August: To Do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

Alrighty then! We survived July, just barely. Thank you, Mother Nature, for the break at the end of the month. So, how does your garden look?  And the water bill? (Ouch!) Well, July is behind us now and August is upon us with her bounty of veggies and plethora of blooming plants. Let us hope the rain gods will be less capricious and the heat stays somewhere else. Whether or not those things come about there are things to do in the garden and don’t forget to be hurricane prepared. (You know, the ones that come in off the ocean – not the ones that reside at PNC Arena.)

Lawn Care

Check the lawn for grubs. If you find some, treat with an appropriate insecticide. If you do find any, be grateful and put the sprayer away.

Late in the month prepare any areas that need to be seeded with cool season grass (tall fescue, bluegrass).

Fertilizing

Give your strawberries a shot of nitrogen fertilizer.

DO NOT fertilize trees or shrubbery until December.

Planting

Sow pansy seeds this month in flats to transplant to the landscape in September.

Perennials, hollyhock, delphinium and Stokes’ aster can be sown now for healthy plants in the spring.

Repot more house plants.

Plant a fall garden with beets, Chinese cabbage, cucumbers, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, mustard, radish, rutabaga, squash and turnips.

Pruning

Nada. Nope. Don’t! No pruning of trees or shrubs until November.

In case of hurricane damage, disregard the above admonition.

Spraying

Same stuff as last month. Look for spider mites on coniferous evergreens (juniper, arborvitae, etc.) and lace bugs on azaleas and pyracantha.

Continue rose spray program and weekly spraying of fruit trees and bunch grapes.

Watch for worms on cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower) and borers on squash.  Spray only if necessary. Follow the label instructions.

Propagation

You may still take cuttings of shrubs.

More fun things to do if you just can’t get enough of the August heat

Make sure your LANDSCAPE PLAN is up to date especially if you plan to modify the landscape this fall.

Keep running up the water bill when the August thunderstorms skip your house.

Build a compost bin.

Dig Irish potatoes.

Stay cool and hydrated. September and October will soon be at hand.

Sometimes, Plant Adoption is the Best Option

By Jane Malec, EMGV

Long before my master gardener journey began, I loved bringing plants into my home. Quite a few years ago while passing by an apartment building at Michigan State University, I saw a dwarf leaf schefflera (Brassia actinophyllia) sitting on the front stoop.  There was a note attached reading “please give me a good home!” So, what was I to do? I officially adopted my first houseplant out of which grew a long habit of picking up plants and bringing them home. Some were gifts, others found like the first one and some were purchased with lunch money during lean years!

To this day, I always have plants in my home. I believe they make rooms more interesting by bringing in life and color. Foliage is the primary draw for most indoor plants I purchase. Unusual texture, shape or color starts my imagination working. Hmm … where could I put this little beauty? So, it stands to reason that while shopping at a favorite garden center a few years ago, a little Philodendron bipinnatifidum, or tree philodendron, caught my eye. It was no more than two feet tall and the foliage was very interesting.  I knew I had the perfect place for this tropical beauty.

 

 

Tropical landscape plants

Philodenron bipinnatifidum is in the Aracea family and is native to Brazil. It grows naturally in hardiness zones 10-12 especially along the edges of rivers in the tropical rain forests and in other areas such as Paraguay. It can also be found in the landscape of more tropical areas of the United States particularly in Florida were many landscape architects feature it in their designs. They are also popular indoor plants both in homes and commercial buildings.

The tree philodendron has a single and unbranched four-inch diameter trunk which and can grow up to 10 feet tall when planted in the ground. A plant grown in a container will  achieve a height usually less than six feet, directly correlated to the container size.  The foliage is unusual with its dark green and shiny leaves.  They can get really enormous growing up to 30 inches or more.  The dark green shiny leaves are enormous — growing to 30 inches or more. Each half of the leaf has eight to ten lobes each of which each can be 20 or more inches in length.  The leaves grow at the ends of the plant’s slowly elongating trunks and are held up on long petioles.  This feature also seems to be fascinating to golden retrievers!

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Leaf supporting petioles

Another interesting characteristic of this plant is the long dangling roots that grow up and out of the soil. They become more noticeable as the plant matures and may not even be present when you purchase a young plant. In fact, I didn’t notice them in my plant until I had it several years and it had grown at least a foot. Growing up to eight feet, these aerial roots anchor to the bark of tree philodendrons growing outside and will provide some light anchorage for the plant. There will still be roots in a container habitat but they will wind through the stems creating a spaghetti look which is really eye catching.

