Persistent Pansies

Pansies in a Basket
If you are looking for an outdoor blooming plant that can take the cold weather and come back for more, pansies are your best bet. Pansies are quite resilient and will persist even after being buried for a couple of days in ice or snow. In the southern US and warmer coastal areas, mid to late fall (now) is the perfect time to plant pansies. If you live in the north where the winters are harsh and the spring nights remain crisp, pansies are best planted in the spring to early summer. They will continue to do well until the mid-summer heat begins to wilt them. For the purpose of this article and to tie in with the current fall season, I’ll refer to planting pansies in the south and coastal areas.

My first encounter with pansies was actually as a small child through a paint-by-number set. I recall there were many paint colors that came with the pansy set, as opposed to the daisy and rose sets, and of course, the extra containers of paint was the main reason, at 6 years old, I chose the pansies. It was a good experience because I learned early on that pansies can be found in a variety of colors and that they had “faces”, otherwise known as blotches.

Indeed, pansies can be found in multiple shades and colors, from deep purples to light blues, reds to pinks, burnt oranges to pale yellows, among other hues. Most pansies we identify with have blotches, but some do not. Some pansies are considered “penciled”, having lines radiating from their centers, while others are “clear” or blotchless.

Pansy - blotched

Blotched or Faced Pansy

Pansy - penciled

Penciled Pansy

Pansy - blotchless

Blotchless or Clear Pansy

Pansies are of the viola genus. They are believed to have been hybridized from two other blooming plants of that particular genus – the perennial violet, or a variation thereof, and the johnny-jump-up (which looks like a tiny bi-colored penciled pansy and are often referred to as violas or violettas). In fact, some folks believe penciled and clear pansies should be classified as violas – separate from the pansy label.

In researching the history and hybridization of the pansy, I must confess there are several schools of thought regarding what exactly classifies true pansies: blotch and/or blotchless, flower size, and/or number of petals pointing downward vs upward. There is also concern among some that viola can be used interchangeably as both a common name and a genus name. Going back to the previous paragraph, most commercial nurseries, when referring to pansies, are speaking of the larger flowering types that are used predominately as annual bedding plants – whether they are blotched, penciled or clear.

Putting genetics and nomenclature aside, pansies are very well adapted to the southern winters of the US and are a popular, if not the most popular, blooming plant in southern landscapes from October through March. I have found pansies do best if planted in part to full sun, two or three weeks prior to the expected first hard frost – usually in early to mid October in North Texas. Planting them a few weeks prior to the first frost (as best you can guess) allows time for the roots to establish themselves and allows the plants to be better able to withstand the oncoming cold. As mentioned earlier, pansies will withstand brief duration ice and/or snow storms. While they may look droopy and wilted for a day or two after the storm, most pansies will perk up quickly once the sun warms them a tad. Overall, pansies enjoy cooler temps and moist, but not wet, soil. If you are adorning hanging baskets with pansies this fall, be sure to give them an extra helping of mulch to aid with retaining moisture as they do not do well at all in consistently dry conditions. By adding a scoop of blood and/or bone meal to the soil when planting pansies, you will assist in supplementing needed nitrogen and phosphorus to your soil composition respectively. And, speaking of blood and bone meal, these soil amendments are exactly what their names state they are – dried blood and ground bone particles – byproducts of our meat industry. It has been found that pansies and violets respond better to these rich, slow releasing, organic fertilizers. And since rabbits love to munch on pansies, the addition of blood and bone meal to the soil appears to deter them. (The flowers are edible and palatable to humans, too, by the way.) One big caveat, however – while the blood and bone deters little rabbits, it acts like a magnet to big dogs! So . . . if your pansies are planted in common or accessible areas, you have your choice of losing a few nibbles to rabbits or potentially having to replant your beds due to errant dogs digging them up looking for remnants to the blood and bone meal!  Outside of the four-legged pests, the only other pests you may have trouble with regarding your pansies are snails and slugs – however in the cooler seasons they aren’t quite as numerous so you shouldn’t lose too many petals to them. If you find you have an issue with them, there are quite a few organic or otherwise safe solutions on the market that specifically target them.

Pansies - smiling

A plot of smiling faces!

On to a more positive note – a bonus to their beautiful colors is that en masse, pansies produce a sweet, light fragrance. When there isn’t much blooming outdoors, it is nice to come across a field of flowers that not only enhances our view, but our sense of smell as well!

pansies - flag

In conclusion, whether you are wanting to produce a warm, autumn feel by planting pansies in yellows, oranges and maroons around your fall pumpkins or a cool, crisp feel by planting a palate of blues, whites and purples among the fading grass or ornamental cabbages, you are sure to benefit from the persistence of pansies, and the rare beauty of that trait.

Until next time,

Cindy

This post is dedicated to Mike’s recently departed grandmother of 100 years, Ms. Viola Weseman. As her namesake suggests – her strength, beauty, good nature and love of family still persists . . .

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‘Tis the Season to Preserve and Protect your Plants!

Originally posted 12/14/2012 and p.s. I always have Moonflower seed if you have an interest.  See note at end of post.
 Covered Sago Palm
Covered sago palm during first freeze in North Texas – 2012

‘Tis the season to preserve and protect your plants! Even those of us who live in areas of mild winters should take heed and protect our tender perennials and otherwise delicate outdoor plantings when the cold winds blow our way. Living on the cusp of Zones 7b & 8a I have been fortunate to salvage a few of my prized plants during frost and freeze snaps without actually bringing them indoors. Of course, in North Texas we may have freezing temps one day and highs in the 70’s the next. Thus, if I brought plants inside every time there was a chance of a frost or freeze, I’d be carting them back and forth more times than I care to do! However, if you reside in an area that is steadily cold in the winter, I would indeed suggest you bring your tender perennials inside, if you can, or invest in a semi-permanent protective garden row cover to place over your prized possessions. As the days begin to warm in the spring, you may only need to remove the covers from your plants every now and then. Protecting plants from cold is actually very easy and economical. Truly, the hard part is staying ahead of the weather. This shouldn’t be too difficult in consistently cold areas but may be difficult in fluctuating temperate areas such as where I live. On sunny days after a frost if I accidentally leave a plant covered, especially with transparent plastic, it could actually burn.

Below are a few suggestions on how to protect your plants during sporadic hard frosts and freezes:

  • First of all, consider planting or placing your semi-tropicals and tender perennials on the south side of your home where they will receive barrier protection from the north winds, or,
  • Plant them in semi-enclosed areas of your landscape such as in corners or enclaves.
  • Before the first frost, mulch around and over your tender plantings heavily. Add more mulch to the plants prior to the first freeze. If your plants are in large pots that can’t be easily brought indoors, (such as hardy palms, hardy hibiscus, etc.), this practice is especially important. Remember, you can always use fall leaves for mulch!
  • If the weather has been dry, water your plants thoroughly at their base at least a day or two prior to the expected frost/freeze. This is especially important if the plants you wish to salvage are in pots, as moisture evaporates from soil more quickly in limited containers. (See the difference between periwinkles grown in the ground and those grown in a pot in the photo below.) Dry conditions are as tough on plants in the winter as are the drought conditions in the hot summer. Cold, dry winds evaporate moisture above the ground and once the freeze occurs, the plants cannot uptake frozen water crystals from below ground. Consider the act of watering your plants as a moisturizing treatment, if you will. Your plants will plump up and be better able to withstand the frigid temps if they are well hydrated. Again, water at least 24 hours prior to a freeze and try to avoid spraying the foliage.
  • During consecutive freezing nights, cover your plants with garden row covers, individual plastic plant covers or simply old blankets and towels – regardless of plant location or the amount of water and mulch you have dispersed. As I mentioned earlier – be sure to remove plastics and transparent covers when the temps warm up as they will magnify the sun’s rays and inadvertently burn the very plants you are attempting to preserve.
Periwinkle Contrasts
Contrasting conditions of periwinkles in ground and in a pot after first freeze in North Texas – 2012

I’m sure if you follow the above tips, you will be very pleased when your plants “spring” back! In the meantime, now is the time to be jolly . . . and to protect your plants too! Until next time, Cindy

 

I sincerely hope every one of you has a very wonderful holiday season, no matter the holiday you chose to honor. In my tradition of gift-giving at Christmas, I’d love to share a packet of Moonflower seeds with you. Send me a comment or email and according to postage restrictions, I’ll send you a packet to sow and enjoy during your summertime, whenever it is! Your information will remain confidential.

 

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Another Great Pumpkin Story

Originally Posted 10/25/2012

Welcome Great Pumpkin

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Great_Pumpkin

Pumpkins on a doorstep, along flowerbeds and in autumn scenes provide an instant fall feel to any yard or landscape come September and October. (Even when it is 87 degrees outside as it is today in North Texas!) I always buy two to three pumpkins around this time of year to place them in a cluster near my flowerbed of golden lantana. The combination is magic! I mentioned to my boyfriend recently that he needed a pumpkin or two in his front yard to provide a little autumn spice to his house. Being an avid gardener and self-proclaimed amateur landscape architect like myself, he didn’t take too well to having someone else offer suggestions for HIS yard!

Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t disrespectful, he just stated he had other plans for his fall decor. I let it drop, but I continued to browse the pumpkin patches and outdoor displays at the local grocery stores – just in case the perfect pumpkin appeared! One day last week, I was making a stop at the grocery store before heading over to my boyfriend’s. I love to use the little mini-rolling grocery carts as they are much easier for my 5 foot 1 inch, 50 year old body to maneuver. I spied one of the small carts out in the parking lot on the way into the store and grabbed it. As I was rolling up to the entrance of the grocery store, I saw three huge cartons filled with pumpkins just to the left of the doorway. My cart went into auto-pilot, veering toward the orange gourds.

I was viewing them from a distance, as I knew the closer I got the more likely I’d buy one or two and I knew my boyfriend wasn’t too keen on having them in his yard – not yet anyway – as he hadn’t laid out his plan. As I looked from a distance, out of the corner of my eye I saw a young man rounding up errant carts and lining them up for new customers. He saw me peering at the pumpkins and noticed I was deep in thought. He loudly spoke in my direction, “Do you want a pumpkin?” I jolted from my thoughts, looked over at him and discovered he was an employee of the store with Down Syndrome. He had the most excited expression on his face. He asked me again, “Do you want a pumpkin?” I told him I didn’t know, that I was really just looking. He came over and said, “Don’t worry, I will find you the biggest pumpkin!” and he proceeded to move dozens of pumpkins out of the huge box. I stood there watching as he sweated and worked to find the biggest pumpkin. I told him several times not to bother looking further, that the one he just had in his hand was fine. Nope, he continued to dig in the box. At last, he came to a gargantuan pumpkin near the bottom of the box. He worked his arms one way, then another, and then climbed into the box to get to the giant pumpkin. Once he had a good grasp on it, he picked it up and heaved it into my basket. He then very proudly and with a brilliant smile on his face proclaimed, “I found THE biggest pumpkin for you!” I thanked him with mutual tears of joy in my eyes and rolled into the store. Thank goodness all I truly needed to pick up was a loaf of bread and a half gallon of milk. There literally was no room for anything more in my basket and I could barely push the cart as it was! In fact, one little boy that encountered me in the store pointed and exclaimed, “Look mom, it’s The Great Pumpkin.”

Indeed it is . . . and it sits magnificently in my boyfriend’s front yard for all to see!

Until next time,

Cindy

The Great Pumpkin of 2012

The Great Pumpkin of 2012!

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Where Have All the Geckos Gone?

 
Gecko
Originally Posted 1/25/2013
 

I love geckos.  I love them for many reasons:

  • I think they are are cute.
  • They have super-hero suction feet.
  • They are kindof transparent, especially on their underside.
  • They have big, beautiful eyes.
  • They are lightning fast when necessary.
  • When they choose to slow down, they swing and sway as they walk.
  • They usually don’t bite humans – and if they ever did, they aren’t poisonous and really, would it hurt?
  • In turn, when something bites them on the tail, they’ll happily detach it.
  • The detached tail will wiggle for a while thereafter, distracting the predator so that the gecko can escape.
  • If it is lost, the tail will soon grow back.
  • Best of all, geckos eat roaches and many other household and garden pests, serving as a natural pesticide, if you will.

Baby Gecko

In the wintertime, I truly miss the geckos that usually greet me, clinging like live decorations to the brick walls of my doorway on warm nights. As most of you know by now, I live in the southern US where the winters are relatively mild. I would expect to see geckos out and about during the week-long warm spells we have now and then in January & February. Not so, and I’ll tell you why –
Geckos brumate.

Brumate?

Brumation is what reptiles do in the colder seasons, very similar to the hibernation activity of mammals. Although reptiles are cold blooded and can withstand fluctuations of temperatures very well, their bodies instinctively seek rest and added protection as the days grow shorter and the temperatures become consistently cooler. Their metabolism also gradually slows during this period – to the point they will not eat, yet they are able to maintain a healthy weight. Interestingly, pet geckos that enjoy warmer household temperatures and artificial lighting may still instinctively brumate. Their bodies may sense even the slightest decrease in indoor temperatures and send them into brumation, however their reactions may not be quite as dramatic as those of the lizards that live outdoors. If you have, or have had, reptiles as pets, you may recognize this period as the time when your lizard becomes slightly lethargic and just doesn’t eat as much as usual. Perhaps this is the month or so that your lizard consistently leaves a few live crickets in the tank whereas he usually gobbles them all up. Geckos that live outdoors will seek shelter in warm crevices, hollow logs, deep leaf mounds and mud as nighttime temperatures begin to dip below 50 degrees. Don’t be surprised if you accidentally disturb a gecko or two brumating in your outdoor planters should you decide to sow a few winter or early spring flowers! My mom innocently dug up a number of brumating bullfrogs one year that were overwintering in the terra cotta planters situated on her sunny porch. Don’t fret, though – disturbing reptiles and amphibians during brumation will not hurt or kill them, it only inconveniences them a bit. Conversely, when weather conditions become extremely hot and dry, cold-blooded animals will often estivate – or seek cool, moist, shaded areas in which to rest to help them better survive the severely arid period. Lizards that live in desert areas are often found in an estivation stage under rocks and deep inside ledges during the hottest of the summer months.

