A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN, BLOG, GARDENMINUTE, inthegarden, VIDEO

How to keep that beautiful poinsettia blooming

by Tina Sottolano Cain

Keeping your poinsettia alive until next Christmas is not as challenging as you may think. With a little knowledge of the history of the plant and a few easy growing tips you will have an easy time getting your poinsettia to bloom again.

The poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima is a tropical plant that is native to the southern region Mexico and was brought to the United States by the ambassador to Mexico Joel Roberts Poinsett in 1825.

The beautiful red color of its leaves known as bracts make this plant very unique. When grown in their native environment they traditionally grow in part sun and shade, and can grow up to 13 feet tall.

To keep your poinsettias looking good throughout the winter months give them a sunny, south-facing windowsill where it is bright, be sure the light is filtered and free of any drafts. You also want to keep the plant away from any heat vents as well. I find that keeping the temperature between 68-70 degrees is ideal.

Watering poinsettias can be challenging for many. Striking the right balance of moisture and humidity can make all the difference in keeping your plant looking happy and healthy. I recommend checking water regularly. Remove the foil cover from the pot, if you already haven’t. This will allow the plant to drain properly. Too often I have seen a poinsettia take a turn for the worse only to find out later that it has been sitting in a pool of water at the bottom of the foil cover. This will also allow for proper air flow around the base of the plant. Some of the warning signs are the lower leaves turning yellow and curling followed by dropping off. Allow plants to dry out between watering cycles. Never leave excess water in saucers and cache pots.

Continue with this practice until spring. Stop watering and allow the plant to dry out, leaving the stems to shrivel and leaves to drop. Place plant in a cool location where temperature ranges from 50-60 degrees. At the end of spring cut back stems to a couple of inches above the soil line and repot using fresh potting soil. Begin watering again and place plant outside for the summer months in a shaded location. Begin fertilizing using a 10-10-10 ratio weekly at the first sign of new growth. Mid-summer begin pinching off the tips from the top of the plant. This is the new growth you are taking off to promote side branching. You want to do this two times during the growing season before you bring the plant indoors in the fall. Place in a sunny location and continue to water and fertilize regularly.

In autumn move the plant to complete darkness between the hours of 5 pm and 8 am. This triggers the plant to change its growth pattern. Its bracts will change color from dark green to red and flower. Once the plants bracts have completely colored, typically in November, return to a sunny location and enjoy for another holiday season.

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN, GARDENMINUTE, inthegarden, VIDEO

Even after the holidays, the cactus lives on

by Tina Sottolano Cain

Zygocactus or Holiday Cactus is member of a small genus group of cacti called Schlumbergera that includes Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter cactus. They are a popular houseplant and very easy to care for. Cultivars are usually white, pink, orange, red, purple and even yellow. Easter or the Whitsun cactus are most commonly a scarlet red color.

If you are wondering why your cactus doesn’t bloom exactly during the Christmas holiday it may be one of two factors: timing; or you may have a variety specific to Thanksgiving.

The difference between the two plants is in the texture of the leaves. Typically the Christmas cactus has smooth edges. The Thanksgiving cactus has a more jagged leaf edge, thus giving it the name crab cactus because of its claw like texture. When shopping for either check the varieties. The Christmas cactus is usually labeled Schlumbergera x buckleyi.

Caring for this plant is simple. Despite being called a cactus they are native to Brazil and the South American rainforest so they require more water and humidity than a traditional cactus.

Give your cactus bright to medium indirect light indoors and water regularly. I recommend you check the soil and water when the soil feels dry. Fertilize monthly 20-10-20 water soluble at 1/2 the rate. I like to keep a calendar with a watering and fertilizer schedule. This allows you to see how often you are watering and can potentially prevent you from over or under watering. A few signs to look for are the leaves turning yellow or looking shriveled and dropping off.

In mid-spring place the cactus outside in a shaded location. It will love being outdoors when the air is warm and humid throughout the summer. Repot if necessary. Christmas cactus do not mind being pot bound, however if your plant has been in the original pot for a few years its time to repot and replenish with fresh potting soil.

Leave plant outside in summer until temps go down to 50 degrees. A cooling period signals the plant to begin a new growth cycle of setting buds to flower. At about six to eight weeks before Christmas, place the plant in a completely dark space where the temperature is 60 degrees (such as a closet or garage) for 12 hours each night. Be sure to bring the plant out to a sunny spot for the other 12 hours each day. And remember to keep plant away from drafty windows or you may loose those flower buds you worked so hard to get.

