Category Archives: News and Tips

Houseplant of the Month – Croton

The croton is an easy-to-grow houseplant known for its variegated foliage covered in green, scarlet, orange, and yellow splotches. Here’s how to care for a croton in your home or garden.
 
Croton, also called “garden croton,” are native to the tropical forests of southeast Asia and Oceania. In the wild, they grow as large shrubs, reaching up to 10 feet tall (in the home or garden, they stay a lot smaller).
 
Note: All parts of this plant are poisonous—especially the seeds—so it is not recommended for use in homes with curious pets or children. When damaged, croton produce a milky sap that can be irritating to the skin, too.
 
PLANTING CROTON
•When choosing a container for your croton, keep in mind that the plant will grow upright, which eventually may cause it to become top heavy. Pick a container that won’t easily tip over when the croton gets larger.
•Use a well-draining potting mix. Croton like to be kept moist, but not wet.
•In areas with warm, humid summers, croton can be grown outdoors as a unique and colorful landscape plant. They work well in tropical-themed containers or alongside annuals in the ground. When temperatures drop to around 50°F (10° C), croton will need to be taken indoors.
 
HOW TO CARE FOR CROTON
•Place croton in a sunny location such as an eastern, southern, or western window. If a croton is getting too little light, its newer leaves will be less colorful. 
•Keep the soil evenly moist, but let it dry out between waterings.
•If humidity is low in your home, mist around the leaves with water once a week or keep a tray of wet gravel near the plant.
•Croton leaves are dust magnets. Gently wipe the leaves with a moist cloth twice a month to keep them clean and dust-free.
•Fertilize the plant in spring and summer.
•New croton plants can be started with 4 to 6 inch long stem cuttings. Remove the bottom leaves and place the cutting in a glass of water. After roots have formed, plant in a small pot.
•Repot the plant in the spring if it has grown too large for its current pot.
 
PESTS/DISEASES
Croton are usually pest and disease free, though they are susceptible to common houseplant pests such as mealybugs, spider mites, and scale insects.

Beautiful Bulbs…Easily!

Part of the allure of gardening is the anticipation. There is nothing more intoxicating than the thought of spring jonquils while enduring the heat of the summer. Properly planted, a gardener can create a blooming wonder that stretches from March till the end of June! Bulbs rarely need dividing so you can enjoy years of carefree color. Fall bulb planting is perhaps the most enjoyable gardening. Here are some points to remember when planning out a bloom pattern with spring flowering bulbs.

Drifts or vase?: Strange question-Are you planting your front foundation or naturalizing a semi-wild spot on the border of your property? For naturalizing an area use daffodils, tulips, scillas, crocus, or muscari to create a drift. A drift is usually viewed from a distance and therefore you should use more bulbs for impact. Plant in multiples of 25,50, 100 or 200. Scatter bulbs casually without regard for a formal pattern to achieve a look created by nature itself. These bulbs are inexpensive and are a great value in that they will spread and naturalize an area within a couple of years! A vase style is great for a more traditional planting as might be needed in the front of the house. Plant your tulips, daffodils & hyacinths in multiples of 3,5,7 and 9’s. Combining bulbs can create the effect of a flower arrangement effect-just as you might find in…A vase! Within your drift or vase you can create a planting that can provide lively color for weeks and months! If you are after a more formal look, then perhaps a border is what you have in mind. A formal border can be any geometric shape-square, rectangle, triangle or circle. To achieve a deep, full border of color, plant and space bulbs according to type. Generally, the proper planting depth is three times the bulb’s height from tip to base. Space bulbs equal to depth planted. Avoid planting bulbs any deeper than 8 inches in our area. This can stunt flower production. Finally, use a fertilizer high in phosphorous to encourage root development, either scratch it in as a top-dressing or put in the prepared bed. Water in well. The bulbs need this period to root in well. Planting can occur well into November or until the ground is too frozen to work. Once the ground is frozen, apply a mulch to keep shallow bulbs from heaving during thaws. You’ll have plenty of blooms to enjoy all spring!

Mum Basics

 
Chrysanthemums (mums) are one of the most popular fall flowers for the garden. Most varieties are easy to grow with their basic needs being full sun, rich soil, good drainage, and good air circulation. There are hundreds of varieties available that can provide blooms from late summer through fall.
 
MUM BASICS
Zones: 5-9 (some varieties to zone 4).
Height/Spread: Varieties 1-3 feet/1-2 feet
Flower Color: Chrysanthemum flowers bloom in shades of white, yellow, orange, lavender, purple, or red.
Exposure: Mums prefer full sunlight during the growing season, and not enough sunlight will result in a weaker plant that will produce fewer flower heads. However, blooms will last longer if they are moved to a shadier spot after flower buds develop.
Soil: Mums prefer rich, well-drained soil. A good rule of thumb is if the soil is good for vegetables, it’s good for mums.
Bloom Time: September to frost. Mums are known as short-day plants, meaning flowering is triggered by the shorter days in late summer and early fall. Flowering can also be forced in a light-controlled greenhouse.
 
PLANTING & CARE
When to plant: For use as a perennial, plant mums in early spring or at least 6 weeks before a killing frost in fall. Spring-planted mums will have the best chance of surviving the following winter. If you are using them as an annual pop of fall color, plant them when blooming in late summer or early fall.
Water: Chrysanthemums require more frequent watering due to their shallow roots, especially in high heat or little rainfall. A layer of mulch in summer will help conserve water and keep the soil moist and cool.
Pruning: Pinch approximately 1 inch from the branch tips two to three times during the growing season to encourage branching and a sturdier plant. Early bloomers that bloom in mid-September, should be pinched no later than mid-June. October bloomers can be pinched up until mid-July, with the rule of thumb being not to pinch any closer than 3 months to bloom time.
Propagation: When mums are grown as perennials, they can be divided every two to three years in the spring. Dig up the plant when new growth begins to appear, discard the dying center and re-plant the new shoots on the outside of the plant. Mums can also be grown from cuttings taken in the spring. Cut just below a leaf node and root in sterile potting soil. The new plants should be watered daily and kept in a sunny windowsill until established.
Fertilizer: Mums are not big feeders, so it is best to apply a dilute fertilizer several times before bud set. A 5-10-5 fertilizer formulation will have the greatest effect on flower production and overall growth.
Diseases and Pests: Some diseases that can affect mums are leaf spot, powdery mildew, and viral diseases such as mosaic or stunt. Avoid overcrowding and overly shady locations that cause moisture to remain on the leaves and provide a habitat for diseases. Pests can include aphids, caterpillars, leafhoppers, leafminers, plant bugs, and spider mites.
 
DESIGN IDEAS
Chrysanthemums are great for growing directly in the garden or in containers, here are some ideas:
•Perfect for containers and baskets because of their shallow-rooting habit.
•Use as an annual in the fall to fill in and replace summer-blooming annuals.
•With the many color varieties available, mums can provide coordinating or contrasting color accents to both indoor and outdoor spaces.
•Mums are relatively inexpensive, making them a great choice for large groupings or repeated throughout an area.
 
GARDEN MUM VS. FLORIST MUM:
The difference between garden and florist mums comes down to their hardiness. Garden mums are typically the varieties you would plant outdoors in your garden and are hardy in their specific zones. Florist mums are used solely for indoor potted plants and are not suited for transplanting outside. Make sure you are buying the correct type for your intended use and location.
 
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Are chrysanthemums annuals or perennials?
Although the most widely available mums are grown as fall annuals, there are varieties that can also be grown as perennials in some regions with a little care to over-winter them. In colder zones, leave the top growth in place and add loose mulch such as straw or evergreen branches around them for protection, waiting to cut back in spring after new growth emerges. In warmer winter climates, they can be cut back to 6” tall after flowering. Check your local garden center to see what varieties work best in your area.
What about the potted mums sold at supermarkets and big box stores?
These affordable plants show up in stores during the fall and have a tidy mound of small flowers. Sometimes called garden mums or Belgian mums, these plants are typically grown as annuals. They are popular for use as part of an autumn container display. Most gardeners report that they aren’t as hardy as the mums featured above and rarely winter over.
Are mums poisonous to cats, dogs or other animals?
Mums do contain substances that are toxic to cats, dogs, and horses if ingested, so be sure to keep this in mind when choosing a location that might be explored by curious pets. See more Common Poisonous Plants for Dogs and Cats.
Are mums deer and rabbit resistant?
Deer and rabbits tend to avoid plants with fragrant leaves and fuzzy texture, both of which are attributes of mums, making them fairly resistant.
 

