Archive for January, 2008

Repotting Houseplants

img_1048.jpgThe Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia) that I have been taking care of for my mother had been looking wimpy for a couple of weeks, so I decided to put it in a bigger pot. This plant is one of two I am babysitting this winter–and I hate to admit it, but I am the horticultural equivalent of the babysitter who plops the kids in front of a video and spends the day texting friends. Once in awhile I give the plants some water, but care has not been what it should be.

img_1050.jpgI read a Terry Yockey column some time ago that recommended repotting a root-bound plant. I couldn’t find the article, but decided to forge ahead. Since there were roots popping up above the soil, I figured that was the issue. So, I dug out a pot one size bigger than the one the plant was in, thawed out some potting soil from the garage, and went to work. Imagine my surprise when I pulled the plant out of its pot and saw that its roots had not reached the bottom of the pot it was in. They did seem tight at the top of the plant, so I stuck my hand in the dirt to untangle them a bit. Then, I plopped it in the larger pot. This plant has about 10 times more plant above the soil line compared to what is below the soil, so it took a lot of pushing and adjusting to get it to remain straight and upright. After getting it in the pot, I gave it a long drink of water.

img_1060.jpgAfter the repotting, I moved the plant to the best houseplant real estate in my house, the ledge near the kitchen sink, which has both south and west facing windows. It’s been sitting there several days now, and it looks like its recovering from the trauma. I’m not sure if repotting will improve the plant’s overall health, but we’ll see. What I like about this plant is its shiny foliage and the tiny flowers it seems to have all the time. The are so perfect looking, it’s almost as if they are fake.

If you are looking for advice on repotting a houseplant, check out this site, which interestingly, says you should not repot an ailing plant. (Oops!)


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img_1025.jpgWhile visiting in Florida, I took some photos of my mom’s SunPatiens. This is her second winter season growing these sun-loving impatiens, which flourish even in the relatively warm and sunny courtyard outside her condo. She thought they were so great last year that I looked for some in Minnesota, but came up empty-handed.

It turns out I was probably looking in the wrong place. According to this news report, Japan’s Sakata Seed Corp. has proprietary rights to the plants and will be offering them nationwide in the U.S. through an exclusive deal with Home Depot stores. (That’s where my mom gets her Florida plants.) Patenting plant material is increasingly common, and I can understand why companies that invest heavily in the research needed to create new plant cultivars want to protect that investment. An exclusive marketing arrangement like this is more unusual. Since I don’t live near a Home Depot and am not likely to go out of my way to get to one, I’ll have to enjoy SunPatiens on my visits to Florida.

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Escaping to Florida

img_0742.jpgThis past week in Minnesota was bone-chilling, but I missed most of it, thanks to a long-planned trip to visit my parents, who spend the winter in Naples, Florida. The weather in Naples was great, especially compared to the sub-zero temperatures at home. On our first day there, my mom and I visited the Naples Botanic Garden which showcases the flowers and trees of southwestern Florida.

img_0751.jpgLast winter, my mom bought two tiny Crown of Thorns plants in Florida, brought them home to Minnesota, where they grew to about 24 inches tall. (I’m trying to keep them alive through the winter for her with mixed results.) We were shocked to see a Crown of Thorns (Euphorbia splendens) up to my waist when we walked through the gates at the garden. It just shows what a tropical climate will do. Naples is zone 10, compared to zone 4 in Minnesota.

One of the prettiest displays in the garden is the Tropical Mosaic Garden. With a brilliant blue and green mosaic bacimg_0732.jpgkground that reflects the colors of the Gulf of Mexico, the garden is home to date palms, giant bromeliads, and a grotto covered in maidenhair ferns. Some paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceaus) were in bloom along with a fabulous orchid tree. The bloom period for these trees is coming to an end, but even as they faded, the hot pink, orchid-like flowers were impressive.

img_0794.jpgWe happened to be there on the opening day of the garden’s new Wings of Brazil exhibit, which runs through May 2008. Inside the garden’s three-room butterfly house are an array of Brazilian birds. The birds included a Banana Quit named for its yellow back, a marvelous green bird called the honeycreeper, a fascinating red-capped cardinal and several friendly parrots. The garden also features a one-mile walking path through a 30-acre native pine and oak scrub habitat.

