Backyard blooms are a natural candidate for centerpieces — in addition to the cost savings of using free flowers, you can also show off your green thumb. Cut flowers early in the morning when the air and ground temps are cooler and plants are least stressed. And, be sure to place the cut blooms directly into a bucket of water to prevent any moisture loss. When arranging, re-cut the stems at a 45-degree angle before placing into a vase with added floral preservative.
Container gardens add splashes of portable color to outdoor settings, but if you love pots of color, you also know it can take daily attention to keep plants looking their best. One way to expedite the care routine is to fill your containers with shrubs that deliver strong color for the entire growing season. Shrubs typically need less grooming than annuals and do their thing as long as you water. This pair of shrubs features Bangle Dyers greenwood (Genista lydia) and Black Lace elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Eva’). Both of these shrubs flower in spring, but the leaves bring strong color and texture all season long.
Give your yard a touch of the tropics with exotic passion flower vine. ‘Empress Eugenie’ opens exquisite blooms that release a beautiful fragrance. Blossoms have subtle colors, so it’s best to place this vine where you can view the flowers up close and personal. Vines can reach 20 to 30 feet high and 6 to 8 feet wide in warmer regions. Grow it in a container in cold-winter regions, and overwinter in a cool spot where roots won’t freeze. Water sparingly through winter, just enough to keep roots alive. New growth should emerge in spring. Hardy in Zones 7-10. Why we love it: Passionflower is a host plant to several butterflies, including zebra longwings, gulf fritillary and monarchs.
Shiny, leathery leaves feature finger-like lobes on easy-growing ‘Xanadu’ philodendron. This plant is an upright type of philodendron, forming a bushy plant that can grow 2 to 4 feet tall and up to 5 feet wide in the landscape. As a houseplant, it happily grows to fill a 10- to 14-inch pot over time. ‘Xanadu’ is undemanding and gets by with minimal light and water. Give it spot near a bright window, though, and you’ll be rewarded with a bushier plant. It’s sometimes sold as Winterbourn philodendron.
Problem: Swarms or clouds of tiny white creatures fly into the air when you move your plants. Solution: You’ve got whiteflies, insects related to aphids that suck plant juices. They make a sticky substance called honeydew that can attract fungal diseases. Spray the plant with an insecticidal soap, following label directions. You’ll probably need to re-treat. Some gardeners use a homemade spray of 2 parts rubbing alcohol, 5 parts water and one tablespoon of mild liquid soap. The good news is that some houseplants, like this red Anthurium, are seldom troubled by these pests.
Earwigs inspire terror with those giant pincer claws on their backside. Those claws are used to grasp prey, including slugs, aphids and insect larvae. They’re also used to fend off predators. Earwigs fill two roles in the garden. On the positive side, they scavenge and consume decaying organic matter and eat other plant pests. But when populations are high, they can damage desirable plants by feeding on the soft tissue of seedlings, new shoots and flower petals. One easy way to deter earwigs is placing rolled up newspapers around the garden as traps. The earwigs crawl inside, and you can shake them into a bucket of soapy water. Diatomaceous earth also works against earwigs. Sprinkle it at the base of plants, on earwig clusters or anywhere earwig populations are high.
Often called sunchokes, these knobby looking tubers have the crisp texture of water chestnuts and offer a nutty flavor that is a wonderful alternative to potatoes. You can purchase small tubers from specialty stores and plant them in early spring in well-drained soil with a PH of about 7.0. They are usually ready for harvest after the first frost in late fall. Scrub and roast them like potatoes with a little garlic and chili oil for a taste treat.
As you select plants to serve as focal points in your décor, consider how large the plant grows and also how quickly it achieves that size. Plants like sentry palm and Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa) can double their size in a few years, given the right conditions. Chinese money plant, on the other hand, maintains a tidy size, growing slowly to 8 to 12 inches tall. With thick, succulent-like leaves, the plant doesn’t demand much water and thrives in low light. Unusual, round leaves make this plant a conversation piece.
Beautiful blooms of calla lily (Zantedeschia) are a cut flower favorite that thrives in a boggy environment. Many gardeners tuck calla lily into a spot beside a pond or stream. Plants can grow in up to 1 foot of water. In cold regions, dig bulbs and store dry indoors through winter. Look for varieties that open flowers in many hues, including vibrant yellow, deep red, white and pastel shades. Plants grow 2 to 3 feet tall by 2 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 9-10.
