Plants Are Usually Killed by Overwatering–Except at My House

Earlier this week, I walked by this window and noticed this wilting succulent. Now more plants, particularly cacti and succulents are generally killed by over-watering, not under-watering. Then there’s my house.

My house is generally on the cooler side, especially in the winter, so keeping a plant, particularly a cactus or succulent too wet is certain death for it.

Other plants that also prefer a bit of dryness–philodendron and citrus come to mind here–also don’t mind the coolness of my home so long as I don’t drown them.

So I always tend to err in that direction.

But now that we are into late March–soon to be April–and the sun is getting warmer, I need to be mindful that certain plants might need a bit more water than they needed in December, say.

I have been checking for–and sadly already finding–the little insects that love to make themselves known with more sunlight and warmer days.

So take a lesson from me–plants don’t like “tough love!”

This is What Sustainable Looks Like

A lot of time when I lecture, I talk about “leaving the leaves.” That means leaving the leaf litter, without doing anything to it, where it falls, in my garden.

Needless to say, I get a lot of questions, comments, and sometimes remarks about how unattractive it might be. Yes, at this point in the season, it’s mighty unattractive. This is right down in front of my property, where I, and everyone who walks dogs or walks in our neighborhood sees it. Even I avert my eyes sometimes.

What I hope people notice is this sign, which is on the telephone pole just ten feet away. I hope they connect the “backyard wildlife habitat” idea with all these messy stems lying on the ground. I hope that they might remember that the “messy stems” are actually stems of native plants like asters, goldenrod and white snakeroot which feed my pollinators from late June into November.

What I also hope that some of them might know is that the reason I leave the stems on the ground long after most of my other tidy neighbors have cleaned up their gardens is because I hope that any overwintering insects that might be using the hollow stems are hatched out.

I wait to do my garden cleanup until my soil temperature reaches 50 degrees or warmer–something I can easily find out with a soil thermometer (although I know people who make do with old meat thermometers). For those who like more up to date methods, there’s a great web site called Greencast Online which will give you the soil temperature for your zip code if you don’t mind that it’s run by the huge agribusiness Syngrenta.

Why are soil temperatures important? That could be the subject of weeks’ worth of posts. Suffice it to say that at about 50 degrees, beneficial insects begin to become active and the lovely little mason bees that I hope are sheltering in the hollow stems of those goldenrods will hatch out and begin flying.

Similarly, the ground beetles and other overwintering “good” bugs will become active and start moving out from under all that lovely leaf little that I have allowed to lie in my gardens. So if I start working in there, I am not going to disturb them unduly.

Finally I hope this photo addresses the last question that I get a lot about the leaf little which is “how can the plants come up through all that?”

I always say that if my delicate little snowdrops can push up and bloom–as you see that they can and do–so will everything else.

And by mid-June, I assure you, you won’t be able to see a leaf here, or in any of my gardens. They will be a solid walls of green plants!

Please consider some of the sustainable practices I have described. Your insects will thank you!

My Snake Plant is Busting Out All Over

This poor snake plant (dracena zeylanica, formerly sansevieria zeylanica) has taken matters into its own leaves, so to speak, and decided to literally bust out of its container. It has broken through the pot and now is migrating down my windowsill. Clearly it is a priority that I re-pot it come May.

Here’s a slightly better view so that you can see what’s going on.

And despite the fact that it clearly wants to get out of that container, it’s also about to bloom.

By the way, notice the backyard through the window. Not a sign of life or green anywhere outside yet, except for the evergreens. Winter or July and July isn’t here yet. Maybe in April. That’s been known to happen.

Is It Spring Yet?

The vernal equinox is Monday, March 20 (today) at 21:24 UTC which is 5:24 p.m. EDT.

Of course, for those of following meteorological seasons, Spring began March 1st. And, as I am fond of saying, for those of us living here in Connecticut, we have no spring–just winter and July. We’ll see if the predictions of a warm spring will play out again this year (which would be lovely since it does happen so rarely). Of course, the predictions are also for an extra warm summer–and I will take that as well. Heat never bothers me, but I am a baby about the cold.

Still for all our writing and predicting and talking about it, weather is one thing that we absolutely cannot do one thing about. We can try to plant sustainably with natives to survive the variables that nature produces, but we cannot control those variables.

