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This is what my mother’s vegetable garden looks like in the middle of winter.  
 
She works hard at growing a variety of vegetables in her two raised beds.  On Wednesday nights, we all gather for dinner at her house and get to enjoy many of the delicious vegetables straight from her garden.   
 
Sadly, her plans for this season’s vegetable garden faced a serious setback.
 
 
My mother fell and broke her leg while cooking dinner with my youngest daughter.  Both bones in her lower leg suffered multiple fractures, and a metal rod had to be inserted down into her tibia.
 
Understandably, she cannot put any weight on her foot for at least two months.  So, while she works hard at physical therapy to gain as much independence as she can – we decided to help out with her garden.
 
 
My kids, along with my nephews, were eager to help with Grandma’s garden.  We stopped by the nursery to pick up broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and leaf lettuce transplants while I brought some carrot and radish seeds from home.
 
Lucky for us, she had already amended her soil with one of my favorite soil amendments – used coffee grounds (from Starbucks).  I added some of my favorite organic vegetable fertilizer for the garden, and we were ready to start planting.
 
 
I instructed the kids on where and how to plant the vegetable transplants in staggered rows.
 
My sister was also watching us and even stepped in to help out, despite the fact that she never gardens.  
 
 
The kids were eager to help out their grandmother, and we all enjoyed out time out in the garden.  
 
I took a few photos to bring back to her at the rehabilitation facility where she is recuperating, to show her what her grandkids had done for her.


My mother is doing well and is working hard at her daily physical therapy sessions so that she can get home as soon as possible.  We visit her daily, and her room has pictures drawn by her grandchildren and cards from friends and family.

On our most recent visit, my grandson discovered the delights of pushing around his grandpa using great-grandma’s wheelchair.  His smile and laughter brightened everyone’s day.
 
Meanwhile, back at the vegetable garden.

 

 
I came back to check on the newly planted vegetables.  Most were doing quite well, but I did see a few plants with telltale holes in their leaves.
 
 
I discovered the culprit nearby.  Cutworms are caterpillars that eat holes in leafy vegetables as well as ‘cut’ off young vegetable transplants at their base. 
 
  
The cutworms did kill some of the newly transplanted broccoli, but most of the leafy greens were fine other than a few holes in the leaves.
 
I brought my favorite organic pesticide, BT (Bacillus thuringiensis), which kills the caterpillars.  I like to use Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz in my own garden, which helps keep the caterpillars at bay.
 
 
I sprayed all the vegetables, taking care to spray both top and underneath the leaves.  
 
BT can be reapplied every 7 – 10 days until the caterpillars are gone.  
 
**Note; it can be hard to find BT in your local big box store or even some nurseries.  However, you can find it offered online from garden supply companies and Amazon (affiliate link).
 

Have you planted any vegetables this season?  What are your favorites?

When most people think of a ‘sustainable landscape’, they view one that is boring, filled with few plants which is why they are often surprised to see how beautiful they are.
 
Over the past couple of weeks, we have talked about small steps that you can take toward a more sustainable landscape and today, we will finish up our series with a few more steps you can take in your own garden.
 
Re-think what you plant in pots.
 
Leaf lettuce, garlic, parsley growing along side petunias.
 
If you are like most people, you have a few pots that you fill with flowering annuals, which you fertilize on a semi-regular basis.
 
But, how about thinking outside of the box about what we add to pots.
 
For example, did you know that many vegetables do great in pots and are also attractive?  I like to grow vegetables in my pots and add a couple of annual flowers in for a little color.
 
 
While some flowering annuals can be a bit fussy (pansies, for example) – herbs are not.  They look great in pots, are on hand whenever you need a bunch of fresh herbs for cooking and they don’t need as much water and fertilizer as flowers.
 
Crown-of-Thorns, Lady’s Slipper, Elephant’s Food and a cactus.
Succulents make beautiful pots with their varied textures.  Because the store water inside, they do not need as much water as other container plants.



A helpful tip for planting a large container – fill the bottom third with recyclable plastic bottles.  Most plant’s won’t reach to the bottom of large containers and it is a waste of money to fill up the entire pot with expensive potting soil.  Another bonus is that it also makes your pot a bit lighter.


Use natural or recycled materials when possible.

Gate made from old Ocotillo canes and tree branches.
Often, when we are adding elements to our landscape, we overlook the many things that are recycled or natural that can fill that need.
 
For example – did you know that you can create a ‘living’ fence made from Ocotillo canes?  It’s true! I have seen them my local nursery.
 
Pathway made from recycled, broken concrete.
If your landscape needs a path – instead of buying new pavers or step stones, use recycled, broken concrete.  Or use natural stone products like flagstone.
 
 
It is hard to overstate how boulders can help a landscape go from ‘okay’ to ‘fabulous’.
 
Boulders add both height and texture without needing any water or pruning.  In addition, boulders make plants look better when they are planted alongside.
 
 
Eliminate or decrease the use of pesticides.
 
