Nature is Nurture

Christmas is for the Birds . . . Too!


As I wait for my last package to be delivered today, Christmas Eve 2013, I watch the wide variety of birds at my platform bird feeder from my kitchen table.  I typically see birds that usually don't feed together, do so in the cold of winter.  No doubt the recent days of ice we had in North Texas inspired these feathered friends to share the feeder even more so. 

Those birds that usually feed on insects during the warmer months find their preferred live food extremely scarce this time of year.  Suet, fruit, seed and human left-overs are nice forms of sustenance we can provide them until the warm weather appears again. 

I'd like to say here first of all, if you are fortunate enough to have more food than you can eat at Christmas, please say a silent prayer of gratitude with me.  Next, if your abundance of food is that which you can share with friends or neighbors, do so!  During our recent ice storm, I witnessed one neighbor have pizzas delivered to her family and then I saw her teenaged son take one of the pies over to an elderly mutual neighbor.  We are fortunate to have such goodwill among us.

However, if your left-overs this season pass their expiration date or you simply receive food items you don't care for, you may wish to be discerning before you toss them away.  Stale pastries, breads, nuts and over-ripe fruit can all be added to your bird feeder. 

A few friends you might see at the feeder if you add specific seed or left-overs this winter are:

  • Blue Jays - Love nuts - especially peanuts, whole and shelled.  Also like sunflower seed.
  • Mockingbirds - Apples.
  • Cardinals - Sunflower and safflower seed and apples.  
  • Doves - Millet and breads. 
  • Woodpeckers - Suet.
  • Chickadees - Sunflower seed.
  • Sparrows, wrens & finches - Variety of seed and breads.


My wish for you today, however you may celebrate during the winter months, is that you have happiness, health and always enough food to share.  

Merry Christmas!
Cindy


Of course, if you choose to set out some perishables for the birds, be sure to clear your feeder in a day or two or you might inadvertently invite a few small mammals to your home that you'd prefer stay outdoors.

 


 

The Colors of Thanksgiving





The fall colors in North Texas not only appear to be more vibrant this year, but the timing of their autumn palette is perfect as it is Thanksgiving week, 2013.  As I look out my 3rd story window at work, I see the greens, reds, russets, and yellows of live oaks, maples, red oaks, and elms, along with the gorgeous medleys of fall colors typically found on Bradford pears.

 

It can be puzzling that some fall seasons are more colorful than others.  It can also be frustrating that one year your maple keeps its deep red leaves right up to winter and the next; it drops its leaves before there is time for its true colors to be shown. 

 

While I must admit there aren’t many 100% absolutes in gardening, there are a couple of reasons our season is especially beautiful this year. 

 



First of all, it is important to understand that it is the vital substance chlorophyll that gives plants their green pigment.  I spoke of this in an earlier blog post regarding my albino sunflower seedling find and how I was disappointed to learn it wouldn’t survive long without chlorophyll. Along with being an essential element, the green color of chlorophyll dominates most other pigmented substances found in a plant.    However, as sunlight lessens with the shorter days of fall, the production of chlorophyll gradually slows and allows the subdued carotenoids (yellow, orange and brown pigments), ever present but overshadowed by the green of chlorophyll, to burst through the leaves.  And, again, while chlorophyll is indeed crucial to plants, our temperate trees and shrubs are programmed to prepare for its reduced production in the winter by storing up essential sugars throughout the warmer growing seasons.  In fact, when sugar production is at its peak during the early fall, it is the excessive sugar found in the leaves of some trees that is responsible for the third type of pigment we see in the fall – anthocyanin, accountable for red and purple hues.



 


So what is it that has brought us in North Texas such beauty this year exactly at the right time?  A perfect combination of temperature and moisture conditions:

 

According to the US Forest Service,

 

  • a succession of warm, sunny days with cool (but not freezing) nights as fall approaches will bring out the best tree colors, and
  • a severe summer drought will cause a delay in the timing of the turning of the leaves.  

 

Of course, there are other temperature and rain combinations that will produce good results earlier in the season, and on the contrary a premature hard freeze can cause leaf drop and abort the process.



 

I conclude today’s post by giving thanks for our beautiful trees as they surround us with an array of autumn hues at optimal timing to enjoy during our holiday weekend. The summer drought and the recently warm, pollen-filled days have offered us a small blessing after all.

 

Until next time,

Cindy

 

 

 

Ughhh - Ragweed!

 


Ragweed

 


I was born with puffy eyes, it seems.  In general, I am indeed always a little puffy around the orbs but when the fall season comes around and ragweed makes its undeniable appearance, I puff up tenfold.  

 

I recall as a child looking forward to attending the State Fair of Texas every year in October.  It was a wonderful time of year – Dallas students received a full day off school and free passes to the fairground, along with a round trip bus ticket.  I would start “Fair Day” excited about and anticipating all the amusement rides and exotic food I’d experience.  However, by mid-morning I’d be swelled up to the point passersby would often ask me if I was lost and if not, then why was I crying?  As vain as I admit I was, I learned in my high school years that if I was going to venture out to the fair or any activity outdoors during the fall, I may as well leave the mascara off and wear large sunglasses to hide my red, weepy eyes!   Those were the days when antihistamines just weren’t all that commonly used – or at least they weren’t common within my socioeconomic circle.  Nowadays I can venture outside in the fall as long as I am fully loaded with a couple of different acting antihistamines and keep to a few practices (I’ll share these with you in the end.)

 

As much as I dislike the effects of ragweed, the subject IS timely so I thought I’d share bits of information I have learned about this plant firsthand through my trials navigating the outdoors during the months of August through November - or sometimes - through December.   Disclaimer:  Keep in mind I am not a doctor, nurse or any other type of health care professional.  The information contained here, again, is gleaned through my experience as a 4++++ member on the allergy testing scale for all types of ragweed.  –Yes, unfortunately there is more than one culprit of this fall weed!

 

There are actually 17 species of ragweed in the United States.  A species or two or three can be found in essentially any part of the country.  It is thought ragweed has become more prevalent these days due to land development and ragweed’s ability to very easily germinate and grow in disturbed soils of all types.   The ragweed plant produces many tiny flowers that in turn, produce a multitude of pollen each.  As ragweed blooms and the cool, dry winds of fall sweep across the US, billons of pollen grains are widely dispersed.  I read where ragweed pollen can be found 400 miles off the US coastline and 2 miles high in the atmosphere.

 

What does this mean to those of us that suffer from seasonal hay fever?  It means we simply can’t escape contact with ragweed pollen and instead of attempting to do so, we should strive to limit exposure and reduce symptoms. 

