Give your House Plants a Spa Day

By: Sandy Swegel

Right about this time of year is when your indoor plants are all stressed out. It’s been months of winter and dry heated air. Outdoors in nature, wild plants are enjoying spring rains that clean off their leaves and freshen their soil.

Once again, we plant lovers know to mimic nature if we want our plant friends to thrive in the odd conditions we try to grow them in. Growing plants under a roof without moving air or overhead moisture is definitely odd.

The plants I’m wintering over are the most stressed. The hibiscus has aphids. White fly that I thought I eradicated shows up in the sunroom. Scale is appearing on the underside of waxy leaves.

Time for a Spa Day.

Take any plants that are moveable and bring them into your shower. Don’t forget a good drain catch…you don’t need perlite in your sewer pipes. Bring in the non-buggy plants first. You don’t need to spread pests and disease. Clean off dead or diseased leaves and give the whole plant a good overhead shower. Use the hand sprayer to get the underside of leaves.

Pretend you are a spring thunderstorm and really soak the soil so that water runs out the bottom taking away some of the built up salts. Use soapy water to treat any soft-bodied pests. Use your fingernail or a Q-tip with alcohol to remove scale sacs.

After the bathing and dripping dry, add a layer of clean compost — earthworm castings work great. Then douse the soil with a good natural liquid fertilizer—I like seaweed based fertilizers because then everything smells ocean fresh.

Your plants will be grateful for their Spa Day and perk right up from all that moisture and a good meal.

Of course, you might need your own Spa Day after you finish cleaning up the mess. But we all enjoy a good Spring shower.

 

Photos:
www.ourhouseplants.com/guides/cleaning-your-plants
www.thesmallgarden.com.au/blogpages/how-to-holiday-proof-your-garden-this-summer

 

 

LAB GIRL

By:  Sandy SwegelClose-up photo of Calendula seeds.

 

Hope Jahren has helped me fall even more deeply with seeds and the natural world this week. Our book group just started to read her best selling book “Lab Girl.” Lab Girl is like two books in one….a marvelous account of her life as a woman in science AND a romantic ode to nature that waxes poetic about seeds and trees and vines that want to climb.

Here’s her excerpt about seeds:

“A seed knows how to wait. Most seeds wait for at least a year before starting to grow; a cherry seed can wait for a hundred years with no problem. What exactly each seed is waiting for is known only to that seed. Some unique trigger-combination of temperature-moisture-light and many other things is required to convince a seed to jump off the deep end and take its chance—to take its one and only chance to grow.

A seed is alive while it waits. Every acorn on the ground is just as alive as the three-hundred-year-old oak tree that towers over it. Neither the seed nor the old oak is growing; they are both just waiting.”

I love seeds. I love to walk up and down the aisles of the BBB Seed warehouse and touch the hundreds of thousands of seeds that are there, full of potential. To imagine just a single packet grown out and burst into bloom. Hope Jahren has given me yet another vision: all those seeds there. Alive. As alive as the trees outdoors. Alive and waiting. Waiting patiently and calmly.Close-up photo of the seeds in BBB Seed's Honey Source Mix.

 

 

Photocredits:

www.opensesamemovie/heirloom-seeds-extinction/

 

New Agricultural Products

by Sandy Swegel

As a gardener I often say “Thank God.” The growing legality of growing marijuana has meant a proliferation of stores that sell amazing tools that make gardening easier and cheaper. Despite living in Colorado, I’ve never been interested in smoking pot. Even as a decadent college student I thought “Why smoke when you can drink?” I helped a friend trim some of her high end organic marijuana grown outside and declined the offer for some of the product. But I am endlessly interested in marijuana growing techniques. I have three products that might not have been available if it weren’t for the early mmj growers.

My EZ Clone aeroponic plant propagator.
These used to cost $400 but I got mine for $50 off of craigslist from a guy in a souped-up muscle car who had had dreams of getting rich by growing clones but lost interest when that didn’t happen overnight. Now you can buy new cloners for much less than $100 from Amazon or Home Depot if you aren’t brave enough to venture into a grow shop. These simple machines spray warm mist on the roots of cuttings and cause hardwood and softwood cuttings to grow roots in a very short time—days! This is my favorite way to root shrubs, tomatoes, small fruit plants and even roses. Should work great for trees too. I can have well-rooted plants in just a couple of weeks.

