- Green Blog
The holiday spirit is upon us, and that means putting up a Christmas tree. In my case, I’ve never cut down or purchased a living tree, but many people do. After Christmas, the question is what to do with the deader than dead tree.City Services
In my city, a day during your garbage cycle is set aside for Christmas tree pick up. What do they do with Christmas trees? They chip and compost them for use in municipal parks.
While city pickup is fabulous, not everyone has this option. So then what do you do with a past due Christmas tree? Well, you can mulch it or chip it yourself for use in your landscape. Or if it’s legal in your region, you can burn it outside or use it as firewood.
If your city doesn’t have a pick up program, it may have a recycling facility that will. Also some sellers will take back Christmas trees and see that they are mulched, chipped or composted.Other Ideas
You can also cut the tree trunk into discs and use them to line flower beds and walkways. Then use the boughs to protect your perennials from frost over winter.
Or you can buy a Norfolk pine and have a living tree year round. A onetime purchase that is environmentally friendly, albeit a rather large houseplant.
This last option is the least savory. You can always do what my neighbors down the street do. Every year their tree makes its way back outside, dumped unceremoniously on the front lawn where it will stay until the next big windstorm when it will no doubt end up as someone else’s problem.
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If you’re looking for a houseplant that thrives on neglect, but still makes a decorating statement, consider the spineless yucca (Yucca elephantipes). Spineless in this case doesn’t mean this houseplant is by any means weak or feeble. These plants are more likely to outgrow your space and can get quite tall, even when confined to a pot.My Amazing Yucca Plant
I’ve had my yucca for about 20 years and I honestly only remember repotting it once. (And this was because I wanted something a little more decorative than the black plastic pot it came in.) Granted, this is not the recommended interval for transplanting a yucca of this species, but like I said, they are highly tolerant of neglect.
Just for the record, I also only water my yucca houseplant about once a month rather than giving it the recommended weekly drink of water. While all this neglect hasn’t killed this lovely plant, I’m certain it has slowed down its growth rate. Yet at 7 feet tall (2 m.), I can honestly say I’m glad it hasn’t grown faster!
Alas, as a garden writer, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you the recommended way to provide yucca houseplant care. As this is definitely a case of do as I say and not as I do, here is the proper way to care for potted yuccas.Avoid Overwatering an Indoor Yucca Plant
Obviously, my once a month “let’s throw some water on it” technique for hydrating my yucca plant prevents me from overwatering these desert natives. Yet, I’ve often wondered if it’s possible to underwater them. Mine resides in a 16 inch (41 cm.) wide planter. It may well be possible to underwater this species should it be rootbound and in a smaller pot.
I do have a theory as to why my yucca is not rootbound, even though it has been more than a decade since I’ve repotted it. A few years back, we had a rather tenacious mouse that took up residence in our 1930’s era home. Even our two housecats couldn’t seem to rid us of this pest.
I would see it scurrying along the wall, behind the television stand and into the bedroom where I kept the yucca. While Mr. Mouse was living with us, I kept finding holes dug in the soil of the yucca plant.
Now, I’ve never heard of mice digging holes in potted plants, but I can’t think of any other reason why these holes would keep appearing even after I filled them in with potting soil. I think perhaps Mr. Mouse was doing a bit of root pruning, which in some odd way was beneficial to my yucca.
Nonetheless, indoor yucca plants are very prone to root rot if overwatered. Regardless of the recommendation to water these plants weekly, it’s best to always check the soil first. If it is moist, don’t hesitate to wait a few days before watering.Yucca Plant Indoor Care
While these plants make beautiful and interesting houseplants, this species of yucca is only hardy in tropical climates. Outdoors, they can be grown in full sun or partial shade. To provide as much sunlight as possible, I keep my yucca in an east-facing window. To keep the trunk growing straight, I regularly rotate the pot.
I’ve found potted yucca plants are quite tolerant of any well-draining potting soil. A cactus mix is ideal, but adding sand, perlite or vermiculite to a standard potting mix will also work. These plants are not heavy feeders and I rarely include fertilizer when watering.
I have found that the one aspect of care these plants routinely require is pruning. Several time per year, I trim off the lower leaves which have turned brown. These can be left on the trunk, but I find yuccas to be more aesthetically pleasing when the foliage is all green.
Finally, once my yucca reaches the ceiling, it will be time to prune its height by sawing across the trunk. Repotting both the bottom with the roots and the sawed off top will give me two plants. I find this task a bit daunting, so I’m glad I only need to do it once every 10 to 20 years!
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I absolutely adore my houseplants. One could say I have too many. Actually, I do have too many considering the lighting I have in my home. In spite of huge picture windows with western exposure, very little light enters our house. There are a few times during the day where sun patches form on the carpet, but otherwise we live in a dim environment. So I have had to resort to plant lights. My plants seem happy enough but I also have to consider their fertilizer, water, and container needs. Keeping plants alive has been a bit of a challenge and re-potting plants is another challenge due to the shortage of available soil.Re-Potting Requirements
When you live in the middle of nowhere and gas is at a premium, you tend to avoid trips to the big city. We go once per month and get the necessities such as toilet paper, food, cat needs. The trip is expensive and the car is filled to the brim. We also have to add in anything we need for the home such as furnace filters and any car needs. Home project materials have to be purchased and fit in around the big bags of cat food and 24 pack of toilet paper. Packing the car is a huge undertaking as we cross things off our list. So potting soil takes second place to most of our shopping endeavors.
I buy potting soil in spring when it is on sale, but by fall, I am out of the precious stuff. When I have potting soil, I generally will repot a few plants but I never get to all the flora that needs it. I have tried making my own potting soil since I have a compost tumbler and can make my own compost. However, the soil in the garden is heavy, holds too much moisture, and is not an ideal mix for compost. The resulting mixture is not a great medium for most of my plants.
The long and short of this situation is that my plants are woefully neglected where re-potting is concerned. It’s not that I don’t want to do it, it’s just that it isn’t always feasible. I have learned to recycle the soil in my outdoor containers that housed summer plants. It is usually still fairly good when augmented with some compost. Yet, even by recycling soil, I still never get to all the plants.Re-Potting Frequency
Take my Norfolk pine for instance. It is a huge tree at this point. I re-potted it three years ago. I haven’t got nearly enough soil in any fashion to give it a new mix for its roots. I did top the container with some newly made compost, and this seems to be holding the health quite well. I am certain though I should give it new soil this coming spring. That means planning a trip to the big city that will include at least two large bags of soil. Depending upon what else we will need, that acquisition may be reduced to one bag or even no bags. I’m sure you can see the dilemma.
Regular potting soil is not the only problem around here. I have specialty plants. Numerous succulents which require a looser, dryer mixture. Plants like African violet and orchids that need singular soil mixes. I have been known to order such things, but delivery in the boonies is not that easy, especially with a P.O. box. Few things can be delivered directly to my home. So re-potting on a schedule for my little unique varieties is also not on any particular schedule.When Do You Need to Re-Pot?
I’m lucky my plants are forgiving. I watch them for tell-tale signs they are struggling. If I see any leaves dropping, puckering, roots showing at the top of the soil line, or other signs of ill health, I will re-pot. If the plant has outgrown its container, it is time to put it in a larger container. This requires hoarding some soil until it is absolutely necessary to give a plant a new home. I am literally a soil hoarder.
In spite of my inability to get new soil on a regular basis, things are thriving. My miniature pomegranate flowered and has some little fruits growing. The citrus tree is about to bloom. My indoor basil plant is providing me with delicious leaves for pasta. The Christmas cactus is about to flower. My neglected Norfolk pine has lighter green, new growth on the tips. Everybody seems to be just fine. So I will get as much potting soil in spring as I can, and re-pot anybody that hasn’t had new soil in a while. It’s the best I can do and I’m grateful for the stoicism of my houseplants.
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I grow a handful of cactus plants in my home. Many are harmless, like my fishbone cactus, dragon fruit cactus and Thanksgiving cactus. But some of them, particularly the various Echinopsis types, have one feature that prevents me from ever wanting to repot them… fine, hair-like spines.I Needle Little Help Here!
Thank goodness repotting a cactus plant isn’t necessary too often. If it were, I’d be tapping out in round one. My grandfather had a way with cacti. He was like the cactus whisperer, growing some of the most beautiful plants I’d ever seen… and some of these were quite huge. I fondly remember them during my visits to Ohio. Just in front of a large picturesque window in his basement, overlooking the backyard patio garden where I used to spend much of my childhood days plucking strawberries, sat a number of cactus plants. There was one in particular that towered over all others and boasted the most beautiful blooms. He must’ve had to repot that one more than once, I’m sure. Unfortunately, this was not a skill passed to me. I may have acquired a “green thumb” through trial and error during my many years of gardening, but cacti and succulents (most anyway) still elude me.
Cacti rarely require repotting, but when they do, it’s not a task I look forward to doing. Even with gloved hands and tongs, it never fails. I’m always getting pricked, and it hurts! And the worst part is that I know what I’m doing, like I know how to repot a cactus, but for some reason I cannot do it without some sort of issue. Apparently, I’m just not very good at it, or maybe the plant senses my anxiety, making it more difficult to accomplish this task unscathed. The process normally takes far longer than it should. I often get frustrated. And of course, after getting stuck a few times, there’s lots of cursing going on.
Thankfully, cactus plants have shallow roots and are able to grow in confined places. To avoid repotting them at all, I try to place them in larger pots than is really needed whenever I can, which like repotting, is no fun either. But they’re slow growers anyway, so I don’t worry too much about them becoming overly large. And it’s not as if I’ll ever grow any as tall as my grandfather’s. I’ve already come to terms with the fact that, other than strawberries as tasty as his, I’ll never grow any cacti like Grandpa, so I’ll just continue to avoid repotting them as long as possible.
