HORTICULTURE

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Camille Stauber of Sustainable Places, Inc.

for the Go Green Northbrook initiative.  To download a printable copy of this valuable information click the button at the right.

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Snowflake

Garden Glories Article 

Winter 2021

by David Robson

GCI Horticultural Chairman

         Winter can be cold, snowy, icy and dreary, though it can surprise us with days of bright sunshine piercing through a clear pure blue sky.  Of course, those days can be deceptive when the temperature hover in the single digits on either side of zero.

      And those days are perfect for staying inside and dreaming about March and bulbs popping through the ground.  Of course, after 2020, dreaming about anything positive is where the mind should wander.

     Still, plants persevere and so do gardeners.  With a new year, new gardening resolutions abound, and unlike weight-loss and exercise promises, we tend to stick to our gardening pledges.  Sort of.  Maybe.  At least until spring and the first visit to the garden center.         

       One of the most common promises is to not buy every new plant we see even when we know deep down inside we don’t have another single square inch to plant anything in any part of the yard.  There does come a time when enough is enough, or so we say.  We will have fortitude.  We have a landscape plan that allows only X-number of specimens.  We hide the checkbook and credit cards.  We lock up the spades and trowels.  We firmly stand with our chests puffed out and declare “we will not plant anything more!  We do NOT have the room.” 

         

      We drive by the garden centers and nurseries just to look and maybe pick up a single cherry tomato plant for a patio container or maybe a hanging basket of wave petunias.

          But then when a tree or shrub ends up dying or is removed (and there is nothing wrong with taking out something that no longer is doing well), or a perennial doesn’t pop up for some reason or another, we secretly scream with jubilation that we now have a perfect reason to visit the garden center and/or nursery.  We jingle the car keys, yell that we’re going out for a bit, and head out.

     But as we are driving to those businesses and park, we tend to forget every piece of math we learned about area and volume, and everything about plant growth over the years.  So, where that one plant was, we now stick two, three or more because the new plants are so small and need good homes, just like kittens at the animal rescue shelters.

     In full disclosure, this resolution is broken every year by this writer, though in fuller disclosure, increase physical age and the stiffness of knees and soreness of vertebrae has reduced the degree of resolution breakage.

          Worse are the new plant introductions that look so much more unusual and interesting than the specimens in our yards that have been there year after year for decades.  They are like an evil temptress, saying “Hey, I’m young and vibrant and something new and different.  It won’t hurt anything to try me.  And you are probably the better gardener to pamper me than the clueless person with the shopping cart behind you who’s loaded her cart with all sorts of marigolds and zinnias with no sense of color.  Please help me!”  And who can resist the siren’s cry of the new plant? 

          Again, with full disclosure, I love new plant introductions, though more so in someone else’s garden.  I do gather many plants for the 20+ patio containers.  But after all these years with containers, I’ve learned how to plan the number of plants needed using my high school geometry and share the list with my gardening travel buddies.  They look at my swelling shopping cart and act as intervention professionals saying “Okay, do you really need that?  What about your list?  Are you allowing an object without a brain to control someone with a brain?  Is that smart?”  Feeling guilty, I stick to the list and put plants back, but sometimes mutter under my breath about the quality of their friendship.

          Two final thoughts:  the sun will still come up in the east and set in the west no matter what you plant, where you plant, and how much you plant.   And you can always justify buying plants as saying you’re helping the local economy and improving the environment.  And no one can successfully argue with that.

Christmas Cactus

 

Did you receive or purchase a Christmas cactus this year?  If so, here are a few things to think about.

To understand the Christmas cactus, think "jungle," not "desert." These spineless, succulent cacti (Schlumbergera, formerly Zygocactus) all come from the Brazilian rainforest. Come the end of the year, around holiday time, nearly every branch tip will end in one or two blossoms in a wide range of translucent colors, depending on the variety: white and yellow through orange, pink, red, and magenta. Individual flowers last about a week, and one plant's display can go on for three weeks.

 

Hybridizers have done much mixing and matching in the last few decades, but most of the kinds available are hybrids of just two: S. russelliana, with gently lobed leaves, which blooms around Christmas, and S. truncata, which has leaves with fleshy spikes on the sides (hence the name crab-cactus) and blooms closer to Thanksgiving.The newly discovered "princess" or "queen" cactus is S. orssichiana. It can bloom two or three times a year and is still something of a rarity, though commercially available.

