Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Create winter bouquets by forcing flowering branches

American Horticultural Society offers gardeners a way to enjoy flowering bouquets during the winter by forcing the branches of trees and shrubs into bloom. Some of the easiest plants to force include pussy willows (Salix spp.), flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa) and forsythias (Forsythia spp.).
To force the branches of these plants, cut them in January or February. Submerge the branches in tepid water overnight. The next day, place the branches upright in a container of water, making sure to cut off any buds from the parts of the stems below the water. Leave the branches in a cool, dimly-lit room and change the water daily until the buds start to swell. Then, move the container into a brightly-lit room and enjoy the flowers as they open.
Tree and shrub branches, like forsythia, can be easily forced
into bloom during the winter

Plants make great last-minute gifts for any occasion

Poinsettias are a common choice for gifts and decorations during the holidays, but other options are equally beautiful. University of Florida Extension suggests the following plants for winter gift-giving occasions. The ready-to-bloom Amaryllis, the low light tolernat African violet, the exotic Desert Rose (Adenium obesum) and evergreen plants, including Norfolk Island pine and a nicely shaped Rosemary topiary, make good choices.
Desert Rose (Adenium obesum)


Salt damage from Hurricane Sandy

Many East Coast residents are concerned about the potential of salt contamination from either flooding or storm surges caused by Hurricane Sandy. The University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension System reports the amount of damage done to plants will depend on the salinity of the water, how long the plants were in contact with it, and to some extent on plant species.
The best way to counteract the desiccation caused by salts is to leach them out with fresh water. Plants situated in low lying, poorly drained or heavily flooded areas are most susceptible to damage. Chances are plants in these areas will die and these areas will need to be replanted in the spring. The salts are expected to leach out over the winter. Gypsum is not especially effective in reducing salt damage except in limited circumstances.
Plants situated in low lying, poorly drained or heavily
flooded areas are most susceptible to salt damage from
Hurricane Sandy.

The People's Garden offers gardening resources

USDA's The People's Garden offers free videos and webinars to find practical garden advice. The information focuses on how to create sustainable green spaces that provide fresh fruits and vegetables, while benefiting the environment.

USDA hardiness map can help in plant selection

The 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map can be used by gardeners, retailers, landscapers and growers to determine which plants are most likely to thrive in different locations. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones. Users can simply type in a ZIP Code and find the hardiness zone for that area.
The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map can be used
to help select plants that will grow best in different
locations across the country.

Keep poinsettias healthy during the holidays

Poinsettias are the traditional plant used in most holiday decor to brighten seasonal displays.
Texas AgriLife Extension Service reports this popular plant can suffer during the holidays if not properly cared for.
A plant that is stressed and has not been watered correctly may get spots or blotches on its lower leaves. Water the plants only when the soil feels dry.
Keep poinsettias indoors if the temperatures are going to be belowr 60-70 degrees F. A cold poinsettia will turn yellow and drop its leaves.
Fertilize poinsettias after the holidays if you want to try to keep them alive.
It doesn't take much to keep poinsettias looking good through the holidays.

Buying local can help reduce food waste

The Natural Resources Defense Council reports that of all the food grown in the United States, up to 40 percent is lost getting it from the farm to our fork. Michigan State University Extension offers some steps consumers can take at home to reduce food waste.

Follow the three Rs of recycling: reduce, reuse and recycle (compost). Reduce waste by buying only what is necessary; buying locally reduces the number of phases some fresh foods go through.

Another option is to purchase only what your family can consume in a reasonable time or by the food’s expiration date. Buying in bulk can save you money, but not if you wind up throwing half of it away because it spoiled before you could use it.

Reuse scraps by making stocks and soups. Plan in advance how to use or preserve leftovers.
Developing food waste reduction habits and composting
can reduce food waste,  save money, conserve resources
and produce a valuable soil additive for your garden.


Choose disease-resistant plants for your landscape

Purdue University Extension suggests one of the best ways to prevent serious plant disease outbreaks is by choosing disease-resistant plants. Using healthy, disease-resistant plants in the garden or landscape minimizes, or even eliminates, the need for pesticides and reduces maintenance.
By using plant species, varieties or cultivars that are genetically resistant to diseases, buyers immediately implement the most effective and sustainable means of plant disease control in the landscape. Although most plants do not have resistance to many common diseases, incorporating disease-resistant plants in the landscape whenever possible minimizes the impact of certain diseases in the home landscape and potentially reduces pesticide use.

