Blue False Indigo: A True Beauty in Your Garden

Add some low maintenance perennials to your garden like Blue false indigo. Native to many areas of the U.S. it almost takes care of itself!

Blue false indigo flowers opening.
Blue false indigo opens its petals for pollinators.

In my side garden, two globe shaped masses of pretty blue green leaves catch my eye. Emerging from the top of each leafy globe, pale purple flowers climb thin green spears.

Two Blue false indigo plants, side by side in the middle of the garden bed, show off their blooms at almost the same time.

They are so striking between the maroon leaves of Diablo ninebark planted on either side. Stella D’Oro daylilies sit in front, sort of like a family portrait.

This picture is set against the green backdrop of Privet hedge in the garden bed seen by neighbors driving by. I hope the scene gives them a little joy.

Blue false indigo or Baptisia australis returns from the ground every spring as my side garden bed progresses from barren decomposing plant material to tulips and daffodils to leafy flowery globes like Blue false indigo.

The perennial belongs to a family of legumes like peas, soybeans, fava beans and peanuts. Plants like alfalfa, vetch and clover are legumes too.

Features

Native to: Eastern United States west to Nebraska and in Texas.

Name refers to:  False indigo is a U.S. native plant that looks similar to one cultivated by early settlers to dye cloth blue.  That plant, called Indigofera tentoria L. was grown in many parts of the world and is now considered invasive in many places.

The flowers of that plant are pink to lavender in color. The oval leaves grow opposite each other on the stem.  It’s the leaves that are processed to create the blue dye.

Blue false indigo may not work well for dye but it has other qualities. It’s a pretty native perennial. It fixes nitrogen in the soil for its own use.

Being a native plant adapted to the climate and soil, and providing its own food makes it easy to grow.

Unfortunately it is also considered threatened or endangered in several states, due to changes in its habitat.

Zones:  3-9

Trifoliate leaves of Blue false indigo.
Trifoliate leaves of Blue false indigo.

Leaves:  Blue green trifoliate, that is, one leaf is made up of three smaller leaflets. They turn silver grey in the fall.

Blooms:  May to June.  Depending on location, some species begin to bloom as early as April and as late as July. Besides blue purple, flowers come in white, yellow and red purple.

Four colorful petals fold over to form a ball. They open to reveal two more petals pressed together covering the stamen.

Pods form after flowers bloom.
Seed pods (left) form after pollinated flowers bloom.

If pollinated, a tiny seed pod much like a pea pod forms and grows to approximately 2.5 inches long. Inside the pods are kidney bean shaped seeds. After seed pods dry they rattle when shaken.

Height:  2.5 – 4 feet

Width:  3 – 4 feet

Grows from:  Seeds and rhizomes.  Make sure you choose the best location before you plant it because it does not like to be moved.

Of two plants that I relocated, one lived, the other died.  They have extensive rhizomes that grow deep as well as wide. It took a long time digging to find the end of the root system.

Allowing the seeds to fall to the ground once dried, will produce new plants the next year, sometimes in spots you don’t want them!

Spears of flowers on Blue false indigo.
Spears of blue purple flowers emerge from plant.

Care

  • Sunlight:  Full to part shade.
  • Soil:  Does best in average soil that is well drained. Tolerates poor, dry soil like clay or rocky types because it fixes nitrogen in its roots to supply itself with this nutrient.

Fixing nitrogen means that legumes like Blue false indigo get a little help from bacteria living in small nodules on the plants’ roots.

The bacteria take in nitrogen gas from the air and convert it to a form of nitrogen that the plant can use. In exchange, the bacteria gets sugar the plant created.

  • Water:  Average.
  • Fertilize: No need to fertilize.
  • Maintenance:  In fall when the leaves turn silver gray, the plant breaks off from the roots and falls over on the ground.

That’s a good time to get out the hedge shears and cut the dried branches into pieces to leave in the garden bed as a lightweight mulch. If left whole, the dried plant gets carried around the garden by the wind.

Problems/Pests

No serious problems. This is a beautiful, low maintenance plant.

Bumble bee pollinates Blue false indigo.
Bumble bees like the nectar.

Uses

Makes a low growing border in summer. Blue false indigo can be naturalized in native gardens. Just let the seed pods fall wherever and watch all the new plants come up the next year!

Attracts native bees and butterflies.  Deer don’t like it.

Enhance flower arrangements with seed pods still attached to their stems. Add them green in summer or let them dry on the plant and cut for fall designs.

As a native plant, Blue false indigo is easy to grow because it thrives in the climate and soil conditions of its home. A real plus for a beautiful plant in the garden.

References

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

Missouri Botanical Garden

Mt. Cuba Center

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Copyright Juli Seyfried 2020

Grandma’s Lily

Clivia miniata thrives as a houseplant, even though it’s an outdoor lily in warmer climates. It’s easy to grow, has spectacular blooms in late winter and stays a glossy dark green the rest of the year.

Cluster of three orange lilies with one bud.
Clivia miniata bears flowers in clusters.

The flowers I sent to his funeral included the orange daylilies I asked for.  He was my husband’s friend, the first one I met. He became my friend too.

We couldn’t make it to the service several states away. Child in school, jobs and limited finances made it impossible.

I was hoping to send an earthly message to him that we knew him and always would know him. And I wanted some orange daylilies similar to the flowers on the indoor plants that he’d given us when he moved back home to his family, his town.

‘Grandma’s Lily’ he called it. That was his nickname for the division of a plant his grandmother had given him.

He remembered that I loved it the first time I saw it hanging in a west facing window of his house. Suspended from a simple knotted hanger in a clay pot, its slightly glossy, thick green strappy leaves formed layers to the right and left of center like well-behaved hair parted in the middle, falling to either side.

No flowers at the time, just a healthy green plant. Orange trumpet shaped blooms popped out a few months later, several together on a sturdy stem above the leaves. This calm plant didn’t prepare us for the spectacular show of flowers!

We were happy he gave us two plants as a parting gift when he moved.

Funny how something passed from one person to another can mean so much especially when it becomes a connection to someone no longer alive. Always a remembrance of our friendship, they flower every year at the end of a dreary winter.

