23 March 2012

Easter Lilies

Easter is almost here.  The traditional plant this time of year is the Lily.  There are many types of lilies, but at Easter, the standard is Lilium longiflorum, the Latin name for the Easter Lily.  The Easter Lily is native to the Ryukyu Islands of southern Japan. 

Each holiday is marked by cherished traditions that bring joy, comfort, and warmth, and provide continuity from one generation to the next.  For many, the beautiful trumpet-shaped white flowers of the Easter Lily symbolize purity, virtue, innocence, hope and life - the spiritual essence of Easter.
Easter Lily bulbs are harvested in the fall, packed and shipped to commercial greenhouses where they are planted in pots and forced under controlled conditions to bloom for the Easter holiday.  To keep your Easter Lily as long as possible, follow these guidelines. 

First, look for lilies that are neither too tall or too short. Ideally, a plant’s height should be about twice the height of the pot it is grown in.  You should also look for plants that are lush and full and that have leaves up and down the entire stem.  This indicates a healthy plant.  Don’t buy plants that are in full bloom.  If you purchase plants that have an assortment of both open flowers and closed buds, you’ll be able to enjoy the plant longer.  
Also be wary of plants being displayed in plastic sleeves.  It may seem convenient to take them home this way, but the plant has more of a chance developing disease if left in the sleeve too long.  Ideally, plant sleeves should have been removed as soon as they arrived at the store. 

Check the soil.  If it is too wet, especially if the plant looks wilted, it may have root rot.  Purchase another plant instead.  
As the flowers open, remove the gold anthers on the inside.  This will extend the life of the flower, as well as keep the pollen from staining the beautiful white petals.  Once the flower has withered, cut it off to keep the plant attractive and enjoy the other flowers. 

Indoors, the lilies prefer cool temperatures of 60° – 65° F during the day and slightly cooler at night.  Keep the plants from drafts and avoid exposure to strong sunlight and excessive heat.  Lilies prefer moderately moist, well drained soil.  Wait until the soil begins to show dryness, then water lightly.  If the plant is wrapped in foil, be careful not to let the plant stand in water for too long.  This may encourage root rot.  It is best to remove the plant from the foil cover and water it over the sink, allowing it to drain prior to placing the pot cover back on. 
Follow these simple guidelines, and your Easter Lilies should hold up well for the Easter holiday. 

22 March 2012

Super Plants

Super plants; for many years, plants have been used medicinally.  In medieval times, a person carried with them small bunches of flowers called “nosegays” because they made the nose “happier,” allowing for ease in breathing.  Now there are a group of plants known as “super plants.”  These super plants have been recognized for being able to help clear the air in our homes.

Our homes, while being more energy efficient and air tight, tend to hold in the toxins rather than allowing them to escape our homes.  The EPA states that the air in our homes is up to 5% more polluted than the air outside.  There are many toxins in our homes, stemming from household cleaners, furniture, carpeting and more.  Many people suffering with allergies and asthma probably suffer from these ailments because of those common household products.   Formaldehyde is a big offender in many homes.  It is a colorless, strong smelling gas that can irritate the breathing passages and trigger asthma attacks as well as other allergic reactions.  It is found in building products, insulation and many household items such as cleaning products and bath and body products and it can also cause cancer.  You may not necessarily see the word “formaldehyde” listed on your household cleaners for the manufacturers many times use specific trade names.  For more information on formaldehyde, visit http://www.epa.gov/iaq/formalde.html.
Plants, in addition to being decorative, can actually absorb toxins from the air through tiny structures in their leaves called “stomata.”  Stomata are pores used for gas exchange for normal plant functions.  During bio-chemical processes, these stomata allow for exchange of carbon dioxide, water vapor and oxygen into and out of the leaves.  In a study by NASA, philodendron, golden pothos and the spider plant were labeled as the most effective at removing formaldehyde toxins from the air, while the flowering Gerbera Daisy and chrysanthemums were most effective at removing the chemical benzene from the atmospheric chambers used in the NASA studies.  Also found to help with toxin removal were the roots, flowers and soil of the plants.  To see more info on this study, go to http://www.zone10.com/nasa-study-house-plants-clean-air.html. Other plants to try as “super plants” in your home include peace lily, weeping fig, mother’s-in-law tongue, purple heart plants, asparagus ferns, orchids, English ivy and bamboo palms. 

