Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cyclamen Mites

My Cyclamen leaves keep curling and dying. What am I doing wrong?

Healthy cyclamen plant.

Your plant is probably infested with cyclamen mites. These minute (less than 0.02mm in length), semi-transparent, greenish mites are too small for the naked eye to see. They hide in young, tender stem ends, leaves and flower buds of cyclamens (Cyclamen spp.) and many other indoor and outdoor plants. Their eggs are smooth and more apt to be found hidden in folds of plant tissue. They avoid light and prefer high humidity and cool (60 degrees F.) temperatures. They may be too small to see but their damage is obvious. Like all sucking bugs, these spider relatives cause wrinkled, curled growth and stunted flowers and foliage. Their damage first appears as light, speckled areas, which later spread over the entire leaf surface. Affected foliage turns yellow and even­tually dies and drops off. Cyclamen mites can be a pest of garden strawberry plants and can be serious pests of a wide range of plants including: African violet, cyclamen, begonia, snapdragon, impatiens, gerbera, ivy, and many indoor tropical plants.

Cyclamen leaf curling from cyclamen mite damage.

Cyclamen mites crawl from plant to plant across “bridges” where leaves touch each other or they hitch a ride on clothing or hands. Examine plants you bring into the garden or the house for signs of the pest, and wash hands and clothing after working with infested plants.

Deformation on African violet caused by cyclamen mite damage.

Lifecycle. Cyclamen mites can complete their lifecycle in only 1 to 3 weeks depending upon conditions. Adults can over-winter out of doors as far north as Canada in protected locations and complete many generations a year.

There are several ways to handle this problem depending on how bad it is by the time you see the damage. If you catch them early, you can remove cyclamen mites from plants with a high-pressure stream of water. Spray the entire plant, especially the undersides of the leaves, with a jet from a hose. If that doesn’t work try some of the following tips.

1. Dispose of infested plants. Since these mites can be difficult to control and reproduce rapidly, disposing of infested plants is often the best solution to this problem.

2. Sanitation. Examine newly purchases plant in the spring and reject them if they have curled or deformed tips and shoots that may be signs of mites.

3. Heat treatment. Cyclamen are heat sensitive and can be killed if immersed in 110 degree F water for 30 minutes. These temperatures are generally low enough to cause little damage to most plants but water temperature must be maintained properly and the whole plant, pot and all, needs to be immersed. Removing heavily infested shoots first may make this process easier.

4. Treat with miticidal/ insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. To be effective the spray must completely cover the insects so apply liberally and make sure the spray reaches under leaves and into shoot tips where the mites hide. Spray until the soap drips off.

Until next time, Happy Gardening

Five Tips for Mail Order Plants

The following tips are from Park Seed Company, one of my favorite sources for mail order seeds and plants. I have ordered both seeds and plants from them. Their plants always arrive in excellent condition. Sometimes the only way that you can get some of the more unusual varieties of plants and seeds is by mail order.

In January and February, just when gardeners are the most color-starved, our snail mail and email boxes begin filling up with catalogs displaying beautiful flowers and foliage that urge us to get our credit cards and buy, buy, buy! While this is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, it's a good idea to arm yourself with some information before you commit to your purchase. Here are five tips to make sure the plants you buy will be as beautiful in your real garden as they are in your imagined one.

Consider the advantages. Ordering bare root trees, shrubs and perennials saves money if you don't need mature plants or if you want a large number of plants. Growing plants from seeds is also a penny-saver. For the price of a single six pack of annuals, you can purchase enough seeds to grow dozens of plants.

Stay rooted in reality. Don't get swept away and order one of everything you see. Make a plan of what you want and where you will plant it. It's not as thrilling as purchasing what catches your eye, but if you make a list of the colors, heights and types of plants you're looking for, the end result will be a cohesive design rather than a botanical hodgepodge. Of course, it's also good to live a little so budget for a few whims.

Read the fine print. Take time to read the description of the plant's growing requirements. Make sure they match your garden's light, water and soil conditions. USDA hardiness zones should be checked on perennials, trees and shrubs. We are in Hardiness Zone 6 here in Lebanon. That means any plant that grows in Zones 5 and 6 should do very well here. Plants in Zone 7 and above are not winter hardy here. Plants for Hardiness Zones 4 and lower may find it too hot to do well here.

