» Archive for July, 2014

The Hardiest of Houseplants

Friday, July 11th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Thin fruit trees after “June drop” when the trees partially thin themselves. Thin apples to 6 inches apart and peaches to 4 inches apart. Pears don’t need thinning.
    • Garlic should be harvested when the leafy tops turn yellow and fall over; air-dry bulbs, remove tops and store bulbs in a cool place.
    • Roses need water and fertilizer to keep blooming through the summer. Watch for pests and diseases and treat as soon as you see trouble.
    • Birdbaths will attract our feathered friends to your backyard so you can enjoy them close-up. Place them a few feet from a bushy shrub to give the birds protection.
    • Prune rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas to shape them now. If you wait much longer, you will be cutting off next year’s flowers.

The Hardiest of Houseplants

There are houseplants that even brown thumbed gardeners can enjoy. They require minimal care and are able to put up with irregular watering, low-light conditions and occasional feeding.

Some of the best and easiest houseplants are in the Dracaena family. Dracaena fragrans “Massangeana” (corn plant) and D. deremensis ‘Janet Craig’ adapt well to low light conditions yet remain attractive. Both have wide strap-like leaves. The first with a yellow stripe down the center and the latter, a dark lush green.

Dracaena Warneckii is a handsome plant with distinctive white stripes down the center of each wide leaf. There is also a “Lemon Lime” variety that has dramatic green and yellow stripes on its foliage.

Dracaena marginatas have thin, dark leaves. They make elegant, tall plants for a corner or to add a vertical dimension to a wall or entryway.

Pachira, or Money Tree, is hardy plant and extremely tolerant of low light and dryness. With braided trunks and large, 5-leaflet leaves, these plants can reach 7 feet in height, so give room to grow.

Aglaonema, or Chinese Evergreen, 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 watering but thrives with lots of water.

Spathiphyllum is one of the few plants that will flower well indoors. It has large dark
green leaves on slender stems and its flower resembles a calla lily. It is known as Peace Lily or White Flag.

Sansevieria or Snake Plant is almost indestructible. It will tolerate low light levels and little watering; during winter it only needs watering every couple of months. It will rot easily if overwatered.

Chamaedorea elegans (Neanthe Bella Palm or Parlor Palm) is a small palm tree, growing slowly to 3 feet tall with slender, cane-like stems. It is often grown as a houseplant, and was particularly popular in the Victorian era. It can be grown in low light, but it grows faster with bright, indirect light.

For hanging plants it’s hard to beat trailing philodendrons or pothos. Philodendron cordatum is a tough, long-lived, trailing plant. They can live for 10 years or more in the same 6-inch pot. It requires very little care.

Pothos is similar in appearance to the trailing philodendron. Its leaves have bright yellow streaks on top of an apple green background. A white and green variety is called ‘Marble Queen.’ Both will take low light conditions and will grow to 20 feet or more, if you let them. Just keep the soil evenly moist.

There’s a houseplant for almost every condition. Houseplants beautify and freshen the air in our indoor environments.

Herbs in the Landscape

Friday, July 11th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Fragrant star jasmine is in full bloom right now. Plant one in a semi-shaded spot where you can enjoy its lovely perfume.
    • Shear hedges now to promote lush, dense growth.
    • Check young trees and fruit trees for suckers and water sprouts. Rub suckers off as they appear and cut water sprouts off apple and pear trees.
    • Pepper plants should be fertilized when the first blossoms open.
    • Fertilize fuchsias weekly and keep faded fuchsia blooms pinched off for continuous color all summer.

Herbs in the Landscape

Although many people think that herbs belong on the windowsill or in the vegetable garden, herbs also make fine landscaping plants. Many attractive shrubs and ground covers are herbal plants that can add beauty to the landscape while providing foliage and flowers for herbal uses.

Herbs are generally easy to grow and require less watering and attention than most other plants. Their aromatic oils make them relatively immune to insect attack, and for this same reason, deer usually leave them alone. Their fragrance in the garden is another reason to make use of them.

Some low-growing herbs make good lawn substitutes in small areas and around stepping stones. Chamomile and woolly thyme are very good in sunny areas. They can be mowed occasionally if they get taller than you want. Corsican mint, which forms a moss-like mat, in sun or partial shade emits a very strong, pleasant odor of mint when lightly brushed. It is the mint used to flavor liqueurs.

Creeping thyme, lemon thyme and silver thyme are very drought tolerant and make a mounding mat for full sun. Prostrate rosemary grows about 18 inches tall and is excellent for planting on hillsides and for draping over walls. All types of rosemary can be used for culinary purposes and are very deer resistant.

Lavenders, upright rosemary and sage are all lovely shrubs for dry sunny areas. There are many types of lavenders to choose from that grow between 18 inches and 4 feet tall. Lavender can be used as a foundation plant or to create a hedge and will still provide you with delightfully flavored flowers and leaves.

