Overwintering Tropicals

December 30, 2019

Camouflaged Anole in Crown of Thorns
Anole in Crown of Thorns

I dare say most of us in the temperate zones love the beauty and vibrancy of tropical and subtropical plants although we know they will likely only serve as annuals during our warmer months if not moved inside or protected. Living in North Texas, and maybe a little closer to the tropical zone than most, sometimes my lantana, asparagus fern and other tender perennials will make it through a mild winter (never below 25 degrees) if I mulch them heavily.

However, as I’ve become older and wiser, I almost solely plant trees, shrubs and perennials in ground that are native or very well-adapted to my gardening zone. This practice is better overall for the environment (produces healthier plants and feeds the existing insects, birds and animals) and is certainly better for my back as I am not changing out plantings on a yearly basis! I admit that I supplement small spaces and/or borders with flowering annuals from time to time, but this is only to enhance what I already have permanently in my landscape.

Despite above, I indeed have a few very special, potted tropicals that I go to the trouble of overwintering inside every year. They have a bit of sentimental value to me and, I admit, they are simply beautiful on my patio during the summertime. Fortunately, I have a small sun room that allows me to maintain these plants during the cold months. However, the sun room has become a bit too small for all of my tropicals as they have grown quite tall and wide over the years. Thus, I use our garage for winter plant storage as well. I currently have a lime tree, plumeria, tecomaria and large crown of thorns situated in large pots that rest on wheeled caddies. The lime tree and crown of thorns enjoy the sun room this winter while the others are protected in the garage.

Tecomaria Overwintering and Blooming in Garage
Tecomaria Overwintering and Blooming in Garage

If you have a similar situation where you are raising tropicals/subtropicals that are, or will become, trees or large shrubs I highly recommend that you invest in sturdy, wheeled plant caddies. The caddies are well worth their cost!

Lime Tree on Heavy Iron Plant Caddy - Great for easily Overwintering Tropicals
Lime Tree resting on a Heavy Iron,
Wheeled Plant Caddy

This leads me to the main topic of my post. Without doing any extensive research online or otherwise, I wish to tell you here what I have found that works for me regarding overwintering tropical plants.

  • Place tropicals in an area of your home or garage where they can obtain some sunlight from time to time. If you must use your garage as overwinter storage, open it up on the warmest, sunniest days of winter and allow the sun to bathe your plants even if only for a couple of hours. If you can roll the plants out into the open air for a few hours, do so. (Unfortunately, I live in an urbanized area so I have to caution you to not keep your garage door open if it endangers you or your property. I roll my plants out of the garage a few feet, close the door and reverse the process at the end of the day.)
  • Speaking of rolling your plants outside, it is optimal to allow for good air circulation among indoor plants to avoid fungal issues as well as to deter some “houseplant pest” infestations from taking hold, such as scale and mealy bugs. If you cannot roll your plants into open air, perhaps you can instead open up a nearby door or window on the warmest of the winter days. (Again, taking heed to safety.)
  • Water your overwintered plants very sparingly. Over-watering can cause the fungal issues mentioned above as well as root rot. Note: Plumerias are especially susceptible to root rot. In fact, I only water my protected plants when I have rolled them outside on warm days and never more than once per week or two at that.
  • Remove dead leaves that drop. It is fairly common for tropicals to drop leaves when moved to a new environment. In fact, there have been some winters that my plumeria has dropped all of its leaves. Again, to deter fungal and pest issues, it is best to dispose of dropped leaves on a regular basis.
  • As spring arrives and temperatures warm, slowly increase sun exposure to your tropicals, allowing them to acclimate over a two – three week period. If you have a partially shaded deck or patio, start their outdoor acclimation in those areas before exposing the plants to all day full sun.

As I mentioned above, I feel fortunate to live in North Texas in Hardy Zone 8a, where the low temps very rarely reach 20 degrees. In fact, some winters we barely reach 30. We are also fortunate to experience more sunny days than cloudy ones. Thus, another bonus I personally experience regarding overwintering tropicals is that during long winter warm spells, my plants may actually bloom. In addition, if the winter has been mild overall, the bees and other pollinators become busy again for days at a time. Below is a recent picture of my lime tree bursting with blooms in mid-December. After rolling it onto the patio for a couple of hours, a bee kindly stopped by to help pollinate. I hope to be getting a head start on a lime crop this year!

Bee Pollinating Late Winter Lime Blooms
Bee Pollinating Lime Boom
Bee (hopefully) Pollinating Lime Tree – Mid-December 2019

If you, too, have a tropical plant, shrub or tree (or more) that you are overwintering this season, I hope the above tips correspond with your actions and/or help you to keep your special plants happy the remainder of the season. I also hope if you’ve ever wanted to invest in a citrus or tropical, that you give it a try this summer and hopefully the tips above will allow you to enjoy it for years to come.

Until next time,

Cindy

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Winter Solstice – A Time of Hope

stonehenge winter soltice
**Originally posted in December, 2011.

December 21st is the shortest day of the year. You probably are asking, “What do you mean the shortest day of the year? Aren’t there 24 hours in every day?” Absolutely, but allow me to be more specific. December 21st is the date in which there was less daylight hours than any other day in 2011. It is the time of the winter solstice – which in Central Standard Time will occur around 11:30 p.m. this year. The winter solstice usually occurs sometime between December 21 and December 23 every year in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the time of the year when the North Pole is tilted at its greatest distance, 23.5 degrees, away from the sun. The winter solstice also signifies the first day of winter. At the time of the autumnal equinox, September 23rd, daylight and dark were equal in length at 12 hours each. Since then, in the Northern Hemisphere, daylight has progressively decreased with each day. In fact, territories north of the Arctic Circle will experience 24 hours of darkness upon the winter solstice. It is important to mention this seasonal phenomenon is reverse for the Southern Hemisphere. For example, the territory south of the Antarctic Circle will experience 24 hours of daylight on December 21st. And, in the areas between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, the balance of daylight and dark hours remains stable and the weather warm and humid. (Thus the reason we must mimic the 12 hours of darkness for native tropical photoperiodic plants such as the Christmas Cactus and Poinsettia to force their blooms/bracts in our part of the world!)

If you’ve done any reading or research about ancient cultures, you are familiar with the fact they viewed the transitions between the seasons as very important. The solstices and equinoxes determined when crops should be planted and harvested, when berries and nuts became ripe and when certain game could be hunted. The winter solstice, in particular, marked the time ancient peoples were to begin preparing  and storing food and supplies, obtained from their autumn harvests and hunts, in anticipation of the next three months of cold weather. Ancient civilizations, such as the Aztecs, Druids, Egyptians, Greeks, Mayans, Phoenicians and Romans, among others, erected incredibly accurate temples, pyramids, monuments and calendars that assisted their villages in knowing when the seasonal changes were occurring. Stonehenge, in the photo above, is an example of such a structure. The photo below is of the Megalithic Passage Tomb at Newgrange in Ireland. It is a mounded tomb structure that is estimated to have been built in 3200 BC. There is a roof box over the entrance of the tomb which at sunrise during the winter solstice, a shaft of sunlight breaks through and illuminates the entire interior of the structure.

newgrange

As with human rites of passage, celebrations and feasts were a major aspect of the ancient seasonal transitions as well, especially during the winter solstice. Fruit and nuts were plenty, beer and wine were fermented and animals thought not to survive through the winter were slaughtered. Food was in abundance at this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere and feasting was done in preparation for potentially 90 days of sparse sustenance. Festivities surrounding mid-winter holidays certainly continue in most cultures of the world today. In fact, Julius Caesar deemed December 25th the date of the winter solstice in early Roman times. And as most of you know, later on, the Christian church adopted this sacred date in honor of the birth of Christ.

