Curing the Gardening Phobia

Problems with Apps’ Plant ID

A couple of days ago, I was pretty disgusted trying to get plant identifications from the 2 apps I downloaded. I was eager to try them both and then select one. As of today, I was planning to recommend 1 of them, but am now hesitating.

burry sticky
Burry sticky thing

In my last post—A Weed by Any Other Name—I resorted to calling one of the weeds a “burry sticky thing.” I had no choice because iplant identified it differently 3 times: “birch,” “greenhouses,” and “animal husbandry”! I have no words to match my frustration….and no name either….

I was curious and gave the app a secret test. I said nothing to it…but took a picture of what I am positive is a native Illinois woodland violet, and iplant came back with ‘peppermint.’ Ha! Gotcha! Now…I realize that the toothed leaf edges could be similar to peppermint, but iplant’s track record with the burry sticky things had me suspicious…

My experience with SmartPlant was a little better…until today. I’ll back up….

My precious little “winterberry” that seemed miraculously saved after our heavy construction and tree removal equipment came through, I now wanted to test. Was that its real name?

I wondered because Kenny the Landscaper hesitated when he saw it. “What did you call it?” he asked.

“Winterberry,” I said with neophyte confidence.

“Hmmm,” he mused and cocked his head.

I recalled instantly that a horticulturalist friend once said to me that there were so many cultivars—cross-bred plants—that it is nearly impossible to know every plant available. She admitted that even nurseries can make mistakes.

Now armed with new technology, I hoped to find the real name. I submitted the picture below to SmartPlant, which came back later that night with a response: Creeping Dogwood. That made sense! The leaves look like dogwood, and the description almost matches my experience: white flowers in the spring—yes, I’ve seen those. Red berries in the winter—huh? I’ve never seen any. But then I never went out to look. (By the way, iplant identified it as wood sorrel. It’s at 0 and 4.)

At that point, I googled “winterberry” and can see why Kenny was confused. It looks nothing like Creeping Dogwood. But if my little hero plant does get red berries in the winter, perhaps that’s how the nursery made the error.

I wanted SmartPlant to take some credit for this Eureka moment. I signed up for the Premium…too naïve….too soon.

When I tap on “Profile” to set mine up, it kicks me out of the app. And for the past 60 minutes, while I worked on this post, it has been whirring around unable to confirm my password.

So…I have no app recommendations to offer….

But I have confidence in two names: Creeping Dogwood, and Burry Sticky Thing.

Learn more about wood sorrel here:



Curing the Gardening Phobia

A Weed by Any Other Name…

6:30 A.M.

Between the berm garden and the footpath, I procrastinated while the cool wet grass soaked my canvas slip-ons. A cool breeze whispered through the peonies—giving me an easy reason to procrastinate. There’s more work to do in the berm, but the footpath is calling…

I studied the path to plan what I would take out. If I used the product the lawn care ad promoted, it would leave us with nothing but pine needles and flagstones. It boasted a solid kill for woodland violets and crab grass. I like both of those…

Flagstone footpath buried in weeds

I decided to leave most of the native woodland violets—native being another word for “uncontrollable”, or don’t-have-to-do-anything-to-make-it-grow if you want to think positive. And the crab grass, the grass everybody loves to hate. It’s the only grass that grows here. Life isn’t perfect, and crab grass is good.

Otherwise, I planned to pull out the thistle, and the burry sticky things, and the weird tall grass, and other random weeds that I don’t know the names of.

I looked along the flagstones at the stiff thistles planning to scratch my ankles. I set my sight on those and the other sticky, ugly things. I think those are weeds because they hurt. Makes sense…right?

Last year, we experimented with creeping nettle here—pretty sure that’s what it’s called… We’d be happy for some invasive species along this path, with a pink flower…but it looks pretty weak.

Another small experiment of pachysandra and lily turf seems to be doing better. (If I’m remembering correctly…that’s what they’re called…) We might have finally hit on the happy combination.

Pachysandra and lily turf, I think

It’s amazing what is revealed when the choking mess is cleared out. I found winterberry growing! At least that’s what I thought the nursery tag called it…but 2 plant ID apps came back with 2 different names for it…I had planted it here before the construction and thought none of it survived, but I found a nice big patch of it. So I cleared everything out around it—and found another gift—an oak sapling. It’s right on the property line.

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I’ll show it to Christine and Adam and hope they want to keep it. I think it’s in a perfect spot—exactly between our two houses. I’ll tell them it’s a swamp white oak. If they don’t believe me, they can look it up…

Learn about swamp white oak here:

Laugh about crab grass here:

Curing the Gardening Phobia

Green Manure

1:30 P.M. 96°

I never work in the heat, but I didn’t have any choice today. It’s mid summer, and as I’ve done nothing in the yard, my anxiety over its neglect is as prickly as that patch of thistles.

Covered head-to-toe with insect repellent, I made decisions as I went along. After thoughtlessly grabbing a few clumps of clover, I decided to keep all of it. My research on clover finally clicked: it’s called “green manure” because it’s so good for the soil. It’s a natural ground cover that I can turn under either late Fall or very early in Spring. It needs about 6 weeks before the benefits leach into the soil, and then you can plant. So the general recommendation is to wait 6 weeks and then plant in that spot. For now, I’ll just leave it all; otherwise, I’ll have too much bare dirt, and the thistles will just fill in again.

Then I’ll transplant a hydrangea that’s not doing well and add a new one to fill in the spot. And along the stones, I’ll transplant some lambs ears from the front yard that are growing into the grass.

But for the large bare spots, I realized that I should test the soil before I plant in it. (See the slide show below.)


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I stopped to grab the new soil test kits that I bought yesterday. It took more time than I wanted to spend, because I couldn’t find the bucket that I needed. Finally found it, then washed it, then decided that I didn’t need it. A 2-cup measuring cup would do. I rummaged through the individual measuring cups to find one that I wouldn’t mind leaving in the shed for all future testing.

Finally, ready to start, I set up on the patio table, then decided to move it all into the kitchen because the little vials seemed too unsteady on the pierced metal table.

Next, I struggled with the tiny colored capsules. The package was explicit—gently pull them apart and pour the compound into these teeny vials. Really? I imagined powder spraying all over the kitchen.

I cut the first one open and the powder sprayed all over the counter. After some experimenting, I felt the right amount of pressure and pulled the next one open. Hmm…pulling was the best method after all. As with most things, once I understood the directions, it wasn’t difficult.

The verdict came in—the soil needs potash and nitrogen. My 1-hour deadline was pressing down and we were expecting rain, so I decided to keep going, since I had not had as much time as I wanted to actually work in the dirt. I set the timer for a second hour. I figured with the rain coming I wouldn’t be able to get out the next couple of days.

Learn more about green manure here: