Gardening Question of the Day

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I discovered witch hazel in my woods. How can I make witch hazel extract?

First, prune your witch hazel with an eye toward stripping off the bark, discarding any leaves or wood. Place 5 cups of distilled water in a glass, enamel, or other nonreactive pan. Add only as much bark as you can completely submerge in the water. Bring the water to a rolling boil, then cover and simmer for at least 30 minutes. The longer you "decoct" the bark, the stronger your extract will be. Strain out the bark and bottle the liquid in well-sterilized glass containers. Use as desired. Witch hazel is often mixed with other herbal infusions, such as chamomile, rosemary, lavender, or sage, to make fragrant and cleansing astringents for facials, aftershave lotions, or hair rinses. Commercial witch hazel often contains some alcohol (about 10 percent) to prolong its shelf life.

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Last 7 Days

Do you have a good recipe for dandelion jelly?

It's too late in the season to make this jelly now, but tuck it away for next spring. We found it in The 1977 Old Farmer's Almanac, along with recipes for dandelion coffee, batter-fried dandelion blossoms, and a bunch of other dishes. Use 1 quart of bright, fresh dandelion blossoms. Rinse them quickly in cold water and snip off the stems and green collars under the blossoms. Boil the petals in 2 quarts of water for 3 minutes. Cool and strain, pressing the petals with your fingers to extract all the juice. Measure out 3 cups of the dandelion liquid and place in a large jelly kettle. Add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 package of powdered fruit pectin (1 3/4 ounces). Bring the mixture to a boil. Add 5 1/2 cups of sugar, stirring to mix well. Continue stirring, and boil the mixture for 2-1/2 minutes. Pour into small glasses and cover with paraffin when the jelly is cool.

How should I plant and care for a fuchsia in an outdoor hanging basket?

A fuchsia, or lady's teardrops, needs daily watering in the summer. Fertilize it regularly, and keep it in filtered sunlight away from the wind. Pinch back the growing tips often.

Have you ever heard of rose wine?

Yes, though we have to admit we've never tried it-and we're not convinced it's the best use for beautiful rose petals! We found this recipe in an old book: Pour one gallon of boiling water over 3 to 4 quarts of petals lightly packed. Toss in the cut up rind of 2 oranges and 3 pounds of sugar. Boil for 20 minutes, cool, strain, and add a package of yeast dissolved in warm water. Add the juice from the two oranges and 4 or 5 white peppercorns. Let all ferment in a covered crock for 2 weeks, then strain, discard petals, and bottle in sterilized jars, corking lightly. Wine will be ready in about three months.

Does garlic really work against mosquitoes?

Given how quickly those pesky insects seem to adapt and become immune to various bug dopes, we can't say for sure, but it's worth a try. Some people swallow slivered garlic to ward off these summer pests. Others take garlic tablets or rub garlic juice directly on their skin. If you do get bitten or stung, a paste of mashed garlic can help take the sting and itch away. Some people apply garlic, onion, or radish juice for the same purpose.

What is leaf mold and how is it best used?

Leaf mold is a special kind of compost that is solely made up of decomposed leaves. It decomposes through a fungus, rather than the bacteria that is responsible for the development of regular compost. Leaf mold composting creates a very nutrient and mineral rich addition to your soil and is great for mixing in with your potting soil to improve fertility, or to use as a top dressing on planting beds. Made into a tea or a foliar spray, it can help develop robust plants. It can take quite a while to create a large supply of leaf mold, from 9 months to 3 years depending upon moisture conditions. Just pile up the leaves and leave them alone. Most folks use a wire mesh holding bin

Should I divide my hostas?

Hostas don't need to be divided, because they spread laterally, sending out underground shoots. Maturity enhances their appearance, and digging or dividing only slows their progress. If you have trouble getting them to flower, focus on soil acidity and fertility. They like composted cow manure, or you could add a commercial product. (Avoid granular chemical fertilizers, however.) Dry, shady areas are no problem, but do water the plants regularly, preferably in the morning, to discourage slugs. If you want to move hostas or to restrict their size, dig them up in the autumn before they go dormant. Removing them in June will disturb their feeder roots, so their summer growth might be stunted by the upheaval. The roots can be tough; you'll need a sharp gardener's knife or serrated blade to cut them.

Do you have any suggestions for keeping a dog from digging in my yard?

Dig a hole where the dog likes to dig. Blow up some small balloons, put them in the hole, and cover them with dirt. When the dog comes to dig in the loose dirt, he may pop a balloon and scare himself away from the area. It's worth a try.

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