Gecko stamp

 

Back to the gecko in particular . . . During my research about why I rarely, if ever, see geckos during the wintertime, I learned a few more points I’d like to share with you in conclusion:

  • By far the most common gecko we see in the US has the scientific name, Hemidactylus turcicus. It is commonly known as the Mediterranean House Gecko. (There is another gecko species that has arrived in the US recently that originates from Asia, but it is not nearly as abundant.)
  • As its name suggests, the Mediterranean House Gecko originates from southern Europe and northern Africa. (See map below)
  • It has lid-less eyes with vertical pupils and sticky toe pads, traits unlike the lizards native to the US.
  • The Mediterranean House Gecko was first noted in the US in 1915 in Florida.
  • It was thought to have arrived in the US as a stowaway aboard a ship and since then, has acclimated well to the populated cities of the Gulf coastal states, Caribbean and Mexico.
  • The Mediterranean House Gecko is nocturnal, again, coming out at night to eat household insects and garden pests that are drawn to porch lights.
  • Female geckos typically lay only one or two eggs per clutch, but may have several clutches each summer.
  • It is believed the only predator of geckos in the US is the snake (that is, not counting our overly curious dogs and cats!)
 Gecko map
Distribution of the Mediterranean House Gecko
 

As I close this post, I ponder the differences in how humans, animals, birds, insects and plants adapt to the seasons. Some of us hibernate, some of us brumate, some of us migrate and some of us transform. I think if there is one commonality here, it is that we should respect and listen to the nature of our bodies. If we are tired, we should seek rest. If we have overindulged, we should seek moderation. If we are too hot or too cold, we should seek shelter. Lastly, if we are unhappy, we should certainly seek contentment.

Nature is nurture, after all.

Until next time,

Cindy

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Solar Lighting – Taking Advantage of the Summer Sun

  solar landscape lanterns
 
Originally posted August, 2012

With the incredible heat wave hitting the midwestern and southern US this summer (it is expected to be 104 degrees today in North Central Texas), I was pondering what could I possibly write about regarding gardening or landscaping when our plants are simply struggling to stay alive. I admit, after vacationing, my veggie garden has literally bit the dust for it did not have the luxury of a daily hand watering while I was away. Bell peppers not quite ripe when I left are now scalded and shriveled. I may be able to salvage the pepper plants themselves and hope for a crop in the late fall. I’m also hoping my one surviving pumpkin plant holds on. If you are in the same boat as I, don’t pull up the plants just yet. Instead, give them a trim and pamper them with mulch and hand watering as best you can. You may even consider erecting some shade cloth shelters if you are so determined. I’ve always heard it said there are two growing seasons in Texas – spring and fall. Unfortunately, summer is indeed about as devastating to Texas as winter is in the far northern states. There is, however, something you may consider doing in the garden about now – now that summer is supposedly winding down and garden clearance sales are in effect: establishing solar lighting.

By now, I am sure you have at least seen the very inexpensive solar landscape lights in and around both the discount and home improvement stores. I am as fascinated with solar lighting as I am with my solar bird bath fountain. Since solar lighting has become more popular in recent years, the availability and variety of sizes and styles has greatly increased. You’re sure to find a style, or two, that you like. You are also likely to find a solar option for just about any circumstance you may have for lighting in the landscape.

Most solar lights recommend they (or their solar panels) are placed in an area that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight in order for them to provide adequate lighting. The longer the exposure to sunlight, the brighter and longer the duration of light each lamp will provide. The small path lights found in most any store these days are quite pretty and especially functional at entrances and exits to your home and/or business. My mom, living out in “the country”, benefits from solar reflective lights marking the drainage ditches at the end of her long driveway. They provide a guide, or landing strip, you might say, as we enter or exit her property. They are also very valuable to those of us suffering from night blindness.

