Earlier this week, my husband and I were doing some last minute Christmas shopping, which included as stop at one of my sister-in-law’s favorite stores.


Next door, stood a grocery store – but not just any grocery store.  No, this grocery store describes itself as a “boutique, gourmet market” and it has the prices to match.


My husband wanted to go inside to see what types of food they had – I think he was hoping for samples.  He is also much more adventurous than I am when it comes to food and gets excited when he hears the word ‘gourmet’.


So we ventured inside to the fancy grocery store, which looked like anything but a grocery store.  There were pine scents being wafted about and I saw about thirty Christmas trees decorating all the aisles.


What really got my attention while walking through the store was the produce section.


This section of the store was rather dark, except for the produce, which had bright lights showing the perfect-looking vegetables.

I’ve never thought of the produce section of a grocery store as beautiful, but this certainly was.


The vegetables were perfectly displayed and I must confess that I almost wanted to eat kale because of how nicely it was arranged.

Seriously, there was not a single wilting leaf or blemish to be seen.  It was almost as if the vegetables were airbrushed and Photoshopped.


The other side was arranged with brightly colored citrus fruit.  

I would be afraid to pick any fruit, or vegetables for that matter, in fear that I would cause a cascade of produce falling to the floor.

Needless to say, we didn’t see any samples and the prices were so high that we walked out after looking through the store.

I did enjoy seeing how fancy a grocery store could be.

How about you?  Have you ever shopped at a “boutique, gourmet supermarket”?

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The baby countdown has officially started!

My second-oldest daughter is having her first baby in January and we are so excited.

She is going in for weekly monitoring right now since the baby is underweight from where it should be.  But, the doctor isn’t worried and as long as they are monitoring her closely, I’m not too concerned – just a little bit concerned 😉

Sadly, our daughter can’t come home for Christmas (she is in the Navy and stationed in California), since she is too close to her due date.  But, we sent off her packages to her and my aunt and her family, who lives near the base, will have her over for Christmas.


In the meantime, I am getting ready for my annual Christmas cookie baking with my kids, granddaughter and nieces and nephews.

Every year, we make and decorate cookies that we serve at our family Christmas celebration.  The kids love showing their parents the cookies the decorated.


Last year, we make sugar cone Christmas trees.  The kids loved spreading buttercream frosting on sugar cones and then decorating them.

This year, we will be making chocolate, peanut butter Christmas trees – Yum!  I’ll be sure to post photos and a ‘how-to’ next week!
I have spent the past few weeks indoors whenever possible avoiding the desert heat.  While I do venture outdoors occasionally to do consults and take a weekly tour of the garden to make sure everything is okay.

We did lose a small tree and some branches during a fierce monsoon storm over the weekend, but I was grateful for the rain and the cool temperatures that followed.

Last week, I showed you some of my favorite plant photos.  This week, I would like to share with you some of my favorite DIY blog posts, most of which you can do inside.
One of my favorite DIY projects was creating natural air-fresheners.

I don’t know about you, but I do not like the heavy, artificial smells of air-freshener sprays – not to mention the idea of chemicals floating through the air.  So, the idea of making air-fresheners using  plants definitely appealed to me.


I hope you are inspired to make you own!
Do you have a citrus in your garden? I do.  
 
Mine are quite young – I have an ‘Arizona Sweet’ orange tree and a ‘Meyer’ lemon.
 
Growing up in California, we always had citrus trees. When I was a young girl, I remember picking lemons from our large lemon tree in the backyard. We later moved to a larger ranch-style home which had several citrus trees and I honestly never paid much attention to these them, largely because I was a teenager and had much more important things to think about – like boys and how to get the perfectly-permed hair (it was the 80’s).
 
Now that I am all grown up and permed hair is thankfully in my past, I do pay attention to my citrus trees. Every winter, I look forward to the fragrant blossoms that cover citrus trees. These blossoms slowly turn into tiny citrus fruit. As spring progresses, some of these small, green fruit end up dropping to the ground, which leads to a host of questions from worried gardeners.
 
Well, I want to put all your worries to rest.  This is a normal occurrence. Citrus trees produce more blossoms than it can grow into mature fruit. They do this in order to attract the most pollinators and after the flower petals drop, little green fruit is left behind, which ideally grow into large delicious fruit that will be harvested in winter. However, the tree cannot support that much fruit, so the tree figures out how much fruit it can grow to maturity and then drops the rest.
 
For those of you who have young citrus trees, most of the little green fruit will drop.  Citrus trees have to have a large root system and a lot of leaves to support a good amount of fruit and that only comes with age. So, if you see tiny, green citrus on the ground every spring – don’t panic.  It is all part of the normal cycle of growing citrus.

Last week, I was visiting one of my favorite clients when I noticed that one of her citrus trees was showing signs of sunburn, which led to me explaining to her that even citrus trees need sunscreen to prevent sunburn in many cases.

You can see the lighter-colored bark and some cracks as well along the branch. It turns out that citrus trees are very susceptible to sunburn.
 
So, why is a sunburned citrus tree something to be worried about?
 
Well, when a tree becomes sunburned, it often forms cracks in the bark and within these cracks, damaging insects or fungus can find a nice home.  Frost damage can also cause cracks in the bark.
 
In recent years, I have had to deliver bad news to people whose citrus trees became infected with sooty canker, which is a fungal disease that affects the branches and trunks, which takes root underneath the cracked, flaky bark.
 
 
Several times, I have had to tell homeowners that their much-loved citrus tree was badly infected with sooty canker and had to be removed.  You can read more about the signs and treatment of sooty canker, here.
 
Thankfully, there are things we can do to reduce or eliminate the chance of sunburn to our citrus trees.
 
 
1. Allow citrus trees to grow their lower branches. They will help to shade the trunk.  A bonus for citrus trees grown this way is that the most fruit is produced on the lower branches that also tastes sweeter.
 
 
2. Protect exposed trunks and branches by using citrus paint (available at your local nursery) or by simply mixing white latex paint water so that the resulting mixture is 1/2 paint and 1/2 water. You can also purchase tree wraps made from burlap, which can also help to protect them. Avoid using oil-based paint. 
However, if you allow the lower branches of your citrus tree to grow and the trunk is shaded, than you don’t have to paint them. 
3. Don’t over-prune your citrus trees.  The photo above, is an EXTREME example of what not to do.
 
Citrus trees should be pruned in March, and concentrated on removing dead, diseased or crossing branches.  Avoid pruning more then 20% of its foliage in any given year.  *Remember, that the leaves make food for the tree, which will in turn, produce delicious fruit. If pruning leaves you with exposed branches, then coat them with citrus paint.
**See how to protect citrus from the damaging effects of a heat wave – here.
 
I always wear sunscreen whenever I venture outdoors.  Years spent in California at the beach as a teenager, trying to tan my fair skin did not work.  Now, I try very hard to protect my skin from the desert sun.  I do however, often forget to wear my hat as it does mess up my hair 😉
 
So, do your citrus tree a favor and make sure it is protected from the sun – either by its branches or by ‘sunscreen’.

This past week, I was blessed with harvesting produce from two different gardens.


One was from one of my vegetable gardens…


About a 1/4 of my side vegetable garden is planted with cauliflower.  

Over the weekend, I was able to harvest my first cauliflower of the season.  

Now, I am aware that some of you may not care for cauliflower.  Personally, I like it raw but NOT when it is cooked.

I’ll share with you a little secret that I have used to get my kids to eat cauliflower…


I cut the tops of the florets off, dice it and then sprinkle it on top of our dinner salads.  It looks like grated cheese.  I also slice carrots, celery and cucumbers to add to our salads, which not only add great flavor to salads – they are also a great way to get more vegetables into my kids 😉

The cauliflower was so delicious – it tasted like butter – seriously.

The next harvest was of another kind and from a different garden…


On the family farm, my mother has a large grapefruit tree.  

Now, as anyone who has ever had a grapefruit tree can tell you – these trees are overly generous in the amount of fruit that they produce.


Luckily, my mother has 4 kids who are more then happy to help share with her bounty.

With my husband standing ready holding grocery bags, we picked some delicious fruit from the tree.

*While all the grapefruit looked ripe, some were not quite ready to be picked.  If they did not come off fairly easily when lightly pulled/twisted, then we left them alone.

If I am going to be perfectly honest with you, I do not like to eat grapefruit – at all.

But, I have another purpose in mind for my newly picked grapefruit – I am going to make a natural cleaner from it using vinegar.

I promise to blog about it soon, so hold onto some of your excess grapefruit or maybe offer to take some off of your neighbor’s grapefruit tree 🙂

Freezing temperatures are coming tonight and forecast to last for the next several days.


Take a drive down the street in your neighborhood, you will probably see landscape plants covered with assorted sheets, towels or frost cloth.


Those that don’t protect their frost-sensitive plants such as lantana, bougainvillea, yellow bells, orange jubilee or hibiscus will soon have plants that look like this…


In most cases, you do not have to cover your frost-sensitive plants when temps dip into the lower 30’s.  

There is nothing wrong with allowing the top growth of your ornamental plants to get frost damage.  You just prune it away in spring.

For those of you who don’t like the look of frost-damage, then you will need to protect your plants from the cold.

**If temperatures are predicted to dip into the 20’s – then I do recommend protecting them from frost because temps this cold can kill a plant.  

I wrote a blog post earlier this year when temps hit the low 20’s.  It talks about how to protect plants from frost (and how NOT to) along with the types of plants to protect.

You can read it here…


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I hope you are having a great week.  I must confess to being a little behind on writing blog posts this month with all the Christmas goings on 🙂

Yesterday, I showed you a photo of a citrus tree that I came upon during a landscape consultation.  



I mentioned that there was more then one problem affecting this tree.  There are actually two large problems and one small problem.

Problem #1: Look at the area near the trunk.  Notice a little green shoot coming up from a small citrus root?

This innocent-looking little sucker can cause a lot of problems if allowed to grow.  The reason for this is that citrus trees are grafted onto a vigorous rootstock.

Basically, the top of a citrus tree and the roots come from different plants.  Citrus trees we enjoy in our landscape don’t have a particularly strong root system.  So, they are grafted onto a thorny, citrus tree that has vigorous roots and sour fruit.


Occasionally, small suckers from the thorny, citrus tree start to grow up from the roots or the base of the trunk below the bud union.  The bud union is a bulge around the lower part of the tree, about a foot above the ground.  Any suckers that originate from below the bud union should be removed, because if allowed to grow – the thorny citrus tree will grow and take over.

Now, back to our original picture for our second problem…


Problem #2: Look closely at the soil and you can see signs of shallow irrigation. How can you tell? Look at the small citrus roots criss crossing out from the tree.  In a properly watered citrus tree, you shouldn’t see the roots at all.

This indicates that when the tree is irrigated, that the water is not turned on long enough to penetrate to the recommended 3 ft. depth.

When I pointed this out to the homeowner, she indicated that if the water is turned for too long, that it runs out from the basin.

There are two solutions for this problem.  

 Elevate the sides of the basin to at least 6 inches high and allow to fill with water.  Next, check to see how deeply you have watered by taking a long, narrow stick or piece of rebar and push it into the wet soil.  It should go down fairly easily to the point where the water permeates.  Pull it back out and you will get a good idea of how much more or less water you will need.

– If after trying the first solution and you still haven’t hit the recommended 3 ft. depth, then try this trick – water in the morning, filling up the basin.  Allow the water to sink and fill the basin again later in the day.  This should help you achieve the right depth.


The smaller problem is really nothing to be overly concerned about…



If you look closely, some of the leaves have ragged edges and holes.  The damage is caused by the Orange Dog Caterpillar.  This caterpillar appears in the summer months and resemble ‘bird poop’ which makes them hard to spot.  


These caterpillars will turn into the beautiful Giant Swallowtail butterfly.  Mature citrus trees can usually handle the damage from the caterpillars, so in most cases, the best thing to do is nothing.

For additional resources for raising citrus in the Valley of the Sun and other areas throughout the Southwest, check out this helpful link.


Do you have citrus trees in your landscape?  Which kinds?

Last week, I came upon this citrus tree while I was doing a consultation.

At first, there was one problem that I noticed right away.  As I peered closer, I saw that there was another problem affecting this tree.

The tree was well-fertilized and I could see no sign of nutrient deficiencies.

Can you tell what is wrong with this citrus tree?  

Leave your guesses below in the comment section and I will reveal the answer tomorrow 🙂

*You may be wondering why you should care about the problems of this particular citrus tree.  Well, if you have citrus growing in your garden, you may have the same problem(s) and not even know it.  

My hope is to help others identify and correct problems with their plants that they may not be aware of until it is too late.

Have you ever sprayed air-freshener in your home?  Does it ever smell like the fragrance described on the can?


I must confess that I have used air-fresheners in the past, but I was never happy with how my house smelled afterward.  To me, the fragrances were so ‘artificial’ and I also wondered if there were some ingredients in these sprays that maybe weren’t so healthy to be inhaling.


So, I was quite intrigued when I heard about ‘natural’ air fresheners made from plants – many of which I had in my own garden.


Imagine if your home had the natural fragrance of citrus paired with your favorite herbs drifting throughout.  No overpowering, artificial fragrance, just subtle, refreshing scents.  

The combinations are endless and the fragrance is released into the air by adding the contents of jar and enough water to fill a small pot at least 1/2 – 3/4 full.  Heat to boiling and then turn the heat down to low and allow it to simmer for a couple of hours.  That’s it!


So are you as excited about creating your own ‘natural’ air fresheners as I am? 


Let’s get started with some ingredients that can be used to create your own unique fragrant combination(s):



All types of citrus are refreshing and can serve as the base of your air freshener.  I chose lemons, oranges and limes.  But, if you have a grapefruit tree that is overly generous with its fruit, they would work well too!


Now let’s grab some herbs from the garden (or grocery store)….



Basil



Thyme

Mint


Rosemary and lavender would also work great, but I didn’t have any growing in my garden.