 

Before I share what has worked for me regarding my allergies, I wish to explain a few more things about the ragweed plant itself:

 

First of all, it is not the pretty, golden-yellow weed we see waving along the country roads in the fall.  That is goldenrod (see below).   While a person can certainly be allergic to goldenrod, it is usually not the offending plant of fall – it just so happens to bloom at the same time and gets a bum rap! 


Goldenrod

 

Ragweed is actually not very pretty.  Oddly, its scientific name, Ambrosia, translated from Greek, means “food of the gods”.  Researching the origins of such an ironic name, I’ve discovered the jury is still out on why this scientific name was given to such a tormenting plant.  It is thought the name and its ancient meaning may have been designated to the plant to be purposely sarcastic.  Then again, some feel it was meant to denote that only mythological gods (non-humans) could tolerate eating such a plant.  Then again, another person notes it was named after a botanist with the last name Ambrose (of whom I could not locate a definite citation, by the way.) 

 

For all of the havoc it causes, ragweed does seem to have a purpose – for every living thing has a purpose on earth, correct?   Among the few benefits I discovered, the most interesting one to me is that ragweed is thought to rid the soil of lead.  Having grown up in one of the most heavily lead contaminated areas of Dallas (we lived one neighborhood over from a lead smelter) I find this trait fascinating. I also understand ragweed is the natural field crop preference of sheep.  Also, some non-allergic gardeners plant ragweed as a companion plant to peppers to lure pests to the weed instead of the food crop.  And lastly, if you search the Internet for the benefits of ragweed, you will find ragweed tincture is thought to ease numerous ailments. However, even these websites warn of severe allergic reactions and some mention ragweed leaves are oftentimes confused with those of poisonous plants – thus I hesitate to list any herbal or medicinal uses here! 




 


So – let me conclude by providing you a few simple points on how I survive, and sometimes thrive, during ragweed season.  Of course, while a highly allergic person should limit outdoor activities as much as possible, I would not recommend anyone becoming a hermit during the glorious days of fall!  Instead, a few of the tips below should help you continue your usual activities, yet make your home a safe refuge when you need to reduce exposure.

 

  • *Check with your doctor first.  If all is fine re drug interactions, etc., begin taking an OTC antihistamine at least two weeks prior to the onset of ragweed season – usually late July in most areas of the US. 

 

  • Take showers/baths in the evening to wash away pollen that may have collected in your hair, on your skin, etc. during the day and to avoid having it on your bed linens.

 

  • If you have indoor/outdoor pets, bathe them often to rid their coats of pollen grains.

 

  • As beautiful as it is during the fall season, do not be tempted to raise the windows in your home.  Use your air conditioner as needed.  Also, use the A/C in your car and make sure it is set to recirculate versus pulling air from outside.

 

  • Invest in an air purifier/filtering system (HEPA) for your bedroom and/or office.  Room-size devices are relatively inexpensive.  Be sure to change the filters often.

 

  • Change the general air filters in your home often as well during ragweed season.

 

  • Vacuum and dust your home thoroughly at least once per week.  It is best to have a non-allergic person do these tasks.  If possible, hire someone to do this for you during the fall.   (Note:  I do this myself while wearing a surgical face mask.)

 

  • Speaking of face masks, if you must or prefer to do your own yard work during the fall, be sure to utilize a high quality one while performing the chores.  However, again, if you can afford it, hire this task out from August – December.

 

  • If tolerable and again, recommended by your physician, use a nasal saline irrigation rinse in the evening to rid your sinuses of the collected pollen.  I personally use distilled water (versus tap water) and perform this task while in the shower.  

 

  • Lastly, there is a syndrome recently discovered, called oral allergy syndrome or cross-reactivity, whereby people with hay fever allergies (including grasses and trees) can have a greater allergic reaction when coming in contact with certain other plants and foods during their respective active hay fever season.  For example, those of us allergic to ragweed are best to avoid the following plants/foods during the fall months, if possible: bananas, cucumbers, cantaloupe, zucchini, melons, sunflower seeds, echinacea and chamomile.  Note:  In my younger years I found out the hard way the expensive eye creams that are supposed to de-puff your under eye area usually have either or both chamomile and cucumber extract in their ingredients.  These ingredients work well on non-allergic women, but on me, instead of producing a more restful look to my appearance, the products ended up making me look ten times worse! 


Well, here's to enjoying the beautiful and crisp weather of autumn, with or without allergies!

Until next time,
Cindy



11-6-13 
Important Disclaimer: All content, including but not limited to, recipe and health information provided is for educational purposes only. Such content is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the diagnosis, treatment and advice of a medical professional. Such content does not cover all possible side effects of any new or different health program. Consult your medical professional for guidance before changing or undertaking a new diet or exercise program. Advance consultation with your physician is particularly important if you are under eighteen (18) years old, pregnant, nursing or have health problems.

              

   

Now is the Time to Plant Bluebonnets - October & November

             


Taking pictures of kids and grandkids in a blanketed field of bluebonnets has become a favorite annual springtime event for most families in Texas.  Actually, the state flower provides a flattering background of blue for all generations – young, old and in-between.  It is also the perfect backdrop for pics of our frolicking pets.  
 
When I was a child, my mother and grandmother practiced this ritual.  We usually trekked out to Mountain Creek Lake in far west Dallas and there, my two sisters and I would be sat in a field of flowers, usually adorned in frilly Easter petticoats. Most memorable to me of these occasions would be my mom scolding us when we’d reach down and innocently pick a flower or two.  Heaven forbid we pick the state flower of Texas! It was thought by my family for years that it was “against the law” to pick bluebonnets, but I’ve discovered that it isn’t, and probably never was, so.  This rumor was so rampant that in 2002 the Texas Department of Public Safety actually published a press release explaining there is no such law!   However, be warned that if you come across the perfect picture location, you need to keep in mind it is against the law to trespass on private property. It is also against the law to cause damage to (dig up) public property.  

Not to worry.  Last year I saw plenty of bluebonnets at nurseries and, from two very healthy plants I purchased, I have seed to share.  Just send me a note with your mailing address via comment below (which I will not publish) and I’ll be happy to send some to you.  This leads me to the title of my post -
 
Now (October/November) is the time to plant bluebonnets.  As with most wildflower species, fall is the time to sow bluebonnets in order to enjoy their color come spring.


Once established, bluebonnets are prolific bloomers.  These above bloomed from March - June. 
 
Although native to Texas, bluebonnets can be grown in Zones 2 - 10.  They enjoy part to full sun, are drought tolerant and prefer slightly alkaline soil.  

Unfortunately, they can be a tad ornery when it comes to germinating.  

