Cold Weather – How to protect your plants

The forecast says it’ll be down near freezing Saturday and Sunday evening.  Nights that are clear, windless and the temperature is below 45 at bedtime are the nights we are most likely to get a frost.

Bring your houseplants back in for the weekend.

To protect tomatoes and other delicate plants:
Gather some old plastic milk jugs, the bigger the better. Any large uninsulated container will do.

Fill them with hot water in the evening. Then place them out near your plants. If it is sunny during the day you can just leave them out and the sun will warm them before evening. If it is cloudy Saturday, you’ll have to heat up the water again Sunday evening.

Cover the plants and hot water jugs with plastic. The jugs can help hold up the plastic and weight down the ends of the plastic.

The preferred method of protecting plants down here in Houston on cold nights is to cover the plant gently with a sheet or old towel. Then cover the sheet or towel with plastic. Remember to remove the coverings in the morning when the day warms up. Water before and after freezes. If you just use plastic be sure it does not actually touch the leaves. You will get frost damage where the plastic touches the plant.

Mexican petunia ( Ruellia Brittoniana )

I’ve also heard this called ‘Mexican Pansies’.

These flowers grow from thick stalks that are about 1/2″ in diameter. The stalk is soft and easily broken.

It loves hot and sunny locations, although I have some growing in a mostly shaded area too. The more sun this plant gets the more flowers you’ll have. The flowers are purple and Mexican petunia will bloom through most of the summer. The flowers are well liked by butterflies.

It will grow aggressively in damp areas ( read can be invasive ) but will survive an occasional drought once the plant has settled in and become established.

The roots are shallow so if it becomes a problem you can dig them up with out much trouble.

It will be damaged and die back in a frost. When it dies back it leaves rough, ugly stalks you’ll need to go out and cut down. It will return from the roots once the weather warms up.

It is a good plant for trouble areas, but difficult to remove if you decide you don’t like it.

These are dying off in the extreme heat and drought of summer 2011.

More information:
Floridata, Ruellia Brittoniana

Aloe ( disambiguation )

This is my first attempt at growing aloe outdoors. Someone brought some cuttings off a plant she was trimming to a meeting I was attending the other evening.

Aloes want full sun. They are succulents and store water so they need very little water and will rot if planted in a damp area.

Aloes thrive in the Houston summers, mine barely wintered over in the winter of ’09-’10. Most of the outer leaves died off and only the inner protected ones survived all the frosts we had.

Once established and happy they will bloom, flowers come up on tall spikes and are impressive. The aloe sends up new shoots and rapidly forms clusters of plants.

Blooming takes place in winter and it makes a great winter food for hummingbirds and bees.

Aloe doesn’t mind being moved about if you want o try a new location. Grows rapidly, sends off pups from base which you can leave or replant elsewhere.

Rust is a group of fungi that attack many plants. Each fungi attacks a specific plant. This occurs from too little sun and too much water.

The best fix is to give the plant more sun and drier air. That’s not so easy outside and not during the occasional cold, wet spells we get in Houston.

The next option is to use a fungicide. You can find them at any place that sells plant supplies.

As long as the wet, cold spell does not last too long, the fungus should not hurt the plant, just discolor it.

Pineapple Mint ( Mentha suaveolens variegata )

Pineapple mint, is a mint whose leaves give off a pineapple scent and taste. Because it is variegated it makes a pretty addition to the herb garden.

Pineapple mint prefers part shade, and moist soil. It will grow 8″-12″ tall. But like all mints it can be invasive, so I wouldn’t worry too much about making the growing conditions perfect.

If you see any stems with plain green leaves, cut them off. Otherwise you’ll end up with a solid green rather than variegated leaved plant. Also remove older woody stems when pruning this mint.

Mine did not survive the heat of August, none heat tolerant plant.

Help for orchids

What to do if your orchid is not doing well?

I find the most common orchid problems are scale, too little sun, or too little water.

With the exception of Phalaenopsis most orchids need a fair bit of sun. You can tell by the color of the leaves, too dark means too little sun. Too pale, or red edges or beige-bleached out leaves mean too much light. Orchid leaves are generally a medium green.

If you put your orchid outdoors to give it more light, put it under a tree. They can not handle direct sunlight.

If the pseudo roots are white or dry instead of green the orchid needs more humidity and likely to be watered more often. If you have your orchid planted in bark move it to sphagnum moss. Doing this cures 90% of orchid problems. You can find the moss at nurseries. It has even been know to raise orchids from the dead.

If the pseudo bulb is wrinkled, the leaves have folds or creases it needs more water. Replant it in moss.

If you have scale or other pests, take your orchid to the sink and wash it off. A little soapy water does fine. You may have to scrape the scale off with your fingernail. Use rubbing alcohol to clean off the stickiness. Then spray with water that has a little liquid dish soap and oil mixed in to it. Any oil handy in the kitchen will work. Do this every time you water the plant until it is free of pests.

I do not fertilize my orchids often. I do so when I re-pot them and maybe twice a year.

Do not under any circumstances cut the flower spike to save the orchid. It will not help and anyone who told you to do that is either mean or clueless. You bought the orchid for the flowers, enjoy them.

Do not let water sit in the folds of Phalaenopsis. It will die and it will do so very quickly. If you get water in there while watering, use a towel to gently dry out that area.

Yaupon holly ( Ilex vomitoria )

When we first moved here I went crazy trying to figure out what on earth all this stubby trees were in our yard. They are so common down here the gardening books ignore them.

Yaupon are a softwood small tree, best grown in clumps. Yaupon holly can reach 45′ in height but normally top out at closer to 25′ in Texas. Usually the bottom 6′-10′ of branches are removed to give it a more tree like shape.

It’ll pretty much grow under any conditions forming thick, dense thickets if left alone. The bottom branches do die off on their own if left on the tree. So plan on trimming it once a year to keep it looking nice.

The female trees have bright red berries, and it is evergreen so it adds nice color to your garden around the winter holidays. The birds will feed on the berries late winter when other food sources are scarce. The berries appear around Christmas, just in time to decorate your garden red and green for the holiday.

Tiny white flowers appear in the spring, but are not especially noticeable. When the flowers fall there are so many it appears to be snowing for a few days in the back gardens.

It is not spider mites but bark lice that make those ghostly webs on the trees. They do not harm the tree in any way. They eat fungus and other things off the bark and basically clean the bark on the tree. After a few weeks they will disappear along with the web. They appear most often in humid hot weather. So if you see them feel free to just leave them be, they’ll move on after cleaning your tree.

The leaves of Yaupon holly are very high in caffeine and were used in a purgatory tea by the native American Indians. Yaupon holly is not toxic and it’s not known what other ingredients were added to the tea to make it a purgative. It’s the only know native North American plant to contain caffeine. Be careful not to confuse it with possum haw which is deciduous and not recommended as a tea. To use for tea leaves should be air dried or dry roasted ~200’F.

While there are some yellow berried varieties, I’m told they don’t always remain yellow berried.

No problems with cold or heat, no problems with drought or flood. Yaupon holly will grow anywhere and are a great plant for problem areas.

Here’s the buzz on America’s Forgotten Native ‘Tea’ Plant

Repotting house plants

There’s a messy job that is best done outdoors if possible.

You’ll need a new pot, somewhat larger than the older one. Despite internet lore telling you a pot needs to be only 1″ larger than the last one, any larger size will do. The concerns over a pot that is much larger are that the roots won’t reach through all of the soil to start so some soil may stay wet for longer than is healthy for the plant. So if you go to a much larger pot, you will have to careful watering the plant until the root system fills out.

Gently remove the plant from the old pot. If the plant is root bound you may need to slide a knife around the inside edge of the pot. If the soil is too wet it may fall off the plant taking a large chunk of the root system with it. So use extra caution if the soil is very wet.

I dump all the old soil into a trash bucket. Gently get as much off the old soil off the roots as you can with out damaging the roots. If you are repotting an orchid, same thing goes, you are just removing moss instead of dirt.

Then the messy part comes. I rinse in the sink the roots, the plant, and get it all cleaned up and have a good look at everything. Cut off any dead roots, leaves etc.

Put a few inches of soil in the bottom of the pot. If the pot is deeper than this plant needs add styrofoam peanuts or small rocks to the bottom of the pot to prevent the bottom soil from staying wet all the time. If the plant tends to be top heavy, like an orchid planted in moss use a few rocks to keep the plant from tipping over. Otherwise styrofoam will be lighter and make the pot lighter to move about for watering and maintenance.

Spread out the roots as much as you can with out doing damage. Place the plant in the pot with one hand, gently fill in with soil or moss with the other hand.

About the only time I fertilize my house plants is when I repot them. I use a liquid fertilizer with rooting hormone.