They’re even more special now – a bittersweet reminder of the time we learned that our friend died in a car accident only a few weeks after the most prolific blooms we’d ever seen on our plants. The flowers were a happy burst of life – “remember me!” – before the shocking farewell to our friend.

Glossy strap-like leaves cascade over each other.
Glossy strap-like leaves curve over each other.

Features

Clivia miniata is considered a slow growing plant and takes several years to become mature in size. It blooms once it’s mature.

Native to: South Africa

Name refers to: Its common name as a lily – Natal lily, bush lily or fire lily doesn’t mean it is in the Lily family. It’s in the Amaryllis family.

Zones: 9-11

Leaves: Dark green straps curve over one another; approximately 2″ wide and 18″ long.

Blooms: Cluster of trumpet shaped flowers. The most common color is intense orange with a yellow center. There are also plants with blooms from white to peach to red.

Height: 1.5 – 2 feet

Width: 2 – 3 feet

Grows from: Rhizomes – those thick stems that grow horizontally underground.

They store plant nutrients and produce new plants. Stems of a new plant grow out of the ground from the rhizomes’ nodes as do new roots.

Three lily buds.
Buds at the ends of flower stems.

Care

Indoors

  • Sunlight: Bright but avoid direct sun as it may scorch the leaves.
  • Soil: Average potting soil.
  • Water: Test the soil to see if it needs water. Overwatering causes the rhizomes to rot.
  • Fertilize: Feed once or twice in spring with standard fertilizer.
Many lily plants crowded in one pot.
Many lily plants crowded in one pot increases the blooms.
  • Other: Blooms indoors in late winter by keeping it on the dry side through most of the cold season. Definitely water when buds on stems appear. Since older plants bloom be patient with younger, smaller plants.

This plant likes to be crowded in a pot which also increases blooming. Repot only every 3-4 years. Divide for new plants by removing the young plants from the parent plant.

Outdoor

Can summer outside in the colder zones by placing in part or dappled shade. Water well.

Problems/Pests

A warning that all parts of the plant are toxic to people and animals.

Cats that like to chew on strap-like or blade leaf plants should be kept away. You can give cats their own pots of grassy plants to chew through kits available at stores.

Pests include mites and scales.

Seed heads of lilies after flowering.
Seed heads follow the dried out blooms.

Uses

Decorative even without the blooms because of the sturdy, glossy leaves. Flowers can be cut for an arrangement in a vase. Blooms last longer if left on the plant.

We have photos, memories and a large colorful glazed pot he had his brother make for our wedding present. But as a lasting reminder of our friendship it’s nice to have a living gift that flowers every year, popping into our life at the end of a dreary winter – the blooms say he’s still with us.

References

Guide to Houseplants

House Plants Expert

Missouri Botanical Gardens

Copyright Juli Seyfried 2020

Four Ways to Use Grape Ivy Indoors and Out

Grape Ivy is easy to grow and use in your décor. See how many ways you can design with it!

Grape ivy spills over the edge.
Grape ivy spills over the shelf edge. Can you find the basket that holds it?

In a restaurant Grape ivy hangs like a leafy green waterfall that never touches the ground. A plant hanger firmly attached to the ceiling disappears into the graceful but exuberant leaves to keep a little order to this cascade.

Similar hanging plants add calm to the restaurant‘s atmosphere. It’s a place for peace and quiet and good friends and family and good food.

I know I want to sit near this silent but rambunctious looking plant cascade.

A forest experience at dinner. Why not have this at home? Maybe I could grow one there.

Grape ivy or Cissus alata is a tropical plant adapted for indoor use. Keep it inside all year or bring it outside during summer in a hanging pot.

Train it to climb a trellis placed inside a standing pot on your porch. There are other ways to use it too!

Features

Native to:  Tropical Americas

Name refers to:  The Old English word for ivy is ifig.

Zones:  10-12

Leaves:  One stem produces a dark green, three lobed leaf which has deep ragged cuts on its edges.

Blooms:  Rare for indoor plants – a tiny cluster of pale green flowers with four petals may later produce dark purple to black berries.

Grape ivy tendrils grasp leaves of another plant.
Grape ivy tendrils grasp leaf stems of another plant.

Tendrils:  The tendrils curl and grasp whatever is at hand to support the vine.

Keep an eye on the small hair – like tendrils.  Like tiny fingers they wrap around and hold tight. 

They’ll grasp at anything nearby including lamps, other plants and window blinds!

Height:  6-10 feet

Width:  3-6 feet

Grows from:  Make new plants by rooting the stem cuttings.

Indoor Care

  • Sunlight:  Bright, indirect sunshine.
  • Soil:  Standard potting mix.
  • Water:  Thoroughly water then let the soil dry.  Too much or too little water causes leaves to get dry and crunchy.

Test for dryness of the soil in the pot once a week.   

  • Fertilize:  In spring and summer use standard organic fertilizer following package instructions.

Problems/Pests

White fly, mealybug, spider mites – keeping a regular routine of watering and fertilizing and pinching back should prevent problems.

Grape ivy hangs over a shelf.
Grape ivy’s dark green leaves mix it up with paler green leaves for a bicolor effect.

Uses

As an easy to grow indoor plant grape ivy has many uses.  Here are some ideas to try:

Hanging

Let the new growth hang below the pot making sure it doesn’t wander into and grab onto your other plants or special décor.

Wind new growth up a plant hanger then let it trail down from the top. Makes a good hanging screen for porches too.

Trailing

Place your grape ivy on an old piece of furniture and watch it spread out.  Let it hang over the ledge of a bookcase, cupboard or open shelf.

The tendrils may damage the finish which is why an old piece that you don’t care about is recommended.

Grape ivy tendrils curl on its own stem.
Grape ivy tendrils curl on its own stem.

Climbing

Anything that works as a trellis – a room dividing screen, a pole or a small outdoor trellis brought inside works.

Anchor the pole or trellis at the base, inside of a large pot.

You can gently tie the vines onto the frame you choose with florist tape, pipe cleaners or strips of old rags.

The tendrils will grasp onto the frame and you can remove the ties or leave on for extra support. Eventually the plant forms a screen.

Train it on a topiary form using the same method as above, creating an eye catching piece.

Short and Bushy

If you don’t want trailing or climbing stems, keep the vines short. You’ll have a more compact and lush looking plant this way.

