Give your bulbs a shot

If you are forcing bulbs indoors, a shot of hard liquor will keep the plant size under control.

When you force your flowering bulbs in gravel or water add about 1 part hard liquor to 9 parts water. This reduces the size of the leaves and plant while not affected the flowering. This should help keep your flowers from flopping over.  But wait until your plants are about 3″-4″ tall before getting them drunk.

Recommended hard liquors for your paper whites include: whiskey, vodka, gin and tequila.

Houston Flower Show, Florescence “Cosmos”

It is hard to go wrong with a theme like Cosmos. It was a very nice show. In keeping with the theme there were some really cool unusual designs.

There were a lot of little water gardens this year. That must be the new ‘in’ thing. You know how trends move fast through the gardening world. Now I can’t wait to start one.

I’m not going to say much today, but there are about 15 or so pictures from the show posted on my photos page for you to enjoy. Just follow the link below.

Japanese Spindle ( Euonymous japonicus )

Japanese Spindle

Euonymus is a variegated evergreen shrub growing in southern climates. It can reach 15′ in height and 6′ in spread. The leave are thick and glossy.

It does well in heavy shade, dappled shade or at the edge of woodland areas, it will also grow in full sun. The more sun the plant gets, the more variegated the leaves will be.

It will grow in dry or moist areas but prefers dry areas.

Neither Houston’s hot summers, nor the recent cold winters have troubled this plant. It easily handles below freezing and above 100’F temperatures. It’s pretty close to indestructible. I highly recommend it.

It will tolerate any soil from clay to sand to rocks.

Flowers are tiny and not especially noticeable.

Scale and caterpillars will attack this plant, watch for both.

The roots are grown in Russia and Spain for the latex rubber found in the roots.

This plant has been slow to grow in the dry, shady area it is in, but has required absolutely no care for the last three years.  It is often used as an accent plant in gardens.

Watch for powdery mildew, scale, and caterpillars.

Powdery mildew only grows between 42’F and 70F so it should cure itself in the summer and winter.

Japanese spindle may get leaf scotch in dry windy seasons, water more frequently to prevent and shelter from wind if possible.

Also susceptible to crown gall ( large balls appear on stems near ground ) there is no treatment, just remove them and enjoy the plant while you can.

Bugs, bugs and more bugs

Seems like a good time to dig out my notes from various talks on bugs and continue the theme for this week.

A typical back yard has about 1,00 species of bugs, most of which are harmless or even beneficial. We gardeners need them for pollination, to help decompose dead plants back into soil and to feed the birds. Pesticides kill the good along with the bad and are best avoided if possible.

Lady bugs are voracious eaters of aphids, scale, white fly, mealy bugs and other bugs. The lava of green lacewings eat other insects. Brown lacewings adult and juvenile eat other troublesome bugs. The mealy bug destroyer is in the same family and looks like a large hairy mealy bug.

We have parasitic wasps which lay their eggs in other bugs, they don’t sting and the mini ones will insert eggs into 100 or aphids. Another one lays eggs in the tomato hornworm. Parasitic wasps do not sting people.

All spiders are carnivorous, the black widow and brown recluse are the only two poisoness ones found in the US.

Toads and frogs feed on bugs at night, lizards during the day.

Bugs are not always what you expect either. Praying mantis feeds heavily on lady bugs and butterflies. And the much maligned cockroach is our biggest decomposer of dead things.

I’m told you can rid a place of cockroaches by putting some bread into a large jar. Roaches love yeast. Pour a can of beer over the bread. Slide a cut-off piece of panty hose over the outside of the jar so they can climb up the jar. Then put a little vaseline around the underside of the inside edge of the jar. The roaches climb up and in but can’t get out. The gentleman giving the talk told us he had rid and entire building of roaches in a week this way.

Tree Philodendron aka Split Leaf ( Philodendron bipinnatifidum )

There seems to be debate as to whether this philodendron is a climber or not. It has huge leaves and one stem that does not branch. The branch falls over when the top gets too heavy. Aerial roots come off of the stem. Even though it is not defined as a climber, if planted near a tree it will climb your tree. And the stem that falls over may wind its way around your yard.

It has the most unusual flower. Mine has been in the back garden 2 years this is the first bloom I’ve seen. There are two more flower pods I expect will bloom soon.

It can get to 10′ tall and 15′ wide with a stem as thick as 6″ in diameter. This plant is native to the rain forests of Brazil. I’ve read some reports that it will grow to 50′ in Florida. So plant in a large area.

It grows best in moist, but well drained soil. It does not want full sun, dappled to part shade is best. It is not supposed to be drought tolerant, but I’ve found it does quite well during droughts. This one has done well through several extremely dry summers and watering bans. It needs little care.

It is not frost hardy. We’ve had several light frosts and temperatures as low at 28′ and the plant has done fine with no protection, some years, other years one died and the other lost all its leaves after couple of hard frosts here. If the trunk is still firm just remove damaged leaves. If the trunk feels mushy cut it back at ground level. If it dies back to the ground, wait. Often it will come back just fine when the weather warms in late May.

If you wish to prune it, remove leaves beginning at the bottom to let in light to plants shaded out from this plant. If you remove all the leaves, newer leaves should grow in at the top that are smaller than the existing leaves you removed.

If you cut the stem it will not branch out. It will send up pups from the roots somewhere nearby. When I removed the leaves I discovered three babies that had grown up from the roots near the base of the plant. The leaves had been sheltering them from view.

(Winter 2009/2010 and again 2017/2018) We recently had a 3 day freeze. All the leaves rotted. I waited a couple of weeks, then removed the leaves yesterday. It returned in 2010 ( and I expect it to in 2018) and completely filled out completely late May.

It is May and the philodendron has survived and is putting out leaves up top as are some of the pups at the bottom. A newer philodendron I planted last summer did not survive this winter’s cold.

This plant is poison — do not eat it. All philodendrons contain calcium oxalates. Depending on the plant it might numb your mouth, or cause severe stomach pain, nausea, and or irritated skin. Wear gloves while working with these plants.

Summer 2011 has brought and extreme drought and three months of temps over 100’F this plant has survived and been one of the few to grow.

Philo ( means love ) dendron ( means tree )

More information:
Floridata: Philodendron bipinnatifidum
DNA Analysis Reveals a Genus of Plants Hiding in Plain Sight

Cast Iron Plant ( Aspidistra elatior )

While researching this plant I saw pictures of it growing out doors down south in hot, humid climates, I also saw it sitting in a dusting of snow in mid Atlantic areas. This plant is about as easy to grow as they come. I have some outside, they seem to survive just about anything. They are very slow growing

This plant does not like sunlight. Put it in a dark corner, or several feet away from any windows.

Water only slightly more than you would a cactus plant. When the top 1/2″ to 1″ of soil is dry when you put your finger in the dirt it is time to water. If you see brown marks on the leaves you are over watering the plant.

It can grow to 2′ tall. Flower appear at the base of the plant year round.

There is also a variegated form of the cast iron plant. It’s foliage is often used in cut flower bouquets.

It was so popular in Victorian England it became an object of satire in novels.

Fire Ants

I’ve been lucky so far. I wandered into a nest of them once last year and that’s been it so far. Not bad for two years of gardening and wandering through woods and fields. These ants are terribly aggressive and attack anything vertical that disturbs the mound. The husband ran across an ants nest and wanted me to come look and tell him if they were fire ants. I told him I didn’t have to, since he had not been attacked they weren’t.

Fire ants came from South America to Alabama in the 1930s. They reached Texas in the 1950s and have spread across the eastern two-thirds of Texas. We currently have four species of fire ants in Texas.( Southern, Desert, Red Imported, and Tropical ). The red imported are our biggest trouble makers.

Treatments should be done in late April-May and again Sept.-Oct. If you work with your neighbors and treat the whole neighborhood at the same time you’ll have much more success. Bait is the most effective treatment we know for fire ants.

The Coop Extension recommends ‘The Texas Two Step Method’ of treatment. They recommend using bait broadcast over your entire lawn. I’m not a fan of broadcasting pesticides, the extension office says there is very little pesticide in the bait and it is safer because it is carried back into the nest. Do as you see fit. Baits should be scattered lightly over the entire area. Bait is only effective when used between May and Oct. when the ants are actively looking for food. Baits work slowly, those containing indoxacarb, hydramethylnon and spinosad work fastest. Still you should expect it to take 2-4 weeks. Use fresh bait, don’t water for at least 8 hours. Bait quickly loses its effectiveness in the heat. This is best done in the spring and fall.

The second step is to directly treat any mounds you find. Apply insecticide directly to the mound. Use one to two gallons of water mixed with pesticide per mound. Otherwise it won’t sink deep enough to kill the queen. Dusts should be poured heavily over the mound, baits can be placed on or near the mound.

It is very important you do not disturb the mound when laying bait. Not only will they attack you, but they are likely to move the nest and your bait won’t be eaten. Fire ant mounds are generally out in the open with out a visible opening.

If you are using a liquid pesticide, dampen the area around the nest first. When the weather is dry they all hide deep in the nest and won’t come into contact with the pesticide.

Fire ants will move into buildings if an area has been flooded, but usually are not found indoors.

I find shoveling the nest out and pouring boiling water soapy water works for me. And you don’t have to dump chemicals everywhere. If you don’t have much of a fire ant problem, I’d recommend treating that way and reserving more serious treatments for more serious problems.

Fire ants love to build nests in pots. Be very careful when repotting potted plants or when you bring in the potted plants for the winter. Fire ants also prefer dry areas to damp areas, which is probably why I rarely see them in my gardens.

Fire ants eat ticks and fleas which is why you have so few problems with fleas and ticks down here.

Most importantly it now appears fire ants will not move into areas occupied by other ants. If you leave the native ants alone, you won’t have fire ant problems.

I’ve been told the Texas Fire Ant population is decreasing, seems one of our native nematodes has developed a taste for fire ants. In case the nematodes in your yard haven’t yet started to attack your fire ants try your local nursery. Many of the larger organic nurseries are carrying non-native nematodes you can spread in your yard to combat the fire ants.

More information: