Friday, January 28, 2011

Houseplant Friday - Winter Chores

Peace Lily
I love houseplants, they provide me with some "green therapy"  whenever I look out the window and see three feet of snow and leafless branches. 
Houseplants are good for all of us, not only because they lift our spirits by bringing a bit of the natural world inside, but also for the health benefits they provide--increasing oxygen and decreasing carbon dioxide levels-- even filtering out harmful chemicals used in construction and home dec materials.

The houseplants that I live with indoors are really misplaced outdoor plants  that come from the tropics, rain forests and deserts of the world. They come in all sizes, shapes and foliage color and some even provide pretty nice flowers. 

If you think you can't grow house plants, you are so wrong.  There are house plants that will live happily almost anywhere unless you live in an ingloo or underwater.  Even if you think you have a brown thumb, you can find a plant that will love you anyway.   It's all about knowing your home's conditions and how much effort you want to put into a plant's care.  You can sort of compare it to  adopting a pet--do you want a high maintenance pet that needs a lot of pampering and grooming or do you want a laid back, low maintenance pet?  In future Houseplant Fridays we'll take look at some common house plants and  discuss which ones will work in different home environments.

But this week let's talk about basic winter care for those few neglected plants sitting on our windowsills or floors right now and what they need. 

This time of year I don't fertilize my foliage houseplants. All indoor plants need a break from active growing, just like the bare trees and shrubs outside are getting, so from about December 1st through the end of February I stop fertilizing all together.  The short days and  low natural light don't trigger the hormones (yes, plants have hormones too) that cause new growth to start so the fertilizer just sits in the soil doing more harm than good.  Fertilizing now results in weak, stringy, stressed out plants and adds a lot of salts to the potting soil.  For most, but not all, of my plants, I cut back on water now too, but I NEVER EVER let my plants go so dry that they wilt.  

I'm limited on window space with good light,  so only plants that flowering, like my cyclamen, african violet and amaryllis get the coveted east  & south facing window spots.  All my other plants must be content with north or west facing windows.  I have an unheated porch too and unless the temps drop below 10 degrees,  I leave my semi-hardy plants and herbs like rosemary and lemon verbena out there.  My porch faces south so during the day the temps are usually above freezing and stay right around 32 degrees at night.   It's an ideal spot for my tender perennial herbs who don't like being in a warm house. 

Central heat, wood stoves, fireplaces and space heaters dry the air out too much for most  plants.  In the rain forest, plants get the majority of their moisture from the high humidity levels. Plants can absorb water through their leaves as well as their roots.   I mist my plants a couple of times a week till I can see a few droplets collect on their leaves and stems.  This also helps to shed some of the dust that accumulates on the leaves because plants breathe through their leaves (transpiration).  An alternative to misting is to place your plants on pebble-filled trays and add water up to the top of the pebbles.  This increases the humidity in the immediate vicinity of the plants.  I don't use pebble/trays anymore because I have a clumsy cat who likes to jump on windowsills so I stick with misting, 

Trivia: If the tips of your spider plant's leaves turn brown, it's from lack of humidity. To improve it's appearance, cut the tips off at an angle, not straight across, they'll be less noticeable and blend in.  Weekly misting or a "shower" in the kitchen sink will help prevent the brown tips.  

I  have more time to look over my plants now and do a little housekeeping.  For plants with broad leaves such as schefflera, pothos, or ficus,  I wipe them with a damp paper towel to remove any dust or dirt that could clog their stomata. I also remove any yellow or dried leaves and I'll wipe off the pots and check the botton holes for roots sticking out which means it's time for a new pot.  I like re-pot plants that need it now so when active growth starts in March, they'll be ready to take off. 

Tip:  When plants are newly potted they won't produce new top growth until they've filled the new space with roots.

If you have a plant that looks a little like a tall, skinny supermodel, this is a good time to give it a hair cut as well.  I never remove more than a third of the plant and I try to make it look as inconspicuous as possible.   For ivies, pothos and trailing plants, pinch off the growing or "terminal" tips.  This will cause them to branch out, making them fuller and limit the length of the trailing stems.  I also don't like my spider plants to have lots of babies so I remove the long stalks as they appear. 

