Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Most Unusual Shrub With a Shocking Secret...

Whenever I am not writing, you'll often find me out in the field helping others learn how to grow and maintain their landscapes.

Usually most landscape consultations are fairly routine.  However, I sometimes see something truly unique.

Earlier this week, I saw something that is probably the most unexpected thing that I've ever encountered.

Here is how it unfolded...


I met with a very nice couple who had a new landscape installed a year ago.  While they were very happy with the design, they wanted to learn how to care for their plants and needed help with some problems with dead plant(s) and some failing to thrive. 

Other than a dead Valentine bush, some iron chlorosis, over fertilizing and a few plants growing in the wrong exposure - it was all fairly routine until I saw an unusual shrub off in the distance.


I must confess that I had no idea what the shrub was from this distance.  Now every once in a while, I am faced with a plant that I am not familiar with, but I was hopeful that as we got nearer, I would be able to figure it out.


As we got closer to the shrub, I still didn't know what it was.  I'm starting to feel a bit uncomfortable because I have no idea what this shrub is.

It did have dark, dusty green foliage that started to turn red with cooler winter temperatures.

The homeowner had carefully staked it upright and it had an attractive vase shape growth habit.


At this point, the homeowner complained about a mesquite tree volunteer that was coming up at the base.

I took a closer look and discovered that the so called 'mesquite tree' was actually a Baja fairy duster - that was a MAJOR clue about the identity of this unusual shrub.

At this point, I looked closer at the leaves of the shrub, which did look rather familiar - just not on a shrub...



Does it look familiar to you?  

At this point, I knew what it was, but I couldn't get my head around what this unusual shrub actually was.

Can you tell what it is yet?


The base was quite large and I could see the Baja Fairy Duster, to the left, trying to grow.

I told the homeowners that what they thought was a mesquite tree volunteer (basically a weed), was in fact the plant that was supposed to grow there.



So what was the 'unusual shrub' then?

Belive it or not, the shrub that the homeowners had carefully staked and fertilized over the past year was actually a WEED!

So what kind of weed was it?


That large shrub that was 4+ ft. high and 2 ft. wide was really a spotted spurge weed!

Can you believe it?

Spotted spurge is the bane of many gardeners and is a low-growing weed that spreads.  I hate this little weed.  I've spent hours battling this weed during my time as a horticulturist for golf courses and now in my own garden.


So how did the homeowners mistake this weed for a shrub?  Well, I suspect that the nursery container, with their actual shrub, had spurge already growing in it (not uncommon).  

The new shrub was quite small when first planted and the spurge, like most weeds, grew quickly - much more quickly than the shrub itself.

The poor little Baja fairy duster had little chance of growing afterward since weeds are famous for being vigorous growers and out compete other plants for water and nutrients.  

So what did the homeowners think, you may wonder?

Well, they were shocked, but then got a good laugh out of it.  The wife was having a lot of fun teasing her husband about his 'unusual shrub'.

Have you ever seen an unusual plant that turned out to be a weed?  This one is definitely one for the books in my career.

**If you have problems with spurge, you can treat them with homemade weed killer that uses natural ingredients - vinegar and soap - that's it.  


Monday, December 8, 2014

To Overwinter Peppers & Tomatoes Or Not - That Is The Question...

One of the benefits of growing vegetables in zone 9 is that we are able to grow vegetables all year long.  


However, despite our relatively mild winters, warm-season vegetables such as  peppers and tomatoes can't handle temperatures when they dip below freezing.  So just before freezing temperatures hit, I run out to the garden and pick off all our tomatoes and peppers before pulling out the plants.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with doing this - I've done it for years.


I allow my green tomatoes to ripen indoors - click here to see how.


I then dice my green peppers, place them in a freezer bag and keep them in the freezer where I can use them whenever I make my kid's favorite Mexican rice for dinner.

A few years ago, I decided to try to overwinter my tomato and pepper plants instead of pulling them out. 


This is what my tomatoes looked like with no frost protection.  That was no surprise.

But the next year, I decided to protect my tomatoes & peppers by covering them with old sheets when temperatures dipped below 32 degrees.  

I even went one step further and hung an outdoor light underneath the sheets.  

To my surprise, both my tomato and pepper plants came through the winter just fine, with a small amount of frost damage, and I had an early start to the growing season.

It was a lot of work though - having to cover them and uncover them whenever temperatures dipped below freezing.

