» Archive for December, 2016

Houseplants for the Holidays

Friday, December 23rd, 2016 by Jenny Watts
    •  Wild bird feeders will attract migrating birds so you can enjoy the pleasure of their company.
    •  Wind chimes make wonderful gifts that fill the air with music whenever the wind blows.
    •  Fragrant daphne is an early-blooming shrub that will delight you with its strongly scented blooms each spring.  Plant it in well-drained soil.
    •  Stop peach leaf curl by spraying during the dry spells with copper-oil spray to help prevent this disfiguring disease from attacking your trees next spring.
    •  Daffodils and tulips make fine stocking stuffers as do gardening gloves and pot stickers.

Houseplants for the Holidays

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 the  “toughies.”

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.

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.

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 and remain very attractive. Dracaena marginata has slender leaves and attractive trunks that make it a fine upright plant. 

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. A new variety, Domino, has dark green leaves splashed with white.

African Mask Alocasia gets its name from its resemblance to the hand carved ceremonial masks found in Africa, but it actually comes from the Philippines. It is a striking accent plant and an eye-catching addition to your collection.

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.

For a hanging plant it’s hard to beat the Pothos. Similar in appearance to the trailing philodendron, its leaves are brightly marked with 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, called Marble Queen, has green leaves splashed with white. It is also very hardy. There is now a new compact variety as well.

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

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.

Gardener’s Gift List

Friday, December 23rd, 2016 by Jenny Watts
    • Check your nursery for stocking stuffers: kid’s gloves, watering cans, bonsai figurines, seeds and bulbs.
    • Water living Christmas trees frequently while they are indoors, and put them outside after a week or ten days.
    • Sasanqua camellias have lovely, delicate flowers that bloom through the winter months. Find a place for one of these hardy shrubs in the landscape.
    • Primroses and pansies will add color to your flower beds and containers all winter.

Gardener’s Gift List

Cold winter days bring us indoors but many of us look forward to warmer days when we can spend time outdoors – in our gardens. Gardeners love to receive gifts that they can look forward to using out of doors. So here are some ideas for the gardeners in your life.

Good tools make a job much easier. Quality digging forks and spades are at the top of the wish list. The spade is essential for “double-digging” – adding organic materials to the soil to loosen the soil and add nutrients. The spading fork is easiest to use in light loamy or sandy soils, or in heavy soil that has been well-worked.

Hand tools are essential for all gardeners. Choose the best aluminum or steel-bladed trowel available. Flimsy, low-priced tools won’t last one single use in tough soil – they just bend out of shape. A hand trowel, a 3-pronged cultivator and a weeder make a nice “tool trio”. The Japanese Hori-Hori weeder knife is especially strong and versatile.

Looking toward pruning season, there are few tools more important to a gardener than a good pair of pruning shears. Felco® has long been the leader in pruning shears with a dozen different models to accommodate large hands, small hands, lefties, or equipped with a rotating handle to reduce fatigue. A Felco® pruning saw is a must-have for every orchardist. All Felco® tools come with a lifetime guarantee, and replacement blades, springs, etc. are available to keep them in tip-top condition.

Of course, a good pair of gloves is important to any gardener. The elbow-length, Thorngard gloves are great for pruning rosebushes and dealing with blackberries. The popular Nitrile Touch® gloves are loved by many gardeners. And there are even Kid’s Gloves, for the little gardener in the family.

The Garden Bench and Kneeler is an excellent gift for those who find kneeling somewhat difficult. The padded bench can be flipped over to become a kneeling pad with upright supports that serve as handles to get up and down. The cushioned surface is gentle on the knees while working in your garden. The kneeler folds up for easy storage.

We all enjoy time spent on the patio or deck surrounded by pots of flowers and maybe a water feature. Beautiful ceramic pots make nice gifts as do statuary of all kinds: birdbaths, angels, dragons, Buddhas, Madonnas, turtles and animals of all kinds.

Wind chimes are loved by many as they add soft music to the atmosphere when a gentle breeze blows.

Bird feeders are popular in the winter and spring as they attract and feed a variety of migrating birds. There are many kinds of feeders both for seed-eaters and for hummingbirds and orioles. Bird houses that are designed with the preferences of each type of bird in mind will give a home to the friends you enjoy the most. A birdbath looks lovely in any garden and is a must for the bird enthusiast.

Add a gardening calendar and you and your gardening friends can look forward to another great year of gardening pleasures. The Gardening by the Moon Calendar gives detailed timing for appropriate gardening activities, and the Old Farmer’s Almanac® is a helpful and fun book to have on hand.

We wish you all a very happy holiday season, and hope we can help you be successful gardeners in the year ahead!

Under the Mistletoe

Friday, December 23rd, 2016 by Jenny Watts
    • Spring bulbs can still be planted now. They make lovely gifts for friends and relatives.
    • Be sure to water outdoor container plants. This dry, freezing weather can damage them.
    • Living Christmas trees make a fine tradition. Slow-growing Colorado spruce trees can be used for 3 to 5 years before they need to be planted. Water them every other day while indoors.
    • Persimmons look beautiful hanging on the bare branches of trees. Consider planting one in your orchard.
    • Fruit trees can be planted now from containers while the soil is easy to dig.

Under the Mistletoe

The tradition of hanging mistletoe in the house goes back to the times of the ancient Druids. It is supposed to possess mystical powers that bring good luck to the household and ward off evil spirits. It was also used as a sign of love and friendship in Norse mythology and that’s where the custom of kissing under mistletoe comes from.

The pretty mistletoe that brightens our Christmas season is not a garden plant but a parasite that grows on trees. It is generally found on deciduous trees, particularly oaks.

Mistletoe is a semi-parasitic plant that manufactures its own food through photosynthesis, but depends on its host plant for water and minerals. The mistletoe that infects oak trees is not terribly harmful to the trees. After all, a good parasite should never kill its host, because it would thereby kill itself.

The plant produces sticky white, pink or red berries that are sweet and attractive to birds. As they feed and digest the berries, the birds carry the mistletoe seeds from one tree to another. Sometimes the berries fall from higher to lower branches, making new plants where they land. The seeds germinate almost anywhere, but penetrate only young, thin bark.

Mistletoe cannot develop its own root system, so it produces haustoria instead. Haustoria are the modified roots of a parasitic plant that penetrate the tissues of the host and absorb nutrients and water. These find their way into the water system of the tree, and draw up water and minerals for its own growth.

Growth of mistletoe is slow at first, but in 6 to 8 years, a plant may be 3 feet across. Branches usually swell around the infected area, and growth is sometimes sparse beyond the mistletoe. Trees that are infested with mistletoe usually continue to survive for many years, but their overall growth and vigor may be reduced. However, if the mistletoe spreads to most of a tree’s branches, the tree will die.

Since the haustoria of mistletoe spread through the branch a foot or more from the point of attachment, control is usually done by pruning. Remove the infected limb where it meets a larger branch, otherwise the mistletoe will re-sprout.

You can also control mistletoe by cutting it off flush with the branch and wrapping the area with several layers of black plastic, taped firmly to the tree. Since the mistletoe needs light to grow, the new sprouts will be killed by the darkness under the plastic within a couple of years. This method, however, may give only temporary control.

Mistletoe is a poisonous plant. Eating any part of the plant can cause drowsiness, blurred vision, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, weakness and seizures. Despite its dangers, mistletoe has a history of medicinal use. The European varieties have been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat seizures, headaches, infertility, hypertension and arthritis. In Europe today, it is used as a treatment for cancer.

Mistletoe has always been admired for its ability to stay green all winter. So we can enjoy it for holiday decorations and know that it gives the birds delicious berries to eat.