Trivia A NASA study conducted in the 1980's concluded that some fifteen plants were effective for removing indoor toxins (sick house syndrome) and improving air quality. Among these plants are the spider plant, english ivy, philodendron, dracaena, peace lily, snake plant and ficus!

While I'm also giving them hair cuts, I'm checking my plants for hitchhikers that may have come in with my plants who spent the summer outdoors.  If I do find any pests, a quick trip to the kitchen sink and a spray with warm soapy water usually does the trick.   

Lastly,  I've had plants that were "lost causes" and had to make a hard decision to give up and toss them.  It's not a decision I make lightly but I never feel like a failure as a gardener and you shouldn't either.   What's that saying..."It's better to have loved and lost, than never to  have loved at all".  Just feel free to substitute the word "garden" for love.

 Stayed tuned for next week's Houseplant Friday Segment,   "Beginner Friendly House Plants"

Go Green!

Gail :)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

MIA & Birthday Celebrations

Well, my first “Houseplant Friday” post hasn’t shown up and since it’s still missing and I didn’t have a draft, I’m rewriting it to post manually this coming Friday.  I apologize if you were waiting for this post.  I honestly have no idea what could have happened! 

This weekend we celebrated both of my daughter’s birthdays by going to lunch at Mark Wahlberg’s restaurant, Alma Nove outside of Boston.  It was a special milestone birthday for my youngest who turned 30 and her sister who turned 35. We were joined by my mom, sister and brother-in-law as well as  Carolyn’s roommate, Kasey and of course Calvin came along with Laura.  Lunch was great,  the restaurant is located in a new waterfront development in Hingham and very close to where my parents live so that’s where we all met first.   The restaurant is elegant but casual and the prices are reasonable.  The outdoor patio has a burning fire pit, but with the temps in the teens, we all elected to eat inside. LOL.

You can see that I took the group picture before we ordered food and while the table was still nice and neat.  Over the years, most of our family pictures were taken “AFTERWARDS” and they always turn out looking like a hoard of barbarians just made a raid!

I had wood-grilled salmon and roasted vegetables, everyone else, except for Carolyn and my mom had Alma Nove’s signature lobster paninis.  Dessert—well, I should’ve taken a pictures.  They were as wonderful to look at as they were to eat.



I stopped off in Brookline to pick up Carolyn and Kasey first.   This animated neon Citgo sign is a famous Kenmore Sq. landmark and what I always head towards when I’m on Storrow Drive.  (This picture was taken at night on the way home)

The picture on the right is a picture of the Boston skyline looking towards Back Bay from Storrow Drive (excuse the dirty windshield)


This is a picture of the street lamps along Beacon Street in an area known as Audobon.  If you click it should enlarge and you’ll see that there’s  a different bird silhouette on each of the street lamps.

The  picture on the right is Coolidge Corner and Harvard Street in Brookline and very close to wear Carolyn lives. 









Here’s a picture of the mug rug I finished and emailed off to Madame Samm of “Sew I Quilt” for the her blog’s  mug rug contest,  “Got Snow"?” is the name of it.  The little 49 cent mug from Goodwill was my inspiration.

I could get hooked on making these mug rugs.  Every time  I see a coffee mug now, I think “mug rug”!   I probably could’ve made this one a little bigger but I thought the size was limited to 6” x 9”.  I’ve already bought another cute mug so I know I’ll be making more of these in 2011 and I can’t wait to start!  


Friday, January 21, 2011


Where is my Houseplant Friday blog?  

I wrote it last week in Windows Live Writer and then set it to post today at 8:30 am.   It's not here.  It's not even listed in my post history either. It's apparently lost in cyberspace.

If it shows up on your front blog step--will you please send it back?   You can send it C.O.D.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

What To Do With Holiday Leftovers–Part IV–Poinsettias


f59aaaPoinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are the most popular Christmas plant sold in the US.  Yearly production is about 65,000,000 plants.  That accounts for one-third of all the plants sold in the US each year!  Most are grown in California but they are also grown in almost every US state.

poinsettiasonmantelRed is still the most popular color but in the last 30 years  there have been dozens of new colors introduced.  Poinsettias come in peach, orange, gold, pale yellow, pink, mauve, burgundy and all sorts of variations, even stripes and polka dots!

Growers sometimes tint white poinsettias in colors that they can’t get genetically (like blue, green and lavender) but I expect we’ll see those colors for real, someday!

