Seeking Native Plants: It Just Got Easier

When I moved to my new home two years ago, I recognized some of the plants in the yard. Out back, wild grape and Virginia Creeper climbed the trees in the small wooded area. A familiar green carpet of Periwinkle spread out under the biggest trees. Out front, my childhood friend, Lily of the Valley, filled every nook and cranny not taken up by the Hydrangea and ferns. But my ability to memorize has never been great. Even the identity of the scrawny tree that just started blooming this week at the border of the lawn might have eluded me except for a tool friends recommended – SEEK by the folks at iNaturalist.

I downloaded this free ID app on my phone April 22nd, and since then I have used it to identify twenty-two plants in my yard. Some I knew, but got more information about, like the Periwinkle, which is Lesser Periwinkle, Vinca Minor. Some I’ve probably seen for years but never sorted out just what they were, like the Cukooflower, Cardamine pratensis. Some I might never have identified using my guide books, like Hedwig’s Fringeleaf Moss, Hedwigia ciliate.

I have a goal to maximize the number of native plants in my yard, and SEEK is a big help with that project: using the app, I can quickly find out whether the plant is a native or not. Here’s a list of natives I’ve been able to identify so far: Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana; Wild Strawberry, Fragaria vesca; Common Blue Violet, Viola sororia; Green False Hellebore, Veratrum viride (photo); Hedwig’s Fringeleaf Moss, Hedwigia ciliate.

SEEK has great pedigree: iNaturalist is a joint Initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. The app is a great addition to my collection of go-to guides, but it hasn’t replaced my books. Every time I pick up a guide book, I wind up browsing past my starting point and I always learn something I wasn’t expecting – that’s a pleasure I won’t abandon.

It is great, though, to get a quick possible ID with SEEK. I’m really happy to have discovered this tool, and I’m equally glad to pass this recommendation on to you! In case you missed it, here is the link again: SEEK ID Tool

Reuse before you Recycle . . . the Salad Clamshell

How to reuse Salad Green Clamshells
Salad Green Clamshells – ready for the next job!

When the local salad greens disappear for the winter, I resort to salad-in-a-clamshell. The plastic clamshell containers do a great job of transporting fresh greens, but . . . then what? I started saving them in the hope I’d think of some use for them before I tossed them into the recycle bin. And, like so many other odds and ends that have finished one job but seem too useful to toss, these clear boxes found a new use. This time there was more than the usual amount of serendipity involved.

I happened to store my clam stash near the last of my old, plastic seedling trays and the one good dome lid that had survived along with them. In a side-by-side comparison, the similarities between the clam shells and the tray with its dome were clear in more ways than one: the clam shells were obviously meant for a second career as lidded seed trays. It seemed too much to hope that the seed starting cells would be a good fit, but see for yourself –

Two 6-cell packs fit nicely

While I’m waiting for the seeds to germinate, I’m using the deep end of the clamshell as the base but when the seedlings get started, I’ll turn the clamshell upside down so I have a domed lid.

I know I’m pushing the season a little, and I could wind up with leggy tomatoes. That will be okay: I go by the theory that a leggy tomato plant can be “trenched in” by planting the stem at an angle. Prepare a planting hole of the usual depth for the size of the seedling, then make a shallow trench running from the planting hole. Strip the leaves off the part of the long stem that will be buried, place the seedling in the hole and lay that stripped stem down in the trench. Cover with dirt and guide the unburied end to keep its head off the ground. I usually just mound up some dirt to give the top of the stem the general idea, and in a few days the sideways plant starts to head in the right direction. Water as usual. My mom taught me to fill the planting hole with water before placing the transplant in, and that’s the method I still use. The tomato plants I’ve grown using this method set roots all along the buried stem and grow vigorously.

Thanks for this tip to bury part of the tomato seedling stem go posthumously to Anstace and Larry Esmonde-White, authors of Vegetables from a A Country Garden and co-hosts of the long-running and wonderful show From A Country Garden that was sponsored by WPBS out of Watertown, N.Y. The authors transplanted their knowledge of Irish gardens to Canada and a great guide for northern gardens is the happy result.

I loved their show and purchased my copy of the book in 1993 – in their section on tomatoes they recommend setting transplants at a 45 degree angle with 1/2 – 2/3 of the stem underground. If your plants are leggy, as mine will probably be, you can plant 3/4 of the stem underground.

Next project – figure out where I’m going to find enough sun for tomatoes in my wonderfully shady yard!