Garden thug or just what you are looking for? A plant described as a "vigorous grower" or "spreads quickly" might be ideal if you are looking for a fast-growing ground cover. Be careful, though, because plants with these qualities may become invasive garden thugs. Also note words such as "hardy volunteer", and "naturalizes", as these plants may colonize, spread or self-sow. (Again, those characteristics may be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on what you are looking for.)

Look for improved plant varieties. Plant breeders have developed varieties with unique characteristics that make them easier to grow. Now you can find perennials that will flower the first year even when started from seeds. Self-cleaning annuals don't require deadheading to remove spent flowers and self-branching plants don't need to be pinched back to keep a bushy form. Some plants are bred to be disease- or insect-resistant so you don't have to worry about pest and disease control.

Understand garden collections. Some catalogs offer ready-made garden designs that have the included plants available as a collection. Be aware that these borders are often planned so different plants in the collection will flower at different times, giving you multiple seasons of color. Don't expect everything to bloom at once as some illustrations of these collections imply. If it's non-stop color you're after, look for a garden collection that incorporates mainly annuals, which will bloom all growing season. Before you purchase any type of pre-planned garden, make sure the size of the garden plan is close to the size of your planting site so you can be sure you're buying the right number of plants.

Until next time, Happy Gardening

Gardening Safety While Pregnant

The idea for this article came from a friend who asked me to help design a garden for pregnant ladies. That was a good question because I never thought of it and needed to do some research to make sure I could provide a complete answer.

Toxoplasmosis. The biggest gardening-related issue for pregnant women is toxoplasmosis. While more than 50 million Americans carry the parasite in their blood called toxoplasma gondii, the vast majority of people will never experience symptoms of this infection because their immune systems protect them from getting sick. This little parasite can cause an infection known as toxoplasmosis. Pregnant ladies need to take special care to avoid exposure to this unseen danger. This parasite can seriously harm an unborn baby.

The most common transmission of a toxoplasma infection is from cats. Even if you don’t have a cat you can assume that a neighborhood cat, has used your flowerbox as a toilet.

Avoiding contact with the Toxoplasma parasite is easier than you think. It is transported via cat feces. When working in the garden, wear proper gloves and avoid touching your mouth.
To reduce the risk of becoming infected with toxoplasmosis when gardening, always:
· Wear gloves when you’re touching the soil and dealing with plants.
· Wash your hands thoroughly after you’ve gardened, even if you’ve worn gloves.
· Avoid touching your face or eyes when you’re gardening and before you’ve washed your hands.

Herbicides and Insecticides. The other area to be aware of is the use of herbicides and insecticides in the garden. Many gardeners don’t think twice about spraying chemicals on to plants to protect against pests and diseases and the chances are products such as these may already have been used in your garden. But some studies suggest they could pose risks to pregnant women.
Studies into the risk of pesticides suggest that it’s during the first trimester, particularly weeks three to eight, when the most damage could be caused if you’re in contact with pesticides. This is because it’s the time when a baby’s neural tube development is occurring. Other potential risks to babies include the development of heart defects, limb defects and oral clefts.

Although there are no strict guidelines on exposure to pesticides, the American Academy of Pediatrics does suggest pregnant women don’t use pesticides at all during the course of their pregnancy, just to be on the safe side. Alternatives, such as natural or organic methods, are available instead. If pesticides are already in use, here are some safety guidelines:
· Don’t panic if you know pesticides have been used in your garden. It’s long term exposure or exposure to large quantities that poses the most danger, so a small amount is unlikely to be too harmful.
· If you can’t avoid using pesticides in your garden, avoid handling them yourself and instead get someone else to apply them.
· Always wear gloves when you’re gardening and thoroughly wash your hands when you’ve finished.

Gardening is a healthy activity even when you’re pregnant, so make the most of any good weather and enjoy spending time in your garden. Spend time in the garden during the cooler parts of the day never during the heat of the day. Drink lots and lots of water. And most of all go slow. Take it easy and don't try to do everything in one day.

Until next time, Happy Gardening

March Garden Tips

This March seems to have taken a really long time to get here. The poor robins came back by Valentine’s Day.