The garden is an exchange garden with the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, so if you are an arboretum member, you can visit the Naples garden for free. It’s not large, but for a northerner looking for some heat, humidity, and flowers, the Naples Botanic is worth a stop.

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Attending a presentation on great perennials is like going to one of those restaurants where the menu runs 10 pages. What to choose? What to choose? I felt that way last Friday at Richard Hawke’s talk on winning perennials from the Chicago Botanic Garden’s flower trials. Each year, the Chicago Botanic grows every available cultivar of 30 plant types (genera, for you scientific folks). At the Minnesota Green Expo last week, Hawke, who manages the trials, reviewed his favorite perennials.

walkers-low.jpgFortunately, many of the perennials are only hardy to Zone 5b, or my shopping list would be even longer. A few of the perennials he suggested already have homes in my garden. The catmint, Nepeta ‘Walker’s Low’, was perennial plant of the year in 2007. I’ve grown it for two summers and love it. It’s vigorous, even in the part of my yard where shrub and tree roots fight with perennials, and its spiky, bluish purple flowers come after many of the spring bloomers fade. Hawke also recommended the beebalm, Monarda ‘Jacob Cline’, which I planted last summer. I bought mine on sale in mid-June or early July. Then, the drought hit. So, Jacob didn’t do much, except survive. I’ll see how it looks next summer.

Here are a few perennials that Hawke mentioned that I will be looking for in nurseries this spring.

littel-joe-abnursery.jpgJoe-pye weed, Eupatorium dubium ‘Little Joe’. At 4-feet-high-by-3 feet-wide, it’s smaller than other Joe-pye weed varieties. I think the reddish-purple blooms would blend in well with many of the other purple flowers I have. I nabbed this photo off the American Beauties web site, which sells a variety of native plants.

Beebalm, Monarda ‘Marshall’s Delight’. This monarda has an honest pink flower and is said to be mildew resistant, which is a common problem with beebalm. These plants like a moist soil generally, and Hawke mentioned that with ‘Marshall’s Delight’ adequate moisture made a big difference in bloom.

I am also tempted to plant a brunnera, either ‘Jack Frost’ or ‘Looking Glass’, both of which Hawke recommends. Brunnera don’t handle dry shade well, so I’ll have to be careful where I place it. However, the heart-shaped, silvery foliage would brighten up a lot of garden situations.

shortwood-phlox-mobot.jpgThis summer, I’m going to try to give the bed near our front door more of a cottage feel, so naturally, I’ve been thinking about phlox. I planted some at the end of the summer of 2006, and it did remarkably well last year (no signs of mildew!), so I am was interested in Hawke’s recommendation of Phlox paniculata ‘Shortwood’. I like the long bloom you get from phlox and that it attracts hummingbirds and butterflies to the garden. This photo is from the Missouri Botanical Garden’s web site, which includes a great library of perennials to consider.

elin-white-flower-farm.jpgFinally, I need height in my perennial border, and so Hawke’s recommendation of this meadow rue, Thalictrum ‘Elin’, got me thinking. This plant grows 8 feet tall–and can get to 12 in perfect conditions. Wow! I also like the combination of cream and purple in its flower and that it has a purplish stem. I have to think more about where I would place it–and if it would overwhelm everything else–but it’s definitely a plant worth contemplating. The photo came from the White Flower Farm web site.

Luckily for my bank account, it’s too early to do much ordering. In addition, I’m committed this spring to buying most of my plants from local or regional nurseries. That’s probably the best way to assure that new plants will be survivors. Still, on a cold January day, it’s nice to dream and plan.

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One of the great things about editing Northern Gardener is I get a chance to attend the Minnesota Green Expo, the annual trade show and educational event of the Minnesota Nursery & Landscape Association (MNLA). I went to Minneapolis this morning to catch the last day of the show.

img_0720.jpgAs always, the Northern Gardener bookstore was hopping with nursery and garden center owners, landscape designers, and others who work in the horticulture industry, looking over new and classic garden books. My to-read pile of gardening books has gotten too high, so I stayed away from the booth and went to a couple of educational programs instead.

