Thursday, December 20, 2018

No, Virginia, It's Not Too Late for Christmas

Poinsettia flowers

The line at the post office stretched "across the floor, through the hall and out the door." I wasn't going to get caught up in that for I knew there was no rush. Christmas only begins on the 25th of December. It continues for 11 more days! A gift or greeting mailed on the 28th when the PO is empty has plenty of time to make it before the holiday is over.

Decking the halls by the end of October is but a recent development meant to capitalize on our benevolent sensibilities. Unfortunately, we are whipped up into such a frenzy that by the time Christmas Day has passed we are about as wore out and depressed as a person can get. Forget that, I say. Let's ease into the Christmas season, and embrace the perpetual mirth.

The concept of the Twelve Days of Christmas is now known mostly because of the popular song extolling extravagant gifts. Even so, there's little understanding.

The long holiday was celebrated in Western Europe before the Middle Ages as part of the Christian church kalendar, also known as the liturgical year, leading up to the Feast of Epiphany. Each day fĂȘted a different saint or saints including St. Stephen (deacon and martyr), St. John the Apostle, the Holy Innocents (children martyred by King Herod the Great), Sts. Basil and Gregory among others. A few notables were added well after the Middle Ages. Obviously, every good feast included gift-giving, so the Christmas season was one of extended merriment.

(I know it seems a bit macabre to make merry about someone martyred for their faith, but when we consider how God sustained them and us in faithfulness, there's a lot to celebrate.)

The Twelve Days of Christmas culminates in Twelfth Night festivities. It's thought that Shakespeare's play, Twelfth Night, was written as entertainment for one of those.

After so much partying, you'd think Christians would be done. But, NO! The next day, The Feast of Epiphany on January 6, marks the revealing of Christ to the Gentiles, as represented by the visitation of the Magi. According to a silly, juvenile ditty, the Three Kings of Orient are stopped to smoke a rubber cigar. It was loaded and exploded. Now they are the tree red stars. Much hilarity ensued.

So, if you wish to savor Christmas days, relax and enjoy knowing that the party doesn't end on December 25th. There is no reason whatsoever to rush. The only disadvantage to waiting until the last minute to present your gift might mean you'd feel compelled to give up to twelve of them.

Here endeth the first lesson.

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Friday, December 14, 2018

Eve's Needle - It Will Produce Thorns For You

'Eve's Needle' Cactus
Sometimes I wonder why plants are named as they are. 'Eve's Needle' (aka Eve's Pin Cushion) is today's puzzler. Its botanical name is Austrocylindropuntia subulata, which translated means "southern cylinder." Opuntia refers to Opus, Greece where cacti are found. Subulata means "awl-shaped." That's easy. It is native to the southern hemisphere, the mountains of Peru, actually. It is cylindrical in shape. It's definitely a cactus. The succulent foliage and spines are awl-shaped. Simple enough.

But why is it called 'Eve's Needle'? Does it refer to Adam's spouse? Did the spines call to the mind of a taxonomist the words of Genesis 3, "Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat from it,' Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field"?

Was the celebrated Eve a significant person for the taxonomist? Wife? Mother? Daughter? Mistress? Was she a seamstress? Was she the cause of personal pain?

What do you think? Whether you are captivated by such mysteries, or simply intrigued by cacti, 'Eve's Needle' should be in your collection.

'Eve's Needle' matures to the height of a small tree - about 15 feet. But it can be easily grown as a much smaller specimen in a container garden. Besides the fact that it grows relatively slowly, a potted plant will grow slower still because its root growth is limited.

'Eve's Needle' is as useful as any other cactus in xeriscapes, cacti and succulent collections, container gardens, and as a pest deterrent. Neither man nor beast will risk walking among its 3 inch long spines.

Here are a few details about the plant and how to grow it.

Bloom Color: Red.

Bloom Time: Late spring to early summer.

Foliage: Succulent awl-shaped leaves supported by spines.

Height/Spread: 1' to 15' at maturity. Space 12" to 36" apart.

Climate Zones: 9, 10, 11.

Sun Exposure: Full sun, partial shade

Soil Condition: Sandy, well-drained. pH 6.1 to 7.8

Features: Tall, upright, branching habit; bright red flowers, heat tolerant, attracts pollinating insects. Sharp spines. Use caution when handling!

Uses: Cactus and succulent borders, xeriscaping, theme gardens, desert gardens, container gardens, indoor containers with sun exposure, hedging, "homeland security."

Have you grown 'Eve's Needle' or seen a fine specimen in a cactus garden? Can you solve the mystery of its name? Please add your comment. We'd love to know!

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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Caladium 'Fiesta' - It's Party Time!!!

Caladium 'Fiesta'
It's party time! This is one of the most exciting caladiums ever introduced. Caladium 'Fiesta' produces white foliage with green netting and bright red veins.  It looks like fireworks going off in the landscape. The white leaves really brighten up those dark spaces in the shade garden. I love it! This dwarf variety grows only 12 inches tall, so it looks really nice and compact in containers and the front of borders. It also makes a nice ground cover under trees and shade structures.

Here are a few more details and tips about growing it:

Name(s): Caladium 'Fiesta', Cyrtospadix bicolor, Caladium x hortulanum, Caladium bicolor, Fancy-leafed Caladium, Angel Wings, Heart of Jesus.

