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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Snow Blindness in Dogs . . . in Dallas?

Hello everyone!  I have been debating which topic to write about the past few days in light of the very odd ice and snow storm we experienced this week in the Dallas area. Having lived here my entire life, I cannot remember a time when schools were closed 4 days in a row – and when they actually announced the closings the night before.

The warm sunlight this Saturday morning is indeed a very welcomed sight. Speaking of sight – this morning I concluded my elderly and almost blind dog, Buzz, apparently has been suffering from the effects of snow blindness. Over the past few days, and especially today with the sun shining so brightly, Buzz became disoriented in the snow. He would begin on his familiar path in the back yard, but would end up in the corner of the fence or behind a hollowed out log planter, unable (or unwilling) to back up. Good thing I was off work to monitor his outings during this freak winter event or otherwise he may have frozen to death in the 19 degree daytime temps. I had to venture out a couple of times and bring him back inside. This led me to research snow blindness in dogs. Yes, apparently it exists! Below are a couple of interesting (and humorous) Web sites I came across that sell doggie goggles!

http://www.kindly.de/petlenses/veterinary.html

http://doggles.com/index.html

You see (no pun intended), in addition to being almost blind, Buzz is totally deaf. However, he never ceases to amaze me in that while lacking hearing and sight, he still manages to successfully get to the doggie door every day to trail his familiar path in the back yard and take care of business. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for this one specific blessing! In addition, he has no problem finding his two comfy dog beds (one in the living room and one in the bedroom), or his food and water bowls. Considering Buzz’s usual path in the back yard also leads to immediately beneath the bird feeder, it got me to thinking that it may be his heightened sense of smell that aids him in continuing his life’s routines as his other senses are deteriorating. No doubt he walks a straighter line to the bird feeder when I’ve placed leftover biscuits on the platform versus sunflower seeds!

Thus, with the exception of a little snow blindness this week and perhaps less available scents to follow on the frozen ground, Buzz managed to weather the storm, even if it was with a little help. All in all, Buzz serves as inspiration that we can all have a good life, even as our senses begin to fade and our bodies age. It is just a matter of focusing on our talents and abilities that remain, and accepting help from a friend now and then.

Until next time,

Cindy

buzz in snow

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Gerbera Does Double-Duty Indoors

Gerbera
Originally posted January 2011

This morning I walked into my home office and noticed the Gerbera Daisy I had brought in from my outdoor patio a couple of months ago had sprouted yet another beautiful orange-red bloom. It is doing wonderfully on my desk, which faces a window with a southern exposure. You can see in the photo below that another bloom is presently emerging as well. Apparently the indoor temperature of my home (usually at 68 degrees) coupled with the bright sunlight shining through the window has made a perfect environment for this plant. The main reason I brought the Gerbera indoors was to merely shelter and preserve the plant until the spring, when I planned to return it back onto my patio table with hopes of it resuming its blooming at that time. I must admit, though, another reason I thought it would be nice to bring the Gerbera inside was that I recalled, back when I was studying horticulture, that NASA named the Gerbera Daisy among the top 10 – 12 best “air-filtering” plants. This quality is especially beneficial indoors during the winter months, where the Gebera helps eliminate common household toxins associated with oils, paints, varnishes, inks and dry cleaning.

Gerbera 2

So . . . while I fully intended to reap the benefits of cleaner air while maintaining the Gerbera plant indoors, I certainly didn’t expect to be able to enjoy such a continuous, beautiful display of flowers as well!  I hope you will consider purchasing or bringing inside a Gerbera this fall to thrive in a southern window in your home or office too.

If you’d like to read more about NASA’s clean air study and discover other houseplants that would be beneficial to your home, office, school, etc., go to:

http://www.mnn.com/health/healthy-spaces/stories/houseplants-that-clean-the-air

Until next time,

Cindy

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Blue Jays Will Work for Peanuts

Blue_Jay_with_Peanut

Originally posted Feb 2010

If you live in North Texas, you are probably at home today or you are one of the brave and dedicated souls that spent hours getting into work on the sheet of ice that Mother Nature laid down at 4 a.m. this morning! I am one of the former – I am at home today. Although I don’t drive on ice, I did brave it on foot by getting out and filling my three bird feeders this morning – although later than usual. You see, I awoke at 4 a.m. to the sound of sleet pounding on my window. Peering outside, I realized quickly that I probably wasn’t going into work and so I turned off my alarm clock and huddled back under the covers.

At about 8 a.m., I awoke to blue jays pounding on my gutters. Yes – they act as my secondary alarm clock. If I do not get the bird seed out at daybreak, I am reminded they are waiting.