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Christmas trees are such a lovely part of the holiday celebrations in the United States that even the smell of pine puts me in a festive mood. However, cut trees must be stripped and disposed of at some point after the big day. While those in the country might be able to cut the tree up and use it in the fireplace, most of us need to find other solutions.Live Trees
I switched to live Christmas trees some years ago when I started spending the holidays at my little house in the French mountains. The house is small and cozy, but the property, on the slopes of the Pyrenees, is large. So, I have the luxury of disposing of the tree by digging a hole in the soil and tucking in its roots.
Not everyone has a place to plant a live tree though. This was my situation in San Francisco and other towns I’ve lived in. I did a little research into different things to do with cut trees after Christmas and found more than a few great ideas.City Services
San Francisco is a progressive city and organizes a curbside, post-Christmas tree pick-up. The trees are ground up and turned into mulch for use in city parks, so you can feel good about this option. Many cities offer a similar service in the weeks following Christmas, so keep a look out. In San Francisco, we just put the trees out beside our weekly recycling bins.
When I was living in Trinidad in Northern California, there was no tree pick-up. The county offered a tree recycling center. It was a bit more trouble since you had to transport it yourself, but the end-result is just as good for the planet. Alternatively, anyone with a wood shredder can make mulch themselves.Bird or Wildlife Feeders
A cut Christmas tree can also have a second life serving wildlife. I used to put mine in the backyard and add suet balls to the red glass ornaments. It’s fun to string berries or popcorn too to give the birds a holiday treat.
No garden? You may be able to find a wildlife refuge or zoo that will be happy to use your tree for wildlife feeding. Some county-operated fishing spots let you sink former Christmas trees in lakes and streams to provide protection and food sources for fish and other animals.
So take a look at your options. There’s no reason for your beautiful tree to wind up in the trash.
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As I sit here I have a view of a tarp spread out that is covered in an array of canna bulbs. The good news is I have more canna bulbs than I planted. The bad news is that while the bulbs grew into their huge tropical leaves, there was nary a flower.Canna Bulbs
This is a bummer on multiple levels. First I love canna. There are so many colors of both bloom and leaf and their towering heights and giant leaves lend an air of lush tropical paradise to the garden. While I appreciated the exotic foliage I’d rather hoped for some flowers.
Now I’m no novice at growing canna. I have grown them before with varying degrees of success. Perhaps it was too hot where I placed them, or they didn’t get enough irrigation. Basically what it comes down to is I figured I had no luck with these tropical beauties.Canna Growing Conditions
I’ve learned a few things now. First off is that yes, I may have had them in an area that was too hot with zero humidity. I had them planted quite close to the house one year, a house with metal siding. That year the foliage pretty much frizzled.
Also, on the subject of humidity: my area has none in the summer. We have dry almost desert-like conditions—definitely not optimal for tropical to subtropical bloomers. The plants were on a drip line but likely the soil dried out so rapidly against the heat of the metal siding they didn’t stand a chance.
So the following year, this year, I tried the canna in a different area. This time although canna generally likes full sun, I potted them up in a container with a mix of potting soil and compost and placed it on our exterior patio that receives sun early in the morning and then again in the late afternoon. We watered the container every day.Cannas Won’t Bloom
I thought things were going swimmingly. The canna popped up from the soil— first one leaf, soon followed by two, then three… until the entire container was filled with huge banana plant like leaves. Then, that was it.
I waited but to no avail. Then I went to visit my mom who lives in the same city. She’d planted canna in containers too and hers were blooming! With some jealousy I asked her how she was caring for them.
My Master Gardener mother informed me that she had started her plants inside about six to eight weeks before our last average frost date. Smart. The reason for this is because we have a shorter growing season here. It often snows and the ground is frozen in March and then fall doesn’t often ease in but rather hits us with snowfall and freezing temps sometimes as early as late September.
So starting canna bulbs indoors gives them that extra bit of time to establish before moving them outside in the late spring. As to how she watered the bulbs, she placed the containers on a drainage plate filled with small stones which will hold some of the water drained after irrigation and provide some humidity. Also, she runs a drip line into her pots.
So, it is definitely never too late to learn something from your mother! Armed with her knowledge, these dozen or so canna bulbs I’m staring at will be started in late winter indoors and then moved outside in the late spring complete with drip lines and drainage plates filled with small stones.
You know how your mother always thinks she’s right? Well sometimes she really is. Thanks Mom.
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I plant drought-tolerant shrubs in my San Francisco garden. And drought-tolerant trees and drought-tolerant flowers and veggies. California never has much rain in the summers, but, in recent years, the fall and winter rains are also slowing. That has caused several successive years where the state is officially in a drought, making a drought-tolerant backyard essential.
In the years I have gardened, I have come to believe in the power of nature to make it through. But I learned this year that even nature might not be able to work with climate change. And that drought-tolerant plants can’t actually survive a drought.California’s Drought
The U.S. Drought Monitor – a national weekly map showing parts of the country that are in drought – began in 2000. Since then, California has repeatedly experienced drought. The longest duration of California drought lasted six years, that is, 376 weeks, starting in the end of 2011 and ending in March 2019.
