Fall Containers

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In the past, I haven’t done much with containers in the fall. There’s no point, really. “Fall” is a very short season for us. Our first frost comes early in October and much of what goes into a container would be killed by that.

But this year, I have two lectures in October that needed containers. One was a lecture on container gardening itself and the other was a lecture on house plants.

In both my house plants and container lectures, I always like to talk about–and feature–both house plants and succulents. Why? First, because you can’t go anywhere without seeing them. Next, because I like them and I think that, despite the fact that they’re so popular, they are very versatile and great plants for a lot of gardeners in many situations (provided you have sun). So showing them–and talking about how to care for them–is important. Lots of beginning gardeners think that succulents and cactus are the same–because they are sold together. So a little education there is necessary too.

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This is my “house plant” container, where I play off the colors in the croton with the color of the flowers in the kalanchoe and the color of the sedum foliage. This type of planting is called “complementary.” It’s the same design principle as using throw pillows to pick up the color from a painting or a rug, say.

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And this is a late season herb planter with primarily tender perennials. The golden oregano at the front (my “spiller”) is hardy, even in my climate. The tallest plant, the variegated basil is ‘Pesto Perpetuo,’ a tender perennial basil, although I have never successfully over-wintered it without it succumbing to scale. The rosemary (the “filler plant”) will generally winter in my unheated sun porch unless we get a very cold winter–in which case I bring it into the house.

All of these, along with Wednesday’s show stopper ornamental container, will be traveling with me to my lectures in the next few weeks to illustrate some container design principles (as well as some fun fall containers).

I hate the see this year’s gardening season end!

A Tale of Two Lawns

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This is my front lawn right now. You know that we are completely organic and that we don’t irrigate at all–the only water this lawn has gotten all summer it got when it rained–and this is a slope, obviously (this abuts the ski slope driveway that I occasionally reference or photograph).

Obviously because we are organic there have been no pesticides used at all. Occasionally we use a corn meal gluten fertilizer in the spring. I don’t recall if we did this year but we certainly don’t do so yearly.

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Not all parts of the lawn look so fabulous but they’re all equally lush. This section, as you might be able to tell, is right next to the road. It’s got lots of clover for the bees, some plantain, and some creeping Charlie (or Jenny, depending on which common name you prefer).

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Now, not to engage in neighbor shaming but this is just one of several of my neighbor’s lawns that looks like this. What do they all have in common?

First, supplemental irrigation. This lawn gets watered twice a day, whether it needs it or not. Mushrooms are growing here, and I have seen the sprinklers going in the rain.

Next, this lawn gets cut religiously once a week, again whether it needs it or not–although with all that watering, it sure needs cutting a lot more than ours!

Finally pesticides. It seems that I regularly have to avoid the street in front of this house because of some sort of pesticide treatment. I used to think there was a “4-step” lawn care program. In my neighborhood, I think pesticides are applied every 2 weeks–& I am not kidding! And yet–this.

Whenever I lecture and say I am an organic gardener, I will get asked about weeds, to which I shrug and say that many of our so-called lawn weeds are actually nectar sources for bees and butterflies.

Then I am asked about grubs and I am genuinely mystified. It’s not that we don’t have grubs–I will find larva in our gardens when I am planting.

It’s just that we don’t have them in any quantity to do damage. I attribute that to our organic property. Birds come and feast on the grub larva before they can do any damage. They won’t eat from poisoned lawns–would you?

The New House Plant Pet Rock?

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Remember this photo from Wednesday? Did you recognize it as a marimo moss ball?

Depending on your point of view, these are some of the coolest things going, or they are the house plant equivalent of the “pet rock” from a few decades back.

I have the one above on my desk at home. It’s actually kind of nice to look at. There are surprising variations in it, and little air bubbles form–it’s not quite as static as one would believe.

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These are some others. You can see that they come in various sizes. You can get them from plant companies or aquarium suppliers. That’s where these came from. I thought that I would try them with my fish but no. All she does is make a mess of her tank with them. So they are now my plant pet rocks,

These balls of moss are harvested from different lakes in northern parts of the world. Try to find a supplier that claims yours is sustainably harvested because–with this suddenly becoming a “thing”–these moss balls are declining.

They are slow growing–the smaller ones that you see are supposedly 6-8 years old, so you can see why sustainability might become an issue.

And like most moss, they do not want to be in direct sunlight. Bright indirect light only for these guys.

If, however, you want a plant that has proven harder than an air plant to kill, (at least for me) this might be right for you.

The Great House Plant Migration

It’s that time of year again. Night time temperatures have dropped into the 50s (farenheit) so it’s time for any house plants (and at my house, that’s a good number of them) to return indoors for the long winter’s nap, so to speak.

Whenever I lecture on house plants, I get the question about bringing “things” in with my plants. For those of you who have been following this blog for long time, you may remember the time that I brought a bird in inside a very dense hanging basket!

That’s the only “thing” that’s ever come in that was unwanted–and thank goodness, it cooperated by remaining in the basket while I took it back outside!

So, with that out of the way, what do I do to bring in the plants? Generally, I wash off the pots–and sometimes the plants, if I have had an issue with insects when the plants went outside–then I will set their saucers or trays in place and bring them in.

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What that means is that windows that once looked open and airy all summer now look like this. And I can no longer water with a hose. Ah well. Only 9 months until they can go back outside.

Stripes, or….

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If you have read this blog for a long time, you know that I am a huge fan of the genus sanseveria. Call these plants what you like–I usually call them snake plants but I know Mother in laws tongue is pretty common too–these plants are having their “moment” right now.

And they should. They always travel with me to lectures. I use them as examples of plants that will “almost grow in a closet.” In other words, they will grow in a very dark corner, completely neglected, and un-watered for weeks. Isn’t that where most of us encountered our first one, maybe in childhood or in a commercial building?

However, while they will grow in dark corners, these plants will also grow in east or west exposures–at least in my northern climate. And that’s where they really begin to shine and look glorious. They will bloom for you–mine bloom every year. And they will take on interesting coloring, even in the so-called boring green varieties.

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Here’s one of the variegated varieties with the bloom stalk about to open.

Incidentally, they also make great container plants for outdoors. I generally plant them with plants that tend to like it on the drier side–succulents, heuchera or even annual pelargonium (geranium) would work. But I wouldn’t plant them with something that’s going need a lot of water.

Snake plants are some of my favorites. Their interesting shapes and colorful leaves brighten a room year round. The fact that mine bloom is just an added bonus.