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Welcome to the Paul Parent Garden Club 2014 Newsletter
 

 

How would you like a perennial flower that blooms in your shady garden during the late winter! That is right, the late winter, starting during February or March. This perennial is also evergreen and it will push nodding flower buds through the chilly soil and cold days. In Southern New England the flowers begin in February; as you move north the flowering cycle will be a little later, depending on snow cover. In Southern Maine, they will show flowers during March.

HelleborusUnlike most flowers that last only a few days, the helleborus will flower for several months. The evergreen foliage is dark green most of the year and fades a bit during the winter. The leaves are in the shape of your hand and grow in a cluster 15 to 18 inches wide and about 12 inches tall. This perennial is not a rose and the flowers resemble a flowering crab bloom--except much larger. The flowers grow to be 1 to 1.5 inches wide, single petals with a center filled with bright yellow pollen sacks. The flowers range from white to pink, red, purple, green and many combinations of these colors. The flowers come out of the ground on strong stems from the center of the foliage, and each stem holds 3 to 5 or more flowers.

If that is not enough to get you thinking about this plant, let me tell you more. They do not have to be watered or fertilized! They are deer and vole resistant! They will tolerate drought conditions but not wet feet. They love to be planted under tall trees, such as a grouping of pines. Helleborus love a lot of organic matter, and pine needles are just what they love to grow in, so leave the pine needles around them. Well-drained soils are a must, so keep away from heavy wet clay-like soils. When you plant them, space them 2 to 2.5 feet apart so they have room to grow. They grow in a clump like hostas do and get bigger each year. When they finish flowering the flower will form a seed pod that in time will break open and drop seeds near the main plant. These seeds will germinate and start new plants near the mother plant. You can easily transplant them in early fall or swap them with gardening friends.

When choosing a garden to plant them in, remember light shade, fertile and well-drained, soil. They will not survive in flowerbeds that have automatic sprinklers! When planting, keep them shallow--sitting on the surface of the soil--and if you add mulch, no more than half an inch. Helleborus prefer a sweet soil, so be sure to lime the garden each year, unless your soil is already alkaline, and the flower count will increase as the plant grows larger. Using one handful of limestone around each plant in the spring will do the trick.

This wonderful perennial will make new foliage after flowering in the spring and again in the fall. If some of the foliage becomes ragged looking, cut it off and the plant will replace it quickly. When planting, try to find several different colored plants, to give this garden great color. The dark purple, sometimes called "Black" is unique but does not jump out when you look at the garden, but you must have one in the garden. As the garden matures, the Helleborus plants will cross pollinate the flowers, and the new seedlings with different colors will begin to develop. In the spring, ask your local garden center to pick up plants for you. Plants will cost $4 to $15 dollars but are well worth the investment. Look on the internet for specialty growers for different varieties and quantity discounts. 


Keeping your houseplants healthy during winter months may seem difficult. Light from windows is reduced, days are shorter and humidity may be lower due to heating. But by making a few changes, you can help keep your houseplants healthy.

Keeping things light

In winter, your plants receive sunlight for less time and in less intensity. Houseplants native to rainforests that are used to lower light will be fine with that, but most plants need more light. Try to move your plants near a brighter window (S/SW exposure) to get them more sunlight.

If you have no brighter windows (due to shade trees or apartment living), you might want to consider the purchase of plant lamps that are designed to provide the full spectrum light your plants need. They can be mounted under shelves, over plants or on specially-designed plant stands. Leave them on about eight hours a day, and they'll give your plants the light they need. Consider using the newer LED lamps. They are a bit more expensive, but they use less energy and are more efficient for producing the part of the spectrum that is needed by plants. In short, you aren't wasting your energy (and money) producing excess heat or light in spectra that your plants don't need.

Temperature

Most plants do not do well when subjected to rapid fluctuations in temperature. Keep them away from hot air sources and cold drafts alike. Run ceiling fans on low if the house is closed up. Fans break up stagnant air; that's healthier for both you and your plants.

Humidity

Some symptoms of low humidity are brown leaf tips and wilting. Low humidity makes your plants work harder to get moisture from the air and soil, as well as keep what they have inside.

One way to give your plants some extra humidity is to put a layer of pebbles in the bottom of a tray and fill the tray with just enough water to cover the bottom of the tray (below the top of the pebbles). Place potted plants in the tray.