Flower Color: White spaths, but these aren't the main feature.

Bloom Time: N/A.

Foliage: Herbaceous, white, netted, bright red veins.

Height/Spread: 12 inches x 12 inches.

Climate Zones: Hardy in zones 9, 10, 11. Planted as annuals in other climate zones.

Sun Exposure: Shade.

Soil Condition: Organic, pH 5.6 to 6.5.

Planting Depth: 2-1/2 times the height of the bulb.

Features: Colorful foliage.

Uses: Container gardens, bulb gardens, annual gardens.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Caladium 'Autumn Beauty' - An Exciting New Plant For The Southern Garden

Caladium 'Autumn Beauty'

Caladiums are always favorites in Southern gardens. Their lush, colorful leaves lend a wonderful tropical appearance to shady places, drawing attention from all who pass by. This one, 'Autumn Beauty', lasts well into late summer and fall with hues that complement other seasonal colors. Lower sun exposure enhances its yellow colors. Greater sun exposure brings out its lovely coral shades.

Here are some details and tips on how to grow it.

Name(s): Caladium 'Autumn Beauty', Cyrtospadix bicolor, Caladium x hortulanum, Caladium bicolor, Fancy-leafed Caladium, Angel Wings, Heart of Jesus

Flower Color: White.

Bloom Time: Summer to fall.

Foliage: Herbaceous.

Height/Spread: 14 inches to 20 inches x 12 inches.

Climate Zones: Hardy in zones 9, 10, 11. Planted as annuals in other climate zones.

Sun Exposure: Light shade.

Soil Condition: Organic, pH 5.6 to 6.5.

Planting Depth: 2-1/2 times the height of the bulb.

Features: Colorful foliage.

Uses: Container gardens, bulb gardens, tropical gardens, annual gardens, mass planting, summer ground cover.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2018

National Garden Bureau Promotes Angelonia 'Archangel Cherry Red'

Angelonia 'Archanagel Cherry Red' - Credit: National Garden Bureau

Angelonia angustifolia is an annual of increasing popularity. Seeing new introductions like 'Archangel Cherry Red', it's easy to understand why. Its dark red color, heat- and drought-tolerance, compact habit and long bloom period will endear it to the hearts of gardeners everywhere. 

Thanks to National Garden Bureau for bringing it to our attention!

Angelonia is native to South America. Though it is a tropical perennial, it's usually treated as an annual. It's called "angelon" in South America. Angustifolia refers to its slender leaves. Common names include Angel Flower and Summer Snapdragon.

'Archangel Cherry Red' is one of the 'Archangel' series introduced by Ball Horticultural/Pan American Seed in 2017.

Here are some details and tips on how to grow it:

Bloom Color: Cherry red

Bloom Time: Spring

Foliage: Herbaceous.

Height/Spread: 12 inches. Upright habit. 

Planting Distance:  10 to 12 inches apart.

Climate Zones: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.

Sun Exposure: Full sun, partial shade

Soil Condition: Well-drained, average. Do not over-water. pH 6.1 to 7.5

Features: Drought- and heat-tolerant, bright color, upright habit, low maintenance.

Uses: Container gardens, annual beds, mixed borders, tropical gardens.

Comments: National Garden Bureau says, "The Archangel series of angelonia has huge flowers, which are vibrant against glossy dark green foliage. It thrives in extreme heat, humidity and drought, yet keeps a delicate appearance in the garden. Excellent as a landscape performer or mix in larger containers as a thriller."

Have you tried Angelonia in your garden? How did you use it? Got pictures? We'd love to hear about it. Please post in the Comment section!

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Sunday, December 9, 2018

A Dangerous Bunny

Honey Bunny Cactus (Opuntia microdasys var. albispina)
 Honey Bunny Cactus (Opuntia microdasys var. albispina)

My name is dangerous bunny

Be careful what you say
Be careful what you do
Be nice when you play
Trouble creates strife

- From Dangerous Bunny - Poem by espri minnes

Opuntia microdasys var. albispina
Its botanical name is Opuntia microdasys var. albispina. Opuntia refers to Opus, Greece where many cacti are found. Microdasys var. albispina means "small and bushy" and "white spines." In addition to Honey Bunny, other common names include Polka Dots, Bunny Ears, Rabbit Ears and White Bunny Ears. All seem appropriate, at least at first glance. But a cuddly bunny it is not! The soft appearance is deceptive. Those fuzzy white polka dots all over the pads are troublesome little things.

And, look! It even multiplies like rabbits! You can hurry it along by breaking off a few pads (with gloved hands, of course), dropping them on the ground and leaving them there. In time, Honey Bunny forms a low but formidable groundcover; just the thing for discouraging unwanted two- and four-legged pests. That's what I call "homeland security."
Opuntia microdasys var. albispina

Honey Bunny cactus is really quite attractive. When its bright, yellow flowers - large in comparison to the pads - appear, it's downright beautiful. If Honey Bunny could fill a spot in your garden, give it a try.

Here are a few more details in summary, and tips on how to grow it.

Bloom Color: Bright yellow.

Bloom Time: Late spring to early summer.

Foliage: Fleshy pads with white tufts of spines.

Height/Spread: 12" to 24". Space 24" to 36" apart.

Climate Zones: 8, 9, 10, 11.

Sun Exposure: Full sun

Soil Condition: Sandy, well-drained. pH 6.1 to 7.5

Features: Low, spreading habit; bright yellow flowers, heat tolerant, attracts pollinating insects.

Uses: Massed planting, ground cover, cactus and succulent borders, xeriscaping, Southwestern themed gardens, container gardens, indoor containers.

Have you seen Honey Bunny cactus in a garden? Have you grown it yourself? Planning on trying it? Tell us in the comment section. We'd love to hear from you!

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Friday, December 7, 2018

Ageratum 'Blue Planet': Another Heavenly Favorite of the National Garden Bureau

Ageratum houstonianum 'Blue Planet' - Photo Credit: National Garden Bureau

If you've been staring off into space wondering what you'll plant in your garden next year, here's a discovery for you: Ageratum 'Blue Planet'. Folks at the National Garden Bureau - in cooperation with various growers, test gardens and gardeners - are always on the hunt for exciting new introductions. I believe you'll like it as well.

'Blue Planet' is a fine new variety of Ageratum houstonianum. Ageratum refers to the fact that it doesn't wither quickly. The species name, houstonianum, honors Dr. William Houston (c. 1795-1733), a Scottish-born surgeon and botanist who collected plants in Mexico, Central America and the West Indies. The species also goes by the name A. mexicanum. A common name is "Flossflower."

Ageratum is well-known among gardeners for its late summer to early fall bloom, but 'Blue Planet' is something special. Its ray-shaped, thread-like flowers last longer; it branches and maintains good form without the need for pinching. 'Blue Planet' is a fine addition to the late-season annual garden.

Here are some growing tips:

Bloom Color: Blue.

Bloom Time: Late summer to fall.

Foliage: Herbaceous, green.

Height/Spread: 24" to 36". Space 12" apart.

Climate Zones: Not applicable. Ageratum is grown as an annual.

Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.

Soil Condition: Rich, well-drained. pH 6.1 to 7.8

Features: Compact habit, abundance of flowers, heat tolerant, rain and wind tolerant. Attracts butterflies. Germinates from seed in approximately 85 to 100 days.

Uses: Massed planting, annual beds, mixed borders, container gardens, indoor containers, cutting garden.

Comments: ''Blue Planet" is set for release in 2019. National Garden Bureau comments, "Long-lasting blooms like tiny explosions are out of this world in gardens or containers, and especially planted in mass. This tall ageratum branches without being pinched back and flowers prolifically. Accents well with bright white flowers in the garden bed or in bouquets."

Have you used Ageratum in your garden? Tell us about it in the comment section. We'd love to hear from you!

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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Be Careful How You Hold This Tongue

Cow's Tongue Cactus (Opuntia engelmannii var. linguiformis)
Cow's Tongue Cactus (Opuntia engelmannii var. linguiformis)

The best time for you to hold your tongue is the time you feel you must say something or bust.” 
― Josh Billings, American humorist. 1818-1885

Well, I've got to tell you right now about Cow's Tongue Cactus (Opuntia engelmannii var. linguiformis). It's practically surreal in appearance. Its stark, long, tapered pads stretch upward and out like they're reaching for something to lick. If you were to feel its stinging lap on your flesh, you'd quickly withdraw. The pads are covered with spines. Some are long and obvious. Others are fine and barely noticeable, but even those can irritate your skin mightily.

So, you might ask yourself, "Self, what good is a plant like that? Why would anyone want it in their garden?" There are several reasons.

The first is for its sculptural appearance. The fleshy texture and bizarre appearance add a very artistic feature to the landscape. It's useful alone as a specimen plant or among others in a desert-theme garden. The bright yellow flowers of spring and ornamental purple fruits of fall lend a decorative touch.

The second is for its drought tolerance. If you reside in an arid part of the country, or just want to reduce your water bill, Cow's Tongue Cactus is for you. It thrives in poor, sandy soil, too.

The third is for its botanical significance. Cow's Tongue Cactus, like other Prickly Pear cacti, is native to the Americas - specifically Texas. Native plant enthusiasts and cacti/succulent collectors should include it among their selections.

Opuntia engelmannii var. linguiformis also honors history in its name. Linguiformis means "tongue-shaped." The genus, Opuntia, refers to a region in ancient Greece, Opus, where cacti were commonly grown. The species, engelmannii, recognizes George Engelmann. Engelmann (1809-1884) was a German-American botanist who studied native plants of the western frontier. His correspondence with fellow botanist, Ferdinand Lindheimer (1801-1879), is well-known.

As a matter of fact, it's worth mentioning here that this species is sometimes identified as Opuntia lindheimerii var., linguiformis. Lindheimer lived and worked in Texas. His collection of letters to Engelmann, A Life Among the Texas Flora (edited by Minetta Altgelt Goyne), is a classic.

Cow's Tongue Cactus
The fourth reason is for its use as a barrier. This is not one of those hedges you have to prune occasionally to keep up appearances. It manages quite well on its own without becoming unkempt. Believe me, intruders will think twice before trying to trespass. Cow's Tongue Cactus should be in your homeland security arsenal.

The fifth is for its edibility. Yes! You can eat it! The young, fleshy pads can be stripped of their spines, sliced and sauteed. The purple fruits, stripped of their spines, can be cooked to render a delicious, dark burgundy juice for syrups and other desserts.

Cow's Tongue Cactus is easy to propagate. Simply break off a few pads - with gloved hands, of course. Drop them onto a prepared site, and leave them undisturbed to root. A nice little colony will develop within a couple of seasons.

Here are a few tips for growing it.

Bloom Color: Yellow

Bloom Time: Spring

Foliage: Thick, fleshy, tongue-shaped pads

Height/Spread: 4' average height. Plant 6' to 8' apart.

Climate Zones: 8, 9, 10, 11.

Sun Exposure: Full sun

Soil Condition: Well-drained, sandy. Do not over-water. pH 6.1 to 7.8

Features: Sculptural foliage, yellow flowers, purple pear-shaped fruit.

Uses: Xeriscaping, native plant collections, cacti/succulent collections, desert- and Southwestern-themed gardens, edible gardens, barrier hedges.

Have you used Cow's Tongue Cactus (Opuntia engelmannii var. linguiformis) in your garden? Have you seen it in botanical gardens or plant collections? Tell us about it in the comment section. We'd love to hear from you!

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Sunday, December 2, 2018

Make Your Garden Sing with 'Pop Star™'

Platycodon grandiflorus 'Pop Star™' - Image courtesy of National Garden Bureau

As I mentioned a few days ago, you can thank National Garden Bureau for many of the wonderful plants in your garden. Folks at the NGB in cooperation with various growers, test gardens and gardeners are always on the hunt for exciting new introductions. This is another I'll highlight.

'Popstar' is a great new variety of Platycodon grandiflorus. Translated literally, it means "broad bell with large flowers." The species also goes by the names Campanula grandiflora,  Campanula glauca, and Platycodon glaucus. Common names include Balloon Flower, Chinese Bellflower, and Japanese Bellflower.

Platycodon belongs to the family Campanulacaea, but is the only species in its genus. It's native to East Asia including Japan, Korea, China and parts of Russia.

Here are some growing tips:

Bloom Color: White, pink and blue.

Bloom Time: Repeatedly throughout the growing season.

Foliage: Herbaceous, blue-green color.

Height/Spread: Under 12 inches. Space 6" to 8" apart.

Climate Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Some gardeners have success in zone 9.

Sun Exposure: Full sun

Soil Condition: Rich, well-drained. Do not over-water. pH 5.6 to 7.5

Features: Compact habit, abundance of flowers, heat tolerant, rain and wind tolerant. Can be grown from seed if started indoors. Germinates in approximately 90 days.

Uses: Massed planting, perennial and mixed borders, container gardens, indoor containers.

Comments: ''Pop Star™" is set for release in 2019. National Garden Bureau comments, "Your kids may not remember 'Platycodon', but they will remember the name Pop Star™ because the balloon-like buds 'pop' into beautiful star shaped flowers. Hardy in Zones 3-8, this platycodon is earlier, more compact and better branching than others on the market. That means more huge flowers! Wow your neighbors with Platycodon Pop Star™! Available in 3 clean colors- Pink, white, and blue."

Have you used Platycodon in your garden? Tell us about it in the comment section. We'd love to hear from you!

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Saturday, December 1, 2018

FAQ: How should I prune my hydrangeas?

Hydrangea macrophylla

Q. Look at my hydrangeas. They've gotten way out of control. They're covering my windows! How should I prune them? I want them to bloom a lot next year.

A. First, we need to identify your plants as Hydrangea macrophylla. Yours are spring-blooming shrubs, and they bloom on old wood. Late-summer or fall-blooming hydrangeas are treated differently.

Ideally, you should have pruned them as the flowers faded. Perhaps you did cut some to bring inside for arrangements. That was good, but not enough, I see.

That said, your spring-blooming hydrangeas should be pruned now during fall season. Begin by pruning out dead wood, stubs, and weak growth. You should also cut out the very old stems at ground level. You have a lot of those!

Next, turn your attention to the remaining strong, healthy stems. You need to reduce the plant height. Face it; you'll lose some bloom next year, but if you don't reduce plant height, you'll have hydrangeas growing in front of your windows, again. Do not prune these to the ground. Instead, look for strong, healthy buds at a level that's lower than the ultimate desirable height. Prune just above the buds. Cutting just below the buds will leave a long internode that will result in a dead stub. You don't want that.

After pruning, remove and dispose of debris. Chop stems into smaller pieces and cast all into your compost heap. Freshen mulch around the base of your shrubs.

Do any of you readers have tips to share about pruning hydrangeas? Please let us know in the comment section!

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Friday, November 30, 2018

National Garden Bureau Recommends Alternanthera 'Purple Prince'

Photo courtesy of National Garden Bureau

You can thank National Garden Bureau for many of the wonderful plants in your garden. Folks at the NGB in cooperation with various growers, test gardens and gardeners are always on the hunt for exciting new introductions. For the next few days, I'm going to highlight some of them.

'Purple Prince' is an exciting new variety of Alternanthera brasiliana. The species also goes by the names A. dentata, Calico Plant, Joy Weed and Joseph's Coat. The genus name refers to its anthers which are aligned in alternating fashion. The anther is that part of the flower stamen which contains the pollen. You probably wouldn't notice it unless you're really interested and care to look closely, but botanists and taxonomists always do. A. brasiliana's homeland is obvious.

Alternanthera is comprised of a couple hundred species of annuals and perennials mostly native to tropical climates. They're usually grown as annuals for their colorful foliage in colder areas. The species can be found growing quite happily year around in warmer areas of Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Here are some growing tips:

Bloom Color: White.

Bloom Time: Repeatedly throughout the growing season.

Foliage: Grown for foliage. Burgundy/purple with rosy undersides.

Height/Spread: 12 inches x 18 inches.

Climate Zones: 10, 11. May be grown as annuals or indoor foliage in colder regions.

Sun Exposure: Full sun

Soil Condition: Well-drained. Do not over-water. pH 6.6 to 7.8

Features: Colorful foliage.

Uses: Massed planting, annual borders, mixed ornamental gardens, container gardens, tropical gardens, indoor foliage.

Comments: 'Purple Prince' was introduced in 2018 by Pan American Seed Company. National Garden Bureau comments, "Purple Prince has beautiful burgundy-purple leaves with ruby-rose undersides. It stands tough in heat and humidity with low water needs. This attractive spreading plant is less vigorous than other Alternanthera, and makes a great companion plant 'filler' in mixed containers. The dark foliage pairs well with many colors, and offers an ideal low-border groundcover in flower beds to set off their blooms."

Have you used Alternanthera in your garden? Tell us about it in the comment section. We'd love to hear from you!

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Monday, October 29, 2018

Ethel M's Chocolate Factory and Cactus Garden

Scene from Ethel M's Chocolate Factory and Cactus Garden

A few months ago, we visited Ethel M’s Chocolate Factory and Cactus Garden, home of gourmet Mars-family-made chocolates, and a four-acre garden with 300+ species of cacti. I was attracted by their display of xeric plants. My wife was drawn to the chocolate.

About as soon as we parked the car, two motor coaches pulled up to the entrance. Out spilled large contingents of tourists with cameras clicking. It’s challenging to take photographs of saguaro in a naturalistic setting when clacking crowds are in the background.

Did the signs say, “Stay on the path?” Yes, the signs said, “Stay on the path”, but it made no difference. The other tourists stepped gingerly among the cactus displays. I waited with a twisted desire to see some reactions to painful encounters. None occurred. I managed to capture some good plant images, though. A photographer can achieve good results with the right camera angle.

Cactus gardens such as Ethel M’s provide wonderful opportunities to see drought-tolerant plants in attractive, practical settings. If you’re interested in saving water, it doesn’t matter where you live. You need not live in a desert to create a water-wise garden. Conserving water is always a good idea, and xeric species are available for practically every climate zone. Photos of some of my favorite selections are featured below.

For more information on xeriscaping, cacti and succulent species, click on the links provided. Don’t forget to check back occasionally. I’ll post more articles in the future.

After capturing their moments, the tour groups entered the chocolate factory. My wife was already there.

Formerly, such a place would have been a “dream come true” for her. I must say with pride, however, that she has committed herself to maintaining a “keto” diet, and has done quite well. But entering a chocolate factory must have been, for her, like a recovering alcoholic browsing a liquor store. I captured her posing with her mouth wide open by an enormous, wall-sized mock-up of a sampler.


If you’ve visited Ethel M’s Chocolate Factory and Cactus Garden, I’d love to hear about your visit. Which plants did you like best? Have you tried growing any of the species you saw on display? How did they work for you? Let us know in the comment section.

Carnegiea gigantea flower

 Opuntia microdasys var. albispina

Oreocereus celsianus

Austrocylindropuntia subulata

Euphorbia tirucalli

Ferocactus cylindraceus

Carnegiea gigantea skeletons

Calliandra californica

Agave lechuguilla

Agave parryi var. parryi

Hesperaloe parviflora

Agave vilmoriniana 

Echinocactus grusonii

Opuntia santarita

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Saturday, October 20, 2018

Unwanted Immigrant - The Spotted Lanternfly

Credit: Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture
"An invasive insect species native to China, India and Vietnam is posing a problem in at least two states" reports Fox News. "The spotted lanternfly is harming crops in Winchester, Virginia", and has been spotted in Pennsylvania. Apparently, the pest was observed in Pennsylvania as early as 2014. 
According to the USDA, "spotted lanternfly feeds on a wide range of fruit, ornamental and woody trees, with tree-of-heaven being one of the preferred hosts. Spotted lanternflies are invasive and can be spread long distances by people who move infested material or items containing egg masses. If allowed to spread in the United States, this pest could seriously impact the country’s grape, orchard, and logging industries."
  • Inspect your trees and plants for signs of this pest, particularly at dusk and at night when the insects tend to gather in large groups on the trunks or stems of plants.
  • Inspect trees (in particular, tree of heaven), bricks, stone, and other smooth surfaces for egg masses.
  • If you find an insect that you suspect is the spotted lanternfly, please contact your local Extension office or State Plant Regulatory Official to have the specimen identified properly.
  • Locate the Extension specialist near you
  • Contact your State Plant Regulatory Official 
If you live in Pennsylvania, an interactive plant pest quarantine map is provided to see if you’re in the spotted lanternfly quarantine.

As noted, spotted lanternfly is particularly attracted to "tree of heaven." Ironically, "tree of heaven" is not heavenly at all. According to the Nature Conservancy, "It is a prolific seed producer and can thrive in even the most unfavorable conditions with little management. Its rapid growth also means that it can crowd out nearby native plant species, and its aggressive root system can cause damage to pavement, sewers and building foundations."

It also attracts spotted lanternfly, which can be a bad thing or good. The bad thing is that it's a host plant for the little creatures. The good thing is that, as a spotted lanternfly magnet, a whole gathering can be eliminated in one place.
I guess those "No matter where you are from, we're glad you're our neighbor" yard signs don't actually apply to all.
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Thursday, October 18, 2018

How I Like Claret Cup Cactus

Claret Cup Cactus

"How I like claret!" gushed John Keats. He meant, of course, the red wine from Bordeaux. But I'm fond of another - Claret Cup Cactus.

Its botanical name is Echinocereus triglochidiatus. Echino refers to its hedgehog-like spines. Cereus describes the funnel-shaped structure in the center of the flower. Triglochidiatus refers to its three-pointed fruit. But none of that adequately describes the simple beauty of this little creature.

Claret Cup produces eye-popping red flowers in spring. The long, white spines will pierce your skin any time of year, but are starkly beautiful - at least to my mind. Though rather small, it will stop you in your tracks when you happen upon it.

Claret Cup is native to the American Southwest, so it will be a perfect addition to a native cactus and succulent collection. Don't be digging it up in the wild. I believe it's legally protected in the State of Nevada, but even if it weren't, indiscriminate collecting can easily lead to endangerment.

I highly recommend Claret Cup for your cactus collection.

Name(s): Echinocereus triglochidiatus, Claret Cup Cactus, Strawberry Cactus, Crimson Hedgehog Cactus

Flower Color: Deep red to orange-red

Bloom Time: Mid-Spring

Foliage: Evergreen, sharp, spiny.

Height/Spread: 12 inches x 24 inches.

Climate Zones: 8, 9, 10, 11

Sun Exposure: Full sun

Soil Condition: Well-drained to dry, average to poor, pH 6.1 to 7.8

Features: Drought tolerant, deer resistant.

Uses: Xeriscaping, massed planting, naturalizing, desert gardens, native plant collections, container gardens, cacti and succulent collections, borders, "homeland security."

Comments:  Handle with care!

I'd like to know your thoughts on Claret Cup. Have you grown it? Do you use it in your landscape or as a container plant? Tell us about your experience with Claret Cup in the comment section. If you have any suggestions that might help our readers, please let us know.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Sharp Like A Dagger - Agave lechuguilla

Shin-dagger (Agave lechuguilla)

During a recent trip to the American Southwest, I found Shin-dagger. Not by accident, thankfully. It immediately occurred to me, however, that Shin-dagger is one for the books.

Shin-dagger - aka Agave lechuguilla - is similar in many respects to its larger relative, Agave americana, also known as Century Plant. R-E-S-P-E-C-T is the key word, and not just a little bit. It's smaller than the Century Plant but every bit as formidable. It throws up a magnificent, tall flower spike ONCE during its decade-long life, then dies. It thrives in hot, dry environments. It is (or was) quite useful to American Indians as a source of fiber - maybe for tequilla, too, but I don't know that for certain.

Another plus for Shin-dagger is that it requires practically no maintenance, and that's a good thing since working around it can be somewhat hazardous to your flesh. Those sharp spines also make it a perfect choice as a serious discouragement to trespassers, especially of the two-footed persuasion. As for four-legged species, it lacks gastronomic appeal. Deer, for example, won't eat it.

Keep in mind that "formidable" doesn't have to mean "ugly." As with many cacti and succulents, it is very appealing, form-wise. So are the flowers.

So, if these traits fit your bill, by all means include several Shin-daggers in your landscape.

Name(s): Agave lechuguilla, Agave poselgeri, Agave multilineata, Agave lophantha var.tamaulipasana, Agave lophantha var. subcanescens, Agave lophantha var. poselgeri, Shin-dagger, Lechuguilla, Tampico Fiber

Flower Color: Red to yellow

Bloom Time: Early spring to mid-Spring

Foliage: Evergreen, succulent, gray-green, sharp, spiny.

Height/Spread: 24 inches x 24 inches.

Climate Zones: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

Sun Exposure: Full sun

Soil Condition: Well-drained to dry, sandy, average to poor, pH 6.1 to 7.8

Features: Drought tolerant, deer resistant, disease and pest resistant. Poor drainage may lead to root rot.

Uses: Xeriscaping, massed planting, naturalizing, desert gardens, native plant collections, cacti and succulent collections, borders, "homeland security."

Comments: Shin-dagger flowers once at about 10 to 15 years of age, then dies. The stately flower stalk can reach to 12' high. In the meantime, small shoots are produced at the base of the plant. These may be separated and planted elsewhere. Leaf edges are very sharp. Handle with care!

I'd like to know your thoughts on Shin-dagger. Have you grown it? Run into it? Tell us about your experience with Shin-dagger in the comment section.

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Better Homes and Gardens Recommends Hardy Mums for Autumn Color

'Sheffield Pink'

Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, in the October 2018 issue, published a wonderful article on Hardy Mums. is a fine source for garden info! I was delighted to see that the variety 'Sheffield Pink' was included in the lineup.

'Sheffield Pink' - aka 'Hillside Sheffield Pink' and 'Single Apricot' - is not one of those bloomin' mounds you see offered at so many garden shops and 'big box' stores this time of year. It is, in fact, a stunning perennial more like the carefree, heirloom mums you'd see in grandmother's garden.

There are hundreds of chrysanthemum flower types, sizes, colors and habits. Some, like the show quality types, can be tender and difficult to grow. Others are quite hardy and simple. Most gardeners stick to the hardy types, and that's what you should do. Why work so hard when you don't have to?

The name, Chrysanthemum, was given by Carolus Linnaeus sometime in the 17th century. As with many plants, taxonomists seem always to be trying to sort out matters. So the genus has been split into two or more, and species have been added and shifted between genera. Some of those genera include Arctanthemum, Argyranthemum, Dendanthrema, Glebionis, Leucanthemopsis, Leucanthemum, Rhodanthemum, and Tanacetum. 'Sheffield Pink' is labeled as Dendanthrema about as often as Chryanthemum, so don't let the name confuse you.

'Sheffield Pink' thrives in USDA climate zones 5 to 9. If you live in one of those zones - most of us do - you're in luck! 'Sheffield Pink' should thrive for you.

'Sheffield Pink' requires at least 5 hours of full sun per day, particularly during the morning, because humidity and lingering moisture can encourage mildew. For the same reason, good air circulation and soil drainage are essential.

Choose a site with average, well-drained garden soil with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.5. Take a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Office for analysis. You will be charged a nominal fee. Follow the recommendations you'll receive.

It is best to plant 'Sheffield Pink' in spring or fall about 6 weeks before hot or freezing weather commences. Can it be planted any other time of year? Certainly! Just make sure you can provide sufficient water if you choose to plant during summer. Even though it is drought-tolerant when established, don't take off on vacation and leave your newly planted perennials at the mercy of the weather.

If soil is compacted, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8 inches deep, removing all traces of weeds.  If the soil is high in organic matter and friable, it may not require cultivation.  Compost may be incorporated into the soil, if necessary.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4 inches to 6 inches of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants between 18 inches to 24 inches apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1 inch deep.

After a few years, 'Sheffield Pink' should be divided. In spring, when danger of frost is past, dig the clumps and cut or pull them apart. Older, worn out parts should be cut off and discarded. Incorporate organic matter into the soil. Plant the renovated clumps at the same level they grew before. Water them in, and add mulch. A little renovation every 3 to 5 years will reward you with many seasons of pleasure.

In addition to its beauty, 'Sheffield Pink' is a wonderful addition to the butterfly garden! 

If you've grown 'Sheffield Pink' or any other hardy mum, we'd love to hear from you. How has it performed for you? Do you have pictures you'd like to share with us? Please let us know in the comment section below.

If you'd like to read more about hardy mums, check out our other blog post - How To Grow Hardy Chrysanthemums in Your Yard.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Beauty of Double Tulips

Melinda Meyers published a lovely article for the National Garden Bureau, Boost the Beauty of Your Spring Garden with Double Tulips. She writes:

Double tulips look completely different from regular tulips. Instead of upright, egg-shaped blossoms, their flowers look more like roses or peonies, with layers of silky petals. I love how they look in the garden, and they are also beautiful cut flowers. In fact, their growing popularity with floral designers is making them easier to find in flower shops.
You can both start and end the spring bulb season with double tulips. The early-blooming varieties open at the same time as daffodils, while the late ones finish up right before the peonies open. Double tulips change day by day as the flowers mature. They begin as romantic, softly cupped blossoms and go out as flashy extroverts. Watching this transformation is part of the fun of growing them. As an added surprise, you’ll find that most double tulips are also fragrant, especially the late-blooming varieties.

So true! If you're looking for something really special for your spring garden, you simply must plant Double Tulips this fall. 

Have you planted Double Tulips before? What did you think about them? Did you use them as cut flowers? Let us know. We'd love to hear from you in our Comments section!

Saturday, September 8, 2018

What's eating my liriope?

Image of damaged liriope #1

Image of damaged liriope #2

Image of damaged liriope #3

Image of damaged liriope #4

Image of damaged liriope #5

Q. Hi John! I was watering the liriope plants yesterday that I purchased from you this past April, and while the plants were in great shape, I feel it has been an embattled operation trying to get these plants to thrive. I've spent a small fortune on chemicals, devices, animal sprays, slug killer, etc. and an enormous amount of time, but I still have not figured out what is eating my plants down to the ground. Of the 50 that I planted, at least half of them have been eaten completely down to the ground. Another friend suggested that I throw moth balls around each plant to keep animals away, and I think that was a very bad idea, because I saw a lot of dead leaves on the plants after the fact.

So I am hoping that next year they will all come up and grow beautifully. I saved 5 or 6 of the plants which I will keep in my house over the winter. I'll use these in places where plants didn't make it through the winter. 

The only animals I see regularly in my front yard (and I Iive in a suburban development) are squirrels. I still have not determined what is eating these plants to the ground, and I am sooooooo disappointed because they are beautiful when thriving.

A. I think slugs are the culprits, for the following reasons:

Looks like there are plenty of places for them to hide, e.g. under mulch, the edging, etc. Such hiding places also provide a moist environment for them.

You don't see them during the day. Slugs like to feed at night.

Slugs usually attack the middle of broad leaves, and sometimes the edges. But liriope doesn't have broad leaves, so it stands to reason that the edges are being eaten.

Liriope grows close to the ground, easily accessible to slugs.

