Thanksgiving is now but a pleasant memory. Certainly, far different than in years past, but I hope through virtual connections and other means, everyone was able to connect with their loved ones. With reduced travel and online shopping, this year also provides more time for us to ponder our garden and kitchen aspirations throughout the holidays.
One plant I am pondering is Pitcher Plant. Since my first class on ecology in the late ‘70’s, I have been a fan of Pitcher Plants, botanically known as Sarracenia. They typically grow in peat bogs, which are notorious for poor nutrition. In order to compensate, this genus developed modified leaves in the shape of a tube or pitcher with an enzyme rich slurry at the base. Once an insect enters a pitcher, they typically end up in the digestive slurry, ultimately releasing nutrients for the plant to grow!
I always take great joy in cutting open some pitchers to the glee of squeamish school children. The plants are also ornamental, with attractive flowers and colorful leaves. I have been experimenting with techniques on how home gardeners can grow these native oddities in a container. They require little care other than keeping the soil moist during the summer, but they also need a long winter chill, preferably in a minimally heated garage. The challenge is how long to leave the plants outdoors, allowing them to enter a deep winter dormancy before they get too much chill and perish. Granted, the answer is probably online, but sometimes it is far more fun to give it thought and find the answer ourselves!
The bite provided by the winds of late autumn may be bone-chilling, yet it is a joy to watch the various ornamental grasses dance in the wind. Granted, trees also sway, but they do not have the gracious movement of grasses. If you have yet to consider adding ornamental grasses to your garden, it too is worth pondering this month as you enjoy the wintry view out of your favorite window.
The chilly winds of early December are also the perfect reason to remain indoors and consider adding a few unusual indoor plants. Houseplants are not only interesting to look at, they were thought to improve indoor air quality through the removal of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from paint or upholstery. Although this research has been disputed, there is no question how they improve our mood and bring us happiness. In fact, houseplants have even been shown to improve our work performance. With many of us working from home and feeling isolated at times, who could not use a few houseplants to make us feel better?
Houseplants include many tropical selections, as well as succulents and cactus. Some are exceptionally easy to grow, while others are a bit more challenging. The proper container, insect care and watering strategies are also important. For more information on the plants and their care go to www.cpe.rutgers.edu to learn about a one-hour program on houseplants, presented at 1 p.m. Dec. 1.
Early December is also the perfect time to start, or at the very least, consider eating healthy! Even though smaller this year, the family celebrations around the holidays are still brimming with food and drink that may not offer the best nutrition. If you are looking to gain some practical advice on how to eat healthy throughout this season without sacrificing your favorite food and drink, join Jennifer Shukaitis at 2 p.m. Dec. 2 by going to go.rutgers.edu/ippin90h. Jennifer will provide much needed inspiration that many of us, including myself, could use this time of the year.
Of course, having mentioned proper nutrition, what could be better and more seasonally appropriate than corn muffins with cranberry filling? Cranberries are known to contain more disease combating antioxidants than most other foods, allowing them to reduce cholesterol and even help battle cancer. Cranberries are also high in several essential vitamins. Go to bit.ly/2JfVWfB to join this webinar at 11 a.m. Dec 4. It will provide you with a recipe and tips on how to make this an extra delicious snack for your holiday gathering.
As the days get closer and closer to Dec. 21, more and more gardeners start to gain inspiration as that date marks the end to ever shortening daylight hours and the countdown to when new plantings can once again recommence. I always bemoan the first few frosts with the accompanying loss of colorful annuals and perennials. However, there is a certain peace with the approach of winter; it is a time when the garden seems to stand still, and we have time to ponder the motion of grasses or a new food dish to bake. With less traveling, there is a bit more time and more than ample food for thought for the holidays this year.
Bruce Crawford is the program leader in home and public horticulture at Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station Cooperative Extension of Somerset County. Email him at [email protected].