» Archive for December, 2010

Holiday Symbols

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Check your nursery for stocking stuffers: kids’ gloves, watering cans, bonsai figurines, seeds and bulbs.
    • Spray for peach leaf curl with copper sulfate. Peach and nectarine trees may suffer from this fungus disease without a protective spray.
    • Water living Christmas trees frequently while they are indoors, and put them outside after two weeks.
    • Wind chimes make wonderful gifts that fill the air with music whenever the wind blows.

Living Holiday Symbols

December is a very special time of year. Food and gifts, music and lights, warmth and love surround us. The clans will gather and cherished traditions will be shared.

Some of our traditions go back centuries or even millennia. Two hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Druids used mistletoe to celebrate the coming of winter. They would gather this parasitic evergreen plant and use it to decorate their homes. They believed the plant had special healing powers. Scandinavians also gathered mistletoe and thought of it as a plant of peace and harmony.

The Christmas Tree originated in Germany in the 16th century. It was common for the Germanic people to decorate fir trees, both inside and out, with roses, apples, and colored paper. It is believed that Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, was the first to light a Christmas tree with candles.

The poinsettia is a relatively recent Christmas symbol. Mexican legend holds that these beautiful red flowers, thought to resemble the shape of the Star of Bethlehem, first grew miraculously for a poor child who wanted to bring a gift to the manger scene at the village church but did not have any money. They were introduced to the United States in the early 19th century by Joel Poinsett, the first United States ambassador to Mexico.

Representing immortality and seen as a good omen, holly was considered sacred by the ancient Romans and used as a gift during the festival of Saturnalia. Gradually, holly became a Christmas symbol as Christianity became the dominant religion. Because the holly leaf has sharp, pointed edges, it has come to represent Jesus’ crown of thorns with the red berries representing the blood He shed on the cross.

Jewish traditions give special importance to fruiting plants which gave sustenance to the people. Thus wheat, barley, grapevines, figs, pomegranates and olive trees have special significance. These are plants that come from the dry climate of the Mediterranean region.

Of course, many of the symbols that are part of our traditions at this time of year come from ancient Solstice celebrations. At the Solstice, with the days at last turning a corner towards spring, evergreen leaves long ago took on a special significance. Greenery brought indoors in the depths of winter became a symbol of continuing growth and rebirth. The Yule Log, traditionally oak, acknowledged the return of the sun, warmth and light and the long-burning log would bring good luck if lit on the first try.

This year as we gather together to celebrate the holidays and their symbols of hope and love, let us enjoy the light and warmth that we give to each other at this time and throughout the year.

Hardy Houseplants

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Living Christmas trees are now available. The slower growing spruces can be used for several Christmases before you need to plant them.
    • Holiday Amaryllis are easy to bring into bloom and they make lovely gifts.
    • Stop peach leaf curl by spraying now with copper sulfate to help prevent this disfiguring disease from attacking your trees next spring.
    • Wild bird feeders will attract migrating birds so you can enjoy the pleasure of their company.

The Hardiest Houseplants

Houseplants brighten our environment, especially in the winter time. Many houseplants require minimal care and are able to put up with adverse conditions, like not being watered regularly, low-light conditions and not being fed on a regular  schedule. Here are some of these  “toughies “:

There are many varieties of Dracaena, like the corn plant, with a yellow stripe down the center of each leaf, and “Janet Craig”, a compact plant with dark green leaves, that will adapt well to low light conditions yet remain attractive. Dracaena marginata has slender leaves and attractive trunks that make it a fine upright plant.

Philodendrons are a large family of plants that take adverse conditions. There is the trailing philodendron with its dark green, heart-shaped leaves, and the split-leaf philodendron which has large, attractive leaves and needs a sturdy stake. A new variety of trailing philodendron is called ‘Brazil’ and it has attractive variegated leaves.

Chinese evergreen is a tropical foliage plant is valued for its lush green leaves that often have silver or cream variegations on them. It is one of the best for low light situations and will tolerate light or heavy watering.

Spathiphyllum is one of the few plants that will flower well indoors. It is known by several common names including white flag and peace lily. It has large dark green leaves on slender stems and its white flowers resemble calla lilies.