These simple steps will insure you have your Christmas cactus blooming at Christmas time

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN, GARDENMINUTE, inthegarden, VIDEO

Garden Minute: Lee Brothers Cranberry Farm

Lee Brothers has been in the business of growing cranberries for 126 years. Tina talks to Stephen Lee IV about what it means to be a part of that tradition.

Cranberries have been grown and harvested in the pine barrens of southern New Jersey for generations.

Always fascinated to learn how certain plants grow and their harvesting practices, I headed down to Lee Brothers Farm in Burlington County New Jersey. They are a family-owned farm where generations continue to work side by side growing and harvesting cranberries for over 100 years, since 1868.

Harvesting cranberries is a two year process, starting from the time the berries are planted to the time they are harvested starting in September through October. Each bog takes about two weeks to harvest.

Lee Brothers Farm is part of the Ocean Spray growers cooperative made up of 700 hundred growers in the US and Canada, growing cranberries as well as Chili and a handful of citrus growers in Florida.

Stephen Lee, the fourth generation at Lee Brothers Farm tells me that this two week harvest is a special time on the farm. “It is a romantic time of year for us. All the hard work in the two year period during the growing season culminates to this time, the two, two and a half weeks in October.” The family has been coming together for many generations for the harvest. “It’s like our Thanksgiving.”

The cranberries are grown in bogs, but not under water. Twice a year (once in the fall and then again in the winter to protect the buds that have formed for the next season) the bogs are flooded with 18 inches of fresh water.

Flower buds are formed on the plants for the next year after flowering and fruiting has occurred during the spring and summer growing season. During the growing season plants are fertilized and monitored for fungus and diseases. They use bee feeding barrels to keep the bees fed while they pollinate the cranberries.

A machine known as the “egg beater” loosens the berries from the vines. As cranberries are made up of four hollow chambers, once the bogs are flooded and the berries are freed, they will float to the top.

A box is formed in the bog and then the berries are funneled into the box. The berries are pushed or corralled toward the center. Lee tells me that you have to move the berries in a sequential form. Berries are pushed through the bog in a sweeping motion using a garden rake, while another person gently pushes the box toward the center.

“You don’t want to cough or choke the box. You don’t want to overwhelm the box with too much fruit or you will not be able to pump out any water,” he said. Once the berries are pumped out of the bog they are loaded onto a conveyor belt where they are then funneled into a truck to be taken to Ocean Spray for processing.

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN, GARDENMINUTE, inthegarden, VIDEO

Garden Minute: Cranberry Farming

Cranberries are the most popular fruit of the season. In the first part of this series, Tina visits Lee Brothers Farm and talks about the history of farming cranberries in the region.

by Tina Sottolano-Cain

Though a well-roasted turkey may be the star of Thanksgiving dinner, the ruby-red, glistening side dish of cranberry sauce is always a stand out amongst the other like-hued offerings.

Likewise, the cranberry’s rich color and quirky harvesting make the bitter berry a serving of well-rooted Americana.

Cranberry plants are dwarf evergreen shrubs with vine like woody stems and leathery leaves that can grow up to six-foot long. They are found growing in sandy bogs and marsh lands in Wisconsin, Coastal Massachusetts and Southern New Jersey.

According to kitchenhistory.com, the cranberry was originally called “ibimi” or bitter berry by many eastern Native Americans. The Dutch and German settlers gave it the name of “crane berry” because the flowers look like the bill of a crane. Thus giving us the name we use today, cranberry.

The bright red color and semi-sweet flavor were believed to have many health benefits. Native Americans have many different uses for the berry.

They combined the fruit with deer meat and called it “pemmicanna,” once considered a survival food.

The Cape Cod Pequot and Leni-Lenape Indians in the eastern United States, also used it to make dyes for clothing, rugs and blankets because of its beautiful rich red color. It was also used medicinally.

According to the Natural Resource Educational Foundation/Lighthouse Center, It wasn’t until the early 1800’s when cranberries were planted commercially. In 1816 Henry Hall in Massachusetts was the first to grow the berry for production.

