August 26, 2019

Winter Landscaping Shrubs. Suggestions for Flowering, Vividly Colored, and Berry Plants for Winter Beauty

holly in snowyellow twig dogwoodWhen winter arrives, the beauty of your garden doesn’t have to be locked away in cold storage.  You can keep your yard bright and interesting by adding a few winter garden shrubs with eye-catching seasonal appeal.

The first step is to tour your winter landscape.  No need to bundle up yet, we’re starting indoors.

Examine your yard through the windows you use the most during winter.  For example, I always start my day with a cup of coffee in my sunroom.  The view outside of those windows is important to me.

Now, bundle up and step outside.  Walk through the yard.  Look for spots with room to plant shrubs or for flower beds that can be expanded to add shrubs in spring.  Note the light and soil conditions of each area so you can match new plants to the growing conditions.

With the chosen spaces in mind, you are now ready to make a list of specific shrubs for your backyard.

Color

Color is a good place to start.  The holiday lights and decorations that adorn many homes during the holidays are clues that we all crave a little more brilliance in winter.  Planting a few colorful shrubs can fill that need.

Red Twig Dogwood, also known as Redosier Dogwood, is a longtime favorite.  It has unique red stems that make a nice backdrop to redtwig_dogwoodoverwintering perennials or an accent plant for evergreens.

Regular pruning keeps the color vibrant year round (though in spring and summer, the leaves disguise it).  Simply remove older brown stems at ground level in late winter.  This encourages new growth, which is the most vivid in color.

The Yellow Twig Dogwood variety Flaviramea, adds a different look to the garden.  Just a few of these yellow stemmed beauties add magnificent color to the otherwise dreary winter landscape.

Another winter garden shrub with colorful stems is Japanese Kerria.  It’s glossy bright green stems are sure to catch a second look.  The slender stems stand upright and provide a welcome contrast.

But it’s not just about color.  The texture of the bark can add interest, too.  Burning Bush, also known as Winged Euonymus, has stems with corky ridges.  It’s look is especially pretty after a snowfall.  However, gardeners in parts of the Northeast and Midwest, where this plant is invading native woodlands, should avoid using it.  Instead, consider its native counterpart, Eastern Wahoo.  Although it lacks the corky bark, it produces small pink and orange fruit.

The Oak Leaf Hydrangea has several attractive features for winter.  The coarse textured older stems are covered with peeling cinnamon- brown bark.  This, combined with dried flowers, creates cold weather charm.

Another way to increase appeal is with uniquely shaped shrubs.  Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick is the first to come to mind.  It’s curled and twisted stems, which become more apparent after the leaves have fallen, make this a nice focal point for a patio garden, mixed border or foundation planting.  Remove any straight stems that sprout from the roots beneath the graft.

Fruit and Berry Plantshollybranch.snow

One of the most common ways to create a bright spot amid the snow is with fruit bearing shrubs.  You’ll appreciate the color and the birds will appreciate the food.

Holly is the traditional vary for the holidays, and Holly trees and shrubs come in many Evergreen varieties that also produce colorful berries.

Southern gardeners have a wider selection of Evergreen types that work in warmer climates.  Northern gardeners need to look for heartier cultivars of the Meserve Hollyies, such as China Boy, China Girl, Blue boy, Blue girl, Blue Prince, and Blue Princess.  As the names imply, there are both male and female plants.  It is suggested that at least one male for every five females be planted to help guarantee fruit.

A heartier alternative is the Deciduous Holly, known as Winterberry.  The lack of leaves in winter is not a problem, since red fruit covers the upright stems.

Also, take a second look at the off-season potential of a longtime garden staple, the Rose.  Not only are the rose hips colorful, but you can also gather some of the hip covered stems or unique indoor arrangements.

large_beautyberryCloseThe colorful fruit of Beautyberry adds a seldom seen pinkish- purple hue to the winterscape.  For the best fruit display, prune regularly and avoid excess fertilizing.  When selecting this plant, look for the American Beautyberry, which puts on a good show of berries.  But if you like a challenge, search for the purple Beautybush (Callicarpa dichotoma).  It’s more difficult to find, but it’s graceful appearance and impressive fruit display will make the effort worthwhile.