You see, their seed coat is quite hard; impenetrable until optimal growing conditions are present.  Scarifying, or sanding, bluebonnet seeds assists them with germinating in flower beds that will be manually maintained (watered) and groomed (weeded). You'll recall my favorite vine, the moonflower vine, requires its seed to be scarified for best germinating results as well.  If you buy your bluebonnet seed in a commercial packet, you may find they are already scarified - just check the label.   Once a bluebonnet seed successfully germinates, the plant will enjoy slow, steady growth throughout the cooler temperatures of winter; eventually setting blooms in the springtime for our picture-taking pleasure. 

Another bonus to growing bluebonnets in your beds is, as part of the legume family, they actually place nitrogen back into the soil.  What a wonderful combination - flowers and fertilization!


 
Before I go on, let me say that there are times during my research of a topic that I come across a website that simply says it all and says it well.  This is one of those times.  To read one of the best articles I’ve found regarding bluebonnets, including better explaining the above, please follow the link below.  –And afterwards, I hope you come back and take advantage of my free offer to spread a little bluebonnet seed now so you can enjoy a bit of Texas in your landscape next spring!

Until next time,
Cindy   
   

 

Close Encounter of the Odorous Kind





Monday nights for me are generally reserved for easy dinners and an hour of one of the only two TV series I watch fairly regularly – Longmire.  Sometimes I watch Rizzoli & Isles on Tuesdays.  At any rate, on this particular Monday my boyfriend, Mike, was out of town so I resolved to eating leftovers and was excited about watching the season finale of Longmire completely uninterrupted.  I had even drawn a foot bath in which to soak my feet during the show for a quick pedicure before bed – a very rare indulgence.  After the much awaited finale ended, it was 10 p.m. and close to my bedtime.  My cat, Biscuit, was meowing yet again for more treats at the pantry and I decided she needed a meal instead of a “meal of treats”, so I opened a can of food for her in the sunroom before retiring to bed.  (The sunroom is a small built-on addition to the house and is the perfect place for Biscuit’s food, water and litter box (and a host of plants, of course!)  A doggie door allows her to go from inside the house into the sunroom.  There is also a doggie door installed in the exterior door of the sunroom, allowing a pet to go outside.  While Biscuit rarely ventures outdoors, my soon-to-be dog will surely take advantage.)

 

Entering my bedroom, I was considering a quick coat of nail polish on the metatarsals before dozing off.  Prior to completing the pedicure, I lied back to take a last look at work email on my iPad when I felt Biscuit jump on the bed and let out a long, drawn-out, gargled meow.  I wish I could have smelled the oily scent before she landed on the bed, but it happened oh so fast I think I only began smelling the skunk odor after witnessing Biscuit’s soaking wet, puffy face at only 6 inches from mine. 

 

If any of you have had the pleasure, Ahem, of getting up close and personal with a skunk-sprayed pet, you may be able to recall the caustic fumes that aren’t quite recognizable until they have dissipated a bit.  I couldn’t even fathom what Biscuit had gotten into at first.   My initial instinct was to pick her up and run to the bathtub and toss water onto, what appeared to be, her melting face.  I silently prayed that whatever it was she had gotten into, the water would not make it worse.  Of course, she enjoyed this splash bath just about as much as being sprayed by the skunk - so under the bed she fled – taking small pieces of my flesh with her. 

 

Bleeding from the chest, I decided I needed to give chase.  Cell phone in hand, I called the emergency animal clinic as I watched Biscuit crouched under the bed attempting to clean her eyes over and over again with licked paws. 

 

The conversation with the emergency clinic went like this: 

 

Me:  Hello, I think my cat was just sprayed in the face by a skunk and her eyes are swelling up.  Are you on Park Drive?   If so, I can be there in a few minutes.  

 

Young Lady:  Ma’am, there really isn’t anything we can do for your cat that you couldn’t do yourself.

 

Me:  I think she might be having an allergic reaction.  She’s really puffy and looks miserable.  Are you on Park Drive?

 

Young Lady:  Is she wheezing? 

 

Me:  No, but her eyes are extremely red and puffy.

 

Young Lady:  You need to flush her eyes with saline solution.

 

Me:  I don’t have any of that.  I don’t wear contacts.  Will saline nasal spray work?

 

Young Lady:  My God – why on earth would you put nose spray in your cat’s eyes!!  (Translation:  What kind of idiot are you?)

 

Me:   I’m referring to the nasal SALINE packets used for Neti pots.   Will that help?    I think I really just need to come up there.

 

Young Lady:  No ma’am.  Unless your cat is wheezing, she will probably be better soon.  (Translation:  Why on earth would I want to experience of the odor of your cat?)

 

Me:  (Big sigh of defeat.)  I’ll take her elsewhere.  Thank you.

 

Young Lady:  Don’t hang up.  It’s really not necessary to take your cat to a clinic.  What you need to do is go to the grocery store and buy Dawn dishwashing liquid, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide and create a bath for your cat.

 

Me:  Um . . . I’m not sure I can give my cat another bath – she is pretty freaked out.

 

Young Lady:  If you at least wash her face with a cloth drenched in the solution, it will help.  Be sure and get the original Dawn liquid detergent that they use for oil-slicked penguins – the blue colored liquid.

 

Me:  OK.  Thank you.  One more question - I think the skunk came in through the doggie door when I was feeding my cat.   The skunk may still be inside.  Do you know if Animal Control will come out at midnight?

 

Young Lady:  I know they have a recording on their phone after hours. 

 

Me:  Hmmm – OK, I’ll figure out a way to coax it outside myself since it is so late. 

 

Young Lady:  My God!  Do NOT approach a skunk.  It could be rabid!  (Translation:  You ARE an idiot!)

 

Me:  I don’t plan to get near it. I'm pretty sure it is in the sunroom and I’ll just lure it out one door or another.

 

Young Lady:  Ma’am, you cannot approach a skunk!  Oh geeze! Let me go ahead and give you the non-emergency police number.  Don’t say anything to them about the open doggie door or feeding your cat.  Just tell them you discovered a wild animal in your house and you need help right away.   (Translation:  If you say too much they, too, will think you are a complete idiot!) 

 

Me:  Thank you.  I appreciate your help.  Goodbye.

 

So, after having an alarm system just installed at the house due to the increasing number of burglaries in the area, I am being asked to call the police because I have a 4-legged, stinky intruder that I unintentionally lured inside my house with cat food?  Not sure I want that reputation just yet.  I opt for going to the store to get the goods for Biscuit’s second baptism before I resort to making such a call. 

 

The strong odor snapping me back to reality, I realize I must first see if I can confirm the skunk is in the sunroom and isolate it before leaving for Kroger.   Yikes!  As I open the interior door to the sunroom I instantly hear a loud and wild hissing sound.  I close the door quickly because I can’t see a thing in the shadows and for all I know I am dealing with a rattlesnake, opossum or perhaps a whole band of skunks. 

