Caring for Your Houseplants in Winter

By Chris Freeburn, Master Gardener

For avid gardeners, winter months are a resting period with little to do but read about gardening and plan for spring. But we also need to take more care with our houseplants during this time as conditions in our homes have changed from months where windows are open and furnaces are not running.

To give your plants the best chance to stay happy and healthy, remember these four important factors.

Water

Most plants do drink less in the winter months so you can let them dry out between watering. However, plants like asparagus fern, anthurium, dracaena and ferns will still want to be kept moist. Check the soil an inch down or feel how heavy the pot is to be sure you are giving those plants enough water. Always fill your watering can and let it sit for a few hours before using. This allows the water to come to room temperature and also gives time for any chlorine or other chemicals to dissipate. Plants like jade, sansevieria, succulents and cactus will still want to be dry through the resting period.dscn6541

Temperature

Palm, croton, dieffenbachia and most tropicals prefer it warmer while ivies, wandering jew, cyclamen and jasmine like it cooler. So if you have your cyclamen in the same room as your fireplace, it might not be happy. Watch for drafts of cool air from open doors or from hot air blowing from furnaces. Many plants will suffer from this.

Light

Give your plants as much light as you can. That south window that burns everything in summer will give just enough light in the early months of the year. You may need to move some of the plants you keep in other areas to a brighter window. Plants like ferns, figs or philodendrons may want to be in that brighter spot. But be aware of how cool it is. You may have to move your plant back away from the glass

Humidity

dscn6545 (1)Most homes in winter are too dry for most houseplants and this is why we see them suffer by dropping leaves. To increase humidity, you can mist the plant, give it a shower (at room temperature – this also will dust for you!), or set in a saucer with rocks (elevate so the pot and roots are not constantly wet). Placing plants in kitchens or bathrooms where there tends to be more humidity is another idea. Plants that like it humid include ferns, palms, dieffenbachia and dracaena.

Fertilizing in the winter months when plants often rest is not recommended, however if your plant is actively growing with new sprouts, use a weak solution of water soluble fertilizer (20-20-20) once or twice a month.

It is also very important to have a good look at your houseplants on a regular basis. Besides removing spent leaves or flowers, watch for chewed leaves, spidery webs, or wet patches on leaves which can indicate pests. If you spot something, isolate the plant to avoid the pest migrating to the rest of your collection. Pick off the infested leaves, give the plant a good shower or gently wash the leaves with water or safers soap and get a good insecticide. Take your sick plant to the bath tub for a good spray. Remember to spray the soil as well as the plant as many pests lay their eggs in the soil. You can also use plant pest strips. These work very well for fungus gnats and other flying pests.

With a little attention and care over these stressful months, you can keep you houseplants happy and healthy and ready for the next season.

Winter Gardening

By Judy Bernard, Master Gardener

My jade plant is getting too large for my pot again! The last time it got too big, I tried potting it up into a larger pot, but it was too unwieldy and so I just cut off a few branches and potted them up in some new potting soil. Three years later, its  already over 50cm tall and wide, but stable in the pot. So, I’m just going to prune it and tidy it up.

And this is where my winter gardening comes in. Those pieces I’ve pruned are going to be potted up for new plants which I can give away or put into a plant sale. Just remember, they are succulents and therefore don’t need a lot of water.judys jade plant

It’s also a good time to clean up those miniature gardens that come from the supermarket or from the florist with several plants in the container. The plants can be removed and repotted individually, giving their roots more room to grow and allowing you to individualize their care.

Other winter gardening includes checking the tender bulbs and tubers that were dug up last fall for disease and rot and removing anything not healthy. They may also need a little moisture added to keep them from drying out but not enough to stimulate growth.

Have fun with your plants.

Here are some web sites for you to consult:
https://www.almanac.com/plant/jade-plants
https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/houseplants/jade-plant/jade-plant-care.htm

The Magnificent Hoya Plant

by Mary Jane Parker, Master Gardener

I have a huge Hoya (Hoya carnosa) plant in my office. Also known as the wax plant or porcelain plant they are an incredibly long lived plant because the one I have has been with me for close to 30 years and it was supposedly at least 30 years old at that time. My hoya is probably the most common variety in cultivation – Hoya carnosa, native to tropical countries such as India, Japan, and Taiwan, but there are between 200 and 300 species in this family Apocynaceae (subfamily Asclepiadoideae) worldwide.

