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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Fall Flowers, Foliage & Fruit

Below is an article I recently wrote for my workplace newsletter.  Although a bit premature, the subject hopefully be timely soon as we seek relief, even if only in the planning stages,  from the current heat spell here in North Texas!  There are a few duplications of tips and photos from former posts, but you may find the info worthy all in one place.  -Cindy


While the first true day of the fall season isn’t until September 22nd, we can begin thinking about autumn plantings now as the days grow slightly shorter and the evenings slowly begin to cool down.  The slightly shorter days and cooler evenings allow for our current landscapes to recover from the summer heat and also provide a better atmosphere for new additions to survive.


If, at the time of this article, we are still in the 95+ degree temps, Zinnias may be one of the better fall flower choices to plant as you begin transitioning your landscape to an autumn feel.  Zinnias enjoy full sun and can tolerate the dry, summer months of Texas, but begin to look much more vibrant as autumn approaches.  I would suggest, if possible, that you purchase tints of yellow, orange and/or burgundy Zinnias on clearance at some of the larger nurseries and “nurse” them back to health (perhaps provide a little more shade) in time for an early fall display.   Zinnias look nice planted en masse in pots and in ground.  Keep in mind they are annuals and will not survive winter.

Red Zinnias


Bunches of Zinnias

One of the most exciting discoveries I have found in the plant world lately is the Firecracker Flower, otherwise known as Crossandra.  While Crossandra isn’t strictly a fall flower as it will bloom continuously under the right circumstances, its vivid tangerine blooms radiate with hints of Halloween and Thanksgiving!  I personally think this plant is one of the best you can use for autumn décor – inside and out.   Crossandra can be a little finicky in that it prefers part sun and enjoys moist soil, however this could be the perfect environment of a planter on a sheltered porch or deck.  In the cooler fall months, providing a little more than half-day sunlight may be just fine.  While I have planted Crossandra in ground with success, I eventually transplanted it to a pot prior to the first freeze as it will likely not survive our winters in North Texas.  Thus, it is best to treat Crossandra as a tropical perennial and move it indoors to a sunny window during the cold.  Regarding care of this plant, although it prefers moist soil you should ensure it has good drainage and that its roots do not sit in water.

Crossandra in Office Space

Crossandra in Office Space



Then there is the reliable Chrysanthemum, which is always a good choice for fall.   Adding a pot or two of this perennial to your doorstep or patio, along with a pumpkin or two, is sure to warm up your home during the cooler months.  Incidentally while “mums” are traditionally associated with fall, they actually bloom in late spring as well – offering two seasons of color.  Thus, when the long-lasting blooms of mums are spent in winter, you may wish to place the pots in a holding area – keeping them watered and within ample sunlight until you are ready to display them again early next year.   Of course, if you have a spare area in your yard to plant mums in ground, they will provide you with blooms twice per year and mounds of greenery during the barren summer months.   Mums enjoy full to mostly full sun.  While easy to grow, pests and diseases such as aphids and wilt can affect the plant.  Insects can be easily remedied with horticultural oil and in the case of disease, the good news is Chrysanthemums are abundant in the fall and relatively inexpensive to replace.

Mums with Pumpkins


Of course, when we think of fall foliage we immediately envision the brilliant yellow, orange, and red hues of turning trees.  However, the leaves of a particular annual can provide these hues to your landscape on a much smaller scale as well: Coleus.   Coleus can be found in a wide variety of colors and multi-colors, leaf shapes and sizes, and growth habits.  Personally, I enjoy mixing two to three complementary color and size variations of Coleus in one container to create a stimulating, paisley-like display.  As with the flower varieties mentioned above, Coleus, too, can be grown spring through fall, in ground or in containers, and its predominate leaf color patterns are suggestive of fall.  In addition, variegations of Coleus can beautifully introduce chartreuse, mauve and magenta into the traditional rich colors of autumn.   Although Coleus reliably blooms, the spikes of tiny lavender flowers are far secondary to the beauty of its leaves.  Pinching the buds will promote healthier and fuller leafed plants.   Coleus prefers most to part shade (dappled shade is best), although newer varieties have been engineered to withstand more sun.   Coleus likes moist but well-drained soil.  Of the mint family, Coleus is extremely easy to maintain and has few pests but is considered a tender annual that will quickly decline once temperatures consistently dip in the 50’s.

Coleus in Pot with Grass

Coleus in Pot Coleus in Pot 2




One of the more unique ways to add a little autumn to your landscape is to introduce Ornamental Peppers into it.  While I admit, I went out on a limb to name this article, peppers themselves are indeed technically considered fruit (as are tomatoes, squash, etc.)! Again, it is the traditional fall colors and harvest time of the fruit that provide the autumn character to this plant.  While you can find peppers in hues of purple, most varieties produce yellow, orange and red fruit with transitions in between.  As with edible peppers, ornamental peppers enjoy sun and can tolerate drier conditions than the other plants listed in this article.  Adding a pot or two of ornamental peppers to a sunny patio would indeed create a festive environment to your entertainment site for the fall.   As depicted below, last year I added a couple of bright red pepper plants to my asparagus fern basket that was receiving more sunlight as the months passed and ta-da, instant autumn ambience.

Ornamental Peppers in Pot

Ornamental Peppers on Patio


I hope you choose to incorporate one or more of the above easy autumn-izing ideas into your home or workspace in the coming months!

Until next time,





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Irony of the Ice Plant

Ice Plant Blooms with "Crystallized" Stems

Ice Plant Blooms
with “Crystallized” Stems

As I write this post, I admit I have a lot of trouble reconciling that a succulent preferring hot and dry conditions has the common name ice plant.  It simply does not compute!  However, after researching a bit I found the reason the beautiful varieties of ice plant (Delosperma) “grew” to be known as such is because their stems and starburst-like blooms appear to glisten in the sun, as though covered with a thin sheet of frost. Apparently tiny calcium crystals form on the plant’s stems, creating this illusion.  Makes a little more sense now . . .

Aside from the ironic name, there is nothing puzzling about adding this strikingly beautiful perennial, native of South Africa, to your landscape.  If you live in US Zones 5 -9 and have an area that needs a low-growing, moderately-trailing, full sun ornamental – ice plant is a good choice.   In fact, it is a great choice for rock gardens, sloped areas that need erosion control, and those hard-for-anything-to-grow areas between fences and cement.  It is also ideal for sunny hanging baskets and containers. A bonus is that while it may not flower year ’round, ice plant is evergreen – providing flower beds, slopes and containers with a little greenery during the short days of winter.

One word of caution is while this amazing little plant can survive in the sunniest of locations and in the poorest of soils, it does not do well under long-term damp conditions. Probably the most important thing to remember when placing the ice plant in your beds or containers is to ensure it is placed in an area that drains well.  It may not completely die out during consecutive days of rain or overwatering, but it could develop stem rot where pieces of it disengage, leaving holes in an otherwise beautiful carpet of blooms. Since we’ve had an unusually wet spring here in north Texas this year, my ice plant in fact has developed a few holes from this very situation. Not to worry . . .

Ice Plant with Transplanted Cuttings

Ice Plant with Transplanted Cuttings

I took the three or four pieces that rotted from the mother plant and transplanted them nearby onto slightly higher ground and they’ve already taken hold.  This is another amazing property of this succulent – it can be easily propagated via cuttings (or in my case, stem rottings!)  Although some varieties are touted as being fast-spreading, I have not found this to be the case with my variety and thus, taking advantage of transplanting tiny pieces that sometimes dislodge is a good manner to more quickly expand the plant if you wish.

Mixed Ice Plant

Mixed Ice Plant


As hinted above, there are several varieties of Delosperma available with a color or two that surely speaks to you.  The most common colors found in nurseries are the vibrant pink and purple hues, but yellow, orange, white, bi- and tri-colored varieties are available if you are fortunate to find them.  Of course, any variety to your liking can most likely be found online, such as the mixed variety here.


Dwarf Shasta Daisies

Ice Plant Complementing Dwarf Shasta Daisies


I hope you can think of a place or two for the ice plant in your landscape or decor this summer. You’ll be pleased with its beauty, its resiliency and the many compliments it brings!

Until next time,


June 6, 2016






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Summertime & Shasta Daisies

Dwarf Shasta Daisies

Dwarf Shasta Daisies

To me, daisies are the flowers that best represent summertime.  Just as tulips speak of spring and chrysanthemums of fall, daisies speak to the lazy and hazy warm days of midyear.

Shasta daisies are among my favorite of this family for several reasons:

  • They are unassuming, yet, beautiful in their simplicity.
  •  There are several varieties available. (The ones pictured above are dwarf Shastas – slightly tucked under a Vitex tree.   My mom has tall, 36 inch Shastas (see below) planted near her birdbath.  They are dreamy as they dance around the water dish, swaying in the wind.)
  • They are perennials.
  •  They make great cut flowers for indoor admirers.
  •  They bloom from late spring to late fall.
  • And lastly, having a sunny center surrounded by rays of white petals, their blooms are reminiscent of the game He loves me, he loves me not.  Ahhh, sweet summertime romance!
He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not

He loves me, he loves me not . . .

Shasta daisies enjoy full sun, but will tolerate a little shade when planted in the very hot areas of the southern US.  As I mentioned above, my Shastas are situated slightly under a Vitex tree. They receive quite a bit of direct sun in early morning and late afternoon, but at mid-day they receive dappled sunlight and are doing very well.

Daisies prefer fertile, well-drained soil. They are not at all fond of soggy areas, so avoid over watering them or planting them where water stands.  If you have a lot of natural clay (as do I) it would be a good idea to add peat or landscape mix to your natural soil to lessen the water retention of the clay and provide added nutrients.

Deadheading, or cutting off the spent blooms, will encourage your Shasta daisies to produce an abundance of flowers well into the fall months.  Deadheading is best done with shears (as opposed to pinching) and keeps your plantings looking nice and neat.  From my intro picture far above, you can see that I need to perform this task myself pretty soon!

Once autumn arrives, you can help your daisies overwinter  successfully by cutting them close to the ground and mulching around them heavily.  The following spring you will likely enjoy a few more flowers than the year prior as Shastas tend to multiply, as do most perennials.

Tall Shasta Daisies

Tall Shasta Daisies

Interestingly, in my research I came across a notation that Shastas are considered short-lived perennials and that it may be best to stagger planting a new batch every spring to keep a fresh supply. I personally have found this not to be the case at two of my homes in north Texas and at my mother’s home in east Texas.  I suppose a trial run of a couple of years or so might be in order to see if this may the case with plantings in your area. Otherwise, from my experience, the original daisy plant will slowly multiply and remain healthy for many years.




If your plantings of Shastas eventually become overcrowded and/or the center portion of the bunch discontinues to produce flowers, I recommend dividing them.  It is best to divide in late autumn or very early spring (when there are no buds or blooms present.)  Split the plant by using a cutting shovel, discard the woody, non-producing center portions and replant the remainder (per directions above) in another location entirely or nearby, allowing growing space between the original planting.  You will be surprised at how adaptive the new plantings will be.

Lastly, in addition to keeping your daisies well-fed and their roots dry the only pesky thing to look out for are aphids.  If you see these small, soft-bodied bugs (green, black, gray, or brown) congregating and sucking the juice from daisy stems, just spray the plant lightly with a little horticultural oil in the early evening, once a week, for two to three weeks in a row. The oil will suffocate the bugs but should not harm your plant pending you do not spray at mid-day when it is sunny and temps are in the 90’s.

So – about now is the time you will find mature Shasta daisies in half gallon or gallon pots at your local nursery. Although it is already June 1st, it has been mild enough in Texas this spring to afford you the opportunity to successfully add them to your landscape.

Here’s to wishing you a summertime full of Shastas!

Until next time,

June 2016


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Vincas for All Areas

Vinca Minor in Basket of Begonias

Vinca Minor in Basket of Begonias

You may be surprised to learn that Vincas, or Periwinkles, come in a variety of types and tolerances.  Whether you are looking for something to complement your containers or beds, in sun or shade, as an annual or perennial, there is a Vinca for you!