 

I locate a flashlight in the kitchen and shine it through the glass window of the sunroom’s door.  There it is – a somewhat small skunk – hunkered in the corner.  I attempt to open the door again, but instead of running out of the sunroom in great fear of me, the little skunk insists on lunging in my direction, ferociously stomping his feet and hissing.   OK – I don’t know at this point if the thing can spray more than once during an episode but I sure don’t wish to find out this way! 

 

Through the glass, I look at the small doggie door in which the skunk entered and I have an idea.  I run through the garage, into the back yard and quickly open the outside door to the sunroom, propping it with a heavy citronella candle from the patio.  Although the skunk entered through the doggie door, I am hoping a wide exit will expedite his departure.  I run back into the house.  Interior doggie door securely barricaded, I am counting on the skunk leaving out the open door while I complete my midnight run to Kroger.  So off to the 24 hour store I go, Biscuit safely under the bed and the skunk hunkered in the corner of the sunroom, now with a more than ample escape path.

 

I made it to the grocery store in five minutes flat.  After locating the needed ingredients quickly, I sailed through the self-check with no problem whatsoever.  Why is it self-check stands work seamlessly when no one is in the store, but during the after-work, mad dinner rush when folks are breathing down your neck there are always at least two items in your basket that simply will not scan?  Namely, the spray paint you are using for touch ups around the house coupled with a discount bottle of wine - the appearance of which gives you the reputation of planning quite an illicit party!

 

At any rate, I’m back at the house in record time. 


 

I hurriedly mix up the skunk oil-riddance solution and begin the mission of relocating Biscuit.  She is no longer under my bed.  I find her wedged behind furniture in another room.  I must remove drawers to get to her.  I already have my cat-wrapping towel in hand as I do not wish to lose any more flesh.   I quickly grab Biscuit and rapidly wrap the towel around her body to where only her head is sticking out.  She has morphed into a giant cloth wiggle-worm.  I hold her tight and quickly take the wash cloth and wash her face and head repeatedly with the magic solution while she is still in burrito form.  She fights and fights and eventually manages to kick out from the towel and take more flesh.  I release her as I yell out in anguish.  Blood is shed, but mission is accomplished - at least by 75%.

 

As Biscuit runs off to lick her wounds, I am curious if the skunk has left the premises.  Nope, it is still in the exact place it was 30 minutes ago – in the corner of the sunroom under a wire rack.  I decide to turn off all the lights in the house and use the small flashlight to monitor its whereabouts. This is when I decide to crack the door ever so slightly and snap the picture above.  (Yes, I guess I could be the idiot referred to previously.)   Before I left for the store, I mentioned I had barricaded the interior doggie door so the skunk could not possibly enter the main house.  Mike has no full set of anything in his house, and thus it isn’t surprising there are no original covers to the doggie doors to be found.  I used a handy ottoman as an interior barricade.   I decide to sit on it and wait out the skunk.

 

As I sit patiently on the comfortable barricade, I grab the iPad to get a head start on learning about ways to rid a house of skunk odor.   P.S. There aren’t too many ways.  However one of the websites I found states to use the same concoction I used on Biscuit’s face, to wash any exposed linens and such.  I decide to gather up the throw rugs I knew Biscuit had raced on through the house, the cat burrito towel and the magic washcloth, and I toss them in the washer while they are still ripe.  I pour in the left-over Dawn, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide solution from Biscuit’s “bath” and start the machine.

 

I take another look out of the glass door and hooray, the skunk is on the move.  Having been so terribly frightened of Biscuit only an hour earlier, the silly thing now swaggers bravely around the sunroom like John Wayne.  He finally walks in a very slow fashion out the propped door.  I follow the skunk with my weak flashlight (from behind the glass door) as I watch it finally exit onto the patio.  

 

I swoop into the sunroom (holding my breath), kick the citronella candle away from the propped door and slam it shut.  I then proceed to barricade the offending doggie door by using cardboard, paint cans, pool toys, a Hallmark bag, Mike’s flip flops and just about anything else I can find nearby.  No original doggie door cover, no problem.  The skunk is not coming back in!

 

Skunk out of the house, my focus goes back to Biscuit.  She’s run back behind the furniture, so I take out all the drawers again to get to her and I decide to just leave them out.  After all, that particular area is going to need to be aired out anyway.  While Biscuit will not let me touch her, I can see she is no longer licking her face constantly and her eyes appear to be de-puffing.  I think the Dawn, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide concoction has helped.  Whew! 


Biscuit

 

Well, the de-skunking solution worked so well on Biscuit I decide to stop the washing machine mid-wash and let the exposed items soak really good overnight in the active ingredients.

 

Changing back into my nightgown about 2 a.m., I decide to look again at the various skunk odor remedies on my iPad before drifting off to sleep.  I found where ceiling fans and sunlight are beneficial in expediting the odor from your home.  In fact, it is recommended that clothing and other fabrics exposed to skunk spray and which are able to be washed, are air-dried outdoors in the sunlight for a few days versus being thrown in the dryer.   It is also recommended to change out A/C filters around the house as soon as possible.  As I continue to read about remedies and suggestions, I came across an exact “recipe” for the concoction I used on Biscuit.  It worked well in the end, but I had not received measurements from the emergency clinic and winged it by sloppily combining ingredients in haste.  It seems I may have added a bit more of each ingredient than necessary.  Oh well, I think.  

 

Moving on down the recipe webpage I notice where it says, “DANGER:  Do not place any of the leftover mixture in a closed container as it will explode.”  What?   Zing!   My brain kicked into gear as I remembered I was soaking the rugs and towels in the washing machine with the lid down – in a much higher concentration of the ingredients!  I leapt off the bed and made a beeline to the laundry room.  I closed my eyes, quickly threw back the lid of the washer and high-fived the agitator. 

 

Another disaster averted, I relented to sitting on the couch outside the laundry room to wait for the wash cycle to complete.  Around 2:30 a.m., I finally made it back to bed – too exhausted to be concerned with where Biscuit had originally landed on the sheets and whether I was imaging the strong skunk odor or if it was really there.  I would be showering in the morning, after all. 


--------------------------------------

 

It has been three days since the encounter yet remnants of the skunk’s visit remain apparent, of course, including the odor.  The odor is much weaker, but certainly not gone.    Biscuit will again allow me to pet her, but I cannot pick her up for more than a minute just yet.  I try often, especially when coaxing her to go back into the dreaded sunroom where she was accosted.  Nonetheless, her litter box and food reside there and she must eventually make the effort.  Mike, who has been out of town during this entire incident, will arrive on Labor Day weekend to a home complete with an unwelcoming fragrance, every fan in the house on full blast, strewn about furniture and drawers, and rugs and towels adorning every chair on the patio.  Hoping to have made a few minor home improvements while he was away, I’ve really only managed to catch up on lost sleep.

