Sunday, April 23, 2017

Heidi, What's Wrong with my Hinoki Cypress? It's going brown!

Growing Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa nana) in Southern Ontario can be a challenge at times, considering we get whopper winters occasionally. So when I was asked this question - I was hesitant to think winter damage.

From far, yeah, the cypress was quite brown. Don't jump to conclusions, but rather take a closer look.

No browning was coming from the inside of the plant, but instead on its tips.

These are in fact pollen cones.

Conifers fall under a classification known as Gymnosperms. They don't have flowers like other classifications (Angiosperms). They instead bear cones within their scale leaves which later develop seed for reproduction.

What you are seeing, are swelling cones borne at the tips of the scale foliage of the cypress. They will age brown but for now are almost reddish pink.

I will update in a week or so, when the pollen is ready to be released.

Not to worry, this plant is happy and ready to reproduce - bearing seed cones later in the summer.

It's a good time to mulch beneath the plant and water if rains are infrequent. Overall - a happy plant. Nothing wrong. Just the plant doing its thing...

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Rose Mildew - Podosphaera pannosa (on Rosa glauca)

I'm sure I'm not the only one who is concerned about Southern Ontario winters and spring thaws.  We never seem to get a slow warm up in spring anymore. Instead, there's constant fluctuations; +10˚C one day, -8˚C the next.

One of the results of these fluctuations, is mould and fungus development on many plants.

I just walked through the gate and noticed something on our hardiest of roses. 

Do you notice it?

Rosa glauca is one of the main pollinator plants we use to attract insects and birds to the garden. 

Rosa glauca's simple, single flowers attract so many pollinators. It's so lovely to watch and the flowers say nothing but hello and bring vibrance to a dark corner.

Great silver/blue foliage allow the orange-red hips to jump out in contrast. Birds love these hips.

Incredibly tough and hardy, there aren't too many disease issues with this rose at all.

I've never dealt with mildew on this rose before, but as I bent down the stems to see the powdery white mass that I spotted way above my head, it revealed more on the other side.

In fact, I found about 6 younger stems with this white furry coating.

I pruned it back to about 12" below the coated area to avoid any mildew from coming in contact with other stems or the stem it was cut from.  Be thorough with removal and try not to dislodge any mildew or let it come in contact with any remaining stems.

Do not compost these stems. Burn or put them out for yard waste pick up. This stem (above) was sitting in our yard-waste pile a day after pruning and you'll see the mildew age to a light brown/mocha colour.  I tucked it down into the bin, so that no spores would become air-born and invade other plants near by.

As I examined the stems closely, the mildew spores invade the breathing holes called lenticels of the stem. Eventually spreading into a cottony mass. If left, the mildew would reach the buds and cause the leaves to be coated as well as the flower buds. Eventually stunting the plant, making it lose vigour and possible flowering ability.

Once leaves start to emerge, I will examine the rose more thoroughly to see any overlapping branches or growth that requires thinning out - which helps to promote more air circulation and a better tidied appearance. This is rose we generally allow to ramble and become large. I rather hate pruning it needlessly.

Heavy sigh...

At least finding it now has been one great preventative - so that we can enjoy a healthy plant this upcoming summer.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Overwintering Kale

Kale.....yummmm....kale. We bought this variety last summer called: Russian Red.

The great aspect of harvesting kale as it grows, it gets taller and taller, which helps deter it from too much slug damage and makes it easy to pick leaves.

Last year we grew it in pots; we grew it in perennial beds and we grew it in our herb garden.

Our herb garden is slightly shaded on one side and protected from serious winds. Sparing it from the compost, I left it with overwintering hopes. Lo' and behold, it did survive. Thankfully our winter was milder than expected.

I had spring hopes for this particular plant. We heaped leaves and debris over the base of the roots to help insulate it. Even though we enjoyed as many leaves from it as possible, I made sure to spare the top bunch of leaves to keep the plant alive. The flavour of kale is enhanced due to the cold weather, so the others we grew in our other locations were completely harvested. They were so tasty.

Now as you look closely, the buds along the main stem are starting to open.  This was my hope for the spring. Yay!

