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19 Jan 2020

How To Grow The Tradescantia Plant

The Tradescantia plant is commonly known as the Wandering Jew plant – an attractive vining plant whose distinctive leaves bear stripes of purple, white, green and silver. The botanical name for the tricolor wandering jew? Tradescantia zebrina!

The wandering jew, is a native of Mexico who earned its common name thanks to the plant’s ability to root easily, spread and thrive in a wide variety of conditions.

This plant comes from the spiderwort family (Commelinaceae) and is also known as Zebrina pendula or inch plant.

Another popular wandering jew variety is Tradescantia pallida – with deep purple leaves and goes by several common names like purple wandering jew, purple queen, and purple heart.

There are several other wandering jew varieties with green and white variegated leaves.

Tradescantia displays small 3-petaled pink, white or purple flowers.

In the “old days” before the advent of garden centers and nurseries carrying a wide variety of houseplants, housewives and gardeners shared cuttings of plants freely.

Cuttings of the wandering jew traveled broadly from home to home and proved itself adaptable and capable of thriving in almost any setting.

This reminded people of the wanderings of the Jews of biblical times, hence the nickname.

This easy-care plant grows indoors or out in a variety of settings.

In this article, we will provide best practices instructions on how to grow and care for Tradescantia pallida and provide some words of caution regarding another invasive species related to it, Tradescantia fluminensis. Read on to learn more.

Wandering Jew Care

The Wandering Jew does well in pots planted in a 60/40 peat moss and perlite potting mixture or with an all-purpose potting mix.

This indoor plant makes an exceptionally beautiful hanging basket plant.

Lighting can vary from medium indirect light to even full sun. Likewise, this hardy plant does well in room temperatures ranging from 55° degrees to 75° degrees Fahrenheit.

NOTE: Tradescantia Plants will achieve the most vibrant, bright colors in high, bright indirect light and at consistently warmer temperatures.

Like most houseplants, the Wandering Jew does not like soggy roots. Translation – Too much water leads to root rot.

Allow the soil to dry completely between waterings, then water deeply. If desired, use a general liquid houseplant fertilizer two times monthly.

Do not water directly into the crown of the plant. Doing so may encourage rotting of the stems and the roots.

These plants like humid conditions, so between watering, the leaf surface enjoys a frequent misting.

Continue misting through the winter, but cut back on watering. Generally speaking, watering once a week should work.

During the winter, reduce watering to two times monthly, and do not fertilize.

Pruning and grooming play an important role in caring for your Wandering Jew indoors.

These houseplants grow very quickly and send out long tendrils and stems on a regular ongoing basis. Keep these trimmed or pinched back at leaf nodes to encourage your new growth and fuller plants.

Propagation of this rambling plant is very easy.

Simply clip off the long stem cutting tips (3” length) during the spring and summer months and root them in potting soil or in water.

Growing Wandering Jew As An Outdoor Plant

Wandering Jew thrives in a temperate climate with fairly high humidity. Hardy in USDA Zones 9-11.

Tradescantia tricolor makes a good ground cover in spots receiving bright indirect light, such as around the base of tall trees which are shady areas.

They also serve as a great ornamental and basket plant.

Planting is simplicity itself. You can use four-inch plants in pots purchased from a nursery, or use stem cuttings from your houseplant for repotting or creating new starts.

You’ll get best results planting in rich, well-drained soil.

Be sure to cover the roots or sink your cuttings 3″ to 5″ inches into the soil. Keep a moist soil until the plant becomes established.

After this, weekly watering should suffice. Applying liquid fertilizer once a week will help to develop a healthy root system.

Keep plants pinched back and pruned to encourage them to grow bushy rather than spindly and trailing manner.

NOTE: Some people report skin irritation when coming in contact with the sap when handling cuttings.

More on the Wandering Jew Plant being Poisonous or Toxic.

Wandering Purple Jew plants will die back during cold winter months outdoors. Fear not, if you plant correctly and help establish a good root system they will reappear come springtime.

wandering jew flowers

Three Best Ways To Root Tradescantia

  1. Poke the ends of cuttings into potting soil and keep the potting mix moist for a few weeks. During the rooting process, keep plants in partial shade. Once rooted, transfer them to pots and water as you would a mature plant.
  2. Simply lay cuttings on the surface of moist potting mix. Press the joint of the cutting into the soil so that it makes good contact. Roots will form at the joint. Once the plant becomes established, transfer it to its own pot.
  3. Place cuttings in a glass or bottle of water set on a sunny windowsill. Once roots emerge, transfer cuttings into pots. Keep the soil moist for a few weeks until the cuttings adjust and established themselves in the soil.

Replacing The Wandering Jew Sometimes Becomes Necessary

This houseplant does not usually live for long periods of time like a Hoya the wax plant or grandma’s African violet plant. Luckily it regenerates itself easily.

If your Wandering Jew begins looking shabby, loses foliage easily and gets too leggy, you may want simply toss it into the compost pile and replace it with one of its offspring. Alternately, you could try cutting the foliage back to the roots to see if it will regenerate.

Pests and diseases rarely attack Wandering Jew, but occasionally you’ll discover spider mites and aphids on the leaves and stems.

When this happens, simply cut back the affected areas and dispose of the cuttings in a sealed plastic bag.

