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What to Expect When Your A/C Goes Out in 100+ Temps

Thermostat 100 Degrees

Hopefully this is a somewhat humorous and enlightening post regarding what I’ve learned firsthand this week living without air conditioning.  We live in Texas, it is mid-July, and the daily temps, unfortunately, have reached 107+ every day this week.    But first of all, I’d like to begin with some serious advice if this scenario currently applies to you:

  1. Go to a hotel (there are plenty of pet-friendly ones, btw.)
  2. If you’d rather not do that, invest in a portable A/C (about $300) to cool down to a tolerable level at least one room in your house.   Three hundred dollars is not small change, but consider it an investment that you can use again, if necessary, or lend out to friends and relatives who may be in need in the future.  Actually, I’ve since learned some folks use these units regularly to keep one room in their house, usually their bedroom, a little cooler at night than others.
  3. If you don’t have the funds for either above, find willing relatives, friends or neighbors to put you up.  Extreme temps can be deadly!

My husband and I chose option #2 above, mainly because we were one day into roof, fence and gutter repairs when our A/C bit the dust and at least one of us needed to “be around”.  (You’ll recall from my earlier post we experienced baseball-size hail last month, thus the multiple repairs.)

Let me take a side moment to bless those repairmen.  In our neighborhood, they start at 6 a.m. and take many breaks, thank goodness, but I honestly don’t know how they continue on once 10 a.m. rolls by.

Back to our decision to opt for #2, we also have an escape-artist dog and a scared-y cat.  Packing up and going to a hotel with our “special” pets would cause 10 times the stress than all four of us creatures staying home and living in a 11 X 11 room!  And for those of you thinking we could go to a hotel and leave our pets at home,  please read on to better gauge that thought . . .

Gosh, you’re probably wondering, “Where is the humor, Debbie Downer?!”  Well, here we go –

When your A/C breaks down and it’s July in Texas:

  • You will lose 5 lbs in one day.  All water weight, but . . .
  • Because of above, you learn to love Gatorade even if you previously hated it.
  • Ice cold beer = big fat ankles.
  • You don’t turn on lights in the house.
  • An “open blinds” person must adapt to being a “closed blinds” person.  This is why my pics look as though they are in black and white.
  • Your cat will suddenly become claustrophobic when you close the door to the one cool room in the house.
  • If you don’t let her out, your claustrophobic cat will threaten to disengage the portable A/C’s exhaust coil from the window after you and your husband spent 2 hours trying to puzzle it together.
  • When tossed outside the cool room for a brief potty break, your cat will find the second coolest spot in the house – the bathroom tile.  I admit, I tested the tile myself and it was indeed cool – just not at all comfortable.

  • Speaking of bathrooms, there is no such thing as taking a quick, cold shower.  Your tap water is lukewarm.
  • Your face cream is hot. Your toothpaste is hot.  Putting on make-up is an act of futility.  Blow drying one’s hair is not going to happen.  Thus, be prepared for being asked at fast food joints if you qualify for the senior discount – ugh!
  • In addition to the blow dryer, you learn to live without using the dishwasher, oven, clothes dryer and iron. Unfortunately you sweat so much, you have to change clothes often – but you only wash the necessities – in cold water. (Correction:  in lukewarm water as, again, there is no cold.)
  • On the positive, underwear will dry in 5 minutes when placed outside.  On the negative, underwire bras will literally brand you if you don’t let them cool down.
  • All the ice in your refrigerator’s ice-maker will meld together if you leave the freezer open more than 30 seconds, rendering your ice-dispenser useless.
  • Coffee grounds left in your coffeemaker will mold in less than one day, however you stop making coffee because it is unbearable to drink anyway.
  • Fruit and salads are the only things appetizing.  Even ice cream is unappealing because it is too rich. (This isn’t a bad thing for me, actually.)
  • You entertain the thought of  cooking dinner on the stove top at least one night because you are subscribed to a mail order meal plan and you don’t want it to go to waste.  Luckily, over a month ago, you picked grilled chicken salad for this particular week.  But, you see flies around the delivered box that is resting on your porch when you arrive home from work.  The box is supposed to be safe for 24 – 48 hours upon delivery but then again, this is July – in Texas – and it is 109 degrees outside.  The 4 ice packs are no longer frozen, the lettuce is wilted and the chicken has completely thawed.  You realize there is no way you are eating anything that came inside that box.  Don’t get me wrong, I love, love, love my meal plan!  The circumstances just aren’t conducive to mail order perishables this week.
  • Your concern about thieves lessens because opening your windows reduces the heat in your house by 10 degrees. Ours actually dropped to 101 after we opened  windows once we knew for sure the A/C was not coming back on.  BTW: We adjusted our alarm and activated our motion detectors. Thieves may get in, but they won’t get out with anything.
  • Speaking of open windows, be prepared for the giant of all hornets – the cicada killer – to find that one torn spot in your window screen to squeeze through and enter your house. It may be harmless but it seriously looks like it could carry off a chihuahua.

Cicada Killer Hornet 100 Degree

  • Open windows =  herds of dust bunnies.  However . . .
  • Your concern about having a tidy house dissipates because it’s too hot to clean and no one in their right mind plans to visit you.
  • Your swimming pool is a giant hot tub.  If you dare attempt to use it, you must wear flip-flops from your doorway until you reach the deep end.
  • You will find creatures at your bird bath that you’ve never seen before –  including lizards and insects.  Not necessarily a bad thing.   Keep your bird baths full – wild things are suffering too.
  • Your tolerance and patience will be short with EVERYONE about EVERYTHING.  Keep this in mind and, just like when coming out from under anesthesia, don’t sign any legal documents or make any important decisions for a while – i.e., after the A/C is up and running again!