Root the cuttings in water to make new plants to keep or share.

Hanging, trailing, climbing or short and bushy this plant gives you options for your designs. Since it’s easy to grow, Grape ivy keeps the fun in your decorative plans.

References

Gardening Know How

Missouri Botanical Garden

North Carolina State Extension

Copyright Juli Seyfried 2020

3 Ways to Enjoy a Carnation Flower

Carnation and carnation bud side by side.
Carnation bud and flower – one to enjoy now, one for later.

January birthdays have a wonderful flower – the carnation!

It’s available year round from floral shops for any special occasion, but those born in January get to claim it as their own special flower.

For all of us the carnation brightens the house during cold months, adorns boutonnieres or corsages for weddings and is a floral symbol adopted by states and countries.

Economical too, a bouquet of carnations lasts in the house for almost two weeks. Then it’s time to buy another bunch of the spicy scented blooms.

The carnation is one of over 300 species of the genus Dianthus. Dianthus is native to Eurasia but has been cultivated for approximately 2000 years.

Gardeners grow the small-flowered ones in their gardens. Dianthus whether perennial or annual comes in a variety of colors. There are bicolor flowers too.

Perennial dianthus thrives in a sunny garden. A few have a sweet smell.

Annual dianthus grows best in part shade of flower beds or containers. Some also have a scent.

Other Facts

Dianthus caryophyllus, the carnation, has been part of the floral scene since Greek and Roman times. There are several stories about how it got its name.

The carnation is symbolic of many world traditions and events. Here are some:

  • January birth flower
  • Mother’s Day in the U.S.
  • State flower of Ohio
  • Parents’ day in Korea
  • Weddings
  • Labor movements
  • National flower of Spain, Monaco and Slovenia
  • St. Patrick’s Day
  • Given to commemorate the first anniversary of a marriage

There are at least three ways to enjoy a carnation. Since the flower you buy at the florist or in the floral section of department stores is available all year, let’s begin with the florist carnation.

One open and one almost open carnation flower.
Choose a carnation bouquet with some flowers in full bloom, some almost in bloom and the joy will last longer.

Florist Carnation

This wonderful flower has long strong stems, grey green leaves and crinkly flower petals bunched together almost like a tissue paper flower. Put it close to your nose and catch its spicy scent.

Colors range from white, pink, red, purple, yellow to green. If you want a different color for an event the carnation is easily dyed by florists.  

In the Victorian years (Queen Victoria’s reign in British history from June 20, 1837 – January 22, 1901), flower colors became popular as a way to send a message from one person to another.

The kind of flower sent was also important. Carnation as a flower is said to represent fascination or love or distinction.

While sources agree on some meanings, not all are the same. Here are a few compiled meanings for the colors of carnations:

  • White: purity, pure love, luck
  • Light red: admiration
  • Dark red: love, affection, flashy
  • Pink: mother’s love, gratitude
  • Yellow: cheerful, disappointment, rejection
  • Purple: capricious
  • Green: St. Patrick’s Day

It’s fun to think about the meaning of a flower given or received. If you get one, what does it mean?

Have fun deciphering the message. Hopefully it’s the thought that counts and that it’s meant in goodwill!

Florist carnations last approximately two weeks due to cultivation of thicker stems and larger blooms. Here’s how to care for your bouquet:

Change the water at least once in the middle of their two week run.

Cut off the ends of the stems at a diagonal after one week. The cut stems eliminate the old healed-up cuts that block water flow. Stems are again open to take up water.

An evergreen Dianthus in winter.
Evergreen Dianthus in winter functions as ground cover all year.

Perennials

In the garden, perennial dianthus surprises because it looks different from the florist’s carnation.

Small clumps of thin silver green leaves surround thin stems. The stems stand above the leaves holding small flowers.

Petals are open with cut or crinkly edges. Another name for it is “Pink.”

As an evergreen, low-growing mound, silver grey leaves make good ground cover even when the plant is not in bloom.

It flowers in early summer, some with beautiful spicy scents. Good for front of the border. It needs full sun most of the day.

Plant in well drained soil. Too much water may cause crown rot.

Height varies from three inches to one foot. It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Deer don’t like them.

Annuals

Compared to the perennial, the annual dianthus likes cooler temps. Partial shade or better, eastern sun will keep it from drying out.

It’s low growing and great at edges of containers or at the front of the garden border.

It’s flowers differ from the florist carnation because the blooms are small.

Some blooms may resemble the bunched petals of carnations. Other cultivars have open single petals instead.

Start from seed or buy as a young plant. Dead head to keep blooms coming all summer.

Carnation, January’s birth flower, celebrates life all year. Whether bought as a bouquet or grown in the smaller perennial or annual versions by gardeners, enjoy them!

References

Flower Meaning

Flower Shop Network

Garden Guides

HGTV

Copyright 2020 Juli Seyfried

Cyclamen: Butterfly Blooms of Winter

Colorful cyclamen brings a little spring inside the winter home. Easy to care for too!

Cyclamen flowers almost look like butterflies.
Cyclamen flowers imitate a butterfly shape.

Cool foggy morning on a San Francisco street in winter some years ago. Heading downhill, feet hitting a dry sidewalk, I see giant cement planters evenly spaced along the curb as I go.

Inside each planter surrounding a pale grey tree trunk, the deep pink flowers of cyclamen stand just above dark green leaves. So captivating!

Pink petals are open like butterflies poised for nectar. Layers of dark green, heart shaped leaves with pale green patterns, cluster in a circle below.

Cyclamen growing outdoors in winter surprises this Midwesterner. Blooms are for indoors. 

Available during the holiday season, blooming cyclamen adds beauty indoors. The freshness of a living flowering plant lasts through weeks and weeks of cold grey days.

Flowers make you happy during winter but also growing in the right spot indoors they look happy!

How do you care for the one you were given or bought during the holidays? Let’s find out.

Cyclamen leaf is heart shaped with light green on top of dark green background.
Heart shaped leaf of the cyclamen with variegation in a lighter shade of green.

Features of Cyclamen persicum

This is the florist version of the hardy cyclamen which grows outdoors.

Native to:  Algeria to eastern Mediterranean.

Name refers to: The round shape ot the tuber. The name is derived from the Greek word for circle.

Zones: 9-11

Leaves:  Rounded, heart-shaped, deep green with pale green variegations.

Blooms: Pink to red to white, lavender to purple. Five petals loosely cluster together.

Height: 6-8 inches

Width: Depends upon the size pot you buy. The number of tubers in each pot varies. They come in pots from very small to large.

Grows from:  Tuber.

Care

  • Hopefully you got a plant that has a lot of buds about to bloom. Flowers last for several months.
  • Sunlight:  Keep it in a sunny but cool location. Heat sources like furnace vents, dryers and ovens create a too-hot environment.
  • Soil:  Average to slightly acidic.
  • Water:  Once a week water from the bottom of the plant. Place the pot in a tray of water.  Check to see that the top of the soil is moist and then remove the pot.

Cyclamen likes moist but not wet soil. Overwatering rots the tubers.

  • Fertilize:  Not necessary for the indoor florist version. 

Problems/Pests

Mites are parasites which are too small to see with the naked eye. They cause damage before you know they are there. The larvae feed on new plant growth.

The growth is stunted. For example, buds may form but wither before having a chance to bloom.

There are a couple of solutions.

You can throw it out so your other plants aren’t infected.

You can use an organic insecticidal spray and follow directions.

Prevent mites from developing by keeping the humidity low. Indoors in winter this should not be a problem as the air is dry.

From underneath, cyclamen flower looks more like a hat.
Cyclamen flower looks like a hat from underside.

Uses

Cyclamen is a seasonal indoor plant.  Most people enjoy the blooms through the winter.  The foliage is pretty even without flowers. Throw it out once it finishes blooming and loses its leaves.

Can‘t I grow it year round?

Sometimes it’s fun to see if you can grow a plant that others say probably won’t grow or rebloom.  Cyclamen is one of those plants.

I tried regrowing the plant once and succeeded. However, it did not produce any blooms.

Maybe you’ll do better than I did. Give it a try!  Here’s some tips:

1. When it stops blooming and the leaves die back, remove the leaves. Reduce watering gradually, then stop watering.

2. Put the pot in a cool spot and let the tubers dry.  You can also take them out of the pot and pack them in dry peat moss.  They are dormant just like summer bulbs that you save over winter.

3. Midsummer, repot in fresh soil and place in a sunny window or in partial shade outside.

4. Water the pot regularly from the bottom to keep the tubers from getting too wet.  

5. When foliage begins to grow place the pot in a cool spot to encourage blooms.

Cyclamen is a beautiful and easy to maintain flowering plant for indoors. It’s hard to say goodbye to the butterfly blooms when the season is over. But by then it’s spring and new flowers outdoors will entrance you!

References

Missouri Botanical Garden

North Carolina State University Extension

USDA Resources Conservation Service

Copyright 2019 Juli Seyfried

Paperwhite Narcissus and December Birthdays

Paperwhite Narcissus grows indoors on stones set in water.
Paperwhite Narcissus displays abundant flowers indoors.
Photo: Pixabay

December birthdays share the month with the anticipation, preparation and celebration of several holidays.  Paperwhite Narcissus is considered the birthday flower for December.

While there are many birthday bouquets to buy at the florist, Narcissus is not available.

If you want a bouquet of December’s birth flower you’ll have to grow your own. There are kits or bags of bulbs to buy although maybe not in time to grow a bouquet for a December birthday.

Holly and Poinsettia are also mentioned as flowers for December birthdays, but Narcissus is listed most often.

The first two are usually related to Christmas traditions which may or may not matter to some.

Birth months throughout history have been celebrated with a special flower to mark the month.  Did the tradition begin with the flower that was in season, the one flower that grew in abundance that month? I’m guessing so.

In different parts of the world, Narcissus grows easily because the climate and soil conditions are just right. In colder areas of the U.S., daffodil, a common name for the narcissus pops out of the ground in spring.

Paperwhite Narcissus or Narcissus tazetta in colder zones, is grown as a forced bulb indoors in November through February or March.

It symbolizes faithfulness.  Maybe it should also symbolize adaptability or being accommodating?

Since December birthdays share the month with many holidays and the birth flower isn’t available, being adaptable goes with having a birthday in December.

Poinsettias are alternative to Narcissus because they are available for sale.
Poinsettias are an alternate flower to give the December birthday person in your life.

About December Birthdays

The closer it is to one of the holidays, the harder it may be for the birthday person to feel special, since most of the month’s focus is on group holidays. One person’s birthday party might seem over the top – too much partying!

Alas! It puts family and friends to the test to prove they care by making sure December birthday-ers feel important.

In my case, my family celebrates Christmas. I know of four people with birthdays in December: my parents, a close friend and me.

Both of my parents have birthdays close to Christmas.

Unfortunately, my Dad is one who felt slighted by having his birthday on the 24th. His memory was of sharing his big day with a brother and sister.

Each of them was allowed to open a Christmas present on his birthday.  I’m guessing it was to keep them happy.  He did not get to open any gifts for himself on their birthdays later in the year.

My family always had a big celebration for him on his day, including his favorite food and drink. Although gone now, I honor his memory with his favorite food, minus the fruitcake with caramel sauce, on Christmas Eve.

Apparently he did like some holiday-specific food for his birthday! And my aunt made a fruitcake and mailed it to him every year in time for his big day.

Mom’s memory of her birthday close to Christmas is one she remembers fondly.  She was told that Santa came early and hung her on the Christmas tree with a big red bow!

Since her day is a few days away from December 25 it’s easier to separate her celebration from that day.  Honoring her birthday is usually lunch or dinner with gifts.

She’s happy that her children remember her day with cards, phone calls and most especially if they can be with her in person.

My best friend from college has a mid-December birthday. Just right! Not too close to either Thanksgiving or Christmas. We send each other humorous or serious cards depending on the mood and/or age that year.

What a relief to share the same number birthday with a friend whose date is ten days after mine!  It’s one of many things we have in common.

My birthday is at the beginning of December, close enough to Thanksgiving that sometimes it was celebrated during that weekend, not the day of.  Family/friends were available then but often not on my exact day.

I imagine there are many who have birthdays they celebrate close to the actual date but not the day of. It’s important to share the event with those who care about us and make us feel special.