Leaf-roller caterpillar damage on Yellow Bells shrub.
Our first reaction when seeing insects damage on our plants is to run for the nearest pesticide in our misguided attempt to rescue our plants.
 
But, did you know that most plants can handle some damage from insects without any problem?
 
In fact, once damaging insects take up residence in our favorite plants – soon after new bugs come along that devour the bad bugs.
 
Bougainvillea Looper Caterpillar damage.
 
If you see something is eating the leaves of your plants, you have several options that are not harmful to the environment:
 
– Ignore it
– Prune off the affected foliage
– Pick off the insects (or spray off with water).
– Apply an organic pesticide such as insecticidal soap or BT (Bacillus thuringiensis).
 
You can also help to prevent damaging insects by planting ‘companion’ plants, which bad bugs do not like.  For example, planting garlic around roses helps to keep aphids away.
 
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I hope you have enjoyed this series of posts on sustainable landscaping.  My hope is that I have helped to inspire you to make some changes to your landscape to make it more sustainable.
 
I’d love to hear your thoughts or any ideas that you have done in your own garden to make it more sustainable.
 
For a complete listing of these posts with links, click here.
 
 
 

*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.

When much of the nation is freezing their socks off, and their gardens are covered in a blanket of snow, I realize how much of a blessing it is to live in a climate where I can harvest vegetables from my garden in January.
My latest excursion out to the vegetable garden found Swiss chard, leaf lettuce, peas, spinach, broccoli, and carrots ready for picking.
 
Except for the broccoli (which I had other plans for), all of my freshly-picked veggies were going into our salad.
 
 
One crop that I have really enjoyed growing this year, is Swiss chard.  It grows so easily and I love its rainbow-colored stems.  
 
Believe it or not, Swiss chard tastes delicious in salads.
 
My lettuce had a tough start this fall with caterpillars eating much of it until I brought out the big guns – BT Bacillus thurgiensis, which is an organic control for the caterpillars.  It worked just great! I used Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz.
 
I won’t go into all the details of how it works, although it is quite interesting.  For those of you who would like to learn more about BT, click here.
 
 
Here is a close-up of my salad.  You can’t see the carrots too well, but they are there.
 
 
It was so refreshing and delicious, especially when dressed with my grandmother’s ‘Top Secret’ Salad Dressing.  
 
 
I have recently revealed my grandmother’s secret recipe to my daughters, who now can make easily.  
 
So, what is in store for my vegetable gardens this month?
 
I have planted another crop of radishes, carrots, leaf lettuce and spinach.  
 
Next month, will be a busy month in the garden with getting ready to plant warm-season veggies.  
 
I can hardly wait!
**Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link of a product that I use in my garden and I recommend to those who are experiencing similar problems.
A week ago, I was called to see one of my regular clients to see how her landscape was progressing since she had installed a lot of new plants at the beginning of summer.
 
The majority of her plants looked great considering she had planted them at a particularly tough time of the year.
 
BUT, what caught my attention was her bougainvillea shrub.
 
 
The leaves were quite ragged and looked like something had been chewing them.
 
In addition, there were some small black droppings scattered among the leaves.
 
The diagnosis was relatively simple…
 
The culprit was bougainvillea looper caterpillars.  
 
Now, you rarely ever see the caterpillar itself.  It is rather small and looks like a
yellow-green to brown colored inch-worm.
 
The signs are ragged leaves that appear to have been chewed along with the black droppings.
 
My bougainvillea growing in the back garden.  I haven’t seen any signs of caterpillar damage yet.
 
If you see similar damage to your Bougainvillea, don’t panic.  Most Bougainvillea can handle the damage from the chewed leaves.
 
However, if your Bougainvillea is young, or if the infestation is severe, you can help to get rid of the caterpillars by spraying your bougainvillea with a product containing BT (bacillus thuringiensis), which is an organic pesticide.  I use Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz in my own garden.
 
In the case of my client’s bougainvillea, I told her that the damage was not severe enough to warrant any treatment.
 
Some of you may see similar damage to your yellow bells or orange jubilee shrubs, which I wrote about in a previous post, “Oh No, What’s Happened to My Shrubs”.
 
**In the future, I will be sharing some gardening problems or design challenges that I encounter during some of my consults and their solutions. 
 
 My hope is that they can help you in your own landscape 🙂
 
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I hope you have a great weekend.  We will be celebrating my 3-year old twin nephews birthday at our house tomorrow morning.  I’ll may post a picture or two next week from the party.
 
My daughter, Rachele, is doing well after the first week of her combat training in Mississippi.  But, she did share some funny stories that I will share with you next week too!

I don’t think that my sister’s chicken has ever seen a caterpillar that large before.

Do you think she will eat it?  Or will the caterpillar emerge victorious?
I’ll let you know at the end of this post…

Those of you who have ever grown tomatoes probably recognize this green, horned caterpillar.


If you are not familiar with this green menace, let me introduce you to the ‘tomato hornworm’.

As their name suggests, they love to eat tomatoes and the leaves on their plants.

What you may not know is that also like to eat potato, pepper and eggplants as well.