In addition to disease resistance, it is important to remember that proper cultural techniques will help prevent powdery mildew, rust and leaf spots.
Phlox paniculata ‘David’, a Perennial Plant Association
Plant of the Year, has good resistance to powdery mildew.



Consider using plant lights during winter

Growing plants indoors during the winter can be fun and therapeutic. In many parts of the country the natural light levels are low enough that supplemental lighting is usually required to successfully grow plants indoors.

Before investing in lights, Michigan State University Extension suggests that you look at what it will cost to run the lights during the winter. First look at the rate you pay for electricity. This can be found on your bill and is expressed in cents per kWhr (kilowatt hour). This is the basic rate, but look for additional costs such as PSCR renewable energy, system access distribution, energy efficiency and securization charges and a securization tax.

You will also need information about the light fixtures, specifically the wattage of the bulbs. For example, you may be planning to install two, 4-foot fluorescent fixtures that contain two 40 watt grow lights each. The total wattage is 160 (four bulbs x 40 watts). Since you are charged for using kilowatts, divide 160 by 1,000 and multiple by your electric rate. The result is the cost to run the lights for one hour. Multiply the operating cost by the number of hours you plan to run the lights (14 hours) to find out your daily cost.
Supplemental lighting is usually required to successfully
grow plants indoors during the dark days of winter.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Don't forget to recycle holiday greenery

Discarded holiday greenery can be used to provide food and cover for wildlife or chipped into mulch for landscape protection. Christmas trees and garland can be recycled to provide cover for winter birds.

Trees can also be recycled for mulch around your landscape. Smaller branches should be chopped or ground for wood chips for use in flower, tree and shrub beds. Larger branches can be cut into smaller bundles for winter protective mulch around newly planted perennials and small shrubs. These branches should be removed in the spring as the plants begin to grow again.
Many communities offer pick-up or drop-off services for discarded holiday trees. The trees are usually chipped for use as mulch in parks and other city properties. Some cities offer the wood chips to their citizens for use in their own yards.

Many communities chip Christmas trees for use as mulch in
parks and other city landscapes. Some cities offer wood chips
to their citizens for use in their own yards. 


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tangerine Dream

There is a lovely citrus fruit that helps me through the shorter, colder days of winter, the delectably sweet tangerine. Its happy flavor reminds me of sunshine on the ugliest of winter days. I’m not the only one who relishes winter citrus, recently CNN ran an Eatocracy piece on one author’s love of Clementine oranges. 

Citrus trees are ubiquitous in Southern California; many homes in established neighborhoods host multiple kinds of citrus. I grew up climbing trees in mini-orchard of that included grapefruit, orange, tangerine, tangelo, tangerine, lemon, and lime. In my current garden, I inherited well-established tangerine and lime trees. We planted a lemon tree that was a gift from my in-laws and this will be the first year we have fruit!

But those tangerines, those lovely, sweet, smiling tangerines – sweet enough to divert attention away from processed sugary snacks and healthy enough to give a much needed dose of Vitamin C during cold and flu season!  Scientists are now theorizing that tangerines can help fight our nation’s obesity epidemic

Tree is a little droopy because of all the fruit!
I usually have the first ripe fruit by mid-December, but happily the bounty has come early this year. My tree is so weighed down by fruit that I have been harvesting as soon as the tangerines become ripe! I take them to work to share (very popular with the co-workers) and I leave a bowl of them in the family room for easy snacking. 

Since the turn of the twentieth century, there has been an American Christmas tradition that my family follows to this day: an orange or other sweet citrus fruit in children’s stockings. Historically, fresh fruit was very dear during the winter, especially in areas where fresh food was not immediately available.  It was a small sign of great love from parent to child for this orange fruit contained a promise of health and warmer days to come.

Home grown tangerines don't have the even coloring like supermarket fruits, but they taste so much better!