Trivia:  The Aztecs used the red poinsettia leaves to dye fabric for clothing.








Poinsettias originated in Mexico and Central America, which should tell you that they like it warm and sunny. 

Trivia:  The poinsettia is named for Dr. Joel Roberts Poinsett, an amateur botanist and first United States ambassador to Mexico who introduced it to the US.  Most botanists of his day weren’t interested in the poinsettia plant  and dismissed it as a weed but Dr. Poinsett, sent cuttings home to his greenhouse in Greenville, SC and cultivated them as gifts for his horticultural friends.


A lot of people ask me whether poinsettias are “still” poisonous and the answer is that they never were.  Lots of testing has been done on these plants, which is to say they probably fed large quantities of leaves to some poor lab animals, but chemical analysis by the National Poison Center, the AMA and POISININDEX  Service also confirms that they are not toxic. 

Trivia:  Poinsettias are very susceptible to white fly, a greenhouse pest, and insecticides sprayed on the growing plants to control it maybe be the reason why poinsettias were originally labeled as poisonous.  Those insecticides are no longer used and have been replaced with more eco-friendly controls.

The white latex sap can be a skin and eye irritant to some. I wouldn’t recommend making a salad out of poinsettia leaves (though it would look very festive), or feeding them to your domestic animals, but you don’t have to take heroic steps to keep your plants away from pets or kids.   Knowing your kids’ and pets’ habits, always use common sense in where you display any of your houseplants.


If you put your poinsettia in a warm sunny location and there are no cold drafts, it should be contentedly hanging out right now and reminding you of all your happy holiday moments. 

If it’s leafless now, it’s either because it dried out, got cold or was overwatered.   You know the pretty foil hats they wrap around poinsettia pots at the garden center?   They’re probably responsible for a lot of dead poinsettias because water remains in the bottom and can’t completely drain out.  A few weeks of well-meaning watering and you have a drowned poinsettia. 

You can try to revive it if the stems are still green by cutting them back to about 6 or 8 inches.  Make sure it’s not in a drafty area and has plenty of light, don’t let it completely dry out but don’t over water either and wait for new growth to emerge.   You’ll have to put up with people asking what you’re doing with those ugly sticks in the living room for a a few weeks so be patient.

Temperature:  Poinsettias do not like cold or drafts.  The ideal house temperature for them is around 70 to 75 degrees and 65 at night.  They can get used to colder temps with conditioning, but expect to see some leaves on the floor if you lower the heat too much or place them  near a door or drafty window.  They also like lots of light, as much as you can give them this time of year. 

Watering: They should be kept fairly moist, but never soggy.  If you’re worried about overwatering, you can let the plant dry out a bit till the top 1/2 inch of the soil feels dry to your touch.   I always check by sticking the tip of my finger down into the soil up to the first knuckle, if it’s damp, I don’t water.

Note:  If you accidentally splash water on the colored “bracts” it will stain them permanently much like water spots silk so they shouldn’t be misted or sprayed.  BTW, those fashion-colored bracts on your poinsettia are not true flower petals but modified leaves. The real flowers are the small yellow, red and green buds clustered in the center

Fertilizing:  Poinsettias should be fertilized every two weeks in spring and summer but not the rest of the year.  I stretch that out to once a month and fertilize all my plants on the same day and then mark it on the calendar.  I happen to like liquid fertilizers because they’re easier to dilute and I buy organic brands which are made from seaweed and fish by-products. (I promise to go into detail about why I use & prefer organic stuff in a future post, you’ll be surprised by my answers!)

Repotting:  Late spring or early summer is also the time to cut your plant back to about half of it’s height.  Be careful not to overwater after you cut it back.   You can repot in fresh commercial potting mix now (spring) or wait till  late summer.   My preference is for late summer because newly potted plants will put all their energy into expanding their root system to fill the pot with roots before they produce top growth.  Flowering plants usually produce more blooms if they are “pot-bound” so never go more than one size up when repotting.

Outdoors:  If you live where there’s no frost, you can plant your poinsettia in the ground. Pick a sunny well-drained area and mulch well to maintain moisture.   Just be aware that a poinsettia is a shrub and can reach a height of twelve feet!    Oh, and if you happen to get an unexpected cold snap-you’ll have leaf drop so watch the weather and cover plants when temps drop below normal for your area.    You should also select your planting sight where it won’t receive light from  street lamps.


