Archive for June, 2014

MOM, They Called Me UGLY!

June 24, 2014

trumbo_1421873iThe votes have come in and in an international vote brought to you by the UK Telegraph, here are your winners of the Top 10 Ugliest Plants In The World.

In their defense, given the conditions in which many of these plants live – extreme temperatures and humidity – it’s perhaps understandable that survival skills win over looks. The frightful flora have also been handed the short straw when it comes to names: stinky squid, bastard cobas, monkey cups and vegetable sheep are a world away from the charms of the lily or rose.

Ugly Top 10

  1. Bastard cobas (Cyphostemma juttae) A slow-growing, ornamental plant that can reach 6ft, also called wild grape, tree grape and Namibian grape. Plants are found in Namibia. The large shiny leaves tend to fall during winter and grape-like bunches appear near the end of summer.
  2. Birthworts (Aristolochia gigantea) Also referred to as pipe vines, they are widespread and appear in various climates. The basis of the plant is an intertwining stem with simple leaves. The flowers have a strong scent.
  3. Elephant’s trunk (Pachypodium namaquanum) Found in the North Cape of Namibia, the plant consists of a thick trunk, densely covered in spines. There is a crown at the top appearing during the growing months of winter, and velvet-textured flowers appear from August to October.
  4. Corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanium) This plant only blooms every four to six years within its 40-year life expectancy. The flower is described as the world’s largest; reaching 5ft high and 4ft wide. For eight hours of the three-day bloom, the flower emits a smell that is described as rotting flesh, attracting a carrion-eating beetle, for pollination. The plant is also known as an aphrodisiac.
  5. Tree tumbo (Welwitschia mirabilis) The plant, found in south-west Africa, specifically Namibia and Angola, is considered a living fossil. Initially, the plant grows two leaves from one thick trunk and, as the plant continues to grow, the leaves may split. Some plants are estimated to be more than 1,000 years old.
  6. Thorn of the cross (Colletia paradoxa) Also known as gigs, curumamil, cross or crown of the cross. From South America, this slow-growing shrub with greyish flowers blooms in March and April. Often used as an ornamental plant for its fragrance, it is under threat of extinction, due to a loss of habitat.
  7. Stinky squid (Pseudocolus fusiformis) A mushroom first reported in Pittsburgh, North America, in 1915. Often found at the edge of woods, in parks and gardens, usually in summer and autumn. The body first resembles a puffball, but later splits to form a stalk with arms that taper.
  8. Sea onion (Bowiea volubilis) Also known as the climbing onion, this plant originates from South Africa. The bulb is a pale green, with half growing underground. New branches appear each year, making it look like an elongated asparagus, with greenish flowers.
  9. Vegetable sheep (Raoulia eximia) Named because of the way it looks from a distance, this is found in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. This shrub forms grey-white mounds and can spread 5ft. Tiny leaves are covered in hairs, with flowers beneath.
  10. Monkey cups (Nepenthes) Also commonly known as tropical pitcher plants, this plant comes from a family of more than 120 species. They are vine-forming, originating from south China, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. The plant grows as a climbing vine.

Sticky Situation: Cacti Truth

June 17, 2014

Cacti_succlulants2OK, so you just returned from the store with your first cactus plant, or perhaps you bought one of those funny looking little plants with a tag sticking in the pot that says “Assorted Succulents.” You might be asking yourself, “how do I take care of this thing?”

The first thing to realize is that the words “cacti” and “succulent” are general terms. Cacti belong to a specific family of plants, but the species within that family come from some very different habitats. Many cacti, such as those in the genus Ferocactus, are in fact true desert dwellers. Others, such as those in the genus Echinopsis, live in the grasslands of South America, those in the genus Oreocereus live in the high Andes mountains, and those in the genus Epiphyllum live in jungles and don’t even live in the ground, but upon other plants.

Many cacti and succulents are extremely well adapted to living in houses where the relative humidity is low (10-30 percent). They require only modest amounts of water and fertilizer, but do need abundant light. They should be placed in a bright, sunny window. Insufficient natural light can be augmented by artificial lighting. A cool white fluorescent tube, or a combination of daylight and natural white fluorescent tubes will give good results. Position them 6-12 inches above the plants, and keep them on for 14-16 hours each day.

