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

In the Garden: Made in the Shade

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

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN, inthegarden, VIDEO

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.

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

In The Garden: Camden Children’s Garden

by Tina Sottolano-Cain

It’s summertime in the garden, filled with flowers and vegetables.

Days are spent weeding, deadheading, harvesting and of course relaxing in the garden oasis you’ve created. If this daily routine is becoming a little too boring it may be time to get out and explore some of the display gardens in and around your area.

One of my favorite summer activities, especially late summer is to take a road trip to local gardens. Public gardens are a great resource for education and inspiration. It gives you an opportunity to see a wide range of plants and how they are used in the landscape. With so many great gardens to choose from I thought the Camden Children’s Garden is an ideal choice.

Located in Camden, New Jersey, the gardens are situated on 4 acres of land.

Valerie Frick, the director of education, tells me the gardens were started in June 1999. “It was born out of the Camden City Garden club, which is a community garden that has been in existence since 1985.”

The primary focus of the gardens and the children’s garden movement was to have a place where kids can run and play throughout nature. Frick says there are no rules in the garden, “It is important to have a fun place for children to do things that children like to do, climb, run, jump, play, explore and discover.”

The children’s garden movement wants to ensure that at a young age the children become familiar with horticulture. By encouraging them to walk on the grass and touch the plants they can feel free to explore and learn. Frick also states, “What children learn when they are young gets carried over to when they become adults.”

Some of the display gardens you will see are inspirations from a group of local landscape designers and gardeners. They even included ideas from the children in Camden County. Frick tells me they went into the Camden County school district and asked the children what would they want to see in a perfect garden. One very memorable request from a child was to walk on water, another was to have dinosaurs in the garden. Both are reflected in the interactive water fountain garden and dinosaur garden where they can learn about dinosaur bones found in New Jersey.

Other requests came from teachers wanting to bring story books to life. It was also important that the gardens reflect the important programs in the schools like educating children on how to grow vegetables in an indoor space. Frick says, they wanted to tie in the work they do in the community with the work they do in the gardens. They are a non-profit organization and operate on grants to keep the gardens going.

The Camden Children’s Gardens is an amusement park dedicated to the thrill of growing plants and vegetables. They even have their own garden themed merry-go-round. For more information go to www.camdenchildrensgarden.org.

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN

March Gardening To Do List

crocusSpring arrives March 20, it is time to get out and garden!  Here is what you need to do to get ready!

1) Check houseplants for insects.  Take a thorough look at the leaves for any sticky residue, or any discoloration on the leaves from scale, mealy bugs and mites.  Control with Insecticidal soap or a pyrethrum based pesticide.

2) Rotate houseplants a 1/4 turn each week and mist 2-3 timer per week.

3) Start feeding houseplants, weekly with a 10-15-10 fertilizer.

4) Prune Fruit Trees, if you have not already. Apply Horticultural Oil to control pre-emerging insects before the first sign of leaf growth appears.

5) March 17, time to plant your peas.

6) Plant cool season vegetables, like lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, and arugula.

7)  Mulch strawberries with straw.

8) Dig and Divide perennials

9)  Apply a pre-emergent herbicide, Step 1 to control crab grass.

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN

Planting and Caring For Amaryllis

Well, I did it again…I forgot to plant to plant a few Paperwhites and Amaryllis bulbs I purchased a few months ago.  It never fails I always buy a bunch of Paperwhites and Amaryllis with the intent of planting them all winter long so I can have a little springtime indoors.  If you are like me and this has happens to you, you may be wondering if the bulbs are still viable.  If the bulbs are over a year old and haven’t been stored properly chances are they may not be.  Bulbs stored in a paper bag with peat moss or wood shavings should stay dry in a cool dark environment.

Here are a few easy tips on planting Amaryllis and Paperwhites bulbs…

They are big beautiful bulbs and extremely easy to grow. Cultivars are available in a wide range of colors, various shades red and white, even deep pinks and salmon, they have large multiple single blooms on one stalk or they are available in double flowered varieties as well.  Paperwhites have beautiful clusters of white star shaped flowers that are extremely fragrant.  One of my favorite varieties is ‘Ziva’, they have large flower umbels and sturdy stems.

When choosing Amaryllis bulbs make sure the bulb has a large circumference, that will give you the largest showy blooms. All bulbs should be firm to the touch and not spongey. You also want to make sure the bulb has no greenish or soft powdery looking spots, that indicates bulb is moldy.

You generally don’t need a large pot to plant Amaryllis bulbs.  A 6”-8” pot is sufficient, I like using terra-cotta. It’s simple natural look doesn’t compete with the beautiful flowers.  They also look great in glassware.  I have a ton of glass jars that I use for terrariums always at the ready.  Both Amaryllis are Paperwhites are so easy to grow in soil and decorative stones.

When planting the bulbs always use fresh potting mix, place a little soil in the pot, covering the bottom place your bulb inside and fill in around the bulb with soil to about there.  Leave the upper portion or neck of the bulb exposed.

Place in a warm sunny window, once they start to push some growth lightly water. Once they are actively growing let plants dry between waterings.  In 7-8 weeks you’ll enjoy these beautiful long blooming flowers. Plant now and throughout the winter months. Be careful not to over water your bulbs, this is a common mistake.  Overwatering can soften the bulbs and promotes mold growth.

Here are a few easy tips for Amaryllis care post blooming…

So your Amaryllis bulbs have stopped blooming, what do you do now.  It is possible to keep the bulbs and force them to flower the next year.

Cut off flower and the stalk, leaving 1-2″ above the bulb, keep foliage.  The leaves providing essential nutrients that are stored in the bulb for the next years growth cycle.  Keep in a sunny location and continue to water when soil is dry. Fertilize every 2-3 weeks with a water soluble houseplant food.