If you live in the north, I’d wait till night temps stayed above 55 before moving my poinsettia outdoors to the deck or porch for the summer.  You can put it outside earlier if daytime temps stay around 65 and if you bring it in before night time temps fall. 

Tip: Don’t put a plant that’s been growing indoors in full outdoor sun right away, gradually move it from indirect light to full sun for a few hours each day.  This is called “hardening off”.

Cultivation:  If your poinsettia looks a little leggy (like a tall skinny super model), pinching the tips of new growth  will force it to branch out and make it a little fuller.  You can also root cuttings from new growth that you snip off.  (This is going to be the subject of a future Houseplant Friday post).

Flowering:  It’s a lot of work and probably easier to buy a new plant every year but if you really  want holiday flowers, then by September 1st, you should have repotted your poinsettia and brought it back indoors.  I wish that were all, but there’s more to it than just that.  Now comes the tricky part and why most poinsettias do not re-bloom for their owners.  From  October 1st to late November, poinsettias must have complete darkness from 5:00PM to 8:00AM or roughly fourteen hours a day.  This period of shortened days is what triggers the bracts to color and the flower to develop.


A warm closet, spare room or basement would work, if you can make sure no one turns on the lights and you don’t forget that the plant is in there.  You still have to take it out into the light during the day and water it. 

There is an easier solution though if you can find a large brown paper bag that will fit over the top of the plant.  You should be able to slip it on and off easily without bruising the petals and it should be heavy enough to block out any artificial light.

Outdoors you may have a problem if there’s a nearby street light or even a nearby window that illuminates your poinsettia.

Years ago I worked in a greenhouse where we grew over 5,000 poinsettias every year.  The light switches were taped to the off position from September to November and anyone working at night carried a sock covered flashlight pointed towards the floor to navigate.  One far corner of the greenhouse faced a streetlamp.  The two benches where only the dimmest light from that streetlamp reached, failed to develop flowers. 

Once the bracts are colored and the flower buds are showing you can stop the enforced dark period  It takes at least forty days for the flowers to form After that you can enjoy your poinsettia for the second time around!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Snowman Quotes & RRCB boo-boos

We got another six inches of snow yesterday making the total accumulation so far about 30 inches. By the time I got outside to shovel and use the snow blower it had just started to turn into a light drizzle so it looks like it will be an icy mess if the temps drop overnight.  

I thought I’d write an update on my RRCB progress and let you know what other “quilty pleasures” I’ve been enjoying lately. LOL

I got all of my pieced blocks done and I’m in the process of squaring them up because I’ve been struggling all along  with getting an accurate 1/4 inch seam allowance on my machine.

Not to belabor the point but I’ve re-read my machine’s manual and every tutorial that I can find on accurate piecing.  I’ve bought a seam guide and special foot and my machine is still not sewing a consistent 1/4 inch seam.  I really think the problem is that the snap on feet have too much “wiggle room”. 

Anyway, I ended up with extra blocks, and I can’t figure out why because I did count my squares and hst’s,  but it’s a good thing since a few of the others are way less than 11”. 


After I finished the last of the saw tooth borders, I went back to Bonnie’s website to check on the assembly directions and realized that I made a serious “boo-boo”. I sewed all of the string-pieced blocks together, except for the four corner triangles.  In my DSCF3840zealousness to have everything fit together perfectly I squared all of them up too!  So now I’m not sure they’ll even fit,  if I can remove the stitching.  Did I mention that I double-sewed them?   

My dilemma now is whether to make more string blocks and if I do they probably will look odd and won’t match the others because I used most of my neutral scrap strings and I’ll have to cut new ones out of FQ’s.

While I’m still sorting THAT out,  I laid out SOME of the blocks on the floor to see how they looked and all I can say is WOW—this is going to be a very large quilt.  It’s already huge without the borders!  

DSCF3834So there you have my update on RRCB!  I’m determined to get this done…but…I’ve been living with this QIP (quilt in progress) for a month now and need some “distance”.  LOL




What better way to create distance than to go shopping!

