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Winter Houseplant Care

Caring for houseplants indoors during the winter is much more challenging than outdoors.  Controlled temperatures, shorter day length and forced hot air from our indoor heating systems leave the atmosphere dry.  You also need to be mindful of cold drafts. Plants near drafty windows and doors result in dark brown sections on leaves.  Plants struggle to push out new growth, foliage turns yellow and edges brown thus resulting in unhappy looking houseplants.

I avoid these problems by following a few simple rules…

Increase Humidity…plants love humidity, especially indoor tropicals.  Make sure you keep plants away from forced dry heat vents.  Increase humidity by placing the plant on a bed of moist crushed stones, cluster your plants together if possible, or mist the leaves 2-3 times per week.

Rotate…plants are phototropic, meaning they lean, or grow in the direction of the light.  With day length slowing increasing each day, plants are stretching toward the brightest area, forcing a normally full healthy looking plant to have an irregular shape.   Remember to turn 1/4 – 1/2 spin per week.

Water…wisely during the winter time.  Take time to water your plants on a regular schedule.  Keep a gardening journal to keep track of watering, misting and fertilizing your plants.  This will help to minimize long dry periods and help prevent overwintering.  Be aware of the water temperature.  Believe or not water that is too cold or too hot can effect your houseplants causing leaves to yellow and curl.  I always use tepid water during extreme cold spells.

Pest Patrol…be on the lookout for unexpected pest guests.  Insects, like Aphids, Mealy bugs, Fungus Gnats, and Scale are the most common pests.  Plants need adequate air flow, especially in extremely warm areas.  Keeping temperatures between 62°-72°from night to day is ideal and helps to keep pests away.

 

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In the Garden: Made in the Shade

Tina talks about the best plants to use for shady ground cover.

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In the Garden: Asters In Their Natural Habitat

Tina talks about how much taller asters grow when they are in your garden as opposed to the ones in the garden center.

Native Asters put on quite a show this time of year.  Seen along roadsides across the northeastern part of the country asters provide a bold pop of color When other plants and perennials begin to fade into the landscape. They are a staple in many perennial gardens and borders, with clusters of star daisy like flowers.  Colors range from white, pink to  hues of lavender purple and are at the forefront of fall gardens right along side mums, cabbage and winter pansies.

Aster novae-angliae also known as New England aster and novae-belgii, New York asters are North American natives hardy to zones 4-8 and commonly found in your local garden center typically beginning in late August through the fall. They are a key food source for pollinators and wildlife alike.   Late blooming flowers, like asters provide a viable food source necessary to supply much needed energy for pollinators like the monarch butterfly and hummingbirds as they migrate southward.  They are also a pollen source for bees as well, especially honey bees.

In their natural habitat they look different than what you see in local garden centers.  When grown commercially they are typically pruned twice during the summer months to encourage branching to maintain a certain height ranging from six to twelve inches to fourteen inches at the most.  Wild asters can grow up to six feet in height without pruning. They flower effortlessly with a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight and are right at home in container gardens as they are growing in garden beds.  Caring for asters are simple and similar to garden mums.   The key is to plant asters in early fall to establish a healthy root system. They prefer full sun to partial shade.  If grown in shady area of the garden plants tend to be leggy and will need to be staked.  Asters are also drought tolerant and do best in well drained soil and can be susceptible to root rot if planted in heavy wet soil. First year plants don’t need to be fertilized heavily, once they are established  begin fertilizing in early spring.  Add organic compost around the base of the plants and use a balanced fertilizer monthly.  Overall plants are relatively maintenance free and are seldom bothered by pests.  Powdery mildew can occur but is no real threat to the plant.  Spraying an organic fungicide early in the season can help prevent it.

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Fall Mums: A Perennial Favorite For Late Season Color In The Garden

Fall is a season of new beginnings, the days are shorter and the temperatures cooler.  The landscape becomes bursting with rich colors of burgundy red, gold, purple and yellow. Hardy mums are front and center of the fall garden along with pumpkins and gourds.  Whether you grow them as seasonal annuals or perennials that come back in the garden every year mums give your landscape a pop of color from September to November.  If you find them to be a bit fussy and a challenge look no further we have the answers.

Mums are an easy to grow low-maintenance plant that grows equally well in garden beds and mixed containers.  They are drought resistant and relatively pest free.  Planting mums in the garden is a great way to add late season color to your landscape. They continually bloom for weeks at a time and prefer at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.  Preparing the soil for mums requires adding quality compost to the existing garden beds. Improving the condition of heavy dense soil improves growing conditions for the plants. Mums prefer well-drained soil.

Watering mums can be a challenge.  The most common problem is overwatering.  As mentioned above garden Mums are drought tolerant.  Overwatering can lead to leaves wilting, which can be  mistaken for being too dry.  This is common problem for those who have outdoor irrigation in place.  If this has happened to you take a hands off approach, meaning ‘back off’ of regularly or daily watering.  As the daylight decreases and nights turn cooler plants are not drying out as quickly as they do in a garden during the summer months.  If you are growing Mums in containers allow the soil to dry thoroughly.  Physically checking the soil daily with your hand is helpful.  If the pot or container feels light in weight and the soil feels dry then proceed with watering.  Avoid the mums drying and wilting.  Letting them go too dry too long will diminish the blooms and color.

Fertilize mums in mixed container gardens using Jack’s Classic blossom booster 10-30-20 or All -Purpose 20-20-20.  Plants in the garden should be planted using Espoma Bio-Tone Starter Fertilizer the first year.  Then fertilize monthly the second year of growth from May to August.

Hardy mums can tolerate the frosty cool nights in the fall and can easily be overwintered for the next season.  The key to successfully overwintering mums is to plant early. Planting in early fall allows the plants to become established before winter.  Once a hard frost occurs stems and leaves will turn black.  Cut plant back leaving an inch to one and a half inches above the ground and cover with mulch. Garden Mums can grow naturally to heights of 12-48 inches. To keep plants compact and encourage more branching pinch back plant tips twice during the summer months.  First pinching occurs in June. When plant has grown 6-8 inches pinch tops off each branch about 2 inches.  Pinch again in July, 2 inches off each branch from the new growth.  This will strengthen plants and encourage blooming.

Falls rich display of colorful garden mums are unmistakable and a welcome sight after a long hot summer.

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In the Garden: Visiting the Butterfly House

Tina visits the Butterfly House with Jeff Clarke from the Camden Children’s Garden and they discuss their life cycle and what plants attract butterflies.


Butterflies, butterflies and more butterflies!

We can’t get enough of the beautiful and mysterious insects that dance in our gardens with their brightly colored wings. We watch intently to see how they feed from one flower to another as we snap an iphone photo for our Instagram page. Our social media feeds are filled with photos from friends and family who have captured them fluttering about.

This has become a common summer time activity, at least I know it has for my family and friends, including myself. But if you are not quick enough to snap a photo and want an up close and personal look at butterflies, head over to the Camden Children’s Garden in Camden, New Jersey, this weekend. They have a butterfly house you won’t want to miss.

The butterfly house is a greenhouse that is home to several species of primarily North American butterflies with up to a hundred butterflies flying around inside. It is a place where adults and children alike can interact with the butterflies. The house is filled with cut flowers from from the outdoor butterfly garden. Be prepared to have an intimate look at these creatures once you choose to pick up a flower from the Butterfly Bush. While I was there I became acquainted with a beautiful Monarch and a Pipevine Swallowtail.

The Pipeline Swallowtail is unique with it’s black body and shiny blue color with white spots on it’s wings. Its host plant is Dutchman’s Pipevine, that blooms in June producing plum speckled flowers in the shape of a pipe. It is tender vine in this region and generally overwintered indoors during the coldest month. Other species include the Zebra Longwing and White Peacock butterfly, just to name a few. The butterflies in the house are not harvested or caught from the wild, instead they are farm raised. The actual life cycle for the butterflies can be about ten days. Seven days is the usual life span in the wild, but in a controlled environment where they are safe from predatory insects the lifespan is a little longer.

The key to cultivating butterflies is to increase their habitat. Planting the proper host plants for them, like Asclepias for Monarchs can attract them to your garden. In fact, native Milkweed can be found growing wild throughout much of the gardens. It provides a place for the Monarch caterpillar to lay their eggs. Planting one or two different species is ideal when mixed with a few host plants to provide nectar for the adults to feed from.

The Butterfly house at the Camden Children’s Garden doesn’t disappoint. If you are unsure why everyone is fussing over an insect then take a trip to the gardens to see the beauty and joy they bring to children and even adults. You will also learn how to attract and keep butterflies for you to enjoy in your own garden. Who knows, you may even make a new colorful friend or two.

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In the Garden: Garden Art and Sculpture

by Tina Sottolano-Cain

In recent years gardens have become an extension of our homes.

In essence, the yard patio and deck have become outdoor rooms and people are spending more time perfecting and decorating these areas. Adding garden decor is another creative way to boost interest in your garden, enhancing what you already have.

Adding various architectural elements like garden benches, sculptures and containers, along with easy-to-add elements that include solar lights, can help define the space.

Garden furniture, specifically benches, are not a new concept. It can help define the garden space and provide a destination for anyone visiting your garden. Find an area in the garden with a wide open view to enjoy or place the bench along a pathway under a pergola giving visitors to your garden a destination. Garden benching can reflect your personality, depending upon the material and style you choose. Add a pop of color with a brightly colored bench. Natural materials like stone are great to add in a garden bed doubling as a piece of sculpture as well. Whether you have a formal garden with straight lines or a curvilinear garden there is a garden bench waiting for you to take a seat on.

Garden statues and containers are another way to boost visual interest in the garden. Sculptures can give the element of surprise when used in garden bed. Place them where you may not have an abundance of plant material or tucked under taller perennials and lower growing shrubs.

Containers, on the other hand, are multi functional. Nowadays you can find large glazed pottery. These urns are modern and formal and can be placed in the garden as a focal point. The beauty of theses giant pots are you don’t have to fill them with plant material. If you use smaller potted containers in the garden along the patio or pathway always cluster in groups of three in varying sizes making the display more visually appealing.

Quick and easy elements to add to the garden include whimsical garden stakes that are colored solar lights perfect for guiding you on a nightly garden stroll. More traditional solar lights can outline garden beds and pathways as well as accenting a piece of garden art you want to highlight. When adding anything to your garden always remember to have fun. The outdoors is a space to feel relaxed, it is your very own sanctuary.

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Butterfly gardens needed to bring back declining insect population

For many people, gardeners and nature lovers alike butterflies have been an important part of the outdoor environment we live in.

These mystical creatures fluttering through our gardens have captured the attention of collectors for centuries, spending endless hours studying the growth cycles, flight patterns as well as the patterns on their wings.

In many cultures butterflies have a great deal of symbolism of hope and love as well as rebirth. In recent years the numbers of native butterflies have been decreasing, especially the Monarch butterflies. I wanted to know how home gardeners can help increase the population in our gardens.

I recently caught up with John Dailey of SkyRiver Butterflies at his traveling butterfly exhibit to talk butterfly cultivation. I even had the opportunity to help release a few for the exhibit.

Sky River Butterflies it the largest traveling butterfly exhibit in the world, with about 1,500 to 2,000 butterflies in the exhibit. The main objective is to educate people on their life cycle and how to cultivate more butterflies in our won gardens.

“People have to understand that butterflies are very short-lived creatures. It takes 40 to 60 days from egg to adulthood. Typically they will live from 2-3 days to 2-3 weeks.” They are dependent on their life cycle to reproduce. The opportunities for butterflies to reproduce are decreasing due to the amount of toxins being used in the agriculture industry. The host plants where they need to lay their eggs are not as available as they once were.

The key to bringing back butterflies like the Monarch is the right host plants, according to Dailey. The host plant is the plant to attract the larvae or caterpillars to the garden. For Monarch butterflies it is Asclepias incarnata, Swamp Milkweed.

Asclepias incarnata is a herbaceous perennial native to North America found in wet swampy areas. It can survive in a backyard garden as long as the soil doesn’t dry out. The Swallowtail butterflies have a long list of host plants depending upon the species. The Swallowtail caterpillars need pipevine plants.

“Each butterfly has a specific host plant. You want to surround those plants with high nectar plants,” he said. High nectar plants produce sugars that adult butterflies feed from. Studies have been done on to what exactly butterflies are attracted in terms of types of plants and colors. One plant in particular is Gomphrena, commonly known as Globe Amaranth. It is a wild flower that produces lots of nectar that attracts all butterflies. Plants like Dahlias are another great nectar plant. You want to look for plants with flowers that have a short neck, making feeding easier for the butterfly.

“Monarch populations used to be measured in billions, now it is measured in millions,” stressed Dailey. By adding a few simple native plants to our gardens we can help restore those numbers.

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Easy Tips For Repotting Houseplants

#6 chinese evergreen

Easy step by step tips on how to repot your houseplants

There are many benefits to transplanting your indoor plants. One very important benefit is, all plants need adequate room for their roots to spread and grow.  The roots become constricted leaving no of room for new growth.  Roots begin to wrap around the ball of the plant and eventually inhibit new and lush green foliage. Healthy roots on the bottom mean a healthy plant on the top.

If you are not sure if your plants need to be repotted pot bound they dry out extremely quickly.  Here is a simple checklist.

  1. Plant has inability to hold water. Are you frequently watering everyday and does the water run through the pot in a single stream?
  2. Yellowing Foliage.
  3. Soil looking old, dry or moldy.
  4. Root system is tightly wrapping around the ball of the plant.
  5. Roots are starting to grow out of the drainage hole of pot.

Now is the perfect time to assess the overall health of your houseplants. Transplant any plant that has been in the same pot for more than one year. I Always recommend upgrading pot approximately two sizes larger than the size it is currently in.

Don’t forget to keep turning plants three quarters each week to ensure even growth. Begin fertilizer schedule, once a week.

 

Here are a few quick tips for transplanting houseplants:

1.) Choose a pot two sizes larger than the size the plant is in. Make sure to choose a pot with a drainage whole.

2.) Select a potting soil with good drainage suitable for indoor plants.  #3 chinese evergreen

 

 

 

 

 

#4 chinese evergreen

3.)Remove plant from pot and loosen the roots.  Make sure the roots are not wound tight in a ball.

 

 

 

 

4.) Place plant into new container and fill with soil. Be sure to leave a 1/4″ at the top to allow for watering. If pot is to full water will overflow out of pot.

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5.) Finally, water plant in. Wait 10 to 14 days before you begin fertilizing with a 15-15-15 water-soluble fertilizer.

For more Information on houseplants and indoor gardening go to:  http://gardensonthego.com/top-5-flowering-houseplants