Spray plants vigorously with water to knock off any errant pests. Depending on the infestation this should take care of the problem.

If it does not, turn to natural insecticides for killing any remaining aphids and prevent reinfestation.

NOTE: Don’t compost diseased or pest-infested plants.

Beware Of The Wandering Jew’s Invasive Cousin!

So far we’ve discussed the wandering jew – Tradescantia pallid. Another variety known as Tradescantia fluminensis is solid green and produces white flowers.

This wandering jew variety thrives in USDA zones 9 through 11. In fact, it does so well it can quickly become invasive. You must take great care to prevent it from taking over your entire yard.

In subtropical areas such as New Zealand and Australia and in the southern United States it has become a serious invasive plant problem.

Wandering Jew Propagation:

It propagates itself with wild abandon, and new starts grow readily from stem segments.

Inclement weather only encourages this because the segments can float and travel far and wide to establish themselves in new homes.

Eradicating Tradescantia fluminensis or even cutting it back by hand may encourage the plant to spread.

Very often people regret introducing this “Wandering Jew” in their gardens. They often end up having to use a strong herbicide to kill it off.

Should The Green Wandering Jew Be Avoided Entirely?

Tradescantia fluminensis can be a good garden addition, and it does well as a groundcover in Brazil and Argentina from whence it hails.

If you want Tradescantia fluminensis in your garden, look for the Innocence variety.

It’s more attractive and less invasive than the common varieties. It prefers damper and shadier areas and thrives in lower shade with moister soil.

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04 Jan 2020

Birds In The Garden – 5 Tips For Attracting Birds To Your Yard

The chirp and tweet of birds
whirring and hopping through my yard is one of my simple pleasures. Birds of a
feather and all that, it turns out I’m not alone. More than 70 million people
put out bird food to entice our feathered friends. Putting out bird food is a
one way to lure birds in the garden, but what else can you do to keep them
flitting about? It turns out quite a few things. Here are my top 5 tips for attracting birds to the yard.

Landscape your yard with your bird
friends in mind
. This means incorporating plants
that create places where they can roost, raise young and find food. Depending
upon the type of bird, this may mean adding trees or creating a thicket of
dense shrubbery. Add shrubs that produce berries (such as holly, mulberry or beautyberry)
as well as fruiting trees and plants that produce seeds and nuts, and plant in
groupings to create a protected area.

Provide the birds with a water
. Sure, a bird bath
is an option, but instead of static water, add a bubbler, mister or dripper to
create motion. If you really want to go big, add a waterfall or pond. Don’t
forget the birds in the winter. While they can get their water from snow and
ice, if you want to attract them, add a heater attachment to a bird bath.

Put feeders in the right location. Bird feeders are terrific ways to attract birds, but they
do their job best when put in the right spot. Some birds are scared to visit a
feeder that is exposed while others like to take a flying leap across the yard
to the feeder. Situate multiple feeders so they can accommodate different types
of birds. This means placing one feeder near a large shrub or tree that offers
cover for timid birds and placing another farther away in a tree for the bolder
birds. Give bird species some space and separate individual feeders at least 3
feet (around a meter) from each other.

Give them a place to nest. Creating habitat in the landscape is a terrific way to
keep the birds around, but you can provide them with options by hanging
birdhouses or a roost box. Be sure to have nesting material available. Some
birds use detritus from the landscape while others may use man-made materials,
such as cotton or string, and still others make good use of Fido’s shed fur.

Vary the menu. Many people feed the hummingbirds
or put suet out in the winter for the birds, but if you want to get a variety
of avian wildlife, try varying the menu. Yes, hummers like a variety of
flowering plants to fill up on, but they will happily sip from a syrup filled
feeder. For a treat, you can even offer the birds a sampling of your menu by
feeding birds kitchen scraps such as pasta, rice, or bread. Don’t use the birds
as composters, however. It is much better for them to eat naturally occurring foods
so give them the previous foods only on occasion.

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20 Dec 2019

Growing, Maintenance, and Care Tips

Leucothoe [Loo-KOH-thoh-ee] is a genus of evergreen flowering plants, belonging to the family Ericaceae along with Calluna vulgaris

This genus has around 50 different species, including Leucothoe Fontanesiana and Leucothoe Axillaris.

All of these species are low maintenance and produce beautiful foliage to enhance the overall beauty of the garden, particularly in winter and autumn.

Leucothoe works well on dry slopes without irrigation and slopes near water. 

This plant is native to Madagascar, Asia, and the United States.

The common names of this plant include:

  • Coastal Doghobble
  • Drooping Leucothoe
  • Swamp Doglaurel
  • Fetterbush
  • Coastal Leucothoe
  • Rainbow Leucothoe
  • Mountain Doghobble
  • Scarletta Fetterbush

Leucothoe Plant Care

Size & Growth

This evergreen shrub is vase-shaped and grows about 3’ to 5’ feet tall. 

It spreads about 6’ feet or more. 

The stems of this plant are elegant and arching. 

The majority of the species start with vibrant green, bronze, or red stems, which turn into glossy or dark green as they mature.

The plant has spear-shaped or elongated leaves. 

The leaf color ranges from red, pink, pale yellow, or green, and changes to purple or bronzy during the autumn season. 

Some of the varieties also have variegated leaves.

Flowering and Fragrance

  • All the varieties of this plant produce bell-shaped, white flowers. 
  • The flower color might also be bluish in some species. 
  • These tiny flowers gradually transform into five-lobed globular fruits.  
  • The bloom time of this plant is between April and May.

Light & Temperature

This plant tolerates the full sun if there is a sufficient amount of moisture in the soil. 

Full shade to partial shade is required to develop vibrant leaf color and variegated leaves. 

The lighter spot you place this plant in, the more beautiful its color will become.

These plants are hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 6 through 9. 

This plant is moderately hardy but requires a bit of protection during the winter season. 

Provide extra protection during periods when thawing and frosting occur regularly.

Watering and Feeding

This plant has the ability to tolerate short dryness spells. 

However, for healthy plants, you must provide it with consistent but moderate water.

Make sure the soil stays moist and ensure the soil doesn’t completely dry out between waterings. 

Keep in mind the Mountain Doghobble shouldn’t sit in standing water for an extended period.

Feed the plant with special Ericaceae fertilizer during the spring season to enhances its health and maintain the acidity of the soil.  

Soil & Transplanting

It grows optimally in well-draining and acidic soil. 

This plant is rather versatile and grows well in all types of soil, but make sure the pH level of the soil isn’t alkaline.

Grooming and Maintenance

  • Protect this plant from drying winds as it might damage the foliage. 
  • Apply a layer of organic matter or mulch all around the root area to prevent desiccation and weed. 
  • A bark layer also works well in maintaining the acidity of the soil and protecting the plant from drying out.
  • There is not much need for pruning unless there is a broken or errant stem. 
  • Enjoy new growth by taking out stems within a few inches of the soil, which will rejuvenate the old plants.

How to Propagate Leucothoe Plant

The propagation of this plant is done using half-ripe cuttings and seeds.

  • Sow the seeds in late winter in part shade inside the greenhouse. 
  • Be sure to cover the seeds lightly. 
  • Make sure the compost doesn’t dry out throughout the germination process. 
  • Once the plant is big enough to handle, take the seedlings out and plant them in separate pots.
  • Allow the plant to grow under light shade inside the greenhouse till their first winter. 
  • During late spring, transfer the plant in their permanent spot in the garden during the late spring season.

When propagating the plant using half-rip cuttings, make sure to take 2” to 4” inches of the cutting. 

  • Grow the cuttings in a frame during the summer season. 
  • Layer the plant with mulch in the fall season. 
  • Once the plant is big enough, transfer them out in the permanent position.

Leucothoe Plant Pest or Diseases

The Drooping Leucothoe is deer resistant and doesn’t experience any severe disease or pests problems. 

However, be on a lookout for scale insects, lace bugs, leaf gall, powdery mildew, tar spot, and Anthracnose spot

In a humid environment, the plant might experience a leaf spot.

Is Leucothoe Toxic or Poisonous?

This plant is toxic and might prove fatal if ingested. 

The plant also has a high flammability rating and shouldn’t be placed inside the house.

Leucothoe Plant Uses

This evergreen shrub works well as a single specimen when planted in containers. 

It also looks stunning when used with other plants in borders, woodland gardens, rock gardens, on slopes, or as a ground cover.

It may be used as an under-planting for bigger shrubs or as a foundation plant. 

The fantastic foliage of this plant looks wonderful with Checkerberry, Ling Heather, and Skimmia plants.

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05 Dec 2019

History Of Rosemary – Learn About Rosemary Herbal Uses

Cultivated for over 5,000 years, rosemary plant history is understandably steeped in legend, myth and folklore. Rosemary herbal uses run the gamut of medicinal remedies, culinary delights or even as a love charm. It’s really no wonder why its stimulating aroma and flavor has continued to enchant people for centuries.

History of Rosemary

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) has been used medicinally dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans in 500 B.C. Dried sprigs of rosemary even showed up in Egyptian tombs from 3,000 B.C. Discorides, a contemporary of both Pliny the Elder and Galen, also wrote of rosemary in his opus De Materia Medica, the gold standard about the use and identification of medicinal herbs for 1,400 years.

Rosemary was cultivated by the Spanish in the 13th century where it became a popular condiment for salted meats from the 15th to 18th centuries. Actually, I suspect it was used less as a condiment and more to disguise the less than pleasant odor and flavor of rotting meat.

Its genus name, Rosmarinus, is derived from the Latin for “dew” (ros) and “belonging to the sea” (marinus) in reference to the warm Mediterranean region of its origin. The common name of rosemary is, of course, derived from the genus name but with a twist. Legend has it that the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, as she fled from Egypt, sheltered next to a rosemary bush. She threw her blue cape onto the bush and the white flowers turned blue. Because of this, the herb has long been called “rose of Mary” even if the blooms look nothing like a rose but are rather more like the mint flowers to which rosemary is related.

Additional Rosemary Plant History

Rosemary is associated with remembrance. Its earliest use was probably by Greek students. They braided garlands of the aromatic herb into their hair, which is where rosemary’s other common name “herb of crowns” comes from. I do something like this whenever I trim my rosemary – stick the herb into my sweaty, messy hair. I can’t recall if it helps my memory, but it sure does improve upon my aroma.