So last Tuesday before the big storm hit I headed out for a quick trip to the store –you know I needed milk and bread and accidentally stumbled on a great 40% off inventory sale at a tiny quilt shop, that I drive by occasionally.  I went in thinking I’d treat myself to ONE fat quarter and this is what I came home with!  I guess I thought I’d be snowbound for the rest of the winter.  To be honest not all of this came from that one shop,   I made several stops that day—you know, for “essentials”.


I have some V-Day projects in mind for the pinks and reds.   Don’t you just love the coffee and bagel fabric on the right?  I can see some cute mug rugs made out of that.  The snowman wall hanging is a little larger than I thought (I should’ve read the pattern more carefully) but it’s constructed of squares and rectangles so I think I can reduce the size easily enough.

Lately, I’ve been interested in mug rugs so I thought I’d practice making one and maybe enter the contest over on Madame Samm’s blog.   I’ve been low on inspiration, especially after seeing the other great contest entries, then I found this mug for 49 cents at Goodwill.   Of course it’s made in China,  but it’s tall and cute and it gave  me an idea for my mug rug so  I sketched it out and fused the pieces.  I think this will be a birthday gift for a friend who collects snowmen and has a green kitchen.

This is as far I’ve gotten with it, I need to applique it down and  I’m thinking it needs something else—maybe a snowman quote?  Do snowman give quotes?   So silly me googled “snowman quotes” and who knew that there are such things.  Anyway, I found what I thought is the perfect sentiment to embroider on this mug rug and I’ll share it with you when it’s finished.  I’m thinking of adding some string piecing to the left of the snow guy but if you have other suggestions, I’d love for you to comment, just realize that my artistic ability is limited, OK? 


So speaking of snowmen…while I was at Goodwill for the after Christmas clearance,  I spotted these two cuties and for 50 cents each, they had to come home with me.  I’m planning to give one to each of my girls.


I know my younger daughter will like them because they’re small and because she has been collecting vintage Xmas ornaments.

I’m hoping that DD#1 will like them as well.

Both still light up.  I replaced one bulb and I think they could both use re-wiring, because the plugs don’t have the ground thing.  The one on the right was made right here in New England—imagine the jobs that were lost when that company closed down?    The one on the left was made in Japan a little later, I think.  Both are in great shape for their age and small about eleven inches.  Wouldn’t they look cute on a buffet?  

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What to do with holiday leftovers–Part III–Cyclamen

Another flowering plant that’s popular for Christmas and imagesCAWF9VSBeven on into Valentine’s Day is the Cyclamen, c. persicum also called the florist’s cyclamen.   

Trivia : In the language of flowers, the cyclamen stands for “sincerity & sincere affection”.

The ancestors of the cyclamen originated in the mountainous areas of Iran and around the Mediterranean region. They flower prolifically and range in color from cherry red and purple to pink and pure white.  The heart-shaped  leaves have silver margins and the long-lasting flowers rise above them  looking a little like hovering butterflies.  This makes them very popular Valentine’s Day plants.

Florists love cyclamen for their showy flowers  and because they are relatively easy to keep and last a long time.  Growers like them because of the lower heating costs needed to bring them to market.  

I have to agree that cyclamen are great houseplants for those of us that keep our thermostats set lower to save money, especially in these days. 

If you’re energy conscious, you’ll be pleased to know that cyclamen prefer living with people who dress in layers.   Cooler house temperatures of about 60 to 65 during the day and slightly cooler at night are needed to keep them happy.   Cyclamen don’t flower as long in the hot, dry conditions created by woodstoves and central heating.

You can compensate for some of the heat and humidity by placing them on a saucer filled with pebbles and water in a cool window or room  that has indirect light or morning only sun.

imagesCACXZVEVCyclamen are also heavy drinkers.  When they  dry out even slightly, they get moody and droopy.  I’ve had mine go droopy the day after I water them so now I water from the bottom and then check the top of soil with my finger every 30 minutes,  I add more water to the saucer till the top of the soil is good and damp and then I let the pot drain in the sink for a bit.  This takes a little longer than watering from the top but I think they absorb more water this way.  

I recommend fertilizing cyclamen once a month while they are in active bloom with a diluted organic liquid fertilizer that has low nitrogen.  Nitrogen tends to push plants into producing lots of foliage which you don’t want to do with cyclamen but like amaryllis, cyclamen grow from a bulb and use up most of their life energy blooming and then they go into rest mode, so regular feeding while they are actively growing is necessary.

