Monday, February 20, 2012

Houseplants ~ Not just for decoration!

Most decorators would agree, a few dramatic plants can provide pizzazz and punch to an interior design.  Houseplants can also lift our spirits, especially plants that burst into bloom long before spring arrives outdoors.   Bulb plants, such as Amaryllis (genus Hippeastrum), provide a dramatic display and often are planted in December/January to give a splash of color to wintry days that might be cold and bleak.  Some indoor gardeners enjoy planting Paper Whites (genus Narcissus) so they can enjoy a visual display and intense aromas as well.  A favorite of mine is the tropical Hibiscus plant (shown here) which spends fall and winter indoors and graces us with cherry-red blossoms every winter.
Some plants, like Chrysanthemums, help purify our indoor air; however, I understand multiple mum plants are required to accomplish significant purification.   But even the most common houseplants—green foliage plants—photosynthesize each day and create small amounts of oxygen to enhance our indoor air.    Foliage plants, as well as succulents, contribute something special to our interior spaces, especially this time of year, as they bask in additional hours of sunlight.  You may witness new growth on one plant, deeper green leaves on another.
Most houseplants benefit from sunshine, so following are tips to ensure your plants remain healthy throughout fall/winter:
RINSE OR MIST FOLIAGE:  Dust-coated leaves inhibit sunshine from reaching leaf surfaces (my horticulture teachers claimed dust can reduce a leaf’s ability to absorb sunlight by  20%).  Place plants in shower once monthly and rinse foliage gently with lukewarm water.  NOTE:  Some plants do NOT like wet foliage; I do not recommend this practice for geraniums or cactus.
DIRTY WINDOWPANES prevent sunlight from reaching foliage.  If your plants reside in a bay window or windowsill, take advantage of a warm day and wash the window, inside and out. 
FRESH POTTING SOIL: Re-pot most plants once per year to provide fresh organic matter and nutrient-rich, insect-free soil.  With regular watering, nutrients leach from the soil and plants consume available nutrients, so the soil (or soil-less mix) lacks nutrition after a year or so.  It often becomes compacted, so re-potting allows you to loosen and inspect roots before placing into fresh soil.  Late winter/early spring is the ideal time for re-potting houseplants before you become preoccupied with outdoor plantings.   Choose a quality potting soil to give your house- plants the nutrients they need to thrive and survive!
M. Lynn Schmid,   Certified Master Gardener
A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Cayenne Peppers... heart healthy veggies!

Cayenne Peppers… heart healthy veggies for February, heart health month!
Cayennes are easily grown in S.E. Wisconsin gardens, especially in containers.  If our growing season is long, cayennes will turn red while on the plant, making a striking display in your garden.  In autumn when frost is expected, containers can be moved into your garage or home, near a sunny window to turn red and develop their hot, but mellow flavors.  The active ingredient capsaicin  is concentrated in the flesh and pith of each pepper, and is a multi-functional component of the cayenne.  Capsaicin is alleged to contribute to heart health.  Also, when working with dried cayennes (wear disposal vinyl gloves), we scrape the pith and seeds and save in a glass jar to sprinkle around tender shoots of aster plants in spring (this discourages bunnies from snacking on tender young shoots!) 
 Cayennes have numerous culinary uses—either fresh or dried— and are a flavorful addition to Mexican and Thai cuisine.  From the genus Capsicum, this vegetable when dried is considered a spice.  The photo above shows some cayennes grown in our home garden in 2011; they are fully dried and ready to be ground into pure cayenne pepper.  (I store ground cayennes in glass jars in our freezer to preserve flavor intensity.) HOT SALT can be made easily with one TBSP of ground cayennes plus two TBSP coarse sea salt.  CAYENNE OIL can be made by mixing two TBSP ground cayennes with one cup canola oil.  These condiments will add zip and zest to your recipes!  Cayennes have been an integral part of our garden for years, and we hope you will include them in your veggie garden soon.

 M. Lynn Schmid -  Certified Master Gardener, A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Monday, February 6, 2012

Organic Mulch - Insulation for our Plants, in all seasons!

Although humans may enjoy snuggling under a puffy, down-filled comforter during frigid weather, our shrubs, perennials and bulbs prefer a 3-inch layer of  organic mulch or shredded cedar during cold AND hot weather.  During those hot, dry spells of summer, shredded cedar blankets the root zones of our plantings, helping retain moisture within the root zone and keeping our sun’s rays from drying soil surfaces. 
During winter months, this blanket of shredded cedar/organic mulch is not intended to keep our plants WARM!  Truly, its function is keeping the root zone COLD.   Of course, a thick blanket of snow is also beneficial in maintaining cold temps within the root zone.  However, some winters (like the one we’re experiencing in 2012) don’t provide snow insulation for shrubs, perennials and other plantings.  
If the sun’s rays accumulate on soil surfaces (or heat reflects off brick or siding surfaces of your home), plants will break dormancy too quickly.   Bulbs or perennials which emerge too early in spring are vulnerable to frost/snow/ice damage. 
The daffodils in my home garden which had emerged by FEB 1st are at risk.  The solution:  add organic mulch. 
A  3-inch layer of shredded cedar/organic mulch should be adequate to keep bulbs and roots protected from sunshine and freeze-thaw cycles.  Shredded cedar can be purchased in bulk or in bags, depending upon your preference.   Mulch is inexpensive insurance to keep your plants insulated and protected from a variety of weather conditions.
M. Lynn Schmid -  Certified Master Gardener, A.A.S. Landscape/Horticulture/Arboriculture

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Goodness in the Garden - starts today!

Welcome & thanks for checking out our new blog! Enjoy tips, tricks & topics from our garden gurus ... Spring can't be too far away & there's always plenty to talk about when it comes to plants!
Stay tuned for more fun in the sun & goodness in the garden...