 

How to Grow for Predictable, Profuse Flowering

 

Though Schlumbergera truly are cacti, they aren't desert plants. They don't like either full sun or dry conditions. In their native Brazil, they grow high up in trees, in pockets of leaf mold and other organic matter that accumulates in cavities along branches. Give them bright indirect light and evenly moist soil -- like what they'd experience in a tree -- and they'll live happily for decades.

 

They survive near-freezing temperatures and long dry spells, making them nearly indestructible houseplants. Surviving isn't thriving, however, and getting them to pump out the lush and delicately colored flowers that originally tempted you to bring them home takes a little special attention. But with just a modicum of care, they will reward you with an abundance of color that few winter bloomers can match.

 

Does that mean that you can count on the blooming plant you bought at the nursery or supermarket on December 15 to repeat the performance on the same date next year? Not at all! Growers manipulate light and temperature to push plants forward or hold them back, depending on the weather and market conditions.

 

If you buy a plant in bloom, it will be a year before you'll know exactly when it will flower under your own conditions. If you want bloom in time for the holidays, you are better off buying from a mail-order catalog that lists approximate bloom times or from a nursery or greenhouse that grows its own plants; a few companies in all regions still do this. The majority of blooming plants available this time of year are grown in California, Florida, Denmark, or Holland.

 

Older varieties of holiday cactus tend to have gracefully drooping branches, which make them prime subjects for hanging baskets. The flowers-mostly in pink, red, and white-face downward. The petals, which look like two tubes, one inside the other, curve severely back on the tubes. Many of these varieties are still available. Modern hybrids have more erect branches, so the blossoms face up. The flowers are more compact and come in a wide range of colors that now include pale yellow, orange, and even purplish tones.

 

Holiday cacti are infamous for dropping their buds when brought indoors. The cause is usually a drastic change in temperature, thanks to proximity to a fireplace, woodstove, radiator, or hot-air duct. Ethylene gas can also be the problem; keep blooming plants away from space heaters, gas stoves, or ripening fruit. Ordinary home temperatures of about 70°F are fine, though cooler nights are beneficial. Water blooming plants to keep the soil evenly moist but not saturated. An easy test is to insert a wooden toothpick: if it comes away clean and feels fairly dry, it's time for more water. Withhold all fertilizer.

 

After blooming cut back on watering slightly, but don't let the leaves begin to shrivel. They certainly can survive severe drying, but it's not conducive to prime performance. The ideal location after flowering is a cool room (above 40°F) with bright indirect light, not in a sunny window.

When new growth begins in spring, fertilize the plants at each watering with a soluble fertilizer at one-third to one-half strength. As soon as nights are dependably above 40°F, move the plants outdoors under 80 percent shade. Hanging in a tree is an ideal spot, though they will also grow fine indoors in bright light out of direct sun.

If you want to buy special varieties through the mail, the time to order is late winter or spring. Set the young plants in a pot that is slightly larger than the rootball. Holiday cacti like acidic soil high in organic matter, and very good drainage. A potting mix of 60 percent peat with 40 percent perlite is perfect.

 

Refresh the soil every three to four years by removing the plant from the pot, cutting away the outer one-quarter to one-third of the roots and soil, then repotting it in the same container with fresh potting mix. Plastic pots are perhaps better than clay for growing these cacti, because plastic keeps the soil from drying out too quickly.

 

Bringing on Flowers

 

The end of summer is the time to start inducing flower buds for the coming holidays. The crucial time is the fall equinox during the third week in September, when nights become longer than 12 hours. In early September, stop fertilizing until flowering is finished. Cool nights outdoors are also ideal, though not critical, to bud set.

 

Once the longer nights arrive, the plants must have total darkness every night for at least three weeks. Keep the plants outdoors or move them to a room where you can maintain darkness for the bud-forming period. Short bursts of light don't matter much, but avoid them if possible. Commercial growers prevent bud formation by using only 40-watt light bulbs for 4 hours each night. Outdoors, street lights or even porch lights can inhibit bud set. Indoors, draw the window shade if outdoor lights shine in.