C. Cole Burrell gave several talks on native plants and the native-plant movement. He noted that some of the more extreme voices in the native-plant movement think gardeners should confine themselves to plants that thrived in their area at the time of first contact with Europeans–400 or 500 years ago. What those advocates ignore, Burrell pointed out, is that Native Americans were trading plants and moving plant material up and down North America for a long time before any Europeans landed. For example, the Kentucky Coffee Tree, which has some medicinal value, was moved from the south to northern climates by Native Americans. Burrell defines a native plant as on that was “growing in a particular region or ecosystem without direct or indirect human intervention.” Burrell advocates that gardeners structure their gardens as “functional communities, as ecosystems,” which means letting some plants spread a little. Burrell will be giving two talks tomorrow at Bachman’s on Lyndale Avenue in south Minneapolis. The 10 a.m. talk is sold out, but there are still tickets available for his 1 p.m. talk about the native plants movement in the United States.

img_0725.jpgI also attended a seminar on the perennial trials of the Chicago Botanic Gardens. (More on that later.) Then, I hit the trade show floor, where I ran into Jim Kohut, a Northern Gardener columnist who runs the Canadian Web site, northscaping.com. Be sure to check out the plant library at northscaping as you plan your gardens for next year. Several of the larger companies had gardens on site, and I couldn’t resistimg_0727.jpg taking a photo of Blushing Bride, the new hydrangea Bailey Nurseries of Newport is introducing. I also ran into fellow Northfielders, Bill and Terri Schwalbe. The Schwalbes own a stonescaping firm that provides carved rocks for companies and private individuals. They were showing their wares to the many designers and contractors attending the show, and said that it had been a very busy three days at the Green Expo.

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cowpots.jpgLast night, I decided to start paging through the growing stack of garden catalogs. Currently half a crate full of them sits next to my reading chair, and the big rush won’t arrive for another week or two. As I mentioned in an earlier post, sustainability is a hot-button issue with gardeners and you can see it in the new products catalogs are advertising. Gardener’s Supply has a 40 percent price cut on its portable cold-frames that allow gardeners to extend the growing season for their food crops, and the assortment of containers for storing food waste before it goes to the compost pile seems larger and prettier than ever. All very tempting, but the product that had me fingering the old credit card was Cowpots–a seedling pot made out of dried cow manure!

Cowpots were designed by a pair of Connecticut dairy farmers, who are also brothers. Like most dairy farmers, they needed to figure out what to do with all the manure their cows produced. They use the methane from the manure for energy on the farm (how that’s done is beyond my pay grade) and then dry the manure. The brothers, Matt and Ben Freund, figured out a way to combine the manure with fibers and glue and then bake it into a container perfect for seed starting. The container holds its shape for months, then biodegrades in a few weeks after planting. No plastic pots to deal with, and the manure provides nutrients to the plant.

Sometimes in the spring, with all the six-packs and stray yogurt cups of seedlings around here, it feels like I’m growing more plastic than plants. Still, when you are thinking about sustainability, does it make sense to have manure pots shipped from the East Coast when I’ve got plenty of yogurt cups? It’s something to ponder as I page through all those garden catalogs.

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current_coverjanfeb.jpgIf you are considering a landscaping project for 2008, you may want to pick up the new issue of Northern Gardener. The January/February issue is devoted to landscaping ideas and inspiration, and without a doubt, this is my favorite issue since I began editing the magazine in 2005.

This special issue includes a useful article by Meleah Maynard on “10 Steps to a Better Landscape Plan” and one by Eric Johnson on the best plants to use around rocks, walls, and ledges. In another article, the Renegade Gardener, Don Engebretson, gives practical advice on foundation plantings. I learned something new with that one: The width of your foundation beds should be determined by the height of your house. There’s even a formula!

The issue also includes two garden profiles: a large garden in rural Dakota County that I had the pleasure of visiting several times this past summer and a small garden in St. Paul that is modeled after the British arts-and-crafts style garden, Hidcote Manor. Finally, northern Minnesota-based Margaret Haapoja writes about 10 perennials guaranteed to evoke and inspire memories.

I hope all our readers enjoy this special issue. If you are not a subscriber, check the magazine racks at your local independent bookstore, Barnes & Noble, or Byerly’s or Lunds. They all carry Northern Gardener.

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