The Flowering shrub

A hydrangea, a shade garden favorite, takes on new character in winter.  Both the Snowball and Panicle varieties produce flowers that dry on the plant.  These brown blooms and tiny capsule like fruit provide a nice contrast to the fine texture of nearby overwintering ornamental grasses or perennials.

But let’s not forget about flowers, and I don’t mean just for southern landscapes!  Most gardeners can enjoy the fall and winter blooms of Witch Hazel.  Common Witch Hazel unfurls fragrant strap- like flowers for about a month between October and December.

For those who like an early start to the growing season, plant Vernal Witch Hazel.  These long bloomers start flowering as early as January in the south, to late February or March in the north.  The blooms last for 3 to 4 weeks, providing a much needed lift to the spirit of anyone with cabin fever.

Evergreen’severgreen in snow

We can’t discuss winter shrubs without at least mentioning Evergreen Conifers.  They’ve long been the backbone of a winter garden, providing a green ray of hope in otherwise barren landscapes.

Although thousands of varieties provide virtually endless possibilities, there are a few basic pointers for selecting the right conifers for your yard.

Look for Dwarf Pines, Spruces or Juniper shrubs for hot sunny locations.  Arborvitae and False Cypress will add texture with their somewhat lacey appearances.  Hemlocks and Boxwood shrubs provide a bit of year- round greenery in sunny or shady locations.

Shrubs also form great backdrops to the other colorful and interesting shrubs we’ve discussed.  For a winter yard that really stands out, consider planting mixed borders of evergreens, deciduous shrubs and perennials.

Each will lend its own form of beauty to awaken your slumbering garden.

Enjoy your winter shrubbery!

P.S.  Nature Hills is offering all trees, bushes, and shrubs at 25% off and free shipping on orders of $50.00 or more!

Click Here to Order Early and Save!

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Blooming an Amaryllis

amaryllis-bulbsA cheerful amaryllis makes a perfect holiday gift and I was happy to receive one this holiday season! For those of you who may have received one and are not really sure how to go about getting it started, follow these instructions for blooming success.  It’s really so simple and these showy plants will brighten up any room they are placed in.  Do keep in mind however, that if you place them in bright direct sun, your blooms won’t last.

Here is how to pot and care for your amaryllis:

Choose a container with drainage holes that’s about 2 inches wider in diameter than your bulb and several inches deeper than it’s roots.  Add about an inch or so of loose potting mix to the container.

Place the bulb in the container and add potting mix around it, being careful not to damage the roots.  Leave the top third of the bulb exposed.

Moisten the soil and press it down gently to secure the bulb and eliminate air pockets.  Water and light will bring the bulbs from the dormant stage into the growth stage so put the amaryllis in a warm spot with indirect light.  Water lightly until the flower bud and leaves emerge.  Once this has happens, move to a cooler, lighter area and water regularly, keeping the soil moist but not soggy.  Keep the flowering blub away from bright light to extend flowering.

You can extend the length of the flowering time in two ways.  Traditionally, by staggering the plantings.  You can plant one bulb a week into a larger container and when the flowers start blooming in 6-8 weeks, they’ll start a new bloom every week or so for each bulb that you have planted.

Another, and I think more convenient way is to do all the planting at the same time but to use different varieties of bulbs.  With this method, you can plant all at once but the bulbs won’t  come into flower all at the same time even though planted together.  Different varieties bloom early, mid-season and late season taking various amounts of time to bloom.  See list below for some ideas.

Early Blooming Varieties

These bloom 5-8 weeks after planting

Single flowering:
Orange Sovereign, Lucky Strike, Apple Blossom, Minerva, Roma, Vera, Mont Blanc.

Double Flowering:
Lady Jane, Mary Lou, Aphrodite, Pasadena

Miniatures
Donau, Scarlet Baby, Giraffe, Amoretta, Pamela

Mid-Season Blooming Varieties

These bloom 7-10 weeks after planting

Singles:
Red Lion, Lemon Lime, Liberty, Royal Velvet, Hercules, Wonderland, Rilona, Picotee

Double Flowering:
Double Record, Unique, Blossom Peacock, White Peacock

Cybister Varieties
Emerald, Ruby Meyer

Miniatures
Papillio

Trumpet
Pink Floyd

Late Season Blooming Varieties

These bloom 9-12 weeks after planting.