We can try to extend our seasons–in both the spring and the fall–with any number of measures like floating row covers, cloches, “wall-o-waters,” and other “mechanical” devices that cover or otherwise insulate our tender plants from temperatures that they otherwise would object to.

Or we can get less garden-y and just throw a sheet, towel or whatever is to hand over a container or a large potted plant if frost threatens.

Or, we can throw up our hands and say, okay, season’s over–let nature do its thing (which is generally my approach!) By the time fall comes, I am more than ready to tend to my overflowing collection of house plants–but I do understand not everyone feels that way.

But isn’t that what’s best about gardening–that we don’t all have to do it the same way?

A Little Fragrance Goes a Long Way

As I was dusting and changing clocks Saturday morning in my living room, I suddenly realized that there was a new fragrance in the room.

Sure enough, my jasmine officinale has begun to bloom. And as you can see from this crazy photo, (the jasmine blooms sandwiched between a couple of amaryllis leaves), there are just a few blossoms open.

Here’s the whole photo so that you can see how few blooms–and how many are yet to open.

Sometimes with very fragrant plants like this it’s best that the blooms only open a few at a time. Especially indoors, with no pollinators, and just me to enjoy this, small doses are best!

Who’s Been Chewing My Plants?

The holes in the end of this strelitzia leaf just fascinate the Spoiler.

It may be that he has to look past it (as well as several other plants) to see out the window. But he has remarked on them several times and wondered about them.

I am fairly sure about them. I just presume that when the leaf was still furled, some critter came along, took a bite, decided that the leaf wasn’t to its liking and moved on. But the teeth marks remained and became more pronounced as the leaf grew.

Still, the Spoiler rarely wonders, so it’s an interesting thing.

I am more focused on the plants behind the big Bird of Paradise. Some of them are beginning to show signs of different insect infestations. Ah, the signs of spring!

How Many Words for Snow?

So it’s been a couple of weeks. The President’s Day weekend, which was the third weekend of February this year, was so unseasonably warm that I was outside pruning my Japanese maples.

The forecast for the next day was for snow but it had been 62 the day before. Even I thought, really? Is that possible?

Well, it was. And of course, because it had been so warm for the prior few days, the snow didn’t appear to be sticking to the pavement. Nevertheless, I took the safe route down the lawn as I always do when it snows.

Except that in this particular instance, that wasn’t the safest route. Because it had been so warm, the snow was extremely wet–wetter than in my photos on Friday. It caked into the treads of my boots and turned them into skis and down I went onto my hip. The dog looked at me like “why are you playing? I thought we were going for a walk .”

Anyway, again, because it had been warm, the ground wasn’t frozen, so I was just a bit bruised and sore.

The next few days gave rise to our next few words for frozen fun: black ice and freezing fog. For the uninitiated, black ice is where the pavement looks wet but is actually frozen.

Freezing fog is different. It’s like dew, or fog that comes down from above and freezes on the surface. Same effect as black ice–a skim coating of ice almost invisible to the eye–but black ice is usually residual moisture freezing on the pavement whereas freezing fog comes down from above.

There’s definitely more but we rarely experience them here in New England. We do get dry, powdery snow on occasion. Not the lovely dry champagne powder like they have out West, but soft, and light and flaky nevertheless. It’s rare, but it does happen.

But we more often get heavy, wet snow, especially this time of year, that has the consistency of wet concrete or mashed potatoes–lumpy mashed potatoes at that.

So you can see that although this isn’t a place like Alaska where they say the Native peoples have 40 words for snow, we do have quite a vocabulary to describe our winter weather here–and I am sure that I have left some of it out (particularly the colorful cuss words!)

Snow Daze

The way that the weather people have been carrying on about the East Coast, you, might think that this is the first snow of the winter. It isn’t. Nor is it particularly unusual for us to get snow this time of year. We regularly get snow in late February and early or even mid-March.

What is unusual is that this is almost half the snow that we have received for the whole season. This is about a 6″ storm. We have had another 7″ or so over the whole rest of the winter. That’s what’s crazy. We should have had at least 40″ by now.

And it was a pretty storm too. Not wet enough to do damage but heavy enough to cling and be pretty.

I should have gotten a little closer here but I didn’t want to ruin the snow with my footprints (does anyone else think about that? ) That’s my new bench that my sister gave me for Christmas looking pretty in the snow.