In New Jersey cranberries were first cultivated in 1840 by John Webb. In Ocean County the berries were brought to ship merchants and sailors on whaling ships to be eaten for its Vitamin C to prevent scurvy.

Now there are over 40,000 acres of cranberry bog in the Northern United States and Canada. New Jersey is the Third largest producer of cranberries. Many bogs producing cranberries today are more than 100 years old. Before the 1800’s, bogs were combed by hand, known as dry harvesting.

Since then things have changed and more efficient ways of harvesting the crops, know today as wet harvesting occur. The bog is flooded in October allowing the berries to float to the top.

Next week Garden Minute will visit one of the oldest Cranberry farms in Burlington County, New Jersey, Lee Brother’s Cranberry farm. The farm has been harvesting cranberries for over a hundred years and is part of the Ocean Spray Cooperative. We will talk about their methods of harvesting the cranberries from inside a bog.

A Little Fun Fact:

According to pineypower.com, cranberry grower Elizabeth Lee of New Egypt, New Jersey decided to take cranberries that were less than perfect, bruised or slightly damaged that would normally be tossed in the garbage. She boiled the berries into a jellylike sauce. It is believed that she like the sauce so much she started a business selling her “Bog Sweet Cranberry Sauce” beginning what is known today as Ocean Spray, which still operates in Chatsworth, New Jersey.

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN, inthegarden, VIDEO

In the Garden: What plants attract butterflies?

Tina visits the outdoor butterfly space at the Camden Children’s Garden.

You may think it is too late to plant flowers to attract butterflies to your garden, but not true.

Adding flowers in the garden now will bring butterflies to your garden for many seasons to come. Late summer and fall is the perfect time to add plants to your garden. Plants have plenty of time to settle in before winter. Typically fall can turn rainy, which is ideal for newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials to establish. Another perk of planting now is that there is still a good selection of plants to choose from at your local garden center. Late flowering perennials are ideal to add now to extend your garden blooms to the first frost.

To start building your butterfly garden you want to do research and find out what flowers butterflies are attracted to. Typically butterflies like sun loving plants. Find a location that receives an adequate amount of direct sunlight, 6 to 8 hours is ideal. Once that is established you can make your plant list. Butterflies not only love sunny plants but they are attracted to sweetly scented flowers in red, yellow, pink and purple. Flowers are usually flat topped or have clusters of tubular shaped flowers.

You want to have a good mix of host and nectar plants both annual and perennial. Host plants are important to include in the garden providing a place for butterflies to lay their eggs and caterpillars to feed on. Naturally different host plants attract different butterflies.

I recommend doing a little extra research if you are looking to attract a certain type of butterfly to your garden. Host plants like Asclepias tuberosa, Parsley, Queen Anne’s Lace, Fennel, Hollyhocks and Shasta Daises are a good place to start.

Nectar plants are equally important to provide food for the adult butterflies. Planting a wide variety of nectar plants will invite a wide range of butterflies. Native plants like Joe Pye Weed and Aster can serve as both host and nectar plant. Other popular native perennials are Coneflower, Phlox, Salvia, and Heliopsis False Sunflower. Butterfly Bush is a popular choice for butterfly gardens because of its sweet fragrance and abundant nectar, but is not native to North America. It originates from Asia and has been labeled by some to be an invasive weed.

A few design tips to consider when planting.

Create large masses of colors and flowers together in large areas. Butterflies tend to linger longer when there is a wide range of flowers and colors. Combine Ornamental grasses with flowering perennials and annuals. Varieties of Panicum virgatum, Switchgrass provide structure as well being a host plant for Skipper caterpillars. Add a water source and resting place in the garden. A shallow saucer filled with water and a few flat stones make inviting resting places for visiting butterflies. Refrain from using any pesticides in the garden and don’t worry about weeds. If you do not mind a wild looking garden keep weeds like thistle and clover around both are considered host plants as well.

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN, GARDENMINUTE, inthegarden, VIDEO

In the Garden: Growing Your Own Food Crops

Tina talks to Jeff Clarke, the Garden Supervisor at the Camden Children’s Garden about teaching kids how to grow their own food.

The demand for locally grown organic produce continues to be a strong trend in gardening, resulting in urban and community gardens popping in cities all across America.