Upright rosemary can grow to 4 to 6 feet tall and makes a nice clipped hedge. Culinary sage has gray-green leaves. There are also varieties with variegated yellow and green leaves, or silver and purple leaves. They make a small mound, about 2 feet tall.

Santolina, or lavender cotton, is a gray, mounding plant that is useful for borders. Catmint has soft, gray-green foliage and lavender-blue flowers that make a showy display.

Foliage is one of the most interesting aspects of herbs for landscaping. Several members of the artemesia family are particularly striking with their silver or gray leaves. Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’ has finely cut, silver-gray foliage that is fragrant and it makes a fine background plant at 3 feet tall. Germander makes a low mound with small rosy-purple flowers in dense heads.

One of the largest herb plants is the Mediterranean bay laurel, Laurus nobilis. It is an evergreen shrub growing 12 feet tall in a dense, tapering cone. This shrub has the bay leaves used in cooking, and it makes a good screening plant.

Two of the most interesting flowering herbs are bee balm (also called Monarda and bergamot) and purple coneflower. Bee balm leaves make a fine tea, and purple coneflower, the familiar Echinacea of many herbal remedies, is a long-blooming perennial that can be a great addition to any garden. It is favorite of monarch butterflies and should be in every butterfly garden.

While most herbs prefer a sunny location, many will do well in part sun or shade. Sweet woodruff — used in potpourris and as a moth deterrent — is an excellent shady area ground cover that cares little about soil conditions.

Whether you want a formal herb garden or a hillside of fragrant herbs, you’ll find herbs to be useful and attractive plants for landscaping.

Water Gardening

Friday, July 11th, 2014 by Jenny Watts
    • Petunias, in bright pink, red and purple, will add beauty and color to sunny borders all through the summer.
    • Earwigs are out and about and hungry. Control them with the new “Sluggo Plus”, which has the natural, bacteria-based spinosad added to the original iron phosphate formula.
    • When fuchsia blooms fade remove the whole flower stem to prevent it from developing seed pods which reduces continued blooming.
    • Feed rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias with an acid plant food to encourage lush growth. Pinch or prune to promote full, dense growth.

Add a Peaceful Pond to your Landscape

The sight and sound of water has always drawn the interest of people, and adds an appealing element to a garden. Water gardens can include fountains, waterfalls, small ponds and elaborate combinations of rock work and lighting. Any pool of water can become home to plants and possibly fish, attracting a variety of water creatures, birds and butterflies. A container on a deck may be all that you need.

A larger pond should have marshy or shallow water areas, as well as deeper areas. In the shallow areas live the frogs and newts, beetles and other little creatures along with marsh plants like iris, cannas, arrowhead plant and rushes. Ideally, the marshy area should comprise about one-third of the area of the pond.

The deeper waters of the pond are the home of fish, water lilies and other aquatic plants. Make this section at least 2 feet deep. Fish are good scavengers. They clean up debris and help control mosquito larva, and other insects.

Small ponds use water only by evaporation. A waterfall or fountain can be created using a pump to recirculate the water.

Locate the pond where it receives 5 to 6 hours of direct sunshine a day. Most aquatic plants and fish need plenty of sun to thrive.

If possible, place it away from trees so that the falling leaves and seeds won’t foul the water. The pond should have a surface area of at least 20 square feet (4 feet by 5 feet) so that it will be able to create a balanced water community. The larger the pond the more natural it becomes.

The soil that you remove can be used to landscape the area around the pond or to construct a waterfall. A garden with a natural slope lends itself very well to a waterfall or cascading water feature. Heavy rainfall will cause the pond to fill up, so be sure to install a proper overflow pipe.

Do not locate a pond in a low, wet spot. When the water table is high in the winter, the force of the water underneath will lift the rubber liner, damaging the pond.

Water gardens open up many new possibilities for unusual plants and garden effects. From water lilies and water irises to floating plants and bog plants to go around the edges of the pond, your choice of water plants is wide and varied.

There are two types of water lilies: tropicals and hardies. Hardy water lilies do well in our climate and survive the winters in their pots at the bottom of the pond. Their flowers bloom throughout the summer, with each blossom lasting three or four days. The large, round leaves and splendid flowers float on the surface of the water, opening in the morning and closing in the afternoon. Flowers come in red, white, yellow and pink.

Water lilies require five to six hours of direct sunlight each day. They need 6 to 18 inches of still water over the root ball. Roots are planted in heavy garden soil with no compost.

A garden pond will become more beautiful over time and you will find that it is one of your favorite spots in the garden. Whether you tuck a decorative fountain near the entrance of your home or create a backyard habitat with a pond and waterfall, you’ll find each day enhanced when you add a water garden to your landscape.