Testing Old Seeds

If you have seeds leftover from previous years, rather than throwing them away, test them out now and save yourself some money.

I like to test them out by using conditions similar to what I normally use. I put in three seeds in each cell and mark each with the name of the seed and the date. I cover the seeds with a plastic lid to keep things moist and also use a shop light to keep things warm inside.

If the seeds germinate, then you know you can use them this year.

I used some vermiculite I had, but you can use any good potting mix. I don’t plan on keeping these plants – they are just letting me know the germination rate.

Note – I am also testing some new seeds from dollarseed.com

Test Results

  • Marigold Cracker Jack – 3 days – Dollarseed.com
  • Zinnia – California Giant – 3 days – Dollarseed.com
  • Tropical Milkweed – 7 days – Dollarseed.com
  • Maltese Cross – Dollarseed.com
  • Dames Rocket – Dollarseed.com
  • Purple globe amaranth – Toms – 3 days – almost all seeds germinated.
  • Zinnia – small gold – 4 days. – one seed germinated.

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Inexpensive Butterfly Seeds

The even have some hummingbird and bee mixes which have hundreds of seeds for the same $1.00!

While some seeds can be quite expensive, here is a source I am testing out that seems very inexpensive – Dollarseed.com

Each packet costs $1.00.
I just bought five packets for $7.75 which includes postage.
They even put in a free package of lettuce seeds.

The marigold and zinnia germinated in 3 days.

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Lantana – Back Eight Years in a Row















Most lantana will only last a year in cold climates. In St. Louis, I have kept mine alive for eight years with very little help.

Note that Miss Huff appears to be a stronger and more hardy plant than Star Landing. Star Landing is a bit more colorful. These are the only two varieties that I have found which will come back in my area.

Both of these plants are hard to find locally. I got mine from https://www.plantdelights.com/

Here are some tips on growing hardy lantana.

Don’t cut back the lantana until some time in April. I usually cut them back to about six inches. Pull back any mulch at this time to let the plants warm up….Then – be patient. They take until late May to show signs of growth.

In the fall, save your leaves and mulch the lantana with a good layer of leaves to help protect the plants.
The plants against my basement always come back. Lantana appreciates the extra soil heat.

The eight plants at Whitecliff Park also came back this year without any extra help. They do however have great southern soil exposure.



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Trees for Butterflies

If you have space for a tree or two, here are a few recommendations which I grow or have tried.

Giant Swallowtail Larvae

Hop Tree – Ptelea trifoliata – host for Giant Swallowtails. These trees are hard to find and you may have to start them from seed. Note you can also plant Rue for Giant Swallowtails which is obviously a lot smaller. Height and Spread is up to twenty feet.

Tiger Swallowtail

Tulip tree – Liriodendron tulipifera – host for Tiger Swallowtails. Up to 90′ tall and 50′ wide.

American Snout

Hackberry Tree – Celtis occidentalis – host for Hackberry, American Snout, Question Mark and Comma. 60′ tall and 60′ wide. I keep mine trimmed back to 7 feet tall.

Red Spotted Purple

Willows – host for Red Spotted Purple and Viceroy. Size depends on the variety. I have never been able to raise caterpillars on willows.

Zebra Swallowtail

Pawpaw trees – Asimina triloba – host for Zebra Swallowtails. These are rare in my location and I have given up on this tree. It also sends up suckers so be prepared for plants all over the area.

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Fighting Weeds

Everyone has weeds. The questions are how do you minimize the number of weeds you have and also minimize the amount of time you spend fighting them.

I define weeds as plants which are not wanted in a particular location. Grass is fine in a lawn, but when it invades a flower garden, it’s a pain to deal with. The birds have brought in lots of bermuda grass which is continually sending out runners trying to get in with my flowers.

My main defense against weeds is a block border and a “Line of Death – LOD” around the border. I have a clear area around the border which I keep clean of any weeds. Here are a couple of tricks regarding the L.O.D.

  • I use a concrete block area to mark my garden area. It not only helps to define the garden, but catches garden seeds and gives me new plants every year. I like blocks that allow you to make a curve.

  • Be vigilant – once a week is about fine for patrolling the LOD.
  • Have good soil, fine mulch or compost in this LOD area so that it is easy to remove weeds. If you are trying to pull weeds from clay, it is much harder. While I buy compost by the yard, you can buy nice mixes in bags.
  • Preen is another product that I use at times. It keeps seeds from germinating. Put in the L.O.D. area to keep the weeds from sprouting.
  • Try Burnout as an organic weed killer. It works great for a week, but many times the roots are not killed and you will have to spray again.
  • I use a Japanese hoe to loosen weeds. It’s my favorite hand tool.

The final tool is an edger to keep the grass back. I do this once a week.

Inside the garden I sometimes use Preen for paths inside the garden. I use my Japanese hoe to get 99% of the rest of the weeds. Persistence is the key. I consider this my workout for the day.

Note – if you have already lost the battle with the weeds, it might be easier to take out the plants you want to keep, mow the area and then cover with either newspaper or cardboard and then add compost or fine mulch. Let the weeds die underneath it all for a couple of months.

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Soil Tests, Nitrogen and Compost

I had a recent soil test done on one section of my garden. I have had plants die in the past and recently the plants looked poorly in most of the area.

The test showed high levels of phosphorous, potassium and organic matter. The test does not test for nitrogen, but based upon my organic matter levels they didn’t recommend any added nitrogen. They did mention that, “Nitrogen is not listed because the level is not stable in the soil. It changes too frequently.”

What they recommended was to cut back on the compost, since my organic matter level is so high and to cut back on the phosphorous and potassium. He said that high levels can stop the uptake of other nutrients.

Their main recommendations were…

  1. Just use a high nitrogen fertilizer without added phosphorous or potassium – blood meal, cottonseed meal etc.
  2. Don’t add compost for a while. Try hardwood mulch on top

I did notice that added milorganite did green up the plants, but also adds phosphorous.


Filed under soil, Soil Amendments

Uthoff Valley Elementary

Uthoff Valley Elementary is the latest and nicest school garden I helped with this year. Here are a couple of notes about the garden.

  • The wood is treated so it should last longer than the wood we replaced.
  • The whole area is covered with mulch to keep down the weeds.
  • They added compost to the garden area and will add mulch after planting.
  • They asked about fertilizer and I suggested that if the plants looked poorly then they could add some Milorganite.
  • They are using a hose timer and soaker hose so that the entire area will be watered automatically over the summer.
  • The wood is placed on top of the soil. I suggested adding compost every year to build up the soil level.
  • The entire area had to be worked initially to remove the aggressive plants and weeds in the garden.

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