Question: I sowed a wildflower mix I bought at a garden center. It has done well and has lots of things blooming now. Can you help me identify a flower in it? It has bright red or pink flowers with large, silky, delicate petals with white crosses at the center. The stems and foliage are kind of hairy. I have never seen these or some of the other flowers before. Are they actual wildflowers?
Answer: From your description, the mystery flowers sound like Shirley poppies. Shirley poppies are a type of corn poppy (Papaver rhoeas) that has been bred for greater variation in color and form than that of the parent corn poppy with its red petals and black cross at the center.
Shirley poppies are easy to grow from seeds. Various colors and forms are readily available. September and October are good months for sowing. We have also known people having good luck with them by sowing them in February.
Many “wildflower mixes” contain non-native flowers and flowers that are not considered true wildflowers by most definitions. However, they can give the effect of a natural-appearing, diverse meadow of flowers. Perhaps a more accurate name for some of these mixes would be “meadow mix.”
A few flowers you often find included in these seed mixes are California poppy, Shirley poppy, corn poppy, cornflower/bachelor button, larkspur, cosmos, Queen Anne’s lace, black-eyed Susan, sweet William, coreopsis, calliopsis, wallflower, oxeye daisy, gloriosa daisy, gaillardia, catchfly, perennial flax, Indian primrose and yarrow. If you take samples or photos of your flowers to a garden center, a horticulturist there should be able to identify them for you.
Q: Where can I learn more about water conservation and drought restrictions, especially as they relate to my landscape?
A: An excellent source of information is the Georgia Water Smart website (www.georgiawatersmart.com). The website provides the rules about different drought levels and the counties involved. It also is an excellent source of information on how to save water inside and outside.
A few simple actions can save hundreds of gallons of water each month and save you money, too. Water is something we all use, but while there are more people using it every year, the overall supply does not increase. Problems with supply become more critical when we do not receive adequate rainfall. Water conservation should be a daily part of your life no matter where you live or whatever your occupation or lifestyle.
Those without internet access can find more information by writing the Georgia Urban Ag Council, Post Office Box 817, Commerce, GA 30529.
Q: Should I cut the cap off strawberries before I wash them and put them in the refrigerator?
A: Leave the caps on until after you wash the strawberries. Also, do not wash the berries until you are ready to use them. Washing them beforehand makes them more prone to spoiling.
To properly wash the strawberries, place them in a colander in or over a clean sink under running water from the tap or kitchen sink sprayer. If you don’t have a sprayer, wash and shake the berries under the tap by turning and gently shaking the colander as the water rinses the berries.
Q: I saw some beautiful blue to lavender to violet-blue flowers labeled 'Queen Fabiola.' Can you tell me more about them?
A: Queen Fabiola is one variety of common triteleia (Triteleia laxa, previously Brodiaea laxa). Common triteleia is sometimes called triplet lily, Ithuriel's spear or simply triteleia.
Ithuriel’s spear is a bulb (technically a corm) that is planted in the fall and blooms in May. It is easy to grow and is a reliable perennial in Georgia. It provides shades of blue that are uncommon and that also blend well with many other colors. It is a good cut flower.
Native to northern California and southwest Oregon, Ithuriel’s spear likes full sun to half shade and prefers well-drained soil in summer. A few good companions to plant with it are clasping heliotrope, California poppy, butterflyweed, rose campion, Shirley poppies, Egyptian walking onions, bearded iris, dusty miller, Indian primrose, gaillardia and purple coneflower. Ithuriel’s spear is good to plant with daffodils to provide a second wave of color after the daffodils die back.
Queen Fabiola is the most common, and perhaps the best, variety of Ithuriel’s spear. Other less common varieties are Rudy, Foxy and White Cloud. Although inexpensive and easy to grow, it has not found its way into many gardens. You may find some for sale at garden centers in late summer and fall will find it in most bulb catalogs. Don’t let its unfamiliarity or assortment of unusual names (there is even disagreement on how to pronounce triteleia) discourage you from giving triteleia a try.
Q: I read that canned meats could be taken on picnics without a cooler. Wouldn’t they be dangerous?
A: What you read probably referred to individual-serving cans of meat products that would be opened and consumed in one sitting at the picnic site, not meat sandwiches that are prepared at home and hauled long distances and kept for long periods in the summer heat. Individual serving cans of tuna, smoked herring, smoked oysters, corned beef, deviled ham or other shelf-stable meat products are appropriate for cooler-less picnics. Dried meats such as jerky are also suitable.
Other products that can be taken on picnics without a cooler are bread, peanut butter, pecans and other nuts, crackers, trail mix, raisins, hard cheese, raw carrots, unsliced cucumbers and fruits such as bananas, apples, grapes, plums and peaches.
Q: The seeds of some of my peaches are split in two. What causes this?
A: No one is quite sure what causes the condition known as “peach pit split.” It is believed to be caused by events or cultural practices that promote rapid growth. It is more common in early peach varieties than late ones. Early-ripening varieties are most susceptible because of the short time between pit hardening and fruit swelling. A late frost that causes a partial crop loss and heavy rains during the critical growth period can contribute to pit splitting and shattering where the pit is broken in several pieces. Irregular periods of drought followed by lots of rain encourage peach pit split.
Peach pit split is a fairly common condition. If you encounter it, remove any of the broken pieces of the pit so you don’t crack a tooth.
Q: I discovered what looks like a dirt dauber nest on my porch. However, it has only two sections and they look like tiny jugs. Do you know what it could be?
A: It sounds like the nest of a potter wasp. Potter wasps are related to dirt daubers/mud daubers and create exquisite mud structures that look like clay urns, jugs or vases. Most people wouldn’t recognize an adult potter wasp if they saw one, but the little mud pots it makes are unmistakable. Potter wasps often build their nests on a leaf or stem of a plant.
When some people hear “wasp” they panic, but potter wasps are not aggressive and have even been described as mild-tempered. Although the females are capable of stinging, they reportedly don’t even defend the nest if disturbed and sting only if handled.
Potter wasps are considered a beneficial insect to gardeners and farmers because they collect small caterpillars to stuff into those little jugs to feed their developing young. The adults feed on flower nectar and in in doing so may also perform some pollination, but their main benefit is in helping keep pest insect populations down.
Q: How long should a newly planted tree be staked?
A: You should never stake a tree unless it is in danger of falling over. If you must stake a tree, the stakes and supports should be removed as soon as possible and definitely within one year. If the tree is not stable by then, you need to plant another tree. Long-term staking will lead to a weak tree. Also, you are likely to forget the tree is staked, and five years later you will find wires cutting into the trunk, severely damaging the tree. We have seen this happen many times.
Q: Are hostas evergreen?
A: Hostas are deciduous. Their leaves die in the fall. While the idea of an evergreen hosta may sound great, please take pleasure in those fresh and unblemished leaves that arise each spring.
There are numerous options for adding wintertime green to your hosta planting, however. Some shade-loving evergreen perennials and sub-shrubs that you may want to consider are rohdea, cast-iron plant, poet’s laurel (Danae racemosa), butcher’s broom, ebony spleenwort, Christmas fern, little pigs/wild ginger, partridgeberry, grassy acorus and hellebores such as Lenten rose. A horticulturist at your local garden center may be able to point you to some other possibilities.
Q: My family and I are going camping. Do you have advice for making sure food in the cooler stays safe?
A: Keeping perishables cool is essential to avoid the food from becoming unsafe. Bacteria multiply rapidly at warm temperatures, and food can become unsafe if held in the “danger zone” (40 to 140 degrees F.) for more than two hours. If the outdoor temperature is above 90 degrees F., food can become dangerous after only one hour, so pack the cooler containing perishable foods with plenty of ice or frozen gel packs.
If you are packing canned or bottled drinks, it may be best to put them in a separate cooler. There are several reasons for this. If they are warm when you pack them, they will raise the temperature in the cooler making it more difficult to achieve and maintain the proper temperature for the perishables. People may open the cooler more frequently to get drinks, also making it harder to keep perishables properly chilled. Finally, if you are storing a raw meat product for grilling, you do not want to risk cross-contamination.
Q: What is creamline milk?
A: Creamline milk is milk that has not been homogenized. A line of cream will form at the top because cream is lighter than the rest of the milk and rises to the surface. Homogenization breaks fat molecules down to such a small size that they remain suspended evenly throughout the milk instead of rising to form the layer of cream.
Shake creamline milk before drinking or cooking with it. Creamline milk is not as readily available as homogenized milk. If you have never had any, you may want to give it a try. You may even get your children to drink more milk if you make a game about who gets to shake the milk before a meal or before they have a “shaken milk” milkshake for dessert.
Q: I recently saw a gardenia that did not look like a normal gardenia. It had only six petals instead of the cluster of numerous petals I am familiar with. Is this a new hybrid or even a gardenia?
A: Most Southern gardeners are familiar with double-flowered gardenias, but there are single-flowered ones as well. Four you may find at nurseries are White Gem, Daisy, Heaven Scent and Kleim's Hardy.
Although the single-flowered gardenia is new to you, it is not new. In the natural world, single-flowered forms of plants are the norm as they are more likely to produce seeds, and extra rows of petals are a waste of energy. In gardens and in florist shops, however, just as with the gardenia, the multi-petal varieties of peonies, dahlias, camellias, roses, carnations and many other flowers may be better known to most people than their single-flowered counterparts.
Q: I plan to grill steaks and chicken that have marinated overnight in the refrigerator. Can the marinade be used as a sauce on the cooked meat?
A: Using marinade in which raw meat has sat is an example of cross-contamination between the raw and cooked product and can lead to illness. If you want to use some of your marinade as a sauce for cooked meat, reserve a portion in a separate container before adding the raw meat. If you want to use marinade that has been in contact with raw meat, boil it for at least 60 seconds.
A more common form of cross-contamination that occurs when grilling is using the same platter or utensils that previously held or handled raw meat. This allows bacteria from the raw meat’s juices to spread to the cooked food. Instead, have a clean platter and utensils ready at grill-side to serve your food.
Use a food thermometer to make sure your meats have reached their proper endpoint temperatures: 165 degrees F. for chicken, 145 degrees F. for steaks and large cuts of meat and 165 degrees F. for ground meat.
Q: I recently saw a red and yellow flower in bloom that was labeled as spigelia. Can you tell me more about it?
A: Spigelia (Spigelia marilandica) also goes by the common names of pinkroot, Indian pink and wormgrass. Spigelia is a beautiful and striking perennial with tubular flowers that range from ruby red to carmine on the outside and open at the end into six-pointed stars of buttery yellow or chartreuse. The plant gets about 12 to 24 inches tall and grows in light shade to almost full sun. It gets leggier and doesn’t bloom as readily in shadier spots. It likes moist but well-drained soils high in organic matter.
Spigelia usually blooms in May or June in Georgia. It is native from Missouri and Kentucky south to Florida, including Georgia. It is not commonly available in the nursery trade, but is worth seeking from specialty nurseries, native plant societies or sales at botanical gardens.
Consumer Qs is a weekly question-and-answer column written by Arty G. Schronce for the Georgia Department of Agriculture. It appears in various newspapers across the state. For more information write Georgia Department of Agriculture, Room 330, 19 MLK Jr. Drive, Atlanta, GA 30334 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.