In conclusion, you may ask why I have titled this post, Winter Solstice – A Time of Hope, when it apparently marks the time of anticipated harsh, cold weather.  As I pondered all the reasons, the scientific one came to mind first. Every day after December 21st brings more sunlight. The ancients knew if they prepared what food and supplies they could for the coming of winter and feasted on that which remained, each day they survived offered them more sunlight and eventual warmth. Hope simply helped them endure the season of long bitter nights and barren days. In today’s world, the winter solstice falls at the time of year (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa) when most of us, no matter our religious persuasion, strive to mend relationships, are charitable to those in need, and reflect on our personal blessings. It is a time of faith and observance and thanksgiving. It is a time we come together to congratulate and to celebrate. It is a time we come together and mourn those no longer with us – yet we remain determined to continue the traditions that have become all the more meaningful in our loved ones’ absence. It is a time we deeply reflect upon our life and muster the determination to live better physically, emotionally and spiritually in the coming year.

christmas star

As a Christian, I believe the date of the Roman winter solstice was purposefully chosen to represent Christmas Day, as the spirit of Christmas signifies great hope for all mankind. No matter your faith or circumstances, I wish you the amazing experience of hope this winter season.

Until next time,

Cindy
vincent on drums

This post is dedicated to my nephew, Vincent, who was born 13 years ago on the shortest day of the year!

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Autumn Flowers & Foliage of European Waterways

While this blog is not dedicated to travel, I’d like to share with you some of the beautiful fall flowers and foliage that I was fortunate to see on a recent European trip of a lifetime. My husband and I were guests on a Rhine river cruise with both pre and post excursions attached. We began our vacation in mid-October with a couple of days in Scotland. We then traveled to Amsterdam for a few days prior to starting our river cruise, which sailed through The Netherlands, Germany, France and finally disembarking in Switzerland. Staying four additional days in Switzerland, we arrived back in the US after three wonderful weeks abroad. It was a magical time filled with castles, cathedrals and culture – and plants!

In chronological order of our trip, below you will find photos of the horticultural beauties we enjoyed along the waterways of Europe.

Fuschia in Europe - St. Andrews, Scotland, along the North Sea
Fuschia in St. Andrews, Scotland along the North Sea.
Nerine Lily, St. Andrews, Scotland
Along the North Sea
Guernsey, or Nerine Lily, in St. Andrews, Scotland
Floral hanging basket.  Stirling, Scotland along the River Forth
Double Begonias and Forget-Me-Nots in Stirling, Scotland
near the River Forth.
Dandelions overlooking the cemetery at Stirling Castle, Scotland.
Pink Salvia in Amsterdam along a canal.
European Tulips in Amsterdam
Tulips for sale in Amsterdam
Herb Garden atop our Longship
Poppies and Yarrow in Kinderdijk, Netherlands near the River Noord.
Notice the windmills in the far background, top left
.
Tall Pink Dahlia in Kinderdijk
Yellow Rudbeckia in Kinderdijk
Fall foliage surrounding Marksburg Castle.
Braubach, Germany
Purple Thistle at Marksburg Castle, overlooking the Rhine valley.
Fall foliage along the path from Marksburg Castle,
overlooking the village of Braubach.
Sedum near Marksburg Castle in Braubach.
Bodiniers Beautyberry in Europe along the Rhine
Exquisite Bodiniers Beautyberry in Braubach.
Brown-eyed Susans in the background.
More very tall Dahlias in Braubach
Hotel Schonburg in Oberwesel, Germany
Castlehotel Schonburg and Vineyards in Oberwesel, Germany
Middle Rhine
.
https://www.hotel-schoenburg.com/en/
Red Verbena Baskets in Rudesheim, Germany along the Rhine.
Geraniums and Bacopa in Rudesheim.
Rudesheim
Plane Tree (far right) in the Marketplatz (City Center) of Rudesheim.
Bougainvillea in Speyer, Germany
Flowerbox House in Strasbourg, France along the River Ill
Swans on the Rhine, Breisach, Germany
Chinese Lanterns in Breisach, Germany along the Rhine.
Red and White Dahlia in Breisach
Pelargonium in afternoon sun along Lake Lucerne, Switzerland.
Pelargonium is a geranium relative.
Purple Cranesbill in Lucerne. Another geranium relative.
Alps and Fall Foliage at Alpnachstad, Switzerland
RIding the cog rail through fall trees at Alpnachstad up to
Mount Pilatus.
https://www.pilatus.ch/en/discover/cogwheel-railway/
Flower and Garden Market in Basel.
Until Next Time –

