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.



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





lamb’s ear

salvia and sage

cape honeysuckle



onion,  garlic and most root crops in general

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








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,




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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,






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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,



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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 ( 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. (  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 Blue Dasher 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 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.


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.


Until next time,


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,


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


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 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,


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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,

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Non-Toxic Houseplants

African Violet
photo credit:

This post is a quick turnaround response to my former article entitled, Houseplants to Brighten Your Winter.   You see, as a person who enjoys and respects all forms of nature, especially our children and pets, it was reasonably assumed I featured only child-proof and pet-safe options in my former article and this is not the case.  I admit, I did not consider toxicity simply because my current dog and cat are not prone to disturbing indoor plants and I do not presently have toddlers in the home.  Of course, not all pets or kids are the same.  Some are a little more adventurous and curious than others!  If you have a toddler or two, a dog or cat or two, or any combination, there are indeed a few alternative houseplants you may wish to consider in your home instead of those I emphasized in my latest post.  Actually, some on the below list are a bit more colorful and interesting than those houseplants previously highlighted, albeit they are a tad more persnickety too!  But, armed with a little advanced knowledge, you can lessen any intimidation you may have regarding growing these non-toxic species.

It is important to note that as I provide alternatives, I do not wish to cause undue panic regarding the houseplants I previously recommended.  While you may find some of them on one or more toxic lists, you’ll find they vary in degree of toxicity depending on the reporting organization and depending upon how much of the plant is ingested.  I believe the best news I found while researching this topic is that it usually takes a large amount of a toxic plant to be ingested to cause serious harm.

Incidentally, you may find Dracaena listed on some websites as poisonous and on others as safe.  This speaks to varied information published about the toxicity of houseplants.  To be on the safe side, however, any plant you are not certain about would best be moved to a child-free & pet-free office or placed in an area of your home that is inaccessible to little ones.  Inaccessible options may consist of high floating shelves, plant ledges, mini-greenhouses/terrariums and indoor hanging baskets.


Countertop Terrarium

Philodendron in Decorative Hanging Basket

On to the alternatives:  Houseplants deemed safe for pets and children by most organizations are African Violet, Areca Palm, Boston Fern, Bromeliad, Christmas Cactus, and Spider Plant.  I possess a few of these plants now and have grown all of them at one time or another.  While most may not all fall into the category of “easy” as are those in my former post, they are indeed worthy of giving them a chance.

African Violet, or Saintpaulia ionatha, is a dainty, blooming plant you may wish to add to a window with bright, indirect light or to an artificially lighted desk space in your home or office.  It is a petite houseplant that possesses fuzzy leaves and generally, blooms within the color range of purples. See featured photo at the beginning of this post.   I’ll warn you now that the Farmer’s Almanac’s name for this plant is “Fusspot”.  The reason for this name is the plant has several requirements to be met before it will bloom:

  • 14 hours of bright, indirect light
  • 8 hours of complete darkness
  • Room temperature must range between 70 and 80F
  • Always use water that is at room temperature
  • Soil should not be dry or saturated – must be just right!
  • When watering, avoid splashing leaves

I have grown African Violets previously and was successful with them for the most part.  I invested in a two piece, self-watering pot specifically for African Violets – one that prevents over-watering and allows the plant to obtain moisture when needed.  One tip I read recently – although the self-watering pots are great for African Violets, it is best to replace any water that has sat in the reservoir for several days in order to reduce mineral build-up.   All the above tasks aside, a former co-worker of mine had an African Violet under her desk lamp and it thrived and bloomed there for years.

Areca Palm, or Dypsis lutescens, is a non-toxic alternative to the Dracaena with regard to bringing a tropical feel to your indoors.  It is a frilly palm that enjoys bright, indirect light and can reach up to 8 feet tall.  Thus, this palm can fill and soften a brightly lit, vacant spot in your home or office quite easily. Although palms enjoy warmer climates and indoor temperatures, they also prefer higher humidity than what is usually experienced indoors.  Dry, heated air can sometimes make palms more susceptible to pests – red spider mites and mealy bugs in particular.  Both of these pests can be eliminated with a light spray of horticultural (neem) oil, however.  In order to keep your Areca Palm healthy and happy, running a humidifier in the room during the drier winter months may prove to be quite beneficial.  And, while they enjoy surrounding humidity, Areca Palms do not like wet feet.  Water your palm only when the topsoil has dried and do not allow it to sit for any length of time in water.

Areca Palm
photo credit: Wiki

Boston Fern, or Nephrolepis exaltata, is another non-toxic houseplant you may wish to consider in your work/living spaces.  Boston ferns are not especially tall, but they are full, lush and green.  They look especially attractive in urn-like pots that beautifully display their rays of fronds.  Like the Areca Palm above, Boston Ferns like high humidity, especially in the winter.  You may wish to place these two plants in the same room so a humidifier can do double-duty and both plants can take advantage of bright, indirect lighting.  If the room is too dry, the fern can develop the same types of pests as the palm.  The same treatment (neem oil) will work for the fern, too.   A difference between the two is the Boston Fern enjoys a bit more water than the palm.  Keeping the topsoil moist (not wet) is ideal.

Boston Fern



Bromeliads are very colorful, non-toxic houseplants and their “blooms” last for months.  I’ve showcased this family of plants a couple of times in my blog, so just click on the intro link to this paragraph and you will find tips and tricks for successfully growing and propagating Bromeliads for indoors.

My Christmas Cactus in Bloom
(It is rare to see two different colors!)


Christmas Cactus is another safe houseplant I have written about in the past.  This plant is stunning when in bloom.  The blooms of a Christmas Cactus will not last as long as those of Bromeliads.  However, nothing matches the anticipation of seeing these beautiful, wintertime blooms and noting whether or not they will burst open by Dec 25th!  Click on the introductory link at the beginning of this paragraph for tips on how to care for this tropical delight.

Spider Plant, Chlorophytum comosum or commonly known as the Airplane Plant, is the easiest of the safe houseplants on this list to grow.  In my opinion, the Spider Plant looks like variegated Liriope – arching blades of green and white striped grass.  It is especially pretty when placed in a hanging basket or an urn.  Although most houseplants provide some filtration of indoor air, the Spider Plant is considered one of the best houseplants to effectively remove formaldehyde.

Spider Plant
photo credit: Wiki

This houseplant also reproduces abundantly.  It does so by sending out long tendrils from the mother plant which inconspicuously flower and ultimately develop tiny plants at their base; tiny plants (spiderettes) that look like spiders dangling from silk webs.  Those who have their plant in a hanging basket may choose to leave the babies intact for a while as they bring fullness and interest to the plant.   However, some may cut the tiny plants from the mother and root them to form new plants fairly quickly.  Others have better luck placing small pots around the (non-hanging) mother plant and rooting the babies before cutting the cord, so to speak.   While the spider plant is not as finicky as some of those plants previously highlighted in this article, it does grow best under similar circumstances:  exposure to bright, indirect light; water thoroughly and wait until topsoil is dry to the touch before doing so again; and keep in a high humidity area/room.  When the edges of leaves turn dry and brown (common) on your Spider Plant, simply snip the brown areas with garden scissors and consider misting the plant now and then.  Fortunately, pests are rarely found on the Spider Plant.

photo credit: Wiki

In conclusion, if you have little kids, dogs and/or cats, you may feel more comfortable integrating a few of the non-toxic houseplants mentioned in this article into your home.   And, with regard to basic care for these and those mentioned in the previous post, just “think rainforest”.  Most houseplants originate from tropical climes and thus, enjoy high humidity, well-draining soil and abundant indirect light.  Of course, a few of the plants in this article require additional specific conditions for blooms to form, but I consider flowers on houseplants as icing on the cake. The soothing greenery and healing, air-filtering qualities are reasons enough to adorn your indoors with a few varieties.

Until next time,






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Houseplants to Brighten Your Winter


Pothos Centerpiece

While I pondered a topic to write about as we were enduring a few days of twenty degree temperatures here in North Texas recently, I looked around and began to admire the thriving houseplants I had surrounded myself with both at work and at home.  I am partial to the outdoors and prefer plants I can place in ground, yet in those moments of deep thought I fully and thoroughly realized how much I appreciated the green living things that were flourishing indoors as well.

If you haven’t already, I’d like to encourage you to add a little greenery to your home and/or work space this winter.  While we are fortunate in North Texas to have sporadic sunny days in the 70’s during the wintertime, we know lengthy cold spells are sure to return during the season. As I mentioned in one of my very first blog posts years ago, not only will adding houseplants to your spaces boost your spirits during cloudy and cold days, they will literally filter the air and add moisture to your indoor surroundings.  I guess you could say they are healthy for you in both body and mind – combating the physical and mental effects of the short, cold, and gloomy days of winter. Another bonus to adding houseplants to your indoor spaces is that they are one of the prettiest, yet inexpensive, ways to decorate.  A frilly dracaena can fully adorn a barren corner and a small urn of philodendron can enhance a vacant windowsill.  A houseplant can even serve as a main focal point or centerpiece within a room.

Below are photos and descriptions of a few houseplants I enjoy at work and at home of which I have had much success in growing over the years.  I invite you to add one or two varieties to brighten and enhance your indoor spaces this winter.

Pothos is one of the easiest and most forgiving of houseplants to grow. Most of us know it as the typical indoor ivy.   It is a simple, trailing plant but as depicted in the opening picture of this post, it can serve as a healthy home centerpiece or in one of the other pictures here, as an office camouflage agent – hiding some of the ugliest of our necessary office accessories – computer wires!   Pothos is a great beginner houseplant in that it can survive with low, medium or high indirect light.  Thus, you can place it in just about any room you desire.  It will do better in areas of medium to high light, however.  Keeping the soil slightly moist (but not wet) is best for pothos. Wilted leaves usually signal the need for additional water while excessive yellowing of leaves can signify over-watering. As mentioned earlier, this plant is forgiving of both oversights so just add or cut back water as needed and pothos should recover.  Rarely does pothos require fertilizing; adding a basic houseplant fertilizer to your pothos once or twice per year should be sufficient.

Heartleaf Philodendron, or any philodendron variety, is another wonderful beginner houseplant to consider.  You should care for your philodendron exactly as you would a pothos above.  My personal experience has been philodendrons will grow slightly slower than pothos.  The one pictured here is sitting in a small, northern-facing window. As such, it receives quite a bit of bright, indirect sunlight and is doing rather well. Philodendrons should not experience direct sunlight and, also like pothos, do not require fertilizing often.  Both pothos and small-leafed philodendrons are trailing plants that can be allowed to climb or cascade, or their stems may be pinched to create a fuller appearance.

Dracaenas, sometimes referred to as corn plants, are among my most favorite of houseplants.  I believe they add a tropical, relaxing feel to indoor areas.  Like philodendrons, there are many varieties of dracaenas from which to choose.  Some dracaenas have thick leaves and some thin, some have variegated leaves and others solid, and some dracaenas’ leaves are more maroon in color than green.  Dracaenas are the type of houseplant when mature can beautifully fill a large empty space, or as a juvenile, can sit nicely and neatly onto a desktop.  Caring for dracaenas, again, follows the same guidelines as for pothos and philodendrons: needs watering about once a week, does best in medium to high indirect light but will tolerate low light, and rarely needs fertilizer.  Dracaenas will let you know they are lacking in moisture by turning brown and dry at the tips of their leaves. If this occurs, simply snip the brown tips with scissors, water the plant a tad more frequently and occasionally mist the dracaena’s leaves during especially arid winter spells.

Dracaena with Striking Stalk Pattern

Spathiphyllum, otherwise known as spath or peace lily, is another great plant to have in your home or office.  Like the plant varieties mentioned above, spaths are easy to grow and are very forgiving. One difference compared to those above is spaths actually prefer low light environments.  It is best to place a spath at least 5 – 7 feet from a window so that the chance of direct sun is reduced. In fact, if your spath is not producing the beautiful spikes of white “lilies” it is known for, you may have it located in an area of too much light.  Just move it back a bit from the window or artificial light and you should see blooms again. Although my peace lily pictured here is about 7 feet from a southwestern-facing window, it is currently not blooming because it is receiving a bit more light during the winter season. As summer approaches and the sun’s path shifts (to a more northern arc across the sky here in the northern hemisphere) my spath will receive less bright light and will resume blooming.


Speaking of its forgiving nature, a spath will visibly let you know, like the dracaena, when it needs more water.  However, the spath chooses to heavily droop its leaves rather than turning them crispy brown.  If you’ve been out of town for more than a couple of weeks or simply have forgotten to water your peace lily and it looks like a goner, just give it a good drink and within hours its leaves should start to become upright again.  If it does not recover within a day, take a closer look its leaves for evidence of a non-moving, mound-shaped pest called scale. Scale bugs look like harmless brown, green or white bumps, but they are alive and very slowly sucking the life from your plant!  Among the very few pests of houseplants and the few houseplants that are susceptible, scale and mature spaths tend to go hand in hand in my personal experience. My all-time best remedy for tough pests like these (scale, mealy bugs and spider mites) is a light, but comprehensive, spray of organic horticultural (neem) oil.  The oil suffocates these hardy bugs with few or no additional treatments needed.

Perhaps the easiest of houseplants to maintain is the Aglaonema, otherwise known as Chinese evergreen.   Chinese evergreen can grow in any lighting environment, including strictly fluorescent lighting.  It can also survive weeks without water.  It is one of the most common plants you will see in windowless areas of commercial buildings.  As an immature plant, it looks nice on a desk or shelf and as a full, mature plant, it is beautiful when placed on the floor.  Its variegated, silver leaves bring light and interest to otherwise dark corners of rooms. Below is a picture of an aglaonema in my work space.  It is situated in the interior of an office suite under florescent lighting and, as you can see, is healthy and gorgeous. As with pothos, philodendrons and dracaenas, the more light an aglaonema receives the faster and fuller it will grow.  Interestingly, when placed in bright light, aglaonemas produce spike-like blooms very similar to those of spaths’ while, in contrast, spaths produce them only in low light conditions.

I hope you will consider bringing a little outdoors to your inside spaces this winter.  All of the above mentioned houseplants are for novices and are easy to grow.  However, should they begin to decline, the issue is usually easily reversed by eliminating pests (rare), altering lighting conditions and/or adjusting the frequency of watering. Actually the most common cause of a houseplant’s decline is over-watering!

In the long run, the benefits you reap by maintaining a little greenery indoors, especially during the winter months, will be well worth the effort.

Until next time,


P.S.  It came to my attention, as I am known as an indoor pet owner, it may be perceived the plants mentioned above would be 100% safe for pets.  This is not the case.  Please note that all of the plants mentioned above are thought to have some level of toxicity to animals.  Personally, I would research the plant, consider its placement (high shelf, floor, external office) and judge by the demeanor/access of your cat or dog as to whether you should own the plant.  Of course, caution should definitely be a priority concerning plants you choose to grow in a home with toddlers.      





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Another Fall Favorite – Cape Honeysuckle

Tecomaria capensis bloom

I recently came across another perfectly colored and timed blooming plant for fall:  Tecomaria capensis or, the commonly known, Cape Honeysuckle.

It all started when, on the way home from a family Colorado road trip last June, we stopped in the small Texas panhandle town of Clarendon to rest for the night and get a bite to eat.  We ended up in a local Mexican food restaurant that evening.  It had a bonus of being decorated with talavera pottery scattered throughout the venue.  I noticed some of the pieces had price tags on them and were for sale – at 1/3 the cost of what I’d expect to pay in the Dallas area!  Sure, we had a few souvenirs from Colorado packed away, but I decided it was A-OK to purchase one more souvenir in Clarendon, Texas.  As such, I became the proud owner of a new beautiful pot to fill (unfortunately in the heat of summer) when I got home.  I was up for the challenge.

Talavera Pot

Mexican Talavera Pot – Purchased in Clarendon, Texas

When we arrived home from our trip we were indeed in the midst of the North Texas summer – not exactly the best time to plant.  To make things worse, the “spot” in which I wanted to display my new pot was located in full sun.  I thought I’d shop around at a few nurseries and home repair stores and simply see what plant or shrub seemed to be taking the heat the best. Lantanamoss rose, purslane, blue daze and autumn sage were looking good and are always superb choices for Texas heat, but I already had those beauties tucked around in the yard and I wanted something different.

I began looking at the small shrubs and grasses at Lowe’s one afternoon in July and came across a small section of very green, crimped-leafed, healthy shrubs in one gallon pots – and they had obviously been in bright, full sun for days. They were in the midst of various other shrubs that had wilted, yet these were still upright and firm.  I had no idea the name of the shrub or if it bloomed when I first spied it, but nonetheless I planned to purchase it simply because I knew it could withstand the conditions of the selected location for my new talavera pot.

Reading the tag, I realized if all went well, I would reap stunning orange-red blooms if this shrub thrived until fall.  Indeed it has, and it is simply gorgeous right now!  Let me introduce you below to Tecomaria capensis or, again, the commonly known Cape Honeysuckle.

Cape Honeysuckle

Blooming Cape Honeysuckle – Carrollton, Texas – October 2016

First of all, Cape Honeysuckle is not of the honeysuckle family although its blooms certainly resemble honeysuckle in shape and color (coral honeysuckle.)  Also, sometimes you’ll find this plant listed as Tecoma capensis, as it was once thought to belong to the Tecoma group of plants that produce trumpet-shaped blooms such as Esperanza.  Although it is a relative of this latter group, it is argued to stand on its own.  Tecomas are typically from the Americas, while Tecomaria is from the Cape of South Africa – hence its common name.

Cape Honeysuckle is drought tolerant and enjoys full sun.   It is considered an evergreen to part evergreen shrub and can grow up to 12 feet high with a width of 6 feet.  Twelve feet is indeed too high for my taste and thankfully, this shrub takes to pruning extremely well.  In fact, I saw a grove of Cape Honeysuckles last month in Las Vegas, individually rounded to a height of about 4 feet, and although shortened, they were all blooming!

Cape Honeysuckle thrives in both acidic and alkaline soil types and can tolerate seaside conditions.  It is deer tolerant as well.

Tecomaria capensis in full sun

Tecomaria capensis enjoys Full Sun and is Drought Tolerant

For me specifically, a minor disappointment is Cape Honeysuckle is winter hardy only to 25 degrees F.  Thus, in my area of North Texas I must bring it inside during the coldest of winter.   Those of you lucky enough to be in Zones 9 and to the south can enjoy Cape Honeysuckle planted in ground.  (If you are on the cusp of Zones 8 & 9, you might get away with heavily mulching the plant and succeed in overwintering it outdoors.)  I think it would create a spectacular hedge if you have a need for such and live in Zones 8b/9 and to the south.

Well, while I’d personally prefer to have it in ground due to its size, splendor, and attractiveness to hummingbirds, I must go back to the very reason I came across this beautiful plant in the first place – I was seeking something heat hardy that would complement my prized talavera pot.  After all, Cape Honeysuckle is gorgeous whether it is in bloom or not, in ground or not, pruned or not, or, outdoors or not!

Until next time,







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