Singles
Las Vegas, Clown, Piquant, Toronto, Vlammenspel, Happy Memory, Charisma

Double Flowering
Promise, Dancing Queen, Flaming Peacock, Andes

Cybister
La Paz, Chico

Trumpet
Amputo, Misty

You can mix and match.  Planting the late bloomers in late winter will give you your first spring blooms.

Happy Blooming!

P.S. Receive a free Paperwhites gift bag project http://gardendecorativeitems.com/blog/paperwhites-project

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Forcing Flowering Bulbs for Winter Blooms

Winter Blooming Bulbs

Winter Blooming Bulbs

Did you know you can grow your favorite flowering spring bulbs indoors?

In many parts of the country, frost is already on your windowpane and you dread that soon, your once flower laden view from the kitchen window is will appear just plain dreary?  At this time of the year you may be asking yourself “What it is a cooped-up gardener to do?  Well here is an idea.  Raise flowering bulbs inside!

Yes, the same types of bulbs you planted outdoors this fall.  The ones that won’t poke their heads up out of the ground until spring can be blooming in your house all winter.  Whether you like tulips, daffodils, crocuses, and even some unusual kinds of bulbs, they are sure to brighten your heart and your home.

“Forcing” bulbs to bloom inside flower pots in your house is quite simple and great fun!  They are sure to help you feel better as the bright colors and sweet scents they bring are guaranteed to cheer up anyone who has cabin fever.

Pots of blooming indoor bulbs also make great gifts for Christmas, Hanukkah or just to banish winter doldrums, right on up through Valentine’s Day (read on for details on a free flowering bulbs gift project).  As long as the rooms they are displayed in are not overheated, the early blooming bulbs will be gratifyingly long lasting.

Are you ready to give it a try?

Here’s what you’ll need:

Good quality bulbs.  Get them at your local garden center or order from a fall bulbs catalog or the online equivalent.  Either way, inspect each bulb carefully before planting, using only bulbs that are firm and crisp.  Return or discard ones that appear soft or are rotting.

Plant bulbs in a flower potFlower pots.  Different bulbs have different requirements, but generally speaking, a plastic pot or tray that is broad and several inches deep to accommodate their root systems, is fine.  A drainage hole is a must, so excess moisture can escape.  You may need two or more pots, depending upon your plans.

Growing medium.  Sterile potting mix is ideal, because it’s a light and welcoming and contains no organisms that could cause your bulbs to spoil.  One 2-quart bag should be enough for a few pots.  Special note: paper whites may be raised in pebbles or gravel.  Hyacinths and crocuses can be raised in mix, but also grow and bloom in nothing but a glass of water if the top half of the bulb is not the immersed.  Special fluted “ jars” are available, often wherever bulbs are sold.

Labels.  If you are potting more than one kind of bulb in different pots, it’s easy to mix them up before they bloom.  So be sure to write each type of bulb, as well as the date planted, on the label.  You can also use masking tape or a popsicle stick as markers, but mark each flower pot to avoid confusion.  This is especially helpful if you are staggering plants for blooms all winter.

Here’s how to do it:

Step 1

Pot the bulbs.  Fill the pot almost full with the moistened potting mix.  Then,Pot the bulbs using your thumb, create a shallow hole for each bulb and plant it right side up.  Usually, the pointy end should face up.  If you’re not sure are, look for the beginnings of a roots in the bottoms or base of the bulbs, which are also often flatter than the tops.

Forced bulbs don’t need to be planted as deeply as outdoor bulbs, 1 or 2 inches deep is usually fine, make sure to leave a bit of the bulb’s tip showing.  Also, it’s OK to crowd bulbs in a pot, whether they the same kind or mix and match bulbs; just make sure they are not touching.  You can ring them around the perimeter and tuck a few in the middle for a full display or line them in a row for a long narrow container.  Now, while you are planting is when you’ll want to label each pot with the type of bulb and the planting date.

Step 2

Chill the plantings.  When outdoors, fall planted bulbs get a natural winter chilling.  For your indoor bulbs, you need to mimic these conditions in order to inspire them to start growing.  Place the pots in a dark cool (but not freezing) site.  Somewhere around 35° to 45° Fahrenheit for the first 12 to 20 weeks is perfect.  Consider sites such as on the steps going down to the basement, in an unheated sun porch, in your garage, or even in your refrigerator.  An outdoor cold frame is also an excellent choice.