 

 

Well, that’s not exactly true – I managed to become more educated.  As wild and crazy as this incident was, I learned quite a bit from it.  Most importantly, I learned about an awesome skunk odor remedy that is safe for pets (other than ye olde tomato juice).  You can find the recipe online or at:  http://home.earthlink.net/~skunkremedy/home/sk00001.htm  (This one states to use Ivory liquid soap, but I bought Dawn like the vet assistant recommended.  Either brand appears to work.)

 

Secondly, I learned additional information about skunks other than the commonly known detail of their defense mechanism.  Prior to spraying any perceived predator, a skunk will hiss, spit and stomp at their opponent.  This is what I encountered with the critter as I attempted to open the interior door to the sunroom.   When these tactics don’t scare away a perceived predator (apparently Biscuit didn’t heed warning), the skunk will then resort to spraying – which usually works very well in fending off any attacker as the oily liquid is extremely irritating at first exposure.  I’ve also learned a skunk can spray 5 - 6 times in a row at up to 10 feet in distance before exhausting itself.  Good thing I heeded the spit, hiss and stomp warning!

 

Skunks are native to North America and eat insects (mostly grubs and worms), reptiles, and amphibians as well as some plant matter.  However, in cities and suburbs they are not opposed to eating a wide variety of other food via our garbage.  A side note about skunks eating grubs and worms - those little divots in your lawn that you may be blaming on squirrels may actually be caused by skunks, especially if you notice they are appearing overnight.  Solitary and crepuscular creatures, skunks are usually found alone when scavenging lawns and garbage cans at dusk and during the night.  

 

A very unusual and interesting fact I learned about skunks is that they are considered a primary predator of honeybees.  Apparently they will scratch at a beehive to cause a disturbance and then eat the guard bees that come out to protect the hive.  A skunk’s thick fur keeps them from being stung.  Who would’ve thought?

 

Lastly, I learned that skunks can’t see well at all – only up to 10 feet in front of them - but they have an incredible sense of smell.  Unfortunately, Biscuit and I learned the hard way that canned cat food is one of their favorite aromas and they can smell it a quarter mile away.  Although skunks typically shy away from social contact*, once on the path toward a cat food feast, it is simply hard to deter or detour them. 

 

No doubt, I’d say!

 

Until next time,

Cindy


 

*While they are a vector animal for the rabies virus, skunks rarely make unnecessary contact with humans or pets.  Of course, all joking aside, rabies is a very serious reason to avoid contact with skunks or any other animal that is unusually brave enough to wander into your garage, basement or house.  Although I kept myself behind closed doors and the skunk was relegated to an outdoor sunroom, it is always best to call a professional to remove the animal.   Had my propped door- wait it out tactic not worked, I would have resorted to calling the non-emergency police number.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wrens





I had three little visitors last evening as I sat on the patio eating dinner and enjoying the unusually mild August summer night.  While I call them visitors, actually they are natives returning home as they had recently hatched in a hanging basket, overflowing with an asparagus fern, dangling under an eave not far from where I sat.  

 

The three tiny Carolina Wrens continue to stay close to each other after having left their nest only about a week ago.   It was funny watching them hop-fly from fence post to wire trellis and into the midst of a different hanging basket than that which they were born – one full of somewhat dried Dahlberg daises and red verbena.  (Dried daisies because it is August, after all!) 

 

The tiny wrens chattered non-stop while they ran around deep inside the hanging basket, popping their heads up through the straw-like foliage now and then.  It appeared they were playing chase with one another, but perhaps since they were born and raised inside a coconut-lined hanging basket they have developed an affinity for them.  

I had  thought when I first saw the parent wrens jumping in and out of my asparagus fern a few months ago that they were chasing the moths and other insects I often see fly out of the baskets when watering them.  I did not realize the birds were instead seeking out a nesting place and I had no idea a nest had eventually been built.  It wasn't until I witnessed the parent wrens taking turns bringing worms into the fern that I understood a nest was present. You see, when I watered the fern, it did not disturb the eggs or nestlings because the parent wrens had built their typical "cup", or covered, nest.  I have since learned that Carolina Wrens prefer to make their nests in cavities and containers and aren't too shy about nesting near human activity.  A friend of mine consistently has broods of Carolina Wrens in her hollowed-out  birdhouse gourds. My sister has had wrens hatch in a decorative box situated on a high shelf  just outside her back door.   However, in open containers, such as my asparagus fern hanging basket, the birds will usually construct a dome-like nest to "create a cavity" for added protection.    

 

 

Above is an amazingly clear photo I was able to capture with my cell phone of the fledglings about a day before they left the nest.  Don’t fret, I did not remove the hanging basket from its post, nor did I stick my head in the fern, nor did I dig around in the fern looking for the nest.  I waited patiently for the parents to leave and then I simply reached up, placed my phone near the edge of the basket and, whoa-la – I captured an incredible pic .  If you look closely, you can see the nest is "cupped" around the birds.

 

Speaking of chasing moths, wrens are classified in general as carnivores.  I know what you are thinking – I, too, think of lions and tigers when I hear the word carnivore, but many birds and other less threatening animals are considered carnivores or “meat-eaters” as well.  Actually, you can break the diet of carnivorous birds down a bit further and differentiate between those that primarily eat fish (piscivores) and those that primarily eat insects (insectivores).   Wrens are insectivores and as such, they eat spiders, caterpillars, moths, crickets, grasshoppers, and roaches among other insects.  They have been known to eat very small lizards and snakes too - more like a carnivore, I’d say!   And, as you can see by my (rather blurry) photo below, you can indeed find wrens at your bird feeder but usually only when you’ve placed out a  mix that includes berries or fruit.  Although seed isn't typically a part of their diet, wrens do enjoy a bit of fruit pulp now and then.


 

Carolina Wrens are quite brave for their size.  This one has no problem sharing the bird feeder with a squirrel.  Blue jays and doves, much larger birds, usually stand by and wait for the squirrels to leave.


 

Like doves, blue jays, herons, etc., there are also several species of wrens.  In my area of North Texas I predominately see the Carolina Wren and have come to learn its habits through direct observation.  In researching wrens in general, I have discovered most have the same or very similar characteristics as the Carolina:

 

Small – 4 to 5.5 inches

Muted in color – browns, rusts and grays

Prefer the warmer climes of their range

No noticeable difference in appearance per sex or age

Sings and chatters loudly - especially in relation to their size!