My LED grow light.
The first indoor light I tried were the big sodium ones that provided enough light to take indoor plants all the way to bloom. That was amazing but also an energy hog. This year for indoor seed starting, I’m loving my Costco LED shop light that is half the size of my old shop lights, lightweight, and uses almost no electricity.

 

My liquid all natural growing supplements.
I still rely on kelp and Superthrive as growth stimulants, but the organic, natural fertilizer concentrates produce some of the best growth and production I’ve seen, especially in tomatoes. Lots of research went into getting ideal growth out of marijuana plants. Marijuana and tomatoes are quite similar in plant needs. If you can grow one, you can grow the other.

There’s nothing like old fashioned common sense for growing using compost and time-honored natural techniques. But a few high-tech products can make your garden spectacular.

 

Photo Credits:

https://bigbudsguide/best-nutrients-cannabis/

 

 

Wildflower Forecasts 2017

by Sandy Swegel

It’s looking good this year.

Most of us are still languishing in winter, looking for signs of crocus sprouting or swelling buds on trees, but the deserts of the US are ramping up for their big annual show. When wildflower lovers need a dose of Spring, they don’t go to a beach in Mexico or Hawaii, they head for the desert. Many of the flowers in the desert bloom in the early cool season (February to Early May), then revert into dormancy during the heat of summer. Naturally there’s a website for reporting wildflower sightings. My favorite wildflower website for the Southwest is http://www.desertusa.com/wildflo/wildupdates.html where you’ll find regular updates of rainfall and sightings of emerging plants and first bloom,

Forecasts for wildflowers are made from meteorological reports of rainfall and snowfall and sometimes soil moisture. It’s pretty basic…a wet winter means higher seed germination rates and more wildflowers.

Here’s what’s coming first in the deserts:
First bluebonnet (lupine) in Texas Big Bend National Park now.
What it will look like in southern Texas soon.

 

 

For your own wildflowers in your yard, you can tweak Nature a bit if you haven’t had much rain or snow this year. A little extra hand watering on your wildflowers if during dry spells this winter will boost your Spring bloom.

 

Photo credits
http://myphotomemries.blogspot.com/2015/04/abby-and-big-bend-bluebonnets.html
http://hadleycourt.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Screen-Shot-2014-03-24-at-6.15.35-AM.png

 

Five Spot: A wildflower for shade and for native bees

by Sandy Swegel

I love blue flowers so naturally I am enthused about our new “Blue Blazes” collection of seeds for eight different blue wildflowers. What really caught my attention is a little flower I’ve never seen growing that now I just have to have.

Nemophila maculata is white with single blue-purple spots on the tips of each of its five petals. So cute. Such an unusual design is believed to have evolved to capture the attention of native solitary bees. “Five Spot,” the flower’s common name, is an early cool-season annual flower that prefers shady moist areas. Although my garden in Colorado is pretty dry, shady areas under trees are well-watered in Spring where the snow is slow to melt in the shade. Perfect I think for a flower whose name Nemophila loosely translates as “woodland lover.”

 

I’m going to plant my five spots in an area with that has early Spring purple crocuses and early Summer blue columbine. I’m hoping Five Spot blooms just between those two.

 

Five Spot finishes blooming once the weather gets hot, but it leaves seeds to reappear next Spring. Now I have a new travel destination on my list: California’s Sierra Nevada in early Spring when fields of this sweet wildflower bloom naturally.

 

 

 

Photo credit
https://agresearchmag.ars.usda.gov/2010/aug/bee

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nemophila_maculata#

 

Why Grow From Seed

by Sandy Swegel

We all know it’s a good idea to grow from seed. Every winter I fantasize about the amazing garden I could have if I just got started earlier. And every year I somehow end up buying plants that I know I could have started on my own with a little more planning.

This year will be different she says. To strengthen my resolve and not fall into winter doldrums, here’s my list of Why Grow from Seed.

Native plants.
Native plants are better for pollinators, better for the environment, and more likely to survive and thrive in our yard.

No neonics
There’s only one way to be sure our plants haven’t been treated with pesticides that will hurt pollinators or poison your food. Grow it ourselves from seed. It’s also the best way to keep down unwanted pests like whitefly and thrips that thrive in crowded Big Ag type greenhouses and then come to live in our home gardens.

Diversity.
If we want a standard garden that looks like every other garden on the block, we buy plants where everybody else buys them. Beautiful but kinda conformist. Growing from seed gives us a nearly infinite palette of possibilities. I love having a garden where someone stops and asks “What is That amazing flower?”

More Flowers.

This is the obvious Number One reason to grow from seed. For just a couple bucks we get dozens or hundreds or thousands of plants. The gardeners at the Denver Botanic Gardens often let some reseeding annuals seed themselves all over until their acreage. Last year snapdragons were allowed to grow wherever the wind and birds planted the seeds. We can get the same effect at home. One $2.50 packet of snapdragons has over 14,000 seeds. That’s a lot of adorable low-care flowers to have throughout the garden.

And why do we want more flowers? My first impulse is because they’re just so pretty. But as I happened to read on the front page of our website this morning in big red letters:

“Remember, the more flowers a garden can offer throughout the year, the greater the number of bees and other pollinating insects it will attract and support.”

 

 

Alyssum

by Sandy Swegel

It’s time to give the last garden award of the year: Latest Bloomer of the Year. Late blooming flowers are important because they are the last nectar and pollen sources of the season for bees and other pollinators. Bees especially show up on sunny Fall days when the warmth prompts the bees to leave the hive but freezes have already killed off all the flowers except for a hardy few who have little warm micro-ecosystems.

It’s a tie this year. The day after Thanksgiving only two flowers were in bloom: Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritima, the annual, and yellow perennial alyssum, Aurinia saxatilis.

Perennial alyssum is the Spring yellow cascading ground-cover known as “Basket of Gold“. It’s glory days are Spring, but it throws out tiny yellow flowers here and there most of the year. The cooler weather of Fall spurs on more flowers and the bees can see those bright yellow flowers from far away.

White or Sweet Allysum is the annual often found in planters mixed with geraniums. It is sturdy, blooms all season and has a very sweet smell. Bees love it all season long. It reseeded itself which is how it made itself at home between pavers on a stone patio. Adorable, hardy and bee food. What a flower!

So, dear Alyssums, we salute you this year as latest bloomers. The bees appreciate your food and the humans love your beauty as winter gray takes over our once colorful gardens.Basket-of-gold AlyssumSweet AlyssumPhotos:

http://typesofflower.com/alyssum-flower-beautiful-meaning-with-gently-care-flower/alyssum-flower-annual-or-perennial/
https://roundrockgarden.wordpress.com/tag/parsley/

 

Food for Fall Pollinators

by Sandy Swegel

Fall is a great time for birds and bears.  Gardens and natural areas are full of seeds and berries for getting the calories needed for winter.  Pollinators like bees, flies, butterflies, moths and insects need nectar and pollen food sources.  When I was in the foothills this weekend I noticed that native sources of nectar weren’t very evident. We haven’t had much rain so some late-season flowers finished earlier.  There were still tiny white aster blooms and stray late blooms of Penstemon, Liatris and Gaillardia, but this is nothing like the abundant feast of spring.  Poor pollinators…Fall must be a difficult time…addicted to sugar all summer and then have it all cut off.

 

Fall is one time when it’s good to have nice irrigated areas with annuals and non-native plants so that you can feed the pollinators of fall who are still active.  In home gardens this week I saw dozens of butterflies, bees and moths on late-season annuals like Verbena bonariensis, Cosmos, Zinnias.  Our love of home gardening is very helpful to pollinators.