Hoyas are vines that climb by twining around structures, supports or trees outside in their native countries through the use of adventitious roots. They have simple leaves, arranged in an opposite pattern and mine has shiny leaves flecked with tiny silvery spots.

Hoyas require bright light to flower. My hoya flowers in spring and early summer and when it does flower, the scent is awesome and capable of perfuming a whole room. The flowers are star shaped, very light pink and produce abundant sticky nectar which can be a mess. Flowers are formed on spurs which get longer every year. Some of the spurs on my hoya has are at least 2 inches long.

hoyabellablossom

Hoya carnosa has exhibited something called Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM). As I understand it, CAM is the function that allows plants to store water for periods of time to use when there is none or very little for their basic functions. Like cacti in the desert – cool stuff!

Besides being an attractive houseplant, some Polynesian cultures use hoyas medicinally. Recent studies at the University of Georgia have also shown that Hoya carnosa is a good buffer against indoor pollutants. Another reason to love this plant!

hoya-1063661_1920

Some links for more information about this very interesting plant

UK Royal Horticultural Society – Information on Hoyas

How to Grow and Flower Indestructible Hoyas

How to Grow Hoyas

Hoyas as indoor and outdoor plants

Five favourite Hoya cultivars

Happy New Year from the Peterborough & Area Master Gardeners!

By Sharleen Pratt, Master Gardener in Training

As 2018 comes to a close, we can reflect on what was successful in our garden, what surprised us and what we would never do again! Gardening has evolved over the years and some of the trends come and go. There is new excitement from the younger generation who are embracing food gardening and are experimenting with more unusual fruits and vegetables, such as cucuzzi summer squash, kohlrabi and goji berry. Gardening without herbicides and growing for pollinators are both becoming increasingly more important. We are also realizing the value of trees and continue to encourage cities to increase their tree canopy. Community gardens are very popular and some are even grown for local food banks. I believe that gardening connects us all. It is a universal language and not only has wide ranging mental health benefits, but also improves physical fitness and connects us to the natural world!planting-865294__340

For me gardening is my ‘happy place’. It can be very meditative. Whether I am splitting perennials, planting something new, discovering a plant that has appeared from seed or just plain weeding, time passes quickly and I always have a sense of ‘being in the moment’. Gardening enthusiasm is contagious and social media has helped to promote the joys of gardening.

One of the reasons many of us become Master Gardeners is because we love to learn. Together we volunteer several thousand hours to the cause of horticulture and gardening education. In 2018, the Peterborough and Area Master Gardeners gave advice at the Ecology Park, the Purple Onion Festival, the Farmers Market, the Activity Haven Garden Tour, the Peterborough Horticultural Society and the Peterborough Garden Show. We ran a successful Day for Gardeners in March, had an amazing Plant Sale in June and continue to run a gardening program for seniors at Princess Gardens.

We went on our annual bus trip, this time exploring parts of southwestern Ontario. We visited Vineland Research & Innovation Centre and learned all about their 49 Parallel roses. We had a tour of the ongoing St. Thomas Elevated Park Project, and learned all about the running of Orchard Hill Farms; a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. On Day 2, we were charmed by Will Heeman, manager and grandson at Heeman’s Garden Centre and visited Cuddy’s Farm Gardens for an interesting tour by some very enthusiastic students. We enjoyed lovely meals and as always came home with a busload of plants!

happy-year-3848864__340As we hibernate through the winter months, now is the time to browse through gardening magazines or seed catalogues, learn about new plants for 2019 and dream about those first warm spring days when the snowdrops, hellebores and crocus will wake up and say ‘here I am’.

We would like to wish you all a very Happy New Year! Talk to you again in 2019.

Garden Seminars & Workshops: Every Gardener’s Should-Do List

By Lee Edwards, Master Gardener

As Gardeners, we already know that gardening has many benefits including improving our health and connecting us with nature, to name just a few.  That said, did you know that attending gardening seminars and workshops can also improve your health- brain gain, ramp up your gardening skills, get you out meeting others with similar interests, and increase your communication abilities?  Even more, seminars and workshops add new ideas to your horticultural know-how, empower your confidence in gardening, and help to propel you to new gardening heights.