If the damage is limited to these plants within the mulch bed, not evident on shrubs or trees, it points to slugs. Insects capable of flight would eat some tree and shrub leaves, too.

I don't believe deer or rabbits are eating them. They wouldn't just eat the leaf margins, but the entire leaves.

Yes. It looks like slugs.

R. Well I initially treated them for slugs at your suggestion, but I guess it wasn’t long enough.

A. Yes. It takes a bit of sleuthing to finger the culprits. Since they didn't leave calling cards, we have to deduce. I could be wrong, so I appreciate you allowing me to share your photos to see if someone has a better idea.

Thankfully, liriope is a tough plant. As long as the roots are viable, it can regrow. Eventually, of course, if a plant is deprived of food via photosynthesis due to leaf loss, it can succumb. But one of your photos seems to show young foliage emerging.

Dear Reader, take a look at the photos provided. What do you think is eating the liriope? Does it look like slugs to you? We'd love to hear from you. Tell us what you think in the comment section.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Fascinating Fern Facts

Azolla filiculoides. Image: Public domain

This just in from Quartz.

Fifty million years ago, a tiny fern called Azolla filiculoides grew in mats over open water in the Arctic Ocean, flourishing like that for 800,000 years. (It now turns up in Arctic ice cores in vast quantities.)

This was a significant event not just for fern domination but for the globe: Paleobotanists call it the “Azolla event,” because the Azolla mats sucked up 10 trillion tons of carbon dioxide during that period—well over 200 times the total amount of carbon dioxide humans currently release into the atmosphere every year. The event played a role in the abrupt shift from a very warm planet to the cool one we now inhabit.


Scientists have wondered for years if Azolla could be harnessed to cool the planet again.

Sure. Why not? I'm all for it if the research is privately funded. 

This and other fascinating fern facts are for learning in today's email from QuartzIt's a great resource for thought-provoking info on a lot of topics. Check it out. I believe you'll enjoy it.

It occurs to me, though, that according to the USDA, Azolla filiculoides - aka Mosquito fern - is already native to Florida, the Pacific coastal states, and even New York. (I'm assuming we're referencing the same Azolla filiculoides.) Are they noticing any benefit?

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Friday, July 27, 2018

FAQ: Do you know a particular kind of bug spray that I should use on these plants that won't harm them?

Q. Something is still attacking my liriope plants, and a friend said it definitely looks like some kind of bug is eating them. But I can't see any bugs with my eyes. I put the slug bait around twice, and that has not stopped the problem. Do you know a particular kind of bug spray that I should use on these plants that won't harm them? I'm going to try bug spray once the rains stop. We've had a solid week or more of rain and thunderstorms. I have worked so hard on these plants to keep them alive and doing well. They look beautiful in my front yard. Please let me know what bug spray you would recommend. Many thanks!

A. As a rule, insecticides don't harm plants. There are exceptions. Oil-based formulations might, depending upon the plant. Since you can't identify the beast, you'd do best with a broad-spectrum insecticide. SaferGro PestOut, Ferti-Lome Broad Spectrum Insecticide RTS, Spectracide Triazicide Insect Killer For Lawns & Landscapes might work. They all come in ready-to-use form. There are several high-power broad-spectrum, systemic insecticides that should work without fail. Their disadvantages include cost and higher toxicity.

As with all chemicals, follow label instructions.

I hope this helps.

If you, dear reader, have had particular success with any broad-spectrum insecticide, please let us know in the Comment section. We'd love to hear from you!

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Any chance Boston ivy plants will recover from heat stress?

Q. Hi, I bought some of your [Boston] ivy a couple weeks ago, the weather was hot here at the time and the postal carrier left the box of ivy on our blacktop driveway in the sun when the temps were near 100. Any chance these plants will recover?

A. I'm sorry to hear that the plants were subjected to such stress. If the roots remained viable, there should be good hope for recovery.

Any damaged foliage and stems - blackened, dried and brown - should be removed. They won't recover.

I assume you planted the vines soon after receipt, watered them in properly, etc. At this point, take care not to water too much. Fewer or no leaves means less  or no water take-up, so too much moisture in the soil could contribute to root or stem rot. Let soil dry slightly between watering events. Watch for bud enlargement at the leaf axils. I hope this helps. Keep me posted.


Have any of you readers had an experience such as this? Were you successful in reviving your plants? If so, let us know in the comment section what you did to bring them around.

Friday, July 13, 2018

A Question of Color-Matching

Q. I have phlox that I want to add to. It was sold as 'Crimson Beauty' but your ['Purple Beauty'] plants look like they might be the same color. Do you think they are?

A. I don't think 'Purple Beauty' will be close enough. 'Red Wings', which I also sell, would be closest. Nevertheless, 'Red Wings' and 'Crimson Beauty' will not be exactly alike in color. Petals of 'Crimson Beauty' are also a bit narrower. If you're willing to live with a slight difference, 'Red Wings' might work for you. I don't want to give you the impression that they're the same. I don't want you to be disappointed. Keep in mind that photographs on the web don't always represent their subjects accurately. The only way you can be sure of a match is to purchase more 'Crimson Beauty'.

Okay, readers. Have you had experiences with color-matching similar varieties in your garden? Couldn't get the variety you bought before, so you tried to match with another? Let us know how you tried to solve the problem. Did it work?

We'd love to hear from you in the comment section.

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