Margaret Lauterbach

Pepicha a worthy sub for cilantro

Margaret Lauterbach
Margaret Lauterbach

One of the best plants I’ve grown this season is an annual cilantro substitute called Pepicha.

This plant does not bolt in hot weather, as cilantro (green coriander) does. Pepicha does not have broad leaves similar to those of parsley or cilantro, but has very narrow leaves and a growth habit similar to that of a skinny tarragon. I think Pepicha’s soft thin leaves are more desirable than culantro, which has spiky leaves.

I think it tastes at least as good as cilantro, better than Papaloquelite or Papalo, although the seeds of Pepicha resemble those of Papalo (and dandelions). Papalo also produces in hot weather, but its flavor is different from that of plain cilantro. Some folks find a taste of Papalo a combination of cilantro and arugula, so that herb has its fans for that reason.

Richters, a Canadian herb seed and plant vendor, recommends using Pepicha in salsas, stuffings, salads, stews, on poultry, fish, etc. I used it in a Vietnamese dish, Bo Kho (beef stew), adding it at the end of cooking, and it was delicious. Richters seedsmen also say it is useful medicinally.

Petunias: To die or not to die?

The approach of autumn always poses a dilemma about geraniums: let them die, pot them or just pull and let them hang in a shed or garage for the winter? You know that overwintered geraniums are not going to be as attractive in spring as the varieties grown in local greenhouses, many new varieties introduced.

If a geranium is a treasured plant because of the identity of the giver or because it bears the same name as a family member, for example, you may want to keep it. Provided they survive the onslaught of spider mites, dust and dry conditions, mature geraniums grow too leggy to be attractive indoors over winter. You can start a new plant from a tip cutting, or cut the plant back severely, and now is the best time to do either or both so it will be settled before you have to bring it indoors to avoid frost.

Cut back scented or zonal geraniums (annual Pelargoniums with a darkened band of tissue on each leaf, echoing the shape of the leaf) to just above the bottom set of leaves, then knock it out of its pot, one hand covering soil and fingers encircling the plant, and either bang the pot’s rim hard on a surface or slap its bottom hard with a trowel. When it pops out of the pot, use a serrated knife to slice off perimeter roots. If it’s root bound, make four vertical cuts (such as north, south, east and west) into the root ball to allow roots to stretch out. You can remove a lot of roots since you’ve removed a lot of foliage.

Put some new potting soil into the bottom of the emptied pot, then center the new root ball in the pot. The goal is to keep about an inch of space between the root ball and the pot. Then fill in that space with new potting soil tamped down, leaving some space around the top of the root ball for water.

If you’d like more plants of that variety, you can take cuttings from tips of the plant you’ve just cut off. Use a plain sharp knife or a single-edge razor blade. Cut tips 2 or 3 inches in length, then many people lay them singly in a well-ventilated spot to heal or callus over the cuts, then remove leaves except for the tip leaf, as well as the little flaps on the stem. I prefer to immediately plant cuttings and use a rooting hormone. I usually dip into Rootone, flick off the excess, then push the cutting into a hole prepared by a pencil or chopstick thrust into the potting mix, and then press soil around the new cutting.

Water lightly until new growth is visible. Be sure to bring your pots indoors when frost is forecast, for these lovely plants do not survive cold weather.

Get petunias ready for winter

Now is also the time to prepare petunias for winter bloom. Cut vigorous tips about 3 inches long from your favorite scented petunia, and dip bottoms into rooting hormone such as Rootone, flick off excess, and push them into potting mix holes prepared by pencil, then firm the potting mix around the new cuttings. These should not have flower or seed buds on them, since you want them to concentrate their energy on root formation. Keep the potting mix moist until you see new growth.

They should start blooming in December if potted and moved indoors now. If you try to transplant a growing petunia and bring it indoors, it will defoliate, drop leaves, buds, etc., for quite a time as it tries to adjust to a different home.

Send garden questions to or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

Win a copy of Margaret’s book

The Agriculture Department at the Western Idaho Fair is giving away four of Margaret’s autographed books. Look for the “Enter Here” sign in the front half of the North Expo building. The winners will be chosen and notified at the close of the fair.