Tuesday, January 29, 2013

My Lawn Isn't Thriving

The first few year we lived in our Charleston, SC house both my backyard and front yard both did pretty well. Since Centipede grass doesn't like to be fussed over I just check the PH every couple of years and applied 15-0-15 lightly as suggested by my soil report from Clemson Extension. Then about 3 years ago the front yard began to thin and just didn't recover from winter as quickly as before.

I know from planting trees when we first moved into our home that the front yard was mostly clay. I've amended my flowerbeds over the years and the plant there do rather well. I wondered what I could do without digging up the lawn and starting over. I asked several Master Gardeners and Extension Agents for some ideas and came up with a plan.

While my warm-season lawn was dormant I spread a light layer of compost over the yard. This was purchased at a local landfill that also runs a compost facility for $10 a ton. Our truck couldn't quite hold a full ton so it cost us only $7 and we were able to coat the front lawn with a little leftover for my other garden projects.

I've been watering the compost it in on warm days this winter and hope to see my yard respond with healthier turf. When the grass is fully out of dormancy which is usually around the end of May we plan to aerate the lawn and add more compost. It may take a little time but I'm assured that this will help my Centipede lawn. Check back with me in a few months for an update and we'll see how it works out!

This should work for other types of grass as well. Just remember not to bury your turf too deep in the compost. A thin layer will work best.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Stinkhorns Fungus

Have you ever walked outside in your yard and said “Pee-yew”? What is that smell? Well I have, and this winter has been a very smelly! During the cooler weather of winter and early spring you may notice foul-smelling mushrooms popping up in your yard like I have. The odor from stinkhorns ( Clathrus columnatus) with it’s weird orange fruiting body is so strong it may make some people gag. Although the smell is extremely unappealing these fungi; known as stinkhorns, are not really bad for your landscape and can be beneficial.

Stinkhorns fungi start out as white, egg-like structures in mulch or other damp decomposing material. Most of this fungal structure is found underground. When enough water is available, the egg-sac structure will rupture and the mature mushroom will emerge. Stinkhorns are in the same order of fungi that includes puffballs and earthstars. Depending on the type of stinkhorn the mushroom can be stalk-like, globular, or latticed and very in color usually pink or orange in this area.
All Stinkhorns produce foul order as the name implies. Sometimes described as a putrid, rotting meat smell, this smell attracts ants and flies that pick up and carry the mushroom spores to other places. The good news is they will not harm plants or grasses in your landscape. In fact stinkhorns break down organic matter and can be beneficial to sandy, clay and nutrient poor soil. By breaking down materials like mulch the nutrients become available for plants.

As for management, take heart that these mushrooms are seasonal and stinkhorns also shrivels and disappear quickly. They will normally appear for just a few weeks once or twice a year especially during wet, cool weather. Stinkhorns do occur naturally in the landscape but can also be introduce through mulch materials. If you can’t abide the stinkhorns even with their beneficial attributes there are a few steps you can take to deal with them in your own yard:
• Remove decaying organic matter, especially around dead roots, underground stumps and hardwood chip piles
• Think about using vegetative ground covers instead of mulch and/or keep large mulched areas away from your house
• Dig or hand pick stinkhorns in the ‘egg’ stage put it in a zip lock bag and throw away
• Best suggestion is to tolerate them. Remember they are a benefit to your soil. Close your windows to keep smell out of the house and try holding your breath while walking by the stinkhorn.
There is no registered safe chemical control for use on stinkhorn fungus. Using chemicals is not recommended.

I've had all of the types in my yard in the past but this year mine have all been octopus stinkhorns.

Friday, January 11, 2013

How to Care for Christmas Flowers Year-round Part 3

Christmas Cactus: There are several plant species that are called Christmas cacti, but the true Christmas cactus is the plant, Schlumbergera x buckleyi, a hybrid of some very similar holiday cacti, and is a very common plant in cultivation. These are relatively easy plants to take care of, safe (no spines or toxins) and can live a long time (generations). I have a cutting of one that originally belonged to my husbands grandfather that was very old and very large. I also have the closely related plants Thanksgiving Cactus (due to the timing of the plant’s affinity to bloom around Thanksgiving), and Easter cacti. These plants are nearly identical to Christmas cacti but tend to either have sharper node tips, or much blunter node tips and bloom at different times of the year.

Schlumbergeras are epiphytes in nature (grow on other plants or non-soil surfaces), from the high elevation jungles of Brazil. Their natural environment is a relatively cool even temperature, high humidity, bright light with little direct sunlight, and frequent rain.Considering this it is a little amazing how well they thrive as potted plants in normal cactus soil and in a warm temperate climate, or indoors.Though these are indeed true cacti, they do not look like the cacti most are normally used to seeing. These plants are fleshy, green, segmented plants that, over time, develop woody, thick stems. Thankfully they are basically spineless.


It's no surprise that, Christmas cacti require different care than do most cacti. Even though they come from tropics, they live in a relatively cool environment and therefore do NOT like high heat like desert cacti do. Basically all cacti are summer growers and spend winter very inactive in terms of growing or flowering. This is true of Christmas cacti as well. Despite their blooming in winter, they do very little growing in winter, but it is still the best time of year to enjoy Christmas cacti. They don’t like temps much over 80 degrees anyway. On the other hand they cannot tolerate freezes either, and prefer temps above 55 degrees. Outdoor plants seem to cope with temps into the low 30's but are not happy about them. Leaves change color due to cold. So if you keep them outdoors and cold weather is coming, bring them in.

And unlike most cacti, Schlumbergeras do not like full sun, particularly when it’s hot. But they do like bright light and grow and flower best if the light is very bright. They will tolerate low light situations for short periods of time, and that is why they do so well as indoor plants. A few days in the middle of the table far from windows will not do them much harm. But they do need to be returned to an area of bright light soon after, or blooming might cease early. My cacti do best when kept outdoors under a shady tree or porch when it’s warm and I move them back indoors near a bright window as it gets colder around 55 degrees. In warmer climates these can be kept outdoors year round, but still don’t try to grow them in the garden like one would a regular cactus. Freezes will damage them, but it takes a pretty severe freeze to kill one in a warm climate.

Schlumbergeras need to be planted in well draining soil. Remember in the wild they basically live in soil-less situations, so water needs to drain past the roots easily, or they could rot. Under-watering will kill a Christmas Cactus, too, but a lot more slowly. There is time to intervene should the cladodes appear flattened and wrinkled. Schlumbergeras are from high rainfall and high humidity environments and do appreciate being watered regularly. My plants seem to do well in soil formulated for cactus.

Once the days shorten (usually in October), back off on watering. Some recommend NO water the entire month of October, and then resume again in November. Then it is recommended to withhold water again once blooming is over for a bit longer than a month this time. If signs of new growth appear, it’s time to start watering again. This is also a good time to re-pot the plant and put it in some new, clean, well draining soil. Re-potting is recommended every few years.

Fertilization should be with half strength water soluble formulas and only in warmer weather. Wait until new growth is seen and time for re-potting. If using a granular fertilizer, it is best to be stingy- these plants do tolerate fertilizers better than do most cacti, but still, be careful. 10-10-10 is the best ratio to use.

For plants that are not flowering as expected:
Be sure the soil is not too dry, or plants are not next to a cold or hot source (air conditioner, heater etc.). If there is some night light on the plant, it might retard it from blooming. Put these plants in a totally dark room for a minimum of 13 hours a night. This will also help these plants bloom when wanted, and not too early. These plants may need longer light to simulate early fall, rather than late fall, to keep them from blooming too early. Then do the total darkness thing about 4-6 weeks before the time blooming is desired, every night until buds form and the plants can be returned to their location near the window or table. And be sure the daytime temps are in the 60's (hot houses will prevent these from blooming) and night temps are not much below 50 degrees. Sometimes a little liquid fertilizer with extra potassium can help stimulate blooming. Once flowering starts, it is recommended not to move these plants too much, in terms of overall heat and light, or they may abruptly stop blooming and drop all their buds.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

How to Keep Christmas Flowers Blooming Year-round Part 2

Paperwhite narcissus flowers are tall plants that produce papery-thin white flower blossoms. The plants grow from a bulb rather than seed and bloom in the early spring months. Because the plant grows so easily with nothing more than water and air, they are also grown indoors during the winter season. While many people discard the paperwhite bulbs once they stop blooming, you can store them until spring when they can be replanted outdoors.

1. Allow the potted blooming paperwhites to cool off at night in a sheltered area where temperatures don't fall below about 45 degrees F. Blooms may continue for up to three weeks in mid-winter.

2. Keep the potted paperwhites in a warm, light location around the clock after the flowers fall off. Water the paperwhites regularly with a little bulb fertilizer while the leaves are still green.

3. Stop watering the plant in early spring when the leaves begin to turn yellow and brown. Clip off the leaves when they are completely dry.

4. Keep the bulbs in the planting pot during their dormancy. Store the pot in a warm, dry place.

5. Observe your paperwhite plant beginning in October. Green shoots should start emerging in late fall. Keep the paperwhites indoors for the second year.

6. Plant paperwhite bulbs in the garden after the second round of blooming and drying. Wait for the bulbs to go dormant in early to mid-spring. Plant them deeply in regular garden soil amended with a tablespoon of bone meal.

7. Mulch your paperwhites with a cover of crushed leaves or other mulch. This will help keep them from freezing. Paperwhite bulbs are not hardy and will die in freezing temperatures.

In the Lowcountry Paperwhites will usually come back
unless we have a very cold, hard winter.
I have also planted mine in the garden the first spring.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How to Keep Christmas Flowers Growing Year-Round

Part 1
Poinsettias, Paperwhites, Amaryllis & even Christmas Cactus are a beautiful addition to Christmas decorations. Sadly, they are treated as cut or silk flowers by many people and tossed out when the ornaments are put away at the end of the holiday season. However, this doesn't have to happen. With forethought in selection, proper care during the holiday season and afterward, all these plants can be successfully planted and grown for long-term enjoyment. This post I'll tell you how to preserve your Poinsettia. Check soon for information on how to keep the other Christmas flowers growing.

Poinsettias- during the holiday season:

Start by buying a healthy plant:

A healthy poinsettia makes replanting easier. A poinsettia with dense foliage all the way to the soil is a sign of a healthy plant. Buy a poinsettia with stiff stems and does not have any wilting, breaking or drooping. Avoid plants that come in sleeves made of plastic, paper or mesh or ones that are crowded on the store shelves; this reduces air flow, which a poinsettia needs. Check the soil and do not buy a plant whose soil is waterlogged, as this can cause root rot. Despite the fact that poinsettias are holiday plants, they originate in Mexico. Protect them from cold winds or temperatures below 50 degrees; cover them with a large, roomy shopping bag when transporting them from the store.

During the Holidays:
1.Do not place it in direct sunlight or block the sunlight with curtains or shades. Keep the temperature in the room between 68 and 70 degrees and do not put the plant near drafty doors, heating and air conditioning ducts or fireplaces. Set the poinsettia in the sink or tub when watering so the water will drain completely; never leave standing water in the poinsettia’s container or saucer.

2.Remove the wilted bracts and leaves from the poinsettia. Continue to monitor the light, heat and water for the plant. Cut the poinsettia down to 8 inches tall in late March or early April and apply a balanced all-purpose fertilizer. You should see new growth beginning in May.

When the weather is warmer:
3.Move the poinsettias outdoors when all danger of frost has passed and the night temperatures are above 50 degrees. Place them in indirect light. After late May, move it to a larger pot that has a good mix of peat moss or organic matter in the soil. Continue proper watering and apply a light balanced fertilizer every 2 to 3 weeks. Prune the poinsettia, beginning in late June or early July, to keep it compact; stop pruning at the end of August.

In the Fall
4.Bring the poinsettia back inside when temperatures drop below 50 degrees. Continue to monitor the plants' water and light exposure; extended exposure to even a table lamp could delay the blooming. Make sure the temperature around the poinsettias remains 60 to 70 degrees; anything outside of this can affect the bloom time. It will begin to grow leaves and set buds in the fall and bloom during November and December.

5.Keep the poinsettia in 14 continuous hours of darkness each night after late September. Move it to a totally dark room--such as a closet--or cover it with a box that is large enough so as to not crowd the plant. Continue the regular watering and fertilizing during the holiday season.

If you happen to live in a tropical climate: you can plant your Poinsettia outdoors.

1.Keep the plant dry throughout the winter months, watering sparingly. Do not fertilize the plant at this time.

2.When the weather warms up to a steady 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, cut off any faded leaves, leaving behind spiky stems.

Place the potted poinsettia outdoors so that it can get used to the outdoor weather. Leave it outdoors in a pot for two to three weeks, as this allows it to acclimatize to both the light and the temperature.

4.Select a site where the poinsettia will receive full sun for most of the day but no light at all during the night. Avoid areas that are illuminated by street lights.

5.Dig a hole in the garden bed for the poinsettia that allows it to sit at the same level in the ground as it did in the pot.

Place the poinsettia into the ground and firm the soil around its base.

7.Apply a 2-inch-thick layer of mulch around the base of the poinsettia to help it retain water.

8.Water thoroughly.

9.Fertilize monthly with an 18-16-12 fertilizer, which contains 18 percent nitrogen, 16 percent phosphorus and 12 percent potassium. Use 2 lbs. per 100 square feet.

When I lived in Florida I was able to keep a flowerbed of poinsettia's alive for several years in a protected spot in my yard.