solar-landscape-light

Nowadays you can purchase patio umbrellas with built-in solar lighting or, if you already have an umbrella, you can purchase a kit for your existing shade. Solar lighting under an umbrella provides the same lovely ambience as candlelight. -And speaking of candlelight, you can also find a variety of solar lanterns to mimic candles, again, to place around your patio as needed – or hang from a fence, pergola, or in a deciduous tree during the wintertime. If you need lighting but are one that prefers things au naturale in the landscape, consider the solar lights/spotlights that come in the form of realistic-looking rocks and boulders.

solar lantern

 

solar rock

The most recent solar lighting purchase I made was that of a color-changing angel on a stake. After visiting the cemetery where my nephew is laid to rest, I saw a color changing light in the distance on another grave. It provided a soothing, beacon-like ambience and I wanted my nephew’s resting place to feel the same. Since most cemeteries receive quite a bit of sun, these staked items really do well in that environment, and again, there are a number of styles and symbols to choose from.

In addition to being green and saving electricity, solar lights can be used indoors in cases of power outages occurring at night. I have to admit, I borrowed this idea from my city’s emergency operations center – but I thought it was quite brilliant. (No pun intended!) During a thunderstorm, or perhaps a rolling brown-out or black-out, simply pull up one or two of your solar path lights and stake them in an interior potted plant or through an upside down cardboard box. Place in the center of the room and you’ll have bright light for a few hours without the danger of using candles or experiencing the inconvenience of finding that your battery-operated devices have run-down. A co-worker of mine keeps a couple of solar path lights in the potted plants on her sunny doorstep just for this reason.

In conclusion, while there isn’t much you can do in the way of gardening during 100+ degree temps, you can still enhance and transform your outdoors with the strategic placement of solar lighting. After all, most of us simply aren’t able to enjoy our gardens and patios during the dog days of summer until the sun has gone down!

Until next time,

Cindy

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Capulin Volcano

 

2012 Colorado Vacation 013

Originally posted July 2, 2012

I recently returned from a vacation whereby ten members of my extended family traveled in three separate vehicles from the North Texas area to the Colorado Springs area. Fortunately for us, we managed to get in a full four days of sightseeing before the terrible fires encroached upon the town of Manitou Springs. We hope this beautiful town and surrounding area recovers soon. Colorado is a favorite vacation spot for many” flat land” Texans as evidenced by the large amount of Lone Star State license plates you’ll see along the route from Texas through New Mexico and into southern Colorado. Most Texans, among them my nieces and nephews, will tell you there isn’t much to see or do on a road trip between Dallas and Raton, save the spectacular Palo Duro Canyon located just south of Amarillo. I’ll reserve sharing that experience for another post. Today, I’d like to tell you a little about a nice surprise we came upon in northwestern New Mexico – Capulin Volcano National Monument.

Capulin Volcano, a classic cinder cone dormant volcano, is located in the midst of the Raton-Clayton volcanic field. There are several other recognizable volcanoes in the area, as well as some that you don’t realize are small volcanic domes until you take a second or third glance. Capulin Volcano, as you can see by the pic I snapped above, is quite perfect in shape. The volcano is visible for at least 20 miles prior to arriving at its base.

I would describe the terrain along the Raton-Clayton path as a rocky, moderately high desert type. As we drove through mostly flat country dotted with sporadic peaks and domes, we saw an abundance of mule deer and antelope. Various types of blooming cacti decorated the otherwise sparse landscapes in yellows and pinks.

2012 Colorado Vacation 018

Besides the magnificence of viewing it from the base, driving to its peak, and hiking around its rim, I found it fascinating that multitudes of ladybugs live on the mountain. We had stopped at the information center enroute to the top of the volcano and received a pamphlet and a map of the site. While there, a park attendant told us we happened to be visiting during the active ladybug season. (She also told us four types of hummingbirds routinely visit the site as well.) I was a tad intrigued and made a mental note to look for ladybugs at the peak – thinking I might see a few here and there and if I was lucky, one might land on me. Boy, did I ever underestimate what “ladybug season” meant!

As we hiked the paved pathway along the rim of the volcano, my family and I admired the many labeled shrubs and wildflowers. There is actually a sumac-related shrub in the area that has the common name “skunkbush.”  If you brush against it or crush a leaf with your shoe it will emit the faint aroma of a skunk. Another interesting fact about this shrub is it is not completely destroyed in forest fires – above ground it is certainly burned, but below ground it will survive and re-emerge good as new the following season. What caught my eye in particular was the bright orange-red berries among the skunkbush’s leaves (see below).

skunkbush-sumac-berries_medium

Skunkbush (Rhus trilobata)