We will harvest small plant-lets as they unfurl and put them in salads or stir fries. Will let you know if they are bitter or whatever taste emerges. As it keeps growing, we hope it bolts and provides us with seeds for this coming summer to keep the cycle of plants going.


So happy to see other plants peaking through as well:

Raddichio is a hit and miss, so we are happy to see some return for our salads this spring.

Parsley too.

Makes us happy to have a few plants we can harvest from this spring. Helps take the edge off waiting to see our tiny seedlings give us hope for summer harvests.

Hope you've had some luck overwintering tender plants in southern Ontario too.  So glad spring is here!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Indoor Asparagus Fern Plant - Asparagus densiflorus "Sprengeri"

This drooping form of Asparagus fern (Emerald Feather), needs a haircut each spring. It's beginning to thin at the top and get rather bushy at the base. This is a great plant for a hanging basket or in a raised planter.

I see so many different treatments of pruning for this plant, so I thought I would show you how I manage to keep its natural pendulous form.

This room gets moderate light and because it lives happily on a raised plant stand, we still enjoy the long stems to nearly reach the floor.

Wear GLOVES, please!
Before beginning any pruning, please be aware: Asparagus fern plants have spiny thorn like barbs - especially on older woody growth. WEAR GLOVES when handling this plant. Or ouch!

Can you see them? Tiny. Be careful!

First, get a good look from all angles. Get your gloves on and peak beneath those long trusses of growth.

With your gloves, pull back to reveal dead wood, browning stems and leaves that are dry and falling off. Comb with your gloves downwards to get rid of the dead bits. Be thorough. And don't worry, breaking a few stems in the process isn't going to hurt the plant. Prune out any yellowing stems or stems that are weak and not robust.

You want to avoid cutting younger growth. One trick to recognize them from the old is their lack of thorny barbs. See, no gloves to prove a point.

Another way is to see the colour variation.

The older stems are thicker and darker green.

I recommend cutting a third of the old stems back right from the base of the soil.

Go back to the top of the pot. You'll see brown, woody stems that emerge from tuber nodules (lumpy bumps) at the soil level. Don't damage those bumps by pruning the woody stems.  Just cut above.

From the base, gently tease the stems you cut out from the mass of growth and doing this will help generate younger growth to emerge from the top.

Next, figure how long you want to reduce its length.

Grab all the stems and gather them into a pony tail. Cut right above your grasp.

Don't stop there...

The healthy stems remaining need a trim as well. First look for bud axils along each stem. Find really healthy robust joints and start to thin out. Select 1 in about 10 stems like this and give them a cut back.

To show you better contrast, I've laid the cut stem on my jeans so you can see where to cut. Those buds just nestled in the joint of stems and leaves will become new stems.  Cutting some of this lengthy growth in half will bulk up the centre of the plant, as well as force new growth to emerge from the soil. This is key, or you will always have a bulky base and thin top to your hanging plant.

There, a little more even. No more puddling of stems on the floor. No more dead wood or browning leaves. Healthier all around.

Try it yourself!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Using Snow To Deter Squirrels Digging Up Bulbs

Nothing gets me more frustrated than seeing tulips dug up by squirrels.


Tender yellow shoots emerging from the ground must be a thrill for the squirrel after a long harsh winter. Although, once they get the taste of the shoots, they continue to dig down and go for the bulb.

What bothers me finding these half eaten green bits all about. At least eat everything if you're going to destroy the plant. Grrrr....

Even though this process is slightly redundant, that heap of snow you have at the side of the drive or in that shaded corner - well, it can be quite useful.

It will buy you a day or two of time, so that the squirrels become frustrated and move on - elsewhere.

Fill in the dug up areas, add some cayenne pepper or netting if you prefer and then cover the tulips with snow. Will give you a chance to come up with other ideas to ward off those pesky squirrels.

Depending on how warm it gets, you'll have to decide whether this process is worth the effort.  At least the slow melting will give the area adequate moisture to help make the tulips pop up more rapidly.

To us, it was...