 

This philodendron will flower growing in a container but the plant needs to be 15 to 20 years old before it comes into heat. It is a beautiful petal-less flower which only lasts about two hours. Although it seems like a short life span, it would be amazing to see this unique flower.

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Philodendron selloum; Scott Zona, CC BY-NC – 4.0

Most pests and diseases tend to be caused by an overcrowded environment and/or over-watering. It prefers bright light but will tolerate lower light during winter periods. Also, as a container plant, it thrives outside during our Durham summers and it isn’t particularly fussy about humidity. I had my plant in quite a number of locations over the last few years. It wasn’t until recently that I situated it in a very sunny room of our home. Wow! It took off! The leaves started growing so fast that I could have sworn it was noticeable over night. I had to move all the other plants out of the area to give it room and, of course, it kept growing.

A New Home

About this time, I noticed that my church had a tree philodendron growing in nearly the exact conditions as mine and it was much larger! This wasn’t a good sign for what was ahead for my little kitchen corner. What to do?

For the answer I circled back to the beginning of my journey as a gardener of houseplants. I needed to find this plant a new home. Another bright yet empty corner in the church revealed itself. So, I convinced the church’s plant crew to adopt my tree philodendron and now I can visit whenever I want.  I love happy endings!

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Sources & Further Reading

from North Carolina State University Extension:  https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/plants/all/philodendron-selloum/

from University of Arkansas Extension: https://www.uaex.edu/yard-garden/resource-library/plant-week/tree-philodendron-1-13-06.aspx

from Pennsylvania State University Extension: https://extension.psu.edu/philodendron-diseases

Tropical landscape plants: https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/syllabi/308/Slides/PLTL1b.pdf

Unless otherwise noted, all photos were taken by Jane Malec. 

 

 

 

 

Refresher For Reflowering Poinsettias and Long Term Care

By Wendy Diaz, EMGV

If you are like me you probably bought a big beautiful poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) in December for easy and festive home decorating over the holidays.  My poinsettia is doing quite well in my west facing picture window and because it is a relatively easy houseplant to care for I will probably keep it until spring and take it outside until the frost kills it in the fall and buy a new one in November. Nevertheless, a friend asked me how she would go about getting her lovely poinsettia to reflower next Christmas and keep it thriving until then. I decided, for my friend, to do some research and refresh my memory on the reflowering steps, because four years have past since my master garden training on this topic, and write a primer on the care of poinsettias.

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Several poinsettia plants in one pot placed by west-facing window.
Photo by Wendy Diaz, January 9, 2019

The following list of tasks will keep your poinsettia thriving until you want to prepare it to reflower.

Indoor Care of Poinsettia Plant

  1. Place plant in a bright window preferably south, east or west facing and temperatures between 70oF to 75 oF.
  2. Make sure temperature of room does not drop below 55oF.
  3. and avoid cool drafts. (Cover when purchasing them in the winter especially.) Conversely, temperatures about 75 oF cause bract fading and leaf drop.
  4. Water plant when needed, about once per week or when surface of potting soil feels dry (do not let plants dry out or lower leaves will fall). Do not over water because poinsettias do not like “wet feet”. Let them drain well before putting them back in their foil covering if the pot is covered with decorative foil.
  5. Remove the bracts (brightly-colored red modified leaves) when they discolor and wither.
  6. Apply half-strength fertilizer solution monthly.

Poinsettias are tropical plants originally from southern Mexico and Central America and temperatures below 55oF can damage the plants so when the danger of frost has passed, move it outdoors to a location that receives high indirect light (morning sun/afternoon shade). Then, if you have the dedication to get it to reflower you must complete the process of artificially lengthening its daily exposure to darkness for about a couple of months in the fall. The poinsettia is sensitive to the duration of light (day length) and it is a “short-day” plant whereby the shorter length of time the plant is exposed to light within a 24-hour period triggers physiological response of flowering. The sensitivity to day length is called photoperiodism. Figure 18-23 from the Master Gardener handbook shows the affect of only green foliage on poinsettias that are exposed to too much daily sunlight (less than 8 hours of darkness) during the fall period.