So, as we walked along the rim of the volcano I seemed to notice quite a few skunkbushes along the way – except they weren’t skunkbushes after all. They were, instead, shrubs that were inundated with orangish-red ladybugs! Thousands and thousands of them! Below is a picture I took on June 16, 2012 of ladybugs at the base of a shrub on the rim of Capulin Volcano. Comparing the photos, I am sure you can see why I did not notice the ones in this second photo were ladybugs at first glance.

ladybugs

Ladybugs at the base of a shrub on Capulin Volcano

Having never seen so many ladybugs in one place, I knew I would want to learn more about the attraction of the bugs to that particular area. Was it the region? The elevation? The lack of predators? The vegetation? The rocks? Perhaps the fact Capulin is a volcano is of significance?

up close ladybugs

Close-up of Ladybugs on Capulin Volcano

This is what I’ve learned: Scientists (Entomologists) simply do not know the specific attraction of Capulin Volcano to the ladybugs. But they do know the particular type of ladybug that resides there is called the Convergent Lady Beetle (Hippodamia convergens) and is one that migrates. The beetles arrive on the volcano via wind currents throughout the summer season and stay to overwinter there. In very early spring (February) the ladybugs catch southernly winds to warmer areas rife with aphid infestations, where they gorge, mate and lay eggs. When the larvae become adults, they hitch a wind current back with their parents to Capulin Volcano to prepare for hibernation and to continue the cycle. Some scientists believe the rocks of Capulin Volcano serve as landmarks or landing beacons for the beetles as they are carried in the wind. Capulin is not the only peak that hosts the Convergent Lady Beetle over winter. Some beetles miss their landing at Capulin and are carried further northwest to settle among a few other isolated, mid-level peaks located in southern Colorado.

One day I hope we uncover the mystery of the ladybug attraction to Capulin Volcano. It truly fascinates me. Until then, it should interest those of us that purchase or attempt to keep beneficial ladybugs in our gardens as natural predators, to know they will eventually leave our summer gardens to gather at their winter mountain resorts. Considering the dedication to their annual roundtrip journeys, I indeed have a much greater appreciation for the precious time ladybugs do chose to visit in my yard in North Texas.

Until next time,

Cindy

References:
http://www.nps.gov/cavo/naturescience/insects.htm
http://www.gazette.com/articles/colorado-60818-heading-hills.html
http://www.cimarronnm.com/PDF/NM_Volcanoes.pdf
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Crape Myrtles are Always Abloom in August

crape myrtle

 

Originally posted August 2012

There aren’t many plants, shrubs or trees that are at their best in August, especially since August is routinely the hottest month in Texas. The beautiful blooming Crape Myrtle is the exception and I highly recommend you have at least one in your landscape. It will certainly provide you a little, or a lot of, flowering decor when most everything else is “heat dormant” (many plants and shrubs in Texas, such as roses, petunias and tomatoes, preserve their energy and will not bloom when temps routinely reach above 95 degrees.)

As I’ve mentioned before, not only are Crape Myrtles beautiful in bloom, they are strikingly beautiful in the fall when their leaves turn orange and in the winter after they’ve lost their leaves. Their bark oftentimes peels in very thin sheets leaving the trunks smooth and displaying artistic shapes of various shades of gray and brown.

Today’s post is predominately a pictorial of Crape Myrtles currently in bloom that I snapped with my camera over the past week – the last week of August – all within several blocks of my home and one watermelon variety thriving in my own landscape. As you will see below, the variety and vibrancy of colors, shapes and sizes is magnificent. Another reason this post is predominately a pictorial is because I wish to provide you a link to a Web site that will answer just about any question you could possibly have regarding selection, planting and care of Crape Myrtles. I simply couldn’t do a better job!

I will say a few things before I send you off to a more detailed site: Probably the most important thing to remember is to make certain you plant your Crape Myrtle(s) in full to almost full sun. Secondly, the only issue I’ve ever had with mine is powdery mildew in the early spring. A thin spray of fungicide or horticultural oil in the spring usually does the trick for the season. My Crapes are about 15 – 20 years old, however, nowadays you can find fungus resistant varieties that are nearly issue-free. And thirdly, as you will see, the hues of Crape Myrtle blooms vary from white, to pinks, to purples, to deep reds. Their sizes also vary greatly – from small accent shrubs to trees growing the height of a two-story home. You are certain to find a color or two to compliment your home, as well as the perfect size for your particular landscape.

As I promised, please see http://crapemyrtletrails.org/ for an enormous amount of information about Crape Myrtles. In the meantime, enjoy the pics below from August in North Texas.

Until next time,

Cindy

crape myrtle3 crape myrtle5 crape myrtle4  crape myrtle2

crape myrtle6

 

 

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The Albino

Albino SeedlingOriginally posted May 3, 2013

 

Most of you know by now I feed the birds around my house. The various birds, when coming to eat at my feeders, provide me a calming sense of camaraderie with nature – especially when I find them waiting for me to place seed out each morning.   This “peaceful, easy feeling” is what makes all the maintenance of having a bird feeder worthwhile.