Since 2019, the state has not “recovered” from drought. Much of the period between the middle of 2000 and the current day in 2022 also were times of serious drought. Most of the people I know with gardens have modified them by replacing lawns and shrubs with drought-tolerant plants.Drought-Tolerant Plants
As a garden writer, I fill my own garden with the plants I recommend to readers: drought tolerant native plants that have evolved to survive the periods without rain. As I explain when I give tours of the San Francisco Botanical Garden, coastal California has always experienced hot, dry summers. It is one of the areas with Mediterranean climates marked by dry summers and cooler, wetter winters.
So our native plants have evolved to tolerate summers without water. California poppies thrive all summer long. California buckeye trees drop their leaves in the heat of summer, going into early dormancy. Succulents store all available water in their puffy leaves to access when there is no rain. My backyard is full of native plants.Drought-Tolerant Limitations
What I learned this summer is that drought-tolerant plants have their limitations. I spent the hottest part of the summer – from mid-July through August – in San Francisco. While I didn’t water the plants every day, I did give them a drink every week. And when I left for France in early October, the plants were thriving.
Fast-forward to November, when I returned from France. Sadly, the expected rains were short-lived and the predictable San Francisco fog yielded center stage to clear skies and hot sun. The result was not pretty.
Plants I have had for a decade were dead, from the tippity-top of their blossoms to the crispy foliage to the sad, brittle roots. Succulents were burned, brown, shriveled. Poppies were masses of dead, ferny leaves. Even the ever-blooming salvia plants had lost their flowers and could be yanked out, roots and all, with one hand.
So what is the biggest lesson the garden taught me this year? That everything can be broken, and that we humans can’t count on nature to repair all of our mistakes.
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For those of us who plant a veggie garden, seed starting is filled with excitement. Visions of fresh tomatoes adorned with olive oil and basil, grilled zucchini, freshly picked fruit, and all the other goodies we grow, dance around in our heads. There is simply nothing like growing your own food, and I swear it tastes better too. So as the seed packets come out, we contemplate our garden plans. This includes deciding how many plants of each variety will be needed to feed the family. This is where I fail.Planning a Vegetable Garden
As winter starts to fade, I am in my happy place dreaming of the veggie garden. It is soon time to start my vegetable plants that need to be planted early. I tend to start several seeds of each variety, in order to ensure some successful transplants. In most cases, a few damp off and I don’t end up with as many vegetable starts as I planted. Similarly, I over-seed the directly sown plants. In this manner, I am assured of each type of vegetable I sowed.
The problem with this strategy is that I end up with too much. There are only two of us, and although we share what we can, every one of our neighbors is an avid veggie gardener. We give some items to our food bank, but even so, there is always too much.
Take a day this past autumn, for instance. We had a sudden hard freeze, but the vines outside the window were still filled with cucumbers, zucchini, grapes, and other food. They are compost now, after that hard freeze, but we simply couldn’t give the stuff away quick enough. This brings me to my issue: over planting. My plan to have enough plants to survive and produce, often means there are too many plants. We direct sow things like melons, squash, and cucumber in our zone, but usually not until late May. Other veggie starts come from seed started indoors many weeks before going outdoors. Things come up and grow like weeds in this soil that was once underwater. Additionally, our town features a mild, often very warm fall, that keeps the plants producing robustly. However, when there are only two to feed, you can only go through so many zucchinis. And I had four zucchini plants.What to Do With Such Abundance
Some things such as cucumbers can be canned, while others such as strawberries are frozen. Many of our homegrown produce ends up dried, such as zucchini and kale chips. My sun-dried tomatoes last for a year and provide some much-needed color and flavor in winter recipes. But here is a confession. I still have preserved food from the previous year. I have more jam than we can eat, bags of dried fruit, a freezer full of seal-a-meal produce. It is a problem that many might envy, and I do appreciate the abundance. But it’s the things I can’t save that bother me the most. As harvest time is nearing its end, but there is still produce to gather, I have pretty much run out of room. And that is all because I over-planted.
So, my new resolution is to back off on planting seed. I will trust things will grow and survive and only plant two zucchini seeds. Really. I’m not sure if this will backfire, but I have to be a bit more reserved. Fewer plants mean less fertilizing, weeding, and water, as well as less waste. And, if my plants don’t take off, there are always the neighbors with their never ending zucchini supplies.
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Shade gardening is difficult. This is something I have always known, but it really challenged me this past gardening season. I had some humbling failures and learned a few more things about plants and shade that I can carry over into next year.The Burden and Blessing of Shade
One of the toughest lessons I have had to learn as a gardener — honestly, I’m still working on this one — is that some areas are just too shady to grow much. Some plants do better in shade than others, of course, but the hard truth is that these corners of the garden will never be as lush and full as the sunnier areas.