Lawn Care Tips for the Dog Days of Summer

As your lawn endures the trials of Job this summer-drought, pestilence and disease-you must hold to the hope that there is a lush, green turf on the other side of this summer. Has your spring turf been reduced to an arid, brown toasty color? If not, you might want to submit your water bills for federal disaster relief. Dry, scorching heat-an absence of consistent rainfall-this is the perfect scenario for crabgrass to flourish and bluegrass to perish. What’s needed, of course, is a good, deep penetrating rain. At the time this newsletter was going to press we are down about 8+ inches in the rainfall table.

The large Japanese beetle population will mean a heavier than normal population of grubs. Knowledge is of course your best defense. Here are a couple of suggestion for coaxing your sod through the trials of summer…

Feeding: Your lawn’s nitrogen needs are at their highest in late summer. Avoid fertilizing when temps are about 85 degrees. Supplement this late summer feed (high in nitrogen) with a fall fertilizer that will concentrate on developing the root system. This will build a turf more resistant to drought and pest damage. This might be your most beneficial feeding. You can supply a fall food right into November in most areas.

Pest Control: In late summer and early fall the grub cycle begins as the larvae pupate into the common white lawn grub. At this stage of their development, these grubs are the most vulnerable. Treat infested areas with either a liquid dose or a granular treatment.

Watering: A good rule of thumb is to water in the early morning hours. Try to provide at least 1 to 1.5 inches of water through rainfall or irrigation. A deep watering once a week is more beneficial than a series of shallow watering.

Seeding: To repair damage caused by drought, pests and disease, plan on a fall seeding program. Match the grass seed varieties to the conditions. For example, if you have a rocky, sandy soil that doesn’t hold moisture well, use a drought resistant lawn mixture featuring turf-type tall fescues (TTTF). Unlike ryegrass that spread by shallow rhizomes. TTTF have long individual tap roots. They are tough, durable and make a long wearing attractive turf. Heavy clay soils might do better with a bluegrass and ryegrass mixture. Fall is an optimum time for seeding. The warm weather speeds germination while the autumn night temps start to drop. Remember to keep the seed moist until established. That might require 2-3 mistings during our “Indian Summers”. The attention you pay to your lawn now will pay big dividends in the fall, the following spring and for years to come.

Featured Houseplant: Aloe Vera

The aloe vera plant is an easy, attractive succulent that makes for a great indoor companion. Aloe vera plants are useful, too, as the juice from their leaves can be used to relieve pain from scrapes and burns when applied topically. Here’s how to grow and care for aloe vera plants in your home!

Aloe vera is a succulent plant species of the genus Aloe. The plant is stemless or very short-stemmed with thick, greenish, fleshy leaves that fan out from the plant’s central stem. The margin of the leaf is serrated with small teeth.
Before you buy an aloe, note that you’ll need a location that offers bright, indirect sunlight (or, artificial sunlight). However, the plant doesn’t appreciate sustained direct sunlight, as this tends to dry out the plant too much and turn its leaves yellow.
Keep the aloe vera plant in a pot near a kitchen window for periodic use but avoid having the sun’s rays hit it directly.
Please note: The gel from aloe vera leaves can be used topically, but should not be ingested by people or pets. It can cause unpleasant symptoms such as nausea or indigestion and may even be toxic in larger quantities.

BEFORE PLANTING
• It’s important to chose the right type of planter. A pot made from terra-cotta or a similarly porous material is recommended, as it will allow the soil to dry thoroughly between waterings and will also be heavy enough to keep the plant from tipping over. A plastic or glazed pot may also be used, though these will hold more moisture.
• When choosing a container, be sure to pick one that has at least one drainage hole in the bottom. This is key, as the hole will allow excess water to drain out.
• Select a container that’s about as wide as it is deep. If your aloe plant has a stem, choose a container that is deep enough for you to plant the entire stem under the soil.
• Aloe vera plants are succulents, so use a well-draining potting mix, such as those made for cacti and succulents. Do not use soil. A good mix should contain perlite, lava rock, coarse sand, or all three. Aloe vera plants are hardy, but a lack of proper drainage can cause rot and wilting, which is easily the most common cause of death for this plant.
• A layer of gravel, clay balls, or any other “drainage” material in the bottom of the pot is not necessary. This only takes up space that the roots could otherwise be using. A drainage hole is drainage enough!
• (Optional) To encourage your aloe to put out new roots after planting, dust the stem of the plant with a rooting hormone powder. Rooting hormone can be found at a local garden center or hardware store, or online.

HOW TO CARE FOR AN ALOE VERA PLANT
• Place in bright, indirect sunlight or artificial light. A western or southern window is ideal. Aloe that are kept in low light often grow leggy.
• Aloe vera do best in temperatures between 55 and 80°F (13 and 27°C). The temperatures of most homes and apartment are ideal.
From May to September, you can bring your plant outdoors without any problems, but do bring it back inside in the evening if nights are cold.
• Water aloe vera plants deeply, but infrequently. To discourage rot, allow the soil to dry at least 1 to 2 inches deep between waterings. Don’t let your plant sit in water.
• Water about every 3 weeks and even more sparingly during the winter. Use your finger to test dryness before watering. If the potting mix stays wet, the plants’ roots can begin to rot.
• Fertilize sparingly (no more than once a month), and only in the spring and summer with a balanced houseplant formula mixed at ½ strength.

https://www.almanac.com/plant/aloe-vera

Rediscovering a Classic – A Variety of Hydrangeas

Certain plants have the ability to conjure up memories, emotions and feelings of special times and special places. For many the hydrangea’s fairy-tale blue clusters remind us of carefree summer days spent lazing on the Cape, where the showy blooms dress up cottage gardens. We plant hydrangeas in our own beds for the restful feelings they inspire, as well as for the beauty of their opulent midsummer blooms.

Although the most familiar, the blue hydrangea, or more properly, Hydrangea macrophylla, is just one of over a hundred known cultivars of Hydrangea. Along with Hydrangea macprophylla, other varieties that do well in our area include H. paniculata grandiflora and H. anomola petiolaris. Hydrangeas are generally easy to grow, are hardy to zone 6 or in areas of temperate winters, and require little care or maintenance.

Hydrangea macrophylla is divided into two main groups: hortensias, which feature the globular blue, pink, red and white blooms of Cape Cod fame, and lacecaps, which are distinguished by flatter clusters of sterile, papery petallike sepals. Both types can be propagated by suckered division. They are long-lived plants that are relatively trouble free.

As a group, hortensias feature thick, erect, and unbranched stems that easily reach full height in just a single season. Their glossy foliage is striking in its own right, but the plant is characterized by its showy round clusters, which range in color from blue to white to pink, the color varying with the pH level of the soil. Here in the Northeast, our acidic soil (pH range of 5.5 or lower) gives blooms a blue tone. As the soil pH neutralizes, the color of bloom graduates to white, then pink and finally to a near red shade. Adding aluminum sulfate to lower the soil pH results in blue blooms, while raising the soil pH with ground limestone produces pink/red hues. The plants prefer a sunny to partly sunny location, with moist soil that is rich in organic matter.

In recent years, lacecaps have seen a resurgence in popularity as an old-fashioned favorite. Like hortensias, they prefer a sun to part sun and rich, moist soil. The plants benefit from having the stems, that have flowered, removed while the plant is dormant. A more vigorous thinning (as opposed to pruning, or cutting back) will produce larger flower clusters.

Another old-favorite is the Hydrangea paniculata grandiflora or “pee gee” hydrangea. This fast-growing treelike shrub features a mop-head-like flower cluster in mid-to-late summer. The flowers open to white in summer, turn a pinkish hue in September and fade to tan by fall. They are outstanding as a dried flower, sometimes lasting years in dried arrangements. Because pee gee hydrangeas bloom on new wood, prune hard when the plant is dormant to produce larger flowers the next summer. An easy to grow plant, it is extremely long-lived and has been a favorite of gardeners for generations.

