Garden Talk: March 8, 2012

From NGA Editors

Perennial Plant of the Year

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Each year the Perennial Plant Association (PPA) chooses an easily grown, widely adapted perennial with multi-season interest as its Perennial Plant of the Year. Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost', the selection for 2012, is truly an outstanding choice.

Also known as Siberian bugloss and false forget-me-not, its broad, heart-shaped leaves are covered with a with frosty silver accented with a tracery of green veins, forming a mound 12-15 inches tall and about 20 inches wide. Rising above the foliage in mid to late spring are sprays of tiny, bright blue, forget-me-not like flowers.

Brunnera does best in a shady spot with fertile, moisture-rententive soil. It makes a lovely spring picture with bleeding heart (Dicentra), which blooms at the same time. Other good shade-loving companions include hostas, ferns, epimediums, heucheras, and hellebores. After the flowers fade, brunnera continues to light up the shade garden with its shimmering leaf color and provides excellent cover for the withering foliage of spring bulbs. The rough texture of brunnera's leaves causes deer to usually pass it by. Adapted to Zones 3-8, brunnera rarely needs division and when well sited, is an excellent choice for a low maintenance garden.

To find out more about Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' and the Perennial Plant Association, go to: PPA.

Casting Votes, Saving Rivers

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River Network is an organization devoted to saving one of the earth's most precious resources -- fresh water. Population growth, climate change, stormwater-caused pollution, and wetland destruction are just some of the many factors contributing to the degradation of our fresh waterways. River Networks's approach is to work with local groups to develop strategies to address river and watershed conservation and protection in diverse ways.

To that end, River Network has joined with MillerCoors to award nearly $60,000 in grants to support watershed protection programs. They have selected six finalists from across the country. And they want you to help select the winners!

Through 5 p.m. PST on March 19, 2012, you can vote online for the project you think will do the best job protecting water resources. The finalist with the largest vote total will receive a $25,000 grant. Second and third place vote getters will be awarded $15,000 and $10,000, respectively, with the remaining projects receiving $2000 each.

The finalists are Friends of Marsh Creek in Oakley, California; Clinton River Watershed Council in Rochester Hills, Michigan; Friends of the Mississippi River in St. Paul, Minnesota; Ohio River Foundation in Cincinnati, Ohio; Lake Champlain International in Colchester, Vermont; and Friends of the Rappahannock in Frederickburg, Virginia.

To find out more about River Network, read more about the projects each of the contest finalists has planned, and to cast your vote, go to: River Network.

Overfed and Undernourished

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Here's an alarming statistic. According to a nationwide dietary survey conducted by researchers at the USDA Agricultural Research Service's Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, ″For people over age 2, grain-based desserts accounted for a greater proportion of daily calories than any other food group.″ This means that foods such as cakes, cookies, pies, cobblers, sweet rolls, pastries, and donuts are ″the main source of excess calories in the U.S. diet.″ Wow!

What else are we getting too much of? Salt for one. The survey found that most American adults consume more than twice the maximum recommended daily sodium intake.

What is lacking? Vitamins C and A, and magnesium, nutrients that fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can provide. But the survey found that the average woman gets only one of the recommended one-and-a-half to two servings of fruit a day and men only slightly over one of the recommended two to two-and-a-half servings. And while it's recommended that adults get a minimum of seven cups of red, orange, and dark-green vegetables per week, most of us are consuming a mere half that amount. Consumption of whole grains is similarly low.

What's an easy and economical way to increase the amounts of fruits and vegetables in your diet? You guessed it -- grow your own! A food garden is an excellent way boost your nutrition -- and to have some fun and get some healthful exercise in the process. A handful of sweet strawberries or blueberries fresh from garden or a just picked, fully ripe tomato makes a delicious snack that will put any nutrition-poor donut to shame.

To read more about the national "What We Eat in America" survey, go to: ARS.

Fighting Plant Viruses with Biomarkers

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When you have a pest or disease outbreak in your garden, it may feel like the insects or microorganisms have the upper hand. But scientists are working hard to fight back in ways that are economical and environmentally sound.

A team of researchers from the USDA and Cornell University is studying aphids and their role in transmitting virus diseases to plants. Some species of aphids are efficient virus vectors; others are not. Specifically the scientists are looking to see if the aphids that do transmit disease can be distinguished through protein biomarkers from those that don't.

Controlling the spread of viruses is important because there is no cure for plants once they are infected. The best controls involve either breeding resistant plants or preventing insect vectors like aphids from feeding on plants and infecting them in the process.

The goal of the research is to develop a simple test kit that farmers can use out in the field to determine if the aphids infesting a crop carry particular biomarker proteins indicating they are capable of virus transmission. This will allow for more targeted pesticide use, aimed only at those species that transmit disease, saving the farmer money and reducing the amount of pesticides put out into the environment.

To read more about this research, go to: Cornell Chronicle.

 
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