This doesn’t mean I don’t embrace the shady spots. They have provided me a challenge over the years. I have had to try new plants and learn to love the moss that grows under the walnut tree where grass won’t grow. It can be hard for a gardener to accept, but sometimes you just have to let shade areas do what’s natural.Don’t Force Full Sun Transplants into a Shady Bed
I did a big division of day lilies this spring and hated to just throw out the plants I removed. So, I decided to create a new bed. I chose a corner toward the back of the garden near a large shrub.
I know the daylilies love the sun, but I thought, why not? This area is not the shadiest, and maybe they’ll be fine. They didn’t die but they also didn’t thrive. I should have given the transplants away to someone who could have given them a better home.Not All ‘Will Tolerate Shade’ Plants Really Do
I worked on improving another bed this year that needed some help. It has pretty deep shade for a big chunk of the day. Previously I had pulled out some old and overgrown ornamental grass but struggled to decide what to put in its place.
Eventually, I purchased a few astilbe plants, which I had read do best with partial shade. I did my best to make the newcomers happy. I added some fertilizer and kept the soil moist, as they like it.
They just never really took off. They grew minimally and were spindly at best. The flower stalks weren’t very showy. I determined that astilbe needs a little more sun than I offered it. I’m still trying to figure out what to put in that bed next year, although it might end up being hostas.Hostas Offer More Variety Than You Think
I resisted planting hostas for a long time. I always considered them kind of boring. They don’t have showy flowers, and I really only ever saw two types: medium-sized plants with either variegated or solid green leaves.
My current garden had a few of these, and while they thrived in the shadier beds, I resisted adding more hostas for a long time. Last year I finally looked into new varieties and was surprised. There are some really interesting hostas available that provide great variety in a shade bed. These are some I liked the best for adding different sizes, textures, and colors:
I learned a few new things about shade this year, but I continue to learn more every year. Mostly, I learn to accept the shade and not try to force it to be something it’s not.
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I’d venture to say that most plant lovers are familiar with amaryllis, but less so with clivia. I’ve written about my clivia before, a gift from my honey, and how much I adore it. I also have a humongous amaryllis bulb that is inching its way up to my number one favorite flowering houseplant… but more about that later.What Is a Clivia?
Clivia (Clivia miniata) belongs to the lily family (Liliaceae), the same family as amaryllis. It’s easy to see the similarities between the two. Both have similarly shaped flowers clustered together to form what looks like one large head. Although clivia flowers are somewhat smaller than amaryllis both plants have long, strap-like leaves.
Like amaryllis, clivia will bloom if given a 6-8 week cooling period with minimal water in the fall. Unlike amaryllis which drops its leaves, when not in bloom the dramatic evergreen leaves make for an attractive houseplant that can be moved outside when temperatures warm.
Clivia is native to the subtropical forest of South Africa where it can be found growing in partial shade, often atop rotting logs. Orange is the most common clivia color, but a yellow variety exists but is more of a rarity and quite pricey.
I grow my clivia near a southeastern facing window but “near” is the operative word. If I put it right in the bright light of the window, the beautiful leaves soon become sunburned and yellow.How to Divide a Clivia
I’ve had my clivia for 15 years and in that time, I’ve divided the plant exactly twice. While that may not seem nearly enough for a plant that is about 2 ½ feet (76 cm.) tall and nearly as wide, that fact is that clivia enjoy being root bound. So much so that the first time I went to repot the plant I was seriously alarmed. The entire pot was filled with a swirl of root shaped exactly like the pot. I decided it not only needed repotting but dividing as well.
I was nervous about dividing the plant but with my mental fingers crossed, I sawed through the roots to form three separate plants. One I gave to my mother, one to my sister and the other I repotted for myself. The finger crossing must have worked because today we all have not only surviving but thriving clivia that reliably cheer us in the winter with their large orange heads.
Oh, and on that note, clivia can be propagated by seed or via division. Seeds are a bit of a challenge as they take quite a long time to germinate and about five years before you will be rewarded with a bloom.Get an Amaryllis to Rebloom
So my clivia is likely my favorite indoor bloomer but I did mention that my amaryllis is edging her out. The amaryllis I’m referring to is only a few years old but the bulb is something to behold; about 6 inches (15 cm.) across! Its other claim to fame is that it bloomed a second time this year…in the summer when it was supposed to be reclining outside gaining energy for a Christmastime bloom!
This shocker has me a bit flummoxed. I’m not sure if the amaryllis has it in itself to bloom again soon but we’re going to find out in a couple of months. In the meantime, I always have my indoor clivia flowers to cheer me up just when the great outdoors is a bone chilling sea of white.
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When we bought our current house, it was touted as having a crabapple, cherry, and a walnut tree. The crabapple turned out to be an ornamental that while gorgeous in the spring, provides fruit even the birds won’t touch. The walnut was just not a walnut. It was a “garbage” tree, an invasive tree that had to be cut down
We did have the giant cherry tree which has provided ample fruit since; however, it has all been worm riddled.New Fruit Trees
So we resolved to add to our orchard and purchased a multi-grafted apple and pear tree. We were so excited but knew it would take a few years before we reaped the fruits of our labor.
Last year was the year! We had fruit! It looked beautiful but when it came time to harvest…pfft! Worms again and something else that was taking tiny nibbles!
We strive to keep our yard as organic as possible so eschewed the route of spraying our fruit trees with pesticides, instead we doused them with Neem oil. Neem oil is purported to kill aphids, white flies, mealybugs, leafhoppers, thrips, and more pests yet it is naturally sourced.
We researched pruning, feeding, and other care for our fruit trees and followed it to the letter. Our trees were never drought stressed and got plenty of sunlight. We thought we had things under control. NOT.
So, this year, the year 2023, I resolve to get a handle on the pests so I can eat some well deserved fruit. The question is, how?Fruit Tree Pests
Our trees have never had evidence of disease and they are kept pruned, watered, and fed. We thin the fruit as well. From all outward appearance our trees are healthy; and apparently every pest in the neighborhood is in agreement.
Now cost is an issue. I’m cheap and always on a budget so I don’t want to buy a bunch of stuff that says it will repel pests. That said, I may try spinosad or pyrethrin if I can find them on sale that is.
We will also try using sticky traps, hanging moth traps, trunk banding, and fruit bagging. I would add that we would introduce beneficial predators, but we have tons of ladybugs, praying mantis, other beneficial insects and birds galore so there really is no need.We’re going all out in 2023!
If all else fails we seem to have unending luck with growing grapes and have troves of those to eat, process, and share. If our plan outlined above doesn’t work this year I’m giving up. I’ve always got the grapes.
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Every year I vow to do things better and differently. I learn something new each season, and the weather patterns teach me about my microclimate. Around the time I acquire the seed I will need for my veggie garden, I start getting antsy. I usually order seeds in February and they are here shortly. I get down my indoor green house and assemble it. I acquire planting soil, make plant tags, and pull out my seed starting flats and other containers. Then I wait. Or do I?
I am notorious for starting my seed too early. I just cannot stand to wait until it is the appropriate time to start seeds. I am just itching to see little green shoots, my mouth is watering with thoughts of the tasty goodies I will be making, and my head is filled with visions of lush, verdant leaves and brightly colored fruits. After a long winter, who can blame me? Most of my harvest from last season has been used up, and I am dying for a freshly grown salad. The heavier foods of winter have lost their appeal as sunnier days appear and temperatures are warming a bit.A Long-Term Dilemma
How long have I had this problem? As long as I have been gardening – so, decades. Have I learned anything? Apparently not. Years past have seen me with flats filled with leggy veggie starts by April. In my zone we can’t plant outside until Mother’s day in May. My indoor seedlings invariably need to be replanted because they fail to thrive. I should read the seed packets for the best time to plant seeds, but I never consult a calendar. Instead, I deem it appropriate to plant when I feel like it. And I am wrong.A New Leaf
This next year I swear I’m not starting vegetables until the packet tells me it is time. Really. 2023 seems like a good year to do things properly. Really. I’m going to do something new next year. I’m going to learn from my mistakes. I will have nicely formed seedlings just in time for Mother’s day. I will have plants that don’t flop over, damp off, or fail to grow. Really. I have finally figured out how to use the calendar on my phone, so I have set the dates that are appropriate for each type of food. I think this will help, although I know that February will rear its head and I will get that urge. Can I ignore the urge?Giving in Just a Bit
I do have one consolation. Tomatoes and peppers need to be started early. They will get bigger and can be transplanted to larger containers to continue growing before I can put them outside. Another good thing are the spring vegetables. If I am really itching to plant, I can grow some spinach, snow peas, or other cool season vegetables. I can start some fresh herbs that will do well in a sunny window. But I must avoid planting melons, squash, corn, and other veggies until it is the right time. History must not repeat itself.
I deem it a failure to my gardening skills to purchase pre-grown seedlings. I have seed, soil, and the necessary items to grow my own food. But I must admit, I have had to purchase a few things every year because the plants that I grew didn’t grow well. Since I am cheap by nature, one would think this would encourage me to plant properly. I’m going to use the calendar dates and appeal to my thrifty nature, excoriating myself to just wait and do things properly.
Fingers crossed that I can be patient. Fingers crossed that I will be sensible. There is always a first time for everything.
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While I’m traditionally not very good at setting and keeping New Year’s Resolutions, I’m always excited to set goals for my garden. For 2023 I have some ideas, which have evolved into my end-of-year garden resolutions.Tackle the Big Projects
Every spring I tackle one area of the garden for more major improvements. Rather than simply maintaining these areas or beds, I try to do something to make it better. It might be as simple as adding a new perennial or creating a new annual border.
What I have been less good about is taking on the bigger, more daunting improvements. My biggest resolution is to do these more difficult jobs next year, or at least one of them.
This includes one large bed that has gotten too messy over the years. To clean it up will be a major job, involving dividing a large area of daylilies and removing several hostas that should never have been planted in the full sun in the first place. Then, I’ll need to get some new, more suitable perennials in. I’m thinking purple coneflower and black-eyed Susan and maybe even coreopsis.
Another big job will be dealing with a large tangle of invasive buckthorn. It provides good shelter for wildlife, but I would love to replace it with a more appropriate native shrub. Pulling it out is going to take a lot of time and effort, so I have been putting it off for years.Expand My Herb Garden
I don’t grow vegetables, but I do love to grow herbs. They are easier than vegetables, and importantly for my backyard, the wildlife leaves them alone. I usually grow a few herbs in pots, but for 2023, I want to build a bigger, more diverse herb patch.
I usually grow some of the typical kitchen herbs: thyme, sage, parsley, cilantro, basil. Next year, I would like to add some more interesting specimens, like lavender, lemon verbena, and different types of flavored basil and mint. I have my eye on Thai sweet basil, lemon and lime basil, and chocolate mint.Get More Creative with My Herbs
The motivating factor to spending more time on my herb garden is all the things I can make with them. I tend to get in a rut of using my herbs in pretty standard ways, like cilantros in my tacos and basil with tomatoes.
Classic uses are great, but I hope to get more creative in the kitchen, especially by growing new varieties. Perhaps I’ll make ice cream with chocolate mint or scones with lemon basil.Spend More Time Enjoying the Garden
Sure, I do this every year, but it bears repeating. Working in the garden is great. I love planning and staying busy and active doing the work, but the best part truly, is enjoying the garden.
I need constant reminders to not feel guilty about having down time to simply enjoy what I have worked so hard on. I’m sure other gardeners understand this feeling. You sit down and do nothing, trying to relax, but keep thinking of chores you could be doing.
Sitting, resting, and enjoying the garden is essential. In fact, it is the main purpose of the garden. For this reason, I will continue to make it an annual resolution to find time to slow down, stop, and simply enjoy being outside.
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Lavender has a heady scent and charming purple flower spikes. It is relatively easy to grow even in poor soil. It needs consistent water at first but is drought tolerant after establishing. You don’t even need to give the plant much fertilizer. The stoic bushes are the proud producers of charming flowers with powerful oils, useful in many preparations.Lavender Uses
Everywhere I have lived, I have had lavender plants. They were some of the first things I purchased when we moved to this house. They are crucial to me because I can’t sleep well. I make little lavender sachets to put under my pillow. If I wake and can’t get back to sleep, I pull out the little bag and take deep draughts of the scent. It usually puts me right back out. So, I thought why not share this miracle with friends and family?
The end of the season finds me tediously harvesting lavender. I cut off all the flower stems, bundle them into clusters, and hang them to dry in the garage. The garage will no longer smell like motor oil for a while, instead replaced by the heavenly smell of lavender. Once they are dry, I get a big bowl and strip of the tiny lavender flowers. They go into re-closable plastic bags in the freezer until I need to use them.Making Lavender Sachets
My sewing skills are minimal. I’m more of a knitter. Once I decided to share my secret sleep miracle, I got to work. I had sewed small bags with ties to hold them closed. That way you can easily refill the bag when the scent is waning. I made them out of velvet, just for fun. I filled each with home grown lavender flowers that had been dried and saved in the freezer. Along with the little sachets, I give each recipient a bag from the freezer so they can refill as needed.
After harvesting lavender, I use some of the flowers to make aromatic oil. It is useful in the bath, and on aches and pains. I also use it to keep bugs away when I am in the garden. I use organic extra virgin olive oil, but many other oils such as mineral oil could be used. The flowers need to be dried to remove excess moisture. All I use is a Mason jar with a lid. I fill it with flowers, stems and all, and then pour oil up to the top. I place the jar in the sun for a week or so, shaking it up often, and then strain it. Voila, lavender oil.
I found some really neat old glass bottles that I filled with the oil. Some I keep for my use, but others find their way as holiday or birthday gifts. The scent makes a soothing bath oil, but I also use it on my significant other’s constant back pain. The camphor in the oil makes it useful to calm sore muscles.
Growing and giving from the garden may take a little time and planning but it’s worth it. Everyone appreciates a natural, organic gift that is a gesture of love and a little effort.
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Despite being an avid gardener, I have always struggled when it came to growing plants indoors. In my small home, I simply couldn’t find the ideal location to grow healthy houseplants. With only one south-facing window, most plants withered away quickly from a lack of light or improper watering. It wasn’t until I began to explore the idea of forcing flower bulbs that I had my first success with indoor plants. Since that time, my love of growing flower bulbs throughout winter has grown exponentially.