So, what does a gardening seminar or workshop look like?  Well, unlike lectures, they tend to be short, interesting, educational talks or demonstrations usually featuring a speaker engaged with a small group of attendees focused on garden topics of interest to the attendees.  During the event attendees typically get the opportunity to ask questions, participate in hands-on activities if any, learn something new, connect with speakers and increase their existing knowledge.

Indeed, during the cold winter as outdoor gardening slows down, attending a garden seminar or workshop is a great way to break up the long winter months away from the garden while remaining involved in garden goings-on and being amongst gardening enthusiasts.  The lively energy and creative atmosphere that permeates these events are infectious to everyone, worth the time and fee to attend, not to mention downright fun most-times.  Truly, garden seminars and workshops should be on every gardener’s yearly to-do list.  If you’ve never been to a garden seminar or workshop, now may be the time to try one, to investment in yourself, inspire your creative growth and add to your gardening knowledge.

Did you know that the Peterborough & Area Master Gardeners annually present a wonderfully fun and informative gardening seminar called “A Day for Gardeners?”

2019 Save the Date

A Day For Gardeners Seminars by Peterborough & Area Master Gardeners

A day of fun, friendship, food and learning.  Select 3 of 6 seminars presented by Master Gardeners and speakers on topics of interest to both new and experienced gardeners.

Date:   Saturday, March 2nd, 2019
Place:  Activity Haven Centre – 180 Barnardo Ave, Peterborough, ON K9H 5V3
Time:  10:00am – 3:00pm
Price:   $35 – EARLY BIRD (register and pay by February 2nd, 2019)
$40 – after February 2nd.
Includes lunch.  Walk-ins on day of seminars are welcome if room is available.

Have Fun Gardening!

 

Caring for your Poinsettia

By Mary-Jane Pilgrim, Master Gardener

Christmas Day is tomorrow (gasp!) and with that we have a few tips on how to care for your Christmas plant — the poinsettia. This plant came to Europe from Mexico. Because of its bright red colour, it became a popular Christmas decoration and nowadays it’s hard to imagine Christmas without it. You may not know this, but the colourful parts of the plant are actually leaves, and that all poinsettias have tiny yellow flowers.

Having a poinsettia is a great way to brighten up your house this winter and if you follow the tips, your plant may last even until Easter.

Water your plant when it feels dry to touch, but take care not to drown it by ensuring that adequate drainage is available. Place a layer of pebbles on a tray beneath the plant to keep it out of water and increase the humidity. Avoid letting it sit in a water-filled saucer as this can lead to root rot.IMG_4312

Place your plant in bright, but not direct sunlight; give it a minimum of six hours of light each day. South, east or west facing windows are preferable to a north window. Maintain Temperatures between 18 – 22C in the day, and cooler at night. Avoid extreme temperature changes by ensuring that it’s not near near fireplaces, drafts or ventilation ducts.

If you notice that the leaves are falling off, you can usually still save the plant. Environmental factors such as a room that is too warm or too dry is most often the reason. Keep the plant in a coolish, draft-free area and provide plenty of water.

Fertilizing a poinsettia is never recommended while it’s blooming — and you should fertilize only if you plan to keep it after the holiday season. If so, apply fertilizer every two weeks using a complete houseplant fertilizer. While it is possible to keep the plant from year to year, it is a very fussy exacting process. Since they are not that expensive, you might just choose to start fresh next year.

For years poinsettias have had the bad reputation of being poisonous. They certainly are not meant to be eaten by humans, pets, or livestock and ingesting poinsettias would probably cause some stomach upset, as would eating most any houseplant. However poinsettias have undergone extensive testing and there is no evidence that they are toxic or unsafe to have in the house. They are also safe to put into the compost.

If you are interested in keeping the plant after the holidays, here are some tips:
https://www.thespruce.com/poinsettias-keepers-or-compost-1403587
https://landscapeontario.com/home-care-tips-for-your-poinsettia
https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/flowers/poinsettia/poinsettia-care-how-do-you-take-care-of-poinsettias.htm

What to Get a Gardener who has Everything For Christmas

by Suzanne Seryck, Master Gardener

Generally on the whole gardeners are a pretty easy bunch of people to get Christmas presents for – who doesn’t love a good ‘garden themed’ mug or calendar?

But what do you get the gardener in your life who already has a dozen or so mugs and calendars, bookcases overflowing with garden design, plant identification books and Canadian Gardening magazines, a shed full of shovels, trowels, pruners and every imaginable weeding tool that has ever been created.

So to my husband and anyone else who is looking for something a little different, I have attached my Christmas list:

Gardening Gloves

I know, I know I have at least 10 different pairs in the shed, but I must lose at least half of those pairs in a single season in my own backyard. Not to mention the other pairs I lose whilst gardening for someone else, or just simply driving, I’m not sure if they jump out of the car by themselves or simply get lost between the seats.

garden-2939827_1920

 

Gift Certificates

I’m pretty easy and flexible on these. Gift certificates for seed companies are always welcome, as is a gift certificate from Lee Valley, there has to be some tool I don’t already have. You can also purchase gift certificates from the many nurseries or garden decor/accessory shops in and around Peterborough, like those on the Peterborough and Area Garden Route. A gardener will always have room for one more plant, insect house or garden gnome.

giftcertificate

Advance Passes to a Garden Show

Canada Blooms in Toronto in 2019 is being held on March 8-17; advance tickets can be ordered here. And locally the Peterborough Garden Show is on April 26-28; advance tickets can be purchased at numerous physical locations plus online.

GardenShow

Folding Garden Stool with Tools

We are all getting older and in my case also more forgetful. As well as losing gardening gloves, I also frequently lose my tools. My husband even tried painting the handles of my tools bright red so I would be able to find them easily, that did not work. Every summer I must find at least 1 pair of pruners and a hori hori knife (I currently have 3) from the previous year or two. So to save both my aching knees and not lose any more tools I am adding this stool to my list, which actually stores the tools under the stool.

GardenStool.png

Seed Bombs

No other reason than I love the look of these. If you look at some of the websites out there you can find them in many different colors containing different types of plant seeds, for example seeds specifically for pollinators. They are also small enough to fit in a stocking, and if you like to make your own gifts this could be something you could do yourself.

seed-bombs-2314498_1920

A Gardening Book

And finally, of course, a gardening book, but not just any gardening book. This book was listed in the Toronto Star as one if the ‘100 notable books of 2018’.
It is called ‘The Overstory’ by Richard Powers. I haven’t read this, hence it’s on my list, but I am intrigued by the description given in The Star: ‘The science of botany and the art of storytelling merge to ingenious effect in Power’s magisterial new novel – in which people are merely the underbrush and the real protagonists are the trees that the human characters encounter’.

81tN8IGERxL

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and hope you all receive what you wish for under your tree.

The 12 Plants of Christmas – Part 2

By Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

So in the spirit of the Christmas season, this week’s blog continues Part 2 of the 12 plants of Christmas—this one focuses on food and other traditions that are plant-related.

CHRISTMAS FOOD

sage

5. Sage

Not only is sage a vital ingredient of the Christmas classic, sage and onion stuffing, its fragrant, evergreen leaves are also a wonderful addition to a homemade Christmas wreath, a table centrepiece with candles, or simply stuck in a vase with some silvery eucalyptus leaves, bay branches and rosemary. Sage is reputed to have health-giving properties – it is said to be an excellent anti-inflammatory and helpful in reducing irritations of the stomach and intestines. Sage is also thought to be a great memory booster and is one of the most effective treatments for a sore throat. There is an Arab proverb that says “How can a man die who has sage in his garden?” If you are interested in its medicinal properties, this Herbal Academy site has some fascinating background.

In your garden, sage likes full sun and a well-drained soil. Be sure to prune it right back every spring to stimulate new growth. It doesn’t have to go into a dedicated herb bed—plant it under roses and with lavender.

rosemary

4. Rosemary

Its scientific name very charming – rosmarinus, which is from “dew” (ros) and “sea” (marinus) or “dew of the sea.” Rosemary is native to the rocky hills on the shores of the Mediterranean and loves a humid sea breeze. The ancients believed without a doubt that the sea air gave the tree its distinctive scent.

Rosemary was connected with the Virgin Mary (because it was thought to be Mary’s favorite plant) and people thought that it could protect you from evil spirits. It is also considered a plant of love, loyalty, and friendship and was the most common garnish put on the boar’s head that rich people ate at the main Christmas meal in the Middle Ages. Rosemary is also more commonly known as the remembrance herb, so it therefore used at Christmas to remember the birth of Jesus.

The English poet, Robert Herrick, who lived between 1591 and 1674 celebrated the holiday use of rosemary in this verse:

Down with the rosemary and so, Down with the baies and mistletoe, Down with the holly, ivie all Wherewith ye deck the Christmas hall.

Many people use (or give) a small, potted rosemary bush for a lovely little Christmas tree or fragrant centrepiece. If you need some tips on how to keep this humidity-loving plant alive after Christmas check out this blog.

CHRISTMAS TRADITION

wreath

3. Christmas Wreaths

Hanging a circular wreath of evergreens during mid-winter appears to have started back in Roman times when wreaths were hung on doors as a sign of victory and status. Rich Roman women also wore them as headdresses at special occasions (like weddings) and to show their wealth. The word ‘wreath’ comes from the Old English word ‘writhen’ which means to writhe or twist. Christmas wreaths as we know them today, might have started life as kissing boughs (a gesture of goodwill or to welcome guests) or come from the German and Eastern European custom of advent wreaths.

frankincense

2. Frankincense 

Frankincense derives from the tree Boswellia sacra. The frankincense tree grows in the Dhofar Fog Oasis, a remarkable area where three coastal mountain ranges of Oman and Yemen are cloaked in thick fog during the summer months. This species was a source of great wealth in centuries past. Frankincense from the Dhofar region (what is now Oman) provided much of the wealth through centuries of trade with Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Caravan routes carried the precious resource across the Arabian peninsula.

The BBC posted an amazing story about uses for both frankincense and myrrh in the modern age. Both frankincense and myrrh were widely available and would have been considered practical gifts with many uses. The expensive resins were symbolic as well. Frankincense, which was often burned, symbolized prayer rising to the heavens like smoke, while myrrh, which was often used in embalming, symbolized death.

myrrh

1. Myrrh

Myrrh is derived from the species Commiphora myrrha a small tree that exudes gum resin as a pale yellow liquid when the bark is cut. This dries into reddish-brown lumps the size of a walnut from which the oil is distilled. Native to Somalia, Ethiopia, and Yemen, myrrh was very popular in the ancient world and was used as a medicine by the Chinese and Egyptians. It was important for use in the Egyptian sun-worshipping ritual and mummification. If you are interested in more information about the botanical connections to the Christmas season, this article has lots of links.

Well there you have it. Some fun and interesting gardening connections to the Christmas season.

If you are up for another garden-related challenge, try this 50 question quiz. Tell us how you did!

end

The 12 Plants of Christmas – Part 1

by Emma Murphy, Master Gardener

The snow is on the ground and the cold winds in the air. Canadian gardeners are reflecting on their gardening season (why does it always go by so fast?) and thinking about next year’s garden (has your first seed catalogue arrived yet?).

So in the spirit of the Christmas season, this week’s blog is about the 12 plants of Christmas—some decorative, some food, and some traditions! In Part 1 we’ll look at Christmas plants and one food; you’ll have to wait until next week for more food and other plant traditions.

CHRISTMAS PLANTS

holly-tree-1030595_1920

12. Holly

Decorative green plants like holly, ivy, and mistletoe originate in pre-Christian times and were associated with celebrating the Winter Solstice by warding off evil spirits and celebrating new growth (well the latter only in warmer climate). Many countries (especially the UK and Germany) still decorate their homes with these plants today, often in Christmas arrangements or wreaths. The beautiful berries of the Christmas holly are produced by some of the approximately 400 species of holly (Ilex) that growing wild around the world. Typically, holly trees and shrubs are smooth-barked and have small flowers, fleshy red or black berries, and leathery, shiny leaves.

In pagan times, Holly was thought to be a male plant and Ivy a female plant. An old tradition from the Midlands of England says that whatever one was brought into the house first over winter, tells you whether the man or woman of the house would rule that year! But it was unlucky to bring either into a house before Christmas Eve. For the Christian faith, the prickly leaves symbolize the crown of thorns that Jesus wore when he was crucified. The berries are the drops of blood that were shed by Jesus because of the thorns.