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Figure 18–23 from the North Carolina Extension Gardener Handbook Photoperiod demonstration on Poinsettia ‘Prestige Red’. Short Day exposure (right): More than 12 hours of darkness in a 24-hour period. Long Day exposure (left): Less than 8 hours of darkness in a 24-hour period2. Photo credit Diane Mays  CC BY – 2.0

 

 

 

 

 

Steps for Poinsettia Reflowering

  1. Place plant outdoors in high indirect light after danger of frost.
  2. Cut back the stems to 3 to 4 inches to promote new growth and encourage branching.
  3. Water and fertilize as in indoor care.
  4. Bring plant indoors when night temperatures fall below 60oF (near the end of September for Durham).
  5. On October 1, 2019, put the plant in 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness each day until bract color is well developed about mid- to late November. Put it in a closet of place a cardboard box over it. Any light during this time will delay flowering. See Figure below for affects.
  6. Night temperatures should be 60 to 70oF.
  7. Place poinsettia in maximum sunlight each day for 10 hours.
  8. Water the plants as needed for medium soil moisture.
  9. Fertilize every other week with a complete-analysis (20-10-20), water soluble fertilizer
  10. Plants should bloom (red bracts) after 9 to 11 weeks of short day/long night treatment.

I wish my friend and other intrepid houseplant gardeners success in reflowering their 2018 Holiday Poinsettia but as an outdoor person and due to lack of closet space, I will continue my tradition of keeping them outside between last frost in April and first frost in October, followed by a trip to a local grower to purchase new poinsettias in late November.  I am looking forward to new and interesting colors each new year brings.

References:

  1. https://poinsettias.ces.ncsu.edu/homeowners/home-growing-poinsettias/
  2. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/consumer-care-of-poinsettias
  3. https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/extension-gardener-handbook/18-plants-grown-in-containers#section_heading_8773
  4. https://lee.ces.ncsu.edu/2015/12/poinsettias-16/

Further reading:

  1. https://durhammastergardeners.com/2018/02/14/my-poinsettias-survived-the-season-now-what/

Enjoying a Morning Cup of Coffee with My Houseplants

by Jane Malec, EMGV

A morning cup of coffee is a necessity at my house. It is just a part of getting the day started and I love everything about it — making it the night before, turning the pot on in the morning, and the aroma when it’s brewing. Over the years our coffee habits have changed due to the ever-fluctuating studies on the healthiness of, optimum consumption levels, or brew strength of a cup of coffee. It’s mostly decaf and fewer cups for us now.  Still, it remains a force of habit to pour the same level of water and ground coffee beans into the brewer regardless if we are running out the door or having a leisurely morning. Even if I reheat a cup later in the day, there is always a little left over brew sitting in the pot.

So I often walk around the house pouring the remaining cold coffee onto thirsty house plants. Our current home has a private well and I am ever more conscious of water usage. I make sure to pat myself on the back over my dedication to water conservation with every cup of coffee that soaks into the potting soil. I even wander outside to share the wealth with my container plants. A win-win, right? Or, maybe not. If there is a debate on human coffee consumption, I suddenly wondered if there might be one on plant consumption.

Coffee comes to us through a complicated path. To begin with, there are several species of coffee plants or trees, the two most commonly grown are Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora which is also called Coffea robusta. Arabica coffee is considered superior and commands a higher price than the robusta. Coffee production is a labor intensive process. The berries are picked by hand, sorted and allowed to ferment which removes a gelatinous tissue layer. Then they are washed with large amounts of fresh water. The seed of each berry, which is the bean, is roasted and then ground before becoming the beverage we enjoy. The degree of roasting the beans will determine the flavor, but not the caffeine level. Interestingly, the lighter roasts contain more caffeine so watch out you breakfast blend drinkers!

Which leads back to my curious question — is liquid coffee good for plants? There is a good amount of anecdotal information (on the Internet) concerning the use of brewed coffee for watering plants. However, there is little research-based information on this nor on liquid coffee’s benefits to soil.

However, there are some basic guidelines to help us understand if my “coffee watering practice” is helping or harming to plants. While coffee grounds tend to have a pH around 6.5 to 6.8 which is nearly neutral on the scale (neutral is 7), brewed liquid coffee is reported to have a pH level ranging from 5.2 to 6.9 depending on the type of coffee and how it is prepared. The lower the pH the higher the acidity; A drop in one full pH equals a factor of 10. For example, if the brewed coffee is 5.5 pH and the grounds are 6.5 pH, the brewed coffee is 10 times more acidic than the grounds.