Most houseplants are tropical and are easy to care for.  Many like filtered light, temperatures of around 70 degrees, high humidity and light watering.  You’ll want to take into account the fact that you are running the heat in the winter and perhaps provide a source of moisture to increase the humidity in your home, such as a humidifier or even a decorative tray of pebbles and water under the plants’ pots.  Be careful not to overwater your plants as that can not only kill the plants, but can also encourage mold growth and therefore create more allergy related symptoms.  You can search this blog for tips on indoor plant care.


14 March 2012

Moss

When I think of green and St. Patty’s Day, for some reason, in addition to thinking of four- leaf clovers, I also think of moss.  I’m not really sure why, but I do.  Perhaps it is because moss is very versatile in both the indoor and outdoor landscapes.

Moss is a Bryophyte.  A Bryophyte is a unique type of plant in that it has no true roots.  While moss is planted in the soil (preferably acidic soil), it obtains most of its nutrients from the air.  Some types of mosses are also found growing on rocks.  Moss lacks a lignified vascular system, therefore water and nutrients are transferred by osmosis or capillary action.  Capillary action is important for moving water (and all of the things that are dissolved in it) around. It is defined as the movement of water within the spaces of a porous material due to the forces of adhesion, cohesion, and surface tension.  (http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/capillaryaction.html ).  Moss leaves are small and thin and moss enjoys shade for the most part, although there are some species that require some sunlight.  You can find moss in different shades from light to dark green and some with a silvery cast.  Mosses bear no flowers and therefore bear no seeds, fruit or cones.  There are some 12,000 species of moss in the world.
Mosses can be used in a variety of ways.  For instance, outdoors, it can be used as an evergreen and even in place of a lawn if you have the environment.  You can use it to cover statues, for pathways, rock gardens, water gardens, Japanese gardens, shady slopes and in naturalized areas.  Indoors, it is great in terrariums.

Moss, once established, is pretty much maintenance free…no mowing or weeding required.  Once established, it should not need watering, or at least not frequently.  If it suffers through drought and high temperatures, usually a summer shower is enough to bring it back to life although it does prefer to be in a high moisture area.   In a terrarium, the moisture that re-circulates inside is enough.   Moss is also an evergreen, keeping a nice dark green color over the winter months.  
Years ago, traditional uses of mosses included being use as bedding by Laplanders, basketry, bedding, wound dressing and diapers by North American tribal people, insulation in boots and mittens, filling in gaps in wooden longhouses by the Northeastern U.S. Indian tribes, and by the Pacific Northwest tribes to clean salmon prior to drying.

In today’s culture, commercial uses are mainly for the florist trade and for home decoration.  Decaying moss in the genus Sphagnum is a major component of peat moss, which is used as a fuel, as a horticultural soil additive (we make our own growing medium from peat moss), and also to manufacture Scotch whisky!  Some types of mosses are used in science to improve crops and human health and also in the manufacture of bio-pharmaceuticals.
So as you can see, moss lends itself to many different uses in our lives.  It is used in indoor and outdoor landscaping in many different ways and also was very useful in many older cultures in addition to today’s uses. 

04 March 2012

Mild Winters


It has been very mild this winter so far and that leaves us to worry about the bulbs and perennials already in the ground, especially the newer plantings. 

In addition to the milder temperatures this year, the storm track is different as well, coming from the plains states and remaining further northwest than usual.  The resulting lack of snow in our area deprives our bulbs and perennials from necessary insulation.