Very active – doesn’t stay in one place for long

Performs short flights from one perch to another

Hops while on the ground

And, probably the most endearing and identifiable trait – they hold their tails upright (see intro photo)

 

While wrens share the majority of the above traits, there are a few distinct differences amongst the varieties, surprisingly, in relation to their mating and parenting behaviors.  The sexes of some wrens share jointly in nest building and in the feeding and caring of their young while other varieties have separate responsibilities.  Some wren species mate for life (such as the Carolina Wren), while others (such as the House Wren) will actually steal the favor of a female right out from under another male who has already built a nest for her – the new couple using the other male’s nest to bring up their chicks.  Unfortunately this rogue-like behavior continues with House Wrens forcefully occupying the completed nests of non-wren species – destroying any "foreign" eggs already there.  Very diverse stances amongst wren species relating to mating, no doubt!
 

Well, although the House Wren may be the most aggressive of the wrens, it is also amongst the most ingenious. To eradicate its nest of mites, that almost always plague hatchlings, the House Wren will add a spider egg sac when building, or taking over, a nest.  The spiderlings eventually hatch and eat mites to their fill, leaving the newly hatched chicks healthy and parasite free.   Thereafter, any lingering, well-fed spiders will most likely become a meal for the growing birds - an interestingly parasitic, symbiotic, and  "circle of life" type relationship between mites, spiders and birds. 

 

In conclusion, despite the sometimes unpleasant mating activities of the House Wren, it remains beneficial to welcome wrens of all types into your landscape – especially if you are a gardener.  These small, energetic birds will adorn your foliage with cuteness and  charm, fill the air with passionate song, and rid your space of pesky insects!  


Until next time,

Cindy

 

 

Bringing Up Bromeliads


 

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.



 


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. 





 

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.)

 

 

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. 










 

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.)



 
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

 

 

 

 

 

Played: 9696 | Download | Duration: 00:09:50

Underwater Jewels

                 
                  
  


It's been a while since I last posted and I really have not one good excuse - just a bunch of little things have taken up my time and energy lately and thus, I've been remiss about finishing up a few posts I've started.  However, no matter how busy we get we should always make time for the things that bring us the most pleasure and as such, I'm getting back to it!  

While I still haven't quite finished up those posts mentioned above - one about container plantings and the other about black crows - I would like to quickly get back to Nature is Nurture by posting a link to a pictorial of my recent, amateur underwater camera attempts while vacationing in Hawaii (my first time there and yes, it is indeed PARADISE both ashore and at sea!)   

I must say, I am thrilled at the outcome of my photos although I know they aren't the best.  We snorkeled three times while in Hawaii and unfortunately I made my disposable camera purchase just prior to the last stop or I would have had more to research and to show you.  Not only did I see the fish listed in my pictorial, but I saw a school of needlefish, two sea turtles, a monk seal and much more brilliantly colored coral - all appearing in shallow water less than 5 feet in depth.    

Many thanks to Keoki Stender of
http://www.marinelifephotography.com/ for confirming and assisting me in identifying a couple of fish in which I had difficulty.  His professional photographs are absolutely stunning.  Be sure and check out his site to view additional photographs of gorgeously-marked fish and other sea jewels near Hawaii and elsewhere.  As a bonus, you will also find educational tidbits on his site as well.  

Lastly, if you are planning a beach or island trip soon, I hope the photos at my link below and those at Marine Life Photography encourage you to partake in a little underwater exploration yourself!   
Always heed danger & warning signs and be sure to snorkel and/or snuba in designated areas with a partner or two!


Underwater Jewels by Cindy


Until next time,
Cindy





Albino Sunflower Seedling





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 and, some of which, are perching and eating at the feeders immediately thereafter - even when I'm standing very nearby.  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 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 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 in 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 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

Splendid Spirea


Bridalwreath Spirea

It's April in North Texas and this generally means erratic weather and temperatures.  This year is no different than any other spring.  Yesterday was a balmy 75 degrees and today, after a cold front complete with thundershowers blew through, we stand in the high 40's.  By this weekend, we will be back up near 80 and so it goes.  It is a wonder our trees, shrubs and plants ever figure out the right time to sprout and bloom - but somehow they do despite the confusion the weather places on us humankind.

I'm not sure why it is, but some of the most beautiful of plants bloom but for a very short time in the spring.  Perhaps they instinctively know they need to put on a great show while they can, because either a surprise freeze may occur or an early summer heatwave might bear down upon them soon.  

Among the magnificent early spring bloomers here in Texas are bradford pear, redbud and plum trees; baby-pink Indian Hawthorne and vibrantly cool azalea shrubs; and, lilac-hued wisteria and sunny yellow Carolina Jessamine vines. Although all of the previous are indeed a sight to see when in full bloom, the most graceful and serene spring bloomer I've ever encountered is the bridalwreath spirea.  
 
From my research, I have learned there are over 80 varieties of spirea and most horticulturists divide them into two categories - the larger, white flowered, spring bloomers (bridalwreaths) and the smaller, summer bloomers that bear white, pink and red flowers.  While they bloom at different times of the year, they essentially have the same basic growing requirements so I'll speak of both types from this point forward.

Spireas are deciduous shrubs that enjoy full sun to part shade and moist, well-drained soil.  They prefer to be planted in quality soil but once established, they will tolerate poor, urban, and sporadically dry soil.  In general, they can be planted in US Zones 5 - 9, with some spireas able to survive Zones 3 & 4 if mulched and protected over winter.  (Another caveat is if you are in Zones 8 or 9, you may wish tostrategically plant your spirea in part shade, as full sun during July and August in the warmer climes may stress the shrub.)  

The larger, spring blooming spireas often reach 6 - 10 feet in height and may grow just as wide.  They indeed need their space! 

The smaller, summer-blooming spireas vary in their height and width, ranging from 2 - 5 feet.  


http://www.monrovia.com

I have grown both the spring and summer blooming spireas at my former residence and each were striking in their own way and timing.  The beauty of the arching bridalwreath spirea can take your breath away on a fresh, cool, early spring day.  The summer spireas are a welcoming and colorful site among the typical green landscape shrubs in the heat of summer.  


Bridalwreath blooming now (April 2013) at my Current Residence

  

www.vanbelle.com

In conclusion, if you have an empty space in your landscape that you'd like to dress up for this spring and summer (and many to come), you may wish to look into planting a spirea or two.  A very nice attribute of deciduous trees and shrubs (such as spirea) is you can plant them in strategic areas around your home and landscape to where they provide interest, color and filtered shade in the heat of the summertime, yet in the winter they timely become bare to allow much needed sunlight and warmth into our homes and landscapes.  A win-win year 'round for certain!

Until next time,
Cindy

    





    

Cast Iron Plant Lives Up to its Name




A few weeks ago, I had occasion to take a peek at my neighbors' gorgeous back yard.  We were doing a one-day dog-sitting stint for their beautiful and very well-mannered golden retriever.  I could go on and on about how wonderful this particular dog is, but I'll save my comments about Molly for another time! 

What was quite astonishing about this backyard was that in the midst of winter it exuded a lush, tropical feel.  As I glanced around I noticed several outcroppings of deep-green, long-leafed plants throughout the area.   Having had a few in my own yard at one time, I recognized the plants as Aspidistra elatior, or Cast Iron Plants.  The strategic placement of these 2 ft X 2 ft, evergreen, perennial plants in my neighbors' backyard had definitely added vibrancy to their winter poolside decor and will most certainly enhance their summer landscaping as well.

If you happen to have a skillet, pot, fence or garden decor item made of cast iron, you can surely attest to its durability. And this is exactly the attribute by which the Aspidistra elatior obtained its common name - incredible durability, or otherwise, its ability to endure.  

The Cast Iron Plant, a member of the lily family, is indeed one of the easiest plants to grow both indoors and outdoors.   For those of you who claim to have brown thumbs - this is the plant for you!  It it can withstand weeks of neglect and amazingly doesn't need much in the way of nutrients or sunlight to survive.  

In Zones 6 - 11, you may sow the Cast Iron Plant outdoors in areas of deep shade to part sun, in dry to moderately moist soil, with acidic or alkaline ph, and/or any combination thereof.  Full sun will burn its leaves and consistently wet soil will eventually rot the roots -but other than these two extreme scenarios, the Cast Iron Plant should thrive.  But while it doesn't do well in full sun, the plant can endure very hot ambient temperatures.   So - if you have an isolated corner, strip along your patio, or a vacant spot in your landscape that simply could use a little greenery, the Cast Iron Plant will bring a refreshing tropical feel to these otherwise barren areas - spring, summer, fall and winter.   

Speaking of a tropical feel, it is important to clarify that I am speaking of the wide, green, strap-like leaves (sometimes spotted or variegated depending on the variety) of the Cast Iron Plant.  Although a "cousin" to the beautiful Daylily and Tulip, the Cast Iron Plant produces flowers that are a very inconspicuous brown and which develop at the soil level.   Needless to say, the plant isn't grown or displayed for its flowering capabilities.  Nonetheless, it is a wonderful backdrop to other plants that do flower and is sometimes used in beds as a tall, year 'round ground cover.  

As I mentioned earlier, the Cast Iron Plant can also be grown indoors with ease.  Like other houseplants such as Sansevieria (snake plant), Dracaena (corn plant) and Aglaonema (Chinese evergreen), the Cast Iron Plant can survive in very low light.  In fact, it may be able to withstand the darkest corner of a room or hallway moreso than those previously mentioned.  A variegated or spotted Cast Iron Plant variety would further serve to brighten these indoor areas.  Best of all, it is a very forgiving plant should you simply forget to water or otherwise attend to it from time to time.


http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/ornamentals/coastalplants/aspidistra.html 

Well, as promised in my
last blog post, I wanted to bring you a planting option this spring for those areas in your landscape in which you haven't had much success in growing anything in the past - whether it is due to poor soil, poor lighting, poor location or for reasons unknown.  And if I may reiterate - this particular planting option, the Cast Iron Plant, is an extremely tough, perennial evergreen and thus, a one-time planting will decorate your landscape year 'round for many years to come.  And don't forget - the Cast Iron Plant can be utilized as a houseplant in the most difficult of indoor areas as well, benefiting you with natural air filtration year 'round. 

I can't think of anything more versatile, yet resilient  -  other than items actually made of cast iron!

Until next time,
Cindy



Spring Fever

 

Ahhh - it is March 4th and 88 degrees here in North Texas today.  It is definitely a day that will promote a little Spring Fever! 

Incidentally, while researching how the term Spring Fever was derived, I learned its meaning is contradictory.  Spring Fever is generally considered a state of renewed energy, high spirits and anticipation.  I've often equated it with Spring Cleaning, as most of us come out from the semi-hibernation of winter in a restless state - having the need to tidy our surroundings and pack up or discard that which we will no longer need for the upcoming warmer weather.  However in past times and other cultures, Spring Fever has been known to be a time when a person may, in contrast, feel lethargic and achy.  Spring is the common season for measles and other childhood diseases to flare up, after all.  Of course, we also have the seasonal allergies that take hold as the trees and flowers begin to bloom.  So, I suppose Spring Fever can signify a condition that actually produces a fever in some of us!

Another side effect of Spring Fever for gardeners in particular is - premature planting.  And yes, I am guilty of having this condition just about every spring.  In fact, only yesterday was I out looking for a prime spot to transplant one of my favored
Jackmanii Clematis vines (the namesake of the Nature is Nurture blog artwork and featured in the left hand corner above.)  Having been a premature planter many times in the past and regretting it - I held off this time.   I have learned the hard way it is best to wait until the average date of the last frost has passed before I plant, transplant or sow anything outdoors.  For those of us in North Texas, March 18th is the awaited date.   Do keep in mind we are speaking of an AVERAGE date of the last frost - for we all are aware that when it comes to Mother Nature, there are no guarantees!  If you'd like to look up your average last date for a frost, along with a few other interesting facts, go to http://davesgarden.com/guides/freeze-frost-dates/.

So - what can we do as we wait for the next couple of weeks, or, in some climates, months, to pass before we can get our hands good and dirty outdoors? 

Several things:

Inventory your supplies.  As I mentioned earlier, I was focused on finding a place to transplant my clematis and in the interim had gone to the local hardware store to find an obelisk trellis to purchase for which it could climb.  Fighting back the urge to load my basket with trellises, pots, a bird bath and dozens of tender seedlings, I left the store with only the indoor hardware I truly needed that day.  Good thing, as when I got home I noticed there was a beautiful, forgotten trellis stored in a corner of the garage - perfect for wherever I decide to plant the clematis. 

Refresh your memory.  Before you buy new plants or seed to fill all the bare spaces in your wintery landscape, try to recall if and where you planted perennials last year.  If you jotted the locations down on a map, all the better.  Dig it out, so to speak! 

Plan.  Now is the very best time to plan your spring/summer landscape.  If you already have a landscape or garden map as mentioned above - great.  If not, take a few minutes and create one.  Doesn't have to be fancy or professionally/digitally drawn - just something you can read and easily identify the icons.     
  • As mentioned above, locate perennials or at least consider where you believe they are. Map them out and allow time for their sprouts to emerge before considering other options.
  • Evaluate the space in your planting beds and allow for your perennials to have multiplied.  Once the perennials sprout, dividing and transplanting them or sharing the divisions with your family and friends are options if you find your space will most likely become overcrowded. 
  • Evaluate existing and former plants' locations and needs and adjust accordingly. (For several years, my boyfriend attempted to grow an azalea in too much sun.  He babied it by amending the soil, adding additional water and placing shade cloth over it during the hottest months.  It survived until last year, but it barely bloomed and never really thrived - and who enjoys an azalea draped with shade cloth anyway?  On the bright side (no pun intended), now he has a prime spot to plant and grow a beautiful sun-loving shrub.  
  • Consider creating or adding a color, texture or theme scheme to your yard this year.  Look through gardening books, magazines and/or websites to obtain new ideas. Do you want your flowers to contrast with your home or blend?  Do you want a cool, serene look with light blues and whites, or a vibrant look of reds and yellows?  Do you want bold tropicals or dainty ferns?  Do you prefer a natural look or a formal, angular one?  How about a koi pond?
  • Regardless of whether you decide to create a specific color, texture, or theme to your exterior space, make sure adjacent plants have comparable needs.  In other words, don't plant maidenhair ferns intermixed with pinwheel zinnias as the former prefers shade and rich, damp soil while the other prefers sun and can tolerate poorer, drier soil.  Same theory holds true - and is even more important - when purchasing plants you intend to sow together in containers! 
  • Consider adding yard art (including bird baths and feeders) and/or lighting in strategic locations of your outdoor space, perhaps in that odd spot where nothing has been successful in growing (stay tuned for my next blog post, however!)  Re lighting, solar lighting is very economical and there are more and more varieties and styles of lights available each year.  We purchased mini-stringed solar lights on Christmas clearance and last week decided to twine them around an arbor.  They are very pretty now and we expect the lighted arbor to be prettier once the trumpet vine leafs out!

                        Bare arbor alit with mini-stringed solar lights. Will be prettier once foliage grows among the lights.



          Texas shaped birdbath in corner of fence behind a holly- where it is difficult to grow ornamentals.



Taking into consideration the above tasks - and the fact spring actually doesn't arrive on the calendar until March 22nd - there is plenty we can do to satisfy our early Spring Fever/Spring Cleaning urges these days.  While spontaneous and/or accidental successes in gardening are indeed quite pleasant, there is great satisfaction in beginning with a plan and seeing it through, step by step, to success - not to mention the time, money and effort you may save along the way.   

Until next time,
Cindy

      




 



Early Bloomers - Flowering Quince & Forsythia



Although one of my 2013 New Year's resolutions was to become more active, I had not started doing too much in the way of dedicated exercise until last weekend.  Yes, I know, I'm six weeks late as it is mid-February!

At any rate, my boyfriend, Mike, and I decided to take a Saturday morning walk in the neighborhood to kick-start our hopefully "routine" fitness routine.  It was quite gray and chilly here in North Texas, but the brisk walk was well worth it for reasons more than just the physical.  Our senses were enveloped by the serenity of the late winter landscape. 

Among the peaceful yet barren suburban yards, every so often we would see snippets of salmon-colored buds or bright golden bells.  These flowering buds were without the typical background of green leaves as they were borne on winter bare limbs.

I'm speaking of Flowering Quince and Forsythia - very early bloomers of the coming season. Crocus, Hyacinth and Jonquils are early bloomers as well, but considering Flowering Quince and Forsythia are shrubs - it is indeed a surprise to see them flowering when temperatures have been steadily cold.



Autumn Sage & Flowering Quince in Carrollton, TX   Feb 2013
(Both of these shrubs are straggly by nature and thus, are good companions.)


Forsythia in Carrollton, TX   Feb 2013




 

                                                          Hyacinth & Jonquils in Carrollton, TX  Feb 2013



Flowering Quince and Forsythia share many attributes in addition to their simultaneously early blooming times.  Both shrubs are hardy from Zones 5 - 8, with some of each seen stretching to Zones 4 and 9 on occasion. They are deciduous and can be planted in part shade to full sun, however, the more sun they receive the more abundant and vibrant their flowers will be.  Both may be planted in a variety of soil types, i.e. sand, clay or loam, as long as drainage isn't a problem.  However, they each will benefit from a supplement of peat or landscape mix now and then as they tend to grow stronger in nuetral to slightly acidic environments.   Flowering Quince and Forsythia are relatively fast growing and typically reach 6 feet in height at maturity but both can grow up to 10 ft in height and 8-10 ft in width if not pruned.  Speaking of pruning, these shrubs should be pruned after they bloom as the next year's buds will appear on the matured wood.  If you wait to tidy them up in late fall or winter, you will diminish the blooms of the following spring.  Blooms occur on these shrubs prior to leaves appearing.  Unfortunately, another common trait among the two is their vibrant flowers only last about two weeks - just long enough to provide us an "appetizer" for the coming warm weather!


Now, for a few differences: 

While both Flowering Quince and Forsythia are considered informal, irregular shrubs, Forsythia is the more attractive of the two after its leaves begin to appear.  It is often utilized in landscapes as a specimen plant. Quince, on the other hand, has been described as having a tangled, spindly appearance - even after having leaved out.  Except for new and improved cultivars, Flowering Quince also produces large thorns.  As such, Quince is best situated in either an out of the way location or, in contrast, as a barrier shrub.  

Forsythia produces bell shaped flowers in varying shades of one color - yellow. Flowering Quince, on the other hand, produces cup-like flowers in multiple colors - red, pink, salmon, orange or white. 

Unlike Flowering Quince, Forsythia may add color interest to your landscape in the fall months as well as in spring.  Several varieties of Forsythia produce leaves that turn deep purple to bronze in autumn, before ultimately shedding them.  



With regard to their history and uses, both Flowering Quince and Forsythia shrubs are usually found in rural areas and mature urban/suburban yards. In past times, the small fruit of Flowering Quince was used for jellies when apples or other fruit was scarce.  Forsythia's fruit is used in traditional Chinese herbal medicine to detoxify the body and treat fevers, among other things. Keep in mind today's cultivars are ever-changing and it is always recommended to consult a licensed health care provider before eating any unusual plant or taking any herbal remedy. 

In conclusion, as you begin to notice trees, shrubs and flowers budding out in your landscape this spring, you might consider one of these two shrubs for that odd, difficult location in your yard in which you haven't found anything to thrive.  Considering Flowering Quince and Forsythia are perennial, they are moderate growers, they can be pruned or left natural, they grow well in most soil types (except bogs) and they tolerate a wide range of sunlight conditions, one or both of these shrubs may be just what you are looking for.  Needless to say, their adaptability is one of their best shared characteristics. 

And while they may not be among the most glamorous shrubs in the landscape throughout the year, they certainly make a spectacular first impression!

Until next time,
Cindy



Where Have All the Geckos Gone?


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. 

  
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.

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!)   



                                           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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'Tis the Season!



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 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 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 consistent 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.   


Contrasting 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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