Native Plant of the Week- The Red Maple

I’m starting to jump on the native plant bandwagon recently. I’m inspired by the idea of creating a mini-habitat in my backyard by growing plants that nurture wildlife. So where to begin? Trees of course!

Trees are the backbone of any garden. And in the Southeastern United States there are many familiar trees that are native to our region, including magnolias, tulip poplars, and red maples, and dogwood trees. Proclaiming yourself a “native plant” gardener may sound elitist, but these native trees certainly aren’t out of the ordinary. You probably already have countless native trees in your backyard!

So why plant some more native trees? Let’s use the native maple trees as an example. The red maple (Acer rubrum), native to the Eastern United States, gets its name from its brilliant fall foliage. Wildlife find it attractive, too! Birds like to nest in its branches and eat the fruits. Deer also like to chomp on the leaves of the red maple. Therefore, the red maple is not only beautiful; it’s also useful to many types of wildlife.

Thinking this way about your garden may be a completely different mindset. At least it was for me. Instead of just planting what I like to look at, I’m also starting to think about what the birds, butterflies, and other critters are going to think about it, too. Luckily, we can all agree that native trees like the red maple are worth growing. They’re beautiful and delicious. (Well I’m taking the deer’s word on that.)


Poinsettia Rescue 911

Have you ever said, "Oops, I think I killed my poinsettia!"

It happens to the best of us. While you're frantically shopping and baking for the holidays, caring for your poinsettia can become the last thing on your mind. After a few weeks of neglect, that once beautiful poinsettia plant might look almost dead. But don't panic! You might be able to rescue your poinsettia plant with some special care.

Poinsettia 911 Plan
1. Rush your poinsettia to the sink and water throughly.
2. Leave the poinsettia in a tray of water for a couple hours.
3. Remove the tray and let drain.
4. Place the poinsettia in a sunny window.

Unless your poinsettia is already crispy, it will probably recover within 24 hours.

To prevent a poinsettia 911 call, read my previous post:
How to care for poinsettias


Winter Garden Crafts

Do you ever just get in the mood to craft?

On these days I often end up roaming the isles of Hobby Lobby or AC Moore. Usually I can find inspiration a new baggie of beads for making a necklace or a decorative piece of wood to paint and decorate. Browsing through a craft store can be as addictive for me as a seed catalog or bookstore.

But today I had a new idea- look to nature for my inspiration! Why not combine two of my favorite hobbies? And if listen to some good music while I complete these projects, and write about it at the same time, I'll cover pretty much be doing all my favorite things at once. Bliss!

If you have any ideas, please share! Here's a couple I have in mind:

1. Make a "winter boquet" of dried stems, evergreen leaves, dried grasses, or whatever else I can find outdoors.

2. Press some colored leaves between wax paper and iron to preserve some of the last remnants of fall color.

3. Make some Christmas ornaments by painting pinecones

4. Try making a candle with leaf imprints.


Halloween Costumes- with a plant theme

If you're looking for creative Halloween costumes, why not express your obsession for plants and all things relating to gardening? At least that's my ideal when it comes to Halloween costumes.

Halloween costumes I've actually worn in the past that you might like to try:

1. Black-Eyed Peas. Dress in green and tape a label from a box of frozen peas to yourself. Then black out your eye with some eyeliner.

2. Stalk of corn. Tease your hair up really high- this works best if you have long blonde hair- and spray with gold glitter. Dress in beige and tape leaves to yourself made out of golden tissue paper.

Any other fun ideas?


Out with the old, in with the new

It's always tough for me to get rid of perfectly good annuals at the end of the season, just so the next season's annuals can get a head start. I've noticed I've started to get passive-aggressive and just stopped watering a couple of the countainers.

I bought another flat of violas and pansies today, so tomorrow the scraggly morning glories are going next. Above I posted a picture of a flower when the plants were in their full glory a few weeks ago. It seems like they are staying open later now. Is that due to the cooler weather?


Butterfly gardening pays off!

Caterpillar of the Black Tiger SwallowTail.

I think this is a Monarch Butterfly!


Gardener's Block

My parents are asking my opinion on landscaping their new house. Like a writer experiencing a block with an empty page before her, I'm experiencing "gardener's block." It's much easier for me to deal with the landscape I was dealt when we bought a previously owned home. I have millions of ideas on how I want to tweak the yard in various areas on the property. On the other hand, a blank slate is just so overwhelming!

And if things look bad you can always say, "that was there when we bought the house, and I haven't gotten around to it because (insert excuse here)."


Golden Years of Gardening

Look at the size of these cherry tomato plants! My husband's grandfather is nearly 90 and I guess he's learned a few things about gardening over the years.

