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:

Easter Lilies

It is hard to imagine Easter with out Easter lilies.

To keep the lilies from staining, take and just pinch off the end of the stamen where you see the yellow dust. The yellow dust is the pollen and that is what leaves stains.

If you received your lilies in a pot of soil then after Easter take your lilies out side to plant. They will die back in the winter. But they will reappear mid to late spring the following year. They will bloom for you in the middle to late summer. Plant them in a sunny location for best results.

Easter lilies are highly toxic to cats and likely other household pets.

Mosquitoes

It’s that time again. The cool weather has kept them at bay but I’m starting to run in to them now. I heard a talk on mosquitoes this week and thought I’d share what I have learned.

There is only one local mosquito carrying West Nile in the Houston area so far this year. There are about 15 species of mosquitoes found in this area. We have a new mosquito joining us from Asia. She is larger than most, more hungry and leaves bigger and more bites on you should she find you. She is so big you’ll be able to see her tiger like stripes with the naked eye.

Mosquitoes rarely fly more than 100′ from where they are born, never more than 200′ So if your yard has tons of mosquitoes you’ve only yourself and neighbors to blame.

Female mosquitoes are the ones that feed on your blood, male mosquitoes ( those clouds of gnats ) eat pollen.

Eliminate all standing water – drainage ditches, leaky sprinklers, pet water bowls, toys that collect water. If you can not eliminate it, treat it.

Rinse, scrub and refill pet water dishes at least every other day, don’t forget the bird baths.

Fill in low areas around the yard.

Use insect repellent when you are out in the garden DEET is the recommended repellent. Wear long sleeves and long pants if possible while outdoors.

Watch for standing water in:
Rain gutters,
Trash,
Debris,
tarps and other plastic covers,
leaks of sprinklers and other water pipes,
containers,
plant saucers,
French drains,
etc.

Use mosquito dunks in drains and other places that have water that isn’t easily removed.

In New England the older women would pour a thin layer of oil on standing water. It is my understanding that prevents mosquitoes from breeding in the water.

The Power of Indoor Plants

Clas Bergvall did his PhD dissertation on the subject of what house plants do for people.

He discovered:
– Americans spend ~$147 on house plants each year
– Plant filled rooms contain 60% fewer airborne molds and bacteria
– Poinsettia is the favorite indoor flowering plant
– Best plants for decontaminating the air and balancing humidity are: Areca, Reed and Dwarf date palms, Boston Ferns

But most important is that house plants bring us closer to nature.

More Information:
Indoor plants can reduce formaldehyde levels

Bee Colony Collapse Disorder

It’s impossible to around gardeners or farmers and not have heard of ‘Bee Colony Collapse Disorder’. Bee Colony Collapse Disorder occurs when the worker bees leave the hive and vanish leaving the queen and larvae to starve. Only half as many managed bee colonies exist now in the US as did 25 years ago so this is especially troubling. It has been heavily reported in the US and is beginning to show up in Europe. Several diseases, mites, fungi, pesticides and contaminants are now being investigated.

The best and most likely explanation is the Varroa destructor. This mite comes from Asia but the Asian bees have adapted to the mite by grooming the mite off of each other. Here in the US the mites often cause deformed wings and colonies can collapse in as little as two weeks after infection.

The mite itself is not believed to cause the bee deaths but rather to weaken the bees immune systems enough that other viruses and bacterias take hold and infect the bees. Adding evidence to that possiblity GOX ( glucose oxidase ) is found in reduced levels in the honey produced by infected bees. GOX is put into the honey to sterilize the honey.

A German study has linked cell phone radiation to CCD but there is little evidence yet to back this up.

This is not the first time Colony Collapse Disorder has been seen, it was documented as early as 1896 and also has been called ‘disappearing disease’, ‘spring dwindle’, ‘May disease’, ‘autumn collapse’, and ‘fall dwindle disease’. The 2004-05 colony collapse was attributed to the Varroa virus, often in past collapses the cause has not been identified.

More Information:
Leaked Memo Shows EPA Concerns about Clothianidin
Scientists and Soldiers Solve a Bee Mystery
New honeybee breed key to combating colony collapse disorder
Pesticides to blame for colony collapse disorder?
Bee disease a mystery, still
Honey Bee Die off Alarms Beekeepers, Crop Growers and Researchers
Bee Mites Suppress Immunity, Open Door for Viruses and Bacteria
MAAREC, CCD Working Group
Rumor has it that organically raised bee hived are not suffering from colony collapse
Using Spearmint and Lemongrass to Protect Bees from Mites that Threaten Hives

If you want to help the bees plant a bee pocket garden.

I thought all bees lived in hives like honey bees. Turns out that 85% of bees live alone, not in hives. They build nests in dirt. They will need water nearby and prefer to lay eggs in soft mud rather than packed dry dirt. Dead trees or rotting logs are also good spots for nests.

To attract bees to your garden:
– Use a large variety ( 10 or more is best ) of bee friendly plants in your garden.
– Pass on the mulch, many bees lay eggs in the ground and need bare dirt to do so.
– Flowering weeds are often good providers of nectar.
– Modern hybrids often do not have much nectar compared to heirloom plants.
– Don’t use pesticides.

An added benefit is that butterflies and hummingbirds will also be attracted to your bee garden.
Some entomologists are so convinced of the importance of creating backyard habitats that they’re planting bee gardens in their own yards. Noticing that the gardens in his neighborhood are mostly filled with hybrid flowers, Lansing, Mich., entomologist Rufus Isaacs has planted native perennials and berries that attract hordes of bees — as well as nervous neighbors. “The bees are too busy eating to worry about humans as long as you watch and don’t bother them,” Mr. Isaacs says. Gardens with a buzz: gardeners work to protect beleaguered bees

I thought I’d start a pocket bee garden. I have a bed that is surrounded with Mexican Heather. The bees love the Mexican Heather. There are humming bird feeders just above the garden. They and the butterflies like many of the same flowers that the bees like.

I went to the nursery with no idea what plants to purchase. I was planning on just looking for native plants that hadn’t been over hybridized. Finding the right plants turned out to be an easy task. I found I could watch a while and some plants were full of bees, and some varieties the bees totally ignored. Now I’ll be watching for bees on all the plants I purchase.

More information:
Guide to bee – friendly gardens

Man built “Ferris Wheel” like contraptions to cultivate plants

Are you running out of space for your house plants? Don’t we all sometimes? This man was cultivating Marijuana and needed to fit more plants in his space.

He built 8 machines out of aluminum, each held 24 rows of 8 plants for a total of 192 plants per machine. He was in the wrong line of work. He should’ve been building them for homeowners with too many plants.

Tacoma Man Gets 15 Years in Prison for Very Sophisticated Marijuana Grow Operation ( DEA website. )