Vinca Minor, or Common Periwinkle, can be a wonderful addition to your shady urns, baskets and beds.  While most often used as groundcover in shady to partly shaded areas, it does very well confined to containers as well.  (Adding greenery to your ornamental pots and baskets gives them a full, healthy look. Many types of vines, ferns and trailing florals can provide substance to your container plantings, especially when they are first created.)


Vinca Minor

Vinca Minor









The deep green leaves of Vinca Minor not only gracefully cascade over urns and baskets but also provide for additional blooms now and then.  The sporadic, dainty blue color of the blooms especially complement other cool, shade-loving flowers.

Vinca Minor vs Vinca Major

Vinca Minor vs Vinca Major

As you know, usually when there is a minor, there is also a major and this is the case with Vinca.  Vinca Major is essentially a somewhat larger version of Vinca Minor.  While still dainty, the blue flowers of Vinca Major are a tad bigger than the Minor variety, as are its leaves. Vinca Major is able to tolerate a bit more sun, so if you have an urn, basket or flower bed that receives such, you may opt to plant Vinca Major instead of Minor as long as the larger qualities work within your overall design. Vinca Minor and Vinca Major are evergreen perennials but if planted in containers where they cascade over, additional protection during freezes will be necessary.

Annual Vinca

Annual Vinca

And lastly, there is also Annual Vinca. While just as beautiful, it is quite different in growth habit and appearance from both the Minor and Major forms.   Annual Vinca tolerates full sun, blooms non-stop during the summer and can reach heights up to 18 inches.   Annual Vinca can easily be found in white and pink colors, but these days the color varieties have expanded to include salmon, magenta and other vibrant colors. Annual Vinca looks nice in containers but does not have the vining effect of the other Vincas mentioned above.  As its name states, Annual Vinca dies at the first freeze.

In conclusion, contrast and comparison, I would consider Annual Vinca more suited as a primary addition to a container or bed whereas Vinca Minor and/or Major would be best used as complementary filler plants.  All Vincas are quite drought tolerant and do not like soggy feet.  The greatest issue with Vincas is fungal.  Annual Vinca can contract a lethal stem rot typically introduced to the soil unknowingly through purchased infected plants.  Once this fungus takes hold it is very hard to control and in fact, may persist in the soil for a few years.  It is best to avoid planting Vincas in the same location once a fungal outbreak has occurred. Otherwise, Vincas are quite pest free and can serve as excellent additions to just about any area of your landscape this season (in sun/shade, container/bed, or for one year/years to come).

Until next time,







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It’s OK to Allow Plants to Bolt Sometimes

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Ornamental Cabbage gone to Bolt

It’s OK to allow plants to go to bolt sometimes, such as when annuals are just past their prime season but not quite spent enough to pull.  If you are unfamiliar with bolting, it is the phase in a plant (usually edibles) when it produces a rapid growth of flowers and subsequently, seeds.

At this point in time in north Texas (early spring) our winter vegetables and ornamentals are gearing up to bolt if they haven’t already.  Bolting occurs when temperatures rise in relationship to a plant’s optimal atmosphere.  The picture immediately below is an example of an ornamental cabbage, typically grown in flower beds during the winter time, that received an early sample of Texas summer temps recently (85+) and quickly sprouted beautiful yellow blooms.  While most businesses and residents would normally remove ornamental cabbages around this time, the new growth on them en masse is quite striking. Besides, we haven’t entered April yet and although winter annuals are bolting, it remains a little too soon to sow summer plants, so why not leave them?

Ornamental Cabbage in Bloom

Ornamental Cabbage in Bloom

I would say the only downside to allowing plants to bolt is this:  If you are growing edibles, they become quite distasteful after flowering or having gone to seed.  This is because the plant has used all of its energy to produce flowers and seed while its roots and leaves (usually the edible parts) become neglected.

And, conversely, I believe the best thing about leaving bolted plants in the soil for a little while is that they provide a rare food source for those insects that have also emerged due to an early warm spell.  This post’s feature pic is one I took of a beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail last week partaking of bolted ornamental cabbage.  (Taken in Denison, Texas near the Oklahoma border.)

As we move from winter into early spring, I hope you allow a few of your remaining plants to go to bolt so that you can enjoy a little extra glimpse of nature during this transitional period.

Until next time,

March 25, 2016




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