In mid may put plant outside in a shaded location, and don’t repot.  Bring indoors at the end of summer.  By then leaves will turn yellow. Cut back to the crown of the bulb.  Now it’s time to give your plant a rest, let it go dormant for 6-8 weeks.  Place plant in a cool place…55 degrees is ideal, in a low lit room and don’t water.

In November repot and place plant in a warm sunny window and water regularly, be careful not to overwater until leaves appear.  Buds and blooms are soon to follow in time for the holidays

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Garden Minute: Overwintering Tropical Plants

tropical

As a horticulturist and grower I love to collect many types of plants, especially during the summer. Once the threat of frost or hard freeze approaches during the month of October I am always sad to see the end of the growing season. Now is the time to take inventory of my tropical plant collection, since I don’t have a greenhouse, or a sunroom, and prepare the indoors for the many plants that are going to spend the wintertime indoors.

Follow the Sun, and take note of where the sun plays upon the rooms in your home. Most tropicals prefer warm, bright surroundings, but some can do well in moderate indirect and even low light, depending on the variety of plant.  Temperatures in the 60 -70 degree range during the day are ideal.  Temperatures above 80 degrees can cause poor air circulation, which can lead to insect problems down the road.

hibiscusTry and be selective when deciding what plants you want to over winter. Take serious inventory of your potted tropicals and bring in only what you have room for.  If you want to overwinter a flowering tropical such as hibiscus decide you have enough light for the plant to continue actively growing and flowering during the winter.  If not, consider cutting the plant back approximately 1/3 and let it go dormant. Do the same for tropical vines, Dipladenia and Mandevilla vines.  If you are considering bringing in annuals, like geraniums, lantana, or coleus, find the sunniest location and modestly cut back, and or take cuttings from them. Tropical foliage plants such as Boston Ferns, Peace Lily and varieties of Palm are great to over winter, because they enhance the beauty aa well as the air quality in your home.  Succulents aside from being a strong trend in home design are the easiest to maintain and can adapt to, not only bright indirect light, but moderate light as well and require little care and water.

IMG_0085Transplant any plants that have outgrown their pots over the summer.  Select a container with proper drainage holes and a slightly larger diameter than the pot the plant is currently in. Keep plants away from any forced hot air, like heating vents and any severely drafty windows.  You also want to increase humidity in your home.  Don’t worry it sound a lot more complicated than it actually is.  Simple take a saucer filled with crushed stones and keep the stones moist. Another trick I use often is grouping my plants together if space allows.

Allow plants to dry thoroughly between each watering, this helps to minimize fungus gnat problems that may arise from the soil.  Be sure to hose down the plants with water and an insecticidal soap before you bring them indoors. You want to be sure to clean off insects that may be hiding out on your plants.  Add a granular systemic insect control to the soil every 4-6 weeks to ensure your plants stay insect free and healthy.

Overwintering tropicals can be a fun project for the winter months.  It will keep your hands in the soil and your passion for gardening all year long.

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN

Top 10 Easy To Grow Low Light Plants

IMG_0306
Aglaonema, ‘Chinese Evergreen’

Some of the most colorful and interesting plants grow in low light.  Here are 10 easy and beautiful low light plants:

1. ZZ plant 12- 18” tall

2.  Pothos -trailing habit with long runners, yellow/green leave

3. Spathiphylum, ‘Peace Lily’ 18-36” tall, white flower spike, keep plant evenly moist

4. Dracaena has variegated foliage

5. Maranta, Prayer Plant, 6-8” tall

6. Aglaonema, ‘Chinese Evergreen’, 18″ tall grown in varied colors with variegated leaves.

7. Pepperomia 4-10” tall

8. Arrowhead Vine was a bush like habit in pale green to white foliage

IMG_0089-900x900
Phalaenopsis, ‘Moth Orchid’

9. Phalaenopsis, ‘Moth Orchid’  12” and 18-24” tall

10. Rex Begonia  4-8” tall

If you think your house is too dark, give one of these plants a try!  I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Tina Sottolano-Cain is a horticulturalist with 17 years experience in the gardening industry and owner of Gardens on the Go, a gardening and consultation firm.
She is host of Garden Minute for Calkins Media.

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN

Propagating Succulents

succulentsSucculents are the hottest trend In gardening but can be expensive.  It takes very little time to grow plants from your existing plants by propagation.  Here are some tips when propagating succulents.

In a pot or tray filled with cacti/succulent soil, be sure to pre-moisten soil, cut a leaf from the main plant and lay in the soil.  Be sure to cover the ends of cutting.  I like to lay them In pattern to maximize the space…plus they look pretty too.

Place pot or tray in a south facing window and water only when dry, check every 10 days or so.

In a few weeks you’ll see roots growing and rosettes forming.
It’s that easy!

A DIRTY GIRL'S GARDEN

February Gardening ‘To Do’ List

black and white watering can

Before the spring season officially arrives get started in the garden with these projects:

1. Start seeds for cool season crops. Now is the perfect time to plant seeds for lettuces, cabbage, broccoli and early fruiting tomatoes. You can even start planting flowering verbena, stock and pansies. Be sure to check the seed packets to check germination times.

2. Start fertilizing houseplants.  Schedule weekly fertilizing for your houseplants. Use an all purpose 20-20-20 formula. Remember to mist leaves 2-3x per week. And rotate 1/4 turn.

3. Prune fruit trees and spray with horticultural oil.

4. Sharpen tools and take inventory of your tool shed.

5. Cut branches to force flowering indoors. Branches like magnolia, forsythia, and quince are great to force flowering so you can enjoy a taste of spring.

6. Force bulbs to flower indoors. Tulips and daffodils will bloom in mid March if planted now.  Crocus and grape hyacinths will bloom in early March.