Well since this is predominately a gardening blog, I would be remiss if I didn’t tie in a few gardening tips regarding dealing with the extreme heat:

  • First of all, be prepared to lose some plants.  It’s Mother Nature.  No matter how often I watered this week, my once tomato-bearing, raised garden bed is toast – literally!  I was not even able to take a picture of it without evidence of  the sun’s hot rays blazing through.

  • Recognize, that although it seems very odd, some plants “bolt” or flower in the most extreme of conditions.  Like several of my former posts have mentioned, it is a natural reaction they have to keep their gene pool going.  See bolting and recovering.

Bolting Basil

  • Unless you are in a water restricted area, add an extra day to your lawn sprinkler schedule.
  • Water, water, water your outdoor potted plants.  Water at the base of the plants EVERY morning.  Do not mist the leaves as water droplets at this time of year become tiny magnifying glasses.
  • If movable, move your potted plants to a shady or a part shade area.
  • If not movable, erect a temporary shade cloth tent above those plants that are showing signs of sun scald.  Do it in the very early morning so as to not scald yourself.
  • Water your indoor plants generously once a week.  More so if they are wilting and you are in an un-airconditioned home.  Our peace lily wilts every day but perks up after a watering in the morning.  I haven’t adequately researched it, but I suspect this particular plant must be more sensitive to hot ambient temperatures.
  • Lastly, and I know you’ve heard this before, if you lose plants this year, replace them with native species or at least with species that are well adapted to your climate and soil.  It can make the difference in the life or death of a plant when dealing with extremes.  For example:  My husband loves azaleas and we planted about 7 of them in our front bed.  They are not well suited for our area but it is possible to grow them if they are “babied” and supplemented.   However, the 4 that get the most sun are not going to make it through this current heat spell.  No matter how well we supplemented the soil and abided by their minimum shade requirement, the extreme heat triumphed our attempts to provide an artificial environment for them.  We will replace the dwarf azaleas this fall with a shrub variety that best fits our area – most likely Indian Hawthorne.

All joking aside, be sure to put yourself and loved ones first and keep cool, comfortable and hydrated in extremely hot weather.  As with the hail storm we recently encountered, you can rebuild, repair, refresh and replace items when the storm (or in this case, heat wave) passes.

Until next time,

Cindy

 

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Allowing Plants Time to Recover

Well, again, it has been a while since I’ve posted.  I have a few interesting topics in mind to write about this summer but unfortunately this particular topic has come to the forefront due to a personal experience with baseball-sized hail recently. Living in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area my entire life (*cough* 56 years) I have been through quite a few hailstorms in my time.  It seems as though the chances of baseball-sized hail or larger in our part of the country has become greater over the past several years.  Keeping this in mind along with the fact homes and vehicles are greatly damaged by these storms, I thought I’d share the good news that most plants are able to recover, and some even thrive, after such events.

My Vehicle – Hailstorm of June 6, 2018

Patio Table – Hailstorm of June 6, 2018

I suppose the first step in determining if a plant will bounce back after a storm (or other disaster) is to simply give it plenty of time to heal and recover.  Most people understand your landscape will be reasonably unattractive for a while after a severe event.  I recall visiting Florida only a month after a category 4 hurricane had made landfall and, yes, there was major saltwater damage to all the beachfront resorts as expected.  Instead of a lush welcome, we were met at our hotel by dull, brown tropicals and dismembered palms.   However, I could see little pockets of healthy greenery peeking out of the dead-looking shrubs.  The injured plants were already beginning to recover.  Plants can be pretty resilient, just like people.

And just like us humans, sometimes a plant seems A-OK immediately after an incident but a few days later the evidence of damage appears.  Have you ever been in a car accident and walked away feeling fine only to literally feel like you’d been hit by a truck the next day?  Then, a few days later, the bruises appear and not only do you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck but you look like it as well.  The same goes with plants.  There is the obvious evidence of damage such as when a full limb or palm frond breaks off, and then there is the gradual yellowing and dropping of leaves that may occur with some plants over the next few days.  Still, even when pain is delayed, an injury can heal.

Pineapple Took Direct Hit from Hailstone
Offshoot Now Growing to Side of Fruit

Tropical (Annual) Hibiscus
Delayed Evidence of Hail Damage

In researching this topic and personally nursing some of my own prized plants back to health, I found that once a serious injury of any kind has occurred to a plant, the following actions are beneficial:

  • Trim and discard dead, yellow and injured limbs, leaves and fruit.
  • Watch closely for disease and/or insects over the upcoming weeks – both like to attack weakened plants.
    • If disease or insects do appear, use horticultural oil (in the evening) as a remedy.
  • Water more frequently – but do not over water (do not allow potted plants to sit in water.)
  • Replenish the soil around the base of plants, especially if the plant was uprooted or suffered a low injury.
  • Add mulch.
  • If a tree, shrub or perennial is badly injured, resolve that it simply may not look great this year – trim it and look forward to next year.
  • If an annual, give it a couple of weeks to show signs of recovery or new growth and if none, discard. Allow the soil to rest and look forward to planting suitable annuals/vegetables for the upcoming season (spring, summer, fall or winter).

A bonus to salvaging a plant is there are times one that is severely damaged actually grows back stronger. What comes to mind right away is the old adage that a sapling left to bend in the wind grows to withstand stronger gales than those staked.  In preparing for this post I read an article that mentioned scientists have discovered that select plants, nibbled to the ground by varmints, are prompted to increase their chromosomes upon re-growth after being damaged.  (See https://www.futurity.org/nibbled-plants-grow-back-stronger/.)  And then there are those plants, such as the moonflower vine, that must go through a catastrophe, such as a fire or flood, in order for their seeds to open, disperse and/or germinate.  Speaking of reproducing, I noticed my aloe vera and pineapple plants, both which took direct hits from the hail, are suddenly developing offshoots. The mother plants may be marred for now, but soon I will have two for one!  I also have noticed my doted-upon plumeria that lost all but one stalk during the storm, is producing the most vibrant fuchsia-toned blooms I’ve ever seen on its one remaining stalk (top photo).  Lastly, haven’t you heard that difficult circumstances can often make fruits and vegetables more delicious?

New Aloe Shoot Popping Up after Hail Damage

 

Plumeria – Aftermath of Hailstorm
Its Blooms Continue – See Featured (Top) Photo

 

What doesn’t kill us usually makes us stronger . . . and apparently, so it goes with plants.

Until next time,

Cindy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Deer Resistant Gardening

deer in yardRecently my husband and I took a quick weekend trip to East Texas to get a glimpse of what retirement might look like should we choose the area.  If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting the piney woods of Texas, it is indeed a very beautiful area and not the stereotypical flat, sparse representation of the state that most non-Texans have in their minds.

While driving through a couple of developments late on Saturday afternoon, we encountered a beautiful sight – a herd of deer.  As we continued through the winding roads, the sight repeated itself several times.  Of course, having a great love of nature, I was very happy to see one of our potential locales for retirement included these lovely creatures.

As we drove on, we stopped by a few homes on the market and began to notice most of them had dormant lantana in their flower beds.  We also noticed the absence of typical winter ornamentals such as pansies, violas and cabbages.

Then, the two thoughts merged and we realized living surrounded by abundant wildlife equals having limited vegetation!  Well, maybe limited is a strong word.  Perhaps, living  surrounded by abundant wildlife means one must carefully select appropriate landscaping plants, is a more accurate statement.

Keep in mind that under stressful situations, such as extreme drought or over population, deer and other wildlife will eat any plant possibly with the exception of very thorny (thus painful) shrub varieties such as hollies, barberries, etc.  Thus, below should considered “less-palatable-to-deer” recommended plants.  Two common themes with most of the suggested plants  – they are pungently aromatic and/or have “fuzzy” leaves.

Ornamentals:

lantana

verbena (a lantana relative that performs more like an annual)

marigold

iris

daffodil

dianthus

lamb’s ear

salvia and sage

cape honeysuckle

 

Vegetables:

onion,  garlic and most root crops in general

nightshade plants – tomatoes, peppers and potatoes (with the exception of petunias!)

 

Herbs:

chives

lavender

rosemary

sage

 

It is indeed possible to garden AND enjoy abundant wildlife with just a little research.  I’d love to hear tips and suggestions from those of you that have mastered this feat –

Until next time,

Cindy

 

 

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Healing Humidity for Houseplants

It has been far too long since I’ve written.  If it weren’t for my having contracted a persistent respiratory virus and being forced to stay home and heal, my blog would no doubt still be inactive.  Shame on me for allowing the “busy-ness” of life to thwart my passion!

Honestly, though, even before becoming ill I had considered sharing my thoughts on adding humidity to our indoor spaces during the winter months as I had already begun noticing dry heat stress on a few of my houseplants.  Finding that my parched, sore throat greatly benefited from the supplemental moisture of a daily humidifier, it further stressed the importance of consistent hydration –  for plants and us animals.

My cat has naturally gravitated to the bedroom with the humidifier.

One would not think in the relatively humid areas of our world (such as North Texas at an average of 65%) that we would need to supplement the atmosphere.  However the comfortable, yet so very dry, heating systems we use in our homes and offices in winter evaporates the moisture that our bodies crave and our indoor plants need to remain healthy.

This makes sense when you think about the fact the vast majority of indoor houseplants have their origins in the moist and humidity-rich rain forests.

Signs of indoor heat stress upon plants can manifest as excessive leaf drop (ferns, crotons) and/or leaves displaying crisp, brown tips (palms, peace lilies, dracaenas.)   If you see these issues but have been watering regularly, do not be tempted to over water as you may cause more issues.  The leaf surfaces need the added moisture, not necessarily the roots. We all know keeping our bodies hydrated from within is essential; we must drink water to survive.  However there are occasions (winter months,  visiting windy and arid regions, and frequent air travel) that our body’s surface – our skin – needs a little extra boost of hydration.  Thus, we soothe it by topically applying moisture-rich gels, lotions and creams.

