Monday, December 26, 2011

Winter Porch Pots --- Greenery Containers

Winter porch pots or containers filled with greenery provide warm color and inexpensive style during cold winter months.

Cities like New York and Chicago dress open urns and sidewalk esplanades in winter greens, branches and a variety of natural materials.  Dried hydrangea, sedum, dogwood, ivy, nut buds, birds nests, pinecones, pine needles, or anything else interesting can duplicate the look at home. The dressed up container adds warmth and sophistication, with little effort and no cost.

Bill and I arrived late one night in Chicago on our way to a family wedding.  City workers systematically dislodged summer annuals from the borders along Michigan Avenue and replaced them with full blooms.  By morning it was as if the mums had sprouted overnight.  The effect was more than aesthetic.  Likened to a pair of newly polished shoes, the winter arrangements show warmth and attention to detail.

The same result can be achieved at the porch level--where the day begins and ends.  Evergreen  and boxwood branches, twigs, flowering shrub branches and any plant whose stems don't deteriorate in the cold are candidates.  Leave out the pots, or fill other garden adornments such as wall planters or windowboxes.

Time to repurpose the Christmas tree, bough or wreath. For those who don't celebrate, or stick with artificial, there's plenty of candidates at the curb.  Good thing it gets dark early. 

Using a base of soil, possibly left from the previous annual occupant, it's critical to create these pots before the ground freezes solid.  Start at the center with taller pieces of greenery.  Don't skimp, the pot needs to be quite  full.  Then plant the branches, dried flowerheads, or anything else interesting.  Wreaths can be dissasembled and used, or simply frame the pot, anchoring the inserted branches.  Boughs can be disassembled or draped along a windowbox.  The branches of a discarded tree will fill pots to overflowing.

For holidays, small adornments may be included.  If ambitious, add elegant prelit twigs.

Best part's no maintenance, no cutting back and zero plucking of spent blooms.  Snow simply adds to the interest.

When warmer weather returns, a quick trip to the compost heap, and the pots are ready to spring to action. Bright pansies tucked into the winter porch pot makes for a welcome transisiton. 

Beats lugging them into the shed.

Define your home, define your personality.  Add a few tools of your trade so those who approach get a preview of who lives inside. 


More Articles of Interest:
Planting Windowboxes -- No pane no gain

Container Gardens -- Pots on the Spot

Gnomes Get Kids Gardening

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Perpetual Poinsettia -- How to Care for a Poinsettia

What to do with a poinsettia after the holidays? How to best care for these tropical holiday harbingers?

I just can't kill a poinsettia.  It's not premeditated, but sheer luck created an environment which left these seasonal plants blooming in the kitchen until Halloween. 

To be honest, by Easter Sunday the bright red notched blooms are a bit annoying, but golly, if a delicate plant manages to thrive with little care and outright indifference, why sentence it to the compost bin?


As neighbors pulled out the patio furniture and prepared their grills for summer, several inquired as to the identity of the brilliant red plant perched on a bench in the yard.

No one'd yet seen poinsettia reflecting the warm June sun in this neighborhood.

This method of preserving poinsettia is based on location and continuous moisture.  Poinsettia thrive in tropical  Zones Eight and above.  In Florida, shrubs the size of a small SUV sport variegated blooms in shades of white, pink pale green and red.

My grandfather was so proud of his southern poinsettia bush he made the grandkids gather around for a photo each Christmas visit.

Mine spends the winter near a back kitchen window which is perpetually cool, but not cold.  Hot direct sun should be avoided as well as sudden blasts of cold air.  Poinsettias require sunlight, but indirect seems to work best. They're pretty wimpy.  Freezing blasts lasting more than a few moments will cause the plant to shrivel. 