My own grandfather says there's only one problem with gardening as you get older; with his poor eyesight he sometimes mistakes snakes for twigs. Eeek! But he's talented with plants, too; he got his orchid to re-bloom with double spikes this summer!

So I guess the golden years of gardening are still ahead!


Romance of the Rose

I'm posting this photo to remind me how great my roses *used* to look.

The roses don't look like this now. They are swarming with Japanese beetles. Every year I swear I will toss them by the side of the road and swear off roses forever. Or replace them with one of those new disease-resistant "knockout" varieties. Has anyone planted these?


Red Hot in the Cool Shade

I love watching my favorite perennial flowers come back each year, but I also love annuals for a spectacular, frivolous burst of color all year round. Growing annuals in containers also forces you to re-invent a small part of your garden every year. Will I ever plant the same thing two years in a row? I hope not!

Last year, my annuals tended to be pastel, especially pink, as we awaited the birth of our little girl. So what struck my fancy this summer? RED HOT impatiens, begonias, and coleus. I have a shady corner in the front yard, and I liked the contrast of planting really bright colors in the dim light.


The Urban Compost Tumbler

No, I'm not planning to shoot cannons from my front porch. This is a compost tumbler that my husband and I assembled one rainy day, and it just took a while to make its way off the porch and to the side yard.

I was thrilled when the folks at Organic Compost Tumbler asked me to try their product. As I mentioned in the previous post, I have been an avid container gardener since I've moved south, as I've been avoiding working digging in our "orange cement". Now I've sworn to give up my fears and start digging in. And adding compost is the #1 best way to improve our soil in this red-clay state.

As an eco-freak, I also like the idea of avoiding chemical fertilizers and reducing my contribution to the landfills. And of course it's great for your plants, but I won't elaborate since listing the virtues of compost to an audience of gardeners is like preaching to the choir.

But you might not have thought about using a compost tumbler before.

Why use a tumbler?
Previously my attempts at compost were an unsightly, neglected pile in the side yard. Yes, I know I'm supposed to turn it with a pitchfork and water it occasionally. How often do I get around to it? How about never.

So the advantages for me are:
1. Looks and smells better than a pile of rotting refuse.
2. Much more convenient to turn and aerate (see the picture of the central aeration chamber below).
3. Much quicker than conventional composting.
4. Our daughter won't be able to try playing in it.

Some Assembly Required?
Those three words often strike fear into my heart. But the Urban Compost Tumbler was not difficult to put together. It came with detailed instructions, including plenty of *real* pictures. I'm a very visual person, so this helped out a lot.

As they say, if all else fails read the directions. The hardest part for us was putting together the two halves of the barrel in the tongue and groove connection (see picture below) .

The directions said to add something slippery like soap or vegetable oil. Well since my husband's strategy is to pound things together with a hammer and brute force, and follow the directions only if necessary, I was sure that he was going to break this thing before I even got to use it. But the barrel held up surprisingly well. Whatever secret material this composter is made of, it's very sturdy. I think it will be very durable and last us many seasons.

In the next post: Recipes for Speedy Composting

( The folks at Urban Compost Tumbler say that you can make compost in just *13 days* once you "season" the barrel. )


Hooked on Containers

My goal for the next year is to wean myself from containers. They line our walkways, our patio, and our driveway. I'm about as bad recently about buying new pots as I am about buying plants. Why do I keep sticking plants in containers instead of directly in the ground?

Three words: HARD, RED CLAY. I was totally spoiled in Ohio and never had to worry about ammending the soil. I've lived here a few years now, and it's time to stop procrastinating. It's time to battle the clay!


How optimistic are you?

Our last approximate frost date is in two days, and somehow I've restrained myself to only planting up a couple containers of annuals. I've really not that patient, just busy. Teaching is the perfect gardener's dayjob; by the time you're done grading final exams, the watering, weeding, and planting take over.


Mystery Tree

I'm slowly learning my Southern trees. Can you believe I'd never seen a crape myrtle before I moved here 5 years ago? Anyway, this tree with the pink pom-pom flowers is still a mystery to me. The leaves are simple and not distinctive. Any ideas?


Happy Spring!

These flowers got nipped by the frost last weekend, but they were beautiful while they lasted. I'm looking forward to starting on planting up some containers of annuals this weekend!


Good fences, neighbor

I love this little piece of fence in my neighbor's yard. The lichens growing away on the wood give the fence a carefree yet established look. And the friendly blossoms poking through the slats complete this comfortable, country style.


Easter Tree

The Easter tree (Easterii decoritis) is now providing color in many yards around the United States. Specimens of this species can be distinguished by their multi-colored, plastic fruits that happen to always be on the eye level of children. These fruits, if found on the ground, often provide a sugary reward, perhaps aiding in this tree's dispersal.