Brown Tips of Palm Leaves – Signs of Lack of Humidity

Granted, some houseplants require a good supply of supplemental humidity year round such as ferns and bromeliads, but in the midst of a dry, cold winter virtually all indoor plants will benefit from some added moisture to the air.   For those that like humidity year round, I suggest they permanently reside in the bathroom or near the kitchen sink so they can benefit from the steam of  daily showers and dish washing activities.  For the other plants within our indoor spaces there are a few things below that you can do to keep them healthy (or bring them back to optimal health) during the winter:

  • Strategically placing and using a humidifier in your home or office will do wonders (for your houseplants and, again, for you, too.)  To avoid mineral buildup or eventual fungal issues, be sure to strictly follow use and cleaning directions for these devices. Fortunately, today there are many styles and designs of humidifiers available that will blend into your decor.  You can even find mini, individual humidifiers that are laptop/tablet powered!

Humidifier between Croton and Table

  • Invest in an indoor fountain.  The constant flow of running water will release needed moisture into the air.  Just as with humidifiers, there are many styles, shapes and sizes of fountains from which to choose, including very small desktop versions perfect for an office cubicle.

  • If you prefer not to invest in humidifiers or fountains, simply misting the leaves of your plants on a weekly basis will help replicate the rain forest environment.  An added bonus of misting is that it will also maintain the beauty of your houseplants by reducing dust buildup.

  • Lastly, whether inside a decorative pot or as part of the exterior, houseplants should always have a bottom saucer that allows for excess drainage and mineral buildup to pass through the soil from watering.  You can stimulate a little extra humidity around your plants by placing small pebbles in the saucers and re-setting the pots atop.  The pebbles will allow for water to remain standing in the saucer a little bit longer.

As we enter the last month of winter in North Texas I hope the above tips help you and your indoor plants stay healthy and hydrated.

Until next time,

Cindy

 

 

 

 

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Benign Effects of Summer Rain in Vegetable Gardening

Summer Rain

Summer Rain Mixed with Sunshine

First of all, I’d like to preface this post by saying a rain shower at the end of June in Texas is a true blessing.  Downpours on three occasions at my home this week could be considered a miracle!

What prompted me to create this brief article was a text message from my sister a couple of days ago.  She planted her first vegetable garden this season using a raised bed.  My sister was in a panic because her newly fruiting sweet peppers were suddenly turning black.

I set her fears at ease regarding her peppers and would like to do the same for you, along with perhaps easing fears about a couple of other common conditions that sometimes go hand in hand with excessive rain.

Below are three conditions that occur in summertime vegetable gardens after an unusually large amount of precipitation.  I cannot personally explain these conditions scientifically, but, through experience, can say they are usually not problematic.

Blackened Peppers

A large amount of rain will sometimes cause the fruit of many varieties of peppers to quickly turn black.  The extent of black coloration on the peppers may vary.    I have found this phenomenon does not seem to change the texture or taste of the peppers when harvested.   My theory is excessive rain causes the ripening process to accelerate, as peppers will sometimes naturally deepen to black before ultimately turning red, purple or otherwise.  There is a bit of nitrogen released during thunderstorms so this makes sense to me.   Of course, there are indeed other issues that may cause peppers to turn black such as fungal diseases and sun scald.  To distinguish, if the stems and leaves of your plant remain taut and green and the skin of its fruit remains thick, a tinge of black on peppers after frequent rains is nothing to fret about.  Just leave the peppers on the vine until the fruit is mature enough to pick.  Your peppers may not be uniformly pretty, but they’ll still have that homegrown flavor!

Blackened Red Peppers

 

Yellow Leaves at the Base of Tomato Plants

Excessive amounts of rain can turn leaves at the base of tomato plants yellow.  As long as the remainder of your plant is healthy and taut and your fruit isn’t experiencing any rot, a few yellow leaves at its base should not alarm you.  However, because yellowing leaves could potentially signify a fungal issue, I suggest you gently remove them from the base of the plant to be on the safe side.  Once leaves lose their chlorophyll (green color), they aren’t contributing to the growth of the plant anyway and therefore removing them would allow the plant to focus on its healthier sections.  One caveat re yellowing leaves:  yellow leaves can also signify the opposite – drought – so if the discoloration is occurring during a long dry spell, be sure to increase water to your tomatoes.

 

Rapid Growth Spurts of Cucurbits (Cucumbers & Squash)

Even one small rain shower in the summertime can cause cucurbits to explode in growth. This is especially true of yellow squash, zucchini and cucumbers.  After a day of rain, you should carefully check the fruit of these plants and harvest quickly so that you do not end up with extra large, pithy vegetables.  One day can make a difference between harvesting a huge, tasteless vegetable or a juicy, tender one.   Cucumbers, in particular, are quite difficult to see among the large leaves of their vining mother plant.  Take a little extra time each day to check these squash-related plants after a rain incident to ensure you capture the fruit during its most delicious stage.

 

I hope the above puts your mind at ease should you see changes in your vegetable garden after an unexpected, but welcomed, summertime rain shower.

Until next time,

Cindy

 

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Best Plants for Attracting Hummingbirds

hummingbird drawing

Who doesn’t love hummingbirds? Not only are they one of the world’s tiniest wonders regarding their incredible flexibility in flight, they are absolutely beautiful. They are fun to watch, especially when there are two or more in the vicinity as they like to play and compete with one another. Some varieties “hum” loudly as they beat their wings at lightning speed and dart past you (hence their name) and some are a tad more quiet as they flitter about their business. One thing is for certain, they are attracted to red and reddish-orange flowering plants that have trumpet-shaped blooms. Of course, because hummers are tiny, the blooms of the plants they are attracted to are usually quite tiny as well. I often wonder how a hummer is able to garner enough nectar from some of the plants it visits, but then, there are usually tons of blooms per plant and the hummer will do its best to visit each and every one.