Rosemary is also symbolic of fidelity or, to put more romantically, love. During the Middle Ages, a bride would wear rosemary in her headpiece and the groom and guests would wear a sprig as well. Really prosperous wedding goers might receive a rosemary branch gilt in gold. The newlyweds would plant rosemary on their wedding day in the hopes that it would be a good omen for their future.

It was said if a person tapped another with a sprig of rosemary with an open bloom, they would fall in love. Rosemary was also incorporated into doll’s clothes to attract lovers. From all of these folkloric traditions arose the concept that rosemary was a love charm.

Rosemary Herbal Uses

Rosemary’s medicinal history spans centuries and was probably first used for respiratory issues. During the 13th century, the Queen of Hungary apparently was paralyzed, but a concoction of rosemary and wine fixed her right up. For years thereafter, the concoction was used to cure baldness and dandruff as well as other skin ailments. Rosemary was placed under one’s pillow to prevent nightmares and was hung outside homes to thwart evil spirits. Of course, rosemary was also used between the sheets to repel moths.

By the 16th century, the marital rosemary planted with such hope by the aforementioned newlyweds was being yanked out by husbands. Due no doubt to an old common saying “where rosemary flourishes, the lady rules” that basically meant women, not men, ruled the home. We have three rosemary bushes, just saying.

In successive years, rosemary was used to treat the Plague, melancholy, gout, epilepsy, arthritis and many other ills. Today, the herb is still used by many as a tea to treat sore throats, head colds and to freshen bad breath. Rosemary is often used in cooking, but that isn’t the herbs only use. The aromatic essential oil derived from the plant is found in many toiletry products. In fact, a food preservative derived from the herb is used in cosmetics and plastic food packaging.

From love potions to plastic packaging, rosemary has come a long way. Who knows what uses we’ll find for the herb in the coming years. Maybe scientists will discover that rosemary oil is a new biofuel. Could happen.

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20 Nov 2019

Succulents You See Them Everywhere Indoors

All types of succulent plants, you see them everywhere. In dish gardens, terrariums, pots, planters, on patios, even in modern foundation plantings. 

Succulents are plants without frills, geared to modern living. Functional plants that can stand today’s rapid pace.

If you are too rushed to water them, they fall back on their own reserve supply. 

Learn more about Watering Succulents from the Bottom.

If your air-conditioned room is too dry, it reminds them of their native warm-temperate or semi-desert home. If the children swoosh by too close, the pieces often root where they fall.

There are hundreds of different succulents. 

From tiny button sizes, you can grow in 1” inch pots to trees too tall to fit into a conservatory. 

But, beware. Once you fall under the succulent spell, you may find yourself searching for rare varieties to add for your collection. 

Dedicated fanciers hunt for succulents in nursery catalogs native to South Africa, Madagascar, and Mexico.

Growing Succulents No Green Thumb Required

Growing succulents does not require you to have a green thumb. Plant them in any good potting soil. Although we recommend a soil mix for succulents

If you mix your own, use a sandy loam and add some clean, coarse sand, and coarse leafmold or peat moss. 

Strive for an open, porous compost through which water will drain freely. 

Heavy soils drown plants by holding too much water around the roots. If the succulent potting soil is damp, don’t water the plants right away. 

And when you do water during the first few weeks, give them only a little so the soil will dry out again quickly. Healthy new roots start best in soil that is almost dry.

Spread out the roots and pot plants firmly. When using individual pots, small ones are best at the start. Later, as the plants grow, you can transfer them to larger containers.

Succulents Good For Decorations

Dish gardens of succulents make good decorations. For the best effect plant, many kinds close together in each dish. 

The bowls or dishes used for planting are usually glazed pottery without drainage holes, and excess water can escape only through evaporation. 

So never soak the soil. 

Give enough water to keep the plants plump but not enough to induce much top growth. Actually, the plants should be on the dry side most of the time.

Succulents enjoy the same light geraniums do. They want the sun, so don’t put them too far away from the window. Windowsills are perfect for cactus and succulents.

If you intend to succulents on tables where there is no direct light, keep them on the dry side – hardly water them at all – and they will keep in good condition.

Succulents To Consider For Your Collection

Here are some succulents you will want for your collection. You can see a number of them in full color throughout this article.

Agave striata (echinoides) – a dwarf century plant. Its many narrow stiff leaves have white threads on the margins. Young plants spring from the soil near the base. The tall, slender flower spike has inconspicuous flowers.

Aloe humilis – forms small, compact rosette clusters. Most aloes are from Africa and vary from small 3-inch rosettes to tall trees.

Aloe brevifolia – thick, blue-gray leaf rosettes covered with blunt prickles. Flowers are bright red on tall, slender spikes. Young plants grow around the base.

Aloe variegata – an old favorite called tiger or partridge breast aloe. The stiff, triangular, keeled leaves – pale green, blotched, and margined with white – grow in rosettes. In late winter, short spikes of slender, brilliant red bells appear.

Variegated Tiger Aloe with bloom stalk

Bryophyllum – also known as Kalanchoe. Produces many young plantlets at its leaf crenations.