Pothos is similar in appearance to the trailing philodendron.  Its leaves are brightly splashed yellow on top of an apple green background. It grows to be a very long, trailing plant that can be trained around a macrame hanger or up the wall. It will take lower light conditions and just needs the soil evenly moist. It’s sister plant is called Marble Queen and it has green leaves splashed with white. It is also very hardy.

Parlor palm is one of the smaller palms, eventually growing to 3 feet tall. It is slow-growing and takes low light, dry soil and varying house temperatures. They are easy to care for and live for many years.

Sansevieria, also known as mother-in-law’s tongue or snake plant, is a tall, slender plant with thick waxy leaves that likes to be pot bound. It is excellent in the home as an air-cleaning plant and almost impossible to kill.

Spider plant, or air plant, is extremely adaptable and will even grow in low light if necessary. The variegated leaver are attractive and the plantlets that emerge on long stalks from the mother plant can be cut off and rooted to make new plants. They are very good at cleaning the air.

The “Money Tree”, Pachira, looks a lot like the familiar Umbrella Tree, but is much easier to grow. With its braided trunk and broad leaves, it is very attractive and may eventually grow to be a small tree. It is durable and versatile and makes a lovely gift plant.

If you have a difficult, low-light situation or you find houseplants hard to grow, try some of these beauties and enjoy their greenery around you.

Gardening by the Moon

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Choose living Christmas trees now. Most will be able to be kept in their containers and used for one or two more years as a Christmas tree.
    • Spring bulbs can still be planted now. They make lovely gifts for friends and relatives.
    • Fruit trees can be planted now from containers while the soil is easy to dig.
    • Spray for peach leaf curl with copper sulfate. Peach and nectarine trees may suffer from this fungus disease without a protective spray.
    • Clean up rose bushes by removing spent flowers and raking up old leaves, but wait until February for heavy pruning.

Gardening by the Moon

Since ancient times, our ancestors have watched the phases of the moon and observed the behavior of seeds and young plants. As they did so, they saw that seeds germinated more quickly when they were planted at certain times. They also saw that some seedlings grew more vigorously than others, and that some crops fared better when planted at certain times than at other times. Years of observation led them to the conclusion that the phases of the moon were responsible for these differences.

Indeed the moon’s position in the sky does appear to influence plant behavior. And for this reason many gardeners plant and garden “by the moon”.

Astrological gardening, as it is called, is an elaborate system involving both the phases of the moon and the signs of the zodiac. As the moon moves around the earth, it passes through each of the 12 constellations of the zodiac every month. “The moon is in Pisces” means that the moon is in the same part of the sky as the constellation Pisces. The moon moves into a new constellation every 2-3 days.

Every gardening task has its optimum time from planting seeds to harvesting crops and killing weeds. For best results, planting, and other garden jobs, should be done when the moon is in the right phase and also in the right constellation for that activity.

The best time for planting above ground crops, like broccoli, cabbage, lettuce and spinach, is between the new (dark) moon and the first quarter. The most fertile signs of the zodiac are Cancer, Scorpio, Taurus, Libra or Pisces. So planting these crops will be most successful when the moon is in this phase and in one of these zodiac signs.

Between the first quarter and the full moon, plants with a fruit or pod, like beans, squash and tomatoes, do best. Flower seeds also germinate best at this time, especially in the sign of Libra.

The week following the full moon is a good time to plant bulbs and root crops along with perennials and grape vines. This is also a good time for transplanting, since active root growth is strong. It is also the best time for pruning, especially under the sign of Scorpio.

Between the last quarter and the new moon, activities like weeding, cultivating and pest control can be done during a barren sign like Leo, Virgo, Aquarius and Gemini. It is also a good time for harvesting.

If all this sounds too complicated, that’s because it is a very complex system that has taken hundreds of years to work out. Fortunately though, others have done the work of sorting this out and have put it together in a calendar called “Gardening by the Moon 2011”. It gives you day-by-day suggestions for all your gardening activities based on the cycles of the moon to keep you on track with your gardening jobs.

Get ready for your best gardening year ever by taking advantage of the secrets of gardening by the moon.