Speaking of maintenance, one of the chores you may have with a bird feeder is mowing or weeding the small plants that sprout from the random uneaten seeds that fall in cracks and crevices (or are sometimes simply kicked out of your feeder by finicky eaters.)  While sunflower seeds are among the favorite of many birds, every now and then a few will fall from the feeder and almost immediately sprout during the mild springtime months. Thus, I “weed” them about every other day. Such was what I was doing a few weeks ago when I spied a bright white seedling growing in-between two stones under the feeder. I was thrilled to see it was an albino sunflower seedling – something I had never seen before. I hurried over to get a tiny spade and pot in which to transplant it – all the while having visions of growing a huge, pure white sunflower to show off to my family and friends.

Well, my horticulture professors would be appalled to learn I thought this (my wits must have left me during the excitement) as plants cannot sustain themselves without energy-converting chlorophyll – the substance that causes plants to be green and the very substance that is absent in albino plants. You may indeed see an albino limb or fern frond every now and then, but you will not see a 100% pure albino plant – unless it is somehow attached to another plant for sustenance. (Such is the case of a rare outcropping of albino redwoods in northern California. See http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/ultra-rare-albino-redwoods-are-an-everwhite-mystery-pics.html.)

In further researching albinism in plants I learned sadly, my sunflower seedling would live only until it depleted the small amount of energy that was stored within its seed coat. Thus, it lived about a week after I transplanted it and then shriveled and died as expected. Even though, it was a grand sight to see while it lived. In fact, the whole experience refreshed my basic knowledge of plants and confirmed that chlorophyll is indeed their essential life blood, after all.

If you wish to learn more about albinism (and similar conditions) in plants, a rather interesting article can be found at http://whitershadeoftail.wordpress.com/albinsim-in-plants/.

Until next time,

Cindy

 

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Bringing Up Bromeliads

Another Bromeliad
Originally posted August 2013

If you read my last blog post you are aware I recently returned from my first trip to Hawaii. I feel very blessed to have been able to go to such a wonderful place, witnessing the remarkable and interestingly, contrasting, plant life of the islands. The rainforests to the north and east on the islands are abundant with what we in the 48 grow as “houseplants”, yet the terrains south and west on the islands are arid and complete with sun-loving lantana and varieties of cacti. Not only are there vast differences in rainfall on each individual island, but there are also great variances in altitude and thus, correspondingly variances in temperature. The abundance and variety of greenery in Hawaii makes it not only a paradise for vacationers in general, but truly the pinnacle experience for plant lovers.

 Bromeliads in Maui

Exhausted mother plants and ratoons/pups

Today I’d like to focus on bromeliads. Probably the most popular plant of the Bromeliaceae family is the pineapple. As a curious plant lover my entire life, I hate to admit I had no idea pineapples grew on the stalk of a relatively small plant (see below) versus growing on a tree. After all, the pineapple is a rather large fruit and I felt its mother plant would be comparable in size. To my credit, I was aware pineapples are related to the colorful bromeliads we typically see in our nurseries – yet I still felt sure they were derived from larger, taller plants than their ornamental cousins.

Pineapple Plant

Another interesting tidbit I learned when touring a pineapple winery on Maui is that each plant bears only one fruit per long season and after the third season the plant has usually exhausted its fruiting ability. The first season’s fruit is large and sweet and is harvested from the primary stalk and the next two years’ fruits can be somewhat smaller and are borne from offshoots of the mother plant called ratoons. While I found this remarkable about pineapples, it shouldn’t have been surprising since this is similar to the behavior of most ornamental terrestrial bromeliads. Typically they produce one beautiful, colorful center stalk, or bloom, if you will, and fortunately this bloom stays fresh and vivid for many months. After the center stalk matures, fades to brown, and falls away, the mother plant has essentially exhausted its ornamental abilities. However, about this time one or two offshoots (ratoons or pups) can usually be found at the base of the mother plant. These offshoots can be left as they are to grow as side plants (although again, the mother plant may look a bit drab in comparison and the ratoon crop will not be as vigorous) or better yet, you may wish to separate them from the mother and transplant them to create a new, center-oriented mother plant. Last year, I performed this task with a bromeliad I received as a gift. Right on cue, as the center stalk faded, two ratoons appeared. (Look closely at the base of the mother plant below and you’ll see two new stalks have formed.)

