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.

Return to

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!

Return to

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.

Return to

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.

Return to

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!

Return to

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!

Return to

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!

Return to

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!

Return to

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!

Return to

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!

Return to