Q A Jack-in-the-pulpit plant in my garden has a big cluster of red berries. Can I plant these berries to get new plants?
A Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) is a woodland wildflower noted for its unique spring-blooming spathe and spadix flower structure. The spathe is the leaflike structure that forms the pulpit, and the spadix, a k a Jack, is the flower column within the spathe. This denizen of moist, shaded areas also provides a splash of color in fall with its large cluster of bright orange-red berries.
It's fairly easy to start Jack-in-the-pulpit from seed. As wildflowers should never be dug up out of the woods, seed starting is a great way to get more plants without damaging native stands.
The berries should be harvested when they turn completely red in the fall. Each of those berries may contain one or more seeds. The pulp around the seeds must be removed, since the pulp will inhibit seed germination. (The pulp can cause mild skin irritation, so you may want to wear rubber gloves when handling the berries.) Put the berries in a bowl of warm water and let them sit for a few hours. Then squish them to release the seeds from the pulp. Rinse the seeds in a sieve under running water. Then plant the seeds right away; if they dry out they may not germinate.
The cleaned seeds can be planted directly outdoors in a seedbed -- a small section of garden set aside for starting seeds. (Be sure to mark the area so you don't accidentally dig it up next spring.) Sow the seeds about a half-inch deep and 3 to 4 inches apart. Seedlings should emerge in the spring. After the second year in the seedbed, the plants can be dug up and transplanted to new locations.
Q Are shredded oak leaves a good mulch for perennial beds? Someone told me that they will make the soil too acidic.
A Shredded leaves, including oak leaves, are an excellent choice for mulching perennials. They will hold in soil moisture, help suppress weeds, and, as the leaves decompose, add nutrients to the soil.
Because they contain high tannin levels, shredded oak leaves are more acidic than some other mulches. However, shredded oak leaf mulch will have very minimal effect on the soil's pH level and are fine to use with the great majority of perennials.
Nancy Rose is a horticulturist, writer and photographer. To ask her a gardening question, call 612-673-9073 and leave a message. She will answer questions in this column only.