For me, Thanksgiving is the beginning of party season and my birthday rolls into a month long celebration ending with New Year’s Eve. It’s a happy time of year for me.

If my gifts were wrapped in holiday paper I don’t remember.  My favorite cake as a child had white coconut frosting and red and white peppermint candy canes on it.

My day is far enough away from Christmas that it feels more like a hint of what’s to come.

Creating traditions using cues from the season at hand makes a birthday unique. Flowers are a part of happiness – making, even if some of us have to grow our birth flower.

How to Grow Narcissus

Features

Native to:  Southern Europe and North Africa

Name refers to:  In Greek mythology, Narcissus falls in love with his reflection in a pool of water. (By contrast, December birthdays don’t have much time for self indulgence – it’s group time!)

Zones:  8-11

Leaves:  Long straps of green stand upright.  

Blooms:  Small, fragrant trumpet shaped flowers.

Height: 8-20 inches depending on the cultivar.

Grows from:   Bulbs.

Grows: Inside as a forced bulb.

Three waterproof pots to grow Paperwhite Narcissus.
Examples of three kinds of waterproof pots for growing Paperwhite Narcissus.

Paperwhite narcissus grows easily indoors in pots filled with stones and water.  Here’s how:

Tools

  • Shallow (3-4 inches high) waterproof pot without drainage holes – like glazed ceramic flower pots, coffee cups, glass bowls.
  • Clean gravel or stones.
  • Water.

Assembly

  • Place 1-2 inches of stones in bottom of pot.
  • Set bulbs on top with flat side resting on stones, top pointy side up.
  • Put some stones around bulbs to keep bulbs in place.
  • Add water just to the bottom of the bulbs.  Caution: don’t let bulbs sit in water as they will rot.
  • Place in a cool sunny window.
  • As green shoots come up rotate the pot slightly every couple of days.  This will keep the shoots growing straight and not bending toward the light.
  • If the leaves and flowers begin to flop over, place a small stake in the center. Tie twine or raffia to the stake. Gather the falling leaves and wrap them in a circle of twine and tie it to the twine itself.

In approximately 2-3 weeks they bloom.  Flowers last about 1-2 weeks.

Some people plant these bulbs in succession to keep the flowers coming. Bulbs planted in succession make the display last throughout winter.

To do this, either divide up the bulbs you bought and save some or buy a couple of packages. Have a few extra waterproof containers ready, as well as clean stones.

Follow the directions above, but plant another pot two weeks after you planted the first set of bulbs. Plant yet another pot two weeks after the second set.

Once bloom time is over plants are finished and unlikely to bloom again. You can throw them out or if organically grown throw them in the compost pile.

Uses

Brighten up any room with a cool, sunny window. Their fragrance makes you think spring is here even when it’s cold, gray and nasty outside with six more weeks of winter to go!

December’s not the only month with a lot to do. Activities and celebrations happen all year long. Remeber a birthday in a special way and time of year doesn’t matter. Just don’t make them grow their own birth flower!

References

Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

NC State Extension

SFGate

Maple Trees Offer More Than Shade

Maple trees sweeten our life with shade, fall color, wood products and syrup. See what social events they inspire.

Maple trees line a path in the fall woods
Maple trees lean over the path dropping leaves wherever.

Do you remember your first tree?  It was taller than you – could you see the top?  Were there animals coming and going?

How did the bark feel? Smooth, rough or maybe you didn’t want to touch it because there were insects running over it.

My first tree was the large maple in our small backyard where I lived until I was seven years old.

It was the only large tree in the backyard giving us shade from the western sun in the afternoon. Just behind our fence the woods added to the late day shade.

Some of my first animals used the big maple. My first raccoon climbed to a high branch, settling on it to watch us in safety.

Squirrels chased each other all around the trunk in a spiral, clinging to the nubby sides of it.

Chipmunks scurried for cover underneath the bottom of the trunk– where did they go? I ran around and around looking for them.

And birds! Blue Jays loved to perch and call out. Robins sang sweet tearful tunes, their nests built too high for me to reach. 

Cardinals’ chipped their sound and were easy to spot because of their bright red color.

So much fun to play in too. Dad raked up large yellow leaves that covered the green grass in autumn. He made a giant pile for us.

We loved to jump and scoot and fling them around. Then I guess he had to rake them up again!

Before we moved from the house, I gave that large maple tree a hug . At seven years old, I could not get my arms around the trunk. I hugged as much of that rough textured tree trunk as I could.

Yellow maple leaf in the grass.
Random Maple leaf from another yard.

My Grandmother, Canadian born and raised, later became an American citizen but kept maple leaf symbols around her house – a reminder of her heritage. 

I didn’t know until I was older that the Canadian flag bears an eleven point symbol of a maple leaf between two red bars.

In my yard I could have had my own tree farm or forest by now because of all the little seedlings that pop up from a neighbor’s tree.

They grow where they land – flower beds, the lawn and underneath shrubs. I pull them out.

That old tree has since been taken down. Another maple tree’s seedlings from I don’t know where, still surprise me every summer.

Maple tree seedling.
Maple tree seedling tries to reforest the yard.

Features

Native to:  Eastern and Central North America.

Cultivars have different sizes, leaf color, soil requirements. Talk to an arborist or nursery tree expert about which is best for your yard.

Zones: 3-9

Leaves: Three to five pointed lobes with toothed edges, medium to dark green on top, lighter green to grey green on bottom side.

Blooms:  Flowers in fringy clusters, later becoming fruits with 2 wings – the whirligigs that blow off the tree in early summer.

Height: 30 feet – 130 feet

Width:  30 feet – 50 feet

Grows from:  Seeds

Care

  • Sunlight:  Full sun to part shade.
  • Soil: Average, well-drained but can tolerate clay soil, some cultivars like the soil slightly acid.
  • Water:  Medium to wet.
  • Fertilize: Usually not necessary.

Problems/Pests

The roots spread far and wide in the yard. Roots tend to be the culprits in overtaking and breaking down plumbing pipelines, driveways and sidewalks.

Before planting find out how far the roots’ reach can be. Locate the tree far enough away from hardscape.

Some are not pollution tolerant.

Pests:  Asian long horned beetle weakens the tree, causing branches to break and fall.

