Saturday, May 26, 2018

Hibiscus Plants - and How to Care for

Hibiscus are deciduous shrubs with dark green leaves; the plants can grow to 15 feet tall in frost-free areas.  Flowers may be up to 6 inches in diameter, with colors ranging from yellow to peach to red.  

Don't panic, yellow leaves on hibiscus are normal. They look like something is wrong, but they are usually just a warning, a call for help, and not a sign of impending death.

Hibiscus leaves turn yellow and drop from the plant due to stress. The stress can be of any type and be figuring out what kind of stress is the challenge for the gardener.  We cannot tell you exactly what is wrong with the plant without knowing a lot more than you are likely to be able to tell us.  YOU have to think about it, and when you are pretty sure you have determined the cause, then you can take action to relieve the stress on your hibiscus.  This article is intended to help you figure it out what is wrong.

Stresses that can cause yellow leaves on hibiscus include:

Not Enough Water or Too Much Water
In warm conditions, hibiscus needs a lot of water, even every day or more than once a day if it's really hot or windy. Self-watering pots can be an excellent way to avoid this type of stress. bA watering system controlled by a timer is another way for gardens with large numbers of plants.
Yes, hibiscus can also be given too much water when the weather is cool or overcast.  Hibiscus like to be moist but not sopping wet and if they don't need the water due to cold or dark conditions then too much will stress the root system.
Too Hot or Too Cold
This is related to water but please take note on super hot summer days that hibiscus will need lots of water to keep all the big lush leaves well supplied.  If they don't get enough they react by dropping leaves (turning yellow first) so that they don't need as much water.
Hibiscus are tropical plants that thrive in the same temperatures that people like, 65-85°F (18-29°C).  They will survive, but they will not like temperatures down to freezing and up to 110°F (38°C).  If they get too cold or are placed in a cold drafty window, they can react with yellow leaves.
Too Much Direct Sunlight or Too Little Sunlight
Hibiscus like sunlight but just as most people like moderate amounts of it so do hibiscus.  Too much sun places stress on hibiscus that is not used to it and they can react with yellow leaves or big white spots on leaves. The white spots are similar to sunburn on us.  They won't kill the plant but will cause it to shed leaves.

Light is the source of life for plants such as hibiscus.  If they do not get enough to support all the big lush leaves they will drop some of their leaves (which turn yellow first) so that they don't need to support so many. However, that means that there is less green chlorophyll left to support the needs of the rest of the plant so it may continue to decline until there are only a few leaves left on the plant.
Insects, Particularly Spider Mites
Spider mites on houseplants and outdoor plants is a common problem.  It is important to use a spider mite treatment as soon as possible to keep the plant looking its best.  Spider mites produce the worst effects on stressed plants.  Keeping your hibiscus plant well-watered will help it withstand mite-induced damage.  Because mites prefer dry conditions, use an overhead spray when watering your hibiscus, wetting the leaves to raise humidity.  Read more how to treat spider mite damage:
Hibiscus can be planted singly or grown as a hedge plant; they can also be pruned into a single-stemmed small tree.  The flowers are attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds.


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

3 Great Shrubs Instead of a Fence

Most fences are not only ugly but almost an eyesore.  Not to speak about their ridiculously high prices.  Even if you are living in an area with frequent deer "visits" you might not need a fence.  There are three lovely shrubs - with three different leaf colors that are inexpensive, attractive and deterrents to unwanted human or animal visitors. My suggestion is to plant alternating Rosa Rugosa, Barberry, and Seabuckthorn. 

Rosa Rugosa:
Also called Beach Rose, it is best grown in moist, slightly acidic, well-drained garden loam in full sun to part shade.  But this rose is very hardy, prickly, and also very adaptable to somewhat poor soils, including sandy, clay or gravelly ones.  I once planted the Rosa Rugosa into the extremely poor soil, almost all clay, but it thrived wonderfully for many years - and it still does - as I can see when driving by my former garden.

They can be propagated through the rose hips, just plug them from the main plant and lay the hips half an inch deep into the soil where you want it to grow.  It might take two years until the first booms show.  But hey!  You got this new plant for free.

Best flowering and disease resistance generally occur in full sun.

Berberis - Barberry
Barberry was introduced from Japan around 1875. It is commonly planted for ornamental reasons as well as against wildlife and erosion.  Berberis, commonly known as barberry, is a large genus of deciduous and evergreen shrubs.  They are appreciated for their bright, colorful foliage and graceful arching stems.  The most beautiful color shows the variety “Rose Glow”. It has a stunning dark pink appearance.  This attractive, but thorny bush keeps everything and anyone from your property.

The flowers are tiny, the Seabuck"thorns" (hence the name) are a very good deterrent for any invaders, human or otherwise.  Seabuckthorn hedges, especially in fall and winter, are most showy with big clusters of orange berries.  I just like it as a beautiful fence, for an occasional winter snack, and as a treat for birds.
Read more about the fantastic health benefits which these berries provide:

Whatever you do with any of these "plant fences" - such as planting or pruning - use very sturdy gloves, they are not forgiving!  However, their sturdiness and easy or "no-maintenance" are great values on the outskirts of your garden.  And as a bonus, you will get so much attractive color in the garden - almost year-round. 
Happy Gardening!


Sunday, April 8, 2018

More than Honeybees


The mysterious decline of honeybees - the domesticized ones especially - is in the media since years.  Parasites, neurotoxic pesticides, industrial agriculture, and development have decimated honeybee stocks tremendously.  However, there are many other bees around to help pollinate crops and fruit trees - not only our well-known honey bees. 

Who Else Helps Pollinating?
Honey bees will only fly within a radius of 3 to 5 miles maximum to forage for food.  Many other pollinating species remain unsung heroes of the environment, gardens, and countryside.  Bumblebees, for example, are used to pollinate greenhouse tomatoes.
Some crops are solely pollinated by wild bees and other pollinators, and not by honey bees.  Besides honey bees, there are 3,999 other bee species living in North America alone, in the UK, perhaps it is one of the other 250 species of bees. 

Wild bees, such as mason bees, blue orchard bees, solitary bees, red mason bees, stingless bees, horn-faced bees, blueberry bees etc. are sometimes even better suited to pollinate than honey bees.  Although they don't produce the "sweet stuff" that beekeepers are fond of. 
Mason bees, for example, are ten times more effective than honey bees!  It only takes thirty mason bees to pollinate a standard apple tree - compared to three-hundred honey bees. 


You Don't Need to Become a Beekeeper
Domesticated honey bee colonies supplement the work of natural wild pollinators - not the other way around.  In a study of 41 different crop systems worldwide, honeybees only increased yield in 14 percent of the crops.  Who did all the pollination?  Native bees and other insects!  They are also early spring pollinators.  Wild, native bees barely ever sting - contrary to honey bees.

This is How You Can Help Wild Bees
No matter if you have only a balcony or small garden, if you planted fruit trees or berries on your acreage, or if you own large orchards: it's very easy to support pollinators. It's a very important process for our food chain.  No pollinating means no food!  Place one or several bee houses on the south side of your house, garage or garden shed building.  As larger the overhang on the roof is, as better. This way, woodpeckers (who have a 4inch long tong) are not able to reach into the breeding tubes.


This is one of the better bee houses as it has a roof overhang!

Avoid to hang it on a tree as their predators, such as ants, earwigs, and birds frequent the twigs. You can easily build your own house from a 4x4 piece of wood and two wood plates for the roof.  Drill holes of about 7 mm in diameter.  Instead of purchasing, turn pieces of toilet paper rolls (or colorful construction/handicraft paper) around a pen and place it tightly into the drilled holes.  Never buy a bee house without roof overhang!

The female bee will fill the tubes with eggs, pollen, and nectar for food for their young.  Every female is fertile and makes her own nest, and no worker bees for these species exist.  When the female bee runs out of eggs, she will die.


This beehouse is protected with chicken wire against birds and other predators

The Lifecycle of the Young Bees
The first three stages — egg, larva, and pupa — take up the majority of the bee’s life. The adult stage may last only a few days (for males) and a few weeks (for females).  Females typically nest in narrow gaps and naturally occurring tubular cavities, commonly this means hollow twigs.  They do not excavate their own nests.  The material used for the cell can be clay, mud, grit, or chewed plant tissue.  A female might inspect several potential nests before settling in.

Once a provision mass is complete, the bee backs into the hole and lays an egg on top of the mass.  Then, she creates a partition of "mud", which doubles as the back of the next cell.  The process continues until she has filled the cavity or tube.  Female eggs are laid in the back of the nest, and male eggs towards the front.  Once a bee has finished with a nest, she plugs the entrance to the tube and then may seek out another nest location.

Within weeks of hatching, the larva has probably consumed all of its food and begins spinning a cocoon around itself and enters the pupal stage. The adult pupal matures in the fall or winter, hibernating inside its insulation cocoon, even if the temperature drops below 0°C for months, they are well-adapted to cold winters.

When the bees emerge from their cocoons, the males exit first.  The males typically remain near the nests waiting for the females. When the females emerge, they mate with one or several males. The males soon die, and within a few days, the females begin to fill their nests.


How You Can Support the Bees
If you are a small backyard gardener and you don't want to go into pollinator breeding, then just hang up your bee houses.  Maybe change the location during the hottest summer weeks to the shade north side of your house.  Early next spring, vice versa: back onto the Southern walls.  You should only check if the tubes are still intact, and maybe have to replace one or the other.  That's all.  You have helped the native bee population to find safe nesting places and introduced the new ones to your garden. Congratulations!

Breeding of Native Wild Bees
Owning lots of berries plants, or fruit trees or even an Orchard?  Maybe even want to go into the breeding business in order to sell pollinators?  Then you need more bees!
  1. Hang up a dozen bee houses, and fill those with tubes in very early spring
  2. In late June, check if most of the tubes are "occupied" (mud is clocking the tubes)
  3. Take out the tubes, store them in a tin box with several tiny holes for air circulation
  4. Store the box in a pretty cool, dry and safe spot 
  5. In October, very carefully open the tubes to remove the cocoons
  6. Wash your cocoons in cool water, gently remove any dirt or mites 
  7. Let them dry, and store again in a tin box with several tiny holes for air circulation
  8. Store the box in an even cooler (ca. 0 degrees), dry, safe spot til early spring - and then start over again with #1 - starting the next season.
Encourage these pollinators to visit your backyard, plant a variety of local native plants that vary in color, shape and blooming season.  Be sure to provide a clean source of water, mud, and safe nesting sites, and avoid any pesticides or insecticides.
The main threat to the native bees is habitat loss. As native vegetation is replaced by exotic garden plants, large expanses of lawn and roadways, bees lose all the resources they need to survive — and to pollinate.
More Resources About Native Bees:


Thursday, January 18, 2018

Mildest Climate in Canada: Vancouver Island

… and the most beautiful gardens can be found in Victoria, capital of British Columbia, Vancouver Island, and other parts of Vancouver Island. It is such a pleasure to walk through residential areas and admire the well-kept and enchanting front and backyards.  

Rhododendron blooming in January

Mahonia - Oregon Grape

Picking raspberries from a shrub during a hike in late December on Vancouver Island, I realized once more the huge climate difference to the rest of Canada.  Hummingbirds and bees in the midst of the winter were my next big surprise.

Climate Chart:,victoria,Canada

A Canadian magazine wrote: “The capital of British Columbia is one of Canada’s “hotspot” for a reason, renowned not only for its mild climate and stunning gardens.  But also for its fine dining, numerous tourist activities, and breathtaking vistas.  When it comes to climate, summers are warm but not oppressive (averaging about 25 degrees Celsius) while winters are mild and usually snow-free.  Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria can also boast five times more sunny days than nearby Seattle, WA, and it has only half of Vancouver’s rainfall. 

Rhododendrons in late December

Blooming Shrubs in Winter
Due to the mild temperatures - the Hardiness zone is 8-9 - a huge variety of ornamental plants, evergreen deciduous trees and perennials are really thriving on the island.  And lawns are certainly green year-round. Even though they are not so dominant as in the rest of North America. Gardens on Vancouver Island are planted with a huge variety of blooming shrubs - which give gardens even in Winter lots of color.

Palm trees in many gardens on Vancouver Island


January in Nurseries and Garden Centers
Auricles and Pansies in all colors invite first purchases for the garden or window sill.  It’s time to plant fruit trees as the soil is certainly not frozen and there are great varieties available.  Gardeners get ready for serious work now in the midst of winter: planting, pruning and mulching the flower beds.

Osteospermum Flower

When visiting Victoria, don’t miss this nursery and garden center:
GardenWorks Victoria North (Great Cafe/Restaurant)
Great Workshops for Gardeners
4290 Blenkinsop Rd, Saanich, B.C.

Skimmia Japonica

Giant Trees on Vancouver Island
Another difference to the rest of Canada are the huge trees you find everywhere. They are often taller than four or five-story houses.  Don’t miss to visit the giant Douglas Fir trees further north, half an hour from Nanaimo. Cathedral Grove, located in MacMillan Provincial Park, not far from Port Alberni, is one of the most accessible stands of giant Douglas fir trees on Vancouver Island.

Cathedral Grove, located in MacMillan Provincial Park, is one of the most accessible stands of giant Douglas fir trees on Vancouver Island. Here visitors can stroll through a network of trails under the shadow of towering ancient Douglas-fir trees, majestic pillars untouched by the modern world – some more than 800 years old.

MacMillan Provincial Park is a provincial park, located 25 km west of Qualicum Beach and 16 km east of Port Alberni, the park straddles Highway 4 in central Vancouver Island on the way from Nanaimo to Ucluelet and Tofino. 
Ancient Trees Are Still Found Here
A massive Sitka spruce was recently discovered near Port Renfrew, Vancouver Island, in the territory of the Pacheedaht First Nation people.

Sitka Spruce in the Rain Forest

If you don't mind an occasional rain, it's a rain forest after all. But Vancouver Island is an interesting alternative to your Winter in Florida. So much to discover and to do here: beautiful beaches, sailing, floatplane flying, golfing, hiking, antiquing, kayaking,
snow-shoeing in the mountains...  Oh, and certainly visiting the wonderful nurseries, botanical gardens, and well-stocked garden centers. However, it is not a really cheap area.  Do you know what B.C. means? Bring Cash!


Monday, January 1, 2018

Sue Grafton's Kentucky Garden

The famous bestselling author is gone … to heaven’s garden.  Her family, friends, and readers will miss her terribly, but her legacy of books and her lovely Kentucky Garden will stay forever.
Kinsey Millhone, the spunky protagonist of Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries, wouldn’t be caught dead spading compost onto a perennial bed. “I hate nature. I really do,” the fictional detective proclaims in F Is for Fugitive. 
Grafton, who has called Millhone her “alter ego,” admits she once shared those sentiments. How, then, to account for the garden transformation taking place at Grafton’s 1912 estate, Lincliff?  Perched above the Ohio River eight miles east of downtown Louisville, the grounds were a vine-tangled mess when Grafton and her husband, Steve Humphrey, bought the place in 2000. 

Today, the once-crumbling fountain trickles and shimmers, boxwood parterres have been trimmed in-to shape, and a handful of spectacular new features, including an intricate knot garden, grace the property.
Humphrey, a philosophy of physics professor raised in south-central Los Angeles, is an equally unlikely suspect. “We had a tiny yard,” he says. “My father made the kids get up early on Sunday morning and hedge and weed. I never liked yard work, especially when forced to do it at gunpoint.”

The turnaround appears to be the work of professionals, but the couple swears no landscape designers played a part. So whodunit?
Upon further questioning, the truth emerges. “Something clicked when I met Sue,” Humphrey explains. “We rented a house when I was a graduate student at Ohio State, and I planted a vegetable garden. When we bought a house in Santa Barbara, I got into roses. I realized I love creating gardens.”
Grafton has a confession of her own: She’s becoming a garden lover, too. “Steve has taught me a lot about the virtues and benefits of a well-cared-for property,” she says.
Grafton grew up in Louisville but as a young woman, rebellious and burning with ambition, moved to California to become a writer. “When I left the state of Kentucky, it was ‘Thank you, Lord Jesus, I’m out of here!’” Grafton says. Decades later, after penning dozens of best sellers, she felt the pull of home. “I’ve been to a lot of places in the world. Coming back here, I realized Kentucky is quite beautiful. I’m proud to be a resident of this state.”
Read more how Sue Grafton transferred her garden - even up to growing veggies, fruit and berries:


Monday, December 18, 2017

Horticulture Centre of the Pacific in Victoria, BC


Everyone talks about the Butchart Gardens in Victoria. It’s a huge tourist attraction and for sure very profitable at an admission fee of $33.10 + 15% tax. It attracts a massive stream of visitors, buses full of tourists, huge parking lots.
And even as a senior, arriving 45 minutes before they close in the afternoon, full admission is demanded, no half-day pass or senior discount...


The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific (HPC)
However, there is a hidden gem among the West Coast public gardens that is visited mostly by garden professionals and locals. For just $5, you can enter this magical horticultural gem any day except during Christmas time (Dec 18 - Jan 6).

HCP is located in Saanich, a north-west suburb of Victoria, British Columbia - not too far from the Butchart Gardens.  The Horticulture Centre of the Pacific (HCP) is all about plants - period.  It doesn’t boast a luxurious restaurant, gift shop or multi-media visitor center and is void of ten-thousands of visitors per day.

Lose yourself among its 40 hectares, 2.4 of which are divided into 24 demonstration and teaching gardens showing more than 10,000 varieties of plants:

Bees, Birds and Butterflies Garden
Children's Garden
Dahlia Trial Garden
Doris Page Winter Garden
Drought Tolerant Garden
Ground cover Garden
Hardy Fuchsia Garden
Heather Garden
Herb Garden
Lily Garden

Mixed Perennial Beds & Mixed Borders
Native Plant Demonstration Garden
Native Plant Restoration Area
An Orchard
Ornamental Grass Garden
Rhododendron and a Hosta Garden
Rose Garden
Takata Garden
Vegetable Garden
Water Feature Garden
Woodland Garden

A graceful bridge in the cool green refuge, spans the Takata Japanese garden, with ferns, irises and ornamental grasses providing a foliage counterpoint. A 12-by-18-meter Zen Garden will be added soon.

The garden design staff here is small, but an army of students help to maintain the gardens, part of the HCP's 10-month-long accredited diploma course in landscape maintenance. Did I mention the warm and cozy coffee-shop with its patio, the library or the lovely gift shop?

Horticulture Centre of the Pacific
505 Quayle Rd. Victoria,
British Columbia V8X 3X1

Dogs on leashes are permitted.

Another Hidden Gem for Plant Lovers in Victoria, BC
…and a beautiful oasis on the edge of University of Victoria’s campus:
Discover UVic's Finnerty Woodland Gardens, a space for students, staff, faculty and the community to reflect and be inspired. Get their self-guided walking tour as a pdf from their website and watch a short video.

Discover Also Two Unique Trees: 
A long-lived broadleaf evergreen shrub, growing everywhere on Vancouver Island. Flowers, from bright white to deep red, come in 6 forms: single, semi-double, double rose, anemone, peony and formal double. Here they do best with some protection from cold winds and partial or light shade.

Liquidambar (Sweet Gum):
A late spring foliage tree, it is one of the finest trees for long-lasting and consistently brilliant fall color.  Liquidambar is an attractive, versatile tree - hardiness zones 5 to 9 in full sun - with maple-like foliage.  Liquidambar does require additional moisture during prolonged summer dry spells.  Speaking of Maple tree leaves: On Vancouver Island, they are as large as dinner plates!

Finnerty Gardens is free and open to the public year-round. It is located north of Cedar Hill Cross Road and west of Henderson Road.  Look out for busses to the UVic - or if drive, the Parking lot #6 is closest to Finnerty Gardens. The entrance to the gardens is near the Interfaith Chapel, on the south-west edge of the campus.  A great time to visit is during the Rhododendron bloom.

Whether you're a bird watcher, gardener, botanist or just seeking 
lovely place to walk, these quiet gardens are perfect for enjoying nature. 


Sunday, March 12, 2017

Colourful Winter Flowers in NW Florida

Spanish explorers named the new-found part of North America “Pascua Florida”, which means Flowery Easter" or "Flowering Easter”. But it is not only flowering in Florida on Easter, rather all year-round!  

Wintertime is never bleak in Florida, even in the North-West, around the “Emerald Coast” and the “Forgotten Coast”, between Pensacola and Apalacicola.

Here are just a couple impressions, photos I took between November and the end of February.

More plants can be found in the lovely botanical gardens in Florida, such as the one in Sarasota, New Smyrna, Pensacola or Clearwater.  To visit garden centers is a blast too! They are chockfull of lovely blooms that we can only admire in the North between June and September.

Last but not least it’s interesting to see abundant blooms and shrubs that are growing in the wild, and usually sold for top dollars in Canada and the Northern States.  


Saturday, March 11, 2017

Create Your Own Organic Fertilizer

The Key to a Good Garden is Good Soil. 
Most of the essential nutrients for plants are found in soil.  What flowers, vegetables, and trees need to thrive is Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, and to a lesser extent Calcium, Magnesium, and Sulphur.  To provide these nutrients to your plants you don’t need to spend any money, save your time and gas to head to the garden center.  Organic fertilizers are way more efficient and helpful to your plants than the artificial ones you buy for top dollars!  Go no further than your pantry, backyard (or the beach) for materials to make your own organic fertilizer.  You can prepare your own bloom or fruit fertilizer year-round:

Fermented Fruits are Prolific Garden Helpers. 
Don’t throw away brown bananas, wilted salad leaves, rotten apples or moldy strawberries!  Not only do they contain valuable Phosphorus and Potassium, they also have the fruit growth enzymes and hormones that encourage the plant to utilize the resources it has to produce large blooms and delicious fruits.  
Add approximately 10% sugar or molasses and water to let the mixture ferment to a mash for a week or so.  Cover it well and place it in the garage or garden shed to avoid the smell in the kitchen. In winter let all your kitchen scraps freeze in a big container that is safely secured, such a garbage can with a well-secured lid.  Place a large stone on top and fasten the lid with a jumpy band to avoid critters’ rummaging.

Wellness Cure for Your Garden:

BANANAS or Banana PEELS  –  Use over-ripe Bananas from your kitchen or those that are offered at very low prices in the produce section of your grocery store.  Roses love potassium too.  Simply throw one or two peels in the hole before planting or bury peels under mulch so they can compost naturally. Get bigger and more blooms and a bomber crop of vegetables.

Acid and nitrogen-loving plants such as tomatoes, blueberries, roses and azaleas like coffee grounds mixed into the soil. Visit your next Starbucks and bring two buckets with you to let it fill with used coffee grounds. Sprinkle it on top of the soil and fork it well in before watering. 

Crash the eggshells in very small pieces, and work them well into the soil near tomatoes and peppers. The calcium helps fend off blossom end rot. Eggshells are 93% calcium carbonate, the same ingredient as lime, a tried and true soil amendment! 

SEAWEED – Fresh seaweed needs to be washed before mixing it into the compost/soil to remove salt.  Another benefit of using seaweed fertilizer over time is that it slightly acidifies and adds iron to the soil, which is great news if you are growing acid and iron hungry plants, such as Azaleas, Gardenias, Camellias, and Rhododendrons.  Shred or chop up the seaweed into 1- or 2-inch-long pieces.  While chopped seaweed takes only a few weeks to decompose, seaweed that's left whole can take approximately six months to compost.