Mild winters can create a lot of freezing and thawing of the soil.  This in turn causes our perennials to heave up out of the ground, exposing the plants’ crowns to cold temperatures.  This results in damage to the plants and they may not come back the following spring as you would normally expect them to.  Warmer temperatures over the winter can also confuse plants and trees. The milder temperatures can cause these plants to try to begin to grow too early and they then become damaged by frosts and temperatures that drop below freezing. 

As part of their normal life cycle, perennials and bulbs expect to go through a cold period (called vernalization) and to stay cold for the winter.  This cold period is necessary for proper flowering of the plants.  Vernalization can occur naturally as well as artificially by producers.  The term “vernalization” is derived from the Latin word “ver,” meaning “spring.”

In order to help insulate the plants and prevent them heaving from the ground, we recommend that gardeners spread a winter mulch over their perennials and bulbs, such as straw or pine boughs.  Winter mulch should be applied once the ground gets cold and should be removed once temperatures begin to rise in the spring.  The mulch will keep the ground cold and the plants in a dormant state.  If you have newly planted perennials and bulbs from the summer and fall, the winter mulch will also help the plants’ ability to survive their first winter with a young, yet to be established root system.

Another issue to be wary of is that milder winters allow fungal spores to live through the winter on moist, decaying plant parts.  Over 80% of plant diseases are caused by fungi.  So while we as humans may be enjoying the milder temperatures, we will have more disease issues to look forward to in the spring.   This is one of the reasons why it is so important to rake up and remove debris in the garden as soon as possible during the growing season and into the fall when prepping your garden beds for winter.

As for insect population, insects that remain and normally overwinter in the area should not be affected, but those that migrate from other areas; a mild winter will allow more to survive in their normal habitat prior to migrating to other areas. 

So just be on the lookout earlier for potential problems and keep your gardens clean for a successful growing season.

starting plants indoors

There are many seeds that you can start indoors and then transplant outside when the air and soil temperatures are warmer and there is no longer the threat of frost. 

Start by gathering some seed catalogs or look online to get some ideas for your area. Germination rates, seedling growth, transplant dates and time to maturity or flower vary by the plant.   Check the descriptions in the catalogs or on the seed packets to see how soon you’ll need to start the seeds indoors before they are of sufficient size to plant outdoors in warmer weather.  
You’ll need the proper growing materials as well.  Seedlings are very delicate; you should purchase sterile planting medium, such as a seed starter mix or compressed pellets that expand when watered.  If using last year’s containers, they should be sterilized.  You can purchase seed starter kits in the store, which make it easy to get started with as they generally come with everything you need such as containers, a shallow tray to set the containers on and a see-through lid to hold in the humidity. 

Warmth is necessary for germination and growth.  Germination is when the embryo emerges from the seed.   Soil temperature for germination generally ranges from 50°-72° depending on the crop.  You can purchase special heating mats specifically for germinating seeds, but sometimes the heat from a sunny window or nearby heat source is enough, as long as the seeds have enough moisture.  Some seeds need to be covered with perlite or vermiculite to germinate; others need light and should not be covered.  Once the seedlings have sprouted and are about half an inch tall, they should tolerate room temperatures of about 60°-75°. 

Water is important during both the germination and growth stages.  Sow the seeds in adequately moistened mix and keep the see through cover on to keep humidity in.  Once the seedlings emerge, carefully remove the covering and provide adequate water from the bottom, being careful not to overwater the seedlings.  Too much moisture will cause them to “damp off” (a fungal disease) or may possibly dislodge them from the planting mix.  Be sure air circulates freely around the plants to keep disease at bay.

Seedlings need adequate light or they will be become spindly and weak.  If you don’t have enough light from your windows, purchase grow lights to ensure vigorous growth.  It’s important to use special grow lamps and not regular incandescent light bulbs, which may be too hot and not give the seedlings the proper lumens and wavelengths necessary for growth.  Depending on the light source used, you may choose to set up the lighting so that it can be raised as the plants grow, keeping the lighting about 3 or 4 inches from the plants depending on the light used.

There are many different factors affecting successful germination and growth of starter plants.   By following guidelines, you should be well on your way to growing your favorite plants from start to finish.