If you are interested in five fascinating facts about holly, check out this link.

mistletoe

11. Mistletoe

Mistletoe has long been a symbol of love, peace and goodwill. The custom of using mistletoe to decorate houses at Christmas is also pre-Christian and the habit of kissing under the mistletoe continues today in many countries. Mistletoe is the common name for obligate hemi-parasitic plants in several families in the order Santalales. The plants in question grow attached to and within the branches of a tree or shrub. In the past, mistletoe was often considered a pest that kills trees and devalues natural habitats, but has recently been recognized as an ecological keystone species. Studies have shown that rather than being a pest, mistletoe can have a positive effect on biodiversity, providing high quality food and habitat for a broad range of animals in forests and woodlands worldwide.

For a whole host of information on mistletoe myth and legend, plus practical details of how to grow it in your own garden, Jonathan Briggs’ Mistletoe Pages.

cactus

10. Christmas Cactus

The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera xbuckleyi) is popular for its colourful flowers that appear during the Christmas season. It is native to the coastal mountains of south-east Brazil where it is found growing on trees and rocks.

However, if you have picked up a “Christmas cactus” in the past month or so that is now blooming beautifully it probably is a Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncate), which usually blooms about a month before Christmas cacti and has very cool flowers– I have heard them described as “leaping shrimps” or “lobster claws”. You can read more about the varieties, and how to tell them apart (hint it’s all in the leaf segments) here.

poinsettia

9. Poinsettia

Euphorbia pulcherrima is is a shrub native to Mexico where it is known as “Noche Buena”, meaning Christmas Eve. The Aztecs called it cuetlaxochitl (brilliant flower), and made a purple dye from its bracts and a fever medicine from its sap. The plant’s association with Christmas began in Mexico 400 years ago. According to legend a young girl who was too poor to provide a Christmas gift for the birth of Jesus was inspired by an angel to gather weeds from the roadside and place them at the church altar. Crimson “blossoms” appeared from the weeds and became beautiful poinsettias. The poinsettia plant was named after Joel Robert Poinsett, who was an American ambassador to Mexico around 1829. Poinsett was an amateur botanist and liked the plant so much that he sent several back to his home in South Carolina where he grew them in his greenhouse and introduced them in the US.

Poinsettias are popular Christmas decorations in North America and Europe, and the colours have expanded far beyond the traditional red to all shades of pink, salmon, apricot, yellow, cream, and white. While lovely at Christmas they are tough to keep as a houseplant given our dry indoor conditions. During the 1960s, plant breeders worked hard to make the poinsettia more colourful, compact and floriferous, which is what you see today. More information here.

paperwhites

8. Paperwhites

Tazetta daffodil types – usually the paperwhite narcissus N. ‘Ziva’ – is specially prepared to flower in time for December 25. Cultivars of N. tazetta include ‘Paperwhite’, ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ and ‘Ziva’, which are popularly used for forcing indoors.

If you want to try them out and have flowers all winter, here’s some information about how to do it. More here. (One word of warning: not everyone loves the perfume of paperwhites. One component of the paperwhites’ unmistakable scent is indole, and some people’s noses find this adds a fetid edge that’s really rather unpleasant. So you may want to sniff before you try.)

Paperwhites may grow tall and leggy, flopping over just as they begin to bloom. Tie a ribbon around the stems, about two thirds of the way up. According to a professor at Cornell University if you grow paperwhites in a 4 to 5% solution of alcohol it helps regulate the growth. Given that most liquors are 40% alcohol, this would be 1 part alcohol to 9 parts water. Don’t use beer or wine (just hard liquor – gin/vodka/whiskey/rum/tequila).

121-2135_IMG

7. Amaryllis

Everyone I know loves the amaryllis, and we closely associate them with the festive season. While the popular name is “amaryllis”, hippeastrum is generally accepted as being the correct name. It usually blooms around Christmas or into January or February in the Northern Hemisphere, then produces long green leaves that allow it to store energy for the following year.

Native to Peru and South Africa, amaryllis comes from the Greek word amarysso, which means “to sparkle.” Bulbs were brought to Europe in the 1700s and have been known to bloom for up to 75 years. Amaryllis flowers range from 4 to 10 inches in size, and can be either single or double in form. While the most popular colours are red and white, flowers may also be pink, salmon, apricot, rose or deep burgundy. Some varieties are bicolour such as purple and green, or picotee (having petals with a different edge colour). Lots of information here.