Crassula argentea tricolor –  the sturdy, tricolored, jade plant. It will grow into a good-sized bush with a thick trunk, but small plants are more common.

Echeveria elegans  – commonly called Mexican snowball. It has thick, blue-white leaves in compact rosettes and spikes of fleshy pink bells. Grows in hot, dry places and is useful in dish gardens or carpet bedding outdoors.

Echeveria elegans growing in full sun in the landscape

Echeveria gibbiflora metallica  – a large rosette often a foot in diameter. Has bronzy-red leaves and a tall single stem that bears a spike of pale red flowers.

Echeveria pallida –  a Mexican plant with pale green leaves forming quite a large rosette. The flower spike is 2’ feet long with many bright red bells.

Echeveria setosa – commonly called Mexican firecracker. Leaves are covered with white hairs, and flowers, on short spikes, are bright red and yellow.

Echeveria sets the Mexican Firecracker with the fuzzy bristles on the leaves

Faucaria tigrina – called tiger jaws. This African succulent has thick green rosettes, each leaf white-flecked and rimmed with teeth.

Tiger's Jaw Faucaria succulent showing off it's yellow flower

Large, bright yellow flowers appear in autumn.

Gasteria verrucosa – a South African plant with thick leathery leaves, lying in one plane, covered with glossy white bosses, bears tall flower spikes with slender bright red bells.

Graptopetalum paraguayense – ghost plant. This handsome, long-lived species grows more beautiful with age. The stems of the mature plants tipped with their rosettes of thick, pink-white leaves, bend gracefully. The ghost plant thrives under adverse conditions.

Haworthia margaritifera – pearl haworthia. Handsome, and easily grown, it has a small rosette of thick, deep green leaves with many white bosses on the backs. Haworthia papillosa is larger and has larger bosses.

potted Haworthia zebra cactus (fasciata)
Potted Haworthia plants

Huernia pillansi – cockleburs, a member of the milkweed family, closely related to the starfish flowers.

Flowers of Huernia succulent planl

It belongs to a curious group of African plants called ‘dragon flowers’ because their blossoms are open mouthed. This is the only one that bears soft, hairlike prickles.

Kalanchoe marmorata – readily recognized as the pen wiper plant by its heavily mottled purple leaves. It forms a tall plant topped with a cluster of white flowers.

Kalanchoe synsepala – from Madagascar, has large obovate leaves of dark green. Flower spikes have thickly packed heads of pale pink blossoms. Produces stiff slender runners with young plants at the tips.

Kalanchoe tomentosa – panda plant. A fine plant from Madagascar. The leaves, densely covered with silvery wool, turn rich cocoa-brown at the leaf crenations.

Kalanchoe tomentosa - panda plant a well known variety

Pachyphytum oviferum –  thick, white-powdered ovate leaves that turn violet-pink during cold weather.

Details on Pachyphytum Compactum

Sansevieria – rugged plants that will do well under the most adverse conditions. There are many kinds, and the most popular is striped with yellow.

Sansevieria plants growing on a windowsill

Sedum rubrotinctum –  (S. guatemalense). This quick-growing species is very useful. Given poor soil and full sun, its leaves turn bright red; in richer soil and with more water, leaves turn bright, shiny green.

Close up of Sedum rubrotinctum - Jelly bean succulent

Sedum pachyphyllum – red tips. Has pretty yellow blossoms. If kept dry and in full sun, the leaves turn violet-rose tipped with red.

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05 Nov 2019

Learn About Upcycling Drawbacks And Benefits

Upcycling is kind of similar to recycling in that you are reusing an item. But with recycling, an item is often broken down in some way, making it less than it was before, whereas upcycling is just as the name suggests…taking an item “up” a notch and making it something more than it was before. While the benefits of living a sustainable lifestyle and repurposing our waste are being beaten into us, others see an awful lot of upcycling drawbacks. So, in order to provide the best information possible, we must include both sides – the pros and cons of garden upcycling.

Upcycling Pros – Reasons to Upcycle in the Garden

(Nikki’s viewpoint) I love to upcycle, especially in the garden. Why? Let me count the ways, as the benefits of garden upcycling are bountiful, and anyone can reap from these rewards.

Saves money and reduces waste. This should just be a given. It doesn’t cost much at all to improve upon something, but it will get costly having to haul it off to the landfill. Take my son’s old truck bed liner, for example. This large eyesore could have costed us some money hauling it off to the dump, but why spend money when you don’t have to? With some drainage holes and the addition of some beautiful plants, this became the foundation for a backyard tropical oasis instead. Same thing for those huge truck tires. Some paint, some plants and some ingenuity, and an attractive dinosaur garden was created. Simple things like this can greatly reduce waste in landfills and beyond.

Great chance to be creative. Upcycling in the garden also gives you the chance to let those creative juices flow. Don’t have a creative bone? Yes, you do. Everyone does. Don’t overthink it too much. You can make upcycling as simple or complex as your artistic abilities can handle. Got an old terra cotta container that’s cracked or broken and ready to be tossed? Give it new life and another purpose as part of a fairy garden. How about those wine bottles piling up? Sure, you could haul them to the recycling center, but why not turn them into unique edging or create a bottle tree with them instead? Anything goes – it’s your creation.