Diseases: Anthracnose, leaf scorch, leaf spot, tar spot and fungi like powdery mildew and verticillium wilt.

Uses

In the home garden it’s a shade tree and home for birds and animals. They’re grown in some areas to control erosion or manage surface water like runoff after rain.

Find wood from maple trees in furniture, flooring, plywood, veneer, musical instruments and toys.

The sugar maple produces sugar and syrup.

Maple tree seedling with roots.
Maple tree seedling.

Celebrations of the Maple Tree

Fall foliage trips celebrate the colorful change of many kinds of trees, but you can’t miss the brilliant long-lasting color of the maple trees.

Every year there are predictions for peak foliage times. If you’re planning a trip, the area you want to visit usually has predictions for the best time to visit.

There are drive tours, train trips, fall festivals, hikes and even times and places to watch for migrating birds heading south for the winter.

Maple syrup festivals generally run from February through April. They’re held when sap collection is at its peak.

The sap production depends on the climate of each region. Search online to find the specific dates of festivals.

Sap collected from the trees is turned into maple sugar and maple syrup – a good reason to celebrate!

Activities might include: carrying buckets of tree sap, parades, carnival rides, wagon or train rides, hikes and demonstrations of candy and syrup making.

Learn all about lumberjacking. When tired from watching someone else do all that hard work, eat lots of food that uses maple products like pancakes and sausage covered in syrup! Or how about ice cream with maple syrup drizzled over it?

Canada has many events in honor of the maple tree too.

Four seasons of beauty plus celebrations of their colors and products – how sweet!

References

The Canadian Encyclopedia

Michigan State University

The Tree Center

Copyright Juli Seyfried 2019

Chrysanthemum: Fall Friendship Flower

Hardy mums are easy mainstays in the fall garden. Florist mums brighten the house with long-lasting blooms any time. What’s their special quality beyond beauty?

Red mums with yellow centers.
Hardy Chrysanthemum

November babies, this is your flower. It’s been a sign of friendship since Victorian times.

The chrysanthemum has different symbolic meanings in countries like China, Japan, Australia, Belgium and Austria. For most in the U.S., it’s a beautiful flower that’s in abundance in the fall.

There are two ways to buy them:  hardy mums to grow in the garden or florist mums to dress up your house.

Garden Mum

Features

Native to: Asia and Northeastern Europe.

Name refers to: Greek words for gold and flower.

Zones:  5-9, although some may be grown in Zones 3 and 4 – check the plant’s label.

Leaves:  Small dark green, three lobe leaf. It’s shape reminds you of a little animal’s paw.

Blooms: Many shades from gold to bronze to red, purple, pink, white and off white. One bloom is made of hundreds of smaller petals called florets. 

These florets have many different shapes. The National Chrysanthemum Society has listed 13 classes of bloom forms.

Bloom Time:  Depending on the cultivar, mums bloom early July, early fall in September or late fall in October. Flowering lasts 4-8 weeks.

Height: 1-2 feet sometimes 3 feet depending on the cultivar.

Width:  1-2 feet

Grows from:  Seeds, cuttings and divisions. Many people buy full grown plants in pots.

Seeds:  Planting seeds may not grow true to the color of the parent plant. Follow package directions.

Cuttings:  Taken in spring when pinching to control growth. Root the cuttings and transplant.

Divisions:  After a few years, a woody stem develops in the middle of the plant.

Dig up the whole plant and separate the young, newer plants from the outer edge of the root ball.

Plant in a new spot in the bed for pest control and to prevent disease.

Attracts:  Butterflies.

Care

  • Location: Find a place where it will be protected from the wind. Plant far enough apart from other plants for good air circulation to keep diseases from developing.
  • Sunlight:  Full sun but protected from late afternoon sun.
  • Soil:  High in organic matter that drains well.
  • Water: Frequent watering to keep soil moist but not wet.  Root rot occurs if the soil is too wet.
  • Fertilize: They’re considered heavy feeders. Feed monthly with an organic, water soluble fertilizer spring through July.
  • Pinching: To keep the plant small and bushy, pinch off the branches as they grow.

Pinch between your finger nails above the second set of leaves. This will cause it to branch.

Do this from the time they reach six inches tall until early summer.  Pinching also prevents leggy growth that causes the plant to flop over.

  • Winter Protection:  Sometimes they will survive the winter, sometimes not even if your plant is designated winter hardy for your area.

In late fall, after blooming, cut back to 6 inches.  Mulch with straw or pine straw.

These mulches are loose and open enough to provide protection from the cold, but still allow air to circulate to prevent the roots from getting too wet. 

Problems/Pests

Many pests:  Aphids, spider mites and thrips.

Many diseases:  Powdery mildew, rust, stem and root rot, viruses.

To prevent problems, rotate their spot in the garden when you divide them every few years.

Uses

Perennial or annual containers, edging for borders, grouped together for large displays.

White mums with yellow centers.
Bouquet of florist Chrysanthemum.

Florist Mum

These are the beautiful indoor flowers that are enjoyed for over a month and then thrown out.

Potted version:

Buy one that has more buds than open flowers to enjoy the show longer.

Blooms approximately 6-8 weeks.

Known for its air cleaning qualities.

Care:

  • Can place in a decorative pot that has no drainage holes.  This protects the counter or furniture surface from water damage.

A saucer underneath the potted plant will do the same.

  • Keep in a cool but sunny spot. Cooler temperatures make blooms last.
  • Keep soil evenly moist. Water generally twice a week.

Test top inch of soil with your finger. If dry, thoroughly water it at the sink. Let water drain completely before putting it back in its spot.

  • Throw out when it’s done blooming. Avoid the compost pile because the plant has been treated with chemicals to make it grow to the size and shape that is sold at the store.

Bouquet of Mums:

Last approximately 2 weeks.

Change the water at least once during that time.

Cut the ends of the stems as the original cuts have closed up. This allows fresh water to get to the blooms. Flowers will last longer.

Chrysanthemum’s Other Quality

In addition to cleaning the indoor air, outdoors the mum has another role. The flower of a particular species is turned into a natural insecticide.

An extract from the flower is toxic to most insects. When exposed to this substance it can numb and kill them.

Unfortunately, this substance is toxic to beneficial insects, fish and amphibians too. Although it’s a natural insecticide, use carefully following package directions.

