Blog posts from September 2016

Worms on the Ferns!

Sep 16, 2016

Growing plants indoors, be they low-light houseplants, or flowering and fruiting plants you're growing under plant lights, doesn't mean you're going to be free of the kinds of pests and diseases you have to deal with in the outdoor garden. In fact, it's often the assumption of new indoor gardeners that they won't have to deal with any pests, and they're often surprised when pests become one of their first challenges.


Can you see that dark colored caterpillar munching on my little ferns? Drat!!

The reality is that most plants you bring into your home probably bring a few hitchhikers along with them. A seemlingly healthy and attractive plant you purchase and bring home may all of a sudden appear less than healthy. There may also be "evidence" of the critters doing damage.


See all those little "balls"? That's frass; a nice word for pest poop!

Recently, I added some small fern plugs to my Ambienta plant grow lamps. Shortly thereafter, they didn't seem to be looking their best, and I noticed frass (poop -those little pellets you see in the photo) collecting around the bottom of the plants. Yep, they've got worms! Most likely the eggs, or even tiny caterpillars, were hitchiking on the plants, and got to work munching away and growing after I planted the ferns. Caterpillers that chew on plants tend to munch either during the night or day, then retreat back under the soil, or to the center of the plant - making it hard for you to spot them right away. So, you have to look for the frass.

Picking off the caterpillars is the first step to controlling them, as that will help remove most of the critters doing most of the immediate damage. Then, I'll spray these little ferns with a solution of Thuricide (Bt), an organic larvacide that will kill the up and coming caterpillars as they munch on the foliage.

Stunning & Stylish Iceland Poppies

Sep 14, 2016

Once you get addicted to gardening, you’ll also find yourself addicted to certain plants. One such addiction of mine is the Iceland poppy. They never get boring, are always in style and I’d plant them year-round if they’d only cooperate.

Iceland poppies are technically a perennial, but behave as such only in the northernmost parts of the United States and into Canada. In our climate, Iceland poppies should be treated as a cool-season annual, or biennial, if you will. In Texas, it’s best to plant Iceland poppies in the fall, along with your pansies and violas. This allows them to put on a larger root system and thus produce a bigger spring show of blooms. Plants will bloom in the fall and until the first hard frost. Often, they will continue putting on blooms through the winter. Hard frosts will nip the blooms, but won’t hurt the plants. In spring, you’ll be rewarded with a burst of blooms in late February or early March, to accompany your tulips and daffodils. Plants will continue to flower until temperatures heat up in mid- to late May. Iceland poppies don’t like the heat and will die off with the onset of summer.


Iceland poppies make a loving spring companion to Mexican feather grass.

Every part of the poppy plant, from the silvery foliage to the unique furry flower buds, offers a bounty of interest. They are the perfect companion for other cool-season plantings such as parsley, kale, pansies and violas. In its natural state, Papaver nudicaule is usually found in shades of white and yellow.  The recessive colors of orange, pink and red are brought out through selection, and all colors are generally offered as a mix in the garden center.

You can also plant Iceland poppies in the spring, but you’ll get a much better show from them if you plant them October through November.

Whiteflies in the Garden

Sep 11, 2016

Extra summer rainfall and humidity might be great for your garden plants...but they are also great for garden pests! I've seen an explosion of whiteflies all over landscape plants this past week.


See those little white specs? Those whiteflies are sucking liquids out of this Viburnum.

Whiteflies are tiny flying insects that can infest your outdoor and indoor plants. They suck moisture out of your plants and can cause damage and stunt growth. Insecticidal soaps and horticultural oils are typically strong enough to control whitefly infestations, but know that you'll have to do several follow up treatments, as new whiteflies will continue to hatch while conditions are favorable. So whitefly infestations can take time to eradicate.

In an organic garden, where you encourage a balance of wildlife, nature can help you take care of a whitefly problem. I came across this lovely spider web filled with whiteflies. I realize not everyone is crazy about spiders, but they are incredibly beneficial in our environment and landscapes. They control a lot of pests for you, so when you see spider webs in your garden, let them be!

If you've had whiteflies on your garden plants, chances are you'll have them again the next time conditions are favorable. You'll want to keep an eye out in early spring and plant on treating the same plants preventatively with a natural treatment of your choice.

Time to Plant Clematis

Sep 10, 2016

Temperatures are cooling here in Dallas, especially at night. We even got a little more rain last night. This is your signal it's time to get planting! If you love Clematis vines, like I do, your plants will have a much easier time getting established if you plant them now through October, than if you wait until spring.

Halleck_Clematis Ramona
Clematis 'Ramona' growing in my garden.

Fall is the very best time to plant perennials, shrubs and trees in Texas. But, unfortunately, garden center inventories don't always offer the plants you're looking for, or the quantities you need. Why? Well, most homeowners still don't realize fall is a superior time to plant, so they just don't buy as much during the fall season. That means garden centers are wary of bringing in the kind of inventory they need to. It's a bit of a chicken and egg situation.

Halleck_Clematis varieties
On this delivery, I scored Arabella, Clematis candida, Ramona and Snow Queen. I'm already drooling!!

That means you may need to turn to mail order companies to find what you're looking for, like I just did for some particular Clematis varieties I was seeking. Most garden centers only bring in a limited stock of Clematis in spring, and none in fall. So I was really please to find a beautiful selection available at Buy Clematis Direct. They even have some of the blue bush-like 'Arabella' Clematis that have been on my garden list for a while. They also have some lovely idea books on their website.

The condition in which mail order plants arrive can vary. So I was particularly impressed with the expert packaging on these plants, even with a double stack of flats in the box. Each plant was protected in plastic and paper wrap and hard dividers kept plant from being crushed. The plants are fresh and healthy.

Plant clematis vines in areas where the top of the plant will have sun for a good part of the day, but the root zone will be shaded by other shrubs or perennials. It's not a bad thing if clematis get a bit of afternoon shade in the heat of summer. Clematis vines are good for planting on small trellises, obelisks, mailboxes or other fixtures. They are not heavy or destructive, so don't worry about them damaging the support structure.

Clematis may remain partially evergreen in our winter climate, or they may die down do the ground with hard winter snaps. New growth will emerge the following spring. What the vines don't tolerate well is wet, soggy roots during the winter when soil temperatures are colder.

If you're going to mail order for fall planting here in Texas, you'd better do it quick, as many of these companies are in more northern locations; that means they'll run out of inventory sooner or stop shipping due to colder temperatures in their area. Buy Clematis Direct is in Florida, so you probably have a bit more time to check them out.

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