Other Tips

Fertilizing should be done less often for most plants in winter.

Give your plants a good washing. Dirt, dust, grease, and other particles can settle on leaves. Dirty leaves can't absorb as much sunlight as clean ones. Gently wipe clean the leaves with a soft sponge or cloth dipped in plain tepid water. Sturdier plants can even be given a quick shower in the bathroom with tepid water.

 

 

Winter begonias are varieties with fancy leaves and some small flowers. The leaves are breathtaking to look at because the markings and colors on the leaves are marvelous. If you pick off the flowers, the leaves will get bigger and more colorful.

Most begonias are grown as houseplants; they come from tropical regions of the country. There are numerous new varieties that are grown for outdoor use, but they can grow indoors for a short time. Knowing this, you must keep these plants warm indoors, or grow them outside during the summer. Indoors during the winter, the begonia will thrive if you use grow lights on it, but they are not necessary. These fancy-leaf begonias love high humidity so place them on plastic saucers filled with small stones. Fill the tray every morning--the water will evaporate during the day, helping the plant grow better. I have found that misting of the foliage will cause spotting of the foliage and may cause powdery mildew; this detracts from their looks. If you use a humidifier in the house keep them close by.

Water plants as needed. Keep moist from May to September and on the dry side during the winter. Fertilize begonias year round with a fertilizer like Miracle-Gro or Blooming and Rooting Plant Food. The stems are fleshy, so be sure to use a well drained potting soil. Heavy soils will rot the stems. Select a location in your home that has no drafts from windows or doors. Temperature-wise, begonias need to be 65 degrees plus all year long. When the plant is exposed to temperatures below 55 degrees it will be chilled and the leaves will begin to fall from the plant.

Begonias do not like to be moved often around your house. Find a spot for them, then leave them alone and let them stay put. Begonias do not need to be repotted often. They grow better in smaller pots, so be sure the pot they are in is filled with roots like a spider web before you move them. When repotting, use a man-made soil or a lightweight artificial soil. When you over-pot in large pots, the plants can suffer from overwatering and root rot more easily. Never push down hard on the newly potted soil or you will squeeze the air out of it. Think soft and fluffy when repotting and the plant will thrive.

Begonias need moderate light during the summer, so place them in a east or west window. During the winter, a south-facing window is best--or place them under grow lights. Fertilizer is necessary during the growing season May to September. The plant should usually be fertilized every 2 weeks, except during the winter fertilize only once a month. Use a balanced fertilizer like Miracle-Gro or Blooming and Rooting Plant Food. If yellow spots develop on the leaves remove them and clean the plant. Do not crowd begonias by putting other plants around them; give them room to grow and space around them for better air circulation.

The best varieties for the winter are the 'Iron Cross' or 'Rex' begonias. Leaf color ranges from numerous shades of green to silver, pink, red and gold. The leaves can be smooth, ruffled, spotted, and almost puckered. Some of the varieties look like stained glass windows. The flowers are small and several on hanging stems, pink in color--but the foliage is why you grow the plant. With a little care, plants should last several years in your home. Moving them outside for the summer and back indoors in the fall is not good for them as they have a problem adjusting to the growing conditions.

 

If you're looking for a small-growing colorful foliage plant for your home this winter look no further than the "Moses in the Bulrushes." The foliage is in the shape of a sword that will grow about 12 inches long and 2 to 3 inches wide; the tip of the leaf will come to a point. The top side of the leaf will have bands of white and green stripes running the entire length of the leaf. These bands of color will differ on each leaf; some will have more green while others have more white bands on them and the width of these bands will also differ. The underside of the leaf is also colorful with shades of purplish-red; this color will differ depending on the light in your home.

This plant loves a room that is bright but not sunny. It will tolerate morning sun but not the hot midday sun, as it will bleach the color of the foliage and the plant will lose its character. If kept in a north facing window, it will do fine also. Keep the plant in a room with temperatures above 64 degrees during the winter. It can go outside during the summer, if placed in a shady spot on your deck or porch. When you put the plant outside for the summer, do not place the plant in a saucer, because heavy rains or over-watering could rot the roots.