 

Cornell University released a study this year about monarch butterflies.  While it is true that milkweed is the only food of the caterpillars, adult butterflies eat from all flowering plants.  This time of year the monarchs need a lot of nectar and pollen to give them the strength to migrate back home.  The monarchs can find nectar in areas gardened or farmed by humans.

 

So for those of us who love pollinators, providing some fall habitat with blooming flowers is very helpful to butterflies and all the pollinators. The longer in the season they eat, the better the chance they’ll survive winter.  To get ideas for what to grow, notice what might still be blooming in wild areas and where the pollinators are actively feeding in gardens.   Each year I give out awards to the plants I know for things like “First Bloom of the Year” or “Best Season Long Performer.”  The last award of the growing season is “Last Bloom of the Year.”  Sometime in November long after a hard frost, there is still some little single perennial flower that had several bees visiting it.  Most years it is blue Scabiosa, but Borage is putting up a last-minute burst into bloom.  Who won the last bloom of 2016 in your habitat?

Photos:

http://monarchbutterflygarden.net/are-native-only-wildlife-gardens-starving-fall-pollinators/

http://diet.yukozimo.com/what-do-honey-bees-eat/

 

Baby’s Breath

Baby’s Breath…growing for whimsy

by Sandy Swegel

Some plants aren’t the most efficient plants to grow, but you have to do it just because it’s fun.  Annual baby’s breath fits that category for me this week.  I visited a lovely garden where the perennial baby’s breath was allowed to grow and fall where it may and the rest of the flowers just grew up among them.   Very nice looking.  But the baby’s breath I’m interested in is the annual variety because it blooms very fast from seed and I don’t have a lot of time left this season to start new flower from seed. I want some fun and whimsy in my garden before the garden turns into Fall mums.

 

Gypsophilia elegans (annual baby’s breath) is a very short-lived plant.  Growing guides advise sowing every two weeks if you want the tiny white flowers all season.  That’s more work and irrigation than I need for the full season…but a fast-blooming flower sounds great for the end of the season.

So just for fun, I’m sowing some annual baby’s breath between the roses and hoping they end up looking just like flower arrangements.  I’m also sowing some in the “moon garden” where most of the flowers are white because what could more whimsical than baby’s breath under a full moon!

Have some fun and grow some flowers just for fun.

 

Photo:

www.sarahraven.com/gypsophila_elegans_covent_garden.htm

 

Two Tough flowers of Summer

Two Tough flowers of Summer

by Sandy Swegel

The humans are drooping in the summer heat, but if you look at gardens and containers you’ll see that some flowers are absolutely thriving in July. Take a walk around your neighborhood one cool evening to see what is vigorously growing and that you have to try growing yourself.

Salvias
Salvias are real winners now. Tall spikes of flowers rise above the garden attracting our attention and lots of hummingbirds. Now that it is warm, the Salvia have grown tall and strong. Some deadheading and they’ll still be blooming at frost. Two favorites are the Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea), most often seen with hummingbirds, and black and blue Sage Salvia guaranitica also known as hummingbird plant.

Rudbeckia
The other big happy flowers in the heat are Rudbeckia of many varieties. Stands of Black-eyed Susans thrill us, reminding us of childhood summers. In meadows and wilder backyards, you’ll find the Rudbeckia hirta that is the Black-eyed Susan we grew up with. Most urban landscapes have the sturdy Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’ that looks like the hirta but is very well-behaved.

Other dazzling Rudbeckia are the green-headed, often very tall, Rudbeckia laciniata.

And there is the “Brown-eyed Susan” Rudbeckia triloba that is short lived but selfshort-livedf in the same spot every year.

If you want a stunning summer garden that looks great in the heat, are somewhat drought tolerant, and provides lots of food for hummingbirds and bees and other pollinators, be sure to include Salvia and Rudbeckia.

Photos:

www.gardenerdirect.com
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudbeckia_laciniata
https://www.gardenia.net/plant/rudbeckia-hirta-prairie-sun
https://www.pinterest.com/pin/514817801129456934/
https://www.anniesannuals.com/plants/view/?id=901