Robin in the snow.

Usually my crocuses are blooming by now and they are all, hundreds of them, still fast asleep. The cold bothered more this winter than any that I can remember. I spent most of my time hunkered over a hot computer keyboard and I seem to have achieved a roly-poly groundhog shape which is not at all attractive on a mature woman. I need to get back outside.

This is a tough month to decide what to do in the garden. One day it’s snowing. The next day it is warm. As day lengths increase, house plants begin new growth. Repot root bound plants, moving them to containers 2 inches larger in diameter than their current pot. Check for insect activity and apply controls as needed. Leggy plants may be pruned now.

Trees, shrubs and perennials may be planted as soon as they become available at local nurseries. The first of the big trucks of trees should be rolling in any day now.

Before doing any major digging, call your utility companies to locate any buried wires, cables or pipes to prevent injury and save time and money.

Dormant mail order plants should be unwrapped immediately. Keep the roots from drying out, store in a cool protected spot, and plant as soon as conditions allow.

To control Iris borer, clean up and destroy the old foliage before new growth begins.

Fertilize bulbs with a "bulb booster" formulation broadcast over the planting beds. Hose off any granules that stick to the foliage.

Seeds of hardy annuals such as larkspur, bachelor's buttons, and Shirley and California poppies should be direct sown in the garden now.

Summer and fall blooming perennials should be divided in spring.

Spring bedding plants, such as pansies, dianthus, primrose, and snapdragons can be planted outside now.

Apply a balanced fertilizer to perennial beds when new growth appears.

Apply sulfur to the soils around acid-loving plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, hollies and dogwoods. Use a granular formulation at the rate of 1/2 pound per 100 square feet.

Start cutting back our perennials and grasses. This will allow the new foliage to emerge without the messy look of the old, dead foliage. Be sure to cut the grasses almost all the way to the ground, it looks best to round it off if possible. An easy way is to gather the grass into a “pony tail” and tie them up, and then goes through and cut them back (we use a hedge trimmer and shears). This also allows the sun to get down and warm things up.

Shrub roses can be pruned back in mid-March as well. A heavy pruning will help control size and ensure a tidier appearance later in the season. Remove extra mulch if you had piled it on in late fall/early winter.
Keep off your lawn when it is frozen, bare of snow and/or thawed and wet to avoid damaging the grass or compacting the soil.
Do not rake the yard until it feels firm and fairly dry. If there is a heavy concentration of road grit or sand on the boulevard, use a broom to sweep it away.

If the ground is dry, mow lawns low to remove old growth before new growth begins. The first application of lawn fertilizer is typically in mid-end of March.

Apply crabgrass preemergent and /or broadleaf herbicides now for control of cool-season perennial and annual weeds. These must not be applied to areas that will be seeded soon.

Apply controls for wild garlic and violets. It will take several years of annual applications for complete control.

Thin spots and bare patches in the lawn can be over seeded now.

Cultivate weeds and remove the old, dead stalks of last year’s growth from the asparagus bed before the new spears emerge.

Be sure to test your soil if you are going to be planting in a new area. Amend new beds with compost and plan your garden with sun exposure and water conditions in mind.

Delay planting if the garden soil is too wet. When a ball of soil crumbles easily after being squeezed together in your hand, it is dry enough to be safely worked.

Asparagus and rhubarb roots should be planted as soon as the ground can be worked

Plant peas, lettuce, radishes, kohlrabi, mustard greens, collards, turnips, Irish potatoes, spinach, beets, carrots, parsley, parsnip and onions (seeds and sets) outdoors.

Set out broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage and cauliflower transplants into the garden.

Gradually remove mulch from strawberries as the weather begins to warm.

Continue pruning apple trees. Burn or destroy all pruned plant matter to minimize insect or disease occurrence.

Peaches and nectarines should be pruned just before they bloom.

Apply dormant oil sprays now. Choose a dry day when freezing temperatures are not expected.

Spray peach trees with a fungicide for the control of peach leaf curl disease.

Aphids begin to hatch on fruit trees as the buds begin to open.

Mulch all bramble fruits for weed control.

The month of March provides little food for wildlife. Continue to feed your animal friends so they don't spend so much time nibbling on your garden.

Squirrel at feeder table in snow.

Mama Cardinal at feeder table in snow

Keep plants and shrubs safe with wire cages or blood meal. Check any trellis, fence, or arbor that may have been damaged during the winter.

Don’t forget to enjoy the sights, sounds, and fragrances of spring while you are doing all these chores

Until next time, Happy Gardening

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fixing a Goose-necked African Violet

I read an article about fixing goose-necked African violets by Barbara Perry Lawton in the November 2009 issue of The Gateway Gardener. I had never heard the term ‘goose-neck’ before even though my African violet on my kitchen windowsill definitely has that condition. Barbara says that the ‘goose-neck’ looks like “The plant appears to rise up out of the pot and has a long awkward stem between the pot and the foliage – leaves have fallen from the goose-neck stem. All in all, the one-time lovely flowering African violet has become an ugly plant.” My baby (African violet) is not ugly! It has a small plant growing at the base of the stem and I keep the pot turned so the big long ugly goose-neck is behind the pot next to the wall and the big plant at the end of the goose-neck hides the rest.

Plant turned to hide goose-neck.

Plant turned to show goose-neck.

However, it clearly needs to be repotted. Here are some tips to repot African violets and fix the goose-neck problem. This is the time of year that I have to do these projects inside on the kitchen counter. Lay out some newspaper to cover your potting area. You will need African Violet Potting mix, a sharp shears, a container to moisten you potting mix in and water.

Repotting tools and supplies.

Soil mixing container.

Fill the mixing container with the amount of potting mix you need. Pour some warm water on it and stir it in with your hand. Your mix should be moist, not wet. Set this aside. Gently remove the plant from its pot. Strip off any leaves that don’t look healthy and firm to the touch.

Cutting the goose-neck.

Cut the goose-neck off where it is coming out of the soil. Trim the goose-neck to a length so that it will go back in the pot and have the bottom set of leaves growing from the trunk just above the soil level.

Trimmed goose neck ready to be potted.

The soil level should be almost to the top of the pot so the leaves are above the rim of the pot to prevent rotting.

Soil level should hold the leaves above pot rim.

If you are not dealing with the goose-neck problem, simply shake the loose soil off the plant you removed from the original pot and plant it in the new pot with fresh soil mix. You will want to set the plant into the pot so that the leaves are above the rim of the pot also. Put the freshly trimmed African violet back into the same pot if it’s a mature plant, go one pot size larger if it is a young plant.

The top of the goose-necked plant repotted.

The bottom of the goose-necked plant repotted.

Extra leaves stuck in pot for rooting.

When my repotting project was done I had two plants and some extra leaves I had trimmed off. I put the leaves in another pot to root them to make more plants.
Until next time, Happy Gardening

Thursday, January 14, 2010

African Violet Pots

I was told that African Violets need special potting containers. Is that really true? What is an African Violet pot? Where do I get them?

African violets do not require special pots. Any pot with good drainage will work as long as the pot is not too much bigger than the plant. A pot that is too large can have the potting soil hold more moisture than the plant can use. This can cause the plant to rot.

However, there are self-watering pots that make great African Violet pots. I love these pots! They have a pot within the pot. The walls and bottoms of the inside pot are unglazed. This allows water to pass through from the water in the outer pot to the plant inside the inner pot when the plant needs water.
The outer pot set next to its inner pot.

This eliminates much of the guesswork of when is the right time to water your African Violet because the pressure from the plant roots will only pull water into the inner pot when the plant actually needs the water. You can also put your African Violet fertilizer in the water. I recommend mixing the African Violet fertilizer in room temperature water before you fill the outer reservoir pot. How the inner pot fits into the outer one.

Putting water into the outer pot.
Using this method you only have to water about once a month. Lift out the inner pot and add water when the water level drops too low in the outer pot. Room temperature water is the best.

Putting the planted inner pot into outer one.

African Violet potted in a self-watering pot. All finished.

This also eliminates the problem of watering African Violets from the top. They tend to have rot problems if you get water on the leaves or in the crown (the center part where all the leaves are coming off the stem).