Visually pleasing conversation piece. Taking something used up, broken or downright ugly and sprucing it up into something beautiful and purposeful in the garden can be a visually appealing asset to the garden. It can also become an interesting conversation piece. I once took an old desk and refurbished it into a unique planter. Many people have commented on it as they pass by. I also have a teapot turned planter/wind chime combo – a gift my daughter-in-law made. Dresser drawers have found new life housing plants in the garden after a previous life storing clothes.

Preserves precious mementos. Another reason to upcycle in the garden is preserving memories, or maybe even history. I have old rain boots from my daughter and toys that once belonged to my son. They’re grown now, but these trinkets can be found amongst the plants in the garden, some even spilling out their own flora. Each time I’m out there, it brings me joy, as those fond memories of their childhood antics live on in a different way.

Cons of Garden Upcycling – Gardening Upcycling Drawbacks

(Amy’s viewpoint) I know that upcycling is supposed to result in turning our trash into something useful or even beautiful, but too often the results look pretty disastrous, pretty much like the rubbish they started off as. And that isn’t my only upcycling beef.

Upcycled items cannot always be recycled. Upcycling is touted as an extension of recycling. It is changing or customizing an item to reuse in a different way than what the item was intended for. Okay, that sounds pretty good, but the fact is that sometimes the objects that have been upcycled can no longer be recycled. For instance, if you upcycle toilet paper rolls and transform them into holiday napkin rings but in the process painted them with toxic paints and rolled them in glitter, are they still recyclable? I think not.

Most are not attractive and return to junkyard. Many of the dearths of projects for upcycling that can be found seem to be, well, pretty crappy, either designed for children or those without an iota of artistic talent or taste for that matter. Once you’ve created your upcycled masterpiece and realize it’s a piece of crap, what do you plan to do with it? How long are you going to hang onto it before it finds its way into the trash bin? The concern here is that upcycling becomes less of a green, sustainable activity and instead just a delay to the landfill.

There better ways to reduce waste. Really, when I think about it, the major upcycling negative is that it depends on our failure to reduce our use of things we now have to upcycle. For instance, is it really saving the planet by upcycling plastic bottles into feeders or planters? A better idea might be to quit drinking soda.

Acquiring more “junk” material is never ending. Also, it’s likely that the crafty upcycler will still buy new stuff, which is sort of a non-renewable idea. We often buy stuff just because we want it, not because we need it, which I guess perversely for the upcycling proponent just means more usable upcyclable material. In the end, I see upcycling as a rather twisted excuse.

Weighing the Garden Upcycling Negatives Against the Pros

You may agree with some of the upcycling negatives presented here but, overall, the benefits of garden upcycling seem to far outweigh any drawbacks. Sure, if you want to save the planet by minimizing your footprint, you can use less and be mindful about the things you purchase. If everyone gave a second thought before impulsively buying, there would be little need for activities like garden upcycling, let alone recycling. But that’s not realistic. There will always be “stuff,” much of which ends up in landfills or backyards taking up space and cluttering the environment. Recycling is great, but if you can put a creative spin to some of these items and find other uses for them in the garden, what’s wrong with that?

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21 Oct 2019

The Rare Mother In Law Tongue Flower

Snake plant (Sansevieria) is also known as mother-in-law’s tongue. 

Most people don’t realize this rugged, ubiquitous houseplant (Sansevieria trifasciata) can sometimes flower. 

This is a rare occasion and will never happen more often than once annually, usually in the springtime, and usually only with plants living outdoors year-round.

Does Anything Special Need To Be Done With The Flower Or Plant?

You’re sure to have seen Mother-in-Laws Tongue or Snake Plants in public settings and on your grandma’s windowsill. 

These plants multiply quickly and can withstand a great deal of neglect. 

Neglect is what can often spur the plant to bloom.

When these plants are left to their resources, with little water and plenty of light, they spread quickly and can very rapidly become root-bound. 

This is what often stimulates the plant to bloom.

The reason for this is neglect gives the plant the message it is going to die from drought. 

This motivates it to produce flowers (seeds) to spread and hopefully take root and thrive.

Favorite Snake Plant Varieties

What Does The Flower Look Like, And How Big Does It Get?

When it does bloom, the flowers grow along with tall flower spikes or stalks. 

These spikes grow as tall as 3’ feet high and are covered in small, honeysuckle-like greenish, cream, or white flowers. 

Does It Have A Fragrance?

The blossoms are richly fragrant at night and contain very sweet, sticky nectar, which appears as dew drops on the blossom stems. 

Blossoms close during the daytime and open after dark. 

How Long Do Snake Plants Flowers Last?

There is no information available regarding how long the blooms will last. When they do die back, be sure to prune the flower stalks off at the base to help the plant conserve energy and present a tidier appearance. 

Can The Flower Be Used In Flower Arrangements?

Although these flowers are showy, they are typically not sturdy enough to be used in flower arrangements. 

Enjoy them where they are. 

Does The Plant Die After Flowering? 

Sansevieria will not die after flowering. The blossoms transition into orange berries.

Here is a Snake Plant which surprised its keeper with blooms indoors. 

Here is Mother in Law tongue plant blooming abundantly outdoors in tropical India. 