Time to winterize your garden

Before calling it quits on this year's gardening season there are a few more things that should be done to ensure plants make it through the winter. Remove any debris in your garden, including dead leaves, sticks and twigs and plant tags from annual bedding plants. Cut back dead growth on perennials. These activities will prepare your garden and flower beds for planting and new growth next spring. This will also prevent pests and diseases from overwintering on rotting foliage. Be sure to discard any diseased leaves and don't add them to the compost pile.
Remove fallen leaves from lawns. If the grass is still green underneath, it can use all the light available to prepare for winter. Removing leaves also allows water and air to reach the grass. Heavier, thick leaves can pack down and rot slowly. These leaves do not make good mulch for perennials and should be removed from perennial beds.  Place some type of loose organic mulch around shrubs, trees and perennial beds. The mulch helps protect roots from winter's cold and fluctuating temperatures. Don't use more than a few inches of mulch around trees and shrubs. If packed too thick around tree trunks, mulch can smother the trees and cause them to die.
Placing mulch around shrubs, trees and perennial beds helps
protect roots  from winter's cold and fluctuating temperatures.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Prevent deer damage to landscape plants

Deer can cause extensive damage by feeding on plants and rubbing antlers against trees. In urban areas, landscapes may become deer's major food source. Damage is most commonly noticed in spring on new, succulent growth.

Because deer lack upper incisors, browsed twigs and stems show a rough, shredded surface. Deer strip the bark and leave no teeth marks. Damage caused by rabbits, on the other hand, has a neat, sharp 45-degree cut. Rodents leave narrow teeth marks when feeding on branches.

Practical management strategies include selecting plants unattractive to deer, treating plants with deer repellents, netting and tubing, and fencing. Placement of plants in part determines the extent of damage. Plant more susceptible species near the home, in a fenced area or inside a protective ring of less-preferred species.

Hungry deer will find almost any plant palatable, so no plant is "deer proof." Also, a plant species may be damaged rarely in one area but damaged severely in another.
In urban areas, landscapes may become deer's
major food source.

Avoid deicing salt damage on landscape plants

Deicing salts can damage landscape plants whether the salt is sprayed on plants from passing traffic or shoveled onto plants near sidewalks. Salts deposited on the surface of twigs, branches and evergreen leaves can cause excessive drying of foliage and roots. Salts can be taken up by plants and accumulate to toxic levels. Sodium salts can also cause a nutritional imbalance by changing the soil chemistry and harming the soil structure.

The most apparent damage is death of buds and twig tips as a result of salt spray. As stem tips die, plants respond by producing an excessive number of side branches. Accumulation damage is more slowly manifested and may not be noticeable for many months. Affected plants might show stunting, poor vigor, die back of growing tips and leaf burn or leaf drop.

Sodium salts are the most common type used for deicing, since they're inexpensive and most readily available. Sodium salts are the most likely to cause plant damage. When possible, use alternatives to sodium products, such as calcium chloride or calcium magnesium acetate (CMA).
The most apparent damage from deicing salts is death
of buds and twig tips as a result of salt spray.

Consider drought tolerant plants

This past summer's drought in many parts of the country resulting in water bans or restrictions may cause some gardeners to examine the water requirements of some of their favorite plants. Certain species of annuals and perennials are more drought tolerant than others. Drought tolerant plants still require water to survive, but have the ability to tolerate periods of little water.

All plants require water to become established in the garden. It is a good idea to incorporate compostof organic matter into the soil before planting to increase the soil's ability to retain moisture. Plants may be watered more efficiently by using soaker hoses or trickle irrigation systems. Also, consider applying organic mulches, black plastic mulch or landscape fabric to help reduce evaporation from the soil's surface.
Adding mulch to landscape beds can help
reduce evaporation from the soil's surface. 


Implement environmentally friendly gardening practices

Home garden and lawn care practices can impact the health of rivers, streams, lakes and aquifers. Whether starting a new landscape or maintaining a well-established one, implement environmentally friendly gardening practices to help protect natural resources. Plus, your garden and yard will demand less time and be healthier, attractive and more productive.

