Charlie’s Mid December Newsletter
The holiday season is upon us, so I thought I’d focus this newsletter on holiday themes. The first two articles are about ways to decorate this time of year. Succulent as houseplants are hot. You find them in garden centers, home centers and even grocery stores. Many succulents make excellent centerpieces for the holiday table. I talk about the best types to grow indoors here.
For outdoor decorating, nothing beats a holiday wreath. While wreaths with evergreen boughs, berries, and bows are traditional, I talk about some other types of wreaths that may be worth assembling. Read more here.
Even though most of the country isn’t planting trees, I thought I’d talk about a famous nut tree that’s eaten this time of year. The American chestnut was devastated by disease early in the 19th century, but there has been breeding work done on resistant varieties to bring this majestic tree back into our landscape. Read more in this newsletter.
Finally, for winter I’d like the recognize the needs of readers of my newsletter in more tropical areas with a new piece called “tropical corner”. I’ll try to highlight different tropical plants outdoors here. These may be houseplants in the North, but beautiful landscape plants in warmer climates. Bird of Paradise is first up.
A great gift for the holidays is information. I’ve given a National Geographic magazine subscription to my daughter in the past as a holiday gift. How about treating the gardener in your family, or a gardening friend, to one of my webinars! My Webinars are a good way to learn about a topic without leaving the comfort of your home and my webinars are only $9.99/each.
For the budding vegetable gardening enthusiast, how about inspiring them with information on growing edibles in small spaces? It’s a great way to get someone started growing some of their own food. Consider purchasing my Small Space Edible Gardening Webinar. I talk about the best containers, soils and fertilizers to use to grow plants in pots successfully. Mostly, though, I show all the different ways you can grow edibles in containers on walls, balconies, decks, patios and small raised beds in the ground. I cover the varieties of vegetables, herbs and fruits that grow best in containers and how to grow them. This 1 hour webinar is followed by a half hour Q/A session. Once purchased you can watch it whenever you like, as many times as you like. Go here for more on all my webinars.
Happy holidays to all my readers! Until next time I’ll be seeing you… in the garden.
- Vt Garden Journal on Vt Public Radio- This week; Unusual Houseplants
- Ct Garden Journal on Ct Public Radio- This week; Christmas Cactus
- In the Garden (WCAX-TV CBS)- This week; Poinsettias
- Where’s Charlie Speaking? February 22th, 2019, Northwest Flower & Garden Festival, Seattle, WA
One of the gardening trends over the past 10 years has been the increased interest in succulents. Succulents are those fleshy leaved plants such as aloe, agave, cactus, and echeveria, often found outdoors in warmer climates. Some of these, such as hens & chicks and sedums, are actually hardy in colder climates, too. Try the ‘Sunset’ or ‘Jade Rose’ hens & chicks in your garden this year.
But also gardeners want to grow these succulents indoors as houseplants. They have some advantages growing indoors. Succulents have shallow root systems so don’t need a large container to grow. They also grow slowly and have attractive leaves so you don’t have to wait for flowers. However, they do need lots of light indoors to survive.
Certain succulents are better adapted to indoor growing than others. Try aloe, jade plants, Haworthia, and Gasteria succulents for indoor growing. If you have a grow light or live further South with lots of light in your home you can grow Echeveria and many types of cactus. These succulents will grow indoors in a Northern climate with lower light, but they will get leggy from lack of light unless you use a grow light setup.
Succulents do make great centerpieces on a holiday table combined with moss, berries and other seasonal decorations. Even if you grow them just for the holidays, it’s a joy creating a container of succulents to display for friends and family.
First, find a shallow container, preferably with drainage holes. Make a mix of well-drained potting soil and some orchid mix potting soil. Plant succulents close together in the container and add rocks, shells, evergreen twigs, berries and other decorations to round out the display. Keep the creation in a sunny window or under grow lights, and water only when dry, until company comes. After the holidays, grow the plants in a sunny spot and move the container outdoors in summer. If you’re growing varieties that are hardy in your area, transplant your succulents into a rock garden, outdoor container or garden spot where they can get lots of sun, warmth and care.
Since we live in a beautiful rural area of Vermont, we like to create our own version of the holiday wreath each year. Some years we’ll buy a plain evergreen wrath and do the decorating ourselves. We’ll wander the fields, woods and streams where we live collecting natural decorations to fix on the wreath. Seed pods from milkweed and flowers from ornamental grasses often make a whimsical wreath. While pine cones are traditional, we like to gather different sized and shaped cones to place on a wreath. I find tamarack and hemlock trees have small cones that are fun to arrange together. Wild berries add color to the wreath. We often find holly, viburnum and shrub dogwood berries this time of year for decorating. Also, we select colored twigs from dogwood and willow shrubs to add to the collection.
It’s also not just about evergreen wreaths. I’ve seen grape, American bittersweet and wisteria vines gathered and bundled together in a wreath shape. They can look stunning with dried lavender, grasses, strawflowers and yarrow dried flowers placed in the wreath for color. In warmer climates try succulents as a wreath accent. You can even add nuts to the wreath. The squirrels will love you for it!
The possibilities are endless. Just get creative with your base material and add accents based on the plants where you live.
“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…..”. This tree is intertwined with our history and culture, especially around the holidays. In the 1900’s, the Eastern forests were filled with majestic American chestnut trees. The trees were great for lumber and furniture making, provided food for people and wildlife and were an integral part of the forest ecosystem. Unfortunately, chestnut blight disease arrived from Asia and now only the occasional chestnut tree is still alive.
But all is not lost. Breeders have been working on blight resistant American chestnuts and there are many Chinese and American hybrid nut trees available that are blight resistant and still yield large, tasty nuts. So, as you’re munching on some tasty chestnuts, probably imported from Italy, this holiday season, think about growing some trees in your yard.
Chestnut trees do grow large, so make sure you have enough room for them to spread. Nut trees, in general, are also a long term commitment and long lasting. Chestnuts can start producing nuts in less then 5 years after planting. But the big production may take up to 15 years. I like to think of nut trees as legacy plants. Even if you aren’t the one to enjoy the trees and nuts in your yard, the next owner of your land, and or the one after that, will appreciate the passed on legacy of such a magnificent tree. Chestnut trees not only produce nuts, they make excellent shade trees in the yard. Don’t worry about the mess the nuts might create. Squirrels, chipmunks and other animals will be happy to clean up the yard of any fallen nuts. The trees also are home to many animals, insects and birds making them important wildlife trees in the forest.
So, plan on planting a few trees for the future generations. Think of the joy you’ll bring to some young family down the road when they purchase your property with a mature stand of chestnuts growing on it. Happy holidays.
Tropical Corner: Bird of Paradise
I have readers of my newsletter all over the world, but sadly I often don’t have articles that directly pertain to them. Well, I’m starting a new piece called” tropical corner”. In this section I’ll highlight tropical and subtropical plants that grow outdoors in frost free areas, but are houseplants everywhere else.
My first plant is bird of paradise. This large, bushy plant can grow 4 to 6 feet tall and wide. This evergreen is so named for the flowers that look like a bird’s beak and head. It will flower on and off all year, but even when not in bloom the green, leathery leaves give a “banana tree” impression.
Grow bird of paradise in a sunny location in moist soils. It’s salt spray tolerant, so often you’ll see it growing close to the ocean. Bird of paradise will spread by under ground roots, so often gardeners with small spaces grow it in a container. It doesn’t mind being crowded and actually may flower better. Divide plants in spring and prune off old leaves as needed.
While the traditional bird of paradise has orange and blue colored flowers, there are other species with different colored blooms and plant shapes. Plant bird of paradise with other large growing tropicals, such as Carolina jasmine, osmanthus and sweet olive.
Oh yes, and bird of paradise can be grown as a houseplant in colder climates. It will need high humidity and plenty of light to thrive.