Understanding that most plants like a slightly acidic to neutral pH and factoring in that most municipal water is slightly alkaline (pH greater than 7), it is possible that the acidity of the coffee could benefit plants. Also there are small measurable amounts of magnesium and potassium which are plant nutrients. Keep in mind that this information can only serve as a guideline as there can be other factors in play, for instance, if you have a private or community well, and whether or not you use a water softener.

The best recommendation is to follow some simple rules. Make sure the coffee is cold and then water it down. Never water with coffee if you add milk, cream or sugar. Know your plants pH happiness levels and then watch the impact this is having on your plants over time.  Adjust your morning coffee routine.   

Remember too much of a good thing is, well, too much of a good thing. Resign yourself to pouring some of the leftovers down the drain or on your compost pile. 

Maybe I could starting singing to my plants instead?  Hmm. 

Resources:

Coffee as Fertilizer?
https://web.extension.illinois.edu/dmp/palette/110109.html

Yard and Garden
https://extension.unl.edu/statewide/buffalo/Watering%20House%20Plants%20With%20Water%20%26%20Coffee%2C%20March%205%2C%202011.pdf

Clay soils
https://durham.ces.ncsu.edu/files/library/32/UNH%203.PDF

 

My Poinsettias Survived the Season … Now What?

By Jane Malec, EMGV

This is the first time ever that not only are my Christmas poinsettias alive after the holidays but they still look wonderful. Normally, these beautiful plants begin the slow painful death march in my car shortly after I purchase them. I have made every mistake possible … over water, under water, too little light, to hot or too cold … well, you get the idea. My job often involves the care of poinsettias and, yes, I kill them there too.

So it’s February, the poinsettias look like they aren’t going anywhere and, in the meantime, here come all the spring plants into the stores. Beautiful tulips, daffodils and hydrangeas. Their colors are pretty and announce the promise of spring not the memories of cold winters.

What sorry thing to be a healthy poinsettia living past your season. I wonder why is this? Red is a great color plus I have one that is variegated pink and spring green. Why is it we only want this interesting plant around during the Christmas season?

Poinsettias have an amazing history. The Aztecs called them Cuetlaxochitl and used them to control fevers in the 14th and 15th century. Their botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima, was assigned when a German botanist, Wilanow, discovered it growing through a crack in his greenhouse. The colors impressed him so much that he gave name Euphorbia pulcherrima which means very beautiful. While a US Ambassador in Mexico,  Joel Roberts Poinsett,  brought cuttings back to his greenhouse in South Carolina in the 1820’s. They were finally grown as landscape plants in southern California in 1900’s. Now 70% of all poinsettias purchased in the United States are grown in that region.

By nature, poinsettias are flowering shrubs that, if planted in the ground, will grow up to 10′ tall. However, they aren’t frost tolerant so definitely aren’t bedding plants in the Triangle. The colorful parts of the plants are the bracts, which aren’t flowers, and are produced by photoperiodism. This means they require 12 hours of total darkness for five days in a row followed by abundant light during the day to achieve the beautiful colors.

So, how did I manage to keep these beauties alive this year? The care for poinsettias is complicated and not all that different from other house plants. Keep them away from temperature extremes, 60 – 70 degrees during the day, and take care on how you water.  This year, I pulled them out of the shiny paper sleeves, watered them thoroughly and let them drain before putting them back to their spots and they got more sunlight in our new home then in the past.  Wow … I have to roll my eyes at myself as I write this. It feels like I should have my EMGV title yanked. Seriously, though, I amazed at how wonderful they all look. Poinsettias will last 6-8 weeks in your home with this care and, if you fertilize them, they will continue to thrive.

Back to the original question … they lived so now what? For the first time, after Valentine’s Day, I’m taking my poinsettias to the compost pile without the feeling of failure. I am not going to hide them in the dark of my closest so that they will produce dramatic colors next Christmas. That is more than I can commit to or really more than I want to do.

The truth is I love spring and all that comes with it. Easter is the eternal birth of spring and we celebrate early by bringing the promise of it into our homes as soon as we can. I will bring home iris, hydrangea and hyacinth plants. When their flowers drop and it’s warm enough, I will plant them all in my yard hoping to see them flower next year.

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Hydrangeas

However, next December, I will buy more beautiful poinsettias knowing that I corrected my techniques and that there won’t be any plants sobbing on the trip home.  Maybe I’ll get one of those glittery poinsettias…hmm now that would be a challenge!

Resources:

http://extension.illinois.edu/poinsettia/care.cfm

https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/consumer-care-of-poinsettias

Photos credit: Jane Malec