Garden practices that you can impelement include:
* Plant the right plant in the right location.
* Use water efficiently.
* Fertilize appropriately. A soil test can help determine the amount of fertilizer needed for healthy plant growth.
* Apply mulch to moderate soil temperatures, reduce evaporation and minimize plant water needs.
* Manage yard pests responsibly using cultural and mechanical methods that enhance natural enemy effectiveness. If pesticides are necessary, apply least toxic ones.
* Recylce and compost grass clippings, leaves and yard trimmings.
As a rule of thumb, lawns and gardens need
on average 1 inch of water each week.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Bringing Back Tea Time

In our fast paced world, I often long for traditions that re-center my day and provide a welcome respite from the turmoil of the modern jungle.  I also found that I needed a late afternoon recharge if I wanted to make it to a six or seven pm dinner time. I often identify with the Italian side of my family more so than the other branches, but I found the English had something to contribute and with American Anglophilia on the rise (not to mention my obsession with BBC dramatic programming), I concluded it was time to bring back tea time.

Tea time goes back much further than its English permutations and has many manifestations from a full meal to a simple snack.  My tea time most resembles a “cream tea,” a hold-me-over snack between the midday meal and supper. It usually consisted of a black tea with milk and sugar and scones with clotted cream. I modernized my tea to include a pastry of the week and an oolong or herbal tea. 

Teapot for seeping loose leaf tea, air tight tea container, tea cups, pumpkin bread and electric tea kettle
Like most American girls, I am usually a coffee drinker through and through. Coffee is well and good for morning wake-up, but less desirable for creating calm in the afternoon. I’m not a fan of green or most black teas; I find them too bitter and harsh. But after some trial and error, I found I liked oolong and white teas. (Herbal teas were already in pantry and used as home remedies for common ailments.) Good tea has become easier to find due to the rise of local tea shops and the ability to find rarer items on-line. I am a fan of going to the brick and mortar store since it is a green place to smell and taste test your tea, especially for novice tea drinkers like me. Teavana has an excellent variety and interesting blends of teas from traditional to more modern blends.  (We are currently drinking the Toasted Nut Brulee Oolong Tea.) A word to the wise, although I like Teavana, they will try to upsell you on everything. Come prepared to purchase a set list of items and be strong about refusing the upsell so you don’t break the budget (they are expensive, especially compared to bagged tea found the supermarket).

When it comes to snacks, I love scones, but I don’t like being limited to them for tea time. I’ve opened up the menu to include quick breads, muffins, and biscotti. We keep the portions small so as to not bust the calorie bank! Hubby and I have experimented with a couple of tea time recipes and these are our favorite so far:

Tea time is decompression time. We sit at the table or outside on the patio and discuss our work days, concerns, and plans for the immediate and farther future. This is a time to slow down, re-center, re-charge and use our senses to enjoy a fragrant cup of tea and a sweet treat, a time to bring back a small tradition to bring calm to our frantic modern world.

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Little Privacy Please

I live on a busy street and contend with need to establish privacy without appearing unwelcoming. In research process of my privacy project, I found inspiration in a beautifully illustrated gardening book, Landscaping for Privacy: Innovative Ways to Turn your Outdoor Space into a Peaceful Retreat, by Marty Wingate.  The author addresses garden intrusion in many forms, but I will be focusing on the privacy needs of my front and side yard gardens.

Solution 1: Buffers

Pride of Madeira cover up the unwanted view of alley.
Buffers help the homeowners avoid seeing things they don’t want to see or hearing things they don’t want to hear. When we bought our home, our three established plumerias acted as a buffer between our property and our neighbor’s property to the west. They also buffer some of the road noise and the road dust that blows toward the house on that side. The east side of our home had no such buffer. Approximately 2 years ago, Hubby planted a half dozen Pride of Madeira along the east side of our yard to buffer traffic noise and dust from the alley that runs along that side of our property.  With the plumerias on the west and the Pride of Madeira on the east, we informally established the boundaries of our property and removed the site lines directly into our neighbor’s yard and the alley. 

Solution 2: Barriers

Japanese variegated mock orange non-hedge
Barriers can be a touchy subject. On one hand, the homeowners want exclusivity, but do not want to appear unwelcoming to their guests and neighbors. Fences are the logical choice and there are a wealth of materials, heights, and styles to accommodate any garden. However, fencing is expensive and must comply with city codes and HOA restrictions. My solution to the expense of fencing was a hedgerow of my favorite shrub, Japanese variegated mock orange. Hubby indulged my whim in removing the kangaroo paws, succulents, and tea trees from the beds facing the sidewalk. The mock orange will create a lovely barrier to digging (and pooping) dogs, plumeria pickers, and road dust and debris . . . once they grow.  Mock orange have a slow to moderate rate of growth compared to other options, but I insisted on this plant because I love the bright appearance and the gorgeous fragrance their blooms release starting in February.  For now, I am stuck waiting for the individual plants to grow into a hedge and create the barrier I desire.