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06 Oct 2019

5 Surprising Ways to Grow Potatoes

For years, I lived in an upstairs apartment with no garden. I wanted, no, I needed to be able to grow my own fresh veggies and herbs. While the space lacked a garden proper, it did have lots of exterior stairs that happened to be situated in full sun. So, as they say, ‘necessity is the mother of invention,’ and those stairs became my garden where I grew everything from tomatoes to potatoes. Yes, you heard me correctly, even potatoes. In fact, there are a number of surprising ways to grow potatoes and here are five of them.

1. Grow potatoes in containers. The traditional way to grow potatoes in the garden is by using the trench and hill method. This requires a good amount of garden space, but since I lacked that commodity, I thought what do potatoes really need? They need some depth…so why not container grow them in a fairly deep pot, but not one that is overwhelmingly huge – such as 5-gallon pickle bucket. Any large bucket will work, it just so happened that I worked in a restaurant at the time and it was free and readily available.

2. Grow potatoes in baskets or tires. Growing potatoes in a bucket is just one way to contain the plant. I have read of one person who grew potatoes in a laundry basket! They can be grown in vertically piled up old tires or even in a sheet of heavy black plastic that is rolled into a tube with holes cut along the sides. Old garbage cans also make great potato growing containers.

3. Grow potatoes in a bag. Potatoes can even be grown in sacks or grocery bags or grow bags. Just place the sprouted potatoes in amongst some nice light nutrient-rich soil. As the potatoes grow, continue to cover or hill them with more of the soil.

4. Grow potatoes in straw. Spuds can also be grown in straw, which eliminates digging them from the dirt. This method begets clean easily grown potatoes and the straw will just become mulch in the garden. The seed potatoes are planted on the soil’s surface and then covered with straw. As the plants grow, more straw is added to cover. A similar method can be employed with leaves too.

5. Grow potatoes vertically. The most amazing way to grow potatoes generates a double whammy – that is, you produce not only potatoes but tomatoes as well. Growing the TomTato is a great space saver. A TomTato is a grafting of the top of a cherry tomato to the bottom of a white potato plant. It is a single plant that produces two different crops and is a terrific space saver, as it can be grown vertically. Hands down the coolest idea I’ve seen for a while! You can also grow them vertically in a potato tower.

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21 Sep 2019

Streptocarpus – The Cape Primrose

A well-grown Streptocarpus (cape primrose) is a joy. The many hybrids provide pleasing colors and dashing combinations in shades of crimson, pink, blue, violet and white. 

Contrasting lines and blotches of vibrant colors radiate from the throats of the flowers to add interest. 

These fuzzy-leaved plants are related to Saintpaulias (African violets), Columneas and gloxinias – all of them members of the gesneriad family. 

The natural habitat of streptocarpus is principally in Africa and Madagascar. There they grow in cool, humid, wooded mountain ravines where sheltered humus provides moisture for the roots.

The word streptocarpus is not as puzzling as it looks. It is a combination of two Greek words, streptos (twisted) and karpus (seed pod). The twisted seed capsule, on most varieties, is longer than a toothpick and nearly as thin.

The First Streptocarpus Arrives

The first streptocarpus species collected was brought from the African estate of George Rex, and it bloomed in England’s Kew Gardens in 1826. 

This gloxinia-like little plant received a generous welcome and was soon named Streptocarpus rexii. It develops compact rosettes of fluted, dark green leaves. 

From the axils of these come six to eight-inch stems, each holding one or two tubular flowers of rich blue. Today, this species figures in the background of many outstanding hybrids, such as the Weismoors, and is still grown by collectors.

At least two species of streptocarpus, S. wendlandii and S. grandis, develop only one large leaf. It matures in a year or more when numerous flowering stems come from the base of the strong mid-vein of the leaf. 

These individual leaves may grow to two or three feet in length when the plant is given abundant moisture. 

I experienced this when growing S. wendlandii in a specially prepared border north of my house. 

Even the width of the leaf was 12” inches. Imagine the problem encountered at potting-up time before frost! 

I solved the dilemma by using a large pot and placing it on a table on the porch where the leaf could rest in its natural position. 

However, now I am growing S. wendlandii and S. grandis in four-inch pots and the leaf measures about 18” by eight inches, and they seem content in this size pot. 

S. grandis has a leaf of lighter green than that of S. wendlandii, and it is thinner. 

These streptocarpus are annuals – they bloom once, then die.

The Leafy Stem Cape Primrose Streptocarpus

Another streptocarpus group is composed of species with erect, leafy stems. 

The most familiar is Steptocarpus saxorum, seeds of which were brought to the United States from Tanganyika (present-day Tanzania) by L. J. Brass of Florida in 1950. 

It is easily grown and propagated. 

I’ve grow it in an east window and even in a south window during winter while the sun is far south. The sun brings out the dainty blue flowers, each held by its own wiry, three-inch, red-black stem. 

When these appear in profusion, they are suggestive of arms reaching out to wave blue flags all around the plant. 

Streptocarpus saxorum is a branching plant with a multitude of stems. The largest individual leaves are slightly less than an inch long, and about one-half inch wide. 

They are succulent and hairy. Stem cuttings root well in vermiculite, in a mixture of peat moss and sand, or in a combination of peat and perlite. 