October 2019

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The Beauty and Benefits of Dragonflies

Blue Dasher with background of Turk’s Cap
https://natureisnurture.net/best-plants-for-attracting-hummingbirds/

Dragonflies are beautiful flying insects of the Odonata order that have been on our planet for a very long time providing us visual beauty and indirect physical benefits. Fossils of large dragonflies with 30 inch wingspans have been found dating back millions of years and artistic depictions of these jeweled insects have been uncovered at many archaeological sites around the world. Some ancient cultures perceived the dragonfly as a symbol of transformation and hope, perhaps because these cultures were very attuned to nature and witnessed the larva leaving the water, shedding its shell and becoming a magnificent winged being. Today, many therapeutic and coaching businesses incorporate the dragonfly in their logo as a symbolic expression of their transformative services.

Female Green Darner Dragonfly

Not only are dragonflies desirable for the beauty and comforting symbolism they bring to our outdoor spaces, they are also desirable for their predatory skills, notably for catching those insects that “bug” us such as gnats, flies and mosquitoes! Dragonflies often capture their prey while in flight as they have the ability to fly in almost any direction and can hover in place for minutes. Of course, their eyesight is exquisite considering their entire head is made up of eyes that allow them to see at every angle except, perhaps, directly behind them.

According to an Oxford University published study of dragonflies in captivity, these hawk-like insects have close to a 95% capture success rate. It is believed they have the ability to anticipate the flight path of their prey and, with their agile maneuvers and keen eyesight, can intercept a moth or mosquito before it even senses danger is near.

Female Blue Dasher perched on a Parched Juniper
(Note she has no hint of blue except a small spot on her “nose”!)

The scientific order that dragonflies belong to, Odonata, translates in Greek as “toothed one” and signifies the strong jaws of these insects. Incidentally, it is not 100% known why these insects took on the name “dragon” fly, but likely it relates to myths and folklore of the middle ages coupled with a dragonfly’s predatory ferociousness. Oftentimes dragonflies will take on prey near their size, such as moths and, unfortunately, other dragonflies. And, when not pursuing insects for food, territorial male dragonflies are likely chasing insects of all sizes away from their chosen hovering/mating space.

Female Widow Skimmer

Interestingly, like most bird species, the female may be slightly duller in brilliance than the male dragonfly (see the photos of the Flame Skimmers below.) However, sometimes you’ll find the female is just as brilliant but of an entirely different color scheme (compare blue-eyed male and red-eyed female blue dashers above.) Speaking of the sexes, dragonflies can mate in flight and once done, the eggs are deposited in fresh waterways. There, the larva may live up to 2 years before they crawl out, shed and become transformed. Compared to its time spent in larval stage, a dragonfly’s days in flight may be quite numbered – some living for only a week to some species living for almost a year. Due to this short period of adulthood, another mantra attributed to the dragonfly is “live for today”.

Shimmering and colorful dragonflies can be found on every continent of earth with the exception of Antarctica. Most prefer lower altitudes and warmer climates but on the contrary, some species are found in the high altitudes of the Rocky Mountains and in the cold climate of Iceland, possibly riding in on warm wind currents as some dragonflies are known to migrate.