 

Two to three weeks after the equinox, pinpoint buds will start showing on the branch tips. When the buds reach about 1/8-inch long, the new crop of flowers has set, and the absence of light at night is no longer critical. When you move plants indoors, however, try not to shock them with drastic changes in light or temperature. If you are growing the plants outdoors through the fall, very cool nights will intensify colors. Pale yellows, for example, may develop orange or reddish tones.

Display plants when the buds are well enlarged and showing strong color. Don't worry if a few buds drop. Place the plants on a pedestal or table in good light where the flowers can show their colors.

THE PERFECT PERENNIAL (Almost)

 

In my early days of gardening, my mother gave me a division of my grandmother's "lemon lily". It was one of the most fragrant blooms in my first perennial garden area next to the garage. It required very little care and reappeared each spring whether I was paying attention or chasing a toddler. Eventually we moved to the country and I was delighted to find a large bed of double orange daylilies that appeared that first year. Soon, I discovered most people referred to them as "ditch lilies" and they did grace the ditches in Peoria County without concern for highway maintenance or drought. Soon I was enthralled with the garden catalog pictures of hemerocallis with large blooms, bright colors and easy care. In addition to the trees & shrubs I planted in the early seventies, daylilies and peonies have been the easiest, hardiest and longest-lived members of my garden.

 

Hemerocallis comes from the Greek meaning "beauty" and "day" describing the single bloom that lasts one day. To compensate the gardener, the daylily sends up scapes (leafless stalk) with multiple buds so each day brings a new flower. If well grown, the plant develops multiple scapes to deliver many flowers. Daylilies adapt to any well-drained soil and full sun for lighter colors and afternoon shade to preserve color in the deep tones. Once established, water and fertilizer requirements are minimal and they increase each year with more flowers and more divisions to share with friends.

 

Daylilies are made up of fleshy tubers or slender fibrous roots. They are designed to be warehouses of water and nutrients as well as sturdy anchors. Leaves are multiple strap-like green fans, which attach to the roots at the crown which is a solid white core between them. The flower stalk or scape arises from the crown to carry the buds. It is nearly leafless to distinguish it from garden lilies, which flower on the leafy stem. Occasionally some varieties develop a tiny plant or proliferation on the scape and this can be rooted as a new plant. Hybrids have been developed with an additional set of chromosomes and are known as diploids. Triploids and Tetraploids have three and four sets of chromosomes respectively. Diploids are easier to hybridize and spider flower forms and double flowers are easier to produce. Tetraploids are usually larger flowered with more intense colors on stronger scapes. Considering that the original species have yellow, orange or rusty red blooms, it is amazing that daylilies are available in all colors except pure blue, white and black. Work is ongoing and you will see near-white and very dark hybrids. Besides the colors, daylilies have been bred with variations called blends, polychromes, bitones, bicolors. The throat or whole flower may have markings called being eyed, banded, halo-ed, watermarked, tipped, dotted or dusted. Petal and sepal shapes and their placement accounts for more variation from circular, triangular, star-shaped, ruffled, double, recurved or spider-like groupings in small, medium or large blooms with or without ruffled edges.

 

Other plant characteristics to consider include the height of the scapes, the branch position, blooming habit and bloom sequence of the flowers. Varieties differ in bloom time so choosing varieties carefully allows bloom from April until autumn and we have not even mentioned the reblooming varieties like bright yellow Stella de Oro and the reblooming traits of others. Foliage varies by size and colors but may not be as important to the viewer as the flowers. Hardiness has never been a problem as most are quite hardy in Illinois and if obtained locally, it is assured.

 

Originating in Asia, hybridizers have developed thousands of named hemerocallis cultivars since Dr. Stout began making crosses of daylily species at the New York Botanical Gardens in the early 20th Century. In his honor, the Stout Award is given to varieties that perform well nationally. New varieties are evaluated each year in each region of the United States and Canada from input of growers. In Illinois, we are in Region 2 of the American Hemerocallis Society and the top rated hybrids for us in 2009 are Ruby Spider, Primal Scream, All American Chief, 'Bela Lugosi' and 'Heavenly Angel Ice'.