The plant will do best with high humidity, so keep plants out of rooms that have a wood or coal burning stove in them. If you have forced hot air heat, keep plants away from heat vents. When you water the plant, use warm water only as cold water could spot the foliage as it does too many other houseplants. Misting will help if your home is hot and dry. Keep the plants moist most of the time, but during the winter months keep them a bit on the dry side.

Fertilize spring to fall with Miracle-Gro fertilizer every couple of weeks or use Osmocote fertilizer pellets, and the plant will be fed every time you water it. Fertilizer is not necessary during the winter months but I feed mine monthly like I do the rest of my houseplants. A well-fed plant has more colorful foliage.

The plants will look like and grow like a Dracaena spike if you remove the side shoots that develop at the base of the plant. I prefer the side shoots on the plants, as it give the look of a multi-stem plant, almost like a clump of foliage. If you remove these side shoots from the plant you can start new plants easily and this is best done during the spring, as the plant is more actively growing with the longer days.

Now, the name "Moses in the Bulrushes" comes from the small boat-shaped or pocket-shaped bracts that develop deep down in the axils of the leaf where it meets the central stem. This is very unique in nature, and this boat-shaped growth contains the flowers of the plant. Think back to your poinsettia, as the colorful leaves on that plant are also called flower bracts. The actual flowers are the tiny yellow button shaped flowers on the tip of the plant, not the colorful leaves. This boat-shaped growth called the bracts contains the delicate white tongue-shaped flowers.

These bracts will have the same purplish-red color of the underside of the leaves, and as the boat-shaped bract matures, the top will open up, revealing the flowers. The plant flowers from June to August but unless you look closely, you will not notice the flowers on the plant. With the many leaves on the plant it does look like the bulrushes growing in wet areas. The boat-shaped bracts represent the basket that baby Moses was put into to hide him from the Egyptian soldiers.

If you are going to repot the plant or divide the plant, the spring is the best time . Be sure to use a good potting soil with a lot of organic matter in it. When you divide the plant, use a sharp knife to cut shoots from each other rather than pulling the plant apart. Once potted, the plant should be kept in a shaded spot for a few days to allow it time to adjust to the division. Also fertilize and water the new soil well to force all air pockets out of the pot and help settle the new soil in the pot.

The plant is easy to grow and will survive and thrive in most homes with minimal care, and is a good houseplant for a new gardener. The name is easy to remember because it was given to it after a story from the Bible. Enjoy.

Join The Paul Parent Garden Club for The Grand Tour Of France July 31 through August 12, 2014. With special 70th Anniversary tours of the Beaches of Normandy and Monet's Garden.

   
Featured Recipe Of The Week:
  White Chicken Chili 

What You Will Need:

1 lb fresh chicken breast
1 large white onion
2 large green bell peppers
2 cans white navy beans [do not drain]
1/2 stick butter or margarine
1/8 cup flour
2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon cumin
1 cup shredded cheese [any flavor of your choice]

Preparation:

Dice the chicken breast into bite size pieces and pace in a preheated skillet, saute till chicken is fully cooked and set aside.

Dice the onion, green bell pepper and place in a crock pot.  Empty both cans of white navy beans in the crockpot.  Add sauted chicken to the crock pot.  in a skillet melt the butter and 1/8 cup of flour cooking until a thick consistency.  Add 1 cup of chicken broth and allow to simmer til the broth has become thick.  Add the remaining cup of chicken stock to the crock pot, then add the thickened stock to the crock pot.  Add the teaspoon of cumin, and allow to slow cook for at least 31/2 hours.  When ready to serve, garnish with grated cheese and serve with crusty bread!  Easy to make and better to eat.  Enjoy!

Special Bonus Recipe:
 
Chocolate Covered Cream Sandwich Cookies

What you will need:

1 package of oreo cookies
1 package of cream cheese
1 package of chocolate chips

Preparation:

Crush package of oreo cookies, mix with softened cream cheese.  Place in the refrigerator and let chill.  Place the chocolate chips in a bowl in the microwave on low for 30 seconds, stirring frequently, continue to melt until chocolate chips have melted and become smooth.  Take chilled oreo mixture out of the refrigerator, make 18 balls dip in the chocolate and set back in the refrigerator to set.  Enjoy, Enjoy and Enjoy!

 
  
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