Thursday, December 22, 2011

Oranges Bring Winter Sunshine

Click to Mix and Solve

Garden Furniture For The Ages

Found these lovely romantic armchairs at Lukas Nursery in Oviedo.  The comfortable, blue chairs made out of a cement resin, look like they were designed for an Alice in Wonderland fantasy.   I can picture them sitting on a lakefront landscape of a picturesque mansion.  The price would require a mansion. They are selling for just under $1000 for the pair.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tis The Season For Christmas Bird Counting

"And a partridge in a pear tree."

Its' time for the Christmas Bird Count again! The Audubon organization sponsors the annual event each year during the Christmas holidays. Happening from December 14, 2011 through January 5, 2012, the volunteer army of bird-watchers count the various species seen in their yards, cities, and wildlife preserves.  The festive activity to involve people to help birds with a friendly bird experience. 

The data collected will help provide information on species populations and migration trends. Over 50,000 observers in 2000 locations from the Artic Circle to South America's Tierra del Fuego will participate.

You still have opportunity to get involved by contacting your local Audubon group.  You must be 19 yeas old to register and participate and there is a $5 fee which helps defray local expenses of counting equipment and materials.

I wonder if someone will see a partridge in a pear tree?  Probably more like cardinals with snow expected on Christmas Day for our northern feathered friends.

Here's a slideshow I took of birds visiting my mother-in-law's birdfeeder on New Year's Eve 2008.

Mistletoe - Friend or Foe?

Celtic and European traditions have long associated mistletoe with our Christmas holiday.   The American oak mistletoe, Phorandendron serotium, is found in deciduous trees, mainly laurel oak trees, making it easy to see in the wintertime.  Mistletoe can also infest elms, hackberries, sycamores, and wild cherry trees. 

Mistletoe is a friend of butterflies and birds. The epiphyte is the sole host plant for the blue hairstreak butterfly.  The evergreen succulent leaves hold berries that are spread from tree to tree by birds and wind.

Despite the wildlife benefits and jolly seasonal use, mistletoe is a parasite.  Sapping the water and nutrition from its host, mistletoe can kill stressed trees.  Deciding on whether to remove mistletoe should be based on the location of the pest. If it is located in the tree close to the ground, then a homeowner should be able to remove it easily. The mistletoe roots must be removed to eradicate it.  Cutting the branch off six inches below the mistletoe's location.  But if it is in the higher branches of the tree, have it removed by a certified arborist to prevent damaging the tree's structure.

Mistletoe is easily seen in autumn.
The other method of removing mistletoe is by using a chemical growth regulator, Ethephon, that can only be applied in winter time when the tree is dormant. Ethephon is only available thought a licensed pest control operator. 

Mistletoe is poisonous, so be careful to keep out of range of pets and animals. Wash hands and clothing with hot soapy water after pruning or touching.

So is mistletoe friend or foe?  I'll let you decide.

Mistletoe - IFAS

Mistletoe - Web of Life

New Tropical Mistletoe Discovered

Winter Loving Strawberries

Strawberries, Fragaria × ananassa, are one of my favorite berries. I love strawberries with angel food cake and whipped cream, strawberry jam cookies, and strawberry ice cream. Strawberries are also one of the easiest fruits to grow in your garden.

Florida has three seasons, autumn, winter, and spring to grow delicious strawberries. They need temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees and shorter daytime conditions. Raised beds are best so that the crowns of the strawberry plant are kept well-drained. The soil pH for good growth should be between 5.5 and 6.8, but will tolerate acidity levels 5.0 through 7.0. Ensure your strawberries have adequate fertilizer by digging a balanced N-P-K into the soil before planting. Then using a slow-release fertilizer once a month. Water one to two times a week in the winter and two to three times depending on the temperatures in the spring.

Protect strawberries with frost blankets when temperatures go below 32 degrees. Recommended varieties for Florida include 'Caramosa', 'Sweet Charlie', and 'Festival.' I found beauiful white flowered 'Camarosa' and hot pink flowers  "Lipstick" at my local nursery.  Lipstick strawberries have long runners spreading to five feet if allowed, and can make a lovely groundcover for edible landscaping.  Strawberries can be used in containers, window boxes, and in rock gardens.

Pest issues include fungus, spider mites, and nematodes. Check leaves for any pest issues before you buy your plants. Using rich organic soils will reduce nematode populations.  Apply a proactive fungicide if you think your plants may be susceptible.  Check labels before using any pesticides or fungicides for use on strawberries.

Camarosa strawberries

Lipstick Strawberries

More Links:

Growing Strawberries in the Florida Home Garden.

Growing Strawberries Hydroponically

Fragraria 'Lipstick' Strawberries

Would you like to read more on Edible Landscaping? Check out my in-depth article on Edilble Landscaping for Green Builder magazine on "Edible Landscaping 02" pages 31 - 37.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gifts For The Gardener

Selecting Christmas gifts for the gardener can be easy or hard depending on the gardener's propensity and their needs. Is your favorite gardener new to gardening? Then new tools, plants, and garden accents can be easy to find.  But what if you have a gardener who has a mature garden, all the tools they need, and buying a Christmas present can be a chore? Here's some ideas for every budget that you still have time to get and place under your Christmas tree:

  • Beautiful stainless steel compost pail for the kitchen.  A one gallon container for all your compost scraps comes complete with a carbon filter. Only 11 inches high to fit perfectly under your sink or even on your counter.  $40.00

  • Bird House Chalet that will feed every feathered visitor. Decorated with bird seeds, this bird house will attract bluejays, cardinals, chickadees, doves, finches, jays, sparrows, and more. Hanging the bird feeder close to a window view or placing it on your fence will enable your gardener to enjoy watching the various birds who will come to your yard. $40.00

  •  Wee fairy garden accents for miniature gardens. A wonderful way to create little garden vignettes for under a tall tree, or put on your patio or even indoors, this is an unique hobby for children, adluts, and those with disabilities, who can't get around a garden or can't lift heavy items. Each piece allows you to personalize the garden.  Individual costs vary from $3.00 to $10.00.

  • Solar powered LED firefly lighting for your garden borders or used to highlight a small tree. These small LED lights with a low voltage transformer don't add to your electricity bill and are easy to install. These beautiful lights add fantasy and excitement to your nighttime garden.

  • A must have in any garden is a noteworthy entrance.  Garden gates add a special touch to your landscape even if there is no fence.  Gates can reflect your house architectural style or just add whimsical structure to your yard.  Gates can be wooden, wrought iron, even twigs and branches from trees.  You can find unique garden gates at antique stores, yard  sales, or renovation outlets. Free to $100+.

  • Celtic Mushroom. Perfect touch for an Irish themed garden. This three pound cement resin mushroom can be used outdoors in your garden area or beside your indoor plants.  Toadstools even come as a set with a large and small size.  Weather-resistant, it will be an ideal accent to your woodland garden. $40.00

  •   And for the chilly, rainy, snowy days of winter when gardening isn't a viable option, the best biographical gardening book I've read in a long time is on a relatively unknown but early 20th century gardening designer, is "Edwardian Country Life: The Story of H. Avray Tipping"  In 1933, Tipping wrote "The Garden of Today." His garden designs reflect the Italian phase of the Arts and Crafts style. H. Avray Tipping, made an impact on Britain's culture when he became the architectural editor of Country Life, a popular magazine among the wealthy in the early 1900's. Tipping was instrumental in the preservation of country homes and historical buildings through the National Trust and the Royal Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings. 
A personal sidenote: I was introduced to this new book through my English parish priest, the brother of Helena Gerrish.  Helena lives in Tipping's house and while researching his life and restored his magnificent gardens.  I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful coffee table book by Helena Gerrish. After reading the background history along with Tipping's biography and seeing the beautiful gardening photographs of beautiful British country homes, his homestead and his gardens are now on my bucket list for my next trip to England.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Growing Them Big Down Under

The giant Powelliphanta looks beautiful sliding along the mesic forest floor but this rare albino snail is not as gentle as its vegetarian American cousins. The New Zealand native mollusk is carnivorous, feasting on worms, grubs, and other creatures that are in the snail's path.  At maturity, a 20 year old snail can reach the size of a man's fist.  This photographs shows a Powelliphanta (Powell elephant?) approximately ten years old.

The ugly creature above is called a Giant Weta. I'm grateful they are found only on the Great Barrier Island as they are one of the largest insects on record and a good example of island gigantism . Finding this in my garden would spoil my day.

Do you have signs of pesky snails in your garden?  Make sure you're not irrigating too much or too often, keeping your landscape wet. Snails are Mother Nature's decomposers, digesting fungi and decaying plant material. They  like moist soils with lots of leaf litter.  Drying your garden beds out, removing decomposing foliage, letting the sun in, and using a product with iron phosphate works to help reduce snail population. Be careful using baits with metaldehyde around children and pets. Using beer may be organic, but is expensive, and a good waste of beer. (Beer is also not good for pets and children.)

There is one Florida native snail that is good for your garden:  the Rosy Wolf Snail, Euglandia rosea.  These predators feed on other snails and keep other snail populations down. 

The Living World of Mollusks describes rosy wolf snail's behavior:
In the case of the wolf snail, the lips are used to follow the prey's scent along its slime trace. Which a wolf snail does, like a wolf follows the scent of its prey, hence the snail's name. Only in the case of the wolf snail, it is more precisely the taste, not the scent, which it follows.

From another snail's slime trace the wolf snail also gains information on whether the snail is a potential meal rather than a fellow wolf snail. Which basically makes not much of a difference, as wolf snails also are cannibals.

On pursuit of its prey the wolf snail does not move at a proverbial snail's pace, but at double or triple that speed. It follows its prey up trees and even for certain distances under water
For more information and identification of snails:

Florida Tree Snails

Get Savvy About Snails

Florida Garden Snails

Snails and Slugs