You can buy bulbs on their own or potted up. Select the largest bulbs available as they will produce more stalks and blooms the first year. Bulbs should be firm and dry with no signs of mold, decay or injury. It is common to see new growth (leaves, buds) emerging from bare or planted bulbs. Want to get your amaryllis to rebloom? Here’s some great advice.

CHRISTMAS FOOD

6. Cranberry

The cranberry (Vaccinium spp.) has been a festive favourite for hundreds of years, ever since Native Americans mashed up the fruit and mixed it with dried deer meat and fat to make pemmican (a concentrated mixture of fat and protein used as a nutritious food). In 1816, Dutch and German settlers in the New World planted the first ever “crane berry” crop (so-called for their blossom’s resemblance to the head and bill of a crane) on Cape Cod, using the fruit as a natural dye for rugs, blankets and clothing.

It was probably inevitable that the cranberry became linked with Christmas. With their bright red colour, they reflect the season perfectly. As early as the 1840s, people were stringing them with popcorn to make festive garlands for the Christmas tree. At the same time, with their winter availability and the fact they were slow to spoil, cranberries represented one of the few fruits that could be served fresh during the holidays. To settlers’ delight, it was discovered very early that the tartness of cranberry sauce helps cut the far and richness of such traditional holiday fare as pork, goose, duck and turkey, making it a perfect complement to festive dishes. Check out lots of lovely ways to use cranberries here.

Hope you enjoyed part 1 of the 12 Plants of Christmas.
Stay tuned until next Monday for our second segment.

What’s that Rattling in the Trees?

By Pat Freistatter, Master Gardener

beech-10835_640Have you ever wandered through a forest or a neighbourhood in the winter and hear rattling in the trees and looked up to see brown leaves still in a few of the trees? Why did those leaves stay on when all of the other trees lost their leaves? We know that, by definition, deciduous trees drop their leaves in the fall. Coniferous trees, such as pine (Pinus) and spruce (Picea), keep most of their needle-like leaves all year round with some needles dropping throughout the year. There are also trees that are coniferous trees with deciduous characteristics as they lose their leaves in the fall (e.g. larch and tamarack Larix). So how do we explain deciduous trees that retain their dead and brown leaves?

Marcescence

The term developed by scientists that is applied to trees that retain dead and drying leaves in the fall and winter is “marcescence”. A typical deciduous tree has an area at the base of each leaf (petiole) that contains thin walled cells that break easily and allow the leaf to drop. A marcescence leaf does not have this area.

Why do some deciduous trees experience marcescence?

Deciduous trees are thought to lose their leaves in the fall in an effort to reduce water loss and frost damage. So why do some deciduous trees retain their dead leaves?

The scientific evidence available to explain this phenomenon is limited. However there are several theories as to why the dead leaves are retained. The dead leaves may hide the leaf buds from being eaten by browsing animals such as deer and moose. Leaves left on trees also trap snow which results in more moisture being available at the base of the tree. The leaf buds on the tree may be protected from frost damage and drying by the leaves. Also when the leaves do finally drop in the spring, they will provide a source of nutrients that can give the tree a competitive advantage.

What trees are most likely to have marcescence leaves?

acorn-leaf-3704584_640Marcescence is more often seen on young trees and may disappear as the tree matures. It may also be seen only on a few branches or on the lower branches of taller trees. If the retained leaves are on a conical-shaped tree with bleached, light tan leaves, it’s probably an American beech (Fagus grandiflora). There are also many species of oak (Quercus), witch hazel (Hamamelis), and hornbeam (Carpinus) that retain leaves in the winter.

What is really interesting is that beech and oak tree species are closely related. Also the beech family of trees includes many evergreen species that do not grow in our area (e.g. Tanoaks – Notholithocarpus densiflorus). It may be that the beech and oak trees are still evolving to becoming fully deciduous trees from their evergreen past. Humm… who said plants are not interesting. Enjoy the rattle in the trees in your area!

More information on this topic can be found at:
What is a TanOak Tree April 4, 2018
Why do Some Leaves Persist on Beech and Oak Trees? Nov 22, 2010
About Marcescence March 20, 2017
Leaves that Don’t Leave Feb 9 2016