Streptocarpus kirkii of this group has branched stems and heart-shaped leaves about 1 ½” inches in diameter. Each flower stem may hold as many as 25 or more light blue blossoms.


Cape primrose may be propagated by seeds or cuttings just as easily as African violets. 

Also, the same soil African Violet soil mixture may be used. 

Good drainage is necessary, but the soil should never dry out or the leaf edges will turn brown. Streptocarpus resent air that is excessively hot and dry. 

In the window garden, it helps to set them on a surface of moist sand, peat moss or perlite.

S. rexii and the other hybrids may be grown at cooler temperatures than are usually provided for African violets and gloxinias – down to 50° degrees Fahrenheit at night. 

Give them plenty of sun in winter. 

The one-leaf species, S. wendlandii and S. grandis, have done well for me in a wide range of conditions, seeming to thrive best with a moist atmosphere, and a temperature range of 62° to 75° degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. 

S. saxorum needs warmth, some sunlight and high humidity.

I have found streptocarpus valuable in my outdoor garden during warm weather. 

The roots seem to appreciate the opportunity to meander deeply into moist leaf mold. Early morning and late afternoon sun promote compact growth and profuse flowering. 

Watering is done with a flared hose nozzle, and on extremely hot days the plants are cooled by the hose several times a day. 

During the summer, streptocarpus outdoors relish the dew, rain and cool night air. 

By Florence Knock

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06 Sep 2019

What Is Breadfruit: Where Does Breadfruit Come From

Sometimes we don’t give certain foods a culinary chance and the reason for our aversion can be unjustified. Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) is a classic example for me. How do you prepare your taste buds for something with a weird name like that? Is it fruit that tastes like bread? Smells like bread? Looks like bread? All of the above? And, at the time, I wasn’t sure an affirmative response to any of those questions was a good thing, so I lost my gumption to try it. But now, after researching and writing about the history of breadfruit, I am quite fascinated by it, so go ahead and serve me a slice! For starters, did you know that breadfruit is associated with a famous mutiny? It’s true! Read on to learn more!

What is Breadfruit?

Breadfruit trees are grown throughout the tropical regions of the world. A member of the mulberry family, breadfruit can grow upwards of 85 feet (26 m.) tall with each tree producing up to 200 large round, oval or oblong fruits per year. Each individual fruit has a skin texture that is smooth, bumpy or spiked and can weigh a hefty 12 pounds (5 kg.).

Breadfruit is ripe when it is firm with skin having a greenish-yellow cast and flesh that is soft and creamy white or yellow. Breadfruit is typically roasted, baked, fried or boiled before being consumed. While breadfruit is actually a fruit, it is regarded more as a vegetable from a culinary standpoint. The taste of breadfruit is somewhat hard to pin down depending on individual palates, how it’s prepared and even the ripeness of the fruit, but the texture and taste is most commonly likened to that of a potato, artichoke hearts or a grainy bread.

Breadfruit seems to have endless culinary possibilities given that it can be used as a substitute for potatoes in many recipes. And, some culinary creativity may be in order because some people feel that the taste of breadfruit is quite bland. The riper your breadfruit is, the sweeter it will be, as more of the starches will have converted to sugar, but it will never be as sweet as a mango or papaya, for instance. While the name of breadfruit probably alludes more to its taste than anything else, the case can be made that it resembles or smells like freshly baked bread in its roasted or sliced and fried forms.

History of Breadfruit

So where does breadfruit come from? Breadfruit has been a staple crop in Oceania for more than 3,000 years. It originated in New Guinea and the Indo-Malay region. Islanders carried breadfruit on their early voyages throughout the Pacific Islands as they colonized the region, contributing to its spread.

The spread of breadfruit beyond the Oceanic region can be credited to Britain. In the late 1700’s, Britain was seeking a cheap high energy food source for the slaves in the British West Indies, particularly for those in Jamaica working the island’s sugar plantations. It was during this time, circa 1768, that Captain James Cook and botanist Sir Joseph Banks were in Tahiti as part of a three-year exploratory expedition. They discovered breadfruit there and recognized its potential for resolving Britain’s dilemma, as breadfruit was a low-maintenance, fast-growing tree which yielded prolific carb-heavy fruits.

An expedition, led by Lieutenant William Bligh on the HMS Bounty, was dispatched to Tahiti in 1787 to transport breadfruit trees to the West Indies. The mission failed due to the infamous “mutiny on the Bounty” en route to West Indies from Tahiti. The lieutenant and the loyal members of his crew were cast into a small boat and all 1,015 plant specimens were thrown overboard. Lieutenant Bligh, against all odds, used his keen navigational skills to return to England where he was later promoted to Captain and commandeered a successful second expedition on board the Providence to Tahiti in 1791, which successfully delivered breadfruit plants to the Caribbean at Kingstown, St. Vincent and several paces in Jamaica.

While the breadfruit trees thrived in their new West Indies locales, the West Indians did not really embrace breadfruit and only ate them when they had no other options, which defeated the intent Britain originally had for the plants. Forty years later, however, breadfruit gained widespread acceptance in the islands. Today breadfruit is grown in close to 90 countries including Africa, Australia, South America, South and Southeast Asia. In the United States, breadfruit is grown in South Florida and Hawaii.

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