mother bromeliad and pups

mother bromeliad and pups 2

I allowed the ratoons to continue to grow for several weeks along with the mother plant. Once they were of the same height as the mother, I took the entire group (mother and ratoons) out of the pot and sliced the pups from the central plant using a sharp knife, making certain I maintained as many roots as possible on each piece. I then transplanted the pups into their own pots filled with potting material with good drainage ability (I used equal parts regular potting soil combined with orchid mix). As a side note, the bromeliad family is comprised of epiphytes (plants that grow in debris-filled crevices of trees) as well as the terrestrial plants I am focusing on here. As such, they all enjoy growing in coarse, rich, organic material that drains well.

separated bromeliad pups

mother bromeliad and pups 3

Bromeliad babies

Well, unfortunately only one of the pups mentioned above survived my transplant process. For several months now, the thriving “baby” has been situated on my desk at work, in a prominent spot near a northwesterly window. Each week its center stalk appears to be getting more and more tinged with magenta. Part of its success, I know, is the fact I water the bromeliad, as recommended, predominately through its center stalk. While you may wish to moisten the soil around the base of the plant to alleviate very dry conditions on rare occasions, bromeliads should be watered almost solely through their center stalks, allowing excess water to cup within the leaves of the plant. Be careful not to water too often at the base of the plant or allow too much overflow from the leaf cups as bromeliads can be prone to root rot. Having had the pleasure of seeing not only pineapples in Hawaii, but many other varieties of bromeliads, most of which were found on the windward side of the island in sun filtered, humid rainforests, I was able to witness the natural pooling of rainwater in their center stalk and at their leaf bases. I didn’t realize the practice of watering bromeliads in that manner was based on imitating Mother Nature. But after all, she does know best! (See rainwater within the bloom and leaf cups in the photo below and the intro picture above, compliments of Chris Smith, who took many botanical photos on our group’s recent trip to Hawaii as we toured the equally beautiful Garden of Eden Botanical Gardens and Arboretum and the Ali i Kula Lavender Farm on Maui.)

Bromeliads in Rain Forest in Maui

Speaking of the wonder of Mother Nature, the rain caught in the leaf cups of bromeliads in the wild not only nurtures the plant itself, but it also provides fresh water nourishment for reptiles, amphibians and small mammals of the tropical forest.

In conclusion, if you are looking for a unique and striking house plant with blooms that last for months and months and afterwards, offers you the opportunity to bring up its offspring, you may wish to try your hand at bromeliads. There are numerous varieties and colors available, including variegated types, and I’m sure there is one or two that will fit your home and/or office decor. There is even an ornamental dwarf pineapple available if you are so inclined to give it a try. (Ornamental pineapples are non-edible, and incidentally the true pineapple bears the one and only edible fruit of all bromeliads.)

A few reminders from above to keep in mind when raising bromeliads:

  • Think “rainforest” with regard to basic care: warmth (65 – 75 degrees, if possible), high humidity, bright indirect window or filtered sunlight, and consistent moisture to the center stalk and leaf cups.
  • Once the mother plant has exhausted its blooming period, anywhere from 4 -9 months depending on the variety, watch for offshoots (ratoons or pups) to form at the base of the plant.
  • Continue to care for the plant and allow the pups to grow to about a third of the size of the mother and then divide and transplant them.
  • Plant or transplant bromeliads in coarse, well-draining soil material similar to that which you would use for orchids or Christmas Cactus.
  • Enjoy 12 – 18 months admiring a tropical beauty from the rainforest and then repeat!

Until next time,

Cindy

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Nature is Nurture Begins

Originally posted 2010

As I type this blog on an early Saturday morning (yes, 8 a.m. is early for me) a finch just landed on the window immediately in front of me, giving me an enviable view of his slightly yellow underbelly. This might not sound at all that terribly exciting, but there is actually no pane or landing area, so to speak, outside this window. The finch was grasping the window screen for several minutes, it seemed, peering into my kitchen. Quite an unusual occurrence, even though I feed the wild birds regularly. Thus, I take this as a sure sign I made the right choice in my blog title! Speaking of natureisnurture.net, I’d like to tell you a little more about what I envision this blog will bring to you.

My goal is to share with you the peace and beauty of nature; peace and beauty that is here for you 24/7 no matter your current circumstances. Peace and beauty that is absolutely free. What do I consider to be “nature” or “natural?”  Anything that nurtures your soul. It is our relationships with family and friends (present and loved ones passed), our pets, flowers, trees, seashells, birds, fish, rocks, etc.  It is our experiences with new places and new faces. It is finding meaning, joy and yes – humor – in everyday life. So, I hope you choose to subscribe and join me on my journeys – present, future and past.

Cindy

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