Hopefully helping houseplants

As much time and energy I spend on my outdoor plants, I've never been great with houseplants. I'm just not a houseplant guy. I have plenty of houseplants, and I enjoy them, but I certainly do not baby them. I like houseplants that can take some abuse -- you know, the kind that only need water once a week, and won't suffer too much if you skip a week.

This small palm was doing fine near one of the windows until the cats decided it looked enough like a bamboo and started chewing on the leaves. So I ended up moving it to the basement under my lights. Then spring arrived and I pretty much forgot about it for months.


Frost Flowers

This morning I headed outside with the camera, as I was heading over to the community mulch pile to pick up a load of mulch. It was a frosty morning, a degree or two below freezing. I only walked out of the garage for a moment, but something caught my eye -- an interesting flash of white:

I wasn't expecting it, but some of the scarlet sage (Salvia coccinea) plants that I grow as an annual throughout my yard had produced frost flowers!



The other morning when I was digging up the sea creature that was the Elephant Ears roots I had to pick up (again) a large potted bamboo that was laying on the ground. It's a division from an established plant and has some tall, large culms on it. This makes it somewhat top-heavy and although it's in one of the largest pots I have and I have anchored it with some boards, it still falls over whenever it gets breezy.

When I picked it up, I noticed some beautiful condensation on the culms.


Snow-dusted bamboo

I mentioned that Thanksgiving morning when I was moving my potted bamboos into the greenhouse it was raining. It started out dry, then started sprinkling, and by the time I was finished it was coming down in a steady shower. As the temperature kept falling, the rain turned to sleet, then quickly to a heavy snow of big, wet clumps of flakes.

Phyllostachys bissetii

Luckily that was already after I was inside, but when it stopped snowing and I went outside to get some firewood, I realized that I had to snap some photos. The first snowfall of the year won't be around very long.


Filling the greenhouse

When you put off a task until the last possible moment, you're stuck doing it under whatever conditions exist, whether they are ideal or not. This is especially true with outdoor projects, and as it turns out, most gardening projects occur outside -- at least until we all start living in domed cities with moving sidewalks and flying cars. I've known that a hard freeze was coming, and I assembled the greenhouse over the weekend when the weather was perfect for that sort of work.

Yesterday morning I filled the greenhouse with my potted bamboos. The weather was definitely not perfect for this task.


Cuttings take root

A few weeks ago I took some cuttings of tender plants that wouldn't survive our early hard freeze, then put them into water to root. Two of the three plants I was certain would root, but the third I wasn't sure about.

I'm glad to say that all of them are now well-rooted, so let's take a look.


Preparing the tropicals

We've got some cold air arriving in St. Louis in a couple of days -- it's probably what the northwest portion of the country is getting right now -- so I've got to get moving and get my tropicals stored. I've already setup my greenhouse that will protect my smaller bamboos, but it's unheated and won't do anything to protect the bananas, Elephant Ears, and other tropical or non-hardy plants I'm growing.

My timing isn't the best, since I should have done this a couple of days ago when the pots were all bone-dry, but yesterday a line of storms came through and dumped rain. It was quite a storm with strong, gusty winds, but it was pretty brief. I'm glad to say that the greenhouse came through unscathed, so I'm not going to have to worry about it at all this year.


A cat of many faces

We have two stray cats that hang out around our garden these days. Both of them are extremely people-shy and won't let me get within 10 feet of them, even though they see me bringing them food all the time. They mostly hide in the bamboo and under the ornamental grasses, watching, and keeping a lookout for each other -- they do not get along.

This guy is Toe White. He's most likely the father of Super-Whitey's kittens. He may be owned by somebody in the neighborhood because I don't see him every day. Maybe he's got a wide "range" to patrol and it keeps him away for a few days a week. I don't know.


Putting up the greenhouse

As I was deciding which chores to do around the yard or house this weekend (clean garage, clean basement, pull vines, paint bookcase were all strong contenders) I took a look at the weather for the week. Good thing I did, because later this week it's going to get cold: 21ºF or so a couple of nights in a row.

That fact immediately moved a lower-ranked task to the top of the list: put up my temporary greenhouse. The greenhouse is where most of my smaller potted bamboos will spend the winter -- maybe I'll put a few other plants in there too if there is room.


The prettiest compost pile ingredients

We save kitchen scraps for our compost pile. I know that technically the peels, eggshells, and other degradable waste really doesn't make any difference -- how much difference does a banana peel really make in a compost pile that's already 6 feet in diameter and just had a few tarp loads of leaves dumped on it? Still, we collect the scraps in a bucket under the sink, then dump the bucket when it's full.