Hummingbirds will certainly visit flowering plants with blooms other than red, but as I mention above, red seems to be their preference. It is thought hummingbirds can only see in hues of red and green and since most parts of a plant are green, they are more able to pick out red blossoms at far distances. In my research for this post, I learned what I thought was an interesting aside – supposedly insects are not able to see the color red. Because insects apparently cannot see red, there is very little competition between the birds and the bees when it comes to getting nectar from red blooms.  Another interesting point about the difference between flower visits of birds and bees has to do with the shape of the blossoms that hummers like to visit – trumpet. On one hand it is thought hummers predominately visit trumpet-shaped flowers because they have such long beaks and can easily lap up the nectar at the base of the bloom.  On the other hand, there is further evidence most insects know if they crawl into a tubular-shaped, nectar-filled flower, they may never come out – so they instinctively avoid them.

Incidentally, hummers do eat insects now and then as nectar alone cannot provide them with the nutrition needed to travel at such fast paces and far distances.

While there is an abundance of hummingbirds, it seems, in the rural and open areas of the US, there often isn’t as great a showing in the suburbs and cities. However, should you happen to live in a more populated area or feel you are on the outskirts of a hummingbird’s migratory path (http://www.worldofhummingbirds.com/migration.php) you can still plant a few hummingbird-friendly ornamentals that will not only bring you a better chance of seeing a hummer, but which will also look stunning in your landscape regardless. The below listed plants are relatively easy to grow and maintain, and a bonus is they are reseeding annuals or perennials thus, they will reward you with visits from little flying gems year after year.

Cypress Vine or Cardinal Climber*
Yes, another vine to tout about! As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I am indeed a “vine person.” See my former posts about honeysuckle, clematis, and moonflower. Like the moonflower vine, cypress vine is a relative of the morning glory. While the blooms are similar in shape to moonflowers and morning glories, this is about where the similarities end. The blooms of the cypress vine are quite tiny and brilliantly red in color. (There is also a white variety I have seen recently.) Although the blooms of this vine are what we are focusing upon re the subject of hummingbirds, I must mention the foliage of this vine is extremely different from its relatives. The foliage of cypress vine is very dainty and fern-like in appearance. Another bonus to planting cypress vine is, in my opinion, that it is one of the fastest growing vines ever discovered. You can plant it now and in merely a couple of weeks it will be twining up your fence or trellis in bloom! It grows well in full sun but will tolerate part shade. It is just an overall beautiful, fast-growing, annual vine. With just about all things beautiful, there comes a caution. Cypress vine is a prolific re-seeder. If you don’t want the vine to sprout in the same area year after year, do not plant it – or at least be prepared to weed it out in years to come if you change your landscape plans.

*Cypress Vine and Cardinal Climber are almost identical in appearance and cultivation – the only difference I’ve been able to detect is the cypress vine has fern-like leaves straight from the stem (as pictured below.)  The cardinal climber vine appears to have more defined leaves where the fern-like appearance begins.  The important point to this article is hummingbirds love both the same.

Cypress Vine with Butterfly

Butterfly at Cypress Vine

Cypress Vine

Cypress Vine

On to the perennials –

Turk’s Cap
I came to know about Turk’s cap when visiting the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, Texas several years ago – a delightful and inexpensive East Texas excursion if you love both plants and animals. ( http://caldwellzoo.org/)  Turk’s cap was planted in and around the displays and was magnificent. I had seen it before in small pots at nurseries but I had no idea the size and abundant amount of dotted red “Turk’s caps” it could produce! Turk’s cap is a woody, tender perennial that is native to Texas and Mexico (Zones 7 – 11). In the southern areas of Texas and Florida, as well as further south into Mexico, it remains an evergreen shrub. However in North Texas, the plant will die back in the winter. If mulched well, it will most certainly return. Turk’s cap loves sun and lots of space. It will multiply every year so you can purchase a one gallon container now and in a couple of years it will fill a 6 X 6 space easily! I have read where Turk’s cap is best planted in a naturalized, informal garden and I must agree. It has far more green foliage than blooms – however the blooms are perfect for the appetite of hummers. In my personal experience, this plant is a sure way to attract hummingbirds.

Turks Cap and Darner Dragonfly

Turks Cap dots background of Darner Dragonfly

Turks Cap

Turks Cap

Autumn Sage or Salvia greggii
This is another plant that I have personally witnessed the wonder of its attraction of hummingbirds. It is a small (2 – 3 ft) mounding shrub, and like Turk’s cap, it is native to Texas and Mexico. Also like Turk’s cap, it remains evergreen in the southernmost areas of its growing zones. It flowers in the same way as other salvias, producing long spikes of multiple, small tubular blooms. Varieties of Autumn sage can be found from deep red to pink to white. In the summertime, this shrub is often covered in blooms, making it striking as a specimen plant or when planted en masse. Autumn sage loves sun but will tolerate late afternoon shade. It also tolerates very dry conditions. My mom, living 40 miles south of Dallas in a rather rural area, has Autumn Sage shrubs lining her home.  Although my mom puts out her annual hummingbird feeder, it serves no competition when her Autumn Sage is blooming. The hummers literally flock to those plants. (Yes, I am envious!) A caution with Autumn Sage is this – as resilient as it is with regard to sun and soil, its limbs are extremely delicate. Just brushing up against the shrub will break them off.  Thus, it is recommended you plant this shrub in low-traffic zones.