Step 3

Check on them.  Once or twice a week is enough, check to make sure the growing medium has not dried out.  Give bulbs a light watering if they are dry.  It may take from 6 to 10 weeks for green growth to appear.  Watch for sprouts, as well as for white roots coming out of the pots bottom.

Transition sprouting bulbsStep 4

Transition.  When you see sprouts in the pot with growth of about an inch high, move the pot into a cool dimly lit room for a week or two.  This allows growth to continue to ramp up at a gradual rate.  Stems and flower buds should become evident.  Water as needed.

Step 5

Move into light.  At the end of the transition period, move your potted bulbs into a brighter room and they’ll bloom in 4 to 6 weeks.  Keep growing medium lightly moistened to fuel growth.  A slender stake can be used if the stems are tall or top heavy.

Step 6

Give Bulbs a Second Chance.  When blooming is over, you can either retire the spent exhausted bulbs to your compost pile if you have one.  Or, If you’d like to try saving them, allow the foliage to die back naturally (This transfers food reserves into the bulbs).  Then plant them outdoors, once the ground and weather have warmed.  You can expect the tired bulbs to take a year off while they recover, (the exception is hybrid tulips, once forced, they will not bloom again.)

This is so easy to do and you’ll be gratified all winter long with your indoor flower garden.

Enjoy!

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How to Re-Bloom that Holiday Poinsettia Plant

PoinsettiaOh those beautiful red holiday plants.  I’m seeing them everywhere as the holidays approach.

Native to Mexico, the poinsettia originated in a region near the present-day city of Taxco. Joel Robert Poinsett, a Southern plantation owner and botanist, was appointed the first United States Ambassador to Mexico (1825-1829). While visiting Taxco, he was struck by the beauty of the brilliant red plants he found blooming in the region during December. He had some of the plants sent to his plantation in Greenville, South Carolina, where they flourished in his greenhouse.  With over 70 million plants sold nationwide each year, the poinsettia is now the number one flowering potted plant sold in the USA.  While the botanical name, Euphorbia pulcherrima, was given by a German taxonomist in 1833, the common name, poinsettia, became and has remained the accepted name in English-speaking countries,although no one seems to be able to agree on how to spell the plants name, poinsettia, poinsetta, pointsettia, pointsetta, and some just resign to referring to them as Christmas plants.  In any event, there is no doubt that the plant has almost become as synonymous to Christmas as the Christmas tree has.

Everyone seems to love the beauty and color they offer but who likes just throwing the plant in the garbage after the holidays?  If you don’t like watching your poinsettia plants die each year, try these steps to try re-blooming it.  It  takes some patience and commitment, but the reward is that your holiday plant will  bloom again next winter.

After the holidays:

Place the poinsettia in a very sunny indoor spot and keep soil just barely moist.  Fertilize as package recommends.

In March: Trim to six to eight inches tall after its leaves fall.  Continue to water and fertilize.

In May: When your poinsettia shows strong new growth, re-pot and bring outdoors.  Give plant 6 to 8 hours of sunlight daily.  Protect from harsh afternoon sun.  Fertilize weekly.

Mid-July: Trim 1/4 of the growing tips to encourage branching.  Leave at least 2 to 3 large leaves on each stem.  Continue watering and fertilizing.

Early autumn: Bring indoors when nights fall below 60° F.

October 1 to December 15: Place your poinsettia in complete darkness from 5:00 PM until 8:00 AM in temperatures around 65° F.  Any light dash even for a moment – will ruin your efforts.  Place in a sunny location during the day.

Mid-December: After plant starts to color, a long night is not as necessary, keep giving poinsettia 6 to 8 hours of bright sunlight until completely colored.  Then stopped fertilizing and place the plant in its holiday location.  Your poinsettia may not be quite as plush or bright as those in the nurseries, but it will still be beautiful.

Note: There is a widespread misconception that these beautiful plants are poisonous and although every year I hear folks relaying this misinformation, it’s simply not true.

For more information on Poinsettias and how to select and care for them, visit the Texas Agricultural Extension Service.

Merry Christmas!