Tip: To remove spent leaves or flowers, grab then at the base of the plant and give them a slight twist as you pull .

If you water yours from the top be careful not to pour water directly into the center of the plant.  Cyclamen grow from a “corm” (a type of bulb) which looks similar to a beet root.   If the corm stays wet in the center, it can get moldy and rot.

You can expect to get several months of bloom from a cyclamen after you bring it home.  Once it’s finished flowering it will be very tired and need a long nap.  Cut back on watering and don’t fertilize when the leaves start to turn yellow. The leaves will continue to wilt,  turn yellow and dry up (that’s OK) and the plant starts to look bad enough to make you want to hide it or toss it—but DON’T!

Tip: If you wait till the leaves are dry and crispy you can rub them off easily with your fingers without pulling on the corm. 

While it’s going through its “awkward stage” store the pot in a cellar or basement that’s cool and has good air circulation.  You can also put it outside (when temps are above freezing) but make sure you tip the pot on its side or put it where it will be out of the heaviest rain.  A little water won’t hurt  but if the soil or the center of the corm stays wet and there’s no root activity (they’re napping), the corm will rot.


You can also repot in late summer.  Use a well-draining soil-based mix with organic matter (peat or humus). Make sure that the top of the corm is sitting out of the soil.  If the corm is buried, you’ll get lots of leaves but few blooms.

Resume watering in September or earlier if you see imagesCAXH5FCSgrowth starting.  Plants summered out of doors need to be brought back inside before a frost.  Place them in a cool window with lots of indirect light and wait for the show to begin! 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Coming Soon - Houseplant Fridays!

I'm borrowing an idea that I've seen on other blogs about posting a weekly topic.  So begining this Friday, January 21st and continuing each Friday for the next six weeks, I'll be blogging about houseplants and their care. 

Hint: the first post is already written and scheduled to post.

Each week, I'll select one common or exotic houseplant and give you a brief overview of it.  I'll also give you tips and guidelines for its care and propagation.  I'm sort of the trivia geek in my family so I promise to include some fun, interesting facts about plants that you can use to impress your own family,  LOL  :)

Now here's where you come in!  I'd love to hear your suggestions. If you have a houseplant that you want to know more about, email me the name of it along with your question(s) on its care.  If you can't identify it, email me a picture and description.  Include your name, and you and your plant may be featured guests on one of my Houseplant Friday blogs!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What to do with holiday leftovers–Part II–Amaryllis


Lucky you if you got a giant amaryllis (Hippeastrum) this year!  They’re popular holiday plants because of their large beautiful trumpet-like flowers.  The trouble is, like poinsettias, most people just don’t  know what to do with them after the holidays.
Once the flowers fade cut the stem off leaving about 2 to 3 inches but don’t cut off the leaves!   The leaves need to replenish the bulb so that it can imagesCAUM5MKXbloom again.  If the long strap-life leaves are really floppy and drive you crazy or have become a cat toy, you can tie them loosely to a bamboo stake.  Put the plant in a sunny window, water when the top of the soil feels dry and fertilize every three to four weeks with a diluted organic fertilizer for flowering houseplants and let it recover from it’s ordeal.

As a rule, I don’t fertilize newly potted plants for at least six months, but amaryllis bulbs are an exception, they expend almost all of their energy to produce multiple large flowers, followed by leaves.  If you took the bulb out of the pot at this point you would see that it actually looks slightly smaller than when it was potted!   In human speak, this plant has just run multiple  marathons.

As soon as temperatures stay around 60 degrees or above, my amaryllis go on summer vacation—to my deck stairs where they get morning sun and a bit of dappled shade later in the day.  This is pretty similar to what they would have in their native habitat where they grow between the large roots of trees. 

In August, I remove the bulb from the pot, gently  brush some of the soil from  the roots and replace it with new sterile potting mix.  If you don’t want to do that, try removing only an inch or two of the soil around the bulb ( you can scrape it out with a plastic spoon) and replacing that with some fresh planting mix.

imagesCAYP1KFMAmaryllis should be repotted every couple of years. You can find specialty clay pots for amaryllis bulbs that are tall and heavy so that the weight of the flowers doesn’t cause them to topple over.  Just remember that they like to wear their shoes a little snug and should never be planted in a pot that’s more than 2 inches larger in diameter than the bulb.  Planting an amaryllis bulb in an oversize pot is asking for trouble and will lead to soggy soil and a rotten bulb.  Likewise always use a well-draining potting mix that contains organic matter.