You really want to target the infested plant without spraying other plants. By targeting you reduce harm to beneficial insects and reduce water pollution runoff.  

Whether you buy the chrysanthemum for indoor or outdoor decoration or use an insecticide product made from its flowers, the mum is a mainstay of the fall garden.

References

EXTOXNET Extension Toxicology Network

FTD by Design

National Chrysanthemum Society, USA

Copyright Juli Seyfried 2019

Apples: Versatile Stars

Crabapples on tree branch.
Crabapples
Photo from Pixabay

Apples are so versatile with so many uses people almost overlook them or take them for granted.

They’re nutritious and benefit your health in many ways helping to prevent some diseases.

Although sweet on their own, treats like apple pie add something special to a meal.

You can grow your own and within a few years of planting they’re ready to pick.

But there’s more to apples than eating. This is the second part of two articles about these globes. Experience some of their other star qualities!

Pink crabapple flowers.
Crabapple flowers
Photo from Pixabay

Decorative Crabapple Trees

Besides growing your own tree for fruit there is a decorative version:  the crabapple tree. This four season beauty is worthy of a spot in your yard.

In spring, it’s covered in small fragrant blossoms that capture your nose long before you see the tree.

It’s the kind of scent that makes people forget to watch where they’re walking – running into street signs or falling off curbs.

Summer’s bronzy green leaves cover the tree, hiding the growing clusters of fruit.

Fall leaves turn colors yellow to red. Small apples like ornaments, hang in plain sight all over the tree.

Winter, some apples remain and stand out from the dark bark on the twisting branches.  

Red crabapples frozen in ice on tree branch.
Crabapples in ice.
Photo from Pixabay

Features:

Genus:  Malus

Name refers to:  Tree with small bitter fruit that is edible in jellies.

Zones:  4-8

Leaves:  Small deep green to bronzy color in summer. Varieties have leaves that turn yellow, orange, red or purple in fall.

Blooms:  In April beautiful buds open to flowers of white, various shades of pale to deep pink depending on the variety.

Fruit:  Small yellow, orange red to deep red apples that are too bitter for basic eating.  It makes a good tart jelly.

Trunks:  Pretty, gnarled shape that looks like a statue in winter. Snow on bark is a bonus.

Height: 15-20 feet

Spread:  12-20 feet

Attracts:  Pollinators like bees and butterflies. Birds love the fruit later in the season.

Crabapple trunk, branches. leaves in fall.
Fall Crabapple tree
Photo from Pixabay

Care:

Sunlight:  Full sun

Soil:  Well-drained, tolerates clay soil

Water:  Medium

Fertilize:  Add compost once a year

Problems:

Considered a low maintenance tree if you get a disease and pest resistant variety.

People who cut the grass find fallen apples may damage the mower blades.  Plant in a large bed where fallen fruit can just decompose.

May develop scab, fireblight, rust or powdery mildew.

Insect problems include aphids, borers, Japanese beetles, scale, spider mites and tent caterpillars.

More Star Qualities

Experience versatile apples in events, art, crafts, stories and sayings. You’re surrounded by their sight and tart smell!

Rows of candy and carmel apples.
Carmel and candy apples
Photo from Pixabay

Celebrations of apples:

Festivals: Across the country you can find many apple festivals usually from September to mid October. Think about it now and plan a fall trip for next year.

Each festival is unique reflecting the town or area where it is held. Apples and products made from them are the stars of the festival.

Here are some activities you may find: judging of apples, pies and jellies; arts and crafts with the fruit.

More activities: parades, musical entertainment, how-to demonstrations, games, rides, hayrides and art shows.

Apple-picking at farms who may also host events or sell products made from apples.

Bobbing for apples is a game usually played at Halloween parties. Get a large tub at least 18 inches in diameter, fill with water and throw some fresh ones in. Watch them float on top.

You kneel on the ground with hands behind your back. Try to grab one with your teeth. Not as easy as it looks!

If the tub is big enough two people can bob at the same time. Winner is the one who gets it first. You can also time the contestant to see how long it takes. Shortest time wins.

Or set a timer for a minute and see who can get one in that time. If you get the apple it’s yours.

Crafts

Dolls: Make a doll head out of a dried apple. Make a body, attach the dried apple head and dress it to complete the doll. There are many instructions on line for how to make one.

Half an apple.
Half apple ready for print making.
Photo from Pixabay

Apple Art: Young children may use them as a tool to make sculptures or prints. To make a print use half an apple as a stamp. Cut a whole one in half. Let it dry for a little bit so juice doesn’t interfere with paint.

Put a little acrylic paint on a paper plate. Take one of the dried halves and dip the cut side evenly into the paint. Press onto a piece of paper. What designs can you make?

Painting of wooden bowl of apples.
Current painting of apples in still life.
Image from Pixabay

Art

Apples are the main subject in paintings by famous artists.

Vincent Van Gogh painted Still Life with Apples, Paul Gaugin painted Apples in Bowl, and Paul Cezanne painted The Basket of Apples.

Maybe this fruit was in season and handy to grab, display and paint? These are only three of many works of art with apples as the main subject or as part of a larger scene.

Tree trunk surrounded by fallen green apples.
Fallen apples
Photo from Pixabay

Stories from history

Sir Isaac Newton (1642/43-1727), an English physicist and mathematician had an experience with the humble apple that inspired him to think about gravity.

While drinking tea under apple trees, a ripe one fell from a tree to the ground. Thinking about “why and how” later contributed to the development of the universal law of gravity.

John Chapman aka Johnny Appleseed ( 1774-1845), was a traveling nurseryman who planted nurseries and apple orchards throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana.

The fruit from these trees were good only for making hard cider and applejack. Orchards were a legal way to make a land claim.

He’d plant an orchard and create a nursery, then leave to create another somewhere else. He’d return in a few years to sell the first one off.

He dressed simply, often without shoes, wearing a tin hat. He believed in no harm to animals or other living creatures. His life and work made him a folk hero.

A few old sayings starring apples:

One slice of apple pie.
Slice of apple pie
Photo from Pixabay

As American as apple pie.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

An apple for the teacher…

“Apple polisher” – name given to a person trying to impress someone.

