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What was your first houseplant? Perhaps a spider plant, an African violet, or a succulent. Maybe it’s a Christmas cactus that was your grandmother’s. Nurturing living things brings us joy and purpose as they depend on us for their basic needs and houseplants are no exception. They can improve air quality as well as mood quality. Whether you are a new or a seasoned plant parent, houseplants are a fun way to decorate and try your hand had growing something. Even if every plant you’ve had has died, here’s an encouraging truth: everyone has watched a plant or two die under their care.
It's not a matter of having a green thumb or not, it's more about finding the right plant that will thrive in the light and cultural conditions of the place in which you live. When choosing a houseplant, always consider the light factor first, then consider the plant's watering and fertilizing needs. If you are starting out, choose one that's easy to care for and is forgiving if you forget it’s weekly watering. Hoyas and Snake plants (Sansevaria) are two easy houseplants that can go 2-4 weeks between waterings and don’t need much light.
It seems that we aren’t the only ones that love houseplants. Cats and dogs like to chew on them to calm upset tummies, to remedy nutritional deficiencies, or to use as a chew toy. Many houseplants are toxic to pets, but pet parents can also be plant parents. It’s always best to keep plants out of the reach of pets, but the following are recognized as being non-toxic to cats and dogs:
African Violets (Saintpaulia ionantha)
Air plants (Tilandsia)
Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera x buckleyi)
Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltatan)
Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis)
Hoyas (Hoya carnosa)
Chinese Money Plant (Pilea peperomioides)
Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
The list of pet-safe houseplants is actually quite extensive - over 20 plants! So with a little homework, you CAN safely green up your living space for you and your pets.
A Field Guide to Raising Butterflies
There is a magical process that takes place starting in late spring through fall in our area. It is the complete metamorphosis of a monarch caterpillar to a butterfly. Looking at the caterpillar, one of the first things that goes through your mind is how does this striped caterpillar become a butterfly? What part of the caterpillar is the wings? Which part is the thorax? Do the legs become wings? It is a wondrous process to witness the transition.
When it breaks through the chrysalis and crawls out, the monarch's wings are completely crumpled up. The thorax or body is huge and filled with fluid. It’s first moments as a butterfly are spent pumping fluid from the thorax to fill and expand the wings. You have to be quick to capture the process. After it looks like a typical monarch, it will rest and occasionally flap its wings to dry them.
A few years ago, I started collecting monarch eggs or small caterpillars and started bringing them inside. Why would I do that? One more thing to take care of, one more thing to worry about. But if you have heard the news, you know monarch populations have dropped off considerably. We have good years, but overall, there are fewer monarchs.
There is a strong statement typically made about monarchs, that they produce a taste that is offensive or toxic to predators. That is true to an extent, but predators get around that sticky issue. First, ants, tree frogs and other predator insects will eat the entire egg. If the monarch survives to hatch, it may still be consumed by those insects and tree frogs.
The bluebird has apparently learned how to eliminate the toxic part of the caterpillar so it can be fed to its hatchlings. That leads to the conundrum of who is more important; the bluebird or the monarch? No fear, by bringing the caterpillars inside your home or inside a protected enclosure, the monarch is protected from food predators. But more importantly it protects them from being infected with one of several diseases which also kills the monarch.
So what can we do to make it easier for the monarch if you cannot provide them a protected home? Giving them plenty of native plants along with various forms of milkweed is a great way to start. Plants like Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium or Eutrochium macrolatum), Meadow Blazing Star (Liatris ligulistylis), and Lead Plant (Amorpha canescens) along with many more, will feed your monarch butterfly once it is released. Milkweed or butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is important for the butterfly to lay eggs, so keep those within an area of your yard. If you find common milkweed too invasive, swamp milkweed(Asclepias incarnata) is an excellent substitute that is native to our area and is less invasive.
With summer starting to wind down, we still have many monarchs to marvel at before summer is gone. Enjoy them and make plans to actively raise them next year.
Beth Martin is a Master Gardener at Burlington Garden Center where you will find many plants helpful to the butterfly lifecycle. Feel free to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In August's early days, time seem to pause suspended in deep summer. The harvest stills momentarily, bees buzz on intoxicating nectar, and a relaxed mood dominates when it's too hot to do anything but sit in a hammock under the shade trees.
It's during this time that landscapes are filled with the lacey blossoms of hydrangeas. Some have been blooming since June, but by now there should be a pretty display of white, blush, pink, mauve and even deep red varieties. The selection is vast and can be confusing as to which one to choose. Following is an explanation of hydrangea types. Read on to discover the one that is best for your landscape.
Smooth Hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens) are better known as Anabelles and are native to the south eastern part of the US. They are the earliest blooming group typically showing flowers in June. Annabelle's family is quickly growing as more members are introduced such as 'Lil' Annie', 'Wee White', 'Incrediball', 'Invincibelle Spirit, and 'Ruby', and 'Mini Mauvette'. Newer versions of Annabelle have either sturdier stems, larger flowers, or a more compact habit. Flower colors are either white or pink and do not respond to soil pH levels. Most hydrangeas in this group can take sun or part shade. CARE TIP: flowers on new wood; prune back to 18" in late fall or early spring.
Big Leaf (Hydrangea macrophylla), also known as mopheads, have large colorful balls of florets. Plant in morning sun and afternoon shade, and playing with the soil pH can generally change the colors from blue, purple, and pink. Mature sizes range from 3-4' tall. CARE TIP: Most macrophyllas die back to the ground every year in our area. In spring, prune off dead wood and fertilize. Varieties to look for: any from the 'Cape Cod' series are hardy to zone 4 and are beautiful!
Panicle Hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) are woody shrubs that can take six or more hours of sun, and have large, cone-shaped flowers ranging from white to shades of pink and red. 'Quick Fire' is the earliest blooming variety, but by August they all are spectacular! Need something compact? Look for 'Bobo', 'Little Quickfire', and 'Little Lime'. Other varieties can grow 6-8' tall making a great living screen. 'Zinfin Doll' and 'Pink Diamond' are among the fragrant varieties. Many panicle hydrangeas are now available in tree form making them the perfect focal point in a small space garden. CARE TIP: Prune back by one third in early spring.
Mountain (Hydrangea serrata) is a smaller group of hydrangeas originating from the mountains of eastern Asia and are hardy to zone 5. The lace-cap flowers are purple or pink depending on the soil pH. Mountain hydrangeas like morning sun for best flowering which bloom on old and new wood ensuring new flowers all season long. Leaves from the 3'x3' shrubs are used in tea. A variety to look for is 'Tuff Stuff' from Proven Winners.
The final group of hydrangeas is Oakleaf (Hydrangea quercifoia). The leaves resemble oak leaves, and the panicles of flowers are lovely lace-like florets in whites maturing to mauves. Leaves turn a deep burgundy in fall adding another element of interest. When grown in full sun to part shade, they can mature 4-6 feet in height. A variety to look for is 'Jetstream'.
Hydrangeas not only add grace to the late summer garden, but cut stems of most varieties can be enjoyed indoors fresh or dried.
‘I must have flowers, always and always’ wrote Claude Monet.
How many of us can’t identify with this sentiment? It’s the rose, the peony, the lily that make us catch our breath and stop to look twice. Isn’t that what we wait for all winter and spring? Planting annual flowers into containers to welcome us home every night or a garden bed filled with summer blooms give immense pleasure.
Yes, like Monet we must always have flowers, yet there is something noteworthy and plausible about plants with terrific foliage. When the spring perennial flowers have faded, what makes the shade garden interesting? Hostas, Coral Bells (Heuchera), and ferns (especially Japanese Painted Ferns) carry us through summer and fall with variegated leaves, colorful foliage, and contrasting textures.
Consider this: as perennials bloom their allotted times, some only a week or two, what do they look like when they are done flowering? How does that affect the look of that garden bed? And on an even broader scope, how does your landscape look when nothing is flowering?
Adding a few perennials and shrubs with colorful and interesting foliage can take your garden from good to great design. After a quick poll of our staff at Burlington Garden Center, here are a few of our favorite foliage plants:
Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’ (above) is definitely king in the part shade or shade garden. This herbaceous perennial (Spikenard) will quickly grow to 3’ tall in ideal situations and its broad leaves bring a bold chartreuse color among hostas and hydrangeas.
Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’ is a fine-leaf grass for the shade garden. This Japanese Forest Grass cascades over boulders, softens front of the border, and pairs well with Hostas.
For the sun garden, a splash of chartreuse foliage can be provided by Agastache ‘Golden Jubilee’ even when not topped with purple flowers often covered with bees.
Hummingbirds aren’t the only ones that love Penstemon digitalis. The burgundy leaves of ‘Husker Red’ and ‘Pocahontas’ are a pretty contrast when planted near green-leaf perennials.
The Ninebark family (Physocarpus opifolius) seems to add new members every year, and each with attractive foliage – from deep burgundy, to amber, gold and copper tones. With different mature sizes, there is sure to be one for your yard.
Coral Bells (Heuchera), like the one shown above, certainly are a go-to foliage plant for part-sun/part-shade. Burgundy, purple, caramel, silver and shades of greens are all pretty additions to the garden as well as to containers. Heuchera ‘Mystic Rose’ and ‘Green Spice’ are reliable varieties to look for.
Two plants with blue foliage combine well with that of burgundy-leaf plants: Fothergilla ‘Blue Shadow’ (above) is a medium size shrub for sun and part shade. With bottle-brush flowers in spring and beautiful red fall color, it adds interest to the landscape for three seasons. Several varieties of Hosta are easy-care perennials that bring the blues to shady gardens, too.
Once again, it’s Hosta that provides foliage-interest in the shade. Never settle for plain green again! Endless combinations of white, green, blue, yellow, chartreuse make this plant family far from boring.
Our last suggestion for the shade garden not only offers interesting green and white foliage, but a unique, gracefully arched habit. Variegated Solomon Seal, Polygonatum ‘Variegatum’, spreads by rhizomes and will create small colonies over time.