All About Gardening and Gardening Q & A by Pernell Gerver

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"Growing Herbs on the Windowsill"

Herbs are a large group of plants that are used in many different ways. They are divided into types depending on their individual usage. Culinary and fragrance herbs are ideal candidates for growing indoors on the windowsill. What could be better than having your own fresh herbs to add to your favorite dish, especially in the dead of winter?

Culinary herbs are often referred to as kitchen herbs. They are used to flavor a variety of dishes and recipes. It's a large group of plants that includes many common herbs such as parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme, to mention the more famous ones.

Parsley is most commonly used as a garnish, but don't be afraid to eat it. It's a natural breath freshener. It can also be minced and added fresh to sauces, soups, stews, and egg dishes. The leaves can also be frozen or dried.

Sage is an aromatic herb with a distinctive flavor. It's the classic Thanksgiving herb, traditionally used as a seasoning for turkey and sausage. Its fresh leaves can also be added to soup, stew, and creamy pasta dishes.

Rosemary has a strong, pungent aroma and flavor. It's most commonly used in meat dishes such as roast lamb as well as beef, chicken, egg, cheese, and tomato dishes. It's one of the best herbs to use when making herbal butter. Its fresh leaves can be sprinkled on salad for a burst of flavor.

Thyme has a delicate flavor. Its fresh or dried leaves are used in soups, stews, poultry stuffing, roasted meats, vegetable, egg, or cheese dishes, Cajun dishes, as well as tea.

Fragrance herbs can be used in potpourri or grown just for their fragrant flowers. There is a long list of herbs grown specifically for their fragrant stems, leaves, or flowers.

One of my favorite fragrance herbs I grow for its fragrant flowers is heliotrope. White heliotrope bears large, flat-topped clusters of flowers atop its stems. The fragrance reminds me of baby powder. Others have likened it to vanilla.

Heliotrope 'Fragrant Delight' bears large clusters of deep-purple flowers. The flowers have a cherry-pie-like fragrance. Both heliotropes bloom all year long and are great additions to any house plant collection.


Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Neem Oil Controls Fungus Gnats on House Plants"

Q. I have about 95 house plants and the numbers are progressively increasing! My problem is that many of these plants have fungus gnats and they are starting to get out of control. Because they are indoors, I was wondering if you know of any safe and non-toxic way to get rid of the gnats. Thank you very much for your time.

A. Fungus gnats are a very common and very serious pest of plants, especially house plants, but the good news is this problem is treatable and you can get rid of the gnats for good.

For those of you who are lucky enough to have never experienced this problem or for those who have seen little gnats fluttering around plants but didn't know what the bugs were, I'll give a quick description of what they look like, the damage they do to plants, their lifecycle, and an effective, safe treatment.

Fungus gnats are very tiny (less than one eighth of an inch), dark, and slow-flying insects that can be seen around plants and on the surface of the soil. If you move or bump the plant, you'd likely see many of the tiny gnats come up in a cloud. Don't confuse fungus gnats with fruit flies or white flies, though, which are similar in size.

The gnats themselves don't pose much of a problem to foliage or blooms, but they are a telltale sign of a much worse problem lurking under the soil's surface. The gnats are the adult stage of larvae (maggots) that feed on fungi in the soil as well as roots of plants which can kill a plant or seedling. The larvae are often present in large numbers. You can barely see the larvae in the soil. If you care to look, a fungus gnat larva is about one quarter of an inch long and has a white, thin body with a small black head.

The lifecycle of a fungus gnat is measured in weeks, but many generations may occur throughout the year. It all starts when the adult flies lay their eggs in the soil in the pots of house plants or in the ground outdoors. In a week the eggs hatch and the larvae crawl through the soil and feed for about two weeks before turning into adult flies.

As far as treatment is concerned, I have tried various things over the years, but in recent years I've discovered that Neem Oil is quite effective in controlling both the adult fungus gnats flying around as well as the larvae eating the plants' roots in the soil. What I do is whenever I see the gnats I'll spray them with Neem Oil which kills them, and more importantly, I'll also spray or drench the soil with Neem Oil which kills the larvae. Neem Oil is safe, non-toxic, and can be used indoors and outdoors on all plants. Also, anytime you get a new plant it would be a good idea to spray the soil before adding the new plant to your collection just in case.

Click here to read more about Neem Oil and order it from Pernell Gerver's Online Store.


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