If and when you notice the leaves turning yellow, cut back on watering and stop imagesfertilizing.  Move the plant to a location (if it’s outdoors) where it will stay dry and cool (out of the rain and sun).  This is a signal that the bulb is going dormant  

Some horticulturalists say that amaryllis do not go dormant and others say they need to have a forced dormant period in order to re-bloom.  How do you force a plant to go dormant?”

About fourteen weeks before you want blooms, cut back on watering and discontinue fertilizing the plant.  The leaves will gradually yellow and wither. When this happens you can cut them off and move the plant to a cool area out of direct sunlight.  Again you stop watering or water only enough to keep the bulb from shriveling and wait for new growth to show at the tip of the bulb.  Once new growth starts you can water as needed and move the plant back into a window..  In approximately fourteen weeks, you’ll have beautiful blooms again. 

Watch for Part III of What To Do With Holiday Leftovers Coming Soon

Friday, January 7, 2011

What a day - TGIO!


It started out rather uneventful for a Friday. 

I got up and poured a fresh imagescup of coffee to drink while I checked out the final clue for the  RRCB mystery and read my email. 

I did some web surfing  for awhile and then went looking for a piece of clip art to use for a future blog post.  I found a  cute little cartoon entitled  “Plants versus Zombies” so I clicked my mouse on it. 

That  was the wrong thing to do… 

Almost immediately a malware booby trap sprang on my  computer’s defenses. Before going down, my antivirus was able to warn me before the “bug” disabled it and took control of my computer. It replaced my security program’s icon, with a  Trojan horse that mimicked my security software and performed a fake scan on my pc in order to lure me into a bogus upgrade so it could get my credit card info. 

Two hours, five phone calls and $129 later, the technician on the other end coached me through deleting all of the files off of my laptop and doing a complete reinstall.  Even remotely he could not remove this bug.

It took me another two hours to reinstall all of the software programs that had to be deleted and I sacrificed a lot of recently taken photos, but at that point I was too much of a nervous wreck to worry about them.  I’m just  grateful that I haven’t had this  laptop long enough to accumulated a lot of files or photos.  I learned my lesson the hard way.  I’m going out this weekend to buy an external hard drive, just in case.

This was a particularly nasty bug, it not only disabled my computer’s defenses, it prevented my pc from connecting with the online technical support help desk so that they could remove the virus with their software.  I asked the technician if there was any other programs I could get besides my current security subscription and he told me that anti-virus software is at best only 80 to 85% effective against these malware programs!   

I read somewhere that new viruses are being written by teenagers in Russia with adult “mentors” who then use the internet to steal credit card info and earn money this way.  What is wrong with this world?   To write code this complicated and damaging they must be pretty smart kids. Why can’t they put those smarts to use for the common good instead of trying to wreak havoc on the internet.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What to do with holiday leftovers–Part I - Christmas Cactus


Every Christmas I end up with at least one plant gift.  It’s usually something other than a Poinsettia because by now everyone who knows me also knows how much I hate them.  What I actually hate is seeing a lot of them tossed out after the holidays when their colored brackets start to fall off (the colored part of the poinsettia is actually a leaf and not a flower petal). leftovers collage copy

Millions of poinsettias are grown every year just for the Christmas season and most are discarded after the holidays—it’s such a waste considering that so much energy is required to grow and bring them into flower for such a short season.

Poinsettias may be the most popular Christmas plant sold in the US but a close second is the Christmas cactus. It’s not a true cactus like those in the southwest, but belongs to the epiphyte family which includes some orchids and bromeliads.  In their native Brazilian mountain forests, these plants would grow up in the tree canopy with their roots in the moss and detritus that collects in the crooks of branches.  That should also give you a clue that they like very well-drained soil and need sunblock. 

You can always tell an epiphyte (or tree-dwelling plant).  Just look for little threadlike roots sticking  out of the junctions between stem segments. 