Many different types of flower bulbs can be forced to bloom throughout winter. While plants like narcissus, tulips, or hyacinths will require a period of cold treatment to initiate bloom indoors; some do not. Most popular among these types are amaryllis. Though the genus itself is quite large, finding specimens suitable for forcing is very easy. Bulbs for forcing can be ordered online or found in garden centers each fall, generally before the arrival of the first frost. Fully-forced potted plants, which are in bloom, can also be found throughout much of the winter holiday season at retailers. Over the years, I have enjoyed the process of collecting various cultivars of Amaryllis hippeastrum for forcing in winter. Though most of these plants produce flowers that are a true brilliant red, there are varieties which produce blooms in white and attractive shades of blush pink.Forcing Amaryllis Bulbs Indoors
The process of forcing amaryllis bulbs is quite simple. Foremost, it is important to look for large, healthy bulbs. When shopping at garden centers, I specifically seek out the most sizable amaryllis bulbs that I can find. In my own experience, larger bulbs have shown to produce robust plants with strong stems and well-branched flowers. To the touch, each bulb should be firm, without any soft spots. Before purchase, I also double check to avoid any signs of mold or other damage that may have been caused by insects or may have occurred during shipping.
Once I have selected my bulbs, I decide when I’ll want the amaryllis to begin blooming. Most cultivars will state the days or weeks to maturity on the plant’s packaging. Counting backwards from the desired bloom date, I can determine my estimated planting date. At this time, I’ll carefully pot up the bulb, making certain that half to one-third of the bulb remains above the soil line of the container. As forced amaryllis bulbs grow best when slightly root bound, I often choose smaller-than-usual containers for their growth, allowing about 1 inch (2.5 cm.) between the edge of the bulb and pot. After planting, I water the bulb well and do not disturb it until the first signs of growth appear.
Throughout the period of growth, the amaryllis container is positioned near a bright window, which allows for indirect light. During this time, I provide additional water as needed, making certain to avoid oversaturated soil. As the plant grows taller, some varieties may require the addition of a carefully placed bamboo stake to ensure that the flower stem remains upright, and that the container does not topple over.
With very little care, forced amaryllis bulbs reward growers with a beautiful, weeks-long display of flowers. After bloom, the bulbs can be preserved to be forced again. I begin this process by removing the flower stem from the plant, after all blooms have faded. During this time, all other foliage should be left intact. Continued watering throughout the duration of the winter season will help to ensure that the bulb remains healthy. After the weather has warmed sufficiently in spring, and all chances of frost have passed, amaryllis pots can be hardened off and moved outdoors.
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By the time the holidays and cold weather come around, the garden is dormant and sometimes even covered in snow. However, I can still find something to use from my garden, namely the herbs I harvested before the frost could get them. These tasty herbs are perfect for some of my favorite holiday dishes to share at events with friends and family.Sage
Sage is a perfect holiday herb. It pairs really well with the rich flavors of the season. When it’s fresh, my favorite thing to do with sage is to fry the whole leaves in butter until they get crispy. I pair them with pasta and plenty of parmesan cheese for a simple and delicious meal or side dish.
During the holidays I usually have some fresh sage left. Over the years, I have found it to be one of the easiest herbs to grow. It seems to persist into fall and winter longer than others, leaving me with fresh leaves at least for Thanksgiving.
For holiday dishes, my favorite pairing for sage is any type of winter squash. If I have some fresh sage to use, I’ll put it in a marinade to make crispy, roasted pieces of butternut squash.
Another way I like to use sage—dried or fresh—is in a compound butter. I whip it up with softened butter and a little bit of minced garlic. It tastes great on many holiday dishes, but my favorite is to melt it into a cooked half of acorn squash.Mint
My mint plants don’t last as long as the sage so by the holidays, my supply is all dried. This takes nothing away from its flavor though. In fact, for many dishes I prefer the taste of dried mint.
As a vegetarian, I don’t prepare or eat all the traditional holiday dishes. While I still enjoy many of the vegetables, like winter squash, I have to come up with alternatives to the turkey, ham, and other meats served this time of year.
A favorite for me and my husband, who is also a vegetarian, is grilled or friend halloumi. Halloumi is a salty, briny cheese that is always cooked to eat. It pairs wonderfully with dried mint. Sometimes I simply scatter the cooked cheese with dried mint. I have also made dressings with dried mint to drizzle over halloumi.
Another tasty and hardy dish for vegetarians during the holidays is cooked lentils. They pair well with mint. I like to use tomato paste for a richness and just a little bit of red pepper flakes to add heat.Lavender
Lavender, like mint, isn’t what most people think of for a holiday herb, but it should be. I first started growing lavender simply because I enjoy the intoxicating scent. For a few years, I never used it. I just enjoyed it in the garden.
Eventually, I learned how versatile lavender is and that you can use both the flowers and the leaves. I collect the flowers before they open and dry them for later. The dried flowers are great as a tea. For holiday dinners, I add them to cookies or muffins. I have also made a syrup with lavender flowers, which is great for making special cocktails.
The leaves of lavender can be used any way you would use rosemary leaves in cooking, another favorite herb of mine. My favorite way to use the dried leaves is when making roasted potatoes. I also enjoy it in a salad dressing.
I love growing herbs in the summer and enjoying them fresh throughout the season. It’s particularly satisfying to be able to keep using them well into winter and to bring something special to holiday meals.
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