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Feeding Wild Birds in the Winter

birdhouse in snowI’m hearing that parts of the country are already getting snow not measured in inches but in feet!  When I hear this, my mind wanders back to the days that I lived in Western NY and I remember how beautiful it was but also what a pain the neck it was!  I also remember that it was the time I worried most about “my” backyard birds.  I felt like they’d never survive without my feeding and providing shelter for them.  That of course is nonsense as mother nature provides everything birds need to survive the winter.  My providing for  them just helps ME to be able to enjoy their presence year round.   You almost can’t beat the simple beauty of seeing a red Cardinal or a Blue Jay in a snow covered backyard.  It’s simply spectacular!  If you want to see birds in your backyard during winter, just provide for their 3 basic needs.  Food, Water, and Shelter.  It’s that simple.female card in snow

This brings me to the months issue of Birds and Blooms magazine.  Anyone who knows me know that I love this  magazine!  This months issue was so full of craft ideas and beautiful winter wonderland photographs that I just couldn’t put it down!  I wish I had a copy to give to every one of you!  I found so many ideas this month I couldn’t help myself but to share it with you.

Birdseed ornamentsThis month on their website they are sharing how to make birdseed ornaments with just a few ingredients and some cookie cutters.  Another idea and a very inexpensive way to feed your feathered friends that they mentioned was to attach dried corn cobs to tree limbs.  This will be especially attractive to Blue Jays!  When the corn is gone you can spread peanut butter on the cob and roll it in birdseed for an extra treat.  (a very inexpensive way to feed.)  Whether you are a subscriber or not, their website is a really great resource for anyone who loves gardening or birding and I highly recommend that you visit the site here.

With a few simple tasks you can enjoy year round birds in your backyard.

Happy Winter birding!

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Thanksgiving and Fall Gardening

Thanksgiving1I can hardly believe that Thanksgiving is next week!  Where has the year gone?

Carl Wilson, of Colorado State University’s Horticulture Cooperative extension, offers some good advice on end of season vegetable gardening.  Here’s my summary of his article.

In Charleston South Carolina, where a I live, gardening season hasn’t come to an end but it is certainly slowing down.  While gardeners in all other areas, have put away the gardening tools for the year, others are still thinking about putting their vegetable gardens to bed.  Still others, are planning to harvest through the end of November, and some others are planting winter crops right now.  It all depends on which part of the world you live in.

Mr. Wilson, writes “it all depends on what you like to eat”

If you grow tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and other warm season vegetables, the first hard frost means an ending for you.  In fact, tomatoes actually are best harvested and taken indoors to ripen once night- time temperatures drop to 40°Fahrenheit.

For gardeners who like cool season crops, life is just getting interesting.  Kale, planted in mid-summer is just coming into maturity.  Some believe the crops flavor improves after a few frosts.  Plants will continue to grow and produce leaves for harvest until at least this time of year.  The red Russian variety seems especially resistant to freezes.

Collards are another leafy green that seems to laugh at the cold.  They will survive temperatures down to 15° F.  Again, cold tends to improve the flavor.

Cabbage is best stored in the garden until there is room in the refrigerator or until severe winter temperatures threaten.  On heads grown almost to bursting, gardeners in the know twist plants ¼ turn to partially sever their root.  This will prevent further growth and allows for storage in the garden until you are ready to use it.

Root vegetables also will store for months in garden soil.  Once the soil has cooled, many gardeners will apply a dried grass or hey mulch to prevent carrots, beets, turnips and other underground vegetables from freezing solid.  Dig them up as needed for fresh vegetables up to the Christmas/ New Year holidays.

As for warm season vegetables, promptly harvest the debris struck down by frosts.  A thorough clearing of vegetation from the garden will help prevent the carryover of diseases into the next season.  Garden debris nicely complements dry tree leaves in the compost bin and will produce a welcome soil amendment by next spring.

Once garden space is cleared of warm season vegetables, consider one of two options to improve your garden soil for next year.  If your soil is heavy clay, turn  over all of the soil and leave a large clods on the surface.  Winter freezing and thawing will tend to break these down saving you work.

On both sandy and clay soils, Mr. Wilson recommends a second option.  “Seed a crop of winter rye”.  The seed will require several waterings to germinate and get going.  The plants will grow through the winter and attain a height of 12 to 15 inches by spring.  Their deep roots break up clay soil.  Turning under the Rye in early spring will add valuable organic matter to your garden.

Other crops to seed for winter are lettuce and spinach.  By using mulch or in old window supported around its sides by mountain soil, you can grow salad greens for the winter.  Both lettuce and spinach germinate at temperatures as low as 40° F.  Cast lettuce seed on top of the soil and keep moist.  The seed requires light to germinate.

Interested in dill for next year?  Many gardeners swear that seed is best started by broadcasting it over the soil in fall.  Germination often is more successful than spring seeding.

For some vegetable gardeners, the first frost is in ending.  For others it’s just a beginning.

As for me, I’ll be working through the winter getting my garden store ship-shape for the spring.  I’m in the process of adding lots of new categories, new manufacturers, and new products.

In the meantime, inspired by local nurseries, I’ve added a holiday shop to my store.  Check out the Holiday Shop page and the Gifts page for some inspiration on what to give the gardener this holiday season.

From my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.

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Resources for Hummingbird Lovers

hummer-at-lantanaI recently met the most wonderful woman.  She called me about a Hummingbird item listed in my store and we ended up talking for a half hour.  It was such a pleasure talking to you Ms. Wrene, I enjoyed every minute of it!

Ms. Wrene is just beginning her journey into the joys of learning everything that she can about Hummingbirds.  She wants to know how to attract hummingbirds, how to identify them, what she needs to do to keep them coming, and she is looking forward to watching the hummers she attracts.  She, like all Hummingbird lovers, is excited!

Although it is late in the season and the hummingbirds are well on . their migration south from the northern parts of the U.S. and Canada, I was so inspired by my conversation with Ms. Wrene that I thought it would be nice to answer her questions by providing some links for her, and all the others who are just discovering the love of hummingbirds out there, here on the blog.  Ms. Wrene is looking for information on hummingbirds in an effort to be prepared for next season and I know that she is not alone.  I receive more mail and telephone calls about hummingbirds than any other subject.  In this way, it is my hope that others looking for the same information will find it and learn from it as well.

Since the hummingbirds have began their migration, I thought I might end the season by giving you some resources for finding out everything that you can about hummingbirds to be prepared for next year.  But before you take down your hummingbird feeders, make sure to read this.

The first place you can look for information is right here on this blog.

There are ideas and tips for all kinds of gardening topics, birds, flowers, and other things on my blog and here are a couple that involve hummingbird topics to give you an idea of the kinds of things I enjoy writing about on the blog: How to attract Hummingbirds and keeping your hummingbird feeders clean are two articles about hummingbirds on the blog right now.

Sign up to receive updates and every time I update my blog It’s NOT just about the Garden Decorative Items I will send you a notice.

Here are some of my favorite posts from Birds & Blooms Magazine.

Top 10 plants for attracting Butterflies to your garden

All about Hummingbirds

Top 10 plants for attracting hummingbirds to your yard

You can subscribe to Birds & Blooms Magazine and save 52% off the cover price PLUS get a FREE  bonus “Attracting Hummngbirds” right here.  I love this magazine!  I look forward to each and every issue.

The Hummingbird Society is another vast source of information.  You can find the Hummingbird Society website here.  It’s filled with wonderful information and beautiful photographs!  They have a very good newsletter as well.

Finally, enjoy the video below by Birdman Mel on attracting hummingbirds.  He is one of my favorite people.

Happy Hummingbird Watching!

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The Best Technique for Keeping Your Hummingbird Feeders Clean

LUHU MALEWEB

We are always looking for tips to help our readers make their work easier and we were please to come across the following garden tip for keeping hummingbird feeders clean.

It’s not easy cleaning hummingbird feeders and it is extremely important to do so!  Hummingbirds won’t return to dirty feeders or stale hummingbird nectar, and as a new subscriber to Garden Gate Magazine, http://www.gardengatemagazine.com I found this tip from reader Rose O’ Mahony of North Carolina.This will work on all hummingbird feeders and works especially well if mold takes a foothold in your hummingbird feeder.

Rose knew how important it was to keep feeders clean so she came up with a technique to make quick work of cleaning the feeders.

“After dumping any remaining nectar, she sprays a couple of squirts of a bleach cleaning solution from the store into the feeder to kill the mold.  Then she adds a tablespoon of uncooked rice (not the instant kind), replace the cover and shakes the feeder.  The rice works as an abrasive to dislodge the mold.  Once the feeder is clean, she throws the contents out and rinses it thoroughly with water.  If you are concerned that your cleaning solution is too strong for this, use the recipe recommended by the Hummingbird Society http://www.hummingbirdsociety.org of 1 tablespoon of unscented bleach to 1 quart of water.  A clean feeder will keep your hummers happy and healthy.”

To Keeping it Clean!

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Electrical Plants and Art

electrical plantsNot your regular electrical plants with transformers and surrounded by chain link fences.  These electrical plants that have actually had electrical current passed through them making them into works of art.  These may not be for IN the garden but they are certainly garden decorative items.

I found an interesting article at the Mail Online website in the Science and Tech section with some amazing plant photos like I have never seen before.

Photographer Robert Buelteman sends 80,000 volts throught his flowery subjects and then literally paints photographs of the outcome.

See more of these beautiful photographs by visiting the Mail Online site at either of the links above.


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Monarchs and Milkweed

Monarch MigrationYou might not get to Mexico this winter, but if you plant some milkweed, you can help a Monarch Butterfly get there.

With their bright orange and black wings, monarchs are one of the most easily recognizable butterflies in the U.S. and Canada.  But where do they come from?  The monarch in your garden is like a long-haul trucker stopping for a meal.  This little creature travels hundreds or thousands of miles in its lifetime.  You can be part of this incredible journey by planting milkweed, the one plant absolutely essential to the monarch’s life-cycle.  See the video at the bottom of this post for more information.

Monarchs are well known for their long-distance migration.  Each fall, they fly thousands of miles on their delicate wings to ancestral roosting sites, where they spend the winter months semi-dormant in large colonies.  Western monarchs migrate to dozens of locations along the California coast, where they cluster in native trees and in the ubiquitous non-native eucalyptus.

East of the Rockies, monarchs make a more dramatic migration.  They fly from southern Canada and the northern United States all the way down to a handful of sites in the mountains of Mexico, where they roost in the millions.  It’s breathtaking to see so many monarchs in the trees that their collective weitht sometimes breaks branches, and to hear the sound of millions of butterfly wings when the monarchs take flight to sip from puddles.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this migration is that it takes place over several generations.  The last generation of the summer hatches at the northern limit of monarch range.  That generation delays sexual maturity and, triggered by the changing season, begins the 3,000 mile journey to Mexico, where it spends the winter.  In early March these butterflies reach sexual maturity and head north, mating as they go.  Some get as far as southern Texas, where the females lay eggs and die.  The next generation hatches and, after completing metamorphosis, heads north and east and repeats the process.

Over three or four more generations, monarchs repopulate the rest of the continent easy of the Rockies, until the last generation of the season begins the southern migration again.  A similar, thought shorter, migration happens west of the Rockies as Monarchs overwintering in California head north.

Understanding the Milkweed Connection

Butterfly gardens must provide food for both adults and caterpillars.  Monarch caterpillars feed exclusively on milkweed, a double-duty plant that also serves as a nectar source for adult butterflies.  Milkweed has a sap that contains alkaloids, which make the insects taste bad to birds and other predators.  The striking coloration of the monarch evolved as a warning that tells predators, “Don’t eat me; I taste bad.”

Start your monarch garden by planting milkweed species such as swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata, butterfly weed (A. asperula), and common milkweed (A. syriaca).  If possible, choose a species that’s native to your region.  Plant native perennials to provide nectar from spring through fall.  Because monarchs migrate, late-season nectar is particularly important.  Good choices include coneflowers (Echinacea spp.), ironweed (Vernonia spp.), Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum), sedum (Sedum spp.), and verbena (Verbena spp.).  Commercial nectar is also available along with butterfly feeders specially made to provide a quick meal to migrating butterflies.

Add some dense shrubs where the butterflies can hide from hard rains and strong winds or a butterfly house Avoid insecticides, which can kill butterflies.  Then sit back and wait for these orange and black beauties to arrive.

Note: Avoiding Butterfly Bush

Butterfly bush (Baddleia spp.) has long been a staple for gardeners trying to attract butterflies, and there is no doubt that butterflies find the shrub irresistible.  An import from Asia, butterfly bush comes in many colors and grows in a variety of conditions.  Beware however, butterfly bush has become invasive in some parts of the country, notably the Pacific Northwest and Mid-Atlantic region.  Choose native perennials and flowering shrubs instead.

Click the link below for an interesting video from the New York Times.

Monarchs and Migration

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