The climbing hydrangea, or Hydrangea anomola petiolaris is another versatile performer. Clinging to tree trunks or brick by aerial roots, it can grow to 60 feet, and once established, this plant takes off! Its fragrant white flowers nearly cover it in summer and it does well in the shade of most deciduous trees. Planted at the base of an elm or an oak, this climbing hydrangea will wind its way up the trunk and provide spectacular color all summer long.

Improving Soil Drainage

The rising temperatures of Spring are right around the corner, and with it comes the thawing out of frozen ground. The remains of winter will melt into a quagmire interspersed only by early crocus.

This is the perfect time to come to understand the draining capacity of your soil. Why is this so important? It can make the difference between life and death for some plants.

Take, for example, Roses. Good draining soil is a must for success. Poor drainage can also lead to fungus diseases in lawns, perennials and many annuals.

So how do you know if your soil drains well? There are a few simple tests you can take to give you an idea of how well your soil drains. An easy, accurate and effective test would be to take a shovel full of soil. This can be done as early in the season, (or whenever you want to know), as the soil can be worked. Take a shovel-depth amount of soil, set it aside and fill the hole half-full with water. Come back in an hour or so.

If there is water remaining in the hole you have a drainage problem. If there is nothing left in the hole, or a small amount remaining then your problem is less dramatic.

The next step is the solution(s). The answer is going to be different for each situation, i.e., in a container garden, in a lawn, or a garden bed. Soil composition is very important. In a container garden, when using a whiskey barrel, clay pot or urn, you can provide a custom soil mix easily-it comes ready mixed in the bag. Make sure the mix has either perlite, vermiculite or some sort of soil conditioner.

As easy as it is to get perfect soil in a bag (for your potted pots), it is sometimes as daunting to produce similar results in a lawn or garden bed. It is not feasible to tear up your lawn to amend the soil mechanically, nor is it a good idea to try to displace an existing perennial bed.

There are some soil amenders you can add that work their way into the soil. For example, garden gypsum, an organic material that aids drainage, can be applied with a spreader and gets good results. You can use it on lawns as well as garden beds. Coarse sand can be added and scratched into the top two-three inches of soil. This is best used in garden beds.

In annual beds, or in planting situations, entire beds can have their soil re-worked. It’s best to add as much organic material as possible. Peat moss, manures and humus based top soils can do wonders in a planting situation. Remember to neutralize your soil with a bit of ground limestone to reach an optimum pH of 6.5-7.

Lawns, or mature beds, can be top dressed with organic material that will eventually work its way into the soil structure. A simple drainage test can go along way to answer your gardening problems.

A Greener Lawn Is In The Bag!

Fertilizing Your Lawn

A greener lawn just seems to make you feel better. It makes your home and gardens more beautiful. But how do you keep it green? Just as you and I need our three square meals a day, utilizing all the food groups (of course), a lawn has similar nutritional needs. Your lawn’s needs are simple…it needs nitrogen for lush, green grass, phosphate for strong, deep root development and potash for growth and drought resistance. These elements are known as N-P-K for Nitrogen, Phosphate and Potash. To keep it straight, just remember N (for nitrogen) is for everything above ground (grass leaf)-P (for phosphate) is for everything below ground (roots) and K (for potash) helps the lawn interact with the soil. These elements are present in most balanced fertilizer products. The percentage of each element might differ, but these percentages are listed on every fertilizer product. They are the three numbers listed in the formulation; i.e., 25-5-5 would 25% of the bag weight would be available nitrogen, 5% phosphate and 5% potash.

If you were to buy a 50 pound bag (10,000 sq ft coverage) of 25-5-5 fertilizer, then 25% or 12.5 pounds would be nitrogen, 2.5 pounds would be phosphate and 2.5 pounds would be potash. To finish the equation, you then divide the total pounds by the coverage area. In this case you would apply about 1.25 pounds of nitrogen. An average lawn needs 4 pounds of nitrogen (per 1000 sq ft or M), 2 pounds of phosphate (/M) and 1 pound of potash (/M) annually. Your lawn might differ from the average, but if you are looking for a “green-up” then look for high nitrogen fertilizers. If your lawn seems to wilt under the stress of summer heat waves, consider a fertilizer higher in phosphate and potash.

Now you know how to fertilize like a pro. There is an easier way. Most fertilizer companies now offer “four-step” programs for your lawn. It is usually sold as a set of four bags in 5-10,000 or now even 15,000 square foot sizes. It pre-packages everything your lawn needs for the year. Simply apply at rates shown on the bag at the times recommended. This ensures the proper amount of nutrients are applied at optimum timing.

Most folks like to see a quick green-up, but be careful, as too quick a top growth can occur at the expense of good root development. A good solution to this problem is WIN or W (ater) I (insoluble) N (itrogen). It allows the nitrogen to be released over a longer period of time. It is usually coated so that it is broken down over natural weathering process.

A great lawn is in the bag…literally. Knowing what’s in the bag should keep you and your lawn in the green! Stop by with any questions.

April’s Featured Houseplant: Calathea

The Calathea plant is a popular plant used for indoor office decoration purposes. It is often used in homes and businesses as well. It is a type of plant that prefers indirect lighting, which means makes it perfect for indoor usage and office buildings. Calathea plants are popular for indoor purposes because they are generally easy to care for and they look great, offering bright green plants to liven up indoor spaces. 

The genus Calathea includes some of the most beautiful and striking tropical foliage plants in the world. Calathea species generally have boldly marked, upright, oblong leaves in a dazzling array of colors held on long, upright stalks. Because of the plant’s bold markings, it goes by nicknames such as zebra plant, peacock plant, and rattlesnake plant, that reflect that. 

Grow calathea in medium to low light. This beautiful tropical doesn’t like much sun on its leaves, so shield it from direct light to prevent sunburn. Water calathea enough to keep it moist, but not wet or saturated. This isn’t a drought-tolerant houseplant, but it is relatively forgiving if you forget to water it from time to time. Extended periods of dryness can result in brown leaf tips or edges. 

Got Spring Fever? Visit the flower gardens at Keukenhof in Holland!

Have a bad case of Spring fever? Let’s go to Holland! Ok, maybe we all can’t hop on a plane, but we can take a video visit to Keukenhof where you will experience the gorgeous views of blooming Dutch tulips and other flowers for which Holland is famous. Keukenhof is the most famous and largest flower park in the world and lies not far from Amsterdam.

7 million flower bulbs

 


 

Tulips from Holland are world famous. If you want to see the Dutch tulip fields in bloom, you should visit Holland in April and May. This is the same period in which the biggest flower park in the world, Keukenhof, opens its doors.

Keukenhof is a park where more than 7 million flower bulbs are planted every year. Gardens and four pavilions show a fantastic collection of: tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, orchids, roses, carnations, irises, lilies and many other flowers. You will be overwhelmed by a spectacle of colors and perfumes.

March Houseplant of the Month – Pothos

Whether you are new to houseplants, or have a tendency towards killing anything you bring home, have we got a plant for you. Pothos, or Epipremnum aureum, is a lovely plant that is probably the easiest houseplant to grow. You have probably seen them in dorm rooms, offices, or even tropical locations like steamy bathrooms. Speaking of tropical, you might have even seen a few whose trailing vines have grown to 10, 20 or even 30 feet long. They are not a terribly finicky plant as they tolerate low light and lax watering habits. They are perfect for those of us who are too busy, or consider ourselves non-plant people.  It is a great plant for those looking to find fulfillment caring for houseplants.

Pothos plants do well in ordinary, well-draining potting soil. They tolerate low natural light (even growing under fluorescent lights), or shady spots in a warm-weather garden. Ideal is bright, indirect light. You should let the plant dry out between waterings as too much water will rot the roots.

Due to their trailing habits, Pothos are a great way to get trendy by growing yours in a cool macrame hanger. Want another reason to pick up this popular plant? They are an air purifier removing harmful chemicals. So if you are looking for a starter plant, or just a plant that’s as easy to care for as it is easy on the eyes, bring one or two home today!