Ornamental peppers are popular holiday plants with colorful, decorative fruits. Give your plant a cool spot that gets lots of bright light, and water as needed to keep the soil from drying out. Some ornamental peppers have been treated with chemicals, and others just aren't good for eating, so enjoy the fruits only as ornamentals. Don't consume them or let children or pets come in contact with them. Annual ornamental peppers can stay in their pots or be transplanted into the garden after all danger of frost has passed. They'll grow until the first hard frost. This variety is 'NuMex Easter.'
Living christmas trees can be planted outdoors after the holidays. For best results, keep the tree inside for the shortest time possible. If you live where the ground freezes, go ahead and dig a hole for it in your garden or landscape, and cover the hole with boards for safety, until you’re ready to plant. First move the tree into a sheltered location a week or so, to help ease the transition from your home. Then, after you plant it, keep it well mulched and watered, especially for the first year or two. This variety is 'Fat Albert', a Colorado Blue Spruce.
Hyacinths fill the spring garden with an intoxicating perfume. Start your bulbs in the fall, planting them 7-8” deep in soil mixed with lots of good organic matter. The planting site should drain easily, so the bulbs won’t rot in soggy soil or standing water. Mulch them if you live where the winters are very cold, or where the ground might freeze in spring. As with other bulbs, don’t remove the foliage when the flowers fade. Let it grow until it dies naturally, so it can store energy up for the next season’s flowers. Shown here: Hyacinth Blend 'Etouffee.'
Keep an eye peeled for tomato hornworm, a worm with a voracious appetite. A mature hornworm can eat an entire tomato plant in one night. During the day, tomato hornworms hide beneath leaves, camouflaged beautifully. Often the only clue that these munchers are present is their frass (that’s science-speak for hornworm poo), which resembles black peppercorns. If you see eaten leaves or frass, inspect the plant carefully to find the hornworm and knock it into soapy water. If you spot a hornworm with white tic tac-looking items sticking out of its body, leave it alone. It’s been parasitized by a braconid wasp. When the wasp young emerge from the cocoons, they’ll eat the hornworm.
To create a decorative leaf bowl you’ll first need to preserve your leaves. To do this keep the leaves completely submerged in one part glycerin to two parts water for a week. Remove the leaves and let them dry. Once dry you can use paper mache paste and a large balloon to create your bowl. Blow up the balloon and cover with paper mache paste. Layer leaves around the balloon in a bowl shape, covering completely with paste as you go. Let dry completely, then remove the balloon for a beautiful, decorative bowl.
Christmas cactus are succulents, not cacti. They need warm temperatures and bright light; after their holiday flowers fade, reduce the amount of water you give them. You can enjoy your potted Christmas cacti as a houseplant or move it outdoors in the spring, after all danger of frost has passed. Give it bright light, but not direct sun, and in some parts of the country, as the daylight hours naturally lengthen and then shorten again, new buds will form. Some gardeners may need to put their Christmas cacti into a completely dark location for 12 hours a day, for several weeks, in temperatures from about 50 to 55 degrees F., to stimulate new buds.
An expandable, powder-coated steel trellis drops into your pea patch in a matter of seconds and adds a splash of color to boot. It’s best to add pea supports just before planting, so you can place seeds precisely. Once peas break through soil, withhold water slightly (don’t let plants wilt) during the early growing time. This causes the peas to root deeper into soil. Peas tend to be shallow-rooted plants, which makes them more susceptible to drought and heat. Deeper roots help prolong the harvest season, as does a 2- to 4-inch mulch layer over soil around vines. Use a trellis like this to give peas a lift in spring, and when summer comes, draft it for supporting tomatoes, cucumbers or flowering vines.
Responsible green features make the playhouse good for the family and the environment. The structure is clad inside and out with rough-sawn spruce boards, which are naturally weather resistant. Rainwater is captured through integral roof gutters to be deposited in a catchment barrel. The attached succulent and herb garden can then be watered using the rain barrel spigot. An outdoor chaise for one or two provides a spot to relax and is movable to follow the sun. A reclaimed sail has been repurposed to provide shade for the large south facing window in the summer. When opened, windows on both sides capture passing breezes and allow for passive cooling. One gable end of the playhouse includes a colorful climbing wall.
Slugs love the soft skin of tomatoes, and if you mulch with straw or leaf litter, you may have a bumper crop of these slimy foes. You know slugs have been at work on ripening tomatoes when you see single holes in the fruit. Once a slug creates an opening in a ‘mater, the fruit is prone to attack by other insects and mold. The quickest way to catch slugs is by leaving boards out in the tomato patch. They’ll crawl under for shelter at dawn, and you can scrape them into a bucket of soapy water. Use slug bait throughout the growing season right up to frost to diminish the slug population. Choose pet-safe baits if your pooch visits the garden.