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Archive for February 2013

Need Help Growing Lemongrass

February 28th, 2013

growing_lemongrassI’ve planted some lemongrass stalks that I bought and rooted in water. When they had a strong root system I planted them in a pot and put them on a southwest window sill. I’ve tried to maintain moisture and fertilized, but unfortunately not only have they not grown but they are slowly withering away. I hope you can help me figure out what I can do to keep them alive and hopefully get them to grow into a decent plant. I live in the south of Spain where the climate is warm and dry most of the year, but I have to keep delicate plants indoors in winter as we are at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains and get frosts. Thanks, Diane

Answer: It’s always difficult to fully diagnose the exact cause of plant failure, but here are some suggestions to try again.

I see about a 50/50 rate of suggestion as to starting lemongrass in water or soil. Most who recommend water rooting do suggest to transplant directly to soil. However, the cell structure of water roots is different from that of soil roots, so it’s imperative to keep the soil generously moist in the early days of transplanting. You can even cover the plant with a plastic bag to seal in the humidity. Another method to move the plant to soil is to daily add soil to the water to allow the roots to transition in cell structure.

You might also just try using soil to start the lemon grass. Just make sure it’s well draining. You will want to cover the pots to keep the moisture in.

Keeping the plant in a warm sunny spot is important, as well. If there is a draft from the window, you might try moving it to a warmer spot and make sure it’s getting as much full sun as possible.

Do not fertilize the starts. Let them show active growth before applying any type of fertilizer. Most plants don’t need a lot of fertilizer except when blooming or fruiting, to help boost that process.

Give it another try, and maybe test both methods and see which works best for your conditons.

Happy gardening,


How To Grow Alcea Plants

February 24th, 2013

Alcea plant flowering in the gardenHere are some easy tips on how to grow Alcea plants: After the last frost, set out year-old plants 12-24 inches apart; dig well-rotted manure into soil. Use 2-3 in. organic mulch. Water daily at first, then twice a week, or more if very hot/dry.

Pronunciation: AL-see-uh or al-SEE-uh

Common Name: Hollyhock

Propagation: Self-seeds

Description: Old-fashioned favorites, Alcea plants reach 8-12 ft. tall and 3-4 ft. wide.  Single or double spiked flowers in a wide range of colors grow on an upright stem with large, coarse leaves. Flowers bloom from the bottom up. Gardeners can choose from modern hybrids like miniatures (3-4 ft.tall) and the double flower (looks like a cabbage rose).

Origin of Plant: China

USDA Hardiness Zones:  3-8

Companion Plants: Yarrow, Marigold, Daisy, or Bellflower. Keep away from Lilacs: Hollyhock plants steal water and nutrients from plants with delicate roots.

Fertilizer Needs: 10-10-10 or 15-15-15. Twice a year: early spring and again in the fall.

Sunlight: Needs full sun.

Maintenance: High. Biennial Hollyhock plants act like perennial plants if deadheaded and cut down to the base when flowers are done. Starting in June, pull off all yellow leaves, also leaves ruined by Japanese beetles and/or rust. Destroy rust-infested leaves. Cut out all old flowering stems and old leaves in late summer when flowering stops. New leaf growth holds up over mild winters, or if kept covered by snow. In spring, pull off winter-damaged leaves. Tall Alcea plants, if cut down once or twice before flowering, will grow back as later-blooming shorter plants that don't need staking. (Flower spikes will also be shorter.) Protect these perennial plants from high winds to keep them from getting broken.

Pests/Diseases: Rust, weevils, Japanese beetles, cutworms, slugs, and caterpillars. Avoid overcrowding when planting: damp, still air is a breeding ground for rust. Avoid over-wet or over-dry conditions; both weaken these perennial plants. Water the soil around the plant; rust grows on damp or wet leaves. Destroy all cuttings–never compost!

Wildlife Value: Alcea brings bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds into the garden.

Frost Protection Blankets and Wind Chill

February 21st, 2013

Dear Master Gardener, Can you tell me how wind chill affects the plants under a frost blanket? For instance, if I am using a 24-degree frost blanket for protection and the temp is 28, however we are having winds at 25 mph, what effect does that have under the blanket? Or how much temperature protection will my plants lose due to windchill? Thank you so much, Denise

Frost Blanket covering plants

Answer: Denise, That’s an interesting question. Frost blankets will effectively “zone up” your area one zone. It’s like a coat for your plants. However in the case of wind chill, only humans are affected by this. Wind chill estimates the amount of heat loss from warm-blooded creatures as the wind passes over exposed areas of the body. Plants do not generate heat, so essentially they are not directly affected by wind, and if under cover they would not be affected by the wind.

What can be more detrimental to your plants is the dew point. This is the temperature where air reaches water saturation. There are several scientific methods of calculating this and the numerous effects it has on vegetation. Water vapor helps to slow the temperature fall. With a high dew point, radiant heat losses are slowed, but if the dew point is low, the temps may fall rapidly. Think of how fog in an evening will make it warmer.

You can add some forms of mild heat under the frost blankets, like Christmas lights or milk jugs of water that have absorbed the sun during the day.

Hope that helpsand happy gardening.


How to Grow Bougainvillea Plants

February 19th, 2013

Growing Bougainvillea PlantsHere are some easy tips for how to grow Bougainvillea Plants: Plant in a hole as deep as the root ball (and 2x the width). Pack soil to get air out. Soak with 1 gallon of water. Add 2 in. organic mulch. Use a well-draining soil of equal parts sand, silt, and clay mixed with some organic matter. Use a soil mix labeled Quick Draining.  Bougainvillea plants have two growth cycles: vegetative (new leaves and stems) and a blooming period (flowers 3-5 wks.) Flowers need 5 hrs. minimum full sun daily to bloom.

Common Name: Paper Flower

How to Pronounce: (boo- or boh-gun-VEE-yuh)

Description: A large, shrub-like tropical vine with heart-shaped leaves and masses of paper-thin flowers (bracts) on thorny branches. These annual plants grow 15-20 ft. tall and need support, like a trellis, wall, or arbor. Bougainvillea plants like well-draining, slightly acid soil. The many cultivars include double-flower and variegated types.

Propagation: None

Origin: South America; Named by a French botanist

USDA Hardiness Zones: 9-11

Companion Plants: Salvia, Periwinkle, and Coral Bells

Fertilizer Needs: The roots of these annual plants are weak and need iron. In bloom, Bougainvillea plants are heavy feeders. Use a 6-8-10 water soluble or granular food monthly. Follow package directions.

Maintenance: For fuller growth, pinch about 1/2 inch off the soft tips of young plants. New stems grow from 2-3 leaf buds down below the pinch. Best time to do this is after the flowering cycle. Bougainvillea only blooms on new growth, so prune in early summer to shape and strengthen them.

Water: Paper Flower plants are drought-hardy; water 2-3 in. once a week. Let soil dry in between, but not bone dry. Make sure water drains away; they don't like wet feet.

Environment/Light Needs: Paper Flower plants need a minimum nighttime temp. of 60 degrees; they can survive in daytime temps. of 100 degrees or more. They do best with 8-10 hours of full sun.

Overwinter: Grows in full sun (60-70 degrees); take indoors before first frost. Use a soil-less (lightweight, easy-draining) mix. Overwintered, Bougainvillea will usually not bloom.

National Bird Feeding Month

February 7th, 2013

Blue Jay sitting on a tree branchFebruary Is National Bird Feeding Month

The colder temperatures, snow and ice take a massive toll on our bird population every year. Even during the more temperate seasons, our birds can suffer, with climatic changes affecting themjust as it affects our own everyday livesas their food and water resources diminish and replenish in direct relation to the weather.

Backyard birds are an invaluable part of your local ecosystem, extending far beyond the simple enjoyment to be derived from watching their antics and hearing their songs.

  • Watching birds and listening to their songs are fantastic ways to relieve stress, while the time spent outdoors to maintain your bird feeding stations gives you a good excuse to get some fresh air and increase essential-to-your-health vitamin D absorption. Make it a family affair!
  • Many birds feast on insects, such as mosquitoes, aphids, spiders and others that are not welcome in your yard. Attracting birds to your yard can lessen the need for using family un-friendly chemical insecticides.
  • Small songbirds, like towhees, finches and sparrows, gobble up weed seeds, making these birds an effective weed controller, feasting on the seeds of the most undesirable plants in your landscape and further reducing your need for chemicals.

American Goldfinch sitting on a pine tree branch in the winterThere are environmental and wildlife conservation issues and educational opportunities for you and your children, as well as the increased curb appeal and higher property values that songbirds add, in the event you want to sell.

What are you waiting for? There are so many reasons to buy your first birdfeeder or to add to your collection of birdfeeders.

If you build it, they will come.

What type of feeders and what you put in those feeders will determine the types of birds you'll attract. In the bigger scheme of things, you will have migrating birds and local avian residents scrutinizing your yard, so we recommend providing a variety of seeds, suet and nectar throughout the year, though right now we will concentrate on February, National Bird Feeding Month, and how to get started.

Some People Wouldn't Recognize a Robin

if it landed right on their head. Amazingly true and somewhat sad, having a bird feeding station in your back yard can change all that. Putting a bird feeder up will result in your seeing birds you may not have even known were in your area. If you really want to learn to recognize and understand your new avian friends, we highly recommend The Backyard Bird Feeder's Bible, not only a good way American Robin sitting on a tree branch to get to know your backyard birds, but a fantastic coffee-table book. To get the kiddos more involved, you can pick up a copy of The Ultimate North American Birds Sticker Book. The pictures in both are fantastic!

Now, back to the business of feeding the birds.  A good way to start is to provide one feeder for sunflower seeds or mixed seeds and one for the smallest seeds, like thistle. Black-oil sunflower seeds, safflower seeds and corn are the larger, and the most versatile seeds, attracting the larger birds, such as jays, cardinals, doves, woodpeckers and blackbirds, but also luring the smaller nuthatches, titmice, sparrows, chickadees and finches. Smaller seeds, such as Niger (thistle), white millet and milo, will more reliably attract finches, siskins, redpolls, doves, chickadees and sparrows, though you will also find larger birds arriving if the pickings in your area are exceptionally lean. All seeds can be fed in a hopper, tube or platform-type feeder, though some bird feeders are specifically designed for the type of bird you wish to attract and are better suited for a particular type of seed.

You will learn, with time, what works best for you and for your backyard bird visitors. The important thing is to get started. With this in mind, for first-time birders, we suggest your first birdfeeder be a Mixed Seed Birdfeeder. It is best to place it where it can easily be seen from inside your home so you can effortlessly monitor the food supply and more thoroughly enjoy the show. It should be hung or mounted about 5 feet off the ground and far enough away from branches or other help-mates, like fences, that would enable squirrels or other hungry, non-avian varmints from gaining easy access. A great solution to the problem of where to hang it, is to check out our window-mounted birdfeeders, bringing the show up close and personal, each Female Cardinal sitting on a thorn branchbirdfeeder having powerful suction cups to secure it right to your window. The kids absolutely love these feeders! And consider offering suet, a high calorie, high protein source of animal fat, that provides birds the extra energy necessary to keep warm and healthy during the nastiest weather. We have a feeder for that!

Don't Forget the Water

Birds can suffer greatly when every little puddle is frozen or when a dry, cold winter has resulted in very little or no moisture. Providing water can be as simple as putting out a bucket with an edge to perch on, though most birds will prefer a place they can both bathe and drink. Yes, birds even bathe in the winter, though to watch them makes you wonder how they can possibly be enjoying that frigid water! We have a full line of bird baths, heated and not, that are designed to be carefree, attractive and bird-friendly.

February Is National Bird Feeding Month

Getting Involved Is a Win-Win Situation!

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