Before watering your cactus, check to see if the soil is dry. Then water well, especially in the growing months (April through mid-September) and let the water drain off. In the winter, water sparingly — allow your cactus a rest. Perhaps a sip once a month if required and your cactus is in a hot sunny place. Adjust according to conditions. Some shriveling in the winter is natural — especially when keeping hardy cacti indoors.

A word about water: Tap water often can be alkaline and/or hard, meaning it contains high concentrations of dissolved minerals. Such minerals can build up in the plant’s ‘soil’ over time, causing harm. This is one good reason why your plants should periodically be ‘repotted.’ Buildup of such minerals can also cause unsightly deposits to form, especially on unglazed clay pots. Never water your plants with water that has been through a softening system that uses salt as a recharging agent, as these systems simply replace the “hardness” in the water with sodium ions.

Southern and western exposure windows give cacti the sun that they need, although you can possibly store them in a north or east window in winter if you are really careful about the watering. Be careful when first placing a cactus in the window, care needs to be taken so that the plant does not sunburn.

Give low nitrogen fertilizer sparingly (1/4 suggested amount) every other watering April through August especially if the cactus is getting good light and is growing.  Some people grow cacti outside in pots during the growing season and place their cactus indoors for storage during the winter non-growing season.

Hydroponics For Beginners

June 10, 2014

2auto2Did you know that you don’t have to grow your houseplants in dirt? Essentially the dirt is just the medium holding the plant up and allowing the roots to pull nutrients through moisture. You can throw out the dirt, insects, and disease along with it! Many houseplants grow very nicely in a simple double pot with a simple water solution, sometimes called passive hydroponics. In hydroculture, special pebbles rather than dirt hold up the plant’s stem and roots.

There are many advantages to hydroponic gardening. For instance, all the required elements that influence healthy plant growth can be easily controlled and maintained. This includes factors such as light, temperature, humidity, pH levels, nutrients and water. The ability to control these elements makes hydroponic gardening easier and less time consuming than gardening with soil.

When using hydroponic gardening methods indoors, light can be provided through a bright window or beneath suitable grow lights. In general, the type of light used and how much is needed falls on the gardener and types of plants grown. The light source, however, must be bright enough to trigger flowering and fruit production.

Temperature, Humidity & pH Levels
Suitable temperatures with sufficient amounts of humidity and pH levels are equally important. There are many hydroponic gardening kits available to help get beginners started. Generally, if hydroponic gardening indoors, room temperature is adequate for most plants. Humidity levels should stay around 50-70 percent for optimal plant growth, much the same as for growing houseplants. With hydroponic gardening, pH levels are extremely important and should be checked regularly. Maintaining pH levels between 5.8 and 6.3 is usually suitable for most plants. Suitable ventilation is another important aspect of hydroponic gardening and can be easily accomplished with ceiling fans or oscillating ones.

Nutrient & Water
Nutrients are provided through specifically designed hydroponic gardening fertilizer and water. The nutrient solution (fertilizer and water) should always be drained, cleaned and refilled at least one or two times a month. Since plants grown hydroponically do not require soil, there is less maintenance, no weeding and no soil-borne diseases or pests to worry with. Plants can be grown using a variety of mediums, such as gravel or sand; however, this is merely for anchoring the plant. The continual supply of nutrient solution is what keeps the plants alive and healthy. There are also different methods used for providing this nutrient solution.

  • Passive method – The simplest form of hydroponic gardening uses the passive method, allowing you to determine when and how much nutrient solution plants receive. Wick systems are one example, using Styrofoam trays filled with growing medium and plants. These trays simply float on top of the nutrient solution, allowing roots to absorb nutrients and water as needed.
  • Flood and Drain method – Another easy method of hydroponic gardening is the flood and drain method, which is just as effective. Growing trays or individual pots are flooded with nutrient solution, which is then drained back into a reservoir tank. This method requires the use of a pump and proper levels of nutrient solution must be maintained to prevent the pump from running dry.
  • Drip System methods – Drip systems require a pump and are controlled with a timer as well. When the timer turns the pump on, nutrient solution is ‘dripped’ onto each plant. There are two basic kinds, recovery and non-recovery. Recovery drip systems collect the excess runoff while the non-recovery ones do not.