Autumn Sage

Autumn Sage

Firebush
Firebush is a tropical, woody perennial native to Florida.   Firebush needs full to mostly full sun. It is a wonderful plant to use in your landscape to attract hummingbirds as it produces an overabundance of long-lasting, bright red-orange tubular blooms. While not a vine, firebush actually reminds me of coral honeysuckle with regard to its blooms. I believe its foliage, having an orangish tint, is quite attractive as well. I have successfully grown firebush in both containers and in the soil. It looks amazing as a patio specimen. If you choose to grow it in a container, but sure to place it in a large pot – at least a 5 gallon. (Growing in a container will allow you to overwinter it in your garage or sunroom, offering a greater chance of its survival in zones north of 10.) If you find a permanent spot in the ground for firebush, just remember to mulch it heavily in the winter and most likely it will return in the spring.

Firebush

Well, this wraps up my post – a longer one than usual, but hopefully I have inspired you to plant one or more of the above to create the perfect dining habitat for our hummingbirds. The very good news about all the plants above is that you can plant them now (late summer) and enjoy their beauty until the first frost. They are fast growers and long bloomers and even with the annual Cypress Vine, you’ll most likely be able to enjoy them year after year!

Bonus picture!  I captured a pic of a hummingbird a couple of years ago at the Cypress Vine in my backyard.

hummingbird

Until next time,

Cindy

Originally published 2012. Updated May, 2017.

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Crown of Thorns


As we move into the warmer (ahem, hot) months, we gardeners are busy filling our baskets, beds and pots with loads of blooming plants and when we are not, we are certainly day-dreaming about it.  Those vibrant flowers at the stores and nurseries look so enticing this time of year that, if you are like me, you inevitably try new and exotic species with your fingers crossed they will survive. Sometimes we are lucky and come across an alluring plant that actually exceeds our expectations.   Allow me to introduce you to the Crown of Thorns, or, Euphorbia milii.

Incidentally, I began drafting this post about a month ago and since then, the Crown of Thorns has doubled in value in my opinion.  You see, while my husband and I were on vacation a couple of weeks ago a huge wind storm popped up and blew our rather hefty, 3.5 ft Crown of Thorns into the swimming pool!  There it remained submerged in 5 feet of chlorinated water for two days before we arrived home to fish it out.  I felt sure the plant would not survive this trauma as euphorbias, or succulents, generally do not like to be over-watered – let alone submerged.  Upon retrieval, I quickly drenched the soil in the intact pot with tap water to flush out any residual chlorine.  I then allowed the plant to dry out completely for 10 – 14 days.  It indeed dropped a few yellow leaves the first few days but it is now sprouting new leaves and flower buds.

Submerged Crown of Thorns

So, while I’ve started this post with the very rare occurrence of 48 hours of total water submersion, it speaks to the resiliency of this beautiful plant – although its resiliency is truly of the opposite trait – drought tolerance.

While I’m thinking of it, please don’t be dissuaded by the “thorn” portion of this plant’s name.  There are indeed thorns upon the plant, and they are many, but when the plant is immature the thorns are “soft” and will bend instead of pointedly pricking you. As the plant matures, the thorns will mature as well.  However, I understand from my research there are new cultivars developed that have fewer and softer thorns. Most likely the plants you find in nurseries today will be of the “fewer thorns” variety.

The Crown of Thorns is a tropical succulent originating from Madagascar.  It is related to poinsettias, spurge and other euphorbias, some which are often visually considered cacti.   A common attribute of euphorbias is they produce a milky sap that is somewhat poisonous.  Think about the white sap you experience when you accidentally brush up against or pinch a poinsettia.  It is thought this poisonous sap may be the main reason euphorbias are almost pest free.

Heat and drought tolerance, as well as low fertilization needs, are also wonderful traits of the Crown of Thorns.   It can endure full sun, sea-salt spray (and apparently chlorine spray as we have ours next to our pool) and extended dry spells. In fact, its soil should be allowed to completely dry out between waterings.  Interestingly, Crown of Thorns blooms best when under fertilized.  Once established, it truly needs very little attention.   There are not many plants you can say that about!

The Crown of Thorns is a perennial in Zones 10 and warmer, and in my case (Zone 7/8) I bring it indoors to ride out the coldest months of winter.  There has been one occasion when my Crown of Thorns dropped its leaves as I moved it indoors, but come springtime when I placed it outside, the plant very quickly re-leafed.  It is thought extreme temperature changes and/or water changes cause rapid and, sometimes, total leaf drop, but usually, unless a deep freeze has occurred or root rot has firmly set in, the plant will remarkably fully recover when the issues are corrected.

Now that we have the growing and care details out of the way, I’d like to brag about the beauty of this tropical plant.  The most common color of the Crown of Thorns, and perhaps the most predominate, is that of the salmon-red variety – very much a “tropical” color in my opinion. Another color found naturally is yellow.  As this plant has become a bit more popular, other flower color varieties have been developed, such as white and pink.

I admit I was a little puzzled some of the articles I researched stated the flowers of the Crown of Thorns are somewhat inconspicuous. Au contraire, I find them very vibrant and numerous!  I suppose compared to a mandevilla or hibiscus, the flowers are indeed small, but unlike those tropicals, the florets of the Crown of Thorns bloom simultaneously and are extremely long-lasting.  They stay upon the plant for months and simply do not fade- even in the Texas sun.

Crown of Thorns
Another nice attribute of the Crown of Thorns is its growth habit.  I have mine situated in a terracotta pot in full sun and not only has the main stalk grown strong and upright, it has uniformly sent out stems that gracefully extend outward in a slightly draping manner, similar to a mini Christmas tree, if you will.  And while I prefer the Crown of Thorns grown in its natural form, I recall seeing it as a hedge when visiting Puerto Rico a few years ago. I admit at the time I did not know the name of the plant but I found it delightful that in their tropical climate they could utilize a blooming plant for a hedge.

As I complete this post on Easter Sunday morning, it does not escape me that I am writing about a plant fittingly named the Crown of Thorns on this holy holiday.  Mentioned previously, the Crown of Thorns originally derives from Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa, however the plant is known to have migrated into the Mediterranean countries prior to the time of Christ.  Euphorbia milii is indeed believed to have been the plant that crowned our savior.

My Crown of Thorns is a poignant reminder of Christ’s sacrifice and, while I remain amazed at the resiliency of this beautiful plant – perhaps I truly shouldn’t be.

Easter Blessings,

Cindy

P.S.  Special thanks to my friend and co-worker, Jason, who introduced me to this plant several years ago by sharing a cutting from his Crown of Thorns.

 

 

 

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Benefits of the Opossum

Opossum

Opossum
by Photographer Cody Pope – Wikipedia

I like opossums.  I’m sure this is probably an unusual statement coming from me, a person who has lived all of her life in an urban area.  I am rural at heart, but alas, I was born, raised and continue to live in the concrete jungle.  Still – I adore, admire and remain amazed that nature finds a way to persistently integrate into our manmade world.  I embrace this fact, actually.   Having said this, I’m sure I will not succeed in convincing some of you that opossums are indeed very good to have around, in both rural and urban settings, but I’m going to try nonetheless.

First of all, while some folks find opossums ugly, scary-looking, and/or rat-like – they are not big rodents despite their general gray appearance and hairless tails.  In fact, they are most closely related to the koala and kangaroo, their marsupial cousins.  As for their tails, they are prehensile; used as a fifth limb to assist the opossum with climbing, balancing and anchoring.  Think of how its cousin, the kangaroo, uses its tail for balance.

Kangaroo

Kangaroo by Photographer Jarrah Tree – Wikipedia

Opossums have the honor of being North America’s only marsupial, defined by carrying and feeding their young in a pouch immediately after birth.  Up to 10 newborn opossums may migrate to the mother’s stomach pouch instinctively.  It is thought this primitive, but successful, method came about for the mother to be able to protect and feed her young, all the while allowing the numerous babies to grow in an expanding, external pouch versus an internal womb.  As the young opossums grow, they will periodically go in and out of the mother’s pouch.  When outside the pouch, they wrap their tails around their mom and hang on tightly to her back as she scavenges for food.  Incidentally, young opossums are called “joeys” – yet another kangaroo reference.

Opossums are about the size of a cat and have a distinctive long, white, conical-shaped face with a pink snout.   They are nocturnal by nature and non-territorial.  They are not aggressive, however when they are startled they will hiss and bare their rather numerous, sharp teeth to attempt to ward off predators.  Of course, when they experience extreme fear they “play dead” as the adage goes.  This “playing dead” or, “playing opossum”, is an involuntary reaction that can last from a few minutes up to four hours.  When in this shock-like state, the opossum’s body goes completely limp, its mouth gapes open and oftentimes foams.  Usually the opossum’s eyes remain open as well.   The animal may also excrete an offensive odor when in this state, further feigning death.

I’m sure the description immediately above didn’t help my argument that opossums are good to have around, so I’ll get right to the many benefits they bring.  Opossums, sometimes referred to as North American or Virginia Opossums, eat countless types of undesirable insects such as cockroaches, water bugs, ticks and garden-destructive beetles and slugs.  They also eat mice and are one of the few predators of moles.  Opossums will not dig in your yard for food, but will take advantage of “meals” that cross their paths.  They also enjoy cleaning up overripe fruit and veggies that have fallen to the ground from orchards and gardens.  They will eat overripe carcasses as well, including the skeletons.  I suppose you could sum it up this way – if you come across an opossum in your yard or garden, consider yourself lucky as you’ll have a natural pesticide and garbage disposal at your service for a little while!

Speaking of, opossums are generally transient by nature and usually stay in an area only for a few days or weeks, moving onto other food sources in the next yard or field.  They usually take shelter in the abandoned nests of other animals.  They are not aggressive and will not attack humans or pets although, as mentioned earlier, they will attempt to defend themselves if necessary.  If for any reason you, a family member, or a pet has been in direct contact with an opossum, keep in mind they have an incredible immune system and are 8 times less likely to have rabies than other wild animals.  They are also rarely affected by botulism (even though they eat almost anything) and have an uncanny natural immunity to rattlesnake and cottonmouth venom!

Regarding the rabies information, I learned this the hard way when my self-declared “predator” Shih-Tzu, Barney, decided to take on a baby opossum that had wandered into our sunroom one evening a couple of years ago.  Perhaps due to its youth and the lure of the aroma of left-over dog food, the opossum innocently wandered inside via Barney’s doggie door.  He quickly escaped Barney’s aggression by wedging himself between the wall and a shelf.  The opossum then proceeded to play dead – upright!  Fortunately for the animal, Barney is only interested in things as long as they continue to squeak, thus he lost interest once the opossum feigned death.  After closing the doggie door off from Barney and waiting a couple of hours, the little creature “awoke” and moved on to never appear again.  Just to be on the safe side, I called the vet regarding this minor exposure and was then informed of the distant likelihood of any disease being passed onto Barney by an opossum.