Snow on top is like leaving a sign that says - take a hike!

I sure don't want to miss out on this display:

(with a Happy Dance, as spring is 3 days away)

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Repotting Peace Lily House Plant

Once upon a time, this peace lily was glorious. (2014)

It was repotted in 2016, as the plant outgrew the old pot.

Yeesh....then all of a sudden, two weeks ago - what's going on?!

Here you can see the comparison...   Once you see leaves droop (even though you are giving the plant adequate waterings), this is the sign you need to recognize that something else is happening.

Have a peak and see what the problem is. Don't be frightened to poke around and see what is happening at the root level. I moved the leaves/stems around and noticed they were not sturdy and firmly stabilized at the base of the plant. In the centre of the plant, you've got to feel what should be fleshy roots (like root vegetables). In what is normally a dense area of root growth, I felt a soft centre and noticed leafy debris.

Every leaf was floppy and had no resistance to me tugging at it, especially at the centre.

I just grabbed the whole plant and gave it a tug.  The whole thing popped right out - easily.

The culprit: the main parent plant has withered away and now what is left are the newer plants that emerge along the side of the original plant.

Time to repot.

Note, this plant was potted up a year ago in a slightly larger pot than what I would recommend. House plants thrive generally in root bound conditions. Meaning, they prefer to be root bound (less room) than swimming in soil.

Once you've tugged and lifted the mass away from the soil, find good sturdy groupings of plants and pull them apart gently. Try not to sever roots. I gently grabbed two bunches and pulled (soil being slightly moist) and they separated easily. If you are familiar with Hostas, Peace Lily Roots are quite similar and you can divide them in the same way.

You can see, they have a dense network of fleshy roots - long like spaghetti. This is still a healthy plant but we need to search for the rotting centre.

Here is the rotting old plant main stem.  Remove and toss out. I don't compost this, in case any sort of bacteria/virus hangs around. I looked through the healthy roots and removed any dead dangling roots that would be weaved in and among the healthy ones.

Remove any browning leaves.  Remove any leaves that aren't rigidly attached the base of the stem.

Like celery, they easily snap off at the base. Remove any broken bits or anything that can rot or decay later on.

When you remove leaves and debris, you'll notice little bumps and new developing roots.  These are ideal and what you want to see.

Time to repot:

I found two smaller pots (I cleaned and prepped them earlier). Try to pick pots based upon the root mass. The more roots, the bigger the pot. The less, the smaller pot is best.  This way, the plant won't swim in over watered soil and rot further.

Try to do this process of separating and cleaning the plants quickly when the roots are exposed. If there is a lot of dead material to clean out or can't get the job done quickly, use a spray bottle and spray roots - keeping them moist. This prevents them from drying out and going into shock. If you do get interrupted, for a while, place the roots into a clean bucket with water. Be sure to keep the roots hydrated.

Fill the pots with some soil to begin and gently place 3-4 plant bunches together and place into the centre of the pot. You could space them out more, but it is quite the job to get them to stand up evenly as you place the soil around.  I used an indoor potting soil, mixed with cactus soil (which has some sand added for better drainage). Peace Lilies like moist soil conditions but they like the soil to dry out between watering.  

Pinch firmly down.

Don't go over a two inch gap between the plant base and the sides of the pot. Otherwise the pot is too large.

Pinching the plant downwards, while adding more soil, will just fill the air pockets and keep the plant firmly in place.  I tamp down the soil as I go to help keep the roots below the soil surface.  Tap the sides of the pot to help level off the soil.

Water fairly well (do not oversoak) and place the plants close to a sunny window.

Don't be shocked if the plant shows stress and wilted leaves. It'll take a week of recuperation. Don't fret.

Here is the result 2 weeks later:

Shiny new leaves emerging. Leaves are turgid again and sturdy. Pointing outward again and not wilted. Success!


Two plants now, instead of one.  Great for gift giving or increasing your collection.

I love Peace Lily plants for their well known benefit of cleansing household air and their pervasive blooming ability. They are one of my most favourite house plants for low light conditions.

 Will update you on how they fair in the next month.  Stay linked....

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