The great thing about plants in terrariums is that you can leave them alone and let them grow. The bad thing about plants in terrariums is that you can leave them alone and let them grow.

It's about time for a spring cleaning of my indoor plants before the outdoor gardening season arrives!


Forced Bulbs in Bloom

I tried a new experiment this year- forcing bulbs by just setting the hyacinth bulbs in a little vase of water. After about 3 months in the fridge, they had set down some roots and were ready to grow and bloom. Here's a few pictures of their progress.


Garden TV

In the Northern Hemisphere, many of us are trapped inside this month. That means it's the perfect time to browse those seed catalogs, dream of spring, and watch gardening on TV.

Since we are now spending most evenings in with the baby, we invested in premium cable and TiVo. So that means I could probably watch a couple hours of garden TV every week! But are all these programs worth watching? Here's my snap judgements on a few gardening shows I've recently discovered.

Garden Police (DCHOME, Thurs 8 PM)
On the cheesiness factor, this show rates very high. The garden police "bust" unsuspecting homeowners and cite them for neglecting their yards. Then they bring in a crew to help the homeowners makeover their yard in a weekend.

Pluses: It's satisfying to watch them cajole lazy homeowners into taking care of their yards. You might learn about a few new plants or pick up a new tip on landscaping.

Minuses: You feel a little bad for these people being chastised for having ugly yards. Although this conflicts with "My Name is Earl", don't fret; there are frequent re-runs at other times.

Garden Smart (PBS)
This is a straight-forward educational show that showcases amazing gardens around the US, as well as sharing many gardening tips and ideas. The focus of the show varies week to week, so some topics may interest you more than others.

Backyard Blitz (Australia)
I watched this show when I worked in Australia for a few months. It's fun because they send away the homeowner on some ruse, then they return to find a newly beautified backyard. So it's great to see the appreciative owner return and be surprised. And did I mention the host is kinda cute? I saw him recently on Oprah, so I'm hoping he starts to make it in the US.

Gardening by the Yard (HGTV)
The host is kind of manic and goofy in an almost scary way, but I did pick up a lot of good tips. Each show features several themes and projects. This show is for real gardeners looking to learn something.

Expeditions (South Carolina ETV)
This isn't really a gardening show, but it's about the plants of the Carolinas. It's unusual to find a nature show that actually focuses on plants, so I think it's a fantastic concept. Unfortunately, this show overlaps with 60 minutes with my husband insists on watching every week, but it comes on at other times so I'm working on recording reruns.

Any shows I missed?


Squirrel torture

I recently heard about two new ways to keep squirrels out of your bird feeders:

1. Add hot sauce to the bird seed. The birds don't have the same taste receptors as mammals, so it won't bother them, but squirrels will run away with burning little squirrel tongues.

2. Buy one of the new bird feeders with a built-in motor that spins the feeder when a heavy animal lands on it. You might scare away a few doves, but nothing is more hilarious than seeing a squirrel hang on for dear life as he spins in circles and then is sling-shot 10 yards from the porch.

Annie in Austin reports that the hot sauce doesn't seem to work!

You can watch spinning squirels on the website for yankeeflipper . This is the company that made my mom-in-law's feeder. They sell them at various retailers and you can find out where from this site.


MLK Jr. Day Cactus

I was given a cutting from a cousin's Thanksgiving cactus many years ago, and it's grown up to be a healthy sizable plant. Then this fall I was given another sad-looking cutting that was long overdue for repotting. I stuck it out in the garage under my grow lights. (Every gardener needs a hidden corner for botanical experiments.)

Well guess which cactus just bloomed? The little struggling one, of course, And just in time for MLK Jr. day. These cacti need a cold period, which I'd neglected to do for my bigger cacti, and I'd inadvertenly done that for the new cacti.

So next year, I will give both the cacti a cool and dark period in my garage, starting in mid-October. Or maybe I'll be a little late again next year, and honor Martin Luther King Jr.


Every rose has its thorns...and assorted pests

Would a rose by any other name still be such a pain in the @%$@# to grow? I think so.
I'm now contemplating if I want to replant my rose bushes into new containers (the cooler months are the best time for this), put them in the ground, or just unload them anonymously in my neighbor's driveway during the night, since he seems much better at caring for them.
I have a love-hate relationship with the roses left to me by my the former owners of our home. I love the blooms, like this one I captured with my new camera in November. But dealing with the rest of the plant is another matter. Leaf spot, Japanese beetles, powdery mildew, and aphids tend to attack the plants all summer. The best solutions are very toxic chemicals, which I choose not to apply this past summer while I was pregnant. I guess I could put my environmentalist inclinations aside and go back to a regimen of spraying next summer.
Is the rose really worth all this effort?