While I certainly don’t expect you to welcome opossums into your home, even as I did unwittingly, I remain convinced they are very valuable to have around.  To avoid indoor episodes such as mine you should feed pets only what they will eat in one day, the same practice with food items at bird/squirrel feeders, and keep your garage and shed doors closed at night.  Essentially, these practices are best done to deter any type of wildlife (mice, rats, coyotes, bobcats, etc.) from coming too close or sticking around too long near our domiciles.

In conclusion, the North American Opossum is a mammal that aids those of us that garden with natural pest control and rotten fruit removal.   While the opossum’s appearance is somewhat rodent-like and the animal has developed some rather interesting behaviors for survival, it lives in harmony with mankind and has certainly gained my respect.  As such, I leave you with one of my most favorite photos –

Baby Opossum

Baby Opossum – North Texas

Until next time,

Cindy

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The Tulip Tree (Saucer Magnolia)

Saucer Magnolia

February is the magical time of year in North Texas when the Saucer Magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana), or locally called, Tulip Tree, bursts with huge, 6-8 inch blooms in varying shades of pink against the otherwise barren winter landscape.  The tree’s timing, aroma and shades of flowers are quite appropriate for the month of love.  And, as its common name suggests, the goblet-shaped, pastel blossoms borne on bare limbs are indeed reminiscent of a huge bouquet of Valentine’s Day tulips.

The Saucer Magnolia is a small, multi-trunked tree or shrub, very similar in size and shape to that of a Crape Myrtle.  It can be manipulated, when young, to grow with one main trunk if more of a “tree” specimen is preferred.  The tree typically grows 15 – 25 feet in height and can reach about 20 feet in width.  Also like the Crape Myrtle, the Saucer Magnolia will tolerate part sun, but does best in full sun.   Due to its compact size and pest-free, disease resistant nature, the Saucer Magnolia is a very good ornamental tree for small, urban/suburban lawns.

Saucer Magnolia

A deciduous tree, the Saucer Magnolia boasts branches of silvery gray bark in wintertime that are even more striking come February (or later in northern states) when they support their airy canopy of fragrant, pink-toned flowers. After the relatively short, 2-3 week initial flower burst occurs, the tree will develop thick, dark green leaves that will spread into a beautifully full and rounded canopy, lasting throughout the fall season. Sporadic flowers may appear now and then on the tree even after its leaves have emerged.  When the flowers are spent, elongated, multi-compartment, seed pods will likely form. As with most magnolias, the seeds that are ultimately released from these cone-like pods will be a brilliant orange-red, providing added interest to the tree as well as sustenance to songbirds during the fall months.  The seasonal cycle of beautiful traits then begins again.

The most commonly known magnolia in America is the Southern Magnolia, abundant in the southeastern United States to the point of being symbolic of the south and its Antebellum era. And while most within the magnolia family indeed prefer the warmth and humidity of the subtropics, the Saucer Magnolia enjoys the temperate climates of the US also (Zones 5 – 9) and will thrive northward into the Midwest and parts of New England.

The Saucer Magnolia is happiest when planted in fertile, well-drained soil that leans toward the acidic side, however it will tolerate clay soils as long as it receives consistent, moderate amounts of water.  It does not tolerate drought or soggy roots.  On a personal note, if I were planting a Saucer Magnolia in heavy clay soil, as is the case in many portions of North Central Texas, I would supplement with a touch of peat moss at the time of planting and/or would fertilize the tree with acidic plant food now and then – just to keep it content.

Saucer Magnolia

Before I conclude, I’d like to express a few caveats re nomenclature:  Although family & friends have called this early-blooming shrub a Tulip Tree as long as I can remember, I have learned there is indeed another tree with this identical common name.  I thought I could simply title this article The Magnolia Tulip Tree or The Tulip Magnolia Tree to differentiate, but alas, the “other” Tulip Tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, is also part of the magnolia family!   This “other” Tulip Tree does have some major differences, however.  It is a much, much larger specimen and instead of pink-tinted blooms, it produces yellow tulip-like flowers that are lined with orange bands.

Please bear with me a step further as I explain the Saucer Magnolia is actually a hybrid of two early magnolia specimens – Magnolia liliiflora and Magnolia denudate – both parents of which are also sometimes referred to as Tulip Trees themselves, or variations thereof.

Finally, it is good to note, should you choose to seek out a Tulip Tree for planting, that there are many newly developed cultivars (variations) of the Saucer Magnolia that have been bred to produce specific, uniform flower colors versus the transitioning tri-toned pink shades that are found on the original hybrid.  For example, within the new cultivars you may find a tree that produces very pale, almost white, blooms or another that displays deep burgundy, almost black, blooms.  Keep in mind some of the newer varieties tend to be a bit smaller in stature at maturity than the original hybrid.

As to all the explanations above and for the purpose of this post, I focused upon the common Saucer Magnolia, Magnolia x soulangeana, in this article.  And while I believe any type of magnolia would be a wonderful addition to your yard, the Saucer Magnolia would definitely steal the spotlight those first few weeks when winter slowly surrenders to spring.

Until next time,
Cindy

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