Some gardens can be very elaborate, given the space, or they can be humble backyard plots growing a few edible plants. The idea of educating inner city children and adults to make better food choices and know where their food comes from will be passed on to future generations.

This is the philosophy behind the Camden Children’s Garden. It began with a group of volunteers from the Camden City Community Garden Club. Their primary objective, when they opened in 1999, was to have a place for children to run, jump, play and touch the plants without any rules. The idea allows children to explore at their own pace and learn about nature hoping to spark their interest in horticulture.

The Picnic Garden is a great example of how important it is for them to see how their food is grown. It immediately caught my eye once I entered the gardens. It is a garden filled with oversized tea cups and saucers with giant sculptures of ants. They also have a giant fork ready to dig in to the juicy tomatoes and other edible plants. Jeff Clarke of Camden Children’s Garden is Garden Supervisor tells me “Children today don’t see food in its natural state. They see food chopped up in plastic bags at the supermarket ready to be put in the microwave.” The gardens are a way for kids to see food growing. Many have never seen tomatoes, squash and eggplant actually growing on the vine or plant.

This concept appears to be working. Children come from all over the Camden area to plant the gardens with Clarke. In the following weeks they nurture and care for the plants until they are ready to harvest. They have an opportunity to grow plants in an outdoor space, which many children may not have growing up in the city. Jeff Clarke tells me some of the best experiences are watching the children pick and taste the tomatoes. Many have never tasted anything like it before. Jeff recalls one child saying, “that sure doesn’t taste like the tomato on my hoagie.” “Nope it sure doesn’t, “ Jeff replied.

In a garden filled with tomatoes, peppers, squash and eggplant, they can learn about the various types of tomatoes heirloom and hybrid and how to identify them. Heirlooms are the varieties passed down through time. They tend to be more acidic than sweet like some of the new hybrid varieties. They also have a larger leaf much like a potato instead of a small cut leaf pattern. The garden also includes a mini orchard with peach and apple trees with a garden for herbs as well. The hope is the knowledge they gain today will last them a lifetime and later past down to future generations tomorrow with the emphasis on locally grown food.

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN

Speak the language of flowers this Valentines Day

Thinking of getting the one you love flowers this Valentines day? If red roses just aren’t your thing, consider making a bouquet with flowers and herbs that have as much meaning as red roses, but say a whole lot more.  Roses come in a wide range of colors and we all know that red symbolizes love and passion, but did you know that lavender roses mean love at first sight? Here are a few alternative rose colors and their meaning.

Pink: Admiration, Appreciation, Grace and Gentleness.

Yellow: Joy, Friendship and Falling in love

Orange: Desire and Enthusiasm

Roses are not the only meaningful blossoms. Check out some these popular blooms, potted plants and herbs to add to your Valentines bouquet.

Aloe: Affection and Healing

Basil: Good Wishes

Calla Lily: Beauty

Chrysanthemum: Happiness

Daisy: Hope and Innocence

Delphinium: Saintly

Fern: Sincerity

Hydrangea: Understanding

Lavender: Devotion

Lily: Purity and Beauty

Orchid: Love and Beauty

Queen Ann’s Lace: Protection

Tulip, Red: Declaration of love

Violets: Loyalty and Virtue

Yarrow: Everlasting love

Design tips for the perfect floral arrangement:

When choosing flowers, always select healthy, fresh stems.  Avoid any flowers with browning edges or limp stems.

Once you bring your flowers home, place in water. Recut a 1/4″ to an 1″ to reopen the stems to take up water.   You will cut more depending on your arrangement size and remove any lower leaves on the stems. Use warm water in container and add a floral preservative.

Choose a color palette of no more than three colors in varying shades and tones.  Depending upon the size of the arrangement.  Too many colors can look too busy.

Choose flowers with a variety of shapes  to mix together.  Large round heads, and smaller clusters of flowers, mixed with tall spiked blooms will give your design good depth and dimension.    

Select container, whether it is a vase or a bowl shape you want to design the arrangement no larger than one and a half sizes taller than the container.

Add filler for extra dimension.  Having an arrangement filled with luscious blooms is just not enough.  Add a little greenery, like Baker fern, Pittosporum foliage, and even Eucalyptus seed heads in between flowers.  Add some drape around the base of the  arrangement.

Change water daily and keep arrangement out of the direct sunlight in a cool environment.  This will keep your bouquet fresher longer.