The magnificently handsome blue jays are regulars at my feeders. They are loud and raucous and bullying. However, they tend to grab their food and go – giving the doves, sparrows, juncos and finches an opportunity to feed as well. Speaking of grabbing and going . . . whole peanuts are the absolute favorite seed of the jays. If you want to attract blue jays, invest in a platform feeder and a bag of whole peanuts. You fill it and they will surely come!

Once you establish your peanut feeding routine, spend some time watching the behavior of the jays. Their antics are very interesting and entertaining. Some jays are very discerning about which peanut they choose to swipe away. The finicky jay will pick up and shake a few shells with his beak to determine which one weighs the most before flying away with it. If you follow the jay with your gaze, most likely you will see the bird bury the peanut in the ground before coming back for more. I personally watched a jay retrieve several whole peanuts from my feeder one day and take them to my back yard where he first pegged holes in the ground with his strong beak and then placed each peanut into a separate hole, hammering them one by one into the ground and out of sight.

Because acorns are another of the blue jay’s favorite foods, this type of hoarding behavior is one of the reasons the blue jay is attributed with helping spread the oak forests of our nation. When acorn seeds were plenty, they would bury so many of them they would forget where they were “planted”!

To read more fascinating information about blue jays, including listening to their various calls, go to: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Blue_Jay/id.

Until next time,

Cindy

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Christmas . . . or Valentine’s Day Cactus?

Christmas CactusImage compliments of waterloogardens.com.
Originally posted 2010

My Christmas Cactus never bloomed this past December. It is finally blooming now, on February 9th. It is a beautiful white-flowered variety with hot pink stamen. Stamen are the thin, long stalks with fuzzy heads that protrude out of the center of the flower. The fuzzy stuff is pollen. If you look extremely close at a flower, you’ll also see a pistil, which is a tube-like stalk, usually dead center of the stamen, that when the pollen drops in, it produces the seed. It is where the ovaries are located. Oops, this is starting to sound like a biology lesson! Well, I guess it might be actually, but it is not about reproduction . . .

As I mentioned, my Christmas Cactus never bloomed in December. I was disappointed. I had a former Christmas Cactus for years that was a dependable bloomer during the holidays. It finally met its demise and I purchased this white variety. Although it was a summertime clearance purchase, I had high hopes for it. While Christmas Cacti are fairly easy to keep alive and green, they are indeed quite finicky when it comes to blooming. You see, Christmas Cacti originate from a very unique environment and we must mimic that environment for the plant to be able to successfully produce the beautiful blooms we desire in our homes at Christmastime or otherwise.

Christmas Cacti are epiphytes in nature (as are orchids and some bromeliads.) Epiphytes are not to be confused with parasites, but they are indeed similar in that they live on other plants. Epiphytes live on other plants for support and light – not to suck the life out of them, so to speak! The Christmas Cactus in particular is native to the Brazilian rainforest. It thrives in the debris and decay (dead leaves, mostly) that collects in the crevices of tree limb joints, usually near the canopy of the forest where there is bright, but filtered, light. Although a succulent, the Christmas Cactus is not as drought tolerant as it’s desert cousins. It needs to be treated like the tropical it is when it comes to watering and fertilizing (i.e., moderately). I’m getting to my point about timing of blooming, I promise . . .

The rainforests of the world are located at the Equator and are blessed with receiving a balance of 12 hours of sunlight every day with 12 hours of darkness. This is where the finicky part comes in regarding the success of a Christmas Cactus as a houseplant. If you wish for your Christmas Cactus to bloom nicely, you need to ensure it receives 12 hours of uninterrupted darkness every night for about 8 – 10 weeks. As such, the best place for a Christmas Cactus in your home is near a sun filtered window in a room that you do not frequent during the longer nights of winter. Slightly closing the heating vents of the unused room will keep it a tad cooler as well. These actions will provide the Christmas Cactus the perfect environment it needs to prepare to bloom.

So . . . why is my Christmas Cactus blooming in February? Very simply, I moved it in early December (10 weeks ago, hint, hint) from a well-lighted living room to a rarely used den. My previous Christmas Cactus existed before I had furniture and a TV in this living room, so it did fine there. My new plant did not do well . . . until I moved it to its optimal environment.

If you are having difficulty blooming due to a life circumstance, as with the Christmas Cactus, give yourself adequate time to adjust. If there isn’t progress, though, don’t stay too long in the darkness. A new environment, even if a temporary vacation, may be all that is needed to get those buds started.

Until next time,

Cindy

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