The pots have glazed bottoms so they can be put on any surface without water leakage out the bottom. The water reservoirs make the pots heavier too so Joe the Cat’s gardening paw cannot easily knock them over when he get miffed over lack of attention. Another advantage to these pots is that they come in all kinds of beautiful colors. I love the blues and purples because these colors make a very attractive background for the leaves and flowers. The blues also give a dry visual ‘water element’ to my inside designs. OK, I have no inner design sense. I put the pots where they will fit and get the best light, but they are pretty and do remind me of water.

In season, spring through fall, you can purchase these pots at most garden centers. In the winter they are hard to obtain locally because most garden centers sell out so they have space for winter holiday items. I bought my latest batch of pots from the Maryland China Company through the Marketplace. If you do it this way pay careful attention to shipping costs which can be as expensive as the pots themselves.

On a sad note, one of our regular garden center customers, Jackie Herr, has passed away. She was a classy lady with a ready smile and sense of humor who shared our passion for plants. We were always glad to see her smiling face. She will be sorely missed.

Until next time, Happy Gardening

Monday, December 7, 2009

Can My Christmas Cactus be Saved?

I inherited my grandmother's Christmas cactus, which is at least 75 years old. My mother repotted it once in my memory, but now it is beginning to look bad. I'm determined to save it if I can, but I have a black thumb, and certainly no idea how to care for a plant this old. How do I keep it healthy and alive?

These plants are called holiday cactus (Schlumbergera) because their habit is to bloom around the time of one of three holidays - Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter. You can determine which holiday cactus you have by looking at its leaves. The Christmas cactus has rounded notches on the margins of the stem segments while the Thanksgiving cactus has pointed tooth-like notches on the margins. The Easter cactus has tooth-like marginal notches with tiny spines or hairs on the stem segments. Most holiday cacti that I have seen are Thanksgiving cactus, even those purchased during the Christmas holiday. This is because many plant growers will force their Thanksgiving cacti into bloom for Christmas. Caring for these plants is simple regardless of which type you have.

Soil. Holiday cactus requires well-drained soil. I suggest that using a potting soil designed for cactus and succulents. The best time to repot holiday cactus is in the spring after active growth resumes, but it can be done at any time if the plant appears to be suffering.

Light. When growing holiday cactus indoors, place it in bright but indirect light. Direct light and excessive heat will scorch the leaves and cause the flower buds to drop. If you move your plants outdoors for the summer keep them in full to partial shade.

Water. In spite of its appearance and common name, your Christmas cactus is not really a cactus. When in bloom these plants should be watered about once a week or when the top half of the soil in the container becomes dry. Lack of water will cause the flower buds to drop. After the flowers fade stop watering the plant for about 6 weeks. This will allow the plant to rest. During the spring and summer keep the plant consistently moist. Root rot from over watering is a common problem with these plants.

Fertilizing. When new growth emerges in the spring, begin a fertilizing with an all-purpose houseplant food mixed at half strength. Continue to do this once a month until October.
Pruning. A plant that can potentially live to be more than 75 years old is sure to need an occasional haircut. The best time to do this is in June. Simply snip off the top 2 or 3 segments of each stem. This will make the plant bushier and promote flower development. You can then root these cuttings to make more plants.

Propagation. Just as you back up data on your computer you can create a back up of your holiday cactus by taking a cutting. This will ensure the continuation of the plant if the original dies. Just cut a stem at a segment, about 2 or 3 from the tip. Stick the cuttings in loose soil or vermiculite and water only lightly for the first couple of weeks so the plant does not rot. Once it establishes some roots, begin watering normally and you'll have lots of plants to give to your friends.

Re-bloom. Holiday cactus needs either cool night temperatures (between 55 and 60 degrees for 6 weeks) or extended periods of darkness to set flower buds. I like to leave my plants outside in the fall until they have been exposed to the cool night temperatures so that they start blooming when I bring them in for the winter. If you cannot meet the temperature requirement simply give the plant 13 hours of total darkness each night for several weeks. This can be done by keeping the plant in a closet or covering it with a dark cloth. During this time stop fertilizing and reduce watering. Once the buds set, return the plant to normal light and resume watering.

Bud Drop. Many people wonder why buds will drop from their plants before the flowers open. This can be caused by excessive heat, too much light, cold drafts, over watering, under watering or a sudden change in light or temperature.

If you follow these guidelines you plant should live a healthy life for many more years.