How to Root Curly Willow Branches in Water and When to Plant them in Soil

Some curly willow branches that I rooted in water, and then planted in a terra cotta container.

In May of 2018, my mom and I hosted our 4th #diggingfordiabetes plant sale to raise money for Type 1 Diabetes research.  The sale was a success, and curly willow branches were one of our biggest sellers!

Mom and I divide up perennials from our gardens for the sale, with 100% of the proceeds going to JDRF.  This normally works really well, but this year, spring seemed to take FOR….EEEEEVER to, well, spring!  With a looming deadline of May 3 to have all of our plants ready to sell, we were really sweating it.

So this year, my husband, the other horticulturist in the family, helped me prune back our two curly willow trees, and I saved some of the curliest branches, bundled them, and put them in a bucket of water.  I posted the pictures on Facebook for the plant sale, and had a lot of interest!  I was so thankful, as my perennials were taking their time emerging, and were not as sales worthy as they were for past plant sales.

It’s been about 5 weeks since I cut those branches.  I saved some for myself, just to play around with, and make sure that they do root well.  They did root, and finally, last Memorial Weekend, I was able to shoot this video and plant the branches in one of my favorite terra- cotta containers on my front porch.


If you purchased some branches from us at the plant sale, I hope you had good luck getting yours to root!

By now, they should be ready to plant in some soil. To plant them without damaging their delicate new roots:

  1. Suspend the branches in the middle of the pot, not quite touching the bottom.
  2. Then pour potting soil in with your free hand, gently filling in around the roots.
  3. Once the container is filled with soil, gently apply pressure to firm the soil around the branches so they are well supported and won’t fall over in the pot.
  4. You can plant the branches as deep as you need to in order to get them to stand up securely, as they will eventually root any place that has surface contact with the soil.
  5. Water in the branches thoroughly, and maintain even moisture for a week or so, until the branches are adjusted to their new home.
  6. Once they are acclimated to the pot, just water it to keep the soil evenly moist, or whenever you water your other annual flower containers.
  7. These branches can over winter in their container if you keep the container in the garage or a protected area outside.  My mom had some that were left out in a small courtyard all winter 2017/18….a very cold one…..and they still survived!
  8. Side note:  If you choose to plant them in the ground be sure to give them enough space to grow into a big tree!  They grow very quickly…to maturity in less than 10 years.  Mine are about 25 feet tall with multiple branches that spread about 15 feet.
  9. When they get older, they are known to drop lots of little branches, so it’s best to thin them out each year by removing 2 -5 of the larger branches.

The Basil 🌿 has Sprouted!


Italian Genovese Basil Sprouts © 2018 Marie Stephens
It took less than a week! We planted the seeds last Tuesday afternoon, and the seeds were beginning to sprout by Saturday morning! It’s now Monday morning and the sprouts have formed cotyledons(the first set of baby leaf forms), and are beginning to green up!

Now What?????

If you have made it this far, you might be wondering what to do next to keep your basil babies alive.  Here’s a short list of things to do to keep them going.

  1. Remove your seedlings from the top of the fridge once they begin to sprout
  2. Reduce the number of times you spritz your seedlings to once a day, and gradually taper down to every other day, and then just start watering them with a watering can as the soil starts to dry on the surface. Why?Seeds need to be kept moist constantly until they sprout, then you want to gradually reduce the amount of water you give them to avoid causing them to rot or suffocate. This could be another separate article!
  3. Take the set up to a warm, sunny room, away from heat vents(at least 5 feet away) I have mine sitting on the top shelf of a bakers rack that sits in my sunny foyer.
  4. Begin removing the clear lid from the seedlings. Why?
  • To prevent your seedlings from getting to long and spindly (leggy)
  • To prevent mold from growing that can cause a disease called (dampening off) that causes your seedlings to die off right at the base of the stem.
  • To begin getting your seedlings acclimated to air movement. (air movement will ultimately help your seedlings get stronger, sturdier stems.

If you ordered seeds this winter, this poem is for you!

How to Start Your Own Basil

Marie’s Favorite Kinds of Basil

Day 8 Seedlings are growing. Now what?

  1. Rotate your seedlings once a day to prevent them from bending too much in one direction towards the sunlight.
  2. You can now leave the clear dome off permanently
  3. Reduce watering to once every 2 or 3 days. Just make sure that you water deeply so the soil gets wet all the way to the bottom of the container to stimulate deep rooting down into the soil.
  4. At this point you can still water with a mister, but you can adjust the nozzle from mist to more of a heavy spray and eventually a small stream.
  5. Avoid blasting the delicate seedlings with hard streams of water.
  6. Teach little ones to wet the soil surface rather than aiming directly at the seedlings.
  7. Teach little ones that the seedlings will get their water from their roots which are buried in the soil. This is why we aim at the soil instead of the leaves.
  8. You could even gently pull one seedling out and show your kids the little white root! Tell them that the root is kind of like a paper straw! It can suck up water through the tip and can absorb through the sides kind of like a wick.
  9. If you use a magnifying glass, you will also see root hairs which also help your plants get a drink.
  10. Make sure your container is not standing in a saucer full of water. Standing water causes the roots to be deprived of air and will cause suffocation and rot which ultimately results in death of your seedling.

Seed Starting Basics

We Planted Our Basil!

This is a mister that is about the same size as the one we have.  It’s small enough for little hands to hold and still be able to squeeze the trigger.  It is also BPA free, and has 3 different spray settings. We keep ours in the kitchen cupboard to use for spritzing seedlings, and also to tame crazy hair in the mornings as we head out the door to school!  It’s a life saver for moms of boys!

We Did It!

Finally, after talking about it, we made some time to plant a few basil seeds.  It’s so easy to put it off, and then 3 weeks have passed by and still no seeds planted!  I try not to stress too much about it, because I know I can always buy a plant at the garden center if I get behind.  The point of all of this is to have fun and learn something anyway right?

The Case of the Missing Basil Seed

So I was all ready to get started.  I went to the basement, found the wooden box that we keep all of our seed packets in.  I began digging, and digging…..and digging some more. I am now the proverbial squirrel in search of the nut! No luck.  No basil seed to be found!  “I could have sworn I still had some of that basil seed!”  I did find about 3 packages of Arugula seed, and a bazillion packages of Zinnias and other garden flowers, tomato, pepper, and other seeds, but no basil.  And this is how a gardener ends up with an entire box of seeds with multiple packages of the same kind!  It’s the squirrel syndrome!

I picked up Harrison from school, and we headed over to Wallace’s Garden Center to buy some seed.  It was so dreary yesterday, so seeing some green life forms was good for all of us.  My boys love to look at all the cute little cacti and succulents in the tiny pots there.

I was quite proud of myself, as I only spent $7 on seeds.  I purchased some Italian Genovese Basil and some Thai Basil.  The first packet cost $5!  I thought that seemed a little high, but then I looked at the seed count on the packet.  There were about 1000 seeds in the packet, compared to about 200 in the others that cost around $2.  Since I am planning to replant the basil more than once, as I am going to use it more as a microgreen and get a shorter lifespan out of it.

We got home, and settled in, and a light bulb went on in my mind. The spice cabinet!  “I think I saved some seed heads in a baggy and put them in the spice cabinet!”  Sure enough, there was the suspicious baggy.  A bunch of dried up leaves that smelled like basil!  I noted there were a few seed heads in the bag, so I decided to try to collect a few seeds from them.  It took some time and patience, and now I realize why seeds cost what they cost!  It’s all about the time it takes!  If you want to learn how and maybe work in a little life lesson for your kids with during the seed collecting activity, click the link below to see!

Collecting Your Own Basil Seed From Dried Flower Stems


How to Collect Basil Seeds From Your Garden

Why collect seeds?

I say why not?  Isn’t it kind of cool to save a buck or two and learn something with your kids at the same time?  Plus, you can use those saved bucks to go buy some ice cream or a cup of coffee for $3 and not feel so guilty!