Solution 3: Screens

Fourth of July are climbing roses that will make good screens.
Screens are an ideal means to provide partial coverage but retain accessibility. I would love to create a screen of sorts that covers the garbage and recycling cans we keep on the east side of the front yard, but I have yet to devise a cost effective solution that works for the space. I have also contemplated creating a jasmine trellis to enclose the north side of the backyard patio. I am unsure if I want to create division in that part of the garden, but I would love to cover the compost container.  Lastly, Hubby and I would like to screen our cinder block wall near our fruit trees with Fourth of July Roses. Thorns will be a good barrier to incursion, but be prepared to deal with them effectively. Thorn plants are not good choices for families with children and inquisitive dogs, and there is much care involved in thorn plants so they do not become unruly. Word to the wise: Always do your research!

Good barriers make for better security, vistas, sounds, and ultimately, better peace of mind. The key is to complete these privacy modifications in an esthetically pleasing way that hopefully impresses the neighbors and guests without appearing unwelcoming. To better address your privacy needs, I recommend reading Landscaping for Privacy as a starting point for ideas and an extensive plant list that will accommodate all North American climates.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Pilfered Plumeria!

I sincerely believe that gardeners are generous folk. We love to share big, beefsteak tomatoes with our co-workers, succulent cuttings with our neighbors, and dried herbs with our friends. Need gardening tips or help? Please ask! We’d love to lend a hand or provide you with experienced insight! We have a wealth of intellectual and material resources and our well-being grows every time we share it.

But please, oh please, do not take from our private gardens without permission! Yes, it may seem like there is plenty to go around. But unthinking scavengers may not understand that certain resources may be specifically earmarked for other people or other endeavors. Even worse, ripping, tearing, or pulling on delicate plants can be very harmful or lethal!

Deliberate cuts were made on the right and left side of the plant.
On Thursday morning, I pulled out of my driveway and as I drove past my front yard, I noticed that my plumeria closest to the street was missing two large branches! I pulled over to the side of the road and inspected the damage. This was not a simple break of small fingerling limbs I have experienced in the past. Some ne had very deliberately sawed off two large branches that would have yielded approximately a dozen cuttings!* I was furious, just flat out spitting mad! I glowered in my office with my door shut until mid-morning, hoping that no poor, hapless co-worker had the misfortune to walk through my door.

Someone thoughtlessly broke this branch by hand.
After I got over my anger, I felt hurt. I have been very generous offering cuttings to my neighbors. I handed out cuttings to visitors when I participated in the Clairemont Garden Tour in 2010. When I trim my plumeria, I leave a bucket of cuttings in the driveway for passers-by to take. I love giving thank-you plumeria cuttings to my co-workers in appreciation for all the ways they support me and our company. These thieves took branches I had earmarked as “thank you cuttings.” They stole, not understanding that those cuttings were meant for someone else. Plumeria cuttings are a hot commodity and can earn between five dollars and thirty dollars (and up!) per cutting depending on the kind and quality. If I make a conservative estimate that my twelve cuttings were worth ten dollars apiece, the thieves stole $120.00 worth of product from me. 

More damage to green wood
I sadly feel a whole lot less generous than I did previously about sharing my plumeria cuttings.  I even contemplated installing a vinyl privacy fence. Barriers may deter the thoughtless pilferer, but they will not stop a determined thief. I don’t want to be one of those crotchety neighbors constantly screaming, “Get off my lawn!” But I would like some privacy and respect for my property, especially when I have been so generous in the past. If you would like a cutting or a piece of fruit, please knock on my door and ask. Chances are, I’ll say yes. If I don’t, then you need to respect my answer and understand that I have my reasons for refusing. 

We are very tempting, especially in our gorgeous, late fall bloom, but please leave us alone!
 *Plumeria plants are propagated by removing a small portion of green wood called a cutting. Cuttings can then be planted, and with proper care, will grow into another plumeria plant.