Apples are wide spread in the world. They’re recognized in all sorts of food products, health benefits, celebrations and artistic uses. They’re everyday stars of life!

References

PickYourOwn.org

Wikiart Visual Art Encyclopedia

web.stanford.edu

Copyright 2019 Juli Seyfried

Apples: Stars of Food and Nutrition

Apples plucked from the orchard display their useful versatility in this two-part series during the “Apple Month” of October.

Three McIntosh Apples stacked.
McIntosh Apples ready to eat!

Apples are for more than snacking. They are the versatile stars of their own dishes like pie and drinks of cider. They are the main feature of holiday games and decorations.

Scientists study their health benefits. Apples offer lifestyle advice through wise old sayings.

Here’s a look at some of their contributions to nutrition and mealtimes.

Health benefits

Studies abound about the beneficial effects on the body from eating apples. Although not a cure-all apples have some preventive qualities.

Because they contain Vitamin C and Beta carotene antioxidants, apples fight toxins in the body. 

Fiber in apples helps tame cholesterol. Fiber cleans the liver and colon by removing toxins. Apple fiber contributes to protection against diseases like diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Apples are low in calories. Eaten raw they naturally remove some stains from your teeth.

Some common food uses for apples:

Eating apples tops the list. Will you be eating them fresh? Will you cook or bake them? Do you like your apples on the sweet side or do you like a tart flavor?

Some varieties are tried and true for eating fresh as a snack or in a salad like: McIntosh, Red Delicious, Fuji and Gala.

Some are good for both eating fresh or cooking and baking like: Crispin, Braeburn, Jonagold and Granny Smith.

These are just of few of the varieties. There are so many more apples to choose from. Some grow only in your area. Give a different one a try!

Two barrels of apples in an apple orchard.
Two barrels of apples picked from trees in the orchard ready for processing. Photo from Pixabay.
  • Food made from apples:

Applesauce is made by cooking peeled apples and sometimes adding spices. Available in stores, some with no added sugar or you can make your own.

Start with a few fresh apples. Wash and peel. If you leave the peels on they make the sauce chewier but add nutrients.

Cut the apples into slices. Add some water and cook in a saucepan over medium heat until it’s the consistency you like. Sprinkle cinnamon over apples while cooking. Cool before serving.

Dried apples can be made in dehydrators or ovens.

Apple jelly and apple butter spread on toast or muffins are delicious! Buy ready to slather on or find an easy-to-make recipe.

How about apples dipped in melted candy or caramel? The sweet and sticky concoctions get all over your face and hands – but they’re oh so good!

Buy candy apples or caramel apples in stores. Have a sticky good time with easy recipes to make your own.

  • Drink the juice made from apples:

Apple Juice is filtered to remove pulp, etc. and pasteurized to kill bacteria.

Cider is apple juice that hasn’t been filtered or sweetened.  It may be pasteurized.

Hard cider and applejack are fermented versions of apple juice. The amount of alcohol from the fermentation process differs in each product. Hard cider has less alcohol than applejack.

  • All-purpose apple products:

Vinegar is made from fermentation of apple juice. It’s used for many purposes. Food uses include: vinegar as a partner in salad dressing and pickling just about anything.

Clean counter tops with a 50/50 solution of vinegar/water.

Use it full strength in a squirt bottle for killing weeds. A bottle that streams liquid works best to target only weeds.  

Finding and storing apples

Besides your local grocery, farmers’ markets and apple farms are great places to get popular varieties. Some carry local varieties.

Choosing organic apples reduces the amount of pesticides that you consume. They keep best in the refrigerator.

Apple tree with apples on tree and ground.
Apple tree loaded with fruit. Photo from Pixabay.

Interested in growing your own trees?

Apple trees originated in Kazakhstan in central Asia. They are members of the Rosaceae family. They are found in almost every part of the world.

Here are a few tips for growing them in your yard:

You will need to buy two trees so that bees can cross pollinate them to produce fruit.  Make sure the location you want to plant them is the best spot for their needs:  soil, light – at least eight hours/day and water. Keep in mind the size of the full grown tree when choosing a spot!

Your local nursery can help you with the selections hardiest in your zone. They have information on insect and disease resistance. They can also tell you how many years before you see fruit growing on the trees.

Consider the care needed to grow them. They thrive with regular watering and yearly pruning.

A group of green apples with one peeled.
One peeled and ready to cook apple in the group. Photo from Pixabay.

Ready to make some goodies from apples? Here are three recipes to try that are inspired by old apple recipes:

  • Slaw with Apples and Cheese

Grate cabbage. Add chopped or grated apples along with your favorite crumbled or grated cheese. Mix with mayo or mayo substitute. Season to taste with salt and pepper or a non-salt seasoning.

  • Apple Pie

1 single ready-made or made from scratch pie crust

Filling:

1 21oz can apples or 3 C fresh, peeled and cooked apples

1 TBS all-purpose flour

8 TBS sugar or favorite sweetener following the package’s substitution guidelines

1 tsp cinnamon

2 TBS bottled lemon juice

1 – 2 TBS butter, cut into small pieces

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place pie crust in pie pan.

In a medium bowl:  mix apples, flour, sugar, ½ tsp cinnamon and lemon juice together. Place on crust in pie pan.  Scatter the pieces of butter over filling.  Sprinkle remaining cinnamon on top.

Place a ring of foil on pie crust edges to prevent overcooking. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove foil from edges and bake until crust is lightly browned. Take from oven and cool for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

  • Applesauce Bread With Nuts

2 C all-purpose flour

¾ C sugar or favorite sweetener following the package’s substitution guidelines

3 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp soda

1 tsp cinnamon

¾ C nuts – walnuts or pecans (omit if you want)

1 egg

1 C applesauce (no sugar added type)

2 tsp melted butter or margarine

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat egg. Add applesauce and the butter or margarine. Mix. Add dry ingredients.  Stir by hand or mixer until blended.

Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees. Touch top to see if it springs back easily. If it does, insert a table knife in top. If it comes out clean, it’s done! Let cool before slicing and serving.

In Part 2 we’ll look at other versatile uses for apples and the meanings of some of those old sayings.

References

Happy DIY Home

Organic Lifestyle Magazine

US Apple

University of Minnesota Extension

Copyright Juli Seyfried 2019