“I think it’s important for us and our children to know that it is possible to find something that looks dead and worthless, and know that underneath that withered exterior, lies the key to something beautiful and full of life that is fragrant, nourishing, and even if you don’t like to eat it, is still fun to scratch and sniff! ”  – Marie Stephens

Aside from the idea that you can eventually eat the basil that emerges from these adorable little onyx colored seeds, do you see the beautiful metaphor about life that you can teach to your little ones?  Collecting seeds and being able to grow them on is a great lesson for that old saying “Never judge a book by its cover.”  That’s one of the things I love most about gardening!  So many life lessons are hidden amongst all of the leaves, dust, and dirt!

So here is how to get started on your seed collecting adventure

  1. Allow your basil plants to form flowers
  2. leave the flower stems on the plant
  3. let the flowers form and wither leaving them on the plant
  4. wait until the flowers die away, and little seed heads start to swell on the stem
  5. allow the seed heads to get brown and crunchy
  6. cut the dried flower stems with seed heads away from the plant
  7. Get ready to harvest your tiny seeds!
©Marie Stephens 2018 basil seed head
Dried up basil flower stem with seed heads
©2018 Marie Stephens gardenshapers basil seeds with chaff
The tiny black things are the basil seeds.  Aren’t they cute?


©2018 Marie Stephens Gardenshapers basil seeds after blowing away chaff
It took me about 10 minutes to harvest this small amount of seed.

Once You Have Your Flower Stems

  1. Find the dried flower stem ( if you are like me, you might be like the squirrel who knows they burried the nut some place, but you just can’t seem to remember where!)
  2. pluck off the seed heads
  3. use a small white dish  to crumble the seed heads into
  4. crumble the seed heads over a strainer so all the chaff doesn’t fall onto the plate
  5. you should get 3-5 tiny black seeds per seed head
  6. roll the seed heads between your fingers, crushing the dried capsule, until the seeds fall out.  They are about the size of a small caterpillar turd.
  7. When you have crumbled all the seed heads, ever so gently blow over the plate and the rest of the dust will blow away, leaving the seeds on the plate!
  8. Ideally all seeds should be stored in a cooler or climate controlled environment.
  9. My hand harvested basil seeds may or may not sprout, as I didn’t store them properly, but I am willing to try….because they are from my Spicy Globe Basil Plant, and they didn’t have that seed at the store!


How to Keep Flower Bouquets Fresh

©Marie Stephens 2005
So this was me, back in 2005. My husband Tim and I were cut flower growers for about 7 years, and sold them at the downtown Des Moines Farmers Market. We grew, harvested, designed and delivered fresh bouquets all over southern Iowa and Des Moines for about 7 years! So I guess you could say, we know a thing or two about how to keep bouquets fresh!

Valentines Day has come and gone, but you might still be hanging on to a few fresh flowers from your special someone!  ” What’s the trick to making my fresh flower bouquet last longer?”, is a question I used to get from lots of clients at the Farmers Market, so many years ago.

The Big V-Day Surprise

This surprise, from my Tim, is what got me on the whole subject of keeping your bouquets fresher longer.  He got me something tall, black, sleek and slender and shiny with wheels!  Care to make a guess as to what it is?  He also bought me some fresh flowers that he found on sale at Aldi.  That wasn’t the surprise, but they did need some sprucing up, which led to this article.

So What are You Supposed to Do With Fresh Flowers?

Before You Put the Flowers Into Your Vase

  1. Remove dead leaves
  2. Remove all leaves that will be below the water when you put the flowers in your vase
  3. Wash your vase with soap and water
  4. Put the floral preservative powder in the vase
  5. Add a little warm water in the bottom and swirl to dissolve the powder
  6. Add the rest of the warm water
  7. Cut the stems to the length you prefer UNDER RUNNING WATER
  8. Place freshly cut stems in the vase!

Flowers can now be purchased and shipped directly to you from flower farms all over the country!  If you order flowers in this way, it is very important that you cut at least 1 or 2 inches from the stems under running water prior to arranging them.   This will allow them to more quickly absorb water and last longer in the vase

Throughout the Week

  1. Make sure no leaves are in the water (doing this will prevent that stinky sewer smell, which is a result of decaying leaves)
  2. rinse out the vase to remove dead debris(prevents bacterial growth)
  3. Change the water once every 2 or 3 days (prevents bacterial growth that can clog up stems and prevent them from being able to absorb water)
  4. Re-cut the stems under running water once every 2 or 3 days so your stems can more easily slurp up water to stay hydrated and fresh)
  5. Trim away dead flowers and buds
  6. remove yellowing leaves
  7. Make it a goal to throw out before the water gets stinky, and it will make it easier for others to buy flowers for you!  It’s ok to let them go!  I have a hard time letting my cut flowers go too.  But over the years, I am getting better.  If there are still one or 2 good flowers left, I will cut them from the bouquet, throw the rest out, and put the short stemmed survivors in a shot glass or a bud vase.


  • Some flowers just have shorter vase life than others, so it’s ok to throw them out before the rest (roses do not last nearly as long as carnations)
  • Some flowers can last up to a month in the vase!
  • Keep flowers away from fresh fruit to help them last longer(fruit releases ethylene gas as it ripens, which makes flowers ripen or age more quickly)
  • keeping your bouquet out of direct sunlight will increase vase life
  • keeping your bouquet in a cool spot in your house will increase vase life
  • keeping your bouquet away from heat sources will increase vase life

So What was my Big Surprise?

Something every flower loving girl needs!  A new bouquet rack on wheels!  It holds 6 french style black flower buckets, and can be easily set up anywhere.  It’s something I always wished we had when we sold flowers at the farmers market, but they were so expensive!  We were driving home from church a few weeks ago, and I saw the rack at the resale shop on the way home from church!  I was joking around about buying it, as we drove by.  I never did because I thought Tim would blow a gasket for sure, if I came home with something like that!  To say that I was surprised he bought it is quite an understatement!


Self Watering Seed Starting Kits

I found something interesting today related to seed starting.  The older I get, the more I think I should simplify.

I was looking around on line for some cool indoor containers that would be fun to grow basil seeds and found this cute little kit.  It seems a bit pricey, but it looks sleek and contained.

This unit is self contained and includes:

  • a grow light
  • a self watering system with water reservoir
  • cartridges of special soil with seeds already embedded in them (evidently these are re-usable)


How it works:

According to the video, you pop in a pre-planted seed thingy that has the perfect amount of nutrients, special soil, etc. all in a cartridge of sorts.

  1. pop in a cartridge,
  2. fill a reservoir with water,
  3. and plug it in.
  4. Self watering seeds are a go.


Who Could Benefit from a Product Like This:

It could potentially be awesome if you are one of those crazy busy people who wants fresh basil, but can’t handle one more thing to remember to take care of.  Or if you are going to be gone for a few days, and don’t want to have your seedlings dry out, this might be something worth checking out.

The company claims you can grow your own cherry tomatoes in it, but I am highly skeptical about that.  Do they have a clue as to how huge a cherry tomato plant gets?  Even if it’s a super dwarf variety meant for containers, I would still not plant a cherry tomato in it, unless you plan to just start the plant and then plant it outside once it gets about 5 inches tall or so.

Plants that I think you would have the most success with using this unit:

  • basil,
  • cilantro,
  • arugula,
  • mizuna (Japanese mustard greens),
  • radishes(if using for microgreens),
  • beets(for microgreens),
  • basically, any kind of plant that you would like to eat regularly for microgreens.

Why I think small leafy greens would work best:

The reason I think it could work well for herbs that you eat regularly, is because you can maintain a small enough size plant that is compatible with the size of the unit because you will be eating your greens regularly.

I would love to test this product out and give a review!  I think it would be great for a city dweller with a small apartment or condo who doesn’t want to mess with a huge garden, but enjoys being able to pick a few tasty herbs to garnish meals, or simply to scratch and sniff!

What do you guys think of the look?

I found this little gizmo intriguing.  What do you think of it?  It’s a self-watering seed starting kit. There is a short video description of how it works with a time-lapse growing video to see it in action.  Click the pic if you want to learn more from the manufacturer.