 

The bloom color, plant and bloom sizes, bloom habit and branch and bud count available is enough to overwhelm you. Relax and visit a botanical garden, flower show or local garden soon, especially from June through July when these perennials are in bloom. Make a list of plants that please you and your color scheme and if cost is an issue, exchange with friends and use plant sales to find wonderful varieties. The pink collection I purchased in the early 1980's may not be the newest but they are persistent in any weather AND… my plot of ditch lilies


(H. fulva 'Flore pleno') reappear each year in an area where someone dumped a load of large stones so we do not have to mow there and dull the mower blades. Plant a daylily and enjoy and share it for years.
 

GARDENING WITH THE FAIRIES

Pinky Riffle

All cultures have fairies and their legends and histories. From Europe and Asia, the Orient and Australia, Polynesia to the Arctic, Africa and South America, from a cottage on the Emerald Isle to a Native American wigwam, stories of the wee folk abound. Throughout the pages of literature we may read of enchanting tales of Shakespeare, Spenser, Barrie, and Hans Christian Andersen to name but a few.

Andersen describes the creation of fairyland: when Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden it sank into the ground, but kept its warm sunshine, mild air and all of its charms. The queen of the fairies lives there…. She is young and beautiful. In her palace, where the walls are the colors of the brightest tulips in the sunlight, the ceiling is one great shining flower.

 

It seems that Fairy Gardens fall largely into two categories: Fairy-originated and People-fashioned, the former being the natural phenomenon type where one comes upon a scene in a woodland or meadow and “feels” the magic sensation that fairies are present or have been recently. Whether it is the position of a leaf or twig or an “almost” sighting, we just know the wee folk were here! The second group has a further qualification of two different types: 1) Those gardens designed by mortals to attract fairies and 2) those patches purposely set aside or left untouched for fairies to tend and occupy. In both instances it is the role of the fairies to oversee, guard and direct activities in the garden. I like to think that I am gardening with the fairies. All that is needed to gain acceptance by the fairies is to have a child-like faith in good will and good relationships with others, an open mind and a respect for nature. If we are fair, not greedy or destructive; show our willingness to share and show our appreciation of their efforts, we are rewarded with enchantment.

 

The wee folk are responsible for bloom time, grooming, and smoothing petals and leaves. Keeping the lady bugs, bees and praying mantises organized, motivating the earth worms managing and guiding all the plants and keeping the general balance of the garden are their chief occupations. Otherwise the fairies dance all night in the moonlight and sleep all day in the flowers. Occasionally a fairy will assume the form of a bird or butterfly during the day or at least appear in that fashion. When you do see a fairy, respect their privacy and look away. Never be rude or stare.

 

The perfect site for a fairy garden may be on the crest of a hill, in a sunny meadow, at the base of a tree, or wherever you believe fairies would be most pleased. Remembering their love of privacy and pride, the place should be protected, nearly secret, subtle and “natural”. The folk would never be at home with anything gaudy or garish. They need a mossy smooth area to hold their dances and water (or a mirror) to reflect the moonlight. Some charming fairy gardens are located in containers with miniature accessories, and patios made from ceramic tiles, small fences added and of course appropriate plants.

 

Thyme is the chief plant for fairy gardens. The Victorians set aside a patch of time for the fairies. Shakespeare wrote of the “wild thyme” in his fairy story Midsummer Night’s Dream. If you observe a patch of thyme you can understand this. There is always a lot of activity of bees and other creatures around thyme. Lady’s Mantle, Alchemilla, is also necessary because you must drink the dew from its leaves to be transported to Fairyland. Foxglove Digitalis is the fairies’ flower. Other small plants work well, especially in a container. In larger fairy gardens there is room for ‘The Fairy’ rose and plants with names of fairies such as ‘Tinkerbelle’ and ‘Raspberry Pixie’ and ‘Blonde Elf’, ‘Sugar Plum Fairy’, ……the list is endless. And so is the magic that will enchant you when you work in a fairy garden.

 

Listen and observe and you may find that the fairies tell you that they have babies by planting mullein for blankets, or more “bells” of one kind or another for music. If you hear Fairy Music you may become enchanted and forever changed. And never, ever step inside a fairy ring for inside the ring time stands still and mortals caught in the ring may not get out. Do you think this is what happened to Rip van Winkle?


I wish you the joy of fairies in your garden, hours of enchantment and magic. Forever Fairies….