Sometimes it fills up faster than others, for instance if we have a lot of potatoes to peel -- but it typically fills slowly. Recently though our kitchen scrap production has gone through the roof. My wife has been bringing home the scraps from her baking classes! She usually announces it with an energetic "I've brought you a present!" when she walks in the door -- dozens and dozens of crushed eggshells, buckets of fruit peels -- typically in larger quantities than we could ever generate ourselves.


Fallen leaves meet rake

Do you have large trees in your yard? Do you have a large number of not-so-large trees? Does your house sit in the middle of what may be considered by many to be a forest? Do you live in a temperate (not tropical) climate? Then you're familiar with this scene at this time of year (unless you live in the southern hemisphere, in which case you have 5-6 months before you see it again):

I don't live in a forest, nor do I have 100-year-old oaks or other huge trees towering over my yard, but even a medium-sized tree can drop a lot of leaves. I usually wait until all of the leaves have fallen, then start my cleanup -- unlike some of my neighbors who started picking up leaves a month ago. Here's how I make this oft-maligned task a bit easier on myself.


Bamboo surprise: excited or not?

It's no secret that I love bamboo -- just take a look at the tags listing on the right side of this page and you'll see that the "bamboo" tag is by far the most-used. Why do I love growing bamboo so much? I can't say definitively, but besides its look and its vigor, the one thing that makes it such an exciting plant is its unpredictability.

Its explosive growth above ground is easily seen, but under the soil -- at least in the case of running bamboos that spread via rhizomes -- you don't know exactly what's going on. You know it's doing something, and is probably growing several rhizomes, but unless you dig around you're not going to have any indication of the plant's spread until the spring when it produces shoots.


Some color lingers

We had another freeze the other night, but amazingly some flowers have survived, and the autumn colors are lingering, giving me a little final taste of what the garden was this year.

Soon I may need to refer to this blog as "browns and bamboo", but for now there are still some other colors.


Pulling down more vines

This is the time of year when I realize just how many different annual vines I had growing in my garden. Toward the end of the growing season they've become an integral part of the garden but really go unnoticed -- the deck railing is supposed to have the hyacinth bean vine on it, the triangle pergola is supposed to be a wall of feathery cypress vines. I just don't think about them too much.

Once the first freeze hits and they all die though, it's a different story. Overnight they've become towering masses of brown, making the garden seem sadder, and reminding me that I need to do some cleanup. Lots of cleanup.


Bamboo shoots, tiny style

About six weeks ago I dismantled a wooden raised bed and removed the bamboo that was growing in it. (The timelapse video is pretty cool if you haven't seen it yet.) I gave away a few large divisions from this plant, but the rest I potted up.

For some reason some bamboo species (in this case Phyllostachys aureosulcata, or "Yellow Groove" bamboo) that are dug in summer or early fall will send up shoots.


Mites on bamboo, or bamboo mites?

If you grow houseplants, chances are you've seen the plant pest called "mites" at one time or another. Mites are tiny sucking insects that mainly live on the undersides of leaves, feeding on the juices of the plant. Unless there's a very heavy infestation, they typically don't cause too much harm, but their feeding results in light "speckles" or "spots" on the leaves from where they've removed the chlorophyll. Many species also create webs on the plants, which is why they are often called "spider mites".

For temperate bamboo growers, mites are one of the most troublesome pests. Although bamboo can host "regular" spider mites, there are certain species of mites that attack mainly bamboo (and closely related) plants: these are called "bamboo mites".


Sunrise, two-for-one

A couple of mornings ago I was awakened by hungry cats, and upon making my way to the kitchen I noticed a strong glow from the east: a particularly nice sunrise!

So I grabbed the camera and took a few shots.


Woolly Bear Caterpillar

The other day when I was restacking some logs on my woodpile to make room for some more freshly-split maple, I found this hibernating caterpillar:

Depending on where you grew up, you may immediately recognize this as a "Woolly Bear" caterpillar. You may also have heard the folklore that you can predict the severity of the coming winter based on the amount of black "fur".


More fall color - wow!

As the leaves of the deciduous plants around me lose their chlorophyll and develop anthocyanin pigments, we're treated to a few days or weeks of brilliant color displays. (Or maybe just dull browns, depending on the tree.)

This Japanese barberry jumped out at me yesterday while I was testing my newest vintage camera lens, and its colors really amazed me. I don't remember this plant looking so spectacular last year, or even just a few days ago. Is it the warm, dry weather we've had after the hard freeze last week? I don't know, but I like it!


Saving plants from the cold - part 2

The other day I spent some time moving various non-hardy potted plants into the garage before the temperature got down to 25ºF in order to save them. The second part of that plant-saving effort was to dig up some in-ground plants and take some cuttings.