Also, that winter was a relatively mild one and temperatures never strayed below the upper 20's.  However, we do occasionally experience temperatures that dip in to the low 20's and in that case, protection or not, the peppers and tomatoes would most likely die whether or not they were protected.

So, do I still try to overwinter my peppers and tomatoes?  

The answer is "yes"and "no".


I do throw sheets over my peppers, but not my tomatoes.  The reason is that tomatoes are slightly more sensitive to the cold.

If we were to experience temperatures in the low 20's, my 2-year old pepper plants would most likely not survive.  But, that is what it is like to grow vegetables - you try your best, but sometimes it's not enough.

**Have you ever successfully overwintered a warm-season vegetable?**

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Teak Bowls Make Unique and Beautiful Planters

Most of us are familiar with teak wood and its beauty.  Often, you can find it in a garden setting being in the form of benches, which weather the sun and rain with no problem.

Teak wood is extremely durable and unlike many types of wood, can handle water with no problem. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked by Teak Closeouts if I would try out some of their teak bowls, which would be suitable as planters.

I am always on the lookout for unique and unusual items for the garden that can be both functional and beautiful, so of course, I said said yes!  

One of the reasons I was excited to try out the teak bowl planters was that over the summer is that I saw a rustic wooden planter on a visit to the Green Bay Botanical Gardens.



I loved it's rustic look and how the annual flowers fit into the interior of this piece of tree trunk.

So, when the FedEx deliveryman dropped of a large box, I couldn't wait to open it.

Inside were several pieces, but it was the two teak bowls that got my attention right away.


The first bowl, was a piece of art.  Its sides were very smooth, which showed off the beauty of the teak wood.

You may notice the hole at the bottom, which is essential for a planter.

The next teak bowl that I unwrapped was a bit more rustic in nature, much like the tree trunk planter I had seen over the summer.


I always like pieces of wood that allows you to see the grain, which you could see on different parts of the bowl.



This bowl also had holes for drainage and I couldn't wait to plant them both.


To keep the potting mix from falling out the holes, I put a coffee filter over them, which is a cheap and effective way to keep the dirt in and allow the water to drain.

I planted my favorite cool season annuals - violas.


I added a variety of colors in this large teak bowl and a touch of white alyssum for fragrance.



For my rustic teak bowl, I decided to add 'Johnny Jump-Ups', which were the first flowers I planted as a child.  I have always loved their sunny faces.



As you might expect, the amount of soil is rather shallow, but it is enough to grow cool-season annuals.  However, there wouldn't be enough soil to grow warm season flowers through the summer - the soil would get too hot.


You could however, plant small succulents in them and keep them in light shade - maybe located on a patio?


Although I used this teak bowl as a planter, however it is so beautiful, you could certainly use it to grace a patio or large dining room table.

I often have clients, like those above, who want decorative, yet functional items for their patio.  Either of these teak bowls would work beautifully in this type of setting.

When exposed to the sun, teak will fade to a light gray color, which will provide great color contrast for plants.

As you can imagine, no two bowls are the same - each one retains the unique character from the part of the teak wood it was carved from, which lends to the uniqueness of these bowls.


In addition to the bowls, I also received a lovely teak vase - wouldn't that look beautiful filled with flowers or perhaps a dried arrangement?

Teak Closeouts has a large variety of teak items including outdoor furniture and garden art at closeout prices.  I encourage you to visit their online store where you will find great gift ideas for the gardener in your life or for yourself!

*I was provided these items from Teak Closeouts free of charge to review, but my opinions are my own :-)









Monday, December 1, 2014

Twinkies, a Princess, Turf, Seedpods, Root Rot, a Puppy, a Shower & Thanksgiving

Have you ever looked back at your calendar and wondered at how you ever got everything done while still remaining somewhat sane?

I have...

Oh, I knew ahead of time that it would take a small miracle to get through the 30 days, starting with Halloween.  

At this point, I'd like to apologize for the lack of blog posts, but in my defense, I was lucky to be able to remember to feed my kids (just kidding).

Seldom, have I looked forward to December as a time where I will be less busy, but in comparison to what I've done the past month, it should be a breeze.

It all started with our annual Halloween celebration, which is held at our house.



I spent the day making ghosts (half a Twinkie dipped in white chocolate), black spiders (mini chocolate donuts with chocolate dipped pretzel legs) and candy corn rice krispy treats.


The entire family came over for dinner and trick-or-treating, including my granddaughter, Lily, who dressed up as Sleeping Beauty.

Two days later, we had an even larger group of people gather at our house for Lily's birthday party - she turned 3!


Lily is seriously into princesses, so there was a lot of pink in the room.


I made her a princess cake, which went along with her favorite cake pops.

In the week that followed, I continued my work with a local golf course, where they are removing 30 acres of turf in favor of landscape areas filled with drought tolerant plants.


The areas of turf being removed are largely out of play in this parkland style golf course.  Not all 30 acres are being removed all at once - instead, the grass is being taken out in smaller sections.


While a lot of my time was being spent at the golf course, I spent two days selling handmade items at a large holiday boutique.

Now, I've never sold anything at a boutique, but this past summer my mother, who is extremely talented, asked my sister and I to do it with her.  I knew that it would be tough, since November is one of my busiest months since I spend most of my time outdoors consulting on landscapes.  But, I really wanted to do it, so I used some of my down time this summer to make some things.

Xerigraphica air plant in a terrarium

The items we sold were made using sustainable, recycled and/or repurposed items.

Air plants in terrariums were a big hit.


We also had hanging terrariums filled with air plants.  I made bird houses from gourds, many of which we grew in our gardens.


My sister made Christmas ornaments using seed pods from a variety of trees, including these little snowmen made from the seedpods from the Texas Mountain Laurel (Sophora secundiflora) tree.

Texas Mountain Laurel



I also sold basil salt, which quickly sold out.

We sold out of a lot of items and I must admit that I had so much fun.  We're already planning for next year.

Back in the garden, I was asked to consult on a landscape where a Brazilian Pepper tree (Schinus terebinthifolius) had suddenly died



If you look closely, you'll notice that the leaves are still on the tree.  Also, two of the Texas sage shrubs, underneath the window, were also starting to die.

The homeowners were understandably concerned. It didn't take long to diagnose a case of Cotton (Texas) root rot.  The classic signs are plants suddenly dying toward the end of summer and retaining their leaves.

Some plants are more susceptible to root rot and Brazilian peppers top the list.  The solution to this problem is to remove the affected plants and replace them with plants that are resistant to root rot.  Trees that are resistant include desert willow, mesquite and palo verde.


Some of you may remember that we welcomed a new yellow labrador puppy into our family in September.


Polly is growing fast and although she gets into trouble now and then, she is doing great!

Last weekend, was a day that I had long been waiting for...


My second-oldest daughter, Rachele, is expecting her first child - a boy.

She came home from her Navy base to celebrate her birthday and baby shower, which were on the same day.  Rachele had been looking forward to this day when her family and friends would celebrate with her.  

But, the day didn't go quite as planned...

That morning, I was busy getting the house and food ready for 50+ people when she walked out of her room with tears in her eyes to tell me that she had been up all night being sick to her stomach.

We didn't have time to cancel, and she was determined to make it through the shower.


It was obvious to all that she didn't feel well, but she did get through the shower without having to leave.  However, as soon as everyone left, she got sick to her stomach again.  

Needless to say, the rest of the day was spent in bed with a large bowl ;-(

Thankfully, it was only a 24-hour bug and she was up and feeling much better the next day.

Now, you'd think that that was the end of my busy month - but, no...

We were hosting a large family reunion for Thanksgiving just days later!

My mother spearheaded the family reunion and asked my sisters and I to help her with it. 

I was tasked with making centerpieces using old family photos AND more importantly, making food for 54 people.

Our family started out in California and hasn't spread very far - we all live in either Arizona, California or Washington.

We gathered together, on the eve before Thanksgiving, for dinner.  My mother didn't have enough room for 54 people inside her house, so she rented tables and we ate inside the garage.


As I mentioned earlier, I made a lot of food for our reunion, which lasted 3 days.  I traded the busyness of work for working in the kitchen.  I contributed two batches of meatball soup, 4 loaves of artisan bread, 2 batches of toffee bars, 6 loaves of pumpkin bread, 2 carrot cakes and an icebox birthday cake to our reunion.

For our Thanksgiving meal, we searched high and low for a place where we could purchase a hot, Thanksgiving meal.  It wasn't that easy - grocery stores will provide you with a meal, but you have to pick it up the night before and heat it up on Thanksgiving day.  Same with some restaurants.  But, we did find that Cracker Barrel does provide 'to-go' Thanksgiving dinners - it was really delicious!

*************************

And so, that is a brief synopsis of the past 30 days.  I am happy that I survived with my sanity intact - mostly ;-)

I hope you enjoyed a very happy Thanksgiving!

I have lots to share with you in the upcoming monthy on a variety of gardening subjects including some really cool garden accessories.  

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