Tip of the Day: Hunting for the Best Asparagus Bundle at the Grocers

It’s Valentine’s Day, and I have a funny plant fact for you.  Did you know that Asparagus is considered an aphrodisiac?  Evidently, some people consider it’s shape to be phallic, and in early France, it was once tradition for a bridegroom to consume 3 courses of asparagus before his wedding night!!!   In Elizabethan times, Asparagus was thought to “provoketh Venus”

If you are in the mood for love today, you are in luck!

Asparagus is on sale at Fareway for $1.88 per bundle!!!! EEEEP!

So, I was just at the grocery store and guess what?  Asparagus must be in season in California or some part of the US, because it’s on sale!!!!  Normally, it’s about $4/bundle!

I was very excited, so naturally, I bought some!

Today’s Tip is super easy!

Question: How do you find the best bundle of asparagus?

Answer:  Look for the bundle that has it’s cut ends still in the tray of water in the cooler section!  That’s it!

Reason:  If the cut ends are still in water, the asparagus stems will be nicely hydrated, plump and juicy for when you cook them.

Question: What if there are none in a tray with water?


  • When you get home, re-cut about a half an inch off the cut ends (UNDER RUNNING WATER) and then place them in a glass with about 2 or 3 inches of water.
  • You can put them back in the fridge in the glass,
  • or if you plan to eat them that night, just leave them out on the counter.


  • Think of your own body, if you get a cut, you bleed for a bit, and if you are an average, healthy person, eventually, a scab forms, and you stop bleeding.  The same thing holds true with cut plant stems, like Asparagus spears!
  • If the wound/cut part, is dried out, or scabbed over, so to speak, it will be less able to absorb water and rehydrate when you put them in a glass of water.
  • Re-cutting the stems under running water, is kind of like starting a siphon for the Asparagus stems, making it easier for them to slurp up a gulp of water throughout the day/days prior to cooking them.

Quick Roasted Asparagus Recipe:

Heat oven to 425 degrees F

Ingredients:  Fresh Asparagus, Olive Oil, Kosher Salt


  1. Rinse Asparagus spears under cool water
  2. Starting from the top of the stem, gently bend the stem, working your way down to the cut end.
  3. When the stem snaps, keep the top end, and discard the bottom.  This process will prevent you from having woody/chewy pieces that are not fun to bite into!
  4. Grab a cookie sheet
  5. Place a sheet of tin foil on top of the cookie sheet
  6. Place Asparagus on top of the sheet
  7. Drizzle Asparagus with a few tablespoons of olive oil
  8. Toss Asparagus until coated with olive oil
  9. Bake at 425 for about 15 to 20 minutes
  10. Remove from oven when Asparagus is bright green, and still slightly firm, but juicy on the inside.
  11. Sprinkle with Kosher salt, toss, and devour!
  12. The same thing can be done using a grill basket out on the grill!

Did You Know?

  • Asparagus is a urinary system stimulant
  • Asparagus is high in vitamin C
  • Asparagus is high in beta carotene
  • Asparagus is high in the mineral, selenium
  • You can eat a whole pound of it at the cost of only 120 calories! If you leave out the butter, and sauces, etc
  • If you have a lot of patience, you can grow asparagus from seed, but you have to tack on an extra year before you can harvest
  • Gardening guides from the 18th century once recommended that a small family should plant 2 acres of asparagus!  That’s a lot of asparagus!!!!
  • Asparagus harvested from your own garden is thought to contain 66% more vitamin C than Asaragus that is shipped across country, like from CA to NY for example.
  • Asparagus is a member of the Lily family
  • Asparagus is a perennial, meaning, it comes back year after year
  • A well maintained Asparagus bed can be prolific for more than a hundred years!
If you would like to try growing your own asparagus this year, here is a link to a popular, disease resistant, and prolific variety. You may be able to order now, and then the crowns will be shipped in the spring. Otherwise, bookmark this page, and order in March or April.

Order Purple Asparagus Seeds

Order Green Asparagus Seeds 

When Should I Start Tomato Seeds?

This is one of my favorites! Pink flesh with hardly any seeds in it, low acidity, and huge! To order on Amazon, click the pic.

When DOES one start tomato seeds?

That’s a good question!  I have had many people ask me about this, especially momma friends who would like to do this as a project with their kids.

Roma Tomatoes are a great for making sauces, and canning because they produce a ton of fruit and the fruit is very meaty, resulting in thick delicious sauces. Click the pic to order from Amazon.
When should I buy tomato seeds?

Usually, the best time to buy them is in January of the year that you plant to grow the tomatoes.  That’s when the seed catalogs start rolling out, and garden centers start putting out the seed racks.  I would recommend taking your kids to the garden center to help you select seeds they think would be fun to try!  But if you would rather just order on line, I have provided a few links for you.

This is the Hillbilly Potato Leaf Heirloom Tomato. It has beautiful flamey striations in the fruit and is a delicious blend of flavor between a zesty red and a milder yellow tomato. Click the pick to order seed from Amazon.


How long does it take to grow a tomato plant from seed?

To get a tomato plant that is big enough to grow outside, similar in size to a plant that might come in a 4pack at the garden center…..8-12 weeks

Growing Time Depends on what variety of Tomato You Grow,

so look at the back of the tomato seed packet, and the directions will tell you how many weeks to start indoors before you plan to plant the tomatoes outside.

When Should I plant my Tomato Seeds?

This answer depends on where you live.

  1. Look at the  back of the seed packet
  2. find out how many weeks your tomato seeds take to grow 
  3. Find out when the FROST FREE DATE is in your area
  4. pick a date that you plan to plant your tomatoes outside (WHEN THERE IS NO MORE DANGER OF FROST)
  5. Count backwards from your outdoor planting date, the number of weeks it says on the packet.
  6. VOILA! That’s when you should plant the tomato seeds!

If you live where I do, in Iowa, the date you start your seeds will be later than someone who wants to start seeds down in Kansas City.  The reasoning is because of FROST!

Tomatoes are weenies when it comes to frost!  Nothing is worse than to nurture a crop of baby plants for weeks and then to set them out too early only to be destroyed by a late frost!  It’s devastating!  Be wary of planting your baby plants out on the first nice day we get in the spring.  They need to be acclimated, or hardened off to their new outdoor environment.

In horticulture, we use a term called THE FROST FREE DATE:  the date after which your area should no longer have chances of frost that could kill all of your seedlings.


Frost Free Date for the Quad Cities:  May 10th ish:  It’s always iffy, I usually wait until around the 15th or 20th just to be safe, unless if I have a plan to cover my seedlings in the event that we do get a late frost.


I buy a packet of seed that says to start seeds indoors 8 weeks before the frost free date in my area.  My frost free date is May 10th.  So I count backwards 8 weeks from May 10th and I get March 10th.  I should start my seeds on or around March 10th.  If I would like to have a larger tomato plant when it comes time to plant outside, then I would want to start my seeds a few weeks earlier.

What kind of pot do I need to start tomato seeds in?

I have tried lots of things, and failed at lots of things in this department.  I have had the most success with peat pellets by Jiffy.  They are compressed discs of peat moss with a little hole in the center where you can just drop the seed in!  Then you put them in a saucer, or an old clear salad box that you get from the grocery store, you know, the ones with the lid on them, and the whole box is clear?  They make a perfect miniature greenhouse for your tomato plants.

1.You set the discs in the salad box,

2.pour about an inch or 2 of water in the bottom,

3.and they will expand to about 4 times their size.

4.Then you can drop your seeds in the hole in the center of the disc,

5.close the lid to the box, and you have your very own growing chamber!

These are what the Jiffy peat pellets look like before they get wet. Click the pick if you want to order online.


When Should I Prune My Korean Lilac Bush?

I just thinned mine out today, while it is in full bloom!  Giving it a little trim now shows off those lovely purple flowers that sometimes get lost under the leaves.  The picture below shows the effects of a little trim.  The right side shows before the trim and the left shows after the trim. My Lilac now looks like it spent the morning getting fluffed and buffed at the spa!  Subscribe to get a free video tutorial to see how I gave this lovely shrub its annual beauty treatment.