I definitely wanted to save this small Colocasia 'Black Magic'. I'm not sure that it's had a chance to form a "bulb" yet, but with the hard freeze approaching I didn't have time to think about it.


Some seed heads and doing nothing

One thing I've learned about gardening is you have to be flexible. You can and should make plans for what you're going to plant, when and where you're going to plant it, when you're going to do certain tasks -- but you need to be willing and able to change those plans at almost any time. Delay certain activities until the weather is better, or take advantage of an unexpectedly pleasant day to get a little extra work done.

That's sort of what happened to me today. I wasn't planning on doing anything in the yard -- I wasn't even thinking about spending any time out there -- but with near-record high temps (75ºF again) and plenty of sunshine, I thought maybe I should do something. Perhaps I'd pull down some vines, rake some leaves, or something along those lines. That would be kind of fun... but then I decided to be even more flexible and avoid my usual tendency to work in the garden whenever possible. I would spend some time outside but not do any work.


Cold kills the plants

After our hard freeze Friday night (25ºF), most of the annuals and non-hardy perennials saw their brief lives end. Saturday I took a walk around -- after it warmed up a bit -- and surveyed the damage.

It wasn't pretty. Go to bed with green leaves, wake up to brown.


Oh dear, slow deer

I've written before about the deer that visit my yard, eating the euonymous bushes that I keep around only for them, pruning my roses for me, hanging out, or just passing through. They come through twice a day at least I think, but I only see them once in a while -- it depends when I'm looking out there. Early morning is a good time for a sighting.

When I see them later in the day (mid-morning, or even early afternoon), that's less common, but when I saw this deer today I knew something was wrong.


Scrambling because of the cold

Friday evening it was forecast to get down to 25ºF (it did reach that) so before it got dark I had a lot of work to do. Although our normal low for this time of year is about 40ºF, our temperatures are not steady. A dip down to 25 isn't record setting, nor is it common. It does mean that I had to figure out how to protect a lot of plants a few weeks earlier than I should have.

The quick solution was to just put them all into the garage for the night, as it will warm up again in a couple of days.


Too cold, too early!

This morning when I woke up it was 24º F. Our normal low for this time of year is 40º F. I knew the cold was coming, but it's still a bit of a shock. So is it winter already? It feels and somewhat looks like a winter sunrise...

Nope, there are still some leaves on the trees. Plus the high temp over the next few days will be upper 60's F, with lows ranging from normal (40º F) to 50º F. For those of you who garden in areas of the country with predictable, regular temperatures and weather I envy you.

Nobody except the homeless feels these early below-freezing nights more keenly than gardeners, because it means the instant, overnight death of many plants that we have nurtured for the past half year or so. It also means scrambling to protect plants that we don't want to see die yet.

I'll tell you about my scrambles in tomorrow's post.*** .


The vines started removing themselves

A few months back I wrote a little bit about using a single pole as a trellis for annual flowering vines. The one disadvantage of this single-pole method is that if the vines get heavy and you get some strong winds, you end up with something slightly different than an upright pole draped with vines.

You end up with a bent pole.


A few forgotten photos

Every month I end up with several photos that just didn't lend themselves to a whole post. Sometimes I had planned on taking several shots and composing a post, but the subject didn't cooperate. Take for instance this woodchuck:

He was in a perfect location one morning in my neighbor's yard. Facing just the right direction, in exactly the right spot on the hill, with the early morning light hitting him just right. The perfect photo! Except I didn't have the camera in hand, and in the 10 seconds it took for me to go grab it he had decided to move. He turned away from me, moved further down the hill, and was no longer in the good light. I snapped a few quick shots anyway, and this was the only one that was even decent. So my great post about how this woodchuck would be my arch-nemesis in the Spring turned into a single neglected photo in a folder on my drive.


A taste of the cold

We've had a touch of cold weather recently, with nighttime lows dipping around or just below freezing. Our normal low in St. Louis at this time of year is around 40 F, but our temps are not very steady. The non-hardy plants in my garden got a touch of "frostbite":

Some of the leaves on the tropical plants like this Colocasia (Elephant Ears) have had it. Although it's depressing, it happens every year so I just have to accept it. So I'll confront it head-on and take a look at the damage today.


A touch of Fall color

I've mentioned before that I don't have too many trees that turn spectacular colors in the Fall, but there is a bit of color around, especially if you know where to look, look closely enough, and time it right.

So I'll just take a quick look at some color today. (I've already looked at the Bald cypress.)


Inadvertently disturbing a spider

The other day I was taking some photos of my young "black bamboo" (Phyllostachys nigra), and discovered this little scene on one of the bamboo culms:

This little spider had captured a picture winged fly, and I was disturbing it.


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