Moreso than maintaining a cool moderate climate, never let the poinsettia dry out. A thirsty plant will quickly drop its leaves, and won't fully recover.  Set it in the sink every four or so days and run the faucet (directed at the soil only) at a temperate setting until the soil is saturated and excess water seeps from the bottom. Keep the leaves and stems dry while watering to avoid water spots. Give it a little plant food every so often.   Leave the plant in the sink overnight, then back to home base.  Set a shallow dish under the newly watered plant.  

In mid to late June, when the weather is consistently in the mid to high sixties at night, and spring rains abate, the poinsettia can be planted in a sunny patch, avoiding hot afternoon sunlight.  The plant's blooms will quickly turn green. Keep the soil watered, but not saturated.   In October, when temps drop, plop it back into a pot, and return the plant to an indoor space.

Folks touring the yard will be pleasantly surprised to see a bit of Christmas in July. 

Happy holidays.

More Articles of Interest:

How to Care for Houseplants -- Water, Warmth and Nitrogen Smoothies

Winter Porch Pots -- Greenery Containers 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Foxgloves, Samurai Shark and More Top Garden Gifts

What is the best gardening gift?  Top garden gifts need not break the bank. 

High fashion doesn't cost much in the garden. Those hot pink gloves aren't just for looks.  Foxgloves, which are available online, are the perfect  gift for a gardener.  While appearing dainty, they're tough and functional.  Foxgloves aren't waterproof so use disposable latex gloves for wet and messy plantings.  Mine have lasted for five years and innumerable machine washes.  They still retain their bright color and elasticity.  Continuous use only increases their soft and light qualities.

Foxgloves come in a variety of bright colors and two lengths, one to the elbow for" formal" chores and the more casual wrist model.  Best of all, they're light and breathable with unbelievable dexterity--perfect for bulb planting.  The newest colors this season are red and black.  Imagine cutting back the shasta daisies outfitted in elbow length black gloves.  Sure to impress the neighbors!

The secret to owning the sharpest tools was passed on to me by a friendly surgeon. He'd certainly be the resident expert.  The Samurai Shark Knife Sharpener, for under twenty bucks, comes with two knife sharpeners and the best pair of tungsten steel bladed kitchen shears in the northern hemishpere.  The most attractive feature is how easy and safe this tool is. Scrape the edge of a spade, or a hand trimmer between the reverse "v" shark shape of the hand held Samurai sharpener, and the tool operates as if new.  Dr. Mike knows sharpeners.  No electricity and little effort required.  Used dull tools are as restored as if new in a few seconds, extending the life of tools for years.

If it's been a good year, a digital camera is a superb gift.  Use your camera as a tool to document the peaches and pits of the yard for future reference and chronicle what needs to be moved or thinned out.  

It's a pleasure scrolling through winter photos on a hot July day, or admiring spring azaleas in August. 

Need a little something for the gardener?

1.  Hand clippers.  They're always in demand.  Fiskars makes a pretty pink handled version and donates some of the proceeds to breast cancer research.  The trouble with these tools is that they're easy to lose, toppling out of shallow pockets.  The pink handle is easier to locate on the ground.  The dollar store has a pointed nose floral clipper that does a nice job and fits well in side pockets.
2.  Gnomes.  Never know where they'll pop up!  These guys are good luck and always fun.  Little kids like to search for them in the yard. 
3.  Stepping stones.  Handmade are the best. I still have the watermelon striped stepping stone made as a Brownie craft by my youngest child.  Have the kids make decorative garden stones for a grandparent or other gardening relative.

Stepping Stone Falls   Flint, Michigan
Better yet, take grandma and the kids for a quick road trip to Stepping Stone Falls near Flint.  It's a short walk to the man made falls with a lovely view of Mott Lake and the Flint River.
The gift of time and memories is always the most cherished.

4.  Garden certificates:  Those to the local garden shop are always welcome.  Still, the most precious are the hand-made certificates promising an hour or two of assistance in the yard to be redeemed at a future date. 

Presents tailored to the individual show care and attention to detail.  The "gift that keeps on giving" is the one that is used or admired for years to come. 


More Articles of Interest: