Crazy Winter Weather

No complaints about the weather this winter but we do need to watch some of our plants in the garden.  Wide temperature fluctuations can be hard on plants.  Warm days followed by freezing nights can cause bark injury on trees with thin, smooth bark.  Freezing and thawing of soil can result in heaving of shallow-rooted perennials.  This repeated freezing and thawing causes the soil to expand and contract, which can lift up or heave some plants out of the soil.  Heaving may break off some of the roots and exposes the plant’s crown and remaining roots to cold temperatures and drying winds.  Perennials with shallow root systems and plants planted or divided in late fall are susceptible to heaving during their first winter.  Some perennials which heave occasionally are: Scabiosa, Heuchera, Coreopsis, Gaura, Tiarella, Gaillardia, Chrysanthemum, and Leucanthemum.

If plants are heaving in your garden, place soil around the base of the plant to cover any exposed roots. You may gently push the plant back into the ground and cover with straw.   Mulch should be applied to newly-planted perennials in the fall after several hard frosts.  Wrap young and thin-barked trees (maples, willows) to protect from fluctuating winter temperatures; use burlap or special tree wrap from your local nursery.

One last tip is to buy plants that are healthy and are well-suited to our crazy weather.  Native plants are usually well-adapted to local conditions.



Cymbidium orchid

There is nothing better to brighten a dreary winter day than a beautiful orchid flower!  Some think the orchid is difficult to care for but there are just three important things to remember.

These things are proper light, proper soil media, and proper watering.images

Dendrobium orchid

1- Light needs to be bright but not hot direct sun.  I keep my orchids on a northwest kitchen windowsill where the light is bright but not direct.  It is filtered by the trees outside.  The plants are also high enough to discourage my cats from chewing on the leaves.

2- Proper soil media should not be soil at all but a mix of bark, charcoal or other loose soil-less media.  Retail stores carry special orchid mix which works great.  Do not use regular potting mix which is too dense for orchids.  Orchid roots need air space or they will rot.

3- Proper watering is very important.  Orchids naturally live as epiphytes growing in tree notches and on the bark of trees in tropical regions.  Rain water runs over the plant and catches in the nooks and crannies where it is used by the plant or soon evaporated.  Potted orchids need water running through and out of the pot without sitting inside a decorative container or saucer.  The roots need air circulation.  Keeping the plants by the kitchen sink is convenient because I can let the faucet run rover the plant and out the pot right over the sink.  I also see them every day so they are not forgotten.  Orchids need to be watered frequently as in every day or every other day.

Full Circle Plant Probiotic can be fed once a month when watering.  An even better choice is to use Full Circle Plant Tonic when watering.


Phalaenopsis orchid

Be sure to visit the Maryland Home and Garden Show March 11-13, 2017 at the MD State Fair Grounds for the MD Orchid Society Show and Sale!  There will be beautiful displays and many orchids for sale.

Another place to see some beautiful orchids is the Rawlings Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Baltimore, MD.


Paphiopedilum orchids, aka. ‘Slipper Orchids’




Poinsettias are the traditional Christmas plant.  They are in the Euphorbiaceae family.  The bright red colored parts of the plant are not actually flowers, but colored bracts or modified leaves.   There are more than 100 varieties available from the traditional red to white, pink, burgundy, marbled and speckled.  The actual flowers of the plant are the small yellow blooms in the center of the bracts.  Choose plants with little or no yellow pollen showing and the plant will last longer.   It is a rumor that Poinsettias are poisonous.  This is false.  One would have to eat many leaves to become ill and the leaves are bitter so children and pets are not even likely to eat them.  Many plants in the Euphorbiaceae family ooze a milky sap.  People with latex allergies may have a skin reaction after touching the leaves.

Poinsettias are native to Central America where they can grow up to 10-15 feet tall.   Joel Roberts Poinsett introduced the poinsettia plant to the United States in 1828  from Mexico.  He was a botanist, physician and the first United States Ambassador to Mexico.

Re-blooming the Poinsettia the following year is possible but is not likely to be as beautiful as when first purchased.  Homeowners without a greenhouse find it difficult to reproduce techniques and conditions used in commercial production.

After the holidays, maintain the plant indoors until night temperatures outside reach 60 degrees F.  Keep the plant near a sunny window and barely moist, but not soggy.  In early April cut the plant back to 6-8 inches tall.  Repot before putting it outdoors for the summer.  Use some Full Circle Plant Probiotic in the soil mix when repotting.  Place plants where they will receive 6-8 hours of direct but not scalding sunlight. If placed in a flower bed keep the roots from spreading out of the pot into the soil. It will shock the plant if these are cut before bringing inside.  In July, pinch the plants to keep stocky and wimages-4ell branched.  When night temperatures get into the 50’s F, bring them inside.  Place in a sunny window and feed Full Circle Plant Probiotic monthly.

Now the strict schedule begins.  On October 1 the poinsettias must be kept in the dark from 5pm until 8am, and then place in bright light.  Night temps between 65-70 F.  Daytime 70-80 F.  There must be a 10 degree difference so not a continuous 70 F.  The dark period can be accomplished by placing the plant in a closet or under a box that has been painted black inside.  There should be no interruptions of this light by opening of the door or lifting the box until the time period is up.  When the bracts have begun to color, they will need 6-8 hours of full sun until bracts are completely colored.  Discontinue feeding to prolong bloom and display for the holidays.  Good Luck and enjoy!


Holiday Flowers

By: H. Robertson


Thanksgiving time is here again.  One common floral gift is the Florist Cyclamen.  They are beautiful, but how does one keep them that way?

Florist Cyclamen are frost tender but do like cool temperatures.  While flowering, they should be kept below 68 degrees F with nights even cooler, if possible.  Temperatures above 68 degrees F may induce dormancy.  That may be why the flowers don’t last too long once one gets it home!white-cyclamen

Leaves and flowers sprout from the top of a tuber in white, pink, red, lavender or fuchsia.  Place plant near a window but not in full sun.  Keep soil moist but plant must not sit in water!  If it came with a decorative pot cover, remove it.  Air flow to the root system is needed.  If leaves are twisted or stunted it may have cyclamen mites.  These are not spider mites and flourish in humid conditions unlike the spider mite which likes dry conditions.  Remove infested leaves.


After flowering, reduce watering and place pot on its side in a cool spot and keep dry till summertime. Repot the tuber with the soil level half-way up the tuber.  Place in a cool, well-lit area.  Keep moist.  Enjoy, when it blooms again!

Autumn Color in Maryland

By: H. Robertson

Autumn is a beautiful time of year in Maryland.  The leaves begin to change early October and sometimes late September.  The timing of color change and leaf fall depends



on the increasing night length. The first I notice are the red maples turning brilliant red or yellow.  They are also the first to leaf out in the spring.  One can always tell a red maple by the red petioles.

First we see yellows, oranges and reds.








Why do the leaves change color in the fall?



Basically the trees need time to acclimate and toughen up for winter.

Deciduous leaves are too thin to survive cold temperatures in winter.  The leave’s chlorophyll, which gives the green color, starts to breakdown as the days get shorter and the nights longer.  The green eventually disappears and the yellow and orange carotinoids begin to show.  When it gets cooler, sugars stored in the leaves turn a reddish color and the red/purple anthocyanin pigments develop.  This usually happens after the days have been shorter for a while, and the nights are increasingly cooler.



Soil moisture also determines the brilliance of the color along with temperature.  Bright days and cool nights give the best color.


SWEET GUM  (soon will be purple)

We see scarlets and purples last, sometimes after many other trees have lost their leaves.

Happy Autumn!


Bee Friendly Perennials

Autumn is a good time to plant most perennials.  The soil is warm and new roots can easily get established before winter.  Before purchasing plants be sure to check the growing zone for your area and the recommended zone for the plant variety you choose.  Buy from nurseries, garden centers, or farmer’s market vendors you trust and are knowledgeable. Many garden centers have perennials on sale in the fall to prepare for next season.

There has been recent concern over bee populations and ways to help them survive.  Be sure you buy plants that have NOT been treated with a neonicotinoid insecticide. “Neonics” are a group of systemic insecticides which control insects who chew or suck any part of the plant.  A systemic insecticide moves throughout the plant and is usually applied to the soil.  The plant takes up the insecticide, and it moves through the entire plant including the flowers.  When choosing outdoor flowering plants and especially ones that bees and butterflies frequently visit, look for tags in the container stating whether a neonic was used.  The more we ask our favorite garden center for non-neonic- treated plants the more aware everyone becomes.  Many annuals are also treated with these insecticides so beware.  If you plant annuals or perennials treated with neonics anywhere in your garden the visiting bees and butterflies will be affected.  The European Union determined enough negative scientific evidence had been collected to link bee colony collapse disorder to ban the majority of neonicotinoids.

Here bee-canva bee-2-canvaare some perennial flowers that bees and butterflies frequent.  Plant some in your garden this fall and you will be pleased next spring when the plants come back with gusto attracting many honeybees and butterflies.

Agastache – Hyssop, full sun, aromatic foliage, bottlebrush blooms, June-October, some varieties are native

Echinacea – Purple Cone Flower, full sun, most varieties bloom June-September, drought tolerant, easy to grow, native plant

Geranium – Crane’s Bill, sun/pt. shade, tolerant of heat and humidity, mounded hanging growth habit, early summer blooms and some varieties bloom again in the fall, some varieties are native

Lavendula – Lavender, full sun, aromatic purple blooms, silver foliage, blooms in June

Mentha – Mint, full sun, best to plant in large containers as it spreads rapidly, cut stems to control growth and use leaves in tea and other drink recipes, leave some areas to flower to attract bees

Monarda – Bee Balm, sun/partial shade, prefers moist well drained soils, heavy feeder and also attracts hummingbirds, blooms June/July, great nectar and pollen plant, native plant

Salvias – Violet sage, full sun, blooms June/July with some varieties blooming till frost, some varieties are native

Scabiosa – Pincushion Flower, full sun, blooms June-October

Solidago – Goldenrod, sun/partial shade, native plant, blooms August-October, great nectar and pollen plant

Thymus – Thyme, full sun, aromatic ornamental ground cover, some varieties are culinary, drought tolerant, great for containers, rock gardens or walls

Don’t forget the importance of wild clover and wild snapdragons!  If possible, leave some areas untouched to benefit beneficial insects and wildlife which of course includes our bees.


by: H. Robertson


Today’s post is probably a review for many of you but it is an important topic.  Mosquitos!  There are many diseases which can be transmitted by mosquito bites with the Zika Virus as the most current one in the news.  We have recently had a lot of rain in Maryland and with it now being August the mosquito population will likely increase.  The best way to control mosquitos on your property is to be diligent on removing any standing water, such as buckets, tire swings, old planters, etc.  There is a biological control available for mosquito larvae which you shake on top of water troughs or small fish ponds.  It is safe for animals and fish.  The mosquito larvae ingest it and they die.  This larvaecide can be found in most garden centers.  Read the label carefully.

Planting insect repelling plants is another way to help reduce mosquito problems in the garden.  One thing to remember is for effective control the plants need to be disturbed to emit the aroma which is insect repelling.  The leaves need to be rubbed or the branches shaken.  Lemon grass is best as it contains citronella oils.  It is a tropical plant though so it will not survive winter.   Leaves can be crushed and rubbed on skin but always try a small area first to test for any possible irritation.  Citrosa, scented geranium, is very popular but has been proven ineffective at repelling mosquitos.

Below is a list of common herbs and flowering plants which have been effective in repelling mosquitos.  Plant them in your garden or place planters on your deck or patio. Swish them around when you are outside.  This will release the great aroma and help ward off the mosquitos.  They smell great and add great flavor to many recipes!

                                            INSECT REPELLING PLANTS




Lime Basil




Lemon Thyme


Lemon Grass




Lemon Balm







African Blue Basil


African Blue Basil

Community Gardens

For those who live in an apartment, condo, or similar housing with little place for a garden there are opportunities for you to still enjoy gardening and a flower or vegetable harvest.
First would be to plant containers on a patio, deck, or balcony. Use a phone app or compass to understand the orientation of your setting, check your available sunlight during different times of day, and choose plants according to full sun, morning or afternoon sun, or very little sun, plus how much watering you’re willing to do!

A second option is to rent or co-op a plot in a community garden, a growing trend. It is late in the season to start certain vegetables from seed, but pepper and tomato transplants are available at most garden centers. Some cool-season vegetables can be planted from seed now and harvested in the fall. Children in the household will learn lifetime lessons about the growing process.
children gardening

These links can help you locate a garden plot possibility near you.

American Community Garden Association website and locator page

University of Maryland Agriculture Extension website

Pennsylvania Horticultural Society community garden locator page

PHS community garden handbook for Philadelphia area

University of Delaware Agriculture Extension website page

District of Columbia Dept of Parks and Recreation community gardens

rehoboth vegfest

Miracle-Gro and Osmocote


Miracle-Gro and Osmocote are classified as chemical, synthetic fertilizers.

Much of their ingredients do not come from sustainable resources.  The production of nitrate, the biggest component of Miracle-Gro, Osmocote, and other synthetic fertilizers, involves tremendous energy produced by burning fossil fuels, such as propane, natural gas, and heavy oil, and the fertilizer industry is now heavily reliant on the inexpensive natural gas from hydro-fracturing.  Phosphorus comes from phosphate rock which is obtained by mining and must be treated chemically to make the phosphate available to plants.  Potassium salts are obtained from mining potash deposits.

Using inorganic, non-sustainable fertilizers like Miracle-Gro and Osmocote over a long time encourages salt build up in soil which decreases the plant’s and turf’s ability to take up the necessary nutrients.  Excess fertilizer leaches into local waterways creating algal blooms that consume oxygen.  Aquatic life suffers from oxygen starvation and eventually dies.


Original Miracle-Gro Ingredients
sodium EDTA (ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid), which acts as an antidote in metal poisoning by reducing the presence of calcium and magnesium minerals, and as an anticoagulant. EDTA is slow to biodegrade, which means that it remains in the environment and impacts the ecosystems it is in contact with for a long time, is toxic to humans and animals, and can be toxic to fish
manganese EDTA – a source of manganese, and again EDTA
ammonium sulfate (an inorganic salt) – a source of nitrogen (NH4) and sulfur
potassium phosphate – a source of potassium and phosphorus
potassium chloride (a metal salt also called potash) – a source of potassium
urea – a synthetic source high in nitrogen
boric acid – a source of boron
iron EDTA– a source of iron with another dose of EDTA
copper sulfate – is used for algae control (can be toxic to fish)
zinc sulfate anhydrous – an inorganic herbicide and fungicide
sodium molybdate – a source of molybdenum
*The NPK analysis is 28-8-16.

Houseplant Care

Many ask, “Why are the tips of my houseplants brown?”  Caring for plants is a learning020 process.  One can only be successful if a problem is noticed early, figure the cause, and change the environment to cure the problem.

Browning tips of houseplants could be over-watering, poor drainage, under watering, low humidity, or heat ducts blowing on plants. One needs to look at the care that has been given                                                to the plant andspider tips see if these could be the cause.  If so, change the watering habits or move the plant to another location.

Other reasons for leaf tips browning could be over-fertilizing and excessive salts in the soil.  To remove excessive salts, leach the soil with water twice a year until it runs through the drainage holes and re-pot with new soil if in poor condition.dracaena tips 2

Another important factor is the water.  Well water vs. city water.  Big difference!  City water is often treated with chlorine and fluoride.  Some houseplants are very sensitive to these elements, causing leaf tip browning.  Plants especially sensitive are Dracaenas, Palms, and Spider plants.  Well water is great and so is rain water.  Chlorine in city water will evaporate into the atmosphere if left in an open container or bucket overnight.  One can also use distilled water or carbon filtered water to water the plants.  Fluoride does not evaporate like chlorine so if your plants have a lot of leaf tip browning it may be best to use distilled, filtered, or rain water.