What is even worse, is that they can be a little hard to find.  With their green color, they blend in well with the tomato plants.  Tomato hornworms also tend to hide underneath the leaves.

At this point you may be wondering if you have these pesky caterpillars on your tomato plants.  How can you tell?  

Well, some telltale signs include holes eaten from the leaves and tomatoes.  You may also see little green pellets (caterpillar poop) on the leaves.

The only way to know for certain is to go looking for them.


So what do you do if you find out your tomatoes are infested with these caterpillars and how did they get there in the first place?


Well, tomato hornworms grow up into moths who in turn, lay eggs on the underside of tomato leaves.  The eggs hatch in about a week and the newly emerged caterpillars start eating non-stop for 4 – 6 weeks.


As if that weren’t enough bad news, as the caterpillars grow larger, they eat more.  After about a month on gorging themselves, they drop into the soil where they form a cocoon and transform into a moth who will start the cycle again by laying eggs.


How can you do to get rid of them?


Well, there are a few ways to get rid of them and even help to prevent them in the future.


– The easiest way to get rid of a current infestation of tomato hornworms is to simply pick them off and dunk them into soapy water, which kills them.


– If pulling off large, green caterpillars isn’t your thing, then you can spray them with a product that contains Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis), which infects the stomach of the hornworm, killing it.  Bt is safe for animals and plants.


– There are some wasps that will act as parasites to the caterpillars and lay their eggs directly onto them.  The eggs hatch and the larvae eat the caterpillar.


Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not have to deal with tomato hornworms at all.  So, I am all about prevention.


– In the fall, till the soil around your tomato plants.  This will unearth any cocoons that are attempting to overwinter in the soil, which kills them.  Do this again in spring, before planting new tomato plants.  This is usually 90% effective in getting rid of tomato hornworm cocoons before the moth emerges.


Okay, so back to the chicken, caterpillar face-off…


My sister’s chicken Francie is a ‘naked-neck’ chicken and yes, she is supposed to look that way 😉

It turns out that the chickens were a little put off by the large size of the caterpillars.  So, they wouldn’t touch them.


That is until… the caterpillars were cut up into smaller pieces.  Then the chickens couldn’t eat them fast enough. (I know, kind of gross, isn’t it?)


**I want to thank my sister, Grace, for her fabulous pictures.  You can find out more about her photography, here.




*This blog post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I may receive a commission (at no additional cost to you). Thanks for your support in this way.*

Last week, as I walked out into the back garden, I noticed something that didn’t look right with my a few of my yellow bell shrubs (Tecoma stans stans)

The photo, above, shows how they should normally look, however, last week, they looked like this….

Definitely not normal looking and manyM of the outer leaves were skeletonized, and it got worse. All four of my yellow bell shrubs had the same symptoms.  So, did my orange jubilee shrubs, which are closely related.

To be honest, I was a bit stunned to see the damage.  You see, I had grown these beautiful shrubs for over 14 years and have never seen this before – not even in landscapes I managed or when consulting.

What was interesting is that other shrubs right next to my yellow bells and orange jubilee weren’t in the least bit affected. So, what is eating my leaves?

I looked at the symptoms – the skeletonized leaves, the fact that many of my leaves were ‘rolled’ and little black dots (insect poop) told me that my shrubs were suffering from ‘leaf rollers,’ which are tiny caterpillars that roll the leaf around them while they eat.  It is hard to spot the caterpillars themselves, but the damage they cause, usually makes it easy to diagnose.

Now that I noticed my yellow bells and orange jubilee shrubs being affected – I have noticed these same shrubs being affected in my neighborhood, along freeways and other areas.  I don’t know why leaf rollers are affecting these shrubs all of a sudden after all these years.  I suspect it is the higher than normal rainfall we experienced this summer, but I don’t know for certain.

Regardless of why leaf rollers are affecting these beautiful shrubs – there are ways to get rid of them. Here are a few different options:

1. Prune off the affected growth and dispose of the leave in the trash can (not in your compost pile).  

2. Treat your shrub using a biological pesticide that contains BT (Bacillus thuringiensis),  which is ingested by the caterpillars.  BT basically ‘eats’ its way from the caterpillar’s stomach outward. I use Safer Brand 5163 Caterpillar Killer II Concentrate, 16 oz.

3. You can use an insecticide spray to kill the leaf rollers.

4. Lastly, there are systemic insecticides that are applied around the plant and are taken up by the roots – but, their use can lead to the build-up of resistant insects and can have other negative environmental effects.

**Whenever using any pesticide – follow directions carefully. For my shrubs, I will prune back the damaged growth and not apply pesticides. However, if the leaf rollers continue to attack, then I may decide to use a product with BT.

So, if you have yellow bells or orange jubilee shrubs – check them to see if they are being affected by leaf rollers.


**If your bougainvillea leaves are showing signs of being chewed – they may have been visited by ‘bougainvillea looper caterpillars.’  For more information on how to recognize and treat these caterpillars, click here.
Thankfully, the rest of my garden is looking healthy 🙂