The plant family that all of these “holiday” cacti belong to is called SchlumbergeraThere are several members of this plant family that are often confused.  True Christmas cactus (schlmbergera bridgessii) bloom in December and have rounded segments (stems) which are not “toothed”. Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncatus) bloom in November and have fleshy points along their segments resembling thorns or teeth. 

The flower colors range from orange-red to fuschia and purple to golden and even white with more hybrids coming out every year.imagesCA1SAX2PimagesCAD7Z5NG





If you received one of these flowering cacti for Christmas, chances are that it’s still in bloom with an abundant supply of buds to follow.  You’re probably also wondering—what do I do now?

The first thing is to find a spot where it will get some good indirect light.  The sun is low in the sky now so mine sit in either a western or eastern-facing window depending on where I have room.   Indoor temps of 50 to 65 are ideal this time of year.

Let your cactus dry out slightly between waterings.  A good trick I learned is to check the soil moisture by sticking my index finger in the soil almost up to the 1st knuckle.  If it feels moist, you don’t need to water. 

Don’t fertilize a new plant for at least six months.  The commercial growers pump their plants full of nutrients to get them big quick so there’s lots left in the pot by the time it gets to your house.   Older established plants can be fertilized with a half-strength solution of organic fertilizer once a month. I only fertilize my plants during the summer when the days are long and /or they’re in full growth mode.

After the flowers have faded, you’ll begin to see new leaf growth coming from the stem tips, where the flowers were.  This is a good time to take cuttings and unlike spider plants, they won’t take over your house if you decide to grow a few extra plants.   Just don’t get carried away--cause the new growth produces next year’s flowers.

All of my Christmas and Thanksgiving cacti leave home and go on vacation from May to October (on my covered porch and deck).  They do need partial shade if left outside or the stems will sunburn.  (Remember I said they used to live in trees and need sunblock?)

In order to get them to bloom on cue, I start cutting back on watering around September 1st.  I water just enough to keep the stems from shriveling.  I also do not turn on the porch lights so that the shorter days and cooler night temperatures can trigger blooming.  Tiny round white buds start to appear early to mid-October at the tips of the stems.  Once they’re formed I bring the plant back inside and go back to my regular watering schedule.  Just be careful not to overwater or let the plant dry out too much-both will cause them  to drop buds.

Stay tuned for Part II of What To Do With Holiday Leftovers.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Putting Xmas Away and Catching Up with 2011 !

I spent New Year’s quietly.  Watched a couple of movies, got take out and started “Simple Abundance” for the 7th year in a row. Took down the Martha tree from the porch, took the candles out of the windows and put the few decorations I displayed back in their attic home till next year.  

I do feel kind of sad that they don’t get to stay out longer—only a few short weeks to enjoy them and then it’s back in the attic for another 12 months. 

I’ve accumulated a lot of decorations that I cherish and look forward to displaying.  They remind me of the friends who gifted them to me and pleasant times shared.   These two handmade ornaments were given to me by my friend, Diane, who now lives in Tennessee.  We spent many snowy winter afternoons  sharing recipes and craft ideas over hazelnut coffee and oatmeal cookies in her cozy kitchen. 

DSCF3713DSCF3714            I made the cross-stitch Santa tea cozy in 1995 from a “Cross-Eyed Cricket” leaflet.  The same leaflet included a “Halloween Tea Cozy”.  Never got to that one but I still have the chart (tee hee) !  The little wreath in the picture frame was made from a kit (can’t remember the designer) and it usually sits on my kitchen sideboard. 

Another Christmas, I made a lot of primitive angel dolls as gifts for friends.  This one is mine.  There were several years when she reluctantly sat on top of the tree because we couldn’t find the star. DSCF3778 (2)                                      

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The quilted Christmas cactus wall hanging above was made by my British pen pal, Denise in 1990.  It’s one of my favorite holiday decorations. Denise is a master of machine applique and quilting.

Roll on RRCB!

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I’m finally finished with “Clue #6” of the “Roll, Roll, Cotton Boll” mystery quilt!  It feels SOOO good to be only one week behind instead of two but there were a few late OCD nights sacrificed to get there!  I’m glad that I started this quilt, it’s expanded my quilting skills but honestly if I don’t see another hst for the rest of the year, it would be OK with me.    Now onto Clue #7!