Two other common methods for providing nutrient solution to plants are also used in hydroponic gardening, the Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) and Aeroponic method. NFT systems provide a continual flow of nutrient solution without the use of a timer. Rather, the roots of plants hang down in the solution. The aeroponic method is similar; however, it requires a timer that allows the roots of hanging plants to be sprayed or misted every few minutes.

Nearly anything, from flowers to vegetables, can be grown with hydroponic gardening. It’s an easy, clean, and effective method for growing plants, especially in limited areas. Hydroponic gardening adapts well to most indoor settings and produces healthier plants with higher quality yields.

It’s Getting Hot In Here! Part II

June 5, 2014

1000434_281 (2)Hot summer weather can be a major drag for your garden or exterior plants. You might have lovingly cared for them throughout spring and early summer, but when the nice weather turns intense, things might be looking a little wilted around your favorite outdoor space.

Need some more specific ideas for summer survival?  We have that too!

1.  Shrubs
Most established shrubs can survive long periods of dry soil. Thorough spring watering and one or two thorough waterings in the summer keeps most well-established shrubs alive for at least one season.

2.  Ground Covers
Ground covers often survive on about half the amount of water they would receive under optimal conditions, although some dieback may occur. To avoid serious drought stress, they should be watered at least every 3 to 6 weeks from April through September, depending on location and soil conditions.

3.  Lawns
Warm-season lawns planted in bermudagrass and buffalograss are more drought efficient than cool season grasses (e.g. tall fescue and ryegrass) and may come back after several weeks of dryness. Cool season grasses may die within a month or two of receiving no water. Signs of drought include wilted leaves and a blush-gray appearance followed by yellow leaves that will eventually turn brown. Cutting the length of irrigation down to ½ of that recommended in the UC Lawn Watering Guide and watering only once or twice a week may help get your lawn through the drought. (Once a lawn stops receiving adequate moisture, it will gradually turn brown and go dormant over time. A lawn that recently turned brown from drought can often be revived with regular, thorough watering.

4.  Vegetables
Last but not least, vegetables are difficult to maintain during a drought. Know the critical watering periods for vegetables and you can target the timing and amount of water to add. As a rule of thumb, water is most critical during the first few weeks of development, immediately after transplanting, and during flowering and fruit production. Tomatoes, beans, and root crops such as carrots require regular watering and are not tolerant to long, dry periods. Viney vegetables such as squash and zucchini often fare better and can be kept alive with a few waterings once or twice a week through the season.

Tip for fun: When you call to get your quote, if you have the opportunity to speak with our fearless leader, Heddy, be sure to ask about the summer of the zucchini! She’s a great resource for all your exterior quandaries! She’s been there with the good, the bad and the ugly that’s why she’s so good at what she does!

Don’t get caught with your plants down (inside or out)!

It’s Getting Hot In Here! Part I

June 3, 2014

images925690_2You might be wondering why an institution such as Inside Plants is writing about a heat wave. Heat waves happen out doors right? Well, are your plants looking a little sad from the intense summer heat? Find out what you can do to keep them alive when things heat up. Here are three simple tips for keeping your plants in good shape:

1. Keep your cool
When a heat wave strikes your area, plants can scorch causing you to freak out and want rip things out. Don’t panic if this happens to your yard. Heat stress can make plants wilt, but things aren’t necessarily as bad as they look. Some plants can bounce back as the temperature cools in the evening. Try to give your plants a little extra TLC to see if they recover before taking them out.

2. Adjust your watering schedule
When things heat up outside, consider watering your plants at night. There is a long-held belief that watering plants in the middle of the day when the sun is scorching hot can potentially burn your plants.  Another concern is evaporation. This is particularly an issue if you live in a dry climate. If you live in a more humid environment, consider watering in the early morning instead so that the water that remains on leaves isn’t partial to disease (this could be an issue if watering at night).  Plants in containers should be watered every day because the soil tends to dry out more quickly.

3. Get your mulch on
Adding additional mulch not only helps with keeping pesky weeds under control, it helps hold in moisture. A layer of mulch can also offer a layer of protection for keeping plant roots cooler and away from the summer sun.

Still curious? Here are some tell tail signs you might be in need of some help…wilting or drooping leaves that do not return to normal by evening

  • curled or chlorotic (yellow) leaves that may fold or drop, or foliage that becomes grayish and loses its green luster
  • new leaves that are smaller than normal

Stay Tuned for Part II……

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