I also decided to use vanilla extract and peppercorns in my mixtures.


Are you ready for the fun part and make some wonderful natural fragrance combinations?


Here are a few that I made…



I love cooking (and eating) Italian food – even though I have not Italian ancestry that I know of.  So, I like this combination of 1 sprig of basil, 1 teaspoon of black peppercorns and a few slices of lemon – it makes my home smell fresh as I imagine an Italian kitchen would smell like.


I added these ingredients to jam jars and filled them with water to the top…

I think it looks pretty, don’t you?


Of course, if you will use them right away, skip the jar and add directly to a small pot.  Pour more water until it reaches 3/4 full, heat to boiling, lower the heat to low and enjoy for a few hours – KEEP an eye on the water level and add more as needed – DON’T let it dry out.


Here is another combination that I love…



A few slices of lime, 4 – 5 sprigs of thyme, a sprig of mint and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.


You can make up one air freshener at a time, or make a few and store them in the refrigerator for a week or freeze them for longer until ready to use – just make sure to freeze them in a freezer-safe container such as a wide-mouth jar, like I have.


Lastly, this is my favorite combination and only has two ingredients…



Oranges and vanilla extract.



I sliced half an orange and added 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
  The fragrance reminds me of the orange sherbet / vanilla ice-cream that I ate when I was a child.


You can also add cinnamon sticks or a few whole cloves to this mixture for a more spicy fragrance.


If you have ever stepped into a Williams & Sonoma store, they have their own natural air freshener recipe:


Lemon slices
Rosemary sprigs
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract


In addition to the ingredients that I have used, here are some others that you can experiment with to create your own unique natural air freshener: citrus peels, apple peels, almond extract, peppermint extract, coconut extract, ginger, nutmeg, ground cinnamon, whole cloves, bay leaves, basil, sage, lavender, oregano and rosemary.



Have fun creating your own fragrance combinations. 


If you want to add a little freshness to your home, don’t waste your time spraying artificial fragrance through your home.  You can create wonderful combinations of scents using items in your garden, refrigerator and pantry.


**For additional fragrant combinations, click here.


I hope you enjoy making these natural air fresheners as much as I do!



Is you home decorated for fall yet? I am still working on getting my house ready for the fall holidays.  


Normally, I am content to buy a single pumpkin and set it in the middle of my dining room table.  But, after seeing my mother’s beautiful fall centerpiece (above), I decided to try to do something a little more creative…


So, I decided to challenge myself to see what I could come up with for my own unique fall centerpiece by taking a visit to the produce section of my local supermarket.  I was determined to look beyond the normal fall offerings of pumpkins and Indian corn to see if I could be inspired. 


Surprisingly, I found quite a few vegetables and fruits that would look nice in a fall centerpiece.  So, armed with my cell phone camera, I started taking photos of some of my favorites…

Acorn Squash

Now, I don’t like to eat squash at all.  I still remember hiding the cooked squash in my napkin that my grandmother would try to get us to eat.

Spaghetti Squash

BUT, squash looks great when used as a fall decoration.

Butternut Squash

In fact, I have even seen Butternut squash decorated as a ‘Jack-O-Lantern’ with a ghost face colored in using black markers.

Artichoke

Okay, artichokes are another vegetable that I don’t like.  But, they look great in arrangements, so I bought one.

Pomegranates

Finally, I found something that I do like to eat AND decorate with – pomegranates.  I love their deep color, don’t you?

Oranges

Limes

Let’s not forget citrus, which is always beautiful no matter how you use it – whether in a bowl in the center of the table or as part of a larger arrangement.

Heirloom Tomatoes

I admit that heirloom tomatoes aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when creating a fall centerpiece.  But, their deep and rich colors would accent any centerpiece.  Tomatoes won’t last as long as the other produce I have profiled, so use for a few days and then eat them.

Mangoes

How about mangoes? 

Apples

Apples are great for decorating the tabletop.  I like to use them at Christmas time as well.

Red Pears

I don’t think I have ever noticed all of the different types of produce that my grocery store had before now.

I did come away with a few things that I will attempt to create a centerpiece out of.  I promise to share it with you later.

In the meantime, I did find myself captivated by the unusual pumpkin offerings at the store…


Aren’t they beautiful?

I selected one for my centerpiece.  When I got home, I excitedly showed it to my kids, who to my surprise, were not happy about it.  They asked, “Is this the pumpkin we are going to carve?”

I assured them that this pumpkin is for decoration only and will hopefully last until Thanksgiving.

I did promise them a ‘regular’ pumpkin for carving later on.

So, when you head to the supermarket this weekend, take a closer look at the produce aisle and see what you can use to create your own ‘natural’ fall centerpiece.