Personally, I can attest the summer of 2019 in Texas has been exceptionally abundant with dragonflies (and damselflies – a different “suborder” of flying insects that are slimmer and hold their wings parallel to their bodies). I am fortunate to have seen many varieties this year in my own suburban backyard. In addition to those depicted in this post, just yesterday for the first time I saw a bright green female Eastern Pondhawk on my wrought iron arbor, but it would not pose still for me as did the others.

Until next time, may you, too, enjoy the beauty and benefits of these flying wonders in your part of the world.

Cindy

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African Iris – Pretty in Bloom and Lovely when Not

My husband and I finally found a hardy plant for our large centerpiece terracotta pot that is both beautiful in bloom and also when not – African Iris. We live in Hardiness Zone 8a which means our temps can dip down into the teens in the winter, although this doesn’t happen often. Zone 8a is likely the northernmost zone African Iris, or Dietes, can grow as a perennial. In fact, we are fortunate our particular plant is doing so well since it is situated in a pot. I have found most plants fare much better when, on the cusp of their hardiness zone, they are placed in ground versus in a planter. However, I inherited a large number of planters when I married, so I am content to fill them! And, I am ecstatic to fill them with an evergreen perennials that withstand icy cold nights as well as 100 degree summer days!

As the title of this post mentions, African Iris is an attractive plant when in bloom and when not. It is sometimes called a Fortnight Lily because the plant will flower consecutively for a couple of weeks and then rest a couple of weeks before another stalk of blooms forms. If you look closely at the picture above, you’ll see pods from spent blooms on the same stalk with the flower that is blooming.

Blooms of the African Iris are small (about 3 inches), dainty and ornate. Depending on the variety, orange, yellow, blue or a combination of these accent colors, will form against crisp white petals. I believe my African Iris pictured in this post is of the “Orange Drop” variety as it is completely devoid of blue. If you look up African Iris, or Dietes, you’ll see some varieties have a bit more color to their flowers than mine.

Although its individual blooms are open for only a day or two, the African Iris has a very long blooming period in north Texas. It will flower off and on from late spring to early fall in north Texas and will bloom more abundantly if placed in a sunny location. The stalks of the plant can grow 3 – 4 feet tall with an even larger spread, so be sure to plan for room for growth and good air circulation. African Iris grows from rhizomes, and like most plants of this type, it should be divided if crowding occurs. In addition to enjoying full to part shade, the plant likes well-drained soil and is quite drought tolerant once established. Some people enjoy planting their African Irises near water features and this is perfectly fine as long as the plants do not sit in water. Root rot can occur if drainage isn’t good but other than that, the plant is relatively disease and pest free.

I actually consider the small blooms of the African Iris a bonus because it is the plant’s foliage that truly serves my landscape well. The long, green, sword-like blades are reminiscent of fanning ornamental grass. Other than discontinuing to bloom, the plant stays in very good form throughout the cold months, providing for a pop of greenery in a typically barren, winter garden space.

If you happen to live in colder climates than Zone 8a, you can certainly enjoy African Iris as well. You may wish to plant it in pots that are small enough to move indoors during the winter or plant outdoors and cover, along with other tenders, when a hard freeze is predicted. I’ve also read where a person can go to the trouble of digging up the rhizomes in the fall, bringing them inside and replanting them when the soil warms in the spring. If, like me, you reside on the cusp of their hardy zone, you may chose to keep the plant outside and strive to protect it during hard freezes, knowing that you may have to clip a few brown freeze-burned blades come spring.

Speaking of clipping blades, it is fine to “cut back” African Irises in early spring. This is not necessary, but can provide for a fresh look if, after a couple of years, you are seeing a few bent, brown or yellow blades here and there. I sort of look at this as similar to tidying up Liriope ( https://natureisnurture.net/got-the-blues/ ) and other perennial lily turf “grasses”.

African Iris highlighted by the Sun after Rainshower
African Iris highlighted by the Sun after a Rain Shower

In closing, I hope when looking around garden centers and nurseries this spring that you come across this not-so-common plant and give it a try. I think you will grow fond of it’s ease and simplictic beauty.

Until next time,

Cindy

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