the branches of some trees. In an earlier Penn State post, “Winter Leaves that Hang On,” Jim Finley asks if you have ever wondered why some trees hold their leaves into the winter months.

“Marcescence, the term used to describe leaf retention, is most common with many of the oak species, American beech, witch hazel, hornbeam (musclewood), and hophornbeam (ironwood).

Normally, as deciduous trees (which include hardwoods and some conifers) prepare to shed their leafy summer coats, cells at the interface between the twig and the end of the leaf stem release enzymes and form an abscission layer that “unglues” the leaf – separating it from the vascular bundles, allowing it to fall free.

All trees shed leaves, even conifers; however, they generally retain their needles for more than one year. Leaf drop benefits deciduous trees by reducing water loss and allows them to develop leaves that efficiently use available sunlight during warmer seasons.”

Read Finley’s full article for more information on why trees may retain their leave through the winter months and he makes a good point when he says, “… think about the bit of shelter they provide for wintering birds as they perch among the rattling leaves, away from winter’s wind.”

For other information about the Winter Solstice

State Winter Solstice Marks Beginning of Stormy Season

Friday, December 19, 2014

Water: Beyond the Garden - What's in Your Well Water?

by Carol Kagan, Master Gardener
As gardeners we most often worry about water QUANTITY - how much or how little water our plants get. But for others in our community water QUALITY is of utmost importance.

George Hurd, Environmental/Resource Development Educator for Penn State Extension, Franklin County, provides information on well water and calls to our attention that in Pennsylvania those who own private wells are responsible for checking on their water quality.
Water may need to be tested on a regular basis (Photo: José Manuel Suarez)
Do you rely on a private well for your drinking water? If so, when is the last time you had your water tested? Private water supplies in Pennsylvania are not monitored by any regulatory agency.

This article is a simple reminder that if you live in Pennsylvania and you rely on your own well for drinking water, it is your responsibility to ensure the quality of that water. In general, you should test your water annually for coliform bacteria and every three years for pH and total dissolved solids.

If you are concerned about potential pollutants or if you are experiencing aesthetic problems such as staining, taste, or odor, more extensive testing is warranted. It is important that all water tests be performed by a water testing laboratory certified by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). A full list of certified water testing laboratories in Pennsylvania is available from DEP.

Penn State's Agricultural Analytical Services Laboratory is accredited by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for drinking water analysis. The goal of Penn State's Drinking Water program is to promote well water testing and to educate homeowners on its importance.
Have water samples tested by Penn State (Photo: Michael Melgar)
To submit a drinking water sample to Penn State’s laboratory, you must first obtain a Drinking Water Test Kit. Kits are available at many county extension offices or may be obtained directly from the laboratory. For more information, contact your county extension office or visit Penn State's Agricultural Analytical Services Laboratory water testing webpage at:

Not just people are affected by water quality

Penn State Extension is one of the few unbiased, research-based resources to help meet the water needs of Pennsylvania's large, rural population. In 2015, Penn State Extension will offer “Home Water and Septic System” workshops around the state to educate homeowners about safe drinking water and the proper management of their on-lot sewage disposal systems.

To find out if there is a workshop scheduled for your area, go to: and click on “Courses and Workshops” or contact your county extension office.  Also at this website are links to information on drinking water, water treatment, septic systems and water conservation. This includes fact sheets, webinars and other useful drinking water resources.

The Penn State Natural Resources Water Quality Team are extension educators located around the state and at the university who can be contacted by email or by phone to provide educational assistance with water quality issues. Their information is also available at this link.

So drink a toast to the New Year and make a resolution to check your water supply to keep a healthy resolution.

Other links on this topic:
PA Dept. of Environmental Protection- Bureau of Safe Drinking Water
PA Dept. of Environmental Protection-Private Water Wells
Penn State Extension: Water Testing
EPA: Safe Drinking Water Hotline

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

January Workshops for Families and Early-Start Gardeners

by Carol Kagan, Master Gardener

What are the Master Gardeners up to during the cold winter?


Please note that workshops fill quickly. Call now to register. 717-263-9226

Sat., Jan. 10,  9-11 am: For the Birds (Family Friendly) - Make a birdfeeder and learn about attracting birds. $10 adult, $15 family

Sat., Jan 17, 9-11 am: Winter Sowing - One of our most popular workshops. Sign up early. Learn how to sow seeds outdoors in recyclable containers in winter and early spring. Make one to take home. $10

Sat., Jan. 31,  9-11 am: Fairy Gardens - Learn about scale, plants and maintenance in this informative program. $10

Tue., Feb. 3,  6:30-8:30 pm: Decoding Seed Catalogs - Learn how to read plant and seed listings to select the right plants for our area and your landscape. $10

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Rosemary- Spending the Winter Inside

by Master Gardener, Carol Kagan

Flowering Rosemary Indoors at Barb P's house
Master Gardener Barb P. shared photos she took of the flowering rosemary plant in her sunroom. This reminds us about overwintering rosemary outdoors in our area, more information at a 2012 entry. But what about bringing it indoors?

Another photo from Barb
Bringing rosemary (and other herbs and plants, typically tender perennials) indoors for the winter requires some different attention than when they were outdoors during the milder seasons.

Rosemary in a container outdoors in summer. (C. Kagan)


Because rosemary does not overwinter well in our area, it is advisable to treat it as a container plant which makes it infinitely easier to bring indoors. However, if you have rosemary planted out, you may pot it up using appropriate potting soil (not garden soil) and pot size with a drainage hole and tray. Follow recommendations about preparing your plants to bring them inside.

If possible, acclimate the plant to the indoors by bringing it inside a few weeks before the first expected frost date, October 15 here in S. Central PA. If you can open the windows and keep the indoor temperatures lows, it will make the transition easier than suddenly bringing it into a warm house.


All I want is for my rosemary to make it through the winter in living condition, so I can drag it back outside when the weather gets warm next year.

Fertilizer and Pruning: I don't encourage my rosemary to grow during the winter so I don't fertilizer or prune, except for a snip here and there. Rosemary will go dormant during the winter.

Light: Rosemary needs 6-8 hours of light as it did outside. A good south facing window may well do but you may have to supplement it with artificial light. A fluorescent light or grow light can help.  Rotate the plant every week or so to keep the plant growing evenly on all sides.

Temperature: As a native Mediterranean, mild-region plant, rosemary will expect cool winters (not freezing) temperatures. An area that is consistently 55 to 60°F is good.

Watering: As with most plants brought in to overwinter, consistent watering is one of the important keys to keeping it alive. Water when the surface is dry, usually once every 2 weeks until the soil is wet and water comes through the drainage hole.

After about an hour, empty the water from the saucer so the roots are not sitting in water. Rosemary will benefit from misting. A tip for watering all indoor plants is to allow tap water to sit in an open container overnight to allow the chlorine to dissipate.

Air Circulation: Good air circulation can alleviate some problems with mildew and mold. If you have several plants overwintering indoors, make sure there is good spacing between them.


Rosemary is the herb of remembrance. Although today we typically think of it as remembering loved ones that have passed, the Greeks thought it increased memory. Greek scholars were said to wear wreaths of rosemary around their heads when taking exams to help them remember their lessons.

The name rosemary derives from the Latin for dew-"ros"- and sea -"marinus;" thus, dew of the sea. A legend says that the Virgin Mary spread her blue cloak over a white-blossomed rosemary bush when she was resting causing the flowers to turn blue. The shrub then became know as the "Rose of Mary."

Other Links of Interest:

University of Illinois Extension: Rosemary
Overwintering Rosemary